Monday, July 11, 2016

Wishing I were there


Well, I am back from vacation.  I confess that I am struggling a bit with the post-vacation return to reality.  Laundry? Housecleaning? Bill paying? Meal planning? Who cares. I want to sit and read and paint and poke around on my ipad, in that lovely vacation mode of having nothing more pressing to do than wonder what relaxing thing to do next. 

So I am prolonging (and reliving) the excursion by scanning my sketches and uploading my photos and telling you all about it.

For this adventure, Miss C and I packed up the car and headed north, with Whidbey Island, Washington as our ultimate destination. It's two days' worth of driving from here, so we had planned stops in Oregon on the way up and back which proved fun as we were able to connect up with Miss C's aunt and cousin on the way which was very fun. C's 9 year old cousin has fallen in love with horses so we had a breakfast filled with horse photos and talk. It was fun to see them connect on a new level around a common passion.


 I'd rented a charming cottage outside of Coupeville for the week, and it turned out to be perfect. The shot above is the view from the whole back of the house -- so I'd seen this from the outside deck and the living room and dining room and master bedroom.  I loved getting up in the morning, making coffee, and settling inside or out (depending on weather) to gaze at the water and look across at Camano Island.

 There was a lot of wildlife in the yard.  Each morning and evening I'd find bunnies hopping around the garden. This mom and baby pair did a lot of playful chasing which was fun to watch.




























How fun to be greeted by bunnies every morning!

I did a lot of exploring and sketching and painting. I was struck by how inspired I was to draw and paint -- perhaps because of that relaxed vacation feeling of having no chores at the back of my mind to make me feel like I should be doing those instead, also from wanting to capture new experiences and places, I guess.

I have the practice of painting the place where I'm staying as a way of recording that memory, and I had fun doing this of the house we were in.  Something about drawing a plan of the interior is very fun and satisfying to me. Maybe I should have been an architect.


I had to take a stab at painting the view of the cove, of course.

On one drizzly day, I spent some time painting some of the flora from the garden. There was a huge holly bush in the yard, with a few red berries peeking out from the mostly green ones.  I guess there are early bloomers in every crowd.

I did a bit of out-and-about sketching, too. In the town of Langley, there's a bronze statue of a boy and his dog, and I had a pleasant bit of time sitting in the sunshine sketching and painting it.


I also spent some time at the Useless Bay Coffee Company in Langley, which I love for its great food, coffee, and beautiful patio.  I started painting a view of the doorway near my table, then as I sketched I started talking with a couple who've lived on the island for 30 years. It diverted my attention and the result was sort of a muddy mess, but still, it was fun and I'll remember that nice conversation when I see this in my sketchbook. Every time I've been out in public sketching on Whidbey Island, I've gotten into interesting conversations with people and have discovered that there are a lot of artists who are eager to come over and introduce themselves.


The quiet times were interspersed with wonderful visits with friends, delicious meals out (oh, those Penn Cove mussels!) and even a delightful visit from a dear and special friend from Maine who happened to be in the Seattle area over the holiday weekend. So we packed in a lot of fun for a 10 day trip.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Drive-About, 2016


Hi, friends --

I'm all packed. I've vacuumed and done all of the laundry and emptied all of the garbage cans. I'm ready to hit the road first thing tomorrow morning.  Miss C and I are headed north, through Oregon, to explore Whidbey Island again. I had such a great time last summer that I had to go back.

So, I'm planning on about 9 days of:
    Staring at the water and sky
    Day dreaming
    Reading beachy novels
    Reading a few good magazines
    Perusing the new sketching book by John Muir Laws
    Starting the painting -with-gouache one class that I couldn't start last week
    Doing some watercolor painting
    Taking Miss C to visit a friend who lives up there
    Taking the ferry over to Port Townsend to visit friends and poke around
    Hanging with a friend who will come over from Seattle for a few days
    Possibly meeting up with a very dear girl who is like a sister to Miss C -- from the same orphanage in China!
    Eating some great fresh seafood
    Wandering along the beach and picking up driftwood bits and sea shells

I have no idea how I can pack it all in, but I will surely try. Oh, and I guess we'll probably see some holiday fireworks in there, too!

Have a great holiday, and be sure to squeeze in some summer daydreaming time for yourself, too!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Garden Patch fun


 Boy, did I have fun this past week!  I was out at my local gorgeous retreat center, Bishop's Ranch, for an art workshop/retreat with artist Jane LaFazio.


You might know Jane from her blog, or her website, or her "yoga in public places" photos on Facebook.  I was delighted to get to capture Jane's yoga pose one evening after dinner. It was funny to be part of that little tradition of Jane's.

The class was called "Garden Patch" and involved making a fabric/paper/thread stitched collage.  To be honest, I was up for anything that Jane was going to teach -- and what really thrilled me was that a longtime online friend, Norina, was going to come and I was going to meet her in person for the first time. Pictured here are Norina, Jane, and another dear friend Pat. It was a reunion of sorts for them too, as they have gone on some art walk/sketch trips together and have become good friends.


I sat with another dear friend, Paula -- and it was fun to see how she approached the project.


The project itself was definitely an adventure and a bit beyond my comfort zone.
We started by assembling a collage on a felt surface.  We used all sorts of things - images we'd carved, papers, fabrics, trims, anything that just felt like it belonged.


Once we had a an arrangement we liked, we pressed it all down, flipped it over so we only saw the back side, and then we CUT IT UP.

Did you just gasp?  We all did when Jane told us what we were going to do.  Yikes. Giving up control. Letting go of that collage we'd just carefully arranged. But we gulped, put our trust in Jane, and CUT.  And this is what I had then:


I have to admit that it was pretty cool to see how each section had its own collage and its own composition.

Then, the task was to embellish each square with hand embroidery, adding embellishments, and whatever else we wanted. Here's one arrangement with some of the handstitching.


It was really fun to see everyone's collages -- each was so different.  And we didn't just get inspiration from each other -- we shared trims and threads and bits of fabric.  Norina ended up using a piece of tea bag paper I'd stamped with a leaf I'd carved -- it worked perfectly for her to cover something she'd not been happy about. 


The stitching and embellishing process was a lot more fun than I'd imagined it would be. I could get into doing more embroidery!  Here's the tangle of threads and trims that Paula had on her desk.


As I was packing my materials before the retreat, I'd thrown in some bird shapes I'd cut out of organza a few years ago -- for one of those projects I never ended up pursuing. And it was fun to see that one of the birds would work well on this piece.

So here is where it is right now. I've done a lot of stitching but may end up doing more. I'll need to trim it and finish off the edge too.


What a fun time!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Seeing Stars


So here's what's on my design wall this morning.  Yep, that's a whole lot of stars!

I've been sewing these for years. Well, actually, I started cutting up scraps for stars about 3 years ago.  I made a few, then got distracted (surprise!) and the box of parts moved to the back of my closet.

So it's been -- marinating, shall we say? -- for all of that time. And recently, in a mood to make a bit of a dent in the UFO list, and looking for some mindless thing to take to my April quilt retreat, I unearthed it.  I have to confess that it took an evening of sorting of parts and trying to make sense of  various scraps of paper. I knew I'd planned it all out -- all I had to do was decipher the plans!  But I finally did, and made a bunch of the blocks on retreat.  Since then, I've had a few star sewing sessions and recently finished them up. 

I am looking forward to sewing them together and getting it quilted. Just in time for the Fourth of July!

What started me down this starry road was stumbling onto blog quilt-along some years back, called "Oh My Stars!" Sheila's blog, thoughtandfound.wordpress.com, looks like it's been on a long hiatus -- but if you like stars and want to get good tutorials for a bunch of different types, click on the link.  She has really good instructions.  The original Oh My Stars quilt had different types of stars, and her blog provides directions for all of them. 

Me, though, I just wanted to use up red and blue scraps, so I figured simple was the way to go.  I stuck with three sizes of sawtooth stars. I had so many scraps leftover from making this quilt, ages ago.

Looking for a photo of that quilt reminded me that I made another red and blue quilt a few years ago too.


 Apparently I now have a patriotic quilt collection and didn't even know it.

You'd think I'd have made a huge dent in the red fabrics in my stash, wouldn't you?  But, um... no. I still have loads.  But I think I'm done with stars for the time being.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Contained Gardening

 
My mother tells me that I have gardening in my genes.  Her grandfather was a gardener at an old estate house famous for its lovely gardens. My dad's parents were both natural gardeners, Italian immigrants for whom it was natural to have a massive backyard garden producing fruits and vegetables for the whole family most of the year. With that lineage, it's natural that my parents were big gardeners, too. I grew up seeing them outside in the garden on weekends, and hearing them comment on plants and flowers. I have a lot of memories of weekend trips to the local nursery.  In elementary school, the girl whose family owned the nursery became a friend of mine and it was a treat to go to her house after school where we'd run among the flats of plants and shrubs. That smell of recently-watered soil is a very familiar and comforting smell.

And I want to like gardening, I really do. I love being outside and planting things and watching them grow.  But there's a little issue I didn't realize I'd find so discouraging. The soil here isn't soil. It's clay, heavy, dense clay. When you dig a hole in it and fill it with water to soften it for more digging, the water just sits.  Overnight even, it just sits. It doesn't drain. It's just...clay.

When I moved into this house, the backyard was an expanse of bare dirt. I'd read the gardening books, and when landscapers came in to put in the first bits, I had them amend the soil and rototill yards and yards of good soil into the dirt that was here. I figured that that would take care of it.  And maybe it's better than it would have been if they hadn't done that. But still, it makes for miserable digging.



Which is why I have taken an easy way out: container plants. Pros: nice soil, no clay. And in drought-stricken California, I can water the potted things and not use quite so much water. Cons: they dry out faster. But that just means that I get the pleasant experience of strolling around the garden to do a bit of sprinkling each morning. It's very pleasant.


A few years ago, I put hooks up so I could hang baskets around the edge of the patio. Having flowers there makes me very happy. Last weekend I refreshed the baskets and they look so pretty.


It makes sitting out on the patio quite nice.  Last evening my sister and sat and enjoyed chips and quacamole and some very nice sistery chat. Perfect.


And yesterday, I got a window box installed on the window at the front of the house, and I've filled it with pink geraniums and white petunias. I can't wait to see it grow and overflow into a lush colorful spill of color.

Master gardener, I'm not.  But I'm happy with my bits of color. 


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Keeping Myself in Books

 

You all know that I'm an avid reader.  I read fast, and I read a lot. If I had to buy every book I read, I'd be broke. But I have a few good ways to keep books coming for not very much money. So here are my tips on how to do that.

1.  I use the library.  This is a no-brainer, people!  A whole building full of books, available to you for free!  And really, not just one building.  A whole county's worth!  And counties beyond that! Once you start using your inter-library loan system, you can read pretty much anything you  like for free, if you're willing to wait a bit.

When I hear about or see a book I'd like to read, I go straight to my computer and go to the library's online catalog. My library's site shows me books all around my county as well as what's at my local branch. If it's at my branch, I can put it on hold and go down and get it. If it's not at my branch or if it's checked out, I can request it and I get an email when it comes in.

Somehow, a bunch of requested books always seem to come in at the same time. Don't ask me why, but they just do.  It's like how you can go into the library on one day and find little that appeals, and then on another day everything on the shelf looks great and it's a struggle to get the "bring home" pile down to a reasonable size. 

2.  I use the Wishlist on Amazon.com as a way to remember books to request from the library.  I suppose the Wishlist is intended as a way to tell  people gifts you'd like, but that's not how I use mine. I keep it private, and for me it functions as a virtual "to be read" list.  When I see a book that looks good, I put it on the wishlist.  Every once in a while, when my library request/hold list isn't long, I'll open two windows on my computer: one with the Amazon wishlist up, and the other with the library's online catalog up.  I'll go through and see if I can find the books on my wishlist at the library, and then request them.  (Be sure to take them off the wishlist when you've requested them, to keep things current.)  Then it feels like I've shopped, and have new books coming to me, without spending a penny.  Shhh, don't tell Amazon!

3.  I check to see which books on my Amazon Wishlist are on sale. Have you ever noticed that every once in a while, the Kindle edition of some current, full-priced book will be on sale for a day or two for $1.99?  Sometimes the first book in a series will be $1.99, I suppose in the hope that it'll hook readers on the series and they'll buy at full price. Every once in a while, I'll go to the Amazon wishlist, and click on the "Filter & Sort" tab to sort by price, low to high. The books on my list will be sorted and if any have had huge price drops, they will show up at the new bargain price.

I did this just today and ended up buying 3books for $1.99 each that are current books and retail for $12.99.  Bargain!  I always figure if the price is what I'd pay if I found the book on a table at my library's book sale, then I'll do it on the Kindle. 

You want to know what I got, don't you? You don't even have to ask.


This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison


 Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart. ($2.99, which seemed reasonable using my "library book sale table rule.)






The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo.

By the way, you can sort your Wishlist items by "price drops" and that'll show you the biggest price drops first.

Oh, and one more Amazon Wishlist tip: you can create different lists for different purposes. So you can keep one list for books, a list for other Amazon stuff, a different list you keep for friends and family to show them stuff you want, etc. I keep a separate list of Kindle Unlimited books because my sister gave me a Kindle Unlimited membership for Christmas last year, and so when I stumble onto a K.U. book, I'll put it onto that list for when I'm next looking for something to read.
(I guess Kindle Unlimited is another sort of bargain way to get books. I'm iffy on it and I have to admit that I wouldn't have subscribed on my own. The K.U. books seem to be "B list" sorts of books, with a lot of self-published stuff. I won't resubscribe when my gift subscription is up.)

4.  Bookbub.com.  Have you heard of this? It's exclusively for ebooks.  And it's totally free.  You sign up to a mailing list, and are asked to identify what sorts of books you like.  Based on your preferences, you'll receive a regular email identifying books in your categories that are free or under $3.00 for a limited period of time. The list often has popular books by excellent authors. It can be hit and miss, but I've found great books on there. They have kids' books and nonfiction, as well.

I hasten to add that I have two really lovely bookstores in my little town, and I try to patronize them too. I buy from them when I can. A reader can't have too many books, can she?

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Spontaneously Decorating with Turquoise, or "At Least it's a Pretty Color"

Last night before bedtime, I was looking at one of those decorating blog-hops where people showed their work and craft spaces.  I noticed how stark white seems to be the current trendy look, and I was marveling over how those people could keep white things white. I mean, for work and crafty activities?  I make a mess. Plus all of that white looks kind of stark and unfriendly, don't you think?  Well, that's my opinion, anyway.   

I shut down my Ipad and headed off to bed, making a detour into my non-white and rather cluttered office to put some mail on the desk. Sitting next to my keyboard were a few fountain pens that I'd cleaned earlier in the day to ready them for filling with ink.  I love fountain pens!  But if I drain one and then let it sit for a few days before I refill it (which I do, constantly) the ink dries in the nib and it needs a little flushing out with warm water before it can be refilled to flow smoothly again.

ANYway, I'd had a very productive day. (I promise you, this is going somewhere.) I'd worked in the garden. I'd checked a bunch of stuff of of my to-do list, including "clean pens."  But wait, I hadn't refilled them, and I wanted that task finished. I figured I'd quickly fill the three pens with ink, at best a 10 minute task.

I grabbed one of my favorite inks, Navajo Turquoise by Noodler's Ink. I love this color for writing in my journal -- it's actually a bit darker out of the pen than in the Goulet's sample up there, so it looks more like a turquoisey dark blue and it makes me happy.

Here's what my bottle looks like.


I use this ink pretty often, but it's this empty and this messy because I spilled it once. Big surprise.

So, I got my pens lined up, their converters ready to load.  I opened the bottle. I dipped the first pen, realizing that because the level of ink in the bottle was low, I had to dip the pen pretty deeply to immerse the nib in the ink. Hmm, I need a tissue to wipe the tip off, I thought.  And as I turned to grab a tissue -- you are seeing where this is going, aren't you? -- my elbow hit the bottle, and yes, the bottle tipped and spilled a lovely Navajo Turquoise onto my desk and under my keyboard.

You'll forgive me for not stopping to take photos, I assume?  Rest assured that I leapt up, grabbed the box full of tissues and started swabbing frantically.  I dashed to the laundry room to grab some rag towels.  You can imagine the frenzy of wiping that ensued. I left a lot of turquoise fingerprints in the process, but I eventually got it all cleaned off of my desk and keyboard. Luckily none spilled into the keys, it was just underneath.  I was greatly relieved that none had dripped into the carpet.


Now my mousepad -- a pretty floral with a turquoise background to begin with -- has an extra dark turquoise corner.



Good thing I have a manicure scheduled for tomorrow, as I don't really want to wear this turquoise nail look for long.  And this is after a whole lot of scrubbing.

It was only when I went to climb into bed that I discovered the rather large splodge of turquoise ink on the top of my right foot.  It must have dripped when I was carrying soggy towels to the laundry room. (Still, just my foot. Not the rug. Phew.) Back into the bathroom for more scrubbing.  I went to bed with just a delicate aqua stain.


So, things are back to normal sort of, plus a few turquoise additions to the decor. But I'm quite certain that I'd never be able to carry off a stark white office.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Dishes, dishes, and more dishes

When we last parted, gentle readers, I was on the hunt for new every day dishes and I'd decided that a foundation set of white dishes was what was required.

Oh, what a rabbit hole that turned out to be!


I started by gazing at some white dishes I've loved for as long as I can remember -- Nantucket Basket by Wedgewood.  They're simple but interesting, and they remind me of wonderful Nantucket vacations.  I realized I like rounded shapes, not square, and I like texture. And I like things that feel sort of comfy and homey, not super modern.

It's good to have clarity about one's goals and preferences, you know.


I came across these "Cowgirl Lace" white dishes, designed by Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond, whose blog I've followed since before she was a big Food Network Star.  I love the name, Cowgirl Lace, and the detail is so pretty! These are available from Walmart for just $44 for a set of 4 place settings! Good news, bargain. Bad news - reviews say they chip really easily and show marks instantly.  Darn. Sorry, Ree, I'm looking for something a bit more durable.


 I think these are Emma from Pottery Barn. (Pssst... they're on sale right now.) Love the simple but striking dot detail and these were a strong contender.  But reading the reviews shut down that option... lots of poor reviews for durability, marking, chipping easily.

I did take a detour to read about durability.  Stoneware and earthenware are apparently the least durable -- they are fired just once, generally a bit more porous.  Porcelain and bone china get higher marks for durability because they are fired more than once. Funny -- stoneware sounds like it should be more durable, and porcelain sounds like it will be more delicate, doesn't it? But it turns out that the reverse is true. And that's proven true with my own experience.  The stoneware dishes I've used over the years have had gorgeous rich color, but have chipped easily.  I started thinking I should be looking for white porcelain.


I did hesitate over this Napoli set by Pottery Barn.  I just love the edges on the bowl and salad plate. Can't you see that bowl heaped with juicy red strawberries?  But these are stoneware which gave me pause, and they're sort of expensive. Maybe I'll keep my eye on PB and buy a bowl or two if they go on sale. 
  

Martha Stewart has some pretty white dish sets at Macy's.  This set is called Belle Mead -- and it's porcelain. I like the plate and bowl, and like that they're different patterns.  But I don't need mugs or particularly like these, and you can't buy them open stock to just get the plates. So, no.  (But if you like them, they're on sale right now AND Macy's has an extra 25% off promotion going on.)


 I did a big swoon when I saw this photo of dishes from Casa de Perrin. (And Perin is my maiden name so it sort of caught my attention.) Turns out the company is a china rental company in Los Angeles, so I guess they buy pretty china, mix and match it, and rent it for weddings and events.  Maybe if I spent the next few years collecting pretty white plates I'd end up with an assortment like this. But I'm looking for more immediate gratification. 

Another gorgeous set, yes? It's White Perle Stoneware by Lenox.  Maybe other people have stoneware and no durability issues, but after what I read, it's putting me off.  Still, they're pretty. (And they come in a few different colors, if you're interested.)


Are you getting the idea that I saw a ton of white dishes I liked? Look at these, a random shot from a collector of vintage linens. I have no clue what the patterns are but they sure look pretty.

So what did I do? Well, I looked and looked.  And read reviews. And looked some more.  And then it dawned on me that the answer was obvious.  Get the ones I loved from the beginning.


Yep, Nantucket Basket. I found them on sale for a good price, even. They were not the cheapest option, but I figure if I've loved them for 30 years, chances are I'll love them for another 30.  They make me smile just looking at the pictures.

So they will be at my door any day now, and I'll be dining in style.

Oh my. Do I need a new tablecloth? Perhaps I should christen them with a champagne opening to their first meal? Hmm, do my champagne glasses measure up? Should I shop for new ones?  Just kidding. I think I'm done with the online shopping for quite a while.

I'm going to go sit at the front door and wait for the UPS man now.



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Let's Dish


I have been obsessing about dishes lately. 

It started when I decided that it was time to buy some new flatware.  The silverware I have is something I bought years ago, when I got out of law school and set up my first grown-up home in Concord, New Hampshire.  That was (yikes!) over 30 years ago.  And while I still like the pattern, they're pretty thrashed. They've gone through over 30,000 meals, moves to 3 different homes, a lot of dropping and banging and scratching, and the occasional unintended tangle with the garbage disposal.  I thought it was time to get something new and shiny. 

After a whole lot of perusing of flatware and reading of reviews, I settled on something that looks simple, classic, but lovely -- and different from what I have, for sheer excitement. It's a pattern called Merlemont by Villeroy & Boch. It should be here any day and I can hardly wait.


Hey. You might not think they're exciting. But I do. And I might even go hog-wild and buy a new silverware organizer for the drawer. Be still my heart!

But, as these things go, anticipating new silverware made me look at my dishes.  Three years ago, when marital changes happened and a lot of kitchen stuff got divided, I bought some simple white plates from TJ Maxx or HomeGoods or somewhere like that.  They were from the Hotel Collection brand, and they had a pretty but not complicated scalloped edge, and they were cheap.  So Miss C and I have used them daily since then.  But wow, what a mess they are.  They are covered with gray lines and scratches from basic daily use. I've researched, I've bought special products, I've scrubbed with cleaners "guaranteed" to remove those marks, I've applied a whole lot of elbow grease -- and they're still horrid-looking.

So, to celebrate the impending final conclusion of the previously mentioned marital changes, I decided I'd get some different daily dishes. And I started looking.  There are so many gorgeous patterns out there -- and somehow, in my mind each one promises a different life if I just had those dishes to eat off of.


I love the effect of mismatched vintage dishes, I really do.  But let's get real.  I'm going to put them in the dishwasher. They're going to get banged around occasionally on the granite counter.  So for every day, that's not going to work.  (Although looking at so many beautiful vintage dishes has me thinking that I need to have a weekly tea party to use pretty pastel floral cups and saucers and dainty little plates. Care to join me?)


I love this set of dishes, Petit Fleur by Villeroy & Boch, I always have.  I even have 2 complete place settings, bought at a bargain price at a V&B outlet store back in Maine years ago. They're in perfect shape and they don't have a grey mark on them. They're fun to use when I feel springy.  But too ... well, cutesy for every day. I'm just not in that sort of mood every day.





I'm always drawn to blue and white dishes when I see them. There is something so homey and comfortable about them.


Oh dear, those swallows! I think I'm swooning. But no, not for every day.
 

And these pretty Spode fleur-de-lis dishes.  Instant transportation to a farmhouse kitchen. Perfect for a slice of blueberry pie, yes?
 

And then there's that mix and match possibility again. Aren't these bowls beautiful?  I want all of them.

But then I'd be locked into blue and white.  And what if I get tired of blue and white in a year? or in 3 days?  I like to keep my options open, you know.

I could do what a certain person I know does (I'm waiving at YOU, sister!) and have one or two or more of  a whole bunch of different patterns, so I can choose to suit my mood.  But what about when I have 12 people over for dinner?  Hey, it COULD happen, you know. 


Is it just me?  I want to LOVE the dishes I use every day.  And while I like having odds and ends of other sets, I want to have one foundation set of dishes that will allow me to mix and match other stuff in.  So, generally, that means white.  I love white dishes.  But that's a whole different online hunt. 

I *did* choose something!  But you have to stay tuned to find out what!  Meanwhile, tell me what your dishes are! Or what you'd choose if you could. I could always add a few more plates...