Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Easy, Cheap Holiday Crafts

OK readers, here are some tips to help out this budget holiday season.

First - have you heard of Google Docs? It's free and it's awesome. If you are looking for a free way to create your holiday newsletter, mailing labels or gift tags you can download templates here, just go to New and click on the down arrow and choose From template, you can browse All Types or or search by category.

You can also find many download-able gift tag designs and decoration templates from the Craftzine Blog. Look for the search bar and type in gift tags or ornaments or holiday or whatever and all of the related blogs will pop up. There are some cool projects out there. Many just require a printer.

There are two projects I learn from my days teaching Victorian Christmas traditions that can be made with things most people have in their home. To decorate your tree you can make a Victorian candy cone by taking any square paper (or cutting an 8 1/2 x 11 paper into a square)

and rolling it into a cone like this:

after it is rolled, glue in place and punch holes for a ribbon handle.

You can decorate the paper before you roll it using markers, glitter or anything you have. You can use fancier paper like wrapping paper or wallpaper or even fabric covered paper. Keep in mind the cone should be stiff so card stock, felt or wallpaper works best. If you have to use regular paper, glue several sheets together. If you want it to be lined you can glue two pieces of contrasting paper wrong sides together and then roll. When it is done, wait for the glue to dry and fill with your favorite candy!

Another great, easy decoration is a Victorian paper lantern, a nod to the era's Orientalism. Take any piece of paper and fold in half width-wise.

Cut equidistant slits on the folded edge leaving a border around the entire paper uncut like this:

Unfold the paper and glue or staple the sides together, you should have a lantern shape. These lanterns can be made in any size, small ones for the tree or large ones strung across the mantle or entire room. It adds a festive flare on the cheap! To hang or string just use a hole punch on two sides and use ribbon, yarn or string to hang. again, you can decorate the lanterns any way you want or use any color paper.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Thanksgiving, NYC and delayed long weekends

How was your Thanksgiving? Mine was really fun. We went to McLean VA to break bread with the Buckmans. We brought vegan green bean casserole and Quorn roast cooked with carrots, onions and potatoes. The casserole used beans from the CSA (one bag down, 3 frozen bags to go) and the recipe came from Fatfree Vegan. After the meal we played with the Wii. The kids practiced Rock Band and we tried our hand at bowling. Time sure flies when you're playing the Wii.

The holiday weekend was cut short because of the annual conference I attend in NYC. I arrived with a co-worker on Saturday and stayed until Wednesday. The conference was mind-numbingly boring as usual. I counted the minutes on my phone and made frequent trips to the exhibitor lounge for free coffee and cookies. It is good for people watching and rating the fashion of attendees.

I almost don't mind the conference because it is very cool to be in New York during the holiday season. We spent two nights just walking around, looking at the decorations and seeing the store windows. I visited Macy's on 34th street; the holiday window was not so great but the floor with Santa and the decorations was worth the trip. Everything was so pretty and on sale! We couldn't believe the sales so early in the season, decorations 40% off? We walked up to Saks Fifth Avenue and they had beautiful holiday windows, plus almost everything in the store 60% off. It was amazing to see the world famous Saks looking like TJ Max with all the low prices and messy shelves. Speaking of 5th Avenue we went to Tiffany's just to check it out and who did we see in the store? Martha Stewart! For Reals! We couldn't go in to the store because she was there but we saw through the glass doors and kept peaking until it started to look weird. Then we casually walked away.

I just missed the tree lighting since it was Wednesday night but we did see the tree and the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center.

Tuesday night I had dinner with my friend Kristen. It's funny that we can go without talking for several months but then pick up just where we left off. Its also funny that no matter where our lives take us we are so alike we tend to choose the same things without knowing it. We were both wearing eye glasses and berets, but hers were fancier of course. I walked from my hotel to her office on Madison Avenue, just a couple of blocks. It was cool to see her office. We took a cab to Greenwich Village and had the best meal at Gobo. I love eating in NYC because I so rarely get to a vegetarian restaurant and even more rare, a fine dining experience in a vegetarian restaurant. It was New York fancy. After dinner we actually walked all the way back to Penn Station with a stop at Macy's again. It gave us time to talk and hang out until she got on the train.

So, because of my interrupted weekend I took Thursday and Friday off to give me a full 4 days at home. In those 4 days I managed to start my xmas cards, purchase 2 more gifts at the SquidFire Holiday Art Mart (added to the 3 gifts I purchased on Etsy for Black Friday) and work on 2 gifts I am making. I plan on making 5 gifts altogether but of these 2 - one needs to get in the mail soon and another takes a long time to make so I started it in early November. I also slept a lot, cleaned the house, did laundry and watched too much TV. Back to work tomorrow and try to fit crafting into my after work time for the next 2 weeks. ONLY 2 weeks? I may never finish! I promise to detail the projects after xmas but don't want to spoil the surprise.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I can be bribed

I have been commuter challenged. The Light Rail is awesome most of the time but sometimes it drives me absolutely nuts.

So, when you work downtown (at least where I work) you get a choice of signing up for a parking pass or a commuter pass. The parking pass is much more expensive and they are in limited supply so you might not even get a choice. Driving downtown sucks because of the traffic and one-way streets. It seemed like the obvious choice to get a commuter pass and be able to use my commute to listen to my ipod, knit or read. It has mostly been a good choice, stress free and relatively short. BUT when the light rail is not working, you have to scramble to find a way to get to work. Every other way takes twice as long and most involve extra money. Last week the light rail was not working. It was a horrible week for commuting to work. There seems to be some issue with leaves on the tracks, leaves and brakes and who knows what.

I took the bus to work one day, oh how I love the bus. It takes about 3 times as long because of the route and stops. It goes through some rough areas of town. Its REALLY bumpy. I got to listen to a great sermon shouted out during the ride. It was really hilarious to hear this preacher talk about sin and hear the other riders tell him to shut up. "That's the devil in you telling me to shut up" OK. Fair enough.

I drove to work one day to pay a fortune in one day garage fees and got to fight the traffic on 83. I don't know the fastest way to work because I DON'T DRIVE TO WORK. At least for 2 days I got rides with co-workers so those were my favorite days.

There seemed to be no end in sight until Saturday night when I read the Baltimore Sun and they said the rail was back in service as of Monday, AND to thank us for our patience we get free coffee and donuts Monday morning. YIPEE! Free Coffee!

Like I say, I can be bribed. The MTA staff were so friendly today and I did get free coffee, Dunkin Donuts coffee no less. I turned down the donuts because of the diet but there were free donuts too! I was actually in a good mood when I boarded the train. Then the fare inspector boarded and asked for our passes. Lady, don't you think even if we didn't have a pass we deserve a free ride for all this crap? Once? Geez.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Good Advice in Tough Times

Here's some free advice to all those desperate retailers: good customer service goes a long way towards retaining business.

I have been working in customer oriented jobs since I was 16 and I have been in charge of training people in customer service for many years. It seems to me that customer service is getting worse just at the time it should be getting better. In my line of work we rely on teachers and group leaders to bring their groups back every year, we count on retaining those sales while making new sales to reach our ever increasing goals each fiscal year. The person taking the reservation needs to make them feel comfortable and happy about their decision. Policies need to be in place to share communication from reservation to tour guide. The tour experience needs to meet the goals of the teacher as explained at the time of reservations and the teacher needs to leave feeling good about the decision to take the kids out of the classroom and into this museum. If not, we lost the customer and the word of mouth can cause a loss of many more customers. I take it seriously and expect other customer service organizations to take it as seriously when I am the customer.

I was lucky enough to get my xmas present from #1 super hubby early this year. We went to pick it out last Saturday. My old laptop was cheap to begin with and fine for when I only used it occasionally but with more use it has become annoyingly slow and I am constantly complaining about it. So we went to Best Buy to get a new laptop. I was so excited and had done some research on what to get and what the prices were like. I knew what I wanted. Mark knows quite a lot about computers so he also was very aware of what I needed and what it would cost. He was also excited to inherit my old laptop and try out some new operating systems that would make it faster and allow him to go online while hanging out with me. We had to go to Best Buy because Circuit City and Comp USA had both gone out of business recently. Best Buy is not known for its customer service and it really showed. One saleslady was very nice, answered some questions but then disappeared. when we were ready there was no one around. I finally found someone and asked about the first lady, since I wanted to make sure she got the commission. When I was told she was on a break and they didn't work on commission I asked this new guy to get us the computer we wanted. Instead of having a pleasant attitude and making us feel good about our rather large purchase he proceeded to act like we were stupid and tried to make us feel small. Is this a new sales pitch I am unaware of? He asked if we knew that this computer doesn't come with any software? I didn't even know what to say because of course it comes with software, what he means is that it doesn't come with Microsoft office which we did know but why say it like that? When we said yes, that's fine he said "So you aren't going to go online at all?" What he meant was that there was no security software so we shouldn't go online without installing something. He wanted to try and bully us into spending several hundreds more on security software. Well, trying to make me feel stupid is not the way to do it. We should not have bought anything from him but like I said, not really any other choice. When we got home we realized that HP does come with security software so not only was he trying to bully us he was actually lying.

This concept of acting superior as a sales strategy is happening more and more. In these tough economic times businesses should be looking for ways to stand out from the crowd and price is not the only way. a policy of good customer service can make a big difference in creating a loyal and repeat customer base. I will try to avoid Best Buy in the future.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Holiday Heap!!!

Awesome craft show tomorrow in Charles Village, We did some holiday shopping there last year and plan to go tomorrow. My favorites from the Charm City Craft Mafia and the Baltimore Esty Street Team will be there. Friends and family have received gifts from:

Cotton Monster

Biggs and Featherbelle


Little Flower Designs

AND I have a beautiful necklace from The Broken Plate

I am currently lusting after items from:


Littlest Bean

Bake Sale Designs

Tasha McKelvey


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Post Election Plans

The election season is over so now I can concentrate on my real life. Of course I am overjoyed that we have President-elect Obama! It's such a good feeling to see my choice win for once! I remember in 2004 I was going to school in NYC and the first school weekend after the election my friend Justin met me in a bar at the Port Authority and we drank and talked about moving to Canada. This is so much better. We are also watching several other issues and have had a mixed bag of success so there is definitely enough to keep me occupied yet. Speaking of politics, check out Mark's new blog for rants on all sorts of topics. Its so much better than having to listen to it in the car on the way to Wegmans every week.

Mark was out of town for Halloween weekend so my "patterns" were out of whack for several days. I was looking forward to being alone for all of the reasons one would be; not having to consult anyone about what you do, what you watch and what you eat. That seemed like it would be really fun. The reality was much worse. I learned that I am much more dependent on having "that one" around than I thought and can't decide if it's a good or bad thing. I talked to the cat more than I should have and lost interest in cooking anything just for me; I had popcorn for dinner on Saturday night. Miss Gimp whined a lot and kept checking the office door to see if Mark was in there but he wasn't so she got sad. We were quite a pair. I did teach myself embroidery with a book I got at the library so I felt like I was accomplishing something. Last Monday night I came home from work, went grocery shopping and finished just in time to pick Mark up at the train station. All is well now.

This weekend I finally sat down and made a list of all of the holiday necessities. Because I still believe in the Handmade pledge I have to plan ahead since it takes time to make things. I have been bookmarking ideas from various craft blogs for months now so it was a matter of narrowing down options and assigning gifts to people on my list. Some gifts will not be handmade for various reasons. Our nephews are old enough to have Amazon wish lists now and I know I always hated getting gifts I didn't pick out when I was a kid so I guess I will break down and buy off the list.

I bought my holiday cards this weekend from Etsy so they are handmade. Cards for me are very deliberate. I like good quality cards and those are pricey so I usually go to places like Papyrus the day after xmas to get them 50% off. I read an article several months ago from Museum Audience Insight and it resonated with me, I too enjoy being the "curator" of my life and making deliberate choices that reflect my style in everything. I usually buy several different style cards and send each style to the person I think will appreciate it the most. That's kinda crazy, true. This year I didn't buy cards at 50% off because we had decided to either go completely paperless or make our own cards but neither happened. So, I was scanning Etsy all this weekend choosing my cards out of the 100's of possibilities. Another reason I am so picky is that we are not religious, not Christian so we try to avoid cards that say Merry Christmas or any religious theme. I choose to celebrate the new year and reserve the time to reflect on my wish for life: peace and happiness. I do believe in sending cards as a way to keep in touch and a nice mini-present to help decorate a friend's home. I love collecting all of the cards I get and stringing them up to decorate.

This blog began as our annual holiday letter last year and now look at it! So, I guess I am coming up on an anniversary of sorts.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day!!!

Yes! Finally Election Day!
I voted after work, no problems and no lines. I did hear of lines throughout Baltimore this morning but I didn't have any problems.

I read some touching voting stories today, the kinds of things that bring home how truly historic this election is. I loved the American Elf strip for today. I also read some great stories on Huffington Post and Andrew Sullivan among others.

Mark and I are watching the TV and the internet for returns. We are enjoying some election night pizza and special OBAMA '08 treats! These treats are peanut butter rice krispie treat pops covered in milk chocolate. The idea came from Kattitudes

If you are interested in obsessing over the maps and the coverage of the returns you can visit or

If you want to laugh while you obsess, Wonkette is the way to go. We love that site; all night I have been saying "In the Tank!"

Monday, October 20, 2008


OK so the debates are over (the last one was the best, Tom Brokaw can suck it) and we are in the home stretch of this never ending campaign season. I am cautiously optimistic but I totally agree with Senator Obama when he says don't underestimate the democrats ability to screw things up. So on that note, lets change subjects.

Its fall and that means a time to refresh. Just when you might get sick of the old hot weather routine you get to change things up. It just started getting colder here so I added the blanket to the bed and got out the space heater for another winter where we try to save money on the heat.

Fall at the CSA means lots of squash and green tomatoes. We made fried green tomatoes on Saturday and put out the rest to ripen on the counter in the beautiful new bowl my friend Kristen sent us. The fried green tomatoes were not on my diet but they were really good with a little home made aioli , my special recipe; "let's see if these ingredients taste good together". We also had butternut squash soup last night with left over fried green tomato sandwiches. I have several butternut squash recipes but as usual, my ingredients on hand didn't match so I made it up. I used a little carrot, green onions, some left over coconut milk, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. It was really good and really felt like fall. Another great fall squash is delicate squash. This was new to us but we got some from theCSA and have cooked several things with it. It's really good and becoming more common in stores so look for it and you won't be disappointed. Vegan Yum Yum just did a post on it. My only complaint is the one pumpkin I got from the farm. I had so many ideas for it, will it be pie, bread, soup, roasted or Halloween jack-o-lantern? Well, it totally rotted out after only 4 days so instead is became trash. Ugh.

Halloween is in the fall and I love that holiday. I love the decorations and the treats and the costumes. The best costumes are hand made of course and Etsy has some great ideas.

Fall also means a wardrobe assessment as summer clothes go to the back of the closet and winter clothes come out. I have to remember what I have and what has worn out. I also have to make sure everything fits, which is why I am now on my fall diet! Last year I went shopping with my mom for fall and we got some great pieces so this year there isn't much to get. This is good considering the economy and my personal finances. Actually, I am surprised Mom was willing to go with me at all, she knows better than anyone that shopping for just a new pair of jeans could take all day and every store must be visited to see all the options. It drives her crazy. Because she is normal. I do need a couple of new things and have started "the research". I am a researcher, its what I do for everything and why I love my job because researching things is totally interesting to me. I have to know everything from every angle before I make decisions. This is also why it is hard for me to shop with other people because I get nervous when they try to encourage me to buy something spur of the moment. I really do get freaked out and I very often regret the purchase when I get home. This is one of the many ways I know I am not completely normal. I start researching fall trends in August with my InStyle magazine and Lucky magazine. Then I look at store websites to see what is in stock. This is when I find several options that would work and start looking at prices. If I think it is too much I will look for a cheaper version or watch the sales. I will try not to pay full price and don't usually shop at the mall. This is because I love clothes but don't have much money, never have. It always makes me laugh when magazines do a bargain spread and their idea of a bargain is Banana Republic instead of Prada. Hello? even on sale I cannot afford Banana Republic. For reals . I shop at discount stores and my new favorite, Kohl's. Kohl's is new to me because I never had one close but now I do. I currently love the new Elle magazine line, almost everything is awesome. I don't love Vera Wang for Kohl's. I had high hopes for that line but its all just weird and looks cheap. If I wanted to bedazzle all of my clothes I could do that myself. But I do not. Ever. Now that I have a list of needs and wants we will see what I can get away with, lets ask The Banker. Wait until he is in a good mood.....

UPDATE: Apparently, Sarah Palin is having a better fall than I am, she got to spend $150,000 on her fall wardrobe!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Holy S**t this has been a rough few weeks. Between the credit crisis and the election a person could get very depressed. But Crazy Aunt Purl can help you with that. So the second presidential debate is tonight, in Nashville, at Belmont University. Hey, I know where that is! Things are getting nasty so it should be interesting.

I have become more radical in my old age which actually brings me more or less in line with how I was at 19. The first election I voted in was 1992 as a freshman in college. I was so into politics I covered my car with political bumper stickers and put a Clinton sign in my dorm room. This was no easy decision considering I went to school in southern Missouri. But it also fueled my fire as I was regularly confronted with chalk writings on the campus sidewalks and notes on my car. While I have kept most of those beliefs, I stopped advertising them so much when I joined the workforce. 8 years in Nashville and I learned not to discuss politics at work (or anywhere really), and what to say if people asked you what church you belonged to or if you wanted to go to their church. I had to keep my job and get along. But it made me feel like an outcast in a strange land, Bush country, Big Red. Truthfully, Nashville is a little blue city in a big red state so there were some people who shared my beliefs (mostly they work in education, go figure?). One person I can always count on is Chad Lemons and his little blog HERE.

Well, moving to Baltimore, being close to DC and watching this country lose its way over the past few years has brought back that fire, the desire to slap some bumper stickers on my car (the same car I had in college, even better!) and tune in. As you might have seen on my shared items, I post my favorite news and political blogs daily. Those favorites include: Daily Kos , Wonkette , Mother Jones, Anonymous Liberal, Salon, Andrew Sullivan, Huffington Post and my new favorite, Women Against Sarah Palin . The craft scene hasn't disappointed either. You can see political items for sale onEtsy and Obama Craft Project. Mark has commemorated this election season by joining the ACLU and I have put my money where my politics are by switching my mobile service from AT&T to CREDO mobile. My hobby of crafting and our new interest in local food are also expressions of our politics.

Another great post about surviving the credit crisis by Rebecca Walker is here. As Crazy Aunt Purl says, you don't get your worth from stuff, and you clearly can't afford to anymore. Who needs The Man to tell you what to buy and how much to put on that credit card? Fight The Man and buy, make and give handmade! Also, if the economy completely collapses and we all have to barter with our friends and neighbors, crafting skills come in handy. To make a comfortable cardboard box house.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What I did on my summer (mostly non-)vacation

  • The apartment complex decided to close the gym for renovations with no indication of when they would re-open. I took this as a sign to mean that the universe wanted me to spend the summer eating ice-cream and relaxing. This, it turns out, was a poor decision.
  • I joined ravelry, the online knitting community and promptly got addicted to all of the forums (Knitting AND Buffy? WHA?) but never actually knitted all summer.
  • I joined Burda Style and received favorable feedback from my few summer projects which spurred me to believe I was invincible - until the summer shirt disaster of late July. Patterns, it turns out, are useful.
  • One of those sewing projects was a gift for my friend's B-day (July 2) and it's still sitting on my dining room chair with the mailing envelope On Top Of It as if it will magically package and mail itself. Oh Gosh, how cool would that be?
  • I fell completely over the edge into becoming a total political junkie, recent events of the democratic convention and the Labor Day weekend had me glued to the Internet and the TV. Don't interrupt me.
  • I took a break from blogging. Don't interrupt me.
  • I baked A LOT of zucchini bread.
  • I cooked closed to 9 pounds of green beans in soups and sautees for every meal.
  • My Dad retired!
  • My parents moved!
  • I didn't actually have anything to do with those last two things unless you count the advice on moving a cat. Oh, and collecting all of my childhood memories in boxes in my dining room. I could open my own museum. FYI, my diary from 1989 is really not that interesting.
  • Successfully avoided the grant writing project I promised to do for the farm. Wanted to kill Mark every Saturday when he said "So, how's the grant writing going?" But, all good things come to an end and the grant is due this month.
  • Stupid Maryland has a stupid front license plate rule and the F---ing thing fell off! $120 and one police report later, we have new plates. One week after that, the original plate was turned into campus police and then returned to us. So now we have 4 Maryland plates. Too bad we can't sell 2 of them for, oh, I don't know, maybe $120!!!!!!
  • Went to Florida with the in-laws. This deserves a post on its own. Soon.
  • Seethed with anger every week as the parking lot at the train station slowly filled up. People, when you only have 1 minute to walk from your car to the platform, it's harder to do from the back of the lot. Make room. I refuse to get up earlier or spend less time watching the Today Show. Geesh, you'd think gas prices were high or something.
  • Seethed with anger as said light rail newbies ask stupid questions and nervously press the stop bell. People, it stops AT EVERY STATION. Relax.
  • My cat started to refer to us as "peeps." I wish she would stop.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Anniversary in DC

We planned a trip to DC to celebrate our anniversary. Unfortunately, it was quite stormy on Saturday so we had to go on Sunday. Last year to celebrate our 10th we went to DC for a weekend and stayed overnight at the Hotel Rouge, which was totally awesome, but this year we decided to just do a day trip.

We had both seen articles on exhibits we wanted to check out so we planned our day based on that. We made sure to end up at Zayntinya for dinner.

Mark's choice was up first, the Jim Henson exhibit at the Smithsonian International Gallery. I was not able to take pictures but wish I did. It was so cool. We saw Kermit and Bert and Ernie, the real deal! We also saw some Fraggle Rock characters. This being a show on cable, I was not familiar with it since my parents didn't get cable until I went to college. Mark was really into it. The exhibit overall was very interesting and charted his career from the 1960's to his death. The sketches and early puppets were fun to see but the highlight was definitely the stuff we recognized. They had a good play area for kids and I asked Mark if he wanted to put faces on the monsters or play in the puppet theater but he didn't. It was a very small exhibit and we finished much earlier than planned. In fact, in that crazy underground gallery it took longer to find an exit than to see the exhibit. We ended up wandering in the Freer Gallery before seeing light and exit doors! Mark said he would hate to see what happened in an emergency.

Next we headed up to Dupont Circle to visit the Phillips Collection because I wanted to see the Jacob Lawrence exhibit. I am very interested in the Harlem Renaissance and had first read about him through that. Then I did see the traveling exhibit of the incomplete migration series at the Frist Center in Nashville and loved the connection between art and history to tell a story. I read this article about the exhibit and saw that the series would be shown complete which seemed like something I couldn't miss. It was awesome. The paintings are small but each have a caption that tell the story of the Great Migration in 60 parts. I had to keep going back to some to look at details and listen to the cell phone tour to hear the artist speak. So, I loved it but it also didn't take as long as we thought.

After checking out the rest of the Phillips we decided to wonder over to the neighborhood of the restaurant and see if there was a book store or something since we had almost 3 hours to kill. What we discovered was the Regal Gallery Place-Chinatown. 2 hours in the air conditioning with a bottle of water was perfect. We saw The Mummy, Dragon Emperor, it wasn't as bad as everyone says. I liked it better than Indiana Jones, Crystal Skulls (aliens, really? ugh.) And it had Brendan Fraser, he's on my list.

Dinner at Zayntinya was very good. Not quite as awesome as I remembered but very very tasty. Especially the eggplant and the stuffed grape leaves.

Then we drove home and got in at exactly 10:00 p.m., as we walked through the door Mark exclaimed - "Quick, turn it on, we're just in time for the Two Coreys!" I was glad to be home.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

11th Anniversary

This Saturday is our 11th anniversary. I cannot believe it has been 11 freakin' years that I have been married. I am certainly
NOT THAT OLD! I got my hair cut last week and Mark called while I was there. The very sweet, young lady cutting my hair asked if that was my boyfriend. I was actually confused, like I haven't heard "boyfriend" in awhile, y'all. No, I said, my husband. She asked how long we have been married and was shocked when I said 11 years. I think really she was looking for a good tip but I was flattered that she thought (or pretended to think) I was much younger.

I can't say they have been 11 straight blissful years, but I can say that once we stopped trying to change each other, things have been a whole lot of fun. We were laughing recently about some of our old hang-ups. We had huge fights about stupid things like curtains. I wanted him to be the kind of guy that cared about curtains and he wanted me to be the kind of girl that didn't care. Can you imagine? This from a man who's dream of life as an adult included a loft apartment with a b ale of wire as a coffee table. Well, now I just choose the damn curtains and put them up myself. Live with it. Also live with the fact that we will NEVER have a baled wire coffee table.

I used to pretend to like more things but that didn't last. I tried really hard to love comics since he collects them and draws them but I could never do it. Mark always makes me give the thumbs up or down on on the comics he buys every month. I choose randomly based on the cover art and rarely give more than a half thumbs up. The only artist I really like is James Kochalka, and even then its just his American Elf stuff. But I do love that because it is autobiographical and he and his wife remind me of us. Like in this one.

We have completely different taste in movies, books and TV. He likes to say "if there's crap on TV you will find it" but he seems to find every episode of Murder She Wrote or Matlock on, every time. He has the same taste in TV (and movies,comics,video games) as an 80-year old man or a 12-year old boy so I think my slight addiction to reality TV and E! is better or at least equally lame. And sometimes he pretends to hate what I watch but secretly loves it. The latest example of this is the awesome new show, The Two Coreys (don't pretend you don't love it too).
What we have in common is politics, values, being introverts, humor and food. We love to find new restaurants, try new beer and wine, email each other political stories, crack jokes and make up stories about our cat(s). In fact, I was recently watching High School Musical: Get in the Picture! and was slightly embarrassed when Mark came in the room (it really was a new low, even for me) so I said I wouldn't be watching but Miss Gimp insisted; she has a crush on Nick Lachey. Mark took offense at this and exclaimed that she does not, she loves Sexy Shemar Moore
(we can't say Shemar Moore in our house without the Sexy in front, its a rule). I said that yes, definitely, he is in her top 10. Miss Gimp has not disclosed her other top 8 choices.
So, as we head on into middle age and I still think in the summer of 1997 I made a very good decision and I can't imagine any other life. But I can imagine more money, not working, traveling the world or many, many other fabulous additions to my quite adequate existence.

Happy Anniversary, sweety.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Farm update

People have been asking about our farm share and how its working out. We love getting all the produce and we have tested many new recipes to use it all up. For a while we were getting peas, and by peas I mean like TONS of peas. I put them in omelets, stir fry, salads and mixed with any veggie we happened to eat that night. Now we seem to be well into greens. Salad greens, swiss chard, and kale. By kale I mean TONS of kale.

The salad greens are great because I take salad to work and we eat a lot of salad with dinner or for dinner. In the picture above we tossed the farm greens with NJ tomatoes from Mom and Dad and organic carrots, radishes and onions from Wegman's. So far we are keeping up with the supply. The swiss chard was enough for one meal and I found a great recipe from the Cafe Flora cookbook my brother gave me. The yummy lemon dressing also called for garlic, which we have from the farm too! I love garlic, maybe too much and refuse to use garlic powder so getting fresh garlic bulbs is awesome. The chard was so good I would definitely make it again.

Kale is another story, It's not my favorite. Mark loves it so there's something I guess. We are getting kale in large quantities, 3 bunches last trip! I had to look up recipes that I would want to eat, it took some time. I found two great options, made one last week and one this week. Last week it was Colcannon from the Vegan Yum Yum blog (which I have on my rss feed and LOVE). I used Boca meatless sausage instead of the seitan because it was easier. Didn't taste the kale really at all so it was a hit.

This week it was Kale and Sun Dried Tomato Hummus also from Vegan Yum Yum. OMG y'all! It was delicious! We ate it with the salad above and the leftovers we ate with crackers the next day. I could eat that every day.

Well, we have one bunch of kale left and its almost time to go back to the farm so I guess I need to get back to recipe hunting.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I make things. It's kinda amazing. As you know
I now own a sewing machine. After staring at it and sometimes circling it in an attempt to determine whether it would bite, I actually got it up and running. The first thing I did was hem a skirt, then I made a really ugly, misshapen toy snake for baby Haywood and then I made this purse, another purse, a skirt and altered a blazer. How's that for crafting?

My past sewing experience was sketchy at best. Mom had an ancient machine that I used in Junior High. I took a class at the local fabric store and made a pair of palm tree print boxers. I tried to use my new skills on Mom's machine to make a dress but I gave up and Mom had to finish it. In high school my friend designed his own prom outfit but couldn't sew. I volunteered. Mom remembers coming home to see this massive mistake in progress and biting her tongue. I remember fighting with my friend as he screams "I thought you said you knew how to sew!!!" When I told Mark the story he said it reminded him of "that episode of the Cosby Show" I think you know the one.

Hence the trepidation. But, I discovered that I remember the basics and can actually finish projects. It's fun. The purse above was made using a free online pattern from Ric Rac and fabric I bought online at ReproDepot for my birthday. It took me more than an hour but I am a novice. I modified the instructions as I went along and lengthened the strap to be able to wear it hands-free. I liked it so much I made a second one the very next weekend.

This skirt is something I made for weekends in the summer and especially for my Disney World Vacation in August. Its comfy with an elastic waistband. Many of my blogs have been buzzing about using old bed sheets from thrift stores as fabric for sewing. I had wanted to try that. Then I saw this on the CRAFT blog and it was perfect. I went to Goodwill and purchased a twin bed sheet. It's green and white cotton with an eyelet trim. I loved the detail for the hem. I also loved the fact that it was the last Saturday of the month and that meant everything was 50% off! So this sheet was $.60, for reals.

In between sewing projects I joined BurdaStyle and posted the pictures. I think I want to make the Charlie Bag from Burda next.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I Ruled the School

.....In my mind.

I have been thinking about high school often lately (Rochester Adams High, class of 1992), things keep reminding me of it. The graduation announcements I received in the mail started it, I think. Then my friend Kristin emailed me about a song we loved in school

for the record: Maryn Cadell

To top it off my other friend Kristen's birthday is July 2 so I have been thinking about her and weaving some craft magic for her amusement, which will be late, as always, because that's who I am and I can't change. Happy Birthday Kristen!!!

So, these two girls were and are the best friends a gal could have and we had fun in high school. I was new to Michigan and came from a truly awful junior high experience so it was nice to find people that really got me and supported me and I hope I did that for them, too. Trips to Royal Oak, scouting costumes for plays from area flea markets, camping, and everything else we did while trying to be as grown up as possible.

I was thinking today about other music I loved in high school and came up with this list:

Violent Femmes
Jane's Addiction
The Cure
The Smiths
Primus (jerry was a race car driver)
They Might Be Giants
Senior Year: James Taylor and Carol King over and over again

I googled top hits of 1990 and 1991 and got a list of crap I never even considered listening to.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Art

In honor of Steve's visit we finally got some art framed (it only took 21 months!). Mark was laughing at me because I spent a whole week obsessively cleaning for our guest and decided the blank wall above the couch would not do for his visit. So I took it to Michael's 60% off framing sale. This print is from our friend Bryce in Nashville. His studio is Isle of Printing you may have seen his website on this blog. We have 3 of his prints but are waiting to frame the other two.

We are very particular about art, since Mark is an artists and we both have strong opinions. We have some of Mark's art on the walls of course and a piece from our friend Jeff Coleman. We also have a print from Michael McBride, a Nashville artist. In Nashville, We spent much of our time researching local history and understanding southern culture and for us, this is a powerful series we just fell in love with.

Money may be tight but art is important. Finding local artists and meaningful pieces helps us to create a home. Speaking of, I missed the Pile O' Craft last Saturday which made me very sad but luckily the vendors are available on Etsy so I can shop anytime. Someday soon we should get some Baltimore art for our collection.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I'm Back!

Cable was out for several days, apartment living is fun! Some yahoo unhooked our connection because it didn't have a tag to prove it was legal. Also fun - waking up at 3am on a Wednesday because someone is having a super fun party! PAAARTY, good times.

Steve came to visit last weekend and I got to show him around town. I am actually excited to show people around Baltimore, It's cool and there is a lot to see. I never felt this way about Nashville, and I guess people agreed because very few people visited us there. Steve came to work Friday the 13th. We saw Edgar Allen Poe's grave and he got a bite to eat at Lexington Market which is an experience in itself.

Saturday we ate breakfast at our favorite brunch spot, Paper Moon Diner Near Hopkins University and the Charles Village neighborhood. Then we stopped by the farm to pick up our produce and headed to the train to visit Hampden for Honfest. Well, Honfest was not as exciting as we thought, not too many people actually dressed up and it seemed more like your average arts and craft fair which can be fun but not in 93 degrees and high humidity. We tried to find a place to get a beer that was inside but it was too crowded. So, we got back on the train and headed to our favorite pub, The Wharf Rat near the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards. The pub was filled with Orioles fans because it was a game day. It was cool and the beer was good and we had a fun time talking. After the pub it was time for dinner so we went to Mt. Vernon to our favorite place, Helmand, mentioned earlier on this blog. We almost didn't make it because it decided to rain, pouring rain and we had only one umbrella. Luckily it was Baltimore rain so it only lasted about 10 minutes.

It was a lot to see in a day, but a day was all he had. It was fun hangin' with my brother and exploring the city. If it sounds like fun to you, visit anytime!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Since I started this blog I have been tracking my readers which can get to be a little obsessive. It has confirmed my suspicion that they are all friends and family. So, thank you and hello again! I am right now only posting about once a week because of time and topic ideas. To tell you the truth there isn't much going on that might be of interest to you or anyone. Topic ideas are always welcome.

When I was thinking about what to write this week, I realized I have never fully explained what I do for a living. This would be a good week to do that. I sometimes share some articles on the Reader about my field, museum work, and you can see several now like The Salary Conundrum
Non Profit Leaders
Are Boards Failing Their Historic Sites

As a museum educator my job is to connect the visitor with the museum. This is usually done by translating the content of the museum (history, science, etc.) into exhibits, programs and field trips. As an administrator in museum education I have additional duties including managing staff, budgets and long-term plans. The size of the staff, budget and plans usually is in proportion to the size of the museum. I am currently working at a relatively small museum but with a national focus so it is further reaching than most small museums. We count traveling exhibits and on-line programs as part of what we do for visitors.

I began my week on Monday traveling on the Marc train to DC ($14 round trip, a deal) to attend the Smithsonian Affiliates conference. The conference was from Sunday to Tuesday but I only went on Monday. I attended a couple of sessions on planning programs and spoke with several people from Ohio, Montana, Arizona and other states. I also marketed our traveling exhibits as is my duty. After creating exhibits to travel across the country we have to sell these exhibits and we have to reach our income goals for these exhibits each year. I made some contacts I can use in one of my new projects which also makes my job easier. It was a long day but I love visiting DC and only wish I had time to see some museums. Speaking of, you do not want to visit museums with me (see Gettysburg post). I will pick it apart, especially if they have a guided tour. I can't help it, its what I do. And as a museum guide, when I see those museum professionals coming, I cringe.

Tuesday, I couldn't even concentrate because Obama was going to win the nomination and I couldn't wait. We were glued to the TV all evening for the returns and the speech. At one point I was on my computer and watching TV to get all the info available. The speech was truly amazing and exciting and when the Obamas did the "Dap" Mark exclaimed "Hey, that's what we do" and its true, we do that all the time. But apparently some people didn't like it. Speaking of museums, this brings up another interesting recent article, Museums: A Hotbed of Liberalism?

On Wednesday I gave some tours, as I do many days a week. We have volunteers sometimes but it often falls to me to help out here too. I really love giving tours, more now that I no longer have to wear an 1860's dress and corset to do it. Tours really depend on the teacher and the group so you never know if they will be good or really, really awful. As an administrator, I like getting feedback on the exhibits and the tour experience. It makes me a better advocate for visitors during the exhibit planning process and program planning. I also just love connecting with the kids, inspiring them and teaching them. It gets me out of my office, away from my computer and on my feet which is a nice change in the day.

On Thursday I was back on the Marc train to the Girl Scouts of the Nation's Capitol headquarters for a vendor thank-you luncheon. This was important for me because we have a well established Girl Scout program and Girl Scout USA is undergoing some major changes to their mission and vision which will affect our current and new programs. I heard about all the changes, dropped off some current program info and talked with other museums about what they do for GS. This helps me to understand how our programs stack up, do we charge too much? Is the program too long? I had so many ideas in my head when I left I had to write a lot of notes.

I ended the week up against some deadlines for our Board of Visitors annual meeting next week. Once a year we have a weekend meeting/celebration for our BOV, volunteers from all over the country. We plan a party for them and try to open a new exhibit that weekend. So I had final details for exhibits to work out (only a week in advance, totally stressful!) and help to finalize party details like favors and entertainment.

As often happens, the week didn't end on Friday because we scheduled an outreach opportunity on Saturday at a local fair. We had a booth to provide an activity for kids and give out information to families to visit the museum. I worked the booth for 3 hours in the afternoon in 97 degree temperatures! Also my car doesn't have air conditioning and I didn't drink enough water so I got a headache and was very sweaty. Yuck.

We picked up our second week of CSA produce after I got home. We received more oregano, strawberries and asparagus and also received 2 kinds of peas. Yum!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

first CSA share

first CSA share, originally uploaded by bethjc.

We picked up our first real share from the Cromwell Valley CSA. Two weeks ago we did get a share of asparagus but that was not really official.

It was pouring rain but we managed. We received strawberries, lettuce, asparagus, garlic scapes, rosemary and sage. We immediately decided to make strawberry shortcake for after dinner and it was delicious! We are going to use the garlic scapes with pasta tomorrow. I have never cooked with them so we will see what happens.

We are really excited about this and I want to thank everyone who has written to me about their own local food experiments. I have two friends with some really great looking gardens, This is still beyond my abilities. I will stick with the community farm.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Funny Pictures from Gettysburg

OK - so they did have a great exhibit but they also had some quirky stuff. The visitor center was quite large and I can imagine the endless staff meetings:
"So we have most of the space filled but there is this one corner we have to fill, any thoughts?"
"Um, I guess we could do battle photos in 3-D"
"Kids love 3-D"
"That's true""Put on the 3D Glasses and see for yourself!" Um, ok.

In addition to the visitor center we went to the Eisenhower Farm. We had to take a bus up to the farm and as we were waiting to go I noticed this:

Body Fluid
Cleanup Kit

I am thinking they don't pay the bus drivers enough.

The bus back did not have this kit on board, is that good or bad?


I have been a little behind in my posting lately due to illness and lazy-ness. I meant to write about my Gettysburg weekend when it happened several weeks ago but it seems appropriate for Memorial Day.

Gettysburg is an hour from us, which is kinda amazing to think about. We took a family trip to DC, Williamsburg and Gettysburg when I was 16 (in fact my 16th b-day was at Williamsburg) but hadn't seen it since then. Mom chose the location because it was her b-day/Mother's day weekend. I was actually excited because I am a history nerd and they just opened the new visitor center.

I was prepared to be less than impressed because Civil War history is often poorly interpreted and utilized too often for political purposes, especially among reenactors. And, yes, the town of Gettysburg is filled with tourist traps, bad costume shops and many, many reenactors.

But, the exhibit in the visitor center was very well done. They took the time to put the Civil War in the context of America in the 19th century. They positioned the Gettysburg battle in the context of the war. They did a great job of incorporating artifacts, videos and computer stations to tell a complex story. And most importantly, the story was told from multiple perspectives including all of the country's citizens (and those not considered citizens), explaining who America was in 1860. Too often, If minorities or women are present in Civil War exhibits they are usually slapped on as an afterthought, but here they are part of the fabric of the tale, from the beginning.
Especially interesting was the story of the town and people of Gettysburg and what happened to them when the soldiers marched in.

At the end of the exhibit they left room to interpret the Gettysburg Address
The famous speech is universally acclaimed today but all critics did not agree in 1863. This picture shows quotes from papers across the country reacting to the speech. The exhibit ended with a video of the legacy of the Civil War, what it accomplished, what it didn't and what it still means to Americans.

As a museum educator I was encouraged by the choices here. To tell the story in context, to encourage visitors to think about what America was, how we experienced this war and what came of it is the most important lesson. While I overheard a bus driver complaining about the lack of artifacts in the new space, I disagree. Artifacts were used to illustrate the story (and did this beautifully), not to be the story. History nerds get too excited about actual artifacts when the real story is history itself. But the artifacts were cool.

See more pictures here

Monday, May 19, 2008

me, 2013

Cupcake and Unicorn, originally uploaded by cakespy.

I have been in a NyQuil fog for over a week and have been a bit behind in my googlereader so forgive my late awareness of this lovely gem from the esteemed Senator McCain. His dreamy avoidance of current affairs has led me to dream of my own "2013" The NyQuil also helps with this....

I live in a beautiful 16th century chateau right here in beautiful Maryland that I rehabbed myself after inheriting a fortune from my late distant relative I never knew existed. This paid off my debt and allowed me to quit my job too. I used some of the money to purchase a Unicorn (what? they don't exist? That horn is really a Narwhal tooth?) Not True! I found it on one of my recent visits to the past in my personal Time Machine. Don't believe everything you read in the history books.

Where's Mark you ask? Well, he no longer has a corporeal form ever since the Singularity.

Oh, John, you crazy cat.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Appetizing Applesauce Muffins

Appetizing Applesauce Muffins, originally uploaded by bethjc.

Thought I would share one of my favorite recipes. I make it on weekends when I am in the mood for brunch. We always seem to have applesauce in the house. I copied the recipe out of TEEN magazine in 1986. I had a subscription to Seventeen but often bought Teen and sometimes bought Sassy. I always wanted to be the girl who read Sassy but somehow it scared me a little, was a little too rebellious.

Appetizing Applesauce Muffins

1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup applesauce
1 egg beaten
3/4 cup milk

NOTE: because Mark doesn't eat dairy products I substitute shortening for butter and soy milk, rice milk or water for the milk.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift baking powder, salt, flour, cinnamon and sugar together.

Add butter, applesauce, milk and egg. Stir until moistened.

Fill paper-lined muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes. Makes 12. Sprinkle cinnamon on top of muffins before serving.

Monday, April 28, 2008

I Forgot - I Hate Nature

I really do. I mean, I like the idea of nature and I understand the importance of nature for earth's survival and my survival. I even support the efforts to teach others about the importance of nature. But I don't like actual nature, on me, near me, around me.

I used to enjoy it, I loved to walk in the woods as a kid. I remember walking through the wooded part around McCleary with my Grandpa and asking all sorts of questions. I remember finding trails in Omak with my cousins. I even liked it so much I thought I might want to spend my career in nature and with history, doing archaeology. Then I actually did join a crew and I learned about ticks. Ticks are pretty much the reason I hate nature. Ticks and chiggers and any sort of biting bugs. I survived the 4 week assignment in VA with the help of my assigned partner who graciously walked in front of me as we cut our way through the woods with machetes. He claimed he would collect all of the ticks and I would be safe. I guess it worked mostly but I sometimes found them later in my clothes.

In all my excitement about Community Supported Agriculture I forgot that it involved nature. We decided to join the local CSA (for all my history friends this of course does not stand for Confederate States of America, see above). Our orientation was this past Saturday. In fact, this weekend we received 3 invitations which is like a record for us. I was excited to see the farm and meet all of the like-minded people. It was a potluck and we had to bring our own plates, utensils and drinks. This is challenging because, what do you do with the dirty dishes? What do you bring? I had frightening visions of people judging my plastic containers or non-organic food and I became paralyzed with indecision on what to bring. In the end we brought cookies, in a plastic Ziploc bag, because I couldn't take the pressure.

The farm is beautiful, acres of land surrounding a picturesque stone house. I wanted to show you a picture but forgot the camera. On the tour we hiked through the farm and it was dirty and hot and I could feel the creepy crawlies. I was so freaked out I could hardly pay attention. They require a number of work hours to help with the farm and the thought of 7 hours out there made me want to scream. They announced that you could also use your hours serving on the board or teaching cooking classes or writing grants. I have grant writing experience, I can write grants, I totally signed up. Mark said writing a grant would take more than 7 hours but I said 20 hours grant writing is better than 7 hours hard farm labor. Because I Hate Nature, remember?

Well, back home Saturday night and guess what? I found a tick. It's really remarkable there was only one between the two of us and it hadn't started biting. But one is enough.

FYI this is also why I never owned a dog, dogs need to be walked. They prefer Nature.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Happy Birthday Stevie Marshmallow!

canyon2, originally uploaded by bethjc.

Yesterday was my Birthday but my older brother was born on the 19th exactly 3 years earlier.

While my birth cramped his style a bit, I always thought he was the coolest. He influenced my style choices and my music choices. He protected and helped me.

We conspired to annoy our mother with running commentary on all television programs and even some church services. He was really good at it and always cracked me up.

In junior high when my favorite band came to town (Duran Duran!!!) I tried to organize a groups of friends to go but it fell through. He made sure I had tickets and got to go with him and his friends. When I found out my "friends" were going, just not with me, my brother and his friends made me feel like I was still a cool chick. And it was an awesome concert.

He was my support when we both moved to Michigan and didn't know anyone. Then when I did have friends and he got his own apartment he even hosted my prom after party which of course gave me points for coolness.

I came to love the Smiths, the Cure, and New Wave because of him and therefore mostly avoided the pop Hell that was the 1980's.

He is very funny and smart and I love him.

Happy Birthday, Yo.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I feel I should do another craft update for y'all but the truth is there is nothing to update. I did FINALLY set up my sewing machine, make a bobbin and thread the needle. It only took me 2 months. I made a fast draw string bag to test it out with my black thread and recycled ivory sheet from my fabric bag. It works and I do remember how to sew. Just don't ask to see the bag.

I have been taking a craft brake to read more and watch the entire first season of "The Riches" on DVD from netflix. Also have been hooked on "The Tudors" and "John Adams". That shouldn't take so much time except for the fact that I am a history nerd so I become engrossed in the real history of England and America and each episode requires large amounts of research mostly on Wikipedia or in the books on our shelves. Reading World Without End also doesn't help because now I have to look up both Medieval and Tudor history. I learned all about the Black Plague today. There's a conversation starter.

Speaking of American history, at work today I had a conversation about George Washington with the visiting second graders from Cecil Elementary. After learning that the Leap Frog can in fact give you the names of ALL the U.S. presidents, one student asked if I knew who the NEXT president will be. I said I didn't because we haven't voted yet but wouldn't it be great if I did know? The students seemed to know because they all began to shout, "I do, OBAMA!!!!" Bless them.

Anyway, because of my current lack of craft mojo I thought I would share with you some of the projects starred on my google reader to perhaps try at a later date. So far there is enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life, if only I didn't have to work.

Clothing crafts: update a vintage cardigan Like this one or perhaps a keyhole sweater. This reversible wrap skirt would be great for summer.

Bags: I love bags and I have a whole bunch of patterns to try, Here, or this fast bag or these.

Home Goods: oilcloth placemats, ironing board cover, tin can organizers , laundry soap or green cleaning kit

Or I could just create public space art like this or this

And I am closely following the crafting world boxing match of Indie Craft vs. the Establishment and you can too at Crafting a Green World or Extreme Craft

Tomorrow (or today?) is my Birthday so I may post more later.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Heart Google Reader

OK - I can be stubborn, especially when it comes to things my husband recommends. It's true, and I don't know why, except to say that it helps me to hold on to a sense of individuality. That sounds crazy and stupid as I write it but I guess it is what it is. This is why, even though he has used Google Reader since it was first launched, I have only just begun. Now I wonder why I waited so long, because, seriously, this is like the coolest thing ever! I love it so much I feel like I am now part of a weird cult, focused on converting the world. But I promise not to go live in a cave like these people or visit a Scientology Celebrity Center. I did, however, make my parents sign up for it when they visited recently if only so I can stop emailing them updates to this blog. Hi Mom and Dad!

By the way, Mark is a total tech whiz and if you have any kind of question about what you can do online he is the guy to ask. This is weird since he used to hate computers but I guess we all can change. I have a game I play to try and find something before he knows about it but it hasn't happened yet!

Why do I love the google reader? It makes my life soo much easier and if I had friends I could dazzle them with my current events knowledge. Basically, instead of having to go to each blog or news site I like every day to see if they have anything new, all of that information comes to me, in one place and I can scan down to see whats new. I like blogs (as you can tell) and I even know several people personally who have a blog in addition to the many blogs of strangers that I read. Some update daily, some once a week and some once a month but now I can see it as soon as its posted! I also subscribe to several mainstream and not so mainstream media sites like Slate, New York Times and of course, People Magazine. All together I have 44 subscription in 5 self-made categories (cooking, crafts, news, people, museum stuff) and I read about 200 headlines a day. I only read about half of those actual posts and even then often skim the contents but this way I know I am not missing anything. I can star my favorite posts for reference later, email them or share them on my blog, which you can see on the lower left side. The cooking sites are great for saving recipes and making grocery lists. I only share recipes we have tried and love in case you are interested (The Dublin Coddle was awesome and the Coconut, Corn and Black Bean soup is so good we've made it several times including tonight!).

I used to have a podcast obsession but my computer is slow and itunes always has to update software so every time I wanted to load up my ipod it took a gazillion hours and was impossible to use my computer for anything else. I still like pod casts but don't update weekly like I used to. They were great for the commute. If you are still not convince, check out this video RSS in plain english

Also new is my Wishpot widget which is really just fun for me to look at, I know you don't care about what stuff I want. Wishpot is an online registry but you can pull from any store on the web! I love my Amazon wish list but this is better. Mostly I save things I will eventually buy so I know where to find them again.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

History, Democracy & the Human Experience

Why is history important? In what ways is it useful? As a public historian and museum professional, I ask these questions constantly. History is often so poorly taught in our schools that whole generations of Americans grow up thinking it is inconsequential. These same citizens later make value judgements regarding education policy, exacerbating the problem. According to a new study commissioned by Common Core, teenagers know less about history than they did 20 years ago. This is in large part due to the poisonous influence of the ill-conceived and much-despised No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The best critical analysis of NCLB I have read is this speech by past Bank Street president Dr. Augusta Kappner (be warned, the link is a PDF).


The study of history often brings a sense of familiarity, sometimes eerily so. History can demonstrate the consequences of policy decisions - the effects of both strong leadership in times of need and horrifying repression of cultural groups. We gain courage, understanding and compassion from history as we are reminded of the human experience. The lessons found in one's own country of origin are especially useful, because the effects of local and national history can be felt everyday, by every citizen. We need only look to Senator Obama's recent speech to know the truth of that. While some were undoubtedly surprised by this speech, I have been in the center of the storm and know the truth of it. I spent 8 years as a public historian and educator at a plantation museum in the South. I have heard it all.

It is important to learn the whole of history - the good, the bad and the ugly - because it is through understanding the bigger picture that we can find meaning in our own experiences. Patriotism is not believing that everything America does is right and true; patriotism is taking responsibility for your country, both the past and the present, and striving to make it live up to its ideals. It is only by knowing how far we have come that we can draw inspiration for the hard work ahead. By studying the heroic, yet complicated leadership of the past, we can recognize it's equivalent in the present. We are living history and our stories will be studied (one hopes) by future generations. The past is the present is the future.

It is unfortunate that many historic sites have yet to truly realize why history is important. The National Trust Historic Sites weblog touches on this with two recent posts on attendance and relevance . Too often we are mired in the details of "period accurate" room settings, costumes and impressions. We endlessly debate minutiae (can you believe they let their tour guides wear tennis shoes with those costumes?), and yet completely miss the point of why this immersive experience is helpful. Verisimilitude is helpful because it provides context for history; it helps people to understand that humans lived in this environment, with this set of experiences; they shaped and were shaped by these specific cultural norms and issues. You cannot separate a person from their influences, and museums do best when they complete the picture of history by showing those influences clearly. While I could write a book on how we get it wrong, I prefer to list all of the ways we get it right, to inspire all of us to do better and to be better.

The PAPER CLIPS Project at Whitewell Middle School in Whitewell, TN

The most exciting thing about this project was the ways in which lessons of the Holocaust changed an entire community's perception of cultural diversity. This truly exemplifies the promise of history. The link above is to the website for the documentary, which I highly recommend.


I've visited this museum several times and it truly illustrates the power of place, and is perhaps the best current example of how to effectively immerse visitors in history. You can feel the immigrant experience. The staff here are masters in the art of connecting the past with the present as fully participating members of the present surrounding community. They foster discussions of American immigration policy within the context of where we have been and where we are going. LESTM is also a founding member of the International Coalition of Historic Sites of Conscience.


Facing History and Ourselves is not exactly a museum, although it does have traveling exhibits. It is more involved in working with teachers in history classrooms. It adeptly combines history with the human experience and works globally. You can read about their mission and values here.


This is an oral history organization with an understanding that the present becomes the past. They collect stories of average Americans to be placed in the Library of Congress and used for study by future historians. These recordings reflect the state of Americans today and record some truly historic moments like the stories of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina. These stories are fascinating not only for their historical importance, but also for the window they provide into the human experience - relationships, struggles and triumphs. Anyone can record a story, usually friends and family go together and interview one another. There are several traveling stations; you can see the city schedule on their website.


In particular, I find two PBS programs to be fascinating examples of how to make history interesting and personal, and also how our myths of history can sometimes be as important to us as our truths. History Detectives shows the powerful connection between objects and history, and African American Lives explores the convergence of genealogy, science and history.

As you make history every day, what can you learn about the connection between past and present?
How can we collectively come to value the study of history in a way that is meaningful?