Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Still Life (Not So)

Still Life - Not
This was done with a different kind of pen than I've used before. It's "Prismacolor," acid-free, lightfast and archival quality according to the package. Well, my scanner doesn't like it so much. It can't seem to pick up the color as well as my old gel pens, so the lines are fuzzy.

Just goes to show: It's important to experiment and find the best tool for the job at hand.

This picture is about relationships - the good, the bad, the complicated and conflicted. Being a person who enjoys solitude, I am easily overwhelmed at holiday time. That is to say, Christmas was nice, but I'll also be relieved to return to my humdrum existence of quiet days sewing, drawing, etc.

I have to tell you, though, that the highlight of Christmas this year was getting to hold my new little grand nephew, just six (I think?) weeks old. What a wonderful experience! I haven't held a baby in many years, and it brought back memories of when I was raising my own children. There is nothing like the experience of nurturing tiny helpless infants, who will all too soon become the "movers and shakers" of the future.

When my kids were little, I didn't have nearby relatives to babysit, and daycare facilities were rare and expensive (they're still expensive), so I didn't really have a choice about my mothering "style." Today, young parents do sometimes have a choice, so they  fuss and worry a lot about the decision to "stay home" or "work."

The decision can only be made by the family, and no one should judge or criticize or pressure them. God bless 'em!

And thank you, little Matthew, and Matthew's parents, for sharing your special joy with me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"You're the best teacher I ever had!"

First, quantity: The lower the grade, the more gifts.Kindergarten teachers make out like bandits; High school, mmm....not so much!

Then there's the cuteness factor. Caroline got the most adorable notes from her little learners:

"Dear teacher: You look as prity as a pinscase xoxoxoxoxo"

(on a colorful home made card): "Marey Cristmiss, Everyone and Happy Holleday!!! Love you"

(on a tiny envelope, in very small print, for a first-grader): "I hope You be my teacher for next year xoxoxo"

Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs there is.

Teaching the littlest ones goes double, but the sacrifices are forgotten at least for the moment when those sweet little faces smile their broadest and sticky little hands present hand drawn cards with original sentiments.

Mind you: That's not enough to take me back into the classroom, but I am very grateful to all the wonderful, hard working and generous teachers we have out there. Without them, we wouldn't last long as a civilization.

And isn't this just the cutest?
The snowman is holding a blanket for teacher, because sometimes the classroom is too cold.

I hope you got the presents you wished for and - more importantly - saw the people you wanted to see this holiday season.

And a special message to those enduring the blizzard today: Keep digging (but not too hard); this too shall end!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

To Infinity and Beyond!

When I grow up I'm going to make an interesting quilt like this:

I borrowed this image from Kathy's Quilts. Please check out her blog to see some really beautiful work.

I'm looking forward to January and making something more complicated than the baby quilts - or maybe just making a more complicated baby quilt.

It's been a while since I challenged myself. The last was almost a year ago when I started a course in Medical Transcription at the local vocational school. I enjoyed it, but had to work very hard to keep up with the class. Learning new things used to be easy, but it seems now I have CRS Disease (Can't Remember S---!).

Anyway, that was not the reason I quit the class. I quit because it turned out that the cost was much higher than I had expected, what with purchasing a transcription machine and software, etc. I decided it didn't make much sense to be spending all that money if my goal was just to work in the field part time.

So, after some down time looking after the house (happily!), I then embarked on the Tupperware project. Tupperware has been enjoyable and profitable. Since signing on in October I have earned some extra cash and collected lots of great plastic. I also learned something about this type of company, and myself.

Companies like Tupperware have a "pyramid" structure, by which status and income increase according to how many people you bring in under you. As soon as I signed on, I was encouraged to bring other people into the business. Not a bad thing, but I was interested in the bowls and boxes, and really have no interest in being a manager or team leader, etc.

For much of my life I've been  a government worker, a "public servant," and a social worker. Success in my line of work was always defined by my ability to help people. Instead of scrambling to acquire money and power, I was expected to give away the money, and "empower" my clients.

Which explains why I'm a liberal Democrat.

I suspect that successful Tupperware reps are strongly conservative and Republican.

All this is to say that my venture with Tupperware will soon be ending. I still say it's a good company with a fabulous product. But selling it just isn't a very good fit for me.

I can't complain. Look at my Modular Mates:

I have more stuff coming this week - Freezer mates! It's going to be so much fun getting my kitchen organized!

Thinking of the class thing and the Tupperware thing, do I feel like a quitter? Only a little bit. I prefer to define myself as adventurous and courageous; someone who is willing to try new experiences and learn new skills.

Besides - life's too short.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Madonna, Unfinished

For me, it's all about The Line. My drawings are line compositions. Each line must be beautiful on its own, and all must fit together in a beautiful way.

Maybe instead of beautiful I should say "interesting." To me they're one and the same anyway.

This drawing is not complete, but I have been so busy with other activities that I just haven't worked on it for a few days. I thought you might be interested in how my drawings grow, so I decided  to reveal a little bit of my "process."

I will be adding more shadow and contrast, doing something with the background, and improving the focus. The drawings I feel are most successful are the ones that have a single striking feature. You may remember this lady with the huge floral hat, which carries the whole picture I think:
I never know when I start drawing, how it's going to end. I only know that every single line must be a good line - no "purple shoes," as Dr. Pickering said (bless his soul).

Now, on to some fuzzy photographs - fuzzy because I'm not much of a photographer, and some of them were taken from a moving car.

Last night we took a drive through Fantasy of Lights, a 3 mile long light display set up by the County and a number of local business sponsors. The picture above is from their web site. I took these two:

A Giant Snowman

Tunnel of Lights and Giant Seahorses
So, inspired by what we had seen, Caroline and I finally got going on the outside lights for our house. I have to tell you, if you want to be respected in your South Florida neighborhood, you almost have to put up Christmas lights! It's our way of compensating for the non-Christmasy weather around here.

Of course, today, we got liquid snow, which added some challenge to the outdoor lights project. About an hour before dusk, the rain slowed to a drizzle, and there I was draping lights over the bushes. We decided against trying to put them on the house, due to the challenges of height, age and fitness levels, not to mention the shaky condition of the gutters this year (we must replace - soon!).

Anyway, I hope my fuzzy photos give you the idea:

So, my reindeer has a goiter.

But at least we put up our lights. Now the neighbors won't gossip about us....!

I think I'm progressing nicely through Christmas this year. I've left the "I'll never be ready" stage and am now approaching the "enough already!" stage.

How about you?

P.S. My Christmas Cards from have arrived, and I will be sending them out on Monday. Kathy has created some beautiful all occasion and Christmas designs - check them out on her website. The link is to the right of this post, under "My Favorite Artists."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mother Teresa's Prayer

If you're feeling a little stressed today, maybe these words will help:

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
....Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish,ulterior motives.
....Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
....Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you.
....Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight.
....Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous.
....Be happy anyway.

The good you do today people will often forget tomorrow.
....Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.
....Give the world the best you have anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.
....It was never between you and them anyway.

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Experiment in Candy Making

There are a few things I like best: Marshmallows, chocolate, peppermint and walnuts. to put them together...hmmm.....

I used, roughly:
  • One bag of large marshmallows
  • One package of walnuts
  • About 12 oz. Hershey's Milk Chocolate
  • Six peppermint candies
As you can see, I chopped the walnuts. I used a chopper made for the purpose and chopped them quite fine.

Then I pounded the candies in a plastic bag until they were in very small pieces.

Next step was to melt the chocolate in what we used to call a "double boiler." Basically, that's:  Chocolate in a pan, first pan in a second pan of simmering water on the stove, and then stir.

When the chocolate was melted I stirred in the peppermint candy. I thought it would melt, but it stayed lumpy ..... hmmm.

Now for the fun part: I pierced each marshmallow with a toothpick and dipped it into the chocolate and then rolled it in the nuts. I put the candies on a cookie sheet and let them set in the refrigerator overnight. This morning I tasted one and experienced a nice combination of chewy, crunchy and peppermint chocolate.


So, they taste good today. The final test is to see how well they keep. I wrapped each candy in foil and put them in an air tight Tupperware (of course) bowl. Now I'll have to eat one every day for a few days to see how well they keep. Tough job, but somebody's gotta do it.

If my taste test is good tomorrow, I'm sending some off in the mail. Will the "lucky" recipients please send me a review after they are received?

This was a fun experiment, and I think I've invented a new candy! Don't tell Mars, Inc., OK?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Preparing for Christmas Part Two

It's a wonderful day and I'm so glad you came by! It's always a wonderful day when we decorate the tree, and this year it was super easy besides, because last year I sorted through and refined our collection of ornaments. The ones we didn't want were tossed if necessary, or sent to Goodwill if still usable. I wonder whose tree they're on this year?

This is what was left. It doesn't look like much here, but there were plenty of items to make our tree look very full!

See the tree shaped red boxes? They're large enough to hold a lot of small ornaments, and they all have lids. I have four of them, which I bought after Christmas one year for fifty cents each. After they're emptied I put them on top of the wall unit:

I suppose they could be used as gift boxes for cookies or candy, but so far I've just used them to store the ornaments.

When we sorted through everything last year, we made sure to keep all the special ornaments, such as this little angel Beth is holding for me:

I made her for Caroline one year. She's made of yarn and lace, stitched in some places, glue-gunned in others. Whatever would I do without my glue gun?

Remember the year everybody was buying those lacy and beribboned angels? Well, why buy one? I made this one, and several others that I sold at a nice profit. Aside from buying the doll heads, the rest is fabric scraps and left over ribbon.

When JoAnn Fabrics has a sale, I grab stuff for pennies. The year I made these angels, several JoAnn's and the Rag Shop were closing stores.

My find this year for ornaments was at Walgreens. They are made of something like pipe cleaners and covered in glitter. They're packed 10-18 per box and priced at 2 boxes for $5. I'm bad at math, but I think that's less than twenty cents each. Some are on the tree, and here's what I did with the rest:

So, here's our tree. It does not have a hole in it - something I put in that spot is very reflective:

And here's the beginnings of the wrapping, done by Caroline. I still have mine to do:

Yes, that huge red bowl (Tupperware, of course) is part of a present. Guess who's getting it? And guess what's going to be in it?

Hey, thanks for stopping by; it was great having you. Have a cookie or two before you go, OK?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

This 'N That

This could be me: Spotless white apron over perfectly pressed dress (tiny waist), in spotlessly clean kitchen with the sweetest smile on my face!

I call it the Valium smile. Check out a few 1960's movies and you'll know what I mean. Check out the video of Jackie Kennedy's tour of the White House (you can find it online) and you'll see and hear that smile. I'm not saying Jackie was on Valium, but a whole lot of women were in those days. It helped, to handle the stresses of the time. Women were still supposed to be content with the wife and mother thing, even though their world was beginning to turn upside down with themes of racial and gender equality.

And, those were the early days of Tupperware - ergo the above illustration.

Tupperware, the product, has changed a lot since then. The catalogues, however, are still populated with beautiful, smiling models.

I haven't sold much Tupperware lately. Seems like nobody wants to have a party before Christmas. But January's coming, folks, with a lot of great specials especially on storage items. Call me!

Now, progress on my current project, the baby quilt:

Buying batting can be confusing. I have only two rules:
  • Go with thin - this is 1/8" thick

  • Buy it on sale - see the big red sticker?
This bag cost me $11 and is enough batting for at least 6 baby quilts.

I cut the batting for this quilt to about 34" by 46". -It's best to start out with a generous size just in case it's not exactly square, etc. I know I'll be trimming it as I assemble the quilt and decide on the width of the border/hem.

I cut the backing for my quilt to about 36" by 48".

You will assemble your quilt by laying the batting on top of the backing, centering it carefully, and laying the quilt top, nicely centered, on top of the batting. And you will do this - if you are me - on the smallest of small kitchen tables. Never fear, it can be done.

Notice the mop handles behind the table? Just a reminder of what I should probably be doing instead of playing around with fabric. That's what Mother calls having your "druthers" (I druther do___ than ___!).

This is as far as I got today on the quilt. My day was filled with 6 or 7 loads of laundry and a very good movie (they go together, you know, to make folding less of a chore).

When I grow up, I'll be more efficient and harder working, and I'll make big quilts like my Mother makes!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Simple Baby Quilt

Yeah, this is the beginning of a piece about making a baby quilt. Here's the honest truth: I'm a disorganized human with probably lower than average energy levels, so when I get into a sewing project this is usually what happens to supper.

On the up side, two of us eat heartily for about $20, including leftovers.

On the down side, I have no idea about the nutritional value, and I feel guilty about all the packaging. I do put the plastic containers in the recycle, but it would be better if I didn't use them at all (sigh).

OK - back to the baby quilt. If you've never made a quilt before, start with something really simple. This one is two colors - one print and one plain - and made of 5 inch squares.

So far, so good, right?

Guess what! I hate to cut out quilt blocks.

Here's how I solve that problem. I cut strips, sew the strips together, and then cut strips again. Like this:

6 strips, 5" by at least 40", 3 plain, 3 print

By the way, the seams should be about 1/4 inch, but the exact width doesn't matter, just be consistent. Now here's the second cut. You'll have some uneven edges left over after you cut your 8 across strips. Those can be seen at the bottom of the photo:

8 strips, 6 squares long, 3 plain & 3 print

You want alternating squares, like this, so an adjustment needs to be made which involves ripping out seams.

Take two of the strips and rip out some of the seams. I don't like this part one bit, but it beats measuring and cutting 48 five inch squares. Just be careful not to stretch the fabric while tearing out the seams.

Sew the extra squares so that you end up with six strips which now have 8 alternating print and plain squares. Then sew the strips together and your quilt top is done:

6 strips, 8 squares each, 4 plain & 4 print

That's as far as I am tonight. By the way, the tan fabric behind this is what I picked out for the backing. Tomorrow I'll add light batting and the backing.

I have some ideas for finishing this quilt to make it extra cute.

Maybe pizza for dinner tomorrow.

Or, maybe I'll get a little bit organized and put together a crock pot dinner.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Preparing for Christmas Florida Style

Back Yard
Tyler mowed the lawn for us this morning, because tomorrow we're having young guests who will be playing in the back yard. It's a little too cool for swimming, but the pool's not ready anyway. Swimming pools require a lot of work, hardly worth it in my mind!

I don't think I'll ever get used to the constant cutting required here in the sub-tropics. We're forever trimming trees and bushes, and tearing out ugly weeds. The one positive to this is at least I get some outdoor exercise with the weeding.

Front Yard
I'm not complaining, remembering what it's like up north this time of year:

Beth Bringing in Grandma's Mail
But don't let anyone tell you we don't have the "Christmas Spirit" here! With a Florida flavor of course, meaning lots of lights! I'm not so good at night time photography, so I've copied a few photos from the local newspapers, for your enjoyment:

We do have our tree up, but it needs a few more decorations. Maybe our young guests tomorrow would like to help finish it. I'll try to remember to take pictures....

So, Happy Holidays, All! Am I "ready" yet? Are you kidding????