Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

TeaI know it was a bittersweet time…but that is part of the life process. Are these the times that try men’s souls? Well not really. They become interruptions of our daily routine. We adapt to the change and life goes on. Sometimes it opens up opportunities and challenges us to do something we wouldn’t ordinarily do. Like write lots of letters which we don’t do enough of due to the telephone or e-mail.

It’s good for us to get shaken up a bit. We begin to think in terms we wouldn’t have otherwise. Like the time we sent you a turkey in Norway, or the visit we arranged while you were there. Or the trip Noni & I took to visit Heather & Bonnie in England and Joe Martell in Italy. These are the times we stash in our memories and are all brought about because of changes we have no control over. So life is what you make of it. It can be good, bad, sad, or boring. But as Sarah quotes Mae West as saying: ‘Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.’

~ Leonard Luigi Farina, Oct 3rd, 1927 – May 29th, 2013

Len Farina was my first best friend. If you had pulled me aside at the ripe old age of three and asked me who my best friends were, I would have responded without hesitation: Bapa and Barney. From a three-year old perspective, being lumped in with the family dog is high praise indeed.

Len had an uncanny ability to connect with people of all ages, from his young grandchildren to the Keene State graduates working in the local diner alongside his peers drinking coffees at the counter, to his beloved mother-in-law. Len was the epitome of an extrovert. People are what mattered most to him, what drove him, what excited him. He delighted children with a variety of string-figures, spoke earnestly with any adult who would listen about his impassioned views on business, computers and the insurance industry, and doled out Lindt chocolates to anyone with a sweet tooth. He was equipped at all times with an arsenal of jokes — usually of the bad-pun variety — always eager to coax a smile from even the most unwilling victims of his sense of humor.

A gregarious man, there was nothing more exciting for Len than the prospect of a gathering, from holidays and parties to baked bean suppers at the lake to a simple lunch at Timoleon’s. The anticipation of a rolicking good time was almost unbearable for him, leaving him in a state of restless preparedness, ready to take action. For months leading up to any major event, he would start circulating Excel files, faxes, and letters — creating charts, coming up with coded acronyms and block-lettered lists and menus. There was truly never too much of a good thing for Len when it came to meeting new friends and celebrating the old.

I was blessed to experience the unabashed love and fierce pride he had for all of his family. A sentimental man, he was always the first to tear up at any of our musical performances, and freely expressed his admiration in writing afterwards. He would often speak fondly of his own family from Italy — passing along life lessons he learned from his father Luigi and culinary traditions inherited from his mother Adelinda. His appetite also knew no bounds. A provider and teacher at heart, he could not have been more at ease than when showing an unsuspecting house guest how to make pasta, or displaying the fine art of pizzelle making before passing off the heavy iron to a more muscular young man in the room to complete the job.

Len Farina was my first music teacher. Inspired by his own example, I was a curious student of music and more from a young age. Like his children before me, I learned about music seated beside him on the piano bench, turning pages of sheet music and happily obliging his requests for vocal accompaniment. He could effortlessly switch between leading my sister and I in singing “You Are My Sunshine” on the piano and flawlessly executing the Widor Toccata on the organ. An avid lover of music, Len donated his talents behind the organ here at St. James, the piano at Lions Club drama productions, and most infamously of all, propped up underneath the weight of his accordion, abusing his tolerant wife’s ears with a rousing rendition of “Lady of Spain.”

Len Farina was also my first employer. As an eight year old girl, my sister and I were offered the chance to rid the lawn up in Harrisville of dandelions for a price of 5 cents a blossom. I’m not sure he expected us to pick 500, but he was proud of our hard work. Pride in a job well-done was apparent in everything he did. He was known throughout this community for the business he created in 1972: Business Systems Inc, a payroll firm now operated by his daughter here in Keene. He ran his business based on the desire to help others and on the principles of efficiency, accuracy and adherence to an old-school work ethic passed down to him by his father (a successful businessman in his own right). He was so proud of his father and strove to do him proud in return, working many late evenings under the watchful eye of his father’s oil portrait hanging above his desk.

I believe in my heart of hearts that Len not only did Luigi proud, he did all of us whom he encountered proud. His enduring legacy of love for family, service to those in need, and the ability to connect to everyone he met with music, laughter and merriment is testimony to a life well lived. His example encourages all of us to take the opportunity to challenge ourselves, to work with pride, to love with free abandon and always to explore, learn, and share.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a few words of comfort from Len himself, written to me on the occasion of my paternal grandmother’s passing:

Life is for the living, and we must all carry on even though we may stumble or fall. What is important is that you stay the course. Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.


Read Full Post »

My streets of Boston

I debated — as many hobbyist writers have as well, I presume — on whether or not to write about the past week here in Boston. What value can I add to the barrage of media coverage, personal stories, images, video, op-ed pieces and political posturing that has held us hostage over the past 6 days? But we all have a story to tell, and each one is personal.

I started working in Copley Square back in 1996, before I even graduated from college. By my calculation that puts me at somewhere around 33,000 hours logged in and around the small stretch of Boylston Street between Dartmouth Street and Berkeley Street — not including the extra hours spent working overtime, enjoying meals at local restaurants, and spilling out into the streets after drinks with friends. During that time, I’ve lived in no less than 16 different apartments, from Back Bay to Somerville, from Mission Hill to Allston/Brighton, from Jamaica Plain to Quincy, and finally, in the second half of my 30s, settling for a commuter life here in Walpole.

The attack on the Boston Marathon was undeniably personal. When all else changed, when the rug was pulled out from under my feet (as is wont to happen at various times in your life), I relied on the familiar routine of getting up each morning, putting on my proverbial pants one leg at a time, and heading to Copley Square for work. My doctor and dentist, dry cleaner and long-abandoned gym are there. My farmer’s market, my beloved wine, cheese, and fine foods store — there. My solace — there.

Having gone to work on many a Marathon Monday and being all too familiar with the general annoyance of street closings and throngs of out-of-towners that it will bring, I opted this year to take advantage of my new-found ability to work from home. At 3:10 on Monday afternoon, I was nose-deep in my laptop, sitting next to my husband when he snapped me out of my work trance and pointed at the TV. A bomb had exploded in the heart of Copley Square, just yards away from the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. Within minutes, my phone was ringing, text messages were coming in: “Please tell me you were working from home today…”

Being safe in Walpole, I took to the virtual streets of social media, where crowds of onlookers were gathering on Facebook and Twitter feeds. The bombing images looped over and over in the background on the TV. “I’m safe,” I posted. I liked incoming statuses of other local friends also reporting their safety. I cried.

This was personal. One of my closest friends and Copley Square compatriots was working in the Prudential Mall building, whose entrance was not far away from the second blast. The building went on lockdown, and he stayed there, no TV to update him, until 6 o’clock that night. Confusion and chaos were prevalent alongside the heroism that also ensued.

My work building, situated between Arlington and Berkeley Streets, was closed the next day. I worked from home again, unable to concentrate, head reeling with incomprehension. It remains inconceivable to me days later that this happened in my tiny corner of the earth.

On Wednesday, we all returned to the office — but not to normal. I reached out to friends at other buildings in the area and made plans for lunch. A reaffirming meal with friends and a 2-month old baby was what I needed to soothe my soul. We opted for comfort food at Joe’s American Bar & Grill, on the corner of Newbury and Exeter Streets; when we asked for the check at the end of a long lunch, we were told all meals that day were on the house. I was simultaneously filled with unspeakable sadness and inexpressible gratitude.

Thursday came and went in an uneasy holding pattern, and I longed for the media and the throngs of people around my building to go away. I wandered over to the makeshift memorial to the victims 2 doors down from my office and silently paid my respects. I planned a vacation day for Friday, simply to sleep in, process and try to breathe again. It was not to be.

My husband woke me up from a deep if exhausted sleep at 8am on Friday morning. “They knocked over a 7-11 and killed a police officer and one of the guys is dead and they hijacked a car and the T has been shut down and there’s a massive manhunt in Watertown,” he breathlessly informed me.

Watertown. Where my sister works, my cousin lives, coworkers live, the woman who married us lives. Back to Facebook, back to TV, back to calls and texts and Twitter feeds. The city was on lockdown. Photos circulated, and my brain awkwardly repeated Russian names in my head, trying to master their pronunciation, trying to understand something incomprehensible and foreign. A friend from the post-college years struggled with the realization that one of the suspects was a sparring partner who had broken his eye socket a few years earlier. I performed a neurotic circuit of newscasts, Facebook, and the boston.com live blog feed over and over again for hours on end, juggling phone, laptop and TV until my eyes burned and hunger pangs grew in my stomach.

I was afraid. Afraid for those I loved, afraid for my city, afraid for the state of the world, and afraid that normalcy was a thing of the past. And so I watched the news for 14 hours straight yesterday, trying to ignore the curious tightening of the neck, chest and arms that those of us with nervous dispositions are prone to.

Is it reasonable to have experienced such fear?

I don’t know anymore.

As hour 13 drew nigh and the suspect was cornered in a boat a street over from where our family friend and wedding officiant lives, I received second-hand updates from one of my college friends, a Boston police officer on the scene. Our friend was in her car leaving the area as the shots began. The suspect was now bleeding out, I was informed. When it was finally over, the city erupted in exhausted pent-up relief and once again took to the streets, in a display not unlike the triumph of the Red Sox in 2004. We celebrated our officers, our city, and our freedom.

Here’s the important thing, though. My personal experience is in no way unique. We ALL had a cousin down the road, a friend in law enforcement, classmates and colleagues who missed the explosion by five minutes and a twist of fate. This week was made up of threads from the fabric of every part of the Boston experience: the gathering of athletes from across the world to participate in the marathon, including members of our own running community of every age and from every walk of life; the selflessness, skill and dedication of our world-class doctors, surgeons and nurses; businessmen, students, and “townies” alike affected across the various locales where the drama unfolded, from the business district of Copley Square to the venerated Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, to the working-class Watertown neighborhood; the visit from President Obama, speeches at the interfaith service offering comfort from the president, our mayor, governor, congressmen — and the typical political commentary that followed; the tireless dedication of our law-enforcement professionals, showcasing cooperation across all representative bodies and the citizens themselves; the pride of our professional sports teams and their fans, who honored the victims in the most moving ways, cancelled games so as not to pull resources from the police, and whose logos were repurposed in countless new icons of Boston pride.

The week also memorialized the cross-section of Bostonians affected by this tragedy, heartbreakingly represented by the four victims: our youth — Martin Richard, an 8-year old boy from the uniquely proud Boston neighborhood of Dorchester; our locals — Krystle Campbell, a hard-working 29-year old waitress with a big smile and quick wit from the metropolitan suburb of Arlington; our students and foreign nationals — Lingzi Lu, a 23-year old Chinese national living in Boston to attend graduate school at one of our world-class educational facilities; and our officers — Sean Collier, the 26-year old MIT police officer, killed in the line of duty during the terrible manhunt that ensued.

The fact is, though I may curse Boston every year as we shake off the mantle of yet another tough winter, my heart is inextricably tied to this locale. As someone who is wary of change, it’s been a hard pill for me to swallow that important people may come and go from our lives, our routines change, we age (as do our loved ones), jobs and store fronts come and go…and yet the ever-fluid city stands as my constant. I moved to Boston a full 20 years ago this September, and it’s been my solace in times of need; its streets have welcomed me, calmed me, protected me, throughout the ups and downs of my life since I showed up here as a fresh-faced 18-year old student. It’s taught me of an unwavering loyalty and faith that manifests itself in the absurdly tenacious 87-year belief that next year is the year. I could not be prouder to report that our faith HAS been rewarded, and my city continues to stand strong. In its darkest hour, my city still comforts me, still makes my heart sing, and yes, still protects me. This is the resilience of Boston.

This morning, after my husband left the house, I picked up the remote and turned off the barrage. For the first time in a week, my house is silent. The couch where I camped out all day yesterday on high-alert holds me again, but this time in quiet repose. A peace has descended. And in this silence, I can hear myself think for the first time. My heart swells, my eyes fill with tears, and I’m filled with love for my town. We have prevailed.

Read Full Post »


When I first started this blog, it went (briefly) by the unwieldy name Carefully Edited Slices of Life. Dissatisfied, I struck upon the concept of The Hungry Crafter, changed my blog name, and repurposed the original blog name for the title of my launch post. Over the course of the two (soon to be three) years I’ve been writing here, I find myself coming back to that original post, struggling with how to stay true to the mission I set forth for myself there. I’ve always found it a shame that so many men and women in our society are made to feel inferior by others’ apparent success — the latent effect of Photoshop skewing our perceptions — and therefore find themselves discouraged and resigned when they compare their reality to some else’s fiction. Do I prove my theory — that anyone can have a picture-perfect life using visual and mental editing techniques — by way of example (the route I’ve tried to take to date), or would it be more powerful to also show the mess behind the scenes to drive home the fact that appearances are not what they seem to be?

I still don’t have an answer to that question. Ultimately, however, the central belief that drives this blog is that nothing is impossible. This is a value that goes to my core — that anyone is capable of accomplishing their goals, be it with a few missteps and revisions along the way. You get to define success. If I can use this blog to encourage others to succeed, to try new things, to learn and grow…that would be the ultimate fulfillment of this endeavor.

This train of thought has led me to consider ways in which I might be able to offer more value to my readers. I’m not interested in showing off or intimidating people with my accomplishments…regardless of my ambivalence about sharing my failures. I want to encourage you to go out and MAKE. To that end, I started to look at things that I do already that contribute to my own successes — things I can’t help but do — and thought about how I can translate the results into something I can share on my blog that would be of use to you.

Which brings me to today’s post. I’m trying a little experiment here. More than ever over the past year since I’ve moved into my first proper house, I’ve found myself hosting events in addition to my usual cooking sprees. Each event comes with no little amount of time spent researching recipes, making shopping lists, and drafting multi-day to-do lists — not to mention learning lessons through trial and error. What I’d like to try is a new miniseries format on the blog to share these complete menus with you.

Previously I’ve shared these celebrations in a show-and-tell style format (see, for example, my sister’s baby shower), but I think the recipes get lost in this mega-post format, and it doesn’t particularly help to teach. I also hate to have all the time I’ve spent planning for each occasion not be of use after the event has come and gone. Maybe, if I post the resources here, one of you will use my menus and lists as a template to save yourself some time and try something new? I’ll include a complete menu, shopping list, and (gulp!) share some “lessons learned” along the way in the kickoff post to each miniseries. Then, on each weekday that follows, I’ll post a recipe a day with pics, instructions, tips and modifications, until the entire menu has been posted.

So with my own infamous last words…LET’S DO THIS!


A Celebratory Goose Dinner

In a strange twist of fate that brought a goose to my door (more on that when I post the goose recipe), I found myself looking for occasion to cook a festive holiday meal. Christmas was out of the question due to sheer number of guests, so I was thrilled instead to have our good friends Marcy and Brian (and their adorable baby girl) over for an indulgent New Year’s Eve dinner. They brought fancy champagne and did the dishes. I think I’ll let them come back again.

The Menu

Hors D’Oeuvres
Bay Scallops & Applewood Bacon with a Port Wine Reduction
Phyllo-Wrapped Figs with Prosciutto & Stilton
Endives with Grape Tomatoes, Basil & Balsamic Vinegar
serve with Hendrick’s Gin & Q Tonic and a variety of seasonal microbrews

Main Course
Orange & Thyme Roasted Goose with Potatoes, Shallots and a Lingonberry-White Wine Sauce
Chestnut Stuffing
Roasted Winter Squash with Maple Syrup and Sage Cream
Parker House Rolls
serve with Erath Pinot Noir (alternate wines: Barolo or Gewürztraminer)

Apple Crostata
Brown Butter Ice Cream
Assorted Cheeses and Honeycomb (Optional. Our stomachs were too full. I’ll be eating the cheese for dinner tonight, shucks.)
serve with Veuve Cliquot, or champagne of your choice. Harvey’s Bristol Cream on ice with a lime would be wonderful as well.

Shopping List

Download and print your Shopping List; be sure to review the bottom section for pantry items before you go!

Preparation Schedule

Three days prior (morning)
Remove goose from freezer. Place in large bowl in refrigerator.
Place ice cream maker bowl in freezer for min. 24 hours.

Two days prior
Go grocery shopping.
Make Brown Butter Ice Cream.
Make Crostata crust.

One day prior (expect to put in a good 8-9 hours)
Make Chestnut Stuffing.
Make Parker House Rolls.
Make Apple Crostata.
Make Port Wine Reduction.
Make Sage Cream.

D-Day (4 pm guest arrival; 6 pm dinner)
10 am: Prepare Phyllo-Wrapped Figs with Prosciutto & Stilton; refrigerate once assembled.

12 pm: Fry bacon, assemble scallops, refrigerate.

1 pm: Set table, prepare serving dishes. Select dinner wines and put on table.

1:30 pm: Peel and cut squash, mix with sugar and olive oil; set aside. Wash potatoes and peel shallots.

2:15 pm: Take goose out of fridge, rinse, dry. Make marinade. Score goose and baste.

3:15 pm: Goose in oven.

3:30 pm: Assemble endives; put out on serving platter with cocktail napkins. Run around the house hiding messes in the closet.

4 pm: Guests arrive. Serve cocktails and endive. Warm Port Wine Reduction, cook scallops and serve.

4:30 pm: Put Phyllo-Wrapped Figs in oven for 17 minutes, make accompanying cream sauce.

5:00 pm: Serve Phyllo-Wrapped Figs.

5:15 pm: Squash in oven.

5:30 pm, or when goose temp reaches 160°F: Remove goose from oven, transfer to platter and tent with foil. Transfer potatoes and shallots from roasting pan to a new baking dish and return to oven to continue cooking, if needed. Put stuffing in oven. Make Lingonberry White Wine Sauce in roasting pan.

5:50 pm: Check squash and potatoes, continuing to cook as needed. Put rolls in oven to warm. Warm Sage Cream sauce.

6:00 pm: All food to serving dishes and brought to table; carve goose and serve sliced on platter with thyme sprigs and orange slices for garnish. Enjoy!

When stomachs have fully recovered and can fit dessert, heat crostata in oven for 15 minutes and remove ice cream from freezer to soften for easy scooping. Serve with a small cheese platter and champagne.

Lessons learned

  • For God’s sake, do NOT OVERCOOK THE GOOSE. Pretty much ignore this recipe, and follow the one I’ll post later on in the week instead.
  • Don’t over-butter the phyllo. There actually is such a thing as too much butter, and it’s called “greasy.”
  • Remember to put the maple syrup on the squash. Also, reference this version of the recipe, not this one (first is much clearer).
  • If bay scallops can’t be found and you end up using sea scallops, cut them into halves or thirds. Or make your bacon strips much longer.
  • If you’re weight-conscious, please do not even attempt to make the brown butter ice cream. It will be your downfall. Your delicious, sinful downfall.

Join me again tomorrow for the start of the recipes! If you have any thoughts or recommendations on the miniseries format, I’d love to hear them — leave a comment below.  Happy New Year to all!

Read Full Post »

Project 365

arriving at fiddle camp

Happy late summer! It’s been a busy one, but in the best way possible — there’s much to catch up on… For now, I’ll give you a brief overview of my summer by way of introduction to Project 365.


Project 365 is an uncomplicated idea: you take a picture a day for a year, with the goal of capturing the day-to-day details of life, living in the present moment, and, ostensibly, becoming a better photographer. I chose to do mine as an iPhone Project 365, — primarily out of convenience — so have been using my phone for my daily shots, leaning heavily on the Hipstamatic app (with an increasing dependence on Photoshop Express, which has instantly replaced Aviary as my photo editor of choice).

The path home

While I’m enjoying the process very much, I admit that I find the last goal of becoming a better photographer somewhat dubious…a better iPhone photographer, maybe, but I can’t help but feel like I’m cheating in some way. The phone as a camera is still hard for me to fully embrace, and the Hipstamatic tool and multiple photo editing apps even more so. It just feels gimmicky to me. As a friend on Facebook once quipped, “A crappy photo taken with Instagram is still a crappy photo…” I don’t disagree. But it’s certainly a cooler crappy photo.


Of course, I tend to be a perfectionist and an over-achiever, so I may be a little rigid in my rules. I’ve similarly struggled on the sewing front with feelings that I’m “cheating,” or can’t take creative credit for my projects, simply because I’m using a pattern. Or relying on the beauty of those designer fabrics I like to hoard, but most certainly didn’t design. And I suppose I will never fully feel like an accomplished cook until I have a trove of recipes that I developed from scratch myself. One of these days I will help birth a baby lamb, bottle feed her, shear her fuzzy new wool, card it, spin it, dye it, and weave it into a placemat of my own design, and feel that I am a true fiber artist. But I don’t expect that to happen anytime in the near future…


So for now, a look at the first three complete months of my Project 365 — and therefore my summer — complete with gimmicks, uninspired stretches, and a day or two where I forgot and cheated, alongside several wonderful memories, smiling faces (and tender paws) of my loved ones, and shots that I truly cherish. I’ll take the good with the bad. It’s what life is made of.


May brought dinners with friends, wedding dress shopping, a shower, a busy stretch at work, visits with my niece, the return of the Copley farmer’s market, a family beer brewing session, the MA Sheep & Woolcraft Fair, and a trip to Fenway…


June saw the bottling of aforementioned beer, visits with the in-laws, a surprise party in NYC, multiple birthday celebrations for my sweet 1-year old(!) niece, Maine Fiddle Camp, a sewing project, and an Iron Maiden show. And oh yeah, the discovery of my new all-time favorite cupcakes in Boston.


And in July we had a visit from my Mom, a small 4th of July barbeque and a big housewarming BBQ (recipes forthcoming), meeting a new little girl and an old Red Sox captain, and enjoying the bounty of summer foods, grilling, and flowers, with a big side helping of obligatory kitty snuggles.

If you’re interested in seeing any individual photos more clearly, they’re all available on my Flickr iPhone Project 365 set.

Read Full Post »

Pink Chalk StudioI’ve been meaning to share my sewing space with you all for a while, and was finally given a shove by Kathy over at Pink Chalk Studio, who has dubbed July “Where I Sew” month on her blog. Be sure to check out the link up page over there for all your voyeuristic pleasure!

Someday, I hope to have a single studio room dedicated to all my creative affairs. Right now, things are a bit spread out, with “fine arts” (paints, pastels, etc.) and paper crafts living in the upstairs office along with the musical instruments, computer and graphic design books, while the sewing, embroidery and fiber arts live downstairs in a nook of the living room. Given that a). this is “where I SEW” month, and b). the office is so cluttered you could lose a leg walking through there, I think I’ll stick to my downstairs corner for the purposes of this post.

I’ll begin by introducing you to my torso. She doesn’t have a name (suggestions welcome! Shout ’em out!), but I think that’s only because I relish the opportunity to use the word “torso” in conversation.  As in, “What’d you get for Christmas this year, Jo?” “A torso.” Unfortunately, she celebrates her birthday every year by being relegated to the garage so that there’s room for the Christmas tree. The joys of townhouse living.


And here’s the nook in its entirety. Lovely spot for a Christmas tree, don’t you think?


Over to the left, you’ll notice the bulk of my storage in the bookcase: craft books and knit fabrics on the top shelf; quilting cottons and linens below; a display shelf of my favorite odds and ends; patterns, notions, rulers and the like in a vintage tool caddy; baskets for embroidery floss, wool roving, and felt; and finally, tucked away in the bottom, the unattractive bags of batting, interfacing, polyfil and scraps.


I picked up a couple lime-painted metal drawers at the same time as the tool caddy, and keep them on my sewing table to hold scissors and pins and rulers and marking pens, as well as my favorite sewing accessory ever: Owly. Yes, I am still five years old when it comes to naming conventions. I had better not ever seriously get into creating large art quilts, for fear of what I’ll name them. But back to Owly. Clearly, he’s a pincushion. His secret, though is that he’s also a tape measure. His tail pulls out, and you press his base to retract. Such fun!


To the right of the sewing table is a small bookcase where I store my apparel fabric and some additional patterns and books. On top of the bookcase is a lamp, excess spools of thread (long story), and a great bulldog print by Marc Tetro that I picked up on vacation in Asheville, NC. Again, no small children in my house, just a big one that has a thing for goofy animal art. (You did notice the strings of Mexican chickens hanging from the wall in the first two pictures, right?)


And that just about does it! Not much to my nook, but it’s bright, cheery, and gets the job done. Oh wait, before I sign off, how about some Christmas in July?


Told you it looks good there. Hope everyone had a great fourth of July. Merry birthday, America.


Read Full Post »

Summer time thieves #2

As promised, part two of “Where has the summer gone?”:  the always fun (and dangerous) fabric shopping. Now, I should preface all this by saying that I truly do not NEED any more fabric. I have plenty. P-L-E-N-T-Y. But, there’s been what I like to call extenuating circumstances.

Extenuating circumstance #1: a trip to NYC!

I don’t think I have words to say what a fabulous time I had. Dear old friends from childhood, friends from college, new friends, and of course the best boyfriend in the world, not to mention more booze than you can shake a stick at. Plus some amazing food as well, of course, but more on that (with photos) in a later post.

Work’s been extremely busy, so we ended up rolling into Penn Station around 10:30 Friday night without a plan for the weekend, other than one: I would finally get to visit what I imagined to be the mecca of all fabric lovers, Purl Soho. The pilgrimage took place the next day in the midst of a sweltering New York afternoon. After filling our bellies in the Lower East Side, we took a long, lazy walk over to Purl Soho, where my non-sewing friends kindly browsed the store with me for a few minutes before excusing themselves to congregate at a bar around the corner to watch the US get knocked out of the World Cup.

I was left in peace. Too overcome by the bolts of fabric surrounding me to notice the coolness of the air conditioner, I made my way through the store in a trance-like state: eyes darting, fingers touching. One lap around the store, then two, slowly converging on my prey. My credit card said no, but my fingers felt the soft drape of the Liberty cotton lawn — begging to become a beautiful summer shirt to accompany me through the rest of these hot summer days — and my heart said yes. I would do it. The fabric would be mine.

Now, I of course don’t have a *pattern* yet, but…details, details. Part of me thinks I’ll just do a simple tank top, using the pink for straps and edging; the other part thinks I should hold out for something a bit more substantial, with flirty cap sleeves, and the pink used for a waistband insert.

What I loved about Purl Soho was the simplicity. It was smaller than I expected (as were most of the places I visited in New York–I underestimate the limited real estate there), but it was absolutely a store of quality over quantity. (I feel compelled to add that they’ve recently redone their online store as well, and the quantity matches quality there. Yowsa.) The store has a stunning layout, and is a true feast for the eyes. I also picked up a couple of packs of high-quality wool felt in an assortment of colors, plus some shot cotton solids and a couple of beautiful prints to make handbags that have been designing themselves in my head:

I took a deep breath, hid the receipt in the far reaches of my bag, never to be looked at again, and rejoined my friends at the Broome St. Bar for a couple of good English pints. Ahhh. What an afternoon.

Extenuating circumstance #2:  fabric.com sale

I believe I’ve mentioned previously that my favorite fabric designer is Anna Maria Horner. She creates gorgeous fabrics in bright bold colors and modern designs that I just adore. SO, of course when I read on the Brown Paper Packages blog that fabric.com was having a major sale that included some of Anna’s fabrics, well… Justification is such an ugly word, so let’s say that I took advantage of an excellent opportunity:

Cool colors

Warm colors

And finally, for good measure, I’d like to introduce you to Owlie, who just felt the need to pop in and play with the fabrics along with me. I made him over the winter from a kit I purchased from Fancy Tiger. I had intentions of eventually posting some sort of step-by-step post on how I made him, but he just didn’t want to wait any longer for an introduction. Hello, Owlie.

And last but not least, a collection of fabrics for a pair of new pillowcases:

Oh. I’m sorry. When I said “last but not least,” did that sound like that was the end of my fabric shopping adventures? Oh, no, my friends. Oh no.

Extenuating circumstance #3: link to new fabric store + coupon + glass of wine = forgetful spending

So I finally banned myself from buying any more fabric once I discovered that I forgot that I had placed a particular order of fabric. Bad, bad, bad. But did I mention cute, cute, cute? Check out these lovely Japanese fabrics from Crybaby’s Boutique:

Too cute!

And there we have it (OK, well not completely, I actually got a couple of not-pictured knits while I was at it). Phew. Now that I’m officially banned from buying more fabric, perhaps I’ll get some sewing done? Or are there MORE summer time thieves lurking around the corner? Perhaps something to do with my ultimate distraction? We ARE in the middle of farm share season after all… Once again, to be continued…

Read Full Post »

Summer time thieves

Has it been a month already? Really? How did that happen? I’m going to chalk it up to “Time flies when you’re having fun” and leave it at that. It’s a much nicer way of looking at it compared to other alternatives.

So what have I been doing? I can’t say that I have lots of fun completed crafts to show you, or even lots of delicious food pics. (I could potentially show pics of my slowly expanding stomach, but I’ll spare you). So instead, let’s take an honest look at what I’ve actually done with the past month of my life, starting with time thief number one…

Reading: Lots and lots of reading. No wonderful novels, or even summer fluff novels (which I generally can’t stand anyway), but BLOGS. Wow, is it obsessive once you get into it. I finally settled on using Google reader to follow all of my blogs, and am now up to a count of 58 blogs that I follow daily (need to update my sidebar one of these days). I’ve got a great little app on my Droid that lets me follow my reader there, so I generally catch up on my reading during the 2 hours I spend commuting each weekday. And there’s still computer time required to keep up to date on reading, leave comments, bookmark projects I’d like to try, fabrics to buy (more on that later), giveaways to enter…and so it goes.

Then there’s the magazines: Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, Cook’s Illustrated, Saveur, Food & Wine, National Geographic, Fitness, ReadyMade, & Smithsonian. Recipes I want to try get dog-eared as I read through (see 2 hour commute comment), then the index pages get pulled out, marked up, and filed in my recipe index binder, and the magazine gets filed. My current backlog is about 1.5 feet high.

And finally, there’s the craft books. Interweave had a “hurt book” sale last month, with unreal prices on slightly damaged books (must say, I didn’t notice a thing wrong with them when they arrived), so these three lovelies got added to my collection:

I Love Patchwork! 21 Irresistible Zakka Projects to Sew by Rashida Coleman-Hale

Customizing Cool Clothes: From Dull to Divine in 30 Projects by Kate Haxell

Printmaking + Mixed Media: Simple Techniques and Projects for Paper and Fabric by Dorit Elisha

I’ve also discovered that the Boston Public Library has quite the selection of craft books, and am currently making my way through the following list:

So far, Pretty Little Presents is on my “to buy” list, Super Crafty is already back at the library, and The Handmade Marketplace is being toted around in my bag like a good luck charm.

Throw in the daily e-mail and Facebook checks, and well, it all adds up to more reading than I realized. And that’s just the beginning of things I find to waste time with! Come back tomorrow for the next time stealer of the summer: Shopping for fabric. Beautiful pics included for free! How kind of me.

Read Full Post »

As with most things, the idea for this blog came about as part of a larger journey. My thinking at this point in time has been profoundly influenced by my recent explorations, and in particular by a stress management class I took last summer at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.  One of the basic concepts behind mind-body medicine and cognitive-behavioral psychology is that your perception has an enormous impact on your mood, your relationships, and the body itself.  Changing that perception, of course, is easier said than done.  This blog is about not only changing perceptions, but creating them.

But it started earlier than that.  There’s more to it than that.  I think it may have started back in the early ’80s when I first picked up our clunky beige rotary phone and called my grandmother for the recipe for Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies.  Or maybe it was with the crooked scarf I cobbled together with great love over an eight-year period for my best friend.  (A prolific crafter, I am not).  Or, more likely, it started before I was even born, when my great-grandmother and Marion, her cousin and best friend, first began taking crewel classes from Betty Sweet in Jaffrey, NH.  Whatever the genesis, my love for all things creative — sewing, needlepoint, singing, playing guitar, writing music, baking, cooking, and of course eating — is an integral part of who I am, passed down through the generations of my family.  (Don’t think eating can be creative?  I beg to differ…)

Fast forward to this past weekend when a dear friend and I took a jaunt up the Maine seacoast to Alewives Fabrics, a small store in Damariscotta Mills.  Both of us being of the crafty ilk, we know our way around a fabric store…and a credit card.  Several hours later, we left, high on good intentions, bundles of joy tucked under our arms.  For those who don’t know me, you will quickly learn that any time I refer to a “bundle of joy,” chances are that I am talking about a passel of fabric or a warm dish out of the oven, and not a small child.  While we couldn’t put a finger on why or how, we were sure that somehow these packages would help move us one step closer towards living the lives we’d always dreamed of.

We spent the next day cozied up in a bookstore surrounded by piles of craft books and warm mugs of chocolately coffee, happily sifting through potential projects and occasionally exchanging eye rolls as we ran across items involving use of the unfortunate word “cozy” (as in “tape-measure cozy”) or worse, “dickey.”  For the most part, though, we were taken as always by the beautiful styling of the books, filled with photos of big farmsteads and little bundles of joy, of the tactile, edible and human variety.  “Why not us?” we asked.

Why NOT us?  If perception is everything, then perhaps all I need to obtain an idyllic life is a new perspective.  I dream of being able to dedicate myself full time to creative endeavors, to live in a rural area in my old farmhouse.  You know, the one with the barn converted into a studio.  Maybe some livestock will be on hand, which my doting husband will take full responsibility for, and I will simply visit them to deliver a good long scratch on the head and a couple carrots to munch on.  Money will be no problem, and I will never feel stressed, or worry about deadlines, or bills, or health…

But that’s just fantasy, right?  I think the answer is yes and no.  Those beautiful craft books weren’t created in a day, or by a single superhuman — one look through the acknowledgements should clear up that misperception.  And yet there’s a multi-million dollar industry that launches superstars who perpetuate the belief that we should be able to do it all, all by ourselves, all at the same time.  But this is all image, and it takes an enormous team of people to create that image.

So why do we buy the fantasy?  For me, the pull towards the domestic arts is about a deeper, instinctual urge to surround myself with things that are wholesome and good, that were crafted with care and attention to detail.  I believe that the proliferation of craft books and magazines, blogs and online shops, workshops and retreats all reflect this common urge; that ultimately, we are yearning for lives that are wholesome and good — lives that are crafted with care and loving attention to detail.

I’m tired of waiting for the fantasy.  How much of my dream can I find in the here and now?  With this blog, my camera, and a bag of good intentions, I hope to find out.  My lofty goal here, then, is to show the power of perception, and how the careful editing of our lives, our actions, and our memories can bring the fantasy to life.  I will edit my life through a positive lens and shift my focus to all the beauty in my world, and the beauty I can bring to it.  My not-so-lofty goal is to push myself to continue to produce art, crafts, and food so that I have something to share here on my blog.  The happiest outcome I can imagine would be to show you that a picture-book life is not so out of reach after all.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: