Wednesday, August 29, 2012

summer reading list

not as many as usual this quarter, what with the visits of the grandkids and now some real income producing work!

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - a peculiar little book, it almost seems to be written around a collection of vintage photos which are included in the book.  Jacob's grandfather was sent away by his family at 12, narrowly escaping the fate of the rest of his family at the hands of the Nazis, and grew up in a home for orphaned children on a tiny island in Wales until he was old enough to go fight in the war.  Now, he is an old man and Jacob grew up listening to his stories of Miss Peregrine's home and the other children who all seemed to have magical abilities.  Eventually Jacob comes to disbelieve these fantastic stories. Shortly before his 16th birthday, Jacob finds his dying grandfather with his guts torn out, his dying words to Jacob making little sense until Jacob's birthday when he receives a gift which sends him on a quest to find the place where his grandfather lived.  On that remote island Jacob discovers the truth behind his grandfather's stories and his own peculiarity.

London Is The Best City In America by Laura Dave – a light hearted little story about a sister and brother trying to figure out how to move forward in their lives. Emma, three years earlier, on her way to her wedding with her intended wakes up early in the motel and walks away without a word. She settles in a small fishing village where she convinces herself she is working on a documentary until she has to go home for her older brother's wedding to the woman he has been with for 7 years. On their way to his bachelor party, he confesses that he is torn, that there is another woman.

Illusion by Frank Peretti – the famous magic act of Dane and Mandy comes to a tragic end when Mandy dies in a car wreck leaving Dane bereft of his partner in magic and in life. But when one Mandy dies, another much younger Mandy appears at the fairground where she met Dane 40 years ago. She is confused and frightened wearing a hospital gown when only minutes before she had been having lunch and waiting for her friends to join her before they went to see the illusionist at the fair. Nothing is familiar, she can't find her father who was showing llamas at the fair, and she is eventually escorted to the hospital where she is held for mental screening. There she learns that it is 40 years later than she thinks it is and she realizes if she doesn't leave her memories behind and try to live in the present, she will be locked up forever. One day in the mental ward, the world goes fuzzy and she walks out unseen. Mandy, now going by her middle name Eloise, is found and given shelter by a couple who takes in lost souls and help her begin a new life. She tries to earn a living doing card tricks and discovers she can move and control objects in a manner far beyond the simple magic that she knows. Meanwhile, Dane is trying to learn to live without Mandy and he retires from the world to the house he and Mandy had just purchased on the outskirts of the town where Mandy grew up. When their paths cross, they are jolted to the bone but 60 year old Dane knows his wife is dead and Eloise can't understand why she is so drawn to a man 40 years her elder. Reluctantly, Dane agrees to mentor her and they begin a journey of rediscovery, eventually learning the truth behind Mandy's new powers and her 'death'.

Gideon's Corpse by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child – Gideon Crew is sent to talk down a co-worker, a top nuclear scientist, who has gone crazy and is holding a family hostage in NYC. The guy is shot by snipers and they discover that he is hot with radiation and they piece together a terrorist plot to explode a nuclear bomb from the evidence left behind. Gideon and his FBI partner have 10 days to discover the who else, the when, and the where exactly in order to stop them in time. The search takes them to New Mexico where they hit nothing but dead ends or so it seems until an attempt is made on their lives.

The Blue Hour by T. Jefferson Parker – a gruesome tale about a serial killer who drains his female victims of blood and apparently keeps the bodies. A retired older detective who is undergoing chemo and radiation therapy for lung cancer is called in by the chief to help the young typical prickly defensive modern female detective with the case. The female character is always referred to by her first name, the male characters are always referred to by their last names. Pretty good detective story though.

Storm Runners by T. Jefferson Parker – another cop tale, sort of, by the same author as the previous book. Two high school friends go their separate ways when one becomes a cop and the other chooses a life of crime. The detective barely escapes with his life from a bomb blast set by his ex-friend and intended for him, but kills his wife and son instead. He quits and goes on a two year drunk until his best friend finally makes him pull himself together and assigns him to bodyguard a popular weather newscaster when she reports being stalked. Her stalker, though, is a happily married man who had been sent by his ruthless boss to spy on her and her scientific experiments with rain and told to steal or destroy her work. When he is caught, he is ordered to go visit his very distant cousin in prison, the very ex-friend who caused the deaths of the detective's family, and ask for a favor from the gang leader who is still very much in control of his gang on the outside. When El Jefe learns that his nemesis is the bodyguard and that he has fallen for the beautiful weather-caster, he's all in.

The Book Of Mortals: Mortal by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee – the second book in the trilogy (first book review here). Jonathon, the boy whose blood has the power to overcome the virus that stripped humanity of all it's emotions save fear, is approaching his 18th birthday and the day when he will take over as Sovereign of the world from his regent. During the nine years between the end of the first book and this one, he has been hidden away from his enemy (the brother of the woman who would be sovereign who gave her life so that Jonathon might ascend) living with the Nomads. He has also shared his blood (apparently there is only one blood type now) with all the wandering tribes who have joined together into one tribe of 1200 souls who call themselves the Mortals. But his enemy, Saric, who had been brought to a dark semblance of emotional life through Alchemy (science/medicine) has also been busy creating an army of 12,000 Dark Bloods, the first army to exist in 400 years. He resurrects his sister, who has been held in stasis, intending to rule through her and destroy Jonathon.

Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy – another wonderful story with her usual cast of characters. A young man who dropped out of school and took a dead end clerical job teeters on the edge of alcoholism. He receives a call from a woman who is dying of cancer and when he meets with her she tells him that the baby, who will be born shortly and whose birth she will not survive, is his. He barely remembers her and their drunken weekend but he does, at the urging of his cousin from America who has arrived for a visit, step up and take responsibility for the child. The small neighborhood and the other characters in the book also step up to help Noel care for the child and to keep the social worker, who is determined to put the baby in 'care', at bay. All the different characters and their story lines all intersect with Frankie. I don't know if this is Maeve's last book before she died this year but I for one will miss her stories about the people in St. Jarlath's Crescent and surrounding areas.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

W is for...

W is for...watermelon, wind, whittle, whistle

W is for whistle

Did I mention I collect whistles?

I can’t whistle. Not pursing and blowing, not sucking in, not using two fingers placed strategically in the mouth, not no how. Well, rather, I can do all those things. Silently. Whatever the genetic code or the shape of mouth and throat or the neurons that connect the brain with the tongue, whatever it is that makes people be able to whistle, I don’t have that.

my first whistle

So if I want to be heard I have to yell really loud, which I’m pretty good at, or use a whistle. Not that I actually use whistles. But at some point I got interested in them.

By interested, I don’t mean find out how they work or how to make one. What I mean is...look at all those different whistles! And for some reason, I decided to collect them.

It wasn't really a conscious decision and I didn't announce to the world that that's what I was doing because we all know what happens when people find out you collect something. That's all you ever get until you're sick of it.

But I did tell my grandkids to be on the lookout for whistles and quite a few of them have been confiscated come from their hands. The others I picked up here and there at craft shows or little stores or resale shops.

These are all ceramic. The leopard god and the brightly colored oval from Peru are more rightly ocarinas since they have four or more holes. Apparently there's some disagreement about the difference between a whistle and an ocarina. The man in his bunny suit has three holes, the whistling face next to him has two as does the little barrel on the cord, and the little white fish or frog or whatever it is has one. The little peanut shaped one in the very front is the smallest whistle I have and also the loudest and most shrill.

These are all made out of wood. The bird has two tones since it also has one hole. When you press down on the crest it covers the hole and changes the note. The dark brown one right next to it plays two different notes at the same time. The bamboo is a slide whistle, the tone changing as you pull out or push in the stick at the end. The bee on the left was made by an artist who carves these whimsical sort of groupings and all the pieces are whistles. The little dragonfly makes more of a buzzing sound.

The stick in the back was whittled by a very clever man I had the great good fortune to know for a couple of years until our paths split off. It was, after he finished it, a working whistle but it would only work while the wood was still green. The next day the stick had dried out and it no longer worked.

I took another picture of it since you can't see the business end in the group shot.

These are all metal with the exception of the deer antler on the right. The antler is equally as shrill as the little clay peanut. The long one in back is another slide whistle. I once tried to whistle the Star Spangled Banner on it without much success. The brass and copper on the left is a bosun whistle, next to it is a dog whistle (I should have opened it), and next to that is an 'authentic' English Bobbie's whistle.

These are all plastic. That long yellow straw like thing in the back is not intended to be a whistle I don't think. I'm not sure what it was supposed to be but it does whistle if you blow in it. The orange one on the left makes more of a siren sound, the bright green also blows two tones at the same time. When you blow on the one bottom left, the little windmill turns and the circle next to it is another kind of dog whistle I think. Of the three common plastic whistles, the white one came off a Ukrainian life jacket (long story) and the dark green one came from the army. Neither one blows very loud.

They've been packed away since we moved because I didn't want to put them back in the secretary where they had been because it was dark and hard to see them. I finally have a little display case to put them in but it's from a resale shop and needs some repair.

I've picked a few to demonstrate for you.

antler whistle:

plastic siren whistle:

wood two note train whistle:

metal slide whistle:

gray ceramic whistle:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I'm confused

(I apologize for the length of this post but I hope you read it to the end.)

Some of my readers may be aware of the battle going on in California over proposition 37, the effort to force food manufacturers to label their products that contain GMO foods and their derivatives as such, the most common of which are corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, and cotton. New GMO foods are being introduced all the time and at an alarming rate.

The main modification, and by modification I don't mean hybridization but genetic manipulation, adding genes to the genetic code of a plant from a totally alien source, is to cause these foods to contain in themselves pesticides and herbicides. The stated purpose being to make stronger and more resistant food crops that need less pesticide and herbicide applications or more drought tolerant. Sounds great only it doesn't really work. Farmers are finding they need to use more and more herbicides and pesticides because we all know Nature will breed a stronger weed or bug in response and in this case, she has. It does however, cause us to ingest these poisons.

Monsanto, the company that brought us Round Up and Agent Orange among other highly toxic substances is the main company behind the ruining of our food supply. I'm not going to go into all the dangers here or how they paid off the FDA to allow these foods without any testing or the backroom deal they made with the Bush administration or the independent tests that have shown that being far from safe, these foods cause infertility, accelerated aging, allergies, obesity, and compromised immune systems among other things. We are already suffering from the hormones in meat and we know many of these effects don't peak for several generations so it's our children and our grandchildren we are damaging by eating these foods.

I encourage everyone to do their own research and not to trust any tests or research that comes from Monsanto or any of their affiliates. You can hardly expect them to publish any information that puts their own products in a bad light. We also know from experience that they aren't above doctoring the results of their research.

You might recall we were told cigarettes were safe by the tobacco companies even though they knew all along they weren't. We were told plastic was safe but now we know that plastic leaches heinous chemicals into our food and bodies and in pregnant women are passed to the fetus. We were told flame retardant chemicals were safe but now we know that those chemicals leach into our bodies as well. We were told pesticides wouldn't affect us but they were wrong. We were told artificial colors and flavors and preservatives in our food were safe and now our food has become a chemical soup and is killing us. We were told to use anti-bacterial agents on everything to be healthy but all it did was compromise our immune systems and attacks our muscle function. And with the rise of all these chemicals in our food and environment, there has been a corresponding rise in autism, allergies, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, and a host of other ailments.

50 countries either ban or require labeling of GMO foods. The United States is not one of them.

This is all very important but it's not really what my post is about because I'm not at all confused about GMOs. I am definitely against them and want the US to ban them. At the very least, I want them to be labeled so that I can avoid eating them.

Not surprisingly, the Big Food companies are donating millions of dollars to the fight against labeling, against prop 37 in California, not because, as they say, it would be too costly to change labels. That is belied by the money they are willing to spend to fight it. They are fighting labeling because they know that they would lose a substantial amount of revenue. Recent polls have shown that 70% of the population wants these foods labeled and/or out of the food supply altogether.

Also not surprisingly, organic foods which started out as a 'hippy dippy' thing have hit the mainstream. As people become more educated about what is being done to their food, the demand for organic and natural foods has been rising steadily and is now the fastest rising market sector.

And again not surprisingly, proponents of prop 37 and of labeling in general have called for boycotts of the companies who are donating money to fight against it and this is where my confusion lies.

Because some of the donors, and big donors, also have organic and no-GMO divisions. I have no idea how Big Food (Dean, Kraft, General Mills, Kellogg, Cargill to name a few) came by their organic businesses. I don't know if they were bought by hook or by crook or if they originated with the parent company. But I am satisfied that they make available a choice I can feel can good about buying or at least not be fearful of buying.

Some pro-labeling and no-GMO groups are calling for a boycott, not of the tainted foods of these companies that have donated large sums to fight prop 37, but their organic and no-GMO divisions.


Well, the assumption I guess, is that you weren't buying the GMO products already but this just doesn't make sense to me. These are the products we want. I understand that a portion of their profits go to the parent company and that the parent company uses those profits to fight labeling. On the other hand, some of their profits also go to support national organic and no-GMO initiatives and if we make these divisions unprofitable, how long do you think those products will remain available to us? Not everyone lives in an area where there are small or family owned organic alternatives. So if we won't eat the GMO foods and we aren't supposed to eat the organic and no-GMO foods available to us that are owned by these big companies, what the hell are we supposed to eat?

It makes more sense to me to boycott the GMO foods (which is just about everything on your grocer's shelves) and buy the organic and no-GMO. You know, carrot, stick. Let them know what kind of food we want by what we buy. When the other stuff stops selling, perhaps they will be more inclined to get rid of the GMO food.

You don't get very good results when you only use the stick. Not with animals, not with children or adults, and I doubt it works any better against a company. When they see where their profit and loss originates, that is how they will be persuaded. Unless of, course, our government actually grows a pair and stands up for the people for a change, and not their handlers, and bans them altogether.

In the meantime, of course, it's always better to buy from a smaller operation when you have the choice. And that goes for buying any product, not just food, from a small business or family owned operation or artist.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

my fight or flight has been active all day

A few pics from around the yard while I fret over getting started on this big job.

I spied these strange little spores? eggs? coming off the stem of my moonflower vine. They are actually only about 3/16” long. I have no idea what they are.

The anoles and geckos have started to hatch and I spied this little guy on one of the azaleas. It couldn't have been more than an inch from the tip of its nose to it hind legs.

The morning glory bush finally started blooming. True to its name, the flowers open in the morning and close by noon.

The orb weaver is still hanging out in the same spot though it does reposition the web now and then.

I have several clumps of these swamp lilies that I transplanted from the Houston house but this is the only one that blooms so far.

We finally got our deposit on Aug. 6 and have made some progress towards getting the rented shop ready. I had initially told them that we would need at least two weeks once we got our deposit to get the place ready. Essentially, we have to start from scratch with tables and a temporary sandblast booth and the air compressor and air delivery system. We've made some progress but here at the end of the two weeks we still have not had them deliver the glass.

Part of the problem is that when I laid out the time period, we had a clear calendar. So of course, the deposit came in the worst possible month and the worst possible timing. Because we don't have a clear calendar for the month of August.

Someone beat them to the punch as far as deposits go so we have had to work on that job and I also, weeks before we got funded, agreed to dog sit for my sister while she goes to visit her stepson and his family the 22 – 28. Realistically, it's going to be the end of the month before we can schedule them to bring the glass. Perhaps the beginning of next week at the earliest. But after that, we should be on track.

Friday, August 17, 2012

how we do the thing we do

One of my readers commented that he didn't understand the process of my work and although I have a very detailed explanation on my website, I thought I would describe it here.

Pate de verre, literally translated means 'paste of glass', is just one of several kiln casting techniques. I say kiln casting because the work we do is formed in a kiln and not with molten glass out of a furnace or formed on the end of a blow pipe.

The process as we developed it is a lost wax process similar to bronze and precious metal casting, like jewelry. Other artists use clay for their models and some cast from life, burning out the organic material in the kiln before adding the glass to the mold. Our models are sculpted in wax. A model is an exact replica of the thing you wish to cast in glass.

Pate de verre is one of the oldest known forms of glass forming, going back 3,500 years or so. The name for this technique comes from a revival by french artists in the late 19th century. If you are interested in a more detailed history of glass forming in general and pate de verre in particular, you can read about it here.

The first step to any piece is to make the model. Sometimes I carve the item out of a block of wax (like the peach inlay piece), sometimes I build it up with shapes cut out of wax made into 1/8” thick 'sheets' and fill in the hollow areas with small bits of wax (like the flower sculpture), and sometimes I use reproduction molds that I have made from an object (like the latex mold of the peach pit) that I pour melted wax into. For the box itself, we made thick slabs of wax to specific dimensions and I joined them together.

wax carving in progress

Once the model is finished, it is glued down to a surface to keep it from floating up when the investment, or mold material, is poured over it. When the glue has dried, we make a dam, or coddle, around the model leaving an inch or two of space between the model and the sides of the coddle.

set up for investment

Our investment, or mold material, is composed of plaster powder and silica flour and water. When mixed, it is poured into the space between the model and the coddle until it has covered the model completely to a thickness equal to that of the space around the model. When the investment has hardened, then the wax is melted out, hence the term 'lost wax', leaving a negative space in the now hard investment material. This is the casting mold.

pouring investment around the model

finished mold

The next step is to add the glass into the mold. Our technique, pate de verre, uses glass that is crushed to the consistency of sand, called 'frit' or powder. I mix the frit and powder with a binding agent or glue to make a 'paste' of the glass and pack the different colored glass pastes into the negative spaces of the mold where I want the colors to be in the fired piece. This process can be very tedious and take many hours.

placing the glass 'paste' in the mold

Once all the necessary glass is in the mold, it goes in the kiln for a 3 – 5 day firing. It must be heated up slowly, held at casting temperature for a specific amount of time, and then cooled down very slowly. Going too fast up or down results in either a cracked mold or a cracked piece. We have no control, really, once it is in the kiln, beyond programming the firing schedule.

After the firing schedule is completed and the inside of the kiln has returned to the ambient temperature, the mold is removed from the kiln. After firing the previously strong plaster/silica mold is now very soft and easily breaks away from the cast glass inside.

removing the investment material

After the plaster/silica residue has been removed from the surface of the piece, the final finish work is done with small diamond bits and polishing compounds. Some pieces need a lot of finish work and some hardly need any at all.

doing the finish work

We never know until it comes out of the kiln if everything went as planned. When we first started out we had a failure rate that exceeded 50%. Now, it's about 10%.

This process is probably the most tedious, time consuming, detail oriented, and frustrating thing I have ever done but it is also one of the most rewarding when it all comes together and comes out right. It's also the only process that allows for specific placement of color in the mold and the finished piece and the only process that gives the finished work it's distinctive luster when using transparent glasses.

a finished piece

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

more peachy progress

I've finished all the waxes except for the peach pits for the feet. I've been making the mold for those with liquid latex and I think I have enough layers built up so I'm letting it cure a bit before I try to cast some wax replicas.

I've made the wax model for the box itself,

for the peach inlay piece that goes on the front of the box,

for the top for the box, though I haven't decided if I'm going to have the top cast in bronze or cast it in glass,

and for the flower sculpture that goes on the top for the box.

I glued them down last night in preparation for the casting molds.

When I get the peach pit waxes ready, I'll look for a foundry that can cast them for me in bronze. I don't think I'll use the one I used for the stick on the wren box because I thought it was a little expensive. It could be that I just don't know what is reasonable for a small bronze casting so I guess I'll find out.

I'd like to get this one finished in time for the show at Morgan Contemporary Glass but I don't want to rush it either and risk screwing it up.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

kitty baby

When I got back from my walk and watering the plants this morning, this message from my daughter was waiting for me:

*sigh* must you be right about everything? That cat had a kitten last night. Luckily, just one.

My daughter and her family have two dogs and two cats, all four of which are rescues. Both the dogs are male but the cats are one of each. The girl cat is an inside cat while the boy cat has access to the outdoors. None of their animals are fixed. Along with the four animals, my daughter has four kids and with the poor economy, sterilization for the animals has not been a high priority.

A couple of weeks ago, the grandgirls were complaining about how fat their cat had become. All she does is lay around and eat they said.

We were face-timing.

'Show me the kitty' I told her, so she did. 'No, not fat. She's pregnant.'

'Oh, Granny, she can't be pregnant', they told me.


So, last Saturday while we were in town talking to my daughter...

'You know that cat's pregnant.'

'Oh, mom, she's just fat. She eats her food and Oreo's food.'

'How old is she?' I asked.

She did some quick figuring, 'about a year'.

Me: 'She's pregnant.'

Her: 'She can't be pregnant, if she was in heat we'd have known it.'

Told you so, I messaged her back.

Uh huh. Middle of the night, screaming girls, Robin totally freaking out. Happened practically in her arms. Joy joy.

edit:  the second baby has arrived.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

the difference a year makes

The pecan trees have been dropping green nuts for several weeks now. Big ones. You can see how big they are.

The trees themselves though are still loaded with pecans. This is a far cry from last year during the drought when they started dropping immature fruit when they were only 1/2” long and continued to drop as they grew.

Then the squirrels, bless their little rodent hearts, were so desperate for food and moisture that they started picking and chewing on what was left of the green fruit until there was not a single nut still left on any of the trees.

It proved to be a bit of a respite for me since when the pecans start to mature and fall, I spend several hours a day picking them up and shelling them.

This year though, I can see I will have my work cut out for me.

This isn't the only difference between this summer and last. We suffered triple digits for three months and no rain for many more than that last year. So far, I don't think we have had a single triple digit day and it doesn't look like we'll get any this month either, traditionally our hottest month of the year.

Another difference between this year, now that the rain has returned, and last year's drought is that the bird baths are not seeing nearly as many visitors. Being the only water source around, we had a constant parade of birds small and large. The red shouldered hawk that lives in the area visited regularly as well as a group of crows that entertained us daily.

I sort of miss the crows even though they monopolized the bird bath in the front.

I don't, however, miss triple digits and no rain.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


I've been trying to draw a peach to use as a pattern and visual aid for the model of the peach inlay. I've been looking at photos of peaches on-line and in books but I can't find the perfect peach from the perfect angle to match the image I have in my mind.

I've been to the grocery store several times, coming home with bags of peaches, each of them delicious and yet none still matched my image. I am dissatisfied with them all as a model for the pattern.

Obviously, not just any ordinary peach will do no matter how tasty it is. I guess I have in mind a more universal peach, the symbol of peach, in which case it's unlikely that I will find the specimen in real life.

But since I detest the artificial perfection that has seized our culture when it comes to ideals of beauty, I will probably use a real peach to look at after I have already formed the basic shape in wax, to add some lumps and dips and bulges, to try to bring it back to real life somewhat.

I'd better hurry as peaches are passing out of season, soon to be replaced by produce from Chili and I can't bring myself to buy produce from Chili. From halfway around the world. That's just wrong.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


4.75” x 3.75”

I finally had to just put it down.

I was over working it, the last hour spent making a repair. The scale I was working in made it impossible to get the kind of surface I wanted everywhere. The details of the piece also made it impossible.

Eventually, I have to surrender. I am not god. I cannot make it perfect. It's as good as it's going to get.

People ask me how long it takes to make stuff. This model, which is only one element of a larger piece, has 5, 10, guess is 16 to 18 hours in it. I don't keep close track of the time.

Of course, that's just making the model. Next it has to be invested in the plaster/silica mold material, the wax melted out (there goes that 18 hours of work), the mold filled with frit, put in the kiln and fired.

And hoping that it casts well.

They don't always.

This little sculpture is a major part of the peach box. If it doesn't cast well, I won't be inclined to try and make the model again, at least not anytime soon, so the immediate future of this piece hangs on the outcome.

I have the basic box built and am making a latex mold of the largest peach pit I could find (I've been eating a lot of peaches). Curiously enough, peach pits are basically the same size regardless of the size of the peach.

Next is the peach inlay.

Oh, and good news. We finally received the deposit check for both the 16' x 9' walls. More on that later.