Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve

Today I didn't expect to do anything special; my plan was to - finally - get the laundry done (only two days late).  I did do that, but we decided to make our dinner a bit more special than left overs so out to the grocery store we went.  Here's the menu we came up with:
  • wild salmon with mustard, lemon, and tarragon sauce
  • wild and other rices
  • roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower with pine nuts and sister-in-law's special salt with Meyer lemon rind
  • fresh cherry tomatoes
But that's not all.  Do you remember the Christmas Carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", or more specifically do you remember the second verse, "Now bring us some figgy pudding . . ."?  Have you like us ever wondered about that pudding?  I mean, really.  Figs?  I made that dessert this afternoon, and still wondered about the figs - especially since my recipe called for more dates than figs.  Were there more dates than figs available?  So I did a little research.

In 16th century England, puddings could be and were made from anything lying around, and I guess figs were pretty rare so therefore a good thing to toss into the Christmas pudding.  But pudding?  Then again, one has to remember that we're talking about England where the word "pudding" doesn't have the same meaning it does for us.  You're thinking chocolate, rice, or tapioca when you think pudding.  But what about bread pudding?  Very different consistency, right?  And plum pudding?  Very cake-like.  And that's what figgy pudding is - very like a dense, moist cake.  And good?  You can't begin to imagine.  I also found out that recipes for figgy pudding vary a lot, but oh my, the one I made was terrific.

From now on, figgy pudding will have a prominent place on our holiday menus.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thanks to Friends

After reading yesterday's entry, my sister-in-law E suggested that I might be feeling the dread Holiday Let-Down, and I have to say she is more than likely correct.  But today was a good day and accomplishments are not many but are visible.

Two friends worked with me on our guild's Block of the Month offering for January (translation: They let me feel important).  First we debated what had been our intended block and decided to shelve it  - for this year, at least (translation: We have to have this ready by Thursday, and there's no way we'd we be able to get it ready in time).  We feel it may be a strong contender for January 2016 if we manage to prepare it properly (translation: I have to locate my wandering math "gene" in time to design the "go with" block).  We went through our combined pattern ideas and settled on one (translation: The selected block met the criteria of both attractiveness and ease of preparation.  Heck, It answered the "how fast can we get this sucker cut?" with the answer "Three-four hours. Max.").

Next ME said, "It's half done already!" as she pulled out a paper bag full of 2.5" strips (translation: it'll really take only three hours to cut because she had the foresight to do a lot of work beforehand.)  I went upstairs to make some copies and came down to find M selecting fabrics for each block and ME already cutting (translation: Guess who's the gofer in this group?).

I pulled out my sewing machine and sewed the first two "sample" blocks (translation: "Find a toy for her to play with so we can get on with the real work!).  

By the time they left, we were more than half way finished (translation: They did all the work while I ran up and downstairs for necessary stuff.)  Since they had done all the important work before they left, the rest of it was a piece cake for me to finish, and it's ready!

Thanks to my good and kind and patient friends, I had a wonderful and fulfilling day!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Soup as the Highlight

Days when nothing out of the ordinary takes place are difficult to write about.  Actually, it was a discouraging day because I tried to do a few creative things, but nothing worked out.

I wasn't very happy until I thought that it isn't very often that this sort of day rolls into my life.  Even on days when one thing goes awry, something else perks right along.  While writing this I realize that while my creative efforts were less than a rousing success, ordinary things were accomplished. We went to the bank, paid some bills, arranged to have the latest painting framed (and met up with ME while there), and did the grocery shopping.  Not very exciting nor very taxing, but those were necessary errands. 

Therefore, when making some tasty soup turns out to be the highlight of my day, I'm going to be content with that.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Final: Painting "Lakeside Memory"

Christmas week is over, and I sit in the family room with my new laptop (my present from D) ready to write a new entry.  It was a wonderful week - full of laughter, family, good food and drink, and more laughter.  We did not have to travel, which, even though the weather was very mild, was a pleasant bonus.  So we enjoyed company in our own home and prepared meals in a very functional and comfortable kitchen.

Today was our first official non-holiday day so we both were back to our usual pursuits.  D had computer work to do (this is a busy time for him), and I bit the bullet and went to the studio to finish the latest watercolor and begin a promised piece for a friend.

The final touches on the painting are so subtle that I will show the almost-done and the final just so you can tease yourself by trying to find the changes.  Sneaky, aren't I!

Above you see the penultimate work.  Below you see what I did today.

Can you see the differences?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Holiday Wishes

Here's wishing everyone within wishing distance a very happy and healthy holiday.  May the end of 2014 find you eagerly awaiting a peaceful 2015, and may you find beauty wherever you look!

I'll be back in January.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Switching Gears to Painting

Today I'm leaving art quilting and its creative process to painting and its creative process.  More or less.

Today was back to watercolor time, back to a painting I thought was very close to being finished.  In one sense, I was right.  This painting is very close to that point, but getting it there takes so more time than one would think.  I realized once again today that "finishing" is a very slow and meticulous part of the painting process.  It requires "less is more" thinking and doing.  Discussion is part of it - if one is lucky enough to have people with whom to talk.  If not, then one has to have internal dialogues between the "artist" and the "viewer" personae in one's own brain.  I was lucky to have three people with whom to talk in class today, and now I am secure in what needs to be done.

Here is the painting as I left it after this morning's work:

What I still have to do is work on the water around the seated figure of our daughter.  It's almost there, but her hands still get lost in the subtle background.  Her hair is too evenly divided - other minor issues.  Once all of those are taken care of, there will be one more review to see if any of the work done between now and then has altered the overall appearance of the painting.

Now I have to remember that what I learn in painting is applicable to quilting and vice versa.  It doesn't always seem that way, but that's a discussion for another time. Right now, I can see the end of this particular work, and I intend to enjoy it.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Evolution of a Design in Progress #4

In the last entry, I found myself thinking about alternate meanings for the word "leaves".  Of course, I I used the plural, but that doesn't change what I was getting at.  The first alternate meaning that came to me was pages of a book.  Then came the phrase "to turn over a new leaf".  The one that did not occur to me was a sheet of metal (think "gold leaf").

Interesting, isn't it?  All three have applications in the art quilt currently underway, but the first one I thought of lingers in my imagination, fraught with possibilities.  

The pages of books . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Evolution of a Design in Progress #3

Having decided on trees and even a background - path leading to the horizon line and sky - my brain decided to take a walk, and I let it go.  [That's what I mean by "getting out of my way".] You see, it's those leaves.  Not exactly what you would call realistic which is why my trees were so straight and simplistic.  But you see, they're still leaves, and leaves aren't rigid.  They're flexible.  They turn and bend and twist.  They have two sides.

Mine have none of those characteristics.  Yet.

So I started by thinking about the "wrong" side of the leaves, and what if it's really not the "wrong" side?  What if it's the important, right side?  And then . . .whoa!

Leaves.  What else is sometimes referred to as "leaves"?

I will be thinking about that until Monday (Christmas festivities will keep my attention for a few days) and wondering what is going through your mind that might help me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Evolution of a Design in Progress - Entry #2

The subtitle for this entry could be "Getting Out of My Way" (with a nod and thank you to John Mellencamp from his interview with Charlie Rose on PBS).  Yesterday I admitted that the obvious answer to the question (what should I do with my leaves?) was Trees!  If you've been reading my entries for a while, you may know that trees are among my favorite things which makes the answer to that question even more obvious.  But I am convinced that what kept me from recognizing that simple answer was an ingrained conviction that answers had to be more elaborate, more artsy, more cerebral, more cosmic, and there I was with blinders on my brain .  No answers remotely fitting any of those "more" categories came to me.  Actually nothing came to me

I had to get out of my way.

I sat down and drew a very rough pencil sketch:

At that point the trees were very straight as they frequently are in a forest, and very few branches are visible.  There's a path that leads from the lower left to right of center where it meets the horizon.  There are two swirling lines that start in the upper left and end up in the right bottom third.  The first line didn't please me so I just took a purple ink pen and altered its course.  That's the line of the leaf fall.

Or it is right now.

After sketching that, I picked up "tree trunk" fabrics and started tearing them.  If I wanted straight trees, the fastest way to get them was to allow the grain of the fabric to dictate the degree of straightness it would give me.  All I did was choose the width of the tree.  That worked very well until one of my favorite fabrics took it in its head to head straight for a while and then veer off near the bottom.  I almost, almost, tossed it aside; my idea was for straight, straight, straight trees.  But then I thought, "Get out of your way."  

And I let it be.

And here's the really lovely thing I saw today on my driveway:

You can bet if I don't use this in my quilt or in a quilt, it will appear somewhere, somehow.  It's a Leaf Echo!  

Here's a close up.  It's what happens when a leaf freezes to the ground; the ice crystals form around it.  Then when the ice crystals melt, the leaf can blow away leaving a hint of what it was - in this case, an oak leaf!

This isn't the leaf, but I couldn't resist.  It's obvious I've amped up these photographs to make the most of the texture and melting ice water trails (lines on the quilt's path? trees leaning this way and that?) on my driveway and also the color (quilt, again?) in the last one.  But aren't they just something?  Inspiration, certainly!

More tomorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Evolution of a Design in Progress - Entry #1

A little while ago, I started a new quilt.  Well, let's just say I started putting some pieces together using fabric that was originally going into something else, not my own design, that I decided I wasn't crazy about.  However, the intended wall hanging was designed by Dianne Hire whose class I took (and with whom I fell in love).  She's a great teacher for people who want to kick over the traces and have fun while doing it, and she's the one who taught me how to sew curves without fear.

Anyway, I loved the fabric from the scrapped project, and I love using curves so:

Here are some leaves I made in late November before my yearly Christmas panic struck: beech, ginkgo, and oak.  All right, but what was I to do with them?  Nothing is what I did; I just let them hang out on my design wall until it came to me.  Don't laugh too hard.  Trees.

I know, I know, it took me a couple of weeks to come up with that?  Well, yes, it did.  Sometimes what is obvious is perfectly right and sometimes it just isn't.  This time, it is right.  

The design has progressed (in my mind only - Christmas panic is in full bloom, after all) and has evolved - but more about that tomorrow.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fading Art

"Lost Art" seemed to be a depressing title for this entry and not completely accurate.   The subject is caning.  Very few people cane any more - probably for at least a couple of reasons.  First, chairs that require caned seats aren't made anymore, that style of chair is altogether too "grandmother-y" for today's tastes so even old chairs that need to be re-caned aren't, and, I think, that unless you do it often, it must be hard on the hands.  So the art of caning is fading fast.

We are lucky enough to have Hitchcock-style chairs that had been in the dining room of my in-laws home, and they look very good in our dining room (after all, I am a grandmother!).  However, much to my total embarrassment and horror, during one dinner with company, I was suddenly aware of the seat of my chair slowly parting.  You can be sure I sat very still until the dinner was over, and I could stand up, assess the damage, and admit to what had happened!  After that, we looked carefully at all four of the chairs, and used only two of them - infrequently and very gingerly.

By sheer luck, through the good offices of a friend, we found a man who could refinish old furniture (I've mentioned getting the "library table" and my mother's sewing machine cabinet refinished by him).  When he delivered the cabinet, he either saw or D mentioned the chairs with the caned seats.  D casually asked him if he might know of anyone who did that kind of work any more (thoroughly expecting a "no").  Much to our surprise, he said, "Well, as a matter of fact, I do.  My wife does that."

I asked in some surprise, "Would she be willing to cane ours?" and showed him the chairs - again expecting the answer to be a, "Gee, too bad but she doesn't do it anymore." Instead he said that she loved to do it, and he'd bring her with him the next time he came by this way.  That took a while, but come they did and took the chairs.

One month later we received a call that the chairs were finished, they brought them up, and here are two of the four.

They really do look good, don't they?

Here's a close-up of the seats.  The only difference that I can see between these seats and the old ones is these do not have the patina of age (or a large hole in one!).  They'll get that, I'm sure - the patina, I mean!  

But can you see what I mean when I said that it must be hard on the hands?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Unexpected "Thank You"

Today when D brought the mail in and handed me my share, I looked through the various envelopes and glanced at the return addresses.  Everything was as usual: numerous catalogs, charitable organizations asking for help, a gift for D from an expected source, some embellishments I had ordered (sequin snowflakes), and something from eQuilter.  

The latter had me confused as I didn't remember ordering anything from them - although I do from time to time.  So I took the packet upstairs in case it was something that was part of a gift I wouldn't want D to see.  It wasn't that, but it was a surprise.

This is a 42 piece charm pack (5" squares of fabric), and it was in the envelope with a note from eQuilter thanking me for my patronage.  The charm pack is a thank you gift from them.  I received something from them last year also, but this is different and quite special.

These are the fabrics in the charm pack  - 9 different selections.  Now, I don't know about you, but I love bright colors, and I love metallic glitz so these pieces fit my taste to a T.

This close up is a bit better; you can get a better view of the colors and metallic flecks.  Lovely, but for one minute I was stumped about what I would do with these them.  That didn't last.

It was a gift to me so it's my turn to gift them to someone else.  I will make a donation quilt to brighten the day of someone else - just as opening the envelope brightened my day.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Preparations

It's taken a while, but we have finally moved past the wreath on the front door which until this week was really the only visible symbol that Christmas is coming.  This week I have spent two days preparing and printing our card and another day writing a letter to put in cards to be sent to distant family and friends.

I said writing a letter, but that's not entirely accurate.  Time is getting short, and the letter usually takes a couple of days to write and fine tune.  This year I decided to make life easier by using primarily photographs with captions as the carrier of our yearly news.  Because I upload my photos and use many of them in this blog, finding appropriate pictures was relatively easy.  Well, except for one thing.  I realized that we do not have a single picture of our daughter taken during the calendar that could be included in the letter.  It isn't fair to put in images that aren't - well, attractive!  Note to self: be sure to take several shots of the daughter while taking hundreds of the g'son!  The letter was finished in record time, and I dare say the recipients will prefer it, too.

Decorations have now been scattered around the house; it's a very minimalist look for me, but as I said, time is running out.  Some of the things I really like are still packed neatly away on shelves that I can't get to (numerous construction jobs have made the cellar topsy-turvey again).  I take the positive view and say to myself that I will appreciate them all the more next year.

Here's something that is traditional that we were able to do:

D spent many summer vacation days in Vermont chopping wood for an elderly friend.  As a thank you he received the saw that you see above.  It's always over that window, and depending on the season, it is sometimes decorated.  The fish were given to us when we were on our trip to China (fish symbolize prosperity), and they are a fixture on the saw.  The ornaments are the holiday addition.  It always makes me smile.  

It may have happened slowly and may not be much, but it suits us this year.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Clive - for the Last Time

You may be tired of seeing photographs of our clivia plant, but as I explained this is a plant we've had for a long time (8 - 10 years or more).  So what, right?  In that time it has bloomed for me only once, and that means that this year in the life of Clive, blooming is a BIG deal.

Here you have it:

It may not look very different from the last picture you saw, but it is.  If you look at the blossom that is farthest to the left, that's number 14 to bloom.  They are now all open. What thrills me about this is none of the earlier blossoms have fallen away.  On November 20th, I posted the first picture of the buds with subsequent updates along the way.  It's only been a few weeks, but Clive has kept us entertained the entire time.

So this is the final picture of these lovely orange flowers - for this year, anyway!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bits and Pieces

Why is that that something so common (so common in fact that the word "common" is the usual adjective) can be so miserable.  D is down with - yes, you guessed it - the common cold.  He's hoarse, feverish, achy, coughing, and congested.  He feels tired and has no appetite.  But there's nothing one can do to make the cold go away faster although there are things that make the symptoms less severe (which he won't take tonight, but said he would tomorrow if he's still as uncomfortable).  It's frustrating, isn't it?  Thank heavens he's not a child!  At least he can understand what is wrong with him, appreciate that it certainly could be a much more dire situation, and will last for only a few days before it begins to pass off.

Pass off, that is, to me.  Oh well, at least I am an adult and can understand what is wrong with me, appreciate that it certainly could be a much more dire situation, and will last for only a few days before it begins to pass off.  To the next person.

The other thing on my mind today has nothing to do with colds (hence the title for this entry - the common cold was the "bit" and this is the "piece").  It has to do with saying goodbye and showing respect.  I am especially proud to be a member of the Schenectady Guild today.  ME and I went to pay our respects to our friend Pam and to let her family know that she was important.

When we walked from the parking lot to the funeral home, we saw a car or two drive in with friends and acquaintances from the Guild.  A few more came out as we went in.  As we entered the appropriate room we saw Guild members in line in front of us and others who had already gone through the receiving line.  Turning around to glance behind me, I saw still more coming in.

I sincerely doubt that all of those women knew Pam well.  I do know that some had some acquaintance with her, and others did have a close bond.  But what struck me the most, is that this Guild is indeed a formal sisterhood similar to the ones men have had for so long (firemen, police, etc.).  Women have always had their own loosely structured groups that were supportive, but this is the first time I have belonged to a tightly knit formal group.  

It would have been easy for many of those women not to have gone out late on a Sunday afternoon, but they were there to honor a fellow member, let her family know how special she was, and that she will be remembered.

Saying good bye and showing respect - that's a fine thing to do.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

For Pam

A sad e-mail greeted me this morning with news that a dear friend lost her battle with cancer and died early this morning.  We, all her friends, knew it was coming and knew that it was coming soon.  Still it struck me hard as though I had not had any fore-knowledge.  Death is like that.

However, I was able to spend the day doing something my friend had loved - quilting with friends.  As I prepared fabric for an art quilt that's in my mind and asked for input from the small group that had gathered at my house, I kept the memory of my friend in the forefront of my mind.  I remembered how she would sew like crazy and put her work up on the design wall for the rest of us to see and comment on.  She'd ask for advice arranging the blocks into the most effective design.  We'd talk and laugh and sew.  She'd gladly help the rest of us with our quilting issues and offer her own "take" on what we were doing.  

And that's what I did today, and yes, my friend was in my mind.  Today I both mourned her loss and celebrated her life.  I like to think, she would have enjoyed that.

Here's to you, Pam.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Returning to a Painting

Now I can't remember if I've shown or even mentioned this painting before, but something is tickling the back of my brain saying I have.  Of course, I could look back through my entries, but that would take time.

Anyway, now that "French Quarter Notes" is off to the framer and Thanksgiving is past, I decided to return to this painting:

This is how it looks after being worked on in class today.  I am hoping this will be a quick one, but by now, I've learned not to expect that.  The subject is taken almost completely from one photo I took of our daughter at the lake.  She must have been between 9 - 12 years old; I have to take the photo from its frame to see if there is a developing date on it (yes, it predates digital pictures) to be sure.  The morning was far more misty/fog-like than I've represented; the hills, boat , and fishermen are barely visible in the original. 

Right now the girl looks as though she is floating above the rock, but she will be anchored before I'm finished.  And she will need some more work though not too much.  I'd like to have it finished and framed by her birthday.  

Keep your fingers crossed!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Holiday

With family coming in tomorrow for Thanksgiving and at least part of the weekend, I am not going to be writing any more this week.  So I wish everyone: 

A very happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pre-Thanksgiving Chores

I would imagine if I asked 10 women who are retired what they did today, their answer would be cooking and cleaning.  Or maybe cleaning and cooking.  

That's what I did today with a great deal of help from D.  He prepared the dressing, the squash, and the mashed potatoes, and I prepared the creamed onions, the gravy stock, and the cranberry sauce.  He raked the "back 40" (the area behind our garden) and mowed the lawn - as he said with the snow that's coming today was the last day to do the final outside chores.  While he did that I cleaned (mostly dusting the high up places in the family room and vacuuming) and ran an errand. 

Tomorrow is baking day for me: apple crisp and cookies - and then the gravy and Panko topping for the creamed onions.  D helps with the crisp by peeling the apples, and I hope I can enlist him to help with prepping the remaining vegetables.  After that, I think we'll be ready.

Ready for the snowstorm?  Probably.  We've checked with D's sister, and she'll come when the weather permits, and tomorrow we'll make sure our daughter will wait until Thursday before driving.  

Thanksgiving will wait for them; they are among the reasons we celebrate it in the first place - and I bet all of those 10 women I asked about their day would say the same thing about their Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2014


The Thanksgiving flurry of activity is really picking up - or at least it is in my brain.  Today was house organizing, a bit of cleaning (it's actually okay in that respect except for one surprisingly dusty place to tackle tomorrow), laundry, bed making, and a lot of list making.

Here's a first.  This year I made the usual lists of all items we are going to serve, and the dishes in which they will be placed.  Then I added the re-heating of pre-cooked food, (we prepare almost all the vegetables, dressing, and potatoes beforehand), the sequence for re-heating (a combination of guesswork and experience), AND the method of reheating.  It's that last bit all about re-heating that is new on my list.  

It occurred to me that I never figured out when to start re-heating which items or how the re-heating was to be done.  Whether something was going to be put in the microwave, on the stove top, in the toaster oven, or in the regular oven was a toss up year after year.  It always created some anxiety because invariably something was forgotten.

Will it work?  Who knows.  But I do like making lists! 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Singer Sewing Machine

No, I don't have a photo - yet, but my mother's Singer sewing machine (1928 model, I believe) came home this weekend in its newly refinished cabinet.  The cabinet looks lovely, and all I have to do is have the machine re-wired if I want it to be functional.   

I never learned how to sew on that machine even though I think mother may have tried to teach me.  My memory is that I was never able to get the bobbin thread to cooperate.  By "never" I mean I probably tried once or twice and then gave up.  I had little interest in sewing clothes at that time.  Why should I?  She did such a good job at it that there was no need for me to work at it.  

Besides reading and drawing was far more fun, less work, and more satisfying.

Times change, don't they?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Change of Pace

Today I'm tired out by wonderful activities and the start of a new "art" quilt - no story this time.  We'll see how it goes.
In the meantime, I wanted to show you Clive, our pet clivia:

It's been a little over a week since I showed you the tightly shut, very green blossoms.  The blossoms are much larger and are not as tightly packed as they were a week ago.

You can clearly see the hint of orange at the tips of some of the blossoms.  Wonder if any will be open for Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Now, Will the REAL Final Painting, Please Stand Up?

Okay, I was so sure when I wrote last night's entry that I was showing the final of my painting, but when I finished and looked at it again, I knew I had to do something about the color of the building behind the musicians.  So I immediately got out my paints and went to work.

The result?  Even after rag-rolling* the wet paint, by the time I went to bed I was convinced I had ruined the work entirely.  The rag-rolling helped, but the color was still so far beyond god-awful I didn't think anything could save the painting.  
Just imagine how I felt.  This was a painting I had started in Vermont in August and one that I truly felt in my bones that I had to do.  It took a very long time to do for a number of reasons, but I was remained committed to completing it  - which I had finally accomplished.  And I had destroyed it.

A good night's sleep brought the answer once again.  I went back to the studio, carefully thought over what I had come up with during my sleep, took a deep breath, and picked up my tools.  It took a while, but when I had finished, I looked at the painting in a mirror and then straight on.  The offending color had been turned to a beautiful, rich, but very dark brown.  It was slightly mottled (all on it's own without rag-rolling) instead of a flat color.  And it was o.k. - too dark, but O. K.!!

So once again, I'd like to show you the finished "French Quarter Notes."

Oh, and you may notice I fiddled a bit in the background, too, until in my head I heard the voice of another student in the class, "Put the Brush Down.  Turn your Back and Put your Hands Up.  NOW!"  So I did.

*Rag-rolling: the term I use to describe using a rolled-up, wrinkled paper towel to blot up wet paint.  It blots but also leaves the impression of the wrinkles - easy added texture.  I don't know what that method is really called, but this works for me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"French Quarter Notes"

It's official; well, to me anyway.  "French Quarter Notes" (previously masquerading under an assumed name) is completed, and it isn't even Thanksgiving yet!  Notice the official title of the painting; I try to use a sobriquet for my paintings until they are finished so I don't jinx them.  Silly, I know.

Well, here it is:

Remember that while I say it's finished, I am sure that Sharon will have something she wants me to do, but I still feel very happy that it's done!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Metallic Watercolor Paints for Instruments

The end is coming closer!  Last week I experimented with my new metallic paints and discovered that they aren't to be used by themselves - at least in this painting.  They do not carry color effectively.  Sound strange?  

When I practiced on scrap paper, I found that even the metallics that looked the darkest on my palette, couldn't be seen very well when used by themselves on watercolor paper.  However, once they were layered on top of appropriate colors the shine became evident.  For example, the tuba below has several different yellows, a couple of browns, and orange.  The metallics don't show at all in the photograph.  But if you were to look closely at the actual painting, you would see the sparkle of the two metallic gold paints I used on top of the "regular" colors I just mentioned.

The only one I used in this painting that seemed to be able to carry it's own color is the darker of the two silvers I purchased. You can see it clearly on the drum where it is used by itself across the outside surface of the drum.  

Getting those instruments painted is a huge part of what was left to be done.  Is there more to do?  Oh yes, I made a list of things to work on in class tomorrow and only hope they will all be accomplished.

Now I feel I can say that this painting will be completely done by Christmas.  Thanksgiving would be nice, but I have to be realistic!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Return to Knitting

Off and on for a month or so, I've been looking for a black wool cardigan.  I have an off-white Aran cardigan I made for myself which gets a lot of wear, but a black sweater would be very welcome.  I was very disappointed to find a lot of  ready-made wool-plus-cotton-plus-nylon-plus-other-synthetics but very few pure wool sweaters in the basic black, long sleeves, cardigan style I was looking for.  I finally decided I'd just have to make myself one so I toddled off to my favorite knitting shop, Trumpet Hill, with pattern in hand.

Black yarn was found (I actually didn't allow myself to be seduced by violet or fuchsia or turquoise as I had the last time I thought I'd make myself a black sweater), but when the saleswoman went to get the additional skeins I would need from the back of the store, I did allow my eyes to wander.  Mistake?  Yes, but not dire, this time.  I picked up a skein of a black yarn with hints of gray in it - beautiful.  And the hand?  it was as silky soft and smooth as one could wish.  Nervously I turned to the helpful lady and said, "I suppose this won't do, will it?"  

"Why not?" she responded. "It's pure wool and the right weight."  My heart leaped - until she said, "I'm not sure we have more, though."  Off she went to the back to check and came back with her arms full of this lovely yarn!

I did wind up changing patterns and have now started my first top down sweater. In case that sounds strange, it means you start knitting at the neck and work down to the waist - no separate sleeves or sides - it's all one piece.

Here it is on the kitchen table.  In this picture the color is more accurate than the next one.  It is black and the gray seems almost blue; it reminds me of a crow's feathers. The pattern is a simple stockinette stitch; I didn't want to get into my beloved complicated stitches with black yarn.  It wouldn't show up well and therefore wouldn't be worth the extra work.

In this picture the yarn looks dark gray with lighter gray mixed in.  This one I'm including because while the color isn't correct, you can see the shading much better.  Fortunately, to my way of thinking, the shading doesn't pool (all the light gray clumping in specific areas which happens if the light color is added in regular intervals).  It remains random.

I had to stop knitting tonight because I want to take it in to the shop and possibly buy some more yarn.  I'm making the smallest size and I'm wondering if I should go up a size because I will be wearing winter clothing under the sweater.  If I do change sizes, I will need to increase some more and also purchase another skein of yarn.

There's always something, isn't there!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wow, it's been a long time since I've written!  I have been doing wonderful and engaging things - painting, quilting, having fun with friends, playing with grandson, visiting with daughter - you get the idea, I am sure.

D has also been busy - joining me in a few of the busy times I've mentioned and also doing his own activities.  Some of those activities take him away, and I think that's what has thrown me off my schedule a bit.

Whatever it is, I will sit myself down, give myself a good talking to, and try to get back into my routine next week.  For this week, it will probably continue to be hit or miss.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Cooking Experiments

Now here's a new topic for this blog - cooking.  While it may have been mentioned in entries before this one, this will be the first time, I think, that I devote an entire entry to food preparation and enjoyment.

It's all ME's fault.

You see, one of her favorite vegetables is the turnip.  My reaction when she mentions (or when anyone mentions) turnips is to try to suppress a shudder.  At one point in my life, I was served mashed turnips.  Gleefully, I dug into them thinking I had winter squash.  Oh my.  No, no, no, turnips were not for me.  So of course, I lumped rutabagas (though I loved the word and a book called Rutabaga Stories when I was a kid) and parsnips in with turnips.  Actually, I had at various times in my childhood been served rutabagas and parsnips and hadn't like them at all.

Then in the newspaper or in a magazine I read that parsnips had suffered from the same overcooked vegetable practice that almost all vegetables had been given while I was a child (need I mention gray, mushy asparagus?).  That on the contrary, parsnips when cooked properly are not the soft, mushy things hiding in soups or stews, but they are instead a tender, slightly sweet vegetable.  So I went to the store and bought two parsnips, brought them home, and planned to put them in soup - but not overcook them.

Due to D's travel schedule for two weeks running no soup was made.  During that time (fortunately root vegetables keep longer than leafy, green ones!), I read the most recent Victoria magazine ( a subscription given to me by my sister-in-law N so I guess this is partly her fault, also) and found a recipe for root vegetables - note the plural, please.  

I thought of ME, and I thought of my ruling principle which is to be open to opportunities and new experiences.  Off I went to the store with the recipe in hand.  I had to wait until D was home again to cook those vegetables, but cook them I did.

Parsnips.  Turnips.  Beets.  Carrots.  The radishes were too far past freshness to buy, so we'll have to try them again some other time.  I did have to change the recipe slightly to omit some things that are not kind to us or to suit our tastes, but here's the verdict.

ROASTED root vegetables are absolutely incredible!  Both D and I were amazed and are happy to have more vegetables to add to our long list of favorites (beets and carrots were always okay by us).  Plus it also encourages us to try some other things that we haven't cooked ourselves.  Okra, for instance.  In New Orleans, okra is in almost everything, and it was never slimy! 

It shouldn't be such a surprise to me.  After all, my mother made hot cereal regularly.  She made Wheatena, oatmeal, Maltex and some others I have managed to forget.  I loathed them all even when she tried hiding raisins in the bottom of the bowl to tempt me (I am still not overly fond of raisins).  But now I make hot cereals using steel-cut oats, quinoa, wild rice, barley, grits, and Maltex (although not all of them at the same time!) and throw in apples, cranberries, honey or brown sugar or dark amber maple syrup or molasses during cooking, and then top a bowl off with loads of fresh fruit.  

Then there's my newest chili.  I found a recipe for Sweet Potato and Black Bean chili in one of the grocery stores, and since we like those two ingredients, I had to try it.  It's now earned a place in our regular soup/stew of the week line up!

Experimentation keeps our meals interesting, makes me use the produce that's in season and therefore, not as expensive, and keeps me aware of what we are eating instead of returning to the same old, high fat, high calorie, high sodium foods (though I'm not as good about the sodium as some people who put me to shame - E!).  I know enough to substitute or eliminate altogether things we really don't like or to add something that I think will enhance a dish.  The fact that I enjoy cooking helps a lot, of course, and having good friends to encourage one to try something new or a sister-in-law to broaden one's horizons through a magazine are definite pluses.

But turnips and parsnips?  Well, I'm just floored.  Thanks, ME and N!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Second Quilt: Flowers in Times Square

The other day I had a phone conversation with E during which she said she was still waiting to see the second quilt that was in the show.  That surprised me as I thought I had bombarded people with my quilts at every possible moment.  But then I realized that because the pattern of that second quilt was not my own and because it was to appear in a book not yet published, I hadn't "revealed" it.

What I can't remember is whether I did show it here closer to the show date, and I don't want to take the time tonight to check.  So if you've seen it before, I'm sorry because here it is again:

My friends wrote a book with quilt patterns that take the Amish simplicity of pattern and use of solid colored fabric only and developed patterns that stretched those ideas.  This is one of those patterns that they called "Times Square".  As a tester of the pattern I reduced the king-size quilt to a wall-hanging and added a large-patterned focal fabric (which resulted in the name "Flowers in Times Square") to show how the size could be changed to suit the quilt maker and large florals could be used in this style quilt.  

It may look as though the center of the quilt is one large piece of fabric but that isn't the case.  The center square has four large triangles on each side (north, south, east, and west) where I had to fussy cut the fabric to make the floral centerpiece match exactly on all sides.  It was a challenge, but it worked.

My quilter was Sue Schoch again (actually this is the first one she did for me), and this time the only thing I did was design the inner dark green border's quilting (taking some elements and the "feel" of the floral fabric as my source).  I was thrilled with the outcome of her work!

While I thought I had done a good job on this one, the judges awarded a second prize, and after reading their comments, I have to agree.  Having my pieces judged was a good decision; I know what I have to work on and have a much better idea of what makes a good quilt. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Dog Appears

"Finally," she growls, opening one eye to give the artist a baleful look, "it sure took you long enough to get to the important one in this painting!  Now when do you plan to finish me and show my true beauty and steadfast character?  Right now I just look bored."

Well, she's right.  But at least she is beginning to show:

Now that she is beginning to have presence, maybe I can decide on colors for the shoes and sneakers that aren't there yet, get some more shadows on the street to ground everything.  

I hope to have more painting time this weekend.  We'll see.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Through a Window

Doorways have intrigued me for years.  What's behind a closed door?  Who goes through this door?  What stories could this door tell?  I have taken photos of doors ever since I owned my first camera.  

Windows began to creep into my consciousness, too, because they give rise to similar questions and stories.  But they posed a problem.  Usually I was standing outside looking at a building with special windows and the sunlight would be bouncing off the glass.  Taking a photograph of that window with all that reflected light stumped me.   

Recently I started appreciated windows from the inside.  Oh, I know.  We all like windows and appreciate the views from them; there's nothing special in that.  What I have fallen for is the frame the window makes of the view.  Like a good frame on a painting, it adds to the picture.  It becomes an integral part of the painting or the scene.

So here are a couple of photographs that I took today, and I hope they help illustrate what I mean.  These are taken from my studio of our backyard and part of our neighbor's yard.  The angle is slightly different in each, and I've cropped the second to cut down on the muntins (aka sash bars, and I hope it's the right term!) that you see.  I prefer the second because it seems a more private, personal view.  Is that because it is a close-up or because I reduced the muntins?

The next I love.  The light on the trees, the glimpse of sky, the almost-black off-center sash bars that focus on the branches of the evergreen and sky behind . . . That view might get lost because of the glory of the sun-spangled leaves without the cross-hairs of the sashes.

And finally, a bit of romance.  Through a voile curtain you are looking at the over-the-rail planter on my front porch . . . soft draperies, rigid framing muntins, beautiful color from the coleus.

 This one has a different orientation and a house and sky beyond the planter.  Which of the two do you like best?  or neither?  which of all the photos appeals most to you?  Do you like the idea of through the window from the inside of the house photographs?

Well, it did give me a break today and was fun to do!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

New Orleans Musicians Update

One thing this entry will do is prove how embarrassingly slowly this painting has progressed.  But note to self: another artistic endeavor was receiving the lioness's share of attention so there is a good reason this was delayed.

Here's how far along the painting was on September 16th.  At this time, the window and the background figures were in place but not necessarily finished.  Actually, they are all a bit more colorful and defined than they should be at this point, but that is another thing I have to learn.

This next photograph was taken on September 30, and it isn't straight for which I apologize.  The man behind the singer (on the left) now has skin on face, arms, and legs, the tuba and trombone players are begun, and the washboard musician is almost compete.  

The date on the picture below is October 24.  I thought I would paint today, but I didn't.  You may remember that in a entry from last week, I mentioned I was waiting for some material I needed in order to finish this painting?  It isn't a problem, yet, but . . . 

Here's the situation.  Last week I spent my studio time practicing painting the bell of the tuba.  To my dismay, I realized I did not have the metallic paints I thought I did.  Sharon kindly let me use hers while I was there, but she doesn't have all I need, either. So when I got home, I ordered the golds and bronze (tuba, trombone, and earrings) and silvers (for the clarinet and drum).  They should arrive this coming week - I hope!  It is a bit frustrating because I'd really like to practice some more (that tuba reflects light in amazing ways!) and get them painted.  Then I can add whatever color I decide upon to the items in the window, tone down the building if it still needs it, etc.  

There is still the background perspective to correct (what was I thinking?), the doors, and columns, and street.  And, of course I do realize that I must work on the dog!  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

More Painting

Still working on the second New Orleans painting.  I know; it's taking so long you've forgotten what the first N.O. painting was.  Laissez les bons temps rouler, or in English, "Let the good times roll" featured an empty trolley turning on to Canal Street and five people who may have just gotten off.  This one on which I'm working features a group of street musicians.

Anyway, unlike most people's watercolors, this one is taking a long time.  It's more detailed, but it's also been pushed aside for other things.  Monday I will post another photograph of this painting even though it will not be finished.  I have to wait for some paints to come in (more on that later), I won't be around on Saturday, and D will be home this weekend after being gone all week.

But - progress is being made!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Little Bit of Quilting and a Lot of Painting

The title says it all.  Today, after changing my closet from spring-summer to fall-winter clothing (yes, I am late at that chore), I spent the rest of the morning cutting out fabric for next month's Block of the Month for the guild meeting.  I've made one sample block of my design, and though I'm not completely satisfied with it, it will do to make a decent looking quilt.  I've named the quilt Autumn Nocturne because that's what popped into my head when I saw the colors together not because it is a gentle go-to-sleep work which nocturnes usually are.

Having spent more time on that than I had intended, I thought that I wouldn't start painting today.  Then as I ate my late lunch, I thought I couldn't give into my the-weather-isn't-nice-so-let's-be-lazy self and decided I'd paint for a bit.  Of course, I spent more time than I thought I would on the New Orleans painting.  I'm feeling good about it and am beginning to think it may actually get finished before Christmas!  Actually, I hope for an earlier completion, but one never knows what may crop up to interrupt.

Tomorrow I have to go to the bank and the library, but I think the rest of the day is free so paint I shall.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Some of My Favorite Things

How lovely that the rain held off until after my walk!

How terrific that I could spend two hours with my studio friends and get some painting done.

How lucky I am to have had time to talk with R and D on the phone today even when not all news is great news.

How super it is to have heard from two of my three brothers in one week!

How wonderful it is to have family and friends.

It's supposed to be gray and rainy off and on all week, and because of the above, I don't care.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Post Show Let Down

As the title suggests, I found myself rather tired and without much drive today.  I had hoped to do some work on the Guild's block-of-the-month today and I did manage to get that underway.  But the painting that I also thought I could get back to today, didn't happen.  

Instead I found myself downstairs reading some of the YA books for this month.  I've read one very good one D-Day by Rick Atkinson and now am reading Pure Grit by Mary Cronk Farrell about the American nurses in the Pacific (more specifically in the Philippines) who were interred in prisoner of war camps.  Fortunately, not all of the books for this month are so grim!  

Tomorrow I am off to painting so maybe I'll have a bit more energy to spare tomorrow evening.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Saga of a Quilt: Complete with Pictures

Since I try to keep my promises, here is the saga of my quilt "The Abduction from the Seraglio, or Oops, I dropped my Slipper."  By the way, if you went to the show, you may notice that the last half of the title was omitted from the description card.  This use of a primary title (frequently a bit pompous sounding) with an "or" followed by a seemingly unrelated, secondary title (frequently a bit silly or mundane) is a literary device meant to clue in the reader to look for a hidden meaning, a hidden joke, a poke in the eye to those who take themselves too seriously, etc.  Basically, the writer (or in this case, the quilter) is winking an eye at the reader, viewing public, the what have you and letting them in on the joke.  So possibly viewers at the quilt show had no idea that they were supposed to laugh.

Ah well . . . .

Here is my original Artist's Statement (which I was asked to shorten considerably) interrupted by photographs and irreverent comments:

Inspired by the first fabric in the Girlfriend Fabric Challenge, the one with the Persian-looking slippers and Mozart’s opera The Abduction from the Seraglio

This is the original sketch in red ink on computer paper, drawn right after the fabric was given to us, and finally photographed (since I'm so good at losing things) on October 4, 2012.  My write up omits the fact that each member of the friendship group had to add one fabric (that would add four additional fabrics) that would have to be used in recognizable pieces anywhere on the front of the quilt.  At the time I sketched my "plan", we had only the slipper fabric and the orange fabric.  My donation, the blue fabric, came next, eventually followed by the fuchsia print, and finally the gold.  

Back to the description:

 I knew I had to create a Story Quilt that tells my version of the opera’s story through the main characters: Constanze’s rescue from her captivity in the Seraglio (harem) by her sweetheart Belmonte.  However, in my version of the story, that rescue may go wrong when the loss of favorite shoes makes Constanze turn back . . . 

That was as far as I got initially.  The rest of the story line evolved over time.

 . . . leaving her would be rescuer, Belmonte, hanging over the garden wall.  Making those characters as “bendy” dolls adds to the whimsy.

Trust me, making pipe-cleaner dolls occurred to me very early on, but I really didn't pay attention to that small, insistent voice in my head.  When I really accepted the fact that this quilt would be merely a bit of fun without a serious bone in its body, I realized they would be perfect.

The setting for my version of the story is a bird’s-eye view of the enclosed garden of the Harem - from the center surrounded by gardens, 

Below is the inner garden of which three sections are ribbon embroidery and  the other three are Kaffe Fassett fabric embellished with Swarvoski crystals. In my story, the ribbon gardens are the Constanze's idea. Their purpose was to alleviate the boredom of the women of the harem languishing in their rooms behind the three colored doorways (fuchsia, orange, and blue). The challenge was to design and grow the prettiest garden representing their "color" and the winning group would be given additional time outside in the cool of the evenings.  Each section features the color of that particular group and is nearest their doorway.

walkway, more gardens, 

Now you see the walkway where two of Constanze's "slippers" have fallen out of her makeshift bag.  If you look very carefully, you'll see the third in the "grass" above the walkway.

and benches and doorways in the outer walls.  Behind the walls against the night sky are palm trees, mosques, and minarets.  Finally, the border fabric of elegant slippers which began this story.

Now you can see not only the majority of the quilt but also see the wonderful quilting done by Sue Schoch. For the first time, I drew out what I wanted the quilting to be, but it's one thing to draw it and another to have a quilter who understands, is able to, and will do what is asked.  With her help this quilt earned a blue ribbon (first place) based on the average of the points awarded by two judges, and the pink ribbon is a Judge's Award for her favorite quilt.  And both were really a surprise though the latter knocked my socks off.  I had heard so much about "art quilts" being so outside the norm of the quilting world that they didn't fare well in judging - and mine is a story! - what would they think of that?  Wasn't I lucky to have two judges who must have sense of fun themselves!  

I should also tell you that in my version of the story, Belmonte is fed up with the rescue business and has decided to pursue a career as a model for the cover of romance novels.  And Constanze doesn't want to go back to being the dutiful royal personage she is expected to be.  Instead she hopes to convince her father to underwrite the cost of the chain of shoe boutiques she wants to open that will specialize in peep-toe shoes .

From initial idea to final completed quilt took a long time (2012 – 2014) because each woman in my friendship group had to contribute her choice of fabric, but mostly because I had to figure out how to make a hexagon – the shape I had decided the quilt had to be.  Thanks to computers and a yardstick compass, I was finally able to draft the size I wanted, but I held my breath until I sewed all the sections together and found I had indeed created a hexagon!  However, at that time I also discovered that fussy cutting the Persian slipper fabric left me without enough fabric for the outer border.  Once again I had to call upon my limited math skills to figure out the “wedges” needed to complete that border.

My journey through the construction of this quilt was one of imagination, trial, error, learning, and stretching!

On to my next idea . . . but not right away.  There is painting to be done, holidays to sew for, and a studio to set to rights!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Down to the Wire But Finished!

The quilt was officially declared (by me) finished some time between 4 and 4:30 this afternoon.  That included the fussy work on labels and label covers, more crystals (panicking when an entire package of 90 crystals wouldn't adhere and fell off the quilt scattering all over the floor), checking for stray threads, inserting the middle stabilizing wooden rod, and panicking just because.

There are now over 200 crystals (best estimate is 225), ribbon- and machine-embroidery, raw edge hand- and machine-applique, charms, dolls, and beads, on the quilt - probably a few other minor details I don't remember right now.  

I am nervous about how it will stand up to the wear and tear of being folded and carried around by me, and also of being folded, carried around, and hung by others.

But, it is what it is; I am proud of the way it turned out and the work I did.  Sunday I should find out how it was received by the judges and learn from their evaluation (and also wonder what story they heard when they looked at it).  Then I will bring it home, take photos (no, I haven't forgotten, E!), hang it up, and get ready to work on Christmas gifts while the next story quilts simmer in my mind.

Have an exciting weekend; I hope your weather and projects are as you wish them to be!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Count Down to the Show

Affixing approximately 150 crystals to the quilt took more time than I anticipated so tomorrow I will have to get the labels on - in a hurry!  

Tomorrow evening there will be guild meeting after which D and I will help with the retrieving and then the set up of the frames on which the quilts will hang.  At some time before or during that procedure the quilts are turned in, placed in plastic bags for safety and cleanliness during the wait to be hung on the frames.

Between getting up in the morning and going to the meeting and helping with set up, I must finish all that I would like to do to the quilt.  Label first and then - more crystals as crystals impart fantasy (okay, and sparkle plenty which I do like!).

Photos on Monday.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Almost There

The end is in sight!  Tomorrow I attach the second doll to the quilt, sew the label to the back, then, strange as it seems, cover the label with a another bit of fabric so the label can't be seen (insures objectivity during the judging process), apply the swarovski crystals, and after a final check, that's it!

The only thing I have to do on the second quilt is the covering of the label bit.  Oh, and both quilts have to have their registration number on that label cover.   Those numbers are assigned when one formally registers a quilt with description and photo in order to get into a non-juried show.  The number is matches the one a card that I have to show when I pick up the quilt both to make sure the correct quilt is being given to the owner and to make sure it is really the owner who is claiming the quilt.  There's a lot that goes into a quilt show that I hadn't known and hadn't really thought much about before now.

Below is another of Nancy DiDonato's quilts.  Imagine figuring out how to support the weight of the center, heavily embellished medallion in the border frame without having that border bow and sag!  Nancy has a lot of engineer brain cells beside her creative cells running around in her brain.  Whenever I get into a "pity me" phase in quilting, I'll stop and think of her.