In one word: gorgeous.  I just love it here.  There are loads of free-ranging ponies roaming around all over the place.  We've not been for a proper walk through the forest to get up close and personal, but that's on the agenda for a bit later I think.  We went to the sea to give the dog a run (and swim!) and it was a stunning view with Isle of Wight in the distance.  It was a bit cloudy but when the sun did manage to break through the clouds it offered up a beautiful shimmer.  It was great.  Of course I couldn't help but to have the following lyric playing on a loop in my head: "we'll go to the Isle of Wight if it's not too dear - we shall scrimp and savvvvvve; grandchildren on our knee - Vera, Chuck and Dave."  Ah...The Beatles.

I found some great treasures on the beach: these bit of dried out seaweed with this amazing sort of animal-like print on them which had attached themselves to shells and rocks.  I love looking at them so I picked up a few to put in my studio for inspiration.  PLUS, I think they'll be great for displays when I photograph my jewellery and crocheted necklaces (speaking of which I've just received some inventory back from a gallery and have a lot of new colours available - I'll post pics soon). 

As for now, we're just having a bit of a chill as we wait for a reasonable hour to commence with the consumption of libations.  Mmmmm....libations.  In the meantime, here's a slideshow of our adventures so far - enjoy!
 
 
 
Picture
The family is heading to New Forest today for three nights.  Could I be more excited?  Probably not.  The only thing that would get me more excited is going to America, which I'm doing in two weeks.  So it's a fort-night of excitement for this little bunny!

Yesterday Helen and I did a bit of baking (actually, I blogged about it while she baked - oh yea, and was there to answer questions like "does this look done enough?" and "how does this taste?").  Today, I got up at 7am and proceeded with my own bit of baking.  What a fun morning!  I made a pumpkin pie - which I hope is good.  The reason for my apprehension is that it's my first attempt at making a dairy-free version (my niece and husband are lactose intolerant and how mean would it be to enjoy it in their presence as they sit their with their sad eyes wondering what it tasted like?).  Which means instead of evaporated milk I used soy milk.  Plus I cooked the pumpkin instead of using canned and thus ended up with 20 ounces of pumpkin puree instead of 15, which the recipe called for.  To compensate, I used 3 eggs instead of 2.  I didn't have ground cloves OR allspice, so I used some mediterranean spice (which also has a bit of peppercorn in it) and probably overdid it on the cinnamon.  So it's pretty much a Frankensten creation.  But we'll see.  I did manage to make the BEST whipped cream I've ever made, though.  I'm sure with enough whipped cream people won't even notice if the pie isn't very good.   The fudge cappuccino crinkles turned out awesome, as did the popcorn balls so I'm sure they'll redeem any other disaster. 

Picture
In terms of working in the studio - well, I just don't have very much time to much of anything a the moment.  So I'm trying to make the best use of the time I do have and am working on putting the final touches on a new War Girls painting titled "Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do".  I really like it.  What do my readers think?  Leave me a comment and share your thoughts. 

Well, better go for now.  I'm going to catch up on a bit of news before I pack up for the weekend.  I'll be blogging over the weekend, so be sure to stay tuned for updates!  Ciao!
 
 

Kitchen.

This weekend the family is getting together to celebrate my mother-in-law's 65th
birthday in the New Forest in Hampshire.  Helen (my sister-in-law) and I are
VERY excited about it!  To prepare we've both been busy in the kitchen.  There
will be 10 of us all together and we're only going for two full days, but you'd
think we were going for two weeks considering all of the desserts we're making! 
On my list: pumpkin pie (pretty much a requirement at this time of year,
especially when you're American!), popcorn balls (again, as an American this is pretty much a must over Halloween, at least as far as I'm concerned), and Fudge Cappuccino  Crinkles.  On Helen's list: caramel cookies, chocolate brownies,
pumpkin muffins with a soft cheese icing, individually-baked pumpkin custards,
creamy lemon pie, and chocolate squares (that don't really look chocolatey -
Helen's words not mine).  That's a massive number of sweets, but considering
that Helen's are all Weight Watchers recipes they probably count as just one
dessert.  If it were winter and there were a massive snow storm that stranded us
in the cottage, we'd be set.  We might come out 10 lbs heavier and diabetic, but
we'd have happy mouths!

Field Trip.

A day out at the Burford Garden Company is well worth the trip.  I had only been once before, very quickly, and Helen has been dying to take me there.  And it's not a place you can really take your time to enjoy with the men-folk; since we were sharing the day together it only made sense for us to go together.  It was so lovely.  The only thing we bought was cake and coffee, but if we had the money, we probably would have bought one of everything.  Sigh.  So many things to see.  So many clever, cool items.  If you want, you can buy a chocolate dessert pie in a pizza box for 13 quid.  Very t
 
 
Picture
As my readers will know, I am reading Moby Dick.  I mentioned that there's a bit of humor in the book and I read a passage the other day that literally made me laugh out loud.  Let me give you a bit of a intro: the main character, Ishmael, is about to go to sea, but has a night to kill before boarding the vessel.  So  he's wandering around the town of New Bedford looking for a place to stay, but doesn't have a lot of money so he can't be choosy.  He finds an inn and asks the landlord if there are any rooms.  The landlord smiles and says it's all full, but he can share a bed - and not to worry the bed is big.  He'll have to share it with a harpooner who will be in soon, but for the moment he's out selling human skulls.  This makes Ishmael quite nervous.  Anyway, as the story goes, he ends up getting into bed thinking this harpooner won't turn up; but he does and is a huge guy, fully of tattooed.  He is frightened to find Ishmael in his bed, rightfully so, and arms himself to attack.  Ishmael calls for the landlord who manages to calm the man down and it's revelaed that this big harpooner, Queequeg, is actually a gentle giant.  So the next morning they awake and Queequeg decides he'll get dressed first and leave, allowing Ishmael to get dressed in private.  And that's  where I'll pick up the text: "He commenced dressing at top by donning his beaver hat, a very tall one, by the by, and then - still minus his trowsers - he hunted up his boots.  What under the heavens he did it for, I cannot tell, but his next movement was to crush himself - boots in hand, and hat on - under the bed; when, from sundry violent gaspings and strainings, I inferred he was hard at work booting himself; though by no law of propriety that I ever heard of, is any man required to be private when putting on his boots." 

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!  Makes me laugh every time.

 
 

...listening to:

Picture
Feast of the Hunters' Moon
Feast of the Hunters' Moon by Black Prairie
This is a band that I discovered last year about this time when Dave and I took a mini-honeymoon in NYC.  We wanted to catch a gig while we were there but didn't have very much money to spend. 

Picture
Free Music Fridays at American Folk Museum
A little research online and we discovered two things: 1) the American Folk Museum has a great program called Free Music Fridays; and 2) the Mercury Lounge, The Bowery Ballroom's younger sibling venue, is a great place to catch a gig without having to shell out big bucks.

Picture
Black Prairie onstage at the Mercury Lounge
It was at the Mercury Lounge where I discovered Black Prairie.  I think our tickets were something like $8 a piece.  The Mercury lies in New York's famed Lower East Side and  is apparently where folk musicians in the 60s, like Dylan and Baez, got their start.  I had read before going that the Mercury Lounge is one of the last standing venues of its kind: a place where you can experience music in an intimate and tangible way.  I was not disappointed.  After Black Prairie finished their show, they came down onto the floor (which was standing room only) and formed a jam circle.  It was ace

...reading:

Picture
Moby Dick
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
I was in a charity shop in town the other day and it's a rare event that I'll leave without buying at least one book.  I picked up three, one of them being Moby Dick.  I'm a sucker for classics and this is a novel I've been meaning to read for ages.  And it will probably take me that long to read it - it's a big 'un!  I'm not kidding!  It's got to be about 6 inches thick.  I think it might be even thicker than The Fountainhead (which took me several months to read on my first attempt when I was 16 or 17; I read it again last year while I had loads of time on my hands,  waiting to find out whether or not I'd be granted a visa to go back to England...I think it only took me a couple of weeks that time)!  I'm only a couple of pages in, but so far I'm loving it - it's like an epic-sized poem.  It's full of lush descriptions and already there's a weight about it - a sort of anxious sadness which reminds me, strangely enough, to the way J.D. Salinger writes.  Its language is much older, but the dark humor is similar and the atmosphere a bit damp...which is what I think of when I read Catcher in the Rye

...cooking:

Picture
Curried Sweet Potato Fritters
Curried Sweet Potato Fritters
Another great recipe from Vegetarian Times.  I've wanted to try this for ages and have just gotten around to it.  I don't know why it took so long!  These are great!!  The recipe suggested serving them with mango chutney; I didn't have any on hand, but I did have a mango so I made my own.  I modified a Better Homes and Garden recipe, substituting dried figs for dried cherries.  It was a wonderful compliment.  I couldn't find a direct link to the recipe, but it basically involves bringing vinegar, packed brown sugar, dried cherries (or figs), onion and ginger to a boil and letting simmer for about 10-15 minutes before adding chopped mangoes.  I just improvised on the quantities and I would recommend doing the same. 

...thinking about:

Picture
The Reader
I saw this movie a couple of years ago, but forgot that I had.  I saw it in the video store the other day and snapped it up without even thinking about it cuz I just love Kate Winslet.  The film is good, but it makes me want to read the novel because there are so many questions that remain unanswered in the film (and if you've not seen the film, you should stop reading now; while I don't necessarily go into detail about the film, the questions I pose will reveal some plot spoilers):  Why does Hanna start an affair with a teenage boy?  Is she emotionless or has she developed a steely exterior to protect herself emotionally from the horrible things she's seen (and participated in) in her past?  How did she end up becoming a guard for the SS?  Was it because of her illiteracy?  Was it because she had no choice?  Did she love Michael?  I can come to some conclusions about these things, but they're all speculative.  I would like to think that the novel would offer some insight that the film attempts to do, but in a way that can only be ambiguous because unless the film is narrated, you can only guess at what the characters' expressions mean - much like life. 

...also thinking about

Picture
Photo of Ai Weiwei from wikipedia.com
Ai Weiwei
In yesterday's blog I wrote a bit about Ai Weiwei's sunflower seed project.  I watched the mini-documentary about his process and something just didn't settle right with me: he never did any work himself.  Now, I realize that it is not uncommon in the art world  for an artist to act as director while other people do the actual work.  And I appreciate that Weiwei employed a lot of people in a small village, which is fairly philanthropic.  But in every shot, he was just standing there, looking at what the "artists" were doing.  I just can't reconcile this.  Because if it were me, I don't think I could do that.  I would want to get tucked in - if for no other reason than to learn about these peoples' lives.  I would want to know about the people who helped me to create such a massive and time-consuming project.  There's an artist named Allan McCullom who does something similar in an installation project, Shapes from Maine.

Picture
To complete this project, McCollum invited indepedent craftsmen and and craftswomen from the state of Main to create cookie cutters of shapes generated by the artist; this was all done via the internet with no face-to-face interaction.  In the Art21 documentary, Systems (which features several other artists), McCollum gives recognition to all of those involved in the project.  The difference between how he goes about this directive sort of approach to artmaking in contrast to Ai Weiwei, is that there McCollum has a hands-on involvement in the project by creating the shapes.  I realize that Weiwei came up with the concept for his project and I'm not sure what sort of hands-on involvement he had prior to where the documentary picks up the process, but still, I just feel like there's a lack of involvement that I value in artists.  I don't have a resolution for this conflict, but it provides a great platform for a healthy discussion on art. 

 
 
Picture
Marble Arch
This past weekend Dave and I celebrated our one year anniversary by going to London (ironic considering that we both - Dave especially - aren't too fond of spending our time in congested cities, particularly those heaving with tourists and are desperately full of chain restaurants and cheezy trinkets specifically designed to sell to the masses). Upon arriving we stopped at the Carpenter's Arms pub near Marble Arch, which a friend of ours, Phil - former Camp Walden colleague - runs.

Picture
Me & Flat Anna by Big Ben and Parliament
We ended up staying until closing which made us a bit lethargic for the next day of bimbling about. We spent several hours in the Tate Modern, walked around the South Bank (being sure to get a pic of Flat Anna in front of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament) before stopping off at a pub for a bit of drink, chips and sit-down; then we headed to Portobello Market, which never disappoints, where we shared an impromptu slow dance at a quiet intersection while we listening to the crooning of the lovely Billie Holiday. We headed back to the hotel for a power nap and then headed out for dinner at El Pirata, a tapas restaurant in Mayfair (highly recommend this place!!! The street outside was quiet but inside it was warm and full of buzz - the atmosphere was alive, the service swift and ever-present without being noticed somehow, and the food absolutely incredible!

Picture
Sunflower Seeds 2010, by Ai Weiwei
During dinner we reflected on our last year of marriage (which I will refrain from sharing because we choose to share this as our own personal memory) and then got onto the topic of art. I have to say in all of the time I've known Dave, this might have been the first time we dedicated a full conversation to the subject. When we'd visited the Tate earlier in the day, we saw a work - Sunflower Seeds 2010 - by the Chinese artist Ai Weiei. Dave had a difficult time with this piece - he thought it was pointless. Why would anyone bother to make millions of tiny little hand-decorated sunflower seeds out of porcelain and then throw them into a huge pile on the floor? What a waste of time, he said. Why not spend that energy making something more useful? "Like what?" I said - "another shirt that you can buy on the street for $2?" This made him think for a bit. I went on to say, "this piece is about more than a bunch of sunflower seeds - it's about creating a conversation; imagine all of the people in the museum today who'd never heard of Ai Weiwei and who may be unaware that he was imprisoned for expressing his thoughts and who will leave that museum, hopefully, with a better understanding of his oppressive culture. In this case, it's not just about making something that you'd put on display in your house (although I'd love to have the house to accomodate such an installation), it's about starting a dialogue and making you think." He still wasn't so sure - he argued a person could make the same point without wasting those materials. I agree in some ways. But I also think that merely writing a thought on paper or speaking out on televsion is easy to forget; whereas an installation of this sort is more impactful - it interferes with your space (or you with it) and has a visual impact that's digested in a completely different way...in a far more memorable way. And that, in a nutshell, is what's great about art. We all have our own opinions about what makes good or bad art; what you like I may hate and vice versa - but it at least gets you thinking. It starts a dialogue and sometimes, makes you reconsider things. Some artists create things because they feel a need to express some inner emotion; others create as a way of expressing what goes on outside of them. Both are valid. And I would argue necessary. If nothing else, it can expand our awareness of something we before knew little about. And that's magic.

For some insight into Ai Weiwei and the Sunflower Seeds project, take a look at this video:
 
 
I've just returned from my trip into town to inquire at the local boutiques about selling my products on a sale-or-return basis and the verdict?  Well, good and bad.  The first shop (and my favourite of the two), Presentation Gifts, said they do carry work by local artists but not during this time of year, but will consider for February.  (Good). 

The other shop, Nut Tree (sorry, no good link for this one), said, "No, it gets too complicated...you're better trying galleries."  (Not so good).

I'm sure opportunities are around I just need to find them.  I did just sign up to become a member of the West Ox Arts Gallery in Bampton, which I think will be a great place to sell work.  Keeping my fingers (and toes!) crossed!
 
 
Next week is my mother-in-law's 65th birthday and for her present, I made a crocheted necklace and sugar scrub. (I think I'm pretty safe in blogging about it here, because I don't think she reads my blog - but if you are reading this, Barb, you might want to stop right here so you don't see the pics below!) I bought a new yarn - 100% merino wool, very lush - in a warm mulberry colour. It's very chunky, which I really like. I liked it so much I made one for myself....I just couldn't help it! I really hope she likes it!

I also made my first sale on a coffee & milk frother warmer! Plus, when Jonny was here, he asked me to make an Audrey necklace with matching earrings for a friend of his - so it's incredible how much work you can get done when you have company especially considering the last two days consisted of making an apple pie, eggplant (or aubergine) parmesian, going to the pub, going on a folly walk and then going on an eight-mile river Thames walk! Incredible. Idle hands and all that. So I would have to say it's been a good couple of days spent with lovely company.
Today more business: I'm going to visit two boutiques in town to see if they're interested in selling any of my products - good time of year for it I think. I don't know I feel so nervous to approach them, but I am. I think it's probably because I know how tongue-tied I can get and I'll go in with a clear idea of what I'll say and then it'll come out of my mouth in a big ball of jumbled up mess. Ah well. I just have to remember what this guy at the market said to me a couple of weeks ago; when we got to chatting and he discovered that I'm from America he said, "well, I think you're very courageous to make the commitment to living here." I walked away with a big smile and thought, "huh, he thinks I'm courageous. Yea, I am!"  That will be my mantra today.  I will report on my venture a bit later. 
Also, most important of all, this weekend is my one-year wedding anniversary!  Dave and I are going to London for two nights - we're going without much of a plan, really.  It'll be nice for us to spend some nice, quiet time together doing a bit of sight-seeing and casually strolling around.  Hopefully we'll end up at Portobello Market!  In celebration of our anniversary, I thought it would be nice to provide a mini-slideshow of our special day.  Toot-a-loo for now, readers!  (Quickly before I sign off for now, a side-not about our rings.  We had them custom-made by a Chicago-based artist who has a company called Simply Wood Rings, who did an amazing job.  When Dave and I got engaged, we took home two pieces of quartz from the island where we got engaged and had one of the pieces incorporated into the band on my ring.  Both our rings are made of rosewood, which has a beautiful, warm colour.)
 
 
Picture
A couple of days ago I picked some wild apples from Folly Hill and yesterday put them to good use making a traditional American-style apple pie. Flat Anna helped of course - as did our guest, Jonny. It was a bit runny (the pie, not Jonny) because we just couldn't wait for it to cool down before taking a slice, but it was very, very yummy! A nice mix of tart and sweet.  Probably not very good for the waistline but certainly good for the pleasure sensors!  Besides, we walked off a fair bit of calories this afternoon.  Sadly, Dave had to work, so Jonny and I took the dog out on our own and did an 8-mile round trip walk along the River Thames, starting at the Swan Inn in Radcot, stopping at The Trout Inn at Tadpole Bridge just outside of Bampton for a quick brew before setting back toward Radcot.  It was a lovely autumnal day - sunny with a light breeze.  Then we came home and had a nice lunch - leftover lentil soup, spinach quiche and a kale and spinach salad.  Very yummy.  I'm feeling guilty about not spending time in the studio - but only slightly.  Being out in nature is always good for inspiration!  I'll be back at it in full force tomorrow and looking forward to putting that inspiration to use! 

 
 
Picture
Yesterday in my blog I mentioned making a Red Lentil Bread from a recipe I found on the internet. And brother it was DELICIOUS! It is the best bread I've ever made. I made a bit of a substitution, however - instead of using the plain strong bread flour it called for I used a seeded grain flour. I think it really made all of the difference, if for looks if nothing else. It's a really doughy bread - perfect with soup. In fact we enjoyed ours with a Curried Red Lentil Soup, a winter favourite. The recipe is from my beloved Vegetarian Times magazine, which is a magazine I highly recommend, even if you're not a vegetarian, because they have so many unique ideas that can easily be converted to meat, if you're so inclined. I USED to be a veggie, but since moving to England I've gone back to eating meat - mostly because the industry isn't as tainted here as it is in America. At least that's how it seems. And even if I have the wool pulled over my eyes, I feel like that's OK for me right now. But before this blogs turns into something political and a soap blox platform - which is not my intention with this blog in the slightest - that's all I'm going to say on the matter.

So yes, bread. Mmmmm. Bread. I find cooking to be my other creative outlet. I was in the kitchen yesterday for about 4 hours baking bread, making soup, and then making caramel corn. That's almost as much time as I dedicate to my art studio each day! But there's room for both in life, right? I think they're intrinsically connected on some level or another anyway. By the way, if you happened to open up the link to that caramel corn recipe you'll find that it says there are so subsitutions for the butter. Well, that's not exactly true. I made mind last night with a sunflower spread (because I think my dear husband might be lactose intolerant - imagine finding that out after 33 years! So we're doing a lactose-free diet to test it out and so far so good) and you it turned out just fine. It actually made more sauce somehow - I think maybe because it made it runnier? Anyway, it certainly wasn't as good as if it were made with butter, but if you want to make a batch with less calories and saturated fat, go ahead and make it with a substitute. It's still plenty good - and Dave loved it. In fact he said it was my best batch ever! So there you go. That's the thing I'm learning about these days - it just takes courage to try something different. Receipes reinforce that point for me time and time again. It might call for something very specific - and yes some things you can't change (like baking soda and baking powder let's say), but other things you sure can....all it takes is a bit of courage!

And with that I leave you for today. We've got a friend coming over for a couple of days and he should be arriving very shortly - and I've got an apple crumble to make!