Friday, 28 February 2014

Out and About in a Small Town.

I had a wonderful outing today and as a special treat, my cousin, whom you may recall is a Russian super model, stopped by and agreed to show you what I wore today. She's giving some particularly good model face, I think.

It wasn't raining today so it was a good day to wear one of my long skirts which would otherwise get a bit damp on the bottom this time of year.  Since summertime is always with me in the most personal way, I tend to forgo a coat when I am gallivanting around town.  I'm in and out of a car and shops so much anyhow, there isn't much need.  Much to my amazement this outfit, and the skirt in particular, elicited compliments from three different strangers today.  I realised that in the several hours I was out and about town I did not see another women in a dress or a skirt.  I might be in danger of becoming the town eccentric!
I am besotted with the details in this skirt.  So much so that I actually own two of these skirts and the only difference between them is the colours are reversed.  This is not a good photo, but I took this picture about fifteen minutes before heading out to meet my dear friend Sheila for coffee and I was as yet uncaffeinated.  I soon made up for that.  Our cafe of choice was on the other side of town and chosen more for its tolerance of our lengthy stay than for anything remarkable about its coffee.  It was once an independent cafe but is now owned by the franchise Serious Coffee.  The new franchise kept the same decor and the small section at back where used books are for sale.  The growing awareness of the need for gluten free food options meant I was even able to indulge in a treat with my coffee and happily nibbled on a lemon poppy seed cake while I also proceeded to chat endlessly and excessively to my dear friend.  Sheila is one of those quiet people much loved by talkers though her ability to listen is only one of her many endearing qualities.  I would love to share a photo with you however the lovely Sheila does not like having her picture taken and unlike me, does not have a Russian super model cousin willing to stand in for her.   Yes, poor, dear, sweet Sheila actually spent a couple of hours with me while we drank coffee and I nattered away in a similar way to my natterings here.

As you can see, the cafe has a lovely glowing orange ambiance.  Real life people are none too pleased if I aim my camera at them, so I was kind enough not to and thus it appears to be a cafe with nowhere to actually sit down.
We sat in a more open area than we would normally choose, but a large group of men (not to be confused with a group of large men) had taken over the cosy corner and it appeared they did not want anyone else to join them.  I think it was the annual meeting of the Water Buffalo Lodge.

After our coffee and a brief dispersal, Sheila and I met up with another friend for lunch.  During that brief intermission, I wandered downtown and snapped a few photos, enjoying watching the faces of people who were not certain if I was photographing them or not.  I was not.  Today I was enjoying signs.
And a pretty little window box display of heather and evergreen branches.
After lunch we popped into the art gallery and then the thrift shop.  My thrift shop purchases of the day were a pretty blue silk scarf and some books.  This will surprise nobody who knows me.

Addendum:  Goodness I was tired when I wrote this.  I've had to edit it a few times as I keep spotting errors.  Perhaps perfection eludes me, but that's a damn fine scarf!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Spaghetti Squash

 I love to cook.  I also love to eat.  I have a specialised diet which is gluten free and low carbohydrate and I find cooking that way is easy.  Baking is another story.  One of my favourite vegetables is the spaghetti squash and I have experimented with different ways to prepare it.  Some people simply cook it and serve it in place of pasta, which certainly works.  I was playing around with some of the ingredients I have on hand and came up with a nice cheesey, garlicky dish that tastes even better the next day.

I'm not terribly precise in my measurements when cooking.  I use what I have and tend to be approximate.  I may still experiment a little with this dish and would like to find out what happens when I add more eggs, perhaps even four instead of two.

I used a large squash.  I washed it and cut it in half, scooped out the inside part with the seeds and membranes and then placed it upside down on a baking pan covered in parchment paper and a drizzle of olive oil.  I baked it like that for about an hour at 350 degrees F

The squash looks like this when baked:

Let it cool until it is comfortable to touch and then use a fork to scrape out the flesh.  It will come out in spaghetti like strands.

The first bowl I got out was too small.  I used more bowls than I really needed here for the sake of showing this in simple steps.  In a large bowl I added the following ingredients:
500g 4% cottage cheese
500g shredded parmesan cheese (I would probably use more but that's all I had left)
2 tsp powdered garlic (I ran out of fresh cloves)
salt and pepper -just shook it in and didn't really measure
two large eggs slightly beaten

I mixed these ingredients together and then added the squash.  I used two foks to mix it all until well combined, rather like tossing a salad.  Then I spread it in a buttered dish.  My dish happens to be approximately 9x13"

I baked it for 45 min at 350 degrees F and it came out looking like this.

I would put some buttered crumbs on top and stick it under a broiler for a minute or two only I had no crumbs on hand this time around and I wasn't going to serve this to anyone else other than myself so no need to be fancy.  It needs to sit for about ten minutes to set but you would still serve it with a spoon.  It doesn't get solid enough to slice it.  From experience I find this dish tastes better the next day, though of course needs reheating.  it goes well with anything sort of Italian or Mediterranean in flavour.  You can also top it with cooked meat and tomato sauce and pop it back in the oven to meld those ingredients together making it more like a casserole.  I was aiming to make this sort of cheesey-custardy and want to try it with more egg another time.

If you want a simpler dish, Take the baked squash and toss it with butter, garlic, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese and serve it that way.

Accepting Who I Am: A Journey with Paint

I have high standards for myself.  I have an imaginary self too.  If I could wave a magic wand and design who I would want to be, there would be some changes made.  I have been that way my whole life, but one of the things I am better at now that I'm older, is to see what I like about the things I cannot change and to allow the things I can change to be a process and not expect instant progress.  Learning to appreciate the NOW has been one of the biggest challenges in my life but I get better at it all the time and living with a chronic illness has perhaps been one of the best teachers.

On my middling days, when a larger painting would be too draining, I can dabble in a journal and it still feeds my hunger for creativity.  In my art journals I will work on many pages at a time, sometimes flipping back and forth, sometimes leaving something and going back to it later with some sudden inspiration about what it needs.

Art is one of my favourite ways to challenge myself to accept the real me.  My art has changed and evolved and I began painting what I thought I should paint.  It took me awhile to find out what I wanted to paint and the strategy that got me there was painting big and fast as I mentioned in my last post.  I started that strategy with tempera paint and paper as it was relatively inexpensive and was okay to  just toss out work after awhile.  I still like tempera, gouache and water colours and still work with them, but have added canvas and acrylic paints to my repertoire.

One of the features that stands out to me in my art is that it is very feminine.  I favour circles, organic shapes, and flowers.  My flowers are nearly always pink or red and I love poppies or roses for their blowsy shapes.  There is a sense of spring and of sunshine.  I'm sure my previous days as a gardener are involved here.  Spring was my favourite time as I anticipated all the new growth and eagerly spent hours outside after a long wet non-gardening winter.  The colours, shapes and themes I chose when I allow myself to paint fast and free, are the ones that make me happy and the ones that feel true to me.  I still enjoy painting something outside of my comfort zone, something that requires more thought and planning.  Sometimes a painting sits unfinished on my easel for a long time while I wait for the inspiration to tell me what it needs next.  I usually have several projects going on at once because most are in a state of being unfinished.

The images below are paintings I have kept and not painted over.  They are the ones that feel the most authentically  me and I can see that in them.  I instinctively want to apologise for their being so feminine.  But I shut my mouth.  I  know that isn't what I should do but it's still a journey.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Painting my True Self

I am a very analytical person.  My mind mulls over things and examines and questions and wants to know why.  Like that small child who asks 'why is the sky blue?'  I need to know the answers but I am never satisfied with an answer.  I question it.  I want to know for certain if that is the best answer.  Some people think this is some sort of personal torture I inflict on myself but this is just me.  This is how my brain works and I don't know any other way.  Please don't worry about me.  I'm fine.  If you are a close friend, I'm afraid you are going to hear me verbalise all that analysing.  Sorry about that.  If you really love me you will cope.  That's my test of true friendship.

Yes, I am a worrier.  I will worry myself in circles.  I will worry that if I tell you how much worrying I do you will think I am crazy.  I am still compelled to tell you.  There is so much going on in my brain I have to open the release valve once in awhile.  You will be horrified by how much comes out and even more so if I tell you that was only half of it.  But truly, I'm fine.  Don't tell me this is bad for me or that I worry too much or that I need to get out of my own head.  What I will hear is that you think I am defective.  I will hear criticism of my essential self and I'm going to have to analyse that.

Sometimes I meditate.  I write in a journal. Actually I have journals all over the place so I can hardly say I write in A journal.  I write in about seven.  And then there are the art journals.  Painting has become my most favourite form of meditation.  My best way to lose myself, express myself and not analyse anything for at least a short period of time.  Yes, sometimes I paint things that are carefully planned, or I draw portraits and the goal is for it to at least vaguely resemble the person who inspired it.  But one of my favourite things to do is to just start slapping the paint on the canvas and see what I get.

I love colour.  Colour matters to me and means so much to me.  I am moved by colour combinations.  I can alter my own mood simply by taking a paintbrush and covering a canvas or a page with a colour I love.  So I gave myself permission to do that, to paint for the sake of the colours and not to worry about the image.  No worries about if it is good enough or if anyone would like it.   No worries about if it looks like what it is "supposed" to look like.  I paint big and fast.  Sometimes I use watercolour on paper but I love acrylic on canvas because I can do so much layering.  I can also completely cover over a painted canvas and start again.  This gives me so much freedom.  For a worrier, someone who wants to get things "right", the acrylic paints on canvas completely free me of that worry.  If I have put a blog of white somewhere and instantly don't want it there I can change instantly.  Sometimes, because I work fast, I even "ruin" something I liked.  That is perhaps where the greatest lessons happen.

This is my current work in progress.  It is a work in progress just like I am.  I am not sure where it is going and I know it won't be perfect but it makes me happy.  I like it for what it is and it doesn't have to be 'right'.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Saying Goodbye to the Teacher

When I make changes they often look sudden and drastic to people.  That's because I  mull over things privately for a very long time and because I am quite chatty with the people close to me this confuses them.  How is it that I never talked to them about my thoughts?  Because this is the first they've heard of it, my sudden change must be impulsive, they decide.  But that isn't actually how it works.  Yes, I am chatty with the people I'm close to and I do seem to reveal quite a bit of detail about my thoughts but believe me there is twice as much going on in my head compared with what comes out my mouth.  Pity me.  Imagine living with such a brain!

The past few years have brought me many changes, and quite drastic ones.  I am a visual and expressive person so I am compelled to express myself with my clothes.  What I put on matters to me in that it must feel right not only in terms of comfort but in terms of who I am.  For twenty years I was an elementary school teacher and that was a very big part of my self definition.  So I dressed the part.  Or at least my version of the part.  My most comfortable go to outfit was an above the knee denim skirt with opaque black tights, a tunic or sweater of some type and some shoes I personally deemed stylish yet comfortable.  That was likely to be a low heeled mary jane.  This outfit felt right and had many variations on it.   I taught in schools where all my colleagues wore jeans and I taught in schools were they all wore chanel suits.  I stayed true to my own style.   I can play and referee a soccer game for ten year olds dressed like that.  I can sit on the floor with kindergarten students to explore their new favourite book.  I was so comfortable in this outfit I did not even feel the need to change out of it when I got home at the end of the day and was known to put it on even during the weekend.

Life changes happened.  I am no loner a teacher and slowly, over the past few years I have been shedding my teacher wardrobe, but having to learn and experiment a little along the way.  I live a life of mostly being at home and easily go days seeing nobody.  I do have days where I am dressed like this:
See how happy I look to be dressed thusly?  This is one step up from pyjamas and I will likely spend at least half of this day in bed.

Then there are the days where I feel okay, I will probably read, write, paint, talk to my mum on the phone, do a bit of cooking or some laundry.  I hardly need to be dressed any differently for that, though most in my situation would probably put on jeans and a tee shirt.  Sometimes I do.  But I don't want to be limited to that so I dress up a bit if I am going out anywhere.  Even grocery shopping.  Sometimes I even wear  skirt but a pretty blouse or sweater with my jeans and a pair of boots I love will work for me too.  I rarely have the need to get really dressed up and in a small town people often don't, even when going out to a nice restaurant for dinner.  So I will go out in this:
After having considered these:
I'm still looking a bit teacherish.  Especially with the slightly rumpled cardigan.  The cardigan was less for warmth and more indicative of my unfamiliarity with such a body conscious dress.  I love lose flowing layers but they don't do my body shape many favours.  Perhaps approaching menopause will  help as I become too hot for layers!

I have abandoned all my denim skirts as I attempt to say goodbye to the teacher.  With most of them it was easy. One is in my donation pile still whimpering at me to come and rescue it.  I may need my friends to stage an intervention.  Wait, what am I thinking? My friends dress like this:

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Collections or What May be my Longest Post Yet

What makes a bunch of stuff a collection?  How many must you have?  Must the collecting be deliberate?  My mind was wandering, as it often does.  We ladies of leisure like to contemplate things.  While watching the snowflakes accumulate, and letting my mind dwell on the idea of accumulation, I began to think about the sorts of things I accumulate in my home.

Digression #1:  Yes, we have snow at the moment, and it looks like this:

I have several deliberate collections in my home but I also have some accidental collections.  You need only know me for about five minutes to find out I collect books.  There are books piled in every room of my home, on floors and tabletops.  My running joke is that it's time to stop collecting books and start collecting shelves.  Hilarious, isn't it?  I also collect beach stones and candles which you will frequently find mixed in with my books.   I am particularly fond of a pile of books with a pile of rocks on the floor in front of it.  It wasn't meant to stay like that, but my very sweet cleaning lady has put up with it for a month now.

Digression #2:  Yikes, the carpet looks kind of pink in this photo and it definitely isn't. 

My accidental collections include coffee mugs, though not the type often collected with cute sayings on them.  I fall for pottery or hand painted ceramic mugs and I have far more than I need.  Surely some day  I will have a coffee party for 20 people.  And then there are the throw pillows.  My ex hated throw pillows so when I became a single woman I happily accumulated masses of them.  I do fall for textiles and have a small collection of shawls as well, draped over furniture so I can enjoy them as they are rarely likely to be draped over me.  The colours in my spare bedroom, which is not really properly decorated yet and needs pictures on the walls, are richer and brighter than in my living room and bedroom so here is where the brighter throw pillows go.  You can see I am not too fussy about neatly folding my blankets.  They are called throws.  So I throw them on the sofa.

Digression #3:  Some say throw pillow and some say toss cushion.  Which do you say?

Digression #4:  None of the wall paint colours in my home were chosen by me.  I moved in 6 months ago.  Most of them are working for me so far.   I am not sure about this spare bedroom.  The colour is a bit more chartreuse than it looks in the photo.

My collection of jewelry and scarves is semi-deliberate.  I didn't think of it as a collection until I realised that I enjoy the jewelry more as a display on my bedroom dresser than as something I actually wear, and that I am prone to buying scarves because I am mad about textiles and fall for colour and pattern.  I have tried to edit the collection down to scarves I actually do wear.  A few which I don't wear end up draped around my home in the same way that shawls do.

Digression #5:  That mirror is too small but I love it.  I have a theory that if I can grow the pothos long enough I can make a big trailing green leafed frame around the mirror and visually enlarge it. In about ten years from now I'll let you know how that worked.

Digression #6:  I took this photo several times and even used the tripod and it always looks slightly out of focus.  I give up. ( No, I don't actually-this photo is finally better )

And then there are the houseplants.  While to me a home is not a home, nor is it properly decorated without plants, I treat them more like a collection than decor because I am prone to holding onto the stragglers and strugglers, convinced that I can save them.  I buy itty bitty plants when a skilled decorator would buy large ones.  Some plants are easily propagated and if I prune such a plant I am compelled to stick that pruning in a jar of water and then before I know it I have another itty bitty plant.  In a corner of my kitchen, where the light is very good, I mix the strugglers in with the showpieces.  At the moment there is even a dead one there, which I am mourning.

Digression #7:  That flooring is cork tile and I think the previous owner of my home was high when she chose it.  At least green and brown colours work with plants.

I deliberately started to collect carved wooden elephants.  This collection has sort of gone nowhere since I only buy them in thrift shops.  I don't have the means to travel to exotic places and buy them as souvenirs.  So I have two.  I feel that I cannot yet call this a collection.  In my mind, a collection begins at three.  Did I invent that rule or is it a real rule?

I have had  much more success with my folk art Saint Nicholas collection.  I have my  guidelines for what I want when I buy one, and mainly I look for carved wood, though at least one of mine is  faux wood-look polymer clay and one is actually paper.  I also have a deliberate collection of ornamental birds.  I like them simple in shape and design and crafted in wood or metal.  This began as a Christmas collection but I have decided to leave them out all year and they are well scattered around my home which seems sort of appropriate for birds.

The final collection I can recall is one of coloured glass vessels.  I usually pick them up in thrift shops and have learned to inspect them carefully as I don't want painted glass.  In the summer I display a group of them on my mantle while a few others are placed throughout my home year round and one or two are used on a regular basis.

The rule of collections is to display them grouped together but clearly I don't do that with all of my collections.  Rules were made to be broken and I love breaking them.  

It must be noted that if I could, I would probably collect cats.  Since there are a few reasons why this cannot and will not happen, my Sophie is quite content to be the only one.  In order to make it up to me, she contributes generously to the collection of cat fur which can be found throughout my home.

Friday, 21 February 2014

B is for Bundled Bulky Babushka

Today was a getting out day, an outing with my camera in tow followed by lunch with my parents at a favourite little cafe.  It was cold, though sunny and bright, so in order to get ready for the outing I knew I needed to dress warmly.  My Russian fashion model cousin, Shawnya McCombrenova kindly volunteered to model today's outfit as I am generally quite uncomfortable in front of a camera.

I wore one of my favourite skirts today, a favourite because it is brown ( yes I love brown ) it is comfortable and it is thrifted.  I piled on the layers and toped them off with a warm sweater, also thrifted.  I added a jaunty scarf and thought that this just might be enough.

But then I looked out the window and noticed the ice and realised that more layers were definitely needed.  So I added a big leather coat, also thrifted, gloves and a wooly hat.

 I drove first to the estuary where there is a bird watching stand built by our local and viewing stand loving Rotarians.  There is a dusting of snow on the mountains though there has been very little of it this year so our water supply will be restricted this summer and the local skiing businesses have suffered.

As I made my way to the beach, along the main street of town which was not yet clogged up with the usual Friday traffic, I passed mums pushing strollers, seniors' walking groups striding briskly, and a few people making their way to the office or to open up their shops.  Fitness enthusiasts were gathering as I parked my car beachside.  Some wore neon and black fitness gear, others were as bundled up as I was wearing many layers of whatever they had in their closets.  There is a steep sandbank which has a long flight of steps and these have become a popular local exercise spot.  People climb up and down these steep steps at various paces and with differing levels of comfort, I'm sure.  The steps are much steeper than they look in this photo.  The red blob in the photo is an elderly man determinedly but slowly making his way up.

I walked slowly along the beach taking pictures of the same things I always take pictures of.  I am fascinated by the jewel tones of the seaweed, and the texture of driftwood and gnarly old roots that have washed up on shore.  The sand is marked all over with the treads of boots and sneakers that have walked here before me.  

Don't forget to look up, I reminded myself, thinking that I must look sort of peculiar shuffling along camera always aimed at the ground. 

  It was a lovely day and I happily went about snapping pictures until it was time to meet mum and dad for lunch.  I had intended to bring the camera and take pictures of the charming little cafe but by then I was hungry and was thinking only about coffee and a bagel, which turned into two coffees, a gluten free bagel-sandwich and half a macaroon.  I must remember that there is half a wrapped up macaroon still in my bag.