Sunday, February 27, 2011

Asian Yumminess

Asian Style Pasta

We cooked at home quite a bit last week, but nothing particularly exciting: turkey tacos, leftovers etc. But I did go for one new recipe, Asian Pasta. It came from an old Everyday Food magazine from Martha Stewart that I bought like six years ago and never cooked anything from.  I admit I really like the layout and look of the Everyday Food magazine, small, compact and great photography, but I rarely cook from any of the issues I have. Not sure why, I like Martha but sometimes she's too much. Everyday Food are her easier recipes that don't require spending hours shopping for fancy and foreign ingredients, and then the rest of the day slaving in the kitchen. I hate slaving in the kitchen during the week. Week nights I want to get home from work, change clothes, work out, and whip up something delicious in about an hour, eat and chat with my husband, clean the kitchen and settle into the couch with a book or a TV show by 8:30. I like trying Martha's more complicated recipes when I have the time. But during the week I go for speed.

Martha called for big fat pappardelle noodles in her Asian Pasta, but the store didn't have any. I went with wide egg noodles but I'd probably try lasagna noodles or actual asian noodles next time. The recipe also called for eggplant which neither one of us was up for, so I subbed in some rotisserie chicken. Oh, and she called for snow peas but we didn't have any so I went with frozen green peas. Yeah, I barely followed Martha. Sorry about that. But it was delicious none the less. The sauce recipe I followed to the letter. Peanut butter, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, minced garlic and ginger, and a little honey whisked together. So good. That tossed over warm noodles, some stir fried bell peppers, chicken,and bright green peas? Perfecto, fast and plenty of left overs.

In fact that's what I had for lunch yesterday. I have to say, it was actually better the second time around.  I added a little of Trader Joe's Thai Peanut salad dressing over the cold noodles to moisten the whole thing,  since the noodles has absorbed a lot of the earlier sauce, added a little extra chicken and ate it like a cold pasta salad, with some fresh cilantro sprinkled on top, Happy Saturday lunch to me. I liked this recipe, the parts that I actually followed, but if you want that spicy peanut flavor, I still prefer my friend Bethany's recipe. It's a classic. She just blogged it yesterday. It's fabulous and I've made it hundreds of times. I change up the vegetables depending on what we have in the house, green beans and red peppers are great, and we always add meat. Leftover pork tenderloin, lean beef and chicken are all perfect in this recipe. And I often swap in ramen noodles in a pinch. Frankly it's all about the sauce for me. So what are you making for dinner tonight? Any suggestions on fast, yummy weeknight dinners for us?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Library Slut

I have this problem. I own many, many books. This isn't a new problem or a problem I haven't spoken of before publicly, or one that isn't apparent upon entering our house. This isn't the worst problem in the world. In fact, one might argue that this isn't a problem at all. It's a luxury. Books are treasures. Books are educational and mesmerizing. Books are our friends. But books also take up a lot of space.The abundance of those we've already read fill the shelves in our office and our basement. Weighing down the white particle board bookshelf built to sustain our library, hanging on our purple office walls. Books not alphabetized but loosely categorized. Stacks of fiction, the teeny and combined self help/religion section, the enormous art section with volume after glossy colorful volume leaning against the next, vying for our attention, the Anne Rice/Diana Gabaldon guilty pleasure shelf tucked up next to what I like to call the "lyrical historical prostitute" section, then poetry, classics and stage plays. It's full in there with the travel books and the biographies and instructional photography tomes all edging and competing for space.

But the real problem, the one I feel actual guilt about, are the books that have yet to be read. We have a bit of an abusive relationship here. And it's my fault. I buy these new books with the best of intentions. Carefully chosen, carried around stores while I make serious decisions about which lucky ones come home with me. I stack these books along the wall and fill the skinny tall cabinet in the corner of our bedroom with their intriguing jacket liners all in a row. They are festooned with vivid images and carefully crafted plot summaries that won my heart and attention. There are more than eighty lined up waiting for me, and that's just my side of the bedroom. And then I ignore them. That's where the abuse comes in. I hear about a new book from a friend or on NPR or from one of the seeming thousand articles/reviews I stumble across online. And I get distracted from my own hand picked collection of waiting books. The latest thing grabs me. I'm like a crow, fixated on a silver candy wrapper blowing around on the ground below. Distracted and giddy with the shiny, unfamiliar newness. And that's why I'm a library slut.

I am fickle. I ignore the delightful and varied collection of books I have waiting for me devotedly at home. And I go to the library. I cheat on my own books. And often. So much so lately, that of the eight books I've read in the last few weeks, seven were from the library, one from my mother-in-law and a grand total of zero from those stacked, waiting their turn in my bedroom. You say books don't have feelings? You say why feel guilty? They are just books, inanimate dusty bound paper. Oh, but they aren't. They waiting for me. They are waiting for their story to be passed on to the next reader, devoured and absorbed into part of that reader's life, and passed on to the next person, or waiting to be re-read and re-enjoyed all over again. I might take this whole thing a bit too seriously. I feel like I'm letting these books down, betraying them. My purchase was a promise to read them and give them my time and thought. And here I go running out to the library, for a quick and commitment free fix with these new seductive charmers. But I can't seem to stop myself. So here's what I've been reading lately. And I own not a one of them.

The Red Scarf by Kate Furnivall- Loved this book. It was set in Russia right after the revolution, 1917 through the 1920's, and follows the story of two female friends who are forced into one of Stalin's many labor camps. The stronger of the two friends escapes from the camp and makes a daring attempt to secure help from some family friends, all the while hiding from Stalin's communist spies and militant villagers. The book turns a bit magical and required some suspended disbelief but the powerful friendships, fierce loyalty, political intrigue, and final happy ending made this a great, fast and chilly read, it is set in Russia after all. I wanted to drink icy cold vodka while reading, I refrained.

These two Anita Blake Vampire Hunter by Laurel K. Hamilton ( her book jacket cover is so grown up goth I love it) books came out in the 1990's. They are super popular, she's written nearly twenty books in the series. I love Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and read every one of them, even the later mediocre ones, I was mildly amused by the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood books, I read three, so I expected to love Anita Blake, but these just were ok. The writing is casual and consistent and fast paced. Anita, the main character and vampire hunter/reanimator, is likable and tough. But they just didn't grab me. They are light beach reads, filled with vampires, zombies, and various other supernatural baddies and beasties that are constantly attacking the perfectly capable but fool hardy Anita. They amuse, but I don't have the urgent desire to read the rest of the series. Maybe I'm just vampire jaded. I blame Anne Rice and her sexy, ruffle shirt wearing undead. They won me in high school and never let go.

I love Neil Gaiman. Good Omens, written with Terry Pratchett was one of the funniest books I've read in years. And Anansi Boys was unique and funny, beautiful and scary all in one. No one else writes quite like Gaiman. It's like reading a graphic novel without the graphics, but the way Gaiman carefully chooses words makes the story intensely visual. American Gods rambled and tripped around, much like the main character, Shadow, road tripping with a variety of has been Gods in a variety of beat up cars all over the US, waiting for the impending battle of the old gods versus the new gods. Yes, those sentences were confusing weren't they? I felt confused and lost in parts of this book too, not because I couldn't understand what was happening (this isn't a difficult book) but the vast amounts of ancient religious mythology and the extensive number of little interwoven stories, the magic and otherworldly nature of much of the plots, and the whole theme of the book could be a bit numbing. I just let myself get swept along for the ride. It was a weighty, cunning, violent and comedic adventure. And part of the story was set at The House on the Rock, what better place for defunct gods to meet than that bizarre, nightmare of a rich old man, recast as a tourist attraction. I'm fascinated by that strange place.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana deRosnay- This book made me cry. Repeatedly. First off, since 6th grade when Mr. Ben Edelbaum, a survivor of the Holocaust, came to our middle school to read from his book Growing Up in the Holocaust, I have wanted to learn all that I could about World War II and the Holocaust in particular. It haunts and captivates and humbles me. There are endless books on this subject. But the books that resonate for me are the one's that tell small personal stories, particularly from the points of view of peoples we weren't taught much about in school. Sarah's Key is set in France both in the 1940's during the Nazi occupation and French collusion and during present day Paris. The story is powerful, terrifying and unthinkable. I don't want to say much more. Just read it.

I read these two books based on a recommendation from one of the professors in my Fundraising Certificate classes at UMKC. I loved Robin Hood Marketing. This book is user friendly, laid out in such a way that I could take copious notes on each chapter, capture the key topics on the first and last pages and really come away feeling like I had learned a lot within about an hour and a half. I'll probably buy this book and refer to it repeatedly, especially if I'm running my own nonprofit someday, but its due back to the library. Now I need to process the information and advice for myself and figure out the best way to pass it on to my clients. So good.

Momentum was ok. I feel like I've read so much about social media already, attended seminars and workshops on the topic, since it seems that everyone is a social media expert these days. But the author made some interesting points about activism and how social media has really placed so many free and simple tools in the hands of grassroots organizations, that we as people with a cause, have more power now than at any point in history. I did like The Cluetrain Manifesto that Fine referenced as one of sources in the end of the book. Four men compiled this 95 point manifesto, determining ways that corporations need to readjust their marketing and client engagement mentality in light of all the web 2.0 technology. Though it did make me think of Jerry Maguire's mission statement a bit. Both books were interesting. I just took more away from Robin Hood. Momentum was more theory and less practical application.

So up next on my reading list, one of the seven library books I still have, a couple of young adult novels, and my re-reading of Jane Eyre and Little Women, two of the first books that I remember being a little obsessed with as a girl. As a woman, and having just seen a trailer for the new Jane Eyre movie that made me giddy, I'm wondering what I'll get out of them at 35 in comparison to my reaction as a ten year old. Well now, there's a blog post topic right there.

Now you tell me, what are you reading? Got any recommendations for my constantly growing, never shrinking list?

All images courtesy of Amazon, with links back to Amazon. I make no money from these, I just love Amazon.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Halloween Christmas Birthday

Saturday night Joe and I got costumed. Now why, in the middle of February, would we have the need to get dressed up in costumes? It's not Halloween, we aren't staring in some kind of community theater production of Guys and Dolls, though I would totally sign up for that, nope, on a Saturday night we had to get decked out and festive for our friend Aedan's fifth birthday party.

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan is a creative go getter. When he decides he wants a Halloween Christmas themed birthday party, a brilliant idea if you ask me, he makes it happen. Or he gets his indulgent and fabulous parents to make it happen. You get the decorative look of Christmas, the costumes of Halloween and all the cake and abundant frosting of both. Though somehow a select group of Aedan's family dislikes frosting. How is this possible? It's frosting.

Aedan's Birthday Party

February is always a guaranteed party month for us. Between several birthdays, including Joe's, we know there will be plenty of time to celebrate. And for the last five years, the biggest party of the month is Aedan's. This is a kid's party only in the fact that, yes, it is to celebrate Aedan and he is technically a kid. It started at 4pm and there are other kids in attendance certainly, a Firefighter, the Little Mermaid, Superman.  But this is a party as much for the adults as for the kids. Tons of great food, some bubbly alcoholic beverages, stories, jokes and ridiculous laughter, plus this time around we got to add costumes to the mix.

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan's Birthday Party

There was Wonder Women/Kristen - Aedan's mom and handler, College Student/Sean - Aedan's dad and the terrific caterer for the night (not really dressed as a college student I just defaulted to this costume title based on the Birkenstocks with socks that Sean was rocking,) Hipster Cat/Liz, Zombie Elf/Keri (mashing both the Halloween and Christmas themes together quite successfully, though the fake blood she had drawn coming out of her nose made it very difficult to have a conversation with her without wanting to hand her a Kleenex,) Christmas Light Decorated Hulk/Leslie, Christmas Sweatered/Tara, Mike and Maddie, Paparrazo Joe complete with douchey hat (that I admit I actually like) and I went with the default flapper simply because one should never pass up the chance to wear fringe.

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan's Birthday Party

Aedan's Birthday Party

We ate, we drank, we chatted, we laughed at the kids, with the kids, ooed and ahhed at the amazing cake that the cake decorator must have been giddy to put together, and we celebrated Aedan, who was dressed up as a Minion once he decided that Iron Man wasn't going to cut it.  So happy birthday, kiddo! It's been a joy to get to watch you grow up over the last five years. You're like a real person, with a sassy wit and vocabulary and stubbornness that certainly drives your parents to drink, and all this is freaky and amazing to us, because we remember meeting you at the hospital the day you arrived. As the first baby born to our close group of friends, your arrival changed your parents' lives, and ours too, and we've loved every minute of it. Though we are lucky enough to just get all the good parts: parties, blueberry picking, making foam dinosaurs, pretending to eat your fingers dipped in ranch, hugs goodnight, and none of the hard stuff.  We love you, kid! Can't wait to see how you drive your parents insane in the next five years, the first five have been a kick to watch!

All photos by Joe Sands, who was decked out in a neck full of Mardi Gras beads by the end of the night. He said he earned them the hard way.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Birthday Boy's Recipe

Since Monday was Joe's birthday, he had the pleasure of selecting our festive meal for the evening. Which turned out to be my new recipe for the week! And a spectacular one at that. Because how can you go wrong with wine, basil, a whole mess of seafood and cream?

It's become our Valentine's Day/birthday tradition to cook something at home, instead of attempting to get a hotly sought after reservation at a restaurant around town. I find it entirely unromantic to call restaurant after restaurant and ask for reservations for two and get laughed at or offered the 4:30 senior citizen special or the very European (kitchen's about to close, folks!) 10:30 slot. I suppose if we made plans earlier we could get in, but that's boring and we can never make up our minds that far in advance.

So cooking at home it is. But what special, fancy and not entirely time consuming for a Monday night meal do we make? I'm a big fan of Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond's website. Joe is too. Ree is a great photographer and a self effacing, charming writer and a fabulous cook. Most of her recipes, including those in her cookbook (which we have) are down to earth, tasty, filling and crowd pleasing. I like her homey family style and admire the way she can take basic ingredients and craft straightforward, hard to screw up recipes. It boosts my cooking confidence when I make one and it turns out perfectly, is nearly effortless and has big bang for the buck. Joe spent a half an hour flipping through the Pioneer Woman cookbook, wiping his drool off each page and he browsed, and he landed on this recipe Penne a la Betsy. And what a delicious place to land.

Penne ala Betsy via Pioneer Woman

Joe's modifications included adding mussels, calamari and scallops to the shrimp called for in the recipe. Because if shrimp is good, mussels, calamari and scallops are better. And Costco sells a perfect package of all four. Since I was in class all day Friday and Saturday, Joe was kind enough to hit the grocery store and Costco to pick up supplies.  After work on Monday, Joe had about thirty pages left in his book that he wanted to finish, so we divided up the cooking and I got started on prep while he read. Chopping Italian parsley, chiffonading basil and dicing onions and garlic, I started the pasta and cooked the mussels and cleaned the seafood. Joe finished up the latest Kay Scarpetta book (2 stars of 4 per Joe) and he was on deck to take the reigns while I set the table, heated up the bread and pulled together our salads.

Joe cooked the seafood and onion/garlic/wine combo perfectly. The tomato cream sauce came together, creamy and colorful with the pinkish red of the sauce and bright green of the fresh herbs, with the savory tang of onions and garlic underneath. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I know what leftovers I'm having for lunch tomorrow. Tossed together with penne pasta and a pile of seafood, Penne a ala Joe and Kassie was superb. Paired with a glass, maybe two, of a little Riesling, I highly recommend making this and sharing it with someone you love soon. Like right now. It's early still, you haven't had dinner yet? Oh, you have? Well, maybe a late night snack?

Penne ala Betsy via Pioneer Woman

Monday, February 14, 2011

that Valentine's baby


Today is Joe's 36th birthday! I could write a long and sappy and nauseatingly flattering post about how much I adore him and only occasionally want to strangle him. But that might alienate my readers. No one wants to read constantly about how amazing I think my husband is. And I think I probably do that a bit too much already anyway on this little blog. So, read this post from December instead, or half the other posts here where I extol his many and varied virtues or minor aggravating, yet inevitably charming flaws. But I certainly think it's impossible to tell him that I love him too often, so I love you, Joe Sands.

To celebrate, on Saturday night, we gathered a nice collection of some of our favorite people and went out for a little dinner celebration. Our original restaurant had a two hour wait, so we ran around the corner to the Salty Iguana, they got us seated in just fifteen minutes, not bad for a group of ten, and it was perfect.  The walls are covered with goofy paintings of iguanas as people, boating and water skiing, picnicking, throwing parties, it's ridiculous and amusing.

Tara argyle

  Tara let her hair down for the occasion.


Mike joined us but quickly had to return back to work afterward, completing an urgent, all weekend project. No cake for you. Sad face.


Dad and I talked nonprofit shop talk. And we evidently say the word "conversation" the same way, whatever that might mean.

Connected Kristy

Kristy checking a score or Imdb'ing something. Then quickly diving back into deep discussions with a five year old.

Happy girl

Maddie enjoyed watching the restaurant chaos, gnawing on a spoon, and smiling for Joe's camera.

Joe, of course enjoyed all the attention, the queso and a frozen margarita. But not having his picture taken quite so much.

Cream cheese enchiladas

Cream cheese enchiladas with black beans! And the tell tale red face and neck from the margarita I imbibed.

Black beans

"like a porcupine"
And here's the next birthday boy, Mr. Aedan, an almost five year old with spiky, sharp hair, or as Aedan put it hair "like a porcupine."

Kristen says: TACOS! And, her eyes say, "really? are you really taking my photo right now?" I love Aedan's face in this one, refusing to eat his tortilla wrapped hot dog. While Sean attempts to coerce and cajole.

Mom and baby

Maddie looks on disapprovingly.

After dinner we all headed back to our house for a little birthday cake and accidental Snow White viewing. I don't find Snow White particularly enchanting at my age. I've seen it too many times. But watching Aedan watch it for the first time was excellent. Who knew those dwarves were so hilarious? His laughter was infectious, and it made me like Snow White again.

And here's my new recipe for the week. Joe's ultimate favorite birthday cake is his grandmother's Toffee Angel Cake. Surprisingly I had never made it before. Joe usually likes to make it himself, he's independent like that. It's ridiculously easy. Buy angel food cake at the store, (you could make one but with two full days of class this weekend I had no time.) Now crush up a bag of Heath or Skor candy bars. I used our Cuisinart because it's fast, but a plastic zip lock bag and a rolling pin do just as well. Then slice the angel food cake into three layers. Next whip up heavy cream, and as it thickens add a jar of butterscotch ice cream topping, and keep whipping the cream until you reach stiff peaks. Then stop, by all means, do not over whip. Now taste it and smile. Ok, wash that finger and don't stick it back in the frosting.

Now get to icing that cake. Be generous with cream and candy topping because there will be a lot leftover if you aren't. Finally stick it in the fridge for at least an hour so that it sets up nicely. Come home from a delicious Mexican dinner, add candles, sing off key, let the birthday boy blow them out, then cut that cake and enjoy. This cake is best when eaten by the second day. After that the frosting starts to separate a bit and get watery. And anyway, it's too delicious to not eat rapidly! So Happy Birthday once again, my Valentine, looking forward to the next 36 years!

Toffee Angel Cake

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pleated Jeans and Riding Boots

NPR and I carpool together. Well, I drive and NPR is the passive, chatty passenger, but you get what I'm saying. The car starts and the local NPR station automatically comes on the radio and that guarantees at least an hour each day of political and current events news and commentary, education and entertainment and then my personal favorites, the personal stories.

I've always had a fascination with hearing other people's stories. People are simply captivating, even the nasty ones, sometimes especially the nasty ones. I could listen to Story Corps, This American Life and The Moth all day, everyday. I want to hear about the mistakes people make and why. I'm intrigued by the way people deal with heartache, tragedy, discrimination, repression -political and social, and those unifying core needs that stretch across all cultures and peoples. The need for love, a sense of community and connection, the deep desire to be known intimately by other people, and the ongoing need for laughter and joy despite what degradation or turmoil may bubble up during a life. Maybe I'm speaking of my own priorities, but I'm certain many people crave these same things.

My most recent favorite story series on NPR is The Hidden World of Girls, created and produced by The Kitchen Sisters. The Kitchen Sisters have created several compelling, diverse and award winning story series in conjunction with NPR over the last several years, including Hidden Kitchens. Nearly every story they tell is intriguing and thought provoking. They tell stories that are too small or personal to be captured by the national media and that's the beauty of each one of them. Telling stories of girls both nationally and internationally, I'm thrilled every time I hear that the next story on NPR is from this series. I feel uplifted and connected to women from all of the world after listening to these tight, beautifully crafted stories. I may not directly relate to each one, but hearing about each woman or girl's chapter helps me reflect and process my own struggles and joys.

Last week driving home after a fabulous work day, our office presented a luncheon seminar for about forty clients and my colleagues and I each had the opportunity to present, I felt good and energized and mature. Most days I feel like a 16 year old whose pretending to be an adult. I felt my age on Wednesday, in a good way. Work success does that to me, I suppose. So driving home, feeling powerful and totally thirty five, the Hidden World of Girls story comes on and I'm suddenly 10 years old again.

Wednesday's story was about Dolphins, Horses and Unicorns and specifically why so many girls are drawn to these three creatures. "Horses and dolphins and unicorns — these are all borderland creatures; gateway animals to other worlds," Laurel Braitmen,an MIT graduate student in the history of science who writes about animals and what we think about them, says girls' fascination with these animals is more than power — the animals fuel girls' imaginations. "They help us imagine wonderful other ways of being in the world. They let us be cowgirls and oceanographers and mermaids and princesses." Charming, funny, insightful interviews with girls and women, great quotes and some fantastic references to that Amazonian princess of my childhood, Wonder Woman. And it could have been me in any one of those interviews.

Horsing around on Rosarito Beach
Beautiful photo from LifeSupercharger on Flickr.

Horses were the animal that enchanted me the most as a kid. I never collected or played much with My Little Ponies or horse figurines or anything unicorn or dolphin related. In fact I don't know that I ever really believed in unicorns. Other than watching the movie The Last Unicorn on Betamax with my little brother nearly once a week in 1983, at least until our Betamax player died (Last Unicorn killed Last Betamax.)

My love of horses started when I was around eight and my Campfire Girls group took a field trip to Benjamin Ranch and Stables here in Kansas City. It was love at first sight. Her name was Cinnamon. A beautiful Red Roan with a dark chestnut coat, glossy long mane and a speckled white rear end, Cinnamon was sweet and enormous. She was docile, she was easy to lead and she was forgiving. My little eight year old hands could control this powerful animal, balancing on her broad back, lulled into her confident rhythm. She trusted me to lead her. I had the chance to ride her a couple of times over the next year. We got to feed our horses, brush them and help clean out their stalls. It was this combination of nurturing care, leading and controlling her that I enjoyed. It made me feel strong. I remember writing little illustrated stories about Cinnamon. Cinnamon getting lost in the woods, Cinnamon becoming friends with a yellow dog, silly, but I loved her. I'm sure I asked my parents if I could have my own horse, but I don't really remember. Often I had this fantasy of riding bareback on Cinnamon through fields of wildflowers, wearing a flowing dress with my long brown hair floating out behind me. I think it was the freedom of galloping along all alone that was appealing to me.

Camp Towanyak 1985
Yes, that's me, the tall one in the back row with the pleated pinstripe jeans and the white floppy hat, 9 years old.

My horse obsession, or specifically Cinnamon obsession didn't last very long. The summer I turned 9, my parents sent me off to horseback riding camp at Camp Towanyak in Shawnee, KS. I would have my very own horse for a whole week. We would get to ride several hours a day, handle the care and grooming and even stall cleaning for our horses. I was giddy. I pictured Cinnamon and I leading the other girls and their horses through forests, past gurgling streams and through those fields of wildflowers, feeding them sugar cubes, the horses not the girls. And then I met Brillo.

Brillo was dark, nearly black, young, male and more obstinate than an ugly mule. He lacked Cinnamon's sweet disposition and her glossy mane and in it's place was a surly attitude and a mohawk. Cut short and bristly like a new recruit sent off to boot camp, Brillo had a sharp, stiff, short mane made of steel wool. And his personality was the same. Abrasive, defiant, if he was human he would have been decked out in a distressed black leather jacket decorated with safety pins and listening to the Buzzcocks. He ignored my every request. He would creep along when I wanted to trot. He would gallop and blow past every other rider while I fumed and struggled to regain control. I whined and complained repeatedly to the horseback riding instructor. "He is mean." "He tried to bite me. Three times." "He never listens." "I think he's laughing at me behind my back." My instructor bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing and tried to give me good advice, tips to assert my authority, and finally said, "He's just a tough one, but you'll be fine. He's yours this week."

We battled each other for three days. Brillo would listen and obey compliantly for a half hour and then ignore me for the rest of the day. I think he did it on purpose to keep me off balance. I never got comfortable with that horse. It was aggravating and exhausting. I wanted to scream and kick him harder than necessary. But I just kept climbing on his stubborn back and pushing on. Sweating, angry and glum, I kept going and Brillo kept winning. The other girls teased me a bit about it. Those three hours each day that they spent frolicking with their horses cast straight out of National Velvet or Black Beauty, I spent cursing Brillo. I went back to the cabin smelling of animals and hay and frustration. Sitting and digging the manure out of my boots with a stick, cursing the fact that I'd actually willingly and giddily signed up for this torture in the first place.

But then on the fourth day of camp, my group arrived at the stables and another horse was in Brillo's stall. I went to ask the instructor where Brillo was and he told me that Brillo was going to spend the rest of the week on an overnight camping and riding trip as the horse for one of the counselors. My new horse could have been Cinnamon's cousin. Flower was sweet and compliant. I had gotten exactly what I wanted, an easy and docile animal. But I missed Brillo. I missed that recalcitrant, pain in the rear, punk bastard. Suddenly I missed the cocky way he would snort at me when I tried to lead him into his stall at the end of our riding session. The way he pulled away hard enough to nearly drag me off my feet when I went to brush him. Flower was just easy. I didn't have to think about riding her, I just climbed on and she did what I commanded. She was polite and deferential and eager to please. She shivered with pleasure when I patted her side or stroked her mane. But it was boring. Where was the challenge? At nine years old I was startled to find this out. I liked how hard Brillo had fought me, he had challenged me.

This is indicative of my own young personality, and even as an adult. I have been called stubborn once or twice. I don't learn things the easy way or like to be told what to do, or led by someone I don't believe in or respect. And why would Brillo have respected an inexperienced nine year old girl? I admired his spunk and his spirit and I didn't realize it until he was gone. That cranky little horse inadvertently taught me that I like a challenge and if things are too easy they aren't as interesting or worth fighting for. And I like that spirit and spunk in my friends too, though they generally have much better haircuts.

After that camp experience, the reality of horseback riding, the expense and the work required became more apparent to me. Like my dad, I tend to jump a bit from hobby to hobby. My interests tend to burn hot and fiery, but that kind of passion can't sustain itself for long. Horses went by the wayside when I turned eleven. I found myself wrapped up in books, biographies and poetry, swept away by Little Women. I didn't ride a horse again until I was fifteen, on a trip to Colorado. I haven't missed it much. In college I took my little sister, Rita (from Big Brothers Big Sisters) horseback riding. She was excited but tentative. She climbed on, she rode around the corral on an old gray mare, then walking through the woods for an hour, strode back to the stables, hopped off her horse, ran over to me and said, "That was fun, can we go swimming next time?" She wasn't hooked. It was a novelty, but it didn't sweep her away like it did for me. I was a little disappointed, and that's ok. Just because horses or dolphins or unicorns engage and delight a certain group of girls doesn't mean it does for all of us. As some of my Facebook friends pointed out the other day, not every girl connects with these dynamic animals. But that's the beauty of The Hidden World of Girls. Everyone of us has a story to share. Everyone of us has our own truth or own lessons and our own passions. And I can't wait to see what the next story is going to be.

What did you love as a little boy or girl? Barbies, baseball, latch hook rugs, rainbow sticker collecting, torturing your siblings?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Creative Juices

Over the last eight years I've made a lot of beaded jewelry. From the early and entirely embarrassing Hobby Lobby creations that a moderately talented five year old could have made to the most recent sterling silver and semiprecious gemstone baubles that I'm proud to wear and sell, needless to say I've learned a lot in those eight years, thank god. (Otherwise my very kind friends and family might have suggested I take up another hobby, say stamp collecting or something they wouldn't be invited to purchase or wear in public.)

I've never taken a formal class, just got inspired from looking at other jewelers' work, looking at fashion trends, art and current color trends, buying beads I loved with zero idea of what they would become. But then I burned myself right out. I lost my spark. I stopped making jewelry for myself which is the worst sign. Because that's the whole selfish reason I started making it in the first place, my own accessory obsession. I stopped signing up for arts and crafts shows last year. But I loved the break.

Vintage rework
 Three vintage necklaces reworked and restrung into one triple strand. 
The glass turquoise beads are bright, glossy and luscious.

I'm excited to say that that's changed in the last month. I got my spark back! Due in part, I'm sure, to the break and the reduction in the pressure and stress of having to make a lot of pieces to sell through out my busy season in the fall. But two things, inspirational influences, have really helped me renew that elusive artistic flow again.  Now I'm not putting making jewelry on the same level as painting or sculpture, at least not the jewelry I make, but it does take a certain level of creativity and skill. And that creativity needs to be fed.

 Freshwater pearls and crackled agate connected together with a vintage hat pin brooch. 
The brooch is detachable so the pin can still be worn, but I'm still working on 
best method to temporarily fasten the brooch to the necklace. The necklace ties with an organza ribbon 
so it can be worn short like here or longer.

In late January, a good friend of my mother's passed on this beautiful catalog from the Stella and Dot jewelery company. Like Silpada or Lea Sophia, it's one of those jewelry private home party businesses. Stella and Dot makes such beautiful, modern pieces that I just kept flipping through it and thinking about what I could create  inspired by their style and materials. I don't want to imitate or create any kind of knock offs, just be inspired. Their latest collection includes a lot of vintage look classic pieces. And lately I've been seeing lots of vintage jewelry mixed in with more modern jewelry, beads and brooches mixed with ribbons and other beautiful lady like creations, so Stella and Dot is right along with jewelry trends. And suddenly I started pulling out my beads and supplies and browsing, plotting and dreaming again. I have a nice but limited collection of vintage beads but with a sudden new found interest in making jewelry again, it was time to seek out some new old pieces. And there's that second bit of inspiration, found digging through old piles pulled out of your Aunt Marge's jewelry box.

Leaves and Glass
A mix of silver wire worked coin pearls, vintage glass amber beads and agate discs, connected 
to a 1960's leaf and amber glass strand (Thanks, Neha.) I added dangling pearls to the leaf strand and then linked it 
to the wired beads. I like it asymmetrical, ooh, crazy.

So last Saturday when we went antiquing I bought a great mix of brooches, earrings and a few older chains and connectors.  I even broke out a package of vintage beads from my friend Neha, and started putting together some new, slightly funkier slightly different pieces. They are all certainly works in progress. Some of the old pieces will need to be modified, trimmed, filed down and reworked, but that's the fun part for me. The challenge of taking something old and out of date and making it new, without losing it's charm. I'm having fun, I feel thrilled when a piece turns out well and I can't wait to see what piece appears next in my hands. But it's awkward too, challenging and just out of the reach of my current skill level.  The trial and error learning curve is the best part. Well, maybe having a bunch of new jewelry to wear is the best part, but you know what I'm saying.

So what have you been making lately? Art, knitting, dinner? What inspires you and feeds your creative fire?

Photos by Joe Sands. He told me I had to wear them for the photos, because they look better on a real person rather than just laying on a table. I look pale, like vampire pale, wow.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Petula Clark Said It Best

I live in the suburbs. I like our big yard with the deck that faces the woods, where just Sunday afternoon I watched some deer snacking on greens sticking through the snow. Our modest ranch house was built in the 1960's with plenty of big trees and tucked away areas to garden in, a spacious two car garage for all of Joe's wood working tools and sundries, and of course actual cars. But I have to admit, I occasionally wish we lived downtown or at least closer into the heart of Kansas City. Sometimes I long for tall old brick buildings, and long concrete sidewalks packed with a bustling, frenetic crowd, the energy and pace and creativity, the lack of parking. I crave it.

On Friday my brain felt like it was surrounded by Styrofoam packing peanuts. Like I had boxed it away for a long trip and didn't plan to break it out anytime soon. This muzzy, dull mid winter feeling that I blame on that house and office bound January blizzard. Stir crazy, shuffling between the office and the house and random boring errands like the gas station, library and grocery store, nothing out of the ordinary, just basic, boring, standard, seeing the same places, same sights, same people. When the weather is cold and blizzardy and unpleasant we tend to hole up with movies and pots of stew and blankets and then we get tired of each other's faces. It happens. I love Joe madly, but after a few days around just each other, it was vital that we venture out and about into the world again.

So based on Petula's recommendation, we headed downtown.

Treasure Huntin'

After a great dinner out with friends and a little used bookstore browsing on Friday night (I only bought one book, how's that for restraint? It was Henry and June by Anais Nin, which should warm up some cold February nights,) Saturday morning happened to coincide with the monthly antique shows in the gritty, industrial West Bottoms of downtown Kansas City. We made some coffee, ate a quick breakfast and headed out for our treasure hunt. The West Bottoms is home to artist's studios, lofts, galleries, and plenty of old empty buildings that fill up with various commercial ventures, (and possibly some illegal commercial ventures but we didn't shop those,) depending on the season and month. From September to November it's home to enormous and ghastly haunted houses, all the creepiest venues in Kansas City: The Edge of Hell, The Chambers of Edgar Allen Poe, The Beast, The Catacombs, all the scariest Halloween horror spots that in my thirty plus years of living in Kansas City, I've never set foot inside, not even one of them. I have no plans to do so. I am a chicken. The idea of screaming until I'm hoarse and/or peeing my pants at 35 is unappealing. It's bad enough when I tried to watch The Strangers, sitting at home on my own couch, and had to fast forward through the last half I was so tense. I like being scared, but not in person.

West Bottoms Sun

So we save our trips to the West Bottoms for art, people watching and shopping. A few years ago my dad had an art studio in one of the old industrial warehouses down there. It was an adventure to go visit him. Sitting in his brick walled studio space, with enormous windows and high, high ceilings, art supplies and canvases and half finished work scattered about. Watching my accountant dad throw paint on canvas and talk about his vision for the work.I loved it. The building he was in rented to lots of artists and they occasionally had shows where you could wander from studio to studio and see what everyone was working on. I loved the ability to wander through someone's creative space and see their work in such an informal and personal way. Much different than a museum or formal gallery opening. And a tad voyeuristic. But I digress, back to Saturday's treasure hunt.

After doing a quick search via Yelp on Friday after work, I found about four or five antique/flea market/ vintage shops that we wanted to visit, though realistically we would probably only end up at two or three. But who doesn't like options? So here are the one's we looked at, just in case you are in KC and looking for that something old that's new to you. Or an old trunk or suitcase, because I believe 100% of the booths we walked through had at least one or two for sale, yes 100%.

Bottoms Up Antique Market
Good JuJu
Liberty Belle
River Market Antiques
Urban Mining Homewares

Of this list we only made it to two out of five. After three hours of browsing, shopping, laughing, chatting with vendors and artists, and digging through dusty goodies from your grandmother's attic, we were done and hungry. But that just leaves another three to explore next month.

Wall decor at Good Juju

We hit Good JuJu first, possibly because of the name. I'm reading a book about zombies right now (because I'm that sophisticated,) and the voodoo reference made me want to go here first. Good JuJu was exactly that. All kinds of good stuff shoved in several plain old squares of footage. And it was packed when we arrived. Tucked in on the first floor of an old warehouse down at 12th and Liberty, Good JuJu is where people who don't really like antiques should love to shop. Everything is merchandized beautifully. Like things are paired together and combined in charming vignettes to show you exactly how they would look in your living room. While this is a perfectly delightful way to shop, it goes against all of my antiquing instincts. I want to dig through ugly old porcelain dishes and McDonald's happy meal toys from 1982 to find that perfect brooch or kooky vase, but this doesn't need to happen at Good JuJu. All the work has already been done for you. And that's not a bad thing. Old furniture has already been cleaned and re-varnished or painted to reflect modern tastes. Vintage clothes are paired with modern shoes. And when someone has already gone to the trouble to tart up your old stuff they usually gouge you on the price. But Good JuJu prices were very reasonable. Now, let's be honest. These aren't antiques in the traditional sense. These are vintage 1950's to 1970's modern and mid-century cool things, but these aren't Antiques Roadshow quality. But they will liven up any room or body. Believe me, if that sequined red dress at the top had been in my size I would be wearing it to work everyday.

Abrasive Sands

Joe bought a white enamel coated metal cabinet (see below) about nightstand height, that was in excellent condition. It looks like it came out of a doctor's office in the 1960's. The lady he bought it from said that she had found it in someone's basement and it was covered in rust and dirt. She said that a very fine steel wool did wonders and wouldn't scratch the surface. It goes well with another 1960's metal two door cabinet that used to hold paint cans and tools in Joe's grandparent's basement. His grandparents were kind of horrified that that piece is what we wanted when they moved out of their house into a smaller place. But it's great. Now what are we going to do with these two pieces? No idea. Maybe in a kid's room someday?

Joe's new nightstand

Good JuJu on a Saturday morning at 9:30 was a little too crowded for my taste though. It cut into the quality, lingering browsing pace that I like to affect. But I found this charming little 1950's kids' spelling tool (see below) that was in such great condition I had to buy it. Bright orange, covered in animals and math equations, it's sitting in the window in my office at home. Is it totally pointless and silly? Absolutely, but does it charm my socks off every time I glance at it? Absolutely.

My very own spelling board

After we bought our treasures at Good JuJu, we hauled them to the car and headed down to our next location, just at the end of the long block on 12th, to Bottoms Up Antiques. Right away we could tell this was a totally different antique market from Good JuJu, gone were the reasonably priced vintage cuties and in their place were the beautiful, high quality European and American antiques that designers, rich society dames and cooler people than ourselves decorate their homes with. I had sticker shock. I also had to swallow some regret that I couldn't afford the glass medical supply cabinet from 1880's France ($2,499) or the authentic 1920's public school pull-down map of ancient Rome ($1,400.) But damn was it fun to browse. The most beautiful booth on the first floor of Bottoms Up was Prize. Filled with earth tone treasures from all over Europe, beautiful religious relics, amazing furniture and fabrics, old coral and shells, each corner, each nook, each roundabout was filled with complex, layered vignettes. I wanted to buy it all. But alas, out of our price range. Part of me finds it silly that someone could spend $200 on a pillow and the other part of me respects the artistry and craft of these beautiful old pieces. Some pieces at Prize were from the 1700 and 1800's. Ikea furniture just doesn't last like that.

Bottoms Up Antiques

The second floor of Bottoms Up returned to our price range. A nice mix of booths and vendors with all sorts of goodies. Joe bought an old rotary phone in bright red. He has been lusting after one for years and always laments that the Pottery Barn old fashioned style phone is not rotary dial and that it's an abomination. He takes his land lines very seriously. He claims he's going to rewire it so we can actually use it, but I'm guessing it will become a bookshelf sitter. The seller even came down on his price and threw in the dust for free.

Rotary Dial

That's the other thing I like about antique shopping and flea markets, talking and chatting with vendors. These are some of the friendliest, and yet oddest people out there. I had a nice conversation with two women who make modern Steam punk jewelry out of old vintage pieces. And it really helped rekindle my interest in making jewelry, but that's another post. I bought a mish-mash of old costume jewelry, some I'll just wear without changing and recreating and some that I can't wait to cut up and turn into entirely different jewelry pieces.


I also bought this big ol' red beaded bracelet, because for $9 bucks I couldn't walk away. It actually called out to me. I sleep in it now. (Not really, because the wire is kind of pokey, but you get that I really like it through the hyperbole, which is less hyperbolic when I go on explaining it, sorry, jewelry makes me loopy.)

All that for $9

All in all it was a delightful, entertaining, mildly adventurous day spent wandering around downtown, visiting local shops, helping the economy one vintage treasure at a time, and livening up an otherwise gray February Saturday. And of course we had to wrap up with a lunch at the Westport Flea Market. Home of arguably the best burger and curly fries in town. My favorite thing about the Flea Market, other than their Mini Market burger which is the perfect size, is that their ordering and waitress system is kind of clunky. I like this, but when you first visit the Flea Market you will not know how it works. And like the table of elderly women who sat down next to us, ordered their margaritas and Bloody Mary's from the waitress and then sat there waiting for another twenty minutes before they tapped me on the shoulder and asked if the waitress was going to come back for their order. I laughed, with a polite but vaguely patronizing smile and explained that waitresses handled the drinks, but you had to order food at the bar. I felt smug and then took a big juicy bite of burger and chewed that nasty smug away. The ladies waved at us and thanked us when we left. Downtown and Westport cured my winter blahs last weekend. Petula was right when she said "We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares so go downtown, everything's waiting for you."

Are you an antiquer? Or would you rather gouge out your own eyes than visit a flea market?

Miniburger Westport Flea