Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sketchbook Notes - From Urban Sketching

I've been trying to make time to draw at least three times a week. I am imitating the artistic style of other artists in an effort to strengthen my ability to draw what I actually see, instead of what I see in my brain. I know that sounds kind of weird. Trying to draw exactly what I see forces me to focus on details and spacial relationships. It is hard, and pretty cool. I've also always loved the sketchbooks and journals created by artists who incorporate images (usually quickly drawn ones) with hand written text.

These notes are from Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger.
Here's a sample of one of the pages that I imitated in a more space restricted manner.
The ironic thing that you may have noticed is that I have had to add the color about watercolor paints to the images on the pages in my sketchbook with colored pencil since the pages are too thin for wet media.
There are a few more pages that I may or may not make notes from.

I had a lot of fun doing these pages and I am pleased with how they turned out. I am going to look for another book on sketching and repeat the process. I hope you enjoyed seeing these pages.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bark & Splash Bash - Fun with Remmie and Doggie Dudes at the Pool

This past weekend one of the local pools opened up to allowing the dogs having a grand time (or not) in the water. Remmie and I were on our way to his favorite dog park when I passed by the pool. Remmie perked up and made me take notice. He works me like a machine, and so he made sure that I stopped. How could I say, "no" to that cute little furry face.

It took a bit of persuasion to get him into the baby pool. Emo, the German Shepherd, tempted him into the water and then it was all out fun.
We stayed until the last possible moment on Saturday and so we had to return on Sunday. This time Ellie joined us. She tried to get Remmie into the big pool. It was a no-go. No matter how or what she tried.
She tried the doggie gentle ramp. Nope!
When Emo was in the big pool we tried again. This time with a platform and a treat. It turned out that getting in was not worth a lovely, tasty dog biscuit.
Other dogs loved it. This small guy was on a personal quest to save every single ball in the pool, but people kept throwing them back in. He got to the point where he was shaking, but he was on a mission to save all those balls!
However, if you wanted to throw balls, this tireless guy was happy to help you out. He would chase them all day.
Remmie had such a good time that he did not even seem to mind having to take a bath at the end of each playdate.

Writing this post is a fun way to celebrate National Dog Day!


And now for a little silly adult fun:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Reflections on the Last First Day of School

A Letter to My Dear Girl, on her last first day of school.

Here you are at the beginning of your senior year. You are beautiful, smart, confident and so full of potential. I find I am feeling both proud and a bit melancholy - it is a set of emotions that I think I will become accustomed to over the course of this important year. In some ways it is amazing to find you so grown up so quickly. It seems like it was just two blinks ago you were just a wee thing.
You were as much of a spunky spitfire then as you are now - I love that about you.

Your poise and resourcefulness are a result of the hard work and hard things you have experienced in your life. Value those hard-earned qualities. They will serve you well, if you let them.

I look at you and see how well you know yourself; how comfortable you are in your own person. You have the confidence and personal strength to consider options and adventures that I would not have even dared to dream of when I was your age. It is so exciting to think about all of the adventures and opportunities before you. It is all so exciting!

I love how you are reflective and thoughtful. I love how organized and detail oriented you are. And my, you can throw such a good event.

I love how tough you are. You can have a very serious injury from an accident in practice, or a race and still get up and keep going. That quality will serve you well in life whether those injuries be physical or emotional.

Even with all of this, there are significant moments of doubt, but remember, comparison is the thief of joy. That doubt makes you human and humble. Doubt is a normal emotion. Use it to reflect and grow, and not as a tool to tear yourself down.

On Sunday as we ate lunch after a short shopping trip you casually mentioned that that day may be your last day of summer break, ever. That took me aback a bit, both the comment and the comfortable ease with which you spoke it. You seemed so comfortable with the idea, content with how your free days had been spent (for the most part.) My own reaction was a very different one. Since I had already gone back to school, that perspective had not occurred to me. If it had, I would have tried to make a special deal of the day. If I had, I know that you would have appreciated my efforts. You are so good about things like that - taking the time to appreciate and love what others do for you. I appreciate that you chose to spend the day with me and what a pleasant one it was. Know that I know that many young people your age do not like to spend time with their parents; I am so thankful that you love spending time with us, just as we love being with you. What a gift that is for all of us.

As you become more and more independent know that we will always be here, cheering you on, offering you an ear to help you process things and a shoulder to cry on. Things will not always go your way. You will stumble. You will fall and you will make big errors that you will regret. We all do this. What is important is how you deal with them.

We love you, support you and are proud of you. You are our miracle girl! Here's to the future you will create for yourself!

Much love,

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Surprise Birthday for Kohlton Who Turns 18 Next Monday + Lots of Recipes from the Party

During the last few weeks, Ellie has been quietly orchestrating a surprise party to celebrate Kohlton's 18th birthday. She worked to invite people, plan the menu, clean the house and decorate the backyard - all without Kohlton picking up even the smallest hint of the upcoming event. It was pretty hard to keep the secret, get it all of the details worked out and tasks completed, all during the first week of school of school with kids in session (for me. It is one of my busiest weeks of the school year.)But she managed to do it.
Mark and Britt, Kohlton's parents, told Kohlton that the family would go out for a nice meal to celebrate his birthday and Ellie would be invited along, of course. Our guests arrived in time to gather in the big room, around the corner from the kitchen so that Kohlton would not see them when he entered the house. Britt, Kohlton, Linda and Sid arrive and Ellie asked them in so that we could take a photo. It was the perfect guise. Once he rounded the corner, his reaction to our cheers and well wishes was wonderful. (Kohlton is great like that.)
After people had a chance to gather, cheer and enjoy a few bites to eat, we sang happy birthday and presented the cakes. You see, Chuck, one of our guests, was also celebrating his birthday, so Katy (his granddaughter) made him his favorite chocolate cake. Ellie made a special cake for Kohlton. It was a handmade chocolate cake with chocolate and coconut frosting, topped with chocolate curls (it turns out that milk chocolate is very soft and creates curls that break easily. Next time we will use a darker chocolate to make the curls.)Ellie was thrilled when Britt thought that the cake had come from Das Myers, one of the best local bakeries.
We had dinner and enjoyed each other's company. And then there were presents for both of the birthday guests. Chuck opened his first.
Chuck and Karen just purchased a ranch in the suburbs where there is enough room for three houses, goats, chickens and the like. Thus, Chuck needed some instruction. I thought these books were wonderful. One is about urban goats and is published by the Goat Justice League. (I love that!)
Then came Kohlton's turn. He started off with a funny card from James. It was actually a sympathy card that he altered. Kohlton's reaction was an hoot! The card from his father was funny, too.
Remmie was thrilled and wanted to be in the middle of everything. He tried his best to get everyone's attention and was a bit sad that his shenanigans did not work.
Afte that we all settled in and enjoyed each other's company. Dusk gently let way to a lovely night with a slight breeze. The lights that Ellie set up in the back yard lent a nice ambiance. The men enjoyed cigars and everyone's company. Guests went home one by one and the evening was finished off with Ellie, Kohlton and James laughing at silly videos. I dare say, I am pretty sure that boy could not have asked for a better birthday.

We are serving:
Pizza Rolls (homemade)
BBQ Chips
Chili Con Queso dip with Tortilla Chips

Sweet Tea
Bottled Water
Mint and Pineapple Infused Water
Mountain Dew
Dr. Pepper

Corn on the Cob
Mac and Cheese ala Cure Family
Cheese Burgers

Ice Cream Bar with-
Homemade vanilla ice cream
chocolate ice cream
whipped cream
chocolate sauce

Homemade Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting and Chocolate Curls

Pizza Rolls
Via: Artisan Bread in 5, slightly modified

1 pound Pizza Dough (about the size of a grapefruit)
1/2 cup pizza sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
Pepperoni or other favorite toppings

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Set up 2 or 3 baking sheet pans with parchment or Silpats, set aside.

Roll the dough out to a 1/4-inch thick rectangle, using enough flour so the dough doesn’t stick.

Layer on the sauce, cheese and pepperoni. Leave some of the cheese exposed so that it can melt and act as a glue, to hold the pizza rolls together.

Roll the dough into a log, starting at the long end.

(If you are making this ahead of time, you can apply a thin coat of olive oil to the roll and wrap it with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge until the next day. Allow it to come to room temperature so that the bread can raise a bit before baking.)

Using kitchen shears, cut the dough into 1/2-inch thick buns. (The authors of the recipes only baked 16 and then wrapped the rest of the log, refrigerated it and will bake it later this week. You can also cut and freeze the individual pizza rounds to thaw and bake within the next 2 weeks.)

Place them on the prepared sheet, leaving plenty of space for them to expand when they bake. Allow them to rest on the counter for about 15-20 minutes.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown and the cheese has melted and caramelized a bit.


Four Cheese Mac and Cheese ala The Cures (Family)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (16 ounce) package elbow macaroni
9 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup shredded Muenster cheese
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
8 ounces cubed processed cheese food
2 eggs beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the oil and the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente drain well and return to cooking pot.

In a small saucepan over medium heat melt 8 tablespoons butter stir into the macaroni.

In a large bowl combine the Muenster cheese mild and sharp Cheddar cheeses and Monterey Jack cheese mix well.

Add the half and half 1 1/2 cups of cheese mixture cubed processed cheese food and eggs to macaroni mix together and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a lightly greased deep 2 1/2 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese mixture and 1 tablespoon of butter.

Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes or until hot and bubbling around the edges serve.


Chocolate Cake

2 cups Flour
1 3/4 cups Sugar
3/4 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs (at room temp. if time allows)
1 Egg Yolk
3/4 cup buttermilk (at room temp. if time allows)(I actually use 3 TBS of Buttermilk Powder, mixing it in with the dry ingredient, then I add 1/2-3/4 cup of water to the wet ingredients)
1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
1/3 - 1/2 cup Boiling Water

Chocolate Icing
1 1/4 cups butter (at room temperature)
1 1/4 cups shortening (at room temperature)
9 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa powder
4-5 tbsp water/milk

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Prepare three 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper circles in the bottom, and grease & flour, the sides as well as the parchment on the bottom of the pan .

Add all dry ingredients to a large bowl and whisk together. Add eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed.

Add just enough of the boiling water to make a very thick batter, much like a brownie batter. If the batter is too thin or watery, the center will sink during the last stages of cooking. Mix just enough to incorporate the ingredients.

Divide the batter into three 8 inch cakes pans and bake at 300 degrees for about 30-33 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs.Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove to cooling racks to cool completely. (It is best if the cake can be made the day before being frosted so that it is completely cool when frosting it. Once the cakes have been turned out and are reasonably cool, cover them with plastic wrap. If they are cooling on a plate, place the parchment from the bottom of the pan onto the plate, placing the cake on the parchment to prevent it from sticking to the plate.)

Make icing while cakes cool. Beat together butter and shortening until smooth. Slowly add 4 cups of powdered sugar and mix until smooth.Add vanilla and 1-2 tbsp water or milk and mix until smooth.
Add another 5 cups of powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Add cocoa and mix until smooth.Add more water or milk until the right consistency.

Once cakes are cool, remove cake domes from top with a large serrated knife.Place first layer of cake on cake plate. Spread about 3/4 cup of icing on top in an even layer. Add second layer of cake and add another 3/4 cup of icing on top in an even layer. Add final layer of cake on top and ice the outside of the cake. Finish of with sprinkles or other decoration.

And, because it has been such a crazy, busy, full week, I had to find a little inspiration to keep me going. Today it is in the form of a video of Luis Pastor's small, but amazing sketchbook. I don't actually know who he is, but I think I am going to find out. Perhaps it will offer you some joy as well: