chal-lenge: noun a calling to account or into question

Follow along as I challenge the tricks, tips, clever craft and decorating ideas and "simple" recipes that we clip, bookmark, and "pin" for trial at a later date.

Are they really worth the effort? Time (and I) will tell!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Neighborhood Challenge

I spent my morning Saturday as part of a totally awesome challenge. I work in community development in a small city in the Finger Lakes. The city has its challenges as do most small cities in upstate New York. As part of a new initiative, the city government has developed a new department called the Office of Neighborhood Initiatives of which I am a part. Our mission: To build confidence and pride in Geneva's neighborhoods through collaboration, education, and thoughtful design.

For our first project we challenged neighbors to come together and propose improvements to their houses and yards that when completed as a group would enhance the curb appeal of the street. The greatest challenge to the neighborhood was actually to learn to work together and not about the physical improvements. Paint fades over time but a feeling of neighborliness and good will can last a lifetime.

It has been a “challenge” on the part of the office staff to coordinate these repairs, etc. and to create the appropriate design for each house. Being the “taste police” can be difficult and we have seen some interesting paint color choices. But it has been fun and rewarding watching these three groups of neighbors work together to get their projects completed. I have heard from so many of them that they are happy to have met some really nice neighbors that they would not have met otherwise. Interestingly, people in the city tend to keep to themselves.

The city is also home to a small liberal arts college. Each year the freshmen are required to spend two hours helping out in the community. This practice acquaints them with the city and its various agencies and also acts as an introduction of the students to the residents. This year we requested some student workers to help with our neighborhood projects. I picked up my two groups of students and off we went. I dropped the first group of three exchange students (from Germany) at the home of an elderly couple. Their task was to paint the porch. The second group was charged with planting trees, shrubs and flower boxes.

The interaction between the students and the residents was amazing. The students took instruction well and got a lot of work done. The residents worked alongside
them creating a lasting good impression on the students. The elderly couple was so amazed that young people from another country would help them paint their porch. At the end of the job, the 84 year old man came out with glasses with ice and poured us all a drink. So sweet! A neighbor asked that a photo of the tree planting group be taken with another to be taken in four years when the students are ready to graduate. Several students asked to be called to volunteer on future projects.

My day began as just another day of work but ended up being a totally exhilarating and inspiring experience. I feel fortunate to have been a part of this wonderful project.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Twig Frame

Are you one of those people who walk through gift/craft stores thinking that you could make the items for sale on the shelves? I’ll admit that I am one of “those” people. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the creativity and time it takes to create, but some things just look so darn simple. In the end, I don’t purchase but go away thinking that some day I will make that such and such.

I was recently in a little Adirondack shop when some little watercolor paintings done my Suzanne Cavanaugh caught my eye. Now I know I can’t do anything like that (yet!) so I bought two of them. The paintings were matted but not framed. The subject matter was just perfect for a twig frame. Now those look really easy, don’t they? Back to camp I went to gather the necessary supplies. It wasn’t difficult to find birch bark along with birch sticks and twigs on the ground. I knew I would be bringing this all back to the Finger Lakes to work with so I tried to find a variety of sizes and shapes. It did seem a little silly to load up the truck with sticks and bark but birch trees are not as easy to find here.

Once home, I laid out my materials and started to think. Tom graciously made me a frame base from which to start. I have to admit that I had no idea what to do. I searched the internet for ideas and came up with a simple twig frame said to be suitable as a children’s craft project. If a child could do it, I thought I could manage. I measured the sides of the frame and cut the sticks a few inches longer. It was a little difficult to make the first tie and I wondered how little child fingers could hold it all together and make a knot at the same time. Maybe with an extra set of hands which I wish I had!

With all four corners tied, it was time to make a decision about the base. I thought it would look interesting to wrap the frame with birch bark. I didn’t have any pieces large enough so I soaked the bark in water and peeled it apart. There were several layers of bark in one piece. I didn’t know that. My one piece of embellishment was a band of small twigs across the middle. Not fancy but a nice little touch.

I am pretty pleased with my little frame but realize how difficult it can be to make simple looking items. I have a new respect for anyone who can craft Adirondack furniture and accessories.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


I’m sure that I have experienced lavender in some way over the years but I don’t believe I ever acknowledged that experience. My first real exposure to lavender came when I visited my local spa for a massage. I was in a peacefully decorated room surrounded with the most fresh and delicate scent. Of course that was the scent of lavender. I have been a fan of it since that time.

A few years ago I had an empty spot in my garden and chose two lavender plants to fill the space. They did surprisingly well and produced an abundance of flowers. Last year I left the blossoms on the plant because they were a pretty addition to the garden. Over the winter, I ran across instructions for making bath sachets using lavender flowers. The instructions were simple: place dried lavender flowers and Epsom salt in a little pouch made from cheesecloth. The cheesecloth is meant to keep all the dried flowers from clogging the tub drain. I waited all winter and spring before I could harvest my own crop of lavender for this craft project.

Once the crop was harvested, it was time to gather supplies. I cut the lavender and set it out to dry and then pulled the dried buds from the stems. It smelled great! Instead of making cheesecloth bags, I decided to recycle my silk teabags. I split them up the side, filled them with lavender flowers and sewed them back up. Of course they were too small to include the Epson salt but it shouldn’t be a problem just sprinkling that into the water. I was right, it wasn’t a problem. What a lovely soak I had with my lavender tea bags and Epson salts.

While I was thinking about lavender I decided to do a little research on the subject. I discovered that Queen Victoria of England made lavender popular across England. She used it to wash floors and furniture, to freshen the air and had it placed among the linens to freshen them. Queen Elizabeth I drank lavender tea to help ease her migraines. The French continue to send baby lambs to graze in fields of lavender so that their meat will be tender and fragrant. Lavender is actually a member of the mint family and is close to rosemary, sage and thyme in its characteristics. I have seen containers of dried lavender in cooking stores but have never thought to use it in that manner.

Curious about the culinary uses for lavender, I did a little research.
A lavender sorbet recipe immediately caught my attention. The recipe calls for sugar, water, lavender flowers, lemon juice and vodka (to keep the frozen mixture soft and smooth). It was a simple enough recipe to pull together. Oh my, what an interesting dessert. It seemed like I was eating pure sugar mixed with scented lotion. To give it a fair try, I nibbled on the sorbet over a few days. Give it a try if you have an adventuresome palate. It may actually be the perfect dessert because it satisfies your sweet tooth while soothing your senses.

As for me, I think I’ll keep lavender out of my kitchen and in my bathroom.