Thursday, October 7, 2010

Do Bee Do Bee Do: The Anti Quiltin’ Bee

Please click on the picture above

to enjoy the beautiful fantasy quilt detail.

“I love these digital quilts I’ve been making, “ I told my friend Marilyn. “No scraps, no batting and a whole lot less time.”

“Yea, but what about all the fun they used to have at quilting bees?”

She got me wondering if quilting bees were as charming and folksy as they look in the movies. Were they real pals’y kind of places, or was everybody looking to see if your stitches were small enough? Did people feel obliged to go even if they didn't want to, like Tupperware Parties, or were they heaps of fun? I 'spose it depended on where you were and who you hung with.

Trying to imagine what a fantasy quilting bee scene would be like, I wrote a little Objective-C code to enable me to travel way WAY back to the time of home made lye soap (have a good time washing that out of your eyes), barn raisings, and quilting bees.

Loading program into debugger…

Program loaded.


[Switching to process 14843]


Welcome aboard PORTAL PILOTS , serving the needs of the time travel community for over three centuries.

Customer LRS531957 PLANNING A TRIP FROM THE YEAR 2010 TO 1893

SO SORRY We are experiencing a slight disruption in service. You will be dropped off at the nearest portal.

PORTAL PILOTS apologizes for any inconvenience to your schedule.

While you're waiting for the next Time Portal to open up in the year ... 1977..., feel free to complete our customer satisfaction survey, and be entered to win a coupon worth five percent off, on your next PORTAL PILOTS trip!

Debugger stopped.

Program exited with status value:0.

My ipod battery is dead and I forgot my charger. (I can’t even remember if we had three pronged outlets back then anyway). What am I going to do here for a few hours?

Hey, the summer of 1977! I remember this! I had just finished up my junior year at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and was living and working with my sister in Yuma Arizona. She had gotten me a junior programmer gig for the summer.

Trisha had gotten roped into going to a Tupperware Party. Her best friend, with whom she volunteered at the “League of Women Voters”, was putting it on, so of course she was stuck with going. I was stuck too but, coming from one of the more alternative U.C.’s in California, I saw it more as a cultural experience.

The nice-lady who ran it showed us a fine new product. A hot-dog bun keeper for the freezer.

The two of us stared at each other in amazement.

“Because, girls, you know the problem you have keeping hot dog buns in the freezer. You KNOW how those darn buns stick together!”

Trisha and I were both thinking the same thing. Don't they have a big knife to whack them apart with?

We drank our carcinogenic diet sodas and after 30 minutes, figured we could slip on out while the others were playing some kind of game with clothespins and a laundry bag that we never did understand.

The nice-lady’s skinny backside was firmly anchored against the door.

“Girls! (toothy grin). Where are your order slips?”

We managed to mumble that we were not buying anything.

She gave us a look of amazement, tinged with horror. “But what about the hot-dog-bun keeper?” (I'm not making that product up.)

The nice-lady swiveled her head slowly back towards the rest of the group, who were now frantically scribbling on their forms amidst a welter of clothespins.

Trisha swung one foot around the screen door. I slithered through, and we lit out like two banditas into the badlands.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Signs of Fall:Pixel Paintin' Pumpkins

I spent much of my day working on creating and debugging self-review exercises in my quest to learn Objective-C. I really like writing and debugging code, but it's hard teaching yourself a new programming language. Over the last few weeks, I've figured out a way to make my self-imposed homework fun, by linking them to my art-journal. I've shared my experiences in this online piece, Reviewing Concepts: Time Travel for the Masses, a piece I wrote at my self-education blog.

I also took a little time to create another fantasy quilt and stencil an imaginary pumpkin just like Martha Stewart, or one of her hard-working staff, would. My pumpkin, however, is one I plucked off one of my old photos with the help of Photoshop. And of course every pumpkin needs a quilt of it's own.

As always, if you click on the picture above, you'll see a lot more beautiful detail.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Summer’s End Peach Cobbler

The weather’s been funny everywhere this summer. It poured rain several of the days I was in Madrid – a pattern the locals told me was normal ahora, pero antes, no! Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we had a cooler than usual July and August. And my facebook-friend Judy, up in Oregon was most unhappy because it either rained incessantly or was boiling hot, nothing like the quintessential blackberry-pickin’ season I always imagined in the northwest.

I wonder if the funny weather is why every peach I tried, this summer have been crummy? I look forward to fresh peaches all year, but every one I’ve tried this year has been, what my mother would call, ‘mealy’.

Last week my husband hopefully brought home one last lovely looking box of peaches. Surely this batch would be different! They were so attractive, a beautiful shade of yellow with lovely red blushes. Today they were perfectly ripe, giving just, so, when you pressed one finger against their delicate complexions.

They tasted lousy.

What does good old Ann Landers say? Or was it Ben Franklin who suggested the connection between lemons and lemonade? But in the case of peaches, it’s cobbler. Tonight we made, and ate, the best peach cobbler I’ve ever eaten. Could it be, the mealier the peach, the better the cobbler?

Pretty easy.

1) I mixed up a batch of my 1960’s Style Buttermilk Biscuits (it’s the same recipe I wrote about earlier this month, in the art-journal entry “Kidhood Memories:1960’s Style Buttermilk Biscuits”) and filled the bottom of a deep dish, square type casserole dish.

2) I set the oven to 400 degrees (instead of the 450 degrees I’d use for biscuits)

3) Cut up 3 large, delicious looking, but mealy tasting yellow free-stone peaches and covered the biscuit dough. Then I topped the peaches with some sugar (maybe ½ a cup?) and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

4) I bakes the cobbler for 20 minutes (checking after 10 and finding it still very much un done). Then I turned off the oven, leaving the pan inside the still hot oven and took my dog for a walk around the park! (Probably for about 20 more minutes). When we returned from the dog walk, I turned the oven back on, but now at 450 degrees. It was done and fork clean, 10 minutes later.

Yummm. The mealier, the better!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Kidhood Memories

With my older sister, Trisha, at Pike's Peak Colorado 1962
We thought everybody in the U.S. ate biscuits then
1960's Style Buttermilk Biscuits
We often eat these with homemade Damson Plumm Private Eye Raspberry Jam
Bake 450 degrees Bake 8 – 10 minutes till tops brown
In a bowl Mix the dry stuff: 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda,1/8 - 1/2 cup sugar, some cinnamon (½ teaspoon?)
Make a little well in the dry stuff pour in ¼ cup corn oil and 1 cup buttermilk (if using regular milk*, use 1 tablespoon bak. powder and no baking soda). Do not beat, just mix softly until combined.
Pam spray/oil muffin pan/ cookie sheet/pan
Additions: Raisins or a few blueberries (mix these w/ dry stuff) or A spot of strawberry or raspberry jam in the top of each biscuits (jammy biscuits)
*or make buttermilk substitute: A tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice plus enough milk to make a cup, let stand 5 minutes

Monday, August 9, 2010

American House Spiders Unite - No Sacrifice Required!

Please click on each picture to see the lovely details.

A female American House Spider, Parasteatoda tepidariorum. Apparently, she is still alive and kicking

Identified at
Spider Identification Org, by Bug Eric,
a.k.a. Eric Eaton author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America.

Having read too many articles about how to be a good parent, I thought she had left her poor decayed body behind to feed her offspring, but Eric says that she looks alive. I guess she is simply hanging around waiting to see what kind of peanut butter the kids want to go with their flies.
In the photo below, she is waiting for her kids to emerge. I guess this is the equivalent of reading a magazine in the parking lot.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Any Bugs in the Bell?

Please CLICK ON THE PICTURE ABOVE to see all the great details

After 14 hours on a plane from Frankfurt, Wolfgang figures perhaps, there COULD be bugs in his horn bell. I played French Horn up through the end of middle school. Which made my position on the stage in Memorial Church, just behind the brass section from the Junge Kammerphilharmonie Freiburg even more enjoyable.

In my case, the drummers sat off to the right of us. Being the third french horn, lowest in the pecking order, I was the target of their happy-go-lucky juvenile male behavior. The only instruments with more time on their hands than horns are drums Though the french horns had a lot of rests to count, the drums had even more, and so they needed something to do to occupy their time, while waiting their time to play.

We practiced in the school cafeteria before school. These resourceful fellas would gather up old pieces of stale food and, when I leaned on my horn, counting, or was otherwise distracted by my best friend, the second french horn, they would toss old french fries and stale pieces of hamburger buns into my horn bell. Then when it was my turn to blow, out would come a fusillade of ancient bits of lunch.

At the age of twelve and thirteen, it didn't seem funny to me at all, but it sure does now.

Concert Details and
my other art-journal entries about this performance can be found at

Monday, July 26, 2010

Araneus diadematurs, At Home in a Smaller World

Please CLICK ON THIS PICTURE To see all the lovely details

What am I in a spider's world? A cloud that passes over her sky? A tremendous gust of air? Is something smaller than the bud of my ear-buds, aware of me as a threat, a presence or with any kind of interest?

I encountered this little beauty hanging out on one of her own silky threads on the bathroom wall. That's usually where I meet up with her kind, right about tooth-brushing time.

She's commonly known as a "Cross Spider". I was so pleased with myself because I recognized her. That's because one of her sisters came to visit my porch on Halloween night. My trick-or-treat Cross spider was much, much bigger than this little darling. I was able to see her markings with my own eyes, but for this babe I couldn't tell what she was until I enlarged the photo in Photoshop. A magnifying glass would have done the trick as well.

I posted pictures of both these girls to the spider identification web site, where both were identified by entomologists who frequent the site. (It's a very to join this site for free, and to post your photos there .) This tiny lady was verified by a charming man, "Bug Eric". He has a great blog ( that really brings out the romantic side of insects, spiders and other arthropods, and the people that work with them.

* One of the tricker-or-treaters pointed her out and after that all the kids came to see her.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Spain, Pensamientos finales

Is this Segovian Cupid waving Hasta Luego,

or simply thumbing his nose at me?

It’s time to bring my illustrated journal about my trip to Spain to a close, and return my blog to it’s regular form, as an art-journal of my daily life here in California.

The pieces I wrote about my trip are short themed entries, and are not intended as a blow-by-blow description of my trip. I've listed them below, with links for each entry. Or you can locate them by clicking on particular calendar days above the "About Me" section on this web page.
Each short piece I’ve written since I returned, includes one to four photos that I took there early in July and than brought home to alter in Photoshop. The details in these altered photos show up much better when you CLICK ON each individual PICTURE (try it with the cupids above).
It was hot and I learned to deal with that like a Spaniard. I increased my Spanish speaking confidence and reminded myself that there’s always some way to communicate what I need to – even if that means using ten words instead of the one I don’t know. The colors reminded me that I wasn't at home. When you find a good park, stick with it, and go back as often as you can. I’ll always remember visiting with a group of Madrillenos at the turtle pond at the Palacio Cristal. I gained a new appreciation of sola, when I traveled to Segovia.
Sincerely yours,
The Simple Romantic
A Bit of Beauty from the Alcazar Palace(A printable luggage tag I created from an altered photo)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Modern Edificios y Negocios (Madrid)

PLEASE CLICK on these pictures to see the lively detail.

Modern buildings and city businesses in an unfamiliar country, are just as intriguing as the historical ones. They look so similar to the ones I know at home but, then again, something tells me that I'm not in Kansas any more.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Mystery of Trenta (Madrid)

As always, PLEASE CLICK ON these pictures to see more lovely detail.

Window of Horno La Santiguesa

I looked all over the web for a recipe for a wonderful little braided sweet bread I found at this bakery on Calle Meyor, not too far from Palacio Real.* It's called 'trenta' (not treInta - the baker in the panaderia edited my hand-written note).
The only recipe I found was one for some Slovakian bread that is totally different. I know it was kind of like brioche but not as rich. It also had a little cinnamon twisted in.

the mysterious trenta

My search on recipes for "spanish bread" did turn up a wonderful recipe for camote, a sweet potato bread (recipe below). It was NOTHING LIKE THE TRENTA, but it is delicious. I found it in a great blog called Kusina ni Manang, which is a lot of fun to read. The author describes her entries as, A Filipina's unabashed chronicle of her adaptations in the American kitchen. The bread is extremely good. I made the dough - only, as I always do, in a two-pound loaf bread machine, then shaped it in pans, let it rise once more in a 200 degree oven, and baked it in a regular oven at 350 degrees. With the alterations I made to the recipe (removing the butter and increasing the sweet potato, changing milk and water to buttermilk) it baked very fast. Two loaves done around 25 - 30 minutes after the oven rise.

Another friendly-looking
panaderia window

The author of Kusina ni Manang says about this recipe, "Camote is very cheap in the Philippines compared to flour, and the soft yellowish rolls they create will probably boost up sales and profit.


I don't know about sales and profit but the soft yellow bread is sure good.

The following is my re-interpretation of this recipe.

I run the machine on the dough cycle and bake it in the oven, so it bakes and looks like real bread.

* Spray or oil the bread machine pan first. It's a sticky dough.

Put in the wet stuff.

3/4 cup 2% buttermilk (original was 
1 / 2 cup milk and 1 / 4 cup water

1 / 2 cup boiled and mashed sweet potato
 (this was about one regular sized sweet-potato, skinned and mashed with a potato masher)

1 large egg

Put in the dry stuff.

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

5 shakes from the cinnamon shaker (my addition)

3 cups bread flour (I ran out of bread flour and so did the grocery store. Regular unbleached works fine in this.)

Make a dent (well) in the top of the flour.

Fill with following yeast and sugar mixture

(sugar helps the yeast work, this position keeps yeast dry until wet ingredients are heated up to the right yeast-working temperature)

1/4 cup white sugar

1/6 cup brown sugar (not in original recipe)

2 tsp Fleischmann's bread machine yeast

* Let the machine run on the dough cycle

* Once the dough cycle has run it's course (1:30 on my machine), then shape into 2 greased loaf pans (or one loaf pan for a really, really high loaf)

* Put into a 200 degree oven and let them rise once more for 20 minutes

* Switch oven over to 350 degrees and bake for 25 - 30 minutes. A really, really big loaf takes about 35 minutes. I stick a knife right down in the middle to make sure they are done. Yeah, it leaves a hole but you know your bread is done. If you like to tap instead, go for it.

Very good with some healthy-type margarine and honey

* Yes, I carefully wrote down the address and location in comparison to other well-known buildings in the travel notebook I lost on the airplane home.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Impressions of Madrid, Historic Edificios

Please CLICK ON Each Picture To See The Lovely Detail

Gran Via

As an American, I'm not used to seeing really old, ornate buildings right where I live. I wrote in yesterday's entry about scheduling my trip around early morning and late evening walks.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hace Calor! One Woman's Survival Strategy (Madrid)

Please Click on these Pictures to See More Lovely DetailMadrillenos have their own techniques for dealing with the heat of the city in July.

Those who don't have a long commute back home may still have a big midday meal and an afternoon siesta before returning to work until evening. But many do commute. I imagine they take advantage of air-conditioned offices as much as possible.

A tourist wants to see things, but when it gets to be over 100 degrees, she gets more than hot.

After I more-or-less got over my jet-lag I had forced myself to stay out all day. I was just miserable. After I came close to passing out on the metro, I came up with my strategy for beating the heat. I developed a modified Spanish plan. I set my alarm and got up at 6:00 in the morning to got out walking different neighborhoods, and taking photographs. In the late morning I visited any museums or other tourist attractions. Once it got good and hot in the early afternoon, I went back to my hotel room, showered off the heat, ate my yogur y frutas and whatever I had scrounged from the mercado. Then I had a REALLY LONG nap, really the second part of my nights sleep. I got up really late in the afternoon and went out walking again. This always included hanging out in El Parque el Buen Retiro. That's where the locals were anyway. Once I got tired of walking in the park, I sat on various benches and read or sketched. I also hung out at the turtle pond and chatted to people. (See my previous entry, Getting Neighborly).

Madrid stayed light until after 10:00 at night in July. Several times I stayed out until past 11:00. The Plazas are well-lit and, since I saw other home-bound women walking home at that time of night. From the style of dress of the people I saw, I guessed that the walk back to the hotel was relatively safe. A casual supper in my hotel room, a little English language news on t.v. and I got in another 5 hours or so of sleep.
Early evening at El Lago in El Parque de Buen Retiro

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Enjoying the Frutas (y Verduras) of Madrid

PLEASE CLICK on this picture to see more detail.

Towards the end of my week in Madrid, I found this nice grocery store about a three minute walk from my hotel right on the way back from the neighborhood entrance to El Parque de Buen Retiro, which I visited every day.

I waited my turn while I listened to this woman discussing the gazpacho she was going to make with the produce man. There, of course, the produce seller picks out everything for his customer. We don't sully the frutas or the verduras by touching or squeezing them with our fingers. They picked out everything she needed – tomates, pimentón, a little bunch of sweet, yellow cebollas and some nice heads of ajo. I can’t eat peppers, onions OR garlic, and it still sounded good, a nice cold vegetable soup in the ‘midst of Madrid en Julio. Most days it ranged somewhere over a hundred degrees in the afternoon.
La Senora made a friendly joke to me, about how long she'd taken and I told both of them how much I'd enjoyed listening to her cooking plans, since I was just visiting. That seemed to help me out of the tourist and into the visitor category.
This man handed me both a fresh cherry and an apricot to eat while I waited and, after he marked the price on each package of produce, he added in extras to each bag for this, clearly well-known, customer. Grocery shopping in another country is as enjoyable a cultural experience for me as restaurant eating is for the next woman.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Getting neighborly at El Palacio Cristal, El Parque de Buen Retiro, Madrid

Click on these images to see more pretty detail.
My favorite activity in Madrid was walking in the wonderful big city park, El Parque de Buen Retiro. I walked there every day. I chose the hotel I went to, Hotel Agumar on Calle de Reina Cristina, because I saw that park on the map nearby. I have really enjoyed locating near parks in other big cities, with which I was unfamiliar. I’m used to walking a lot at home. Not only is it nice to have a great big swath of shady green, I like getting to see people out strolling, biking, skating and enjoying the company of their pets and children. At home I have a lot of casual interactions with pets and people in my own neighborhood park and this was a similarly comfortable way to interact with people in Espagna.

The spot I returned to most often in the park was the turtle pond by El Palacio Cristal - a beautiful building if ever there was. It was fun going and sitting on the steps there in the evening, to watch the turtles and have low-key chats with children and adults. That's when I really felt a part of the community. And, unlike in the restaurants, when people started to smoke, I could move!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain, Thoughts on Surging Over a Language Barrier

Please CLICK ON THE ABOVE IMAGE to better enjoy the details

One Wet Terrier

El Parque de Buen Retiro

Madrid, Espagna

Photo altered using Photoshop CS4,
Original work is the copyright of, L. Shimer, 2010

Dogs can usually figure me out - humans - not always.

Spanish dogs seemed to understand me easily, no matter in which language I spoke to them. Madrillenos seem to like dogs as much as Californianos do. It seemed like every third person in Madrid, had a dog on a leash during the paseo.

I was very glad that I am comfortable using Spanish on my recent trip to Spain. I think it would be difficult to visit Madrid and the environs, without some proficiency in the language. My most challenging encounters with Spanish came when I was working through the process of buying train tickets within the Atoche Renfe metro/train station. When I became uncertain about where the train left from (turned out I had to get a train to another station - Chamartin- first!) , broke down and asked for help in English, it simply was not available. I just had to figure out how to come up with other words to use, to ask my questions.

Next day in Chamartin, confused by the displayed departure information, I again asked for help in English. My request was met with a shrug and a referral to another clerk who didn't understand my question. As I've learned when visiting other countries, these situations force me to figure out how to communicate my needs. And, Y hola !, did I feel proud of myself when I navigated two trains and a bus on my day trip from Madrid to Segovia. Particularly when an older woman bus driver praised me for traveling sola.

I found the Harper Collins "Language Survival Guide, SPAIN" book in my library and took that along as my travel dictionary. Not only does it have word lookup, but also sections such as transportation phrases and ticket layouts. It was really useful, and I liked it better than other dictionaries I've used.