Delphine Tinker’s Vintage Shop

Delphine Tinker’s Paris Flea Market is the most popular shop in the tiny town of Mirth, which is saying quite a lot really, because the town’s two other stores, Marsh’s Mercantile and Mirth Lumber & Supply, are very lovely, too. Delphine’s sister, Clara Plum, runs her bakery from home, so the bakery really doesn’t count.

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The shop is informally known as Paris, as folks in Mirth get such a kick out of saying “I’m running to Paris,” whenever they take a trip into town.

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One might wonder how Delphine acquired the treasure trove of knick-knacks and what-nots that line the shelves and table-tops of her shop, given that Mirth is surrounded for miles by nothing but pine forests, mountains, rivers and lakes. As you can imagine, sales were not brisk at the shop, but money really isn’t an issue for Delphine or Clara. Their needs are few.

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The twin girls, orphaned shortly after they were born, were raised at Winterberry Cottage, by their Great Aunt Aggie. Aunt Aggie, the cottage, Loon Lake, its surrounding woods, flora and fauna were all the girls needed to be happy.

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Still, Delphine decided to see the world, and Aunt Aggie and Clara encouraged her to follow her heart. They gave her a rousing send-off. So Delphine went off to a big city college, far, far away.

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She learned more about her beloved plants, animals and trees. Then she spent years, floating like a dandelion puff, borne on a breeze from one continent to another, collecting adventures and admirers everywhere she went.

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Clara eagerly awaited the richly detailed letters and giant wood crates Delphine sent home. She’d collect them at the train station and then stow them away in the big red barn at Hooper’s farm.

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After a childhood spent gamboling through the woods, it was only natural that Delphine found fame writing about botany. Her books and lectures gained her a devout following, including the dashing young doctor, Hamilton Tinker, who would become her husband.

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When her beloved Hammy passed away, Delphine finally returned home to Mirth, Winterberry cottage, and her darling Clara, to stay.

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She unpacked the crates that Clara had stowed away, and Delphine Tinker’s Paris Flea Market was born.

That is how their story begins…


Hi everyone, 

I hope this finds you warm and cozy.

Here in Mound, Minnesota, you’ll find us weirdos remarking what a warm day it is with the sun shining, when the temperature is a mere 12 degrees. I don’t mind the cold myself, as it gives me an excuse to stay inside and play with my minis, work on Valentine cards or stock my Etsy store with more vintage goodies. 

Vintage shops have been on my mind a lot lately. Even though I started doing flea markets and selling online last year because I had so many of my mother’s amassed “treasures” to sell, it seems I’ve been bitten by the family bug, too. I was seduced by the thrill of the thrift store discovery and my proclivity for falling in love with the strangest things, like Kewpie dolls or Tammis Keefe handkerchiefs. Lots of my discoveries find their way to Fiddle Dee Doo Dah! Please visit and take a peek! I’m running a Sweetheart Sale through February 15th. 

Here are some of the artists whose miniatures appear in Delphine Tinker’s Paris Flea Market.

L Delaney

Kim’s Miniatures

Lugart Petit

Mundorosa 

Weston Miniature

 

 

 

Tails from The Whippety Wood

Here’s the thing I find about nature. As you look more closely at it, when you let your mind be still, training your gaze only on what is right in front of you, in just a moment that singularity of focus turns appreciation into wonder. That’s when the magic happens.

When I kneel down to take a closer look at a daffodil and notice a tiny dew drop clinging to its bright orange trumpet, the rest of the world falls away.  It happens to me all the time…the shock of a lone red speckled mushroom in a sea of green forest, the neon chartreuse fur of a moss-covered rock, a gnarly, decaying log full of holes where an entire mini-universe could exist, the pleasant tinkle and splash of a stream, burbling over shiny wet stones. Wonders abound, for those who look.

“Discovering magic in nature can be done anywhere. Be it a garden the size of a postage stamp, or acres and acres of fields and woodland. The Wood is my world, and one I enjoy sharing with others.”  Pamela Harden

My friend, illustrator Pamela Harden, author of the Whippety Wood books, is a master of capturing these tiny moments and turning them into something wondrous, and yes, magical. She is a creator of worlds as they should be, and I love her for it. I knew immediately after finishing my interview with Lauren Delaney, that I wanted Pamela to be May’s featured artist!

Tell me about your passion for art.  Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

I have always wanted to be an illustrator, and have never done anything else. I probably never concerned myself with the fear of supporting myself through illustrating. I was young and naïve enough to think that if I did something that I enjoyed, I certainly would get paid enough to support my passion.

I have been fortunate enough to find outlets for my work in books and magazines, and met some of the most talented and interesting writers and editors ever. It has always been a joy to work with those incredible people.  I was a freelance illustrator for more than 30 years and then I decided to chance my hand at writing my own stories as well as illustrating them.

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Thus, the Whippety Wood was born. I have been able to create all sorts of animal characters and always try to make them as believable as possible. Keeping the traits of the individual animal is important. I am not interested in making them completely human, but want to give them a voice, and express what I think their feelings might be, in an entertaining way.

You and I share a mutual love for animals, especially our beloved terriers. Through art I can give voice to their thoughts and feelings in a unique way. All creatures of the earth are able to convey their feelings without words Animals are filled with merriment and joy. The Wood is a perfect place to allow them to exhibit those feelings.

I’m curious to know about your childhood in the UK & US. What were you like? How did you recognize that you could channel your love of nature into art?

I think I probably had a rather idyllic childhood. Both my parents enjoyed the great outdoors and shared that passion with my sister and I. Being keen on learning, drawing, painting, and playing in nature was first and foremost for me. I was always fascinated by Beatrix Potter, Native American art, and anything illustrated by John Wesley Dennis. I was always drawing or painting from an early age.

My grandfather taught me all about wild flowers, wild birds and the plethora of wildlife that surrounded his farm. I was encouraged to illustrate those very subjects that I enjoyed so much. Any attempt was considered a masterpiece, and I grew to love doing those field studies.

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I was also one of those children who just knew that Santa Claus or Father Christmas was definitely real, at least as real as fairies, elves, wizards, and magical animals. I have always considered nature to be magical. Just how amazing is it to see a tiny bird hatch from a beautiful egg, or a glorious flower spring from a seed. That certainly is magic!

I’m like that, too. I still believe in Santa. You’ve lived in both the UK and the midwest, here in the US. What are some of the differences you find in your natural surroundings?

In the USA we have always lived in the countryside and in the UK, we have lived a rural life in tiny villages or in the country. I cannot imagine living in a town or city. We are country bumpkins for certain!

Many of the same species of mammals live in both countries. Some, like badgers, are slightly different in appearance, but many are the same. The countryside is different in the US and the UK. Or, at least it feels different to me. There are still woods, streams, mountains, hills and dales, but there is a sense of a different sort of history behind the countryside in each place.

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Some parts of the UK bring to mind the ancient history of animals, people, places, and events so far removed from today’s world. I find tremendous inspiration in the old folk tales from Scotland, England, and Wales. Indeed the Whippety Wood was influenced by a Scottish folk tale.

Here in Wisconsin the countryside is farmland, open, green, and surrounded by woods. The woods here are dense with oak, ash, huckleberry, pines, spruce, and cherry. It is a new world feel with a more recent human history. There is enough material from both continents to supply me with all the creative fodder I need!

I do observe as many animals as I can on our many hikes around the woods and fields we call home. Because we live in a very rural area, I have constant inspiration for new story ideas and illustrations. I find the Whippety Wood a complete joy and comfortable place to create a world that I should want to live in (and really do, for the most part). It contains all the good parts of the world, without any of the bad.

Tell me about why you created the Whippety Wood.

When I created the Whippety Wood, it was intended to help connect both children and adults with the natural world around them.

With a burgeoning world population and ever decreasing wild spaces to explore, it seemed a good idea to introduce the world of nature in a new and entertaining way.

Children in particular, are inundated with images from an electronic screen in one form or another. Many have never seen a fox, badger, bear, or any other animal in their natural habitat. My first ABC book was intended to address that very issue, but in an exciting, entertaining, and visual way.

It was also intended to open a dialog between child and parent or an older sibling. Now I am able to combine my love of dogs, and Scottish Terriers in particular, with my wild creatures in the Whippety Wood. It allows my imagination to run amok among the hundreds and hundreds of animals who might inhabit the Wood.

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As you know, I grew up with Scottish Terriers, too. We Scottie lovers are a breed apart. I will go so far as to say THE MOST over-the-top breed enthusiasts in the world! Surprisingly though, I met you through a friend who thought I might like your work because I’m a big fan of tiny worlds, like Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge. 

I only found out about our shared love of Scotties after I started following you. In fact, I bought one of your prints, Sinclair meeting Martin Mole, before we ever met. I have it hanging in my office and it always makes me smile.

I like to say that your friendship is a gift my dogs gave me. We really got to know each other when my new Cairn Puppy, Weezy visited the Whippety Wood. I have a whole Weezy-wall art gallery in my house.

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My Cairn puppy Miss Weezy visiting the Whippety World in her first pair of Mary Janes. My little seal pup!

When did you fall in love with Scotties? What is it you admire most about Scotties and/or terriers as a breed? Tell us how you started incorporating them into the Whippety Wood.

We have had Scotties for more than 40 years, and cannot envision a life void of Scotties. Not only do they bring us contentment, joy, and fun, but they make our life complete. Rupert is 12 and was born into a litter of 6 puppies.

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Rupert and Pamela

He was and is a true outdoorsman. As a pup he could barely find the time to bother eating as it interfered with his hunting and chasing. He is obsessed with hunting anything that moves. He has honed his hunting skills to a fine art.

He is patient, listens carefully for movement in the grass, or under the snow, pounces at exactly the right moment, and has dispatched more mice than I care to know! He also sounds like someone is torturing him when he chases rabbits or squirrels. It is a true passion for him! Rupert has an alter-ego in the Wood called Sinclair. Sinclair was the first official Scottie to be featured in the Whippety Wood and has become a permanent fixture there. The boldness, cleverness, intelligence, independence, and sense of humour, have all made terriers the perfect dogs for the Wood.

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The Adventures of Lucy & Indy

At this point in my life, I think that all the adventures, stories, and illustrations that I do for the Whippety Wood are the most rewarding. It is an ever-changing and challenging way to live my life. I often find myself saying, “That would never happen in the Wood!” or “I am off to the Wood!”

I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next. I hope my pups will make a return visit to the Wood soon. Thank you so much for sharing your Whippety Wood with us, Pamela. And Happy 13th Birthday to the magnificent Rupert!!! We love you both.

From Good Reads:

Inspired by nature, Pamela Harden has been an illustrator for more than twenty-five years in the United States and United Kingdom. She and her husband are avid hikers and star-gazers who enjoy the magic of nature every day in their own Whippety Wood in rural Wisconsin, where they live with their Scottie, Rupert.

From http://www.thewhippetywood.com:

Welcome to the magical world of the Whippety Wood. Located deep in the highlands of Scotland, the wood is home to the Whippety fairies. A host of colourful woodland characters also dwell within the wood.

ABC’s from The Whippety Wood is a silver medalist in the Moonbeam awards and Living Now awards for best Children’s ABC and picture books. This vibrant picture book will inspire a deeper appreciation of the natural world, while it teaches children the fundamentals of language in a way that is engaging, entertaining and enlightening.

For books, prints and other Whippety Wood delights, visit Pamela’s Zazzle store.

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The Mysterious Lady Delaney

 

Step into the backroom of Century Girl Vintage Boutique in the heart New Orleans on any given day, and it’s like stepping through the looking-glass. There’s something about the room you can’t quite place, a peculiar other-worldliness. The ghosts of bold, adventurous women with raucous laughs and enviously endless wardrobes fill the room. At first glance you may think you’ve stepped into an artist’s studio. Then you notice the strange objects of Lilliputian ephemera, Gothic intrigue, replicas of historic mansions. You have a slightly uneasy feeling that perhaps you’ve stumbled upon the scene of a murder. Oh, and paper dolls. There are paper dolls, too.

This is the workplace of Lauren Delaney George.

I first encountered Lauren’s talents in 2013, when the young entrepreneur was paying her way through college by selling dollhouse miniatures on Etsy. She began creating miniatures when her Grandpa made a beautiful log cabin dollhouse for her Grandma, called “Kate’s Cottage.” The first miniatures she ever created were Christmas gifts for her Grandma Kate, including family portraits, quilts and a copy of her Grandma’s wedding dress.

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Lauren’s Etsy Shop is a book lover’s delight, with books, magazines and records, Doris Day to The Velvet Underground. She can miniaturize anything. (1:12 scale)

At the time, when I started collecting minis, miniature shops were full of shabby chic dollhouse decor and bakery accoutrements. Lauren’s store was quirky. Things you might find included a package of vintage ladies pantyhose, take-out menus, classified CIA files on the Kennedy assassination, a wall calendar from 1926, a microscopic laboratory slide – all in miniature. Her flair for replicating the minutiae of everyday life in 1:12 scale was uncannily exacting.

Her creativity spurred my own, as I let myself venture outside the confines of creating kitchens and Parisian boudoirs. Lauren gave me permission to create vignettes that I found compelling, that told a story.

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My homage to the tortured writer. All documents and office supplies come from L.Delaney on Etsy.

When I needed classical sheet music for an October vignette I was creating, I knew Lauren’s shop was the only place I could turn.

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“At their essence, miniatures are story-telling tools. As in theater, tiny scenes immerse the viewer in worlds inhabited by ghosts, infused with memory and promising adventure and exploration” Lauren said.

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The Haunted Dollhouse

Late last summer, Lauren announced a new adventure she was embarking on, “The Haunted Dollhouse.” I asked her to explain it to us in her own words.

“In New Orleans, truth is stranger than fiction. This is especially true in the case of “The Haunted Dollhouse,” a violent crime involving a 1920s miniature collection. The dollhouse was created by an inmate at New Orleans’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane and is directly linked to a murder which took place in the French Quarter. Appraisers have spent years trying to crack the cryptic messages hidden in its construction. I’ve spent the past year researching it in the New Orleans archives and the inconsistencies of the murder investigation are so bizarre that I felt obligated to make them public. Amateur sleuths, crime connoisseurs, and miniaturists are all invited to take a crack at solving the case and may subscribe to receive the pertinent documents (and bloody artifacts) via www.TheHauntedDollhouse.com.”

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Critical acclaim for The Haunted Dollhouse

Those brave (or foolish) enough to assist me with the investigation will receive a series of five packages over the course of 1-2 months.  Each package contains a cache of clues, miniatures, and archival documents.  Clues may take the form of an old telegram, a 1920s newspaper clipping, miniature artifacts, and simple DIY projects.  Each package is like another “chapter” in the deepening mystery, and as the story progresses, investigators reconstruct a dollhouse which is—EGADS—actually a crime scene.”

I, myself, helped Lauren solve a mystery last fall, and it was a one-of-a-kind experience. I couldn’t wait for each new package to arrive with clues. It was like receiving mail lost for 100 years. A cadre of my closest cohorts were just as eager as I was to unravel the mystery! Here we were in Minnesota in 2017, plumbing the private lives of the upper echelon of New Orleans society in the early 1900s.

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These sumptuous jazz-age dresses could be plucked right out of Daisy Buchanan’s bedroom.  Shoes, tissue box, letter, book, and shopping bags all from Lauren’s shop, as well.

As you may have gathered from Part 1 of my interview with Lauren, Lauren is to vintage glamour, what Anna Wintour is to Vogue.  So, of course, when Lauren first added her  prohibition-era, paper confections, embellished with ribbon and sparkly bits, I was the first in line to snatch them up.

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L. Delaney’s All Dolled Up is a love letter to the women whose dresses now gather dust in antique shops and attics.

They also caught the eye of Dover publications, who published Lauren’s first book in March of this year. Finally Lauren had the opportunity to marry her talents for costume design with her paper artistry, with her book, All Dolled Up.  

“I enjoyed creating paper dresses for my Etsy shop, but I had no intention of creating a book until Dover approached me.  I learned so much through the process of creating the dresses and miniature sets, then photographing and laying them out. It was a huge challenge and I’m really proud of the end result.

I have always loved draping as a method of design, and this process of creating paper dresses is similar.  In fact, there is a whole section in the book about “paper draping” for (tiny) fashion design.  With any creative project, you have to observe the properties of your chosen material and then let it do what it wants to some extent.  Probably the single most important step in the design to fabrication process is choosing the proper materials, whether it be a paper dress, fabric dress, or miniature world!”

As if offering to be Chickadee’s first featured artist wasn’t enough, Lauren has also offered to give away a signed copy of her book. In addition to a great story, paper dolls and richly-detailed backdrops, the book also provides step-by-step instructions for creating your own vintage couture designs. All Dolled Up will delight paper crafters and fashion-lovers alike. For your chance to win, simply comment below. The winner will be chosen by random drawing on May 15th.

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Since her creativity seems to flow from an endless spring, I asked Lauren what she saw herself doing next.

“Well, I’m in the middle of working on my second book, and I’m also excited to expand the world that I first introduced in The Haunted Dollhouse. There are more mystery adventures in store.

I love the unpredictability of life. Ten years ago, in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have cooked up my current life. Ten years from now, I hope I’m still working at the things I love – designing and creating.”

For more information on Lauren’s many, many projects, visit www.ladydelaney.com.

Part One of Lauren’s Interview (her background and creative process)

 

 

 

Imagination: The Best Medicine

There is a quote attributed to Theo Van Gogh, taken from a letter written to his brother the painter, Vincent. I read the original, and it doesn’t sound much like the quote as we know it today, but I love the quote anyway. It says, “To know God is to love many things.”

Adulting is hard. The older I get, the more I cherish and need my creative escapes. I think it’s so important for children and adults alike to have an escape valve to help them release the pressure of everyday life, technology and news of the world.

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My Fisher Price Little People had 2 homes, a farm, a houseboat and a private jet. Little people, living large.

Growing up an only child, I cultivated the ability to entertain myself, as well as a life-long love of creating tiny worlds filled with family, friends and lots of animals to keep me company. My love of all things tiny started with Fisher Price Little People. I remember vividly being very sick once, maybe 4 years old, and the only thing that made me feel better was my Grandma pulling out a Little People A-Frame Cottage that she was saving to give me at Christmas. I was immersed in another world and things didn’t feel quite so bad.

Then in junior high, I read Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, and fell in love with Laura Wingfield’s fragile world of crystal animals. In this small refuge, anything was possible. Everything was manageable.

So you can imagine my unbridled joy when I got my first true writing job creating catalog and box copy at Department 56, the company renowned for their amazing Christmas Villages and Snowbabies. Bringing to life the miniature people who populated the fictional city of Merryville remains one of the highlights of my career to this day.

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A winter catalog from my time at Department 56.
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Hi! I’m Morty

Then some pretty major and traumatic life events occurred in my thirties and suddenly I felt the weight of the adult world on my shoulders. If I’d been able to have kids, maybe the wonder of experiencing the world through their eyes would have sustained me. But I lost my sense of fun. Of play. I lost my joy. I was at a new job, that wasn’t fun, which unfortunately compounded my lack of “joie de vivre.” And that’s when one day I came across a shop on Etsy called Monsters Etc. and met my friend Ruti Dan, a kindred spirit. Here was another adult, with a “real world” day job, who spent her free time making art dolls. NOT for kids.

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Unfamiliar with human customs…like confetti cake, or cake in general.

After Morty arrived, everything changed. I started finding all kinds of crazy ways to photograph him, singing karaoke, playing with the copier at work, investigating mossy woods. The next thing I knew I had started creating small vignettes of my own. I incorporated felted creatures I purchased from Kit Lane on Etsy, and then started making my own felty guys. I propped them with funny trinkets you might find in a gumball machine. Then I found them a red model convertible and a little guitar. Or I propped them in front of the alligators when I visited Avery Island in Louisiana. Before I knew it, I was buying a gigantic dollhouse. My PayPal account was more than happy to accommodate my desire for all things teensy-tiny, and my collection of itsy bitsy shabby chic decor and miniature cakes grew exponentially. As I tell my husband, it’s cheaper than redecorating the house. I can design the room of my dreams in miniature.

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Just an evening of desserts and champagne, with the anti-social Mr. Mouse.

And eventually I graduated to this…

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My spring bake shop, Fattycakes’ Bakery

and this…

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Ms. Clara Plum at work in her kitchen.

and this.

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Making Elvis Presley’s favorite – the peanut butter and banana sandwich

One of the HUGE positives of social media is the way a person can find a group of devoted, like-minded people who share a passion for just about everything and anything. I discovered that there were other mini-devotees, who were just as excited and fascinated with all things mini as I was.

I started chatting with the most amazing and inspiring people, and meeting artists who were pursuing vibrant careers based on their art.  Lauren Delaney. Bridget McCarthy. Ana Mimundorosa. Lugart Petit. Paris Miniatures. A Lavender Dilly. PetitDlicious. Kim’s Mini Bakery.  That’s just to name a few.

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A Marie Antoinette roombox at the Tom Bishop International Miniatures Show.

I traveled alone to Chicago to attend my first International Miniatures Show, where I rode in an elevator with a REAL prince (not Harry, unfortunately). He had traveled from the Arab peninsula to Chicago to pursue his passion for miniatures. I met some of my favorite artists in person and others from Spain, Italy, France, Ireland and so many more countries. I took classes from a master woodworker from Ireland, learning to hand-finish miniature cabinetry. And I saw the most magnificent dollhouses and tiny pieces that cost thousands of dollars. One day soon I hope to return and visit the world-renowned Thorne Miniature Rooms at The Art Institute of Chicago.

Following that simple whim, one day 8 years ago, when I was well, well, well beyond a reasonable age to be playing with dolls, I threw caution to the wind and allowed myself to do something silly. I bought an art doll named Morty from half-way around the world, and he reintroduced me to what I’d been missing so desperately – joy.

Through letting my imagination run wild, and indulging my childhood passions, I was able to gradually let go of some of my sadness, put the world on pause and just play. I think that’s really what we need now more than ever, grown-ups and kids alike. So the next time you see that metaphorical merry-go-round with it’s magical horses, merry music, and flashing lights, go ahead and jump on. Buy yourself that giant stuffed cheeseburger pillow. Or the light saber you’ve had your eye on for months now. It could change your life.

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Let your imagination bloom.

So Much to Love About February

For some reason the WordPress gremlins ate the text of this post. Phooey. Although, I can’t say for sure it wasn’t operator error. In any event, I’ll quickly share some of the highlights, despite the fact that it is now well into March.

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It was a snowless Minnesota in February this year. So I posted a few of my favorite things to do when winter weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans to get outdoors and have some fun in the snow.

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Dig in the Dirt. It’s the perfect time to repot your plants! Maybe you’re like me, and on occasion the poor plants are just stuck in their original container and set inside a pot. No shaming here. But your plant’s roots will be so much happier and healthier when they can stretch out their legs in some fresh, fluffy dirt. It’s a great time to feed your plants, too. With seed starting still a month away for us in the north, here’s a chance to exercise that green thumb.

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Visit a local arboretum or nursery. Even though my hair hates it, I have to admit I adore the thick sultry humidity that envelops me when I walk through the doors of the Fern Room at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul. We also are blessed with the wonderful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, one of the best in the country, right here in our own back yard. There are classes and special events running yearround.

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Minnesota’s own Ames Honey Farm

Enjoy an outdoor summer event, indoors. Indoor farmer’s markets, like Bachman’s Winter Market, shown above, are gaining popularity everywhere. The Landscape Arboretum and local nurseries are also hosting them this winter. What a wonderful opportunity to support local growers, farmers, artisan bakers and brewers. An extra bonus is that everyone is so happy to be at a market in midwinter, your mood is sure to get a boost from all the smiles. *The next Winter Market at Bachman’s will be held March 25th, at their Lyndale store.

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Puzzles are having a moment! I’ve read three separate celebrity interviews in the last couple months referencing the puzzle craze. More socializing and gossip is shared over puzzles at my house than just about anywhere else. If I want to have a good conversation with my husband, I need to do a puzzle with him. Puzzles are so relaxing! And so blessedly technology free. If you’re ever in the mood to really splurge, check out Liberty Puzzles. According to their website, “Liberty Puzzles are a throwback to the golden age of jigsaw puzzles.  Each one contains dozens of hand-drawn “whimsy” pieces intricately cut into the shapes of characters, animals, and geometric designs.  They are works of art within art.  The puzzles are made with 1/4” plywood and use advance print technology for eye-popping color.” These puzzles are absolutely amazing. But pricey. Maybe I’ll ask Santa for a Liberty Puzzle next year.

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Take the 2017 Good Reads Challenge. Do you have a Good Reads account? It really is a must for book lovers. Good Reads creates a virtual book shelf for you, let’s you keep track of the books you want to read, read reviews of books you’re on the fence about and get recommendations from your friends based on their bookshelves. Every year you can challenge yourself and your friends to read more, because reading is simultaneously stimulating and soothing for the mind, body and soul. Over one million Good Readers have pledged to read 73,833,021 books in 2017 to date. I’m already halfway to my goal of 25, so time to adjust that goal.

Well, there you have it – the somewhat amended, “missing” February post. I’ve left off the Valentines, but I can’t resist sharing this photo of Valentine’s for your furry loves, post-Valentine’s Day. Maybe you can start shopping for next year? Here’s one of my favorite photos from the vanished blog post…online shopping for my very spoiled dogs. Enjoy.

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Birding – Nature’s Yoga

 

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. A bird sings because it has a song.

– Joan Walsh Anglund

There is only one thing in life that motivates me to wash a window, and that’s to better appreciate the fine details of the birds gathered at my feeder.

Just outside my window there is a whole bustling world of little creatures performing a show just for me.

Nature is one of my greatest inspirations, and the most effective anti-depressant available without a prescription. Birds make me unspeakably happy, just by being. All I have to do is provide them a little enticement, some food, a garden, some water and they are my faithful friends year round.

Stepping outside on a cold winter morning, to take out the trash, I hear cheerful songs surrounding me in all directions, from birds on high, unseen in the tall trees dotting the suburban landscape.  A tell-tale monkey call lets me know a pileated woodpecker is nearby, and if I’m lucky he will come swooping by with his pterodactyl–like head and giant wing-span, with all his red-mohawked glory.

Pileated Woodpecker (dryocopus pileatus)

I read somewhere that birdwatching is nature’s yoga. It helps us all slow down and breathe.

There is no instant gratification in bird-watching. If you want a photo of a bird, you will never capture it by making a mad dash for your iPhone. You will have to sit quietly. As you patiently wait, you’ll gradually become more aware of sound, of birdsong, wind, the leaves rustling. You’ll begin to watch for movement and color, staring fixedly between branches and leaves. During this quiet observation, you begin to take note of your own breathing, your heart rate slowing. It’s like meditation.

chickadee

Bird-watching is also good for mental alertness and acuity. When you go to a museum, you study paintings, brushstrokes, a painter’s use of light and shadow. When you go to a city, you may study the architecture,  a certain style, arches, columns, or building materials. When you see a fashion show, you study the sophistication or elements of the design, the intricate details of beading or lace, the quality of the fabrics.

With birding, the objects of your study are typically hopping, flitting, flying or seeking cover. Do you know how many types of finches, sparrows and warblers there are? Do you know how difficult it is to discern one hawk from another? A zillion and yes. I know.

Even with guidebooks at the ready, I have trouble distinguishing between finches and warblers, so similar are the color and marking of their feathers. There are so many different variables in look and behaviors, type of beak, wing-patterns, the shape of a tail. tail, the notes of a birdsong. If you’re very lucky, you will see operatic displays of romance or jealousy in territorial birds or mating pairs. I once saw a breeding pair of pileateds flying back and forth from my suet log to the tree and regurgitating food in the mouth of a baby woodpecker. I never regurgitation could be so adorable.

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An Eagle from the Wildlife Rehab Center who attended Mark & Michelle’s wedding.

Bird-watching can also lead to human romance. Who needs eHarmony when you’re part of a passionate community of birders? My friends Mark and Michelle met through a birding group on Facebook. They go bird-banding together, at night, with coal miner lights strapped to their heads. They rescue raptors. They travel to exciting birding destinations, like South America. They built a huge backyard waterfall and pond to attract more birds to their yard. Did I mention that among the most distinguished guests at their wedding, were several raptors from the rehabilitation center where Michelle volunteers?

Mark who works at All Seasons Wild Bird Store in Minnetonka, says”Winter birds, with their spring songs and colorful attire, remind a person that life should be happy, not sad.”

If you’d like to become a backyard birder and enjoy all the mental and physical benefits, here is a variety of seed to help you get started. My $15 membership at my local Wild Bird Store, saves me 10% off all my purchases.

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Sunflower chips attract all the little songbirds. Especially my darling chickadees and nuthatches. Nuthatches are the only birds that run head first down a tree trunk. The Berry Nutty blend is a higher calorie blend, great for winter feeding because of its critical nutrients and antioxidants. I like to put out a bowl of peanuts especially for the blue jays, and watch them come and go like planes at the airport. They cache their nuts and can remember hiding spots months later. Golden Safflower is another songbird favorite, but people like it, because the squirrels don’t. A squirrel has gotta eat, too, though! And nyger thistle is a favorite of finches, chickadees and ground-feeding juncos in winter.

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Finally, the best birding gift I ever received was a woodpecker log, over a decade ago now. It’s a birch log feeder with holes drilled to fit these year-round, no mess suet plugs. I can sit at my window and watch seven different varieties of woodpeckers come to feed. I’ve seen cardinals and flickers eat from it as well.

 

I’d like to share a small portion from a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. The poem is entitled Snow Geese, from her collection of poems, “Why I Wake Early.”

“The geese

flew on.

I have never

seen them again.

Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.

Maybe I won’t.

It doesn’t matter.

What matters

is that, when I saw them,

I saw them

As through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.”

If feeding the birds in your own yard isn’t an option for you, I encourage you to check out one of my favorite pages on Facebook, Ricky Montgomery’s Wildlife. His feeder cameras are amazing.