Ornamental Plaster Sculpting, Mural Painting, Faux Finishing, and Imaginative Interior Design.

Ornamental Plaster Sculpting, Mural Painting, Faux Finishing, and Imaginative Interior Design.
CLICK ON THE RABBIT ( yes, those are cabinets) TO SEE MY PORTFOLIO, AND LEARN MORE ABOUT MY SERVICES...theartofthehome.com

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Bread Lover's Workout

Crispy on the outside, soft, but not crumbly on the inside...sooo worth the effort!

Planning to start a new workout program in the new year?  You can turn bread baking into an aerobic sport, if you follow my technique!  First, warm up slowly, searching every cookbook you own for a no-sugar recipe, then give up and call your Mom, to find out how much sugar yeast actually needs.  Turns out that although yeast loves sugar, it also grows big and bubbly on flour and eggs, so less than a teaspoon to get it started is fine.  Thanks Mom.  BTW:   if your mom doesn't know these things, you can call mine.  Just call her "mom", and act like you know her, and she'll assume you are one of about a hundred of us kids' friends who still call her this.  It will drive her batty trying to figure out who you are, without letting on that she can't remember you.  (wicked bad child, I am! :))) )

Once you've got your recipe, whip up a shopping list, and pull on your winter gear for a lovely hike to the grocery store.  Weather in Belle Plaine was a balmy 40 degrees yesterday, if balmy means dang windy, with icy drizzle.  After the snowfall of the past several weeks, I was relieved to see that the sidewalks ahead were all shoveled, as I headed out.  What I didn't see was that they were like little canals, between the mountains of melting snow to either side.  That's okay.  Jumping from shallow spot to shallow spot adds intensity and variety to your usual walking routine, as do the windmilling arms when you hit ice patches.

Now, it's always good to add weight to your aerobics.  Once at the grocery store, do this by remembering that not only do you need bread ingredients, but also things like milk and frozen Lima beans.  It's also helpful to forget which kind of flour you're actually out of, and buy a bag of both unbleached white and whole wheat.  This creates a more even balance of weight in your grocery bags, making it a bit safer on the icy spots of the water walk back home.

Now that you are home again, you've had a good warm-up, and can safely stretch to reach the bread bowl on the just-slightly-too-high shelf in the pantry.  No, not the bread machine, put that back, you cheater.  And leave the step stool. This is a workout, and a little stretch isn't gonna kill you.  As you lift the bread bowl down, noticing the weight is heavier than expected, do not tip it, as you may actually have discovered where you stashed the cast iron dutch oven, and if you didn't grab the step stool, I'm guessing you don't have a spotter there either, to grab the extra weight you are now holding precariously over your head.  Lower veeeerrrrry carefully, and breeeeeeathe...whew!

Bread is pretty simple stuff.  While your heart rate returns to normal, and the twinge in your back subsides, slow the pace and create the "sponge", which is the first step:

Add a scant teaspoon of sugar to two cups of warm water, then sprinkle two packages of active dry yeast on top.  Let this sit for five minutes, then stir in 1 cup of unbleached white flour, and 1 cup of whole wheat flour.  Let this sit someplace about body temperature, or just slightly warmer, for about an hour, to rise, while you walk down the street to the chiropractor, to be sure you didn't do anything serious in the dutch oven incident.  belleplainechiro.com

By the time you have been checked out and given a delightful mini-massage, and a not so delightful spine-aligning hug, your sponge will be ready to be fed, so jog back home, enjoying the extra resistance six inches of water on the sidewalks adds to this.  Back in the kitchen,  add two beaten eggs, a teaspoon or two of salt, and 1/2 cup melted-but-not-hot butter to the bowl, and beat it all together.  Next, add 2 cups of whole wheat flour, and about 1 cup of unbleached white flour, about 1/2 cup at a time,  first stirring, then using your hand, until the dough is stiff.  Put about a cup of flour toward the back of the counter, and dust a bit of it out over the whole counter, then dump the dough ball onto this.

Now, put on some music with a good energetic beat ( I used a Celtic compilation for today's workout), and note where on the c.d. marks about 20-25 minutes.  Push up your sleeves, face up to your dough, and start kneading.  This means you push the heels of your hands into the dough, then lift the dough with your fingertips, rotating it a quarter turn, folding it toward you, then pushing back in with the heels of your hands again.  Pull in a little flour from the pile when the dough starts to stick to you or the counter. 

It becomes a very rhythmic thing. Push-turn-fold-push-turn-fold...This is actually fairly physical, and should be done at a good tempo, using your whole body.  Use your back and shoulders, rise up on your toes with each push,  if your feet start to feel jammed into the floor, and don't skimp on the time, unless you want to eat a doorstop with your dinner tonight.

After twenty minutes, shake out your arms, scrub out the sticky bits in the bowl that would have rinsed easily twenty minutes ago, if you had remembered you would need the bowl again, dry the bowl, and put in about 2 tablespoons of cooking oil.  Flop the dough ball, which now resembles a smooth soft baby's bottom, in this, swirl it around, and flip it over, so that the surface is nicely slicked.  Set it back in that same warm place for about an hour, covered again with the clean dishtowel. 

This is very imprecise stuff, baking bread without a machine.  You can't just dump an exact list of ingredients in the top, turn it on and walk away.  Baking real bread, the real way, means that variables like humidity, room temperature, and the moods of the kitchen sprites all come into play, but that's what makes it such good sport.  Just be glad you don't have to grind the wheat by hand, or try to bake it in the oven of a wood stove, for which you have to chop the wood...my mom thought the pioneering lifestyle, in the middle of town, would be educational for us kids.  Our friends thought we were good entertainment, when Little House on the Prairie wasn't on t.v.  Some days I'm more grateful for this than others. 
Bread dough rises perfectly on the antique radiator in the dining room.

When the dough ball has about doubled, after selecting another twenty minutes of music, punch your fist into the center of it to deflate it, and knead again for twenty minutes.  You won't need flour this time.  Divide this dough into halves.  Roll out one of the balls into a nice rectangle, about nine inches wide, by twelve inches long, then starting on a nine-inch side, roll it up very tightly, jelly-roll fashion, pinch the ends and the seam firmly, and plunk it (seam side down) into a well greased bread pan.  Repeat with the other dough ball.  Haul these back to the warm spot, cover with the towel, and let rise about 45 minutes, until double. 

Loaves ready for the oven.

Pop them into a preheated 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  I brushed the top of the bread with milk to make a darker crust, about ten minutes before I took it out of the oven.  The bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapping on it.  Pull it from the oven, and tip the loaves out immediately onto a wire rack.  You will need to let it rest for at least ten minutes before slicing it, but this will give you time to dance around the house, telephone in hand, bragging to all your friends that you have just made homemade bread from scratch.  This is good, because it also gives those friends time to beat a path to your front door, saving you from eating the whole first loaf yourself, which would of course negate all the aerobic effort you just expended.

Serve with a hot creamy cup of coffee

Happy New Year, all you kind souls who read my ramblings, witness my bumblings, and still say nice things about me anyway.  May your New Year begin with either a really good toast, or really good toast.  Salud! Slainte!  Ziveli!  Cheers!...and pass the butter, please.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Popeye, Pocahontas, and the true meaning of Christmas

What a year! What a week!  It's not been my best of either, but, oh, what a day today!  What a beautiful, precious, perfectly imperfect day...

It started with my nine-year-old art student, Faith.  We extended the regular class an hour, and then I skipped the Keystone business meeting so we could finish our project, a gingerbread house, built all the way from scratch, starting with drafting the patterns.  Knowing Faith would be the only student today, and knowing her absolute adoration of all things candy, I had promised her this project.  Shortly after arriving, she told me she was so excited, she had slept last night in her clothes and art apron, so she could wake up ready to come.  I LOVE elf duty!!!!!  It's the absolute best thing about being a grown-up, and this year, despite having no kids of my own, I've had lots of kids on my elf roster (do bear in mind that my elf roster is full even in child-free years...one need never be too old for Santa!). 

If you need an architect in about a dozen years, check back here.  Faith just may be available.

Kadence didn't come to class today because not only is it her eighth birthday, but tonight was her acting debut.  Kadence is a born communicator.  If CNN needs a new anchor woman, someone send 'em my way, and I'll put them in touch.  Kadence's role tonight in the Unity of the Valley Christmas Play?  Pocahontas, of course.  Yes, Pocahontas at the manger.

Pocahontas brought a compass to the baby

Not strange at all.  I mean, she was in good company.  Also in attendance at the manger were Count from Sesame Street, Popeye, Frosty the Snowman, Cupid, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, three kings, three elves, and Santa Claus, plus two angels, and the title role, the little drummer boy.  It was about delivering symbols of the twelve strengths that Unity recognizes as the gifts of Spirit within each of us, about the idea that we all have something to give, and in so doing, our own Christ light is revealed. 

Three of Unity's littlest angels warmed up the crowd with a few well-sung songs

Despite the fact that repeated snowstorms had cancelled nearly every practice, that tonight's snowstorm left Joseph and Mary stranded and unable to be there, and unlike the disjointed chaos of dress rehearsal an hour before the show, it went off without a hitch.  Each child delivered perfect lines (the Count, Kadence's brother Gabe, in an excellent accent that was much admired by the audience).  No little angels cried or wet their pants, and at the end, when they all sang "The Little Drummer Boy", standing there in a hodge-podge one never expects to see on the same stage in a year, much less the same night, they were so sweetly beautiful, my eyes leaked the overflow from my heart. 

It has been been a tough year, and especially rough the past week, but I suspect in hindsight, it will turn out to be one of the best...a pivotal year.  Thank you to all the friends who have encouraged me, assisted me, watched out for me, and loved me.  Thanks to new friends and old who emailed and left comments after Mckinley's post, last Wednesday.  I may not clearly see all my blessings at this time, but I count you among them.  Have a beautiful Holiday Season, and may your heart be filled with the innocent wonder of a child.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

McKinley May 18, 1997-December 14, 2010

 Steadfast companion,
Ambassador of Happiness,
this girl's best friend.

 Wish you all had known him, because everyone who did loved him. Living in the heart of downtown, Mac made friends with everyone who passed by (especially if they passed by with french fries from the Sparetime Tavern), so he had friends I've never even met. For awhile there was a man who would let himself in the gate and sit under one of the maples, scratching McKinley's ears. I've a feeling Mac gave as good as he got in that friendship. One Easter, McKinley introduced me to an angel of a child named Gabriella, who brought me an important message, in answer to a prayer. That's a story for another day, but it was sweet gentle McDog who invited her to my doorstep.

Neighbor kids not allowed to have dogs would throw his toys for him, though I can't say as Mac really ever got the point of fetch. He'd do it for awhile, though, if it made you happy to watch him run. Running he got the point of. Running is what sled dogs do best. The louder you yell, the faster a sled dog will run away from you...unless you yell "cookie!" This was one of the first things Mac taught me. Do not step out the back door in your underpants and a tank top to get his food dish, if you have the kind of door that can lock behind you when a happy dog jumps on it, was lesson number two.

In recent years, neighborhood children caught on that I'm a sucker for any kid selling stuff, or wanting an odd job for spending money.  McKinley, too old to be any trouble on a leash, got taken for a lot of walks last summer.  He really was getting old, because one day the girls had collected a whole menagerie of pets to take on an outing, which, along with three dogs, also included two wagons, one with  two rabbits, the other three guinea pigs and a white rat, which I didn't see until after I said, "Yes, he can go".  I spent an hour in absolute terror of having to replace someones beloved furballs.  Thankfully, being a malamute, Mac was so intent on leading the troupe, he never noticed who was following.  Whew!

Although he wasn't much of a house dog, McKinley preferred to be wherever I was, so he went on errands and to work with me, whenever possible.  He sat in the front passenger seat, with his front paws on the floor, and his chin on the windowsill, smiling as only malamutes can, at everyone we passed.  For this he earned the title of Ambassador of Happiness.  Judging by the smiles and waves, I'd say he cheered a lot of people,especially Harley riders, who I suspect are just reincarnated malamutes, anyway

One summer morning, after a particularly fierce storm, I found a tiny bird's nest in the yard, and on closer inspection, discovered it was lined in McKinley's hair.  You may think you have a certain function or purpose in this world, but this nest reminded me that we never really know all the lives we touch, nor how we touch them, so just be present, and be fully yourself.  In a cartoon version of this, I envision Snoopy's friend Woodstock and all his little bird friends wearing sweaters knit from malamute fur...do other people think of things like this?...the brain works in mysterious ways.

I never thought of McKinley as "my baby", as in a replacement for children, but my parents did start calling him their granddog.  I figure this means they forgave him for turning every garden hose into a soaker hose his first summer, when we house sat their place.  It was awfully funny watching a fourteen week old Mac bravely attack the giant green snake, then run frantically away with it in his mouth, trying to outrun the spitting end of it.  Sort of messed up the systematic moving of the sprinklers, but it saved me time on puppy baths.

Mac liked to take me to dog parks, of which Minneapolis has several really nice ones.  One of his favorites was Frog Pond (a.k.a. Elm Creek Park), where he spent hours amusing all onlookers with his total inability to catch frogs.  When he wasn't chasing frogs, he loved to chase other dogs who were chasing balls or Frisbees...again, not to fetch the toys, but just for the sheer delight of running with the pack.  A true example of the meaning of sport. 

Like all properly loved dogs, McKinley loved Christmas.  Opening packages was his favorite game ever, and he would ask to have his gifts re-wrapped until all the paper was shredded to confetti.  The dog who couldn't remember to stay off of the bed could remember from one year to the next that Christmas trees come with paper wrapped toys underneath, and he would race to check it out every morning, until the day when "Yes!" it was Christmas, and they were there. 

This photo was taken last Christmas.  While plow trucks cleared the roads, and people all over our area gave up hope of family making it home for Christmas dinner, McKinley took advantage of the snowbound day, and had an excellent nap.  He took life as it came.

Yesterday morning, under this beautiful sunrise, McKinley took his last breath, and left for the Grand Perhaps.  My friend Cat says she believes our pets await us in the afterlife.  I kind of hope they take a short rest, then come back to accompany another human on a leg of their journey.  He's too sweet a soul, too perfect a companion, too good a teacher, to wait all those years for me. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

You thought tea was for sissies?

The Keystone Women's Circle "Mom and Me Holiday Tea" was a rousing success... according to the three kids who came.  The six adults who accompanied them seemed to enjoy it, too.  These hearty folks came out in a blizzard rated as the fifth heaviest single-day snowfall here in recorded history.
Carter brought his great aunt and great uncle.  We think they're pretty great, too.

Emma and Brady brought Mom, Dad, Grandma and Uncle.  Sorry about the blurry picture.  I was probably laughing at Emma's cuteness, which we were informed we aren't
supposed to laugh at. 
We had tea and cider, served in real tea cups, pumpkin tartlets, cucumber sandwiches, cookies, and three kids of cake.  All three of the kids really got into the teacup thing, and about ten minutes in, Brady announced loudly that he sure was glad they came.  Us too.  Cucumber sandwiches are tasty, but Sarah and I needed help finishing the whole plate.

Mrs. Claus was stuck in Jordan, seven miles away, so I read the stories.  I was going to wear the Mrs. Claus outfit, but I forgot to try it on the day before, and it didn't quite work without stockings and the proper undergarments.   Somehow, I didn't think the rolled up pant legs and sweat socks very convincing.  The kids, who had all walked there, were perfectly understanding of Mrs. Claus' inability to drive in the storm. 

We started off with The Grinch, of course, moved on to Bernstein Bears, and then debuted Cathy Isles book, Faces.  There are lots of interactive questions in it, so story time lasted a good long while.  I haven't read to kids in about twenty-two years, and had forgotten how much fun it can be.  To finish it off, Carter read a book to me, which hasn't happened in waaaay more than twenty-two years!

The whole thing was fun.  Not having kids of my own, Christmas can be a little flat some years, but I have to tell you, if nothing else happens this year, Saturday morning with these three precious gifts will have been enough.  It was seriously that perfect. 

Good thing, because this is what awaited me outside...

Because the light is so flat, you can't see the two foot snowdrift behind my van.  I had to shovel out to leave, and still had to have a few people push.  A minute later, I arrived home to find my driveway of course drifted in with the same two feet of snow, and as I didn't dare park on the street, I got to shovel that, too.  It continued to snow a little longer, and to blow all night, so everything shoveled on Saturday had to be re-shoveled on Sunday.  Talk about a workout!

Belle finally got some attention on Sunday.  I'm nearly done replacing the damaged powder room floor, and the leaky toilet that did the deed.  This has been one of those "absolute priorities" for over a year, but has been easy to avoid as there isn't exactly a line for the upstairs bathroom.  Garden Club meets here tomorrow night, so I suppose it's time to get it done.  The new floor is in, and I picked up flange bolts this afternoon, so should be able to install the toilet yet tonight.  It will be functional, though it won't be photogenic for awhile, so don't hold your breath. 

I'll be off to it, then, but I'll be back on Wednesday.  Stay toasty!  

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Planter Chairs, Cookie Bears, Santa's in his Underwears...okay, maybe I'm not a lyricist or a singer.

Snowstorm #2 is blowing in, ginger bears are in the oven, and I'm still up at 1:30 in the morning...must be getting close to Christmas!  Keystone Women's Circle is hosting the "Mom and Me Holiday Tea" tomorrow, and despite the fact that we advertised that dads, grand's, aunties and others are welcome, the turnout may be small, as some forecasters are predicting about 10 inches of white stuff before morning.  Mrs. Claus has cancelled, so I'll be reading the stories...thank God our Mrs. Claus happens to be a children's book author, and not a singer!  Of course, Sarah J, who owns Mystic Journey, the shop where we are having this function, gave me a key on her way out tonight, just in case she can't get out of her driveway in the morning.  I think I may be spending my day alone with a whole bunch of cucumber sandwiches.

I spent my week doing lots of small jobs, some of which I can't show here, as they were commissioned as Christmas presents.  Kinda like playing Santa, and getting paid for it.  I can show you some decorations I did for a client, though:

In the summer time, these planter chairs hold cascading flowers, but for now, they're decked out in a mix of greens, ribbon, and glittered nature.  I didn't choose the glittered embellishments, but I gotta admit that attacking perfectly lovely cones and leaves with gold paint is my kind of pretty, so I had a lot of fun with these.

Another job I did this week started out to be a mural on a massage room wall, but quickly changed to a canvas hanging.  This way, I didn't have to paint on cinder block, and the client can take this with him if he moves, or if he does any wellness events where it can be a backdrop.  He supplied a photo of a hand pushing through something almost clear, and I just had to interpret it in acrylic.   

Whew!  It's now 2:00 a.m., and I'm usually up between 3:30 and 5, so this is way late for me.  Since the snow seems to have stopped for now, at only a few inches, I better get some sleep before my debut as the big guy's wife.  You know I only agreed to this because I've been trying to get him to let me sit on his lap all season.  As his wife, he has to let me, right?  I'll let you know what he promises me for Christmas...maybe! :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The dishes are piling up...

Stacked china serving towers certainly aren't my invention, but every time I take treats to a potluck on them they get a lot of attention, and I get a lot of requests for how to make them. 

stacked china serving plates
First, spend way too much time at garage sales and thrift stores, accumulating china that you can use for this, china mosaic, or just to mix up on your table.  You can make these as single pedestals, or two or three-tier servers, and consider a bowl for the top tier, to hold dips and spreads.  Also keep your eye out for shorter wine glasses, glass or silver candle sticks, and other spacers with level tops.  Check carefully, as mouth blown pieces aren't always level, and it's magnified when you balance a plate on it.
Clean everything well, and allow the glasses or candlesticks to air dry for awhile, to insure you don't trap condensation inside.  Once dry, wipe the parts you will be gluing together with denatured or rubbing alcohol, if you want to really be sure they will stick.
Test fit everything, then mix up a small batch of five-minute epoxy.  So far, I have had the best luck with Loc-tite brand, followed by ACE hardware brand.  Some of the others have been inconsistent in bonding, clouded up if refrigerated, or turned very yellow upon hardening.  I use flat wooden floral picks for mixing and spreading, as I happen to have an abundance of them, and they are just the right size for good control, when spreading. 
Put a thin, even bead of glue on one of the two pieces that will be bonded.  More is not better.  More simply makes a wider band of plastic between the glass and china, which will be the weakest point.  Quickly press the pieces together.  If your pieces balanced easily without glue, you can probably do all the bonds at once.  If you are using candlesticks with small tops, you may need to allow each tier to set up before adding the next. 
These are great to give as gifts, so make up a few extra, and even if you don't have time to do the gluing up, you can still raid your stash of plates for a pretty vintage china one, instead of delivering those Christmas cookies on paper or plastic plates.  It adds a lot of charm to a simple gift, and yet the recipient can keep it, or pass it along guilt-free, since it's not that precious.

Store stacked china serving plates in plain sight, holding everyday items.
Care and storage:  These can be hand washed.  I don't submerge mine, as there is a chance that water could seep into the wineglasses.  Some women almost passed up buying these when I had the boutique, because they didn't think they had a place to store them.  If you make them from plates that match your everyday style, you can keep them in plain sight on a buffet, a bookshelf, or someplace unexpected.  In between parties, I keep two in my studio, one holding spools of ribbon, one holding rubber stamps.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Vision and Perception

perception:                                                                                    vision:

This is a classic exercise I learned in Jr. High, from Betty Edwards' book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  If you want to see something more clearly, and thus be able to draw it more accurately, draw from a photograph, and turn the photo upside down.  This tricks your brain into seeing the shape and placement of parts, rather than running everything through the "I know this object" filter, as in, "Now I'm drawing a chair, which has four legs a seat and a back".

today's model...great legs, dontcha think?
I had today's students try it, and though they are pretty sure the daily drawing lesson is designed to torture them, they both saw the benefit of using this trick.  I thought it very interesting that the obvious difference in both girls flipped drawings was the length of the chair legs.  I know we learn to perceive things as we believe them to be at a very young age, but I wonder if this is an indication that we all learn the same mis-perceptions.  Two subjects does not a scientific study make, of course.
In all examples, the drawing on the left was drawn conventionally, first, then the one on the right was drawn upside down, looking at the photo flipped upside down.  I've rotated the girls' second drawings to more easily compare them. 

Kinda makes you want to start turning all kinds of things in life upside down to get a clearer perspective on them, huh? 

Would those of you reading this do me the kindness of posting a comment, just to say you were here, or drop me an email, at dawnmariedelara@gmail.com?  I've recently learned to check my stats, and it's fascinating to see how many people are reading this, which I wouldn't know from the whopping four followers listed (not that you darlings are chopped liver, by any means).  I want to know more than the stats tell me, though.  I want to know you!  I would love to know how you found this blog, whether you will tell others, etcetera.  I know there are some folks I've never met who have linked to me on their own sites, but I only find out about this if I really research, so let me know.  I would love to thank you, and return the favor!  Also, if you haven't checked out my portfolio website, please do at theartofthehome.com.

Have a great week!  I'll be back on Wednesday with something to make or cook, and Friday with a recap of the week's projects and progress.  Stay warm, if you are in a wintry climate like mine, and keep your eyes and mind wide open!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful, But Inside is so Delightful...

This is a re-post of last night's edition, which had html problems and caused the right hand column of this page to disappear...hopefully this solves that problem.

If you read Wednesday's post, you may be glad to know that I survived Thursday night's frigid weather with my reputation for accurate weather forecasting intact, and my inability to sing still unproven.  The cold and wind arrived on cue, as did a nice group of folks from one of the local church choirs to sing the carols.  Whew!  Santa wouldn't let me sit on his lap ( I think this might have had something to do with Mrs. Claus sitting next to him), but he did offer to trade me hats.  Sorry, Big Guy, nobody gets the drover.

It's been another week packed with a wide range of projects.  I had all three Art Girls on Monday.  Faith and Kadence are both working on inventing their own board games, and Jensen (age seven) has absolutely mastered the sewing machine.  She's been practicing straight seams so she can get good enough to sew a stuffed tiger.  I think she's about ready.

Tiger seems to be one of the themes this week.  I transformed a plain pine armoire for clients Sarah and Randy.  Designing the knobs, I knew Sarah would love the animal patterned details, along with the sparkle.  What I didn't expect was to arrive home to this email from Randy:  "Wow!  OH WOW!!!  THE KNOBS ARE SO COOL!!!"  Sarah, can we clone this guy?

The knobs were inspired by the work of Susan Goldstick, susangoldstick.com, who creates fabulous knobs, furniture, and lamps.  She didn't have just what we wanted, and you can custom order from her, but why would I let a stranger have all the fun, when I have a studio full of materials?  In case you would rather buy than make, her prices are very fair for the time that goes into the details.  I only make custom details like this in conjunction with bigger projects, like painting the armoire.

I think it was Edison who said "All you need to be an inventor is a good imagination, and a big pile of junk." 

I used wooden rounds cut off of bedposts from another project, wooden toy wheels, glass beads, metal candle holders from a yard sale, polymer clay, paint, and Rub 'n Buff colored waxes, plus a lot of plumbers epoxy putty.

I spent the rest of that day painting a few extra details on this kitchen that I "Woolied" last week, for another client.  The background finish is two shades of tan, plus cream, swirled together with a wool pad.  The details are simple herbs, arranged to compliment all the pretties the client's children and grandchildren have filled her kitchen with.

The rest of the week has been spent helping Cindy Heimerl prepare for her open house this Sunday, at her 1920's farmhouse, Marion's Place.  Cindy is an ordained minister, and is planning to host weddings here, as well as rent the house out by the day or weekend, for other events and gatherings.

The renters moved out on Wednesday night, and a few of us have been going great guns to get it cleaned, furnished and decorated in time.  The big stuff is all moved in now, so next we'll hang a few more mirrors and pictures, then start swagging fabrics and layering on the small details.  Being the girl with the tools, I'm in charge of things like hanging mirrors, resizing bed boards, and if the electrician doesn't show up, installing the dining room light.  No time to sling pretty paint for now, but at least I'm not on cleaning duty!

If you are in the Twin Cities area, come on down to Belle Plaine Sunday, from 1-6 p.m., and tour the place.  It's easy to find.  Take the Main Street exit off of 169, and turn right at the top of the ramp.  Take a right at the first intersection, onto Hickory Blvd.  Follow Hickory on up the hill, until it ends, and you must either turn left, or end up in a very snowy cornfield (the snow missing from Thursday's Christmas kick-off blew in Friday afternoon).  I recommend turning left.  Follow this road past the beige subdivision, and on around a gentle curve.  Marion's Place is the first farm on the left. 

Sunday's tour is the house, but be sure to ask Cindy when the Bohemian Barn, unheated this time of year, will be available to see.  It has chandeliers and big fluffy beds for Glamour Camping in the summer.  Very girly-girl.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

and now for local news...

I don't know what the weatherman says tomorrow will bring, but I can almost guarantee you that by 7 p.m., it will be frigid cold and windy.  Do I feel it in my bones? nope.  Read it in the flight of the birds? nuh-uh.  Hear it in whispers from the other side?  not me.  I simply know that the odds are excellent that I'm right because tomorrow night is the Belle Plaine Christmas tree lighting ceremony, complete with horse-drawn sleigh rides and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.  As usual, however, any snow we had has melted or blown away, so it will be horse-drawn wagon rides, and kids will sit on Santa's lap because he's big enough to block the wind that always kicks up for this celebration, just as the temperature plunges.  We do have a less predictable glitch, as well...

Last I heard, we still didn't have a singing group to perform carols, and no one in the community has stepped forward to offer to lead the crowd in entertaining ourselves.  Look people, don't make me have to do it.  I am the person who lip-syncs "Happy Birthday".  I only sing in church because I take "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord" to be the eleventh commandment.  Three year-olds in the pre-school class I once taught banded together one day and asked me not to sing to them anymore.  I am incapable of carrying a tune, and I am actually kind of shy (no kidding, I really am), but I am also incapable of letting the evening turn into a drab ho-hum event, for want of someone willing to step out of their comfort zone to get things started.  If you are in the area and sing, please show up downtown tomorrow night about 6:45.  If you are farther away, prayers might be a really good idea.

This weekend in Belle Plaine, my friend and fellow artist, Cindy Heimerl (see some of her art on the top of the page theartofthehome.com/links-to-other-artists.html ), is having an open house at her new business, Marion's Place...

Cindy is restyling this five bedroom vintage farmhouse into an event location you can rent by the hour, day, or weekend, for things like bridal showers, family reunions, quilting retreats, women's retreats, etc.  Her current tenants are moving out tonight, and we have three days to move in furnishings and get it transformed! Think we can't possibly do it so quick?  You don't know Cindy!  Plan to come check it out, Sunday the 2nd, and check back here Friday evening for the time and exact address. 

Assuming I survive tomorrow night, I'll have this week's work projects posted then, too.  One little detail got me this email from the client's husband:  "Wow!  Oh, Wow!!!"  It's pretty cool, if I do say so, myself!  Ta-ta til Friday!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bits and Pieces

mixed media/china mosaic fireplace with mirrored hearth

Chip china mosaic is one of my favorite things to do, and is surprisingly simple, though it can be extremely time consuming.  This fireplace is the most mixed media mosaic I've ever been asked to do.  I loved hunting for things to embed. and then seeing the direction the design took, once we started placing the elements.  Along with thrift store china, there are bits of iron from a shelf found curbside on trash day, brooches from the client's grandmother, old typewriter keys, game pieces, flowers from a friend's ceramic vase, and a cherub from another friend's garden, broken mirror, and even glass cabinet knobs set at strategic points for hanging Christmas stockings.  Had the kitchen sink not been fiberglass, it might have made it into the mix.
click for close-up, click again to enlarge

mosaic end table
Tables present challenges, as even the flattest china plates have some curve, so lamps, knick-knacks and vases may not sit steady.  On this end table, I filled the previously glass center (glass missing) with painted plywood, and added the mosaic to the outside border.  Legs were cut off of a matching table to make the ottoman.

salvaged cabinet door frames a mosaic mirror
On this piece, seashells were added to the design, and a small dish to catch rings was clipped in half and added to the bottom.  I actually use tile nippers to break the plates, as it is easier to control the size of the pieces.  Just smashing the china usually creates a lot of unusable shards.

Here's a quick and simple project...Use a papier mache ball, glue on broken teacups, salt shakers, and other convex pieces, then grout in black for added graphic appeal.  Display one atop a candle stick, several in a silver dish, or even hang them as Christmas ornaments on a sturdy branched tree.

Paper mosaic tabletops are even and lightweight.
And then there's the easiest version...Paper mosaic.  Not any faster mind you, at least in the making.  What is faster is the collecting of patterns.  Rather than spending months haunting antique stores and flea markets for just the right colors and styles of dishes, spend twenty minutes at your nearest scrapbooking store.

The method is simple:  Paint your tabletop the color you want the grout to be, cut several patterns of scrap booking paper into inch to inch and a half pieces, arrange into a pleasing pattern, leaving even spaces between them for the "grout" to show, then glue down with white glue.  Once dry, coat with three coats of satin Poly-crylic.  The shine protects the surface, and adds to the illusion of china.   I'm amazed by how many people think this is the real thing, even after they touch it. 

Aside from the ease of collecting coordinating patterns, the other really nice thing is that you don't have to worry about your wine glass tipping on an uneven surface as with most china mosaic.  I don't know about you, but I think keeping a wineglass upright is challenge enough, without the wonky china hazard.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

There's More to Belle's Kitchen Than Pretty Paint

I've been meaning to expand the blogging to other days, and other home arts besides decorating, so the easy place to start is with good food, and share the recipe for today's soup.  My only difficulty is that there isn't a recipe.  I cook soup at least once a week, from whatever is in the fridge, and because I had the good fortune to be raised by a chef, among a whole family of creative cooks, I don't use a recipe.  But not to worry, because what I want to inspire you to do is experiment, and trust me, soup is way easier to make than you think.

Start with broth.  I always have fresh chicken stock, as McKinley the Malamute (see photo at the top of the page thartofthehome.com/about-me.html) eats homemade dog food, for which I have to boil chicken.  He gets the meat and fat, I get the broth.  On the slight chance that you don't boil chicken a couple times a week, you might want to buy canned stock, or a condensed one.  Some are healthier than others, so read the labels, and choose a low sodium one, so you can control the saltiness.

For this pot, I used about

5 cups of stock
1/2 of a very large onion, coarsely chopped
2 dark green ribs of celery, coarsely chopped
4 small Yukon Gold potatoes, 1/2" dice
6 or 8 mushrooms, quartered
1 can of cannellini beans (white kidney beans)
1 can of butter beans
1 or 2 fully cooked brats, chopped
about a tablespoon of dried marjoram
a heaping teaspoon of chopped garlic
about a teaspoon of cumin
a rounded teaspoon of prepared mustard
salt to taste

There are two ways to cook this:  Be chefly and saute your onions until carmelized, brown the sausage, use only fresh garlic, and spend about an hour at it, after which you can wash the extra skillet and utensils.


Use the easy basic soup method:  Start the stock warming to a boil, and begin chopping and adding the veggies in order of firmness.  I started with the onion, then the celery, then the potatoes, though I would have done those first if they were chopped larger. Toss in the sausage, the beans, the mushrooms, then the seasonings, let it boil about 10 minutes, then check for salt, and add as needed.  You can let it simmer a bit longer, if you like your veggies softer. 

This works for any soup made with pre-cooked beans, and either fully cooked, or diced raw meat.  If using raw meat, boil until pink is gone before tasting, to be safe.  Is this as good as the chefly method?  You lose a little depth of flavor by not carmelizing things in a skillet first, but this is soup for people who have other things to do besides cook, and yet want something better than canned soup.  And it's waaaay better than canned!

It takes about 15 minutes to get it all in the pot, and it's ready for the table in about another 15.  Longer if you use raw meat, or want to let it simmer longer.  If you have a stainless steel pot, you can store it in the pot in the refrigerator, and dip out bowls to reheat for lunch or dinner for the next few days.  Very few dishes, pretty lean if you put in enough sausage for flavor, but not a full serving in every bowl, and very comforting on cold days like this one.

You can easily alter the recipe.  With chicken stock, try light meats like chicken or pork, white beans, and the seasonings mentioned.  With beef stock, use beef, and/or red beans, and use Worcestershire sauce in place of the mustard.  (Mustard and Worcestershire both work to strengthen the flavors, but don't really taste like themselves when used in such small quantities.)  You can season toward any nationality, and alter the veggies according to what's about to expire in the crisper drawer.  Be brave.  It's soup, and just about anything goes.  I can almost guarantee you that even the worst experiment will still taste better than Campbell's!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Paper Or Plastic?

Next time the grocery clerk asks if you want paper or plastic, take a minute to think about your walls.  Really.  Grocery bags are great as either tools or materials for a variety of wall treatments.  For instance, if you want a nice faux leather paint finish, you can get one with glaze manipulated with plastic bags. 

base coat, roll on glaze, smoosh with a plastic bag, repeat very quickly to avoid dark lap marks
However, if you have a room in which the newest of four patterns of wallpaper was applied prior to 1946, and you know the plaster under it is crumbling, you might (if you are as disinterested in tedious repair as I am) want to ask for paper.

I'm  still working on the entry and living room, here in my own house, Belle Ami,  but when I decided to steal a bookcase from the studio for the front hall, I knew I better take care of the studio walls while I had the room dismantled.  For the cost of a gallon of glue (cheaper by far at the hardware store than the craft store, by the way), and six months of accumulated grocery bags (no, I'm not a pack rat, I was saving them
especially for this), you can create some interesting effects.  I left mine simple, as paper arts are a passion of mine, and this is my art room, so having walls that are obviously torn paper makes me happy.

Rip bags, crumple and smooth, slather with thinned Elmer's, slap on wall, slather with more Elmer's, let dry, glaze with burnt sienna, then raw umber.
You can also get a realistic leather effect from brown paper.  The trick is to glaze it first, in a rich brown, or leather shade of your choice, then once dry, rip it and decoupage it onto the walls.  The torn edges will give the look of pieces of uncut rawhide.  It can be done with wallpaper paste, making it "removable", but it still may be best as one of those last-resort-before-new-drywall techniques.  You can do it over tatty panelling too, but do a quick fill of the grooves first with joint compound, and use white glue as your bonding agent.

If you just can't get enough of it, or if you perhaps don't have enough grocery bags (or patience/time/desire???) to cover an entire room's worth of walls, this technique is great on furniture, too. 

click pictures to enlarge, then click again for details

Follow wall directions above, then embellish with scrapbooking diecuts,  paper lace doilies, vintage magazine pictures, and painted swirls and words...or whatever else strikes your fancy.
Makes a nice background for collaged and painted detail, plus it covers a multitude of surface issues, including chipped veneer, gouged leather, and deep scratches.  And, of course, like anything leather, it just looks cool.

If you really want to try this, but need more detailed instruction, email me and I'll be happy to explain more, though there's really not much more to it. dawnmariedelara@gmail.com
Have you checked out the new website yet?  theartofthehome.com

Have a wonderful, wonder-FULL, Thanksgiving!  After dinner with friends old and new, I'll be spending the weekend building new studio bookcases to replace the one I commandeered for the foyer...pic's to come, of course!

Dawn-Marie (Quinche) deLara, Artist in Wonderland at The Art of the Home.