Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Update on Reading Challenge

I started a new 2017 Reading Program that I almost as immediately abandoned. LOL, I'm not great at following an artificial schedule or on putting pressure on myself to reach a non-essential goal. The goal I'd set was Challies' Christian reading challenge, at the Avid Reader level. As opposed to the lowest level, The Light Reader plan, where you read 13 books or 1 book every 4 weeks, I'd settled on The Avid Plan, which increases the pace to 1 book every 2 weeks.

My goal was to read more. I'd stopped reading books with the exception of The Bible, and almost all magazines (with the exception of TeaTime Magazine). I know that as a writer, daily reading is just as important as daily writing. We need to immerse ourselves in language, employ the discipline of reading, and set before our minds new thoughts, new ways to state ideas, and to just enjoy and imagine through the vehicle of language. I'd stopped. Not good.

So I used the mechanism of the Reading Challenge to re-catalyze my reading habit. I have not scrupulously followed its set formula of reading a biography followed by a book by a Puritan followed by a best seller etc, but I have adhered to its principle by widening my usual genre niches to include some genres I have not spent a lot of time in, such as romance and historical. The list of books at Challies' site is helpful in sparking my creativity with regard to different genres I would not have thought of otherwise.

I've read:

The Art of Expressive Collage by Crystal Neubauer

Maude, by Donna Mabry

Memoirs of a Medieval Woman: The Life and Times of Margery Kempe by Louise Collis

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartín Fenollera

Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano

The Witnesses, a short by James Patterson (finished just before the New Year)
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (finished just before the New Year)

And yesterday I started The Little Princesses by Marion Crawford and will begin The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen.

Not bad. And that's with the first two weeks of February being almost totally shut down, due to being tired and not feeling well. I think my interest in reading has reignited, helped by interesting books like the Medieval Woman and well-written books Maude. I'd despaired in the last couple of years, when picking up a book that was just terrible, badly written, or too profane, and I lost hope. I'd been saddened by my disappointment in the last two Grishams. I'd actually thrown away a new hard copy of Will Thomas' latest entry in my beloved Barker and Llewellen series, Fatal Enquiry, because of the unfortunate encroachment of a cultural message I simply did not want to read or expose myself to. I was disappointed in, or perhaps had outgrown, Jan Karon. So after those and other let-downs, I gave up and wallowed, adrift on a sea of booklessness.

But now I'm back! So for my overall purpose, the Reading Challenge has done its work.

I don't totally agree with this essay that says in the time you spend on social media you could read 200 books, in terms of the numbers, but I do agree with its principle that we waste more time that we realize on social media - and other activities - that could be used for reading. If you want to read (or do any other activity) you make time for it.

Here is the list, if you're interested.



Monday, February 20, 2017

I finished a really good book, now I'm bereft

You know that feeling when you have finished a really good book and you're at sixes and sevens? Your mind is still enveloped in the times and characters of the book you just finished and you're not ready to start another one?

I read Donna Mabry's book Maude, an oral history written down into a narrative that's gripping and absorbing. Mabry draws you wholly into the time frame and into her grandmother's life, 1894-1978 or so. The time frame itself has enough drama to sustain even the most boring of characters, which Maude is definitely not. There's WWI, the Influenza epidemic, the coming of automobiles and factories, women got the vote, Depression, technology, westward migration...and her grandmother experienced all of it. Some have said in their reviews that the book is sad, and it is, the times were sad. Maude's life did seem especially fraught with tragedy, yet her pioneer spirit soared above it all.

Some have said the book reminded them of the Little House on the Prairie books, but for me, it reminded me of Willa Cather's O Pioneers! But where Cather's Alexandra seemed remote and unreachable, Maude is vibrant and relatable. The book also reminded me, with its near-past permeatingly vivid atmosphere, Fried Green Tomatoes. You know that feeling when you're in a book and you feel like you're there? Maude does that. You don't even feel like you're reading, but living it.

The author said it took her ten years to write it, adding the stories from her grandmother as she told them, and filling in with other facts and history. The book was the Kindle version, and a free one at that. Sometimes the free books on Kindle mean that the quality isn't very high, but this one beat the odds, it's a stellar book. It spent weeks on the NY Times best seller lists and has high ratings on Amazon as well. Recommended!

I have being delivered today a hard copy of Five Days in Skye: A Novel (The MacDonald Family Trilogy), and on Kindle I already have  The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen's Childhood by her Nanny, Marion Crawford, which I'll start next. When I'm ready to let Maude go, that is.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

A few beach photos

I love Georgia, as most readers know. I love the animals and the pastures and the cycle of births and seeing the baby donkeys, foals, goats, birds. I love the birds and their abundant songs. I love the flowers and the early spring and mild winters.

But one thing I miss is the ocean.

I grew up in The Ocean State (RI) where you are never more than 43 miles from it and usually a lot closer. As a kid I used to ride my bike to my grandmother's beach house in the summer. As a teenager I used to drive with a car full of girls to Scarborough Beach or Olivo's Beach or Charleston Beach...and lay in the sun slathered in baby oil to get a tan and talk about school with my friends. My family used to take summer vacations by renting a house in The Bay State (Massachusetts) at Cape Cod or Block Island off RI. We took Sunday drives to Newport and had to use the ferry to get there and then went all around Ocean Drive to see the Gilded Age mansions. The ocean was a huge figure and character in my life growing up.

As an adult I lived for the most art in the Lakes Region of Maine, on a lake and only half an hour from the ocean. A Saturday fun day trip was to drive to Portland and get a lunch and then go on to Pemaquid or Cape Elizabeth and clamber around the parks where the lighthouses were. Or to take a ferry ride on the Casco Bay Lines around some of the near islands off Portland, just because.

So being 4-6 hours from the ocean instead of 4-6 minutes, or 40 minutes, is a hardship. I do miss it. But I have my memories of all the oceans and beaches I visited, from the Bahamas to Labrador, to the Adriatic to the Mediterranean. Here are three favorites in photos.

Venice Florida is on the Gulf Shore of Florida, a state known for holding the southernmost point in the US, Key West (or really Dry Tortugas, even more south than that, another beachy place I visited). But for a long time I enjoyed vacationing in the middle western part of FL at Sarasota-Venice. Here is the Venice Pier, extending out over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, in that special aqua color. The waves are light, the pelicans are lazy and the fishermen are relaxed. It is a soft place.

Venice, FL

On the other side, we have the Atlantic. There is a harsher light, a sharper ocean, but so pretty nonetheless. When you've been at the beach all day and you just don't want to leave, you linger. The sun is fading in brightness and strength. The warmth is leaking out of the day. Even the shrill and restless gulls are stilling. You stay. The sand is cooling and you dig your toes deeper to find that sandy, sun-captured warmth, but can't. You drape a towel around your shoulders to stave off the coming chill. The waves are now wavelets, and the day is hushing. You know you need to leave. Everyone else has. Yet you stay. This is that moment.

Myrtle Beach SC

Even more craggy are the beaches at Maine and Nova Scotia and Labrador. I've visited all of these and the rocks and waves meet in an unending battle for sovereignty. Their voices crash and resound in opposition to the inevitable erosion, carrying the eternal battle to the whales and seals and puffins. These beaches are for the hardy, the capable, the enduring beachgoer. These beaches demand, not relax. They hide in fog and pound through storms. They are starkly beautiful and remain some of my favorite places of all.

Jasper Beach, Machiasport, ME
Ahhh, the beach.

-------------------------------------

Further reading:

Dr. Beach, Stephen Leatherman, certified beach expert, lists his top ten US beaches each year

The billion, billion stones of Jasper Beach

Venice Fishing Pier

Myrtle Beach SC Wikipedia

Since 1937, Scarborough/Olivo's Beach complex

Back in the day, macaroni picnics dusted with beach sand at Olivo's

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Watson Mill Bridge Park, driving in the sunny springtime

Hello again from warm and lovely north Georgia.

In one of the several National Geographic photography contests the organization holds annually, this one really gets to me. These are some talented kids! Take a look at the winners of the NatGeo Contest for Kids. I liked this winner especially, because of his picture's low perspective. I enjoy taking pics of flowers from underneath too. But he did it so much better than I ever did!

Grand Prize Winner / 1st Place Dare to Explore
Dewi Baggerman, Age 11, Netherlands

I am on a 4-day mini-break from school. They call it Winter Break but since we have hardly had winter this year in Georgia, today's low temp of 68 will be the lowest we'll see in a few days. It's supposed to be sunny and 70s tomorrow and upper 70s after that. I'll enjoy the outside, as the daffodils, wildflowers, and forsythia are blooming. The birds are back and one is busy building his annual nest in the windowsill under the window air conditioning unit. My cats like/hate that. They hear the activity and little cheep of the bird and rush over to the table in front of the AC but of course can't get AT the bird. But they run over there every time and stare intently at the spot in which they'd heard the sound.

I've been reading a novel the past few days. Maude by Donna Mabry. I like the atmosphere and setting of the book. Set in 1900-onward, a young girl in the south, buggies and dusty roads and hanging linen on the line nad pumping water into a pitcher and life back then. It's well-written and I like it. This one is on my Kindle.


I recently bought these two- (thanks to a wonderful Amazon gift certificate!!)

The Skye book is the first in a trilogy, something I always like because if it's good I won't have to hunt up another good writer with an interesting setting, I can just move on to the next one in her trilogy. It's coming in hard copy, as is the Women's Ministry book, one I've had on my wish list for a long time. There was a sale on it and combined with the gift certificate, I grabbed it up fast. I am intensely interested in women's ministry because foremost I want to make sure I'm doing ministry correctly and also because most church women's ministry is cookie decorating without too much Bible. I won't go on at length about it, that's for the other blog. But I'm looking forward to the delivery. I love when I come home from work and there's a package at the door!

It was a rough week. A 10-year old former student of our school and one who I knew, died suddenly and devastatingly. Tragedies like this truly make one run to the cross, first with the heartbreaking cries of 'why, why?' to our compassionate Father, but also to lean into Him so as to trust Him more, for all He does is Good. But it's hard when it's the kids.

It was also Valentine's Day, and in the young grades that means sugar highs and giddy children! Picture the parapros and teachers herding kittens and corralling balloons and you got it. Secondly, it was a week with two early release days. On Thursday and Friday the kids are sent home at noon and the rest of the day the teachers have Parent Conferences. Early Release days seem to send the kids into orbit, the change in routine makes them even more, uh, vivacious. Yeah, that's it. Vivacious.

Thirdly, my principal pulled me from my regular routine to do a particular task this entire week which was interesting, but new. I had to be trained to do it and then do it. Since I enjoy new challenges and also autonomy within a stable organization, and being with kids, it was fun but also challenging. So now I'm ready for the 4 day weekend!

To that end, I'd ordered on sale two distress inks from Tim Holtz thru Amazon. In doing collage it seems that distress inks are a way to give the finished piece the layered and antiqued look, something I'd been unable to achieve despite years of attempts. So I caved in and bought a gizmo. I'm a believer in streamlined crafting and making do with what you have, but on the other hand, one does need tools and some materials that can't be scrounged. I'll post the results when I use the inks.

I read this book yesterday, and one idea in it was to color and distress papers with used tea bags. Goodness knows I have enough used teabags, in all colors too. I think the pomegranate tea I drink would make a lovely color on some ivory handmade paper I've got. I'll try this technique too.


On the way home from school yesterday, after I had installed two new tires, I took a drive. It was nice to drive around without the steering wheel pulling so hard to one side, something my separating tire had been causing. This Friday, as is my wont to take a drive on Friday afternoons when it's sunny, I headed south, to the State Park at the south end of town. It has an 1800s covered bridge over a waterfall and river. It is a good place to splash and swim in the summer, and the trails for walking, hiking, and horses are gorgeous. It is a scenic picnic spot as well. I brought my lunch and ate a sandwich and then took lots of photos. Here are a few:




Here are a few pics of the scenes to and from the Park:





My principal had told me earlier in the week that one of her goals is to create a safe and supportive school environment where her staff feels like they can come in and do a good day's work, help children, and go home fulfilled and satisfied. That is how I feel in my job, all the time.  I know I'm blessed to work where I do and to do what I do. I believe that helping children is a great work. Between my good hours at work and my good hours at home, and scenes like those above in between, what else can I ask for? I have good work, peace, love, quietude, beauty, and cats.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. ~Steve Jobs

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Weekend crafting

I stink so bad at creating with my hands. But I try!

I prepared a few pages in my journal, attempting some techniques I've been looking at on Youtube. First:

Folded origami bookmarks:




Folded mini-booklets. No glue, no sewing:


Now to the art journal- Rubbing, stencil underneath with colored pencil on top:


Unfinished collage. Stamps on the bottom, wrinkled tissue paper on top of that, third layer started is the collage


Stencil whorls, with pear stamps on top. I dunno what's next. I'll likely spread some watercolor paint to deepen the layering and then collage over it.


Acrylic paint, stencil then more acrylic paint, watered down.


Saturday, February 04, 2017

Latest china acquisition: Noritake

On Fridays after a long week I like to do one of two things to relax and put a buffer between work and home. I either go driving around the pretty areas and take photos. It relaxes me to view prettiness, animals, clouds, and general green beauty.

I also love to 'play' with the photos when I get home. This means processing, cropping, adding filters, adding quotes or verses, etc.

In the second case, I like to stop in to either the second hand shop, or the vintage shop in town and see what they have for collectibles. The ladies at the 2nd hand store buy from auctions, and the ladies from the vintage shop buy from estate sales. The inventory at both shops rotates frequently and there are always some great finds or good bargains to be had.

I am currently collecting teacups and teapots. Given that I have a microscopic kitchen, this fever to collect tea paraphernalia cannot go too far! But I love to drink tea and I love beautiful things. The magazine Tea Time inspires me to try fancy recipes, and their table settings are always gorgeous. My mother had a wonderful eye for pretty things and she taught me well. Her table was always creative and beautiful.

I mean, come on, who wouldn't love this?

Tea Time Magazine

Yesterday even though it was gorgeous outside again, I decided not to go for a drive but instead go to the vintage shop. It had been many months since I was there. I had seen on their Facebook page that they had gotten a new Tea Service in, and I wanted to take a closer look. When I got there of course there were many beautiful things to look at, including some new art and a sea foam green couch that was in perfect condition for its age.

I looked at the tea set but it was Lefton, which I was not interested in. I did see some Royal Doulton espresso cups, which took me back. Not the espresso, but the pattern was my mother's china, and boy oh boy, did she have good taste. She got married in the 1950s and presumably that was when she got her Royal Doulton china. The pattern definitely stands up to age. It is still classic and beautiful.

I looked carefully around and spotted three other things which I did buy.

Noritake Glenrose pattern china cup and dish (not saucer).


Noritake Glenrose was produced between 1951-1957, which makes it mid-century and vintage. Noritake was a china company founded in 1905 in the Japanese village of Noritake. The company began exporting to the West in 1914. Noritake is good china and much of it is pretty, but if you're collecting the most prestigious, it would be better to look for Royal Doulton, Meissen, Wedgewood, or Portmerion.

Glenrose is a pretty pattern, though not especially collectible since it was very common. I am not interested in re-selling but only collecting if it appeals to my aesthetic taste. Glenrose definitely does, and it was priced well, so I bought it.



Another interesting find I discovered Friday was the cup to match a Kutani teapot I'd bought months ago at the same store.


This Japanese Kutani crackle porcelain teapot has all-over crazing under the clear glaze for a crackle design. The transfer design is an iris and bird motif with gold leaf on both sides and on the lid, with a bamboo or rattan handle. The color is an ivory or cream color. Kutani porcelains are characterized by their elaborate picture decorations in thick gold, red, blue and some other colors. In latter years I understand that these decorations were no longer hand painted but usually transferred by decal.

This teapot and now my new-to-me cup are not vintage but are extremely functional. The pot is the perfect size for three or four cups, it keeps the tea hot, and the design is growing on me more and more.

As for Kutani ware in general, according to Wikipedia,
Kutani ware (九谷焼 Kutani-yaki) is a style of Japanese porcelain traditionally supposed to be from Kutani, now a part of Kaga, Ishikawa, in the former Kaga Province. It is divided into two phases: Ko-Kutani (old Kutani), from the 17th and early 18th centuries, and Saikō-Kutani from the revived production in the 19th century. 
Obviously, the teapot and cup are not the old Kutani but the newer. Google Arts and Culture describes the history of Kutani-ware
The term Kutani ware derives from the name of the village of Kutani in the Daishōji domain. Today, Kutani is a famous hot springs destination, about 13 km from the town of Yamanaka Onsen in the city of Kaga. In the first half of the 17th century, the discovery of China stone (in Japanese, tōseki), the raw material for porcelain, ushered in the establishment of kilns in the Daishōji domain. 
The mark here is a Kutani kaku (inside a square) in a two character mark. I am unsure of the date of the piece but it's likely late 1970s, early 1980s.


I have always loved mid-century patterns of the atomic-Sputnik variety. Yesterday I found some Iroquois-ware designed by the fabulously talented Ben Seibel. Or as this etsy writer says, "pre-eminent mid century ceramic (and dinnerware, home decor) designer." I looked at many of Seibel's designs for many of his ceramic companies he'd worked for, and yes, he was a fabulously creative designer.


Iroquois Informal pattern, Harvest Time, by Ben Seibel. Mid Century mod!

You can read more about Ben Seibel and his work for Iroquois here at Mid2Mod.

The pattern is Informal, the motif is Harvest Time. The leaves were done in vibrant fall colors and deliberately given a stretched look.

Here is the pottery mark:


More about the Iroquois Pottery Company here. Harvest Time was manufactured between 1958 and 1973. I like to think my bowl is from the 1950's. If I decide so, it's true, isn't it? lol.

I am using the vegetable dish for a fruit bowl on my counter. :)

Here is the evolution of my 'Tea Bar'. In this first photo I had a few teas and one pot-


Below, I had acquired a tetsubin (Japanese cast iron teapot) and a Kutani. I also acquired my first bone china, Tuscan in Duchess pattern. Also teacups, saucers, dessert plates, and a sugar bowl in the Duchess pattern. I'd cleaned out one of my two dish cabinets up above, lol, to put my expanding library of teas in. Who needs plates and glasses and dishes, when you have tea to store?



Below is the current status. Top shelf: Tetsubin, Kutani with cup, (English) Whittard teapot in Clipper pattern.

Second shelf, Duchess teacup trio, and Glenrose cup and dish. On the right is Spode butterpat. I use it to place expired teabags in or to rest my teaspoon.

Bottom shelf, the Duchess sugar bowl, and Lefton espresso creamer and cups N saucers. I have had the Lefton demitasse cups since childhood. They are hand painted 1960s classy stripes of green and gold, pottery mark pattern 251 on the bottom. I have three cups. Unfortunately one broke in all my moves from place to place over 40 years.


None of it is especially rare or expensive. But they are pretty, functional, and pleasing. And that's what matters. Thanks vintage ladies for keeping up such a good quality shop. Thanks weekends, for being there for me when I need you. Now I'm going to brew a cup of tea in my pretty kitchen. Shhh, don't wake up the cat.