31 March 2010

Spontaneous Environmental Art

I've become a big fan of what some people call Environmental Art; two blogs on my reading list that I particularly enjoy are Richard Shilling Land Art and Environmental Arts and Faerie Houses. I don't do this kind of art myself (yet) but find it inspiring for both my own "art" (someday I'll feel bold enough to remove the quotes) and just for living life.

My girl child, on the other hand, has never seen these blogs but, being her mother's child and essentially living outside once the weather warms up, has spontaneously begun to create her own version of environmental art. I give you "Eggholder," her title for a nest she made two evenings ago from twigs, cholla skeletons, tree trimmings, part of a tumbleweed, and a smooth round rock she'd been carrying around for a few weeks now. She found all of these in and around our yard and composed this at the edge of our yard so people passing by on Main St. (which, in true Magdalena style, is a dirt road) could enjoy it. I know I love it because my child made it, but I also think it is so cool that she made something special from, essentially, nothing special. To me that is the essence of the creative spirit, and it never ceases to amaze me that anyone can manifest it if they just allow it to happen.

29 March 2010

Prayers at Sunrise

Morning Prayers, Bracelet in Turquoise, Charoite, Citrine, Glass
I'm entering my first art contest ever: the Art Bead Scene Turquoise Color Challenge, which you can learn more about here. The task: combine turquoise, purple, and pale yellow in a piece of jewelry that includes one or more art beads. This is my entry; I based it on a set of prayer beads I made in 2007 that I'd been thinking of turning into a bracelet and had to restring anyway because the knotted silk cord I used was fraying. This piece uses charoite (the divine purple stones, all natural -- most "charoite" I see lately is dyed Zebra jasper or very poor quality charoite), turquoise, citrine, handmade "sugared" glass discs, and sterling and Balinese silver. I made this to fit me because I'm keeping it.

Looking at past challenges and winning entries I see that the emphasis is more on seed beading, which is something I just don't do because I lack the dexterity and am also losing my close-up vision... and I really don't think I have the patience for it. In any case, I really enjoyed this challenge both because turquoise and purple is such a wonderful color combination (and I love how the citrine yellow warms it up) and because it inspired me to sit down at my long-neglected -- and now CLEAN -- jewelry workbench. Well, it was clean yesterday.... So I guess I need to spend the afternoon finishing the other four projects currently cluttering it: two necklaces that include pendants I wirewrapped myself, earrings for an Etsy order, and some copper findings that I'm the process of soldering. Yes, soldering, thanks to an iron I found in the garage and some instruction, flux, and soldering wire from a friend. I've been dying to do metalwork...

26 March 2010

Confession: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Clean-Up Resolutions

 Yesterday I made muffins because I was feeling both hungry and creative... and because my kitchen is WAY cleaner than my studio. I should probably be ashamed to show these pictures, taken a few moments ago, because who lives like this?? Well, I do, when I'm as ridiculously busy and stressed as I've been in recent months; I just finished another quarter of my masters program (six down, two to go), which always takes over my life for 10 weeks, and I also was mired in a court battle that is now over, thank God.

So, um, yeah, this corner of the studio/office/dining room got messy as I attended to more pressing matters, and now that I am feeling rested and creative again I have time as well as reason to clean it up. Posting these pictures inspires me -- yeah, that's it -- and also makes me accountable because every "Before" shot needs an "After" shot, right? I also have to clean up this space before my parents arrive next month. The mosaic side (top picture) isn't too bad, but the jewelry side... I guess I'll start there, because it's the messiest and also because I've been feeling the urge to make pretty spring jewelry again. I know I have the stuff I need, somewhere in this mess.... In the meantime I can grab some Kumihimo supplies to take with me to the kids' playdate today; I have some beautiful bird pendants to string. Somewhere, in one of those piles.

25 March 2010

The Most Amazing Muffins EVAH (In which I ramble on about my recently rekindled passion for baking, now gluten-free)

Gluten-Free Morning Glory Muffins

This space started out as a jewelry blog, then I added mosaics last year, then I added photography this year... and today I'm posting a recipe. But I feel it's "justified" (like I have to justify what I put on MY OWN BLOG?) because, having completely lost my cooking mojo during my marriage thanks to an endlessly critical spouse (now ex-spouse, thankfully for SO many reasons), it is finally coming back, mainly in the form of baking, along with my creativity in general. That's really what this blog is about: my creative life. Everyone should have one. Seriously.

Most of us would agree that cooking and baking are inherently creative activities (at least for those of us constitutionally unable to simply follow directions); adding to the creative challenge, I recently had to adopt a gluten-free diet (no wheat or other gluten-containing grains, hence no bread, crackers, pasta, cake, cookies, muffins... good God, how is that possible???). Having realized about two weeks in that I absolutely cannot live without baked goods, I began experimenting with gluten-free baking. Results have been mixed so far; while packaged baking mixes such as Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Hearty Whole Grain Bread and Pizza Crust mixes have turned out quite well, they are also very expensive and thus unworkable on my very tight budget. Packaged all-purpose flour mixes (such as those from Bob's Red Mill, available in a 25-lb bag from the Web site, BTW; and Namaste Foods, available in bulk from Amazom Marketplace) are a bit less expensive but not much so, and while they're okay for general use I haven't been thrilled with the results so far and need to figure out which ones work best for which baked goods.

Therefore, in a spirit of exploration and experimentation (and desperately seeking comfort food that won't set my innards churning), I have turned to the Internet (I highly recommend Gluten-Free Girl & the Chef) and several recent cookbooks devoted to gluten-free (GF) baking. Gluten-free flour formulas abound, which would be great except that most of them include five, six, seven or more different flours (such as brown rice, amaranth, garbanzo, sorghum, millet, quinoa...) and other components (such as potato starch, tapioca starch, xantham gum...), which would be difficult enough if I lived in an urban area but is essentially unworkable since I live in a rural area and have to drive 30 to 100 miles for such ingredients.

All that aside, today I HAD to have muffins. Not those plain, over-sweet things sold as "muffins" in most places but something with substance: whole grains (but now gluten-free), fruit, nuts, wonderful texture, and FLAVOR. My recent batches of muffins, made by dutifully following various GF recipes, have been disappointingly dense, a common problem in GF baking. Today I was feeling creative and willing to try again, and decided to improvise by pulling from various recipes and my own baking experience -- AND writing down what I did, for a change, so I could repeat it if it worked or adjust it if it didn't. I adapted the recipe below from The Best Gluten-Free Family Cookbook (which has good recipes but complicated flour formulas), Gluten-Free Baking Classics (which has great flour formulas), and my memories of my earlier delectable but gluten-loaded muffin experiments, and I am thrilled to report that it came out perfectly AND might actually be repeatable.

The batter mixed up beautifully, and tasted DIVINE; that's always a great sign but not necessarily conclusive; how the muffins bake up is definitely not a given in GF baking. After I spooned the batter into the greased muffin cups, I let it set for 20 minutes; this an essential step in GF baking because the flours have no, uh, gluten to create structure and thus the baking soda & powder have to be allowed more time to work. Then (after another "taste test"; yes, I know the hazards of eating raw batter but do so anyway) I placed the pan reverently in the oven, set the timer for 20 minutes, and walked away. Within 10 minutes the muffins-in-progress perfumed the whole house; but they were still soft after 20 minutes so I steeled myself for another 8 minutes, watching them carefully, then turned the oven off, opened the door, and left them in for another 10 minutes because I REALLY didn't want gummy muffins this time. (Well, I left 11 of the dozen in; #12 jumped out of the pan onto a plate and nearly burned my mouth in its impatience to get INTO MAH BELLY... and it was fantastic.)

I'm now on my second muffin and am about to make up another batch to freeze... if they make it that long. So here is the recipe; note that I live at 6500 feet, so you might need to add another 1/2 teaspoon or so of baking soda if you live at sea level. And you'll probably want to add more sugar or other sweetener; I use as little as possible because I'm trying hard to avoid the family scourge of adult-onset diabetes (and am succeeding quite well so far).

The Laughing Raven’s Super-Fantastic Gluten-Free Morning Glory Muffins

Makes 1 dozen muffins.

Stir together and then set aside:
2 c gluten-free flour blend (I used brown rice flour blend from Gluten-Free Baking Classics)
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1/2 c ground flaxseed
1/2 c brown sugar (or more to taste; I use half as much sugar as most recipes recommend)
1/2 c shredded coconut
1/3 c chopped walnuts
1/3 c dried blueberries (or raisins, dried cherries... whatever you like)
1 T grated lemon or orange zest (if not available, add 1/2 t lemon or orange extract to the step below)

In a large bowl, beat thoroughly (3 minutes or so) until very foamy:
2 eggs
3/4 c applesauce
6 T sour cream

Stir in:
1/2 c crushed pineapple with juice
1 c grated carrots (or zucchini)
1/2 t lemon or orange extract (if not using zest; you could use vanilla, hazelnut, or other extract instead)
Flour mix from 1st step above

Spoon batter into greased or lined muffin cups. Now preheat the oven to 350 F, and allow batter in cups to sit for 20-30 minutes. This step is essential for gluten-free flours (otherwise the muffins will be dense and gummy; if you’re using regular wheat flour you can skip this step).

Bake for 20 minutes or until firm to the touch (I have to bake these for 25 minutes, actually); turn off heat and let cool for 10 minutes in opened oven or on stove-top, then remove immediately from pan and let cool upside-down on stove-top.

I'll try this recipe with the Namaste and Bob's Red Mill general-purpose flour mixes and let you know how it turns out.

And one of these days I'll get back to my regularly scheduled programming...

23 March 2010

Creative Time, Again

Thistle bud, 2010
I released a huge burden last Friday: I asked a judge to dismiss a civil case I could no longer bear to fight thanks to dirty tricks (aka business as usual) by the opposition, lack of funds, and a realization that the fight was devouring my life and my soul -- and I feel blessed to stand here now with empty hands. Except they're not actually empty; I am hugely blessed with supportive family and friends, beautiful healthy children, and the opportunity, more than half-realized now (60% done, in fact), to start a new career in a field that will be both personally and professionally fulfilling.

I feel like, perhaps because I am at midlife (I hope I have another 40+ years!), my Higher Power brought me to a crossroad and said, "Material this way, Spiritual that way, and you MUST choose now." I won't lie and say I just smiled agreeably and said, "Oh, okay, let's take Spiritual for $0"; I fought it, I tried to get both, I tried to hang onto what little I had left after my divorce and the prospect of a reasonable settlement (with an unreasonable person)... and one day a few weeks ago I finally stopped flailing and listened to that still, small voice within telling me, "Surrender to win."

I surrender: property. Money. Personal belongings my ex chooses not to return to me. And I surrender insanity, chaos, strife, hostility, the heavy chains of retorsions and reprisals and all the crushing madness of personal grudges as expressed in divorce court.... And I win: serenity. Sanity. Inner peace. Release. I win my life. I left my now-ex-husband to live instead of die, yet was mired in a battle that he was winning just by keeping me engaged in the fight. So, yes, surrender to win; he does not get me back, he loses one more mode of controlling me, and I move further away from a person who would rather crush me than lose control over me. But he gets neither.

So, yes, I surrendered material goods and prospects... It's a very small price to pay, I believe, to get my life back. Blessed I am indeed, and I am celebrating by creating.

17 March 2010

Winter, Releasing

We got a foot of snow on Monday -- a foot! In New Mexico! (okay, I'm at almost 7000 feet, but still!) -- but thanks to our warm sun it is melting quickly. In fact, not an hour after I snapped this icicle draped from my roof yesterday morning, it slipped off along with a huge mass of snow and ice and thudded onto the dormant flower garden below. Today it was in the 60s (F), and I fell asleep for a few glorious moments in the sun. Outside. In the sun. So, although winter isn't over yet, and we'll get frosts up here into May, its grip is weakening, and sap is running, and birds are singing... Always, just in time.

16 March 2010

Someday Is Now

So I broke up "Black" after all; it just didn't work for me -- no surprise there given how personal the piece was. This piece is the former upper half; I grouted it Sunday and will finish the edges some time this week, perhaps with a bit more ornamentation than usual. The "left-behind" black heart remains unfinished for now as I finish coursework (the quarter ends this week) and continue dealing with court BS that will, I hope, be ending soon. I am ending it, in fact, because it is destroying my life and my soul and disrupting my children's lives, too, and nothing is worth that. Someday is, indeed, right now, and now is all I have.

12 March 2010

To Love and Beauty

(Did I mention I do photography, too? Since 1994, in fact, when my dad gave me his Nikon FG with a zoom lens and I realized how much more fun it was to play around with the controls myself rather than let the camera do all the work. A digital SLR with macro and telephoto zoom lenses is on my eternal wishlist, though my point-and-shoot did pretty nicely for this shot...)

I'd never gotten an orchid to rebloom until my "divorce orchid," which came to me after I separated from my now-ex-husband (who is, to put it mildly, not a nice person), came back to life last year. This flower emerged on the first day of Spring 2009 and was followed by a total of 8 more, the last of which stayed beautiful until just after Christmas. A new stalk with tiny buds had already emerged by then and now has several buds including one that appears ready to bloom in another week or so. Again, just in time for spring. "Historically the meanings of orchids have included wealth, love, and beauty," according to one site; I can go with that, certainly the beauty part.

I would love to recreate this image in a glass mosaic, once I've finished coursework for the quarter and finished trudging through a civil court case (related to my divorce) that goes to trial next month, 22 months after I initiated it. Talk about the slow, grinding wheels of justice... If my only reward for following through on that is relief and serenity once it's over, I'll be happy, because it will free me up for better things like mosaics and jewelry and photography and gardening and....

Peace to you all.

07 March 2010

Short-Circuited; Plugging Back Into the Source

I've had no time, focus, energy, or inspiration to create or post lately; serious family illness, ongoing ex-husband drama, and never-ending legal proceedings have short-circuited my brain, and I'm struggling just to keep up with coursework. Well, actually, I'm struggling, but not keeping up... I guess I just have to keep doing my best. I did take a break, however, to see what creative things other people have been doing, and came across this:

Googling "flower mosaics" brought up the site for Judith Scallon, a talented mosaicist who creates beautiful images of floral scenes, koi ponds, and other natural wonders that awaken the senses and stir creative desire... So after this little trip around the interwebs I sketched out some more ideas for my "flowering spring" mosaic series, including using glass flower beads to add dimension and texture to the weeping cherry, hyacinth, and perhaps other flower panels. I won't be able to start on those for another few weeks, but just mulling over ideas and taking in others' works of beauty help calm my mind and ease my heart. I bid you all a creative, blessed day.

01 March 2010

One of My Favorite Days of the Year

My girl's birthday is today, and she still looks pretty much like she did when I took this picture long ago, except that she is a lot taller and smiles almost constantly now. I also love March 1 because it seems so much closer to spring and to garden season, which my kids adore and can't wait to start with me every year. So much has happened this winter, not much of it very good, but seeing hints of green in the valleys and the first signs of bulbs appearing (in other people's yards; I keep thinking I'll be moving on and so don't plant them where I live... going on 2.5 years now...) and hearing new bird songs lift my heart and make me hopeful that a new season of growth and beauty is emerging.

Happy birthday, "baby" girl, and get your garden gloves ready....