All posts in personal

  • 2013 highlights

     walking around north beach san francisco

    January

    We made the decision to quit our jobs, live off our savings, and ultimately leave San Francisco. I had great co-workers, a great boss, but I was underpaid and ultimately didn’t believe in the company’s products. I was too drained to focus much on graphic design work on week nights and overwhelmed with chores on the weekends. I thought of getting a new job, but in order to be truly fulfilled I knew I needed to break away and start my own thing. Sadly, that meant leaving our beloved rent controlled apartment and being priced out of San Francisco for the foreseeable future. We decided to move somewhere cheaper, divide our nest egg by 36 (our monthly budget), and see what we could accomplish during that time — hopefully by the end of it, making enough money to keep doing what we want to do.

    craigslist became my best friend. I scoured apartment listings in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Ann Arbor, trying to get a sense of what our new life would be like.

    asian art museum and frjtz

    February

    “So… what do you think about getting married?”

    “Sure…?”

    Romantic, right?

    After almost 11 years of friendship, 9 years of bestfriendship (yes, that’s a word now), 5 years as a couple, and 4 years of living together, Cory and I decided to make it legal. We set the date for the big day to be April 2nd, which was the day we met in 2002. We decided to keep things small, simple, and secret. I hadn’t dreamed of a big wedding since I was about 11 (to one of the Hanson brothers, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, or Devon Sawa), we both wanted a small ceremony with nice clothes and delicious food. So I started planning…

    mission district and yosemite national park

    March

    Dad visited San Francisco for the second time. We somehow managed to not divulge our secret (“by the way, we’re getting married in 10 days!”), but perhaps that’s because we were so busy. We visited Yosemite National Park, Golden Gate Park, and walked the Golden Gate Bridge. His trip was a blur of endless walking and gorging on food at Little Star Pizza, Pork Store Cafe, Shanghai Dumpling King, Chile Pies and Ice Cream, and House of Prime Rib.

    wedding at san francisco city hall ice cream at ice cream bar cole valley

    April

    Cory and I married at San Francisco City Hall, with two dear friends as our witnesses and photographers. Dad was also in attendance. We told the news to our parents a couple days before. We gave them such a short notice because we didn’t want them to make a fuss about coming to San Francisco. My dad called later that night to say “bought a ticket, see you tomorrow”. Everything went exactly as I’d hoped. French fries, pizza, ice cream, pasta, and cocktails… all on my wedding day. We spent the night at Chateau Tivoli, a bed and breakfast in Alamo Square (home of the “Full House houses”) and ate deep fried french toast the next morning. Because America.

    junipero serra at dolores mission cemetery and neptune columbarium in san francisco

    May

    We became tourists in our own city. Night at the Castro Theater, a morning spent whale watching out to the Farallon Islands (no whales, sadly), trip to the Asian Art Museum, and lots and lots of walking tours.

    My 28th birthday was spent at the Mission Dolores Church & Cemetery, San Francisco’s oldest building. I tracked down the graves of some famous characters in San Francisco history, like William Leidesdorff, the first black American millionaire and Yankee Sullivan, an Irish bare-knucked fighter and boxer who ended his life in a very sad way. We also went to the Neptune Society Columbarium, the largest repository of human remains in the city. We found Harvey Milk, Jerry Juhl (a Muppeteer), and Chet Helms, the father of the Summer of Love. A bit macabre to spend the day of your birth among the dead, but learning about the history of an area makes me feel closer to it. Plus, I’ll always be a teenage goth at heart.

    cinderella cafe bakery san francisco lands end

    June

    We left our jobs and celebrated our freedom by eating ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery the next work day. We squeezed in tourists activities when we could, like hiking in Land’s End and I had high tea with friends at the Palace Hotel. Our lives mostly centered around bubble wrap and cardboard boxes. Craigslist was no longer a best friend, but more of a frenemy as people tried to nickel and dime possessions that were a part of my life for years. We sold and donated about half of our belongings and the cat was not pleased about the 8 hour trip to Michigan.

    lamassu at the oriental institute in chicago

    chicago ballerinas at the bean and astro the corgi

    July

    Cory’s 30th birthday was spent riding a model T Ford at Greenfield Village. Later in the month, we headed to Chicago for a few days to take in the sights, visit the Oriental Institute, eat an absurd amount of food, and see The Book of Mormon. We also spent a few days in Indiana, showering love on two adorable corgis.

    summer canning

    August

    I caught the canning bug. Pickled cabbage, zucchini and squash relish, jalapeno jelly, salsa, strawberry jam, blueberry jam, grape jam, tomato jam, and froze several batches of swiss chard and kale. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I also read the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series. My life in August revolved around mason jars, pectin, and books.

    owosso mammoths at ann arbor natural history museum

    September

    We moved into our new place on what felt like one of the hottest weekends of the summer. Despite no air conditioning, we managed to unpack everything within a few days. Just as it seemed everything was in order, we were off to Indiana for a few days to attend a lovely wedding. After returning to Ann Arbor, we started our new routines and I dove back into designing. I cursed myself for moving back to a part of the country that has real weather. We explored Ann Arbor a bit before it got too cold, including a trip to the Natural History Museum.

    izzy goo

    October

    Etsy shop opened its doors. Once I made my first sale I did a happy dance around the apartment, even though the item sold was only for $3. Definitely the most exciting $3 I’ve earned. I spent a lot of time trying to master frugal eating on the cheap, while still avoiding big box stores like Wal*Mart. Pioneer Woman’s Pinto Beans and Cornbread is such a great pantry dish. Don’t skip the lard. Lard makes everything better.

    happy izzy goo

    November

    As the temperatures dropped, I still stubbornly clung to wearing dresses everyday, even though I looked and felt ridiculous. Then I discovered fleece-lined leggings and haven’t had to wear pants since. By chance, I ran into a dear friend who I hadn’t seen in several years and wasn’t sure I’d ever see again. I wasn’t wearing weather-appropriate leggings then, but she didn’t say anything about me looking ridiculous, thankfully.

    izzy goo watching youtube and university of michigan during winter

    December

    Etsy shop picked up in November and really took off in December. Managed to get through what seemed like a never ending stream of e-mails for Christmas orders, but I really did love every minute of it. 2013 marked some big changes in my life. Next year, I’m looking forward to expanding my business, eating lots of bread, packing up our belongings again, and making some more memories.

    Happy New Year, all!

  • homemade gift ideas: 2013

    homemade-christmas-gift-ideas

    These days, my list of Christmas gift recipients is pretty small: my parents, my in-laws, and my friend Cristina. Cristina and I have a tradition of exchanging weird things (commemorative Tom Selleck plate, inappropriate slippers [yes, there’s such a thing], unicorn art, corgi things, etc), but with the parents I go the homemade route. As the years go by, it seems silly to gift things like movies, clothing, and gadgets that will either be ignored or quickly obsolete. Homemade means made with love… and possibly containing strands of my hair. Sorry about that in advance, guys.

    Maple Cream

    Recipe and photo from America’s Test Kitchen

    Did you know if you heat maple syrup to a certain temperature, then diligently stir it for about 20 minutes it will transform into a heavenly spread of deliciousness? I found this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen over the summer and I knew then it had to be a part of my Christmas goodie package. I just purchased 2 pounds of Grade A maple syrup from Amazon and will be trying it out next week.

    My mother-in-law is a HUGE fan of the San Francisco-based chocolate company See’s and loves their chocolate maple creams. Lucky for her, I worked just around the corner from a See’s and very close to a post office. I’d send her See’s for holidays and just because (yeah, I’m the best). Now that we’re in Ann Arbor, we have Zingerman’s and cookie butter from Trader Joe’s to keep her excited about getting surprises in the mail, but I know she’s missing the taste of See’s. The maple cream will be a hit with everyone, but I’ve got a feeling it will change my mother-in-law’s life.

    Buckeyes

    Recipe and photo from Smitten Kitchen

    If you’re not from or near the state of Ohio, you may not know what buckeyes are. They’re peanut butter confections, partially dipped in chocolate, and loaded with confectioner’s sugar. Whenever these were included in candy trays from family and friends growing up, I’d go straight for them and ignore everything else until the buckeyes were gone. I’ve made them every year since 2010 using Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. Deb’s recipe swaps out some confectioner’s sugar for crushed graham crackers. Not that it makes it any healthier, but it adds an interesting texture to the sweets. I think I also might slip in some Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter into this year’s buckeyes, too. The recipe says they can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, but Cory and I have kept in them in the fridge for up to three weeks.

    Blurb photo book

    In 2010, I made a book from Blurb with some of the recipes from my blog and sent them to family. Blurb has super easy-to-use software for creating your book, or if you have knowledge of InDesign you can upload your own design. Last year, I made a photo book full of Cory and I’s travels to Turkey, my dad’s visit to San Francisco, my in-law’s visit to San Francisco, and of course, photos of our newly adopted cat. Everyone loved the photo book and I intend on continuing the tradition this year. The deadline to receive a photo book before Christmas is December 13th, so I need to get started. Big things happened for us this year, you know, like getting married, quitting our jobs, moving across the country, and starting our own businesses. Hope no one minds that 80% of the photos will be of our cat.

    Homemade vanilla

    Recipe and photo from Simply Recipes

    If you make this now, it won’t be ready for Christmas, but it could still be gifted. I actually made this last year and started in early November to make sure the extract would be ready in time for Christmas. Making vanilla extract is so simple – just pour some vodka or bourbon in a bottle, add a few split vanilla beans and let them steep for about 6-8 weeks before using. I actually kept two bottles for myself and I’m never buying store bought vanilla extract again.

    I purchased my vanilla beans from Amazon and the bottles from Beanilla. IKEA also has really cheap glass stopped bottles, but they’re pretty large.

    Infused Olive Oil

    Links to recipes and photo from The Kitchn

    The homemade vanilla extract was not actually a great gift idea for my steak and potatoes dad. I should’ve known, but I thought he’d use it for hot chocolate (he did not). He loves to cook and likes the way I spice food, but doesn’t go out of his culinary comfort zone on his own. Infused olive oil will be a nice and easy way to give his meals a kick.

    Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

    Recipe and photo from Epicurious

    Okay, I’m not actually giving this as a gift to anyone… unless a gift to myself counts. I’ll be making these either on Christmas or a couple days before. Cory can have one or two if he wants, but they’re really for me. I’m a sucker for just about any dessert involving cream cheese. Cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting are basically my favorite thing ever. It’s what made my 27th birthday so special, after all.

  • family portrait

    In the weeks before Cory and I’s secret wedding (elopement, I guess), my friend Josh told me that he commissioned a friend of his to paint something for us. He said it was going to be something NSFW, you know, the type of thing we’d have to hide before family visited. I believed him because we both share the same crass sense of humor. Imagine my surprise when he presented a wholesome family portrait to us:

    sponseller family portrait

    It’s HUGE. Before the wedding, Josh asked me questions about the kind of attire Cory and I would be wearing. I gave him a breakdown of everything, from Cory’s boutonniere to photos of my trial hair and make up. I didn’t think much of this because 1) I thought it would help give him an idea of what to wear (Josh and our friend Maggie were our two witnesses at City Hall) and 2) our wedding was largely a secret, so I relished in sharing all the little details I was planning. Little did I know Josh was sending all those bits of information over to the artist, who began bringing our wedding day to life before it even happened. My favorite part of the painting is Izzy Goo’s pose. It’s based off this photo of her.

    As much as we loved the painting, hanging stuff on the walls in our San Francisco apartment was a no-no, so the painting was propped up on the kitchen table until we departed in June. Its second home was my dad’s attic over the summer, where I was worried that it might actually melt or something. Then we brought it to Ann Arbor, where it lived in our hallway for two months. We were admittedly pretty lazy about unpacking it and getting it on the wall, but we finally did it. The painting finally has a proper place to call home:

    cat painting, rose cory izzy goo sponseller

    (Izzy Goo really enjoys videos of cats meowing and birds chirping.)

    Here’s a close up:

    cat painting, rose cory izzy goo sponseller

    A few days ago, Cory remarked something along the lines of, “I wonder if people will think it’s weird that we have a giant portrait of ourselves on the wall.” Considering we have numerous skulls, doll head planters, and stream strange videos for our cat on the TV, I think the painting is one of the more wholesome things in our apartment.

  • life so far in ann arbor

    ann arbor

    It’s been a quiet, but productive couple months in Ann Arbor. I love our little apartment. We learned from the owner that the house once served as a nunnery in the 1800s and the house next door was a hospital. Way cool, in a creepy sort of way. I’m still learning how to balance the whole “work from home” thing. I open Photoshop and Illustrator just after breakfast and work off and on the rest of my waking hours. I really love what I’m doing, but I can’t spend too much time cooking, reading, or playing a videogame without feeling guilty.

    Since we left our day jobs to start our own businesses, we have been on a frugal lockdown of sorts, not spending money on anything except bills and food. And we’ve really cut costs on food. How did we go from spending $600-800 on a month on food to about $225 (while still shopping primarily at the farmers market, gourmet grocery stores, and eschewing coupon clipping)? Less wine, less meat, less cheese (!!), no pre-packaged Trader Joe’s meals, and more carbs. More pasta, more flour, and beans. So many beans. I make pizza and bread from scratch, make my own yogurt, grow sprouts in a jar, incorporate leftovers into new dishes so nothing goes to waste, and feel pretty glad that I got bit by the canning/dehydrating/freezing bug at the end of the summer. I make a point to clear out the fridge every week before buying more produce, whereas in San Francisco our fridge was always full. Something always went to waste and containers of mystery leftovers would remain in the deep dark depths of the fridge for up to a couple months. I guess it’s been applying a lot of common sense, but I didn’t often think about these things when I was working/commuting 50+ hours a week. I have a lot of new recipes I’d like to share with you all here and hope to have something up later this week.

    concord grape jam and syrup

    In September, I picked 15 pounds of concord grapes from my dad’s backyard for jam and syrup making. I used this recipe for the jam and this recipe for the syrup. When I was a kid, my parents told me that the grapes in the backyard were inedible. I suppose they didn’t want me to eat them right off the vine? I feel like I’ve been missing out most of my life, but at least now I have a year’s worth of grape jam.

    ground cherries

    Have you heard of ground cherries? They made an appearance at our local farmers market for a couple weeks. They’re like sweet little tomatillos with a slightly bitter aftertaste. I wasn’t really a fan. I was hoping to see pawpaws make their debut here, but they were nowhere to be found. Pawpaws are the only tropical fruit native to Michigan and closely related to my favorite fruit of all time, cherimoyas.

    museum

    Earlier this month we went to the University of Michigan Natural History Museum. The museum felt like stepping into a 1960s time capsule.

    renaissance festival

    We did actually break our “no spend” rule a couple times. We went to the Michigan Renaissance Festival twice to load up on honeycomb and honey creme from Jodi Bee Honey Farms, pet baby animals, and people watch (did you know there are adults out there with My Little Pony tattoos?).

    rose cory

    Here we are during warmer times. The days are getting colder and I’m still too stubborn to wear anything but dresses. I haven’t worn pants since June. I wonder how long it’ll take for me to cave and put on a pair of pants again. Ugh.

    izz goo

    And lastly, because I haven’t gotten out a whole lot lately, most of the photos I’ve taken are of my cat. Luckily, she is so cute she temporarily makes me forget how much I want a dog.

    izzy goo 2
    Ya know, I could do this all day, but I don’t want to scare everyone off. So I’ll end things here. ‘Til next time!

  • tour san francisco: walking tours

    During our last months in San Francisco, we made a point to do something new every weekend. We didn’t want to leave San Francisco telling each other, “I wish we would’ve done [x]…” We went whale watching, hiking in Land’s End, ate at various restaurants, visited museums, and went on a series of walking tours. I always assumed that walking tours were rather corny, but once I took one in my own neighborhood, I got hooked and signed up for three more.

    The prices listed below are the full charge prices, check Yelp, Groupon, and Groupon-esque clones for discounts. I didn’t pay full price for any of the tours.

    FYI: if you’ve never been on a walking tour before, most guides will accept tips at the end of the tour. Cory and I rarely carry cash and it took us a couple times to remember to have some extra money on hand.

    haunted haight

    Haunted Haight walking tour – $25 // official site // Yelp – As a kid, I surrounded myself with ghosts. Living in an old house, every unexplainable creak and crack were the spirits of the house’s former residents. I was an only and sometimes lonely child, and would weave together elaborate stories in my head about all the ghosts in the house… and scare myself with them. When I moved out of my parents’ house, the ghosts didn’t follow me and every rational part of me no longer believes in ghosts, an afterlife, or the paranormal. But I still love scary stories and have been known to waste entire evenings reading creepypasta.

    When I discovered that there was a haunted tour in my very own neighborhood, I jumped on it immediately. The tour guide is Tommy Netzband, the president of the San Francisco Ghost Society. He’s a charming and affable Chicago-native, who truly loves San Francisco and the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. The tour starts at 8 pm every Saturday, rain or shine. Regardless of what you heard Eric Burdon say in that one song, bring a thermos full of hot cocoa or tea. It’s going to be chilly. The tour lasts about 2 1/2 and really flies by.

    Touring my own neighborhood was such a treat. I never knew that I passed Jim Jones’ former residence on a weekly basis on my way to get groceries. Besides tales of the paranormal (which are always backed up by as much historical information as Tommy has been able to gather), the tour includes lots of information about the history of the Haight Ashbury neighborhood and architecture. Once the guide discovered we were locals, he was quick to divulge more secrets of our neighborhood’s past. I regret that we hadn’t taken the tour sooner, I would have loved to shared certain stories and landmarks with family members who had visited us over the years.

    I didn’t manage to take any decent photos during the tour, but Tommy did mention the two places pictured above — the Mission Dolores Church and Cemetery, the oldest building in San Francisco and the Columbarium, the largest repository of human ashes in the city. We ended up visiting both places a couple weeks later… on my birthday. It turns out I’m still a 15 year old goth at heart.

    victorian homewalk

    Victorian home walk tour – $20 // official site // Yelp – Do you know what a Queen Anne is? Or an Edwardian shoebox? I didn’t and it turns out I lived in an Edwardian shoebox. Our tour guide was Jay, a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan (the little town we currently call home!), who moved to San Francisco in the 70s. He purchased and restored a Victorian home of his own in the 80s and started the Victorian Home Walk tour in the 90s to share his love and knowledge of local architecture to others.

    For me, the highlights of the tour included a walk through of the Queen Anne Hotel, located in Lower Pacific Heights. The hotel is a former finishing school, and is of course said to be haunted. I was considering staying there for our wedding night, but ended up choosing another boutique hotel, so I was really glad to have seen it in person. Other highlights were information and remaining relics of the 1939 San Francisco World’s Fair. Oh, and at the end of the tour you get a couple fridge magnets. Hell yes they’re on my fridge!

    Before the tour began, a man dressed in strange period clothing approached our tour guide and chatted with him a bit. I assumed he was just some colorful eccentric, but he was actually the tour guide of the Emperor Norton Fantastic Time Machine, a walking tour we took a couple weeks later. Oops. I’m glad he approached Jay, otherwise I might not have heard of the Emperor Norton tour.

    emperor norton walking tour

    Emperor Norton’s Fantastic Time Machine – $20 // official site // Yelp – If you live in San Francisco or you’re at all familiar with San Francisco history, then you most likely know who Emperor Norton is, the failed businessman turned beloved eccentric. The tour is led by the Emperor himself and highlights various landmarks (the birthplace of the city, the former red light district, the Barbary Coast, remaining remnants of the great fire/earthquake of 1906, etc) and notorious figures from San Francisco history, including Lotta Crabtree and the gift she left to her beloved city, Lola Montez and her erotic Spider Dance, and of course lots of information about the Emperor himself.

    The tour spans a lot of walking ground – Union Square, Financial District, SoMa, North Beach, and Chinatown. My favorite part of the tour was the excursion into the Palace Hotel, which I had walked by hundreds of times on my way to and from work. It’s such an unassuming place on the outside, and from the looks of it you wouldn’t have ever guessed that it had a bit of a macabre past and an absolutely beautiful tea room (pictured above). I was so taken with the tea room, I ended up having afternoon tea there a few weeks later with some friends. Not sure if I’ll ever pay $50 for tea and scones again, but having an old money San Francisco experience was a lot of fun.

    The weekend we went on our tour was a very memorable one for our guide, it was his last week at his day job and he was taking on his walking tours full time. Emperor Norton mentioned he had another tour in the works, set in Alamo Square. If you’re not really familiar with that area, that’s where the “Full House” houses are located. I do hope we’re able to take that tour someday and I certainly hope part of it includes a tour of the Chateau Tivoli, the bed and breakfast where Cory and I spent our wedding night. We stayed in the Luisa Tetrazzini suite, named after the opera singer who would frequent the hotel and was mentioned frequently during the tour.

    haunted chinatown

    Haunted Chinatown tour – $48 // official site // Yelp – Chinatown is not my favorite neighborhood. Besides going there for the occasional cheap eats during lunch hours, Chinatown was always low on my list of destinations – it’s crowded, full of kitschy shops that sell the same things, and catching a crowded a bus home is an ordeal in itself. I always wanted to like Chinatown more than I actually did and the walking tour helped give me a new appreciation for the neighborhood. The tour starts at the Four Seas restaurant. Sadly, I’ve forgotten our tour guide’s name but the tour was very personal for her, relaying several stories from her family’s past.

    Some of the highlights and information in this tour had already been included in the Emperor Norton tour and more time was spent talking about Hollywood films than I thought necessary. It was still a really entertaining tour, though. Not only did it cover local paranormal legends, but history about the 1906 earthquake, history of Chinese immigration, information about underground tunnels, and feng shui.