Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review and Art: "The Skies of Pern"

Remember the other day I talked about the “Artful Reading Club” I’d joined?  It’s now time (actually a bit past time) for my January review and art piece inspired by the book.

I read the science fantasy “The Skies of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey.  This story is part of a 22 (yes… 22!) book series set in the future on the planet of Pern over a period of 2500 years in 5 different time periods.  Pern is a planet settled by humans escaping wars on Earth.  Long story short… a series of disasters forces the settlers to develop fire breathing dragons to survive periodic planet wide menace from space.  The disasters also cause the loss of the advanced skills the settlers had so that the civilization functions at a pre-industrial level.
The stories center on these intelligent dragons and their telepathically bonded riders.
It has been said that McCaffrey stated the books should be read in the order they were written.  I don’t agree with that except that the first two trilogies should be read first as these are the ones that really draw you in.  After that, I would read them in the chronological order of the story line. 
The first story of this epic series (Dragon Flight) was published in 1967 and I read it about 11 years later in high school. The Skies of Pern takes place in the same time period (9th Pass) -- which is my favorite.  While I've read almost all of the series, this last one somehow was lost in the shuffle.  
I’ll have to admit I’m quite biased in my opinion, as I love the dragons and their riders.  So I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It is the last one written for ‘9th Pass’ collection and there shall be no more as Anne McCaffrey died in 2011.  It was rumored she was working on a final story to wrap up the series, but I’ve heard nothing else about it. 
If you’ve read any of the Dragon Rider series, this one continues the adventure and I recommend it.  If you’ve never read any… I suggest you start with Dragon Flight and work your way thru to this one at a later time.
I knew immediately what I wanted to do for my artwork for this book… but first I had to look it up to make sure it was really considered “art”.
diorama [ˌdaɪəˈrɑːmə] n
1. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) a miniature three-dimensional scene, in which models of figures are seen against a background.
Yes!!  It’s art!

I created this small diorama rider Tai and green Zaranth resting after fighting Thread.  Hot and tired, they have traveled ‘between’ to the cool mountains of High Reaches for some moments of quiet before returning to their Weyr. 
I used a shadow box shelf and attached a photo from an oversized book to depict the mountains of Pern.  It wraps all the way around the three inner sides of the box.  A quick trip out to my driveway and I had all the stones I needed to make my river side resting spot.  Filling in between the stones is sand I brought back from Lewis isIand, Scotland.  
Bringing the river into the box was the tricky part… especially since a lot of my supplies are boxed up while I remodel my studio.  I used a glue gun to make the water and mixed up paint to match the color of the river as best I could with what I have out.  I’m rather pleased with it. 
Zaranth is a enameled metal ‘box’ from my collection of dragons.  Tai is a tiny clay figure I had picked up for a project that didn’t work out.  I used a ‘brush pen’ to color it in. 
I'll enjoy having this little scene setting on a shelf in my studio.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Tasting Party

Recently I was the hostess at an Extension Homemakers meeting.  Since I wasn’t doing the lesson, I decided to do a ‘tasting party’ since I’ve gotten quite a few comments about how ‘adventurous’ I am trying different foods.

I guess that goes back to my childhood.  There used to be a cafeteria in St. Louis called “Seven Kitchens” where each ‘kitchen’/section was a different cuisine.  Mom used to give me money and I would wander from section to section choosing different things I wanted to try.  Another memory was when Hickory Farms used to have their own stores and they would give samples of their cheeses.  If I behaved while we were shopping, I would get to go to Hickory Farms and pick out a cheese and buy a quarter pound chunk.  Nope… no toys or candy for me… I wanted cheese!

I had a blast planning it out.  After much thought I decided to have them taste three different things:  cheese, balsamic vinegars, and flavored olive oils. 

Then, of course, I needed to make a trip to Nashville so I could hit Whole Foods (wink).  Yep… any excuse to go to Whole Foods! 

I headed straight back to the cheese counter and was soon in a lively discussion on what cheeses would be unusual, yet approachable, for them to try. (BTW, did you know that at Whole Foods you can request a sample of cheese?)  I definitely wanted to have a goat cheese and a sheep cheese.  And I wanted to have a few ‘upgrades’ of familiar grocery store varieties. 

I ended up selecting these:

A nice Parmigiano-Reggiano chunk, which I grated and also had a leading grocery brand grated Parmesan so they could compare. 

I also picked up a container of Mascarpone and set it along side of some American cream cheese.

Some brie made it into my buggy, except this one was an aged brie… soft and a bit more pungent.  Everyone was familiar with the brie from grocery stores and enjoyed trying the ‘upgrade’. 

My final cheese ‘upgrade’ was a block of English Seaside aged cheddar.  It is my absolute favorite sharp cheddar.  It is sharp…yet delicate, with a slightly crumbly texture. 

Then I had two ‘different’ cow cheeses.

First was Wensleydale.  This is an English cheese with a moist sweeter taste.  It’s often blended with fruit.  The one I picked out had cranberries.  It seemed to be everyone’s favorite.

The other was a Spanish cow cheese, a Mahon.  It is an island cheese and the salty sea spray on the grasses seems to become part of the cow’s milk.  It is sweet and salty, mildly sharp.  The rind is rubbed with oil and paprika – which gives it an almost saffron color.  It can be used grated as a topping or eaten in slices.  It is popular with tapas, where it is drizzled with olive oil.

Then there were my ‘strange’ cheeses:

Cabra al Vino/Drunken Goat:  A Spanish goat cheese that is soaked in red wine for two or three days.  It is slightly sweet with a softly sharp finish.  Good tapas selection.

Queso Manchego:  Another Spanish but this time a sheep’s cheese.  It is aged between 2 month and two years.  It has a definite ‘sheep’ cheese flavor but it is not a strong cheese.  Creamy with a slight bite.  The cheese block is actually quite beautiful as it is aged in a woven grass mold that leaves imprints on the rind. 

Now that I had my cheeses, it was time to decide on my vinegars and oils.  Actually, I had most of what I wanted to use in my own pantry.  However I discovered that Nashville now has an olive oil and vinegar store…and it’s only a block from Whole Foods! 

Look at their selections!!  Their address is Village Green Shopping Center, 4117 Hillsboro Pike, Suite 102, Nashville.  It is very much like the shop I have gone to in St. Louis (de Oliva in West County).  Now I can get what I need at home! 

What I love about these shops is that the vinegars and oils are all in urns that you can draw a sample from…taste before you buy.  Ummmmmm….  I picked up two new bottles while I was there.  A Thai Lemongrass balsamic vinegar blend and a black truffle oil (I’ve never been able to try it and was intrigued by the earthy taste). 
I put samples in medicine cups which could be sipped straight or with a bread piece dipped in it.  Personally I sample straight so I can get the true flavor.

All totaled I had the 10 cheeses, 4 oils (an Australia EVOO – very smooth, an herbs de Provence blend, lemon, and the black truffle oil) and 8 balsamic vinegars (Trader Joe’s balsamic – my everyday balsamic, Elva my spendy Modena for drizzling, peach, my new Thai Lemongrass, dark chocolate – great on fruit!, cherry, honey ginger, and pomegranate – great on Caprese salads).

It was a lot of fun sharing and they’ve requested I do another ‘sampling party’ in the future.  I think I will!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ugly Duckling to a Swan: Our Bathroom Remodle

On May 8th we started our remodel of the hall bathroom… and we ‘finished’ it in September.  Between September and now I’ve been so busy with other projects that I never got around to showing the finished room!
Here’s what it looked like shortly after we moved in.  We immediately had the new commode put in because the other was extremely short/low. 
Most of the work was done by a friend who is a contractor, which was grand!  (Yes, Dan is VERY tall!)
One day and he had it looking like this. 
Everything…and I mean everything (well… except the commode) was replaced.  It took Dan days to haul all of it out of there and ready the areas for the new stuff.  The old fiberglass tub was replaced with a larger, tho lower sided, enameled cast iron tub.  I wanted this because I haven’t seen a fiberglass tub that didn’t eventually start cracking around the drain. 
We had a lot of tile work done and the weather wasn’t cooperative.  So they set up a cutting station on our front porch.
And they tiled… and tiled… and tiled.  Here they are tiling one of my favorite things in the new bathroom… a 19” deep bench along the entire back of the tub.  If you noticed in the first photo, there was a crazy amount of wasted space between the tub and commode, so we made use of it.  And there is still enough room to put the waste can in between the tub and commode.
We also tiled all the way up the wall behind the vanity.  The tile is from Home Depot, as is the light fixture. 
The sink came from Overstock.com.  Great stuff there and it was shipped quickly!  That is a story in itself…  I knew I wanted an accent piece vessel sink and went to a fairly high-end kitchen and bath store in Nashville to find one.  Found a beautiful cut crystal sink in their vessel sink display.  Bought it and brought it home… and read in the instructions that it was an UNDERMOUNT sink.  Called the store back and they assured me that it was fine to install as a vessel and even sent me instruction on how to do it.  So I called the manufacturer of the sink.  They about had a heart attack when I told them how it was sold to me.  I was told in no uncertain terms NOT to install it like that as it would break. 
Terrific.  It was time to install the sink and I now had no sink.  Sis told me to check out Overstock and I found exactly what I wanted.  It was on our doorstep about 3 days later.  We love it.  The waterfall faucet always gets a comment – from “how cool!” to “that’s just weird”.  LOL 
(Oh… the store I bought the first sink from gave me a full refund...but no apology.)
The hardest thing to find for the room was that mirror!  I must have brought home and returned 10 mirrors before I found this one.  Most I found were really cheaply constructed even tho they cost a pretty penny.  This Lowes mirror has a solid wood frame and a beveled mirror. 
Once Dan finished his part (which was most of it!), I still had to deal with getting the wallpaper down.  I don’t know what the previous owners glued it up with but it was a nightmare to get down!  In some places where the edges had lifted over the years, they used Elmer’s glue to stick them back down.  Uff-da! 
Himself volunteered to do a lot of the work since I was sick of it. 
We discovered a lot of holes had been sloppily patched – or not patched at all – under the paper.  So I had to do a lot of filling.  Then I had to sand down the patches AND the rough glue areas.  It got a wee bit dusty in during the process…
Then came painting and hanging the shelves.
And here is the finished bathroom!
The shower curtains are regular window curtains I found at Home Goods.  The double shower bar came from Bed, Bath and Beyond.
The vanity is actually a small buffet I found at a furniture store in St Louis.  “Weekends Only” is my ‘go to’ store for furniture at great prices.  Dan did the changes it needed to become a vanity.  The baskets where found – after a long search – at Home Goods.  The wood medallion accent piece is what I liked about these.
I am so happy with how it turned out.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Our Christmas... only a month late!

It’s been so busy around here I forgot I hadn’t written about Christmas!  Of course we headed up to Missouri… what’s Christmas without family?  Especially when there are babies to share it with!  We ended up having TWO Christmas present openings. 
For the first, Himself and I went with my parents up to Sis’s house to watch the babies open their presents.
There were stockings to be opened with all sorts of fun little gifts.  You know… I wouldn’t mind having some jammies like Little Bird is wearing! 
Little Hoss was so focused on watching his Sissy that he forgot all about his own stocking.
This was a sweet moment.  In her pre-school class, Little Bird had made a present for her Mommy and Daddy.  Everything stopped as they opened her card and gift.  She was so proud!
Such a BOY!  A good present either has wheels or makes noise.  A GREAT present has both!  Flashing lights are pure bonus.
He’s not quite sure if he likes Sissy playing with his brand new police car.
So he decided to play with her new doll bed.  He loaded every single book off their bookshelf into it. 
Now here is the big surprise.  Sis, Big J, Himself and I spent the Saturday before transforming the storage room into a play room.  Dad came along and watched the babies upstairs while we worked.  There’s still some shelves for bins to be installed but it is “just perfect” for the moment.
They were amazed!  So worth every minute we worked on it!!
Nephew… we need to work on your hammering skills…
After a delicious breakfast fixed by Big J (a French toast casserole) we four headed back to my parents’ home while Sis and family headed over to Big J’s family for a visit.
By late afternoon, they had made their way over to Mom & Dad’s for Round Two of present opening. 
This suited the babies just fine!
We gave Little Hoss this cool cement truck (remember the wheels and noise rule?). 
And Little Bird got “Charlie”.  She is crazy over the basset hound owned by “Pioneer Woman”. 
It was a hit!  She was heading into the kitchen to set it by Wrigley’s food and water bowls.  (Wrigley is their real dog).
Grandma made stockings too.  Sis takes a moment to read one of the books from Little Bird’s stocking. 
This year we decided to have some fun with Big J.  Instead of a larger single present we bought several little things he really likes.  We put them in separate gift bags and hid them.  Here he is opening the first bag… which contained a shopping bag and a rhyme clue to lead him to the next present… and each present had another clue…
We ran him outside…
…and upstairs…
…and downstairs… and all over again!
Heading back to the couch with his loot!
Once Big J was done with his adventure it was time for the babies to get their big gift…
Wheels from Grandpa and Grandma!  Little Bird got her first bicycle and Little Hoss got his first Big Wheel (put together by yours truly).    We’ll be doing cul-de-sac guard duty come this spring!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Artful Reader's Club

OK, I’ve been saying that I want to read more.  In fact, I’ve kind of promised myself I would read two books a month this year. 
And so I am!  (I know, I know… it’s only 3 weeks into this year.  I take my victories wherever I can!!)
Just a couple days ago I read an interesting post on one of the blogs I follow (http://alteredbooklover.blogspot.com/ ) about an online book club called “The Artful Reader’s Club” (http://art-and-sole.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-artful-readers-club.html ).  The challenge to the club is not only to read one book a month, but to then create a piece of art inspired by the book.
Now that sounds like fun to me!!
So the first thing I need to do as I catch-up with this group is to get my 12 books that I WILL read this year.  Going to have to knock the dust off of some of them!  So without further ado, here are my 12 books for 2013!
A Gathering of Old Men” by Ernest Gaines
The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck
Weep Not, Child” by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
“The Skies of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey
Take Flight: A SisterChicks’ Devotional” by Robin Jones Gunn & Cindy Hannan
Little Lord Fauntleroy” by Frances Burnett
My Wild Kingdom” by Marlin Perkins
The Bounty: The  True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty” by Caroline Alexander
The Path Between the Seas” by David McCullough
Wisdom’s Daughters” by Steve Wall
Sewing for Dummies” by Jan Saunders
Echoes of Fury” by Frank Parchman
Fortunately I have already read one so now I have to get it in gear and make something creative! 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our Little Bird Sings

Little Bird is now a pre-schooler in the 3 year old class.  This Christmas was her first ever pageant, and of course Himself and I were there.  In fact, we got there WAY early to insure we would have good seats for the rest of the family as they arrived.  Good thing we were early as several others had the same idea.
The class marched in and Little Bird gave an on stage shout-out to Little Hoss.
Her family took up the whole pew (which is why we were there holding seats!).  There’s Sis (her mama) holding Little Hoss, then her great grandmother L (Big J’s grandma) and then her Grandma and Grandpa (my parents).  Himself and I sat next to Dad.  Little Bird’s dad couldn’t get off work to be there. 
Soon the whole group was lined up as they should be and the singing began.
Don’t you love the kiddie songs with all their hand and arm movements?  (Sorry for the blur.  Lights were low and we were far enough back that flash wouldn’t have helped…)
Sometimes the program moved a little slow… especially when you’re waiting for your first big solo!
It’s my turn now! 
And a star is born!
After the program we all headed down for refreshments while Little Bird basked in her success.  It was a lovely morning.  We’re looking forward to more in the future!