Thursday, December 31, 2009

January 1, 2010 - A blue moon at midnight

How do you break a year down? There are 365 days. Do you remember each one? A very rare few probably do (I saw one on Oprah). But on the whole you only remember some days. Special days. Tragic days. Days of big decisions or big changes. Big news days. Celebrations.

In some ways I'm sad about what I'm seeing. In a world of constant connections I wonder if people really do connect, really know each other, really care to. When I was young I thought people who don't like change were old fogies—those people who couldn't see the bright new future that was coming. Why can't they just get out of the way? And yet only age can give you perspective. You compare the way the world was and the way it is now. The common phrase "it was so simple then" comes to mind. It wasn't ever simple but things do change. They do get more complex. It seems to be our nature, to add more and more to our lives and be proud that we can handle it all, "multi-task." Kids seem to grow up faster, deal with more drama. Technology evolves and changes our lives, for good and bad. Nature seems to take a back seat, be put aside, and yet everyone rallies around the green flag and pretends to have altruistic motives. But a lot of kids aren't going outside and experiencing the natural world. They're sitting in front of a monitor or looking at the screen on a "smart phone." I can guarantee they, the kids, don't see it this way. What will they see when they're fifty? Will it all seem as innocent, as harmless?

Last night I did something different for New Year's Eve. Late in the evening, before midnight, I went for a cold winter's eve walk. It felt right. True. It was seven degrees, no wind, calm. The full moon called me out. I saw it through the window. Bright in a clear dark indigo sky. A blue moon—this was the second full moon in the month. A rare spectacle for a special night. How appropriate. The warm glow of Christmas lights brighten my way. The snow and ice crunch under my steps. Everyone's up. Celebrating in their own ways.

So what's ahead? Will it be a good year, a better year? Will hardships lighten? I know we'll see things we never expected. There'll be lots of the same but it will all be new. Fresh—at least we can make it fresh. We're all moving forward, together. We hope for the best and once in a while the best will come to us. Grab it when you can.

I truly wish you all the best in the new year. Take a chance this year. Move forward. Get rid of the clutter. Pay attention to what's really important in your life. Stop sleepwalking. Wake up. Do something you've always wanted to do. Share it with someone.

Love. Peace. Truth. Powerful words that need action to make them real. m

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December 13, 2009 - "Not a finga!"

Could there be a more famous lamp associated with Christmas than "The Christmas Story Leg Lamp?" My family discovered this movie in the mid-eighties and it's become a "tradition" of sorts that we watch the movie at least once a year, if not more. Because who can miss the many reruns on TV during the holiday season. It must be up there with "It's a Wonderful Life." And I wouldn't be "The Lamp Guy" if I didn't do a post about the famous Leg lamp during the holiday season.

First of all, you can find everything you ever wanted to know about the Leg Lamp at the official "A Christmas Story House" web site. Yes, someone has bought the house, which is actually in Cleveland, and turned it into a tourist destination along with a museum and gift shot across the street. You've got to go if you happen to be in Cleveland during the holidays. Perhaps you've wondered, was this a real lamp or just something the author made up. Answer: It was made up. Jean Shepard, the author, was inspired by an old Nehi Soda advertisement (shown below). It seems Reuben Freed, the production designer on the film, created the lamp with very little to go on but he seems to have pleased Mr. Shepard with only a few sketches. Three lamps were created for the movie but alas none of them survived the production. If you look closely during the scenes where the lamp is broken you'll notice that the lamp is actually broken in two different ways, depending on which scene you're watching. In one the lamp is broken into chunks, in another it's split lengthwise.

Fear not, you too can own any one of five different sizes of Leg Lamps, the full size 50" inch, a slightly smaller 45" (on sale now), a 26" and 20" desktop lamp, and an 8" night light. But that's not all, you can find replicas of almost all the props at A Christmas Story Gift Shop. There's the bunny outfit, Randy's stocking cap, Flick's aviator cap, and the crowning touch, a limited edition "Red Rider Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and that thing which tells time." And if you really want to splurge, you can buy the immense wooden crate for the lamp, sold separately. I'm actually tempted by the sale for the 45 inch lamp. What a lovely prop to bring out every Christmas and put in my studio (family and friends take note of this amazing gift idea but I can do without the crate. And you'd better check with me in case I decided to get on already).

And in a Google search I also came across this lovely "Leg Lamp" Costume, an idea for those truly obsessed. Here's hoping your holiday season is full of joy and that you always get a great parking spot at the mall, if you really have to go there. m

Friday, December 4, 2009

December 4, 2009 - For the Holidays

I have to say I'm enjoying this holiday season so far. I never know when it's going to hit me but I think because work has been manageable and fairly stress free I've been able to fall into the pleasantries of the season pretty quickly. This year the long and relaxing Thanksgiving weekend gave me a great excuse to get the Christmas tree up and at least partially decorated, just the lights so far, but that's the best part for me. It's been a week and we had our first snowfall in Madison last night. Just enough to cover the ground and make things look, well, like Christmas, but also enough to cause some stress during the evening rush hour. Luckily I was cozy at home and didn't have to deal with it. So, still being in the holiday mood I decided to search out some new Christmas music today on iTunes. There's always a few new CDs that are worth downloading.

This year I have two to recommend. The first is "Christmas Cheers" by Straight No Chaser, an a cappella men's singing group that started at Purdue University in my home state of Indiana. This is the first I've heard of them but they actually have two Christmas albums out with some non-seasonal music mixed in. I have a soft spot in my heart for really good a cappella groups and this group is one of the best I've heard. They offer beautiful arrangements of traditional songs with the addition of some novelty and humor in unique renditions of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," a concoction of well known holiday tunes merged with the traditional lyrics, and "We Three Kings" with a Mission Impossible theme. Some are pretty clever, and one or two are a little over-the-top for me. My favorites? I love the Charlie Brown classic "Christmastime is Here," "Carol of the Bells," and a new song called "Indiana Christmas." I had many good years growing up in Northern Indiana and it's great to have a song to remind me, it's still home.

The other CD is Sting's "If on a Winter's Night," a haunting collection of traditional carols and lullabies spanning centuries. This is not your typical holiday CD so it's not for everyone, especially those who expect the pop sounds of The Police or even Sting's later works. Sting defies labeling but his artistry and talent is inspiring. The CD is growing on me but I have to say my favorite song so far is "Soul Cake," a song I first heard from Peter, Paul and Mary.

I should also mention that Straight No Chaser will be featured in a television special on PBS stations this month so check your local listings. In the meantime check out the new music of the season and add to your collection. I love Christmas music if only for it's innately positive spirit. Have a wonderful week and I'll try to be better about posting, but you know how it goes. m

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November 25, 2009 - Thanks

Here's hoping you and yours
have a wonderful,
Thanksgiving day.

I certainly have much to be
thankful for and feel very blessed to have such good
family and friends.

Mark (The Lamp Guy)

Monday, October 26, 2009

October 26, 2009 - More food

Photo by Linda Long

I made a really delicious meal last night and had to share the information. Oprah strikes again with "The Conscious Cook" by vegetarian Chef Tal Ronnen. I decided to try his Gardein "Chicken" Scaloppini last night and it is one of the best meals I've had in a long time. Unfortunately, I was unable to do it "vegetarian" as I couldn't find the Gardein brand of chicken breasts at my local Whole Foods. I think everyone who watched the show wanted to try to the same recipe. The bottom line is that this is a good recipe, vegetarian or not.

Here's a few tips and comments. The Gardein brand is considered to be an excellent replacement for chicken but it may be hard to find. I was also confused because their web site has Tuscan Chicken Breasts but I didn't see plain ones except perhaps in the frozen line. Also, I couldn't find precooked Udon Noodles. So I bought a package of uncooked round udon noodles, probably a lot cheaper. You boil it like any pasta and it comes in single serving bunches. I found that one bunch is plenty for two servings. I created the noodle cakes by packing the cooled noodles into 3" plastic lined ceramic ramekins and compressing them with a small bowl on top. I put them in the fridge on hour before I started the rest of the meal and they came out great. They stick together nicely and the plastic wrap makes it easy to remove them from the ramekins. When you fry them don't put the heat too high as mine started to burn fairly quickly. Keep a watch on them.

I did use real chicken breasts but I found that one breast per serving is too much. You could get 4 servings out of two breasts pretty easily. It wouldn't hurt to pound down the breasts so they're thinner as it would cook quicker. I kept mine thick but they were delicious. They just took longer to cook.

The pea shoots are a little tough when they're done and therefore hard to cut with a fork when eating. The next time I do it I'll cut them in half at the very least. That makes them a little more fork-friendly and probably easier to cook. From this point I followed the recipe closely. The sauce is amazing, it's what makes the dish so good. And I even forgot to add the chives but it was still excellent. I did use the Earth Balance butter and it worked great. It's a great tasting butter substitute but not low in fat. It's not too time consuming for something this good. Give it a try. I'm now tempted to buy his book and next time I will definitely try the Gardein breasts. m

Sunday, October 11, 2009

October 12, 2009 - Soups on

My homemade chicken noodle soup—2009 edition.

Cooking and cooler weather seem to go hand and hand in my world. And my first goal is to start filling the freezer with some good home made soups to get me through the next few months. And with cold and flu season coming—no doubt you've heard about that this year—chicken soup is first on my list. I bought a chicken at the farmers market and started reviewing recipes. I couldn't find the perfect combination in any of the books so I improvised. I wanted something pretty traditional with lots of vegetables. I ended up with chicken, green beans, corn, carrots, celery, onions, peas and lots of noodles. Not to mention a concoction of spices that I had on hand. Most notably some dried basil and a pinch of cayenne pepper. I probably over did the noodles. I think it would have been wise to have broken them up a bit more because they're big and sloppy and hard to fit on a spoon. Oh well, now I know.

Week two I made a great beef stew. I actually bought a beef roast, but I got out my mom's old Fanny Farmer cook book and it said that if the roast is less than 4 pounds it's better to use it for stew meat, otherwise the roast would probably be dry. See, I'm learning and in fact I have done small roasts in the past that just never really came out great. I'm just one guy so I always bought small roasts. Along with the tender beef chunks the stew owns potatoes, peas, carrots, green beans and onions in a great broth. Ahhhh, winter is looking good.

And today, a sweet potato and black bean soup. Actually it should be called a vegetable soup with black beans. Of course all locally grown veges from the Hilldale farmer's market. Next time I'm adding another can of beans. The cayenne pepper gives it a good kick. So that's a great start on the filling the freezer. I think a good chili is next.

It was a nice weekend. I've been cleaning up the studio for the Open Arts Studio Tour next weekend. Don't forget. Artist's all over Madison and Dane County are opening up their studios to the public the weekend of October 17 and 18 from 11:00am to 5pm. You can view samples of all the artists participating at the Community Galleries of the Overture Performing Arts Center downtown. Grab a map and plan your own custom tour of your favorite artists. As for me, I'll be working on some lamps during the weekend with about 30 or so on display. Hopefully the rain, sleet and snow will hold off for a little while and give us a great weekend for the tour. Have a great week and feel free to send your favorite soup or cold weather recipes. I'm always looking for more. m

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October 6, 2009 - Washington Island

Schoolhouse Beach

Washington Island has become one of my favorite spots. From the wonderful ferry ride to the rustic cabin, Schoolhouse beach to Fisk's fish fry, it is a joy to visit, even briefly. This year I went up for a weekend with my good friend Carol. I met Carol through another friend years ago but I realized that we have never spent a lot of time alone together as we are usually in the company of our mutual friends. It was fun to get to know each other better. The long drive gave a great opportunity to just talk, a rare event these busy days.

We really got lucky with the weather. Although indications were that we would have some off and on rain, we really didn't experience any beyond seeing evidence that it had passed earlier. Some wet pavement and sand. We also saw many dark clouds threatening the peninsula across the bay. I think they got it more than we did. And it was warm with the sun making itself known throughout the weekend. This made the ferry ride over and back that much more enjoyable. There's nothing like the anticipation of slowly moving toward the island and seeing the great vistas of water and islands along the way.

We're so lucky to have found an affordable and yet rather luxurious cabin to rent. It's solitude and views of the water and water foul make it very special. And it has a better than average kitchen which makes meal prep a joy. Not to mention the fireplace, both in the house and down on the rocky beach. We biked at least 1/2 the island stopping for the dunes, a great coffee house, and soft serve and a cheezburger. In the evening there was a great meal with games and lots of talking in front of a roaring fire. It all ended too fast but I felt very relaxed and satisfied to have gotten away even for such a short time. The quality of the environment can make even a short visit rejuvenating. And I needed it. It's been a long year and I'm grateful that I have good friends and such a great place to escape to. m

The wonderful fireplace with Carol making dinner in the background.

Carol watching the water foul on the beach in front of the cabin.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

September 20, 2009 - A simple house

Part 3 of my favorite houses features a Santa Cruz home designed for a couple's retirement. This is just a very well designed small home. It's just over 1000 sq. ft. and it uses every inch. I love the attention to details inside and out. m

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September 8, 2009 - My favorite houses Part II

The second house in my "Favorite Houses" series is a Shaker inspired, whimsical weekend getaway in the hills outside Kinderhook, New York. The architect, Dennis Wedlick, wanted a weekend retreat but he also wanted to have some fun. "This house is a lot about roof" says the architect. The height makes up for the small foundation of only 20 x 25 feet. I love the details, inspired by traditional styles and materials. The setting gives it an almost sculptural quality.

Inside the Shaker style is more apparent with chalk-white walls, bare pine floors and simple trim, as well as traditional Shaker furniture. Perhaps a little "plain" for my taste but there is beauty in simplicity. There's no floor plan so I'm trying figure out how he fit in a kitchen and bath. Upstairs a high-ceilinged central hall doubles as an office tucked into the front triangular dormer window. Triangles, as it turns out, are a recurring theme in Shaker design. Note the number of triangles in the exterior. A large bedroom window with beautifully detailed columns overlooks a vast flowered plain. And on the very top, accessible only by a ladder, a long room is shaped by the extreme 65 degree peak of the roof—a simple retreat for watching TV.

I've seen this house featured in several books and magazines on home design. If I'm not mistaken, I think the architect has added a structure next to the house in quite a different style, more barn-like and spacious for large gatherings. If I find it I'll sent out a post. Enjoy. m

Sunday, August 30, 2009

August 30, 2009 - Cool lamps

Sorry for my infrequent posts but things have been quite busy. But it's Sunday morning and I have finally found some time to get around to a posting. I'll have more of my favorite home designs in the future. As I said, a perfect home may not exist and until you live in a place for awhile, perhaps many years, you just won't really know. So the homes I show are simply my idea of what looks to be a great place to live. But I've also found that if I actually get to visit one of these homes I may have a completely different view of them. Pictures just can't capture a true sense of the place.

I have become a bit of a fan of 20th Century homes and furnishings. It could be because these homes were the hot style, or at least I think they were, when I was growing up. Now and then I pick up the magazine Modernism. Throughout the magazine there are ads for cool lamps and furnishings. The lamps I'm featuring here grabbed my attention. Now granted, I don't know that I would actually buy one of these lamps and I can assure you they cost a fortune but they are beautiful objects, at least to me. The lamps are from Terry Tynan. Take a look. No prices are listed. If anyone knows what one of these beauties cost let me know. Have a great week. m

Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 16, 2009-My favorite houses, Part I

When I was a kid, I would sit and design houses, usually in the form of floor plans. I'm not exactly sure where this came from. I do remember a house that my parent's wanted to build. They actually sent to the magazine House & Gardens to get the plans. The house is actually a series of small pavilions and rather Asian in character. The rooms all surround a central garden space. I remember lots of wood and wall to wall windows. I can picture it in my head to this day.

Since then I have collected books on home design and architecture. I actually wanted to be an architect at one point but realized the math requirements were a little too much for me. I'm sure that's not the first time you've heard that. About twice a year I get the urge to start looking through my books and create the perfect house for myself. What I have learned is that the homes and apartments I've lived in have all influenced the designs I choose. In fact, there are rooms or spaces I've lived in that I would seek to duplicate in my own home design.

Over the next month or so I'm going to show you some of the homes that have inspired me. Most of these homes are considered second homes or cottages. I aspire to build a small home. And cottage homes seem to add many touches of character and detail that you don't find in today's main residences, not to mention a little bit of whimsy.

The first house is a post and beam vacation home set in the San Juan hills in Washington state. I have always loved post and beam structures. I like seeing the structure, the copious amounts of wood and the regular intervals of beams can be used to break up the space into functional areas. The house is a 16x60 ft rectangle surrounded by sundecks and a covered sleeping porch with it's own fire place. Inside, is a large central living space with a fireplace at one end and a kitchen at the other. All interior and exterior spaces open directly into the central space. Three sets of French doors open onto the deck. There are 3 main sleeping areas, two lofts on opposite ends of the second floor and a sleeping porch. Features I really like are the window seat, the large indoor/outdoor fireplaces as well as the wood burning stove. I also like the arrangement of the casual, eclectic and very comfortable furniture. There's also a full basement for expansion and storage.

I love combining the living, dining, and kitchen areas into one functional space.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 10, 2009 - Ah Vanity

First of all the yard sale is done. I made some money and got rid of a lot of stuff, not necessarily by selling it. Now there's some clean up to do but in ninety degree weather I tend to find excuses.

When one writes a blog, one can write about anything that one takes a fancy to. So this week I'm focusing on the art of the Combover. Since I'm a baldy and gave up long ago on trying to cover up the dome—which did go on for awhile—I feel justified in showing you some of the true diehards. Now I just continued to part my hair the way I always had and there was some hair on top to play with, but there was a point when it got silly. And once I made the decision to go nude on top it was a nice relief. So here's some real masters at the coverup, not that they're fooling anyone but themselves.

Now this last one is actually a patented technique by Donald J. Smith and his father, Frank J. Smith, of Orlanda, Florida. Basically you comb the long hairs if three different directions. Wat to go guys. I'm sure the money is pouring in for this one. Have a good week. m

Saturday, August 1, 2009

August 1, 2009 - Prepping for the Yard Sale

Thought you might like a preview of my fabulous yard sale next Saturday, August 8th.

My antique billiard ball collection. Wow. Can't believe this is going.

One of two fabulous Harry Potter games. Can you believe it.

A hand carved wooden lady. A rare find.

My one and only Tickle Bee game. A game of immense skill and daring.

A remote control rat. Great in the office. Scare your coworkers. The eyes light up red.

There's much much more. Art books. Audio books. Tools. Lamps. Exercise equipment. Music CDs. Fluorescent light fixtures. Art. Portable whirlpool bath gadget.Humidifier. Ceramics. Rugs. Stuff and more stuff. Have a great week. m