Monday, March 30, 2009

Altered Books

I will be teaching an Altered Books class tomorrow night. I am excited to be working with altered books again after spending a great deal of time doing the scrappy book class.

For those of you wondering what an altered book is, here's the official wikipedia definition:

An altered book is a form of mixed media artwork that changes a book from its original form into a different form, altering its meaning.
An altered book artist takes a book (old, new, recycled or multiple) and cuts, tears, glues, burns, folds, paints, adds to, collages, rebinds, gold-leafs, creates pop-ups, rubber-stamps, drills, bolts, and/or be-ribbons it. The artist may add pockets and niches to hold tags, rocks, ephemera, or other three-dimensional objects. Some change the shape of the book, or use multiple books in the creation of the finished piece of art.
Altered books may be as simple as adding a drawing or text to a page, or as complex as creating an intricate book sculpture.
Or simply: An altered book is an existing book that has been changed or altered.... "glued, painted, collaged, rubber stamped, cut, torn, or added to. It is an expression of one's self, a piece of art, an experiment or a conversation piece." (from yahoogroups)

I began to take an interest in the altered book form several years ago when a friend showed me an article about the art form and suggested that we take a class together. Always game for another kind of project, especially one that would allow me to use up all the little bits of funky paper and old postcards I've been collecting over the years, I signed up, no questions asked. The class was wonderful and gave us both a window into the altered book world. I didn't make it to the Level II class (babies, farms, teaching...) but instead took matters into my own hands. Additional research as well as taking time to just sit with my old books and putter around with the pages gave me the bug. I'm hooked. (And I don't have any photos of my own stuff... so I found some fun pages on the web. Stay tuned for some of my own soon.)

If you're interested in checking it out, here are a few good resources on the web:

::The most amazing place to buy funky stuff for altered books, if you don't happen to have a box of your own odd collections.
::Another interesting source for supplies
::A flickr site with some artful pages
::A book on Altered Book Scrapbooks
My favorite part about making altered books? There are no rules. No high-art societies here. Just grab a few supplies, a glue stick and a scissors, some stamps or scraps of paper, whatever you have on hand... take an old book from a garage sale, and GO! Adding accordian pages, windows, doors, hidden boxes, tags and tabs--it's easy and fun. Best of all? Once they are in my books, I don't ever have to say, "I wonder where I put that...?" I just go to the altered book shelf and smile.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thinking about a garden

My seed packets are sitting next to my coffee filters and coffee in the kitchen and I stare longingly at them every morning. How much longer? Who knows in Minnesota, really. My brother has a plan to make a room in his basement for us to set up grow lights. I bought a shop light a few years ago thinking that I would have time to start before the weather was nice. Little did I realize, with three kids some days I barely have time to brush my teeth. His idea of having it at his house made me very happy... he could do the daily maintenance and I could just visit.

If you need a primer on starting seeds, here's what Martha has to say.

So... I have carrots, broccoli, cosmos, two different Martha Stewart zinnia packs, pole runner beans, sugar snap peas and beans so far. We're joining a CSA this summer, so I'm trying to control myself. More on the CSA later.
Michelle and her girls are going to grow a lot of yummy things in that big lawn of theirs. What are you going to grow in your patch of green?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


My big guy turned six this week! Happy Birthday, Carl! To my lego-loving, math-doing, Spanish-speaking, cookie-mixing, snow-stomping, puddle-splashing, cuddle-bugging Carl, I love you! You are so grown up and we're very proud of all you do!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Smaller and smaller and smaller

I love this time of the year--Girl Scout cookie season. I have great memories of trying to outsell all the girls in my troop, trying to earn enough money to pay for my entire week at Girl Scout camp. Back in the day, cookies were $2.00. Now they cost $3.50. I can handle that. Inflation, no problem.

But the quantity? Was anyone else a little befuddled when the boxes arrived this year looking like a match box? My tube of Thin Mints is shorter than the phone. Oh my.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Curly Red Haired Weez

Yep, there she is. The one that has redder and curlier hair than I ever could have imagined my child might have. I love it. Just love it. Caught, midbite of cereal.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Biffy and other Environmental Considerations

Have you heard of this before? If you aren't familiar with it, check out their informational, if cheesy website. I first learned about it from my friend Nora and then was able to check it out in person when I visited her recently.

Up until recently, my prior experiences with bidet-like products were limited to fancy bathrooms in hotels/homes in Europe and also in China, where a small hose was located close to many non-toilet type toilets. Without getting too personal, I had always wondered why the Western world was happy with just toilet paper. I mean, how can you really get clean with dry paper? I had sensed that many Americans were a little squeamish about bidets, often hearing them used as foot tubs or as the brunt of jokes. I've since learned that much of the Muslim world is equipped with washing devices near the toilet too.

In a nutshell, I was thoroughly impressed with the Biffy. Nora's husband Jon swore to me that the hookup of the biffy took mere minutes and that even their 4-year-old son was capable of "biffying" himself. Himself? Impressive. This I had to introduce to my boys.

[I can't believe I'm blogging about this... YIKES!]

The premise of the contraption is simple. A small device is attached to the left side of the underside of your toilet seat. You attach a small hose to the water input for your toilet, which attaches to the device. When you are ready to use it, simply make sure you sit back on the seat, then push back the lever. While you do this, another lever swings into the toilet area, squirting water upwards to do the rinsing for you. There's a little switch on the handle that can be used to adjust the pressure from a trickle to a gushing geyser. The directions say you can "pat or tamp dry," I suppose using toilet paper or a towel saved specifically for this purpose. To each their own on this one... but I have heard of households who save a lot of money on their toilet paper bills with this little guy.

We ordered a biffy for ourselves and for an unnamed local friend (people's toileting habits should remain private, right? Except for those of us willing to share to the world in the name of promoting a cool product, eh?) My brother-in-law helped me hook it up while our collective five children watched. Expecting that it would be a great interest to all of them, particularly the mischievous 3 and 4 year olds, we carefully explained that it was not a toy, that it was only for helping themselves stay clean and fresh smelling.

Ten minutes later Carl came running down the stairs yelling, "Mom, they're squirting the ceiling!"

"The ceiling?" I wondered aloud.

As I reached the bathroom, I saw two wet boys running out, dripping with water, soaked all the way through. I couldn't help but smile when I looked up and saw a circle on the ceiling of where the hyper-powered Biffy had been squirting. Wow. The floor? At least an inch of standing water. Definitely funny the first time, but I worried about future damage to our tin ceilings in the kitchen below. A short, calm lecture followed about the importance of using it only post-potty time and not for other uses. My threat of removing the biffy must have worked.... no more incidents, just proud, fresh smelling boys.

On another note, many folks out in the blogosphere have been taking note of things they can do to help out during the rough financial times we're facing now, both to help their pocketbooks and become more green. Eren has a list of what her family is doing for their own stimulus package. Here's another website dedicated to being greener and living more simply.

Here's a list of a few of things we're doing:

1. Square foot gardening again this summer... this time, we're not letting the compost-planted pumpkins take over.

2. Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)-- essentially a farm you become a member of and receive a crate of the recent pickings every week May-October. The one we're joining has GOATS and I can buy raw milk for cheese making. Stay tuned.

3. Cloth napkins. I keep a basket of them in the dining room and each person has a wooden napkin ring (made by my dad and decorated by the each family member). We use the napkins until they're dirty enough to wash, then toss into the laundry. Guests get clean ones, of course.

4. Reparing holes in jeans. Lots of jeans piling up here, so today I went to the fabric store to buy patches. Lots and LOTS of them.

5. Bar soap vs. Liquid soap. Think about the packaging necessary for liquid soap vs. bar. All that plastic... for what? We still have some fancy Bath & Body Works stuff for guests, but as soon as our supply runs out, we're headed to the bar.

Many more green things happening here, but that's the subject for another post. In the meantime, what are YOU doing to save money and/or live more simply?

[For those of you still wondering about the biffy... it self-cleans. Yes, indeedy. I wonder if it could be trained to fold laundry too?!?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Monkey Donuts

Did you ever eat monkey bread when you were a kid? Or do you still? I can happily answer YES to both questions. Growing up, monkey bread was a regular occurance on weekend mornings or at the family cabin, quickly prepared using store-bought refrigerated tube biscuits. Nothing fancy, but definitely tasty. As a mom, I have been known to break out the tube biscuit version here and there, as the biscuits seem to last forever in the back of the fridge and the recipe goes together very quickly.
Since I've been baking most of our bread lately with the Artisan Bread In Five Minutes a Day method (I sound like I'm being paid to promote it... I'm not!), I always seem to have at least one kind of dough in the fridge at a time. A while back I was getting ready for bed and thought that it might be nice for the family to wake up the next morning to the sweet, cinnamony scent of monkey bread, or monkey donuts, as the boys call it here. With a full bucket of the master recipe in the fridge, the preparation was simple. Instead of four tubes of biscuits, I used half a recipe. After preparing the dough and placing everything in the pan, I put it in the fridge overnight. The following morning I took out the pan, let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes, then baked as usual. The results were amazing! Far superior to the biscuit version, said Ron. The boys were just happy to have a gooey breakfast.
You can do it too! Here's the recipe:
-1 batch of the master recipe (from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day) or use 4 tubes of refrigerated biscuits.
-3/4 c. sugar
-1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
-1 stick butter
-3/4 c. brown sugar
-Pecans (optional)
Carefully dust the dough with flour so it doesn't stick to your hands. With a scissors or by hand, tear the dough into small super-ball sized chunks. Drop the pieces into the cinnamon/sugar mixture, tossing to coat. Place the pieces into a greased pan (depending on quantity... a loaf pan, a bundt pan, or ??). If you like nuts, place the pecans in the bottom of the pan, so when it is served and flipped upside down, they will be on top. You can also add marischino cherries for an extra-fancy kid-pleasing touch.
If you want to refrigerate overnight, cover pan with foil. In the morning, remove the pan from the fridge and allow to rise in a warm spot for 30 minutes uncovered. For immediate use, melt the butter in a small pan on the stovetop and add the brown sugar, creating a liquidy-caramel. Pour over the top of the dough in the pan. Bake at 350 degrees uncovered for 30-35 minutes, depending on the size of your batch. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully invert on a tray and serve.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Blueberry and Lemon Goodness

I've been digging deeper into Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This weekend I tried the lemon blueberry wreath recipe that is made with the brioche dough. Wow! Brioche dough merits the fancy french pronunciation of brioche...shhhhh. The full batch contains three sticks (yes, that's 3) of butter and eight eggs. The color of the dough and the subsequent bread truly reflects all of the yolks that have been happily included in the mixture. I'd love to try it again with the eggs from my own future chickens... or at least from someone else's free range ladies.

The recipe includes the directions to make your own lemon curd, but I used some from a jar. It was on hand and I've made lemon curd before, so I remembered how labor intensive it can be. You roll out the dough into a large rectangle, topping it with the lemon curd. I used fresh blueberries to spread out over the lemony goodness, before rolling it up into a log and pinching it together to form a wreath. Once wreath shaped, you make slices every 1 1/2"-2" and nudge them in and out of the circle, to form the shape you see above. (It was 6:00 a.m. when I was doing the arranging... I wanted a photo, but there were none to be found!) It is then topped with a beaten egg and sprinkled liberally with sugar. In the oven for 35-40 minutes, it made our house smell wonderful!
The taste was even more wonderful. As I ate my third slice I realized that if I'm not careful, I could be happily eating these every day. The bucket of dough is still in my fridge... what other fun combinations could I come up with at 6:00 tomorrow morning??

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Signs of Spring:: Part One

We spent some serious time outside this weekend. It reached the upper 30s here... so the snow was melting and puddles forming. Just as the seasons pass, our rain boots replace our snow boots and puddle soaked clothes become the happy status quo. Spring is coming. Soon.

Poor Molly dog... all of her frisbees are buried deep in a snow pile in our yard. Instead she brought me this pitiful sand bucket, hoping that I'd indulge her in a little bucket fetch. I did. She was in dog euphoria.

A snow fort, a very mushy snow fort with which they have a serious love/hate relationship. So fun to build, yes, but hurry up and melt so we can ride our bikes on a dry sidewalk, please!
Miss ladybug boots Louise probably doesn't remember puddles from last year. She has been standing by the door, boots ready, waiting patiently at all hours of the day. "Puddles, mama."
What signs of spring have you seen? Add some photos to your blog and I'll link them all together here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Have you seen this?

So fun, so fun. It makes me think about the art all around us and in us. Some people like to think of art only as something you make or buy to hang on a wall. How can that be? With so many talented artisans of every persuasion living all around us... doing, making, creating, and being... art is everywhere.

Today I found it again in my basement. I found the clean surface of my sewing table where I'm trying to sew Louise's curtains and blog at the same time. It has been so heaped with stuff that I hadn't allowed myself to do art. The art has found me.

I found art in the kitchen too. Pizza. Just pepperoni and cheese for the kids on a handmade crust from Artisan Bread in Five, but for the big kids an olive oil-garlic-red onion-spinach- mozzarella creation baked at 550 degrees til it was crispycrusty perfect.

I saw art when seven little kids crowded a pile of papers, cast-off stickers, a box of crayons and doodled their way to happiness.

And you? Where did you find art today?

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Surprise Trip

Osorno, Chile 1991

Nora and Jenn-- 18 years later.

I received a phone call a few weeks ago on a Tuesday night from my old friend Nora. We met in 1991 as exchange students in Chile. As we were the only exchange students in our small town, we instantly bonded. The bond went much deeper than being exchange students as we spent many an afternoon strolling the streets of Osorno, oblea cookies in hand, discovering how many shared interests we had. The phone call was great, especially when she got to the part where she asked me if I'd like to come and visit. "Of course," I said.

"Well, you're coming!" she replied.

"What? What are you talking about?" I said with a confused look on my face.

"It's all set. You and Louise are coming on Thursday morning, staying through Monday. Ron planned it all. Pack your bags!"

My sneaky and wonderful husband got the idea to send me around Christmas time when he saw Nora's handwritten note on the end of her typed Christmas letter. "See you in 2009?" Originally he was going to send just me, but then Nora reminded him that Louise could still fly for free and that of course it would be more fun if her kids could play with Louise." Done. Ticket purchased. Now... how to make this happen? Ron wanted to wait until that morning to tell me, packing our bags himself, but then my mother-in-law and own mom convinced him that the planner in me would probably have a heart attack. Tuesday evening was the plan. Perfect!

As we got off the plane in El Paso (the closest airport to Las Cruces) and saw Nora and her daughter Jubilee, I knew it was going to be an amazing trip. Louise and Jubi are 5 months apart and about the same size. From the picture above, you can see that they could be sisters from their looks, except for the curly/straight hair situation. Well, ok, there's the brown/blue eye thing too... but really! They hit it off so well that I was able to slip away to the bathroom undetected by Louise while she giggled in delight at her same-sized new best friend.
We spent the five days together with her husband Jon, Jubilee and son Zephyr. Big brother Zephyr took Weez in under his big-brother wing and squealed with delight as she called him "Beffer." Jubi became "Boobie" in Louise-speak. We cooked, laughed, danced, walked, played, shopped for new matching rings, had playdates with her friends, game night with other friends, danced some more, and spent almost an entire day experiencing her local farmer's market. Essentially, Louise and I just jumped into their daily lives. It was the best kind of getaway I could have imagined to see Nora. Although we talk on the phone, email and occasionally (though reluctantly on my part) Facebook, we hadn't spent much extended time together since either of us married or had kids. Spending that much time together, in jammies and dressed, Jon-made tea or diet cokes in hand, was fabulous.
Story time with Jon and the three kids. Weez and Jubi wore each other's jammies the whole trip.

Coming from Minnesota's cold and white winter, the dryness of New Mexico's winter surprised me. We strolled along this dry irrigation ditch to the park as I gazed at the pecan trees in the distance. The desert is such lovely country.
Here's a scene from the farmer's market. I imagined what a similar scene would look like at my local market this time of the year... snow jackets and mittens. Can you even play a bass with mittens on?

The time away from the cold gave me hope that spring is indeed on its way. A huge thank you to Nora and her family for being such wonderful and gracious hosts. To my husband who arranged the whole deal AND painted the bathroom AND removed our old concrete yucky double laundry sink, replacing it with a sleek wall mounted single sink... I love you. You made my year.
A funky house near the park. Coordinated with the truck in front?

Nora's beautiful handmade valentine cookies from our playdate in the park.