Bake Me a Cake

At the risk of all of you mistaking me for a food blogger I’m going to show you this:

Using the Cake Boss Cakelette Pan - a miniature layer cake

I made that cake!  Seriously. And it was edible. It was really good actually!

I was asked by Michaels a few weeks ago if I would try out new Cake Boss products.  Baking is not my thing but I thought it would be fun to see if I could do it, and involve Boo since she loves to bake (mostly lick the bowl and eat the finished product).  The cakelette pans were what grabbed my interest…I love all things miniature and the little cakelettes look like miniature layer cakes:


I let Boo do most of the mixing:


And things probably would have gone without a hitch if I’d just stayed uninvolved but instead I said: oh just fill the pans up with all the cake mix, why not?  Well, this is why not…they expand and overflow. I obviously do not bake a lot. I’ve probably made 3 cakes in the past 15 years:


I’m pretty good at salvaging almost anything though and I grabbed the cakes out of the oven and using the big icing knife I cut off the tops and popped the pan back in.  Guess what….they turned out perfect:


I put the cakes into the refrigerator for the afternoon to chill (that’s what the directions said to do). Later we got out all the icing and decorating tools:


I was excited to play with the fondant because I really didn’t know what fondant was except for what I’d seen on TV. There was a brief moment of panic when I didn’t think I owned a rolling pin but then I found that I had saved my mom’s old one:


Boo iced the chilled cakes:


And then I draped the first with fondant…look out Cake Boss:


I did take a few sculpture classes in college and I think the skills might be very transferable: [Read more…]

I-Beam Benches

I love these so much I just had to share. Brett’s project today was making these benches for Bryson City Outdoors. Each one is made from pieces of a large steel I-beam and a large salvaged barn timber:

reclaimed barn timber and i-beam project

The I-beam was cut at a local scrapyard with the perfect dimensions. Holes were added on one side to attach to the wood. One is about 6 feet long and the other one is super long at 18 feet:



To read more about all the salvaging and upcycling that was done at Bryson City Outdoors click here. And if you are in Bryson City this summer (which you should be…it’s beautiful) make sure to stop in and say hello to my hubby Brett. Or Ben. Or Mel. One of those three is usually in the retail space.

P.S. If you ARE planning a trip make sure to check out their blog too….it’s constantly being updated with printable maps and other guides to the outdoors!

How to Make a Father Child Journal

Father's Day Father Child Journal DIY

My challenge this month as a Michaels Maker was to create a Father’s Day Gift. I decided to make a Father-Child journal that could be used to exchange messages  back and forth. The starting point was just a blank sketchbook like these:


I created a template (which you can download at the bottom of this page):


I used transfer paper to trace my image onto the blank book:


Here are the faint outlines of letters waiting to be filled in:


I used regular acrylic craft paint to fill in the letters:


Once the first letters were dry I printed out another template to add the “Dear Daughter” in a contrasting color. This template (as well as “Dear Son” are at the bottom of this post):


The finished journal:


I created this letter (template also down below) to make it clear what the journal was for…and to give Dad some ideas on things he can write or draw in the journal:


And of course the gift comes with supplies like stickers, stamps and crayons:


Package it all together and father and child will make a memorable book! [Read more…]

A Week of Paintings – Set 4

It really didn’t take me a week to do these, I crammed them into a few days when Boo was home sick, but there are 7 of them. So it kind of counts right?

Bryson City recently became a trout city which means they’ll be keeping the river stocked.  I’ve always wanted to learn to fly fish so I’m hoping this will be the year I finally do it. A tiny brown trout:

brown trout

An old friend asked me if I’d be interested in an art swap. He painted this painting of Boo.  I painted a series of 4 “things that are round” starting with a pie:


And ended up with these 4 which I think all compliment each other:


A full moon, in a locket:


And Frida, in another locket:


Not the first time I’ve used Frida in art. Boo and I made this button collage a few years ago:

How to make a button collage: Frida Kahlo Button Art Collage via (click through to see the HD  time lapse video)

We also made a Cinderella and a Mona Lisa out of buttons. You can see the process here. 


The little one-of-a-kind locket paintings will be in my shop eventually.  You can follow Lil Blue Boo on Instagram to see the progress!

An index of all tiny paintings can be found here.

Have a great day!


The Raptor and the Mourning Dove

Today I heard a huge “boom” right outside my window. The dogs went wild and ran from door to window to door. As I peeked out our big living room window I could see a hawk upside down moving his wings a little. I locked up the dogs and went outside to see if he was okay. HIs little chest heaved just one or two more times and then he was completely still. I yelled at him trying to shock him back into this world, but he was gone.  Lifeless. Poor little guy. To the right of me was another bird, its neck broken, in a pool of blood. It pretty much died instantly when they both hit the side of the house going about 100 mph. Normally I wouldn’t share a photo of a dead animal but the hawk was so beautiful. Those yellow-rimmed eyes, still wide open:

At first I thought that it was a pigeon that had been killed but it turned out to be a mourning dove. I won’t share that photo, even though it’s also quite beautiful I think with the thick crimson blood and the closed periwinkle eyelid, some normal people might have an aversion to it. But I did draw it:


When I was reading about the mourning dove today I learned that it is the closest relative to the extinct passenger pigeon. Coincidentally I wrote about the extinct passenger pigeon on Instagram recently.  I’d found an origami version of the bird in the September 2014 issue of Smithsonian Magazine:


The last wild passenger pigeon died in March 1900, shot down from the sky by a boy in Ohio. The last one in captivity died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Her name was Martha. She didn’t live the best life. (imagine being the last of your kind on earth, an elderly zoo attraction in a cage, with no friends, i.e. planet-of-the-pigeon) Her body was saved though and you can see her at the National Museum of Natural History through the end of this year. In 1860 there were estimated to be almost 3.7 billion Passenger pigeons. Then they were hunted to death. Not one left.

“MARTHA, last of her species, died at 1 p.m., 1 September 1914, age 29, in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden. EXTINCT”
(photo source)


(You can read more about Martha here.)

Speaking of taxidermy, because I know you are super interested, right? I’m reading a book right now called Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy. It’s kind of a memoir about taxidermy. Randomly picked it up at the bookstore.  I’m all for taxidermy to preserve animals, I’m just not a fan of it for the sport of killing trophies.

Honestly, for a split second I thought about the idea of keeping the tiny hawk and having him stuffed. But…the House on Hospital Hill is not the Biltmore Estate.  We don’t really have a place for skinned and stuffed animals. Plus I’d have to go through crazy hoops probably to get salvage permits and who knows what else.  The vultures around here keep leaving me feathers and it’s illegal to even keep those according to the North American Migratory Bird Act. Even if it’s from a dead animal. I doubt there would be a federal raid if I kept just one, but I won’t take my chances.

Have you heard about the Rauschenberg’s assemblage art Canyon? (You can view it here I don’t want any part of Migratory copyright infringement of bald eagle art.)  I was following the story a few years ago. Basically Rauschenberg’s piece contained a stuffed bald eagle which meant it could never be sold. According to the heirs of an estate that owned the piece that one little fact, in theory, would give it a value of zero for estate taxes. But the IRS placed a value of $65 million on it, which carries a huge estate tax:

“The IRS is saying you have to pay the tax. If you sell the work to raise the money to pay the tax, it’s a criminal offense and you go to jail.” -Ralph Lerner, art dealer, as quoted in Art News. 

It was eventually donated to MOMA. No charitable deduction with a value of zero.

Sorry total tangent there. But I do think the use of discarded objects by Rauschenberg is very relatable to vultures in a way.

Anyway, it takes all my energy not to keep a feather…because I’m constantly picking up little things here and there for the shadow boxes we have.


Seven vultures were just staring at me yesterday morning from a tree in our yard. FYI: they don’t like to be talked to. One by one they picked themselves up and flew away:


The vultures use the thermal air currents to fly with very little effort. I watch them all the time and they are so peaceful and unassuming, rarely flapping their wings. Just gliding. I think they are a great symbol for floating through life and I think a vulture feather carries a message with it: use your energy wisely. One circled me the other day…literally just about 50 feet away, just hanging out. I could see her eyes and then she flew off. Just curious I guess. Or maybe the crows told her that I give away popcorn occasionally on the tree stump.

I know I’ve written about this before but it’s primarily why I left the two birds for the vultures today.  A sky burial:

I re-watched the movie Kundun a while back and was reminded of the sky burial that Tibetan Buddhists use at death. The vultures  scavenge the remains of the dead, giving them second life.  There’s a powerful part in the book Last American Man where Eustace Conway’s horse Hobo breaks his leg and he shoots him and leaves the body for a year:

He left Hobo where he’d fallen. He wanted the vultures to eat him. He knew that the Native Americans believed vultures to be the sacred transport, the means by which a spirit is delivered from the earth up into the sky. So Eustace left Hobo there, where the birds could find him. Which means that, even today, whenever Eustace is working outside and sees vultures drifting in the air, he looks up and says hello, because he knows that’s where Hobo lives now.
-The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert

(amazing book btw, I read it straight through and didn’t sleep for a night)

A year later Eustace went back for the vulture feathers, to collect them and to put them somewhere sacred.

Every time I see a vulture drifting in the air I say hello too. And thanks.

And as Whitman put it: What stranger miracles are there?

The circle of life.

Rest in peace little raptor.

Rest in peace little dove.

Excruciatingly Intricated

I’m determined to know everything about every wild plant I come across in the Smoky Mountains. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book The Signature of All Things inspired me. On walks I’ve been collecting samples and figuring out what they are and whether they are edible etc. and the origin of the names. Keeping notes and sketches in a journal with the pressed flowers to be added in at some point.


In an 1897 bird book I found last week at the used book store John Burroughs wrote in the intro:

We must in a way earn what we have or keep. Only thus does it become ours, a real part of us.


This I’m determined to do: to earn this piece of earth I live on. And I love the process of it all. Like yesterday morning, on a walk in Island Park: I found ferns uncurling, or unfurling I think is the correct term. Doesn’t this look like something down the rabbit hole:


While I was taking a photo of the fern this little guy crawled out waving all his little legs. He kept moving too fast for me to take a photo of him. Anyone who walked past would have seen my on my knees talking to a few piles of leaves. I did a little research and found out that it’s a Nantahala Millipede. That probably translates to: millipede that lives near the Nantahala.


There’s a place in the park, the north end of the island, where a large wall in the shape of a “V” has been built to break the river around the island:


If you peek over the side it is covered in secret moss, secret only because you would have to kneel down and lean carefully over the side that faces the river to see it. And when I spotted these little pods…I almost keeled over the side….what are these incredible looking things?!


There’s this passage in The Signature of All Things where Alma is explaining why she admires mosses so:

Their dignity. Also, their silence and intelligence. I like that -as a point of study- they are fresh. They are not like other bigger or more important plants, which have all been pondered and poked at by hordes of botanists already. I supposed I admit their modesty, as well. Mosses hold their beauty in elegant reserve. By comparison to mosses, everything else in the botanical world can seem so blunt and obvious.

No thank you to Mr. blunt and Mrs. obvious. I spent a lot of time photographing the hidden side of a wall trying to capture it pieces of it, mostly because I have the worst eyesight and I can enlarge photos.

I mean, is this Narnia?!


I didn’t notice this spider until later. He was doing a great job camouflaging himself. Creepy little bugger.


Look at these teeny, tiny little ferns taking hold in a vertical wall. Ferns for ants. If I was an ant I’d set up a little camp site on that tiny little ledge and spend lots of time there roasting miniature marshmallows on a miniature campfire reading a miniature book.


Nature’s carpet, full of seed pods and dandelion wisps.


Gosh, this:

But sometimes I fear that my world has become too detailed. My books on mosses take me years to write, and my conclusions are excruciatingly intricated, not unlike those elaborate Persian miniatures one can study only with magnifying lens. My work brings me no fame. It brings me no income, either – so you can see I am using my time wisely!

Am I using my time wisely? I guess so, and I guess we all struggle with how we are supposed to use our time. I am always working. Working from the second I wake up until the second I go to sleep. Collecting, writing, reading, and filtering. One day hopefully it will all translate into the end result I want it to. The castle in the air, right? When people ask me how my writing is going I tell them fine. And every once in a while all of that writing is packaged into a nice little package that may someday be used…or not used.  I recently had a chapter workshopped in a group of writers. As they critiqued my work, and I listened on mute, I cried. I mean I bawled. Because they got it. And I’d been in such fear that maybe I was not getting it. One writer said “this is a big existential piece” and I had to go and look up existential. And I thought maybe I should start learning and adding some bigger words to my vocabulary.

Our pastor’s wife Jodi (who you’ve read before here) shared this verse last Sunday:

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14


A vanishing mist. I love that. According to Boo’s NatGeo magazine: the amount of water on earth never changes. What?! A constant? Last summer on Mt. LeConte I watched a delicate mist turn into a roaring river:

“The mist begins to condense onto the vegetation and then it begins to drip and then a trickle turns into a stream. As it’s filtered through moss and rock it gets funneled into tiny waterfalls across the trail…which eventually compound into the larger streams below.”  from High and Far Off Places

How to Get to Mt. Le Conte Lodge

This ranks high up there with the time I found the place where the river meets the lake. I never even imagined that there was a beginning and end to a river. It’s like the mystical end of a rainbow.

 Moss is inconceivably strong. Moss eats stone; scarcely anything, in return, eats moss. moss dines upon boulders, slowly but devastatingly, in a meal that lasts for centuries. Given enough time, a colony of moss can turn a cliff into gravel, and turn that gravel into topsoil. Under shelves of exposed limestone, moss colonies create dropping, living sponges that hold on tight and drink calciferous water straight form the stone. Over time, this mix of moss and mineral will itself turn into travertine marble.

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics. It also grow on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. -Page 169, The Signature of All Things


Moss just needs time.

My friend author Patti Digh has always given me the greatest advice, I wrote this down recently:

We care too much about what people think. Your job is to write. Write what is true to you. We jump too quickly to putting our work out to other people.

I’m very cozy in my little world and all its details. It’s not glamorous or flashy or fame-filled, but it’s excruciatingly intricated, and full of moss and ferns and centipedes. And it may take me a million years to finish my castle in the air, but I can see it. I’m turning a cliff into gravel. With my health history you might think I’d be in a hurry, but quite the opposite. When the mist vanishes, it turns into another trickle. I think that’s kind of existential. Dictionary please.

And so, with that I am going to go and keep writing. Right after I do our taxes.

P.S. I did not spell check or grammar check this post. Sorry for any typos. And any incomplete thoughts.

Organizing Art Supplies

Since moving to the House on Hospital Hill everything has just been organized in “survival mode.” Brother P-Touch invited me to try my hand at some organization projects and so I recently re-organized all my craft and art supplies. Here’s my little animated gif of the process for my supply drawers…Max was so interested in what I was doing:


There was a method to my madness:  if I use something at least monthly it can stay in my flat file drawers, otherwise iot’s either banished permanently or to the basement.  I basically pulled everything out first, sorted and then labeled and put things back in. I’m so organized now that I ended up with empty drawers to fill up in the future:

Organizing Craft and Art Supplies #brother #labelit #organizing

Things that don’t fit into the flat file drawers usually fit into these scrapbook boxes. It’s easy to distinguish what is in each one when they are labeled correctly:

Organizing Scrapbooking and Art Supplies #brother #labelit #organizing

The boxes are also great for organizing all the artwork and items Boo brings home from school. Organized by year:

As the years go by I usually revisit the boxes and things I thought were important become not-so-significant-anymore. What was maybe once three boxes can now be fit into one and then I can use the old boxes for new organization because the labels are easily removed:


And when I get to labeling I just can’t stop. We have remotes for all the fans and lights in the house and I label each one to keep them straight:

Brother P-Touch Label Projects #brother #labelit #organizing

I love all the ideas that are being added to Brother’s “Label It” Pinterest board this week. Make sure to check it out to see some great organization and labeling ideas!


A Week of Paintings – Set 3

I actually painted last week, after taking some time off for traveling. It’s a manageable goal to pick a week and say: I’m going to paint 7 little paintings this week. Here’s what I painted last week:

Peanut Butter


A Rooster:


The Moon. Notice I am stuck in March and even though it was April 2 I dated it March 2.


A tiny portion of one of Monet’s Water Lilies paintings.  Still stuck in March:


George Washington or Bust:


A key from an old door. Or an old key from a door?


Tomato Soup:



You can find all the paintings here. 

Try fitting 7 acts of creativity this week!

Train Signals

Walking downtown this evening through the train tracks:

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City

I don’t set an alarm clock in the morning because the train starts blowing it’s horn each day around 8:45am. It’s a much nicer sound than waking up to a blaring beep. I’ve been noticing the trend in the horn, there’s a pattern to it. Obviously there’s a train horn language I’ll need to learn now that we live so close. I think I’m figuring it out without looking it up:

three short blasts = backing up

That’s all I’ve got right now. The horn blows so often that I actually have to focus on paying attention to it, otherwise I really don’t hear it.  Because of the winding roads around here some people have to cross over the tracks a few times to get home, that means more than once…and there isn’t always a little gate doohickey to come down. You actually have to PAY attention, especially in the summer when it comes in and out of town twice a day.

Boo has a new pair of overalls…she could fit right in behind the scenes of the railroad. The hardware store ordered me a pair too. I haven’t had a pair since I moved out to California. I might just wear overalls all the time…when I’m not wearing flannel shirts of course. I’ve come to the conclusion that you really only need 2 good pairs of jeans, a few t-shirts, a few flannels, and a pair of overalls to get along just fine. Oh and maybe one or two nice shirts to wear to a wedding. (that’s for you Harper, I’m not going to wear my overalls to your wedding.)


Boo and I went to the thrift store to see if she could find anything for Easter. Instead we found this old phone. Who wants to wear an Easter dress anyways…I never did. I told her she could wear her bunny t-shirt instead. I’m not wearing a dress…I’ll probably wear a t-shirt too since I’ll be handing out drinks at the big Easter event afterwards (that EVERYONE is invited to btw, The Grove on Franklin Grove Church Rd).  Oh, this phone has one of the old plugs…I wonder if I could get it converted. Funny, around here phone numbers are still only 7 digits. No one ever gives the area code. I’m not used to that yet, and when I ask what the area code is I get strange looks.

Vintage Rotary Phone

Boo had her first piano lesson last week. We can walk there…her teacher lives above the old drugstore where his antique shop is. He collects old clocks and they all chime at different times which I think is fantastic. I can’t even make this amazing stuff up.

Small Town USA

An old friend from high school asked if I wanted to do an art swap. I paint a few of my 3″ paintings for him and he’ll paint something in return. I didn’t expect this huge painting to arrive in 4.5′ x 3.5′ box!  How awesome is this painting of the depot by my friend Alex:


I might send my tiny paintings back in the same box he sent the painting in. Just to be funny.

Bryson City Outdoors opened this week! It’s only been open a few days but it’s been a great success so far with lots of visitors. Our friend Sarah made a huge detour on her way back home to DC to come and take some store photos. They came out with a new “Elk” t-shirt today too. If you missed what all that’s about read about the big renovation project here.  Here’s a photo of the building at night before opening day:


If you make it to Bryson City this summer make sure to stop by and say hi to my hubby Brett! Boo will probably be running around too…and I try and stop by at least once a day, usually towards the end of the day.

Oh, and it’s National Poetry Month. I wrote about that in my weekly letter today. (if you missed it you can find it in the archives)

Have a great weekend!





How to Make Stamped Solder Pendants

How to make stamped solder pendants solder jewelry

This was such a fun project. I made all of these cute little pendants using plain old plumbing solder! I think they resemble wax seals or old coins:

Bernzomatic torch projects: jewelry pendants

Basic List of Materials (a little goes a long way):

TS4000 Bernzomatic Trigger Start Torch
MAP Fuel Canister (yellow)
1 Roll of Sterling Plumbing Solder
1 Roll of Copper Picture Wire (18 Gauge)
Non-Asbestos Soldering Block
Lead-free Water-Soluble Flux
Rubber Craft Stamps (Postmarks)

Optional but Recommended:
Parchment Paper
Bon Ami Powder

Each pendant only requires a tiny bit of solder and a few inches of copper wire making it a very inexpensive project:


Here’s my TS4000 Bernzomatic Torch. It ignites with just a push of the button so it’s not scary or hard to use. Once you start torching…it’s kind of hard to stop!


The pendants are primarily made up of metal from melting this sterling plumbing solder:


To created the base of the pendant I used 18 gauge copper wire. Using pliers I created this “8” shape:


I use a non-asbestos soldering block to fire against. It can withstand the heat:


Brush a little bit of flux onto the copper wire. This will help the solder adhere to the wire:


Using the torch, carefully heat the solder so that drops of solder begin to fall into and around the copper circle. It doesn’t have to be precise. Once there’s enough solder to fill the circle let the piece cool.  I put parchment paper underneath because it will catch any extra beads of solder that can also be reheated to create pendants:

molten solder stamping

Use the torch to remelt the solder. If you burn heat in a circular pattern around the edges the solder will shift towards the center into a circular glob:

rubber stamped jewelry

Take a regular craft stamp, mine are the “Far Off Posts” set by Dawn Houser:


Press the rubber stamp onto the molten solder. They need to be wood-mounted so you don’t have to get your fingers near the molten solder.


One the sterling solder has cooled you can just tap the stamp on the block and the pendant will fall away:


Kind of addicting to make these…feels a little like minting money: [Read more…]

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