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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Put a Bird on it: A Late Winter Give-Away

Over the course of this past winter, I've become a terrible hoarder of nests.
When we trek along the river's edge, over knoll and under brush, I can not help but scan the boughs above.  I've plucked nests from the mud, carefully snapped twigs, then gingerly carried them miles back home.  I've made sure my nests were deserted, inhabitants long taken to the skies, then scattered them through the house, tucked into turquoise Ball jars, wedged in a goat's jaw bone, hung from fishing line like the finest art a home could hold.

 But now the robins are flying, and the jackrabbits kick up puffs of grass, and I know my time of collecting is dwindling to a close.
I've looked through my collection and chosen this nest, a particularly lovely specimen, as one to give away to one of you lovely readers for your own natural colletions.  I found it in a thicket of brush along the south fork of the Eel River, here in the wilds of Northern California.  Why a give-away you ask?  Quite simply, I've received so much from the land here and it's time to pay that forward.  I take such delight in filling my home with pieces of nature, pieces of life, and want to give that joy away.  And I love birds, but really, who doesn't?

So this is the official "Put a Bird on it" give-away!
Along with this nest, I'll be giving away a copy of "Birds: The Art of Orinthology" - a truly delightful and tiny tome, filled with renditions and studies of birds throughout the ages (including some gorgeous aquatints from James Audubon!).  Additionally there will be a few other tidbits I've yet to decide upon, but rest assured, it will be a splendid little present from me to you!
Ready for the Details?

Leave me a comment (only one please!) below telling me one way the earth has been generous with you.  It could be as simple as a sunny day outside, as growing the food you eat, as giving you one beautiful thing to stop you in your tracks and take note.  Think about it and tell me - You have from now until Saturday night!  I can't wait to hear!

I'll pick a number at random on Sunday March 4th and announce the winner here on my blog!
(and international friends - I'll be happy to ship your way too, so don't hesitate to comment!)
Good Luck and Happy Birding!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I Wish You Could Have Heard It

And by "it" I mean the crazed squeal I just let loose in the studio.  I'm pretty sure the neighbors heard.  I was digging around for something (I've since completely forgotten what, clearly it was of lesser importance) in few remaining unpacked boxes in the studio and found THESE.
And by "these" I mean a sack of beach pottery carefully culled and collected and packed for the move, then gone missing for months.
There are some serious treasures in here friends.  Like, if ancient pottery of this caliber was flung during Mardi Gras instead of beads, I might spend a lot of time in compromising outfits.  Needless to say, I've been hunched over my studio desk sorting and arranging for the better part of an hour, feeling a bit like Gollum with fingerless gloves and a cold cup of coffee.
"my pretties!  my precious!"
In other Sundayish news, there has been a bit of this and a bit of that: letter writing, trying to pass off a new mug as "this old thing" when BC asked (it didn't work - that man knows my addiction well), our first tentative sips of homemade kefir, and some G. Love on repeat, nice and loud.
Letters and Coffee
Letters and Coffee
Plus several hours spent carving a sheet of silver into magic.
Like a busy little bee
And while I know there is more to say, my fingers are twitching and itching to find the perfect bit of history to set in sterling.  Here's me, hoping your weekend has been restful and delicious!
To answer the call...
 ~ Umber ~

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Here are a few things about Seattle

- one -
Apparently I engage in two major activities whilst in my favorite city:
Eating out and walking.
And drinking espresso. 
Lots and lots of espresso.
Like ordering two rice milk lattés at once, one for my left hand, one for my right.  And almond croissants, butter be damned (so. totally. worth it).
- two -
Seattle rain is an experience all upon its own.  It is akin to walking through fog; you can see it plainly, but it is intangible, fleeting, like kissing clouds or walking on water.
- three -
Twenty-two hours of driving is a beautiful and terrible amount of time for self-reflection / analysis.  Beautiful as driving solo through the curve of a day offers so much space, so much quiet, room for the mind to tumble and roam.  Terrible only as I spend a large addition chunk of time diving off highways onto questionable turn-outs to madly scribble thoughts into my sketchbook, hoping to find that trail of thought later.
- four -
On that thought, one should always drive cautiously through the bends and wilds of northern California, as one never knows when a herd of elk will be crossing.
All that to say, I'm back!  I hope your week thus far has been filled with rainbows and lollypops, or perhaps licorice tea and roosevelt elk.  Or maybe even kombucha and wet puppy noses!
~ Umber ~

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Case of the Blues

And mints, and teals, and chocolates 
or so it seems.
Chromaphilliac Conquistador Rings
Chromaphilliac Conquistador Rings
For the conquerors of color!
For the collectors of treasures lost and found!
For those who write their history and wear it too!

These rings feel simultaneously modern and ancient.  They are exactly the sort of thing I would wear while scouting uncharted territories on newly discovered continents, as well as while tipping back a Hendrick's martini in a swank speak-easy bar in blue velvet heels.  Heft and color and HISTORY all wrapped up in one little package!
Ten Thousand Small Histories No. 5

Ten Thousand Histories No. 5
These four bits of pottery literally arranged themselves!  Cobalt blue chevrons, creamy crackled glaze and milky turquoise?  Truly, is there anything left to say?

I've updated the shop with these beauties, so you can find more about them there!

In other news:
The puppies have managed to put one perfectly shaped muddy paw print on my clean pants.  Freyja is so big these days I'm not even sure who the guilty paw belongs to!
BC and I celebrated Valentine's Day last night with a royally divine dinner out.  It was the first time in our ten years of marriage we've been out on the actual day!  It was PERFECT and I'm still a bit stuffed.
I'm leaving long before the crack of dawn tomorrow for a rather spontaneous trip North to the land of gray skies and cappuccinos.  I'll be bringing a pair of maroon leather heels AND my trusty hiking boots. How's that for fulling my dual personas?

Cheers Birds!
~ Umber ~

Friday, February 10, 2012

Five Things Friday (Wherein Spring Arrives)
It's been a funny sort of day, neither bad, nor exceptional, just funny.
The type wherein one experiences more emotions in a single afternoon than the day holds hours.

I've taken numerous personality tests (simply because I find them fun and have a friend, ehem, who once put together a whole spreadsheet of our companions and their various traits according to Myers and Briggs) and every time I come up smack in the middle.  I am both strongly introverted and strongly extroverted, 49% to 51% dependent upon the whim of a given day's mood.  I adore the city, the lights, the energy, the people, but I thrive in the solitary wild with the blackest night and the scream of owls.  I can't imagine a world without lonely expanses of forest, but I also bemoan a week without an excuse to wear heels and don vintage rabbit fur.  I want to walk around the house in my lady-wear with only the robins viewing the scandal, but as soon as I pull on boots, walk right up the street to a bustling coffee bar which boasts vegan pastries and chic baristas with full tatted sleeves.

Basically I want the best of both worlds.

This presents a bit of a conundrum.  The problem, or perhaps the blessing, is that I've experienced both and you know what?  I love them both.

A few weeks ago, a very, very wise woman told me "put down your roots in a place that makes your soul sing" and since then, I've repeated those words like a holy mantra.  Like a line of ink in skin.
Soul, I'm listening.  I promise to try and be quiet, to get out of the way of your clear work.

And in the meantime, while you sing and murmur and whisper and hum,
I'm going to polish off this gin and grapefruit.

Here's to our Fridays.
Wherever we may be in heart, in head, in body.
I raise my glass to you, friends!
~ Umber ~

The Natives... part two

The Natives: American Robin
6" x 6"
Watercolor on Arches Cotton Rag
(A continuation of "The Natives" series, original painting in the shop now) 

I love working in a series.  There is something about pushing an idea, keeping it rolling around, that allows a full exploration of thought.  I also love robins.  I've watched the robins here fatten up like thanksgiving turkeys on the bounty of winter worms.  They scoot about on the muddy hillside, half a wriggler hanging from their beak, chests puffed and bright as if to say "I don't need your silly seed.  I can take care of myself, thank you very much!  But please, do keep the rains coming, ok?"

Truly it's a wonder I get anything done at all, what with the wildlife entertainment here!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


In the last month, since beginning this food sensitivity exploration diet, I've had a number of bloggy friends write with questions about what I am eating.  When I gave out the initial list of what I was not eating at first - gluten, dairy, sugar, eggs, meat, nightshade plants, corn, soy, tree nuts, citrus, and a few others - the remaining list of acceptable foods seemed dismal.  I've since added loads of foods back into my diet, but THIS is the meal that got me through.
More than got me through, it's been so good that BC and I make a huge pot nearly every week, tweeked to whatever happens to be in the fridge, and eat it for days.
You ready?
~ Buddha Bowl ~
The basic formula is this: start with a cooked grain, add a bean, add a raw veggie, add a cooked veggie, top with avocado.  It is endlessly adjustable, so feel free to experiment, but this is one of our favorites.  I know it seems like a lot of ingredients and plenty of steps, but you just put on some great music, start with the longest cooking time (the beans) and prep from there.

You will need:
1 1/2 Cups Adzuki Beans (pre-soaked, OR just switch 'em up for canned black beans, liquid reserved)
2 Large Yams
1 1/2 Cups Brown Rice
Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion
3-4 Cloves Garlic
6-9 Collard Green Leaves
2 Large Carrots
1/2 Cup Cilantro
Avocados (I like 1/2 an avocado per serving)
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Paprika (smoked if you have it)
Salt to taste

How To:
1.  If you are using adzuki beans (or any other dried, pre-soaked bean), cook until just tender.  The basic formula I use is 1 cup soaked beans to 3 cups water in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, cover but leave the lid just barely cracked open, and simmer on low for one hour.  If you are using canned beans, skip this step.
2.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Cube yams, toss in olive oil (just enough to give a light coating), set to roast for 40 minutes (tossing once).
3.  Cook brown rice according to directions.
4.  Dice onions and garlic.  Wash and chop collard greens into bite size pieces.  Grate raw carrots.  Roughly chop cilantro.  I prep all these things while the beans, yams and rice cook.
5.  Pour a tablespoon of olive oil into a large saucepan over medium heat, add onion and garlic and sautée until translucent.  Add cumin, chili powder, paprika, then add beans plus 2 cups of the liquid they cooked in (If you are using canned beans, just pour the whole business in).  Cover and set to simmer for 10 minutes.
6.  Blanch collard greens.  If you're like me, this means bringing a cup of water to boil, tossing in the greens, and letting them boil until bright and tender, then pouring off the excess water.
7.  Now take the largest bowl you own, add in ALL the above and mix well.  Taste, add salt as needed.  Serve in large bowls with half an avocado, diced, on top.

Plus it's gluten-free, vegan, low-fat, high-fiber, but you don't have to tell your family all that!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

In Progress

... but aren't we all?
* * *
I'm off to good old Lodi for a spontaneous visit with the family, see you next week!
~ Umber ~

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I love the rare luxury of starting the morning slow.

A few notes (because I've been on a serious bullet point kick):
Since beginning this food elimination diet at the first of the year, I've eaten some version of a fruit bowl for breakfast nearly every morning.  Today's bounty included pears, bananas, blueberries, tangerines, avocado, cacao nibs, hemp seeds and toasted pine nuts.  It's delish!
BC just recently returned from a trip up to Seattle wherein that good, good man brought me no less than fourty dollars in the best coffee money can buy.   In this family we call that a "zoo-zoo" - a thing brought back from some other locale as a gift.  Different than a souvenir, a zoo-zoo doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the place, but everything to do with what the giftee loves.  Also, it wasn't until I was in my late teens that I learned "zoo-zoo" was not part of standard american language but just a familial term.  I spent high school using the term, assuming that people who did not know it's meaning were simply not well-read.
(sorry high school friends)
My hand really is that veiny!  While in the thick of chemo, I had multiple nurses tell me with admiration that I had "garden hoses" for veins.  When I was younger I disliked my hands intensely, crumpling them up under folded arms and pulling sweaters well past the knuckles, like so many tall girls hiding their gangly limbs.  But somewhere along the lines, something shifted and one day I saw them as strong.  Capable.  Worn.  So much more interesting than the smooth and waxy hands of youth, graceful and beat-up like a well used piece of victorian furniture.

Well I do hope your morning has been full of birdsong and biscuits, or at least a strong cup of joe!
~ Umber ~