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Old La Gringa

Old Gringo Boots

The sketch for the day is of my Old El Gringo cowboy boots. They are the most comfortable thing I own - even more comfortable than sneakers, socks, or bare feet. I started it last night after a long day. I was "too-pooped-to-pop" so I sat there on my chaise lounge with my legs extended out and my feet crossed contemplating whether or not I should skip doing the sketchbook painting for the day. I thought about my goal of not quitting. I thought about it for a long while. I didn't feel like getting up to paint. I finally felt propelled to at least draw whatever was around me - the closest thing to me, that I loved,were my boots.

This post is titled Old La Gringa. In the past my cousins in Chile have called me "la Gringa". It is an odd thing ... when I am here I feel totally chilena, but when I am not in the U.S.A. I feel totally american. As they say in Chile - "ni de aquí, ni de allá" (translated : not from here and not from there). It has been difficult feeling my way through an existence that floats between 2 cultures, 2 languages, and 2 different kinds of daily life. It is hard to explain to people who haven't been through it. Because where I am "from" has been complicated to pinpoint, I am trying to focus, instead, on where I am going - hence the blog before your eyes with the attempt at reinventing myself enough to live a creative life on a daily basis. In a few days I will be having a birthday (disregard what it says on Facebook about January 1). Although my New Year's post said I would not be purchasing any art supplies, I am having to eat my words. At nearly half a century of age, I feel entitled to eat anything I want - even if it is just words that I am eating.

So I bought this itty-bitty Koi travel watercolor set. It was so tiny I thought I might have to work up a contraption that would hold up a set of magnifying glasses in front of my own glasses just so I could find the thing. As it turns out I am not having any issues at all with it's tiny size. I love it.

It came with a water refillable cartridge brush - a stroke of genius. I debated if it was going to hold enough water to even complete one of my little daily paintings. By the time I was done, though, the cartridge was still half full. "Happy Birthday to me" - I said as I stroked it on my page.

Koi travel watercolor set & brush

This is not to say that all my efforts at painting my boots went so smoothly. If the painting ever where to get X-rayed they would see at least 50 other pairs of boots that were attempted first. This finished painting is the closest I came to not looking like a surgeon had done a poor job of attaching one of my feet back on after a horrific accident. There were moments, too, where it was obvious that I literally had two left feet. I was so frustrated. I sent Alicia an email discussing my trials and tribulations that I am going through in learning how to draw and paint. Here is an excerpt:

...I am so overwhelmed at this moment trying to keep up with doing a sketchbook page every day that I feel like someone threw me into the deep end of a pool with windows on the side walls of the pool and I keep staring out the windows at everything I could paint but I can't "get at it" and therefore am just holding my breath underwater as the air bubbles slowly slip out through my nostrils. I would come up for air, but I am so disoriented in that pool that I don't know which way is up. That is how I feel and lets not even begin to talk about landscape painting without a case of Depends at the ready...

"Stay focused on the goal", I tell myself : "don't quit."

Until next time


P.S. Why don't you give it a try?  ... we can make progress together. I would love that.

Tools & boots 4:30:11

Don't Cook The Asparagus

The harbinger of Spring, asparagus is packed with all the healthy things you want to go into your body. Like many folks I have always cooked them. Some folks boil or steam them, or also sauté them. One of my favorite ways is to grill them with a little olive oil - what I like most about grilling them is that there aren't any pots to clean. Yay! 

First, before we talk about my sketchbook entry, I want you to erase everything you know about cooking asparagus from your brilliant minds. I have been trying to track down the location of where I saw this brainless idea for a recipe. Sorry, no go. If I find it I will include it (to this post) at a later date.

So my little painting , below, tells you everything you need to know. 

Don't Cook The Asparagus

That's it! Simple! Awesome tasting! Refreshing and crunchy! And best of all, the peeler is all you have to wash. I peeled the raw asparagus on a cutting board because I am a bit klutzy and have been known to inadvertently add bits & pieces of myself in mindless acts of self mutilation to our meals. Those that where at camp up in Maine for my husband's birthday bash will recall me hula hooping with a massive wad of paper towels around my pinky finger- all because in my haste I had decided to peel something, what now I can't recall, in the air. I obviously miscalculated my culinary skills that day.

Anyhoo,  peel the asparagus in ribbons as best you can, the pieces that don't look like part of a shoot in Gourmet magazine need to be thrown in the bowl as well. The only pieces that got thrown out were the snapped off "cut" ends, which we do anyways when we prepare them (cooked or not). For those of you new to asparagus: when you grab the asparagus stalk with two hands and bend it, it should naturally snap (break) at the point that divides the more edible, digestible part from the stalkier, "woody" part. Follow on then by adding the lemon juice, pepper, and olive oil. Good quality shaved parmesan cheese is a bonus if you have it on hand. You can eat this raw asparagus salad as a first course or a side salad. To make more of a meal out of it you can add something to it like I did (see below). I added a few melt -in-my-mouth shiitaki mushrooms that I briefly sauteed in a pan with a little butter. If you choose do the mushrooms, cook them in a pan big enough that each mushroom piece has their own space. Add them to the hot pan (med-high) only after the butter has melted and then don't touch them, resist the urge to stir. Both the not moving them & giving each piece their space will ensure that they brown nicely. 

Asparagus salad

So... check. One more "recipe card" for my girls, one more little painting for my sketchbook project, and one more recipe that can be filed in the too-tired-to cook category. Not bad.

Asparagus & supplies

An Accurate Perspective

Yesterday brought more storms. We have had more than 24 hours of rain, it is akin to putting your house in neutral in the drive-thru car wash and letting the jet sprayers do their thing while you, like a sitting duck, stare dumbfounded out the window as your house just goes through it. More tornadoes made an appearance as well. Sadly some people where not as lucky as I was. So far early this morning, they have already counted over 200 people that had died from the tornadoes. The cloud formations that came from the horizon were stunning. Although we had swirling formations on my road and the trees bent like sticks of soft gum, most of the worst tornadoes leveled areas 2 hours south east of my mountain.

Dark day with tornadoes 4:27:11
It kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? We can whine all we want about the reasons we don't get down to the work of art making, but in the face of not having an opportunity to create ever again, all our whining seems childish and insignificant. Yesterday, with the power out, I pulled up a chair to the window and began to read Art & Fear by Bayles and Orland after I had finished making my daily painting in my sketchbook. I had had difficulty on this simple little painting of my bread box. The mental demons were, like tornadoes, swirling around my head telling me to give up. "How hard could it be?" I heard them say. "It's a box." "Really, the idea of taking a virtual class on keeping a sketchbook is sweet, but you won't be able to keep this up if you can't draw a simple box." You can not imagine the relationship I developed with my eraser. The simple perspective lines baffled me and my untrained hand could not follow what my eyes could see. Had Dali been in the room, perhaps the warped box could have been interpreted differently. I, however, only judged myself against EVERY OTHER ARTIST, DEAD AND ALIVE, THAT HAS EVER EXISTED IN THIS ENTIRE WORLD. Talk about pressure.

I think that the key to life, as in art, is having an accurate perspective. That is a big statement. I will let you ponder it a bit while you look at the much worked on and finally finished painting I did yesterday.

Bread box & accurate perspective

Did you ponder the statement? How many times have I had to weigh my view of a situation at hand, only to realize that from outside my own head it might not actually match up - at all. Having an accurate perspective means really analyzing the reality of whatever situation you are in, whether it be a natural disaster, a relationship, a conversation, or your art making results. In just the first few pages of the book I came away with a few thoughts. The most important thought I had was that learning "how" to make great art will only come AFTER I have learned how not to quit. My goal, then, needs to be to figure out how not to quit. On pg. 10 the authors say "Quitting means not starting again ... and art is ALL ABOUT starting again." Every single time you assemble your supplies it is about starting again, facing the demons, and not quitting. My good friend, Alicia, just posted this wonderful drawing of sparrows she did a few years back. It remained in her studio and was added to "the pile". The pile, that I am talking about, is the kind of pile we all have ... they are attempts that somehow, with our inaccurate perspective, we label as "not enough", or "unfinished", or "short of my expectations". The trouble with it all, is that she can not see it from my perspective. The drawing stands , all on it's own, as a PERFECT example of what we should be doing everyday - that is making art of what we love. Alicia loves nature - it shows through in every piece she does, whether it be in fabric or paint. If I could, I would do a blog intervention on her so that she could benefit from an accurate perspective. Her life,  like mine, is filled with non art making activities, or rather responsibilities. Our problem though, is not that we lack time to squeeze in art making. Our problem is that we choose to weigh down the side of the scale that makes us judge our own work, therefore ending our art making growth before it even has a chance to attempt flight. There is nothing wrong with judging our own work to see where it needs improvement, but the piece should be allowed to stand on it's own as an example of what we attempted that day, an example of how we did not quit that day. If we are truly lucky, in our lifetime, perhaps there will be art made by us that is appreciated by those who don't know us.

My husband and I were discussing the beauty of a 2500 year old Greek sculpture the other day. It dawned on me that it's maker never dealt with the wealth of images to compare his work to that the internet provides us today. (The internet, and the exposure it provides us to wonderful art can be downright intimidating to the budding artist.) This sculptor had made the sculpture for the pure beauty of it. He learned his craft through practice. His thoughts were not on how the world would view him 2500 years later in a me-centered world. He loved his materials, he loved his muse, and he was willing to work hard to express his love for his muse and make it eternal. We are not privy today to all his clumsy attempts he created when learning his craft. We just know that when we are in front of his work all that beauty and all that love is obvious, his perspective was accurate.

I leave you, then, with the thoughts that are in my mind. Hopefully you, too, might have these thoughts while you are working to stay on the path of not quitting.



Bread box & watercolor supplies

Sun Made

The sun makes me happy. It fills me with life, it makes me feel like doing stuff. After a rough start yesterday morning, the sun finally came out. After it came out, I felt filled with life and energy. To continue with my homework from the Sketchbook Delight class I am taking, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I am writing one of my favorite recipes at the same time as sketching/painting in my journal. I got the recipe from the blog of a person living in Portugal. I love her blog, Otchipotchi. Her photographs, her food, and the ceramics that she makes are absolutely ethereal - it is difficult to imagine that her pieces were once a lump of heavy clay. The apricot walnut loaf she made and photographed looked so yummy and healthy I had to try it out. It is not overly sweet and I can have it for breakfast without any guilt. I changed it from grams to cups so we could easily share it, and I added more apricots and more walnuts. Her recipe also used a little less apple juice than I do, otherwise the recipe is close. Perhaps I let mine sit too long and therefore it needs more liquid. The ingredients are in the photo below.

Apricot Loaf Ingredients

By the end of the afternoon the sun was beaming, and my homework was finished.

Sun on the Sun-Maid apricot painting

Taking this sketchbook class is really pushing me. It has given me the "O.K." to paint without feeling like I have to work on a masterpiece. I can just make ideas for future projects, I can test out colors and patterns. I can paint without ever having to be perfect. Sometimes that is just the kind of break I need - a moment to accept the me, the real me, the one that doesn't need to be measured against any perfect ideal. I will keep working on this sketchbook class, and see where it takes me.

Sun-Maid Apricot Loaf recipe painting
If you want to follow the recipe, click on the photo to enlarge it so that you can see the words better at the bottom. Put all the ingredients on the left in a bowl, mix, and let sit for an hour before adding the ingredients on the right. Bake (at 350°F) in two greased 1/2 lb. loaf pans for about 30 minutes. If you want to learn how to keep a sketchbook going, you have to pick up your brushes and your pencils and just begin. If you need a little push, take a class like I am doing. Oh ... and most importantly ... if it is sunny today where you are, take a few minutes, face the sun, close your eyes, and feel the happiness come right through your skin and fill you up with joy.

Until my next homework is done,


I Had Oranges For Breakfast

Yes I had oranges for breakfast.

An orange slice

I have started a new on-line course in hopes of learning how to find my groove and sketch daily in a journal. The course is Sketchbook Delight, and it is being taught by Alisa Burke. I am taking the virtual class with a virtual friend, Melissa P. of the blog 100 Billion Stars. Although Melissa says she doesn't draw or paint, she does absolute wonders with fabric and I think that will carry over to her sketchbook.

Here are the results from this morning's first attempts:

1st day on sketchbook course

It is a very dark, rainy day outside, otherwise I would have photographed this with daylight. Even though it was dreary and depressing outside, I was glad I could start my day out with something colorful instead.

Sketchbook page #1 4:26:2011

It's A Girl Thing

I hope you all had a beautiful Easter. I wrote my last post, of Easter memories, perhaps because I was a bit melancholy. I knew this Easter would be different because one of my girls wasn't going to be here for it. This Easter my oldest daughter and I, were left to our own devices. Without a family to cook for, I offered my oldest a "free pass" to do only what she wanted to do - she didn't hesitate. Before I was finished asking what she wanted to do, she had her answer- SHOPPING. Now, you must understand that there was NOTHING we needed to buy, but we went anyways. We shopped like we meant it. In order to do that I had to trade my mountains for the sparkling mountains of Atlanta, Georgia:

Atlanta from the hotel

Instead of eating my Easter gourmet feast, we feasted at several upscale spots. My favorite, though, was Market, a swanky eatery in the heart of Buckhead, a shopping mecca for women who understand that shopping is a girl thing. Market is just one of several  restaurants created by Jean-George Vongerichten that serve out-of-this-world food. I dined like royalty. One of my most memorable dishes was a soup of puréed spring pea shoots with a parmesan foam on top. At my house... the "chef", your's truly, doesn't do "foam on food". You will have to make do with the one photo, below, and take my word for it that it was "fabuloso". It just wasn't the kind of place where a girl in cowboy boots can blend in and whip out a camera at the same time. The only reason I managed to take this one pic was because it was an empty area near the loo. 

Market restaurant
We went to Atlanta with full intentions of doing marathon shopping. Many places, though, were out of our league. Several of the stores we entered had gorgeous women buying expensive gorgeous stuff while their gorgeous bodyguards/drivers waited at the door. Or at least that is what I thought was going on until I realized the stores themselves, like Louis Vuitton below, had been extremely thoughtful and kept me in mind when hiring very cute "bodyguards" to actually guard their stuff. 

Nica ONLY looking

For the entire weekend we wore our cowboy boots because we knew we were out of practice for marathon shopping after living on the mountain for so long and our feet had to be comfortable if we were going to last three whole days. The girls there, though, were wearing stilettos. It seemed like every store had a high volume of stilettos on the floor. 

Look-at-only shoes
With prices to match. In the past few weeks I have had over forty countries reading my blog so I will be very clear so that there is no miscommunication with the image below of the price of the shoe. Those aren't pesos, those are good old american U.S. dollars - three thousand, three hundred, and ninety five of them is what they want. I understand that shopping is a girl thing, but really, I could feed an orphanage in Vietnam on that for a year. My feet will never be that precious. 

Price on look-at-only shoes

I did get a chance to see one of my favorite stores, Anthropologie. The beauty of going all the way down to Atlanta to see my favorite store is that they had it SUPER SIZED. I was in Anthropologie heaven. Their clothing  and their house stuff is all right up my alley, but that is not the reason I go there.

Anthropology Atlanta

I go there because I simply can't get enough of their displays. They are clever on steroids. Just look at how they displayed all these kitchen timers. Brilliant. I felt like I was reaching in for a lemon drop.
Timers in a bag

I also love that they never have stopped me from taking photos - in any of their stores. Whenever I go to a city, I stop into their stores for a jolt of creativity. Had I been younger, I would have been trying to work for their corporate offices in Philadelphia. click on this link if you really want to be jealous of all the creative people who do work at their corporate office. The link will take you to see photos of their parent offices at Urban Outfitters.

On with the shopping. We didn't stay in Buckhead the whole time. We also went to some of the cozier villages. I was a very good girl at the paper store in Vinings. Vinings felt a little like Santa Monica without the boardwalk or the homeless. Lots of quaint shops with spots to quench your thirst or get a healthy bite to eat.

Vinings paper store

If I may be allowed one more comparison to California: we also made time to visit Little Five Points. If Buckhead is the well-to-do relative, Little Five Points is the bohemian rebel in the family. It was very remmenicent of time I had innocently spent at Haight-Ashbury, in San Francisco, in my earlier days.

Little Five Points

The vintage stores there, were killer. At the sight of the "gentlemen" hanging around the only vacant parking spot, I swore I would only use cash in this part of town. Do you think the two of us in cowboy boots stood out there? It was a very difficult thing to stick to not using my credit card as we wove our way in and around the vintage stores there. Stefan's was the best store of the lot: great selection, super helpful staff, no incense burning, and everybody wasn't ultra tattooed, pierced, or coifed in dreadlocks.

Stefan's Little Five Points

In the end, though, I suppose it was a good idea to not use our credit card in all the shops at Little Five Points. We probably would have loaded up the car if we hadn't stuck to our cash only policy. Nica ended up with a lovely pink vintage dress that she wore on Easter Sunday. She looked like a little, pink, asian, Easter confection.

Nica in Vintage Easter Dress

Although it was a VERY different kind of Easter for both of us, we had a blast. Thanks to our treasured cowboy boots we faired pretty well doing back to back twelve hour shopping days. Now I am back on my mountain. I am glad we had our weekend, one on one. 

Boots & bags

Some of you may ask "Why drive three and a half hours and shop 'till you drop when you don't really NEED anything?" For my daughter, it's a girl thing. If marathon shopping is not my cup of tea, then you might ask "Why did I do it?" It's a mama thing.

The Year The Easter Bunny Couldn't Get In

Although some may think that it is Santa Claus that is the "big dog" in our year, the Easter Bunny has always held equal favor. Ever since the girls were little, preparations and festivities abounded to welcome our soft spoken, furry, little token of Spring. There were lavish teas, pink of course, spread out. All the girl's special tea china was set just so. Every available tea pot filled with different colored "tea" that instantly brought back memories of Mary Poppins and how she helped the medicine go down. Each tea pot holding delicious, sweet concoctions that tasted like a child's dream elixir. Our grand chocolate bunny always held steadfast his position at center stage. In one serving dish, perhaps heavenly Mexican wedding cookies, another real fruit jellies, of course there were petit fours, and pastel colored Jordan Almonds strewn about. The last touch was the golden swan which was delicately passed around the table so that everyone could reach for a pink rock sugar stick to stir their tea with.

Easter tea table

Little girls here, there, and everywhere. All festooned in ethereal pink tulle.

Girls at Easter tea

All this to send a message to our Easter bunny that we were ready. We were waiting. Our baskets had been carefully adorned with fresh sweetheart roses. I only had ONE very important job - to remember to leave the door unlocked so that the Easter bunny could leave us a few treasures in our baskets. Oops!

A big Oops! I fell asleep. I didn't forget, I just fell asleep. There was no way the Easter bunny could get inside and make the delivery we had been praying for. The doors had remained locked throughout the night. I just fell asleep just like you do...

Laela asleep with laptop

Panic ran through our house early the next morning. "Mom, Mom, wake up." In between breathless panting I heard my precious little ones, their voices full of disappointment ... "The Easter bunny didn't come". It was obvious - their baskets were empty, only the drying little roses were there. When suddenly, just by chance, one of the little ones spotted something out by the pool. An egg? Could it be? In our nightshirts we flung the doors open and ran to investigate. Once there other colors caught our attention. "Where?" "Out there ...Look" Where?"

Easter by the pool

 "In The Trees." The Easter bunny HAD come after all. Upon realizing there was no door left unlocked, the Easter bunny waisted no time and put all the treats for the little ones in the garden.

Girls at Easter tree photo #2

Sun-drenched colored dresses hung from every branch, vintage purses wedged in every crook. Chocolate eggs and jellybeans in pastel egg shaped containers lay in and amongst the bushes. Bejeweled crowns sparkled as they caught the first rays of sun. Where tulips were popping up there were also lollipops in their midst standing just as proud greeting the early morning sunshine.

Girls Easter tree
All I can say is that the Easter bunny new that moms get tired sometimes. Perhaps the Easter bunny was a mother herself.

Wishing you and your loved ones a magical Easter,


Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

I know that you have been very patient with me. I have been, like an elf, working, working on lamp #2 in hopes that it can hold a candle to lampshade #1. To help ease the wait, I am doing a quick, but photo heavy post, of the process, so that maybe you can make some of your own (I would love to see pictures). I am going to be brief, as how-to's are not my thing.

First prewash the fabric - you don't want any of the colors running in the end when you get it wet.

Next, cut out your shapes, and do a blanket stitch around it so that your crochet work has something to hold on to. I went around each shape with the blanket stitch, then I did one row of single crochet, followed by more decorative crochet.

Doilies and blue ball

After you have a few pieces made up, start stitching them together.

Stitching pieces together on the ball
keep stitching, hooking ... swearing ... you get the idea.

Progress on doily ball

Some will go together with just a stitch, others you need to make a long chain and do like a spider and start connecting things together. If your shape is going to be round, then work on a ball ... stitching, crocheting, and swearing as you go along.

Progress on doily ball #2

Don't forget to mark the spot from which your light fixture will come through. I actually put part of the fixture in there and stitched right up to it and around it. I left it in there until I hung it.

X spot on blue ball

Having the ball in there let me see what pieces I was missing. I liked the color of my ball (a regular kids ball sold in the toy department at Target) so much that I felt I wanted to keep the color of the ball in there. After a fruitless trip to the fabric store, I resorted to bleaching some fabric in my stash so it would look like the same blue that made up the ball.

Blue fabric added to doily ball

Then comes the part most of you are wondering about : how did the fabric keep it's shape? I used Stiffy, sold at my "local-but-I-have-to-drive-an-hour-and-20-minutes-to-get-to"" fabric & craft shop. One and a half bottles was all it took for my shade. I bought more in case I got carried away (which at this point I am regretting).


Once the stitching of the ball was complete, I found a jar to prop it up on. I left an opening in the stitching large enough for my hand to fit through. This is so I can have easy access to the bulb when it needs changing.

Doily ball prep

I pored the Stiffy into a large bowl (18 inches across), and dipped the shade, ball and all, into it until I felt the fabric and crochet work was fully saturated.

Fabric with:with out Stiffy

Needless to say, this is messy. I covered an area of the floor in the studio with thick plastic. I made sure I made this mess in an area without much foot traffic so it could stay put to dry.

Bowl & ball mess

The jar was placed right under the spot left for light bulb changing. I used a sponge brush to remove any excess and left it on the jar to dry for a couple of days. 

Jar under doily ball

Once it is dry (48 hrs. later) take the eraser end of a pencil and push on the ball in all the empty spaces you can find. The idea is to gently pry the stiff shade from the ball. Go all the way around releasing the shade from the ball - only push on the ball, not the fabric.

Pencil pushing on ball

Be brave for the next part, take your utility knife and pierce the ball through the opening you left for changing the light bulb. Pull out the now deflated ball through that opening. Let it try another 24 hours. Once dry The next step is CRITICAL.

Pierce the ball


I have a feeling I should have done a bit more on this last step. The title of this post is "Testing, Testing, 1,2,3" for a reason. West Coast Elizabeth thought I might not want to share a "how-to" because I might put my shade into an Etsy shop that I have been contemplating. That is not it. I actually have been testing the shade. The first few days after it's completion I would crawl out of bed propelled only by the hope of finding my shade still hanging rather than in a lump on the dining table. My fears were unfounded. Since then I have been testing out different wattages - creeping up in number as I go, crossing my fingers. At about 150 watts, unfortunately, I believe I am beginning to see some warp-age. The other day, while composing an email to Alicia, I thought I saw patterns dancing on the wall. My globe was  - ever so slightly- twirling. I thought for sure it was the heat of the 150 watts. Then I thought - "no, it is the hot air from my forced hot air unit kicking on because my mountain hasn't clued into the fact that in the valley it is already spring".  That, my friends, is what we call wishful thinking. I think it is warping from the heat.

So why post a how-to after all that? That is why I have delayed. I have been wondering if I should work out all the kinks and then give you a how-to or share with you where I am at. I have been working like a madwoman on shade #2. My second one is even trickier than the first, but I missed you so much that I couldn't stay away from Blogland any longer. I just need to keep working out the bugs. In the meantime, I thought you might like to give it a go so I posted the general "how-to" you see before you. By the way, all Target stores within a 150 mile radius of my mountain are running low on the pretty light blue balls. I wonder why?

April has been a yucky month aside from the lampshade saga. We have been privy to a seemingly endless bout of tornadoes in my neck of the woods that all seem to be arriving right in the middle of much needed beauty sleep.  Our days have been spent wrapping up the school year. I hate this part - it seems to never end and all I want to do is get it over with. I have other stories to tell, but I am going to hold off on those and go work on my eye-crossing lampshade #2.


Until next time,   Carolina