Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Day-- Signing Off for Two Weeks

I went walking at 5:30 this evening to see what I could see of the aftermath of our Big Storm.  At top left was a most encouraging mini pink sky sunset-- our of the gunmetal gray of the sky, a soft pink started to spread while I was walking down the street;  the whiteness and sepia and blackness everywhere turned slightly pinkish, and I knew that tomorrow will bring a thaw.  I always trust Red sky at night, sailors delight!

At the bottom left is a snow hut that our neighbors' son built in front of two trees in their yard.  It's big enough for a couple of people to sit inside.  The light from the sunset turned the snow pink like a seashell.

I was especially interested to see if the cows were still out in the field below our street and how they were faring.  They seemed fine even though they were out in the middle of the field, no longer needing to huddle in the lee of the bank below the road.  The farm crew had dragged a flat bed with some hay bales out to them.  A couple of bales were on the ground and one was on the trailer, and straw was scattered in a couple of islands in the snow.  The mommas and babies were chomping on the hay, and a few were lying down on an island of straw.  One big cow was leaving the group and heading across the broad white plain.

We're leaving for two weeks day-after-tomorrow, and I will keep drawing, but I may not post very often.  If I can find a scanner to use I'll post, but pictures of drawings taken with my phone aren't usually worth much.  So I'll do a giant catch-up post for sure in early March.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Weather Report!

 We were supposed to be getting up to 10 inches of snow today, so I decided to track the accumulation using the stone ram in our front garden as a snow gauge.  At the top is at 10:30 this morning, when flakes started falling.  I set my phone to go off in an hour, but nothing much happened, as you can see. 

In spite of ominous predictions, there was still very little accumulation into the afternoon.  Then at 5:00 the wind and snow picked up.  I went out on the high meadow behind our house to watch the storm roll in.  The mountains across the valley were completely hidden in snowfall and what looked like fog.  All color was bleached from the landscape, so that everything looked either black or dark sepia and white.  At the bottom of the meadow, down on the valley floor, I walked along a road that skirts a field that cows are pastured in in the winter as part of their rotation.  I saw a few cold-looking cows with snow covering their backs.  As I walked along the road I noticed a few very small calves among the cows.  One baby was dancing and running like a dog, typical of calves, but surprising on such a day.  Then I walked through the woods for about 20 minutes-- beautiful!

I got home at 6:00 and drew the ram with his new accumulation.  I had expected him to have a pile of snow on his head and back, but was surprised to see that he was also getting buried in the rising snow on the ground.

By 7:30 he was approaching snowman state, and at 9:00 he was draped in a snow blanked and had turned into a lump in the landscape.  The snow is tapering off now as the storm moves north.  It's in the low 20s here, but no ice as far as I can tell.  No one's out on the roads around here, including the snow plow. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Not Much

It was a really good day today, just not a good drawing day.  All I have to show for it are a bowl of orange slices, one of the slices, a cup of tea, a fork.  Waited all day for a storm that we're still waiting for. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Jesse, a Stuffed Bear, and Roots

Whenever I have no ideas, I draw Jesse.  More and more I'm enjoying finding one line that sums up his action or pose.  Each of these drawings took less than a minute.  At top left he's playing with one of his old favorite mousies and almost falling over backwards in his excitement.  In the middle he's sitting in my studio doorway watching me.  And on the right he has assumed a perfect cat sleeping pose.

One more Jesse sleeping pose, paw curled sweetly, a little slower than the others, maybe three minutes.

And then on the right is a bear that Maya and I made last night for Maya's cousin Nate, whom I am going to visit this weekend in New Jersey.  Maya spent the night here last night.  At 7:00, after we had finished sewing a tuxedo jacket for a bear we had made for her using a pattern that our friend Shirley had sent us,  she said "Let's make a bear for Nate out of his favorite color, yellow ochre."  So we searched through our bag of material and found some yellow ochre felt.  Almost all of the stuffed dolls and animals we've made have been out of fake fur with silky, slippery backing-- all but impossible for us to sew with since we're not really very experienced with sewing.  I really didn't think we would be able to finish the bear by her theoretical 8:30 bedtime, but we decided to see how far we got.  The felt was so easy to sew that we got the entire bear finished by, okay, 9:30, but that wasn't too bad.  We even needle-felted a little heart for his chest, and Maya embroidered his eyes.  Thanks, Shirley!  We love your pattern!

It started snowing this morning, and by mid-afternoon everything was covered and so beautiful.  I had stopped by the grocery at noon and bought a bunch of root vegetables and some Italian sausage to cook up for dinner tonight, and here they are. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

School Cafeteria Lunch and a Puzzler

Even though I mostly remember bringing my lunch, there definitely were days when I had to eat in the cafeteria.  This was a much more fraught kind of lunch, as we were at the complete mercy of the cafeteria, with no choices about what we ate or how much.  Of course the ever-present garbage-can-guard nun was there to scrutinize the tray before you slapped it upside down against the edge of the can and to send you back if you had left food uneaten.

Drawing 1801 is of nice Miss Cookie,  our main cafeteria lady, wearing her hair net. She and all the other ladies always wore nets over their permed hair and white aprons over their dresses.  Her main serving utensil was a large scoop (drawing 1804) with which every manner of food was dispatched in tennis ball- sized scoops.  Down at the bottom on the left is my friend, the garbage can;  toward the middle is a white milk carton (no chocolate on regular days, only with donuts on First Fridays). 

Drawing 1806 is of one of those tiny cardboard tubs of ice cream and its flat wooden paddle.  The tub held about two mouthfuls of ice cream.  You pried the flat lid up by pulling on a little tab.  Occasionally there were no wooden spoons, and we then bent the circular lid in half and used it to scoop the ice cream out.  Ice cream came in chocolate (the best), vanilla (okay) , and the dreaded strawberry/pink, which I really disliked.  Ice cream was a random treat.  Once someone came into our classroom at the end of the day and doled out a carton to each of us for being good or something.  It was served as lunch dessert on special pre-holidays, the last day of school before Thanksgiving, for example.

Lunch was served in divided rectangular tray-plates, a stack of which you can see at the top, still damp and hot from the dish machine.  Beneath the stack is a fully-loaded lunch tray.  See if you can guess what's in each compartment.  The answers will be written in code at the bottom of this post.

Drawings 1809 and 1810 show the difference in viscosity between real pudding on the left (with its intriguing and delicious skin on top) and the thin, watery, fake (and probably instant) pudding that was served at school.

answer to puzzler (clockwise from top left of tray):  daerb dna rettub, etalocohc dna allinav gniddup,
llabtaem dna der yvarg no ecir, gnilc hcaep

Thursday, February 6, 2014

School Lunch, Homemade Variety

I can't speak for everyone of course, but I always wanted school lunch to be predictable with no bad surprises, such as mysterious ingredients or dark bread.  Once you sat down at the lunch table and pulled out your lunch, there was no escape from having to eat it.  Nuns patrolled the cafeteria and were able to spot a non-eater from fifty yards.  You were completely at your Mom's mercy as far as finding something you liked or could at least get to go down your throat in your bag.
At the top on the left hand page is the King of Sandwiches in my book:  tunafish made with hard-boiled eggs and a small, inoffensive amount of  (basically offensive to me) mayonnaise on white bread. Tuna was the star every single Friday, meatless day.  We all adored tuna sandwiches as well as the fact that they came on Friday, that magical end of the week day.   I would have loved it if the crusts were cut off, but with four lunches to make every day, my Mom refused to take that extra step.  There also seemed to be some healthy reason that we were supposed to eat the crust.  I never did understand it, but I thought there were special vitamins that were only in the crust.  I didn't mind the three lighter-colored strips of crust along the sides and bottom of the bread, but the smooth dark-brown curving top crust was terrible and bitter-tasting I thought.

At the bottom left is a bread ball, a satisfying thing to make with pieces of bread.  If you rolled the bread and mushed it up with your fingers it soon turned into a clay and could be used to make small objects,  including the communion host on the right.  The flat wafer made of flattened clay-bread could be used for playing mass at recess or after school.  Bread had a tendency to pick up finger smudges, hence the grayish color of these two objects.

On the right hand page is a properly cut sandwich, little triangles, NOT rectangles.

My Mom had a system of making the same three or four sandwiches and rotating them through the week.  On Monday she frequently made Underwood deviled ham.  This pinkish paste must have been fallout from The War because it came from a can and there was no clue to what it actually was, other than the word ham in the label.  It was slightly grainy and bland, nothing to get excited about, but nothing to worry about either.  The bottom left sandwich is cheese and jelly, one of my favorites.  The cheese was Kraft American, cut from a bright yellow brick, and the jelly was guava-- pale apricot-colored and slightly peachy tasting.  The jelly would sit squashed between the bread slices on top of the cheese.

The other good sandwich was braunschweiger, another mysterious substance, vaguely meaty, but more like peppery paste.  I loved it but I could not imagine what it actually was.  It came in a white plastic tube with a little metal clamp at one end.  I enjoyed holding the unopened tube because it felt like a dense balloon.  You opened it by sawing off the crimped end with a serrated knife, and then as you sliced you peeled the plastic wrapping back over the fat sausage-like object inside.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

And Stones in Our Cakes

My brother Richard wrote last night saying that he didn't have any memories of donuts at school on First Fridays, but that he remembered King Cakes.  So this post is for him.  He mentioned the authentic king cakes, the ones that came from McKenzie's bakery, and he is absolutely right.  There are many pretenders, but most of them are a case of what my mother would have called gilding the lily-- ruining a good thing by overdoing it.  I was cautiously excited when I saw a boxed cake at our Whole Foods a couple of years ago that had a label that said King Cake.  But the cake turned out to be heavily frosted with gloppy white sugar frosting and with sprinkles scattered over it, far too rich to eat as often as we ate king cake, which was for some of us almost daily during the season between Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras.

The real New Orleans king cake was a simple brioche pastry, more like a breakfast sweet roll than a cake.  It was always made in an oval, flattish on top, with sections that were sprinkled with gritty granulated sugar that had been dyed green, gold, and purple, the Mardi Gras colors.  No frosting, no maraschino cherries, no sprinkles, no little plastic crown stuck into it announcing what it was.  It  came in a plain clear plastic bag with a twist tie.

Inside every king cake was buried a babyjesus, and it was exciting to get the baby!  Sometimes if you got the baby at a party you had to choose a partner (your boyfriend or girlfriend) to be your king or queen, and the two of you had to host the next week's party.  In families, the person who got the baby was envied by all.  On the left are two slices of cut cake.  It was considered highly unethical to peek at the underside of the cake before choosing your section.  Often the baby had sunk to the bottom and could be clearly seen on the bottom of the cake.  You had to make a blind choice.  Can you find the baby's arm poking out of one of these two pieces of cake?

The two babies on the right represent two different varieties.  Our parents had told us that During The War king cakes had had pecans or almonds in them instead of babies.  This substitution was somehow connected to wartime austerity, but by the fifties, plasticky rubber babies were coming into fashion, and the older china babies were somewhat rare.  It was thought that it was too easy to break a tooth if you chomped down on a china doll, so everyone chewed a little carefully until the doll surfaced.  One year I swallowed a china babyjesus a few minutes after finding it in my piece of cake.  I was around five or six years old and had been chewing on the doll to clean all the cake off of it while I waited to leave for a program at school.  When I choked my dad grabbed me by the feet and held me upside down and shook me until the babyjesus flew out.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

With Stones in Our Stomachs

My brother Bob sometimes writes to me and asks me childhood trivia questions.  Sometimes these are trick questions, the answers for which I can earn points; but other times he really wants to know something that he thinks I, being 18 months older and vastly more knowledgeable, will know.  Tonight he wanted to know how the Catholic school that we went to handled breakfast on First Fridays.  A little background:  in Catholic school in the 50s we went to Mass and communion on the first Friday of every month of the school year, the performance of this devotional being a guarantee that when we died, we would go to heaven on the first Saturday after our death.  In order to go to communion, however, we needed to fast from all food and water from midnight on Thursday night.  The result was several hundred children needing food at 9:30 on Friday morning at a time when our cafeteria ladies were busily whacking open boxes of frozen fish sticks and french fries for lunch.

So the solution, and the answer to Bob's question, is that they sold us donuts and milk from the candy counter, around the corner from the place where lunches came out.  We were crazed and also faint with hunger, the donuts were cheap, and I for one bought as many as I could carry.  Here, drawn from memory, were the kinds of donuts we bought:  at the top is a Plain, which was a vanilla glazed fried donut, not to be confused with a frosted donut.  At the bottom, my favorite, is a Chocolate, which was the deep brown--almost purplish black-- version of the Plain, with little translucent flakes of fried sugar crusting the surface in a very pleasing way.
Bob remembers powdered sugar donuts.  I don't think they were sold at our school, but I'm including one here for him.  Below the Powdered Sugar is a Chocolate Frosted, also a cake donut, also not sold at our school as far as I remember.  But on the right are my other two favorites:  at the top a Plain Twist, and below it a Chocolate Twist.  These were the best.  I would bite the skinny tip first and then wolf my way down the tender inside doughy coils, leaving the fat base for last.  

At the bottom of the page are two cartons of milk, the only beverage choice, gloppy sweet chocolate or nasty, milk-tasting white.  Bob and I both despised milk, still do.  We share the memory of devoting hours of our time to picking flecks of cream off the surface of our milk in those days before homogenization.  We both believed that if we drank White through a straw it didn't taste like milk, nor did it do that dreadful mouth-coating thing,  Our mother explained to us that since you couldn't smell the milk when you drank it through a straw out of a carton, you wouldn't be able to taste it.  That was the only way I was ever able to drink the stuff.  As often as possible I dumped my mandatory carton in the garbage.

I could easily put away four of those donuts.  The print (from a carved rubber eraser) above is of me walking to my classroom with four donuts sitting like stones in my stomach and the sugar starting to kick in, just in time for three hours of uninterrupted desk-sitting.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Early Spring?

As unlikely as it seems after last week's below zero mornings, today we found hyacinths and daffodils as well as daylilies peeking out from under some dead leaves in the garden.  Jesse plopped down on a paving stone in the afternoon sun and watched the neighborhood.  He leaned on his elbow and shifted occasionally.  I drew him twice, then drew some of the little green bulb bloom shoots.  Then J came with me to walk along the hills behind the house and survey the fields, which have been bleached to lightest yellow ochre.  The hedgerows are dark, almost black, and the cows are browsing for food in the straw-like grass and corn stubble.

There's that one dark tree-- I think it's a giant holly tree-- sitting in the middle of Dogwood across from the sheep.  I can see it from the hills behind our house if I walk a bit downhill and to the left.  Love those criss- cross hedgerow patterns!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Caput Mortuum for First Days of Spring

Whenever there's a convergence of festivals from various traditions, you can be sure the festivals share a common root, although the present-day celebrations may be far from similar to each other.  At the beginning of February there's the sweet and welcome convergence of Imbolc, which was considered the beginning of spring in Medieval Ireland, among other places, on February 1; Groundhog Day and Candlemas on the second; and on the third, St. Blaise and the blessing of throats.   Imbolc falls at the point equidistant between the short day of winter solstice and the equal-light-equal-dark day of the spring equinox, a turning of the dark winter tide toward the light of spring.  It was a day on which rituals were performed to ensure a good harvest.

Candlemas was celebrated by Early Christians as a feast of light, a time when new candles were blessed for the coming year.  It was also tied in with the feast of the Purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of Jesus, when Mary was allowed to re-enter the temple after childbirth following water rituals, a Jewish requirement.  Both light and the goddess returning?  You can be sure these Christian feasts had roots in much older celebrations.

Groundhog Day began in the 1500s in England at the time of year when farmers were  eager to get going with those traditional Medieval February tasks, and they began to check on hibernating animals.  They knew that the animals were able to determine when it was safe to wake up from hibernation.  In England the hedge hog was the animal most handy for observation.  In America, where there were no hedge hogs, immigrants from England used ground hogs as weather predictors. 

In our Catholic neighborhood in New Orleans, St. Blaise Day was a nice, if slightly odd, break in the tedium of winter.  We went to Mass during the school day and at one point, we marched up to the front og church where a robed priest, holding two crossed candles (unlit), pressed the crossing gently to our throats and blessed them to ensure that we would not get sore throats.  This was auspicious timing, as Mardi Gras was just around the corner and we would be screaming ourselves hoarse at every parade:  "Hey Mister!!  Throw me something!!!!"  The story was that St. Blaise had been a bishop who had saved a boy's life by blessing him while he was choking on a fish bone.

I celebrated Imbolc-Groundhog Day by taking a caput mortuum walk in the woods.  Caput mortuum is a deep reddish-purplish-brownish pigment that comes from iron oxide -filled ochres.  I've found it not far from here in the banks of a lake that had been lowered when a dam had been opened.  The name caput mortuum means "head [and the expression caput! implies chopping off of a head]" "of death", and Goethe is said to have remarked that this color signals the death of death-- the end of winter.  It is the first warm color to emerge in the earliest spring.  Goethe said it was the color of red maple blossoms, and it is.  I found many examples of it today:  the raspberry and blackberry canes are now turning  bright caput mortuum, thanks to the rising sap; tiny buds on the apple trees are that color as they emerge;  wild rose stems are blushing with c.m., as are the small leaves that are beginning to come out. 

Later I walked around our yard and found even more examples, all labeled on the left of the bottom page.  On the right of this page is a copy of a Medieval manuscript painting, which shows the rural tasks of February-- digging, plowing, sowing.  Even though Punxatawney Phil is predicting more winter this year, the plants around here are not so sure.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

More Waiting People

On the left is a bonus that I'm not counting as a drawing, from last night, the recipe for the stir fry we had at Ichiban, really good.  Tonight I found myself at 7:15 in a restaurant, not a drawing done all day.  So there was nothing to do except draw more people.  I was happy to notice that there were several people waiting, so I continued yesterday's theme of People Waiting.  The first woman was waiting for her take-out,  standing at a counter watching the waitress bag it up.  The woman on the right was the hostess, waiting behind a counter for more people to arrive.  It was a really slow night.

We were the only customers after the take-out woman left.  A cook came out from the kitchen and stood at the counter reading something while he waited for something else to need cooking.  The waitress stood behind the counter and stared into space, glancing over toward us from time to time, waiting for us to need our water glasses topped off.  Then the cook ambled over to a table and sat down and looked out the front window.

The hostess came and sat at the table with the cook and fiddled around with her phone while she waited.  It isn't a bad restaurant, but it has a feeling of doom about it.  It's buried in a strip mall along a very busy road, hard to see for all the traffic and situated very badly for people trying to turn in to it from the west, as we were.  But it was a good place for drawing all those waiting people.