Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Whine Trail

Living in the Hudson Valley of New York State allows us the opportunity to visit a number of local wineries.

Some of our favorite are Baldwin Vineyards,, Millbrook Winery,, and the Robibero Family Vineyards, are many others and you can find them by doing a web search of Hudson Valley wineries.

When my wife announced today that she was thinking of "doing a trail," I thought she meant the wine trail and I quickly suited up for the trip!

We have recently hiked and cross country skied and she said that she wanted to take it easy today.  I thought, "Nothing better than sampling some of the local winery treats," and was in the car before she unlocked it.

We drove quite a ways heading north, the opposite direction of where the wineries are located from our house.  But, as we all know that my sense of direction is way off, I figured she knew a shortcut.

We drove into a parking lot, with just a few cars, and she popped out of the car and instructed me to follow her. 

I was a little surprised to find myself walking across a frozen lake, with no buildings in sight, but figured she was in a hurry to get to the wine tasting building.  As we all know, the quickest route is a straight line!

We walked across the full length of the lake, and I kept my questions to myself.  I know better than to ask her, "Are we there, yet?"  I followed along as we took a trail off the lake and headed into the woods!

I did see signs for "Trail," and figured we were gaining on the vineyards.  All trails lead to wineries, no?

I didn't see any little grape icons or other wording that would leave one to believe that vino was in sight, but continued in trust.

The winding trail took us up and down, around the lake, and I noticed that there were woods everywhere.  Wondered where the grape vines were.

But, I know that some winemakers import grapes, due to the short growing season up here and the lack of many varieties of grapes that thrive in this area, so I pushed on.

I finally spoke up and said, "I see signs for Trail, and Trail Marker, and for Foot Trail, but I don't see anything that says Wine Trail!"

"Stop your whining," my wife replied, "We're enjoying the day, and the snow, and it's not always about wine, you know!"

Not always about wine? Why did I come? And who's whining?  I was making a comment about the markers, thinking we were headed to wine country!

And, why would I be trekking mile after mile if there weren't a reward?

About another half a mile up the trial, I spied a marker that gave me hope!

The tree marker was slightly atilt, a sure sign to me that someone had to have been drinking to put it on the tree that way.

I was energized to push further along.

About another half mile passed before I spotted the next marker...again, no words leading me to believe that we were any closer to my anticipated destination, but a sure sign that it was a possibility. 

It took me a few minutes to realize that I was laying on the ground looking up at this marker, having taken a fall on the trail.

As I lay there, I was now thinking that I really needed a know, to help me to my feet and soothe the soreness from the fall.

My wife said, "You're all right.  Just get up.  We're almost to the end!"

"Almost to the end," I asked, "You mean almost to the winery?"

She again expressed the opinion that I should get up, "Before you freeze to death," and I turned on my side to make the move upwards and thought I spotted something under the trees.

Could it be?  Had we found an outside winery?  Wouldn't the wine freeze?  Maybe someone just placed it there, knowing that we were on our way?

Now, I've heard of "Winter Wine," and I think I have even taste-tested it during a recent trip to the Finger Lakes. 

Spotting the bottles laid together out in the woods, in the snow, gave new meaning.

It meant it was already chilled!

I squinted again at the display and things seemed to get blurry. 

I asked my wife if she thought there was a corkscrew in the vicinity.  She told me to, "Stop fooling around.  Are you able to get up?"

I thought she said, "No fooling, there's a table set up!"

That, of course, encouraged me to muster every ounce of energy I had left and I dragged myself to my feet!  I could see what she was talking about!

I was ready to sample the offerings of the Winter Woods Winery.

After I was on my feet, I turned to make my way to the table and it all disappeared...I couldn't have imagined it, and I didn't have a thing to drink, honestly, but it was all gone.

Again, I heard, "Stop your whining.  We're not on the wine trail, but I'm starting to think we've found a similar one!" 

Off she tromped towards the parking lot.

As we were about the leave the trail, I spotted the next sign. 

Was it still the clunk on the head?

A sign with which I'm sure my wife had something to do, or is there really a new trail system?

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Year of the Metal Rabbit, Or It's New Year's All Over Again!

That was quick.

Seems like it was just a few weeks ago that I penned my resolutions for the New Year.  Hardly got to them and it's time to start all over.

I don't profess to know a lot about the traditions or celebrations that surround the Chinese New Year.

However, I have checked out Chinese Astrology over the years and I do know that I was born in the year of the Metal Rabbit.  Turns out that this year is also a Metal Rabbit New Year, so this should be a really good one for me.

The whole thing kicks off on February 3rd.   To be certain that I handle the process correctly, right from the start, I went to the web and found this link about traditions surrounding that celebration:

In that article, several items stuck out as things I might add to my all ready long list of can check out past posts in my blog if you've forgotten them all ready (I know I have) or you can just assume that I'm sticking to my plan and looking at these for further inspiration:

* 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit
            My resolution is not to buy a rabbit.  We had rabbits when the boys were young.  It was one of those, "Please, please, I'll take good care of them," deals.  Suffice it to say, besides that fact that I think I was the only person who fed, cleaned and talked to them, it was not a good experience. 

* The 12 animal years are the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
             As mentioned, we did the rabbit thing, and had a dog...we once rented from a couple who had the ox, horse, goat, rooster and pig!  There were snakes and rats around the property, as it was a former farm, I guess I could say the boys were "little monkeys" when they were young...that just leaves the dragon, so maybe I'll work on getting one of those as a New Year goal.  I'm thinking something carved, not a real one that will then have me upping my fire insurance limits. 

* Records for the traditional Chinese calendar go back to at least 14th Century BCE.
             I have Johnny Mathis records, a few of Ella Fitzgerald's, and some other older discs to spin, but nothing as old as these about Chinese calendars...maybe add that to the list.  Wonder what the 14th Century BCE record players were made of?  Reminds me of a Neil Sedaka song...

* Food and a family feast are the most important aspects of the holiday. The entire family gathers on New Year's Eve to eat a huge meal all night long. Eating long noodles is a sign of longevity as the noodles aren't cut. Serving a fish as the final course is symbolic of prosperity and the fish is not eaten.
             I like to eat.  Besides the point that it's integral to surviving, it would be nice to say that I'm eating a huge meal as it's a resolution for the New Year...sort of makes it a "must do."  Nobody argues with you when you're fulfilling your resolutions!  Resolve to celebrate each and every day.

* The original Chinese New Year celebration lasted 15 days. Many cities and business still celebrate for that long and workers get a week off to observe the holiday.
            A week off?  The Irish never came up with anything like that...possible resolution, convert!
* The color red symbolizes many things in China. For New Year celebrations a red envelope containing money is given to young people to guarantee prosperity. Anyone who has a job or is married gives money to someone younger and isn't working.
            This one is sort of a recall resolution.  We've been giving money to our boys for years, even after they've been working.   Seems like they accept it in any color envelope...actually, they'll just let you toss it to them.  Resolution, give boys money in red envelopes.  Resolution part 2, don't buy red envelopes! 

* Moon cakes are traditional foods served on the final day of the celebration at the full moon. They are round, white dumplings which symbolize completeness and wholeness of the family.
          Might have gone wrong here, too.  My moon cakes are half moon cakes, black and white frosting on chocolate cake (you might remember a recent post of mine).  Maybe that's why I only get halfway with my resolutions!

Oh well, here's a little bit about being a Rabbit, Chinese-astrology-wise.  You'll see that there are different types...I'd wouldn't want to be a Water Rabbit, I hate being the least bit damp and, from experience, I know that after a good rain they smell bad.

And it seems there are a lot of things to do, including arts and crafts, entertainment, all revolving around fun and food and family.  Check out this link for supplies or ideas you'll need to make the best of the holiday:

The holiday includes fireworks!   Resolution, buy fireworks to have on hand for holidays.

Although, with my family, forgetting any holiday or celebration, most times just getting together results in fireworks!

Now that I think of it, it's illegal for me to buy and use fireworks, so back to the family thing.

Resolution, be sure to invite family members who will create fireworks!  Oh, and, Happy New Year, again!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Civil War, Or How To Keep Peace At Home

That title was just to get your attention.

I wanted to get a jump on all of the celebratory things that will soon start, as the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War approaches.

An attack on Fort Sumter, on April 12, 1861, got the whole thing going and for the following four years we had a big family dispute.

For about forty years now, and given that amount of time you'd think I'd have things in better order, I've been working on our family genealogy.

Along the way, I found a number of family members who were in the Civil War and even have copies of federal military documents to prove it.

I've also been able to find some pictures of great-grandfathers who were in the war, and one that I believe is a relative of my great-grandmother, pictured in the upper right.

Unfortunately, people didn't write on the backs of pictures a lot so his identity is lost to us.  Perhaps some Civil War expert could identify the unit he was in, based on uniform, but it's a blurry sort of picture so the words on the hat and buttons are unreadable.

We've made two trips "down south," from to Gettysburg and another to Fredericksburg.  If you haven't been, both are well worth your time.  We traveled there to check out the military and history offerings, but there's plenty else to do there if you're not on a Civil War bend.

Should you be interested in the Civil War, and Gettysburg in particular, here's the site of the National Museum in's quite the place:

Henry and Barbara King
My great-grandfather, Henry King, was in the Civil War.  He was a bugler with Company "A" of the 134th New York Infantry.

There's a book about their exploits and I heard, via a family story, that up until they sold their farm in Glenville his Civil War uniform and bugle were in the house.  Well, the house is gone as are the war artifacts.

The only picture I have of him is his wedding photo, here on the left, taken in 1868...he married after the Civil War, was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, survived the balance of the war, and then settled into the life of a farmer.

His records show exploits that took him from Schoharie County, New York all the way to Savannah, Georgia!

He was a bugler, an infantryman, a coxswain at Fort Chemung, and apparently did a lot of walking.  After all of that activity he was honorably discharged in Savannah, Georgia and had to find his own way home.

Then there was Great-Grandpa John J. Cunningham.  He did the military thing twice.  First a stint in the Civil War, 3rd New York Infantry, and then he re-joined the Army in 1871 and was stationed out West at Fort Buford, in the Dakota Territory.

His adventures seemed much more personal in nature.   About the only thing that shows up regularly in his military records are statements of "three days in brig for intoxication," "five days in brig for intoxication," "week in brig, intoxication," and "returned to unit after unknown absence."

John J. Cunningham
Hey, some of us are fighters, some are lovers!

I'll publish some stories later on about the many wives and children of John J., but for the meantime, I'll just share some pics of him in his uniform (or one that was made for him later on, I think he put on a few pounds over the years), as he looked nearing the end of his days in the New Jersey State Soldier's Home in Kearney, New Jersey.

This is he on the right during those later years.

He was a traveling sort of guy.  The picture below, on the left, is one that was taken when he was out West.

He had written home and said he met Bat Masterson, and Wild Bill Hickok and even knew Belle Starr (the latter was most likely true).

But I digress...the point of this was to "kick off" the coming four years of a re-look at the American Civil War...seems many people can trace themselves back to someone who was involved in that great confrontation.

John J. Cunningham, Ft. Buford
I don't have any diaries or family stories that come down about the Civil War...just that they were in it.

The military records and pension papers I have note little about daily activity, the things they saw or did, or where they ended up, but more about the condition they were in later on in life.

During our trip to Gettysburg, we visited the National Museum there and hired a tour guide who took us around the battlefields...well worth the money!

The minute I showed the guide the name of Great-Grandfather King and the unit he was with, he changed up the whole tour and led us around from the vantage point of what he might have seen or dealt with that day, from the start of the battle to the end.  He knew where the regiment was placed during the battles, what divisions they fought, and more!

Seems Great-Grandpa King held off the southern troops for two days.  I guess he had some help, but he was in a prominent position at the front of the battle.  Shot on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, he was soon off to a hospital to mend and then back to the war after a short healing period.

The stories the guide told us would probably have been similar to those of my relative, as he related his days in the Union Army, and especially at that epic battle, to his family.  None of his immediate family survive, so those personal stories are lost to time.

However, he did have eleven children, so perhaps his days on the battlefields prepared him for any possible civil unrest at home!  And, when the kids complained about how far they had to walk to school in a snowstorm, in Glenville, New York, he could drag out a map and show them where Savannah, Georgia was!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One GPS At A Time!

I have a terrible sense of direction.  I admit it.

Along with acknowledging this defect, I have also become very good at stopping and asking for directions.  Yes, I know it goes against all things male and I'm sorry to anyone that it offends, but when I get home and my wife asks, "Did you stop and ask for directions," I can state that I did.  Of course, I usually have to follow up with the fact that I forget what they told me or didn't write it down and I got lost anyway, but I have acquiesced to getting help.

My wife has a great sense of direction.  We can be out of state, on a highway without any sign of signs for miles and she'll say, "Why are we going West when we should be going North."  I look at her, knowing she knows what she's talking about.  My answer is always the same, "I don't know."  I've also taken to saying, "I don't know," a lot.  Might as well give it up.  After 30 years of marriage you have pick your battles and we all know I don't know where I any time.

Knowing that I could end up in Connecticut just going out for a gallon of milk, my wife bought me a GPS for Christmas several years ago.  I do use it.  It helps me get out of the driveway (I have been known to get lost real close to home) and has gotten me to faraway places.

The voice on my GPS is female and I set it's language function as English.  The "real" English, with British accent and all.  And, she has a name.  Samantha.

Samantha is very good at giving directions.  She is very polite and gives gentle suggestions.  "Turn at the next right in 300 feet."  She knows I can get lost in 300 feet, so soon I hear, "Turn in 200 feet."  I'm on track.  "Turn in 100 feet."  Such comfort, I'm doing good.  Should I get past the point where I should have turned (and after all of that how that happens I'm not sure, but it does), I hear, "Make a U-turn as soon as possible."  Very nice, very British, very informative.  Then, she'll recalculate the route, without saying a word, and we're back on track with directions in no time flat.

When we set off to travel together, I'll ask my wife if I should bring the GPS and most times she'll say, "No."  I don't make a big deal out of it because my wife, as I mentioned before, has a great sense of direction and she likes "old fashioned" stuff...maps.

Should we get to a point where she questions our position, out comes the maps and all of a sudden she's like Lewis and Clark.

Somehow, using the maps, stars, sun, and a part of a windshield wiper, she'll soon state, "I know where we are, take the next right, go over the cloverleaf, through the second tunnel, and turn before the tow bridge and we'll be right where we need to be."'s like she has a gyroscope in her...and I've learned to listen, as she knows what she's doing.

I've also learned something else...two women in the car giving directions, not good.

I made the mistake of taking the GPS, Samantha, with us on a recent trip.  I thought it would be good to have her with us, just for backup.

My wife could relax and not have to spend her time channeling Sacajawea.

Heading down the highway, I put on my directional signal to take the ramp towards the Thruway.

"Why are you going that way," asked my wife?

I replied, "Samantha said to take the turn so we can go on the Thruway."

"Why do you want to take the Thruway," she asked?  "I want to take a few back roads.  Keep going straight."

"Okay," said I.  Samantha detected the change and within a few seconds recalculated and seemed content to proceed straight ahead.

We were taking in the scenery, all was going well, and then the "coo" from Samantha.  "10 miles to Route 14."  That awakened my wife to our route.

"Route 14, why are we taking Route 14," she queried?

"Um," I said defensively, "Samantha thinks we should go that way."

"Samantha doesn't know everything," she noted.  "Let me get out my maps...yep, here it is, let's take Route 18, go past the turn for 14, go seven miles, take the over-ramp to the under-ramp and follow signs to Worcestershire.  It'll be a nicer ride, through some towns...we'll see some local stuff.  Maybe there's a store we'll see that we want to stop at."

I knew this wasn't going to sit well with Samantha.  It didn't.  Route 14 approaching, "Turn in 300 feet...200 feet...100 feet." Yep, here it comes, "Make a U-turn as soon as possible."

Samantha somehow couldn't recalculate this one.  I had a feeling that was going to happen.  "Make a U-turn as soon as possible," was repeated.  About ten times.

My wife had just said, "Can't you turn that thing off," when Samantha gave in to the inevitable and seemingly made a noise (I'm sure I heard her groan), and then recalculated.  And, just to make a point she added 100 miles to the distance counter on her display screen.  Sort of like her sticking her tongue out at us!

About ten minutes away from arriving at our destination, Samantha, who had been unusually quiet for a while, and I knew she was upset, noted tersely, "Destination in  500 feet."

"What," asked my wife?  "We're miles away."

"I don't know," I said as I should have.  "Samantha seems to think that we've arrived."

"Who are you going to listen to," from my wife?  "Me or Samantha?"

As I turned Samantha off, I glanced at my wife and said, "You, of course."

Then, as I turned into the drive just 200 feet ahead, where the neon lit sign for our destination appeared way too soon, I knew what to say next...nothing!

Now, each time my wife and I travel together, we get to our destination via her efforts.
Samantha gets a vacation...she stays in the drawer at home. It's better that way!  One GPS in the car, at any time, is enough!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rakish Behavior

Can you believe I'm raking the roof?

I spent two months raking leaves off the lawn, now I have to rake things off the top of the house?  What's next, raking the trees?

The artist in me is saying, "Go indoors,warm up by the wood stove to warm the body and conjure up a creative project to warm the soul, and put on some good music, like the Bee Gees."

An artist needs time and space!

The wife next to me is saying, "You need space?  Go outdoors and do something about that snow that's forming icicles that are hanging off the roof!  And that'll take some time, too!  When you're done you can think about playing with your paints and listen to your Bee Gees!"

They're my Bee Gees.  No one else in the house listens to them, unless I'm playing them and then they're forced to.  The tunes stay with times, I don't always remember the lyrics, but the energy of the music is good and gets one moving...Jive Talkin' is good roof raking music.  I have to figure out how to hook up an outdoor speaker!  Just like the best of "Stayin' Alive" is now the recommended beat for CPR, Jive Talkin' could be the next snow removal tool!

Of course, I had to make up some of my own as you listen to the guys belt out this tune, you can follow along with my verse below!

Wife Talkin'

 It's just my wife talkin'. She's making me work, yeah.
Wife talkin', should wear a disguise.
Wife talkin', she don't understand, yeah.
Wive talkin', work before fun.

Oh, my wife, you'll never know
Just what rakes do to me.
Oh, my wife, make me do so much;
It's gonna take away my energy.
With all your wife talkin', you're making me work, yeah.
Glaring sun gets in my eyes.
Nobody believes what I say.
It's just your wife talkin' that stops all my play!

Oh, my wife, you're so good at finding work to do.
There you go with your fancy lists,
Leavin' me lookin' like an overworked fool.
With all your wife talkin', you're making me work, yeah.
Wife talkin', should wear a disguise.
Wife talkin', she don't understand, yeah.
Wife talkin', work before fun.

You know now, work talkin' is all very fine, yeah.
Wife talkin' just isn't a crime.
And if there's somebody you'll love till you die,
Then all that wife talkin' just tears up your eye.

More to come on that...

Meanwhile, back at the snowed in farm.  I was allowed back in the house, but was too beat to do anything creative.  You probably can see by the photos here that there are no sidewalks to shovel, just a 300 foot driveway!  And, the weather forecaster is saying, "More snow this week," so I'll be sure to come up with some more lyrics (as long as you don't tell my wife I'm writing these things)!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Going To Pieces, or How To Do Twelve Paintings At One Time

I wasn't exactly telling you the truth the other day when I wrote that I don't use white or black paint in a watercolor.

What I should have said is that I don't use white or black when mixing colors.  I will use black paint to sign a painting and I have used white paint to recapture white spaces that got away.

And, white spaces can disappear quickly.  Unprotected, they are subject to errant washes or mindless brush strokes.

Such was the case with the recent painting I was working on.

When I left you last with this subject, I was going to put the painting away and look at it a day later.

When I pulled it out, I saw that I had to work on the branches of the trees some more.  They needed better definition and shadows had to be put in place around the snow that had fallen on them.  I wasn't pleased with the foreground...too much shadow was causing too much distraction from the trees (we say it's "too busy").

So, I went to work on the branches and trees and, when I had finished, I had pretty much killed all of the snow on the trees!   Yikes.  And, there was nothing to do to fix that, and get rid of the shadows in the bottom of the picture, except bring out the white paint.

I pulled out a tube of white watercolor paint and started repainting snow.  However, the paint was not completely opaque, so I was getting a dirty white...not the crisp, clean white that one would expect for glistening snow on trees.  Not to worry, I've used something else in the past and reached for my jar of gesso.  A white, acrylic based substance used generally for preparing painting surfaces, it stays bright white and covers other colors well.

Now, of course, I don't have a pure watercolor, but I've moved into the genre of mixed media!

At this point, I could have glued some things on top and thrown glitter on it (Grandma Moses used glitter in her paintings at times) and really explored mixing up the art world.  But, I tend towards purism, so....

...I stood back and looked at it and, well, it was okay.  I thought I had made it better, but not great.

I did manage to clean up the foreground nicely and put some substance into the snow on the trees, but something was bothering me.

Many years ago, when a painting was just "okay," I might put it away on my pile of "Almost paintings" or toss it all together.

Again, I refer to my Monhegan Island days when Fred Wiley had once again critiqued a painting I was working on.  As I was complaining about a watercolor at hand, Fred took out a small mat of about 5 by 7 inches and started moving it about the painting.  His words to me were, "In every disaster there's a great postcard!"  Voila, he found it and to this day I apply that activity to many paintings.

It just dawned on me that Fred called that painting a "Disaster."  Hmmmm...sounds like another blog topic!

Anyway, this painting needed Fred's help.  I took out my small mat and a pair of scissors and got to work.

When I started this painting, I was working on an 18 by 24 inch piece of watercolor paper.

It's a great size to work on, although expensive to frame and then hard to find a place to hang it without taking down several other pieces.

But, when you decide that surgery is the only option you become excited with the fact that you are no longer looking at matting and framing a large piece, starting out to make one painting, and ending up with a dozen where one can handle the smaller mat and framing details easier!

My wife will cringe, at times, as I look to start the cutting and tell me to "Leave it alone!  It looks okay like it is!"  I tell her it doesn't hurt the painting, at least not in terms of it feeling any pain.

Then, when I point out to her that she might end up with several framed pieces that she can gift to family and friends, she'll cover her eyes as she moves away and tells me to let her know when it's over.

More times than not the pieces are better than the whole, in quality.

They can be easier on the eye as there's less to look at in any one of them.

One painting can focus on trees, another on snow...a third might be of something that was completely unintended, but there it is after having a bunch of other stuff cut away from it.

What was that famous saying about how to sculpt an elephant?  Just cut away anything that doesn't look like elephant!

In my case, I didn't have an elephant in mind, but I did end up with a bunch of studies that I thought were appealing.

And, as I know that size does not denote quality, why should I try to sell one painting for $100.00 when I take that same one piece, do some trimming and try to sell the twelve from the one for $100.00 each!  Math is a good thing!  I especially like multiplication!

Of course, now I have a dozen framed pictures that I have to try to find spaces for! 

You see, that's another dilemma facing artists...the creative process does not take into consideration the fact that we're not creating wall space!!!

Oh well, I'll figure that out and then get on to my next masterpiece...I mean masterpieces!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cookie Monster!

The universe was calling to me.

I mentioned my favorite cookies, "Black and Whites," in my most recent posting and then a cousin of mine sent me an email requesting a favorite recipe.

Also in the mix was the fact that my wife and I had visited two Dunkin Donut restaurants recently, one during our trip to Ithaca last week and another when we went to the movies the other day, trying to get a cup of hot chocolate.  We were rebuffed by both places, "No hot chocolate...we're out!"  They had coffee, but we wanted chocolate.

So, now I have that craving going and a fear that we'll never get another hot chocolate at a Dunkin Donut's shop again...what's with that?

So, here's what I figured.  I have to get the recipe out, I want something chocolate, and I all ready mentioned my favorite was all a go!

The recipe is simple...and this is a double batch so I get about 16 cookies.

Mix 2 1/2 cups of flour with 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of salt.  Set aside for a minute.

Mix 2/3 cup of buttermilk with 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  Set aside for a minute.

Mix together 8 tablespoons of softened butter (1 stick), 1 cup of sugar and 2 eggs.  Beat the butter and sugar together first, until well blended and then add the eggs.

Now, start adding a little of the dry flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, then add a little of the buttermilk/vanilla mixture.  

Keep alternating adding dry/wet until all is added and beat well for about 3 minutes.

Butter a couple of baking sheets (I do that by taking a paper towel and rubbing about a tablespoon of butter across each sheet).  Then, drop about 1/4 cup of the mixture onto a sheet to make one cookie.  Repeat and fit as many on one sheet as you can, leaving about two inches between each.

Did I mention you should have the oven heated to 350 degrees?

Pop them in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes.

Repeat until you have used up all of the dough.

They have to get off that baking sheet quickly when done.

Scoop them right off the sheet with a flipper and place them on a cooling rack.

I use a simple icing to finish them off.

In a bowl, beat together 1 pound of confectioner's sugar, 1 stick of softened butter, 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 teaspoon of salt.  I add about 3 or 4 tablespoons of milk, depending on how loose I want the icing to be.  You can add as little or as much milk as you like.  That makes a full bowl of white icing.

I then frost one half of each cookie with white frosting.   I use about half of the white frosting and leave the rest in the bowl to transform it to chocolate

I then take about two tablespoons of butter and melt it in a pan.  I add 1/4 cup of Hershey's Chocolate Powder to the butter, stir until moistened and then add that to the frosting that remains.  Beat it well and it all turns to chocolate frosting.

Then, I frost the other half of the cookies and voila!  Black and White cookies!!!

I love these cookies and have to remember that I can't eat six of them at one time, as I used to.

In my college days, there was a bakery across the street and they made awesome Black and White cookies.  I'd buy three or four, with a cup of coffee, and that was breakfast.

When we were at Dunkin Donuts, I spied their chocolate glazed donuts...they looked good, too.  But, no hot chocolate, no donuts.  We left depressed.

But, not to worry, the Black and Whites on my table are making up for it.

I have to admit that I am a bit of a cookie monster and my mind is usually in several places at one time.

In making reference to our favorite Sesame Street character, and cookies, I thought of a painting I had done on Monhegan Island many years ago (see how my mind wanders?).

During one painting trip to Monhegan, we were having a critique, after a day of painting, and Fred Wiley was sitting in with us.  He had befriended our leader and joined us for some of our artistic endeavors on Monhegan, as he lived there.

Here's a short piece about Fred who was a Monhegan main-stay, a great artist and wonderful wit:

Fred Wiley
After all of this, here's what I'm getting to.

I put up this painting and awaited an educated critique.

During the sessions, people might talk about use of color, tones, the drawing, the painting technique, the actual place chosen for the picture, or any myriad of things that deserved (or maybe not) attention.

The idea of the critique was to provide a place for constructive criticism, in the hopes of making the art or the artist better.

Here's my painting:

The first thing I heard was Fred's quick remark!

Cookie Monster!

I looked at him and he pointed out the eyes (windows) and the big mouth (you can almost see its tonsils)!

Everyone laughed so hard...there was nothing more to say about this one.  Each time I see this painting, I'm reminded of Fred, of Monhegan, and the fact that it's time to make cookies, cookies, cookies!!!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Keeping My Whites White!

I got inspired by a few comments that I received in regards to yesterday's blog and decided to try a watercolor of trees in winter.

As we live in the country, there's no shortage of material for this type of endeavor.  I also looked at a couple of pictures in some magazines we received and then took out a blank piece of watercolor paper.  No doubt you remember blank spaces from my previous post.

There are two methods for keeping white spaces white when doing a watercolor.

The first is to paint around all of the spaces that you want to remain white (not as easy as it sounds); the second is to apply something called Maskoid to protect the white spaces.  Maskoid is a masking fluid that dries so you can paint over it and not worry about dirtying the white spaces.

On the right here you'll see my white paper with Maskoid applied where I want to save all of the snow highlights I decided that I wanted in my picture.

I didn't do a drawing ahead of time (don't tell anyone).  I sort of drew the places where the highlights would be on the trees and ground with the Maskoid, so I guess you could say I Maskoid-ed a drawing!  It's not's being creative!

I had actually given some thought to stopping right here, framing it and calling it "Winter Study."  Always a good thing to stop before you ruin a good thing, but my friend Guy would say, "Take a chance and make it better."

I've taken many chances in the past and have a stack of rejects to prove that I tried!

Anyway, on to the next step.

For this, I mixed some colors in my little tray that my friend Carol from New Paltz gave me and made a dark wash to lay out where the trees will be.

The nice thing is that you can paint right over the Maskoid after it dries (it's like plastic on a sofa) and the highlights are still there.  Really!  They're under the Maskoid.  You're going to have to trust me on this!

Two things about watercolor.  First, you have to remember to give the Maskoid and subsequent painting steps time to dry before you go on to the next step.

Secondly, the time allowed for drying is just about the right amount of time to make a batch of margaritas or to put together some cheese and crackers and aerate a nice Shiraz!

Here, on the right, I thought I would share what my paint tray looks like at this point.

I generally only use three colors, primaries of course, and love cobalt blue!  Along with that blue, a cadmium red and a cadmium yellow.

The three combined will make just about any color you might need.  I don't use black or white, but have been known to eat half a dozen black and white cookies!  They're the best.

After a glass of wine and some snacks...I mean after the first tree layout has dried, I go back and paint in a few more smaller trees, such as those that would be in the background, and put in some shadowing to represent folds in the snowbanks up front, shadows in front of trees, and start to show some differences between tree types.

Here you'll see Hemlock, Spruce and White Pine, Sassafras, Maple, Ash, Oak, and Elm trees.  

Trust me!  I know trees.

Under the snow, there is grass, acorns by the ton (of course), ferns, moss, trees that fell and are rotting, and many leaves that I didn't bother to rake up this Fall.  I gave up.

Oh, by the way, the third tree on the right, the big one?  There's a squirrel climbing up the backside!  

Can't see it? 

Sorry.  Maybe next time I'll paint facing the other side of the trees.

Now we'll start to add some character to the thing and add some color.  As shown on the right just below here, I do a wash of blue where the sky would be, add a little blue to the trees, for contrast and then some blue in the snow at the bottom where I've dripped paint across by mistake.  Trying to hold a brush and a wine glass at the same time, while mixing paint and thinking about the drawing can be very complicated...but, we always make the best of our mistakes and snow shadows do have a blue tint to them, no?
You can see here that the white spaces are still protected from the paint (and from the wine and the cracker crumbs).

The shiny stuff you see is the Maskoid that's still in place.  You have to imagine what the painting will look like when the Maskoid is taken off.  

Many times, I have to imagine that my painting isn't going to look anything like what I intended.  It hurts less if you're flexible.

You see, there have been times when I've been asked what I was painting and pointing straight ahead at the subject have still had the inquirer say, "I don't see that!"   I keep painting.

The nice thing about nature landscapes is that a they don't have to be exact representations...unless you're painting Mount Rushmore (and if you do, please use exterior paint and check with the park rangers first)...and we're not doing portrait work here, so most will buy the fact that this is titled "Winter Trees" and that there's snow here and there, even if it's not exactly as it is in my backyard.

The next part is the fun part!  I get to take the Maskoid off!  I do it by rubbing my fingers across the dried Maskoid.  There is a removal tool, something akin to a hard sponge, but I like the feel of the stuff peeling away and I get some exercise doing it.  

As a result, I have very, very strong fingertips!  I can tap so that it sounds like thunder!

When you get all of the Maskoid off, as pictured here on the left, you have exposed the white paper (it's not illegal, so don't worry), and can now think about what you're going to do next.  

Usually, a second margarita or a vino refill may come to mind, and that may give you more time to contemplate your next move.

I might mention here that it's important to keep your drink away from the water you use to clean off your brushes.  I only learned this one day working on an oil painting when I found myself reaching for what I thought was my drink and realized, from the smell, that I was about to take a swig of turpentine and my brushes were resting in a gin and tonic!  I can tell you that mixed drinks don't clean brushes well, and there's some sort of lead and other chemical poisoning information on paints in general that are important to heed.

Some people won't eat or drink while they're painting.  I say, why bother painting?

I digress.

Once the Maskoid is off, I paint branches below the white spaces where I want branches to be, put some blueish hues here and there to show shadows on the branches and play in the snow, adding things that I hope will make the painting better.

The next steps are very important.  At least, to me.

When I think I'm close to done, I put the painting away in another room and I don't look at it for 24 hours.  

Sometimes, I'm surprised with what I find.  

Once, I came back to a painting to find out my mother had tipped over the easel and put a hole through the canvas.  

Another time, I had left a watercolor standing up and some of the paint was still wet and it ran down the paper.  Several times I was certain someone had taken my beautiful work and left their reject!

On those wonderful occasions, you see a work that needs one or two things to be "people ready." 

So that's what I'm going to do with this one.  

We'll look at it again tomorrow.

As you can see by my little tray, on the left, I still have a bit of blue left and the darn stuff costs a bundle so I'll see what I can do to get it back in that little tube!  

Actually, it's okay if the colors dry a bit.  They can be re-wet and used again.

Wash your brushes, put the caps back on your paints and be sure your wine glass is empty...if that stuff dries up, all is lost!

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Work In Progress

One of the things that I promised my readers was a tour of a painting process.

I started a seascape back in July.

While I did post the first image of that production, and here it is again in the upper corner as a reminder, for several reasons I haven't given it as much attention as I should.

As a result, I have no updates to show. 

I was thinking about why I wasn't getting around to working on that piece and decided I should just start over and take you through the work on something different and new.

So, I grabbed a stretched canvas, pictured here on the left, and set it out in my painting space.

I had decided that I was going to do a winter scene, as there's the alluring part of leaving part of the canvas white where the brightest snow appears and it's winter so I have a lot of reference material just looking out any window.

The hardest part, some say, is putting the first line on any piece of canvas or paper.  The trepidation is that you'll ruin it right from the start or get it wrong and not know it, and it's much later on before you see where you went wrong.  That's really bad.

However, I had things to do before I could commit to time in the "studio" (not a fancy artist space, just a spare room with a futon in "couch" position) and promised to get to the art as soon as the dishes were done and the place was picked up.

Unfortunately, I left the TV on and between chores was caught up in the Today Show and the local news, but knew that I had plenty of time left in the day for creation processes.

I was on my way back to the drawing room, content that the house looked suitable for the balance of the day, when the phone rang.  It was my brother.  We talk for a few minutes almost daily, I look forward to his chats, and it's never more than 10 or 15 minutes...not a prob.

During our conversation, I was reminded that I had to go to town (remember, no sidewalks leading to interesting and useful shops within a short bipedal commute) to pick up a few necessaries, but wanted to do something productive with the canvas prior to trekking to town.

After a short chat on the phone, I headed to my art space, put the canvas up on the easel and stood back to contemplate its arrangement (horizontal or vertical, hmmm?).  I had to decide whether to focus on the trees I was thinking about highlighting or a full landscape.  I put a light wash over the whole thing, as the white of the canvas was bothering my eyes, and stood back.

While I was cogitating on wide or tall, I noticed that the room was cool and remembered that I needed to bring in more wood for the wood stove.  Didn't want to have all of the embers go out, so I turned my back on the canvas, grabbed my outdoor gloves, and brought in enough wood for the day.  The clock in the basement, where the stove is located, has one of those bird call sounds that chirp or hoot on the hour and it went off while I was stoking the fire.  "Lunch time," is what I heard.

As I hopped up the stairs, I took one more quick look at the stretched canvas to "check it out" for possibilities and it looked much like it did earlier in the day.  But, it had more possibility!  And, I liked the vertical position...stronger, I thought, than the horizontal.

I finished up my mid-day meal and then remembered the trip to town!

Out here, in the wilderness, one plans several stops to make the most of the time and effort, and I had four places to go to.  Some groceries, some gas, some house warming items (needed to put some insulation around the door opening, the cold air just seems to be rushing in), and some new windshield wiper blades and washer fluid for my wife!  Sounds simple, but it's half an hour down and back and then time for the efforts.

I got back just in time for a round of phone calls.  Seems the marketers, who aren't supposed to be calling you, call in sequence and it's one "He's not here" after another!

The insulation seemed to be a priority so I took the time to rip off the old stuff and put the new stripping in place.  After putting away the grocery items, I took my time to get the new insulation in place and, while it's not perfect, it's better than what was there.  The best thing of all, I didn't break anything else doing it...that's like a first!

I was so impressed with myself, I had to email my brother to let him know of that success.  Of course, I had other incoming email that had to be attended to.  And then, as long as I was on-line, I had to check Facebook and LinkedIn and look at my blog to see who else might have looked at it, and recheck my email (and there were more), and then remembered an update to a file I was working on.

So, it was about two hours later when I remembered my painting...or non-painting, as it was.

I took the time to go back to the room to look at it and decided that horizontal was going to work better than vertical and I made the great move to change that.

Here it is on the right after that monumental change and effort.  What do you think?

I know what I thought right away!

I was painting a winter picture and was going to leave the canvas white!  That changes everything!  Now, what to do?  How could I overcome this mistake?  What had I done?

You see, an artist's world can be shaken in a moment.  Just one action can be the difference between "feeling good" and "disaster."  I knew what I had to do.  I got out the gesso and painted over the entire surface to make it white again!

Now, of course, I couldn't start anything as I had to wait for the surface to dry.

That was okay, as I had laundry to do and dinner to prepare, and I still had work to do on that computer file I was attending to, so I headed back upstairs content that I had done some more work on this painting in progress.

I got caught up in my computer work and then the news came on.  By this time, it was the evening news and during that time my son came home from work.  He was hungry and I had leftovers from last night.  I fixed him a plate and then figured I might as well eat, too.

I had my dinner in front of the TV and then got into my usual nighttime television, Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert and, being Friday, Supernatural.

My wife worked late today, showing up halfway through that last program.  I greeted her, fixed her a late snack and then settled in to discussing the day.

I asked her how her day went, "Okay," she said, then she asked what I did today.

"Oh," I replied quickly, "I started a painting!"

She asked if she could see it.  I brought it up to her from the room below.  As she looked at it she said, "What is it?"  I realized I was holding it wrong and quickly put it in a horizontal position.

"I still don't see anything, what is it," she asked?

"A work in progress," I replied.

"What's the progress part," asked she?

"Um," I said, "Sheep in a Snowstorm?"

"Right," said she, "Show it to me again when you've spent some time on it."

As she walked away I replied, "I spent all day on it!"  Sigh....