Category Archives: Stuff I like

OUI Yogurt By Yoplait: A Great Yogurt or Great Marketing? …Perhaps Both?

Oui 1

I was rushing through the aisles of my supermarket as I so often do the other day, to grab a couple of things for dinner when, my eye caught something that made me stop and linger. This is a hard thing to compel me do, so I went with it. These little glass pots of yogurt had the same effect on me as the dish ratatouille had on the food critic Anton Ego in the beloved movie of the same name and I hadn’t even tasted it….yet! 

oui 7

Even at a quick glance you can immediately see how it so different-looking from absolutely every other yogurt in a world that is now yogurt mad. The variety on the shelves today is mind-blowing…from the new craze of greek-style yogurt to yogurt that is touted to flatten your belly and keep you regular. Today it is so much harder to get people’s attention in a world where the choices for positively everything border on overwhelming. Why did this simple little thing do it for me?

oui 2

I could immediately see that this jar and the packaging was meant to transport me to the days where housewives made their own jams and jelly to use themselves and to sell or give away to neighbors. Their little glass pots would have handwritten labels that were cut with those zig-zag dressmaking scissors and glued onto the glass, all sealed with a round piece of colorful cloth held on with a sturdy rubber band. And here it was again before me, this quaint and comforting image that made me feel happy and homesick at the same time.

And I knew what was happening, and fully aware that the guys and gals in the marketing department had spent many hours getting the appearance of this yogurt to make me feel just that, but I didn’t care. I decided to fall for it and grabbed a couple of jars “just to try it” The price of this yogurt alone should have stopped me ($1.49: nearly twice the price of anything I usually buy) but those little pots with their old-world feel were too persuasive.

oui 4

I noticed it was made by Yoplait, a company that was started by six humble dairy farmers in France in 1965.  It is the only yogurt I remember growing up with in Ireland, so the Yoplait company had staying power.

So…was it good? I nearly wanted it to taste ordinary and run-of-the-mill just so I could say: while packaging is hugely important (hugely!), the actual product had to win me over if I was going to buy this again. But…it was sublime.

So why did it taste so dang good? I had to get the inside scoop? I learned that pretty much every other yogurt (including the yogurt made by yoplait), is made in large batches and poured into containers fully set and ready to eat. Oui yogurt is made more like how you and I would make it (but obviously on a huge scale), where  whole milk is added to yogurt culture, sugar, and fruit (if you choose). It is then poured into  little glass jars and there it sits to set for 8 hours before it is ready to eat. (And apparently glass also preserves the integrity of the favor better than any kind of plastic counterpart). This is why it tastes homemade and as you know, homemade is always a very good thing.

oui 3

Oui yogurt does not have the “tang” that permeates the newly popular Greek yogurt. Instead, it subtly sweet with a creaminess that feels like the best ice cream in the world. My favorite flavor so far is the tart cherry. I am one of those people who needs a little something sweet after dinner and it completely satisfies my craving. And there is something so wonderful about eating out of that sweet little glass jar wih its homemade label, (and yes, I am fully aware it is just a clever representation of a homemade, handwritten label, but I applaude the idea).

Some reviewers tout all the different ways the jar can be repurposed, but there are only so many pencil and Q-Tip holders you need, and, since there is no lid it cannot really be used to store condiments like my homemade pesto or leftover dressing etc. So if you become addicted to this lusciously creamy pot of heaven, make sure to recycle the glass!

oui 5

The last word is that this yogurt is worth trying as it satisfies all of the criteria to make a wonderful eating experience: it creates a mood that reminds you of simpler days with its pretty homespun packaging, and, it tastes like a sweet treat that you perfected and made using milk from your very own cow grazing out in the pasture. This is a very idyllic take on a yogurt made by what is now one of the biggest food companies in the world (General Mills and Sodiaal) but I have to give them credit for finding a clever strategy that won me over both body and soul.










ETSY AND ME: A possible Love Story

Etsy has been quickly using the power of this high-tech world of ours in an effort to get us back to some good old-fashioned shopping. What or who is Etsy you may ask? You might already know! But I want to add my two cents, along with touting work I would never have found but for this enormously wide-reaching site that is the home to millions of little shops (of course I will incorporate  food to merit the inclusion of this post in my blog. Food, which covertly anchors everything else that I love to it: anything that smacks of creativity)

Chocolate-Filled Candy Mushrooms by Andie's Specialty Sweets

Chocolate-Filled Candy Mushrooms by Andie’s Specialty Sweets

Etsy became part of my life when I (well myself and my guy Dave) decided to sell some of our work on Etsy at the advice of a friend. This was a little over two years ago when Jenny Mendes, ( 💚  ) told me she was doing well in this cyber marketplace and that we should give it a shot. Jenny’s work is not exactly main stream (hurrah) and so a recommendation from her was a good lead as far as I was concerned. Our work was also not your average manufactured dross so I thought it might be the right fit for us also?

Jenny Mendes: My dear sweet friend and reason I looked into Etsy (Unique Toothpick Bird Vase - Harry

Jenny Mendes: My dear sweet friend and reason I looked into Etsy (Unique Toothpick Bird Vase – Harry)

I am an impulsive person in so many (what I like to think are wonderful) ways – like having a dinner party last minute or buying a really impractical pair of shoes because I love the color. But, when it comes to the work, our work, I turn into my other self, my business-y and investigative self.

The "Brown" Bag // Caramel Brown WAXED Canvas Lunch Bag, an updated, eco-friendly classic by Italic Home

The “Brown” Bag. WAXED Canvas Lunch Bag, an updated, eco-friendly classic by Italic Home

So off I went into Research Mode and asked the logical question: What is Etsy anyway? Their mission statement was impressive to start and merited a deeper look. The mission in a powerful 13-word sentence stating it wanted: TO REIMAGINE COMMERCE IN WAYS THAT BUILD A MORE FULFILLING AND LASTING WORLD.

Modern Mailbox made of Teak and Stainless Steel by CeCe Works

Modern Mailbox of Teak and Stainless Steel by CeCe Works

That is a very beautiful thing and I decided that if they were being sincere, then I would not mind adding our shop to that banner. It is a big thing to think that your business could do something fulfilling and lasting in this seemingly throwaway society of ours?

Miniature greenhouse structure by 2of2

Miniature greenhouse structure by 2of2

And on top of that, perhaps a little contradictory to use tons of data analysis, strategic planning, and other techno-stuff to figure out how to give me, the shopper, curled up on my couch at my computer in rural Pennsylvania, the experience of having a fun interaction with someone across the country or across the globe, that felt meaningful on a human level?

Etsy somehow figured out that there were artists all over the globe who “make things” either on a big scale or on a very tiny scale. Each end of this spectrum was essential for Etsy to fulfill its mission if it wanted to, as it stated, reimagine commerce and make the world a better, and I’d argue, a more connected place: like a community.

Concrete Hexi-Bowl

Concrete Hexi-Bowl by Culinarium

The word community is bandied about quite a bit these days as organizations and businesses strive to appear more involved on a human level by establishing a neighborhood vibe rather than having the appearance of some towering austere company where turning a profit is the bottom line.

ColorCube by PAPERWOLF

ColorCube by PAPERWOLF

There is nothing wrong with making money but it is hard to stomach hearing the word community being used when it comes from the giant jaws of corporations and conglomerates that don’t  feel city-like, let alone village-y.

woody elephant by Bunny with a Toolbelt

woody elephant by Bunny with a ToolBelt

In the primitive sense of the word a community is a group of people who live and work together, and this fact alone binds them into a tightly knit group. They usually hold similar ideals and values and in a crisis work together in harmony for the welfare of the entire group.

large botanical chart, red orange variations, mixed media print by

large botanical chart –  mixed media print by Susan Farrington

And in a more modern sense and taking the definition a step further you could then say that anyone who holds the same beliefs, philosophies or principles as you belongs to the same community. I can buy that.

Arcs Furoshiki. Japanese eco wrapping textile/scarf, handmade in Japan by

Arcs Furoshiki. Japanese eco scarf, handmade in Japan by The Link collective

As in, if I meet someone in a museum in Russia drooling over the same painting, or I am on a train in China and I see someone reading one of my favorite authors (The same book would be too coincidental don’t you think even for this expository example!) I cannot help but feel a kind of kinship with this person, a connection of sorts.  Even this vague and tenuous thing can bridge the worlds of  two strangers.

Felt Cat Nap Cocoon by

Felt Cat Nap Cocoon by Vaivanat

I think now more than ever the feeling of alienation sends us into panic mode. Everyone wants to belong to some kind of group or team, and you could say that Etsy took advantage of our weakness. But is this such a bad thing? I have given this some thought and decided that I don’t feel resentful or used. Because at this point, whatever the intention, I feel I have benefited from the experiment, or business decision or bright idea that so and so (Rob Kalin & a few friends) had in his apartment in Brooklyn in 2005.

Flame Birch French Breadboard by Cattails Woodwork

Flame Birch French Breadboard by Cattails Woodwork

So what happened next: Etsy became the Global Marketplace where any artist/maker of anything, big or small, could run a shop pretty much on their own terms. They could own a little piece of cyber real estate to sell their wares and call the shots.

Yunomi. Tumbler or Whiskey Cup. Soda Fired with Leaf Decoration (#9) by Ron Philbeck Pottery

Yunomi. Tumbler or Whiskey Cup. Soda Fired with Leaf Decoration (#9) by Ron Philbeck Pottery

  They are people out there who are compelled to make “things”.  They could be doing this full-time like myself and my husband, or they may have a real job, or have chosen to stay at home to raise their children, or retired and living in the woods somewhere. No matter what the situation, at some point each day or each week, they have a project going of one kind or another that they are passionate about. This is the one ingredient that these people cannot live without: PASSION

Funky Danish modern chair

Funky Danish modern chair reinvented by boltonk

 Even misguided or mishandled passion can survive on Etsy. Why? Because it does not have to be monumental work to survive or monumental work to give satisfaction and pleasure. It can truly be a very simple desire with humble expectations.

Chest of Drawers by Senkki

Chest of Drawers by Senkki

But of course it can also be a dream that yearns to be fulfilled on a gigantic scale. You can see it all on Etsy if you pay attention, and observe this vast village of makers of pretty much everything and anything.

Chilli peppers hand crochet by Plad

Chilli peppers hand crochet by Plad

Before Etsy, or Market places like Etsy were created, lots of the great things people made were seen by almost nobody, unless of course the person had the resources and stock of goods to set up at a craft show and even then, this sort of endeavor takes time and money and is risky.

Modernist Closed Form Studio Pottery Vase with White Speckled Glaze by Civilized Modern

Modernist Closed Form Studio Pottery Vase with White Speckled Glaze by Civilized Modern

How could say the lady in Finland or Wisconsin or London making felted hats, while her kids are at school or tucked away in bed, have any hope of selling them? Or that man who lives in the woods who makes chopping boards and lovely wooden spoons from the wood of the dead trees on his property could ever dream that someone in New York City or Paris would get the chance to use his tools in their kitchen?

Maria S.C. single test tubes chandelier by Pani Jurek

Maria S.C. single test tubes chandelier by Pani Jurek

Yes, there are a millions of sites on the internet where you can buy stuff, but there are few places for me to support people like me, people who make thoughtful and beautiful things in small quantities with love and pride.

Stacked Plywood Table by Thomas J Collection

Stacked Plywood Table by Thomas J Collection

We talk about buying local and supporting small businesses, but sometimes it is not always easy to do, because things can get expensive and take too much time to source. How can you manage buying something in todays marketplace and feel good about it? Could Etsy be a good backup plan if buying local doesn’t work out or proves impossible or too costly? After all, a good portion of the reason you buy (well I buy) local is to support the individuals who believe in something enough to go to the trouble of providing it themselves.

Dr K Beard Oil/Tonic by Dr. K Soap Company

Dr K Beard Oil/Tonic by Dr. K Soap Company

Simply put: Etsy is an online shopping site where you can walk through a virtual craft show (in fact the whole idea for Etsy was modeled on big open craft shows where all sorts of artist vendors sell their wares to the public). As an artist/maker of things, you can start your shop with a handful of items and Etsy charges very affordable fees so even the tiniest of shops can go global! And they do, in droves!

"Found Coral" ring by Jamie Jo Fisher

“Found Coral” ring by Jamie Jo Fisher

Finding good quality hand-made art and craft at a show comes with a price tag. I did high-end craft shows for years here in the United States and my prices were not as reasonably priced as I would have liked because I had to take so much more than my time and materials into consideration. There was the booth fee (thousands of dollars for a 10×10 booth), staying in a hotel, travel, food and also making sure my prices did not undercut my wholesale buyers, meaning that no matter what I thought was fair for me (the actual wholesale price), I had to double for my retail customers. Then there was the fact that anything could happen; it could snow, the stock market could be down that day, the guy next to you could be selling something so garish that shoppers cross the aisle for feel of being contaminated by ugly art!

Modernist Oval Pendant Light by Mark Douglass Design

Modernist Oval Pendant Light by Mark Douglass Design

I began to feel like I was putting the things I worked hard to make into the hands of an entity which I could not control. I was letting someone else dictate who my market was and the value of my work? That’s fine if it is working, but when the market changes  I’m afraid even the artsy people of this world must sit up and pay attention, AND JOIN IN!

Organic Castille Soap by Pure Naked Soap

Organic Castille Soap by Pure Naked Soap

We all embrace something that is new and edgy and Etsy was embraced with a vengeance. I have intentionally focused my blurb about Etsy on the vendors who actually make work and sell it, but Etsy has two other categories of vendors: Vintage Goods and Craft Supplies. Vintage Goods are pretty much anything you can think of made before 1996 and Craft Supplies are shops who sell craft components and tools for makers, be they professionals or hobbyists.

Mini Zine - Handmade Book. Five Czechoslovakian Cat Ladies by Faye Moorhouse Illustration

Mini Zine – Handmade Book. Five Czechoslovakian Cat Ladies by Faye Moorhouse Illustration

The majority of the shops on Etsy are very small and run by one or two people. Some have become very successful (well done!) and now have employees who help with the manufacturing of larger quantities, but they are still small, even in the eyes of what we think a “small business” really is. In a world where everything is beginning to look the same, Etsy is a place where you can search the four corners of the world and find something that has been touched by human hands.

Indigo Leather Handbound Journal by Odelae

Indigo Leather Handbound Journal by Odelae

You have to forget fighting against the fact that Etsy has become it’s own strange money-making machine and appreciate what it has done for the potter in north Carolina and the jeweler or soap maker making working in his or her tiny apartment in some city in Eastern Europe. These little microcosmic shops under the Etsy umbrella make creativity possible for just about anyone who ever dreamed about being a maker of one kind or another.

TRICOLOR SNAKE SKIN Ring - Architectural Ring by The Ring Forge (that's me!)

Tri-Metal Ring by The Ring Forge (that’s us!)

As it became a place for individuals whose aspirations did not extend beyond just having the satisfaction of having a little something of themselves out there, it also became a place for people like myself, who were full-time studio artists and actively rethinking our own little mission statements. We (at least I) wanted to broaden my audience and put the burden of responsibility of making sure the work got out there on my own shoulders and on my own terms. Etsy became part of the business plan. It became another tool, another facet of a bigger plan for many artists to gain exposure.


Handmade plywood modern hanging ceiling cup ecological minimal by AAarchiTECtureLab

aaarchitecturellab Handmade plywood modern hanging ceiling cup ecological minimal by AAarchiTECtureLab

It also created a place for designers ( interior designers,  clothing designers, and product designers) to showcase their work. These artists use Etsy like a Show Room, many of them creating stunning and ultra-cool backdrops to highlight their work. I feel that anyone who takes Etsy seriously will be taken seriously. It is a very cheap way to find out what your potential is and how your work can make an impact on the world. It makes you think big while not giving up your independence and values.

If you take Etsy’s mission statement to heart and block out all the stuff that can annoy you about this marketplace (yes, we will have to talk about that too!) you can really do great things and surprise yourself. I have read enough stories, articles and interviews to know that Etsy has most definitely changed lives for the better.

Pomegranate Pendant in Ruby and Oxidized Silver by Artesserae

Pomegranate Pendant in Ruby and Oxidized Silver by Artesserae

My challenge was figuring out what to sell (I make jewelry for the most part, by hand, real metalsmithing here folks!). I love the whole research and development stage and that is how I took Etsy on. I looked at what we make, I looked at what was doing well and where our paths crossed. I found a niche that we could happily fill and before we made one thing for our little shop I already knew it would work for us.

Top Mount Sliding Barn Door Hardware by NW Artisan Hardware

Top Mount Sliding Barn Door Hardware by NW Artisan Hardware

The thing that was a learning curve was figuring out the whole “Etsy Culture” and there certainly is a culture, an atmosphere, and a way of doing business here. How can I describe it? Well, it is sort of cutesy, like when people include that little smiley face after their name (like Tess:) or Tess😀) – ha! I know, it sounds a little sweet but I have to say that it works and once you take on that air of being totally helpful and going out of your way to connect on a human level, it pays off. Not just monetarily, but in that sense where it is not just a sale you are making, but a sweet little connection with the buyer. I have always loved selling our work because I really do love that interaction so I suppose Etsy and me were destined to get along.

French Press by Yield Design

French Press by Yield Design

So here I am going on and on about my possible love affair with Etsy when I know that there are other things that need to be said out loud too. Etsy wants to be the marketplace for the handmade and vintage but if I were one of the Etsy Folks who trolled the site for items and shops that did not live up to the claimed principles and doctrine, I would Red Flag thousands of products. And I’m not just talking about things that are not my taste. I have to call out all of those vendors who use manufactured parts in their work and then call it handmade. These components are made in massive quantities by people working for unacceptable wages and shipped out to you who pawn them off as “handmade” on Etsy. I am a very visually observant person who notices details but it doesn’t take an astute eye to see the exact same component being used by hundreds of different vendors in their work and then claiming it as their own.

Grain Salt Cellar - a modern wood salt dish by Fixstudio

Grain Salt Cellar – a modern wood salt dish by Fixstudio

This is where Etsy looses me and makes it only a possible love affair. I love you Etsy but we might need therapy to see eye to eye, but that means you will also have to change. I have kept up my side of your bargain but you are falling short. Perhaps there are not enough “makers of things” on your payroll to see your vision through? I am not against ugly or even shoddy work that is handmade, I am against shops who say they made something that they clearly didn’t and then proceed to undercut work in the same genre that IS handmade by selling at lower prices (when you buy something for nothing, you can sell it for next-to-nothing and still make a profit!)

vintage 1990's Mondrian sweater from Carnival of the Maniac

vintage 1990’s Mondrian sweater from Carnival of the Maniac You may wonder why I have included this? It is the only vendor I feature who does not make their product. However, this guy (and the guy modelling is the owner of this shop) demonstrates the best use of creativity on Etsy I have ever seen! I mean, he is so good at presented his products I might even buy this sweater! The link above is a really great insight into his work ethic and his passion to make the absolute most of his opportunity to be himself.

Hey, I am only calling you out because of your Policy Page.  If you could add that you welcome work that is made out of totally prefabricated and mass-produced parts, made who knows where, then I think it would be better. I see all of this and yes, I have learned to ignore it and do my best to be uncompromising in my work. I think perhaps you need to be uncompromising too and begin the process of shutting down all of the shops selling dishonest products to unsuspecting customers. It may mean less money, but over time, I guarantee you will lose the “HANDMADE” appearance of the site as true makers will slowly feel pushed out and undermined. Do you secretly want to be Amazon?

The Journey Bag: Truffle by Peg and Awl

The Journey Bag: Truffle by Peg and Awl

I do think that Etsy is a great place to sell handmade work and I would give it a try if you want to see what you are made of, but stay true to the original mission of the company and you will never have to hang your head.

Etsy does have a Manufacturing Policy and here is a link to it:


If you read it in detail, even if you disagree with allowing for a manufacturing policy in the first place, it clearly states that all manufacturers that vendors use must be approved by filling out an application and must be “operating a safe and just workplace” and that does not:

  1. Does not use any child labor in any aspect of your work;
  2. Does not use any involuntary labor in any aspect of your work;
  3. Is free of coercion and intimidation against workers;
  4. Is an equal opportunity workplace and does not tolerate discrimination; and
  5. Takes care to minimize impact to workers and the environment, including by a) practicing the safe storage and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste; and b) providing safety-related education and protective equipment to workers.

As you can see they have commendable rules in place but my point is that they are doing a very sub-par job of enforcing those rules. Just saying that stating something or believing something is not good enough.

Recycled Book Paper Sculpture by bookBW

Recycled Book Paper Sculpture by bookBW

The funny thing is that Etsy still lives a very cool and super-innovative life as a company. Employees work in as green a building as they can make it. They recycle absolutely everything, down to composting and taking it all to the various recycling centers on their bikes for crying out loud. They volunteer in the community and shop at the Farmer’s Market! Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? This is why this huge discrepancy saddens me so much.

figure with pale yellow skirt - an original gouache portrait sketch by Cathy Cullis. This artist does not sell on Etsy anymore but I really wanted to include her work because I love it

Figure with Pale Yellow skirt – an original gouache portrait sketch by Cathy Cullis. This artist does not sell on Etsy anymore but I really wanted to include her work because I love it (I did include a link to her blog spot!)

All the work I featured in this post is made by true makers of things. It feels and looks special in one way or another. I wanted to show this work and hopefully send some business their way. To my eye, this work is the work that Etsy really and truly wants to sell – so let’s have more of it…….

hand felted brooch - hazelnut fox by Creations from the North

hand felted brooch – hazelnut fox by Creations from the North

and less of this ( I hate to show pictures  but I think we need a comparison to get my point across). I picked the same component and got over 22,000 hits. Here are 10 Lotus blossom Necklaces on generic chains from 10 different shops (if you can believe it). You know, I don’t even mind the un-originality. The lotus is a sweet symbol of purity in body, speech and mind, but these are bought components from big manufacturing companies that have no place in the Etsy philosophy. Unfortunately there are thousands of products that look like this on Etsy. I hope you can see the big gap between the work I have chosen that symbolizes for my what Etsy stands for and the pieces below.

lotus 10lotus 9lotus 8lotus 7lotus 6lotus 5lotus 4lotus 3lotus 2lotus 1

WOW– I know it seems I have ended on a bad note but perhaps you will not make it to the end of this long rambling post! I do take pride in this blog of mine. I write about all the good things in my life and how the good should shine brighter than the bad. I have made an effort to not be one of those complainers because God knows I hear my share of it on a daily basis. It is not as cool to be an optimist I suppose but I am okay with writing about the good stuff and to hopefully rub off on the world in a positive way.

Jay Bird Lino Printed Gift Wrap by Handmade and Heritage. Here is a typical Etsy story: Handmade and Heritage is an evolution of many creative ideas over the years. When I decided to become a stay-at-home-mum I found myself needing to keep busy in the evenings and when my daughter was at nursery. I've tried bead work and cardmaking but I wanted to try something more traditional and which I could incorporate my love of British nature and birds. Printing gift wrap was an idea I stumbled across when experimenting with some lino. I also like to embroider small trinkets - something which I am hoping to explore further with, in the future. After 7pm my dining room table turns into my work space and I print from home. I am hoping to have a studio space soon so I can claim my dining table back!

Jay Bird Lino Printed Gift Wrap by Handmade and Heritage. Here is a typical Etsy story: Handmade and Heritage is an evolution of many creative ideas over the years. When I decided to become a stay-at-home-mum I found myself needing to keep busy in the evenings and when my daughter was at nursery. I’ve tried bead work and card making but I wanted to try something more traditional and which I could incorporate my love of British nature and birds.
Printing gift wrap was an idea I stumbled across when experimenting with some lino. I also like to embroider small trinkets – something which I am hoping to explore further with, in the future.
After 7pm my dining room table turns into my work space and I print from home. I am hoping to have a studio space soon so I can claim my dining table back!

 Etsy has been the inspiration and instigator for lots of new and wonderful websites who want to sell handmade products, and they should be proud of that fact. But they have to continue to work hard on being a “mindful, transparent and Human Business”

So, Good Luck Etsy and stay the course!

Carrie - Ceramic Bird Sculpture by Jenny Mendes

Again, thank you Jenny for introducing me to Etsy. It is work like yours that makes Etsy so great.  Carrie – Ceramic Bird Sculpture by Jenny Mendes


Ultra Running: Food for The Soul

“Food for the Soul” 

We have all heard, and have most likely used this expression, when referring to “food” that contains ingredients other than meat and potatoes. Food is such a necessary part of life, but it is also the word we use to describe activities that “feed” the other part of us that craves sustenance; our soul, our spirit, or our being.


My brother’s Running feet!

This blog is about my relationship with food, and over the past several years I have come to the conclusion that when I write about food, I hit on every facade of my life. By encompassing the saying, “food for the soul” I have an excuse to write about another passion in my life: RUNNING.

To me, a passion is something you cannot live without, and I couldn’t imagine my life without running. At first I ran because it is what everyone did. You joined the club in your town or village (in Ireland anyway), and ran with them until you left home for work or college. At that point you either gave it up, (perhaps taking it up again later in life to keep the cholesterol at bay!) or you just kept running. I just kept running. Going into detail about how running makes me feel is difficult to sum up, and may border on boring for anyone who prefers to bike, swim, climb mountains or sit on the couch. So, I will refrain from talking about the runner’s high and the being one with the road business. Besides, this post is about someone else’s relationship with running, not mine (I’m getting to it!)

"Run like an Animal" (thanks for the pic Jay)

“Run like an Animal”

And of course, there are all kinds of runners. I fall somewhere into that general middle category, where I am capable of running 30 miles or so per week but am not interested in races or pushing myself to see how I stack up against my peers (probably too scared!). I get to live that aspect vicariously through my brother, and his kind of running. This leads me to what I want to talk about: my brother and UltraRunning.

It’s like this; I cannot play golf to save my life, but I LOVE watching it on television! I know the rules, am familiar with the various tournament’s and have favorite players I like to follow. I suppose I admire people who can do something I could never do myself. UltraRunning is a little different from golf, but the same thing applies for me. I am like the person who reads a book on how to build a house or a boat and then feel I could actually do it, or at least talk in detail about how I would do it!

"Bye HB, see you soon!"

 “see you tomorrow!”

Well, my brother Sean is my virtual UltraRunning book, and I have talked to him so many times about so many aspects of this sport, (even managing to pace him for one of his crazy races (Run Rabbit Run) that I feel like I could hold my own if I found myself sitting around with his running friends analyzing races and going over strategies.

What's inside a Drop Bag?

What’s inside a Drop Bag?

Of course I have never built a house, swung a golf club (well once very badly) and I have never run an Ultra. The standard definition of UltraRunning is anything past the marathon, (26.2 miles). The standard distances are the 50 kilometer distance, (31.07 miles), 50 mile, 100 mile, 100 km, and a series of events that last for specified time periods such as 6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour, 48 hour, and 6 days. These races are run on all sorts of courses, but mostly they are run over vast stretches of varying terrains with mega amounts of elevation gain thrown in (let’s not forget snow-packed ground, mud, shale-y trails, river crossings, wind, rain, sleet…)

Sean & Timothy

Sean & Super Star Ultra Runner, Timothy Olson chatting the day before their 100-miler

The people who run these races don’t just strap on a pair of running shoes and grab a bottle of water for when they get thirsty. They have to keep hydrated and take in huge amounts of calories if they don’t want to die during a race. This requires all sorts of planning and a big education in getting to know what your body needs over the course of say 12 hours (12 hours of running!). Let’s not even talk about the training, which is hard, constant, and time-consuming.

Run Rabbit Run Victory Dinner (serves 4)

Jenna Gruben (no longer with us but still remains a constant inspiration to Sean)

I have described UltraRunning in a way that would make you actually want to run in the opposite direction of the starting line, but that’s just because it is so difficult to see the “soul food” here. I can only picture myself on the side of some mountain shivering to death, too broken to make my way to the Finish Line (you know, 40 or 50 miles ahead!). There has to be something good and deeply satisfying about testing your body and mind to the max?

Rain is coming down hard

A little rain can’t stop them!

Well, having had a bird’s-eye view from Sean of what an Ultra Race looks like, I have learned to appreciate why he does it, and have discovered that his need to race is parallel to his need for food. This ultimate test he puts himself through during each and every race is his bread of life and I have to say, it is pretty incredible to watch and to fathom. I run enough to appreciate what it takes and I am mightily impressed with him, and all of the Ultra Runners out there who attempt to feed their souls in this unique way.

Race day

Race day

Last Saturday when I was getting ready to go to the beach for a week, Sean ran in his 16th Ultra, the San Juan Solstice 50 Miler in Lake City Colorado. As with all of his races, his completely amazing girlfriend, Kristi, kept me posted on his progress (as well as do all the race planning, pack drop bags, clothing and the food Sean requires for each race) via texts and emails. When he runs in a big race like this I always go for a run to mentally keep him company for a few miles (I will admit to occasionally shouting out his name, scaring the odd cow and squirrel, in the hopes it will spur him on). I managed to run for an hour before we jumped into the packed car and then spent the rest of the day waiting for any information on his progress and condition.

San Juan

San Juan Solstice 50-miler

Here is what I found out during the course of the race from Kristi via text and email (it’s chronological) and one short remark from Sean when he finished.

KRISTI: “The San Juan Solstice 50 miler in Lake City, CO started about 20 minutes ago. This is an extremely challenging course that starts at 8,600 feet and rises to more than 13,300 feet with more than 12,000 feet of elevation gain throughout. He also has more than 7 river/ creek crossings with deep, swift moving water.  He is hoping for a 12 hour finish, but said he would be pleased if he finishes in under 13 hours because it’s such a hard course. I am only allowed to see him at two points throughout the race ( mile 15.7 and mile 40). I expect to see him between 8:30 and 9:15am at mile 15.7; I will send an update as soon as I have reception after seeing him”.

(below is a link to one of the water crossings – the runner who took the video managed to get dunked before he made it across!)

Another look at the terrain

Another look at the terrain

KRISTI: “He came through mile 15.7 at 9:15 this morning. The first section is extremely difficult with a lot of climbing, but he was in great form. He said this course is fantastically beautiful!  He should be almost done with all of the river/creek crossings at this point. So far it’s a cloudy day and in the 60s…perfect running weather!  Oh, and we saw a young moose on the way out to the aid station. I’ll send another update when I see him next which won’t be until around 3pm or so”.

Are we having fun yet?

Are we having fun yet?

KRISTI: “He came through mile 40 just before 5pm. Everyone seems to be a lot slower due to far more difficult conditions than anticipated on the top of the Continental Divide.  I hope to see him at 7pm, but that’s a rough guess. He still has a 1,700 foot climb before he comes down for the last time. He seemed to be ok and said his body was feeling fine. It sounded like he tanked at mile 30 and is looking forward to finishing this one. His friend Martin also surprised him at this aid station”.

Good Surprise

Good Surprise

KRISTI: “Waiting at the finish…”

No rest

I think the thing that makes UltraRunning special is the totally intimate relationship the runner cultivates with nature as the run progresses. So many different feelings must surly hit someone who is running to a certain rhythm with only the trail to keep them company. This has to be the part where the magic happens, (and the addiction to that feeling). An Ultra Runner becomes an acute observer of the little things, like the delicate flower sprouting out from under a rock, as well as the awesome things, like the view from the side of a steep path cut along some cliff-like mountain. An ultra run must feel like an epic poem filled with dramatic highs and lows – admirable food no doubt.

KRISTI: “Taking care of him now!!!  14:45 🙂  He crossed the line with fellow Steamboatian, Amanda G”

Time for a Beer

Time for a Beer

SEAN: Toughest course I  have ever ever been on. Crazy
river and snow field crossings that were scary in parts.
Love to all,

Me & My Bro


Little Addendum
I called my brother to wish him Happy Birthday and when he answered the phone he was out of breath? Turns out he went on a special birthday run; a present to himself. He stopped to talk and sat on a rock and described where he was. It sounded like a glorious place so I asked him to take a picture.
Here it is!!
The trails ran and running are , Mad Creek, Swamp,Elk Park,Lower Bear,Strawberry Park Hot Springs trails

These are the trails he ran this morning, and here is “the rock” –  Mad Creek, Swamp, Elk Park,Lower Bear, Strawberry Park Hot Springs trails




Siobhan Asleep in NYC – And John the Charming Baker of Eataly

Happy Christmas Siobhán– This is for you – xx

NYC at night

NYC at night

How do you write an account about being with your oldest friend in the world for 20 hours in New York City of which half of it she spent asleep! This really wasn’t her fault. She was in New York on a business trip for 4 days where her every moment was pretty much booked up with stuff that had nothing to do with fun or being in one of the greatest cities to visit in the world. The work my friend does has always been a mystery to me. All I know is that she has to dress in a “corporate” manner, wear high heels and carry a bag with a lot of papers in it (well maybe now the papers have turned into a computer full of papers!). It is not the case that I have no interest in her work but when it comes to Big Business and my friend, all I can see is my friend, the girl I met when we were thirteen at an all girls convent school in Ireland. The most important part of her work to me is finding out whether she is happy or not, and, for the first time in a long time she was happy to report a resounding “yes” to that question. Okay, she was happy with work so we could move on and concentrate on enjoying the things that have sustained this friendship for decades (too many to admit here!).

"Meek and humble of Heart"

Church in Ireland

I arrived at her hotel on the West Side at what seemed like an ungodly hour to the two of us; 10.30pm for me, a time that I would have been in bed most weekdays and at 3.30am Greenwich Meantime for Siobhán, a time I’m sure she would also have been tucked far beneath the covers. She had arrived from London that morning and that evening and next day was her only free time and so she decided to forfeit sleep and feeling fresh for me! I told her to get some sleep before I arrived because we would be going out when I arrived. She answered the door in a sleepy stupor fully clothed, and after a big hug I asked her why she choose to get into bed wearing a dress, complete with tights and a necklace? “I thought we were going out for a drink?” I had already been rethinking that plan as I was tired from my whole day and the two-hour bus trip into the city, a bus incidentally that was filled to the brim, stuffy, and part of an accident scene (well, our bus was the first on the scene of a car accident, where the bus driver jumped off the bus to help, not before telling me to call 911 to report it. That was a very bad idea considering the fact I am from Ireland and when someone asks your location taking into account the  North, South, East and West of that location it only serves to confuse the situation even more. The best I could do on that count was to try to read the road signs and indicate we were near the Lincoln Tunnel! By the time I had more or less told the 911 operator where we were the bus driver had helped out as much as he could and was getting back on the bus. As the operator was telling me to stay at the scene until the police arrived, we were already driving away! ).

my favorite building in New York: The Flat-Iron building

my favorite building in New York: The Flatiron building at night

“Sure, let’s have a drink somewhere”‘ I said feeling that if we didn’t we would both end up going to sleep and use up our precious few hours together. While I waited for Siobhán to gather herself I noticed her dinner tray from room service so of course had to investigate. There was a piece of leftover salmon and green beans on the plate, along with an enormous hunk of bread. Siobhán saw me and commented on who in the world would eat practically a loaf of bread with their dinner! Yes I know, I thought, but right at that moment I was feeling a little hungry and pulled off a piece, slathered it in butter and felt happy and grateful that this country errors on the side of extremely large portions! And a few hours later when we returned to the room I made myself a sandwich with the rest of the salmon while Siobhan made short shrift of the last of the bread!

Tom brought a giant loaf of bread!

I love good bread!

Our night on the town consisted of us settling into the hotel bar preferring not to deal with traipsing around in the frigid weather looking for somewhere fabulous to have a drink We decided we would leave our adventuring to the next day when Siobhan had gotten a little sleep (by this point she had been up more than 24 hours straight!). The hotel bar was completely cheesy (matching the drab out-of-date hotel in general) but on the bright side, we could drink there all night if we liked and the cocktails were enormous and potent! My friend had this theory she developed while sipping her drink that because she was in a different country she would be immune to the aftereffects of one-too-many. I think she might have been right except for that last one, a mystery shot complements of the bartender.

one of last's night's birthday indulgances

one Hefty cocktail!

The next morning she was dead to the world and so I let her sleep, happy myself that it was midweek and I could laze in bed with no obligations to anyone for anything whatsoever! I finally got her up to meet my friend Bird for coffee around 10am after which we went back to the hotel saying the only “cure” for this feeling of wanting to curl up into a ball and sleep was to eat a greasy breakfast. The hotel breakfast could have fed an army but it did nothing for my poor friend who wondered if she could take a little nap before we went out and about? “Why not”, I said and told her I could explore the pool, one of the reasons she choose the hotel in the first place. There was a rooftop pool, but I found out it was literally on the roof, outside in the elements and closed for the season! What could I do? Well since I was captive to the room until Siobhán woke I decided I might as well take a nap myself and hopped back into bed and promptly fell fast asleep.

The breakfast meant to cure a hangover (but failed!)

The breakfast meant to cure a hangover (but failed!)

We woke around late lunchtime and so decided to skip lunch and opt for an early dinner before I left for my bus home. I wanted to take her to Eataly, the Italian market created and owned by Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, two great chefs (read more about the market HERE if you are interested) located right next to the Flatiron building. I figured we could soak in a little of the beauty (and cool factor) of that part of town, with photo ops in front of the Empire State building and the Flatiron; a whirlwind tour so to speak!

photo op before popping across the street to Eataly

Photo op before popping across the street to Eataly

Siobhán LOVED Eataly (even though we both agree the name is wanting!), from the packed specialty food areas dotted throughout the whole market, to the many fantastic-looking restaurants also coexisting the space in a fun hotchpotch fashion. The thing she loved the most was the entire atmosphere and energy of the people strolling, shopping and eating in the market. It felt friendly and welcoming, so much different from the feeling of austerity she got when strolling through London. She loves living in London, but right at that moment she realized why I love New York so much. It has a bold in-your-face quality that invites people to be part of, and to take pleasure in. 

Giant wheels of Parmigiano Reggian stacked in Eataly's cheese shop

Giant wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano stacked in Eataly’s cheese shop

All the employees were beyond helpful and ready to share any information they could on the various foods and other products on offer. I was allowed take pictures of whatever I wanted and the place I was most curious about this particular visit was the beautiful bakery. And, that evening was my lucky day because one of the guys making bread was only too happy to fill us in.

Eataly's bountiful bakery

Eataly’s bountiful bakery

John, one of the bakers in Eataly, was ten hours into his shift and busy as a bee. The bakery was just to side of the bread shop and was in full view if anyone wanted to watch the bread making process (like those places that make fudge on enormous marble tables in front of glass windows facing the street in cutesy seaside towns). I however wanted to do more than just peek through a glass window, I wanted to have an intimate view into the into the inner workings on the floor-laden bakery floor!

John checking the muliple drawers of rising dough (check out the floor)

John checking the multiple drawers of rising dough (check out the floor)

John was only too happy to answer my pesty questions, like, “how much bread do you make here?”. He told me that they make 2,000lbs of dough each day, which makes 2,000 loaves of bread – I just couldn’t believe such a small compact little place could manage to do all that. And at $5.50 per loaf I also couldn’t believe that Mr. Batali and Ms. Bastianich made over $4,000,000 in revenue in bread alone – this dough produced a lot of dough indeed (couldn’t resist!)

John, the charming baker from Eataly

John, the charming baker from Eataly

Eataly’s bakes with a wood oven that was brought over from Spain and painstakingly reassembled in the bakery. Because of the nature of the brick oven there are heat variations according to where the bricks are located in the oven, which means rotating the bread by hand every 10 minutes for even baking. This requires a boatload of diligence on each person working in the bakery (so no taking off for a quick drink to the Birreria to quench a thirst).

John making bread with a fellow bread man!

John making bread with a camera-adoring fellow Bread Man!

As well as this bread being sold in their shop it also supplies the rest of the marketplace whose restaurants and deli shops serve sandwiches, and bread for the table to sop up great olive oil and used as a vehicle for the most wonderful Salumi & Formaggi in the world.

A sample of how the bread is used for sandwiches - yum!

A sample of how the bread is used for sandwiches – yum!

we could have chatted with John all day but I could see that Siobhán was fading again and figured the thing to do was to eat something robust washed down with a nice glass of wine (at least that’s what I was craving). I put our name down at La Pizza & La Pasta and we continued to explore the market until I got a friendly text that our table was ready (clever idea).

This strange lemon is called The Buddha's Hand. it has no pulp and is used for garnishes and zesting. It is also used to make great candied peel.

This strange lemon is called The Buddha’s Hand. it has no pulp and is used for garnishes and zesting. It is also used to make great candied peel.

Siobhán bought some lovely jams for her hubby Philippe and bought me a gift of nougat (I love Torrone!) which I have a healthy weakness for. By the time we sat down we were both ravenous and had a meal I will remember forever. I ate pizza with my friend in a place I love, and it was hard to fathom that this simple meal would be our first and last together for another long time. It is not often that we can manage to do this, living on different continents with our own very separate lives and schedules, so we ate and drank with  immeasurable appreciation.

clean plates all around!

Clean plates all around!

As I rode home on the bus in the early evening I felt tired and a little like my whirlwind trip to the city was more like a dream than reality. But then I rummaged in my bag and found my giant Torrone nougat bar and it quieted the sting of sadness I felt upon leaving my friend, all the way home.

Classic Italian Torrone


My Concorde Bottle Opener (And I’m Talking From Air France!)

Have you ever taken a bar of soap from a hotel or a teaspoon or fork from your favorite restaurant? I know this is a hard question, but I’m only asking because there seems to be another part to the  commandment “thou shalt not steal” and that is: “thou shalt not steal, unless of course it is a souvenir”and then it seems to be a socially acceptable crime.

My bottle opener from an Air France Concord plane!

My bottle opener from an Air France Concorde plane!

I want to say that we all have done it  but that’s mostly because it makes me feel better about certain liberties I have taken. I will admit to having a glass or two in my kitchen which “remind” me of certain bars I loved, and if you find yourself in need of shampoo there are probably a few little bottles in my cabinet to choose from (not to mention a mini sewing kit and shower caps!)


The nose is great for juice cans…

Yes, stealing is stealing, but in my defense I have never taken a bathrobe or actual crockery, or this killer bottle opener for that matter! In fact, the things that I have acquired that are more substantial thefts were picked up at flea markets and thrift stores by my ever-scouring husband. These things were taken by more serious souvenir shoppers.


…while the tail expertly opens bottles!

This is my favorite thing to open a cold beer with: a stainless steel bottle opener shaped like the Concorde from Air France. This was most certainly used on this now retired plane and was just too good a memento to be left on board. Besides, anyone who paid that much for an airline ticket should be given one as a gift (at least that is how the person who lifted this probably justified slipping it into his pocket or bag before exiting!)

No matter what the story of how it got from the Concorde to my kitchen I must say when I use it to open a beer, it always makes me smile.

Introducing SweeTerra Farm! A New Farmer, Chickens, Rabbits, Goats, Turkeys and 2 Toulouse Geese!

I have a friend. His name is Tom. He is an architect. He has three grown daughters. One of his daughter’s is Catherine. This is a story about her.

A Chicken

A Chicken (trying to avoid me)

When I met Tom he invited us all to his house, and during that Summer a few years ago we visited again and again. It was true that he had a wife and three children but I did not meet them for nearly a year.

The Pond at Sweet Terra

The Pond at SweeTerra

What I love about Tom is his wide-embracing view of the world and his mixture of very conventional and wildly unconventional way of life. For starters he designed and build his own house, and as the years went by he kept adding on more “bits” Also, when an idea strikes him, he either invents something or buys the patent! There are a lot of posts with Tom in them if you are curious (here, here, here, here and here  and many more!)

Poor little bait fish

Poor little bait fish

So, where was this family he appeared to be ultra-close to, leaving him all alone in the middle of the countryside? We joked that he had made them all up, and for him to say that they were also in China seemed like a conveniently far-flung invention of his too!

Tom's fountain awash with lily pads

Tom’s fountain awash with lily pads

But, they were all in China as it turned out. Catherine armed with fluent Mandarin left for Hong Kong to work in the corporate world, cubicle and all! Then the youngest daughter B. decided that this was the best place to go to medical school, so off she went too.

Catherine the Farm Girl

Catherine the Farm Girl

Well, I said they were a close family so I am presuming after some time had gone by, the other sister Laura, missed her sisters so much she jumped on a plane to China to be close to them. All three sisters had left their home for presumably a very long time.

The beginning of something great: Sweet Terra

The beginning of something great: SweeTerra

So what was a mother to do? Their mother decided that the girls needed a maternal eye to watch over them and help set them up comfortably in their various accommodations and jobs. So you all  know where she went. It was during this time that I met Tom, and I must say he came across as a man quite content with this new arrangement. He could come and go as he pleased, eat when and what he liked, and sleep in any room in his topsy-turvy house.

The Cat preferred her own company

The Cat preferring her own company

Of course over time I did eventually meet the whole family. This happened over holidays like Christmas and impromptu visits, and we became close pretty quickly as we felt we had met long ago through stories swapped back and forth between the two families.

San Marzano tomatoes

San Marzano tomatoes

Jumping a few years to the present they are all, save one, back at home, and I mean literally living at home. What happened?

My favorite thing there: crunchy radishes and lettuces

My favorite thing there: crunchy radishes and lettuces

Well Laura decided that China was not for her and moved home, followed less than a year later by Catherine who had grown weary of her little cubicle and living in a stacked apartment building in the heart of the city.

The Garden God

The Garden God

One day Tom told me that Catherine said she was moving home to become a farmer. “A what?” I said, “I know” was his reply in a not so surprised tone. He had no one to blame but himself. He raised three girls to think they could do anything they set their mind to.

Jaya, the Toulouse goose (named after my freind Jaya from Paris!)

Ide feeding Jaya, the greedy Toulouse goose (named after my friend Jaya from Paris!)

The bolt of lightning that hit Catherine happened when she went trekking around Europe with her sister this spring. They lived on the cheap, staying with friends (or friends of friends’) and ate in restaurants a little off the beaten path. Catherine thought she had died and gone to gastronomic heaven.



I could say that this only happened because the food she was used to eating in China appeared a little sterile and engineered by comparison but when she told me that her idea to grow her own food came to her while she was in Naples I have to disagree with that theory and say that it was the sublimely good Italian food that clinched it!

Tom was on the grill all day getting this lovely plate together

Tom grills everything!

I am from Ireland so you never see the words “grass-fed” cows on labels in the meat section. All cows are grass-fed and that is that. So much more of the food in Europe locally sourced and as far as my experience goes, Italy is pretty close to the top of the heap when it comes to eating close to the table.

Spinach grwon from seeds from Naples

Spinach grown from seeds from Naples

They eat seasonally and food is brought in almost daily to butcher shops and green groceries. I lived there last year for a stint and cooked almost everyday with ingredients from no more than a few miles to several miles away. The food tasted good above and beyond anything I did to it for that reason alone. Click on “Italy” to the side of this blog to read all about it!

Baby Turkey (There are two; Thanksgiving and Christmas!)

Baby Turkey (There are two; Thanksgiving and Christmas!)

This is what Catherine found out and she wanted that for herself. She is at that glorious point in her life where time is most definitely on her side and there was no better time to go off and be adventurous than right now. She also had Tom, and acres of land at her disposal. There was no way I could see him objecting. He is the best kind of push-over and it is most convenient if he happens to be your father!

Veggies i got yesterday from the Farm

Veggies I got yesterday from the Farm

After her decision, her mission was to buy as many seeds as she could find, and as she tramped the rest of Italy, and then France, she found what she could in flower and plant shops before it was time to get home and start digging.

Very Rustic Badminton was in full swing in between courses

Very Rustic Badminton can be played (and was!) while waiting on dinner.

She picked the piece of ground where her mother had always had a vegetable garden when she was growing up but made it a great deal larger. She then went about finding out how to be this person she wanted to become and started classes on organic farming, reading mountains of books and magazine articles as well as seeking out other like-minded agriculturers.

And the Drink of course (Joe on the poarch sampling some of the beer he helps brew!)

And a Drink is nice too (Joe on the porch sampling some of the beer he helps brew!)

I must say I am impressed. Her enthusiasm has not waned but excelled, and the more she finds out the more she wants to do. It truly is like watching a kid in a candy store.



When she talks about what she is doing and takes me on tours to show me how well her San Marzano tomatoes seeds are doing, or to see the new goat or the baby rabbits she just makes me happy. It is hard for her downright good humor not to rub off on you as you walk alongside her.

The Spread (or at least part of it)

The Spread for the Farm picnic at SweeTerra

She certainly doesn’t look like a farmer as she is usually wearing a strapless sun dress with a pair of bright yellow rubber boots, hair up, sometime with a ribbon, and not a complaint from her lips about being tired or jaded from all the hard work.

The doomed bunny

The doomed bunny

I would find out about a new animal arrival via a picture email from Tom. The kids would beg to see it and over we would trot (in fact after I write this we are going there for tea and to hold the new Toulouse geese!)

He also made this flaxseed-ridden bread!

A couple of Sundays ago we were invited to a Farm Picnic. This is when the  farm was introduced to the locals. Lots of people came and we all ate food from the garden cooked with enthusiasm and love by Catherine, Laura, Tom and of course the ever-always supporting Mom!

Preparations (after all, it's all about the food!)

Preparations (after all, it’s all about the food!)

Everyday more veggies are planted and more animals arrive. There is talk about 60 chickens and that scares me a little. It doesn’t seem to bother Catherine so rather her than me.

Time to clean up

The women on the farm favor white dresses

I am more than content to take surplus greens home and stop by for tea and a tour. This is the first of what I hope to be many posts about SweeTerra Farm. After all I haven’t even touched on her learning to butcher rabbits and her beehives!

As is the tradition at Tom's: the evening must end with a bonfire

As is the tradition at Tom’s: the evening must end with a bonfire

I’m sure Tom will get used to this.

As is the tradition at Tom's: the evening must end with a bonfire

GOOD LUCK SweeTerra!

My Most Magnificant Birthday (You’ll See!)

My birthday was June 1st and in honor of the occasion I made a plan. It is not my usual form to put a lot of thought into things that are very specific to me, usually leaving it up to what the day brings and to whatever anyone else might have arranged, but this one was different.

my birthday (card from my daughter)

My birthday (card from my daughter)

This was supposedly one of those “milestone” birthdays and I thought the only way I would be satisfied with the outcome was to plan it myself. A milestone usually has a Marker of some kind and I wanted my Marker to say two things: Philip Johnson and The Glass House!

Philip Johnson by Andy Warhol

Philip Johnson by Andy Warhol (hanging in the Painting Gallery at The Glass House estate)

At this point you either know what I am talking about or you don’t. If the former you are going to take the tour with me and maybe see something new or perhaps a building from a different perspective (mine!), and if the latter, you are about to discover an architect, who in the 1940’s, built a house that was unlike any other in concept or design that would forever stand as one of the major examples of modern architecture.

My Breakfast: A Cheese & Almond Danish from Le Pain Quotidien Bakery in New Canaan

My Breakfast: A Cheese & Almond Danish from Le Pain Quotidien Bakery in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Before I talk about where I went, I have to say something about why I choose The Glass House as the place I wanted to remember when I thought about this particular birthday.

This rowdy (in a good way) bunch of man

This rowdy (in a good way) bunch of men stopped me on my way to the restroom; why? Well if I had a camera around my neck I had to of course capture their “Mens’ Breakfast” which apparently they have every Saturday at around 9am! There were no objections when I asked if I could post their image!

The first thing I thought about when I began thinking about what I would like to do is who or if anybody would accompany me at whatever I choose to do. After all, sometimes it is only on the occasion of one’s birthday that you can say (and be forgiven), “I want to spend the day completely and utterly alone!” I did think about it but it didn’t feel right this time.

On to The Glass House

On to The Glass House! (The door to the Glass house Visitor Center)

I wanted to share this with my immediate family. I wanted to go some place that I have always wanted to see and I wanted it to be a treat for everybody. I didn’t want to drive too far and I wanted to feel for sure that the whole family would enjoy the experience as much as me. Taking all of this into account, it was very difficult to decide.

Philip & Ide

Philip & Ide (She bought this amusing Philip Johnson finger puppet at the visitor center before our tour saying she would like him to accompany her around his home – yes, she is a sweet little girl)

I decided it had to be art of some kind or another. We live as artists, and so, for better or for worse, this has rubbed off on our two children. By the way, when I say “for better or for worse” I am definitely being sarcastic! There is no one in this world that could convince me that art does not hold the secret to happiness and general contentment. I believe this most strongly indeed!

The Library/Study

The Library/Study

Art it was, and now, where to go within a reasonable distance that none of us had been to already? It was right around that perplexing moment I saw the book Philip Johnson THE GLASS HOUSE sitting on a table. I was pretty sure Dave had been reading it lately and then of course it was obvious. Our trip would be to the most widely publicized work of modern architecture in the world: The Glass House by architect Philip Johnson.

on closer inspection

On closer inspection

Philip Johnson bought a few acres in New Canaan, Connecticut and set about making it special, and by this I mean, he created a place that would serve as the finest example of modern architecture which not only took into account buildings, but sculptural art, paintings and the actual landscape. All would serve his polemic vision that a modern building does not stand alone. He took 49 acres and created a place where the land itself would be the most important part of the architecture.

The reason for our visit is somewhere down this path, barely visible

The reason for our visit is somewhere down this path, barely visible

The Glass House was in itself a place from which to view this landscape on a daily basis. It was a magnificent idea and Philip Johnson completed the house in 1949 and even today it is considered a building beyond its time.

the view from one side

Approaching The Glass house from a path to the left of this sculpture by Donald Judd. It was made on site with reinforced concrete in 1971

I could go on about all the things that excite me about this building and the other buildings that I visited on the estate, but it would really all come down to me talking about the architect himself, about what made him “tick” as he put it himself. I will not for a couple of reasons: I would be inadequate in my explanations of his vision, and two, I don’t want to rule out anybody because of my boring analysis. This Building is for everybody and after standing inside it, I know that Mr. Johnson was not being high-minded when he designed it. Because… it felt like Home (yes, with a capital “H”!)

Approaching The Glass House

And a path approaching from the right

Luckily I had made sure to check out the Glass House website early (click HERE) to find out about tours and tickets as all the slots were practically sold out for June 1st, two months in advance! It is an expensive tour which can only be conducted in groups of twelve and is guided.

angled paths and a massive stone wall on the walk to The Glass House

Angled paths and a massive stone wall on the walk to The Glass House

I gulped when I forked out the $48 per ticket but now I realize there should have been no regrets whatsoever. We arrived safe and sound for our tour at 9.45am after a lovely coffee and pastry for breakfast down the street. It was a gloriously sunny day and we were all shaky with anticipation.

The Brick House

The Brick House

Our little tour bus filled up and off we went under the wing of our very enthusiastic tour guide, Pat McCaughey. He was the perfect man for the job as he was a wealth of information about Philip Johnson, The Glass House estate, and the contemporaries of the day. He spoke with great ease referring to Mr. Johnson simply as “Philip”, like they had been friends for years!

The back of The Brick House

The back of The Brick House

He did know Philip Johnson who had only died in 2005 but only from the standpoint of another resident. He said he was far too shy to walk up to him and say “hi, I love your work!”

The Glass House

The Glass House

In retrospect, it seems he could have easily done that as he told story after story of how complete strangers, who were either architect students, devout lovers of his work or simply curious nosy parkers who would cold-call the estate and Philip Johnson would give them the grand tour himself, or as in one case, simply say he was on his way out but that the door was open and to by all means take a look!

The front door

The front door

He only learned of his wonderful generosity and friendly demeanor after he took the job as tour guide in 2007 when the house was open to the public for the first time since it’s completion in 1949.

The seating area

The seating area: This furniture was designed by his contemporary and good friend Mies van der Rohe and made by the Knoll Factory.

He said he applied for the job right from a newspaper advertisement. When he read the ad he said, “I could do that!’ and so he trained as a guide, learning all there was to know about the man and gave us a splendid 2 1/2 hour tour with lots of facts flavored with just as many delightful tidbits of personal information.

Different light

Different angle, Different light

Like what he said when asked why there were no windows in the front of the guest house (known as The Brick House – see it a few pictures above) he built at the same time that lies at an angle facing the front of The Glass House. He said that he designed it with no windows because he did not want to know what was going on in the house just the same as he did not want his guests to know what was going on in his. This is why all of the windows on the Brick House face the back and are on the roof!

The sense of space

The sense of space (the painting in the background is by 17th century artist Nicolas Poussin titled, “Burial of Phocion”

Philip Johnson built this house on a site where he could appreciate the view of the outside from any side. He built it for his most important client, for himself, and, he either lived there full-time or on the weekends until his death in 2005. He died in The Glass House with his glass walls reflecting the familiar trees, rocks and meadows on the other side.

Walking from the Bedroom past the Living Room

Calder taking a walk from the Bedroom and on through the Living Room

And the trees were also not completely left to nature. He was an obsessive landscape architect also. He said that “all landscape architecture is hopeful architecture” and he worked compulsively on improving his view.

The Bedroom

The Bedroom

He cleared parts of the woods to allow for meadow space and ferns to grow. He wanted “dappled-shade” and I’m guessing that this was probably the most beautiful light in the world to him, light which reflected, danced and shimmered.

Where Philip Johnson sat

Where Philip Johnson sat and worked (although I’m pretty sure that was distracting!)

He had trees pruned so your eye could make paths through them as you looked from certain points, and he only kept grass tightly mown in specific spots. He let the grass grow high saying that if a building is interesting enough the grass shouldn’t stop one from getting to it; you’ve got to love that kind of stubbornness!

A view of the desk from outside

A view of the desk

I haven’t even mentioned being in the Glass House yet and I cannot do that until I tell you that getting to the front door was not just a simple matter of walking directly up a path and there it was right in front of you.

A not-so-Crappy Kitchen!

A not-so-Crappy Kitchen!

Philip Johnson believed that you should never approach a building from a direct line, but rather from an angle. And so to get to the door you had to navigate the circular concrete sculpture by Donald Judd (a few pictures above) and then the path went off to an angle before joining a path that let to the front door.

The backyard!

The backyard

I had to stop myself from running across the grass and meander the path I was meant to take. It certainly did serve to build up my anticipation and excitement.

The view from where Philip Johson sat outside (you know, the backyard!)

The view from the backyard! (The Lake pavilion was built in 1962 and plays with perspective with the design making it seem further than it actually is)

No amount of looking at pictures of The Glass House can prepare you for what it is actually like being inside The Glass House. It was one of those moments where you are waiting to see how you feel and if it lives up to your expectations of whatever picture you have painted in your mind. It was so different from what I thought it would feel like.

A giant tree close to the house

A giant tree close to the house

It immediately felt like home, like when you are away from your house on holidays somewhere and when you open the back door,  you can finally breath and you cannot wait to sleep in your own bed. I thought it would have this aura of austerity, something unapproachable, cold even. It was quite the opposite emotion.

A view from the Glass House and the pool from the path to the Painting and sculpture Gallereies

A view from the Glass House and the pool from the path to the Painting and Sculpture Galleries

I could see myself happily unloading the groceries for dinner or lounging with some friends on the sofa or rug. It felt happy and warm, and the idea of being out in the open in a vulnerable way disappeared. The acres of green color outside felt more like a curtain bellowing around the walls.

The underground Painting Gallery

The underground Painting Gallery (inspired by a Grecian Tomb from 1250 BC)

We all got a chance to explore the house in great detail and at a leisurely pace. My kids were truly in awe and Dave looked like he had died and gone to heaven. I would safely say after seeing how we all felt that this tour was a very good idea.

Frank Stella painting

Frank Stella painting (and Dave deciding if he could warm a little more to this painter in this spectacular setting)

Upon leaving the house we walked to some of the other buildings that Johnson has been continually building since moving in. He built an amazing Painting Gallery to house his ever-changing hanging art collection.

Approaching the sculpture Gallery

Approaching the sculpture Gallery

The Painting Gallery was built in 1965 and is a masonry and earth bern with 3,778 square feet shaped in three circular rooms where art could be viewed. He liked to view 6 paintings at once and the walls rotated like giant poster racks with two paintings on each wall. The little stools from which to view the work, and to sit around on were also round, reinforcing the circular theme.

Inside the amazing Sculpture Gallery

Inside the amazing Sculpture Gallery

One of my favorite other buildings was the Sculpture Gallery. It was built in 1970 and this brick cavity wall construction is a massive 3,650 square feet. The glass ceiling made of tubular steel was the most amazing roof I had ever seen. It changed the entire room into this magical place filled with hundreds of lined shadows which plastered the walls and floor in every direction.

another look at the magnificant light

Another look at the magnificent light

Philip Johnson loved it so much himself that he even contemplated moving house, until he thought, “where will all the sculpture go!” I would have been sorely tempted myself but I have to say that the special warmth of The Glass House would have kept me there.

The George Washington Bridge on our way into Manhattan

Zooming by the George Washington Bridge on our way into Manhattan

We were all very sad when our visit ended but I anticipate I will be back again to learn and see more. I’m sure there is so much I missed (like when you watch a movie over and over and discover so many little details that tie everything together).

Ma Peache

Ma Peche for Lunch

Our next stop was a quick drive to Manhattan for lunch and to pick up my friend Bird and bring her back to our little house for the remainder of my birthday. I also wanted to get home and be in a place where I felt comfortable and happy. Also, I had a birthday cake waiting, (which of course I made the day before).

I got presents!

I got presents!

We tried to tell Bird about where we had been and what it was like but it was truly impossible to emphasize how fantastic the whole place was and that the Glass House did not feel small and weird, but airy and alive. She will just have to see for herself.

My Backyard

My Backyard

It was a lovely mild evening and we sat outside while I barbecued chicken and we indulged in cold beers with lemons; just perfect.

We had Cold Raspberry Tart for dessert

We had Cold Raspberry Tart for dessert (which I will post the recipe for of course!)

The quick cold tart I whipped up the day before was absolutely the best birthday cake a girl could ask for and the whole day will be remembered as one of my most worthwhile moments.

It was a truely magnificant birthday

It was indeed a most magnificent birthday

“Maybe what makes me tick is unique. I don’t mind, but it may be of interest to know how different my tick is from yours and yours”

From a lecture given by Johnson at Columbia University in 1975.