Top Picks for 2018

I go through a ton of content when I’m in the studio. I’m rarely just sitting there working in silence (although on occasion it can be nice). I have absolutely no idea how many hours of audible books, podcasts, movies, or music I’ve consumed over the last year, but I do know what I keep coming back to. Here’s a look at my top picks for 2018.


Albums:

White Noise by Noah Gundersen

A Black Mile to the Surface by Manchester Orchestra

Nothing But Thieves by Nothing But Thieves

Sparrow by Jump Little Children

Loma Vista by Family of the Year


Movies:

A Quiet Place

Captain Fantastic

Bohemian Rhapsody

Leave No Trace

Wish I Was Here

Books:

A Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

My Heart & Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Get Well Soon: A History of Plagues and the Heroes who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright


Podcasts:

How I Built This with Guy Raz

Etsy Success Podcast

From the Front Porch

Creature Feature

The End of the World with Josh Clark

TV:

The Nineties Miniseries

Handmaid’s Tale

Queer Eye

Downton Abbey

Dark Tourist


Open Studios 2018

IMG_3274.jpg

Metropolitan Arts Council in Greenville does a very cool thing every year called Open Studios, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Artists all over the city open their studios and invite the community inside to see where they work. Every year, I end up scheduling a craft show that conflicts with Open Studios, so I never get to do it. This year, however, I was excited to have well-timed free weekend so I could experience the self-paced tour with my husband!

IMG_3282.jpg
IMG_3292.jpg
IMG_3276.jpg

It’s so inspiring to see artists at work in their space. I love the piles of crusty paint tubes, the unfinished panels stacked in corners, the works in progress on the easel, and of course the final product matted and ready to hang. Buying work straight from the artist is also very rewarding because you’re making a connection with the actual person who created the piece you love, which isn’t always possible at a gallery. This weekend we added six new pieces to our collection. Can’t wait to hang them!

IMG_3278.jpg

I would love to participate in Open Studios one day as an artist. It would be so much fun to welcome people into my workspace and share my process in person. However, our home is just not set up for that - the different workspaces are spread out all over our house - but we’re hoping to move sometime soon and set up our ideal workshop, so perhaps in the future this dream will be realized. Till then, here’s a short video tour of my studio.

IMG_3280.jpg
IMG_3270.jpg
IMG_3291.jpg



Alpacas & Art

Yes, you've seen other Alpaca-related blog posts here if you've been a reader for awhile. Here's another one! I'm a little obsessed with these sweet-faced creatures, but it's not just because they're so stinking adorable. They're also part of my art. Literally. 

IMG_E2652.JPG

Recently, I visited my dad and his wife at their new home in Brandon, VT (it's actually a very old home - built in 1880 - but it's new to them). They recently retired there, and I can see why. It's such a beautiful place! Just down the country road from their horse farm was an unexpected surprise. Maple Creek Farms is home to a few dozen alpacas, which is already enough to get me excited, but then I learned they actually process all of the fiber onsite and have a mini-factory for making roving, batting, and even yarn. All the things I'm interested in! 

IMG_2685.JPG

I've been a knitter and felt fiber artist for almost 10 years now, so I know my materials and I work with a variety of tools every single day, but I have never actually seen how fleece is processed before I get my hands on it. I always buy roving and yarn that's completely ready for use - I don't do any cleaning or dying myself, so seeing how the fiber gets from the alpaca's back to a ball of colorful roving in my living room was quite the treat. 

Needless to say, I took about 100 pictures of the baby alpacas, some of which were just a few weeks old, and I stuffed my suitcase full of colorful roving for my return trip. I love seeing how things are made, and truly understanding the process by seeing it for myself, so this whole pit stop was right up my alley. Now I have an even deeper appreciation for the material I use every day. 

IMG_E2714.JPG

 

 

A Salad Story: Best Lettuce in Greenville

Not all salads are created equal.

This summer has been stupid-hot, and all I really felt like eating for the last few months is a light & tasty salad at every meal. Pretty simple craving to deal with, right? No, not at all.

There’s a lot of crap salads out there, sprinkled with disappointment and dressed in gross-ness, and I’ve eaten them all. This summer, I made it my mission to find & eat the best salads in all the land (Greenville, SC specifically) and now that October is here and those 100 degree days are hopefully over, I think I’m finally ready to share my top 10 list.

10. "Watermelon Salad" from Tupelo Honey: it includes sweet watermelon, spicy arugula with honey yogurt dressing, and it’s topped off with country ham crumbles and candied basil. Never in my wildest salad dreams would I have put those ingredients together, but it’s outstanding.

9. “Asian Salad” from Fresh to Order: All the things I like, presented in an elegant way- mixed greens, avocado, mandarin oranges, ginger, candied walnuts, and I usually I sub out the dressing for the apricot ginger vinaigrette.

8. “Pop’s Caesar Salad” from Luna Rosa: It’s gotta be the dressing. This simple classic (topped with grilled chicken, of course) has never been better, and it doesn’t hurt to chase it with a little gelato. Unfortunately, my top 10 gelato picks will have to wait for a future blog post.  

7. “The Toscana” from Caviar & Bananas: mixed greens + crispy prosciutto, + vanilla poached pears and a bunch of other gourmet ingredients tossed in a chianti vinaigrette = one gloriously flavorful meal that’s unlike any other.  

6. “Smoky Salad” from Sidewall Pizza. Don’t get me wrong, they have excellent pizza too, but their salads are phenomenal. The “Smoky” features roasted corn, broccoli, grape tomatoes, onion, candied walnuts, and a fantastic basil dressing. Oh, and order the small portion if you’ve got a fairly normal appetite. The large will feed a village!

5. If you’re picky like I am, and you love to do the whole build-your-own salad thing at restaurants, be sure to check out Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar. I know, I know, a burger joint for a salad? Trust me! The ingredient list is long, and has ALL the good stuff. My personal concoction includes romaine, red peppers, chick peas, kalamata olives, avocado, fresh mozzarella cheese, grilled chicken, and balsamic vinaigrette.

4. “Strawberry Chicken Salad” from Stax's: this one is practically a dessert. You’ll get strawberries, blueberries, caramelized Georgia pecans, and grilled chicken breast over a bed of mixed greens, and a really interesting merlot vinaigrette.

3. “Greek Salad w/ Shrimp” from Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe: this restaurant is making their way across the southeast, and my husband and I are HUGE fans. Ever since they opened in Greenville, we’ve eaten there at least once or twice a week. On paper, Taziki’s Greek salad sounds pretty standard I suppose, but in person - in your mouth - it’s by far the best Greek salad I’ve ever had. Top it with grilled shrimp, chicken, or salmon - you really can’t go wrong.

2. “The Baja” from Caviar & Bananas: romaine, cucumber, tomato, avocado, corn, cotija cheese, and something called “jicama” that I’d describe as a sweet ugly apple that grows in the ground, all mixed together with a chipotle lime vinaigrette and topped with citrus grilled shrimp.

1. “Summer Peach Salad” from Sidewall Pizza: this is a seasonal special that makes me long for summer, even though I hate summer. The salad is full of perfect southern peaches, candied pecans, red onion, cheese, and a lovely basil vinaigrette that’s so good you’ll probably do something embarrassing to clean your bowl when you’re finished.

Bonus round!

Here’s a few favorites from national chain restaurants you can get in just about any city in America.

“Quinoa Salad” from Zoe’s Kitchen - it’s crunchy, it’s healthy, it’s good. The end.

“Mango Chicken Salad” from On the Border: sometimes chain restaurants can really surprise you! This one has mango, beans, corn, jicama (it must be a trending food?), romaine, and grilled chicken.

“Green Goddess Salad” from Panera - another chain restaurant does it right! This one is definitely about the beautiful pale green dressing, and if I could get a bowl of it and a spoon, that’d be great.




 

Writing Changes Taste in Music

When I began writing Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe, I had a hard time finding appropriate background music to listen to while I worked. The story takes place on a run-down farm in the middle of nowhere Nebraska, and the setting has a certain worn-in honest vibe to it, so when I went to choose some quiet heartfelt background music to inspire me while I typed, I came up almost empty handed.

Ever since I was old enough to buy my own tunes, I’ve been dedicated to just about every kind of rock music there is: hard rock, indie rock, alternative, punk rock, metal, classic rock, you name it. The problem was, none of that music really fit with the story I was working on, and that was important to me.

At the time, back in 2010 when I wrote the novel, there were exactly two bands in my entire music library that worked with the story, and they were Iron & Wine and Doug Burr. They were the oddballs in my music library that didn’t quite fit with the rest. I wrote the entire first draft of Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe listening to nothing but Doug Burr, one album after the other, and then back around again all the way through, over and over. His music inspired me so much it even made its way into the story in Chapter two:

Excerpt from Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe:

When she turned to catch him staring at her, Daniel quickly found something to talk about. Picking up the blue plastic gadget that was haphazardly wired to her tape deck, he asked, “What is this thing. Is this like…an iPod or something?”

“It’s my music box,” Jo said with a grin. “Yes, it’s like an iPod, if by that you mean an MP3 player. It’s not the fancy kind you probably have back home.”

Daniel wished he had an iPod. He wished he had a cell phone too, and a newer watch that actually kept time, and maybe a warmer winter coat for those cold days in January up north. There were a lot of material things Daniel wished he had, but he didn’t dwell on that too much, like Dylan was prone to do and even beg for from time to time. “What kind of music do you listen to?” he asked, trying to operate the gadget that was the size and heft of a block of cheese. This music box of hers was ancient in technology years, and it probably belonged in a museum. He could only guess what kind of computer it would hook up too. No flat screens around here, no high speed Internet. In this year, 2007 A.D., it seemed the Larsen’s were not the type to save up their pennies for silly things such as these.

“Little bit of everything,” she replied. “I really like Doug Burr. He has the most soulful voice I’ve ever heard.”

“Don’t know him.”

Jo took the music box and punched a few buttons so Daniel could hear this soulful voice for himself. “This one’s called ‘Always Travel Light’.”

What an appropriate selection. Daniel always traveled light, from foster home to foster home, and now to Josephine’s farm in the Heartland of America. It was so easy to leave his last home, just days ago. There was nothing in that spacious brick Colonial other than a few drawers full of clothes, a couple of overdue books from the library, and an alarm clock on the shared nightstand that his brother could sleep through despite its obnoxious volume. He wouldn’t miss any of it.

Throughout the editing process, and the long & drawn out publishing process, I started picking up new bands that had similarities to Doug Burr and Iron & Wine, and now my entire taste in music has changed. There are still plenty of days when I break out the old favorites (and play them loud), but now I crave the heartfelt words and emotional music of Noah Gunderson, Damien Jurado, Ben Howard, and Josh Ritter. I never would have guessed writing a story could change my whole taste in music.  

 

This is the playlist I put together for Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe. The collection of songs was a few years in the making - I made additions as I discovered new artists, and each song goes with the story in a special way. For those who’ve read the story, you’ll notice they’re in chronological order!

Spotify playlist

Hope you enjoy the book and all the music that goes with it!