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wonders never cease

Nick Offerman Can Canoe, Can You?

The sunshine spilling over our waterlogged metropolis is such a welcome sight today. Alas, it seems to be only dropping by for a quick visit and will be replaced by a few days more of grey skies and gross rain. This will undoubtedly put a damper on your big plans for the weekend, so we thought we'd turn you on to a product that might be of some interest to you.

Long before our pal Nick Offerman became a best-selling author of multiple books, and even before he was cast as Ron Swanson, the hilarious libertarian director of Pawnee, Indiana's Parks and Recreation, he was a struggling actor and accomplished woodworker. He made ends meet between acting gigs by building sets for theatrical productions and crafting furniture. At one point, he found himself with time to kill in NYC. Being the industrious fellow he is, he decided to use his time to craft a canoe by hand. He rented a vacant workshop in Red Hook and contacted the good people of Bear Mountain Boats to procure a copy of their top notch How To Guide to Canoecraft. They convinced Nick to film the process with his pal Jimmy Diresta and create a how-to DVD to accompany the book.

The rest is canoecraft history. 

Given this apparently endless rainy season and global-warming-induced rising sea levels, we think we would all be better off with our own canoe. We suggest that the craftier among us roll up our sleeves and get to work creating a fleet of beautiful hand-crafted canoes. Since they probably only take a few (hundred) hours to construct, we can test them out this weekend when Rock Creek jumps its banks. If they prove themselves seaworthy, we can band together and start to gather the animals in pairs.

We've included a few pics of Nick hard at work to motivate you (and convince the skeptics among you).

For those of you allergic to sawdust, if you survive the flooding, you can join us later this summer as we enjoy the comedy styling of Mr. Offerman and his talented wife, Megan Mullally, when they bring their acclaimed Summer of 69: No Apostrophe show to the Warner Theater on August 19th. We'll even swing by and pick you up in our awesome canoes if it hasn't stopped raining by then. 

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Spotify Your Life!

I love it when visitors to our shop compliment the music we play. We put together our sets pretty carefully, mixing up genres from the last six or seven decades, so I'm delighted to know folks are enjoying.

It occurs to me that there's no reason you can't enjoy our playlists wherever/whenever desired. Like our sporadically-published, themed playlists on this blog, we're also going to release the store playlists over the next few months. Use a Spotify account and feel free to join the party, starting with week one.



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A Tale of Love & Mess

Once upon a time, Lucy and I saw a fetching papier-mâché head with a crown of flowers on a favorite blog and fell in love. What a perfect spring break project, we thought! Maybe we could even sell them! According to the directions, we just ("just" would later echo in our minds as we wondered how many different interpretations of "just" there are in the world) ... we just needed some styrofoam heads. Then we would just papier-mâché them, spray paint them, cut out the top, insert a vase, paint whimsical faces, add flowers, and voila! 

OK, let's break it down.

Step 1. OBTAIN STYROFOAM HEADS. Not messy or difficult, but storing a bunch of heads in your shoebox-sized home for a few weeks until you're ready to craft is .. well, interesting. 

Step 2. PAPIER-Mâché. It sounds so poetic and somehow delicate. It is MESSY. We were prepared. We papered over our table and we had plenty of pap(i)er towels on hand. But, still. MESS-y. Oh, and the paste that our beloved House That Lars Built recommended: a disaster, in our humble experience. Stick with the tried-and-true glue and water, friends.

Step 3. GO TO BED, wake up with a new attitude, get back on the Papier-Mâché horse. 

Step 4. SPRAY PAINT the heads. Yeah, you "just" spray paint your slightly gloppy, lumpy heads with glossy spray paint on a super windy, damp spring day. The wind blows the spray paint back in your face and all about your clothing. And by "your," of course, I mean "Joe's." (Thank you, Joe.)

Step 5. WAIT A FEW DAYS to forget about the spray paint incident.

Step 6. JUST CARVE OUT THE TOP OF THE HEAD, making an opening for the vase. I wish, oh I wish, we had filmed this process. Picture trying to clean up packing peanuts -- how they stick to your hands, your clothes, your floor ... everything but the trash bag you're trying to scoop them into. Now: imagine that times a billion as you release the tiny shards of the inside of the styrofaom head. The styrofoam brains, if you will.

Step 7. HIDE THE HEADS (they scare visitors) and wait a few weeks to forget about the styrofoam incident. You won't be able to forget, but you will approach with ingenuity and protection.

Step 8. WEARING PROTECTIVE GEAR and aided by an assistant armed with a vacuum cleaner, nozzle pointed into the head, just carve out the tops of the remaining heads. Insert cups -- HTLB suggest glass, we went with three variations: a Solo cup, a clear plastic wine glass, and a strofoam coffee cup. Each worked well.

Step 9. MAKE UP your ladies. HTLB suggests acrylic paint. I realized our acrylic color selection was pretty limited, so we went with water-based markers, which allowed smudging and blending, kind of like water-based make up. This was the most fun of all, and, in the end, we really love our Heddies. They've gone to live in the shop window for a while, and we will miss them. Oh, and, btw, if you'd like to buy them, we've figured out that they will cost about $382 each, all told (supplies, labor, flashbacks & medication ... ). No, but really -- it was just a lot of fun, and we are actually looking forward to making more. In due time.

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What Does Mom Want?

The eternal mystery for dads and kids everywhere: WHAT DOES MOM WANT? Still wondering? Here are my top picks, straight from my own mom brain: 1) time with family, 2) no more rain for a bit, and 3) an end to election season. But, golly ...  how to wrap?

I also know that any of these under-$100 goodies would be quite well-received, too. And we happen to be standing by to wrap up for MOM.

1. PRETTY CANDLES, delightfully scented, in beautiful gold or silver-splashed glass jars. (They've quite a nice story behind them, too.) Mom will adore them. Promise.

2. A PERFECT SUMMER DRESS,  made by artisans in fair-trade co-ops in India and Nepal, 100% breathable cotton.  All are washable, darling, and under $100. And: moms love pockets.

3. A SUN HAT, for all that relaxing on the beach (ha!). OK, more likely: gardening, farmers' market-ing,  running errands. Mom'll love the practicality and glam rolled up in one great gift. And most can literally be rolled up, by the way!

4. HANDCRAFTED JEWELRY crafted by -- you!  And her. This kit from one of our favorite jewelry makers includes everything you need to make glorious, one-of-a-kind gemstone jewelry.

5. A HEAD WITH A CROWN OF FLOWERS Heddy the Handmade Head Vase! This one has a long backstory ... more in our next blog installment ... but here's the finished product, currently starring in our window display. And, truly, any sort of handmade project will be so appreciated. Give it a go! (Just have a lot of cleaning products on hand, and DO tidy up after yourself! That might be Mom's #1 gift.)

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From Senegal with Love

One of our great delights is being able to work with people we admire. In the case of Annica Ojermark Haque, we've had the chance to work with her on both sides of the table: as a member of our own staff a decade ago, and now as the founder/maker of Bapribap, a beautiful collection of hand-sewn African wax print garments that have just arrived in the shop this spring.

We subjected Annica to our PT questionnaire, and, because she is just that wonderful, she found time to answer: 

How did you wind up in Senegal?
My husband is a journalist and we were living in Bangladesh before we came here. We wanted to move and had two (largely self engineered) options on the table—Senegal or Cambodia. After much deliberation we decided to go with the what we thought would be the biggest change and the biggest challenge. Unlike many expats I know, we moved on our own, and rather blindly. We are somewhere between expats and immigrants—its been a struggle in many ways but completely worth it. I grew up abroad, and spent my child hood in Africa (on the other side of the continent) so in many ways coming to Senegal felt very natural too.

What inspired you to start Bapribap?
I had always wanted to start a business and I took the move to Senegal as an opportunity to start something new and be open to anything. It can be very freeing to go somewhere where nobody knows you and you see everything with fresh new eyes.

Of course as soon as I saw all of the fabrics it was like I had no choice! I love everything about wax prints and I don’t think I could ever tire of them.
So it was really a combination of being inspired by the fabrics and not knowing where to shop for my daughter (big problem :)). I felt very strongly that these fabrics could fit into the wardrobe of any modern child anywhere on the globe.
Meeting Abi was also essential to being able to start this business and she has been a partner in this since day one. She had just graduated from fashion school so had a lot of the technical knowledge that I lacked and matched me 100% in terms of enthusiasm and that 'can do' feeling.

Tell us about your atelier - it looks SO charming and peaceful.
It is as charming as a driveway and a garage can get... LOL. No but really, the driveway wall is a beautiful shade of pale yellow and the overhang of thick bougainvillea is lovely. I started the business in my home and we moved from working in the pool room to the laundry room to garage... And now we are moving out! I’ll miss this home. It has been such gift.

It is hardly ever peaceful though… there is too much traffic in this household for it to ever really be peaceful!!

What's an average day like?
After the school run (the two older kids go to a French school about 4 blocks away) I organize the work day and take a bit of time with my husband (if he isn’t traveling) before staff start arriving at 10. When Abi comes we chit chat and discuss work. Then I go and say hi to Amadou and Sadibou, our two talented and wonderful tailors who sew all the clothes. My schedule is not at all fixed though..and I often work in snippets of less than ten or fifteen minutes—a bit of email here, an instagram post there, nursing the baby, taking care of things within the household, checking on work in the atelier, maybe prep a few orders that need to mail out, cut a few dresses with Abi or work on a new pattern… sometimes a run to the fabric market. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the most productive since the kids are in school until 4:30. Every day is non stop and there is never enough time!

When you look back at the evolution of your company, what makes you most proud?
I’m proud for sticking with it even when it seemed like a long shot. I have no background in fashion design or sewing so I’ve really been learning as I go.  We've grown very organically, starting with nothing but Abi's sewing machine and a good idea. Now I'm thinking of buying a fourth machine and employing two more people, which will be very exciting! One of the most amazing things that surprised me the most was to see how Instagram can be such an engine for business. I had no idea when I started our instagram page that I could be selling using that platform, so it was a wonderful surprise to see how responsive people were to the photos and how quickly we could start selling straight from the Instagram feed. Social media is amazing :)

More about Senegal, please!
We live in Dakar which is at the western most tip of the African continent. Senegal is a Muslim majority and francophone country. Its an amazing place known for its beaches that are great for surfing, music and art scene, fabrics and basket weaving.. to name just a few.

What are your favorite smells? Sounds?
The ocean, the call to prayer, the traffic.

Most vibrant colors?
People's clothing, the bougainvillea, the ‘car rapid’ buses.

Exciting tastes?
My favorite Senegalese meal—Thiebudjen. It is SO GOOD and I eat it about twice a week at a hole in the wall around the corner. Best meal ever for about $1.50. YUM! Fresh sea food is also abundant as well as delicious French food. Mango season is also particularly tasty.

People you've met whose stories will stick with you?
The people I work with. Abi’s stories of growing up in what sounds like a tropical paradise down south and then working her way through fashion school. Amadou who has always worked as a tailor and never went to school, but whose daughter now goes to one the most prestigious girls school in West Africa on the Island of Goree. Amazing people with amazing stories. There is also a very energetic community of entrepreneurs here. I am certainly not alone. Many of my friends have small successful businesses and I find them very inspiring.

Most interesting animals?
Dolphins. This year I want to start surfing so I can see them!

Biggest adventures?
Doing anything in Senegal (or anywhere for that matter) with three tiny children in tow is always an adventure.

Shopping discoveries?
Fabric markets, basket markets, Tuareg jewelery, African art and antiques..
Yesterday I discovered a leather market and now I am dreaming of nothing but new shoes and bags. There are always new discoveries.

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Spring in the Air

Rejoice, good people, for spring has sprung in our nation’s capital! Let's  throw off the shackles of wintery layers and woolen socks and wiggle our toes in new grown grass. Trees are flowering, sleeves are shortening, and our city's already dotted with camera-wielding tourists. The wise horticulturists of the National Park Service predict an early peak for our beloved cherry blossoms, somewhere between March 18th and 23rd. That’s next weekend, friends. Here's a list of springy songs to help prepare us for nature’s annual art show. Each is paired with a favorite quote about Spring. As always, there's a more bountiful collection of songs on the Spotify play list at the bottom of the post.


1. Concerning Past & Future Conquests – Vandaveer
“What a strange thing! To be alive beneath cherry blossoms.” - Kobayashi Issa

2. Springtime – The Michelles
“The sun just touched the morning;
The morning, happy thing,
Supposed that he had come to dwell,
And life would be all spring.”

- Emily Dickinson

3. Mr. Songbird – The Kinks
“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” - Mark Twain

4. Spring (Among The Living) – My Morning Jacket
"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." - Charles Dickens

5. Daydream – The Lovin’ Spoonful
“If people did not love one another, I really don't see what use there would be in having any spring.” - Victor Hugo

6. Springtime – The Dove & the Wolf
“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.” - Ernest Hemingway

7. Here Comes The Sun – The Beatles
“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
"Winter is dead.”
- A.A. Milne

8. Spring – Tracy Chapman
“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.” - Pablo Neruda

9. Sun Is Out – The Apples In Stereo
“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

10. See You In The Spring – Court Yard Hounds
“To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.” - George Santayana

11. Springtime Is The Season – Of Montreal
“Now every field is clothed with grass, and every tree with leaves; now the woods put forth their blossoms, and the year assumes its gay attire.” - Virgil

12. Spring – Two Door Cinema Club
“In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.” - Mark Twain

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wonders never cease