Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jessie Hemmons: Yarn Bomber

Jessie struggled to fit the design she'd labored on for close to a week over an unsuspecting trash can on Girard Avenue. The struggle was indicative to a deeper struggle within her - between her art and her self.
In her Philadelphia apartment Jessie put the finishing touches on her brightly colored rectangles of yarn while she explained her medium. “I was never good at drawing or painting, but I always loved street art, tagging and graffiti.”, She says, “I just can't imagine not yarnbombing.”.
She got her start learning to knit from her grandmother and she recollects a course in knitting offered to safeties while growing up in her suburban community. Later, it was simply the boredom of commuting to work on the train that reignited an interest in knitting. She recounts that she had from motion sickness while reading. Knitting seemed like a reasonable solution that has now turned into an obsession. She rifles through her bag, tossing balls of yarn, a pair of sunglasses and a little black bag that most girls would keep lip gloss and tampons in, but Jessie stows a tiny pair of scissors, some loose thread and a knitting needle... just in case. The rest of her knitting skills she's obtained from books and articles that she's spliced together – a hodge podge of knowledge brought together much like her pieces.
Her deeper struggle is a great love for art of all kinds, a deep belief that it should be accessible to all people, and her reluctance to recognize herself as a true artist. In her respect for artists she feels there's a certain level of credential that's earned when one puts the time and effort into studying and mastering an art form. Jessie doesn't seem to feel she's done this, at least not in the conventional - art school - way. She shies away from directly associating herself in the realm of artists that surround her. Its an act of humility. She sees herself as just doing what she loves.
Hemmons does believe strongly that art should be equally accessible to all people and shine a light on those in lesser known communities. She has benefited recently from some notoriety over work done in Rittenhouse Square and similar areas. However, she winces at
terms like, “Hipster art”. Her true passions would carry her to vast projects. Ultimately, she dreams of covering a house in Kensington. “Wrap it up, like a present.”, she says.
She struggles with the same issues as any artist: time, money, venue. She touts, “I never wanted it to be about money.”, which is part of the reason yarn is such a tangible medium. Yet, a vast project like a home or any structure costs a considerable amount of money
and time, which she's willing to invest, but wrestles with the logistics of. Until she figures those things out she continues doing what she simply can't stop doing.
She pulls and tugs at the piece. She had measured the can she planned to adorn with the cozy, but had opted to post on a different trash can. It wasn't fitting. She was finally able to stitch the two sides together and weave a stitch around the top to ensure it didn't slide down.
Families get off the trolley.
A man stops to inquire as to why she'd ever spend all that time dressing up a trash can.
She steps back from her piece and declares, she's not happy. It just wasn't what she envisioned. Jessie holds her work to high standard. She stands north of it, west of it, walks away east of it and several times looks over her shoulder. Reaffirming herself then edging off, she says, “That'll do I guess. Next time I'll do that bus stop. I think that's part of my problem. I envision big things.”
When Jessie dreams of covering a dilapidated home in south Philadelphia with yarn to beautify and shine a light on that community, she's reminding us all what it means to be an artist. Though she's reluctant to admit it, she is the core of a true artist. A true artist has no choice, but to do what they love, no matter the medium or venue. Conventionality mean little. Vision means everything.

For a slide show of photos from Jessie's great trash can yarn bomb, click on this link:

For more information on yarnbombing visit www.yarnbombing.com

Monday, July 5, 2010

Matt And Kim At The Piazza At Schmidts: Know Them. Go There.

You should know Matt and Kim. You should go to The Piazza at Schmidts. And if you had known Matt and Kim at The Piazza then you were there with me July 3rd for the Radio 104.5 free show. If you were there, then there was simply no way you could have been disappointed. From Matt and Kim to the venue right down to the parking - you simply could not lose.
Let's start with The Piazza. Bart Blatstein is the brains behind this endeavor which he described this way on the Piazza's website, " My dream was t
o create a ‘five minute neighborhood’ where people live, shop, eat, work and play, all within a few city blocks. With all forms of public transit nearby, residents will have ever
ything they need at their fingertips enabling them to decrease their carbon footprints by never having to use a car.". The success was evident ubiquitously.
Bikes were tethered to posts, trees, racks, everything. People cluttered the shops and restaurants to have a piece of the buzzing, youthful and, honestly, just stunningly beautiful atmosphere (made mostly beautiful by the crowd with help from the architecture and artists.). Upscale trendsetters mingled with hippies of new
generation in shops featuring emerging artists, restaurants (with decadent to the palate, but attainable to the wallet dishes) and on street corners and in door ways. There's no limit to what the eyes might take in there.
The piazza does feature something for everyone. Go to their website. Find a Phillies game on the big screen, a band you like, or peruse the market. Just go! Bike if can. Drive if you must.

I'd be lying if I said I have followed Matt and Kim's career - that my dedication to their body of work transcends time and
space. The truth would be more like, a friend of friend posted a blip about them on Facebook and mentioned the were coming to town. I checked out their work, immediately fell in love and decided to go see them. I had heard them on xpn and dog eared them in musical page of my brain. Upon the recollection and watching a couple of they're amazing and funny videos, I felt a kinship. Matt and Kim feel like your friends putting on a show in the basement. They fe
el knowable, relatable, and like a hell of a lot of fun.
They're enthusiasm is contagious.

They're beats are simple, but hypnotic. They are ice cream, the carbonation in your favorite soda, and your favorite accessory (You don't wear it all the time, but when you do, you love it.). Even if you don't fall madly in love with Matt and Kim's music, you would likely fall in love with them. Their latest album, Grand is worth having in your musical catalogue. Include them in, If for nothing more than the perfect beat on a summer day when you have the windows down and you're stuck at that damn stoplight for the millionth time. Or as Bart Blatstein envisions, you're on your way to The Piazza on your bike with your ipod projecting the joy that is Matt and Kim.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tabora Farms and Orchard

At the first of June I longed to make a pilgrimage to my youth and harvest something straight from the earth. So, of course, I began (as one should with all things organic) with a google search. “Pick your own strawberries
19454” turned up a cornucopia of local
farms. I decided, being somewhat lazy in my pilgrimage (a bit of an oxymoron, I know), to start with the most local of local growers. Yet, between you and me, we'll say it was my deep hunger to support my domestic farmer and a drive to break the spell of oil addiction that led to this decision to call a farm in close by Chalfont.
I got the answering machine (which sounded like a bonafide, old time, circa, eighty-something, answering machine). It explained that they didn't offer strawberry picking anymore, but their neighbors at Tabora Farms and Orchard (www.taborafarmandorchard.com) did. Soon, my husband and I found ourselves with a few dollars in cash, a giant blue bowl and well on our way to Tabora. Our journey took us past Peace Valley Park and Peace Valley Winery and finally to the farm.
When we pulled up, hanging baskets and fresh plants filled the atmosphere. A few men sat on some casual lawn furniture and ate lunch. We walked the path to the front door passed flowers in baskets and couples in rocking chairs, to enter a heaven of homestead culinary beauty.
Snag a friend, spouse, family member or enemy and make your way to Tabora. They have produce growing year round. Pick a season and, well, pick.You had your farm staples: Pies, cookies, muffins, cakes, jams, etc.; but beyond that there was a fully furnished deli and produce section. Roasted chicken, fruits, veggies, and even home made ice cream (rosemary flavored? I don't know. You try it and let me know.) filled the small building. The chipper girl at the register directed us to the strawberry field.
My husband would advise you first and foremost to not do as your tempted and plop right down in front of the first bunch of strawberries y
ou see and start picking. Rather, walk all the way to the back of the field and work your way to the front. Most people don't even make
it to the back of the field. There's plenty for the picking there. Another helpful hint? Don't bring a giant blue bowl. They hand out little containers there. I know what you're thinking, “I'll be waste conscious and bring my own giant bowl.”. Trust me, you'll never be able to stop picking. You think you can stop any time? Wrong. You'll be chasing the strawberry dragon all day. So, do yourself a favor. Use their containers. One giant blue bowl later; we made our way to the check out, where despite the meager cost of $1.50 per pound, we didn't have enough cash to cover our excursion. Good thing an aunt had discovered this community treasure long before us, had stopped in to grab a few items and offered to cover our tab.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Doylestown: Moravian Tile Works Festival

Before arriving at a wedding on May 16th of this year, I stumbled upon a gem in Doylestown. This may not be of great surprise to anyone since Doylestown boasts quite a few gems in its vicinity. However, I had never experienced
the Moravian Tile Works Festival
(www.buckscounty.org/government/departments/tileworks/Events/TileFestival.aspx). I never knew there were so many ways to palpate the medium of ceramics and tile. The beauty and variety of displays was breath taking and in many instances completely affordable. Some styles featured were gloss, matte, mold, carved, classical themes and modern, as well as religious and distinctly secular; among many others.
Relatively unknown artists were paired with local stars like, Isaiah Zagar, responsible for Philadelphia's Magic Gardens (the south street and beyond mosaics in Phi
www.philadelphiasmagicgardens.org (For a bonus, next time your updating your Netflix queue, check out the documentary Isaiah's son made – In A Dream www.inadreammovie.com)
I was smitten by the charming and classic Alice In Wonderland depiction by Barbara of B. A. Schmidt Art (www.baschmidtartstiles.com), a whimsical Stouffer's Dinner by Ricky Boscarino and Gregory Hicho (website under construction) in metallic tile as well as a compelling religious collection from Sligo Creek Tile Co. (www.sligocreek.com/catalogsection.aspx?id=3).
For the sake of your domestic art collection and to keep local art alive visit The Moravian Tile Works Festival when it comes around next year.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lana's Story: Losing 260 Pounds And Gaining A New Life

When Lana walked into the Reading Hospital Weight Management Center in June 2007 she weighed 407 pounds. If you ask her how she got to that point she will not tell you a heart wrenching story of a life long struggle with obesity. Lana was an average size into adulthood and only after having her first child did she begin a long battle with weight gain. Slowly, after many years, she reached this weight.
Lana describes herself as having always been active, even at her heaviest. A busy mother of two, supervisor of a group home for individuals with special needs and all around adventurer, you never once get the impression that she was idly watching the days of her life go by. When she reflects back on all the weight, she wonders how she managed to do half the things she did. This became the problem. Lana noticed she was having to turn down opportunities and events. She had to think ahead about every possible scenario she might incur on any given trip. Her litany of questions included, but were not limited to: What was the seating situation? How much walking was involved? Were there hills?
She was prematurely aging and fast. At 35 she had gone to Europe and struggled to climb a hill, but made it, none the less. At 40 she new that if she returned she would not be able to make that same trek. She recalls turning down family activities dependent on the location and demands. Lana had all the expected complications that come along with obesity: acid reflux, high blood pressure, bad knees. Her life was being cut short. Having always been active, as her daughters entered into adulthood, she began to dwell on the desire to be the grandmother who took the grandkids out, played along side them and exposed them to new opportunities. The reality was that this opportunity was passing her by as she crescendoed in weight.
All these things culminated to her decision to pursue Lap Band Surgery. This procedure has been in the U.S. for a shorter period of time than other weight loss surgeries. It's is also statistically less successful. This may in large part be due to the fact that it does not reroute the intestines as some other procedures, but puts a band around a portion of the stomach. Therefore, cravings and appetite still abound creating a difficult environment to turn down the urge to eat as the patient previously did. How it works is the band is filled with saline to tighten around the stomach over time. This limits the amount of food the stomach is able to take in initially. She felt this was a much safer and a less invasive course of action. Lana indicates her research turned up “horror stories” of weight loss surgeries gone wrong when other methods were used.
From June 2007 to November she ran the gamut of doctors and specialists as she prepared for surgery. She was required to lose 10% of her body weight before even having the band placed (She dropped 50 pounds – over 10%), to have a psyche evaluation, see a dietitian, and countless other appointments. It was rigorous and grueling especially as she reflects upon how difficult it is for someone who struggles with weight issues to go see their doctor. “You don't go unless you have to,” she remarks, “because you know they're going to weigh you and you're going to get the lecture.”
In November 2008 Lana had Lap Band surgery. The requirements for prep and post op dietary intake are nothing to shirk at. They're specified to each candidate, but generally follow some similar pattern of all liquid diet a number of days before surgery, then the same for a couple to few weeks after. Gradually the patient is able to eat processed foods and eventually a normal diet, according to what their doctor has stipulated for them.
In Lana's journey she recounts that after the procedure she was ravenous. Her appetite came back full force and it was nearly impossible for her to maintain this stringent diet. She began to gain back some of the weight lost before surgery and grew discouraged. Yet, she persevered, went back for saline fills and began to exercise. Soon she saw improvement.
In January 2008 she began to exercise. No, she didn't hit the tread mill running, or start biking or kick boxing. She walked. She walked the mall for one hour and in June 2008 began walking the local track. Around April she began to feel a change. In January 2009 she joined the gym and continues work out several times a week, devoting a lot of time to the ellipticals which provides a great cardio workout with less impact on the knees. Lana started at a 2000 calorie diet after the surgery and gradually lowered it to 1800, 1400, 1200 and has now stabilized at a consistent 1500 calorie diet.
She has successfully lost 260 pounds since her surgery and has maintained her weight with a great amount of hard work and determination. Yet, this accomplishment is not an intangible one. It required several small steps and daily decisions to make the change she wanted in her life.
I asked what advice she'd offer to anyone considering a similar path. I asked what she wished she new or was different about this journey. She said that everyone must make this decision when they are ready. Sometimes she wonders why she didn't start sooner, but really doesn't believe that she was ready. Also, she says to talk about the surgery. Never keep it a secret. This holds one accountable to the commitment they've made. It's so easy to go back to the same lifestyle, but if others know then one feels more of an obligation to stick to it.
Counseling is a practice she wishes was required as part of the gauntlet of medical professionals one is required to see before, during and after surgery. She attests to the traumatic psychological changes that are undergone as one sheds hundreds of pounds and discovers a new way of life. It's not uncommon for relationships to fail, and individuals to fall apart when someone undergoes such a dramatic change. One feels differently about themselves and they find that others feel differently about them too. Lana mentions that belief that “you're always the fat girl” as a great obstacle to over come. Another issue is many times obesity is part of a larger struggle with addiction and having surgery just results in dropping one addiction only to pick up another. According to an ABC news report, “About 140,000 people have weight-loss surgery each year, and it is estimated that somewhere between 5 and 30 percent of them pick up new addictive behaviors afterward. Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist, said it's common for people to switch from one addiction to another. People who quit drinking may begin smoking, or they might take up some other compulsive behavior like gambling, shopping or exercise.”. (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2210783&page=2)
These issues are sobering realities, however, Lana testifies to the positivity of her life altering choices. She finds vast joy in her new lease on life. The possibilities are nearly limitless as she relinquishes the burden of constant analysis over her ability to participate in life itself. No longer does she doubt if she can climb a hill, go out to dinner, or even make it up the stairs in her home. She looks forward to a future of adventures as a grandmother. For Lana, life is about seizing opportunities and about being the best she can be and sharing that experience with others. She doesn't pretend to have it all figured out or think that her way is the best way, but she's an advocate for living the best life possible. She'll continue to make the best decisions for herself everyday. That will, in turn, inspire others to do the same for themselves.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Archive

So, one free day I resolved to go
 inside.  The outside appears to be a vast warehouse, void of windows and aesthetics.  It deceived me and left me utterly unprepared for what lay inside.  I crossed the threshold and was immediately overwhelmed by florescent lights and shelves, upon shelves, upon rooms of books.  Straight ahead there was a room with a door closed that displayed a sign with a time limit and age requirement for entering, because it's is a room stacked to the gills with old Playboys and other semi-scandalous magazines.  
Beyond that a desk of comic books.  Beyond that a room full of children's books.  On my first trip here I found a children's history book from Abraham Lincoln's administration for $15 - The American Child's Pictorial History of the United States.  I held it like a Bible and walked the rest of the warehouse in absolute wonder.  
I was Alice In Wonderland.  (which I very fittingly purchased from there on another visit.)  I had fallen down the rabbit hole and did not care if I ever returned.  I went through the room with vintage magazines, old documents, prints, people's personal photos, boxes of match stick books, paintings, and God knows what else and arrived in a musical oasis.  
Boxes of vinyls lined a wall.   I breezed by various mini-stores full of nick knacks and toys.  I found a Cobra Commander station I swear my brothers had when I was little, among other frightening, hilarious and just plain awesome items.  

Eventually I made it back to the checkout and handed over the meager $15 for a piece of history.  I met owners Nancy and Dale who were more than friendly and took the time to find out what my interests were.  They have since set aside items they think may be of interest to me.

I have been back several times and have made this my official stop for all my records.  Their reasonable prices and vast treasures continually reel me in.  You should absolutely make this a stop if you are ever in Lansdale.  I promise you'll not be disappointed in this treasure chest with something for everyone.

The Archive
725 W. Second Street
Lansdale, Pa 19446


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nerd Beer

On an inauspicious Saturday night with little money and no plans, my husband and I hopped into our car went for mexican food and then began a quest.  He had come home earlier that week and shared with me a fascinating article he'd read in the UPenn Gazette about McGovern, the director of UPenn's Bio molecular Laboratory, and Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery coming together to brew "Ancient Ales".  

"McGovern, the scientific director of the Bio molecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the Penn Museum, has spent the last two decades on the trail of ancient wines and beers. Scraping the gunk out of old cauldrons and pottery sherd's, he has found evidence of alcoholic beverages as far apart in space and time as Iron Age Turkey and Neolithic China. Some of his discoveries have been surprising. Some have been bizarre. Using tools like mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography, McGovern has deciphered, with unprecedented exactitude, the ingredients of fermented beverages brewed as far back as 9,000 years ago. 

Calagione has helped him put some of that evidence to a literal taste-test. Together they have reverse-engineered four archaic grogs. Each started out as an academic exercise, but the project has taken on a commercial life of its own. Two have won medals at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. One, a mixed wine/beer/mead concoction reconstructed from McGovern’s analysis of a drinking set buried with the legendary King Midas circa 700 B.C., has won more awards than anything else Dogfish Head makes. "
- UPenn Gazette

Read the full article at:

That's right!  An archaeologist has just spent part of his career analyzing ancient ruins to figure out what their poison was.  Then a local brewer (Dogfish calls Milton Delaware home) says, "Hey, how about I just take those findings and turn it into some tasty concoctions so people can experience what ancient civilizations experienced."  Say no more!  I'm sold!  It's really a nerd meets libation love story and I fell in love.  So, archaeologist scrapes ancient barrels.  Brewer brews concoctions and on a cold January night a couple of enthusiasts hop into a car with a mission.  

First we went to a local store that sells beer.  No go.  Then we went to a large beer distributor, but to no avail.  Finally we went to the Blue Dog Cafe in Valley Forge Road in Lansdale.  This is a bar I frequent to grab a stout and edit my photos in peace on Monday nights.  So, I was pleased to find they did not disappoint.  They hosted a variety of the beers mentioned in the article at varying, but reasonable prices.  We assembled a six pack and made our way back home.

We had agreed that we were extremely interested in "The Midas Touch" as it infused elements of wine and beer together.  Seeing as we both love wine and beer, but rarely drink any hard liquor, this sounded brilliant to us.  Perhaps our "kill two birds with one stone", is over kill, but never the less, we agreed to snag a few of these for our six pack.

I have to say The Midas Tough is gold!  The flavors are unique and distinct, but not over powering.   One can taste the fruity influences.  However, they do not subtract from the dominating hops flavor.  I recommend any beer, wine or cultural enthusiast hurry out and snag a brew or two before they're gone.  If you decide you can't get enough then certainly visit the brewery, which is practically in your back yard if you live in the tri-state area. (I mean, it's Delaware.  How long can it take to get to any point in that state? P.S. No sales tax, score!)  I plan to go on a tour, myself in the near future.  Maybe I'll see you there and we can share a pint together.