Thursday, November 11, 2010


     I've been using Photoshop for more than 20 years now, but I am mostly self-taught. The program is so vast that I doubt that anyone, even the creators, know every single thing that can be done with the program.
     In 1999 I had taken a class in digital photo retouching using Photoshop. It was being offered free at a huge photo studio, with the goal of finding about 10 people they could hire to retouch digital photos, mostly portraits. I passed the course, as did several others in the class, but for some unknown reason, the studio went out of business within a few weeks, so no one was ever hired.

     My local community college allows senior citizens to take credited classes for free, as long as the class is not filled. One can audit the course or take it for credit. I always take classes for credit. I'm not attempting to earn another degree, but I know I will put more effort into the class if I will be graded, and therefore, I will get more out of it. 
     Last spring I took a class in Adobe Illustrator. About ten years ago, I had purchased an older version of the program on eBay, but it is so different from Photoshop that I never quite figured out how to use it.  
     This semester, I'm taking Photoshop with an updated version of the program. I already knew a lot, but I am learning new tricks all the time.

     One recent class project was to find an old, damaged photo to retouch. 
     Above you will see a photo of my grandmother Selma and her sister, my great-aunt Millie. (Click photo for a larger view.) I am guessing this photo was taken around around 1898.

     This is what my mother told me about my grandmother and her family:
     Both of my mother's grandparents were of German decent. I'm not sure if they had been born in Germany or in the U.S. They lived in Spring Garden, a residential section on the North Side area of Pittsburgh.
     My grandmother's mother, my great-grandmother, died in childbirth when Millie was born. As an adult, Millie married and had two daughters. My mother says she was often depressed or "disturbed" and would often leave her husband and live with her sister's family for a few days or weeks. When my mother died, one of Millie's daughters asked if I had any family photos with Aunt Millie in them. Apparently on one particularly disturbed day, Millie had burned all of her family photos.
     Not long after his wife died, my great-grandfather remarried. His second wife had a son. I think his name was Frederick, but he had a great tenor voice, so, as an adult, everyone called him Tenor. He was very tall, about 6'7". When he died, a special coffin had to be built for him.
     One day when Tenor was a toddler, his mother asked a neighbor to watch her son. She left and never returned.  
     My grandmother Selma helped to raise her sister and brother and did much of the housework for my great-grandfather. When she was about 12, her father took her out of school and sent her to work. She usually had live-in jobs taking care of children. For a while she worked for people who lived above their small grocery store. She cared for the children and did housework. Later she worked at a boarding house, helping with cooking, cleaning and laundry.
     Sunday was usually Selma's day off. She would walk several miles to her father's home so she wouldn't have to spend money on a streetcar fare. As soon as she arrived, her father would hold out his hand for her meager wages. After a while, she stopped going home so she could save what she earned to replace her worn and too-small winter coat.
     In her teens, she met William, an immigrant from Sweden, at the boarding house where she worked. The woman who owned the boarding house helped Selma and William elope in 1908. My grandmother was only 16. William was in his 20s. They took a train from Pittsburgh to Jamestown, New York to be married. William worked for American Bridge. I'm not exactly sure what he did, but he might have been a supervisor. My mother said he was often called out at all hours to resolve problems.
     They had four daughters, Selma (called Sis), my mother Grace, Elsie, and Jeanne, and remained happily married until my grandfather died of pneumonia in the 1940s. That was during WWII. Apparently he might have been saved with penicillin, but all of that medication had been directed toward the military. He was in his 50s when he died. My grandmother Selma took on part-time jobs for many years. She often cared for sick or disabled people in their homes. For a while she lived and worked at what we then referred to an an "old folks' home." In her later years she lived with my parents. Her daughters provided her with 13 grandchildren, nine boys and 4 girls. In her late 60's she suffered from Alzheimer's and had a stroke. She died in her early 70's in 1965.
     My mother was the second oldest daughter and the last surviving sister. She died in 2009 at the age of 95.

     Below find one of my class projects, the retouching and spot coloring of the above photo. I will be passing these photos, the original and several versions of the retouch, to Millie's daughters.
     (Click on images for larger views.)

Monday, August 16, 2010


(click on image for larger view)

A new challenge on Monday Artday is "TWO COLORS"
Click on the link to see how other artists interpreted this and other artistic challenges.

"Where flowers bloom so does hope."
                                     ---  Lady Bird Johnson

Saturday, July 10, 2010


A remake of George Romero's "The Crazies" came out in February of this year. I read a few reviews, mostly ho-hum, but I haven't seen it.  It takes place in a small Iowa town where something in the water is making the residents go crazy.  Neighbors are killing neighbors in rather unique ways.

Go back in time 27 years to 1973's original version in which the military accidentally drops a chemical weapon on the town. It certainly had political overtones of the day, yet it was a very low-budget film. 

It was lame, really lame.  

Yet, I loved the original version because the people going crazy in "The Crazies" were neighbors ---I mean they were my real neighbors, for I live in the town where it was filmed and many of the townspeople in the film were played by locals. George Romero must love this town, because he made his original "Night of the Living Dead" in this area, too.

"The Crazies" (1973) was so bad, it was good. The newer version apparently has slicker special effects that, in my opinion, usually don't make a movie any better, only take away from its charm.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


        A few weeks ago my husband and I were working in our vegetable garden when our neighbor urgently called us over to the edge of our yard. She was concerned because in the mulch between some evergreens we had recently planted, there was a large, slimey, bright-yellow mass on the mulch.
        “What is that?” she asked.
        We had no idea, but I said it looked like an animal might have thrown up there. But on further inspection, I decided the color and texture were too uniform and the yellow too bright.

        My husband kept an eye on it. The next day it turned a peachy color and later changed into a brown dust.
        When we did a search on the internet, we learned it is a mold called Fuligo septica, but because of it’s appearance, it is commonly called “dog vomit slime mold.” Nice name, huh?
        Anyway, it is harmless. In fact, some related molds in Mexico are gathered, cooked, and eaten much like scrambled eggs. It usually develops on mulch or on rotting materials such as dead trees or fallen leaves. And it almost always develops after a period of unusually wet weather.

        The other interesting thing about this slime mold is that it inspired the 1958 film “The Blob!” starring Steve McQueen. So, of course, we ordered “The Blob!” from Netflix. I had never seen the entire film before, just the highlights, including the famous scene of a crowd frantically running from the Colonial Theater. For a low-budget, sci-fi B-movie, it wasn’t bad.
        "The Blob!" in the film was an amoeba-like creature that arrived from outerspace and spent the rest of the film devouring people. It was immune from gunfire and high-voltage electricity.

The Blob theme song:
Beware of The Blob!
Beware of The Blob!
It creeps, and leaps, and glides and slides,
Across the floor, right through the door
And all around the wall.
A splotch, a blotch,
Be careful of The Blob!
         Although credited to The Five Blobs, the song was performed by Bernie Nee and overdubbed to make him sound like a group. It was written to a Latin beat by the songwriting duo of Burt Bacharach and Mack David. 
        The song was released as a single in 1958 and, ridiculous and annoying as it was, it became a top-40 hit nationwide, making it one of Bacharach's earliest hits.

Blob trivia:

Steve McQueen was offered $2,500 or 10% of the profits. He took the $2,500 because he didn't expect the film to be a box-office success. It grossed over 4 million dollars.

The producers originally signed Steve McQueen to a three-film deal. McQueen was so difficult to work with during filming that he was released from his contract for the other two films. (My husband, a film buff, has read accounts of Steve’s constant whining on other film projects.)

In "The Blob!" the movie being shown at the Colonial Theatre was “Daughter of Horror,” originally released as “Dementia .” The movie was silent, so Ed McMahon was added as a narrator wearing a stocking over his head and walking through a cemetery as he spoke. Johnny Carson surprised McMahon on “The Tonight Show” one night with a clip from the edited film.

Most of the movie was filmed in Phoenixville, PA. The crew had worked on only educational films previously.

The Blob itself was created with a modified weather balloon in the early shots and, in the later shots, with colored silicone gel which was actually fairly firm. The crew used hot lights to make it more pliable.

Even though real slime mold (from which The Blob was inspired) starts out as bright yellow, in the film The Blob was a clear gel-like substance until it started to consume people, afterwhich it turned red.

In Phoenixville, the Colonial Theater still exists and hosts an annual Blobfest every July including a reenactment of the crowd exiting the theater.

One additional note: I don't want to give away the end for those who have not seen the film, but because of certain environmental conditions in the world today, The Blob! just might be a threat again. So, BEWARE!


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

TRAVEL TO BRAZIL - To Be Rescheduled

It has been nearly 41 years since I was last in Brazil, when I served in the Peace Corps. The other former Peace Corps Volunteer who served in the same town with me (Brunie) and I were planning to travel to Brazil in August of this year.

But, now it looks like we have to postpone our trip ---at least for several months, perhaps longer. I spoke to Brunie a few weeks ago. Because of some family issues that will not be resolved by August, we cannot travel as we originally planned.

Even though it might not happen so soon, we are still excited about visiting some of our favorite places in Brazil's smallest state Sergipe, including the town where we lived, Nossa Senhora da Glória.

Brunie and I discussed meeting in Atlanta, then flying to Manaus in the Amazon region, then to Aracajú (the capital of Sergipe) where many of our friends and former students live. Aracajú is supposed to be one of the safest and least-spoiled coastal cities in Brazil now. Forty years ago, the beaches had just a few huts where one could purchase beer and boiled crabs which cost about ten cents (U.S.) for three. Apparently there are large hotels and resorts along the coast now.

But we also want to visit Salvador, and Brunie wants to visit friends in Natal, so our itinerary is not set in stone. We will have to see what flights are available when we can actually make reservations.

Of course we want to see how the country has changed in the past 40 years, however, it is the people that we most want to visit. While we lived in Sergipe, the brasileiros were warm and welcoming. They helped us with every-day living. They corrected our Portuguese. They became our friends.

Alcione (the daughter of the elementary school director with whom we worked) has been my main contact and is coordinating our visit. I have also been in contact with several other of our neighbors and former students and we are thrilled that we will be able to see them again.  But for now, we don't know when that will happen.

When I finally make it to Brazil, I will, of course, post lots of photos and tell about my travels on my other blog A Little "Peace" of Brazil.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


        I hate reality shows. I watched one episode of Survivor and hated it.  I watched one episode of The Great Race when I knew they were going to be in Brazil ---saw almost none of the country and never watched again. I don't watch American Idol, Big Brother, American's Top Model, Dancing With the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, The Apprentice ---none of those.  I would never watch The Bachelor ---choosing a partner on a show like that is so unreal, I don't know how it fits into the "reality" category.
       But one of my guilty pleasures is America's Got Talent. I'm not sure why it has struck such a chord with me, but at least part of the reason is that I like seeing someone who has talent, but has never been "discovered," making it big.

What I especially like about the show:
        I like the variety of acts. Idol has only singers, but I like seeing comedians, magicians, dancers, ventriloquists, acrobats, and even some of the more bizarre acts.
        And even though he is often booed by the audience, I think Piers Morgan is nearly always right in his assessment of the acts.

What I don't like about the show:
        Too many acts make it to the edited TV broadcast who should be weeded out even before getting to the stage. Only the very best of those who audition ---and there seem to be thousands, so surely there are hundreds who have decent acts ---should get on the broadcast. Then the judges should weed out those who don't have that "something special" that makes for star quality.
        There should be a separate Kids Got Talent. Too many very cute children get sent on to Vegas, but they really aren't talented enough or have enough experience, poise or stage presence to win. Cute should not be enough.  I'm not sure what the cut-off age should be, but anyone under 18 should probably not be performing on Vegas stages, so I would say anyone who is not of legal age, should not be permitted on the show unless, perhaps, they are in a group that includes mostly older members.

        Meanwhile, even with it's flaws I do enjoy America's Got Talent. I usually tape it. As soon as a bad act comes on, I fast-forward through it. Therefore, it takes me 30 minutes (or fewer) to watch an hour-long show.
        Do I vote? Not usually ---the voting is usually closed by the time I watch my tape. Do I have favorites? Of course. Usually they end up in the top 5.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


        We all have guilty pleasures. Some of us love foods that aren't good for us. Some of us love trashy novels.  
        In Following the Equator (1897) Mark Twain said, “Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” Some of us have guilty pleasures that we would never confess.

        One of my guilty pleasures is a movie. A movie that's so bad, that it's good.
        Most films star a few people whose names I recognize ---two, maybe three. I might think other names sound familiar. I've heard them before, but I can't picture the person in my head.  
        My husband has a theory that the number of big-name stars in a film is indirectly proportional to the quality of the film. If that is true, this film has to be the worst movie ever made because it stars:
        Jack Nicholson          Glenn Close          Annette Bening          Pierce Brosnan          Danny DeVito          Martin Short          Michael J. Fox          Rod Steiger          Sarah Jessica Parker          Tom Jones          Jim Brown          Lukas Haas          Natalie Portman         Sylvia Sydney          Lisa Marie          Jack Black          Paul Winfield          Joe Don Baker         Christina Applegate          Pam Grier          Sarah Michelle Gellar

        The first time I saw this film was at a gathering of Mensans. I was probably the only person in the room who was not a sci-fi geek. (I admit to being geeky ---and I'm even sort of proud of that ---but I'm not into sci-fi.) Throughout the entire film, the viewers constantly piped in with references to old sci-fi films.  "Oh, that looks just like the scene from _______," they'd say, naming a lame sci-fi B-film from the 1950s or 60s. Of course, I was clueless. But they were so full of enthusiasm and laughter, that it was infectious. 

        Loosely based on an obscure 1960s Topps bubble-gum trading card series (some of which are pictured here) it is a Tim Burton film, so of course, it is bizarre. But it is also incredibly funny. 
        In 1996 when it came out, film critics almost universally panned it, but the movie has some great moments. First of all, it is a parody of so many sci-fi films that went before it. In addition, it makes great fun of pompous politicians, the military, science, the media, talk shows, alien abductions, new age religions, greed, power, Las Vegas, pop culture, and much more. Even Tom Jones tries to make fun of himself in this film, but of course it is impossible to parody what is already a parody. It was made for laughs and never meant to be serious about any of it.
        More recent disaster sci-fi movies filled with all manner of special effects are often preachy and feature heroes who are smarter, faster, and stronger than anyone else. In this film the heroes are a tongue-tied teenager who works in a donut shop and his grandmother who loves listening to Slim Whitman music. The special effects appear to be rather low-tech ---on purpose ---meant to look more like the sci-fi films of past decades than the sleek effects of films like Independence Day, which came out at roughly the same time. And the cast, including many award-winning actors, hams it up. Their bad acting only adds to the charm.

        Now, I can't say the film is without flaws. While everyone else is playing for laughs, Pam Grier's part is so serious that it seems out-of-place in this film. Danny DeVito's small role could have been eliminated. There was no point in having Jack Nicholson play two parts when another big-name could have taken one of them, but then, perhaps Nicholson demanded a certain amount of screen time and this was a way of giving it to him. And, occasionally, once we get the point, extended scenes could have been shortened or eliminated.

        It seems that most people either love this film or hate it.  I'm one of the ones who loves it. The film is silly, yes, but I enjoy silly sometimes.

        If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm telling you that one of my guilty pleasures that I need to watch about once a year is "Mars Attacks!"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

FLYING MACHINE: Sky Sculpture 9

"Sky Sculpture 9"
(Click on image for larger view.)

A new challenge on Monday Artday is "FLYING MACHINE"
Click on the link to see how other artists interpreted this and other artistic challenges.

This is another in my series of floating sculpture images.
I posted another one a few weeks ago, which can be seen HERE.

        "Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty - a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture."
---Bertrand Russell

(©2010 C.J. Peiffer)

Saturday, April 17, 2010


A new challenge on Monday Artday is "ANCIENT CIVILIZATION"
Click on the link to see how other artists interpreted this and other artistic challenges.

©2010 by C.J.
originally rendered as a silk screen print

    "There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages."
---Mark Twain (Following the Equator)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

FLIGHT: Sky Sculpture

A new challenge on Monday Artday is "FLIGHT"
Click on the link to see how other artists interpreted this and other artistic challenges.

"Sky Sculpture 11A"
©2010,  C.J. Peiffer
(click on image for larger view)

I enjoy creating images of surrealistic floating sculptures.

       “Space flights are merely an escape, a fleeing away from oneself, because it is easier to go to Mars or to the moon than it is to penetrate one's own being.”     
---Carl Gustav Jung

Sunday, March 28, 2010

AWAKE: "The Persistence of Salvador Dali"

A new challenge on Monday Artday is "AWAKE."
Click on the link to see how other artists interpreted this and other artistic challenges.

"The Persistence of Salvador Dali"
(click on image for larger view)

        "Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure ---that of being Salvador Dali."   
---Salvador Dali

"The Persistence of Memory"
by Salvador Dali  (1931)
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Read more about  "The Persistence of Memory" HERE.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


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A new challenge on Monday Artday is "MONKEY."
Click on the link to see how other artists interpreted the monkey and other artistic challenges.

        “I believe that our Heavenly Father invented man because he was disappointed in the monkey.” 
(Mark Twain, Autobiographical dictation, November 1906)

Friday, February 26, 2010

SNOW GAMES - Monday Artday

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          The challenge for his week and next on Monday Artday is "SNOW GAMES."  I imagine most people would do images of skiing, ice skating, or hockey, so I decided to follow a different path. I like games and puzzles, so I created a SNOW GAME.

          Every snowflake is supposed to be unique, but in the image above there are two snowflakes that are exactly the same design.  Can you find them?

          I could, of course, have created my snowflakes by cutting folded paper (see example, left) but anyone can cut their paper snowflake virtually at SnowDays.  (It takes a while to load the page, so be patient.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010


(click on images for larger views)

These images are in response to

Click on the link to post your own image

or see what others have posted.

The day after the blizzard that dumped 23 inches of snow in our yard, the sun came out and the snow, reflecting the cloudless sky, turned blue. Around 5:00 pm, when the sun was low in the sky, I snapped these shadow shots.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

Friday, February 19, 2010


Since my mother’s death 3 months ago, I’ve been thinking of family stories to tell. The best stories usually aren’t about the good times when everything goes smoothly, but rather times of conflict.


I’ve always thought the silent treatment was stupid, well, at least after about 15 minutes. I admit there are occasions when I’m spitting mad and don't want to talk until I cool down. But after a few minutes, I’m eager to talk it out. I’ve always believed the silent treatment was a bad idea, not only between individuals, but also between countries. There was a time when it was U.S. policy not to speak to the PLO, for example. Why? What can be resolved or accomplished without communication?

When I was about 12, one summer my mother was so angry at my father and sister that she wouldn’t speak to them. I have no idea why and now that my father, mother and sister are all gone, I can’t ask them. But I’m sure if it had been something important I would have remembered. My mother’s silent treatment went on for about two weeks.
I was the only family member she would speak to. This put me in a terrible position. I felt good that my mother wasn’t mad at me, too, but it also made me feel guilty that my mother spoke to me and no one else. If anyone wanted to communicate with each other, they had to do it through me. That was a terrible burden to put on a 12-year-old.
This still seems strange to me because I hardly remember my parents having even minor disagreements. They were deeply in love and truly liked one another. They were affectionate and always acted respectfully toward each other. My father often reminded my sister and me how good of a mother we had. My mother did the same about my father.
But, perhaps there was a family tradition of angry silence. As far as I know my mother’s parents never acted this way. But all three of her sisters did. By comparison, my mother’s two weeks of silence was just a blip.


My mother’s oldest sister S was married to a man who didn’t want to go anywhere. But sometime when their youngest son was in high school (early 1960s) she convinced him to take a driving trip to Niagara Falls in July. On the way home, my uncle got mad at my aunt. My aunt and uncle communicated through notes and used their son to pass on messages until relatives showed up for Christmas dinner six month later.
My mother had two younger sisters, E & J, who didn't speak to each other for over a decade.
       E was a nursing student at a time when it was forbidden to marry, but she was secretly married for several years before completing her studies. Several years later, her husband was tragically killed in an explosion at work.
The other sister, J, and her husband rented half of a duplex and became friends with their next-door neighbors, but the neighbors were having marital problems and soon the woman told my aunt she thought they were headed for divorce. The man confided to my uncle that he had been seeing another woman. He had no idea that the widow he had been dating was J’s sister E.
E married her new love without telling anyone. This was probably around 1952. When J found out that E had been dating, and then married the husband of her friend, she stopped speaking to her.
It turned out that the sisters lived only a few miles apart. Their children went to the same high school, but were unaware that their cousins were among their classmates. Both J & E’s husbands worked for the same large company. At annual picnics, their children might play softball together without knowing they were cousins.
Only when their mother (my grandmother) died about thirteen years later did the sisters break their silence. My aunt E and her second husband stayed together until his death, but I don’t think it was a happy marriage.

I don’t know what the silent treatment accomplished in any of these cases except to alienate family members, keep cousins from knowing each other, force children into situations where they had to be go-betweens between their parents, and set bad examples for everyone's children.
If you’re ever mad at me, let’s talk it out, okay?
(©2010, C.J. Peiffer)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SNOW JOB - Photo Essay

02/06/10, 3:00AM
(Click on any image for a larger view.)
Like most of the eastern U.S. we were slammed with a massive snow storm that started on Friday February 5th and lasted through the next day. Our local news talked all day on Friday about their brand new million-watt weather radar as if it were the holy grail of meteorology. The million-watt system predicted 4-8 inches of snow. By Saturday afternoon, my zero-watt yardstick showed 23 inches in our yard.
As an artist, I appreciate the beauty of the snow, but as senior citizens our arms, backs, and knees don't appreciate having to shovel it. We try to keep ahead of it by shoveling 2-3 inches at a time, but we couldn't keep up.
Starting Monday night (02/09/10) we are experiencing another big storm. We shoveled 2-3 more inches from 7:30-9:30 PM. It stopped snowing for a while, then started again after 11 PM, so we went out at 2:30 AM and shoveled 2-3 more inches. By the time we were done, there was an inch on the areas we had already shoveled.

Enjoy these views of the snow at our home and in our neighborhood.
02/06/10, 8:00 AM

In the afternoon of 02/06/10, several more inches fell. Finally it stopped snowing and soon the sun came out. I took these photos a little after 5:00 PM:

(photos and text ©2010 C.J. Peiffer)