Notes of Encouragement

For many of us, this time of enforced social distancing and quiet (or maybe less quiet with kids underfoot) time at home feels uncertain and overwhelming as we await what it means for our jobs, our bills, our food, our schools, the economy, ourselves, our loved ones, the world at large. Despite the fear, there are also SO many undercurrents of amazing things happening all around us, people working together to help one another. Things may feel uncertain right now but this too shall pass, it always does. It might be hard now and in the future but there are many, many, many people focused on helping. How inspiring that collectively we are sharing a common perspective? How many times has that ever happened before? How can we as individuals, as businesses, as organizations use this time for good? Here’s some art I created a few years ago that I intended to make into cards and prints but never did, it feels appropriate today.

Rustic Tomato Galette Recipe

Here’s a recipe for a pulled-together with what’s on hand tomato galette that we made last night. It’s very “rustic” meaning it doesn’t look super pretty, but it’s easy and tastes good.

I encourage everyone to look into their local farmers and CSA’s who have plenty of produce to deliver right now straight to your doorstep. There is an abundance of food – it just might be hard to find at the regular grocery store (especially with limited delivery drivers) and many farmers are wanting to connect with you as well. You can find a local CSA (which stands for Community Supported Agriculture) here at this link. This is a no brainer easy way to support yourself, our healthcare workers and our local businesses and farmers while staying home.

Some restaurants in the Triangle, North Carolina area are also selling wholesale groceries to anyone with delivery: Ko-An, Corbett’s Burgers and Rebus Market are a few. We are getting our produce and eggs from Parker Farms & Vineyards, the farmer who we’ve been supporting with our purchases every week at our local farmer’s market. He is delivering them to our doorstep.

Rustic Tomato Galette Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 pie crust Pie crust (any recipe will work)
  • 1 pint tomatoes, or a few large heirloom slicing tomatoes
  • 1 yellow or vidalia onion
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/3 cup cheese we used a mixture of what we had around: feta, cheddar, parmesan and pecorino romano
  • 1 egg
  • fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 425F
  • Heat 1-2 tablespoons of neutral oil (i.e. vegetable) in a large skillet over medium heat
  • Cut onion into rings or chop coarsely
  • Toss them into pan and cook for 10-15 minutes, till they're soft and golden brown.  You probably want to reduce the heat a bit after a while.  Stir them every once in a while
  • Finely dice the garlic
  • Toss it in the with the onion and cook for a minute or less.  stir often.  sprinkle with salt and then pull this stuff out of the pan onto a plate
  • Meanwhile, you've been cutting the tomatoes in half or slices, and you've sprinkled those with salt too
  • Grate or break up your cheese as appropriate
  • Break the egg into a small bowl, add a tbsp of water, and stir it up to make an egg wash
  • Roll out your dough to a circle like 12" in diameter. Place this on parchment paper onto a sheet or jelly roll pan
  • Pile up the onion mix, then the tomatoes in the center of your dough, leaving a few inches border
  • Top with cheese
  • Fold up the extra dough around the sides of the filling to contain it as best you can
  • Brush the outer edges of the dough, which are now facing up, with the egg wash
  • Bake for maybe 20 or 25 minutes, until the crust is nice and golden
  • Top with chopped herbs and serve

Photos by Michelle Smith Creative for Gather Goods Co

A Beautiful Distraction: Cakes!

I love to save images of beautifully decorated cakes and since I feel like we could all use a little distraction these days, I’ve decided to round-up some of those images and share them here. Growing up my mom used to make me elaborately decorated birthday cakes and when I would go to sleep I would ask her to tell me “the story of my cakes”, which was basically her describing each one, for each year. When I bake, I focus more on the function than the form but my tween daughter enjoys making fun creations – maybe it skipped a generation. Here are some beautiful cakes I’ve seen around:

Images: Orange Cake via Pinterest, Milk and Cookies Cake via Style Sweet, Flower Cake via Pinterest, Sparkler Cake via The Story of a Cake, Black Forest Naked Cake via What Charlotte Baked, Purple Sweet Potato Cake via Curly Girl Kitchen, Pom Pom Cake via CakesByCourtney, Carrot Cake with Natural Wreath Decoration via Dans de Lakehouse, Pistachio Cake with Honey Rosewater Buttercream via Food Dutchess, Raspberry and Chocolate-Hazelnut Crepe Cake via Martha Stewart, Naked Dark Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese via JerneJKitchen, London Fog Cake with Earl Gray Buttercream & Salted Caramel via Style Sweet

Go-To Self Care Tips for Tough Times

On instagram stories the other day I asked “What Are Your Go-To Self-Care Tips in Tough Times?” – I promised I would compile a list and share some resources. Below are your ideas and beyond that my own that I’ve pulled together, many of which I had already been embracing these past few years.

When I asked you what you did to take care of yourself in this weird moment in time we find ourselves in you said:

  • “Just got my monthly massage. It was just nice to be able to do something for myself.”
  • “I’m working on decluttering and organizing projects around the house! So far the mud room/entry hall and my boys’ bedroom are done. My hubby’s office is almost done. Our bedroom and bath are almost done. It feels good!
  • “I’m napping when needed and using uplifting scents, including in the bath when I feel like my soul is more weary than my body.”
  • “Taking a slow walk in the woods and noticing all the tiny beautiful things.”

Get Outside & Get Growing:

For me, nothing brings me more calm and re-centers me more than being in nature. From planting seeds and tending a garden to just taking a walk, each of these activities is a great stress reliever. Here are some other things you can do:

  • Plant seeds for a future garden. Not only is it helpful to have something productive to keep you busy but it also gives you something to look forward as they emerge and change each day in your windowsill. Bonus, seeds are readily available by mail order and online and are very inexpensive. Now is the perfect time to start planting seeds. I’m aiming to create a guide in the future for you with tips as well.
  • Get outside, no matter the weather for at least a half hour a day. Working in a greenhouse in all weather really taught me the value of having daily outdoor time and being in touch with the seasons. Try it for a week and see if you notice a difference between being indoors all day or spending some time outside.
  • Create a garden bed or pull up the weeds that are overgrowing some part of your yard, windowsill, patch of dirt.
  • If you are lucky enough to have access to your own outdoor space, even if it is small, try to create a semi-private natural sanctuary outdoors that you can retreat to with a book, a journal, a cup of coffee.
  • Take a walk. Go in the woods, on your neighborhood street, sit on your stoop, drive to a isolated rural park where no one is around and let the feeling of wind and air hit your face and breath in the scents of nature.

Discover A New Hobby:

In this hyper tech focused time, we all have access to a device that connects us to so much information and stimulation. Our brains need a break from that to pause and unwind. A hobby that keeps your hands busy and your mind in flow state is ideal to help stave off the temptation to grab your phone and read another news article. A hobby also helps distract us when we are feeling overwhelmed. Not to mention when we combine an active task and movement it helps our brain process things below the surface. Taking action, any action, often feels very good to us.

  • Any hobby that keeps your hand busy and your mind in flow state is ideal: gardening, embroidery, knitting, painting, baking are some.
  • Work on a puzzle (there are a number of lovely ones in the Gather online shop right here).
  • Catch up on reading books, magazines, and print materials that have piled up.
  • Tackle a big project: clean out the shed, paint a room, clean out the linen closet.
  • Be proactive: make fire cider, hand sanitizer, sourdough starter
  • Learn something new: an instrument, a language
  • Organize your photos and make a printed photo book
  • Tap into your intuition and make a collage for no other purpose other than just to create.

Create A Sanctuary At Home:

Our home is our safe harbor from the world around us. This is especially true in times of challenge and strife. It is easy to fall into the trap of neglecting our space when we feel overwhelmed but the act of cleaning up and keeping both a tidy but lovely space invigorates us and reminds us to focus on the good around us.

  • Consider your time at home a retreat/vacation. While I acknowledge this idea is a luxury for many, the core of this idea is how can you make the most of what you have?
  • Instead of turning on the news, listen to a bird sound radio station or a peaceful piano playlist. If you feel you must listen to the news, aim for a daily download podcast like The Daily or Up First vs obsessively checking the same sites all the time.
  • Nurture some houseplants to improve air-quality but also your well-being. Start with easy, low maintenance ones like ZZ plants and work your way up.
  • If you have even a little bit of space, create your own space that replenishes and inspires you.
  • Create spaces and moments in your home of calm and that feel beautiful to you. Do this with art, plants, light.
  • Get organized and tidy up but don’t get over focused on it. A tidy space feels encouraging and empowering.
  • Keep up with your chores/laundry etc/bills, so as not to be overwhelmed later – for me a little everyday is my sweet spot where I try to single-focus on one task for 30 minutes for just a few hours a day.
  • Think of all your senses. Burn candles with uplifting scents, or essential oils: citrus is well known for this property (there is a great Gather candle that is grapefruit scented here).
  • Bring the outside in, go outside and forage for greenery or flowers outside your door.
  • If it is nice outside open the windows, let the light in.

Stress Relief / Care for Yourself As Well As You Care For Others:

It’s easy to put the focus on others first before yourself and not realize that you haven’t put any energy toward yourself. Don’t wait until you are completely run-down. Here are some stress relievers to unwind:

  • Drawing out your ideas and thoughts for a set period of time everyday
  • Cuddle with a pet
  • Meditation has been proven to have brain altering effects to help with mood boosting. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. I have heard it said that if you don’t have time to meditate once a day then you need to do it, twice a day. I use an app called Smiling Mind. It is Australian so the narrator has a lovely accent and it even has programming for kids as well.
  • Deep Breathing: I recently started using an app called Breathe which walks you through the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
  • Free form journaling is a great way to empty your head, you could do it like a brain dump just to get out things that are swirling in your head for no other purpose than to free up space for things other than worry.
  • Reading keeps your mind active and focused on things other than worry. When I am feeling especially overwhelmed I like to stick to cozy books or light reading. Things that are too doom and gloom tend to overwhelm me more. Some of my favorites in this genre are books by Kate Morton and Susanna Kearsley but also YA books.
  • Reframing the situation. What is the silver lining in the hard situation you are in now? What are three positives from it?
  • Pause and be still. I like to sit and watch the birds at my bird feeder. Both the act of filling it weekly but also just sitting and watching them is calming.
  • Writing down gratitude’s daily
  • Praying and “Giving it to God”

When things are challenging it feels especially good to don the cozy clothes, watch your favorite movies and find comfort in the routine of what you know.

Keep It Cozy:

  • Rewatch your favorite movies/shows. There is comfort in knowing how it ends.
  • Rewatch your favorite funny movies and indulge in laugh therapy.
  • Reread your favorite books: Great Expectations, I’m looking at you.
  • Create cozy rituals: puzzles, watercolor, baking, cooking
  • Wear soft clothes
  • Pull out the blankets and the slippers

Not only does staying tidy help the mind have clear space it also helps you to feel accomplished. I speak from experience who is someone naturally prone to piles. When I take the time to deal with the things that are piling up, I feel lighter, more inspired and happier.

Create Nourishing Routines:

  • Are there any bad habits that you’ve been wanting to change? How can you create a new routine that changes this? It is said that if you do something 15 days in a row it reprograms your brain circuits and creates a new habit.
  • Take a walk each day to start or end the day in nature.
  • Drink a warm beverage to comfort you (preferably caffeine free if you’re prone to excitement anyway). My favorite caffeine free go-to is roobios a South African tea that has a full bodied taste that reminds me more of a caffeinated drink.
  • I’ve started picking up embroidery at times when I would be tempted to pick up and scroll on my phone. It’s a good reminder of the amount of times I pick it up but also keeps me off it more.
  • Exercising each day. Exercising is an amazing stress reliever and so good for you. If it is raining I do JustDance on the wii or a video yoga program.
  • Get plenty of sleep – weighted blankets help!
  • Drink lots of water
  • Eat well and cook whole food meals
  • Try to keep your stress at a minimum
  • Dance parties in the kitchen feel like a good routine, no?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing only on what is immediately around us, but there is a wealth of beauty and inspiration outside of our doorsteps and on the internet. Make it a point to seek out the good, the things that fill your well and uplift and inspire you, often.

Seek Out Inspiration Wherever You Are:

  • Plan a trip for the Fall/Winter as something to look forward to, bonus do it with friends
  • Listen to uplifting podcasts.
  • Create a playlist of your favorite music from high school or of all time, play it, sing out loud.
  • Seek out new and different things to follow on your social media accounts. Who are people who inspire you following that you haven’t heard of before?
  • What can you learn from your current situation and how can you be proactive toward the future? How are others reacting positively to the world around them and their current situation that inspires you?

As humans, connection is a vital part of making us feel whole. Take time to connect with your loved ones and give back to others.

Connect With Others:

  • Do some group exercises with your family outside: basketball, tennis, ping pong, four square, badmitten
  • Write notes to friends/send pictures
  • Call / Text your friends, exchange funny memes
  • Help others and volunteer your time and resources if you are not physically able to go anywhere
  • Mealtime rituals: turn down the lights, light candles, ask each other about your day. At our house we go around and say three bright spots from our day, one challenge and an affirmation for each person at the table.
  • Play puzzle, board and card games with your family
  • Cook dinner together – and dessert
  • Get involved in something outside of yourself that you believe in, working at a greenhouse, volunteering, etc.

Ultimately, there are a lot of things you can do to be more mindful in challenging times. I hope this list is helpful to you. In addition to the ideas above, here are some other collected resources online you might like:

Some collected resources I’ve found online:

And if all else fails my friend texted me this image saying “In the midst of too much media consumption last night I found myself googling “baby bread arms”. You’re welcome.

Also, Little Women is out on video and you can binge watch Love is Blind, which is wild.

How about you? What resources do you recommend? What do you do to undwind and relax in trying times?

Fiber Wall Hanging Recap + Book & TV Recommendations

One thing that I do for all classes is ask everyone to go around and list a guilty-pleasure tv show (though what is there to be guilty about if it brings you pleasure) and a good book you’ve recently read or a podcast to share.

Not only does this exercise help to break the ice and get everyone talking but it also results in an amazing list of recommendations and things to check out. I’ve been meaning to share them after each class. Here’s what was said at yesterday’s Textural Wall Hanging class along with pictures from the day:

Books Recommended:

  • The Astonishing Color of After – A YA book about a half-Taiwanese girl going through emotional family stuff and their history.
  • Color: A Natural History of the Palette – What was said about it: “You learn about colors like ochre and where it originated from and how it evolved and all the different colors of ochre that there actually are.”
  • Open Book by Jessica Simpson
  • The Dutch House, because Ann Patchett
  • An interesting article from a weekly Spoonflower email about a woman who does historical research related to sewing. (Will try to find the link to the email)
  • Yes, Please – the autobiography of Amy Poehler because she’s funny. Interesting insight into the improv process and we love her mission to empower girls. (Side note, my tween daughter loves watching Making It. It’s a sweet crafting challenge show and perfect for watching together as a family curled up on the couch.)
  • City of Girls – What was said about it: “I love books about bad women. This one touches on a woman in war, showbiz and NYC.”
  • Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert’s (author of the above title) book on creativity and the process that challenges preconceived notions about what it means to be an artist but also a professional. Mostly, she encourages us to get over ourselves and just do it. Highly recommend listening to her read it on audiobook.
  • Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion – What was said about it: “The interesting ways that our economy has been influenced by social media, different essays about how we use these modern things instead of connecting as actual people.”
  • The Desire Map
  • Matter & Desire: An Erotic Ecology
  • Average Is The New Awesome

Guilty-Pleasure / Bingeable TV Shows:

Podcasts:

  • 90% Invisible Podcast
  • Over The Road podcast – What was said: “A new podcast about long haul trucking witha trucker host with a smooth 60 minutes voice, talking about all the lingo and the jargon.”
  • My Favorite Murder
  • Song Exploder – What was said: “They interview musical artists and talk through their process of making their songs. It is interesting to go into their artist process and compare with others artists process and the equipment they use etc.”
  • The Ezra Klein Show

Did you miss this class? We might host another on a Friday evening in March. Would you be interested? If so, email me to find out more. What is a good book you have recently read and your favorite bingeable/distracted watching and scrolling type show? I’d love to hear your picks in the comments section.

Photos by Michelle Smith Creative for Gather Goods Co

Sometimes Gather Goods Co earns a commission on the sale of the products I link to, which helps support the running of this blog. I only link to things that I appreciate and love. Thank you for supporting my small business in a small way. 🙂

Paper Houseplants: Inspired by Upcoming Paper Houseplant Craft Class at Gather

On Saturday March 14th at 10:30am at Gather in downtown Cary, Raleigh based paper crafter Santana Douglass will be teaching a paper houseplant craft class. You can register for that class here. Green thumb not required. 😉

Here are some inspiring pieces from Brooklyn-based artist Corrie Beth Hogg who wrote the book Handmade Houseplants which I discovered last year at the library and that has inspired this upcoming class.

Corrie’s work combines paper crafting and paint into incredibly realistic “plants”. With careful attention to shape, color and structure she’s created the illusion of something real that has the potential to have a much longer lifespan in your home than an actual plant depending on your plant nurturing skills. No judgement, it can be hard!

Join me and local paper crafter Douglass Santana in an upcoming class at Gather inspired by Corrie’s work and book on Saturday March 14th at 10:30am at Gather. You will learn the techniques to making these plants and walk away with your own as well as the knowledge to apply towards others. You can register for the class here.

Studio Tour: Liz Esser, Haden Designs

Last week I visited Liz Esser of Haden Designs at her shared studio space in downtown Raleigh and took photos for you to see. She will be teaching a fiber wall hanging class at Gather in downtown Cary on Sunday February 23rd at 10:30am. You can register for it here.

In the class you will create a beautiful textured wall hanging from recycled fabrics, mementos and other found objects. Inspired by the collections of things we keep, these wall hangings evolved as an idea to make art out of reuse and materials you may have saved up but didn’t know what to do with them. Here, we make functional and sentimental wall art. Students are provided with all of the tools that they need including fiber, fabrics and jewelry tools though students are encouraged to bring their own collected ephemera that they might want to incorporate as well.

I can’t remember when I first met Liz, though it was probably through participating in one of my Rock & Shop Market’s where she was selling her beautiful jewelry. Regardless, I’ve known her for a long time and we both have kids the same age so about a decade ago, when we were new moms, we were both navigating that new world of motherhood and making, and trying to grapple with what that looks like. We were brainstorming studio spaces, trying to figure out how to keep expressing ourselves through our craft, and wanting to connect with others (and ourselves) in the process.

Like myself, Liz has a lot of creative energy (as does her husband and kids, but that’s another story) that spills over into everything she does. And also like myself, she is very grounded by her home and making that space special and comforting for her family and children. Unlike me, Liz is the mom that makes the most amazing handmade costumes every year and then throws the party too.

But that natural affinity for homemaking and creating nurturing nests for our families and putting their well-being first can also create a tension too, especially when you are an artist. How to pour yourself into it all? Is it okay to “just be a mom” or an artist occasionally, or even a big picture visionary but also just a regular person who doesn’t utilize all those skills in a public-facing way? I appreciate that she understands these things intuitively. All moms understand this juggle-of-self intuitively. But also, a lot of makers who are not moms do too.

She shares her studio space with Oami Powers at Artspace in Raleigh. Oami is another friend who we’d meet up with at that same time period ten years ago, and who shares similar values of being crazy-creative and skilled in a variety of media but also just wanting a balanced life. And a balanced life for the three of us means turning things upside down and being willing to lean into less for a more fulfilled life. We each have had to go through the process (and still are) of letting go of the conventional expectations of what “being a successful artist” looks like to instead lean towards “what does a happy life look like”. It is Oami’s beautiful drawings that are in the background of these pictures. And though we didn’t know it then, I’d say we are, each of us, on a more fulfilled, if unconventional path, though as with anything, it is a daily practice and a work in progress.

Over the past few years Liz has been experimenting with more fiber and installation work and incorporating new shapes and materials into her jewelry design. She has a keen sense of color which you can get a feel from in these pictures and she always weaves together texture and color in a way that is pleasing and beautiful. She made the earrings that she is wearing and they combine recycled, vegetable-dyed leather, custom cut brass shapes and a woven, patterned element to them as well.

So through seeing her jewelry evolution, I began marinating on having her teach a larger scale class, something that incorporated these layered elements but more as a wall-hanging. It took a bit of prodding and convincing to tease out this class but I think the results are stunning and much different and cooler than I imagined them to be. Ever the self-doubting perfectionist (sounds like me – maybe you too?), she created other pieces, second-guessed them, then tossed them all out in favor of these styles (of which she created 4-5 different ones as examples).

When I asked her about her process and inspiration for these pieces she said “I was thinking about having a wall hanging that had sentimental value. We all collect things and those things have meaning behind them. I thought that instead of putting them in a drawer, the next step would be to have them out and shown. That’s how I started thinking about putting different objects into the wall hangings – kind of like a scrapbook on your wall.”

Will we see you at the class on Sunday February 23rd at 10:30am at Gather in downtown Cary? It would mean a lot to both of us and give us a shot of confidence as we lean into other facets of ourselves. Also, we’ll probably retreat back to our cozy homes right after this offering and then evolve on toward something else – so get it while you can. 😉 Space is limited. You can register here.

Photos by Michelle Smith Creative for Gather Goods Co

Fiber Wall Hangings – Inspired By: Upcoming Fiber Wall Hanging Class at Gather

On Sunday February 23rd at 10:30am at Gather in downtown Cary, Raleigh based artist Liz Esser of Haden Designs will be teaching a textural fiber wall hanging class. In this class you’ll walk away with a beautiful art piece that combines recycled fabric, knots and collected ephemera – think of it as a scrapbook for your wall that also doubles as a beautiful one of a kind art piece. You can sign up for the class here.

Many of the fiber wall art pieces that have inspired me lately have combined a variety of materials such as clay and fiber or like Liz, metal jewelry and fiber. When I first envisioned this class with Liz I could just see her jewelry pieces in a larger scale and knew that she would be just the person to teach this class and come up with a set of unique pieces. I loved what she came up with.

Similar to punch needle embroidery or even weaving, these fiber wall hangings that I’m currently inspired by combine a variety of different fiber techniques including knot making, weaving, macrame, fiber wrapping and collected objects into one sculptural piece. Below are some inspiring mixed media, fiber wall hanging pieces and woven jewelry that are on my radar:

You can sign up for the Fiber Wall Hanging Class being held at Gather in downtown Cary on Sunday February 23rd at 10:30am here.

Images: Fiber Wall Art Pieces by Liz Esser of Haden Designs for Gather Goods Co, Photo by Michelle Smith Creative, knotted wall hanging, organic fiber tassels and rock and fiber wall hanging art by HimoArt, woven necklace by Lesh Loom, clay and fiber wall hangings by Karen Gayle Tinney

A Quick Trip to Jacksonville, Florida

I recently took a last-minute weekend road trip to Jacksonville, Florida to visit family. Below are the things we checked out while exploring the area in one busy day. Warning, this is a very picture-heavy post but since documenting visually is such a big part of the experience and expression for me, I thought I’d share them here. First up we headed to The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

The weekend that we traveled ended up being an unusually cold one in North Carolina so it was nice to escape the weather temporarily in the very temperate Florida climate. It was a treat to see plants growing in the winter there that are only hot-season annuals here in North Carolina.

Here, versus some other zoos that I have been to, you could see that the animals and the facility itself were well taken care of and you could get very close to the animals as well.

In addition to the animals and exotic birds there were many landscaped garden areas.

After a morning trip to the zoo (to avoid the crowds) we headed off to lunch. Whenever I travel to a new place I like to scour the internet and research behind the scenes to try to find the underground pulse of that place. Almost every place has one if you are willing to do some digging. Though it is also hard with limited time to just pick one place when you’ve never seen it in person and are only going on instinct.

Still, my instinct lead me to the perfect spot for a quick bite to eat in the hip Pheonix Art District Neighborhood: a bakery called 1748 Bakehouse. This light filled bakery serves up pies, pastries and breakfast and lunch items such as the savory french toast that I had and muffins that reminded me of a beloved local favorite of mine in Durham that is no more, Scratch (RIP). The 1748 Bakehouse is a family run business with celebrated husband and wife chefs at the helm.

A trick to finding cool stuff when you are in unfamiliar territory is to just ask others, especially when you are at a place that already resonates with you. I usually cross reference a few things on my list with a cashier or ask them simply, what should I check out? It’s always interesting to hear what people’s “must visit’s” are in their hometown. We were told to visit The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens and the Riverside Arts Market, a big farmers market and craft event that takes place below a highway underpass.

The museum has a permanent collection of over 5000 art pieces on display inside as well as sculptures in their gardens. The 2.5 acre gardens overlook the St. John’s River and are filled with hundred year old oaks.

Next up, we drove about 45 minutes south to St. Augustine not really sure of what we’d find but with a tip to seek out a milkshake and knowing that the city is the oldest in the United States. We sought out what National Geographic calls “one of the 10 prettiest streets in the country” on Magnolia Avenue and we discovered a lot of very touristy things which we tried to sidestep.

We walked down the less touristy Aviles Street and came across a handsome old cemetery and lots of historic buildings. The New York Times recently did a 36 Hours in St. Augustine which you can read here.

We got our milkshakes from a place called Cousteau’s and they were, as promised, delicious. We shared the “Ping Island” which was a combination of vanilla, peanut butter, chocolate, marshmallow and graham crackers in a one drinkable dessert. We skipped dinner this night. 😉

At dusk, the buildings along the waterfront in St. Augustine were lit up with Christmas lights and ornaments despite it being 70 degrees and January.

To cap off the whirlwind day, we stopped by the ocean for a quick look at the beach since we were so near to it.

On our way home the next day, we decided to take a short detour to Jekyll Island, Georgia. The spot has a handful of buildings made with “tabby” a material made from crushed oyster shells.

Jekyll island is also known for being the spot where the Federal Reserve System was planned out in secret in the early 1900’s. The island is filled with marshlands and beaches and trees covered in drapey moss. At the northern end of the island is Driftwood Beach which features a number of driftwood trees on and near the sand.

I have lots of images like this from all the places I’ve visited. Should I share them here – even if they are 5-7 years old, would you be interested in seeing them? Do you like to live vicariously through them? Do they inspire you to take your own exploratory trips?

Photos by Michelle Smith Creative for Gather Goods Co

Flower Crown Bridal Shower Party at Gather

Airy Flower Crown DIY Bridal Shower Party

In addition to being a shared office space that houses seven private offices, the front classroom portion of Gather (which also functions as an appointment only showroom for our online shop) hosts classes frequently – either curated by me or others. The studio tenants host their own workshops, I of course facilitate maker lead craft classes about once a month, and I also rent out the space for private events and parties.

Bridal Shower, Flower Crown Making Party at Gather in downtown Cary, NC

I can tailor a class to you based on one of any of the ones that have been offered through Gather in the past (terrariums, flower arranging, embroidery, wreath making, the list is endless) or I can custom create a class especially for you. To host a private class I just ask that there are four or more attendees – beyond that, together we can tailor the specifics to what you have in mind.

The benefits are that all the materials (and instruction) are provided and you can bring in your own food and drinks (or we can arrange that too) and we do all the setup and cleanup. You just show up with your friends, make your project and then leave with your completed project and off you go to dinner or wherever you want to head next and your house stays clean – or not clean, whatever the case may be. 😉 It’s a no-brainer get together solution. While I don’t always take photos of the events – it’s hard to be hostess, photographer, and teacher in one – sometimes I do, and I was able to capture these recently.

These pictures I took were from a recent private party that was created for a DIY flower crown bridal shower party. Each of the bridesmaids created their own faux flower crown as per the bride’s request (so that it could be made well in advance and used over and over again) to be worn at her upcoming wedding ceremony. Each bride made their own unique crown that still complemented the others because of the similar materials and color palette.

The bride-to-be’s sister provided the champagne and charcuterie and I provided the cups, the space, the flowers, the supplies, the instruction and some recommendations on local downtown Cary restaurants they could check out afterwards. Before the event, the bride-to-be and I exchanged some inspiration photos which allowed me to pull together a palette of colors and flower styles that would most closely resemble the look she was going for.

Since my background is in design, facilitation and styling, this custom art-direction that I am able to provide is not only fun for me, but ensures you’ll get a high quality end result as well. This is how every class that has ever been offered at Gather has been created: with a vision and idea in my head, my guidance on aesthetic and then many times a collaboration. I scout out people who I think can best bring that vision I had in my head to light, sometimes it’s me or oftentimes it’s a local maker who I think can take that idea and run with it, most especially because I love to highlight local craftspeople and their techniques and expertise. With a private class such as this one I just fold in the teaching aspect and become the teacher too. I really enjoy both the practical and creative aspects of teaching.

Are you interested in pulling together a similar event for you and your friends or coworkers, your upcoming bridal party or even your teen/tween adult birthday? Email me and let’s set something up. It’s low on pressure and high on value and good times in Gather’s serene and lovely space in downtown Cary in the middle of the Triangle.

Photos by Michelle Smith Creative for Gather Goods Co