Monday, December 29, 2008

The Most Beautiful Thing

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” (Albert Einstein, What I Believe)

I love this Einstein quotation.

I put it on a coffee mug for my oldest son, that I designed on Zazzle. (The mug, not my son.)

It's hard to see on these little images of the mug that I captured on the Zazzle site, but here is the painting that I used:

Divination, acrylic on canvas

Horizontal worked best for the mug of course, but this is one of those pieces that I can see being hung different ways, even more so because it is a diptych. I show it three different ways on my Etsy site.

I like being able to give art or things based on my art as gifts. It seems more personal, but I don't want to overdo it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Bead Craft with the Girl Scouts

On Saturday we did a fun craft with our little Girl Scout troop. A few weeks ago a local craft store was offering a class on beaded ornament hangers and our head honcho troop leader (I'm one of three) said she was thinking of learning how to make the little beaded thingies and asked if I was interested in going. I looked at the picture and said, Oh, those are easy. We can do that. So, we shopped for wire and a few packages of beads to supplement the stores of unused craft beads hanging around my house, and VOILA:

The moms got to work cutting and bending the wire, while the girls ran around and played, then the Girl Scouts got busy and very creative and made a number of hangers. Even a five year old brother made a few beautiful hangers. After almost an hour of steady focus on the craft, the girls started drifting upstairs to play, and the moms kept at it for another 45 minutes, totally engrossed in creating little objects and conversation. It was nice, a kind of quilting bee gathering. We came away with some lovely ornament hangers, and the girls were very into it, working intently with no bickering or whining for almost an hour; I have to declare it a successful GS craft.

R favored a definite color scheme.

We think they really dress up simple glass balls and tree ornaments.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Traditional Christmas Toffee

I often find that the best things in life are the simplest. This goes for my two most requested recipes. Both have few ingredients and are simple to make. The first is an artichoke dip that I had about 25 years ago and recreated later and have been making ever since. And the second is this toffee.

We discovered this simple toffee recipe when I was a child, in a crudely bound Methodist women's cookbook. I make it every year. I don't have an actual recipe, but I will try to explain how to do it.

1 stick butter (accept no imitations)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans (about)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (about)

Coarsely chop or break up pecans to cover the bottom of a 9x9 inch pan.

In a medium sauce pan, heat butter and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat. This is a moderate boil; let the mixture foam and rise up in the pan. Stir frequently rubbing the bottom of the pan so the sugar will not scorch. Boil/simmer for 7 minutes. You want it to turn a little darker, but not burn.

Turn out sugar mixture onto the pecans in the baking pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips over and cover with a cutting board or cookie sheet with a kitchen towel in it for insulation. Check after 5 or so minutes to see if the chips look wet, then spread around with knife or spatula.

Let cool and set. When the chocolate is hard, break into pieces.

Make 2 batches. Eat some. Make another batch. Pass out to friends and enjoy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Still thinking too

So, here's the deal. I kept meaning to write about something else. I intended to write about the vegan cauliflower-pear-turmeric soup I drastically adapted the other day, the sudden frigid weather and its effect on our garden, or thoughts about art matters. I meant to move on. But in a way, following the obituary I posted last time with any of these other mundane things seemed so superficial that I felt ...paralyzed by it.

Yesterday, on a cold grey day with a little sleet and slush and a warning not to travel if you didn't have to, we drove to Grand Prairie to attend the "Celebration Service" for Nicholas, a bright, vibrant 14 year old whose life ended so unexpectedly. The place was packed. Absolutely filled with people of all ages, but most notably with so many kids, adolescents at that funny in-between age, looking like kids and looking like young men and young women. So young, and they don't realize how young, how new and unformed.

It was a wonderful, and completely non-conventional, service. We were impressed by how nicely the service respected the differing beliefs of all the family and people involved; it was very well done. We all were moved, and moved to tears and to laughter, by the comments and the pictures and short videos appearing on the two screens.

There was no doubt that this boy was loved.

We heard stories and memories of this delightful child from family, teachers and from his young friends and class and teammates. The service really focused on the life of Nicholas Scroggs. However, one of the most moving things in the service was when the man who struck the boy on the highway came up to speak at the request of the family. I so applaud and am in such awe of the spirit and ...I don't know...acceptance and generosity of the Scroggs family in being able to accept this person (who is hurting and questioning too) and wanting him to speak at the service for their child. Really, this absolutely blows me away. What he read at the service were thoughts and questions from a post on his blog.

This afternoon, I picked up my youngest child, 11, at school after choir practice. I was looking at her as we were planning what needed to get done this evening, and opening the Christmas cards from friends and family that I had saved for her to help open. And I was thinking of what Pastor Bart said yesterday and in his blog, about seeing Nick running across the highway, glorious, perfect, an athlete, in those last seconds.

I hope the extended family and loving friends can find comfort in how truly extraordinary their child was and was seen and appreciated by everyone around him, by how many came out that cold day to honor and remember him. And by the thoughts and tributes and memories of all the people who stepped up that icy day to pay tribute to Nicholas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nicholas Alexander Scroggs (age 14), in memoriam

A child of friends of ours, Nicholas Scroggs, died on Thursday in a totally senseless accident.

A sweet, polite, smart, sensitive kid.

Celebration Services for Nicholas Alexander Scroggs (age 14) of Grand
Prairie, TX, will be 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at the Ruthe
Jackson Center in Grand Prairie. Nicholas died December 11, 2008 in
Grand Prairie. He was born to Robert and Barbara Dent Scroggs August
18, 1994 in Denton and was attending Grand Prairie High School. Nick
was taking a full slate of Gifted & Talented classes at Grand Prairie
High School where he was also a member of the swim team and a friend
to everyone. He had a passion for reading, drawing, and playing all
types of musical instruments, especially the drums. He was always
gung- ho about trying new experiences and his smile and energy were
contagious to everyone. Left behind to cherish his memory are parents
Robert Scroggs and his wife Katherine of Grand Prairie, Barbara
Brumbaugh and her husband Don of NRH, brother Houston Chapman, sister
Madalyn Brumbaugh, grandparents Jack and Charlotte Scroggs of Denton
and Charles and Lee Dent of Poncha Springs, CO, great grandmothers
Genevieve Scroggs of Denton and Ethel Dill of Fort Collins, CO, and
many aunts, uncles, and cousins who also loved him dearly. Memorial
contributions are suggested to the Nicholas Scroggs Memorial Fund.

Please warn your children of the danger of highways, and remember this bereaved family in your thoughts and your hearts.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New Abstract Painting: Which Way Is Up?

Have you ever looked at an abstract piece of art and not been sure which side was supposed to be the top?

I painted this painting that I finished today with a definite opinion about what the top was, but when I looked at it finished, I thought, Hmmm, that could work another way.

I thought this way looked ok too. And then...

I asked my oldest son which side he thought was the top, and he turned it around this last way. When my 11 year old daughter came home from school, I asked her, and she said that it definitely was supposed to go the way I had painted it in the first place.

What do you think??

By the way, we discovered that a painting by Matisse was hung upside down in the Museum of Modern art in New York, for 47 days...or about 116,000 views. !

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Trip to Iowa Part 2: Snow and Kansas City Ethiopian

Rn or I had never been north before in the fall or winter. When you are bound to a school schedule, almost all your traveling takes place in the summer months. We were hoping for SNOW, a nice snowy, picturesque Iowa Thanksgiving, over the river and through the woods in the sleigh to grandma's house. Well, it was cold (we bought gloves and thermals in preparation for the trip) but sunny, very sunny, the whole time, until the morning we left.

An hour or two down the road we started getting drizzly rain, then suddenly we said, Hey, is that slushy frozen stuff in those little raindrops on the windshield. Just as we crossed into Missouri, it turned into full fledged snow with the flakes getting bigger and fluffier as we continued (strangely enough) south. Not long after crossing into Missouri, we had to pull off the highway and stop to see how the snow was falling. (Okay, I know a lot of people are thinking, Yeah, we had to put up with snow on Thanksgiving week, big deal, but we live in Texas, so snow always seems a little miraculous.)

So then, of course, we had to get out and run around in it, on this barren side street in northern Missouri.

And then it was necessary that a snowball fight ensue:

By the time we got to Kansas City, it was just a cold drizzle, and we had put off stopping for lunch to go to the Blue Nile for Ethiopian food. It was R's first experience with having big, flat bread as a plate and eating with no utensils. She enjoyed the injera and a few of the milder offerings, like the lentils and carrots with turmeric, on the double order of this vegetarian plate we had, with a sampling of all of these things:

1. Gomen - $8.95
Fresh collard greens cooked and seasoned with onion, ginger, and garlic.

2. Misir Watt - $8.95
A stew made from organic red lentils cooked with sautéed onion and berbere, then flavored with ginger, garlic, and cardamom.

3. Atiklett - $8.95
Cabbage mixed with chunks of potatoes and carrot cooked with yellow onion and flavored with ginger, garlic, and trmeric.

4. Yekik Watt - $7.95
Seasoned yellow split peas slowly cooked with ginger, turmeric and garlic.

5. Fosolia - $8.95
Fresh green beans and carrots cooked with onions, fresh garlic, turmeric and ginger.

6. Mushroom Shiro - $8.95
Roasted and powdered chickpeas and sliced mushroom simmered in spiced red sauce.

7. Dinich Watt - $7.95
Chunks of potatoes cooked with garlic seasoned in tomato and berbere sauce.

8. Shimbera Assa - $10.95
Baked and sliced ground, garbanzo bean dough, simmered in a medium spiced stew with onions, berbere, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and a touch of mustard and nutmeg..

9. Veggie Combination - $12.95
A platter featuring items #1 through #8.

It was all quite yummy, but what I think she enjoyed most was the attention and instruction from the super friendly young waitress who explained to her all about the traditional Ethiopian table and eating styles in the family and the Ethiopian alphabet. This young woman was absolutely adorable, as I whispered to Edward, and then when we went up to pay, and R was busily creating a personal note writing code for her, she whispered to us about R, She is adorable. So cute. It was a great eating experience.

About my garden in December: When we got back I really needed to water, but the plants looked pretty good. On Dec 2, I harvested a number of tomatoes and a beautiful orange pepper.

Mid-morning today it was a very temperate 65, but a little after noon it became very windy and grey and winter was blowing in. Now, a couple of hours after we left Edward's parents' they got the same winter storm that we ran into on the drive back and got 4-6 inches of that snow R and I had been hoping for. This evening in Texas, rain and sleet or snow and sleet are in the forecast. It won't stick, but it would be nice to see it fall. We've just got to get out and pick or cover all the little delicate things growing in our garden.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thanksgiving in Iowa: Part 1: Clinton, Thai, Veggie Dinner and RiversideTrek

It has been a while since my last post, because the Monday before Thanksgiving we loaded up the car and made the drive from warm, sunny Texas to Iowa. The long way. Through Little Rock, Arkansas (a five hour drive in itself) where we stopped for a quick view of the Clinton Library. Though we only had an hour before the museum closed, it was quite fascinating, entertaining and well worth the trip. And the building itself is very striking, with the second floor stretching out toward the river, invoking the phrase, "Building a bridge to the 21st century."

R and I
in front of the Wm. J. Clinton Presidential Library
photo by Edward McGuire

Several hours later we stopped in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a college town, for some of the best Thai food I have ever put in my mouth, amazing, in the old downtown area. I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant, but go there! Really. The town isn't that big; you'll find it. Rowan even devoured hers, ordered mild, one star out of five. My green coconut curry with lots of veggies and tofu, ordered at 3 star heat, was perfect.

After dinner we were lured by hints of shining light to stroll down the street to the town square, which was an amazing Christmas wonderland of lights, festooning every tree, arbor, bench...just everywhere...with carols playing and families and couples walking around in the late night cold, looking up and being as amazed as we were.

As a woman who had never made a complete Thanksgiving dinner in my life, this year I was a little anxious about making two, for other people who are not vegetarians. On Sunday my grown children gathered at my house before our trip and had dinner, with a vegan roast of tofu, wheat gluten and other "weird" veggie stuff, plus traditional seasonal sides. But I knew these guys were going to go to my mom's on Thursday for the full traditional turkey and dressing meal.

My in-laws, however, hadn't really been exposed to vegetarian cooking AND this trip was the first time I'd be cooking for them. In addition to veggie "meat" I made a lot of very traditional things like mashed potatoes, gravy (no giblets), dressing (no giblets), green bean casserole and the fresh cranberry relish that I take to my mom's every year. Edward and R made pumpkin pies (I made the crust but made Edward roll it out. He claimed I was welshing on the deal, but I was feeling a little overwhelmed at that point.) Everything was very well received
and complimented, and they were happy to eat leftovers the next evening before heading to Des Moines for the ballet.

Edward's mom and dad/step-father live outside an Iowa town on a Christmas tree farm. The busy season started up on Friday, and R lent Grandpa Fred a hand and learned how to make wreaths from fresh tree boughs they gathered.

R and Fred intent on their work

Friday Edward, R and I went on a little road trip to the small town of Riverside, Iowa.

Yes, really.

Across from the town park, the Starship Enterprise was parked alongside an equal sized shuttle craft.
Edward did a great job when I looked down the block and yelled, "Quick, you've got to get a picture of this!"

Modes of transportation?
The past and the future meet in the present in Riverside

After picking up our tickets for the ballet in the Civic Center lobby, we were startled by loud cracking sounds and hurried see a spectacular fireworks display just a few blocks away at the tree lighting. Our spot on the chilly sidewalk was a perfect viewing place. That has to be one of the most delightful joys in life, coming upon unexpected fireworks. Our busy Friday ended with an enchanting performance of The Nutcracker. I love that magical moment when it begins to snow.

And here is our own little worn out princess, dreaming her Christmas dreams.

All photos, except the sleeping beauty, by Edward McGuire.