Calendar Quilt Series: My Summer Mini Quilts

Last October I embarked on a self-imposed challenge: to make one small art quilt for each month of the year. A while back I wrote about my spring quilts and what inspired them. Last week I completed the last of my summer mini quilts, and can now show you the inspiration behind those as well.

My Summer Mini Quilts: Influenced by Summer Activities and Nature

“Flavors,” My June Quilt

June proved to be a real inspirational challenge. As hard as I wracked my brain, I just couldn’t come up with any special characteristic for that time of the year. Then, one afternoon on the first week of the summer vacation, my kids asked to go downtown to get some ice cream.

Inside the ice cream store, which we frequent often, my eye kept going to the unusual dark purple/maroon patch of the blackberry/wine ice cream (top right below):

You don’t often think dark, deep colors when you think ice cream, and this just happens to be one of my favorite colors. I also loved how the vivid colors of the different ice creams clashed with the cold sheen of the metal frames surrounding them…

Each of my kids picked their favorite flavors, and I ended up choosing the wine ice cream, just because I liked its color.

Although my ice cream didn’t taste quite as good as it looked, it did give me my quilt inspiration! I called it “Flavors.”

“Breeze,” My July Mini Quilt

July was a hot month, and our schedule was respectively full of water activities. The inspiration for July was therefore pretty obvious:

This month’s quilt if full of the blues and turquoises of water and sky, as well as the yellows of sand and sun. I called it “Breeze.”

“Parched,” My August Mini Quilt

Whereas California springs begin with a whirl of fresh greens and the vivid colors of flowers, its summer end with a dry, golden landscape. Every year by August the weeds in my garden dry up and wither. The hills all around likewise turn into rolling waves of gold:

The landscape itself presented the design for my August quilt, which is all about the dried-up lushness of spring. I think “Parched” describes it exactly, don’t you think?

So, which of my summer mini quilts do you like best?

Taiwanese Arts and Crafts: A Mix of Traditional and Modern

My family’s summer trip to Taiwan was rather short, so we tried to squeeze in as much as possible. We visited tourist sites, of course, as I mentioned last week. But I also took advantage of every opportunity to drag my reluctant kids to see some of the local Taiwanese arts-and-crafts-related shops and markets. They didn’t always like it, but that’s what happens when your mom is a textile artist and believes the arts to be an expression of local history and culture… Perhaps they will appreciate it one day (or not!).

There is an interesting, exciting, vibrant mix of traditional and modern arts and crafts in Taiwan. We got to see but a small sample of it. I am sure there are many other interesting things we didn’t get to. If you know of any, please feel free to add them in the comments!

Traditional Crafts

Traditional Chinese arts are very much alive in Formosa, and are evident everywhere. In museums, temples, shops, markets and more. I will not discuss the exquisite displays in museums, or the more common ones in temples or architecture. Instead, I’ll talk a little about the workshops, shops and markets we encountered.

While walking down Dihua St. in Taipei, for example, we came across a small traditional paper lantern store. The Lao Mian Cheng Lantern Shop has been operating since 1915!

We saw many small carving stores, where you could have your name carved on a chop, for example. But the most impressive display of carvings we encountered was at the pricey, upscale jade carving store on top of Taipei 101. Every visitor to the building has to exit through this lavish tourist trap:

In Tainan, the center for traditional crafts, we accidentally found a wood-carving workshop while walking around town. I believe it produces furniture for temples:

We also hiked a really long time in blazing heat in search of a Chinese embroidery store I read about in a guidebook. The Kuang Tsai Embroidery Shop is owned by Mr. Lin, one of the last remaining silk embroidery masters in Tainan. It ended up being so unremarkable from the outside, that we nearly missed it!

The owner was very nice, though, and let me observe his employees at work and also photograph them:

This is some of their finished work:

Luckily, there was a boutique coffee shop right next door, with air conditioning, ice-cream treats and an English-speaking owner to compensate my kids for the hike 🙂

Modern Crafts

After visiting the Chiang Kai-shek memorial, we stumbled upon the nearby National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute. This interesting round building is part artist studios, part craft museum, and part gift store. When we visited, the second floor featured an exhibition of modern bamboo art called “Bamboo Traces”, which was quite impressive:

The store on the first floor includes both traditional and modern items at a wide range of prices, and is therefore a great place to look for gifts. Another good place to check out is Taiwan Handicraft promotion Center.

There is also a vibrant and growing community of modern artists and crafts people in Taiwan. In Taipei, many rundown old neighborhoods are gentrifying, filling up with new boutiques and crafts markets. We visited a few of them, but unfortunately couldn’t see all. Some of the places we did visit include Dihua St., which has a few interesting shops; an artisan market right across the street from the Flower Market (that for some reason doesn’t appear in any guidebook); Red House in Ximending; and Songshan Culture and Creative park. In Tainan, the 1930’s Japanese-built Hayashi Department Store now features a host of contemporary artisan boutiques.

Taiwanese Aboriginal Crafts

One thing that surprised me on this trip was the widespread display of Taiwanese aboriginal culture. When I lived in Taiwan nearly a quarter-century ago, the majority of Han Chinese hardly ever mentioned the native aboriginals. In the rare times they did discuss them, it was with much disesteem. Taiwanese aboriginals were considered backwards, uncivilized. Now, however, aboriginal culture is celebrated everywhere in Taiwan. When we went to get breakfast at the famous breakfast resturant Fu Hang Soymilk, for example, we stumbled upon a stall selling aboriginal crafts at the small, run-down and smelly Huashan Market on the bottom floor of the building. When we went into the National Museum of History right near the above-mentioned National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute, we discovered an entire floor with a beautiful display of aboriginal artifacts, including many gorgeous textiles:

Then there is the new  Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines across the street from the famed National Palace Museum. This small-yet-pleasant museum has illuminating, educational signs:

Displays of raw materials and tools:

Outfits the way they were worn:

As well as many amazing textiles:

There were even examples of aboriginal bags!

Taroko Gorge has a little museum dedicated to local aboriginals, which includes displays of houses and costumes, among other things:

There are even Taiwanese aboriginal theme parks (which we didn’t visit), as well as tourist traps selling aboriginal crafts in villages around Sun Moon Lake (where many aboriginal tribes still live).

I enjoyed learning about the aboriginal culture, and seeing it being, finally, integrated into the general story of Taiwan (even if, at times, in a commercialized way). And I was most impressed with the detail and beauty of the aboriginal textiles!

Taipei With Kids: Suggested Family Activities in the Capital of Taiwan

Now that school is finally in session, summer is beginning to feel very far away. Before it’s memory fades completely, I wanted to write a post (or two!) about my family’s trip to Taiwan. I want to begin with some suggestions for things to see and do in the capital of Taiwan, just in case you find yourself in Taipei with kids and some free time 🙂

Important: when booking accommodations, make sure the place you will be staying at has working air conditioning!

Essential Things to Take on a Summer Trip to Taipei

Summer in Taipei is HOT, humid and often rainy. You can know all of this in advance, yet still not be prepared for the wave of heat and humidity that will engulf you the minute you get off the plane (or out of the air-conditioned airport).

Things you need to pack:

  • Hot-weather cloths. I recommend mostly tank tops and sleeveless clothing. Loose-fitting is a plus. Anything too tight will stick to your body. Even a t-shirt will feel like too much!
  • Water-proof sandals (your feet will get wet).
  • An umbrella
  • A rain jacket (optional).
  • A small, preferably waterproof bag to carry essentials as you walk around the city.
  • A spray water bottle, to both keep you hydrated and cool yourself with.

Kid-Friendly Sights

Must See Sights:

The National Palace Museum. If you have only a few hours in the city, this is the one most important place to go to. The Palace Museum contains a vast collection of treasures from the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. The Nationalists brought the collection with them after they lost the civil war in 1949.

There is a lot to see: paintings, porcelain, bronze and much more. You will need many hours to see everything, but your kids might lose interest long before you do. So it might be worth while to chose which exhibitions you want to see first, just in case… The museum has brochures, which tell you what the most popular items are. Go early if you want to see them up close. The exhibition halls do get crowded! And don’t miss the jade cabbage, though I still don’t understand why it’s so popular:

Some exhibitions are kid-friendly. We spent way too much time at the digital painting- manipulation exhibit, by far the least impressive of them all. But it had screens, and my kids got to paint horses! There is also a small kid-playing area in the basement.

If you’re done with the Palace Museum and still have time, cross the road to the opposite Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines. It’s a lot smaller, but interesting, low key and informative.

Chiang Kaishek Memorial. This is another place any local host will take you to. Soak in the vastness of the space and grandness of the architecture–it is meant to impress.

And if you’re there at the right time, your kids might enjoy seeing the change of guard at Chiang’s statue.

Taipei 101. This is the tallest building in Taiwan, and one of the tallest in the world. You can see it from almost anywhere in the city. Once inside, you can go to an observation deck on the top, and see the damper that helps keeps it stable even during typhoons. If you want, you can mail a postcard from the top. And you have to leave through a huge store full of incredible (and incredibly expensive!) jade carvings. For some reason, my kids loved this building. I think it’s actually the only thing my son remembers from Taipei!

A great place to take kids to is the Taipei Zoo. We did not expect much of the zoo, and it pleasantly surprised us. In fact, it is one of the nicest zoos I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a whole lot!). It has a few pandas, held in an indoor, air-conditioned enclosure:

But the other, open-air pans were a lot more interesting, I think. I enjoyed the tropical vegetation as well. It felt like a combination of a zoo and a botanical garden.

If you go there, make sure to take the gondola. The view from above is magnificent, and your kids will love it!

Must Experience Sights:

Temples:

You can’t be in Taipei without visiting a few temples. One of the more famous ones is the Buddhist Lungshan Temple. The structure you see now is a mid-twentieth century rebuild.

You cannot visit this temple without going to the nearby Snake Alley. This night market really does sell snakes (to eat!). We didn’t buy any, but seeing them for sale left a huge impression on my children.

Many other temples and shrines dot the city, both big and small. Go into some of them and look around. Smell the incense. Observe people worship. Listen to the sounds. With time, you might start distinguishing between Buddhist and Confucian temples.

Markets:

Night Markets. For a genuine Taipei experience make sure to visit a few of its bustling night markets. These will utilize all your senses: there is a lot to see, hear, feel and smell! Stop by some stalls and get local street food. It’s likely to be nothing like anything you’ve had before. If you’re brave, try the stinky tofu!

If you can be in Taipei for a weekend, the weekend Flower Market is a must. Operating in a parking lot under an elevated road, this is a heaven for plant lovers.

It has a vast array of tropical plants of all kinds. Bonsai pots of all sizes, bamboo arrangements, and amazing orchids that will take your breath away!

Once you’re done with the flower market, go visit the nearby Jade Market. This market, too, is open only on weekends, and holds a big selection of trinkets, jade, beads, antiques and other interesting curiosities. Bargaining is expected.

Food!

Taipei has an amazing array of food of all kinds. Taste as much of it as you can! Try the street food, go to different kinds of restaurants, both cheap and more expensive. Experience different kinds of cuisines.

For special treats, try the following two places recommended separately by two of our Taiwanese friends, Siyen and Peisun. The first is a great breakfast place called Fu Hang Soymilk. It offers simple but delicious breakfast staples like fried dough sticks, soy milk and shaobing. When we went there, the line was already very long at 6:30 am, but it did move relatively quickly. Don’t go on your first day! You’ll appreciate the place a lot more if you have other breakfast restaurants to compare it to.

For lunch, try Din Tai Fung, considered the best dumpling restaurant in Taipei. We waited in almost one-hundred degrees for over seventy minutes to get in. The dumplings were good. My kids still fantasize about the chocolate ones!

They also have a branch in Taipei 101, although we didn’t try it.

If you still have time in Taipei, there is yet more to see.

Lesser Sights:

There are many small museums in the city, that can keep kids happy for a while. We enjoyed learning how to make paper at the Paper Museum.

The Ama Museum, dedicated to comfort women, was more somber but educational. The attached cafe was very pleasant, too.

The museum is located on Dihua St,, an interesting place in as of itself. The street, which has some old architecture and a fun mix of shops (some traditional, some new and fancy), is a great place to engage in another nice Taipei activity: strolling and shopping. The street has, among other things, a paper lanterns store that we enjoyed, and a bamboo-product store where we were unable to resist temptation.

Oh, and the best part for the fabric lovers among you (sorry, I just have to put this in!): at the end of the street there is the ginormous Yongle Fabric Market, an absolute heaven for sewers of all kinds. It truly has anything you can think of. The vastness of it completely overwhelmed me!

Finally, If You Have Time to Leave Taipei:

Taroko Gorge is beautiful, and offers hiking trails for all difficulty levels.

Xitou Nature Recreation Area has some amazing bamboo forests, as well as other kinds of vegetation. It attracts many local tourists, and offers shops and restaurants in addition to nature hikes.

Bern with Kids: A Few Fun Family Activities to Do in the Capital of Switzerland

Despite the circumstances that brought us to Bern this summer, it was impossible for us to stay impartial to the charms of this beautiful city. My husband’s birthplace, Bern is a city we visited many times. We absolutely love it, and see it as a second home.

And so, before the summer ends, I thought I’ll share some of the things I love about the place, and give you a few ideas for activities to do with kids, if you happen to find yourself in Bern with children and some time to explore:

Walk around the medieval old city

The old city of Bern is one of the prettiest cities I’ve been to. Neatly contained by the river Aare, it is fun and walkable. Stroll down the main street, but make sure to explore the side streets as well. You never know what you might find!

The streets in this part of town are all covered. This has to do with an old regulation, under which people were not allowed to sell out of their windows. The archways circumnavigated that rule, but also provided (and still do!) shelter from the elements: protection from snow in winter, rain in summer, and also the sun on especially hot days!

While you walk, make sure to look up and down as well as to the sides. Try to notice the little details. The old Bernese architects had an amazing sense of humor. You will find some funny carvings, statues and architectural details. Take this guy, for example, which I noticed on my recent visit:

Or the little frog on the bottom-right-hand side of that door:

Or this wall painting (which is actually not that old):

Modern city planners made fun contributions of their own, like this statue in one of the squares that always makes me smile:

Or these plastic dogs that filled the city this summer, some sixty strong:

 

There’s also street art, though I’m sure the City Fathers (as well as many of the respectable citizens) frown upon it:

Drink from the street fountains

The old city is dotted with water fountains, each a piece of art on its own. Many feature old statues, or funny faces. A few let YOU be the statue! They are all perfectly safe to drink from, and doing so on a hot summer day can be very refreshing (not to mention money-saving!).

Stop by the famous Bernese Clock Tower

It does funky things every hour, but it is most impressive at noon, when it’s show is the longest and fullest. Looking at the clock is fun, but watching the tourists that gather in front of it is even more fun!

Make sure to go all the way to the Bear Park

It’s at the edge of the old city, and you can clearly see the bears after which the city is named. These days they are walking leisurely in their new, big enclosure. You can also stop by the old bear pit, where bears used to be kept until a few years ago. They lost their mind then, in that tiny den, which is what prompted the city government to open the new park. The old pit is now a museum.

And if you’re there already, climb the steep hill across the street to the Rose Garden, and enjoy the breathtaking view of the old city. The restaurant there was one of my mother-in-law’s favorites.

On Saturdays, go to the farmers’ market

The Saturday farmers’ market is full of fresh vegetables, delicious breads, amazing cheeses and great meats. It also has flowers and ready-to-eat foods. My kids love the crape booth. There is a smaller market on Tuesdays as well.

Play a game in one of several street-game locations

There are boards painted on the pavement and big game pieces for the public to use in both bärenplatz and in the park near the cathedral. You can play with family members or friends, or with complete strangers. This is a great way to break barriers and promote world peace. Here, for example, you see an Israeli boy playing with a two siblings from an Arab country. No words were used, but fun was had by all:

Climb the Cathedral tower

The cathedral in Bern is beautiful, and climbing the tower will give you some exercise and reward you with beautiful views.

Go shopping!

Stores in Bern are true works of art. There is great stress on aesthetics and keeping things beautiful and clean. Even window-shopping is fun:

One of our favorite stores is the toy store Clatterbar, where you can find beautiful wooden toys. We go there every time:

And yes, there are at least three fabric stores in the old city!

Make sure to EAT!!

Swiss food is delicious, and looks great, too. You will drool just looking at the food displays: The breads, the pies and, of course, the chocolates!

Where else can you find chocolate spinners?

So make sure to put some (or a lot!) of this into your mouth. You will not regret it!

There are many different restaurants in the city as well. If you want to try some typical Swiss food, there is a Swiss restaurant right in bärenplatz, where you can get huge portions of roshti:

There are fun things to do outside the old city as well:

For little kids:

Different parks around the old city, like this one down by the Aare:

The Natural History Museum is one of my kids’ favorite places to go to on a rainy day. It has an old-style permanent exhibition with stuffed wild animals, as well as nice collections of insects, minerals and so on. There are also changing exhibitions. Last summer we enjoyed one about the famous Swiss San Bernard dogs. Turns out they were bread to be sickly and useless…

The Marzili baths has multiple pools for all ages, including toddler pools. There are public toilets, showers and snack bars. Bikini tops are optional.

Gurten Park, on top of a mountain in Bern, calls for a ride in a steep-tracked train, which little kids love. There is a big park on top, with a giant ball track, mini-train rides, water fountains to splash in and bumper cars to ride. There is also a nice play structure. When the kids are hungry, head over to the restaurant and enjoy the magnificent view.

The Zoo is a great place to spend a few hours. It has happy-looking animals, nice signage and a couple of places to grab food. There is also a playground if your little ones needs to let out some energy.

For older kids:

The Botanical Gardens cover five acres and are a beautiful place to stroll through and see some six thousand plant species.

The deeper pools of the Marzili baths are always a hit, or even better: the Aare itself. The water is usually quite cold, which adds to the thrill, and some people jump in from bridges, too. Only for good swimmers.

The Bern rope park has tracks for different levels, but is mostly fun for teenagers as well as adults. The track for eight-year-olds is not that thrilling. My kids love going there! You can easily spend an entire day roping in the tree tops.

Finally, if it rains, the History Museum. It has both permanent and changing exhibitions  covering history, archaeology and ethnography. My son especially loves the knight armors. You can also visit the adjacent Einstein Museum.

 

Excavations, Realizations and Thoughts on Creativity

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember that every summer my children and I embark on The Big Cleanup project: a thorough cleanup and reorganization of every single room in the house. Well, we haven’t quite gotten to it this summer, yet (!!). I did, however, briefly step into my sewing room, which, once again, became overwhelmingly messy during those last few weeks of school. I started removing some of the layers, and, as part of my archaeological digs, unearthed a few items which led to a few realizations.

Under a mound of fabrics I found this half-sewn purse. I started making it at the very beginning of my sewing frenzy. It must have been my fifth or sixth handbag, and I abandoned it midway:

The reason I never finished it was that once it reached this stage I realized that I didn’t really like it at all. I couldn’t get myself to finish it, yet was unable to throw it away, either. By this stage, you see, I had already put quite a lot of work and time into it. Tossing it felt wrong.

Now, however, with hindsight brought about by additional months of sewing and many more bags, I could look at it more objectively. I could frankly admit that it is quite unattractive (hideous even!), a design mistake. These days, I probably wouldn’t have even purchased the fabrics of which this purse is made. I would never have started working on it, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have gotten that far along.

Additionally, I discovered a pile of cut-and-ready-to-sew bags. If I remember correctly, I cut them shortly before house guests arrived last year. Since my sewing room is also our guest room, I have to clear out of it whenever overnight visitors come. By the time our guests left, though, I had already moved on to other projects. Time went by, and I never returned to these unfinished purses.

Looking over them I realized that I still liked some (that summer travel bag I was about to sew for myself, for example!). Yet, I no longer liked others.

All of this was a mini revelation. I knew, of course, that creativity is a dynamic, evolving process, and that I, as an artist, constantly change. I just didn’t realize that things evolve that quickly. Yet, those unfinished bags in different stages of making proved that what appealed to me a mere year ago was no longer doing so now.

I often work on small batches of similar pieces. I dedicate three or four weeks to work on a series of six of seven handbags, for example. Or a week to sew several journal covers. Within each batch, every individual item is unique. I always believed that what dictated the one-of-a-kindness of my pieces was the physical limitation of my raw materials: for environmental reasons, I try to use mostly rescued, repurposed and upcycled fabrics. These often come in small pieces, and are not big enough for more than one, or–at most–two items. I actually like working on one-of-a-kind pieces, since their uniqueness requires constant designing and keeps me excited about creating. 

Now, however, I understand that what makes each piece unique is not only the physical limitations of my materials (i.e.–the size and nature of the fabrics I’m working with), but also the nature of passing time and evolving taste. A purse I make today, for example, will, by necessity, be different than a bag I will design a year from now. By next year I will have experienced new adventures and processed life (and art!) in new ways. I will not be the exact same person I am now, therefore the art I will make cannot but be different than the art I make at the moment. Each and every item I create, it seems, is a reflection of a fleeting, specific moment in time and in my life.

*****

You might want to know what I did with the unfinished purses I found. Well, I didn’t want to complete the olive-colored monstrosity shown above. The distance of time meant I no longer felt attached to whatever efforts I invested in it long ago. So I calmly took it apart. I saved the parts I can still use (the button,  for example, is beautiful!). The rest I deposited in a fabric-recycling collection bin. As for the pre-cut bags, I only kept those that I still want to work on. I will finish my travel bag, sooner or later! The other pieces went back into my fabric piles, to be used for future projects.

I realize that although I never finished some of these bags, working on them wasn’t a complete waste of time. I like telling my kids that making mistakes is not only human and normal, but also necessary. We all learn from mistakes. Like all mistakes, these failed handbags probably taught me a few important lessons. For one, they made it more clear to me what I don’t like in addition to what I do. That, I think, is something worth knowing!

Don’t Turn That Grill On Before You Read This! My Mom’s Potato Salad with a Tweak

Summer officially arrived (with a record-breaking heat wave here in California!), which means it’s BBQ-season time!

Whenever we have a BBQ, I like to make my mom’s (slightly altered) potato salad as a side dish. This was a summer staple for my family when I was growing up, and I was only happy to adopt it as an adult (thanks mom!).

Over the years I received so many compliments on this dish, and so many friends have asked for the recipe, that I thought I will share it with you here. Make sure to try this potato salad next time you have a BBQ, or with any other meal, for that matter. It’s a great dish to share with friends, too!

Ingredients:

  • Half a sack of red potatoes (more if they are small)
  • Six/seven eggs
  • One jar pickles
  • Mayo
  • Mustard (my little addition!)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

Cook the potatoes until soft (but not until they fall apart!). I cook them with the skin, as by the time they are ready all the germs are long dead. The skin is actually good for you, and adds lots of fiber!

At the same time, boil the eggs until they are hard boiled.

Peel the eggs and squish them in a bowl.

Cut the potatoes into small cube, and add to the bowl.

Cut the pickles into cubes, and add them, too. (Save the liquids to the end).

Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Add a few tablespoons of mayonnaise, to taste.

Finally, (and that’s my personal little tweak, which makes a big difference!) add a little mustard for an additional pop of flavor.

Mix everything together and taste. Adjust salt, pepper, mayo and mustard as needed. If the salad feels too dry, add some of the liquid remaining in the pickle jar.

This can be eaten while the potatoes are still warm, or after refrigeration. Leftovers can be refrigerated for several days, and still taste really good!

Enjoy your summer and happy BBQing!!

 

 

The Joy of Shopping at Farmers’ Markets: Sewing Market Totes

You can get pretty much anything your heart desires in the area where I live. This is courtesy of big ships from China and planes carrying goods from all over the world. But the shopping itself is … well, something you usually want to just get done with as quickly as possible. Big chain stores are loaded with merchandise. The huge spaces, cold neon lights and linoleum/neutral-carpeted floors, however, make you want to grab your necessities and run out. Not to mention that horrid music… Even the upscale, beautiful stores are somewhat too clean, too arranged, too sterile. They make you feel like you’re in yet another pharmacy. The liveliness that is present in some shopping options in other parts of the world is simply not there.

The closest exception to this are the farmer’s’ markets that continuously  grow in popularity. I am lucky to live in a town that has a large, year-round farmers’ market. It operates one morning each weekend. Shopping there is not cheap by any means. With $12 bread loaves and pricey vegetables, it can probably out-price even Whole Foods. Yet, I try to go whenever I can. Every time I do I find the place crowded with people. In fact, the crowds are part of the attraction. I enjoy looking at the flow of people, and am happy whenever I bump into someone I know. This happens almost every time.

The outdoors shopping is a pleasant change, especially in spring and summer. I find that the natural light enhances the beauty of the fruit, vegetables and flowers. True, the pharmacy-like culture is evident here, too, with everything being a little too-neatly arranged and too-nicely piled. Yet, the overall experience is still enjoyable.

Colorful vegetables at the farmers' market

Most of all, I like buying farmers’-market heirloom tomatoes, sold every summer. I like their strange shapes and many imperfections, and especially enjoy their amazing flavors, somehow enhanced by the market experience:

Vegetables at the farmers' market

Despite relying on imported goods for nearly every other aspect of my life, I love the idea of buying my food locally. I delight in the many organic options, grown within a radius of 80 miles from where I live. And when berries are in season, I make sure to load on a week-long supply, which my kids devour eagerly:

Bright fruits at the farmers' market

A couple of weeks ago my farmers’ market visit yielded a bonus: it made me realize that I haven’t sewn any totes for a while. And so, as part of preparing for my next crafts fair, I spent the last couple of weeks sewing Market Totes, which I greatly enjoyed:

Fabric for new Market Totes

Working on my new Market Totes

Sewing new Market Totes

I hope these will make someone’s market shopping even more joyous!

ANY Texture: My Finished new Market Totes

Brick Lane Sunday Market

September isn’t quite over, yet the tsunami that marks the beginning of the school year has already started erasing the memory of summer. A few weeks ago I’ve written all about my childrens’ highlights from our summer trip. Today I want to recall one of my own personal favorites, before routine blurs its recollection away.

London has many world-class attractions, from monumental architecture to grand museums. It is also dotted with little markets, hidden in alleys all over the city. Most operate all week long, but have a rotating display of booths: antiques on Mondays, crafts on Tuesdays and so forth. Some operate only on weekends. I really wish I could have visited all of them, but my time in the city was limited. Still, I was lucky to see some. Of those, my absolute favorite was Brick Lane Sunday Market and the alleys surrounding it.

Brick Lane Market is located in an area composed of many small markets that merge into each other. Some are outdoors, others, like Old Spitalfields Market, indoors. They offer everything and anything, from antiques to vintage clothes to arts and crafts to food. We visited on a Sunday, when the market is at its peak, and quite an experience it was!

When my children heard the plan for the day was to visit a market, they noisily objected. “Not ANOTHER crafts market!” they protested. “BORING!!.” But after dragging all over the city from one Harry Potter site to another just to make them happy, I had no intention of giving up. I promised to stay for only an hour or two, and off to market we went.

The place was BURSTING with life. People, noise and music mixed with the smells of many foods. There was much on which to feast the eyes. People were dressed in colorful, interesting outfits. Stall displays were eye-catching, and the arts and crafts booths were inspiring.

Here for example, is an old cab converted into a coffee stall. We just couldn’t pass it by without buying a latte:

An old London taxi turned cafe

And this is a picture of some of the stalls, displaying all kinds of knickknacks:

Vendor booths at Brick Lane Market

One stall sold interesting-looking leather shoes:

Shoe booth at Brick Lane Market

A few stalls sold handbags, though not necessarily handmade (or local. I suspect many arrived on big ships from China):

Bag booth at Brick Lane Market

Appealing foods were everywhere. They were colorful, beautiful-looking and fragrant, and represented every imaginable country. We ended up staying for lunch, tasting vegetarian Ethiopian food, Chinese dumplings, Japanese tempura, and, for dessert, some Dutch chocolate-filled pancakes.

Food near Brick Lane market

Food near Brick Lane market

Tempting food at Brick Lane Market

There was also amazing street art everywhere, scribbled on walls, painted on doors, or hiding high above. Some of the artists had a good sense of humor. Once we realized there were a few threads of art spread around the neighborhood, hiding above eye-level, our entire visit turned into a fun, “Find Waldo” game.

These, all looking to be by the same artists, were posted high above doors on different lanes:

Fun art near Brick Lane Market

Brick Lane street art

Street art near Brick Lane Market

Brick Lane art

My son liked these cute dinosaurs, also spread in two different locations:

Brick Lane fun street art

Fun street art near Brick Lane Market

And I assume these two works represent the same face:

Street art in London

Street art around Brick Lane Sunday Market

There was also a lot of colorful graffiti:

Graffiti at Brick Lane market

This one, around the corner from a mosque, looked sweet and hopeful in a week besieged by terror and fear:

Muslim street art around Brick Lane Sunday Market

And another street painting I liked:

Art in Brick Lane Market

We noticed his little guy right before we left. He is one of my favorites:

Fun street art around Brick Lane Market

Needless to say, we ended up staying much longer than one or two hours. In fact, we spent the entire day at the market. At the end my daughter came to thank me. “Thanks for taking us there,” she said. “It was really fun!”

 

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