Saturday, January 31, 2009

THREE VEGGIE DIP RECIPES


These are my three favorite veggie dips. The first two are very easy. The last one sounds a little bizarre, but people LOVE it. You will find a short story about it, below the recipes.

Quick and Easy
The best thing about the two easy dips is that since they each have only three ingredients, once you make them a few times, you never have to look up the recipes. And because you mix equal parts of the main ingredients, you can easily make as much or as little as you want.


               Easy Dip #1
               Mix equal parts:
               sour cream and mayonnaise (can be regular or light varieties)
               Add McCormick's Salad Supreme (from the spice department) to taste
               Store in refrigerator

               Easy Dip #2
               Mix equal parts:
Cheese Whiz™ and softened cream cheese (can be regular or light)
Add enough beer, to achieve your preferred consistency (depending on how  
               much you make, start with a teaspoon or tablespoon of beer and add more 
               until it seems to be creamy enough for dipping or spreading)
               Store in refrigerator



                    PEANUT SAUCE
                              3/4 cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter
                              1/4 cup brown sugar
                              1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
                              1/2 cup lemon juice
                              1/4 cup ketchup
                              1 teaspoon soy sauce or Worcestershire
                    Mix all ingredients together
                    Store in refrigerator
                    Serve at room temperature


        Years ago, I was in charge of the refreshments for the opening of an exhibit at the local art center. Since it was a Fall event, I decided to use “harvest” items as decor and, along with other things, lots of vegetables and dips on the menu. While searching for dip recipes, I ran across the one for the Peanut Sauce (above.) I think it may have been Malaysian. It sounded a bit awful, at first, but also rather intriguing. I tried the recipe at home, first. I liked the peanuty taste with a bit of sweetness, a touch of tang, and a little ‘bite’ from the red pepper.
        Besides several more "traditional" dips, I made a huge batch of the peanut dip as we were expecting a large gathering. I used three large jars of peanut butter.
        The night of the opening, I put a little sign on the dip to alert those who might be allergic, that it contained peanut butter. Several people asked me what else it contained. I was afraid that if I told them, they wouldn’t try it, so I suggested they try it and if they liked it I would reveal the ingredients. Soon, it was all gone.
        Guests were asking for the recipe, which I didn’t have with me. I asked the director of the art center how we should handle the requests. We decided to direct people to the sales counter, where we gathered $1 and an address from anyone who wanted the recipe. Before the night was over we had over $100 ---and sent the recipe on postcards, so we earned a little money for our nonprofit group.
        But, today, no dollar is necessary. For free, you now have my famous Peanut Sauce recipe. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

GRANDDAD'S CAR


This is a post in response to "A Thousand Word Thursday"

        My grandfather is in the driver's seat in this photo. I have no idea when this was taken. He looks like a teenager, but I understand he always looked young. Maybe someone will recognize the make, model, and year of the car. My father was born in 1909, so I think it might have been within 5 years before or after my father's birth.
       I think this was actually a car that was at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio for visitors to sit in while photographs were taken. If so, the men probably traveled from Pittsburgh by train. But it is possible that the car was owned by my grandfather or one of his friends. It looks like my grandfather is having fun, but everyone else looks terribly serious.
        And how did the dog get there?

CAT TALE #2 - Chasing Mice Cubes


In response the writing prompt on Mama’a Losin’ It blog: 
Tell us about a stray animal you took in.

        We had moved in June that year. The previous homeowner had a green thumb and a large flower garden. We had moved from a city home with no yard to a small town and a house with a huge yard. So that first summer, while I was on break from teaching, I tried my hand at gardening. It seemed like I spent all of my time pulling weeds.
        One day, as I was working near the driveway, a tortoise-shell kitten came from under my car and immediately sauntered up to me to rub her face on my leg. She was petite and had beautiful amber eyes. 
        As I explained in Cat Tale #1, my husband is a cat magnet, but he was at work in the city during the day. However, when he arrived home, the kitten went right to him.
        We already had three cats, so we certainly didn’t want a fourth. We figured she would find her way home, so we didn’t feed her. But every day, there she would be in the yard when I went out to work in the garden. And, of course, being suckers for a furry face, soon we were feeding her ---and then she adopted us. The other cats had all been mine before I had met my husband, so this one became his baby.


        We took her to the vet for a check up and her shots.

        Next we had to decide what to name her. I had named the first two cats: Sterling and Stormy. The third cat was offered to me by someone moving to an apartment that wouldn’t accept pets. I had refused until I found out the cat’s name was Stinky ---I figured he’d fit right in. 

        My husband was interested in antique and classic automobiles, so I asked if there were any car names that started with S-T.  At first he said he didn’t think Studebaker or Stingray would be good names for a cat. After a few more minutes he suggested Stutz Bearcat. So Stutzie became our fourth pet.


        One day my husband dropped an ice cube on the kitchen linoleum. Stutzie immediately started to bat it around the floor and chase it like a hockey puck. My husband said, “She misunderstood us. She thought we called it a ‘mice cube.’” Thereafter, we put ‘mice cubes’ on the floor for her nearly every day.
        We always kept our cats indoors, but Stutzie would bolt out the back door sometimes when we were entering or exiting the house. She immediately headed for the wild garlic that popped up in our lawn. When we finally caught up to her, my husband would call her ‘Stutzarelli’ because she smelled like a bad Italian restaurant.
        She liked bouncing down a few basement steps until she arrived at the one that had a hook with a clothes line attached to it. Then she would try to walk on the clothes line, as if it were a tight rope. Then she became ‘The Amazing Stutzenda.’
        One day, we couldn’t find her. We thought she had escaped the house or was hiding in the basement or the attic. After we had given up looking for her, a movement caught my eye. She was on top of the kitchen cabinets looking down at us. I swear she was smirking. I imagine she wondered what the two human idiots were doing, running up and down the stairs looking for her, when she was right there all along. Later we saw how she did it. She hopped to a kitchen chair, then to the table. From there, she floated over to the countertop, then jumped to the microwave on top of a high rolling cart, and finally leaped to the top of the cabinets.





     
         Meanwhile, our oldest cat, Sterling, developed kidney problems. He was the first pet that had been my very own, before I met my husband, so he held a special place in my heart. I cried for days after he died.

        About two years later, when Stutzie was about 4, she started to limp. When we took her to the vet, he determined she had a tumor in her left rear leg, and after a biopsy, discovered it was malignant. He said that instead of removing the tumor and Stutzie having a useless leg, most cats got along quite well on three legs, so he suggested he amputate it. Reluctantly, we agreed.
        Before our vet proceeded with the surgery, he decided to perform one more test. Sadly, Stutzie had feline leukemia. He said she probably already had it when she was a kitten. At that point, he decided not to do the surgery.
        We took our baby home with instructions to bring her back if she stopped eating or seemed to be in pain. Although we had a strict rule in the house, that the cats were not allowed in the bedroom, we placed an extra litter box, food and water in the room and Stutzie shared our bed with us. Within days, she stopped eating, but she still cuddled up to us and purred loudly, lulling us to sleep.
        After a few days, she became weak and listless and still wouldn't eat. We decided to end her suffering.
        I thought I’d never love a cat as much as I loved Sterling, but Stutzie was so young that it was even sadder to lose her. She had been smart and funny. She amazed us with her antics and always made us laugh. She had given us four years of love and joy.
        I hope we returned the favor.

(Photographs of Stutzie and text ©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

Monday, January 26, 2009

TONE DEAF: Part Two



The Missing Gene

        As I explained in Part One of TONE DEAF: Piano Lessons, after being forced to take music lessons from age 5 to 17 ---which I hated ---I am most certainly not a musician.
        I’m not much interested in music at all. When I listen to the radio, I listen to news on NPR. While driving I prefer listening to audio books. When my husband and I watch a movie, afterward he often comments on the music. I usually have nothing to say about it, because I haven’t even noticed it unless it was terribly loud and obnoxious, or unless the film was about music, such as recent films about Ray Charles or Edith Piaf.
        I wouldn’t want to live in a world without music. I like many kinds of music, but it isn’t a big part of my life.

        However, a few months ago, I decided to start a playlist on the internet. I spent a week listening to song excerpts, choosing 150 pieces that would play from number 1 to 150 and then start over. I chose my favorite artists and songs and found a few new ones. I purposely mixed the music selections so I would hear rock followed by bossa nova followed by a ballad, maybe an older song followed by a newer one. For an artist I particularly liked, I spread his/her music throughout the list so I wouldn’t hear two songs from one artist back to back. Despite hating to practice classical pieces on the piano as a child, I even chose some classical works to interperse with popular tunes.
        I listened to my playlist for four days while working on digital art work or surfing the web. And then, one day I was hit with the ultimate case of “Candy Man Syndrome.”


        A few years ago, NPR did a piece about why we get a tune stuck in our heads and can’t seem to rid ourselves of it. Throughout the in-depth piece, the Candy Man song played in the background. NPR received a ton of letters from listeners complaining they couldn’t get that insipid song out of their heads, thus the phenomena was dubbed the “Candy Man Syndrome.”

        When I was in college, one of the guys I dated was a music major. Each spring, he and his friends were involved in an annual musical performance, he in the orchestra and the others as singers. Rehearsals started near the end of January and continued through several weeks of performances in April. Twenty years later, I ran into one of those guys and mentioned the spring musicals.
        He cringed. Through clenched teeth, he said, “If I ever have to listen to even one song from 'My Fair Lady' or 'The Music Man," ever, I will kill someone.”
        “But you’re a music teacher. Don’t you listen to the students practicing over and over for performances?” I asked.
        “I don’t listen,” he replied.
        I wonder how someone can star in a musical on Broadway, six performances a week, for months or even years. It must be torturous.

        Once the “Candy Man Syndrome” kicked in for me after only four days, I couldn’t get the music from my playlist out of my head. It seemed like some sort of obsessive-compulsive behavior. I had a headache and it was difficult to concentrate on anything except those songs on the continuous loop in my head. After a few days, they waned a bit, but it took nearly a week for the syndrome to let go of me, and even now, as I write this, I am fighting the urge to think about those songs, afraid the syndrome will return.
        I haven’t been back to my playlist since the day the Candy Man came to visit.
        In high school, when I listened to popular music on the radio, I would fall in love with a new song. But, the radio station played each popular song so often that it took only a few days for me to hate the tune I loved only a few days earlier.

        I’ve heard of a psychological disorder in which an individual is compelled to repeat a word, phrase or movement over and over. Perhaps I should claim the discovery of a new psychological ailment called Audio Repetition Avoidance Disorder, for those, like me, who can’t stand hearing the same music again and again.

        Perhaps that explains my extreme hatred of piano lessons. Is it possible that it wasn’t the playing of the piano that was the problem, nor the music I was expected to learn, but having to practice the same tune until I learned to play it well? Like listening to my play list, the repetition of practice may have caused me to became physically sick of the music.

        Or, maybe, I just didn’t inherit the music gene from my father.







        


        That being said, why have I almost always dated and/or married musicians or people who are extremely interested in music? I will explore that psychological disorder in a future post, TONE DEAF: Part Three


(©2009, C.J.Peiffer)



Thursday, January 22, 2009

BLIND BLIND DATE


In response to a writing prompt on Mama’s Losin’ It
 Tell us about a memorable blind date.

        More than 25 years ago, between husband #1 and husband #2, the only men I met were those with whom I worked and they were either married or the kind of men I liked as friends, but with whom I wouldn’t want a romantic involvement.
        So I joined a dating service. Nothing clicked with the first few guys I met, but I am an optimist, so I was ready to meet the next new man who contacted me.
        A guy called me and we had some of the same interests ---although he strangely expressed no interest that I was an artist. We decided to meet. I can’t remember the man’s name now, so I’ll call him Ryan.

        Ryan suggested that we attend a Clancy Brothers concert. He seemed to be a fan, but I knew little about them. However, I was friends with members of a group of singers from Northern Ireland, one of whom was a song writer who knew the Clancy Brothers, so I thought at least I would have something to contribute to our conversation.
        Before we ended our call, Ryan said he needed to tell me something important, in case it would bother me. Ah, oh! I thought. This sounded bad. Maybe he was going to tell me he was married or had recently been released from jail.

        But it was nothing like that. With a nervous laugh he explained that this would be a blind, blind date. I told him I understood that it was a blind date. But he continued by explaining it would be a true blind date since he had lost his sight to detached retinas when he was a child.
        I had a few blind acquaintances, so that didn’t put me off at all. At least, I thought, it wouldn’t matter that I was no beauty queen and I wouldn’t have to stress over what to wear. I thought about offering to pick him up since it might be difficult for him to get around, but I was a little leary of anyone I met via a dating service, so we chose a time and place to meet near the theater.

        In the coffee shop, I recognized him by his white cane. Very polite, he stood when I approached and held out his hand to shake. I sat across from Ryan and we ordered coffee. He was a little heavy set and ordinary looking, except that he kept his eyes closed, but was dressed nicely and had a winning smile. I quickly realized he had a dark sense of humor, especially about his blindness.
        After we ordered coffee, I got a whiff of Ryan's cologne. The scent was fine, but it smelled like he had poured an entire bottle over himself. I’m not exactly allergic to perfumes or colognes, but there are some that make me feel like my throat is closing up and I can’t breathe. Some make me feel sick to my stomach. His did both.
        I didn’t want to insult the man on our first date, so I said nothing. I pushed my chair as far from the table as I could. Luckily he couldn't see me turning my head to the side while holding my hand in front of my nose, trying to suck in air from behind me rather than in front of me. Once the coffee arrived, I pretty much kept my nose in my mug, because the scent of coffee masked Ryan’s aftershave.

        About thirty minutes before the concert was to begin, we set off for the theater. I knew from past experience, not to grab his arm, but asked Ryan if he wanted to hold onto mine. When he held my arm, we were closer than in the coffee shop, but at least outside there was a breeze and fresh air as we walked to the theater.
        In the lobby, I excused myself to go the the ladies’ room and stayed longer than I normally would, frequently checking my watch to give myself enough time to get to our seats before the performance started.
        Once the concert began, I turned as far sideways in my seat as I could, facing away from Ryan. Luckily he didn’t choose to put his arm around my shoulder or he would have realized I was facing away from him. If he noticed, I planned to make up an excuse about a sore hip and that I was more comfortable in a sideways position.
        Luckily Ryan wasn’t the chatty type during the concert, so I didn’t have to turn toward him so he wouldn’t realize from the projection of my voice that I was facing away from him every time I spoke.
        During the intermission, I again spent time in the restroom and somehow got through the rest of the performance without passing out or throwing up. Ryan seemed harmless, so I offered to drive him home. 
        Because it was a warm night, we were able to keep the windows open while I drove. In an enclosed vehicle, I would surely have been sick. I didn’t get out of the car with Ryan, but we parted at the curb in front of his apartment, agreeing that we would talk again.
        On the way home, I tried to decide if I should explain my problem with aftershave and agree to go out with Ryan again or come up with an excuse to let him down politely. He was nice enough, but nothing had clicked between us ---but maybe it was just the awful cologne that put me off, not him. 
        But, he never called. He hadn’t seen the pained expression on my face for the entire evening, but he may have noticed it in my voice or sensed a reluctance on my part. Maybe he met a woman who adored his cologne or maybe he just didn’t like me. I knew one thing for sure. It wasn’t my lack of knock-out good looks that kept him away.
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)



Sunday, January 18, 2009

THE JOYS OF WINTER #2


"Winter Lace 2"
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

         Okay, let me just get it out. I am sick of winter and we are only half way through January. February is usually the month with the worst winter weather, so there is bound to be more snow and frigid weather to come.
        Now, I know all of you who live in Minnesota, Canada, and Alaska, are laughing at me. The description of my weather is like a heat wave to you, but we are not used to such bad weather here.
        We live in a valley in Western PA. Bad weather from the west usually dumps its snow on the hills before it reaches us. If the weather comes from Canada, the lake effect snow ends north of us. If rain comes from the south and turns to snow when it hits our colder temperatures, it usually moves to the east and misses us. The average annual snowfall for this general area is about 40” for the entire winter, but we have less in our little valley. Usually we get 1” at a time, occasionally 2”, rarely 3" or 4”.

We have had 24” of snow
in the last 9 days.

        On Saturday 1/10/09, we woke to 12” of snow on the ground. It took us 3 days to shovel it. We have two different styles of snow pushers. They work fine when the snow is an inch or 2 deep ---maybe as much as 3”. But once snow is deeper than that, it gets too heavy to push and there is nowhere to push it. One can push so far, then the snow needs to be shoveled on top of the ever-increasing piles on the grass.
        We have a double lot and are required to keep the front sidewalk of both lots clear. My husband often shovels the snow in front of the homes on either side, as a neighborly gesture. Throughout our property, we have additional sidewalks which we need to keep clear to get to the back alley to walk to stores in town, to walk to our detached garage (on the second lot) and for delivery people to carry packages from the front street to the back of the house. We also have a driveway that runs from the front street to the back alley with a zig around the garage.
        We had 6 more inches over the next few days which we shoveled in several rounds.
        Last night (1/17/09) we started to shovel another 2.5” of snow, but before we finished the sidewalks, there was 3” on the part we were working on and another 1/2” on the part we cleared an hour earlier. Today we had another 3 inches. We hadn’t done the driveway yesterday, so we had 6” there. We shoveled all the sidewalks again today and about half of the driveway, leaving the other half for tomorrow. 
        Luckily we are retired and can leave the snow for a few days. There is a grocery store on Main Street, a block from us. It is a super market, but a very tiny one compared to the new mega markets, so I refer to it as the UN-super market. It doesn't carry everything we might want, but it would have anything we absolutely needed. We are within walking distance of our doctor’s office, a drug store and the post office, so we can get along with what is available in town, without a car, if the driveway weren't cleared.
        The average high temperature here, December through February, is in the mid 30s F (2ºC) and average lows are in the low 20s (-5ºC). It is rare, but occasionally temperatures dip to the single digits. Typically, the temperature rises above 40ºF (4ºC) occasionally, so that accumulated snow melts before our next snowfall. Often, we have a midwinter thaw with temperatures rising into the 50s, even as high as 60ºF (16ºC).

        Yesterday morning, at 8 am, the outside temperature was -10ºF (-23ºC) on our back porch, with wind chills hovering at -20ºF (-29ºC). Yes, those are minus signs in front of the temperatures. We live in an old house with a fairly new furnace. In normal January weather, our house is a little cool (62º to 65º) but we like it on the cool side. 

On Saturday morning, the 
temperature in our kitchen was 42ºF (6ºC).

Starting from the bottom up, this is what I wore:
knee-high trouser socks
heavy socks
sneakers
leg warmers
flannel-lined jeans
long sleeved turtle neck
short sleeved T-shirt
pullover sweatshirt
nylon quilted bib ski pants over all of the above
zip-up sweatshirt with hood
thin leather gloves
Note: I WAS WEARING ALL OF THIS INSIDE THE HOUSE while typing on my computer ---and I wrapped an afghan around my feet to keep my toes warm.

        When I went outside, I added fleece-lined insulated boots, neck scarf, hat, heavy fleece-lined, down-filled, wind-blocking parka with hood, heavy gloves with thinsulate over my leather gloves. I felt like a kid with my snow suit and leggings on ---you know, when you could hardly move because your mother bundled you in so many layers.
        Have I mentioned, we are senior citizens? We have our normal aches and pains that come with aging. I have been living on Tylenol for the past week and wake every day feeling like I’ve been run over by a snow plow.

        Sunday, 1/18/09, we had a heat wave. The temperatures went up to 30ºF (-1ºC) up 30 degrees over Saturday’s high. That didn’t stop the snow from falling though. Temperatures will be down somewhat for the next few days, but after tomorrow when we expect another inch, there should be no accumulation of snow for the rest of this week ---well, if the weather reports are accurate. (Sometimes I think I could forecast as well as the meteorologists by throwing a dart at a weather map.)

Considering the length and width of our sidewalks and the length and width of our driveway, I calculated that we have shoveled approximately 3,395,520 cubic inches of snow over the past 9 days.

        Please, please, please, if anyone wants to loan us your beach house anywhere in the southern hemisphere, let me know. It’s summer there.

(Text and photo ©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

CARD TRICK


In response to a writing prompt on Mama’s Losin’ It
Tell about a time you stole something.

        I taught art in public schools for more than thirty years. The classrooms were arranged on two long, narrow floors of the junior high building. The women’s faculty room was on the first floor at one end of the building while my classroom was on the second floor at the opposite end. I rarely visited the women’s faculty room.
        However, the men’s faculty room was a short distance from my classroom on the second floor. If I wanted a soft drink, I went there rather than hike to the women’s lounge. I always knocked first. I didn’t want to walk in on someone changing into coaching sweats.
        One Friday in September (sometime in the 70's) my first husband needed my car, so I rode to work with another teacher and David was supposed to pick me up at 5:30. On Fridays, the place cleared out right after the students left at 3:15. However, I always had things I could do, so I stayed in my room preparing lessons and mixing paints for the next week. I wore a lab coat with huge pockets over my dress.
        It was a hot day. Before my husband arrived, I sauntered to the men’s faculty room to use the soda machine. Even though I was sure everyone was gone, I knocked. There was no answer so I entered. I noticed that there were about five decks of cards scattered on the work table. For about two years, the guys had been playing a continuous game of Hearts. They played before school, at lunch time, and after school. They talked about it constantly and there were ongoing rivalries among the card players.

        On a whim, I slipped all of the cards into my large pockets and moseyed nonchalantly back to my classroom sipping my can of soda. I saw no one, not even the evening cleaning crew. In my room, I quickly placed the cards in a box on the bottom shelf at the far corner of my supply closet. There were storage closets in each art room, so there was no reason for the other two art teachers to be in mine.
        On Monday morning before students arrived, there was quite a bit of excitement over coffee in the cafeteria. Everyone was asking, “Who took the cards?” The men were beside themselves, as if they had withdrawal symptoms because they couldn’t play Hearts that day. They were accusing each other and speculating on the culprit. The guys played lots of practical jokes on each other, so there were many possibilities.

        No one even looked my way. I was laughing inside, but I could keep a straight face when I needed to. 
        Finally, the men decided that someone I shall call Dick had taken the cards. Dick was an ornery English teacher who said whatever came to his mind without thinking, insulting one and all. He complained constantly about the card games. He picked arguments over everything. 
        Dick was married, but flirted inappropriately with female faculty and students. Today he would be slapped with a sexual harassment suit, but no one thought of doing that back then. He also thought he was the world’s gift to women, always wearing several buttons of his shirt open to display his manly chest hair. He actually made most of the female staff want to barf. I expect most of his students felt the same.
        Dick’s being accused was an unexpected, yet welcome consequence, because Dick was probably the only faculty member I disliked, as did nearly everyone else.
        
        The next day, of course, there were more cards in the faculty room, but the guys either took them with them or locked them up each day. But after a few weeks, they got careless, and on one of my late afternoon stays, a few more decks of cards mysteriously disappeared again.
        This went on for an entire school year. Every few weeks, I would steal more cards and store them in my hiding place. Dick was blamed every time and every time he proclaimed his innocence to deaf ears. I knew Dick was being unfairly blamed, but he deserved everyone's wrath for all of the insensitive things he did do but had never been called on. I didn't feel even one iota of guilt over the false accusations.

        The night before the last day of school in June, I knew I would be staying late at work because grades were due the next day. After I completed my grades, I stayed to store supplies for the summer and file papers for the next school year. When I was sure everyone else had left, I carried my heavy box to the faculty room. I dumped at least fifty decks of cards onto the work table, and mixed them up so that it would take some effort to get them back into individual decks.
        The next day, Dick was blamed again.

        Although it was the best practical joke I ever pulled, for over 25 years I told no one what I had done.
        At my retirement luncheon, I finally confessed all. It was difficult to convince several of the men that Dick (who had moved to a different job years before) hadn’t been the real culprit after all.
        One guy came up to me, gave me a huge good-bye hug, and said, “Damn, woman. You really know how to keep a secret.” I took that as a compliment.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

ANDY WARHOL SAID.....





       "I NEVER FALL APART BECAUSE I NEVER FALL TOGETHER."

Andy Warhol (1927-1987)












Monday, January 12, 2009

THE CREATIVE PROCESS - #3 NATURE PRINTS




NATURE PRINTING - using natural objects to create unique prints

This post is in response to a prompt at



Click on the link to add your own response to the
challenge or to view those submitted by others

This post is the third in a series explaining how a particular work of art or a group of works was created.
Nature Print, ©2009 C.J.Peiffer


What is Nature Printing?

        This is an art form that can be done by adults or children (of about grade 5 and up with adult supervision.) Nature Printing takes no particular artistic skill, but it does require a sense of composition and some planning to create successful prints. According to master printer Robert W. Little, “What a nature printer needs most is a combination of curiosity and patience.”
        Nature Printing is actually an old process perfected in Japan and called Gyotaku. When my high school biology teacher Robert W. Little (now deceased) retired, he visited Japan and started to make nature prints on paper. In 1972, he was one of only three foreigners admitted to the special association for nature printers in Japan, the Gyotaku-no-kai.


        Little published 2 books on the art. I have one that I purchased when it was first published in 1976. All quotes by Little on this post are from this book.
        Although his books are no longer available, I found several other books on the subject ---see the end of this post.
       Nature Prints are monoprints or monographs, i.e. one of a kind, not reproduced in a series as are many fine art prints. Even though I use a method that makes two prints, each will be slightly different, and thus, still monoprints.
        Little explains that a Nature Print is “a reproduction of nature made by applying ink to an object of nature, placing this object on highly absorbent paper, and reproducing an image... by carefully applied pressure of the fingers. The procedure is not as simple as it sounds, but neither is it difficult.”



Detail of a fish print by Christopher M. Dewees
What can be printed?

        Leaves, flowers, and thin-stemmed plants are commonly used, however one can use any natural object. Although usually done with plants, one doesn't have to use plant materials. I have seen prints using snakeskin, rough wooden boards, seaweed, shells, insects, sea horses and other small marine animals. In fact, the art was originally used in Japan to record game fish by creating prints from the actual fish.
        For a beginner, oak or maple leaves work well because they are fairly flat and durable. More delicate materials, like flower petals, require subtle handling.
        I particularly like the effect with Queen Ann's Lace, but almost anything that is fairly flat, or can be flattened, works ---and it works best with fresh plants because they are pliable and not brittle.



Relief prints or collagraphs using some natural elements:

        Non-natural objects can be combined with natural materials. However, the resulting prints will not be “Nature Prints” anymore, but will be relief prints or perhaps collographs (printed collage materials) that use some natural materials. Be careful of what objects you choose to combine with natural items. The finished piece will need visual harmony. Grabbing any old thing to place with the natural items might create disharmony ---but of course, that could be your objective.
        Some things that might go well are: burlap or other textured fabric, mesh, metal washers, popsicle sticks, a woven mat ---if arranged in such a way to seem to belong with the natural items. Most likely, items that have been inked and printed will be stained and need to be discarded.



Papers:

        Nature Prints can be made on a variety of absorbent papers and fabrics. Newsprint (the blank paper used for newspapers) works very well, but it ages quickly and becomes yellow and brittle. It will work well for experimenting, but not for finished prints.
        Oriental papers (often called rice paper) and parchment work well. The best paper is fairly thin and not stiff, so it will give a little around your objects without ripping. Experiment with what you have to see what works best.

Detail of "Gethsemane" by Robert W. Little

        Little seems to have either painted some of his paper for a more interesting background, or he might have rolled ink onto the paper and allowed it to dry before printing his plant materials. He also seems to have used some ink splatter to add interest to his finished prints.

Detail of "Some Say the World Will End in Fire" by Robert W. Little

Inks:
        Oil based or water based printing inks can be used. Water based inks are much easier to clean up and the prints dry quickly. Oil based inks are more permanent, but more difficult to clean; solvents and protective gloves are needed, and the prints take longer to dry. One needs to use oil based inks or other permanent inks if one is printing on fabric.
        Although I have not tried them, I understand one can use watercolors, tempera, acrylics or oil paint instead of printing ink.

               Materials you will need:
                         Plastic grocery bags to hold plants while gathering them
                         A variety of fresh plant materials, not more than two
                              days old
                         Old magazines to press materials until ready to use
                         Waxed paper to use between pages to keep items fresh
                         Something to use as weights (heavy books, rocks, bricks)
                         Work area, preferably a table
                         Brayers, soft rubber rollers ---the kind used for wood cut, 
                              linoleum cut, or other relief printing. You need one for 
                              each color of ink you are using. SOFT rubber is 
                              important.
                         One extra brayer or a wooden spoon (or your fingers)
                         Printing inks (see above)
                         A variety of papers (see above)
                         Something to roll the ink on: glass sheets (with edges 
                              taped to prevent finger cuts) or plexiglas sheets, or old
                              vinyl trays. When I taught school, cafeteria workers
                              saved trays with broken edges for the art department
                              for this purpose. As long as the flat part of the trays 
                              were smooth, not cracked or broken, they worked well.
                         If you use oil based inks: rubber gloves, solvents
                         Newspapers to cover your work area
                         Tweezers, preferably scientific equipment, not eyebrow 
                              pluckers
                         Newsprint for experimenting
                         Toothpicks or dissecting needles (with wooden handles) 
                              or large sewing needles
                         Access to a sink, soap, paper towels, rags, for clean up
                         Trash bags
                         Space to lay wet prints to dry, or a clothes line and 
                              spring-clip clothes pins to hang them



The Process:

        There are several methods that can be used to create these prints. Some people paint one side of the plant objects with a brush and make only one print at a time. With my method, two prints can be created at the same time.
        This is how I create mine, two at a time. I am explaining this as if printing a leaf, but the method is the same for other items.

1. Gather plant materials the same day or up to two days in advance. Beginners should choose fairly flat items such as leaves. To keep materials fresh and flat, place them between pages of old magazines and place something heavy on top (books, rocks, bricks.) You might want to place sheets of wax paper over and under items in a book. This helps to keep them fresh.

2. Roll a thin, even film of ink onto a glass sheet using a soft ink roller. Roll it both vertically and horizontally for even coverage. The ink should have a small texture and sound sticky as it is rolled. If it results in long streaks, there is too much ink on the sheet. Make sure the area covered by the ink is larger than the size of your leaf. 
   Beginners should print one leaf at a time. (Below these steps, you will find recommendations for printing multiple items at a time.)

3. Carefully place a leaf on top of the rolled ink, then using the same roller, roll ink on top of the leaf. 

4. Lift the inky leaf with tweezers or lift and edge with a needle, and place it on one piece of paper, then put another sheet of paper on top. If you do not want to waste paper on beginning experiments, use newsprint for both sheets of paper, or one piece of newsprint or newspaper on the bottom and a good piece on the top.
   The reverse of some objects may not print well, a shell for example. If you are making only one print at a time, instead of two, make sure to place the veined sides of leaves up (or the 'good' side of any object.)
   The sticky ink will usually prevent a leaf from moving, but the stems sometimes move causing a double or blurred image. With younger children, you might want to cut the stems from the leaves before printing.

5. Use a clean roller on the top sheet of paper to transfer the ink. Use a gentle touch. If you are using an object that is more three-dimensional, be careful when using a roller to transfer the ink onto the paper, if you press too hard, the paper may tear.
   If you don’t have a clean roller, you can use the back of a wooden spoon to lightly rub on the top sheet of paper.
   For adults or children with patience, the best way to transfer ink is with the fingers. You can feel the leaf through the top sheet of paper and can thus concentrate the pressure where you need it, on the veins, for example.  Experiment to discover the pressure level necessary to transfer your ink.
   With fingers, it is best to work from the center outward and with small circular motions.
   If you place one good piece of paper under the objects and one on top, you will end up with 2 prints. One will be the top of the leaf and one the bottom, which is more interesting with the veins. On some plants, it doesn't matter ---both look equally good. And of course, one print will be a mirror image of the other.

Nature Print, ©2009 C.J.Peiffer

6. Separate your paper from the plant materials. Carefully pull the plants from the paper with tweezers. Start with the stem, if there is one. If you have difficulty pealing them from the paper, try getting under a corner of a plant with a toothpick or needle.
   One problem with Queen Ann’s Lace and some other plants, is that little bits o the flowers stick to the ink. You may need to lift them from the glass or from your print with tweezers. You might need to clean your glass sheets and start over with fresh ink occasionally.

7. Place prints flat on a table with printed sides up or use spring-clip clothes pins to hang them on a line to dry.



Using plant materials more than once:

        Sometimes plants can be used again. If you use them right away, you could roll a different color on them and some of the first color may also transfer, so be sure to choose colors that will mix well, for example yellow and green or two shades of the same color.
        If they cannot be used another time, discard them and use new materials.



Printing more than one object at a time:

        One can print one leaf or object at a time, waiting for the ink to dry before printing another on the same paper, or one can roll the ink on several leaves or plants, arranging a pleasing composition, then place the paper on top and transfer the ink. If you use water-based inks, the ink could dry while rolling out more ink for other plant materials, so you need to work quickly.

Composition:
        I recommend placing the objects in an orderly fashion, so that, for example, the stems seem to come from the bottom center, or simply the bottom. Prints with haphazard placement are not as successful. With younger children, I recommend having them lay the plants out on a sheet of paper the way they want to place them before they are inked or printed.



Examples of completed Nature Prints: 

        I scanned two prints that I created on the same day using three colors of ink (gold, brown, and rust) printed on white absorbent printing paper. I created  the designs above and below as demonstrations for my 8th-grade students. To illustrate the many options, I digitally changed the ink colors and/or the background colors here so one can see a few other possibilities of ink and paper choices.
(Unless otherwise noted, all prints and text: ©2009, C.J. Peiffer)
You may reproduce the TEXT portion of this post, for educational purposes only.




Note: I am unfamiliar with the following books.
Please read descriptions and reviews before ordering.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

CAT TALE #1 - Like the Moon

I was able to fulfill two writing prompts with this one story:



In response to a writing prompt on Mama's Losin' It: Tell us about your pet.
Laura Jayne's prompt at Pictures, Poetry & Prose was to tell a Kitty Tale.


We wouldn't spoil a pet. Never. Honest.

My husband and I walk almost every night. He had an in-home business while I taught school, so in the summer, we walked late at night when it was cool. After midnight, most houses along the way were dark and we rarely saw a person or a car except on Main Street.
My husband loves animals. What’s more, animals adore him. Normally cats don’t approach strangers, but along our walks, cats often pussy-footed right up to him and rubbed against his leg. He is a cat magnet.
One summer, a black and white kitty came from between two houses to greet us. This happened nearly every night for several weeks. Then one night, she started to follow us, but when we turned down the street parallel to the one where she met us, she headed back toward the place where we originally saw her.
As the days went on, the tuxedo cat continued to walk behind us and finally she was tailing us back to our house. We hopped in the car with her and released her near the area where we met her. This went on every night for several more weeks.
One morning, the cat was on our back porch. This cat looked cared for and well fed, so we were sure it was someone’s pet, not a stray, so we drove her back to her neighborhood. She followed us again that night and we drove her home. She was at our back door the next morning. The cat was stalking us.
We tried walking a different route, but there she would be in the morning. We were concerned because the cat had to walk nearly a mile to our house and needed to cross Main Street which was also a well-used state route. We posted signs and left fliers in doors near where we had found her. No one called.
One morning the cat showed up with a huge gash in her side, with a large piece of loose skin and lots of blood on her fur. We took her to our vet. He stitched her and gave us antibiotics. He could tell from a scar on her tummy, that she had been neutered. Since that indicated some care, we thought she probably had her shots, but since we didn’t know, he gave her the usual series of innoculations. The bill was over $100.
After paying her vet bill and receiving no response from our fliers, we decided she was ours. My husband came up with her new name. He chose it because we first met her under the moonlight.
Lunette was very small when she adopted us.
Lunette soon moved into the house with our other three cats, but as the years went by the older ones died off, so she is now, what she always wanted to be, an only child.

Lunette loves paper and cardboard. We cannot leave a letter on the table or a cardboard box lying about, or else we come home to shredded pieces spread all over the room.
She loves water. Outside our basement shower stall, she will lap up the water that sprays onto the floor ---water that must taste of soap and shampoo. She also likes to lick face cream, hand lotion and after shave from our skin.
Lunette is very vocal. When she wants attention, she lets us know with loud meows. One night we were watching TV and it seemed like every two minutes a commercial would be on for Verizon Wireless. My husband hated the commercials. When another one came on, I said, “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” just to annoy him. He responded with, “Can you hear ‘Meow’? That’s all I hear all day long.”
If we ignore Lunette’s meows, she will knock a mug off the kitchen counter or dig her claws into one’s leg. She refuses to be ignored.
Early on, we discovered she disliked canned cat food. We placed it in front of her and it was as if it wasn’t even food. She wouldn’t sniff it or taste it, just walked away. The only cat food she ate was dry Kitten Chow. But soon she stopped eating that and the only food she ate was people tuna in water. She turned up her nose at tuna packed in oil.

Now she eats Temptations snacks, which are rather expensive, and canned tuna, but only if it is nice and moist. If it has been sitting a while, we have to moisten it with warm water. Occasionally, she will eat deli turkey, you know, the kind that costs $6.00 a pound.
Lunette will sit on my lap for a few minutes, then move to my husband’s ---her favorite place to be. If his lap is unavailable, she will take over his desk chair. He often sits on an uncomfortable stool so as not to disturb her nap. Lunette goes to bed with him, but when I crawl into bed, she usually sleeps on my thighs for a while, but eventually heads downstairs to nibble on Temptations, use the litter box, and sleep on one of her two heated mats.
Lunette is about half black and half white. Her personality also has a light and dark side. She can be sweet, loving and adorable (mostly when she is napping, which is nearly all the time.) Her dark side shows up when she is clawing one's leg, shredding important papers, or demanding attention. Dark and light, she is truly like the moon.

But she’s not spoiled. Not at all. Really.
(Photos and text ©2008, C.J. Peiffer)









September 2009 update: After a vet visit, Lunette has been on a diet for several months. Now she no longer eats Temptations or people tuna, but eats Sheba ---which if it were sold by the pound would cost about $8/lb. We also make our own cat food, mostly with roasted or boiled chicken. We mix special vitamins with it, along with an egg yolk and salmon oil. It took us a while to find the right combination to create something she would eat, but she has gone from 13 to about 10.5 lbs. That doesn't sound like much but that is like a person who used to weigh 130 lb. now weighing 105. Lunette has lost her big tummy and is looking slim, trim, and more beautiful than ever.


June 2010 update: Lunette is now down to 9.6 lbs. and has kept at that weight for about 6 month. She seemed healthier and livelier than ever on her new diet. However, sadly we just learned that Lunette has a cancerous tumor between the shoulder blades where most cats get their vaccinations. It is a very aggressive form of cancer. Surgery and/or radiation treatments are possibilities but the prognosis is not good with or without treatment. To learn how to reduce your cat's risk of this cancer, click on this link: Vaccine-Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force


February 2011 update:  We had opted to forego what would surely have been painful and invasive surgery that would probably not prolong Lunette's life, deciding she would let us know when it was time to let her go. Although Lunette's tumor grew from marble sized to the size if a tennis ball and was soon accompanied by a second tumor, she seemed to be doing quite well for many months.  She was eating and drinking normally. She wanted to be held. But she was slowing down and seemed to always need to be in a warm spot. For a while, she would disappear for hours on end. We finally realized she was crawling behind the refrigerator where she would nap for about 23 hours a day. A month or so ago, we noticed she was having difficulty walking ---her back legs didn't  function well. We surmised that the tumors on her back were affecting her spinal cord, resulting in partial paralysis. But she was able to get from her warm spot behind the refrigerator to the litter box and her food bowls.  A few days ago, she flopped to her side and couldn't get up by herself, but once I placed her on her feet, she could stagger around. The next day she seemed a little better. The following day, she was trying to walk but her back legs were splayed out to the sides as she pawed the floor with her front paws to move across the kitchen linoleum. So---we decided it was time to let her go. On 2/16/11, we took her to the vet to have her put down,
        After knowing she was dying for so many months, I didn't think it would be so hard. But I cried and I'm crying now as I write this two days later. My husband was terribly affected by having to let her go. Lunette had chosen him, not the other way around. If she were outside and he was headed toward the house, she would walk up to him, wanting to be picked up. And when he bent down to lift her, she would jump to his shoulder. He's the one who fed her and cleaned her litter box, She loved sleeping on his lap, snuggling up to him in bed, and vocalizing every need to him.
        She was unique. She was loved. And she will be missed.