Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Visit to the Manor House~Hughenden

Though we spent all our London days at the National Gallery, we took Sunday off, staying in High Wycombe with our friends. We enjoyed worshiping with their church in the morning, and in the afternoon we hiked through a couple meadows and a park to visit the local manor house, Hughenden. Hughenden was the residence of Queen Victoria's favorite prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, from 1848-1881. During World War II, a secret wartime headquarters, purported to be on the top of Hitler's hit list, was ensconced in the Hughenden cellar.

The interior of the manor was simply yet elegantly decorated for Christmas. I took lots of pictures as I wanted to share the English beauty and style with Tayta.

The Dining Room~ I loved the simplicity of the ivy and red ribbon garlands.

In the dining room with my dear friend, Monica

The Study~ the books were protected by wire screening so no pulling those lovely leather-bound volumes off the shelf for a look.

The Drawing Room
...and a few close ups of elegance...

the tea table

The mantle was trimmed with greens and red carnations, the perfect accent to the beautiful portrait of Disraeli's beloved wife, Mary Anne.

Here's the other side of the drawing room, with lovely views into the garden.

In the hallway we viewed a sample holiday gift basket which would be given to a servant of the manor.

Down into the cellar we went, to see the World War II intelligence headquarters:

The Communications Room
Here is where I admit that while I had seen this poster all over the internet, I hadn't realized until I saw it in the manor house that it originated in wartime England.

I took this one for Dear Husband. He smiled. Sort of.

We took a turn in the garden and then it was time to head back, making a brief stop at the church on the manor grounds. The church still has an active congregation and is also the location of Disraeli's burial vault.

Leaving the church, we set out across the park, headed for home.

One last picture of us, surrounded by English beauty. Yes, the grass was really this green. Such a lovely day.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Felted Wool in the Kitchen

Necessity is the mother of invention, and if you saw my sorry looking potholders, you would know what inspired me to create these potholders from felted wool. My old potholders, brought from the U.S. as the offerings in the Jordanian market are pitifully (and dangerously) thin, were raggedy, stained, and scorched. A few weeks ago I found a very large, thick, oatmeal-colored sweater that just seemed to say, "make potholders from me."

I was able to cut thirteen 8 inch squares from the one sweater. I then cut 8 inch squares from coordinating medium/thick felted wool. I attached them first by straight stitching diagonal lines from corner to corner. I used masking tape as a guide for the first couple of potholders and then took off freestyle. I then zig-zagged the edges together, using a longer stitch so the edges didn't curl too much. (I pressed them flat when finished as I'm sort of particular about things like that, but you wouldn't have to.)

Here's the backside of the potholders. I choose not to put loops on them as I don't hang my potholders, but it would be easy to add those.

The wool potholders added a touch of coziness to my winter kitchen. Then, the wooden kitchen table looked bare, especially since I had recently removed the Christmas table runner. "Why not make a table runner from felted wool scraps?" I thought.

I made this by butting the edges of various sized strips together and zig-zagging them.

This is a good place to mention that having a rotary cutter and cutting board is very helpful for felted wool projects. I was pretty pleased with the results of this modest project as it was the first project I actually designed myself, rather than modifying of copying someone else's idea. I'm just not that original.

Here's a picture of a corner of my kitchen so that you can see how the runner coordinates with the valances.

One of the very practical reasons for my increased ability to create is a wonderful little enclosed porch just off the kitchen of our new home. Before we ever moved in, I had claimed tt for a creative space:

I am able to keep all my creative projects and supplies in one place and I can keep my sewing machine out at the ready all the time. Artist son is sharing the creative space this year as he works on his AP design portfolio. He likes to work near the hub of home life, which is our kitchen.

It is so nice to have all my "stuff" in one place--I know Dear Husband appreciates it too. If you've read along for awhile you may remember my "flower beds" in my old home: plant starts stored on the bunk beds in our former guest bedroom.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Art Gallery Trip~The National Gallery of London

For a few years now I've dreamed of taking Artist Son to a significant art gallery of Western art. Unfortunately, there aren't any in the Middle East and we don't have much of a chance to visit renowned galleries even when we are stateside, being from Idaho as we are--though we were treated to an excellent exhibition of James Audubon paintings at the Boise Art Museum last year.

Then one late night this fall, I realized that my seemingly fanciful dreams could become a reality and within the week our gallery trip was planned and booked: Until now it has been expensive to fly from Jordan to just about anywhere, with flights to London costing around $600, but last year Easy Jet entered the market with a flight from Amman to London at very good prices, depending. It turns out that early December, when we wanted to travel, was one of the good times to fly and I was able to purchase both our tickets for a total of $340! Some of our dearest friends live near London and were willing to host us, and the National Gallery offers free admission, so our trip expenses were minimal. My friend even made sack lunches for us every day!

But how could we go to London and visit only the National Gallery? With over 2300 masterpieces on exhibit, we didn't even wonder. So short was our time (three full days in London proper) and so narrow our focus, we didn't even consider visiting the National Portrait Gallery a couple blocks away or the Leonardo DiVinci exhibition on display at the National Gallery, for which we would have had to purchase advance tickets and que up in the cold early morning. No regrets. Not one.

My favorite Art Nerd in front of the National Gallery

If ever I wondered if Artist Son was made to appreciate and create art, I wonder no more. He seemed to relish everything about looking at and wondering at artful masterpieces for three full days. His favorite part was the free walking tours and other lectures offered by art historians of the gallery. Twice a day, a one-hour walking tour was offered in which five to six works of art were explained and explored. We learned so much. We also enjoyed such lectures as a 45-minute lunch-time lecture on a Raphael altarpiece.

A contraband photo of Artist Son viewing Joseph Mallord William Turner's Ulysses deriding Polyphemus

Toward the end of our first day at the gallery we happened upon a once-a-month workshop in which an artist described Sir Thomas Lawrence's portrait of Queen Charlotte and then instructed a group of artists (amateurs and professionals?) on how to render it in charcoal.

Portrait of Queen Charlotte by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1789, London),
The National Gallery
, London

When the drawing session was over, the artists were instructed to put their sketches on the floor in the front of the group so that all could gather round to see what had been created. Coming a little late to the session, Artist's Son's drawing was less complete than some of the others, but proud and loyal mother that I am, I examined it carefully to find its goodness. A women who was studying the art work carefully pointed at Artist Son's drawing and inquired, "Who did this one?" Not a peep from Artist Son. She asked a second time, adding "This one, right here, is really good." Still no word from Artist Son so I felt compelled to point him out, "He's the artist." Oh, and I had to add, "He's my son."

So went our wonder-full, beauty-full days at the National Gallery. We didn't get to view every painting, many paintings we longed to study more closely, but a few paintings we visited each day, letting their beauty and awesomeness soak into us. (I've been toying with idea of doing a Fine Arts Friday but for my knowledge of how inconsistent I can be. Maybe a Fine Arts Whenever. Stay tuned.)

While in London, we really did just hang out at the National Gallery, but one night after the gallery closed, we walked few blocks down near the bridge over the Thames and took a few "I Was There" pictures:

Artist Son in front of Big Ben

Artist Son in front of Westminster Abbey

The perfect finale to our gallery trip was seeing a brilliant production of Les Miserables. Artist Son was skeptical when we took our seats in the very last row of the theater, truly the nosebleed section. I had purchased the tickets that morning, requesting the best bargain seats. Even though the tickets were for the last row, the ticket agent guaranteed that they were a good buy for the money and that we would be able to see 100% of the stage. After the show began, Artist Son's doubts quickly vanished and he was visibly awestruck and moved when the show was over. Guess what soundtrack he listens to now while he is working on his art?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sending Them Off with Warm Wool

I was able to accomplish a few wool projects for my college kiddos while they were home so I thought I'd share them here in case they can provide inspiration for any fellow felters.

Oldest Daughter wanted some new mittens so I made these in one of her favorite new fashion colors: red. The extra-long, extra-wide scarf (1oo inches by 9 inches) was made from cashmere scraps. I never throw away a cashmere scrap and here was my first opportunity to put them to good use. The red scrap was the neck of a turtleneck sweater. Oldest Daughter arranged the colors. I pieced the blocks by zig-zagging them together and ruffled the edges by pulling the edge taught as I zig-zagged it.

New felting idea: I'm running low on cashmere and have found some lambswool/angora blends that are nearly as soft so I'm thinking of trying some ruffled scarves with them.

Active Son came home without slippers and slippers are necessary for our winter-cold concrete tile floors. This gave me a chance to try out the pattern I had recently purchased on Etsy. I had to work out the sizing a bit to make a men's 11.5, adding some length to the pattern. This pattern is great, and the instructions are easy to follow, but I advise tracing one's foot to find one's size per the pattern. The slippers are lined with the same softer wool that I used for the contrasting trim. These slippers are a good project for wool that has felted thickly.

Active Son wore these a lot the two weeks he was home--he said he felt a little like a hobbit when wearing them.

Friday, January 13, 2012

January~Asphodelus aestivus

I do love to share the beauty of Jordan's wildflowers whenever I have the opportunity so I thought I would post a wildflower each month from the pages of my second Flowering Jordan calendar. The flowers featured each month don't necessarily correspond to the month in which the bloom but sometimes they do. I've been around the countryside just a bit this month and I've noticed some Asphodel stalks preparing to bloom--still a few weeks away, depending on the weather.

I was pretty pleased with this picture of Asphodels as I've been challenged to compose a good horizontal image (needed for the calendar) of such an obviously vertical bloom. I'd been looking for just the right grouping of lilies for awhile.

Wildflower-spotting: a vacant lot in west Amman

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kindle Love

I've been experiencing Kindle Love since I received my birthday Kindle last spring. Yes, in a perfect world, i.e. unlimited space, unlimited money, and quick, reliable overseas shipping (ha!), I would prefer a traditional paper book over a Kindle. However, since I have none of the above, I am very, very thankful for Kindle technology. This Christmas the rest of the family received Kindles, so now we are a six-Kindle family, the maximum number of devices which can be registered on one account, meaning we can share all our books amongst ourselves. And since I've purchased and read more than few books on my Kindle since last spring, everyone received Kindles loaded with a small library ready to go! All the kids have commented that they are reading more now that they own Kindles.

The Christmas Kindles in their felted wool sleeves

Reading on our Kindles:
(I've read some of these, thus the book notes)

Dear Husband:

Fresh Vision for the Muslim World
Great book by American Mike Kuhn who lived and worked in the Middle East for many ; readable, balanced, and insightful. Providing helpful historical and theological perspective, Kuhn lovingly challenges his readers' moral imagination and does not neglect or side-step the issues and problems with which many western Christians are concerned.

Oldest Daughter:

Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy
The most helpful book I've read on the Israeli-Arab conflict so far, written by ex-Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, an honest scholar and an honest Zionist. Highly recommended.

Weight of Glory (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis)
This one is nice for dipping into now and then, as Oldest Daughter was able to do on her way back to school.

Active Son:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption Laura Hillenbrand
Active son plowed through all 500 pages in less than a few days and recommended it to Artist Son--if he has time to take on another book.

The Everlasting Man
Highly quotable, which is no surprise since the author is G.K. Chesterton. Active Son was reading me a quote every half hour or so while reading this book. I think he's back to this one now that he's finished Unbroken.

Artist Son:

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr
This was a life changing book for me but I just haven't had time to write about it. Artist Son is enjoying it as well and recommends it.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Artist Son was assigned this for his Rhetoric Class: "Do we have The Picture of Dorian Gray, Mom?"
"No, but lets check the Kindle Store. Why yes it's here, and it's free!"


Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit
With Amazon Prime, Tayta was able to borrow this book by Francis Chan until the end of the month--free!


(recently finished)

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy
A provocative book only because of the subject matter, but not because of the way in which the authors, both political scientists, handle it. This is about the 10th (or 11th? or 12th? I've lost count) book I've read regarding the Israeli/Arab/Palestinian conflict since June. I'm taking a break. If you are intrigued by GOP hopeful Ron Paul's take on foreign policy and blowback, you may enjoy this book, written by University of Chicago professor J. Mearsheimer and Harvard professor Stephen M. Walt. Recommended.

Home: A Novel
My tendency is to gorge myself on ideas ala non-fiction and neglect the nurture of my imagination. I'm forcing myself to read a work of fiction before I begin another book. I really do enjoy it once I get going but I'll have to shun a few other books that are vying for my attention until I finish this one. Marilynne Robinson is an author whose essays I've enjoyed and I've long wanted to try her fiction.

This is an unsolicited twelve thumbs up for our Kindles!