Hobbies

“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for.” (Joseph Addison)

I am not sure that I have had time for hobbies in my life.  Gardening was always for food, not much of a hobby.  Cooking gourmet meals is just a way of life.  Camping? It is getting very difficult to locate places to stay when I have time available. Reading?  Probably.

What is a hobby? The dictionary says it is an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation, not as a main occupation.  Well cooking and gardening? Too much work and not enough relaxation or pleasure.  Gourmet cooking can take a lot of time and the pleasure of it is consumed in moments.  Gardening, real work with a nice outcome, but not much pleasure in the process and it is back breaking as well.

Camping used to be a pleasure for us.  Now, with so many snowbirds, the parks are crowded and you must plan six months to a year in advance to camp in your favorite place, which also happens to be everyone else’s favorite too.  I don’t buy green bananas, how can I plan THAT far ahead?

Reading.  I guess I would say that by the strictest definition of the word, my hobby would be reading. I spend a goodly amount of time doing it and I enjoy it and it isn’t part of my work, therefore it qualifies as a hobby.  I read about one hundred fifty books a year, sometimes more, reading most evenings for a couple of hours.  Since it interferes with work I should be doing, it really seems more like an addiction than a hobby.

Writing.  Writing is probably a hobby for me too.  My original goal in starting to write  was publishing books about my life, memoir.  I have written and rewritten and belabored the subjects ad infinitum. Am I any closer to my goals….NO! I have enjoyed doing it and it does give me satisfaction.  It does take some of my time though not as much as reading.

Overall, I guess I am such a busy person that hobbies have not really had much place in my life.  A sad thing.  One should have “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation.” as the definition required.  I still prepare gourmet meals, garden, read and write, but that is about the extent of non-work activities in which I participate.  I guess I need to find a good hobby.

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One Winter’s Day

summer palace winter ice

I could say it was a cold, snowy, wintry day, but that would not be accurate as it seldom snows in Beijing.  It was cold and wintry, cold enough to go ice skating on the lake at the Summer Palace.  The ice there was about fourteen inches thick.  It was COLD.

I don’t remember my destination that day, but it entailed taking the bus to the subway. The busses were always a good place to warm up as they were very crowded with lots of folks leaning against one another.  I counted six leaning on me on one such ride.

This day however, I was given a seat, which happened frequently, my being the only foreigner on the bus.  People wanted to talk with me so often they would give me their seat.  I felt very guilty when the person was much, much older than I, but because of my white hair, they thought I was old.

On this particular day, I had an aisle seat just behind the conductor who monitored the door toward the middle of the bus. An older woman with a small granddaughter had picked up the granddaughter and indicated I should take the seat while the girl sat in her lap.

She acknowledged me with a nod of her head and a greeting of nihao which I returned, it being one of the few Chinese words I knew. Almost at once she began chattering with me, thinking I understood what she said.  I explained in sign that I did not speak the language. “Oh, too bad’” she indicated in sign. We smiled a lot at each other and I greeted her granddaughter.

I kept American pennies in my coat pockets so I could give them to children who would speak to me.  A great way to make new friends, bribe them.  I pulled out a penny and asked grandmother if it was OK for the girl to have one.  She replied “Yes.” (in Chinese).  The little girl was delighted and gave me a shy smile, leaning into her grandmother’s coat to peek at me.

Grandmother tried to communicate with me to see who I was.  I kept business cards in my pocket as well. The nice thing about the cards my university gave me to use is they are English on one side and Chinese characters on the other.  Grandmother now knew who I was and why I was in Beijing.

After sitting a few minutes in silence, I hear “Oh!” and grandmother is looking at my feet.  I wear sandals year around.  In Beijing, sandal season is June to September.  Wearing sandals is a great icebreaker for conversations as strangers would come up to me in the street and point at my feet and ask if they were cold, often by using charades. Grandmother must have been perusing my attire when I wasn’t looking.

She grabs the sleeve of the conductor who is standing in his cubical at the door and pulls it for attention.  She is jabbering a mile a minute and pointing out my feet to him. He looked on incredulously.  In pantomime I indicated that my feet were not cold.  Meanwhile they have alerted all the passengers who are nearby.  I hold my foot up in the aisle so everyone can see my turquoise blue sandal.

Meanwhile the bus continues down the street.  I am sitting quietly watching the scene when I think I feel a bug crawling up my pant leg.  It is winter and cold and I am surprised there are bugs out and about.  I reach down to dust it away and bump into grandmother’s hand.  She is trying to raise my pant leg. She looks at me, though somewhat guiltily, and asks me to raise it.  I smile and do so.  She leans way over and looks up my pant leg to see my purple long winter underwear.  She sits back in her seat with a very satisfied smile and gives me the thumbs up.  I passed the test.  I wasn’t as tough as she thought.

An interesting afterward: the next day I received an email, thanking me for my kindness to her mother and daughter.  It seems that the grandmother had a big story to tell when “mom” got home from work.  She produced the card for her daughter who felt she should write and tell me how much our time together had meant to her mother.  Grandmother felt she had not been able to adequate express it to me and since her daughter spoke English would she please write and tell me.

Just one of the wonderful experiences while living in Beijing.

 

Experimental Baking for the Holidays

IMG_4845

Not much left.  Just enough for another meal!

 

We were recently invited to dinner for the holidays.  I was to bring dessert.  What kind of holiday dessert could I make?  I decided on a cake, but a different cake than I had baked before.

I have a basic carrot cake recipe that is usually my go to carrot cake.  It is carrots and pineapple and walnuts.  I didn’t have carrots or pineapple in the kitchen when I was getting ready to bake.  I did have yams and applesauce.  Off on a new recipe experiment.  I knew the neighbors would overlook any weirdness this recipe might create.  How would the yams cook?  Would they be tough or chewy?  Would the applesauce be too moist or not moist enough?

The only way to know was to try.  I peeled and then grated the 2 cups of yams just as though they were carrots.  They even looked like carrots when I finished grating them in the food processor.  The apples I had were canned apple slices, so I processed those into applesauce.  I probably could have left some chunks, but I needed the moisture to give the batter the proper consistency.  Otherwise I made the cake just as it is in the recipe.

I mixed it up and the consistency was the same as the regular carrot cake so I popped it in the oven and it even smelled the same while it was baking. It took about the usual time to bake and I took them out and cooled them on racks just as I always do.

When they were cool enough, I was ready to frost them.  My original recipe calls for a cream cheese frosting.  I find it a little heavy, rich and cloying.  Recently I had discovered a two ingredient white chocolate frosting that is much lighter, just white chocolate and whipping cream. I used that.

When it was frosted, I sprinkled it with red sugar sprinkles, tucked in some winter greenery and I had a holiday cake to take and celebrate with the neighbors.

The resulting taste?  Fantastic.  Ever as good as the carrot version and more “holiday” in the ingredients.  I think the next time I make it I will add dried cranberries (craisins), as well, to make it even more festive.  Not only is it good for the December holidays, but appropriate for Thanksgiving too.

The results just reinforced for me, experiment! You will have a new product that doesn’t require a special trip to the store ( I had all the ingredients on hand) and tastes great.  Try it sometime.

Christmas Magic

“Boy and Dog” public art sculpture by local artist Georgia Gerber

Just this past week, I have had the following piece published in 2018 Whidbey Island Christmas by the Sea, published the Langley Chamber of Commerce. Four local writers have their work featured in this magazine, each featuring either some topic about Langley or about Christmas.  Enjoy

On a cold clear day in December, an old gentleman sits by himself on a bench near a bronze sculpture, “Boy and Dog,” located in a small park on First Street in Langley, Washington. His extended family had decided to take a trip there to see the Christmas decorations and do their Christmas shopping.  Having arrived on a tour boat from Seattle. The time ashore is not long, five and a half hours, but is still tiring for him. Not being fleet of foot, he has chosen this comfortable resting place, sitting on the bench with the boy and his dog in bronze for company.  He can look over Saratoga Passage to view Mount Baker and Camano Island.  If it were the springtime of the year, he might also add a grey whale and her calf to this vista, but, alas it is winter.  Because they were traveling by boat, he had bundled up when he dressed for this foray, his wife having insisted that he wear the heavy red sweater with the snowflakes all over it.  “It is Christmassy.” She had reminded him. He is toasty warm and happy to doze on this bench until his family returns.

His wife, daughter and three granddaughters have agreed to meet him here before having lunch. Their chatter, running, jumping and hanging on Grandpa has worn him down and he is happy to have just a little rest here on the bench.  There are many folks milling about both from the tour boat and those who have traveled here by car, taking the ferry from the mainland.  You see, Langley is on Whidbey Island, a popular destination.

Every year in Langley, the merchants dress the town for Christmas and this is the reason that his family has planned today’s event.  Lots of shops to see, great places to eat and….a place for grandpa to sit and enjoy the winter sun. Many fine artists live here on the island and there is an annual competition to see who can do the grandest display decorating one of the merchant’s doorways.  It is a stiff competition and the displays range from wacky and outrageous to absolutely gorgeous. Prizes are given to the winners.  Last year the Braeburn Restaurant’s façade was decorated like a large della robbia wreath, complete with Braeburn Apples. This is part of the draw to come to Langley for Christmas shopping.

While Grandpa is dozing in the sun, a flock of little girls race into the “Boy and Dog” Park where he is sitting.  They chatter like birds and awaken the old man.  He smiles at them, giving them reassurances that he is benign.  Suddenly one little girl jumps up on the bench and stands next to him. She chatters away at him in her high little girl voice.  He continues to smile and then nods his head.  She races off and talks with her companions.  “He nodded yes!” she said excitedly.  Soon there is a line of little girls, all dressed in their Christmas sweaters, red coats, red hats, fleece boots, and smiles.  They are lined up by the bench where the old man sits.  One by one they get up on the bench and whisper in his ear.  Mostly he cannot tell what they are saying because he has taken his hearing aids out and stuffed them in his jacket pocket.  And besides, little girl whispers are really hard to understand. Still he smiles and nods his head.

Soon they have all talked into his ear, and they are all smiles and twirling pigtails and happiness.  He is happy too.  Their mothers are approaching from a nearby shop where one mother has stood vigilant outside the door to be sure the girls were safe.  The girls gather around their mothers and are all trying to relate their experiences all at once with lots of shrieks and squeals about talking with the old man.

He sits contentedly on his bench enjoying their laughter and joy.  Soon his own granddaughters will be there to take him to lunch.  Hummmm….he IS getting hungry.

The little flock of girls flies off up the street while calling to the old man….GOOD BYE, SANTA!

 

Lightening my load

In an earlier life, thirty years ago, I was a fiber artist.  Most of my readers know me as a painter and a teacher, which is my current life. In those early years, I designed garments, mostly sweaters, in a one of a kind series, making over one hundred sweaters a year.  I showed locally at Folklife and Bumbershoot, at the Seattle Center, galleries and at the American Crafts Council’s shows in the east.  Try taking orders from galleries for sweaters in June in West Springfield, MA when the temperature is 97 degrees and the humidity is just as high.  Winters in Baltimore with well below freezing weather was a better venue.

I handspun yarn from angora, baby camel down and silk, specialty wools, ramie and more were my specialty.  I won awards for my yarn designs.  I definitely won awards for the sweaters, some costing as much as $1000.  One was hand dyed from herbal materials including onion skins, walnut husks, chrome (yuk), alum and more.  It was an order for a man who was a historical reenactment buff.  It was handcarded, handspun, hand dyed and hand knitted in natural white, two shades of yellow from the differing mordants, and brown from the walnut husks. Remember this was in the 80’s.

Many sweaters used as many as 30 different kinds of yarn in related colors in the Kaffe Faucet style.  A full length opera coat lined with matching silk satin lining was over $900.  It was a limited market, but it did make me a good wage.  Winters were spent making and stocking inventory. Summers were spent going from show to show and trying to build inventory in between.  It was grueling.

In 1995, my wonderful husband decided that hauling a truckload of inventory to shows around the state and the country was more than he could handle.  And bless his soul, he told me when he turned fifty, I was going to have to get another helper. He mentioned that he would give me a year off to find myself, or I could continue with a hew helper.

I took the year off.  I tried to decide on a new career.  It was difficult.  What would you do if you were allowed a year to change your life? While I was trying to decide, I wrote a cookbook.  It was published that year, 1995, The Artist’s Palate, which went to a second printing. But what would I do after that?  I considered going back to school and getting a degree in Architecture.  I was already designing houses for people.  It was a good option, but I needed to brush up on my math.  I took a math class at the local community college and was flummoxed to discover it was all theoretical and none of it covered the Plane Geometry I needed.

Other options were opened.  The community college offered me a job teaching art when they saw my induction information.  I taught art there for twelve years until they phased out my department.  I moved on to other venues and still teach it twenty six years later.

But….my husband and my sister suggested that I take a watercolor class from Eric Wiegardt.  I did and I have been painting ever since. But that is not the focus of this missal.

All the materials that I had left from my former life as a fiber artist have been languishing up in my attic since 1995.  Now I received news of an artist’s and crafter’s garage sale.  I signed up.  I started with one table, but when I began pulling the materials from nooks and crannies I discovered I had over five hundred pounds of stuff.  I just gave away over one hundred pounds of fabrics I had left to a lady that sews quilts for veterans. https://q13fox.com/2018/11/14/giving-to-the-givers-whidbey-quilters-are-stitching-up-local-veterans-old-wounds-of-war/

I now am left with several hundred pounds of wool which has been washed and carded, some made into roving, to sell.  I have about one hundred fifty pounds of commercial yarn to sell. I have three knitting machines.  I cried while I was gathering it all. There are thousands of dollars of materials here which I will sell for pennies on the dollar.  It has been sitting for twenty three years.  Why am I so attached to it?

I have another life as a painter and teacher.  I have had this life since 1996.  Why do I not want to let go? I am trying to divest myself of superfluous baggage.  But this baggage was a big part of my younger life.  I must let go before all this detritus molders away in the attic.  Give it up and get onto a less cluttered life.  Be free of the crap that bogs me down.  I have had wind of several groups that look for this material, schools, craft classes for kids, educational groups, groups that have thrift store that support the homeless, the foodless.  Hopefully after the sale, I will be able to support these folks by giving them the remains of the day at the artist’s and crafter’s garage sale!

Today is the BIG Day

email BIRD--GOLDFINCH

Once a year I hang my show at the Braeburn Restaurant in Langley, Washington.  Today is the day.  I will be hanging it after hours, so tomorrow will be the first day that you will have the opportunity to see it.

In the past I have featured, trucks, barns, old gas stations, larger-than-life food items (peanut butter sandwiches 18 tall), crows and this year the feature is birds.

When my show was taken down last year, I started thinking about what I would show for 2018.  I decided to do local birds.  These paintings are in watercolor, not my usual medium, which is oil.  The really unusual thing about the paintings is they are not painted on paper, but on treated panels of medium density fibreboard (MDF). Another unusual thing about them is that they are loosely painted, not the usual photorealism of my oil paintings. This makes them more spontaneous and whimsical than my usual works.

There are twenty-five birds, a few dogs, and, yes, some trucks!  I would hope that you could visit the show sometime between July 14 and August 31. You may purchase any of the paintings and take them with you, which is nice if you are from out of town.

The Braeburn Restaurant is located at 197 D. 2nd St. Langley, WA 98260. They serve breakfast and lunch.

Their phone number is 360-321-3211. https://braeburnlangley.com/

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Crabbing Season is Here!

crab and cheese breakfast
Here we have the breakfast muffin with crab, poached egg and cheese.

Saturday was the first day of crabbing season here in the maritime Pacific Northwest.  One of nature’s bounty waiting out there for us to pick up and eat.  Though it sounds easy and, at the beginning of the season, is abundant, it is more work than it would seem.  There is a reason why picked Dungeness crab is $36.95 at the fishmarket.

Firstly, you must have a boat which is seaworthy.  You can go out in a kayak, and I have seen a few folks do it that way, but it would be dangerous.  Pulling a pot up from the bottom of the sea takes some effort, a lot of lead weighted rope and hopefully a pot full of crab.

Luckily for us, my brother-in-law has such a boat with a winch to haul up the pots.  I have gone out with friends, invited because I was strong enough to grab the buoy marking the line and strong enough to raise the pot from the ocean’s floor.

My brother-in-law’s first haul on the first day was a full pot, filled with all males, all legal size.  You can only harvest the males and only five a day per person with a state wildlife permit. In two days, he and my sister limited and shared their abundance with us.

Next you need a large pot with a heavy duty burner.  A turkey fryer set up works well.  You can boil about 4-5 crab at a time.  Then the cleaning when they are cooked.  Plunge them into cool water to cool them.  Peel off the main carapace and clean their second-hand dinner from inside.  Rinse well.

Now you are ready for the hard, time-consuming part, picking the crab.  Yesterday I picked, and picked, and picked.  We had crab for dinner and the chickens got the shells (a good source of calcium for them).

We netted about two pounds, about a quart, of picked crab.  Last night we had crab melt sandwiches, hot.  This is an English muffin with crab in mayo covered with melted cheese.  Breakfast was almost the same with an addition of a poached egg and fresh tomato.  We still have lots left and our next choice will be crabcakes with red pepper rouille. Yum!

After reading all that, some of you probably will go to the fishmongers and buy the picked crab and consider yourself lucky to have it for $36.95 a pound.  Well you enjoy it and hope it is as fresh as ours.

Crab season is upon us.  It doesn’t freeze well and turns grey if you can it, so eat it while it is fresh and say thank you to mother nature for providing such a superb delicacy.