March 29, 2010

The Joy of Garage Sales

As I was walking Jo-Jo (the doggie we're sitting for this week) around the neighborhood today, I could smell it in the air - the scent of unwanted items being cleaned and prepped for Garage Sale Season. 

I for one am awaiting this season impatiently, as this year I will have far more time to peruse these mini bazaars.  It's always interesting to see what your neighbors have amassed over the years.  When you think about it, garage sales give us a peek into their lives, too.  That deck of cards with the Eastern Airlines logo on them - why do they have them?  Where were they going, and was it for business or pleasure?  And, since it's Eastern Airlines, they've obviously had these cards for a looong time - why did they choose this year to finally get rid of them?  Do they need the money?  Did they run out of room?  Am I nosy for thinking these things?

My mom and dad in-law are having a sale of their own this year, and I'm helping out.  My sister's family had one last year that I did with them and we had a ton of things that we sold.  It was amazing, seeing all of the items that we managed to discover in our basement.  It felt really good to be rid of all that clutter, and surely we'd be good for at least a couple years before we'd have enough for another sale.   Au contraire!  I can't believe the pile we have set aside already!  Where does this stuff come from?!?

I'll tell you where it comes from - mainly, other sales and junk shops!  It's a cycle that can't be broken, I'm afraid.  Because like many garage sale-goers, I believe that there's nothing like that Holy Grail find.  You know what I mean - I think all of us that frequent garage sales or junque shops or antique stores think that we are going to uncover a long-hidden or forgotten Picasso sketch that someone's Aunt Mildred just happened to have stowed away in her attic trunk from her days as a barmaid in Europe - that Antiques Roadshow-type moment when the appraiser announces that the seemingly worthless trinket you've brought for inspection is worth $580,000.  But of course we'd never sell it - the sentimental value is priceless.  Yeah, RIGHT!

I don't plan on getting rich from my eagle eye, but I do love finding items from the not-so-distant-past that I would never find anywhere else, like an ugly vase that I could care less about, but that has an old Prange's or Kresge's price tag on it (yes, I'm weird).  Or greeting cards that can be repurposed.  Or old labels and stickers.

This garage sale season, I'll keep my eye out for things that you need too - what are YOU looking for?  :D

March 25, 2010


I'm very lucky - for the next week, we have a visitor here at the house.  He is of the furry persuasion, and his name is Jo-Jo.

So I am dog-sitting while my sister Jen and bro in-law Mike and my nieces are on vacation, and I couldn't be happier. I can tell Jo-Jo is a little down right now, and wondering when they'll return. But he knows me very well, so I'm sure we'll have a grand ol' time together, especially now that I work at home and he won't have to be crated for eight hours at a time.

Jo-Jo and I hit it off right away.  From the moment that my sister Jen and her family brought him home, he ingratiated himself into our lives.  He's a very loyal pup, too.  I think my mom is his favorite human outside of his "immediate family". 

So, who is Jo-Jo (or Jo for short)?  Well, he's about 5 1/2, and a Poodle-Bichon Frise mix.  He used to really like other doggies, but about two years ago he was bitten by a Chow that lives in their neighborhood, and he grew quite wary of other canines after that.  One of his favorite things to do, other than play tug-of-war, is look out the window.  He likes to warn us of potential hazards, like leaves blowing across the street, or people walking, or (GASP!) other dogs. 

Despite these little quirks, he is quite smart.  For example, he gives a short "ruff" and looks at the faucet when he's thirsty.  He'll scratch at the pantry door (where his food is kept) when he's hungry.  And all he has to do when he needs to go out is nod his head toward the sliding glass door.  When he's crated, Jen will say "go in your house, Jo" and he goes.  Sometimes, when keys are being jingled or coats are donned, he will just go instinctively.  He is a joy to be around.

He is also a lovey.  I really like it when he literally leans on me.  I'll be sitting on the couch or the floor, and he'll come over and put all of his weight on me.  I really feel special when he does this!  I think this is his way of saying, "I trust you".  :D

Brian and I go back and forth on whether or not to get a dog of our own.  Now that I'm at home, it certainly would be easier to have one.  We're also traveling less right now, and our lives aren't as hectic as in years past.  I know it's a lot of work to have a well-behaved doggie, and we would certainly make sure that our dog would we one of those.  It doesn't do anyone any favors to have a dog that no one can stand, least of all the dog itself.  Dogs need to have rules and structure and a pack leader.  It would be hard not spoiling him.

My sister had to ask me straight out not to give Jo too many treats while they're away, because it isn't good for his digestive system.  I do know this, deep down, but when I see how happy it makes him to have a treat all logic flies out the window.  I'm the worst kind of "Auntie" in this way (I'm afraid I'm like this as a human Auntie too).

Well, I'm off to see what Jo-Jo's up to.  I just heard a small bark, which probably means there was a sudden gust of wind or a bird flew overhead.  Something extremely hazardous, no doubt.

March 23, 2010

Living Longer

As I was sitting in the waiting room of Fond du Lac Clinic today (for over an hour - don't get me started), I began thumbing through an old issue of Time magazine.  The overall topic of that week was living longer, and of course Dr. Oz was a panelist and columnist (I don't know why, but he bugs me).

The articles were pretty interesting - one of them was about a family of 8 or 9 siblings who range in age from 79 to 96, and they're all still alive.  Scientists are actually studying their family to see what sorts of factors play a role in one family having such a great track record of longevity.  It is very intriguing, how some families are blessed with old age and others seem to be beset with health problems.

Knock on wood, my family is one of the lucky ones (I'm pretty superstitious, so I'm having a hard time writing this sentence).  I've lost very few family members in my lifetime:  my great-grandfather on my Grammie's side (he was 79 and had cancer but was a heavy smoker), my Auntie Lou-Lou, who was my Grammie's sister (she died at only 62, but she was an alcoholic and a heavy smoker and had throat cancer), and my Dad (but even though I was only 35 when he died, he was 83).

Of course, all of the doctors in these articles list things you can do to live longer: more fruits, veggies and whole grains; EXERCISE; live a stress-free life, don't smoke (or quit), etc.  You know, all of the "duh" things.  And yes, if you're overweight and/or don't exercise, you're at far greater risk of health problems.  But not always!  That's the thing!  I want to be in that "not always" category, so I don't have to exercise.  :D

Some of the studies published also found that "going hungry" may help people live longer.  Here's my question:  if you're a little hungry all the time, why would you want to live longer?  For better or worse, I think one of life's greatest pleasures is good food.  Yes, good food can and does include fruits and vegetables, but it's almost always accompanied by something fatty - that's why it tastes good!  Of course life is going to seem a heck of a lot longer if you're hungry, because you're miserable, which I would also be if I couldn't eat yummy stuff.

I don't put a lot of stock into "doctors' findings", because they change so often.  Remember the oat bran craze of the 80s?  No one talks about oat bran as being the panacea anymore - it appears that pomegranates or acai berries have taken its place.  Coffee seems to be a villain on and off, depending on how popular it is.  Back in the 90s, when coffee was again the drug of choice, it was linked to all different types of cancer.  Now, not so much.

I guess all we can do is all we can do.  As I get older, I'm certainly paying more attention to how I eat and I'm trying to get more exercise.  I quit smoking seven years ago, so I don't have to worry about that.  Every life has some stress, but I'm quite lucky in that department too.

We'd all like to live a nice, long, healthy and happy life.  Good news, all you babies born this year - you have a 50/50 chance of reaching your 100th birthday.  Isn't that incredible?  The only way I want to live to be 100 is if Brian's there with me (he'll only be 94!) and I'm not a loony old bat.  Oh wait...I'm already there.

March 20, 2010

Stuck in Third Grade

Warning:  This post contains my brand of immature jokes and humor.  If your humor goes beyond a third grade level, then this post probably isn't for you.  If you do like scatalogical humor, read on!

I love poo humor.  Its roots go very deep into my past - so far, that I may not be able to separate myself from this humor, even if I live to be 100.  And I don't have a problem with that.

Some of my first memories involve "functional" humor.  I grew up in an apartment building and lived in the same place from 1970-1988.  My sister Jen and I always had kids around to play with.  One of them was a boy named Tad.  He and I were about the same age, and because he was funny (and naughty), I liked him right away.  One of the most hilarious things about Tad was how he would call his poop "boomies".  Jen and I thought that was the most hysterical thing we'd ever heard.  It still makes me laugh.  So of course, we'd ask him to say it over and over. 

Even my mom got into the act.  When Jen and I were about six and seven, Mom told us that when she was little, she would call going to the bathroom, "making kerplunks".  Now you have to admit (if you've gotten this far into reading this) that that's funny stuff.  Kudos to my mom for telling us this, because it made her seem more human, more than just "mom" as an authority figure.  It was fun (and still is!) trying to picture our mom as a little girl, telling my much younger Grammie this statement.  It's rather absurd, when you think about it.  With as educated as my mom is, she still had to go through the same stuff that we all did.  It's like picturing George Will being potty-trained - not easy to do, is it?

When I was in first grade, my best friend was Lynn Vannieuwenhoven (if you're not from around Wisconsin, I'll help you out - it's pronounced "van-even-hoven" with a long O).  Every recess, Lynn and I would go to the "Poop and Pee Place" by the hill behind the school.  The great thing about this place is that it had absolutely nothing to do with what we called it; we just liked saying it and it made us sound funny and "cool". All we ever did at the Poop and Pee Place was pop tar bubbles after the maintenance workers would come around and repair the cracks in the asphalt.  The fun never stops when I'm around!  Maybe we called it that because the tar resembled the aforementioned material.  I can't remember - that was 36 years ago.

Fast forward about 15 years to college - remember the movie "Parenthood"?  Remember the song that Steve Martin's kid sings in the car on the way home from Little League?  I'll give you a hint:

When you're sliding into first and you're feelin' somthin' burst:  Diarrhea!  Diarrhea!
When you're sliding into third and you lay a juicy turd:  Diarrhea! Diarrhea!
When you're sliding into home and your shorts are full of foam:  Diarrhea! Diarrhea!
When you're sitting in your Chevy and your shorts are feelin' heavy:  Diarrhea! Diarrhea!

My roommate Vicki and I sang this around our college house all the time.  I honestly can't remember what our other roommates (there were six of us total) thought about us singing this, but I probably didn't care much.  Even as I was typing out the "lyrics" to this "song" and watching the clip, I was on the verge of tears from laughing so hard.  I can't help it - in a very large way, I'm stuck at eight years old.  This morning, for some reason, I thought of this "song" and started singing it.  Let's just say that Brian does not share my love of scatological humor.

Oh, but my nieces do!!  And I had a blast telling them words and songs that only Auntie can get away with.  Maybe my sister would've been upset with me too, if she weren't right there helping me out.  One of my most hilarious memories of my niece Mia is when she was about two, and she said to me, "Hey Hantie (she couldn't say "Auntie"), I have a secret to tell you!"  Me:  "What's that, honey?" Mia, whispering in my ear: "Butts and poop."  Funny, funny stuff.  At least to me and my family.

Mike Myers once said on "Inside the Actors' Studio with James Lipton" that he would never stop using the "poo-poo pee-pee" humor in his work (and if you've ever seen any of his work, you know that it's filled with it).  I completely understand this.  And it is possible to enjoy highbrow AND lowbrow humor, even at the same time.  It's why "The Simpsons" works so well, as well as the Austin Powers franchise.  It's also why "Family Guy" works; just omit the highbrow part for that show.

If you don't share my love of this brand of humor, that's okay.  Just know that I will feel a little sorry for you, as you're missing out on a lot of hilarity.  I also look at it this way:  when I'm 85, and in a nursing home, it's going to make those awkward Depends moments a lot easier to take if I can laugh about them.  Maybe I'll even sing the "Diarrhea" song to the attendants. 

Photo of my sister Jen and me.  I'm on the left.  I'm guessing this is around Christmas of 1975, which would put us at six and seven years old (I'm older).

March 19, 2010

What Price Vanity?

I received my "Real Simple" magazine in the mail on Wednesday.  I love my magazine subscriptions, and RS is one of my favorites.  I usually skim it the first time through, read it more thoroughly in the second pass and then keep it around for a few months for the recipes and hints.

For those of you who have never read this magazine, think of it as sort of a laid-back Martha Stewart.  It's loaded with time-saving hints and tips for parents and non-kidlet families alike.  It's one of the only magazines I've read that I liked at 31 and will like at 61, if it's still around.  Some of my favorite recipes have come from RS.  The stories of real women (and men) who have faced obstacles or triumphs are always well written and insightful.  They do a great job of citing sources for the items contained therein.

But I do have one issue with the magazine - the fashion section.  Oh, they pick out gorgeous clothes, all right - but my question is, who wears them?  I'm not talking about size here, either; yes, their models are thin, but not grossly so.  No, I'm talking about price.  Egads!!!

Take, for example, an outfit they show in the current (April) issue.  Some of it is clothing from Max Azria, so it's going to be expensive.  But am I the only one who shrieks when I see a black jacket for $258?! A linen skirt for $595???  Seriously, who's buying these clothes???  To be fair, RS always has a "steals" page, too - but I must be super cheap when it comes to clothes, because I still wouldn't pay $44.50 for a Lands End Canvas shirt.

I feel very lucky to live in a town (small city) that doesn't pride itself on its fashion sense.  In that arena, I fit right in.  Here in Fond du Lac, you can dine anywhere, even if it's "upscale" (read: one place in town), in jeans.  No one would bat an eye if you showed up in a "nicer" sweatshirt.  You have to remember, though, that Fondy (its pet name by everyone who lives here) is a blue-collar/farm town.  The good people of this town just don't care what you look like, for the most part.  I have to say, it's very refreshing.  Not that Green Bay, where I lived for the first 28 years of my life, was any hotbed of culture.  Far from.  But it was a big enough city to have an "elite".  Fondy does too - they're the "Ledgers" - but not enough to change the fashion climate.  Thank God.

I'm one of those people who never knows quite what to wear to a wedding, and I HATE to shell out the $150 for a new outfit (that would buy a nice stash of art supplies!).  I also hate wearing heels, and that seems to be all the rage right now.  I really liked the early 90's, when I was in my mid-twenties and Grunge was in.  I had a ton of baggy flannel shirts and my Doc Martens, and I was comfortable.  Why can't that come back into style?

I'm also pretty far out of the loop when it comes to beauty products.  I do use Aveda hair products almost exclusively, and they ain't cheap.  They're also 95% naturally made, and they smell great.  But the facial creams that they show in RS - WOWZERS!!!  They recommend four different moisturizers, depending on skin type.  They range in price from $15-$95.  Are you kidding me?!  I think the $15 is too expensive!  Whatever happened to soap?  And really - is that $95 cream six times more effective than the $15 stuff?  I doubt it.

Anyone who's ever met me in person knows that I just don't care about the clothes or makeup I wear.  I'm picky about my hair, and that's about it.  I've been thinking a lot about possibly updating my wardrobe, but the circular argument with myself always comes back around to, why?  Especially now, when I'm working with paint and glue all day, would I shell out moola for clothes that no one will see, save my trip to the grocery store or random errand?  I've also come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter.  People have always treated me kindly, whether I was in my cashmere sweater or my ratty old sweatshirt.  Because one thing that I always do wear, whenever possible, is a smile.  It's the best fashion accessory you can own.

You can go ahead and puke now.  :D  But it's true.  If you don't normally wear one around strangers, try it some time.  It works wonders.  It also makes you look younger and feel better.  I can't offer a money-back guarantee, but you won't need it anyway - it's 99% effective.

March 18, 2010


Lunch.  It sounds like something you'd do with a "squat", doesn't it?  I mean, "with your back straight, do one lunch, followed by three squats.  Do five reps of this with each leg." 

Of course, "lunch" is short for "luncheon", which, in the Midwest anyway, is too hoity-toity for most people.  Actually, that would be kind of funny - "So, what did you bring in your sack luncheon today?".  But I digress (what else is new?).

I have been quite lucky this week in terms of lunch - on Tuesday, my friend Sue and I ate at a place called Le Soeurette, which was wonderful (check the previous blog entry for more info).  Today, I had the pleasure of eating at Park Terrace, which is a sometime-restaurant inside Moraine Park, the technical college in Fond du Lac.  It's in a lovely setting, with a patio that's open in the late Spring.  I wish I had a photo of it, but I just couldn't find one online.  I think it's a pretty well-kept secret in Fondy.

The restaurant is run by the Culinary Arts faculty and students, and they do everything, right down to hosting and serving.  Every time the restaurant is open there is a different theme - today's was Tuscan.  You do have a choice of entree, and there are a couple of desserts.  I should've kept a menu so I could tell you exactly what was offered but my choice was the smoked salmon en croute (i.e., it was in a puff pastry).  I also had the soup, which was an Andouille sausage & white bean soup.  Fantastic.  And for dessert?  Chocolate Napoleon with a blackberry liquid nitrogen foam.  Heavenly.  And the cost for all of this, plus my drink?  Fourteen bucks.  Yes, 1-4, not 4-0.  Fourteen.  Amazing.  The company was wonderful too - a group of six of us, including some of my artist friends.  It was a two hour lunch - you can't beat that.

Okay, I digressed again - sorry about that.  The point I'm really trying to make is, I love lunch!  I would much rather go out to lunch than to dinner.  I think a lot of people feel this way; I know my sister Jen and my mom are also big lunch fans.  I also have very fond memories of lunch with my Grammie.  I can't put my finger on why lunch is so great, but maybe it's because, when you're at a 'special' lunch, you sort of feel like you're playing hooky.  I know that when I'd take a long lunch during my time at the Reporter, it was almost like a mini vacation.  I'd  forget about work for awhile and hang out with a friend or two (or five).  Another bonus is that a lot of times you get the same entree as dinner, but it's a little smaller and usually cheaper. 

There's also not so much "pressure" at lunch - you normally don't have to get dressed up, which I like.  There's usually not an event that you have to attend afterward, so it's okay to linger longer during the afternoon.  And if you want a sandwich or just a salad or bowl of soup, you don't look like a cheapskate.  They expect that type of order at lunch.  Or even at luncheon.  :D

Don't even get me started on the delightfulness that is brunch; we'll save that for another time.

March 16, 2010

Relics from the Not-so-Distant Past

Today my friend Sue and I spent the loveliest day in West Bend, a city about 45 minutes southeast of Fond du Lac.  It's a little gem that I have surprisingly overlooked many times in my tenure here.  They have a wonderful downtown with cute little shops and many fun restaurants, one of which we tried for lunch - Cafe Soeurette (in case you're wondering - I had the Maple Beet & Spinach Salad with a side of the Tomato Provencal soup.  Absolutely delicious!).

After lunch, however, is when we discovered the mother lode at a place called Winkler's Office City (I would've put the link here, but they're not online, alas).  My oh my, what a fabulous place.  When you first walk in, you're met with the rather distinct odor of, well, time.  That's the only way I can describe it (I've smelled the same scent before, and I'll get to that in a minute.).  To the right of the entrance, up a few steps, is the "art supply" area of this store.  They had a nice selection of acrylics and pencils, but it was pretty sparse otherwise.  I did pick up a few paintbrushes that were on sale.  Sue didn't find much either but then we ventured into the "office supply" part of the store.

Now, I didn't spend much time in office supply stores as a kid, and I came of age (in the corporate world) in about 1993.  I think 100 years from now, 1993 will be a very interesting year to study, sociologically speaking.  We were right on the cusp of the "Information Superhighway" (ha!) and no one really knew how to deal with it.  I was still using a DOS-based computer system that would sometimes overheat and they'd send us home because the mainframe would go down for hours at a time.  I was at the Green Bay Press-Gazette then, and there was still a "composing" department (all digital now, of course.  These were the people who "laid out" the paper).  But the Internet completely changed our world, and a great place to realize how much has changed in the last 15 years or so is an office supply store.

At Winkler's, we found the following items, amongst the thousands:

Graphic tape
Typewriter ribbons
Dry transfer sheets (today known as rub-on transfers, but these are vintage 1985 or so; see above)
Dymo labels
Key tags
Dixon-Ticonderoga pencils from about 1950
Rubber cement (with "erasers")
Printing sets (the kind where you set the teeny-tiny rubber letters yourself)

These were all legitimate supplies only a few short years ago.  Now, who uses any of this stuff, besides artists?  And did anyone see this coming, the end of the need for all of these items?  I wonder.  But wow, were we ever glad to discover these amazing goodies today (and it's very good to know that we now have a transfer connection)!

I wonder what is going to happen to this kind of office supply store in the future.  Surely, there will always be a need for a Staples, for example, but I'm talking about this particular kind of place.  In fact, we have something very similar in Fond du Lac called Wegner's Department Store (they're not online either), where you can still pick up an electric typewriter and ancient flash cards.  It too is a gem, and it too smells of "time".  I've found labels and tags and items there, such as old stencils, that I know are from the mid-Sixties.  It is a living, breathing time capsule.  And I'll be terribly sad to see it meet its inevitable end.  Until then, I will gladly do my part to keep it going.

March 13, 2010

Warning: Person on the Street More Litigous than He Appears

I was working on a project this morning that involved a woodburner.  This awesome tool has a very sharp, precise and scalding hot tip.  How sharp?  Well, before I plugged it in this morning (thank GOD) I dropped it, and the tip impaled itself into the linoleum and left a small hole.  If it had been plugged in at the time, I would've burned a lovely hole there too.

So as I was plugging it in, I noticed what the tag said that was attached to the plug.  It says, and I quote:

"This appliance has a polarized plug (one blade is wider than the other).  To reduce the risk of electric shock, this plug is intended to fit in a polarized outlet only one way.  If the plug does not fit fully in the outlet, reverse the plug.  If it still does not fit, contact a qualified electrician.  Do not modify the plug in any way."

Are you SERIOUS?  My first thought was, how stupid do they think I am?  But of course, we all know that this has nothing to do with people's idiocy.  Much.

About 10 years ago or so, there was a book that came out called "The Warning Label Book: Warning: Reading This Book May Cause Spontaneous, Uncontrollable Laughter".  And yeah, it's pretty funny.  It's basically a book of stupid warning labels that come with products.  One of my favorites is a warning label from a windshield cover: "Warning:  Never drive with the windshield cover on your windshield.".  How bad has it gotten that we have to warn people about these types of things!?

Apparently, pretty bad.  If you're up as early as Brian and me, you know that lawyers spend a LOT of money running ads like "Have you been seriously hurt in a car accident?" and "If you or someone you know died or was seriously injured using the pain patch Blahblahblah, call us.  You may be entitled to a large cash award."

So you see, it really has nothing to do with people being that dumb; it has everything to do with people (and some lawyers) trying to make some easy cash.

Now, before you jump on me for ripping on lawyers, I said some lawyers.  I have friends that are lawyers, but they're not THIS type of lawyer (read: ambulance chasers).  And yes, some class-action lawsuits should indeed happen for the benefit of everyone that was wronged.   I'm talking about the type of people who sip scalding hot coffee and sue for millions when it burns them.  I'm talking about the type of people who sue because the baby in the E*Trade ads is clearly ripping off their persona (yes, this is real..WTH?!?).

Remember back when we could play with metal Tonka trucks?  Or when aspirin came without tamper-proof caps?  Or when there were actually people with common sense who wouldn't obviously try to futz with the plug on a woodburner so it will fit in their apparently 19th century home (I'm only assuming someone tried to do this, and that's why the warning label was placed there)?  And in case you're wondering, yes - the warning label doesn't end there.  There is another entire paragraph about how this WOODBURNER is extremely hot and could cause burns or fire.  I know you're all relieved that we've been duly warned.

Before I sign off, I suggest that you make your OWN warning label!  It's really fun.  The one that I made is the image above.  :D

March 11, 2010


I can't believe I haven't written a blog post before about ATCs, considering how much they are a part of my life.  Oh lordy - where do I begin?  At the beginning?  Alright.

I was on my lunch break at The Reporter in the summer of 2006.  It was a routine of mine on my breaks to hit my favorite haunts downtown - The Knitting Room, As You Wish, Bookworld, the Fond du Lac Antique Mall and of course, Bagelmeister.  This particular day, I believe it was in August or September, I had gone to Bookworld for my latest stash of magazines (I was, and still am, a magazine junky.  I'm getting better, though).  I was looking through the knitting magazines, as that was my hobby/obsession at the time, and came across a magazine called Cloth Paper Scissors.  I've always loved paper, and the title was intriguing, so I thumbed through it.

I was instantly mesemerized.  I bought the magazine, pored over it at lunch, and then read it cover to cover when I got home.  I had always been interested in doing some sort of artwork, but I didn't realize there was a whole culture of people who had the interest but may not have been classically trained or educated as an artist.  Like me.

Throughout the magazine, the articles kept referring to ATCs.  The problem was, nowhere in the magazine did it give a definition about what an ATC was!  If only there were some way I could find out....well, once I got online, I found an entire universe filled with people who were making Artist Trading Cards.  This intrigued me even further, so I spent every night for a week researching how to make them, how to trade them, where to trade them, etc.  It was like discovering the Holy Grail.
(For those of you who are reading that don't know what an ATC [Artist Trading Card] is:  it is the size of a baseball card, 2.5" X 3.5", made from any material [paper, quilted, polymer clay, etc.] with any medium.  I prefer collage, but others do just watercolor or metal.  It's all up to the artist.  When you're done with your cards, you NEVER sell them; you trade them with other artists, either online or in a live trade, which is what I prefer.)

I began trading on, which is an online community where you trade not only ATCs but all sorts of things.  Because it's Swapbot, however, that means that you're paired with someone via a bot, not a real person.  So you never know who you're going to get.  Some people that I've met on Swapbot I am still online friends with; however, once bitten, twice shy.  I made what I thought were quality items and many times never got anything in return.  So I quit Swapbot and turned to Flickr and  These are far better, in my opinion; first of all, you get to see who you're trading with.  The quality of cards is far superior, too.

Because of my connection with ATCsforall, I met Carolyn Brady.  She was trying to set up a live trading group in the southern WI/northern IL area for quite a while when, in the summer of '07, it just clicked.  The first-ever meeting of the Milwaukee ATC group was in August of that year.  I attended my first one in September, and have been an active member ever since.

Since that fateful day nearly three years ago, as a direct result of that group I have:

*Met about 100 new people with a common interest
*Learned thousands of new art techniques and tips
*Set up my own Etsy shop
*Taught three classes
*Posted all of my work on my Flickr photostream and gotten paid work from it
*Gained enough confidence to forge ahead and quit my day job and become a full-time artist

So now you can see why I can honestly say that ATCs have changed my life.  They are no longer a "hobby"; they are a passion.  I have no idea where this passion will lead me; all I know is that I'm along for the ride.

(The image is my name tag that I made for our live trades.)

March 9, 2010

Nectar of the Gods

I love coffee.

No, too weak - I doubt I could live happily without coffee (Better.).  It is my last vice (I gave up smoking and I just can't drink like I used to) and rain or shine, summer or winter, sickness or in health, it greets me every morning.  It is the last grocery item for which I still splurge.

Like so many of my peers, I grew up with a mom and dad that both drank coffee, although their routine was far different from mine.  In the 70's, at least at my house, my mom would get up, have a cig and make the coffee in a percolator.  The coffee of choice for them was Maxwell House or Folgers - and then, in 1977, when coffee prices skyrocketed, they switched to instant.  I think my dad complained about it every single morning.  Hey, I would've too!  Remember that old style of instant, like Taster's Choice?  EWW.  It is far better now, but I can still tell.  Eventually, they switched back to regular.  My dad's taste buds were so shot near the end of his life that he would put salt in with the grounds, "to bring out the flavor more".  Now THAT'S a coffee addict.

I remember going over to my Grammie's house as a kid and seeing her tins of General Foods International Coffees.  I thought she was rich, because I remember hearing from my parents how expensive this stuff was.  It still is - I'll get back to this in a minute.

My first real taste of coffee was a trial by fire - Viennese coffee.  I was 19 and was in Vienna/Salzburg/Budapest for a month, in between semesters.  That trip was memorable for many reasons, but a milestone occured when I came back to the States a full-fledged coffee drinker (it's a national pasttime over there - you'd start drinking it too if it meant you could go into their coffee houses, which are AWESOME).  Well, almost - those early cups had about a 1/4 cup of sugar and half of it was milk, but it was still coffee.  That was in 1988.

Then the Coffee Decade came upon us.  I got married (the first time) in 1992, and one of our wedding presents was an espresso maker.  Dan (my first husband) and I were instantly hooked.  The problem was, the machine was a bitch to clean and the way we drank coffee, it didn't pay.  It became a part-time job keeping us caffeinated.  So we switched to a Mr. Coffee and a grinder.  We had a friend that worked at Starbucks in Seattle (when it was new and cool to work at Starbucks) and she'd send us "care packages".  That's when our coffee habit became out of control.

Around late 2001, I joined Gevalia, a service that delivers coffee right to your door.  They have these great offers where, when you join, you get a free Krups cofffee maker.  We were in need of a new coffee maker, so I joined, got the first shipment of coffee, and quit.  I did this again, when I ventured out on my own, but I didn't quit.  I still get shipments every 14 weeks.  It's really good coffee.  But we may need a new coffee maker soon, so it may be time to quit.

Okay, back to General Foods International Coffees (which shall from here on out be called GFIC for the sake of economy and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome).  Brian and I call these coffees our 'back up'.  Whenever we don't want to make a fresh pot, we make ourselves some GFIC.  They have great flavors - I'm partial to the "cafes" but Brian likes the "lattes".  Have you ever had one of the lattes?  I swear they have the same ingredient as Pop Rocks - when you mix the water in with the powder, it crackles and forms a "froth" at the top, to make it look like a real latte.  It sounds gross but they're really quite tasty.  At $3 per tin, it's cheaper than a run to Starbucks, but still pretty expensive.  When you're a coffee junky, though, you do what you gotta do.

I know that I'll be one of those old people that will still insist on regular coffee as opposed to decaf, even at 4 p.m. when I know I'll be up half the night.  I'll deal.  It's the price I'll pay for my addiction.

Artwork by me

March 8, 2010

Some Random Thoughts about the Oscars

Did any of you watch the Academy Awards last night?  What did you think?  They always complain that it goes long, but has it ever ended on time?  Maybe the first year, but no one cared and they were probably all three sheets to the wind (Prohibition, shmohibition!).

I thought Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did a nice job, but what was with Alec's fake British accent?  He launched into it a couple of times during the evening - once when they were talking about the mystical "wood sprites" of Avatar and then later on he did it again - odd.  Also, is there some bad blood between Alec and George Clooney?  What was with all of the sneers and beady-eyed looks with those two?  Anyone know?  Was there some feud that I was not aware of?

I felt so bad for the poor guy who had won for the documentary short, "Music by Prudence".  He obviously had his speech all prepared, and was doing a fine job, thank you very much - when all of a sudden, some lady jumps up onstage and totally steals his thunder!!  At first, Brian and I looked at her like perhaps she was some nut job that could possibly do some damage.  She was never named (could it be Elinor Burkett?), and then the music started to play, so Roger Ross Williams, the director, couldn't finish his speech.  She looked like a fool, whoever she was (okay, I just now went to the Oscar website, and it indeed WAS Elinor Burkett, and they're calling her Lady Kanye.  HA!!).

Was it just me, or did you notice that there may have been an extra laugh track?  There were a couple jokes that Steve and Alec made that got laughs a little too early after they were told, like someone was anticipating the end of the joke.  This seemed particularly apparent in the beginning of the broadcast.  And I don't know about you, but sometimes hi-def isn't always the best, sound-wise, especially if it picks up every little sound backstage.  There were an awful lot of bangs and crashes - it felt like I was back doing community theatre!

I thought the John Hughes tribute was really cool. I also felt supremely old, especially seeing Judd Nelson for the first time in about 20 years or so. Holy smokes! I mean, I realize that the Brat Pack are nearing 50 (YIKES) but it was still a shocker. Now I know why my mom and dad would say stuff like that about Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra back in the day. But it was neat to hear all of them eulogize John in their own way.

Speaking of eulogizing, the set-up for the Best Lead Actor and Best Lead Actress sort of feels that way, doesn't it? Don't get me wrong - I LOVE it. But I would be a puddle of weeping goo if I were nominated in that category and had to be forced to hear someone say such nice things about me like that. Can you imagine what that was like for Gabourey Sidibe?! I mean, it's FREAKING OPRAH for God's sake, and a year and a half ago this girl was just a regular student. Incredible!

As for the winners - everyone seemed most gracious last night, didn't they?  I really thought that the big winners - Mo'Nique, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Bridges, Christoph Waltz, Kathryn Bigelow - they all gave such lovely speeches.  There was no drama in them, no one spouted political rhetoric (agree or disagree - it just doesn't belong at the ceremony), no one got overly emotional - it was just very subdued and nice to watch.  But oh, was I ever thrilled that James Cameron didn't win Best Director or Avatar for Best Picture!  Hooray!  I told Brian that if he did win, and said "I'm king of the world" or "I'm king of Pandora!" or something stupid like that, a brick was going to be hurled through the TV.  The only good thing about James Cameron is that he's Canadian.  Kudos to Kathryn Bigelow for not rubbing her win in his face (you probably know this already, but Ms. Bigelow is James Cameron's ex-wife).  I don't think it was an accident that they were seated right in a row like that, either.  Awkward!!

I've started my list of documentaries and movies that I want to put in my Netflix queue - first and foremost, A Single Man for movie and Logorama for documentary.  If there's one thing the Oscars are good for, it's finding new movies for us to see that we probably wouldn't know about otherwise.  Now, to find more time...

*Postscript:  To whoever is in charge of the singin' and dancin' for every awards show - just do us all a big favor and hire Neil Patrick Harris for ALL of them.  Thank you.

March 7, 2010

Spring has Sprung!

I love Wisconsin.  I love that we have four distinct seasons - they may not all be the same length (winters can feel like an eternity here), but we experience the full gamut of temperatures.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.  It's true what they say - that you have to take the bad with the good, and with the right attitude, the bad just makes the good all the better.

Such was the case today.  Here in Fond du Lac, we're having the most beautiful late winter day that one living in these parts could ask for.  The temp is hovering at around 42F (or 6C for my Canadian and Continental friends reading), it's perfectly sunny, the snow is melting, and it's the perfect day for a walk.  Brian and I went for a walk earlier, and it seemed as though the entire neighborhood was out enjoying the weather, walking their dogs and, in the case of the guys on our street, doing unnecessary random yard things.

It's hard to be in a bad mood on a day like today.  There are signs of new life everywhere - the trees are budding, new homes are being built, I saw some Canada Geese today - and, best of all, I could smell someone barbecuing. 

Yes, in the middle of February, nearly all of us here wish we lived in Florida.  But I'm really glad we don't.  I think I would miss the excitement that spring (and fall! And summer!) offers.  As we get older, time seems to go faster because, according to neurologists and memory experts, we don't experience as many "new" things.  There is a lot more routine in our lives, so there isn't much of a "learning curve" to deal with.  But with the change of seasons, we get the chance to discover the newness all over again.  We have the opportunity to find new ways to enjoy the change - maybe play a new sport that the season offers (softball in the summer, skiing in the winter) or bird watch or chase storms.  Maybe this year I'll try "plein air" painting.

Wherever you live, take the time to savor the first nice days of whatever season is upon you (I'll bet you're VERY happy that it's almost fall, western Australians!).  You may even feel time slowing down! 

*Artwork by me

March 4, 2010

New and Improved!

I'm going to go on a little rant - has anyone in the States or Canada seen the ad for Charmin toilet paper, where they talk about "fewer pieces left behind", and they show this bear (not bare, get it?) butt with little pieces of toilet paper on it??

Am I the only one grossed out by this?  Really, every time I see this I just get disgusted all over again.  There have been commercials for toilet paper since the 50s, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I think 99.9% of viewers know what it's used for.  I don't think we need to be slapped in the face with what this particular product can do for us.

Maybe it's because so many people are using DVRs to record their shows now, and advertisers are panicking about how to make their commercials noticeable.  Many are turning to humor in their ads, which is  making some commercial viewing a lot more fun lately (I really like the new Old Spice ads).  People seem to really like the E*Trade baby spots; personally, I find them disturbing (although, I do like the word "milkaholic"). 

Local ads are, well, still local ads.  Brian and I watch the "Daily Buzz" in the morning so we see the same 10 ads rotated every weekday.  It is hilarious to see people like none other than Capt. Kirk himself shilling for Milwaukee law firm Hupy & Abraham - I always wonder how much he got paid for that.  I worked in the TV biz for four years, and helped with commercial production as a "production peon", so I have seen the tremendous acting ability of local talent in action (italics denote sarcasm). I hear it's actually becoming more affordable to advertise on TV, because the competition for this here Interweb is so intense.  That's wonderful news, because we will be treated to more local talent than ever before!

Oh sure - I talk a good talk.  But my mom said that when I was really little - as young as two or three - I had no interest in TV programs but would come running out of my room when I heard the commercials.  I have always loved watching commercials.  Any time one of those TV specials with the foreign ads runs, I will watch it.  Any time I get a "forward" that includes a funny TV spot, I will save it for future viewing (especially true when I worked a 9-5 job).  And yes, some commercials may annoy the heck out of me, but I don't turn off the TV when they come on.  Sometimes it's just as much fun to ridicule a commerical than it is to watch one that is truly enjoyable.

I'm afraid that advertisers missed the mark with me, though - I have never bought something because I saw it on an ad.  Sometimes I wonder - does this work on anyone?  Really?  I would love to hear if any of you actually ran out and bought an item because you saw it advertised on TV.  It has to work, or there wouldn't be commericals!  But I just have to wonder who's buying and why.

I shouldn't complain about commercials (or any advertising, for that matter) at all - that advertising paid my salary for a total of nearly 13 years of my life.  I'm just asking that we not see any more ads that feature toilet paper shrapnel.  Stop the madness, Charmin!

March 2, 2010


With the advent of DVR, Brian and I don't watch much live TV anymore.  But there is one exception, and it's a show that we follow with nearly religious devotion -


I suppose this TV viewing would also qualify as being somewhat geriatric.  I can say this with some degree of certainty, seeing as how all of the on-show commercials are for Poli-Grip and Osteo Bi-Flex.  But I digress.

I LOVE Jeopardy!.  I always have, or at least since the retooling of the show back in '84 (those of you who are reading this blog that are past "a certain age" may remember the Art Fleming-hosted Jeopardy! back in the 60's.  I wasn't born yet, but I have seen reruns).  When it first came back on the air, I was a sophomore in high school and, even though I was barely passing most of the classes I was taking at the time (my first semester that year I had three Ds and an F), I always kicked some butt at Jeopardy!.

Over the years, it's been interesting to see how the show has changed.  Every 2-3 years they change the set, but I do believe the questions have gotten easier, too.  There seems to be a lot more pop culture mixed in with the "17th Century Royalty" categories.  And now that King Features Syndicate has been swallowed up by Sony, there are a lot more, albeit subtle, plugs for Sony products (Playstation 3 was a popular "answer" about two years ago).

One of my favorite reasons to watch, though, is a snarky one.  I secretly love it when Alex lambasts the contestants when they answer incorrectly.  If you want to see Alex get really mad, then watch when someone answers a question about Canada wrong.  Hoo boy!  You can almost see the slow burn!  Of course, it's easy to sound high falutin when you have the answers right in front of you, isn't it, Alex?

Of course, like most Jeopardy! devotees, it has always been a dream of mine to become a contestant.  I even took the online test last year (note to self:  you should've paid more attention in school).  Unfortunately, as long as I still have friends in the TV biz, even if I were to be picked, I'd be disqualified - I know too many people who work for CBS, the distribution company for the show.  But let's say I were free and clear to be on the show - I have a feeling I'd be one of those people to have a negative balance after Double Jeopardy, and therefore unable to play Final Jeopardy.  Oh sure, the game looks easy when you're sitting at home watching, but can you imagine the pressure when you're up there?  And forget about it if there are any geography or science questions!

If all of this "Dumbing Down of America" talk is true, though, I'll be a shoo-in in about 15 years.  By then, the questions will resemble the ones that Will Ferrell's "Alex" asks the celebrity contestants on Saturday Night Live.  If  I get lucky enough to be on the program the night that "Your Ass or a Hole in the Ground" is a category - I'll run it for sure.