Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lillyella's Secret Santa Gift Exchange!

The thing I love most about the holidays is giving gifts. I get so darn excited I can hardly contain myself! I haven't been involved with a secret santa gift exchange in quite some time, but after joining in on the one Team Etsy Project Embrace organized this year, I though it would be fun to organize one myself amongst blog friends! Most of you are total strangers but you do have one thing in common, you either like my jewelry or enjoy reading my blog. Good enough, right?!

So here's how it will work — From now until this Friday, I will collect the names and addresses of anyone who would like to participate. I will then randomly assign each participant the name of a person you are to send a gift to and you will receive a gift from someone else. Only myself and your secret santa will have your information and everything will be secret until gifts are received!

Gifts can be handmade or purchased, should be valued around $20 (before shipping) and gift wrapped. Please keep in mind you will also need to ship the item and I'll ask that items be shipped by December 17. (If you've never shipped anything internationally, don't be scared! It's easy, you just have to go to the post office and they will help you. It's not even necessarily more expensive, unless you are shipping something heavy.)

Please email your name and address to nicole@lillyella.com, subject: Secret Santa. Please also include whether or not you are willing to ship internationally. Feel free to include information about yourself — likes, dislikes, favorite colors, favorite Etsy shops, your personal style, hobbies, interests etc, or you can just leave it up to your secret santa to totally surprise you!

I will email you the name of your gift recipient, along with all the important details, by Monday, December 8.

Feel free to contact me anytime with any questions. I think this is going to be tons of fun, and maybe even a new tradition! Happy Holidays, everyone!

p.s. If you leave a comment on this post, please be sure to ALSO send me an email with all the info specified above. thanks!

photos © Anthropologie

Friday, November 19, 2010

In the Kitchen: Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

Tired of traditional pumpkin pie or looking to shake things up this Thanksgiving? Then I have just the recipe for you. Best part is you could practically make it with your eyes closed, though I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. I'm just sayin', it's really easy! My mom described it as 'orgasmic', so I guess that means it's also pretty darn tasty, and I'll second that.

10 oz bread*
15 oz pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
1/4 cup light brown sugar**
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup pecans, optional

Bourbon Caramel Sauce
3 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
3/8 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp Bourbon, optional

*When it comes to bread just about any will work and you want it to be a little stale, so whatever kind you use, let it sit out uncovered for about a day. I first tried this recipe with sourdough, then with whole wheat and italian, and all three were delicious. A brioche or french would also work nicely or you can get extra fancy by using croissants or cinnamon raisin bread.

You shouldn't need more than 10 oz of bread, maybe less depending on what kind and the shape you use, you'll just want to fill your pan nicely. You can either use 1/2" slices as shown on the left (quick and easy!) or you can cut or tear 1" cubes from an unsliced loaf and scatter them in your pan.

When you're ready to make the dish, preheat the oven to 350° and place the bread in a buttered 2qt baking dish.

To make the custard, whisk all the wet ingredients and spices together in a large bowl then pour the custard over the bread in the baking dish. Be sure to stir it around or lift the slices to spread it in between and under, making sure all the bread is thoroughly coated.

**If you're not planning on serving this dish with any kind of sweet sauce, I recommend doubling the light brown sugar in the custard to 1/2 cup total.

Next, toss the pecans in a bowl or plastic bag with 1 Tbsp brown sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon then spread them evenly over the pudding, if desired.

Bake until set, about 40 - 45 minutes. You'll need to cut into the middle to check the doneness as the top will set faster.

In the meantime you can make the sauce.

In a large saucepan, whisk together the milk, sugar and salt and heat to a simmer over medium heat.

When it begins to bubble, remove from heat and stir in the baking soda. It will foam up a bit.

Return to simmer and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally and skimming off foam as needed. Sauce will begin to thicken and turn golden brown within 30 - 45 minutes.

Continue cooking until sauce is thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. When the sauce is almost finished, add the Bourbon if desired, and continue cooking until it reaches the desired consistency. If you're concerned about liking the flavor, start by adding one Tablespoon, then add the second if desired.

Serve scoops or slices of warm pudding topped with warm sauce and enjoy! The pudding and sauce can both be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to two weeks and you can definitely make this ahead of time for Thanksgiving dinner. Just reheat it in a low stove or microwave before serving and fill your gravy boat with the warm caramel sauce!

I'd love to hear what you think about this one and if it graces your dinner table this Thanksgiving.

p.s. It's also really good for breakfast!

And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In the spirit of goodwill and favors

I'd like to start this post by saying "Here's where I call in a favor…", but the fact of the matter is, none of you owe me any favors. So I guess that brings us to goodwill.

As many of you know, the last year and a half has been challenging, to say the least, for my family. My father has been fighting a losing battle with cancer and my parents home has been robbed now three times. The company that my mom works for, which happens to be the same company I started my own career at, is organizing a small fundraising event to benefit my parents. While this is all kind of awkward for me, it's a supremely nice gesture on their part.

The event, named Holiday Goodwill, will take place on December 12 and will consist of a pasta dinner, chinese auction, ticket raffle and 50/50 raffle. A local hotel has donated use of their space and offered the food at cost. The event is still a secret to my parents (good thing mom is too busy to read my blog these days…) but I had to get involved to provide contacts and I also offered to help with some design.

Aside from that, the only other way I know to help is to humbly ask for auction and raffle donations, since I just happen to have this amazingly talented and artistic pool of friends! This is also awkward for me, because I know that everyone has their hardships and everyone is looking for a little goodwill these days. What makes this situation more worthy than another? The answer is nothing. I know that times are hard for everyone right now, regardless of your situation, so if I get absolutely no response to this I will completely understand.

If however, you would like to send along an item or even donate a service to be auctioned off at the event, I'd be forever indebted. Please email me, nicole@lillyella.com, with what you would like to donate and I'll reply with all the details.

My Dad and I, 1980

I'll now wrap this up with more specific details about my Dad's condition and where things currently stand. So many sweet friends ask for updates and I hardly find the time to post them. My father was diagnosed with Melanoma in March of 2009. What started as what he thought was a bug bite on his right leg quickly grew into a tumor the size of a baseball. By the time it was properly diagnosed, the surgery to remove it was very difficult with him losing a large chunk of his calf. We lovingly call it his sharkbite. His recovery was hard and I closed my shop at this time to be his daily caretaker.

Even though at the time of diagnosis, the cancer was level 5 (meaning it had spread to subcutaneous fat and tissue), they assured us it had not spread elsewhere. After surgery my Dad began the standard Interferon treatment regiment and was supposed to continue this for one year. It was hard on him and his body but after a few months we was able to return to work part time. At the beginning of this year, he had 6 more months of his regiment when another tumor popped up in his leg. This was followed days later by another and another. Within a week his leg was full new cancer growths.

The doctors continued to say the cancer had not spread past his leg and recommended we travel to Pittsburgh for a procedure called a limb profusion. They tourniquet the limb being treated and then flush it with extremely high doses of chemotherapy to try to kill the cancer. This saves the rest of the body from the side effects of chemo and also allows for a much stronger dose to be administered. So off to Pittsburgh we went. Dad spent a week in the ICU following the operation and my mom and I stayed in family housing nearby.

The recovery from this procedure was even harder than the first. My Dad's leg was basically useless and I once again returned to caring for him. After a few months and some physical therapy he was able to walk with a cane and eventually return to work again part time, though he was in constant pain.

A scan in early August revealed that the cancer had finally made it's way past his leg and spread throughout his body. It is in his bones, on his spine and on (but not in) his lung and some intestines. His leg was also once again full of tumors. Interleukin 2 (IL-2) was the next course of treatment. This is a very difficult procedure which requires a one week stay in the ICU followed by a week off then one more week in. It's extremely hard on many people with some very nasty side effects but Dad fought it like a champ. A follow up scan a few weeks later sadly showed no shrinkage of existing tumors and additional new growth.

We are now onto the next batch of treatments which include a couple rounds of chemo to try to shrink tumors and provide pain relief followed by a 12 week clinical trial. Unfortunately Dad is in a lot of pain due to the size and location of the tumors and also cannot use his leg again. He is no longer able to work and his employer has realized they cannot wait for him to return. This means he will also lose his health insurance, though even with it, many procedures and out of state travel are not covered.

I am caring for him daily again so that my mom can continue to work and am immensely lucky that I have the ability to, though over the past year and half it has taken a financial toll on me as well. I can still get some work done, but barely half what I would otherwise. Thus the reason I have yet to reopen my shop.

My parents home has also been robbed three times now since my Dad's diagnosis and because of this, and my Dad's condition, my parents will be moving into my house after Thanksgiving. This will certainly be an adjustment for everyone that will have its up and downs but at least I know they will be safe, have less financial burden and I can more easily care for my Dad.

What will the future hold? I haven't a clue. As hard as most days are, I haven't given up hope for my Dads recovery. I can't. And neither has he. We'll fight to the end and hopefully look back on this time and laugh… or something.

Update: The official site for the event is now up if you are local and would like to attend or if you would like to make a monetary donation: www.holidaygoodwill.com.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Breaking Through to the Other Side

It's been two years and seven months since I "quit my day job" to pursue my art full-time. As frightening as this was then, I've never once questioned my decision and I've never once looked back. I have enjoyed sharing the trials and tribulations of my adventure and hearing how it has inspired others to do the same, so when artist extraordinaire Greg Spalenka (partner in crime to the lovely Roxana Villa) asked me to be a part of his latest collaborative blogging project, I jumped at the opportunity.

The theme of today's event is Breaking Through to the Other Side, with myself and five others answering the question: What inspired you to create a career outside the confines of the corporate world?

Below is my story, and at the end of the post you'll find links to five other inspirational adventures.

Having chosen Graphic Design as my career path, I always felt lucky to have been able to turn a 'hobby' into a job. I truly loved it and still do today. So for me, deciding to break free from the corporate confines wasn't about not loving what I doing, but about not loving who I was doing it for. I'm sure both of those things ring true for almost everyone reading this. It's one thing to love your job and it's another to love your boss, co-workers and clients. It seems the two rarely meet.

When I quit my day job, I wasn't planning on a career change. I left to pursue graphic design on my own, as so many designers long for and plenty eventually do. I spent most of my 11-year professional career dreaming of the possibility, about 5 years half-assedly planning for it and the last 2 hard-core preparing for it. I had dreams and I had plans, but I spent the majority of my time being too scared to act on them. It's really easy to get comfortable, even if you're unhappy. The stability of a full-time job, a weekly paycheck and health insurance more than makes up for misery in many cases, especially the older we get.

I spent the last 3 years of my professional career in a very successful position with top name clients, great exposure and tons of flexibility. I also worked for a down-right rotten bitch. I know that's kind of horrible to say and I don't throw around insults lightly, but sometimes they are deserved. She made me miserable. I was emotionally and physically sick which in turn made me a down-right rotten bitch at times. Amazing how we let a job do that to us, isn't it?

I guess you could say those years eventually broke me, but this was a good a thing. As horrible as that time was, I wouldn't be where I am now without it. No matter how strong my desire was to break free and do my own thing, if I had been even just 1% more comfortable there then I was, I would have been 99% less likely to ever leave.

I used to ask myself, what's the worst that can happen? Not necessarily the best question because honestly, a lot can happen. You can fail, you can have no luck trying to return to the corporate world, you can go broke and lose everything. Worst case scenario, but a reality. Did I ever really think that would happen to me? No. I had tremendous faith in my motivation and resourcefulness. I also had a great background to stand on and a lot of talent (I can toot my own horn, right?). Still, it was terrifying.

Ultimately it came down to all the cliches — a leap of faith, trusting that life would find a way and believing that I was mentally and physically strong enough to do whatever I had to do to make it happen. I honestly believe not everyone is cut out to successfully work for themselves. You definitely need a certain personality, character and mindset, but it's amazing what strength you can muster up when you want something bad enough.

The details of everything following my decision to 'break free' could fill five blog posts (but you can read a little here), so I'll save the majority for another time and simply sum up the last two and half years of my life. Was leaving the corporate world the right decision for me? Without a doubt. If I had a dirtier mouth I'd even throw the f-word in there. Has it been easy? Of course not. I've never worked harder, and I think that's just a standard when you work for yourself, but I will say it has been easier than I may have guessed.

What can I attribute my success to? That I'm not entirely sure. The fact that I have multiple things I can do to make money may be the answer. Aside from the graphic design I first left to pursue, I have my jewelry (which many of you know quickly became my new full-time job rather than the design) and I also have photography. I can pick up jobs in any of those areas when I need to, giving me far more options and opportunities than if I just had one specialty. Over a decade of business experience and networking is definitely another answer. You have to know people and you have to be savvy. I believe a lot of that only comes with experience. Lastly I fall back on my strength and motivation. I never stop, I can't. There's no time to be lazy and there's no room to slack, though I will admit to napping occasionally :)

In closing I'll say that I'm certainly no motivational speaker. This is simply the story of someone who was fed up, took a chance, worked her ass off and got pretty lucky. I can only hope someone else will find inspiration in it. Now I'll get cheesy and spout more cliches — take a chance, you only live once and life is way too short. Happiness is a moral obligation, so make it happen for yourself.

xo ~ nicole

· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·

For more inspirational stories of Breaking Through to the Other Side, follow these links:

Artist As Brand
Maria Brophy
Persist: The Blog
Miss Mindy
Working Artist Journal