Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What To Do With 4 Bushels of Blackberries

Blackberries in the bucket - ripe. The red ones on the vine - not ripe yet.

It all started with an Instagram picture of my friend, Sharon Rupert Dunaway, picking berries in Houston in July somewhere near Houston, Texas.  With camp out for the great Lucille,  I started making a Summer Bucket List and decided this must be on it.  I found a great downloadable one to use thanks to The Day Designer, Whitney English, that you can get here for free.  Her organizational tips, list and planners have been beyond helpful, but that's another post entirely.
With the idea of sunshine, hats on our heads and buckets in our arms, I started researching which farms had what and what hours they were open, etc. and landed on P-6 Farms, in Montgomery, near Conroe, Texas.  Let me save you the time and trouble for the novices, like myself, to know that July in Texas means the only berries still available to pick are blackberries. When the lady at the front counter says, "Stay at the front of the rows," just politely ignore her since it is almost the end of the season and all the blackberries at the front have been picked already.  Go to the farthest row and head to the back.
My 84 year old mother picking blackberries
Pro Tip: Pay attention to the prices before you start picking. Because . . . we picked 4 buckets and when they rang me up, imagine my surprise at $65.00.  I was more than happy to give that to the farm, well deserved, but what I don't like to do is waste food. An opportunity presented itself to figure out what to do with these. My mom and I got home and she diligently cleaned them all, while I made dinner and dessert, which was a cobbler from our day's bounty.

Below are all the recipes I found and used with pictures and links. I made other things and I still have 2 galloons in my freezer. As many of you know, I am new at the culinary arts, but I love a challenge and this made a very memorable July for me and my family

This was so pretty, you could not begin to take a bad picture of it
Blackberry ice cream you can make without a churn.  I received this from the fabulous Amy Huff, who saw my plentiful supply and was more than ready to lend me a helpful hand, plus she introduced me to the blog it came from, Baked by an Introvert, and what can I say, but that I identify with her completely. #introvertsunite

Next on the list, I looked for cocktails and this blackberry mint julep was it.  I loved making the simply syrup for this (in the picture on the left), but the cocktail on the right made for some messy business in the kitchen, and my white porcelain sink.  Taking the blackberries and pushing them through a sieve does not only stain you, but everything else it touches.  Muddle next time and live with the seeds is what I say, and wear black when you are doing it.

I loved this Martha Stewart drink recipe called Blackberry Mint Julep. You have to do the sieve thing with the blackberries for this one, as well, so you might as well do a very large batch and then try both.  I preferred one over the other, since they both have completely different tastes.

John Besh's cobbler from My Family Table, a cookbook that I love, love, love because I am most interested right now in Southern fare (things like grits & seafood dishes are tops on my list).  I have made this before and you can use any type of fruit, but unfortunately this time, it was a bit mushy the next day due to the ripeness of the berries. Note to self: add cornstarch next time.

By far, the best thing under the sun, was this recipe, called Grilled Fontana + Blackberry Basil Smash Sandwiches. If the name alone doesn't compel you, the pictures will.  When you make it, pleasssse, have no shame or guilt.  God did not put these things on this earth and the blogger who put them together, Jessica Merchant, for you to do anything but savor them.  Amen.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What's Your Goal - To Be a Blogger or a Writer?

A good friend, and even better writer, asked me the other day what advice I would give her about blogging, as she launches her very own blog.  You're not Chicken Little if you dare to put your words out in the world, so I applaud the many who do.  Before you think about the business of your blog, I implore you to . . .
Make your blog
personal playground
and laboratory
You've probably started a blog, because you have something to say. Something compelling you want to write about and share your knowledge with others.  Before you start, understand your goals for blogging.
  • Are you blogging to be a professional blogger?  This means you derive income from your blog. 
  • Are you blogging to market your business?  This might look like short posts to talk more about what you can offer to others.
If you google tips on blogging, you will find these "gems" of wisdom repeated over and over:  
  • stick to a schedule
  • be consistent
  • have something of value for your reader
A beginning blogger might go on Facebook looking for advice on blogging, and readers, not bloggers, give advice - they, of course, mention the schedule and consistency. Why?  Because they benefit from you it.  But ask yourself - DO YOU?  You are not getting paid for this, most likely, so I'd rather you think about why you are blogging than why you need to be consistent. 

Readers, who have never done a blog, have no earthly idea what goes into just one post.  It is not just composed of writing - there's photo editing, word editing, research, etc.  The amount of hours it takes me to do one post like this interview, of a website highlighting moms and creativity, might take 5-6 hours. An interview like this one takes about 7-8 hours.  And I'm not getting paid a nickel for any of it, which is not a comment made to complain.  It's a comment made to help you understand the time involved, in order to help you align your time and energy with your goals.

The three main reasons people give up on blogging are:
  1. The amount of work it takes.
  2. No income is being derived from it.
  3. No one is reading it.
Here is how I made my blog work for me and pull a profit.
  • I keep no schedule.  Why?  Because I am a freelancer and work at a variety of things where my schedule changes weekly. I may have more time one week to post than another.
  • I try things out.  Bathroom Diaries is the one that I love the most right now.  If someone thinks it's weird, what do I care? I'm not doing this as my real job.  And I love interior design, so this enables me to do something quick, fun and that makes me smile.
  • If I have something to say, I say it.  My blog is not about mental illness.  But if I have a subject nagging at me, I write about it and move on.
  • I use it as a vehicle to promote things I love, like artists, and learn from them.  Interviewing creative people is my crack.
  • I keep blogging.  I love the visual and written memory of my days here on this planet for myself and for my kids.
When someone reads my blog, and takes a moment to comment, that is money to me.  But even if they don't, I keep going, because I enjoy writing.  I want to be a paid writer, not a paid blogger. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

10 Most Popular Questions Regarding Louis Vuitton

Working in retail since I was in high school, when people ask me where I've worked, and I mention Louis Vuitton, I seem to get the same questions asked.  I thought you might be interested in what they are, and what the answers would be.

1.  Is their stuff leather?
Everything Louis Vuitton makes has a component of leather on it. Some bags, like the EPI leather line, are composed entirely of leather.  But what most are referring to when they ask this question is the brown signature fabric with the LV stamped on it that you see everybody carrying.  This is composed of cotton canvas that has a PVC coating on top.   Things like the handles on these bags are made of an undyed, natural cowhide, known as Vache.

2.  Did you get a really good discount?
The answer is yes.  The best discount I ever got in 32 years of working retail.  How good was it?  When I started in 1998, I could get wallets for $25.00, Speedy bags (originally designed for Audrey Hepburn, don't you know) for about $100.00 and when shoes were first introduced, a pair for $49.95.  It's not this good anymore, or so I hear.

3.  They burn all the stuff that doesn't sell, right?
Wrong.  All the prices I mentioned, in my answer to question 2, are great for employees because discontinued items, damages, etc. are sold to the employees.  These are known as RTVs (Return to Vendor).

4.  I heard they were now producing in China.
Ummm . . . no.  They have a factories in the US, France and Spain last time I checked. 

5.  How can you tell if a bag is real or fake?
We got asked this question so much, especially by phone, that I wanted to scream.  There is no formula I can explain in 2 minutes that could convey how we know.  With the large amount of products manufactured, there are specific linings used in certain products, types of stitching, hardware that cannot be replicated, etc. I could look at your specific bag and tell you 15 ways it differs from the original.  With so many knock-offs out there, I can't give you an explanation by phone.  But, if you go into the store, and compare to the real thing, you'd be amazed.

6.  They have a Lifetime Warranty?
What has a lifetime warranty?  Name one thing that is used every day that has a lifetime warranty.  It's not going to be a wallet or handbag, I can assure you.

7.  What was it like to work there?
Awesome.  Incredible.  And hard work.  But good hard.  The pace is tough, you are on your feet the whole time, and it is always busy. But I like being busy.  

8.  When do they have sales?
Never.  This is why as a retail manager it is a dream to work there - no markdown's ever.  

9.  How do I clean my bag?  
Depends on which bag you are talking about.  If it is white spots on your signature canvas . . . that is probably from bumping against the wall with the bag and it is paint.  A Magic Eraser or a very slight amount of Windex on a very wet paper towel will take it right off.  Your cowhide handles?  Can't really be cleaned.  You can use saddle soap, which will darken the leather, but if they have gotten too dark, you can also get new handles put on for a fee and have a basically new bag.

10.  I just carry a fake, because you can't really tell the difference anyway.
Let me be frank here - you are no longer my friend.  Why? Because you are supporting illegal activity.  Read the book, Deluxe, and then we will talk about the fact that you are supporting terrorism, illegal drug trade and a variety of other activities that use the sale of counterfeit goods to support and money launder their business.  I saw raids on these businesses.  And you contribute to it by having the vanity and ego to want the bag, but to not pay for it through the proper channels.  

My stance is unpopular, I am sure, but I stand behind it 100%.  Buy real or don't buy.

I hope that answers many of your curiosities. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NOLA Art & Gallery Love

When we arrived in New Orleans last week, it was 
the day before the French Quarter Fest

The festival brought in artists from all over the country, 
lining their work around Jackson Square and 
adjacent side streets.

This artist's work above, Epaul Julien, was among
my favorites. His photographs use a gold leaf/resin process.
I wish you could see the patina of the gold in the photos.
Simply exquisite.  The juxtaposition of the reclaimed
lumber frame against this rich texture was intriguing.

Next to him was an artist who did geographical maps on reclaimed lumber. Her process involves building a frame out of wood, painting and staining the planks, varying the planks by adding vintage fabric and then somehow adding the map to the top of the boards.  The map has a raised texture and 
I couldn't help but think this looked quite Anthropologie-ish.

I wish I could find her card.  
I probably threw it in a pocket . . . somewhere.

The piece below with the man and his kite,
actually moves.  It's as if you feel wind blowing.
 How someone could carve, paint, build
and then make it movable is well, beyond me.

I learned a new term, as it is known as 
a Mixed Media Automatron.  I fell deeply in love
with this artists work.  His name is Tom Haney, from Atlanta,
and the gallery in NOLA where I saw this is Red Truck Gallery.

My boss, Susan Jackson, alerted me to the next artist's work.
Chris Roberts-Antieau has her own gallery, and I'm not
quite sure you can categorize her art or her by simply 
saying she is a fiber artist.  Much of her art does involve
using a needle - quilted, embroidered, etc., but the vibe
of the gallery and the humor in the work is 
something extraordinary.

Take this squirrel with the mustache.  Part of an
installation called "Phantom Limb Illustrated."
Hanging from the ceiling are various false legs
with wings on them.  Below the legs, is a wooden
landscape with all types of taxidermy animals
like Mr. Maximillan Squirrel (the name I gave him).

There is a lot going on in this gallery.
I went back about 5 times.  This artist has a prolific
body of work.  I even got to go back in the offices
and in a behind the curtain gallery.

Chris had subject matters that just kept making me laugh
out loud.  Like "James Brown's Legs" and a piece
thanking little people in film with depictions of
a flying monkey, R2D2, Yoda, E.T., etc.

I could have shot 1,000 pictures just in this space.
You can find Chris' work at Antieau Gallery, which is at 927 Royal Street.  Chris is a woman, by the way, and has reddish hair.
Look for her, as she is often there, and is one of
those artist who doesn't tell people about her work.
She's more interested in what you think about it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Cure-All for Creative Blockage

Having conversations with artists and interviewing them, 
certain themes pop up on a regular basis.
Learning to "follow your intuition" seems to be
one of them.

When I walk by a place now that intrigues me,
I finally have learned to listen to the voice
beckoning to take 5 minutes and walk inside.

For a whooping $5.00 admission fee, you can peruse
a large room filled with these medicines and cure-alls
from times past.  Look at the packaging or
just marvel at how much science has changed.

Not much of a needle girl myself, but 
I'll take the leather case these came in any day.

I think I want a wall like this at my house.
I'd fill jars with beach water and sand, while labeling
 each bottle with the name of the beach and the date.

Lead nipples.  Oh my goodness.
"The sweet taste of lead," really?

The type styles, the packaging, the old bottles . . .
some people might get energized by a candy store
or a bakery - give me this set up any day.

I don't know about you, but I kept thinking about how
I could smuggle this glass piece and walk out with it.

Cocaine Toothache Drops - wow, yes, probably
a very instant cure.

Often, stopping in a place like this, creates a flow
of ideas for writing that otherwise would have laid dormant.
It's as if one part of the brain gets sparked and 
helps rewire another part.

For more information, packaging and bottle porn,
check out their website.  They are located at 514 Chartres Street,
which is not far from Jackson Square - about two blocks or so.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Today and Tomorrow

I don't have much to say today, but I have a lot to share.  I might have more tomorrow, when I post another Bathroom Diaries (hee hee). Because you know, this is my creative playground, and I can write about a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g I find interesting.  And I guess you like it too, based on stats and comments and the hugs you give me.

The training for the AVON 39 has kicked up to official levels of lunacy.  I walked 30 miles this past weekend.  And saw that heart on the ground (pictured above) at about mile 18.  Thank God - I needed that boost.  The race is in two weeks btw.  Wish me luck.

My sister, Kathleen, who is an artist, had our family over for Easter Sunday.  Her house has all these interesting vignettes in it, not to mention flowers.  You could even say - flowers galore.

The woman Kathleen bought her house from was a master gardener.  And it shows.  Have you ever seen an iris that color?

Kathleen recently added bookcases in her Gallery to show her work.  She is also doing a show soon at Brookwood, if you want to try to catch it and see a large amount of her things at once.

Even the clover blooming on the grass in her backyard is
well . . . picturesque.  I used no editing in any of these photos,
that is how beautiful everything is at her studio.

One little girl even found a roly-poly who she became
instantaneous friends with and had a hard time letting go.

Some of Kathleen's work in progress for her next show.

And up in the corner, you can see my mom taking a stroll
around Kathleen's place looking at the flowers with Chuck.
Chuck used to work for Tara (my sister who was a florist) 
when she had large events.
He is an artist, and now collaborates with
Kathleen at times and is Kathleen's neighbor.
Surrounded by flowers, working with Chuck, I think Tara
would be pleased at how Kathleen's new life in Texas is working out.  Hope you had a lovely Sunday too.  Hugs.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Kelley Devine - The Highs and Lows of Being An Artist

"There is no part of this job that is not a lot of work" was what kept ringing in my ears after leaving Kelley Devine's studio last Friday. The myths of being an artist, specifically a painter, swell in the minds of people - people who might want a different job and think all they are lacking to be a painter is talent.  They might fantasize about setting up a canvas and slowly painting the day away, much like doing yoga, while breathing in and breathing out.

But the life of a painter is something Kelley told me that she doesn't wish for anyone.  The struggles she has gone through to get where she is today are something any freelancer or solopreneur can understand and applaud.
"Think twice before doing this.  I love it, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone.  I have a bi-polar life.  I'm not bi-polar.  My life is.  Welcome to the highs and the lows."

Here is an example of a low.  Kelley had a one night show in the gallery of her studio.  Her husband was flying in from out of the country to be at it.  200 people had replied they were coming.  And it rained.  It didn't just rain, it was a monsoon.  All that work - all that money she was banking on, now washed away.  And to top it off, she felt as if she was failing in front of the one person she wanted to see her succeed the most - her husband.  After this, her rule was no more one night shows.  

Here is a high.  Last year, her business tripled.  So much so, she was unprepared for the success.
"You have to do so much to get by, that when you do start making money, it's a surprise."

Quickbooks is now her friend.  She had to stop, while riding this exuberant wave, to buy it, learn it and set up a system.  Now when pieces sell, the exact amount for taxes is taken out.  Every artist I have represented has found themselves in this exact same situation. It's hard to be an artist, an accountant, a marketer, a photographer, and everything else it takes to be successful.
"Sometimes I give a piece to a place like MAX's Wine Dive and then I remember, I forgot to take a picture of it or make the label.  That type of stuff takes a lot of time.  I have to stop thinking like an artist and think of it as a business.  Then, when that's done, pick up my brush and think like an artist again."

When I ask her what was the hardest thing she did when starting this, but is now one of the easiest . . . it's something all creatives struggle with and that is talking to people about her work.  When people would show up at her studio or she had to talk at a gallery, she used to feel uncomfortable.  
"Took me awhile to get used to talking to people that came in the studio.  90% want to know the story behind the painting, and others just hand me cash and I get out of their way.  Once you do start talking to them, you have to learn to shut up.  You have to learn to read people."
Maybe selling water door-to-door in her twenties might have built up a lot of the muscle needed to read others and talk to the general public.  
"It's hard to put yourself out there and get kicked in the teeth.  And for no particular reason.  When I started I did not have thick skin, now I have (as she knocks on the chair she is sitting on) skin as thick as this."

Part of that skin thickening is having your studio accessible during one of Winter Street Studios open studio nights when the general public is walking through to see your work and meet the artist. People will come in, look around, say nothing and leave. Sometimes that might happen 5-10 times in a row for the first hour and as an artist sitting there, waiting, it can be excruciating.  

Meeting Kelley 5 years ago, I see the growth in her confidence not only about her work but the worth of her work.   Artists normally have two problems when it comes to their work:  talking about it and pricing it.  When I ask Kelley about that, she says . . .
"People often ask for discounts.  I don't give discounts. I now say 'This is what my work is worth.  If you love it, buy it.'  And I no longer hold my work.  People would come in and ask me to, and I would to be courteous, but now, I just say 'I don't do that.'"

Kelley is the mother to one boy, Nate, and one girl, Elle.  When I ask if they like to draw and if she encourages them to be artists, she says . . .
"Nate still likes to draw, more like an engineer.  He also does a lot of origami.  Elle normally draws things more socially oriented.  And I encourage them to be doctors. This life is not for everyone."

Kelley is also a competitive bike racer.  I've seen her fly around the track at Memorial Park at speeds where I think - one poor move by any biker and you are going to the hospital.  Yet, she thinks her art is more dangerous than her hobby.
Painting is like bike racing.  You can't slow down, because someone else will go faster.  It's really competitive, because there is no stopping.  Just because you got paid today, doesn't mean you will tomorrow.
Being represented by Esperson Gallery in downtown Houston has helped Kelley's work get noticed.  They were the link that got her pieces in the new Marriott downtown, an installation worth making the trip to see. Kelley was impressed with how the staff at the hotel is required to learn about the artwork.  When she walks into the lobby, people at the front desk say, "Hi, Kelley." 

When I ask about hiring help or an assistant, we look at how that would work.  What they might be able to assist with, what might take too long to teach or what might be too hard to teach.  An example of the hard to teach might be stretching her own canvas for all of her paintings, because if she buys it ready-made, it has to much 'give' to it and is difficult to paint on.  It's hard work, and on her best days, she can only get 3 canvases stretched in a day. 
Kelley's inspiration wall of sorts in her studio
There are two things I always love and admire about artists: their generosity and their candor.  When I first started doing this, I was amazed how they open up and tell me anything and everything. Kelley is no exception.  She clearly loves what she does.  But she doesn't sugarcoat the struggle of what it took to get to this point. Supporting two children on her own for many years (she is recently re-married) as a full-time artist, made her often think - I need to give this up and get a damn job - to I can never give this up and get a damn job.  I think we can understand her comments of having a bi-polar life.  Keep going Kelley.