18 March 2013

i see a red door

... and I want to paint it black.

Yes, friends, it's time for a quote from one of my favorite Stones songs, and also for some daydreaming about exterior updates.

First, let me share this: We love our house. A lot. Just wanted to get that out of the way, since lately I think that saying I want to change something about our house sounds like I don't appreciate what we have. Not true. Love the house. Just want to make it its very best.

So, with that, let me introduce to you, the house we've known for all these years (sorry, can't stop the '60s musical quotes today...):

Our house's exterior in a warmer season

That's the angle I've shown the most on this blog. But here's another angle, and it's slightly less flattering:

We're planning to restain the house this summer, since it needs it, and I'm hoping to go with something a little bit less red. (Thinking either a darker, more modern brown, or a mid-tone brown with less red.) But here's what I'm not loving:

That red door.

And the giant white one.

But what if we painted both of them black?

(Also, are you ready to see the laziest Photoshopping of all time?)

In the long run, I'd love to go with a beautiful metal and glass garage door, but for  now, paint is the more economical option. I'm not totally sold on the black, but I like it better than the white by a big margin.

What do you think? Leave as is or go bold and black?

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04 February 2013

life on the farm

Make that "my imaginary life on my imaginary farm." 

I have long tried to grow food in challenging conditions, from my first apartment in DC and my failed windowbox tomatoes, to our pest-ridden peas in our LA patio garden, and now to our challenging climate in Truckee. 

To paraphrase this post from last April, here in Truckee:
  • We can get frost any night of the year, and usually have fewer than 80 frost-free days each year
  • We have no natural topsoil
  • We have lots of wild animals who masquerade as pests and make a salad bar out of any garden
  • We are technically in hardiness zone 6, but can only really depend on plants that are hardy down to zones 1 and 2, which means: forget about ever growing a tomato or cucumber at home

On top of that, our lot is super shaded, thanks to some beautiful old Jeffrey pines.

But I'm still determined to create our own micro farm, even if it means lots more frustration to come. (I didn't even post about our garden travails last year, because we had so many visits from the local mule deer to our all-you-can-eat salad bar.) I have already learned a thing or two along the way, and here's what I will act on from now on:
  • Our best garden real estate (that is, sunshine) is in the front yard, and we just have to carpe diem and use that space for growing food. Some of our neighbors park cars in their front yard... our pretty little garden certainly won't look worse than that. 
  • We need to grow most of our herbs indoors, to protect them from both the cold and the deer.
  • I just need to give up on warm weather crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and most beans. I'll focus instead on what are "cool season" or "spring and fall crops" in most places, like greens, carrots, peas and some herbs. 
  • It's also time to think about fruit bushes and trees, including some apples that are extremely cold hardy. I have already begun the PR campaign against the underperforming and non-food-producing trees currently standing where I want the fruit trees to go. ("Look at that slacker tree, Mark. You know it never even put on a full set of leaves last year. Don't you think it's a waste of space and water?")
  • In the long run, I definitely want a greenhouse, like the one in this amazing story.

I've got lots of planning in the works...

...like mapping out an annuals raised bed in the front yard and a perennial bed in the back yard...

... and I have most of the seeds to get started on a heat mat, under some grow lights, in the kitchen window. They'll meet the soil come March

Once the herb seedlings get big enough to transfer, they'll find themselves in new homes in EcoForms rice hull pots. (We're all trying to banish plastic from our kitchens these days, so why grow our food in plastic pots?)

I'm also considering adding some cold frames to our second floor deck so that we can grow some salad greens and herbs outside without risking them getting chomped by deer, and while providing them a little more shelter from cold nights.

Stay tuned!

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31 January 2013

tutorial: making beauty products

Today, I'm going to share with you one of my favorite recent discoveries. Here it is: making beauty products at home, from all natural ingredients, is all kinds of easy.

If you happened to be chatting with Mark, he'd be way too polite and loyal to tell you that I've been a spazz for the last year about ridding our house of any toxin-containing product (getting diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and having your mom be treated for breast cancer in the same year will do that to a girl... my mom is all better -- not to worry -- and I'm good so long as I never think about gluten ever again). But in the meantime I've become a rabid devotee of the Environmental Working Group's database on toxins in cosmetics, and a frequent user of the GoodGuide app.

The good news for you is you don't have to see me going on a rampage to rid the house of phthlates and parabens and sodium laureth sulfate and plastic. You just get some sweet recipes for natural products with nary a toxic ingredient in sight!

What you need:
1. The only specialized ingredient that you need is beeswax, which is a healthy, all-purpose emulsifier that will turn everyday oils into magical balms. I recommend going organic, with an unbleached, untreated, unprocessed, unanythinged variety. (Note: Any beeswax that is white is bleached. It should be at a minimum a light yellow color.) I order this from Amazon. If you're a vegan and aren't into using beeswax, I've heard that you can sub in candelila wax, but I haven't tried it myself.
2. You will need oils, to serve as the base for your products, and which the beeswax will emulsify. They can be fancy oils like sweet almond or apricot kernel oil, or basic kitchen oils like olive or coconut. Organic is better, of course, as are things like cold pressed and unfiltered. You can also include for part of your oils a bit of cocoa butter or shea butter, though both will make your final product thicker, as will coconut oil. If you're making products for your face, I've read that jojoba oil and grapeseed oil are the most friendly, because grapeseed is the least reactive to sensitive skin, and jojoba is the most easily absorbed. I use straight grapeseed oil on my face. No pore clogging or funny scents, and the shininess disappears after a few minutes.
3. Essential oils are nice for fragrance (and taste, in lip balms), but they're not crucial. Natural products smell and taste good on their own.
4. Also nice to have are small glass jars, to avoid having to put your finished product in potentially toxic plastic containers, but use what you have. Small jam jars or Mason jars would work perfectly well, too.

Getting ideas:
I've included some basic recipes below, based on my experimentation and adaptation of other recipes that I've come across. But if you want more, check out these three books:

Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen (I LOVE this book. So many awesome ideas with great tutorials.)

Do It Gorgeously, by Sophie Uliano (Has some good recipes, but I do NOT endorse using borax in products that touch your skin, specifically all the cleanser recipes. The Environmental Working Group rates borax as hazardous, so I won't make any cleansers from this book.)

Organic Body Care Recipes, by Stephanie Tourles (Lots of good recipes, but same issue with the borax -- see above.)

Putting it all together:
The only real step for most basic products is melting the beeswax enough that it can combine with and emulsify the oils. Many recipes will tell you to do it in a double boiler on the stove, but I think the microwave is a faster, easier way to go. The key is going in really short bursts of 10 seconds, and stirring each time, so that you don't overheat anything.

Lip balm recipe:
In a glass measuring cup, combine 4 to 5 Tablespoons of the oils of your choice with 1 Tablespoon (.25 oz) beeswax (4 T of oil will give a more solid lip balm; 5 T will give a more supple balm). In the microwave, heat the mixture in :10 second bursts, stirring in between each burst, until the beeswax is fully melted. Then, mix in 2 teaspoons of raw organic honey, along with 5 drops of the essential oil of your choice (optional). While the mixture is still warm, pour into one 2-ounce container or several small tins, and allow to cool completely before using. You just made yourself a year's supply of lip balm in about three minutes!
Variations: My favorite oils for this lip balm are sweet almond oil and olive oil. If you want your lip balm to have a glossy effect, use castor oil for 1  of the 5 Tablespoons of oil. My favorite essential oils are grapefruit and sweet orange, but a few little drops go a long way. If you have it handy, it's also nice for your lips to add a few drops of calendula oil or vitamin E oil after heating, when you add the honey and essential oils.

Clay mask recipe:
Most natural foods stores will sell plain clay powders, most commonly red clay and green clay. Read the packages and choose the one that feels most appropriate for your skin. Then, in a small glass container, mix a few Tablespoons of clay powder with a few teaspoons of water until you have a smooth, thick consistency. Add a little more clay or a little more water to get the consistency you want. Stir in 3-5 drops of tea tree oil, which fights blemishes. Use the mixture as an overall mask or, as I do, as an overnight spot treatment.

Basic balm or cuticle cream recipe:
I'll do another post on creams and lotions, which get a bit more complicated with the addition of water, but you can make an all-purpose, all-over balm by following the basic balm ratio above: 1 Tablespoon of beeswax for every 5 to 7 Tablespoons of oil (or 1 part to every 5-7 parts). Jojoba oil and shea butter are especially nice to include in an allover body balm, as is cocoa butter -- or a mixture of the three. But don't underestimate the awesomeness of a balm made with any regular (preferably organic) olive oil. I leave scents out of body balms, but maybe you want to go crazy with all of your essential oils for this. Go nuts.

What do you think? Will you try making any of these? Have you already made some products and found recipes that blow these away? Care to share?

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29 January 2013

preview: framing

I'm already breaking my promise of posting less often (especially since I've moved up the tutorial on making lip balms and other beauty products at home to later this week), but this one isn't a real post anyway. Just a quick, little preview of some framing I've been doing lately. This grid is the first cluster of artwork I've hung on the wall this month, and there are a couple more you'll start seeing in updated house pics next month. Wohoo.

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28 January 2013

getting more domestic every day

One of the biggest surprises of living in a little town has been how much more creative and inspired I feel every day. (It shouldn't be surprising, I suppose, when we're surrounded by creative people like Heather and Sondrea.) I definitely knew, when we left LA, that I wanted to make more time to cook, sew and get crafty, and I was super excited at the notion of having an office and craft space just for me. What I did not know is how far down the handmade rabbit hole I'd go so quickly.

I've starting DIYing all of my beauty products, so that I know exactly what's in them...

I've been stamping everything I can get my hands on...

...from the cards I described making in this post (which are now for sale at Bespoke in Truckee)...

...to our holiday cards...

...to the labels on the peach jam and lemon curd I made and canned in bulk for the Truckee-Tahoe food swap. (And, oh yeah, canning is also a new thing for me since we moved here.) 

I've also screen printed a bunch of shirts for my old spinning friends in LA...

...baked oodles of gluten-free goodies...

...and put many a finishing touch on our house.

Now I have plans to turn as much of our land (all 1/3 of an acre of it) into a food-producing mini farm (more on this soon), make more things at home from scratch, starting with kombucha (this will be gross and fun!), and even start raising chickens... some day.

I love that my whole mindset has shifted from "We need thing X, where can I buy it?" to "We need thing X, how can I make it? Or if I can't make it, how can I buy it from someone local who did?" It's really empowering to start thinking this way! And just like home DIY, you quickly realize that very little making is actually hard to do; it just takes the determination to learn the technique, and then actually do it.

Want to know more about any of the projects I just mentioned? Let me know, and I'll write a post about it.

What are you DIYing these days? Any new and exciting projects? Share share! 

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24 January 2013

living small, blogging less

It was just about a year ago that we moved from Los Angeles (population: 50 bajillion) on the Southern California coast, to Truckee (population: 16,000) in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California, close to the Nevada border.

Despite the obviousness of this statement, I'll say it anyway: Life is different now.

Much of that difference was exactly why we moved:
  • Less traffic and bustle, more quiet and peace
  • A bigger home that really feels like a *home*
  • Easier access to mountains, wilderness and skiing
  • More room to be creative, grow food, let the dogs roam, etc. 
  • Ability to put down real roots, which is tough in the big city

Some of the differences are things I miss:
  • Our LA friends, of course
  • Flea markets
  • Farmers markets in the winter
  • Growing veggies in the winter
  • Whole Foods within a 5 minute drive
  • Warm days even in January (notice a trend here?)
  • The beach
  • My LA spinning and yoga classes (or, more precisely, the people in them)

Even though the list of things I miss is longer than the list of reasons why we moved, we're really happy here. All of the things we miss are things we can deal with (we still keep up with our friends on Facebook and occasional LA visits, we can visit antiques stores in Reno, there's a Whole Foods 30 minutes away in Reno, and the weather is beautiful in a whole other way here), though we do both still miss the beach.

What's been amazing is realizing all the ways in which life is different here that we never anticipated, but instead could only discover by living here:
  • Small town life brings out the best in both of us, and we feel much more relaxed
  • We see our friends so much more often here, like every week instead of every few months in LA
  • I'm a lot more creative and inspired here, and have been hand-making all sorts of things
  • We're more trusting of people, and we pick up hitch-hikers all the time. Not joking. It's a different world. 
  • Living in the cold and snow isn't actually half bad. And there's something really satisfying about chopping wood and keeping the fire going. 
  • I feel less of a need to share

That last point is really what this post is all about. I've come to realize over the last year that I'm much less interested in blogging than I used to be, I think because life is so different for us now. There's something very anonymizing (that's a word, right?) about living in the city, that I felt like my blog was my little place where I could shout, "Hey world! Look at me! Look what I did in my little home!"

But now, feeling so comfortable and relaxed, I have nothing to prove. I don't feel anonymous when I walk around Truckee. I recognize people. They recognize me, more and more every day. And people know we have a home that we've decorated with care and attention. I don't need to shout it. And I definitely don't want to be a show-off.

What I have always loved most about blogging, and what I still love about it, is connecting with other people. It's when I think about my blog friends like Ashley at Domestic Fashionista, or Kate at Modern Mountain Life, that I start itching to blog again. And that's why I'm here today, typing this to you. I really value my blog friends, and I want to make more... maybe you?

Ashley and me at the Sacramento Bloggers meetup

I'm still going to share projects, because I have loads of them. Just not as many or as often. I have always blogged for the love of it, and I don't want to lose that love by making it a chore. So even though my posts will be more sparse in 2013 than they were in 2012, or especially in 2011, I promise what you see here will come from a place of inspiration and excitement.

What's your blogging philosophy? Why do you blog? Why do you read blogs? Want to be bloggy friends? Shoot me a comment!

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23 January 2013

winter via instagram

I'm a little late in saying it, but happy new year! I hope your 2013 is off to a great start. I've managed to dodge the flu so far (knock on some non-Ikea furniture), so 2013 is fantastic as far as I'm concerned.

I've got a few little updates in the works, but in the meantime, here's a little snapshot of what we've been up to lately, via Instagram. Lots of making and doing, notsomuch in the blogging about it department.

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13 September 2012

tutorial: making stamps

Lately I've gotten super into making stamps, ever since taking a class at my friend Heather's store Bespoke. Way back in high school art class, we made wood block prints, and it's pretty much the same process, so getting a refresher was nice.

I've been making stamps for a whole lotta things, like the labels on my jam jars.

I've been wanting to make a stamp for a greeting card cover, one to celebrate a wide range of occasions and congratulatory purposes. And I thought I'd bring you along for the ride as I make it, so you can try it yourself. Though a steady hand never hurts, the thing about making stamps is that it's super easy. And you never need anything to be perfect. That's the charm of stamps: they will always look a little imperfect, so it's best to embrace that and go with it. Here's what you need to know.

Stamp-making tutorial:

Materials: You will need a few things that you probably don't have laying around, namely: 1. Tracing paper, 2. A set of linoleum cutters, and 3. A block of carveable linoleum. (I recommend the Speedball types since they are waaaaay easier to cut than regular block linoleum, and are widely available at art supply and craft stores. For this project I used Speedball "speedy carve," since it's the cheapest and this stamp is pretty big. Buy the blue or pink stuff if you're doing a smaller stamp and don't mind a slightly higher price.)

This is what the cutter looks like, and it costs less than $10 for the full set, including several sizes of gouge blades. 

I use the smallest size gouge blade almost exclusively. 

Design: Using Photoshop, Word or the design program of your choice, lay out the stamp design as you want it to look, in the same size you want the final stamp to be. If you're going to be creating a stamp of an image, not words, you could print it out or just trace right from a book or magazine.

Print out the image. It doesn't matter if it doesn't print perfectly, as mine didn't, thanks to low toner (we keep printing until the last hint of toner is gone -- waste not, want not!). It just needs to be clear enough to be traceable. 

Tape tracing paper over your image to keep it all lined up nicely, and start tracing in pencil. 

Graphite will transfer magically onto the Speedball speedy carve (not as well onto regular block linoleum -- another reason why I recommend using the softer stuff). Line up the traced image FACE DOWN on the speedy carve in the way that conserves the most space. You can get a lot of stamps out of one block if you position your cuts economically. Holding the image still, rub with medium pressure all over the back of the image.

Remove the tracing paper and you'll see a nice transfer of your image that you'll follow for cutting the stamp. It should appear backwards, so that it will print forward. If you accidentally reversed the image, start over at this point, and just use the other side of the lino block. 

Carving your stamp: As a first step, use the smallest gouge blade to trace around all of your graphite lines, outlining the elements of the stamp that you'll want to see on the finished stamp (as opposed to the negative space, which you're removing). Try to stay close to the line, or even on the line, depending on the design. Go for what I did on the outer left portion of the Y below, not what I did on the right side (which I later cleaned up). 

A tip on technique: For letters with corners, start in the corners and cut outward. For letters with curves, hold the blade still with one hand and turn the lino block with the other. You'll get the cleanest lines that way. 

You don't have to go deep with your gouges, and it really depends what kind of final look you want. I personally prefer clean-edged stamps without the grooves visible in the negative space, so I tend to go down a good 1/8 inch. But I have seen a lot of really cool stamps with the gouges visible, so it's just a personal preference. The gouges between letters or images don't have to be pretty. All that really matters is trying for clean edges on the visible positive space portions.

Repeat the process until your whole stamp is carved, and then do any clean-up you think it needs. After your first stamp, you'll also see if there are any areas where the lines are too thick and you can trim them down then. A bit of advice: You can always go thinner with the lines, but you can never go thicker. Start thicker and gradually thin the lines down. 

Now you're ready to print. 

Printing: There are two major methods of printing with stamps: 1.) Traditional ink-and-brayer, and 2.) stamp pad. Stamp pads are way easier and more convenient, but I'll show you both just for fun.

To print with liquid ink, start by mixing up your colors (you remember your color wheel right?) to make the final color you want. I was looking for a teal print, so I started with blue, white and metallic gold.

I mixed it up with a disposable chopstick and then rolled the ink on my small brayer.

Then I rolled the ink on the stamp...

... and positioned the card over the stamp, getting a fairly crooked result. Because this type of ink is a little bit tacky, it's hard to lay it over the card without making a mess, so lining the card up over the stamp is what's easiest. It's also more error-prone.

The other method is to use a ready-made stamp pad. I recommend buying stamp pads that have the sponge part sticking up from the base of the pad, so that you can use the pad to ink up a stamp much larger than the pad's surface area. Just lay the stamp out and press the stamp pad all around it, being careful to blot away any lines of ink that pool around the pad's edges. 

Starting with any background design you want, print your layers from back to front. Here I used some tree-texture prints in the background (that's a store-bought stamp), with my new handmade stamp as the foreground. If you use a really dark or opaque ink for your background, you may want to use pigment ink for the foreground (instead of regular dye ink) so that it will be opaque. In general, only use pigment for the foreground, since pigment over pigment usually doesn't look so good.

Repeat the process for the foreground. I used regular dye ink in black for the foreground. Pigment would have been overkill.

And you're all done! Yay for you!

For bonus points, you can glue your stamp to a block of wood (flooring samples from Home Depot or Lumber Liquidators work especially well -- don't pay the high price for the stamp mounting blocks at the craft stores). That makes printing a whole lot easier.

Another tip: wash and dry your stamp between uses, or anytime you want to switch colors. You'll be glad you did, and you'll avoid ruining ink pads.

P.S. When Mark saw me laying out this text on my computer, he assumed I was making it for silk screens (I've been screening some other things lately) for t-shirts, and he said, "Well that's awfully mean and sarcastic." Haha. Mean and sarcastic card, anyone?

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