Looking at Sundown

Dusk comes early
Casts long shadows
Ice crystals catch last light
Become diamonds in the grass

The above poem was inspired by the magic of the sunset. I usually work until 6:00 PM or later and with the dratted daylight savings time I never see daylight. So when I had to leave early, and by early I mean on time at 5:00 PM, I was surprised to walk out into day light. It was light but the day was fading fast. The sun was slanting down nearly behind the horizon. I looked down to avoid a puddle of water trying to freeze over and was struck by the beauty of the frost crystals on each blade of grass. I stopped and marveled at the masterpiece. I wanted to take a photo but there wasn’t enough light to capture the sparkle. The human eye sees so much more than the camera lens. I then shifted my attention to the sky. It was cloudy. The day had been typical, a winter day with a color palate of brown and gray. The sun had the last word as yellow and pink streaks illuminated the sky. I walked to my car as the sun went down. Once inside I sat there for a moment watching the last of the light fade away taking the sparkle and color from the world. It reminded me of the dreams I used to have as a child. In those dreams I drop something and have to search for it in the grass. As I’m parting the blades I’m amazed to find shiny coins of all denominations! There are fists full of money and the longer I search the more I find. Such was the astonishment and glee I felt when seeing the ice sparkling on the grass… I’m working hard this Advent to recapture the awe and wonder that the shepherds must have felt when the angels appeared and announced the birth of the Messiah!

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Looking at Winter Driving

Two weeks ago we had snow. There was a fair amount – enough for there to be a snowman sentinel in nearly every yard on our street. There were no school delays or cancellations. The salt trucks and snow plows were everywhere. Everyone was driving cautiously. Then last week we had a fine dusting of snow. There was a 2 hour delay for many school districts. The drive into work was downright dangerous! The first cars on the road had turned the streets into a skating rink. Nearly every intersection was a death trap of intersecting sheets of ice. I was very thankful for my automatic anti-lock breaking system! I managed to get safely to work. It took me that moment backing out of the driveway to remember all my mad winter driving skills! For those who don’t live in the frozen sections of our country that translates to: leaving extra space between your front bumper and their rear bumper, driving more slowly, applying the brakes in a pumping fashion instead of stomping down, accelerating slowly from a stop, and using a little courtesy when someone looks like they can’t stop in time for the light and letting them slide through safely on yellow/pink/red.

A little haiku for your reading pleasure.

First freeze dangerous
Recall winter driving skills
Car skids to a stop

Looking My Best ( In Show)

Last Friday was the opening for the Student/Faculty Art Show. I had spent the day visiting a friend’s class to discuss different animal identification techniques. It was a full day and I was tired. When I got home I was cold. I considered putting on my cozy Star Wars BB8 pajamas and skipping the opening. Saintvi was feeling sub par due to her reaction to her shingles vaccination and wouldn’t be joining me. My husband, Sparky, had to work until 6:00 PM and I almost texted him to say he should just come home as I was going to skip the opening. But I decided not to ditch the opening hoopla. I instead put on a warmer dress and bundled up and made it to the museum at a little after 5:00 PM. I hung around the rotunda having a cookie and voting on the best gingerbread house while I waited for Sparky. (Sparky ended up voting for Candy Land and I’ll just let you guess which one got my vote!)
  

  

He contacted me and I told him I’d meet him in the gallery. As I walked into the exhibit, I enjoyed some spectacular paintings.
  
The watercolor of the birch trees was very good. I especially liked the flowers in the vase done in watercolor and pastels. The glare of the lights on the glass created a reflection but the background for the painting was just as good as the painting. A lot of people thought it was from the photography studio instead of a painting!

This one represented 10 seasonal paintings done of the same landscape from the same perspective (December – February doesn’t change much…). I thought it was good enough to make Best in Show. Besides it was big!

And of course some art that made me scratch my head.
The above piece was titled “Arcane Handjob”. I was not impressed. Especially since it was an instructor’s entry.

I threaded my way through the different displays and noticed some work by classmates.
  
These tiles are very well done. It is difficult to do tiles with a pressed surface. You can’t mess with them or you deform and blur your details – a very high technical difficulty score from me on this one! The Beauty and the Beast rose under glass was very complicated. She had to take crushed stained glass and fill the areas before sending it through the glaze kiln… It may look a little juvenile but it was a gift for a child’s room and very hard to do especially in porcelain!
  
The pierced form is spectacular and really made mine look heavy and clunky! The metallic bowl is very pretty and the glaze is a difficult and expensive one to make. It turned out fantastic (makes me wonder if human sacrifice to the kiln gods was involved – my glazes never turn out that good).

Then I spotted mine. And I nearly fainted!!

I don’t know if you can read the place card but it reads Melusine Sisters, 2018 BEST IN SHOW! I was a little taken aback! I mean, the best in show almost always goes to a painting and there were several outstanding pieces. I could hardly believe it! I read the juror’s statement and she teaches art at St. Mary’s College. She was looking for technical difficulty and originality with a sense of taking a chance on your art. Wow. I didn’t have a chance to post anything because by the time I’d accepted my award, and posed for the required photo, Sparky had already written TWO Facebook posts. So I’ve got a $100 gift card to spend and a nice letter from the museum. If this is a precursor for the rest of the month I think I’m going to have a great December!!

Looking at Broken Glass

I decorated the Christmas tree Tuesday night. I have 5 boxes of ornaments to choose from ranging from childhood ornaments belonging to my husband, Sparky, to ornaments that are from my mother’s father, to ones I made, on up to those that were gifted to us and a few that we purchased for ourselves. In years past I would select a theme and decorate accordingly. I have lots of reindeer ornaments. We have a ton of angels. There are all the hand-made ones, or the Santa and elves group, I even have an assortment of various animals and a lot of musical instrument themed ones. This year I decided to just put up all the blown glass ornaments. It has been a while since I put them up. For those that remember Ranger – the destroyer, we couldn’t decorate the tree with anything except ribbon bows and plastic icicles or he’d rip them off the tree and chew them to bits. He’s been gone a few years and I decided to get the fragile stuff out. You can imagine from the title what I found.
I have special plastic boxes with cardboard dividers to store the ornaments. The really important ones are wrapped in tissue paper and carefully placed where they won’t be jostled or crowded. Some of my other equally fragile but less sentimentally valuable are placed in the inner spots. I was saddened when I opened the storage container and discovered that several of my vintage 1950 glass balls had been broken. They weren’t the most exciting but they were some of my favorites – the raspberry ball with white flocked stripes, the sea foam green ball with a shooting star, the matte gold one with the hula girl holding a Christmas tree, and the red and black ball that had a Santa’s face on one side and “Merry Christmas” on the other… They were shattered and then pulverized. The piles of glass crumbs were not only sad but dangerous. I had to very carefully extract the intact balls and then dump the crushed remains into the trash without spilling any glass. I was successful. I still feel sort of sad about those that are gone. I mean, how do you replace a hula girl?

The tree looks good anyway even without the lost and broken ornaments…
  

  

  

  

Looking for Dignity

Dignity. The definition of this noun is wide ranging and includes: the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect, a composed or serious manner or style, a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect, and a high or honorable rank or position. What all that says to me is that dignity can be conferred, earned, or innate. The problem is that many refuse to recognize the dignity of others. Some folks refuse to acknowledge their own dignity. This leads to self abasement. It can result in self loathing, racism, hatred, and in some cases violence against others and self.

Out of all the problems in this world, denying dignity of self and others causes more strife and anger than nearly anything I can think of. So what to do? I suppose it all starts with a little navel gazing. If we can individually recognize our own self worth then we can widen our view to include others. People laughed at the Saturday Night Live skits with the character Stuart Smalley and his mantra “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me.” The idea of daily affirmations was to many comical. However in a world where we are bombarded with negative messages about physical appearance, intelligence, education, career, gender, religion, etc. it becomes essential to have some sort of self talk that is positive.

How do you combat the onslaught of barbs and thinly veiled assaults to your self esteem? How do you support the dignity of others?
Yes, there are things going on that I can’t discuss in a public forum. I am an old hand at weathering these storms but it does wear on you after so many years…

Looking at Beers

It probably hasn’t come up lately and I’ve got some new readers that probably didn’t know but I don’t drink. Yep. I’m one of THOSE people – the teetotaler. I am not a member of the temperance union nor am I a Carrie-Nation-hatchet-wielding fanatic. I have made a personal decision not to drink alcohol. It is what is best for me. That said, most of the time if I say I don’t drink people respond with a “Cool” or some other equivalent indicating they respect my decision. Every once in awhile I will get a negative reaction. It has happened twice in as many weeks. We are entering the holiday party frenzy. Because everyone is trying to schedule their parties and attempting not to create scheduling conflicts, there are parties nearly every day. So far I’ve sent my RSVP to 4 parties accepting the invitations. I’ve declined 2 parties. I just can’t get into the events that are focused on imbibing as much beer as possible in as short a time as possible. I declined an invite and one of the organizers hunted me down. The conversation went something like this (I have to paraphrase):
Them: Hey! I saw you sent regrets for the party.
Me: Sorry but I won’t be able to make it. I have other commitments.
Them: Oh come on! The party is from 3:30 to 6:30 PM and we’ll have lots of free beer!!
Me: That’s nice but I can’t go.
Them: Sure you can – just stop in and say hi and grab a beer.
Me: I don’t drink.
Them: Really?!?! Dr. X is springing for some really good beer. You should try it! You’ll like it!
Me: No thanks.
Them: I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like beer. What’s wrong with you?!

The other encounter was more like massive eye rolls and then a whisper campaign indicating I was a recovering alcoholic. I have to admit that that bothered me just a little. Sparky and the boys drink beer, but they don’t get drunk. They are responsible. Sparky’s family is German and Polish and boy do they like their beer (and they drink responsibly)! I’ve tasted different beers and can honestly say it all tastes horrible. In honor of piwo I present a list poem for all those who enjoy this nasty tasting beverage….

Amstel Light
Allagash White
Farmhouse Ale
Burning River Pale
WychCraft
Miller Genuine Draft
Michelob Dunkel Weisse
Milwaukee’s Best Ice
Pendle Witches Brew
Tooheys New
Hops Lightning Gold
He’Brew Messiah Bold
Lake Placid Frostbite
Rolling Rock Light
Wells Banana Bread
Killian’s Red
Pilsner, lager, bock
Stout, ale, doublebock
Rye, shandy, ice
IPA, porter, weiss
Stein or beer bong
Growler or flagon
Toby, can or mug
Keg, bottle or jug
Any way you pour it
Drinking is the best way to store it

Looking at Laundry

I spent last weekend doing laundry. If truth be told I spend lots of weekends doing load after load of dirty clothes. Laundry is not may favorite activity. I’d still rather do the wash than dust but that’s another blog post. When the boys were home, I’d have at least 7 loads per week. They’ve been out of the house for 4 going on 5 years and I still have too many loads of laundry waiting for me. I think there must be some curse placed on my laundry room. Sparky produces an inordinate amount of clothes that require processing. He has his daily workout clothes which includes shorts, shirt, underwear and socks, and a towel. Then he has 2 jobs – one requires a dress shirt and slacks (dress socks required), the other is a jeans/cargo pants and flannel shirt kind of place. He is making up for the boys moving out! To top it off my washer and dryer are eating my socks. I have a drawer where I toss the odd socks. It used to be that one would get left behind in the washer and would show up with the next load. I’d pair up the socks in the drawer and all would be right with my world. As of this weekend I have 7 black socks (none of which is a mate to any of the others) and 2 white socks.

I imagine that God
Loves
To do laundry
So satisfying to get
A stubborn spot out
Everything white
Clean
Looking like new
Jesus is the new improved
Oxi-clean
Gets even the most
Soiled souls sparkly
If only he could
Intervene
With the missing socks

Looking at a Wonderful Life

Thanksgiving has just passed in a blur of gluttony and conspicuous consumerism. Many of my “friends” on Facebook had been posting things they were thankful for daily on the lead up to the holiday. I am not that dedicated to post daily (though at one time I did). Instead I’m giving you a haiku and a little backstory.

Mark the exact time
A pushpin on life’s road map
Life begins and ends

This last week (November 13th) was my father’s birthday. He would have been 86. He made it to 76 before death caught up to him. And I’m thankful – not for his passing but for his living. He was strict. He was stern. He had a sense of humor and he could laugh! I remember his laugh even though I can’t quite hear his voice after 10 years. (I’m fairly certain that if I heard it I’d immediately recognize it.) He lived well and he instilled in me (and my sisters) certain life lessons that have stood me in good stead. He stressed being financially responsible (setting money aside in savings). He insisted on honesty. He loved books and passed that on to me. He enjoyed a good slapstick movie or the physical humor of Saturday morning TV cartoons. He reveled in Wile E. Coyote’s constant antics that always backfired. To this day I can’t see a Roadrunner cartoon or the word Acme without thinking of my father.

So that brings us to the second portion of this post. I am very thankful for all my family and friends still kicking around on this side of the turf. I have been so busy running in circles that I’ve neglected them. I realize that I need to slow down and interact with them on a more regular basis. This will look like lunch with a former coworker and friend (we haven’t seen each other since her daughter’s graduation party in June). I need to Facetime with my mother hopefully that will have already happened by the time this post is read by anyone. And I need to do it on a more regular basis. I need to call my sisters. I should talk to my fashion consultant (we see each other often but cancer treatment makes it all the more important). I must get together with my “other sister” to go geocaching before the weather gets nasty (We went to the “Messiah Sing Along” last Sunday but it is hard to visit when I am struggling to sing an alto part). Anyway all these people are part of what makes my life wonderful.

Looking into the Soup Bowl

It has been awhile since I posted a recipe. With the colder weather I’ve been in the mood for soup. Growing up my mother would make soup and I really didn’t care for it. (I’m being kind since she reads this blog.) It seemed that her favorite and my least favorite was homemade beef vegetable soup. With that in mind I rarely make beef vegetable soup. In fact for many years the only soups I made were lentil and (when I had a ham bone) ham and bean soup. If I dared make any other kind son #2 would moan and groan that we were having “poup” for dinner. I suppose it was karmic payback. Anyway, after the boys left for college I rediscovered soups much to my husband’s delight. I have been trying out recipes from various sources. All have been good but a few are outstanding.

This is Sweet Potato – Chicken Corn Chowder. The recipe serves 8 if you have small bowls. If you want big bowls it only serves 6.
  

Ingredients:
4 medium to large sweet potatoes – peeled and cubed
32 oz Chicken broth – low sodium works best
2 c. water
2 Telma Chicken Consomme cubes or 1 cube chicken bouillon (the Telma is much better)
1 t. onion powder (NOT onion salt!!)
1/8 t. black pepper
2 pinches ground sage
2 cans cream style corn
1 large or 2 small cans chunk chicken – dump the whole can in (DON’T drain it)
1 cup milk (or milk substitute)
2 T. cornstarch

In a large pot add broth, spices, water, chicken consomme cubes, and cubed sweet potatoes. Cook until potatoes are tender. Use an immersion blender and pulse blend until there are only small chunks of potato. Return to the heat and add the corn and the chicken. Bring to a simmer stirring to avoid sticking. Stir corn starch into the milk until dissolved. Pour into the soup stirring constantly until soup thickens. Remove from heat and serve.
This is a favorite and I made a pot of it for Sparky while I was in Baltimore. Needless to say there wasn’t any left when I returned. I’m just glad I got a bowl!

Looking at Life Phases

I just might have to reuse this title in a couple of months. Today however it is just for this very narrow and specific topic – coccoliths. I have been making ceramic interpretations of coccoliths for nearly 10 years. I admit it has been an obsession. There are many different coccoliths in the waters around the globe, currently in excess of 24,000 images have been recorded in the biodiversity database. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover that my beloved coccoliths are shapeshifters! To clarify, cocoliths start out with one form and shift to another. Many have ended up with 2 names – one for the motile form and the other for the non-motile form! Who knew?!?! Anyway here is a coccolith that I did previously in another form with another name, Coronaspheara mediterranea. Now it is Zygosphaera hellenica in this form. This has opened up more possibilities. I’m not sure if this means there are fewer different coccoliths or if has potentially doubled the opportunities for more coccoliths. It boggles the mind!

This is Zygosphaera hellenica from the Western Mediterranean in the Alboran Sea. I made it with a clay body made of half porcelain and half white stoneware (I was trying to use up the last of the porcelain and also to reclaim some old white stoneware). It is glazed with Oribe on the discs and Blue between. It was high fired in a gas kiln. I am very surprised that the blue came out a dark green but the Oribe did run just a bit…