Monday, May 30, 2011

The Slippery Slope of Perfectionism

Many hours of work and thought culminated in a special wedding cake for a couple that loves being in the outdoors.  The wedding was small so the cake only had to serve thirty people. That was a limited canvas for me to work with.

The bride and groom skiers were carefully dressed according to the photographs sent to me by the bride.
They were outfitted with their skis and poles.

A lot of thought, discussion and debate was conducted before deciding what the names of the ski runs would be.
In the end, they were ready to head down the Wedded Bliss Trail. A sign cautioned them to watch for Unmarked Obstacles.

Of course I haven't heard from any of the wedding party how the cake was received, and because I am a self-flagellating spastic fool, I'll continue to second guess myself and lose sleep over this cake. I always do this with the ones that I spend the most blood, sweat and tears on. (Like...I already wish I had moved the Wedded Bliss Trail sign farther down the slope so that it could be seen better. Did any of the trees or skis or signs fall over after I left the room? Too many signs? Should I have went with True Love Trail instead?  Etc. etc. etc. And by the way, I did remake the heads of the figures because the first ones did not satisfy me.)

Sigh. I'll let it go when I start stressing over the next one.
(Just letting you know what it's like to carry the responsibility of being a wedding vendor and taking one shot to make this element of a bridal couple's day just what they wanted and paid for.)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Spring Formal Dance

She's a senior. It's her last official dance as a high school (homeschool) student.

That calls for a new pair of shoes and a fancy pedicure, doncha think?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why do I agree to do these things?

This week I've been wearing my sculptor's hat. Fondant is a difficult medium, needless to say. It's not as forgiving as good old earthen clay. I've chewed down fingernails, pulled out my hair and lost a bit of sleep in the process.

We'll see if anything good comes from it this weekend.

Time to start baking the cake!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Not Obsessive. Passionate!

Welcome to another session of the Jane Eyre Book Club and Society of Passionate Charlotte Bronte Fans.

Here are some fascinating, scintillating facts I'm learning from reading Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Bronte. I find them so intriguing that I simply must share. You just might find them slightly interesting too. And if not...well, pardon me. But it's my blog and this is what I'm writing about today.

As I mentioned in my other post, the Lowood School in the book Jane Eyre was the thinly disguised boarding school that Charlotte Bronte and her sisters attended, called Cowan Bridge. What I just learned though is that the angelic character in Jane Eyre, Helen Burns, a patient, pious girl who was persecuted cruelly by a teacher at the school and who later died of an illness there during an epidemic, was faithfully and lovingly written by Charlotte based on her own sister Maria and her experiences there! Her sister also was treated cruelly by a teacher (on whom she modeled nasty Miss Scatcherd in Jane Eyre) and Maria suffered with tuberculosis and died too. The kind teacher in Jane Eyre, Miss Temple, was also a real person as well as the pompous headmaster.

The most touching scene in the book, to me, is when Helen Burns lies in her deathbed and has a conversation with Jane who has sneaked up to see her before she dies. Helen faces death with a mature confidence and faith, while Jane, childlike, asks "Where is God? How can we get to Him? Will we know the way?" To know that Charlotte Bronte was thinking of her own sister's death when she wrote this makes it even more moving.

When the book was published by the anonymous author Currer Bell, the former students of Cowan Bridge recognized the school, the teachers and Maria Bronte. Gaskell says, Not a word of that part of Jane Eyre but is a literal repetition of scenes between the pupil and the teacher. Those who had been pupils at the same time knew who must have written the book from the force with which Helen Burns' sufferings are described. They had, before that, recognized the description of the sweet dignity and benevolence of Miss Temple as only a just tribute to the merits of one whom all that knew her appear to hold in honour; but when Miss Scatcherd was held up to opprobrium they also recognized the writer of Jane Eyre an unconsciously avenging sister of the sufferer.

I can only imagine the talk and the scandal that must have ensued when this book was published. Jane Eyre had scenes written as a picture of living people, but disguised as fiction, and pretty much exposing the abuses of a public institution and its employees. To their credit, in later years Cowan Bridge school made vast improvements and when Elizabeth Gaskell visited it while researching the biography, she found it well-kept and the children healthy and bright. (Charlotte Bronte also reflected this in Jane Eyre when the Lowood school conditions were shown to improve after the epidemic and when Jane became a teacher there herself.) There were many who came to the defense of Cowan Bridge school and its headmaster which gives light also to the perspective of the school that Charlotte Bronte had as an author. She wrote from her childhood memories which were formed with a child's perspective, not knowing the full scope of the actions and motivations of the adults in her world.

That is all. Book Club....dismissed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

France, Italy, Spain, Oregon

If it weren't for that mountain, I would have thought I'd traveled to a far-away country known for its unique dining experiences.

But here at home, we enjoyed a world class meal in a world class setting.
The location was stunning- on top of a hill with a 360 degree view of the valley.

A hill formed from volcanic action in ancient times, it was a rocky place that had been sculpted into terraces, stepping stone pathways and water features.

One of the rocky terraces was the setting for a spectacular Indian-themed dinner prepared by two young local chefs. We enjoyed our evening with our gourmand friends as well as with the other specially invited guests of the chefs.

The location, besides being beautiful, was a small farm on which the entree for the dinner was raised. We took a tour before the meal began.

On the east side of the hill there was a pasture for a herd of heritage breed pigs that are being raised on hazelnuts, chestnuts and acorns. This type of feed program is a time-honored way of raising pigs, famously done in Spain where the cured hams are considered among the best in the world.

On the west side of the hill, a pit had been dug. The day before, two of the young hogs were butchered and barbequed in the fire pit. The pigs were stuffed with a fresh coconut preparation, rubbed with the Indian spice masala and wrapped in banana leaves. The hot coals from the fire were buried with the pigs under the red dirt and left to slowly cook over night and all the next day.

Our chefs were just removing the pit-barbequed pork when we arrived.

The process was exciting for us to watch but most certainly more exciting for them to perform.

The roasted meat was brought to the staging area and unwrapped.

The chefs decided that despite the 20+ hours in the fire pit, the meat would still need to be finished in a smoker grill.

We watched as the whole roasted pig was expertly carved into tenderloins and roasts for the grill.

Accompanying the roasted pork was fresh naan, an Indian bread flavored with herbs.

Chef Nathan rolled the dough out flat and then grilled the naan on an open fire just before serving.

Before too long, the perfectly smoked and roasted pork arrived and was carved for the anxious dinner guests.

The Indian-themed menu included a spicy tomato chutney as well as a mango chutney,

and a deliciously hot spring curry with asparagus and freshly picked morel mushrooms.

To refresh our palettes after the heat of the spicy dishes, fresh herbs including miner's lettuce and cilantro were also served.

The pork tenderloin was perfectly cooked with a luscious smokiness and melting texture that could only be found in a young, well-raised hog. The side dishes were spicy- but not too much- flavorful and completely delicious. Dessert was fresh tropical fruit and a honey-laced Indian cheese. Just the right finish.

The setting and the company made this unique meal all the more memorable.

This was truly a world-class experience here in our little hometown Oregon valley.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sure, I believe it. Don't you?

I got this in my email box this morning. Nevermind that I've never used Western Union in my life. Let's not tell them because I sure could use the money they are so benevolently giving me.

Dear Western Union Customer,

You have been awarded with the sum of $50,000 USD by our office,
as one of our customers who use Western Union in their daily business transaction.

This award has been selected through the internet, where your e-mail address was indicated and notified.

Please provide Mr. Gary Epps with the following details listed below so that your fund will be remited to you through Western Union.

1. Name:______
2. Address________
3. Country:_______
4. Phone Number____
5. Occupation:________
6. Sex:_________________
7. Age___________________

Mr. Gary Epps
Tel: +3938XXX57681

As soon as these details are received and verified, your fund will be transferred to you. Thank you, for using western union. pleasure!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Seen in the Gallery

I love glass.

Love, love, love it.

If I hadn't already learned how to manipulate clay, I would want to learn how to blow glass. A glass hobby is much more expensive to pursue than a clay hobby. I'm also too old to deal with the long learning curve so I need to stick with what I know.

But I am still magnetically drawn to brightly colored, fluid, hand-formed glass creations.

If I were wealthy, I would buy this in a heartbeat and enjoy examining it and meditating on it every day.

This artist has mastered his medium.

I can only imagine how much fun it is to play with molten glass and come up with things like this.

The things a craftsman can do with silica....endless.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

America's Favorite Pastime- Sitting in a Puddle

This is Little League baseball in Oregon.

See the puddles at the batter's feet? One of them is home plate. The others are the divots where the batters dig in. But the water was deep enough that the batters started working on a new set of foot holds. The catcher and umpire also have their own bogs to stand in.

Standard equipment for the spectators include blankets (always!), bumbershoots, hats, gloves, warm coats and sheets of plastic. Remember we're talking about baseball in May, not football in November (which requires exactly the same equipment.)

They don't call off baseball here on account of rain, because if they did we would only have two games a season.

The real irony is that during the game, Mr. Dirtywrench was mowing lawn at church, ten miles away as the crow flies, but with a mountain between here and there, and it was sunny and dry at his location!

The boys and I were frozen to the bone when we got home. I put on dry clothes, made a cup of hot tea and wrapped myself in a blanket while the boys headed out to the sauna to reheat their bodies.

Three more weeks to go.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wind Power

I took a drive to Yakima, Washington the other day. The scenery has changed quite a bit in the last few years.

It used to be simple rolling green farm land, pastures, wheat fields and dry dessert.

The landscape now has an alien, other-worldly, futuristic-movie kind of feel.

But these wind turbines are also strangely...mesmerizing and peaceful. They are slowly, silently, constantly turning, turning, turning...

For miles and miles these towering structures line the horizons, dot the pastures and interrupt the landscapes with their unnatural yet garden-like stature.

The boys and I recently read about the colonial wind powered mills that were built by the dutch in New York (New Amsterdam) in the seventeenth century. The modern wind mills are nothing like their ancestors.

These are sleek and minimalist. Alien.

But in a strange way....
...beautiful too.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


.....the no good, low-down, snub-nosed, garlic-breathed, underground bulb eating monster!

Chip your teeth on that!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Life With Charlotte Bronte

My very favorite classic book has always been Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. My first reading of the book was from this 1943 Random House set that was in my parochial school's library.

The book's story is enhanced in this printing by these wonderful wood engravings.

The style of text, layout and pictures in this publication added a great deal to the feeling of its classic worth as well as enhancing the mysterious story in its bleak Old English setting.

If you are only familiar with the story of Jane Eyre from one of its many film and screen interpretations and have not read the book, then I have to say you are missing out on one of the greatest characters in literature. A film interpretation tends to highlight only the events of the story while a book brings you into the complex people inhabiting it for a deeper understanding of the whole.

I read Jane Eyre as a teenager (and it was not an assigned school book) and was mesmerized by it from the first chapter. It was so original and unlike any other book I had ever read, then or now, thirty-five years later. The character of Jane Eyre, an orphan, withstands incredible hardship, cruelty, injustice and temptation with perseverance, always steadfast in her faith and integrity. Charlotte Bronte was a brilliant writer, bringing to life unique and often unsavory, unlikeable, characters and making the reader care deeply about her heroine.

After I read the book, I was of course wanting to read more of Charlotte Bronte. Bronte died at a young age and had published only a few other works. I could not get any of them from my library sources. So I next read Wuthering Heights, written by Charlotte's sister Emily. It was a very different work by a different author and I found it difficult to understand. I then found out what I could about the Brontes from encyclopedias and a biography that was sent to me by a penpal that I had at the time from North Yorkshire, England. In the end I only knew the basics about the Brontes, that they lived austere lives, cut short by disease and that their books were published under pseudonyms though I didn't understand the reasons why.

Of course I have also seen every film adaption of Jane Eyre that has been made in English. I can tell you that the BBC version, with Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester, is by far the best, using Charlotte Bronte's own words and staying more faithful to the spirit of the book.

Last year I was shopping for some novels to read on my trip to Michigan. Though I usually only buy books for school and reference use, our local library here had closed due to some severe county budget issues so I was willing to shell out some money for some fiction to read on the airplane. I somewhat reluctantly bought a book called Romancing Miss Bronte. I say reluctantly because I have read modern novels based on or written as sequels to classics and am nearly always disappointed by the results (including Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, a prequel of sorts to Jane Eyre). I was afraid this book would be a Harlequin style romance with a protagonist that just happened to be kind of like that grim Charlotte Bronte. I bought the book but my skepticism kept me from actually delving in and reading it- until this spring when I was desperately needing some fictional literary diversion. I was deeply delighted to find that Romancing Miss Bronte is nothing like the title implies. It is less about romance and more about the life and times of the Bronte family in an authentic yet entertaining rendering. Yes, there is a very satisfying (and true!) romance- a very surprising one to me- but it is not the real reason to love the book.

Romancing Miss Bronte by Juliet Gael is historical fiction. It is tells the story of the adult life of Charlotte Bronte in a way that feels very authentic to the Victorian times and the Yorkshire setting. The author Gael takes the real events of Charlotte Bronte's life and informs and entertains with them. In this book it was so interesting to meet the members of the Bronte family and to find out how they wrote their books, how they were published, why the sisters used the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Anton Bell (for Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte) and how the books were received by Victorian England and the world. Charlotte endures the deaths of her brother, Branwell, and sisters, Emily and Anne, in the short space of less than a year. Though she originally publishes Jane Eyre anonymously as Currer Bell, the popularity of the book makes her a celebrity. After her sisters' deaths she comes out in society and enjoys the fruits of her fame to some extent. It was surprising to learn that Jane Eyre, a book I considered so unique because of Jane's morality and strict adherence to her principals, was considered scandalous at the time of its publication. Yes, people lived wickedly in the world, but it was apparently not to be written about! Part of the popularity of the book was due to the mystery of the anonymous author as well as the audacity she had to honestly write about deception, temptation and madness.

I also learned in this book how much Charlotte Bronte's writings were based on the real people and real events of her life. In Jane Eyre, the orphan child Jane is sent by her cruel aunt to a dismal boarding school. At the school the girls are fed nasty gruel and moldy bread for breakfast, they have to break the ice in the water pitcher to wash before meals but then are harshly punished for dirt under their fingernails. The deprivation causes a disease epidemic that kills a number of the children. The school is run by a headmaster who is a pompous, self-righteous Pharisee. In Romancing Miss Bronte I learned that Charlotte Bronte and her sisters attended a school just like this. Charlotte's two older sisters died at the ages of eleven and twelve from disease they acquired at that school. Charlotte's friends suspected her authorship of Jane Eyre because they recognized the school she attended and the head master, a still-living person when Jane Eyre was published. After Charlotte's death there were litigious problems with that same arrogant head-master who was revealed in Charlotte's biography.

I'm sorry if I am boring your socks off with this but I think it is utterly fascinating!

At the end of Romancing Miss Bronte, Juliet Gael writes that she hopes to inspire her readers to read more of Charlotte Bronte and recommends the definitive biography written by Charlotte's friend Elizabeth Gaskell from which Gael gets much of her material. Well, Ms. Gael, you inspired me! The day I finished Romancing Miss Bronte, I went to Amazon and purchased the biography as well as Charlotte Bronte's Villette.

Reading Villette will be so much richer with the insight of her biography. The characters are drawn from the real people in Charlotte's life and those people recognized themselves when the book was first published.

Now, if I was still sixteen but living in our modern age of technology, I have found that I could extend my obsessive indulgence beyond just more books and movie interpretations. I've discovered there are things like websites and blogs and virtual book clubs.

It's a good thing I'm not a teenager any more!