January 31, 2010

The Cookie Thief.

I was on the phone when I came to the realization that, from the corner of my eye, I had seen Athena walk by quite often in the space of time I had been occupied. I was concentrating on the business call; it was late in the day and I was tired. I saw her walk jauntily in again, and a moment later, make her way outside with a sheepish look on her face and giving me the whale-eye. The call lasted another 30 minutes at least, and I was now aware of Athena's regular visits to the kitchen, but was unable to investigate. When I did, I saw that someone had put the large box of dog biscuits on the floor in the laundry room and Athena had clearly been making her selection and burying them in the garden. There were numerous little heaps here and there where she had hidden her stash.
The picture was taken on a downtown walk and worked on to diffuse the background and concentrate on Athena's eyes. I have been interested in Digital Art, but I will first have to know the terminology and work with the software a little (or a lot).
I admire Susan Tuttle's work and somehow artists like Susan give me licence to alter my original photo's to something a little different.
Listening to Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.

January 29, 2010

January quiche.

Recently a friend used the expression, "real men don't eat quiche" and almost immediately I decided to bake one. I made a January version. A low-fat version that is, but it tasted good. Spinach, eggs, milk, shiitake mushrooms, feta-cheese (I chose fat-free.....well, it is still January) and store bought puff pastry sheets. I like to make my pastry dough with lard, but that would have defeated the whole purpose probably, although the pastry sheets are not free of fat.

If you do decide to make delicious, flakey pastry with lard ask your butcher for fresh lard. Don't buy the stuff in cans. It's processed (hydrogenation = trans-fat) and we don't want that. Here it is easy to get fresh lard because it's an important ingredient when cooking Mexican food. Still there are people who react as if you are talking about poison when you mention lard, yet they will eat their orange processed cheese that has no taste or fast-food hamburgers. How often do we eat something made with lard? A couple of times a year maybe? Point made. Go for taste.

January 24, 2010

Cross stitch embroidery sampler.

This sampler hangs in my kitchen and was made by my mother. The stitches are very small and it is made on a tight weave. She painstakingly copied it from a very old and worn piece and reproduced it as authentically as possible when she worked at the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen. The original, I believe, was from the 1700's.

I was reading some Dutch/Flemish blogs and came across Lapjes, ditjes en datjes with beautiful photo's of the recent polder winter landscape by Liliane Grauls. She is also a cross stitch embroiderer and is having a 'give-away'. In the land of Blogs give-away's are a common happening. This is such a beautiful piece of work, that must have taken many hours to make and I invite you take a look at Liliane's blog and leave a comment to participate in the give-away. Good luck.

January 23, 2010

Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep.

 I was reading a story in the most recent New Yorker by Jill Lepore called "The Iceman" and it is about 'cryonics'. No idea what that is, well, neither did I till not too long ago. I was taking a certification class in San Francisco in Neuro Liguistics, and because our class was once a month over a period of time, many of the students would stay in the same hotel for the days we had class and we got to know each other quite well. 
When she entered the room in her bright yellow stiletto's on that first morning, teetering over to an empty chair, I remember thinking how the shoes did not seem part of her. There was nothing else glamorous about the woman, in fact, she was pleasantly plump and her clothes were a little out of date. She had the face of a friendly Russian peasant, and if given a muffin bonnet and mittens, would have not been out of place in a Dickens novel, with her deep set eyes and her thin, mousy hair, which reached to her shoulders.
It was quite some time into the classes that I found myself at the same table with her at dinner and, just like in class, it was clear that she liked attention. She said she was a medical doctor, but could not practice in the U.S.A. because she had received her degree on some island in the Caribbean. It was remarkable that she wore a different pair of stiletto's every day, always a little too large and clearly always expensive, just like the handbags and briefcases she had. We all have our little weaknesses, and if this was hers then who was I to judge?
Every time we talked, which wasn't often as I was beginning to avoid her, because of the free medical advice and increasingly peculiar stories about her husband, she lisped an invitation to her home in Vegas. She had recently moved there and had a lovely home with a lovely guest room. She was sure I would enjoy a visit to Las Vegas. It so happens I am not as infatuated with Las Vegas as many others. At the time, I had to go to quite a few conventions, and these were often in Vegas, however, after we had our last class, I agreed to  come and visit. It seemed a little off that she kept saying that I should come by car and not fly. I am only 5 hours from Vegas, so I would have gone by car anyway.  Just before I left she suggested I get tickets to a balloon flight and a show for us both.
The balloon flight was expensive, so I only got myself a ticket and called her to arrange her own, but I did get tickets to the show.
When I arrived, I stood before the closed door, of the 'lovely house' for what seemed like a long time, even though I had called her when I was within the city limits to let her know I had arrived. I rang again. Silence. Then after another wait, her husband opened the door, and let me in to the darkness within. He told me I could wait for her in the living room, and left again immediately. I sat and looked around me. It was a nice house, two storey, but the furniture, though expensive, was ragged and worn. Long tatters hung down from the sofa's. Interesting books were on the table. Beautifully bound books on subjects that are not commonplace on a coffee table, on ancient history, astronomy, and medicine. My vigil lasted a long time, and glances on my watch told me that if we didn't get a move on, we would miss the show. There certainly was no time for the lunch I had already missed.
When she made her grand entrance, down the stairs, balancing on her high heels, it was almost as if she had forgotten we were to go to the theater and I reminded her that we should leave, if we wanted to be on time. She returned up the stairs to change. I stared bleakly at all the spheres of marble, wood, pottery, shell and other materials that decorated the room. Too many balls, I thought. 
Seeing she lived there, I thought she might drive us to the theater, but she reluctantly told me that they did not have a car.  We got into my car and I asked her if she knew the way. It was no matter she said, she would ask her husband, and started to call him before we were out of the driveway. The call became a comedy. They argued and argued, and he would ask her what she was seeing now. Did she see a brown building with orange lettering on the left? Then she should go right, and she would in turn report this to me, but as things go, I would be on the wrong side, and would have to make a turn and a turn and a turn and so on it went.

I am a patient woman in many situations, but this was getting to me and I asked if she could just put him on speaker phone please, so that I didn't need to deal with second-hand information. Her husband, she said, did not speak to other people, only to her. I wondered if it might be considered overly dramatic perhaps, if I banged my head on the steering wheel a couple of times and let out a long, loud scream.

Late that night, I was told where my room was and it was definitely not the 'lovely guest room we have'. It was a makeshift bed in the computer room, but I was tired. Not too tired to see the size 14 shoes in the bathroom though. It gave me some idea who was staying in the 'lovely guest room we have' and sure enough, the next morning I found myself face to chest with what I would call an American basketball player with no manners. I looked up at him as he did a little dance around me to get into the bathroom first. 
We had a 'to do list' that day, with lots of errands like picking up prescriptions, do some shopping and paying bills here and there. I was beginning to feel a little used by the time we had lunch, and when the bill came, my companion acted somewhat  alarmed, and then sighed with relief, I knew I was being  taken for a fool. She had left her wallet in my car, but would definitely pay for lunch later. Naturally I paid, just like I had paid for dinner the previous evening.
For some strange and peculiar reason, as we got back in the car, she said that  she felt that I had trouble that could be resolved with Black Cohosh. I was  totally unaware of having any trouble at all that might require Black Cohosh. Now, we had to go to Wholefoods to pick up Black Cohosh, however most of the 2 hours we spent there went into shopping for other things. Not by me though, because I settled myself in at the coffee bar and did some people watching. I did notice that when she went to pay with a check, she was asked to go to the upstairs office. I must have looked a little puzzled then, I am sure.

I considered leaving and going home when we returned to the house but I was hot and we decided to spend some time in the pool. This is when she suggested that I become a member of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, where they would remove my head after death, freeze it and live again hundreds of years from now. By now my eyes must have started to bug out a little.  She explained cryonics... in detail. I tried to make my way out of the pool as I don't do well with stories about frozen heads, but on she went. She was also wondering if I wanted to finance her business that she had in mind (mayor light-bulb moment for me). I am far too polite for situations such as these. Cut off my head and finance her business. By now it was after midnight, I was hungry and I was contemplating peeing in pool because the mad woman kept on talking about frozen body parts.

She acted quite surprised when I said that I had decided that I should head home. What? Without dinner? It was close to 3 a.m. She felt that I couldn't leave until she had given me the Black Cohosh. I felt that I could, but that I would really like the money that I had spent on the ticket and lunch.

It took a long time before she opened the door to the bedroom, to which she had retired to change, and let me into her boudoir, with its glamorous orange fur headboard and bedspread and gold colored walls. She was clearly distressed, her little peasant face nervously smiling at me, as she pattered around in her feathery high heeled slippers and diva-like dressing gown. She paid me in cash, which surprised me a little. I didn't think I would see the money at all. She went into her bathroom as I waited on a little full-skirted tabouret in gold and lace and I watched her in the mirror as she opened the new bottle of Black Cohosh, take out some capsules, and fill it again before she put the cap back on. 
In the first light of the new morning I hit the road, still shaking my head in amazement at this other worldly experience, opened the window and threw the bottle of Black Cohosh out on the freeway. "Poppies. Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep. Sleep." The words of the Wicked Witch of the West rang in my ears as I headed home.
The poppies were painted in Hydrus watercolor on smooth drawing paper. My favorite paper to work on.

January 18, 2010

Feather paper cut and drawing.

A guinea fowl feather in pencil; a guinea fowl feather cut-out, backed with cheese cloth, dyed in tea, and a poem by Isak Dinesen.
If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a colour that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?

Isak Dinesen is the pen-name of Karen Blixen, best known from the film "Out of Africa". She was a formidable writer and had a farm in Africa. She was also twice nominated for the Nobel prize in Literature, and a Danish baroness.
Often I reread her work, my favorite being "Out of Africa", knowing that I am attracted by the romance of the period. I grew up in post-colonial Africa and there were then still remnants of those bygone days. For a child, it was a happy place to be, full of adventure and discovery. I recently read "Dark Star Safari" by Paul Theroux and he describes his travels from Cairo to the Cape in the new Africa, with its hunger, disease and inability to help itself. Fortunately, not too long ago I had read "Africa Trek" by Alexandre and Sonia Poussin,  who travel by foot from Cape Town to Cairo, which off-set the starkness of Theroux's novel and focused more on the generosity, kindness and laughter one also meets in Africa. Africa, Africa, Africa, when will I stop dreaming of Africa? My dreams are just dusty memories.

I too have traveled from Cairo to the Cape, though certainly not on foot, but there were buses, trucks, ships and trains involved. I did it in increments, visiting one or two countries at a time. However, I carelessly appear to have skipped a bit like the whole of the Sudan and Ethiopia. Just don't know how that happened, but I do know enough to have an opinion on Africa. I also know much has changed. In cases for the better, but in much I think things are worse than before.

Still when I decide to draw a feather, it's no wonder that I choose a Guinea Fowl feather because my drawing is an escape of the times we live in. I see too much hardship around me these days, and indeed I find it difficult at the moment to see much pleasure in daily life, so I draw and paint and relive memories. All I need is a pencil, some paints, some paper, and since recently an X-acto knife, to travel to Africa.

January 17, 2010

Kudu paper cut.

A kudu is quite easy to draw and I did this from a photo I had. I used 2 pages. Not that it matters, I have another 50 or so in my journal, but I was trying to make something using more than 2. Paper cut of grass, paper cut of the kudu head and then backed the cut with some bronze paper. Both the ears were supposed to hold the pages together but I snipped off a little too much of the one ear. Uh oh.
I was asked, "What if you make a mistake in your little journal", and my response was, "Then I make a mistake". I make mistakes all the time in life, let alone in my distraction.
I still have no name for what I do. It's not a hobby, it isn't my work. It all started out as 'practice' for the book I am making for my niece, Fleur. It was to be an album of the pictures I had of her. Then it seemed like a fun idea to enhance the album and I spent time looking at the possibilities of scrap-booking but that didn't much appeal to me. Mainly because it seemed like I was taking the easy way out, buying stickers and stamps. That's me, I never take a bloody short cut. Wish I would really. But not in this. I am enjoying trying out the different techniques and converting them into something usable for Fleur's Book. I am getting better at it too, except for ears, they get snipped off heartlessly.

Cactus in the sun.

When I want to go on a little adventure, I go to L&P, whatever it may stand for, our local Asian grocery store. Across the road is a French creperie surrounded by various places selling tacos, burritos and tostadas. L&P offers items that I didn't know existed. I usually come home with some vegetables that require a google before I know what to do with them. They have enormous frozen ducks and fish with eyes that prevent me from buying them. I don't think I can prepare something that has bigger eyes than I do. L&P don't even know what they sell, because at the check-out there was an interesting package with what looked like dried bulbs. I asked what it was. It was something to make rice-wine with but it was from Vietnam, and even Mr. L&P didn't know what to do with that. 
I usually encounter a winter visitor and invariably they say, 'interesting store' or 'I don't know what to buy here' but I do. I come home with cream crackers, which clearly haven't got a foothold in the U.S., and herbs and spices, that I can't find in the regular supermarket. I also bought some cookies, but when I got home decided that they were probably riddled with transfats, and so not really edible. However, there are peanut cookies (no transfat), sesame cookies, large bags of all kinds of rice, nasi kruiden (we Dutch eat a lot of nasi), pickled lemons, and bean sprouts. I made some atjar tjampoer today, a sweet and sour pickle of green cabbage, green beans, bean sprouts, carrot and more, to go with my nasi.

January 6, 2010

Lotus flower paper cut.

I like this paper-cutting business. I like carving a rubber stamp even more, so it seems that every time I draw something it also has to be made into a stamp since I have discovered the technique.

I was recently looking at some artists' blogs and I admire the precision with which some of them work. For us amateurs 'quick and easy' seems to be the way, but although I am not really precise when I draw and paint, and am often disappointed by a smear from the back of my hand, or graphite smudges all over my page because I forget my hand rubs over the drawing, I am not interested in 'quick and easy'. If you are doing something for your enjoyment, why want to get it over with?

Still, the lotus flower was quick and easy to draw, cut out and I had read somewhere that you can enhance the edges of a cut-out with a color pencil. Well, that didn't work very well for me, so I had to color the whole paper-cut with a watercolor pencil. I just dotted the second page with the same design and voila. Quick and easy. 

January 4, 2010

Geen oliebollen maar tamales.

When I first moved out here I knew what burritos were, or at least I thought I did but I had no idea what tamales were. Those little packages of corn leaves, tied carefully at both ends that hold masa (corn meal slaked with lime) and filled with bits of beef, little strips of potato and an olive. There are as many variations as there are mothers and grandmothers, who make tamales in great batches for the holidays. I hand painted 18 plates, like the one you see above, all with different designs inspired by south western petroglyphs, when I first got here. In spite of the tamales, I miss my mother's oliebollen and appelflappen on new year's eve. 

January 3, 2010

Il Papiro, Firenze.

My journal from Florence is now, since I discovered it again, a great source of empty pages for me, that need to be filled. I have sometimes kept a journal but I never read them again. By the look of things, I don't think anyone will write my biography, and need notes to guide them. When I travel I do carry a notebook and sometimes jot down experiences, but more as a guide to my photos than anything else. 
I was recently asked if a blog was like a journal, but I don't see it that way. I write my blog for family and friends who often asked about my life in the United States. Funnily enough, I don't think many look at it, but now I have come to enjoy keeping a blog whether it gets looked at or not. Perhaps it has become a journal after all.

January 1, 2010

2010, long awaited.

Such stillness on this first morning of the new year. In a journal once bought in Florence and never used, I cut "2010 Born on a Blue Moon", because it was the second full moon in a month on new year's eve. Midnight moved on quietly. A few hisses of fireworks far in the distance and the howling and barking of the coyotes in the hills. There had been warnings on the radio that firing guns into the air is against the law. Very comforting. I wonder if people who do this actually know that what goes up, must come down. On the other hand, what goes down, must come up and so we fervently hope for the economy in 2010.


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