Category Archives: Making stuff

You never know where the art flows. These are the hands on things we do.

Effin Artist moments brighten enjoyment in any day

The text arrived from my middle daughter and said simply, “I”m an Effin Artist man!”

I couldn’t have been more proud.

She followed it with a photo of a reclamation project she had just completed in time for Fourth of July, turning a dirty old pallet into a beautiful American flag.

That she felt that AH-Ha moment is the reason this site exists and made it all the more special.

We are all creative beings. It’s what makes us connect to our humanity. If God (however you can imagine Her to be) is truly a God of creation, then we in His likeness are also people who are designed to create. We are works of art, simply put, who create art ourselves.

Yet something in this (seemingly at times, God forsaken) world is hellbent on beating all creativity out of us. We hear the word “can’t” when it comes to creativity far more than can. We focus on our in-excellence instead of our effort being the excellent thing in its own right.

Perhaps, most simply, this is why we are people who have built mountains of trash in landfills and so little comparatively of things of true meaning that last.

Effin Artist moments are those times when the bonging drum of negativity in our head that attacks our best effort like an angry shop teacher pointing out all our flaws is silenced by a simple beautiful thought, “I’m an Effin Artist man!”

In this moment we feel the sanctification of oneness with our creator and oneness with our purpose and congruence with our true selves It’s a beautiful moment and here’s to many more of them in all our lives.

For those that want to put on the stars and stripes a bit this weekend, here is my daughter’s instructions on how to make a flag of your own:

I ran across a picture of this on Facebook and figured with my extra time and all the pallets in our yard it would be easy to recreate. I knew it could be  cuter than normal garden/front porch decor.

Very easy! I just picked the shades of colors I wanted to use and started painting. Used an old sponge to cut out a star stencil, and stamped them after the blue paint dried. Ready for the fourth and the whole project cost less than 10 dollars. Wallah!”

And Dad is very proud indeed.

After the gamut of beauty promises, a DIY scrub that works

if you spend any time perusing the website, you’ll know the hubby and I have adopted this attitude of reduce, reuse, recycle — and restore… that’s important… — whenever we can. This runs the gamut of furniture, art, food, so many things, what the hubby calls “hoof-to-head” wholeness, wellness and a lot of other “ness” stuff he’s constantly prattling on about.

Well, near and dear to my heart lies any and all things beauty. I am a self-prescribed beauty product whore (that seems harsh, so let’s just say, junkie). In my heyday I could be swayed very easily on any beauty product scheme and fad. Latest science tells us that this little know berry grown in the remote valleys in France holds the key to the fountain of youth (I fell for it many times). I was Alice in Wonderland falling prey to “drink this, and you will grow.” “Eat this, and you will shrink.” “Use this and stay young forever!”

It didn’t matter the cost, I fell for it. The more costly, the better I swore it worked. What a dummy.

I’ve had a change of heart. I’ve adopted a new lifestyle, one that I’m proud of, one that continues to grow daily, so my beauty philosophies have grown right along with it. My growing awareness started with dabbling into homemade body scrubs. You know the ones. You can buy them at your favorite department store for $20, $30, some even 50 bucks! I’ve no-so-quickly learned to spend even $10 on one of these store bought ones seems ridiculous. You can make it from home with natural ingredients for pennies. Why wouldn’t you give it a shot? You control what you put on your skin, and take satisfaction that you made it yourself. Be proud in your womanhood. I sure am!

The experimentation process has been challenged at times. It remains a work in progress. A fun one, though. With continuous change through trial and error, I’ve so far tried many variations on beauty scrubs: Epsom Salts, Sea salts, brown sugar, white sugar coupled with Almond oil, grape seed oil, olive oil, coconut oil along with your favorite essential oil (I’ve tried lavender, lemongrass, and sandalwood so far..) you name it I’ve slathered it over my body all in the name of experimentation.

Here are my experiences so far:

  • Epsom salts. I prefer to use a combination of Epsom salt with sea salt. For some reason my sensitive skin doesn’t seem to handle well pure Epsom salts. I love Epsom salt for its natural ability to detoxify the body, and it’s great for muscle soreness. But again, I like the combination of Epsom and sea salt in my scrub.
  • Brown Sugar is messy. I decided that I most likely will not use brown sugar in my scrubs any longer. It turns your water (if you are taking a bath, which I so often do) a nice brown color, and leaves your nice white towels a little dingy. Plus, I decided I wasn’t thrilled with the smell. Just my oh so humble opinion.
  • Coconut Oil in a scrub. So, coconut oil smells so yummy but in a scrub? Well I don’t think I’ll use it again. It’s solidified, and it’s darn hard to get it into its liquid phase as you bathe or shower. I read where some just allowed the steam from their bath/shower to liquefy the oil. I tried this, but my pruney fingers felt numb at the end of my waiting game. I don’t think I’ll use it again.

I will continue to be the guinea pig, but for now, I’m using the following basic recipe:

  • ½ cup sea salt
  • ½ cup Epsom salts
  • ½ cup grape seed (or almond) oil
  • a few drops of Lavender essential oil


First combine the salts in a large bowl, and then add the oil. A few drops of your essential oil and you are done. You can tweak it to your liking. Prefer a more solid scrub? Use less oil. The nice thing is that with this basic recipe you can do no harm. I like to keep it in a pretty glass jar to display in my bath. Just one natural item that continues to make me feel like the queen that the hubby tells me I am in my humble home.

It’s the hard that makes it great

If you saw Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own you’ll likely recall this line. Sobering up for the women’s baseball championship, caught up in the team as it battles for a place in history, Hanks character Jimmy Dugan tells his best player Dottie that she shouldn’t leave to go home to conventional life as a farmer’s wife.  She would miss it he predicts. Dottie shakes her head and says that it was all just too hard. Dugan’s line has stayed with me all these years.

“Of course it’s hard. If it wasn’t everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.

How often I have thought this to myself as I struggled with whatever life doled out in that moment. It helped me develop a pit-bull’s bite of tenacity once I get involved in something. Even when I should be discouraged, I tend to grit my way through, the mantra in my head, “if it was easy, everyone would do it… it’s the hard that makes it great.

One of our Christmas presents this year fell into this category. We wanted to make those trendy signs we’d seen in all the boutiques, with big words painted on rough wood. Typical of me, I wanted really rough wood. I wanted recycled wood. I wanted to make signs and reclaim something off a scrap pile at the same time.


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I made it much harder than it had to be.

This is not one of those tutorials on how to make signs. Those all start with the cheery encouragement of how easy it is to make the signs. Not this one. It’s EFFin hard.

I choose a dark background paint that made it much harder to make the letters more visible.

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After making my stencils (I chose an elaborate script and a Serif font instead of wide blocky letters that would have been much easier to paint), we couldn’t successfully transfer them to the rough, ridged wood. I ended up carving the words in with an razor blade for about eight long hours leading up to Christmas. My bride then had to paint those letters, another eight hours.

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But when the kids unwrapped them, each one with a different part of our favorite family poem “Desiderata,” which has hung on our wall since they were small, it was well… great.

And that made it all worth it. Because it’s the hard that makes it great.

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Add a little life to last-minute lists

I made a list of the things I needed to do before Christmas yesterday. As I wrote it all down, my anxiety began to rise. I’d already been working full-time the last few days on various projects and gifts and planning for the holiday events. But the list seemed ominous, a monster under the bed with those scary musical chords that suggest something bad is about to happen playing in the background of my mind.

So I dealt with it then and ther. I slayed the monster.

First I remembered old Chuck Winchester III. One thing a time

Next, I added to the list.

Check it out. Here’s the first list:

– Ship packages

– Finish DIY presents

– Finish Christmas cookies

– Wrap DIY and cookies and mail

– Mail out Christmas cards (yes, I know, they’ll be late… )

– Make and hang burlap curtains

– Decorate house

– Get tree (don’t ask… I just didn’t get to it this year yet)

– Decorate tree

– Find Xmas CDs

– Make Peanut Butter for Test Kitchen

– Make Peanut Butter-based test recipes

– Plan holiday week menus

– Shop for groceries

– Clean house

– Make stockings for new family members

– Get some actual work done (good luck with that one…)

Here are the modifications I made to the list:

Watch 3- hour Eagles documentary (which led to add on: write blog about Eagles documentary). So cool. Stayed up a bit too late and slept not enough, but it was worth it.

– Ship packages – I left this at the top because the clock was ticking. Once I did this and scheduled the postal pick-up, my stress level went down… way down. So that’s something I do with lists, attack the hard stuff, the procrasting stuff first. As M. Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Traveled, do it first. Shove it to the top. Once you cross it off, the momentum is like riding a bike downhill.

– Finish DIY presents

Plan menus – I like planning menus and after the shipping and the projects, I needed a break. This turned into a fun Sunday break.

Go for a run, end at grocery store and shop- It’s easy to let yourself go when you’re trippin’ on stress. By forcing myself to do something healthy, I felt better about the day.  I worked in the shopping to still get a key item done. The one downside I didn’t fully plan for was carrying $80 of groceries up this hill:

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Lift weights- bonus round. My arms and shoulders and calves felt blown out once I got the groceries home.

– Finish Christmas cookies- satisfied with my workout, I turned on a football game and baked cookies. An agenda item turned into a pleasant afternoon. I added an impromptu item to the to-do list:

Facebook your Seahawks loving nephew and punk him about the loss… at home no less! (Check that one off right away. tee hee… tee hee…)

– Wrap DIY and cookies and mail – I really don’t like wrapping presents. I’m not that great at it and you never really know how much there is to do until you start in. Typically I’d wait until Christmas Eve, turn on It’s a Wonderful Life, and wrap presents for the the whole three-hour movie and then still not be done at the end. I’d be wiped out Christmas morning. This year I want to be awake. So instead I watched The Big Lebowski and wrapped most of my gifts early. I have only about six more to do on Christmas Eve, which will be a pleasant tradition now as I watch Donna Reed (I’ve always had a big crush on her) and leisurely wrap a few presents. Not to mention “The Dudeness” was so stupidly funny, I had a good time. Besides the sugar high from tasting some of the cookies amped me up a bit and I ended up cleaning the living room. Bonus.

– Mail out Christmas cards (yes, I know, they’ll be late… )  I told myself to let it go. Who knew the little photo cards would take more than a week to ship? The cards are ready, addressed and stamped. They’ll get there late, but they are nice and its done, so for now, this will have to do. (Family members reading from home… this is my excuse. Ok? Save the hostile emails for the Test Kitchen.)

– Make and hang burlap curtains – One of those projects that sounded great on paper… now… eh? I know it’s going to be a lot of work, so I’ll tackle this first thing Monday morning (after I write this blog of course). Just like shipping yesterday, I’m knocking off the hardest thing first.

– Decorate house – No biggie. I’m no longer the nutty guy in Christmas Vacation with all the lights. I used to be, I confess. I used to be…. now, this won’t take thirty minutes.

– Get tree (don’t ask… I just didn’t get to it this year yet)- Still 50/50 on this. If I don’t have time, at this late date, we’ll just do without. My daughters will give me shit. They’ll get over it. I’m sure I’ll buckle under, but right now it doesn’t seem too important. Besides, how am I going to tie a tree to my bike? We’ll see. I’m giving myself permission to skip it so, I’m moving it down with get some work done and as the optional part of this list.

– Decorate tree- Hey, two for the price of one! This too moves to the bottom of the list.

Yoga– the run made such a difference yesterday both physically and mentally that I want to follow it up with yoga this morning. I already feel my head telling me I don’t have time, which is precisely why I’ll do it. This little diversion will pay benefits all day long. 

– Find Xmas CDs- Already found them when looking for shipping boxes! Cross that baby off

– Make Peanut Butter for Test Kitchen – Afternoon activities

– Make Peanut Butter-based test recipes

– Plan holiday week menus- check, see above

– Shop for groceries- check, check… who hoo! 

– Clean house – I’ve been taking a room at a time. I’m almost half done without even trying. Tuesday I’ll do a once over that will take about a third of the time I envisioned when I wrote the list.

Watch 49ers game on Monday Night Football.- This little bonus is the payoff for finishing the burlap. Once I know that’s done, I can relax tonight, so I’ll watch the game and while I watch I’ll: 

– Make stockings for new family members – another chore turned into a fun evening. 

– Get some actual work done (good luck with that one…) Yeah, we’ll see about that… maybe once the tree is up, or maybe instead of the tree. 

The point is, if there is one, that lists can so consumed us with the future we miss the present. The obligation of all these things — most of which I took on because they are fun and show my love for my family and friends — threatened to not only take away the joy of the present but make me miss the Holiday season altogether. A few modifications, a few add-ons, a lot more in-the-moment living instead of future trippin, and the dread turned to experiences I welcome and have enjoyed. 

My whole outlook has changed and I will be in much better shape to thoroughly enjoy the holidays with my family now then I was 24 hours ago.

Make time for what matters. It really is as simple as that.

Comfort food well named on cold, gloomy day

I don’t have many bad days of late. Even the not-so-great ones, like one I had recently, are pretty OK. It’s just the mindset I’ve taken on. Perspective shapes most everything. I have worked to shape my perspective toward gratitude. It works.

But that still doesn’t mean I don’t need a little boost now and again. I have an arsenal of things — little things — that can boost my mood or straighten out a flagging perspective. I have a positive thought army that I repeat to myself. I have my balancing things I wrote about earlier. I also have my comfort foods.

It’s important not to use food as a drug, to soothe or to binge and all that. But that doesn’t mean a good plate of robust warm food can’t still warm the soul on a cold, gloomy day. We’ve had quite the weather lately. Snow covers the landscape. Our driveway was blocked for two days by a rather unaware thorn of the flesh. Four degrees is cold, really cold. A walk in 12-degree weather isn’t quite so sunny even when the sun is shining.

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So I countered the climate with warmth of my own, the old Italian staple, chicken parmigiana. It may seem involved or elaborate, but its neither. For Italians it’s akin to chicken soup or meatloaf for middle Americana. Take out a couple of chicken breasts, whatever cheese you have handy (I like provolone), some leftover sauce from pizza night and whip up this truly comforting dinner that will surely help your perspective stay positive. You can’t help but smile when you eat it.

Don’t get intimidated by the three bowls. It looks messy but its a snap, no worse than cleaning up the morning cereal bowls. Put flour in one, whip an egg with some half n half or milk or cream in the other and bread crumbs in the last. Add garlic powder, parsley, chili powder and sage to the bread crumbs.

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Heat a little olive oil on the pan and set out a cooking dish next to it, with some sauce on the bottom of the pan.

Then take each breast and pound it a bit with the mallet. Dip it into the flour, then the egg, the bread crumbs, then right into the heating olive oil. Repeat three times (one for me, one for my bride, one for me for lunch the next day — strangely my wife doesn’t really eat leftovers. It’s one of those cold wars I’ll never fully understand but have come to accept). by the time you get all three in the pan, flip the first. It should have a nice golden brown crust. Flip the next two. Take the provolone and put it on top of the chicken. Wait a minute, then transfer each to the baking dish. Cover the chicken with more sauce. Now slice some fresh basil if you have it (which you really should always have). and sprinkle the basil over the chicken. Toss it into a 350 oven until the meat thermometer says they are the right temp (I usually pull at 160 and let stand for a few minutes to reach the desired temp of 165. Some argue for 180 with poultry, but I beg to differ. Don’t trust me though. Don’t get sick on my watch).

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Slice some bread to dip in olive oil, make up a salad (in my case I made a spinach and romaine salad) and youre done. I baked some sweet potato fries to go with my comfort food, but pasta of course, or anything you want really.

Little things make big changes in our perspectives. Perspective can make all the difference in how you live in each moment. So who says a little comfort food can’t change the world? For a moment, it changed mine.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Reply below. I’d like to start a list. Thanks!  Continue reading Comfort food well named on cold, gloomy day

Taking some time to be still

Do you remember the movie The Paper? Every journalist loved it. It captured the insanity of newsrooms. What I loved the most was the editor, played by Robert Duval, clearly ready to slip a gear. He paces around his office ranting about all the columnists and their non-stop opinions … He yells, “Everybody just needs to shut… the… F*#&… up!” I’ve been there. I could relate.

But I have to believe, so to can God. Imagine the incessant whining in his ears. Imagine the non-stop pestering. No wonder the Pslamists of antiquity wrote of God saying, “Be still, and know that I am God.” That’s his nice way of saying the same thing as Robert Duval.

It’s not something we do well. It’s something I had to work very hard to learn, and I still suck. But I believe God wants to just be with me sometimes and not have to be verbally assaulted by my narcissism. That’s why I made myself a set of beads. I call them Grace Beads.

Most ancient religions have a prayer bead tradition. I suspect its for a simple reason. They work. By occupying our fingers we can calm our mind and interact with God on a deep, meditative level. Interestingly, one tradition that has almost a disdain for beads is Western Evangelicalism, much to their detriment. Too Catholic, I suppose, despite the fact that without the Catholics safe-guarding the faith for oh, about 1,500 years, there would be no Western Evangelicalism.

If ever a faith need to quiet down a bit, its the evangelicals. They seem so busy doing for God, and talking about God, they rarely have time for … God… Herself, who simply wants to sit and be with Her children. Thus, I made these prayer beads for Christians of all flavors. Borrowing from ancient Christian meditations and the rich tradition of mystics along with a healthy dose of scriptural focus, these beads guide us through the simple process of settling before God, taking stock of ourselves, and then focusing our energies outward in love and gratitude to others.

In Alcoholics Anonymous the 11th step is to take a Daily Moral Inventory. These beads are like that – a pause to take a moment and diagnosis how you are doing before your entire internal engine overheats. Each set of Grace Beads is individually made. There are a couple of different setup. One, the necklaces pictured here, are based on an uneven circle, with the rougher stones signifying the look inward to our sins and the smoother stones coming back up through grace.

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The smaller bracelets, like pictured at the top of this post, are built on a symmetrical pyramid of 11 beads of confession and 11 beads of graceful interaction with the Holy Spirit.

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A prayer guide is available in PDF format. Feel free to visit our website under the Workshops page for a way to get your copy. You can make your own string of beads, or drop us a line and we’ll see about getting you one of ours. Whatever works to occupy those hands, calm your mind and give you some time with the greatest artist of all, the one who created you and called you fearfully and wonderfully made.

Grace and peace to you.

Farewell to a beloved Auntie

Family is big with most people. At least we all give it some pretty good lip service of importance. With us, for all its complications, family remains foundational to all we do. From the day my grandfather’s boat (see photo above) arrived at Ellis Island, family has been our focus. That’s what makes Thanksgiving so wonderful as food and family pretty much sum up the holiday — even this year despite my Clark Grizwald turkey.

Each year at Thanksgiving my ties to family weaves through the distinct aromas in the kitchen. Each year I break out the old grinder from my Nonie’s restaurant of years ago and mash the ingredients that will become our signature green stuffing. Every time I break out the grinder or heat up the ancient cast iron pan, I can’t help but think of the woman who distilled in me the passion for cooking and for our culture and … for family. Family most of all. She lived 95 wonderful years but I miss her as I grind away. I’ll never stop missing her.

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This year the memories are thicker for many reasons, but not the least was the loss right after the holiday of my beloved Auntie, who lost a four-year battle with cancer. She may have always been too dramatic, too loud and likely very difficult. But she always made me feel loved and she was my favorite. She will be missed. My mother is now the only one remaining of the old Italians of my youth who gave me such rich memories. I’m glad she is here to anchor her generation to mine and to that of my children.

To end on a lighter note, I ask you… do you recall Green Eggs and Ham? Of course you do, if you of a certain age. Remember how disgusting it sounded? We all agreed with the guy in the book, “not in a car, not on a bar… I will not eat Green Eggs and Ham…” or something like that.

But Dr. Seuss had it right, and the green eggs and ham were delicious. Well, so too is GREEN thanksgiving stuffing. This Italian recipe goes back with my grandmother at least half a century and it is amazing how good it is. This is the only stuffing I eat. The grinder still drips stuff all over the floor and counters and that’s fine with me. I still grind the turkey giblets and whatnot because my grandmother knew what it was to be poor before she was successful and never lost the basic fundamental of using everything. And I still miss her every time I make it.

Green stuffing? Wonderful. Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without it.