Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I LOVE Photographs!

I love taking pictures. I love preserving a moment or a feeling or a thing. I love capturing colors, textures and shapes.

But I also love other people's pictures. Maybe it's my voyeuristic nature. I love seeing the art of photographs but I also love getting a glimpse into other peoples' lives: vicariously experiencing their vacations and family events or the growth of their children.

Historical photographs mesmerize me. I am entranced by old pictures of my ancestors and those of my family. They represent a time I'll never know and a culture I will never really understand (both the bound feet of Chris's Chinese great-grandmother and the hard-scrabble face of my great-grandparents on their farm).

But even when I don't have a horse in the race and the photos are of people unrelated to me and mine, I still feel drawn to them. I want to know who they are, what brought them to this moment and what happened to them after. I stare into their faces and wonder what makes them laugh or cry.

I look at the things surrounding them: the rugs, furniture and gewgaws and gimcracks and wonder which of these things matter to them.

Vintage professional photos are interesting because they strip away the personal from the setting and allow me to concentrate on the faces. Because the subject had to sit still for a long time (compared to today's instant cameras) and because portraits were expensive and not to be taken lightly, they almost always look very serious. What were they like when they were at home?

I love restoring old photos, removing the ravages of time and revealing their original appearance. It's also very zen to clean one pixel at a time. When I magnify the picture, I can see details that I would never have seen with my poor eyesight. It allows me to concentrate on each portion of the picture and get a clearer image of the whole.

These are pictures of Chris's mother's father as a boy. You can see that I eliminated the scratches, tears and spots so you can concentrate on the face rather than the white blob on his nose.

But, of course, once I see the photograph I have to find out as much as I can about the person so then I start delving into genealogy. And that's a never-ending process.

I hope that I am preserving my family's history and making it more widely available. But I also just get a kick out of it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Something New - Precious Metal Clay

I have been wanting to try Precious Metal Clay for years. It is pieces of sterling silver (or some other metal) suspended in clay so that you can work it like clay, mold it, shape it, impress designs on it. Then you fire it in a kiln and the clay burns off leaving a slightly smaller pure silver piece.  But it required a kiln so I put the idea on the back burner (so to speak).

Then they came out with a new version that could be fired using a torch. Hmmm... Me and a torch? Is the insurance paid up? But Robin discovered the Hot Pot and gave me one for Christmas. It's a little like a Pueblo oven crossed with a double boiler. The bottom holds a tiny terra cotta flower pot that you fill with some incredibly flammable liquid (think airplane fuel). Then you put your clay pieces on a screen suspended above the source, put on the second pot with screen flame arrestors (right?), light the sucker through the little hole in the bottom portion and run for cover. It burns at roughly twice the heat of the sun.  Fifteen minutes later - your piece is done. Am I going to be intimidated by something called a Hot Pot? Didn't I have something called that in my dorm room for making tea? Let's do this!

I decided to use a mold first. Since it's very expensive, everyone advises keeping the clay carefully covered to avoid drying it out so I only took out a tiny bit. And then a little more. And then a little more. It took an entire packet to fill the mold. Each packet costs about $40. I set the clay-filled mold aside to dry for 24 hours. Fully drying the clay apparently allows moisture to evaporate and prevents the clay from exploding thus wasting $40.

Next, I decided to try to make something that would use less clay since I only had one more packet. I rolled the clay out between stacked electronic hotel keys (you could use playing cards) so that it would roll evenly. This stuff is sticky! I put a little olive oil on my hands and my roller and the teflon work surface. I thought it would be crumbly but the texture was like too warm polymer clay. I pressed a texture into the clay and cut out oval shapes. I poked a hole for them to hang on and set them aside overnight to dry. You are supposed to save all the little bits for later use but the "bits" were more like wet paint and impossible to gather up.

The next day, I girded my loins to tackle the Hot Pot. I placed it on its safety tile on the cement back patio, far away from anything remotely flammable. It was about 40 degrees outside so I was looking forward to lighting it. Our bbq lighter was out of fuel so Chris and I devised an ingenious method involving matches and wooden skewers that allowed us to light the thing without being burned in the conflagration we expected.
It was a little disappointing. No explosions, just some toxic smelling smoke. 

An hour later, it had cooled enough to take the pieces out. The top pieces have been fired and the bottom are still raw. They shrink a little and the burned off clay forms a white residue.

I used a wire brush to clean off the residue and - Eureka! I discovered silver!
The piece on the left in the first photo has been cleaned. The piece on the right of the second photo has been cleaned and burnished. I need a better way to burnish but it does add a more brilliant shine.
So... will I be adding Precious Metal Clay to my repertoire? Probably not in the near future. The clay is so  costly that the product would be expensive and would have be really refined to be worthwhile. I would need to buy some additional tools and improve my skills for that. So when I win the lottery, I'll be all over this.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Christmas 2010

 Maybe it's because I'm getting old, but it seemed like we just got the dishes washed from Thanksgiving when we had to start on Christmas dinner.

We had almost identical meals. I hurt my back raking leaves so I was moving kinda slow. I substituted cornmeal dressing for regular. Clara helped Mike with the roasted veggies and, despite the frigid temps, Chris pulled the turkey off the barbeque earlier than he anticipated.
Dr. Wu was much calmer than he was at Thanksgiving but still alert.

Andy was disappointed that he didn't get to lick Robin's plate or steal the turkey.

Anthony just looks confused. And like he needs a shave.

But later he confiscated my camera and snapped a few shots. Then Clara stole it from him. This is why there actually are pictures of me.

His Aunt Robin bought Mike a beautiful new suit which he modelled for us. Doesn't he look cute? I hope his new em,ployers at the Pentagon think so.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Michael Has a Friend

This year, Michael's friend Clara (purely platonic) came to spend part of the holidays at Chez Wu. She sent beautiful Stargazer Lilies a couple of days before she arrived on Dec. 23 to smooth the way. She is the perfect house guest so if she comes to your town, invite her over. She never complained - even when we got into a huge traffic jam on the way to pick her up at the airport and forced her to take BART with a suitcase the size of a modest bungalow.

We spent a few hours at the Asian Art Museum before dinner and Vienna Teng and Friends at the Great American Music Hall.

The show was great -Vienna and Alex Wong with special guests Paul Freeman,
Joey Ryan, Kenneth Pattengale, and Amber Rubarth. But it was a really long show and Clara endured it without any whining.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Joshua Tree 3 - Jenny 0

You know what's missing in Palm Springs? Children. It's a little odd. No children at the hotel or at Cheeky's where we had brunch the next morning. We wandered around the grounds of the hotel, determined to get something for our $30 spa fee.

Chris was very excited for the bacon flite. Yes, six different slices of bacon: smokehouse, sweet and spicy, jalapeno, hickory, extra thick and wild boar.

Fortified by a great breakfast, we decided to try another hike in Joshua Tree. We went for the High View Nature Trail which promised panoramic views of the Park's western side.

the promised panoramic view

As you might guess, the trail winds up to gain 320 foot in elevation. The generously provided rock stairs are a godsend - to anyone tall enough to step up them. Not so much for me. I fell flat on my face once climbing up a waist-high step. I expected a barefoot teen to pass me anytime as I huffed and puffed my way up.

Personally, I appreciated the benches located just after some particularly grueling bits. Although I did get a splinter in my rear. A register at the top allows visitors to share their feelings of achievement and awe.

We took the longer route back since the guidebook claimed it was a more gentle slope. 

All I know is that the loose sandy soil sent me sliding several times to land on my already splintered rear. Damage was mitigated somewhat by the angle of the hill since my feet were so far below that I didn't fall far. Mike also pointed out the advantage of falling on the most generously padded part of my anatomy. After one fall, I broke down, crying  in frustration. As long as Chris just held onto my hand, I could keep my balance and stay on my feet.

We had time for one more short hike before we had to head back to Riverside. I am a glutton for physical punishment. Enticed by the possibility of risque petroglyphs, we went to the Barker Dam Trail. It boasts the only lake in the park, although when we got there it was just a wet spot.

This portion of the park was really different and interesting as huge boulders surrounded us. Rock climbers love this area. I just tried to stay upright.

We drove back to Riverside so that we could enjoy the Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn. The sidewalks were crowded with families gazing at the crazy decorations. It was like the Disneyland parade!

Thanksgiving with Dr. Wu

Since we planned to bring Dr. Wu over for Thanksgiving, I tried to get most of my cooking done ahead of time.

I made bread, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pie the day before. 

Robin brought a yummy sweet potato and cranberry side dish as well as green bean casserole. 
Robin also brought Andy
So Chris just had to BBQ the turkey outside and Mike made his famous roasted vegetables. But somehow the timing didn't work out and the mashed potatoes were still cool by the time everything else was ready. Best laid plans and whatnot.

When Dr. Wu arrived, he was chattering up a storm, telling us about his visit to see the King of England. Apparently, before one meets the King, one must be bathed by women (Dr. Wu giggled at this) because it's more dignified. He was also astounded that the King had a picture of him with Frankie on his bedroom wall. We're not sure where this idea came from but he was certainly animated about it.

He had lots of opinions about politics, although they pertained to the world of 10 years ago. For instance, he told us that Great Britain should not turn over Hong Kong to China since the people of Hong Kong were used to freedoms not allowed under the Chinese govenrment. He had forgotten that he was there during the turn over.

I enjoy his talkative times even when they make no sense but Mike was freaked out. And I think Anthony was pretty confused so he took refuge in his phone.

Dr. Wu also said that, although Frankie's Gram made the best pies, mine wasn't too bad.

Andy was really good, too, and hardly nipped at all. It is pretty funny to see him cuddlef up on Robin's lap since he's as big as she is.

Palm Springs - PART II: Tragedy at Joshua Tree

Since we still had a few hours before sunset, we decided to take a short hike in the National Park.

We went to the Cottonwood Spring Nature Trail because the guidebook described it as short and easy.
The alleged spring was as desolate as the rest of the landscape.

OK. So I am not all that crazy about deserts - or oceans. The path was almost indistinguishable from the surrounding desert but my iPhone compass kept us on track.

Everything was fine until we reached a stretch called Little Chilcoot Pass where boulders block the wash.
As usual, Chris was several yards ahead (is it his Chinese heritage or the fact that his legs are twice as long as mine?)
I started down the boulders and called out to him, "I'm afraid I'm going to knock my camera on these rocks." Then my feet crossed and I went cartwheeling down the rocks. Chris ran back to THE CAMERA and said, "I should have taken it from you before you fell."

Well, the LCD was cracked and my beloved lens was slightly bent. I killed my camera.

I also bruised my entire left side and scraped my right elbow and knee. My scrapes and bruises will eventually heal and no bones were broken but my poor camera! I wanted to cry but, instead I got up, brushed myself off and kept on going.

We took a different way back that required us to climb some pretty steep rocks. Chris was ahead and I could see that he was slipping so I braced myself against a ledge and caught him. The sun was beginning to set and the temperature was plummeting by the time we escaped.

When we finally returned to the hotel, we headed straight for the bar which surrounded a firepit. to enjoy a well-deserved drink.

My Only Trip to Palm Springs - Ever - PART I

Chris earned a free stay at a hotel and, after a long debate (Seattle? Portland?) we chose to visit Palm Springs because the nearby Joshua Tree National Park was supposed to be beautiful and we'd never visited.

We flew into Ontario and drove to Riverside for a tour of the Mission Inn. What an interesting place! The founder created an eclecic art collection from his world travels and housed it in a beautiful building.

The tour was expensive and not enhanced by the loud women who were competing with the guide. Downtown Riverside really gets into the Christmas spirit. We visited a cute store called Mrs. Tigglewiggle's and a huge antiques market.

The weather was gorgeous as we drove to Palm Springs. We stayed at the Parker resort where the valets wear "flamingo" pink jackets and the front desk staff sport bright orange. Very Miami Beach. The whole place was a throwback to the '60s.

We paid an extra $30 "spa fee" although we didn't really take advantage of any of the amenities (bocce ball, tennis, 2 pools, and something they called life-sized chess which looked more like an extended four-square court.)

It looked really cool, though, and the valets handed us water as we set off for a hike in the desert. 

dragon fish sink in our room