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Monday, December 19, 2011

Poinsettia Pillow


I generally avoid projects that require me to sew a lot. This is primarily due to my mother’s crotchety old sewing machine, which we refer to as “the devil machine.” Every few inches the thread bunches and tangles and is a general pain in the butt. Every so often, though, I am willing to make an exception.
A few weeks ago my mom and I were doing some Christmas shopping and saw a Christmas pillow at Pottery Barn we both fell in love with:


Being artistic, resourceful individuals, we looked at the price tag and looked at how it was made and decided to make copycat slipcovers for the throw pillows we already have on our sofa. Not only is this less trouble than having to stuff and fluff and de-lump a scratch pillow, but slipcovers take up minimal storage space after the holidays.
In doing some pre-craft research, I discovered that we were not the only ones who had taken a fancy to that particular pillow. In fact, a number of websites and blogs offered ideas and instructions for making replicas of what is, apparently, the most popular pillow ever. Some were nicely done, others not so much. Many violated the (my) cardinal rule of fabric crafts: if you use cheap quality material, the end product will look cheap. And as much as I love a bargain, I don’t want my holiday decor to look like a kindergarden project.


This leads me to my first pointer for others who want to create replicas of this, or other, felt-based holiday pillows: pay a little extra to buy good quality felt, not the $1 craft sheets. In this application, it will make all the difference. In total it cost me about $18 to make three pillows...much cheaper than buying the pillows from Pottery Barn ($29 each) and the end result is less "homeroom craft."
My second pointer: don’t frustrate yourself by trying to imitate the original exactly. Make it your own. In our case, mum and I used burlap for the pillow instead of linen. We liked the contrast of color and texture it provided against the felt. In addition, we liked the idea of a more rustic looking pillow to contrast with the shiny, reflective finishes of the silver, gold and mercury glass decor we used in the rest of the living room. To tie them in with our other decor we chose a mixture of silver and gold bells for the center and silver/gold thread for the stitching on the petals. Have fun and make the project your own.

In the end here is what we created:



Simple and fun...that's the way we do things here at the Pink Milk Crate!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

We’re Not in New England Anymore, Toto


A few weeks ago, my family went back east to New England to visit my grandfather. Every time we go we stop by the local cider mill to buy cider (my hands-down favorite beverage of all time), freshly baked cider doughnuts, buy local apples, taste test the homemade wine and watch the family that runs the mill operate the old-fashioned wood press that still produces all their cider. The whole things reeks of New England-ness and I just love it.


The press. For more info go to http://www.bfclydescidermill.com/
When we returned home, mum and I decided we would take a trip out to a cider mill here in the Kansas City area. We had heard lots of good things about it and were craving more doughnuts and apples...those little locally grown ones have ten times more flavor than grocery store apples. It’s like comparing apples and...well...apples.
An hour’s drive later, we pull into the gravel parking lot of the famous cider mill. It was all downhill from there. Far from being a quaint destination spot, it was more like a roadside attraction. I expected to see a sign boasting “two headed cow around back.” The parking lot smelled so awful I kept gagging...it was like someone had eaten a ton of cheese then vomited it all over. Gross.
The “mill” itself was a stainless steel, mechanical contraption you could watch from behind a fingerprint-smudged Plexiglas wall. A band straight out of the movie Redemption played country music on a makeshift stage, and a food truck from the local church was serving food. Exchanging disappointed looks, we went into the gift shop to poke around. Nothing in there was local. The apples were all from Michigan, and the snacks, beverages and knickknacks were all national labels you could buy in any grocery store. 
In a last ditch effort to salvage the trip, we bought some cider and “fresh, homemade doughnuts.” While I’m sure the doughnuts were homemade, they were chewy and cold, having been pre-packaged in paper bags and piled behind the counter for the cashiers to hand out. 
We contemplated checking out the corn maze next door, but would have had to walk across the vast, cheese-vomit wafting parking lot. In the end, we drove back home after spending less than 15 minutes at the cider mill. 
This was not our first attempt to seek out the charms of New England in the grasslands of Kansas. Last year we went blueberry picking, one of our favorite past-times in New Hampshire when I was little. The picking itself was really fun, although my mother’s competitive streak meant I spent most of the time trying to keep up with her as she zipped from bush to bush hunting for the best berries. Not really the relaxing bonding experience I had expected. 
All was going well until we made our way back to the gift shop/weighing station to pay for our haul. Inside the shop was a large replica of Noah’s Ark made from popsicle sticks (okay...arts and crafts...cool). Then we started reading the signs posted on it: explanations of how Noah could, and did, bring dinosaurs on the ark (red flag, red flag). Suddenly the large dinosaur statues that dotted the farm made a lot more sense (I had thought they were just there to entertain the little kids).
Apparently, Noah had collected 2 of each kind of dinosaur egg, making for much easier transport than taking live dinosaurs onboard. A sensible argument minus the fact the timeline is off by several millennia.
There wasn’t a sign describing the specifics of dinosaur egg selection, so I’m still baffled as to how Noah knew which eggs had boy dinosaurs and which had girls dinosaurs inside, thus ensuring a pair capable of mating and propagating the species. I nearly asked the nice young girl behind the checkout counter but decided against it. 

Boy and girl eggs...
All in all, I think we’ll stick to New England for satisfying our foraging desires. I love the Midwest, but in some categories it just can’t compare.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

End of an Era


It’s been a while since The Pink Milk Crate has boasted anything new...the past few weeks have zipped by at lightening speed. I am ashamed to have missed out on posting during what is perhaps the most important nesting season of the year. But I’m back on track and excited to share all the decorating, food and crafting things I’ve been up to lately.
Perhaps most interestingly, I should tell you that my pink milk crate will be of no use to me this holiday season. I have been disenfranchised. 
Let me explain.
My mother isn’t exactly a holiday Scrooge, but she’s close when it comes to the trappings and trimmings department. Getting us into the holiday spirit with holiday decor was always my dad’s department. He would carve pumpkins with me and my brother and make a Halloween dummy out of an old shirt and pants stuffed with leaves. He would hang Christmas lights on the house and take us out to the tree farm to cut down our own tree. My mom has always been more of a Home Depot-tree kind of lady. 
Since my dad passed away, generating holiday spirit has been left to me. My mom and brother like the results but don't care enough to put the work into it themselves. I generally carve Halloween pumpkins on my own, decorate the house for Thanksgiving, plan the holiday meals, and fight for the right to put up Christmas lights and a real tree. It has become my annual duty and pleasure. It's a way for me to feel close to my dad again and to express my creativity.
This year, Halloween progressed as usual. I carved pumpkins and used the remote-operated flameless candles my mom insists are more sensible than real tealights (they are actually pretty cool, I must admit). Since my mom, brother and boyfriend were all working, I handed out candy to the kids on my own. Then, a week later, just as I was preparing to launch into my holiday Martha Stewart mode, my mother had a moment of clarity.
I was sitting in the den flipping through Pottery Barn magazine for decorating ideas when my mother came in and flopped down in a chair. “Eliza,” she said, “I think my problem is that I think all the holiday trappings are a hassle. And when you think they are a hassle, they become one. This year I am going to get into the spirit.” I was elated. 

Then the other shoe dropped: “I’m not very good at it though, will you help me?”
The famous mom-phrase. Here is the thing about my mother: she is incredibly artistic. She really just wants a sounding wall, not help. So this is how our “will you help me with something artistic” conversations usually go:
Mom: “I need some ideas.”
Me: “How about x, y or z?”
Mom: “Hmmm...I’m thinking more f.”
Me: “Well then we could a, b, and c to get that look.”
Mom: “Or how about this?"
Me: "Okay."
Mom: “I just don’t know. You do it, you are better at this than me.”
Mom leaves. I start doing my thing. Mom re-enters the room.
Mom: “That looks great! How about we do it like this though?” *fiddle fiddle fix fix fix*
This formula is so predictable it’s become a running joke in our family. Needless to say, the house looks great for Thanksgiving, but I have been relegated to support staff rather than director.
She went with a "natural" theme. The white bowl had a lovely arrangement of pine cones, mini gourds and large acorns but the cats thought it was a buffet, so it will, sadly, remain empty until Thanksgiving dinner itself. Then the serving pieces will hold food. Ah, form AND function.

From the other side. Note the adorable owl pitcher and the small candle-filled urns along the windowsill. Our Thankgiving tablescape will have a similar vibe.
Dried arrangements made from the last of our hydrangea's fall blooms are scattered around the house in cat-proof areas. The colors of the blooms are amazing!
It’s taken some adjusting and a lot of patience, but overall I’m glad. It’s nice to have another holiday-enthusiastic person around. We have already discussed doing an “Old Hollywood” type theme for Christmas, with crystal candlesticks and lots of gold, silver and white. There is talk of roasting a duck and making the calorie splurge for our favorite gruyere-smothered brussels sprout dish.
And my mom hasn’t even once mentioned getting a fake tree. Now THAT is progress.

Monday, October 3, 2011

An Ode to Autumn


I love the word "autumn." It captures the beauty of the season...the change in the light, the crispness of the air, the colorful foliage. Unlike "fall," which evokes images of endless leaf raking and the trading in of blissful summer freedom for homework and early bedtimes. 
So autumn it will be on this blog. 
This is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it: the weather, the scenery, the clothes, the food and the promise of holidays just around the corner. I'm a bit sad to see summer go...it was a short one this year for me. But I've moved on now. Bathing suit, what? Hand me that sweater.
I am already thinking about decor themes for Thanksgiving and contemplating what hearty new recipes to try. In particular, I've been thinking about all the ways I can use squash in my cooking. My thought process as I fall asleep is akin to Bubba's from Forrest Gump: baked squash, grilled squash, squash soup, squash hashbrowns, squash kebabs...
Squash, to me, is the ultimate comfort food. With such a widevariety of flavors and textures, it is one of my superfoods: butternut squash soup, pumpkin pie, zucchini bread...need I say more. This versatility, fortunately for me, means I can put it in almost anything I make. Sadly, my boyfriend does not share my appreciation for this culinary chameleon. My mission this autumn is to change his mind, one squash at a time. 
I will start with familiar territory: pumpkin pie. Although I am a huge proponent of cooking from scratch, taking a pumpkin from gourd to pie-plate has always seemed a bit extreme. However, today I bought a pie pumpkin and will be turning it into a real, homemade pie soon (stories and pictures to come). 
Next I plan to lure the boyfriend into a false sense of security by using spaghetti squash as a pasta substitute, smothering it in italian sausage, sundried tomatoes and a sage-brownbutter sauce. If that doesn't do the trick I don't know what will.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Land of Misfit Projects

Every crafter or nester has a “limbo” collection...recipes we can’t bear to part with but always seem to complicated to commit to, half-formed project ideas, craft items we bought but haven’t figured out how to use yet, etc. I call this limbo the Land of Misfit Projects.
My most recent goal is to clear out my nesting limbo pile before the New Year. Here are the projects at the top of my “to do” list: 
1. Finally bake the peppermint meringue layer cake with chocolate buttercream frosting featured on the cover of Bon Appétit magazine’s December 2009 issue. 


2. Figure out a creative way to use all the flag patches I’ve collected from the countries I’ve traveled to. Something unique...something fabulous...something that does not involve sewing them on a backpack. 

3. Find a way to preserve/use/display the petals from a rose I was given at a historic genocide trial in Guatemala. Something meaningful...something original...something my cat can’t access (she loves to eat potpourri and other dried botanics). 

4. Experiment with making quail. I love quail, but never think to use it in my cooking.



5. Make a holiday wreath a la Martha Stewart using materials found in my natural environment. I love to forage. It’s one of my favorite past times. In fact, last Thanksgiving I create a lovely tablescape using beautiful fall leaves, acorns and pine cones I had collected. I also love Martha’s homemade wreaths. This is the year they come together! 


6. Put my crafting skills and abundant supplies to use this holiday season and make gifts for friends. What good is being a  nester (or having a great nesting supply closet) is you don’t share it with other people? 
7. Make a baby gift for my friends’ second child. I made their first daughter a book and want to do something special for baby numero dos as well. Just can’t figure out what yet.
I want to greet 2012 with a clean project slate.  Time to tackle the complicated recipes and figure out all the projects that have been stumping me. Time to dust off the old pink milk crate and do some post-spring cleaning. Perhaps this will inspire you to do the same!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Rainbow Connection


The sound of wedding bells is in the air. I’ve gotten to the age when most of my friends are either married, engaged or about to be engaged. I have been to a lot of weddings in the past two years and there is no end in sight. I have several bridesmaid dresses hanging in my closet (hint: if you REALLY want us to be able to “wear it again,” maybe satin...the fabric of prom and weddings...isn’t the way to go). 
I find that weddings are generally not all they are cracked up to be, especially for those getting married young. Bad food, cheap booze, a so-so DJ, and a hotel or country club reception room “spruced up” with some white tulle pretty much sum up the majority of weddings I have been too lately. Snoozeville.
Perhaps even worse is the burgeoning trend of over the top weddings, where brides are expected to act like overprivileged brats and guests are supposed to be “entertained” with fire-eaters and contortionists and booty shaking dances performed by the bridal party. I feel like there will eventually be a reality tv continuum for girls: toddlers and tiaras as a child, My Super Sweet 16 as a teen, and Bridezillas as an adult (for the 1st wedding, then on to The Bachelorette as they hunt for groom #2).
What has happened to the wedding industry? How do you combine the class and sophistication of Will and Kate’s royal wedding with our desire to personalize EVERYTHING to the extreme (hence the need for David Tutera)?
The lovely Ms. Gomez recently brought to my attention and interesting situation in which a girl she knows wants to wear rainbow sequined shoes with her wedding dress, as part of an overall rainbow theme, and this is causing fits with her family.
From the get-go, I am on the side of the bride because a.) she is the bride and, provided the groom has no serious objections, it’s her day and b.) I like sequins. I happen to own a pair of pink and red sequined heels myself. 
HOWEVER, let’s add some fine print. 
1.) No tacky platforms or ridiculously high heel for said sequined shoe. These can carry it from fun to trashy in about a millisecond.
2.) The shoes should be incorporated into the bride’s ensemble in a tasteful manner. So, if the bride is wearing a sophisticated white dress, there should be no problem. If it’s a fluffy hot pink, rhinestone encrusted affair, the rainbow shoes are a no-go.
3.) The rainbow theme needs subtlety. No dressing the bridesmaids in different colored dresses to make them look like the rainbow. No crazy electric colored table linens. No multi-colored cummerbunds on the groomsmen. No rainbow painted stretch limo. No crazy rainbow eyeshadow. Etc.
Call me old fashioned, but I think weddings should be both fun AND classy. Weddings should invoke Lady Diana, not Lady Gaga. Rainbow sequined shoes have a place in this schema, but only to a certain point. For those visual learners, let’s illustrate the “do”s and “don’t”s of rainbow weddings:

NO crazy wedding party looks:

  

YES a little subtlety that still supports the theme:


NO overall rainbow pattern:



YES small details for a clutch or belt: 


NO oompa-loompa cakes:


YES fun yet sophisticated food:


NO clown-like decor:


YES decor suitable for adults:

And that concludes our tutorial. Obviously, the same basic principles can be applied to any theme and for any event in which the primary objective is a serious one (weddings, funerals, baptisms, bar and bat mitzvahs, etc.) For these meaningful occasions, let's keep some propriety people. 






Monday, August 22, 2011

Tightening the Belt


One of the perks (did you know that’s actually short for “perquisite”?) of working in a home goods type store is that it’s Christmas every truck day. I run the truck at our store, meaning that every Wednesday I drag myself out of bed at 3:45am to go spend 8 1/2 hours hefting very heavy things. Not only is an excellent workout, but it means I get to see all the new goodies before everyone else does.
All our new furniture and gift items and dinnerware and decor passes through my little fingers before the rest of the world gets to see it. Recently, I was unpacking some new napkin rings when my sleep deprived brain had a brilliant idea. Why not use some of the napkin rings as belt buckles? 
You may be thinking “not so much, Eliza...sounds weird” but think about it: belts are expensive. Vintage is back in style and interesting belt buckles can make a real statement, so you end up with a zillion black or brown belts that you bought just for the cool buckle! And that means a lot of wasted $$$$$$. But what if you used a regular belt like this one:



And just made interchangeable clips for it, like these? 



No one would ever suspect it was the same belt. Napkin rings are pretty cheap, especially if you can find them on sale (or if you have an employee discount *eyebrow waggle*). A pair of wire cutters, some wire and an inexpensive clip from the craft store and ta da! A clip-on piece of flare to cover the original, boring belt buckle.
I put my theory to the test and wore my new flower belt buckle to a wedding. And guess what? No one asked me why I was wearing a napkin ring. In fact, I received three compliments on it.


So would you rather pay $15 for a new belt or $3 for a napkin ring? And the best part is, it’s so much easier to store one belt and 5 interchangeable clips than it is to store 5 belts. Your closet and your wallet will both thank you.
Every nester needs their signature. Martha has her poncho, but I have my bling belt clips. 





Sunday, August 21, 2011

Guatemala


Hola readers!
Today’s post is a bit of a change from the usual (though of course nesting is still involved). Today, I talk about my OTHER passion: human rights. 
I just spent a week and a half in Guatemala, a country I’ve studied intensively for a number of years but never actually been to. As a specialist in genocide studies and lover of all things Español, the human rights situation in Guatemala has been on my radar for quite some time. For those of you unfamiliar with the history of this Latin American country, here’s a brief overview:
Guatemala has suffered from a history of military coups and dictatorships in combination with conflict over land rights and conflict between its Maya and ladino populations. From 1960 to 1996, tensions boiled over and Guatemala was embroiled in what is now called the Internal Conflict, or La Violencia. During this time, 200,000 people were killed or disappeared during this time and hundreds of thousands were displaced. In a report filed by the Historical Clarification Commission in 1999, 93% of the atrocities were committed by the military and 83% of the victims were Maya. Between 1980 and 1982, a scorched earth campaign was conducted in the Western Highlands, a primarily Maya region. It was later found by the international community that the actions of the military constituted genocide. During the internal conflict, violence against women, particularly sexual violence, was used as a tactic of “war.” 
In the years since La Violencia, many of the military leaders responsible for the genocide have continued to hold positions of political power, and one of these men is currently favored to win Guatemala’s primary elections this September. This culture of impunity is one of Guatemala’s biggest problems.
Today, levels of violence in the country are as high as they were during the Internal Conflict. Domestic violence and femicide are growing problems, and as the price of nickel, oil and other natural resources continue to rise, foreign extractive companies are pushing indigenous people off their land, displacing thousands of families in often violent, brutal ways. Women, and particularly indigenous women, often pay the heftiest price during these confrontations. Community leaders who stand up for their communities’ rights put themselves in grave danger, and many have been threatened and/or brutally assassinated.
I went to Guatemala to flex my anthropological muscles. After a year of being unable to find a job in my field, I was feeling disconnected from the subject I am most passionate about. When the opportunity arose to join a human rights delegation sponsored by the ever wonderful Guatemala Human Rights Commission (based in Washington, DC), I jumped at it. 
Myself, six other delegates and two GHRC employees spent 9 days in Guatemala meeting with Guatemalan human rights groups and indigenous leaders to learn more about their struggle against femicide, genocide, sexual violence, misogyny and the culture of impunity in modern day Guatemala. Seven years of studying genocide is nothing compared to 9 days of first person meetings. Reading the transcripts of genocide survivors’ testimony can never compare to hearing it straight from their lips. Studying about the land ownership struggles indigenous communities face cannot compare to meeting with displaced communities who have lost everything. 
We met some incredible men and women, people who put everything on the line because they care about their communities, their families and their country. We talked with women whose terrible ordeals helped them become stronger, more empowered and more conscious of what it means to be a feminist. They are redefining what it means to be a woman, a mother, a wife, a Maya and a Guatemalan. We laughed and shared meals with these people, listened to them sing and watched them dance, played with their children and left hoping they felt a little less alone in their fight for justice. 
On the last day of our trip, we took a mini vacation to Antigua, the ex-capital of Guatemala. Antigua is a beautiful city filled with cobblestone streets and lovely green spaces. For a few hours, we could pretend we were tourists too. I wanted to buy myself a souvenir, something that would not only remind me of how amazing Guatemala is, but the reason I went there. I finally settled on a little half-apron. Guatemala is known for its textiles, so the weaving and embroidery will always remind me of the country. In addition, I realized on this trip what a blessing it is to be free to choose to be a nester. I am not forced by cultural restraint to be domestic. I do not have to serve the men in my family or ask permission to go to the store or the park or to work. My home and body won’t be violated just because I live on resource-rich earth.
My little apron is a reminder of all these things. When I wear it, it reminds me why I continue to pursue a career in human rights work. Perhaps most unexpectedly, it reminds me that being a feminist is something I have always taken for granted, and shouldn’t any more.



For more information about the history of Guatemala and the current human rights situation there, go to: http://www.ghrc-usa.org/

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's a Dog-Eat-Shoe World

This past winter, my boyfriend adopted an adorable Boston Terrier mix from an animal shelter. Tara is about 2 years old now and has the body of an adult dog but the energy of a puppy. When my boyfriend runs with her regularly, she is an angel. When he doesn't, she's a whirling dervish of bouncy playfulness. Lately, my boyfriend has not been running her.



This morning I woke up to discover that Tara had chewed up my good work shoes. This was a first. She has been known to eat chapstick and pencils, but has never shown any interest in shoes before. The real travesty is, since I didn't catch her in the act, there's not much I can do in the punishment arena. Phooey.

At my job, I'm on my feet nonstop for eight hours. When I first started looking for work shoes I refused to cave in and buy any of the overpriced "practical," aka ugly, shoes I saw everywhere. Instead, I spent three weeks scouring the city to find a pair of comfortable, supportive, well-priced yet cute flats. Compounding the problem was that I have funny toes, a wide foot and narrow heel. Finding a comfy pair of flats is very difficult for me. And now, after all that work, my work shoes are destroyed...the perky bows chewed off, the patent leather toe fanged, and the rest covered in general doggy slobber. Have I mentioned I'm a cat person at heart? I do love that bad little doggy though, darn it.

Of course, the store I bought my shoes at doesn't carry them anymore, so I can't just buy another pair. And I really don't want to conduct another city-wide search, so I've decided to put my craft skills to good use and fix the mauled ones. My plan is to removed the mangled bows and find a patent leather flower or something to affix to them instead. The fanging on the toe isn't too noticeable, and the worst of it would be covered by the flower. With that and a thorough cleaning, I'm hoping they can be revived.

It's a dog-eat-shoe world out there, and we have to be prepared for such inevitabilities. But with a little creativity, I think my shoes might just pull through to see another day. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and my shoes in the closet.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On to Pie

My last posting was about cake (metaphorical, but still...). This one is all about pie.

I love pie as much as I love cupcakes, which is a lot. Especially cream pies. However, the multitude of backyard BBQs I've been to this summer have failed to impress me in the pie arena. No offense, but cream pie, to me, does not equal store-bought crust, instant Jello pudding mix and whipped topping. I think I'm just spoiled.

There is a little diner called Stott Brothers on the highway between Upper Hillsborough, NH and Stonington, CT (where we have relatives) that makes HANDS DOWN the BEST cream pies in the world. I mean 5lbs of tender, flakey crust, thick homemade pudding and real whipped cream (NOT out of a can) good. I grew up eating this pie. Jello just doesn't cut it for me.

After yet another instant pudding based "pie" appeared on our break room table at work yesterday, I had a hankering for a real pie. Plus, I really wanted to use my coveted Emile Henry (pronounced "Emeel Onree," not "Emilee Henree") ruffled pie dish. I dug out my mother's tattered copy of James Beard's iconic cookbook and got to work.



The end result wasn't very pretty, but it was delicious! For all you perfectionists out there, I suppose I should have cleaned up the edges of the (beautiful!) pie plate before photographing it. But this isn't some Stepford Wives blog. This is about real people nesting. And real people have messy pie plates. Right?

Next stop? Banana cream.




Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I'll Have My Cake and Eat It Too


July 19, 2011
Now is the summer of my discontent. My ideal life and my ideal career are butting heads.
I have never made it a secret that my career is my first priority. I zipped through undergraduate and graduate school with the intent of getting some valuable job experience before continuing on to do my PhD. Upon completing that, I would move to the East Coast and secure a great job designing culturally sensitive, sustainable post-conflict community reconstruction policies. In my spare time I would work as a volunteer excavating mass graves to gather evidence for war crimes prosecutions. Eventually I would get married and have a couple kids. A pretty great life plan if you ask me.
Then the reality of the job market, particularly the non-profit human rights job market, took me down a notch. Over a year after graduating with my Master’s degree I am living with my mother and working as a manager in retail. Somewhere along the way my plan was derailed. I am still career oriented. I want the cool job and the PhD. I keep being told I have to go to where the jobs are. For my field, that means Washington DC or New York. At the immediate level, I find these places exciting but not wholly appealing. Living at home I’m surrounded by kitties and my family and am ten minutes away from my boyfriend. Awesome. What impetus do I have to pick up and move to a major city where I don’t know anyone and have to live with 4 other people in a tiny apartment and work three crappy jobs to pay my rent and deal with the smog and noise of a people-packed, concrete jungle?
I’ve also been thinking a lot about where I want to settle down in the future, and I’m realizing that the places that offer the great job aren’t the places I want to raise a family. I always imagined myself being a cosmopolitan adult, but more and more I find that I like the sound of cicadas and the glow of fireflies. I like grass and trees and having my own space. I like being able to hop in the car and drive to the Badlands of South Dakota or the mountains in Colorado. I want to raise my kids in a nice house with enough property that I can have a garden. I want a small grove of peach and pear and olive trees. I want a pond with water lilies and an arbor with grapes so I can make bad homemade wine. I want to try raising a few chickens and a duck or two. I could never have that kind of lifestyle in the DC or New York areas.
Fortunately, I’m more of an action kind of girl than the brooding kind. My new plan? Keep plugging along until the great job and the PhD are mine. I’ll work for a few years in the “proper” locations, get the experience I need, then move someplace I actually want to live and start my own non-profit. Who says a successful international organization can’t be run from Oregon or Ohio or Tennessee or Maine? I shouldn't have to sacrifice one dream to satisfy another.
After figuring out my new life plan, I am feeling both refreshed and optimistic. As my favorite fictional heroine, Amelia Peabody, would say, “Righteous indignation has that effect on my character.” I want total quality of life, dang it, and if the world isn’t prepared to offer it to me I’ll just have to create it on my own. So there.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Aesthetic Eating


When I was little, my family’s house in New Hampshire was small and very old, having been built in the early 1700s. To keep us entertained and out from underfoot, my mother insisted my brother and I spend the majority of our time playing outside. Being in the country, the house had an acre backyard with woods behind it. With the exception of the  weather (snow 7 months of the year and biting black fly swarms for another 2 months), it was an idyllic environment to grow up in.
My mom kept a large vegetable garden and we had a hedgerow of wild raspberry and blackberry bushes. When my brother and I needed a snack we could forage amongst the available roughage. Green beans, snap peas, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and berries were our primary staples, but I also loved to graze in the flower garden. Many of the flowers my mom grew were edible, and I used to nibble on nasturtiums, carnations and violets, along with bok choy flowers, squash blossoms and herbs from the vegetable garden. 
While using edible flowers on cakes has been popular for quite some time, over the past few years more and more restaurants have started adding edible flowers to their soups, salads and appetizers. The effect is not only delicious, but aesthetically appealing. 





For the even more adventurous, there is also the option of making rose, violet and other “floral” jams and jellies!

Of course, not all flowers are edible and it is important to do your homework before using flowers in your cooking. Poisoning one's dinner guests is generally frowned upon. The internet has a number of “eat this, not that” flower websites and there are several cookbooks available regarding the use of flowers in cooking. The best of the ones I’ve seen so far is this one:


The recipes are pretty straight forward and the pictures are beautiful. I found it at a half-price bookstore and nostalgia demanded I buy it. Sadly, it is really only useful for a few months out of the year. As lovely as poinsettias and holly are, they don’t make for tasty (or safe) eating. Still, for those who want to get the most out of their summer garden or local farmer's market, I highly recommend adding more flora to their cuisine. Make squash blossom soup, nasturtium salad,  or rose petal-almond scones. Even instant pudding looks impressive when served in little glass cups and topped with sugared violets. It's so "green", so chic, so incredibly easy. Throw a backyard garden party with floral foods and herb-infused cocktails and everyone will be calling you the next Martha. 



Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No Mere Coffee Table


My brother recently moved into a new apartment and we have been furniture hunting as a result. In particular, he needed a coffee table. My brother is a tad...well...particular. He didn’t want just any coffee table, he wanted the perfect coffee table. Six furniture stores later, we finally found one. 
In short, over the past week I’ve seen a LOT of coffee tables. Glass ones, wood ones, metal ones, round ones, square ones, large ones, small ones, modern ones, traditional ones...you name it. I never knew there was such variety! However, my personal favorite by far (and by this I mean the one that amuses me most, not the one I would actually buy) was a coffee table that opened up into a TV tray. 


That’s right. A TV tray. Eating on the couch in front of the television is now even easier! It struck me as the kind of contraption one sees on a late night infomercial...“This may seem like a mild-mannered coffee table, but no! There’s more! Wow and amaze your friends and family!” Part of me feels like it’s one more harbinger of humanity’s downfall. Fewer than 100 years ago people used to change into formal dinner attire just to eat family dinner. This seems a bit overboard to me. But now? Just pull on your sweatpants and pop up the leaf on the coffee table (for a person living alone, this is forgivable; for everyone else...not so much). 
Mostly though, I found this coffee table incredibly amusing. I picture it being most appropriate for the kind of person who never really outgrew the Transformers phase they went through as a kid and now loves multi-use furniture. Complementing the coffee table/TV tray would be a futon sofa and those storage ottomans that also double as extra seating. Perhaps even a reversible rug. Dinner would be served on those dishes that aren’t deep enough to be a bowl but are too deep to be considered a regular plate. 
Forget the rewarding feeling of helping my brother set up his first solo household. The real highlight of furniture shopping was definitely the discovery of this coffee table. Thank you to whomever came up with the idea...your hard work has kept this nester highly entertained.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Desperate Nester and the Garage of Dreams

I have been in need of a project. The nonstop heat and rain here make it impossible to spend time outside, and I’m getting tired of reading. In hopes of finding something to do, I trekked out to the gold mine that is our garage and found some old roofing slates my parents had left over from the roof of our old house in New Hampshire (don’t ask me why they carted them around for 20 years and through 4 moves). These are not the man made roofing shingles one finds today...they are real slate, a la historic New England. Apparently my Mom used to paint and stencil them as welcome signs and sell them for a little extra money when we lived in New Hampshire. Stenciling is very popular in New England...even our kitchen floor had a stenciled border around it. But I digress.

Also in the box were some antique door handles with the latches still attached. My crafty little brain was in overdrive. What could be done with roofing slates and old door handles? I finally settled on making a memo chalkboard. The surface of the slate is perfect for such a purpose and there’s nothing I love more than getting to use spray paint and industrial strength glue. It makes my crafting feel more manly somehow. Especially if I drink a beer while doing it. 
After a coat of paint and some glue, my obsession with birds and organization created this:




As you may have noticed, I don’t take myself too seriously and I enjoy making things that are fun and a bit whimsical. The handle and latch just looked so much like a bird I couldn’t resist painting it like a parrot and adding the feather. After adding a decorative bag to hold chalk all I need now is to make a hanger out of some colorful yarn. 


Can’t wait to use it! Even paying bills seems more fun now. Once again the garage of dreams comes through. I still have more slates left over. Some I’ll use to make herb markers for the garden, but I’m still thinking about what to do with the rest. Any ideas?


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Just Don't Call It A "Vahz"


I am in love with all the beautiful vases and pots I’m seeing this summer. Brightly colored and covered in interesting textures and glazes, they are as beautiful as the flowers we put in them. They are like little pieces of art in their own right. My most recent acquisitions are from Pier 1 and Nell Hills, respectively. 



This little 3-part pot also comes in orange and green, and I really struggled over which one I loved the most. In fact, I’m toying with the idea of getting one of each color to use as indoor herb pots. I can’t tell yet if it’s a brilliant idea or if I’m just trying to justify buying them all. I just love the funky reactive glaze! Pier 1 also has matching 3-part bud vases...on clearance...that I am sorely tempted to get as well...along with these very cool taper holders (that I would probably pop the metal part out of and use as vases). 

Bud Vases
 


I clearly have a Pier 1 problem that may soon require professional intervention.
For the time being, my plan for the little yellow planter is to grow some cat grass for mon petit kitties. 3 cats, 3 segments...I thought it was a cute idea. Maybe then they will leave the rest of my indoor plants the heck alone (wishful thinking I fear). 


The three gatitos, clearly plotting their next plant massacre.

As for this turquoise porcelain vase, I bought her on a whim while on a shopping expedition at Nell Hills. 



I couldn’t resist the gorgeous shape and bright color. Instead of filling it with flowers, I cut some herbs from the garden (oregano and cilantro). This way they are right on hand when I want to use them for cooking, and I won’t be so angry when the cats demolish them (after all, they ARE meant to be eaten). At least that’s my theory.