Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Drowning doesn't look or sound like what you think it does

I almost never ask you to share posts from this blog. If you want to you're always welcome to but I rarely ask. Today I'm asking. This news report could help save lives this summer as people head to swimming pools, lakes, and beaches.

Click this link or the image above to visit the myFOX9 news website that created the video Investigators: Drowning is silent

I shared it on Facebook with this message but want to make sure as many people as possible see this video:

"A drowning child or person will most likely not throw their arms in the air and scream for help. Instead they will silently tip their head back in the water in an attempt to keep water out of their nose but in doing so allow all of the air being held in their respiratory system to exit the same way as tipping an empty bottle filled with air sideways while submerged in water. Please watch the video if you're around pools, lakes, or the ocean to see what drowning looks like.

. . . I now know what to look for and might see it happen... SInce most people don't. This is why sometimes kids drown in a pool full of people. At the end of the video they said it takes on average over 20 minutes for other swimmers to notice someone at the bottom of the pool. "

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A new name for The Flirty Blog

Are you surprised? Sad? Or kind of relieved because the word "flirty" always made you feel a little uncomfortable?

For me it's a little of both sadness (to let the name go) and relief that people will stop thinking this is a dating blog or that I am some kind of out-of-control flirt :) The truth is I'm not a flirt and haven't ever been one. But the name was cute when I renamed my bridal accessory company to "The Flirty Bride" and more importantly, the url was available.

Now I'm in metamorphosis at the crossroads of a new beginning. The relocating part (leaving California) made me realize that living in a very liberal area the name "The Flirty Blog" (while disconcerting to some) was easily accepted by most. Having traveled the country last year I realized that a change was needed if I don't want to continue to be perceived as a dating site. And because the name never really fit my personality anyway, I began searching for a new one over the winter.

There were a lot of names I thought of. Most didn't have an available url. I tried to think of what does my blog embody to me? Words like adventure, inspiring, foodie, travel, tourism, seeker, etc. all came to mind. After months of no success it finally happened. The name just came to me out of the blue. Ready?

I Found the Place.com

Like it? I love it. It will allow me to focus on tourism and travel, two of my favorite things to write about.

I found the place __________ (<-- Insert topic here.)

The possibilities are endless: The best grilled cheese sandwich, an amazing view of______, to shop for _____, to meet _____. See what I mean?

The only thing that will change is the name on the header and the URL. I have so much on my plate at the moment I'm not sure when I'll make the switch. It'll most likely be once I relocate. But for now I'm just glad that I found the name I'd been looking for and it feels like a very good fit.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bray Butcher Block & Bistro

Let's have lunch. I hadn't seen my friend Armando in a while so we met up for a bite the other day. One of his favorite places to dine is the San Pedro Square Market in downtown San Jose.

The market is two buildings that contain a collective of restaurants and a few shops where one can order their food from a multitude of independent casual dining options. Then you decide where to sit. I've dined at small tables with friends and at the large communal table when I've been there alone.

Armando decided it was time to try BRAY Butcher Block & Bistro. Imagine your neighborhood BBQ joint. Now take the food up at least a handful of notches, not so fancy that it's fru fru, but more thoughtful in not only how the food is prepared and where their ingredients are sourced from, but how the flavors and textures meld and blend together.

It's a meat eaters haven for sure so I wasn't sure I wanted to eat there. I'm still eating small amounts of beef but continue to be very selective about the kind of beef I eat. Prather Ranch is still my preferred brand but I'm open to others that raise their livestock in humane and healthy ways, basically I don't care for factory farmed meat.

This sign and a chat with co-owner Josh Hanoka reassured me that this is meat I would feel comfortable eating. Grass fed, hormone free, and free range are definitely qualities I look for in the way farm animals were raised. They're the same reasons why I pay what some feel is an outlandish price ($8.99 a dozen) for pasture raised eggs.

Caring about where your food comes from, how it was raised, slaughtered, grown, made, and packaged is called conscious consumerism. Yeah, it's a lot to think about but given that a lot of food isn't as healthy as we think it is, for me, it's effort I'm willing to expend and dollars I'm willing to afford when possible.

And this is what I ordered: Bray's French Dip - House made roast beef with ooey gooey melted pepper jack cheese and horseradish cream on a soft black pepper onion bun accompanied alongside au jus and slaw. Best French Dip EVER. There's a little kick in there from that house made horseradish cream, a surprising touch. And the slaw held two more surprises: Bacon and blue cheese crumbles. It was fantastic, and I don't even like blue cheese! If Kitai were still with me I would have saved him the bacon bits. He loved bacon.

Can you tell I didn't like it at all?

This was Armando's dinner: Black & Blue Salad - Grilled iceberg wedge, red onion, roma tomato, twice smoked bacon, and crumbled blue cheese in a buttermilk blue dressing. Armando added a grilled chicken skewer and was shocked at how generous the portions were. Just like the beef in my sandwich, Armando commented the meat was very tender and the flavor was good. He also liked that the lettuce was lightly grilled, adding another layer of flavor to the salad.

BRAY also offers smoked deli meats made in house. If you enjoy deli meat and want low or no nitrate options to make sandwiches at home be sure to visit BRAY and check out their selection.

You'll find them in the Market Hall building to the west of the larger El Dorado Building. Or, if you're facing both on West St. John Street, they'll be in the building to the right.

What did we talk about over lunch? Armando is training to (again) ride with thousands of other cyclists in AIDS/LIFECYCLE, a seven day, 545 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The ride is done each year to raise both awareness and money. From the AIDS/LIFECYCLE website:

"The costs associated with medical care and treatment for a person with HIV are about $20,000 per year. Access to life-saving drugs, clinical trials and state-of-the-art treatment helps those with the disease live a longer and better quality of life. AIDS/LifeCycle will help those living with HIV/AIDS gain greater independence and get the treatment and care they need. Prevention services geared towards high-risk populations will ensure that future generations will not experience the same level of loss that we have faced in the last two decades."

It's a great cause. To ride he's still seeking sponsors as he must meet a fundraising goal to participate. If you'd like to support his efforts just CLICK HERE and you'll be able to make a sponsorship donation to Armando on the official AIDS/LIFECYCLE website.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How will my garden grow? With non-GMO heirloom seeds!

It took a year and a month but I finally made it to the Petaluma Seed Bank. Located in an old bank in Downtown Petaluma the shop sells Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds which are special because they are non-gmo, not hybrid, not patented, and not treated.

It's sad that one has to make a special effort to find untainted seeds like those offered at The Seed Bank but if that's what it takes, that's where I'll go.

Miner's lettuce grows wild at Jack London State Park in Sonoma County

I first learned of the Petaluma Seed Bank after I was invited on a media tour and wrote this blog post: Discovering Eastern Sonoma County: Wineries, Jack London's Beauty Ranch, and landscape art. While visiting Beauty Ranch, home of author Jack London, I learned of Miner's Lettuce for the first time. It's an edible plant that grows wild in shaded woodlands around Northern California. I wanted some seeds and looked for them online, which is how I discovered the Petaluma Seed Bank.

When I walked in and saw all of the seeds I felt a little giddy! Considering I don't even have a yard at the moment I told myself I couldn't buy any seeds, I was just there to investigate and take pictures for this blog post. Why did I make the two hour drive up to Petaluma just to introduce you to this store?

From their website:

"All of our seed is non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented.

We do not buy seed from Monsanto-owned Seminis. We boycott all gene-altering companies. We are not members of the pro-GMO American Seed Trade Organization! We work with a network of about 150 small farmers, gardeners and seed growers to bring you the best selection of seeds available! Many of our varieties we sell were collected by us on our travels abroad.

We offer over 1600 fine varieties! Unique seeds from over 75 countries!"

There are several three sided bays of seeds as well as an island of flower seeds upstairs.

There were even live plants for sale at the front of the store.

And gardening books. . .

. . . Composting information and tools as well as many other from and for the garden gift items.

This is one side of the upstairs island of flower seeds.

And the downstairs. . .

Where I found more gift items, gardening supplies, an entire room of air plants, and a small room set up for presentations.

There were also flower bulbs in the basement.

Remember how I said I wasn't going to buy any seeds? Yeah. That didn't work out so well. I found the Miner's Lettuce.

And these cute mini vegetable seeds. . .

Japanese seeds I've rarely seen like daikon radish and hadn't ever seen for sale before Hokkaido pumpkin. . .

My favorite bulls-eye striped Chioggia beets. . .

Some basic veggies like green onions, radish, green beans, rainbow Swiss chard, spinach. . .

Cucumber, lettuce, and tomatoes.

Rosemary, sage, chives, thyme, and basil.

And herbs. I'd been reading up a lot about mosquito repellents to make my DIY, natural, mosquito repellent spray and learned that mosquitos don't care for the scent of sage, basil. . .

. . . and lemongrass. The rest including the Thai sweet basil will be for cooking.

Oh my gosh. What am I going to do with all of these seeds? I figure as long as I relocate by the beginning of August I can plant and harvest one crop this year. If I haven't relocated by then I'll have to give my seeds to a friend with a yard so they can plant them. It was crazy to buy them but I couldn't resist. After all, it took me a year to get there the first time, who knows when I'll make it back for a second visit.

If you'd like to purchase Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds there is the option to do so online. Just visit their website RareSeeds.com to find out how.

Or visit the Petaluma Seed Bank at:
199 Petaluma Blvd. North
Petaluma, CA 94952
Phone (707) 773-1336
Visit their website for hours
Find them on Facebook

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Armadillo Colander: An innovative culinary tool that needs our support

Just as his successful Kickstarter campaign to fund his F2 iPad stand was coming to a close designer Matthew Kim reached out to me and asked if I'd be interested in helping to promote a new invention by RMDLO, a team of European designers (Fred and Ran), who have launched their own Kickstarter campaign to promote their collapsable "Armadillo Colander" or (as we call them here in the U.S.) strainer.

WIth 15 days to go they're halfway to their goal of £45,000 (that's pounds, not dollars). If you pre-order one the cost of shipping it to the U.S. is a mere (additional) $8.42 (that's approximately converting their £5 fee to U.S. dollars).

Let me say this. A lot of people reach out to ask me to promote a lot of different things and very often I have to turn them down because I just don't feel their product or project is a reflection of this blog. But the Armadillo colander? It's a perfect fit!

As both a foodie and a camper I can envision myself using the Armadillo Colander both at home and on the road. Especially on the road where space is at a premium.

I've been searching for the perfect collapsable colander that could fit into The Glampette, my tiny travel trailer or (as they call them in the U.K.) caravan and now I've found it. Only problem is it won't be developed into a product we can buy unless Fred and Ran reach their fundraising goal.

I also really like that the mouth of the colander is formable so that you can narrow it to pour into a smaller container when you're done straining without its contents over-pouring out the sides.

What about you? Can you envision having this inventive design in your camper or home kitchen? If you thought "yes" you can help make it happen by funding Fred and Ran's campaign on Kickstarter.

Pledging tiers in approximate U.S. Dollars are:

Pledge $1.68 (£1) or more

10 backers

For your donation - we will be in your debt forever and you will always have a warm place in our heart! We will also add you to our hall of fame.

Pledge $30.03 (£18) or more

150 backers All gone!

Get our RMDLO colander at a £2 "first to pledge" discount! You will receive 1 x RMDLO stainless steel colander (urban green).

Pledge $33.67 (£20) or more

410 backers

You will receive 1 x RMDLO stainless steel colander (urban green). Save $8.42 (£5) off RRP (recommended retail price) for backing us early via Kickstarter.

Estimated delivery: Oct 2014
Add $8.42 (£5) to ship outside the UK

Pledge $50.50 (£30) or more

185 backers Limited (2315 left of 2500)

Get our RMDLO Limited Edition BUNDLE! You will receive 1 x RMDLO stainless steel colander (urban green) + 1 x RMDLO branded limited edition wall mount (urban green). This will never be available in the shops!

Estimated delivery: Oct 2014
Add $8.42 (£5) to ship outside the UK

Pledge $1009.98 (£600) or more

3 backers Limited (97 left of 100)

Oh yes, presenting the RMDLO colander - TITANIUM version. This is as exclusive as it gets. You will receive 1 x RMDLO colander hand made from high grade polished Titanium and signed by the creators + 1 x RMDLO branded limited edition wall mount (urban green). Presented in a luxurious RMDLO gift box. A very hard wearing and cool piece of design indeed!

Estimated delivery: Oct 2014

Just click here to find out how: RMDLO on Kickstarter

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Relief from mosquitos: A DIY natural repellent spray

A few days ago I posted on Facebook:

A week ago a mosquito bit the back of my leg. She drew so much blood and my leg swelled up so huge I think her long pokey nose got stuck inside me because when I saw her she was thrashing against my leg trying to get away but couldn't. So I smashed her. I have a lot of compassion for a lot of creatures but mosquitos and fleas didn't make the list. Especially since mosquitos in the Bay Area sometimes carry West Nile Virus.

Because I have very sensitive skin that breaks out easily and didn't want to use a commercial repellent I searched the internet and found this post on the Inhabitat website:

DIY: Homemade Insect Repellent Sprays and Lotions. This spray is recommended for adults but there's a kid-safe recipe on the same page.

You only need three ingredients and a spray bottle: Witch Hazel, water, and an essential oil, preferably Citronella or Lemongrass. I'd kept my eyes open for both of them but hadn't seen either in my recent wanderings to natural food stores or nutrition shops.

Did I mention mosquitos love me? I am no doubt a mosquito magnet. Once they do bite I get huge welts. After a particularly bad swollen hand and wrist after being bitten three times last fall in Michigan's UP I did some research and learned that most likely I am targeted over others nearby because mosquitos are attracted to:
  1. Body temperature. If yours runs higher they're going to notice you first - CBS
  2. Carbon dioxide output - WebMD
  3. Steroids - WebMD
  4. Lactic Acid - WebMD
  5. Uric Acid - WebMD
  6. Movement - WebMD
  7. Dark Colored Clothing - CBS
  8. Genetics - CBS Scientists don't know 100% why some of us are the most appealing to these blood sucking critters but it may be a combination of some or all of the aforementioned features that make one person a target over others in close proximity.

Even though I killed the one on my leg a few days ago I'd prefer practicing avoidance so I got on the phone and started calling nutrition shops. I located both essential oils at Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy in downtown Los Gatos.

I purchased an empthy 4 oz spray bottle and filled it with the following ingredients:

I hadn't ever bought witch hazel before so I didn't know where to look for it in the store. I have to say that I received some of the best customer service in recent memory both when I called on the phone and once I arrived in store. Kudos to Pharmaca for caring about what seems to be becoming a lost art.

Even though the recipe I used only called for one or the other I got both. The scents are very similar and combined smelled wonderful.

It's easy to count the drops as they come out because the bottles had little droppers built right in.

Once filled shake the bottle to blend the ingredients together. I tested the spray on the back of my hand for an allergic reaction. In the air and on my skin the scent was light and very pleasant. It smells refreshing like the way it smells when you walk into a spa, not a candle store which can often trigger a migraine for me because of the heavy perfume that is often times overwhelmingly pungent.

That night I went out for a walk at dusk after spraying my legs and backs of my hands and guess what? NO MOSQUITO BITES! Not one! I saw a mosquito come near me and used my hand to wave it away and that was it. I'm sold.

I'm not sure this recipe would work on the mosquitos in the Midwest because they're downright fierce. . . Here's a video of Wisconsin mosquitos waiting to eat me during my first night in The Glampette last June. I'd taken Kitai out to go to the bathroom and they literally swarmed me. Once safely back inside the trailer they were predators lying in wait for me to dare to step foot outside again. It was creepy like a horror movie but on a much smaller scale.

For now I'll be wearing the light and refreshing scent of lemongrass and citronella in the evenings and will hopefully remain bite-free for the foreseeable future.

If you have any other great natural-remedy mosquito avoidance tips please feel free to share them in the comments. I'm also planning on surrounding my yard with herbs (once I relocate) because I've read that mosquitos are also repelled by sage, basil, rosemary, and mint.

From what I've read a spray like this can work but DEET is better. So, if you live where there's a high concentration of mosquitos or diseases like West Nile Virus or Malaria you're probably better off sticking with a commercial repellent.

Monday, May 19, 2014

ArtPrize: I'll be heading to Grand Rapids, MI this fall!

"Fred, have you taken her to ArtPrize?" When Christie at the supermarket found out I was visiting Michigan last October and asked Fred if he'd taken me, that was the first time I'd ever heard of ArtPrize. It was the last weekday before the last weekend and apparently would have been the perfect time to visit.

* If you're an artist and don't have time to read the whole post skip to the end.*

In case you're new to the blog, Fred and I met online on the Teardrops and Tiny Travel Trailers forum, myself as a novice designer who'd gotten it in my head I wanted to not only own, but also design the tiny trailer of my dreams. Then came how to build it. For a few weeks I'd fancied I'd learn to do it myself but after taking a MIG welding class and a metal shop class I realized it would take me forever (or at least a few years) to complete a trailer and I wanted to start traveling in the spring. So, I convinced Fred (an experienced welder/builder) to let me hire him to bring my vision to life and picked up The Glampette from him last June.

Fred's Northern Lite Traveler on the left and The Glampette on the right.

During my return trip to MI last October to camp the UP on my way to Canada was when Christie introduced me to ArtPrize. A few days later Fred's sister Marilyn and brother-in-law Roger invited us to dinner at their home. Before we were even sitting at the table his sister asked if Fred had taken me to ArtPrize.

What is ArtPrize I wondered? Both Marilyn and Christie filled me in on the cursory details that it is a public art competition held in Grand Rapids and EVERYBODY goes to see the art and vote for their favorites.

Click to view the full sized PDF

That night Fred pulled up the website for me on his computer and I learned it's the world's largest cash prize open art competition. I had to let that sink in. It's a big deal. In 2013 artists from 47 countries and artists and visitors from all 50 states participated in and attended ArtPrize. LonelyPlanet named Grand Rapids, Michigan #1 of the Top 10 US travel destinations for 2014 in part because of the competition that last year drew 400,000 visitors to a city of 190,411 residents. And on CNN's 50 states, 50 spots for 2014 (click on image #22) ArtPrize was the reason it made the list.

For 19 days three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, MI is transformed into a public art gallery. This year 194 venues paid a fee to host artists of their choosing during the three week competition that kicks off on Sept. 24th. Artists from around the world submit their work through online profiles, hope for a host, and once contracted with one become a "connected" competitor vying to win the prestigious Public Vote Grand Prize award of $200,000.00 cash. There are four additional category prizes ($20,000.00 each) also awarded by the people for most popular 2D, 3D, Time Based, and Installation. There are mirrored prizes awarded by a jury in the same dominations.

And the best part? Viewing all of the art is free to the public. If you go you'll see art in coffee shops, museums, book stores, galleries, parks, banks, city buildings, seemingly anywhere and everywhere. There you can use your smart phone and an app while in the ArtPrize district, or a cell phone and texting, or register for a voting code at a registration table and go home and vote on your computer. Whichever way you choose the organizers are utilizing great technology to ensure that those who vote actually came and visited ArtPrize to see the art in person.

1000 Summer Cranes is 16" high and 8" in diameter

Once I understood how the contest works it made me want to finish and enter my four seasons of miniature origami cranes. I've always wanted to be a working artist but there's always been one reason or another why I hadn't pursued my passion. Upon reflection I realized it boiled down to insecurity. Because my art is such a personal reflection of myself it's made it hard to "put it out there" to be scrutinized. My websites and bridal accessories were both creative endeavors but in a less personal way so the constructive criticism I asked for and received was always welcomed and appreciated. But with my art I felt differently. Until now.

I still have kitty and doggie shaped holes in my heart. I miss them so much.

When I returned from Michigan last fall I was determined to enter ArtPrize this spring. The registration being in April I thought I'd have time to get an entry together. But as they say: Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans.

As you may already know this has been a rough year. Along with the realization that my marriage was a relationship I could no longer thrive in, the death of our cat Squash in January, followed by the terminal cancer diagnosis of my dog and best buddy Kitai in February, and his death five weeks later in March, to say this year has been challenging would be putting things mildly.

I was feeling absolutely gutted knowing Kitai didn't have much time left and had cast aside my plans to enter the competition this year. But right before he died, when I was sinking lower and lower emotionally, my friend Kim said to me that I needed to focus on something positive. I needed to be creative. She reminded me about ArtPrize. I told her I couldn't do it. I was so overwhelmed by loss and grief and wanting to spend every last minute I had left with Kitai making him the focal point of each day. She urged and nudged and finally I realized she was right. I should try.

When the signs came and I knew that Kitai wouldn't be with me much longer, and knowing that I would need to get away after he was gone, I went ahead and booked a flight on Southwest Airlines to Grand Rapids. If by chance he made a miraculous turn around I'd simply stay in CA and let the flight roll over into a credit on my account. Sadly, and as expected, that didn't happen and he passed away 9 days before the flight I'd booked.

Honestly? I couldn't wait to leave. Since I'd never been to Grand Rapids I decided I would go and focus on acquainting myself with the ArtPrize District so that I'd have some idea of where might be a good fit for my tiny cranes.

On my way to Grand Rapids I saw three Sandhill Cranes fly over the highway. Hmmm I thought to myself, this feels meant to be bringing my tiny cranes to a state with very special cranes of its own.

My tour guide was my friend Fred who literally gave me a grand tour of Grand Rapids. He knows a lot about the history of the area from his own past experiences growing up there.

Downtown Grand Rapids and the Grand River

What I found was a city that was both old and new. There were modern building alongside turn of the century brick factory buildings. Many of the factory buidlings have been restored and now house new businesses that are infusing the city with a vitality that was lost when many of them shut down or the companies relocated production to where labor is cheaper overseas.

My goal was to visit the three square mile ArtPrize district, walk the streets, and familiarize myself with the "Center City" district as designated by the ArtPrize competition. I thought to myself the heart of the district would be a good place to be.

There is one district outside of Downtown Grand Rapids. "The Gardens" refers to the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park east of downtown.

It was easy to spot creativity as we wandered the streets. Like the buildings there were both old and new forms of artistic expression to admire from a bronze sculpture in Memorial Park to a yarn bombed street pole, decades old carvings on the sides of a buildings, and a colorful mosaic that graces the front of the Grand Rapids Children's Museum.

Being from California, where we're currently experiencing a drought, I couldn't help but notice the abundance of water. I think The Grand River was over its banks which this sign illustrates quite well. Notice anything missing? The walkway along the wall was completely submerged.

For lunch Fred chose the Grand Central Market & Deli. The staff was friendly and the food was good (and affordable). We chose sandwiches from their extensive menu and were surprised when we found out a bag of chips was included in the price. Next we chose something to drink from a seemingly endless refrigerated wall-o-beverages and took a seat near the front window.

At the market I also found the perfect made in Michigan gift to bring back to my foodie friend Carl. A beautiful bottle of Whiskey Barrel Aged Maple Syrup from Thornburg and Company. Never in my life had I ever seen such an elegant bottle of maple syrup. The cap is corked and waxed (with a glittery silver wax) just like an expensive bottle of wine. I haven't had the opportunity to sample it but Carl and his family said it is very good.

Clue #1 we weren't parking in SF where your first 1/2 hour can run $3.75

There was a lot to love about Grand Rapids, particularly their parking rates :) As vibrant as the city was I was equally happy to return and visit the peace and quiet of Greenville, MI, where Fred lives. I'd spent time there in the summer and fall. Now I'd get to see it in a new season.

This was the marsh behind his house still mostly frozen over in winter's fading grip.

From the far bank I was able to take this picture of Canadian Geese taking off from a small patch of open water that had melted through the ice. It's truly one of the most beautiful places I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I wasn't sure what took my breath away more, the freezing cold air or the beauty of that moment.

Isn't it gorgeous? In the photos the trees look painted. While I was there I wished I'd brought my stronger 100-300 mm zoom lens. After I saw the pictures I was glad they came out the way they did, soft and blended, using my 14-140 mm zoom. The stronger magnification would have captured more stark details and the pictures would have lost their ethereal quality.

The snow was melting and the sky was blue. What a gorgeous winter day.

The few people who knew I was going on this trip all said the same thing: "It's going to be cold!" They were right.

Seriously, who visits Michigan in the winter to photograph wildlife wearing fingerless mittens? LOL that would be me because they were the closest thing to gloves I had. I'd got them for reading and using my phone in The Glampette on cold nights on the road. But with two jackets (and a hat Fred loaned me) I was toasty warm.

He also took me to Grand Haven. I'd never been there before. When I spotted this picturesque red lighthouse I asked if we could stop so that I could take a picture. What I love? That sea foam along the shore isn't sea foam. It's ice. I have yet to visit a place in MI I don't like.

While I was there winter turned to spring and guess what? One of the crocus bulbs I helped Fred plant last October decided to bloom during my visit. The first flower of spring :) It really symbolized much more to me than a flower normally does. It was time for a new beginning, a fresh start, and I had to go home and focus on creating a new future for myself.

At the airport I was surprised to be offered a free coupon for a bottle of water before passing through the security checkpoint. It was for a passenger appreciation event. Nice! Once I'd made it through security I could trade it in at a concession stand.

To snack on the way back I had the best Cherry Almond Muffins ever in my purse. Way back in the fall we stopped at Ric's Food Center, a fancier-than-average-grocery-store because Fred wanted to get some of these muffins. I loved them. They reminded me of the Cherry Chip cupcakes at Sweet Frostings up in Spokane, WA. So when we drove by the day before I left in April I had to get some to bring back with me.

When I returned home to CA I waited until April 21st to pay my $50 registration fee and set up my artist's profile page.

I rephotographed some of my finished pieces to show what my work looks like and uploaded them to my photo gallery.

I did faraway and detail shots to help venue curators get a sense of the range of mediums I am working in from paper to wire and even some Swarovski crystal beads.

While all of the Grand Prize winners in the past have been large scale works I'm hoping my tiny cranes won't be overlooked. Because at 3/4" and 3/8" of an inch high they're really, really tiny. LOL

Once your Entry Page and profile are done you can go through the list of hosting venues and send out a connection request. If a venue is interested in your work they can reply with a hosting offer or decline your inquiry. Or, a venue can approach you and send you a connection request that you can accept or decline. If you agree to work together you sign a contract and that's it, you're in the competition!

During the first week of the connections period I received a request to connect and a separate email inquiry from another venue. I replied to both that I would be interested in having them host my cranes but a week later hadn't heard back from either of them. It was very early in the process so I chalked it up to they must be taking their time to make a decision as more new artists were registering each day.

Click the image to visit their website

Then one morning, 15 days into the connecting period, I received another connection request in my inbox. I replied back and within minutes had received a very nice message and hosting contract from the Grand Central Market & Deli. Does that name sound familiar? It should. It's where Fred and I had lunch while touring the ArtPrize district on my trip out to Grand Rapids in April. How serendipitous! So not only had I eaten and purchased a gift there, now (by chance) they would be hosting my tiny cranes in the competition!

I was over-the-moon! To be willing to even put my work out there already felt like a major accomplishment. To be invited to compete? Incredible. Surreal. A better new beginning than I had dared to hope for.

Because the window I'll be displaying in is a bit too narrow to have four separate mobiles I'm now working on a brand  new piece combining all four seasons into one mobile. I can picture it in my head, now I just have to bring it to life.

If you come to the Grand Central Market and Deli you'll also be able to see the work of artists Wendy Dalton Whitfield, Laura Meekhof, Maria PeƱalba, and Claire Rose Kleese who are also being hosted there.

Planning a vacation but don't know where to go in 2014? Consider Grand Rapids and come see ArtPrize for yourself. It's a truly special and unique experience that doesn't happen anywhere else in the world.

CALLING ALL ARTISTS: If you're like me, an artist who's been afraid to pursue art but is willing to rise to the challenge and go out to Grand Rapids if you're able to secure a hosting venue, you should enter ArtPrize too.

Ignore the memories of the people who told you your art wasn't good enough, or it was "arts and crafts" and not fine art, and that if you pursue art you'll be a "starving artist." Set aside your fear of rejection and just go for it. If nothing else I've learned the past few years that life is simply too short to waste time being afraid. Enter. I'll be rooting you on.

You have to register by June 5th. Even if you wait until the last moment the connections period runs through June 19th so you'll still have time to be part of what I think is going to be an amazing experience. Entering is open to artists 18 years or older working in any medium. You just have to create and pay a $50 registration fee.

I hope I see you there!

CLICK HERE to learn how to enter your work in ArtPrize 2014