Climb Down the Castle

As soon as I saw that this week’s Daily Post photo challenge was “descent” I knew exactly which picture to use.  Here’s the view from the walkway about half way up to the top of Bishop’s Castle in Colorado.  It’s not a good spot for anyone with a fear of heights, to be sure.  Fun for depth of field experimentation, though.

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October Art Bead Scene Challenge

This month’s Art Bead Scene Challenge is full of colors I love – the reds and browns – as well as colors I’d never imagine putting with them – the blue and magenta.  The palette was totally outside of my comfort zone, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

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As much as I thought this would be a great opportunity for mokume gane, I also know that I’d happily do mokume gane for pretty much every challenge ever, (boy, do I love that technique).  Instead, I decided to go with a technique I rarely use – stripes.

Of course, I didn’t want to do just simple stripes, so I jazzed things up a bit by dragging a tool through the layers to create a chevron effect.  The pendant on the left was the first one I made with this batch of clay.  Then, I compressed my block of layered clay to create smaller layers.  Compressing the layers made some of the colors blend together a bit, but like the result better.

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Even though this palette is outside of my comfort zone, I have to say it’s growing on me.

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Striped Halloween Shortbread Cookies

In honor of Halloween, I decided to do some holiday baking this weekend.  Multi-colored shortbread cookies really lend themselves to holiday baking because they pack a visual punch, are easier to make than they look, and are a flexible base for lots of different flavors.

I started with this recipe from Food Network.  For the chocolate dough, I made it just as it is in the recipe, but I added food coloring to the vanilla dough.  Additionally, I wanted to make things a little more interesting than just chocolate & vanilla, so (after pondering a couple of different flavor options, including cinnamon & fall spices), I added the zest of one giant navel orange.

Here are the doughs after chilling in the fridge.  I was careful to add my food coloring little by little & with more yellow than red, and it paid off with a very nice orange hue.

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The next step is the most complicated, and it requires rolling out each dough, then stacking and trimming.  Here’s where my love of polymer paid off, because this is basically the same thing as making a striped polymer clay cane.

The dough/cane went back into the fridge to really firm up so it was easier to slice (another part that’s just like polymer!).  The bits of orange peel caused a few drag marks, but they were just a minor imperfection.

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They baked beautifully and I got a few dozen lovely striped cookies.

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With some of the odds & ends, I made spirals.  Here are the presentable ones (the un-presentable ones still tasted fine, though, I promise).

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While the orange flavor worked alright, I’m not totally in love with it.  Next time, I’ll go for something else.  I think some cinnamon & other spices would do nicely, or mint, or espresso powder.

My favorite thing with this kind of recipe is that it really lends itself to variation.  With a little bit of variation in the flavors/food coloring, you can make these cookies to suit whatever you like.  I made a similar recipe last year, and it also turned out well, so if you prefer mint over chocolate, I recommend you click over to that one.

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A Plethora of Pearls

Recently, I had a craving to create a super long necklace.  These are nice because they are simple, but take a long time and are a perfect companion to a TV/movie marathon.  This weekend, I watched back-to-back episodes of The Knick and Peaky Blinders on Netflix while working on an epic pearl necklace.

I started with a batch of green/gold freshwater pearls, then I dug through my stash to find some complimentary colors.  A project like this is a great way to use odds & ends beads – you know, those little collections left over from other projects where you don’t have enough to make a full piece from all on their own.  Also, there’s just something I live about a whole heap of pearls around my neck.  It feels very luxurious.

I’ve made a few long pearl necklaces before, like the one I wore for my wedding, or the peach one I have listed on Etsy right now.  Neither is quite so long as the latest, but the earlier necklaces are all long enough to loop a couple of times.

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Once I had my colors picked out, I started looping.  On each eye pin, I put a silver-plated bead, a pearl, then another silver-plated bead and then I looped the straight end of the pin to secure the beads and create one link.  I like sandwiching pearls between metal beads to protect the pearls from rubbing against the eyepins and getting worn.  I spent a handful of hours watching episodes and repeating this step.  Finally, I had a nice pile of pearl links.

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Okay, step one was complete.  The next step was to join all of these links.  I had them all in a pile and didn’t look when I grabbed the next one so I could join them in a random pattern.  Eventually, I had a strand that was longer than I was tall.  I had created my most epic necklace ever.  The great length of the necklace means I can wear it every which way.  My favorite is to loop it four times to create a short layered necklace.

I’m really enjoying the color palette.  It’s got both warm and cool tones and it feels like a perfect complement to the weather around here lately.  The trees are turning shades of gold and red while the sky is gray and rainy.

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The Dreamy Pier on Isla Mujeres

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I took this dreamy shot at the edge of the ocean during a trip to Isla Mujeres, Mexico a number of years ago.  The pier was right outside the hotel room and one of my favorite photo subjects during the trip.

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Head on over to this week’s Daily Post photo challenge to check out other “dreamy” shots!

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Book Snobbish, Tension Edition

My husband teases me about books.  The other day, after I read Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, he said, “I think that’s the first book I’ve ever seen you read to the end.”  While it was an exaggeration, there’s a kernel of truth there.  I am quick to abandon books.  If I can put a book down and be totally okay with never finding out how it ends, then I do exactly that.  Life is too short to force myself to read all the way through a book that’s boring.  My husband, on the other hand, does it all the time.  He’ll complaint to me around chapter 4, but power through the whole dang thing.  I’ll ask him if it ever got better and he’ll admit that no, it did not.  Once a book goes downhill, it is astonishingly rare for it to rebound, so I feel good about my book abandonment.

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Today’s Daily Post writing prompt, “What are you snobbish about?” felt timely as I currently have a big stack of library books at home and I’ve worked my way almost all the way through the pile.  Recently, I’ve abandoned four books in quick succession.  All four have gotten great reviews on Good Reads, and two are considered comedic classics.  But, all four were just too easy to put down.  Mainly, because of a lack of tension.

So, here’s the snobbery-ish part.  I need books that have tension, conflict, plot, or someone who wants something and has to overcome obstacles to get it.  For many agents/editors, they need a “hook” early on.  Some only read the first two pages of a manuscript before deciding whether or not to chuck it in the trash.  Two pages to hook someone doesn’t sound like much, but sometimes that’s all you need to decide to take a pass.  Now, I usually give a book more leeway than that, but once I hit the point of “nope” I’m out.

Here are some books I’ve put down lately.  Before you read the list, remember that this is just my taste.  Feel free to disagree with my appraisal of any of the following.

  1. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth.  A few chapters in, and I was wondering what the point was.  The narrator is sharing random recollections and when I hit the first raunchy bit I wondered if maybe things were about to get interesting, but then the next chapter was right back in to the land of the mundane and boring.  Some people adore this book.  Me?  Pass.
  2. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.  Some people find this book hilarious.  By the time I was a couple chapters in, it was making me yawn.  Reading the book made me feel like I was cornered by that socially inept guy you sometimes find at get togethers.  You know, the one who corners you and rambles on with complete self-absorption until you can find a way to make your escape and hide for the remainder of the evening.  There was no real tension or conflict that would make me want to read on to see how it resolves.  I know the conflict picks up eventually, but by the time I got to the beginning of the main conflict, I was too irritated by the main character to continue.
  3. The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faverón Patriau.  Lovely writing, and I was initially encouraged as the book starts off with the narrator talking about how his good friend Daniel killed his fiance.  Seemed juicy.  Then, the book immediately gets… intellectual and navel-gazey.  A promising opener quickly followed by a rapid slow down stuffed with back flashes and artistic musings.
  4. An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine.  This one was, by far, the most disappointing because I love Alameddine’s other work so much.  The Hakawati, for instance, is a book I consider a real work of art.  I had high hopes for this one, and while the writing is absolutely lovely, I got half way through and couldn’t answer the question, “What’s the plot?”  The main character makes constant book allusions while reflecting on her life and that’s pretty much it.  The writing is lovely, but it left me feeling like it had no direction.  Half way through, my main question was “what’s the purpose of this story?” which is entirely the wrong kind of question.

The bottom line is that I need a reason to keep turning pages.  I’m not asking for much, honestly, just a plot with tension and characters that are at least half way compelling. On the bright side, relying on my library rather than buying books makes it easy to take a chance on a book.  When I pick up a big batch, any book I don’t get pulled into is one I can just put to the side and then I pick up the next in the stack.  Any “dud” has only cost me the time it takes to hit the “nope” point.  So, I can live dangerously and take home books I’m skeptical about.

Pillars of the Earth is one example.  That sucker is big (almost 1,000 pages) and I was dubious about having the energy/time to tackle something so long.  But, I read the first few pages, then the next few, and I rolled right on through it.  While the book has its flaws, it certainly did have tension, characters to root for, and characters to hate.  I don’t think it’s too much to ask, and yet I’ve had a hard time finding those things lately.

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All the Important Information: Colorado Renaissance Festival

This week’s photo challenge is about signs, so I wanted to share my favorite.  This sign was at the Colorado Renaissance Festival and it proved very helpful.  Knowing where to get the steak on a stake is a vital part of the visit!

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Ivory Leaf Earrings for September Art Bead Scene Challenge

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For my Art Bead Scene entry this month, I used the leaf shaped crackle beads from my faux ivory experiments.  I’m having fun with this shape and I really like how well it works for earrings.

The inspiration artwork is dominantly a creamy tan color, with little pops of purple and blue.  I initially wanted to use purple freshwater pearls, but I didn’t have quite the right shade.  Instead, I went with some navy blue.

I added a purple backdrop as a nod to the color scheme.  This month’s inspiration was a fun challenge, as usual.  It’s nice to stretch beyond what’s familiar and the ABS challenges are always an excellent way to do that.

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Experimenting with Faux Ivory in Polymer Clay

This month’s Art Bead Scene challenge was a perfect opportunity to finally try to create some faux ivory.  The principle is simple, thin alternating layers of light clay and translucent.  The execution, however, takes a bit of practice.

For my first attempt, I wanted to err on the side of being too light, and err I did.  The layers were also too thick.  While the end result was nice, it’s certainly nothing like ivory.

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My next attempt was much more satisfying, both in terms of color and the thinness of the layers.  I also added some embossing powder to my clays, because I’m a sucker for inclusions lately.  I wouldn’t say I nailed it, but I was much more pleased with this batch.

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For my last batch, I had run out of my nice malleable Fimo and the only translucent I had on hand was crumbly, brittle brick of Premo.  I figured since all I was doing was pretty simple layering, it should be fine.  And, it was, at first.  I got the translucent rolled out in my pasta machine, and the rest of my beige rolled out, too.

The problem hit when I combined the two and rolled them through the pasta machine together.  The translucent layer fell to bits and the softer beige pushed right through the cracks.  As far as faux ivory goes, it was a complete failure.  However, as I looked at the resulting sheet of clay, I wasn’t all that disappointed.  It looks nothing like ivory, but the effect was quite nice on its own merits.  I decided to call it a happy accident and I took advantage of it.

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I still have some further experimentation to do before I get a faux ivory I’m satisfied with, but it’s been a happy journey so far.  Sometimes, it’s lovely to try a new technique and master it right away.  Sometimes, it’s nicer to have some hiccups along the way :)

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Enduring Love, Graffiti Edition

In Pueblo, Colorado there are levees which hold back the Arkansas river.  There was a huge flood in 1921, so the levees serve an important purpose.  However, there’s also an artistic side to the levees with the mural project, which has been around for decades.

When I saw that this week’s photo prompt is about endurance, I knew what photo I wanted to use.  The art on the Pueblo levees has been an enduring art project and I grew up with some of the lovely murals.  Of course, not all of the artwork along the river is officially sanctioned, as you can see.

I took this photo during a walk in the downtown area.  If you’re in the mood for a bit of a walk, this bridge leads you from the bars, restaurants, and shops of downtown to the library.  It was an area I walked often, and seeing LOVE written in giant letters under the bridge always made me smile.  So far, as the years steadily pass, LOVE has continued to endure.

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