Hidden Gems from the Road

 

Jazz Fest 2011And not so hidden.  Jazz Fest is of course, amazing, and so is the food there!

 

I’ve been working on a new page, for you and for me.  It’s full of all the places (mainly restaurants) that I want to remember from our travels.  How do you persuade me to leave my comfortable and productive studio, and head out on the road for a summer tour of art shows?  Well, just remind me that when we get to Austin, we can eat at Enoteca Vespaio, they have the first and best macarons I have ever tasted.  Then once we get to St Louis there’s Shu Feng, oh the crispy eggplant . . . you get the idea.  And it pretty much works that way, every spring.  Ever since we read Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria, we have an ongoing joke about being on the walking and eating tour of wherever we happen to be, with the goal of walking enough so that we can eat some more!  The list of restaurants and fun places to visit is getting too long to keep just in my head, or on random scraps of paper and lists on my phone, so I made a page for it here.

For every place I’ve remembered, looked up, and put on the list, I thought of at least one more that I haven’t had time to post yet.  So, look for another update, hopefully soon, and I even have some pictures to put in!  But I wanted to go ahead and publish the start of the list.  My goal is to keep updating it as time goes on, and we stumble on more hidden gems of the road.  If you have some of your own to share, let me know!

 

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Life as Artists on the Road

 

I’ve been working on this post for a while (um, understatement).  I keep feeling like I should, or would at least like to, explain a little more about what we do and why it is that I travel so much, but it turns out to be not so easy to explain.  Everything from how I met my husband and fell in love, to the story of my own life and work so far, to the state of the art market (we’re not getting into that one here) is wrapped up in it, and just figuring out what to put in and what to leave out has been more difficult than I thought, but here we go.

 

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 View from the truck windshield—a beautiful sunset from I-40.

 

The beginning of the story, for the purposes of this post anyway, is 2000, when Bryan (long before he was my husband or had this work) left his career as a business consultant.  He didn’t like what he saw himself becoming—that guy in a suit who cuts off little old ladies on his way to the airport.  He looked at the senior managers at his company and saw that while they were paid generously, they didn’t seem happy.  They were still overworked and stressed out.  Most of them had been divorced.  They spent their careers working to help huge companies with questionable ethical and environmental records.  He wanted more time off, and to have some choice of his clients, neither of which the company wanted to give him.  He followed his heart and resigned.

 

Bryan wasn’t sure what he would end up doing next.  He was a passionate photographer, capturing America’s wilderness using large format film (he still does).  To make the next part of the story short, over the following few years he carved out a niche that would allow him to make a living.  By the time I met him, in 2003, he was traveling most of each summer, exhibiting his work and photographing for new projects, and spending his winters in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I grew up.

 

Meanwhile, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.  I had left school at the University of Arizona (in Tucson), feeling unfulfilled, uninspired, and lonely, and moved back home to Flagstaff in December of that year.  I worked at a small museum in town (cataloguing lots of beautiful artifacts) and at a couple of other places off and on, but nothing that was going to turn into a career.  Bryan and I met at the end of that summer, started dating and (um, more long story getting short here) fell in love from fall through winter.  By the time he asked me if I wanted to travel with him the following summer, I was ready to say yes.  It was a big leap of faith, actually bigger looking back on it than it seemed at the time, but I knew he was the one for me, and it worked out.  We survived some big adventures together that first time on the road (some that I question whether I would stick around if they happened today), but we made a good team. By the time we got back home in the fall, Bryan had decided that I was the one too.  We got married in October 2005, and we still travel together every year.

 

(This pic is actually our return last fall)

 The truck—hauling, transport, mobile studio and camper.

Our time on the road is a mixture of selling work, making new work, and of course the adventures that happen in between.  Most of the selling takes place at the country’s top juried art fairs, and at galleries.  The fairs are competitive events run by neighborhoods and art associations.  Each season it’s a logistical challenge for Bryan to come up with a national tour from the shows and gallery openings he is invited to that will sustain our work.

 

Most of these art fairs take place outdoors.  As well as art and workspace and some regular living stuff, our truck holds a tent and carpeted walls to make a kind of mini-gallery for the photos, which we set up and take down every weekend that we “bring art to the people.”  Dealing with the weather is also a major part of this experience.  I started a list of things never to take for granted, but everything else pales in comparison to the first two items: hot showers and ice.

 

Wherever we end up, there are usually interesting things to photograph nearby.  It might be a national park, or interesting architecture for the In a Big World Wandering series, or something for an entirely new project.

 

Bryan crossing flooded boardwalk

Don’t worry, he made it to the other side without falling in.

 

In between selling and shooting photos, we usually either camp out or visit friends and family.  I love camping, staying in beautiful places, and trying out local foods at farm stands and restaurants.  But few things make me more suddenly grateful than arriving at a real house full of friendly faces, running water, a large bed with clean sheets, laundry, and a kitchen, etc.  My fingers start to itch at the thought of real kitchen tools, and we usually end up cooking a lot for whomever we’re staying with, as part of our efforts to at least act like, if not actually be, the world’s best houseguests.  It’s a good survival strategy; we need to make sure we can always come back.

 

As you might imagine, doing work of my own during this traveling time is . . . difficult.  But I’ve also found that it’s fairly necessary to my happiness.  I’ve tried selling my own work at art fairs, mainly felted handbags (you can see a few of them on Etsy), but that market wasn’t quite right for the things I made.  Along with the usual issues of customers not understanding the cost of handmade goods, plus the physical work to set up an extra display every weekend, it all convinced me that this wasn’t the way to go (at least not with the bags).  I did learn a lot though, about all aspects of running an itty-bitty handmade business, and about myself.  I began to figure out that my passion is really more for empowering other people to become makers than for selling things I make, hence my latest project (and this blog).  Although come fall, I will be making a about a ton of those little fuzzy hats again . . .

 

booths ann arbor

Left to right: my booth, and Bryan’s.

 

But back to the road.  Being gone for long stretches, usually months at a time, of course makes me homesick.  I miss my friends, my family, the smell of the pine forest, my studio (especially my studio—the freedom to make pretty much whatever I want, whenever I want to), my kitchen, green chile, good tacos (depending on where in the world we are) . . . but I’m starting to adapt.  At this point, if we stopped traveling, I know I would miss that too.  I’d miss the friends and family scattered around the country that we get to spend time with, the foods we get to eat (yeah, I’m a little obsessed with the food) and the things we discover, especially when we can get off the interstate and explore.  It’s an amazingly diverse and interesting country out there.

 

At the end of a mediocre show, we’ll often look at each other and say, “Well, we lived.”  It occurred to me recently that what we mean is not just “we survived” but also “we’re living” in the fullest way, taking advantage of the paths and adventures that are available to us, even though not all of them are good, and testing our limits.  It’s not always fun, pretty much never glamorous, and as a friend who’s taking a sabbatical from art fairs recently put it “a stupid way to make a living.”  And yet, one thing we don’t have to worry about is regret about chances not taken and roads untraveled.  The odd and beautiful parts of life on the road, the magical things that happen when you’re in a strange place at a strange time, are what will keep me coming back, probably for as long as this weird way of life is possible for us.

 

squonk opera passing

A performance called (I am not making this up) Squonk Opera passing by the booth in Pittsburgh.

 

Now I feel like maybe I should have written this post right at the beginning, as a brief summary of the state of my recent life . . . but here it is.  This won’t become a blog all about life on the road (that’s not my thing), but I would like to bring up a few other ways that my own goals and work intersect our travels, and hopefully after this it will make more sense.  What about you, any thoughts about travel/work/life?

 

 

Spring in the Great Smokies—Gratuitous Pictures

 

great smokies spring 2013 1

 

Just pictures today.  This always feels a little self-indulgent to me, but as I mentioned last post, after working hard on Hello Sewing Machine, and hitting the road with Bryan’s work, I am ready for a break!  Lucky for me, one of my all-time favorite breaks in my routine is just around the corner.  Our yearly week-long creative retreat/gathering of friends and family starts tomorrow, and I am so looking forward to it.  I’ll share some pictures and projects from that as well, once I have them!

Another kind of break I cherish is spending time in the wilderness.  These pictures are from this April.  Spring at home is a quiet season, easy to overlook until you turn around and it’s summer already.  Not so in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It’s like reverse fall, flowers and tress busting out all over with blooms in different colors, sizes and scents.  The week we were there it was already crowded with flower identifiers and photographers, and everyone seemed to be in a great mood, buoyed up by the coming of spring.  I hope you can take time for a little break today too.

 

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Kent State Museum and Ohio Food Finds

I feel like it took me a while to figure out that if I saw, for example, a cool exhibit was happening at a museum somewhere, especially in the Midwest, chances are we could go there at some point during the year. That’s how we ended up at the Kent State Museum. What I didn’t realize was that in addition to the resist dye exhibit I read about, the whole museum (ok it’s small, but still) is costume and textiles, and they have a permanent hall of historical fashion!! For any of you who don’t already know, I’ve been obsessed with historical clothing for the longest time.

Everything is presented in the best possible way for close-up viewing, with no glass between you and the textiles. My feet were demurely (ok barely) outside the barriers, but my head was basically in the exhibits, soaking up tiny hand stitching. Things made before the sewing machine I find extra fascinating, I’m always wondering how my stitching would stack up in those days. And how did they make those tiny perfect gathers?

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As you may have guessed from the lack of detailed images of all this amazing clothing so far, this museum has a strict no photography policy. And I have a “do unto others” policy when it comes to photos and copyright. And any iPhone photos I could have snuck in on the sly would in no way capture the level of detail that you can really see. If we’re going to the area next year I may try to get advance permission to take some photos, or bring a sketchbook. But really, the only way to see this is for yourself.

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We stumbled on a couple of notable food finds in Ohio as well, namely Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. Splendid is the right word! We tried four flavors, all of which were spectacular – tart cherry sorbet made with lambic, pear sorbet with Riesling, blackberry and sweet corn, and brown butter almond brittle, and there were about 50 more that looked amazing. Well worth going out of your way for, in Columbus, Cleveland and Nashville TN, plus available in groceries around the area.

That’s actually how we found out about it, while shopping for bread and cheese to go with a free tomato. One of my goals for this trip was to snag some maple syrup local to somewhere we passed through, since we’re all out at home. On a byroad we passed a maple syrup sign at a place that mostly sells small storage buildings (I am not making this up) and stopped to get some. The man working there kindly also gave us a large tomato. So anyway, as we were picking out cognac fig goat cheese (from Mackenzie Creamery) Bryan spotted a sign, “Did you know that cognac fig is also a flavor of Jeni’s Ice Cream?”

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This picnic will make you feel decadent, even at a highway rest area. Just as good with apple as with the tomato the night before!

Enjoy your travels this week, wherever they take you.

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Asian Coleslaw Recipe Sketch

 

This is a family recipe in a few ways.  I first got obsessed with this salad a couple of years ago when one of my aunts was making it a lot.  Hers was inspired by two different recipes (neither for Asian coleslaw), which I bothered her until she sent me, I thought it was so good I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I have been making my version of her salad (below) for long enough that it’s established its own pattern in my head of what “Asian Coleslaw” is like.

So, during our craft retreat, another aunt decided to make “Asian Coleslaw” with some veggies left in her fridge.  Great!  I offered to help, and had to laugh as soon as she started putting things in.  Parsley?  Olive oil instead of peanut or sesame?  If you’re putting that, why not add this cauliflower?  No?  As it became more and more clear that our visions differed (and of course her version was also delicious) I realized that here was one of my own lessons coming back to me, of course you can make it with whatever you have and whatever you like!  Please feel free to experiment.

 

Asian Coleslaw

This much will feed four as a side.

Combine in a bowl:

1/2 small cabbage (your favorite kind) shredded

3 medium carrots, grated

1/4 cup chopped cashews (peanuts and or/sesame seeds would also be good)

3 green onions/scallions, chopped fine (optional)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro (and/or parsley or other herbs)

Dressing (I make this in my little food processor):

1 Tablespoon shallot, or 2 cloves of garlic

1 Tablespoon fresh ginger

2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil (you can also use peanut)

Juice of one small lime (or splash of rice vinegar, although I like lime better)

2 – 3 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

2 teaspoons sugar or maple syrup

Squirt of hot sauce (or add serrano or another hot chile)

Process the dressing until everything is combined and chopped fine (you could also mince the solid ingredients by hand and combine everything in the bowl).  Pour the dressing over the salad, toss, and you are done!  This also keeps quite well in the fridge for several days.

 

 
I realized as I was thinking about posting this recipe that’s a really a year-round salad.  I tend to think of it almost more for winter, since the ingredients are still readily available, and it provides a little something fresh when almost everything seems warm and stewed.  But, it also makes me think of my cousin (sweating out the Brooklyn summer without AC) and everyone stuck in the Midwest heatwave – a tasty way to get your veggies without ever turning on the oven.  I’m still making it here, even though our monsoon-season weather has been exquisite, so close to perfect that I keep sitting on the (brick) front steps with my laptop to feel the breezes.   I’m telling you, the world’s best weather is in the mountain southwest, once it starts to rain.

One last note, my DIY envelope tutorial was featured on KP’s blog today!  We became friends in person (when we lived in the same country) now I love keeping up with her fun projects and lovely photos (plus she has a recycle project challenge)!

 

A New Month, A New Challenge – Spark Your Summer

The thing I love about setting a particular goal or participating in a challenge is that it can push me to take something I am vaguely thinking about doing and make it something I am actually doing and concretely thinking about.

I loved participating in Me Made May’12 this last month.  I was surprised by how much pride and self-sufficiency I felt wearing at least one me-made garment every day, even though I didn’t make anything new for the challenge!  It also got me thinking about what I really wear and how I want my style to evolve.  Although I’m not sure I would want to spend as much time thinking about my wardrobe all the time as I did in May, it really pushed me to better define my style (see this post), to figure out what I really need to make (pants!), and to meet some other sewers/thinkers/bloggers, all of which has been wonderful.  In another unexpected spillover, after MMM ended I found myself coming up with new combinations of my not-self-made clothes to better fit my style – bonus!

 

 

So when my new friend Alessa, along with Ali and Sarah, announced a new challenge for June, I was pretty much in at the word go.  Plus, this one is a little less involved, you just sew one special garment in June, something you’d like to wear all summer.  It’s good timing for me, since I have fabric I batik dyed last summer that’s supposed to become a dress in time for a special event which starts June 20!  I’ll be making my self-drafted sundress, with a few modifications from the first one.  And, I’ll be home late tonight!!  One thing I have really missed during MMM is my studio – sewing starts tomorrow!

 

 

Again, it seems to me that there’s no reason you have to sew to set yourself a helpful challenge for this month.  What about a cooking one?  An art one?  What are your broader goals and how can you set a specific goal to help you get there?  What would you like to do more of?  Why not set aside a specific amount of time for that every week?  Whatever you decide to do, I’d be willing to bet you’ll get some unexpected lovely side effects.

Take the Slow Road

When we’re cruising by on some interstate, all of America looks like a continuous chain of fast food and gas stations, and a background of changing landscapes.

Give me half a chance, though, a day or two when we don’t have to be somewhere in a particular hurry, and I will immediately choose the smaller highways, where speed is limited, giving you the added bonus of actually seeing the quirky shops, restaurants, and farm stands as they pass by.

 

 

The America we get nostalgic for is still out there; the lovely independent restaurants (Luisa’s Cafe in Harbert, MI was particularly good), the shops with hand painted signs you won’t find anywhere else, the local color and flavors that make each region unique (like this antique van? limo? parked at a fruit stand a little further up the Red Arrow Highway).

 

 

 

And then again, nothing makes me happier to be living in our current, fresh-food-abundant era than a taste of genuine 1950’s throwback road food.

It’s out there, go find it!