Monday, August 31, 2015

Little Watercolor Ladies

I've been working on character illustrations and sketches for awhile now, and I've kinda fallen in love with these little portraits of bitty girls.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

About Plum Time

The best part of growing edible things is definitely the harvesting of them.

Well, that's my favorite part, at any rate. It is pretty exciting to take things I've harvested, combine them with other delicious things and create something new and nourishing and pleasurable, but nothing brings out the childlike wonder and awe and joy in me quite the way that harvesting does.

And it doesn't matter how often I harvest, it is ALWAYS fun and always amazes me. Plants are amazing. They DGAF. We can exist or not, they don't care. They're going to go on, with or without us. They are compelled to survive and reproduce, by a force that exists without the help of mankind. And some plants complete the cycle so quickly, you cannot help but be continually impressed. Sunflowers, for example. You plant a tiny little seed in the spring and by the end of the summer you can have a plant up to 10 feet tall!

I could wax poetic about my love of plants for hours, but life is short and blog posts should be too, so I'll get to the point.

Today was plum harvest day! It is truly one of my favorite days of the year.

Butt plums are definitely one of the reasons why.

My hippie kids taking an active and hands on part in the production of their food is another reason why I LOVE harvest days.

The gorgeous color of a polished plum is an inspiring blessing for an artist to behold, and one of the best things about plum harvesting. Our plums are such a dusty, dull, unimpressive sort of purpley blue velvet when we pick them, but with a little rub from a shirt hem, or a quick wash with a cloth in a bowl of warm water, they glow like the deepest amethyst jewels.

Some people are kinda like that too, you know?

With just a little bit of attention, they go from blending in, to shining so bright they cannot help but stand out.

We only have the one dwarf tree, so the processing that comes after the harvesting doesn't take nearly as long as it would if we had a full sized tree, but the pitting and packing for freezing does take a few to several hours depending on the size of the harvest.

This year's crop was smaller than the past two years' worth, so I don't think it'll take me more than a day to get them all cut up and stored in the deep freezer.

I literally do absolutely nothing to take care of my fruit trees. I just let them do their thing. I never remember to prune or spray or what have you, and anyway, it is hard to find them time with my son still being so young. It is pretty dang awesome that for the price of a few hours of processing time, I get enough plums to keep me in cakes and bread and galettes and kutchens all winter long.

As I start diving into my pile of plums tonight, I'm remembering the fair-trade vanilla beans I bought earlier this month, and thinking that some vanilla bean whiskey plum preserves might be in order.

I also have a buttload of mint growing in the yard as well. Mint plum preserves might make a lovely marinade for meats. Hmmmm...

On second thought, maybe I should put processing off until tomorrow, so I can explore all my options a little more. It is the last night of summer vacation, after all. I should probably be savoring it.

Yeah, Imma go with that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Soft Lemon Cranberry Zucchini Bread

Sometimes, when it has been a tiring, overwhelming day, and you feel like you've majorly sucked as a parent, as a human, and/or as a resident of the universe, you just have to bake. I mean really, you just have to get your "scratch" out and create something yummy that will make you, your kids and the universe feel a little more forgiving towards you.

I made this bread late last night,  after an uber mondo meltdown kind of day. After eating it this morning for breakfast, everybody seems to be in a little bit sunnier mood.

This is my current favorite zuke bread. I came up with this combo because my garden was pumping out the gorgeous green skinned squash and I have an abundance of dried cranberries passed along from my granny. The Husband is big on lemon water right now so there's all these lemon peels hanging around too. It was inspired by all the quick bread recipes in my Taste of Home cookbook.

It is perfect for breakfast, and makes a lovely lunch when topped by tomato preserves or jelly.

For this bread you will need

1 cup flour
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup whole oat flour
2 cups sugar
2 medium or 1 large finely shredded zuke
3 eggs
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp lemon extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup finely shredded coconut(sometimes called macaroon coconut)
1/2 cup dried cranberries(or more to taste)

Mix all this up the pour into 2 greased loaf pans and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or so. Loaves are finished when a pick inserted into center comes out clean, or with moist crumbs.

I always set them on a cooling rack when they are done baking and let them cool in the pan if they are for my family. If they are gifts, I usually let them cool for about ten minutes then remove the whole loaf from the pan and let it cool, naked on the rack.

When they are totally cooled, I wrap them in wax paper and tie them up with bakers twine, then add a little handmade tag.

Cute, AND yummy!

These loaves also freeze really well. I make them frequently in the fall to use for easy(and/or lazy) breakfasts all winter long.

As an aside, here are a few photos showing the disaster that is me baking, just in case anybody out there needs to feel less alone in their lack of neatness.

I literally cannot bake without creating some sort of disaster area. I've tried. It drives my husband nuts that I am such a slob, but hey, as soon as he shoves the food in his mouth, the complaints stop.

And what does he care if my cookbook pages stick together anyway?

It is not like he's using them...*wink* *wink*

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Saturday Night Whiskey Confessions(On A Sunday)


I really didn't drink alcohol before I had children. The high cost, especially in comparison to water, seemed ridiculous. I mean, essentially, you're paying a lot of money to make yourself have to pee. Or, at least that's the way it seemed before my children, and especially my son, came along. Now, after two years of this most exhausting and sensory overloading little person, plus six years of his less daredevil but far more emotional sister, whiskey has become medicine to me. MEDICINE I tell you.

Yes, I've gone medieval. Using herbs(I'm growing echinacea and mint and chamomile amongst others) and spirits to treat the aches and pains and gripes of life.

Whiskey, though, is a miracle worker. Oh yes! It eases headaches cause by the girl's whining and crying, the boy's banging and screaming and my dancing back and forth between the two forms of expression myself as I try to steal five minutes during the day that isn't taken up by reprimanding, refereeing, cleaning, rescuing or cooking. It is a sleep aid on the nights when my body and brain cling too needfully to the silence that can only be luxuriously enjoyed after the duo have gone to bed. AND, it is anti-anxiety happy pill on the days when I think that I simply cannot bear to pull one more object out of a nose, pull the vacuum out for the 10th time, pull the 2 year old from the top of the outside edge of the staircase a ninth time
or clean up one more puddle of water that has been sucked from a sippy then spewed all over the floor. Plus, it only takes a very little bit of it to have the desired effects, without the scary side effects that pills often have. Just a little sip and I'm all like, "Alright you heathens, go ahead and wreck my house and tear each other up. I'm too relaxed to care that you've cut the hose of the vacuum in half and shattered the cake plate my granny brought up to me from TEXAS when I got married the first time. Oh, you thought that was going to finally cause my brain to explode and send me to the sanitarium(because it's 1900 here)? WHAT evs..."

Before I had children, I judgmentally believed that parents who drank even the smallest amounts of alcohol must be not only poor parents, but utterly irresponsible. I even felt this way about my friends, people I professed to love.

I SOOOOOO regret those judgements now. I am embarrassed by those judgements now. Boy, was I ever in the dark on the subject.

To all the friends I judged-I apologize. Sincerely and from the bottom of my heart. I had no idea what parenting was like. How could I? I had no idea that living with children, even and especially your own,  was like living with tiny, homicidal, maniacal, egomaniac chimpanzees with frighteningly bad hygiene habits,  and no regard for personal space, property or privacy. I had no idea how you all were suffering, day in and day out, under the tyrannical rule of these entitled and entirely selfish little dictators! And I am ashamed of my ignorant judgements against you. What a terrible friend I was. I should have been volunteering to take over the ship for a moment and give you a break from the madness instead of whispering behind your back that you had really let yourself go and turned into quite the lush. I've experienced enlightenment. It was thrust upon me unexpectedly during those first sleepless and painful days and weeks of nursing, and continues to be thrust upon me in moments when I least expect it, like the other day when I only wanted to get my son in the car but instead was made to chase him through the neighbor's yard, kicking my shoes off in the process in order to run barefoot because the clunky shoes were slowing me down and he wasn't about to stop until Brooklyn. Or a few blocks over, at any rate.

Can you possibly forgive me, my friends?

If it helps, I am sitting here on the couch in intense pain with what I fear might be a broken toe thanks to the two year old. I'm waiting here because The Husband has been driving buses for the National Guard all weekend and isn't home from Des Moines yet to give me any sort of assistance in determining the damage done.

Not only did I possibly break the thing, but immediately following the incident, the boy was chasing and hitting the girl with a long heavy ShopVac attachment(the kind with the wide head on it), which I snatched from him as he ran by me then promptly dropped on said possibly broken toe! *sigh*

Is it bed time yet?!?!


Since I am already sitting here, I think I'll try to take my mind off of the pain radiating through my toe and foot by confessing that I've been really hard at work the past year preparing to hopefully fulfill a dream.

This is a photo from last night.

This is how I spend many nights and stolen moments through the day.

If you know me at all then you know that painting is nothing new, so where's the confession?

I always feel a little, ok a LOT of anxiety about speaking(or typing, as it were) dreams out into the world, because once you admit them to somebody, you really become a candidate for failure. If nobody knows your dreams, nobody knows you are a failure, right? But, maybe if there were more of us willing to put the things out there, maybe more of us would be willing to try to pursue our dreams, and if more of us were willing to be honest about the journey, and how it does not define you or determine your worth or the value of your life, then maybe less of us would fear the fails. Because, fearing the fails cripples people, and prevents them from having the positive impacts on the world that they are capable of.

Or maybe not. I don't know. I'm no genius. But I'm willing to try. To follow my dreams, that is. The genius ship has lonnnnnng since sailed!

CONFESSION: In my closet(and desk, and bookshelf and studio) are dozens of manuscripts. There are novel starts and volumes of poetry and, most dear of all to me, children's stories. I've been sitting on some of these children's stories for over a decade(my gosh, I am ANCIENT!), never attempting to publish them because I always felt like I did not want them to be illustrated by someone else. They are mine, my babies, my little movies in my head and I have always felt like I am the only person who can portray them accurately.

Only, I couldn't. I just couldn't settle on an illustration style that I felt really suited my words.

This has been frustrating and a bit demoralizing. As a person who considers themselves an artist, I should be able to handle this right? I mean, they are MY stories. How can I be incapable of fleshing them out with pictures from my own head?

I gave up on them for awhile. It is an easy thing to do when you are nursing a baby who sleeps no more than a couple hours at a time, who howls through the night like a wounded banshee.

But as the baby turned into the toddler, and I determined that he would be the last baby, and I realized that there would only be a few more years to stay at home with him before I would have the time, desire and need to occupy myself with a job of some sort, I began to leaf through the faded pages and papers again and think, "Why not?"

So I have immersed myself, as much as possible, in getting back to the basics. I sketch and draw and paint anything and everything as often as I can. And, I'm going back to school, as ridiculous as it feels at this age to be doing so. I'm finishing up my AA this year in hopes of transferring to a college with a really good art program next year so I can experience the challenges of upper level art instruction and hopefully combine and streamline my various styles into one appealing and creative style that is easily recognized as my own.

If the Lord's willing and the creek don't rise, at any rate.

Here's an example of the results of one of my recent "play" sessions.

Pardon the horrendous photography, please. I just started using a mac and haven't quite got the hang of their photo editing tools nor have I decided on which 3rd party software I'd like to have. Maybe if I spent less time acquiring broken toes, I could make some progress in that arena!

This piece is a combo of my usual black line drawing with watercolors and inks. I like this direction and will continue to play around with this style.

I haven't been spending as much time on illustrations as I should be lately, because I've been doing this

and this

'Tis a snail. Ha.

So there you have it.

I believe in whiskey, I have dreams of writing books for children, and I am covering myself in pounds of yarn during 90 degree heat.

Oh, and I think snails are really cute. I did not know this until this summer, when I really started spending a lot of time in my gardens and seeing the little buggers everywhere.

That being said, I don't want to, like, wake up one morning and find them crawling all over my pillow or anything.

I'm looking at you, little baboons who apparently share my DNA. Now turn your heads so I can pour some of this 2 Gingers into my tea cup and pretend it is only chamomile I'm taking for my pains.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Strange Fruit

My mom said I must have some weird soil in my backyard, to produce fruit like this. I told her it is probably just my own natural, twisted essential essences seeping down into the dirt each time I sink my fingers and hands in it.

And yes, I did just post a new photo as though a whole year and a half hadn't passed between that post and the last. I'm smooth like that.