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.

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: 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.