September 2004 Archives

Umeboshi sweet potatoes


recipe thursdaySay "mashed satsuma imo with umeboshi" to any Japanese person (well, all the ones I know at least) and you'll get a doubtful look. I think the combination of sweet potatoes (satsuma imo) and pickled plum (umeboshi) is like putting peanut butter with pickles. But I did it anyway and served it to guests who were surprised at how well they go together. Just goes to show you that sometimes mixing unconventional ingredients works.

Umeboshi Sweet Potatoes
serves 2

1 satsuma imo (sweet potato)
2-3 umeboshi - the soft squishy type

Peel the potato and chop into large hunks. Boil in salted water until soft and mashable. Drain. Use your fingers to pick the meat off the umeboshi, discarding the pits. Add to the potatoes. Mash with enough milk and butter to moisten the potatoes and to satisfy your cravings for fat. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Terror spam


I'm used to seeing spam for unpronounceable pharmaceuticals, low interest rate loans, and housewife dating clubs, but this message took me by surprise:

SUBJECT: How one can become a terrorist?

You're invited to shop for large selection of bombs and different kinds of rockets such as surface-to-air, surface-to-surface and weaponry available at reduced price. With the following types of rockets you will be able to commit terrorist attacks, destroy buildings, electric power stations, bridges, factories and anything else that comes your mind.

Most items are in stock and available for next day freight delivery in the USA. Worldwide delivery is available at additional cost. Prices are negotiable.


Today special:

******* AIR BOMBS *******
OFAB-500U HE fragmentation air bomb
Fuel-air explosive air bombs -Not in stock
BETAB-500U concrete-piercing air bomb
ZB-500RT incendiary tank
500-KG SIZE RBK-500U unified cluster bomb


Our clients are well known Al-Qaida, Hizballah, Al-Jihad, HAMAS, Abu Sayyaf Group and many other terrorist groups. We are well known supplier in the market and looking forward to expand our clientage with assistance of Internet.

Tod tells me that this isn't spam, but a joe job, aimed to get online revenge on the contact person mentioned in the e-mail.

Still, it would be refreshing to see spammers branching out into this entirely untapped niche. Haven't you ever, in a fit of pique at the neighbors, wondered where to buy rocket launchers and missiles? From a disreputable spammer, by all means.

SUPER l00000w co$t m!ss!les and b0mbs 4U!!!! $ave up to 50% on all your t3rr0ri$t n33ds! Buy 2day & get a FR33 6-pack of pineapple gr3n4des. Perfect for home or office use.

The ballot


My absentee ballot arrived in a charmingly hand-addressed envelope from the Allegheny County Board of Elections. Tucked inside were return envelopes and instructions, plus the most poorly pasted-up and over-copied sheet of paper I've seen in decades.

Rusting drum

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This abandoned oil drum sits amidst a pile of junk under Expressway No. 5 in Toshima-ku. I'm attracted to the rust and decay of Tokyo; there are plenty of pictures of dirt and oxidation in my collection. This is a recent one and a favorite.

Inspired by Antipixel (again) and his generosity in sharing a beautiful calligraphic screen photo sized as a desktop background, I've done the same.

1024 x 768 112 KB JPG.
1280 x 1024 196 KB JPG.
1280 x 854 (15" Powerbook) 156 KB JPG.
2560 x 1600 (30" Cinema Display) 660 KB JPG.

All night aids


When pulling an all-nighter for work, one must have the proper supplies to ensure continued productivity through the long night. I've done enough of these for clients this year that I've got my supply list sorted. With sufficient caffeine and protein, I can do anything.

  1. Cold tea - green or black, unsweetened. Coffee is too strong for hour after hour of sipping.
  2. Onigiri. For when you get hungry at 2 am.
  3. Jerky - beef or squid. Great for chewing on while thinking.
  4. Yogurt - plain. Protein for stamina.
  5. Chocolate with nuts - Meiji Almond (Beckham's nuts!) or Snickers. The protein from the nuts balances the quick lift you get from the sugar.
  6. Chips. Something loud and crunchy to keep your ears happy.
  7. Gum. Satisfies the chewing urge, but be careful not to chew too much and cause a stiff jaw.
  8. CocaCola's Royal Milk Tea, hot or cold. The perfect emergency hit of caffeine, sugar and fat.
  9. Toothbrush. To remove the fuzzy film after all the snacks.
  10. Lip balm and eyedrops. Combat the dry office environment.

If you need supplies for all-nighters of a more recreational sort, I refer you to your spam.


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I hardly ever notice it anymore, but someone named kev left a comment about my tattoo in the photo of Jeremy's new computer over on Antipixel. So here's a close-up view to satisfy his curiosity.

I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit that the pattern is from a Dover clip art book called Celtic Stencil Designs. I liked the negative space in the original--it looked like leaves and vines curling among the black triskele and circle motifs. Unfortunately, it didn't translate well to the elastic medium of skin and I lost the leaves and vines. Fortunately, the positive is an attractive design on its own.

And for those who are wondering, yes, it hurt.

Some other tools

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creative perspectivesI'm sitting here working on a friend's new computer and I'm surprised at how different his setup is. We both use OSX, but how strange to discover that he uses trackpad clicking. I keep accidentally launching applications. His controls are on the opposite side to where I keep mine. I'm entirely disoriented but it's fun. And oh so revealing to see how habituated to my own computer I've become.

It makes me want to borrow some other tools. Other pots and pans, a different camera, someone else's toys. What way would they impact what I create?

Anyone want to trade some tools? Let's see what we can do with a different perspective on the physical world.

Come make jewelry!

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ring-1st.jpgInterested in working with metal and making jewelry? On Thursday mornings from 10 - 12, I attend a jewelry making class at RBR The New Center for Creative Arts in Azabu Juban. It's great fun, but unless I can drum up a few more students to join me, the class will be cancelled.

It's an ongoing class, so you can jump in anywhere. I've learned the basic techniques of soldering, hammering, and filing. Lots of filing. Now I'm working on a lost wax casting. The next project focuses on piercing and sawing. It's like high school woodshop, only prettier.

I made this ring by hammering and filing silver. Tod wears it every day.
Above left: simple rings made in the first class session

Here's the course description from RBR's website:

JEWELRY MAKING - Instructor: Mami Katsuki

This class will teach, in detail, the whole process of creating a piece of jewelry. Learning the basic skills is a hard and time-consuming process but this class has been carefully paced so that every individual will make progress! Learn how to use sandpaper, electric tools, files, and how to metal fold, weld, pierce, polish and finish up. After mastering the filing, students will learn Wax Carving techniques, using several different types of wax to create rings, pendants or earrings. Transform your sketch into a 3D model. After understanding and mastering the basic process, students will work on their design and bring it to life. In the first three months, most students will be able to complete two pieces of jewelry. The goal - fashion an original creation you can show off with pride!

If you're interested, contact RBR or better yet, talk to the instructor directly. She's great (and bilingual): Mami Katsuki 03-3710-8889.

UPDATE: Mami-sensei says the last class will be October 7th unless we enroll 3 or 4 more students. If you're interested, don't delay.

Editing fun

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I'm on a short deadline to get a 60 second "power module" video done before tomorrow night. After the briefing yesterday, I put myself into high gear and laid down the basics before bedtime.

This afternoon I received the product footage and I captured it. Now things are going more slowly because compositing the footage--matting and masking off sections then arranging the shots on top of one another--is painstaking work.

But it's fun and I like my results so far.

Next week I get to edit on-site at the convention where this module will be shown. Even more fun!


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Cities are dirty. I learned that when Tod & I lived in a 2nd floor loft on the corner of Wabash and 11th in Chicago. Every time I opened the windows, dirt blew into the apartment. I had the windows open often and the sills acquired a sludgy black grime resistant to cleaning.

Tokyo's dusty and dirty, too. Every surface in the house is gritty ten minutes after it's been dusted. My desk is covered with enough crud to make muddy circles with my coffee cup. And it's not for lack of cleaning. I wiped off the desk on Friday. It's been worse than usual this summer and I'm blaming it on the construction site 2 blocks over.

So bring no white gloves into my house or they will be covered in grey-brown dirt tout de suite and I'll fail your cleaning test.

Respect for the Aged

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Today is "Respect for the Aged Day," a national holiday in Japan.

But "the aged" is never us despite our half-truth jests about becoming grey and feeble; it's always someone elder. Who do Japan's 23,000 centenarians respect today? Maybe themselves. Today all new centenarians are presented with a silver cup and a certificate.

The number of centenarians in Japan will total a record 23,038 by the end of this month, surpassing last year's previous high by more than 2,000, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Tuesday.

The centenarian population has posted a 150-fold rise since the government began compiling the statistics in 1963, when the number of centenarians stood at only 153, the ministry said. Women continue to make up the vast majority of the cohort, accounting for 84.7%. (Kyodo News)

Where there more babies than usual in 1904? Maybe so; Japan was winning the Russo-Japanese War. Or did these 2000+ new centenarians lead especially charmed lives? Regardless, I guess the government had to prepare a lot of gifts this year.

Waiting for their owners

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Bike shadows. Korakuen station, September 11.



We are now a two |pûrl| household. Tod's is perl, the programming language. Mine is purl, as done with needles.


What I'm saying is that I figured out how to knit this week. I did a simple garter stitch scarf worked in wool and fancy eyelash yarn for texture and now I've advanced to making ribs. Knit two, purl two...

Knitting is a lot more fun that I ever imagined. I get to the end of a row and think "OK, just one more row, then I'll stop" and then end up with another 20. It's rather like swimming that way. I always end up doing more laps that I plan.

If you think you're getting a holiday present and you want a say in what color it is, please place your order now. It's going to be a scarf...I haven't figured out hats yet.


Try jumping in


creative perspectivesA blank page. An uncarved block of stone. The guitar you haven't picked up in months. A long To Do list. An e-mail left unanswered too long. Scary, scary, scary things that require an action and effort. Easy to put off a little longer.

But be brave. Try your best! Dive in. Don't think too long or hard about it; put pen to paper, chisel to stone, fingers to frets and see what happens. Make a mistake? So what? S'alright. Figure out how to fix the mistake or incorporate it into your project.

In Star Wars, Yoda says "Do, or do not. There is no try." Although that could be interpreted as "do it right or not at all," what I think he means is that trying is doing.

This week pick one thing you've been avoiding. Jump in and get it started. See where you go if you try.

Polenta Pie

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recipe thursdayWe first enjoyed this delicious vegetarian entree last December when Jo came over to make holiday cards. We reprised it again tonight at her house for a crowd. A classic from the Moosewood Cookbook.

Polenta Pie

1.5 cups cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1.5 cups cold water
2 cups boiling water
olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup green pepper, sliced
10 mushrooms
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
fresh black pepper
1/4 lb mozerella cheese, grated
2 small tomatoes, sliced

Combine cornmeal, salt and cold water in a small bowl. Add the cornmeal mixture to the boiling water, whisking to avoid lumps. Cook 10 minutes over low heat, stirring frequently. It will thicken. Remove from heat and cool.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Oil a 10 inch pie pan. Press the polenta into the pan to create a smooth thick crust. Brush the surface with olive oil and bake uncovered for 45 minutes.

Sautee the vegetables in olive oil, starting with the onions and then pepper, mushrooms and zucchini. Stir in the garlic and herbs.

Sprinkle half the cheese on the baked crust, spread vegetables over and top i¥with remaining cheese. Broil until the cheese bubbles.

On your own


Reuters is reporting on a study by the Center for the Advancement of Collaborative Strategies in Health that says many Americans will act on their own in a terrorist emergency, rather than following the government's instructions:

Americans Suspicious of Terror Plans, Survey Shows

An in-depth survey found that the people do not trust the federal government to take care of them during an attack, and would take many matters into their own hands -- endangering themselves and their families.


"People did not respond irrationally. Rather, they made rational, logical choices," Glied said.

For instance, many of those surveyed feared they could go to a smallpox vaccination site, get exposed to people who already had smallpox, and then be told they could not safely get the vaccine because they were pregnant, had eczema, AIDS or some other condition.

And people asked to think about a dirty bomb explosion said they would try hard to get to their children or other family members, even if told to stay put by authorities.

"Only 59 percent would stay in the building," said Dr. Roz Lasker, who led the study.

"Assuring the safety of people who depend on them is more important than their own safety," Lasker said.

The full study is good reading. Redefining Readiness: Terrorism Planning Through the Eyes of the Public

ready.jpgWhat the U.S. government needs is less press freedom (not that it's much more than lip service anyway), more lethe in the water to keep people complacent, and some really good propaganda.

You've seen; does it compel you to follow its instructions? Compare duck-and-cover drills in the 1950s to looking contemplatively at dead fish. Backyard fallout shelters have more cachet than plastic sheets and duct tape.

Cruising through the Prelinger Archives, I found these gems of emergency preparedness from the US Civil Defense:

Reflection selections

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Tod & sugar bowl.


Lyric friendships


With great delight, I've spotted a growing trend among my friends. They spontaneously break into song: a chorus of natsukashii 80s pop over dinner; a round of Queen's "Bicycle Ride" on a long walk; little snips and phrases punctuating conversations.

It's a bit like living in a musical--sort of hokey but magical, too. Someone starts singing and everyone joins in. And why not? We all know the words. So I'm thrilled that now I can burst into song (scene change and costumes preferred but not required) without odd looks from my companions. They'll be singing, too.

Let me entertain you
Laura Ingalls Wilder influenced my desire to sing in daily life. Pa was always making music in the evenings, and in Happy Golden Years, she describes the town's singing school. In a scene that's stuck in my head for 30 years, Laura and her beau ride home in a sleigh after class, singing to one another.

That people entertained each other every day with their own talent--song and instrumental music, reading and recitations, staged readings and plays--always appealed to me. Such a pity that these days we're all glued to TV, movies, iPods, and computers for our daily amusement.

So I will answer Jeremy's question about what embarrassing songs are on my iPod (none!), with a list of some songs I enjoy singing but probably not ought to admit.

My list:

  • Godspell (the whole show)
  • Carole King: Tapestry (the entire album)
  • Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes
  • Scarbourough Fair
  • Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (and a few other spirituals)

How about you?

N. Korea blows up


It wasn't the whole country that blew up, but something big exploded in northern North Korea near the China border on Thursday. News is just filtering out to the world now with reports saying there was a 3-4 km mushroom cloud spotted and a crater visible on satellite photos.

Thursday was North Korea's 56th anniversary of founding. Did they detonate a nuclear bomb to celebrate?

Yonhap news agency has the most detailed report I've found so far:

Mushroom Cloud Spotted at North Korean Border: Sources

A reliable source in Seoul's diplomatic community said Sunday that a mushroom cloud with a radius of 3.5 to 4 kilometers was spotted, along with a massive explosion, in Kimhyongjik County in North Korea's northernmost inland province of Yanggang on Sept. 9.

"The Sept. 9 explosion occurred at around 11 a.m.," the source said. "But it is not clear yet whether the explosion is related to an intentional nuclear experiment or a simple accident." He noted that the site of the explosion and mushroom cloud is not far from the North's Daepodong missile base.

Similar reports are coming from Beijing sources, but some are saying that the blast occurred in the south, near the DMZ. Others claim that large expanses of smoke indicate a forest fire.

There's a lot of confusion, significant delays in reporting and not a lot of clear facts. Typical for N. Korean news. How very 19th century...

House for Sale


winton.jpgLooking for a property in Pittsburgh, PA? We're selling our lovely 1920s Mt. Washington bungalow on Winton Street. I adore this house, but know we'll likely never move back to Pittsburgh, so it's time to sell.

Brick and wood frame. 1470 sq ft. 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, walk-in closet, finished attic, antique gas fireplace, privacy fenced back yard, full basement. First floor interior was redesigned by local architect to create an airy, open greatroom with wood floors and views straight through to the back.

New shingle roof in 1996; new gas furnace in 1996; new bath unit in 2004.

Very convenient commute to downtown. The house is within walking distance of South Hills Junction (T and busway) and the local bus stop is only 2 blocks away. There is a grocery store, restaurants and other useful amenities a short walk away. Easy access to supermarkets and shopping malls by car.

All the assessment details are available at the Allegheny County website.

For a tour or more information, please contact Collyer Realty, 308 Boggs Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15211 (412) 431-0500


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creative perspectivesDuring a recent bout of editing work, I found myself watching a lot of interviews with consumers. The interviewers were leading them a bit, trying to get the women to say how they liked to buy the fashion product that was the focus of the project, while their menfolk preferred gadgets.

Most of the women went along with this--whether it was because they truly did prefer fashion shopping to buying iPods & PDAs or whether they were simply gently coerced into saying so, I'm not sure (these interviewers were good). Only one woman said she liked gadgets better.

And none stated a preference for my shopping foible--supplies. I can pass on the clothes, shoes and jewelry. Electronic gadgets leave me cold, generally. But a new pen, notebook, tube of paint, screwdriver, saw, or meter of fabric makes me happy.

So, in that spirit, I present some Creative Perspectives supplies: a journal/notebook, a lunchbox-cum-art box, and if you're feeling particularly brand loyal to this weekly feature column, a t-shirt.

Feel no obligation, but they are here if you so desire.

Broccoli and Carrot Salad

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recipe thursdayThis week, I've ended up with a bunch of carrots in my fridge. I keep buying them, forgetting that I already have some. This salad helped me reduce the inventory a bit and added a nice green side to a simple ham sandwich lunch.

Broccoli and Carrot Salad
serves 2

1 small head of broccoli
1 carrot
1/4 cup walnut pieces
glug olive oil
glug soy sauce
glug rice vinegar
dash yuzu-su (citrus vinegar)
pinch sea salt

Cut the florets off the broccoli. Blanch in boiling water, then shock in ice water to cool. In a large bowl, grate the carrot, add the walnuts and dressing ingredients. Toss with the broccoli. Serve.

More RSS goodness

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I've turned my weekly columns into XML/RSS feeds, so now you can read just the Recipe Thursday or Creative Perspectives entries, without the rest of the daily chatter. Or get it all together as always. The choice is yours.

Recipe Thursdays:
Creative Perspectives:

Reading aloud


I love to read aloud. I started early; I have memories of reading to my little sister on weekend mornings when we still lived in New Jersey (circa 1974). Once I read the entire Scholastic Books edition of Annie Oakley in a strange syncopated jazz rhythm. I read Sarah Crewe aloud to Jenn, too.

Jenn's not the only one to listen to me read. On a long car trip in the early 90s, I read David Brin's Earth to Tod as he drove. I often read him chapters from books he's reading. I read newspaper clippings, online articles and weblog postings to friends and family. I read to friends over the phone or in person when they are sick or tired.

Now I want to perform for a broader audience. I thought about volunteering to read for the blind, but Tod had a clever idea--read and record works in the public domain.

I will record them as MP3s and post them here as well as submitting them to audio book collectives. But what to read? There are hundreds of titles via Project Gutenberg. Where should I start?



lino-portraits.jpgI'm a mirror of others rather than my own person.

Those who see beauty in me are beautiful themselves; those who find me witty are intelligent comics on their own; should someone think that I am [fill in the attribute] it's really because they are [attribute].

New companions, new Kristen. I easily pick up friends' vocabulary, habits, hobbies, and preferences.

This is irksome. I would like to be beautiful, witty and [attribute] for real. I would like to have my own strong preferences. Do things with an internal passion of my own. By my own steam. But I don't seem to. Not lately.

So after some reflection about all this, I took a personal inventory and came up with one important item that is mine alone: my creative expression. I don't draw, paint, print or whatever like anyone else.

I spent the afternoon and evening balming my soul and regaining a sense of my self by creating three abstract self-portraits. Linoleum prints, my favorite medium. This is how I see myself at the moment. (Click the image for a larger view.)


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Yesterday afternoon, Tod & I trekked out to Setagaya to watch a swim meet. Tod seemed a little bored, since photography was prohibited, but I had a fabulous time.

There were some excellent swimmers, as you would expect. From the youthful university athletes to the accomplished silver seniors, I observed grace, beauty and power in human packages.

A small handful simply blew away their competition: the long thin man who swam the 50m breaststoke in the blink of an eye; Arai-sensei who anchored a freestyle relay and brought his team from fourth to first. They were astonishingly good.

But the people who inspired me most were the ones who weren't so good. The dumpy housewives and sumo-sized men who did their best but came in last. They were inspiring because if they can compete, so can I.

So during my swim this morning, I paid attention to my times. I even counted my lengths--I swam 1000 meters (not at one go). I pushed a little harder than usual.

And it was a horrible swim. I breathed in water, almost ran into Slow Backstroke Guy, felt my energy flag for lack of breakfast. I didn't break 17 strokes per length; I barely broke 30 seconds for 25m.

I laughed aloud at my terrible time, and the Old Fat Man Who Rarely Moves ranted at me about the differences between Japanese and Americans (in Japanese and I didn't understand a word he said).

Ah, well, there's always tomorrow. Or if I get enough work done, I'll have a swim this evening.

2^6 eyes



Tod tried on new frames yesterday at Zoff. We used the camera as a mirror because he can't see without his lenses.

Japanese cemetery ad



Usually our mailbox is stuffed with pizza menus, real estate ads and lists of porn videos, but the other day this appeared--a flyer for a nearby cemetery.

"Come tour Koishikawa Jo-En every weekend from 10 - 4. New plots available! Good views, good sunlight, no surrounding buildings, barrier free!"

A 0.48 sq meter plot with a permanent lease (I think that's what the kanji mean, please correct me if I'm wrong) is 600,000 yen at a minimum. To convert for my American readers, that's about 5 square feet for $5,000. Pricey real estate. Fortunately, they offer a 10-year payment plan.

If you want a monument like the ones shown, add at least a 1.18 million yen (about $11,000) to the price. Tax included.

From junk


creative perspectivesA friend was telling me about his creative endeavors as a kid growing up in Spain. He comes from a family of 11 and money was a bit tight when he was young. Once his father scavenged some old, broken TVs and gave them to Santy so he could strip them of their copper wires, sell the metal, and have a little money for sweets or toys.

But when 7 year old Santy opened the first TV, he saw all the components inside and thought, "I can make a whole town from this!" So he did. He pulled apart the sets, broke open the tubes, disassembled everything and created a four meter square town of tiny buildings, roads and airplanes.

That may be the best use of a TV I've ever heard.

What creative things have you made out of old junk?

Cutting definitions


recipe thursdayHave you ever been confused about the differences between chopping, dicing and mincing? Here's the skinny on what's what.

Chop: irregular shapes but generally the same size. There are no specific rules about size but pieces larger than an inch (3 cm) are often called "chunks."

Mince: very finely chopped. To properly mince, first chop the product, then change the position of your knife--hold the handle and the tip of the blade and rock it back and forth over the product to mince.

Dice: perfect cubes of prescribed sizes:

small dice: 1/4"
medium dice: 1/2"
large dice: 3/4"

At the culinary school I attended, the chef measured our diced potatoes with a ruler. We were also tested on julienne (1/8 x 1/8 x 2 1/4"), batonet (1/4 x 1/4 X 3), and the evil tourne--7 sided 2" long potatoes.

Tokyo fashions - autumn 2004

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I picked up a couple of clothing catalogs yesterday to see what everyone will be wearing from this month through January. Here are the trends I noted:

Colors: black, charcoal grey, white (pure white and winter white), camel, chocolate brown, pumpkin orange, emerald green, dusty rose, burgundy, slate blue.

Fabrics: corduroy, wool, leather, chunky knits, fur accents

Patterns: mainly solids and heathery tweeds, but some flowery prints, large checks, houndstooth

Hemlines: just below the knee; mid-calf


Styles: 1960s retro styling; V-neck sweaters over lacy camisoles; frilled shirts & ruched tops over A-line skirts, sleeveless dresses with belt accents, necklines of all sorts. Not so much "skirt over pants" this year--thank goodness.

One oddity of both the catalogs--all the lingerie models are blonde foreigners.

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