Keen Indeed

Like I'm headed off to kindergarten

Like I’m starting a new school and in typical Type A/nutty fashion, I have my work bag packed and my outfit ready for tomorrow. How cute is that birdie bag with a new pair of Keens? I am slowly transforming into an REI happy hippie girl.

Tomorrow I walk to work, like I did in high school when I occasionally got grounded from the Hornet and had to hoof it to the tortilla factory. I walked to work at The Lumberjack and certainly did plenty of walking in the five months I managed to tough out farming in Cameroon. I can’t adequately express how happy I am that I hung up my concrete jungle driving gloves today. Driving on the highway in the city ranks right up there on my fun-meter with getting a cavity filled or changing a tire. Not to mention, I just read the average American driver spends $9,000 on car maintenance, gas and payments a year. Sweet mama, that is a lot of cash. Of course tonight on my way home, there was a big decision-affirming crash within a mile of my house and I sat on the freeway in 111 degree heat. Phew. So glad tomorrow I’ll be walking through that sauna and not sitting in it.
That said, I am having a bit of panic with this change, even though it was a long time coming. It hit me this afternoon — five years I’ve worked for the same trusty employer and tomorrow I start all over with day one. I’m currently practicing deep breathing and hoping to muddle through the exhausting nonsense that is a panic attack.
The internal dialog goes something like this:
Stomach: Gurgle
Heart: 118 beats a minute sitting down
Brow: Sweaty
Mind: What the heck is going on? I am freaking out. Why am I freaking out? Stop freaking out!
Lungs: Hyperventilating
Mind: Okay, get a grip here. Don’t listen to your heart pounding. Focus on your happy place. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe!
Mind: This was the right choice! New adventure! New fun! You can do this! STOP FREAKING OUT.
Stomach: ROAR!

What to wear when you are walking to your new job

So, I did one of the most relaxing things I could think of — I got a pedicure and then went shopping at my financial arch nemisis.
New shoes for the new walk, and they were on clearance — plus I had a trusty dividend to burn. Got to love a great deal on something you’d already had your eye on.
New shoes on feet, heart calming, breathing easier. Tomorrow will be groovy. If nothing else, my feet will be rockin’. I could buy a lot of shoes with $9,000…


This Post Brought to You by Butter*

Peter the birthday boy

My friend Peter had a birthday when I was in Africa. While I managed to bake for AJ and Gregg’s summer birthdays — the other two in the Bagel Boy Trifecta — I completely forgot Peter. Ouch. Thankfully I made it up to him this morning with a tray of snickerdoodles, per his request.

glimmer of butter

I used this recipe and they were a hit. Honestly, I think Peter was almost more thankful for the peanut butter brownies I baked as a distraction for AJ. With chocolate on the table, Peter didn’t have to worry about sharing his cookies.

pb brownies
brownie top

* Breakfast of champions — unless you are in China, and then your Olympic glory also comes with a side of smog. Yikes.


At Home in the Kitchen

july 2008 012

Healthy summer dinner, post spin-class: sweet potato with garlic and salsa and a colorful salad. I found a new way to prepare sweet potatoes without having to turn on the oven. A rice steamer! I added a couple cloves of garlic and set it for 60 minutes. By the time I came home, my dinner was ready and my home was still cool.

The one thing I miss more than any of my other pastimes when I travel, perhaps with the exception of swimming, is the opportunity to cook. In Africa, there was staff tending to our every need and I never had a chance to get my hands dirty in the kitchen. I returned to a stack of Cooks Illustrated, Bon Appetit, Shape, Sunset, Country Living, and Real Simple. By the time I’d recovered from jet lag, the pile of recipes pulled from these issues towered, varying from homemade marshmallows to fig and arugula pizza.

july 2008 017

Obviously it is time to strike up the band and get my friends over for another community dinner. The invites went out this week for the next soir√©e when, at last, I’ll get the chance to throw on an apron and give a few of these new recipes a whirl. I’ve also set aside a few I know my parents would love; I fondly remember New Years Eve several years ago when I begged my mom to let me cook a family dinner. (She isn’t fond of having others in her kitchen.) I made garlic mashed potatoes and introduced my brother and parents to the sheer heaven that is crumbled blue cheese over a medium-rare petite fillet. We enjoyed a nice Shiraz, good bread, a hearty salad and I’m sure there was something sweet for dessert. My brother still talks about that meal and when he does, I get a little giddy. There is such pleasure in feeding those you love a great meal.

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I booked a ticket to Texas this week to celebrate my dad’s birthday next month. Rather than go overboard with consumerism, we often treat each other to small, thoughtful gifts. Cashews, Swiss cheese, dark chocolate and green enchilada sauce are at the top of my dad’s favorite food lists. I’m sure he’ll enjoy all of these at some point during the visit. Now, if I can just talk my mama into letting me get her kitchen dirty, I can embark on preparing a feast or two.

july 2008 022

Regardless of where I am in the world, if I can cook I feel at home. I bring my culture with me when I can prepare meals for others. I never thought I’d be so happy behind an apron.



Pretty yarn
Ready for a longer needle
Debbie Bliss, you are my fave

There are few nice things in life that bring pause. My first pair of great designer jeans, which I still wear with love four years later, were well worth the investment. My first nice handbag, a gift from Emily, I carry six years later. Again, so worth the expense (especially considering it wasn’t mine). It has held up well, is a classic shape and color and I adore it. Kitchen tools fall into this train of thought too. I have few things from Williams Sonoma, but those I do hold up beyond belief and I’ll probably be using them to bake cookies for my grandchildren one day.

I have a new addition to this luxury column: Debbie Bliss yarn. I’ve never splurged on really nice yarn before and didn’t in this case either. John, Emily’s fab hubby, sent this to me in the fabulous yarn package. I’ve started knitting Christmas projects and this yarn makes it so, so much fun. The texture feels nice in my hands and the yarn holds up so much better on the needles. I know this project is going to be beautiful because the “ingredients” were top notch.

This is more fuel for my new consumerism motto: Buy less. Love what you buy.



Could be a sandwich
Lined up

But what if I should discover that the enemy himself is within me, that I myself am the enemy that must be loved – what then?
–Carl Gustav Jung, 1875 – 1961

A friend emailed me this quote today and it fits perfectly with my current state of mind. My weekend was exactly the right balance of rest and productivity. I made several trips to drop of donated items, clearing my home of more clutter. Deep, unexpected naps (as in I woke up hours later with a book on my chest mildly confused at what had just happened) left me refueled and excited for the week. I ran to my heart’s content and spent a good bit of time drooling over my new dream bike. (What better way to spend that REI dividend?)
There was also time to organize those fabric remnants and get a big project started. I hope to turn these pieces into several scrap quilts to be gifted to friends getting married and having babies this Fall. I enjoyed trimming each of these pieces and remembering why I bought the fabric in the first place. I now understand why my mom has always taken such pleasure in quilting with scraps. You are pooling creativity from dozens of projects to form one final burst of color.


Loafing Around

Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class

This afternoon I joined 7 girlfriends at the Great Harvest Bread Company in Tempe for a bread baking class. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I love to bake and finally mastered a great loaf of bread with the ever-so-popular No Knead recipe. Then again, I’m rarely one to turn down an opportunity to learn, eat or bake. For $25 we got to do all three, plus spend several hours gabbing and having a great time.

Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class

Carolyn, the former owner, is transitioning out of the business and training the new owner Leslie. The two make a great pair; they were polite and friendly and you can feel their love for baking. It is always nice to be around people who are passionate about their work. They described Great Harvest’s business model, commitment to making healthy food (the company was founded by Montana hippies who ground their own wheat and sold bread by the roadside. How wonderful is that?), and community involvement. We placed our lunch order, threw on aprons and hats and headed back into the bakery to learn how to knead.

Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class

Their baker measured out two one-pound loaves of bread. We each kneaded, decorated and dabbed a honey mixture on top of these before they went into their ferris wheel oven to be baked. After a tour of the bakery, we sat down to eat. I’m not easily impressed with sandwiches. I love lots of sliced meat, generous veggies, no mayo or cheese and a great bread. They knocked it out of the park. My black forest turkey sandwich was so, so good. I had it on their nine grain and it was truly the best sandwich bread I’ve ever had. I was happy without eating another bite, but then of course came two large plates of sweets. Soon enough, the eight of us magically made brownies, cookies, muffins, scones and several types of specialty bread disappear. My favorite was the flax seed, carrot bran muffin. Sounds gross, but it was just the right balance of sweet, dense and healthy-ish. Yum.

Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class
Great Harvest Bread Company Baking Class

Phoenicians, if you are looking for a fun way to get a group of friends together, this class is a wonderful way to escape the normal mall/shopping/lunch/movie/happy hour routine. Plus, you get to come home with a belly full of healthy, yummy food and two loaves of bread. For $25, it’s a steal. Plus, it’s a great chance to look at your girlfriends and say, “Nice buns!”


Simple Gifts to Stitch: July

Dear Finny,
When you announced the theme of selecting one of the children’s projects or making a project for a child, I was thrilled. I have so many wee ones in my life these days who I love to spoil. One in particular has a fondness for change. It’s gotten to the point that when there is money missing at his house, his parents automatically go to his room to ask Mr. Sticky Fingers where the dough is. Ha! I love that mischevious side. So I thought — why not make him the coin purse? He is 4, loves his money and loves his Auntie Kelli. I figured this would be a perfect crafting storm.

simple gifts to stitch July project
simple gifts to stitch July project
simple gifts to stitch July project

Alas, this project was not as easy as I had hoped. Working with vinyl isn’t so bad, but getting this darn coin purse to cup, as shown in the directions, is tricky. In fact, I never figured it out. Thankfully, my recipient isn’t terribly picky and I’ve already added a few copper friends to the gift to make him smile.

simple gifts to stitch July project
simple gifts to stitch July project
simple gifts to stitch 007

Believe it or not, this was created while sewing sober. I can see how you’d think otherwise.

I hope you and Bubba are having a fabulous adventure in Costa Rica. I can’t wait to hear all about it. And I really hope someone is there to care for the Magic Garden while you are gone. I am loving the gardening inspiration you’ve been providing with your daily jaunts and finds.

By the time you get home, I hope the Flickr pool is full of great projects and I can pick one for our winner. And I’ve got August’s theme selected and it is a challenge. Good thing you are on vacation resting up!



Weekend inspiration from Flickr

Flickr inspiration for a creative weekend. For more info on these incredible projects (which are NOT mine), visit: 1,2,3,& 4.

I talked to my mami in Texas this morning and she was lamenting how their business is so busy at the moment and she feels behind in every step. The house is a mess. The lawn needs attention. The dog is biting at her heels for a walk. The books need balanced. The car needs washed. And what she really wants to do is sit down to sew.

My week exactly, minus the lawn and dog part. I’m cleaning things off of one desk and starting over a new one. It has been a refreshing and exhausting week. I’m looking forward to a weekend for time to catch up with Singer, my running shoes and my friends. Hope you have a great one too!


Studio Purge? Check.

Giant bag of scrap fabric

The bag where all of my fabric scraps have gathered for the last several years, including lots of teeny tiny worthless pieces that leave me scratching my head. What did I think I could use that tidbit for?

Good lord.

Old wool sweaters, felt, and gobs of cotton.

Fabric scrap nightmare

It wasn’t pretty.

Fabric scraps, after

Phew. Better. That bag is full of smaller scraps to be sent off to a teacher friend. The box is full of folded larger scraps for a quilt I’m putting together as a wedding gift.

Scrap box, after

Much better.

Yikes these suckers were heavy

Next up? Notions. How is it that I have safety pins, spools of thread and pairs of scissors in 45 places in my house? No longer.

Ribbon box, before

Before. Oy.

Ribbon box, after.
Notions box, after

After. Better.

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The knitting bin wasn’t looking any more organized. With stacks of half completed knitting projects that needed to be frogged and a fair collection of teeny tiny balls from left over projects, this bin was crying for attention.

Yikes. What a tangled mess

And also pleading to ignore that tempest JoAnn and her mighty coupons. Not a thing needs to be added to this department.

To become a stack of ballband dishrags

Instead, with a bit of planning, I divided up this nonsense into future projects. There are lots of babies coming this Fall to friends who may need a soft cotton washcloth or two.

To become another knit wrap cardian

Or a pretty pink wrap cardigan.

To become two felted market bags

Or perhaps a felted market tote or two.

I think I’m addicted to productivity. It is disgusting how much pleasure it gives me to clean, organize, send excess off to a better home and make a lengthy list of future projects. Not to mention the joy I get from documenting such nuttiness.


You Can Do It: Badge #41

You can do it

It’s been quite a while since I’ve browsed my copy of “You Can Do It” — a book blogging project I’m doing with Aimee. Rather than do the badges in order, I’m skipping ahead to badge #41: Eat It.
Essentially the idea is to take a closer look at what you are eating, see how it makes you feel, eliminate junk and add more healthy stuff. This isn’t that big of a leap; I’m neurotic about what I eat. I grew up in an athletic home. My mom taught aerobics for ten years, my dad and brother were great swimmers, and I’ve recently dug in my heels to become a triathlete. You feed your body crap, you feel like crap, you swim/bike/run like crap. Einstein, I’m not.
So, knowing how to eat healthy is in my DNA. Doing so habitually, and eating an appropriate serving size, is not.


Fruit-free breakfast that screams: time to go to the grocery. 1 cup of fat free cottage cheese, one Western Alternative bagel, 2 tablespoons of fat free cream cheese: 272 calories, 1 gram of fat, 38 grams of protein.

Specifically the badge suggests you:
1. Food journal for a week to take a nutritional inventory. I like Sparkpeople. It’s free and comprehensive. Also, I like having a buddy. Colleen encouraged me to stop drinking soda and I feel worlds better having made this little change.
2. Follow the guidelines. Know how much you should be eating vs. how much you are eating. Here’s a great tool.
3. Learn serving sizes and how to read nutritional labels. (I am also on alert for high-fructose corn syrup in my food. It seems to be in everything these days and there is nothing about “corn” or “syrup” that is going to make me healthier. In simple terms: the feed corn and other grains to animals to fatten them before slaughter. Old McDonald, I’m not.)
4. Make a meal plan and shop with taste in mind. Fresh produce and spices are easy and healthy ways to make your meals much tastier. This is an area where I need to change; I go to the market about once a week and never have enough produce in the fridge. With my new job, I’ll walk past the market each way everyday and I hope this helps nudge me to be different. Also, I’m getting more involved with the Phoenix Farmers’ Market.

I also figure a great way to have ready access to fresh produce is getting off my lazy duff and gardening. I’ve lamented countless times how my patio garden is tiny and gets the wrong sunlight and a dozen other reasons why it won’t work to grow a thing. However, the main reason nothing has grown is because I haven’t been here long enough to keep it watered and pay it enough attention. And frankly, I want a magic garden too! This resource for Phoenix gardeners and my new schedule are giving me hope this will change.

Peter Hoffman was recently interviewed in Bon Appetit. Hoffman is the owner of several restaurants in New York City and is a champion of buying local, supporting farmers’ markets and eating healthy food. A bit I enjoyed, while we’re on the topic:

Bon Appetit: Why should Americans support local farmers’ markets?

PH: Buying from local farmers is about getting off the grid — not the power grid, but the food-system grid. Money stays local, our outlying regions can remain agriculturally productive, and the landscape is preserved. The food tastes better because it hasn’t traveled as far and is fresher.

Bon Appetit: If someone says to you ‘I don’t shop at farmers’ markets because they’re too expensive,’ how do you respond?

PH: Get with it. That is the real cost of food. Vote with your fork and your belly, and support the opportunity to buy directly from farmers — and eat better food by buying from them.

Getting with it, Peter.