Tuesday, December 15, 2009


It is now nearly Christmastime and my Etsy addiction grows - although my purchases remain at one as of yet. But, I can spend hours dreaming. I also am still considering arranging a store to sell illustrations and maybe photos? In the meantime, I've asked for some really good acid-free paper for Christmas (cotton rather than wood pulp base). Good supplies always make the act of creation more desirable, and I haven't been so good at feeding my artistic side lately. Part of that artistic starvation comes with long hours at work and never ending housework. I'll tell you that sufficient storage would make ALL the difference (but that should come someday when we finish the build-out of the basement, get rid of a window in the kitchen so we have a place for the refrigerator and some cabinetry, and build-out the attic including a ton of under-eave built-ins.).

The photos I would place in an Etsy store would be varied, but honeymoon pictures would have to go in there. Some of those pictures from Italy are just gorgeous. I got about 10 of the photos printed off in the 8" X 10" size about a week ago and couldn't wait to get them framed. On Sunday, I bought two 11" X 14" picture frames with 8" X 10" mats. Once I put the pictures in them, I was shell-shocked by the look. They are extraordinarily beautiful. (On a side note, I don't think you can take a bad picture of Venice's canals.)

Anyway, above I mentioned that my Etsy addiction grows. I have found some new favorites in the illustration/prints genre. They include:

Amariah Rousch

John Clark

Sunday, October 25, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This is an event wherein people around the world are challanged to write 50,000 words of a novel within the month of November. The idea is that people write their individual novel while others out there are writing as well. Writers have a sense of community as they can commisserate with others out there who are doing the same thing. The neat thing about the challenge is that because of the word goal, the editing that normally inhibits a writer from finishing a project is limited.

Also, there is a greater purpose of the month, and that is education. There is also a program for young writers and educators, wherein money is raised to help provide classroom work to get students writing. I've signed up, and will try my best to reach my 50,000 words by the end of November. I am also trying to figure out how to donate some funds for this cause. If this sounds of interest to you, you can visit their website here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My grandmother was born in 1912 so she was "coming of age" at about the time of the great depression. Her first memories were of a ticker tape parade celebrating the end of World War I. As a youngster she was unsure of herself, had divorced parents, and was trying to do the best she could. Like many from her generation, she was incredibly frugal. But, unlike many, she grew up that way. She grew up learning about plants, experimented with religion, attended college (English and Chemistry), and met a young man at college who was to become my grandfather.

By the time I was born, my grandfather was no longer alive; My parents and I lived with my grandmother and her mother on 40 acres on a dirt road in a small southeast Michigan farm town. Because we lived together, we spent a lot of time together. She would take me into the woods to pick wild raspberries. We would harvest mint, swiss chard, and some other things that I don't know the name of from edges of the pasture, yard or forest. My family had a garden of about an acre, and a field that would alternate between corn, alfalfa, wheat, etc. I remember working as a whole family in the garden. I also remember my grandmother inferring the knowledge she had regarding ecosystems, recycling, limiting chemical usage, and being selective when making purchases. She subscribed to Mother Earth News and was constantly pursuing knowledge about  composting, natural fertilizers and other earthy-crunchy, earth-friendly practices. In winters, our home was  pretty cold, heated primarily by a wood stove. Each night, we would heat large stones on the wood stove. Later these stones would be placed into pillow cases and inserted under the covers to warm our beds. The stones would keep emitting heat for about an hour (or more). I believe this is similar to the way a modern-day radiant floor works - especially when the material is concrete or stone. In the summers, because the house was surrounded on three sides by forest/trees, the home stayed pretty cool.

I believe I was lucky to have grown up in a multi-generational household. My grandmother died in 2003, and I miss her incredibly much. However, she'll always be with me. Each week when I take my recycling to the curb, I remember her saving tinfoil for reuse and talking about how the Native Americans were the "original recyclers." I don't quite remember what it was in reference to - maybe string and leather - but I remember her imparting the importance of recycling. I remember her natural remedies - aloe as skincare/burncare, which in the 1970's was not all that commonly used, chamomile tea for sleepiness, and mint to settle a stomach. I remember her feeding us dandilion greens and swiss chard. And, I remember the neighbor kids thinking this was the grossest thing, since those things grew naturally and not in the garden. Now those same greens are sold for high prices in the grocery stores - sold as organic greens mix. She also had trees planted in her memory through donations to an environmental cause (I cannot remember whether it was The Nature Conservancy or the Arbor Day Foundation).

These simple things are what I'm trying to find in my life. I am looking for a way to consume less, to lessen my footprint, and to promote these practices to others. I believe there is climate change. I believe that it was unfortunate that climate change was initially called "global warming" because some people assume that if its cold in their region that the earth isn't warming - regardless of whether glaciers are breaking off, and shorelines are being lost. I am interested in learning more about the Natural Step, sustainable building, elimitating waste through selective purchasing, buying local, reforesting land, and generally enjoying nature. Today there will be many blogs dedicated to these issues, being as it is Blog Action Day and the topic is climate change. However, these issues are important to me each and every day, and many such ideas will continue to pepper my blog.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mashed potatoes

In our household, we love potatoes and have them as a side dish at least a couple times a week. Last week, I actually used a recipe for mashed potatoes -- I know, it seems kind of silly, but I thought I would give it a try because there were enough differences from how I normally make them. Usually, I just boil the potatoes, add a ton of butter and creamer, and call it a dish. The specific recipe I tried was published in Cook's Country magazine*, February/March 2009 issue under the name "Sour Cream and Onion Smashed Potatoes." I just can never seem to follow a recipe exactly as its written especially when it's for something so simple. And oftentimes, I don't have exactly the right ingredients. Here's how I modified the recipe:

Boil six medium to large redskin potatoes (I cut these to six pieces and leave the skins on) until cooked through. Drain. In the meantime, saute 1 small onion in 4 TBSP butter until the onions become translucent. To this add 1 cup sour cream, and 1/2 cup half-and-half. Add the potatoes and mash. Salt and pepper to taste. It was suprising what a different taste the sauteed onions added to the mix.

Tonight, I made a variation on the theme, but didn't have sour cream, was running low on half-and-half and wanted to use up some fresh basil. The modification turned out pretty well, but it would have been much better with the sour cream. I sauteed the onions, added five large leaves of basil cut into pieces with herb snips, then added about a quarter cup of half-and-half and some cream cheese. This would be delicious if it had been made with the sour cream. I also like the idea of using dill in the recipe.

Other ways we like potatoes are as garlic potatoes made on the grill or in the oven. They are incredibly easy. Cut up potatoes and place in an oven safe dish or if cooking on the grill, in a double layer of tin foil. Cut several dabs of butter and add to the potatoes. Squeeze a clove or two of garlic through a garlic press and add to the potatoes. You can also add cut up onions or herbs to this concoction. If cooking in the oven, cover with tinfoil (or a lid if you've got an oven safe one) and cook at about 350 for 15 or so minutes. If on the grill, make sure any seams are placed up rather than down - otherwise all of the butter will run out, and your potatoes will be really dry and will burn onto the foil. Check occasionally until the potatoes soften.

Some day, I will be making potato pasta (gnocchi) and potato pancakes. I will post the results then.

*Cooks Country is a publication of America's Test Kitchen. As you may know, America's Test Kitchen is often shown on public television. The show, the website, and the publication are wonderfully informative; although not as much as a celebrity machine as the Food Channel shows, the recipes are tested with many variations until the panel is satisfied for taste and texture. They will often provide variations. If you have the extra funds, I'd suggest purchasing a subscription (the magazine can be bought off the rack as well). The website provides a free recipe on the opening page. On the date of this post the free recipe is for Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I am addicted to Etsy.com. I could spend hours surfing through the site. Actually, I am not kidding anybody; I HAVE spent whole weekends doing just that! I have multiple favorite sellers but have only made one purchase so far. For my recent wedding, the bridesmaids' gifts were bought from Rachael Sudlow Jewelry.

I only had two bridesmaids, and they were my darling sisters. During the winter of 2008/2009, I had stumbled across Rachael's "three peas in a pod" necklaces. I immediately knew that they would be a part of the gifts that my sisters got. (I decided it would be necessary to buy myself one as well.) Just because I found them adorable, didn't mean that my sisters would though... but, I was certainly hoping.

At the rehearsal dinner in August, I pulled out the gifts. (I also got them batik robes - each with a different color scheme and print.) They loved the necklaces and decided that they were going to wear them at the wedding... even though they didn't quite match. There is a special simplicity in the meaning that was not lost on anyone who noticed the necklaces.

One of our close friends fell in love with the necklace too because she and her significant other call their baby "sweet pea." Unbeknown to her, he is very interested in purchasing one of these necklaces for her as a special gift. What do you think of my necklace below - is it not just too cute?

I keep thinking that I need to get myself into gear and create enough items so that I can open a store. I think I would primarily do pencil drawings, but I have some other items up my sleeve as well.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Farmers' Market and Homemade Cheese

On Saturday, I went to our local Farmers' Market, which I love to do. This week I went in search of pretty things for the home... flowers and greenery. I also bought some tomatoes and apples for good measure. The morning was cool, overcast and drizzly, which to me is a perfect enviroment - especially when beautifying the home for the snuggly winter months. I found some great items, but didn't spend much. I bought a bouquet for $5, some chives and oregano (which will be planted outdoors) for $3 each, a little whimsical hand made clay hanging pot with moss growing within for $8. Simple pleasures indeed - here they are:

I also found these cute little bottles/vases that stick to windows or mirrors and hold small groups of flowers. They are quite lovely I think!

Later that day, I went to the local health food store to get some TVP (Texturized Vegetable Protein) so I could make a pot of vegetarian chili. While there, I found some vegetarian rennet for cheese making. I had looked for vegetarian rennet earlier this summer without luck, and just gave up cheese all together since the cheeses made that way tend to be incredibly expensive. While in Italy on our honeymoon, I had no kitchen to cook my own food in. And, without a kitchen, and with a language barrier, I gave up my cheese-free ways until we returned to the USA. With rennet in hand, I purchased a gallon of organic vitamin D milk, and went in search of citric acid so I would have all the ingredients to make mozzarella. I did not find citric acid so had to make due with lemon juice. I also hadn't realized my candy thermometer didn't go low enough for me to measure temperatures under 100 degrees accurately. So, I used the juice (not predictable pH-wise like citric acid is), and I guessed at the temperature. I thought that the cheese would be an absolute failure since there were so many things I was doing incorrectly - even though I was using modified recipes for a psuedo mozzarella (I compared about 6 different sets of online instructions to figure out how to proceed). Real mozzarella takes a couple hours longer. All in all, my cheese tasted right, but turned out a little spongy and was not smooth because of that. I will definately try cheesemaking again!

Presenting the cheese:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Of workweek blues and weekend bliss

Approximately a year ago, my job duties changed. Rather than doing the things I loved, I was made to work with numbers and deal with money collections. Unfortunately, those are two things I despise - at least when they've turned into my full time responsibilities. (I don't think collections calls are ever fun.)

My previous career was as a bona-fide registered representative, which I'd done for several years after acquiring all of the certifications required by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the State of Michigan. While there, I spent a lot of time researching mutual funds and writing financial plans. And, although I was good at what I did, it was not fulfilling. It was not creative enough. I had no outlet there. I'm not really a numbers person. I love doing the research. I love being accurate with predictions, but after several years, I had to give notice. I just couldn't be happy there.

Finding a new career as a Project Manager at a commercial real estate firm gave me an outlet to do the things I love. Because it is a small firm, I was able to design fliers, do tons of research, write or review contracts and other legal documents, and work with with sellers, contractors, bankers, lawyers, environmental and architectural firms, not to mention municipal and state employees. I was in heaven and often thought to myself as I was driving to work, "Oh my God. I am so lucky to have a job and to love what I do." Every day was different, and new, and exciting...

As we entered the recession, co-workers were let go. Another thing the company let go were the new developments, and thus, my former job duties. Our investors wanted to save their money for future opportunities, which would be forthcoming. The idea that financing would dry up and novices and experienced developers alike would be getting into trouble was a solid bet. I slid into the Lease Administration role, wherein I work closely with tenants and do a high amount of work in accounts receivable. So, once again I find myself in a financial role, which was never my interest. I am biding my time until things change. Hopefully that is soon!

In the meantime my weekends are sacred and my time for creation and beauty. I was recently married (within the last month). The wedding was an opportunity for me to create. I designed a logo of our intertwined initials and used it on the invitations. Each invitation was individually water colored and comprised of three pieces, the logo, a ribbon, and the card. A response postcard was placed inside. I put them together one at a time, and handwrote all addresses for a personal touch. The total cost (excluding postage) was probably about $50, but I did spend hours on the project this spring.

As the wedding approached, I debated what we could give as party favors (and that wouldn't end up in a landfill within the year). I had thought about small pots of fresh basil surrounding a candle or lavender centerpiece. I thought the basil would be practical, biodegradable, and pretty. But, transport to the center would be difficult, and growing the basil was prohibitive space-wise. My husband suggested cookies as favors. He especially wanted to include a favorite cookie that I make. It is a chocolate cookie rolled in pecans with a caramel fill finished off with a chocolate drizzle. The recipe I use is from a book my sister got me several years ago for Christmas, "Best Loved Cookies," although I've also seen the recipe in a cooking magazine as well. I follow all the directions pretty closely, except I make homemade caramel rather than using store bought.

So, I agreed to make the favors. But, one cookie does not a favor bag make. I decided each favor bag would have three cookies: the type from the previous paragraph, a frosted sugar cookie, and a toffee dipped sugar cookie (I made this one up as I went along). I bought small paper "lunch" bags and hand wrote, "thanks for celebrating with us" on each one so that when the top was folded it would be there at the opening. I then drew a small heart under that. Forty-five dozen cookies later, I had 170 favor bags ready to go. Here's a picture of the bags on the favor table:

So, now that the wedding is over, as is the honeymoon, I have returned to work. The honeymoon was the first true vacation in several years. And, my vacation days over the last couple years have been in relation to getting our home structurally moved, getting the foundation poured, doing landscaping, and other generally hard working, non-restful days. And the weekends have been much of the same. Together with my new husband, we realized that we really need to take vacations once in a while. That's sometimes hard to remember when you're a workaholic... as we both tend to be. In the meantime, I am trying to find the peace that vacation brings. I am prioritizing peace. I am prioritizing creativity. I am prioritizing sleep. And, I am trying to make my home the hearth of that all.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Autumn Tranquility

Autumn has arrived here in Michigan, although it seemingly has been here since July. It's the last evening in September, and the trees have yet to lose their foliage. My tomatoes have not turned red yet, although one has a little color as of this morning. Yet, the forecast calls for frost tonight.

It seems too soon for fall, yet it seems like it would never come. We had the mid-range temperatures often seen in the autumn months, but not the smells, the textures, the sights, the sounds, the tastes. Now they've finally arrived. I leave you in contemplation of:

...the last barbecues of the season, damp rainstorms with leaves blown loose by rustling wind, falling pine needles, high school football games, woolen socks, flannel shirts, pumpkins, mums, dried popcorn, cider and cinnamon.