I know, it's already nonstop Christmas around here and we haven't even hit Thanksgiving. I'd love to just live in the moment, but I also know I run the risk of missing the holiday season here altogether as work and the holiday rush collide, so bear with me. You can always return to these ideas when you're ready.
These photos are from my Christmas feature for Family Circle, a more colorful approach than what I did for Christmas Ideas. They're all easy projects to execute, even the stockings (which only look more labor intensive and which I will discuss in a later post). But the real reason I wanted to post these photos is to direct you to Family Circle's website where they have put together a holiday workbook that includes templates for the stockings as well as 14 vintage botanical designs that are cleaned up and ready for printing and/or resizing. (Just click on the directions to download the plate designs and you'll get the entire booklet.)
You can use the botanicals to make gift tags or holiday cards, use them to decoupage, whatever you can imagine...what I'm trying to say is that I spent a lot of time cleaning them up and you should use them! There are other, more colorful designs there as well (poinsettias and holly).
Which reminds me - don't forget to thank all of the amazing individuals who spend time posting copyright free images for our creative pursuits. They are the best! (Karen at The Graphics Fairy, Vintage Printable, and Biodiversity Heritage Library are the first that come to mind, but there are many others out there, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart!) They make my job so much easier.
I love buying Christmas ornaments, but they get expensive and I don't want to spend my entire holiday budget on them, so I always make some to fill in the gaps. It's more economical that way and I'm still able to keep them and use them from year to year.
When I was preparing for the shoot I showed you yesterday, I decided I needed a tree full of white ornaments, which strangely, I seemed to have very few of. The store shelves were emptied of Christmas stock and I needed inexpensive ornaments I could make in bulk. I settled on a few paper options.
To make these stars, I used a leftover roll of white glittered giftwrap (I believe I purchased it at Michaels). I found that its lighter weight was perfect for folding stars, enabling crisp folds that kept their shape, much like origami paper. To support them, I simply glued them to shimmery cardstock.
The resulting ornaments were light as air (my big beef with heavy ornaments is how much they pull the tree branches down), simple, but pretty and sparkly as can be. Best of all, they cost pennies to make.
I'm completely out of glittered wrap at the moment (having made these a year ago), so this tutorial is shown with Quartz Stardream text paper, which is a good weight, in case you want to use something other than glittered paper.
1. Download the star templates and print onto paper; cut out. Turn the template face down onto the back of a piece of glittered wrapping paper and trace around it with a dull pencil. Cut out the traced design.
2. Layer the printed template on top of the glittered cutout and use it as a guide to make all of the valley folds (folding inward) as marked by the heavier dashed lines. Once you've made the folds, you can use a bone folder to make sharper creases, if desired.
5. Turn the star over and glue the edges together as shown. This will give your star dimension.
Tip: You can adjust how shallow or deep you want your star to be simply by adjusting how you glue the back edges together. If one edge comes all the way over to the opposite edge, you'll have a sharp peak in the front of the star, which is better if you're not gluing anything to the center. If you're gluing an embellishment, you might be better off with the edges meeting somewhere near the middle. This is purely a personal preference.
6. Glue the glittered star to a piece of cardstock, leaving one of the tips unadhered (for ornament string placement) and trim the excess cardstock. Glue a loop of ornament string or metallic floss behind the unadhered tip, between the glittered paper and the cardstock. Glue the tip to the cardstock.
7. To embellish, make a small circle of metallic pipe cleaner or tinsel garland and glue it to the front of the star, then glue a bead in the middle.
Click here to get the star tag template and see how I used it as a gift topper (just fold the valley folds as mountain folds and the mountain folds as valley folds and don't glue the back edges together).
Star Template from BHG (resize as desired, if you want larger stars)
All other supplies found at stores such as Michaels
This is what my house looked like last year, the day before Thanksgiving, after several days of Halloween photo shoots (which, ironically, you won't see until next year.) What you don't see are the living room walls painted several different shades of gray, from the palest to the deepest charcoal, used as backdrops for one of the shoots. Not something you can just tidy up in a hurry, and a move I was willing to make because I'd decided I needed to repaint my living room anyway.
In case you're wondering why I took this photo, it's because I saw my son's feet peeking out of all the mess as he carved out a little niche for himself to watch television. I had a vision of a future session on a therapist's couch, lamenting how his mother had ruined holidays for him, how his house was just a whole lot of crazy growing up. I snapped the shot so he'd have proof. No revisionist history here. I'll just own up to it and we can move on. It was bad enough that the one developmental marker that he didn't achieve on his Kindergarten report card was being able to "identify the customs attached to each holiday." Yes, my fault! I know that not everybody makes Christmas ornaments when it's 4th of July or dyes Easter eggs on New Years Day. But I digress.
Through some crazy delusion that could only have been brought on by lack of sleep, I truly thought that I'd quickly put everything away, paint my living room the perfect shade of gray, and decorate for Christmas, my favorite holiday of the year. Maybe I'd be a few days off schedule, but no sweat. Yeah, anyway.
No one told me that the "perfect shade of gray" is hard to come by, that it changes from morning to night (drastically) and that it really takes about a week for it to cure, before you can see what the final color will be. Cut to the week after Thanksgiving, possibly a dozen different paint swatches covering the walls in patchwork fashion, and the holidays felt waaay out of reach. I was a little panicked. I have a child. We couldn't just cancel Christmas!
By December 21, we finally had a freshly painted living room and no trace of Halloween or Thanksgiving were to be found (but no trace of Christmas, either). We bought a tree, strung some lights on it, and then kind of gave up. My son asked if anyone was going to help him decorate the tree, but when he realized he could decorate without even a smidgen of input from his very particular mother, well, he was ecstatic. So our tree had its little row of ornaments, all just about eye level of a 6-year-old. I didn't move a thing. In fact, we never quite got around to pushing the tree against the wall. It sort of hung out between the pocket doors in the living room. I just couldn't get there.
Santa came, my son was happy, oblivous to his parents' exhaustion, and we breathed a sigh of relief that we'd made it through. Then a few days after Christmas, Ann, the editor-in-chief at Christmas Ideas asked if she could photograph my house for the 2013 Christmas issue...and I said yes, because that's what (crazy) professionals do. She scheduled the shoot for the end of January.
My husband picked up a towering 9-foot tree at the airport, along with 45 lbs. of greenery and 75 feet of garland, fresh off of a farm in Oregon. In a normal city, someone might have questioned why my husband was carrying a fresh tree on the car in the middle of January. But this is New Orleans. We see weird stuff all the time.
I played the carols, made dozens of white ornaments, wrapped the (mostly) fake gifts, and somewhere in that month, I found the Christmas spirit that I hadn't been able to find the entire holiday season. Though I admit, it was awkward when I caught one of my neighbors eyeing me through the window as I decorated the tree the last week of January. I knew instantly I had become the crazy cat lady of the neighborhood. It wasn't like I'd kept my tree up too long, no, I was just getting started with Christmas - a true freak. I started closing the shutters after that. Christmas in private, please.
And this is what my house looked like for the Christmas that almost got away in 2012. You can't tell how crazy it was getting there, and while you may be inclined to believe it was all make believe, it wasn't. It was as real as real can be. Because if there's on thing I've learned in my business - it's Christmas whenever you want it to be.
Photographs by Brie Williams
You can see more of this story, along with lots of other homes and projects in Christmas Ideas, on newsstands now, or available as a digital edition here.
I've been getting lots of emails regarding various items shown in this story. So here they are. (For all of the natural elements, I'll be doing a post on sources for winter items shortly.)
Papier-Mache Stags Head from West Elm
Tiered Display Stand from Matthew Mead Vintage
Reindeer Cookies from PfConfections on Etsy
Milk glass tumblers can usually be found on Etsy or Ebay
Preserved natural moss is available in mat and roll form. You can find it here at Save-On-Crafts
Realistic artificial snow also available at Save-On-Crafts
Wall color in living room is Nimbus #1465 from Benjamin Moore
As a blogger I get a lot of requests to feature products or companies. If it doesn't feel organic to this space, I decline. But when Uncommon Goods contacted me and asked if I wanted to review a product from their gift line, I jumped at the chance. I'm a longtime customer and it's always one of my holiday go-tos, especially when shopping for a challenging recipient.
GIFTS FOR THE BOOZEHOUND:
The Barrel-Aged Cocktail Kit is an easy way for home mixologists to explore a cocktail trend that's been enthusiastically embraced by the professionals. Instead of having to purchase a large barrel (and all the liquor it takes to fill it), you get a few wooden staves to age smaller batches in a shorter amount of time (2 weeks instead of months). I have one of these and I love it! Try an aged Negroni or a Manhattan. If cocktails aren't your thing, you can always make beer at home. I selected the Southern Bourbon Stout Brewing Kit, but Uncommon Goods carries several varieties.
GIFTS FOR THE FOODIE:
Possession of salt used to signify an owner's wealth. Today salt might not mean much in terms of wealth, but the Flavors of America Salt Collection signifies a palate that's anything but boring. Then for the cheese lover (is there really anyone out there who doesn't like cheese?) or the wannabe cheesemonger, the Artisanal Cheesemaking Kit gives you a chance to make 15 fresh or aged hard cheeses at home. There's an Italian version as well.
GIFTS FOR THE TECHNOFILE:
The Readycase is one of those gifts I'll have to stuff in my own stocking. There's a metal multi-tool equipped with a bottle opener, screwdriver, and a serrated blade. Then there's a headphone clip, USB storage stick (which doubles as a kickstand for your phone), and 3 add-on lenses for your phone's camera, a Macro, wide lense, and Fish Eye. All of it taking your phone to new heights. For the person who wavers between embracing technology and getting back to nature, this Driftwood iPhone Charging Dock brings the conflict to a harmonious resolution. Crafted from driftwood washed up on the shores of Maine.
GIFTS FOR THE IN-LAWS:
Okay, maybe not for your in-laws, but I find mine a bit challenging to shop for (I love them, I just don't always know what to get for them). This Blank Page Pillow, in which all the lines are stitched, would be great with a personal note embroidered on it, especially from a grandchild. I can't imagine any grandmother who wouldn't like that. As for the Eye Glasses Holder, I actually did buy that for my father-in-law who's hopeless when it comes to hanging on to his reading glasses. I bought one for my husband as well, and I appreciate his quirky presence on our coffee table.
GIFTS FOR THE CRAFTERS:
If you loved having glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling as a child, you can have a grown-up version with this Stitch the Stars Calendar. It's printed with glow-in-the-dark ink and matching glow-in-the-dark thread for you to stitch your way through the constellations. If your crafty pursuits are more down to earth, the Birdie Yarn Bowl keeps yarn balls in place while you knit, crochet, or weave with a sweet nest like design.
GIFTS FOR ALL THE HOMEBODIES:
Bring the outdoors in with this whimsical Mockingbird Birdhouse made from discarded library books. There's currently a Julia Child cookbook version as well. Kids flown the coop? This Personalized Family Pillow is a reminder of those you love. Customize a pillow that reflects all the members of your family or your current household, including beloved pets.
I'm a lover of vintage, industrial, and books, so I couldn't pass up the Vintage Shoe Form Bookends. They would be very happy in my home. For my taste, though, industrial accents are best when balanced by elements from nature. This Terra Table Lamp is living happily in my home, surrounded by vintage and industrial. The mosses and air plants require zero maintenance from me, but I love that the removable bell jar allows me to change the scenery according to my whims or the season.
This post was sponsored by Uncommon Goods, but all product picks and opinions are my own.
One last note - Ready for Christmas? I'm in full-blown holiday mode here, so I'm going with it. Starting on Monday, I will begin posting holiday content. Have a wonderful weekend!
My thoughts on Halloween this year? Bring on Christmas!! I had an entire list of projects I wanted to make for myself, but professionally, I've been buried under Halloween for weeks now. So in my down time, I've been making Christmas ornaments. That's how it goes sometimes.
All is not lost. I've tacked up a couple of decorations and we'll carve the pumpkins tonight. But today I'm focused on details, a few Halloween surprises just for my son - his lunchbox will be anything but boring tomorrow! I have 24 hours, but that's enough time to pull together some last-minute fun.
Perhaps you're in the same boat, so here are some of my favorite easy, last-minute ideas pulled from my Pinterest board.
These make me laugh, and my son might just find one perching on his bowl of oatmeal tomorrow morning. From Family Chic.
Take this downloadable template and basic craft supplies and you have instant fun! Check out Mr. Printables for these typography glasses, as well as other easy projects, like the printable candle wraps.
Being mom to a boy, there's a lot of talk about bugs around here. I love any bug that's not real, so these DIY hand-painted insect plates from HGTV fit the bill.
If you'd rather make cupcakes, these vampire bite cupcakes can be pulled off by even the most time and craft-challenged among us.
Who needs carving with the whimsical simplicity of these bat pumpkins?
Easy, cute bat napkin rings made from nothing more than black construction paper.
Last, but certainly not least, I love these printables from Creature Comforts. Kids will get a kick out of them, but they're sophisticated enough to entice the grown-ups.
As I was thinking about creative collaboration earlier this week, I thought of another collaborative project I wanted to share with you - Lena Corwin's new book, Made by Hand, hit bookstores last week.
From 2009 - 2011, Lena held workshops in her home studio in Brooklyn. The first classes she offered were based on techniques from her earlier book, Printing by Hand (one of my all-time favorites), but then she began inviting friends and designers to contribute their expertise as well.
Made by Hand is a reflection of those workshops, with 26 "classes" presented in book form. As expected from Lena Corwin, there are plenty of textile arts in the book, taught by various artists. These include an easy rotary printing technique, using a rolling pin as the rotary tool. There's also screen-printing, sewing, knitting, tea-dyed applique, batik dyeing, crochet, embroidery, weaving, marbling, and tie-dyeing fabric. Then there are a few other techniques such as soap making, jewelry, weaving, coiled bowls, even making your own beeswax birthday candles. All are presented in a user-friendly format, along with observations and advice for what you can (and can't) control.
With winter nipping at our heels, it's the perfect time to start gathering with friends to acquire new skills. Even if none of you know where to begin, you can easily use the projects in this book as a guidebook to hosting your own classes, however informal they may be. Some projects take more time and space, so perhaps you'll just have a couple of friends over. Others, that are more stationary (such as knitting and needlework), are easily adapted to larger groups.
Another nice thing about craft groups - you never know what you'll learn. Last year I had a friend who brought a different cheese and beer pairing with her for every group. I faithfully wrote them all down (because they were brilliant) to remember for the future. It had nothing to do with crafting, but it sparked all kinds of possibilities for me. Not to mention, craft groups are a great excuse to get away from your computer, to walk away from the tedium of everyday routines, and to just find the space to settle in a bit, to relax. I highly recommend them!
Of course you don't need a craft group to benefit from the pojects and techniques offered in the book. Any self-motivated crafter will enjoy it as well. But why not take a friend along for the ride?
See the book trailer here.
I so wish I could send a box of macarons to every single person who entered the giveaway! But alas, there can only be one. The random number selected was #12, which goes to Carole. Carole, you can look forward to something sweet in your mailbox soon.
To everyone else, thank you for entering. Hopefully some more good things to pass along in the future!
Most of my creative life has taken place in solitude, a solitude that has seemed necessary but at odds with my personality. It gets a little lonely sometimes. That loneliness has been more pronounced over the last year or two. The more creative I felt, the more I felt the loneliness. I knew I needed to start a new chapter.
One thing I've always known instinctively is that the first step to attaining your desires is articulating your desires. Out loud, to yourself, to other people. I had my aha! moment after a weekend spent with some passionate and talented girlfriends. I realized what I really needed was a partner of some sort. Not every day, but regularly. I needed hands-on collaboration. Lots of it.
Since that shout out to the Universe, members of my tribe have started filtering into my life, slowly but steadily, as if they've heard my call. Some are much younger, some older, and several don't live here at all, but show up often enough that it feels like they do. The energy they generate is palpable. I am filled up when they leave, satisfied to sit and work in solitude again. They are gifts to my spirit. They teach me, they make me more creative.
One of those people is my friend, Alison. She's a professional photographer and a New Orleanian who lives in Brooklyn. But she's been coming home pretty regularly, and after a few years of friendship, we've started getting together on a creative level, shooting interiors (she shoots the interiors, I tag along and socialize and photograph details for myself).
But this last visit she had something else in mind, a photo shoot in an empty French Quarter apartment that hadn't seen a renovation or a fresh coat of paint in 60 years. Just the two of us, my styling, her eye, no agenda other than to try to capture a moment in time before it became a renovation.I didn't need any convincing. Alison and I work for some of the same clients, so we share a common editorial language, but we share another language common to New Orleanians - we love decay, seeing nothing but beauty there.
We settled on natural elements, nature and decay a pairing intrinsic to New Orleans, and we lugged what felt like a million bits and pieces up and down stairs, sweating buckets in the heat and humidity of an unairconditioned apartment (but as Alison pointed out, with our own live jazz performance just outside). I had had a difficult night, with 4 hours of sleep and mountains of anxiety, but for those hours I felt zero fatigue. I felt alive.
That good feeling stayed with me for several weeks after Alison left, making me grateful that I'd been able to hone in on what was missing in my life. I need these collaborations and I look forward to more of them, with all kinds of creative people. It doesn't matter in what area their creative expertise lies, there is something wonderful and magical to learn and explore and share. They remind me of what's important, and more importantly, what is not.
All photographs by Alison Gootee.
**I heard an interesting story on NPR a few weeks ago that involved creative collaboration. Singer/songwriter Jim Bianco posted a questionnaire on his website with 69 questions for fans to answer. As a result, each of the 17 songs on his new album Cookie Cutter is inspired by a fan. It's a great story - you can find it here.
I know it's been quiet around here again. There are weeks when assignment deadlines simply get the best of me. To make it up to you, however, I have a sweet giveaway from Sucré for one lucky reader.
Sucré is a local confectionary here in New Orleans, and it's been a favorite since it opened in 2007. I remember my first visit, consumed by handmade chocolates with regional flavors. Then I had an obsession with the gelato, followed by the homemade marshmallows, and finally, my current obsession - the macarons.
The good news is that you don't have to be a local to indulge. Sucré has expanded their operation and ships within the United States (with all confections continuing to be made in their New Orleans location).
Which reminds me - I know a lot of people like to order King Cakes for Mardi Gras, choosing to be a New Orleanian wherever they are. Sucré makes the best King Cake I've ever eaten. Usually I suffer through dry, underwhelming cakes or toothachingly sweet, overstuffed versions, all in the name of tradition. But one year a friend brought me a King Cake from Sucré and I've never looked back. The only problem I have with it is that it disappears quickly and I have a hard time sharing it with others.
Back to the giveaway. Sucré willl send their Signature Macaron Collection to one reader in the contiguous United States, selected at random. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post with your name and email address. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday, October 22, 11:59 PST, with the winner announced on Wednesday, October 23.
That's it - no trick questions, no clever comments required (unless you're feeling clever, that is). I'll be back soon, if not this week, certainly next.
Last night, under the sliver of a crescent moon, the night air holding the promise of fall, my son scored his first touchdown.
I didn't want him to play football. Too dangerous, too much worry. But he's been waiting for this time, waiting since the first moment he touched a ball. Indeed it was the first word from his mouth. All the other sports he's patiently participated in, all were but a dress rehearsal for this. I am learning to manage my fear, to breathe through it, to let go. Sometimes I almost get there.
But as much as I didn't want him to play, I worried the first few practices that he would quit. His coach is tough, old school, a military man interested in discipline and winning. I could see my son's lip tremble during water breaks, afraid to meet my eyes, afraid that he would start crying. But he toughed it out week after week, even though this game of football wasn't meeting his expectations, even though he longed to to catch and run instead of block and tackle, even though he couldn't get anywhere near the ball. I'm a mom. I worry about his safety, but I worry about his heart, too, and I could feel the disappointment building even as he continued to show up.
Then last night he got his chance to touch the ball. It was the last quarter, we were winning anyway, and I think the coach felt it was safe enough to let a rookie have a go at the ball. I realized what was happening, my chest tight, my breath caught in my throat, and he was off. Fast, caught up in traffic, zigzagging his way loose across the field, keeping his legs moving, right into the end zone. Of course, I got a little weepy.
My son wasn't nearly as proud as I was. He just looked at me after the game, relaxed, confident, said he knew he could run the ball, he was just waiting for someone to give it to him. He was a lot prouder of the fact that he'd recovered a fumble, something he hadn't expected of himself. I miss that confidence of childhood, the absolute belief that the world is open to you, that you cannot fail. Where does that go?
I've been thinking a lot about being a child, trying to remember what it was like, what I created, how I felt. I remember being incredibly prolific, staying up til the wee hours of the night to create. I sold my creations for pocket money. I feel like I did some ambitious things, things I can no longer do, but maybe they were actually simplistic. I don't know; there aren't any photos, no evidence of my youthful endeavors. My son asked me a question from the backseat the other day. He asked me if I could remember the first photograph I ever took. It kills me; I wish I knew. I wish I could remember all of those "firsts."
Do you think about your own childhood, the risks you may or may not have taken at that time in your life? Do you think it's possible to get back to that liberated, unfettered state? It reminds me of a quote from The Little Prince, one of my favorite books - "All grown-ups were once children...but only few of them remember it."
The passion fruit flavor comes from a homemade syrup rather than the bottled versions that are generally available and the difference is discernable. Most prepared passion fruit syrups on the market are too heavy and sweet. The good news is that the passion fruit concentrate we use is readily available by mail order and yields a bright, fresh flavor that's useful for more than this cocktail. I highly recommend it.
Cheers! Have a great weekend.
Shake all ingredients (except the Blackstrap Bitters) in an ice-filled cocktail shaker; strain into a Hurricane glass filled with ice. Add 3 drops Blackstrap Bitters and stir to combine. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.
Passion Fruit Syrup:
4 ounces Maguary pure passion fruit concentrate
2 ounces water
3/4 cup sugar
Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil; stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Transfer to a glass bottle and refrigerate.
1 Quart POM Pomegranate Juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 ounces Pomegranate Molasses
2 teaspoons orange flower water
1 ounce vodka (used as a preservative, if you'll be storing the grenadine longer than 1 week)
Simmer POM until reduced by half. Add sugar, stir until dissolved, then add the pomegranate molasses, orange flower water, and vodka (if you're not using all of your grenadine at once).
I admit it, I've been a complete snob about the slow cooker. It doesn't fit in with my "romantic" notion of cooking, with the cast iron pot simmering on the stove for hours, my husband and I working in the kitchen together stirring up something good...However, our weeknights have been anything but romantic, so I've tabled those fantasy cooking scenarios for Sundays, when we're all a little more relaxed and actually all in the house at the same time, and I finally unpacked the slow cooker that stayed in its box for 6 months simply because I couldn't give in.
I purchased the cookbook, Slow Cooker Revolution, mostly because I've been able to trust Cook's Illustrated in all things culinary and this cookbook is produced by the same team, America's Test Kitchen. I've only made two recipes from the book so far, but neither has disappointed, giving me new enthusiasm to continue my exploration. Even my husband, as reluctant as I, has proclaimed himself a convert.
With fall's arrival, Shredded Barbecued Beef (p. 143) and North Carolina Pulled Pork have been just right on my son's game nights. Quick and easy to prep, great flavor, and leftovers for the next day's lunch. What's not to love?
North Carolina Pulled Pork
Prep Time: 8 to 24 hours for rub
Cooking Time: 9-11 hours on Low or 5-7 hours on High
6 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet paprika
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper
5-pound boneless pork butt roast, trimmed of fat and quartered
3 smoked ham hocks, rinsed
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup ketchup
1 1/2 teaspoons liquid smoke
1. Combine 3 tablespoons sugar, paprika, chili powder, cumin, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 tablespoon pepper in bowl. Using fork, prick pork all over and rub the sugar mixture over the pork. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.
2. Place ham hocks in slow cooker. Unwrap pork and place on top of hocks. Pour broth over pork, cover, and cook until the pork is tender, 9 to 11 hours on low or 5 to 7 hours on high.
3. Transfer pork and hocks to large bowl. Let cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces (don't shred meat too finely since it will break up more as the meat is combined with the sauce) discarding skin, bones, and excess fat; cover to keep warm. Let braising liquid settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using large spoon.
4. Strain liquid into medium saucepan and simmer until thickened and measures 1 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Whisk in vinegar, ketchup, liquid smoke, and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Toss shredded pork with 1 1/2 cups sauce; add more sauce as needed to keep meat moist. Serve with remaining sauce.
P.S. Do you have any favorite slow cooker recipes you're willing to share?
I've been going through changes in my creative life over the last year, finding myself drawn more and more to what I think of as elemental crafting, techniques that require patience and lots of practice. Usually a fan of instant gratification, I find instead that I'm searching for something more soulful, embracing process in a way I haven't before. I want both the modern and the timeless.
Calligraphy is one of those pursuits. It's been on my bucket list of things to learn for so long that it's almost laughable. But when my friend Tristan came to visit, she helped push me over the edge, introducing me to the right nibs and ink, printing guidelines and offering resources. I was less intimidated when she left, but I still felt stymied by one issue that I always bump into - being a lefty. For the most part, I've learned to be ambidextrous over the years, but that's not really an option for me with calligraphy.
So I was excited to see that a new book, Modern Calligraphy, by the talented Molly Suber Thorpe, had a section in it specifically dedicated to lefties. It's a small section, but it's specific and helpful and enough that I felt the door open a bit wider for me. This is not to say that it's not going to take a lot of practice for me to be good enough to showcase my lettering, but I've finally gotten my foot in the door!
It's easy to be drawn to this book. Molly's hand is so beautiful and feminine, a look that I personally aspire to, and she includes 14 pages of handwriting specimens (each letter drawn in multiple ways) that will help you find your own style. But just as important, it's filled with accessible, useful information on everything you need to get started. You can stick with the first two chapters as you begin your journey. When you've mastered the basics, you can move on to Chapter 3, introducing new supplies to your tool kit and learning six new techniques (such as writing with watercolor and gouache). From there, the book launches into a variety of DIY projects. I'm still in the first two chapters, where I'll be for awhile, but I highly recommend this book for anyone's even remotely interested in hand lettering. It's a wonderful addition to your library, especially if you're feeling intimidated, like I was.
Read an interview with Molly here.
Yikes! It's been two weeks since I posted here, which might explain why friends ask me if I'm still blogging (and I am). Apparently I've just become one of those "slow bloggers." Things are decidedly not slow in my life this fall, which might explain some of my absence, but eventually I'll find my rhythm here again. It's time for change, but as you know, change takes time. I'll get there.
In the meantime, I've been finding some rhythm in my personal life. Over the weekend I started making seasonal shifts in my home, completely a mood changer. I'm always surprised by how the simplest of details can wake up my senses and give me a psychological overhaul. You see, while the rest of you are mentioning the nip in the air or the changing leaves, I have to create a sense of fall. The only sign of fall is that the highs are in the 80s instead of the 90s and the humidity has dropped enough that I think I'll be able to completely close my bathroom door within the next few weeks (if you live in a very old house, I'm pretty sure you know what I'm talking about).
At any rate, I collect a range of natural items that I use as props for photo shoots or to integrate into my home decor. I rotate these collections according to season, which keeps things fresh. Every season, I find something else that captures my fancy and sometimes completely dictates the look of a room. It's the element of surprise that keeps me from setting up the same vignettes over and over.
This year I suddenly had an urge to have sprigs of Chinese Lanterns in my living room. I've never seen the plant in my life, but I looked on Etsy and $10.95 and a few days later, I had a bunch of Chinese Lanterns whose vibrancy made me so happy, I decided orange was the way to go this year. (It's also my first fall having a gray living room and boy, do I love it! Such a great neutral to work with for every season.)
I believe in local and making use of what you find around you, but I also love that the Internet and the US Postal Service can bring the rest of the world to my door. It's armchair travel of a different sort. So maybe I won't get to see the leaves change this fall, but don't you worry about me. I can order boxes of them and roll around in them anytime I want!
Sources for Nature (click through for links):
The Keepers' House on Etsy (the source of my Chinese Lanterns): dried flower bunches, gourds, acorns, pinecones, etc.
Botanical Art on Etsy: live plants, real leaves, botanical & nature art prints
Ron's Rustic Woods on Etsy: order boxes of fall leaves (250 to 1000 count), also smaller amounts of dried leaves in green and plum.
Bee Balm Dreams on Etsy: dried gourds and various types of pinecones
Ridge Top Cottage on Etsy: lots of dried gourds
Garden Spell Ghost Tale on Etsy: American Bittersweet
Crow Hollow Farm on Etsy: American Bittersweet
Save On Crafts: Preserved Oak Leaves (available in a range of colors)
Mountain Feathers on Etsy: wide variety of feathers, including cruelty free
Feather Store: variety of Pheasant Tails as well as Turkey Quills
Happy fall, by the way!
I've been trying very hard not to hurry into the holiday season, ironic considering that I've just completed a New Year's assignment and started a 4th of July one. But personally, I'm trying not to rush into things, to savor the slow change of summer into fall. Admittedly, it's difficult for me when my magazines start arriving, full of holiday ideas. I do start to falter a little, then, and my heart rate picks up. What can I say? I'm addicted to magazines.
An arrival I'd been eagerly awaiting was Country Living, a perennial favorite of mine, knowing that one of my blog projects would be featured in the October issue. Remember the vellum moths on a lightbulb? That project inspired a Halloween craft feature based entirely on idioms and phrases (such a great concept!) that is at turns creepy and spooky, clever and whimsical. The editors and stylist did a great job and I love that my project became part of the story!
Of course the entire issue is great, which almost makes me want to start working my way through my list of Halloween ideas. But I'm going to restrain myself for at least another week. And then...well, all bets are off after that!
As I mentioned yesterday, I wanted to share a few photos of Mary Cooper's current home with you, a two-story 1830's Creole townhouse that she and her partner, Tomio, have lovingly restored. The house is in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, minutes outside of the French Quarter but seemingly many miles away.
For when you ring the bell on the garden gate and step off the sidewalk of the city, you are immediately transported to what feels like a remote corner of a country setting. The garden is lush and overgrown, the house primitive, rustic, almost austere in its simplicity, the modern amenities of life nowhere to be found, making way instead for the chirping of birds, the breezes that pass through open doors and windows, the sound of rain on a tin roof, the laughter that comes from the open back porch, an inevitable gathering spot.
I think it takes courage to live such a pared down existence. It's a lifestyle I am sure I could never willingly achieve. I love my central air and heat, the Internet, my smart phone, cable, Netflix, my Kitchen Aid...but I have a deep admiration and respect for what Mary and Tomio have been able to both create and maintain. It gives me pause. When I am there, outside influences ebb. I can focus on exactly what's in front of me. Honestly, it's a relief, an interlude in a busy day.
Mary and Tomio are moving on soon, ready to take on a new house, a new adventure. When they first put the home on the market, the realtor suggested they take out the good furniture, so that prospective buyers could focus on the house itself, not the magic they'd created. They didn't just move the furniture, they sold it, replacing it with the sparest of creations made by hand. And still, the magic lingers. It's intangible, not for everyone, but I hope a special person, someone with vision, steps through that garden gate and finds a place to call home.
I've been creating some version of a pin board my entire life. As a child, my walls were papered with colorful ads (certain my destiny lay in advertising), then glossy fashion pics (having moved on to working in fashion, something my friends would find laughable now, with my wholehearted embrace of a "uniform"), then on to binders, folders, and sketchbooks of absolutely everything that captured my fancy along the way - interiors and food, then photography, art, design, and finally, crafts.
My interests continue to evolve and become refined, and those clippings get winnowed out over time. But there are clippings I've carried with me from year to year, city to city, life to life. They've become old friends to me by now; I recognize that the subject matter has transcended the trends of the moment, speaking to a core part of my personality, illuminating my deepest desires, motivations, and needs.
Some of those tear sheets are photographs of the various homes of Mary Cooper, a chair caner (preservationist, artist, colorist, gardener, stylist, baker...) who lives in New Orleans. The earliest clippings are probably twenty years old, when she was about the age I am now. I didn't know her or know anything about her, but I understood her aesthetically and those aesthetics spoke to me in a way that transcended mere design.
Twenty years later, serendipitously, Mary and I have become friends. I recognize her in all those old magazine pages, recognize that she is not given to trends, that she has a solid, confident, unshakeable sense of self and place, translated into surroundings that change according to practical needs, architectural design, or artistic desire, but never influenced by the comings and goings of the modern world (though she embraces IKEA as easily as she embraces antiques, which endeared her to me immediately).
The first time I spent an extended amount of time in her current home, I suffered from insomnia for two days afterwards. I felt so intoxicated by color, by her creativity. My sensitive nervous system was completely flooded, sent into overdrive by exuberance. That initial response led me to believe that I'd made the right choice in surrounding myself with neutrals in my own home. Subsequent visits have made me realize that I what I may have done was inadvertently "neutralize" myself into lethargy.
I find myself thinking more about color now. I think I'm ready to commit, to uproot the serenity I thought I had and give my home the sense of vibrancy that it's lacking - because if there's one thing I've learned from Mary's example, it's that your home should be an extension of who you are and what you need, on a soul level. Color, like everything else you surround yourself with, tells a story, the story of your life. And me, I'm ready for the next chapter. Stay tuned.
Below are photos from Mary's past home. Unfortunately, they're scans of tearsheets, so the quality isn't the same as a photograph. However, I think the genius of Mary's color pairings and overall aesthetic still shine through.
This 1885 house originally sat at the shore of the Mississipi River before being moved in 1908 next to a plantation on the outskirts of a young New Orleans. It endured one more relocation, a block away, threatened by collapsing levees. It was a flophouse for sailors, then abandoned for a decade before Mary rescued the house from ruin.
Tomorrow, I'll show photos of Mary's current home - a restored Creole cottage in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans.
When I lived in New York, any time I found myself in SoHo I would make the stop at Cafe Habana's takeout window for their Mexican-style corn on a stick. Juggling shopping bags, I would eat it on the way to the subway, already plotting my next visit. I knew it wasn't a pleasure confined to a restaurant, but it didn't seem all that practical to make at home either - and somehow, the idea of taking the corn off the cob just didn't occur to me.
When a friend made this salad for July 4th, I knew it was a recipe I'd make over and over. It's bright and fresh with cilantro and lime juice, yet smoky with the slightly charred corn and chili powder, The salty tang of Cotija cheese pulls it all together. For the closest relative to street corn, serve the salad just after you make it, while it's still warm. But it's also great at room temperature, making it an easy potluck dish. I would tell you whether it's good cold, but I wouldn't know. There's never enough left.
Mexican Street Corn Salad
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 large ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels removed (about 6 cups)
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 ounces Cotija cheese, finely crumbled (plus more to sprinkle on top)
1 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 cup finely sliced green onions (scallions), green part only
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely diced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (approximately 2 limes, depending on size)
Chili powder to taste
Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet (or a non-stick skillet) over high heat until shimmering. Add the corn kernels, season with salt to taste, and toss the corn in the pan, cooking it until it begins to brown (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl.
Add mayonnaise, cheese, cilantro, green onion, jalapeno, garlic, lime juice, and chili powder. Toss to combine. Add additional salt and chili powder if needed.
Serve immediately or at room temperature, sprinkling the top with additional Cotija cheese and chili powder.
I see a lot of craft books every year, but only a handful actually make it into my library, and even fewer remain there from year to year. But I had a feeling about this book, pre-ordering it back in March when it first showed up on Amazon (and eagerly awaiting its publication and the arrival of my UPS driver ever since).
Oh, was I right! Paper to Petal, by couple Rebecca Thuss and Patrick Farrell, is almost overwhelming in its abundance, a whopping 256 pages! It's not the kind of book you peruse in an evening, then set aside to gather dust. In fact, I flipped through it at least four times last night and something new caught my eye every time. But beyond the eye candy - and there's a lot of it - there's an amazing wealth of instruction and resources. The steps are all laid out visually, so you know exactly what you're striving for. The designs are not simplistic, but they feel achievable (the 264 templates in the back of the book help with that).
You would think with all that precision that the projects themselves could get a little stuffy, but nothing could be further from the truth. There's such a riot of color and playfulness contained within these pages. It goes beyond the mechanics of striving for reproduction of nature, introducing fesh, artistic expression, with painting techniques and the incorporation of glitter and metallics, printed papers, unexpected colors, and surprise.
If you have any interest in paper flowers, this is a must-have for your library. It's so beautifully designed and photographed that it's also a book you can keep on your coffee table with all of your other art books. I trust that you will find it endlessly inspiring. Personally, this book comes at exactly the right time in my creative life, as I find myself becoming more interested in artistic expression, not just "craft." This book is a beautiful marriage of both.
My name is Suzonne Stirling. I'm a professional crafter, wife, and mother and I live and create in New Orleans. I write about all the facets of my creative life, both personal and professional, though like most Southerners, I reserve the right to digress.