Friday, February 29, 2008

taking a leap

I tried to post this on Friday, but technical difficulties were interfering.

This is my last day staying with my parents. They have been incredibly gracious to have me perch here for nearly two months while I have been in transition. I have been learning to be patient with country life. You cannot walk to the grocery store or for coffee, but you can let your eyes rest on a broad expanse of fields, forests, and fanciful shadows on the newly fallen snow.

It was something of a leap to make this many changes in one season, so perhaps it is appropriate to say goodbye to my old life and hello to the new on this most unusual day.

Here are a few home vignettes to say farewell to the country house:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

staying in

Sunshine. Honest to goodness, blazing brilliance dancing across the sparkling snow. Something rare in upstate NY winters.

I am enjoying this scene from my desk where I sit trying to catch up on everything that I suppressed in the weeks counting down to the defense. Today I need to stay in. The entire day. Me with a cup of coffee, enjoying this break in the clouds and making my way through the piles.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

guilty pleasure

Hey, it is still February and many of us are still trying to hang on and make it through. That extra day is a bonus, but it might be better if it came in October—my favorite month. Why not make the most of the long gray days with a guilty pleasure or two? I have already covered the Jane Austen series, now for something even less cerebral—the urban dance movie. Rough kids from the streets make good by learning discipline and respect through dance. YouTube has practically every great dance movie highlight, urban or otherwise. And, now that I’ve wasted many, many minutes picking one, here is one of my all time favorites.

Pure candy, like a lollipop. These aren’t truffles or fair trade chocolate. This is a simplistic, pedestrian peek into a magical land where I might have rhythm, moves, and a whole lot of game. When I was working with youth in North Philly’s toughest neighborhoods, I would often reward collective good behavior with music at the end of homework time. Summer was even better, nothing like being on the blacktop with a basketball bouncing, jump ropes twirling, and Miss Bethany pounding out the newest dance in the corner of the schoolyard…WHAT? Ha! My kids hated to see me try to get my groove on. Seriously. It was painful for them, hilarious for me. I wasn’t even faking it; I was sincerely trying catch on. Same thing with rap lyrics. Nothing but moaning and choking arose from the room when I would bob my head, bite my lip, and shuffle from side to side while belting out along with Nas, Jay Z, Timbaland, and Ludacris. Ah, Philly.

At least I am not alone in my appreciation for the dance flicks. Dearest S (who I used to take dance with in the early days—as in 8 year olds) and I have spent many a fine hour in the theatre or in our dorm in college (ok, even last week) enjoying them. Urban or not, here’s some from our list:

Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Billy Elliot
Strictly Ballroom
Saturday Night Fever
Singin’ in the Rain
Take the Lead
Step Up
Step Up 2
Center Stage
You Got Served
Mad Hot Ballroom
Save the Last Dance

Enjoy the last days of this dreary month!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

lines & shapes

I am excited about this collaborative project from blogland greats Lena Cowin & Maria Vettese. Their small books each feature a shape or line as a starting point, which are then interpreted by several artists.

The cost is reasonable, a little over $20 a book and there are six books coming. And, charter members--the first forty to sign up--receive a tote bag with the project logo on it. I am especially intrigued to see that Jennifer Causey has a piece in the first book. I have some postcard prints from one of her collections. These are frame worthy! Also Maria Vettese herself is in the Circle book. I regularly keep up with Port2Port Press and the 3191 Project, both of which are outlets for her amazingly fresh and prolific talent.

I'll probably miss the tote bag phase, but perhaps with my first paycheck from the "real job" I can join the Lines & Shapes fun.

(photo by Jennifer Causey)

(photo by Maria Vettese)

Monday, February 25, 2008

blank canvas

This will be my last week in Rochester and then it is on to the Capital City. I have two weeks to get settled into the new place before starting the job. The extra padding is a lesson learned from other moves. It is worth your sanity to have the time to find your way to a grocery store before you need it. To have curtains up before the sun comes up. To know your way to the office before that first day dawns.

I kind of overload. I try to fit in too much. But this move--my ninth in twelve years--I am determined to give myself plenty of time to enjoy the nesting process. Perhaps this is also because it is the first move in which I will be setting myself up in my own space. My choice of everything, a blank canvas as it were.

The internets are rich with posters, prints, and original art to liven up my new space. (Which is still needing a name--all of my apartments/homes have had their own personalities.) I also have a lot of my own work and pieces I've collected from a handful of other sources already. The question is, what to choose. There are also curtains to make and some furnishings to purchase.

One source I am loving right now is the American Poster Institute, and specifically, the Hero and Sound Design Studio in Buffalo, NY. They have some fantastic silkscreen concert's a few I wouldn't mind owning.

Friday, February 22, 2008

to do today

1) Eat breakfast. - - Check.
2) Return library books. - - Check.
3) Iron pants. - - Check.
4) Send some emails. - - Check.
5) Get a Ph.D. - - Check.

Maybe tomorrow I'll climb Mt. Everest :) Seriously though, thank you readers for your support.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

a friday afternoon in delaware

I'm a little overwhelmed about tomorrow's dissertation defense. But I keep telling myself that I am really bringing a lot of people with me into that room. People whose lives have influenced me and people who feature prominently in the research.

Some students undertake incredibly challenging statistical analysis for their graduate research, others model sophisticated economic theories...I'm telling a story about neighborhoods where the Catholic Church has made a historic investment in the fabric of the urban landscape. There are priests, sisters, laypersons, children, youth. There are buildings, elevated trains, and community gardens. This cast and backdrop represents different facets of one organization that is seeking to transform marginalized communities through affordable housing, dignified employment, streetscape improvements, and economic development.

My study is one chapter in a larger story. Tomorrow I share that one piece. Perhaps more important than the success of the defense itself, however, is the fact that when I walk out of that room, I am turning the last page of what I wrote, literally and figuratively. I am putting it to rest and moving on to something else. A job. A new home. A new city. A new life almost. Hard to believe that five years comes to an end on a Friday afternoon in Delaware. Thankfully, I'm not losing an ounce of the spirit and dedication of those who were with me during those five years. I have the 300 pages to remind me, tremendous memories, and a folder full of pictures!

Thank you all for being with me along the way and no whining about these photos, they make me smile!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

collage day

Yesterday two of my best pals and I watched dance movies, ate homemade vegan soups, and made collages. It is February break up here in the Northeast and they are both teachers. I am a lazy student putting off the dread of the defense so this was a perfect distraction. S has a project with her students called "artist trading cards" that consist of composing collages on actual playing cards. This small size provided all sorts of unique design challenges. I've given up magazines for Lent so most of my pieces were culled from vintage Time Life books and stock photo books discarded by design firms. S and I are going to assemble the trading cards into a larger project marking our 30th birthdays in May and June. Keep watching for the 30x30 Project to evolve.

frozen grand central

A friend alerted me to this public performance art a few days ago and I am completely fascinated. It struck me that this could really only work in a city. You need a critical mass of people to do the improv and another group to be the “audience.”

See more clips and learn how to be a part of it here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

cookie of the month

(Photo courtesy of

In pursuit of the “best-girlfriend/partner in the world award”, I decided to give RJR the most creative, delicious, thoughtful gift for Christmas—twelve months of homemade cookies. As you might deduce from this gift, I was also broke at Christmas. Graduate writing fellowship running out, moving expenses, and the Welch handmade Christmas extravaganza in full effect, I pulled together a list of twelve kinds of cookies and arranged somewhat by season so that he could have a fresh batch around the middle of each month. Here’s what he is getting, some are from Martha and others are family recipes:

january :: chocolate-espresso snowcaps

february :: pecan linzer with cherry filling

march :: snickerdoodles

april :: mocha chip

may :: pistachio lemon drops

june :: citrus cornmeal shortbread

july :: peanut butter

august :: oatmeal seven grain with dried cranberries

september :: coffee-infused ginger

october :: swedish almond

november :: ginger molasses

december :: pinwheels

I made the Pecan Linzer’s for the first time last February, and while labor intensive, delighted in the result! I don't have the same cookie cutters, but improvise with what I have on hand.

· 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
· 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
· 3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted
· 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, plus more for sprinkling
· 1/8 teaspoon salt
· 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
· 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
· 1/4 cup granulated sugar
· 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
· 1 large egg
· 1/2 cup cherry jam, strained

1. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl; set aside. Pulse pecans, confectioners' sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a food processor until finely ground (but not wet); transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

2. Add butter and granulated sugar; mix on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in vanilla and egg. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture; mix until combined. Halve dough; shape into disks. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Working with 1 disk at a time, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Cut out squares with a 2-inch fluted cutter. Cut out centers of half the squares with a 1/2-inch heart cutter; reroll scraps. Space 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake squares and hearts until pale golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool.

4. Meanwhile, heat jam in a small saucepan over medium heat until reduced and thickened, about 7 minutes; let cool.

5. Sprinkle cutout cookies with confectioners' sugar. Spread jam onto uncut squares; top with cutout ones. Store in an airtight container up to 2 days.

Monday, February 18, 2008

february ten

Over at SouleMama Amanda set out to fight the winter blahs by enumerating a February Ten, "ten little joys that are making me smile this week." Finding myself beat down by the grayness myself, I decided to try the same this morning.

1) Appreciating the sun that much more when it peeks through the clouds and lands on a pile of un-ironed fabric.

2) Planning for a new apartment.

3) Baking bread and enjoying it over dinner at my temporary home with my permanent family.

4) Visiting new places.

5) Getting ready for the big day, knowing that the finish line is well within sight.

6) Dreaming of local chocolate

7) Thinking of packing away the papers.

8) My Dad's self portraits left on my camera just for kicks.

9) Celebrating 80 years of living...

10) ...and longtime love.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

fix you

This might be the most perfect music montage I've seen, in a completely Austen, girly way. Just humor me and watch it if you haven't seen it. Then watch it again for all of us out there who want to see the smart, brunette girl triumph.

(And yes, it is still Sunday and I'm breaking my own rule.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

change of plans

Weather. Gets in the way of many plans. Today I was supposed to be on my way to visit a dear friend in Shanty Bay, Ontario. But, news of a pending storm postponed plans. Hopefully another weekend. The friday feature was also interrupted this week by fate, a car wreck for the boyfriend (he's safe and sound) that had me out in Small Falls longer than I expected. While waiting around for the insurance claim and the repair shop to get sorted out, we made the most of the "day off" and scoured some local antique stores for items for both of our homes. He scored a great 4 piece set of oak Mission furniture at a crazy good rate and I brought back a funky curlicue mirror that I plan to paint bright red for the new apartment.

I also put together the cushions I was making for his Danish Modern settee. Do not look too closely at the stitching! From a distance it all works though.

Be safe this weekend.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


For everyone of us who is enjoying flowers, candy, cards, wine, and a moment of affection today, there is a woman who is fighting for her right to live, much less be loved. Please take one minute to consider these women and what needs to change so that all women can be free, safe, and thrive.


V-Day is an organized response against violence toward women.

V-Day is a vision: We see a world where women live safely and freely.

V-Day is a demand: Rape, incest, battery, genital mutilation, and sex slavery must end now.

V-Day is a spirit: We believe women should spend their lives creating and thriving rather than surviving or recovering from terrible atrocities.

V-Day is a catalyst: By raising money and consciousness, it will unify and strengthen existing anti-violence efforts.Triggering far-reaching awareness, it will lay the groundwork for new educational, protective, and legislative endeavors throughout the world.

V-Day is a process: We will work as long as it takes. We will not stop until the violence stops.

V-Day is a day. We proclaim Valentine's Day as V-Day, to celebrate women and men and to end the violence.

V-Day is a fierce, wild, unstoppable movement and community. Join us!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

seven grain deliciousness

Made these loaves last night at my mom's request. They turned out very tasty, one is topped with flax seed and the other with oats. Her new diet is requiring the addition of flax and whole grains and of course I was happy to oblige. I would share the recipe except that I modified and combined two different ones to come up with something that might work. Definitely recommend bread making to de-stress!


In the last few days, I have been assigned to write two biographical statements: one for the commencement booklet for the university and one for the website of my new employer. This should be a straightforward process. Report on the most salient details of your academic and professional career. And yet, it is a tad more complex. Sound smart, but not arrogant. Project experience, but do not inflate. Seem accomplished, yet humble. Overall, be authentic. Ok. Right.

The first bio went fairly quickly. After all, it is only an account of my four years pursuing the doctorate. There is a note about the dissertation, research projects, awards, and future employment. One concise paragraph. The second assignment is more public, accessible by GWB’s “the Googles” and other search functions, so it should be more…more…something. Not sure. Looking at those of my esteemed colleagues, I’m impressed and overwhelmed. For one thing, on paper, it seems that most folks have taken a fairly direct route to what they do now.

I began as an artist.

Not a dark and disturbed artist, but a graphic designer, painter, flower arranger, cake decorator. That last one was my life’s ambition as a nine year old. I would stand on tiptoes to peer over the glass bakery case at Wegmans where a woman, swathed in a smudged white apron, carefully shaped sugary goodness into exquisite roses.

What does that have to do with urban social policy? Over the summer between my junior and senior year of undergrad, I interviewed with a hunger relief agency to be their public relations intern. Little did I know where that internship would take me. I began doing their newsletter, simple flyers, some speech writing, but then realized how much I preferred the advocacy/research side of their work. That internship turned into a ten year relationship with the agency, part-time work, full-time, consulting, and put me on the road to a masters degree contesting the imbalance between many university/community partnerships (often more weighted to the university) and then a national service stint in inner city Philadelphia followed by the doctorate in urban affairs and public policy. Rather than a clear career trajectory, I have been following a winding path. That story seems to be the sort better told over a glass of CabSav than streaming from a blinking cursor.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

chocolate love

Pink. Red. White. Ribbon. Roses. Hearts. Must be February right? I have an ongoing conflict with Valentine's Day. Why should Hallmark and other companies who specialize in manufacturing emotion tell me when to share my own affection? Yet, on the other hand, there are never too many reasons to make a card, pick a flower (not a red rose!), or share your love with a piece of chocolate. Wait, chocolate? Dark, milk, semi-sweet, bitter-sweet, plain, adorned, bar, bite...yes, chocolate.

I may spurn some of the trappings of this day, but I have no similar compunction when it comes to chocolate. Yesterday I was up to my elbows in the makings of chocolate truffles. Trader Joe's has some excellent fair trade selections and I stocked up last week. I had hoped to use framboise, but despite visiting several local liquor stores I came up empty handed. Instead, I made one batch with Starbucks Coffee Liqueur and one with vanilla. "Martha" kitchen goddess and marketing czar always comes through with recipes. I found this one to be easy, hope you enjoy!

Martha Stewart Chocolate Truffles (courtesy of


Makes about 3 1/2 dozen

* 8 ounces best-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 1 tablespoon liqueur, such as triple sec or framboise (optional)
* Unsweetened cocoa powder, for rolling


1. Put chocolate into a large heatproof bowl. Bring cream just to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; pour over chocolate in bowl. Stir in liqueur, if desired. Cover with plastic wrap; let stand 10 minutes. Stir until smooth. Let stand until thick, about 15 minutes.

2. Pour chocolate mixture into a shallow 8-inch dish or pie plate. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until mixture is very cold and set but still pliable, about 30 minutes.

3. Using a teaspoon or a 1/2-inch melon baller, scoop balls of chocolate mixture, transferring them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper as you work. Refrigerate truffles 10 minutes.

4. Using hands dusted with cocoa powder, dip each truffle in cocoa powder to coat, then quickly shape truffle into a rough round. Refrigerate truffles in an airtight container until ready to serve, up to 2 weeks; before serving, reshape into rounds, and roll each truffle in cocoa powder, if desired.

Monday, February 11, 2008

miss austen

(photos courtesy of

Have you been watching the Masterpiece Theatre adaptations of Jane Austen's novels? I think they are a perfect indulgence for these bleak months of January, February, and March. As I have been at home these past few weeks, my mother and I have been watching them each Sunday evening. Unfortunately we missed Persuasion and the biography, Miss Austen Regrets. But, we thoroughly enjoyed what has to be our fourth viewing of the Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth. Sigh.

I'm not going to belabor the many fine points of Austen's novels here, or the sadly indulgent nature of the millions of women who appreciate them. If you are in, you are in, and if not, too bad. I'd rather spend a few moments on the movie adaptations. We own all the Hollywood versions of Austen's books. I've been known to watch the P&P with Donald Sutherland more than twice in one month (notice I didn't say with Keira Knightley--once you see her in Domino, there is no way she can be Elizabeth Bennet) Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma is a decent choice I think, particularly alongside tall, dark and handsome Jeremy Northam. What about Mansfield Park? Frances O'Connor (now stateside in Cashmere Mafia) is all giggles and whimsy with her Edmund played by Angelina Jolie's cast-off Johnny Lee Miller, but not entirely as innocent as she is depicted in the book. Persuasion, done by the BBC back in 1995 is perfectly balanced and restrained with lovely cinematography, but proves that Hollywood cannot seem to adapt the "feel" of the novels as well as the Brits. In my opinion, the closest Hollywood comes is with Sense & Sensibility featuring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Gemma Jones, and Hugh Grant. Hmmmm, maybe that has more to do with Ang Lee and the British actors than anything else!

The mid-nineties were good for Miss Austen, but the recent feature films of Becoming Jane and the Jane Austen Book Club were disappointing. Thankfully, Masterpiece Theatre has come to the rescue! I'm not a true Anglophile. Nonetheless, seeing so much of the English countryside in each of these weekly films has me very glad that my family will be headed across the pond this summer for a celebratory vacation, a birthday, an anniversary, and two graduations! Yes, the entire family with wives and significant others all stashed away in a flat. Bro2 and I have already reserved a day to visit "Pemberley" (actually Chatsworth House) in Derbyshire.

There is still time to see the remaining parts of P&P: 2/10, 2/17, 2/24 and then it is on to Emma 3/23, and Sense and Sensibility 3/30, 4/6. What's your favorite? Please post below!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

the gang at ommegang

The warm scent of hops and malt greeted us as we walked in from the cold through a heavy wooden door. Inside the large room with shiny metal vats and rows of gauges and tubes stood an assembly of admirers gathered around with steaming bowls of chili made with one of their fine brews, Three Philosophers. Then the tour began...

I have to admit I've never been much of a beer drinker. Something about going to a conservative college, read "dry campus", meant I was not submerged in keg parties and beer pong, sucking down cheap beer in great quantities. Ok, drinking was not entirely absent at the college, but I was not a participant, probably due to a number of factors, including the homeschooled girl thing. When I was of age, I spent my energy on getting to know wine and never really acquired a taste for the pints. However, that changed when I began dating a guy who brews his own. Probably enough said. I have now sampled a range of micro-brews and handcrafted naturally fermented beers in his care. I would still choose a glass of Shiraz over a porter, but I can appreciate the time, effort, and craft that goes into the latter.

...and we learned a fair bit about the differences between Belgian style beer and others, as well as the former glory days of upstate NY hop farmers. My task as the DD limited my sampling, but the tour concluded in a rather manly tasting room complete with food pairings. I certainly did not hold back from enjoying some fine Belgian chocolate, and in fact, came home with a dark bar containing bits of Earl Grey tea--very elegant. All four of us who headed out from Small Falls also purchased classy Ommegang shirts to commemorate the visit.