Saturday, September 4, 2010


Way back in the 50's, when I was a mere tot, my mom would take me with her to run errands. Often we'd stop in at our local shoe repair shop, the most heavenly-smelling place on earth, run by a wizened little man with hunched shoulders and dye-stained fingers. A few doors down was a watch repairman. Beyond that was a wonderful little bakery, and down towards the end was the fabric store. We went there almost weekly, as did most of the ladies we knew, for a woman who couldn't sew was the exception back then, rather than the rule. The most memorable place Mom ever took me was downtown to her favorite millinery shop, where you could order a custom-made hat, or get the supplies to refurbish one of your old ones. The people that ran these shops were my role models. My idols. All I wanted in the world was to be just like them - to make or do something with my own two hands, and be the best I could possibly be at it. And, at that time, no one laughed at me when I told them this. But then the world changed.

Somewhere along the way, making money became much more important than making something well. In fact, many businesses figured out how to do away with products altogether, and managed to make millions just by moving money around. Consumers no longer cared how well-made something was, or even how it tasted, as long as it was cheap and they got lots of it. Millinery shops and repairmen disappeared altogether (why bother to repair or refurbish something, when buying a brand new one is so darned cheap?), and if Little Johnny were to tell his parents that he wanted to be a baker when he grew up, he'd surely see a look of horror on their faces. "The hell you say!", Dad would reply. "I haven't slaved away all these years just so my son can be a baker. You're going to Harvard and get an MBA! You're going to be somebody." It made me so very sad. I missed those craftsmen, and their wonderful little shops. I missed seeing people take pride in creating something real with their own two hands. Something tangible.

A couple of days ago I picked up the latest issue of Edible Austin, and you know what? It got me to thinkin'. First I read an article about young Ben Runkle, owner of Salt & Time Artisanal Salumi. Mr. Runkle has spent the last several years doing unpaid internships on farms and in restaurants, just so he can learn the art of butchering, and study the old-world, artisanal methods of curing meats. Reading about him made me smile. Then there was an article about Executive Chef Rene Ortiz, who left the culinary fast lane in NY to lead a different kind of life here in Austin - one where he can be a chef-dad who actually spends time with his kids. One where he can pass on his gifts and the skills he has been taught. One where he might establish a non-profit in East Austin that will teach culinary skills to at-risk kids from the neighborhood. My smile grew even bigger as I read this.

Then I got to thinkin' about all the other articles I've read recently, about young men and women who are chucking their engineering and law careers in order to learn farming or cheese-making or spirit-crafting. I was reminded of the young couple who opened that wonderful little cheese shop we just discovered, and the ladies we met at the Stitch Lab, and before I knew it, I was grinning my head off. Know what I'm thinking now? I'm thinking the tide has finally changed, and it's bringing a flood of pride and respect for craftsmen and women in with it!

P.S. Many thanks to for the salumi basket image.

Friday, September 3, 2010


I have one more tidbit for you, regarding our trip to Stitch Lab. While we were wandering around the classroom, I noticed an interesting looking book lying on the cutting table. I asked the girl

seated next to it if it belonged to her, and she said "No, it's hers," pointing to the instructor in the pink plaid dress. "She wrote it!"

The book in question is called Little Green Dresses, and the author is Ms. Tina Sparkles, a member of the Austin Craft Mafia. Take note of that name. I have a feeling you'll be hearing more of it.

The book in question is not about wearing the color green, it's about refashioning fresh new items from already existing materials. In addition, it teaches you some basic sewing skills, and how to draft your own custom-fitted patterns. If you have a hankering for a truly unique wardrobe that makes a powerful statement, go here to find out more about Tina's book, or to reserve your copy. And FYI, this is a totally unsolicited appraisal. No freebies were received in return for these comments. All I got was a quick flip through the book as we were wandering through the shop, but it was enough to leave me wanting to know more about this book, and about this very talented young lady.

P.S. Be sure to check her website for photos of the dresses she made for the AMOA fashion show. I adore the one she crafted from a wad of computer wire!

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I should probably save this for Color-Mad Monday, but I just couldn't wait that long to share it with you. It's much too exciting!

You see, a couple of weeks ago, I caught sight of something as we drove into our neighborhood. We have this little triangle-shaped

flowerbed at the entrance that has a few shrubs in it, but I'd never seen anything like this there before. In fact, it looked like the seeds of a cherry tomato vine might have been carried in and deposited, for there were quite a few orangey-red orbs draped over one of the shrubs. But no, that was no tomato my friends.

I finally made it back to take a closer look, and you won't believe what I found - it was this! Chinese Lantern Plant! (a.k.a. Winter Cherry or Bladder Cherry) The very same plant that I have owned in artificial-garland-form for years now, and which gets intertwined with my sweet gum garland each year as part of my fall decor. I had no idea it grew around here!

I did a bit of research here and discovered that its true name is Physalis alkekengi, it's part of the nightshade family, and it has a long history of herbal and medicinal uses. Is this cool, or what? Perhaps I should leave you with one of my favorite quotes, regarding what it means to be living your life with "Seasonality":

"Mother Nature's palette is a rich resource of inspiration for decorating your home. By bringing the seasons indoors with inexpensive personal flourishes, you will rarely grow tired of where you live." Sarah Ban Breathnach, from Simple Abundance

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I have two things to feel jubilant about this morning, and two things which cause me to fret. A nice even balance, I suppose. Number one cause for glee is the fact that I wrote "September 1st" at the top of my journal entry today. Here in Texas, the sudden realization that you've somehow managed to survive another August is always cause for giddiness. My number one cause for fretfulness is that my son was running a high fever all day yesterday, and he hasn't done that in years. No matter how old they get, we mamas still worry about things like that - especially when we are far away and can't do anything to help.

My other cause for giddiness - and this is a biggie - is that yesterday was John's last day as a consultant for BP! That means there is nothing left to stand in the way of his moving to Wimberley full-time come Christmas. Woohoo! Unfortunately, this is also the cause for fret #2. When his supposed "few days" at BP morphed into more than four months of round-the-clock work, they had to pull him off of everything else he was working on. So now, unless he can scrounge up a temporary project to immerse himself in, he's going to have a lot of free time to kill at the office. This is not good. Not good at all. Especially not in the weeks leading up to Christmas. You see, when my baby gets bored, my baby goes shopping. On-line. For things like electric toilets. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


There's something very strange going on with my husband. Alien strange! You see that book on the table? I caught him reading it the other day. Not just reading it, in fact. Studying it. And using sticky tabs! In 35 years, I've never known John to crack open a gardening book, much less go out and purchase one on his own. When I lobbed a chipper "Whatcha up to Hon?" at him, the stranger lifted his chin and jutted it forward, narrowed his eyes in a very disconcerting, James-Bondish if-I-told-you-I'd-have-to-kill-you fashion, said simply "I've got plans.", then turned back to his book. Who is this man, and what has he done with my husband?

If you recall from this story here, after buying this property, it became painfully obvious that John and I had some serious philosophical schisms over what should be done with it, and how to handle it. So much so that I eventually drew a line in the sand once the Cantina Garden was built. I didn't want it to be filled with stuff willy-nilly overnight. I wanted it to be well thought out, developed over time. So I made him a deal. I said "You let me be in charge of the Cantina and the container gardens, and you can do whatever your heart desires with the rest of the four acres."

But that was the other John I was talkin' to then. I have no idea who this guy is. If you tell my hubby I said this, I'll swear you're a liar, but...this new guy? He is hawt!

Monday, August 30, 2010


I knew I was going to love the Stitch Lab before I ever walked through the door. How could I tell? Well, as we were walking from the back parking lot, around to the entrance, I happened to glance over. Through a side window I caught a glimpse of this carousel of color -- a spinning rack holding a rainbow of silk embroidery floss. That's all it took.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I knew better than to step foot in that garden center, but I just couldn't help myself! You see, Lex and I went 'splorin' in Austin yesterday.

She's been wanting to learn to sew for ages, using that old Singer

that she got from John's mother Theda. I used to sew all the time (put myself through UT working at fabric stores, and majored in Clothing & Textiles) but haven't done so in years. Besides, I have no gift when it comes to teaching, and don't know anything about that particular machine. Plus,

since I haven't kept up with this skill, there are probably tons of new products and techniques that I don't know anything about. Sooo, I figured Lex would be a lot better off if she could find a young, hip teacher. And she did - a bunch of them!

While she was at her new knitting group one evening, she brought the subject up, and that's how we ended up at Stitch Lab yesterday. Oh. My. Word. What a fantastic place. Now I want to take sewing classes too! Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's housed in a precious little arts and crafts bungalow down on S. 1st street, practically right across the street from that Trailer Park Eatery and Torchy's Tacos (which I told you about here) so that having lunch there was the only sensible thing to do. Right?

No, the only downside is that cool, cool nursery right around the corner - the one called Great Outdoors. I knew better than to allow even my pinkie toe to cross their threshold in the month of August. I knew that yesterday morning's delicious temperatures were just a fluke, and that we could be back into triple digits in the blink of an eye, but did that stop me? Nooo-ooo! Now I'm stuck with a porch-full of plants that will have to be babied and coddled until fall arrives for real!