The return of the rabbit

April 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Posted in art, country living, family, food, Holidays, inspiration, knitting, Life, love, marriage, needle felting, recipes, shopping, women | 6 Comments
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Three springtime’s ago I did quite a lot of needle felting, during the last trimester of my daughter’s pregnancy and for a while after my granddaughter was born.  Needle felting at that time was a substitute creative release for me, because I was on hiatus from oil painting for a bit at the time.

I am a professional writer and fine artist by trade, but there are many crafts I have enjoyed over the course of my lifetime, beginning with learning to knit and crochet when I was a little kid.   I was recalling the other day how much my mother inspired me to be creative with various projects she did with my brothers, my sister, and me.  We made Christmas ornaments, Christmas stockings, holiday candles, many Easter Eggs, birthday favors, doll clothes, embroidery … you get the idea.

My mother was and is a very fine seamstress.  In fact, her work was so fine she was able to take in projects to sew for a local business called The Button Shop.  She sewed all of my sister’s and my dresses, even our winter coats.  Growing up on a farm in post-depression era North Carolina she learned to be both creative and frugal in sewing her own dresses as she grew up.  She passed those skills along to my sister and I when we were teenagers, and we both sewed quite a bit when we were younger–my sister much  more so than I did.

My mother had a wonderful sewing table that my father made for her.  It was quite large (from what I recall), with plenty of room to handle the fabric of large projects without a problem.  She still has the same Singer sewing machine she used throughout my childhood to sew so, so many dresses and other beautiful projects.

Though I loved all of the clothes she ever made for me, there was this one corduroy jumper I felt particularly delighted with.  The fabric was a fine wale corduroy in white with little red flowers printed on it.  Each flower had a little brown stem and a couple of tiny green leaves.  She made a puffy sleeve red shirt to go under the jumper and boy did I feel special wearing that pretty little outfit.

Another favorite was this thing called a grasshopper, a two-flap skirt with sewn on shorts underneath it.  That was pretty awesome and I remember feeling like a little rebel because I knew I was really wearing shorts, even though to the world I appeared to be wearing a skirt.

There was this other little seersucker two-piece top and shorts outfit she made for me when I was in first grade.  One of my most vivid, fun filled childhood memories is of the last day of school that year.  I was so excited because the last day of school would be a half-day which seemed totally wonderful and magical in my mind at the time.  I wanted the day to go as quickly as possible so I could reach the magical half-day point that much faster and be released back into the wild for summer vacation.  In order to speed things along I slept in my little seersucker outfit the night before.  I remember telling my mother that I was going to wear my clothes to bed so that I could just get up and run right out the door to head off to school.

What I remember most vividly about that last day of school was running free and light from our house to school in my wrinkled clothes (from sleeping in them the night before) with the sunshine on my face and arms making my skin pleasantly tight in the summer heat.  I heard someone’s Dad mowing a lawn somewhere along the way and smelled a wonderful freshly-cut lawn smell (which always smelled to me like watermelon).  It was a joyous run toward the magical half-day of school, on my road to a summer of liberty and freedom.  And, it all started with my perception of that little seersucker outfit as a summer delight.  Thank you, Mom. 🙂

The needle felted rabbit you see at the top of this posts is one of my latest needle felted designs.  He is about 7″ tall when sitting, but from the tip of his toes to the tip of his ears he is about 10″ tall.  I loved making a piece of needle felted fabric which I then designed and made his little jacket from.  He is a bit too delicate to give to a toddler, so for the time being he is going to live in my studio, watching over me while I paint watercolors and oils of swans, turtles, fishing herons, and other scenes I photographed along our river last summer.

I find myself looking over at him from time to time, smiling at my little buddy.

Now that he is finished, I will make several others of a similar design and technique — a family of rabbits — and photograph each step along the way so that I can write some very detailed instruction manuals.  Needle felting is so enjoyable as a craft and can be done very crudely or to very fine results, but no matter what level you take a project to, it will have an inherent beauty that all needle felted works seem to be naturally endowed with.  That is what I would like to pass along to my readers and friends, the joy of creating sculptures in needle felting. They needle felting courses will not be ready for this Easter and bunny season, because these things do take time. But they should be ready in pleny of time for you to get a head start and really learn what you are doing and get one or more bunnies ready for next year’s holiday.

Another creation I would like to share with you today is my altered version of a German Stollen.  Normally a Christmas bread, I decided to make my own version of Stollen to take to our Palm Sunday brunch at church last weekend.  It is a beautiful yeast bread that is worth the effort required to bring it to life.

Back in California I would buy a traditional Christmas Stollen at Trader’s Joe’s every Christmas for the kids and I to enjoy.   Of course, we don’t have Trader Joe’s anywhere near where I live now, so I had to resort to making my own this past Christmas.  I began with a recipe I found in the Joy of Cooking, but altered it to suit my own tastes and baking preferences.

First of all, I chose not to use candied fruits, called for in the recipe.  Instead, I used golden raisins, dried cranberries and chopped dried figs. The recipe also called for a lemon glaze but I basted my bread with melted butter before and right after baking, followed with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar.

The recipe makes two large, beautiful loaves … and now I would like to share the recipe with you in case you would like to make it this holiday weekend.

Firefly’s Altered Stollen

6 to 8 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups water or milk at 105 to 115 degrees
2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 tsp)
1/2 lb. golden raisin
1/2 lb. pecan pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped dried figs (optional)
1 1/2 cups butter (softened)
3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs (room temperature)
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon rind (freshly grated or dried)
1/2 melted butter
2 cups powdered sugar

In a good sized bowl, sprinkle yeast over the 1 1/2 cups of water; whisk until blended. Let stand 5 minutes.

Add 1 cup flour; whisk until mixed well. Cover and place in a warm place until foamy (about 1 hour). [This is called sponge, by the way.]

In a separate bowl, mix together raisins, pecans, cranberries and figs. Sprinkle 1/2 cup flour over this mixture and toss so that all of the pieces are covered with flour.

In large mixing bowl, beat the 1 1/2 cups of softened butter until light and creamy. Add 3/4 cups sugar and continue beating then add the eggs, one at a time. Next, add the salt and grated lemon rind. After this is all mixed well, take the sponge you made earlier and add that into the mix and keep mixing. If you have a dough hook on your mixer, change to that at this point. If you don’t have a dough hook, you might want to change to mixing by hand sometime soon, when you think the load might be too much for your mixer. Anyway, start adding the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time until you have a nice smooth dough that is elastic. It should not be sticky to the touch, but it does need to be soft so you don’t want to add too much flour.
The thing is with yeast bread (if you don’t already know this) you don’t add an exact amount of flour when you are mixing it.

You just add some of the total called for, a bit at a time, until you get to the right consistency and then you stop. That is why the recipe calls for “6 to 8 cups flour”. So, watch that you don’t make your dough stiff and dry, but also don’t leave it wet and sticky.

Now, cover the dough and let it sit in a warm place for about an hour so it can double in bulk.

After it is doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and gradually knead the fruit, nut, and flour mixture into it. It will be hard to knead all of that stuff in, but just keep folding the dough over the fruit and nuts and kneading and kneading and after a while you will have it all mixed in pretty well. There will still be fruit and nut pieces sticking out all over the dough, but but is okay as long as it is mixed pretty evenly into the dough.

Divide your dough in half. Roll each half out to a rectangle that is about 10″ x 15″. Roll this up staring with the 10″ side. Place the rolled up bread onto a greased or non-stick cookie sheet and baste it with some of the melted butter — just enough to make sure there is melted butter on the entire surface, but don’t try to drench it. Repeat this process with the other half of your dough (on a separate cookie sheet).

Let the rolled up, basted dough rise until nearly doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Thump the bread with your finger before you take it out of the oven to make sure it makes a sort of a hollow sound (kind of like thumping a watermelon to see if it is ripe). If it doesn’t sound hollow, you should bake it a little bit longer.

When you take it out of the oven, baste it right away with more melted butter, again covering the entire surface.

You can use more than the 1/2 cup melted butter I specified in the recipe for the basting part if you want — it just depends on how rich you want to make it. I only make this at Christmas and Easter because it is pretty rich and I don’t like to feed rich food to my family very often.

After basting the loaf, sprinkle it generously with lots and lots of powdered sugar. It is okay if it is piled up real high.

Let the bread cool completely; I left mine stand overnight if I finish it late in the day or in the evening.

If you are not going to serve it right away, or if you have to take it somewhere, wrap it up very tightly with plastic wrap, pressing the powdered sugar down against the bread. When you are ready to serve it, you can sprinkle a little bit more powdered sugar on top to freshen it up.

Cut in 1/2″ slices to serve.

This bread is wonderful day old (or older) with a cup of coffee for breakfast.

I suppose this is the end of today’s post, I hope you have enjoyed it. If you haven’t checked in with my son’s Etsy shop lately, have a look and see what he has going on that is new. Many people have been loving his Typography Maps, you might enjoy them as well. And of course, he is always coming up with new subway signs and bus scroll prints.

Hope you have a beautiful holiday weekend!

Best,
~firefly

Gathering up the wild things, 2011

October 27, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Posted in art, Christmas, country life, family, Holidays, inspiration, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships, shopping, travel, Vintage | 3 Comments
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This is what I see today, as I look out the window of my studio writing. Though I didn’t shoot that photograph today or this year, it is pretty close to what I see out there right now. Just imagine the same scene with darker clouds and a steady rain, and you will see what I am seeing right now.

What is the weather like where you are? How has the season evolved in your corner of the world so far?

A couple of days ago my husband and I did the coolest thing: I noticed over the past few months a number of older wild grapevines around our farm about 1″ to 1 1/2″ in diameter, and those grapevines got me to thinking. I love to cut wild grape vines and make wreaths with them, so I wondered if we could cut the thick old vines and fashion them into a very large wreath to hang on our barn. We have wanted to make a large outdoor Christmas wreath to hang on our barn and it was exciting to finally have a natural ingredient we could use to make one.

As you look for unique, inspired gift ideas for people on your list this year remember to check out our Knitter’s Eye Charts (as seen in Vogue Knitting and Interweave Knits this fall) and other gifts for knitters in the I Live on a Farm Etsy store.  Or, give an inspiring eBook or Kindle book to someone you love. My son carries a great variety of vintage-look Subway Roll Signs and Bus Scroll Prints representing New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Paris, London and more — he also creates custom signs with the same vintage look. You can find my original paintings, fine art prints, photographs, and note cards in my Fine Art Etsy Store.

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There was a little window of opportunity two days ago when he got home from work, before it started raining, to get out and about and cut the vines we wanted to use. Cutting the vines off of our trees will help the trees survive longer, plus and it provided us with plenty of thick vines to coil around for a four foot diameter wreath. It is beautiful, rustic and hearty looking. We will still need to find things to add to it in order to make it more decorative and I hope to be able to light it up somehow at night so people will enjoy it as they drive by.

Our closest neighbors have a beautiful huge red barn, and they hang a large wreath on it every Christmas season. It is lit up at night with an outdoor light and is a very lovely sight to see if we happen to be out on a snowy winter night. I hope our wreath with bring the kind of joy to others that our neighbors’ wreath has brought to us.

We will hang it right over our quilt square, and it should harmonize with the square because of the double wedding ring pattern on the square. (If you are not familiar with the quilt square we have hanging on our barn, here is a link to my blog on that subject from back in 2008 when we first hung the quilt square.)

08dec08_2carolersoutsideWe have also been out gathering up wild things from our environment this week for use in a new generation of my Thistleonian characters. It was important for us to get out and gather the wild things I need for the little guys before the elements start making them look too weathered.

One of my favorite ingredients is not wild; I use soybeans to make their little arms. The farmers around us who are growing soy beans this year were out everywhere bringing them in a couple of weeks back, so that was our cue to get out to someone’s field and snag a few remnant bean stalks from the edge of a field. Though they are not “wild”, they are natural and perfect for Thistleonians. The soy beans inside are small and cream colored and are beautiful to use as accents as well.

I have also started drying milkweed pods– my all-time favorite of beautiful wild things to gather from the outside world. Beginning in early October I watch the pods (they grow in front of our barn, beneath our Quilt Square Block along with various wild flowers) for signs they are ready to harvest. What I am watching for is the first pods that burst open on their own to release their seeds and silky threads. When that happens, I can gather as many as I need and start getting them ready for drying.

I enjoyed spending time with my husband, driving around and raiding fallow fields and soy bean crop remnants to gather the items I need. We did this kind of “wild thing” foraging the first couple of years after I moved here but it has been a while since we did so and it was just great to get back out there and spend that kind of time together. I treasure him for many things, and this is an example of why. He not only supports me in theory on my various creative activities, he gets involved and plays the game with me on those things he can. (Thank you, dear husband.)

I am looking forward to spending some cozy time during dark and stormy autumn days (much like today) working on Thistleonians. I also have on my list of creative things to do the knitting of a new pair of knuckle gloves or fingerless gloves for myself, as the pair of Fetching fingerless gloves I made my first year in New York are frayed and will have to be replaced. I would also like to knit some socks for my mother and x-mother-in-law (what should I call her now?), lacey fingerless gloves and a scarflett for my daughter, a sweater for my grand-daughter, something I have not figured out for my son, and a new hat for myself. Oh, to be able to knit the many things I have on and in my mind to knit.

The past couple of weeks my husband, my son, and I have all been working to prepare for a group photography show in December at a nearby art gallery. The show will feature pieces by me, my husband, his deceased father, and my son along with poetry written by my father; I will do a poetry reading of some of my father’s poetry opening night of the show. This show will be at the local art gallery in one of the nearby villages and the opening will be Friday December 2nd in the evening. If you are in the Western New York area and would like an invitation to the show, contact me via email or with a comment on this blog and I will send one as soon as they are ready.

I have shot upwards of 75,000 photographs since I moved to New York — most likely many more than that. I went through about half of them in an effort to select the best ten for our show. I wanted the photographs I am showing to be of a fine art nature, to reflect my artistic ability with the camera as well as my eye for composition and color. The photographs needed to also reflect my particular artistic style and communicate something important about my vision as an artist.

After many hours reviewing photographs, I narrowed my choices down to a couple of dozen, then my husband helped me select the best fifteen of those. We tried to go with ten, but could not cut it down further than fifteen–which is still quite an accomplishment I think.

The photograph at the top of this blog is one I chose, and sprinkled in the blog you will find others. If you would like to see more, I have posted prints of some of them for sale in my fine art Etsy store as 8x10s.

We also went through my husband’s photographs as well as his father’s and chose fifteen of each of theirs as well.  My husband’s father brought cameras home with him from Europe after World War II ended, and he trained himself in the use of those cameras.  He shot some wonderful photographs at our cottage featuring family, friends, and the family dog.  You can see from the shots he captured that he had a good eye for composition as well as a understanding of the wonderful natural light in this part of the world.

My husband’s photography reflects his deep love of the landscapes from his childhood and lifetime spent on and around the Oak Orchard River.  He is also a self-taught photographer with a great passion for cameras and photographic technology.  He had devoted many years to studying cameras and photographic techniques and has gone out in the field with a variety of cameras and different types of film plus digital media to apply the knowledge he gains from his studies.

I haven’t seen my son’s choices yet for his photographs for the show, but I know they will be awesome. He has done some very interesting, and quite beautiful photography around the farm and our cottage but he also has some breathtaking portraits of The Duke (his English Bulldog), wild life photography, and street scenes in Los Angeles and New York City. I have no idea, out of his large body of work, which ten pieces he will choose to show … I am looking forward so much to getting a chance to see! The gallery owner also wants to devote a section of the gallery to display  his digital artistry, reflected in his reproduction New York Subway Signs and Vintage Maps.

Our photography show will primarily feature photographs shot over a period of sixty to seventy years in and around the same locations — but through the eyes of four different photographers, using various films and cameras and photographic technology as it has evolved. The photography will be gently tied together via the poetry of our fifth artist, my father.

Once we have everything printed, matted, and framed and hanging in the gallery I believe it will be very interesting to see our various takes on this beautiful environment we have all explored and enjoyed over the years.

Well, I have a two and a half year old crawling back and forth across my back while I try to write and my poor back just can’t take it any more this morning so I am going to end off here.

Here’s wishing you and yours a beautiful week-ending, and weekend coming up!

~firefly

The river flows gently

September 27, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Posted in art, country life, country living, faith, family, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships, shopping, socks, travel, yarn | 5 Comments
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Last week my husband and I took an early evening boat ride down the river, over at our cottage just a few miles from the farm. September and October are the most beautiful months for going out on that section of the river; the water is very clear and the trees are beginning to change to their autumn splendor.

While we were out we saw many Canada geese, heron, king fishers, and swans. We also saw quite a few turtles sunbathing on fallen tree trunks and limbs laying at water’s edge.

The temperature was cool, but not cold and we were very comfortable. He was standing up much of the way, as he piloted the boat along at five miles per hour. I shot hundreds of photos, and share with you today some of the best.

As I look outside my dining room window just now, I see a gentle breeze moving a bough of our great white pine, just outside the bak door. It dances, as if to beckon me out for a good time. The corn stands tall out in the fields, back behind that great old big willow tree I have spoken of and photographed so often on my blog.

So often life turns hectic, even on a quiet old farm like ours but no matter how hectic life becomes, I can always (if I remember to) stop for a few minutes and just go outside and stand still. I hear the quiet, and in the quiet I hear a dozen different sounds … geese honking as they do a fly by over the river, a distant tractor working in a field, little birds singing from the tangle below the willow, the soft movement of the river, Blu flapping his ears as he gets up from an afternoon nap.

Side Bar: My friend John Antonini is fairly new to blogging, but shares helpful advice about money, finance, and business. He just posted today, and I provided him with a beautiful photo of our river from last October to “dress” it up. Check him out, pretty please. 🙂

I recall the peace of the river, the feel of the boat slipping along still waters, the king fisher and heron calls as they glide along in search of their daily meal, the beauty of the early fall foliage against the crisp reflective surface of the water.

I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and feel that cool gentle breeze move against my face, and through my hair. I feel the sun’s warmth on my shoulders, comforting me against whatever pressures wait for me when I go back inside, to work.

Thank you farm, for being here. Thank you world, for being so lovely. Thank you husband, for bringing me here to share this life with you. Thank you my reader friend, for taking the time to share this moment of peace in an otherwise hectic day. You are treasured, all of you.

Last week I mentioned the book of inspirational poetry my father wrote and that I have published along with some of my photography from the farm. I changed the title to “I, The Wind”, the title of one of his poems. We both felt that title better communicates something about the poetry that will be found inside. It is available as an eBook, or for Kindle readers.

One of the poems in the book is titled, “Little Dreamer” and is a poem he wrote for me many years ago when I was a child. Dad always supported my dreams, and the dreams of all of his children–he is our best cheerleader, really. Here is a clip from the poem he wrote for me:

Go little dreamer dream your dreams
Just remember: they’re life.
Find your times of happiness
Heal your wounds from strife.
~Albert L. Zudfin
Excerpted from the book, “I, The Wind”

And, on that lovely note I am inspired to meniton what I am up to with my knitting this week. Remember the Foot Notes Sock Yarn Kimber Baldwin created in the Rhoda colorway in honor of my tree peony photographs? Well, I finally got started knitting something for myself with that beautiful yarn. I had planned to make a pair of socks, but I want a new, pretty scarf so I changed gears and started a lacy scarf.

Another reason for knitting the scarf project is that I wanted to use a complicated lace pattern that I have had a lot of trouble with because of the many distractions that make it hard for me to keep track of all the yo’s and K2tog’s and P2tog-b, etc. Right now I am at my prime time of being distracted and I decided it would be a perfect time to once again attempt to follow a complex lace stitch pattern.

Why, you might ask — when distractions are making it so difficult to do. I have had a project in mind for quite some time, a new way of writing up knitting instructions that I believe will help even the most distracted of knitters follow complex stitch patterns and knitting directions regardless of how confounding the information is and how muddled your mind is with distractions. So, this is a perfect time for me to test my theory to make sure it works before I move forward.

If you could have seen me on Sunday — trying to knit the most challenging lace stitch pattern I could find while a 2-1/2 year old was climbing over my back, under my arms, under my legs, over my lap. She tugged at my hair, grabbed my knitting directions several times and threw them away from me, jumped on my feet. Listen, if I could follow the directions (the way I wrote them) with all of that going on and still come out with lace formed with all the right stitches in and twists and turns in all the right places, I think I am on to something valuable that could help many, many other knitters.

Though the scene I described did eventually and temporarily plummet me into tears and despair, my lace came out okay and I soon rallied emotionally. There is a lot of work to do to bring this project of mine to the public, but I am working on it as I can and hope that before too much time I will be able to publish the results to your benefit.

As for the Rhoda colorway … Kimber is sold out of that right now, which is a shame because looking down at a piece of knitting with such a delicious play of colors just makes the knitting that much more fun and rewarding. I have written to her to find out what is going on with Foot Notes, and hopefully she will write back that many more hanks on being dyed as I write this.

One final shout out for the morning. You are aware, I am sure, of my son and his vintage-inspired subway roll signs, bus scrolls, retouched antique and vintage maps, and custom signs over at Flying Junction. I am doing my weekly shout out for him, in order to help build and promote his business. He has done so much for me over the years, patiently teaching me the how-to’s of designing and building websites, handling technical matters for me beyond my “pay grade”, and being a true friend as well as a wonderful son that there is nothing I could ever do for him that would be too much. If it wasn’t for him, I never would have started this blog. He was the one who suggested it and pointed me in the right direction. Anything I have to offer that you have enjoyed or benefited from, is in some way due to him and what he has done to make it possible.

You know, he even is the person responsible for me getting into oil painting–I don’t know if I wrote about this before. Back in 2004, at Christmas time, I was having one of the very worst years of my life, especially financially. The one highlight was that I had started painting watercolors again after not having done so for two or three years. I can’t tell you though, how stressed I was with life in general. It was one of those years that, because it didn’t kill me made me stronger.

That Christmas, my son took me out to an art supply store and bought me everything I needed to get started in oil painting. I would not have been able to do that on my one, not at that time, because it required an investment in supplies and tools that I just didn’t have money for. I remember that shopping trip like it was yesterday; it meant so much to me that he wanted to take me to the store and help me pick out what I needed. He also wanted to make sure I got everything I needed and didn’t leave off anything essential due to budget concerns.

From that time, each year for my birthday as well as Christmas he continued to provide me with shopping money for my art supplies. Because of his generosity and support I was able to stock up on a great supply of brushes and oil paints as well as other supplies and now I have created many, many beautiful oil paintings that are hanging all over the U.S., with quite a few of them in various locations in New York. [This photo, by the way, is how he “signed” the custom print he sent me for my birthday — printed on scrumptious watercolor paper, which is so appropriate for me. Very thoughtful and tastefully done.]

So, when you see me week after week mentioning his new business in my blog and my email newsletters please know these things about him. He needs my help now, because his business is young and is his sole means of support. He is passionate about his art, diligent about his business practices and outstanding customer service and for all of these reasons and more he deserves whatever support I can give him.

I suppose that about wraps things up for today. Now I have to switch gears and get some press releases sent out for a client of mine, so I must be off.

~firefly

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