Monday, December 5, 2011

Fresh pomegranates in season

Let's start this post with a little two-question poll:

1. Have you ever bought, opened, and eaten a fresh pomegranate?
a. Yes
b. No
c. Maybe, but I'm so consumed with holiday stress that I can't remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

2. If you have at least attempted to open and eat a fresh pomegranate, did you think it was (multiple answers are allowed):
a. Interesting, fun, intriguing
b. Tasty
c. More work than it was worth
d. A mess that left me and/or my kitchen covered in red juice
e. Too intimidating; it went bad before I got to it

Until last year, I would have answered B to number one and E to number two. Then, after watching an inspiring episode (as I find so many to be!) of Alton Brown's Good Eats, I braved the task of opening this mysterious red fruit and was hooked.

Many people just associate pomegranates with the curvy bottles of juice on the grocery shelf but have never had fresh arils (unless perhaps they came atop a fancy dish at a fancy restaurant). I was talking to a desk-neighbor at work one day last week, and she offhandedly mentioned that she doesn't like fresh pomegranates and finds them to be more work than they're worth.

Here's my trick: I buy multiples at a time (usually about three), spend a few minutes opening all of them up at once, then store the separated arils in the fridge for easy access. Stored in an airtight container with a damp paper towel on top, the arils will keep for several weeks.

You can juice them and make your own fresh pomegranate juice (I haven't taken it that far), cook with them (haven't honestly done that yet, either), or just enjoy them in their delicious fresh state. My favorite ways to use them involve sprinkling handfuls on:
- Salads
- Coleslaw
- Greek yogurt
- Ice cream

If you've never tried a fresh pomegranate before, do it! They're in season now and can be easily found at your neighborhood grocery store.

If you have tried them, what did you think? What are your favorite ways to use or eat them?

Monday, November 21, 2011

New items in my Etsy shop!

Great gifts for the sewing, knitting and crocheting fanatics on your list

It takes a long time for me to get a new item to the point where I'm ready to launch it, because I want to plan everything correctly and make sure it's perfect before the baby bird leaves the nest. Because of that, it's incredibly exciting when I get to the point where it's ready!

The idea for these two new items started more than three years ago. If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you've probably noticed that I have an incredibly talented mom. She sews. She knits. She crochets. She cooks. You name it, the woman can do it—or teach herself how—and it's awe-inspiring.

She's been sewing and crocheting since she was a kid, and she taught herself to knit several years ago. These hobbies aren't just a passing fad in her life, either—they've become ways for her to make unique hand-made gifts for friends and family every year.

That adds up to a lot of projects over time!

Because of that, when everyone's birthdays rolled around, or the holidays approached, she had to spend time racking her brain to remember what she made for them the year before, three years ago, five years ago... not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination.

So, three years ago for Christmas, I made her a journal that she could use to keep track of her sewing projects. I used one of my photos for the front, created lined pages for project information inside, and bound the journal myself.

She loved it! As soon as all the gifts under the tree had been opened and the bits of flying ribbon and paper settled to the floor, she started logging her recent projects. It's become an invaluable resource for her.

She needed the same thing for her knitting projects, too, so I made a similar journal—but with different, specialized lines inside—for her for Christmas last year.

All her crafty friends started asking for them, and that brings me to today!

When you visit my Etsy shop now, you'll find a sewing project journal featuring this photo on the front and back cover:
And a journal for knitting and crocheting projects with this photo on the covers:
Both of which have pages inside with room for 64 different projects. If you (or the sewer, knitter, or crocheter on your list) make one new item a week for a year, there's still some extra room for more!

A journal like this becomes a scrapbook, a resource, and a place to recognize accomplishments. Heck, you could even consider it stress relief!

I'm so excited to have these ready for you now. These two journals have been in development for a long time, and I know they'll be something you or the crafty person on your list will really love.

Visit my Etsy shop to see both the sewing and knitting / crocheting project journals in more detail (with more photos of each).

Happy holiday shopping!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interesting stories from the life science industry

I went to the Indiana Life Sciences Summit a couple weeks ago for work, and the keynote speaker shared some really interesting stories about what's new and exciting in the industry.

I wrote a blog post about it for the company blog, and you can check it out there. Then come back and let me know what stories you found most intriguing or exciting (or scary or disturbing, if you want to go that route)!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Seven of my favorite websites

After a big week and bigger weekend, I'm on vacation this week (picture me throwing my hands up in the air with a big grin on my face). This vacation is as much stay-cation as anything, and I love that. Sometimes it's great to just have some extra time to catch up with your to-do list and take it easy!

While I have the chance to sit at home in my cozy wool slippers, I want to share with you some of my favorite websites that in many ways offer a mental vacation of their own.

Let's start with some shopping sites, which is especially relevant now that we've passed Halloween and all the retailers have officially pushed us into the holiday shopping season.

Unique. Thoughtful. Inspired. Independent. If these are qualities you like in a gift (whether it's a gift for yourself or for a friend), then you need to be shopping at Etsy. Etsy calls itself "the world's handmade marketplace," and its mission is "to empower people to change the way the global economy works."

Etsy is an online community of independent sellers who make or sell unique handmade or vintage items and supplies. It offers people like me a chance to set up an online shop with very little initial investment but reach a global audience. Not only that, but it's an amazing community, as well—sellers actively discuss business topics and share insight and experience with their fellow Etsians from around the world.

Shop by keyword search, categories, color, curated treasuries of related items, and even by geographic area—so you can find sellers in your own community. And that's the very best way to support your local economy. Shopping on Etsy will remind you of how nice a "personal touch" really is.  

On the flip side, I also love some big, huge retailers. Call that what you will, but I do believe we can have the best of both worlds!

When it comes to shopping online for shoes, bags, and even clothing, it's hard to beat Zappos. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better selection of brands and products, but even with such a large quantity of items, the site is clean and easy to navigate. My favorite part: free shipping both ways. So forget the challenges of buying shoes online, knowing that you have to try them on. Read the customer reviews, order a couple sizes of the same pair, try them on at home, then return the ones that don't fit.

And if you ever have an issue, Zappos is known for its top-notch customer service, and I can personally attest to it. It won't feel like you're dealing with a faceless monster retailer.

Let's change gears, and I'll share some sites that help with organization and productivity.

Dropbox is a simple site that acts like a virtual USB drive. Create a free account, and you get an online storage space for files, and you don't have to tote around a USB drive or disc. If you're like me, and you have a computer at home and one at work, it makes accessing a file you need in both places very easy.

But that's only the beginning. Say you want to share a file with a friend (or multiple friends), but it's too large to email. Put it in your Dropbox public folder, then send them the link to the file, and they can download it.

If you have a smartphone, it gets even better, because you can download an app and access all your files from your phone, too.

Simple idea, but very handy.

Google Reader
If you follow more than a handful of blogs, then you should check out Google Reader. It makes following blogs easy, simple and organized. It tells you when a new post has been published, and you can keep up with them from one central page. I also love to use it as my own personally curated search engine, which comes in especially handy when I'm looking for a recipe or information on a particular topic.

I wrote a post last year on nine reasons why I love Google Reader—you can read more about it there.

Hootsuite is great if you have more than one social media account, i.e. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You can update your status on each network, read your friends' updates, and schedule posts ahead of time. Since I have a personal Facebook profile, a.e.miller photography Facebook page, Twitter account, LinkedIn account, and staying on top of social media is important for my job, it's been very helpful. 

Anyone who spends time searching for information online knows what Wikipedia is, but it wasn't until I heard founder Jimmy Wales speak at a recent conference that I really started appreciating it.

The site is run by a nonprofit organization, the Wikimedia Foundation, with only 70 employees—but it boasts nearly 20 million articles in 270 different languages (200 of which have at least 1,000 articles in that language). It's the fifth most popular website in the world. Its mission is to provide free access to information for everyone in their own language.

Wikipedia runs on an openly editable model that allows people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds to create and edit content. It relies on the knowledge of the community who are constantly updating it.

Wales spoke passionately about the importance of making sure people around the world, of every nationality and situation, have equal access to information. He shared this video that helps to illustrate the power of their mission.

I now feel like I appreciate the site as more than just a quick resource for information. Very inspiring.

Apple Movie Trailers
And finally, how about some pure entertainment?

I love movie trailers. I love that the best clips from each movie are set to music that often gives me goosebumps. I always make sure I get to the theater in time to catch the previews.

The Apple Movie Trailers site is a great repository of new trailers. Whenever I'm looking to just kill a few minutes of time online, this is where I go. Yes, you can find trailers on YouTube and in other places, but in the characteristic way of everything Apple, this site is cleanly designed and easy to navigate. (Do you see a common thread of organization running through the sites that I like?) It's updated regularly, so it's worth going back again and again... and again...

I'll stop there for now. But I want to hear from you: what are some of your favorite websites?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


This past weekend, I officially reached one of my life's milestones: my five-year college reunion. Time for Homecoming at Butler.

I met some girlfriends on campus on Saturday afternoon—a gorgeous October day—and we wandered around outside, checking out the scenery to see what had changed. In many ways, it was like time had frozen and we'd never stepped away. In other ways, things have changed enough that it's evident we've moved on with our lives.
This bulldog statue in front of Atherton Union (the centerpiece of thousands of Butler photos) is exactly as it was when I left. But the dedicated spaces for Zip Cars on the west side of the building were new—and I was glad to see them!
I arrived on campus while the actual football game was happening, so the areas of campus not near the football field were quiet and peaceful.
One thing hasn't changed: the boys of campus love a good game of Campus Golf. I never did get a chance to play, but it always looked fun. The rules, as I understand them, are pretty simple: using a golf club, hit a tennis ball from one end of campus to the other. There are designated "holes" along the way (sorority rocks, statues, etc.) that form the course, and you have to hit them with the tennis ball.

These guys were definitely enjoying themselves. With the Homecoming celebration in progress, they may have been having an extra amount of fun with the help of some adult beverages.
I went back to campus on Sunday afternoon for the conclusion of Butler Creates: An Alumni Art Exhibit. I participated in the inaugural year last year, and this year they selected two of my photos for the show! It's an exhibition open to all alumni, and a panel of faculty and board members chose selections from about 25 alumni to hang in Clowes Memorial Hall throughout the month of October.

On Sunday afternoon, the exhibit's finale included an artists' reception and a gallery tour, during which each artist stood with their work, and visitors were able to speak to them about it.

Mom and Grandma came by to say hello while I was there. (And Mom immediately claimed the framed magnolia photo for her house when the show was over.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Late bloomers

It's the time of year when people from miles away flock to the Midwest to see the leaves turn color in their Autumn glory.

For those of us who live in such an area that cycles through four distinct seasons, it's easy to take the change of seasons—and the arrival of fall colors—for granted. Indiana will be seeing its colors peak over the next couple of weeks.

Brown County, in particular, draws thousands of visitors each year who want to witness the change of seasons and perhaps get a start on their Christmas shopping in Nashville. There's even an online Leafcam where you can check the progress of the fall colors as often as your heart desires, from the comfort of your chair at home. also has an ever-changing map of the status of fall colors.

People are a little crazy about their fall colors!

Looking for more?

The Indiana Office of Tourism Development has a site devoted to fall activities around the state, including festivals, wineries, markets (Beasley's Orchard is highlighted, as well as one of my favorite places on the northwest side of Indy, Traders Point Creamery), and they even have a blog category devoted to fall color.

As we approach peak, I'm going to be toting my camera around. In the meantime, I caught these late-blooming flowers—a petunia above, and a rose below—that are sending us out of summer in style. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Healthy, fresh, oh-so-good apple butter

Perfect, sweet, local Cortland apples. Good enough to eat raw every single day, but as I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to try my hand at apple butter.

I'd found a recipe on one of my favorite healthy-eating blogs (Eating Bird Food, which I've mentioned here before), and it sounded so good, so fall-like, and so easy, that I had to try it.

The only part that made me a little nervous was that it called for the apples to be cooked in the crock pot for 15 hours. Fifteen?! I cross-referenced the idea in a Fix-It and Forget-It cookbook, and sure enough, all apple butter recipes called for it to be cooked for 15-18 hours. Wow! Knowing my crock pot tends to run a little hot, I was still nervous, but I put on my game face and gave it a try.

The recipe is very simple and very easy. I was especially drawn to the fact that it has no added sugar, so it's very healthy.

Healthy Homemade Apple Butter
From Eating Bird Food

10 medium-sized apples (I used Cortland. Pick a sweet variety, since there's no extra sugar.)
2 cups unsweetened apple juice (I used R.W. Knudsen's organic 100% apple juice)
1/4 cup water
1/4 apple cider vinegar
1 T cinnamon
1/2 t pure vanilla extract
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground nutmeg
pinch of sea salt

1. Place cored and sliced apples (not peeled—easy!) into a crock pot/slow cooker. (Mine's a smaller-variety crock pot.)
2. Pour juice on top of the sliced apples. Add water, vinegar, and spices. Stir all ingredients together, cover the pot, and let it cook on low for 15 hours.
3. The liquid and the apples will reduce to about 1/2 their original volume. They'll be very soft and dark. Turn the crock pot off and let it cool down for about 30 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until completely smooth.
4. Let it cool, then transfer into storage containers. My batch only made about 2 full pints of apple butter, so it's not a huge recipe. Store in the fridge for a few weeks, or freeze for later!

As I said, my crockpot is on the smaller side, so 10 apples filled it.
I started the batch at about 5:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, so it finished at 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning. It smelled wonderfully after just an hour or two, so it really started driving me crazy. I always get a little nervous about letting something cook overnight, wondering what the state of my kitchen counter will be when I wake up, and that, combined with the scent that filled the house, meant I had a really restless night of sleep. I was awake every two hours.

Thankfully, the smoke alarm never went off, everything stayed in the pot, and it turned out perfectly. (Hooray!) This is how the apples looked when I woke up:
After a quick whir in the blender, I had two pints of perfect, delicious, healthy apple butter. It's a little more tart than what you'll find in a store, but it really doesn't need any sugar added. By choosing a sweet variety of apple, it's plenty sweet on its own. 
It's so good, I have to really resist standing by the fridge and just eating it out of the jar with a spoon.
Now I'm trying to think of all the ways I can eat it. Spreading it on toast or biscuits is an easy answer. I stirred it into my hot cereal this morning, and that worked very well.

Any other suggestions? How do you like to eat apple butter?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My favorite apple orchard

Welcome to fall! One thing I always look forward to doing at this time of year is going and getting fresh apples from my favorite local orchard: Beasley's Orchard in Danville.
It was because of Beasley's that I first discovered Gala apples, and they've become my all-time favorite. This year I tried a new variety, though, and it comes in at a very close second: Cortland.

Beasley's Orchard has a market inside a Civil War-era barn, and you can smell the sweet apples and spices before you walk in the door.
They go far beyond selling apples. You'll find everything from apple and pumpkin butter to local honey, maple syrup, popcorn, pumpkins, squash, and fresh vegetables. I made a trip today and couldn't resist getting a pint of pumpkin butter with my 1/2 peck of Cortlands.
If you're looking to support a local food producer—and maybe want a little fall field trip—I highly recommend you go for a visit.

I have my first-ever batch of apple butter cooking in my crock pot as I type. I'll share the results (and the recipe, if it's good) soon!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Annual horse pull at Old Fashioned Days

Labor Day weekend for me means it's time to head west to North Salem's Old Fashioned Days. Going to this small town's annual festival has been a tradition for me since I was a kid in many ways, and attending the Sunday night horse pull is a regular activity.

For people who've never been to a horse pull, it might be hard to imagine why this kind of activity would draw a crowd. But like any good competition, it quickly sucks you in, even if you don't consider yourself a "horse person" to begin with.

You can't help but pick out a team to root for, whether it's because you know someone involved, like their story, are impressed with the team's size, or one of the horses is your favorite color. This year's story was bittersweet: One team owner's father, who's been raising these horses and participating in horse pulls for many years, passed away last month. His son is a regular attendee at this particular horse pull, so you can't help but root for him, if only to honor his dad's memory.

And wouldn't you know it, but he ended up winning in the end. His team of Belgian horses pulled 8,000 pounds to beat the other five teams for this year's victory.
The husband of Mom's horse trainer rode his horse at the beginning of the pull during the national anthem. He's one of the organizers of the event, and he served as emcee during the pull, as well. His horse—her excellent training, in particular—was what caught our attention years ago and got us involved in this particular training program. This photo is a testament to a great "stand cue" (a horse trained to stand still while her reins are placed at the base of her neck. 
This horse, Sis, is 26 years old, so she won't have many more years of carrying a rider and flag. She knew she was being called to perform this day, though. She didn't show her age at all.
Can it really be September already? It won't be long and I'll be photographing the changing leaves and fall colors! I'm not ready...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Final weekend of Symphony on the Prairie

One of my favorite things to do in Indianapolis during the summer months is venture to the northeast side, to Conner Prairie, and hear the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra play under the stars.

What exactly is it about these kinds of outdoor activities that we all seem to love? Think about it: This was the 30th year for Symphony on the Prairie, so they're obviously finding some success with their Indianapolis audience. I've chosen to spend my birthday with friends at the Indianapolis Museum of Art's Summer Nights outdoor movie series more than once. If you stroll through Broad Ripple on a nice day, you'll have a hard time snagging an outdoor table at a restaurant, but there will be plenty of open seats inside in the air conditioning.

I also know that getting to eat my lunch outside at work is a recharging experience that helps me better enjoy the afternoon.

Do you think we've always had a love of the outdoors like this, or do you think the fact that we spend increasing amounts of time indoors—often in front of one screen or another—that makes these experiences that much sweeter?

Regardless of the psychological reasons behind it, I love that we have these kinds of opportunities in central Indiana.

Last weekend was the final weekend for the Symphony's outdoor season, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy sent us all off in style.
They gave us a night full of high-energy, big-band style music that drew people immediately to the concrete patio in front of the stage to dance along. The crowd near the stage only continued to grow as the night went on.
I love this kind of music to begin with, but I enjoyed this show even more than I expected to. It made me want to dust off my own dancing shoes and get back into it.
Farewell to yet another great summer season of outdoor entertainment!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cinnamon Raisin Almond Butter

Almonds and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship. The love: I enjoy them by themselves as a snack, in my granola, in a snack bar, mixed in my oatmeal—those instances where they get to shine and be their independent little almond selves.

But the hate: I have yet to find an almond milk that I like. I have a hunch that a sugared-up chocolatey version would be right up my alley, but that kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think? Also, I've tried a store-bought variety of almond butter, and I hated it so much after the first bite that I had to give the rest of the jar to a friend so it wouldn't just go to waste in my fridge.

Hmm. Almonds are touted as being one of the very best nuts out there, with dozens of healthy benefits coming your way for eating them. So I'm determined to find more ways to like them!

Enter: homemade almond butter. I've been curious to try making my own, in the hopes that I'd like my own concoction better than something I'd buy at the grocery store. I love my homemade cashew butter (courtesy of the great Alton Brown), and I love that sense of victory you get when you successfully make something yourself that you only thought to buy before.

I found this recipe for Cinnamon Raisin Almond Butter two ways (a mention on Tasty Kitchen, and it's from a food blogger I like—Eating Bird Food), and the title was just calling my name. What a tasty way to venture into homemade almond butter! It was a very simple recipe:

Cinnamon Raisin Almond Butter
From Eating Bird Food

2 cups Almonds
1/4 cup Raisins
1 t. Cinnamon
1 t. Vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
* Water or oil - my addition, see notes below.

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread almonds on a 9x13" baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes or so.
2. Place roasted almonds in a food processor and process for 10 minutes (yep, 10 minutes), occasionally scraping down the sides.
3. Add remaining ingredients and begin processing again.
4. Process until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides. About 3-5 more minutes.
*5. Drizzle in water or oil in small bits while processing, if almond butter hasn't reached your desired creaminess after 15+ minutes.

I didn't feel like heating up the oven, so I toasted my almonds in the microwave for a few minutes instead. Spread them in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave on high in one-minute intervals. My instinct is the only real difference it makes is in flavor, so if you prefer the taste of raw almonds, by all means, skip that step!
As the almonds processed, they became more powdery or almond-meal-like than creamy. When I first started, I was skeptical of the "process for 10 minutes" direction, but even after 10 minutes, my almonds still weren't creamy:
When compared to the other nuts in the spectrum of nuts, seeds, and peanuts, one reason almonds are a top choice for many is the lower fat content, which I'm sure is because they're lower in natural oils. So it would make sense that it would take a little more effort to make a creamy almond butter.

But before I started making alterations to the recipe, I decided to see it through to the end and see how the raisins might change things. So in went the raisins, cinnamon and vanilla extract:
After another 7ish minutes of whirring, it still hadn't reached anything close to what I'd consider "creamy." Time to start altering.

I had some walnut oil on hand specifically for making homemade cashew butter, so I drizzled in about a tablespoon (a little at a time over a few minutes) while it was processing. It helped a lot, and it got me to this stage:
And there I stopped. It was spreadable and quite tasty! You may also be able to use water instead of oil to help it get creamy, and I've seen recipes call for that. If, after I've eaten all this, I want to make it again, I may give that a try. If you're going to go for an oil, I'd recommend a nut oil like walnut oil, or something without much of its own flavor, like canola oil.

I also don't know if almonds vary greatly, or how roasting them in the oven would have changed things. Judging by the comments and reviews on Tasty Kitchen, achieving creaminess is a common challenge.

I'll be storing mine in the fridge, since that's Alton Brown's recommendation for my beloved cashew butter. Yum!

Have you made your own almond butter? Any tips?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Balloon glow

August means it's State Fair time in Indiana, and this year, I got to see something that I've been wanting to for years: the evening glow of the hot air balloons.

The annual balloon race has been a tradition for many years, though it was just moved to Saturday morning (from Friday) a few years ago. For me, this is great news, because it actually gives me a chance to see it. The night before the race, the balloons gather in the infield of the fairgrounds. They inflate but don't leave the ground, and as the sunlight fades, the light of the propane burners turns the balloons into giant lanterns.

The field is clear of spectators while the balloons are being inflated, but we were able to watch from outside the fenced area and see part of the process.
Each balloon, as it was inflating, had one or two team members holding tight to a tether on the very top, keeping it straight and (for the most part) away from its neighbors.

It looked a bit like they were playing tug-o-war with Goliath.

The sight of the illuminated balloons is truly spectacular. You can help but smile in awe, whether you're six or 86.

The evening's emcee had the pilots do several coordinated "all glows," where they all lit up together (as you see below).
When all the balloons had successfully inflated, we were cleared to come closer and wander amongst them.
I was amazed by the intensity of the heat that emanates from the propane burners, and I didn't get any closer than about 15 feet away. I can imagine that the people in the actual basket stay pretty toasty on cool morning rides!
If I had a good opportunity to go for a ride in a hot air balloon, I'd take it. So far, the cost has been prohibitive for me (expect to shell out around $300 for a trip!), but maybe someday I'll suck it up and get a chance to do it.
Have you ever ridden in a balloon? Would you?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Feline family

I will never, ever, ever understand how some people can unceremoniously dump an animal and absolve themselves of further responsibility by just driving off. It makes me absolutely sick.

That's probably the strongest sentence I've ever used to start a post here, but it makes me pretty angry.

I understand that having animals can become quite expensive (which is just one of the reasons Buster is still "my" dog and I haven't yet gotten a dog that is solely my own). I understand that they require attention and space, and if you're not entirely enthused about them, they can feel like a burden. I get it.

But to go to the effort of driving an animal somewhere, kicking it out of the car, then driving off to forget about it... it's disgusting.

When you live in a more isolated area, dumping of animals seems to become more noticeable. For one, with fewer houses nearby, fewer domesticated animals randomly wander onto your property.

And if a mother cat with four kittens appear all at one time, you know they've been dumped.

My aunt and uncle recently had these five cats dumped at their house. Luckily for the cats, they're people who like cats and were willing to give them shelter and food. The kittens, when they arrived, were just a few weeks old; they were barely off their mother's milk.

I'm not interested in having a cat right now (I'm much more a dog person), but if I were, I'd take one of these little guys.
To the people who dumped them, I give you one word:


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wildflowers in bloom

I've been meeting up with one of my girlfriends once a week to walk (and chat, of course) at a local park after work, and one of the parks we've tried has several big areas of wildflowers that are fully in bloom right now. I had to go back with my camera!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Inspiration in Holland and Saugatuck

After finding such great inspiration from our previous vacations in Colorado and North Carolina, Mom and I made gathering more of that inspiration one of our missions while on vacation in Michigan.

We make it a point to eat at locally owned restaurants and seek out locally owned boutiques and stores in the areas we visit. I love this for many reasons. One, we're supporting those local business owners whose very existence keeps life interesting. Two, we're witnessing and appreciating the area and its own character, which you can't get from larger chains and businesses. Three, when you purchase something made by a local artisan, you know you'll be one of the few people in the world -- if not the only one -- who owns that item. And for those of us with an interest in creative fields, it serves as inspiration for your own work.

And "inspiration" and "stealing" are two different things. I'm talking about the inspiration side of the equation.

Through some great recommendations, Mom and I heard that the Saugatuck area of Michigan is known for its arts and crafts scene, so we decided to end our trip with a stop there. (Bonus: it meant we were three hours closer to home.) When we researched hotels for our one-night stay, we weren't able to find much in our range in the actual town of Saugatuck, so we stayed in Holland, instead, which is a larger town and about 20 minutes from Saugatuck.

I'll admit, my outsider's idea of Holland wasn't overly enticing. It seemed as though everything I'd ever seen or heard about that town related to wooden shoes... and kitschy really isn't my thing.

I'm happy to say now, though, that I was wrong -- both Mom and I were impressed with Holland. Dutch history and tourist attractions may be one of the main things they advertise, but we found the town itself beautiful and the local shops top-notch. Downtown Holland (where we spent most of our time) even boasts snow-free sidewalks in the winter thanks to heated cobblestone walkways.

On our way out of town, we drove by the only operating Dutch windmill in the United States:
We spent our final morning strolling through Saugatuck, which didn't disappoint. Again, the local galleries and stores were great. An art fair was scheduled for the day we were there, but by this point I was feeling like a sponge that had soaked up its fill of inspiration-water... so we stuck to the town, grabbed lunch at a restaurant along the water's edge, then headed home.
Mom and I both came back from vacation feeling relaxed and energized, and we both have lots of great ideas for our own creative businesses. I'm looking forward to adding some new items to my Etsy shop in the coming months!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The changing landscape of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I admit it, I've lived in Indiana my whole life and have never visited the dunes in northern Indiana along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

I can now say, though, that I have visited the dunes of Lake Michigan. I just traveled to Michigan to do it.

As the week warmed up and the sun struggled to shine again, Mom and I took a day of our Traverse City-area vacation to head west to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This park area came highly recommended by friends who've lived in the area.

Neither Mom nor I are sit-forever-on-the-beach people, so we did a driving tour of the area that included the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive within the park. It's a 7.4-mile tour that was well worth the visit. Along the drive, you get to see and understand the landscape and formation of the area, which includes both forest and dunes.
These dunes were much taller and more expansive than I'd imagined, and it also put into perspective for me just how big the Great Lakes really are. At one point along the drive, you can walk out to an observation deck that sits about 450 feet above Lake Michigan.
The dunes drop off steeply from the top of the dune to the shore of the lake, and some brave souls chose to descend the slope and then climb back up to the top. We stood and watched them for a while and couldn't help but think that it looked like they were voluntarily competing in a challenge on the Biggest Loser.
The landscape was really beautiful and incredibly delicate. We were amazed to see with our own eyes just how much it changes from year to year, primarily by wind alone. Some trees' roots were entirely exposed, leaving them barely hanging on.
In some ways, it reminded me of Yellowstone, because the dunes are so different than the landscapes I'm used to. Areas of Yellowstone made me think of the surface of the moon, with small geysers and bubbling mud pots scattered throughout the park -- and the dunes, in some ways, felt that way, as well.

As we left the park, we stopped by the park-sanctioned Dune Climb, a specific dune open for climbing, to see the people taking the challenge to the top. This didn't seem nearly as impressive after seeing the folks on the dune earlier in the park, but I'm sure it was more difficult than it looked! I know how challenge it is just to walk on flat, level ground in sand, so I'm sure trying to climb it is 10 times harder.
This is definitely an area of Michigan I'd recommend visiting, and you should do it soon, before the dunes are worn away!