Goodbye 2012 and goodbye blog.

I said it would happen, and now it’s really here: this is my last post as DIY Dilettante. This doesn’t mean that I’m not busy dreaming up more career ideas–dog musher, website developer, and sunglass designer have all been recent interests–it’s just that I’m too busy trying to make a few of them reality.

You may have noticed that, even with some variety of career fields, there have been prevalent themes. Poet, Irish writer, bookseller, novelist–they’re all facets of the same desire to make writing even more central in my life. Between adding a few freelance copywriting gigs, storyboarding my first children’s book, and finishing chapters 2-20 of my novel, 2013 is sure to be a year full of writing.

Which is, alas, why I no longer have writing energy left for this blog. I love it dearly, will miss it dearly, and am so glad that some of you have enjoyed it as much as I have. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And Happy New Year.

Here’s an excerpt of WordPress’s 2012 report for my blog:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 150,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy New Year!

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When I started this blog on January 1, 2011, I thought it would only last a year. I hoped, in fact, that I would be able to come up with enough themes and posts to make it last even that long. But for the past few weeks, knowing that I was coming to the end of my self-imposed structure, I began to feel distraught. I really like doing this blog. I didn’t want it to be over. The only problem is that the next few months will be very busy: I’m working 35 hours/week at one job, 15 hours at another, and will be rehearsing 4 nights a week for a professional flamenco performance that’s debuting in February. Oh yeah, and I’m trying to finish the first draft of my novel in 2012.

Here’s my solution: I’m gonna keep going. But I’m only going to do one theme for every two weeks, still with 4-5 posts per theme (thus only 2-3 posts per week). And while every theme will start with “How to be…” they won’t be all be careers.

I was still undecided as of this morning what I would do, but then I got WordPress’s report on my 2011 statistics (see below). It’s too much fun to stop now.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 65,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

DIY: become a detective

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Robert Benchley teaches you all you need to know:

DIY: make your kitchen raw-friendly

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Your oven will become a storage unit for over-sized pans, your microwave just a way for young boys to melt plastic soldiers, á la Bart Simpson. As they say, if you can’t handle the heat, make your kitchen raw friendly.

Raw, in fact, refers to foods that have not been warmed above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, as that’s the temperature at which enzymes start to break down. Thus, you are still allowed to warm your food in moderation. A dehydrator is a key tool for raw foodists, as you can set it to 104 degrees and leave it for hours to dry your chopped pine nuts into some semblance of parmesan cheese.

You’ll need to do a lot of chopping and blending to get all these vegetables and nuts into edible chunks, so sharp knives and a blender are key (go with a Vita Mix–a blender on Speed–to blend tough nuts). (And, since we’re talking about chopping, invest in a Mandoline, which cuts vegetables in thin, equal strips–aesthetics are a must).

Tools aren’t the only key change. The other change in a raw food diet is–you guessed it–the food (you’d better have guessed it; it’s right in the name).

You’ll need fruits and vegetables–that part’s pretty obvious. Nuts and seeds are important to get proteins into your diet that might be lost through cutting out meat. But there are some rarer items that you’ll see frequently in raw food recipes.

When raw foodists get a sweet tooth they turn to such natural sweeteners as agave nectar and yacon syrup. Agave nectar comes from the same beautiful cactus that gives us tequila, so don’t get those two mixed up when you’re making cookies for your kid’s birthday. Yacon syrup comes from an ugly brown root found in South America. Delicious on pancakes.

Seaweed salad: not everyone's idea of a great time

One other food group you might have to get on good terms with is the family of sea vegetables. Now, I’m a person who likes vegetables, so the idea of “sea vegetables” conjures up some vague, happy image of eating salad by the ocean. But “sea vegetables” cover the category more commonly known as seaweed, a term which replaces my happy ocean-salad image with the dark murk that covers the bottoms of Minnesota lakes and brushes up against your legs ominously if you go in too deep. Seaweed comes in many edible forms, from the nori used to wrap sushi to kelp which I add when I’m cooking black beans to add flavorful saltiness.

Though it may seem like an arduous task if you’re transitioning over from a full omnivore’s kitchen to the pared-down raw food version, there are plenty of benefits to doing so. Most raw foodists say they have better health and more energy due to their diet, and have no regrets about the switch. For those of you about to do it yourself: Good bite, and good luck.

Raw dessert, raw delight

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Heavenly chocolate

For a New Years 2010 party I made a chocolate mousse. One friend said that he literally couldn’t stomach chocolate, but he tried the mousse to be polite and ended up loving it (and not getting sick!) Everyone was shocked when they heard some of the ingredients: balsamic vinegar, avocado, soy sauce.

Here’s the recipe, which I got from The Balanced Plate, a whole foods cookbook by Renée Loux.

Chocolate of the Gods Mousse with Raspberry and Mint: 

2 cups avocado (about 2 avocados)      1/2 cup of maple syrup

2-4 tablespoons of organic sugar           2 tablespoons coconut butter

1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract                1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce                       1 cup pure cocoa powder

1 pint raspberries                                 Handful of mint leaves, chopped

Blend avocados, maple syrup, vanilla, balsamic, soy sauce, and, if desired for extra sweetness, organic sugar and coconut butter in a food processor until smooth and creamy. Sift cocoa powder, then add and blend until smooth.

Distribute half the raspberries evenly among 4-8 wine or martini glasses. Follow with a dollop of mousse, sprinkle of mint, remaining raspberries, and more mint. Top with cacao nibs for extra garnish, if desired. Chill in fridge for an hour before serving.


DIY: Write a sestina

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Although seemingly counterintuitive, limitations nourish creativity. If someone asked you to write a poem in one hour and gave no guidelines whatsoever, you might end up staring at a blank piece of paper for sixty minutes. On the other hand, if the person specified that this poem must be twelve lines long, rhyme in an ABAB pattern, and include the words “salt,” “dive,” and “molten,” your brain would be much likelier to start firing with associations and possibilities right away.

It’s no surprise, then, that poets often turn to predetermined forms to get their creative juices flowing, such as haikus, villanelles, sonnets, pantoums, and ghazals. One of my favorites is the sestina, which happens to be the only poetic form that the web version of the literary magazine McSweeney’s accepts for publication.

Creating a sestina is like putting together a puzzle, and is more confusing in description than in action. Each of six stanzas has six lines, and those lines end in the same six words. However, in each successive stanza the order of those words changes. A seventh stanza, just three lines long, includes the six words again, two to a line. If we assign each of these ending-words a letter A-F, here is their order in the seven stanzas:

7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

See how Elizabeth Bishop employs this form below using the end-words house, grandmother, child, stove, almanac, and tears:

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

*Now it’s your turn! With the end-words “dawn,” “noise,” “black,” and three of your choice, write a sestina. Quick now, I’m only giving you an hour…

DIY wedding veil

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Is it just a coincidence that "birdie" is an anagram for "I, bride"? Yes. Yes, it probably is.

My cousin, mom, and I ducked into the Brides of France store in Minneapolis on a cold November evening.

“Congratulations!” The shop attendant said to my cousin, when she told her she’d recently gotten engaged. The attendant started to show us the lavish and expensive wedding dresses shipped in from Spain. My mom, cousin, and I grinned at each other, having already found a beautiful dress for a fraction of these costs the day before. Still, we were in a wedding mood, and were happy to wander around the shop brimming with satin and lace.

The girl helping us showed us back to the accessories section, which was full of purses, tiaras, jewelry, and veils. My cousin had tried on a traditional veil with her dress the previous day, but we joked that we could easily an identical veil out of tulle for a few dollars and no one would know the difference. Here at Brides of France, though, they had more than just your typical veil. We were all intrigued by the birdcage style and the blushers made out of wider mesh complete with sparkly clips and flowers. However, we left without any new purchases.

A week later, my mom came home with a orange-mesh bag of clementines. With a little extra work, that hideous orange mesh was transformed into a perfect wedding veil, or at least a great gag-gift for my cousin for Christmas.

But making a beautiful birdcage veil isn’t all that difficult. I found a great website that shows a simple pattern with relatively few materials–no orange-mesh clementine bag needed. All you need is 2 feet of 18″ Russian veiling, a comb, thread and needle, a ruler, and scissors. Sew the comb to the veiling, add an embellishment like a flower or feather and voila! You’re on your DIY way.

All you'll need for a beautiful birdcage

DIY: Design a house like Frank Lloyd Wright

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Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

No childhood as the offspring of an American architect is complete without a visit to Fallingwater, Taliesen, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Yes, our family road trips often veered off course to pay homage to one of the greatest architects of all time: Frank Lloyd Wright.

While researching FLW, I came across this design website, which gives you a few facts about Wright and some basic tips and information about the business of architecture. Then you get to do it yourself: choose a client from a group of about twenty, pick a location, and start designing! Create a floor plan, add walls, windows, and openings, and finally tour your house in 3D. If you find that you’re more of a pro than you realized, you can even submit your design for others to view and critique. I know what I’ll be doing all weekend…


Looking up in the Guggenheim museum

DIY: Climb Everest

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Everest affects. It’s a graceful, gentle mountain, even though it occasionally keeps some of us forever. In return, Everest offers the lucky rest of us a tremendous insight in ourselves and the human kind; as we and our  fellow climbers  are tried in brutally exposing situations. Everest also reveals the true soul of nature, in all it’s beauty, temper and might.

Finally, Everest shows you the grace of great dreams, fears overcome and, sometimes, triumph following the most desperate of outlooks.”

While researching Everest for this week’s theme, I came across this website, written by people who have climbed the mountain several times; it’s filled with all the insider information they wish they’d had before climbing. Summiting Everest is an extremely difficult goal to attain, yet this website lays out the steps (ha!) to completing it in a straightforward and clear manner. I’m not planning on making the climb, but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

Climbing Everest will cost you $25,000 or so. $10,000 of that is just for a permit from the Nepali government. You’ll need a letter of recommendation from your country’s Climbing Association.

Pack your gear in North Face soft packs or plastic barrels, keeping in mind that your luggage will be transported on yaks. As for food, “Potato chips should be Pringles, if not for the taste then for the hard case.” Garlic is excellent for altitude adaptation, as it thins the blood (forget about how your breath smells–you’re on Everest). Expect to lose 10-20 pounds even if you stuff yourself.

Bring at least 12 oxygen bottles, 20 if you make more than one summit attempt. Beware of buying used bottles refilled in India; buy straight from the company. If you end up having extra, save another climber’s life. This will make you feel good.

Beware of the sun’s reflection off the snow. Your nostrils can get sunburnt. The roof of your mouth can burn, making it nearly impossible to eat. Always wear goggles to protect yourself from going blind. Beware of avalanches, of bad ropes, of euphoria and psychosis, of bad leaders and bad weather, of letting the “no-rules” society formed on the mountain reveal a darker part of yourself you didn’t know existed. Beware of your own expectations.

“Everest is not about summiting, adding to your image, the conquest of nature or of other humans. If that’s what you’ve come for, you will miss out on the true treasure. You will become a prisoner of other people’s judgment in your desire of proving self-worth. You will climb blinded and feel an immense failure if not summiting. Or if successful – go home, celebrate your triumph and fame, and when the lights eventually are turned towards someone else, end up empty, again chasing new ways to get brief acknowledgments.”

On the mountain, drink plenty of water. Water will cure most problems. Turn back if necessary; it’s better to fail than to die.

Lastly, I think this quote is pertinent to all of our dreams, whether or not they include Everest.

It is truly marvelous to accomplish awesome, remarkable things and explore the unknown. Yet, your dreams should be pursued because they are sprung out of your own curiosity, not just a desire to impress. Be sure to climb Everest for yourself. Take great care to live free.

Take the experience back home with you. Forever remember that there are all kinds of remarkable things in this world to experience, a beauty and drama beyond our wildest imagination. All we have to do is to let our minds run towards our dreams, face our fears and try to accomplish the worthwhile. We might succeed or not, that’s not important.

The summit is such a small piece of the mountain. Most of the beauty and wonders are experienced during the climb.”

*All information, quotes, and pictures are from

DIY: Go break some codes

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Cryptogram from Minneapolis’s Star Tribune.  Unlike cryptoquips, cryptograms are unfunny.

Simon Singh’s Cipher Challenge.  Once you get the hang of the cryptograms, Stage 1 is fairly simple.

If you don’t want to use your head at all, try the CIA’s code breaking game.


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