Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Tree Biography

My tree as of December 21--
still undecorated!
This post could be subtitled, "Why I Could Never Have a Designer Christmas Tree."

But first, am I the only one who is having trouble getting into the holiday spirit this year?  Am I getting old?  Am I overscheduled?  Well, yes to both questions, but they cannot be the explanation for others, too, can they?

I did deviate from my routine this year in that I did not decorate the house the weekend after Thanksgiving.  This is not the first year it has happened, but I was disappointed with myself that it happened again this year.

So, on December 21, I pulled out the ornaments and confronted my bare tree.  I have boxes and boxes of ornaments, but I seem to be paring down the number that actually make it to the tree.  The plain glass balls stay in the box.  A lot of the "collectible" ornaments do, too, unless they have a clear connection with a family member.

A hand-carved whistle recalls
a trip to the Smoky Mountains.
{And that sets me thinking about the whole designer/collectible fad.  Somewhere along the line, I let someone convince me that some trinket (stuffed animal, ceramic house, you name it) would increase in value just because it was "collectible."  How did I let myself fall for that? So, most of the "collectible" ornaments stay in the box.}

What seems to go up on the tree are the ornaments that have some memory attached to them.

The Resident Dragon has an
honored place on the tree.
Several years ago, I traveled a good bit for business.  I made a habit of bringing home souvenir magnets for each of my children (practical, and displayed on the family information center--the refrigerator) as well as an ornament for the Christmas tree.  On vacations, we decided to invest in ornaments as mementos (we're just not spoon people).  Over the years the collection has grown to include starfish Santas, clay Clydesdales, ships in a glass ball, western pottery bells, and Santa riding a dolphin.  Some are pretty kitschy, but hanging each on the tree replays the trip in my mind.
My son's feet were never this small!

Some remind me of hobbies and interests we've enjoyed throughout the years:  there are plenty of football- and cheerleading-related ornaments on the tree.  Long before I developed an interest in gardening, instead of plain glass balls I began collecting glass ornaments shaped like fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  I'd like to tell you it was some ingrained response to the German tradition of hiding a gherkin in the tree, but I just thought they were pretty.
There are plenty of bears and dragons, too, since we've collected them for years.

There are some special ones, though, whose sentimental value far exceeds their monetary value.  To commemorate the birth of our first child, our son, I splurged on his "official" tree ornament.  It was, in those days, quite an investment for us.  Nevertheless, I did it, and those bisque baby shoes have been on the tree for 28 years.
How did I know how much she would love to dance?

For the birth of my daughter two years later, we added a pair of dancing shoes--a prescient choice as she loved to dance!

My grandmother could barely see
by the time she made this star.
There are some ornaments on my tree that are obviously not professionally-made, and that's just fine with me.  Until I was 12, my grandmother, in addition to managing a store and sewing for the public, made every stitch of clothing I wore (until I became embarrassed by "home-made" clothes; what an idiot I was!).  By the time my son was born, her eyesight was dimming, but she worked so very hard to make, among other things, some pieced stars.  The patches are from scraps she had saved throughout the years.  Every stitch was made with love.

The memory may have dimmed, but lingers on.
You'll find on my tree some ornaments that are scratched and very faded.  They are from my childhood tree, some of the few that survived the year the cat knocked down the Christmas tree.  Growing up, I thought they were a bit ratty-looking, and always hid them in the back of the tree.  What I did not know then, but learned far too late, is that they were from Mother and Daddy's first tree, probably from 1956.  My mother was not at all sentimental, but, for some reason, she kept these.  They have witnessed the years Daddy was sick, the years Mother was sick, the years where we the only meat we could afford was Grandaddy's country ham and venison a friend gave us, the years we were teenagers, and all the years since.

I've promised myself that, before I forget it all, I would set to paper the story of our family, but it occurs to me that our story has already been told.  You can read it every year.

On our Christmas tree.

So, from our house to yours,

a very merry and blessed Christmas!


Saturday, November 30, 2013

In Honor of Small Business Saturday

Ran across this great infographic on the benefits of shopping local.  It's even more important than I realized!

Shop local, my Savory friends!

Click to Enlarge Image

CustomMade Buying Local Infographic

Why Buying Local is Worth Every Cent Infographic by CustomMade

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Speak Up!

I've decided to speak up!
It's been a while since I've written here, but that doesn't mean I've not been writing!  It occurred to me during the most recent budgetary debacle that my Congressional representative had never heard from me and, therefore, had no idea how I might want him to represent me.  Complaining about feeling unrepresented was a bit unfair, so I set about remedying the situation.

The Internet is a great thing and the government mandate that all governmental departments have a web presence is even better when it comes to tracking down your Congressional representative or Senator.  Just go to and type your zip code in the search box.  (Or to track down your senators.)  Voila!  Up pops the web page for your representative with mailing addresses and phone numbers for both Capitol Hill and district offices, as well as email addresses!  So, I picked up the phone on the first day of the shutdown and reached some poor receptionist who, at 8 a.m. DC time, already seemed a bit frazzled.  I very calmly, succinctly, and politely expressed my opinion and honestly wished her a good day.  Little did I know that by noon, nobody would be answering any phones in Congressional offices.

I've been feeling out-of-touch with my
Congressional representative.
Feeling a bit, well, unrepresented, I did what any card-carrying tech-girl would do:  I emailed my representative.  The next week I emailed him again and both of my senators.  I plan to continue doing so for a while yet.  I think they need to hear from me, from people who think like me, and from people who don't think like me.

When our Constitution was written, the Congress met for relatively brief sessions, leaving legislators available to spend considerable time among their constituents.  The length of modern sessions precludes that valuable listening time.  Candidly, I've never seen my representative in person.  In his defense, though, I've never made any attempts to attend the few meetings he has held in my county, either.  I've only seen one of my senators in person, just as, good Southern politician that he is, he lit the fuse at an anvil shoot.  (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!)

It's my responsibility
to communicate
with my
So, I am changing that.  I've decided to communicate with them regularly by email (or maybe the occasional phone call).  I want them to know what this real person in their constituency is thinking about issues.

I invite you to do the same.  Let your representative and senators know what you are thinking.  Otherwise, how would they know?

How are you living your Savory life?


Friday, September 20, 2013

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together!

The designers of our new look!
There is no substitute for experience.  For several years, Jim and I have had booths at various festivals, craft fairs, and art fairs.  While we've had some fun days (and some not-so-fun days), up until this year, it's just been a hobby.
The new look!

Our old display

This year, we've gotten serious about the business in several ways:

Create a new look.

I told you about the new tent; well, take a look at the new "store"! It is bright, airy, custom-made display boards.  It is mobile, expandable, and displays stock at eye level.  Unlike our old set-up, it is not sensitive to moderate wind which protects our wares.

We had several people stop and take pictures of our display area!

Streamline point-of-sale.                                                                                                     

The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 served
as our POS terminal.
We've used Square for several years for charges and really like it, but, had problems with connectivity at our last big show during the "rush" hour.  We surveyed fellow artists who had one wireless provider in common, which was not ours.  Reluctantly, after 13 years with AT&T, we migrated the business phone to Verizon.  Our "cash register" was a Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (Wi-Fi only) with a Samsung Galaxy 3 used as the Wi-Fi hotspot (the phone lived in a crate under the table).  Connectivity was solid all day, despite crowds of nearly 100,000 people.  It was marvelous.

Move up a tier in shows.

It was this way ALL DAY!
We've been quite frugal when it comes to booth fees, sticking to shows in the $40-$60 range.  It took us a while to realize that while some were good shows for us, most just did not have the numbers or the demographics to support the sales level we'd like to see.  We've begun attending some of the more expensive craft/art festivals with good success.  It's scary to write that big check for booth fee, but it feels really good when you make it back within an hour of opening.

The artist (left), and sales manager!

Have fun!

Okay, this really is related to all three of the others.  It's fun when you like your booth setup.  It's fun when sales are easy to keep track of.  It's fun when the crowds are big and buying your product.  I think we're turning the corner from rank amateur to experienced amateur.  And it's fun.

What about you?  How are you living your Savory life?


Monday, September 9, 2013

Unconventional Foolishness

I've been busy!
Whew!  It's been really hectic this month, but I think I am finally ready to slow down, at least for a couple of days.

First, we have a big craft show coming up and Jim's been trying to get the jewelry inventory level up to a decent level.  He's been steadily at it, except when taking time out for car repair, meetings, and family dinners, all of which are, of course, important.

While he's the creative side, I'm the business side which means I'm preparing for a busy sales day.  We've been using Square for credit card sales, and have been really happy with it.  Until recently, all we could do with it was credit card sales, but they've added an inventory feature for Android.  So, to improve our sales possibilities, I've put all of our inventory into a Square inventory list.

It only took a few hours.  They have a mobile client which makes initial upload a snap.  And, on show day, all I have to do is select pieces from inventory.  Easy.  I feel better already.

In addition to the inventory feature, Square has established a free online Market for its users.  It costs nothing beyond your 2.75% Square charge fee.  The shop interface is minimalistic, clean.  I like that.  So what's the downside?

Well, beyond sales, there are no real metrics are available.  You can create categories, but I've not found any other keyword capabilities beyond a raw search.  Your shop is organized in ANSI hierarchical order.

In other words, it's not as robust as that Famous Online Craft Marketplace.  But, since we've not sold a single item in 3 years on that online craft marketplace, I'm willing to put my time into something I can use during our art and craft shows.  I'm sure we've not marketed enough, and our pictures are not professional enough, but we're doing what we can.

Okay, I'm talking about business stuff when that's small stuff.  I'm not doing a commercial for my credit card provider or for the shop.  What I am talking about is doing what's right for my business despite "conventional wisdom," which is neither conventional nor wise:

Entrepreneurs Only Play With Other People's Money

That might be true in the "start-up" world, but, in the real world, most of us are self-financed micropreneurs.  Whatever we've put into our businesses has come out of our own pockets.  More than our pride, we often have our mortgages at stake.

The Internet Is Your Salvation

Face-to-face works for us!
Well, um, no.  It's great for communication, but, as a marketing venue, it's over-saturated.  Period.  It's like shouting into a hurricane.  For us, face-to-face has been the best.

Every artist should be on That Famous Online Craft Marketplace

Again, over-saturation is a problem.  Also, the lack of robust Android clients for sellers and the overall slowness of the site are both difficulties.  It takes 3 to 4 times longer to create a listing than on my new provider.  Its online store is just too slow for using at art and craft shows.  I'm not closing my shop, but I'm spending my time elsewhere.

Real art is really expensive.

Actually, unless it's top-echelon, most art is underpriced when the artist's time is considered.  That's bad for artists but good for collectors and consumers, if they actually had the money to spare.

If you're not a fine artist, you're not an artist.

We are what is referred to, quite derisively, as "stringers."  We are under no illusion that there are finer artists than we.  Our jewelry business began because Jim loves collecting unusual beads.  As the beads began to pile up, he started putting them together and selling them.  At reasonable prices.  You see, our market is just average people, with just average economic means.  If we are careful, we can offer our customers jewelry made of genuine semi-precious stones, art & gilt glass, and cultured pearls priced less than most of the home-party costume jewelry.  That's important to us:  real jewelry for real people.

Money is the only metric of success.

If we were to use money as our sole metric of success, we would be abject failures because we keep putting money back into materials, fixtures, and the like.  But money is not the only metric.  Going to a show and just plain having a good time is important (especially since the fun begins after you've sold enough to cover booth fee).  Seeing your pieces being worn proudly is just amazing.  Referrals are even better.  Creating something that people enjoy--that's success.

Unconventional Foolishness

While we're constantly trying to improve our business, we know that there's more to life than the business.  Making enough money to cover expenses is important.  Artistic satisfaction is important.  Helping others is important.  Having fun is important.  Juggling all those important things can be stressful, especially if we judge ourselves by the standards of other people.  But we're not.  We're following our own instincts.



But we're giving it a try.

What about you?  How are you living your Savory life?


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Summer Themes

Dewy web on the cucumber trellis.
Most of my summers seem to develop themes of their own.  It's not that I do not make a plan for the summer, but things just do not seem to work out the way I expect.  For example, two summers ago was to be "market garden summer," but I developed a severe infection from a tick bite and spent the rest of the arid summer trying to get the garden back under control.

Last summer was supposed to be "finish your novel" summer, but my father-in-law fell ill and I had two gardens to tend (his and mine) rather than one.  So much for the novel.

A doe and fawn surprised me one hot day!
This summer was supposed to be "finish your novel and fence the new pasture."  Well, the novel didn't happen, but the pasture, while not fenced, is taking shape.  It's terribly rutted from years of having been mowed while wet, so, after cutting down a year's growth of, well, you-name-it, I've begun trying to knock the tops off the ruts with a 5-foot-wide tiller.  Let me tell you that a 10-acre pasture is, at least, 150 strips wide.

Given that my ancient tractor must tackle this task in Low-4, you can understand why I'm not through yet.  And I feel like I should get the "ground work" at least in measurable progress before I start setting fence posts and stringing wire.  Wise Farmer Jimmy advised me that his best stands of bermuda grass were sown in mid-May, so I guess I'll be waiting another year before starting our tiny cattle venture.

This could have been called "canning summer."
Yup.  Cattle.  We just want to grass-feed enough for us and our immediate family.  What breeds are idiot-proof and can bear heat and drought?

So, the "undone" list is endless.  But I have managed to do a few good things.  I've ignored "preventative maintenance" on this body of mine and, at 55, it's beginning to catch up with me.  If I feel like I've spent the summer with doctors, I have, but that's just because I neglected it before.  Hopefully, I'll keep on track.

I've made some decisions about next year's garden, and about our primary cash crop.  More on that later.

Jim has spent well over a month creating an entirely new look for our festival booth.  It's custom-made, it's unique, and I think it will show off his jewelry creations beautifully.  I cannot wait for you to see it.

But that's not this summer's theme.  While could call this a "canning" summer, because I have canned a lot of tomatoes this year, that is not how I'll remember this summer.

My cousin's meadow on a misty morn.
This has been the summer of misty mornings.  

Deliciously cool, hazy, heavy with crystal-clear dewdrops.



I could have slept through them.

I wanted to sleep through them.

But, somehow, I made sure to see as many as I could.

May each of your mornings begin with beauty.

How are you living your Savory life?


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Mockingbird wisdom

Spring is thought to be the time for babies on the farm, but I'm finding that spring has run into summer.  While cutting a future pasture last week, I flushed a spotted fawn who scampered into a patch of uncut grass before I could snap a picture.  One baby accounted for.

I mentioned several week ago that a mockingbird seemed to be building a nest in a basket by my back door.  Well, she did.
Mama mockingbird sits on her nest.
My first clue was her head poking up from the basket.  When I moved closer to the door, she flew away and I took the opportunity to peer into the basket.
Apparently, mockingbird eggs are also
robins-egg blue . . .  with brown spots.
Four beautiful eggs were nestled into the grassy nest.  Just a few minutes later, she swooped near me to announce her return.  Earlier this week, I noticed she was no longer sitting on her nest, but making several trips a day.  I waited until she had departed and peeked into the basket.
The babies are difficult to see.
Sure enough, the eggs had been replaced by furry charcoal blobs.  I accidentally bumped the baker's rack and was received a pleasant surprise.
Feed me!
Four bright yellow beaks gaped open, waiting to be filled!  Moments later, I heard chipping noises and both mockingbirds returned, one with something dangling from her beak.  Obviously, it was dinnertime.  I slipped back inside and watched from a discreet distance while she stuffed the morsel into the hungry mouths.  And so it has gone, several times an hour, since then.
Another interested observer.
In the meantime, another member of the household has noticed the activity:  Lexi the cat.  She lingers at the door, meowing at her prey.  Despite her pleas, I have not allowed her onto the porch.  She has figured out the alternative route around the house, and the mockingbirds are targeting her.  And us.

You may remember that, last year, barn swallows nested on the ceiling fan on the back porch.  They were timid, and avoided us whenever possible.  The mockingbirds, predictably, are more aggressive:  they will "dive-bomb" us (and Lexi) whenever we are near the nest or on the north side of the house.  While the Resident Dragon is gentle-hearted with animals, I did spot him looking for a tennis racket.

All of this serves to remind me that I share this farm with many other creatures.  Some are cute, but many are destructive, and even dangerous.  Each has its place in this little microclimate of mine.  So do I, and it's a constant struggle to maintain my place.  But I've noticed that knowing about my fellow inhabitants makes the struggle a bit less difficult.

Learning.  Everything seems to return to learning.

And that's a good thing.

What about you?  What are you learning about your Savory life?


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Where does creative vision come from?

Where do artists find their vision?  What inspired Chihuly to combine a variety of colors and shapes into this riotously pleasing composition?  Did he envision it whole, or did he assemble it, piece-by-piece, until he felt it to be complete?

He certainly had to have confidence in his vision.  Look at the individual elements:  some of them are original, some patently ridiculous, some totally cliche, but the overall effect is unique.

Sometimes artists seek to explore particular aspects of a form.  Chihuly's bowl series utilizes every color available to him (over 200) within similar forms.  The combinations of color and pattern make each bowl, though similar in shape, a unique work of art.

There are times when an artist completely changes direction, as Chihuly did with his Indian basket series.  The shapes of the bowls no longer reflected nature, but mimicked the time-ravaged reed baskets he collected.  These changes may disappoint outsiders, but are absolutely essential to the growth of the artist.

Sometimes darkness surrounds an artist, and the art is the only light available.  Often that art is part and parcel of the darkness, but, sometimes, it outlines the artist's path to sunshine.

So, where does creativity come from?  I'm not sure there's any particular source.  I think it's an attempt to create a synthesizing artifact of thoughtful engagement of the artist with his or her journey.

So, how does that apply to me?  I've never really considered myself an artist, but I think I may be ready to change that.  I've spent a lifetime finding meaning in the music, writing, and artwork of others, but I think I'm ready to create original artifacts of my own journey.  What form they will take, I could not say.  But I'm anxious to start.

How about you?  How are you documenting your own personal journey?


Friday, June 7, 2013

Life Hacks 2013: Decluttering My Dream

Sunset on the farm
We broke ground on our dream house in July six years ago.  After literally years of searching through house plans, we finally found one we could agree on.  One of my dreams was copious cabinet space and I got it!  I wanted the cabinets to store the clutter that has plagued me for years.

So, when we moved in, I was so proud of the cabinets and stored every item.  As I looked around my house, at the cluttered table tops and spaces, I wonder, "What happened?"

  1. Well, several things happened.  As much as I expected my life in the country would be less hectic, if anything, it's more.  And, because of the commute, I have at least an hour less time per day.  
  2. The second problem is the sheer volume of stuff.  I need to pare down the amount of stuff coming to the house.
  3. The third problem is that I procrastinate.  I stack stuff up thinking I will have more time later.  Later turns out to be even busier.
  4. But the most important problem is one of potential.  I see potential in everything.  I keep too much stuff because I think I could possibly use it for something someday.  It's not entirely my fault; my dad was the same way.  He grew up on a farm where repurposing was not a creative outlet; it was a survival strategy.  But, that was a time of scarcity, and this is a time of plenty.  I just have to get rid of things.

I've got to make changes, some of which are inspired by David Allen's Getting Things Done strategy of handling things a little as possible:

  1. In the stacks of stuff, I found periodicals from January that I've not read yet.  With guaranteed daylight on the ride home, I need to capture the time to read the magazines then.  Perhaps then I can catch up on the actual books stacked on the table.
  2. Get off of as many mailing lists as possible.  Go to e-statements whenever possible.
  3. Deal with it now.  Create a place for things you'll keep, put things in their place, and throw the rest away now.
  4. Focus!  If something is not usable within the short term, or at a definite point in time, pass it on--trash, recycle, or share.
This sounds like a good plan for me, but I'm not the only one who lives in my house:  I'm filing for two.  I must enlist the help of the Resident Dragon, who actually has a lower tolerance for clutter than I have.  If I make him aware the the storage spaces, he will store things.  And we'll both be happier for it.

So, I'm looking forward to taking back my dream house, one cluttered surface at a time.

What about you?  How do you tame the Clutter Monster?????????????

Living a Savory life . . .


Thursday, May 16, 2013

It's My "Berry" Favorite Time of the Year! Freezing and Preserving Strawberries

Each flat contains 12 pints.
Strawberries are my favorite fruit and they are in season!  The second largest strawberry farm in Mississippi is nearby and we stopped by their stand and picked up two flats (24 pints).  I spent today capping and slicing the berries for freezing and for preserves.  I can remember helping my grandmother with canning and preserving, but these are the first I've made on my own, at least to my remembrance.

Many recipes call for pectin which will help the preserves jell more consistently, but I chose to forego the pectin and count on the syrup to set up on its own.  The preserves will be more "soupy" but I like the clear, clean flavor of just the berry, sugar, and lemon.

Wash the berries through several changes of water.
Rinse strawberries thoroughly.
Remove the cap from each berry and slice into 1/4" slices.
Don't forget to compost the caps.
Two pints after capping and slicing.
The first 6 pints I "sugared down" to make preserves (10 cups for 6 pints of fruit).
Stir until well-mixed.
Set aside for 3 or 4 hours.
Go ahead and put the strawberries and sugar into a stock pot.
Meanwhile, I sliced and capped the remaining berries and "dry" packed (no sugar) them into zipper freezer bags, 2 cups at a time.  After removing 6 pints for the preserves, I was able to freeze 13 pints of sliced berries.

Don't forget to "burp" the air from the bag!

Once the strawberries and sugar have macerated, add 2/3 cups of lemon juice to the strawberries.
Fresh lemon juice is perfect for the job!
Cook until berries are translucent and sugar is dissolved.

Stir often.
Choose a large pot as it will "foam up" about
three times its original volume before the foam recedes.

Spread into a flat pan, and refrigerate uncovered for 12-24 hours.

Sterilize 12 half-pint jars in boiling water of a water bath canner.
Use the boiling water bath canner
to sterilize jars.

Reheat strawberries, then spoon into sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4" head space.  

Be sure to clean the jar lips with a wet cloth
 to ensure a good seal.

Seal with two-part lid and process in water-bath canner for 20 minutes.  
The rings should only be finger-tight so that air may escape from the jars.

Makes 12 half-pints.

Tighten the rings after removing the hot jars from the canner.
Two days' work for 12 half-pints of strawberry preserves.  Was it worth it?  Each jar, including the cost of fruit, sugar, lemons, and jars/rings, cost $2.30, which is comparable with the ready-made found in the grocery store.  Not included in that cost is the comfort of knowing exactly what is in my food, and the satisfaction of making my own food, even if I did not grow it myself.  Definitely worth it.  

So, the canning season has begun!  Check back for more adventures!

What's cooking in your Savory kitchen?


Consult the Ball Blue Book
for more information.