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  • Archive for the ‘2011 Summer Interview Series’ Category

    Did you miss an interview from the Summer Interview Series? Take a peak through and see who you might have missed. I had fun interviewing a few folks I knew in my ‘real’ life and others I only know via the internet. There was a vast array of subjects to cover, someone might have interested you!

    +Chel @ Ginger Blue
    +Elizabeth @ Miss Wisabus
    +Kathy @ Analog Soul Photography
    +Mandy Stewart @ Messy Canvas
    +Prem @ Florida Native Orchids
    +Susy @ Chiot’s Run
    +Randy @ Recipes Randy Cooks
    +Renee @ Wolfie and the Sneak

    Enjoy! Maybe I’ll do another round next summer!

    After Chris discovered Little Slough and our subsequent count and documentation of 607 ghost orchids within about an acre in the swamps of south Florida (doubling the then known population in Florida), Prem got in touch with me about his interest in ghost orchids and how he hadn’t been able to see one. He was already an avidly interested in the native orchids of Florida and had documented many others throughout Florida. Now there is a small contingent of photographers and adventurers who seek the ghost orchid out, either documenting their own pockets of ghost orchids or seeking other lost orchids and rare plants in the wilds of Florida. Prem is just one of these folks and his botanical experiences are worth sharing.

    First off, give us an idea of who you are, why you blog and your geographic location.

    Hi, I’m Prem Subrahmanyam, a software engineer by vocation and a naturalist, botanist, and photographer by avocation. I grew up in a rural area near Tallahassee, Florida and have become a recent transplant to the Orlando area with my wife and 15 children (yes, you read that correctly – fifteen). My oldest two are in college and my youngest is just learning to crawl. Joy and I have been happily married for 20 years. I am most interested in Florida’s native orchids, for which I’ve created a website, Florida Native Orchids blog. I also travel to various orchid and garden societies to lecture on our native orchids. My next big lecture will be at the Coalition for Orchid Species Symposium at Fairchild Tropical Gardens on July 24th. I also have a small collection of cultivated orchid species, which I photograph and publish to my site Orchid Stock Photos.

    How did you begin your interest in the botanical world?

    Growing up where I did, I was always surrounded by nature – a state forest abutting our property and a national forest across the street. I would often take walks or bike rides in the woods to explore the area. Through 4-H, I joined the horticulture ID and forest ecology judging teams, where I became familiar with a number of plants. Thirsting for more botanical knowledge, I would consult plant and wildflower guides to further identify the things I would encounter.

    I became interested in orchids, specifically, through a National Geographic article that I read (our family had an extensive collection of these). What really intrigued me about this group of plants was not necessarily their aesthetics, although they are beautiful. Instead, it was their structural complexity and design, with so many flowers using unique tricks and mechanisms to achieve pollination. You had flowers such as the bee/wasp orchids of the Mediterranean which imitate the females of species of bees and wasps (down to the placement of hairs and the use of pseudopheromones), and the bucket
    orchid of Central/South America which traps its pollinators in a sticky fluid trap (with the only means of escape being beneath the pollen structures), and even our own Calopogon which uses a bristle of pseudostamens to attract its ‘prey’ and then flips the hapless bee on its back on the column waiting below. It is simply breathtaking the myriad of fascinating shapes and sizes in this one family of plants. It was as if the Creator approached this group of plants with reckless abandon, bringing both His sense of whimsy and His genius to bear in designing these remarkable flowers. They answer the question “Is God an engineer or an artist” with a resounding “Yes!”.

    I became interested specifically with the native orchids by the few species shown in the book Florida Wild Flowers and Roadside Plants by C. Ritchie Bell and Bryan J. Taylor and later through Carl Luer’s The Native Orchids of Florida. My first copy of Luer has been worn down to near-nothing by the many times I have thumbed through it.

    What is your favorite native Florida orchid?

    This is hard to answer to the point that I would have to say it’s a dead tie between the Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) of south Florida and the Rosebud Orchid (Cleistes bifaria) of the more northern regions of our state. The Rosebud was one of the first native orchids I had seen, growing with relative frequency in the Apalachicola State Forest across the street from our home, as well as in further-flung locations within the same forest…too bad you didn’t have your hike
    through the ANF correspond with the blooming time of all the lovely native orchids there. The Ghost Orchid has always held my intrigue ever since reading about it in Luer, and I had often dreamed of seeing these in the wild during my teenage years and early adulthood. This dream was finally fulfilled in 2007 seeing the ‘Super Ghost’ at Corkscrew Swamp and the next year on hikes hosted by Larry Roberts, you and Chris. Strike one item off the bucket list!

    Is there a plant that you think deserves more love than it actually gets, a red-headed step-child sort of plant?

    I think the Jingle Bell/Needleroot Orchid (Dendrophylax porrectus AKA Harrisella porrecta) is both overlooked and underappreciated. Being so small, it can be really hard to find (I had spent more than half my life trying to find this in the wild), being just a mass of untidy, thin roots. The night-fragrant flowers are also very small and
    unassuming, being a clear yellow-green and around 5mm across. I firmly believe this is the most populous epiphyte in the state of Florida, having the same range as Encyclia tampensis, but being able to grow in far greater numbers on the tiniest twigs of cypress, pop-ash, pond apple, and eastern red cedar, as well as abandoned citrus groves. I think the most intriguing thing about this species is that it is one of the only Western Hemisphere representatives of the vast Vanda alliance, which primarily grow within the confines of the Eastern Hemisphere.

    If you could travel anywhere for a botanic expedition, where would you choose and is there a particular plant you are interested in finding?

    Probably Australia – there is a vast array of orchids growing in various regions of that country/continent. I would specially like to see the various Sun Orchids, which are some of the only orchids that are a true blue, rather than the ‘botanical’ blue (which is really more of a purple) seen in most coerulean type orchids. I would also like to see Rhizanthella, which spend their entire lives underground except when they barely break the soil surface with their floral bracts, exposing the subterranean flowers to the atmosphere for pollination and subsequent seed dispersal.

    Do you have any tips or resources for beginning naturalists?

    Get out in the woods a lot, take lots of pictures, and spend the time trying to identify what you find, using either those antiquated things called books or the internet.

    Are there any particular Florida parks or forests novice botanists and naturalists should scope out for interesting plants or unique habitats?

    The Goethe State Forest northwest of Ocala has a pretty good array of orchids and other plants. The Apalachicola National Forest in the panhandle has a similar variety. For an introduction to the southern flora, the Corkscrew Swamp is a great way to immerse yourself in our semi-tropical best without getting wet and muddy…save that for another time in the Fakahatchee Strand. Please remember, don’t collect the orchids or even pick their flowers…most are protected by
    state law, many are endangered, and all should be left for others to enjoy after you.

    Do you think there are any chances for certain ‘lost’ species of orchids in Florida, such as the Bulbophyllum pachyrachis, have a chance of being found again? What about the discovery of a completely undocumented orchid species?

    I certainly hope that we will rediscover some of the ‘lost orchids’. We already have a number of species that have been rediscovered in the past two decades, having been lost for a number of years. It is certainly possible to discover new species as well. One new species, described in the late 90s, had been growing under all of our noses for many years, Spiranthes sylvatica. In fact, I had seen this species in the mid-80s in a woodland near the county extension office where I went often for 4-H activities. I thought that it seemed different than Spiranthes praecox, which it resembled, aside from the habitat and blooming seasons being quite different than S. praecox. I had brought it to the attention of a botanist at FSU, but never really pressed the issue. I regret this to this day.

    While there may or may not be new species to discover, there are also new varieties and forms of existing species to discover. My son Josh and I discovered a variegated form of Malaxis spicata a few years ago, and I know of someone at the Jacksonville Orchid Society who swears she’s seen a coerulean form of Calopogon tuberosus before. For the record, a coerulean form of C. barbatus has been discovered in the past few years, so this is quite possible.

    And finally, tell us the five people you’d love to have over for dinner and why!

    I am assuming family members are a given and don’t count toward my selection of five.

    Carl Luer – to discuss native orchids.
    John Lasseter – I have always loved computer animation and would love to discuss all things Pixar with him.
    Clyde Butcher – his photographs of the Everglades are so stunning…I’m sure there is a lot I could learn from him.
    Mike Owen – he is such a character and can definitely tell a good tale of his travels in the Fakahatchee Strand.
    Bob Hartman – founder, lead guitarist and chief songwriter for my all-time favorite band, Petra. His songs have really impacted me spiritually over the years.

    Prem’s website is Florida Native Orchids and he writes at the Florida Native Orchids blog. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

    I wanted to interview Elizabeth because well, as was seen in my post on Saturday she’s my second cousin that I only found out about two years ago. I’d love to sit down with her over coffee again some day and pick her brain on books!

    First off, give us an idea of who you are, why you blog and your geographic location.

    I’m 26, a writer, a reader, wife to Kevin (we’ve been married 2 years), a “dabbler” at gardening, and am currently employed in the public school system. My position is one that I really can’t disclose any details about other than my day-to-day activities (making sure teachers take their attendance, meeting with kids who choose not to go to class, and building truancy cases for the DA), but I can say that the work is never boring.

    I am also your second cousin 🙂

    I started putting my writing online in 1997. I’d never heard of the word “blogging” back then, but I felt pretty misunderstood as a 13-year-old kid and decided sharing my thoughts anonymously with the masses was the best way to cope. It all just blossomed from there. I was hosted at a few personal sites, went on to buy a couple domains of my own, and have been blogging at since 2005. Writing about my life and putting it out there is second nature to me now. My blog is a hodge podge of things going on in my life, things I care about, and random silliness. As of late it’s been a little weird writing because a lot of the people in my hometown and some extended family have started reading it. I mean, they’re stopping my mom in the grocery store and talking to her about it. That’s so ODD to me. But sharing with others is what it’s about, right? I’m trying to get my bearings about the topics I’ll continue to post about in the future.

    For the past 8 years I have lived in Norman, home to the University of Oklahoma. I moved here for college and never left. It’s a nice town with just about everything a person could need, but I long to return to the country. My husband and I are currently working on a savings plan that will hopefully make that a reality in 5 years or so.

    Oklahoma, like Texas, is a highly misunderstood state. What are some things that you would like to clear up about Oklahoma?
    The assumption that people around here are backwoods hicks is pretty prevalent in media and sometimes in the opinions of people that I meet from out-of-state, particular the northeast part of our country. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some backwoods hicks here. Everyone has them. For the most part, people I know in Oklahoma are educated, hospitable, and varied in their interests and political views. I don’t think that Oklahoma can be painted with the broad strokes so often used to describe its citizens. One thing the assumptions do get right is that people care about their football around here. I didn’t care much for college football until I attended OU, but I’ve got to admit that it sparked something.

    Say someone was to visit the area you live in for the day, what places should we see and eat to take in a true Oklahoma experience?
    We get the chance to do this a lot when Kevin’s parents or Jolene come to visit us. I tend to look outside of the metro area for things to do, since that’s what I really know and love.

    Smokin’ Joe’s Rib Ranch in Davis is a place any barbecue lover has to try. They’ve got some of the best brisket I’ve ever tasted and the interior of the restaurant, while somewhat cramped, is such a homey place where you end up sitting next to people that you don’t know that I can’t help but love it. Even if you don’t know the people when you sit down, you will once you stand to leave.

    While a person is in the area they should definitely drive a few minutes down the road and get a fried pie from the Original Fried Pies location just off of I-35. You can’t miss the sign. My favorites are the chocolate, cherry, and peach. And now I want one just thinking about them.

    The Chickasaw National Recreation Area is located in that part of the state as well and there are some lovely springs there. We spent a lot of summers in the cold water–swimming until my brother’s lips turned purple and picnicking with our cousins. There are lots of trails to check out in the area.

    Further west, one of my favorite places to visit is the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge. There is quite a bit to see out there and I enjoy getting to view many of Oklahoma’s endangered species in their natural habitat.

    As for the metro area, I think everyone should visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial at least once. It’s a place that means a lot to many Oklahomans and the memorial is a touching tribute to those who were killed on April 19, 1995.

    If you are in the mood for a steak there are some great options in OKC, including Cattlemen’s (a LEGEND) and RED Prime Steak. RED Prime is one of our favorites and it’s certainly one of the more upscale restaurants in the area. Their plating and offerings are very inventive. Once again, probably not what someone would expect in Oklahoma, but OKC is really evolving and offering so much more in the way of fine dining.

    You are a voracious reader—we’d of been competitors in reading growing up—what books started you off in your reading habits?

    I was lucky to always see my mom reading at home and I think just being exposed to that helped me form an interest. That and I thought I was being rebellious when I was sent to my room and found a book to keep me entertained. Ha. (Misti’s note: Me too! Until my mom went further and grounded me from my books..dagnabit!) Third grade was the year that I really started reading more than most kids. My teacher read the entire Henry Huggins/Ramona Quimby series to us and I was enthralled. It wasn’t until 5th grade when I picked up my mom’s copy of Anne of Green Gables that I put everything aside except for reading. It was the only thing I wanted to do at that point.

    Is there an author or book that you think everyone here is missing out on?

    John Burnham Schwartz is one of my favorites. His novel Claire Marvel is breathtaking. Another favorite of mine that I don’t think many people read is Anna Gavalda. Her collection of short stories is one of my all-time favorites.

    How about a guilty pleasure read?

    Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series. It’s what the TV show is based on. I devour them. I also love to hate the Twilight series. It’s so bad. No, really.

    Meeting a blogging superstar is not very common, so when you posted you met the Pioneer Woman, on her ranch nonetheless, I wondered how you came to know Ree enough to get such an awesome invite? How were you able to connect through all the comments that appear on her page?

    I started reading her blog in the early days when she first started. I think I found it through flickr when I was looking through photos taken in Oklahoma and found one of hers featuring a calf testicle. I was disgusted, but could not look away. Then I invited her to Twitter and we tweeted back and forth from time to time. I may have also started a rumor that I am the product of her and a pool boy. Maybe. And that’s it really 🙂

    You have dug well into your past, through the genealogy lines, and found some interesting stories. Tell us about a relative that you wish you could have learned more about or have known more of their stories.

    Honestly, my Nannie (dad’s mom’s mom). I lived next door to her for years and had more access to her than most of the great-grandchildren, but back then I didn’t know the questions to ask.

    On my mom’s side I would have loved to have learned more about the first person who came over around 1630. There’s been very little information that I have been able to find on this individual.

    Do you have any tips for those who wish to research their family lines?

    Don’t give up. Check every connection. Find their graves. There have been times when I’ve hit brick walls and thought I was going nowhere. Take a break and research a completely different individual.

    There are so many resources available online now, take advantage of them! Many people have already done the footwork and the information you are looking for could already be out there.

    Your description of yourself on your blog states that you are an aspiring domestic goddess. What kinds of domestic goddessness can we learn from you? Good recipes, cleaning or organization tips, or diy?

    I’m not really very good at any of them, but I certainly try! I occasionally post low-carb recipes (due to a metabolic disorder, I am on a prescribed way of eating) and have come up with a number of my own that are very tasty.

    One of my favorite things is natural cleaning. I have found a few recipes online that work really well and save quite a bit of money in the long run. I’d recommend looking them up and trying them out for yourself. As of right now, I haven’t ventured into homemade laundry detergent, but I’m thinking of doing it soon.

    And finally, tell us the five people you’d love to have over for dinner and why!

    Oooh, tough.
    Willa Cather – She’s one of my favorite writers. Her descriptions of the plains and life back then are beautiful. I’d just like to pick her brain about writing.
    Lucy Maud Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables…need I say more?
    David Lynch – I’ve recently gotten into Twin Peaks and this guy is a genius AND a hoot. I think he’d be a great dinner guest. He’s got the kind of stories I could listen to all day.
    The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – I cannot deny it, I love these two. Looks like they are set to bring a new face to the monarchy. Both of them seem like such intelligent, interesting people. I would like to be friends with them.

    Elizabeth blogs at MissWisabus, is a founder of Godly Gals and can be found tweeting @MissWisabus.

    I don’t remember when I found Mandy’s blog, Messy Canvas, but I know that it was through Kasie’s blog and I was instantly hooked. She asked the tough questions and even if questions weren’t being asked her commentary always gave me more to devour and digest. There are writers behind the blogs that you just wish you could know a little bit better and so that I why I chose Mandy for part of the interview series this summer. Enjoy!

    First off, give us an idea of who you are, why you blog and your geographic location.

    My name is Mandy Steward. I’m an artist/writer living in Oklahoma City. I blog because I need to process my life through words and photos. Blogging gives me an opportunity to document my discoveries and to dialogue about them with others.

    Your blog has changed focus over the years. In the beginning you were focusing on scrapbooking and designing, however now you’ve switched gears to focus more on creativity, writing and the overall aspect of the artist’s relationship between themselves and God/higher being. How have you evolved to switch focus and dedicate towards a particular subject and are any of the older topics still viable in your day to day life?

    It’s true. My blog has changed along with me. It’s interesting to go back and see my own artistic journey through the posts. When I first started my blog I was a freelance graphic designer working largely with the companyScrap Girls. For about 3 years I was a partner in this company and so my artistic life really revolved around graphic design and the scrapbooking industry.

    What happened though is as I began to gain artistic confidence, I begin to stir up other artistic dreams and so my blog began to shift as I went on this journey to find my niche. I started sewing, painting, drawing and even opened up an Etsy shop for awhile. Eventually I returned to focus largely on a thread that has been woven throughout my whole life – writing. And I think I’ve kind of landed there, at least for now.

    What I found is that chasing my dreams was a little more confusing then I would have anticipated because many of my choices were also wrapped up into questions like: Can I be an artist and be a good parent? What does God think of my artistic pursuits? What will others think if I become a bit obsessed with my craft?

    I had a lot of religious and people-pleasing baggage that was holding me back from being brave enough to do what I wanted. And so I think what you’re referring to on my blog is that transitional shift, that messy process of becoming more and more of myself.

    Like Henry Miller said, “The world will only begin to get something of value from me the moment I stopped being a serious member of society and became—myself.”

    I’m working through what it looks like for me to be an artist and how much that affects all the other areas of my life. The result is a blog that addresses a lot of questions about how to be an artist, how to be a writer, how to live out your dreams, how to be persistent when things get difficult, how to allow for mess and imperfection and vulnerability, how to face fear and tame the Ego, and how all of that feeds into the bigger picture of what it means to be human and to maintain some semblance of faith.

    The topics of scrapbooking and graphic design have sort of fallen away. I really only open Photoshop these days in order to tweak my photos. And don’t tell anyone, but I have never been much of a scrapbooker anyway. It was for a season, all part of my learning process.

    You once wrote “I think I need my creativity to be in small spurts” (Feb 21, 2007). Do you still feel this way and if not how have you changed from feeling this way?

    Absolutely. Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote in my journal, “I think life happens in bursts.”

    Currently I’m spending a couple hours each morning writing before my kids wake-up. Could I write longer? Absolutely. But it’s just not my reality in this season of my life. It’s way too distracting to write when my kids wake-up, so that rarely ever happens. I honor that two-hour window of time first thing in the morning. It’s a small spurt for my creativity, but it is very fulfilling.

    I usually get a few other spurts throughout my day. Moments of alone time to journal or read often come mid-afternoon or in the evening after my kids are in bed.

    Going through the course of my day, I am always exploring, collecting inspiration in jotted notes or photographs or collages. I consider this research for my art and they too come in spurts, little gifts, unexpected insights into the lights and darks of humanity. Part of the mystery of being an artist and having senses attuned is always being ready to catch something when it shows up. Creativity comes to us this way, in spurts amidst the mundane. But we need both, the bursts and the times in between. When I think of this subject, I always think of this quote from Gift From the Sea:

    “What release to write so that one forgets oneself, forgets one’s companion, forgets where one is or what one is going to do next – to be drenched in work as one is drenched in sleep or in the sea…And then, pricked by hunger, we rise at last in a daze, for a late lunch. Reeling a little from our intense absorption, we come back with relief to the small chores of getting lunch, as if they were lifelines to reality – as if we had indeed almost drowned in the sea of intellectual work and welcomed the firm ground of physical action under our feet.”

    Several posts are where you write about comparing yourself to other artists and their seemingly abundant creativity and productivity. You certainly aren’t the only one comparing yourself to others, wanting to be them instead of learning from them and creating yourself. How have you worked through this and if you are still in the process of finding your own niche, what are you doing to create that particular habitat for yourself?

    This is such a dance. A lesson in give and take.

    Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve tried a lot of different artistic mediums in the last 8 years or so. Any artist I liked I tried to copy their work. If something resonated with me, I tried to do it myself. I think a lot of trial and error like this is normal and even helpful. But it can also be fairly discouraging because you end up creating a lot of what feels like crap. Lots of mistakes. Lots of failure. Lots of envy for the artists that seem to have already arrived.

    I think when it comes to art it’s easy to focus too much on the “am I being successful?” question and not enough on the “am I enjoying this?” question. Anytime we can isolate what it is we enjoy, we’re much more likely to relax and create better art.

    For a time I was doing the sewing thing, and I fell into this process of creating stuffed animals based on my kids’ drawings. I received a lot of positive feedback on these creations. I had people suggesting I create a whole business out of this. I really was excited about how they turned out and loved making their drawings come to life, but I just couldn’t get passionate about sewing long-term. I remember thinking, I should just suck it up and do it. This could be my big artistic break, my chance at being successful. I felt guilty for not wanting to pursue it. I was fearful that if I didn’t continue it I would lose fans or friends or blog readers. People would think I was a failure. My identity became wrapped up in success because all the artists I loved were being successful.

    Since that time I have found a niche in writing. It feels nice to have one thing to focus on, but even within writing there are the challenges of comparison. It can be so hard to fight for your own voice, letting yourself do art your own way. I have dreams to create non-traditional books that look more messy like my journals. I also have dreams to publish a novel some day. Getting to these dreams will mean lots of battles with comparison along the way.

    Something that has proved helpful to me is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance book. I have learned volumes from its truths. He has a line in there about how Shakespeare had no Shakespeare to learn from. He just had to do his own thing, what felt right within him. Last night I was journaling this very thing. If I don’t see someone doing what I want to do, then I’m going to have to create my own way of doing it. Trust my instincts. Trust being out on the scary edge of creativity.

    I have also learned to give myself plenty of grace. Coming into our own artistic voice takes time. I am certainly still on the journey.

    You’ve written several e-books and are now working on a book that you hope to be published through the means most are familiar. Has developing the idea for this book been different than those you’ve self published?

    No, no different, just more extensive and elaborate.

    Themes sort of show up as I’m exploring through life, and this one was no different. It is a book about wanting so badly to chase my artistic dreams and doing the daring things I feel inside of me, but wondering if the God of my Christian religion would be okay with all that. I went into a very dark place last fall and winter, and I needed to write my way out of it, so the book just sort of emerged. I wanted to give it a go at traditional publishing, and this was a large enough manuscript to do so. So here I am on that adventure. We’ll see where it leads.

    Your four children are homeschooled/unschooled. What led you and your husband to decide on this path and what resources should one use to research this path of education for their family? What are some of the positives and negatives you’ve encountered?

    Wow, this is a huge question. I’ve written an e-Book about it. Would it be a copout to just point you there? Artist, Botanist, Cowboy: Homeschooling by Imperfect Curiosity. It includes resources I used in my own research to see what educational choices would work best for our family.

    That being said, I’d be lying if I told you I have fallen into any sort of comfortable rhythm with homeschooling yet. I still feel like I’m faltering constantly. I think this homeschooling topic is just one more area of my life that I’m learning to develop my own creative voice and confidence within. There are things I want to do with homeschooling that I haven’t yet had the guts to do. I’m getting there.

    My husband and I are avid learners. We love asking questions. When we want to learn something we become obsessively involved in it until we figure it out. We are excited to give our kids an environment conducive to chasing curiosities, this ability to focus on and figure out whatever it is they are passionate about.

    What books have your taken creative inspiration? What books or blogs are we missing out on?

    Oh my, I’m a book nerd, so I could go on and on. I keep an active list of what I’m reading on Goodreads .

    The novel My Name is Asher Lev fascinates me, for obvious reasons. It’s about a Jewish boy trying to merge his religious life with his artistic life.

    The Artist’s Way was like a therapy session that boosted my artistic confidence. I went through it in 2007-2008.

    I’ve already mentioned Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance. Amazing.

    The Sabrina Ward Harrison journal, The Truth and the Questions is brilliant for dream-casting and stepping more and more into yourself. It’s a book of journal prompts.

    Any Keri Smith book stimulates my creativity. My favorite is How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum.

    On the more spiritual side, Anam Cara by John O’Donohue is rich and poetic and mystical.

    I’m currently reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

    I don’t read any blogs regularly. But there are two that I like to check when I think of it:

    Keri Smith and Right Brain Planner

    And finally, tell us the five people you’d love to have over for dinner and why!

    I love questions like this, but my answers shift constantly depending on what I’m researching at the time.

    If I had a dinner party tonite, it would include the warm camaraderie of the Notting Hill dinner scene and these five people (oh, and homemade ice cream for dessert):

    Sabrina Ward Harrison – We’ve had a handful of delightful conversations and she always inspires me to push the limits on what I think I’m capable of or allowed to do.

    Anne Lamott – Just put myself through an author study of her non-fiction, and am totally enamored with her messy faith in Jesus, especially since I’m trying to make sense of my own.

    Tim Burton – I connect to the dark, eclectic images of his movies. The make-up, the stripes, the splashes of bold color against the grays and blacks. He personifies mess and haunting mystery to me. I just finished watching a bunch of his movies and interviews, but I want to know more. I also wouldn’t mind perusing his sketch books if he happened to bring a few along.

    Joseph Campbell – This man fascinates me. His philosophy is often simplified as “Follow your bliss.” He saw life through the lens of stories. He had eccentric views on spirituality. It’s hard for me to read what he writes because it’s so dense, but it’s rich too. He stirs me to ask big questions. I like that.

    Bill Cunningham – My husband and I watched a documentary on him in the Spring. He is so intriguing. He embodies an artist living an obsessed life. Everything revolves around his fashion photography. He is immersed in it and he loves it. Watching him challenged me to believe fully in myself and my artistic dreams. Also, he hints at faith issues in the documentary but gets teary-eyed and won’t elaborate. Maybe he would elaborate in an intimate dinner party over a glass of wine or a dish of homemade icecream.

    Mandy blogs at Messy Canvas and on her Tumblr blog, offers her books here and you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

    I have my brother to thank for getting me interested in Chiot’s Run. It was just a little link on the side bar of his blog and one click was all it took—I was hooked! Every day there is something new at Chiot’s Run, beautiful photos and how-to’s for gardening and plenty of gardening inspiration. Just reading about the life around Chiot’s Run will make you want to dig in the ground and live a bit more simply.

    First off, give us an idea of who you are, why you blog and your geographic location.

    I was born and grew up in Colombia, South America, and enjoyed living in a tropical setting for many years. I now live in NE Ohio and enjoy experiencing the seasons. I’d describe myself as a girl who should have been born many centuries earlier. I enjoy all the old school housewife things like cooking from scratch, sewing, baking, and gardening. My husband and I try to live simply and be content with what we have. We focus on local eating and living sustainably while running a successful home-based business doing videography & website design. We try to run our lives and businesses in a sustainable manner by consuming less and doing without because we know that consuming even “greenly” isn’t the best option.

    I started blogging a few years ago as a way to keep track of what was going on in my NE Ohio garden, a garden journal of sorts. Since then it has grown into so much more. I now blog because it is a great outlet for my creativity, it has helped improve my photography, and I want to inspire my readers to grow their own, eat locally and learn to love the simple life.

    When did you first begin gardening? How has your garden evolved over the years?

    My parents were always avid gardeners. We had a large edible garden in which we grew most of our own food and a small ornamental garden area. When I was in high school my parents built a house with a nice large garden. They have huge gardens filled with all sorts of native plants like milkweed, joe-pye weed, and more.

    I never particularly loved gardening growing up. My mom let me choose annuals at the greenhouse and a few interesting vegetables to grow, but I always disliked the weeding and work that came with gardening. The older I got the more I appreciated it. Perhaps it came from living in an apartment for six years. I learned the joy that cultivating a little plot of earth can bring.

    What part of the garden has been the most challenging? Rewarding?

    Mr Chiots and I bought our home nine years ago. When we arrived the gardens were in terrible shape. The previous two owners had never added any organic material and had only used chemicals and insecticides. The gardens were pretty much devoid of life, except for a few shrubs and some weeds. We spent the first four years adding chicken manure, good mulch, leaves, compost, and any organic matter we could get our hands on. We started small, working with the front foundation beds first, then slowly adding more and more garden space. After nine years the soil in the front foundation beds is finally looking better, dark and loamy instead of dry, rocky, and sandy.

    The insects returned in force and we see all kinds of solitary bees, ladybugs, wasps, and all sorts of interesting things. The birds are also back, enjoying all the insects and spiders. We’ve also focused on building the biodiversity in our gardens, adding many kinds of native plants that produce pollen and nectar. We also added a small pond and allowed a few areas to naturalize.

    Edibles are some of the best reasons to garden. What is your favorite edible?

    This is a tough one. I’d have to go with a tomato. If you’ve ever tasted a ‘Brandywine’ tomato still warm from the sun you know exactly why this is my answer! That being said I love all the edibles I grow and I appreciate each one for what they bring during each season.

    You eat a lot of local food and food grown in your own garden. How do you find local foods and how do you maintain the balance of eating mostly local or home grown with the prolific abundance of fast and ready made foods?

    The easiest way to find local foods is to find a local farmer’s market. Once you delve into the local food culture you’ll find that just about anything you need can be grown locally. The best place to start is with eggs and meat. They’re very easy to find locally and the difference it taste will be amazing! Sure they’ll cost more, but usually when you make that kind of investment you’ll find that you never waste a thing so you won’t actually be spending any more money – you’ll just be wasting less food.

    I would have to say that about 99% of our diet is local or made from scratch at home. We have a few local farm markets that are a great resource. It takes some time to search out and local sources for many items, but once you find them it’s actually easier than “normal” grocery shopping. I’m not a local purist, we enjoy eating coconut oil, olive oil, olives, pine nuts, balsamic vinegar and other wonderful foods. I try to focus on purchasing these products from small artisans that craft a quality product from organic or local ingredients. I have found Local Harvest to be a great resource for finding small producers.

    Personally I the hardest thing about local/homegrown/homemade eating is learning to think differently. You have to learn to eat what’s in season and to get away from the weekly grocery list and menu planning. You’ll have to learn to deal with egg shortages when the chickens quit laying at the farm. You’ll learn to eat lots of potatoes in the winter and none in the late spring. You will learn to appreciate each item at it’s best and you won’t even be tempted to eat strawberries in December because you know what a real strawberry tastes like when they’re freshly picked in June.

    I grew up eating mostly made from scratch items. Since we lived in South America there wasn’t the abundance of pre-made foods. Because of this, it comes kind of naturally to me. When you’re used to eat real food made from fresh ingredients pre-made, packaged, or fast food tastes weirdly “chemically”. Even store milk tastes weird to me. We drink raw milk from a local farm so pasteurized milk tasted boiled to me. I can’t remember the last time I was actually in a grocery store, and when I go in one I’m amazed at how nothing actually looks like food.

    What is your favorite recipe to make with ingredients from your yard?

    I’m answering this during the height of strawberry season – so I’m going to say strawberry shortcake. If you ask me in winter it would be a hearty stew with homegrown root vegetables and venison. In spring it would be a big salad with cleansing dandelion greens, and if you asked in summer it would a BLT with vine ripened tomatoes and some good local bacon!

    Chiot’s Run is home to to many pets, including the namesake of the blog, Lucy aka: Chiots, and many cats. Do you have any problems with pets in the garden and how do you remedy any issues that might arise from cats trampling plants or dogs digging in things they shouldn’t?

    I don’t really have any issues with the pets in and the garden. Lucy is a great dog and has never dug anything up. The cats are also great, their worst offense is sleeping in the catmint and flattening it. We provide a litterbox in the garage for the outdoor cats and they like to use it. It’s filled with vermiculite or sand that is then composted into the gardens. This is a bit unconventional and some might say terrible, but I believe in producing as little waste and composting as much as possible. This compost is not used on edible plants, but is used in the maple grove to supply good food for our maple sugaring trees.

    Do you draw inspiration from any particular garden or gardener?

    There are a few people that inspire me as far as gardening is concerned. Thomas Jefferson is one, I’ve read his gardening journals and visited his garden at Monticello and it’s truly inspiring. His attention to every detail is quite remarkable. I also admire Joe Eck and Wayne Winterroud, who’s book ‘Living Seasonally’ was the catalyst for my journey into the seasonal local life. Eliot Coleman is also a huge inspiration to me. His edible gardens are truly remarkable and his ability to experiment to harvest food during the cold winter months is something I hope to achieve here someday. Tasha Tudor is also of great inspiration not just for her bountiful gardens, but for her simple life as well.

    Are there any tips or resources for beginning gardeners that you would like to share?

    Focus on growing soil not plants. If you focus on growing the soil you’ll be reward with beautiful plants.

    What are your goals for the next five years in your garden? Anything in particular you hope to grow or a design you want to implement?

    We just purchased the lot next door and are working on clearing out all the saplings and turning it into a large garden. Within the next five years I hope to add a small orchard to our gardens as well as another large area to grow even more of the food that we eat.

    And finally, tell us the five people you’d love to have over for dinner and why!

    Thomas Jefferson – because he seems like a fascinating person
    Rachel Carson – because she’s a brave person that was kind of the catalyst for the organic movement
    Ina Garten – because I’d love for her to cook the meal we’re eating
    Jamie Oliver – I’d love to chat with him about fresh food
    Martha – one of the local farmers I buy things from, I’d love to hear more of how she arrived in the USA and started a farm.

    Susy writes at Chiot’s Run, Ethel’s Gloves Your Day blog and the Simple, Green, Frugle Co-op blog

    I first came into contact with Chel via Marc and Eliana when they stopped over at Chel and Tom’s house on their cross country road trip a few years ago. I started reading her blog and became hooked and through commenting and friending on Facebook we’ve become internet friends. It’s a shame I never actually got to meet up with her while I was living in Florida! She’s got some fantastic bead work and has started a new project called the Common Miracles project. Read on!

    First off, give us an idea of who you are, why you blog and your geographic location.

    I recently turned 37 (but I REALLY don’t feel my age!), I’m a mom to a really cool five-year-old named Gracie, wife to a guy named Tom, a mixed media artist, very amateur gardener, long-distance swimmer, animal-rescuer, and avid reader.

    I started “blogging” in 1997 when it was called online journaling and there were only about 30 of us doing it (yes, thirty!). I was in my first year in grad school, a little emotionally overwhelmed, and needed an outlet without it being person. Fast forward 14 years later and it’s a blog and I’m still writing….

    I live in Southwest Florida. I moved here in 1999, after spending several years in Atlanta (another location which deeply influence me) in college and grad school. My family always vacationed here on Marco Island when I was growing up, but I NEVER thought I would make a life here. But here I am, and I feel deeply rooted to this place, even though the summers are very difficult.

    You make beautiful handmade beads. How did you get started in this creative endeavour? Where can one purchase your beads?
    I always had a weird obsession with Fimo and polymer clay since seeing some beads in high school, but I could never figure out how to transform the hard, crumbly blocks of clay into beautiful patterned beads. In the early 2000’s, I picked the clay up again, determined to figure it out. I spent several years working with the clay before the pieces I made looked marginally better than a Tootsie Roll that got run over by a truck. Then it clicked into place. I started making interesting things and even innovating a little bit, and people were buying my pieces from my neck- I started realizing I might have something.

    I’m trying to get my act together with my Etsy shop (my goal for the summer! – it’s at but in the meantime most of my pieces are sold in small galleries and shops here on Marco Island and in North Carolina.

    Art journaling is a big part of your blog. How long have you been creating art journals and how do they help you creatively?

    Art journaling is pretty new. In a way, I think it’s an offshoot of my interest in scrapbooking. I started scrapbooking in 2006 while I was waiting for Gracie to come home from Vietnam- while we were waiting to complete her adoption, I felt a desperate need to document the process and also begin putting together a tangible history for her to look back on.

    When she finally came home, I no longer had any time to scrapbook (and, I have to be honest, it suddenly seemed very fussy to me) but I still wanted to document our life. As Gracie grew, and she started becoming interested in paints and markers and collage, I found myself loving the process of “playing” alongside her- no rules, no limits. Art journaling was the perfect solution to my desire to document as well as my passion for playing. It’s a wonderful outlet, a way to document our lives, and it’s completely personal and flexible at the same time. I can tell a story or capture a mood or just smush down some paint with no thought at all and it all comes together to tell the story of our life.

    Aside from creating beads, what is your favorite media to work in?

    Paint, I think. Watercolors, especially. But I have a hug box of cheapy acrylics that are always fun to smash around on the page and get my fingers into. I also love Pan Pastels, liquid watercolors, and inks. Pretty much anything bright and translucent.

    Art history is a major part of your background. How do you incorporate the curating side of art to the creating side of art?

    I love to “gather” inspiration. A few times a week I dive through our mail with a pair of scissors and cut out anything that catches my eye. If it’s pattern or color or design, it gets glued into a big blank sketchbook. If it’s just a cool photo or a neat arrangement of words (I LOVE cutting text from catalogues and magazines!) I put it in a box and I later use it somewhere in my journal. I definitely approach my art with probably *too* much of a planning perspective- I spend MUCH more time thinking about and preparing to making art than I do actually making it. But I love the whole process of flipping through catalogs and magazines and searching for something that catches my eye, and then re-arranging it all.

    What artists or subjects do you draw inspiration from?

    The natural world!! Nature, nature, nature. I love being outside, I love gardening, I love flowers, I love water, I love nature. The forms and colors of nature just call to me. I feel caged in if I don’t go outside several times a day.

    Are there particular projects or goals you wish to accomplish in the next 5 years?

    This is tough. A year ago I would have told you my big goal was to go to back to school to get either a PhD in Art History or an MFA in painting. But now I’m not so sure.

    I’d like to be a successful artist, but mostly so I can continue making art and feel good about what I am doing. I struggle a lot with the question of whether or not the things I make are worthy or not. I guess all artists do.

    Right now I’m feeling really drawn to the idea of giving back to the world in some way. Ideally, I’d like to get my Etsy shop open, do more painting and drawing, and be successful enough so that I can give financial and emotional support to other creatives as well as worthy organizations.

    I’d love a gallery or museum show in the future- I won’t lie. But I think this is more rooted to the fact that I’ve always wanted to work in a museum- so the idea of having my work represented in a museum is sort of magical to me.

    For someone getting started in art journaling or bead making, what tips would you give them to get going in the right direction? Are there particular resources you’d recommend?

    Art journaling is fairly easy. DON’T overthink it- it’s all play. Get yourself a journal that feels REALLY okay to work in, whether it’s a hard bound sketchbook with rich, creamy paper or just a marble composition book. Rip out half the pages (trust me on this one- your book will be VERY thick as you add to it!) and prep the remaining pages with gesso. Buy supplies that appeal to you- I love washi tape, watercolor paints, stencils, ink, and markers. Treat the journal as a place where you can let go, not as a place where you “come together”, if that makes any sense. The best thing to do is gather a bunch of magazines and catalogues, glue, some tape, some cheap paint, and just cut and paste and smear paint on and scribble some words and watch what happens. It’s magical. I highly recommend a few books if you need inspiration: Painted Pages by Sarah Ahern Bellemare, “1,000 Artist Journal Pages” by Dawn DeVries Sokol, and “When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put” by Vivian Swift.

    Beads… oh, that’s a bit tougher. To be honest, I would recommend skipping the polymer clay, and getting a pack of paper clay (the kind that air dries- available at any craft store), buying some bead rollers (I like the ones from the best), and some alcohol inks or liquid watercolors and going in that direction. I love paper clay- it’s got this great texture, and it feels good to use, and it is very easy to work with. Roll some beads, let them air dry, and then play with your dyes and inks and paints on the surfaces of the beads- they are like mini canvases. Just glaze them with a water-based polyurethane sealer when you are done. As far as books: 1000 Glass Beads by Lark Press, and any of Donna Kato’s books.

    You recently started the The Common Miracles Project. What enticed you to start this project and what do you hope to accomplish with the project?
    I have been doing a lot of research into personal well-being and spiritual philosophy and one thing that kept coming up was how important gratitude was. I’ve never been a big fan of gratitude- it always felt forced so I have never been able to make it a regular practice. Common Miracles is basically an attempt to find the magic in the everyday, and savor the little moments, and maybe figure out how gratitude can become part of my daily life. I invited other bloggers to join in and document their everyday pleasures, as well.

    How do you incorporate creative living with raising your daughter? Do you have any particular craft projects that she likes and enjoys?

    Oh, EVERYTHING. Since she was old enough to hold a crayon, I split my art studio in half, set her up with her own workstation and a ton of supplies. We spend a LOT of time in the studio together- sometimes we work on similar projects (she’s taken an interest in art journaling this summer) or sometimes she pulls out her stencils and markers and I pull out my beads or paints and we just work side-by-side. It’s definitely a shared passion for us, and I love that she has a place she can come and get messy and make messes and just close the door when she’s done and get back into it the next day. She can be creative whenever she feels the whim without having to worry about getting out her supplies or asking me for help. It’s been great for her- I can’t count the time I have gotten up in the morning and found her hours into a project on her own.

    And finally, tell us the five people you’d love to have over for dinner and why!
    Oh, wow. Hmmm…

    Tina Fey, because she makes me laugh and she’s so smart. Amy Poehler, too. I love that my generation of women has these ladies to look up to.

    Martha Beck, because she has the GREATEST common sense and always gives the best advice.

    Shea Hembry– he gave a *FASCINATING* TED talk and he seems like he’d be amazing to have a conversation about art and identity with.

    Elizabeth Berg– my favorite author. Alexander McCall Smith, my other favorite author. Oh, and Mary Oliver, a great poet.

    That’s more than five, but it could be a dinner party!

    Chel blogs at Ginger Blue, sell her bead work at and at her Etsy shop and you can participate in her The Common Miracles Project. All photos courtesy and copyright Chel Micheline.

    I first found Renee several years ago writing at You Grow Girl when Chris and I started getting into gardening more in Florida. I think she was giving away some seeds and I was lucky enough to get some from her. I wish I could remember what they were! Anyway, from there I found her blog and then made her a contact on Flickr and subsequently the rest is history as I became an avid blog reader of hers, even if I’m not always commenting, I’m always reading! Lately she’s been busting out the garden inspiration and I thought she’d be a great addition to the interview series, plus Renee is an awesome artist and creates beautiful pieces she sells on Etsy.

    First off, give us an idea of who you are, why you blog and your geographic location.
    I’m Renee, one half of Wolfie and the Sneak. My main squeeze, Charlie, is the other half. I studied fibers (as art) at UNC Charlotte, and have since gone on to be a secretary by day, gardener by afternoon, and drawer/maker by night. I live in Matthews, NC, a suburb of Charlotte, with Charlie, our little girl Mabel, 2 cats, 2 dogs, 7 chickens and countless goldfish.

    When did you begin your creative exploits and what inspired you to pursue the type of art you create?
    I *think* (though I don’t remember that far back) I started as soon as I could put things together. My mom likes to remind me that I took my (unused) diapers and made a bird sculpture out of them. Sometime in early elementary school my dad gave me a couple books from the series 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. He also took my brother, sister and I on walks and teach us to identify trees by their leaves and bark. Between those and all the time we spent outdoors I was bound to become a nature freak, right?

    Do you have any tips for artists looking to expand beyond selling online, how to get into art and craft shows and events, and resources for learning to market themselves?
    The only way I really know how to do it is to just get out there. Push yourself, challenge yourself, cry if something doesn’t work out and then get back out there. One step in front of the other and all that. Also, it helps to have friends that encourage you. We all need a cheerleader! The internet is a vast resource, but at the same time approach it with intelligence and don’t trust everyone that contacts you with a too-good-to-be-true offer!

    You’ve written numerous times on copyright and intellectual theft on the internet. How has this affected your creativity and art, has it made your more vigilant? How can one find out if they’ve had their creative works stolen or copied?
    For a while it completely disabled my creativity–worrying about others whose work is similar to my own and worrying about making work too similar to others. I believe the collective conscious exists, but I also believe “Nothing is original” is an excuse to be a lazy maker.

    Now I limit my exposure to other artists’ wares and make things based around personal experiences and visual responses to them. If I live it, I can tell an authentic story through my work, and I hope that’s what resonates with my drawings.
    Usually the instances of stolen work have come up by word of mouth–someone saying they had their work stolen by so-and-so. I think it’s naive and maybe even escapist to say, “Don’t seek it out” but I have made that a rule for myself. When you start digging, it can uncover a very ugly, hurtful world. If you let the situation rise to the surface your response can be much more logical and organized, then you can plan steps to remedy the situation. I hope that makes sense? Theft is a deeply personal experience, and when you feel victimized it’s very easy to let emotion choose the path towards remedy–and it usually picks a rocky, uphill trail.

    Simple living seems to be ingrained in your lifestyle. How do you balance the indie and simple life with the modern and fast paced ‘need it now’ atmosphere that abounds around us?
    I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’m learning to buy things that I love, rather than things I can afford. Sticking to that rule is teaching me to think desires through and take pause in my wants. Is it a want or a need? We spent a long time buying all of our wants, and now we’re stuck with a houseful of distracting “stuff”. It’s easier with a little one, I want to be protective of her in the over-stimulating environment. Less TV, more play for her translates into less internet and more play for me, too!

    How do you incorporate your independent thinking and lifestyle with raising your daughter?
    We spent the first couple months buying her lots of cute clothes–they’re so cheap and readily available thanks to big box stores. One day Charlie and I both opened our eyes and said, “We don’t need to buy that.” and then and there our heads both exploded. Since then it’s been mostly handmade and thrift store shopping. Same for toys, plus she already has so many we can avoid the toy section. Also, I bought her a blank sketchbook–she’ll scribble in it for hours. Sometimes I’ll draw a picture and she’ll color it in, sometimes she’s just happy with playing with the different colors. I hope those actions plant seeds that will grow with her throughout her life.

    You grow an extensive garden, how much do you grow to eat? What has been your favorite food to produce?
    Most of what we grow is edible–to put it in perspective, we have about 700 square feet of edible garden beds (mixing annual and perennial edibles and medicinals) and 100 square feet of ornamentals. We’ve also added a few apple trees, plum trees, elderberry shrubs, and blueberry bushes around the yard. Usually it’s enough tomatoes and basil to last until the next tomato season. The past 2 years we haven’t done much since Mabel was so small, but this year we’re back into it with a serious vengeance. I haven’t grown them in a while, but I love growing carrots. Also, potatoes, chard …anything that’s easy to grow but gives big yields.

    Recently you took a Master Composter class. Is this similar to a Master Gardener course? What were some of the most valuable things you learned in the class that every gardener can incorporate into their garden?
    It’s a little bit similar and a little bit not. Both are volunteer based learning opportunities, where you learn a whole lot and then pay the organization back through volunteer time. Master Gardeners around here (and I think they’re different for different states and counties) learn many aspects of insecticide, pesticide and herbicide. We talked a little bit about herbicides (and by a little I mean maybe 30 minutes), but the majority of the course was based around soil building techniques to create a healthy, balanced environment.

    What artistic and gardening inspiration do you draw from?
    I love flickr (and the Unpretentious Garden Group) and bike rides through the neighborhood for gardening inspiration, which later translates into walking around the yard with Mabel, picking bouquets of flowers, seed heads and weeds can give me pages and pages of materials to draw. I also love thrift store shopping, which I think affects my work by giving it a vintage lilt.

    And finally, tell us the five people you’d love to have over for dinner and why!
    I’d just love to have five people over for dinner! With all the projects we work on, there’s a constant and embarrassing mess. We rarely have people over, but I do love to have giant dinner parties with wine and great, provocative conversation. The next time that happens you’re all welcome to come on over!

    Renee blogs are Wolfie and the Sneak, contributes to the Modish blog in the form of Petals and Pedals and sells her work in a Big Cartel shop and a Etsy shop. All photos and artwork copyright Renee Garner.

    Thanks for participating Renee!

    Randy is Kathy’s husband and I met him through the same channels I did Kathy. He cooks up a killer meal and served us several times when we were living in Florida. He’s always got interesting views to discuss and is always up for trekking to take photos with us when we’re out in the wilds of Florida. Recently he started blogging his recipes and we’ve made Penne with Italian Sausage, Fresh Tomatoes, Feta, & Herbs and can vouch for it’s awesomeness. Hope your hungry so you can try some of his recipes!

    First off, give us an idea of who you are, why you blog and your geographic location.
    Well, firstly, I am a dad, husband, and a very proud grandpa! I am an outdoors enthusiast, a photographer, and a self-trained cook. I love travel and music and pretty much all of the above contribute to my passion for food. I first began blogging because my daughters and friends had been asking me for recipes and calling me for cooking tips. What began with sharing recipes and photos by email and Facebook eventually evolved into Recipes Randy Cooks. I live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

    Pho Ga
    When did you first become interested in cooking, particularly more elaborate cooking than most people would attempt?
    Is it possible to be born with such an interest? It seems as though I was always comfortable in the kitchen. My mom was a great cook and she recognized my fascination with food early on. She encouraged me by answering questions and letting me help her in the kitchen. I remember coming home from school as a kid and watching Julia Child or the Galloping Gourmet while doing my homework. I always say I was a cooking show fan before cooking shows were cool!

    What has been your favorite dish to make over the years?
    Fish has always been my specialty but if I had to choose one dish in particular it would have to be my Creamy Chicken Enchiladas. This is the one my daughters request over and over for special occasions through the years and surprisingly, it’s not yet been posted on my blog. I’ll have to work on that!

    Is there a particular dish that you’ve not had luck with that you wish to improve upon?
    One of the things I love about cooking is that I learn something new nearly every day and I am constantly challenging myself. Converting recipes to healthier “Clean Eating” versions has been my recent ( and ongoing) challenge. Just yesterday I made a Cole Slaw that I found somewhat disappointing. I made the dressing using non-fat plain yogurt as the base and agave nectar as the sweetener and although the flavor was pretty much right on…I thought it came out watery and not creamy enough. I have already formulated a plan to improve on the recipe and will try it again this week while it is still fresh in my mind.

    From what do you draw your food inspiration? Particular blogs, magazines or chefs?
    The blog itself has been something of an inspiration, inspiring me to create and to cook “bloggable” recipes on a regular basis. I motivate myself by choosing what I will cook next, be it a protein or a particular cooking method (sometimes an ethnicity) and formulating a plan in my mind. It’s not unusual at all for me to fall asleep dreaming up my next recipe.
    Online, I read and contribute to food discussion forums almost daily; sites such as,, and I read Eating Well, Cooks Illustrated, and Fine Cooking magazines cover to cover every month and I used to watch the TV Food Network religiously though lately not so much…as they have become more and more reality based they seem to have lost my interest.

    Penne Mediterranean
    What ingredients should every person have in their pantry or fridge to put together a good home cooked meal?
    Well I came up with a whole week’s worth but I went back and revised it to: a box of pasta (whole wheat penne), fresh onions, garlic, and celery, a large can of whole tomatoes, a medium can of quartered artichoke hearts, and a block of Parmesano Regianno. Pair that with a pound of Italian (turkey) sausage, a salad, and a nice crusty Italian loaf (Whole Wheat of course) and you have one of my favorite easy meals.

    Calories don’t count—you are in food heaven—what would be the perfect day, food-wise, from breakfast to after dinner desert?
    If you asked me tomorrow this would probably be entirely different. Today food heaven would be…

    Breakfast: Lobster eggs benedict, fresh mixed berries with plain yogurt drizzled with dark agave nectar, fresh baked croissant, black coffee, and fresh squeezed orange juice.
    Lunch: French onion soup with melted gruyere cheese, 12 oz charcoal grilled Kobe beef rib eye steak, French Fries (fried in duck fat), baby greens with crumbled Maytag bleu cheese, black walnuts, and fig & walnut vinaigrette, with a Stags Leap Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon. Tangerine sorbet with cranberry walnut cookies
    Dinner: Seafood gumbo, fresh oysters on the half shell with mignonette sauce and beluga caviar, shaved asparagus salad with crispy prosciutto, grilled Alaskan halibut and snow crab legs with champagne lemon vinaigrette. Hot blackberry cobbler with pomegranate and dark chocolate chunk ice cream.
    Digestif: Courvoisier L’Esprit

    Is there a particular dish or food that you wish more people knew about and ate? Something that might be particularly misunderstood or scorned?
    Quinoa is the first thing that comes to mind. It is a tasty, versatile, complete protein chock full of nutrients and half the people I mention it to look at me like I’m speaking Greek. Actually Peruvian might be more like it as it has been cultivated there since the ancient Incans called it the “Mother Grain” way back when. There is a good article here and I’ll be posting more about it on the blog.

    Snaper Francaise
    And finally, tell us the five people you’d love to have over for dinner and why!
    J.J. Grey – Because he and I have so much in common and I love his music. With so much to talk about, I am certain we would become great friends. JJ

    Alton Brown – This one probably goes without explanation but I have always appreciated his humor, his enthusiasm for food, and his seemingly down to earth demeanor.

    Julia Child – Need I say more?

    Leslie Neilson – I know this one may seem off the wall but did I mention I love humor? He lived out his days here in Fort Lauderdale and I always thought it would be fun to meet him, hang out, and laugh. They just did a piece about him in the local paper; his epitaph reads “Let ‘er rip!”

    My Mom – She is still living, though 4 hours away now in her new home, and I cherish every moment that I get to spend with her and my pop these days

    Randy writes delicious food blogs at Recipes Randy Cooks, share his photography here and has a photography Facebook page with his wife Kathy. Photos copyright Kathy Hunt.

    Thanks for participating Randy!

    I first met Kathy through Chris’ aquarium club where she and her husband Randy were active members in South Florida. Through the last several years in Florida we got to know them pretty well through camping and hiking adventures and they were gracious enough to let us crash at their place while we were getting ready for the Florida Trail this past January. They are really cool folks and I’m glad to share Kathy’s interview with you. She’s got some great photography and is interested in film so that is very distinct in a digital age!

    First off, give us an idea of who you are, why you blog and your general geographic location.
    My name is Kathy Hunt and I have an analog soul. I am a long-time photographer and am currently “going home again” with film photography. I blog to share my love of all things analog photography with the world. I live in the balmy tropical paradise that is South Florida.

    When were you first introduced into photography and what were your earliest subjects?
    My first introduction to photography was my father. He’s been a photographer longer than I’ve been alive and he was my earliest influence. He gave me a Diana 120 film camera when I was about 6 years old and I think I shot photos of bits and pieces of our neighborhood with it. When I was a couple of years older and a bit more responsible (I had taken the Diana apart to “see how it worked”) he gave me a Brownie which I recall taking shots of some horses around the neighborhood in Kansas with.

    Why are you drawn to black and white photography and particuarly why do you focus on film instead of the more popular digital photography?
    I have been exploring film photography since 2009 after becoming quite disillusioned with digital. I found that I just couldn’t keep up with the latest technology and gadgets. I also felt that film, much like vinyl LP records has a “soul” that just can’t be captured digitally. I sometimes make the analogy with folks that ask my “Why film?” that it’s like comparing a CD to an LP.

    When making my foray back into the film world, I found that I could more efficiently and inexpensively develop my own black and white film at home. I also found that I liked the black and white images much better…I think it just comes down to the fact that the image is simplified into the multiple grey tones of light and shadow.

    How do you choose your subjects and what subjects are you drawn to?
    I like to shoot a variety of subjects with my vintage film cameras. I find I am most attracted to nature subjects with the infinite variety of tones and textures…especially here in Florida. I also enjoy shooting architecture and its associated details and elements. And, along with being a major influence on my photography, my Dad is really into cars and thus, I am also. I really enjoy shooting vintage automobiles with black and white film…it makes me feel as though I am back in the time that the car and camera were manufactured and imagine the photographers of the time.

    What subject or location would you shoot if you had unlimited means?
    Oh, how I would love to be able to travel the world and shoot many exotic locales with my film cameras! I think the top of the list would be Japan; it is a place so rich in culture, tradition, and oh, the food! Of course, I would also love to go to Italy, Greece, and Paris too.

    Is there an artist or anyone else that you draw inspiration from? Someone that we should all know about but might not know?
    I am truly inspired by the work of the recently “discovered” Vivian Maier. She was a woman who managed to be quite the prolific photographer while she held jobs primarily as a nanny in the middle of this century. Her subjects were random people on the streets of Chicago and she managed to catch some amazing spontaneous moments with her trusty Rolleiflex. I have high regard for her because she shot only for herself; her work was only published after her passing recently. I also enjoy the fact that she used cameras like the Rolleiflex that are quite complicated machines that are not very easy to use and she managed quite well. This was at a time when photography was also much of a man’s world.

    You previously worked as a fine art framer, give us some of your tips for framing and maybe a juicy story from your framing days.
    I have spent the last 22 years of my life doing custom picture framing. The one tip I would give others regarding framing is that you should make any work “standard” size so that you can pick up frames just about anywhere to fit it. If your work can accept a mat, then you can just custom cut it to fit the frame. I am very proud of the fact that I became quite experienced in conservation framing and had an amazing opportunity to frame documents signed by some of our early presidents including Abraham Lincoln and Zachary Taylor.

    Do you have any unique processing techniques or are those top secret?
    My most recent experimentation in home processing black and white film developing is called “stand processing.” It is amazing in that you can put the very diluted developer in the tank and have to agitate it very little and do something else around the house as it “stands” for one to two hours.

    You are a collector of cameras from all eras, which one is your favorite and does it have a story behind it?
    Oh, favorite camera, how would I ever choose? I feel like they are my “children” and I couldn’t possibly choose just one! I can name my top three though, because they are the ones I am constantly pulling out when I’m running out the door. My trusty Pentax MX SLR because it is a camera that saw me all through my photography education in high school and college. This camera is simplicity itself and is like part of me, it is so intuitive for me to use! After that, I would say my little Olympus XA rangefinder because it is a camera I also used in high school and it has amazing quality for a pocket size camera. I think the third would be the Rolleiflex twin lens reflex that my father just gave me. I got it right about the time the Vivian Maier was hitting the news and really inspired me because she had used a Rollei primarily.

    What advice would you give to someone new to photography?
    I would tell anyone new to photography to use all of those settings on their camera! That’s the wonder of digital, you can experiment quite easily and get immediate feedback on how it works. You would be amazed how many cameras have an aperture priority or manual setting on it…and if it does, use it. What have you got to lose?

    And finally, tell us the five people you’d love to have over for dinner and why!
    Hmm…five people for dinner, huh? I think I’ll include people from past and present, just for fun! Well, I would just have to have Sting because I’ve adored him and his work forever (well, almost; at least since 1983), then Vivian Maier because she was amazing, Tim Burton because of his amazing movies, Helena Bonham-Carter because she’s an incredible actress (that I named a camera after: “Halina Bonham-Carter”) and she’s with Tim anyway, and CS Lewis because he wrote some of the most incredible literature in the Chronicles of Narnia that I have to read at least once every decade.

    Kathy blogs at, sells her work at Analog Soul Photo and you can visit her Facebook Page and become a fan!

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