Sunday, October 31, 2010

The object #20 - Mexican skeleton

I bought this little skeleton, made from patinaed copper, in Oaxaca a couple of years ago. He is only about 8" high and has such a goofy expression that it is hard to find him at all frightening. I am sharing him to wish you a Happy Halloween and Day of the Dead, and also to set the stage for our 12 x 12 reveal tomorrow. Our theme is rust and patina.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Idaho—the last installment

I have saved the most scenic for the last and I plan to get all tour guide-y on you, so you are warned.

Quaking Aspen
Boy, do I love these trees. They so remind me of being at the cabin and in the mountains of Idaho.
Through the mountains you see huge groves of aspen. You can see one of these groves, that has lost it's leaves in this photo, across the lake. They are beautiful in every season. In the summer their quivering, silvery leaves seem to shimmer and in the fall they turn that amazing brilliant yellow. In winter they are ghostly and graceful like this grove that we saw driving along the river. 
Did you know that aspen groves grow from a single system of underground roots? All the trees in a grove, growing from that root system are genetically identical and the grove is referred to as a clone. Scientists consider a clone grove of aspens as a single living organism and there is a very large clone in Utah that may be the single largest living organism on earth. You can observe that clone groves, because all the trees are genetically identical, will lose their leaves all at once and not necessarily on the same time schedule as neighboring clones. Makes me wonder if the foreground tree in my photo is not a part of the clone. (Individual trees will also grow from seeds.) I miss the aspens. They don't grow much below 5000 feet, so we don't have them in the part of Oregon where I live, but they are the most common tree in North America.

South Fork of the Snake River
Just to give you a little context, here is a map of the area where the cabin is.

The cabin is on the west side of the Palisades Reservoir, in the vicinity of the lettering on the map that says "Bear Creek Rd.". Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons are a bit east and north of the righthand side of the map. The Palisades Dam is on the South Fork of the Snake River, and we drove back to Pocatello by way of the Snake River Rd. where all of these photos were taken.

The yellow trees along the river are cottonwoods.

Looking east toward Wyoming.


Great fishing along this river. There were fishermen out in their boats the day we were there.

Here in Oregon many of my friends say they long for the ocean and find peace and calm along the beaches and dunes. Me, I find myself longing for the mountains and the aspen and the pine and each time I visit it is like having my battery charged. I guess it is part of who I am.

Ernest Hemingway was one of Idaho's most famous citizens. He died and is buried near Sun Valley. The epitaph on his memorial are his own words, written for a friend.
Best of all he loved the fall
The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods
Leaves floating on the trout streams
And above the hills
The high blue windless skies
Now he will be a part of them forever
 It was that kind of day.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Idaho, continued

There is something very special about going to "the cabin."  I have reported on a trip to the cabin here before.  It was late in the season and very cold when we arrived this time. Steve, my brother, got a fire going and we settled in and started cooking. That is one of the main things we do at the cabin—cook—and eat. It is a small cabin, hanging on a hillside overlooking the Palisades reservoir in south eastern Idaho, near the Wyoming border. My parents designed it, my Dad built it in the early '60s. My brother now owns the cabin, but it remains so much as I remember it always. My parents both died in 1998. The cabin is where they live on.

Mom and Dad didn't live to see the new generation of our family, but it seemed important to bring Sofia and Marco to the cabin. Aunt Brenda was prepared.
She introduced Marco to Oliver, the dog.

She entertained Sofia with a pumpkin painting activity. Brenda, our sister-in-law, is the best. We love her dearly.

 After a hearty breakfast the next morning, Ray and Steve did the dishes, then, with Cayo's help they cut down a tree and cut it into firewood. The cabin brings out the lumberjack in the menfolk.

We woke up to a skiff of snow on the porch, frosting the recently fallen aspen leaves. Views from the porch:

Beauty, peace, serenity in every season. It is one of the best places on earth to be for me.


We have been gone for a week, which accounts for how quiet the blog has been. I scheduled my post about the pumpkins to post while I was gone—a meager effort to foil anyone who watches my blog in an effort to determine when I am out of town so they can come and carry away all our worldly goods. We came home to find the pitiful pumpkins rotten and collapsed in upon themselves. Too much rain while we were gone I think.

I was glad I scheduled the pumpkin post and wished I had scheduled it to pop up earlier. Every time I looked at my blog on my phone there was that "horrible" post staring me in the face. Not something I want to keep thinking about. Thanks, Rayna, for saying what I would have said about the comment urging forgiveness for such a heinous act. I don't think so.

On to something happier— 

We went to visit our family and friends in Idaho. We traveled in tandem with our daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, 3.5 years and 2.5 months. Both were great travelers and welcomed warmly by our Idaho kin. The weather varied from warm and sunny to cold and rainy with a bit of snow thrown in, but all in all it was a beautiful trip and a whole lot of fun. The photo, above, was taken at a rest stop in the Columbia Gorge and gives you some idea of what a lot of the trip looked like.

Idaho gets such a bad rap and it is really such a beautiful state. Yeah, the politics can be little bizarre, but the two largest counties voted Democrat in the last election, which is not unlike Oregon, which has a much more liberal, progressive reputation. And then there are those famous Neo-Nazis in Idaho. From Wikipedia:
"A common misconception is that Idaho is somehow a racist or Neo-Nazi state. Around 1980, a Neo-Nazi and white separatist brought a band of followers to Hayden Lake near Coeur d'Alene and began regularly making the local and national news with his racist provocations. Although the local residents vigorously disapproved and regularly held much bigger counter-demonstrations, the Neo-Nazi image has stuck. Idahoans breathed a collective sigh of relief in 2001 when the 20 acre compound owned by the "church" was handed over to a woman who had filed a lawsuit against them after being assaulted by their guards, and many of the racists left the state."

So, if you always thought of Idaho just being about potatoes and weirdos, you missed the good parts.

We spent several days in Pocatello with my brother and his family. One day we took the kids to the park and the little zoo, which sits nestled against the lava cliffs, remnants of ancient volcanic activity in the area. When I was a child the zoo was pretty pathetic, with two or three caged, mangy buffalo and some deer. It has been greatly improved, with many more native animals added and large areas for the buffalo to roam and the deer and the antelope to play... (sorry—got carried away)

The zoo was decorated for Halloween and that day they were having a special day for kids, with games and activities and candy. Sofia had a blast.


Big horn sheep.

Uncaged, wandering peacock.

After a couple days of riding in the car, the walk through the park and the zoo felt great. It was a beautiful fall day and then it started  to rain a little and we hurried back to the house and helped my sister-in-law whomp up a great dinner. (That's how you fix a meal in Idaho, BTW—you "whomp" it up) Emily and her cousin Jessica whomped up two of the best pies I have ever eaten, reassuring the older generation that we raised those girls with the right values! Then we drifted off to sleep to the faraway sounds of the trains in the switching yards. Home.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The pumpkins

Ray brought home three pumpkins and thought we needed to carve them into jack-o-lanterns. It has been years since I've done that. I usually buy a couple of pumpkins and set them out on the porch, uncarved, where they sit through Halloween and Thanksgiving and I finally toss them out when the Christmas decorations go up, but Ray thought we needed jack-o-lanterns. For Sofia, mostly.

When we presented the idea to Sofia she was unclear on the concept, so we googled images of jack-o-lanterns.  That got her little brain going. The process was that Sofia would tell me how she wanted the pumpkin to look; I would draw the features on the pumpkin, subject to her approval; Ray would carve it. First Sofia wanted a happy pumpkin. That was pretty easy. Then she wanted a sad pumpkin—"with a tear." Okey Dokey. Then she wanted a pumpkin that looked "like a baby." Like a baby? How does a baby look? "It has a little tiny mouth—with three teeth."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I have been reeling today from some horrible news. A couple of days ago, in New Jersey, a man picked up his two small children from daycare, then killed both of them and then himself. A friend called to tell me this today because we knew the mother of these children. The wife of the man.

She was a childhood friend of my children. Her parents took care of my children after school and in the summers while I worked, many years ago. Lovely people. Really  wonderful people. Grandparents of these recently murdered innocents. Just weeks ago the faces of these two beautiful children beamed up from my daughter's Facebook page. Their mother posted her pride and love. I can't begin to imagine the dark place she is in today.

Please don't offer me any sympathy. This is not my tragedy. But hold a kind thought for this devastated mother and her family. And tell me, if you can, how such a horrific thing is possible.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cats in the yard


It was forty years ago that the Crosby, Stills and Nash album, Deja Vu came out. Ray and I were planning to be married in November and we had rented an apartment—actually the bottom floor of an old house—and we were spending evenings and weekends there getting it ready. It needed to be painted and cleaned. It was, let's be honest, a dump, but we could afford it and we saw some charm in it and we knew we could make it livable and comfortable. The first thing we moved into the apartment was my stereo and our combined collection of records, so we could have music to work by. One Saturday we stopped on our way to work on the apartment and bought Deja Vu, our first joint music purchase. We played it over and over. It is still one of my favorite all-time albums. So many great songs, including "Carry On", "Almost Cut My Hair", "Woodstock" . . . Really there are no bad songs on that album. My favorite was "Our House." Beautiful song and it was so appropriate to where we were in our lives.

". . . Our house is a very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy
'Cause of you . . ."
In time we had two cats in the yard. I always loved our cats. We have had dogs too, but honestly, and I know you might think less of me for saying this, but I am not so fond of dogs. Maybe I have just never owned a really wonderful dog, but I'll take a cat. When our last cat, Grace, died in March, we decided she would be our last cat. My allergies have gotten worse over the years and I learned that I am allergic to both cats and dogs, so indoor pets are really not a good option. We hope to do more traveling and it is such a hassle to figure out how pets will be taken care of when we leave. It was a good decision and I really haven't missed having cats. But I love having the neighbor cats come into the yard. They seem to be attracted to our yard. I often look out the back to see a beautiful black tuxedo cat laying on our deck. He is a frequent visitor. There is a beautiful gray tabby who likes the front porch and especially likes watching the birds at the feeder, and I don't think he ever does more than just watch.

Today I was standing at the living room window talking on the phone and noticed a little white cat sitting on the sidewalk watching me. We locked eyes and she scurried over to the window and sat, under the bushes, looking up at me. After I ended my phone call I went out to the porch to see if she needed a little affection or would sit by me on the step for awhile, but she ran off. That was a couple hours ago, but she is back, under the bush and seems to be watching for me.

She is welcome here, any time. Maybe we will be friends. Maybe it is because of the song, or not, but I like to think we are destined to always have cats in the yard. Isn't she pretty?

Monday, October 18, 2010

That good bread

For a couple of years I have been reading blog entries about "no-knead bread" and how easy and how delicious it is. I finally got around to trying it a week or so ago. Easy. Delicious. I made another loaf yesterday, well, actually yesterday and the day before. The only not easy part is getting organized to make it because you have to start the bread the day before you want to eat it.

It is the simplest of recipes. 4 ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, water. Of course you can dress it up, and I will try some variations later, but this is the basic bread. You start by mixing the 4 ingredients in a big bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap and letting it sit for about 18 hours. After sitting, it looks like this:

Real wet and bubbly.

You pour it out onto a floured surface, sprinkle a little flour over it and on your hands and fold it over on itself a couple of times. Remember—no kneading. Then you cover it and let it sit for a couple more hours.

After that you pat it into a ball, then dump it into a pre-heated pan with a lid—my cast iron dutch oven is perfect. Bake it with the lid on for 30 minutes and the lid off for another 12-15 minutes to get it golden brown. And this is what comes out of the oven.

The crust is perfectly crusty and the interior is moist, with a chewy texture and divine yeasty flavor. Unbelievably good bread. Here is the recipe. And here is a story about how it was developed. This second loaf did not look as pretty as the first one I made, but tasted every bit as good. The dough seemed wetter and a little harder to form than the first, so it was a little misshapen. The recipe says not to worry—that even if it looks like a mess in the pan, it will even out as it cooks. This one didn't exactly even out, but no one complained at dinner last night. They ate every last crumb. It tasted really good with the thick, hearty minestrone I made.

Add a glass of red wine and you have the perfect fall supper.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Critique Day

Yesterday I drove down to Eugene, Oregon (about a 2 hour drive) for critique day. I belong to a group of fiber artists, from all over Oregon that meet twice a year. We bring 1 or 2 of our recent works to show and we have an outside critic who critiques them. Our outside critics are people from the art community—artists, teachers, curators—who are NOT fiber artists. It gives us a good perspective on the artistic integrity of our work, aside from sewing proficiency and fabric choices! It is always interesting—sometimes helpful, sometimes not.

I just discovered that my camera was set on the wrong settings, so most of the pictures I took are terrible. Here is our critique-er, Beverly Soasey, a mixed-media artist and curator of the Jacobs Gallery in Eugene.

She is talking about Mary Goodson's piece with the face, not the antique bear paw quilt hanging on the wall behind it. I liked her approach. She said since much of her work is jurying artwork for shows, she would talk about our work as if she were considering it for the gallery or a special show. She talked about what a juror might see in a digital image and how that might differ from the actual work. She talked about the importance, when submitting digital images, of including a compelling description of the process used, which she felt was much more important than describing the meaning or emotional content of the piece—that will differ according to who is viewing it, but technique and process are interesting to viewers when evaluating a work and putting together a cohesive, yet diverse collection of work to show.

Like many of our former critics, she was pleasantly (I think) surprised by the variety of work and how many different styles and approaches our group had to show. Also, like so many of our past critics, she got a little hung up on technique and how the work was made, but I think that is pretty typical of artists looking at work done in an unfamiliar medium.

These were the two pieces I took for critique. Her initial reaction was to "all those little tiny pieces!" But then she began to actually analyze the work. I was pleased that she pointed out and felt it was effective, the simplified, stylized background in the Douglas Fir cone piece. She said the piece had the feeling and appeal of a drawing, which also pleased me and echo exactly my intent. One of the earlier artists had made the comment during her own critique that she always has a hard time knowing when to quit when she is working on a piece. That idea came up again in another critique and then she praised my pieces as having "clarity" and said that I obviously do know when to quit! So I came away with nothing that I can use to improve my work, but it always feels good to get positive reinforcement. And hearing the remarks about other work is sometimes as edifying as hearing the remarks about one's own. It was a smaller group than usual, which meant we ended fairly early. Sometimes these things go on too long and I come away mentally exhausted. Yesterday I just had some good thoughts to ponder on my drive home. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed the drive. Since I was the only member from Portland that made the trip, I was alone, but sang along with the radio and offended no one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Before and After

Christine, bless her, one of my oft-time commenters, wanted to see some before and after pictures taken at our house. Since the weather is so beautiful, I thought some outdoor befores and afters might be good. I mentioned removing grass and naturalizing the front yard. Here is how it looked before.

This is how the front lawn looked, standing at the creek, looking toward the house. The grass was pretty, the boxwood hedge was pretty, but it didn't fit with the creek and the wooded area on the other side of the creek.
Here are a couple of views toward the house as it looks today.

We added a path that curves from the front porch down to the little bridge over the creek. The boxwood hedge is gone. There is still a little grass on the left side of the path, but it will get smaller. Just to the right of this picture on the other side of the tree is the little patio/sitting area that we added this summer.

Now, some of this same area viewed from up near the house and looking toward the creek and the road.


You can actually compare these two photos pretty easily by locating the big tree on the left and the round bush on the right.

Still lots more to do, but it is getting there.

And, in case you are waiting to hear about the hand—I think I got it. Here is my line drawing that I will use for my quilt. I am just showing you the hand because I really shouldn't show what I am doing until it is either accepted or rejected for the invitational.

In case this is not clear, the arm is holding something and the hand is coming around to support the item being held.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two Years

It was two years ago that we made the final move to this house, though it had been a process that happened over many months. We bought the house nearly a year earlier and spent months remodeling the kitchen and dining area, changing walls and doors and installing new windows. When summer came we blew up an inflatable mattress and started sleeping here most nights, then moved the den sofa and TV set, so we could be comfortable in the evenings, and little by little more and more of our furniture and belongings, leaving the bulk of the furniture at the old house to make it feel homey and appealing to potential buyers.

I'm sure you remember what was happening two years ago. The world, as we knew it, was crashing down around our ears. Our old house was not selling. It still hasn't. But by October we felt we couldn't continue to live in two houses and we finally moved everything and officially started our life in this house. There is still a lot to be done, but we have settled into the place and made it our own and here we are two years later.

The creek still draws me and today, on this beautiful fall day, it is calm and reflective as a mirror.

The creek and wooded area between the house and the road are a buffer zone of natural beauty. Little by little we are returning more of the outdoor areas to a more natural state. Most of the grass is now gone from the front.

My succulent garden is filling in and things are looking like they have been here for awhile now.

Ray's vegetable garden has been poor this year, due to both a late, cold, rainy spring and local deer who discovered it early on.

One of very few tomatoes is still struggling to ripen. Looks a little worse for the wear, doesn't it?

After the deer stripped most of the garden Ray set cages over some of the plants to protect them from the deer. He discovered this cucumber trying to escape the other day.

The house next door to us has been empty, pretty much for the past two years. There were renters for a few months, but it has been empty and for sale mostly.

The owners were transferred out of town about the time we moved in and have been unable to sell. I sympathize and it has been sad to see this pretty house sitting empty. The house shares our long driveway and is the only place really near our house. I have a feeling the original land for our house, which was built in 1949 was subdivided at some point and this much newer house built next door. We just learned that it was sold this week. We have not yet met the new owners. I'd love to have nice neighbors. We have had such wonderful neighbors in the past. Remember this? We learned from the realtor that they are a couple in their 50s with grown children. Both work and the husband enjoys making birdhouses out of recycled material. Sounds promising. If nothing else, it will just be nice to see a light on over there in the evenings.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I started making a drawing today for a piece I intend to make for another invitational show. There is a figure in the drawing and a hand. Do you know how difficult hands are to draw? Very. And the hand must look right for the piece to work. That is not to say that every detail must be there, but the gesture must be right. How many works of art are ruined by an awkward hand? One that looks like a claw or an assortment of sausages. I gave up for today and will get back to it tomorrow. I think even the best draftsmen have trouble with hands.

I look at my hands today—that is one of them holding a needle in the photo—and I see my mother's hands. My hands are beginning to show their age. I now have one of those brown spots on one hand and I can no longer wear my engagement and wedding rings, so I wear a silver ring bought in Mexico until I can decide what I want to do with my rings. Have them enlarged? Redesigned?

I stopped wearing nail polish quite a few years ago when I determined that rather than protecting my dry and splitting nails as I had hoped, it was making them worse. They are much healthier and stronger as a result. (My secret for keeping my nails strong and pliable is a slather of vaseline before I go to bed.) I have friends who wear acrylic nails, which they lavish a lot of time and money on. The thought of gluing plastic covers to my nails gives me a small shiver of claustrophobia. Besides I'm sure I would ruin them immediately with glue or paint or pop one off using it as a screwdriver. My hands are my main tools. One hand has a smooth, pale scar that is the result of a glob of misplaced hot glue. Not once, but twice, I have sewn through my left index finger with my sewing machine. OK, sorry. You probably didn't need that grisly bit of information.

Today my hands made bread and typed a gagillion words for the Columbia Fiberarts Guild newsletter and pinned Sofia's mermaid costume to her to see how it was fitting and, like I said, tried drawing another hand. When I ran in to get Sofia I stopped to lay my hand on my baby grandson's downy, sleeping head—irresistible—and startled him awake because it was cold. I felt bad about that, but then had the pleasant task of picking him up and soothing him back to sleep.

I like when my hands smell like onions, from chopping them. I always remember my Mom's hands smelling like that. I bought some of that soap, once, that is supposed to neutralize the smell of onions on one's hands. I just thought it made them smell like lemon—and onions.

If I ever get that hand drawn correctly I'll show it to you. If I don't you'll know I gave up and came up with a whole different idea for the artwork.