Family life

Gingerbread house baking notes: 2017 Edition

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Gingerbread house baking notes: 2017 Edition || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

I love making gingerbread houses! Each year I try to learn a new technique, and this year I made my own Necco wafers using this tutorial and this decorating tip from Wilton to cut out two different sizes. 

I had this plan to make multiple colors but quickly realized once I got going that it was best to just keep it simple for my first attempt. I did add a little more water that the recipe called for to give myself more leeway to work and was fine with the additional drying time. 

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Home made Necco Wafers || Rachel Loewens

I really like the famous White House Gingerbread Recipe but found it a bit too dry for a Nebraska winter climate. Plus, I really didn't need the rise the baking soda gave it so here is my slightly modified version (one batch will make three of these A-frames):

Rachel Loewens's Version of white house gingerbread

  • 2 C granulated Sugar
  • 1 C plus 2 T brown sugar
  • 1 C solid shortening
  • 3 T molasses
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ t salt
  • 3-4 T water
  • 6 C flour
  • 1 T ginger
  • 1 T cinnamon

1. Cream together shortening and sugars in a large stand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until light and fluffy. Add the molasses, salt, water, ginger, and cinnamon. Add the flour, one cup at a time. Mix until just incorporated. The dough will become very stiff, and will fill the entire bowl so don't attempt to double this recipe!

2. Roll dough to a  1/14” thickness between two sheets of cling film. Use a rolling pin with adjustable rings on the end to ensure even thickness. Trace around stencils (my preferred pattern here) with dull side of a knife and gently move pieces to parchment-lined cookie sheet. 

3. Bake at 375 degrees for between 12 and 15 minutes. For construction purposes, over-baked is better than under. 

Rolling out gingerbread dough between cling film || Rachel Loewens
Trimming the edges of the gingerbread pieces || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
Gingerbread house pieces || Rachel Loewens

4. Remove pieces from oven  trim the ends using a serrated knife or pizza cutter (and feed to any hovering family members). This will ensure significantly better assembly. Let the cookie pieces cool completely before assembly. I prefer to wait overnight to allow them to fully dry out. Do not stack the elements higher than three piece once when cool and not at all while warm. 

5. Assemble the house using royal icing with Wilton Meringue Powder (tutorial here ).



Gingerbread house baking notes : 2017 edition || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
Gingerbread house baking notes || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
 

I've got a pretty good at assembling the houses, but one area where I still have loads of room for improvement is my decorative icing work. I would love to find a really great YouTube channel to follow so if you know of one, please leave me a note in the comments.

 

Happy Christmas Baking!

Gingerbread house baking notes: 2017 Edition || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

 
Don't miss out on my New Year, New You promotion with Young Living Essential Oils. Click here to find out how you can encourage wellness and eliminate chemicals in your home and save $20. Now through January 15th!


What makes an ordinary week

(for further context, see last week's post Ordinary Time in My Studio

Lesson plan for history: To experience a “taste” of what life was like as a monk, prepare a typical “monk’s meal” for supper one night. You might like to pretend that it is Christmas, so you can have some butter on your bread!
Pretty Pavlova || What makes an ordinary week || blog post || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

Me: "Since we are learning about Monks, we are going to make a bread like the kind they would have eaten. "
AJ: "Can't I make Mary Berry's Pavlova instead?"
Me: "I'm not sure we have enough eggs... "
AJ: " We only need six!" (proceeds to recite rest of recipe and directions)

Yeah, she won. 


This month, we are still figuring out what an ordinary week for us will look like this year. I was given some very wise counsel that co-teachers (homeschool moms) usually doesn't get their routine down until October so I know we have a few more weeks to get our stride. I'm still participating in the #PCJ30in30 Challenge on Instagram and am loving the process of observing one memory or moment of each day in a painting. 

Chilly Sunday || #PCJ30in30 || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
Pretty Pavlova || #PCJ30in30 || 8x8" acrylic on watercolor paper || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

Sometimes I know what I want to capture within the first few hours of the day, other times it takes until dinnertime. Either way, this practice is helping me focus on what little thing sets each day apart from the next (a tall order for someone who is big-picture minded).

Raining sunshine || #PCJ30in30 || 6x8" || acrylics + paint pen on watercolor paper || Rachel Loewens
Turning season sunset || #PCJ30in30 || 8x8" || acrylic paint on watercolor paper || Rachel Loewens

To stay up to date on this challenge follow me on Instagram



Back to school and back to normal life

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Back to school, back to normal || blog post || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

This was a stand out summer in the Loewens Family in both good and hard things. My arthritis wasn’t much of a factor for any of our activities, and my kids had tons of fun at swim lessons. I took on a major freelance project that ate up most of my creative time and proved to be very taxing emotionally and spiritually. The scope of the project meant that I knew it would be very hard going into it but knowing something will probably true and living it can be very different things. I’ve got at least 5 more months of work still left to do, but it will not be as high up on my priority list now that we are starting lessons up again. 

I am so looking forward to getting back to our normal rhythms of life!! These past two weeks have been filled with teacher training (we homeschool part time), reading some great books that have helped me focus again on what I want our lives to look like, and hours in the studio making collages and prints. I’m also stocking up on essential oils to help combat all the germs we will again be exposed at school. Ah, life of a mom!

Back to school, back to normal || blog post || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
Back to school, back to normal || blog post || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

Monday we are heading out to Broken Bow for one last adventure before the first day of school. Nebraska is fortunate to be right along the path of the solar eclipse so we are making a day trip for the event. Fingers crossed that the clouds stay away!

 
 

Turning mistakes into masterpieces

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Ahhhhhh! Summer break!!!! We are basking in the routine of sleeping in, wearing pajamas until lunchtime, working in the garden, and then running in the sprinkler to cool off. For two summers in a row I was pregnant and so miserable that I missed out on a lot of the fun that comes along this season but not this year. This year, I am saying no to a lot of good things so as not to miss out doing what I want most. 

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Turning Mistakes Into Masterpieces || A lesson on resilience for children || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
mistakes to masterpieces || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

This morning was to be the start of our drawing lessons. I fell in love with Drawing with Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too by Mona Brookes last fall but couldn’t make it work into our already packed schedule so I shelved it until now. By the time I got showed and dressed my kids had come up with a plan of their own for the morning: making paper crowns. They had paper, scissors, and markers already out on the dining table so I just went with it. Making is making, right?

As goes all craft projects with little humans, it only took about five minutes for disaster to strike. Child #2 made one of his dots bigger than all the others which ruined the pattern he had in his minds so he MUST start over. Then Child #3 colored over the same spot so many times as to cause a slight tear in the paper. There was just no consoling either of them. My mantras about valuing the process, taking risks with our art, and there being no such things as mistakes had absolutely no effect on the flow of tears rolling down their little cheeks. 

mistakes to masterpieces || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

 

So I changed tactics. “Who wants to hear about some of Mommy’s art mess ups? Who wants to see what I did to fix them?” They immediately perked up. At that very moment, I was printing a cyanotype on top of one that did not turn out very well. While doing a double exposure was something I wanted to experiment with, I was doing it out of an attempt to correct/improve upon one that did not turn out at all. 

 

In case that example wasn’t enough for them, I pulled out a print that accidentally fell onto my paint-filled palette. “See here, this big blob of pink. That wasn’t supposed to happen, but I kinda liked it so I dropped it again on the paint to make it look like it was part of the design.” Finally, the light bulbs turned on!!! #2 colored the tops of each triangle in his crown with a black marker and began to make a new pattern. #3 used a whole punch over the part that was ripped and then punched over the middle of each point. 

 

Not only was our morning saved, but my kids learned one of the biggest secrets to success in life: resilient people turn their mistakes into masterpieces. This isn’t just a lesson for artists, but for everyone who takes risks, tries new things, and dares to live a great life!

mistakes to masterpieces || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

Brené Brown writes in her book Rising Strong,

" The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness - even our wholeheartedness - actually depends on the integration of all of experiences including the falls." 

I find it so much easier to be comfortable with my weakness when I am around others who do the same. My hope is that by modeling vulnerability and wholeheartedness to my children, they will grow up to be empathetic and resilient adults!


Creating and Co-teaching

With the school year being almost over, it is a toss up between me and my daughter over who is the most excited for summer break. She is ready to paint, play outside, and go on adventures any day of the week and well, so am I! 

 

Being so close to the finish means that there are more opportunities for her to study independently, which frees me up to work a bit on the business stuff (like create new listings for my next sale on May 12th) or even make a few prints!

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Collaborating between home schooling and traditional brick and mortar schooling has worked well for our lifestyle and the family culture we want to create. It has also decreased the hours I have in my studio to create, but I think the benefits outweigh the costs. 

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The impending free time seems so close that I can almost taste it. I am daily fighting my tendency to set impossible goals for myself and my time, but doesn't every momma/maker do that?

My dream to do list includes:

+swim lessons for the older two kiddos +begin nature journaling like Greta Eskridge +join the Sumer Reading Program +teach my kids Shakespeare + and spend 25+ hours/week in my studio

I know, too much! But if I don't set stretch goals for myself at the beginning of the season then I will get nothing done! Here is another goal I've set for myself. I am going to try to launch my next collection on Friday, May 12th. Watch for more posts here and on Instagram about what's going to be "in store". Get it? I know! Lame attempt to be punny, but you can't fault a girl for trying!


First lessons from my residency: choosing what I value

Sunday night we celebrated my oldest turning 6 at my mom's house. It was a lovely night full of good conversations, yummy food, and laughter. 

Dried hydrangea flower || Cyanotype in progress || Rachel Loewens

My mom's hydrangea bush had a few blooms leftover from last year so I snatched them up to do some sun printing. 

 
Outdoor studio || Omaha, NE || Rachel Loewens
 

While Omaha's forecast predicted 15 straight days of clouds and rain, we had plenty moments of sunshine for me to work in my "outdoor studio". 

Days later I set about mounting some of these prints because I hope to sell them as a means to fund my residency. The kids were all occupied and my supplies were at hand so I set forth to make a quick job of it. Of course, disaster quickly ensued.  Little ones offered to "help" me, I politely declined and in my haste to be as efficient as possible I ruined a print (my mom's favorite one, of course!). 

 
Mounting fail || Rachel Loewens
 

Of course I was immediately frustrated with what I did, but more so that I wasn't valuing my children's involvement with my work. Then I realized that I wasn't actually valuing my work either since I was in such a hurry to get it done. 

Studio mate || Rachel Loewens

A minute to slow down my breathing, a prayer asking for wisdom and grace, and we moved on to have a better day.  My daughter made flowers with her glue gun, and I returned to mounting the rest of my prints. 

Update: 

I have two 5x7" cyanotype prints available for instant digital down load here! Only $10 each! (they even will fit into standard frame)

My new neighbor

As we are midway through my first spring break as a co-teaching parent (homeschooling part time), I find myself feeling rather disappointed.  Crummy weather and an elbow injury have kept us inside and me unable to get anything done (typing this post is quite painful). 

It seems almost as if some stranger knew that I needed cheering up because all of a sudden one morning this little guy appeared outside my living room window. 

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As you can imagine, his residence on the block has sparked a lot of interests; text messages between neighbors, double takes from passersby and even a car backing up down the street to make sure they really saw what they think they saw. I wish I had set up a camera to document all the reactions he has brought about.

My kids have named him Pandy as all our stuffed animals are named basically after their species. We are so thankful to the person who placed him there and hope his duration on our block is a long one!!

A quiet week

Quiet is a blessed gift. In this frantic world how we must cherish every moment of it, and carve it out for ourselves every chance we get.  Anne Ortland

After a few weeks of illness, snow storms and the general feeling of needing to catch up that occurs when your routine is all out of whack, it is so nice to just have a quiet week.

Jens in the kitchen || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
Art and science class collide || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
Brigs "teaching" AJ || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

We also hit the major milestone of completing our first semester of co-teaching our oldest. This has been such a great experience for our family, and we are so glad to know that her school is so successful that it looks like it will continue of for many more years to come!

In my sketchbook || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

I've also been continuing on with my gold ink drawings! Hope you enjoy them as much as I do while making them!