Friday, January 31, 2014

Sculptural Hand-Building

This winter I decided to do another pottery class, this time in hand-building (where clay is molded using hands rather than a potter's wheel). During my first class, I made a fish!

For years we had gold fish, so I thought I would find it easy. But without a photo reference, I wasn't sure how big to make the fins or the mouth... (It's amazing the details one forgets when trying to draw or sculpt an animal from memory!)

In order to see what can be done using this technique, Terry and I drove across town to a gallery where my instructor has four pieces on display. (Three horses and one fox.)

I'm not sure I'll  be trying a horse (or any four legged animal) any day soon. But it was interesting to see what can be done in this medium. The sculptures are hollow. Venting air holes are needed so that the piece won't explode when baked in a kiln. In the case of this horse, the holes are hidden. (Pegs go into the holes to hang the horse on the background.)

But why are the holes in the front of the fox? They could have easily been put in a less visible spot. I'll  have to ask the instructor why she chose to make the venting holes look like gunshots... Or at least, that's the way they look to me!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Toronto ... By Train ... In the Snow

Toronto usually has milder winters than Ottawa, so I thought a trip to Toronto might help me get rid of the winter blahs.

But I was wrong! Toronto in mid-January 2014 was just as snowy and cold as Ottawa! There were snow squalls along the St. Lawrence River.

Fortunately, I was safe in the train: multi-vehicle accidents were occurring along the highway.

Once in Toronto, I was surprised to see that Union Station, Toronto's main train station, is a construction site, surveyors mingling with travelers.

Billboards explain that the renovation will add a glass atrium and more elevators to this old historic building. That will be nice!

But I was puzzled by this billboard photo... The nearby CN Tower doesn't lean,... does it?!!

It was good to be in Toronto... But I didn't do much outdoor walking: Toronto streets were just as ice covered as ours.

I did pass this outdoor water fountains locked in ice!

(I left at the perfect time. The following day my daughter awoke to find her building without water... A frozen pipe? Perhaps a burst water main?)

But that's winter in Canada - even in downtown Toronto!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Terms of Endearment

Reflecting on my upcoming cataract surgery - and how dear my vision is to me, I remembered that an Arabic term of endearment is "my eyes": "O my eyes, my eyes" in Arabic could be roughly translated "O my darling, my darling" in English!

How strange it sounds! But terms of endearment in other languages sound strange to us, too. I remember laughing when I first heard "my little cabbage" in French - "Mon petit chou."

Food as endearment? Why not?! In English, "My little dumpling" used to be popular, though it's not  heard much these days. But why a dumpling and not a piece of chocolate cake?!

A friend in Georgia calls her husband "Peach" - referring no doubt to the famous Georgia peaches.

Eyes? Cabbage? Dumpling? Peach? Why are any of these expressions terms of endearment?! I'm sure there's a story behind each one!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Multi-Directional Knitting

Until I started this shawl - knit in triangles - I had never heard of multi-directional knitting. (The three triangles are all the same size - more or less - but this perspective makes it look like a giant sock!)

Rather than casting off and cutting the yarn - then sewing knit pieces together - multi-directional knitting involves continuously adding to the knitting that exists, picking up stitches rather than casting on. As a long-time knitter, I've enjoyed learning this new approach!

I'd like to try another multi-directional project - so I googled the term. I discovered that knitters have made hats, scarves and even sweaters using this technique. The yarn needs to be variegated or striped to get the full effect. Here is a close-up of the point where the three triangles join up.

I'm looking for a sweater pattern using multi-directional knitting and chunky yarn. I love the effect - and I like to see my knitting progress... fast!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Learning (From My Mistakes)

I am having a hard time with my latest quilt project - a "Jewel Box" quilt - using quilt-in-a-day short-cuts and instructions.

As quilt pieces are sewn together, there are lots of corners that are supposed to align... and they aren't fitting properly!

Perhaps the flaws won't be quite as noticeable when it's quilted... (Do I take a chance?!)

In the meantime, I'm having a hard time motivating myself to work on it. I'm constantly asking myself: Should I take the sewing apart and try again?

I've learned two things from this project - maybe three!

When you have to fit lots of corners together...
  1. Use the same kind of fabric. Scraps of different fabrics stretch to varying degrees.
  2.  Make lots of extra squares, using only the ones the fit together well. The others cam be used for smaller projects like cushions or mug rugs.
The third thing I've learned is that I'm not good with finicky details! I'm best with designs that leave a lot of margin for error!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cultivating Attentiveness

For many years I had a half-hour drive to work. I remember on numerous occasions nearing my final turn-off and suddenly realizing I was there! What had I been thinking about?! I don't know - but I had absolutely no recollection of the journey. My mind had been on other things. It was a bit of a shock to realize I was there.

When I mentioned this to one of my co-workers, she replied: Well, you must have been somewhat attentive, because you arrived safely and on time. 

Yes, but I didn't remember the journey!

Being more attentive to "the journey" has become one of my goals in retirement. That is why I am drawn to these words by Joan Chittister:  "We have learned well in our time to go through life nonstop. Now it is time to learn to collect ourselves from time to time so that God can touch us in the most hectic of moments."

"If I am present to this child before I dress her, then the dressing becomes an act of creation. If I am present to my spouse in the living room, then marriage becomes an act of divine communion. If I am present to the flower before I cut it, then life becomes precious. If I am present to the time of prayer before I pray, then prayer becomes the juncture of the human with the Divine."

I like to talk to people who are giving me all their attention. Why is it so hard for me to live in a similarly attentive way?!!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Yummy Spinach Quiche

I enjoy eating quiche but haven't made one in years. I had some frozen pie crust and spinach on hand, so I decided to try making a spinach quiche... As I've never made one with spinach before, I checked two recipes - one online, the other in a cookbook to get the general idea. My recipe is a combination of the two!

It was delicious, so here is how I made it... for future reference for me. (And maybe someone else would like to try it too!)
  • Remove frozen pie crust from aluminum pan and put it in a slightly larger glass pie plate that provides extra room above the crust (in case the quiche rises above the crust). 
  • Fry a small onion, chopped, in a little oil. Add a clove of chopped garlic and about about 1 1/2 cups of chopped fresh spinach. Fry until the onion is transparent and the spinach slightly cooked.
  • Meanwhile, on top of the unbaked pie crust layer several ham slices - cut in small pieces - and some shredded mild cheddar cheese, enough to cover the bottom of the crust. (I didn't measure it, but I'd guess about about a cup or 250 ml of shredded cheese.)
  • Spoon the spinach mixture on top of the ham and cheese. 
  • Top that with a few cherry tomatoes, sliced in half.
  • In a large measuring cup blend a cup (250 ml) of half and half or milk and three beaten eggs. Pour this mixture over everything.
  • Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius) for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius) and cook for another half an hour. Don't open the oven - the temperature should drop gradually on its own.
  • Test for readiness by poking a knife into the center of the quiche. If it comes out clean, the quiche is ready.
  • Remove from oven and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Lost in Translation

Being multi-lingual is not without its pitfalls. A similar-sounding word can exist in several languages - and mean different things! A speaker of those languages would know the various meanings... but might occasionally slip up. (And, of course, confusion ensues!)

In our part of Canada, where many people speak both French and English, it happens from time to time. I'll never forget the time my young son, who was learning French in elementary school, told me that there was glass in his juice. My immediate reaction was horror and shock, as I visualized him drinking bits of broken glass. Seeing my face, he quickly explained: Not that kind of glass! He meant "glace" which is "ice" in French.

I've done it, too. Once, negotiating a parking space with a French-speaking neighbor, I used the word "key" ("qui" - meaning "who") when I spoke to her in French. I didn't realize until later that I had used it for its Hebrew meaning, "because." I did notice her face cloud over. She didn't seem to understand what I was trying to say. Only later, re-playing the conversation in my mind, did I realize that I had accidentally tossed in a Hebrew word or two as I tried to explain myself in French!

It happens easily! In an English article recounting an interview conducted in French, the writer mentioned being in a church, then referred to sitting on a bank. Is this church located near a river bank? I wondered as I tried to picture the scene... I then realized that the writer probably had the French word "banc" in his mind - which in English could be translated "bench" or "pew."

What made me think of all these incidents was a strange confusion that occurred recently when a few of us retired teachers met for lunch. Someone asked if anyone knew how so-and-so, another retired colleague, was doing.

The last time I talked to her, one of our group replied, she had a sore foot. She had apparently stubbed her toe while preparing breakfast. After brief pause, she continued. You know, she said the strangest thing. She said it happened because she always walks around nude in the morning when she has her breakfast... 


Hmmm. Did she mean "barefoot" - which in French ("pieds nus") literally means "nude" or "naked" feet? ... (I doubt that any of us has the courage to ask!)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Nature's Acrobats

In summer I enjoy looking out the window at flowers blooming in the yard...

At this time of year, with no flowers, I watch our neighborhood animals at play. Rabbits come out after sunset and nibble on low branches, which are easier to reach now that snow is deep in the yard.

I hardly ever notice them, they are so quiet. But the squirrels keep me entertained as they dig in the snow and run across power lines...

Occasionally they come closer, climbing up the clematis trellis, like this one was doing recently.

They're so amazing - these little acrobats. How do they survive outdoors these cold, cold winter days?!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Quilts of 2013

I have been going through the photos saved on my computer - transferring them to DVDs. One group of pictures that has lifted my spirits these cold winter days are the colorful quilts I worked on throughout the past year. Not all were finished - some are still only quilt tops. But here is a retrospective of my year - 2013 - in quilts!

Early in the year I tried to use up my brown and beige scraps.

I completed two quilt tops in various shades of brown.

I also completed a quilted checker board I had started years ago!

Before using up all my stash of browns and beiges, I also made a reversible table runner...

(The flip side is a Hawaiian print.)

... and some mug-rugs!

From there I moved to blue, finishing the blue Lover's Knot I had started in 2012.

With my stash of red, white and blue scraps, I made a free-style change mat for a baby.

I then used up a lot of primary color scraps - red, yellow and blue - with this queen-sized quilt. I actually managed to finish it and used it all summer on my bed.

 Then I started on a black, white and grey quilt - but I stopped in the middle. I couldn't decide if I liked it as is or if I needed to add a few dashes of color.

I moved on to a green quilt in a pattern of "pluses" or "crosses." I wasn't sure about that one, either. (Too many greens? Too many wonky pluses?) I wasn't sure, so I put it aside.

Then I started on this "jewel box" quilt that I'm still working on.

I also repaired several old quilts, like this log cabin I had made years ago.. (Little boys tugging on it had pulled out much of the hand quilting!)

 And this mauve one to match my daughter's bedroom wallpaper when she was young.

I was surprised by the number of quilts I had worked on.  Going through my photos also reminded me how important quilting is to me, how creating with colorful fabrics brightens my life, especially in winter.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Thanks for All the Math Help!

Thanks for all the math help, given and offered! A few days ago, I mentioned a knitting math problem...

Knitting and quilting depend on math to get the sizing right! Usually in quilting it's simply a matter of adding or dividing... My calculator and I - plus a diagram or two - usually manage to get those right. But when I wanted to re-size a shawl knit in equilateral triangles (directional knitting), I didn't know how wide the base of each triangle should be. 

My daughter found a triangle calculator on a UK website. She informed me that if I wanted the triangles to be about 25 inches tall, the base of each one should be about 35 inches wide. Using that as a starting point, I started to knit, casting on 81 stitches...

Another friend, whose math skills I trust, calculated that, for a height of 25 inches, I should cast on about 29 inches. Then another mathematician - the husband of a woman who reads my blog - concurred.

I had already begun the project, based on my daughter's calculation. How big was my new shawl turning out to be?

When I measured the unfinished shawl, I discovered that math may be precise, but my knitting certainly isn't! The first triangle, with a base of 35 inches, ended up with two unequal sides... (one 36" - the other 31") Did I cast off more stitches on one side than the other? Or did the knitting on one side simply stretch?!

I have no idea! Hopefully it won't be noticeable... As long as it more or less fits!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Winter Walking: You Never Know What You'll See!

Even in winter Terry and I like to go out walking. The streets in our neighborhood are icy, so we drive in the direction of a good bakery or coffee shop. Then after walking a while, we stop for a bite to eat.

This neighborhood wasn't much better for walking than ours!

We had to tread carefully!

But it was fun to see different sights - like this head peering at the street from someone's balcony.

And this pink-haired snow-person!

There is new condo construction around one of Ottawa's historic buildings - locally known as the "Cattle Castle" or "Cow Palace" - originally used for agricultural fairs.

(From this angle, it reminds me of the Taj Mahal!)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Perfection isn't Necessary! (Even Cracked Pots Have Their Use!)

The pots I made in fall - during my first pottery course - have all been integrated into our home.

The wonky ones are still good for holding things - like spare reading glasses. The uneven plate can holding food that doesn't roll.

The bowl that isn't food-safe, because I didn't mix the glaze enough to properly coat it, can still hold candies wrapped in paper.

Even the wonky one that cracked during firing because the bottom was too thin still looks lovely (I think) in the bathroom holding a candle.

In other words, pots don't have to be perfect to be useful. In fact, some might argue that their imperfections make them more unique and interesting...

(Is there perhaps a life lesson in this?!)