Sunday, January 31, 2010

Unexpected Gifts

It's been a happy and hectic week.  A couple of weeks ago,  I was invited to join a creativity focus group by an artist friend.  I was very flattered and after my initial fears about not being good enough were assuaged, I signed on.  The idea is to get together weekly, at this point anyway, to support each other in working toward our individual goals.  Because everyone in the group is at a different stage in their careers, I, being the least practiced of the group, should reap huge benefits from their greater experience.   What a gift!   So we met Monday morning from 8:30 to around noon!  Time well spent:  five very intelligent, articulate, creative people whom I'm going to love really getting to know.   Because having all this unstructured time is new to me, both K. and C. suggested that I actually structure my week.  C. suggested time blocking:  breaking down the week into days, the days into hours,  etc.  Here's the gist of it:

 The concept of time blocking or estimated time usage is a great way to determine if your To Do List is doable in your available time or if it is completely unrealistic. To get the best possible results you will need to be honest with your estimates regarding the amount of time needed to achieve each task. 

So I bought a calendar and post-it notes, and tomorrow I'll block out my week.  C. uses post-its,  so in case she can't get to a particular task she can just move the little task note to the next day.   Tomorrow,  I'll schedule my girlfriend dates, exercise, errands,  and household chores.  If I want to spend 3 hours on Tuesday afternoon making art, then my mind can be free because all of the little tasks usually vying for my attention have a time and place set aside for them.   I'm hoping that structuring time this way actually results in my having more of it, as well as a clearer head!  The other suggestion from the group was to make, make, make, and not worry so much about whether I like the end result:  it's about process.  In fact everyone assured me that I would hate a lot of the stuff  I make in the beginning.     Hmm, where have I heard that before?  

The rest of my week was spent painting and arranging things in the new dining room, taking a few hours to help The Friends of Onion Creek cleanup endeavor, marketing, cooking, cleaning, and entertaining friends on Saturday night.   

We moved so much stuff around  when we were working on this house project that somehow a lot of crap ended up in my studio.   Time to clear some of it out to make a little space to work this week!  I desperately need to shelve the walls because every surface is covered right now.  Aaach!  

My landscaper pal, Jeremy, reports that it's time to plant fruit trees.  We want to put two in the front yard.  Don't get me started on gardening right now.  That's a topic for a future post.

This week was full of gifts:  the focus group,  finding a book K. recommended at Half Price,  getting help with painting from Laura,  some very lovely exchanges with friends,  and spending time outside caring for a park.    I couldn't have asked for a finer week.  

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Finally finished painting the dining room

It took me 2 and a half days to do it, but I finally finished painting the new dining room.  We still have to put a couple of baseboards back up, but I'm sitting at my table right now and I have to say that I love it.  I ended up painting it a dark pumpkin instead of coral because it worked so much better with the ochre kitchen.  Here's what it looks like:

Here's another view looking into the kitchen:

I really need to paint the table or find another one,  remove the ceiling fan light, and do a few other things, but I'm through with home improvement for awhile.  I need to make some art!

Here's one more shot looking through the kitchen into the dining room from the living room:

The end.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My miracle man

My husband Morgan continually amazes me.  He's a software engineer by trade--and works a kajillion hours a week, counting all the work he does from home writing software code.  But the things that astonish me are all the skills he's amassed over the years that don't have anything to do with what he does for a living.  I could tell you about how he took a crappy old warehouse on the east side and, with the help of a couple of other artists, turned it into a studio/performance space called The Off Center, which is the home of the brilliant theater group, the Rude Mechanicals, but that was before I knew him.   The truth is, most of what he knows how to do is quite mysterious to me.  I'm just grateful that the man has some serious skills!

What he's done:
In our house on the east side, he completely remodeled our tiny kitchen, replacing a non-functioning window with drywall and insulation, installing cabinets, laying tile on the counter tops and backsplash,  and doing all the electrical work.  He created a beautiful rose arbor one year for my birthday (with wooden pegs rather than nails!),  and the next year he built big pine bookshelves that framed a doorway in our living room.  I really hated leaving all of those lovely things behind when we moved, but the house was old, poorly constructed, and always needed work.  His task list was never ending.

A new house:
When we began looking for another house, Morgan said he wanted to buy a house that was in extremely good shape because he was tired of spending all of his free time working on a house that, even with the improvements he made, would never be a very good house.   We were lucky enough to find a home that had been built in 1971, when there was still old-growth wood and contractors didn't seem to take as many short-cuts.  The house is remarkably solid.  On top of that, the previous owner had poured a lot of time and money into tastefully remodeling the kitchen and bathroom, adding French doors to the room leading out onto the patio,  replacing all the doors and many of the windows, and installing a top-of-the-line, super high-efficiency ac/heating system.  After about 10 minutes in the house,  Morgan said, "I want this house."

Some stuff we had others do:
 Of course we had our own ideas about what we wanted, so before we actually moved into the house, Morgan ripped up all the carpet, scraped up the old linoleum that was under the carpet, and had bamboo floors installed throughout the house (He simply didn't have time to do it, but he could have.), and had the garage converted into an open, spacious office.  After we sold our old house, we had a screened-in- porch built onto the patio slab out back.  That was always a dream of mine, and mosquitoes are bad here in the summer.

Morgan saves the day (and a lot of money)!
Yet there was still something about the house that had always bothered us.  There was no dining room.  We used the room between the kitchen and the 2nd bedroom as a dining room, but you couldn't get to it from the kitchen.  You had to walk a few steps down the hall and enter the room that way.  wanted better flow. I thought we needed a doorway from the kitchen into the dining room, and I wanted a big doorway.  I am not a fan of walls.  It took over a year to convince Morgan of the veracity of this notion, but he finally succumbed to my weekly admonitions and agreed that a doorway was indeed a fine idea.   We decided to find out what it would cost to have someone else do the work and after getting a few estimates (from $1050-$3000),  Morgan decided with a little help, he could do the work himself.  To begin with, he needed move several electrical outlets.   The wiring ran along the bottom of the wall--a large section of which was to be removed.  Morgan spent two weekends moving all the electrical wiring and installing new junction boxes and outlets.   Then he enlisted the assistance of our friend Larry, who'd had a lot of experience with dry wall.   Morgan opened up the wall, he and Larry framed it out, installed dry wall,  and did the taping and floating.  (see link above)  So now we have this lovely little dining room (with French doors to the screen porch) that looks like it's a natural extension of the kitchen.   Of course I'll post pictures after I've painted the new room and placed the furniture.  I just wanted to shine a little light on my wonderful husband.   Ah.  I love my miracle man.

Hallway to dining room, first door on right

 Doorway from kitchen to dining room

Friday, January 22, 2010

Creative chops

My friend, Laura Maclay,  has serious creative chops.  She can do it all: drawing, painting, sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crocheting.  (She's also a kick-ass cook.)   She's been constructing handbags for a living for over 10 years now.  She paints and makes art quilts, too.  Lately she's been crafting these amazing knitted creatures.  Laura is incredibly generous and has supported and encouraged me creatively for years.  Did I mention that she's my very best pal?

Laura travels cross country with her husband, Greg, to art shows throughout the year.  When she's not on the road,  she's busy making.   I wish she had an outlet here in town so you could go see her work.  What you can do is go to her Etsy store to see a few of her purses.   Here's the link:

Here are a few samples to whet your appetite:

the fascinating bower bird

I'd like to introduce you to the Australian Bower Bird.  Do you know the bower bird?  Of all the birds,  the bower birds are the greatest nest designers.  A male bower bird will devote most of his life to
nest construction and furnishing, in hopes of impressing and attracting a mate.

Some are great architects, building towering twig structures carefully woven together.   Others  display their fabulous collections inside and around their finished nests:  clusters of flowers, shells, nuts,  and even animal dung--as long as it's been thoughtfully arranged.  Birds that live in and around cities collect man-made treasures: water bottle caps, clothespins, plastic bits and bobs. And some even create moss "lawns."   And as if that isn't interesting enough, each bird has a preferred color or colors!  Some birds like green, some prefer darker colors: blacks, charcoals, deep browns, and some love pinks and oranges.  The Satin Bower Bird collects only blue things.  After all he's a glossy deep blue bird with sparkling blue eyes, and what better way to extend his blueness into the world?  And some birds seem to be interested in contrasting textures, bits of string juxtaposed with transparent bits of glass, or iridescent beetle casings.  When the bower bird is not selecting and endlessly arranging objects for his nest, he spends his time titivating, preening, and practicing his "display" dance.

If you'd like to know more about the brilliant bower bird, there are several videos on YouTube worth your time, those that feature naturalist, David Attenborough, are particularly worthwhile:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Painting circles!

Today I'm making another circle painting.  This one has a coral background.  I'll post a picture when it's completed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I'm not a fan of walls

If I could take all the walls down in my house, except bathroom walls, I would probably be happy.  I'm not a fan of walls.  As it is, I need the walls to put the shelving on.  Our house is probably more space than any 2 people need--something slightly over 1300 square feet counting the screened porch.  We have a lot of books and I have a lot of art/craft supplies, so at this time in my life I need a few walls, but I did think for a long time that a very wide doorway between the kitchen and dining room would be nice.  It took me about a year and a half to persuade Morgan of the virtue of this idea, then it was just a matter of deciding whether to pay a contractor to do the work or  to put Morgan's considerable skills to work.  After getting a couple of estimates (ranging from just over  $1000 to over $3000) we decided to save the money  and do it ourselves.  

This past Sunday, our friend Larry came over and in less than 7 hours, they had removed the sheet rock, framed the doorway, and completed the first layer of taping and floating.  We still have to do more taping and floating, do the texturing, and paint, but I am loving the flow of the house now.  Check it out!

I'll post more pictures after I've painted and moved the furniture back into the dining room.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I made cat food!

The cat food project was a success!  All of the cats, except Zoom, loved their homemade cat food.  Here's my recipe for a 3-week supply:

6 cups finely chopped chicken (use the food processor!)
1 cup cottage cheese
about  a 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup cooked peas and carrots
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 Tbs nutritional yeast

Place one whole chicken (I used a 5 lb organic chicken) in a stock pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook for about 2 hours or until done.
Remove skin and bones from chicken.  Chop chicken in a food processor.  

In a bowl mix cottage cheese, pumpkin, peas and carrots, about 3/4 of a cup of the chicken broth, and yeast.  Add mixture to food processor and puree.  Add cottage cheese/veggie mixture to chopped chicken and mix well.  Serve.  

I put a weeks worth of the cat food in the fridge and put the other 2 batches in the freezer.   I plan to feed this to the cats only two times this week because I want them to ease into their new diet.  I'll serve each kitty a little less than 1/4 cup twice week this week, then three times a week next week.  Yesterday, I just gave each one a heaping tablespoons to see how they liked it and to make sure it didn't make anyone ill.  It's much richer than their usual dry food diet.  

My friend Tom has had his cat on a home made diet of chicken livers, boiled eggs, and peas in the ratio 4:1:1.  He says his cat loves it and it's much cheaper than the prescription diet they were on, and much healthier.  If you opt for the chicken liver diet, make sure you buy organic chicken livers because commercial chicken livers are full of toxins and certainly won't improve your cat's health!  

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Haiti is a small, impoverished country, ill-equipped to deal with the recent earthquake devastation.  Please open your hearts and your pocketbooks.  This is from a news source I trust, AlterNet,
"These groups deserve your support:
  • CARE has deployed emergency team members to Port-au-Prince to assist in recovery efforts. They're focusing their efforts on rescuing children who may still be trapped in schools that collapsed.
  • Oxfam has four offices in Haiti and over 200 highly experienced aid workers on the ground. They are already responding to the situation where assistance is most needed.
  • AmeriCares has already committed $5 million in medical and humanitarian aid, is sending emergency response experts to Haiti, and is currently preparing an emergency airlift to their partners in Haiti.
  • Action Aid's Strategic Crisis Fund coordinates immediate disbursement of funds for rapid humanitarian response, and is providing medicines, food and shelter to people in need.
  • MADRE has activated an emergency response through its partner organization, Zanmi Lasante Clinic. The most urgent needs right now are bandages, broad-spectrum antibiotics and other medical supplies, as well as water tablets to prevent cholera outbreaks.The doctors, nurses and community health workers there are working to get medical assistance and supplies to areas that have been hardest hit.
Other important groups are also doing essential work:

Doctors Without Borders operates one of the only free trauma centers in Port-au-Prince as well as an emergency hospital in the capital for pregnant women, new mothers and newborns. All three of its primary medical centers have collapsed, but DWB has already set up temporary shelters and is offering emergency care on the ground.

If you want to do something immediately, text "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele Haiti charged to your phone -- Famous musician Wyclef Jean (@wyclef) created this foundation to permanently improve the lives of the most impoverished people in his home country of Haiti. The L.A. Times reports that Wyclef has already helped raised $400,000 through Yele Haiti for the disaster.

Donate to Partners in Health-- PIH (@pih_org) is already on the ground in Haiti and mobilizing relief efforts. This is the organization Paul Farmer co-founded, working to provide health care and education to Haiti's poorest."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Making cat food!

Yep, that's right.  I've wanted to put the kitties on a healthier diet, so I found some recipes for homemade cat food!  It will have organic chicken, rice, cottage cheese, pumpkin, a little kelp powder, a little brewer's yeast, and peas. I'll make a small batch to see if they like it.  If they do like it I'll supplement their good dry food with this 3 times a week.  I've been reading that a lot of cat illness are actually caused by a steady diet of commercial cat food, which is loaded with all kinds of crap.

I'm going to CostCo to buy their two-pack of organic chicken, which is pretty affordable.  I'm also going to replace Flea, Squeak, and Zoom's vet food with higher grade, high protein cat food--no meat by-products (what are those anyway?), no ash, no preservatives, no crap!

I'll let you know how this experiment turns out!

Monday, January 11, 2010

R.I.P. Beazle, 2007-2010

He was a cunning, wild boy, with no interest in humans.  After we moved to this house, he would disappear for months at a time.  He never let us get close enough to pet him.   But, because in my mind all cats are good,  Beazle was good.  May he rest in peace.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cat wrangling

Yesterday I posted about the return of the injured Beazle.  This morning we closed the door to the screened porch which resulted in immediate cat freak-out.  Colonel P.  scrambled up the screen, yowling.  Larry and  Beazle ran under the chaise, and Sprout hid under a table.  After the trap (baited with sardines) was in place, I opened the door and we were able to get traumatized Sprout, Larry, and Pcorn outside where their food was waiting.  Beazle  is still avoiding the trap, but hopefully his desire for sardines will outweigh his caution and we'll be able to get him to the vet soon.  It's been a rather stressful morning for everyone.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Creature comfort

Yesterday I started working on a bird creature.  I'll take some pictures when it's a bit further along.  Today we're going to make some tempeh chili and cornbread.

 I've been distracted with trying to keep feral cats warm.  One of the ferals, Beazle, who had been gone for over 4 months, showed up yesterday morning with what appears to be a broken front leg.  He slept in the chair nest all day yesterday with his Uncle Larry.   I  put a heating pad in the big cat basket so there would be warm beds for all.  When I got up this morning Colonel Popcorn and Sprout were curled up in the basket.  They're all out and about right now and I hope Beazle comes back later.  The plan is to trap him and take him to the emergency vet for x-rays.  Anyway,  I guess we'll make decisions about what to do as we go.   Poor little Beazle.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Winter Dinner

I made dinner:  roasted organic Brussels sprouts, baby carrots, and potatoes, Salmon patty, and salad.

Looking in

You may think they want in, but they're just watch their version of tv.

What they do on a cold day

Little Flea, Olive, and Sophie leave no room for us on the couch.  Of course we shouldn't  dare ask them to share.

winterization complete!

Ok, I've put up plastic sheeting and tarps around the screened porch and put the nice big heating pad under the ferals' wool blanket nest.  It feels much warmer in there now.  All of the plants have been moved to the porch or covered.

 Of course the cats are a little freaked out because they hate change and their area now looks and sounds different.  Sprout and Larry are cautiously sniffing around and Colonel Popcorn is in one of the blanket-lined baskets, although they are avoiding the chaise with the heating pad.  These cats are not that bright.

I feel a little guilty worrying about these three cats when there are 4000 homeless people in Austin needing to be sheltered, but as my friend, Laura says, this is my world.


Today the much ballyhooed arctic blast arrives with it's 40 mph winds and below freezing temperatures.  The task for today is to put up as much plastic as I can on the screened porch so that the outdoor kitties will be warmer and augment their wool blankets with a big heating pad.  Covered some plants yesterday and brought some in.  Today, more plants come in and more will be covered.  

Hopefully I'll be able to work on an art project tomorrow, but gotta keep those kitties warm today.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

making clean; making food

Today was nice.  My friend, Stella,  came for lunch:  soup, salad, bread, and Cava.   The kitties were charming.  I did a bit of tidying up before she arrived and after she left I read for awhile then made dinner: broccoli, herb crusted salmon, the salad leftover from lunch,  and roasted potatoes.  And of course I made the bed.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Blue Monday my ass!

This was a great day.  I didn't make anything, but the bed; however, I washed the French door windows, did some laundry, tidied up, dealt with a plumber, cooked kale and black beans, swept the back porch, cleaned cat boxes, loaded the dishwasher, and read.  Not bad for my first "official" day of retirement.

Pot Pies!

We made pot pies yesterday, but I forgot to post about it last night.  I made potato-leek soup and used that instead of a b├ęchamel sauce, and sauteed celery, white and red onions, carrots, garlic, crimini and shitake mushrooms, and potatoes.  Added a thyme bundle, salt and pepper, and some soup and simmered for about 15 minutes.  Morgan made whole wheat pie crusts (for the first time ever). I put the ingredients in the pie shells and baked for 25 minutes at 375.    Next time I'll add peas or edamame, but we didn't have them on hand yesterday.   (Also want to make a pie with winter vegetables: celery root, winter squashes, earthy mushrooms, maybe some chard or kale.) Served a fairly lame simple salad of romaine and tomatoes on the side.

Our homely rustic pies

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Today I wanted to work on the box, and after Morgan gave me a lesson in Dremel use, I decided to let him cut the opening in the box.  It's going to be awhile before I'm comfortable using the Dremel, especially if I'm doing anything that requires the least bit of precision.  So here's the box with some of the stuff I may, or may not use.  I got kinda stuck today.  What I really want to do is attach one of my porcelain doll heads to a little sewing machine motor (upper left corner), but I haven't figured out how to do that.  Anyway, bones will probably be used as will the little leather, mostly hairless one-eyed dog I bought at a flea market.   The opening looks good, though.  It's a start.

I also started a very small cat painting that made me wish I knew how to paint!   The drawing is better, but I lost the tilt of the head when I copied it.  At least it looks like a cat!

Friday, January 1, 2010

I made space!

I cleaned off my work table.  See how nice the trees  look reflected in the glass?  The lazy susan in the top right never looks tidy because it contains things I often need and refuse to put away, like my good eraser, little bundles of wire and string, and other bits and bobs.  Wish I could make more space, as in closets and drawers and, I know it's greedy, maybe one more room so we'd have a real guest room.

The next project I'll start on today, but probably won't finish because it involves Morgan showing me how to use the dremel tool and right now he's raking leaves.

I have to cut a window in the lid of the box so the objects inside will be visible.   That's the box with some of the objects I'll use.  Sleeping in the sunny window is my cat, Zoom.  It's her favorite napping spot.