Saturday, March 27, 2010


I'm creeping along with my garden entrance and feel very proud of the work so far. Being 'just a girl', I feel like I'm doing a lot of heavy lifting and 'guy-sized tasks' with these 2x8 treated beams, 6x6 treated posts, etc. The treated lumber is a lot heavier than regular wood, and even these bolts required a heavy duty drill to get large enough holes bored all the way through five inches of depth. I worked very slowly, measured many times, checking that each piece was level and plumb. So this is where I left off, using up all the materials I purchased so far. I guess that's as good of a place to stop as any.

I haven't actually sunk the last decorative stair-stepped post on the right side. I've only mocked this up with a stump and a scrap piece of wood, but it shows the effect I'm going for. The right side gets two sections of support elements, the left only one. The path leading up to the garden will curve slightly to the left coming toward you in the foreground, and also forks off to the right, just at the lower right corner of this picture, and heads over to the amazing chicken run. That's a story for another blog.

When I see the structure in this picture, it doesn't look as impressive as it does in real life. So that you understand the scale of it, imagine standing directly underneath the cross beam and reaching up. If you're 5'8" like me, you will just barely be able to touch it with your fingertips. See? It doesn't look nearly that high in the picture, does it? It required me climbing a ladder and moving back and forth from one side to the other, trying to prop up the beam, clamping, then measuring and checking the level, then the other side, back and forth. Working by myself made it interesting, to say the least. Getting the beam up there to begin with was comical!

Now I have some great news. I just got my new Nikon digital SLR camera today, so in future posts, I should be able to provide MUCH more impressive photography.

I'll keep this short, but in closing, I'll leave you with a humorous little Photoshopped image I created for a women's photo exhibit a few years ago. This is nothing new, but just something I came across in my files. The theme was 'Misbehaving' and this was my entry, entitled 'Moi?'

Au revoir!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not in MY Backyard

Nothing much is happening in my backyard today, nor the front yard or at the sides. There is a thickly overcast sky ‘round these parts, and I doubt I’ll get any garden/entrance construction done today. I’d hate to get all my tools and saws out and have it cut loose and downpour on me. However yesterday, we were able to install the two 6x6 posts in the ground

Again, thanks to Hubbs, father-in-law, and the Bobcat, it was a relatively painless task. This is the first step that will tie into the existing fence posts bordering the garden entrance for reinforcement. It’s called a knee support. That should stabilize my somewhat heavy entryway. I've chosen an asymmetric plan so the posts aren't level with each other. The slanting ground played into my decision, and as an after thought, I now plan to add another stair-stepped second post to the right side that is less for support, but more about aesthetics. So thanks guys, for your help! Now the rest is up to me.

But for now, I might as well take advantage of the weather and shift over to an indoor sport. I'd love to crawl in bed with a knitting project, but there are more pressing projects at the moment. I’m finishing up a few small 5x 5 inch drawings. I drew this pair of pears about a year ago and quickly started a couple more just like it.

This is made with a watercolor base wash, then shaded with Prismacolor pencils and topped off with graphite pencil shading on the pears. The background is mostly acrylic paint. After completing the first version of these pears, I dabbled at Version #2 and #3, here and there, now and then, throughout the next few months, but I kept letting a lot of other projects interrupt. Now, with focused attention, they are basically done, short of mounting them for display, and I’ve gotten underway on another series of 5x5’s. This time, I’m working in graphite pencils alone, rendering a simple metal picture hook, nailed in the wall. I haven’t decided on the background or whether it will get a ‘color’. I decided to do those in multiples as well, since I’ll donate one to a gallery fundraiser (see below), and a couple others are committed to other people. I’d certainly like to keep one for myself too.

This 5x5 gallery event happens every May and I have donated a piece for many years. For more information, click here:

Here are a couple of my past years’ donations.

So I’m going to settle in to my chair with a cup of hot peppermint tea, and draw the rest of the day away. I'll hopefully show you some finely-drawn picture hooks very soon.


Monday, March 22, 2010

A Lull in the Action

There is not always going to be discernable changes on any given project from day to day, and if I were you, I might assume all progress had halted, or we’d hear bragging about it and see photos, right? I hear tell of projects that can be finished in a day or two, or even a few hours, but those are rarely ever my projects. So just because there is no mention of the last project you thought I was working on, I may have been making such slow progress (undoubtedly due to an absurd level of complication I chose to pursue), that I see no reason in bringing you up to speed. I could place two photos side by side, showing off the work before and after some subtle bit of completion was attained, and challenge you to see if you can spot how these two photos are different… but I won’t. Of course, there’s the flip side. I may have indeed halted a particular project, my A.D.D. getting the best of me, and moved on to something more exciting.

Case in point: I have tabled the hat rack cushions for now, deciding that central Texas garden season is well underway and our pitiful garden entrance is screaming for attention. I have set foot inside the garden a few times, I really have, but not enough to have brought it up to the state it should be this far into the year. One barrier for me right now is the awful menagerie of plastic mesh fencing, and stakes, and bungee cords that obstruct the opening. It’s there for a reason. Our 20-some cats love to ‘help’ in the garden, realizing that freshly tilled garden dirt is far superior to litter box granules! But cat urine is a very bad ingredient in a soil recipe, so we do what we can to discourage them. It doesn’t always work, but our ugly gate/fence/entrance here has cut back somewhat on them getting in. (Hotwire is effective too!) All through the winter, as short as it was for our region, I didn’t need to access the garden as much, so we rigged up this bit of ugliness across the opening. The photo (another embarrassing tattoo?) shows what I’m talking about.

Keep in mind, it was taken during the off-season when nothing but weeds were growing, and I had given up caring, for the most part. But, still... yikes!

So this garden entrance will be my next project, only requiring minimal help from Hubbs with strong arms and my father-in-law with a Bobcat. Mostly, I think I can manage it myself. You’d think I would’ve gotten this entrance done last year at the very start of my Texas gardening experience, but it just got TOO HOT too soon, and I couldn’t bear to spend one more second outside than necessary. It’s hard to imaging how this area looked when it was just a field with cows and horses grazing in it.

So here’s a stroll down memory lane from one year ago. The first step was to disc the ground.

Once again, it was my father-in-law to the rescue. In fact, he helped in so many ways that his name could appear in almost every sentence describing the first couple of months of garden beginnings. So F-I-L did the disc work around the whole corner of this field. We incorporated a light fertilizer and he churned up the soil a couple more times. The soil analysis turned up some surprising good numbers, so we didn't need that many amendments right off the bat.

Then F-I-L erected real fencing around the perimeter of the 50 x 115 foot garden. I helped him for two days straight and it was the most rigorously physical work I had experienced in a long time! I didn’t even do the hardest parts of the work, just assisted as best I could. Thanks to the Bobcat auger, drilling the post holes wasn’t too much of a chore, but everything after that was hard work. We took advantage of an existing fence for one long side of the garden and only needed to add the other three sides to enclose it. We set 26 more fence posts, bracing the ends and corners, and attached some serious 5-foot-high horse fencing. A deer could still bolt over it effortlessly, but maybe not with more of that hotwire extending outward and upwards.

I proceeded to set some reddish concrete pavers vertically to create raised beds. This one was for the future 6’x10’strawberry patch (now plush with healthy plants, flowers and the beginnings of a bountiful harvest!), and was followed by 2 more beds of the same size which became permanent herb beds.

And finally, this last photo shows the meager beginnings of the garden. We had a freakishly late freeze last April which killed the tomatoes and stunted the potatoes (in the foreground) and surprised everyone three whole weeks after the last freeze should have happened.

It’s funny to see such a barren space, and I hardly remember it looking this way, as it soon filled up with cornfields, squash, okra, more tomatoes, more covered hoop rows, beans, peas, Armenian cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe... and the list goes on. I learned a whole lot about organic gardening, and while I felt like a failure at times, I discovered a lot of what NOT to do, and what NO one, even expert master gardeners, can do in temperatures constantly over a hundred degrees.

So that catches me up to date and it seems fitting that this year’s improvements start with a proper entryway. I can’t tolerate straddling and tripping over that mess of a blockade to enter the garden anymore! So you’ve seen the ‘before’ shot. I estimate the ‘after’ shot will be unveiled in a couple weeks (or months), but I'll keep you updated all along.

Hubbs and I love Asian architecture and are patterning this project after Japanese Shinto gates. See this example:

I'm shooting for something similar to my crude drawing here, which could take some twists and turns as it develops. Don’t be too surprised if I add my own ‘flair’ to the design. I'm not striving for anything strictly authentic. But I will head roughly in this direction:

I’ll leave you with one more detail from the Nemo Room, since I haven’t worked on anything Nautilus related in awhile.
I will report in much detail when I get back to working in there, but I thought you might like to see the floor design I painted. There was a nasty crack in the floor that fought wood fillers, and putties, and even defied the Bondo epoxy mixture made especially for wood. So we gave up and decided to camouflage the line by making enough visual texture and detail so the eye just wouldn’t see the crack. Most of the floor is fleck-speckled with little bits of red/black/tan and coated with a super strong shell of a garage floor topcoat, but the main traffic path is now this faux metal grate walkway. It also has several layers of a clear sealant topcoat. (Pardon the plastic sheeting- as cat proofing the fresh work was important.) I felt like I was working rather sloppily with this, but the effect is still decent, and the bolts look somewhat realistic.

Stay tuned for more garden news...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hubbs has a hat fetish

Hubbs has a hat fetish. My favorite is his top hat. This fondness of hats has rubbed off on me… and now together we have way too many hats and need a fun way to present them. About the only place I can see putting them on display is on the wall by the back door. I’m envisioning a series of ‘hooks’ made out of pipes that fit with the crude industrial/urban direction I want to see the kitchen move toward. I’m planning to install several ‘knobs’ (9, to be exact) protruding from the wall, made out of plumbing pipe sections, angles, and flanges. I’m debating making some sort of cushioned pad or covering that the hat can sit on. I plan to hang two hats on each hook, and even then I’ll have to stash some hats away in the closet.

Oh, before I take you on a hat rack ride, I thought I’d throw in more details of the Nemo Room to keep you interested in that project. The picture to the left shows the corner detail, made of 4” pvc pipe elbows, ¼” mdf borders, and several wooden carpenter’s buttons, acting as rivets. I started by attaching all the pipes and borders to the wall and painting them the same dark purple-brown color as the wall. I used the Sherwin Williams’ color called ‘Browse Brown’. The rivets were spray-painted gold as a primer coat. After they were glued in place, I painted a coat of Browse Brown over them, quickly rubbing a worn spot on the center of the raised dot. This gave it an aged, rusty patina, but suggesting there might be metal underneath that dark color. Then I smeared some cheap brown craft paint (Americana ‘Bittersweet Chocolate’) around all the cracks, edges, and details to make it appear to have built up a layer of grime. I know, one doesn’t usually desire that dirty effect in your home… but this is different. The second picture shows our column, decked out in rivets that haven’t been grimed yet. See the difference? I feel it’s too flat and plain without the added shading, which I plan to do soon. You might think it’s cleaner before the extra treatment, but that's not the point here. This room came straight out of the 1860’s, and it’s surely going to look like it, if I have anything to say about it! In looking around the room, there are more untreated rivets than I was aware of. I’ve got several hours of work ahead of me, just dirtying up the rest of them.

Now, back to the hat rack. I can’t believe I’m showing you this, but the above picture is what the wall looked like before I put the brush to it. Yikes! This is like an embarrassing tattoo that I should keep covered, but now I’ve just dropped my drawers and exposed it! In it’s day, I’m sure it was fashionable to deck the kitchen out with pictures of apple pies and coffee pots. Since this used to be my husband’s grandmother’s home, it comes with these quaint little dated features. Thankfully, we are changing and covering these features one by one. Using a gallon of Home Depot ‘oops’ paint that I got for a steal (which was an interesting color that I might have chosen anyway), I was able to eliminate the ugly wallpaper pictures with two coats.

I have accumulated all the necessary materials and am ready to begin. Because our ceiling is angled, I like the idea of staggering the hooks rather than put them on straight horizontal lines. I will make 5 hooks in one area by the back door, and two more hooks over each of two doorways nearby, so they will all be in a reasonable proximity, feeling pretty much like a grouping. The installation of these pieces is proving to be very easy. I am working with ½” sized plumbing materials. Each knob is made up of two floor flanges, a 45 degree elbow, a wooden plaque/plate, and a 5” and 3” piece of threaded pipe sections. It is necessary to use anchor inserts to reinforce the wall where the base flange attaches.

Now, where I’ll complicate this project (because, you see, I must!) is in the ‘heads’ of each knob. I started off simply wanting to paint the wooden plaques so they wouldn’t look unfinished. I know myself pretty well though. If I painted them, I may be tempted to say 'That's close enough, they look sorta finished. They won't show anyway, with hats on them'. Then I wouldn't get around to the finishing touches that will really make them more unique and com-PLEEETE-ly completed. But now I have more incentive to stay on track. I have you watching! So I've left them raw, and here’s the plan. While these plaques look decent enough like they are, what I really want to do it cover each of them with a plush ‘cushion’, covered in fabric. The cushions may have to be made of several different sizes to accommodate the different hats. I’m assuming so, specifically because the top hat covers almost the entire fixture and none of the cool pipe shows. So that fixture will get a particularly tall cushion. The rest may be half that size.

After putting some thought into the cushion heads, I have decided to construct walls out of layers of poster board thickness. Just between you and me, it won’t really be poster board, but rather flexible boxes from frozen dinners and pizza boxes. (Reduce, reuse, recycle, repeat!) With enough layers of board glued around in circles, it becomes quite strong. It’s the same concept as fusing wood in the bentwood rocker concept. Enough layers will result in plenty of strength. Then the poster board ‘box’ gets a lid and a generous wrap of batting and then a tightly fitting layer of fabric. I’m sure the fabric covering will require a lot of hand-sewing. I wouldn’t expect anything less! I’m not sure how I’ll attach the cushion to the wood plaque yet, but I may decide to include a drawstring edge for easy attaching and removal. Hmmm, here’s what happens when I talk it through before starting. I raise the bar… look out! Now I feel the basic cushion should be covered with a tough ticking or denim that’s more permanently fixed… and then the nicer cover that will be seen should have the drawstring and can be removed for laundering. Yep, each cushion must be covered twice! Sounds reasonable! Remind me again… what was so wrong with the plain wooden plaques?

I think I’ll give it a rest for now and tackle these covers later. Uh oh, that's how started projects never get finished. Well we'll see about that... Ciao!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Making a start

Being in my 40’s, I still refer to myself as approaching middle age, as if I’m not there yet. In fact, I’m in my late 40’s, so I really am middle aged, and that’s assuming I’m going to live to be about a hundred! So by now, you’d think I would’ve figured some things out. Like, what do I want to do with my life? I’m referring specifically to what creative outlet to focus on. It's not too late to start, provided I DO start something. A change of habits is a good start. For the past several years, something has been bugging me. I’ve been spreading my time around amongst a dozen or so disciplines, but I feel that discipline is exactly what I lack. And just dabbling with all these media hasn’t gotten me anywhere with any particular one of them. So I could fade away into mediocrity with the contentment that I was a ‘very creative person who could make almost anything’, but no one outside my circle of friends and family would know it.

The trouble is, I’m a sick woman! No, don’t worry, I’m not terminal in the way that ‘sick’ usually means. But I constantly regurgitate the beginnings of fussy little projects and I can’t seem to give up any of my mind-numbingly tedious hobbies, in order to focus on the ‘artist that I wanted to be when I grew up’. If I eliminated these time-suckers, like knitting or beading, with a concentrated focus on making art everyday, I would probably make some headway. My use of the word ‘art’ there means paintings, drawings, that kind of fine art. I realize anything can be done artfully, or become an art form. But as a child when I used to say I wanted to be an artist when I grow up, I’m sure I didn’t mean a knitter! And while I do feel like I’m an artist now, I have so many other things that take up my artmaking time, that I am not prolific in that artmaking. And suffering from Art Distraction Disorder (ADD), I’m not prolific at much of anything individually. Collectively, I make a lot of unique, half-finished things, and all the while, I have a body of work (paintings) in my head that are haunting me. I haven’t made time for that kind of art in months. I know I should work in that direction everyday and let nothing interfere, but suffering from creative schizophrenia, that’s easier said than done. So when Hubbs suggested I start a blog about a year ago, I naively dismissed it as a sure way to pigeon-hole me into a single media- ARGH!

Then I got involved in an intense project redesigning our dining room into something resembling Captain Nemo’s Nautilus from the original Disney movie ’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’. (Future posts will go into more detail.) As I’m wrapping this project up, (really, I’d say I’m 85% done) Hubbs voiced something that I was also thinking… ‘You should’ve chronicled the project all along and blogged about it’. I wish I had. We took a few pictures here and there (with our cell phone cameras, no less), but they are of such inferior quality that I hesitate posting them for all to see. So I’m in search of a better digital SLR, which pretty much locks me in with this blogging idea, right? Actually, I am embarking on this road as a way to put pressure on myself, (welcome pressure, mind you) so that I will keep momentum going on whatever project I feel like working on. I’m not going to worry about being all over the place with my choice of media. Some of my work may fascinate you, some may bore you. But I will NOT be pigeon-holed. Any given post may highlight a house-décor project, or a recipe, or some parts of our garden (sheesh- it’s 50’ x 115’, no kidding!), or beading, or knitting, or crocheting, or drawing, painting, carving, sewing,… (breathe…) and that’s probably not the complete list. I may do nothing more than ramble now and then. So I can’t really say what I’ll lock in on mostly, but what I CAN promise you is this: Whatever project I work on will likely be fraught with complications! I refuse to work from a pattern too closely, or copy someone else’s work. I may be influenced by something, but that is merely a starting point. It would be a shame to create a masterpiece by hand and have the result be something nearly identical to hundreds, possibly thousands of items around the world. If I’m going to go to the trouble, then I want it to be so freakin’ complicated that no one (in their right mind) would EVER end up in the same place! Yes, that I can promise you!

Ok, so all excuses aside, I’m sure there’s a digital point-and-shoot around here somewhere that should render moderately decent photos to get me started until I get the SLR camera of my dreams. Here’s a teaser (cell phone camera shot) of the Nautilus Room in its current 85% completed state. Many more details on this room will follow soon, I promise.

In conclusion of my very first post, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite recipes. I don’t begin to claim I’m on the same level as the divas and goddesses of the food blog world. Molly… Deb… I cower in unworthiness when performing in your arena. (Sorry, I don’t mean to exclude any guys… Tim of l+d, you’re awesome!) But I’ll offer a favorite recipe, Spinach Balls, as a light way to dive into my intensely complex, project-oriented blog. Contrary to my mantra of complicating things, these vegetable appetizers are remarkably easy to make. They taste like stuffing and even appeal to those who hate vegetables. All I know about the source of this recipe is the name Kate DiLullo, which was typed on my aging yellowed clipping. I have no recollection of what cookbook or magazine it came from. I found it in the late 80’s and have been making these ever since. Everyone loves them. If you don’t love them, there’s something way more wrong with you than any sickness I suffer from! Seek help.

Hot Spinach Balls
large eggs
2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, cooked according to package directions, drained and squeezed thoroughly dry
1 cup minced onion
¾ cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
¾ cup lightly salted butter or margarine, melted
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (fresh-grated is the best!)
2 ½ cups (two 5 oz. boxes) crumb-type seasoned stuffing mix (*see Note)

Beat eggs in a large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients except stuffing mix. When well blended, stir in stuffing mix and let stand 20 minutes while mixture firms slightly and absorbs liquids. Shape mixture into balls and arrange in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake about 20 minutes (depending on the size of the balls), until hot and lightly browned. Spinach balls may be cooled, wrapped and frozen. Reheat on baking sheet for 10 – 15 minutes in 350 degree F. oven. This recipe makes about a hundred pieces, again, depending on the size.

*Note: This recipe can be modified in many ways, adding kale, cabbage, mustard greens, chard, or any combination of greens, as long as you simmer them until cooked thoroughly and soft, keeping them in the same proportion as the original spinach amount. Or you may want to jazz it up with jalapeños or any number of fresh herbs. With the addition of your own herbs, I would suggest eliminating or cutting back on the seasoning packet that comes with the stuffing. Some stuffing mixes combine their seasonings and bread crumbs together, so that makes it a little harder to separate. You may wish to substitute other hard grated cheeses or a blend instead of using all Parmesan. I recommend shaping the spinach balls in small sizes (1-2 bites) so they cook all the way through before browning too much on the outside. This has become a standard food on our Thanksgiving and Christmas menus, almost replacing the need for a regular dish of stuffing. Enjoy!