The Stoic Ones Behind the Sugar Plums

A few nutcrackers from my collection. Yes, the one on the far right is a girl. She’s small, but holds her own among her taller brothers.

Even though Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy and peace, a certain amount of controversy prevails within families during the holidays. Do you put up the tree after Thanksgiving or wait until closer to Christmas? Should the presents from Santa be wrapped or simply placed by the tree? Do you send out cards with handwritten notes or simply email a Christmas letter? Wrap with paper and ribbon or use gift bags? Naturally one person’s beloved tradition can be the source of consternation to another.

One of the Christmas controversies in my family is nutcrackers. My son and I love them.  When I discovered a Santa nutcracker towering three feet tall over a small gathering Christmas bears and angels at a thrift store my son exclaimed, “You should get it.” Then he added with a gleam in his eye, “She’ll hate it.”  Despite being a devout fan of scary movies, my daughter finds nutcrackers disturbing. It is said that the nutcracker bares his teeth to ward off evil spirits. To be honest with you, I like a little fierceness in my holiday.

The nutcracker origins date back to the late 17th century Germany. Formerly a rich mining region, the Erzgebirge Mountains became famous for their nutcrackers in the 18th century when the miners turned to woodworking when the mines dried up.  The classic German Erzgebirge nutcrackers with their fierce expressions often depicted soldiers or kings. The Erzgebirge craftsman could caricature the rulers without fear of reprisal.  Shortly after Napoleon conquered Germany, many Napoleon nutcrackers appeared on the scene. Nutcrackers became more popular outside of Europe after World War II when American soldiers brought nutcrackers home as souvenirs.

More fun facts about nutcrackers:

As if warding off evils spirits wasn’t enough, the stalwart wooden soldier would also serve as inspiration for ETA Hoffman’s 1816 novella, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” which would later inspire Tchaikovsky’s ballet, “The Nutcracker”.

The 1944 staging of “The Nutcracker” had a budget of $1,000. With wartime rationing limiting the purchase of fabric to ten yards per person, multiple company members had to wait in line in order to purchase enough fabric to make costumes. All of the jewelry and flowers for the production were purchased at Goodwill for $5.00.

Whether your holiday style is traditional or modern, I wish you and your loved ones peace and happiness this season.

Small Business Saturday-Thinking Big by Shopping Small

“It’s more effective to do something valuable than to hope a logo or name will say it for you.” Jason Cohen, Founder of Zapatos

As you know, November 30th is Small Business Saturday, local brick and mortar stores’ version of Black Friday. Local businesses throughout the country are banding together to make Small Business Saturday an event for their customers. But did you know the event has been around for nearly a decade? Small Business Saturday was first observed in the United States in 2010.

Did you realize that when you purchase titles from an Indie Author, you are also supporting at least one small business and possibly a village? The indie publishing movement has sparked a diverse variety of independent enterprises ranging from editing to cover design and marketing—many run by writers themselves-all devoted to supporting the indie author. If you’re curious about local writers in your town, check out Hometown Reads. Their site features authors from Austin, Texas to Wichita, Kansas.

While I’m proud to be among the ranks of the indie authors, I’m by no means a lone wolf writer. My own journey in getting my titles from my mind to Amazon’s bookshelves involves a three-woman production team who has been with me since practically the beginning.  Marian Kelly does my editing, Stevie DeInk, handles formatting and Harris Channing designs my covers. Both Marian and Harris are also romance authors.

Many of my Create on the Side guests are established on Amazon or Etsy and I encourage you to read their interviews and check out their websites. You’ll have the benefit of shopping from home and supporting a small business without having to face winter weather or scramble for parking.  And if you happen to purchase one of Kim Diede’s books or a pair of earrings from Erin Adamski, you can print out their interviews and have a wonderful gift for your loved one that comes with a great story.

Writer Interview-Rae Rankin

Mountain Girl

Inspired by a girl, her family, and a quaint mountain town, Mountain Girl is another charming, easy to read story from Rae Rankin and illustrated by J-San. Join the family as they take a vacation to a spot they love to go. Come along as they hike waterfalls, catch crawdads, gaze at the stars and enjoy getting outdoors.

Describe your day job.

I have been working fulltime for the state of California as an analyst for the past year. I am also an independent marketing and graphic design consultant with several clients including an international dental education company, a dressage trainer, and a Mexican restaurant chain. I also am the newsletter editor for the Mother Lode Arabian Horse Association.

Tell me about your latest book.

I write children’s picture books. I have published four, Cowgirl Lessons, Cowgirl Christmas, Beach Day and Mountain Girl.

Mountain Girl is my most current book and was released in June 2019.  The story is about a family visiting a small town in northern California. It focuses on all their adventures exploring the outdoors and the area.

Who are your writing role models?

I have several writing role models. For children’s books, I love the simplicity of Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld who wrote the books Cloudette and Exclamation Mark! I also am a big fan of the illustrator of the Fancy Nancy stories, Robin Preiss Glasser.

How do you balance your day-to-day commitments with your writing life?

Balancing my day-to-day commitments with my writing life can be complicated. My husband and I have a very active 14 year old. I write a lot while sitting at the barn while she rides her horse, in the car before work start, on the backs of scratch paper, and while I am cooking dinner. I keep a notebook at my bedside for the times I wake up in the middle of the night and have a brilliant idea.

What are your other passions outside of writing?

I love exploring. We lived near Salt Lake City for two years and Seattle for four years before returning home to Northern California. I enjoy looking for unique places to visit that are in your own backyard.

I also love to read. It has been tough lately to find the time!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I dreamed about being a writer for most of my life. Three years ago, I did some research and worked on the layout for a friend’s book. It motivated me to finish my story, Cowgirl Lessons, and find an illustrator to do the work. My dream came true! It hasn’t always been easy, but it is definitely worth the journey.

I encourage everyone to follow their dreams!

For more about Rae, check out her website:


Artist Interview-Erin Adamski

I was fortunate to meet Erin while she was working at art gallery at Miners Foundry in Nevada City, California. A wonderful artist, I’m thrilled to have her as my guest!

My Biggest breakthrough came when….I was in the depths on one of the lowest points of my life. I had created jewelry for years as gifts for friends and for myself. I had kicked around the idea or incorporating antiquities into modern pieces of jewelry ( I had no interest in making reproductions). Then I started thinking how rich it would be to incorporate the mythology of these cultures to guide the designs. I was still playing with these ideas when my brother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. The act of creating has always been therapeutic for me, and so I dove into my new ideas furiously as a way to assuage the worry and fear. When he died 5 months later, I had a nice little collection to begin, but I was hollowed out with grief. I was in this weakened state when I wandered into a local wiccan store, The Cult of Gemini. The women there were so kind and gentle, that I was able to reach out and ask if they might be interested in what I was doing. They not only agreed to take a look, but they took most of my collection for the Christmas season. When I stopped by a few weeks later they had sold several pieces already. People I didn’t even know had spent money on something I created!! I was in tears!

I was an artist.

My Heroes in Real Life …..My biggest hero was always my brother. I didn’t always agree with him in matters of politics or religion, but he was one of the most integrous people I have ever known. He really tried to “walk his talk”. His contributions to his community, his work ethic, and his kindness, and most of all his incredible sense of humor, made him someone I admired. Being around him was like standing in the sun. I am the cynic in the family, and the older sibling—but I was like a little kid when he called on the phone. It’s not often we are gifted with someone we can truly lean on and lean into.

How do you balance your day-to-day commitments with your creative pursuits? My day-to day commitments have changed recently as my son has moved away to college this last week! I find myself at my work table whenever I start to miss him.

I have 2 part time- jobs plus my vocation as an artist. I am a paraeducator for special ed. preschool and I run a shipping service for a supplement company out of my garage. I really feel that playing with the kids at school keeps my brain limber and creative. It is a requirement in that job!

Both jobs allow me lots of time at home, which is my happy creation place. My dining area has lots of light and a high table where I can stand and work (less strain on the back). But I am definitely less interested in housework since I really began to create on a steady basis.  We only have so much time in the day, and something has to give! I have also given up sleep on occasion—working until 2 in the morning to finish a necklace.

My other passions….The jewelry takes up most of my passion, but I have a few other creative pursuits. I really enjoy cooking, when the weather is cooler. My favorites are traditional recipes from Eastern Europe and the UK—Just because you don’t see those around that much. At least not in California.

I am trying to learn Polish through the Rosetta program. I really enjoy it, but it is getting harder with each lesson. Slavic languages are not easy to say the least.

I play music with a group of friends every weekend. We have done this for about 6 years now. We play a lot of Irish music and they are all Deadheads, so there is that too. I play bodhran (Irish frame drum) and sing. I also find this to be therapeutic. We have played and sang together through a lot of rough patches in all our lives.

And my biggest passion is my son. He is studying sound design at The School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Watching him grow into his future has been the biggest joy of my life. I hang on his every text!

What’s next….? I am researching going back to school to get my teaching credential for Moderate/Severe Pre-K education. That will be the next big endeavor. It will be one more element to juggle, but I feel that it will be a good direction to compliment my creative life. Lots of play, and good chunks of vacation time.

I also have an uncle that wants to teach me to weld. We are just in the talking stages on that. But it would open up a whole new realm of creation! We just have to get our schedules co-ordinated. I would like to eventually make outdoor sculptures incorporating mythological symbols and elements.

Anything else….? I can’t think of anything right now. I feel like I rambled too much!

Thank you for the opportunity!

For more about Erin check out her Facebook page and her shop at Etsy-GriffinQueen Mythological Jewelry

Getting Lost-Reno Open Studios

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Thomas Merton

Good news for those of you suffering from Artown withdrawal. On September 6th, 7th and 8th artists throughout the Reno Sparks area open their studios to the public (Reno Open Studios). The participating artists work in a variety of mediums including acrylics, ceramics, gourds, glass, photography and watercolors. There’s something special about stepping behind the scenes to watch the magic happen. The artists’ work will be available for purchase at the studios and there’s nothing better than having a piece of art with a great story.

Reno Open Studios is committed to arts education. In the past they’ve awarded scholarships to Coral Academy and Ronald McDonald House Charities. Many of the studios have donated prizes and you can buy raffle tickets for that artist’s prize at their studio. This year proceeds from the raffle will be awarded to a deserving UNR student.

Thanks to an online map and large yellow flags marking the studios’ locations, you can lose yourself to art without actually getting lost. Since the studios are open from 10:00AM to 5:00PM throughout the weekend, you can go at your own pace, allowing plenty of time to stop at Bibo Coffee Company for a quick cup of java or some tasty gelato. Or head over to one of the Squeeze Ins in the area for a hearty breakfast before you set out. Not going to be in Reno that weekend? By following the links you can still check out participating artists Julie Tachihara and Katherine Case.

Reno Open Studios

September 6, 7 & 8

Note-certain of the artists’ studios are not open on Friday, so check the website before you head out.

10:00AM to 5:00PM

Cost: Free-leaving you plenty of extra cash for art and raffle tickets!


Mom & the Bard

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”  Shakespeare

I fell in love with Shakespeare in Junior High despite the fact my English teacher forced us to read Romeo & Juliet aloud in front of the class. You might even say it was love at first cite. I loved Shakespeare’s word play even if sometimes I didn’t always understand all of it. When Juliet’s nurse slyly quipped that her charge fell forward as a child, but would fall backward as a woman, I thought she meant Juliet was clumsy.

Though a lifelong voracious reader, my mom was hesitant when I asked her to go with me to see Comedy of Errors at a local winery. Coming from a small country high school in Indiana (her graduating class was nine), my mom hadn’t studied Shakespeare in high school or college. No doubt she feared being set adrift in a sea of archaic language.

Maybe it was because it was my birthday or because the play was performed at a winery Mom agreed to go with me. I admit I too was a little apprehensive.  For me, Shakespeare shone more brightly on the page than being mumbled by slouching 9th graders.

For this particular production, the director used an Old West theme opening with a brawl in the first scene. As the director would later explain to the audience, “It’s not a Western without a bar fight.” Wearing cowboy hats and overalls, the actors spoke the Bard’s words while their gestures and body language told the rest of the story. And it all worked.

You don’t need to be an Elizabethan scholar or even an English major to enjoy Shakespeare, just an observer of human nature.  Mom even accompanied me to another outdoor production the following summer. This time it was Merry Wives of Windsor, set in Marin County, California in the sixties.  I don’t know if Shakespeare would have used Beatles music between scenes, but I bet he would have liked the scene with the hot tub.

Artist Interview-Donna Jeanne Koepp

My biggest breakthrough came when… Pursuing art all my life, I never have trouble jumping in to anything that interests me. From Macrame in the ‘70s, Stained Glass in the 80’s, Sculpted Dolls in the ‘90s, Needle Felting currently and always painting and drawing have kept my right brain active. My day job for 30 years as a Project Estimator for a large local general contractor certainly weighed on my left brain pretty heavy. About 20 years ago, I thought if I could just carve out an hour a day for art, I would be happy. After reading The Artist’s Way, I started getting up at 4am to do Daily Pages which is a stream of consciousness way of journaling and starting your day. After awhile I found myself just complaining on those pages. So I started journaling by painting and collaging. The journaling finally fell away, but the 4am ritual stayed. It’s amazing how much you can get done in a short amount of dedicated time. I’ve since retired from my day job and I sleep in until 5am, but I still start my day in my studio I fondly refer to as White Wolf Studio.

Another breakthrough for me was being invited to show my work a few years ago with Wedge Outside the Box and Wild Women Artists as I feel someone is watching and acknowledging.

Who are your heroes in real life?  A real life hero to me is Lorie Line, acclaimed international pianist born and raised locally. I worked with Lorie for a short while as she pursued her music degree at UNR. She left our firm and moved on to Minneapolis with her husband. She carved out a niche with her music and I believe she is one of the world’s largest independent music labels. She is proof that pursuing passions works. Put her name into Pandora for a flavor of her amazing music.


My other local real life hero is Carol Pallesen, calligrapher. I’ve taken many calligraphy classes with Carol, and her dedication to teaching beautiful writing and historical context is amazing. Her studio Silent Hand Scriptorium has sustained itself over the years because of Carol’s dedication. I’ve traveled with Carol to conferences and classes. And I’m so lucky to have her as a local resource.

One other hero is Marti Bein, artist. She is an old high school buddy who also forged a career in art and curates many shows around the region. Oh and Mary Lee Fulkerson, who said to me, “What if?” If I ask myself that consistently, I will never run out of ideas. I guess I have many real life heroes.

How do you balance your day-to-day commitments with your creative pursuits

I carve out time in the morning, as I mentioned, when the house is quiet and my inner critic is not awake. I also make creativity a priority. Learning to live in an artistic way is helpful too. Many people don’t like to call themselves artists, but everyone is. From what we decide to wear everyday, to what we decide to make with our hands, all are creative pursuits.

What are your other passions?  Since retiring I searched for a volunteer activity. I learned about Knitted Knockers from a colleague and I’ve been knitting these amazing breast prosthetics ever since. It’s a great way to knit and help women at the same time. Our group has grown to about 10 knitters, crocheters and craftswomen. We’ve also added Teddy Bears, blankets and other items for charity. Fiber art is a passion and I’ve taught myself many from hand sewing, knitting to tatting.

I love to go on drawing/painting outings. Urban sketching in downtown or nature painting is all fun and keeps me in practice. Latimer Art Club holds Paint Outs every month.

I paint pet portraits in watercolor. I love animals and they always find their way into my sight and artwork.

Teaching is also something I really enjoy doing. I taught stained glass way back when, construction estimating at UNR and currently I’m teaching Needle Felting and Watercolor Journaling at Copper Cat Studio.

My husband and I RV several times a year. We golf, he fishes and I spend a great amount of time with my Scottish Terrier, JoJo.

I do have two part time positions with the American Institute of Architects Northern Nevada and a local architectural firm. Both jobs are so fun and keeps me connected.

What’s next for you?  Hard to say what’s next as I suffer from Multiple Muse Disorder, which many creative people do. I love to learn and as hard as I try to refrain from new pursuits, I’ve learned to roll with it. But showing my work, teaching and practicing my art is my focus.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I’m pleased to be showing with Wild Women Artists and our next show is just coming up.

July 19th Reception 4-8 and July 20th Show with Demonstrations 10-4 at TMCC Red Mountain Building in the Student Gallery on the ground floor

I’m also teaching my next Introduction to Needle Felting at Copper Cat Studio July 24th 11-2

Thank you so much for your interest. I really appreciate sharing my artistic journey with you.