Okay. It's time to call it. The long days of summer are gone, and with them went the endless opportunity to take on a new project or adventure, no matter the time. For the next few months, the daylight hours will be spent mostly at work, with our free time coinciding with the dark, crisp nights of the season. The perfect time to do a little whittling or carving by the fireplace, or perhaps time to start a pot of your famous chili and cast iron cornbread. Or, when you just have a few spare minutes to yourself, read a great book.
Etymology often helps shape thought: when you're aware of a word's origins, you're in touch with the full context of the words that filter your inclinations. For example, did you know that wilderness comes from the Old English for "wild deer"?
Think about that for a moment: it's a place filled with animals unaccustomed to human contact, where humans have minimized their prints on the world. So when we go out to the wilderness, we're immersing ourselves in the beauty of nature, we're adventuring outside of civilization, and we're escaping from the creature comforts that can dull our sense of connection to the cosmos.
Well... maybe not 100% escape. Because while I love taking a break, I've never been interested in taking vacation from a good cup of coffee. If you're the same, read on for how we at ManMade make decent coffee in the wilderness, and our choices for a great camping coffee maker.
There are a few adages with which I can start this post. "You get what you pay for." "Some things are too good to be true." Yes, it would be awesome if there were a store in every town that sold solid, dependable tools at bargain prices. When you're just getting started, a place to fully outfit your shop on the cheap would be an amazing gift. I get it. I've been there.
But anyone who knows about Harbor Freight also knows about the reputation of the products it stocks: namely, that the quality is rather unreliable. Today, as I was discussing this post with my friend and colleague, M.E., her immediate response was, "There was one in the same plaza as my old job, so whenever we needed anything, we got it there. And ultimately whatever we bought, broke five days later. That place is the Dollar Store of the home improvement world."
And that's the trick: Harbor Freight stocks items that are designed to be sold, not to be used. I'm not saying their business model is dishonest or nefarious. Nor am I a tool snob with an unlimited budget. I'm only interested in spending as much money as necessary to get the job done. I know what its like to have your aspirations be bigger than your budget. But buying things that don't work, no matter how much they cost, is not saving money. The majority of products there simply will not stand up to repeated use, nor give the you the results you're after. When it comes to their sell-line of "Quality Tools, Lowest Prices"... well, one of them is true.
I am a defeated knight––noble in my essence (or so I feel), but waylaid and shrunken down while fighting a beast that no man could possibly face undaunted. The beast spits fire, inundates me with dust from its mighty, flapping wings, and seems to pull the very ground from underneath me. I cower behind my shield and do what I can to battle the beast back, but at best I can manage a draw in any of our fights. And day by day, the beast gains more ground. Or that's how I feel. The beast is debt. Random sums of money are my outmatched weapons. And despite my lobbing those missiles as hard and direct as I can, I
Dirty dishes in the sink. Putting your clean socks away. Replying to that one email that's been sitting at the top of your inbox for longer than you'd be willing to admit out loud.
We all have that small handful of tasks and chores that weigh the heaviest on our souls and our to-do lists. Most often, they're the things that occur multiple times a week, so that when you look at them, you think, "Didn't I just do that? And doesn't it take forever?"
And that's where our brains lead us astray. Because, although, yes, you did probably just do that – no, it doesn't take forever.
I've wanted to build a boat ever since I sunk my small dingy on the Trinity Lake as a kid. Once I have the space, I will fashion a sea-worthy vessel and take it out to brave the ocean, or at least a sizeable pond.
I spent solid twenty-five years of my life in school. It began in kindergarten and I then headed straight from high school into undergrad, a master's degree, and then a Ph.D (I know, I know...) One of the things I truly miss now that I'm no longer an enrolled student is the optimism and excitement that comes with shopping for school supplies. Nerd or not, there is something that is just exciting about having fresh notebooks, new pens and pencils, bags, folders––all the "stuff" of school. Adult life may entail the occasional new notebook, but there isn't a season for it in the Fall where everything is potential, and all the success and mistakes are in the future.
That we don't do this as adults is a shame. Because there is every reason for all of us to be ready for school. The longest project in a any maker's life is the constant, endless craft of oneself. And there is no way to make progress on this project without the proper tools. I think most people dedicated to craft have slid into a life of learning whether consciously or not. And there's no reason not to prepare ourselves with supplies to complete this project well. But, of course, a life of learning is not the same as preparing for a school year. It has a different set of requirements and it calls for some different kinds of supplies.
You can barely imagine what the world was like in the proto-suburbs of the Pacific Northwest for a child who had traveled there––entirely on his own, with his mother at home and his father awaiting him––from a small Tuscan village. This was before "a small Tuscan village" was even a thing on the radar of America at large. And it was before America had its culturally and politically dominating century. It was before anyone knew what the Pacific Northwest would become, foodwise.
And yet, that is where Angelo Pellegrini settled. His childhood of 12 or so years in Tuscany gave him an uncanny experience to bring to pre-depression America, including an adult life that coincided with the Cold War in which his heritage could not have been less relevant. He was born at just the right time to enjoy America in a way that few others had. But he was also born just a bit too early to have been the celebrity he would have been if he had emerged in the age of Alice Waters and the Food Network.
Guys—I love space.
Growing up, I was always the kid with my head in the clouds (I'll admit I've been called a "space cadet" more than once) but my actual interest in the objects outside of our atmosphere didn't launch until I fulfilled my college science credits with two semesters of astronomy. It was one of my favorite classes of all time: learning about different planets and galaxies, observing the moon through powerful telescopes, and—shockingly for an artist—working the calculus of space physics. These days, I dip my toes into the pool of astronomy with a set of apps.
Read on for our top picks of best free apps for space fans!
I really should kick this off with a big disclaimer: I'm a book guy.
I grew up in a book house—my dad is a professor and the author of several books, and my mom worked in a library when I was a kid. Bibliophilia is in my genes—my toddler already goes straight to her books immediately on waking up. I love places where books live—I've haunted libraries, bookstores, and free book spots in every town I've ever lived in. I read books in multiple languages—I'm literate in German, with passable French and Spanish skills. I even write books—I've got several novels in progress, including one story with a finished draft that I completely scrapped instead of sending to an agent because it wasn't quite there yet.
But recently, I've ditched at least 300 volumes from my personal library, some of which I had owned for over 15 years.
If you're trying to downsize too, read on for 10 tools to help you winnow the chaff from your personal library. But first, a brief aside to answer the why.
When you're new to the world of DIY, starting even the smallest of projects can be a daunting task. How much money will it cost me? How much time will I waste? Do I even know what I'm doing? Questions like these can easily deflate a well planned weekend of hard work when you're not comfortable with yourself and your abilities.
I remember when the cheese lovers started telling me what was "real" cheese and what was "fake." I remember taking them seriously because they were talking about cheese cultures (ha. pun!) I knew to be important: Italian, French, Swiss, Spanish, etc. "Cheese is alive!" these experts insisted. And anything that was not the product of natural fermentation and cave-aging was unacceptable. Eating the rind was important. The worship of bacteria in the process was expected. The presence of insect larvae was not necessarily a negative. Out of a world that had room for Cheeze Whiz, handi-snacks, and this bit by Mitch Hedberg, the celebration of authentic, non-adulterated cheeses was completely legitimate.
Mid-century modern is an umbrella term that describes the popular industrial design taste ranging from the mid-1940's to the mid-1970's across all disciplines—architecture, interior design, product design, and graphic design. It was huge shift in its time, orbiting around the desire to strip away excessive ornamentation and get things down to their most basic shape elements. Despite the changing aesthetics of the 1970's onward, it continues to endure—in the words gallery owner Patrick Parrish, "It’s been the new cool thing five times in the last 50 years."
Of course, no design era is the pinnacle of perfection. Elements of mid-century interior design can oversaturate our eyeballs—does anyone else completely overlook the Eames chairs placed in the corner of perfectly-styled rooms on Pinterest—and after living in post-Soviet East Germany for a year, I gotta say that the stark minimalism of Brutalist architecture can get really depressing in a snowless winter. (I also have to admit that sometimes even the word "design" is so overused that it feels like a gnat swarm to the face on a muggy day in August.)
Yet, I can't help but love the work of French-born, NYC-based designer Raymond Loewy (1893–1986). You probably don't know the name, but the guy was so prolific that unless you've been living in a cave, I guarantee you've seen his work. Let's take a look at some of his greatest hits.
For years now, Michael Pollan has become the authority on the relationship that human beings have to food in the modern mechanized, industrial world. He has written on gardens, the inter-relationship between specific plants and their human users, the food systems that operate in our world, the ethics of our diets and the deeper meanings behind our cooking traditions. In short, he has become one of the most influential authorities on what we put in our stomachs. In the process he has helped foster a whole new approach to food that has manifested in artisenal pickle shops, kombucha in every store, and a renewed focus on locality in our food
Keeping up with pop culture can feel like a chore, especially if you find yourself in crowds where making casual reference to what you watch and listen to is part of day-to-day communication. Some aspects of the culture are just too vast to ever totally simplify. (Call me old, but I can never keep track with how quickly pop singers come into huge popularity and then seem to disappear.)
But more manageable than music are movies, which don't tend to get to reference-able level until it has not only saturated the audience, but also soaked deep into our memetic fibers. But in some cases, this takes a long time, and some of the films people
Fact: the physical space that we inhabit on a daily basis, especially our homes, is an extension of our minds and attitudes. Your thoughts influence your actions, your actions influence your environment, your thoughts respond accordingly, and so on.
I don't need to offer a strong argument that the passive life—that is, the life where other people and random events have determined your course—is no life at all. Bearing that fact in mind, your surroundings shouldn't be an afterthought, but a map of the deliberate decisions you've made to make the best use of your time, energy, and resources.
I recently wrote about how you can hack your habits by deliberately organize your home; this is one specific application of that precept. The goal here is to reduce clutter, and the tool is a simple, easy-to-memorize maxim:
One of my all-time favorite aphorisms is that Victorian era gem that shines from its facets of order, efficiency, and thrift:
A place for everything, and everything in its place.
I consistently use this idea to recalibrate the way I see my home and studio. My wife and I are work-from-home freelancers; we're in our house 90% of the week and share it with our very active toddler and three cats, working and playing and cooking three meals a day, so we make a lot of mess. Without direct intervention, entropy reigns supreme, with total anarchy its final goal. Thus I constantly ask myself when I put something down: Is that where it lives? If the answer is no, put it away for real.
Well, let's piggyback off the idea of "a place for everything" to deliberately use our physical space to make good habits.
"One does not inhabit a country; one inhabits a language. That is our country, our fatherland –– and no other." –– Emile Cioran
We're living at a weird time when it comes to the question of learning a new language. On the one hand the world is becoming so globalized, so intercultural, and so communicative, that there has never been a more relevant time to learn Korean or Farsi or Finnish. On the other hand, digital tools for translation––both in written and spoken forms––are becoming so capable and intuitive that language is no longer the high water mark for understanding a culture.
For centuries of especially European history, learning languages was a crucial part of being an educated and informed person. After all, in a world full of different languages, it was a necessity to be able to communicate. But in a bizarre way, global society has actually made us LESS dependent on learning a foreign language. English has become the internet's lingua franca, and tools like Google translate and other translation software has made navigating multi-lingual spaces easier. And tools like Duolingo give us exactly the amount of language access we need, which seems to be enough Spanish or French or Mandarin for our vacations. Language courses and requirements are disappearing from schools and unless you are born into a family that speaks a language different from the culture around you, its harder and harder to learn.
One of the books in my current stack is Let My People Go Surfing, written by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. The book is structured into two parts: the first half is a brief history of the company from its origins as a beachside blacksmith shop producing climbing equipment. The other is a company handbook on the founding principles and values on which the billion-dollar company makes its decisions.
Stargazing is a hobby that comes with a bit of a learning curve. It requires real intellectual engagement, specialized (and expensive) equipment, and a lot of free time when the sky is dark. So its understandable that only the truly dedicated might get into it in a meaningful way.
Or...is it? Because looking at the stars at night is one of the cheapest, oldest, and most egalitarian hobbies that's out there. Because the sky belongs to everyone, and people have been marveling at it for a very long time.