Birthday Art

Call Me Old Fashioned, watercolor, 12×9″, 2019.

Just before my sister’s birthday, I always troll her Pinterest page looking for artful ideas for her, and several times old fashioned drinks popped up. This was perfect since we both share a love for all bourbon based drinks.

I’d like to change up the blue lettering and do something else – I just don’t love how that turned out.


Mona, Collage, watercolor, marker, color pencil, 2019.

I started this Mona Lisa homage years ago, as a magazine face collaged on to a black marker drawing. At that time, I was sorely missing the coastal parts of North Carolina, which had been our home state for eight years.

I just rediscovered this unfinished piece in my studio, and added the watercolor and color pencil this week.

Roasted Beet & Carrot Tart

31f2e27f-2fc8-4fe9-adc5-1ca6a1a6f001I love love love love fall.  This fall has been supremely more busy than most of the previous autumnal seasons combined, for our family.  But, so it goes.  I got my recent Martha Stewart in the mail last week and was itching to do some baking – it has been far far too long since I have whipped up something creative in the kitchen.

first-dayGrad class, new school, eldest child starting kindergarten, and upcoming presentation at the art educator’s conference has been keeping me racing from one event to the next.  I look forward to some down time in December, perhaps.  Here is a hilarious picture of the three of us on our first official day of school. Big thanks for Eric for taking this picture and holding it together far better than I on her first day of kindergarten.

I found recipe for a tart that looked divine – but being short on time and dealing with some picky eating phases, I swapped and changed a few things.  For starters, I made a simpler sauce from sour cream and pesto.  WIN!  I just love a successful Martha Shortcut, as I call them.  Let’s be honest, her magazine and recipes are amazing but simply not realistic for most of the population.

I roasted the beets and carrots smaller than recommended, to speed up the cooking period.

Martha Stewart’s recipe called for a hazelnut-cilantro chermoula sauce.  This is a North African sauce that can also be served over eggs at breakfast.  It sounded wonderful, other than the cilantro, I absolutely hate cilantro, it tastes like metal to me.  I would have made the sauce, had I had the lemon and hazelnuts needed.  Instead of cilantro, I would have opted for parsley.

I swapped the phyllo for 2 sheets of puff pastry, because it was what I had on hand.

It baked up beautifully and made the entire house smell amazing.  Every time I see beets, I just want to get out my paint set and get to work depicting them in layers of acrylic and swirls of watercolor.

My children both enthusiastically devoured their tart, asking for seconds and thirds.  My daughter declared, “This is the best pizza you have ever made, Mommy!”  Grateful for being short on time and ingredients to find this delectable tart that we will be sure to be making again soon, with some variations in the roasted veggies on top.


Roasted Carrot & Beet Tart – adapted from Martha Stewart Living, October 2016 issue

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.  Peel and cut 3 medium beets into 1/2″ slices.  Peel and slice in half, 1 pound of carrots (about 12).  Put on rimmed baking sheet, and toss with about 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.  Roast, turning once, for about 30-35 minutes, until browning in spots and becoming tender.  Start checking on veggies around 25 minutes, for doneness.
  2. Place 2 thawed puff pastry sheets onto a large baking sheet.  You may cut to fit together.  Overlap slightly, wetting with fingers, and pressing together to make a solid sheet.  Brush lightly with olive oil.  
  3. For sauce, combine: 8 oz sour cream with 2 tablespoons pesto.
  4. Bake for 8-10 minutes or till pastry is puffed and slightly golden.
  5. Remove from oven.  Spread pesto sauce over entire puff pastry.  Arrange roasted beets and carrots on top.  Reduce oven heat to 375°.  Return tart to oven, bake for 10-15 minutes more, or until sauce is set and pastry is done.
  6. Slice and serve warm.


Iowa Skies + Batman Piñata

Iowa Skies

Iowa Skies, watercolor, 9×12″, 2016.  

My most recent finished watercolor, started just before our trip to Alexandria, MN – based on an Instagram photo I took a few years ago of baby blankets drying on the clothesline.

This summer has been flying by – we have all been making time for creating which leaves  me happier than anything else at the end of the day.


As I write this, my youngest is throwing chalk and making the best 2-year-old smears of color that he can make.


Last week, Greta had her school friends over for a belated birthday celebration, so we whipped up a quick Batman piñata.  The two kids worked on their own cardboard and tape creations, while adding layers of paste and newspaper when they felt like helping me.


Batman’s head was formed from a large balloon.  The ears and nose were fashioned from cut up cereal boxes, which were then layered in papier-mâché strips.  My favorite paste for papier-mâché projects is art paste, it comes in a powder and when mixed with water, makes a gel-like paste that isn’t too sticky and lasts well, when covered.


Batman, dried and waiting to be painted.


The finished painted Batman.  This was a quick, get it finished paint job, as I was finishing the paint 1 hour before the party.  Nothing like a deadline to get an artist moving!

Lake Week


A couple of weeks ago, we headed North to Alexandria, Minnesota, with my hubby’s family.  We rented a wonderful lake house with a boat, playground, and killer lakefront view porch.  We spent our time boating, fishing, eating, playing games after the kids were in bed, swimming, and site-seeing.  It was a lovely way to spend a week in the summer!

img_0851We broke up the 7+ hour drive with a stop in Minneapolis, to see my sister, brother-in-law, and niece both times.  A big backyard with a sandbox and a wading pool were a welcome view to my stir-crazy, stuck in the car, kids.


Upon arriving at the lake, all cousins immediately jumped on the boat, and proceeded to giggle and goof off.  I absolutely love this image – it captures their silly attitudes and sheer joy at being on a boat, perfectly.


As it grew dark, the dads and kids went for a breathtaking (literally) swim.  I opted to take photos, and wished I had brought my own wetsuit.  I am a chicken when it comes to swimming in really cold water!


I was pretty excited to have this view for the next week, and settled right in to work on a watercolor painting that I had started a day before.

The next few days were filled with fishing, boating, and all things lake vacation.  The kids had a blast playing with their new pets, err rather, bait – the minnows.  All kids wanted to drive the boat every chance they could.  I don’t think Eric liked sharing as much as he said he did…

We found some of the most beautiful biking scenery we’ve seen in a while, on the snowmobile trails that traverse the entire area.  There was seriously no one on this trail with us, save for a strange encounter with one lone cyclist, I will spare you the details on that story.  We saw snakes sunning themselves, sandhill cranes calling to one another, turkeys strutting across the trail, and wildflowers in bloom.

We biked from Alexandria to Osakis which proved to be a good find.  We found a Scandinavian shop, Jacob’s Lefse Bakeri, that sold honest to goodness lefse – made in the back room!  I was in heaven and bought a package to wolf down with the two older girls.  We also decided on lunch in a small diner on the main street, which proved to be a blast from the past.  I could almost hear my grandfather’s stories of the neighbors, and other gossip over the clink of coffee mugs, and lovely Minnesota accents.

We found a fabulous set of museums in Alexandria.  Our favorite was the Maritime Museum, which housed quite the collection of Chris Crafts and other antique boats, an interesting Gyotaku (fish print) exhibit, and gardens outside.


We drove to Inspiration Peak and made the short hike to the top, only to find ourselves wading through ants, so we snapped a few pictures and headed back down quickly!  The kids loved being able to see for miles and didn’t want to look at me for this picture.

It wasn’t all just boating and swimming time – we did do quite a bit of fishing.

These were two of my favorite views of the trip – oh how I love being on and near water.

On our last day, we found ourselves a petting zoo and pony rides in Osakis for their Osakis Days summer festival.  The kids were beyond delighted to do a few laps around on Princess and Nugget.

On the last night, we used up leftover food and make kitchen sink nachos to go with brats, potatoes, and other sides.  I absolutely loved sitting and eating meals on that porch, overlooking the water.


We enjoyed one last cloudy fishing outing before heading back to warmer Iowa and the work week (for the non-teachers).  Lake time was exactly what we needed to kick off our summer vacation.

Rhubarb Raspberry Crisp


One of the things I missed most about the Midwest was its unique plants – moving to North Carolina made me realize that I couldn’t smell lilacs every spring, watch the corn grow into tall tasseled plants, and wouldn’t be enjoying freshly cut rhubarb desserts.  Of course, moving back to the Midwest has made me miss uniquely southern plants as well – the looming ancient magnolias and their white messy blooms, the grape-like bunches of sweet-smelling wisteria, the browning fields of tobacco plants, dots of white dogwood in the understory of the forests, the creeping cathedral-like kudzu that took over the countryside.  What are your favorite plants?  Are they tied to a location, particular time, or memory?


I often make rhubarb strawberry desserts, as the sweet strawberries complement the tangy and tart rhubarb so nicely.  However, I did not have strawberries on hand, and thus used a carton of raspberries instead.  To me, rhubarb looks like reddish-green stalks of celery.  The leaves are full and scalloped and also happen to be poisonous.  Their blooms are fascinating bunches of flowers and they happen to prefer cooler climates.

I kept this dessert on the sour side, by swapping refined white sugar for coconut sugar. It’s not as sweet in flavor, but remember, sugar is still sugar.


Rhubarb Raspberry Crisp

  1. In a 8×8′ baking dish combine: 2 large stalks of rhubarb, sliced and 6 oz of red raspberries (or more is fine too, this is just what I had on hand).
  2. In a small bowl combine: 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 cup coconut sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1 cup oats, and 8 tablespoons of cold butter.  Combine with hands until mixture is sticky and butter is completely combined.
  3. Bake in a 350° oven for 35-40 minutes or till fruit is bubbly and top is lightly browned.
  4. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Potato Taco Casserole


I love making a meal completely out of fresh produce from our weekly Door to Door Organics box and a mish-mash of items in the pantry and fridge.  My husband has turned me into a use-it-up junkie – I am now always trying to find creative ways to use the last three lasagne noodles, 1/4 cup of rice, or the last taco shell.  This is one of those recipes – blissful layers of roasted potatoes and onions, smoky tomatoes with taco seasoning, sprinkles of cheese, and a crunchy layer of taco shells on top.


Start by roasting potatoes and onions until soft and lightly browned.  I used a Cast Iron 12″ Skillet (I also have the lid for this skillet – completely worth it!), got it hot on the stove first, then cooked the mixture in the oven until done.


Use whatever you have on hand, or cater to your personal preferences, to make your taco sauce layer.  I used a 1/2 bag of meatless crumbles, 1 large can of fire roasted tomatoes, and a packet of spicy taco seasoning.


When it all simmered together for 10-15 minutes, it thickened up nicely.  I did cut up the whole fire roasted tomatoes to make them more bite-sized.


Create layers in the order of your choice.  My layers were: sauce, tortillas, potato mixture, sauce, tortillas, potato mixture, crushed taco shells, grated cheddar cheese. I have found that no matter what order my layers go in for Mexican casserole, it always falls apart, so no worries on amounts and order of layers.


I served my casserole two different ways – with a cooked brown and wild rice mixture, avocados, and red peppers (see top photo) and with chopped cabbage and avocado the second time (see photo above).  Both meals were delicious and I am happy to report my youngest loved this meal.  My oldest took a little cajoling to try a bite that was followed by a scrunched up face.  However, she does that to anything new right now.

Potato Taco Casserole 

  1. Peel and chop 5 medium yellow or red potatoes.  Peel and mince 2 garlic cloves.  Dice 1 medium yellow onion.  Combine together in pan and roast at 375° for 25-30 minutes or till softened and slightly browned, stirring once in the middle.
  2. In a large skillet combine: 1-28 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes, 6-12 oz meat or meat substitute of your choice, and 1 packet of taco seasoning.  Simmer on low until thickened and bubbly, about 10-15 minutes.
  3. In a 9×13 pan, spread 1/2 the sauce on the bottom.  Then place a layer of torn and whole corn tortillas with half the potato mixture on top.  Spread the remaining sauce, another layer of tortillas, the last of the potato mixture and top with crushed taco shells and a grating of cheddar cheese.
  4. Bake in a 350° oven for 20-25 minutes.  Serve with taco toppings of your choice.

Printing & Stamping


One of the best things about being an art teacher is the experimentation with materials and media in preparation for projects.  Lately, I have been into printmaking and stamping.  As my own kids get older, I often use them as guinea pigs for upcoming lessons at school.  The past few weeks, we have been experimenting with stamps and printmaking.  For further reading, I recommend a book called, Print & Stamp Lab: 52 Ideas for Handmade, Upcycled Print Tools (Lab Series), that I have in my classroom.

The image above, is the block stamp we made with a variety of materials – foam shape stickers, paper clips, a button, and pieces of pipe cleaner.  They are all attached to a scrap of wood with hot glue.  For twice the fun, I made the stamp two-sided.


We also tried DIY stamps from the trash bin – sturdy plastic caps are great for affixing Geometric Self-Adhesive Foam Shapes.  Wooden spools can turned on their sides and rolled, to make lines, or items can be affixed to the ends, in the same manner as the cap and wooden block stamps.


We have also been using pre-made, everyday items to stamp.  Above you see, small erasers in interesting shapes, a foam ear plug, and a cork.  All of these can be used as is, or carved into to create designs in relief.


Our favorite project so far, was using clean foam take-out boxes and cutting them into squares.  Then, my daughter drew into the foam with a pencil, pressing hard to make deep lines.  Her motif for this print is a bicycle and a heart.  No take-out boxes?  You can buy foam trays too.

She then painted over the foam with tempera paint and a wide paintbrush.  I cut papers into 5×7″ rectangles and showed her how to use her hands to smooth the paper and create a print.  After her prints were dry, she signed all of them and added some stickers for flair.  Can we say easy homemade Valentine’s?


Artistic Wrapping Paper


This project ended up being one my most favorite that I have ever done with Greta – making our own wrapping paper.  I have always kind of hated wrapping gifts and find myself giving sideways glances at those who wrap perfectly gorgeous department store worthy packages.  But that all changed this year – I now have a helper!  My oldest can write names, tear tape, cut, and hold her finger over knots.  VICTORY!


Both kids are starting to get to the point where they can come with me to my classroom while I do a few small tasks.  Over Thanksgiving break, I had to unload a kiln or two, so I set them to work.  I gave them the backside of used, white roll butcher paper, and set them to work designing and creating recycled wrapping paper.  Here, they are using texture rubbing plates and large crayons.


They used foam dot stamper brushes and regular large paintbrushes to create swirls of reds, yellows, golds, and glitter, on the left.  The gold dots, on the right, are my personal favorite.  My youngest was able to easily stamp out the designs, and it was a quick enough project that he was not easily bored.


Back at home, my oldest wanted to use foam stamps and Jumbo Paint (and Clay) Explorer Rollers to transform the brown paper packaging sheets into wrapping paper.  She loved figuring out how to mix tints – above she has figured out that adding white to her sponge stamper (something similar here: Pattern Paint Foam Rollers), it makes the green lighter.  This is always a fun ah-ha moment for little artists.

After the success of this project and their joy in working on a larger scale, a roll of paper may become a mainstay on their own art table.  I am leaning toward this Melissa & Doug Tabletop Paper Roll Dispenser.


On another note, I woke up at the wee hour of 4:15 AM this morning – nothing says first day of winter break like being awake before the birds.  So, I got up, relished the quiet of my house, and set to work making Challah.  I would say this was a home run batch, making up for last year’s total flop.

Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the entire year.  Happy almost Christmas Eve!

Mixed Media Necklace + Holiday Decor

necklaceI have been organizing my art room and basement craft stash this winter, in an effort to purge what I don’t need, use what I have, and make room for cold day play with my kids.  I discovered some fun unfinished projects in this process.

necklace.1My mom gave me a couple bags of Hand-felted Wool Felt Balls  a couple years back and I had made a few things with them, but they had mostly been pilfered by one of our cats as extremely entertaining toys.  I also came across my recycled paper beads I had made during a paper making lesson I taught my middle school students back in North Carolina.

The beads are simply paper pulp squished into bead shapes, which then dry, and are coated in Mod Podge, Gloss Finish. I used a small drill bit and drilled holes in each paper bead, alternating them with the felted balls.  The felted wool balls are easy to string as beads, just use a sharp needle.  I also added a couple pieces of coral with holes in it, found on a trip to Key West.  Now I just have to keep this necklace out of the reach of our cat – he has already nabbed it and dragged it down to the basement once.  I am not sure what the allure of these felted wool balls are to him, but he cannot resist them!

Other things that have been keeping me busy – Christmas decor!  I used some more of the felted wool balls to create a simple garland for the chandelier.

garlandOne of these days I am going to do something about that chandelier – I am still not a fan of it.

mantelThe mantle is decorated with my odds and ends.

We started a new holiday family tradition – picking up our tree via cargo bike!  It was a chilly but perfect day, we biked to a tree lot just off one of the bike trails in town.  Eric let me ride it back – it was a little squirrely to ride, but much easier than I thought it would be.  Now our tree is up and decorated, though a little top-heavy – our youngest is still in the destructive phase.

My current favorite holiday decor – I finally got my deer skull hung up and decorated with a set of battery-powered lights.

What’s your favorite holiday decor or tradition?