Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Our Family Celebration in Savannah

Hanging out on the river
     We enjoyed a magical, memorable, fun time together as a family to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. So much to be thankful for--I won't even try to describe our gratitude although we "count our many blessings" often. I rented a wonderful big house in Savannah, Georgia, near Forsyth Park where Mark and I spent the whole week. Then "kids" and grand kids joined us as they were able: one family on Wednesday and one on Friday morning.
Cousins Charlotte and Ruby at the house
Fun with Pop Pop in Forsyth Park
By the Forsyth Park Fountain

     Savannah is perfect for a group:  a variety of sights, plenty of walking in the large historic district with its charming squares, a lovely, active riverfront, restaurants, night spots, and, 2 1/2 year old Ruby's personal favorite--the playground near the house in Forsyth Park. Before the others arrived, Mark and I revisited some favorite walking areas, the lovely Catholic cathedral, and sometimes made simple meals at the house, sometimes ate out. The old Jewish synagogue and its story fascinated us; I include a couple of photos because you probably don't need to see my typical Savannah sight-seeing photos. It's a very photogenic place.

     The other photos are of family fun and activities. I had long dreamed of this kind of long weekend together to celebrate our 50th, and it was even better than we had hoped for. Being able to share a house large enough for all to hang out for memories and laughter--or for splitting up into smaller groups for a game or conversation at times--was  perfect.

Question of the day: What makes for a perfect celebration of an occasion for you?
At our celebration dinner (thanks kids!).

Savannah's historic synagogue

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Open Studio Reception Posts; an Index

One painting that sold at an open studio reception (18" x 24")
     One of my two most popular blog posts describes an Open Studio Reception held in our home some years ago. I decided that an index of posts about our two Open Studio Receptions might be useful for those who are interested in the topic. A side note: the other most popular post over time has been a black bean pinwheel appetizer recipe; I have already made an index of all the recipes posted on this blog.
Food for open house guests
At our 2009 reception, I invited a farmer friend join us;
he offered pre-planted baskets of baby lettuces for sale.

     I was very ambitious and went to a great deal of work for the receptions. If we have another in the future, I will simplify the food (maybe just a few beverages and either a few appetizers or a couple of desserts) and may simplify other aspects of the event. My painting mentor, Linda Blondheim, who holds several very successful in-studio parties a year has hers down to a science. She kindly advised me as I planned my first reception. In my opinion, the basics for an enjoyable and successful event are advance planning, advance publicity (including personal emails, social media, and/or postcards to one's mailing list), and creating a pleasant, relaxed, and yet professional atmosphere.

Index of my blog posts about planning and holding an art open house:

Our first reception:
First invitation
Choosing art objects to show
Anticipation of first reception
Results of first reception

Our second reception: 
Second invitation
Set-up for the event
Food and atmosphere
Post event summary and advice

Question of the day: Is an index of blog posts on one topic like this useful to you? A good idea to do?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

"Sunset Hues" Hand-painted Silk Scarf

"Sunset Hues" just taken off stretcher
     "Sunset Hues" is an 11" x 60" hand-painted silk scarf in warm red, orange, purple, and yellow. It would look lovely on a dress or top in any one of those colors, and would be stunning on white or creamy neutrals.
Another view of "Sunset Hues"

     This scarf project flowed fairly easily in the angled soft striped design I had planned, unlike some that have evolved far from my original vision (the aqua scarf called "Floating", for example). The main decisions involved first, whether I wanted the colors to blend into one another with soft edges or whether I preferred some harder, jagged edges. The second choice concerned the location and depth of the colors. Some colors required several layers of dye to achieve the desired depth. I use the French-type of silk dyes, which require steam-setting before washing or wearing the scarves.

     The first layer was painted quickly with wide foam brushes wet-on-wet. In other words, I brushed clear water on the entire scarf on the stretcher, then quickly painted one stripe after another, blending the edges by rubbing with the brush or a damp paper towel. Done quickly enough, this technique results in soft blended edges.
Close-up detail

     Since I had decided to have some harder, jagged edges, the next layers of dye went on after the first layer was completely dry. The dyes act differently on dry silk, producing the interesting, sharper edges you see in the center section of the scarf.

     These photos were taken before the batch of three newly painted scarves were steam-set, and washed. So, the scarves are not quite as soft, nor the colors as vivid as they will be when all those (important, but less fun) steps in the process are finished.

Question of the day: What is your favorite accessory? I enjoy wearing scarves, but earrings are a must for every outfit. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Colorful Noodle Vegetable Stir-fry with Peanut Butter Sauce

Vegetables at second stage of cooking, I've just added the broccoli and cabbage.
Ready to serve and enjoy!
     One of our top favorite vegan recipes is this irresistible, richly flavored vegetable and noodle stir-fry with a peanut butter sauce. Although we are not vegan or vegetarian, we eat a healthful meatless meal about once or twice a week. It is loosely based on a recipe I found in a magazine from the library. I'm sorry I cannot credit the inspiration source; it may have been Cooking Light. However, my extensive revisions probably justify calling it our own creation. The original, which used a smaller amount of sauce made with almond butter, is milder in flavor, so I expanded the flavor with additional almond butter, soy sauce and ginger root from the first time I made it, later switching to the richer and less expensive peanut butter. Warmed gently in the microwave with a little added water if needed, leftovers are just as delicious. 

     The beauty of this recipe is that you can easily customize it for the preferences of your family, using different vegetables, more or fewer vegetables or noodles, or revising the sauce. To some extent, I did all of the above. Enjoy being creative, then enjoy a yummy treat!

Noodle Vegetable Stir-fry with Peanut Butter Sauce
4 main dish servings

Note: I begin by chopping all the vegetables, whisking the sauce together, and setting a pot of lightly salted water on to come to a boil. You can turn off the water, check the cook time for your chosen noodles, and quickly return it to a boil at the right time to have everything ready at the same time.

1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 - 2 cups carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on an angle
2 cups broccoli florets (plus some of the stalk, sliced)
about 1/2 small head purple cabbage, shredded or sliced thin
1 large onion, sliced lengthwise

2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp. or more chopped fresh ginger root

1/2 - 2/3 cup chunky peanut butter
3 - 5 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp. rice or cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. water (or amount to make a thick sauce)
dash of cayenne pepper or pepper flakes, if desired

8 oz. thin whole wheat spaghetti

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1. Slice and chop all vegetables, garlic, and ginger.
2. Bring pot of lightly salted water to boil, then turn off burner until needed.
3. Whisk peanut butter and water together (careful; I can get too splashy with this), then whisk in rest of sauce ingredients.
4. Heat olive (or other) oil in a very large saute pan (ours is 13") or wok, then stir-fry the vegetables, beginning with the carrots, adding the others according to the time it takes to cook them (I add the cabbage and broccoli flowerets last with the garlic and ginger root). Stir-fry just to desired degree of crispy tenderness.
5. As vegetables are cooking, cook noodles to al dente, then strain in colander.
6. Remove vegetables from heat, stir in sauce and cooked noodles, mixing well.
7. Top with slivered almonds and serve. 

It's been awhile since I've posted a recipe. Here is my index to recipes on the blog.

Question of the day: What's your favorite meatless main dish?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Soft Aqua Hand-painted Silk Scarf

    I call this 11" x 60" hand-painted silk scarf "Floating" because, somehow, that's how it makes me feel. Like many a silk painting project (at least in my world), I had a somewhat different plan, then let the way the dyes flowed and dried gently change my direction.
Hand-painted silk scarf, "Floating"

Corner detail
     In this case, the first pale layer was intended to be a soft, under-layer and background for an ocean wave inspired pattern to be developed with other hues, some of them more intense and darker. But that layer dried with an interesting sort of scalloped design that begged to remain as it was. My best guess as to why it dried that way is that it might have had something to do with the very watery color mix I used which flowed more in response to the tension points of the pins on the stretcher frame than more concentrated dye mixes do.

Another view of "Floating"
     So, I "went with the flow" and played with salt on the next layer of color to give it a more textured look. Gradually, I subtly deepened and slightly varied the hues. Finally (once it had dried again), I coated the entire edge near the hem with a narrow, but thick coating of salt in preparation to create a lacy edge. With a heavily loaded brush of concentrated dye of a deeper blue shade, I pulled color all along the outer hem edge two separate times. Once it was thoroughly dry, I used an old credit card to scrape all the salt off.
Scarf with first dye layer drying on stretcher frame

     The result pleases me, and I'm glad that I let it happen this way rather than proceeding with plan A. "Floating" still needs to be steam-set and pressed, so looks a little stiff now. When it's finished, the silky softness will return, and the colors will be sharper. Previous posts showing hand-painted silk scarves.

Question of the day: Have you experienced some surprises in your creative projects lately?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Making a Stuffed Flamingo for a Nursery

     We are joyfully expecting a second baby grand-daughter, and I wanted to make something for her. She is due the end of June, the first child for our Jacksonville Beach son and his wife. So, they won't need crocheted or knitted blankets anytime soon or a cozy little cocoon like the one I made for our Georgia grand-daughter, born in March and now a feisty, happy two year old.

     So, I looked at sewing patterns and was thrilled to find one that includes a stuffed flamingo. Why thrilled, you ask? Well, when I had asked the planned nursery decor, the mom sent me a link to some Etsy flamingo wall art prints she had chosen and said that the walls would be pale aqua, accented with accessories in the pinks and corals found in the prints. So, for our little Florida girl, this seemed perfect and fit the nursery theme. I used soft cotton flannel with a white felt face. The flamingo can sit (in various poses, I've discovered) on the nursery book shelf until she is old enough to play with it.

     This project was different from any sewing I have done for a long time--not at all like making clothes. There were a number of small pieces and many steps. But the instructions were clear, and I worked slowly and carefully. The pattern called for "safety eyes"; I needed a store expert's help figuring out what that meant. They are a smart idea although a bit tricky to put in. The wings and legs were stuffed before they were attached. Stuffing the rest, however, was a real challenge. It was quite difficult to push puffs of stuffing all the way from the opening left in the back through the relatively narrow neck and into the beak and head. So, it was with a real sense of accomplishment that I presented the gift. They love it, and the nursery is almost done--it's truly lovely.

     The pattern, Simplicity #1082, also includes a giraffe and hippo. The hippo looks like it might be a bit easier than the other two. Might give that a try one of these days, building on what I've learned from wrestling with this bird.

Question of the day: Do you enjoy making gifts using an art or craft you pursue? What has been one of your most satisfying gift projects?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

"Falling Leaves" Hand-painted Silk Scarf

"Falling Leaves",  hand-painted silk scarf
     It's spring, but I recently completed a hand-painted silk scarf with an autumn theme and wanted to show it to you. "Falling Leaves" took several months because I was not happy with the way it was turning out and put it away for a time. Once the French silk dye is in the fabric, radical change is not possible--partial modification is the best one can do.

Musings on "failure" in an art project
     To be honest, the finished product is still not to my taste. However, I know that it could still be the perfect addition to the right outfit for the right person. 

Close up detail
Close up detail
     So, I refuse to count this scarf as a failure or even to be disappointed in it. For one thing, every art project is a learning experience, and sometimes what can feel like failure has more learning value than a "success". I am still quite new to French silk dye techniques and welcome any opportunity to learn and grow in the art. 

     A second reason comes from the wise words of my acrylic painting mentor, Linda Blondheim. Once, when she was advising me on improving a landscape painting, I had done all that we could think of, and we both still concluded that we didn't like the results. I told her I'd just gesso over it and reuse the canvas. "Oh no, Mary," she said. "This is not an intrinsically bad painting; it's just one you and I don't like a lot. Someone will love it; you wait and see." I've told this story before; that painting sold in a local shop long before others I like much better.

     Oh, in case you are wondering, here's why this scarf will never be a personal favorite (what a ridiculous sales pitch this is turning out to be! not a sales pitch at all--just sharing my thoughts): I had planned the leaf shapes and layout quite carefully and still like them. The background came last, working carefully around the leaves, which had been outlined in a gutta resist to prevent dye flow in or out of the shapes. For some reason, I thought using a couple of colors would look nice and increase the versatility of the scarf as an accessory. Maybe a good idea for some scarves, but for this design, it made for too much going on. In my opinion, that is; others may feel differently, as Linda has taught me to realize

Question of the day: When have you been disappointed in the results of a project only to discover that others like (or even love) the results?

Friday, March 31, 2017

Landscape Painting -- "On the Jones Creek Trail"

"On the Jones Creek Trail"
 My newest acrylic landscape painting, "On the Jones Creek Trail", on 16" x 20" gallery-wrapped canvas, was inspired by lovely walks in the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens with my husband and little Shih Tzu dog. The memories and photos used as reference material (one of them shown below) span several visits, and this painting is a composite of scenes along one of the trails, which weaves in and out of a woodsy area, with many views of Jones Creek. Here in coastal North Florida, natural vegetation can grow so thick that I need to "clear out some underbrush" to create a pleasing, balanced composition for painting. However, what is included in the painting is truly growing near the creek in this amazing park within Jacksonville, Florida. 

     Our city is blessed with a wealth of parks, preserves, and nature trails. The arboretum was rescued from unused land owned by the city (which had acquired it after a mining company had strip-mined it for materials used to make titanium). Although illegal dumping and the residue of mining had compromised the area, some citizens could envision its future as an arboretum and natural recreational site. You can read more about the delightful park it has become and see photos here. My husband, a master gardener and member of the North Florida Native Plant Society, worked on clearing and planting projects with many other volunteers. My previous posts about visiting the arboretum also show its uniquely North Florida beauty.
One of the reference photos used in painting
     I used a mostly cool palette for this painting because it represents a transitional season toward the end of winter, when vegetation here is more subdued in hue than in spring and summer. The acrylic paints used include cobalt, cerulean, Payne's grey, lemon yellow, yellow ochre, burnt umber, and titanium white with a few touches of naphthol red to temper and vary the greens.

     I hope you enjoy taking a walk in the arboretum with me.

Question of the day: What kinds of natural environments have been restored and preserved in your area?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

River Cruise in Southern France, Part III

Distinctive rock formation in Beaujolais region
     We had looked forward to our last full day of touring in France and the only optional tour we had chosen to add to the itinerary, a tour of the ruins of the Abbey of Cluny, the most influential church in the Christian faith in the 11th century. But our morning started with one more delightful included tour, a scenic ride through the rolling hills of the Beaujolais district and a visit to a a beautiful family owned (for many generations) winery, including a tasting with a wine expert.
Winery Entrance

     I'll let a few photos tell the story of the winery and the lovely countryside where we enjoyed strolling at a stop along the way (Viking seems to give careful thought to making the necessary rest stops on longer day tours pleasant).


Our group at the winery

     The Abbey of Cluny was originally founded in 910 AD and grew until it became the mother house for over 1,000 monasteries in the 12th century. Our local guide was charming and exceptionally well-informed--clearly a true admirer of this remarkable medieval abbey and a devoted student of its history. Some of the majestic buildings still stand and are used for, among other things, an architectural school. Eager students dash here and there, adding life and creativity to the mix of impressive old buildings and ruins.

     Sometimes on journeys, I prefer to fully take in the beauty and history of a place rather than to work at capturing multiple photos. The abbey was one such experience: inspiring and moving. So, I have a few photos to show you, but often just listened, watched, and marveled. In addition to the photos of that day, I often savor the many lovely images I have in my memory of our tour of the Abbey of Cluny.
13th century food storehouse for abbey and village
Inside the abbey's Gothic chapel, built around 1460

Courtyard outside the cloisters
     My two previous posts from our Viking River Cruise in Southern France are here. I've enjoyed reliving the journey with you.

Question of the day: How do you prefer to balance experiencing and taking photos when you travel?

Friday, January 27, 2017

River Cruise in Southern France, Part II

Medieval era fortifications and tower in Viviers
     Two more posts will show you some of my favorite scenes on our Viking River Cruise in southern France; today some sights in a medieval village and in a large conservation area and next time, the remarkable last day of touring, when we enjoyed a morning at a historic, family-owned winery in the Beaujolais region and then visited the inspirational site of the Abbey of Cluny. One earlier post from our river cruise is here.

     One of our favorite shore excursions was a morning in Viviers, a small village with a remarkably intact medieval city center. Our delightful, funny, amazing story teller guide made the visit extra special. She lives in one of the old homes--she showed us the location--where an aunt had participated in the French Resistance during World War II and where Jewish people had sheltered as they were being guided out of the country by brave French citizens. 
Renaissance era house in Viviers, Maison des Chevaliers
View from Medieval wall, Viviers



 A steam train ride deep into a protected river gorge by steam train (the area is not accessible by car) on a beautiful day made another morning memorable. The Doux Valley is a protected conservation area--a pristine wilderness area a short ride from the charming city of Tournon. The three photos below are just a few tastes of the serene, yet dramatic views we enjoyed during this scenic ride.