Candle

Refocusing and introspection.

Recent life events have left me feeling many things – mostly grief over the death of my younger brother, who faced alcohol addiction and mental health issues for many years and passed away in June at the age of 33. This loss has definitely triggered an introspective look, thinking about humanity, life, and how to approach the world.

What is the meaning of life anyway, and how can one pursue their dreams when everything can change so suddenly? Whether someone dies in an accident. Or a terrible illness strikes. Or when the iron-clad grip of severe alcoholism destroys a person. Are we here simply like a field of different flowers blowing in the wind, never knowing when at any moment an elephant foot might stomp down and crush us to death in a single second, with utter disregard to whether the flowers stomped are a new young bud, a flower in the middle of life, or an aged flower at the end of its natural days?

It reminds me of this Slate article from 2014 where a waitress asks the Dalai Lama the meaning of life, and he replies that the meaning of life is happiness – but the real and more difficult question is what and how is real happiness achieved. Is it money, mansions, and expensive food? Probably not. Or is true happiness achieved with love, compassion, and a kind heart? If so, how does one go about ensuring a kind heart? I just yelled at my kids for not chewing with their mouths closed at dinner tonight – so… crud. Guess my kind heart definitely needs a lot more work.

After thinking on things a bit, here are some of my newly revised life goals:

  1. Love My Kids: Always my top priority, particularly after I left my full-time job 7 months ago to be a stay-at-home mom, raising my kids in a loving and supportive home is absolutely a top focus of my life and I am sure it will stay that way until they are all grown up. In particular, I am trying to impart to my daughters a sense of self-confidence combined with an understanding that needing help is okay and there is nothing to be ashamed of if they are feeling sad or anxious. Honesty and addressing hard feelings openly is so important.
  2. Make Art: As an artist, whether painting, drawing, making comics, or working toward writing my first book, I think that being true to my creativity is essential to my humanity and exploring ideas and passions through those projects is essential to me being true to myself and not neglecting my own happiness. What if all the art I make is really cruddy? Who cares. What if I publish a book and zero people buy it? Also, who cares. I need to pursue my art with passion and without fear – knowing that whatever I produce will be enough simply because it is my process and my journey and the creation of the work that adds value to my human experience.
  3. Work Toward Kindness: Whether donating time and volunteering for causes I care about, or supporting a friend going through a tough time, or staying calm and collected through difficult parenting moments, I need to foster kindness in my actions. I feel that I inevitably fall short on this one and my past failings on this are tied to all of my deepest regrets – speaking in anger and frustration when my kids are misbehaving, or saying something foolish, heartless, and insensitive to family, colleagues, or friends. It’s easy to beat myself up over all the miss-steps, but I need to try to learn from my mistakes, apologize, and move forward – starting fresh each day to do my best to act with kindness in what I do. I am reminded of an Anne Frank quote: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

I can only hope that my brother has found peace. He loved my kids, his nieces, so dearly and I hope that I can honor his memory by remembering him with love, and helping my kids to remember the good times with him. To all who have lost someone – may you find peace in your heart.

Candle

The July postcard that I made is a condolences themed card with a simple candle shining. It isn’t available yet on my Etsy store, but I hope to add it in the next week or two.

I don’t know the meaning of life. Do you? Why are we here? Why do terrible things happen? Where can I go as I move forward carrying this burden of grief? So many tragedies in the world, and so many people we see are carrying their own burdens of grief – whatever deep pain or loss they have faced in their lives. May we each find solace. May we find tenderness with each other. May we find compassion in this life.

Mother's Day Postcard of bird nest

May and Mother’s Day!

I’m thrilled to have recently printed my 5th and 6th postcards of the year in my Patreon Postcard series project. With that 6th card I’m now half way through the year’s production goal of 12 cards! My May Mother’s Day themed postcard is now available on Etsy, as is the June Father’s Day postcard.

It’s been a busy and productive several weeks on the art side of my life. Here’s how my Mother’s Day postcard looks:

Mother's Day Postcard of bird nest

I was aiming for a snuggling baby bird and mom bird, looking cozy in their nest. Due to the Stars of David decorations among the leaves and hearts of the tree, it is definitely a Jewish Mom themed card instead of being more universal.

For the Father’s Day card, I wanted to create a design that would work for a congratulations card after a baby is born as well as for Father’s Day. As I was looking at reference ideas, all the Father’s Day cards I could find were either stereotypical about BBQ’s, tacky sports obsession references, or strange puns about being super good or super bad at fixing things around the house. While those are not inherently bad subjects to make a card about, it all felt rather stereotypical and limiting in terms of showing a caring and loving father. I wanted to create a card that tried to capture a serene and caring moment between a father and his new baby. Here’s the Father’s Day card design:

Father's Day Postcard of dad and new baby

In addition to the two postcards, I’ve also completed a new fabric design – I painted this Fruit Medley watercolor design for the current Spoonflower design contest (voting closes on May 16th! Go find my design and vote for it if you are feeling supportive…).  Here’s what my design looks like:

Fruit Medley Fabric Design

Of course, aside from the once-a-month postcards and occasional fabric design and other projects I am brainstorming but don’t yet have time to accomplish, almost all of my time is devoted to my two kidlings right now. Today was a special and emotional day as my oldest daughter’s first grade class gave a special Mother’s Day performance. Seeing my daughter smiling, singing her heart out, beaming with pride – I have to admit I started crying a bit. She has such creativity, thoughtfulness, and energy – I am very lucky to be her mother. And miracle of miracles, her little sister sat nicely and behaved appropriately during the entire performance!!! If you know my littlest kidlet, you know why that is indeed such a miracle.

After five months as a stay-at-home mother, I feel like I’ve ironed out a solid routine, but that’s all about to be tossed in the air a bit again when school is out for the summer in just a few weeks. Every day is a tiring adventure with my energetic kidlings, but even with the tantrums and issues that crop up, the feeling of snuggling together under a blanket for bedtime stories each evening reminds me that these amazing little kidlings are worth all the challenges they throw my way.

 

Naming - Part 1

Naming – #ThePlumGrove

I’m ready for action! Let’s get this art adventure started. First, thoughts on picking a name.

Escapades in Naming

Naming - Part 1

All rights reserved. Copyright 2017, Kristin Johnson, @ThePlumGrove

Naming, Step One: Finding a niche and brainstorming concepts: What defines the idea/product/business? What’s the unique value proposition in terms of how people relate to other things already well known?

I brainstormed – gardening, urban horticulture, city farmer, Jewish mom, artist, parenting, cooking, recipes, watercolors, postcards, painting, fruit, vegetables, and webcomics. Once I had my core elements outlined, I tried to hone in on the most essential elements, and then seek out words/synonyms that evoke that concept – which was just a touch tricky with my hodgepodge of items…

Naming, Step Two: Is the name available? I searched online for each name I was considering – especially if I am planning to sell a product or start a business, it’s important to choose a unique name that won’t bring up issues of copyright or trademark. Maybe someone in a different state or country already had the same idea and they are already using the prime domain name for the name idea! Time for more brainstorming…

Naming Part 2

All rights reserved. Copyright 2017, Kristin Johnson, @ThePlumGrove

Step Three: Practical naming considerations: How difficult is the name idea to spell? Will it be confused with something else?

If speaking with someone on the phone, would the proper spelling be immediately obvious? Would the name be easy to explain over the phone or would someone have to painstakingly spell it out letter by letter? Such as “Pear Endeavors” could be mistaken over the phone for “pare” or “pair” instead of the “pear” spelling for how that word sounds, and the word “endeavors” is easy to accidentally misspell.

Naming - Part 3

All rights reserved. Copyright 2017, Kristin Johnson, @ThePlumGrove

Gut-Feeling Naming Considerations: What kind of emotions or assumptions does the name concept evoke? Positive? Negative? Are other related products, businesses, brands, or concepts going to impact how the name is interpreted?

For me, I wanted my new project name to evoke the concept of a space/area/retreat, and being a gardener I feel like the word ‘grove’ conjures up a special type of space, one that is flourishing with trees, and one that also could be a hideaway or respite. A plum is a type of fruit (yum!) but also in colloquial terms, if something is ‘plum’, such as a ‘plum choice’ or the ‘plum pick’ it can mean an ‘optimal’ item, which has nice positive connotations. In construction, the word ‘plumb’ means something is straight/true and in proper alignment. While that introduces a possible spelling/confusion element, the word ‘plumb’ isn’t commonly used, so I discounted it as a likely source of spelling confusion when I picked The Plum Grove.

My kidlings are so supportive of my art – thank goodness for their encouragement and enthusiasm.

It’s tough to pick a name! Have you named something new recently? What did you pick? So those are some of my suggested tips for naming something new, even though I apparently don’t always follow my own advice…

It would perhaps be more normal to simply try to brand myself with my own name, as an artist, as I start trying to consistently produce new comics, postcards, and fabric designs. That would be a logical choice, but that’s where the gut feeling element comes in! So instead I’m onward with this new The Plum Grove adventure. 🙂 Hope you can join me and follow along as I make new things every month in 2017.

Kristin - The Plum Grove

A Time for New Beginnings

After 11 years working at a nonprofit I care about deeply, from starting fresh out of college in 2005, through more than a decade of projects, training, personal growth, and professional achievement, the time has come for me to leave that which is deeply familiar to me, and move on to new endeavors – focusing primarily on my children as a stay-at-home mom, and also re-focusing on my art. Plus hopefully regaining some of my sanity points in the process. 🙂

Inspiration: Zefrank’s Invocation for Beginnings

When I feel deeply afraid of the risk of putting myself out there and trying something new I find a lot of energizing power from watching ZeFrank‘s 2012 video Invocation on Beginnings. Thanks, ZeFrank for producing such a powerful message.

As I move to being a full-time stay-at-home mom I know that I’ll make mistakes – I’ll yell at the wrong time, I’ll make a tough choice that I thought was right at the time that later turned out to be wrong. I’ll cry, my kids will cry. Motherhood is a new kind of challenge every day, but what I do know is that I am going to do my best. I’m going to try to be the best mom I can be – hugs every day, making sure my kids feel loved, special, and listened to, and that I help them grow into themselves. I dream of afternoons filled with laughter and art projects, kid baking projects, many library trips, reading together, loving, and living.

As I move to pursue my art (albeit part-time, since I’ll be chasing those kids around 🙂 ), that prospect also frightens me. My comics, my watercolors, there are so many incredible and deeply talented artists in the world, and it can be hard to feel like I need to try to compete. But art isn’t a competition. Whatever I do – whatever I make – the process of making it, caring about it, just trying to be myself – I need to remind myself that that will be good enough.

What will be will be. And I’m ready to get started with this new beginning.

Hope you feel good facing any new beginnings in your life!

Thanksgiving Traditional Stuffing

Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipe

Thanksgiving Traditional Stuffing

My Mother’s Old Fashioned Stuffing Recipe – I have very fond memories growing up of thanksgiving morning together in the kitchen with my mother, father, and brother, each with a task related to this recipe. Usually my dad would be cutting the onions, I would be cutting the celery, my brother would be slicing up the bread and measuring it, and my mom would be wrangling all of the other ingredients. The delicious aroma of this stuffing makes me smile every time and is a sure crowd pleaser – I have had people who say that they hate all stuffing who adore this particular stuffing recipe and find themselves scooping extra helpings on their plate.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup Unsalted Butter (I use Safeway O Organics butter – substitute Olive Oil if making a “non-dairy” version)
  • 2 cups chopped Onion
  • 4 cups chopped Celery
  • 3/4 cup chopped Fresh Parsley (it is important that it is fresh parsley and not dried parsley)
  • 1 teaspoon Salt (if you are multiplying the recipe it is important to reduce the salt – for double recipe, use 1.5 teaspoons, triple recipe, 2 tsp. If you find yourself accidentally using salted butter instead of unsalted, make sure to dramatically reduce the salt to almost no additional salt.)
  • 1 Tablespoon Poultry Seasoning (powdered preferred – if you don’t have this spice, do a general mix of thyme, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon)
  • 1 teaspoon Paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon Pepper
  • 1 Egg (slightly beaten)
  • 12 cups Fresh White Bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes – loosely measured in measuring cup, not packed. I am really picky with the bread that I buy for stuffing, it is always plain white bread, and a more “simple” type of bread – Whole Foods Organic White Bread works fine. I highly recommend pre-sliced loaves, because then it is so much easier to cut up.

Directions:

  1. Place the butter (or oil) in the bottom of a GIANT pot on low heat on the stove to start melting slowly.
  2. After the butter starts melting, add the diced celery and onion into the pot with the butter.
  3. Sauté the onion and celery until it is very soft on medium-low heat. This may take 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on if you are making 1 recipe or a multiple recipe. It should all be thoroughly softened, plus with some pieces beginning to brown.
  4. Remove from heat, add all the remaining ingredients into the giant pot, and gently stir with scooping motions until thoroughly mixed (this can be challenging to stir, but eventually it will be stirred if you keep at it!).
  5. Spoon the mixture into the turkey and/or into casserole dishes. Add some vegetable or chicken broth (1/4 to 1/2 cup or so, depending on how much is left over) to stuffing in a casserole dish to add some extra moisture, since it won’t get the extra juices from being in the turkey. If you can’t cook it right away, make sure to refrigerate it until it is time to cook because of the raw egg.
  6. The casserole dish of stuffing can be cooked at the same temp you are cooking the turkey, or you can cook it separately at 375 degrees or so for 30 to 50 minutes – be sure to cover the casserole dish of stuffing when cooking – if you want it to be a little browned on the top of the casserole then remove the cover for the last 10 minutes until browned on top.
  7. Final step: devour the stuffing!!  Yum!

This is a single recipe above which probably serves 4 with leftovers. I always make at least a double recipe, and have previously made a triple, quadruple and even a multiplied-by-5 recipe for huge groups, and it has not had any issues with being multiplied significantly.