Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Small town - open mind.

Having grown up in a very rural area of Michigan in the 1970s and 1980s, I fled for the West Coast at the age of 18, eager to join a world of riot grrls and grunge bands and people who use words like "paradigm" and "appropriation" in everyday vocabulary.  When I occasionally returned to mid-Michigan to visit family, it was like a slap in the face to hear racial and homophobic slurs cast around by the local residents, and to recognize how different the culture really was where I was raised from my new, chosen community.

But, in my early 30s, I found myself living well outside of any city limits, inextricably drawn to solitude and natural surroundings.  I spent the first 5 years out here deliberately avoiding any real interaction with the local community.  My social life was limited to the many friends I had made in Olympia and Seattle, and that was just fine.  I assumed that a small town on the West Coast would be just about the same as a small town anywhere else; i.e. full of right wing extremists, gun wielding libertarians, and people who hate anyone who doesn't look the same, eat the same foods, and practice the same religion.

When my daughter was 3, I enrolled her in a co-op preschool in Elma, only 6 miles from our house.  She attended for 2 hours, 2 days a week, and I was required to volunteer each month.  This put me in direct contact with other people living out here in the sticks, and I was terrified.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by many of the parents involved in the co-op.  I made friends with two of the moms, both amazing people with incredible talents and insights.  One of the dads was from Darfur, and had a story that was fascinating, tragic, and absolutely triumphant.

At the age of 5, my daughter entered kindergarten.  We enrolled her in the small, 3-room schoolhouse that was the original school for Grays Harbor County.  With only 50 students through 6th grade, it was pretty insulated, and that was a deliberate choice.  Anouk's kindergarten teacher had been a student at the school as a child, 55 years prior.  At the same time, I took a part-time job at a local building supply company, and forced myself to engage with a new section of the community.  Again, I met some lovely people, and I was impressed with the intelligence, kindness, and generosity of the people I met both at work, and at the school.  Granted, I'm a white, able-bodied person, and I may have had a different experience otherwise.  But, it was clear that this small community has a different atmosphere from the one near which I grew up.

Now, I have moved Anouk to the public elementary school where she attends 3rd grade.  It is still quite small, but it is innately connected to the town.  She loves to participate in local events, so we have found ourselves at football games, Santa greetings, craft fairs, Halloween parties, and more.  We see many familiar faces at all of these events, and I am pretty sure we are becoming familiar faces to the local people here.  The more I engage with this town, the more I'm impressed with the friendliness, intelligence, and work ethic that seems to be common among the people here.  I do not know who is "liberal" and who is "conservative" based on my conversations with people.  I've met folks rumored to be republican, only to find that we discuss issues of animal cruelty and sustainable agriculture, and these are shared values.  Sure, I've run into the mom who practically spits when she tells me someone gave her daughter a temporary tattoo (tattoos = evil) and the Variety Store owner once made a provocative comment about the phrase "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays."  But, more often, I have heard people expound that everyone should be kind to each other, and I have seen local teenagers with t-shirts that say "Join the Inclusion Revolution."

I will say, on more recent visits to Michigan, people there have also changed.  I no longer hear my relatives use derogatory language, and my extended family is becoming incredibly ethnically diverse.  We are no longer Polish-Lithuanian.  We are now Polish-Lithuanian-Mexican-Japanese and then some.  I suspect the internet has changed small town mentality.  As a kid, when we visited other areas of the country, it felt like going into the future about 10 years.  Fashion statements like headbands, legwarmers and feather roach clips (for hair) were unheard of in my small school, along with social equality, feminism, and Howard Zinn.  The internet has granted everyone the same access to information everywhere, and it seems like a positive change.

The most surprising part of this experience has been the realization that, in larger cities, people seem more separated by their beliefs.  When I visit Olympia friends, we generally share political views, eating habits (with small variations), and lifestyle choices.  It is a given.  We do not intermingle with those who do not share our values, at least not on an intimate level.  Out here, I have not felt a sense of separation based on dogma.  There is a very good chance I am wrong, since I am still on the fringes.  I don't attend a church or work in town.  But, I do try to patronize local businesses as often as possible, and I chat with people, and I just don't get a sense of division.  In fact, people surprise me constantly with thoughtful, philosophical ponderings about having a positive attitude and trying to spread it around.

By assuming that small-town people were small-minded people, I was being the bigot.  And here I thought I was so enlightened.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tendrils Bath and Body, now in business!

I touted my new wares at two of three holiday bazaars that I attended this season.  Now, I am slowly getting things listed on the new Etsy site (www.etsy.com/tendrilsbodycare).  Initial sales were quite small, though I received a lot of interest and people really liked smelling and touching.  I can store the soaps, and some of the other products, over winter, and I'm hoping to find a spring garden-related market or festival to give it another shot.  Etsy will probably not help me sell a lot of product initially, as I think it will be the smell and feel that will win customers.  But, it will give those customers a way to re-order once they try it.  In the meantime, I'm packing up gift boxes for family, so at the very least, I have a stash of handmade gifts to offer this holiday season.

My studio has been in major transition for months as I reorganize to accommodate a new commission that takes up 30 square feet, to be installed in April.  Mike gave me a tabletop glass kiln for my birthday, which I am ready to test run today, so I am creating a new area for fusing, plus one wall dedicated to Tendrils supplies and tools.  I still haven't figured out how to make it all fit, and I am beginning to think I need to give up some mediums - and I don't want to.  In fact, I have MORE ideas and I want to go back to sewing and collage on top of everything.  There is just not enough room or time for the things I want to make.

Luckily, I find that Winter is my season for creating.  All becomes quiet, there is little gardening to be done, the ideas and motivation seem more tangible, and I spend these coming months in the studio during the day, then crocheting or sewing or other "crafty" things in the house amid my little family in the evenings.

That said, it's time to get off the computer and get to work.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Making balms

A variety of herbs still growing in our garden in October.
 I can't believe I'm still able to harvest a handful of lavender, yarrow, calendula, and lots of other herbs this late in the season.  These get separated into paper bags, or bundled and hung to dry.  When they are nice and crispy, I pack them into jars and fill the rest with olive or almond oils.  After about 3 weeks, I strain the oil for use in the products I've been making.  It is a very time-consuming process (Mike recently asked my why I can't seem to do anything that is actually cost-effective) but it is rewarding.  Every step is relaxing and aromatic, and it feels good to know I'm using organically grown plants right out of my own yard.

The down side is that the pantry is small, and there really isn't room for my new enterprise.  A table just inside our front entryway is piled high with containers of oils, beeswax, honey, essential oils, and tools.  I bring what I need to the kitchen for each project, then pile it all back on the table, with no organization at all.  The kitchen floor is spackled with cocoa butter and wax, which doesn't mop up.  I need to use a straight-edge to scrape it up, and it never seems clean.  I still haven't figured out how to clean the waxy residue off of the bowls, spatulas, sieves and mixers I use to make lotion and balm.

But, it's all worth it.  I spent the better part of yesterday making a balm from beeswax, shea butter, cocoa butter, honey, vitamin E, glycerine, olive oil, and essential oils that will make a nice gift for a friend's baby shower this weekend.  The wax makes it a barrier cream, to prevent baby rash, while all of the other ingredients are nourishing and soothing.  It would also work well for gardeners, crafters, and anyone needing extra protection and moisturizing for hands, feet, elbows, etc. (It would be great for mosaic artists and those working with cement.) I am very pleased with the outcome.  Here is a photo of the balm in the tins:
Today, I finally have a working printer, so I will be experimenting with creating a label.  I've been researching companies that print labels, but for a small line of products like this, nothing is really affordable.  So, at least for now, I have to figure out how to make them myself.  I really want my products to look homemade, but pretty and professional.  Presentation has never been my strong point.
Part of our squash/pumpkin crop.
We have pulled in almost all of our pumpkins, so there isn't much left to do in the garden.  Mike has been mulching on the weekends, and I plan to start putting chickens in the veggie garden to turn the soil.  I have a pile of tomatoes and zucchini to freeze, and the rest is finally done.  We butchered the turkeys last week and our freezer is packed full.  We traded one turkey to Barnyard Gardens for some chickens, plus they always do the butchering for us.  We have decided not to raise turkeys next year.  It is far too expensive, and quite a bit of extra work. 

Well, that's the homestead report for October.  The misty-rainy season is in full swing and the hard work is over.  It's a good time to make art, soap, balm, lotion, and today I'm making bath bombs, and nursing a month-long cold. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Autumn Homestead Update

Fall tends to be one of the busier times here on the little farm.  I am usually scrambling to prepare for art exhibits, starting to create some smaller items for holiday sales, and dealing with the harvest, all while my husband and daughter are getting back to their school/work schedules and all of the extracurricular activities that come with it.

By now, our tomatoes are dwindling, and I've been removing the spent plants from the greenhouse, making room for a fall crop of greens.  We planted winter broccoli and cauliflower, plus salad greens.  We've never done a fall planting before, mainly because it has always been so much work just getting the harvest finished, let alone dealing with replanting.  I thought planting in the greenhouse would mean the veggies were protected from predators (all of the greens in the raised beds have now been munched away by deer) but I have been fighting a whole gang of caterpillars instead. 

The deer have been very audacious, coming into the fenced garden surrounding our house, eating our raspberries and grapes.  The other morning, I was wholly entertained watching Mike chasing a deer around out there in his underwear and t-shirt, barefoot, waving a plastic yellow softball bat.  These are the memories we will cherish forever.

We have a lot of grapes (though less each time the deer break in), and I have no idea what I'll do with them.  I'd love to make wine, but I'm not up to buying equipment and taking that on this year.  We could vitamix them, but what about seeds?

Our first hive was invaded by yellow jackets.  Within about a week, the yellow jackets drove out the honey bees and ate almost all of the honey.  The hive never did produce much honey, so I don't think it was healthy to begin with, but we were very upset by the loss.  We are just hoping the other two hives are safe - they look ok.  I've been trying to salvage beeswax from the dead hive, but it's full of brood, and a bit papery.

Now and then, I find time to make lotions.  I infused almond oil with lavender for my most recent recipe.  I didn't use any essential oils, so the lotion is subtle and simple.  I'll give you a little rundown:

First, I melted beeswax and the lavender-infused almond oil, while letting some borax powder dissolve in water:
Then I mixed them together while both were hot.  I put the mixture in a blender I use only for lotions.
Once it was nicely whipped, I poured the mixture into jars and let it cool:
The hardest part about making lotion is planning ahead.  The infusion takes a few weeks, and then it's just a matter of having the materials on hand and the right tools.  The rest is very simple.  It has a nice, mild lavender smell, and the beeswax/almond oil texture feels luxurious on my hands.

My printer has broken down, so I need to get a new one.  Then I can print some labels and get my new products ready for the holidays.  Even if I can't sell them, they will make great gifts.  I helped
Anouk and her friend make melt & pour glycerine soap the other day.  We added our honey and some sage oil.  I used one to wash my face this morning, and it is the best facial soap I've ever used.  Anouk is going to make her own products and call them "Little Tendrils."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pink Rhodies, glass-on-glass.
The Federal Way Senior Center commissioned a second project from me this year.  This is a glass-on-glass mosaic that will embellish the top of a new sign at their entryway.  It will be illuminated by natural light, and the design will be visible from both sides.  I delivered the finished piece on Saturday, and I'm excited to see it installed in its permanent home.

The main part of the mosaic is done using Opus Sectile, which means that the pieces are cut to fit the shape of the object they represent; i.e. each petal and leaf blade are cut as one piece, the way a stained glass artist would work.  However, stained glass would not be able to accommodate the small details, like pistils, as they would get lost within the copper and lead.  These small pieces are very hard to cut, and a ring saw was used to cut into the petals where the pistils were inlaid.  The background is done using Opus Palladium, which simply means it is random, though each piece is still hand cut to fit together, like a puzzle that hasn't been made yet.

This was a delightful little project to complete, perfect for summer.  Now, I feel the shift toward Autumn, my favorite time of year, and I'm working on painting a bench for the City of Olympia.  It has taken me several weeks for Mike and I to strip off the gum, hair (yes, wads of it), laminate, and primer paint from the slats, and then I applied new primer and a base coat of different colored enamels.  A pattern is slowly emerging, and I will soon add layers of detail to create a "magic carpet" design.  I am drawing on my experiences applying henna, studying Middle Eastern Art and Culture in college, last year's trip to Turkey, and playing with techniques in Laurel Skye's recent book on Rajasthani inspired mosaic.  As soon as my daughter returns to school in a few days, I'll be making fast progress on the final stage of that project.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Infused, and then some...

It is harvest season on the farm, with our herbs reaching their full potential faster than I can cut and dry them.  I try to spend a little time each day gathering borage, mint, calendula, basil, thyme, and more, in addition to the tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beets, and little broccoli florets that we add to meals or freeze for the winter. 

The herbs are carefully selected and put into paper bags, then kept in a cool, dark place to dry.  I have two jars of almond oil with calendula and lavender, slowly infusing in my pantry.  There is also a jar of vodka and grass clippings, which will result in extracted chlorophyl.  All of these things will be added to the lotions and balms I'm learning to make.  Last week, my order of metal and glass containers arrived, and now I need to figure out how to create labels.  So far, I've created eye cream and a very rich hand cream, perfect for gardeners and mosaic artists.

I am hoping to have a small product line to sell and give as gifts by the holiday season, and I'll see how they are received.  If nothing else, I'm having fun making my own body care products.  I also made clove mouthwash and strawberry leaf facial astringent, just for me.  All of these things are actually quite easy to do, and very satisfying.  Moreover, I can avoid buying more plastic containers,which I tend to keep piled in my studio in the hope of finding ways to reuse them.

Now, I'm off to grout my current commission, and prime a city bench so that I can begin painting crazy designs all over it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My last day alone on the farm...

I have picked and frozen 8 gallon bags of raspberries so far, and they keep coming!
Mike and Anouk are staying with a friend in Northern CA and will leave there this afternoon for the last leg of their trip, stopping for the night in Oregon.  I expect to see them early in the day tomorrow.  I am very excited to have them home, but also fully enjoying the last day of solitude.

I feel that I've done a good job of subsisting on existing food, though I haven't been hard core.  There were many things in the cupboards and fridge to supplement my meals, like salad dressing, spices, coffee, a can of tuna, etc.  But, I made a huge pot of chili from scratch that provided many meals during the first week and ate a lot of salad with boiled eggs sliced over them.  I'm no longer quite as excited about cucumbers.  I often sautee beets and zucchini with balsamic vinegar and oil, which is delicious.  I think I've lost about 5 lbs, and I'm not craving carbs any more at all, though I do feel like I need more protein.

Yesterday I was in town and I bought tofu, rice milk, chocolate, and a bottle of wine.  We'll go and buy a carload of groceries this weekend, but I feel like I've reset my appetite to a different standard, and I'll try to keep eating this healthfully as long as I have access to fresh veggies.

Last night, deer ravaged my garden.  Someone ate the tops off of most of the carrots, munched the 3 broccoli plants, and chewed the top layer off of all of my cabbage.  The deer are beautiful animals, and I love how tame they are around here, but I am not growing a buffet for the wildlife.  I suppose we will need to put up electric wire or something this year. 

I found two baby eggs in the coop yesterday, which means my young hens are starting to lay!  We will soon have enough eggs to share.

My garden is still very weedy, but with two of us at home, we should be able to get that under control this month.  I have a commission, and I've been able to make significant progress on it with all of this uninterrupted time.  Now there is a bench waiting for me to pick up and paint for the City of Olympia, if I can just borrow a truck and someone else to help me load and unload it.  So, between projects and family, I'm sure I will be posting a lot less after this.  (I've spent way too much time on the computer in my alone time.)  Harvest time is upon us, so I'll be extra busy picking, chopping, freezing and drying during this, most beautiful time of year in my favorite place on Earth.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Red Hot Art and Fun

Last night, my friend Gabriela and I attended the very swanky Red Hot party and auction at Tacoma's Museum of Glass.  Gabriela Cowan is half of the mother-daughter team that comprises Hexen Glass Studio in Olympia, and they create custom stained and fused glass artwork.  We each juried into this exhibit, in which all proceeds benefit the museum's education programs.  I also attended last year's event, and it has proven to be a great opportunity to network and gain exposure.

As both Gabi and I are introverted country girls who spend almost all of our time on farms and in studios, we were giddy with the excitement of dressing up and going to a fancy party.  Walking into the Museum of Glass during the exhibit is like entering a glass artist's wonderland.  The whole main space gets set up as a huge maze of every kind of glass art, nicely lit and displayed.
This is one of my favorites, blown and hand-sculpted glass by Shelley Muzylowski Allen.

With our glasses of wine, we perused the art, commenting on how important it is to get out of our comfort zones once in a while, and to look at art made by other people.  I enjoy eavesdropping on people as they look at my work.  Whether they like it or hate it, I find it interesting to hear their perspectives.  In this case, I overheard rave reviews, and watched as the bidding sheet quickly filled up!  Here's the piece they won:

Gabi's fused glass cityscape also received many bids, and it looked great.
I can't find a digital image of her piece, but here is one that is similar:
We were both invited to give an interview for a live webcast, and I agreed.  Always nervous when put on the spot, I don't remember much of what I said.  I was completely hypnotized by the tall, gorgeous woman interviewing me.

After the silent auction, we were called in for dinner.  After a week of eating without groceries, it was great to be served a delicious meal, but the very best part (possibly the best part of the whole evening) was the chocolate wine they served with dessert!  Chocolate Wine...I didn't even know such a thing existed!  It was absolutely divine, especially paired with a dark chocolate truffle.  What a treat, and what a fun night.  I'm so glad I was able to share the experience with a good friend.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Late July on the Farm

In early June, Mike was putting together a drip irrigation system in our garden.  Sadly, his mom passed away before it was finished, so he gave me a quick tutorial before he flew to California.  We wanted to have it ready for someone to easily water in our absence.  Now, drip lines pinned to the soil feed mini sprayers and drip spouts throughout the perennial garden when the spigots are turned on.  In the veggie garden, we have timers for drip lines to the pumpkins and sprinklers for the raised beds.  The greenhouse needs to be watered by hand every couple of days.  This whole system saves hours of time and many gallons of water.

I drove down to join Mike in California, and we have only been home a few days since mid-June.  The gardens are full of weeds and many of our veggies were ravaged by slugs, but it's still flourishing.
From this view, you can see a bed of beets on the left, which we will freeze and use throughout the winter.  The bed to the right has a zucchini in the foreground and the rest is carrots.  Beyond that are raised beds with cabbage, broccoli, fennel, potatoes, kale, spinach, and salad greens.  On the far end is a huge winter squash patch, and there is a bee hive in the far right corner.
Inside the greenhouse (it was hard to shoot a full view), the left side is full of tomatoes and there are snap peas beyond them.  There are cucumbers on the right, training up twine suspended from the roof.  Calendula and basil are planted in between everything else.  So far, I've only been able to eat one ripe cherry tomato, but there are many green tomatoes that will be ripe soon.  I eat the snap peas straight off the vines, and I have more cukes than I can eat on my own right now.  They are delicious!
The turkeys are growing fast, and are always famished.  You can see the ducks peeking out from behind them.  The black rouens are absolutely gorgeous.

Most of these chickens were babies only a few months ago.  They have finally gotten through their awkward teenage phase and are coming into their own.  I am only getting about one egg per day right now, so I look forward to these hens beginning to lay.
And the goats are sweet as ever, though Pan has been getting abrasions of some kind on his face, and Isabel currently has a similar injury on her face.  I have no idea what could be causing them.

In addition to the veggie garden, we have berries and fruit growing all over the property.  I've frozen 5 gallons of raspberries, and I've been snacking on blueberries and strawberries.  I'm trying to spend some time harvesting lavender each day, and the herbs are just going to seed.  Our grape vines are huge, and little grape bunches are just starting to grow from them. 

I'm so glad to be home for the summer, and enjoying the beginning of the harvest season.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bee Swarm

Earlier this summer, Anouk ran in the house announcing that the bees were swarming.  Sure enough, when I checked the back yard, the air was filled with buzzing bees.  It's impossible to describe this experience, and when I tried to catch it on film, it simply looked like the sound and image was poor quality.  As we watched, the buzzing swarm slowly condensed into a thick cloud of bees, and they eventually began to cling to a post in our raspberry patch, covering it in a thick blanket of bees (referred to as a "beard.")
We brought out an empty super, then we moved the swarm into the box. We had only read about this process before, and it was surreal how docile the bees were.  We were literally scooping handfuls of bees, like they were liquid.  Mike cut the stalk they had gathered on and shook that into the box, then we put a feeder full of sugar water in the top box, put the lid on, and left them to settle in.  Bees are expensive, so we were thankful that we had an empty super on hand, because we now have a third hive, and it appears to be building comb very quickly.

We left the feeder on when we needed to leave town in June, and when we came home, they had built crazy comb to fill every inch of open space between the feeder and frames.  Here is a photo of a smaller crazy comb formation (from a different hive:)
Crazy comb is when the bees build free form Dr. Seuss-style structures to fill empty spaces in the hive.  We have learned to remove it so that the frames don't get welded together, making it impossible to tend the bees.  After removing that larger comb, I spent about an hour pressing the honey out, then melting the wax.  I decided to try using the microwave on thaw setting, and it worked perfectly.  Remaining honey sank to the bottom of the bowl, impurities were in the center, and the pure wax floated and hardened on top.  From just a bunch of excess comb, I have 12 ounces of honey and a big chunk of wax for use in soap and lotion-making! 

Eating without groceries for 2 weeks

It has been a crazy busy summer, including travel for a funeral, art exhibit, family reunion and a wedding.  None of my travels allowed me computer access, and it was a refreshing break.

During the last trip, I spent 10 days in Northern Michigan wilderness, where I grew up.  While I was away, my husband, Mike, was working a summer position in Olympia, so he ate his meals there and snacked on what little was left in the house.  As a result, I returned to find there was almost no food in the fridge, and the rest of my little family turned around and left the following day to go settle an estate.

Left alone with part of a jar of peanut butter, some rice milk, and a can of tuna, I considered a run to the grocery store.  But, then I harvested 3 gallons of raspberries, which I was putting in our garage freezer when I realized we still had a few bags of tamales that we made during the winter, two frozen chicken breasts, and some turkey, along with quite a few bags of frozen veggies.  Plus, the garden, while severely neglected, is producing a lot of fresh food.  So, I made it my goal to survive on what is here on our property until my family returns.

We have made an effort to eat a lot food that we grow ourselves, but I've been lazy about it lately.  My daughter has been eating nonstop and I am not the kind of mom who will spend a lot of time preparing food.  It's one of my least favorite chores, and I had fallen back into the habit of using store bought groceries for the main components of our meals.  I hope this exercise will remind me that I can make better meals using the eggs and produce we grow. So far, I've had turkey with kohlrabi and zucchini, a couple of salads with grilled chicken, a lot of cucumber slices, fresh berries, quite a few tamales, and I've been cooking chili in a crock pot, made with dried beans, turkey, zucchini, tomatoes and spices.

So far, I'm enjoying every meal, I'm eating more healthfully than I have in a long time, our grocery budget for this month will be almost nothing, and I wash and reuse my freezer bags, so there has been almost no garbage!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Slug hunting season is IN.

Banana Slug, native to Pacific Northwest forests.
For anyone who lives in a dry climate, or one with cold winters, this is a slug.  Slugs are hermaphroditic mollusks that live in our temperate, moist forests.  However, a European variety was first discovered in 1933 in a Seattle garden, and this species has flourished to become the number one enemy of Northwest gardeners.  While I rarely find a native Banana slug in my garden, I spend time every day collecting European Red Slugs as they devour my precious plants.

Anouk gets paid 10 cents per slug, and we have had to fork out an alarming amount of money this season.  Unfortunately, I like slugs when they aren't eating my plants, and I hate killing them.  This was my main motivation for getting ducks.  Slugs are a yummy duck treat, and it provides a quicker death for the slugs than snipping or salting.  (They seem to take at least 10 minutes to die, even when snipped in half, and it looks miserable.)
This is Arion Rufus, the non-native variety.
Sometimes, I'll find 10 slugs eating a single plant.
Here is a very sad kale that has been ravaged by slugs.
This year, possibly because it has been so very wet, it seems like we are extra inundated.  Usually, after about a week of daily slug hunting, the numbers diminish significantly.  I collect them on wet evenings or after a rain shower, and I feel like they just keep coming by the bucketload.
My ducks can't keep up with the supply.  They gobble them down, but after too many, they start spitting them back up.  Last night, Mike drove a bucket up to some raw forest property and dumped them out for me.  It might be more humane, but it really isn't good for our ecology.

So, if you live in the area, it is important to know the difference between the beneficial Banana Slug and the invasive species.  Be brave and pick up a slug, let it slide over your hand, and talk to it.  They respond to voices and music, and they are fun to learn about and observe.  Did you know, if you lick a slug, your tongue will become numb?  How do I know this? 
I'n not thelling.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Crazy Comb

When I checked our new hive yesterday, I found that they had been hard at work building some Dr. Seuss-style architecture on the top of their frames.  (We have a top-feeder in the honey super right now, so there is room for them to construct a fantastic wax sculpture.)
I tried to find information online about what to do about this, if anything, but I only found a couple of references to "crazy comb" that did not include more information.  So, I once again harassed my friend Damian, who advised me to remove it.  Today Mike and I both suited up and I fired up the smoker (which goes out every time, so we use liquid smoke for back-up) and we carefully peeled the structure off.  This hive has been much more productive than our first one, and they already have comb built out to most of the outer frames.  We were excited to find that the part we scraped off has some honey in it, so we had our first tiny taste of honey produced by our own hives.

Next, we checked the established hive that we started last spring.  We have had a honey super on it for a year, but they aren't building comb in that at all.  Still, they have the hive body completely full of honey, and they appear to be healthy.  Hopefully, now that spring has sprung, they will spend the summer building on those frames and filling them with delicious honey.

A friend has been teaching me to make soap, and I plan to spend this year making more of it, plus lotions, balms, and candles, using our wax, herbs, and beneficial plants.  I'm actually considering reducing my mosaic production and turning part of the studio into space for making and storing products from our homestead.  We hope to invest in two more hive bodies by the end of summer so that we can either capture a swarm or purchase more bees next year.

Anouk had a friend sleep over last night, so I showed the girls the wax we took from the hive.  They were both fascinated, and happy to taste some honey straight from the source.  Keeping bees has been a rewarding challenge so far, and it ties together all that we are doing here on our little homestead.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Farm Update for late May

Each year, we face some kind of delay getting our garden planted and projects started, but it seems to always come together.  This spring has been very cold and dreary.  I even had to scrape my car windows on Monday morning!  My early attempts to seed greens resulted in no sprouts at all, so I tried again a few weeks later and got a few little starts, and now I feel pretty confident that the seeds I planted last weekend will be successful.

Luckily for us, Mike runs the Horticulture program at his school, so there are always plenty of starts available if we can't pull it together.  Also, our best friends own a nursery, (www.BarnyardGardens.com) so we lean on them when our luck runs out.

Right now, I'm working most days while Anouk is in school, so I'm up by 6am to get all of us ready and off to school, then I drive the long commute to the job site, and put in about 4 hours of work before I race back to her school to pick her up.  After school, we run errands and I try to accomplish some important task at home, like cleaning, bill paying, and garden maintenance, before cooking dinner and putting her to bed.  I usually fall asleep during that process and I'm toast after that.

Two Black Rouen & Two Swedish Blue
In between those tasks, I tend to our animals.  Our ducklings grew to nearly full-size within a month, and they now live where our turkeys have lived in past years.  I failed to socialize them, so they run from me, but they are very easy to take care of, and we have been supplementing their feed with a steady supply of slugs.  They are gorgeous and fun to watch.

Our chicks are now about half grown, so I moved them to the main coop just the other day.  First, I put them in an adjacent enclosure for the afternoon so that they could introduce themselves to the established flock through the fence.
That evening, all of the chickens retired to the coop as usual.  The rooster was particularly loud, but not aggressive, and they have been happily cohabitating for three days now.  (Chickens will become very territorial if you put new in with old during the day, and they sometimes kill the newbies.)

When we get baby poultry, they spend the first couple of weeks in a plastic tub in a closet with a heat lamp.  Then I move them out to our original chicken coop, close to the house, in our old rabbit cage for extra security.  When they are ready, I move them out of the cage to have full range of the brooding coop until they are big enough to be out in a yard.  When I moved the chickens, I was able to release the baby turkeys from the hutch, so they now have a big coop to play in.  We did not go with a heritage breed this year, but I would have to write another long blog to explain why.  Next time I get a day to myself...

It has been a beautiful week, and today is predicted to be the best weather yet this spring, so I had better get off my butt and enjoy the sunshine.  I have plants to water, bees to check, and a car to pack full for the POSSCA Artist's Garage Sale taking place tomorrow.
Tomato and basil starts in the greenhouse, with cukes waiting in the tray.
Broccoli and cauliflower bed.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Installing a glass tile pool surround

In my last post, I expressed some concern that I may need to get a real job, as commissions have completely dropped off since last Fall.  Lo and behold, my tile setter friend, Frank Lynam, needed an extra hand in order to complete a large project by June.  So, I am working days as an assistant tiler, learning all about this particular large-scale installation.
We spent the first five days putting up the membrane, which is the orange part of the wall that wraps around.  This is a lap pool in the basement of a home that is built into a hillside.  The exterior wall is concrete.  The other walls are plaster.  The membrane will make the substrate impervious to dampness.  Also, since we are laying the tile in a brick pattern, there is no place to add an expansion joint, and the membrane will allow some give and take behind the tile.  Additionally, we will use a urethane grout made with ground glass instead of sand, which is more flexible.

That's Frank, one of the best tilers in our area.  He is extremely fastidious in his work, specializing in creative and challenging tile installations.  I am learning how to work without getting thinset all over my clothes and surroundings, and making sure everything is done to absolute perfection.  It's good for me.

This may look pretty straightforward, but check out how clean the joints are!  Frank is concerned that, since this is glass tile and the color is on the back, any meeting of thinset and grout will be visible with some careful examination.  So, we carefully install the tile with no thinset in the joints.  Also, this thick glass tile is difficult to cut without it shattering, so every cut is done so slowly, I sometimes wonder if I'm still moving the saw table.  The cuts result in a slightly ragged edge on front and back, so we then use 3 grades of metal files to make the back edge look precise through the glass, and make the front edge just as rounded and soft as the rest of the tile.  They end up looking like they were manufactured to that size.  The floor is not flush, so we have to cut every tile on the bottom row to make sure all of the lines are perfect as we continue to set rows up the wall.  It's a lot of measuring, cutting, filing, and fixing occasional mistakes.  Frank tells me he has tried to work with other assistants, but they quickly lose patience with the detail work.  I think my experience with mosaic is an advantage when approaching tile with such meticulous care.

So, although I have almost no time at all for the garden or studio right now, I'm earning money and learning some skills that may come in handy later, if I can ever land myself a big mosaic installation.  I have to admit, if I had my choice, those walls would be covered with undulating blue and green intersecting lines suggesting water, made of stained glass or tile.  Mmmm.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Over this past winter, I began a series of mosaic panels around a "hair" theme, mainly based on an image in my mind of an exhibit consisting of multiple pieces, all with the same basic design of a long, undulating shape with a woman's face, but all done with different colors and andamento.  I bounced my idea off of Mike, who felt it would be a good practice for me to repeat the same design over and over, and to create a collection that could be presented as a real body of work.

I began with some long wedi scraps I had lying around, cutting them to the shape I had in my mind.  The first was purple, and very rudimentary, though I did practice using a more classical style of setting my tesserae by cutting all of my glass shards into little squares, which I found tedious.  Also, this piece is ungrouted, which is sort of the trendy way to work in Mosaic-land, but I rarely feel comfortable with my own work ungrouted.

In the meantime, I felt the need to go back to my persistent interest in mythology and culture to explore stories like Rapunzel while trying to understand why we put so much emphasis on hair.  I mean, why do we save locks of hair as mementos?  Why do women have to cover their heads in certain religions?  Why does our hairstyle tell the world so much about our identities?  Why wasn't I allowed to cut my hair until 7th grade?  Why does our hair even grow the way it does, on our heads, and continuously?

I've been keeping a sketch journal and reading whenever I find time, making notes, drawings, and writing about my own personal hair story.  It is pretty fascinating (to me.)  Here's a bit of trivia for you: The ancient sun gods were depicted as an orb with golden rays (sometimes interpreted as shining hair) emerging, which evolved into the halo as a symbol of divinity, which turned into a crown worn by royalty to indicate their divine right to the throne.

I've been working hard to stick to this theme, but I'm aching to make something different.  I keep small, simple projects going on the side as an outlet for my need for change.  The hair series keeps evolving, and while I've stuck with the theme, it won't be a room full of the same image over and over.  I just can't do it. Now, my symbolism has turned personal, and the mosaic on my easel deals more with my childhood, in which hair played a significant role.

Also, some upcoming exhibits required submissions, and I feel this work is my best foot forward, so they may start getting distributed to various shows, if I'm accepted.  Even if they are not accepted, I will not be in a position to reject potential buyers, and I've had inquiries.  So, my vision of a traveling Hair exhibit is slowly fading.

This one is titled "Growing" which is what it is really all about.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Delayed Gratification

Olympia hosts two major Arts Walk events each year, in Spring and Fall.  Spring's festival coincides with Earth Day, and is the larger of the two.  Downtown streets are closed to traffic, so they fill with performers and festival-goers.  On Friday night, there is a beautiful luminary parade, and the Procession of the Species on Saturday afternoon is the highlight.  An amazing number of residents parade through the streets in celebration of animal and plant species, dressed in costumes, dancing, walking on stilts, playing instruments, or walking inside of something like a  huge whale that spurts water from its spout.  So many people participate in the Procession that it takes 2 hours to watch them all pass the throngs of enthusiastic onlookers.  Each business features local artists, so it is an opportunity to see all of the creative work being made throughout the community.

Spring Arts Walk was this past weekend, so I've been working hard to have everything finished for a group show.  As I've mentioned, business has been painfully slow since Fall, so I was feeling optimistic that I might catch up a little bit this weekend.  I did sell a few small things, and I received a lot of enthusiastic feedback from visitors.

Spring is moving very slowly this year, which has been the main topic of my posts.  I keep planting seeds for greens, but only a handful have sprouted, probably because we are still getting frost at night and not nearly enough sun.  Our chicks and ducklings are growing fast and seem to be doing very well, and we get our turkey poults tomorrow, which does help to remind us that it really is springtime.  Somehow, it feels like the delay in the season is strangely connected to this lull in commission work and art sales.  I am awaiting deposits on two potential projects, but I have learned not to plan around such possibilities as they often fall through.  I have applied for several exhibits, but I won't receive confirmation until June for events that begin in July, so I have work that I can't sell at all, and my summer plans are up in the air.  Ah, the life of an artist...

Two days ago, while feeding our newest bees, I wore gloves with cloth on the back (instead of leather.)  A bee stung me through the fibers on my right thumb, and the reaction has been quite severe.  At first, it was merely painful, but I kept working, cleaning the house and moving my workspace back to the outdoor studio (I've been working in the warm house all Winter.)  By evening, the whole backside of my hand had swollen and the skin was extremely sensitive.  It bothered me all night, making it difficult to sleep.  Yesterday, the swelling spread to the pads of my hand on the front, partway up my fingers, and a couple of inches down my wrist on both sides.  I wasn't able to work at all.  This morning, it is still swollen, but less painful.  I have had to continue basic tasks like making meals, cleaning dishes, and taking care of animals, but I'm clumsy and must do most of it with my left hand.  I've tried every remedy I could find online, but nothing works.  Benadryl has no effect on the inflammation, but it does help me sleep through the discomfort. So, I think my frustration with my work is exacerbated by my billy club of a hand.  Typing is one of the only things I can do with it, so I'm catching up on all computer-related tasks.  Submissions have been typed, receipts entered, inbox organized, and now I've written a long, boring blog entry that can't possibly of much interest to anyone.

I need to go back out to the new hive today to see if the queen has been released from her little cage yet, but I'm actually quite nervous for the first time.  I can't even fit my hand into a glove at this point, and it would seriously suck to get stung again.  Where's my farmhand?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Waste Not

One of the things I enjoy about raising chickens and goats is their role as instant-composters.  We have a small compost pile, but I use it only for moldy food and manure.  Almost all of our food waste is used to supplement our animal feed.  Though we try to eat what we grow and buy from local sources, there are definitely some exceptions that we make, like bananas and avocados.  So, in addtion to any leftover greens, our goats LOVE to eat our banana and avocado peels, along with tamale husks.  The chickens eat all grain-based leftovers, cheese, potatoes, legumes and cooked veggies.  We give them leftover cooked eggs and crushed eggshells, and if I ever drop an egg in the coop, they rush over to devour it because it is full of nutrition.

As for any meat scraps, the dogs and cats are happy to take care of those.  Whenever I cook a chicken (purchased from Barnyard Gardens in Shelton, WA www.barnyardgardens.com) I usually use the white meat as a main dish the first night, the dark meat incorporated into a dish the second night, then I boil the rest to make broth and peel every bit of the yucky meat from the bones as treats for our indoor pets.

When we tend the garden, we toss the weeds over the fence to the goats and chickens to munch on.  By the time they finish processing all of this waste, it is well on it's way to nutrient-rich compost.  We cut down on feed costs, the animals enjoy a yummier, more nutritious diet, and we don't send any of it to the dump.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Balancing acts

Barred Rock and two Rhode Island Red chicks
Spring is coming SO slowly this year!  Every couple of weeks, we get a nice, sunny day and we all rejoice.  I spend those days outside taking care of farm chores, even if I have a mosaic on the table that I'm aching to keep working on.  But those days are followed by many, many days of rain and clouds, so we've gotten a lot of work done indoors.  I haven't been able to stay focused on my series - I want to play and experiment. 

On weekends, Mike has been working hard to redo our upstairs bathroom, which has a clawfoot tub and old style sink and plumbing.  We collected the tub and sink years before the house was built, and kept them stored in our garage.  When it was installed, we invested in the expensive matching plumbing and lights from Restoration Hardware.  But, that's about all we could manage, so we lived with an old sewing table and a cobbler's bench to hold our soap, shampoo and towels.  We still don't even have a place for Mike to shave.  A couple of weeks ago, Mike hung wainscoting wallpaper along the bottom section of the walls, trimmed out with a chair rail.  He built a big shelving unit to hold our stuff so we could remove the nasty old tables.  Together, we hung textured wallpaper on the ceiling, painted it copper, and put in crown molding.  We are still touching up paint, whenever we can get to it, so for weeks now, the bathroom has been full of tools, a ladder, dropcloths, etc.  But it looks much more like the old-fashioned bathroom we originally envisioned, for very little money.
I just turned the soil in one of the vegetable beds yesterday and planted rows of greens.  In the fall, I put a lot of manure from the chickens and rabbit on the beds, and when I dug in the dirt yesterday, I was thrilled to see that it is rich and dark, with worms everywhere.  I brought home two more chicks and four ducklings and got them set up in their little houses in the barn with heat lamps.  (I had sworn I wouldn't get ducks again because they are always massacred by raccoons, but I love ducks, and they really help with slug control.  So we will keep them in the chicken enclosure most of the time and build them some lodging.)

My art business is just not generating enough money to call it a job right now.  I'm getting very anxious.  We are not able to get by on Mike's teacher income, so we rely on my art sales to top us off and pay for anything fun.  Mike's mom has been fighting cancer in California, so we have some extra travel expenses these days, Mike had a minor surgery last month and we have a copay, and we had to borrow money to do some repairs to our 1983 Toyota Corolla that we still owe on.  I'm applying for every opportunity I think I qualify for, but each one takes months to jury and confirm, so I still don't know if I have art shows or commissions for this summer.  I just keep plugging away at my series, making small pieces in between that I can display at Matter! Gallery in Olympia or show at Olympia's Spring ArtsWalk next month.

So, I've begun to brainstorm ways to earn income from the farm.  I'm thinking of trying to grow all kinds of beans, with the possibility of selling them.  I could can them so that they could sell year round, and have dried beans as well.  Beans are such a great food.  Mike and Anouk made soap last weekend, which got me thinking about developing lotions, salves, and soaps using our honey and beeswax to sell locally or online.  I spend so much time working in our gardens, and we have such an abundance of beneficial herbs and veggies, it seems a waste of my efforts not to find a way to turn that into a business.

Still, I'm sure there will be income-earning events over the summer, and a commission just might land in my lap, and every time I've been about to give up, something has always come through in the past.  I will be featured in a local magazine this summer, which is going to be the best advertising I've ever had.  Last year, I had applied for many exhibits thinking each was a fat chance, and I ended up juggling 5 different shows at the end of summer.  So, I'll give it more time, and when Anouk is old enough to be home alone for a while, or we meet a neighbor she can go to until I get home, AND if I'm still not making any money to speak of as an artist, I'll get a real job.  And I'll go back to being a hobby artist.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Springtime on the farm

Yesterday was a lovely spring day here in Grays Harbor County.  I took the opportunity to replace the feeder and waterer in the chicken coop and fix the gate to their yard.  It was fun hanging out with the happy chickens, who rewarded me with three fresh eggs.

Then I finally addressed the neglected hooves of the three female goats.  I should really have someone film this process, which is just not a one-person job.  I'm lucky I have dwarf goats, because I have to chase and wrestle them to get a good hold on their forelegs, which I turn up, while pinning the goat against a fence.  I quickly scrape the caked mud out of the crevices with the blade of my clippers, cut the overgrown flaps from the edges, and snip off the flesh at the rear of the hoof, which otherwise builds up like a callus.  Often, as I'm clipping away on a rear hoof, the goat starts raising the leg higher and higher, rearing up its entire backside, then dropping onto its front knees, moaning pathetically.  I try to follow through with my task, getting into a more and more acrobatic position with the goat, a bit like Capoeira.  Then I get the goat back upright and start on the next hoof.  I usually suffer intense back pain and stiffness after the whole process is over.

Yesterday, I focused on the females because I am going to sell them.  The flyer is ready to go to the feed store, and I'm bracing myself to let go of my sweet girls.  I hope they will find new homes with more consistent care, and provide milk for someone's family.  While I'm spending time with them, I begin to backpedal on my plan.  Maybe I should breed them and milk them instead?  But, I really don't need one more daily task, and both Mike and Anouk refuse to drink goat milk.  I could make cheese and soap, but...will I?  We have the humongous garden, bees, and chickens.  I think that's plenty.  Plus, I'm keeping my two boys.

Speaking of bees, we just ordered a second hive.  The first hive was out and about yesterday, enjoying the sun.  I hope to get more competent as a beekeeper this year, and to improve the chicken coop a bit.  By fall, I want to have a light with a timer in the coop so that we don't go quite so many months without eggs.

Otherwise, we have piles of seeds on our dining room table and kitchen counter, and I'll start weeding and tilling beds this month.  Potatoes should go in the ground next week, and I have already planted beets and cauliflower under glass jars (my little experiment.)  I still have spinach, kale and parsnips in the dirt, though I have to admit, I have totally lost interest in them.

Every spring feels like a new start.  Every year we get a bit better at this.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hens a-laying

My chickens stopped laying back in October, and it has been a long winter without them.  Some recipes really need eggs, so I found myself standing in the egg isle of a grocery store last month struggling to choose a carton. I had stopped at a big-box grocery store that was conveniently located to fit in my tight schedule that day, so my options were less ideal than if I had gone to the Co-op.

They had some organic eggs, some cage-free eggs, brown eggs, and "natural" eggs.  Having read a lot about the way our food is produced, I'm aware that chickens fed organic feed are still likely to be raised in a space no larger than a standard 8" x 10" piece of paper, never stepping foot on the ground or seeing sunlight.

Some people think brown eggs are healthier, but they are no different from white eggs.

Cage-free means that the chickens are kept in large spaces without individual cages, but usually with the same equivalent amount of space.  It doesn't mean they have more room to move or that they breath fresh air.

The word "natural" means nothing.  It pretty much guarantees that it is a real egg, produced by chickens, and that's it.

Another label that baffles me is "vegetarian-fed."  Why would anyone insist that chickens be vegetarian?  They are birds.  They eat bugs, worms and grubs, along with grains and even vegetable scraps.  The protein they consume while ranging outside contributes to their overall health, and the nutrient value of their eggs.  You should see them follow me around the garden while I weed and turn over soil, just waiting to spot a moving critter that they quickly snatch up and devour with great enthusiasm.

I finally bought Wilcox Organic eggs, paying top dollar to support the practice of raising chickens "cage free, with access to outdoors, free of antibiotics and hormones."  Still, it was disheartening to crack open the first egg to find a runny, butter-yellow yolk that proved to have very little flavor.

The fact is, people who haven't had home-grown eggs don't know what they're missing.  I can't tell you how thrilled I am to finally, once again, eat eggs with a rich, almost orange, thick consistency, with flavor to match. I know my chickens live a good life (except for the constant threat of death by raccoon), with no hormones, pecking around in the dirt all day (something chickens NEED to do), taking dust baths in dry areas, basking in the sun when it's out, and NOT being forced into a vegetarian lifestyle.  Chickens are very easy to keep and fun to have around.  But, if you can't fit chickens into your life, try to buy from local farms.  Support happy chickens, local farmers, and the best tasting, most nutritious eggs you'll ever eat.

Pumpkin Pancakes!

Last weekend, we had company, and Mike made us pumpkin pancakes.  They were delicious!  They really tasted like a mix of pumpkin pie and pancake, with a rich, creamy texture.  So, I'm going to share the recipe, which he found in a Saveur magazine that he found in one of those giveaway piles at the library:

Shopsin's Pumpkin Pancakes

1 3⁄4 cups flour
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground ginger
1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄4 tsp. ground allspice
1 cup canned pumpkin purée (Mike used one of our own pumpkins)
1 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tbsp. canola oil
Butter and maple syrup, for serving
1. In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, cloves, ginger, salt, and allspice. Add pumpkin, cream, milk, and eggs; whisk until smooth. 

2. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Using a 1⁄4-cup measuring cup, pour batter into skillet to make three 3" pancakes. Cook until bubbles begin to form on the edges, 1–2 minutes. Flip and cook until done, 1–2 minutes more. Repeat with remaining oil and pancake batter. Serve pancakes hot with butter and syrup.
(I had mine with vanilla yogurt, and it was yummy.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why is visual art so expensive?

During a conversation with my mom, she expressed surprise to learn that I have to pay a fee nearly every time I submit art to a jury.  I thought of how often my prices are questioned, and how people make comments to suggest that the price should be based on the amount of time it took to create each individual piece.

This mosaic, for instance, took about 3 weeks to complete, though it took many weeks of sketching, and much longer to gather and prepare materials.  I manage to salvage most of my materials (a typical mosaic artist probably spends about $100 per square foot just on tesserae), but I collect them when and where I can, spending time finding and sorting them.  My bases (in this case, an old window frame) are from salvage yards, the side of the road, contractors, or people who seek me out when they want to clear out some junk.  I spend as much time cleaning, sanding, priming, re-glazing and painting my bases as I do making art.  Other mosaic artists prefer to purchase manufactured bases, ready to use, and that gets expensive.

Tools and materials are only a small part of a professional artist's expenses.  Once I have hand-cut my odd-shaped glass shards, taking time to file the corners of each piece, carefully adhering them into a design, and the work is finished, I then have to sell it.  Much of my work is commissioned, in which case I already have a deposit, and final payment is owed on delivery.  But my commissions seem to come in spurts, and I can go 6 months with no projects.  During this time, I make individual mosaic panels to sell at art shows and galleries.  I meet with potential clients, many of whom decide to put their project on the back burner, saying they will get back to me (sometimes they do.)  I sketch and research and experiment.

There are a few organizations that post Calls to Artists, so I am constantly perusing these, submitting to the ones that apply to me.  Most public art submissions are free, but most juried exhibits and festivals require a fee.  Exhibits increase an artist's exposure and contribute to the perceived value of the art, and festivals are a good way to sell a lot of art directly to customers in a short time, but those jury fees sure add up.  For the exhibit I was discussing with my mom, it costs $25 per image, I have no idea whether the juror will find my work at all appealing, and the work won't be for sale when the show takes place.  In addition, once I have submitted a piece, I cannot sell it or submit it to another jury until I am rejected, which can take many months.  If I'm rejected, I still lose my jury fee.

In the meantime, I may take some work to one of the galleries that represents me.  Some galleries take 40%, but most take 50%.  It can be very bittersweet to get a $30 check for something that took 3 full days to make.

As local people have become more familiar with me and my work, I am constantly asked for donations.  I think I get at least 20 donation requests per year, and I donate to about half of them.  It is very difficult to say no, especially in a small community, and when so many of my friends are involved in various kinds of fundraising, all for good causes.  But the value of my donations adds up to about 50% of my gross income, which is kind of crazy.  My artist and musician friends have all felt this same pressure to give away their work, and some are becoming increasingly frustrated.  How many other professionals are asked to give so much?

It speaks to an overall perception that working as an artist is not really work; that it is done out of pure love and inspiration without real effort or sacrifice.  Although I spent my childhood and youth planning to become an "Artist", I now find myself telling strangers that I do custom mosaic tile installations.  According to the general population, "Artist" is not a respectable occupation. 

Well, that covers some of the overhead for an artist, but each of us has different markets and specific expenses.  A friend who wholesales her work has many flights to buyers' markets, huge booth fees, staff, and the cost of printing her art onto a variety of products.  Another must rent large warehouses, import wool, ship large work to museums, and pay engineers to install amazing felt draperies that suspend from vaulted ceilings. Some have to pay to use specialized studios and equipment to make their glass or clay work.  There is the annual Society of American Mosaic Artists conference that costs thousands to get to, and workshops to learn new techniques and skills.

To someone uninterested in art, it may all seem superfluous, but I'll bet they don't question the huge salaries of actors, pop musicians, or even professional athletes.  Visual artists may provide a quieter sort of entertainment, but we provoke and delight, and civilization would be very dull without us.  So there.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Community-based mosaic murals

Tomorrow, I am flying to Oakland, CA to attend a workshop on Facilitating Community Mosaic Projects with Josef Norris.  This is something I've been interested in for some time, following the work of Josef Norris's group Kid Serve as they work in schools to create amazing mosaic murals with the students, and also following Laurel True's work in Ghana and Haiti.  Community-based mosaic is a fun way to bring groups of people together for healing, empowerment, and beautification of otherwise plain concrete walls.

This one was made by pre-schoolers, their parents, and adult volunteers.

Through the magic of facebook, I've been offered lodging on a houseboat near the Institute of Mosaic Art, and I am so very excited to go away for the weekend on my own.  I hope to come back and begin covering the sides of buildings with fun mosaic murals, along with members of community groups and schools.

Winter squash risotto

Just a quick follow-up to my squash recipe quandry: I looked up a standard recipe for winter squash risotto online that used ingredients I happened to have on hand.  Feeling lazy, I put all of the ingredients into my rice-cooker and pushed the "cook" button.  I opened it quickly after it had been cooking for a bit and stirred it all up, then closed it and let it finish.

It was yummy!  It worked!  So, if you are like me, and just not into real cooking, try putting a fancy rice recipe into the rice cooker and let it do the work for you.  My husband even liked it.