Archive for August, 2008

Different Approaches

August 29, 2008

Today, Tracey over at Nine Acres: 20 Miles North of Nowhere is using one of my photos to illustrate this week’s Friday photo lesson. It’s all about layers. I’ve been struggling with layers for years…decades, reallly. I had asked her a question about them, and she invited me to submit a couple of photos to use to illustrate some points. I love what she’s done with the sample she chose to use today.

Let’s see what one of the others looks like. Here’s another original I sent her:

This was taken on the Loop 12 Bypass in the Texas Hill Country one fine April afternoon. I was a bit disappointed in the photo because the colors on the countryside were so intense that day, and none of the photos I took accurately reflected that. Plus, my little point and shoot digital just couldn’t cope with the strong contrast between the light-dappled leaf cluster and the bright flower heads. I fiddled with it and fiddled with it, and just couldn’t get it right.

So, eventually, I gave up and used my favorite picture-saving software – Virtual Painter. I love Virtual Painter. It’s what I used on the Jeff Tweedy and Lancaster Musicians photos I featured here earlier. I have several “paintings” framed and hung in my home now. I often print them on ink-jet canvas, and they really look great. So, anyway…here’s what I ended up with, using Virtual Painter:

I like it. But, I’ve always wished I could adjust it so that I could enjoy it as a photograph, too. Tracey did a very nice job of manipulating it. Here’s her version

Nice, huh?

I don’t know about you, but I’m severely layer-challenged. I’m looking forward to becoming enlightened. I’m about to get on over to Tracey’s place and see if I can learn a thing or two.

Thanks Tracey!

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“New” Digs!

August 27, 2008

I think, had there been an actual contest, I may have won the ribbon for Ugliest Office Ever. Y’see, my predecessor had some sort of attack one weekend and painted the whole thing an incredibly ugly faux finished yellow and green mess. Words just don’t describe its loveliness.

Why, oh why, would anybody DO that? Plus, she was sloppy. She got it all over the window frame and the little metal grid thingies that hold the ceiling tiles in place.

And, of course, there has been no money for redecorating.

So, while I was gone on vacation recently, one of my staffers, Patti, took pity on me and took matters into her own hands. She shares this ugly space one day a week, and she had just HAD it!

In case you didn’t get the full impact of the uglies, here is another shot of the “before.”

And here’s Miss Patti, just workin’ away. I love that girl!

She even corrected the messes where Predecessor had slopped the green/yellow goo! When I came back from vacation, this is what greeted me:

A breath of fresh air!

Patti also reupholstered the side chair next to my desk. AND…she found a stash of posters from previous acts we’ve presented, and had three of them professionally framed to bring a touch of class to my wall. They were delivered yesterday. Doesn’t it look 100% better?

We got shot down on the new blinds, but I’ll take what I can get. I gave her a nice piece of my jewelry in appreciation, but really…there’s no way I can thank her enough. I’m so lucky to work with such great people, don’t you think?

I dunno….

August 24, 2008

This afternoon I made a trek back over to the middle school to survey a crop of what I had decided were wild grapes.

I’m not so sure.

They LOOK like grapes in the photo, don’t they? But…they’re only 1/4 inch in diameter. Not what I remember from the wild grapes of my childhood. The leaves look like grape leaves. And they’ve got grapey-looking tendrils all over the place. (I did a much better job of photographing the leaves and tendrils in my Urban Foraging post.)

I even tasted one! I didn’t swallow. Just tasted and got rid of it. It was really sour. Not especially “grapey.” But not vile, either.

Since they didn’t get very big, making anything out of them would be a challenge. But, unless anyone can tell me for sure that these are grapes – and not hemlock or something similar – I’m not going to risk it.

Speaking of mystery berries. Growing nearby are bazillions of these little babies. TONS of ’em. I sure wish I knew if THEY are edible, because there’s enough for jam for half the county, if so.

Anybody know what these guys are? Tammy? You out there? You’re from around these parts? How about it?

Pardon Our Dust

August 21, 2008

This is Dick. He works for me. He’s watering the begonias in front of our building.

Some genius planted them there with no thought as to how they might get watered. If Mother Nature doesn’t take care of it, well…the poor things are out of luck. So, every few days, one of us rolls out our wheelchair, holding two trashcans full of water, and provides some relief for the poor things.

Let’s step back a bit. I think our entrance is pleasant, in spite of the watering crisis the flowers endure now and then. See those nice little oaks (at least I think they’re oaks) on either side of the entrance?

They’re doomed.

And some of us are quite unhappy about that.

The story is that “they” have decided we need a new sign on the front of our entrance. Fine. Perhaps we do. But “they” also decided that (a) the trees are in the way and will impair the installation of said new sign and (b) the trees are overgrown (???) and block the view of the sign.

Hmmmmm….overgrown? I thought oaks got waaaay bigger than that.

Plus, if you want to talk about blocking the sign, let’s take a gander at the front of the building as it is seen from the street.

That’s our building, peeking out from behind that apple tree, crape myrtles and pines.

But…the oaks have to go. And that makes me very, very sad.

So, day before yesterday, a truck and trailer pulled up. Four people piled out and started whacking on our ceiling with sledge hammers. My desk is just on the other side of that wall..about six inches from the “action.” It was so exciting. Notice the pink arrow? It points to our creative use of music stands as impromptu sign-holders. We were advising people to use the next set of doors just north of the construction. Of course, people just lifted the caution tape and crawled under, picking their way through the rubble and swinging sledgehammers. Have you noticed how dumb a lot of people are?

In no time at all, the stucco was flying all over everywhere.

This pink arrow points to Alvin’s burrow. I was seriously worried about Alvin. The noise alone should have scared him out of his furry little hide. The construction debris even got down his burrow entrance.

The workmen cleaned up pretty well, and even pulled the chunk out of the hole. I’m sure they had no idea they were threatening our office pet, but I’m also sure they wouldn’t have cared, had they known. But, all is well….Alvin made an appearance late this afternoon. I was so relieved to see him!

The rubble got even deeper than this. I just got embarrassed to take more pictures of these guys, who couldn’t begin to understand me, had I tried to tell them this was for my blog. I wonder what they thought I was doing.

By the time they were done, nothing was left but a bit of framework, with lights hanging by their wires. Now we wait for the next step, which will most likely start with men wielding chainsaws.

I…am…so…upset!

Bainbridge Petunia

August 21, 2008

I’m having a hard time getting myself back together now that vacation is over and work is the order of the day. Suddenly, there just aren’t enough hours. So, today’s post will be another of those manipulated photo discussions.

It started with a pleasant photo I took of a double petunia on Bainbridge Island a couple of summers ago. I really had a good time that afternoon and wanted a reminder to hang on the wall. But, the photo straight out of the camera seemed somewhat ordinary, as flower shots go. Here’s the original.

First, I applied the Orton Effect to get a “glow.” If you are not familiar with this process, simply Google Orton Effect, and you’ll get a number of tutorial sites that give step-by-step instructions. It uses pretty basic steps and can be done with a number of graphics applications.

Then, I applied a frame, using instructions found on Nightshadow FX. Those instructions refer to Paint Shop Pro, but I suspect the same filters are available in Photoshop and many other similar applications. Again…it’s pretty basic stuff.

And, the final result is:

Looking back on it, I now think the original wasn’t all that lacking….but I do like the framed version. I’m thinking that I may do it again, using just the frame…no Orton Effect. I’ve used this process for an ocean photo that was very boring, and it really made it snap. Give it a try. It’s fun to do!

My Baby

August 19, 2008

So, it’s a slow news day. Actually, it’s not. After being away from work for 10 days, you can imagine now UN-slow it was! Plus, something really blog-worthy cranked up in the late afternoon, and I left the photos at work, so I can’t really get into that right now.

So, I’m going to drag out my baby pictures. My “baby” does a bit of modeling and acting, and she needed to expand her portfolio a little. She recently moved into a new apartment, and before the boxes and junk arrived, she and her favorite photographer took advantage of the setting. They took hundreds of shots, and it’s taking a long time to slog through them all, but of the ones that have been “released” so far, this is my favorite.

I never get used to how beautiful she is.

And even though this one hides her pretty face, I like it a lot. Maybe because it shows the saucy side of her, which she doesn’t unleash all that often.

Ok…so I’m done being a mom.

Oh, really?

Do you EVER get done being a mom? I….don’t….think…so.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation – Part 3

August 14, 2008

When I moved to Memphis, my main focus was finding a job (which took FOREVER) and getting settled in my new house. I didn’t do any of the touristy stuff. I’m trying to make up for some of that. So, yesterday DD and I toured the National Ornamental Metal Museum. The museum is tucked away in a very old part of town on the banks of the Mississippi River.

The main building houses lots of small items, including an extensive collection of enameled pieces, jewelry and small sculptures. Throughout the house and grounds are examples of grillwork and fences. Here’s DD trying to get some money out of this turn-of-the-century teller’s cage. Those little spikes are SHARP!

Here’s one of the more interesting bits of fencing. Can you imagine an entire fence made of this design? It must have been quite the talk of the town when it was installed!

There is also a display of creative barbeque grills on the grounds. They were made of ammunition boxes, car doors, all sorts of tanks and tubes. But, this one was my favorite. It’s not only a grill, it’s the entire picnic. I give you the Stretch Jalopy Grill.

Whimsy and general weirdness greets you at every turn. For instance, have you ever seen a rubber chicken….made of metal?

In the “weirdness” area, I was oddly fascinated by this menacing fountain. I can’t explain why.

There is a blacksmith shop, but he wasn’t actively engaged in smithing at the moment, so we took no pictures. We did enjoy looking at the amazing array of tools and equipment he had, though. I figured a blacksmith would use a furnace and an anvil and that would be about it. Not so. There were all sorts of huge mashers, pressers, rollers, benders and assorted smashing thingies.

After we cruised through the exceptionally good gift shop, DD took a break to research what interesting attraction we might explore next…while this owl read over her shoulder.

We didn’t make a decision, but this is Elvis Week here in Memphis. (Those who are less reverent refer to it as “Dead Week.”) I thought about going out to Graceland to take photos of all the Elvis folk wandering around. But, I decided I didn’t care to fork over the somewhat pricey entry fee just to gawk. So, I assigned DD and her photographer friend to take pix tomorrow when they work the event. Maybe I’ll have something to show you. We’ll have to wait and see.

How I Spent my Summer Vacation – Part 2

August 12, 2008

You know what they say about a picture being worth a thousand words, and all that. Well, here’s the picture:




If DD reads this, I’m going to get yelled at, but here goes with “the story.”

I spent the previous night in Henderson, Kentucky. I had chosen that out-of-the-way destination based on multiple recommendations on Roadfood about this little restaurant that serves the best fried chicken in the country. Maybe the world. I was warned that it was hard to find. And it was dark by the time I checked into my hotel. But, undaunted, I took off with a street map in hand, looking for chicken. I’m still looking. SIGH…. I had noted another semi-famous chicken place in my wanderings through this little town, so when I finally gave up on Bon Ton Mini Mart…I headed to my second choice. I had wasted so much time that the sidewalks had rolled up, and it was closed! Bummer! By then, I was really hungry, and when I passed a service station/convenience store advertising chicken in a big way…I wheeled in. It was OK. Not memorable. But OK.

Little did I know that I had set the tone for this trip. I was destined to wander. A lot. In the dark. With little gas.

So, the next morning, I bopped on up to Columbus, IN, which was the closest hotel room to Bloomington I could find. It was something like 60 miles away, I think. But, no worries. I have old friends in Columbus and Indianapolis, and they met me for lunch. We had pork tenderloin sandwiches at the Columbus Bar, another Roadfood recommendation. They were stupendous! The company was great. I’ve known one of these guys about 30 years or so. The other I’ve known a long time, too. Lots of memories and catching up later, I headed on over to Bloomington.

I took about a bazillion photos of the DCI finals. I don’t know yet if there will be any that are artistic enough to interest non-fans, so there are no examples of the evening’s festivities here just yet. But, the real story begins AFTER the competition. Things wound down about midnight, and I headed out of the parking lot, figuring I’d be snug in my bed in Columbus around 1:00 a.m. HAH!

Like a sheep, I followed four or five cars through a “Y” in the road. I should have blazed my own trail. I knew I wanted Highway 46. I found myself on Highway 446 instead. I figured this was just a loop which would hook back up with 46 on the outskirts of town. It was a loop alright! I refer you to the map above. By the time I realized I was NOT going to be back on 46 any time soon, I had invested way too much time and gas in this venture to turn around. Did I mention that I had less than a quarter of a tank when I left Bloomington? That’s plenty in my little Honda Civic…assuming I had followed my intended route. Meandering throughout Southern Indiana….a quarter of a tank ain’t so much gas. In the middle of the night.

I was worried. Seriously worried.

My sense of direction told me I was way south and west of where I wanted to be, so when I ran into a road heading east (perhaps toward the interstate where I would find GAS), I took it. Miles and miles of nothing. I mean NOTHING. Then I spied a road heading north. Surely that would get me back to 46. Surely. The nothingness became oppressive. I didn’t know at the time that I was driving through a national forest. No people. No gas. No signs. No nothing. Nothing but darkness. And a little fog. And curves. See those little dots on on Route 135? You think those mean “scenic route” don’t you? Well, what they really represent are 20 MPH multiple curves – with steep little hills built into them. I just KNEW I was going to wrap my little Honda around one of those humongous trees and die on a lonely road in the middle of the night in a forest in Indiana. I kept thinking how ticked off DD was going to be with me.

Eventually, I began to recognize names of towns – Gnaw Bone for one. Doncha love that? I sure did at that moment, I can guarantee you! At that point, the little red warning light had not yet come on, even though the gas gauge was sitting on E. I knew I had about 17 miles to go when the light came on…and I knew Gnaw Bone was about 15-20 miles from my hotel. If I could make it to Gnaw Bone without the light coming on…I’d probably sleep safe that night (instead of in my car on the side of the road…which was looking like my reality). On I pressed. I nearly cried when I saw the “Junction 46” sign just west of Gnaw Bone. Safe! And almost “home.” Waaaaay past my bedtime. I’ve never been so glad to see a Holiday Inn sign in my life!

I ended up wandering and watching the gas gauge again before the trip was over. But, that’s a story for another day. Right now, I’m trying to decide exactly how I’m going to spend the rest of my vacation. I really don’t quite know what to do with all this free time!

I’ll think of something. 🙂

How I Spent My Summer Vacation – Part I

August 7, 2008

My vacation officially started about five hours ago. But, it will REALLY begin tomorrow when I head to Bloomington, IN to attend the finals of Drum Corps International.

I’ve always been about music education. And I love, love. love marching band. DCI carries marching to new heights. Their website says something about how DCI is the Major League of marching music. That’s putting it mildly for those of us who follow the sport…and it IS a sport, even though so much of it is art, too.

There’s something about hearing snares and tenors warming up in the parking lot. And smelling the diesel from the tour buses. Not to mention the pageantry…and the energy of thousands of high school and college-age kids, all psyched to give the performance of their lives in front of adoring crowds of fans. For them, this is the culmination of a summer of hard work on the road. They have toured the country, competing night after night, fine-tuning their show for this weekend’s showdown. This is the big-time in marching. This is what it all comes down to for these kids.

It’s been years since I’ve been to a finals, and I’m so happy this one is within reasonable driving distance. On the way, I’m stopping for lunch with old friends. I’m also in search of what Roadfood says is the best fried chicken in the country, somewhere in Kentucky, far away from the Interstate.

I’ll blog about my adventures and misadventures when I return – maybe Sunday. Monday for sure.

I…CAN’T..WAIT!

The Secret Life of a Piano

August 6, 2008

I’m learning so much in this new life of mine. Y’see…I was never in showbiz before. I didn’t know diddly when I came to my present position (box office manager for a performing arts venue). I’ve always appreciated the arts, but that’s a long way from where I am now. Being a clarinet player, I sure never knew much about pianos. Until lately.

So, this is the story of the Big Black Piano, formerly of New York, now of Tennessee.



We didn’t have a piano. What!? A big-time performing arts center without a piano? Why the heck NOT? you might ask.

Dollars. It’s all about money.

Pianos are expensive. I mean realllly expensive. The good ones, that is. And, when you’ve got world-class pianists on your stage, you’ve got to have a world-class piano. So, for the first fifteen years of our existence…we rented. That’s fine, except it’s a hassle. And there’s only one such rental piano in town. Once last year, it was previously engaged when we needed it! ULP! I think that was the turning point.

So, we had a capital campaign. For $1,000, one could claim a piano key. Some people paid more than $1,000! Can you imagine? We didn’t sell all the keys, but with the generosity of our donors, we raised the $80,000 PLUS needed to purchase the piano and its little climate-controlled bedroom (more about that in a minute).

Renowned pianist Yefim Bronfman generously met our selection committee at the Steinway factory in New York and guided us in our choice. It turned out that for us, there was just one that would do…and it was love at first chord. We found our Big Black Piano. And, after months of waiting, it finally arrived at our loading dock.

In a cardboard box!

They deliver $80,000 pianos in a big cardboard box. I told you this was a learning experience!

So, they fastened the legs to it…set it on its little porta-piano thingy…and Richard, our Piano Tuner Extraordinaire couldn’t wait to start making it ready.

A couple of days later, our board came together for a meeting and welcomed the piano with a champagne toast. Even the mayor showed up. The Big Black Piano was basking in its celebrity.

What happened then? Now that we’re dark for the summer? Well, here’s the sad part….

The Big Black Piano was banished to the basement!

Now, before you start feeling all sorry for it, you must understand that it resides in the basement in a little room that was custom-built just for it. It is humidity and temperature controlled so that the piano’s little hammers and pedals and whatever else stay just like they’re supposed to be…perfect.

And just so the Big Black Piano won’t get too lonely and out of practice, one of several friends drops by now and then to tickle its ivories. Just to keep it smiling.

This is Chris. He was like the Phantom of the Opera down there, all by himself, making music in his own little world. He was having a grand time until I snuck up behind him and yelled “Boo!”

No, I didn’t. But, I could have, and it would have been funny.

Well, maybe not, since he and I had not met before that moment. Maybe the next time!

He’s really nice and patient and didn’t seem to mind my interrupting his practice session…especially when I told him he would be featured on my blog. Some people are all “oh, noooooo….” But, he was all smiles. And then he asked me to leave.

No, not really. Now he waves and smiles when he comes in to keep the Big Black Piano company.

The most important thing is that the Big Black Piano remains happy and ready to perform. And, when we crank up the elevator and raise it up onto the stage for its public debut with the incomparable Leon Fleisher, if you look very, very closely, you may see it smiling.

I know I will be.

The World’s Oldest Living Blogger

August 5, 2008

I’ve now had time to make a few of the rounds and read many bloggers’ follow-ups to BlogHer. Love the photos! But….they bring home the fact that this is a young person’s game. Not that I’m sensitive about my age, or anything. (I’ll be 60 in a week or so.) But, it does make me wonder how many other 60-ish people are out there blogging. Probably more than you’d think. At least, I hope so.

I have this theory that the younger generation just picks up this technology stuff through osmosis…whereas we older folk have to work at it. I used to feel so cutting-edge. When I met my last husband online, our match was so newsworthy that the Dallas Morning News did a color spread on us. Imagine that happening now!

But these days, I am so behind…and getting behinder! I don’t know what a lot of the terms are. I don’t get the “feed” thing and don’t know how to make it a part of my blog (and that apparently ticks some people off). I don’t twitter (although I sorta know what it is). I’m not comfortable with phones that do anything other than make/receive phone calls. I would rather eat worms than lug a laptop on an airplane. I’m just not “with it.” But, I’m having fun, and that counts for a lot Plus, I have a goal now – to one day truly BE the World’s Oldest Living Blogger. All I gotta do is keep breathing.

The Best Laid Plans

August 3, 2008

So, here’s the plan. Today I was going to blog about making pie crust. Y’see…I make really good pie crust – all flaky and tender. And I know it’s a challenge for some people, so I was going to show you how *I* do it. And then, tomorrow, I was going to blog about turning that pie crust into cobbler.

Well!

The Kitchen Trolls must be hiding under my cutting board. Things just kept going wrong. Little things…but they added up to a big mess. The last two were when the top crust took on a life of its own and literally LEPT from the rolling pin onto the top of the filling…before I was ready for it to. And it didn’t do it neatly, either. It just dove in and made a big, splashy mess. So, I crimped it all around and was just making the most of it, when I realized, I hadn’t put the “under” crust in. ARRRRGH! For me, that’s the most important part. I love the bits of crust floating inside the filling. So, I poked holes in the top crust and shoved inner crust pieces through the holes. Total disaster! I guess it’ll taste OK, but it looks like hammered hell, and you’re not going to see it!

So, I’m just going to do the bit about the pie crust, and I’ll try to describe how I turn it into a cobbler…unless I blow up the computer while I’m at it.

Here’s what you need for a two-crust pie (or two pie shells, or one cobbler):

2 ¼ Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
¾ cup Crisco – DO NOT SUBSTITUTE ANYTHING ELSE!
1/3 Cup Ice Water

If you’ve got time to break the Crisco into tablespoon-size bits and put them in the freezer for 20 minutes, so much the better.

Put the flour, salt and Crisco in a largish bowl and start blending the Crisco into the flour with a pastry blender. I’ve seen cookbooks suggest you use two forks as a substitute, but that seems kind of clumsy to me. Pastry blenders are way cheap. Check your friendly local thrift store…lots of ’em end up there.

Good gracious! How did my grandmother’s hands get in that picture????

Anyway….keep blending the flour and Crisco until you get a lumpy mixture that looks something like this:

Then measure out 1/3 cup ice water – it really needs to be ICE water…not just cool. Pour the water over the flour mixture and toss it gently with a fork. You can use your fingers if you’re quick and have a light touch. But, be careful. You don’t want to “work” or knead the dough at all…and you don’t want to warm up the ingredients. I think my flour has been dryer than usual lately, as I’ve found that I need to add another couple of tablespoons of ice water to get the stuff to hang together. You may find that’s true for you, too.

Once your dough starts to stick together, turn it out onto a piece of plastic wrap and gently press it into a ball. The temptation at this point is to really mash it around, but don’t. Just press until it sticks together and leave it at that.

Your crust should have a bit of a mottled look. That texture is what will become your flakes during baking Mottling is good. Wrap your dough ball in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for at least an hour…longer if you’ve got the time. Overnight is fine.

If making pie shells, roll out and fit into pie tin, prick all over and bake at 425 until golden brown. If making a filled pie, bake as directed in the pie recipe. Pie dough can be frozen and used as much as six months later with no change in quality.

Now…for the cobbler. If you were raised on cobblers with a crumb crust or biscuit-like crust, you won’t like my cobbler. My mama made cobbler with pie crust, and that’s the “right” way in my mind. Everyone’s mileage differs.

So, for cobbler my way, first take just under 1/2 of the chilled pie dough. Roll it out a little more than 1/8 inch thick. Cut into small rectangles and bake them on a cookie sheet in a 425 degree oven until golden brown. Watch them closely, as they burn quickly once they start browning.

For the filling, you’ll need six cups of chopped fruit (or whole berries). Mash about 1/3 of the fruit to get some juice started. Stir in 2 cups sugar, 2 TBS cornstarch and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often to avoid sticking. Pour into a deep casserole dish.

Poke the browned bits of crust down into the filling. Then, roll out the remaining crust to fit the top of the casserole, with about 2 inches extra. Turn the extra crust under all the way around and pinch decoratively…or not, depending on your patience. Return to the 425 degree oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Remove from oven, and place several small dots of butter all over the top. When it has melted sprinkle with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. Yum!

This cobbler I made earlier this summer is how it’s supposed to look. We’re not going to even think about the rag-tag disaster cooling in my kitchen right now.