April 30, 2012

Prairie Sisters: Vintage Goods & Antique Show

Oh my! . . . what a grand time Karin (my friend with the amazing home) and I had at the Prairie Sisters show on Saturday! When we first walked in to the old white fairgrounds building we were just overwhelmed. There was so much vintage goodness all around us we felt paralyzed. Slowly, when we were able to move our limbs again we began picking our way through the more than 60 vendors.  I brought my camera along with the intention of snapping dozens of photos but honestly I was so busy looking I kept forgetting to take pictures. Then, halfway through the show my camera battery died. Poor planning. Here are a few goodies I managed to capture:

One of our favorite vendors –  a woman who repurposes old doors. Karin almost bought the cupboard on the left, made from an old screen door, to hold all her fabric and sewing notions. Wouldn't that be adorable?!

It wasn't until I got home that I really noticed the fireplace mantel in the back of this photo. I wish I'd checked it out better when I was there. Things were sooo reasonably priced and I love the look of it.

A repurposed old bed becomes a lovely super-sturdy little bench.

I'm so into wire baskets right now.

And fans. I'd love to have one of these old reliable guys pushing a cool breeze around the room on a hot summer night.

Vintage rolling pins turned snazzy coatrack – what a cool idea!

I wish I had lots more photos to show :(  The good news is that the Prairie Sisters hold another show here in September so I'm going to be sure my battery is charged and I'm going to start saving my pennies because I know I'm going to have the "Wanties" pretty badly.

Oh, and I did buy a couple items! I'm going to get them set up and snap a few pics. I'll post them so you can have a peek.

April 29, 2012

Garden Starts

While purchasing a new blade for the lawnmower these herb and cherry tomato plants jumped in my cart. I knew with our schizophrenic weather I couldn't plant them yet, but they were so darn cute and perky I figured they could spend a few weeks on my window sills. In the warm part of the day they get to sit on the back deck but when the sun dips below the hill the temperature plummets and they have to come in.

I brush their leaves with my hands whenever I walk by and the whole air fills with wonderful aromas – that deep tomato plant smell, the zing of Rosemary, the tang of cilantro – DIVINE! Sometimes I even nibble a piece of the cilantro, just for fun.

Yesterday I went to an antique/vintage show at the fairgrounds and spent three hours in pure vintage heaven. Come back and I'll tell you all about it tomorrow!

April 27, 2012

Lotsa Rain + Hot Sunny Days = Green Explosion

I think it's greening faster than usual around here. We've lived in Missoula for 20 years now and unless I'm loosing my mind I don't think it's never been this green at the end of April. I think we're a few weeks ahead.

I know I should be alarmed and dismayed – we all know this planet is getting a little hotter all the time, but I am basking in the early warmth and color.

Plus it's Friday and you can't help but feel joyful on a Friday. It's just impossible not to.

April 26, 2012

Happy Discovery :: I love people

Mary is 93 years old. We spoke for less than two minutes. After I took her photo, she said: "If you force yourself to go outside, something wonderful always happens!" New life motto.

World's Greatest Husband discovered on Kingston Ave.

This woman was hilarious. I was interviewing an old man across from her, but she kept piping in with her own answers. She did this three or four times. At one point I asked the old man: "What was the happiest day of you life?" Before he could answer, the woman shouted out: "When I got divorced! Definitely the day I got divorced."

I finally stopped fighting the situation. I turned around, and said: "You win. I'm going to take your photo."

She said: "Oh! Should I leave my jacket on or are we doing it sexy?" Then she took her jacket off.

"Why do you want to take my photo?"
"You have a great face."
"I look like God. Don't I?"

"Why are you photographing homeless people?"
"I'm not. I'm photographing friendship." — at Chelsea, Manhattan

Do you ever accidentally stumble onto something on the internet so wonderful and captivating that you spend an hour just scrolling and reading and wondering what hole you've been in that kept you from discovering it sooner! I did that this morning when I came across a blog called "Humans of New York."  http://humansofnewyork.tumblr.com/.  The photographer also has a Facebook page by the same name and it has more than 67,000 fans! (Where have I been?!).

I could look at these street photos all day. Aren't people are so interesting, and beautiful? Isn't it cool how we're all sooo different yet all so the same? And everyone has a story.

Looking at his blog also makes me want to trek to New York City . . . maybe to live for a while. Hmmm. Someday?

I'll put that on my list.

April 25, 2012

The Dirty Life

A few months ago we were having dinner with some friends and I was chatting about my reoccurring urge to bring home chickens or move to the middle of eastern Montana and build a barn big enough for a milk cow and some gardening tools.  My friend Tammy said "Oh my gosh, you should read "The Dirty Life" by Kristin Kimball! You'll love it!"  And so I did - and she was right. I loved it.

Before I tell you about the book I have to tell you what happened when I went home that night and tried to look it up on Amazon. Because I am slowly losing my mind to old age, I couldn't remember the author or the title. The Dirty --. Hmmm. The Dirty . . . Girl? Yeah, I thought, that's it: The Dirty Girl. Warning: that is not the title and if you type in "The Dirty Girl you get inundated with a list of books whose covers alone make you turn beet red.

Okay, on to the review.

The full title of the book is "The Dirty Life - A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love." It's the story of Kimball, a Manhattan writer, who travels from her home in New York City to a rural area to interview a dynamic farmer named Mark. The two instantly fall in love and in a daring moment Kristin sheds her previous life to start a 500-acre farm with him near Lake Champlain. The adventures are endless. Kristin is brave and hardworking and I was continually in awe of her perseverance. She goes from vegetarian to slaughtering a chicken almost overnight. She wrestles aggressive piglets, endures rat infestations, survives being tossed in the air by a steer, and learns to drive a team of horses. There is disease, animal escapes, exhaustion (so much exhaustion) and ultimately a wedding. (I told you she was hardworking!)

Aside from being fearless, Kristin Kimball is a fantastic writer. Her clean, vivid text is dappled with lots of levity and soft wisdom. She made me feel like I was right there working alongside her. I loved her descriptions of the struggles and complexities of farm life and its emotional and physical toll. One minute her story would make me think "That's it - we're getting a cow" and then within pages I'd be saying "Oh my goodness, I could NEVER have a cow." (Obviously I'm not ready for a cow.)

This quick read is for everyone - the diehard homesteader, the suburban gardener, those wondering about a different life, even folks with no interest in even tending a houseplant. Kristin's story is full of adventure, life and even has a happy ending. Enjoy!

UPDATE: if you enjoyed her book and want a weekly dose of life on Essex Farm I just discovered Kristin's blog.

April 24, 2012

Auntie MP's Asparagus & Garbanzos Over Rice

My dear, spunky Aunt MP lives in Virginia. She and her husband, AC, lived close to my family during my middle school years and they've made little imprints on my heart. I love them in an adoring, soft way. My Aunt is the owner of Bookwrights Design & Publishing and she and I work together on projects here and there. It's so much fun to be her niece and her coworker.

Aside from being talented in so many ways (they once built their own home with their very own hands!, my uncle plays a meeeean piano, my Aunt is a gifted writer and artist) they are vegetarian and have oodles of tasty recipes to share.

This is one I cooked up last night and I thought I'd share it since asparagus is in season and ultra-tasty this time of year. It's a loosy-goosy recipe as far as portions go, but I've found you can just wing it and it turns out marvy every time.

Asparagus & Garbanzos Over Rice 
(Basmati is best! But brown rice is good too)

A bunch of asparagus spears, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 large carrots cut into small 1/4" pieces
A pat of butter
1 can of Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans 
1 tsp or so of Corn Starch
Soy sauce

Spices: salt & pepper, turmeric, hing powder (I don't own this so I never add, but I'm sure it's good)

1. Melt butter in a frying pan or wok, add asparagus, carrots and spices and stir fry until crisp tender. 

2. Meanwhile, cook your rice according to package directions

3. Add the can of beans, juice and all, to your stir fry and let simmer for several minutes

4. Mix a small amount of corn starch with a tiny bit of water to make a thin paste and pour into your mixture. Stir and simmer allowing the sauce to thicken. Turn to low and simmer until you're ready to serve.

5. Serve over rice. Sprinkle with a little soy sauce to taste.  YUMMY!

(This recipe served 4 good eaters but you could easily increase. It also saves nicely for a tasty lunch the next day.)

April 23, 2012

A Revelation

I had an epiphany this morning. And I'm saying this in the nicest, most unmartyrish, unhurt way . . . my family doesn't notice or care about anything else I do – they just want to have their favorite foods available and all of their clothes cleaned and ready to wear at all times, on demand. 

It seems so obvious now that I can't believe it's taken me all these years to see the truth . . . I could clean all the bathrooms until they sparkled, take a load of recycling and make a quick trip to Target shop for some much-needed toothpaste and the kids would scowl and say "We're out of string cheese?" I could wash the drapes, sweep and mop all the floors, and run two loads of dishes and Gary would ask "Is my soccer jersey clean?" Heck I could probably grow all of our own veggies and win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and someone would be disappointed that we were out of their favorite chips.

When this notion first dawned on me as I was wiping fingerprints off the door, I felt a little grumpy. It's not easy to feel like your hard work and good deeds go overlooked, and that you're getting docked points just for not washing someone's favorite capri pants, but then I began to realize how freeing this could be for me! I can just forget that other stuff. Let it go! Unless I'm doing it for myself I don't need to do it at all! I mean, sure, I still plan to do that other stuff but I don't need to do it for THEM, I need to do it for me (because I do love a clean house and a tidy life).

But I just need to focus on two things – food and laundry (well and my design work, but I'm just talking household stuff here). I can do that!

April 22, 2012

Happiness is . . .

. . . the arrival of my Amazon order:

1. Alicia Paulson's "Embroidery Companion"
2. "Doodle Stitching" by Aimee Ray
3. Anne Tyler's new novel "The Beginner's Goodbye
    (I can't even begin to tell you how much I love Anne Tyler)

April 21, 2012

Soccer Under the Big Sky


Montana just takes my breath away, time and time again. And today was no exception as we headed north to Emma's soccer games in Polson, a small town at the southern end of Flathead Lake. The hour drive took us past the Mission mountains, their jagged peaks rising from the valley floor straight up into the clouds. In Polson the lake was still and gray. Midday the clouds began to break apart and the sun came out. What a backdrop for a soccer game or two!

I love to watch my Emmabean playing soccer (center, in the white shirt). She's as fast as lightening.

April 20, 2012


Yesterday I fully intended to go grocery shopping, as the cupboards were more than a bit sparce (stewed tomatoes and dried beans anyone?). I called Gary to see if he'd like to meet for lunch and he said he would - in 45 minutes downtown at the bagel place. Perfect! But that wasn't nearly enough time to grocery shop and I kept hearing this little voice calling "Jenny, the antique mall is downtown. Please shop!" and I suddenly found myself roaming stalls of antiques. Joy!

Here's what I discovered - there are hoards of antique embroidered linens in the world! How come I'd never noticed this before? They were everywhere – so intricate and delicate. I snapped a few pics. Isn't that alphabet sampler just amazing?! What a ton of work.

Just seeing all those hankies and dishtowels and tablecloths so carefully embroidered made me think about the woman of days gone by, rocking by the fireplace in the evening, humming a little, and lovingly stitching embellishments on cloth. Women from Colonial days, the Victorian Era and those traveling West to find land to farm. Post-WWII mothers stitching their children's initials into their underwear and socks before sending them off to summer camp.

Learning this old skill makes me feel a tiny connection with those women, who were FAR more industrious and hardy than I'll ever be. Remember Ma in "Little House in the Big Woods" - when she hit that bear on the butt, thinking it was Sookie the cow? How about in "On the Banks of Plum Creek" when Pa got lost in the snow and was gone a whole night. Ma just sat by the fire, calm as can be, stitching and waiting. Even when her children showed concern and asked if she was worried she held her composure and gently sent them back to bed. I would've been freaking out, crying "Dear God, Pa's dead! What the hell am I gonna do? A lone woman with three children?! We're all gonna starve here on this piece of crap farm in the middle of nowhere!" But not Ma. She just stitched the night away.

By the time I met Gary at Bagels on Broadway (best bagels in town) I was giddy to show off my new purchases – a beautifully embroidered pillowcase and two cloth sugar sacks. As you would expect from a man, he was super excited (not!).

We split a turkey, cream cheese, cranberry sauce, sprout and sunflower seed sandwich on an everything bagel. It was so delish I wished I'd just gotten a whole one to myself.

April 18, 2012

Bookworm Wednesday

Last night I finished the book "Mary and O'Neil" written by Justin Cronin, who won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Stephen Crane Prize for this, his first novel. Cronin is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop MFA program, which I've discovered is seemingly synonymous with "writing genius." Every time I pick up a book by someone who's come out of that program I am blown away by their talent. 

Though it says the book is a novel made up of a series of short stories I can't imagine not reading this book straight through from start to finish. Yes, the stories bump you around in time a bit, but the characters are all interrelated and ultimately all family. Just like real life, the stories each of them carries from their youth shape who they are and how they relate in life.

"Mary and O'Neil" is beautiful. The characters are real and complex, dealing with all of life's truest moments – the emotion in watching your children begin their own lives, the delicate intricacies of marriage, the instances when things are forever changed, the healing miracle of birth, the emptiness of death, and the depth of love. The story of these characters is as ordinary as any of our lives, and it is as extraordinary as any of our lives.

Heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once, I loved this book.

April 17, 2012

Embroidered Kitchen Towel

Well, I completed my first embroidery project and I have to tell you . . . embroidery is SO much fun, VERY relaxing, and it is probably going to take a little PRACTICE to make my final product look anything like the pictures in Alicia's book. But, that's okay. I'm willing and patient.

If you're looking to give it a try I have to tell you (geez, I have a lot that I have to tell you don't I?) . . . I loved the flour sack towel project. You can buy the towels for about a dollar apiece at Target so if you make a mess of things you haven't blown too much cash. Plus you can instantly display your work as soon as you're finished – just drape the towel over the oven door handle and viola! Your kitchen is a bit fancier.

Here are the steps I took. (It only took me a little over an hour from start to finish.)

1. Gather your supplies and print the design you plan to use. Make sure you wash, dry and iron your towel before you start. (I had to include a picture of the package of needles because they are so vintagy cool! They came from G's aunt Billie's sewing box and they say they're made in England which makes them even yummier!)

2. Hold your towel over the printed design against a sunny window and use a washable fabric pen to trace the design on your towel.

3. Using a basic backstitch (see tutorial here), follow the design in thread colors of your choice. I used two strands of embroidery thread on the main parts of the design and just one strand on the smaller flower details.

(Sorry no photos of the sewing cuz I couldn't figure out how to take a pic while sewing.)

A couple things caused some problems for me:

a. My main thread color (blue) almost exactly matched the color of my outlining pen which made it VERY hard to see what the heck I was doing.

b. Check the back of your work FREQUENTLY. I'd be sewing away like a mad woman and then feel a funky snag, turn the thing over, and discover a spaghetti-like mass of thread on the back. I don't know how I kept making such a thread blob but it happened several time.

Here's how the back looked when I was done. I'm guessing this is kind of a crazy mess but I don't have anything to compare it to.

Here's the finished towel! I love it!

Think you want to try? Don't hesitate! Start tonight! Good luck.

April 15, 2012

Sun Day

April 14, 2012

Feeling Icky

Yesterday I felt icky almost all day. Nothing too terrible, just one of those kinds where you can tell there is something amiss and you decide not to eat anything just in case it all takes a turn for the worse. I worked and ran errands and did my usual thing anyway and by evening I felt pretty good. 

I walked to a neighbors house to meet with a bunch of other mothers. We all came with calendars and visions of summer camps in our heads and hoped to find a week when all our daughters could go to sleep-away camp together at Flathead Lake. There was wine and snackies and I hadn't eaten all day so it all looked pretty darn good.

By the time we disbanded (two hours later) we hadn't been successful at finding a week that worked for everyone – but I had been successful in consuming two glasses of wine and nearly an entire bag of some sort of AMAZING chip from Costco. It probably wasn't the best decision I've made because today I woke up feeling crappy again and now I don't know if it was the wine and ten pound of chips or if I really do have some sort of virus. *sigh*

AND, sadly, it's a beautiful, sunny Saturday. I could be out prepping the garden soil or doing general yard cleanup, but I'm on the couch staring at the view out my window, trying to muster the energy to at least go out and put the bunnies in their grassy pen. I do feel up for some handwork though so I'm going to get started on the embroidery project that I mention in an earlier post. I went ahead and ordered Alicia Paulson's Embroidery Companion last week. It is a beautiful book and has detailed descriptions of many different stitch types so I think it will be really helpful when I move on to more difficult projects. The book hasn't arrived yet, but I found some basic stitch descriptions online so I'm going to start on the kitchen towel design today and just try my best.

Wish me luck! Oh, and the daffodils are hours away from blooming! Hoorah!

April 12, 2012

Back to the Future

It's been more than a year since I first saw this series of photos by Irina Werning but I am still mesmerized and delighted by them. Isn't the top one of so beautiful? (She reminds me of Anne Frank in some way, so it makes me feel a little sad. If only Anne had been able to sit for a retake of her famous photo as an older woman.) And then there's the second set – how hysterical to see that grown man recreating his baby faces. And look how similar he still looks to his old self! I bet his mother treasures this collection.

I would love to do this with my family of origin and with my own children. I'm putting it on my "list" right now!

You can see more images from this series here and here. They are just wonderful and the photographer does such a beautiful job of carefully and precisely recreating the details of each image.

April 11, 2012

Family Fang & Treehorn