Trees, Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas concert, and art

I realized that last week I forgot to talk about trees. Several months ago, we joined the Arbor Day Foundation, whose mission is to encourage people to plant more trees. Around here, we go out and see more and more logged lots every month, so planting trees seems like a good idea. With a donation, you have the choice of either receiving a bunch of trees to plant or telling them to plant them for you. Since we had very little spring color on our property last year, just a couple of apple and cherry trees, and all white, I decided that we needed the trees. All that was specified was that we would receive ten flowering trees and two crepe myrtles.

We received these trees the week before last, so last week, we set about planting them. We actually received five white flowering dogwoods, five redbuds, and the two crepe myrtles, all very small plugs. We planted all of them along the edges of the orchard in places where I thought they would be least likely to get mown over by my husband. Then we went around and stuck stakes in the ground next to each one (the trees themselves just look like sticks right now) to make it more noticeable for my husband. I still have not replaced the lilac bush that my husband mowed down, because I’m waiting for a landscaping box to put it in.

My Friday Thanksgiving dinner went well. I made Russian wild mushroom and cheese soup, turkey, green bean casserole (my husband’s favorite), squash casserole, stuffing, and gravy. My niece brought a raspberry pie. Only the mashed potatoes were a problem. I had bought a bag of Yukon golds a couple of weeks ago, but when I removed them from the drawer, they were a bag of liquid, leaving behind a puddle of goo that was 1/4 inch thick. It was disgusting. The only potatoes that escaped the devastation were the three older ones that were in the drawer by themselves. I never buy potatoes by the bag, so this will teach me. Neither my niece or my sister had potatoes, so we were forced to put the gravy on our meat and stuffing. Not exactly a disaster. My sister told me afterwards that my niece remarked what a treat it was to eat a holiday dinner that she didn’t have to cook herself.

Of course, that meant that Friday was a busy one for me. In fact, I was so tired afterwards that I was lying on the couch feeling like something was pressing me downwards. But Saturday was busy, too. We took my great niece to her new yellow stripe belt class first thing in the morning. This was our first class to take her to since she belt tested, because the day after the belt test she was sick. Unfortunately, they were closed. If they told people ahead of time that they were going to be closed, they certainly didn’t put it on their web site or anything. My niece was already mad at them, because they posted the wrong class schedule on their site, so that my great niece missed her Tuesday class because she went at the wrong time. So she hasn’t attended class since the belt test.

After we got back from the non-class, I had just about enough time to finish the hand wash from Friday before my sister came to pick us up for the Christmas concert. This was a concert with the Portland Orchestra and Choir. My niece’s husband’s stepfather is in the choir. We went with my sister, my great niece, and my great niece’s other grandmother (in case, you didn’t follow that, my niece’s husband’s mother). The concert was very nice, with traditional and not so traditional Christmas songs. A particularly nice touch was the inclusion of the Bells of the Cascades. I always like to do at least one Christmassy thing before Christmas. In past years, that has been difficult, because my husband is not into it, but the Christmas spirit has captured my niece big time (she used to dislike it, before she had kids), so it is no longer a problem. After the concert, we met all my niece’s husband, his brother, and my great nephew for dinner.

Here is my color exercise, with its much too blue sky. Each petal is a slightly different color.

In art class, I finally finished the second color exercise, a simple picture of some flowers. As I mentioned before, my last teacher had misunderstood the intention of the exercise, which was to match the colors on a sample, so, my sky was much too blue. When I went back to my original teacher, I fixed the rest of the picture, but it was too late to change the color of the sky. I also found out that I had missed another color exercise that was supposed to come before this one, so next week I’ll start on that.

This weekend we have another Christmas experience coming up. I’ll tell you all about it next time.

 

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Changes to schedule

I just realized that the day of my birthday, two weeks ago, I forgot to post a picture of my record player. So, if you want to go back and look, it’s now there in all its aqua glory.

We have had a few changes to our schedule lately. First, last Wednesday when I got into the car to go to art class, my sister told me she had decided to drop both herself and my great niece from the class. It wasn’t a huge surprise that my great niece was dropping. She tends to expect herself to do everything perfectly and gets upset in class if she doesn’t know how to do something. I have been thinking about this, because it seems as if our presence in class, particularly her grandmother’s, makes her more likely to get upset. There are other kids in the class doing just fine on their own.

But up until last week, my sister kept telling me how much she enjoyed our class. I was disappointed, because my idea in signing us up for the class was so we could do something together regularly, as she is the person I see the least of the family. She said her daughter (who is very creative) wants to make art, too, so they decided to do it at their house once a week together, and I am invited. That’s all very well, but they planned to do it the same time and day as my art class!

Well, I just bought the expensive oils kit, if you’ll remember, so I decided to keep going to class. I don’t have much expectation, just knowing how hard it has been to schedule anything regularly with my niece, that the art at home plan is going to work out very well. I will go, though, when they do it.

But this gave me an opportunity. I have lamented our original art teacher’s change of schedule. Both Sue and I felt that the quality of instruction had gone down with our new art teacher, even though she is very nice. So, when my sister put in her drop notice at class, I asked the receptionist if our old teacher had any slots, and I have changed my class from Wednesday afternoon to Tuesday evening. So, I have now had two classes since I last reported.

And that has been a good change for me. I felt a big difference just in my first class last night, about how much help I was getting from the instructor. Last week, I told you I was starting a painting of some flowers that was an exercise in mixing paint. When I used the formula for the exercise to mix my sky color last week, the first color I was supposed to paint, it came out much darker than the sample exercise I was looking at. So, my last instructor and I had a conversation about the point of the exercise that sort of matched the one we had done with the color wheel. Was the point of the exercise to see how the colors came out in using the formula or in trying to match the sample? She told me to use the formula. As it turns out, she had both the color wheel exercise and the flower exercise backwards, which I found out last night when I went for my first class with my new (former) instructor. It turns out I was supposed to match the colors, but it was too late to do so for my sky. I ended up correcting the colors on some of the flower petals and continuing the exercise, which is almost finished. But next week I will show her how my color wheel came out and tell her what happened and ask her if I should repeat that exercise. I am fairly sure that with the color wheel the idea was to see how the colors came out while following the formula, exactly the opposite of what we decided I should do.

And my new (old) teacher gave me some other useful pieces of advice. When I started painting, I asked my previous teacher what brush I should use, and she directed me to a flat brush about 1/2 inch wide. I found it very difficult to paint the circular shapes I was working on with that brush. My new teacher suggested to me that I use the smallest brush possible for the work and a rounder one for painting circular shapes, so changing brushes really helped me with my edges. She also showed me how a bit of linseed oil at the edge of my paint can help me with my edges.

So, I am charged up about my new art class schedule. My only fear is that my instructor, who is pregnant, may be leaving the class in a few months and I’ll have to see who we get as a substitute. But now I have no need to consult my sister’s schedule if I want to change classes again.

The other thing we have added to our schedule lately is to take my great niece to her tae kwon do class every Saturday. I volunteered to do this after my sister told me that she and my niece keep forgetting to take her on Saturdays. She is really excited about tae kwon do, so I think it’s a shame that they are not getting her to class when they’re supposed to. So, starting the week before last, we began taking her.

No more white belts in this bunch. All the graduates, in their new yellow stripe or yellow belts. Master Oh, their instructor, is in the very back.

Last Friday, she did her first belt testing to move from white belt to yellow stripe belt, and the kids invited me to attend. It was the white belts in all three age groups attempting to move to yellow stripe, and the yellow stripe belts attempting to move to yellow. (Just as a side note, the last time I had anything to do with tae kwon do was 50 years ago, when my great niece’s grandmother, my sister, took it starting at the age of 11. She worked her way up to green belt but then quit because, as I remember, she said her thighs were too muscular. That was when girls weren’t supposed to have muscles. Back then, they didn’t have yellow stripe belts. I believe it’s now a way for the beginners to advance and gain confidence more quickly.)

Everyone passed. I think at this stage they don’t have them test until they are ready to pass, which is probably better for their confidence. My great niece was a little taken aback, because she was the first one in the testing to be challenged by the master about her behavior at home. My niece told me that the parents had to fill out a form, and one of the questions was about whether the child had any behavior at home that needed work. Apparently, the parents of the kids before they got to my great niece didn’t fill in this section, so they got to her and the instructor said, “Do you always get along with your little brother?” My great niece shouted, “Yes, sir!” The master said, “I think sometimes you need improvement.” She shouted, “Yes, sir!” He said, “Will you be more considerate of your brother?” She shouted, “Yes, sir!” She was a little flustered. Later on, when he got to other kids, he said things like “Do you listen to your mother the first time?” or “Do you clean up your room when you’re asked to?” and every kid insisted he or she did. Then he would look at them gravely and say, “I don’t think so.” I have no doubt that these kids will be cleaning their rooms and listening to their mothers at least for a couple of days. That part of the testing made me laugh. It’s really amazing. I think the parents wished the kids would treat them like they did their master.

Today I need to finish cleaning the house so that tomorrow I can prepare some dishes for our Thanksgiving dinner on Friday. This will be another week of frivolity, because on Saturday several of us are going to a Christmas concert.

 

 

A week of frivolity

As much as we have enjoyed living here in this beautiful country, we have sort of fallen down on the job when it comes to entertainment. My husband seems to prefer to stay home versus almost any other type of activity. So, it was nice that this past week we went on a couple of different outings.

Last Wednesday was my birthday, as I said before. I had art class, during which I made a color wheel. It was a little difficult because my yellow paint didn’t seem to be doing its job. The way a color wheel works is that you have your basic colors, red, blue, and yellow, in circles each one third around a larger circle. Then you make the intervening colors by mixing. If you are going between yellow and blue, for example, the first circle after yellow is supposed to be a mix of two dots of yellow paint and one dot of blue. The second circle is supposed to be equal parts of yellow and blue, and the third, the one next to pure blue, is supposed to be one dot of yellow and two of blue. I had a model I was trying to match, but in the cases where I was mixing yellow, to match that model, I had to use a lot more yellow paint, six dots of yellow instead of one. It wasn’t altogether clear to me whether it was more important to match the model or to get the paint percentages right. Now that I think of it, I probably was supposed to get the paint percentages right and use whatever colors I got from that. Between the red and blue, I didn’t have the same problem.

Finally, you do triangles of the opposite colors to get browns. My browns didn’t look anything like the model browns. In one case, a brown looked like a green. I think this had to do with my yellow paint being weak or something. Someone more experienced would know, but my teacher wasn’t clear about these problems. In the next class, I will trace a picture of flowers that is another paint-mixing exercise.

After art class, we went out to eat. My only rule for my birthday, usually, is that I don’t have to cook dinner. I don’t even require a fancy restaurant. That evening we went to McGrath’s Fish House, which is an okay fish restaurant. I don’t think there are any really good ones short of Portland. It is much better than Red Lobster or Joe’s Crab Shack, but that’s about all I can say for it (and I actually like Joe’s pretty well, but only for crab). My highly recommended halibut was nice and fresh but needed a little something, and Wayne said his highly recommended salmon wasn’t as good as my halibut. However, what with getting a birthday gift that I wanted and going out to eat, it was a pretty good birthday.

The best part of my birthday was Friday night, an event that we had all been looking forward to. When it was my niece’s birthday in August, she asked to go to Kachka, a trendy Russian restaurant in Portland (a city with lots of Russians). It turned out, however, that we needed reservations at least two weeks in advance, so we couldn’t go. We went to her second choice instead, but at that time, planned to go to Kachka for my birthday. It was me, my husband, my sister, my niece, and her husband. As the menu and my niece suggested, we had lots of zakuski, which we all shared. If you actually bothered to look at the menu, we had Moldovan eggplant, Baltic sprat buterbrodi, salo, the meat and cheese board, khachapuri, Siberian pelmeni and sour cherry vereniki, golubtsi, bread and butter, and assorted pickles. My husband also had the borscht. Even though I’m usually not a big pickle eater, every bite was delicious. My sister and niece also had vodka while the rest of us tea-totaled. If that wasn’t enough, we all had dessert (mine was plombir sandwiches) and either coffee or tea. I had some delicious chai.

My only complaint was, why does every new trendy restaurant have such uncomfortable chairs, sometimes the same uncomfortable chairs as the other trendy restaurants? They always look really nice but they are really horrible to sit in. Do no restaurant owners ever sit in their chairs before buying them, or do they just buy them for the looks?

That was a great evening out even though we missed Game of Thrones night this week. Our weekends are going to be heating up as we approach the holidays, so I suspect Game of Thrones is going to go by the wayside a few more times.

My niece is hosting her husband’s huge family for Christmas, so she doesn’t want to mess with Thanksgiving this year. So, my husband and I decided to offer to host. We will be doing everything, but we will do it on Friday evening instead of Thursday so that my sister, who works every holiday, can come. We made this offer that night out, and everyone decided it was a good idea. (I wasn’t sure before that if my niece wanted to skip Thanksgiving altogether or just didn’t want to do it herself.)

Finally, yesterday, which is cheap day at the theater, we saw the new Murder on the Orient Express. I was worried about it, in particular that they would change the ending. I also didn’t see how it could stand up to the star-studded 1974 movie. It did, but in a different way. They interjected more action and made Poirot a little more of a physical detective than Christie probably would approved of. They also changed some of the characters, while preserving their names. Oddly, Count and Countess Idreni, played originally by Michael York and Jacqueline Bisset, hardly even appeared in this production. It was like they kept forgetting they were on the train.

Hillary “playing” Candy Crush Soda Saga.

There was a difference in the substance of the casting, this version going more for popular stars rather than screen legends (an exception being Judi Dench and a couple of other actors), but overall, I think it was a movie that was effective in its own right, going for an emotional impact at the end.

Finally, it’s time for a picture. My husband and I aren’t the only ones being amused this week. My cat, Hillary, has developed a fascination for Candy Crush Soda Saga. She seems to care less about the original Candy Crush game, but whenever I get out Soda Saga, she comes over and one time even reached out her paw to touch the screen. So, here is a picture of Hillary on my iPad playing Soda Saga. She likes the fish.

Moving into oils and a gift

My last landscape drawing, a Greek church, perhaps on Santorini, where we had our honeymoon years ago. Thngs don’t look quite straight, but I think that’s because the page has buckled. You can see the edge coming up on the bottom right.

In art class, I am moving into oils. I finished my last two drawings the week before last and last week. I then had to look at the state of my old oils to decide whether to buy the kit sold by our art school. As it turned out, although I had most of the colors, some of them were almost used up and about half of them were stuck so I couldn’t get the tops off. Also, some kind of goo leaked out into my box and got all over the sides of some of the paints and a brush so that I had to pry them up from the bottom of the box. I wasn’t able to get the goo off yet, although it might come off with linseed oil. I think it was some kind of medium that leaked. Finally, I didn’t have a lot of the brush sizes and other items on their basic list.

My latest still life

Anyway, my husband and I decided that I may as well buy their art kit, which I had to admit was sexy, with all its new tubes of paint and brushes. I haven’t started a project on it yet, so I’ll be doing that today. The first project is to paint a color wheel.

My sexy new art kit

It is my birthday today. My husband tends to buy me things like office supplies, robot dogs, and remote control cars for my birthday if I don’t specify a gift, so this year, I asked for a record player so that I could play all my old vinyl albums. To make sure he got it right, I sent him the URL. And I got a great record player. My great niece had one of her sleepovers at our place last night, and last night we taught her how to play dominoes, which she greatly enjoyed. This morning we picked out a bunch of albums and played them while we played dominoes again. Unfortunately, we did not find my Thriller album, which she wanted to hear. I don’t know what happened to it. I don’t remember anyone borrowing it or it getting wrecked. My husband thinks there still might be a box of records somewhere that we haven’t unpacked. Of all things, she picked out Harry Belafonte, Linda Ronstadt, and Simon and Garfunkel to listen to. She was also happy because she coaxed our cat, Hillary, famous for hiding under the bed, to sit on her lap.

Two weeks later, I just posted this picture of my record player.

I have meant to mention that lately, a couple of times, we have seen the deer in the woods, including some fawns so small that I mistook them at night for dogs. Small dogs. They must be very newly born, and it seems late for them. I hope they’re going to make it through the winter. It has started to turn coldish, with both highs and lows in the 40’s.

Some pictures from art class

My great niece with her picture of flowers in art class. I think it’s pretty good for a nine-year-old.

We took three pictures in art class last week, one of my great niece and her drawing of flowers. She took a lot of encouraging, but I think she did a good job. Her teacher told her she had a knack with the charcoal.

The other two were of my drawings. One was the finished castle that I mentioned last week. Half of the picture was its reflection in the water, and I was deeply unsatisfied with my rendering of it. But when I went back to class last week, it didn’t look that bad after all. I cleaned it up a bit and decided the drawing was finished.

My castle landscape

The next assignment was to do a still life. I wanted to try one, but after I got started, I don’t think either I or the teacher was very dedicated to it. I remember hearing our original art teacher tell people that she usually skipped that assignment, which she thought confused people because it had no relation to the method they used in the school for learning how to draw. I didn’t know how they were going to let me do a still life, as we sit in rather small spaces to draw, but it turned out that I was allowed to select some objects from the anteroom and they put me at a corner to draw so that I would have more room. The objects I could select from were fairly tacky, so I picked a glass vase and two seashells. I did not think I did such a great job, and my teacher really didn’t help me much. I wanted pointers on how to do the glass and all she said was “Make it streakier.” I remember getting lessons on painting glass in my oil painting class years ago, so I know there is a lot more she could have said.

My really pathetic still life

On the home front, I first went crazy buying bulbs. Ever since we arrived here, my intention was to plant bulbs in the fall so we would have flowers in the spring. But I was hoping to actually have flower beds by that time, which would have been easier. I went out to buy daffodils one day, to plant in the orchard, and I was fairly restrained, but they did not have a good selection. Then the next day, I went with my sister to the farm store, and they had a much better selection, so I got more daffodils, ranunculas, crocuses, and snowdrops. The next day I went out to find places to plant them. I planted some of the daffodils under a rim of sod behind the house and some under one of the apple trees in the orchard. But most of our ground was either rock under a thin layer of dirt or under sod. It was very hard trying to plant, and I didn’t get more done except that I planted the ranunculas at the bottom of the ridge between the blueberry bush and the bird feeder. Still haven’t done the crocuses, snowdrops, or about half the daffodils. But I don’t have to get them planted all at once.

On the weekend, I went on an outing with the kids. My niece, her husband, and their two children and I went to the Japanese nursery in Woodland and then to the pumpkin patch. I restrained myself at the nursery, only buying a partner walnut tree for the one we have in our orchard. My great niece talked her father into buying something called a jujube tree. He is a pushover, basically. Then we all went to the pumpkin patch. My niece needed lots of pumpkins to be jack o’lanterns for the spooky forest walk for my great nephew’s birthday party. So we filled up a wheelbarrow with pumpkins. Then the kids enjoyed the hay maze and the hay ride. Later we went to Fuel, a cafe we like in Ridgefield, and then home. A couple hours after arriving home, it was back to their house for our third Game of Thrones night.

This week I have spent finishing the housework for our guest’s arrival. The days were beautiful until yesterday afternoon, but now it is cold and drizzly. Poor timing, as our guest is coming from Houston and is originally from Louisiana, so she is used to warmer weather. I hope she doesn’t think its too cold here.

Today, our contractors are back to finish our sets of steps in the rain.

More of the same

This is the upper set of steps before being redone. As you can see, you can barely see that there are steps. You can see the edges of two of them at the top middle of the picture.

This week there’s not much to tell. We had a few days of rainy weather, but it really didn’t rain very much, and now it’s beautiful out again. We know that probably won’t last long, but right now it’s lovely, cold in the mornings and warm in the afternoon, sunny skies. The trees have begun to turn, mostly yellow, but there’s not enough movement yet in that direction to show another picture. Looks like our friend’s visit will be timed just right for fall color. My sister tells me that here the colors aren’t as pronounced as back east, but they are better than Texas, where you just get a suggestion of color change. Next week it will be almost exactly a year ago that we arrived here, and the colors in the Gorge were pretty gorgeous.

Here is where the steps go from the lower drive down to the bottom of the orchard and the pond. This is the longest set of steps. They wind toward the right of the picture and about halfway, they turn toward the left.

Our contractors came back for a day last week to begin working on our final project. We have two sets of steps that are very dangerous, one up to the ridge above our house and one down from the lower drive to the bottom of the orchard and the pond. We decided to have the guys put in steps like the ones they installed from the upper to lower drive, only half the width, because these stairs are more foresty. They put most of the steps in last Thursday but got called to another job on Friday, and then it began raining. They might put one more step in when they come back, and they have to install the railings. Anyway, I took some before pictures and have one of the mid-stage.

Here are the partially finished lower steps without the railing. Now the wind and length are much more obvious.

I skillfully avoided doing some of the more unpleasant housework (like bathrooms) the last two weeks so that it will be done right before our guest’s visit. Perfect timing.

In art class I am drawing a ruined castle beside a lake. The lake shore is about halfway down on the picture, so that the castle also appears upside down in its reflection. I didn’t have much of a problem drawing the castle, but the reflection is driving me nuts. I feel deeply unsatisfied with it.

We had our second Game of Thrones night last Friday and my husband signed on for a third, so maybe we have him hooked! Socially, nothing else is going on except that my niece is already signing people up for their spooky birthday party for my three-year-old great nephew, whose birthday is right before Halloween. I’ll be wearing a costume for the first time in 20 years. We ran into my great nephew’s other grandmother at the grocery store yesterday, and she told me that she was happy to have finally found her Spongebob Squarepants costume, so she can wear that for the party. It’ll be something to see this slim, tidy woman in a Spongebob Squarepants costume. I think I’ve been drafted to carve about a bazillion pumpkins.

Quite a deluge

This is a pitiful amount of hail, but it’s our first storm of the season.

The big news for this week is that we finally have rain! In fact, we got so much rain yesterday all at once that I stopped what I was doing to watch. It was really loud, and there turned out to be a small amount of hail. The hail was so small that at first I thought the water pouring down from our eaves troughs (which couldn’t keep up with the rain) was frothing. The picture makes it look pretty pitiful, but there was lots of it along the driveway.

In any case, it looks like we are quickly turning toward fall. From very hot temperatures two weeks ago, we went to lovely temperatures last week, and now it is quite cold. We had a fire in our fireplace all day yesterday, because the highs were in the 50’s. But this weekend is supposed to be beautiful. I am waiting for the color changes.

Some of our classical music CDs, double-stacked behind and on top

This week I put some more things away. I am finally down to boxes of decorative items and our CDs, which I finished over the weekend. We had 300 CDs in a changer and probably 200 more. Our changer broke, so I had to find places for all of those CDs. Some of them are double-stacked on the shelves.

I also sold a teapot on Etsy. Again, another fiasco with the shipping weight. At the last minute, I made the mistake of weighing the box on my food scale. Because the box is so much bigger than the scale, I had weighed the box and the packing material and then added the weight of the item for each one. But that morning I doubted myself and reweighed everything. The weight came out a pound more than I had calculated, so I added that to the package, but of course that meant the extra weight came out of my own pocket. When I got to the post office, I found that the original weight was correct. So, I paid an extra $3 for nothing. Worse, I went ahead and changed the weights of everything by a pound, thinking that the box must weigh more than I thought. Now, I’ll have to go back and reweigh all my items. Sigh.

That’s all for this week except we are excited because one of our friends from Houston is coming for a visit in October. We haven’t seen her since the Christmas before last, so we are really excited to have her come visit.

My landscape

I forgot that last week I finished my first landscape in art class. This is a drawing of a place somewhere in Utah. Although I don’t think our current art teacher is teaching us as much as our previous one, I think we’re planning to stay in the class. My sister keeps saying that she likes the time slot, and certainly if my great-niece continues with the class, this is the time we’ll have to go. My great-niece is, I think, enjoying the class more, but she gets frustrated if she can’t do everything perfectly the first time. It doesn’t help that we have kids her age or a little older in our class that have lots more art lessons than she has had. Since drawing this picture, I completed another exercise and already started another landscape.

Finally, the costume I ordered for Halloween doesn’t fit, so it’s back to the drawing board. I got a great mask, though, one of those Venetian ones with the pointy nose. Only I can’t wear my glasses when I have it on, which means I won’t be able to see. I have clearly not done Halloween in a long time.