My name is Lisa and I'm a crafty girl with wanderlust working as an engineer by day. My blog chronicles projects in my home as well as pictures and stories from my travels.




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Picture of the Day: Grand Canyon in Late Afternoon

Grand Canyon
Arizona, Unites States


Making the Easiest Bookshelf

After sharing a few items sitting on top of the bookshelf in my livingroom I thought I would share how I made the bookshelf itself.

For the shelves of the bookcase I bought two sets old bi-fold doors from my local recycle center for $5 each. I cleaned up the doors, removed the hinge and knob hardware and patched and painted over the holes left from the hardware. Alternately you could use wood boards but I opted for the cheaper route. 

To support the shelves I made columns of bricks. Colorwise the concrete bricks I bought didn't exactly fit in with my living room so I used some cream spray paint to get the color I wanted. As a tip, once you stack the bricks only three faces will show so you can conserve spray painting by only painting those faces.

For stability when building the bookcase it is important to stack the bricks in pairs, alternating the direction as you stack. It's also necessary to use some L-brackets to anchor the shelves to the walls and I wouldn't build it taller than I did (about halfway up the wall). 

All told, the project, not including paint drying time, took about an hour of hands on time and cost me about $35. Not too bad for a custom bookcase! 


Picture of the Day: Green Frog at Monteverde



















Monteverde Cloud Forest
Costa Rica


Curried Apple Pumpkin Soup

With winter well underway I am constantly craving soups. There is nothing like a hot bowl of soup to warm you up after coming in from the chilly weather. It makes me feel all warm and cozy inside.  

My favorite soup in the fall and winter is my Curried Apple Pumpkin Soup which I made last night for dinner. It is rich and creamy with a great slightly spicy flavor. With a baguette of crusty bread it is a perfect comfort food meal for me.

It is a pretty simple soup to make, especially if you have an immersion blender to puree the soup. Without further ado, here is the recipe.

Ingredients List
- 1/2 c. butter
- 1 bunch of leeks (2 big leeks or 3 small leeks): white part chopped
- 1 small sweet onion: chopped
- 1 Tbsp. curry powder
- 3 apples: peeled, cored and chopped 
- 2 c. pumpkin puree
- 4 c. chicken stock
- 1 pint heavy cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cayenne pepper (optional)
- Pumpkin seeds (optional)

- Over a medium heat burner melt butter in a stock pot and then add leeks, onion and curry powder, cooking until nearly translucent
- Add apples and cook for a few minutes more so that apples are soft and onions are translucent
- Stir in pumpkin and chicken stock and simmer for 20 minutes until all vegetables are very soft and tender
- Remove from heat and use a blender to puree soup
- Finish by stirring in cream and adding salt and pepper to taste

Tips and Tricks
- I like to use pumpkin puree that I made from sugar pumpkins but you can also used canned pumpkin
- For blending I love using my immersion blender (best $24 I ever spent!) since I can puree it right in my stock pot which means less clean up 
- If you do use a traditional blender be sure to only fill the blender less than halfway otherwise you could potentially make a hot, exploding mess (unfortunately, I know this from personal experience)
- If you are vegetarian you can substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock 
- For a little extra zing try adding some cayenne pepper to the soup
- I like to reserve a little cream and use it along with some pumpkin seeds to garnish the soup


Picture of the Day: Bridge of Nine Turnings



















Bridge of Nine Turnings
Shanghai, China


To-ji Flea Market Treasures

On my recent trip to Japan I had a chance to do one of my favorite things while I am there, visit To-ji Flea Market in Kyoto.  I love poking around the market looking for interesting items and bargaining for deals.

Now that I am back in the US I am having fun incorporporating my newfound treasures into my home.

I have a display of items I have collected in my travels on a bookcase in my living room and the small abacus (¥500) I purchased made a great addition. It was pretty grungy when I got it but with a little cleaning it looks great while still retaining some of the patina it has acquired over time.

Once used by Japanese fisherman to keep fishing nets afloat, the glass fishing floats are now a popular item to see at flea markets. I bought five of them (¥400 each) at the market and had fun sifting through the box that was for sale, picking out the ones I wanted.  I love how each one uses slightly different twine and has a slightly different shade of pale turquoise.  To display them I stacked them inside a narrow glass canister that I bought at HomeGoods so it was easy to see each one individually.

My favorite find from my trip was an old milk bottle delivery box (¥2000). I love milk (As a kid, I dramatically declared "But milk is my life!" when we ran out at home one time) and the green and red printing match the colors of my kitchen. After cleaning up the delivery box I mounted on my kitchen wall and topped it with a small Japanese glass milk bottle I bought two years ago at the Osu flea market in Nagoya and a tiny Fiestaware pitcher I bought on eBay. A lot of the white paint has chipped off the delivery box so I am debating if I want to do some touch ups on the paint but for now I am happy with it. 


Picture of the Day: Machu Picchu




















Machu Picchu, Peru


Misadventures of Lisa & Trisha: Getting a Ride to the Beijing Opera

In November 2008 while while my friend Trisha and I were both living in Japan we decided to take a few days off of work and visit Beijing, China.  

One of the things that we wanted to see was the Beijing Opera so when we checked into our hostel in the evening and saw a great deal for transportation and tickets we decided to book it for the next day.

We spent our first day in Beijing being amazed by the vastness of the buildings and intricacies of the detailed carvings at the Forbidden City.  After spending the remainder of our day soaking in the history of Tiananmen Square and marveling at the beauty of the Temple of Heaven we headed back to the hostel with a little bit of time to kill prior to headed to the opera.  We grabbed a drink at the hostel bar and chatted about our day until it was time to get picked up.

I had to use the restroom so Trisha headed to the lobby with our booking tickets and I met her there after going to the bathroom. When I got there she was standing with a Chinese guide who was holding the booking tickets and said "OK, let's go," once he saw me.  We followed him a for a few winding blocks until we reached an old, beat up car. He opened the back door and without saying a word slid into the back seat with us. The car drove off and the two guys in the front and our guide started chatting away in Mandarin.

It all seemed a little odd so and I wondered what had transpired between Trisha and our guide while I was in the bathroom. "So, what is the plan?" I asked Trisha. "I have no idea," she repiled, "He came into the lobby and said 'Beijing Opera?', I said 'Yes,' he said, 'Tickets?', I gave them to him and then you appeared. I don't know anything more than you."

At this point I thought maybe it was time to interupt the conversation between the three guys and ask our guide a little bit about the opera. He explained in English that it was about a twenty minute drive to the opera house and that he would need to pick up the opera tickets at will call for us once we got there. Satisfied, Trisha and I enjoyed the rest of the amusing ride listening to the Mandarin banter between the guys and cracking up that our paid ride was in a vehicle with a transmission that was contstantly slipping and where we were packed in like sardines.

Upon arrival at the opera house the driver dropped us and the guide off at the front and drove away. Unfortunately, I had to use the restroom again and left Trisha in the lobby while the guide went to the ticket window for our tickets. I returned to see a dazed Trisha holding two opera tickets in one hand and twenty yuán in the other. "OK, I go now," said the guide. "Wait, when are you picking us up?" I asked. He proceeded to explain that the twenty yuán was for us to take a taxi home and he was leaving. I argued for a little bit that we had paid for a ride both ways and how could we be assured that twenty yuán would cover the ride home. He was adamant that it was more than enough and there wasn't much that Trisha and I could do so we headed into the auditorium.

After finding our seats and laughing about our strange, adventurous ride Trisha and I noticed a posting up front saying that we could watch the performers applying their stage make-up in the next room.  We were really early and had nearly an hour until curtain so we thought it would be fun to check out.

Watching the performers put on their make-up was fascinating. For the actors portraying most of the humans, they started with a base with an orangish hue and then brushed red accents around their eyes before finishing with dark eyeliner around the eyes. Since all parts in Beijing Opera are played by men it was interesting to watch the transformation into a beautiful woman by some of the men. I particularly enjoyed the make-up of the Jing, which have very elaborate patterned make-up in bold colors.

Trisha and I had been watching the make-up process for a few minutes when some additional actors entered the room. "Oh, my goodness, Trisha, that guy is the front passenger from our car," I surprisedly said. "And that guy was the driver!" Trisha replied. All of a sudden everything made sense. The performers in the opera must get a discount on tickets and since they are heading to the opera house anyway they can probably make a little profit even with offering the tickets for such a great price. All they needed was a friend with some English skills to help with the pick-up and getting the tickets they had reserved at will call. It also explained why we arrived so early; the performers had to get ready for the show.

After watching the rest of the actors, we headed back to our seats to enjoy the show. The opera was simply amazing. The style of music is very different from what we were used to with Western music but it was mesmorizing. There were English translations projected on screens to the side of the stage but we were so wrapped up in the performances we didn't look at them much. In addition to the talented singing, amazing acrobatics were also incorporated into the performances. One act was a female aria with the actor creating lovely scenes with waving ribbons. It was an amazing evening and Trisha and I were sad to see the show come to a close.

Trisha and I headed out to the street reflecting on the amazing performances we just saw and as we hailed our taxi we laughingly wondered how many other people were driven to the opera that night by two members of the chorus. In the end, it also turned out that the guide was indeed correct; the taxi ride cost less than twenty yuán.



Picture of the Day: Baby Sea Turtles

Grand Cayman Island


Holiday Party

With being out of town to Japan, New York and New Orleans this month I'm not going to be able to host a holiday party this year but I thought I'd share my Christmas decorations and food from my party last year.

For decorations I made table runners out of teal and white fabric. I also made pillows out of coordinating fabric and used white felt to add a snowflake motif on one of the pillows.

I kept things simple for my tree decorations with white lights, teal and silver ornament balls, pinecones that I spray painted silver and teal, and silver pipe cleaners that I twisted into spirals.

For the tables I filled vases with extra ornaments and some extra branches I trimmed from my tree. I also put some of the painted pinecones and ornaments in a wooden bowl on my serving table. 

I like to try to make some food ahead for my parties so I made three different cheese balls a few days before that just required garnishing before serving.  The lemon-parsley gougeres can be made ahead and then baked right before the guests come. I also made individual shrimp cocktails by putting a little bit of cocktail sauce in the bottom of a small glass with shrimp and a slice of lemon.  For something sweet I made honey-poached pears with marscapone drizzled with chocolate. I used whole small pears and cored them from underneath to keep the pear intact for presentation. I was happy that with so much I could make ahead everything was stress free for me at the party and I could spend my time enjoying the food with my guests instead of in the kitchen cooking.