Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Flower Pigment Stamping

Earlier this week we did something a little fun for science class. A friend gave Julia some instructions for stamping flowers, so we gave it a try. Right now, there are few bright flowers out there. We found a pansy. Julia taped it, face-down on a piece of paper to keep it spread out.
We covered the flower with paper towel. If you get good at this, and want a more permanent impression on a piece of cloth, you could place white cloth (a hanky or a pillow case) on it, instead of the towel. Then you should "pound" it gently with a hammer. This mallet is what we found. With the first flower, Julia pounded way too vigorously, and smashed the poor thing to bits. So, just tap firmly until you get good at it.
The image is fuzzy, but this is the first result we got. When we have many more blooming flowers, we'll give it another try. We're house-sitting again this week, so I don't have my mother's daffodils nearby. Still, the colors are pretty!
We're studying flowers now, so this was a good little addition to our schooling. Julia has a small booklet where we put some of her artwork.
Some earlier work:
On this page we're putting some of her flower diagrams, and the pigment stamp.
The doves love to sit and coo in the branches outside, waiting for their bird food on the deck railing. They're fun to watch.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Written Word

Lately I've had several online conversations about books. I'm a writer; I have friends who are in the writing/editing/publishing world. Some of them seem concerned with the future of the book, in its printed form. So I thought I'd do a post on the written word -- where it's been, where it's going.

As you know, we didn't always have the written word. We had the spoken word: the oral tradition. Yes, there was a time when everyone thought the best way to pass on information was by using simply (and only) the human memory, the human voice. They told stories. Eventually, those stories -- that information -- survived the revolutionary transition to the written word. We still have ancient stories. Because man doesn't fundamentally change, even his very old stories remain interesting to us. We read Gilgamesh or Homer and their feelings and fears resonate with us still.

But someone, probably some government official, decided words need to be regulated a bit. They wrote them on clay tablets, in an attempt to give them permanence. I think it worked.
We still find clay tablets from thousands of years ago, in the desert sands of the Middle East. They've lasted through the harshest elements! Just try that with a book!
And then, of course, there's papyrus. Were they looking for something more supple? More compact? Something they didn't have to bake? They could certainly store more information, in less space.
This pic, by the way, came from a really interesting web page here, about the history of the written word. I recommend it as good reading.
Then writers moved on to vellum, calf skin. They wrote on leather, basically. Very sturdy stuff, more supple than clay, more sturdy than papyrus scrolls.
At this point I'll just jump ahead to books with paper. Mr. Gutenberg helped us here quite a bit. He took us from the world of manuscript writing (where each book had to be hand-written individually) to printing, the ability to make multiple copies. Oh MY! What a revolution in the written word! I wonder if anyone balked at that revolution? "The scribes will be put out of work! Think of the errors, multiplied a hundredfold with the printing process! We will lose the beauty of the individual handwriting! We'll lose the joy of knowing which man wrote which book!" And on and on. The masses disagreed, and ate up this revolution with an appetite.
Gutenberg's revolution meant more books to more people, eventually. Interestingly enough, until more people could read, the oral tradition continued. One person read the text aloud, and others listened. The idea of each person having his own book was still rather new. Please note that, even with the advent of the printing press, the spoken word did not diminish. Nor, really, did the idea of manuscript -- writing by hand. Much communication even today continues to be done by hand, individually. One could truly say that with the introduction of electronic means, we have more people today writing their individual thoughts, using their own fingers, and sending these thoughts to their own selected reader(s), than ever before in the history of man. They may not use a pen (or a quill, or a stylus), but the concept is the same.

Anybody remember this? The Mimeograph Machine? This was the wonder of the educational world, when I was in grade school. I still remember those damp test papers that the teacher would have just retrieved from the school office, and we students would blow lightly on them, to help them dry. I loved the smell of the ink (or whatever it was) -- that faded blue on the paper.

I think this machine was a huge step forward as well. It's an offset printer. In the 1980s, I worked in the office at a large church. They used to send their bulletins and all their "fancy" printing to a printing company downtown. A couple of days later, the work would return in time for Sunday, and the church paid a hefty price for it. But we bought an offset printer. One secretary was in charge of maintaining this beast. Oh, the cleaning of rollers, and the refilling of powdered ink! It could take your fingers off, as it grabbed that paper. But it did beautiful work on its best days. Just as I was leaving that job, they replaced this small offset machine with a much larger one, that seemed to take up a whole room. Even churches were beginning to do all their printing themselves. The machines still used ink, like Gutenberg. We'd made them fast, and run by electricity instead of muscle, but the idea remained. We had pushed technology to its limit with ink. It was time for a new revolution, so that more people could have access to more information, more quickly.

Welcome, digital media. This is a Kindle Fire, a smooth, lovely e-reader. It's about the size of a book page. If you gently drag your finger across it, the page "turns," and it even makes that soft swooshing sound, of a page turning. You can put a bookmark in, to keep your place. It can slip in your purse or briefcase. It's rather expensive, but once you buy it, it holds thousands of books, many of which are free online. It's a library, in your pocket. Now, there's an idea!
I have friends who frankly do not like this last jump. They're comfortable with the history of the written word, up until now. They particularly do not like electronic formatting for real books -- the opening of pages and reading a story for enjoyment or illumination. They say it is bad for children -- too much screen time. They say it is good only for inconsequential information like notes, casual FB conversations, or letters, but a truly horrible idea for more serious tomes like novels or textbooks. They say it is bad for the poor, who cannot afford the technology, and will be left behind. And they say we will lose our history, the beauty of a printed book, the smell and feel and emotional quality of the book in your hand. (I think this is the argument that drives them the most.) I imagine there are other arguments.

But I'd say that, when we have one of our predictable revolutions in the written word, the old forms are not lost. We've seen this again and again. Children will have screen time; wouldn't it be better for them to have access to excellent stories and educational material, imaginatively rendered, than Halo, Tetras, or some first-person shooter game? Many teens have shifted seamlessly from phone talking to texting -- simply moving from oral communication to written. Why should this be disturbing? Rather than fighting the fact that children and teens will love their screens as we loved our pages, we'd be better off making their screens better for them -- easier on the eyes, safer to use, functional and affordable.

And who's to say which documents should be put in print form, and which in digital? Who can predict which texts will be valuable 100 years from now? Many textbooks and novels will never survive a decade, and some letters and even facebook threads, which seem valueless today, may be of incredible significance to later generations. We are silly to think we can decide these matters, now.

It's true that computers are expensive. Only a certain cut of the world's population can pay for a Kindle Reader. But one can also read digital texts on regular desktop or laptop computers. And although it's always sad when large swaths of 3rd-world nations can't afford the latest technology for reading, this was certainly just as true with books. Who, in the 14th century, could afford to own a book? Very few. Who, in the 20th century, could afford to use a local library and check out ten books each week? Only those who lived in civilized countries, and usually only then in cities. I had access to thousands of books as a teen, but my counterparts in Sudan or Nicaragua did not. Was that a reason to restrict book access to me in the U.S.? No. The hope is eventually to give the best access to all, but it is accomplished in steps.

Will we lose our history? I don't think so. There will always be a demand for a book to hold in the hand, and where there's a demand, there will be a supply. I don't think printed books will disappear. What I do think is this: the massive structure of businesses that have depended on the need for printed books, will disappear. Just like my church, dependent as it was on the downtown printing company, our society will pull away from dependency on publishing houses, editors, agents, distributors and sellers. We're cutting out a host of middle-men in one fell swoop. The big publishers have held readers captive long enough. Writers are no longer beholden to the publishing companies, thankfully. And if way too much poorly-written drivel is churned out online, it will be the readers, and not their publishing-house gatekeepers, who will decide which books become popular, and which do not. Yay!  I'm happy for that day. Digital reading has put more text into the hands of more people than ever before. That has been the goal of the written word, from day one.

What about permanency? Won't digital format destroy the feeling of solidity that we have, holding a book in our hands? Aren't books at great risk of being lost, when their content is held by bits and bytes on a teeny chip somewhere? Eek!!!

Well, no. Actually, many old, out-of-print books, lost to us previously, are now available in digital format, thanks to people who really care about preservation. It's past time for the chains of old copyrights to be broken. I'm not talking about the ownership rights of current writers. Most books before 1900 are in public domain; they should be free reading to everyone. But publishing house still charge big prices for print copies of these books, which is fine, since they're paying for paper, ink and labor. But what if paper, ink, and labor weren't needed? Digital format makes public domain books accessible to everyone with a computer. My hope is that this will drive down the prices for these print books also, making them accessible even to the very poor, in print form.

Well, I've got to dash to a dental appointment for Julia. I hope this is food for thought, for those who made it to the end of this rant! In whatever form -- happy reading!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Church Flowers

This morning, look what surprised us as we got out of the car, at church:
Aren't they glorious! Crocuses are so elegant, cups of color, receiving the light.
I've already shown you the phlox. They're still showing off.
Mother took flowers to church this morning as well. She chose her camellias. With their deep red blooms and dark foliage, they remind me of Christmas. The rustic vase beneath was made by my brother Max many years ago.
Just in case you're wondering, we're so excited about all the book publishing going on around here. Three Against the Dark has sold 25 copies in 2 weeks, with 5 additional downloads. My small book of poetry, A Familiar Fire, is free at Smashwords, and has 6 downloads thus far. It's just there to increase my readership and spread out the name recognition. I'm also finishing another novel, this time for grown ups :) It's called Greenfield Civil Wars. It's about small town Presbyterian church goings-on, a light piece of humor and satire, and all fun since those are the circles I grew up in, and love. I'm having so much fun writing!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Friday Fun

On our weekly trip to town, I found a most lovely pair of shoes. I'm not a fashion-lover, but I am a shoe-woman. I have to avoid them; they are so tempting. These pumps have just about the perfect shape, for me. Nicely shaped toe, and the edge of the shoe is neither too high, nor too low, at the toe. The heel is lovely also, but I can't wear heels that high, with my tender feet. Alas. The color? A bit bright, but I can honestly use some bright in my wardrobe.
I put them on, just to take a picture so I could remember how cute they are. A tad shiny. Then I placed them back on the shelf, and walked away. Sniff.
As usual, St. Philip's was our last stop of the day. We relax as we finger other people's cast-offs, and we don't even consider the slowly-melting ice cream in the car :) On the counter, I spied this cute little item. It's silver, two pieces. The top has a filigree grate, and a very wide lip.
It lifts off the bottom piece, which is solid -- i.e., it does not unscrew. It has a rounded knob, which you see. Shaped rather like a top hat. What in the world is this contraption? It's beautiful, and its intricate construction shows that it's designed for some specific purpose. But Mother and I (and the two sales persons) had no idea. However ... I was sure that Ms. Karen, the proprietor of the shop, would know, and that she'd write it on the label, yes?


So - - - I know you're dying to know what Karen wrote on that label, right? I took a picture, because we all guffawed when I read it. It says, "Silverplate mystery whatsit." Hahahaha!!! She didn't know either. (Sorry the label pic is fuzzy. I was probably laughing too hard to hold still :)
On the way home, I talked with Adam. He told me we had some bad weather on the way. I looked into the sky, and lo-and-behold, I could see the front. The line of demarcation where the new, dark front begins, is fascinating to see.
When I got home, Adam was working on supper. He's been promising us crepes for weeks, and at last the time had arrived! You can make the crepes ahead of time, and simply reheat them quickly in a very warm skillet, when you're ready. A nice tip.
Yummy: strawberries, whipped cream, and nutella.

Friday, February 24, 2012

At Ease

Here's the second afghan I'm working on for the local shelter for victims of domestic abuse. It's actually both wider and longer than this, and I've made progress since then. Colorful.
My friend M. is working on a shawl here. Love the fringe!!
Poor Sandy. She sometimes sits in front of the glass doors to the deck, watching the birds, and the squirrels (her particular enemies) who enjoy a protected life of ease and free daily meals. We're house-sitting again, and it's hard on a doggie to watch the squirrels be so protected!
The clouds have been tempestuous lately. We had a brief tornado watch today -- in these mountains! I'd like to see the tornado that could pick its way through these crags and ridges, without losing its steam.
Happy weekend, friends!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I'm On Amazon!!

If you click HERE, you can go over to Amazon and buy my ebook, Three Against the Dark for your Kindle. Yippee!
If you've been waiting to buy your copy for your Kindle at Amazon, now's your chance!
(Can you tell I'm EXCITED???)

Feeding the Bees

Have you noticed? The weather is warming. The trees are bursting with buds. That means it's bee season!
So, here are Adam's four hives. The two hives on the left survived the winter and have bees inside. The two on the right did not survive; the bees died. Adam already took a box full of honey and comb from the red hive, and put it into a big plastic bucket. He drained a pint of honey from it to give to the couple who are graciously allowing us to keep our bees on their land.
Today Adam took the comb and remaining honey back to the bees. He's gonna feed it to the bees that are still alive. Here's Jerry, our friend.
Adam opens the bucket.
Here's the yucky-looking comb and honey. Doesn't look very good, does it? The bees disagree :)
Adam up-ended a cover on top of one of the dead hives and then turned the bucket upside-down so all the contents would empty into the tray.
There it is. There was more honey left in there than you'd think. Gooey, sticking, yummy honey.
There's even some left in the bottom of the bucket. Adam left it turned on its side, for the bees to clean. They're very efficient, and by tomorrow, every available drop of honey will be gone from the tray and the bucket, and taken back into the two surviving hives, to be fed to new baby bees. The worker bees will tell the queen, "Hey, lady! There's honey outside now! It's time for you to begin to lay more eggs." So she will.
Today was one of those early spring days with a warm wind, and billowing clouds that skate across the sky, with gray undersides that bode of possible rain.
The bees discovered the honey in minutes. They'll spend all their time robbing this comb now.
Adam also looked into the other dead hive, the second one from the right. It has really beautiful drawn comb. The comb was dry and mostly empty of honey and bee bread, because the other two surviving hives had already robbed this dead hive of all its treasures. Adam thinks these bees died of cold. He's not sure. The queen failed.
Adam's been asked to give a short presentation on bee-keeping next week, so he'll take a box of these empty combs to show to people.
An up-close shot of the comb/honey. You can see the dark honey, around the comb. The comb itself is dark and dirty with lots of dead bees/baby bees/bee bread, etc. But it cleans up nicely if you boil the comb once or twice in water, and cut off the dark part. I'll use it to make more "Dama's Bee Cream."
Some of the comb, however, was white and clean, with beautiful honey in it. I had a good snack on that! The wax is fun to chew, after the honey is eaten. Yay for the bees! Summer's coming!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Food: Bread, Potatoes and a Savory

Yesterday Mother made her Wheat Walnut bread. Four loaves. It's hearty, healthy, and full of walnuts. Great toasted and buttered.
She also experimented on us yesterday with these "shingled potatoes." It's really just a funky way to prep your baked potatoes: peel off 3/4 of the skin, leaving only a wide strip along the bottom. Then thinly slice the potatoes, but not all the way through. Butter and bake. These should have been baked a bit longer, and browned a bit more. But it was a fun option. One nice thing is that you can take off as many "slices" as you want, without taking a whole baked potato.
I volunteered to take a savory finger food to Bible study tomorrow, but could not come up with a fun recipe. Then Mother handed me this one: Pineapple Cheese Ball. She says it's yummy. Here's a few pics with directions, and the recipe will be at the bottom.
Beat together the softened cream cheese and pineapple in a bowl. I did this by hand.
Add the chopped nuts, and the chopped pepper and onion. They should be cut fine. I didn't have green pepper, so I used a red one.
Here's where my camera lost about four pictures. Sigh. Anyway add the salt, and mix well. Cover and refrigerate. The idea is to get it really cold so it is easier to mold into a cheese ball (or two). But mine was rather moist (didn't drain the pineapple well enough?), so I decided to lay some cling wrap on the serving platter, scattered some more chopped nuts on the wrap, globbed the cream cheese mixture onto it, sprinkled more nuts on the sides and top, and then sealed the cling wrap up around it tightly. Call it a cheese loaf.
Then back into the refrigerator it went to mingle the flavors and chill well overnight. Tomorrow, I'll serve it with a combination of Ritz and club crackers.

Pineapple Cheese Ball
2 pkgs. (8oz. each) cream cheese
1 can (8 1/2 oz.) crushed pineapple
2 cups chopped pecans
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
2 Tbls. chopped onion
1 tsp. salt

Beat cheese; add drained pineapple, 1 cup of nuts, onion, pepper and salt. Chill to make handling easier. Shape into 2 or 3 balls and roll in the remaining nuts. Make this recipe as much as a couple of days ahead of time. May be frozen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

And Then There Were Two

We four (well, five, if you count Sandy :) went for a walk in the twilight the other day. I asked Peter and Julia to stand on the huge stump. Why does Julia like to do that "Please don't ask me to do anything!!" look?
We only have two kids at home now. Very soon, it will be only Julia. Sniff! I knew they would leave in a flurry of activity, and then suddenly I'd be an old lady. It's happening! I'm so, so glad I had one more baby. It took me two years to convince Adam we should have one more, and then we had Julia. I'm glad I'll have her around for another five years. I'm not ready to be all done with mothering yet!

Of course, even the college kids need mothering -- just not quite as much, or quite as often. I talked with Philip recently; he said he's having withdrawals from my spaghetti sauce. Isn't that sweet?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sea Healing Massage and Boutique

This afternoon I had the extraordinary privilege of being invited to Sea Healing Massage and Boutique, in Lake Toxaway, NC.
My good friend Marlene operates this business, and she invited me to come for tea, and a massage in her boutique downstairs.
Here's Marlene. Isn't she a dear? And boy, is she good at her job! "Magic hands," we should call her!
Marlene is one of my knitting buddies. Here is a small collection of her varied yarns, which were on her coffee table. She's making a prayer shawl with these colors. She makes many of these and sends them to people who are experiencing grief or illness, and need prayer.
And here's her best buddy, Sambucca. He's absolutely gorgeous, elegant, and friendly. This is his favorite spot, on his favorite throw.
Here's Marlene's teapot. Isn't it fun? I love the butterfly on the top. We had a yummy blend of black and green tea with flavors of mango, pineapple and other things that kept me pouring cup after cup.
Marlene and I talked for probably about two hours, sharing stories and laughing and getting to know each other better. Then I got to go downstairs and see her spa. Oh my! I was thrilled to see the sleek, elegant beauty -- I mean, it's perfection! This lady does everything right. Marlene loves the sea, so she has an in-wall fish tank. She has boutique items for sale. I love the colors of her walls, the lighting, the tone of the rooms. It's so soothing and lovely.
And, as you'd expect, she has wonderful knitted scarves for her customers to enjoy.
But here's my favorite place -- the massage room. Ahhhhh! There's nothing more fabulous than a good, deep, relaxing massage. It's so much more than just a "good back rub." Deep muscle massage is so beneficial for your body. If you've never tried a massage, you really, really should. Relax into it. Just think to yourself, "She has magic fingers. She is working all the stress, anxiety, pain and worry right out of my body." And you know what? It's true!
Marlene has a machine that does massage cupping. The machine applies gentle suction, through the tubing, to varied sized cups that are placed on the skin briefly. She moves them around, and looks for spots that need attention, spots where the tissue is not as loose and supple as it should be. It felt wonderful. She slowly moved the cup around my shoulder blades, and along my shoulders.
She plays soothing music during the session, and uses aromatherapy also. I enjoyed lavender and eucalyptus during my session. And Marlene has a gentle voice, and just listening to her speak is pleasant.
Some of us live with so much daily stress, we forget how it feels to relax. Our bodies, our muscles, are weary. We need to breathe, close our eyes, unwind. A massage basically encourages -- well, almost forces -- your body to do what it's crying out for you to help it do:  recover a deep contentment and rest. Marlene is excellent at this. If you live in the Asheville/Brevard/Toxaway/Highlands area, I strongly recommend her to you. You will enjoy every minute, and you will leave feeling so much better.
The number for Marlene's business is 828-966-4477. Thank you, Marlene, for a great afternoon!