Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Annie here. Just wanted to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and say that Val is visiting me here in Idaho for the holiday and I have put her to work helping me prepare for our upcoming vendor show this Friday throug Sunday. Kate is the star of the blogging this week with her Monday post as this will be the only other post for the remainder of the week. This was not the original plan but unfortunately preparation for the show is all consuming and I have sucked Val into the vortex of my stress.

If you are in the Twin Falls area please stop by our booth at the Holiday Food & Gift Festival. This years festival will be held at Immanual Lutheran School Friday and Saturday 10:00-7:00 and Sunday 12:00-6:00.

Happy Thanksgiving and see you next week!

Monday, November 23, 2009

See Kate Conquer: Thanksgiving Dinner at 39 Weeks Pregnant

Well, that's the hope anyway. I figured having an event to focus on – like hosting six friends and two babies for, arguably, the biggest meal of the year – was a good way to keep myself focused on something other than BABY. Of course, that was a month and a half ago before I extended the invitation (with certain restrictions - like water breaking - applying) and before the third trimester exhaustion set in. But! With no exit strategy yet made known to me by my inhabitant, I am proceeding as planned.

Last year's preparations

For some reason, being away from the States last year and this year for Thanksgiving has made me love it even more. Absence simply making my heart grow fonder, perhaps? Or maybe it's that I've had some really great Thanksgivings in recent years... Keith and I hosting my family in Cambridge, MA... being with his family in Frametown, WV and having my first go at 4-wheeling... joining friends for several years running in their traditional get-together. There's no one way to celebrate, and most everyone allows themselves an excuse to be grateful and just a little bit more sentimental than usual. Of course, for others Thanksgiving is just the one-day initiation to a month-plus of stress and obligation. If that's you, then this post has your name on it; I just want to focus on the food today!

I'm serving a turkey breast this year. Whole turkeys are hard to find in my neck of the Swedish woods; I did see them at one store over the weekend, but it had all sorts of additives (salt, sugar, water) in it that I'd rather not have. My mom taught me it's worth investing in meat, be it a Thanksgiving turkey, a Christmas ham, or an Easter lamb. It's kind of the star of the show; why take a risk? So, I'll be heading to Saluhallen, Göteborg's famous indoor market, to get a nice hefty turkey breast (and, I won't have space issues in my tiny oven).

This is my favorite dish. I love stuffing. I could go to Thanksgiving dinner and eat only stuffing. I use this basic bread stuffing recipe from The Joy of Cooking, again something copied from my mother. I add the optional pecans and raisins, and typically use a sweet bread (challah is wonderful!). I prefer fresh herbs to dried - and generous measurements at that - and always, always make extra (this year I'm making a triple batch).

Potatoes, Mashed
I don't have a tried and true recipe I keep returning to for mashed potatoes; instead, I just boil a bunch of potatoes (unpeeled) and add my pick of various dairy to the mashed result: butter, sour cream, crème fraiche, milk, cheese. If it's not Thanksgiving I might add herbs and/or garlic, but for the Big Day I prefer something a bit more classic.

Potatoes, Sweet
I love sweet potatoes. Delicious, healthy, versatile... For Thanksgiving dinner I will slice them in ½ rounds, toss with olive oil and S&P and bake starting in a cool oven. The exact recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated, my favorite cooking magazine and one of my favorite cooking web sites.

Pecan Pie
It's funny... I don't think we ever had pecan pie on Thanksgiving when I was growing up, but when I do Thanksgiving it's the only dessert I serve. I use this alternative crust option (given about half-way through the recipe) with this filling, adding a layer of chocolate in between, and served with real vanilla ice cream and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg. (If you've never taken a look at the cross section of a nutmeg, you gots to! It's really beautiful.)

This is my planned menu – so far – for Thursday. I love dinner rolls, but I don't have a perfected recipe and there are already so many carbs that I'm fairly certain my non-American guests won't notice their absence and I'll save on effort in any way I can this year. I hope to have sauteed kale as another veggie dish, but I've had a heck of a time finding it since last February, when they were selling it dirt cheap by the kilo (I love variations on this recipe). There will of course be gravy, but that's a last-minute thing for me, something I don't quite know how to plan, and instead I just hope for the best! I love sauces and chutneys, so if I can track down some cranberries I'll have those on the side in some simmered, spiced form as well. For wine, I've got a couple bottles of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau (which I am still convincing myself to part with even though I won't be enjoying it in as much a personal way as in an observational one... sigh!), or I might go with some tasty Pinot Noir. For a white option, perhaps a Pinot Gris. Other than the Beaujolais, I don't really know what I'm talking about when it comes to wine; I asked my dad what he was serving and figured his tastes transcend international waters.

My Thanksgiving Table Favorite

Have I missed something obvious (very probable with my distracted mind these days)? What's your favorite dish, and what quirky item is a Thanksgiving spread never without in your home? Happy Thanksgiving Week, everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An Iowa Connection

I have some good news for those of you who live in Iowa City and the surrounding area. Our reusable coffee sleeves are now being sold at Sisters Garden on Hwy.1 between Iowa City and Kalona! I gave you all a glimpse of their shop a couple of weeks ago and am honored to have my products there among so many other great pieces.

Sisters Garden is having a holiday open house tomorrow through Saturday. For more details check out their blog: It is my understanding that free coffee will be served while you peruse their offerings!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Artistic Adventures of an Ardent Amateur: Ninja Quest

So, I’ve been a little slack on the adventuring lately – been feeling slightly under the weather – so for today’s post I’m going to relate an adventure I had a few months ago, when I decided to try to be a ninja

I was having a crisis of creativity one night, and bored with my city and my situation I called my baby brother. After explaining that I'd freaked out over being trapped here I was pretty much out of things to say, and he wasn't all that forthcoming with the conversation, so I blurted out an idea that had been floating randomly in my head for a while. "Hey, I'm thinking about taking a martial art. Got any recommendations for me?" And he did. After discussing my many options and calling our older brother to consult, he recommended I train in ninjutsu at M.B. Dojo with some guy who's apparently a bigshot in the art. So I sent the instructor an email describing my goals (self defense & physical confidence) and asking for information about classes and their training philosophy.

I received a very encouraging reply in which the instructor said that all that was required to train at their studio was a good heart, humility, and the willingness to learn. Check (I hope), check, double check. I made an appointment to go in for my free trial class.

And thus my quest to become a ninja FAIL! I suck at being a ninja. Not only did it take Mark (aka "Sensei") showing me a movement about 8 times before I could half-way imitate it, I then completely forgot how to do it after having done it correctly for 5 minutes. Seriously. It was a "do it across the floor" kind of thing, and I'd manage to make it to the wall executing a valiant attempt at the move all the way, then I'd turn around and COMPLETELY FORGET HOW TO DO IT. I kid you not, I now completely regret every time I ever rolled my eyes in math class or shook my head at the poor sap who wasn't keeping up in chemistry, because now I know what it's like to have your brain utterly abandon you. I turned around and had no idea what the crap to do. It. Was. Awful. Of course, that wasn't the only part of the class that sucked. Other humiliations included: freaking out when my partner knocked me to the ground (ok, not freaking out, but failing to fall correctly and letting out a rather comical "oof"), completely forgetting how to do yet another move after having done it successfully for three minutes, backwards resulting in a large bruise on my nail bed, being the only person not wearing all black (he said "athletic wear" and so I showed up in my gray yoga pants and blue tank top with cutesy-baby-blue sports bra peaking out while everyone else was wearing head to toe black), not knowing any of the rituals (such as bowing when entering the mats, calling Mark "Sensei", entering the building through the correct door, etc.), and basically sucking so horribly at everything that I've been periodically blushing while writing this every time I remember another embarrassing moment.

I debated with myself for several days over whether I should return for another class and push through the humiliation and my utter lack of physical ability. Ultimately, I decided not to. I admit, a large part of this decision is the result of my own cowardice: I have always been very poor at any pursuit requiring athletic prowess – martial arts, sports, dancing, you name it. In fact, physical endeavors inspire a brand of fear in me that borders on terror. But, in addition to being reluctant to subject myself to further torture, I also wanted to spare the other students at M.B. Dojo the tediousness of my presence. During my one and only class, Sensei frequently stated that they were “taking it easy” and “returning to basics” no doubt for my benefit. If I were to start attending regularly I would run the risk of either setting the entire class back or forcing Sensei to devote an inordinate amount of his attention to me. Neither seemed fair to the initiated group at the dojo, so I concluded that bowing out (pun intended) was really best for all involved.

And though it’s unlikely that anyone who attended that class will ever read this post, I would like to give a shout out to the lovely, kind, and welcoming people at the dojo, and thank them for allowing me to intrude on their class. Despite my abominable performance and the fact that I was depriving them of a challenging class, they were all welcoming, kind, and supportive. One student, in particular, stood out to me. She had this peaceful kindness, and the most genuinely friendly smile I've ever seen, and she quietly corrected me when I (once again) completely forgot what I was doing halfway through it, and she looked at me with compassion and an expression that said, "don't worry about it, I've been there." I instinctively liked this girl a whole lot. I'm really grateful for her help and her non-judgmental advice, and her warm and welcoming smile. Thanks for being awesome, Sara(h).

So, while I did not pursue ninja-hood after my introductory class, I did learn a few things about my limits, my fears, and the kindness of strangers that night. And that’s quite a wealth of knowledge gained in a few short hours. Sorry I wasn’t a better student, M.B. Dojo, but I am grateful for the opportunity to learn, even if the lessons I took away aren’t the ones I was expecting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Artist Profile: Rae of MudStarCeramics

It's always a special day when I get to feature an artist that I have had the opportunity to collaborate with. Rae of Mud Star Ceramics contacted me about doing a couple of custom lampshades for her new Rosie Lamps. It was really great working with her and a lot of fun seeing the end result. (Check out the end of the post for pictures and info on where to buy.)


1. Where is your business based out of?

Princeton, N.J.

2. Where are you originally from?

A small town in Central N.J. called Colts Neck. Now it's a fancy sort of town with kind of icky McMansions (sorry, Colts Neck), but when I was growing up, it was a beautiful quiet little place with lots of farms.

3. How long have you been an artist and/or business owner?

I've always had a very active imagination, so I think maybe I was always an artist. Even as a kid, I loved strange collections of things and I always kept a notebook of things that I liked - lots of lists. I remember taking one whole afternoon making up names for colors I liked. I think I was convinced Crayola would hire me when I graduated fifth grade.

I've only just started my business. It's about a year old. I like to say it sort of evolved in spite of me, instead of because of me. It started very small: making things for friends, then some custom lamps for an interior designer, and it sort of grew from there. It's all happened by accident really. Some kind people had nice things to say about my work and it was like that shampoo commercial: "...and they told two friends, and so on, and so on...."

4. Where do you get your creative inspiration?

I love pattern and color and am a little obsessed with repetition. I love architecture for that reason. I love modern art. But as us artists know, inspiration can come from anywhere. For example, I recently took a walk in downtown Princeton, where I've walked a million times and found all these beautiful patterns and colors, in the street grates, the vines on an old stucco wall, even in the garbage! I write a blog that is about inspiration: You can see the photos from that walk there.

I also love getting inspiration from my customers. I love doing custom orders. It's a lot of fun to have people bring me a fabric from their bedroom pillows or a wall color and working with making a lamp inspired by those things. I love the smallness and contained nature of lamps. I think of them as small sculptures.

5. What does your creative process entail?

I keep copious notes in my notebook. I paste clippings and photos there. I draw in there. I keep inspiration boards in my studio. A project usually starts with a photo of something or a piece of fabric. My last lamp was prompted by a drawing by my seven year old son. It was a series of squiggles, each row colored with a different color, and outside the lines, of course! That inspired my Scribble Scrabble lamp. The glaze worked perfectly by dripping outside the lines.

6. Would you say your environment (where you live, work, play) influences your creative process? If so, how?

I try to keep inspiring things around me. I have my inspiration boards and swatches in the studio. I walk and walk and walk in my neighborhood and town. I'm lucky to live in a leafy town with a lot of history, but that still has a young energy to it because of the University here. I love the architecture of the old buildings on campus, and of the Arts and Crafts homes on some of the Tree streets. And even though it interferes with all the traffic patterns around here, I even love the construction sites with all the cool stone and rebar in their piles. I even like the darn cement mixers.

7.Who are your creative mentors?

Oh geez! How much time do you have? I love Beatrice Wood, for her goblets and gorgeous luster glazes. I love Russell Wright and Eva Zeisel for their simple lines. And sculptors Anne Hamilton and Tara Donovan for their "collections" of things, and for their use of repetition in strong ways. I love the fabrics of Marimekko for bold lines and colors. I love photographer Sally Mann for her gorgeous sense of ruin. And Charles and Ray Eames for their modern and practical playfulness and vision.

8. Tell us about the one project you would say you are most proud of.

That project has nothing to do with clay. It would be my two sons, Lucas and Colin, aged 10 and 7! They truly are the joys of my life and keep me laughing every single day, even when I don't feel like it.

9. What do you enjoy doing when you're not creating?

My husband laughs at me because he says I'm always making something. I love to cook and bake and love having dinner parties for good friends. I read a ton, even when I'm "stirring the sauce"! And I write and meet with a wonderful writing group that gets together once a week. I even just finished a monologue that is going to be performed on stage of a little theater in a couple of months!

10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I hope I'm still making things. I hope my children are happy, healthy young adults. I hope my husband still wants to hold my hand as we walk through town. I'd love to have a production line of lamps someday. I'd love to have a show that was all sculpture. And I hope I'm still as excited to crack that kiln as I was this morning.

Here is a picture of Rae's lamp with one of our custom lampshades. Isn't it fantastic?! The completed lamp is currently for sale at JANE, a new shop in Princeton, NJ. If you are in the area I implore you to pay a visit and see (or buy) Rae's completed "Rosie" lamp in person. If you are not in the area please check out her etsy site by clicking here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

(You definitely want this) In the Bag

My dear husband has graciously agreed to indulge my desire to cloth diaper our spawn. We've agreed that we're not going to be militant about it... If there are times that it makes sense to use disposables, we'll go for it and not feel bad. If, after a good-faith effort, the amount of energy it takes to wash and assemble our diaper supply is interfering with precious moments of sleep or much-needed adult conversation, we'll re-evaluate. But, for the time-being we are being optimistic in our choice, and I'm excited.

The first decision to make was, which cloth diaper will work for us? If you ever find yourself in a position where you are considering the same, know that there are many helpful blogs and blog posts devoted to helping you make an informed decision. Many suggest trying out several diapers from different brands, and basing your final decision on some real-world experience with your own child. Since my plan was to stock up on my trip back to the States this fall, I didn't have that luxury. So, I opted for a brand tested by a friend, and that also has received rave reviews all over the internet: Bum Genius. You Dot&Line devotees will appreciate their green option, made in bamboo, as well as the fact that this company was initially started by a mom modifying the cloth diapers she already had. (Etsy has many hand-made options available as well!) I opted for what I hope will be the most economic version (both financially and space-wise), the One Size 3.0, designed to grow with your baby from newborn to toddler.

Mr Bear Models the Bum Genius 3.0 in Moon Beam

One of the biggest turn-offs of cloth diapering is, of course, The Gross Factor (TGF). From what I can tell, TGF is enough to make even the most environmentally-conscious of parents rethink this one aspect of child-rearing. What do you do with a bunch of poopy, wet rags that are just sitting around waiting to violate your laundry room appliances? Admittedly, this is not all that glamourous to think through, much less deal with in actuality. However! Several creative types are already ahead of us on this one.

Introducing: The Wet Bag

thepatacakebaby's Large wet bag in Blue Zoo

Wet bags are made with some type of water-proof (and, here's hoping stank-proof) lining to hold your little one's deposits (or, your wet swim wear or other wet gear) until you're able to “take care of them” (I love euphemisms). Recently, I took it upon myself to delve into the plethora of Etsy shops to find some wet bags suitable to my anticipated needs. I ended up at thepatacakebaby, and chose four gorgeous creations to ensure we can keep it all “in the bag”. (thepatacakebaby has a great selection of stylish baby bits, so check it out the next time you're looking for a baby gift. And, thepatacakebaby hails from Idaho to boot! A sure sign of creative genious.)

***Jamie from thepatacakebaby is graciously extending a 15% discount to D&L readers. To take advantage of this, you can order directly from the website (not valid for the Etsy store), and use the promo code "GRAND" when checking out. Happy shopping!***

I am adding my Etsy purchase to my list of Highly Anticipated Arrivals, hoping that it beats The Anticipated Arrival (I have a feeling it's going to be close). I love that these bags are functional, gorgeous, and hand-made by creative individuals... much like yourselves. Even if our cloth diapering experience is messy, it will at least be messy with style.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Where in the World: Anchorage Alaska

Michelle took a picture of herself and her D&L coffee sleeve on a recent trip to Anchorage Alaska. It's such a cozy image seeing her with a warm cup of coffee and the mountains behind. Thanks for sharing Michelle!

We want to see where you've taken your reusable coffee sleeve. Please send your submissions to!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Artistic Adventures of an Ardent Amateur: Knitting Excursion – Part 2

So, last time I told you all about my incredibly exciting trip to the Hobby Lobby, wherein I waded through the puzzling assortment of knitting books, yarns, and needles in an effort to begin a project and satisfy a creative urge. When I finally got my booty home I was impatient to begin the actual knitting, so I read through the instructions as quickly as possible. Casting on blah blah blah, garter stitch yadda yadda yadda, changing colors et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…ah, screw it, I’m ready to start. So, I cast on the prescribed 60 stitches. That part was not so bad. See, look:

Good for me! Now, on to the knitting. Other than a little bit of trouble keeping the thread taut and the stitches moderately even, this part was not so bad, either. Yay! After a while I even started to get the hang of it and it became the rhythmical, undaunting task I had hoped it would be. I leaned back and proceeded to knit while enjoying Rick Steve’s Europe. However, I soon found that it was easy to lose track of how many rows I’d done, and when I tried to simply count them I became confused: does the row I cast on count? What’s this business about ridges? How are they different from rows? And then, most puzzling of all (and something that, despite a bit of lazy googling, I still have not found the solution to) why is the last stitch on each row so loose? When I take up the slack from it it’s almost like the last stitch of the previous row becomes the first stitch of the next row. Which is all well and good when I’ve only got one color, but when I switch between colors it looks like I have one stitch of yellow on my blue row, and vice versa. Any experienced knitters out there with the answer to this question are welcome to chime in.

Due to my confusion and misunderstanding of the meaning of ridges and rows, I switched colors too early and had to go back and undo a full row. Somehow I managed to do this without dropping a stitch, and all was well…until…you know, I blame Mario Batali and the infernally intriguing show “Spain…on the Road Again” because I was so distracted by tapas that I dropped a stitch. And the section of my book entitled “What to Do When You Drop a Stitch” instructed me to get out my crochet hook – a tool I had deemed unnecessary when shopping at the Hobby lobby, and thus did not now have in my arsenal. I did my darnedest to pick up that stitch with my needles, but ended up instead dropping another one. And then another. And another. And finally I just got so frustrated and furious that I pulled the whole mess off my needle.

And then I started over. Admittedly, much of my initial zeal had then worn off, as the above pictured inch of knitting was two days’ worth of work, and I had come to the realization that, while soothing and enjoyable, knitting was not going to be nearly as productive as I’d hoped. At this rate I’d be lucky to churn out one placemat a year, and I could just forget entirely the idea of ever making a sweater. Nevertheless, I plodded on (this time with the yellow yarn, for a change of pace), the therapeutic benefits (which did seem to outweigh the frustration) being sufficient enough reason for me to persevere.

But, as I progressed on Attempt #2, I noticed something disturbing: according to my book, this placemat was supposed to measure 12” by 16”. I was a long way from determining what the final length would be, but it had by now become clear that my placemat was nowhere near 12 inches wide. In fact, to call it 8 inches would be rather generous. There was no way on earth a normal-sized dinner plate would ever rest on this mat. Well, see for yourself. Here’s a dinner plate:

And now a salad plate:

And now a tea cup saucer:

How on earth did it turn out so small?! I was following the directions to the letter! Except…uh oh…guess I should have held out for those size 8 needles after all. Shoot.

Well, I plan to finish my “placemat” someday. Just as soon as I think of a use for such a miniature piece of rectangular knitted fabric. I thought about making it a potholder, but it’s really not thick enough for that. Is there such a thing as a knitted handkerchief?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Holiday Cheer & Free Shipping

Normally I wait until after Thanksgiving to get really excited for Christmas. This year however, my attempts to wait until Thanksgiving to start celebrating and preparing for Christmas have been to no avail. I cannot hold it in any longer. This is how excited I am:
(Disclaimer: brace yourself for the most undignified form of excitement EVER):

To spread even more holiday cheer, D&L is now offering free shipping on all coffee sleeves purchased now through December 31!

All we ask in return is that you spread some holiday cheer yourself and write to tell us all about it. Who knows, your story may even end up right here on our blog.

To view our full line of reusable coffee sleeves, please click here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

See Kate Conquer: An Eating Dilemma

As this pregnancy races [waddles] to the finish line Baby Spice gets bigger and bigger, my stomach gets squished more and more, and I can eat less and less. This, my friends, is so very weird for me. I LOVE to eat. I love to cook, but I LOVE to eat. Eating brings people together, it expresses culture and tradition, it's just oh-so-blissful. So, what am I supposed to do over the next month or so until my womb is vacated and my stomach can operate at an appropriate capacity?

My motto is, “Make Every Bit Count!” I try to make each meal pack as much nutritional punch as possible, while not sacrificing taste or experience (because oh! How I LOVE to experience my food).

Here's a couple of my favorites that have been getting me through the Days of Little Hunger:

For an easy, protein-packed breakfast, I mix plain yogurt with pumpkin seeds and pomegranate seeds, topping it off with maple syrup. Don't be shy on the pumpkin seeds – I use ¼ cup – and to de-seed a pomegranate without spraying your kitchen in red, try filling a large bowl with water and de-seed under the surface.

Make some veggie broth (simply by simmering some veggie scraps or whatever vegetables you have lying around) and use for a multitude of soups. My current favorite satisfies my craving for Lipton Extra Noodle Soup in a box and is definitely healthier: bring broth to a boil, add some crushed noodles (egg noodles or spaghetti or...). When noodles are done stir in a beaten egg and some frozen veggies, season however you want (chili flakes, bouillon, S&P, etc...)

Chili! Everyone has a version, here's my simple one: saute an obscene amount of onions and garlic (last time I used five large yellow onions and a whole head of the strong stuff), add cooked ground beef and kidney beans and some crushed tomatoes. I like to throw in some frozen corn and spinach for a little more variety. Season with cumin seeds and chipotle, and of course salt and pepper. While the initial prep takes a little bit of time, I big pot will last through many meals.

My big pot o' chili: serves a large crowd once, or me many, many times

Each of these meals is super easy, and is fairly nutritionally solid which not only fuels my body as I grow a human but also gets me more bang for my buck even if I'm only able to eat small portions.

So, how about you – got any easy, tasty, healthy meals you rely on in special situations?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Green Alternatives: Altoids Tins

It only takes a mildly observant person to note my passion for repurposing things that traditionally hit the trash can once their intended use is no longer required. For years (yes, that's right, years) I have been collecting used altoid tins. These tins have piled up as I've waited for a stroke of genius to inspire how I will repurpose them. I'm not one to go with other people's ideas as I am positive there is one genius design that only I am capable of coming up with. Yes, I do realize that this may be an arrogant admission but hey, at least I'm honest.

While I wait for my stroke of genius, I decided to check out the competition. I must admit there are some pretty cool, already invented ways to reuse these little tins.

I love the simple beauty of this gift tin by MaJenta Designs:

This simple and convenient sewing kit by DribsNDrabs:

These mini scrapbooks by Nycole:

This collage piece by Decorating4:

This belt buckle by BuckleUp:

Feel free to add to the list of useful ways to repurpose Altoid tins by leaving a note in the comment section below.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An Ode to Nebraska

I've finally been able to go through photos from my recent trip to Iowa. It was a lovely trip in celebration of a dear friend's wedding (Yaaay Rach!) and the long journey with my sister lent itself to plenty of bonding time. Having grown up in Idaho and gone to school in Iowa, the 23 hour drive has become really familiar to me. The longest part of the trip is by far the state of Nebraska. If you are from Nebraska, I'm sorry, your state is by far the most boring piece of land in the United States. I'm not sorry for insulting your state...just sorry for you.

Since we had nothing better to do, we cataloged our arduous journey through Nebraska. Surprisingly, this portion of out trip wasn't without adventure...As you will see in the pictures below, we ran into quite the weather. (Why must you add insult to injury Nebraska?)

Here's our first picture just after the Nebraska/Wyoming border:

Here's the 1st hour:

2nd hour:

3rd hour:

4th hour in which it started to rain:

We pulled off for the night and woke up to this the next morning, thanks Nebraska.

An hour later:

And an hour after that:

An hour later:

Another hour passed...getting bored yet?

An hour later:

And finally...10 hours of driving later...the blessed "Welcome to Iowa" sign:

It was only another 5 hours to our destination from the Nebraska/Iowa border...a pleasant 5 hours of rolling hills and beautiful countryside. Oh sure, it rained the whole way but what did we care, we had made it out of Nebraska.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Artistic Adventures of an Ardent Amateur: Knitting Excursion - Part 1

A few weeks ago I was hit by a creative urge and needed an outlet. I wanted something simple, relaxing, inexpensive, and productive. I also wanted something I could do while I watch documentaries on PBS (I highly recommend this one, but I advise you to have tissues at hand). My solution? Knitting! Lots of people knit so it can’t be that hard, can it? And you can make all kinds of useful things, like scarves and pillows and purses and hats, right? And there are those groups of people who get together and knit for social gatherings, called Stitch and B-- er, well, you know. So knitting could not only provide me with a creative outlet and cute handmade items, it could also help me make new friends. Perfect!

So, off I set to Hobby Lobby. After a little bit of aimless wandering through model planes and mechanical Santas I found the knitting section. Which is when my visions of happily and easily plucking a little knitting kit off the shelf and making my way home suddenly shattered as I stared in confusion at the aisles and aisles of books, yarn, needles and various other tools I didn’t even know the names of. Well, first things first, I decided to select a book. My pride prevented me from choosing anything with a condescending title, so “Knitting for Dummies,” and “Even You Can Knit!” were eliminated off the bat. Then, of course, I couldn’t choose any of the more advanced books because I needed very basic beginner’s instructions. So no “200 Stitches for the Advanced Knitter” or “Knit Your Own Wedding Gown” for me. Lastly, I outright refused to purchase a book that included projects for knitting clothing for animals on principle; I will not contribute to the humiliation of small dogs – their dignity has suffered enough at the hands of Gucci. This elimination process narrowed my selection down quite a bit. I had my choices slimmed down to two books, when I came upon this artistic transgression in one of them:

I was highly reluctant to support the idea of waist cinchers, especially those of the felted variety – it just seems wrong on so many levels. And when I saw that that book also included this gem of a project,

the deal was sealed – no way was I purchasing this guide to handcrafted atrocities. Ultimately the book I opted for had very simple, basic instructions (such as a section devoted to “How to Choose Your Yarn”), it had detailed explanations of the requirements for all the projects, and it was devoted mostly to practical crafts, such as scarves, sweaters, blankets, and placemats. For my first endeavor I selected the placemats, as they seemed small enough for me to actually complete in a reasonable amount of time, and as they only required one kind of stitch and no fancy tricks: just knit a row, knit another row, knit a row after that, repeat ad nauseum until complete.

Then, using my handy dandy materials list, I entered the supplies aisle, searching for my yarn. This seemingly simple task ended up requiring a nearly herculean effort, as I scoured the aisles in search of solid colored yarn of the proper weight and material. There was a definite dearth of yarn in gauge 4, and none of it was a solid color, and made out of cotton. So I finally opted for a yarn of what I thought was the proper weight, in a solid color, but spun out of a combination of bamboo and something called “Microdenier Acrylic” which is obviously synthetic, but I was pretty much out of options, and I’d spent half an hour wandering up and down the yarn aisles to the point that other crafters and HL employees were starting to look at me funny. So I was willing to settle for this:

Then it was off to find needles. My little book told me I needed size 8 needles. This should be simple, right? I can just grab the needles and I’ll be out of here at last! So I proceeded to the tools: “Ok, size 4, size 5, size 6, size 7, size 9, size 10…wait a minute, 6…7…9…CRAP!” Hobby Lobby was out of size 8 needles. Now, I suppose I could have gone to another store. But it was 7 o’clock on a Saturday, craft stores were closing, and many would not be open on Sunday, and I’d already spent 45 minutes wandering around Hobby Lobby, and I wanted to start my project, darn it! (I’d appreciate it if you would overlook the fact that my big plans for Saturday night were knitting and watching PBS. Thanks.) So I bought the size 7 needles. I mean, how much difference could it make, really?…

Well, it turns out, it makes quite a difference. And my harrowing experience at the craft store was nothing compared to the trials I would face when actually attempting to knit. But if you want to know the details, you’ll have to check back next week for part 2 of my Knitting Adventure.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Artist Profile: Jennifer Ladd

Well it's that time of year again! The holiday gift giving season is upon us. This year it is my personal goal to give primarily handmade gifts. There are plenty of resources out there and this handmade artist is no exception. Meet Jennifer. Stop by her shop for some fun holiday gift options for that special sister, friend or coworker.

1. Where is your business based out of?

My beautiful new (bright and cheery yellow) sewing room in Milwaukee, WI.

2. Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Milwaukee, moved around a bit during college, and just resettled in Milwaukee this past summer.

3. How long have you been an artist and/or business owner?

I have been sewing since as long as I can remember. I learned to sew by watching my grandma and then copying what she did to make clothes for my dolls. I sewed my whole life, mainly for myself and as gifts. In 2007, we adopted our daughter from Vietnam, and I quit my job as a French teacher to stay home with her full-time. I started sewing clothes, bibs, and booties for her (and diaper bags for myself), since it gave me a bit of a mental break during the day ... a bit of time for myself. After a few months, I decided that I could turn my hobby into a business, and I opened my Etsy shop in December, 2007. I started the shop as an experiment, and I wasn't sure it would work. But it is over a year later, and my business is expanding every day and I am having more and more fun every day, as well!

4. Where do you get your creative inspiration?

I am inspired by beautiful color combinations. My brain just feels happy when I see beautiful colors together.

5. What does your creative process entail?

I have a "design board" in my sewing room where I keep my sketches and project ideas. I also draw inspiration from my huge (and ever growing) stockpile of gorgeous fabrics. Between these two sources, I am never short of long lists of projects I want to work on!

When I decide on a project, I usually cut straight from the fabric ... I'm not always a big fan of patterns (although I do use them from time to time). Once I have the pieces cut, I get to sewing ... my favorite part becuase I can see my ideas become a reality. When I finish each piece, I usually spend quite a bit if time inspecting it, admiring it, and wishing I could keep it for myself (ha, ha, ha).

6. Would you say your environment (where you live, work, play) influences your creative process? If so, how?

Milwaukee has very distinct seasons. In the winter, I tend to work with deeper, warmer, and richer colors. When Spring hits, i tend to be so tired of snow and cold and ice that I really break free and go for the bright, bold colors. In summer, I use bright, airy, refreshing colors, and then I go back to the deeper oranges of Wisconsin leaves in fall.

7. Who are your creative mentors?

I learned to sew from my Grandma when I was about 3 years old. I'm 30 years old, now, and I still go to her all the time for sewing advice. Just today, in fact, I was back at the side of her sewing table, watching how she hemmed a coat ... she's always teaching me something new.

8. Tell us about the one project you would say you are most proud of.

My husband and I just reupholstered a vintage chair. I did most of the sewing, but he helped me every step of the way. He did a lot of the physical labor, but I was at his side helping him with each step. We had so many laughs and so much fun together (even despite a run to the emergency room for a tetanus shot!). We ended up with a beautiful chair and amazing memories together.

9. What do you enjoy doing when you're not creating?

I spend all of my days with my daughter. She loves to run, play games, play hide-and-go-seek (although we are still working on the "hiding" with her since she likes to jump out and say "here I am!"). We do art together, go to museums, and go shopping. In the summers, my husband is off of work, too, so we spend a lot of family time outdoors ... biking, walking, playing at the park, and enjoying our beautiful city!

10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully as happy as I am right now!

Monday, November 2, 2009

See Kate Conquer: "They're not perfect, but they're not purple!"

Every morning when I wake up, this is what I see: my growing stomach that is home to a child (or a minotaur) and four pairs of purple wardrobe doors (we've got another pair in the hallway serving as a closet).

Are those closets or a wall of bruises?

These are fairly standard IKEA closets, although most commonly seen these days in the less-offensive white. How we ended up with purple ones is beyond all reason and logic. My guess is that one of the IKEA designers of the 1970s was recovering from a bad acid trip and convinced his boss, also recovering from said trip, to sign off on a huge production order and the student housing organization that owns our apartment couldn't resist the great deal being offered by IKEA's head honcho in order to off-load the terrible mistake that these acid trippers had made. And here we are, thirty years later, still reaping the consequences. But who can say for sure?

When we first moved in here, my dream was to take down the doors and hang gorgeous, flowing fabric from floor to ceiling. I'm glad we never got around to that, as the number of dust bunnies that find their way into our apartment is enough to convince even PETA that sometimes drastic times call for drastic measures. And so, we've lived with the purple doors.

We lived with the purple doors until we redid the floors, which I wrote about here and here last two weeks. Then, as the world seemed to open up with possibilities, we found ourselves inspired. Again, under the gentle direction of our friends, we got ourselves some paint. One day while Keith was working I took off all the door handles and started to work on bringing our purple doors into the 21st century.

The process has turned out to be just slightly more involved than I was initially thinking, which explains why it is still a work in progress. While I first thought this could be “my” project to work on, Keith has graciously stepped in as I find myself more and more tired with less and less vision for seeing things through (35 ½ weeks pregnant, remember?).

In our small living space we have no choice but to paint the doors in shifts; no more than four at a time can be painted. Once the doors are down, we've got to take the hinges off which is made more difficult because the screws are somewhat stripped from a previous encounter with an over-eager electric screw driver. Then, because the doors are dusty like everything else in our apartment, they must be wiped down. Finally, the painting may commence.

When I was started out these doors were requiring four (!) coats of paint on the outside, and two coats on the inside (we decided a little purple show-through would remind us of our humble beginnings... and save paint). Keith showed me how two thick coats of paint is far better than four thin coats. But, we still need to wait for one side to completely dry before flipping the doors over to do the single coat on the inside. Finally, there's usually a little touch-up work required along the top and bottom edges, and the putting back on of all the hardware.

This project has been in progress for about two weeks, but is looking like it will be finished in the next few days. Already, the effect is astounding to me, as not only do we not have purple sore spots that just never seemed to make any sense, but also a whole new palate for the light to play off of. Even at night, when I am getting up to pee for the umpteenth time, my path to the bathroom is “lit” by the soft shimmer of the outdoor lights reflecting gently off my white wardrobe doors, instead of disappearing into the purple that use to lurk.

the half-way finished results

We are not professional painters, and we were perhaps a bit over-eager to rehang some of the doors as they are already exhibiting a few scratches and nicks here and there. But, as Keith said last night, "They're not perfect, but they're not purple!" And I'm really thrilled about that.