Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Domestic Bliss

Just a quick little post today to share about my new friend Janell's gorgeous online magazine, House of Fifty!  Janell is a fellow Oregonian with an immensely beautiful blog, Isabella & Max Rooms, where she gifts super-duper helpful design advice, inspiration and insight about fashioning a chic home.  The premiere issue of House of Fifty hit the web yesterday...and is a true triumph!

It has sumptuous photos, fantastic articles and practical how-to...the trifecta of magazine content.  Domestic bliss!  Read and enjoy!!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cooking to Live Well

If I were a single woman with a high-profile career living in New York City, I can guarantee one thing: my kitchen cabinets would actually store shoes rather than dishes…or food.  The cold, hard truth is that cooking and I have had a rocky relationship since college, and it became all the more dysfunctional when I became a wife and a mother.  It became downright destructive when we moved to the country because there were far fewer opportunities to “take out” or fake a headache to get out of making dinner.  And for heaven’s sake, I’m plopped right in the heart of God’s country, surrounded by organic farms and capable farmers, as well as nutrient rich soil and a little patch to grow things.  I have food-whisperers for friends, too.  Rather than botch a batch of cupcakes to take to my son’s classroom in celebration of his birthday, I prefer to save myself the embarrassment and ask a favor from my friend Cindy, a true baking wiz with a very successful cake business to prove it.  Last year, I called my friend Kristen (another baking wiz) to ask just what the heck to do with the five large zucchinis I plucked from my garden, for I certainly didn’t have a clue.  She traded me recipes for wardrobe advice; I was more than happy to deflect from my culinary shortcomings with a discussion on choosing the right cashmere cardigan.  And I am convinced my friend Lindsay shares the same DNA as Martha Stewart – she is divinely domestic and can whip up a gourmet meal as if it were a little Sunday stroll. 
In true resolution form, I vowed to mend my relationship with cooking this past January.  I simply couldn’t justify one more dinner disappointment or box of macaroni and cheese.  Now don’t get me wrong, I care very much about what I feed my family and I want my children to grow up on balanced meals.  I’m also a huge supporter of the organic movement, especially since I have a front row seat to the production of so many certified organic farms in my area.  Plus, I find great enjoyment in growing produce in my own garden.  I simply lack the confidence to aspire to greatness in cooking.  If I have learned one thing in my career as a performer, it would be this: if one lacks the confidence to aspire, opportunities to ever reach aspirations will simply cease to exist.  Over the past ten years, I’d officially labeled myself domestically disabled and laughed it off...until now.  I don’t want to further stifle opportunities for my aspirations to grow.
Last Sunday was a turning point.  My entire family has been struggling with the flu over the past week.  While sprawled on the couch in Cleopatra fashion, feeling just awful and trying to keep my children from sneezing on absolutely every surface of the house, I switched on the television.  British chef Jamie Oliver was premiering the second season of his reality show, “Jamie’s Food Revolution”.

(Jamie’s life-changing cookbook of the same name.)

It was fabulous…really and truly meaningful television.  I admire his vision and can understand his struggle, as well as empathize with the struggles of those he’s trying to educate.  So many people lack the confidence to cook well, and many lack knowledge about preparing meals with fresh ingredients.  Suddenly the show was a lightening rod: could I indeed learn to prepare delicious and healthy meals for my family without it turning into a flaming drama and me crying in the corner?!
Monday night would be the test.  I am a compulsive reader, prone to tabbing, dog-earing and ripping out bits of useful information from books and magazines.  It just so happened that I saved a little two-page spread from Real Simple magazine on how to transform a store-bought rotisserie chicken into various delights.  Earlier in the day, I ventured forth to the grocery store to buy the usual suspects to fight what ailed us:  Gatorade, lemon-lime soda, saltine crackers, Nyquil and a rotisserie chicken, for good measure.  That night I was determined to make us “real” chicken noodle soup, simply because I just couldn’t bear the thought of eating it from a can one more day.  Armed with the article, I was able to use a carton of organic chicken broth from the fridge, baby carrots from the kid’s snacks, a bag of frozen cheese tortellini (which we always seem to have on hand) and shredded bits of the rotisserie chicken to make a semi-homemade chicken [pseudo]noodle soup.  A little parsley was also sprinkled on top.  Then the heavens parted and the angels sang as every member of the family ate the soup contented.  They actually smiled at the end of the meal and said, “Good job, Mom.”  (In my very young daughter’s case, it was more of a, “Yummy!”)  In eight years of marriage and six as a mother, that was a first.  I admit that with pride and more than a twinge of sadness.  It made me that much more determined to patch things up with cooking.

Back in January, my resolution not only involved learning to cook, but to cook with an eye toward a preservative-free lifestyle.  I’ve since been investigating various schools of thought regarding healthy meals, and the question is whether or not to be vegetarian, vegan, raw, or just completely organic…or none of the above.  But before deciding for my family, I made myself the test subject, and I started with a raw diet.  Why not begin at square one, right?  In an effort to compensate for my holiday treat indulgences the month before, I opted for a raw juice “cleanse” by Cooler Cleanse to preface the new diet.  It was brutal: six prepared raw juices each day for three days straight, flown overnight from New York to preserve their freshness.  Despite its brutality, it worked like magic.  I felt cleaner and lighter, and the juices were truly delicious.  But I was ready to eat my hand by the third day.  Mother cannot live on juice alone.  Fruit and vegetables in their purest form proved to be the perfect introduction to a raw diet, though.  Thankfully, there were many more raw recipes than I figured floating out the food world.  I happened upon a wonderful raw hummus recipe by Cecilia Benjumea from Raw Glow and it has now become my desperate snack go-to for the moments when I really need something filling during gaps in the day.

(Pretzel thins aren’t a truly raw option, but I’ve reintegrated them into my snacking
because I just couldn’t take another carrot stick.)

(I like to serve it on my favorite little French farmgirl dish from County Cork Collectibles!)

While the raw lifestyle may have worked for me, I ultimately concluded that it was too singular.  Just as our kitchen cabinets truly need to be filled with dishes and food rather than shoes, eating well needed to be about nourishing my entire family and showing them how much I care about them.  I love the basic principles of the raw diet though and plan to incorporate as many fresh ingredients into our meals and snacks as possible.  (I’ll sneak in a green smoothie weekly, too!)  Additionally, since we’re blessed to have our own certified organic livestock and free-ranging chickens, I feel a responsibility to utilize as many of the locally grown/organic produce and products available to us in our small community.  But quite simply, I just want to strive for honest meals that continue to bring out more smiles and contribute to healthy, happy tummies.  Will it be perfect?  No, and I accept that.  Relationships worth having are the ones that take a little extra work, though.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What's Your Story?

I have a thing for biographies.  I just can’t get enough.  Books, movies, television specials, historical documentaries…anything that unrolls the story of a person’s life, like a long rug in an even longer hallway.  There is something so inspiring about a life’s twists and turns, victories and failures, lessons learned and legacies bestowed, no matter how great or how small those phases may have been, and no matter how insignificant or significant a person may feel their life’s journey is or was.  To me, every story has significance.  And the beauty is that every person has a story to tell…it’s a common foothold for the human race.
It reminds me of occasions where my husband and I have met other couples for the first time, either at a dinner party or event.  Inevitably – after introductions, handshakes and first sentences – someone will ask, “And how did you two meet?”  I love that moment, but not necessarily for the chance to share my own story.  Instead to watch how a person’s eyes dance when they unroll a little bit of their story and retrace footsteps.  It’s a vulnerable position to be the storyteller, but as I’ve learned about vulnerability over the years, can be a great comfort to others.  It illuminates what is good and true and real.
One of my most cherished memories as a teenager was the month my paternal grandmother came to live with our family.  She had taken a bad spill and needed full-time care, so my father moved her into our house (and my room) until she recovered.  While my sister and I were none-to-pleased about having to bunk together, Grandma Ada was extremely entertaining.  And I mean with a capital “E”…she was nothing short of gregarious, even in her fragile state.  My sister and I still chuckle at the time she opened up the newspaper to an ad containing a photo of a scantily clad policeman. (I never did find out why there was such an ad in the newspaper…and come to think of it, I never checked to see what kind of newspaper it really was either…hmm.)  She promptly yelled out, “He can arrest me any day!”  All three of us burst out laughing on the spot.  Did I mention she was gregarious?  One Sunday, my father had the brilliant idea to sit Grandma Ada down on the living room couch and have her share her life’s story.  He set up a tape recorder and we circled around her, listening intently.  And her eyes danced the entire time.  She unfolded her life bit-by-bit, like a furoshiki cloth.  When she felt she had said all she needed to say, we were left with the most precious gift: her story in her words, unfettered by time or circumstance.  Perhaps it then I first marveled at a life’s story.  It certainly made me appreciate her and all she had experienced.  As it turns out, Grandma never did fully recover from her spill and she died shortly thereafter.  That time spent with her is now all the more precious, as is the documentation of her life.
When I first started designing totes for my little wearables business, Ma Chère Finery, I happened upon a letter to a pair of sisters from December 31, 1901 in a quaint antiques store in the Pearl District of Downtown Portland.  Four meticulously handwritten pages were bundled with an accompanying tattered envelope, addressed to Annie and Blanche in Poland, Maine.  I must have stood in the shop marveling at this letter for half-an-hour.  I then purchased it and took it home to treasure.  It served as a window to the lives of Annie and Blanche, as well as their friend Laura, the writer.  In the letter, Laura apologized for not writing sooner to acknowledge the lovely photographs the girls had sent her at Christmastime.  She proceeded to tell them about her fond memories of them in school and how she hoped to visit them soon, closing with, “I remain – as ever – your sincere friend.”  I pondered for some time what to do with this beautiful letter.  Should I frame it?  (And I still might.) But then it hit me: what if I were to create a tote design around images of the letter and envelope?  Eureka!  Then others could share in the little story of Annie and Blanche as they went about their daily lives.  I scanned the letter and envelope and printed the images onto fabric.  Together, along with a photograph of four women dated 1901 that I imagine would have been something similar to those referred to by Laura in her letter, I appliquéd them onto reproduction grain sack fabric and fashioned it all into a tote. 

It was the very first item I sold on Etsy, to a lovely woman in Dublin, Ireland.  And now each time I recreate the design for a new customer, I think about the significance of Annie and Blanche and the life they lived.
That particular tote also sparked commissioned projects, to commemorate the lives of loved ones.  My favorite was a request from my maternal grandmother to create a tote for her sister-in-law, my Great Aunt Eve, on the occasion of her 80th Birthday.  It was a surprise, too…even better!  After some sleuthing, Grandma emerged from Eve’s house with a fistful of fabulous photos.  Two were particularly meaningful and therefore used in the design of tote.  The first was a photo of Eve’s father as a chauffer in 1918 driving to pick up a new bride and groom in Portland, Oregon, and the second was of Eve alongside her mother and two brothers one lovely afternoon.  Grandma also asked that I include a “touch of Italy” somewhere in the design.  Eve’s parents had emigrated from a small town in Southern Italy and were very proud of their Italian heritage.  I created a little ribbon medallion festooned with a crest from the Province of Cosenza and three vintage glass buttons from the 1920s.  I greatly wish I could have attended the birthday celebration where Great Aunt Eve opened her surprise gift.  Mom and Grandma tell me it was quite a bash!  According to my mom, once Eve pulled the bag from its wrapping and had a moment to examine it, she began recalling the memories that surrounded the tote's featured photos to the loved ones around her…exactly the response I had hoped for! 

It was truly a treat to create that custom tote for Great Aunt Eve, a woman I’ve respected all my life.  And in so many ways, it made me feel that much closer to her…like I’d been invited into her story, to see the world as she saw it as a little girl.  From her story – as well as Grandma Ada’s and what I imagine of the sisters from Poland, Maine – emerged a legacy.  A lasting legacy of love, shared experiences and lessons learned.  Facets of a life well lived, and if I do say so myself, the makings of an incredible biography.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Orange Colored Sky

There are certain moments that make you wish real life had background music.  The kind of background music that sets up the first few bits of a movie…when the stars names are alternately splashed and often a big aerial shot of the locale or “busy dealings of the day” scenes eventually roll on to introduce you to the main character.  Think back to The Devil Wears Prada opening with KT Tunstall’s “Suddenly I See” or the 2005 big-screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice opening with the glorious playing of Jean-Yves Thibaudet.  It just makes you feel like settling in and watching things unfold. 
I had one such moment as the sunset fell to the west of our house yesterday evening.  And although the day was drawing to a close, I could hear Nat King Cole lilting “Orange Colored Sky” while I sat with the kids in the lawn and my hubby tinkered in the garage nearby.

The sunset from our backyard - March 30, 2011

(Tell me: is there anything a little Nat King Cole can’t cure?  Not so sure there is.)  Every living thing around us seemed sparked by the orange glow tinting the sky...and all was right in our world for a moment or two.  Although the scene beyond that didn’t unfold to anything remotely cinematic, I walked back into the house to get the kids into their PJs still basking in the cheerful orange vision.  And I couldn’t help but want to make that “orange feeling” last a little longer…especially as the nightly tug-of-war with two sleepy kidlets who still think they need three more glasses of water and five bedtime stories and fifty stuffed animal friends with them in the bed before they would ever think of closing their eyes {sigh} unfolded.
I admitted to you in my last post that I am an ardent follower of beauty products…and fashion for that matter, if we’re being honest.  As beloved Uncle Harold once said to me, “A little paint never hurt no barn!”  Truer words were never spoken.  I find immense enjoyment in the art of being a woman.  To my utmost delight, the fashion world has declared orange as the color of the season this Spring.  Now’s my chance to bask in the sheer joy of that backyard orange colored sky moment for a while longer!
The April issue of Lucky magazine (on stands now) has a brilliant feature translating a piece of art into a chic outfit.  Lo and behold, look what they translated…


Be still my heart.  I love the pop of orange against the burlap dress!
And the brilliant minds and talents behind J. Crew’s 2011 Spring lineup have thusly resuscitated my now rapidly beating heart with their use of bright orange lipstick with EVERYTHING.  So bold, so daring and so 1950s starlet-meets-modern ingénue.  Feminine and oh-so-flattering, as evidenced by the varying complexions and hair colors of the models…a sure sign.

I’ve actually been pining for those J. Crew Spring lips for the last few months, and after some sleuthing discovered J. Crew painted those pouts with NARS’ fabulous matte lipstick in “Heat Wave”.  During a recent trip to Portland, I popped by Blush Beauty Bar – the chic Mecca of barn painting – to see for myself whether “Heat Wave” would induce cold sweats in person.  After a lovely assistant helped me test it, I triumphantly walked forth from Blush Beauty Bar with not only the tube, but a matching OPI nail polish and the will to be as downright daring as those J. Crew models.

If life were like the movies, I could just pause and rewind to my orange colored sky as often as necessary…but alas, I can’t.  A  swipe of “Heat Wave” is certainly enough to evoke that same feeling of cheer and joy, though.  And I love that I can add deeper sentiment to the little luxury of lipstick.  For it’s just as Mr. Nat King Cole said: “I was walking along, minding my business, When out of an orange-colored sky, Flash! Bam! Alakazam!  Wonderful you came by.”  Inspiration often lurks when we’re just minding our business.