Friday, January 31, 2014

Max's Artwork

My oldest grandchild sent me a lovely drawing of two saguaros and a scorpion. Max did an incredible job of depicting the cast shadows on the cacti that he drew.  

Then he included a card that says it all. "I love you, Grandma,"

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Shower Hangout

We did a Google Plus Hangout this evening as a after-the-wedding shower for my niece Karen and her husband Josh who were married the week after Christmas. They live in Florida. I'm in Arizona. The guests at the shower were back in Michigan. That's me at my computer in Arizona in the photo above.

Early this month I sent invitations out to the guests. It was pretty straightforward.

Send 'em a gift. Wish them well. And, oh, by the way, join us on a Google Plus Hangout on Thursday, January 30th.

Several of us got together on Google Plus over the weekend, just to practice the clicks and clacks. So, tonight, Karen and Josh were feted by Wanda and Ed, Sue, Barb, Lori, and MJ. We had a jolly good time on our video hangout.

Karen and Josh told us about their honeymoon flu, which they picked up on the day of their wedding. They opened their gifts. We played around with the digital party hats and mustaches and cake that are a part of the hangout app. And, best of all, we got to see each other and visit for an hour or so.

So, how does all this Hangout stuff work?

Well, you have to be signed in to Google Plus which means you might need a Gmail account (which you already have if you have ever had a Droid phone). Then you need to download the Google Voice and Video setup located HERE.

Once I knew who would be on the video call, I added them to a circle on my Google Plus page. Ten minutes before the time of the shower, I opened Google Hangouts on my computer and  issued an invitation to the participants. They received an email with a link to the Hangout. They click on that link, and -- presto -- we are all video chatting together.

In the second photo you can see Karen and Josh on the screen. Look closer and find the small screens on the bottom right. Those screens are the rest of the people on the call.

Very cool. Very fun. Not really that difficult to accomplish, even for a non-techie aunt like me.

Happy Shower, Karen and Josh! It's great to know you are doing well as a married pair!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shelter From The Cold

While the folks back home are dealing with frigid temperatures, school closings, and stubborn furnaces, I'm safely residing in Arizona this January, doing art and walking and eating well. Today's work has been all about the final assignment for the pen and ink class.

I'm caught up in line art. I sketched a huge agave plant that I found in the courtyard outside the Baldwin Education Building at the Desert Museum yesterday. It took me an hour to get the sketch into a form where I could use it. Then I spent another hour and a half working on shading and laying down washes with a brush.

The assignment is to do five things in one piece of art: draw with pencil from a life sitting; turn the drawing into line art; using ink wash, find the lights, mediums, darks; add cross hatching; then highlight and shade with stippling. The result will be a real revelation for me as I have come to like the strong definition of line art, and then I find that the subtlety of adding wash to the clear cut lines also suits my temperament and my eye.

My soul is warming in the sunshine of pen and ink, wash and brush. It has been a good month to be sheltered from the cold.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Easy Riders

I slipped out of the car at one of the picnic areas at Saguaro National Park today. The late afternoon light was carving shadows into the side of Mt. Wasson. It was one of those views that I'm thinking I might be able to use in my watercolor explorations someday.

Returning to the car, I felt something sort of weighing me down. I closed the car door and looked down.

There were four good sized chunks of cholla cactus, hitchhiking on my jeans jacket. In the desert you always carry a wide tooth comb.

That's what I pulled out to remove these giant pricklies, the easy riders, from my jacket.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sewing Machine Still Life and Something Horsey

The iron base for a Singer sewing machine, topped by weathered boards, makes an interesting centerpiece in this garden still life. Photographed in an outdoor courtyard at the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun on Swan Road in Tucson, the old Singer ironwork brings a rusty brown accent to the charm of the gravel paths, cactus collections, and antique accents in this dappled by shade, yet sunny courtyard space.

The garden contained many found objects -- old band instruments, cooking pots, machine gears, kitchen tools -- that survive in the desert climate. Many of these items, especially those made of wood and metal, would deteriorate fast in the wet, cold climate of northern gardens.

Speaking of found objects, this decorative screen that hangs from the eave of a small building on the DeGrazia Gallery grounds is made from metal chain mesh and has horseshoes woven through the links.

Kind of a cross between a wind object and lattice, it is a very artsy object and might be an inspiration for some of my horse loving blog readers who are also gardeners.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Desert Museum Album

Cruz, the new mountain lion
An afternoon spent at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum resulted in some up close and personal images of many of the animals. Here are a few favorites.

Desert bighorn ram

Prairie dog
Great blue heron

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Artwork: White Barked Acacia

A clump of white barked acacia, reflected against a stone wall in the afternoon sun, was the subject of my very first ink wash drawing on Tuesday at my Pen & Ink class at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.

I rather like the results and think that ink wash might be an engaging new medium for me.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

More HDR

My trusty tripod and new Nikon camera got a workout this evening. Here's a sunset HDR (high dynamic range) photo with Kitt Peak in the distance. That's one of the observatories sticking up like a watchtower on the mountain in the distance. I had to raise the tripod up really high to get this image. Think full extension, no stepladder needed.

This image shows a leaning saguaro with Arthur's Hill in the background. I liked the sunset flair, so when I processed the photo series into this HDR image, I emphasized the bright colors in the clouds.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cake Pan Pizza

Those high sided cake pans were begging to become pizza pans. "Perfect," I thought.

I'm making a pretty standard crust these days. I start with one and a half cups of flour stirred together with a package of dry yeast and a few shakes of Mrs. Dash seasoning.

In the microwave, I heated three quarters of a cup of water until it was a tad beyond lukewarm. Then I stirred in two tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of sugar because I like a sweet crust.

The water mixture got stirred into the flour mixture. As soon as the dough was formed, I turned it out on the counter top and kneaded it, adding more flour until it felt elastic and plump. I oiled the bowl and plopped the dough back into the bowl and covered it with plastic wrap.

When the dough had risen, I removed the wrap and punched it down with my fist. Then I pulled the dough apart into two chunks.

I grabbed two cake pans and put a spot of olive oil the size of a silver dollar in each one. One chunk of dough went into each pan. I pressed the dough along the edges of the pan and coaxed it up the sides. The dough didn't want to respond right away, but I kept pushing and smoothing until it looked like pizza crust.

The toppings went fast. I used spaghetti sauce, spread fairly thin. Then I cut a plum tomato into thin slices and layered it first, then put a layer of pepperoni over the tomato.

Two cheeses, asiago and parmesan, went on top, both shredded, and not much of either one.  I sprinkled oregano and black pepper over the top.

The oven had been preheated to 375 degrees, hot but not too hot, and the pizza was done in 10-12 minutes. Using a fork, I loosened it from the pan and slid it onto a wood cutting board to cool and slice.

Wow, it was good. The crust (we like to call it the pizza bones) was tasty with a bit of butter. And the pizza, well, homemade pizzas can be tasty.

Notice that this recipe makes two cake pan pizzas. Freeze one, if you dare.

Monday, January 20, 2014

New Eyes: HDR Photography

I'm dabbling with HDR (high dynamic range) photography and my eye is having to adjust to the look of this technique. The photo above is not HDR.

Saguaro National Park West Before Sunset in January 2014

But this photo is HDR. The brights are brighter, the darks are darker. The effect is gained by layering three or more images that have different settings on the camera.

It's a little challenging to figure out what works and what doesn't with this method. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Two At A Time Sock Knitting

A flexible cable (blue) joins two needles (silver tips) to make up the circular needle
that allows an innovative two-at-a-time sock knitting method.
Photo shows the starting rounds of a pair of socks being knit using this method.

Clever innovations are welcome in any craft. Knitting has been blessed in recent years with a knitting technique that uses a long circular needle (two needle tips joined by a cable) to knit socks, mittens, and sleeves. Actually, almost anything that is tubular can be knit in the round using this method.

For my non-knitting readers, here's how it works when a knitter works two socks at one time on one needle. Both socks are cast on to the ends of a circular needle that has a long cable. A 40 inch cable is recommended. The cable is flexible and bends without breaking or creasing, so the place where the knitted item meets both needles can "float" on the narrower back cable while the stitches being worked reside on the the front needle.

Each sock being knit has a front and a back. The knitter works (knits) the front of Sock One and then pushes those stitches aside, actually pushing them on to the cable. Then Sock Two's front is worked and, again, stitches are pushed to the cable. The work is turned so that the back side of Sock Two comes next; then the back side of Sock One is knit. This process is called a "round" and when it is finished, a complete round (which would be called a row in flat knitting) is done.

The long cable on a circular needle allows for this special technique. Two socks are knit at the same time, so that when the knitter is finishing the socks, a pair is complete.

In order to keep the socks as two separate entities, there are two balls of yarn. Sock One is knit using one ball; Sock Two is knit using the second ball. Knitters often tuck one ball into their lap and put the second ball beside them as they work two socks on on needle.

The challenge in working this method is in managing the loops that the cable forms, hence the method is also called "magic loop" knitting. Because the cable is so long, the two items can be knit at once, and that's the real genius here, since so many first mittens or socks are knit, but never the (boring) second sock.

When you watch someone knitting who is using this method, you will see a choreographed dance of the hands as the knitter moves the stitches along the needles and the cable. Each knitter develops a place for the yarn to gracefully pass through their fingers. It is like a little ballet that unfolds as fingers and hands fold and extend and move together.

Knitting, like so many arts and crafts, invites innovation as knitters learn new ways of performing traditional tasks. This technique is a great example of re-thinking a centuries old process.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

January Reading

Four books that are on my mid-January reading pile range from a mystery by Tony Hillerman to a throwback look at electric vehicles that was published in 2007.

"Zoom" by Iain Caron and Vijay Vaitheeswaran is subtitled "The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future" and is a look at the issues of oil dependency and car manufacturing. Now that I have driven an electric vehicle for more than two years, I'm interested in gainign some perspective on the fuel of the future issue. So much has changed in the last five years with fuel economies in the auto industry that this book may very well be a throwback read, but that will be interesting.

Tony Hillerman's mysteries are set in northern Arizona and feature his Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee characters.  In "The First Eagle,"  Leaphorn has retired from his law enforcement job but returns to his old haunts as a private investigator. Navajo and Hopi cultural interests are pitted against each other in the murder investigation of a police officer. Hillerman's books are engaging; his story line weaves from one character to another with compelling force. Once you start reading, you have to finish this one.

Mary Pipher's "Letters to a Young Therapist" is an uplifting look at human troubles and hopes. Filled with wisdom gained from the years that the author spent as a clinical psychologist, this book will be a re-read for me. Mary Pipher practices in Nebraska and from the first time through the book, I remember being impressed by the midwestern sensibility. I'm looking forward to the hours spent with "Letters to a Young Therapist" and to the message of hope and healing that I remember from my first read of this book.

Finally, since I'm in Arizona for the month, I picked up a biography of Mo Udall, the Democratic congressman from Arizona who made a mark in Arizona and on the national scene with his environmental commitment, sense of humor, and skill as a legislator. "Mo: The Life & Times of Morris K. Udall," by Donald Carson and James Johnson, follows Udall's life from his start in a Mormon family in northeast Arizona, to military service in World War II, and then to his political career. Mo Udall, born in 1922, struggled with Parkinson's in the last twenty years of his life.

My father, Stan Hayes, was born in 1921, and Mo Udall was born in 1922, so the two men would be contemporaries. I'm interested in the parallels that I will find between these two stories, my Dad's and Mo Udall's, both born in the 1920's and shaped by a rural upbringing and a world war.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Grapefruit Trick

Peeling and sectioning a grapefruit, in my opinion, takes patience and skill with a knife. My mother was an expert and would have several grapefruit ready for the table before I could get one cut open.

I've learned a little trick that I think works pretty good. After removing the peel from the grapefruit, I slice off a bit of both "poles" of the grapefruit orb. This frees up the sections so that as I slip a knife under the membrane, the knife pokes out the other side of the fruit and the section is more apt to emerge in a crescent shape.

I know. It's a small thing, but gee, when you like grapefruit, every little trick in the book helps.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Nine Block Tulip Quilt

As antique quilts go, this one is a real stunner. A nine block quilt with sashes and limited border, this quilt barely covers the top of a 60 inch by 80 inch queen size bed. But dramatic is the word for the punch that this quilt brings to a room.

Each block is hand appliqued using a chrome orange background fabric. The individual tulips have soft yellow and muted red violet petals. The leaves, probably a brighter green at one time, have faded to a blue green, kind of a teal. Sashing of the teal and the red violet fabric crosses the quilt.

There are no prints -- only solid fabrics in this antique beauty.

I own several old quilts that contain this chrome orange color. The dye used for this color is quite stable so most of these quilts really stand out with a color that some would call outlandish.

I like to imagine what a quilt like this must have meant way back in the days before television, before magazines were printed in color, before the telephone, before there were automobiles. Someone patiently stitched these blocks and then assembled and quilted this masterpiece.

Spread out on a bed during the daytime, the quilt speaks across the years. Folded up at night, it is a treasure to cherish and pass on to another generation.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Arizona Citrus, and More

One of my nutrition goals for this winter is to eat some citrus every day. A stroll through the Farmers' Market on Dove Mountain last week produced Moro oranges (also known as blood oranges), Arizona Sweet oranges, and some good navel oranges.

My neighbor picked that big grapefruit and the lemon next to it from their citrus trees, trees loaded with fruit this winter.

The small tomatoes are Campari type tomatoes from the greenhouses at University of Arizona. They have been delicious in salad with a vinaigrette made with the blood orange juice. I've been chopping the red kale, with its lobed leaves, and eating it on my green salad.

Just for good measure, I bought a package of Yellow Brick coffee roasted here in the Tucson area at the market, too. I haven't opened the package yet because I've been experimenting with making French press coffee in just the right proportions. I want the coffee to be bold and still sweet. So far, I'm at 24 ounces of water to one quarter cup (4 tablespoons) of ground coffee with three minutes of brewing time. The flavor could be bolder, so the next pot will have more coffee added, probably 5 tablespoons.

Citus, good greens, fresh coffee. Sounds like a tasty addition to January meals.

Friday, January 10, 2014

New Eyes: Watercolor Work

Primaries, secondaries, complements, oh my!

It's been quite a week of working with the watercolor exercises from the first class that I took on Monday. I'm finally getting a bit of a feel for handling the brushes. I've always been timid about using big brushes, but the Number Ten Round is turning in a good friend.

I knew that it is good to add some subtle accents to my drawings in my daily art journal.

Here's a pine cone with a blend or wash of color over the pen and ink drawing. Not bad.

The splotches of color are blooms, where the brush lifted and left behind color. I'm learning to like the look of the blooms and will eventually be a bit more in control of where and how they occur.

I like the entire drawing better, though, when a touch of burnt umber is added. There are also highlights of a deep red violet, thinned to a wash that is sort of taupe.

The additional colors give depth and bring a more natural look to the drawing.

This is one of my favorites from this week's journal, a cartouche that is an inch and a quarter wide by two and a quarter inches high. I usually write the time of the sunrise in the top half circle and, additionally, sunset time goes in the bottom arc.

These little drawings happen quickly. I might work on one for ten minutes max, but they are a delight to imagine and execute.

New eyes? Yes, as always, when taking classes, one sees things in a new way. Color and line, paints and points. I understand them all just a little bit better after a week of working on watercolor.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Prickly Bunny, Bobcat, Coyotes

A prickly pear cactus that threw a bunny shadow that caught my eye on my afternoon walk. That's my shadow, the one with the camera on the left side.

The bunny rather looks like his cheeks are full of something. And his ears are a bit spiny when you inspect them up close.

Further down the street a bobcat ducked from yard to yard, strolling along just a bit ahead of me, before he finally bounded up over a fence into a backyard.

Tonight the coyotes are serenading each other with their howls throughout the desert. It's been a critter sort of day.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Not Iconic

The iconic desert cactus, the one with the straight center pole and two arms, is hard to find. Cacti, like people, come in all sorts of configurations. Tall, short, bent, chubby, weathered, even spineless.

I have driven down Mile High Road on my way to the Desert Museum many times, but yesterday this multi-armed saguaro finally caught my eye. It's lower limbs seem to reach around the center structure, like it is trying to look behind itself.

There is some thought that cold nights with temperatures below freezing cause these giant plants to lose strength and have their arms fall. I've also read that lightning strikes might be the cause of fallen limbs.

Whatever the cause, it is apparent that the plant is definitely a cactus, but like most other cacti in the desert, it is not iconic.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Wimp in the Desert

I'm a wimp. Ed headed back to Michigan and I stayed in the desert. I took a look at the class schedule at the Art Institute at Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and decided to get two more classes under my belt before I head back to cold weather country.

That's my excuse for avoiding this polar vortex experience that most of the U. S. is dealing with this week. The temperatures have been close to freezing for several nights here, but that's not even a talking point when you consider that back home zero seems like a warm front.

The Wimp is enjoying some more art classes. I'm finally taking watercolor and learning some pen and ink techniques. Both classes are required courses for the Nature Illustration Certificate Program that the Art Institute offers and when I finish these two, I will have five of twelve required classes done.

I'm surprising myself with how much I like doing art. On a whim, I took the Composition class two winters ago. I figured that after 15 or so years of designing quilts and writing for the quilting industry, it would be interesting to see design through the eyes of the art world. I liked it so much that I thought I would try some basics -- sketching and perspective work. That hooked me and I'm on my way through a program designed with intentionality and challenge.

So taking classes is a pretty good thing for the wimp in the desert who is learning during these winter months away from the Midwest.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Into The Sun

Pointing a camera at the sun is one of those things that one should not do. Life is filled with stuff that like that. Things that we know we aren't supposed to do, but try anyway and make it work.

This image, taken in Saguaro National Park this afternoon, works out pretty good once a Photoshop filter is applied and there is some digital fiddling with the photo. I like the way the cactus plants stand tall, as if they are defying the sun to set. The western hills figure into the picture, but don't really have much to say about anything. They are the backdrop to the drama between the stubborn saguaros and the ever powerful sun.

Still, it all works. The sun gets its say. The saguaros hang out to see another day. The hills hold firm, even if the camera is pointed into the sun.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Laundry is Done & A New Approach to the Blog

Friday has been laundry and cleaning day around Graywood West, the Arizona house that Ed and I are lucky to inhabit for some of the winter months. My MSU Rose Bowl Game clothes have been laundered and are ready for more use, probably on the golf course here in Arizona where fan clothing is always a good topic of conversation, especially when one's Big Ten fav comes out on top.

There is more to tell today, too. I have an announcement of a change for the blog.

Starting this weekend, there will be a new approach to the Willow Blog. I'm going to give myself a bit of a break. Instead of seven posts a week, one per day, there will be five posts, one for each week day. Weekends will be my sabbath time, time for a break.

When my Dad was living, I wrote every single day. Each post went to him as a daily email. It was my gift to him those last two years and five months that he was here. Even more, those daily posts established a sense of "I can do it" for me.

Discipline is a struggling thing. Writing is not easy and, like anything, benefits from constant practice. All of these Willow blog posts have given me a sense of schedule and words and practice. So, starting with the first weekend of 2014, Willow Blog will be published five days a week.

Dear Readers, I know you will follow along as we all head into the new year together. I wish you a Happy New Year, from under the Willow that shades us all.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Non-TV Rose Parade Moments

Television can't cover it all, I'm sure. These two guys got married on Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena, right in front of the grandstand where we were sitting for the Rose Parade. It was exciting to see that the crowd was with them. No faces that betrayed negative emotions, just people happy to see a happy moment in the life of two people witnessing their love for each other on New Year's Day.

I knew from watching my Twitter account that the protestors would be out in legion at the end of the parade. The anti-frackers, the Occupy Something, the Jesus Saves people, and lots more became a colorful band of sisters and brothers who marched to a different drummer. One guy was carrying a sign that read something like "Jesus is against sin." Someone nearby us read the sign aloud and then commented to the crowd, "Wow, Jesus is against sin. Who would have ever thought of that!"

Spartan Satisfaction

Michigan State won today's Rose Bowl game and we were there for the entire process. We started the day by viewing the Rose Parade in Pasadena and then went to the football game.

I am so completely tired from walking to and from the game, walking around Pasadena, and viewing football and parade, that all I can say is that there is great, great satisfaction in Spartan Land tonight. The Spartans have won the Rose Bowl and that is very cool indeed.