Planning Ahead

IMG_5343With the topsy-turvy aspect to my life these days  (and the seemingly unending miles of trim still to paint), I am planning ahead…thinking about my holiday cards.  Making them is one of my favorite Christmas activities.  I’m not sure why.  You might think that making forty or more of something would get pretty tedious.  For some reason, it is actually sort of meditative.   It might be the “traditional” aspect of the whole process that appeals (I have made them for many, many years).  I hope friends and family look forward to receiving them…it has to be better mail than a bill, right?

Over the years,  as my cards have gotten more complicated (and my time more precious), I have been designing a card that can hang on a tree, or in a window, or mark a place in a book…a keepsake that will hopefully never see the inside of the recycling  bin.  I do try to come up with a design that seems complex, but is actually simple to construct.   I like the challenge.  I am gathering together possibilities…and have decided that it is now time to start using “the good stuff”…no way do I want to pack it up and move it again…

Snippets From Amsterdam

IMG_0066No one who knows me well would describe me as an adventurous traveller.  But, once I get “on the road”, I truly enjoy seeing new things in new places.  I am probably more of a voyeur than a tourist.

Kate and I just got back from a week in Amsterdam.  In spite of all my worries about how we would find each other in the airport (arriving at different times, different airlines, getting through customs, no international data on my phone…how in the world did people do this?) she met me at the arrivals gate (both of us on overnight flights: she, from San Francisco; me, from Philadelphia) with a cup of coffee in hand!  It had been made just the way I like it (some cream, a bit of chocolate, and hot)…a little charm goes a long way in Amsterdam, apparently!

A week in Amsterdam.  Free from all that we had left behind.  A guidebook, but no plans, no “must sees”.  But, be forewarned:  one needs to know that Kate and I once spent more than a week in Paris…and didn’t go to a SINGLE museum…not one, except, the Pompidou, and I am not sure for most, that that really counts…

In no particular order, here are a few highlights of our trip (with commentary)…

IMG_5375 IMG_5376 IMG_5371In a leap of “whatever”, we both packed watercolors and brushes, thinking that we would paint atmospheric masterpieces…that didn’t quite work out.  The weather was a bit chilly, sometimes rainy.  We never found a bench to sit on…and, truth be told, neither of us really wanted to sit in a cafe and paint.  It truly seemed a bit rude to do so.  Most of the cafes and bakeries we stopped in were small, obviously run by the owners who were right there, on site…busy, busy places (not sure anyone in Amsterdam actually eats dinner “at home”).  In the end, I did pull out my “stuff” in the hotel room and played around a bit with it (or whatever I had acquired in our daily forays out)…am thinking that now that I am home, I will do more.  Does that count?

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For someone who loves wonderfully old, somewhat quirky architecture, Amsterdam was a real treat.  Add to that, lovely Art Nouveau tiles in doorways, intriguing ironwork gracing windows, doors, and gates, curvy Baroque trim, beautiful old windows and charming old doors…cobblestone streets, flowers everywhere (it IS October, right?) …total eye candy…loved it.  Couldn’t get enough.

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Saw this cauliflower on the street  (bet Dutch kids play with their food)…We did get out of the city.  Took the train…wonderfully convenient, efficient, and quiet…passed through broad expanses of green, green fields, many of which are certainly full of flowers in the spring.  Each, connected to one another, by waterways and bike paths.  Think one could go do grocery shopping “in town” by boat or bike…

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One of our forays out of Amsterdam was to Den Hague…in search of the”world famous” street market…and the Escher museum.  Think we found the “wrong” street market (though I did buy a few plastic doilies that will make great stencils), but the Escher museum, which we did find, was a total treat.  He did wonderfully detailed woodcuts and lithographs of Italian hill towns early in his career…exquisite, precise, with black blacks and crisp lines and intriguing perspectives.  One could see how he got from there to his later work, but Kate and I both loved his “old” stuff.  The museum was very small, in a “house” lived in at one time by one of the Dutch royal family…art, plus…

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By chance, we wandered into the highlight of our trip…gasp! a museum: the Tropenmuseum.  If you get to Amsterdam, don’t miss it.  For some reason, neither of our guidebooks singled it out as “THE place to see” in Amsterdam, and yet, only by seeing it could a visitor get a real sense of the expansive impact that the Dutch traders had on the rest of the world at the time, and beyond.  It holds a remarkable collection of artifacts from all of the Dutch colonies…beautifully curated, originally presented…totally engaging.  If we had had another day, we would have gone back, and probably, back again…

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Early in the week, as we were still contemplating visiting museums versus just wandering the streets to see what we might happen upon, and, with the Rijks museum just across the street, what caught our attention was this shop window display.  The shop was closed…but a few days later, we went back.  Kate tried on almost everything on the mannikin…and bought the coat! and the shawl!…decided the tulle skirt was a bit over the top…but lovely.

We had fun.  I think we “saw” Amsterdam…

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Travel is like this bit of light that shines on what you think you “know”.  It gives you a new point of view…see, there it is…a fresh look…

Not a “Gee’s Bend” Bone in My Body…

_MG_5257I am still sorting through stuff in the studio.  Some days, I find treasures; others, not so much.  About a week ago, I unpacked a basket of totally mis-matched threads…odd colors, some American (Knit-Cro-Sheen), some French…all over forty years old.   (I can date them because I bought the French ones during our sabbatical in Grenoble…and did crochet a great bag…another time, another story.)  I have probably packed and unpacked that exact basket, full of the exact same balls of thread, five or six times over the years…too many times, for way too long.  I decided to just use them up…there’s a challenge: odd colors, random weights, lots of some, just bits of others.

The initial idea was to make dishcloths…really?

Why?  Well, because, I hate mine, and thought some colorful ones might make me love(?) cleaning up…and besides, how intense can one get over making a dishcloth?

Truly?  Well, my plan was to pick up a ball of thread and just crochet (granny square-style) until that one was used up…and, then attach the next.  Hmmm.  It should have been simple; I couldn’t do it!  Tried.  Really?

Really.  Hence the title of this blog.  Even as simple of a thing as a dishcloth, apparently, has to have a plan, for heavens sake.  “Random/design by chance” was beyond me.  For a dishcloth?    The absurdity of THAT did make me laugh!

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I just couldn’t do it.  Those incomplete rounds bothered me.  Should I rip it out?  for a dishcloth???   And, here is the catch to the story:  I guess for me, even the pattern in my dishcloth matters.  The challenge then became to choose the color/thread for any given row based on if I thought what I had of it could make it all the way around the block…AND, it still had to look “good”.   That was when the fun (and suspense) really began.

True confession:  As the colors began to “run out” (keeping in mind that dishcloths can get pretty gross, and a darker color range with light colors just for accents really was most practical), I did break down and buy a big ball of Aunt Lydia’s purple just so I could get around those last few rows…

Now I just have to weave in all those ends…do the math:  each color change has two ends…

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Late to the Party…

ENOUGH WITH THIS MESS!  GET TO WORK!

ENOUGH WITH THIS MESS! GET TO WORK!

Studios are still a mess:  boxes, everywhere…after more than a year, it is getting to be just  a bit too much.  At the beginning, I didn’t have a clue!  How is that possible, one might ask?  (That would be “one” who has never seen my stash…)  Let me just say that when you throw ALL your cookies in the air, they don’t EVER fall back into neatly arranged piles.  It doesn’t help that my packing scheme was to maximize every cubic inch (since I was also going to carry each box down the stairs, up the ramp into the truck, back down the ramp, up the stairs…) AND it means that all of one thing didn’t necessarily get packed into the same box.  A true recipe for chaos on the other end…and that is pretty much what remains.

BUT, this is NOT a rant about the woes of moving… (how boring).   On her last visit a few weeks ago, my daughter suggested that I might find Pinterest “interesting”…little did she know!  What fun. I have been ripping stuff out of magazines for years…anything that catches my eye. IMG_5249 Some of it gets categorized and stashed into binders…started out with mostly quilt stuff, moved into doll making, added holiday ideas, mixed-media techniques, dyeing recipes (lots of cutting and pasting)…and, then there were the random gorgeous colors, patterns, and other bits of found paper things that morphed into collage fodder for artist trading cards, journals, cards and just plain fun.  I still do it.  There are neat piles right next to the chair I am sitting in at this very moment (amidst all the moving mess, AND since Day One).  Seems like such an innocent past time…IMG_5207the gleanings from the past few weeks…

BUT, I wasn’t prepared for Pinterest!  What fun!  If you haven’t checked it out, DO IT!  On any given topic, hundreds of people have posted “things that caught their eye”!   I found that some have even “pinned” a few of my things on their boards!  How anyone ever found them in the sea of inspiration out there is a bit staggering to contemplate…My son put the Pinterest widget(?) on the side bar of this blog (see it?)…click on it (and then click on my name in the upper right corner, then onto “Profile and Pins”…and, just take a pass through my “boards”…you can see what fun I am having…and, I bet you might want to join the party!  Have fun!

Now or Never…

If there is one thing I have figured out this past year, it is that there is NEVER going to be a better time to “fix” something.  As I unpack and try to put “all my pieces back together again”, I have begun to just “do it”: “fix it”…in spite of all the mess that STILL surrounds daily life around here (huge painting project underway…wandering around in the dark is not advised).

Case in point:  My armoire.  Previously in my studio, now in my kitchen, it has been re-purposed.  (Don’t ask, I don’t have a clue where I am going to put everything that used to be in it!)   It is now going to hold those awkward things that take up too much space in the kitchen cabinets (that I don’t have).  Sigh.  I once lived in a house in Texas that had so much cabinet space in the kitchen that I stored my Christmas ornaments there!!!  Always thought that when the Texan men finally got women to come, they wanted to be sure they stayed…hence, truly lovely bathtubs, and LOTS of kitchen cabinets.

Back to my story.  We managed to put the armoire back together.  (A challenge in itself.) Armoires were designed to be “portable”, so they come apart into (many) flat pieces with assorted hardware and keys… did I mention that it is French? and that we originally bought it in pieces?   When it was in my studio, the purple shelves (not original) seemed “arty”…in my kitchen, not so much.  After years of use, all were looking a bit ragged, as well.  New shelves were not an option.

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I guess I could have put them in place, hoping to get back to them at some point…but, I didn’t.

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Minor victories over the chaos feel SO good.

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A Truly Thoughtful Gift

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My son gives “good gifts”.  They may come wrapped in a used brown paper bag, stapled together at the top.  They may have been found by the side of the road.  They are without fail, special and chosen thoughtfully.  His most recent gift was beautifully wrapped, and probably too pricey beyond words.  It made me cry when I opened it…

I have coveted a Sophie Digard scarf FOREVER.  I love their detail, their colors, their craftsmanship.  I have sought them out in shops and I have pored over them online.  I have even tried crocheting my own version (some photos in past posts, “Inch by Inch” and “The Inherent Danger of Flat Surfaces…”).  Whenever I get to San Francisco, I try to stop in one particular store in Cow Hollow so that I can fondle (and admire) the latest Digard offerings and then, gently (and reluctantly) hand them back to the shopkeeper.

What makes them so special?  They are hand crocheted(!) by what must be a whole town full of women in Madagascar.  Generally made of merino wool, each lace-weight strand of yarn can be made up of sixty strands…all of different colors…yielding richly varied colorations and stunning detail.  IMG_5169Teeny tiny motifs, hundreds of colors, beautiful workmanship…truly beyond practicality, and, well into masterpiece.  Being casually handed such a gift as a “Thanks, Mom” at his rehearsal dinner will be one of those moments I will remember and cherish forever.  Like I say, it made me cry.  (But that won’t keep me from wearing it every chance I get!)