Posted on March 7, 2017
As I have mentioned multiple times before, taking classes and learning new skills is one of my favorite things. In just the past year I have learned or taken classes for pearl knotting, flower crown making, basket weaving, calligraphy, sewing, butter making, knitting, and sushi making. I feel like a nonfelonious Martha Stewart.
I’ve wanted to cross soap making off of the list for a long time, but it has been difficult to find a class that was hands-on rather than demonstration only. You learn a lot more (and have more fun) when you get to do things yourself. Fortunately, I found a class at Three Creeks Farm where not only could I get my hands dirty, but I could design my own soap.
We started with mixing the lye. This was the only part of the process we didn’t get to do on our own and our instructor, Seth, did it for us. Lye can be very dangerous and can burn your skin, blind you, and even kill you if ingested. Once it is combined with water it almost instantly reaches 180 degrees and therefore should not be handled indelicately. However, it is a vital part of soap making as its chemical reaction with the oils is what produces a solid soap (a process called “saponification”).
The first step was deciding what to put in our soap. I opted for coconut lemongrass for the fragrance oil, ground oatmeal and buckwheat for exfoliants, and a little bit of clover honey just for fun. Everything requires very exact measurements. After all, science.
Once we selected our special ingredients (and set them aside to use later) we started to mix our oils. Our soap included 7 oz of olive oil, 6 oz of coconut oil (yum), and 1 oz of canola oil.
Once the oils were mixed it was time to put on my sexy safety goggles and add the lye and water to the oil mixture.
The lye tends to sink to the bottom of the oil, so I gave it a quick swish before mixing it.
To thicken the mixture and help it along its journey to magnificent soapiness, we used an immersion blender to save time. It did not take long for the consistency of the oil and lye to start to change and become custard-like.
Then it was time to add the fragrance, oatmeal, buckwheat, and clover honey.
After some more blending, I poured the mix into a one pound mold where the soap began to harden over the next few hours. I was supposed to wait a week before removing the soap from the mold . . . I waited approximately 24 hours. I have never been accused of being patient. Fortunately it turned out ok.
I wanted a soap that was earthy, but sweet, and with a nice texture. I think I accomplished that. I still need to wait 2-3 weeks for the soap to cure through the saponification process before I can actually use it. (Waiting will be torture). Until then, every time I walk by the soap I pick it up and smell it. Mmmm!
Three Creeks Farm has an array of interesting class offerings including blacksmithing. Plus, they have a farm filled with alpacas, llamas, fainting goats, sheep, pigs, peacocks, guineafowl, and a very large mastiff named Hugo that you can pet and snuggle on . . . so you know I’ll be back.
Posted on March 1, 2017
My five week hiatus from law firm life has ended and I have finally settled into my new job. I’ve made it through the first few weeks, and so far life is wonderful. I am working approximately 30-40 hours a week less than at my old firm, and I have filled that extra time with seeing my friends and actually taking care of myself. Oddly enough, all the free time for long hikes, trivia nights, dinners, and hot yoga sessions have put doing new things (or at least writing about them) on the back burner.
On one of my nights out, my friend Katie, who I hadn’t seen since law school, and I headed out to catch up over a drink. At the bar we started to chat with a gentleman named Adam seated next to us. We went through the general getting to know you topics: where are you from, what are you doing in town, how do you feel about the first few weeks of the Trump administration, etc.
We learned that he was in town for a poetry reading as part of Nashville’s First Saturday art crawl. I told him that going to a poetry reading was on my list of New Things to do, and we promptly invited ourselves along.
The reading was held at Sauvage Galerie, a bizarre little gallery in a residential neighborhood in South Nashville. The room was tiny, and the art consisted of mixed medium design, which I am pretty certain was just trash glued to wood and I think one piece was just part of a mop. Ron Swanson would not approve. I respect what the artist was going for, but I was not hip enough to get it.
The three poets for the evening were J. Joseph Kane, Robyn Leigh Lear, and Adam Day. Poetry has never really been my thing. I love novels, biographies, and Buzzfeed articles about which dog best matches my personality (Great Dane, ironically). That said, I enjoyed the varied expression of the three different poets and I got a lot more out of it than I would just reading words on a page. I would totally go to another reading in the future . . . but I still don’t see myself ever reading poetry for fun.
I promise more interesting and exciting posts are heading your way. First I just have to get used to actually having a life again first. More adventures are to come!
Posted on October 18, 2016
I have always had terrible handwriting. It is so bad that often even I can’t read it and it prompted someone to once ask, “didn’t anyone teach you to write like a girl?” Given that, I didn’t really expect calligraphy to be my calling, but total lack of skill has never stopped me.
Calligraphy requires a special pen called an “oblique.” Oblique calligraphy pens are used because they have a protruding flange (the gold piece sticking out on the side) that forces your nib to write at the correct 45-degree angle. A nib, which is inserted at the end of the oblique, is the part of the pen that actually touches the ink to the paper. Every few letters you have to dip the nib in an ink well. It really made me feel for Thomas Jefferson but also made me think that I don’t have enough feathered quills in my life.
I took a class with Molly Margaret, the owner of Esque Script Calligraphy at Paper and Ink Arts. We had four hours of instruction in which she took the time to demonstrate and let us practice the basic technique and strokes as well as each lowercase and capital letter. It was an incredibly intricate and time consuming process which I found I don’t really have the patience or attention span for.
However, it was an interesting class and I always enjoy exploring a new skill. Molly was kind enough to write out the name of the blog for me since her writing looks significantly better than my initial attempts at calligraphy. Unfortunately, in my rush to run off to Sunday brunch I smudged the ink before it fully dried. Oops!
Posted on September 19, 2016
It sounds like something only Willy Wonka could dream up: a berry that makes everything sweeter. Well, it is real and it is magical. Or, I should say, it is miraculous. The miracle berry causes sour, tangy, or tart foods to taste as if they have been dipped in sugar.
It is called “flavor tripping,” and no, miracle berries are not a drug. This little red marvelous fruit originates in West Africa and its use was first documented in the 1700s. Local tribes used it before consuming sour cornbread, bland oatmeal gruel, and palm wine.
Miracle berries contain the chemical “miraculin,” which turns your tastebuds topsy turvy. Miraculin binds to your sweet taste receptors and sends them into overdrive if the pH of your mouth drops into the acidic range from something sour. In other words, it turns lemons into lemonade. The sweet effect lasts for 1-2 hours.
If you don’t have access to miracle berries you can buy them in pill form (the only ingredients are miracle fruit powder and corn starch).
You place a tablet on your tongue and let it dissolve. As Morpheus explained, “You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
We tried an assortment of lemons, limes, blackberries, strawberries, kiwis, apples, grapes, prunes, cranberry juice, and balsamic vinegar. I reached for the lemon first. It tasted like it was covered in sugar and the normal tartness of the fruit was nowhere to be found. The same was true for the lime. It reminded me fruit slice candy. All of the fruit tasted sweeter than normal, but the strawberries tasted like they were sprinkled with fine powdered sugar. The most interesting flavor transition was that of the balsamic vinegar. The miracle berry transformed it into a sweet, thick, grape juice.
A few days after my first experiment, I did a second tasting of grapefruit, pomegranate, more lemons (yum), jalapeños, onion, pickles, and coffee. Once again, the fruit tasted extra sweet and the pickles did as well. The onion still tasted like an onion (yuk) but the jalapeño was rendered virtually tasteless, it lost all of its kick. The best part of experiment number two was the coffee. The straight black coffee became creamy and sweet.
If you want to try flavor tripping, just make your own tasting menu with a variety of foods to explore. The miracle berry can have some lingering effects so it is best to try it at the end of the evening when you are done eating for the day. In other words, don’t try to have a glass of wine post-tasting. It will not go over well.
Posted on July 5, 2016
Glamping. What is it? Glamping is short for “glamorous camping.” It takes the splendor and isolation of camping and combines it with hotel-like creature comforts like real beds, furniture, and modern plumbing.
Or, if you do it Tom Haverford style, it is this:
I don’t recall where I first heard about glamping, but it has been on my To Do list since I learned that it exists. For our glamping experience we spent the 7th night of the 3,000 mile road trip at Moab Under Canvas. (Stay tuned for a post on the road trip next week).
Moab Under Canvas is located just minutes from Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse State Park. The glamp grounds are separated from everything else around so all you see are tents and nature (and tiny fluffy desert bunnies).
When we got there we were immediately taken by the mellow vibe of the grounds and the people who worked there. It was clear our stay was going to be special.
I booked a deluxe tent for a little extra space, privacy, and an in-tent full bathroom. (I had tent number 4 on the map above). When I fist saw the interior of the tent, my reaction was essentially this:
The tent was gorgeous.
The furniture was simple, but classic and cozy. There was no power in the tent so it came with 3 lanterns, which I largely used to not bump into things as I wandered the grounds at night.
The best part of the deluxe tent was my own private bathroom. It felt a little weird to bathe by lantern light behind a sheet of canvas, mainly because I am pretty sure the lanterns cast shadows on the tent for passersby to see. But, the water was piping hot and that is really the only thing I cared about.
The view from the tent was breathtaking. The front of the tent overlooked the desert and Arches National Park in the distance. The shaded porch provided the perfect spot to kick up my feet and just enjoy my surroundings. This was particularly nice because, unlike the East Coast, there are basically no bugs to bother you in the desert so you don’t have to worry about mosquitos or other insects flying in your face while to try to relax.
At night, Under Canvas hosted a bonfire complete with s’mores. Yum!
As the sun set, the landscape and night sky were transformed. Somehow, almost impossibly, becoming more beautiful than before.
Under Canvas also had two common areas. One (pictured below) in which you could relax in front of a fire or play board games and another where you could charge your devices or connect to their ethernet.
Finally, it was time to retire via lantern light. I really think their bed was the most comfortable one I’ve ever slept in. At first, I had a little trouble falling asleep. Every time I heard a noise I wondered if someone was walking toward my tent. However, within a few minutes I was fast asleep.
I got up at 6:00 the next morning just in time to watch the sun rise from my front porch. I think this may have been the first time I have ever just sat and watched this occur. The sun delivered.
I was able to order breakfast through Under Canvas which was both delicious and extremely convenient. It saved us an extra stop before our morning hike in Arches National Park.
There are two other Under Canvas locations in Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. If you can make it to one of the locations, don’t hesitate, just do it. But a warning, they sell out quickly, so plan early.
Special shout out to Sam, our hostess with the mostess, for making our visit extra fun. While the experience itself was truly unique, this was one of those occasions where the people who worked there set the mood for our entire stay.
Posted on June 28, 2016
I am currently on a 2500-mile cross-country road trip with my best friend (more on this in a post next week). In addition to visiting new cities and states, I wanted to incorporate a few New Things into the journey (more posts on this later too). One of our first stops was in beautiful Kansas City, Missouri. While planning our visit we discovered a Segway tour of the town and we thought it would be a fun way to see the city and cross something new off of the To Do List.
I presented the idea to my friend Jill, and upon looking at photos of the tour she said, “Awe. We have to wear helmets like a bunch of dorks.” When the trip was threatened with rain, she voiced another concern. “If we have ponchos and helmets we are going to get beat up by somebody.” Fortunately, the storms passed us by and nobody got beaten up for being a dork.
The tour began with a brief video and riding lesson. It took me a few minutes to get the hang of it and to not spin in circles when I was trying to stay in one place. But, I eventually got the hang of it. It is pretty easy to maneuver and it moves with the weight of your body: lean left to go left, right to go right, forward to go forward, and back to go backwards or stop.
The tour took us through Westport, Country Club Plaza, and past several art museums.
At one point in our journey we headed down a quasi-steep hill in a park. We took it a bit fast and I could hear Jill struggling behind me. I am not sure what happened next, but I heard the distinct sound of Jill falling and a Segway crashing. This is how I picture it:
Somehow Jill flew off of the path and her Segway went into a tree.
Jill: Don’t take my picture you f***ing b****!
Me: ::Laughing and taking pictures::
Jill: I can hear you laughing!
Me: ::Laughing harder::
Jill: Stop laughing at me! You are so mean!
Me: ::Laughing even harder::
Jill: You better not put this on your f***ing blog!
Me: ::Laughing and crying::
I was laughing so hard that this was the best picture I got. Don’t worry, she’s fine.
Other than Jill’s tumble, the tour was a lot of fun. Whoosing around on the Segway created a nice breeze on an otherwise hot and humid day. Not to mention the joy of zooming down the sidewalks past all the bipeds who haven’t yet experienced the Segway life.
I also learned Segways have an added value. If a creepy guy starts hitting on you, you can just quickly scoot away. No more awkward uncomfortable conversation with strangers, ladies!
Overall analysis: Walking is for the birds. Segways are the way of the future.
Posted on June 20, 2016
If you are itching for something new and crafty to do, I highly recommend a basket weaving class. In just a few hours you can create something completely unique.
I went to Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary for my class with basket weaver Janet Lanier. Owl’s Hill is an 160-acre nature and animal preserve in Brentwood, Tennessee. I didn’t have time to explore the property, but I did see a beautiful deer grazing right outside of the window as I made my basket. It was a very peaceful afternoon.
We started out with a wooden handle and the spokes that would make the frame of the basket.
The base of the basket was formed by interweaving the wooden spokes.
Once the base was formed, round reed was woven through the spokes to secure the frame. The wooden reed had to be kept wet to make it flexible and easy to manipulate without breaking.
I decided to add in a little color to the basket, so every few rows I added maroon reed and seagrass. Seagrass is actually a grass that is hand twisted into cord.
The alternating over-under weaving process was repeated until I reached the desired height. Or, more accurately, I ran out of time and had to make it to a hair appointment.
Eventually the shorter spokes at the bottom were trimmed and tucked into the weave to finish the bottom of the basket.
The top of the basket was finished with half round weed lining the rim and smaller reed was wrapped through the open holes in the basket. To get it a little extra flair, I added some of the maroon seagrass to the top.
Voilà! A completed wine basket! It took a few hours and a little hard work, but I am pretty happy with the final product. Plus, I am now ready for life on the prairie. I can’t wait to return to Owl’s Hill for another class or for when I have some time to explore.