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!