Nov 2, 2014

Things are happening!


Anyone who may be following has probably noticed the lack of things to notice on this ol' blog lately (except for a few random travel posts really just for my family). I've been thinking about what I want this space to be - it has gone through a few permutations, reflecting my own flitting interests. I'm like a bird, I get distracted and flutter this way, then that. And for a long, long time I thought that this flightiness was "bad", that I should stick to a single interest in both blog-life and real-life because, we've all been told, practice makes perfect, and didn't I want to be good at something?

All this is to say, I'm revamping this blog but instead of shoving it into a niche - "food" or "fashion" or "lifestyle" (which, I'm still not totally sure I know what that is...), I'm returning to what I envisioned when I first started this space up. I always thought of this blog as a chronicle of my own search for that illusive "happiness" and my posts, be they recipes or little style tricks, have always come from that place of searching. In an effort to have a positive vibe and fit into the shiny, happy land of lady bloggers who seem to always have perfectly coifed hair and days full of crafty fun, I sometimes lost my voice. I found myself writing posts that I thought others would like or that would garner the most pins and totally neglecting why I started this blog in the first place: To figure out what makes me happy.

Without getting too much into TMI land, I've always had a fascination with happiness: why some people seemed to have it in spades and why others (like me) seemed to always be seeking it.  And I have always been a seeker: endless major changes in college chasing after some career that would bring me happiness, several cross-country moves in the hopes that a change of scenery might be the magic bullet, a never-ending string of new hobbies that just might do the trick.

But rather than grasping at straws and throwing myself towards whatever seems the shiniest and coolest, I'm trying to take a more empirical approach: try a bunch of things out, see what sticks, and hopefully expand my life in the process.

And so I hope to feature on my blog the projects that are inspiring me, the information that is lighting me up, the people that expand my mind along the way.

I've been really diving into this whole crafting a happier life thing and will also be sharing the books that are helping me along the way. I'm currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin which is immensely inspiring and full of great happiness-related info (did you know that getting just one extra hour of sleep per night equals an increase in happiness equivalent to getting a $60,000 raise?!). Rubin takes readers through a chronicle of her own quest for happiness and my copy is brimming with stars and underlines of things I want to try myself.

So, stay tuned and stay in touch - let's make some magic (which is really to say, happiness!)


Oct 5, 2014


Basel is cooler than your city, guaranteed.

The only thing I knew of Basel before coming here was that it hosted one of the hippest contemporary art fairs, Art Basel but the city is just really happening all the time with crazy amounts of interesting art to see.

Even the hostel was designed by a fancy architecture firm that specializes in art museums. It sits on a little creek, an off-shoot of the Rhine, and you can hear the rushing water from all the rooms.

The area around the hostel is gorgeous and hilly and old - this church is right next door and I'm not sure how old it is, but there are graves from the 1600's!

I spent the day wandering as per usual and discovered that not only is Basel cooler than most other places I've been, it's also older. The other cities I visited were founded in the Middle Ages, but Basel has been a city since Roman times and they recently found evidence of an even earlier Celtic settlement.

The city's cathedral was founded in 1019 (!) and feels like it. The face of the cathedral even features a knight slaying a dragon, probably the most medieval motif possible. 

It's cloisters are filled with memorial plaques dating back to the 1300s - some of them are likely older, though they've been weathered beyond recognition.

There is something so special about these old, old places. 

The interior of the church itself is more interesting than some of the other churches I've visited including lots of original medieval wood carvings.

And the crypt still has remnants of very old, if not original, paintings. 

Basel, like Bern, still very much uses its medieval buildings. This is the famous town hall, built in the 14th century (though with 16th century updates) that still functions as meeting space for the city government. Its plaza is filled with a bustling farmers market everyday except Sunday. I followed the smell of grilling meat to a stand selling the most amazing sausages - I scarfed mine before I remembered to take a picture.

Walking around, I also kept smelling the most delicious, warm smell and discovered it was coming from roasted chesnut stands like this throughout the Old Town. I also discovered that chestnuts are disgusting, but make for excellent hand warmers.

Basel is filled with little medieval seals and grotesques, or monsters. They are in plaques above doorways, set into random niches in ancient buildings, and decorate fountains throughout the city.

This one is my favorite yet - a weird snake /cat thing.

A cold I've been fighting all week finally caught up with me today so I'm moving kind of slowly but I visited the fabulous Beyeler Foundation to see an exhibition of Gustave Courbet.

I took a lunch break in the restaurant on the tranquil grounds and discovered that pumpkin soup is amazing.

I'm currently taking a little blogging break in a super cool coffee shop / bar in an old bank building and then I'm heading off to shove some more art into my brain!

Oct 3, 2014

Bern + Thun + The Alps

The University of Bern that hosted my conference the last couple of days is crazy gorgeous. Its 18th c. buildings sit on top of a hill overlooking the city and there are huge grassy lawns where students lay out in the sun and drink coffee (the Swiss and Germans looooooooove coffee. I've never seen such a coffee drinking group as my conference colleagues!) 

The inside of the art building is also ridiculous:

Just ridiculous.

The conference was 2 days of intense, mind-blowing conversations. Everyone there was both incredibly smart and advanced in their careers - I was by the far the youngest and frankly also the dumbest (I mean, these people had years and years of study on me, so I was doomed). It was simulateously terrifying and exciting and overall pretty tiring so when we all went out to eat last night, I carb loaded Swiss style with local hefeweisen and a plate of Swiss bratwurst and potatoes, or rosti, swimming in a rich onion sauce.

After giving my talk and getting thoroughly interrogated, I was exhausted and wanted to go somewhere new and pretty. I went a little further into the Alp region so I could get a good view of the mountains. While you can see the peaks from a distance in Bern, the view isn't particularly good, so one of the women at the conference suggested I take a short train trip to the small medieval city of Thun.

Thun is like Bern in a lot of ways (though much smaller) with winding medieval streets and a gorgeous, clear river running through town.

Thun is built around a hill topped with a 12th century castle that was just about as fairy tale as I've seen. It was a hike to the top of the hill, but the views were gorgeous and I rested in the castle's cafe overlooking the Alps for a beer before I headed back down.

It was a kind of hazy/cloudy day so my pictures of the mountains aren't the best but they were still lovely.

The hill leading up to the castle is filled with winding residential roads and classic Swiss chalet style homes. I wandered around for awhile imagining what it would be like to live somewhere so beautiful and tranquil.

Tomorrow I head out to Basel (about an hour by train away) for a couple of days of city rambling and art gazing, updates to come!

Oct 1, 2014


After hosteling it in Zurich is was amazing to get to Bern and my own lovely little hotel room. I stretched it out on my balcony for a bit before setting out into the city.

All the walking in Zurich yesterday had beaten me up pretty hard, but after some yoga and tea at the hotel, I had to go exploring again.

Even though Bern is also a city cut down the middle by a river and is only an hour train ride from Zurich, it has a very different vibe: while Zurich is ultra posh, Bern has a very laid back, almost bohemian feeling. There are buskers performing in the streets, people lounging in the city's many parks, and it's streets are built around wide plazas with sidewalk cafes absolutely everywhere with people lounging and drinking there, too, even on a Wednesday afternoon. 

It's also incredibly hilly - the city is built up and down the hills surrounding the Rhine.

I took it like a local and spent a signifigant amount of time lounging in parks today. One of the most famous is the Rosengarten, or Rose Garden, on the tallest hill in the city. It was a painful hike up a super steep cobblestone road for my already sore legs, so I crashed in the grass beneath the roses for a bit before heading back down to the city.

The city's cathedral is much different than Zurich's - while it was also wiped out of its decoration during the Reformation, it has since been redecorated several times and has a much less austere feeling. I snuck this picture in of the Gothic arches painted with later (I think 18th c.) floral decorations.

Bern is an OLD city, founded in 1191. Few, if any, buildings survive from then, though, as they were mostly wood and were wiped out in a major fire in 1405. However, many of the buildings from that time are still in the Old Town center.

This is the famous Zytglogge, or clocktower. Its bones actually date from the city's foundings, but the elaborate astronomical clock is from the 1400's. What's cool about Bern is that these incredible and ancient buildings are just part of the everyday life of the city. The  tower is right next to the main shopping street in the city and tram cables surround it.

After wandering the Old Town, I met up with the folks hosting the conference for dinner. Everyone I've met so far is great, excited for the first conference day today!

Sep 30, 2014

Tuesday in Zurich!

Holy jet lag! 

I didn't sleep a bit on the plane so I've been wandering Old Town Zurich in full-on zombie mode. It's a gray, drizzly day which is actually perfect for my sleepy mood and means I've gotten to take lots of cozy coffee breaks.

I stopped at an Art Noveau era cafe called Odeon for coffee and breakfast - I was so revived that I didn't even mind that the coffee cost $10. 

Zurich is a gorgeous city, even in the rain, and my hostel as a lovely view of the city and the surrounding hills from it's rooftop patio.

Zurich is bisected by the Limmat River and I've spent all day wandering the river banks.

This church is Grossminster which literally means Big Church. Legend has it that Charlemagne consecrated a church on this spot. The bones of the current church were begun in 1100. Unfortunately, like many churches in Switzerland, the Reformation of the 1500s virtually wiped the inside clean of all it's original paintings, sculpture, and stained glass. It's still a beautiful, solemn space (no photos allowed inside though!)

Further down the river I stumbled into the cutest farmers market and purchased the most expensive but also the most delicious apple I've ever had. Total soul nectar.

I continued my jet lagged ramble to the Zurich Kunsthaus or Fine Art Museum. The original building is filled with great Art Nouveau touches (built in 1910) and a really lovely contemporary section has been added on. The collection is wide but surprisingly great, including an iconic Monet water lily, several Van Goghs, and the other big standards often hung in out of the way places so that they spring upon you. They also specialize in Swiss art, particularly Alberto Giacometti (most of who's work is out on loan right now, drat!) and a new discovery for me, the Swiss Symbolist Ferdinand Hodler. 

This painting is mesmerizing and huge, 7 or 8 feet wide and glimmers with metallic pigments worked into the tones of the women's skin. I need to read more about this guy! 

I'm meeting up with a friend of a friend for a beer in a medieval artillery arsenal in a bit and heading to Bern tomorrow - more photos soon!

May 18, 2014

DIY Jewels: Brass Top Knuckle Ring

Hi y'all! I'm super pumped about today's tutorial – it's one of the first things I taught myself how to make when I decided to learn how to solder metal jewelry and it's a great starter project for anyone else interested in learning.

Plus, top knuckle rings are so fun to wear!

Now soldering requires fire which might seem scary, but this project and many, many others can be created using a basic handheld butane torch like this:

Mine is a only a little more heavy-duty than your run-of-the-mill kitchen torch (think creme brûlée). It has an adjustable flame so it is versatile for different projects. You can buy it from Rio Grande jewelry supply here. For small brass, silver, or copper projects you're making on your kitchen table like this, this small torch is really all you need.

The rest of the supplies are a very basic soldering set up. Once you have them, you'll be ready to make just about anything you can dream of.

I use: a firebrick set in a pie tin surrounded by pebbles (these are to catch any molten hot metal that might fall from the brick), a set of stainless steel tweezers with heat-proof finger grips, a third hand to hold it in place, and some brass soldering paste.

There are a few other supplies in the above photo that are very basic jewelry-making tools and will be a good foundational set of supplies to have: the #2 hand file for getting rid of rough edges, a rawhide mallet for shaping your metal without marking it, the stainless steel bench block as a hammering surface, the ring mandrel for shaping rings, and the snippers for easy, short cuts.

So, gather your supplies and let's make a ring!

DIY Brass Ring 


Brass bezel wire (mine is 26 gauge, 1/8 inch wide, purchased from this etsy seller)
Brass soldering paste (I purchase mine from Rio Grande)
Butane torch
Soldering surface like a firebrick
Stainless steel tweezers + third hand
#2 hand file
Rawhide mallet
Bench block
Ring mandrel

To clean:
Your pickle solution of choice, see below for my organic pickle recipe

To polish and seal:
Your preferred polishing device, I used a Dremel and 3M radial discs, see below, and then I seal with Renaissance polishing wax.

Step 1: Cut your brass bezel wire to the desired length. 

The easiest way to know what length you need is to measure your finger with a piece of string and then measure that string. You can make this a regular ring or follow my lead and make it a top knuckle ring.

Step 2: Shape your brass.

If your bezel wire is a little bent at the end from cutting it, flatten it out with your rawhide mallet against your bench block. Also notice if your cut was clean and straight - if not, you many need to file the edges a bit. Shape your ring against your ring mandrel, hammering with your mallet to get it into shape. For soldering, you want your edges to align perfectly and smoothly with no space between them. Any space at all will mean your joint won't solder correctly.

I usually shape with the mandrel, then take the ring off and push the edges together, moving them back and forth, edging them closer together like you would when you're closing a jump ring. Play with it until your edges meet nice and neatly.

Step 3: Get ready to solder.

Place your ring in the stainless steel tweezers (I always use the kind with heat-proof finger pads) and place in your third hand over your soldering surface. I currently use a firebrick which is essentially just a heatproof brick.

Step 4: Solder!

Make sure your soldering paste is right in the ring's seam - I used a needle to really it in there.

When you've heated your metal up to the point it glows a dull red your solder paste will "flow" and liquify and seal itself into the ring's joint. You'll see it bubble up and change colors and move really quickly. It happens fast and as you'll see in the video, it doesn't take long for this to happen.

Now, at this point, you have a ring! You'll just need to clean it up a bit. Let it sit in the tweezers for a minute and then quench in a bowl of water. Be careful! Your tweezers, your ring, and your soldering surface will all be extremely hot at this point and should not be touched (hence the heat-proof finger pads on your tweezers).

Step 5: Pickle your ring.

Pickling is the process of cleaning the fire scale or dark, burntness off of your metal. There are many, many formulas for this out there but most involve some pretty nasty chemicals. I make my own basic organic formula.

Organic brass pickle:
2 parts white vinegar
1 part hydrogen peroxide

It works pretty great, though I have to say not as quickly as the toxic stuff. Let your ring sit in this solution for 15 minutes or so, stirring it around in there every once in awhile to loosen the gunk up.

I'll take my piece out after 15 minutes and rinse with water and scrub with a little steel wool - if that doesn't take most of the fire scale off, the piece can go back in for a bit. Note that leaving your piece in this solution for too long will etch the surface with a faint texture - basically the solution eating into the metal. This isn't the end of the world and will likely be buffed out when you polish the piece.

Your solution will turn a bright blue when it is used up – in my photo above, my solution is only just barely starting to turn blue so I can likely use it again to pickle my next project. Keep it covered so it doesn't evaporate.

Step 6: Polish / Finish

Polish your ring with any method you know and like. I use a Dremel power tool with a flex-shaft attachment and an assortment of 3M radial discs to get any remaining fire scale off and buff out my surface. When using a Dremel or any other buffing tool it's a good idea to hold small things like this ring in a wooden hand vice (these are super cheap and super handy and keep your hands from getting too close to danger).

This is a really great tutorial on how to use 3M discs.

I then seal all my brass with Renaissance polishing wax and a lint-free towel.

I also paint a thin coat of clear nail polish on the inside of all my brass rings since brass has a tendency to turn some people (like me!) green.

And voila! You can solder a ring!

This project might seem complicated, but simple joint soldering like this is one of the foundational skills that will allow you to make so, so much more once you've mastered it. And in the process, you'll make some pretty sweet rings!

Love and happy making,