Saturday, December 30, 2006


When my husband asked for an espresso maker for Christmas, I had some misgivings. Moderation is not exactly his middle name.

Whenever we visited the Indigo bookstore in Kingston, he would go directly to the coffee outlet and order two double espressos to start with, then keep ordering one after another. By the time I finished shopping, there would be a litter of little cups on the table, and the waitress would be looking as if she wished he would go home.

I'm forced to admit that the caffeine never did keep him awake, nor did the acid bother his stomach, but I stubbornly maintain that it had to be bad for him in some way. There's no way that all that pleasure comes for free, mister. (I myself can't sleep a wink if I consume caffeine after twelve noon. Life is so not fair.)

He says he only ordered so many at once because he didn't have access to any at home. He promised to keep it to one or two a day if we got the machine.

So we've got one, and he is as good as his word.

The one who is flirting with addiction is me. Holy Cow. I love this stuff. I love the espresso, and I love the little ritual of making it. I love the cappuccino even more. The froth is made from skim milk, so I don't even have to feel guilty.

Well, yes, well, there's the question of sugar. I've always taken my coffee black, even espresso, which is probably why I was able to take it or leave it until now. Having recently read, in one of Frances Mayes' books, that espresso is really meant to be sweetened, I decided to try just use a tiny spoonful or two of sugar. The rest, as they say, is history.

We're finally using the demi-tasse spoons we got with our flatware set when we got married. That's a good thing, right? And the little cups? Aren't they adorable? We got them really cheap because there were only five in the box instead of six.

The key, I think, is to handle these drinks like very rich chocolates. You can eat one or two chocolates a day, but more than that and you'll be in trouble.

My New Year's Resolution will be Moderation in All Things Caffeinated.

Oh, yes, and I'll be getting up earlier from now on. Gotta make sure to get my two drinks in well before noon.

Happy New Year to all.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


It was a green Christmas here, and I'm not kidding. I harvested fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage from my garden for cooking. Some friends dug up carrots. This is unheard of in this climate even in snowless years.

Then, this morning we woke to a perfect holiday card scene.

Some might be annoyed at this timing, but I'm reminded of Boxing Days when I was young. Children would inquire anxiously, "It's still Christmas, isn't it?" And the elders would reply, "Yes, it's Christmas for twelve days. It's only just begun."

We knew there would be no more gifts, except for the odd stray that hadn't been delivered in time for the 25th. But the beautiful tree would remain, the candy dishes would be refilled as they emptied, and we would be allowed to sit in the front room which was not used at any other time of the year. We had our new toys to amuse us, and we would exchange visits with friends and relatives we hadn't seen for a while.

The fever of anticipation had peaked and started to drop, but there were still things to look forward to, so the descent was gentle and gradual.

By the twelfth day, known to us as "Old Christmas Day", we would be back in school. The bone-dry tree would be broken up and the branches laid on the flower beds to protect them from the January frost. The boxes of chocolates were gone, the bucket of hard candy was empty. By that time we had sucked all the juice out of Christmas and were ready to turn our attention elsewhere. Even so, there was a tiny crumb of cheer on that day, knowing it was still officially Christmas for 24 hours.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


For almost as long as I can remember, I've wanted a miniature village at Christmas. The idea must have been planted by some long-forgotten children's book. In recent years the wish is being gradually realized with these little houses and figures purchased a few at a time from the dollar store.

Lined up on the kitchen windowsill, they are cheap and crude, yet they satisfy my old longing to a remarkable degree.

It occurs to me that the child I used to be knew nothing of scale and workmanship, and only wanted enough to set the imagination working. These pieces are perfectly able to do that. If they were more expensive, I might not have bought them, or might feel a twinge of guilt whenever I look at them.

As it is, whenever I behold them I feel a thrill of pure joy. Who would have thought that the elusive Christmas Spirit would inhabit these tiny dwellings?

It's not likely that anyone is reading this post, as I've been a terrible slacker with this blog, but in the new year I hope to get it going again, so if anyone does happen by, I wish you a very merry and joyful season for whichever festival you might celebrate at this time of year, and please do visit again.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Makioka Sisters

This photo was actually taken at an ethnic festival in Brooklyn NY, by Wendy Zarganis, who has a column about local events on (I tried to put in a link but didn't succeed, sorry) but it beautifully illustrates this book that I found in a hospital waiting room and slyly slid into my bag to take home with me. It does bother my conscience a tiny bit, thinking about the next person who comes along and has to be content with tattered Harlequin Romances, but there wasn't time to read the whole thing there and, well, I just had to know if Yukiko ever finds a husband! Besides, it's quite an old paperback, printed in 1966, and it was falling apart in my hands as I read, so it's unlikely that anyone could have read it after me.

Maybe I'm just the last one in the world to know, but I've never heard of this book or this author, Junichiro Tanizaki ("author of THE KEY and SOME PREFER NETTLES") before. According to the blurb on the book, he was already very famous in Japan when this book was first published in 1957. It was written in Japanese and translated into English by Edward G. Seidensticker. It's the story of four sisters from a merchant class family in the years leading up to and including World War II (but it doesn't go as far as Pearl Harbour).

While quite distinct in style and content, it strongly resembles a Jane Austen novel, with perhaps a dash of Georgette Heyer. Although there are some delightfully humorous scenes, the author can't match Jane Austen's subtle wit, but makes up for it with intriguing, complex characters and fascinating scenes of daily life, combined with a story line that manages to keep you (me) turning the pages. My Harlequin-programmed mind naturally focussed on the two unmarried sisters as the heroines. A husband must be found for Yukiko, the third sister, before Taeko, the youngest, can be married to the man she already loves. This is why it's important for Yukiko to find someone soon, but she's not one to settle for just anybody. In the end, I find to my surprise that it's Sachiko, the second sister, and her wonderful husband Teinosuke who are the true heroine and hero. What a darling couple!

I'm totally charmed by the seasonal celebrations that mark the passing years. Each spring the sisters go together to view the cherry blossoms, wearing their beautiful silk kimonos, and have their photograph taken together on a bridge. Didn't I tell you the picture above is perfect? I don't know when I've wished harder that a book was illustrated. There's a festival just for admiring the harvest moon. Imagine that. The whole family spends an entire evening admiring the moon, writing poems to it, painting pictures of it, and remembering family members who are not there to share it with them.

At the same time, I have been very surprised by the degree to which this family's life is "westernized". They drink coffee for breakfast, have "western" rooms as well as "Japanese" rooms in their houses, wear foreign clothes, go to movies, listen to foreign music as well as traditional, speak foreign languages, and occasionally go out for barbecued chicken. In spite of this, the Makioka sisters - except, perhaps, for the youngest, Taeko - live quite comfortably with their deeply traditional heritage, perhaps because it's been one of wealth and privilege.

These people, even the youngest and flightiest of them, think long and hard before they speak. They ponder. They discuss. They debate. They consider all the points of view, and all the possible outcomes, and do their very best to make prudent choices. There's plenty of pressure to conform, but individuals are left to make their own decisions to a remarkable degree.

I would love to see this story made into a miniseries. A good one, a BBC type, with close attention to background and mood, and less to sex and sensationalism. What are the chances, I wonder?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Just Playing Around

I've been trying to learn how to place photos where I want them in the text, and not just all at the top. Here's my first attempt, a few peaches.

Hey, that actually worked. Let's see if I can do it with this old pastel of a clothesline from last summer.

And now, on my left, a statue in a misty park with a face that didn't turn out.

This is fun.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Farewell Old Friend

We've sold our tent trailer, along with a lot of other things, to help pay for installing a bathroom on the main floor. There's no doubt that we need the bathroom, and it can't be said that we need the trailer, which hasn't left the yard in two years. Still, it wasn't easy to let it go. A very nice family bought it. Their little boy fell in love with our gray cat and carried her around the yard in his arms (she almost as big as he) while his elders made their inspection. I like to think of him tucked into his bunk at night, listening to the loons as he falls asleep. My daughter composed her first two poems, at the age of six, while doing just that.

My Daughter Has Blue Hair

Figures and portraits are my first love, but I hardly ever get models, so my life drawing is rusty. My daughter spent too many childhood hours posing for Mom and can rarely be persuaded to sit for me anymore. Nowadays I can only catch her occasionally when she's dozing on the sofa. She's much prettier than these sketches show. The blue hair is surprisingly flattering to her fair skin, although I don't think it's as nice as her natural ash blond.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Few Wildflowers

The purple vetch is very luxuriant this year. Although it's a small flower, it shows almost the same range of blues as delphiniums. The sketch doesn't do them justice. This little bouquet also includes a red clover blossom and some Dutchmen's Breeches.

Friday, June 23, 2006

My Watercolour Box

Behold the perfect watercolour box.

Perfect for me, anyway. A painting kit is such a personal thing for each artist. I'm a casual, undedicated, impulsive watercolour painter, so this sturdy black plastic box made by Pelikan suits me very well.

I've had it for sixteen years. It's 8.5 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 1.25 inches deep. It came with 24 pans of colours, arranged in two trays that snap together, one on top of the other, allowing seldom-used colours to live in the bottom tray, while all the current favourites stay in the top.

The inside of the lid is white, or used to be, and serves as a palette. It also used to be attached to the top tray with hinges, but they wore off around the tenth year. If anything, this is an improvement. I can now remove the lid altogether and place it wherever it's most useful. It still snaps back into place with no problem.

This box is so durable that it once spent an entire winter outdoors, when I forgot it on a rock in a campground at the end of the summer. When we returned in the spring, it was right where I had left it, no harm done. Being made entirely of plastic, there's never any worry about rust.

It's very light and easy to carry around. I just put it on the scale and found to my surprise that it weights 8.9 ounces, or a smidgen over half a pound (roughly 225 g) - the weight of a large Delicious apple. I didn't think it was that heavy. I usually carry it in a canvas tote bag that easily accommodates it along with a couple of sketchbooks, a set of brushes rolled in a bamboo place mat, a plastic water bottle and a cheap plastic juice glass. In a pinch, I could carry it in any reasonable-sized (i.e. large) purse. Water would be a problem, perhaps solved with one of those plastic waterbrushes, but I've never tested that idea.

Not liking the Pelikan paints much, I gradually replaced them with Windsor and Newton pans, which were a slightly different size and had to be glued down with globs of that blue sticky stuff, but that worked fine.

Then, for reasons I have never understood, all the manufacturers stopped making full pans. You could only get half pans or tubes.

Half-pans are too small for my slap-dash approach, and although the tube paints have a lovely fluidity, and are worth the trouble for indoor painting, they are just such a royal pain to use outdoors. First, they have to be carried in some kind of separate container, a box or a bag. The colours don't gaze soulfully up at you when you open the lid of the box, but lurk inside the tubes thinking of ways to waste your time and ruin your day. Sticking caps is one way, lost caps another, squirting tubes a third, drying inside the tube a fourth. Their ways are endless.

So I squeeze tube paints into the old empty pans and allow them to dry. The labels kindly fixed in place by Pelikan don't match the new colours; I have to guess and test a bit with the blues. Most of the others are easy to identify by sight.

The old pans, made of flimsy plastic, are remarkably long-lasting. I often wonder what I'll do when they wear out, because the closest thing to a full pan that I've seen advertized lately are the round pans in a new Pelikan box. Who needs a round pan? You can't fit as many in a box, and they look like the first watercolour set I ever had, at the age of five - eight puddles of cheap paint on a kidney-shaped wooden palette with a thumb hole. (Hello, toymakers, you don't use wood for water-based paints. Stop leading small children astray!)

It seems that some manufacturers make good paint, others make good boxes, and some make beautiful boxes that are works of art in themselves but are as useless as casters on crutches. So it's a good thing my box is so durable.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Now, Where Was I?

These are a few sketches completed before I regretfully dropped out of Laura's tree study during the month of March. I did continue to draw when time permitted, but the regularity wasn't there, so not much progress took place. The big pines with the spreading branches make me want to do a bigger picture of them. More sketches needed there.

Meanwhile Laura, as always, produced some truly inspiring work as the month went on. And did you see her recent drawing of the female cardinal on its nest? Absolutely stunning. I can't wait to see what she brings back from France.

After a couple of weeks of very good weather, our trees are starting to pop - much more inspiring than they were a month ago. So I'm still studying trees, but hope to show other things as I get back into a more serious working mode. I also want to get more familiar with Blogger and learn how to make it work for me, arrange my photos the way I want them, have lists of books and my favourite sites, and all those other things I enjoy so much on other people's blogs.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I'm Back

Everybody's out of the hospital, still alive, and back to normal, or as normal as we get in my family, so I'm hoping to be a more faithful blogger from now on. Thanks to everyone who left kind notes, and I'm sorry I didn't answer them at the time. I didn't really see them until it was a bit too late to send a prompt reply, but I did appreciate them very much.

I thought I would kick off my comeback tour by participating in List Friday, hosted by Mrs. Pom over at Pomegranates and Paper. She asked for a list of ten things we love (or at least like) about where we live, and somewhat to my own surprise I came up with ten right away. So here they are.

1. The bicycle path, which winds for miles along the river's edge, past water lilies and weeping willows, tall reeds and old apple trees. The great blue heron fishes in the shallow water. Sometimes you might see a fox, a rabbit, or a deer. There are otters in the neighbourhood, but we only saw one once, crossing the highway right in town, against the light.

2. We are located on a major flyway for migratory birds, and our local bird sanctuary is a northern breeding ground for Canada geese. After a skimpy beginning back in March, enormous flocks began to arrive, and continue, night and day. When I open the door at night to let the cat out, I can hear them honking up there in the dark, passing overhead like clouds. Soon we'll see them swimming beside the bike path with all the little goslings in tow.

3. There's a beach I can walk to. It's a manmade beach, not very large but not very crowded, mostly patronized by the campers who have permanent sites in the local park. A lot of people around here refuse to swim in the river because of pollution, but I love to swim in natural water, and have never had any infections or illness because of it. I prefer it to an overcrowded pool on a hot day, for sure. There's nothing like a beach to cleanse you inside and out.

4. In June and July, the wildflowers are spectacular. Mostly pretty common varieties, nothing rare or wonderful in themselves, but so abundant, and the days so long, and the weather so perfect, that the effect is intoxicating.

5. It's a short walk to the post office, the grocery store, and the bank, and I'm known by name at all three. When I lived in Ottawa, I had the same bank account at the same branch for fifteen years and nobody ever recognized me.

6. My back yard is big enough for a really large vegetable garden. (And one of these years I'm going to plant one.)

7. There's hardly any traffic here. People routinely walk down the middle of the street even when there are sidewalks on both sides. It's also very quiet, which is nice if you want to have your coffee on the deck on a fine spring day.

8. There's a bridge between here and Cornwall called Hoople Creek Bridge, which strongly resembles the Lingan Bridge of my childhood, so I feel good whenever I cross it.

9. There's a dramatic story attached to this village. It was created in the 1950's to house the people whose homes were flooded when the St. Lawrence Seaway was built. Many of the older residents of Ingleside remember homes, farms, churches, and family graves they will never see again although they lie only a few hundred yards away, under the water. This was a planned flood, of course, not a sudden tragedy like Hurricane Katrina, but it left deep emotional wounds, and affects life even today. I don't mean to say that I'm happy this happened, but it gives a context to the rather bland, suburban appearance of the place. Ingleside is not what it appears to be, and I like that.

10. Should the pleasures of village life start to pale, we are just one hour from Ottawa, an hour and a half from Montreal, the same from Kingston, four hours from Toronto, and eight hours from New York. Really, folks. This is the centre of it all.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

It's Been a While

Just to let you know that I haven't given up blogging. I've got two family members in the hospital, and posting had to take a back seat for a while. I'm bringing my sketchbook on my travels, and I'll be back.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A "Duh" Moment

While drawing the kitchen-window tree today, I noticed that one of the limbs has practically no bark left on it.

Of course, I have seen this every single time I drew it, and each time I would think, "What an interesting contrast in texture", and that's as far as my thinking went.

Today, for the first time, it occurred to me to wonder why the limb is losing its bark. It's too high to be rabbits or deer, and there's no bird that could do that. Squirrels don't eat bark.

Is the tree dying? Does it need to be trimmed? Is it a late symptom of the stress from the big ice storm eight years ago? Or is this just part of its life cycle? Will the bark grow back? Can the tree survive without bark?

I'm also wondering why it took me so long to make this connection. I think it's because the mental effort of drawing usually doesn't allow any "outside" thought at all. That's one reason it can be a very nice rest from life's usual run of problems. It's all you can do to handle the problems of getting the tree, or some part of it, on the page, and anything else has to be blotted out of your mind. But I've done this tree so many times lately that my mind felt able to let that one little thought in while dealing with the drawing.

Today I studied the bark, particularly the places where branches split off to become new ones. I tried different ways of using the pencils to see if the texture changed. (it did.) I tried a paper stomp, which I don't usually use, to see if it improved the smoothness of the barkless branch or the roughness of the barked. I think it contributed a bit to the round shape of the tree when used sparingly at the edges, but I don't think it helped the smooth trunk at all.

I'm realizing that I have never once done a sustained drawing of this tree or any other. I sometimes manage a graceful gesture, occasionally capture the idea of a massive trunk, but I always quit too soon to get any more than that. After that little bit of drawing, if the tree still attracted me, I would usually move on to paint or pastel. I'm not a detail painter and don't want to become one. My paintings go for big blocks and major movements.

But studying the subject in detail with different media, over and over, helps to develop a knowledge of the tree, an understanding that will strengthen the final product. Who knew?

That's why I call this a "Duh" moment.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Yikes, What Happened to Last Week?

Sorry for being a no-show all week. Life got busy, and I was never able to get the pictures taken before dark. My camera doesn't do so well by artificial light.

Anyway, here are two of the week's trees. The coloured one was done in pastel pencil in my sketchbook. It's not really that bright out there, yet, but I seized upon any hint of non-gray and exaggerated it. Blogger is not being very cooperative today, so it looks as if two is all I can post.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Drunk on Spring

Forget spring fever. This is a drunk, people, an event when common sense is forgotten, you imagine yourself twenty years younger and much more beautiful than you ever were, you fall insanely in love with every puddle and twig. In short, if there was a lampshade out there, I would have been wearing it.

Sunshine, blue sky, a fresh if chilly wind, puddles everywhere. I still love puddles just as much as I did when I was four. I still like splashing in them if I'm wearing the right boots and there are no witnesses. (Being a grown-up is a drag that way.) I could still stare into them for hours. I can still remember specific puddles from different times in my life. Now, during the spring melt, they're everywhere. Yippee!

Every year I look forward to seeing the pools that form at the bases of the trees along the driveway into the park. I guess the standing water is really bad for the trees, but I love to see the repeated reflections going off into the distance. From close up, you can look down through the sparkling water and ice to last year's grass underneath, with the sky floating on top of it all.

I always want to paint it, but there's not a single good spot to work from. The only reasonable place to stand is in the road, which isn't busy but does have some traffic. There's no place to put anything down. My sketchbag, balanced on a handy log, kept threatening to topple into the water.

So the sketches are really quick and crude, in my little book, with the colour added from an already-fading memory after I got home.

The last sketch is of the open water near the faraway shore of the river. Everybody knows that when there's open water, the geese start to come back, and sure enough I saw a little flock - so little that I thought they might have overwintered, but after that I saw two larger flocks. The geese are back! And local farmers say winter's over when you can hear the crows. I didn't just hear them, I saw them flapping around everywhere.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

More Trees

An overcast day with freezing rain edging the branches with ice and reflecting the sky, while the rest of the tree is dark, wet, and broody. I attempted to capture it in the big sketchbook, but I'm not happy with the result.

These trees all look alike to me. The trouble is that they have too many "arms". I mean the real trees, of course, not the drawings, which have too few, because I haven't got the time or patience to put them all in.

Advisers on tree-drawing usually say to just draw the primary, secondary, and tertiary branches (biggest, second-biggest, and third-biggest, to me). After that, they say, you can put in a tone to represent the groups of tiny branches. I've seen this done successfully by other artists, and I always start out with good intentions, but I get seduced first by one branch, then by another, and before I know it I've lost my place. Then it's impossible to give the lines a graceful flow when I'm inching along and following every by-path.

Clearly, there needs to be more science in my method. Tomorrow I'm going to try doing all the primaries in one session, then leaving it and coming back later to do the secondaries, etc.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sunday and Monday

On Sunday I worked from the bedroom window, little pencil sketches of our back yard trees, and some distant ones behind the neighbours' houses. There were great patterns of intense blue shadow cast across the snow, but I never got to paint them because my husband lost a lens out of his glasses. He can't see without them, so he needed me to put them back together. I dropped the little screw, couldn't find it, and then had to go look for some wire and pliers. So the shadows were gone when I got back to it.

Today was much milder than it has been, allowing me to go outdoors for a while to draw the big pine tree. Had to quit when my hands got cold. This is a huge tree, probably 50 feet high, and it surprised me how dumpy it looks in my drawing. Needs more study. I loved using the charcoal, though. It's always been my favourite for sketching, if I can use a big enough surface. The paper is some kind of manilla that I found in my stash, a nice yellowish colour.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Few Trees

Laura of chooses a different subject to study every month, resulting in beautiful and fascinating sketches that show impressive skill development as the weeks go by. And her drawing skills weren't too shabby to begin with, not by a long shot.

This month she's inviting us all to join in on her study of trees. I'm a little late getting started, but here are my first attempts. The idea is to make as many sketches as there are days in the month (or more, of course, if it suits you), so by the end of March I need to have 31 drawings of trees.

It happened to be freaking cold here yesterday. I did go outdoors, but then wussed out and came right back in again. It's not much better today, so all these were done from the house windows. You may have gathered from previous posts that we have lots of trees around us. I figure I can do a dozen different trees before having to to venture out again. Surely the weather will have improved by that time?

The last two pencil drawings look as if it's the same tree continued upwards, but that's not the case. One is an ash tree from an upstairs window, and the other is a softwood maple from the kitchen. Maybe by the end of the month the difference in the trees will be apparent in the drawings.

Actually, these are just sections of the trees. A whole one is too big to do all at once -- at least from this short distance -- and my sketchbook is also too small. For the bigger drawings I borrowed an old book of my daughter's which wasn't full. I don't like the paper, though. It's only 60 lb and buckled badly under the tiniest bit of watercolour.

Robert Bateman sketchbooks have been my standard brand for the past few years. They have 110 lb paper, thick enough to take light washes without buckling, although the pages will curl at the edges. I also like being able to use both sides of a page, getting 100 sketches into a 50-page book. I just wish they would make them with more than 50 pages. Recently I've been finding this landscape format in stores, and I love it, but I don't see them online at Curry's, only the old standard sizes. Dick Blick doesn't carry Robert Bateman books at all. I'll have to try to hit an art supply store next time I go to Ottawa, which won't be until March 15, and meanwhile root through my stash of supplies for some big drawing paper.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Tacky Crafts I Have Done

This is for the Friday List on Pomegranates and Paper. You asked for it, Loretta.

  1. Those woolly men made out of yarn and pinned on your lapel. You looped the yarn around a piece of card about twenty times, made a second one just like the first, then pushed one through the other to form a cross. Then came the artistic part. You cut short lengths of yarn and tied them to form a head with a topknot, a belly, legs with topknot feet, and arms with topknot hands. I loved those. For years they satisfied my wool-craft craving when I couldn't learn to knit.
  2. Silver pillows made from cigarette wrappers twisted up and looped somehow. To be honest, I never made any of these, but I wanted to. It was de rigeur to have two of them in the back window of your car and we didn't have any in ours. I could never get enough wrappers together to try it. Besides, I think you had to "send away" to the cigarette company for directions.
  3. Wineglasses and pipes made from cigarette wrappers. These only took one wrapper each so I used them to while away many a quarter of an hour.
  4. Paper drinking cups made from a folded piece of notebook paper, the only thing I learned to make in Brownies. We had the pretty Brown Owl who didn't know how to make anything, let alone keep twenty-five eight year old girls under control while she taught us. We had a lot of singalongs and poetry recitals. The other pack had the smart, capable Brown Owl (a school teacher in real life) who taught them all kinds of things, and when our Brown Owl was out for a sick day, she took the two packs together and I learned how to make a paper cup. I still make these sometimes, when I'm bored. You have to drink fast. It doesn't leak, but it will dissolve.
  5. Speaking of folded paper, what about those Fortune-Telling things? Eh?
  6. Eyeglass cases made from a square of felt sewed up with a blanket stitch.
  7. Place mats made from two pieces of waxed paper ironed together, with pictures of food cut from magazines sandwiched between. I learned to make these in Grade Four Health Class and was very taken with the process. You could make a pretty scalloped edge with scissors.
  8. Every Christmas, my sister and I got an Embroidery Kit. It contained four napkins, a cross stitch pattern, embroidery floss, a hoop, a needle, and a thimble. I don't think I ever completed a set, but I liked cross-stitch. It was a better gift than the stupid model airplane my brother got.
  9. Once I got a ceramic kit. There was a plaster statue of a "colonial boy", paint to colour him with, a brush, and some kind of glaze that you didn't have to bake. It turned out terrible. The glaze didn't go on exactly right. I liked that kit, though. But I never got another one.
  10. Potato prints. Yuck.
  11. My goodness, I could go on an on. I'm going to stop here with Kleenex Flowers. What can I say? It was a rite of passage to womanhood. You couldn't feel like a grown-up until you had made a bushel of these for someone's wedding. Also, a teacher once had us make a lot of artificial flowers but you had to get special florist's wire which was not generally available, so I never made any more, although I still remember the basic how-to.
  12. Oh, and one more, to make a dozen. In Grade Three I learned how to make folded paper baskets to hold Easter candy.
  13. All right, a baker's dozen. In my kindegarten class I saw a sample of a little mat woven from strips of coloured paper. I waited all year to get taught how to do that but the teacher never came through, wasting our time on reading, writing, and counting, so I just figured it out for myself at home. Of course I didn't have the nice construction paper to work with. You couldn't get that stuff just anywhere, and at school they conserved it as if it was silk peau de soie. When my daughter was small, I bought her stacks of construction paper and she liked making those mats, too.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Going Back in Time

These sketches are the beginning of an attempt to recreate a past that is very long gone.

At a recent family wedding, my cousin Patti asked me to paint a picture of our old home. Normally I'm uncomfortable with commissions. Trying to fulfill a client's request makes me nervous and has a depressing effect on my creativity. But this was different. I had actually been turning the idea over in my own mind for a while before Patti mentioned it.

This was our grandparents' house, where I lived from the age of two until I moved to Ontario at age 25. Patti spent a few weeks there every summer and lived there year round for a time. So, of course, we both have very clear memories of this house. I don't even have to close my eyes to bring it all back, detail upon detail. The wallpaper in the front room when I was four. The curtains lifting in a breeze at an open window on a summer day. A vase of lilacs in the center of the lace cloth on the dining room table. Well, you know. You probably have similar intense recollections of your own childhood home. I could probably create dozens of these little vignettes from memory.

But to draw the whole house, a portrait, from the outside, turns out to be surprisingly difficult. What view to work from? We were back-door people, but the front garden was nice, and Patti would like to see the snowball bush, but also the roses that grew in the back yard.

The worst thing, though, is that the house doesn't exist anymore, at least not in its original form. Long ago the second story was removed and it was remodelled into a bungalow. The wood shingles have been replaced with aluminum siding, and the original 4-paned windows with a plate glass picture window and sliders.

So I can't go back and look at it, or ask someone local to photograph it for me. There are very few photos of it, and those not very helpful. It only got into a picture by accident, a window ledge here, a doorframe there, a background against which some family member stood, squinting into the sun. It never occurred to anybody that we would ever need a picture of the house itself.

I can't remember ever wanting to draw or paint it, because my idea of subject matter was a New England salt box with green shutters and tall, shading elm trees, or a Victorian mansion with bay windows and wraparound verrandahs. Our house was basically a big box, with an almost-flat roof, 2 chimneys, and rectangular windows evenly spaced. Neat and tidy, no frills. Although it was never a company house, it was exactly like hundreds of other houses flung up by the coal company in 1913. Not a single building in town predated that year. There were a few built in the Victorian style,, and some attractive craftsman-style bungalows, and there was a handsome brick post office with a clock on top, but it was a raw place, exposed to the four winds, waiting for trees to grow, for sidewalks to be laid, for time to cast a mellow patina over it all.

It was our home, and we were sometimes moved by affection and pride to think it better than it was, and at other times were unable to see anything but its all-too-familiar shortcomings. But, honestly, it wasn't a pretty house. If I had tried to paint it then, I would have had trouble making a composition out of its uncompromising bulk. I still don't know how to do it. And now I can't even see it.

How I would love to be able to walk back in time and see all these things again. My sister disapproves of this desire, but she thinks I'm trying to relive the past. I don't want to re-live it, I just want to see it. Check my memories against the facts, study proportions, make notes. Be able to say to my daughter, "See, this is how it was". Obviously that's not going to happen. I'm thinking this is going to be harder than building a new house from scratch.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Yes, I finshed in Time

Here's the Knitting Olympics project, completed on the night of Thursday the 16th and blocked by Friday morning, but the weekend was very busy and I neglected to post about it. What's that you say? "A likely story!" No, I really did! I just didn't have time to post before now. I have earned the gold medal. Isn't it cute?

This has been quite a learning experience for me. The first few days were so rocky, with constant mistakes and frogging, that I would probably have quit (or, as I would have preferred to say, "set it aside for now") if I hadn't committed to keep trying for the two week period. Even after I was well into it, there would be a day of good progress when I would think, "I've got the hang of it now", followed by a day when nothing went right. There was no time when I felt really in control. At first I had a hard time following the pattern, simple as it was, but then after it was memorized, it was still necessary stay constantly alert. In other words, this never settled down into a comfortable knit, and I was never certain of finishing at all, let alone before the deadline. Yet, at the end of all that struggling, I finished early, and lo there is lace!

Before blocking, it looked just like a textured rib, and I feared that it would stay that way, but once wet it spread out beautifully and really looks like lace. I give credit to the Filatura di Crosa, which I considered very pricey, but it's proven to be a truly superior yarn. No thick or thin spots, soft yet strong, it never threatened to break when the wet threads were stretched, and not a hint of dye came out in the wash. I would definitely buy it again for a special project.

There was a dispute with a cat as to property rights on the scarf while it was blocking. My first idea was to use my daughter's bed for this job, since there's a door I can close to keep the cats out, but the scarf was too long for the bed, so I had to take a chance on the dining room table with extensions added. I'm pleased to say I defended my handiwork against all comers, with the help of a spray-bottle of water. At least until I went to bed. Then the feline claim was reasserted, but only a few of the pins in the center came out, so not much harm was done.

Remember how I agonized over length and width? I kept asking my husband, "Is it too narrow? What do you think? Is it long enough? Maybe too long?" and he would just stare at me like Norman Bates's mother. Well, it really is too narrow for my original idea, but my daughter likes it the way it is, so it will not be reknit. It's eight feet long and works well in one of those pashmina-type knots, where you first fold the scarf in half, put it over your neck, and slip the ends through the loop. It could also pass as a stole as long as you don't expect it to actually cover anything. Oh, and it only took two balls of yarn. For future reference, I think four would be more than enough to make the wider stole.

How did everybody else do? I'd love to hear.

The cool wine colour of the yarn doesn't quite match the warmer wine of the dress, but in candlelight after a couple of drinks, will anyone care? I'm just going to sit and admire my gold medal.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

KO Update and Some Sketches

Here are a few more sketches, just to show that I'm not knitting all day long. In fact, I'm confining work on the stole to lunchtime and evenings so precious daytime hours are reserved for art. These repeated sketches of my neighbours' gable are paying off. Yesterday I moved from the sketchbook to the easel, and I'm quite pleased with the underpainting. I'm hoping to do a series of at least four, including a night painting.

The stole is almost done. As I mentioned in the comments yesterday, I don't know how much to expect it to stretch lengthwise during blocking, so it's a wild guess where to stop. It's sideways stretch that's needed most; it really looks too narrow right now. Remember how I worried in the beginning about running out of wool? I haven't touched the third ball of yarn yet, so it could have been a lot wider.

I hope to have it blocked by Thursday, because my daughter will be home for Reading Week and can try it on with the dress. Also, I need her bed to do the blocking! If the colour isn't right, it can still be used with other outfits, and it could even function as a snowy-day scarf if wound a few times around the neck. So it will be used. The question is, will it be used for its intended function, as a wrap for the wine-coloured spaghetti strap dress?