Wednesday, December 31, 2014

12 under 20: The Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection

Good day, readers!

Bringing you another vineyard chain today, much like previous posts on Cupcake and Oliver. The Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection wines can be found in just about any grocery store, so they should be super accessible for you to try! They will typically be mid-to-upper priced on my $20 scale.

My Mom introduced me to this label and thus far, I have been pleased with every bottle I have tried. Specifically and most recently, I have enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Pinot Noir, and the Pinot Grigio. On previous occasions, I have also appreciated the Merlot and the Malbec. I still have some tastings to do to cover all varietals in this collection, but today let’s focus on the three I am most familiar with.

The Ivory Label – Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.99 at Publix last visit!)
One thing I learned in the last wine class I took was that for a wine to be labeled as a certain varietal, it must merely consist of 75% of that type of grape. For example, this cab! Though labeled as a Cabernet Sauvignon, this luscious wine is actually only 78% Cabernet Sauvignon grape. The remaining ingredients consist of 10% Segalin, 7% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc grapes. Though that may seem initially curious to come, a calculated combination of different grapes helps the winemaker create a broader spectrum of unique wines for you to consume!

For those that aren’t too familiar, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is a hybrid of the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc plants (So cabs are basically a blend from the start, right ;)?)! The Cabernet Franc is a fragrant black grape that adds flavors of pepper and dark berries. The addition of that extra pinch of Cabernet Franc grapes may have been with the intention ever-so-slightly weight this wine in favor of those dark, smooth flavors.

This wine by Coppola’s winemaker Corey Beck is rich like velvet, bold, and spicy. It is aged in French Oak barrels, which accentuates its berry-filled fullness. Deep royal garnet in color, it is easy to feel sophisticated while drinking this wine. I’d highly recommend pairing wine with a well-seasoned steak, braised lamb, or spaghetti and meatballs.

The Silver Label – Pinot Noir ($16.99 at Publix last visit!)
This wine was gone almost instantly when served at our Christmas Day dinner! Unlike its Cab cousin, this wine is 100% of its namesake grape. The way this wine was prepared (grown in a region influenced by cooler bay-temperatures, picked in the early morning, and immediately cold-soaked) I think definitely plays a factor in this wine and is why I recommend you make sure it is chilled prior to consumption. This wine has a lovely nose filled with raspberries and cherries, and the French oak barrel aging comes through on the long finish (so you can enjoy it a little longer :)). This wine was exceptional with our turkey and ham Christmas dinner, but I also envision you would enjoy it with lamb burgers, quatro formaggio pizza, or eggplant parmesan. And now I’m hungry…

The Emerald Label – The Pinot Grigio ($11.99 at Publix last visit!)
This darling is 100% Pinot Grigio grape and professes a Northern Italian style. I am partial to the stainless steel barrel aging when it comes to white wines as I feel it lets the complexities of the grape play first fiddle in each sip, rather than the fiber of the barrel. Steel aging for this wine results in a clean, crisp taste like an Anjou pear or green apple. It is light, refreshing, and a perfect pairing for that scrumptious berry salad, white fish entree, or the alfredo pasta you’re having for dinner.

If you are looking for an accessible label that you can count on to provide you with variety, quality, and the right price…give the Francis Coppola Diamond Collection wines a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Cheers, readers!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

12 under 20: Relax Riesling

12 under 20: Relax Riesling
I don’t know what it is with me…My “go-to’s” tend to be either bold, fruity reds or the sweetest of whites! I do know that a lot of my friends out there prefer white wines, so let me make a recommendation that you’re sure to enjoy.

Relax Riesling has, for years, been a solid go-to wine for me when I need something sweet, light, and fruity. I find this wine has the versatility to be enjoyed with melons and peaches on a warm summer day or with goat-cheese stuffed dates and sugar cookies on a cozy winter night (I know this because I enjoyed it with sugar cookies just last night!). Aside from desserts, sweet wines like this are also a wonderful complement to spicy Thai or Indian cuisine, fish entrees, and fruit-filled salads. Any way, you should definitely serve it chilled!

Like its clean, modern bottle, this wine is crisp and fresh. I would expect no less from a popular German Riesling! It is so easily sippable you will forget it’s even alcoholic (until you stand up, of course). This would be a great wine to drink while taking a bubble bath or reading a good book on the couch. And if you’re crafty, think of all the fun things you could do with the gorgeous cobalt blue bottle once you’ve enjoyed the contents!

Relax Riesling is a JOY and very accessible; I typically find this in the wine section at my local grocery store at or under $12. I now know that Relax has three other wines as well, so I know what I’m going to try to find next grocery trip!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Artgazer Spotlight: Rebecca Kinsinger Bowman

When we moved into our house, I had the distinct privilege (and challenge) of figuring out just where all of our artwork needed to go. The presentation of a work of art can affect it's reception just as much as the work itself (i.e. El Jaleo at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), and I wanted our art to be seen and appreciated. This inclination felt particularly strong for me with our original works and limited edition prints. It occurred to me, however, that these works would still have a limited viewership among our family and friends. I am so proud of and excited by the works I have accumulated (though the collection may be small), I want to share them with you! So, I'd like to introduce a new series: The Artgazer Spotlight.

Artgazer Spotlight: Rebecca Kinsinger Bowman
This first artist holds a special place in my heart because of her closeness to my family. My mother’s college roommate and long-time family friend Rebecca Bowman works out of southern Ohio. She achieved a BFA from Miami University in Oxford, OH, and comes from a strong line of artistically-gifted Kinsingers (i.e. her brother Jay builds gorgeous wooden bikes!).  

Though she dabbles across the artistic spectrum (for example, her college “Rock-Paint” jewelry), she has been finding success with her animal-detail paintings; specifically, with her detailed animal Totem paintings. The totems combine her great love of wildlife with her affinity for Native American history.

For those not familiar with animal Totems in Native American lore, the totem is a series of animal guides that an individual may call upon throughout their life "to get in touch with specific qualities found within an animal which the person needs, connects with, or feels a deep affinity toward." (Source) Animal guides are to advise and protect you throughout your earthly and spiritual journey, and you may have many different guides throughout the course of your life. 

A different friend had inspired me to investigate what my own Totem would be and after an in-depth search, I realized the Horse (My base, my values), the Rabbit (My earthly self), and the Hummingbird (my spiritual self) as my animals. To be clear, you do not just choose whatever animals sound cool to you - You pay attention for animals you see frequently, you dream about, or you feel connected to. My cousin Jimmy identifies with the Mountain Lion; Lacey with the Raven and the Dragon. I am pretty convinced my brother is a Cardinal and a Wolf.

For my graduate school graduation, Mom had Miss Becky create my Totem for me. Oh, how I cried when I pulled them out of the bag. Each canvas (6in x 8 in) had a lovely note written on the back. Husband (who at the time was still Boyfriend), also got emotional because the image of the rabbit looked remarkably like his boyhood pet rabbit, Nibbles. That intuitiveness and attention to who the recipients were made the gift even more special. It was the most incredible gift that I will cherish forever.

These Totem paintings are all typically on the 4 in x 5 in canvas. Miss Becky doesn't use that small space to force the entire animal form; rather, she selects a detailed, close-up shot to fill the composition. My hummingbird is an exception to this standard, as they are already so small. The detail within this small space is absolutely amazing (and my cruddy photographs do not do them any justice). I think the Hummingbird does a pretty good job of showing you the detail and attention Becky puts into her paintings.  

If you are looking for a unique, personal, special gift for a friend or loved one, I highly suggest you check Miss Becky out. I have seen pieces of owls, squirrels, sheep, various birds, tigers, dogs, pandas, lions, and lizards. You don't have to have your Totem figured all out - Even simply your favorite animal can turn into a wonderful painting keepsake you or the animal-lover in your life will love for a lifetime! 

Friday, November 21, 2014

12 under 20: Decoy 2012 Pinot Noir

WELL, I have catching up to do if I’m going to give you 6 more 12 under 20’s by December 31st!

So when we went to Napa back in July, along with Markham we also stopped at Duckhorn. WOW. We did a wine and cheese pairing with them and it was a delightful time (worth the money if you get the chance to go).

Unfortunately, most Duckhorn wines won’t quite make the “under $20” mark for this blog. However, Duckhorn is part of a great ducky family FULL of options that will fit whatever your budget while maintaining their high quality and brand acclaim. Sister vineyards include Decoy, Paraduxx, Migration, Goldeneye, and Canvasback.

12 under 20: Decoy 2012 Pinot Noir
Decoy was the first of Duckhorn’s sister vineyards that we explored (at the store). Husband’s birthday was last week and aside from Chianti’s and Cabs, the man appreciates a good medium-bodied Pinot Noir. We were pairing this wine with a baked, lemon-seasoned salmon, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Most often people would advise pairing a white wine with fish, but for red-drinkers like Husband, the Pinot Noir is an excellent compromise.

The back of the Decoy 2012 Pinot Noir label pretty much sums it up: “The everyday wine for the well-informed.” Consider this post you being informed!

This vintage is 100% Pinot Noir grape, aged in 100% French Oak Aged Burgundy barrels (Luscious!). It was fresh and full of bright, red fruit.  I personally experienced the mouthfeel of cranberries and raspberries and it had a soft, oaky zest to it. This wine was fruity and light enough for those that don’t prefer heavy red wines, but also toasty enough for wine drinkers that enjoy notes of wood and spice.

Their 2013 varietal is sounding more earthy and herbal (lavender, sage, mushroom, white pepper amidst the blue and red berries)…so for those that prefer the warmth and lushness of more fruit, try the 2012 first.

The Decoy Pinot Noir just barely skates under our $20 cap at $19.99 at Total Wine. That tends to be the average price for this wine, though the Internet says some lucky wine aficionados might be able to find the 2012 as low as $15 at some retailers. 

Cheers, readers!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

We live in a rainbow of chaos

Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1904-1906
Last week we visited the High Museum for Cézanne and the Modern. The exhibition, loaned from the (Henry and Rose) Pearlman Collection will be featured at the High from October 25th through January 11th. The assemblage focuses on European Modern art and is the first tour of the Pearlman Collection since the 1970s.

Cézanne and the Modern
It was a delight to walk through the legacy of Cézanne, Degas, Pissarro, Van Gogh, Sisley, and Manet.

One aspect of this exhibit that I loved was that you got to see examples of work from the renowned Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Pissarro that are atypical of what they are known for. Camille Pissarro (my Dad's favorite!) had two still-lifes on display. Van Gogh had a stage coach, unsigned, at the beginning of the exhibition that was said to be inspired by boats painted by Monet. However it was the late-career watercolors by Cézanne that blew me away.

House in Provence, 1890-1894.
I was not familiar with any of his watercolors prior to this exhibit. Having worked with watercolors before, I know how temperamental they can be; how difficult it can be to draw with the paint and control the paint to communicate forms. The watercolor section of the exhibit featured mostly landscape watercolors with the exception of one still life of fruits and wine (pictured below).

That all said, there are so many things I love about these watercolors. Cézanne was able to produce paintings that were all of bright, bold, and soft. He heavily emphasized white space and made it an active part of the compositions. I think the reliance on white space was a strategic way of communicating light, a hearkening back to the the influence of Impressionism. In House in Provence (above), Cézanne used the white space to communicate the primary subjects and used the watercolors as the means of outlining those forms and making them pop.

You can also see how he layers swabs of colors to create shadows and texture; his broken brushstrokes give a breathy, atmospheric effect. Coupled with the softness of the watercolor medium, the paintings look as if you could just breathe them all in like vapor. Refreshing, indeed!

"Shadow is a colour as light is, but less brilliant; light and shadow are only the relation of two tones." - Paul Cézanne 

I ended up taking home a print of Alfred Sisley's River View, 1889. You could see where the canvas had begun to crack over the years in the same path his brushstrokes would have taken. It made his presence feel real, like you could see his process. Not only that, but I loved the thick, energetic application of paint and the thoughtful mixing of colors (and temperatures) throughout the canvas. Detail view below (right)...can you see the cracks?

This was a great exhibit. This was a perfect afternoon with my family, experiencing wonderful art. People-watching at these exhibits is always fun as well and for this one, it was a joy to see big and small, young and old, all caught up in the allure of art.

"When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art." - Paul Cézanne 

Thursday, October 16, 2014


I promise, loyal readers, I am alive and I WILL be back soon.

Two major goings-ons have kept me busy since my last post:

  • Husband and I bought a HOUSE! (I anticipate next post will highlight the art gems I'm adorning our new walls with)
  • For those that followed my post on Art for a Cause: Ovarian Cancer Awareness, race day is finally here. This Saturday, my father and brother will be competing in The Great Floridian Ironman, all in order to raise awareness and funds for Foundation for Women's Cancer. Though it was Ovarian Cancer specifically that affected our family and our lives, we recognize that all "below the belt" womens cancers need more attention to bring about the research, cures, and care that patients really need. ANY woman is at risk of developing a gynecologic cancer - There are no "exceptions." That is why we are trying to open the avenues for dialogue and funding for this organization. To date, we have raised $22,000 for FWC (donations are still welcome too!). We are planning to match those funds to make a BIG impact for this cause. THANK YOU for your phenomenal support.
Returning soon with more art, more causes, and more wine!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

12 under 20: River Road Pinot Gris & Markham Merlot

Time for another installment of 12 under 20: my selections for 12 wines (or wine brands) to enjoy as "go-to" wines under $20. The wines I want to share today, spots #5 and #6 in the series, are two of my hands-down favorite wines from this summer.

12 under 20: River Road Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Gris
This wine comes to us from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma, CA. I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Napa/Sonoma in July and am a little sore, despite a great trip, that we missed this vineyard. Next time!

This wine is unoaked and aged in 100% stainless steel. It is crisp and full of fruit (peach and citrus). The maker's notes suggest a hint of minerality, but to me, it is hardly noticeable in contrast to the the clean, refreshing fruit playing first fiddle. Chicken dishes, cheeses, melons or peaches, salmon or white can pair this wine with so many different dishes or even just enjoy on it's own (as I've been known to do ;))! It has been my go-to white wine of the season.

At Total Wine, this baby goes for $13.99.

12 under 20: Markham Vineyards Merlot
When in Napa, one of the vineyards we happened across was Markham Vineyards. Truth be told, we had not heard of it before, but our accommodations gave us a free wine tasting there as part of our package. We popped by Markham's tasting room between our appointments at Silver Oak and Duckhorn and frankly, we left California more impressed with Markham than any of the wineries we visited. A true diamond, but one you can actually afford!!

The group favorite from this tasting experiences was the Merlot. It was lush with layers of cherry and raspberry and an undertone of vanilla oak (I'm serious - You can taste the subtle vanilla). A few extra notes of dark coffee give it a really full, rich flavor. It is intense, but ohhhhh so good. Do your filet mignon or dark chocolate dessert a real favor by pairing it with this wine.

This wine just makes it into our 12, because on Total Wine it's listed for $19.97. We have found it at Costco as well for around $16.99. We signed up for the Wine Club at Markham SPECIFICALLY because of this wine, if that tells you anything (Members get 30% off!).

If there are any two wines I can convince you to go invest in right now, it is these two. You will not be disappointed, no matter the occasion that arises. Enjoy!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Art for a Cause: More Love Letters

“When you have nothing to offer, love gives abundantly.”
I have so many love letters that I want to write to the world. I want to write them with my pen, my keys, my actions. I want to write letters to let people know that they are valuable, that they are special, that they are loved, and that they are not alone. I want to write love letters that spread awareness for causes and encourage constructive advocacy. I want to write love letters that encourage joy, wonder, and curiosity. I want to write love letters that inspire you to write your own, because everyone has a unique (literal or not) letter to write. I think, amidst all the tragedies rolling like riptides through our world on a daily basis, we need love letters more than ever. We need joy, wonder, and curiosity. We need hope.

Hope can come in many forms. It may be another person, it may be a positive turn in your day. It can be good news, it can be the chance to start over. It may be a book, a letter, a thought, or even just a kind word.

For many, hope is found through faith. Because so many faith walks are different, the “letters” I have to share with you today span a great many orders of faith. The artistic part is that these faiths are being represented by fragments of their respective illuminated manuscripts. An illuminated manuscript is a body of text supplemented by decoration. This might include borders, illustrations, or ornamental characters. They are truly some of the most exceptional “letters,” at least visually, that I have ever seen.

The Book of Kells: Chi Rho. Attributed to 800 AD. Dublin, Trinity College Library. Source.

Fragment of a Kufic Qur’an. 9th–10th century (ʿAbbasid). Bloomington, Indiana University Lilly Library. Source.

Mishneh Torah. 15th century. Rome, Vatican Library. Source.

Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara Dispensing Boons: Folio from an Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita Manuscript. Early 12th century. New York, Met Museum. Source.

Devananda's Fourteen Auspicious Dreams Foretelling the Birth of Mahavira: Folio from a Kalpasutra Manuscript. ca. 1465. New York: Met Museum. Source.

The organization More Love Letters takes the cause of writing love letters very seriously. They encourage strangers to write positive, uplifting literal letters then hide them for another stranger to find. The letter contains the address for the MLL website so that recipients can share their story, a picture of their note, and their thoughts about receiving such a note online. All letters are anonymous. It is a really fun, creative, selfless way to make someone’s day.

Consider writing a love letter today. It doesn’t have to be a squishy, romantic letter - But a word of encouragement, gratitude, or hope. It can be to someone you know or someone you don’t. I encourage you to write by HAND and not by type. I encourage you to seal it up in a real envelope and mail, deliver, or hide it for your recipient to find. Make someone’s day today! You may find that the act of giving makes you day too.

“A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it's not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world. But before it produces a transformation in the other person, it has to produce a transformation within us. Some letters may take the whole of our lifetime to write.” 

Monday, May 26, 2014

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

On this Memorial Day, we commemorate the fallen that have sacrificed their lives for our country and our freedom. Oftentimes it is easy to forget that the blessed, comfortable lives we lead came at a very high price; but this price was one our soldiers stood up and were willing to pay. It is an incredible honor to share their flag and be united by them. Thank you to our Servicemen and women, past, present, and future, for your service.

Red Poppy, Georgia O'Keefe, 1927
Inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields," the Remembrance Poppy was first used by the American Legion to commemorate fallen American soldiers in World War I. Since that time, they have been adopted across the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in addition to the US as a symbol of loss from war, memorial, and new life.

Below is a excerpt from "In Flanders Fields":

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

For more details on this tradition, please visit TheGreatWar.Co.UK.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Imperial Fabergé Eggs

On the Eve of Easter, it felt appropriate to do a post coinciding with the holiday. Easter originates from the miracle of Christ rising from the tomb, but is embraced secularly too for the big white Easter bunny, pastel colored Easter eggs, and baskets overflowing with Easter candies. These may seem like strange traditions, but they are long standing ones. The Easter bunny tale (ha, get it!?) has been in the Americas since it was brought here by the Germans in the 1700s. Jelly beans and chocolate eggs have been showing up in kid's Easter baskets since before the 1930s.

Longest and most deep rooted of all, the tradition of painting Easter eggs has been around since the 13th century. Yes, you read that correctly. Eggs were an ancient symbol of new life. Even in Christianity, eggs were said to represent the resurrection of Christ. It is hypothesized that the tradition of painting eggs began because eggs may have been a forbidden food during Lent; Christians would decorate them to honor this period of penance before eating them on Easter Sunday. The History Channel has more!

The greatest, most spectacular of all eggs are, without a doubt, the Imperial Fabergé eggs. Interestingly enough, their creation coincides with Easter too!

The Imperial Fabergé Eggs - 1885-1917

Fabergé eggs are a limited-edition creation of Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé and his company. The eggs were produced between 1885 and 1917 and range in style from elegant simplicity (i.e. The Imperial Hen Egg, below) to opulent ornamentation. Of the approximate 54 ever created by Fabergé, only 43 survive today. 

The very first Fabergé egg is referred to today as the Imperial Hen Egg. This egg was crafted for Tsar Alexander III, who gifted it to his wife Tsarina Maria Feodorovna as an Easter present. The egg is initially very simple - A white enamel "shell" encases the outside of the egg. It is when you open it up that you find the matte gold "yolk." Within the yolk is a golden hen with rubies for eyes. It is said that within the hen, there was a miniature diamond replica of the imperial crown adorned with a ruby pendant, but this piece is lost.

Imperial Hen Egg, 1885
The Tsarina was so taken with the gift, she appointed Fabergé a goldsmith of special appointment to the crown and commissioned an egg the following years, with the exceptions of 1905 and 1906 due to the Russo-Japanese war. 3 of the first 5 eggs are unfortunately lost, but we can imagine by those that followed how grand they must have been.

Imperial Coronation Egg, 1896
Probably the most famous of the eggs today is the Imperial Coronation Egg (Ocean's Twelve, anyone?). This egg was made in commemoration of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in 1896 and given to Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna as a gift. The translucent yellow enamel field of starbursts is overlaid with a trellis of golden boughs of laurel. Imperial double-headed eagles made of black enamel and a single rose diamond on the chest are situated at each intersection of the trellis. It is said that the patterns on the egg shell were taken from the Tsarina's coronation ensemble.

A requirement of any Fabergé egg was that it had to contain a surprise. The surprise inside this egg was unlike any other - Inside, nestled in the velvet-lined interior was a miniature replica of the coach that brought the Tsarina to her coronation at Uspensky Cathedral. The coach is less than 4 inches long and is claimed to be a faithful reproduction to the original life-size coach even in the coloring of the enamel upholstery on the inside.

Bouquet of Lilies Clock Egg, 1899
The Bouquet of Lilies Clock Egg is one of the larger creations made for the royal family. Again a gift from Nicholas to Alexandra, this egg is a masterpiece in gold, enamel, onyx, and diamonds. The lilies and roses depicted on this Egg symbolized purity/innocence and love, respectively. 

The surprise for this egg is lost, but it was said to be a ruby pendant with rose-cut diamonds.

Both eggs above were made in 1912. The Tsarevich egg (right) was created for Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna in tribute to her son, Alexei. Alexei was thought to die young due to hemophilia and after a particularly bad spell where they thought he might not survive, Fabergé created this egg for Alexandra in celebration of his survival. The surprise is the Imperial double-headed eagle, set in platinum and encrusted in diamonds, housing a portrait of young Alexei in the middle. The miniature portrait was originally a watercolor.

The Imperial Napoleonic Egg (left) was gifted to Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna from her son, Nicholas II, in commemoration of the Battle of Borodino during Napoleon's 1912 invasion into Russia. This egg is one of only two where the original concept drawings have been found.

Clover Leaf Egg, 1902
Probably my favorite egg of all is the Clover Leaf egg. This egg is exquisite. This open-work pattern of clover leaves covers the egg, diamond encrusted cloves scattered about their green enamel brothers. Winding bands of gold paved with rubies curl through the field. This egg has never left Russia, considered to be too delicate to travel through absolutely flawless.

The surprise for this egg is also lost, but archives tell us it was a clover leaf pendant set with twenty three diamonds and four miniature portraits of the Tsar's daughters: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. 

These eggs obviously take the "egg decoration" tradition to a magnificent sort of extreme, but I do find it endearing how the family made a tradition of gifting each other commemorative tokens of special times together. I can't speak at all to the politics, but it feels like the Romanovs were a very close family and this tradition they built to be very sweet.

May your Easter be blessed!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

12 under 20: Oliver Winery

12 under 20: Oliver Winery
At IU, we were very priviledged to have a WONDERFUL little gem of a winery not that far from campus. Oliver Winery is a known Bloomington hot-spot, a great place to take parents and friends for a wine tasting, a tour of the wine making process, or even just a picnic by their pond.

Oliver Winery was founded in the 1960s by IU law professor William Oliver, who was crucial in the passing of legislation allowing for small wineries to open in Indiana (Indiana Small Winery Act, 1971). His son took over the company in 1983 and it remains a family business today. They have expanded rapidly, particularly in the last 30 years, with distribution now in over 14 states (you can always order online if the wines are not sold in your state) and case sales exceeding 270,000 in 2008.

Now that spring is finally here, let me share with you my top Oliver recommendations to be enjoyed in Spring and early summer. 

  •  Creekbend Traminette - $16.00
    •  This semi-dry has hints of tropical fruits and green apple.  It is floral with a hint of spice, which has it pair really well with ethnic foods, like Asian or Mexican (I imagine this wine would also be great with Indian food), or with a cheese plate appetizer!
  • Creekbend Chambourcin Rose - $12.00
    •  This wine is all strawberry for me. An off-dry Rosé aged in stainless steel barrels, this wine is full of fruit and is perfect for pairing with appetizers, pork dishes, or fresh berries!
  • Blackberry - $12.00
    • The literal sweetest wine on this list, this wine is 100% fresh Oregon blackberries. The blackberries are fermented just as you would ferment a grape, and a dash of natural cane sugar preserves the sweetness. You have to have a sweet tooth for this one, but it is SO worth it.
  • Gewurztraminer - $10.00
    • This is my husband and my favorite Oliver wine. We have a bottle in our wine cabinet right now! This wine is soft, easy, and perfectly sippable. It pairs excellently with Thai, Indian and other spicy exotic foods. Another semi-dry, this wine is floral and has a sweet finish.
  • Beanblossom Blush - $9.50
    • For spring, you need a Zinfandel! The Beanblossom Blush is a semi-dry with strawberry, peach, and floral notes, and it is delicious.

As it turns out, 3 of my 5 were also on Oliver’s “Five Fabulous Wines for Spring” blog post!

Oliver has a special place in my heart because it was the location for many wonderful memories throughout grad school. It is where I bonded with my classmates, took my parents when they came to visit, and was part of my husband's (then boyfriend) visit when he traveled 9 hours to surprise me for my birthday. 

Oliver Winery is my go-to for when you need to send a wine (or a case) to a friend for their birthday, when you need a special wine for an anniversary, or as a Thank-You to your Matrons of Honors (I speak from experience). Anything they offer is worth it (and there are volume discounts!), but if you’re jazzed for Spring and you want a wine that captures the season, start here and let me know what you think. 

As a note, I know I'm offering 5 affordable wines for you here under one label, but since "12 under 20" is my blog series, I can bend the rules a little bit. ;) ENJOY!

"Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words." - Plautus

Saturday, March 29, 2014

April Art Activity Challenge: Go paint with friends

Happy almost April!

I challenge you this April to gather a group of friends to sign up to participate in Sips n Strokes (or any alternatively named painting class). I have found that these group outings are a blast, and not just because the venue allows you to BYOW (Bring Your Own Wine ;)). They are perfect for any occasion - Happy hours, birthdays, bachelorette parties, because it's Tuesday...any occasion! 

On average, the cost is about $30 for three hours and all supplies necessary to create your work of art. By visiting the website, you can typically find a monthly calendar that outlines what pieces of art will be taught on which dates. Select your date, RSVP, and pay when you get there! Below are some examples from groups I have gone with: 

Bachelorette party, September 2012
ARTini's Art Lounge, Athens, GA
Vincent Van Gogh's "Almond Blossoms"

Double date night, September 2012
Dip 'n Dab, Decatur, GA
Chinese pagoda

Birthday get-together, March 2014
Sips n Strokes, Sandy Springs, GA
Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

A few things to keep in mind, particularly if you do not consider yourself "an artist":
1. Paint the edges of your canvas too! Then you won't require a frame if you want to hang it on your wall. :) 
2. Art is meant to be viewed at a distance. If you feel like you're losing perspective on your work, get up and take a few steps back from it to get a better look. 
3. Have FUN with it! This is not meant to be serious.
4. Embrace the differences! Don't spend your night comparing your work to the person next to you. Theirs will be different than yours and that doesn't mean yours is at any sort of disadvantage. It just means that a different person is interpreting the same subject. As my friend Mallory alluded to after our last painting class, it's amazing to see how your painting will come out looking like YOU and YOUR personality. Same for your friends.
5. Stay positive! Last class, I sat in ear shot of a lady that criticized her own painting the whole night, which was kind of a downer. Even if you get frustrated, remember that this is meant to be a fun and creative outlet for you to express yourself. Ask for help if you need it and don't be so hard on yourself.

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." 
- Vincent Van Gogh

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Art for a Cause: The Blind Artist Society

In undergrad, I had the privilege of being initiated into the Delta Gamma Fraternity. Our motto is to "Do Good" and our philanthropy is Service for Sight. At Furman University, we specifically supported the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, but across the nation, DG's charitable efforts vary though united for raising support and awareness for visual impairments. DG inspired me to care about the reality of visual impairments - Being an artist/art historian adds a whole other facet to the discussion.

I still remember when Chuck Norris (yes, I am so serious) came to speak at Furman - One of the kids from the S.C.S.D.B. was literally his biggest fan and the school brought them so they experience the talk and even meet Mr. Norris. I got to be one of the sisters to escort the child to the talk. To be a bystander as that dream came true was an unbelievable moment to witness, heightened because the child could not even see Mr. Norris...But his voice was enough to have them jumping up and down with pure joy. 

The phrase "visual impairments" does not always literally mean "blind." There is a wide range of visual loss, whether that be transient or permanent. Again considering that this is an art blog, you may be wondering...How can art be done without the ability to -see- it? It is quite possible, my friends. You can do anything if you are determined enough, and the following group is definitely determined.

The Blind Artists Society is a free, web-based, inclusive community for artists, ranging from amateurs to professionals, with varying degrees of visual impairments. It was started in 2007 as a project backed by the Retina Research Foundation, Inc. Though unfortunately the charity closed its doors in 2011, its assets were transferred to the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany, which continues to back the BAS. Artists are enabled to share their art work online, organize periodic group exhibits through the NABA, and express themselves through the support of this community. 

I count approximately 40 artists on the BAS website. I can guarantee you, if you were to look through this website without knowing the artists are visually impaired, you would never know. If you were to look through this website and read their stories, I think you would find inspiration with every word, every image. 

Each name comes with a bio - An incredible read and insight into each artist. Michael M. Michaelson recounts the day he realized he couldn't see traffic lights turn green when learning to drive. His evolution is incredible and heartbreaking...and his landscape paintings, despite his inability to perceive color, are dynamic and full of vibrancy. Chelsea Stark is a legally blind wildlife/nature photographer that hasn't let her visual impairment stop her from taking beautiful photographs. Robert Botto builds detailed miniature ship replicas, Michael Newman creates exquisite wood-turned bowls, and Tonia Darling produces elaborate pencil drawings as her eyes recover from multiple surgeries for retinal detachment.

I take my vision for granted. I know I do. I've always had excellent eyesight and I just expect it to always be good. I'm sure that a lot of you reading this might be in the same boat. I wanted to write this post not only to bring awareness to visual impairments, but to inspire people. Sight feels like it is synonymous with art, because so rarely are you allowed to "touch the art" at a museum - You just should just look at it. Imagine if you couldn't - If you only saw blurry shapes or no colors or if bright lights in your eyes were blocking your view. That has the potential to be devastating. But when you have passion, and you are determined to succeed and thrive, you can overcome any odds. And you can make art. 

Established, renowned artist Dale Chihuly, who I wrote about years ago in a post called Seaforms and Chandeliers, was in a car crash in England in 1976 that left him blinded in his left eye. Yet look at what he has been able to accomplish

Whether you have a visual impairment or not, or any kind of impairment for that matter, do not limit yourself by saying you "aren't good" or "you don't know how" or the worst of all, "I can't." Creating something, anything, takes practice and hard work. The biggest of all obstacles to overcome is your own self-doubt. If you tell yourself you can't, then you won't. Simple as that. If you tell yourself you can...Then you can do anything. So do it.

"I've always found that anything worth achieving will always have obstacles in the way and you've got to have that drive and determination to overcome those obstacles on route to whatever it is that you want to accomplish." - Chuck Norris

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Art for a Cause: Fighting Ovarian Cancer

Art can be many things: an expression of self or emotion, an interpretation of a dream, an escape, a challenge, a passion, a goal. It can also be a means of calling attention to something important, a cause. That is what I'd like to use it for today.

Yesterday was International Women's Day. In honor of women and their contributions to the world, I'd like to talk to how we can give back to promote longer, healthier lives for women around the world. Foundation for Women's Cancer is a non-profit dedicated to funding research and training, and ensuring education and public awareness of gynecologic cancer prevention. "Gynecologic" refers to cancers affecting the female reproductive system, so these are cancers all women are at risk of one day developing. The most life-threatening of these is ovarian cancer.

The American Cancer Society released data citing that approximately 22,200 women in the US are newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year and tragically, approximately 14,000 will pass away due to ovarian cancer within that same year. Ovarian cancer now ranks 4th in cancer-related deaths among women. However, as it is not ranked in the top 5 most threatening cancers overall, it is not a cancer that the ACS specifically fundraises for. That is why I am typing on behalf of the FWC today.

My family unfortunately knows the effects of ovarian cancer all too well, as that is how I lost my mother last August. She was 55 years old. She loved horses and snowmen, singing in the car, and sitting in sunshine. She worked hard every day of her life, never complained, and always tried to make our lives easier. She was the funniest person I've ever known and brought that humor into everything, even her fight with cancer. Her journey is what compels me to share with you today because before she was diagnosed, none of this information on gynecologic cancers was known to me. Like I anticipate is the case for many of you, breast cancer was the only "female" cancer I had heard about. That needs to change.

But this is an art blog. Art needs to lead the way here. With that in mind, I'd like to share three artists with you today that also battled ovarian cancer, in the hopes of highlighting just how important it is that we do what we can to help in the fight against this disease.

Rita Angus (March 12, 1908 - January 25, 1970)
Rita Angus was one of New Zealand's most significant artists, a painter whose modern works were loved across her country. At age 19, she moved to Christchurch to attend art school and she caught on quickly. She felt drawn to the modernist aesthetic and began to formulate her style, coupled with a developing awareness of her status as a woman artist. During the 1940s, she deeply opposed WWII as a pacifist, this coming across in her paintings through displays of harmony, balance, and nature. She was a keen traveler, though otherwise solitary in a pointed effort to give committed focus to her art. Her final project, a series of paintings of the Boulton Street cemetery in Wellington, remains unfinished as she passed away at 62 in January 1970. She had initiated the project when she learned that the cemetery was to be bulldozed for a new motor-way. "This is subject matter not likely to be repeated in my lifetime," she had written.

Her style was crisp, clear, and subtle. Her colors were smooth and blended. She focused on landscapes, portraits, and self-portraits, like the one seen at above. More information on Angus's oeuvre can be found at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa website and The Estate of Rita Angus.

Nancy Graves 
(December 23, 1939 - October 21, 1995)
Nancy Graves was an American post-minimalist painter, sculptor, printmaker, and filmmaker that made her start in the New York art scene in the 1960s with life size sculptures of camels. Abstraction and naturalism were persistent themes throughout Graves' work and career. She attended Vasser College where she received an English degree in 1961, then attended Yale were she achieved her BA and MA in Fine Arts by 1964. She was curious and open-minded, moving from sculpture to painting in the 1970s (incorporating abstract interpretations of maps and charts of the ocean's floor and surface of the moon), to lost-wax and bronze by the end of the 1970s, to printmaking, to experimentation with hand-blown glass and poly-optics by the end of her career. Between 1970 and 1974, Graves also produced 5 films - Two of which were shot on location in Morocco and featured herds of camels. She passed away at 56.

More information on Graves' life and work can be found at the National Gallery of Art website and The Nancy Graves Foundation.

Margi Scharff 
(February 11, 1955 - July 2, 2007)
Margi Scharff was an American mixed-media artist that combined traditional and non-traditional materials into works influenced by her many travels. She worked with drawing, installations, photography, collage, and sculpture. She was exceptionally fond of travel, having no permanent residence for the last few years of her life. This love for exploring and adventure started at age 18 when she went on a 6-month journey to Europe, unaccompanied. Her early career featured room-sized installations, her most known of which was "The Night Room." "The Night Room" was built in tribute to Scharff's mother who passed away from breast cancer in the 1980s. In 2000 she initiated "Raw Material: From the Road in Asia" - A project that (up until her death in 2007) realized 200 small-scale collages fashioned out of trash and paper found on the roadside as she traveled through Asia. She kept a travel log and photographs of the experience, even exhibiting her works in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh along the way.

Margi Scharff, Jumbo Perfect
Mixed Asia, 2004
Margi had a blog, documenting her many travels and experiences and I think it is one that definitely deserves a visit. The last few entries come from her family and friends, bringing Margi's journey full circle through not just her eyes, but also through those of her loved ones. Her last exhibition took place at Overtones Gallery in LA, where her art estate is also housed.

To quote her, "I have known that...I might not have a long life. It may have been one of the things that gave me strength and courage to go out and do these journeys." [Ref. 2006 interview here]. She was 52.

These women were strong, vibrant contributors to their communities and the world through their artistic vision and prowess. They made their worlds a brighter place by sharing their gifts. At 62, 56, and 52...From my perspective, they went too soon.

Ovarian, along with breast cancer, may have hereditary tendencies due to mutations in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes. Awareness on this hereditary link was raised when actress Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy in response to finding out she was positive for BRCA 1 in early 2013. Like Jolie, my mother had the faulty BRCA gene. I don't yet know if I do too, but I know that is a challenge I will have to face in less than ten years. It is important, with odds like these, for all women to routinely visit the doctor and get checkups. Most gynecologic cancers can be prevented or treated successfully when caught early, through vigilance.

Mom fought for 4.5 roller coaster years with cancer and even though she's now in Heaven, I can't say that cancer won. She always continued to have hope, humor, and faith and did not let the disease take away her life - She lived her days fully until the ones she had been allotted were up. We are blessed to have known and been raised by her and want to continue on with the strength, positivity, and determination she instilled in us. We want to fight - We now know all too well the rigors of this disease and hope that others families won't have to go through what ours, and those of Rita, Nancy, and Margi, did.

To make this happen, the researchers, the doctors, nurses, caregivers, and advocates need the financial support to keep fighting for us. In Mom's memory, in honor of the artists above and all women that have fought with cancer, and in hope for the daughters and granddaughters of this generation, we want to make a significant impact. My father and brother have committed to The Great Floridian Ironman in October. This will be my dad's second Ironman and my brother's first. They are racing to raise $50,000 for the Foundation for Women's Cancer and intend to match whatever they receive up to $50,000 as well. All donations are tax deductible and even more appreciated. Please help us make a difference and stand up to help end women's cancers.