Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thursday's Thoughts: Winter Dreams

With temperatures hovering at 97 and the North Carolina humidity high as a kite, my thoughts sometimes turn towards the cooler months and the brisk December air. Though I have truly been enjoying the summer sun and the wonderful greens of the garden and the trees, I feel a strong need for a winter reminder. So I'm sharing with you today some Etsy finds to cool us off a bit. Enjoy!

Polar Bear lampworked glass sculpture by koicreek

Gorgeous Winter vase, one of a kind by earthfired

Winter Moon ring by littlebugjewelry

Beveled Star window ornament by theglassmenagerie

Winter Storm photograph by SpruceConnect

Winter Birch watercolor by paintingsonpalmer

Chickadee in Snow by naturemandalas

Stunning ruffled felt jacket by cotylee

Winter Memory earrings by PoleStar

Sweet winter blocks for your shelf by lisabees

Breathe deeply, enjoy the moment, and remember to buy handmade!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Coolin' It on Indian Creek Trail

Last night, just before we went to sleep, John said, "You wanna go for a hike tomorrow?" I asked questions, as I always do (often much to his dismay), and after getting some details, happily said, "Sounds good to me!"

This morning dawned gray and overcast... perfect weather for a hike. We are so blessed to live about a mile down the road from a beautiful state park, and that's where we headed at about 8:30 or so. Camera in hand, dog treats in pocket, away we went... in two cars: one to leave at the end of the trail and one to drive up into the park where the trail begins, at the Visitor Center.

From the beginning of the trail, hikers head down, down, down a path and some granite stairs to reach Window Falls. It's steep enough to give you a good workout, especially if you're going to turn around and head back the way you came, which we did not.

From there, the trail gets narrower and much more shady. The song of the water accompanied us, though surprisingly we heard few birds. And we saw no other people, though sad to say that there were signs (a plastic water bottle and a forgotten pair of socks) that people had been there before us.

Abby enjoyed the water, which was fun for us because although she has Labrador Retriever in her ancestry, she doesn't usually like to get her feet wet. Today, however, she walked right into the creek and cooled off. I tried to get some photos of her, but she just couldn't be still long enough. There were some nice little hidden pools, perfect for skinny dipping, and don't think I didn't think about it!

As we hiked, John noticed things like trees struck by lightning, places that looked burned, and we speculated about those. But typically, I turned my focus to things at my feet... like fungi.

All too soon, we reached the part of the trail where we'd parked our car. I could've spent the whole day on this trail, but Abby was pretty tired, and I was getting a little hungry too. So we headed back up to where we'd parked the truck, took in a final view of the mountain behind the Visitor's Center, and came on home, determined to do more hiking and enjoy the park and the nearby river more often.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Salsa and Sauce for the Cooler Months Ahead

While the Blind Boys of Alabama sang their gospel and soulful blues and Abby and Scout napped, John and I peeled, chopped, simmered, and canned... and laughed, sang, and sweated... and thankfully put a dent in the tomatoes that had lined our kitchen countertops in every direction. Oh yes, there are still tomatoes sitting there in the windowsill and in the sunlight around the sink, waiting to turn wondrously ripe, waiting for their time to be turned into pico de gallo or sauce or quiche or to be simply sliced for sandwiches. And there are still tomatoes on the vines in the garden. But at least we got our first day of canning done yesterday (or as our Southern rural neighbors say, we "put up" some tomatoes) and are proud of our fresh, homemade sauce for pasta and hot, lively salsa for autumn afternoons and winter evenings. And there's some fresh, chopped tomatoes on hand in the fridge for other uses this week, including tonight's meal of shrimp and linguini and salad.

We spent several hours at this project. It's definitely a labor of love for fresh, organic, and homegrown because it takes a lot of time and energy. Our yield yesterday won't last us too long, but we'll enjoy every bite of it.

Here is the first batch of tomatoes, mostly Romas but we also used Mountain Pride, German Johnson, and Celebrity, waiting to be parboiled and then dunked into ice cold water so their skins could be easily removed.

Here I am at the sink, peeling away and peeling away and peeling away. I can't tell you how many tomatoes we went through, but it was a lot!

Now everything's been peeled, chopped, blended, and ready to be lightly boiled... oh wait... not quite enough garlic. John and I adore garlic. After this step, the tomatoes and their various counterparts will be placed into sterilized jars and dropped into a hot water bath for approximately 45 minutes. That's when we can sit down and enjoy a glass of wine (me) or another cup of coffee (John).

The results? Five pints of salsa and four quarts and a pint of pasta sauce. They might look the same in the jars, but trust me, they are not. Oh no, they definitely are quite different.

And one last photo... blueberries picked yesterday morning while it was raining and the temperature was bearable. I brought them in, dumped them on a towel across the table, and spread them out in one layer to dry.... probably about ten cups, and more on the bushes still.

Fortunately these are much easier to deal with as they freeze so well, and many of them will be made into another Blueberry Streusel Cobbler that we will take to our son's house when we go to enjoy dinner and a visit this weekend, and to bring Empi back to Camp Dresser while our son goes to Las Vegas... for work!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Got a Thing for Those Ravens

Just finished and just listed this new scrimshaw pendant on sterling silver chain...
The Raven's Moon....

Just a week or so ago, I completed this painting, It's Only the Wind, which is currently in a Black and White show at Associated Artists in Winston-Salem.

And there's this 12 x 12 painting that's my avatar on Etsy and is for sale in the shop and on my website.

You can be sure there will be more to come. Until then, take a moment to listen to the birds and feel the blessing of their song!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's Canning Time

Our tomatoes are coming in strong and heavy. Looks like Monday will be canning day for us. These photos show the yield from a couple days ago, which means that there have been two more collections made since then. We'd thought our plants were looking rather shabby with their spotted and dying leaves, but after much worry and lots of tender care, I think they'll be okay. So homemade salsa and pasta sauce will be available through at least part of the winter.

We've picked a few poblano peppers, my personal favorite. But the pepper plants are being a little slow... they need lots of sun and heat... which we're now getting again, after a lovely little cool spell. Our beans and squash are still looking good, though not quite ready for harvesting. We got a late start on those because our lettuce was so productive this year and we waited to pull those up before we planted other veggies.

The blueberries bushes are loaded, and I've picked a few pints, but I'm waiting a few more days for the berries to get a little bigger, a little darker, and a little bit sweeter; the rain we had this week should help with that.

The apples are growing like crazy in my neighbor's meadow where I've been walking his dogs, so there'll be plenty of those for more apple pies, baked and fried. Our grape vines are amazingly full... gotta figure out what to do with those come September. Same with the pear tree.

On another note, it's been a good week for wildlife. Birds seen both here at home and at my neighbor's home, three miles up the road where I am dog-sitting, have included, with much excitment on our part, Scarlet Tanagers which seem to be regular visitors, at least this week, in and around the blueberry bushes. Making regular appearances as well are the Indigo Buntings and Eastern Bluebirds with their beautiful flashes of blue feathers. And we have the usual, or shall I say oft-sighted, Goldfinches and Purple Finches, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, Chickadees, Titmice, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, and many more.

We have had our part in six Box Turtle crossings. And we have seen several deer in our yard, including this beauty yesterday evening.

Happy harvesting, and remember to count your blessings!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Songwriting

Sometimes songs come easier than others. Sometimes a song begins and then lays dormant... the words stuck on the paper, unwilling to grow. But songwriting means working on those lyrics, playing with phrasing, switching lines around, allowing the words a chance to rise up and call out to others and allowing the songwriter a chance to meet the challenge head-on, pencil in hand, guitar on lap.

Such has been the case with one song I started about two weeks ago... a song about the river and living in the here and now. The first verse came quite easily, along with the chorus. The second verse followed fairly nicely, but the third? After leaving the song for a couple days, I came back to it. And I spent almost two hours on four lines! And I'm still not sure if I am satisfied with the lay of those lines. So I set it aside and made dinner. And a few days have passed since, while I have had band practice and singing with the old folks and playing in the Winston-Salem Shuffle on Saturday night. That turned into a very late night for this old gal, and so yesterday, I was fairly good for nothing.

Here are a few photos from the Shuffle. I asked my mandolin-playing friend, John Hartman, to share the stage with me, which he graciously agreed to do. Our first song was Marlboro Man, which is on my CD. Our second song, which is the one during which these photos were shot, was my brother's song, When You're Alone, which I absolutely love singing and will perhaps put on my next CD (yes, I'm planning on a new one!). And best of all, it uses a kazoo, which my husband agreed to hold hidden in his hand until the appropriate time. It got much laughter and applause! Our final song was a new song I finished up about two months ago called A Little Mercy, and which, by the way, came easier than some... thanks in part to its rhythm.

So this morning I took an early morning walk with my three adopted dogs (I'll be dog-sitting this week), and the air was cool, there was fog lying low on the mountain, and there was a freshness all about me. And lo and behold, new lyrics came rushing into my brain. Not for the above-mentioned river song, but for a brand new one. I love it when that happens. It's often unexpected but oh so welcomed! So as soon as I could, I got the words on paper (in a nifty little journal that I bought from phofun on Etsy) and got out the guitar. I think it will be a traditional sounding song, full of fun rhythm and fun rhymes... a song of summer, a song of love... "c'mon, darling, come on home."

Stay tuned... literally and metaphorically.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Not Much Logic Needed.... It's the Best Soap Ever!

It all began last December when I participated in a secret holiday gift exchange through the Etsyveg team. I'd signed on in November, listing, as requested, my likes and dislikes and such specifics based on the questionnaire created by Kylie aka SilentLotus. Then I patiently waited to receive an email with the name of the person to whom I would sent a gift. In mid-December, I wrapped up a handmade necklace especially picked out for my secret person and sent it across the country to California.

Shortly thereafter, I received my package from my secret person... no longer secret at that point... the one and only lulubugjewelry. I was excited, expecting one of her wonderful artisan silver pieces... such as this one, which I just love! However, I had a different surprise! She'd sent me a gift certificate to Krug's Eco-Logic shop. I'd seen Erin's soaps and read her posts on the team thread, but I hadn't tried any of her products as yet. Right away, I checked out her website and had absolutely no trouble spending my gift certificate! Previously, I'd purchased some other handmade soaps from other Etsy shops and had already decided that from here on out, I would use handmade rather than commerically made soaps. But once I received my Ecologic soaps in the mail... well, there was no turning back. I quickly became a Krug's Eco-Logic girl. Today I just received the products in the opening photo above... two soaps for hubby and one more for me, along with some facial toner which I'm very excited about trying. I've also purchased Body Butter (Vixen) and it is so wonderful for my skin.

So I decided that I need to share this fabulous maker and seller (who was, by the way, featured on CNN in January of this year!) here on the blog. Erin graciously agreed to an interview, and so... drumroll... here she is!

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a former science teacher turned stay-at-home mom. My #1 job and passion is my kids .. I love to run, and am desperately trying to 'add' that to my crazy schedule. The only time I have for myself really is before the kids wake up and that's about from 5-6am.

2. Five words that describe you best?
Caring, Empathetic, Open-minded, Passionate, Giving.

3. What influenced you to begin creating your product and how long have you been at it?

When I discovered my children both have super-sensitive skin, and after reading a lot of 'greening your home' type materials, I decided to start buying only natural products (cleaning and skin care). After a few weeks of that, I decided I might as well try my hand at making it. I read for months and months about oils and their properties, about soap making, and trouble shooting issues.

4. What is the most interesting part of being an artist / online seller to you?
That people enjoy what I do. People can share in something I create and it's useful - it benefits them. I am not much of an artist ... my mind just doesn't operate in that fashion ... but creating something useful is something I LOVE doing !

5. What is the most difficult part of creating and selling?
Time. There just isn't enough hours in the day. Between kids, the business (finances, formulating, testing, experimenting, production, labeling, ordering, etc... ), and the house (cleaning, bills, laundry, groceries, etc.. ). I really desperately need a good 5 more hours each day to be even close to being caught up with everything.

6. What is your favorite product that you make?
This is a difficult one, since each one has a specific use... and all are equally needed/used in my house. I probably feel BEST about the natural soaps. Everyone uses soap ( I hope ;-) ) and it rids homes of synthetic chemicals and detergents and is just SO much better for your skin than ultra-drying commercial detergent 'soaps'.

7. Of all the handmade items that you own, what is your favorite and why?
I love my headband - from an etsy seller - Weezawear. I have a black one and LOVE it !

8. Tell us about your other interests or passions.

Running !! I used to run competitively in (Div II NCAA ) college and afterward. I don't have much time now, but I'm trying to get back into that. It consumes a lot of time though, that I just don't have. My super-awesome former coach (and Olympian), Steve Spence is my running idol and is just such an awesome person. He was a great coach and I help others run using what he taught me.

9. What is your vision for your life in ten years?
Hmm... since I'm a dedicated mama, that all depends on where the kids are at in life. My son will be 17 (YIKES), and my daughter will be 13 (MEGA YIKES). I'll probably have more time for the business, so as far as that goes, I hope to be able to put in 8 hours of uninterrupted work. Hopefully, I'll be able to fulfill LARGE wholesale accounts and make my business a full time job (paying, and working). I'd love to also have a handmade shop, but in my head I have more time than I know I actually will ;-)

10. What is the best life lesson you have ever learned?
Wow. Great question. I feel like I'm learning something new every day. New experiences, and reinforcements of old lessons ... every day is a lesson. If I had to chose just one - I'd say to just enjoy each day. Life is so, so short and precious. Make each day the best - and try and focus on the positive. My kids make it easy for me to do that. They're the light in my life and really - the only reason I do anything I do. They make enjoying each day very easy.

11. As an established seller, what is the most valuable business tip you can provide to us?
Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Try different selling venues, advertisements, social networking avenues etc... people will find you in different ways and places. I know of a handful of opportunities I'd have lost out on had I only utilized one of my selling avenues, or one social networking site ...
Also - there are some people that are emotional vampires in your life, and that isn't exempt from business interactions. I try (though not always successfully) to not let them drain me too much, and I try to focus on the positive. My mother just told me a saying my grandfather used to always say - "in 100 years, will anyone remember this issue/problem or will it even matter to you?" I try and remind myself of that if I'm having trouble in any aspect of life/business.

12. What concerns you most in the world today?
The care, concern and empathy people have for one another is diminishing. I think people don't realize we're all connected ... we're not as separate as we think we are. My hope is for my kids to think of others first and help anytime they have the ability. I fear that money and power drive so many interactions, that everything else falls by the way side.

Let me wrap up by saying, if you think you want to try a handmade soap, give Krug's Eco-Logic a whirl. The soaps are a whopping 10 - 12 ounces of sheer pleasure and goodness... and are natural and vegan! I love the Vixen scent... very sensual and warm! I think my hubby's going to enjoy the Pale Ale! You can follow Erin's blog where she offers special discounts and provides some very knowledgeable information about bath and beauty products.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

An Embrace Across the Oceans and Continents

A wonderful thing happened today... Etsy Project Embrace was featured on the Etsy blog. The article tells the story of how this team formed and why... and it's a heartwarming little tale. From a late night on the computer about a year ago to today, this team has grown by leaps and bounds (over 250 members now) and has donated many, many, many hundreds of dollars from their Etsy sales to support the research for a cure to cancer through the American Cancer Society.

I want you to read the article, see the photos, and take in all the comments that have been left since the article posted just about two hours ago. So I'll not tell you anything else here, but instead I'll send you on your way to something that will let you know that life is good, friendship is important, and far-away friends that you may never meet in this lifetime can mean the world to you!

So simply click here and you'll be there...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Two Weeks Later...

Wow... I can't believe I let my blog sit for almost two full weeks without a post, but that tells you, dear readers, that I have been somewhat busy. With what? you ask. In no particular order, the following:

1. Blueberry picking and baking
2. Dogcare for some wonderful friends
3. A visit from my NY brother-in-law and his two young children
4. Redesigning my personal website
5. Researching & purchasing a new affordable camera (Nikon Coolpix S570)
6. Painting
7. New jewelry
8. Songwriting

There was plenty, I assure you, to keep me away from my blog for those two weeks! Please take a look at my website, which may still have some kinks to work out as I've been told by someone in the know that not all the pages look just right in Firefox. I use Explorer as my browser, and everything looks fine there, but so many people use Firefox these days, so I've got some tweaking to do. But here's the link:

And here's a look at the latest jewelry creations. These are made from Damascus steel, which is handforged by my husband John. These pieces are not etched; instead they consist of many hundreds of layers of steel which has been heated over a hot forge, then folded and hammered... over and over again to make the design. There are several steps after that process to get it where you see it now, but needless to say, it's a long, slow, hot process. I will list at least one pair of earrings on Etsy in the next day or so.

I have also been doing some painting in preparation for Black & White, a show sponsored by Associated Artists, the artists group of which I've been a member for several years now. Working in only black and white is fairly challenging. Here are the paintings in process certainly not completed yet. Hmmm... I better get back into the studio since these must be delivered next Monday!!

Thanks for following, and for your patience. And stay tuned... an interview with one of my favorite handmade soapmakers will be posted this week!