Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mongolian Crafts

Yesterday and today have been rather low-key days compared to what we’ve been experiencing thus far; we’re settling into Ulaanbaatar and exploring the neighborhood in which we’re living (the Sansar district, about a 10 minute walk from Narantuul, the black market). Yesterday we ate at “Khaan Buuz” (roughly translates as "King Dumpling"), the most famous of Mongolian fast food chains. As one might expect, Mongolian fast food joints serve Mongolian food. We ordered two staples of Mongolian cuisine, buuz (steamed mutton dumplings) and tsoivan (noodles with meat and a few vegetables- mostly carrots).

We also have already managed to accumulate a few cool gifts that I thought those who usually read this blog in its crafty incarnation might enjoy.

First, the photos above and just below are of a large model ger (also sometimes called a yurt, this is the traditional Mongolian nomadic home) that we received as a wedding present from Zorigo, Alta, Urna and Tuguldur. The first photo is of the outside, and the second is the inside. Note the attention to detail- the fire is burning and traditional Mongolian items are on the walls. They commissioned a friend of the family to make it for us.

Next, a felted calendar made by a fair trade shop in UB. I bought one of these when I was in Mongolia in 2005 and my mom really loved it, so I got another one for her. Note the felted camel on the bottom. The two bones hanging under the camel are shagai, or sheep ankle bones. Shagai are used to play a bunch of games that are roughly equivalent to marbles. The four sides of the bone each represent a different animal (sheep, horse, goat, and camel). It’s a lot of fun.

Finally, a beautiful embroidered Kazakh wall hanging from our friends Ally and Layton. They recently renewed their wedding vows- I wish we could have been there (though they live in Mongolia, the ceremony was in the US in August but it happened just before we left to come here). Anyway, this was a gift from the ceremony, along with two DVDs full of home movies, photos and songs. Kazakhs primarily live in the westernmost province of Mongolia (Olgii), and this form of embroidery is very traditional. I think it’s beautiful, and can’t wait to find the perfect place to hang it in our house when we get back!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dinosaurs, Artists and Old Friends

We visited the Natural History Museum of Mongolia the other day. My Mongolian father, Zorigtbaatar, is the Director of this museum. Although they have a very small budget at the moment, Zorigo has done a lot of work to improve the exhibits at the oldest public museum in the country. It was opened in 1924 as the “National Museum” and currently houses displays of geology, geography, flora and fauna, anthropology and, most exciting of all, paleontology.

The picture above is me and John in front of the most famous Mongolian dinosaur fossil, that of a tarbosaurus. Another famous exhibit is of two fighting dinosaurs, and there are lots of fossils of dinosaur nest eggs at the museum. One of the reasons I’m glad that someone as honorable and upstanding as Zorigo is the director is because Mongolia (specifically the Gobi Desert) is an important site for dinosaur fossils and it’s really crucial that these paleontology treasures are catalogued, protected, and (except for traveling museum exhibitions), kept in Mongolia.

Other than our visit to the museum, highlights of the past couple of days include visiting with our former Peace Corps friend Ally and her two adorable sons Chaandmon and Sky (her husband/our friend Layton was in the Gobi, but we hope to see him soon too!) and eating take-out (i.e., delivered) pizza. For those of you who were in Peace Corps in the mid 1990s, you can appreciate what an amazing phenomenon this is, right?!

We also went to the Union of Mongolian Artists building, where approximately 100 painters, sculptors, fiber artists, etc. have their studios. We walked around and chatted with a bunch of artists there. One of the highlights was walking past a room where two men were welding an enormous iron horse. We also met a 66-year old painter named Gaadan, who is pictured below. (Look closely and you'll see the Mona Lisa in the background- this photo is from Gaadan's trip to Paris. He has exhibited all over the world.) When Gaadan learned that John is from the San Francisco Bay Area, he excitedly mentioned the Asia Museum. He’s befriended a couple of people affiliated with the museum and hopes to make it there one day.

Another artist we met is named Bayarbaatar, and one of the paintings we saw yesterday was of four famous Mongolian artists. Here’s a photo of it (it’s entitled “Mongolian Artists”).

All this in addition to beginning my research, of course!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Hanging out in Ulaanbaatar

No photos today as I'm sans card reader at a little internet cafe. I'm surrounded by prepubescent boys who are playing online games like Counterstrike. It's a little surreal, actually!

Yesterday we managed to get a lot accomplished- we got cell phones for the month, bought groceries for our (borrowed) apartment, went to the black market and bought a few small things like sponges and soap, and ate some really good Mongolian hooshur, a kind of fried mutton dumpling.

As we walk down the streets of Ulaanbaatar, approximately every tenth person says, "Uunder hun" ("Tall guy") as John (who is tall, at 6'9") walks by. It's understandable but I'm sure it's going to get redundant by the time we leave! At the black market, John was the talk of the town- as we walked down the aisle that sold traditional Mongolian clothes, a woman stopped us and had him try on a del (I'll post a photo of one later). One seller actually pulled out his camera and took a picture with John-- a first for me; I'm usually the tourist taking pictures!

More to come- thank you all for your comments, we're reading them diligently but due to the fact that blogger here is in Korean, I'm having some trouble figuring out how to respond. Keep 'em coming, though, it's great to hear from all of you!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

We Made it to Mongolia!

After 30+ hours on the train (really, you stop counting after hour 24 or so...), we have finally arrived in Ulaanbaatar. We were met at the train by minni Mongol aav, or my Mongolian father, Zorigtbaatar and his nephew Angar. I was immediately very chatty, as I'd had many, many hours of Mongolian language practice with a five-year old named Suvdaa (tranlates to "Pearl") on the train. Below are some pictures of Suvdaa throwing (!) and Suvdaa and John playing cards. Suvdaa actually required us to play store with the cards, using them as money for us to buy items she had in her bag.

You can see a bit of our coupe in the background; it was a deluxe, 2-person coupe with a shared "shower" (basically just a room with a sink). Not too bad but we were very happy to exit the train this afternoon.

I'll blog more tomorrow about our accomodations, first impressions of Ulaanbaatar this time, etc. It's 7pm now and I'm ready for bed. :)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Luggage Bliss, or Why Ben is on our List of Top Ten People in the World

Just a brief update-- our luggage is en route from the airport right now. It's coming with Sandra's husband Ben, who is a huge hero for bringing it for us as he's just returning from a long overseas flight himself. I'm sure the last thing he wanted was to haul 3 suitcases belonging to other people, but we are forever indebted. Our train leaves for Mongolia in less than 10 hours. That's too close a call for my tastes.

No more blogging for a few days, unless my wifi connection works on the Trans-Siberian railroad. ;)

Beijing: Curio City, Peking Duck, Massages... and Still No Luggage

Well, despite our lack of luggage (we've been assured that it's on its way from NY at the moment, please cross your fingers), we managed to make the most of this layover day in Beijing. This morning we traveled to Beijing Curio City so that we could check out an "ancient weapons shop". The authenticity of the antiques on offer is questionable, of course, but John managed to find some items that were interesting even if they're of the faux variety!

I found a really beautiful, hand-embroidered baby carrier. Since the price quoted for this item was approximately $600 US and because the quality of the embroidery was pretty amazing, I do believe it's the real deal. Much out of my price range, of course, but I thought that fellow crafters might like to see an antique Chinese Baby Bjorn:

From there we made our way to a well-known Peking duck restaurant for lunch, the Beijing DaDong Roast Duck Restaurant. In addition to the obvious choice of a whole crispy duck for lunch, we also got duck hearts with lily, dragon beans, and beef with chrysanthemums. Sandra, John and I all agreed that the duck hearts were the most delicious item, but the beef was quite pretty so it's featured below:

From DaDong we made our way down a bustling thoroughfare to a therapeutic retreat called Bodhi, where an 80 minute foot reflexology treatment included a basic shoulder and back massage, and was just what we needed after a long plane ride. The inevitable comparisons between John (who's 6'9" tall) and Yao Ming amused our three male massage therapists to no end.

All in all, it's been a fun day! It would have been a bit more fun in our own clothes, of course, but c'est la vie.

We Made It to Beijing... Too Bad We Can't Say the Same for our Luggage

Just a quick post to let you all know that we've made it to Beijing. The trip itself was fairly uneventful- a couple of slight delays but when you're flying for 13+ hours, a delay of one and a half hours seems nominal! Our friend Sandra, who I know from my Harvard days, is a wonderful and gracious host. We're staying in her lovely apartment and she has been kind enough to lend us clothes UNTIL OUR LUGGAGE ARRIVES. Yes, that's right, we are sans baggage for the day. We've been reassured by Air China that our luggage will arrive on a flight from JFK tonight. We're hoping for the best, since we leave tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM for Mongolia. Good thing I brought all my research essentials (computer, digital voice recorder, paperwork) in my carry-on bag, I guess!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Temporary Metamorphosis of Craft Buff into Mongol Buff

And... we're off! This is my final blog before we head off on our 48 day sojourn to Mongolia via China. I've got tons of work to do while we're there because I'll be collecting data on Mongolian higher education for my PhD dissertation (the proposal defense I blogged about the other day was step #1, the fieldwork is step #2, and then coming back and writing the darn thing is steps #3 through #1,000. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but the writing will take a while!)

Nonetheless, I expect that my husband John and I will have fun adventures back in the place we initially met as Peace Corps Volunteers. We're looking forward to it, for sure. Although I do think I may have a mild form of travel OCD; I've written a 26-point memo for my friend who will be house- and cat-sitting for us! I didn't expect home ownership (or cat ownership, for that matter) to make it so much more difficult to up and leave, but it has. Oh well, the mortgage and utilities are pre-paid, and we're off!

If you'd like to read a little bit of background information on Mongolia, check here or here.

We depart this morning (Saturday) at 11:30 AM, stopping in NYC before boarding a flight to Beijing. We'll arrive in Beijing at 6PM local time on Sunday, Sept. 23 and my dear friend Sandra has graciously agreed to pick us up at the airport and host us for two nights in Beijing. We'll leave on Tuesday, Sept. 25 in the morning, taking the Trans-Siberian railroad up to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. The train ride is a looooong one- we'll arrive in Ulaanbaatar (hereafter UB) the next day, Wednesday, Sept. 26, in the mid-afternoon.

So, all of this is to say that it's unlikely that I'll get much of a chance to blog between now and Wednesday, but please check back by mid-week (9/26 or 9/27). Once we get settled in UB, I'll find a little internet cafe and news and pictures of our travels will pour forth, I'm sure!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Babies in Hats

Ophelia doesn't look happy about being hatted! My friend Becky sent me a picture of her beautiful twin girls in the little baby caps I knitted for them. As you can probably infer, Ophelia is on the right and her sister Isobel is on the left. Below are a couple of individual pictures of the girls. Since they're Chicago babies, I think warm winter hats are very much in order!

La Leche League

Dawn, a friend/fellow camp counselor from back in the day, heads the Buffalo chapter of La Leche League, an international, nonprofit, nonsectarian organization dedicated to providing education, information, support, and encouragement to women who want to breastfeed. They're having an annual conference in Grand Island, NY from October 5-7.

I decided to donate some items for the silent auction they're holding to raise funds, because I admire the volunteer spirit and support their mission as an organization. Check out the conference if you're a pregnant or breastfeeding mom and want to get together with other people in like situations!

Although I haven't made anything from the Vickie Howell book pictured above, I really like it-- if you're looking for unique projects to knit for kids (such as a firefighter hat, an alien tooth fairy pillow, a mermaid costume or a monster hat), check it out.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Robot Outfits Update

Several months ago I blogged about the robot outfits that I made for my friend Becky's wonderful twin girls, Isobel and Ophelia. Becky recently sent me a photo of Isobel sporting her snazzy little outfit. I think Isobel looks a lot like Becky's husband Eliot in this picture. Isn't she adorable? I love the shoe/socks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cannoli Article

Check out my article about cannoli published on Buffalo Rising today!

Monday, September 17, 2007


Thanks to all who heeded my call and sent good thoughts my way this morning. They worked, because I passed my proposal defense! Now I've just got to collect and analyze my data, and write a dissertation... onward and upward, right?

Anyway, I decided to surf the web for a congratulatory craft, and I learned about washi. Washi is a type of paper made in Japan, and the envelope shown above is a washi congratulatory envelope. It's a really interesting craft- check out more here.

And thanks again!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Stress and Curtains

I defend my dissertation proposal tomorrow (Monday) morning at 11am. Send good thoughts out into the universe for me, please! My wonderful (Buddhist) friend Nansa has promised to chant for me, which bodes well, I think.

Between preparing for the defense and preparing to leave, I feel like I'm running around in a daze. But I did take a couple of minutes last night to transform a tablecloth into a curtain. Aside from the fact that it could use a good pressing, I think this works very well in our bathroom window; it offers just enough coverage so that our neighbor won't get an unintended peep show but still allows light to flood the room. We previously had a roman shade hanging here, but the cats found the string mechanism a little too tempting. They managed to chew through it and create what was essentially one very long (too long) piece of fabric on the window.

It's really amazing how a few minutes of crafting can center me during a tumultuous time.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Happy Birthday Adam!

Today is my brother Adam's birthday. I got him a cool, crafty present but I can't blog about it yet because I haven't given it to him, and I want it to be a surprise. I hope he has a really great day because he is a really great brother who doesn't take himself too seriously (as evidenced by the photo above). One of the best parts about moving back home to Buffalo has been having Adam as my downstairs tenant. In honor of Adam's role as Beer Dude at Buffalo Rising, I present this poem from the World Beer Poetry Championships in his honor:


How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways?
I love cold beer
on hot summer days.
I love small bottles
Of special brews.
I love a beer
When watching the news.
I love it dark
I love it bright
I love it at mid-day
I love it at night.
How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.
I love it best
When somebody else pays.

By Ricky S.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What to Do With Day of the Dead Oilcloth

Tumbling Blocks has a tutorial for how to make an oilcloth lunch bag; this would be great to make from the el dia de los muertos oilcloth I blogged about the other day.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gooseflesh is Cool

I'm in love with all the projects on the Gooseflesh blog, but the ones above and below are particularly lovely. There's also a really, really cool crocheted/felted coral garden on the site.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Crafter's Dilemma

As I mentioned a few days ago, we're soon traveling to Mongolia (where my husband and I initially met as Peace Corps Volunteers) so that I can do my PhD field work. I have a crafting dilemma, and any advice would be appreciated! I plan to take knitting needles and crochet hooks with me, but I'm planning on traveling light and would like to only take a couple of sizes of each. I can get yarn there (camel wool, which is super exciting!) so I'm not worried about that, but if you were me, what size needles/hooks would you take? I guess this is why people invest in Denise needles, eh?

On a related note, this blog may morph from a craft blog into a Mongolian travel adventure blog from the end of September through part of November. I will probably not be quite as regular about posting because I will have to head to an internet cafe in Ulaanbaatar to do so. But I'll do my best to showcase cool Mongolian crafts, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Papel Picado Oilcloth

I'm so excited! One of my favorite websites, Mexican Sugar Skull, has just announced that they are getting El Dia de los Muertos, papel picado-style oilcloth in stock! Oilcloth is great for sewing tablecloths, grocery bags, office organizers and so on. If you're interested in buying some, check their website over the next few days. They say,

"After many years of heckling the oil cloth makers, we finally have a fabulous Day of the Dead oilcloth ! Papel picado banner designs of bicycling skeletons, birds, flowers and skulls, will be a great tablecloth covering for your ofrenda altar, picnic in the cemetery or crafts!

The design will come in 7 color combinations. We will carry all 7 combinations for 8 weeks ONLY and then reduce the offerings to only the most popular colors. We expect this shipment to be available by 9/10/07."

Today is the 11th and it's not yet available for purchase on the website, but keep checking if you're interested too.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Knitted Skeletons

Pictured above is our cat Mochi (Momo for short- she's named after both a rice ball and a dumpling), who has pica. This has caused some problems in the past- "big hole" and "cashmere sweater" really aren't phrases that you want to combine with any regularity. So as much as I love the knitted skeletons we received as a wedding gift from my sisters-in-law, I can't display them prominently in our home for fear of complete destruction. I am showcasing them here, however, so that they get a chance to shine:

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Instructable for Dishcloth/Potholder

Here's a link to a very cool website I haven't yet mentioned on this blog... I like the tutorials here because they're so visual.

I found instructions for one project that reminds me of my ReadyMade MacGyver challenge entry- how to make a dishcloth from a recycled t-shirt. With the right material, you could also use these for potholders. Check it out!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Luggage Tag Tutorial

We'll soon be heading off to Mongolia so I can do my PhD fieldwork... life is a blur right now as I do my best to get everything together before the big departure. It's amazing, actually, how many little loose ends there are to tie up. But here's a crafting tutorial that I'll likely put to good use- it's a Quickie Luggage Tag Tutorial from My Longest Year.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Birthday Presents Still Pouring In

Somehow I've lucked out with birthday presents this year; although my birthday was almost 3 weeks ago, I'm still getting gifts! Yesterday a huge box arrived from my sisters-in-law Ashlee and Ginny, with a bunch of presents from Ecuador (where Ginny studied last semester) and two new books I've been coveting: Bend the Rules Sewing: The Essential Guide to a Whole New Way to Sew by Amy Karol of Angry Chicken, and Lotta Jansdotter's Simple Sewing: Patterns and How-To for 24 Fresh and Easy Projects. I can't wait to try some of the projects!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Who is Totoro?

Totoro is a character from the Japanese anime film Tonari no Totoro [My Neighbor Totoro], which happens to be one of my all-time favorite movies. Only unjaded kids can see Totoro and his friends (two smaller totoros as well as a creature that's half cat, half bus). The movie also features Makkurokurosuke, little black sooty spirits that live in old dusty homes:

I have a habit of doodling Totoros in almost any setting, but my paltry, one-dimensional attempts are nothing compared to the awesome Totoro drawing that my friend Kagan whipped up as a birthday present for me:

Thanks a million, Kagan-- I love my new Totoro.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Crazy Birthday Cake

I don't know what came over me, but I made a really kooky cake for my husband's birthday yesterday. I decided to use my new Baker's Edge pan to make the cake (actually an applesauce bread with cream cheese frosting) and then cut them into four strips. I got inspired in the gummy bulk foods section of Wegmans grocery store (if you don't know about Wegmans, I'm sorry... and FYI, there's no apostrophe in the name, which is something that probably only bothers me).

Immediately after blowing out the candles, John ate a gummy tarantula.