Revisiting Sumi-e

Most of my childhood was spent in Japan, on an Air Force base called Yokota Air Base. I lived there from kindergarten through fourth grade, and then again in ninth and tenth grade. Though we were sequestered on an American air base, we were, of course, surrounded by Japanese culture. In fact, in school we had a class called “Japanese culture” where we learned about things like the tea ceremony, various yearly festivals, customary dress, etc. As a family, we ventured out exploring, climbing Mount Fuji, staying in traditional inns, and just tootling around Japanese stores and places of interest.

We all took Japanese lessons, though I remember very little of the language. I can still count up to… 99? ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku…. I can write my name in katakana and remember a few other characters. Mostly, it’s forgotten though. I remember my mother teaching a group of Japanese women English, taking ikibana (Japanese flower arranging) classes, and learning Sumi-e (Japanese brush painting) from a teacher who, I think, came to the house.

In one of my trips through my parents old boxes, I found the traditional inkwell, as well as my mother’s old sumi-e paintings (as well as her teacher’s). This was years ago, and I thought they were so lovely, so I asked her if I could have them. She also had two books on sumi-e that I’ve had for years and years. I found them today, after a brief panic that I may have given them away, along with literally hundreds of books, in Jon and I’s latest material purge.

Anyway, this is all to set up that today I went to a sumi-e class! In the little, artsy town I live in, there’s a little artsy art center. I’ve read about it in our local “town news” that comes in the mail, but have mostly ignored it as I seemed like mostly classes for kids. Great to have, but obviously not for me. But somewhere on Facebook, I happened to see an advertisement for this sumi-e class and thought, “hey, why not?”

The teacher had beautiful artwork. She has a studio in Deer Isle. Many of the students were, in fact, kids. Ha! But there were other adults as well. The class was an hour and a half long, and flew by. Usually, I have a hard time focusing on anything for more than half an hour (literally), but I guess I was having fun. We practiced bamboo, which I was quite good at. Pandas, which I wasn’t. And butterflies, which were ok. It was super fun and now I want to do more. I would say that I’ve never been very “artistic.” Creative, yes. Crafty, yes. But when it comes to drawing, painting, etc. I’ve never been too great. I briefly took a watercolor class at the adult education but ended up missing most of the classes. I enjoyed it, but never got past the kind of frustrating part at the beginning.

Sumi-e paintings
Pandas are hard

So, now I’m considering buying some brushes and giving it a try with the books I have. I’d love to paint some greeting cards with bunnies and cats on them and give them as gifts. Will I follow through? Who knows, but it’s fun to be inspired and get on a kick… that’s what the LoveLarisa life is all about.

xoxo LL

A foray into roman shades

I have five days off of work and I’m taking advantage of the time to get some house projects done (in addition to bunny bonding!). My first project was to make roman shades for a large east-facing window in our stairwell that gets a ton of afternoon sun. The window is great because we have a cape cod style house where that side of the house doesn’t have any windows at all upstairs. The window in the stairwell lets in a ton of natural light into the hallway, which spills into both bedrooms on either side. On the back of the house, we have a shed dormer, so we have full size windows on the west side of the upstairs (so glad we did that!).

The issue, though, is that in the summertime, especially hot summers like this one, the light pours through that window and really heats up the hallway, and that’s where Jazzy, the bunny, lives right now. And rabbits are very sensitive to heat. We’ll eventually be moving her and Albus into the guest room, along with a new air conditioner, but for energy efficiency purposes, it’s best that we find a way to block the sun when we want to.

I considered different window covering options. I had been watching some window treatment classes on Craftsy Unlimited (now Bluprint) and though full length curtains could be really cool and dramatic. The problem with that is that the window is super high. The bottom window sill is probably a good six feet tall, and the window itself is 5.5 feet long. So that would mean a LOT of fabric, a lot of $$, and might really be a bit too dramatic for our little cottage anyway.

I have some cheap Roman shades in the living room, and they get the job done. I like that they cover the windows completely, but can also be raised to let in light and look pretty unobstrusive when raised. In the stairwell, I thought the right fabric could really add some character and softness as well.

I chose the Magnolia Home Fashions Oh Suzanni Metal fabric from fabric.com and ordered 2 yards for a total of $20.14. I also ordered the Roc-Lon Blackout Drapery lining in Ivory for $4.79 a yard. I got 3 yards since I’m planning another project as well.

I love living in today’s world because it’s so easy to find instructions to make pretty much anything. The craftsy classes didn’t cover roman shades, but I found some great YouTube videos. These were the two I found most helpful.

 How to make a roman shade from Online Fabric Store.    This is the one I followed in terms of how much fabric to cut, etc. The only change I made was to use eye screws and a cord cleat instead of the pulleys and cord locks.

How to make a roman shade from Sailrite.  This one was very similar, and they also have a handy fabric calculator. I’ve watched other videos from Sailrite and they are always quite clear.

The hardware I ordered from DIY Insulated Shades
I ordered:

An iron rod to weight the bottom, cut to the correct size
A 1X2 piece of wood for the top (I realize now I could have easily got this at Home Depot and saved on shipping. They are by the dowels).
Rings
Cord
Cord Cleat
Cord condenser
Roman shade rib tape (this stuff is great – you just iron it on and then fit the dowels in. Just be sure to get the right size dowels. Mine were too big so I had to go back and get 5/16″ dowels and they were perfect).
Dowels (from Home Depot)

They have some good info here about what you need and have pretty much everything you need to make a roman shade on their site. 

I probably spent about $70 on hardware, though I ordered enough to complete a second project. So, all in all, this project cost $60+. Much cheaper than having it custom made. It took me about a day to make. In addition to the materials above, you also need a staple gun, screws to screw the headrail into the window frame, etc.

I’m really happy with how it turned out. It’s not perfect. I’m not great at cutting fabric square. It’s a skill I need to work on. Jon hung the shades, and we had some issues, mostly because the window is so high. I could have made them about an inch wider as well. But yesterday, for the first time, as the afternoon sun poured in, we just lowered them and had immediate relief. It was great!

Note about the pulleys/cord locks vs. eye screws/cleats. I didn’t bother with the pulleys and cord lock because I didn’t think it was worth the money or hassle. With just the eye screws, it operates really smoothly, and it’s not a hassle at all to just loop the cord around the cleat to hold it into position.

View of the cord cleat
This is the cord cleat. We attached it right to the frame since it seemed least noticeable.
With the shade half way up

Roman shades from above, halfway raised Close up view of roman shades View of roman shade from upstairs

My next project is a tiny window in the master bedroom, also quite high up, where I’ll also be making roman shades. It’s a cute little window, but when Jon is sleeping during the day, it comes in and lets in a lot of lot. I think I got most of the kinks out with this project so that one should go more quickly.

Here’a bunny bonding update:

Bunny bonding - Albus and Jazzy sit near each other

This is Day 3 of bunny bonding. Albus is reluctantly asserting his dominance and Jazzy is pretty chill about the whole thing. Are they the cutest?

A bunny bonding adventure

Last weekend, we adopted a new member of the family: Jazzy! I’ve wanted to get my bunny Albus a bunwife for some time, but it hasn’t been feasible. We had two cats and were already a bit overwhelmed with pet care duties. Our cat Donovan was older and had a lot of issues… he needed regular steroid doses and had recently gone blind (he was also deaf). He was my dude and I loved him so much. When he passed away in April, it broke our hearts. We buried him in the rose garden and I found a beautiful orange poppy to plant on the spot.

I was hoping with Albus and Gerry the only pets left, that they’d become closer. The fact of the matter is that Albus loves his feline friend, Gerry, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Most days Albus just finds a place to hide (his current favorite is behind the ironing board in the guest room) and would give us love for a few minutes a day. Based on things I’ve read, I started to think that a bunny companion might improve his quality of life. So the search began.

Jon and I have often joked that all we wanted in a bunwife for Albus was a spayed female mini-lop around 2 years old named Penelope. Shockingly we couldn’t find such a bunny. Jon really wanted a mini-lop (that’s what he wanted when I talked him into getting Albus instead), but they are few and far between, and I have yet to find a spayed female.

Meanwhile, I had been following a rabbit rescue in Lamoine, Maine, called Cottontail Cottage Rabbit Rescue. I don’t even know how I found them, but I follow them on Facebook and they do such good work. I’ve been wanting to visit the shelter for years now, but the 2 hour drive was a bit of a deterrent. Well, a few weeks ago, they posted a photo of what looked like a female Albus in brown. Her name was Jazzy. I emailed them, asked if she was available and sent them a photo of Albus. Then, I worked on convincing Jon that Jazzy was the one, and that we need to drive up to Lamoine!

He played it cool, and I wasn’t sure he was going to go for it, but in the end, he agreed. We drove up, met her, and fell in love. Now, the hard part begins… bonding them.

Bunny bonding seems to be more of an art than a science and there is a lot of conflicting info out there. I’m following instructions from the shelter manager at Cottontail Cottage as they certainly have a lot of experience with bunnies. She instructed me to put Jazzy’s cage next to Albus’ and let them get used to each other for at least a week. So far it’s been a few days, and all seems to be going well. They’ve sniffed each other, watched each other, even kissed each other. But I’m still nervous about what will happen when we finally put them together.

We’ve been told to try it out in a neutral space for 10 minutes and separate them if they fight. I’m soooo hoping that they just love each other and start cuddling. Probably unrealistic, but I can hope!

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on the progress. I think Saturday is the day.

An Adventure in Soap Making

 

It’s actually surprising that I’ve never tried soap making before, for two reasons. One: I feel like I’ve pretty much tried my hand at just about every craft by now. And two: Two important people in my life regularly make soap – my sister and my sister-in-law. Truth by told, I have not actually used store bought soap in years! I’ve had a ready made supply and I just love using handmade soap. Using it in the shower each morning makes me feel like I’m doing one really nice thing for myself every time I use it.

Well, our supply was dwindling and my sister-in-law recently moved (close to us, yay!!!) and hasn’t had a chance to make soap since she’s been doing other things, like renovating not one but two…wait, three… places. As I started freaking out about buying store-bought soap, she kindly invited me and Jon over to make our own batches. Fun!

We started out by choosing our scents. I wanted to try blending a few scents together, even though I have no idea how to do that. I wanted something fresh smelling and refreshing. I liked a lot of them. There was a plumeria scent that reminded me of Hawaii (love that smell!) and an oatmeal stout smell that was really intriguing. In the end, I went with a scent called “Grass stain” (smelled like fresh cut grass, and reminded me a bit of Sauvignon Blanc, so there you go). To that, I added a hint of sweet orange, that in the finished product is just barely perceptible. Jon chose lilac – his favorite scent ever.

Then we chose our colorings. I wanted green, and wanted something subtle and natural looking so I went with an all natural sea clay for one part. For the other part, I kept it the natural ivory color of the soap. Jon went with the same green and natural and added a purple clay as well.

Then we could choose different options, such as oatmeal and other exfoliants. I opted out; Jon added oatmeal to his. And then we got started – let’s see if I can remember this.

We started out by measuring the lye (which you need to be very careful with) and added distilled water. It started producing heat immediately and we had to let that sit for a while to cool down. Then, we mixed up various oils, including olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, and castor oil, and then added the lye mixture to that. We whipped it up with a hand mixer until smooth. This was the basic mixture.

Jon mixing his soap
Jon mixing the lye into the oils
Jon pouring his soap
Jon pouring his green layer
The top of Jon's soap
Jon making his lilac tops
The top of the soap in the mold
This is the top of my soap in the mold

Now there are all kinds of considerations, and you don’t want the mixture to “trace” too quickly. Tracing is basically hardening, and certain scents can make it trace faster, like the lilac that Jon chose. I divided my batch into two, since I had two colors, and added my mixed scent to the first one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I added my clay, which I had rehydrated in water, and mixed until it was a color I liked. Then I added the rest of the scent to the second color (non-color). Then, in a rectangular mold lined with silicone, I poured in a circle of green, then on top of that a circle of white. I made other circles next to it, and then on top of each other, alternating green and white.

About halfway up the mold, my batch started tracing, and it got clumpier to pour, which changed the look of it. It was ok with me since I was just experimenting, but I can see how this would be a concern if you were really trying to make something specific. When I got to the top, I poured the rest of the white mixture and then I used a mini-whisk to make the top have a sort of whipped appearance. Overall, I was really happy with it!

Then Jon did his, alternating the three colors in solid stripes with the purple on top. The top he mounded up like a mountain, which I thought was really clever because it does look like a lilac flower! Then we waited…

A few days later, we took them out of the mold and cut them. They smell great and look really cool. Now, we wait 4-6 weeks for them to cure, which hardens them and makes them better somehow (I wasn’t paying a lot of attention at that part).

My first handmade soap
My sliced and finished soap!

Anyway, I loved it! In the past, I would have raced out to get all the equipment myself, but I’m learning an important lesson in life – I don’t need to own everything. Jill has the all the equipment a hop, skip and jump away and said I could use it anytime. So I’m already thinking about my next batch and wondering if I should incorporate an essential oil blend of my creation… Another thing to think about (along with baking, and making curtains, etc. etc. etc.)

I love trying new things, and I also love to see what goes into things. Soap making takes skill. And a LOT of ingredients. I used to scoff at paying more than $5 for a bar of soap, but it’s one of those things…unless you make it yourself, you really have no clue how hard it is and or what is required. I think we’ve all gotten quite spoiled by our Walmart culture and unrealistically expect things to be dirt cheap all the time. Anyway… I’ll get off that “soap box” —- HA!

I’ve also been doing more cooking than usual, inspired by Season One of the “Great British Baking Show” – I can’t get enough. I’ve been using up the last of the strawberries that we picked locally. I made a strawberry ice cream, and a King Arthur recipe for lemon squares with strawberry-rhubarb topping. Tonight I used up the cherry tomatoes from our hanging tomato plant and made a Mediterranean puff pastry tart. It’s been nice to have good food, but I am worried about the scale. Tomorrow, back to lentil soup.

Summer Friday Fun Days

Since I work at a college, the summer is the one time of year when it’s not totally crazy – which actually works out perfectly! Last summer, I didn’t have a full-time job, so I actually got to enjoy the beautiful Maine summer that tourists come up here for. Since then, I’ve realized that I need to take advantage of that more, and so this year, I’ve deemed Fridays in July “Friday Fun Days.” In lieu of a vacation I can’t afford right now anyway, I’m taking most Fridays in July off plus a week at the end of August.

My first Friday Fun Day was a smashing success. As a total book nerd and fan of children’s literature, I was thrilled to see that my favorite library (and the “best library in Maine” according to Down East magazine, Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick has kind of an amazing exhibit of illustrator Garth Williams works, including many originals.  Ok, I didn’t actually know who Garth Williams was before I heard of this exhibit, but I have since learned he is the illustrator of children’s classics Charlotte’s Web (which I’m due for an adult re-reading of), Stuart Little (which I don’t think I ever actually read, but now I want to), and tons of adorable “Little Golden Books” with bunnies, and cats, and ducklings.

We arranged to be at the library for a docent-led tour of the exhibit and learned all kinds of interesting things about Garth Williams. Mostly, though, it was just fun to see the artwork. Many of them were the originals and you could see where the type for the book had been pasted in (a great lesson in how publishing worked before computers transformed things – and oh gosh, I actually remember those days!!!)

Here are some of my favorites – you won’t be too surprised that most of them are bunnies and cats.

For those of you who can’t make it to the exhibit, they have a nicely done virtual exhibit that shows all of the pieces.  I’m not sure how long that will be up on their site, though.

Friday Fun Day didn’t stop there, though. We also made soap with the fabulous Jill from Mount Washington Valley Soap! I’ll leave you in suspense on that, though, and save that post for tomorrow. By then, hopefully I’ll have photos of the finished soap.

Cheers,

LL

Victoria sponge and authentic travel experiences, London-style

I love to travel, and like most people, I spend a fair amount of time racing from one “must-see” sightseeing destination to another – trying to cram as much into my trip as possible. Looking back on some of my recent trips, though, I realize that some of my best travel memories are not the “cross-off-your-list” for (insert city here) type.

As examples: Several years ago my sister and I went to Paris for a week. Of course, we saw the Eiffel Tower. We even went up in it. What do I remember, hardly anything. We “did” the Louvre, with out feet already tired and in pain from a day of walking. I was impressed with the Mona Lisa, but overall it was a somewhat anti-climatic experience. What I DO remember, though, is our food tour with Paris by Mouth. The tour was led by an American transplant in Paris and she led the way through various cheese shops and wine shops and all the places I would either not stop in to or be too intimidated to do so! It was great, and I still remember things she taught me about french food (such as Rochefort cheese is cured in caves in Rochefort, france, and can’t be called Rochefort unless it is!). I felt I really learned something about Paris and the people who lived there.

A more recent example. My husband and I went to London for a week last fall with one of our favorite couples to travel with – Jill and Kevin. Jill loves to bake and she had found a workshop on British baking by Caroline Hope. Our husbands were off doing activities related to NFL football in London (watching, not playing! ha ha) so we were up for some girl time. I thought it was a great idea and a good way to explore the life of a real Londoner!

Well, it was everything we hoped and was actually a high point of a really great trip. Like the Paris food tour, Caroline taught us about the culinary heritage of her country as well as customs and … I don’t know what to call it… societal norms? It was really fascinating. She taught us how to bake traditional British baked good like Victoria sponge, shortbread, and scones – not things we typically eat in America (not counting the dry, crumbly scones you get at Starbucks and similar places).

 

Shortbread
This is the shortbread made by our group. So good! I’ve since learned that the butter in Europe is so much richer and creamier than that which you can get in the US. But I’ve had a decent time recreating this using Kerry butter from Ireland, which I can get at my local grocery store

She taught us about baking, gave us great recipes, and we got to eat our delicious creations and meet our fellow workshop participants (in this case a Canadian by way of Argentina and a Japanese exchange student). But most of all, we just enjoyed her company, her humor, her flat in Notting Hill, and her authenticity. And while we could have spent that half a day rushing around the London eye or going up to the top of the Shard (two things that got nixed because we ran out of time), it wouldn’t have been the same. We got to connect with a real person who was passionate about her culture and wanted to share it with others.

My conclusion: Always, always, try to incorporate an experience like this into travel. NOT through a travel company, not as an excursion, but somehow finding these special experiences from individuals who are great at teaching others about their culture and have an interesting perspective on their country.

What do you think? Have you ever had a travel experience like this? Living in tourist-heavy Maine, I wonder if there’s a market for providing experiences like this here. I’ve guess I have enough side gigs already, and I’m an introvert, so it probably wouldn’t work out for me anyway!

xoxo LL

 

It’s a bunny butt wreath!

Bunny butt wreath

My creative whimsy is usually something where I have an idea in my head, and then I try to figure out how to make it. Then, I usually realize I can’t do what I actually envision, so I look for ideas online and then adapt and meld different ideas I find.

Albus the bunnyThis bunny butt wreath is one example of this. I have a pet house rabbit named Albus (yes, like in Harry Potter). He is an adorable white lionhead with ruby eyes. Since I adopted him two years ago, I’ve become a crazy bunny lady (in addition to already being a crazy cat lady). Yes, I am one of those people who yell “bunny!” anytime I see a bunny – real, in a movie, or on a trinket at a store. A popular meme on social media is “bunny butt Friday.” To really make your day, go to Instagram and type in #BunnyButtFriday into search and you’ll be delighted by all the fluffy bunny butts!

This past Easter, I was in a hard-core anti-consumerist mode – a mode I call “austerity measures,” which usually coincides with me trying to “balance my checkbook” (metaphorically, of course – nobody actually balances their checkbook anymore, right?)

I have never noticed how many bunny things are out in stores around Easter. Before I had a bunny, I must have just ignored it. But this year, it was a constant struggle to not buy all the cute things, from pillows and statuary and cards, etc. At one point, I went in Michael’s – just to see what they had – and they had a really cute bunny wreath. It was $10, made in China. But cute. But in true LoveLarisa fashion, I thought to myself – I’ll make it myself, and spend 5 times that amount! (but really make something special).

Bunny butt wreathSo after much research and thought, I came up with a design for the wreath. There are some ideas on Etsy for bunny butt wreaths (take a look) but they weren’t quite what I was looking for. But I did find this crochet pattern – and luckily I had just recently learned to crochet (follow your bliss!).

So I ordered the pdf pattern and crocheted the bunny. I opted not to include the legs. They are super cute, but it just seemed a bit too much.

For the wreath itself, I really wanted yellow daffodils because they really say “Spring” to me, and they make me think of my mother because she loves daffodils. But after searching online, the artificial daffodils I found were quite expensive, so I settled on yellow carnations instead. Then I bought a Styrofoam wreath form.

Materials I used:

Bunny Butt Crochet Pattern

Case of 100 light yellow carnation with picks  from www.afloral.com

Green artificial corsage leaves from www.afloral.com

14” foam wreath form from www.afloral.com

Sprightly yarn and crochet hook

From there, it’s mostly self-explanatory. I followed the directions on the crochet pattern (omitting the legs as mentioned above). I put some 20 gauge copper wires in the bunny ears to keep their shape, and then used the same wire to attach the bunny parts to the wreath form. Then, I trimmed the yellow carnation picks so they weren’t so long that they poked through the other side, and just covered the entire wreath form with them. The door where I hang the wreath is glass, so I can see the backside of the wreath from inside. If you have a one-sided door, you could just cover the front of the wreath. This project took basically all 100 carnations.

Then, I found some super cheap hollow easter eggs at Target ($1!)  and attached those using glue and the copper wire, and added a ribbon to hang the wreath with.

So… in the end it was quite expensive and time consuming, but I really love it, and I can use it every year. Plus, I learned some new skills and had a fun project to work on – and that’s what it’s all about.

Does this inspire any other ideas from you? I’d love to hear them!

 

xoxo LL

The LoveLarisa Life

Several years ago, I became passionate about making jewelry. It was a hobby that came out of nowhere and took six or seven years to fully run its course (a lifetime for a gemini like me who doesn’t like to commit too much to one thing). I couldn’t stop talking about it, dreaming about it, creating it, designing it.

So when I started selling my jewelry, and was trying to name my company, my mother suggested “LoveLarisa.” She said it just “came to her.” It made me laugh and I wasn’t sure at first…it almost sounded like a Russia mail-order bride service. But it was perfect, because my jewelry making really was all about love. Loving the process, loving the effect of making people happy with my designs. Loving creation and execution and an artistic and beautiful end result.

The passion for jewelry making subsided a bit (though I still dabble), and now I have more space to pursue other creative endeavors. Now, the LoveLarisa lifestyle includes all the things I love, the things that I’m passionate about, things that make me happy and excited.

I’m a huge fan of mythologist Joseph Campbell, and my favorite quote of his is “Follow your bliss.” It’s one of those quotes that’s perfect for a Pinterest meme, right? But I believe it’s one of the keys to a happy life. It’s become half of my life philosophy (the other half is “follow the plan” because I’m also a big fan of getting stuff done!)

This blog is about ways I’m following my bliss. I love creating, so mostly I imagine it will be about my creations – from crafts and ideas I use at work (I work for a local university in alumni engagement), to writing, and travel, animals, decorating, gardening, and food. Hey, I have a lot of passions!

If you happen to stop by here and get some inspiration to help you follow your own bliss, that will make me happy. Feel free to use and adapt anything you see here.

Xoxo LL