Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Art of Life

Carvings by my great-grandmother's cousin
Since I still haven't done any of my own creative work lately, I am writing this post to update you all on the big project I'm currently working on: the house we moved into about a month ago. I lost my mind a little bit two days before Christmas and invited my parents and sister and her family to stay with us for the holiday. We still had boxes everywhere when I did this, so we all had to work like dogs to get the house ready and to produce a big Christmas dinner. I made prime rib and, with Jerry's help, mashed potatoes, carrots, and buttermilk biscuits. My sister brought vegetable lasagna and we had the truffles I wrote about in  my last entry. Jerry also special-ordered Esther Price chocolates from Dayton, Ohio for us, the exact same box my grandma always had out at Christmas. That was a big hit with everyone! My parents visited the week after we moved in and my mom was impressed with how different the house looks now that I have artwork up.

I have been blessed in my life to grow up surrounded by art. My grandfather studied typography as a young man. He dreamed of having his own newspaper and he wanted to write the articles and design the paper and set the type himself! His six children dictated the course of his career, though, and he had to settle for selling ad spaces in a newspaper to support them all. He had two huge art books, one on graphic design, and one from The National Gallery with many color plates of the collection, and when I was very small he would get them out and we would pour over them for hours. When I went to art school he made a gift of both to me, as well as his most precious typography book. We found we shared a love for Goudy; it was the favorite typeface for us both!

My grandfather commissioned a lot of paintings and a mural from artists in our little town, and he also inherited the carvings shown above. These are by my great-grandmother's cousin, Erling (pronounced "Elling") Brucet. Erling was pretty typical of the "Norwegian Bachelor Farmer" of Garrison Keillor fame, except he was a wood carver. Though a native of Norway, he was very passionate about the politics of his adopted country, and this was the subject of nearly all his work.
The carvings I have were inherited by my grandfather. He and each of his seven siblings inherited some work. These bas relief portraits of political figures were doors which adorned a giant cupboard. Unfortunately, a grass fire caught Erling's studio on fire and much of his work burned. He risked his life to run in and remove the doors from the cabinet, which was too heavy to remove from the building. The noses of the figures were burned off. Erling sculpted new noses from wood filler, which darkened over time, and that explains why the noses are so dark. As children we always thought they'd been scorched. The portraits I have are of Benjamin Franklin and Senator Bora of Michigan, who Erling admired enough to put in the company of Franklin!

Benjamin Franklin

Senator Bora
My mother's cousin, Carine, has the only Brucet sculpture in the round I have seen. I believe it is of the Lincoln and Douglas debate. She sent me this newspaper article about him:

My grandfather remembered Erling well and used to tell me lots of funny stories about him. Erling had no family of his own, so he spent a lot of time hanging around with his cousin, Anna Laura, Grandpa's mother. Once, Grandpa remembered, Erling was sitting in a rocking chair trying to light his pipe. It wouldn't light and he kept leaning forward trying to light it. He leaned and leaned until he fell right out of the rocking chair! Another time, Erling came to visit and left his hat behind. Great-Grandma reminded him of this the next time he came and handed his hat to him as we was leaving. Erling put it on top of the hat he wore that day. Later, he walked by a lady and went to lift his hat, only to remember another was beneath it! So, he was a funny, eccentric character, and I feel blessed to know the personality of my ancestor who died so long before I was born. Today is my father's birthday, so I need to reflect on good things that came from growing up without him. My cousin remembered and called me, so that is another good thing. My father never had a birthday cake until he got married and my mom made one for him. His parents just always celebrated it as part of Christmas.

Today we've been doing a lot of laundry so we can travel back home to celebrate Christmas with Jerry's family. We are also going to see the Edvard Munch exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art. I am excited about that! Poor Munch was so poor he had to paint on cardboard, so we are all very lucky to still have surviving examples of his work. I haven't ever seen any of his pieces in person, so I'm beyond thrilled.

We also went back to Mary Jo's to pick up the fabric for the bedroom curtains and bedding. I am really nervous, because the fabric I liked best is the most expensive I've ever bought. Mom said it isn't really bad for decor fabric, but I'm so used to doing everything on the cheap, I can't really imagine how I will cut it without being paralyzed with the fear I'll mess it up. Luckily, these are just drapes and pillows, which I've been sewing so long I could probably do it with my eyes closed.

The fabric and paint I chose for the bedroom.

Our contractor is supposed to start the attic conversions the first week of January, so hopefully I'll soon have a new office to work in! It will be a big change from working out of the bedroom, as I've been doing for the past few years. If I don't get writing again before the 31st, then Happy New Year to you all. I hope it brings us all those things we most long to have.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

God Jul

La Bella Città
Today I want to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday a bit early because tomorrow my parents will be arriving to stay for Christmas and I will be busy. I have already had my nose to the grindstone to a great degree and I have finally managed to finish the two front rooms, the dining room and living room, so they are box-free with artwork hung and decorated for Christmas.

The oil painting above, called La Bella Città , or "The Beautiful City" in Italian, has presided over our front room since we were married. In this house and our last that has been the dining room. This is my homage to Italy and to the city of Firenze, painted around 1995-1997 with all the scenes I so longed for when I returned to America. This painting resulted from a color study. We were supposed to make a painting using color and resulting in a good composition with no imagery and then work it into a representational picture once we had a solid foundation. This assignment was devilish and brilliant, the brain child of the late, great Paul Hartley, a wonderful teacher and amazing artist. Learning to use color well is extremely difficult for most young artists and Professor Hartley has been the best person I have known to explain both color and composition well.

The Christmas village in the dining room.
In this new house I don't know if this painting will remain on the wall. I had been hanging around in the Uffizi quite a bit during my time in Firenze and had developed a bit of an obsession with Raffaello and his intensely colored Madonnas. Also, you just can't portray Italy without strong colors. Something about the golden light there is just so different, every color seems more saturated. In the new house this painting seems too dark and bright, and it is really too small for the wall.

It is perfect over my village for Christmas, though, and I don't have anything else painted for the room yet, so we went ahead and hung it up. Besides cleaning and decorating, today we finally managed to make it to church. This morning we tried the Lutheran church here in town. We looked into the Latterday Saints (Jerry is trying  so hard to get back in my good graces he's actually willing to try being Mormon!) but it is over 30 minutes away. Plus, now I've totally re-addicted myself to coffee and we've been drinking a lot of wine. Jerry didn't like wine when we got married, but I consider anyone telling me they don't like wine as a personal invitation to take them to Italy and convert them. That is exactly what I did to Jerry and now we are both loving the Cupcake Malbec.

Besides that, I was happy to be back in the Lutheran church. This is the liturgy of my early childhood, and Christmas and Easter never seem quite right without the familiar rituals and chants and hymns. The Lutheran service is a traditional call and response program like the Catholic or Episcopal services, much of it chanted and sung. It is very different from the LDS talks. I get a lot from the talks, but right now I feel the need to return to the elemental.

I am happy to report all the angst of the past few months has reduced me another size and I could wear my purple cowl neck dress finally and looked so nice in it that a strange man in the grocery line winked at me when we stopped by after the service!

Tempering chocolate
Besides returning to my "home" church, I also returned to an early skill today. When I was very young, like preschool age, my mother taught me to make chocolate. It is one of my best talents to this day. Some of my happiest memories of my mother are of making chocolate together with her. My father's mother started a sorority for the women of the Ohio town where I grew up. My mother, as her daughter-in-law and resident of the town was of course invited to join, and she introduced chocolate fundraisers to the repertoire. One of the things the sisters did was to sell visits from the Easter bunny. The Easter Bunny would come to your house and deliver a basket of chocolate to your child. My mother would make all the chocolate with my and my sister, Sherri's, help and then she was also the pink-costumed Easter Bunny who delivered it. I remember one year she was quite pregnant and we thought the sight of this fecund pink bunny quite funny. We also made chocolate to sell at Christmas. My memories of holidays are always of the smell of the chocolate, and the taste and feel of it, and of opening the sideboard drawers in our dining room to find them stacked full of chocolates.

When I was in high school I began making truffles for my most special friends, either as Christmas or Valentine's Day gifts. I am still making them to this day, and as a special gift to my readers I am going to teach you how. First, if you wish to dip the finished truffles in chocolate you will need to temper the chocolate so that it will not cloud or get sticky at room temperature.

To temper chocolate is easy, First, take 8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate and chop it coarsely, or use chocolate chips. Heat your oven to 100 degrees F. Spread the chocolate on a baking sheet. Turn the oven off and place the chocolate in it. Stir every 5 minutes until the chocolate is melted and reaches 100 degrees, 15-20 minutes. Add two 1-ounce squares of well-tempered baking chocolate and fold them in until the melted chocolate reaches 90 degrees. Remove the chocolate squares and save for later use. Line a baking sheet with a silicone sheet or waxed paper and spread the chocolate 1/2 inch thick. Refrigerate 3-5 minutes; of the surface is dry to the touch and the center is cool the chocolate is tempered. If not, you must return it to the pan and repeat the process again.

Making the truffle filling

Now, to make the truffle filling, take 1 cup heavy cream and heat in a medium saucepan until bubbles form all around the edge. Turn off the heat and add 1/4 cup unsalted butter and 12 ounces semisweet chocolate. Stir until the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth. You can use this mixture plain as a chocolate filling, or add flavors of your choice. Good flavor options are liqueurs, extracts, spices, or very strong espresso. Today I made Chambord (raspberry) liqueur, Kahlua, Amaretto, and Chai fillings. When you've flavored your mixture, spread it in a cookie sheet and cool for at least 2 hours. When cooled, scoop into 1 inch mounds and roll into balls. You may roll these in confectioners sugar, unsweetened cocoa, nuts, or dip them in chocolate to finish them. For my Chai truffles, I plan to dip them in white chocolate and brush with a tiny bit of nutmeg. The amaretto are always my favorite. If you are European, semisweet chocolate will most likely taste too sweet to you, so you may substitute bittersweet or even unsweetened chocolate and add only the liqueur to sweeten it or stevia or other sweetener to taste.

So, there you have my famous truffle recipe. Use it for good! I often dream of opening a chocolate shop. Two of my favorite books are Chocolat, by Joanne Harris, and the sequel, The Girl With No Shadow. Like those stories, people tell me the memory of my truffles will stay with you for many long years.

After church today we went to the sporting goods store to get me some new running shoes. My old ones were literally falling off my feet and my knees and feet have been killing me. I finally used the gift card my sister gave me for my birthday (thanks, Leah!) and got myself a really nice pair. Tomorrow I will get up early and finish getting the house ready for company, or at least as ready as it can be with our walk-in attic conversion and bookshelves not yet completed. Then we will eat our traditional Norwegian supper of rømmegrøt (cream porridge) and return to church.

I hope you all find peace and joy in your holiday celebrations and fulfillment in the new year.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Siren Song

I've finally managed to get some art on the walls.
We are a couple weeks in our new home now, and you might have noticed I haven't been writing or selling anything or making anything lately. To be honest, I have just been completely overwhelmed. We've moved the children into their new schools and therapist meetings, unpacked almost everything, and we finally managed to get the Christmas tree up and decorated. But, I have been very slow to start decorating.

If you read this blog regularly you might have noticed Jerry and I haven't been on very civil terms since the end of September. In reality, it was worse than I've let on. I have been in a dangerous mood. I am so untethered from my familiar life and my friends, just walking away has seemed possible and maybe easier than staying. I have been extremely fortunate in the possession of a close confidant who knows me inside out and who encouraged me to stay and work things out. So I stayed, but now I am completely estranged from that friend, and through no fault but my own. I miss our talks more than I ever imagined I could.

At first the older children seemed to be doing wonderfully well here, but at the end of the second week at school our oldest's principal was on the phone to inform us he hasn't been turning in any homework and is failing math quizzes and tests. So, now we have to figure out what all this is about. He's nearly fourteen, and is as taciturn as a locked door when we try to talk to him.

A boat lit up for Christmas tours Lake Norman.

I have been feeling so low I have spent more time than I should sleeping and lying around reading Dinesen. I haven't felt like decorating for Christmas or shopping or wrapping presents or decorating or writing. I have been feeling like I'm starting to really lose it, and that worries me. If I learned anything from my early childhood, it is that the one thing you can't do when you're a parent is fall apart. So this week I am trying to get myself together.

If there's any upside to all this it is that I work out my problems in my head while I walk and run and I have been running a lot here. I like to run by the lake and see the lights on the water and feel the cold wind, and this area has much steeper hills than I'm used to. Jerry says he thinks I've lost ten pounds since we got here. The other night I saw this boat lit all up on the dark water and I felt as though I was treading water just as black and cold and deep and almost going under. Then it occurred to me that often, when I feel that sad, it means my vitamin D is low again.  It wouldn't be surprising; even though we're supposedly in a drought I think the sun has been out only about three days since we got here. It has just been day after day of gray mist and drizzle, and I have a terrible time keeping my levels up even in midsummer.

I decided I'd better eat more fish. I prefer smoked fish, as you all know, but my mom and grandfather loved canned red salmon best. I love that too, and my favorite part is the bones and skin in the center. The bones are soft, like Smarties candy, and they're good. As a girl I had to fight my sisters for the bones, but since I am now the cook I very selfishly remove the bones and eat them myself! I must be raising real Norwegian Chinese kids, though, because the other day I opened a can of salmon and extracted the vertebrae and was all set to eat them up when my youngest came in and begged roughly half of them away!

So I'm eating my fish, and Jerry and I have talked a lot more than we have for years, and I hope we are turning a corner now to better times. This is a beautiful place and a lovely house. I decided to start decorating. Jerry has two weeks off, so he is here to help me. Yesterday and today we hung three gallery walls of photographs and art. We chose the front hallway for the black and white gallery.

Fifteen years ago Jerry brought the giant Marilyn Monroe poster to the marriage and I've been decorating around it ever since. I hated it at first, but she's grown on me. For one thing, every one of the children has pointed to that poster at one point or another and said, "That's you, Mom." And I always say, "Why yes, you're right. It is!" And I started collecting black and white pieces to blend it in. The small photo on the bottom of the flying machine was exhibited at the NC Museum of Art years ago in the Defying Gravity exhibit; probably around 2003 or so. I loved that piece so much I took it from the catalogue and framed it. Unfortunately, I have lost track of the name of the artist. Any information from my helpful readers would be much appreciated. I would love to give proper credit.

Siren, a mixed media painting.

Then this piece is one of my own, a mixed media piece depicting the Lorelei, called Siren. I created this piece as an illustration for a CD called one by the Loreleis of UNC, the a capella singing group. I love this piece because it was one of those rare paintings that just work out immediately from the minute you begin to work, as if they are ordained. I love the feeling of uncovering, rather than creating, art. It is as if the piece already exists and I am just revealing it. It is a rare occurrence, at least in my artistic life!
Hanging this piece, remembering that feeling, and reading my Dinesen again brought the past up bright before me. Jerry and I have talked a lot about the past this week, and the people we once were. We met so young, at 14, and were engaged at 21 and married at 23. In many ways, we wish we could return to the people we were at certain times. It is the siren song of the past. It always seems better in retrospect than it did at the time.
There are particular parts of myself I do wish I could recover. I used to paint or draw every single day. I almost never do now. Reading Babette's Feast again (this is a Isak Dinesen short story I very highly recommend) I see the lines I highlighted when I first read and re-read it at University and as a young wife. I underlined this: "A great never poor. We have something...of which other people know nothing." I was very, very poor at the time, but I didn't feel it much, because I felt like I would go so far and that my life was so rich in experience.
Lately, I have wondered if what we have gained materially is worth all we lost or traded as we aged. I hope we can go back and pick up the best parts of our younger selves to bring along to our new life. So, I hang the art and photos, and I decorate. Today Jerry accompanied me to Mary Jo's Cloth Store in Gastonia. This fabric store is famous all over for its amazing selection, and now I am privileged enough to be only 28 miles away. I poured over the fabrics for hours trying to decide what to do with our master bedroom. All I can do is hope, and keep putting one foot in front of another, and I am thankful to have company along my way.
This fabric was my favorite at Mary Jo's.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Night and Day

the "Day-to-Nighters" before restoration
The journey begins...the movers were here all day packing up our stuff. Until tomorrow when they come back to load it, we are living between towering stacks of boxes. We certainly seem to have acquired a lot of stuff since we arrived. I'm not really sure how that happened! We did have one child's birthday here, so we got even more toys than we came with! I had to label everything with Post-It Notes that we want to take with us so they wouldn't cart off my parents' stuff. It took almost the whole day yesterday. We definitely have too much! Maybe we should become Franciscans or Buddhists and divest ourselves of our earthly possessions. I am starting to have my fantasy again where I find a deserted hotel on an empty beach and I just sit in a room by myself looking out the window, only in this version the room is empty too except for the barest bed and chair!
In college I dated a man who had been raised by diplomats and had grown up all over the world. He was a champion mover. He just left everything and started anew wherever he went. This turned out to be quite a burden on those he left behind. After we broke up I found myself swamped the possessions he'd left, and that was before the days of Craig's List. It wasn't so easy to get rid of stuff back then! I learned from him, though, and when I went to Italy to work for the entire summer I took only one suitcase. I rented a furnished apartment. I dream of those days sometimes! Oh, to be that person again who could (and did!) hop on a plane and just go live anywhere, even just for a couple days!
I told Jerry that we should just sell everything we own and only rent or buy furnished houses from now on. He said, "Oh yes; that will be so easy...and cheap!" We couldn't really do that anyway, because so many of our possessions are heirlooms. We hardly own anything that wasn't handed down. None of it is worth anything, except in our hearts. One such example of this is the "Day-To-Nighters" I wrote about in my last post. These were my grandmother's, the 1950's version of the sleeper sofa. When you remove the back cushions on these couches they become long Twin sized beds. You can push them together to make a Double bed if you wish. The memories these hold...I can't tell you! To my mother, they are the rec room furniture where she and my father and their friends would hang out in the basement. For me and my sisters and cousins, they are the holiday sleepover beds and where we sat to open our Christmas presents. There were recliners in the basement along with these and I can still see my dad and Uncle Jim laid out after Thanksgiving, snoring away in front of the game on T.V.! I couldn't throw them away, even though the original "Herculon" covers were literally rotting off them after years in my sister's attic. I decided to recover them.
To start the process I first picked apart the cushions and made a pattern. The seam allowances had been trimmed after they were sewn, so I had to re-draw each piece with the seam allowance added back in. I saved the zippers when I picked the covers apart and re-used them. I use regular old chalkboard chalk to draw the pattern out directly on the new fabric. Since the edges of the original fabric pieces were uneven I measured from the stitch line to straighten the grain and draw the pattern.
Making a pattern from the original pieces.
When I finished cutting and sewing the new covers I wrapped each piece of foam cushion in new batting and sewed it into place by hand. I really wanted to replace the original foam but it was just too expensive. The batting adds a surprising amount of loft and comfort. These always were surprisingly comfortable, both as beds and couches.
Each cushion was wrapped in batting.
I just used regular polyester quilt batting that comes on giant industrial-sized rolls. I started the couches less than a week ago. The first ones took the longest, since I had to draw the patterns and learn how to sew them from looking at the original covers. The first cushion took me several hours, but after that each one only took about 40 minutes or so.
The covers in progress.
Jerry was kind enough to spray paint the metal frames for me. I asked him to do a brushed nickel finish with chrome feet. Originally they were black metal with brass feet! I think they turned out really well. A couple of the cushions have places I am not happy with and which I want to re-do once we get to Denver. The curved edges of the back cushions are really hard to sew so they lie smooth. The couches have an amazingly contemporary look now that the fabric and color is up to date. My Facebook friends were commenting on how modern my grandmother must have been! She was really stylish. People would always say, "The only reason I went to church {back in the 1940s and 50s} was to see what kind of hat Margie would be wearing!"
Grandma's house was also very fashionable and so clean it was like a dream. She was one of the only people I knew to have air conditioning when I was growing up, and when you would walk in the door it was like stepping onto a glacier, so cold and fresh and everything upstairs icy blues and greens. The basement retained its bright colors from my dad's infant playroom days. The yellow couches had primary colored throw pillows on them. In my time the room was all decorated in sophisticated red, yellow, and black, but I have seen photos from my dad's childhood and back then Grandma had painted a mural with cartoon characters all around the room.

The couches after restoration
So I am really proud of myself. In less than a week I went to Denver for two days to close on the house, recovered two couches, cut out a Queen sized quilt, and sorted and labeled all the clothing and possessions we have here at my parents', besides my regular chores! I plan to make some throw pillows for the couches, so when I get those done and get them in the bonus room I will post more photos.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Crazy for You, Quilt

Quilt Blocks
Today finds me writing another post rather different than usual. I am not working on dolls this week. I did start this blog as incentive to work on any creative projects, though, not just dolls, so I think this is acceptable. I also need some writing therapy. My blog makes me feel like I have someone to talk to, and I really need that right now. I feel like I've taken leave of my senses a bit.
All this started about a month and a half ago. You might remember from the Upheaval post that we found we had to relocate to another city within a very short time frame. So, Jerry and I spent several days house hunting in the Charlotte area the first week of October. We settled on a house in the little town of Denver, NC. When we returned home we found all of our children had become ill in our absence. I had them all home that week and Jerry, who is already commuting between Charlotte and Raleigh, went back to Charlotte. Then, Jerry went to Cincinnati for about a week and we continued with at least one child sick. Jerry got mad at me around this time and didn't speak to me for a week. The children got sicker. Two got bronchitis and my oldest son's toe got infected again. Then Jerry came home from Charlotte with a terrible stomach flu. He was home for almost a week but was too sick to talk to. Then I caught it, but not nearly as bad, thank goodness. But anyway, the upshot is that I have been trapped at home with sick people and no one to talk to for over a month. I love my children, but I do really long to talk to other adults, and I haven't been able to much at all lately. I have been really lonely. There are a lot of people here, but they are either in need of care, or they are people who talk AT me, but not with me. Sometimes I feel like all I really am is a glorified cook and maid.
We are closing on the house in Denver this week, so we are ridiculously busy. I should not be taking time to write any posts, but I feel like I'm going to go crazy if I don't find some sort of outlet for all these thoughts banging around in my head. I do also have a couple big projects in the works. I was "talking" electronically with a friend recently who asked me if I ever make quilts. I have made baby quilts and wheelchair quilts, but not any bed quilts. This made me feel somewhat guilty. I do, after all, have piles of scrap cloth everywhere, leftover from all my various dolls and other stuff.
Just a few of the scraps I have lying around.
I also remembered a lot of quilting I used to do back in the early 1990s. Around here these sort of upholstered photo albums were very fashionable. I had a pattern for one that had a crazy-quilted cover and I made them for everyone. I love crazy-quilting. Regular quilts are way too precise for me. I get terribly bored cutting out all these tiny shapes over and over. I also can't see the economy or sense in buying a whole bunch of fabric just so you can cut it all up in tiny pieces and sew it back together. But crazy quilts aren't supposed to match or even have uniform shapes so you can use every scrap you have. I loved doing the photo albums because since you weren't sleeping on the quilt you could add all kinds of embellishments like charms and buttons. I love doing embroidery too. I apologize now to any of you who still have one of those terribly out-of-date, dust-catching books. You have my permission to throw it out!
But, I decided to go through my scraps and cut crazy blocks. The finished blocks are shown above. I adapted a pattern I found on Pinterest for a His and Hers quilt. So it wouldn't be so stripey I added a square made of two triangular blocks. I have enough blocks to make a queen sized quilt now. The thing is, I don't really NEED a queen sized crazy quilt. So, maybe I'll make several throws and sell them or give them as gifts. Last night on my run I asked my best friend, Cherre, why she thinks I would decide to cut enough blocks for a queen sized quilt right when we are moving and when I have another HUGE project underway. She doesn't know. Clearly, I am deranged!
Cherre and I were gone so long on our run and then talking afterwards that Jerry sent me a text that said "Running to Utah?" (because Cherre is my friend from LDS church). Then I came home and worked on my other project until after midnight. I had some time to reflect. I think I feel the need to add all these big projects because I am scared. Denver is a very small town, and I don't know anyone there. Jerry is away a lot of the time on business. I already feel really lonely much of the time. I guess I just feel the need to cram as many projects as I can into my life so I have something to do at night when the kids are in bed and I'm alone.
My other big project is a nostalgic one. My sister inherited two couches that can double as sleeping cots when our grandmother died. At the time I wanted them but didn't have anywhere to keep them. Yesterday, my sister moved to Asheville, NC. Since my brother-in-law hates the cots they just stuck them in the attic for years, so she gave them to me. My grandmother called these the "Day-To-Nighters".
Cots, or couches called "Day-To-Nighters"
There are two of them, but they are all stacked up here so you can't really tell. Besides being filthy from spending about a decade in an attic, these were last re-upholstered in the 1960s. I decided to redo them. The original plan was to make entirely new cushions, but when I went to buy the foam (half off and with coupons) I found it was totally unaffordable. So I settled for getting batting. I plan to just wrap each piece of foam in new batting so the old foam makes a "core" inside for support. I found a pretty green chenille called "Lichen":
I want to paint the black frames to look like brushed nickel with chrome, rather than brass, feet. I am trying to talk my step-dad into doing that for me while we are in Denver this weekend. All in all, each couch with two new throw pillows (besides the original cushions shown) will cost about $200. This is very upsetting to Jerry, but I pointed out that we would be much more in the hole if we had to buy a new bed or two new couches and we need to have somewhere for people to stay now that we are moving so far away. Besides that, this WOULD have cost about $800 even without new foam if it hadn't been for my discount-shopping prowess! And imagine if I sent them out to be done!
So, all day yesterday and well into the night I picked apart two of the cushion covers to make a pattern. I also picked out the zippers so I can re-use those (another cost-saving measure). My sister brought by another of our grandma's things she decided not to keep. It is a little turquoise stone mushroom. My grandfather used to say, "Margie (Grandma) loves any color, as long as it's blue!" The little mushroom next to that old yellow fabric looks so familiar it makes my heart ache. I wish I could walk into that house just one more time and find her there. I definitely inherited her love for blue. Turquoise and robin's egg blue are my favorite colors!
So now I just have to start. I am writing this post in part because I'm scared I will mess everything up and I am procrastinating. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Auld Lang Syne

If you're reading today's post hoping for doll repair tips, I am afraid you are going to be disappointed. I haven't managed to do any work on my dolls this week. I have been pretty busy with our moving preparations.  We finally got our original movers to work with the new ones so we can get our stuff back. We are still waiting on a moving date. We have had to go back and forth with the sellers over some necessary repairs after the inspection. I was starting to worry that we would have to back out of the contract. I have been under so much stress I find I'm grinding my teeth even when I'm awake! My jaw is sore. I can't wait to go somewhere where there's enough room to take up my yoga practice again. I am really missing it. I am supposed to be working on paperwork, but I am taking a little break to write my blog.
I have also been hard at work on my personal project I first mentioned in the Norwegian Women post a few months back. I am happy to report I am finally down a jeans size. And I only had to give up flour, sugar, alcohol, coffee, and start running 4-8 miles several times a week! I also had some help from a new technology, which I highly recommend. My eBay store did well enough over the summer I was able to save up for a Living Social deal for two i-Lipo treatments (also called "cold laser" treatments) at Whole U Wellness medical spa in Cary, NC. I paid extra each time to add on a treatment called the "Ultra". This is a sucky, vacuum laser wand that the technician pulls over whatever area you are getting lasered. I added it because it is supposed to work on stretch marks. So, finally after 14 years I am doing something about my poor pregnancy-wrecked stomach! Anyway, the Ultra hurts like crazy but it's worth it. I have lost 3 inches from my stomach just since October 24th. I had my last treatment day before yesterday, and I am so bruised I can't tell if it's working on the stretch marks or not. The lasers themselves don't hurt or bruise but the Ultra makes it much more effective. Hanae, my technician, told me I am responding much better than most people. She says I could be done after two more treatments, so half the usual eight treatments most people need. But sales have been slow these past few weeks, so I will have to save for that. I am just going to keep to my diet and exercise to try to reduce more.
So, it seems like most things are finally moving in the right direction. I am happy, because the stress has been hard on all of us. Jerry and I have had some huge fights. I am hopeful that we will be settled in Denver in less than a month.
I was lucky enough recently to be in the grocery store at an unusual time of day and bumped into a very dear longtime friend, who recently moved back here from the mountains. I haven't seen him for over 20 years. We stood in the baking aisle catching up for how long I don't know. I'm really glad I was still in town for that! I immediately thought of the old Dan Fogelburg song, which is a sad statement of how out-of-date my musical repertoire has become! In my defense, though, how many people have written songs about running into old friends at the grocery store? I do seem to remember in the Fogelburg song they sit in the car and drink a six pack of beer, but we did not! Too bad, because that would have been fun! But not beer, which I hate!
It got me feeling nostalgic. I remembered how I used to love to play that album (yes, the record, not the tape! I am that old!). I was fascinated with it because the cover had a photo of an old china doll who looked a lot like Annabelle, if you remember from my D is for Dollikin post. If I remember correctly, the doll was leaning up against a headstone, a source of morbid fascination, and then it also had Run for the Roses on it. I was obsessed with horses at the time, and I played that song probably 100 times a day. It's a wonder my parents aren't in an asylum!
But thinking of that old song, I could see myself in our old Ohio living room, jumping on the mini-trampoline, singing along, way too young to understand the meaning behind the words. My friend tells me he hasn't moved anything but his clothes back to town in the month since he started work here and he doesn't know why. It started me thinking about why life takes so many unexpected turns. How do we end up places we never intended? Is it fate? Or are we making choices we're not even aware of, somewhere deep in the subconscious?
The prints shown in the photo were taken from my grandmother's house. My mom brought them here when she died and I cut new mats for them. They had been hanging as long as I can remember in my grandmother's front room, next to the organ. The artist is Paul Blackwell. I especially loved the King's Island print. It shows International Street. As far as I was concerned back then, King's Island was Heaven on earth! I love Blackwell's style. He uses that 60s variegated line weight and swingy control I just never can quite replicate. When I was re-framing the prints I found my dad's and uncle's graduation photos underneath. My mom told me that after my dad died my grandparents just couldn't stand to have his photo hanging on the wall. I was sad to realize the prints I had always loved were hiding such pain.
I am feeling so many things right now. I am happy to start a new adventure. I was moved around so much early on I think it turned me into a sort of nomad. I know it's good for the children to have the stability of growing up in one place, but I tend to get bored. I am really happy to be moving to Lake Norman, but I am so sad to be leaving my friends. I don't think it's really sunken in that I won't be able to go running with them every Wednesday anymore, or attend the conference broadcasts together with them in the Chapel. I can watch them on the Internet or BYU TV but it isn't the same as sharing the talks with friends. I can't believe I finally managed to give up coffee and wine and now we're leaving. I don't know that I'm interested in being baptized as a Mormon if I am moving to a different ward.
I'm not really tied to any particular denomination, or even religion, for that matter! I care about the people, but I also do especially love religions with lots of "stuff". My stepsister was Catholic growing up and got to have rosaries and holy water holders, and that white Communion dress and I was SO jealous. Buddhism is fun too, with all the gongs and incense and statues. Jerry told me once I was going to Hell because I pick out churches for the accessories. The Mormons don't have any accessories, though, so that's not true! I must admit, I am a total religion junkie. I have probably mentioned this before. I have been Lutheran and Methodist, Presbyterian, and Latterday Saints. In Italy, I attended Catholic services. In China, I had my Chinese children blessed in the Buddhist temple and prayed there. I just love going to church, especially new churches!
I'm still kind of mourning the Inwood Forest house too. The last time we were over there the kids we looking out the car windows. It's really flat, farm fields on that road. The kids were saying "It's Ohio!", and it does look like Ohio right there. My daughter said, "How big is the sky? It looks like we're driving through it!" And I told her we're always driving through the sky. Only the wheels touch the ground. The rest is sky. We walk through the sky every day. She was fascinated with the idea. It's a pretty cool thing to remind yourself from time to time.
Since it's Halloween today, I will tell you a true story that's interesting and a little bit eerie. I believe that God or fate directs us and I am always looking for signs of what I should do. This incidence I am about to recount is why I think as I do.
During the Vietnam War my father knew his draft number was about to come up. He was already an optometrist, but he decided to join the Air Force, since he could do so as an officer and he hoped it might make the war a bit easier. He was told to report to Fort Bragg, here in N.C., of course. A couple weeks before it was time to leave he was looking at a brochure showing Air Force bases around the country. He showed my mom a photo of Vandenburg AFB in California and said he wished he could get stationed somewhere like that. Well, a few days later he got a phone call from someone at Vandenburg. She said, "I'm really not supposed to do this, but we really need an optometrist here at the base and we wondered if you'd rather come here rather than Fort Bragg?" He said yes without even calling my mom.
My dad loved California. He felt he had come home for the first time in his life, just as I did when I first stepped foot in Italy. He was lucky enough that he was able to stay in Vandenburg for the entirety of the war. After the war he and my mom stayed in California, even though my grandparents begged him to move back to Ohio. They offered to buy him his own practice if he would come home, but he felt like California was home and he didn't want to leave. Later, of course, he died and we ended up in North Carolina. So, we have always felt he was allowed to trade a short life in a place he really wanted to be for a longer life here. He and my mom started dating when my mom was only 14. At 16, my dad told her he wasn't going to live a very long time. He already knew he would die young, but he thought he would die in a war.
We, though, are evidently supposed to be here. Why? Jerry says I was supposed to marry him and he was supposed to have his accident so that we would eventually be led to China to adopt our children. I've always wondered who I would have been if we'd never left California. Would I have gotten to keep my blond hair? It turned dark the first long Ohio winter (and blizzard). Would I be more athletic? I could already swim by the time he died when I was three and I was outside all the time. My mom caught him trying to strap a scuba tank onto my back when I was only 2 because he wanted to teach me to dive so badly. I'm sure I would know how if we'd stayed. I am pretty sure I would have a different personality all together, because I can only vaguely remember being really happy and feeling safe. Most people get to years and years to grow up and discover gradually how cruel and awful the world can be, but I found out all at once. Most of my life I've always been a little bit sad.
I also wonder who I would have been if we had come straight to North Carolina and I grew up here and never lived in Ohio or traveled every summer to Michigan. I wouldn't know much about my grandparents. My mother has no patience with stuff like that. She says since you can't go back and make different choices you'll never know what might have happened. I can't help it though; I just find it fascinating. Now I wonder who we will all be when we move, and how it will change us. I hope we change for the better!
The other night I was running and listening to Pandora and a Switchfoot song came on. I tried to make a point of remembering it for this blog, but of course I forgot the name. I remember one line though: "Today hasn't ever happened before".  I heard that and thought, it is so true, and yet I never think that way at all. It seems like my days all just run together in an endless stream of errands and laundry and chores, pretty much unchanging. I have been trying to look at it differently! I hope I can see each day as a new adventure and remind myself  whatever happens is what's meant to happen.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Betsy Rides Again

Well, we just said goodbye to Jerry, who is off on a business trip for the second week in a row. It's a miracle I'm still marginally sane, with three sick kids to myself! Besides that, we are having some trouble with our original movers, who have all our stuff in storage. They are refusing to return calls. We hope they are just mad that the relocation company is having us use a different company and not that they have lost or sold or stolen all our household goods! It is such a stressful time, I am glad to have my work to escape into and my dolls to keep me company.
This weekend I have been working on the third Betsy doll from the Tale of Three Betsy's post. You might remember, this doll's wig was in such poor shape I wasn't sure I could fix it. She also needed restringing. Her body looked pretty good, so I put the better Betsy head I had on that good body. I first fixed crotch and knee splits on the body and painted them. I am not going into that much, since it looks pretty much the same as all the Betsy body repairs. Betsy can sit and stand alone now that she has her repairs. Her stringing and hips are very tight now. On to the wig repair; here is a close-up of the very deteriorated rubber skull cap:

To try to repair the wig I first cleaned the face and head thoroughly all over and under the hair. Someone in the past had tried to glue the wig down and there was darkened glue residue all over the face. I was able to remove most of this. I washed the hair and set it, working very gently, as hunks of hair were starting to fall out of the rotten rubber cap. I broke and cut away any deteriorated rubber which had already lost its hair. At this point I needed to fix the split side seam of the head, as the hair would be glued down over it.
The split seam is repaired with plastic epoxy.
After the epoxy dried I sanded and painted it. You can hardly tell any repair was made! Then I applied Aleene's Tacky Glue under the edges of the skull cap and all around the edge of the face and pressed the hair down over it, securing it with a rubber band until it dried. This glue is able to be soaked off in hot water in case the entire wig ever needs replacing. When the hair was dry I arranged it to cover any old glue and bald spots and sprayed it into place. I replaced the one original barrette. Now the hair looks quite nice. It is better than I thought it would ever be! This doll cannot have her hair changed or brushed, though, because for the most part it is all glued into place. This repair should hold until the top of the skull cap starts to deteriorate, at which time the hair will all fall away. I think, however, that with this repair and proper storage the hair should look nice for a long time to come!
The doll with repaired hair and body.

After the wig repair I moved on to Betsy's face. Now you might remember from my last Betsy post, this doll had really lovely high color face paint that was nearly perfect. The only flaw was one scratch in the cheek paint. All I had to do was rub a little more paint over the scratch to hide it and a bit more on the other cheek to make them look even. I also dabbed a bit of black on the eyelashes where the color had rubbed off the tips. This helps bring out Betsy's blue eyes. They are very pretty, a dark cornflower blue, and unusual since they aren't the normal gray color.
Betsy with her face paint touched up.
I used the flash to show Betsy's pretty blue eyes.
Some weeks ago I bought a Betsy doll with a lot of clothing. One of the pieces was the Pony Pals outfit from the 1950s by American Character. This outfit features a one-piece wool felt jodhpurs and red checked shirt romper with a faux suede vest. This one had a lot of moth damage to the jodhpurs and the vest was starting to flake at the edges. I was able to repair the pants using the needle felting technique I describe in the Loving Lenci post.
The pants are repaired with needle felting.
The best I could do color-wise was the camel-colored felt I use for the Nosy dogs. Since it isn't an exact match I felted the patches onto the inside. The repairs are visible but not all that noticeable. I couldn't really do anything about the vest, so it is quite fragile and should be handled with extreme care. I recommend it for display only and not to be taken on and off the doll a lot.
The vest is starting to flake.
I found a pair of vintage Barbie boots that match the pants well. They don't fit very well, but well enough that they don't fall off and Betsy can stand alone wearing them. I think the whole ensemble looks pretty cute!
Betsy and her Pony Pals outfit after restoration.
Of course, what would a Pony Pals outfit be without a pony? I briefly considered not including one, but you know I just can't stand to have things incomplete! Now, as far as I know, Betsy never had a pony in the original paper dolls series. Since she had a riding outfit, though, I decided a pony was in order. I found a free pattern on Pinterest. I am pretty sure I pinned it into my "Projects" or "Kids" board if you need to find it. I had the most beautiful cream-colored wool felt and mohair to use. I decided such a pretty and sweet white pony should be named "Sugar". My mom came in while I was working and was very surprised to see Sugar could stand on her legs without even being stuffed yet at that point. Mom doesn't sew with wool a lot. I explained how I love to use the wool felt because it is so malleable. You can stretch it and mold it almost like clay, and it is very strong as well. I just think Sugar is the cutest thing. I love her big black eyes and fuzzy, soft mane and tail!
Betsy's Pony, Sugar
I couldn't leave Sugar without her own accessories, so I made her a little brown wool felt saddle embroidered with red flowers and a red elastic bridle with reins. Sugar is even strong enough to carry Betsy, although I should really have made her a bit bigger. They make and adorable display, though, and would also be fun toys to plays with now that Betsy is all fixed. I would take away the vest if this is to be a play doll, though. I'm sure are soon as my daughter sees these photos I'll have to make a Sugar for her as well!

Sugar has a saddle and bridle with reins.
Betsy is always happy to see Sugar.

Betsy gets Sugar all dressed in her saddle and bridle.

Betsy and Sugar go for a ride.

This set is listed in Atelier Mandaline for a little lower price than the other sets, due to the poorer condition of the doll and outfit. It is still fixed well enough to be quite sturdy, though, and all the sets are also listed "Make Offer" so you can name your own price!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Senorita Dollikin

Sometimes I worry myself! I just came across this Uneeda 2S fashion doll in a box. I had completely forgotten about her! This doll came in a lot of distressed dolls that included the Marybel doll I wrote about in a previous post. This is also the Dollikin face in which I replace the eye in the doll eye tutorial post. Here she is in her original state. The pile of fiberfill next to her was stuffed inside her head when she arrived. As you can see, one of her eyes was crossed and stuck open.
Uneeda 2S Dollikin face fashion doll in need of restoration.
I really can't believe I forgot about this doll, because this one is the whole reason I ordered the lot! This doll has the Uneeda 2S head also used on the Dollikin jointed dolls. It is especially desirable because this one has the PAINTED Dollikin face! The painted face dolls came about originally because these dolls were made with flaws in their vinyl, so Uneeda painted the faces so as not to waste them. As often happens with collectibles of all kinds, these dolls manufactured with flaws are actually more sought after by some collectors now than the perfect ones!
Dollikin painted face needing repainting.
The original paint on this doll had been gouged up over the years. This was a much-loved doll, I think, and saw a lot of play. Her lower painted eyelashes had mostly worn away and her entire painted face had stickiness. I cleaned entire doll and treated the face with baby powder months ago. Today, after rediscovering her, I repainted her face and treated it again with powder just to make sure the sticky finish doesn't come back for a while.
The doll with her face re-painted.
I replaced her eye months ago and I had a terrible time with it. Maybe I blocked it out and that's why I forgot about her! I couldn't find a 16mm eye, which is the proper size. I ended up poaching one from a less-valuable doll. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get it in without it looking slightly crossed still. I think whatever flaw was originally in the face to cause Uneeda to paint it also affected the eye socket so that no eye fits in there perfectly straight. The eyes both still stick a little sometimes, but they aren't stuck open anymore and a good shake will get them working again. The replacement eye has a tiny notch out of the edges of a couple of the eyelashes, but it is barely visible unless you are searching for it. The sticky finish extends to the inside of the head so it can be hard to turn the head at times as well. Still, these are quite minor issues for a doll of 50+ years!
There were also originally several green spots on the body. I was able to remove all but three of these and I painted over those. The repair is visible but lessens how much you see the original spots.
A re-painted spot on the doll's back.
The doll's hair was rather dry so I conditioned it and reset it. I did put it back into its original spit curl style but first I just had to take a photo of it down because I think she looks just like Liz Taylor with that style!
The doll with her hair down.
When it was time to dress Miss. Dollikin-face I remembered I had this Senorita outfit from my Dollikin's World Tour available. The buyer wanted just the doll and her undies from that set. I thought the dress would only fit the 18 inch jointed Dollikin (this one is taller) but I found it fits this one just as well. Better, actually, because this doll's hips are narrower. I think dolly makes a lovely senorita with her dark hair! Besides the original outfit, I gave her new "diamond" earrings and  custom-made ring.
The doll dressed in a Spanish-style dress.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Tale Of Three Betsys

Over the past few weeks I have been working on completing my Betsy McCall dolls before we move. We are looking to close on the house near Charlotte by November 15th so I don't have a lot of time. My sister has had some good luck; a couple told them yesterday they'll be making an offer Monday and another couple told them this morning that they will offer by the end of the day. They are also having an open house right now and already had one showing the minute it started. I am sure all this traffic is due to me linking the listing to my blog and Pinterest page! I think this big increase in real estate (the house we are buying also got multiple offers after being listed for years) is a great sign for the economy! I hope it continues!
Betsy McCall doll wearing the Holiday dress and tights from 1959.
I have seven tiny Betsy McCall dolls, both modern and vintage, to finish. I finished two of each and have them listed, so now I just need to buckle down and work on the others. The first Betsy I got had the almost ubiquitous crotch split and some tiny cracks around her knee. Her wig was also in need of re-styling and re-gluing. I cleaned her up and got to work.
Betsy and her shoes get a good scrubbing.
Betsy's wig before repair.
To clean Betsy's hair I used diluted fabric softener as a shampoo and leave-in conditioner. Then I glued the wig back down. This type of Betsy has hair rooted into a rubber skull cap. This one showed a bit of deterioration but re-gluing it hid that and the glue should help stabilize it. No hair was falling out, which is good. This Betsy is called the "blonde" one, although I would call her hair more of a light ash brown. Her hair is unusually long and is styled in a flip.
Betsy with her face re-painted
Betsy also had a rather pale face, so I re-blushed her cheeks using the acrylic color mixed with iridescent medium. I think it turned out well and looks a lot like the original blush. To fix the crotch split I rebuilt the entire crotch using Kwik Plastik epoxy. This adds extra room for the hips to move, allowing the doll to sit again. The knee crack I just patched with epoxy.
The doll during repairs.
The repaired crotch and knee
This Betsy doll came with several vintage outfits, most from American Character. I came up with the theme for this set when I found a plastic bristle that had fallen out of my daughter's hairbrush. I thought it looked just like a tiny thermometer! Then I saw the Pajama Party outfit that came with the doll and the wheels began to turn! I am really proud of the thermometer! I decided to style this as Get Better, Betsy.
Betsy in her pajamas, holding her thermometer.

I got Betsy some ice cream and made an ice pack for her to share with Nosy. The Pajama Party outfit also came with a robe. Poor Betsy and Nosy just don't feel well at all!
Poor Betsy and Nosy feel sick.
When Betsy and Nosy feel better you can dress Betsy in the "Recess" dress and panties from American Character and put Nosy's leash and collar on.
Betsy McCall wearing the Recess outfit.
Besides this doll, I have two other vintage Betsys. One had a wonderful wig and very nice face. The other had a great body and face paint with a terrible wig. They both needed restringing, so I removed the head with the good wig and put it on the better body.
A Betsy doll with a terrible wig and in need of restringing.
Brunette Betsy with a near-perfect wig and re-painted face.
The brunette Betsy head is very unusual. I haven't ever seen this variation before. She has a side-part short bubble bob with just one barrette and hazel eyes, rather than the usual gray. I really love this hairdo: it looks JUST LIKE the 50s Betsy paper doll! I wonder why they didn't do this hairstyle on the first ones.
This doll's face had faded to a greenish yellow color and her cheek paint was gone. I tinted her face to warm up the color and re-blushed her cheeks. It is a huge improvement! With this head and the better body I was able to create a near-perfect doll! All I needed to do besides re-stringing was to fix the knee crack with epoxy. The knee has a bit of a flare that creates a shadow in the photo and makes it seem like the knee is still  cracked but it has been fixed!
The brunette doll with repaired knee crack.
For the theme of this Betsy I selected the Holiday dress by American Character from 1959. I have never seen this with the original tights! These had a small run but I repaired it. Digging around upstairs I came across some old Christmas boxes and stuff and procured a tiny stocking and gift box. I noticed the stocking was just the right size to hold one of my exclusive Nosy dogs! So I came up with a Merry Christmas Betsy set!
Betsy finds her Christmas gifts.
Betsy runs downstairs on Christmas morning to find a new dog in a giant stocking and a huge present! Betsy names her new dachshund Nosy! When Betsy and Nosey open the gift they find a new camera for Betsy and a juicy bone for Nosy.
Betsy and Nosy open their present.
Nosy gets tired from all the excitement, so Betsy puts her to bed. Betsy takes a photo of Nosy with her new camera.
Betsy takes a picture of Nosy.
Of course now that I acted this all out in photos I have one child begging for a tiny doll camera and another who wants his own Nosy in a basket bed! So I will have to work on those gifts for the birthdays and holidays coming up soon!
Now I just have to try to do something with the third Betsy's wig and get her all ready to go. So I guess this entry is really a tale of two Betsys. Stay tuned to find out what happens with Betsy #3!
Betsy doll with wonderful paint but a terrible wig.