Friday, December 31, 2010

Weather or not

We've had great weather on our trip, until yesterday. Now icy roads and below 0 temps have us huddled in a hotel. We are going to go get chains for the PT Cruiser and try to get out to my parents house this morning. Weather permitting, we'll head to Texas tomorrow morning.
Creativity recognized on 16th Street Mall in Denver

Pianos on the mall - and they were in tune!

Music on the Mall

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Green Shawl

Bramble and her 2010 kids, Frappucino and Fritillary
This shawl started with our angora goat doe Bramble's spring 2010 fleece. We gave her her spring hair cut on a beautiful day in early April. The trees on the hill behind our house were just leafing out.

Look at all those colors, I thought, "and they call every one of them "Green." That was the genesis of this shawl."

I spun Bramble's fleece raw, right from the bag. After I had spun and plied all six skeins, I washed them in the kitchen sink and hung the yarns to dry on our front porch in the gentle spring breezes. 

I asked Lena to dye them all with blues and yellows. She worked her handpainting magic with the Jacquard dyes and the result was exactly what I had hoped for - Spring greens!

I started weaving the shawl on my 7-foot triloom. I did it plain weave, without counting any patterns. I wanted the texture of the mohair and the beauty of the color to stand out. I hoped to have the shawl done for the Off the Beaten Path Studio Tour the third weekend in September, but it didn't make it.

October 21 was the Sheep to Shawl competition at the Ozark Folk Center. I was determined to have my green mohair shawl done for that day. I was not competing, but I knew that many people who would appreciate the beauty of this piece would be there.

On the loom hand knotting the fringe

It took me until almost 1:00 a.m. to finish tying the last fringe on this gorgeous green shawl, but I finished it. Many, many people admired it that day and they have everywhere I've shown it since then. Many people have said that this one is too beautiful to sell, they tell me I have to keep it.

Such a snuggly warm bit of spring

Yesterday, while I was laughing, feeling young, playing tourist and taking a picture of a flute player on the 16th street mall in Denver, someone stole this shawl.
We talked to the motor cycle cops, the information guys and people in stores around. They were nice, but amused at our naivete'. One asked us where we were from.

I spent the night with my heart feeling broken, I loved this shawl and had decided to keep it for myself. Suddenly I was grieving all the loses of the last four years. Poor Shawn, he did his best to console me. 

One of the things that hurt the most was that now this beautiful piece, that I had put easily a hundred hours into, was separated from this story of its making. How important are the stories... to me, they are the joy of things.

I hope my spring green shawl keeps someone warm in Denver this cold winter and perhaps it will bring joy to someone's life.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Awesome museum

Pedal power scroll saw from 1915

Motorized Schwinn bicycle
We went to a wonderful little private museum in Craig, Colo. this afternoon. I was very impressed with the collection and the quality of the displays at the Wyman Museum.

We went out to the museum this afternoon and were initially disappointed to find a closed sign on the door. But, Shawn pushed the door and found it open. We apologized to the owner, who was inside. He said it was no problem and he offered to take us on a guided tour. He is so passionate about his museum, we had a wonderful visit.

The chain saw collection is amazing, the hearse and body baskets were a wonderful education and the sheepherders wagon and both hand cranked and electric shearing equipment from the early 1900's fascinated me.

The license plate collection started with Colorado plates from 1927, the first year they registered cars in this state. That year, the courthouse issued you a number and you went home and made your own license plate. There was an Illinois license plate from the WWII years made from soybeans. All metal was headed to the war effort.

We really enjoyed our visit. Thanks Mr. Wyman!

Travel plans

Snow off the back porch at Shawn's folks
We're in the High Country of Colorado at Shawn's folks place in Craig. The snow is deep, but the roads were plowed and mostly dry getting up here. It snowed a wee bit more last night, but it's just beautiful.

So far, our trip has been smooth and enjoyable. We left home about 6:15 a.m. on the 23rd and got to Jeannie's in Wichita Falls, TX at supper time. We only got confused about the route once, in Sherman, TX, when I got turned around after we had to drive away from the main highway to get gas. Gas has been running about $2.71 across the country.

The wind farm at Lamar added some interest to the view.

Finally, at sunset, a bump on the horizon - Pikes Peak!

Christmas dinner 2010 at my folks.
We left Texas at about 5:15 in the morning on Christmas Eve and drove what seemed like forever across unchanging plains. Finally, as the sun was setting, we could see at little bump of Pikes Peak on the horizon.  We had dinner at my folks and a wonderful Christmas Day with my family. Laughter and sharing filled the big house.

Snow on Rabbit Ears pass, but the roads are dry.
Yesterday my dad cooked a delicious breakfast (I would love the recipe for that tofu/sundried tomato/red pepper/avocado stir fry!) and we headed up into the hills. Funny, the Colorado passes aren't very scary anymore after driving for four years in the Ozarks :-). We did find deep snow on Rabbit Ears, but the roads were dry.

We had a great dinner in Craig with Shawn's folks and now are having a relaxing morning looking at the snow blanketing the high plains. I swept last night's snow off the front steps up the their house and laughed at the jack rabbit and cotton tail tracks all over the front porch.

Our plans for the upcoming days are to relax and visit with Sherrie and Johnny today. Then tomorrow, sometime in the morning, we'll head back to the eastern slope, maybe stopping to consider some of the galleries in Steamboat for Shawn's brooms and maybe my shawls.

We'll planning on being at Robin and Summer's tomorrow night and we've been invited to dinner tomorrow night at Joe's house.

I'm hoping to meet Julia for lunch and whoever else wants to join us on the 16th street Mall in Denver on the 29th. We'll go to Tattered in Cherry Creek in the afternoon and then are planning on dinner with Robin and Summer. I need to call them all to confirm this part of the plan :-).

Then we'll be back at my folks on the 30th and hopefully get to spend the day with Anthony and Lydia and Matthew and then meet up with Kayla for dinner.

We'll head back home on the first and I have to be back to the office, bright and refreshed at 8:00 a.m. on the 3rd.

How's that for a vacation update, plan and itinerary all in one blog post.

Love and hugs to everybody, Jen

Saturday, December 25, 2010

More technology

So were sitting here on Christmas Day playing with toys. Not new toys, but everybody is sharing their net books, laptops, iPhones, androids, and iPads.
So I'm typing this on my brothers iPad...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stuffed Pumpkin

While I'm waiting to see if the sky will clear enough so I can see the amazing winter solstice total eclipse of the full moon at midnight, I thought I share a recipe with you.

I love stuffed pumpkin. I prefer them stuffed with rice - but after that, all bets are off. I've stuffed pumpkins with rice and pine nuts or rice and shitake mushrooms. Rice and chopped greens is a little weird, and I don't think I'll ever try the rice and broccoli stuffed pumpkin again.

Last night however, I think I made one of the best stuffed pumpkins ever.

I started with a cute little pie pumpkin, one of the last out of the garden. I cooked up a big batch of Arkansas long-grain brown rice. Did you know that Arkansas is the largest producer of rice in the US. Another good reason for living here. I can still enjoy rice and buy local!

I browned about a pound of ground lamb in a large cast iron frying pan. Our butcher makes his hand-sized packages which work great for our family of 3 big eaters. I stirred in and lightly cooked one coarse chopped onion and one large apple - the last from our next door neighbor's tree. I minced 4 large cloves of garlic and added them to the pan. Then I poured in about 1/2 cup of apple cider and two teaspoons of Garam Masala spice (I buy that from Mountain Rose Herbs). I stirred it all well and turned off the fire under the pan.

Then I cut the top out of the pumpkin and scooped out the seeds. They went into the bowl that goes out to the goats. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent natural wormer. Then I powdered the whole inside of the pumkin, including the top with about a tablespoon of the Masala spice.

I stuffed the little pumpkin with the rice mixture, packing it down well, and put it into a 9x13 pan with about 1/2 cup of apple cider and 1/2 cup of water in the pan. I baked it at 350 for 1/2 hour, then I put the rest of the stuffing into the pan around the pumpkin and put it back in the oven for about another 45 minutes while I went out and milked and did evening chores.

I loved it and am taking left-overs for lunch. Lena and Shawn were less enthusiastic, that's why I have left-overs.

The sky is still cloudy. Even though the cloud cover was heavy, the night was still bright and the pink glow of the eclipse made an interesting effect on the clouds.

Happy Solstice everyone!

Lamb and Rice Stuffed Pumpkin

1 small pie pumpkin
1 lb ground lamb
4 cups cooked long grain brown rice
1 large onion
1 large apple
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp Garam Masala spice
1/2 c apple cider
1 Tbs Garam Masala spice
1/2 c apple cider
1/2 c water

Clean seeds out of pumpkin and powder inside with 1 Tbs Masala.
Brown lamb, onion, apple, garlic, 2 tsp Masala and 1/2 c apple cider.
Stuff pumpkin with mix, pour remaining cider and water into 9x13 pan, set stuffed pumpkin in middle. Bake at 350 for 1/2 hour. Surround pumpkin with remaining stuffing and continue to bake at 350 for another 45 minutes. Cut pumpkin into quarters and serve with stuffing scooped over top.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Craving places

We in the final planning stages for our trip back to Colorado. The car is checked out and tires ordered (they go on tomorrow), the propane tank is filled, we have plenty of hay and I think the farm is set for Lena to take care of everything for two weeks.
Now, it's on to planning the itinerary. With so many people to see, friends and family to visit, it's going to be a whirlwind trip that cuts diagonally across the state from Lamar in the southeast corner to Craig in the northwest. We are trying to work with friends holiday plans, so we can see them for bit when they aren't at work or with other family. In the midst of all that planning, I realized that I had a craving for one place in Colorado.
Now, I spent 24 years of my life in that state. I've camped all over it, worked across much of it, been a journalist, a farmer, a storyteller, and a postal carrier there. And we are really making this whole trip to see people, especially the ones that haven't been able to come out and visit us in Arkansas. But there is one Place I have a craving for.
Have a craving for a place is like having a craving for a food. It's not something you need in your daily life, just something you want a taste of occasionally. Maybe it has a trace mineral your body needs in small amounts or a flavor that soothes a part of your brain.
I have a craving for the Sixteenth Street Mall in Denver. I want to wander the streets and listen to the clop-clop of the cart horses feet and the live music of the buskers, maybe dropping a few dollars into the hats of the ones I enjoy. I want to go to the tobacco shop with Shawn, and get a cuppa coffee at the Starbucks where I got one of my favorite cd's Alanis Morrissette's Jagged Little Pill acoustic. I want to window shop until we are frosty cold and then go back to the car and spend the rest of the afternoon at the Tattered, soaking up book energy.
Hopefully we'll be able to add that little bit of spice to the full meal of what looks like its going to be a wonderful trip.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


I love fun socks.
Lena knit me these wonderful fun socks.

I think it started when my aunt Jeannie gave me a back of cute socks. Some of them had flowers on them, my favorite set was cute blue with snow flakes and yesterday I wore bright yellow ones with primary polka dots.

Fun socks bring a smile to your face. Cute socks are a secret way to be girlie. You can show them off or tuck them into boots or under your slacks and business shoes.

For my birthday, Lena knit me a wonderful Mardi gras sock. She just gave me its mate for Christmas. They remind me of Soulmate Socks. The same color, but unique. It shows how your knitting/crocheting/any handwork changes in even a very short time as your body adapts to different things in life.

I love my socks! Thanks Lena.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New store

I had a great visit with Steve Folkers yesterday. Steve is the Cooper at the Ozark Folk Center and he is also an original member of the Arkansas Craft Guild and a founding member of the Off The Beaten Path Studio Tour. His buckets, bowls and spoons are works of art lovingly shaped from trees using only hand tools. He is an amazing artist.

We were discussing the dilemma that most artists in tourist-based towns like ours face - where do you market your product in the off season. Steve does sell in a gallery in Little Rock and one in LA, as well as in Mountain View during the season, but he thinking that he maybe needs to get some broader exposure. I've been weighing the pros and cons of the local stores and Guild Gallery. After talking with Steve and looking at my analysis that is not strongly weighted in any direction - I went back to my Etsy store.

Check out Common Threads on Etsy and let me know if you have any suggestions for making it better.

I've had a few items listed on Etsy in the past, but have never sold anything there. The site seems to have come a long way in the last year or so and many crafts people say it is working for them. So, over the next few weeks I'll be listing shawls, rugs, scarves, hats, purses, Lena's knitting needles and yarns. I'll let you know how it's going

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sales options

Shawls, hats and scarves on display
in my studio

We cleaned house, gathered stock, priced and displayed everything - and only six people came to our studio for last Saturday's first ever Holiday Studio Tour.
I did get lots of yarn spun and we had nice visits with those who were here. The house is comfortably clean for a bit and all my shawls, rugs, skeins of yarn, hats and scarves are priced. What do I do with them now?

An obvious answer is to take them to the Arkansas Craft Guild Gallery. I just found out that I was high seller there in the month of November. Several ladies took a liking to my shawls during the bluegrass festival early in the month.

Or I could take them to Sander's Antiques on the Courthouse Square. John and Carolyn sell lots of Shawn's brooms and have sold my rugs and shawls in the past. They are wonderful people and charge very little commission. They like having work from local artists in their store.

Ritsy Rags has done very well selling our yarn and knitting needles. Rene' would love to have this big basket of handspun mohair and wool that I have sitting on the table in her shop.

Baskets of dyed jewel-tone handspun yarn
wool roving and fleece-woven rugs.

Shawn has been trying to talk me into finding a gallery in Eureka Springs to carry my work. I've found a few that I like when we've visited the town. I think the best fit for my shawls is Iris Art. But I haven't talked with the gallery owner yet.

Or, there's Etsy. I know several people who are doing ok on this selling site that promotes handcrafted items, including one rug weaver who has done quite well.

They all have their pluses and minuses. I've run a cost/benefit analysis on these options. Of course, I could do a little of each, but, I don't have very much stock right now... just 5 shawls, 5 top quality rugs, about a dozen hats, four scarves, two dozen skeins of yarn about 8 sets of Lena's knitting needles. Enough to make a nice showing in an Etsy store or maybe to scatter out through a few galleries.

Only one thing is obvious, I need to get these items out somewhere for sale. They aren't going to sell sitting in my studio.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Where does all the time go?

Couldn't sleep this morning, so got up about 5, ate breakfast and sat down at my computer about 5:30. I was going to check email and write a blog post. All of a sudden it's 7:10 and I have to run out and do chores, shower quick and get to work. And I still haven't written my blog post. Computers suck an amazing amount of time.
Remember all that time we used to spend doing things?
Now we spend it glued to a computer.
Is it as useful?
I don't know.
How do you measure the productivity of communicating via facebook and blogs vs. phone calls and emails (I never was any good at letters, so let's not even go there.) And I still do email, that's on the computer.

I discovered David Allen's book "Getting Things Done" back when I was in the newspaper world. I still fall back on those principles when I find myself bogged down with unfinished projects and too much to do. I wish I could implement them as a functioning part of my life.

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

Monday, December 06, 2010

Dryer Balls and gnomes

What do you do with all those scraps of fleece
and roving that every spinner has build up
in baskets and bags and bins? Make wool felt balls.
Off and on over many years, my family has made wool felt balls. When the kids were little, they were toys (medieval nerf balls we called'm). Then we made them for kitties with catnip centers and for dogs to try to teach them to play that game called "fetch." Quigley has never understood why humans would want to play such a funny game and he's not going to waste the energy on it.

A couple years ago I read an article in Mary Jane magazine about using them as dryer balls. You just pop a few of the wool felt balls that we always have around the house into the dryer and they cut down on the time it takes to dry clothes and take the static out. We tried it, and they do work that way. We also found they have a far more important function in the dryer.

Solid wool felt dryer balls that
the gnomes have not yet traded out.
Dryer gnomes love felt balls! They will happily trade a felt ball for one, or even two of your socks that they have been hording. And if you give them dryer balls, they will quit taking your favorite wash cloths. They sometimes even trade an especially colorful dryer ball for one of my special Summer tie-dyed tea towels that they do so love to steal.

And no, I have no idea where they take them, any more than I have any idea where missing pens go. But I do think the parallel universe must be a pretty, fun place. And I bet gnomes never have cold feet.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Halfie-cat takes her turn

This morning's post is courtesy of Halfie-cat, who even after 16 years of living with humans has trouble understanding some of their behavior.

I just don't understand hu-mans. This is the second time in a very short time that the soft hu-man has disrupted my morning by changing our routine.
Forget trying to make hu-mans feel better,
 I'm just going to keep warm by the heater!

I came out into the big room this morning for my usual morning "cuddle the hu-man" to let her know I appreciate her. When I jumped onto her lap - which is getting harder to do, you really think they would have learned to lift me by now - the soft hu-man bolted up, causing me to fly across the room. Do you know how hard it is to land on my feet at my age? I don't like that game any more.

She then barked loudly and ran into another room. Her barking sounded like, "Dm kat, spd m kofee a gn!"

She returned with a piece of cloth and spent the next half hour splashing in the puddle under the chair.
Now why do hu-mans like to play in water? I've never understood that. I think I'll spend the rest of the day next to the heater. The hu-mans can just go appreciate themselves. Hmmph!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The art of writing about your art

Sooner or later, someone is going to ask you to submit a bio. Maybe it’s for your listing on the Arkansas Craft Guild web site, or for promotion for a gallery opening, or for advertising for a craft show. Most of us hate to “blow our own horn” and it is terribly hard to condense your life and your craft into the one or two paragraphs they always want.

I have crafts people ask me to write up their bios frequently and I came up with this series of exercises to help them focus on their craft and figure out what to say. Remember, these short bios are a snapshot of where you are, right now. If you’re like most artisans, you don’t have the time to write a lot, and in today’s world, people generally don’t take the time to read more than a few sentences.

Work through these exercises and then leave this set for a day, or a week. Come back to it, read it and then write your brief bio. Gear it toward the audience you are hoping to reach - collectors of your art? – fellow artisans? Students? Don’t worry about focusing this piece on just one part of your life. I was recently writing an article about a couple who have been wood carvers for more than 40 years. They have pieces in collections around the world. They shared how they met and started working together.

I listened and remarked, “What a great story.”

They smiled, looked at each and said, “Well, that’s one story.”

If you want help putting together a bio, feel free to email me at

Writing your bio exercises

Write one word that describes your art - ______________________________

Write one sentence using that word - __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Use that sentence in a three sentence paragraph _____________________________________


This is your “elevator speech” about your art, what you could tell someone in the time it takes to ride the elevator with them.

In one word, what is the most important thing in the world to you? _____________________

Now, think of a conversation with a good friend. In one sentence, how would that friend describe you? _____________________________________________________________



Now, write a three sentence paragraph describing your artistic self ______________________


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The art and science of purchasing

I'm at the State Parks Gift Show at Degray Lake Resort State Park. And, in spite of comments from people who think it can't be work for girls to shop and who know how luxurious Degray is, I am working.

Would these healthy granola treat cups
sell in the General Store?

I've seen an incredible number of other park store buyers working. Right now the lodge lobby is full of groups discussing orders, using calculators to figure on catalogs and discussing deals with vendors. Purchasing is part art, part science and it is work.

Melody and I spent yesterday making several detailed passes through the vendors. There are several new ones here this year, new lines being repped and we have some new directions at our park, with Loco Ropes and the new cooking classes.

We placed a few orders for the easy, obvious things. I wanted a few new tshirt designs and we found a great one. It comes in youth sizes, too and will stay at the lower price point that we've found sells well. You'll just have to wait until March to see what it looks like, but it is really nice.
There is a new book wholesaler with some great titles and we ordered those. We ordered solar flash lights, Burt's bees bug repellent and the mugs, travel mugs and shot glasses with a new name drop design. I found the stainless steel water bottles I've been wanting and ordered those name dropped. We ordered some new candies for the General Store.

Now comes the hard part. The research - is the Lodge cast iron at the Gift Show a better deal than the Texsport we carry now. The answer to this one, after two hours of debate and research is "no" and we'll keep carrying Texsport.

Do we want to develop a line of "Sheep poop" candies?

Sheep poop candies?

They would surely sell, along with "Tree climber's vitamins" and what ever else we can develop. It's cute, tastes good and is pricey. So... we take a catalog and go think some more. Talk to other parks. Debate. Think.

I'm going over what we've found that we like and figuring out -

1. Does this item fit in with the mission of our park?
2. Would it appeal to our visitors?
3. Is it priced at a point that we can resell it?
4. Does it expire?
5. Could it sell in more than one facility in our park?
6. How would we display it?
7. Can it be packaged with items we already sell?
8. Does it compete with any one of our existing businesses?
9. Is it in the budget?

Obviously, some of these questions can be answered with bias. If I like something, I can figure out how it fits in the park mission. But I also know that the things I like are not necessarily things that will sell.
And I know some things that I truly dislike sell well.
So, I'm off to look at some of the trinket vendors... back to work. Or maybe walk along the lake shore and soak up a bit of winter sun. To clear my head so I can think more clearly - really :-).
The lodge at Degray from the lakeside.