Sunday, November 27, 2016

Calendars for people who want more than pretty pictures

I think calendars make excellent gifts because they are both useful and beautiful, and they come in such a variety of themes and formats that you can almost certainly find one that speaks to a person's interests, thus fitting the gift to the person in a very particular way.

For myself, I want a calendar to be much more than pretty or cleverly designed (although I do admire good design for its own sake) — I want it to be highly informative, to feed my curiosity, to cater to my interest in the natural world and in other countries and cultures.

These considerations inform my own calendar making (about which I'll say more at the end), and inspire me to buy myself at least one calendar each year, even though I make and sell my own. Having found these especially interesting and informative calendars, I may end up buying more than one this time!

Here are a few calendars that would make excellent gifts for curious people.

The Minnesota Weatherguide calendar has always been one of my favorites for its phenology and weather facts, as well as wonderful nature photographs from all around my state. It includes information about the changing seasons, the angle of the sunlight, the observable stars and planets, and the Ojibwe names for the moon.

2017 Weatherguide wall calendar

My favorite version is the engagement calendar, and for a few years they stopped publishing that format, likely because it was more expensive to produce, having a photo for every week instead of just every month. Now they've brought the engagement calendar back and I've been very pleased to buy it again. Phenology notes are included for every week, along with a seasonal photograph, and I try to keep my own gardening and phenology notes on the facing pages, though I often neglect it for weeks on end.

I used to record a lot of our activities in these when we were homeschooling our two kids — more accurately "unschooling," in a mostly loose jumble of explorations and activities. When I had to make transcripts for each of them (one to enter college, the other for the military), those calendar notes really came in handy, along with some other records I had saved. (I strongly recommend that homeschooling families save their calendars!)

Some Weatherguide engagement calendars I have used.

The Old Farmer's Almanac, which is marking 225 years in 2017, has a very informative online calendar — you can click on any date and be taken to a page with interesting "on this day in" trivia. Most of it is not what I would call "useful" information, but interesting and kind of fun, nonetheless.

They also have several printed calendars that focus on a subject area, like this gardening one, which has stylish kind-of-retro graphic illustrations, along with gardening tips.

Their Everyday Calendar is a page-a-day with "facts, folklore, proverbs and puzzles."

Sample page from the Everyday Calendar by the Old Farmer's Almanac

Amber Lotus publishing has a lot of beautiful calendars, in both wall and engagement formats, which include US and Canadian legal holidays, observances of the major world religious, and phases of the moon. Each has some additional focus, such as quotes from Thich Nhat Hahn, or quotes about nature from a variety of people. Many of these are a little too corny-profound for my taste, but will appeal to others. Here's one I like, which is free of quotes; it just features delightful bird illustrations by Geninne D Ziatkis.

(If you like Geninne's art, you might also like her Etsy shop.)

Chris Hardman's Eco-logical 2017 Engagement Calendar from Pomegranate claims to offer "a new way to experience time" with information about planets, seasons, animal behavior, and "a host of information about the natural world," with a focus on the northern hemisphere. It also has world holidays and a time-zone map. It looks to be a more wide-ranging complement to the Minnesota-specific Weatherguide Calendar.

I call my own calendar the Useful Calendar because it provides a lot of information in a small amount of space.  It lists holidays from many countries and all the major religions, plus a few other international observances of an earth-friendly or literary nature.

My aim is to facilitate inclusiveness and to accommodate both curious and considerate people. A person in the US might not need to know all the major holidays in Japan, for example, but they might still find it interesting to know them. (In 2015, I wrote about why I started making the Useful Calendar, which you can read here if you'd like to know.)

I consult several different online calendars and other references when I'm researching it each year, not only to find the dates of moveable holidays, but also to continuously update and revise my content. And I provide brief explanatory notes about changes and other tidbits on how I compile and present my calendar. Then I design it in a couple of different formats to accommodate different needs. Both formats are available in two versions, one with weeks starting on Sunday, and the other with a Monday start and the weeks numbered (based on ISO 8601 week date standard).

One version fits on a single 11x17 sheet to display a full year at once, with limited notes at the bottom but no room for additional information about the holidays.

Find this format of the 2017 Useful Calendar by clicking here.

The other format is a set of cards, which have brief descriptions of most of the holidays on the back of each month. I don't have the space to write something about all the holidays, so I try to vary somewhat from year to year which ones I highlight, or what and how much I say about them.

Here's the set of 2017 calendar cards, with Monday start and week numbers, and a wooden card holder, offered as a desk calendar.

Here's the other version of the calendar card set, with Sunday week start.

And here's a look at the backs of the calendar cards, crammed with information.

The calendar cards are also available with a sleeve so they may be carried in a purse or pocket. This is one of a few patterns for the sleeves, which are "laminated" with packing tape to make them more durable. I make each one by hand.

I have often had the intention to make something of an almanac zine as well, to allow for even more text about every holiday and maybe some additional facts, but as a one-person operation working on a time-sensitive project, I have tended to run out of time. I actually have a 2017 almanac zine in progress, but if it isn't done by early January, I'll likely abandon the project for this year. Or complete it for my own use and as a prototype to adapt for 2018.

Thanks for reading. I hope I helped you find a really swell calendar for someone on your gift list!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

How an old book becomes a new journal — with shiny beads, even

This fabulous old book, a children's reader published in 1929 (the year my mother was born!), had not only a fabulous cover, but also lavishly illustrated end papers. In order to preserve the original end papers while making it into a journal, I chose to do this one as a coptic stitch.

First I cut the covers from the spine and text block (the pages inside).

Then I cleaned the covers with a little bit of Murphy's oil soap. I have to be careful to not rub too hard  because anything I use, even plain water, will also remove some of the dye in the original book cloth (I don't know why that is so, but I've experienced it a few times now.) You may notice that near the spine edge on the lower front, there's a little faded area around a stain I was attempting to remove.

After trimming the edges of the cover boards to make them as smooth as possible, I sealed the cut edge with a clear acrylic called Gel Medium. This will keep moisture out so the book covers don't warp, and it gives it more of a finish, rather than leaving a raw edge here.

You also get a glimpse of the end papers above, and a better look at the verso (left) side below. It's a classic illustration that spans two pages, so there was a facing page that was the same as the one on the back cover, which I used to make a bookmark. 

The front image brings to mind the Emerald City, only this is more like a carnelian city (not quite ruby, or I'd have attempted a lame joke about emerald slippers). It's an idealized modern city rising out of the clouds or the prairie mist or something, with a couple of stereotyped Native Americans looking on, maybe thinking "Holy shit!" Hey, this was published in 1929, remember. 

To assemble the journal using a coptic stitch, I poked holes in both covers as well as in each signature, and then, using a heavy waxed linen thread, sewed covers to signatures with a chain stitch, starting by sewing the first (last, really) signature to the back cover and working my way forward (and didn't think to take more photos of the work in progress, sorry).

I added greenish-black glass beads when I got to the last (first) signature and front cover, unthreading the needle for each one. They don't look too shiny in this photo, so you'll just have to take my word for it. (The little figurine is being the Vanna White for the journal's photo shoot here.)

Then I made a library pocket for the back cover, and a bookmark from a portion of the recto side of the endpaper from the front, which matches the back cover, so it shows the part of that illustration that the library pocket covers up. (The library pocket is made from recycled paper that has a lot of flecks in it, btw, in case you noticed.)

I also made my own "library card" with a little information about the journal, and put that in the pocket as well.

This journal is about 5" x 7" and has 240 pages of 70lb recycled paper. That's a bit heavier than what you would get in a factory made journal; you can definitely write and draw on both sides of this paper, in ink even.