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I don't intentionally skew what I share about my life, though I realize I am certainly more inspired by certain things (plants, pottery, Tajer) than by other things (exercise machines, my day job). But that doesn't mean they are not big or important or even meaningful parts of my life. The gym has been a place I've spent a lot of time the past few months. I started weightlifting when I was 13 so while I am perfectly comfortable in a gym, it's not my favorite place to get fitness in and I spend years, decades even, avoiding them. I utilize gyms more in periods of great need: needing to get greater results out of limited time to put in. Working a day job during winter days with short daylight hours makes it more difficult to get out and active. Having other priorities and dealing with confusing health issues over the past few years has put me at a fitness deficit, so I'm enjoying my time catching up with my body moving needs.

weights

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Power Balls

power balls snacks

For some years I've been making these easy and nutritious little snack balls to save on pricey snack bars, reduce packaging waste, and better control the quality of ingredients. If you have a food processor, you too can make these little treats. What goes in them can suit your preferences and what you have on hand.

What's your favorite snack bar and what does it contain? Look it's ingredients to get inspiration for making your own flavor. If your favorite bar contains ingredients that you don't have or wouldn't ever buy... you probably shouldn't be eating it!

power balls snacks

There is a lot of flexibility in the ingredients. The two main parts are: 1) nuts and/or seeds for protein and substance and 2) dried fruit as a sticky binder and for sweetness and flavor. Any additional ingredients add mouth feel, health benefit, or more sweetness or flavor. See sample recipes below, but this is something you can get creative with. You can be as simple and easy as just two ingredients such as cashews and dates, or get complex and pack the nuggets with superfoods.

I add the "dry" ingredients first, the nuts and seeds, plus any powdered additives or spices. Pulse lightly or process more thoroughly, that's a matter of preference for a smooth mouth feel or to maintain chunky-course nuts for a little crunch. Then add the "wet" ingredients, the dried fruits, oils, sweeteners, liquid extracts (e.g. vanilla, orange, stevia).

power balls snack blending

Some items blend better when chopped prior to putting in the food processor. For example, the mango slices I currently have are very dry and tough. Even though I cut them to smaller pieces with scissors before adding them, they jam up in the blade and I need to stop it and move things around several times until they get better incorporated.

power balls snacks

Process until combined and clumping together. If it still appears dry and doesn't easily roll into balls in your hand, more wet ingredients should be added and tasting it will give you a clue which direction to go. If it is not sweet enough for you, add more honey or maple syrup, or dried fruit that still contains ample moisture. If it is sweet enough, you can add more coconut oil or olive oil for more moisture, though if it's already appearing or feeling oily, do not go this route. If it feels too wet to hold it's form as balls, you can add more dry ingredients, nuts, chia seeds, dry banana chips, shredded coconut, powdered maca, spirulina, etc.

Form into balls with clean hands. They can be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks or freezer for up to six months. I like them less cold so take them out of the fridge prior to eating or leave a half dozen or so in a container on the counter for a couple days, they are not super perishable if kept sealed.

Tropical Mango

2 cups raw cashews
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup hemp seed
- - process, then add:
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 Tbsp bee pollen
2 cups chopped dried mango slices
1 cup dates
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp vanilla
- - roll in shredded coconut

Turkish Delight

1 cup raw pecans or almonds
1/2 cup pistachios
1/4 cup hemp seeds
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
- - process, then add:
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup dried figs
1/2 cup dates
1 Tbsp honey
(Olive oil is a good flavor addition here if more moisture is needed without adding sweetness, add just a drizzle at a time. Although I find the above combination usually releases a lot of oil on it's own.)

Chocolate Cherry

1 1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup raw or cold pressed cocao powder
1/4 cup hemp seeds
- - process, then add:
1/2 cup dates
1/2 cup dried cherries (tart, sweet, or bing
1/4 cup goji berries
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp maple syrup
- - roll in cocoa powder

power balls snacks

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Oiling Wood

wood cutting boards and bowls

With proper care, wood can last a lifetime or even many generations. Wood dries out in the air and shrinks and contracts with temperature changes and exposure to water. Over time, it becomes prone to cracking and splitting.

To prolong the life of your wooden items, follow these basic rules: 1) Do not put wood cutting boards, wood bowls, wood spoons, or wood-handled knifes or other implements in the dishwasher - wash these items by hand immediately after use. 2) Do not leave wood items submerged in the sink or keep your cutting board resting behind the sink in a puddle of water or where it will get splashed regularly (this is not good for bacterial safety as well). 3) Occasionally oil all your unfinished, bare wood.

It's recommended to oil cutting boards once a month or several times a year. Though the real need depends on frequency and conditions of use of the item as well as weather conditions where you live. I usually get to this task only once a year, and I usually remember in the winter, when air feels cold and dry and the nights are longer, giving me more time for inside chores. If I had expensive end-grain teak cutting boards (someday!), I would oil them more often than that. I also oil unfinished wood bowls, spoons, knife handles, as well as my carved wood earrings.

wood cutting boards and bowls

Make sure the wood items are clean and completely dry. Prepare your work surface and protect it if needed with towels or plastic. I place a couple layers of towels down on my countertop to protect the granite from oil stains while I use it as a work surface.

Use mineral oil (a distillation product of petroleum), beeswax, tung oil (oil from the nut of the tung tree, can cause an allergic response for some), walnut oil (again, avoid if you have allergies), linseed oil (use the raw oil, not boiled or treated which contain toxins or heavy metals), coconut oil, or another oil or blended product made for this purpose. Be sure you used a food-safe oil or product and do not use cooking oil since it will go rancid in the wood.

wood cutting boards and bowls

Use a rag or paper towel to rub the oil into the wood in the direction of the grain. Oil all sides of the item. If you have old dry cutting boards that have not been oiled for awhile, or ever, you will see an instant difference as the wood soaks up the oil and looks richer and more beautiful. The more it absorbs, the better, so let it sit, overnight or longer even.

wood cutting boards and bowls

If the wood still looks dry, you can rub more oil in. If the wood looks oily, shiny, like the oil is sitting on the surface and not soaking in, the extra oil can be wiped off with a rag. As you oil your wood items and you hadn't noticed before, you'll likely find out which ones are naked and which have a protective coating. My salad bowl set and one of my bamboo cutting boards came with a protective coating when new. That coating has been wearing off over the years so the cutting board is thirstier in the middle where it's been exposed by the knife. The parts of the board around the edges where it is still coated will not absorb the oil so need to be wiped off after this process. It makes me wonder what the coating is made of, and hope it's safe to eat! At some point in the future, I'll likely sand all the cutting boards to resurface them and remove stains, particularly the burn stain on my little one from setting a hot stove-top espresso maker on it.

Keep your wood looking beautiful and it last forever with just a little work to care for it.

wood cutting boards and bowls

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Blue Magazine Shelf

Blue magazine shelf

A couple years ago before I knew I was going to be remodeling a house and moving, I had designed and cut wood for a little magazine shelf for the bathroom. As we are getting projects completed and making space in the garage for more permanent functionality, I dug out the parts. Luckily it was a design that could also fit in the new bathroom space, so I decided I'd finish the project. More sanding was needed; then I stained the parts; assembled it with glue, clamps, and finishing nails; and protected it with a semi-gloss top coat.

Blue magazine shelf

Tadjer the cat is saying, "what do you mean you made something that I can't climb on?"

Blue magazine shelf

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Livingroom Shelf

Board for hanging keys

I got a piece of cherry board in order to make a place for hanging keys in the living room as well as a floating shelf for above the television.

Cut, routed, sanded, stained, painted a design with metallic paint, and finished with a top coat.

Board for hanging keys Livingroom floating shelf Livingroom floating shelf

How we got the board to "float" with invisible support is my secret technique. I may tell you about it if you ask me nicely.

Livingroom floating shelf

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Mudroom

Mudroom plans

The last piece of the kitchen remodel plan was to add a "mudroom" bench and cubby shelf between the kitchen pantries and the door to the garage. I measured, drew out plans, and went to the lumber store for red oak boards.

Mudroom parts

I did what cutting I could on the miter saw but had Rick rip a couple of the boards down long ways on the table saw. I'm still not brave enough to handle the table saw solo. Above are the boards cut up and laid out.

Mudroom

I sanded everything and routed the edges that would be exposed in the front. I glued and clamped two boards together to make the bench seat and stained all the wood before assembly. I assembled the bench shelfs and the upper shelf part before adding the protective top coats to everything. We put the bench supports in before installing the bench top in place.

Mudroom

The bottom cubbies are designed to fit different height boots and shoes, for example, snow boots on the bottom left, and rain boots on the bottom right, with other shoes and sandals in the shorter cubbies.

Mudroom

Wood supports were connected to the side of the pantry, with reinforcement attached on the inside as well, to hold up the bench and the upper shelf. I wanted a strong bench that didn't feel like it moved or creaked when being sat upon.

One of the most difficult parts to the project was getting the upper shelf to fit in the space which was not square and was narrower at the opening. Even with taking off the garage door molding it was a tricky fit. Rick ended up trimming the ends to get it to fit, which left it too narrow once installed. I think building that part in place would have made it a better fit.

Mudroom

The coat hooks were given to me by my sister who recently moved. I removed the hooks from one side of one, filled the holes where they had been, repainted, and it doubles as the support that holds up the left side of the upper shelves. I included a top board which is connected to the ceiling with spacers and served as a way to continue the crown molding from the pantry all the way around to give it a finished look.

Mudroom

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Old Man of the Mountain

We walked in mostly silence, my tension and irritation growing with the thought of needing to talk about what bothered me and it not being fully formed as words. I spotted an interesting small boulder in the mostly dry creek bed, slightly fish shaped, dark on it's bottom half and speckled with lichens on it's top half, with a horizontal white line segmenting the two regions. I wondered if that was somehow a waterline and climbed down to take a photo, glad for the distraction and a brief separation between him and I. If the line on the rock was a symbol of that separation, I was the dark base, normally submerged but vulnerably exposed.

Creek rock with lichen

I climbed back up the bank and we walked along together for a while. Eyeing the hay stuffed burlap tubes that lined the path and slopes for erosion control, he said, "Is that what vampires are made of?" I saw the burlap snakes were held in place by wooden stakes and immediately picked up his joke.

"That's what vampires turn into after being staked," I playfully corrected.

I noted a small change in how I felt. My thoughts having been redirected to fantasy, my heart felt a little lighter and my mood lifted just a bit. I found it interesting that it was so simple to shift my mood if I was moved to my imaginative brain. I ran part of the way up the trail but my energy level could not support the exertion so hiked the rest of the way up the rocky hill trail out of breath and heart beating too fast. Almost at the top, not feeling well enough to finish the climb, I turned back. At the bottom of the hill I sat on a bench, looking at the sky, trees, and bright green moss enlivened by the recent rain. After a moment of stillness the birds came back to life around me and hopped around in the tree limbs above and on the ground around me. A fantastic oak framed the sun low in the west.

Sun setting behind oak tree

He eventually came down from the hill, where he had paused to look out over the view, at the sun descending behind glowing clouds on the western horizon. He sat beside me. I told him how I was feeling moody and hormonal, probably hadn't had enough time to myself over the past holiday week, and that it felt awkward trying to make time together when I probably needed time to myself. He listened and seemed to understand without resistance or defensiveness.

Moss

I got up to more closely inspect two trees leaning at a 45 degree angle that were blanketed with happy moss. When I turned back around, he had wrapped usnea around his beard, hooked over his ears. It hung down toward his navel like the beard on the Old Man of the Mountain from the Betty Boop film.

"I'm the old man of the woods," he bleated in a gravely voice, "I live in this here forest to get away from all you whipper snappers driving machines and all that ruckus. Eat yer foods in yer fancy plastic bags and drink out of plastic tubes connected to your back."

We laughed big belly laughs. I tried to get some photos of him before the delicate moist usnea beard fell apart and we walked back to the car.

It's days like that I need to hold close in memory. I can not have enough appreciation for the amazing partner I have. He's patient and nonjudgemental of how I feel and he knows the subtle tricks to transforming the energy of a situation. Alchemy of emotion.

Rick with usnea beard

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Bees and Sunflower

Bees and Sunflower

I've been planting as many bee attracting plants as I can. This year the garden included seven varieties of sage, as well as rosemary, lavender, calendula, anemone, cilantro, three types of thyme, two types of yarrow, borage, dill, alliums, etc.... Last month while the sunflowers were at their peak, I took some shots of the bees in action.

Sunflower

I planted several types of sunflowers, some unlabeled, in order to use up old seed, so don't know what this was that grew. It was a branching type about 7 to 8 feet tall that produced multiple flowers 3 to 5 inches across. The bees loved it.

I've got a couple types of crocuses to put in the ground this fall (including the sativus variety that produces saffron) and hope to include rudbeckia, hollyhocks, and poppies in the flower garden next spring. I'm on a quest to continue to increase the varieties of herbs in my collection so also plan to add more varieties of sage and others. And at some point I'd like to keep honeybees.

Bees and Sunflower

Update 03/31/2015: Four of these photos are now available as bee cards in my etsy shop!

Bees and Sunflower Bees and Sunflower Bees and Sunflower

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Safari Garden Bench

Garden bench project

After it was left to me by a previous housemate, I had this garden bench sitting around and deteriorating for some years. I liked the cast iron sides but the wood had become rotten.

Garden bench project

From the underside, the old paint is visible where it hadn't been completely weathered away as on the top surfaces of the wood.

Garden bench project

I removed the wood slats by unscrewing the nuts and bolts that held them to the iron legs and the screws that held the center support to the wood. Many of the bolts were rusted and were aided in loosening with a spray of wd40.

Garden bench project

Once I got all hardware free, I cleaned all the metal with citra solv degreaser.

Garden bench project

I rinsed the hardware and put it in a container with CLR (calcium/lime/rust remover) to clean the rust from the bolts and screws.

Garden bench project

After soaking for a few hours and shaking them in the liquid occasionally, watching for tarnishing, I drained them and put them on towels to dry.

Once dry, I used masking tape around the threads of the hardware, lined them up on cardboard and spray painted the heads and nuts with a black iron rust-resistant paint. I spray painted the iron legs and other support hardware as well. The bench has lost a few bolts so I found a close match in the hardware store and painted them as well.

Garden bench project

When the paint was dry, I removed the masking tape and put the hardware on the new wood slats.

Garden bench project

I used poplar, which Rick routed the edges of and pre-drilled all the holes for the bolts. I stained the wood a "safari green" stain I had sitting around left over from a previous project. I used two coats of an exterior UV blocking spar urethane to protect the wood from water and the elements which I let thoroughly dry before assembling the bench.

Garden bench project Garden bench project

The metal support strip got screwed in under the center of the bench.

Garden bench project

This is not how the bench is to be typically used, but the pumpkins got harvested and needed a backdrop for their portraits.

Garden bench project

It's otherwise nice and stable and better than new.

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Workbench

Workbench project

Last summer, as we ripped walls out of our kitchen to make it bigger, we knew we had a plan for the pile of 2x4 studs getting removed. We wanted to send as little as possible to the landfill from the destruction and construction of our kitchen/bath remodel and garage building project. We even made a choice to not get a refuse dumpster and deal with each material as best we could, the rest fitting in our regular trash bin. We did upgrade to a larger size bin for a few months and ended up filling it full almost every week. It's amazing how much debris is created in construction so it was good to be conscious of what could be reused. The project produced a pile of lumber, used boards or new scraps, that we've been using for other projects since.

Those 2x4 studs, though, we had immediately earmarked for turning into a workbench to put in the new garage. As we removed them, we used a marker to circle places where nails were cut-off and still in the wood so that they would not end up causing trouble in a saw later. Last month, we finally got around to finishing the workbench project.

This is the top after staining, but pre-polyurathane.

Workbench project

Rick cut, glued and clamped, and sanded eight of the boards to make a butcher block type of top. He used other 2x4s and a piece of plywood to create the base and "back splash". My job on this project was the finish. For the top, I used a mahogany stain that I've had sitting around. It matches a stain I used for a couple large hanging shelfs in the garage that store camping equipment, the same stain I used when refinishing a couple stools that now fit under the workbench. After staining, I protected the top with a few coats of polyurethane. For the base, I used a grey paint that we had bought on clearance to try out on the exterior and ended up not using. It ended up matching the grey of a vintage side table we are using as a battery charging station. The only thing we bought to make this table was wood glue and the leveling feet. The coordinating colors in the garage have become red and grey!

Workbench project

We designed the workbench table to fit perfectly over two tool cabinets we got to organize tools and hardware. The cabinets are on wheels so that we can move them out from under the table and have more legroom and more work surface area.

Workbench project

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Tajar Mahal

Cat tower project

In March of this year we picked out a cat off Craigslist from a couple nearby who fosters cats rescued from high kill shelters. This little orange guy was considered unadoptable by Kings County Animal Shelter due to blindness in one eye. We renamed him Tajar (or Tajer or Tadger) and fell instantly in love with his sweetness. His visual disability does not slow him down and he's the most athletic and stretchy mini-beast I've known. We decided he needed a tower to climb, his first birthday gift for August 11th.

We sketched out our plan. We wanted it to include a bed level, a top lookout level, as well as multiple scratching surfaces and a spot for replaceable cardboard scratching pads since that was so far his favorite thing to scratch on. In order to not create more visual obstructions looking out to the garden, the height of the levels were determined by the heights of the window panes in the back door. We made notes of the tools we would need to borrow from the Santa Rosa Tool Library.

Cat tower project

I wanted to use repurposed or scrap materials as much as possible. We picked out the materials and began cutting, sanding, staining, and assembling.

Cat tower project

While watching TV, Rick and I took turns carefully wrapping cordage around the 4x4 post that was to become one of the back legs. We used a roll that I had sitting around of grass cord on the bottom section and hemp cord (the only material we purchased for this project) to complete the top section of the post. Our hands and forearms were tired and sore after wrapping that heavy post!

Very curious what we were creating, he needed to test it periodically throughout the project.

Cat tower project

Rick cut notches in the two back posts to hold the middle shelf in place. The right post is a length of rough-cut redwood that was removed from the exterior of the house during remodeling last year. The middle leg and step post are scraps of sapele mahogany left over from putting trim around the garage doors. I had sections of foam padding removed from a former loft bed headboard that I had made and then disassembled when moving. We got a new cardboard scratcher refill to put in the frame I cut into the bottom plywood level using a jigsaw tool. There are three adjustable feet screwed up through the bottom into the three supporting posts. The feet were removed from some garage tool cabinets in order to put wheels on them.

Cat tower project

I traced out patterns on newsprint to aid in cutting fabric we picked out from my crafts stash.

Cat tower project

In order to make them removable, washable or replaceable, I used velcro to attach the padding to the tower. One side of the velcro is sewn to the fabric wrap-around tabs, the other side glued to the underside of the plywood levels.

Cat tower project

The middle level has a contoured padding for a bed. We picked out some batik fabric I acquired in Bali.

Cat tower project

Tajer gets very upset when he sees birds through the window, and does vicious damage to the feather toy we play with, so I joke that he hates birds. As a poke at him we centered the birds on his bed.

He doesn't seem to mind.

Cat tower project

We are all very happy how it turned out and how well he uses it, all the sleeping and scratching surfaces, as well as actually climbing from the floor up the cord wrapped post to the top level as a more adventurous route up.

Cat tower project

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Backyard Breakfast

fresh eggs and potato breakfast

Breakfast the other morning was 99% fresh from the backyard: eggs, red potatoes, garlic, miner's lettuce, nasturtium flowers, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme... everything but the black pepper and sea salt. Somedays, all the work really pays off!

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PNW Roadtrip: OMSI

dire wolf

While passing through and visiting in Portland, we had a couple hours to explore so visited the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. We had a blast playing with the interactive exhibits, learning about LASERs, solving puzzles, and getting so caught up that we missed our planetarium show.

heat patterns paleontologists

Paleontologists hard at work. The one on the left was actually very friendly and willing to answer questions. It was incredible to watch them carefully grinding away stone to uncover fossilized bone. The talkative Paleontologist volunteer was working on uncovering, out of a single solid chunk, a skull and other bones that once belonged to an aquatic beast that resembled the loch ness monster.

I love this beautiful 150 million year old Mesozoic proto-bird.

150 million year old mesozoic proto-bird industrial connect four with robots

We played "Connect Four" using robot arms. Then the robots "danced" for us and showed off their precise articulation.

The cool, geeky tiles in the restroom had science, chemistry, paleontology, and mechanical themes.

bathroom tiles

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Spring 2014

blood peach blossom

I love springtime and the life that bursts forth, and it's especially exciting to experience the first spring in a new place. Things I didn't know were there have gloriously revealed themselves. New plantings and dormant wood begin to show vigor. Sleeping bulbs reincarnate, expressing such incredible beauty from a brown lump that was hidden away in darkness months before.

blood peach blossom

Indian blood peach blossoms foretell a bountiful summer crop.

lilac

These lilacs smelled lovely and have the prettiest color.

tulip

Tulips sure can make sexy photos.

calendula

Calendula is a plant I always save seeds from, as well as let spread themselves. These seeds were collected from my last house from plants grown from seeds acquired from the Mendocino Permaculture seed exchange. The petals of calendula flowers add color to salads and the flower heads have many medicinal uses.

star of bethlehem

This "star of bethlehem" was an impulse buy in a nursery this spring and made a perfect addition to the understory for our largest olive tree, an area of the front yard now dubbed "Little Bethlehem".

hyacinth

I planted these hyacinths in the late fall. Though a enthusiast of bulbs, this is a new one for me and I was surprised by how well they did along the front path.

columbine flower

Columbine that somehow survived under the apple tree while dormant and we did landscaping, digging things up, moving things around, and planting of a new understory and apple tree guild. I'm happy to see it there as I love the flowers.

sweet pomegranate flower

Flowers from the 'sweet pomegranate' tree that's been moved twice in the past year, first dug up and potted to be moved away. Though now it's back were it was before and with a trellis to snuggle up to on the warm south wall of the house, as well as a new 'Arianna pomegranate' friend. It has recovered beautifully and has dozens of blossoms.

Pincushion Flower

Scabiosa caucasica 'Fama Blue' "Pincushion Flower". Rick picked this one out at a nursery this winter, though we had no idea what it would look like, only that it was drought tolerant. Such interesting flowers and it seems to be doing well in the dry, hot front yard.

salsify flower

Salsify reseeds itself invasively in the front yard. I've experimented with eating the roots which are supposed to have an oyster-like flavor, and are tasty fried in butter and garlic. The chickens like it's greens. Though their latex sap stains everything and I prefer to keep this plant from propagating.

anemone flower

Anemone, another beautiful new flower for me this year. I'm trying them out in the front yard but may need to move them to an area that will receive more frequent irrigation.

three chicken eggs in grass

What is more iconic of springtime than eggs? Here's one from each of our three chickens, happy that the days have been lengthening.

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Fish in a Bottle: Seahorse

sea horse, fish in a bottle sea horse, fish in a bottle

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Vaux's Swifts

fennel

In September, 2012, Rick surprised me on a date by taking me to Rio Lindo Adventist Academy in Healdsburg to witness a natural phenomenon. We arrived before dusk and found the building of focus. A dozen or two people were already gathering, some with folding chairs and snacks. Rick didn't tell me what was about to happen, just that an old brick building with a large chimney was to be the focal point. We explored the back of the building, the south-west corner, where there were no other spectators. I'm an avoider of crowds, but also am drawn to sunlight facing lighting when I have a camera in hand. We noticed that there was a large ravine behind the school, between the hills, and that the billions of flying insects that filled the air were very visible in the setting sunlight.

We also found an old rusty truck among the weeds while we waited for the sun to sink lower.

rusty truck rusty truck

A few small swifts appeared, and suddenly hundreds. After a few minutes the air began to fill with thousands of the birds, swirling and vortexing through the sky.

sky of vauxs swifts vauxs swifts going into chimney

A merlin, predator bird, attacked the swarm and I heard a thud a couple feet from me.

dead vauxs swift vauxs swifts going into chimney

After the last bird was tucked away in the chimney, Rick and I explored closer to find out if we could hear them inside, though we couldn't. Everyone else had left and we were alone in the dark, knowing that the chimney behind us contained ten's of thousands of vaux's swifts.

ari at chimney ari at chimney ari and rick at chimney

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Winter Pole Beans

dried pole bean

These photos are from a year ago (I did not plant pole beans this year during the summer of house remodel and moving!). I love the look of dried plants in the winter, after they have served their time, spent their last energy, grown their seeds, and retired to leave the next steps to the fate of their offspring. These "Cherokee Trail of Tears" purple pole beans were grown from seeds I saved the year before, from plants grown from seeds I saved the year before that, and I hope these plant's seeds will still be viable for this coming year.

dried pole bean

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Blueberry Flowers

blueberry flower

We planted four "Southern Highbush" blueberry plants in January, and a couple have been flowering. We also planted over two dozen alpine strawberry plants around them as an understory, so we're looking forward to many berries of the future!

blueberry flower blueberry flower

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Sikkim Cucumber

sikkim cucumber

While growing up on a little hobby farm in west Petaluma, my family had a friendly acquaintance from down the road who we'd hire to mow the field. Herman the hermit, he was called, lived in a small part of a big dilapidated farmhouse. The rest of the house was relegated to storing either stacks of old newspapers or piles of deer antlers. I remember standing among the antlers in a large upstairs room and looking out at the tops of grass that reached the second story window.

In Herman's modest sitting room was the wood stove in which he burned newspapers and on top of which he cooked his meals. He lived a frugal life, though, while he may have been known as a hermit, he by no means was a recluse. His neighbors knew him well as a friendly and giving man. I'll always remember his generosity, the boxes of chocolate around holiday time, and summertime hive trays of honey he brought over to put on a cookie sheet, slice out the dripping comb, and fill whatever empty jars we had around. Pinned on the wall around his wood stove was a collection of newspaper clippings of him with his award-winning pumpkins of monstrous size. Wandering out into his garden was like going through a miniaturizing portal, that is, you would feel shrunken in comparison to the size of the plants and produce surrounding you. It's true I was a little person at the time, but I did have some experience with what was a usual size for such things. His pumpkins of unusual size must have made an impression on me, as I still have a fascination with vegetables that are strange or larger than what you'd normally see in the market, where homogeneity and shelf-life are the chosen characteristics.

How that intrigue influences my garden now, is in my choosing of seeds. It combines with my passion for rare varieties of heirloom vegetables. This is a "sikkim" cucumber I started in the spring from a Baker Creek seed and grew in my new backyard. It surprised me finding it hidden in the crowded disorderly jungle there. Having been focused on remodeling the inside of the house in order to move, I had thrown all my starts into one planter box just to get them in the ground, with not much care for each one's needs. I'm excited for the enormous "candy roaster" squashes that have just about taken over the place!

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Bedside Table Refinish

purple bedside table

I had bought this bedside table a few years back from a thrift store. It had some water damage (cup rings) and other wear in the finish so wanted to give it a new look.

bedside table with finish partially sanded off

It was a lot of work sanding the old finish off, especially in all the corners.

bedside table with stain and painted designs

After the finish was completely removed, I stained the inside, sides and under-top, with a yellowish orange color and the rest purple I mixed from a couple colors I had on hand. I painted a bronze design on it, then gave it a couple clear coat layers for protection.

bedside table with stain and painted designs bedside table with stain and painted designs

The sanding was a lot of work and took some time – as I had to keep recharging my sander batteries – but I had a lot of fun with the painting on it. The metallic design turned out subtle, showing better at some angles than others, and I like the mystery of that... and how the inside designs are mostly hidden.

purple bedside table

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Spring 2013

bird wild garlic

Wild garlic (Allium triquetrum) flowers

wild garlic rosemary flowers

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) flowers

daffodil arugula flower

Arugula (Eruca sativa) flower

Muscari

Grape hyacinth (Muscari)

Boxelder Bug

Within the past few days, hundreds or thousands of these Boxelder Bugs (Boisea trivittata) have suddenly gathered in my backyard. I tried to get the chickens to eat them, but they turned up their beaks to the crunchy critters. Today we noticed the bugs are covering the south facing walls of our house with eggs.

Reading up on them, I'm not too worried about them messing up my garden since they are pretty specialized in their diets, preferring boxelder trees, though they could do damage to my apples, pears, or plums later on.

Boxelder Bug Boxelder Bug

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HDR Experiments: Trees

hdr sunset trees hdr sunset trees hdr sunset trees

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HDR Experiments: Coast

coleman valley road coleman valley road coleman valley road coast coast coast coast coast coast

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Laccaria and Hygrocybe Drawing

Mushrooms

Started this drawing at SOMA (Sonoma County Mycological Association) Camp in January and finished it up last month: Laccaria amethysteo-occidentalis and Hygrocybe punicea.

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Fish in a Bottle

Fish jars

In Mexico, I couldn't take photos of the fish underwater while snorkeling, but I was inspired to draw them.

Fish jars

Butterfly fish. We made good friends (or something) with a juvenile one of these. It lived in a pool right at the spot on the beach we used to go in and out of the water. It would chase me and nibble my legs. So adorable and freaky at the same time.

Fish jars

Needle fish. I spotted one of these swimming spookily near the surface just beyond my peripheral vision (which isn't much with a snorkel mask on) and it caught me off guard. It was so obviously watching us and was nearly invisible in the water. I think I would see these from the beach as well, jumping out of the water and flying a ways. They are actually much longer and skinnier than this rendition but I drew it for this bottle. I really could have used an even taller thin bottle. I've had this bottle for years but when I saw it after returning from Mexico, it reminded me of that fish and that gave me the idea to do this.

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Mexico Trip 2012 - Casa del Corazon

Casa del Corazon

For our Yucatan Mexico trip in November 2012, we stayed on Soliman Bay, along what is known as the "Riviera Maya", at Casa del Corazon ("house of heart") in their large, cosy, and fully equipped "bungalow 1".

Casa del Corazon Casa del Corazon

The jaguar eating a heart is depicted in a stone carving at Chichén Itzá, and reproduced in art throughout the area. It is thought to be a Maya symbol of re-birth and power.

Casa del Corazon Casa del Corazon Casa del Corazon Casa del Corazon

The cloth in the right corner hides a television and dvd player which can be used to be entertained from a library of dvds.

Casa del Corazon

The main downstairs bedroom has a kingsize bed, desk, closet and dresser area, and a pass-code safe for keeping valuables.

Casa del Corazon Casa del Corazon Casa del Corazon Casa del Corazon Casa del Corazon

The curved wall within the bathroom is the shower: a step in from either side, tile, open shower that was really nice to use. It's a spacious and light full bathroom.

Casa del Corazon Casa del Corazon

Up the interior stairs is a loft with two twin beds.

Casa del Corazon Casa del Corazon

The kitchen had everything we could have needed for any length of stay.

Casa del Corazon

A tile patio behind the bungalow had chairs for lounging and outside dining. It was the perfect place for breakfast each morning.

Casa del Corazon

Up the outside spiral stairs is a second bedroom with a queen-size bed and beautiful domed brick ceiling, as well as a second bathroom.

Casa del Corazon Casa del Corazon

For more photos of the beach and bay behind our casita, check out my Bay Life post.

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Mexico Trip 2012 - Lake Macanxoc

Lake Macanxoc

A lake across the street from the the Coba ruins entrance.

Lake Macanxoc Ari and Rick at Lake Macanxoc Ari at Lake Macanxoc Sunset at Lake Macanxoc

Phoenix rising! Sunset over the Yucatan from Lake Macanxoc. Our last evening in Mexico.

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Mexico Trip 2012 - Bay Life

Pelicans

So peaceful.

Beach chairs

Our casita was right on the beach and so we took advantage of that every moment we could (while not away sightseeing or cooking in the fully equipped bungalow kitchen), and snorkeled, swam, played with fish, read in hammocks, walked on the beach, and watched the pelicans fishing.

Kayaks on beach

Kayaks and snorkels for our use.

Snorkeling Rick Snorkeling Rick

About as graceful as a pelican's dive.

Rick and pelican

The pelicans liked to hang out with Rick while he swam.

Beach chairs

Our slice of beautiful bay. That's Rick and a pelican out there. That green stuff under the water, sea grass, was full of fish and other bay life.

Pelican Pelican Pelican Pelican Pelican Pelicans Pelican

A male and female pair seemed to share the beach and fish with us.

Pelican Pelican Pelican Pelican Pelican Pelican

They made a funny splash diving for fish.

Pelican Rick and Ari Ari in hammock

Reading a good book. Kicking back in hammocks under our beach palapa.

Rick in hammock Bungalow from hammock

Nuestra casita. Being on our own private beach was so incredible.

Hermit crab

Giant hermit crab lived in a hole by the back door.

Hermit crab Gecko

There were cute geckos inside the bungalow and out. I chased this one around the trunk of one of the many coconut trees around the patio.

Gecko Osprey

I think this was an osprey flying over our beach.

Osprey Flock of egrets

Flock of egrets....

...and a flock of little sand piper birds.

Sand birds Sand birds Sand birds Sand shells

The white sand was made of tiny shell and coral particles.

Beach chairs Beach cat Beach dog

Chile, one of the two resident dotsons.

Caribbean sunrise

Sunrise on our last morning.

Caribbean sunrise Caribbean sunrise Caribbean sunrise

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Mexico Trip 2012 - Chichen Itza Ruins

Chichen Itza Ruins

The pyramid of Kulkulkan/Quetzalcoatl. A temple that has become very iconic this year!

Our birthday trip to Chichen Itza! While it has some of the most spectacular and well maintained structures, thousands of ghostly columns, and carvings everywhere... the site was busy with tourists and obnoxious peddlers of souvenirs making jaguar screams.

Chichen Itza Ruins

The serpent's tongue.

Chichen Itza Ruins

Columnata Oesta.

Chichen Itza Ruins

Templo de los Guerreros.

Chichen Itza Ruins Chichen Itza Ruins

Columnata Norte.

Chichen Itza Ruins

There are so many carved stones just laying around this site.

Chichen Itza Ruins

Jaguar, eagle, and snake.

Chichen Itza Ruins Chichen Itza Ruins Chichen Itza Ruins Chichen Itza Ruins Chichen Itza Ruins

This building overlooks the ballcourt (which we didn't get to see since we were made to leave for closing).

Chichen Itza Ruins

The top of the tower overlooking the ballcourt.

Chichen Itza Ruins

El Castillo, as the sun sets.

Chichen Itza Ruins

Guillo el Gigante y su Castillo. (Rick the Giant and his castle.)

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Mexico Trip 2012 - Temozon y Valladolid

Temozon

On our birthday we passed through Temozon on the way to Ek' Balam and I took some "drive by" photos from the car. We stopped in Valladolid for lunch before checking out the ruins at Chichen Itza, and then headed back to Valladolid for our birthday dinner and tres leches cake.

Temozon Temozon Temozon Temozon Temozon Temozon Valladolid Valladolid Valladolid Valladolid Valladolid

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Mexico Trip 2012 - Ek' Balam Ruins

Iguana Iguana

Our birthday was spent traveling deep into the Yucatan to visit some of the more distant ruins sites, starting with this one.

Ek Balam Ruins

The entrance arch that leads to the city.

Ek Balam Ruins

Side view of the entrance arch.

Ek Balam Ruins

The ballcourt, completed in 841 CE.

Ek Balam Ruins

The Oval Palace, ceremonial structure.

Ek Balam Ruins

A northward view of the the El Trono temple and other structures from atop the Oval Palace.

Ek Balam Ruins Ek Balam Ruins

These walls can't keep me out.

Ek Balam Ruins

Winged warriors.

Ek Balam Ruins

A view of the other structures from atop the temple El Trono ("The Throne"). It's thought that Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' (who ruled during the height of the city, from 770 to 797 or 802 CE) is buried inside.

Ek Balam Ruins

Southern view from atop the temple. It's sweaty work climbing all these stairs.

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Mexico Trip 2012 - Tulúm Ruins

Tulum

Temple of the Frescos

Tulum wall

The pre-Columbian city of Tulúm was built on a bluff, surrounded by walls on three sides and protected by coastal cliffs on the east. It was a port city, where land and water routes met for trading, and it was an important site for the worship of the Diving or Descending god.

During our visit, iguanas populated the ruins. One kept watch perched over the entrance in the wall:

Tulum Tulum

This was the second site we visited on our trip and found it much more crowded than Muyil with tourists from all over the world. The structures were off limits to visitors.
Except iguanas...

Tulum

So many iguanas sunbathing on the ruins!

Tulum Tulum Tulum Tulum

The whole area of the walled city had expansive manicured lawns, with modern Maya weed-whacking and mowing as we strolled around on the designated paths.

Tulum

Templo del Dios Descendente (Temple of the Descending God) and Pyramid El Castillo (The Castle)

Tulum

A dark little cenote under the structure above, the fresh water source for the ancient Maya of this village.

Tulum

Templo Dios del Viento (God of Winds Temple) to the north.

Tulum Tulum

The huge iguanas lounging everywhere seemed to have no fear.

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Mexico Trip 2012 - Muyil/Chunyaxché Ruins

Muyil

The first Maya ruins site we visited was one off the beaten path about 30 minutes south of Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico, located within the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. We had the place to ourselves as we strolled along the sacbe to the castillo y templo.

Muyil

The steps of the castle were roped off from people climbing them, but we could otherwise get up close to the structures. This ended up being one of my favorite ruins sites to visit because of the quiet peacefulness, just us and the forest around us. Other than the park employee at the entrance taking the state fee (about $3.25 per person), there were no venders selling trinkets.

Muyil Muyil Muyil Muyil termite tree

Everywhere we went around many of the ruins sites, we came across termite nests on the ground or in trees with tubes running along the branches. Other than our hike along the designated paths, we did not hike into the jungle much but I did spot one fungi growing on a stump.

yucatan mushroom Muyil

It's thought the Maya began building the site around 300 BC and populated it until the early 1500s, around the time of the Spanish conquest of the Yucatan. The ancient Maya had dredged a narrow canal system from the surrounding lagoons for about 12 kilometers to gain access to the Caribbean.

A couple of the structures, such as the temple, were unprotected and open to climb on and explore.

Muyil hibiscus

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Science = Labeling

I'm annoyed to have come across multiple articles online calling Proposition 37 "anti-farmer" or "anti-science"... and some saying that 37 is a farce because "100% of what we eat is genetically modified," and lump breeding and hybridization into that category.

I hope most Californians are not falling for these lies and the spread of ignorance.

If you read the text of Prop 37 you'll see it requires labeling food that is "'Genetically engineered", specifically meaning "food produced from an organism or organisms in which the genetic material has been changed through the application of" various "in vitro nucleic acid techniques" or by the "fusion of cells, including protoplast fusion, or hybridization techniques that overcome natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers..."

It also states definitions to correct the existing problem with "misbranding of Genetically Engineered Foods as 'Natural'".

While it's true that GM foods have been eaten for a couple decades and the number approved for consumption has been increasing, it's still only a relatively few plants that are grown this way. It's just that they are the plants (corn and soy) which are in at least three-quarters of the processed foods on the grocery shelf... a market full of improperly tested scientific experiments. People should have the right to know, and decide if they wish to be willing participants of the trial.

It seems to me that the opposers of Prop 37 are anti-science. Science is all about the exploration of truth. Monsanto and other manufactures of these genetic experiments (the money behind the opposition), are not properly using science and preforming longitudinal or epigenetic studies. Their interest is not truly scientific, and it is not sympathetic to the farmers, their interest is completely pro-profit.

If Prop 37 was "anti-science" it would be banning the study of genetic modification, not simply requiring labeling of it's products. Really, Prop 37 is pro-science... it's a response to the growing irresponsible use of technology and non-scientific methodology.

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Buckingham Chicken Tractor

chicken tractor

A "chicken tractor" is a portable, bottomless chicken cage that allows the farmer to move the chickens around a garden or pasture, giving the chickens access to fresh greenery and insects while the chickens give the soil fertilizer and earth tilling footwork. It can be a simple poultry mesh box to hold roasters (for meat chickens, eaten young) or a more elaborate coop containing roosts and nest boxes for housing egg-layers. My plan was for the latter, as I am yet to commit to the work of poultry processing, and wish to host a few hens to benefit my garden while converting proteins in the garden that I don't wish to eat – such as weeds, weed seeds, insects, and snails (I did try homegrown escargot) – into proteins I like to eat: eggs.

I sketched out my design using Illustrator, and calculated material needs. The plan was designed around a few limitations: 1) I wanted it to fit in my existing garden planter box, 2) I didn't want to cut or patch together the metal roofing, so sized the design to utilize two sheets of pre-cut roofing (scavenged from a previous chicken shed), 3) I wanted it to be light enough to move, and 4) I wanted it to be big enough to fit at least two or three adult hens comfortably.

chicken tractor plans

We cut all the 2x2 frame wood at once, keeping them labeled with sticky notes, and painted them; first with primer, then with low luster exterior paint in a "Buckingham Gardens" green. The woman at the paint counter in the local hardware store asked, while adding the color, "are you watching the Olympics?" I hadn't been (and still have not) so it took me a moment to make the connection from her question to the paint color. I find it appropriate that the chicken palace be named in honor of the 2012 Summer Olympics, as building it encompassed all my free time during the London games.

chicken tractor wood chicken tractor construction chicken tractor construction chicken tractor construction chicken tractor construction chicken tractor construction chicken tractor construction chicken tractor chicken tractor chicken tractor chicken tractor chicken tractor chicken tractor chicken tractor chicken tractor

Eleanor was taken at night, from her bamboo jungle roost at her downtown Santa Rosa home, where she was living a free, although lonely, re-wilded life – at risk of being eaten by raccoons, hawks, and neighbor dogs (as all her sisters had been) – and relocated to Buckingham.

A peek in the nest box the next afternoon....

chicken tractor

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Slow Food - an Escargot Experiment

snails snails snails

There comes a time when every gardener asks the question, "is this escargot? Can I eat this garden snail who eats my lettuce?" And then most gardeners are repulsed by the thought and try to put it out of their mind. The answer I found some years ago is yes, they are indeed edible. I think it was in my mid-twenties that I first attempted a homegrown escargot experiment, though after keeping them in a terrarium with cornmeal for a week, I got grossed out and fed the whole mess to the ducks.

This spring when the rains brought a batch of snails out in my chard patch, I decided to try again. This time, armed with the power of internet, I did some research to be sure it would be a safe experiment, rather than rely on hearsay alone. The important things to do are: cleaning them, inside and out, with a controlled diet, then purging them and getting them to dry out by making them fast.

In the evening, when the snails are active, collect them. Because of the amount of work that goes into this culinary project, even a dozen snails turns out to not be a lot of food. Collect a couple dozen or more. Be sure you haven't left snail bait out for them before you do this; remember, you are eating them instead of poisoning them. Though the purging process will remove anything harmful they've eaten, plant matter or otherwise.

escargot makings

Use a large container with holes punched in the top or tightly covered with breathable cloth (they are escape artists and can quickly cover a surprisingly great distance across your kitchen despite their reputation of slowness). I used a gallon-size glass jar, but a glass terrarium, lidded bowl, bucket, or anything that will keep them contained will work.

I used a glass of water to act as a vase to hold fresh chard and parsley. Cucumber, fennel, or lettuce is also used. In addition to greenery, I added a pile of corn meal at the bottom of the jar. Some people use cornmeal alone.corn meal The cornmeal feeds them and is an effective internal scrubber, cleansing their digestive tract. You'll see the dietary transition in the drastic color change of their long curly poops.

Every couple days, I washed out the container, rinsed and/or replenished the greenery, and added fresh water. After a week I removed the greenery and left them with just cornmeal and a shallow dish of water to be sure they were all eating only cornmeal and getting throughly cleaned. After a few more days, I removed the corn and water, washed them and the jar, and put them back for a fast of a few last days. At this point, some people put the snails in a wood crate or canvas bag which they hang in a dry place. This further dries their slime production. I read that when the snail has retreated into it's shell and sealed itself in with a dry crust, it is ready to cook. I, however, did not wait for that point, and many instructions online do not mention it. I wondered at meal time, however, if they would have turned out less slimy if I had taken that step.

escargot jar

After a total of two weeks, it was dinner time (slow food indeed!). While bringing a pot of water to boil, we washed the snails and put them in a metal sieve, then dunked them in the boiling water, stired them around for one minute, rinsed them with cold water, and removed them from their shells. If they are large and have dense shells, they can be pulled out of the shell easily with a small sharp pronged implement such as an escargot fork or pickle fork. Smaller snails or those with delicate shells will break apart. Rinse well to remove shell pieces and slime.

washing a snail

Lightly sauté diced garlic in butter; add white wine, thyme, salt, and pepper; bring back to bubbling and add the snails; cook well.

escargot frying

I added chopped fresh parsley after removing the snails from the heat and we ate it atop French bread (of course!) though I've come across recipes online for turning them into filling for stuffed mushrooms, or returning them to the larger shells or purchased decorative shells, topping them with cheese and baking. I thought it was particularly appropriate to eat them as an appetizer before fresh greens: lettuces, baby chard, borage and calendula flower salads... things from my garden that the pests would have been munching on if I hadn't eaten the little guys/gals first.

escargot meal

Overall, the experiment was a success (my brave boyfriend and I survived and were nourished by their proteins) but the amount of effort it took to make a tiny serving didn't seem worth it. I'm conscious of the imbalance that can happen in a vegetable/flower/herb garden ecosystem when animals are not allowed in. I don't think it's the best method to poison pests and would rather utilize them. Chickens and ducks make great use of snails, slugs, and insects, converting their proteins into meat and eggs that are more efficient for me to collect and cook.... and I think I'll leave it to the poultry.

snails

Snails really are such creepy, gross, and beautifully fascinating creatures!

snails

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Spiral Baby Blanket

spiral baby blanket

A baby blanket crocheted for my boyfriend's sister's unborn boy, with alpaca wool. I based it on a pattern by Cthulhu Crochet and Cousins which used two colors of yarn. Adding a third color completely changed it, and it took me some time, and several unsatisfactory starts, to get it going well. I love how soft it is and it's optical effect. I hope he likes it!

spiral baby blanket side spiral baby blanket close-up spiral baby blanket center

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Homegrown Radishes

radishes

french breakfast, helios, purple plum, and hailstone
Spring is my favorite time in the garden and spring crops are some of the easiest to grow.
Sometimes I manage to get a photo of the precious jewels from my garden before I eat them or give them away!

radishes

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New Clothesline

clothesline

I put up a new clothesline as a participant of the 350 Home & Garden Challenge.

clothesline clothesline

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The Toothpaste Experiment

I've been working on perfecting homemade toothpaste for the past 14 months, experimenting with recipes and seeing how they pass the taste test, dental checkups, how well the paste sticks to the toothbrush (if it's too thick it's difficult to get a clump to stay on the bristles heading to your mouth), and how the consistency holds up on the shelf over time.

Most store bought toothpastes contain harmful substances such as sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium fluoride, artificial colorings, and antibacterial agents. Even though toothpaste is not meant to be ingested, these substances can be absorbed within seconds through the skin on the lips, or through the mucosal lining inside of the mouth which is about as efficient at absorbing as any other part of the digestive system.

Kitchen alchemy - toothpasteMy experiments only included ingredients that do more than just clean your teeth, they do it naturally and safely, and every one of them is also an edible food:
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) whitens teeth, fights bad breath, and protects tooth enamel, but if you accidentally swallow it, it neutralizes stomach acid, kills the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections, and dissolves kidney stones.
Coconut oil is a highly nutritious food that has antimicrobial properties when used in the mouth for brushing or oil pulling.
Sea salt can polish teeth and help with gum disease, and if ingested, it is alkalizing to the body and contains necessary trace minerals.
Kitchen alchemy Xylitol fights cavities by reducing decay-causing bacteria in saliva, it possesses a cleaning action, and adds a mildly sweet flavor. It also acts against some bacteria that cause ear infections in children.
Stevia is a sweetener that inhibits the growth and reproduction of bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay.
Peppermint oil has numerous health benefits and has antiseptic properties in your mouth removing bad breath, fighting bacteria, and helps toothaches.
Oregano oil is especially useful for those who have gum disease, canker sores, or toothaches, it is a powerful antibiotic and pain-reducer, and it can help tighten gums.
Clove oil is both analgesic and antibacterial, a strong numbing agent for tooth pain, and can add a great flavor to the mix.
Vegetable glycerine is the least of the beneficial ingredients but it naturally adds moisture and sweetness.

Toothpaste Recipe #1

Kitchen alchemy - toothpaste6 Tbsp Baking Soda
2 Tbsp Sea Salt
2 tsp Xylitol
3/4 tsp Stevia Extract Powder
2 Tbsp Vegetable Glycerine
1/2 tsp Oregano Oil (blend)
6 drops Pepermint Oil (pure)

Mix the dry ingredients and then add the wet.

This toothpaste was very salty and gritty. I decided with my next version I'd leave out the salt. Over time on the self the liquid separated. The flavor was herby from the oregano, though if the salt hadn't overpowered it, it would have been nice.

Toothpaste Recipe #2

Kitchen alchemy - toothpaste3 Tbsp. Baking Soda
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp Xylitol
3/4 tsp Stevia Extract Powder
2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
26 drops Clove Oil (pure)
14 drops Pepermint Oil (pure)
1 tsp. Water

Mix the dry ingredients and then add the oils and mix well until it forms a paste. Add water for a wetter consistency.

Before I added water to this mix, the dense paste seemed to keep from separating the way the first recipe did. After adding the water, the consistency was better, it stuck to the bristles on my toothbrush on it's way to my mouth, but sitting in the jar, the water separated out a little.

refilling toothpaste tubeThe flavor of this one was really good. Coconut oil can cause a greasiness around the mouth if you are a messy brusher... good thing coconut oil is great for the skin. Store-bought toothpastes would irritate my lips and the delicate skin around my mouth, this stuff moisturizes it!

refilled toothpaste tubeAt first I stored the paste in a jar, and I tried refilling toothpaste tubes by cutting off the back end, but they got too messy over time and when the early pastes separated, liquid leaked out either end.

I ended up getting a GoGear brand squeezable travel bottle which works great and is convenient for taking with us. So far it has not leaked (although I mostly tend to store it cap up). They have a nice wide mouth for refilling as well as a closable squeeze-tube type cap.

GoGear tubeThere's a similar brand called GoToob which I have not yet tested.

Toothpaste Recipe #3

2 Tbsp Baking Soda
2 tsp Xylitol
1/2 tsp Stevia Extract Powder
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
20 drops Clove Oil (pure)
20 drops Peppermint Oil (pure)

Mix the dry ingredients and then add the oils and mix well.

I tried this batch without water to see if I could get it from separating on the self. The consistency started out alright since coconut oil softens so easily with just a little stirring, but the next morning after a cold night, it was too hard to squeeze out of the tube so I eventually took it out and mixed in some vegetable glycerine, ending up with a better consistency through time and temperature change.

Toothpaste Recipe #4

I actually failed to write this one down, though I know it was baking soda, liquid stevia extract, coconut oil, clove oil, peppermint oil, oregano oil, and I experimented with using olive oil as the wetting agent. The flavor and consistency was great, and olive trees are known for their dental health properties. However, the olive oil and oregano oil (also containing olive oil in the blend) made it very yellow. While I couldn't tell that it had a staining effect on my teeth, yellow isn't a color I like brushing with.

Toothpaste Recipe #5

Kitchen alchemy - toothpaste3 Tbsp Baking Soda
1 Tbsp Xylitol
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
1 Tbsp Vegetable Glycerine
8 drops Stevia Extract Liquid
20 drops Oregano Oil (blend)
20 drops Peppermint Oil (pure)
10 drops Clove Oil (pure)

This has turned out the best so far. Great consistency and flavor, though slightly yellow.

Conclusion

I like the flavor and medicinal properties of oregano oil, but I may try to source it as a pure oil rather than a blend, so that I don't need as many drops, don't have the added olive oil, and avoid more of the yellow tint it gives the paste. I preferred the smoother, non gritty pastes, made without salt or xylitol, both of which were fairly coarse granules. I felt like they could be more damaging to my tooth enamel. I plan to continue these experiments as I perfect the recipe, and I welcome you to try out making your own toothpaste and let me know what you discover. It's so easy to do, and a bargain.

The real test was going for my dental check-ups, two during this past year of using these homemade toothpastes, and both successful. While I have the start of one tiny spot of decay, my gum depth has increased during this time and my hygienist remarks on how great my dental health is. Now, if only I could get in the habit of flossing more than a couple times a week.

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Label Crazy and Kitchen Chemistry

Jar Label

I have a crazy love for the way dried goods and preserves look in glass jars neatly labeled on pantry shelves. I tend to buy ingredients more than products, and much of my food ingredients, I buy in bulk. These habits save packaging, save money, and are generally healthier. I often bring empty containers or reused plastic or paper bags into the store to fill from the bulk bins, but when I get them home, I immediately transfer the goods into a more permanent, and preserving, storage solution.

Jar LabelRecently I noticed the look and storage longevity of my baking items were not up to par with the rest of my bulk dried goods so I transfered them into repurposed glass jars. I printed labels on paper, cut them out, and taped them with clear packing tape to the jars.

My stevia and arrowroot powders, since they are from natural plant sources, include their botanical name and an image of the plants on the labels. Stevia rebaudiana, also simply called stevia or sweetleaf, is derived from a plant in the sunflower and chrysanthemum family and can be purchased as a green powder, white powder (more refined), or liquid extract. I actually use all three versions, depending on what I'm making.

Jar LabelThe green powder (pictured above) is reported to be 10-15 times sweeter than table sugar, and manufacturers of the white powder and liquid extract claim the products to be 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar. They all have a flavor, slightly bitter, chemical or licorice-like, but the green powder, being less sweet and less refined, seems to me to have more of the flavor. I use it in desserts that wont be overpowered by it.

The xylitol and baking soda jars got images of molecular makeups and chemical formula (thanks to wikipedia), a reminder that cooking is an alchemical process.

I use xylitol, a sugar alcohol sweetener, in my homemade toothpaste (recipes to come), since it is sweet but also has potential to improve dental health. Xylitol, along with white stevia powder, can make a good tasting toothpaste without the artificial sweeteners that are more likely to be harmful.

Jar LabelI also make my own baking powder in order to avoid mystery corn starch and aluminum. I don't make a lot of it at once, since it will loose potency with time and exposure to moisture in air. Although it's very simple, as an absent-minded mad scientist, I can never seem to remember the recipe. For it to always be handy, I included the recipe on the back of the label.

Grain-free baking powder recipe:
1 part baking soda
2 parts cream of tarter
2 parts arrowroot starch

(Incase you are new to this language, a "part" can be any measurement, such as a teaspoon, tablespoon, a small cup, anything of equal portion.)

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Acorn Woodpecker

acorn woodpecker acorn woodpecker acorn woodpecker

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Liquid Hand Soap

Making Liquid Hand Soap

When I read somewhere online that I could make liquid handsoap out of bar soap, I knew that's what I would do with the old hardening remains of bars that I had been desperately trying to get the most out of instead of throwing them away. I didn't get immediately on the task, but this impowering knowledge gave me justification for retiring the sad little bars into a drawer and replacing them with fresh ones that are easier to get sudsy. The drawer pile built for some months before I decided it was time.

The process of making liquid hand soap is extremely easy and costs almost nothing. I used a recipe that called for a small amount of vegitable glycerine, which I already had on hand for making extracts and toothpaste. Using my patend-pending Wondershreder (antique cheese grater I inherited from my maternal Grandmother), I turned the hard little pieces of soap into "soap flakes", or in my case a blend of soap flakes and soap dust depending on which bar I was working on and how hard I pressed. Obviously, an old hard bar of soap is going to take more muscle to run across a grater, but it doesn't take much to make a batch of liquid soap:


Put all the ingredients in a pot over medium-low heat and cook, stiring occationally with a whisk, until the soap flakes are disolved. Let cool overnight. The following day, I poured the goopy liquid into a food processor and blended until smooth before funneling it into a refillable bottle. Since I made enough to fill the bottle at least three times, I stored the remaining soap away and I still have a pile of leftover soap bars.

Making Liquid Hand Soap

Different soaps will have different results with thickness. After it's cooled, you can add more water in the processing if necessary to get a thinner consistancy. You can also use an electric hand-mixer or blender instead of a food processor.

I've read recipes online that turn a whole new bar of soap into a gallon of liquid soap. Even with such a splurge, you would yield a savings of over 90% (a $4 bar of soap makes over $40 in liquid soap ). To make a quantity like this, use 1 bar of soap and 2 Tbsp glycerine for a gallon of water. I think in the future I'll try adding essential oils to give mine a fragance.

Making Liquid Hand Soap

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Sigils

sigilA “sigil” is a magick symbol made up of letters systematically selected from a word or statement of intention, that are graphically designed into a talisman. The sigil is “charged” with energy, taken into the creator's subconscious while in a state of “gnosis”, and then as the meaning of the sigil has become subliminal, it is consciously forgotten or even destroyed. The step of charging the sigil is actually the process of infusing it into the creators deep, unguarded mind by focusing on it while in meditation, trance, ecstasy, or peak exaltation. With the intent planted in the subconscious mind, the conscious mind or ego, which is unable to perform magick, can not interfere and the sigil is left to do it's work.

sigilSigils have been used for spellcasting for thousands of years, since at least Neolitic times. In modern times, it's a method also used to create logos or personal insignias based on one's name.

A sigil based on a desire must be carefully formulated. It should not be phrased as “I want” because your subconscious hears that as an intention to have desire, not to have that which is desired. It must be written as if it will be at some time, or even better, as if it already is. Since the subconscious hears everything as positive, the intention must be worded with precise, positive, strong, and unambiguous terms. A negatively phrased desire, such as “I don't want...” is heard without the “don't”.

sigilThe form below will perform the basic functions of preparing words or statements for sigilization by removing vowels, duplicate letters, and any unnecessary characters. The letters that remain should be drawn or pictorially or abstractly arranged together, overlapping or merged whenever possible to futher simplify the symbol. Letters that are contained in another letter can be removed or worked within each other in the drawing. For example, an N is contained within M so the N can be removed... C within G, L within H, P within B, a W is the same as an M, etc.... More information about sigils.

 

enter your intention

sigil helper with character & word counter

Sigil Letters# of Original Words# of Original Characters# of Sigil Letters

 


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Tobacco Story

pink flowering tobacco

Over about a year and a half this tobacco plant grew to be a monster of a thing. Giant leaves, bunches of pretty pink flowers, all of it intensely sticky. I couldn't maneuver in my garden around it without pieces of it sticking in my hair or on my arms. Though I read about what it would take to harvest and cure the leaves, having quit smoking over a decade ago, I didn't have much motivation for such a lengthy and complex process. A bit of dried leaf did get burned in a ceremonial way, an acknowledgment of abundance this harvest season between my Love and I, and honoring it as the sacred plant it is.

pink flowering tobacco pink flowering tobacco pink flowering tobacco pink flowering tobacco pink flowering tobacco pink flowering tobacco pink flowering tobacco pink flowering tobacco pink flowering tobacco pink flowering tobacco

The flowers dried into little seed vessels that, when turned upside-down, poured hundreds of tiny seeds out. After realizing that the piles of brown granuals on my worm box were not from terminates, but were in fact from the tobacco plant towering over it, I began collecting them. With minimal time spent and collecting at most maybe 5% of the one plant's seeds, I filled a pint container.

If the seeds cause volunteer tobacco plants to grow next year, I may harvest some of the leaves and try some curing. It could be fun to make a homemade cigar or some vanilla flavored pipe-tobacco....

pink flowering tobacco

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Silently Flow Between

butterflies at the creek at Ore Hot Springs

In August I submitted a poem to Harbin Hot Springs' poetry contest and was announced as one of the winners of a $140 certificate toward camping and hot springs use for two nights.

Silently Flow Between

falling trickling through fig roots
into pool rock and stream
below bridge and buildings
honoring a sacred place

a meditation
a prayer of gratitude to the waters

warm hot cold

from sky
from deep earth
it finds itself and unites

we seek it

hot cold

collect it into pools
held by one and then another, we silently flow between
worshiping of self-all

a swim
a misty fall rain touching our faces

hot cold

from minerals
from hot steam
soften, cleanse, expand, contract

we find ourselves

balanced

cozy pillowed tiers
darkened evening entertainment
relaxed deep and sleepily connecting hands
falling melting through dream

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Cucumber Vine

cucumber vine cucumber vine cucumber vine

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Degree (68)

Mom's Oven

Last year my mother asked her children to construct an outdoor oven using the clay soil on the property. My younger brother Simon spearheaded the project, doing research into construction of cob ovens, and spending extra time at the property preparing the area and materials.

August 2010 Work-Day:

drumming

Simon with nieces Emily and Clarista.

An important part of any work party is the soundtrack...

drumming

Especially if you are mixing mud with feet!

cob oven construction mixing mud

Myself with younger sisters Alicia and Erica with Simon in the background on drums.

cob oven construction mud cob oven construction

The circular stone base contains gravel fill, layers of mud, a layer of glass bottles, more mud, and a layer of fire brick.

cob oven construction glass bottles

November 2010 Work-Day and Scorpio (Dad and I) birthday celebration:

cob oven construction mixing mud

Missy (Rochana's BFF), my niece Bella, and sister Rochana mix sawdust and sand into clay and water with their feet while sister Erica and her man David stand by.

cob oven construction

Simon applies a layer of mud on the oven. The inside of the dome was formed with sand, then newspaper, covered with multiple layers of mud.

washing feet

Rochana and Bella washing the mud from their feet.

June 2011 Work-Day and belated Father's day celebration:

mom and dad coffee and flowers

Before getting started on the oven work, dad and mom at their appropriate tasks: coffee making and flower arranging.

cob oven lizard

The oven as we left it to dry after the last work-day. The dimples were made by fingers to help the next layer stick. To prepare for this work-day, the sand was scrapped out from the inside leaving a hollow, open oven chamber. A lizard basks on the top.

three sisters mixing mud

Three reverend sisters mixing mud (Photo by Hamilton). The incantation: "On this day and in this hour we call upon the ancient powers to bless this earth beneath our feet that will bake healthy food to eat"...

mixing

Hamilton, Simon, and Mom mixing sand, straw, and mud.

cob oven construction

Two photos of me (taken by Rochana) using a board to shape and smooth the final cob layer.

cob oven construction spiral drawing

The trick to drawing spirals is to attach the drawing implement (a nail in this case) to the end of a line wound around a cylindrical stick. Hold the stick still and unwind as you draw.

cob oven construction

Simon and the rest of the team put on decorative cob spirals Mom and I rolled out. Alicia brought us a feast, including tuna, chicken, and steak Dad BBQed, fruit salad and potatoes, to eat as we worked.

cob oven construction

Dad checks the sound inside the oven.

cob oven construction cob oven construction

Finished except for a protective coat of glaze or paint to be applied after it's dried and a door to be made, on another day.... A fire was lit inside to burn off the newspaper.

cob oven construction cob cob oven construction

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Two Peas

two peas

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Summer Flowers

california poppy flowers california poppy flowers tiny white daisy flowers star jasmine flowers

I took these photos last year in my backyard but am only now getting around to posting them. The first two are the iconic California Poppy, the third are tiny flowers I don't remember (but know I took the photo with my reverse lens), the last photo is of star jasmine's interesting pinwheel shape.

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Garden Insects

garden insect garden insect garden insect garden insect

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The Lizard and Hamilton

hamilton holding lizard in potter valley hamilton holding lizard in potter valley hamilton holding lizard in potter valley hamilton holding lizard in potter valley hamilton holding lizard in potter valley hamilton holding lizard in potter valley

Hamilton holding a blue-bellied lizard for me to photograph. Taken with a Nikon D300 with a 50mm lens on backward to get close.

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Boating with Bella

bella boating in pond in potter valley bella boating in pond in potter valley bella boating in pond in potter valley bella boating in pond in potter valley

When my siblings get together, our conversation often goes into the realms of quantum physics, science vs religion, spirituality, "magical thinking", consciousness, medicine, healing, singularity, etc.... There are usually a few who dominate the debates while others sit by and occasionally chime in, or busy themselves preparing food, and the children play together in a world apart from the adult colloquy.

There are four children in the newest generation: my three nieces and one nephew, though my older brother's two daughters have been living mostly in Japan the past year. From that generation, this Mother's Day weekend visit to my parent's house included only Bella as her older brother stayed home sick with their father.

Immediately after arrival, the adult siblings went at it with each other, and even I got myself involved in the dialog after turning my father's espresso strength coffee into a couple iced coffees (partly diluted by Alicia's ingenious coconut milk based "non-dairy creamer" invention) and drinking enough to see an increase of color saturation in the world and make my brain feel like it was full of helium with electrically charged colloidal lead.

I became aware of Bella's behavior on the sidelines, her complaints of tiredness, and Alicia considering if Bella was coming down with an illness. I offered to take Bella out on the pond in the raft and she began to cheer up. Bella and I played pirates in the boat, keeping a watch on the shore where the pirate zombies were gathering to eat us, and staying clear of the water where the pirate zombie fish were waiting to bite at our limbs. After our playtime Bella's energy and mood had substantially improved and I realized how draining or boring it must have been to be the only child among adults having such a tired discussion.

Children need to play and children need other children, even if it's an adult pretending along with them.

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Succulent Flowers

succulent flowers succulent flowers succulent flowers succulent flowers

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Degree (68), Flowers (42)

Drawing and Composition Studies

organizational line drawing of a stainless steel bottle Even though I've had a varied background in arts, crafts, and drafting through childhood and high school, as well some college education in digital arts (Photoshop, Illustrator) and a couple art classes on composition and color theory, I've never felt well trained or skilled in the art of drawing: creating a 2-dimensional rendering of the 3-dimensional world by hand. I knew it would be good for me but the thought of taking a drawing class made me feel fear, so I avoided it. After leaving school, I continued to feel like developing such a skill would be beneficial to my job as a graphic designer and to growing in my arts and crafts hobbies. In the fall of 2009 I finally found the courage to take a Drawing and Composition class at the Santa Rosa Junior College. Following, are the assignments, in class and as homework, as well as a few items from the sketchbook we were required to keep.

A couple of the first classes focused on beginning to really see objects and develop eye/hand coordination. One of these exercises (with no examples so show here because I think mine always look so terrible) was to create "continuous line drawings" of objects, by drawing the contours of an object without lifting the tip of the pencil from the paper. We also made large drawings of charcoal marks using big arm movements, called "gesture drawing" and began to render the mass of objects. We were taught that using these exercises — making gesture or continuous-line drawings — was a good warm-up before moving on to more detailed drawings of a subject.

gesture drawing of gourds

The next lessons focused on organizing line and proportion by penciling in planning marks and creating searching lines, isolating and enclosing space to take measurement of parts.

organizational line drawing of bottles organizational line drawing of tequila bottles organizational line drawing of bear with reworked lines

In order to learn about the containing shapes and how they fit together, we used pencil to draw just the contours of items, showing volume and shape without rendering light, shadow, or texture. These are some of my sketchbook drawings using the contour line:

contour drawing of bananas contour drawing of leaves and pods contour drawing of instruments contour drawing of various plants and items

The next lesson was devoted to organic objects, the textures and contours. We were told to use a mixture of pencil and charcoal to see how the two mediums interacted.

drawing of dried plants

Several classes followed which discussed value, the differences between white, black, and the grays in-between. We created value scales using pencil to learn the layering and pressure techniques to create equal value steps in a 10 value scale, rendered stacks of cubes using the values on the different sides, and a sphere using all the categories of light. The first drawing assignment was of a 3-dimensional folded paper with half and full circles cut out or popped out, standing up, with light shining through.

value drawing

Then we drew objects with charcoal on newsprint, rubbing them out, and drawing over them, to create an interesting layered effect as a warm-up exercise before doing a 2-value drawing of the same objects: solid black and white shapes. Another value assignment was to do a 4-value drawing of objects by first hand-toning white paper using charcoal and then wiping it off to get an even midpoint value, then, one at a time, using black, dark gray, light gray, and white in drawing the objects. White was created by erasing, or "working reductively".

charcoal drawing charcoal drawing using 2 values charcoal drawing using 4 values

Moving on in value studies, we did a single-directional hatch drawing (straight diagonal lines) with pencil to emphasis light over volume.

single directional hatch pencil drawing

After doing several fast warm up gesture drawings of stacked cups, we drew a stack of white cups, fully rendering categories of light: cast shadow, reflected light, core of the shadow, shadow, light and high light. Also following, are also some of sketchbook drawings that proceeded this assignment.

gesture cups pencil drawing categories of light cups drawing cups sketches cups and tangerines sketches espresso pencil drawing

We did several perspective studies, using one and two point perspective, drawing cubes and then learning the technique of drawing a stairway in two point perspective. We were given a complex assignment to draw a cut away view of imaginary space starting with a horizon line and a checkered ground plane then adding walls, stairway, cubes, cones, pyramids, columns, doors, and windows.

perspective pencil drawing

In class one night the instructor draped fabric and we were to render the values and contours using charcoal.

drapery charcoal drawing

Our midterm "exam" was to draw pottery the instructor placed out for us, including broken pieces. I really enjoyed the class critique on my drawing and found it especially cool that the instructor thought it was narrative and told a mystery story. A crime was committed.

broken pottery still life pencil drawing

We moved on to study texture the next week or two. The following images are a simulated texture drawing assignment, a large drawing of a small toy dinosaur assignment, and a sketchbook drawing of bamboo.

three textures drawing dinosaur drawing bamboo sketch

The next two classes focused on teaching ink drawing techniques, using India ink with a pen and nib. In these evenings we drew a bottle and then a deer skull, using cross hatching, parallel hatching, short hatching, and/or stippling (dots) to make tonal gradations.

inked bottle inked deer skull inked deer skull detail inked glass sketch

We worked on portraits one night. This is the charcoal portrait I did of classmate Lorelle. The assigned homework of a self-portait is not going to appear here.

charcoal portrait

After learning to use India ink, we got to pick up the colored pencils and draw a cow skull. We had the use of four colors: canary yellow, ultramarine blue, crimson red, and black. I separated the warm and cool colors "which gives the drawing a sense of time and place. As in the last glowing rays of the sun as it sets", as my instructor put it in his blog post featuring my drawing.

colored pencil cow skull cow skull

One evening we did an exercise called "Exquisite Corpse", based on the French Surrealists' game of folding a page into thirds and drawing on one third, then passing it around to have the other thirds completed by two other artists. We were not allowed to look at the other parts of the drawing, but to only make two marks on the next section so that the next student knew where to begin. My first drawing of a bird head (colored pencil with India ink) had such terrible drawings added to it, I did not bother to photograph the whole thing. The second drawing (the colored pencil worm body part is what I worked on), I was able to photograph in entirety, but the third drawing I worked on was taken, by the student who began it, before I got a photo at the end of the class.

colored pencil bird head colored pencil worm body

We were given two required writing assignments and two required drawing assignments based on time spent in the campus gallery. I've posted the writing assignments: DHR1 and DHR2. But here are the drawing assignments. One is a drawing of sculptural tube drums, the other of a portion of a painting. I did not get a photo of the painting.

drum sculpture tube drum drawing old woman drawing

We spent a couple classes working on division of field. We learned about the nine general divisions of field that have figure/ground, positive/negative, up/down, and left/right relationships. We practiced implementing these by finding areas of the building and drawing them from perspectives not looked at before. Following are two such drawings, then a few from my sketchbook, and the last one from a class which we were given more time to turn the exercise into a finished drawing.

compositional space mop compositional space stairway compositional space railing compositional space lemons on the counter compositional space dresser compositional space stairwell

In the beginning of the semester, the instructor spoke about how, even though it may not always seem so, abstract and surrealist artists have usually studied drawing and practiced until mastery the techniques and honed their skills of rendering objects and space. They then apply those skills and their ability to subjectively create their art. As I had began the class knowing I wanted to do the same, to really learn to draw, after a semester of focusing mostly on objectively rendering objects and working on developing my skills and techniques, I had difficulty suddenly being required to work subjectively on this surreal cubist final project. I was given a lantern (the most difficult of the objects my instructor used for the assignment, according to him) and was told to draw it from different perspectives in one drawing as well as use other surreal styles. I turned in the drawing thinking there were areas of it I'd rework, though I still have not done so.

surreal lantern

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Rosemary Powder

rosemary flowerRosemary is one of my favorite herbs to use in cooking, particularly in chicken, salmon, and potato dishes and in breads. Rosmarinus, "Dew of the sea", is not just delicious and wonderful smelling, but it also has many traditional, medicinal, and superstitious uses, as well as a mythological history connecting it to Aphrodite and the Virgin Mary. It's a natural food preservative and moth repellent and has been scientifically shown to protect the brain from free radicals, lowering risk of stroke and diseases such as Alzheimer's, as well as having anticarcinogenic effects*. In the same botanical family as mint and sage, this aromatic herb is a drought tolerant and somewhat hardy perennial that grows well in the Mediterranean-like climate where I live.

When the plant is not flowering, and the spiky leaves are younger and less tough or woody, I'll use them fresh from the plant: whole sprigs, finely chopping the needles, or crushing them with a mortar and pestle. I also like to have dried rosemary on hand for use all year around. To dry rosemary, you can tie the sprigs up with a string and hang somewhere that gets good airflow, though keep it dry and out of the sunlight. I often dry sprigs for use later by rolling them up in a paper towel and leaving on the back of my counter for several weeks. The paper towel protects them from collecting dust—which seems to happen in the air since rosemary has a little bit of a sticky sap coating. Folding it into a paper towel doesn't cause mold or prevent the drying of the herb in my climate.

After the rosemary becomes throughly dry, strip the needles from the woody stems and put them in sealed jar to retain pungency. If the herb is fully dried, the needles should easily break away from the sticks.

rosemary sticks

rosemary in coffee grinderI keep a jar of these whole needles for cooking, but often I like to use rosemary powder for recipes such as soups and especially for adding to homemade salad dressing. Dried rosemary needles can be easily turned to a powdered herb using a coffee grinder. Clean the grinder first to remove all traces of coffee grounds and oils and then again after to remove the rosemary powder and resin. Grind for a couple minutes, until a fine powder.

Your kitchen will now smell amazing.

rosemary powder being bottled

A small funnel is a great tool to have in the kitchen for bottling seasonings, whether you buy them in bulk or make them yourself!

rosemary powder in bottle

* http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071030102210.htm Rosemary Chicken Protects Your Brain From Free Radicals

cooking (4), diy (14), frugal-living (3), garden (30), herbs (2), homemade (4), homesteading (6), nutrition (4), recipe (4)

Degree (68), How To (5), Nutrition (5)

Crocheted Creation Blanket

crocheted sunburst earth blanket

I spent the past year crocheting this blanket. It began with the intention of creating a blanket out of 12" squares of crocheted stitches, making the squares and then joining them together. I crocheted two to three dozen squares with a few different yarns and stitches, probably about half the blanket, before I got too bored of making squares to continue with the project that way. I put them aside and began to crochet a spiral, the spiral that turned into the center of the blanket. At first I planned to do the center this way, and then join the squares around the outside as the edge but ended up un-crocheting all the squares, as they no longer seemed to fit, and as yarn was needed to continue crocheting around and around the spiral, as I developed it into a sunburst shape and then began to work it to have square edges. I intentionally made it so that the bottom two corners were fitted to the bed.

It's certainly the largest crochet project I ever undertook. I watched 10 seasons of the show "Friends" while working on it, as well as many hours of other television and movies. The name "Creation Blanket" comes from someone who was admiring it while on 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine as they found it appeared to them as the sun, the energy and creation of life, and the earth... which is pretty much what I was imagining as I created it.

crocheted sunburst earth blanket crocheted sunburst earth blanket crocheted sunburst earth blanket

Crafts (26), Degree (68)

Spring Garden Activity

bee on borage flower borage flower fly on borage flower bee on borage flower red bug on cactus insect on purple flower bee on purple flower bee on borage flower

These were taken with my Nikon D300 and a 50mm lens on backward (using a reverse ring) to get close. No electronics pass through to the old lens and focus is determined by distance.

creatures (54), flowers (49), garden (30), insect (32), reverse-lens (5)

Creatures (75), Degree (68), Flowers (42)

2011 Laguna de Santa Rosa Tree-a-Thon

horse-drawn carriage

On a foggy Saturday morning I met up with a group of people to plant trees and shrubs for the restoration of Irwin Creek in the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed. Having signed up for the event a couple months prior through the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, I did a little fundraising for this annual "Tree-a-Thon" event to earn money to support their watershed rehabilitation efforts throughout the year. Thank you to those who contributed!

After observing the two little sleeping barn owls in palm trees in front of the Foundation's offices, we were taken to the creek-side planting site by horse-drawn carriage, with a little pony excitedly galloping along with us in it's pasture on the other side of the driveway fence.

Prepared with my hat, boots, and gloves, everything else was conveniently supplied and ready for us when we arrived, including a breakfast of spinach croissants and water in a booth set up by Whole Foods.

The site was a strip of area that had previously been part of a cow pasture where the cows were allowed to graze right up to the creek, allowing manure to pollute the watershed as well as cause destructive erosion. The understanding I gleaned by asking questions of as many people as I could, was that the county bought an easement from the property owner in order to protect the watershed by planting a riparian buffer between the relocated pasture fence and the creek.

Irwin Creek-side planting site

We were organized into groups, assigned rows to work down, and given a demo of how to dig, plant, and use the cardboard weed barrier and juice-box to protect the young seedlings. Three of us from our group ― me, and a man and woman a bit younger than me ― volunteered to began the digging of holes so that the children and older members of our group could begin putting plants in the ground. After more than half the row was dug, I went back and joined in the planting. I planted 8 oaks, 3 ash, 1 box elder, 2 California blackberries, and 2 California rose.

oak seedling Irwin Creek restoration

After our row was finished, I went on to help dig holes and plant in some of the more difficult areas, the wet, lower areas closer to the creek. When every plant was in the ground, we got a carriage ride back up to the offices and were served pizza in the backyard while the fundraising leaders were honored by Executive Director, David Bannister.

David Bannister

$22k was raised by the event, and a total of 500 native plants were put in the ground that day. It was a fun and fulfilling experience that I plan to take part in again soon.

creek (6), laguna (3), santa-rosa (22), trees (34), volunteerism (1), watershed (1)

Degree (68), Santa Rosa (21)

There is Only Presence

What else are we truly
but our feelings and our sensations?

Everything else is just a story we tell ourselves,
a story we tell others,
a game,
a mask we wear to hide our inner self,
an armor protecting us from the world.

Only stories need a formula.
Only games need rules.
Masks are only fun for parties or plays.
Armor is only needed in war.

Open yourself,
be what you feel.

Begin.

poetry (3)

Degree (68)

My Current Interpretations of Two Kay Nielsen Illustrations

Kay Nielsen

I wrap my arms around it
Though it's sharp and cutting
Stuck in it's barren place of birth, unmoving
It's old growth is covered in thorns where wounds had once been
I hold it anyway
Accepting
As I feel flowering in my intimate attention
It grows more delicately and beautifully through my love
Reaching around to hold me tentatively
We embrace

Kay Nielsen

Unseen forces
Have stripped the blossoms from the tree
They have pummeled down upon me
Forced to my knees
Unwilling to fight the falling fists of flowers I love dearly
Weeping
Confusion
I feel my sadness
The destruction
Of something so beautiful.

When I am ready
I will look up again
I will see I am surrounded
Straight and strong
Silent and patient
They wait for me
And from the darkness
I'll climb.

art (22), kay-nielsen (1), poetry (3)

Degree (68)

Purple Pole Beans

Purple Pole Beans

beans (2), garden (30), harvest (6)

Degree (68)

Jaes-Allergy-Free Cake

Last week, with my boyfriend's birthday weekend approaching, I began to have feelings of excitement mixed with a nervousness that approached anxiety.

Five months ago, Jason had allergy testing which resulted in long lists of food allergies and sensitivities that he's been advised to abstain from while his digestive system heals. These allergens are in many of the common items most of us eat on a regular basis and some are a challenge to avoid. Even alternative foods and recipes created without gluten or other common allergens still contain at least one of his allergens. The list is long: wheat, gluten, rice, corn, sugar, honey, yeast, soy, almonds, chicken, beef, eggs, dairy, oranges, apples, and more.

I knew that if Jason was going to get a cake on his special day, I was going to have to figure out how to make one that was safe for him. Making a treat like this for his birthday was important to me—I know how much he's sacrificed on his diet, and he really deserved a delicious cake—I just wasn't sure it could be done.

Since he got the shocking test results back in May, I've been experimenting with trying to make baked goods within his dietary limitations. Millet flour scones have worked out, though since I'm not good at taking notes while I experiment, it needs some more refining of the recipe. But scone experiments are what got me trying chia seeds as an egg replacer, an idea I had after reading about their health benefits, and how they turn into a gel when blended with water, the way the starches do that I usually use as egg replacer. It turns out that chia seeds are a known binder for baking with, and I found this chia seed egg substitute recipe while making plans for the cake.

When I first came across this chocolate cake recipe using coconut flour I was turned away by the photo. I know very well how difficult it is to take appetizing photos of food, but I needed the best thing I could find... I searched on, and eventually came back to the recipe because it's the closest thing I could find to what I wanted, and I'm sure glad I did. There were only two ingredients I needed to substitute: eggs and agave nectar. While using maple syrup instead of agave probably resulted in a less sweet cake, I avoid using agave nectar as it's a highly processed and unhealthy sweetener possibly more harmful than high-fructose corn syrup.

It ended up tasting, and looking, great!

Allergy-Free Cake

I didn't write down my improvisational frosting recipe, though it went something like this: start soaking 1 ½ cups of raw cashews the day before, drain, then process in a food processor until creamy and thick; add a few tablespoons maple butter (a very thick, condensed version of pure maple syrup), about 1/4 cup maple syrup, a few tablespoons of coconut oil, and a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract; after it's all blended, add about 1 ½ cups of shredded coconut and mix by hand.

Allergy-Free Chocolate Cake

As modified from the original.

3/4 cup coconut flour, sifted
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp celtic sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
8 tsp of chia seeds blended with 1 ½ cups water in a blender until thick
1 cup grapeseed oil
1 ½ cups maple syrup
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

In a small bowl combine coconut flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda
In a large bowl using an electric mixer, mix together chia gel, oil, maple syrup, and vanilla
Add dry ingredients into large bowl and continue to blend
Oil the sides of two 9-inch round cake pans and dust with coconut flour, place a round of parchment paper on the bottom of the pans
Spread the batter into pans and bake at 325° for 35-40 minutes
Remove from oven, allow to cool completely then remove from pans
Frost and serve

The important part is: Jason loved the cake!

Jason Cake Jason Cake Jason Cake

allergies (1), birthday (3), cake (1), cooking (4), food (12), jason (8), nutrition (4), recipe (4)

Degree (68)

Calendula Blooming

I experimented with my Nikon D300's interval setting by placing it pointed at this calendula flower and leaving it for a couple hours while the blossom opened it's petals in the sun. I certainly plan to continue trying out this exciting feature using different settings.

flowers (49), nikonD300 (4), time-lapse (2), video (1), youtube (1)

Degree (68)

Sharing Apples with Codling Moths

Apple Buds

I moved into this house almost a year ago and now live with a productive apple tree for the first time in my life. When we signed the rental agreement, I knew the apple and pear trees were in the yard but not specifically what kind of fruits they would bare, and I excitedly anticipated finding out.

The first year in a new place is the year of discovery. A whole range of good and bad things a house has to offer are presented as the seasons change: how cool the house stays during the summer and how well it holds heat in the winter; if there is mold or mysterious noises; neighborhood cats that poop, dogs that bark, or roosters who crow through the night; what varieties of plants and fungi are hiding their life in the soil and what kind of insects thrive.

This spring, the fruit trees bloomed and tiny fruits began to form. In August, I received the gift of a dozen or two delicious pears from one tree and wormy apples began to fall to the ground from the other.

Worms in all the apples?! Whether they had fallen to the ground or were still attached to a branch, they had evidence of the codling moth larvae that had burrowed inside. First, I vowed to learn how to keep next years apples from getting infested (and found information about the no-spray paper bag method); and second, I vowed to use as many of the apples as I could anyway. With the wormy parts cut out, the apples were still delicious and usable for making apple sauce or butter. I saved up fallen apples for a couple weeks, collecting them right away before other critters could get to them, and then spent a Sunday cutting them up while watching streaming television shows on Netflix.

Apples Cooking

I'm not going to post a recipe here because I roughly, without measuring anything, used these apple butter instructions, which explain the entire process very well. I started with a large pot of apples, so they took much longer to cook down than the hour or so in the recipe. Making a smaller batch or using a wider pan, as Elise suggests, would probably make the evaporation go faster. Stirring did help, but it still took many hours before it got to a thickness I thought was right.

The process is: cook the apples with water and vinegar until soft, strain the skin and bits out, then cook the mush with other ingredients until thick. I almost bought a chinois sieve for this project but changed my mind because of messy memories of using one when I was a kid—and of how much work it was going to be to strain all those apples. Instead, I borrowed a fruit strainer Kitchenaid attachment from my sister, which, after the little learning curve of figuring out how to put it together, was fun to use and a huge time and effort saver.

After the straining part, I cooked the apple mash down a little more, removed a couple jars full for apple sauce, then added the rest of the ingredients and continued the apple butter cooking process. If I had reserved more as apple sauce, the "butter" making part would, I'm sure, have gone faster since there would have been less to cook down and evaporate.

Though it took some time, it was a fun and worthwhile project that left me with many jars of delicious apple preserves, grown and made at home.

Apple Butter

apples (1), cooking (4), farm (19), food (12), fruit (2), garden (30), harvest (6), insect (32), organic (3), preserves (1), sustainable (7), trees (34)

Degree (68)

Dinner at Tara Firma

Tara Firma Farms

In the late afternoon of Saturday, September 11th, I went to Tara Firma Farms in the beautiful Petaluma countryside to attend the first of their Speaker Dinner series: a talk by Lierre Keith, author of The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability. It was my second visit to the farm owned by Tara Smith and family, who use sustainable and organic practices to produce vegetables and pasture-raised meats, as well as provide education in environmentally friendly farming practices.

When we arrived at the farm, there were three picketers in front with "blood" (red paint?) splattered, white coveralls, looking like butchers or meat factory workers. They held signs that read, "Meat a dying business".

The evening began with wine, hors d'œuvres, and live music in the barn which was set up with linen covered tables and decorated with tea lights in canning jars and wicker balls hanging by twine from the rafters. Montemaggiore, a biodynamic winery in Healdsburg, had a tasting table where I tried their wonderfully impressive rosé.

I joined a group tour to a pasture of pigs and a hillside of egg-laying chickens, all with lots of space to range naturally. Tara spoke of the way they move the pigs' fencing and the chickens' portable house so that the animals have continuously replenished forage. Several ground-level "chicken tractors" were visible on another hillside, containing their flocks of roaster chickens which she said are moved every day. They have cows in pastures that are rotated so that the grass is only grazed down so far, a few inches from the ground, and then allowed a few months to recover to knee height, building healthy soil. We only saw a tiny part of their 300 acres. Tara also explained how the farm takes on interns who are encouraged and supported in starting up a farming business themselves after their training completes. It sounded like the way businesses should be run: sharing knowledge, giving back to the community, and not having fear of competition!

During the tour, Tara mentioned the protesters in front of the farm and said that PETA "hates" Lierre Keith.

More Montemaggiore wine, a syrah and their "3 Divas" white, were served while a packed room listened to Lierre Keith speak. Though the room was getting tipsy and talkative, I was excited to listen to what Keith had to say on the topic of the "vegetarian myth", as I was completely unfamiliar with her but have my own reasons for going back to eating meat.

She started by saying that the issues of food and the environment are not from a problem of values, that it is a problem of information. She said that agriculture is a war against nature, it displaces species, it destroys top soil. Humans are dependent on the destruction of the planet. But she said that "people are trying to engage on a much deeper level" and those words mean a lot to me. I feel the shift in people's interest, the gradual awakening, and see the move toward being more directly connected to what truly keeps us alive. Keith mentioned a book, "Overshoot", and talked about "take over" and "draw down", concepts I wasn't completely clear on from what she said. However, I felt I was in understanding with what she had to say about sunlight and soil: sunlight as the base form of energy, all species are trying to get more of it, that oil is ancient sunlight, and soil is the basis of life. Keith quoted Richard Heinberg as saying, "sustainable agriculture is an oxymoron" and she said, "agriculture is the single most destructive human activity." Polyculture: plants and animals working together to create soil. She said something about how our life-styles use the amount of energy and resources equal to having 300 slaves, previously only emperors had that many slaves. "We can dominate or we can participate." Questions to ask: What methods of food production rebuild top soil? Does my food repair top soil, protect top soil, or destroy top soil? Does this food come from where I live?

The talk was followed by a fantastic many course feast catered by Green Earth: salad, potato leek soup, beet carpaccio, garden tomatoes, braised short ribs, and chicken marbella. Apparently much of the food was grown on the farm. Dessert was grilled peaches and goat-milk ice-cream provided by Laloo's. The food was all amazing.

Having been a vegetarian for ten years, vegan part of that time, and then returning to eating meat several years ago, I have a personal interest in this sustainable omnivore movement. I have my reasons for making the change back to meat and I know those reasons came from a more intelligent, better informed place, as well as a more deeply spiritual place, than my decision to stop eating meat did. Honestly, I became a vegetarian more out of peer pressure from men I was dating, and possibly to rebel against the fast-food culture of the '80s, than any other reasons. Sure the propaganda literature and photos of animals on factory farms had a huge impact on me emotionally, but I was ignorant about nutrition, agriculture, and the environment. Having grown up on a small family farm with sheep who had huge pastures, who were much more wild than creations of industrialized agriculture, over time, it was easy to remember that meat did not have to come from an over-crowded, hormone-injecting, disease-riddled, factory farm. It was not a stretch for me to understand that there was another way to raise animals. I had first-hand experience in how a farm could be balanced, natural, and humane.

After posting on Facebook about having seen Leirre Keith speak, one friend commented that he thought she wrote the book to justify her turning back to eating meat. He claimed he's healthy and feels good as a vegetarian. I responded by saying that she very well may have written the book for that reason, people do tend to have personal motives for what they are moved to accomplish, but I was impressed by her, her passion and care. I also said that she's only one voice in a movement based on recent research and understanding of open space, environmental impact, human nutrition, animal health, carbon sequestering, etc.

Certainly everyone should be able to decide if eating meat is right, or not, for the health of their own body. I think that it's one thing to say, "I'm a vegetarian because I feel good and healthy as a vegetarian," but to say, "I'm a vegetarian because I don't believe in factory farms," or "because I'm an environmentalist," or "because I want to save the world from starvation", is coming from a lack of information and isn't looking at the whole picture.

environment (3), event (4), farm (19), food (12), organic (3), petaluma (25), speaker (1), sustainable (7), vegetarianism (2)

Degree (68)

Writing Assignment DHR#1 Art 7a Beginning Drawing and Composition

Masako Miki, Sometimes It’s Better Not Knowing Too Much I, 2009

While browsing the SRJC gallery, this 22” x 30” narrative collage stood out to me. The bundle of boxes and the deer are arranged centrally on the page. They form two dominate areas that my eyes are conflictingly drawn to, wondering if the deer is aware of the danger. The gifts suspended insecurely in a loose bundle above the deer suggest mixed feelings of excitement, curiosity, suspense, and danger. The angular squares of the wrapped boxes are balanced by the smooth curving shapes of the containing ropes – just as the angles of the antlers are balanced by the smooth curve of the deer’s back. A similarity in the two dominant areas is established: the shape of the deer and the shape of the loops of rope; the rope branching out like an antler.

I’m reminded of the human relationship to the planet’s fragile ecosystem, the threat that blind consumerism holds over nature. This deer -- a symbol of gentleness in Native American culture -- has adult antlers, though he also has the spots of a fawn – another subtle conflict? or a hint that the fawn will survive and live to adulthood? I ask myself, “What do the colorful boxes contain? What surrounds the deer in the space around it? Is it trapped?”. I realize that the deer is also us.

I’m left with questions, and the title of the piece then addresses that by saying, “Sometimes it’s better not knowing....”

Sometimes its better not knowing too much

art (22), essay (2), painting (11), srjc (3)

Degree (68)

Writing Assignment DHR#2 Art 7a Beginning Drawing & Composition

Kathleen Youngquist, Upstage

This narrative painting has a lot of eye-catching movement. Though the overall tones of the composition are on the darker side, the triadic color scheme and liberal use of rich primaries add to the energetic feeling. It has movement implied by both the subject and the action-simulating long brush strokes. The figures’ clothes are flowing, arms and legs moving. The woman’s foot lifted in the background subtly takes on the shape of a bird flying. The feet they stand on seem barely grounded.

Since the female figure is facing away from the viewer and the male figure’s head is completely out of the composition, I’m made to look at their bodies for expression, the body language of their dance. They each have a hand that is blurred or partially out of the frame, as well as a hand reaching for each other, or barely touching, in what seems like the focal point, where there is open space and the brush strokes around the hands are more circular.

The dancers, with their individually different colored clothing, have a feeling of independence, though also dressed in stereotypical male/female outfits. Faceless, it’s as if they are loosing themselves. Their hands reaching and bodies turning toward each other suggest togetherness, but they don’t seem to make any real connection.

Upstage by Kathleen Youngquist

art (22), essay (2), painting (11), srjc (3)

Degree (68)

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