Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Windmil Island Artistry - Natural and Man-Made

Hello! Our epic hot spell last month has led to the early blooming of springtime plantings, including the city's famous tulips. The local paper suggested over the weekend that visits were in order ASAP to see the Windmill Islands tulips before it's too late, so I headed over there today to view them. Indeed, some were already past peak, but I still got some nice photos, as you will see. You will also see photos showing off the talents of many artists and artisans. 

First, you can learn more about Windmill Island here

I'll start by showing a variety of tulips:

This is only a small fraction of the pictures I could have taken, but needless to say, there were some very lovely blooms!

Tulips come and go, but to me, the star of Windmill Island is this structure, the reason for the island's name:

I have read tourism brochures from other communities around the country that tout their reproduction windmills built to honor local ethnic groups. However, our windmill is the real deal - it was taken apart in the Netherlands, shipped over here, then reassembled. You can see how large it is by noting the people at the bottom left-hand side of the photo. The Netherlands, now rightly recognizing that their old windmills are national treasures, no longer allows their dispersal. 

Here's a couple more angles as I got closer:

Tours of the mill are offered but as I had already done so in the past, I declined to take one today. The tour guide was pleased that I, a local, had been on the tour. "There are people who live here but have never been to Windmill Island", she informed me. I told her that was silly, as the windmill is very unique. I love its history and it's a cool-looking structure to boot! Like I said, it's the real deal. 

Besides the windmill, many other features of Windmill Island promote Dutch history, such as this:

A gift shop that replicates older-style Dutch architecture.

And this:

Photos of the Little Netherlands display follow:

I'm a sucker for these scale-model set-ups; I love looking at all the details, which, as you can see from my pictures, range from boats, cheese sellers, pasture and more. Overall, the size of the entire display equals that of the big model railroad displays one sometimes sees in museums and in mall exhibits. 

Close to the Little Netherlands is another example of artistry to a high degree:

An overview of the carousel, followed by a close-up of some of the steeds:

As fun as these animals are, what really appealed to me are the hand-painted panels encircling the inner section of the carousel; they had been redone several years ago by a local woman and she had done a wonderful job! You'll see what I mean by the following photos:

There are more panels from this carousel, but I hope you get the idea of how charming these are! As with the Little Netherlands display, I really enjoyed seeing all the details.

Another ode to the "real Holland":

These are some of the flags from Dutch provinces, with the signs near the bottoms of the flagpoles identifying each province. Several of these provincial names were used to name towns around here as well. 

One last bit of Dutch history to show:

An old-fashioned organ, a gift from the Netherlands. It still is played at intervals throughout the day on Windmill Island and has a lovely sound. 

I hope that if you don't live here, you enjoyed my little tour of Windmill Island! However, if you live in this area and, as the tour guide had commented, have never been here, then I say you owe it yourself to come see the natural and man-made artistry in person!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Thrifty Acres - Thrift Store Costumes

Hello! As I'm sure many of you know, thrift stores become go-to stores during the month of October as people look for either secondhand Halloween costumes or for secondhand clothes to create their own costumes. 

History lessons at school, however, have provided our daughter with extra dress-up days beyond Halloween. For instance, since 5th grade she has portrayed a 16th C scientist, a 16th C woman artist, Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, and more. 

In fact, these history assignments were what opened my eyes to thrift store bargains in the first place: on the hunt to find a older-style garment for the Susan B. Anthony portrayal, I found a suitable dress that was marked $6.00 - with the original price tag of nearly $100.00 still attached. Wow! From then on I was hooked. 

I have always enjoyed clothing history; one of my favorite sections of my family's World Book Encyclopedia when I was a kid was the clothing article with many pages devoted to clothing history and folk dress throughout the world. Thus, when our daughter has to "dress up" for a history lesson, I'm on it. 

The latest project was no exception: several days ago she informed me that she would be portraying Angela Davis for a 1960's-themed "Meeting of the Minds" session in her AP US History class. 

A search of Google images showed that Ms. Davis wore rather conventional clothes, but occasionally she would wear buttons in support of social causes important to her. 

We are able to approximate one of her outfits, paying only $3.50 in all for a home-sewn top and a pair of like-new pants that originally had come from Talbots (wonder what they had cost there?)

Here is what we came up with (I already owned the necklace):

After buying the top, I later came across a sewing pattern for making an identical blouse (at another thrift store, of course!) Said pattern was from 1969, so I was pretty much on target with the look. I would have bought the pattern, but alas, it came in only one, too-small size (sewing patterns didn't use to be multi-sized as they are now).

To replicate one of Ms. Davis' buttons, I searched through Google images to find a button whose message replicated a button she had worn. I settled on the following:

"Free Huey" refers to Huey Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panthers, who'd gotten in trouble with the law. I downsized the button image to fit a campaign button we already had around the house. I thought this re-worked button added an authentic touch.

Every student in the class picked a well-known person from the 1960's to portray in today's "Meeting of the Minds" session. Dress-up was optional, but was worth extra points, so I thought it worth our efforts. Besides, it was fun! 

So there you have it - thrifted clothes come in handy for "dress up" the other 11 months of the year as well.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Eats - First Crop Of The Year

Hello! Picked our first garden crop of the season earlier today:

Technically, what you see above is the thinnings of various lettuces (plus a little spinach), but I can get snooty and call them "microgreens". 

I ended up picking close to 1 1/2 cups of lettuces. This may not sound like much, but represents a much better result from growing lettuces than I have had in the past. Previous attempts had me dealing with having to wait for frozen soil to thaw out, then slow germination, followed by squirrels and birds digging around in the soil where I'd just sown the seeds. The culmination was cool weather quickly changing to warm weather, which meant that my salad greens would bolt before they had a chance to do much of anything. 

The abnormally-mild winter has obviously made a big difference this year! The ground never really froze solid, so I was able to sow the seeds outdoors before St. Patrick's Day. That was right around the time we had temps in the 80's for several days, so the seeds germinated very quickly. 

It's turned cooler since, so they've grown very slowly, but finally got to the stage where they could be thinned. And miraculously, in all this time they've been growing, they've yet to be disturbed by either birds or squirrels. 

So yeah, I have a nice little salad for today - and hopefully will have even more in the days ahead!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Made It - Baby Gifts

Hello! Two recent births meant two recent gift-giving occasions. I decided to make handmade gifts for both new babies. 

The first baby, a boy, was born to a co-worker of my husband's. Thus, I decided to make a couple of simple toys, both in the school colors of the college where my husband and his co-worker teach:

As you can see, I made a simple doll and a ball (the ball rattles due to the jingle bell inside). These were easy and fun to make. I was glad I had that piece of blue and orange striped fabric! It's a perfect match of the school colors. As you can see with the ball, I used different tones of blues and oranges. 

I can't say I had fun with the doll-making I attempted for the second baby, a girl born to my brother and his wife. I started out by using a pattern out of an old Christmas magazine. The directions were rather vague; the magazine staff of that era (mid-1960's) probably assumed that women who wanted to make dolls as Christmas gifts already knew how to craft one. 

After careful cutting, pinning, sewing and stuffing, I ended with a doll who looked somewhat like a stuffed turtle. Ugh.

Round two: I followed a commercial pattern (thrift store find, of course). It turned out cute enough, but I'd mistakenly sewed one leg in the arm section - which meant that I also sewed one arm in the leg section. Consequently, the doll ended up a little misshapen. I actually like the rather funky look, but wasn't sure if my brother and his wife would. 

Round three: I cobbled together a doll pattern of my own to make it easier on me. It still looks a little misshapen, but I decided to give it as a gift anyway:

The doll has finewhale corduroy arms and legs, pink broadcloth head with hand-embroidered face, and a body cut from an Ikea pillowcase (thrift store find for a quarter). I had used most of the pillowcase to make a tote bag, but there was enough left to use for the doll as well. 

The doll rests on a baby blanket I made from a commercial pattern. Very easy to make - flannel and cotton rectangles were sewn together to make the blanket. Although it is a basic gift, there was significance to the use of the pattern and the flannel: both were found in my mother's sewing things after her death. 

My brother's new baby girl will never know her paternal grandmother, but at least she'll have a part of this grandmother with this blanket!

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Tale Of Two Campuses

Hello! For many high school juniors and seniors, spring break often can mean campus visits and this year was no exception for our daughter, a high school junior. We made two campus visits, each university being very different from the other. However, both were easy driving distances from our town, so off we went. 

Stop #1 was Notre Dame, a private university with a very good reputation. It is a lovely campus and appears to have top-notch facilities; everything looked clean and very well-maintained (this wasn't exactly true of some of the private colleges we visited last summer out east). It's very hard to get in, though. Our daughter may apply anyway - doesn't hurt to try.

A few scenes from the campus follow:

An outdoor grotto; very serene setting for prayer.

The Golden Dome, which is the administration building for the university. The admissions official who gave a talk joked that they once had a visitor who asked if that was a replica of the Statue of Liberty on top of the dome - it's not; it's Mary.

The Golden Dome was fabulous inside - the ceiling of the dome is painted with a celestial scene that I had to crane my head up to view, and there were very detailed murals on the walls near the room where the admissions official spoke. As I'd said earlier, a very well-maintained place. 

On Wednesday we drove our daughter to Michigan State University so that she could participate in the "Day At State" overnight stay. For this program, the high school visitor is paired with a current student with similar academic interests to see what a typical day at MSU may entail. 

In the case of our daughter's hostess, the 24-hour period consisted of dinner, a bus ride to a night lab class, homework and then watching some TV with dorm mates, sleep, then class, lunch and more classes the next day. The hostess has a very full schedule but seems to like being a student there.

Our daughter enjoyed her stay very much. I think it helps that both her parents are MSU alumni (it's where we met) and so she's been on campus here and there ever since she can remember. We had been on a campus tour last summer as well. Just the same, a campus the size of Michigan State can seem intimidating at first, so it was good that she wanted to see what it was like getting around and attending some large-sized classes. 

I took a couple of pictures yesterday when I returned to pick her up:

This is Beaumont Tower, which you can read about HERE. A true campus landmark.

Near the administration building (alas, nowhere near as attractive a structure as the Golden Dome) is this scene:

The Red Cedar River runs through campus and as this particular section of the river never freezes over (due to a small series of rapids nearby), ducks and other waterfowl live there year-round. And why not? Not only do they have continuous access to open water, but they are fed a steady supply of breadstuffs. I have never seen any of the ducks ever refuse a handout, though you'd think they'd all be as round as beachballs with the junk food and stale bread they are given! 

But from the photos it is easy to see that the MSU campus is also very pretty; when I attended there I always felt it was like going to college in a huge park.

We have more campus visits awaiting us, as our daughter still has a little over a year to go before she commits to a college. It is an interesting process to be sure!