Christmas has come and gone again. It comes slowly and goes so quickly. We have been lucky with our weather in Niagara Falls so far. The weather stayed mild and almost a balmy 55 degrees for much of the Christmas week, allowing us to get outside and soak up as much sunlight as we could during the shortest days of the year. Thankfully for us- as the Winter Solstice is in our rear view mirror, the days will start getting longer even as the winter weather starts to arrive.
The city surely is appreciating this beautiful early winter weather. I’ve been out walking to some of my favorite places and it seems everyone has the same idea. This week people were happily bustling down the street with their groceries and holiday supplies. Bicycles are still out in full force- with no snow impeding their riders.
I visited the library several times this week, just at the end of my block. I must live in one of the best locations in the city because at the end of the street I have the Main Library for Niagara Falls which is always full of people surfing the internet, reading newspapers and magazines on the big leather club chairs and exploring the big stack of books under a soaring cathedral ceiling with strategically placed windows allowing filtered sunlight to stream down the levels of floors.
Constantly obsessed with pouring over the latest memoirs, I took out a stack of book twice this week that I have been reading every spare minute of the holidays.
This week I finished The French House, by Don Wallace which was an interesting and comical look at a family’s experiences in staying in a small French cottage for vacations over the course of several years. It touched me with it’s candor and humor in times of desperation in attempting to make an empty and abandoned house a home over the course of a long period of time and through a series of financial ups & downs. (Familiar story to me!) It also helped me understand what the author learned over a period of greater than ten years- what he came to understand about moving into a neighborhood already well established and inhabited by long term residents. That’s a lesson that I think will personally help me as I work into the already established neighborhood of Memorial Parkway in Niagara Falls.
This week I started, stopped and returned again to the memoir named New Slow City by William Powers. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this book for a few reasons. Right now I am really going through a period of intensely difficult work- with a large workload and a jam packed schedule. This book really focuses on the concept of working less in order to enjoy life more. While I appreciate what the author is saying and what he is trying to teach me, I find it so impossible to relate at this point that I have had to put the book down and come back to it several times. However; I am absolutely thrilled at what I am learning that I can apply to our beloved business, 24 Below Gallery and Cafe. 24 Below was born because of my passion for giving local artists and artisans a platform to sell their products on a regular basis. It is more than a retail outlet to me; it is a community that connects artists with each other and consumers of art and food with the makers. This memoir has really helped me with an added dimension to our business that I will really be excited to talk about more in the future. In the meantime, the painting and flooring continues in our new gallery on Third Street.
Finally, the memoir I am currently immersed in- to the point of reading obsession is Billion Dollar Painter, by G. Eric Kuskey. WOW! This memoir is a fascinating deep insight into the world of mass art production and distribution from the artist Thomas Kinkaid. Before you serious art lovers turn your nose up and scoff at the “jigsaw puzzle art” like I did, give this book a chance. Mr. Kuskey, the author, headed up the Licensing Division of Thomas Kinkaid’s brand and gives us an honest look into the realization of the artist about the nature of his work and it’s disconnect from the art world. He shows us how Kinkaid’s viewpoints were formed, what he thought about the mass marketing of his art and what he was trying to accomplish with it. It is a seriously revealing look into the behind the scenes operation of the mega-market of art reproduction and into the corporation. To me, I can clearly see the meeting of sales-minded business people with the crazy cast of characters artists attract- right down to the fleet of Kirby Vacuum salesmen, the In House Company Preacher with too much power, and the simulacra of a Rockwellian life that the artist was trying to lead even through beer goggles- as he put on his costume of a born again Christian artist in a fairy tale cottage. Wow. I started the book yesterday and I am halfway through. I can’t even imagine what the rest will tell me.
Have I mentioned I am supposed to be working on the formal business plan for my business? Oh yes- this holiday has been sprinkled and spiced with various mad crazy binges of consumer data, marketing plans, income projections and demographical research so that I can complete our first formal business plan for 24 Below. The business plan, like so many other small businesses, has resided in my head and in my heart. I have steered the ship of 24 Below by instinct and the metaphorical stars… and it’s working quite well. Having had a smashing successful start, without the help of investors, grants, loans or financial backers, I am now going to see what type of economic incentives or small business loans might be available to us so that we can get serious about really growing the business to it’s full potential. Our beautiful art gallery has created such an enormous amount of goodwill and community that I don’t want to drop the ball and I want to manage the potential wisely. So I am completing a well thought out business plan and I am going to meet with knowledgeable advisors to see if we should consider going for a loan or other funding. This requires the business plan, which I am told should be about 20 pages of solid data and excellent writing. All this during a library book reading binge?
As if that wasn’t enough- I made cream puffs for Christmas! Spreading a little holiday cheer with my baking. The cream puffs are a nice simple dessert to make and a great way to share with friends my love for baking and pastry making. Thanks to Niagara Culinary Institute, I learned how not to be intimidated by creating beautiful pastries and soon I will be baking these beautiful little puffs of goodness for our gallery/cafe. I am including a link to a recipe for cream puffs at the Steamy Kitchen blog. It’s not my recipe, but the recipe I use is from culinary school and goes by weight measurements and large batches.
I was so happy to deliver the cream puffs to our local heros at Niagara Falls Fire Department working on Christmas Eve, and to my working friends at the beautiful Piccirillo’s Florist, and especially to my very dear friend, whose 1o1 year old father requested them in the first place!
My cream puff brigade: (now a delicious memory)