Friday, November 28, 2014

Postcards: Before the Hills in Order Stood

For several weeks I have had one stanza of the hymn "O God Our Help in Ages Past" running through my brain. Whenever I'm out for a walk or a drive here in the Tucson basin, these words come to accompany my day.

Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame,
From everlasting, Thou art God, through endless years the same.

The art, my fledgling watercolor work with pen and ink accent, in this set of postcards depicts images of those hills, the hills that seem so ordered, yet are bested by the wonderment of how they got there in the first place.

Since I like the juxtaposition of recognizable images (think, my rubber stamp collection!), the mountain and sky images are contrasted with a childlike face, one that could be the warming sun of innocence in life. Oh, and I threw in a cowboy boot, again, just because I like it.

Theological? Thought provoking? Artistic license?

Who knows! I just enjoy the thought of all these images coming together.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

KaChings and a Maple Pecan Tart

Supposedly it is not a good idea to try new recipes on special days. That's the rule and I usually figure that it is a rule to be broken, somewhat.

Today's somewhat was a Maple Pecan Tart with Dried Cherries recipe, and it was yummy. I found the recipe in the November-December 2011 issue of "Eating Well" and decided to try it for Thanksgiving. Then, at the last minute, I decided to use the Shortcut Pie crust recipe from The Splendid Table website, instead of the pecan crust in the original recipe. It was a serendipitous decision and a good choice for a last minute baking task.

But, I'm not in my usual kitchen, so I had to hunt up (i. e., shop for) a 9 inch tart pan. I found one in a set that contained 8 inch, 9 inch, and 10 inch tart pans. KaChing! Thirty bucks for the set.

We shopped for the ingredients. The maple syrup, that I had on hand, since I use maple syrup in salad dressings. Pecans were about seven bucks a bag. I bought a bag of whole pecans and a bag of chopped pecans. KaChing, KaChing. Twice.

Couldn't find dried cherries, which the recipe called for, so I used dried cranberries. KaChing! Another three bucks.

Then there was the butter for the crust, a new sack of flour, a new bag of brown sugar. More KaChings.

But the tart was luscious and went very well with all of the Thanksgiving dinner goodies. And that rule about not trying new recipes, well, I broke that rule, too. KaChing!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Picacho Peak

Considered a special place by ancient peoples of the southwest desert, Picacho Peak stand like a monument along Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix.

The jagged outline of the mountain peak is visible for miles and commands attention of all who drive past this unique spot. The peak, part of a small range of hills known as the Picacho Mountains, is in an area where winds often sweep dust storms across the valleys. I-10 often has high wind warnings posted in this area.

There are hiking trails on the mountains, which are a part of an Arizona State Park named for the peak

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ten Years Ago

It was ten years ago that Mr. Max, our first grandchild, was born. It was Thanksgiving Day and we had all gathered at our daughter's house, knowing that she was in labor and that there was a baby on the way, in spite of the holiday meal.

Midway through the day the mom and dad to-be left for the hospital and the rest of us attempted a meal, full well knowing that we weren't really concentrating on food. We just wanted that baby to be born!

So, ten years later, it is a joy to wish Max a happy, happy birthday. It's his Big Ten birthday. Double digits for a wonderful kid. Happy birthday, Max.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hummingbird Bonanza

The hummingbirds are at their iridescent best in the long, low rays of the winter desert sun. This little bird, sitting on the dead tip of an aloe plant, glows with lime green wonder.

The small Nikon camera that I use allows me to set the camera for five frames per second and that is what makes closeup shots of the tiny birds possible. Even the feather patterns are discernible in a close in shot.

Taken with afternoon, in natural back lighting, this bird is seen from behind with slightly ruffled feathers. This view shows the overlapping intricacy of the feathers, almost miniature works of art.

The first photo was taken outside of the hummingbird aviary at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, while the last two photos were shot inside the aviary. The birds were swiping at the humans' heads and chirping and swooping, to the delight of the many children who were at the aviary with moms and dads. The Desert Museum, and especially the hummingbird aviary, makes a wonderful Sunday afternoon visit for Tucson area families.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Postcards: Turkeys & A Pumpkin

I had a good time playing with paint, rubber stamps, and some postcards cut from watercolor paper this week. The perspective is a little wonky in some of these and the trees might feel misaligned.

Nevertheless, they are art and they are fun.

You know the rules from last week. For the first five people who private message me via Facebook (name and your mailing address, please), I will traipse out to the mailbox tomorrow and have one of these cards on the way to you. Again, U.S. peeps, only.

And here is one of the cards in a closer view. If you want a copy, right click on the image and save it to your 'puter. Notice that I did not put my copyright on this art. That is because I used stamp images that belong to someone else and for which I had to pay some dollars. Just a detail, but I do observe those protocols.

Happy Friday, from Under the Willow that shades us all.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Such A Sunset

My Sony Cybershot point and shoot camera dropped into the deep dark depths of my day bag and disappeared for almost a week.

This sunset, spectacular Arizona evening extravaganza that it is, was on the chip on that camera. Needless to say, I'm pretty happy to find this camera and the purple mountain majesty of this and many other photos on that camera.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bird Battle

Waiting for a chance to ambush the hummingbird feeder, the flickers hang around the back yard. When one finally gets a chance to cling to the feeder, the hummingbirds attack.

They hover close and twitter furiously in their attempt to dislodge the bigger bird and win the bird battle. Considering that hummingbirds have been known to migrate thousands of miles, that they move at defying speeds, and that they are, in short, strong little buggers, this flicker had better just move on out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Two Kinds of Beans

My Arizona pantry revealed a few packages of unusual dry beans that I had purchased last spring here in Tucson. I mixed two kind of beans together, washed them, and soaked them for a couple of hours.

One bean is a varietal of the mottled Jacob's Cattle bean and comes from the Four Corners area of the Southwest.

The other bean reminds me of a smaller cranberry bean, flecked, with a reddish tinge.

Both bean varieties are smaller than kidney beans and cooked up well, each keeping their color and texture. Before I put the soaked beans in the pot, I sauteed onion, carrot, celery, and garlic until translucent. While the veggies cooked, I sprinkled some Mrs. Dash seasoning and dried rosemary into the mixture.

I added water to the cooking pot and loosed any browned bits of veggie from the bottom. Then I added the beans, two bay leaves, fresh ground pepper, and brought the pot to boil before I let it simmer until the beans were al dente, about an hour.

One pot made enough for several half pint jars for the freezer and more to eat for supper. The mix of these two kinds of beans is delicious and nutritious and handy to have in the freezer to add to tacos or soup.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Scumble. That's a new word for me. It describes a form of pen and ink technique where scribble-type lines are used as filler to denote light, medium, and dark spaces in a drawing.

I quickly did an art journal page over the weekend with the various fillers for my Pen and Ink With Watercolor class. Session 2 meets this week and I'm getting the homework done for the class.  

Scumble or scribblle lines come easy for me and don't take very much time. I like the pointillistic effect of the stippling too, but it is a time consuming technique. Homework equals practice, and practice is what challenges me as I move along in learning more about art. 

My next task is to draw the examples on heavyweight Bristol paper using much more exact strokes. That will be tonight's challenge, and the completion of homework, finally.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Artwork: Maple Leaves and One Cowboy Boot

There are tubes of watercolor paints scattered all over the dining table out here at our Arizona place. India ink markers and number ten brushes and kneaded erasers and sketchbooks and graphite pencils join the mess. I'm back at taking art classes and the house will soon turn chaotic with art supplies.

The "Pen and Ink With Watercolor" class met this week for session one and students were treated to a demonstration of watercolor washes as performed by master watercolorist, Susan Morris. Our assignment for next week's class is six sketches done in pen and ink, all of the same object, but rendered in different styles, namely, hatching, cross hatching, stippling, scumbling, contour hatching and cross contour hatching.

I, of course, got carried away in my daily art journal and did a triad of maple leaves using stipple and cross hatch. Just for good measure, I added a touch of yellow ochre watercolor wash to the drawing. The leaves are totally from memory, but I'm rather linking the sketch.

Yesterday, while playing with new tubes of watercolor, I laid washes over a few postcards. I had a cowboy boot rubber stamp (cool, something that looks like I bought it in Arizona) that I found this week (rubber stamp selections are pretty generic and aimed at the scrapbooking market, since art people are supposed to draw their own boots) so I stamped that in black ink on top of the wash.

Then I added a big rock and a cactus and some watercolor glazing. I used Pitt markers, the set that comes in shades of gray, to tone in heat lines and contour a bit. The boot was filled in using Polychromos color pencils, the set that I bought at the Bennie's store in Pigeon, Michigan. (Some of you know that shop as HarJo's Ben Franklin, but my dear mother-in-law Pauline always called it the Bennie's Store and so do I).

Then I grabbed another Pitt marker, this one black, and stippled the heck out of the base of the boot and the cactus.

I like this drawing, too, but I'm willing to shove this postcard into my mailbox and send it to the first person who sends me their snail mail address via Facebook. (And by so doing, I get to name you and where you are from in another Facebook post, okay? So if you don't want to be known, don't send me your address.)

Let's keep it in the U.S., people, since those of you who are in other places probably know enough to right click and save the image on to your computer.

So, here we go. First private message with a U.S. address gets this postcard, an original piece of mailed art. Ready, set, GO!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Aloe, Aloe!

Aloes, big ones, little ones, are very popular in the desert landscaping around Tucson. Among the several that are planted at our winter house is this one that is in a big turquoise pot.

I groomed it a few days ago. Took off the dead ends of the leaves and trimmed some of the leaves back so that the pot would fit up against a stucco wall. Then I photographed it and transformed the photo into this textured, spiky plant image.

I like the sturdiness of the aloe plants. They have grace, gentle curves, and they are not quite as prickly as their fellow landscape plants, the agaves.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Purple Hummingbird

This little character buzzed my head and in general kept me from getting too much art work done outside one evening this week. His antics, along with two or three of his hummer companions, make me think that hummingbirds must be some of the happiest creatures in our world.

They twitter. They buzz. They swoop. They fly. They perch.

Such little busybodies, these Arizona hummingbirds.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

SMB Veteran's Day Salute

Shelly Madden's Facebook post for Veteran's Day salutes our veterans and also gives a capsule of an idea of how much thought and energy and practice went in to the Spartan Marching Band's halftime Veteran's Day Salute at last Saturday's Michigan State football game.

Here's what Shelly said about this remarkable performance: 

Happy Veterans' Day! Thank you veterans for your service. Photo from Saturday's MSU Spartan Marching Band's "Salute to Veterans" halftime show finale. Over 1,000 yards of fabric held by 64 hands (MSU Color Guard, and Big Ten Flags) and 50 - 4x4 stars held by 50 hands (MSU dance team, cheer, mascot and horn section). The vision of John Madden & Peter Eichler and execution of SMB Directors, staff, Saturday staff, and the team of 104 extra hands, the show finale was AMAZING!

And, in case you might have missed this, here's the link to the entire halftime performance, including the tear jerking unfolding of the giant flag.  Shelly Madden is the skilled videographer.

4 x 4 stars, as seen from the end zone during the halftime show
I'm pretty proud of Peter Eichler, director of the colorguard and our youngest son, for his big part in making this spectacle happen. Peter, along with John Madden, director of SMB, the staff, and many, many people in and and out of the band worked as a fantastic team to produce a stunning halftime.

Here's what Peter had to say about the show, again from Facebook:

'Team fab' had 32 props, 1,000 yards of fabric and 64 members of the SMB guard, big tens and horn line. 'Team star' had 50 members of the MSU spirit team (cheer, dance and mascot) along with SMB Saturday staff carrying 4'x 4' stars when they are normally catching their breath between halves. Combined with only a few rehearsals, these 104 MSU students turned out an amazing result! I'm proud to call this program my home!

rolling up the stripes after the half time show
A special thanks to Shelly Madden and to Peter for the photos, quotes, and video in this blog post. For those of us who watch from the screens of our computers, you have made the show come to life. We, along with you and the Spartan Marching Band, salute our nation's veterans on this special day in 2014.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Kitt Peak Morning

Now I will start feeling like a stranger in a strange new place.

With feet firmly on the ground in Arizona, my morning view has turned from Lake Huron to the east to Kitt Peak in the west. In this image, the observatories on Kitt Peak pick up the morning sun and stand like white monuments on top of the mountain.

I start art classes on Wednesday, so, dear blog readers, there will be artwork soon (I hope).

Friday, November 7, 2014

It's a Go Green Weekend

The Laker football team is racking up a big win over Cass City tonight and the MSU Spartans are favored to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes by three and a half points tomorrow night. 

I'd say it is a "Go Green" weekend. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bad Hair Day Bird

I can sympathize with this bird which I think might be a goldfinch, probably a female, with dull fall plumage. What stands out as I look at this little bird, though, is that even birds have bad hair days.

At first I thought the bird was a tufted something, but after watching its companions for a while, it was obvious that the tuft was bad hair. The bird didn't seem to mind. It just kept diving for spiders around the windows of our house.

I'm encouraged that I can actually discern that individual birds have differences. Even bad hair that marks one bird from another.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tree Planting

The Lee's Landscaping tree planting crew was busy in uptown Pigeon today. They replanted several trees that grow as a part of the streetscape. 

Pigeon's landscaping dates from 1992 which is the last time that the sidewalks and street were scooped out and totally replaced. That was the summer that I was working on opening my quilt shop, Pigeon River Mercantile & Wool Co, in the former dime store building on the west side of Main Street.

For much of that summer there was no street and no sidewalk as crews worked from wall to wall, replacing lighting systems, cement, and asphalt. The work began in July after Farmers' Festival and was completed by mid autumn. 

The Mercantile opened on Election Day on November of 1992 with new streets, new sidewalks, and a new quilt themed inventory in the refreshed old building. 

Some of the trees planted that year have not thrived, so it was good today to see the replacement trees being planted. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day Squash

Since I voted absentee before today, I could take Election Day as a quiet time. I've been knitting and listening to classical music on MSU's WKAR, I cued up an interview of Carlos Santana that I missed on NPR earlier today, and I baked a big garden squash, one of the improved blue hubbards, for lunch. 

The squash, almost seven pounds, presented a splitting quandry. My largest chef's knife barely split the surface. After a few whacks, I stuck the knife soundly into the cucurbit (you can look that word up), raised the knife, and, using two hands, with the squash impaled on the blade, slammed the whole thing on the countertop. (I want all of my Dem friends to know, too, that I did not think bad thoughts about Kentucky senators as I smashed the squash. I was a good person. And I was hungry for squash.)

The squash split with surety. Seeds scooped out, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with Mrs. Dash seasoning, the flesh roasted in a 350 degree oven in less than an hour.

That was lunch, two bowls of yummy mashed squashy goodness, with light butter and fresh cracked pepper. The rest of the massive veggie is frozen, ready for a soup or bisque recipe later this fall. 

I marked the freezer cartons "Election Day Squash" and know that it will be a delight to pull those boxes out of the freezer to make soup some fine day this winter.

And, yes, I saved some of the seeds. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Harry Truman's Voting Advice

Go to the polls tomorrow and vote your convictions
 -- your hopes -- and your faith in the future.
 If you do that, under God, we can lead the world to freedom and security.
Harry Truman
November 1, 1948

These are words that Harry Truman wrote for his last speech of the 1948 campaign. Truman prepared his remarks for a radio speech to be given on the night before the election. Campaigning was done and he had returned home to Independence, Missouri.

His handwritten notes were transcribed, the speech typed up, and the president must have tossed the notes into a wastebasket. A White House reporter retrieved the notes and, after some years, Harry Truman's discarded speech has ended up at the Truman Library.

I happened upon Mr. Truman's speech when I was doing some reading on the Truman Library's website. I was born in February of 1948, so I would have been almost nine months old at the time of the election. My mom and dad lived in Appleton, Wisconsin where my Dad was serving three small churches and finishing his undergraduate degree at Oshkosh. I have always been interested in the events of 1948, the year of my birth.

My parents, born in the 1920's on dairy farms in eastern Wisconsin, had already experienced the Great Depression and World War II. My older sister came along in 1946 followed by me in 1948. We were born touching the post war years -- baby boomers, we would come to be called -- to parents who knew only FDR as president for most of their years as teenagers and twentysomes.

Truman's election in 1948 was pivotal. His administration would carry out the integration of the armed forces. He would keep the social contract that FDR and many others forged to bring the country out of economic disaster. It is Truman's presidency that spanned the years when manufacturing turned from warplanes and tanks, to cars and refrigerators.

But on that election eve in 1948, Harry Truman's words rang with commitment. In his handwriting, you can even glean a bit of nostalgia, maybe even homesickness, as he arrived home and gave that final speech. Thomas Dewey was seen as the favorite. Harry Truman had come home to vote.

His discarded words, retrieved from history's wastebasket, stand for tomorrow's election. Vote your convictions, your hopes, your faith. Things will work out.

It's good advice.

Today's blog post is a repeat of a blog post from November 5, 2012, before the last Presidential Election. wje