Rad DIY Black Leather Earrings

Oh my goodness, it's December again! Lately my crafting bug has been coming back, and I made these rockin' black leather earrings as a recent do-it-yourself project. I felt they were missing from my life. Sometimes I'd get dressed and look at myself in the mirror and CRAVE long, dangly, aggressive earrings to complete my look. 

I put these together with components from Brattleboro's fantastic local bead & jewelry store, Beadniks. You can make them too—for yourself or maybe as a DIY gift for someone special.

Here's what you need:

2 silver kidney wire pierced earring findings
1 yard of 5mm wide black leather 
2 large silver ball-chain sections
2 silver headpins, about 3 cm long
pliers & safety pin

First, cut the leather into 4 strips of 2 lengths. I made 2 strips about 17 cm each, and 2 about 14 cm each. Cut the ends at an angle. Then fold the strips in half and press between your fingers to lightly crease—see photo below.

Next, where you've folded each strip in half, make a hole right through the strip using the safety pin. (The safety pin is wider and stronger than the head pin.) You can even wiggle the pin around to make an even wider hole. I stuck the pin through from the smooth side of the leather to the rough, so I could make sure the hole was going right into the center of the strip. Do this with all 4 pieces of leather.

Next, stick a head pin from the rough side (inside) of a short strip through to the other side. You're starting to build the earring.

Now stack a longer strip on top of the short one from the same direction (poking the headpin through from the rough underside). You should have both strips stacked on the headpin like this:

Next, put one of the large ball-chain sections over the headpin like you're stringing a bead.

Finally, use the pliers to create a loop at the end of the head-pin wire, and add the kidney wire earring finding. With the pliers, twist the extra wire around the next of the loop. I had a bit more wire sticking out, so I pushed it down into the ball-chain. The image below is a little out of focus, but trying to show how I made the loop and twisted finish that attaches everything to the kidney wire.

Now repeat the procedure with the rest of the materials to make your second earring. All done!

Do you have handcrafted or DIY plans for holiday gifts? For yourself? Please tell in the comments below!

Morrocan-style Potato and Carrot Tagine

Do you like Moroccan food? I was fortunate to grow up in a family that did, and we even visited Morocco in 1980 when I was 8 years old. The two things I remember about the country are the donkeys and the mint. We were given bunches of mint to inhale while visiting the odoriferous dye vats. And when visiting carpet dealers (which seemed to be constantly, but may have been only once), they served hot mint tea by pouring it from the pot in one long, lifting arc so that it cooled as it fell into the glass.

I also have great memories of Moroccan restaurants in North America, including the Sultan's Tent in Toronto (which has now moved downtown) and the Casablanca in Harvard Square (now closed). 

But guess what? There is no Moroccan restaurant in Brattleboro, Vermont. So sometimes I make my own Moroccan food. This particular dish is adapted from several Internet recipes. The addition of green olives and preserved lemon gives it amazing flavor angles you wouldn't get from an ordinary veggie stew. 

The Brattleboro Food Coop sells preserved lemons in
jars of two. They are salty and meltingly soft.

I'm calling it "tagine," although I don't have the proper clay pot or much knowledge of actual Moroccan cooking apart from watching youtube videos. So that's also why this is "Moroccan-style" (or Moroccan-ish): because it is a loooooong way from authentic.

2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped (or try grating for more sweetness)
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, chopped or grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
1 cup water (more if needed)
4 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
1 can chickpeas/garbanzos
1/2 cup pitted green olives (pit them with a knife if needed)
1 preserved lemon, quartered with seeds scraped out
parsley or cilantro for garnish

1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven and saute onion for 2-3 minutes, then garlic and ginger for 2-3 more minutes, then turmeric, pepper, and cinnamon for another few minutes.

2. Add the carrots and stir around to cover with the spice mixture, then pour in 1 cup water (or more to cover, if needed). Bring carrots to a gentle boil.

3. Add the potatoes, chickpeas, olives, and preserved lemon quarters (I tuck the quarters around the edges). Add more water to cover if needed. Cover with lid and simmer for about 20 minutes.

3. After 20 minutes, check the liquid. If there's a lot left, uncover and let the liquid reduce to make a light sauce for the veggies. Once the potatoes are soft and starting to fall apart, you can serve!

I served the veggies topped with cilantro and chopped chiles from the preserved lemon jar. We had couscous and naan on the side. I buttered the naan, but otherwise everything is vegan. (I used naan because it was the best flatbread I could find.)

I am obsessed with preserved lemons now.

So back to my first question--comment below if you like Moroccan food! What's your favorite dish or restaurant? Have you ever been to a restaurant with a belly dancer?

Of Stone Walls & Apples

You just never know what you're going to find on the back roads of Vermont. Did you know that Scott Farm Orchard on Kipling Road in Dummerston (and location for the film Cider House Rules) is home to The Stone Trust, where those interested in all aspects of dry stone walling can come for hands-on workshops or to tour examples of traditional building techniques?

If you were wondering where the only facility in North America is with regular test days for wallers to get certified by the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, this is the place.

The 1862 Scott Farm historic cow barn (above) is now an Indoor Training Center for dry stone walling.

Inside the barn are dry stone walls in various states of completion. Wallers dismantle and rebuild them to practice the techniques.

Outside and past another barn is a mill pond. Cross a small bridge...

...and on the other side you can explore the Master Features park. 

The walls and structures here are gorgeous. We came on two different fall days to explore the walls and other stonework.

The far end of this wall is in progress.

Up close, you get a little idea how the wall is shaped and built up.

This beautiful wall is a medley of techniques, including tall flat inset slabs that act like immense bookends.

It reminds me of a knitting story about the sweaters of Aran. It used to be that in church each week, the women would check out each other's sweaters, looking for interesting new stitches and patterns and cables to try. The sweaters themselves were the pattern books and inspiration for others on the island. Don't these stone walls seem like similar storehouses of information and fancy?

One side of this is tidy and finished.

On the other side, stacks of rocks are ready to use.

Do stop by The Stone Trust, if you're in the neighborhood some sunny afternoon! Then get some drinks and donuts from the farmstand, housed in the white building shown above. 

Scott Farm itself is pretty fascinating. It's been operating since 1791 and is now owned by Landmark Trust USA, and they grow a wide variety of heirloom apples and can tell you about the history of each one. Two of my favorites are the Sheep's Nose, named for its long, tapered shape, and the Blue Pearmain, a type preferred by Henry David Thoreau. (Lucky for us, Scott Farm apples are also stocked at the Brattleboro Food Coop, so I can buy them in season any time.)

Museum Security Guard: What I Learned

After my momentous art viewing experiences at MassMOCA last spring, I decided to volunteer at the local art museum.

Here are a few things that I learned volunteering at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

I learned that a woman wearing a badge that says "Security" is an irresistible target for remarks from some types of people. Usually that remark is "Security!?" said in a tone of mocking disbelief. Ha ha.

I learned that abstract artist Debra Ramsay took walks on a forest trail in spring, summer, fall, and winter, and took a photo every 18 feet. She then selected a color from each photo and created the work "Painting Time." Above and below are features of the installation.

I learned that people don't really read signs, as they would come into this room and wonder aloud what they were looking at. Although I had read the sign, I did not fill them in because I figured the discovery, if any, is part of their personal viewing experience.

I learned that glass artist Robert DuGrenier had a historic barn full of beloved animals that was destroyed by fire in 2015. All that remained after the fire were the metal parts of the tools and implements that had been in the barn.

I learned that Robert DuGrenier used these tools in a body of work called "Handle with Care." I swear I could feel the pain of the animals and of his loss emanating out of the metal in this room.

I also learned that glass-handled tools are irresistible to some people who feel they HAVE to touch them to believe them. My job as Security was to stop them before this happened (which is difficult).

There will be new exhibits when I volunteer again at the end of next week. I can't wait to learn what else people might find irresistible!

Do you volunteer? Is there a local museum where you live?

1 Year Alcohol Free: 20 Reasons I Like Not Drinking

In the sober community they say that once you know you should not drink any more, you can't "unknow" it again. Once you've gone from cucumber to pickle, you can't go back to cucumber (thanks Mary Karr for that analogy).

I found this to be true for me. Ever since my 2012 paleo diet experience, where I quit drinking for 30 days, I knew that I needed a good, long LONG break from alcohol to sort myself out. It is an addictive substance after all, and a depressant, and I was consuming it every week and sometimes every single day. I knew that it did not feel good, and I could not unknow that.

Here's what happened the day that I stopped. I had a slight hangover from the night before, because the night before was a Sunday, which is a prime day to have a couple glasses of wine to close out the weekend. I was also planning to start another "dry August," which I had tried the year before and really liked. So the morning of Monday, July 31, 2017, I downloaded a sobriety counter app to my phone, just to track my planned 31 days for the month of August.

In that moment I was deeply miserable, frustrated with myself for the zillionth time, and headachey. As I opened up the timer app and set my start time to 7:30 AM, I thought... I never have to drink again. I don't have to stop for 31 days, I can just STOP. I CAN BE DONE.

This realization of not gritting it out, not white-knuckling it, not "having" to pick it up again later, but just being DONE, was such a relief. It was a huge relief. It turned out to be a life-changing relief.

Observation: Nobody really cares what's in your glass.

That first day, I poked around the app's forum quite a bit and found someone had written: "I'd rather have another day won than another Day One." YES.

That's still how I feel today, over one year later. I'd rather have another day won than another Day One. I've been doing lots of reading and learning to bolster that original feeling of relief and to keep piling more weight and information behind that original decision. The book This Naked Mind and the author's youtube videos have been very helpful. (One thing I learned from Annie Grace is that your unconscious mind needs to agree with your conscious decision to stop drinking, because the unconscious is the needy, illogical place where cravings come from. Reading and watching her stuff helped me flip that switch and lose interest in alcohol. Think about that--I'm not even interested in drinking.)

Here are some things I've appreciated in the past year of not drinking.

  1. The internal quarrels between the DRINK voice in my head and the DON'T DRINK voice in my head have gone quiet. Drinking made me obsessively question drinking, which made me crazy. So not drinking keeps me much more sane.
  2. I am hangover free. If I feel bad, I know it's because I'm actually sick or tired or overwhelmed, not because I drank. (Actually, I've discovered that I can get a hangover from too much anxiety the day before--is anxiety a toxin?)
  3. I no longer feel guilty about my habit. Simple, but the guilt was toxic too.
  4. I no longer worry (so much) how alcohol is affecting my health (brain, liver, heart).
  5. I no longer worry how alcohol is affecting my skin and appearance. (dry skin, puffy face, hella tired)
  6. My sleep has significantly improved. That alone is so compelling that I can't imagine going back. I used to wake up at 3AM pretty regularly to berate myself and make promises that I then didn't keep. Ugh.
  7. I'm learning how to handle feelings and all kinds of occasions. I'm learning how to show up for my own life. Some say that the age when you start drinking to cope is the age where you freeze your emotional development. I'm unfreezing now and actively working on things.
  8. I'm learning not to hide behind a wine glass. Either I go to a gathering and participate, or I say no.
  9. I have much more brain clarity. I used to feel like I was losing the ability to even find words (which is my job, so that's a problem).
  10. I'm reconnecting with my past selves, with my girlhood self. She didn't drink either, and had strong, good beliefs about many things. I am still that person deep inside, and I am giving her space to unfurl.
  11. I'm leaving behind my 20-something self for good. (I hung onto her a little too long.) Part of this is forgiving myself for not making great decisions sometimes. My 20s are part of who I am, and I don't regret myself. But I'm different now.
  12. I can get up at 5:15 am with much less reluctance. I still don't love it, but it's POSSIBLE. (I usually do this to go exercise.)
  13. I feel better about how my children are seeing alcohol in their home (which is minimal), particularly as their teen years are coming right up.
  14. I have genuine moments of happiness OFTEN. I used to notice feeling happy about 1-2 times a year. Now I have such moments several times a week. I've figured out that the trick is happiness is a subtle feeling that comes from little things. It is not a big parade full of fireworks and dancing girls. I need to be still and let happiness come to me, like meeting a strange cat that pauses to sniff... then flops down so you can pet it. When I relied on my wine I didn't even see those cats.
  15. I have more belly laughs. It feels great.
  16. I can drive any time of day or night.
  17. I can remember more and access more of my own memories, both short-term and long-term.
  18. I choose my pleasures, and as a result I have some pleasure in my life. When pleasure was an automatic glass of wine at the end of the day, it wasn't really a choice anymore, and it also didn't "work." Now, when I get to pick what will make me feel good or happy or quiet or whatever, and do it with intention, it tends to work. It helps to have options too, not just the one damn thing that I keep trying whether it works or not (usually not).
  19. I'm trying new things. I don't know about others, but I didn't get a lot DONE when I was in "relaxation mode" with my glass of wine. And if I'd had a stressful day (which seemed to be most days), then relaxation mode was a priority. Since quitting, I've been able to plan more family outings, participate in Cub Scouts with my child (that NEVER would have happened before), and volunteer.
  20. I say no to things more. I wrote about this in my New Year's post--I just don't need to prove myself to myself anymore. When I was drinking I'd think: "Well yes I drank that bottle of wine, but I will also do this and this and and that so I don't really have a problem! All good!" It was exhausting. Now that the obstacle I was pushing against has been removed, I can focus on making honest decisions about what I actually want to do. During this first year a lot of those decisions have been to take it easy on myself whenever I can. As Annie Grace puts it, think of that 12+ months as long-term healing from an injury.

So that was the first year. The next year might be about taking some baby steps forward. What new connections will I make? What new passions and projects will arise? What new forging in the smithies of my soul will occur?

I've had a few people reach out about not drinking. It is thrilling to hear from them! I believe that lots of people use alcohol as an ineffective stress-reliever, and if we can share our experiences, maybe we can find better ways to take care of ourselves.

At this early stage in not drinking, my main advice is: If you know and can't unknow that quitting would help you feel better, try quitting. Just to see if it's true. YOU DON'T HAVE TO KEEP DRINKING IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL BAD.

The Hungry Diner in Walpole, NH

My family is on an ongoing quest to find great burgers.

We were originally inspired by Shake Shack in NYC, where we shared a single, revelatory burger, eaten standing on the sidewalk on a cold February afternoon. It exploded with beef-salt-cheese umami, and we passed it around until it was gone much too soon.

For a while, Brattle Burger in our hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont, was a decent stand-in for our Shake Shack needs. And the fries at Brattle Burger were far superior. But then... they closed.

Recently we headed north to the Hungry Diner, about 20 minutes away in Walpole, New Hampshire, to try out their burgers.

The Hungry Diner takes farm-to-table very seriously, being founded and owned by a farming couple in the Walpole area. All of the beef, pork, chicken, turkey and eggs served at the diner come from their farm. Produce is also sourced locally as much as possible. The owners both happened to be there on the Friday night we stopped by, so we got to chat a little bit. 

Inside, the diner is a lovely, bright space with blond reclaimed wood and plenty of tables. You order at the counter and go find a seat, then your food is brought to you when ready.

There's also outdoor seating for nice weather, so we picked a picnic table. Cornhole toss and swingsets add to the family-friendly atmosphere.

I am obsessed with pickled foods right now, so had to order the "Pickle Jar" appetizer. This is a rotating assortment of seasonal pickled veggies & fruits. Look, we got pickled GRAPES! There was also that big jalapeno, red onions, beans, and cauliflower in the jar. Fabulous starter to get your digestive juices flowing.

As a teetotaller lately I got a botanical soda--yummy with a unique sweet-bitter taste. My partner's flight of craft beers is behind. The diner has 16 beers on tap.

Now to the burger. IT WAS DELICIOUS. It's 100% local beef, as mentioned, served with pickles, onions, special sauce, lettuce, and friiiiieeeees. The bun was also delightful, with nice substance but not bready. The burger, cheese & sauce made for that rich taste-bomb that I look for in a burger, with just the right balance of cooling pickle and lettuce. I definitely recommend this burger (I ordered the Hungry Burger, $15). They also have Lil Hungry Burgers for kids, that come with a juice box and local milk Soft Serve ice cream. These got thumbs-ups from our younger diners.

My partner ordered a Three Little Pigs, which is a pork burger with bacon and bacon-jam (all local). The ecstatic look on his face while eating told me this is also an excellent choice.

If for some reason you don't want a burger, The Hungry Diner serves mac & cheese, fish & chips (with fish from Maine), a chickenwich, pork or fish tacos, and Korean BBQ Beef Salad with housemade kimchi. I'll add that locally grown food, made from scratch with love and care, is not cheap--but it is SO worth it for a tasty, low-key outing. If you're ever near Walpole, check it out!

Cape Cod Vacation 2018

I once wrote on this blog that we had become the type of New England family that vacations regularly in Maine. We tried various summer spots, including Wells, Old Orchard Beach, and further north near Bath. 

But 3 years ago we switched to New England's OTHER favorite holiday destination: Cape Cod. A family member has access to a roomy house there and we all descend upon it for a week. Here are some snapshots of our time there this year.

"Cape Cod State Flag" framed postcard in the bathroom

Nautical needlepoint in our bedroom

I had my very first Buffalo Cauliflower (this being Cauliflower with Buffalo sauce on it, similar to the famous chicken wings).

I had my required lobster roll—this one is from Arnold's Lobster & Clam Bar in Eastham. If you get a kid's meal there it is served on a frisbee.

Like last year, we hauled our bikes with us and biked part of the Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT).

We picked up the CCRT at Nickerson State Park in the town of Brewster, and took it east toward Orleans.

Brewster-Orleans line. It's very dry and pine-y in this area.

We stopped at the Hot Chocolate Sparrow for lunch, then pushed onto get a bit further than we did last year.

On another day I fell into a low-tide reverie. I went far out to where the ankle-deep water was, amongst seaweed and mussel shells and tiny submarine snails undulating slowly in the hypnotic sparkle and lap of the water. 

I got close up to a certain beach rock that, at high tide, was mostly submerged. At low tide it is an encrusted symphony of barnacles and snails.


Closer still. A white peony bed, a surplice riot, a drawer of folded ladies' gloves.

Imagine the gentle swish and sigh of the water around your ankles.

Suspended world of snails and sea vegetables, always in motion.

Back on land, the sun-baked roses perfume the afternoon of summer's first full day.

For those who know Cape Cod as the land of JAWS, we also saw this startling sign on the Atlantic side (we went there to take a look around, not to swim. Good plan.) Note that the sign doesn't say great white sharks feed near Cape Cod, or on this side of Cape Cod. It says great white sharks feed AT THIS BEACH. Shudder!

Have you been to Cape Cod? Ever fallen into a reverie contemplating nature close up... and closer still?