Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday's Traveler: Paris by Stroller

I arrived in Paris by train with a very large bag on my back and pushing my 18 month old son in a small orange stroller, heavy laden with all sorts of bribes and necessities. I carried that stroller with baby inside, in my arms along with all the requirements for a four day trip up the winding Metro stairs and walked out into the sunshine of the wide open streets. I set him down, accessed my surroundings and breathed in the fresh baked goodness of the nearby Boulangerie. Hello City of Lights, Love and Art! The hotel was marked on the map and we took off West, eleven blocks down the road.

 Some time and a few fresh diapers later I was relaxing at a corner cafĂ©, baby in orange stroller still by my side. I had a Rendezvous with my world traveling mother and her fabulous partner. By candle light and the Grace of God we would dine in peace as baby took a late evening nap. What did we have? Cheese, bread, wine, seafood? It was the excitement in conversation and observation of nightlife passing us in the great city of Paris that I remember. For a meal like this you can try to savor every bite, but it’s the company you keep that makes it memorable.

Our days seemed to follow the same trend. We would meet once we’d pulled ourselves together enough for coffee (or milk) and fresh pickings from the market. Then we would walk. So many kilometers of Paris to discover by foot. So much land to cover on four little wheels. Heave, ho. Together we would grab a handle or a wheel and carry him upstairs, down broken paths, onto subways and ultimately up all the steps to Le Sacre Cour. When we arrived at the museum du’jour, I inevitably had a sleeper in the stroller and just enough time to enjoy the sites uninterrupted. There was plenty of time later in the day to run through city parks and stretch little legs. Eat frites, chicken and tapas and stare up at the bright lights of the Eiffel Tower. Our shutters never closed on the camera lenses in which we viewed the experience of life in Paris. We would each enjoy the city in a manner fitting of small and great desires.

How much could I get away with, toting a toddler with me to every corner of this amazing city without protest? I think it was the last time he was ever good for me. I used up all my points in Paris to walk the streets with a quiet little observer. To see the Moulin Rouge and the impressionists at the D’Orsay. To eat crepes in Montemarte and stroll the Seine past Notre Dame and The Louvre and to keep going until the sun was no more. Even in awkward moments of squeezing onto crowded subway cars or standing in long lines, I was grateful he could come along pleasantly for the ride.
Sooner or later we had to say goodbye to our travel partners and get on the train. Tired of a narrow view and playing with his shoes for days on end, the boy was restless and uninterested in sitting still all the way home. I quieted him with snacks and a story. The adventure was almost over. So much ground was covered in a few short days, but from his view he could still see the world.

This story and all photos are taken in July of 2009

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Happy Hour: DON'T PANIC!

A 5.9 earthquake showing up where it didn’t belong was just the shake-up I needed to remind me I am not in charge. When Mother Nature wants to stretch, then she will do it no matter who is in her way. While she’s at it, an angry storm is coming from the South. She might throw in some locust and plague if she gets real feisty! We are not in control. We never were. We don’t get a vote if the ground is going to shake, the crops are going to grow, Bernanke is going to control the rate of inflation, or your neighbor will be nice to you today.

There is only YOU. And only you can control how YOU will handle the everyday unexpected.
Will you run from the building hollering and do a face plant on the sidewalk? Will you have a little something put aside for a rainy day, or lots for a flooding day? Will you have enough self control to not react in the face of disaster or rudeness? Who is counting on you at the apex of the crisis? How will you choose to handle the situation? It is the only part of the equation that you have any control over so you have to decide now - are you going to ride out the storm or sink with the ship?
I’ve got my 15 gallons of water, plenty of extra batteries and a smile ready to face the weekend. And if the hurricane blows off to sea, I will be very grateful because I know this is not a game.  What else am I doing to make sure this turns out to be the best week ever?
·         Fill up both cars with gas on Saturday
·         Bought candles, a lantern, charcoal and a propane stove (yes, I bought the propane, too!)
·         Also a rechargeable battery pack - that can be charge in the car
·         Fill the coolers with ice Sunday morning
·         I will run the dishwasher, vacuum and have the laundry done Sat. night (if the power is out for a week I will be grateful for these few things being done one more time, if a tree falls on the house, then it will be for nothing!)
·         All important documents and medicine will be in my hand bag in case we have to leave quickly.
·         iPods, phones, and handle held devices will all be charged (but I also have books  and board games, boys!)
·         Find old fashion radio with batteries (but we have one in the car, so I guess it counts)
·         Bring all lawn furniture, garbage cans and decorations in to the garage
·         Eat up the perishables
·         Buy beer, put in iced coolers – now we’re good to go!
But no matter what, I am devising a plan that will ensure I can get fresh hot coffee even if the power goes out for days. Want to share a cup? If it gets really bad you can bring the Bailey’s Irish Cream and we can still talk about how this turned out to be the best week ever despite the natural disasters!  So, tell me, how are you preparing yourself, this week and every week?
Actual (random from the internet) photo from earthquake's distruction...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Happy Hour: Ideas Don't Keep

And neither do children. I have grandiose dreams of being a writer, a painter, a designer, an illustrator, a social media master, a maker of many things; but time is short and the kids still need to be fed. So I pace myself and find time in between loads of laundry, play group and wiping noses. I won’t have this time again. When they have flown the coop I will wonder where it went and wish for them to need me again. But I have ideas now. And I am writing them down and sketching them out. And if I have a quiet afternoon once in awhile I will do what I need to do. I will create.
And I will not regret a single moment of any day. If I am wrestling monkeys or planning my next big project, then I am doing exactly what I was meant to be doing. The more I find myself enjoying the everyday moments, the more I find I am overflowing with creativity. Because ideas don’t keep, I keep a notebook and remind myself that it’s all there waiting when I finally wander down to my studio. This week was a fine balance between my two loves. I cooked yummy meals and played with my boys and enjoyed my home thoroughly. I was also lucky enough to squeeze in some time for my creative self. Once again, it was the best week ever and here are a few more reasons:
·         I found 16 vintage blue Mason jars in a “Free Pickings” pile. Score!
·         I made a bouquet from my garden and used one of those jars.
·         We played in the rain. And boy did it rain a lot this week!
·         I filled up my sketchbook with lots of ideas for paintings, paper crafts, and lino cuts.
·         We went to the dentist and no one had cavities.
·         The boys and I had a tea party…no really we did and it was fun.
·         I got up early with David before he went to work to enjoy a quiet house and see him off.
·         Tonight my sister-in-law will come over for some scrappy girl time.
I can toast to that! What about you? What made this your best week ever?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Accidental Garden

It was a totally unexpected garden. I wasn’t planning it, but I always wanted to have one when the time was right. Sometimes things happen that are not part of your agenda in life and you have to adapt and be ready to take on new responsibilities.  Fortunately the reward at the end is worth all the nurturing and hard work. Yes, I am still talking tomatoes and cucumbers and how I got my accidental garden.
I felt obligated to the little homeless plants and decided that if they wanted to live they would have to survive in the untilled, untreated, unfertilized, boring rocky soil in my front yard. Some went in large containers, some went in the flower bed and many were relegated to the pathetic soil on the slope of the side yard. The seedlings arrived unmarked from an excess purchase a dear friend made and didn’t have space for in her garden.  I didn’t have a clue what half the plants were that were being haphazardly planted in the ground. But they grew indeed: tomatoes, yellow squash, cantaloupe, spaghetti squash, peppers and lots and lots of cucumbers. And they made me excited, so I ran out and bought a few more. Soon four tomato plants turned into a dozen, hot peppers join the sweet and I couldn’t forget a hopeful (and still struggling) pumpkin vine while I was at it.
I began plans to expand next year. No space was safe. Fences would have to go up and irrigation lines put in. Maybe berries and corn and peach trees! I even fantasized about my own beehives and chicken coops. No doubt it’s fabulous to know where your food comes from and the can-do spirit is addictive, but seriously! I have my hands full already and am thoroughly content in this year’s crop. Besides, I discovered some local farms that have a done a fabulous job for me! Sometimes, though, all it takes is one homegrown tomato to help you discover your inner pioneer spirit!
So when life gives you unexpected cucumbers, what better thing to do than make pickles! Here’s my simple version of a popular recipe. I’ve played around with it this summer several times and find that I like the dried dill better than fresh and some white wine vinegar adds just the right vinegar taste. I don’t like it too sweet either and many recipes call for much more sugar. It’s your call on that one. If you have other veggies, you can throw them in, too. I love to add hot or sweet peppers. My favorite thing to serve with this many pickles? Slow cooked barbeque pulled pork. Sweet and sour go great together!

Refrigerator Pickles

3 large pickles, approximately 2 cups sliced
2 c. water
¾ c. white vinegar
¾ c. white wine vinegar
¼ c. sugar
1 Tbs. rock sea salt or kosher salt

(reduce to 1/2 Tbs table salt if substituting)
1 Tbs dried dill
1Tbs dill seed
1Tbs mustard seed

Start by mixing ¼ c. boiling water with the salt and sugar to dissolve. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Cover and store in fridge for at least a couple hours to marinate. They are certainly better after 24 hours. Many recipes claim they are good for weeks in the fridge, but I wouldn’t know because they never last that long! So give it a try. Change it up a bit if you like. Make it yours, but just make it!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Happy Hour: Old Friends, New Friends

It’s been another wonderful, BUSY week in suburban paradise. We’ve had friends coming and going and met many new ones along the way. There is something so settling knowing that there are wonderful people spread around this world that I can still call friend and in a moment, whether by message over internet or by sharing a drink and conversation in person, we can connect again. Like time never mattered and a couple hours or a few days together erases the gap from the last time we met and the kids are all best friends once again. Or the simplest of comments on Facebook reminds me that you are still out there and if we are lucky our paths will cross again.
And as luck follows me so does the opportunity for friendship, seeking me out and finding me again and again. I joined a new playgroup for my youngest which has introduced me to so many welcoming women in my community. And a new soccer team for Gavin surprised me with a chance at new friendships for all of us as they greeted enthusiastically on the field last night. A knowing smile in the store over grumpy toddlers, signing up to volunteer, an introduction to a neighbor who shares an interest in gardening, school days and parents of classmates….all chances where we can connect and make a new friendship. Or at the very least share some kindness with a stranger and be reminded that friendship can happen in the slightest of moments leaving us to feel like the world is still filled with possibility.
So, this Friday I will raise a glass to friendship, old and new, and especially the ones I am yet to meet! This has been the best week ever and here are a few reasons why:
·         I mailed art to friends
·         I made salsa and shared it with friends
·         I’ve got all 3 boys in soccer, which means 3x the opportunity for friends
·         I stopped in for the MOMs group meeting and met a dozen great friends
·         I explored Ft. McHenry with my family and our close friends
·         I’m going out on a hot date tonight with my best friend
Tell me, what opportunities did you have for friendship this week? What made it your best week ever?


One More Thing:
I have a winner from this month's challenge: Angela!! I will be giving her an original piece of art as a gift. Thank-you to those who participated. Next month I will have another personal challenge, won't you give it a try!?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Something I made....

There is little that is more satisfying to me in the domestic world than doing it myself; from growing food, to making bread and canning preserves, crafts and decorating, and even sewing projects. All the things you would find a good fifties house wife doing, even if you know that I am anything but that! The good news is that doing-it-yourself is making a comeback with our stinky economy and zombies on the rise. So, what did you expect me to do when I found a box of second tomatoes at the local farm for only six dollars? Add all the peppers and I probably spent less than $1 on each jar of fresh homemade salsa! How did I do it?
15 c. peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes
3 c. fine chopped red onion
1 c. chopped sweet bell pepper
3-5 minced jalapenos
3-5 minced peppers, aneheim, pablano, habanero!
3 cloves crushed garlic
2 c. cider or red wine vinegar
1 ½ Tbs. sea salt (use less for table salt)
3 Tbs. turbinado sugar
1/4 c. tomato paste
1 ½ Tbs. chili powder
½ tsp. celery seed
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Fresh chopped cilantro to taste
1 can pineapple or peaches (optional)

The instructions are too easy for this one: mix all the ingredients in a non-reactive pot, cook on medium for about ten minutes or until vegetables are wilted. This salsa will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks, but, if you want to preserve your salsa for later then jar it and process in a 20 minute water bath according to instructions on Freshpreserving.com for food handling safety.
But of course I have a few tips and tricks. First, from experience, you must wear rubber gloves while chopping hot peppers! One time the juices burned my hands (and subsequently my eyes!) and for days they were on fire. Second, test those peppers to see how hot they really are – yes, you have to taste them – because you never know and you might want to use less or more depending on how hot you like salsa. And why not double as long as you are going to the trouble in the first place, but hopefully you will have a food processor to help you with the chopping!
Here’s a bonus tip for you, too! After I have added all the veggies to the pot, but before I put in vinegar and spices, I mix everything really well and let the flavors meld for a few minutes. I then strain the liquid into a medium sized sauce pan. Once you get this liquid on a slow boil, add a 1/2 cup of vinegar, a ¼ tsp. red cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. chili powder and black pepper to taste and keep it simmering until it is reduced to at least a quarter of it's original mass. And voila, you also have taco sauce!
As far as this recipe in concerned, you can add or omit many of the ingredients as long as you stick to the tomato to vinegar ratio. For example – I love cilantro and will put a whole cup in my recipe, but some people in my house wish I had only put in a couple tablespoons! If you want to omit the sugar or spices, you can and then use other seasonings as well. Don’t like too many peppers? Want to throw in other veggies or fruit? Make it yours, but just make it!

And when you are done, maybe you can make a yummy chicken and white bean soup to top it on!?

Monday, August 1, 2011

10 Before the 10th: Thank-you


Thank-you for taking time to read my blog, participate, and leave a comment from time to time.
Thank-you for being a good friend and calling me up when I need you the most.
Thank-you for inspiring me to move forward with my art even when I have doubt.
Thank-you for showing me how to have a heart full of love and acceptance when I’ve hardly even known you all these years.
Thank-you for knowing when enough is enough and that it’s better to walk away from some relationships.
Thank-you for sharing great words of wisdom with me that I still refer to and repeat to this very day.
Thank-you for reminding me not to judge how hard it is to be young, naive, and so full of hope.
Thank-you for the secret to your longevity.
Thank-you for preserving our story.
Thank-you for teaching me how to take good care of my home and family.
Thank-you for showing me how hard work and determination can result in a healthy, fit body.
Thank-you for providing me the opportunity to do the one job I have always wanted to do.
Thank-you for allowing me to think for myself and believe what my heart tells me.
Thank-you for breaking my lovelorn, teenage heart.
Thank-you for showing me the world and changing my life.
Thank-you for your sweet baby hugs and kisses.
Thank-you for sharing all your talent, creativity and passion with me.
Thank-you for being family for me “here” when they are all over “there.”
Thank-you for dreaming and scheming with me.
Thank-you for loving me even when it’s a hard thing to do.
Thank-you for letting me write for you, draw for you, scrapbook for you, paint for you, and create for you; it’s the reason I do it.
Thank-you for letting me be a part of your life.

You didn't get here on your own. You had help along the way. People of little and great consequence have led you to where you are today. Those who have shared your home and those you have shared your heart have all contributed to this very moment in time. When was the last time you said thank-you? When was the last time you truely acknowledged the impact they have made on your life? The joy, the memories, the example, the friendship, the sacrifice, the helping hand?
My challenge to you this month is so very simple - say thank-you. Tell those who need to hear your gratitude how you feel. Write ten OR write one meaningful letter, put it in the mail or send it via the world wide web...but send it anyway you can, and then post here once you have finished your task and share your thoughts. My thank-you for playing along? Why, another chance at an original piece of art by me!  (Yikes for me! that's my own big challenge!) I will draw from those who reply and I will assume have honestly completed the challenge by 6pm on the 10th of August.  
Dip your pen in the ink, put a stamp on good sentiments, and start a mini grattitude revolution today! Someone is getting mail soon!