Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Painting For Absolute Beginners - Weeks 3 & 4

Yes indeed. It's for absolute beginners. In fact, it's moving so slowly that I've decided to combine last week and this week into just one blog. I'm not complaining. I like it, although were I to miss a week, I probably wouldn't miss anything. It's an outing. It's an opportunity to socialize.

Last week we painted apples. We made green water circles called underpainting, and filled them with paint. Yes, the paint stays in there. It was a process called wet on dry. Then later, wet on wet. We used crescent brush strokes and a flat brush, curving the strokes to make the shape of the apple. Layering is what it's all about. Mine was ugly and started to look like what could surely be described as a Timmy's shamrock donut. I don't like green apples anyhow. After about the fifth layer of colour, I figured out how to make my apple look more apple like. The skin outline looked ragged. It would be one of my produce sale rack, bargain apples, I decided.
Alas, something was missing...yes, the stem and the little fuzzy blossom part on the bottom of the apple. Surely that part has a name. Is it the calyx or stamen or both? Why can't I remember?
Perhaps we'll be taught this essential piece of info I thought, as our instructor asked us to begin again, this time to make a red apple. delicious. My favourite. Something I knew something about. As the instructor promised, this one was progressing much more quickly. The class ended before I could finish my masterpiece, but oh well. Next week was to be another appley week I was sure.
Homework was to work on this and remember to bring an apple to the next class. I tried to resist being my usual wise guy and bringing a tomato. After all, isn't that the original love apple? Ah well...since we have a goodly assortment of Macs around the house, perhaps I'll take one of those. They certainly have interesting hues.

Today was class four. We observed and discussed a number of techniques and learned about light and shadows. We continued to study the importance of layering. Then we looked at our apples and underpainted the outline in grey. Mine was really difficult to see. After that, we made a darker grey shadow.

 Like I said, it was hard to see, and didn't show up in a photo so there's no point in sharing a picture. Anyhow, after determining the underlying colour, we applied more layers. I made a greenish yellow which was more yellow than green. For some reason I found this stressful. I'm not sure what happened when I tried adding my red over the dark gray shadowy side. I didn't really care for the result. The instructor asked how many layers I had and when I said six, he said paintings aren't successful until there are at least seven layers. I turned to my watercolour apple and informed it that it was not successful.
This week we have a lot of homework. The pressure's on because next week, we're painting a still life and also using last. We are to pick something with colour, a fruit or veggie, leaves of a houseplant or whatever with colour variation. We are to underpaint  then make curves using the furthest colour first. Then we are to attempt texture, like the bark of a tree I guess.

 I'm not particularly interested in painting fruit or landscapes. I'm more of an abstract or cartoony type of person. I was becoming quite restless with this process. Then, hubby and I attended the most magnificent of exhibits. We saw the Maurice Sendak display of original works at the Toronto Reference Library. Sendak's art from his various children's books as well as his most famous paintings from the book "Where the Wild Things Are" gave me new hope. How so? His artwork was done in watercolour, pen and ink and was magnificent.
 Perhaps I'll give this activity more time and effort after all. Maybe I'll develop my own style. After all, who wouldn't love and be proud to have something like this hanging on their wall?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Currency, Cauliflower, and Columnists

I'm not certain at what point cauliflower became the standard by which we judged the current state of the Canadian dollar. I just know that it happened.

"Did you see that cauliflower is almost $8 a head. Shocking!"

Not only that, but jokes have been made about the lowly cauliflower. I heard one from my painting instructor about a couple who went to visit their loan officer at the bank so that they could put a deposit on a cauliflower.

Even I have been culpable. As my cousin and I compared the state of the loonie to the Euro, I felt I had a greater right to complain. I texted ...."Blumenkohl kostet bei uns ├╝ber sieben dollar!" The lack of whatsapp response showed me that I had clearly won this argument.

So why the sudden interest in cauliflower? I mentioned it to hubby today. 

"Have you noticed that people complain about the price of cauliflower a lot lately? Do people in general, other than me, even like cauliflower that much? "

This was met with the usual shrug and a look that told me I had once again said something unremarkable. 

So tonight, when I saw an article by Vinay Menon in the Toronto Star, I felt validated.

I also felt sad. My idea, as have so many before this, had been usurped yet again. Immediately, I snatched up the Entertainment section of the newspaper, and ran to show hubby. This was front page entertainment news! Not only that, I had just shared this thought with him earlier today. Surely, he would remember and be excited by my insight and knowledge of cauliflower. The highly anticipated response came. "Hmm".

Hadn't he been paying attention? Didn't he realize this was the exact point I had made this very afternoon? 

I read the article. I disagree with the article. Not only do I enjoy cauliflower, I find that there are many uses for cauliflower. It is not as Menon states, " a grotesque vegetable nobody cared about". I care. 

In fact, I care so much that you can only imagine my excitement when I saw half price cauliflower on the sale rack at No Frills this week. People were just strolling past with their carts, not even noticing this bargain. How could they not see it? Not only was cauliflower on sale for $2.97, but there was half price cauliflower to be had. I immediately grabbed two heads and smuggly walked past all the oblivous shoppers. What a score...two heads for under three dollars!
Now, I would be able to create some of my favourite recipes...cauliflower potato salad without potatoes (; cauliflower hummus; cauliflower rice; cauliflorettes on pizza (or as the crust); cauliflower cheese biscuits; and my son's favourite, cauliflower pancakes. Recipe for the latter follows.

Cauliflower lovers of the world, unite with me and enjoy.

Cauliflower Pancakes

2 cups cauliflower, lightly cooked (not soft or mushy and chop it into bits after cooking)
1 egg
1 1/2 cps milk
1 1/2 cps flour (wheat flour is more nutritious)
3 tsp. baking powder
finely chopped onion (amount to your taste)
3 tsp. softened margarine  
a shake or two of cayenne, salt, pepper

Beat egg. Add milk and spices. Add dry ingredients with margarine and onion. When smooth, add cauliflower. It should all stick together. Drop by tablespoon onto an oiled (Pam type spray or canola preferred) frying pan. I usually brown on each side then microwave to make sure they're done through middle without using more oil.  One pancake = 50 calories

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Off Season Bargain Fun - Day 2

In the morning, we headed for Applebee's to enjoy our free breakfast. It was a surprise to discover that we were entitled to several of the more expensive items on the menu...a huge breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, toast, coffee and orange juice were included with our hotel stay. There were three choices on the menu for those guests with vouchers.

After deciding to pack up and check out, we headed back to the casino to try to use up our credits. It didn't happen. I played deuces wild on the machine for another half hour, before I decided to cash out my $15 and go. We thought a leisurely drive around Niagara and nearby might be nice.

What trip would be complete without driving past the magnificent falls? In the winter, you get a whole different perspective.
As we neared Niagara on the Lake, we passed a sign that said, "Ice House Winery", slushies. The car miraculously turned itself around and headed back.

 It was winter, but nonetheless, I wanted a slushie. We entered the most marvelous of buildings with beautiful wooden floors, detail, and decor. A very friendly young man, offered us three types of ice wine samples and explained how they were created, along with the various tastes we were to experience. All were delicious. We purchased some ice wine to take home and on the way out, I had my slushie...just a small one, but it was memorable.

  Soon we were on our way yet again, passing a small chapel which I'd seen on prior visits to the area. Again, the car turned around and went back. I took a selfie or as they were called back in the day, a self timed photo to give some perspective as to the size of the building. Unfortunately, the world's smallest church, the Living Water Wayside Chapel was closed for the season.

Before long, we were on our way for the trek home. Then I had an idea. I searched Google on my cell phone and immediately found what I was looking for. Since I knew it was enroute, more or less, I wanted to see the world's oldest Tim Horton's in Hamilton.

We found it on Ottawa St. N. as promised by Google and found by Garmin. Isn't technology amazing? No need to think or read maps anymore.

In front of the building was a prominent sculpture of Tim. The street was marked and there was a huge depiction of how the original donut shop appeared. Did people and cars really look like that in 1964? And oh, look...a newspaper box. It's the Toronto Telegram!

I was mildly disappointed that what I saw was not the usual easily identifiable Timmies, but rather a two story apartment style structure (to the left of the sculpture). The upper level had seating plus a small Tim Horton's museum of history.
There were displays of uniforms, newspaper headlines, toys, and paraphernalia through the decades. 
The prices and types of donuts were also quite different at the original Tim Horton's. Haven't seen those cream filled eclairs anywhere. Day olds? Who remembers those?

It was a nice visit and culmination to our mini vacation. January doesn't need to be a long and dreary waste of time. There are ways to make it tolerable by creating experiences, mini adventures, that are fun and memorable...whether they be part of a bucket list, or not.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Off Season Bargain Fun

I saw an ad in the travel section of the weekend paper. It advertised the Oakes Hotel in Niagara Falls for $89. Not only was that a reasonable rate for overnight accommodation, they were including many perks. There was going to be a thirty dollar steak house voucher, free breakfast at Applebee's, fifty dollars in gaming at the casino, two free cocktails, and several tours and extras.

"Let's go there." I suggested.

This past Tuesday, we delivered our dog to the sitter, and off we went. The weather was cold but clear. We stopped at the Gateway Niagara rest stop and Visitor's Centre where we enjoyed the lunch I'd packed.

In the early afternoon, we arrived at our hotel and were given a complete run down of the coupons and vouchers. Our room was on the sixth floor, overlooking the falls...awesome.
We walked briskly to the casino which was only a block or so away. We didn't have a clue as to what we were doing. Sure, I've played poker and blackjack on the machines before. I've even dabbled the odd time in other games of chance although they didn't seem to involve much skill. We registered at the Players Advantage Club, had our card loaded with our free gaming, and off we went. We were even given really cool lanyards which might come in handy on a future cruise. After locating the well hidden poker machines, we played for awhile before I cashed out my $5 winnings and we left to get ready for dinner.

The Oakes Hotel has a shuttle bus which takes guests to the Remington Steakhouse. Our reservation was for 6:15 and the bus driver assured us that this was the best restaurant in Niagara Falls. As we entered, we saw some wonderful pieces of original and reproduction art by Frederic Remington. We also heard singing and were informed that our waiter would be with us after he was finished the piece...a singing waiter no less. We dined on what was possibly the best meal we've had in years. Spectacular! I had beef medallions and lobster tail and hubby had prime rib. The cost was reasonable particularly since we had received the $30 coupon at the hotel.

After returning to the hotel, we enjoyed our free welcome cocktails and were just in time to see one of several shows. This particular one was projected on our hotel wall. Unfortunately, we were getting chilled and couldn't remain for the entire presentation.

 It had been fantastic day and we looked forward to more adventures after a good night's sleep.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Eating Crow...Maybe

No, this is not another one of what is surely one of my highly anticipated food, travel, or senior tips blogs. This is in fact about something entirely different. It's in actual fact one of my pants blogs.

On Jan. 15, 2014 I wrote a brilliant and convincing piece entitled, "Blue, Blue, My World Is Blue".

I expressed my opinion on pants. I express lots of opinions on pants. What constitutes pants. What cannot possibly be considered pants. What ought not be worn as pants and so on. The blog to which I'm referring related specifically to blue jeans.

My opinion has not changed...not in the least. What has changed is that I had a momentary lapse. I was so weak in fact, that I tried on a pair of jeans recently. How could I not?

They weren't Calvin Klein, Levis, Wranglers, or Lees. They weren't shredded, faded, illustrated, studded, skinny, boot cut, or any of the other myriad of terms given to jeans nowadays. They just looked like dark blue jeans. Since I was in the wonderful designer clothing and dollar type store called, "Giant Tiger", they were also $5.00...seriously, they were five dollars. For five dollars, I was trying them on. Strangely enough, one pair, only one, looked as though they'd fit. The pant legs weren't too long nor too tight. I decided to force my rotund body into these things even though they were a "missys" size and made in some country where all clothing wearers are size extra small. They just looked right somehow.

I waited at the change room door after pinging the required bell to summon an attendant. In Giant Tiger, pinging means change room, buzzing means rest room. It's a clever system actually, despite the fact that the same attendant shows up with the same keyring. I suppose the pinging and buzzing could be considered more of an indication as to the state of the customer's urgency. Alas, as I so often do, I digress.                
So I went into the cubicle, and checked the label...designer after all, woohoo..."Debbie Denim"! I tried on the jeans and stood in shocked silence. I didn't hate them and they fit. The legs were a perfect length and not too tight. They stretched around my middle. The fake stitching made them look almost authentic, as though they had the requisite zipper front, and rivet button. The waist was acceptable...a flat band at the front, and gathered stretchy at the back. and the pants had real pockets! They looked ok. In fact, from the front, I thought they looked pretty good. I decided to buy them. After all, for five bucks, I could even wear them around the house for cleaning...or maybe not depending on the comfort level. Could anything ever compare to yoga pants or a loose fitting hausfrau dress?

As I turned the corner of the store with aforementioned jeans in my cart, I saw it! There, in front of my eyes was a whole rack of five dollar Debbie Denim. There was light blue, dark blue, and blackish, all colours in my size. Again, how could I resist? I didn't. For $15 dollars, I now own three pairs of jeans. Will I wear them much? The jury's still out on that. Perhaps they'll end up at Goodwill. Maybe I'll become a convert.

On the other hand, I'm not certain I want somebody walking behind me, thinking that jeans really don't look good on anyone!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Painting for Absolute Beginners - Week 2

I finally found a spot to keep my paint items set up in the house. No bathtub is involved despite the fact that it would facilitate water acquisition and cleanup.

I have put all paper and paint (not the water) on and around a t.v. tray, near....what else?...the t.v. That way, I don't have to pack up and I only need to bring a small, stable container with water when I'm ready to watch t.v...and paint. I like to multi task especially when it comes to t.v. It feels as though less time is wasted. The only occasion when this might become a problem is if I accidentally sit on the chair remote which will recline me more rapidly than I can retrieve the gizmo and thus fling my feet into a horizontal position directly in line with my painting supplies. Fortunately, I don't keep the water on the tray but on a large wicker trunk (no elephants were harmed....) next to my chair.

This week, in class, my eyes were swollen and I had major hives all over my attractive look. I probably won't use that as an excuse for my painting efforts. I will use it as a reason for another blog, possibly today or tomorrow.

We received a course summary, and I soon saw that a week's Caribbean beach vacation was looking more desirable than some of the paint weeks. The fact is, I don't really care for water colours and saw no sign of acrylic usage as I had hoped in the later stages of these sessions. Ah well.

I learned more about colour theory and followed the instructions we were given to work with wet on wet, wet on dry, and dry on dry. I hope I have this all correct. Wet on wet involved wetting the paper and using thinned paint atop this. Wet on dry...hmmm...sounds like wet paint on dry paper. Finally, dry on dry wasn't quite as it seemed although the brush had minimal amounts of water and made a scritching sound on the paper.

Once finished following the instructors suggestions for trying these techniques, we all brought our work to place it on display along a wall...a gallery exhibit as it were. I immediately noted and announced "One of these things is not like the others." I got a laugh if nothing else.

Mine was different, probably wrong....was I already lagging? Am I unteachable? You know the old saying about "those who can, do and those who can't....."

Yep....that's mine, last one on the right. Not to worry, there won't be a test at the end, I thought. I've always been a bit different. Besides, I've got a terrible case of hives.

We received our homework assignment. Make shapes. Experiment with different techniques. Add paint at different times. Seemed simple enough. I'll just keep plugging away. Here are a few of the messes I made while watching the State of the Union address (listening actually).

Mucking around #1....lines, shapes, mixing colours, dry on dry...who knows? I think I even started a game of watercolour tic tac toe in the corner.

Mucking around #2....Let's try something else. I filled a whole page with colour, wet on wet, dry on whatever....just running things together. And what would happen if I put a Picassa frame around it?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dipping Dollar Does Not Mean Deteriorating Diet

A lot has been made of the declining dollar. I don't like it either. In fact, I hate it. Vacations cost more, clothing costs more, food costs more. Everything being imported will have a higher price tag.

Because of my single mom history, I have many tips for saving money and as a change of pace, thought I might just might write a few blogs about this topic. For example, never leave your dentist's office without your free toothbrush, sample toothpaste, and floss. You can amass quite a stash, There are loads of options for free or reduced price entertainment. Many websites offer free samples. Start mailing away. And of course, there are coupons, coupons, and more coupons...worth the effort.

Having said all that, I hear the most complaining about, and will therefore begin some of my thrift blogs by writing about food prices. Yes, prices have gone up significantly. However, there's much you can do to lessen the impact. Not only that, it requires very little effort and planning. There will be excuses. There are always excuses. Unless you live in the far reaches of our provinces, in Nunavut, or the Yukon (and those are totally different stories), I don't buy the excuses. It's easier to complain than to try.

My most essential first tip is, stay out of expensive food chains and specialty food stores if at all possible. I won't mention any by name, but you, and they, know who they are. I go into to some from time to time but with a specific purpose in mind. Read on.

Today, I heard about the dollar dropping once again. So I decided to make my usual rounds a little more frequently in the future.  By usual rounds, I mean I make a stop at a grocery store no matter where I'm headed. We have several and there's always one enroute to wherever I might be going. Then, I pick up produce from the reduced displays. Sometimes, reduced items are piled in boxes, sometimes on metal or shopping carts. Most stores have them.

My best discovery was a few weeks ago at the end of the produce aisle in Walmart. They have a rather generous sized cart. One day, it was full of tomatoes, onions, potatoes, kale, lettuce, bananas, avocadoes and lemons.  All were in bags and labelled one dollar. Jackpot!

Sometimes, the pickings are slimmer...a cart full of grapes or masses of slightly ripe bananas. Nonetheless, good for some loaves of banana bread. Mostly, the items are very fresh, having been moved there to empty the regular display for newer produce arrivals and to avoid mixing the older and the newer. Makes sense.

Here are a few of today's bargains to be used or combined with meals in the next few days.
Meat and breads are usually discounted in the mornings in many stores...meats that have impending due dates, and breads that are day old. It requires a trip. It means effort. It pays off in money saved, and unless you are amongst the world's 1% of richest people who probably don't care about prices there are most likely better things on which to spend money.

Tuesday is chicken night at Metro. Along with our $7.99 chicken tonight (you can't buy a whole chicken and cook it yourself for that money), we will have a small salad, and half a squash stuffed baked potato.

Many times I am forced to create in bulk so we will usually have enough left over for another one or two frozen meals, and some doggy dinners. So for under $10, a dozen dog meals PLUS three dinners for two or two dinners for three or one dinner for six OR one dinner for a teenager (fill them first with some of the day old rolls, or aforementioned banana bread, they don't care...then there'll be enough for others).

***NOTE - The chickens weren't ready at Metro, so hubby brought home eight huge chicken legs at a total cost of $5.00. That drops the total cost even lower.

Here's a good way to make a potato a little bit less evil.   Squash Stuffed Baked Potato

I found this bargain butternut squash at Giant Tiger (I know, not every store is available to everyone, but I live in a small town and I manage). I cut, sliced, removed seeds and skin, and boiled. Microwaving is optional...some people prefer it. I mashed the cooked squash (it only takes few minutes, don't overcook). Meanwhile, I washed and baked some potatoes. I used four but should have probably used six since I had stuffing left over at the end. I prefer using the oven  for baking rather than microwave as it makes the skins crispy.

After mashing the squash, I added a speck of butter, a few bits of grated cheese (whatever kind you have around, although cheese not essential), season to taste (big fan here of a shake or two of cayenne pepper...again, not essential). Once potatoes are baked, slice in half, cool for a few minutes to avoid burning yourself. Then carefully scoop contents into bowl with squash mixture. I use a grapefruit spoon. Mix together. When mixed, scoop back into potato halves and place in casserole dish to reheat briefly. If you wish to decorate with paprika or chopped chives/green onions, that's fine too...added vitamins.
Voila, only half a potato is necessary for a meal but some people like an extra half once they taste these yummy squash stuffed potatoes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Painting For Absolute Beginners - Week One

Thirty five plus years ago, I took a computer course. It was supposed to be for beginners. I arrived, had no idea about anything, and soon discovered that others were not only switching on their Commodore 64's but had also begun to run the adjacent tape recorder. Some where playing games of solitaire at their assigned stations. I had no idea where to turn the machine on. I had no clue why there was a tape recorder. And so it went. I was already left behind.

I've taken other "beginner" courses in the past. The most recent was a community college course (see blog Feb. 13, 2011 - Computers for Dummies or Photoshop for Pros?) I took my little Nikon camera in the hopes of learning something other than point and shoot. The rest of the class showed up with monstrosities which can only be described as something a newspaper photographer would own...complete with foot long lenses and suitcase carrying bags. After a few weeks, I dropped out. I was behind from day one.

When I saw a six week "Painting for Absolute Beginners" course listed in the seniors' community centre brochure, I thought I'd give it a try. Although nothing is ever certain, the words "absolute"  and "senior" gave me hope that everyone in the class would not be immediately emulating DaVinci or Van Gogh.

I arrived a few minutes early and discovered that the class contained eight women. Most of them had three to five letter names, simple names, old fashioned names, nice names. There wasn't a Dweezil, a  River, an Apple, or a Zuma in the bunch. I tried not to cause too much trouble when the instructor handed us name tags. I resisted writing John Hancock as we were instructed to do.

We were told that this was definitely a beginner class...basic, basic, basic. The artist/instructor showed us some of his work and we were all impressed. It was lovely, it was detailed. He created 3-D art, miniature works, pen and ink and geometric drawings. He had his own style. I began to panic. Not only was his art fantastic, it contained details which were drawn with a fine pen. Should I have taken "Drawing for Absolute Beginners" prior to this course, I wondered. Then I realized it would have been impossible since that begins in February.

I maintained my composure as all the essential materials were discussed and some were demonstrated. We learned about types of brushes and grades of paper. Helpful. It was recommended that once at home, we keep our paint supplies out and readily available for use at all times. This sounded like a good idea because if they have to be packed and unpacked for each use, painting opportunities and efforts would diminish. My mind was racing as I mentally surveyed our house. Where could I find a spot?

Our basement is currently uninhabitable...well, actually it's inhabited but mostly not by hubby or me. The laundry room is too small. Hubby's office is too cluttered. Part of the upstairs bedroom has become my office so it would have to be a choice.... computer, writing, bills OR painting. The floor is carpeted, so, bad idea. The living room has too much furniture and the kitchen...well,..No! The deck would be too cold and my water would freeze. My best option was to set up shop in the main floor bathtub. After all, it's never used.

My daydreaming ended when the instructor handed out supplies....paper, watercolour paints, and water cups. I was nervous and kind of sorry I opted to sit in the front row. What ever possessed me?
We were to paint a red line, then a water line. The paint would not go beyond the line we were promised.
Next, we made a blue line. "I get it." I thought. This is like kindergarten. I'm good at kindergarten!
After adding water we mixed the two colours together...yayyy....purple. I totally understand this. The instructor complimented my purple glob. I felt so successful. This was indeed a beginner's class that I could enjoy. After adding yellow, making green, making brown and a darker brown, we were ready to be given our homework....practice mixing colours at home after setting up your work station. 

I suggested we return our name tags onto the original backing so that we could reuse them next week. Everyone thought this was a good idea. Then I muttered , "and we can all select a different name next week."  The instructor laughed. He had already identified me as a trouble maker early on.

Now my only remaining problem is where to set up shop. Do I really want to paint in a bathtub? Well, if nothing else, cleanup would be easy.