Today as I sit crocheting scarves and hats, I am watching a few episodes of Art21.  One of the artists featured in the episode I'm watching is William Kentridge, a contemporary South African artist.  I first discovered Kentridge on one of my many visits to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago - quite possibly my most favourite place to visit. 

Kentridge creates these beautiful short videos often made from his charcoal drawings.  He photographs each movement of the drawing - he builds up layers and then erases them only to draw them again.  At one of the most compelling of my visits to the MCA, I saw three or four of his videos being played at one time in an inimate, dark room.  I was completely engaged and yet totally distracted, trying to focus on the storyline being told in all of the videos.  I could have sat there for hours. 

So as a way of tipping my hat to this artist who never fails to fill me with inspiration, I share with my readers a short taster of his work.  I implore you to do a bit of research about him and find more lengthy videos
I have this feature on my website that allows me to track how many visitors I have to my site which I like to keep tabs on.  I haven't been regular in my blog posting in the lead-up to Christmas but since I posted one yesterday I thought I'd take a look this morning at what the impact may have been.  I was astonished to find 188 views for this morning!!  I would think that out of those 188 people, some of them are reading my blog.  All I can say is thanks!!  And wow.  I'm so impressed.  (It's my highest count yet).  :) <----

In the Studio:

Cribbage Board

I love Christmas and enjoyed a very lovely one this year with Dave's parents. We shared a lot of food, laughter and wine - always a great combo for fun! I decided to make presents for everyone this year (quite an undertaking) and the one that garnered the most attention and of which I'm the most proud is the cribbage board I made for my sister-in-law, Helen. 
She and I play games together quite a lot (especially Rumikub!) so I thought this would be a fitting gift. It'll be great when I go to hers for a brew and chat! I like it so much I think I might make one for myself. And keep an eye on my website because you may find before too long that they're available for popular consumption!

Hand-made gifts

Other hand-made Christmas gifts included: mug warmers made from recycled yarn, kids hat & mitten sets (incredibly difficult to do without a model available for determining size; required pouring through loads of info on the net and finally managed to find a report published by the U.S. Gov't about the average measurements of children aged 5-10), crocheted necklaces, body sugar scrub and vintage-style wall hangings from the War Girl Series.

In the reading knook:

I'm re-reading one of my all-time favourites: Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  A brilliant read.  Makes me laugh everytime.  Out loud laughing.  Made all the better by the macabre artwork of Ralph Steadman.   If you've ever read the book (or even watched the film adaptation of it), you'll know that I must still be in the first half of the book.  Because as it nears its end, it's less laugh at loud and more gob-smacking.  My favourite scene is where the novel begins:
 " We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.  I remember saying something like 'I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive....' And suddently there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like hug bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas.  And a voice was screaming: 'Holy Jesus!  What are those goddamn animals?'

Then it was quiet again.  My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. 'What the hell are you telling about?' he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses.  'Never mind,' I said.  'It's your turn to drive.'  I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway.  No point mentioning those bats, I thought.  The poor bastard will see them soon enough.' "

In the CD player:

My beloved Tori Amos.  I go in phases of listening to her albums over and over and over to not listening to them at all.  I've been on a break for over a year.  Then the other night I had a real craving to listen to her Little Earthquakes album.  So brilliant.  One of my favourite lines is from Silent All These Years:
"Well I love the way we communicate
Your eyes focus on my funny lip shape
Let's hear what you think of me now
But baby don't look up
The sky is falling
Your mother shows up in a nasty dress
It's your turn now to stand where I stand
Everybody lookin' at you here
Take hold of my hand
Yeah I can hear them"

And with that I am signing off for the day.  I still have more presents to make and I really need to get started!!

The other day Dave and I found ourselves wandering around the cute village of Lechlade.  We came across an antique shop that was selling books for 50p a piece.  I couldn't resist this find: Illustrated Medical and Health Encyclopedia first copyrighted in 1935, with its final copyright done on 1963.   and renewed until 1963. 

It was the first page which made this a must-have for me.  It's hard to specify which part of it is the most comical (or scary), but probably the fact that a book like this was last published less than 50 years ago.  We've come a long way baby!  Here's the excerpt from the first (FIRST!) page with my comments in brackets [  ]:

"Some people think that the sex of the baby is indicated by the shape of thie mother.  There is no basis for this belief.  Some people think that a baby will always be lucky or will have second sight if he is born with a caul or veil.  That is just a condition of birth and has not the slightest significance.  Anybody who believes in second sight will believe anything. [i know that's right!]

Not long ago a man listed the superstitions in Adams County, Illinois, relative to pregnancy.  Here are some samples:

1.  A woman who lays her coat and hat on a strange baby's bed will get a baby.  [is this because she stole the baby and what happens if she lays down only her coat or only her hat?  will she get half a baby?]
2.  If outgrown baby clothes are given away, the mother will soon need them again.  [well, this is certainly true.  but the same could be said about anything we get rid of - it's certainly been my experience anyway!]
3.  If a couple get married and go to a picture show within the first three days, they will have twins.  [obviously true - Dave and I didn't go to a picture show within the first three days of being married and we don't have twins.]
4.  A poor man is certain to have many children.  [a quick observation will support that statement.]
5.  When a boy is born, it means that the husband has more strength than his wife.  [mmmkay...cuz it's the man pushing out the baby, is it?]
6.  Boys are born more frequently to youthful than to elderly parents.  [in fact, they're born more frequently in general.  I do wonder how old someone would have to have been in 1956 to be considered an elderly parent?  whatever the age, I'm sure I'm well past  it.]
7.  A baby born on a stormy night will be cross and nervous.  [they forgot to include they'll also be a sociopath who wets their pants during a storm.]
8.  A child born at four o'clock in the afternoon will be moderately rich.  [must be true - I was born in the early morning and I'm not even modestly rich.]
9.  A baby born with an open hand will be openhanded and of generous disposition.  [and a baby born with a closed fist will be a banker.]
10.  There are still people in Adams County who think that the stork brings babies, that the doctor brings children in his satchel, and there are some who say that babies are found in hollow tree stumps [i found one just the other day!]  This is not peculiar to Adams County.  [phew!]  There are still people all over the world who do not know even a fraction of the simplest facts about life and living.  [amen!]

I recently went to see the film Contagion. I am a sucker for any movie with Kate Winslet and just as much for those about destruction and mayhem. It played out much as you might suspect - a disease rocks the planet with incredible speed, thanks to the ease of global transportation.

The reason that I bring this up is because of some of the striking similarities it has with the book I'm currently reading, Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks which is about the Great Plague of 1665/66.  I've mentioned before in my blog how I'm so intrigued with the ways in which the books I read seem to mirror my life, sometimes in a direct and relevant way and other times slightly more indirectly.  There is a passage in the book that I read this morning that mirrored Contagion with incredible accuracy.  In the scene the main character of the novel, Anna Frith, is serving dinner at her employer's.  She is recovering from the death of her lodger (whom she'd grown quite close, tottering on the brink of love) who'd passed just the day before from a horrible illness.  At this point, the Plague hadn't infected her village.  The dinner guest began telling the other guests and his hosts, in dramatic and morbid detail, of the throngs of people who were leaving the cities to seek refuge in the countryside from the swiftness with which the Plague taking its toll.  This makes Anna go white as she realises her lodger had been in London not more than a year ago and had been playing quite intimately with her children, even on the day before his illness consumed him.  This made me think about the relevance that event in history has in modern times.  Sometimes history is intrinsically intertwined with the present.  Of course Contagion is a film of fiction.  But closer, really, to science fiction.   I'm sure I heard on the radio or read somewhere that the author of the novel that inspired the film based the plot on very real science and scenarios.  And with the recent outbreaks of tuberculosis, it makes me think the concept is not that far-fetched.  Of course other epidemics and pandemics like swine-flu and bird-flu also come to mind.  There is a quote by Lamartine that reads, "History teaches everything including the future."  I couldn't have said it better myelf. 

It would be remiss of me not to provide you with the passage from the book - because you know that's what I love to do.  For today, I leave you with these wonderful words of Geraldine Brooks:
" 'You have never seen anything like it on the roads.  Innumerable men on horseback, wagons, and carts bulging with baggage.  I tell you, everyone capable of leaving the city is doing so or plans to do it.  The poor meantimes are pitching up tents out on Hampstead Heath.  One walks, if one must walk, in the very centre of the roadway to avoid the contagion seeping from dwellings.  Those who must move through the poorer parishes cover their faces in herb-stuffed masks contrived like the beaks of great birds.  People go through the streets like drunkards, weaving from this side to that so as to avoid passing too close to any other pedestrian.  And yet one cannot take the hackney, for the last person inside my have breathed contagion.'  He dropped his voice then and looked all around, seeming to enjoy the attention his words were garnering. 'They say you can hear the screams of the dying, locked up all alone in the houses marked with the red crosses.  The Great Orbs are all on the move, I tell you: there is talk that the kind plans to remove his court to Oxford.  For myself, I saw no reason to tarry.  The city is emptying so fast that there is little worthwhile society to be had.  One rarely sees a wigg'd gallant or powered lady, for wealth and connection are no shield against Plague.'

The word dropped like an anvil among the tinkling silverware.  The bright room dimmed for me as if someone had snuffed every candle all at one.  I clutched the platter I carried so that I would not drop it and stood stock-still until I was sure of my balance.  I gathered myself and tried to steady my breath.  There are many fevers that can cill a man other than the Plague.   And George Viccars hadn't been near London in more than a year.  So how could he have been touched by the city's pestilence?

Colonel Bradford cleared his throat.  'Come now, Robert!  Do not alarm the ladies.  The next thing they will be shunning your company for fewar of infection!'

'Do not joke, sir, for on the turnpike north of London, I encountered an angry mob, brandishing hoes and pitchforks, denying entry to their village inn to any who were travelling from London.  It was a low place, in any wise, nowhere I would have sought shelter even on the flithiest of nights, so I rode onwards unmolested.  But before long, to be a Londoner will not be a credential worth owning to.  It will be surprising how many of us will invent rusticated histories for ourselves, mind me well.  You'll learn that my chief abode these last years was Wetwang, not Westminster.' " 

NOTE: I did a little research on the Great Plague and discovered this site which offers a brief history of how the village of Eyam in Derbyshire was affected by the Plague.  This is the setting Geraldine Brooks uses in her novel and some of the characters are based on actual people.
Chuck has been decorated for the holidays.  He's not the most spectacular tree that has ever been, but he dresses up OK.  He'll do the trick, anyway.  Fantastically, Dave thinks he's great!  And that's good by me.  If you'll notice down at the bottom right of the picture there's a vintage box of Christmas snow.  My good friend Patty gave that to me.  Last year when I noticed that Anthropolgie was selling reproductions of this very product!  I've got a leg up, though, because mine's the real McCoy!

The other day I made bread from a recipe I hadn't tried before.  Once again, it comes from my good ole' Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  It's their Artisan-style French Bread.  I switched things up a bit and used seeded flour rather than the strong white they call for, and I think it made a great difference. 

The recipe makes two loaves, but I split the dough so that I could get five small loaves - some round and some baguette-shaped.  It's great making smaller loaves because you can freeze what you won't eat right away and have less waste! 

Yesterday was an incredibly bleak day: gale-force winds (I heard on the radio that it reached up to 160mph in parts of Scotland!), rain, gray.  A perfect day to stay inside and do something cozy like making cozies for coffee/tea mugs!  It's actually my friend, Annie, who prompted the idea.  She had seen some online and wondered if I could make a set.  Well, of course!  I think they turned out rather well, if I do say so myself!!  I've added them to my catalogue, so if you're in the market for a cozy for your mugs, this is the place to get them!  I'd be remiss not to mention that these little cozies are being worn by mugs made by my good friend, Jerry McNeil of McNeil Pottery (Peoria, Illinois, USA).  Jerry is an incredible craftsman and all-around wonderful guy!

I have decided to make Christmas presents this year and I have a lot to do!  So I'll sign off for now - I have a cribbage board to design!!
Frames are finished.  Phew!  What a job!  I'm very pleased with the outcome and am giving myself a little pat on the back for a job well done.  There's a whole different level of satisfaction when you are in charge of the entire process.  And thanks again to my friend John of Centre Design.  If it weren't for him, this job would have taken me a lot longer and I'm certain there would have been more blood shed, tears cried and curse words uttered!  Thanks for all of you who have supported me on this incredible which is still ongoing!  The pieces may be framed, wrapped and ready to go, but now I just need to get an appointment booked at the gallery to take the work in!  I'll be sure to keep you updated on the process.  In the meantime, enjoy the slideshow below of the finished pieces. 
Now that I've got that all wrapped up, it's time to concentrate on Christmas!  I posted the other day about not having a tree.  And how we kind of don't want to buy one because they cost so much and in the end, are pretty much a waste.  While I was outside doing a bit of tidying up of our patio, I looked at our yucca plant and thought: hey, this guy looks sturdy - I think he can handle a few fairy lights!  And so I cleaned up his leaves and the pot he lives in, brought him inside and pulled the Christmas lights out of the attic.  I think it'll do just fine.  I am a little sad not to have a typical fir, but you know this really fits into our ethos of environmental responsibility.  I think he deserves a name...I think I'll call him Chuck.  Ode to Charlie Brown's Christmas and is fitting for a plant that's called a yucca.  Welcome to Christmas, Chuck!  And with that I leave you for today; Christmas music, hot cocoa and decorating for Chris
19 days.  That's less than 3 weeks.  Slightly more than 2 weeks.  And we don't have a tree!  I've heard whisperings that tree crops didn't fair so well this year, so the cost has gone up.  (Just like everything else these days!)  Dave likes a real tree.  I do, too, but I think it's a little bit wasteful.  But maybe not.  On one hand, you spend however much money to buy a real tree that you enjoy for a few weeks and then just toss it out.  Seems like a waste of wood.  On the other hand, you pay the same amount for a fake tree, which I'm sure just adds to pollution and horrible fake materials that will ultimately make their way to a landfill somewhere.  So what to do?  I've seen some pretty cool wooden tree cut-outs this year.  I kind of like them.  I've given some thought to making one - as if I don't have enough things to do!!!  Here's a pic of one that I quite like.  It's still not exactly what I'm looking for, but I like the stark simplicity of it. 
I've thought about not decorating at all, but that just feels so...un-festive!  I love Christmas lights and decorations hanging all over the place.  I plan on making Christmas gifts this year and I always create the best in an inspiring environment.  Maybe instead of blogging, I should work on decorating the house for Crimbo.  What do you think?

But first - I have some frames to finish.  I did promise pictures, after all! I better dash off for now.  I'll be back with pics for your viewing pleasure!
"Back to life, back to reality..."  Who sings that song?  I forget.  Anyway, it's the anthem of my life: returned from the States and am back in the studio - nothing makes me feel more grounded and present than being in that creative zone.

Framing continues.  It's turning into quite a project.  Totally worth it, though.  I did a cost analysis and it turns out that I've spend about £25 per frame (not including my time) - which is a total of £125.  Sure beats the quote of £500 to get it done professionally.  And my frames will be nearly as good as professional - no little thanks to my friend, John.  If it weren't for his expertise and willingness to help I don't know if I could have done the project...certainly not so well.  I learned quite a few things, which is great.  I call that on-the-job trainng.

I've also made some new contacts for supplies and managed to negotiate some pretty good deals.  I tell you, there are certain advantages to buying local.  I don't think I'd have had the same luck if I'd walked into B&Q and asked if they could negotiate on their price.  Maybe in this economic climate it's possible.  But I'm thinking probably not. 

And I've moved into a new phase: writing a business plan!  Dave has been encouraging me take the plunge and officially set up a business.  I think I could easily stay in the 'sorry I can't see you because my head is stuck in this here sand' realm of life for ages if it weren't for him.  So I've done a bit of research and am fumbling through it all.  There's certainly a lot to do.  Like write a business plan.  Did you know you need one in order to apply for a business banking account?  Me, either!  Turns out you do, at least at Barclay's anyway. 

Thankfully, framing my artwork for the gallery takes precedence, so I can blissfully work away and worry about the yucky stuff later.  Actually, that's not really true - I have a huge checklist and guide form that sits on my table for me to go through while I eat my meals.  I think my brain might explode!  And with that, I'll wrap up for today.  Quite a boring post, I know.  Sorry.  I really need to do better.  I got caught up on my friend, Romayne's, blog yesterday and she left me feeling so inspired (and so lack-luster!).  She's an incredible writer.  How she's not famous by now I have no idea.  You really should read her stuff - it's great:

Alright, until next time - see you later!