So often we forget to stop and notice those special little moments of joy in our lives. Do we need fancy cards with custom designs or even specially made cards with a hundred different photographs? Of course not! Create your own beautiful moments cards with a stack of notecards or even scraps of paper from around the house. Are you a card maker or scrapbooker? You undoubtedly have a container or two full of paper scraps. These would be perfect to jot down a beautiful moment. Be sure to include the date so you can look back at the end of the year and see what brought you joy and when.
As time went on I could see that I was rapidly running out of these sweet little cards to leave myself love letters from the past. I had always wanted to check out the cards from a company called Moo. The cool thing about Moo is that you can make these mini cards. They are half the size of a traditional business card AND they give you the option to have up to 100 different designs. How cool is that! Now the actual process for creating the files is more than a bit tedious, so I ended up only creating ten different designs. However, I did make myself a pack of 100 cards for about $30– not exactly cheap, but not insane either. I have gifted sets of 10 cards to different friends and they have LOVED them.
In December of 2017 I randomly heard about this group called 52 Frames. The concept sounded pretty simple– each week they post a photo challenge and you have from 12:00 AM Sunday to 11:59 PM the following Sunday to submit your image. The only rules are that it must be taken during that said time period and you must take the image. I was coming out of a HUGE book project that had sucked the creative juices out of me. 52 Frames was exactly what I needed at that moment in time. I signed the manifesto and started my journey. Looking back, that first year and perhaps even the second year were a blur. I got my camera out every single week and I put a piece of myself out into the universe. I connected with other photogs around the world and started to find a home within this beautiful group. No matter what was going on in the world or in my life, I knew that 52F would be there– a constant companion.
And just like that, I just submitted my 261st photo and became a 5X Weekly Warrior (I submitted an image every single week for FIVE years!). When I look back at my 52 images for 2022, I have many mixed emotions. I submitted a photo every single week. I showed up for each challenge and gave of myself what I could each week. Many weeks I didn’t have much left of myself to give. I squeezed in a submission on the weekend and I tried my hardest to get some commenting done during the week. Some weeks were better than others. I am proud of my two 52 Picks I received, but most of all, I am proud that I showed up and put myself out there— even the week I found out I was losing my job and that my mom was in the hospital with a gigantic cancerous tumor. Nothing from this year’s challenges is something I would hang in our house, but I got SO much out of each challenge. I really liked my self-portrait and the message it conveyed. I am sure there are things I could have done to make it a better technical image, but it worked for me. The wineguys were featured a few times (ok they were featured FOUR times) and now I keep them permanently in my camera bag (thanks Karen Smith for that idea!). I met a guy who paid $400,000 for a car. I let my husband convince me to go to a DeadMau5 concert and I actually loved it. I got out into nature quite a bit. We had an epic trip to Spain for our friend’s wedding. I continued to build with Lego. I spent a lot of time in my kitchen. I explored new techniques with my camera. I ventured into new areas and I met new people. I even faced my fear of giant reptiles. I had one of my images made into fabric that is now part of a line of clothing. 52F is about so much more than just the image.
I hope to have more intention in my submissions for 2023. It’s a new year and I am entering a new phase in my life. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I am grateful that 52F will be a part of it.
I have been listening to Happier with Gretchin Rubin for years and I love her weekly newsletter 5 Things Making me Happier. Both are lighthearted and focus on something everyone can use a bit of help with— finding happiness. Every year Gretchin encourages her audience to make a list that identifies their ambitions for the year. I don’t view this as a list of resolutions, but more as I am going to get these things done this year. The goals can be fun, easy, challenging or whatever you want to take on for the year. My friends always remind me that I am the “get crap done” person. Between that and my obsessive love for lists, this is one of my favorite things to do!
As I was working on my list, my husband suggested that I brainstorm a few action items for each activity on my list. This way when I selected one, I would know exactly what steps to start with. I tried to categorize the items and prioritize them, but this was an exercise in futility. I have enough items to keep me busy all year long. When something strikes my fancy, I’ll tackle one of them. I know which ones are a priority to me and which ones are somewhat of a filler.
Here’s my 23 for 2023…
#1 Lose 10 pounds
Tom and I each lost 30 pounds in 2022. It’s astounding to look at pictures of us especially during COVID. I took a self portrait today for 52 Frames and it still surprises me to see the difference. I’m still 20 pounds from the weight I was when Tom and I met in 2000, but I would be happy with losing another ten pounds for now. After a bout of gluttony during the holidays, we are back on track with our healthy eating habits and regular exercise.
#2 Incorporate a regular yoga practice into my daily routine.
After losing my job, it became abundantly clear that I need to add self-care into my daily life to avoid a total mental collapse. Ever since I started running, I have loved doing Yin Yoga. I have not been good about staying on top of it. Now that I have an abundance of time, I have started doing a great Travis Elliot video every morning in The Oodlearium. It’s an awesome way to kick start my day.
#3 Start a side hustle
Anyone who knows me well or follows this blog knows that I have A LOT of interests and A LOT of different talents. While a lot of those are not things that could fully replace my teaching income, I can earn some cash from them. A little bit here and a little bit there will add up. I will start a side hustle this year. Just not sure which ones I’ll dive into and which ones will eventually bring in a bit of cash. Stay tuned! I am working on a book called Beautiful Moments– a journal for capturing the beautiful moments in life, a clothing line based on a piece of my photography, adding my paintings to my website, teaching a class on making photobooks and a cookbook and much more.
#4 Write 23 blog posts
Tom teases me so much about my lists, but they are my love language. I have a long backlog list of blog posts to write and I hope with the extra time to be more consistent with posting and sharing my adventures in creativity and life.
#5 Host Mobile Oodlearium Events
I am working on some graphics for Mobile Oodlearium events. I am hosting my first-ever kids birthday party tomorrow for a close friend’s daughter. If that goes well, I will open that up to the public along with my regular girlfriend night out painting parties.
#6 Stay connected with friends from Harlem
After almost 19 years teaching German at my school, I left E120 for the last time on December 16ht. I left behind some incredibly dear friends and I have committed to staying in contact with them. For now, my hair lady is still in that area, so once a month I have an excuse to catch up with someone.
#7 Start doing portrait sessions again
In my pursuit of starting a side hustle, I am looking at doing portrait sessions again. It is disheartening to do the math and see how many I would have to do to earn a relatively insignificant amount of money. When push comes to shove, I don’t know if this will end up happening, but I am considering it.
#8 Add more pins to the foodie map
The Foodie Map is one of my true joys and if that is the case we should be adding to it more often than we do. I have a solid backlog of recipes to try, but given that we are trying to be healthier, I have a bit of a mental block that I need to work through. I just need to focus on finding healthier recipes or enjoying those recipes on date night when we are a little less focussed on healthy eating.
#9 Make cutting board from scrap wood
I am absolutely obsessed with cutting boards like this one after I bought one for a friend. Tom promises me that he will teach me how to make one with a bunch of our scrap wood from various projects. I have a design picked out. We just need to find a time when he can teach me to use some tools.
#10 Have conversations with other artists/creatives
I so badly want to start a podcast, but I dread the idea of recording myself talking. I keep telling myself that I can just get together with other creatives and chat with them– and not record anything. I have a video chat scheduled for next week with a fellow creative from Israel. I’m hoping that will spur me to schedule some more. If you are reading this and you want to chat– please reach out!
#11 Finish scanning photos
Sometime last year I grabbed all my containers of albums from the crawl space and I started going through the prints. What a waste to have them sitting in bins in the basement. There were so many HORRIBLE images that were just wasting space. I did a massive purge and got the images down to a couple of shoe boxes with the promise to myself that I would scan them all and make a few photo books that I could store upstairs. I am more than halfway through the boxes and just need to stick to doing a few stacks each week.
#12 Host Oodle in the Park
Last year I put my heart and soul into developing an awesome event that brought together a bunch of creatives for an entire day of art in the park. I was so disappointed that the event didn’t pan out, but I am committed to doing a version 2.0 this year and making a solo go of it. Stay tuned for details! I have a voucher for the park until the end of May.
#13 Find a new job/career
The irony of the fact that this is #13 on the list is not lost on me. It’s a priority, but all these other things are helping me in pursuit of finding out what will be my next chapter.
#14 Visit family in Arizona
I haven’t been to Arizona to see family since the summer of 2021. With every day my sweet little niece grows a bit more. I can’t believe she is going to be four this coming August. I must get out there to see them!
#15 Visit Taos, New Mexico
Our original retirement plan involved us finding a piece of property with a small house for us, a cottage that we could AirBnB and a space for a workshop where we could hold classes and maker type events. A friend told me to look at Taos because it is an artist community and would welcome this type of venture. We need to check it out.
#16 Explore new art forms
The fact that I have paintings stacked three deep in The Oodlearium is a constant reminder that I both need to and want to explore other mediums. I just haven’t had the time to do so until now. Just a few days ago, a dear friend gifted me a huge box of beautiful beads. I am so excited to dive into them and make something special with them. I also discovered this awesome fabric art video on Instagram. If I can figure out how to do it, I think it will be a beautiful canvas for pouring. Once Tom gets the downstairs shop set up, I’ll be able to dive into wood burning as well.
#17 Random acts of kindness
I am trying to find ways to give back to my community more regularly. Random acts of kindness are an easy way to do that. Tons of ideas out there and I want what I do to be spontaneous.
#18 Take the Domestika Cookbook Writing Class
I am obsessed with the idea of writing a cookbook based on the Foodie Map idea. However after signing up for this Domestika cookbook writing class I am not sure that this is something I am going to do right now. Even if I don’t write a book now, the teacher introduced me to some amazing cookbooks that I have already gotten from the library and sampled recipes from. Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean is stunning and the recipes are amazing– especially the Sicilian Lemon Pasta.
#19 Spend more time in nature
It’s January in Illinois, so this one is going to be tricky. As a year round outdoor runner, I will do my best to get outside 3-4 times a week– especially as I start training for my next half-marathon. Now that I am not getting all my steps walking around school, I have started walking as many errands as I can. It’s not quite getting out into nature, but it is getting me outside and into the fresh air.
#20 Sell five paintings
My pour painting is one of my mental health go-tos. That means I have A LOT of paintings stacked up. While people graciously receive them, you can’t assume that every person is going to want one of your paintings. So I am looking to get them out into the community. Today I started a list of local spots that let artists hang art. I’ll start contacting them next week. Even if they don’t sell, they will hopefully bring joy to people in the community. And perhaps they will help draw some attention to my pour painting Mobile Oodlearium classes.
#21 Look into etsy or something similar for selling some art
I have had so many people over the past few months tell me that I could totally open an Etsy shop. After dismissing these compliments for ages, I am going to at least sit down and see what is involved in doing it and what I might actually be able to sell. I would love to sell some paintings just to get them out of the house and then I am thinking of trying out stickers with my Oodle Doodles. I have a whole mess of stuff pinned on Pinterest to read and see how it all works.
#22 Birthday running goal
Every year since 2020, I have set a running goal for my birthday. In 2022, I ran 100 miles during the month of October. As I head towards my 50th birthday in a few years, I am thinking of edging closer to the idea of running a crazy amount of miles in one long weekend. I have a bit of time before I need to decide on it, but I’m sure it will be something that pushes me and also allows me to spend time with friends doing something we love during the whole month– a beautiful gift indeed!
#23 Run a 10:30 mile
Aside from completing the Great Western Half-Marathon in 2:30 (15 or so minutes faster than the Ooh Lala in 2021), I want to break my mile record and hit 10:30. My PR thus far is 11:04. I’ve got time to work on this goal and my coach knows I am pushing for it, so he’ll keep me accountable.
In 2021, Tom and I decided to do a “12 Hot Chocolates of Christmas” to uncover the best hot chocolate recipe. We had so much fun trying the different recipes, rating them and finally settling on our favorite. This year, I happened to be in a Mariano’s when I saw a cheese advent calendar. What a brilliant idea! But the price was exorbitant for what you got. If I curated our own tasting, we could skip blue cheese, which is gross, and I could control the size of bricks.
I started by crowdsourcing opinions from my socials. My friends who had lived abroad had strong opinions about a wide variety of French cheeses. Others were on a different part of their cheese journey and suggested more everyday cheeses that we had already tried. After a bit of effort trying to track down all the special cheeses people recommended, I headed to our local Caputo’s, which has a lovely cheese selection. I picked up a handful there and we started our tasting. From there, I found a flight selection at Costco, which had all cheeses we had never tasted. Before I knew it, we had a bonafide cheese drawer in our fridge and there was a cheese adventure afoot.
When all was said and done, we had actually tried fourteen different cheeses. We liked most of them. We loved a few and really disliked only two of them.
Just want the straight list of what we tried without the notes and funny business? Here you go:
Wooly Wooly is a soft and spreadable sheep’s milk cheese log from Jumilla, Spain. The texture is similar to cream cheese, but even fluffier. Mitica recommends crumbling it over salads, stuffing it into pasta, mixing it into eggs or just having it on toast.
We loved every single bite of it and would definitely have it again. The texture was indeed like cream cheese, but the herbs set it apart.
(Purchased at Caputo’s)
Honey Bee Goat Cheese Made with a drizzle of honey added to pure goat milk for a cashew-like nutty sweetness. Slightly sweet, full of flavor, yet not strong or salty.
Honey Bee was epic awesome— a must have on hand FOUR COWS kinda awesome. We loved it plain. We loved it on a cracker. We loved it with a slice of salami. YUM. Thank you to whoever recommended it (Camille Hill I believe!)
(Purchased at Caputo’s)
Artikaas hey There Gouda with Truffle According to Artikaas, trained dogs are used to find the naturally grown Italian black summer truffles that give this Gouda its distinctive woodsy aroma and deep notes of earthy wild mushrooms. The precious truffles are generously sprinkled in to infuse the Gouda with umami goodness
This one was really good. We ended up with two truffled cheeses in this sitting and this was by far the better one. The gouda was soft and mild and the truffles were not overwhelming. We would definitely have it again, but probably only for a special occasion as part of a charcuterie board (Purchased at Jewel)
Truffle Trove by Snowdonia Cheese Company Taste-tested and graded by the Snowdonia Cheese experts and enrobed in pure white wax, this extra aged Cheddar has a distinctive, earthy aroma and perfectly balanced flavor. Milder than the winter variety, the Italian Black Summer truffle presents undertones of wild mushroom and hazelnut, leading to notes of garlic.
This cheese was crazy strong. The extra mature cheddar alone was strong and harsh, but the truffle was overwhelming and very pungent. I gave the brick to a friend. (Purchased at Costco).
Fair Oaks Farms Smoked Sweet Swiss
Fair Oaks Farms Hickory-Smoked Sweet Swiss is their Master Cheesemaker’s own variety. This cheese is hardwood smoked to give this swiss its unique, rich flavor. Great with nearly anything you can think of, but it is certainly a great companion to barbecue and makes a great cheeseburger.
This smoked Swiss was really good, but not as strong a smokey flavor as smoked Gouda usually is. If we saw it in the store we would pick it up. Yum! Really kinda wished we had tried it on a burger as the tasting notes recommended.
Juusto with Garlic Baked Cheese (AKA bread cheese)
Juusto is a buttery-flavored, flat and squeaky cheese made in Scandinavia for over 200 years, called “Juustoleipa” or “Ostbrod”, meaning “bread cheese”. Pasture Pride Cheese from Cashton, Wisconsin bakes each piece to create a sweet caramelized, toasted crust similar to brown bread.
We gave this one three cows! Who knew that you could buy a brick of cheese and melt it in the oven and scoop it up with a cracker. We would definitely have this one again, but it is VERY salty and best in small quantities.
Kindred Creamery Sweet Fire Mango Jack Cheese (purchased at Caputo’s)
Sweet Fire Mango Jack is a slightly sweet and fruity cheese, spiced with ghost peppers.
Note to self— read the package where it says ghost pepper…This is the only cheese that we flat out rejected. It was way too spicy for us to enjoy. We gave the remainder of the brick to a friend. (Purchased at Caputo’s)
Ivy’s Reserve English Cheddar Their Cheddar is the best of the best, the cheese that their grandmother Ivy kept back for her own table. Still made to the recipe she perfected almost a century ago, it’s specially selected and aged for up to 18 months under wood until it takes on a very particular creaminess, complexity of flavor and nutty, rounded finish. This was a nice classic cheddar. While I feel like I am insulting this family’s grandmother, it was tasty, but nothing extraordinary…sorry Grandma Ivy! (Purchased as part of a flight of cheese at Costco)
Brugge Comtesse is the Grande Dame in the range of Brugge Cheeses. With its creamy texture, ivory coloured center and fruity aroma it keeps on surprising. Comtesse has a generous, multi-faceted flavor with notes of roasted hazelnut, vanilla and summer fruit. It goes extremely well with an aperitif, but also in a sandwich or fresh salad. It also combines particularly well with sun-ripened figs, slightly sweet chutneys and earthy root vegetables. The possibilities are endless.
I had no notes written about this one, so I decided to check the tasting notes from the producer to see if it spurred any memories. It did not, which makes me want to go back and try it again. (Purchased as part of a flight of cheese at Costco)
Cello Sweet Tomato Fontal
Cello Fontal Cheese features a smooth, creamy texture and mild, slightly sweet flavor. This wonderfully buttery table cheese melts flawlessly, making it the best cheesy companion for sandwiches, pasta fillings, and sauces. This soft and mild cheese makes it the best choice for spice rubs that are sure to give cheese lovers an entirely new and exciting flavor experience.
A creamy cow’s milk cheese hand-rubbed with sweet vine-ripened tomato and savory herbs, that add bright flavors to this mild, creamy cheese. Cello fontal cheese rubs are added during the 60-day aging process to develop the signature flavor and texture characteristics.
This one was completely new to us and we had no idea what to expect. It was sweet and smooth and so good. Would definitely have it again. (Purchased as part of a flight of cheese at Costco)
Bustil Il Tartufo Pecorina Toscano
Pecorino al Tartufo is an Italian, raw sheep’s milk cheese encrusted with small specks of white and black truffles from the area between Volterra and San Miniato. It is aged for thirty days and pairs well with salami and a good red wine.
Again, I didn’t intend to have three different cheeses with truffles on our list. I wasn’t paying close attention to what I had already bought. Of the three, this was the BEST. When I saw pecorino, I was expecting something similar to a Parmesan, but this was delightful. It was soft and the truffle was incredibly mild— just enough to add a hint of flavor, but not overwhelming like the first one we tried. We definitely recommend this one! (Purchased as part of a flight of cheese at Costco)
El Pastor Honey Chevre
El Pastor Honey Goat Cheese is made from the highest quality goat’s milk in the Zamora region of Spain. Drizzled with sweet honey, this firm, yet wonderfully smooth cheese makes a flavorful appetizer or a show-stopping addition to your cheese board.
We thought this was just going to be just another soft cheese similar to Wooley Wooley. We could not have been more wrong. It was incredible—one of our absolute favorites. Soft, smooth and subtle honey flavor. It was heavenly! (Purchased as part of a flight of cheese at Costco)
A week or so ago, Tom introduced me to a YouTuber he follows called The Wheezy Waiter. In one of the videos he talked about a bread recipe that he said would change our lives forever. He was not wrong…here is the recipe. I made it in the Dutch oven and used the Kitchenaide to knead the dough. It was the easiest bread I have ever made.
What does bread have to do with a post about cheese? Last night, Tom whipped up a small appetizer for us.
Four slices of the peasant bread (2 large pieces cut in half)
A bit of olive oil to coat both sides of the bread
A bit of tomato sauce of your choice
A bit of the honey chevre
Once assembled, toast them in a cast iron skillet for a few minutes.
The next morning, I made us open-faced breakfast sandwiches with the bread, some eggs, a bit of tomato sauce and sausage. Sprinkle a bit of the honey chevre and take a trip to HEAVEN!
Kourellas Kasserl Cheese
Kasseri is a traditional Greek-Turkish cheese made from unpasteurised sheep milk with no more than 20% goat milk mixed in. It is a springy-textured, stringy cheese belonging to the pasta filata family like Provolone or Muenster. The cheese needs to be matured for a minimum of four months to obtain the correct texture and flavor.
This white-crust cheese also competes against another famous Greek cheese, Feta. Kasseri is used as a substitute for mozzarella by many Americans and is preferred by connoisseurs who like full-flavored cheeses. A bite of Kasseri will enrich your palate with exciting salty flavors and a pungent odor. But interestingly, it soon leaves behind a sweet aftertaste because of the usage of sheep milk.
This is a harder cheese that is similar to the taste of a Paramesan, but not as strong. We had it twice— once on crackers and then once mixed into a Greek breakfast shakshuka. It is delicious both ways and does melt really well.
A quick look on Kouruella’s website uncovered some amazing looking cheeses. After loving this one so much, we will definitely keep an eye out for this brand.
(Purchased at Jewel…I think!)
Spanish Cheese Plate (Tapas de Queso) (Iberico, Manchego, Queso de Cabra).
Queso Iberico is a Spanish cheese made from a mixture of cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk. The ratio of blend used in making this hard cheese is constantly altered according to seasonal availability.
The distinctive piquant taste of this white cheese ranges from nutty to fruity. This Manchego like cheese has a rich, buttery texture that goes well when served as a snack cheese, a grating cheese or a grilling cheese. The ageing time for this cheese varies from a couple of months to a year.
The Manchego cheese is produced in the La Mancha region of Spain, which is also home to Don Quixote. It is made from pasteurized sheep’s milk. It is one of the popular cheeses from Spain. Authentic Manchego is only made from the Manchego sheep’s milk.
We have been gigantic fans of Manchego since well before we went to Spain. Going to Spain just affirmed our love for it. I was curious about the other two cheeses in this tasting sampler. To our very inexperienced palates, they did not taste drastically different. But, like I said, we LOVE manchego, so they were good— just not earth shattering. (Purchased at Jewel.)
A few weeks ago, the 52Frames challenge was “Break the rules.” I think the overall spirit of the theme was to break a compositional rule. However, I felt that I was not master enough in the different rules to intentionally break one, so I took a different spin. I broke a rule that all people who live in the Chicago-land area know— I ate a hot dog with ketchup only. The comments on my photo have been amusing. A fellow Framer from Norway responded that ketchup sounded good, but in Norway it is common to have a prawn salad on their hot dog (I’m trying to be open minded, but that sounds awful!). Most of the others were adamant in their thought that I should eat my hot dog any damned way I want to.
Have you ever seen the movie Office Space? At the beginning, the character Michael Bolton is sitting in traffic listening to gangster rap with his windows rolled down. As soon as he thinks someone might hear his music, he scrambles to roll up his windows—secret saved. That’s how I feel any time I order a hot dog. I know it’s totally ridiculous, but there is so much smack talk about how heinous it is to sully a hot dog with such a vile condiment that I am embarrassed to admit it’s the only way I will ever eat one.
My husband and I have been talking a lot about the idea of “this is how we roll”—the creative ways that we live our life. We grind our own meat *thank you COVID). When I make lasagna, it’s a multi-day event. Our two cars are a combined 31 years old. We don’t pay for things that are commonplace for many people (cleaning service, streaming services, home repairs, car repairs and so many more). We hardly ever order out from restaurants any more (thanks COVID). We try more new recipes than I could possibly list off. We never check luggage when we travel. We only travel for experiences not to see things. The list goes on and on. While we have friends who live a much more creative and off the beaten path life than we do, we have chosen to live as creatively as we can within the constructs of our jobs/careers, Jumbo hot dogs ketchup only are a part of how we roll for sure. This 52 Frames challenge was definitely a good reminder to live the life we want to live.
I wanted to immerse myself in every chance I could to explore creativity on our once in a lifetime trip to Spain. On our first walk through the quaint town of Bot, I immediately noticed the beautiful doors and windows. I made a mental note to take advantage of some free time to explore the area with my camera. The opportunity came one morning when I woke up early to go for a run on the via Verde near our hotel. Tom was still sleeping and we didn’t have plans until the afternoon.
I grabbed my gear and headed out to explore. I roamed the city streets listening only to the sounds of the town coming to life— roosters from a local farm crowing in the distance, vans and trucks making their morning deliveries and the occasional Buen dia as someone strolled past me. I could truly get used to this way of life!
The variety of doors was staggering. Every single door was different. Most of them were wood, but they were in no way cookie cutter. Some were arched. Some were wider. Many were very colorful. A lot had ornate metal details or unique handles/knockers. Each entrance had its own unique personality.
I know it is easy to say that something is better because you are in a far-away location. Coming from suburban Chicago where everything looks exactly the same, the variety was truly refreshing.
This was an excellent exercise to find the beauty in the everyday.
As I mentioned in the first post in this series, not everyone can just pick up and spend eleven days in Spain. However, one of our most memorable days in Spain was when Matt and Cassandra shared their favorite places and experiences with us. It gave me the chance to look at our hometown with different glasses. What would I put on such a list if I had to share our hometown with guests?
Coffee and a pastry at Arabica Cafe. Although Diane and Chef Brian are currently trying to sell the cafe so that they can start chapter two of their retirement plan, it is still one of my all time favorite spots. I did almost all of my interviews for my book The Many Faces of Elgin there. The coffee is good and the pastries are amazing (or go later in the day for lunch- wowza).
Check out the dam at Kimball Street. It is one of my all-time favorite spots in Elgin. If it’s freezing cold out, you might spot an eagle. If it’s summer, you’ll probably see a line of people fishing. Either way, it’s a very peaceful and beautiful spot to see the Fox River. Stroll down a bit and check out Walton Island.
Enjoy a bike ride, run or walk on the Fox River Trail. You can park at the Gail Borden Library in downtown and head north toward Algonquin or head south toward Aurora.
Enjoy a martini at The Martini Room. Each month the lounge hosts the art of a local artist. Although they do not sell food, their cocktails are outstanding.
Get a bag of popcorn at Mama Lee’s to snack on while checking out the shops around downtown. Meraki Market features the work of local artisans. Elgin Knit Works is a beautiful yarn shop. Steep ‘n Clay is a tea and pottery shop. There are a variety of antique shops scattered around downtown as well.
Check out the public art throughout town. Elgin has amazing murals and sculptures. Most of it is accessible on foot from downtown.
Get a German pretzel roll at Herb’s Bakery. These are the real deal and they sell out very fast. Call ahead and order a half-dozen…or go crazy and order a dozen. You won’t regret it.
Have an iconic meal at Al’s Cafe (lunch or dinner- you won’t be disappointed).
Elgin has a large hispanic population and as a result some excellent options for authentic food. One of our favorites is Taqueria Chapala on the far east side.
Elgin Symphony Orchestra at the Hemmens Center. We are crazy lucky to have three amazing orchestras in Illinois. If you want to skip the major hassle of traveling downtown to see the CSO, you won’t be disappointed with free parking, ample dining options within walking distance and world class talent at the ESO.
Discover the amazing architecture throughout Elgin. Whether it is a walking tour of the famous painted ladies and other historical homes or the various churches and temples, Elgin has it all.
Bluff City Cemetery is a stunningly beautiful historic cemetery on the far east side of town. Wander the grounds and then go for a hike in Bluff Spring Fen, which is accessed at the far end of the cemetery.
What would be on your Staycation Itinerary if I were to visit your area?
We recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to Spain. We spent eleven magical days enjoying the Spanish countryside and soaking up every last drop of life spice. It seems hypocritical to talk about feeling inspired after taking a dream vacation, because who wouldn’t? It makes me think of the time I had the chance to ask world-famous photographer Art Wolfe to tell me his favorite place to photograph. He responded with Myanmar. Only someone who is able to travel internationally regularly would give such a response. Because it will be a long time before we are able to take such a trip again, I did reflect on the aspects of our trip that inspired a creative mindset so that we can try to recreate those types of experiences here at home. Over the next few weeks, I will post a series of blogs about our experiences in Spain. Here is a sneak peak…
Our food experiences were by far the most amazing. For years we have been asking for recommendations in restaurants. Check out my post Why I’ll never order off a menu again. We continued to do so while in Spain. We tried so many foods that we never would have ordered on our own—duck, partridge, clams, mussels, cuttlefish, octopus, prawns and much more. I now know that my day is always better if it starts with a café con leche. As soon as we got home, I decided to host an international potluck. Everyone is bringing a dish from their heritage to pass. Foodie potluck
New experiences are obviously easier when you are in a new place where everything is new. Our adventures started with the invitation of a lifetime— one we could not turn down. Some of our explorations were simple (Spanish doors) while others were much more elaborate. One of our most memorable days was when our friends took a day to share their “favorites” with us. What would be on my favorites list if someone were visiting us? We did something similar when my bestie and her husband were in town for the day from Connecticut. Could I ask others to suggest an itinerary for a day in their area? Staycations
Music makes my heart skip a beat. Matt and Cassandra asked their guests from 9 different countries to share 3-4 songs for the DJ to play during the reception. I don’t have any of the names of the songs that were played, but I remember how much I smiled when I heard music from Ukraine, India, Mexico and even Sweden. My Pandora stations are so perfectly curated that they play only songs that I know and love. This, of course, is a double edged sword. I need to explore some new music avenues. Music
Learn something new. We ended our trip with an Airbnb Experience to learn how to make paella, which combined our love of food, culture and learning. Paella. While we cannot take a cooking class every week, I do have a stack of recipes from a great book I checked out from our library called The Kitchen Without Borders. It features stories and recipes from immigrant and refugee chefs from around the world. Our Foodie Map is eagerly awaiting more pins.
The best thing about vacations is how they make you appreciate home. This trip was no different. While we would love to figure out a way to have our “olive farm” right now, we have ways to inject joy and creativity into our lives every single day.
I haven’t had as much time this year to engage in the Sketchbook Revival funness, but I have selected a few sessions to try out. Two in particular lead to crazy fun shenanigans.
Create Like a Kid Again! with Charlie O’Shield. I loved his playful spirit so much and got such a kick out of his exercise. Take the first noun you think of and then the first compound noun you think of. In my case my noun was fish and Charlie gave the compound noun handshake. The exercise was to replace either hand or shake with your new noun and then draw it. I decided to do handfish and this was my result:
DAY 9 SESSION 1 – Este MacLeod 123…Let’s Draw Cats. I was so enamored with the idea of this session and the examples people were posting in the Facebook group. My first attempts were less than exciting, but I kept trying.
Eventually I just tried to turn the numbers into doodles…something my brain could wrap itself around.
But then my husband has a brighter idea! Last night he challenged me to do something completely different, but something that set my brain on fire. He challenged me to make one of my doodles out of only letters. 5 minutes later I presented him with the doodle on the bottom right.
Then he suggested I remove those letters from the alphabet and only use the remaining letters. That yielded me the bottom left. I did not expect him to then say I needed to create one with only the remaining letters…and that yielded…
This was a ridiculously fun challenge! I hope you’ll give it a try. You could try with all lower case letters, numbers, or even the punctuation marks found on a keyboard. My husband was not getting off the hook that easily. I challenged him to make fish out of the numbers and he did great!
When I first started kicking around the idea of starting a blog on creativity, my long term goal was to host some sort of creativity retreat where I would help people tap back into the creative energy they had lost. This was going to be the focus of my retirement energy. I figured I would write about creativity and I would continue to explore as many creative outlets and avenues as I could…sharing those journeys with all of you. Then I started thinking a lot about doing a podcast and talking to creatives– partially for my own benefit, but also to share with all of you. Many ideas have come in and out of my head since I started The Oodlearium, but the idea of a creativity camp of some sort has never left my mind.
Back in December, my friend Karen was over to Elf in our kitchen while I was baking Christmas cookies. We baked and talked for hours about life and goals and dreams and passions. She heard very clearly the ache in my heart over not knowing how to bridge the gap between now and retirement when I would have more time to devote to my ideas. She threw out the idea of finding a space and just throwing a one day event together. She even volunteered to do a session on vision boards. I jotted down some notes and told her I would give it some serious thought.
During Christmas break, I was out & about one day doing some photography and I stopped by Tyler Creek Forest Preserve in Elgin. I didn’t get the shot I was hoping for, but I discovered this stunning permanent shelter. It was a beautiful brick structure– large enough to fit 50-75 people, close to a flush toilet and ample parking. A quick google search showed that it could be rented for a whopping $50 for the day. I had found the home for this “someday” event. I was so excited about the shelter that I started asking anyone I could think of if they would be willing to be a presenter for this idea of an event. Every single person said yes and before I knew it, I had this awesome lineup of presenters.
These incredible creatives have put together awesome ideas for fun sessions that will tickle your creative funny bones. They cover everything from painting to doodling to photography to vision boards and a charcuterie board lunch session. I could not have asked for a better group of friends to share this day with you all.
Someday, I hope that Oodle in the Park will morph into a huge multi-day event with presenters from all over the world. For now, it is a small group of really enthusiastic creatives who want to share their love with their art with you. The cost of the day is $50, which covers the cost of your supplies for the day. You will not need to bring anything with you except whatever camera (DSLR or phone) for Kelly Hubert’s session. You will create an individual charcuterie board during our lunch time session and eat/snack on it after you’ve snagged some photos to share with friends & family! Snacks and water will be provided throughout the day. If this sounds like something you would love to attend, please sign up here: Oodle in the Park Registration.
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When we returned from Spain I was craving new food experiences and conversation with new people who shared my love of food, new recipes and travel. I have belonged to a local Facebook foodie group for a few years. So when I conjured up the idea of an international potluck, I asked them first if […]
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I wanted to immerse myself in every chance I could to explore creativity on our once in a lifetime trip to Spain. On our first walk through the quaint town of Bot, I immediately noticed the beautiful doors and windows. I made a mental note to take advantage of some free time to explore the […]