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Friday, February 28, 2014

four simple goals: march

Each month I'll be sharing four simple goals on the blog.  You can join along by making your own four simple goals for the month - things that you might not do if you didn't commit to it, but not anything that feels overwhelming or that can't get done in a 28/30/31 day period.  You can also use my monthly image (below) on your own blog if you'd like, just link back to here and share a link to your blog below in the comments section so I can check it out!

Welcome to the end of February and the (almost) beginning of March!  Slowly but surely we are making it through this winter!  A new month means a new set of four simple goals.  Using this goal setting method worked for me really well last month, and I love writing these posts, so you can except to see them regularly here from now on. 

I've never been a huge fan of March.  You'd think I would be with the beginning of Spring and all the Irish celebrations, but it just always feel like thirty-one days of rain and gray slush.  But I don't want to hurt your feelings March, so I promise to give you another try if you promise to warm up just a bit.  Here's what I'll be doing this month.

1. Edit and print five photos: I'm thinking slightly oversized prints of five of my favorite photographs framed in our bedroom in pretty white frames would be gor-ge-o-so.  I realized that I've taken a lot of good photos I really like that I've done nothing with.  So time to change that. 

2. Month-long Apartment Therapy cure: Anybody else a fan of Apartment Therapy?  I feel like they're a Design Sponge for the average person.  They create challenges that feel doable but also practical for transforming a space.  I liked the idea of doing a month-long challenge - kind of like the four simple goals idea.  You'll get something practical accomplished, but it won't be too overwhelming.  

3. Purchase and start seeds: My green thumb is itching to start some planting.  I've got my eyes on seeds from here and here.  If I get really ambitious I'll set up a grow light station, but even if I don't, it's always a fun adventure to try growing plants from seeds.  I'll be following instructions from here.  

4. Read a book: With all the crafting and painting I've been doing this winter, I haven't made time for my favorite pastime.  All my "reading" has actually been listening to audio books.  Which still technically counts.  But I'd love to sit myself in a comfy chair with a warm cup of tea and a good read before the weather warms up too much.  Because then I know all my time will be going to creating my new garden oasis.  

February's four simple goals and check in 
Four simple goals before 2014
Four simple goals before 2013

What are your goals for March? 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

garden planning

Okay folks, it's become abundantly clear that winter 2014 means business.  Wisconsin is working on some kind of state record for most number of days with ridiculous temperatures, and today I woke up yet again to a zero degree morning.  I know we've all been doing our best to thrive this winter (I've done 18/20 things from my list - still need to throw a party and nevery insulated the windows), but it's becoming harder and harder to stay upbeat with all this cold weather.  Let's just be serious.  This weather needs.to.go.now.  But since it's not going to, I'm going to pretend like it's time to garden.

This year my garden planning has started with a gusto in February.  Usually it doesn't start until May when I'm leafing through my old seed packets the night before my first planting day.  Imagining fresh herbs and fresh lettuce coming straight from the garden has given me a new burst of energy and has hopefully bought me a few more weeks of winter thriving.  Though it's difficult to remember what it was even like to have a garden.  Has it ever been warm enough for that?  How are those flowers not dieing from a cold frost?  These pictures must be from that alternate reality I used to live in where birds and bees flew around outside, and I could walk around without my nose freezing shut. 

Okay folks, it's become abundantly clear that winter 2014 means business.  Wisconsin is working on some kind of state record for most number of days with ridiculous temperatures, and today I woke up yet again to a zero degree morning.  I know we've all been doing our best to thrive this winter (I've done 18/20 things from my list - still need to throw a party and nevery insulated the windows), but it's becoming harder and harder to stay upbeat with all this cold weather.  Let's just be serious.  This weather needs.to.go.now.  But since it's not going to, I'm going to pretend like it's time to garden.

This year my garden planning has started with a gusto in February.  Usually it doesn't start until May when I'm leafing through my old seed packets the night before my first planting day.  Imagining fresh herbs and fresh lettuce coming straight from the garden has given me a new burst of energy and has hopefully bought me a few more weeks of winter thriving.  Though it's difficult to remember what it was even like to have a garden.  Has it ever been warm enough for that?  How are those flowers not dieing from a cold frost?  These pictures must be from that alternate reality I used to live in where birds and bees flew around outside, and I could walk around without my nose freezing shut. 

In addition to the community garden, my big labor of love this year will be transforming our front deck into an urban garden oasis.  I have a vision in my head of it being absolutely gorgeous -with lots of great smells, colors, and tastes - with some twinkle lights thrown in of course.  I've been super inspired by Gayla Trail, author of the blog You Grow Girl.  She is a gardening master for the modern woman, has written some amazing gardening books, and has the ability to transform small spaces into gardening paradises.  See below:

I've never taken on a project quite like this before.  I've learned to grow a season's worth of veggies in a 4 x 8' space, but I've never ventured into the realm of container gardening on a deck.  Something about it makes me more nervous (probably the newness of it).  The biggest challenge will be finding and arranging various size containers to make an interesting deck-garden design - and to find someone to water everything when we go out of town.  Though I have a finished product vision in my head, I imagine it will probably evolve each season for as long as Paul and I are in our current apartment.  

Here's a not-so-great picture of our deck from last summer.  It extends maybe ten feet off the front of our house then stretches across the whole front length of our house.  The picture gives you a basic idea of what I'll be working with (beagles included). 

I'd like to have a variety of colors and textures and also plant veggies and herbs that I'd want to have quick, easy access to.  So lettuce, oregano, basil, cilantro, mint, parsley, lavender, and sage are high on my list.  I'd also like to have some colorful edibles like strawberries and nasturtiums.  To add some height, I might add a tomato plant or a vine type plant like beans or peas.  Reading Gayla's books has taught me that very few veggies are off limits when it comes to container gardening.  The only limit is really my imagination - which is both exciting and scary.  

I'll be stocking up on some seeds this weekend when I go to the Botanical Garden's annual orchid show with my mom, sister, and cousins.  And then, if things go according to plan, I'll start growing some seeds inside in the next month or two.  

What would you like to grow this season? 

P.S. Have you ever signed up for a community supported agriculture box?  This will be my fifth season doing it.  See my post here for more information about it.  When you find a CSA program that's a good fit for you it can be an excellent way to eat fresh veggies all summer long with the added benefit of supporting your local farmers and local economy!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

a short guide to a happy life

I just finished reading A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen.  It took all of about fifteen minutes to read its 50 short pages (there's lots of pictures and minimal text.  Quindlen summarized my philosophy on life right now better than I would be able to do.  Stated simply: life is meant to be lived and all of its little moments and details are meant to be enjoyed. 

Here's my favorite section.  I thought it was so good that it was worth sharing in its entirety.  
C'mon, let's be honest.  We have an embarassment of riches.  Life is good.

I don't mean in any cosmic way.  I never think of my life, or my world, in any big cosmic way.  I think of it in all its small component parts: the snowdrops, the daffodils; the feeling of one of my kids sitting close beside me on the couch; the way my husband looks when he reads with the lamp behind him; fettucine Alfredo; fudge; Gone with the WindPride and Prejudice.  Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of grey cement.  It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummonded, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won't happen.  We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live.
What special moments make your life what it is? 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

knitting progress

At the beginning of the year, I shared some photos from a trip my mom and I took to a knitting store in St. Louis.  I picked out some gorgeous yarn at the store, and I finally have photos from a finished knitting project to share!  This is a cowl - the first project I've ever completed on round needles!   Who's got two thumbs and is super proud of herself?  This girl!  (Though my skills still pale in comparison to my mom's knitting skills.  She does amazing stuff!)

I used a pattern my mom found on Ravelrie (are you on that site?  apparently it's like pinterest for knitters).  I plan on making one more cowl before I go onto a new type of project.  And since this winter is so fierce and cold and never ending, I'll still have plenty of time to wear it.  Don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing....

Have you been making any fun projects this winter?

Monday, February 24, 2014

today i'm thankful for

my weekly bouquets of flowers

a temporary break in the cold weather that helped me defrost for two whole days

homemade ice cream

new experiences with new friends

attending roller derby bouts with old friends

the excitement that comes from learning new skills (like 180 derby turns!)

check in texts from my mom

a weekend to paint and watch old Buffy episodes

an impomptu margarita date and burrito leftovers

time to knit on my morning commute to work

my husband who puts air in our tires, replaces our windshield wipers, and washes our car

Thursday, February 20, 2014

february check in

February is more than half way over (eek!), and I thought it would be a good time to check in with how I'm doing with the four simple goals I set for myself this month.  You can check here if you missed my initial post on February's four simple goals.  

This month I wanted to 1) limit my Facebook visits to once a day 2) plan my garden 3) take an overnight trip with Paul and 4) decorate for the season.  I'm happy to say that three goals are well on their way to being complete.  Paul and I took a quick overnight trip to Madison for Valentine's Day, and I've added some cute winter/Valentine's Day decorations to our apartment - I'll share more photos before the month is up.  

I've also confirmed with some friends that we'll be sharing a community garden plot this season, and I've got some ideas for what I'll be growing.  I also have visions of transforming our front porch into a mini urban garden oasis in the style of Gayla Trail.  I think it could be awesome.  And the pups don't seem to go after plants much, so hopefully the added foliage won't bother them - they seem to be happy as long as they can see what's happening on the street.

I'm embarassed to say that my Facebook visits are still happening way more than once a day.  I did a great job the first week of this challenge of only checking a couple of times a day.  I was true to the spirit of the challenge which was to stop myself from just mindlessly clicking the Facebook tab and scrolling through posts for way longer than was necessary.  It helped increase my productivity with other work that had to be done on the computer.  I've slacked the past couple of weeks, but I'm hopeful I can get back on track in this last week.  

How are you doing with your February goals?

P.S. How gorgeous are these flower photos?  I loved how these roses were drying and snapped a few pictures of them before I left for work one morning.  I played around with some filters and decided on a filter that created a beautiful old-timey feel.  I'm pretty surprised by how well they turned out.  It makes me want to edit more pictures so I can print them off to display in our apartment.  Did I just create a March goal for myself? 

P.P.S. If I sold these photos as print would anyone be interested in ordering one?  Just trying to gauge interest.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

artistic inspiration: oana befort

Today I'm featuring another artist I find incredibly inspiring.  This is part of an ongoing feature where I share the work of artists who inspire me.  There is much joy to be found in beautiful artwork. 

Oana Befort is a Romanian illustrator whose work I have fallen in love with recently.  Her illustrations are whimsical and colorful and often feature animals, fruit, and flowers in bright bold designs.  She is a freelance artist who makes her living painting and doing graphic design.  Dreamy huh?  Adding to her alure is how she uses phrases like "I am using any kind of watercolor paper" and that she met her husband Christmas caroling.

Oana's prints and watercolor originals are available through her Etsy shop, and she also features various products with her designs in her Society6 shop.  I haven't purchased anything yet, but I think some Oana Befort artwork would go really well in our apartment (hint, hint Paul). 

I follow Oana on her blog (which is so calming to read) and on her Instagram account (oanabefort) where she often features work in progress.  She also shares glimpses into her life which includes a 52 week project, where she takes a photo a week of her son for one year.  She recently announced she's expecting her second child, so the 52 week project also includes adorable photos of her growing baby bump.  One of my favorite things about the blogging world and social media is getting "to know" my favorite artists and get a look into their creative process.  It feels like a great privilege and is incredibly inspiring for my own work. 

One of my favorite things Oana shared was a video of her completing a water color.  It helped a lot of things click in my mind and gave me ideas for taking my own watercolors to the next level. 

Finally, Oana offers a free download of a monthly calendar on her blog.  I download it each month for my work desktop.  I love how it brightens my work on a daily basis. 

Thanks for the inspiration Oana!  I love finding artists that give me the desire to keep pushing myself to develop as an artist.  I highly recommend checking out her work - and when you do, let me know if you have a favorite work by her!  I'd love to hear it. 

Who's inspiring you lately?

Monday, February 17, 2014

today i'm thankful for

signs of life that remind me that Spring will come again

catching up with friends at our bimonthly book club

an excellent mid week game night

my body and it's ability to learn awesome new derby skills

friends who give gifts of SCOBYs and chocolate cake

feeling our apartment really turn into a home

friends who offer to dog sit

receiving cross country Valentine's

the feeling of being known and loved

my husband who planned our Valentine's Day getaway, did this week's laundry, 
and introduces me to the best treats at Pacific Produce

Friday, February 14, 2014

happy valentine's day

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is than falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
This poem, attributed to Pedro Arrupe, captures my feelings for Valentine's Day so well. i decided a long time ago that this holiday meant much more to me than whatever romantic feelings I had or didn't have.  Valentine's day for me is all about celebrating love, in all its various forms.  

The love of a newly married couple -- the love of an old married couple -- the complex love one feels for a family member with mental illness who won't seek treatment -- the love of a pet for its owner -- the love a parent feels for her brand new baby -- the love between two old friends -- the love we have for all the people we've lost -- the love felt for the first flower of spring -- the loving kindness one feels for humanity -- radical self love - the love I feel for ice cream -- the love a teacher feels for her students -- the love that leads people to dedicate their lives to making the world a better place -- love for nature and creation -- the love Martin Luther King talked about feeling for your enemies -- love for a favorite place (like Paris) -- love of chocolate and desserts -- the love a grandparent feels for a grandchild -- love of what you do...

Love is so complex and profound and beautiful.
I've been in love with so many people, places, and things.  There have been so many things that have seized my imagination, that have gotten me out of bed in the morning, that I've spent my evenings with, that I've read about, that's broken my heart, that's amazed me with joy and gratitude.  My heart is full of gratitude for all these things.  

Happy Valentine's Day!   Hope your day is filled with so much love.

What are you in love with today?  I have to give a special shout out to my hunky husband who planned an overnight trip for us and to our great friend who offered to keep our pups company for us.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

three pretty books

With all the painting and knitting I've been doing lately, I haven't been making as much time for reading.  I realized I haven't posted about a book I've read in months!  Eek.  I recently checked out a bunch of very colorful books from the library (tis the season for adding some much needed color to my life), and I wanted to share my favorites with you.  Time for a new edition of three pretty books!
P A P E R   T O   P E T A L

I found this book through Design Sponge, and I have felt so inspired reading through it.  Paper to Petal includes instructions for creating 75 types of paper flowers.  I love the imagination that went into the creations, and the photography, colors, and instructions are designed so beautifully.  I don't even know if I'll make any of the flowers, but I've greatly enjoyed flipping through the pages and picking out my favorites.  Honorable mention to the section on materials and for making me want to go on a craft store shopping spree. 

S P R I N K L E   B A K E S

Book number two was found through Anthropologie's booklist - my go to for beautiful coffee table books to check out from the library.  Sprinkle Bakes is written by a Tennessee based artist named Heather who paints, photographs, and uses her artistic flare for creating edible works of art.  It's to her credit that she makes edible sculptures look doable; a sign of a true master is a person who can understand their art form well enough to teach it to someone else.  That being said, I haven't actually tried any of the recipes yet, but I'll for sure share if I do!
I also discovered that I can find even more inspiration for artistic desserts at Spinkle Bakes blog.  Yummy. 

P A N T O N E : The 20th Century in Color

Last but not least: book three which I found very randomly.  A person sitting across the room from me at a work meeting had a Pantone book with her, and I thought "hmmm...I wonder if I could find that at the library!"  Turns out I could.  I first discovered Pantone through Pinterest, and I've learned that they are the go to people for identifying and creating color trends.  Pantone: the 20th Century in Color explores the use of color throughout the last century. 

I plan on using this book to come up with new color pallets for paintings and room themes.  And of course for some simple evening browsing.

Get it Mr. Travolta. 

Read any good books lately?  Find any good picture books? 

For more pretty books: cookbooks and my first round up of 3 pretty books. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

36 hours in milwaukee (part 2)

Remember when I shared our 36 hours in Milwaukee challenge?  It was basically forever ago (last month).  I'm sharing part two of our adventure here today, so before you begin you might want to check out part one for a little refresher. 

The 36 Hours in Milwaukee challenge was to follow the New York Time's 36 hour guide and visit some top sights in Milwaukee in a 36 hour period.  Part one included the Milwaukee Art Museum, Bryan't Cocktail Lounge, Blue Jacket, Mitchell Domes, Usinger's, and Wisconsin Cheese Mart.  

And here comes part two!

11:30 Mader's German dining at it's finest, Mader's is one of the most well known restaurants in Milwaukee.  Everything on their menu has a "schnitzel" sound to it, and all of their decorations look like they were borrowed directly from old Germany.  If you're looking for a place to experience Milwaukee's old German traditions, look no further than Mader's. 

Because we had already decided we wouldn't be closing a bar Saturday night, we thought we would be really cool and open a restaurant.  So yes, we were waiting at Mader's three minutes before it opened.  We were those people. 

This photo gives you an idea of Mader's decor.  Check out the gorgeous bar, the beer steins, the stained glass, the ceiling, and the strange old weapons on the wall.  This place has style. 

Milwaukee doesn't have much of a celebrity scene (shocking I know), but if you were to see someone famous, it would probably be at this restaurant.  The back hallways are lined with photos of celebrities who have visited Mader's, many with autographs and personal messages.  My favorite was the John F. Kennedy photo (followed closing by Justin Bieber).  We even sat at the table that Paul Newman had sat at many years before.  Like I said, Milwaukee isn't big in the Hollywood scene, so we take what we can get. 

1:00 Purple Door and Clock Shadow Creamery We fought off a potential food coma from Mader's by going right back out in the cold and driving to Purple Door ice cream and Clock Shadow Creamery.  Both are located in one of Milwaukee's greenest buildings, though Purple Door has plans to expand into its own location soon. 

Clock Shadow Creamery is the only cheese factory in Milwaukee's city limits, and it supplies delicious, fresh made cheese to Milwaukee's southside.  Since we opted out of doing a brewery tour, we each paid $3 for a simple cheese factory tour and learned all about the cheese making process.  Did you know that it's the bacteria added to the cheese making process that gives a cheese its flavor?  So a cheddar bacteria makes cheddar cheese while a brie bacteria makes a brie cheese. 

We washed our cheese down with some tasty ice cream from Purple Door.  I'm just going to put this out there: Purple Door might be the best ice cream in Milwaukee (please note I said ice cream, not custard.  Don't want any custard lovers biting my head off!).  I got a single scoop that was half almond half vanilla.  And it was like heaven in a cup.  I always say that to tell the quality of an ice cream or custard you need to start by tasting their vanilla.  If you can get the basics right, your specialties are going to be out of this world.  If you can't, the specialities are just trying to hide a mediocre ice cream.  Does that sound harsh?  I guess I just take my ice cream and custard very seriously :)  

Eating ice cream while wearing all of our coats inside.  Must be Milwaukee! 

2:00 Anodyne Coffee Though not an official stop on the NYT's list, we decided Anodyne needed to be included in a best of Milwaukee tour (plus it was right down the block from Purple Door and the Creamery).  I loved how bright and open and airy Anodyne's space was.  You could pass a lot of time here reading, working, or playing board games with friends.  I plan on coming back for some live music this month. 

Apparently their coffee is the best in Milwaukee, but being a strick tea lover, I know nothing about coffee flavor.  

At this point in the day, we needed to take a rest from all the festivities because we were all feeling old and tired.  Plus our pups needed some attention.  In the usual NYT 36 Hours, a brewery tour would have taken place at this point in the afternoon.  If you're looking for a good tour in Milwaukee and are following our guide, a Milwaukee Brewing Company tour would fit perfectly here as would a Lakefront Tour.  Both are excellent and both will give you a great taste of the Milwaukee beer scene. 

7:00 Zaffiro's Pizza One of the best pizza places in Milwaukee, Zaffiro's is a local pizza institution.  I especially love it because it reminds me of my favorite pizza places from The Hill in St. Louis.  The checkered table cloths, the tiny seating space, and the thin crust pizza make for a very authentic Italian style dining experience.  It was a very affordable experience too: all six of us ate for about $10 each and had a huge salad and plenty of pizza to fill us up. 

9:30 Wolski's What follows a good pizza better than a cold glass of beer (or giner ale in my case)?  After Zaffiro's we walked a few short blocks over to Wolski's, another East Side institution.  Wolski's epitomizes the local neighborhood Milwaukee bar.  Plenty of beers on tap, lots of interesting things to look at on the walls and ceiling, and a very friendly, low-key atmosphere.  One thing especially makes Wolski's stand out among the dozens of bars in Milwaukee: their tradition of passing out bumper stickers saying "I CLOSED WOLSKI'S" to anyone who stays up late enough to close their bar.  Unfortunately, we didn't join the club during our challenge, but you can bet that we'll be going back (since it's one of my 29 before 29 goals). 

On the wall just to the left of us is a sign saying that any person at Wolski's is an honorary resident of Kokomo, Indiana.  Don't ask me why. 

11:00 Sobelman's Arguably the best burger joint in Milwaukee, Sobelman's was so busy at 11:00 on a Sunday morning we had to go to their expansion location by Marquette's campus.  Jeesh.  We thought we would be beating the crowd ordering burgers before noon!  Apparently everybody had our same thought. 

Walking into Sobelman's, you get the feeling you're about to have a great burger experience.  It's a no frills joint, where the waitstaff wears Sobelman's t-shirts, the tables have plastic menus that are stored by the napkin containers, the chairs and tables are simple, Greenbay Packers decorations line the walls, the TVs have sports on at all times of day.  In addition to good burgers, Sobelman's also offers a great black bean burger (and I've tasted enough to say that this one was excellent) and an out of this world bloody Mary.  Do you see that thing Paul ordered?  It came with celery, asparagus, green onion, shrimp, cheese, a brussel sprout, a lemon wedge, something red, and a mini burger!  They do not mess around!!

1:00 Leon's Frozen Custard What better to finish up a tour of Milwaukee than a cone of custard on a freezing cold day?  We rolled our bodies out of Sobelman's to stuff a few more delicious calories in our bodies to finish up our Milwaukee weekend of fun. 

Each area of Milwaukee tries to lay claim to "best custard shop."  Leon's is located on the southside of Milwaukee, and as far as I'm concerned, it wins the best Milwaukee custard award (though Ted Drewes will always hold the ultimate number one spot in my heart).  I love the old sign, the white hats the staff wears, the connection to Happy Days -  and the flavor.  So creamy and delicious.  We all got the butter pecan flavor, and it made our tastebuds and bellies so happy.  And then we all went home and slept for the next 36 hours - because, dang, what a weekend!! 

What a fabulous weekend!  Having lived in Milwaukee for three and a half years, I loved that this challenge showed me that there is still so much of the city left for me to explore.  It was a great time to do this challenge since winter can be such a dreary time here.  I feel like I have a new found love for my adopted city. 

Here is a summary of all the places we visited during our 36 hours in Milwaukee:
7:00 Milwaukee Art Museum
8:00 Bryant's Cocktail Lounge
9:00 Blue Jacket

10:00 Mitchell Domes
11:00 Usingers
11:15 Wisconsin Cheese Mart
11:30 Mader's
1:00 Purple Door and Clock Shadow Creamery
2:00 Anodyne Coffee
NAP or brewery tour at Milwaukee Ale House, Lakefront, or Miller
7:00 Ziffiro's
9:30 Wolski's

11:00 Sobelman's
12:30 Leon's

Ready to book your ticket?  Come soon before you miss the Polar Vortex of Fun!