{April 12, 2013}   Crafting Cloisonne

If you’d told me a year ago that I could create a piece of cloisonne jewelry, I wouldn’t have believed you. You might just have well have told me I could make my own mattress or shoes. Crafting items like those requires specialized skills, tools, and materials that aren’t readily accessible to an average person.

Cloisonne, an enameling technique that’s been around since the 8th century, sounds like it demands precision, talent and expertise. Maybe that’s why my sister-in-law Lisa didn’t use the word and instead asked if I’d like to make enameled jewelry. Enameling sounds more approachable. So I agreed.

Our sister-in-law Kathy also joined us. These two talented women have been with me from the beginning of my year-long quest to try new things. Lisa is an art teacher and showed me how to make and glaze pottery. She also joined me for indoor rock-climbing, the Dirty Girl Mud Run and the Polar Plunge. Together, she, Kathy and I took a class on blowing hot glass and spent an evening painting with acrylics.

This time, Lisa walked Kathy and me through the process of making a cloisonne pendant. Broken down into steps, it was simpler than I could have imagined.

First, we each sanded a 1-1/2-inch copper disk and punched a hole in it to make it into a pendant.

Next, we used pencil to draw our designs on the disks.

Then we bent special silver wire to match the shapes of our designs. Each piece of wire must have a bend or fold to keep it from falling over in the kiln. The wires form the cells that hold different colors of enamel.

When we finished creating our design in wire, we brushed the copper disk with a gum solution to help hold the wires in place. We arranged the wires on our disks and sifted a thin layer of fusing flux over the pieces. Into the kiln they went for 3 minutes.

After they cooled, it was time to add color. We referred to an enamel chart to select our colors. Working with one color at a time, we mixed water into the colored, powdered glass to form a paste. We used flat toothpicks and paint brushes to fill the cells with the paste. We filled cells that did not touch with different colors before the pendants were fired in the kiln.

Once they cooled, we went back and added additional colors and filled in low spots before firing them again. I think we added colors and fired our pieces four or five times.

To finish the pendants, we lightly sanded the fronts to bring out the silver wires, popped them in the kiln a last time, and then spray-painted the backs. They turned out great! Mine lacks the glossy even layers of enameling that Lisa’s and Kathy’s possess. But I know that’s because I was not as precise or exacting when I filled the cells. (They both love intricate work like that—not me.)

Overall, it was a successful afternoon: I learned a new art form and now have a piece of brightly colored cloisonne jewelry to show for it.


{April 7, 2013}   A Bucket Book for Dad

My dad turned 80 last month and I struggled to think of an appropriate gift for the occasion. (If you regularly read my blog, you might know I like to come up with unique gift ideas like a salvage yard find for my husband’s 50th birthday.)

Needing inspiration, I Googled “ideas for 80th birthday gift for man” but wasn’t thrilled with the suggestions. There were the “Kiss Me, I’m 80” T-shirts and the “I’m 18 with 62 years experience” coffee mugs. Nah. What about a “Yoga for the Elderly” DVD, “Car Caddy” to help him get out of his vehicle or Superman bath robe? I don’t think so. (OK, I kinda liked the robe.)

When I started my 47 and fearless project, I compiled a list of lifetime experiences—things I’ve already crossed off my bucket list. It was fun to be reminded of things I’ve done, especially at a time when I felt it had been a long while since I had moved outside my comfort zone to do anything adventurous.

My dad is active and in good health, but I thought maybe he’d like to be reminded of the cool things he has done in his 80 years. So I decided to make a “bucket book” for him—a scrapbook of things he has already crossed off his bucket list (a list he didn’t know he had.)

With help from my mom and siblings, I came up with a list of milestones in his life, places he has traveled, outdoor activities he has enjoyed, etc. I printed out the list and placed one item to a page, adding family photos when possible and supplementing with generic pictures as needed to create the scrapbook.

Before his birthday celebration, I bought several black buckets at the dollar store. I put the scrapbook and a DVD of “The Bucket List” movie into one bucket for him to unwrap. I used the remaining buckets to hold other gifts—items that would help him complete other items on a typical bucket list. For example, one bucket included two tattoo sleeves and temporary tattoos so he could cross off “get a tattoo” from his list. Another was “celebrate 80th birthday” and included the Dr. Seuss book “You’re Only Old Once! A Book for Obsolete Children” and silly gifts like an Over the Hill Decision Spinner (spin it to decide whether to take a nap or drive really slow. Ahh, choices, choices…) A third bucket held six cans of silly string that he could use with his grandkids to “have a silly string fight.”

Dad enjoyed paging through the scrapbook and got into the spirit of the gifts, wearing the tattoo sleeves to pose for a photo at my request. I hope the silly string fight will occur the next time he gets together with the grandkids. Who knows what other items we can add to the book in the years to come? But don’t suggest skydiving. He’s already declined my invitation.

{April 5, 2013}   Underwater Wonderland

During a two-day stay in Chicago before Easter, we devoted one day to exploring the Shedd Aquarium, a place I’ve been wanting to visit for years. Its web site says Shedd is “the world’s largest indoor aquarium featuring 19,000 aquatic animals from around the world.” I believe it. We spent more than five hours there and didn’t see everything it had to offer.

Rather than detail our entire visit, I’ll let the photos do the talking. But I do have a few suggestions should you decide to visit.

Arrive early. We visited when Chicago public schools were on spring break, so it was especially busy. We arrived about 10 a.m., an hour after it opened, and there was a two-hour wait to buy admission tickets. We already had tickets, but had to stand in the will-call line for more than 45 minutes. Doug took the boys to the gift shop while I waited in line. The woman behind me had a well-behaved toddler in tow who was becoming frustrated with the wait. They had already missed the 10 a.m. aquatic show they’d reserved online because the will-call line was so long. It wasn’t much, but I let her go ahead of me to save her, her son and husband a few minutes.

Buy aquatic show tickets ahead of time or immediately upon arrival. The show was included with our tickets, but show times were sold out by 10:50 a.m. when we reached the front of the will-call line. We were out of luck. As I walked away from the ticket desk, the woman I’d let go ahead of me pulled me aside. “You didn’t get aquatic show tickets?” she asked. When I said no, she said, “They replaced our tickets with ones for the 2:30 p.m. show. Please take them.” I said it was so nice of her to offer, but I couldn’t. “That’s our son’s nap time, so we won’t be able to go anyway,” she explained and handed me the tickets. Wow. It was such a sweet and unexpected gesture.

Dress your kids in something distinctive. I read that tip online a few years ago and it does help. I had our boys wear tie-dyed T-shirts, which makes it easier to spot them in a crowd.

There are dive presentations, animal encounters and chats scheduled throughout the day. They really add to the experience, so try to catch a few of them. The dive presentation included a story about Nickel, a rehabbed sea turtle, and offered the opportunity for audience members to ask questions. The chat about beluga whales and sea lions was interesting, too.

Know ahead of time that you can’t take photos anywhere in the aquarium using a flash. I’m sure my camera has a special setting for situations like that, but I didn’t take the time to figure it out. I took nearly 300 photos and with the flashed turned off, many were dark or blurry. The next time we go, I’ll be prepared.

{April 3, 2013}   Fragrant Field Trip

Aromagnificent! Scentsational! Fragrantastic! OK, maybe I’m getting carried away with my description of a recent “new thing” I tried, but it was a pretty cool experience.

My friend Brenda, who has been a part of my 47 and fearless project since the beginning, suggested the outing and joined me on a trip to Chicago’s Lincoln Park where we each created a custom fragrance.

Brenda attended nearby DePaul University, so the trip was also an opportunity to revisit her college stomping grounds and introduce me to Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.

After driving around campus and seeing where Brenda lived, learned and let her hair down, we stopped for lunch. Some pizza lovers say Pizzeria Uno, the creator of Chicago-style pizza, can’t be beat while others prefer Gino’s East, Lou Manalti’s or Giordano’s.

Brenda recommended Bacino’s and not just because it was near our final destination. She raved about the pizza and said her mouth watered just thinking about it.

When we arrived at the restaurant, she ordered a large with sausage and black olives, so she’d have lots of leftovers to take home. I ordered an individual-sized spinach supreme, the first heart-healthy pizza recognized by the Chicago Heart Association. (Weird, huh?) It had a crunchy crust, spicy sauce, just enough spinach and plenty of gooey cheese. Yum. Next time, I’ll follow her lead and make sure to super-size.

We could’ve lingered over lunch, but we had reservations for the 1 p.m. fragrance workshop, so we headed out.

The two perfumers at Aroma Workshop greeted us and immediately put us to work at the “scent bar.” We were urged to smell the dozens of vials of fragrances color-coded into four groups: floral, fruity, citrusy, and woodsy/spicy.

Some were pure essences, such as gardenia, cucumber and sandalwood. Others were blends of essences that the staff had created and named, such as Lake Shore Drive, Sky and Swizzle.

We picked up each vial, held the wand up to our nose and sniffed. Some made us cringe; some made us hungry for dessert; some we really liked and set aside as our favorites.

Brenda thought the one labeled “pink sugar” smelled just like cotton candy and “honeysuckle” smelled like Hawaii. I wasn’t a fan of the florals, but loved several of the fruity and woodsy ones.

After a while, sensory overload set in and it became difficult to distinguish scents, so we sniffed a jar of coffee beans to clear our noses. If that didn’t work, the perfumer suggested we sniff our forearms.

As we continued to smell the essences, our perfumer looked at the favorites we had set aside and mixed combinations she thought we might like. She dipped a paper strip into these blends and labeled them for us to consider.

After discarding the blends we didn’t like, we took the remaining paper strips outside to smell them in the fresh air. A few minutes later, we returned with our final selections.

Brenda’s custom fragrance was a combination of white tea, honeysuckle and Touch (a blend of orange, tuberose, jasmine and Madonna lily).

My custom perfume was a mix two blends: Athena (violet, jasmine, peach and apricot) and Big Sur (sandalwood, amber, oakmoss and cedar.)

The last step was to name our custom fragrances. Brenda named hers “Makena Beach” after a place in Maui she and her husband vacationed. She bought a beautiful dragonfly bottle to hold her one-of-a-kind fragrance.

I chose the name “Jewels,” a play on my nickname that reflects the pretty, faceted perfume bottle with antique-style bulb atomizer I chose to hold my fragrance.

An hour later, I spritzed my wrists with the concoction, I thought it seemed different from what I’d chose—spicier. I chalk it up to the way it reacts with my body chemistry. I like it. It’s just not what I’d thought I’d selected. That’s not a bad thing, because I think I’d like to go back and create another fragrance. Or two.

{March 22, 2013}   Tasty Twists

I like to bake cakes, cupcakes, brownies and other treats, but shy away from homemade breads, rolls and other recipes that call for yeast. I don’t have the patience or confidence to bake with it.

Making soft pretzels from scratch has been on my list of new things to try since I started my 47 and fearless project. When the boys were off school one chilly day last week, we spent it in the kitchen learning to make yeast dough for pretzels.

I did some online research and chose Alton Brown’s recipe for Homemade Soft Pretzels from the Food Network website.

The boys measured the temperature of the water, waited for the yeast to foam and added the flour. “It looks like we’re making clay,” Dylan commented as small chunks of dough combined to form a ball in the bowl of my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

The dough looked a little dry, so we added a tablespoon of water and continued to let it knead. After a few minutes, we agreed the dough looked good and covered it to let it rise.

When we checked an hour later, the dough had not risen as much as I’d expected. Was there a problem with the yeast? Was the kitchen not warm enough? I don’t know. We forged ahead anyway.

I cut the dough into eight portions. We each rolled one into a long rope and twisted it into a traditional pretzel shape. The boys wanted to try other shapes, too, so Dylan formed a braid and Jamie made a ring and an elephant.

Now, it was time to give them a baking soda bath. I dropped each pretzel into a boiling mixture of water and baking soda for 30 seconds and placed them on parchment-line baking sheets. The boys brushed them with egg wash and sprinkled them with kosher salt.

I popped them in the oven for 6 minutes, turned the pans and switched racks after another 6 minutes, then baked them 2 more minutes until they were brown.

We could hardly wait to let them cool before tasting them. They were warm, dense and chewy. Dylan said they were as good as the frozen ones from a box (SuperPretzel). He meant it as a compliment. He dipped his first in honey-mustard, then in cinnamon-sugar, then in both. He finished every last bite.

Jamie covered his elephant pretzel with butter and cinnamon-sugar, but couldn’t eat the whole thing. I couldn’t finish mine either. They tasted good, but were too big and heavy for my tastes. I had hoped for a lighter texture.

The boys had fun and were happy with the results, so we’ll make them again. Next time, I’ll be sure the kitchen is warm enough to see if that helps the dough rise. I think we’ll divide the dough into more portions to make smaller pretzels or maybe even pretzel nuggets. And we’ll try them with cheese sauce, too.

Do you have any other suggestions for our next try? We’d love to hear from you.

{March 20, 2013}   Thrills and Chills

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like being cold, so I tend to shy away from outdoor winter activities. But this year, I’ve made an effort to warm up to them. I went kite-flying in January and did the Polar Plunge in February. A few weekends ago, our family went snow tubing with families from Dylan’s Cub Scout Pack at Sunburst Ski Area in West Bend, Wis. It was a blast!

The day was sunny but cold with temps in the low 20s when we arrived. After purchasing our tickets, we grabbed inner tubes from the supply at the base of the hill and joined the line for a ride on the “Magic Carpet,” a 540-foot conveyor belt that carries passengers and their tubes to the top of the hill.

We got in line with Dylan’s friend Liam and his family. While we waited, we watched skiers and snowboarders perform some impressive maneuvers on a nearby hill. The line moved quickly, so we were on the lift in a few minutes. The conveyor ride takes just a minute or two. Folks who don’t want to wait in line can simply walk up the hill alongside the conveyor, pulling their tubes behind them.

The main tubing area has 12 tubing chutes, each 900 feet long with a 10-story drop.  Dylan and Liam chose chutes next to each other so they could race each other down the hill. Not to be outdone, Liam’s mom, Marci, and I did the same. My tube spun as it picked up speed, so I had no control of the direction I was facing, sliding backward part of the time. Our race ended in a dead heat, but what an exhilarating ride! We couldn’t wait to do it again.

According to Sunburst’s website, snow tubers can reach speeds of more than 40 mph. I have no idea how fast we went, but with the frigid wind whipping in our faces, it felt mighty quick and mighty cold.

After a few times down the main runs, we moved to an area that has chutes that allow tubes or mini luges. Instead of a conveyor belt to move people up the hill, it has a tow rope with tubes fastened to it. To use it, a passenger must sit in a moving tube while holding on to the rope of a free tube. It takes some coordination to get in and out of the tube, but I managed to do it without incident, though not gracefully.

Unfortunately, Dylan was not so lucky and had trouble at the top of the hill. His boot got stuck in the tube when he tried to get out, and he lost a glove. The tow rope had to be stopped for a few minutes while his items were retrieved and returned to him. (A mishap like that is one reason I’m reluctant to down-hill ski; it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get on and off the ski lift without embarrassing myself.)

The incident didn’t deter him in the least. He and his friends first used tubes to slide down the chutes, then tried the mini luges. Those little contraptions looked much harder to control, and riders rarely seemed to complete a run without falling. Jamie, in particular, had a spectacular crash halfway down. But he popped right up and got in line to go again.

Despite being bundled up, Jamie had enough of the cold weather a short time later. Since my fingers and toes had been frozen for awhile, I was happy to head to the Tubing Cafe with him to warm up with some hot chocolate while Doug and Dylan continued tubing. They joined us half an hour later, tired and red-cheeked from the frosty fun.

The boys say they’d love to go back. I would, too. But maybe not until next winter.

Want to know more about my 47 and fearless project? Check out my first post.

{March 12, 2013}   Easy Fix Is Not So Easy

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest DIYer of them all? Not me. But there were a few moments when I thought I was in the running.

When we bought our house about 10 years ago, we completely redid the bathrooms. We put a basic mirror in the half-bath, and it was just fine for several years. But recently, some of the backing along the edges had started to deteriorate, leaving dark areas where the silvering is missing.

I shopped for a new mirror, but didn’t find anything the correct size that I really liked. I recalled a do-it-yourself project for bordering a mirror with tiles. I thought it would be an easy way to disguise the deterioration, and I could add “reclaim a damaged mirror” to my list of new things to try this year.

A quick internet search led me to several DIY blogs with similar tile projects.  One of the bloggers noted she used a glue gun to attach glass tiles to her mirror. I had a glue gun; I was half-way there.

I picked up two packages of glass tiles—some square, some rectangular—at Michael’s for about $7. That night, we removed the mirror from the wall and placed it on the kitchen island. Then I arranged the tiles around the edge of the mirror until I had a pattern I liked. It took maybe 30 minutes.

The next morning, I warmed up the glue gun and started attaching the tiles. It was easy, and I only burned myself once. The tiles felt welded on; I couldn’t even budge one when it looked a bit crooked.

I didn’t glue the tiles that would cover the clips that attach the mirror to the wall. When my husband came home from work, he ground away part of the back of those tiles so they would sit flush with the rest of the tiles when glued over the clips.

With those tiles in place, we put the “reclaimed” mirror back in place. I was pretty impressed with the results. I love the color the tiles add, and I have to look closely to notice the dark shadow barely visible through the tiles where the silvering is missing. My quick fix cost less than $10 and took less than 2 hours total. Success!

But my pleasure was short-lived. The next day,  I heard a clatter. A tile had popped off the mirror and landed in the sink. It was followed by a few more. At end of the week, I got out the glue gun and reattached a small collection of fallen tiles.

The blogger who had attached her tiles with a glue gun reported that her tiles were still in place a year later. I was not so lucky. As the days passed, I heard more clattering in the sink and had more tiles to reattach.

This time, I glued them with Loctite Go2 Glue, which is water resistant and dries clear. It doesn’t dry immediately, so I used painters’ masking tape to hold each tile in place while the glue dried. That seemed to work fine.

Here and there, the tiles I had originally attached with hot glue continued to fall off. I was getting tired of replacing them one by one, so I went through and wiggled every tile, removing any that seemed the least bit loose. I used Go2 Glue to attach a large number of tiles, then taped them in place to dry.

Despite the tape, some of the tiles slid out of place, so the border is not even. Plus, extra glue pooled on the tape at the bottom edge of some tiles, leaving a residue that I couldn’t remove by scraping or rubbing with a cloth soaked with nail polish remover.

In hindsight, it would’ve been better to remove the mirror from the wall and attach the tiles while the mirror was flat. I’ll know better next time.

Although my easy fix didn’t end up being so easy, I’m happy with the colorful, if imperfect, results. And I believe there may be more DIY projects in my future.

{February 24, 2013}   Salvage Yard Shopping

My husband celebrated a milestone birthday recently and I wanted to present him a gift worthy of the momentous occasion. But where do you shop for a person who is celebrating 50 laps around the sun?

Most people’s first thought wouldn’t be the junkyard…ahem…I mean, salvage yard. And it wasn’t my first thought either. But that’s where I ended up finding his gift. (Birthday shopping at a junkyard is just one of the new things I’ve done this year.)

Doug is a truck mechanic by trade, but loves all kinds of vehicles from trucks to cars to tractors to boats to snowmobiles. So I was leaning toward something “automotive” related. I looked into flying him to Las Vegas to tour the Shelby Museum, but time and money were limited.

Our home has an extra “mechanic’s garage” with a vaulted ceiling, hydraulic lift and plenty of space for Doug to work on projects. (He restored a 1967 Minneapolis-Moline Jetstar 3 tractor a few years ago and recently started to tinker on a 1967 M-M U302.) What little free time he has is spent in his “man cave,” so finding something to spruce up the space seemed like a good way to go.

I headed to Google for inspiration. There, I came across an idea that intrigued me: have a photo of your auto enthusiast painted on the door, fender or other part of a classic car he admires. Hmm…I could work with that.

I called his mom, emailed his brother and contacted his best friend for information. What was his first car?  What’s his favorite car? What kind of car would he love to own?

Armed with details, I called my dad. Now this guy knows a lot about cars. When I was a kid, I watched him do auto body repair on vehicles in our family’s small garage. He “Bondo-ed” and sanded and primed and painted many cars over the years. In college, I remember impressing a guy with my knowledge of “fish eye repellent”—something you add to auto paint to prevent little craters in the finish.

When I mentioned the “car part as canvas” idea to Dad, he jumped on board. In fact, before I could confirm the year and make of Doug’s first car, my dad had tracked down a place to “shop.”

A few days later, he and I went on a field trip to Jack’s Auto Ranch in Watertown, Wisconsin. We walked into the office on a wintry day to find a handful of employees working at a computer, talking on the phone or warming themselves at the wood stove as cats walked through like they owned the place.

One of the men, who I assumed was Jack the owner but later learned was not, recalled the phone conversation with my dad and said he had just what we wanted. He told a younger man to drive us to a certain aisle where we were sure to find the perfect canvas for a painting: the hood of a 1968 Mercury Cougar.

Dad and I took a short ride in a car that had seen better days and were dropped in the “Ford” section of the yard to search for a needle in a haystack. Neither of us was so familiar with Mercury Cougars that we’d recognize a 1968 on sight. And the cars in the salvage yard were parked three-deep, piled atop one another and tucked into inaccessible places that made identification difficult.

We made a valiant effort, even learning to decipher the markings scribbled on a bumper or quarter panel. After a half-hour of exploring in the cold, we admitted defeat and walked back to the office. Not-Jack asked if we’d found what we wanted. “We found a lot of things,” I said. “I’m just not sure what we found.”

He grumbled a little, but kindly offered to drive us to the spot where the Cougar hood could be found. I was convinced he had an encyclopedic memory of every vehicle and part in the yard. So we returned to the beater car and enjoyed a few stories from Not-Jack along the way.

We got out of the car a few times as Not-Jack pointed out headlights, stripped-down vehicles and miscellaneous parts for 1967 and ’68 Mercury Cougars (there’s just a minor body difference between the two years). It seems he didn’t recall exactly where he had last seen the hood, but he recognized it immediately when he came across it. It wasn’t labeled, so Dad and I probably wouldn’t have found it on our own.  It was blue, dented and rusty; we could work with that. Not-Jack lifted it onto the roof of the beater and drove us back to the office. We paid, loaded it into the minivan and were on our way.

The devil’s in the details, and Dad was a great help with them. On the way home, we stopped to look into sand-blasting the hood (a no-go) and tracked down the codes for the original “Augusta Green” paint color at an auto paint shop.

Since I couldn’t keep the hood at our house without Doug noticing it, Dad offered to hold on to it and do “a little” work on it. Four days of sanding and filling and priming later, he called to say it was time I take a look at it.

Wow! What an amazing transformation. He’d gotten rid of the rust, filled the holes and dents, sanded it smooth and primed it. I thought it looked great, yet he wasn’t entirely happy with the feathering here or a small ridge there. He wanted it to look perfect and insisted on keeping it.

When it was ready, we once again loaded it into the minivan and hauled it to an auto body shop where Doug’s best friend, Mark, had arranged to have it painted. The next time I saw it, it was gorgeous—a deep metallic green and very shiny.

I had wanted to commission an artist to paint a picture of Doug with his first car on the hood, but I couldn’t track down a photo of him with the car, and time was running out. I returned to Google and found a decal of a voluptuous brunette with a ’68 Cougar for sale on eBay.

Mark’s connections streamlined the next step for me, too. His good friend Tom enlarged the image, added some wording and created an awesome decal to grace the hood.

When Doug unveiled his gift at a small gathering of friends and family, he was amazed. We asked party-goers to sign the hood that night, and several jotted personal notes, too. His one-of-a-kind Cougar hood will be hung on the wall in his garage as a reminder of his 50th birthday. Not a bad ending for a junkyard find.

Now it’s your turn. What’s the most unusual gift you’ve ever given or received?

{February 20, 2013}   *#%! The Water’s Cold!

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, what do you hear? I hear crazy people swearing near me.

Author Bill Martin Jr. and illustrator Eric Carle might not appreciate my take on their children’s book, but that’s how I’d describe the scene at the Polar Plunge in Muskego, Wisconsin on Feb. 10.

With temps in the mid-30s and a cold rain falling, nearly 200 people hopped, leaped, flipped, cannon-balled or jumped through a hole cut in the ice of the pond at Muskego Park to brave the icy waters below. They were “Freezin’ for a Reason.” The plunge raised about $90,000 for Special Olympics and is one of many similar events held throughout the state.

Since these folks were crazy enough to plunge into the frigid pond voluntarily, it wasn’t a surprise to see them dressed in wild costumes, including Elvis, chickens, nerds, aliens, caped super-heroes and other outlandish characters. Many teams wore matching T-shirts or swim trunks and several individuals sported teeny bikinis or skimpy Speedos.

I joined a team sponsored by Alpine Lanes  (a fun place to bowl and fabulous pizza!) We wore T-shirts emblazoned with our team name, the “Ice Holes,” then personalized our individual outfits with accessories like sparkly tutus, kiddie inner tubes, lei, crazy hats, fur headbands and a Darth Vader helmet.

After registering, our team waited for our assigned plunge time in a huge heated tent that included concessions and a band to get us warmed up. As the time neared, we headed to smaller tents closer to the pond to stow our towels and dry clothes.

All the laughing, dancing and shared goofiness of the previous few hours could no longer distract me from what we were about to do. If you read about our family outing to the Cool Fool Kite Festival on New Year’s Day, you know I don’t like the cold. So jumping into ice water is way outside my comfort zone. In fact, I dreaded it. (Worse yet, I couldn’t whine about it, since I’d convinced two lovely friends to do this with me.)

Our team had too many members to jump at the same moment, so we broke into groups. Jen, Lisa, Leah and I made up the first group, held hands and jumped on the count of 3. Lisa and Leah kept their heads above water while Jen and I went all the way under. Yikes!

Maybe it was just the people on our team, but the first words to be spoken after hitting the water were, I’m sorry to say, profanity-laced exclamations. “Oh, &#%!” “*@$%! That’s cold!” “Holy #*$&!”

Before my body had time to register the cold, I was ushered to a ladder and out of the water to make way for the next group. I don’t think we were in for 30 seconds. Dripping and shivering, we hurried to nearby hot tubs to soak off the chill, then headed back to the tents to dry and change.

Truthfully, plunging wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was cold, but quick. And the dip in the hot tub warmed me back up in no time.

Best of all, our team raised about $1,500 for Special Olympics and we had a lot of fun doing it. Would I do it again? Maybe. But I’ll insist that you join me.

{February 19, 2013}   Ignorance is Bliss

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” –Edgar Degas

I’m only speaking for myself when I say this Degas quote sums up my recent experience painting with acrylics. I had a great time last month at Arte Wine and Painting Studio in Wauwatosa with my friend Ellen and my sisters-in-law Lisa and Kathy, all of whom have previously joined me on my year-long quest to try new things. (You can read about the adventures Ellen and I had in New York City here and learn about a hot glass class that Lisa, Kathy and I took here.)

Arte Wine and Painting Studio offers art classes in which students can replicate a famous painting, such as Monet’s Lily Pads or Edvard Munch’s The Scream, or simply use it as inspiration for a personal masterpiece. (Read about the experience my friend Michelle, a fellow blogger, had taking a similar class here.)

Instead of taking a class, the four of us opted for a few hours at the Paint Bar. Our artist bartender seated us at a table with easels, aprons and brushes, then delivered the wine and beer we ordered as well as plates of the paint colors we requested.

Lisa and I had printed out a few pictures to use for inspiration for our paintings. She had also printed out a few ideas for me, because they reminded her of a Marimekko Unikko wall hanging in my kitchen. I tossed my ideas and chose one of hers because I thought it would work with the colors in our living room.

Some of us used pencils to first sketch our designs on the canvas, then we got down to painting while sipping drinks and chatting. Lisa is an art teacher and offered suggestions for mixing colors and adding brush strokes here or there to get the look we wanted. I’ve seen some of her other artwork, so I knew her painting would be awesome. Her ability to show light and shadow so realistically in her close-up of sneakers is amazing.

What I didn’t know was how talented Kathy and Ellen are. Neither had much painting experience, yet both created cool canvases. Ellen’s nightscape swirls with gorgeous blues and purples reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and Kathy’s detailed cat pops off a beautifully blended red background.

Not worried about correct proportions or proper technique, I was happy with how my floral painting turned out at the end of the night. I like its modern design and simple color scheme. Displayed in our living room, it’s a daily reminder of an enjoyable evening spent with three great women.

et cetera