Saturday, December 31, 2011

We are flashing back to the 80's with great friends. 
Pictures to come but here is a cute video of Miss Cici walking.

These skirts are for walking!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The last things she needs is another project.....

hum. a project. I love projects. I love making change and starting something anew. The mere mention of that word sends my husband off to hide though. He's not a lover of things crafty, homemade, redone, or refurnished. He won't really admit he HATES my projects, but I can see the trepidation in his face when he asks on Friday, "so what are your plans for this weekend....????" I love the hard glance my dining room table gets when he sees the sewing machine is out. But the sewing machine is not out right now and the paint cans are safely stored away in the basement {in case you are reading this at work hun} so nothing is having a makeover at the moment.

I am thinking about starting up a project with my photography though. A personal one. Not one geared towards clients or gigs or growing in ways I want to grow professionally but rather one just for myself. I was thinking I'd start a 365 project on 1/1/2012 so I could have a whole year of photographs to look at by this time next year. But I'd have to have a slant, a focus, a thing to hang my hat on so to speak. I just read an article HERE about being fearless in your photography. It is a piece of advice that is universally needed by all photographers and perhaps all other artists. We find our safe zones and we stick with that and we love that we are successful with it and then it becomes formulaic and then before we know it we are in a rut. Thankfully, I am not in a rut. But I am feeling curious and creative at the moment and want to give myself a little push down a less traveled path. The advice in this article falls into two categories: don't look at the work of your peers, but keep looking at art. Seek out other genres and soak in the visual. Inspiration can be found everywhere. And the second suggestion she gives is to give yourself a personal project. And that was just what I was thinking about doing.

I don't have a direction yet but this article reminded me of my college days when I was asked to pick one very specific thing to photograph over the course of 10 weeks. I had a hard time coming up with my subject for this project. A really tough time. And then one day I came home to find my roomates watching MTV and a video was on of a popular song that year {and for the life of me - which includes a google search- I can't remember the name of the song. Although I can vaguely hum it.}. What I remember about that video was the richness of color and beautiful imagery of hands. Yup, hands. And I was so moved by the beauty in the music video that I decided to pick hands as my subject matter. My photography professor did not seem too jazzed about it when I told him but since it was my project and my grade, he just shrugged his shoulders.

The project was a little harder than I thought it would be but I managed. I produced enough work which I either liked or loved. And interestingly enough, about 3 weeks ago we found these four frames arranged on SweetPea's bed. I asked her where she found them and she said at the top of her closet. Then she said, "I just found them when I was looking for something else and I don't know where they came from but I like them".  They are of course, part of my hands project from college and it reminded me of a time when I forced myself to get seriously focused with my photography. There are a lot of technical errors in these pictures but I love that because it reminds me of how much I have learned and grown. Of course these were taken with film and developed in a lab so part of my growth has been to make the leap to digital which wasn't all that easy for me.  And how lucky we are to be able to see our shots so instantaneously now. There are lots of things I knew back then to correct but I couldn't see the image until the scene was gone.

So who knows what my next project will be. Maybe I should pick something like international spice markets and convince SJ that I will need to travel to exotic places to grow my craft. she says with a smirk.......


Friday, December 16, 2011

What is it about Christmas??

Okay. I am going to admit it. Christmas is my least favorite holiday of the year. Depending on your faith, there are maybe 5 biggie holidays of the year and from the outside, it would seem that Christmas holds the top spot for those of Christian descent. I was not raised with much religious structure so for me Christmas has never been anything but the big ass day of gift giving. I find this December holiday to be fraught with pressure, guilt, anticipation, and very often let-down. The latter can be in the form of a child's heavy heart when all the gifts have been opened and IT IS OVER. Or it can be the feeling that you didn't get what you hoped {or asked} for. Christmas day is like a sugar high, it feels good when you are in the thick of it but once it is over you are exhausted. And why all the exhaustion? I refer back to the first three reasons why I don't like this holiday, pressure, guilt, anticipation. I like holidays that are just about food. I know. Huge surprise.

If you have children you know you want their holiday to be magical. Many of us fall prey to the Pollyanna-ic ideals of making everything perfect, shiny and bright. You want to make sure that the stuff under the tree makes the children happy, that the party you throw to feel all warm and fuzzy with holiday cheer comes off perfectly, and that you have a smile on your face as you pretend to enjoy the radio station that only plays Christmas music. Your company is at year-end and you are either still slaving away to make plan, or you are required to spend every night entertaining clients or you are still traveling like a lunatic to pull in last-minute contracts. All the while, you still have to be saying "yay Christmas". It is kind of a lot don't you think? I do think there is pressure to pull off a great holiday for your loved ones. I do think there is guilt if you can't or you don't. And I do think the anticipation of it all can lead to some pretty major disappointment. I dare you to deny that this holiday comes with expectations. And at the end of it all, I wonder how many of us don't harbor some negative feeling. I wish I could have done more. I wish I got what I wanted. I wish I didn't feel taken for granted. I wish, I wish, I wish.

And the reason I think for all this is that we feel the need to connect with the people around us more deliberately at this time of year more than any other. The neighborhood party that is full of cheer, the holiday cards you send, the special gift you buy or make for someone, and most importantly the holiday spirit you try to share with your children to add to the magic and joy of Christmas. Last night I stumbled upon a TED talk from the summer of 2010 by Brene Brown who talks about the primal need for human connection and the instinctive feelings we all have that can unravel it. From there she brings up some really interesting theories about who the people are who connect well with others and why. She theorizes that it is fear and shame that prevent people from forming authentic connections. And yes, I know how heavy handed that sounds but.....think about it for a minute. I mean doesn't everyone's life seem perfect on Facebook?
"Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it that I won't be worthy of connection?"
She then goes on to highlight that "shame is universal and that the only people who don't experience shame have no capacity for human empathy. That no one wants to talk about it and the less we talk about it the more we have it." It is funny because I would have defined shame as something pretty major that you feel guilt over but I guess it could be classified as any negative feelings of not having been good enough in any area of life.

She dissects it even further to explain that vulnerability and worthiness are the underpinnings of shame and that people who form the best connections in life are those who innately feel worthy and also embrace their vulnerability. It is a head scratcher of a 20-minute talk and I challenge anyone to listen to it and not walk away with some positive feeling of how they can make their life better.

Every year I wish I could enjoy this holiday with less snark as I wrote about herehere, and then here and more joy. I am going to work on that but after rereading those three posts, I have to say I got a good giggle out of it all.  So grab a cup of coffee and take 20 minutes at lunch today to watch this.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wreath Making

There are two reasons why I tend to opt for the DIY option in nearly every scenario. The first, but not the most significant is that I am cheap. Or rather that I love a cheap thrill. I adore finding things for less than they normally sell for. The hunt is so much fun for me and when I find what I am looking for, whooooo weeee, I just about get a high from it. The other is that I am really picky about how I want things to look. I do not have an amazingly decorated house with perfect pillows and smartly adorned shelves but when I decide I need something for the house, I get in my mind what I want before I start looking and then nothing ever fits the bill. Both cases I think my husband would call a disease. Although he is pretty happy that I like cheap stuff.

When it comes to plants, I am a perennial person. Annuals, while pretty, are just a waste of money in my book. But then again I live in the NE and when it comes time to planting spring flowers I never really know when it is safe to put those pretty little pansies in the ground. It could just as easily snow in June and kill them all so you see my problem. Anyway, the same goes for seasonal decorating at holiday time. I hate spending tons of money on stuff that is just going to die. With one exception. I have to say, I don't mind dropping some cash on a Christmas tree. A good one. From a farm. That won't be dead by December 25th. This year we were not able to get to our farm before they sold out and had to resort to our local garden center and we have had unspeakable horrors with this tree. After some therapy I might dive into it here on PC.

As for a wreath, I like mine not so plain but not overly done and tacky. I don't want a gazillion silver balls on it or branches sticking out in every direction. I want something to look cute and Christmassy without being totally over tone. So last year I got together with a bunch of friends and we made our own wreaths. A friend ran down to a local floral wholesaler and bought tons of materials and then one evening with wine and desserts we gathered in her garage to make wreaths together. It was lovely and festive and you all should try it.

Last April January when it was time to undecorate, I tossed the wreath but saved all the elements I made. I am so happy I did that because this year I was able to make the wreath just how I wanted it in about 15 minutes. My poor husband saw me pulling out all the stuff about 25 minutes before we were supposed to leave the house and he was all are you really going to start that now!?! And of course I was totally NOT smug when I was done a full 10 minutes before we had to leave!

So what is in my arsenal for decorating a wreath? First off, a nice big red bow. a few red and ivory ornaments, a few small pieces of silver to catch the light, little red berries, and some seashells to represent our area. And this year, I grabbed some fresh eucalyptus at the garden center to add for some lighter green contrast.

Really you can use anything you want that you can either twist with wire or glue with a gun onto one of these green floral picks.These guys have wire attached so you can just wrap the wire around your item and then shove it into a tight spot in your wreath.

So start with a plain wreath. This one was $17 at my garden center and is 20" wide.

Tie a bow how you like.

Then wrap the wire on a pick around the back.

Attach by wire or glue all the little bobbles you want to include in your wreath. This year I grabbed some fresh Eucalyptus.

I put the bow on first and then the eucalyptus. I used all the bobbles on picks to hold down the eucalyptus. We live in a pretty windy area so I have to really pin it all down well so it doesn't fly off the wreath.

Have you made a nice wreath for any part of the year? I'd love to see so leave a link in the comments if you have one!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Elusive Holiday Gift

OMG can you tell that I am coming down with seasonal affective disorder? No not that SAD, the other one. The one that leaves you tangled in Christmas lights and up all night thinking about HOW and WHEN you are ever going to get those holiday cards in the mail! I have some fun projects planned for the weekend and should the weather cooperate, I'll share them next week. But for now I thought I'd share a recent purchase I made that rocks my world.

In an effort not to be that  mom who says there are no pictures of her third child because they are, well, the third child, I am trying to get some images of Cici framed and up on the walls. For the past few months I searched high and low for some frames I both like and can afford and frankly, most of them suck. I had some paintings I bought in China custom framed and after dropping a freaking WAD of cash on that I thought there must be a better way. There. Must. Be!

And then out of no where my friend Lisa posted on her blog that she had ordered a few canvases from Easy Canvas Prints and she loved them. I adore Lisa's photography and totally respect her style so with her endorsement I was ready to take the plunge into frameless framing!

I ordered two 12X12 pictures of my gorgeous daughter {and come on, look at that face! Cute beyond words} and was knocked off my feet when I got them in the mail this week. ECP has lots of sizes to choose from but will also do custom sizes. I chose a square because one of the pictures I wanted was a Hipstamatic shot and those are square by nature. And yes while I could have cropped it in Photoshop, I am kinda gettin down with the square foto. The composition is a bit different on a square image and I like the natural draw to the center because of the equal sides. Okay, I am getting ahead of myself and completely losing you aren't I?

So enough of my blabber. Here are the canvases I received this week and you can see that I did not wrap the image but instead added a color edge that is a neutral. Lots of options over on ECP. And if you like them on Facebook you can get lots of discounts. I just ordered an 18x24 for $34. That would be my THIRD order in less than a month with them! My second order is a series of 5 prints, all from China in B/W. One 18x24, two 8x8s, and two 8x10s for a wall in my dining room. And I got word yesterday that those prints have shipped. YAHOO!!! I will post a picture of the wall when they arrive and I have a minute to hang them.

Do you have anyone left on your list you still need to buy for? Two lucky people on my list are getting a nice big canvas from ECP. YAY!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Let it Snow: 10 Year Old Girls' Night In Birthday Party!

Thanks to Duncan Hines for sponsoring my writing. There's no limit to the baking possibilities, so grab your favorite Duncan Hines mix and Comstock or Wilderness fruit fillings and Bake On!

As I have said before, my careful family planning efforts never really worked out as I had hoped. What's that saying about hearing God laugh? I am sure I have him roaring on most days. I always intended on having three beautiful children and definitely one of each gender and all of them would have late spring or summer birthdays so we could have really fun birthday parties in the backyard. There would be balloons, and ice cream, and running around, squeals of delight and bare feet. But alas, my first two children {the ones who's timing I seemingly had control over} are cold weather babies. 

Over the years I have struggled to find the right mix of entertainment and creativity to plan parties both the kids and mom enjoy. Last week, SweetPea turned 10. It is beyond me how I have a TEN year old. We decided to have a Girls Night In sleepover complete with warm fuzzy socks, movies, popcorn and nail painting. With her birthday falling just as the true winter season kicks off, we decided to do a let it snow theme to the night some style and beauty. And then it was 60 degrees here in the should-be-frigid Northeast! 

At 4:00 pm on Saturday we welcomed 5 of her friends over had a fun filled night of activities. The big girls rented a movie, gave each other mani/pedi's, and hopped around to music in SweetPea's room. I also got each of them a pair of fleecy soft socks and we did a Yankee Sock Swap. None of them had done a Yankee Swap before and were so puzzled with the stealing of other people's item. In the end everyone got the color sock they wanted and they giggled their way upstairs.

Pizza and cake are requisite parts of a sleepover birthday party. SweetPea had a special request for a cake this year. She wanted an ice cream cake but wanted it in the flavors of Neapolitan ice cream. If you are not familiar with Neapolitan, it is vanilla, strawberry and chocolate layered in stripes in the container. A perfect choice for the indecisive child. But hum, how to translate that into a cake!?!
Then it hit me, vanilla flavored cake with chocolate and strawberry ice cream layers. 

And then as if Duncan Hines could read my mind, I was asked to use one of their products for a holiday themed Girls Night In party. 
Perfect timing people. Perfect timing!

The perfect part of all this is that I was really running out of time to prepare the whole party. I was offered a photog gig at the end of last week too so time was scarce. Cake mix and prepared frosting was definitely going to save me. I ran out and grabbed a box of Duncan Hines' butter yellow cake, some vanilla frosting and some glaze which I had never seen before. I wasn't quite sure how I was going to frost the ice cream cake and ideally wanted it to look frosty and snowy. In the end I was able to use the glaze to get a melting snow/ice look to the cake and SweetPea LOVED it.

Remember to check out Duncan Hines' website to find some great recipes for your holiday get-together! I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective.

Monday, December 05, 2011

with bells on

This weekend was party party party {and party} for us. Four events to either attend, coordinate, photograph, or be guests of honor at and we are pooped! It was a fabulous festival weekend here in our little town as well. Thankfully mother nature gave us gorgeous days  full of bright sunshine and crisp enough air to feel the season that is upon us.

Today I am spending the day catching up but I have lots to show you from the weekend so stay tuned.....

Oh and in FAB news, the Coach Purse raised a good bit of money for Half the Sky so I am very grateful to all of you who participated in Lisa's giveaway! And there is still so much more to be given away over there and at the two other blogs in my sidebar! I'm gonna go take a peek now, come join me......................

Friday, December 02, 2011

Lunch with Cici: Squash two ways

This week I have been focused on pointing you all to a big fundraising event to support 3 charities that are near and dear to my heart. I hope you all have had a chance to stop by the blogs to see what kind of giveaways are happening and I am so grateful to those of you who have donated. If you still haven't had a chance to peek, the links are just to your right in my sidebar.

I thought I'd take a minute to show you a quick little dish I made for lunch with our Thanksgiving leftovers. And while you are probably sick of hearing about what to do with leftovers, you should know that this particular side dish is one I make often throughout the year and decided at the last minute to add it to my Thanksgiving menu. So really it is regular food and not holiday food. Does that make it better? I know, we are all getting sick of holiday food. I'm with ya.

So which side dish am I talking about? The Sweet and Spicy Squash one. This has been a staple to our fall and winter dishes for many many years now. It is roasted squash with the sweetness of caramelized brown sugar, the heat of crushed red pepper, and the brightness of thyme. It is as simple as that and we happen to LOVE it around here.

Then in a quiet moment when just Cici and I were home, I turned it into a delicious savory risotto for a mommy and baby lunch date.

  • 4 C of 1" diced squash (I used Butternut and Delicata) 
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 C brown sugar
  • ~1 T crushed red pepper (i use a red pepper grinder instead of the bigger flakes) You should adjust this to your liking.
  • 5 sprigs of thyme
For the Risotto
  • 1/2 C Arborio Rice
  • 2+ C chicken stock, warmed
  • 1/4 C minced pancetta
  • 1/4 C diced onion
  • splash of white wine
  • extra thyme
  • knob of butter (1-2 tsp)
  • 1/4 C total grated parmesan and gruyere cheeses
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 C leftover squash warmed or at room temp

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Toss squash with EVOO and some kosher salt
  3. Spread out on a silpat lined baking sheet and scatter sprigs of thyme throughout. You may need 2 baking sheets.
  4. Roast at 425 for about 10 minutes. I roast them until just the very top layer of the squash has some give to it when it is pricked with a fork. The interior should still be fairly raw.
  5. Take them out of the oven, turn the heat down to 350 degrees
  6. Sprinkle brown sugar and red pepper over squash and toss to coat. Shake pan so they are once again in a single layer.
  7. Put it back in the oven and roast until squash is soft but still has some bite and the sugar is gooey but not burned.
  8. Depending on your oven, you may need to reduce the heat so the sugar doesn't burn. You may have to watch this a little.
For the Risotto
  1. Saute pancetta in 1 tbs of olive oil over medium heat until crunchy like well done bacon. 
  2. Remove from pan with heatproof slotted spoon and turn off heat.
  3. Toss onions into pancetta drippings (yes, now we're talking!) and cook over medium-low heat until soft and translucent.
  4. Add rice and some thyme leaves (maybe 1/2 tsp) and cook (well toast actually) the rice for about 2 minutes.
  5. add a splash of wine - enough to make it all wet but not enough to cover.
  6. Cook until wine is absorbed and you hear the pan crackle once or twice.
  7. Now start adding your warm stock - ladle in enough to cover, and cook until it is all absorbed.
  8. Repeat until the rice is al dente - a bit of a bite to it. At this point taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to your liking.
  9. Cover with stock again, cook for 2 more minutes
  10. Add butter, cheese, cheese, and squash - turn off heat, cover, and go pour yourself a glass of wine.
  11. After 5 minutes, remove cover, stir to incorporate everything. Check for seasoning and adjust if needed.
Yay. Two dishes out of one! The sweet heat of the squash paired with the salty pancetta and earthy cheese is beyond delicious. You gotta try this.