Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Few Short Lines About a Not-So-Long Season

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, Readers, but according to a friend’s husband, we’re closing in on the Summer’s Swan Song. This gentleman has held fast to an apparently lifelong contention that Independence Day is tantamount to the grand finale of the season.

Although I do not share this pessimistic read on the calendar, I am going to take the opportunity nonetheless to sound the alert: summer‘s no spring chicken. It’s time to take action, to put into play all those great intentions we dreamed up during the icy months.

This year, my summer is being built around small adventures and old mainstays—I won’t be traveling cross country, or up the Maine coast this season. But I’m typing this from a northbound van with my husband, son, bonus son, daughter, and niece as we head off on a trip that’s become something of a pilgrimage. We’ll be camping—along with nearly 100,000 fellow pilgrims--in a string of Pennsylvania cow pastures for four days of music, teaching, and good, clean fun. I began attending the Creation East Festival when I was 13, and have since been able to introduce the experience to dozens of teens, young adults, and my own family over the years.

After several days of blistering heat, sink sprayer showers, jumbo ice pops, good tunes, and fun times with my crew, I am swapping my niece for my nephew and heading back to VA for a couple weeks of Beach/Art/Culinary Camp. We plan on beach breakfasts, body boarding, creative expression, and new recipes, culminating in the return of my niece—along with the rest of her family for a week of further adventures.

At this point, I’ve got a solid week—perhaps two—to tackle my summer reading list. Oh, the tomes I’ve planned to devour! While I’m soaking in the printed word, I’ll be outputting the same on the flip side, because summer is prime time to crank out book proposals, build blogs, and bolster literary credentials.

I suppose I’ll need to carve out some time to put my new classroom together between books, because I’m spending my last few days before the school bell rings on my other annual pilgrimage at the lakeside spot to which each August I migrate with the regularly of a mating salmon.

All of this sounds wonderful—really—but I can’t help but wonder when I’m going to do all the other things on my list of Summer Must-Dos. There’s entire roadtrips missing from the line up. Lazy Days of open space. Seeds of Adventure with no time to bloom. Which all has me pretty concerned, because summer is suddenly feeling awfully…short. Almost like it’s already gone. And it’s not even the Fourth of July.
So, readers, what’s on your Summer of 2010 list? I’d love to hear what you have going on.

A note about this week’s programming: Although I’ll be away, it’s possible you won’t even miss me! Thanks to the magic of pre-posting, I’ll be here all week. I’m looking forward to coming home to all of your comments, and catching up on all of your blogs, too.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer Blends, or Olfactory Experiences 2

I always like to think of my little online habitat as a place where readers can sit back, kick up their feet, and take a deep breath. Although the wording is typically figurative nature--to sort of suggest a general demeanor of relaxation—for the sake of this post, why not go ahead and take a whiff of your current surroundings. Don’t be shy. I’ll wait.

Did you detect a subtle hint of citrus and fresh herbs? What about undertones of cinnamon? Did you catch the scent of some freshly ground coffee? Those are the scents wafting around my place at the moment, and I’d like to share.

In December, I shared my holiday blend of aromatic simmering spices, along with tips on how to festively package and share the potion as an inexpensive gift idea. Consider this a companion post, a sort of summer edition, chock full of options for aromatic adventures that have the added bonus of being environmentally friendly.

Smell is our most powerful sense, and the one most closely tied to our memories. I’m blessed with a pretty keen sense of smell, which has its flip sides along with its benefits. In my family, I’m the first to ferret out an indiscretion made by one of my five furry friends, or, on a few unpleasant occasions, the stench of death in the form of a departed rodent deep within the bowels of the house.

I’m sensitive, also, to artificial aromas emitting from perfumes, colognes, or various air fresheners. Those signs you sometimes see at libraries, asking patrons to enter sans fragrance? Those signs are for me, and others of my allergenic persuasion who happen wheeze, cough, hack, and display general respiratory unrest when forced to breathe chemically tainted air. It’s a problem that has become steadily more pronounced in recent years. A decade or so ago, I spritzed myself with a certain Dior scent after every shower. A year or two ago, I misted myself with a single spray and became overcome with nausea. (If anyone out there would enjoy a bottle of Christian Dior’s Poison, minus a squirt, let me know. We’ll work something out.)

I’m likewise afflicted by many run of the mill air fresheners, and have actually learned that these and other artificially scented products can be fatal to my pet bird, which makes them even more unwelcome in my home.

But I enjoy a good olfactory high as much as anyone. Freshly mowed lawns, chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, simmering sauce, brewing coffee, the ocean, clothes fresh from an outdoor line…these are the scents that invigorate and comfort me, at once.

The common element in these intoxicating aromas? They weren’t manufactured in a lab. They’re genuine. Natural. Pure. It’s this simple concept to which I find myself repeatedly turning in my quest for a fresh smelling home.

Of late, I’ve turned to my herb garden to create my custom aromatics. If you don’t have an herb garden, let’s fix that first. At this time of year, a trip to virtually any garden shop and an investment of something less than twenty dollars will buy you a good set of starter herbs. If you’re at all daunted by the cost, just take a look at the price tag on the bottled dried forms of the same spices on your next trip to the grocery store. With the live version of the same spices, you’ll have the best flavors for cooking—year round, even, with some luck—and all the air freshener you’ll ever need, to boot.. I typically keep over twenty different herbs on hand, but if I had to pare it down to five, I’d make sure I had basil, oregano, cilantro, lemon balm, and some sort of mint.

I’ve been experimenting with different combinations, but I’ve found that tossing a few leaves from various basils, a mint sprig or two, some lemon balm, and a lime wedge into a simmering pot never disappoints. I have kept it on the back burner, but a recent heat wave and accompanying complaints from my husband about open flame caused me to get creative and set my little metal pot on the coffee burner. I used to have a little electric pot that would have been perfect for tucking away in the back of the house, or a bathroom—but I suspect I may have sent it along in a recent purge. There’s no set “recipe,” I mix, match, and experiment, and encourage you to do the same.

While we’re on the topic of a fresh smelling home, let’s talk carpets. As I’ve mentioned, I share my home with five furry friends, so fresh carpets are always a challenge. Like many people, I rely on the odor-eating power of baking soda in my quest for fresh floors. But I like to do more than subtract the funk—I like to add a little something extra. So I make my own blend of carpet freshener with a 50-cent box of baking soda, along with a large bottle of generic cinnamon and a shaker bottle, both from the dollar store. I mix the cinnamon and the baking soda in the bottle and shake it on my carpets. I let it do its magic for an indeterminate amount of time, and then I sweep it all up. The added bonus? My furries smell of cinnamon, too! Carpet fresh and animal deodorizer in one $2.50 solution!

Finally, let’s head to the coffee pot. The Official House brew here is Dunkin Donuts, by default. But lately, I have to admit to a rival flavor that’s become our summer blend. I discovered Green Caffeine at our local farmer’s market, and I can’t keep it in stock. It’s lacking absolutely nothing in flavor, and I have to admit: the environmental benefits give the experience an added boost. perhaps my son said it best. “I just love the taste of justice, Mom,” he said, standing in line at the pot with his waiting mug. Granted, I had to scrawl the word “tips” across an empty bag last week to support our habit—justice, as it would happen, doesn’t come cheap—but tips from the children alone allowed us to get two bags instead of one the following week. Which is good, because we’re going through more than ever, in the form of iced coffee, due to the aforementioned heat wave. My friends tell me the iced coffee I serve up is exceptional, but my only secret is that I make it double strength, to allow for ice meltage. Which means, of course, that we’re financing a whole lot of justice.

I hope you’re inspired to put your own spin on some green summer blends of your own. And if after all this natural goodness you still happen to be interested in the Dior potion, let me know—I’ll give you a good deal!

P.S. I'm linking this post up with Holly's Tickled Pink Blog Hop over at 504 Main Head on over to fine and share summer inspiration of all kinds.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Four Lives and Counting

“Oh, no!” I cried in horror, “His leg fell off!”

I was standing on a pier, circa early '00s, or oughts, or however we’re referencing the past decade, with a crab’s leg dangling sadly between my thumb and forefinger. The task at hand concerned the routine maintenance of a floating bag of baby oysters my friend, Lori, was rearing throughout their fragile infancy for eventual open water release, in the hopes that they would band with myriad of their adult friends to do what they do best: filter pollutants from the sea. Our task was to check in on the babies periodically, to make sure that the mesh holes in their temporary habitat didn’t become clogged, and to ward off predators, such as the guy whose leg snapped off in my hand.

“I didn’t mean to hurt him,” I wailed.

To my dismay, Lori, and my daughter, working alongside her, both began to laugh.

“It will grow back,” Lori explained, to my amazement and relief.

That was my first lesson about the resiliency of the common crab. My second unfolded over recent weeks through a different sort of hands on experience.

When I decided upon a mosaic crab to round out my ill-fated gallery portfolio, I took it for a quick in-and-out operation. The design was a simple enlargement of a crustacean featured in a bathroom beach scene I designed for my own home. I already had the tile, and the requisite project disaster behind me, to boot, in my collection of twice-fired blues.

Things got off to a great start. At one point, I began to hope I might get the bulk of the project cranked out in one solid day of work. ..until I realized that nothing in my vast stock of stained glass squares I use for edging matched the deep navy tile I’d chosen the crab’s leg and pinchers.

What to do, what to do? There was no time to order more, and there exist no local outlets for such supplies in my community. This news sort of excited me, really, because I’ve come to discover that the best ideas often come when the Original Plan heads south. Even though a good 24 hours passed without a viable idea, I remained calm and optimistic as I waited for the moment that it presented, quietly and without fanfare, the way the best ideas do. Why not cover the legs and pinchers in sand colored grout and dip them in real sand, rendering a fresh-from-the-beach look for my sea-dwelling creation? And, for consistency, why not fill the cracks between the tiles with the same sand colored grout?

Colored grout is an effect I use sparingly. Ninety percent of the time, I find standard white to be the best option. Every now and then, though? It can really add that special something. I hoped this was one of those times.

I use an all-in-one adhesive and grout product for my pieces, rather than a fixative and a separate grout. It’s easier and less expensive. Better yet? The color is easily transformed by simply mixing in a few drops of acrylic paint. I should have done this.

However, I had a powdered grout on hand-- left over from a household project, that possessed the seemingly desirable characteristic of actually bearing the color name “sand.” I remembered a positive experience with a powdered grout product a handful of years back—likely around the time the oyster-picking crab left his limb in the grasp of my thumb—and decided to give it a try.

Note to self: when under a deadline, stick with what you know. When dry, the powdered grout possessed a certain crumbling property, and—with T-22 hours to spare, I was digging loose, flaky grout from all the crab’s crevices with a sharp tool. Fortunately, the grout was so poor, this task wasn’t as hard as it would seem.

A few drops of burnt umber mixed into my Regular Product made for better sand than the color labeled as such. I dipped the crab’s left legs into the real sand, and it adhered beautifully. We were looking at a Case Closed.

Until I turned my attention to the right legs, and began carefully spreading the sand-hued grout over his limbs. It’s hard to say exactly when or how it happened, but I suddenly found myself standing in my studio with a crab’s leg dangling sadly between my thumb and forefinger.

“It will grow back.” I attempted to savor the relief as the comforting echo reached me from the pier, but logic prevailed. My next move was an attempt to embrace the same excitement that fueled the Sand Edging Innovation, but it didn’t take. My third move was to reach for the wood glue, remembering my husband’s claim that, dried, the stuff is actually stronger than wood.

My approach, I’m afraid, was a bit heavy handed. My guy ended up swimming in a whole sea of the stuff. My husband’s cheery review that the glue would dry stronger than wood haunted me as I watched it flow across my counter, but I counted on the newspapers to contain it for me—the reattachment was at too delicate a stage to interrupt.

Although my ceramic crustacean didn’t exactly grow a new leg, the successful operation was the next best thing. He showed up at the gallery on time with all appendages intact. Although he weathered all physical threats, his good fortune did not carry into the gallery review.

Even though the crab and his other company in my portfolio did not earn the favor of the board and the accompanying ongoing display at the gallery, my daughter reminded me of an additional lifeline.

Turns out the next gallery show is an artistic celebration of my city and will feature pieces depicting various local elements. As fate would have, the symbol for my urban waterfront village happens to be—you guessed it—the humble crab.

Scorned as I’ve been, I’m rather reluctant to submit my crab for the show, even after my daughter reminded me of one of her “favorite childhood stories” wherein a piece of writing I submitted to a magazine was rejected by the editor under no uncertain terms and was subsequently entered into a contest in which it took first place. The best part? I was presented with a silver bowl and cash prize from the hands of the editor himself.

Although it’s fun to picture the gallery board forking over an award and eating a large amount of crow, I’ve decided that I’m just not up for paying the entry fee right now, strictly on principal.

He may eventually wind up in my upcoming etsy store, but for right now, he’s a nice fit in one of the bathrooms, but we’ll see where things go from here. Crabs, I’ve discovered, are rather resilient.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Vanished, or The Story of Today's Post

I came to my posting forum this morning with different intentions than the one I am currently implementing as I type, haphazardly, into the void before me.

See, I had a post all set to cut and paste into this space, but it's gone, like an icy frappe on a sultry afternoon. The file is still there, with the text of all my other recent posts. But nary a phrase or even a bit of punctuation remains from what I intended to post today.

You'll be among the first to know should it materialize. In the meantime,enjoy a frappe, or perhaps a green tea if that's your thing, and I'll see you tomorrow.

P.S. If you came for a story and find yourself disappointed, the good news is, I used to blog a lot about missing things. Here are a couple of my favorite posts from the Things Gone Missing file:

Sans Linens
Madison, Wisconsin, More Than Just Cheese, or The Turkey's Missing

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bank Notes 2: The Sequel

“Oh, we’ve got the good banker today!” my son commented as I pulled up to the drive through window at the bank. “I’m sure to get a lollipop,” he added, doubtlessly hunkering down in his seat in an effort to make his teenage self appear as small as possible, although I’m not actually sure what he was doing, because my attention was solidly on the ID window of my wallet.

I was struggling mightily in an effort to extract the card from my wallet so it could join the check I’d plopped in the Traveling Box, but it wasn’t budging. I was becoming a bit flustered, particularly in light of the fact that this was my triumphal return to the back since once again becoming a legitimate Check-Carrying Patron.

“Let me see that,” my daughter said, extracting the wallet from my fumbling hands.

“What did you do?” she exclaimed, unable to slide the plastic rectangle from the sleeve.

“OK, pass that back here,” Sweet Tooth demanded from the back seat, unable to accept missing his sugar fix on a technicality. Seconds later he, too, was engaged in combat with the leather and fibers imprisoning the card. “What is going on!!” he cried in exasperation.

By this time, I was slumped over the wheel, hyperventilating in an attempt to breathe through gales of laughter that were, literally, painful. Quite aware of the spectacle we had become, and unable to figure out anything else to do, I pulled away from the window, even as the kids screamed, “The box! You still have the box!”

I shifted into reverse and inched back beneath the pavilion to the pillar which housed the Travelling Box, gasping as I shakily returned it to the proper cavity. I lurched around to the front of the building amidst exclamations of embarrassment.

“You’re on your own now, Mom!” one or both of them said as piloted the car to a stop. “We’re not going in.”

Under normal circumstances, I would have issued a reminder that lollipops are a must-be-present-to-win sort of prize, but I was trying to regain my faculties, a task that became further complicated as I patted down the seat in search of my check.

“Where did it go?” I said, wiping tears of mirth from my cheeks. My son was unresponsive, undoubtedly disheartened as visions of sugar pops dissolved from his head. My daughter was busy freeing the card from the hidden flap of fabric preventing its flow.

“Oh my goodness!” I screamed in sudden realization, “It’s in The Box!”

“Hurry!” my son advised.

“Go get it!” my daughter demanded. “Pull yourself together!”

Already I was in gear, cutting off a motor vehicle threatening to round the back of the building ahead of me. “She’s playing chicken with an SUV!” my son shrieked.

“No one’s there!” my daughter called, noting the vacant space under the pavilion. I slowed down, pulling smoothly up to The Box. I opened it with slight trepidation, but opened it to the sight of my seahorse check lying right there where I left it. I smoothly deposited my ID and sent my documents up in the Traveling Box in a single fluid motion.

“Will we be needing any lollipops today?” The Good Banker asked in a crisp, professional tone. “Perhaps three?”

“That would be perfect,” I replied, in an equally professional manner.

Seconds later, I pulled my envelope of cash and three purple pops from the Traveling Box and left feeling like any normal, satisfied customer and fully assured that we did, indeed, get the Good Banker.

In Other Banking Briefs:

On Saturday,
I received a routine statement from my bank that listed an iffy transaction—a charge from a coffee house I haven’t visited for several weeks. I commented on the curiosity which prompted my husband to take a peek into my accounts. He was appalled to find some blank areas filled in by question marks, and an entire section that was basically a journal entry apologizing for a lapse and promising to do better. Apparently, according to my husband, this is “unacceptable.” He spent several hours sifting though the tedious minutia of my accounts and started me fresh with a new roster and some tips for improvement. I did OK on Sunday, but Monday I slid a receipt into my wallet to “deal with later.” Today I went to several stores and realized at the last one that I’d lost the entire day’s receipts. And the Home Depot one as well. My accounts are, again, in shambles.

After reading my last banking post, my husband informed me that those little tickets in the back of the checkbook are really deposit slips, and they have nothing to do with taking money out of the bank, as my text indicated that I believed. Yeah, I knew that. Really. I’ve used them before. But for some reason, when I ran out of checks, I got confused and thought there were some other forms lurking back there, for back up. But there aren’t. And I probably knew that, too. Probably. Just wanted to set the record straight.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


So it seems I won’t be working with the gallery after all. Yesterday marked the conclusion of the “Water” show in which my seahorse was featured.

Last Thursday, I turned in a portfolio of work that was to be evaluated at a board meeting this morning to determine if I would be invited to show there on a permanent basis. Basically that would involve having up to ten works on display and for sale at any given time—for starters, the seahorse and the portfolio pieces.

My friend Lisa, who happens to serve on the gallery board, encouraged me to submit my work because she felt that it would bring something new and different to the gallery’s offerings, plus, she’s been trying to pump up my artistic self esteem and pegged my work as a shoe in for that venue. It seemed a safe path to tread enroute to upping my artistic game.

As a board member, Lisa was at the meeting, but was told that she couldn’t speak or vote. From Lisa's report and the account of the board representative who drew the short straw and was tasked with calling me after the meeting, I have cobbled together a rough model of what transpired.

Rubrics were distributed to the participating members. The first two questions called upon the assemblage to determine if the works were unique and if the gallery currently has anything similar in their holdings. Evidently the board was united in their opinion that my offerings were, indeed, quite innovative, and would be completely new to the showroom.

Lisa errantly took this as a good sign, seeing as she recently sat through a meeting wherein grave concerns were expressed about sales, and the need to expand the gallery offerings. However, the rest of the meeting seems to have followed a pattern that went something like this:

Random Board Member (RBM): “Oh, a crab! Crabs are big right now. This would sell!”

Other RBM: “I would love this for my garden! But…she used ...wood. How could I ever display it outside since she made it wrong?”

A chorus of RBMs then proceeded to express general puzzlement and alarm that works which were clearly outdoor pieces would be backed with wood. I, myself, am alarmed, mostly by the fact that as the designer of these works, I wasn’t even aware that they spoke so convincingly of the out-of-doors. Would you believe that I actually made the seahorse (were I to get it back, or its twin, should I not) for my bathroom? I’m frankly embarrassed. How could I have missed this?

Let’s head back to the board meeting for further enlightenment.

RBM: “This seahorse is quite nice.”

Other RBM: “Yes, sea creatures in general are very popular right now.”

RBM: “But, again, the wood.”

I picture the board members engulfed by uncomfortable silence here, as the enormity of the gaffe washed over them afresh.

RBM: “I feel it shows a certain lack of planning.”

I envision a simultaneous upward motion of all the eyebrows in the room, in a collective “do, tell” sort of gesture.

Pretentious RBM: “Well, it’s the mixture of large and small pieces. It's like she realized she couldn'd fit any more big ones on there, so she just started using small ones. They should all be uniform in size.”

RBM: “That is what The Book says.”

Murmurs of agreement must have rippled down the table as holy tome, The Book, was evoked. Seems someone there has taken a shining to a certain mosaics how-to manual, and regards it as the Final Word. The gallery representative who called me highly recommended some deep contemplation and penance between those sacred covers. I gave it a little look-see on amazon, and it looks for the entire world to cover the same ground as a few Lesser Works I keep on my humble shelves here at home.

Lisa broke her silence by pointing out that my seahorses are, indeed, selling—I’m working on two, right now, in fact, and at better prices for my clients because I don’t have to jack up the cost to cover the 1/3 commission the gallery wants, but the board remained unmoved by economics. No matter if the general populace wants seahorses with multi-sized tile—The Book, ah the book, no mention of such practices in the book.

Much was made of the garden pot—the only work that I ever envisioned in a potential out-of-doors milieu. It was held up as The Standard. “This would sell,” they all nodded. “Yes, yes, it would.”

RBM: “If only all the works were like this. Here, we see some evidence of the conventions of design. Ah, the uniformity!”

RBMs, all : “Yes, yes, it would sell. Too bad the others don’t look like this.”

Interestingly, I threw this work in with the sole purpose of including something a bit more accessible (read: lower priced). I like it, but value it the least artistically, because I got the idea from a book. A book from my shelf that I’ll blasphemously submit, resembles the One And Only. But we digress from the meeting.

By the time they got to the tray, the gloves were off. The tray—clearly an outdoor service piece—was the most epic fail of the entire portfolio. The tray, you see, does not look like a painting. It lacks the proper depth and shading, a failing the board saw reflected across, well, the board, in my pieces. Which is really shocking, because I could have sworn I fired several shades of blue for the crab, to you know, differentiate the various features, but what do I know? I don’t own The Book.

And I may be mistaken, but is that perhaps a flecking of darker red, there, on the-- dare I say--shadowed side of the apple? I could have sworn I painted something like that on my tile, but, again, this is from a Serial Wood User, so take it for what it is.

The best part by far, was listening to The Gallery Representative trying to explain all of this to me. She clearly wanted to be absolved—for me to say, “Oh, I see, I understand. I get it, you are so right.”

And I refused her the satisfaction. I just let her go on and on, with no compassionate, “it’s okays,” or sympathetic “umm-hmms,” nothing but a polite “thank you for the opportunity,” when she was done.

“But the one thing we want to make sure you know,” she concluded, “is that we really liked your ideas, and hope you’ll resubmit. After you read The Book.”

That, my friends, will happen just as soon as I shun wood, measure all of my tiles for uniformity, and only attempt practices condoned by The Book. As in, never.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bits and Pieces

Crash. Bang. Thud.

If the day came with a soundtrack, it could have easily been tracks from a construction site mixed with shrieks laid down in a haunted house. All day long I behaved, as my mother so often said as I was growing up, like a bull in a china shop.

At mosaic camp, I used scissors inappropriately and sliced my finger open.

I barreled into an abandoned ironing board and caused the iron to tumble onto the tile floor during a particularly grim segment of the afternoon during which I was convinced that months of work was destined for naught for want of a blue pen. Yes, blue.

In the heat of the hunt, I brusquely tossed a full tote bag from a chair an onto the same tile surface. Much later, I would discover that the bag contained a full jar of printing ink. A veritable sea of black ink, unleashed in a quest for the merest amount of blue.

The Think Green button swimming in a sea of black gunk is a nice touch, don’t you think? A sort of ironic commentary of sad times on a larger scale.

But the most notable thing about these images is that they never really should have existed. See, the very first think I dropped Thursday morning was my camera. I’d just finished watching my son lead worship during chapel at his high school, and was stunned by what I’d witnessed. He had the presence of a man—a thing I have never before seen, and it left me a bit off kilter. So much that I completely forgot that I had tossed my camera in the open bag on my lap. As I stood to make a stealthy exit and head on to mosaic camp, my camera bounced on ahead of me, straight across the gym floor.

It spent the next four hours in a state of inertia, unresponsive to my efforts to make it function. Even though it would mysteriously begin working again as soon as I returned home, the tone for the day had been set. My camera is like a vital organ, and its sudden, albeit temporary amputation left me weak and pallid. I continued to bumble along through my day long after the man at the camera shop gave my Third Eye a clean bill of health (it could, of course, go at any moment, but then, couldn’t we all?) I was still shaky.

Which was why my husband wasn’t too confident about my handling of my gallery portfolio, which was due that afternoon.

“Get those pieces out of your hands as quickly as possible,” he advised. “And better yet, get your daughter to drive.”

So I snapped a photo of this little grouping of pieces, which will join the seahorse to complete my introductory gallery portfolio….and held the work, along with my breath during the half hour drive.

Those three pieces? They were pretty much the only things I touched that day that are still intact. I figure it's because in reality, I already broken them. That, my friends, is the beauty of being a mosaic artist. I may be a bull in a china shop, but I've learned what to do with all the broken bits.

In Other News:
So I barely got this post in while in was still Today. Which means I will post tomorrow, but a little later in the day.

Astute readers may wonder how I got the photos of my bloodied finger, when I clearly stated that my camera didn’t work until I was back home. This shot was only possible due to the extreme depth of the cut, which caused it to burst open numerous times though out the afternoon. Yeah. It was just that kind of day.

Mosaic camp is now complete, but not before scandal broke out in our little community of artists. Seems the philosopher's daughter had never considered before last week that maybe Santa's not real. The Philosopher himself distributed emails about it and everything. Basically, the family with no beliefs believes in Santa. But not God. If THAT isn’t something to ponder…

This Space Reserved for Monday's Post

There will be a post today. In fact,readers can pretty much bank on the likelihood of daily posts with fresh content and riveting photography all week long (although, my banking acumen should be taken into account when evaluating these statements.) However, this post, that you're reading here, isn't really today's post. It's just a bit of stand-in material, an alert, if you will, to be on the lookout for more meaty material later in the day.

So grab an iced tea, or perhaps a frappe. If you're feeling ambitious, or worse, on the clock, get some work done. If you're able, have an adventure. Then, stop back on by. With any luck, all this silliness will be replaced by today's Actual Post.

This message comes to you as a public service form Running With Letters. Statements contained therein may not be suitable for any purpose.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The (Elementary) School of Athens; or A Crash Course in Philosophy

School of Athens image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

So I am teaching a mosaics class at an area summer camp this week. Once my second and third grade students were settled in on their projects, the following conversation ensued:

Student 1: “I haven’t been able to listen to my own CDs in a long time. My mom has been making me listen to hers. They’re in French.”

Student 2: “French?”

Student 1: “Yep, my mom is from France.”

Student2: “We’re going to France this summer! My Dad is speaking at a conference.”

Me: “That sounds like fun. What does your dad do?”

Student 2: “He’s a philosophy professor at Renowned Local University. He doesn’t like it at all, though. He says the President needs to get a backbone. He speaks at lots of conferences because what he really wants is a new job.”

Student 1: “What’s philosophy?”

Student 2: “Let me give you an example: your brain gets switched with someone else. So your brain is in somebody else’s body, and their brain is in yours. Which kid does your mom want? The one that looks like you, or the one with your brain?”

Student 1: “The one with my brain, of course. That’s really me. “

Student 3: “OH MY GOODNESS! When did this happen?”

Me: “It has NEVER happened. That’s why it’s philosophy. Philosophers think a lot about “what if” and try decide what is right to do if different things ever happened.

Student 1: “I could sing a song from the French CD. But I’ll tell you about it first. The girl is looking for true love, but she can’t find it anywhere, except on the internet.”

Student 2: (jockeying to regain the attention) “Let me tell you something else about philosophy. We don’t have any beliefs.”

Student 1: (with concern) “No beliefs? What do you mean?

Student 2: (airily) “Oh, you know, we don’t believe in anything silly, like God, or anything like that.”

All Remaining Students: (gasp in unison , cover mouths) “You don’t believe in God?”

Student2: “Of course not. If there were God, we wouldn’t have had nine…umm…nine—When the war started.”

Me: “Nine Eleven. September 11.”

Student 2: “Yes! When was that?”

Me: “2001.”

Student 4: “That’s my birthday. I was one.”

Student 1: (with relief)“Oh, if that’s the only reason you don’t believe in God, I can tell you tell you not to worry. It was just people who did that.”

Student 2: (friendly, yet matter of fact tone) “It was about religion. I don’t believe in religion. I don’t believe in anything. Well, anything but the Big Bang.”

Student 1 “The Big Bang?”

Student 2: “It’s how we got here. We started as chimpanzees, you know.”

Students 1, 3, and 4 (in gasping asides) “Chimpanzees? Chimpanzees! Chimpanzees?

The students continue to murmur thing like, How could this be? Oh my goodness.

Student 1 (brightening): “Oh wait a minute! WAIT A MINUTE! I saw a movie at church about people like you! You probably won’t believe no matter what I say!”

Me: “Weeeell, it sounds like we have some different opinions here today. Student 2, I respect your thoughts. This is America, you know. I can respect your beliefs, even though they are different than mine.”

Student 1: (mouths, with sidelong glance in my direction) “You believe in God, don’t you?”

Me: (conspiratorial nod in her direction)

Student 1: “That’s what I thought.”

I learn that she goes to a church similar to mine, and tell her so. The remaining students continue to grill the philosopher.

Me: (over an undercurrent of questioning) “You know what I think? Too much philosophy this early in the morning can give us all a headache.”

Student 2, clearly loving the attention, continues to be peppered with murmured utterances such as, “You really don’t believe in ANYTHING?” My attention is diverted by the Camp Director’s entrance in the room. Adult pleasantries commence, but are quickly interrupted by a voice, perhaps student 3 or 4, addressing the Camp Director with urgency. “Is Santa real??” she demands, in apparent response to a group inventory about what entities in which one should believe .

The Director doesn’t miss a beat. “That’s debatable,” she said.

Student 4: (looks to me for confirmation)

Me: “Did you ever see Miracle on 34th Street?”

Student 4 (nods , solemnly)

Me: (with an air of finality)“”Then you know how much there is to debate about that.”

The students, having already decided where they stood on spiritual matters, turned back to piecing together their mosaics and began assembling their personal philosophies about the “what ifs” of Santa’s existence. The French song was never sung.

Friday, June 04, 2010

19 Cakes

The first one had to be perfect. Even the recipe said so. Three made from scratch layers sandwiching mounds of freshly whipped filling and covered in frosting hand whisked over ice, it required seventeen different ingredients, an intimidating array of kitchen appliances, and, as the recipe title—Perfect Chocolate Cake--indicated, a flawless result.

It wasn’t a cake a rookie ever should have attempted, but it was my daughter’s first birthday, and I thought that a big culinary win somehow upped my stock as a competent, nurturing, talented mother. Substandard results somehow seemed to indicate other deficiencies, as well.

In a tactical error, I had decided to do the baking in my grandfather’s kitchen, as we were in the middle of a move and I didn’t have any of the aforementioned fancy gadgets, anyway. The trouble started while layers one, two, and three were in the cooling stages and I began to whip the filling. It was a warm day, and the cream was a bit touchy. I managed to curdle the first two attempts, and I believe that the third carton of heavy cream that the corner market sold me was probably their last.

My grandfather, an accomplished baker, desperately wanted to get involved. I desperately wanted to do it myself. My grandfather dissolved into a stream of rapid-fire Italian. I muddled on, wondering how Perfect Chocolate Cake had gone so horribly wrong.

It’s hard to pin down exactly how it happened. It may have had something to do with the cream, but I think more likely it was the icing. A miscalculated gesture brought the entire process to a screeching halt as one of the cooling layers tumbled from the counter and on top of my daughter’s head.

I don’t remember her subsequent birthday cakes quite so vividly. In fact, there are some I can’t recall at all. The one thing about which I’m confident is that not a single one was anywhere near perfect in the culinary sense.

There was the pair of round cakes that I fashioned into “medals” for her Olympic-themed sixth birthday party, the one on which she woke up sick and I had to call her rather expansive guest list to postpone. I fretted over the fate of the cakes, which turned out fairly well, considering my demonstrated lack of skill with the icing medium. I wrapped them up and popped them in the freezer, worried about serving up week old frozen cake when The Games resumed. But my husband encouraged me to shelve my perfectionism alongside the cake, promising it would turn out just fine. And it did, almost perfectly, in fact. The guests appeared, the cake was served, and if anyone could tell it was a week old, it certainly wasn’t me. Perfect Frozen Cake was exactly right for birthday number six.

Then there was the party with the 70s theme, likely birthday number nine. The cakes that year were shaped like little punch bug cars, and they existed only because of a big cake mistake a few weeks earlier when my traditional Easter bunny cakes went traditionally ,wrong and my friend Kathy said they looked like punch bugs. So I made Kathy a pair of vintage vehicles for her birthday, a couple weeks later, and then for my daughter, a month after that. They were slightly lumpy, and I suspect the gel icing on the Flower Power paint job may have ran a bit, but it didn’t matter. Perfectly Repurposed Cake was the hit of the party.

I recall a handful of Perfect Cake re-dos, mostly in the single digit years, when I still felt some sort of pressure for the ordeal to become a time-honored tradition. I tried a reprise the year she turned 13, but by then she was able to explain to me that chocolate isn’t her favorite anyway. About that time she heard a story about a favorite birthday confection my friend Kathy, of punch buggy fame, enjoyed for some years. Dubbed “Icebox Cake,” the dessert wasn’t much more than layered graham crackers and pudding that hung out all afternoon in the freezer. Turned out that for birthday number 13, no cake at all was just Perfect.

Of other cakes, I remember less: I seem to recall a fish at five, and a poorly rendered music note for her fifteenth birthday. There was a disaster last year when her best friend got involved and a recreation of a recalled cake from another party was served, and turned out like a chunk of pure sugar. As if in unison, the assembled guests took a bite and immediately stampeded to the veggie tray. I have never seen anything like that at any party I have attended, ever, nor do I ever recall quite so much laughter at a birthday party. Chunk-O-Sugar Cake? Perfect.

Today, my baby turns 19. 1-9. I’m painfully aware that my era of making her birthday cakes may be drawing to a close. Although I hope and plan to be making her a cake every June 4th until she’s at least 70, I know life doesn’t always work that way. So much of our future is unclear from here. For now, she lives here, with me, in the home in which she’s grown, learned, loved, and been loved. But next year? And the next? It scares me to say I just don’t know.

What I do know is that no matter how cake 19 turns out, it is destined to be perfect. Not only because I’ve learned that fancy and complicated aren’t always the recipe for perfection, or because I’ve learned to find beauty in imperfection, or even because I've learned that good parenting has nothing to do with bakery-quality cakes—although all are true. Today’s cake will be perfect because at the time when I’m feeling so nostalgic, and scared, and uncertain about life with a grown up daughter, she asked me to make a cake that lets me hold on to her child-like side for at least another year. What my daughter wants most today is a Toy Story cake.

And all I can say is that idea most definitely has a friend in me. Perfect Pixar Cake—here we come!

Happy birthday, Allison. I love you!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Bank Notes

“You’re going to wind up like one of those people you hear about on the news,” my husband admonished. “”You know, the ones that die of starvation with millions of dollars stashed away in the bank.”

Banking, I’ll admit, is not my forte. In fact, I’m sitting right now with a heap of receipts and a mounting sense of wonder about why my financial institution seems to think that I have more money than I, myself, believe. I appreciate their confidence, but I find their glowing assessment unlikely, even though it is true that I’ve been having trouble spending money of late.

See, I ran out of checks a couple weeks ago, as well as those tickets in the back of the check book that let you take money from your account (Withdrawal forms? Subtraction slips?). I vaguely knew what to do, even though I can’t say I actually remember ever ordering checks. I seem to recall that they just kind of came along with the account. I think I picked a design from a brochure and then they just sort of showed up, and so many of them, too, that I couldn’t conceive of a time that that I’d run out. But either I reached the end of my supply or lost the box of refills—frankly either is possible—and didn’t really deal with the situation. At first, I didn’t worry much about it, because I had cash. But a week or so ago, I started getting a little nervous, because my billfold went empty and I had to dip into the reserves tucked away in the secret, hard-to-reach sector of my wallet. I then went to coins, but I’m sad to report that the sticky quarters I found swimming in a puddle of fast food runoff in the back of my van were the last of their kind.

Still, I’ve limped along pretty well with just my check card, a Visa-like magic wand that pulls funds right from my bank account, but is impractical or impossible to use in certain situations, like drive thru lemonade stops, or paying my son to clean the car. Now, folks tell me that this same card can be used to procure funds from an ATM machine, but I’m not buying it. The only time I ever attempted such a transaction, the machine sucked my card away with the speed and force of a sixth grader on a pixie stick. I had to reapply for a whole new pre-assigned pin number, which arrived along with grave instructions against storing it with my card, and no intelligence on how to change it to something I’d actually remember.

After ending up destitute in a JC Penny line inexplicably without my bank card, I finally decided that my next stop would be at the bank, to turn myself in.

Bank Teller: “Can I help you?”

Me: “ I sure hope so. See, I ran out of checks a couple weeks ago and also those papers in the back that I’m supposed to show you to get money out of my account. I ordered some more” (true story, my husband made me at some point after the pauper speech and before my last bailout.) “but they aren’t here yet and I’m not getting along very well anymore, without cash or checks.” (I skirted the issue of the bank card, as the tellers think this was solved by the new pin number they sent and I promptly lost due to their warning against storing it in the only logical place I could think of to stash it.)

Bank Teller: “Hmmm….May I see your ID? You still have that, don’t you?”

I passed my ID through the window. The teller nodded, and turned to the computer, checked with a colleague and finally handed me a little Make-Your-Own style check. I made it out for a modest amount of cash, and actually said “no,” when the teller asked me if I needed any more mocked-up checks, perhaps to pay bills. “Oh, no, this is good,” I said, for reasons that are unclear, as I gratefully clutched my cash in a manner not unlike the resourceful little old lady on It’s a Wonderful Life, as she withdrew from the floundering Savings and Loan only the $17.50 she really needed to get by.

Now, I don’t really know how long it takes for checks to get printed up and shipped off, but I can envision a full circle downward spiral if they don’t arrive in the next couple days. Immediately upon leaving the bank, I was forced to part with a full third of my funds in a drop box at the kiln. Then, my son hit me up for twenty bucks I apparently owe him for services rendered. A mere three hours out from my bank trip, and my coffers were already dangerously low. I’m roughly a dozen lemonades from an empty wallet, and I simply can’t return to the bank for more cash, as I kind of feel that this whole situation has joined the bank card in the realm of problems about which I can no longer appear at this particular financial institution.
Fortunately, my bank has 14 branches, which gives me hope that I’ll yet be able to cobble together a modicum of solvency while I await the shipment of checks.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Blues, Part 2

It took f-o-r-e-v-e-r for the kiln to cool down enough to check on the semi-distressed blue tiles I put in at first light this morning. I swung by the kiln after picking my son up from school. He wanted to stay in the car, but we're in the middle of an oppressive heat wave.

"We don't even leave the dogs in the car on days like this, Buddy. It's too hot," I explained.

Dutifully, he exited the car and followed me into the small garage studio in a friend's back yard. We opened the door and were immediately bowled over by a cloud of heat.

"I'd have been better off in the car, Mom," my son said. "I wouldn't bring the dogs in here."


I approached the lid...

...and slowly opened it, revealing:

The top row of what would prove to be beautiful tiles that were not only shinier, but richer in color. But for the time being, the heat forced a retreat. I returned after dinner, and oh-so-carefully removed the toasty tiles. That was three hours ago--and the box is still hot.

The Blues

One simple phone call yesterday afternoon left me overwhelmed by the blues: navys, royals, and other variegated shades, all highly anticipated, and none quite as I expected.

I waited impatiently all day for word that these azure tiles were ready to emerge from the kiln where they’d spent the holiday weekend intermingling with some yellows and limes and a few stray reds and tans.

As excited as I was to receive the citrus shades, there’s a mosaic crab with a looming deadline whose future depends on some fairly immediate indigo, sapphire, and navy. Besides, I’ve fired so many lemony hues, I’m seldom surprised by the results. But my blues? Coated with a less-than-familiar paint, every last one was a wild card. And every once in a blue moon, I get a bolt from the same hue when I open the lid of the kiln, post-firing. Yesterday was one of those occasions.
The yellows and greens didn’t disappoint: their true blue performance matched my expectations. But my experimental cobalts suffered from a distinct lack of shine, not unlike a wall sporting a fresh coat of flat paint when a high glossy sheen was anticipated.

Upon sight of the muted tiles, my hopes for finishing my crab by deadline immediately began to dissipate into the blue. Fortunately, my trusted consultant –who happens to own the kiln—taught me a new trick of the trade. It is evidently possible to add additional coats of glaze—liquid glass that goes on green, or perhaps pink, depending on the brand and melts into a hardened sheet of crystal-clear shine—and re-fire the lackluster tiles.

So I tiptoed out this morning amidst the cool tones of first light with my freshly glazed tiles and had the kiln loaded and firing again an hour before I’m typically out of bed.

Late this afternoon, I will once again lift the lid, with high hopes of revealing some high-gloss cerulean. Otherwise, I will be…well, blue.


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