A few things: January 2020

The original plan was to write and post and share all of this stuff last weekend, but I was busy writing Charlie Brown’s obituary, trying very hard to make it funny because if any dog deserves a funny send-off, it’s Charlie Brown.

One day you’ll get to read that obituary and decide for yourself whether or not it’s humorous, but that day is not today, because Charlie Brown, the Timex of dogs, is still ticking, despite having apparently feasted on rat poison.

Where did he get rat poison, you ask? No idea. If there is a lethally dangerous substance to be found, Charlie Brown will find and ingest it. He is a terrible dog. I love him anyway.

Now that he appears to be recovering (thank you, vitamin K), I have a few things for your January entertainment, including the DIY for little medallions of hope and encouragement that I promised all you Instagram people.

New Year, New You

Remember last year, when I told you about the Ink+Volt yearly planning worksheets? It’s never too late to download and use them, if you haven’t already. (Since they weren’t available for download yet when I wrote about them in November, you might have forgotten all about it, yes? Not to worry; the year is still new.)

Of all the tricks and tips and books and whatnot, this particular tool has been a good match for me. It’s a near-perfect mix of dream big/get practical. Don’t yet believe that working from document not thought will improve your chances of reaching your goals? Try it for just one year, just once. See what happens. Do you really have anything to lose?

Speaking of losing…

It’s diet time. But is it?

So, you want to want to eat plants but don’t actually really want it that much? Or maybe your pals are trying a new diet or workout and you think you should do it, too, and definitely in January, even though it’s almost the middle of the month, but you aren’t sure you can even make that kind of commitment?

Here’s a true story: A few years ago I ran into a physician friend who looked quite a bit trimmer and healthier than he had before. What did you do? I asked, not entirely politely. He laughed and said, I finally did what I’ve been telling my patients to do for years: Sleep more, drink less, eat better, and get some exercise.

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So, go ahead and Keto or Whole 30 or WW or CycleBar or do whatever makes you feel invigorated and in control. I’m just going to do my best to do better by these four simple guidelines, which I won’t even call rules. We’ll see what happens.

A few things I’ve made recently that are worth making again:

Starbucks Egg Bites (because I love those damned things, but, seriously, they are so easy to make at home)

Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut Milk and Turmeric

Grilled Cheese (trust me) (Also: Does this fall into the “Eat Better” category? Well, yes, if “eat better” means occasionally indulging in something that’s worth it, and that you must prepare, lovingly, in your own kitchen.)

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What does one need for a good grilled cheese? Good bread, of course. The secret to good bread? I have no idea, yet, but I’m learning some new things, thanks to a lovely Christmas gift from a lovely friend who knows how much I love to cook. And to read.

Some other things worth reading.

You’ll be glad you made time to sit down and read Peter Schjeldahl’s essay The Art of Dying, I promise. And if you read it already, back in December, you might enjoy reading it a second time (I did). It’s right up there with Annie Dillard’s Total Eclipse and Patti Smith’s remembrance of Sam Shepard.

Need something lighter? How about An Ode to Middle Age. Truth; all of it.

For pure entertainment, even though we’re past Hanukkah and Christmas, this gift guide for cooks is fun to read. Spatulas, “the socks of kitchen gear…” what a great line….

Have you met @MrsDowJones yet? You might want to.

Did you subscribe to Bill Murphy Jr.’s wonderful daily newsletter yet? You might want to do that, too.

Struggling to understand the big news from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex? Black Britons aren’t (and you won’t, either, after you read).

Ada Calhoun’s new book got a lot of coverage around its release. Here’s a great excerpt: Gen X Women Get Less Sleep Than Any Generation: What’s Keeping Them Up?

Not new (it’s from May) but new to me: A wonderful profile of Eileen Fisher, who’s been my style icon since I was too young (29) to wear EF but didn’t care (still don’t).

Starting to think about a Valentine’s Day cocktail party? Here’s your signature drink recipe.

Speaking of making things…

ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES, it’s another DIY.

OK, the last time we did this DIY tutorial thing, I shared instructions for making wooden bead garlands, and in those instructions I referenced the Porcelain Relic Pendant tutorial from Iron Orchid Design. (Note: these pendants would absolutely be more beautiful in actual porcelain, but that would make the project inaccessible to almost everyone reading.)

I made a ton of those little stamped pendant medallion things in November, using polymer clay, and I tied them on garlands and bottles of wine and wrapped gifts and whatnot. And then I wanted to try making them with an Italian air dry clay that dries more like actual clay and not polymer clay, so I ordered some. And what I got instead was an EIGHT POUND box of Sculpey. So I wrote to the supplier that I’d received the wrong item, and the message I got back was, essentially: Oh, sorry, we’ll send the right thing now, and just keep that wrong thing we sent by mistake.

What can you do with an 8 lb. box of Sculpey? Share it, of course.

Last year we started a new tradition at work, dedicating the first day after the Christmas/New Year holiday break to a full day staff retreat. Last year I introduced my team to StrengthsFinder (now rebranded as CliftonStrengths), still my favorite workplace tool after a dozen years of use, and then we spent the afternoon touring the Dixon Gallery and letting our creative minds roam freely.

This year we spent the morning in our building and the afternoon invigorating our commitment to justice, with a guided tour of the National Civil Rights Museum. (If you haven’t been there since the renovation, then you must go. If you haven’t been there ever, then you really must go. You must. And know that you’ll read more about that part of our day in another post, on another day.)

The morning agenda included three stations inside our building: a service project (cleaning up), a meditation session (they made lavender play-dough stress balls), and an arts/crafts room. (You see where this is going, right?)

My original idea for the arts/crafts project was to make simplified vision boards, but then I realized we did not have nearly enough time to do that (and also, I learned I’m not really the vision board type.)

An 8 lb. box of Sculpey to the rescue.

For reasons you might guess, I made the medallions in advance – rolling, stamping, cutting, baking. Then we, together, wrote words on the backs of our little clay pieces and decorated the fronts, using alcohol inks and finishing waxes.

This is a fun project to do with a group, just for the hell of it. The medallions can be pendants or ornaments or gift tags or medallions that hang in special places around your home or office to inspire you to be more creative.

Here’s how to do it:

Gather supplies. You will need only the small box of Sculpey (or other polymer clay), but here’s a photo with the gigantic 8 lb. box you’ve been reading about. It’s huge.

Clay medallions_supplies

You’ll also need:

  • A clean, protected working surface (I rolled out paper)
  • A dowel for rolling the clay (not one you use for food)
  • Aluminum foil (not pictured) for baking the clay (unless you are already a polymer clay fanatic and have a dedicated baking sheet, just for this purpose)
  • Stamps (or leaves, or flowers) to make impressions in the soft clay
  • Alcohol inks
  • Small paint brushes (not pictured)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Sharpies (optional, for writing on the backs)
  • A work towel (also not pictured)
  • String, twine, cord, etc.

Now for the instructions:

1. Roll out the clay.

Clay medallions_1

2. Stamp and cut the clay.

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3. Cut, and reroll, and restamp, and cut more until you use all the clay (or make all the medallions you want). Use the end of a paintbrush to make a hole in the top. (What’s the top? You decide.)

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4. Place the medallions on an aluminum foil covered baking sheet (or baking sheet dedicated to polymer clay) and bake according to instructions (15 minutes at 275 degrees for Sculpey).

5. Let the medallions cool completely, then sand any rough spots/edges. Note: where you sand the clay, it will be more porous and absorb the ink differently.

6. Now it’s time to play with inks. Place a work towel on your work surface. Two towels would be even better, because this work is a little messy. Now prepare your mind: Alcohol inks are unpredictable, which is fun if you’re OK with unpredictable results. Open yourself to possibilities, then dot a bit of ink into an impression area on the medallion.

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5. Use a small paintbrush to move the ink around (or just let it roll around naturally, your choice).

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6. Optional: add a drop or two (or more) of rubbing alcohol to the ink. Alcohol will cause the ink to do weird stuff and possibly change color.

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7. Want it lighter, or more uniform? Rub the damp medallion on the towel. You can also put some alcohol on the towel first, before rubbing the clay, and the alcohol will remove/lighten the ink when you rub.

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8. Play around. There are no rules. Mix colors or don’t mix. Let the ink dry and then rub with alcohol (or don’t). Play around and have fun with it. Don’t like one? Make another. Keep going. Dare yourself to make something awful and then be pleasantly surprised at the result.

9. When you’re finished playing, you can seal the medallions with clear wax and then embellish with dark or gold gilding wax. Or you can shoot the with a quick coat of gloss finish (not pictured). Or you can wax and then spray a clear gloss coat; the solvents in the clear coat will affect the wax(es), but you might like the end result.

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10. Cut a length of cord or string or twine or whatever that’s the length you want for whatever you’re going to do next. Long cord = long necklace. Short cord = gift tag or ornament. You decide. Then tie a knot to make the cord a loop. I take both end together and tie one knot, about a half an inch from the ends (no, I didn’t take a photo of that, but you can figure it out, I promise). Push the folded end of the cord through the hole in the medallion, then thread the tail of the cord through the loop. Pull it tight. Secure it with a bit of wax or glue, if you want.

That’s it.

We had fun making these as a group, and you might enjoy it, too – with your family, with some friends (a Valentine’s party, maybe?), or just by your own self on a cold, rainy day.

Remember: In our brutal modern world, science shows our brains need craft more than ever. Do it.

Clay medallions_group

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