Inktober Kitty

1 10 2015

I know it’s only October 1st, but I’m ready for Halloween! Oct 1 also means the start of Inktober, which I will prolly skip – again- , but I did manage to ink a quick little cat with bat wings. I tried to give him some color with brush pens, but that went a bit wonky.


Annnnnd! I also brought back my handmade resin Halloween necklace and earrings on the old Etsy:Dream Half Full.

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Soap! DIY Do’s and Don’ts

24 09 2015


Last year making soap became one of my new hobbies. I wrote about the experience here. I got really into it during the holidays, because it makes great presents and is pretty fun to do! My DIY journey culminated in making said soap-presents, particularly citrus ones:


Please excuse the messy work area; I had a lot going on. The citrus soap taught me a lot about what to do and not to do. Some examples:

DO: make entire soap bars of 1 type (e.g. orange translucent or yellow opaque) and then cut them up into shapes that you then put back into a mold and combine with another type for a more interesting look.

DON’T: If you’re adding opaque (like a goat’s milk soap base) over translucent pieces (like a glycerin base), don’t just lay the translucent pieces down then pour in the opaque over it – the liquid will slide under the pieces and block some of them from sight and/or ruin your design. You can see where I made that mistake on the orange/yellow/white piece below. I could remove some of the overlap with a knife, but not all.


DO: Instead, pour 1st a thin clear layer of translucent base into the mold, and stick your shape pieces in that. It will hold them into place and also, once solid/mostly cooled, will serve as a protective layer that your opaque melted soap can’t leak under, so it preserves your design.


Horrible photo quality, I know. But how cool is that?


By far, the easiest/nicest looking/most popular with recipients soap type was the goat’s milk base (white) with oatmeal – see above. I used a honey/almond scent that worked well with it.

DO: Add small textured items like oatmeal or ground coffee into some of your soap to make it an exfoliant. Coffee is actually pretty abrasive, so use smaller particles.

DON’T: Add fresh herbs/plant particles (e.g. flowers or petals) into your soap. They will eventually mold, going brown/black and sometimes fuzzy. Above, the purple soap is rosemary scented with little bits of rosemary flowers inside. HOWEVER – I figured out the mold thing from last time, so I made sure to use dried plants – in fact, I purchased these in a packet at a craft store. So I’m really surprised they still turned brown. Maybe it’s the heat? Either way, be careful when you use plant ingredients, as even dry ones can turn gross. I’ve heard that you can use silk flowers from a looks standpoint, and of course those will be okay.


These are mini rose soaps… I’d purchased rose scent and where better to use it than in a rose mold? Problem was I  couldn’t find one, so I bought a rose dessert mold instead – you know, for melted candy and chocolate – knowing it may not translate but thinking it was worth a try.

DO: be careful if using molds not meant for soap. My experience with the rose dessert mold showed me the plastic would actually melt if the soap was too hot, so most of my roses were shapeless blobs. I got a few to work by letting the liquid soap sit and cool for a bit before pouring, but still most were thrown out.


I used saran wrap and simple computer labels with the scent written on them to package the soap in a basic way. Could be much better with pretty labels! But I figured as long as they’re in nice tissue paper and a pretty bag, no one would care.

Overall, it’s still pretty easy, and you can get pretty creative with it!


Blueberry Tart

1 09 2015

blueberry tart

Been wanting to try a food pic with the tablet for ages!


27 08 2015

Prato Scene v2

Tablet practice – quick study, fuzzy brush, based on photo I took at Prato a few years ago.

Tea at The Grand Floridian

20 08 2015

Sometimes you really just want – no, need – some cucumber sandwiches and tea and a scone with cream. And then you realize there’s almost no place where you live to satisfy that craving. Last time this happened, I went to the Gryphon in Savannah, a lovely time I wrote about here. This time, I wanted something a little closer to home.

Luckily, the Disney hotel the Grand Floridian has an afternoon tea and is only about 2.5 hours from home. Ta da!

Fancy flooring upon arrival:

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So this tea is more complex than the Gryphon. You have to make a reservation (easy enough online) and guarantee with a credit card. (If you don’t show, it will charge I think $10 per person). You don’t pay online, just pick your day, time, and guarantee it.

Things were a little weird at the hostess desk. I think the hostess might have been having a bad day. Anyway, we got seated pretty quickly at the Garden View Tea Room. It’s pretty small – bordered by windows on one half:

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…with the other half facing open and out into the hotel lobby. Mostly they have cute little circle tables:

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Right behind our table was this cool thing:

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The menu has several “combo” options versus being able to order piece by piece. I think this is pretty standard for afternoon tea. We chose the Bedfordshire Tea, which has sandwiches, scone, and desserts along with the tea. Other choices added champagne or similar for a higher charge. The Bedfordshire is $30/person, so the bill for two is around $75 with tax.

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Tea comes out first:

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I got the Princess Breakfast Tea. I mean, duh, we are at Disney after all. They put little burgundy tea cozies on all the tea pots to keep them warm. Then out comes your sandwich plate:

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Gotta say, this plate was my favorite part. Bits of fruit, an onion tart (sweet though), 2 pieces of lavosh (a cracker), 2 large pieces of cheese, and 4 sandwiches: egg salad, chicken curry, pickled golden beet with goat cheese, and cucumber. Curry was my favorite. Filling and yummy!

Then comes the scone plate. I became obsessed with clotted cream after England, and it’s almost never used in America, so I get really excited when I find some. The scone plate has a scone (obviously) – ours was golden raisin, a strawberry tart, and a trio of spreads: apricot, cream, and lemon something.

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Honestly, I was a little disappointed in the cream. I think it might have been butter. It kind of tasted like it. The lemon thing tasted really off. The rest was okay, and the scone itself was delicious.

By this point, you’re full, but there’s still dessert! You choose between a small plate of pastries or a bowl of strawberries topped with cream. Of trifle, whatever that is. We picked pastries.

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I was in love with the cute swan (had a tropical fruit mousse), but the chocolate thing ended up tasting the best:

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The strawberry smelled like nail polish remover. I’m hoping they dipped it in alcohol, because otherwise I’m not sure that was safe to eat.

Stomachs full, we walked it off around the lobby:

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They have a fantastic chandelier like the Gryphon, albeit in an entirely different style. They also both have a stained glass piece:

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At 3:00 they bring in live musicians. They started with a piano player and a woman singing songs from The Little Mermaid (both very good). Later they had these guys:

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We took a stroll outside too.

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This last isn’t the greatest pic, but it shows how just a short walk from the tea room you can walk out on a sandy beach and see the Grand Floridian’s wedding villa and the neighboring Polynesian Resort:

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Verdict: Good, enjoyable, but the quality of some of the food needs some work for the price. I’d rate the Gryphon higher both on food quality and décor, but Disney always makes a fun experience. Glad I went.

10th Kingdom

18 08 2015

10th kingdom

Some silly recent stuff from my sketch book. Has anyone else ever seen The 10th Kingdom? It came out in 2000-ish but I just re-got into it and it’s just as adorable (and admittedly as corny and weird) as I remembered. So underrated! Go watch it! Cripes, the world is seriously lacking in twisted/modern fairy tales like this.

Mini Cornwall Collection

13 08 2015

Well, the 4 mini Cornwall paintings are done!

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Counter clockwise from top left:
1) Lock from inside the House at Mount Edgcumbe, right near Plymouth, England
2) The domes at the Eden Project, near St. Austell
3) Boat and bird by the waters around Mount St. Michael
4) Houses and pastures of Tintagel, seen from atop Tintagel Castle

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They are so cute and little! May be putting up to sell on Etsy soon. Admittedly, the lock painting doesn’t fit in as well with the rest of the others, since the others are all very green and outdoor scenes, but each painting represents my favorite outings on our England trip. I went for a brighter, more green-toned look in the outdoor pieces than my photos generally had because I love the brightness of greenery. Fun project…maybe next I’ll do mini paintings of London or Strasbourg.

Cornwall mini canvases3 2015

Biltmore!: Part 3 (Rooftop Tour, Antler Village and Winery)

10 08 2015

We returned to Biltmore for a second day for the Rooftop Tour (first day here and here) and also visit Antler Village and Winery for its 30th anniversary party. The Rooftop tour is pretty inexpensive itself and also got us free general admission free on the 2nd day. :)

Again, you have to pick a specific time, and you meet your tour guide and group in front of the house. Interesting things to see while waiting…

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It’s a fairly quick, easy tour. Some stair climbing that may be a problem for some folks (including climbing to the top of the grand staircase!)

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The tour guide we had was really knowledgeable and great at sharing details. Unfortunately I was so busy taking pics and switching between my limited 50 mm and my sad iPhone camera that I didn’t retain all that much.

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Looking down into my favorite atrium:

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And looking over at the former stables…their roof, at least:

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This copper top is actually the outside culmination of the massive multi-level chandelier that hangs over the grand staircase:

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Notice George Vanderbilt’s initials as decoration on the roof:

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The guide informed us that these used to be gold at one point. Hard to picture Biltmore with it’s beautiful and stately grays and greens in shiny gold, at least for me.

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I love that tiny initialed weather vane (assuming?) above. And this shot below straight down over the fountain beside the right of the front entrance:

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The tour takes you to one of the large balconies (I’m sure there’s a better name for them) on the backside of the house. On a regular self-guided house tour, you get to walk onto one…this one lets you onto the floor above that. A cute little bird came in to see what the tour was all about:

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Then he flew down for a closer look:

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And then a friend joined him.

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So cute! After the Rooftop Tour, we drove to Antler Village, which is still in grounds but not within easy walking distance. Antler Village consists of modern shops and restaurants, the winery, some farm areas with animals, and some old style barn-type areas with old equipment on display and some demonstrations (e.g. blacksmithing). It rained while we were in that part of it, so I didn’t get many pics. I did think this floral horse was cool:

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The petting zoo had closed when we ventured out after the rain, but there are always animals about:

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By then it was definitely time for some wine. The last time I’d been to the winery I’d been sadly underage. :(

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Tastings are free, though they have some upscale tastings that cost something – we did the general one, which has a lot of options!

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And of course, it was their 30th anniversary.

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After wine, we decided to grab some food at Bistro. It’s on the extremely pricey side, but is very nice and all. My eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I ordered not only the (what turned out to be humongous) French onion soup:

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…but also this pasta dish with goat cheese. I’m a sucker for anything with goat cheese.

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Honestly, it was okay. For the price and caliber of restaurant, I’d like to say “it was spectacular,” but I think they went overly muted and actually a bit bland on the pasta. It was definitely different with ingredients that felt fresh and healthy though, which is a plus.

After dinner, we were so full, we waddled into the courtyard where people were gathering to listen to a jazz band and walked around a bit.

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The whole Antler Village is modern, but well cared for, so very pretty to see. Here’s a statue in front of Cedric’s Tavern, the other main restaurant there:

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Cedric is the dog (Vanderbilt’s dog, of course!)

Free ice cream was served – wine ice cream! It was actually really good!

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Then at night, the band halted for the anniversary speech. I believe it was Bill Cecil, the CEO and one of Vanderbilt’s descendants, that came out to speak. I tried to get a shot:

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The night ended with a fantastic fireworks display.

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Not a bad way to end a birthday trip!

More Mini Canvas

5 08 2015

I have 1 more Biltmore/travel post to go, but it’s time for some overdue traditional art. A while ago I started a small project of a mini collection of mini canvases (2 inches x 2 inches each) showing scenes from my trip to Cornwall, England. I wrote about the first here, a lock at Mount Edgcombe. Here’s the second, a boat from Mount St. Michael:

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They’re based on photos I took there and aren’t designed to be exact (e.g. I took out the people and other birds, as well as narrowed in on a square versus the whole rectangle, as you can see below), but let me tell you, it is HARD to paint that small, especially without very small brushes.

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A couple more to come in the next week or so. :)

Biltmore!: Part 2 (The Gardens)

30 07 2015

If you aren’t sick of greenery by now after my South Carolina and Pisgah Forest photos, you might be after this post, because I’m completely dedicating it to the gardens of Biltmore, a must see if you visit.

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The gardens by the conservatory (greenhouse) are an easy walk down from the house under this wisteria draped trellis (above) and some winding sidewalks, peppered with blooms and trees on either side. Immediately in front of the conservatory are tons of roses!

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Well, roses in May. Tulips earlier in spring. And I’m not sure what else the rest of the year, but I’m sure they come up with something. They’re very artful.

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Case in point: these sculptures of Victorian-attired women made entirely out of plants!

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But the roses? I’ve never seen so many in one place.

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You can even glimpse the house if you look closely:

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Once I’ve smelled as many roses as possible, it was time to visit the conservatory:

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I didn’t get many pics inside honestly (the limitations once again of a set 50 mm lens), but here’s an idea:

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The flowers outside are just as beautiful:

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The main gardens conclude in an outdoor quick-bites place (like with lemonade and small eats) and, the level below, a gift shop. However, the grounds are so expansive, there are plenty of trails you can walk on to see yet more gardens. I wanted to go on the Bass Pond Trail, since I’d never been before. We spotted some brilliant azaleas (they were finishing their season when we arrived):

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…and a beautiful outlook on a lake:

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There’s a little boat house, though we didn’t venture closer than this:

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…and some varied plant life:

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A long walk on uncomfortable shoes and in heat, but pretty scenic for sure. It eventually leads to a man-made waterfall. After much more walking, we eventually headed out for the day, intending to stop by Biltmore Village (a shopping district outside of the grounds, very commercial, like shops you’d find in a mall; I wasn’t impressed) before heading back to Asheville. Luckily, before leaving property, we noticed a small turn onto a dirt road that leads to a little clearing by a lake, and this spectacular view:

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Back of the house. Perfect picnic spot!

The next day we returned for another new experience: the Biltmore Rooftop Tour! Stay tuned. :)


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