Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Persistence of Nature

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I don't have to tell you about the seriously ravaging weather we experienced this winter. It was brutal. Fortunately in the fall I had prepared some of my plants to survive the onslaught of the frigid temps and today I got a peek at some of the fruits of my labor. When the weather gets a little nippy, I place the plants I want to protect in my backyard shed which acts like a makeshift greenhouse. In addition, I place several plants on a rolling chrome cart that I cover over with bubble wrap to create an insulating cocoon. This way they are not only protected from the wind, they are just a little warmer than the air outside their "tent". Today I removed the plastic wrap to find...GREEN. My tiny tea roses are green and showing many new leaf buds. The garlic bulbs that had begun to sprout in October are still green and growing and my old vinca (really, it's gotta be at least five years old) is going like a champ. Some of the other plants in the "greenhouse" that did not benefit from the plastic cocoon are also showing signs life like the planter below right that contains a spike plant and some trailing ivy.

My backyard garden is not to be left behind. My faithful daffodils (which were planted over 20 years ago) are pushing up through what was permafrost just two weeks ago and some of my ferns never lost their green color in spite of the sub-arctic temperatures this winter brought.

Last fall I also took the precaution of adding a ridge pole to the hoop house in the front garden that I had erected over the raised bed I built two years ago. It had been blown over that first year by a nor'easter and was in serious need of stabilizing to prevent knock down. It was also draped in heavy plastic to insulate the plants inside. Frankly I didn't think it would hold up especially given the amount of snow we got this year but believe it or not it did. I can't wait to take a look underneath the plastic to see how my cilantro and garlic are doing.

Looks like spring is going all gang busters this year. Bring it on!

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, March 16, 2015

At Long Last, Success!

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Some detail cuts made with
the KNK Zing Air. The spiky plant in
the corner is my attempt at creating
a spider plant.
Way back in January I wrote about the arrival of my new KNK Zing Air electronic cutter. I was excited with the new options this machine would make available to me especially since my first few cuts were nothing short of awesome. Unfortunately my joy was short lived. It was weeks before I was able to get a decent cut from the machine no matter how hard I tried, cried, ranted or raved. Untold reams of card stock and paper were shredded in the process. Finally I threw my hands and wanted to return it but the time period for returns had expired so I was stuck and unhappy with the machine. Resigned to living with an expensive paper weight, I organized my thoughts and set about deliberately and carefully working through the settings in an attempt to figure out the beast. I can now happily say that I have made my peace with the machine and have been able to get some pretty amazing detailed cuts out of it in the process. At top left you'll see some of the leaf cutting files I have created (with the exception of the pink vines at bottom. Below that are a couple of more detailed free cutting files you can find at BirdsCards.com. The detail on that Valentine's heart is amazing and it cut out like butter.

Special Thank You Card
Having a precision cutter at my beck and call opens up a whole world of possibilities and I couldn't wait to try my hand at something with a little more meat than some of my past projects. I needed a special Thank You card for someone so this was a great opportunity to dabble in 3-D paper crafting. At right you see the result. It is a composite of commercial cutting files, files created by me and die cuts. The close up shots show the details that I was able to achieve. The finished card dimensions are 4.25" x 5.50 inches so you get an idea of how small those little leaves and tiny flowers are. Click on the photos to view a larger image.

Look at the precision cuts on
those little leaves.
I must say I am very happy with the result considering it was a first try and, bolstered by the success I have had, I'm going to explore more 3-D crafting possibilities. It is something I have wanted to do for some time but really did not want to spend my time meticulously cutting out every little piece by hand. My new Zing will take the drudgery out of it and allow me more artistic freedom. I can't wait to put it through some more paces. I'll keep you informed of my progress.
This angle shows the depth of
 the 3-D elements of the card.
Those leaves and flowers
are popped out.
Check out the double lattice: pink
on top, gold beneath peeking out
around the edges.

NOTA BENE: For any of you who may be contemplating purchasing a KNK Zing Air, I highly recommend you purchase directly from the manufacturer, KNKusa.com. I purchased mine through Amazon and went through a litany of customer service issues that added to my initial displeasure with the machine. If I had to do it all over again, I would purchase from the source, not from a vendor.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fresh Eats

This is a picture of the salad I had with dinner tonight. I never would have believed this myself but now, in the frigid depths of February, I'm still eating fresh tomatoes grown in my own garden. They were very green when I picked them in late November when temperatures were beginning to dip and I never expected them to ripen but they did, very slowly. I've been eating my home grown tomatoes continuously since last summer and I still have cilantro growing under my hoop house but I can't get to it because it's underneath a pile of snow. Mother Nature never ceases to amaze me.

The days are getting longer and my garden is beginning to whisper to me. The growing season is coming. Good thing too. I'm running out of tomatoes.


Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, January 19, 2015

The New Kid in Town

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The Zing Air arrives.
In my last post I mentioned that after four years of using the CraftWell eCraft I was upgrading to a new electronic cutting machine. My KNK Zing Air arrived sooner than anticipated and I didn't get around to opening it for a couple of days. It appeared unassuming enough and I didn't expect that I would have a difficult time learning the nuances of this new system. Well, this only turned out to be partially true. It was easy enough to hook up but I had a devil of a time getting my computer to recognize and connect to it. After turning everything off and restarting, propitiating gods and sacrificing chickens it connected and I was able to run the machine.

I am happy to report that the Zing Air is far superior to my old eCraft cutter in many ways and offers creative options I could only wish for. I won't go into all of the bells and whistles.  There are many YouTube videos that can walk you through those details. I will say that my favorite tool is the pen holder that allows me to draw images from my computer with almost any pen or marker at my disposal. I even used a glue pen to draw a delicate flourish image which I then covered in glitter. Oh, I'm going to have fun exploring the possibilities.

My one disappointment is that the machine was advertised as including a special blade for cutting fabric but it did not arrive in the box. I purchased the machine from Amazon but was unable to find a Contact Us link with a telephone number or an email address. I tried contacting the Amazon vendor who responded that I had to handle the issue through Amazon. The only option I found to deal with missing parts was to get a full refund. Thankfully I can get a fabric blade from the manufacturer for less than $10 so I'm not going to waste further time and energy over this but I can tell you I will definitely think twice or more before buying anything else from Amazon that has more moving parts than a book.

Okay, rant over. I'm off to my new machine to see what goodies I can conjure up. I'll be sure to post them here.  Stay tuned.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Fond Farewell To An Old Friend

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The eCraft  -  November 2010
I've just taken a leap and invested in a new electronic cutting machine as a combination Christmas/birthday gift to myself. My trusty eCraft cutter, which I won in a contest over four years ago, has served me well but its limitations are many. The machine is just not as good as some others in creating cleanly cut detailed designs. Craftwell, the eCraft's manufacturer, is no longer making the machine although I was told by a representative that they will continue to support it and carry the accessories. Nevertheless, I can see the writing on the wall. The eCraft is not long for this world.

I'm ready to move on to a more reliable machine that will make the intricate and detailed cuts that I long for. My new KNK Zing Air will arrive sometime next week and I'm greatly looking forward to it but I will always fondly remember my first machine. Once I have mastered the learning curve of the Zing Air, I have no doubt I will be whipping up some amazing projects which I will post here and link to my Facebook page. Here's to a new year, a new machine and some new creative adventures.

Ballo ergo sum,
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Friday, January 2, 2015

Bringing in 2015

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My New Year's eve celebration was intimate and special. My husband, son and I picked up my two nephews and traveled to my parent's house to feast on a simple meal of rice, beans and fried chicken topped with a healthy serving of my mom's special gelatin mousse delight. Nothing out of the ordinary, really, yet it was special precisely because it was so ordinary and comfortable, like a well worn pair of slippers.

During dinner, my father made a comment about my mother's delicious stewed white beans which we were wolfing down like ravenous buzzards. He said something to the effect of the beans were delicious going down and deadly coming out. This reminded me of the famous campfire scene in "Blazing Saddles" and in the ensuing discussion we discovered that neither of my nephews had ever seen that particular movie. As it turned out, my father had an old VHS copy of it handy so during dessert, my nephews were treated to their first viewing of Mel Brooks' famous comedy western. Needless to say, they loved it as did we all.

Afterwards the menfolk gathered around a small table to play a few hands of dominoes while my mother chatted on the telephone to relatives who called to wish us well in the new year. Dick Clark's Rocking Eve played in the background until it was time for the famous ball drop.

No matter how many times I experience that ten second countdown it never gets tired. I am instantly transported back in time to when I was a little girl at my grandmother's house, surrounded by family, hugging and kissing everyone in sight yelling, "Happy New Year!" It is the annual replay of a family tradition that has been handed down for generations and lives on for generations to come. In the faces of my children and nephews I see the continuum and look forward to the day that they carry on the tradition and make it their own.

Shortly after the midnight mayhem, we watched a few minutes of Sir Elton John's show being broadcast from Barclay's Center in downtown Brooklyn, then we packed up the domino table and returned all the furniture to its place. Coats on, doggie bags packed and back home we all went but not before another round of hugs and kisses, thank yous and goodbyes. The tradition never changes and yet it always manages to stay fresh.

There's a word for that. It's called family.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Weekend in the Mountains

The wintry weather that had plagued the northeast early in December had warmed up enough for my husband and I to spend a couple of days in our mountain retreat. It turned out to be a lot more work than either of us had bargained for when we discovered water all over the floor in the master bath. Apparently the shower faucet had not been completely in the off position. We didn't know this because the last time we were in the house there was no heat, no electric and no running water. In our absence, all those utilities were made functional. Although all the sink faucets had been checked, the shower faucet had not and the little drip-drip-drip accumulated in the base of the shower. There would have been no problem had it not been for the rubber mat that was blocking the drain. It was a mess but not nearly as big a mess as in the basement below which caught all the water that seeped through the floor. This will haunt us for some time to come in the form of mold, mildew and warped floor boards. SIGH. Lesson learned.

Still, the weekend was not a total wash out (pardon the pun). We did, after all, have working utilities which made all the work a lot easier to deal with. For the first time I was able to really wash and sanitize the bathroom so we could wash, bathe and use toilet facilities. The heat was working and greatly appreciated. We have three heating systems in the house: a gas fireplace, electric baseboard heating and a wood burning stove. The gas and electric are currently operational. The wood burning stove will be cleaned and serviced during the warm weather in preparation for the winter, The house is surrounded by acres of trees so we'll have no lack of firewood. Here's the gas fireplace in the corner of our living room. The logs are ceramic and only for show but, boy, do they put on a show. It truly emulates a wood burning fireplace.

In order to fit some of the things we took up to the mountain house, we had to remove one of the car seats and leave it in our home on the living room floor. My husband, who parked himself in front of the television after our return, found himself looking at the folded seat, particularly at the two holes at the top of the backrest that hold the removable headrest. Perhaps all the mountain air spurred his creativity because the more he looked at them, the more they reminded him of eyes and he decided to "dress" the seat using Christmas stockings and a Santa hat. After I stopped laughing, he asked me to rig up some "teeth" which I accomplish with some bathroom cups and double stick tape. Our beagle, Marla, appeared to be jealous of all the attention we were lavishing on the "Chair Monster" so she pulled out its tongue but seemed appeased enough afterwards to pose in front of it. My son quickly proclaimed that his father possessed a very strange and deep seated sense of humor, something he doesn't often demonstrate to this degree. 

2014 is drawing to a close and I have to say that, in spite of many stresses and uncertainties along the way, the year-end activities have been very enjoyable. 2015 promises to be interesting to say the least. I'm looking forward to it.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Sunday, December 14, 2014

My December Garden

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Spike plant and Ivy
It is the middle of December here in New York and Mother Nature still amazes me. I still have flowers blooming and my cilantro is still perky. In the glass shed I use as a makeshift greenhouse, there is a pot of white snapdragons that won't quit. It just keeps blooming and blooming. Right next to it there is a pot that contains a spike plant and some ivy that is as fresh now as it was in June.

Sweet Allysum
Lest you think that the only plants performing well are in a sheltered environment, let me introduce you to some of the others that are planted outdoors. Although my white sweet allysum which grew and bloomed like gangbusters all summer is waning, it is still putting on a show with a handful of tiny white snowball blooms.

In raised beds on either side of the allysum I have lavender and cilantro. The cilantro doesn't grow tall in this weather but the leaves are still fragrant and tasty and I just harvested some for my kitchen. In my backyard I have purple pansies that apparently missed the memo that winter was upon us and are still blooming with impudence.

I've been making adjustments to the hoop house I erected over the raised bed in my front garden. Last year I dismantled it for the winter and covered the bed with a layer of bubble wrap to insulate the soil somewhat and protect the onions I had planted. It seemed to work well enough. This year I'm trying something different. I'm planning to keep the hoop up and covering it with plastic and have added a ridge pole across the top of my hoops to strengthen the structure. I'm making a fitted cover for the hoop house from a roll of heavy duty plastic. I'm going to order special clips to hold the plastic in place and plan to install openings that will allow me to access the interior of the structure. I've never done this before and have no clue how this will work out so wish me luck. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Until then...

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Crunch Time

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Thanksgiving has come and gone and my head is still reeling from the speed with which the holiday season arrived. You would think that by now I would get the hang of this seasonal timing but I seem to be slipping backwards each year. I can almost feel Christmas sitting in my lap already and I haven't done a thing about it yet.

As my To Do list gets longer and longer, it's becoming more difficult to carve out time to make cards but I was able to eke out two simple ones in the last week. When my time gets crunched, I have to do away with frou-frous and work simply and quickly.

First, there is a birthday card for my purple-loving daughter in the Coast Guard who loves all things aquatic. The color choice and theme were obvious and it gave me the opportunity to play with a die set I had not used before, Spellbinders Shapeabilities Nautical Frame and Accents. It features a frame sized for an ATC (Artist Trading Card: 2.5" x 3.5") with a cute little sand castle in one corner, as well as other dies related to the nautical theme such as the wave pattern along the bottom of the card. I embossed the background with Spellbinders M-Bossabilities Sea Beauty embossing folder, then stamped and embossed the sentiment. Simple.

The other card was created for a swap with Oriental Stamp Art (OSA) Yahoo group, of which I am a member. This was part of the monthly Black and One Color swap. Participants make a card using only black and shades of a second color. This month is was red. Again I had the opportunity to play with a stamp set that I had actually forgotten about and never used before, Floral Vine (CS220G) by Forever in Time. I had a small piece of the black and red dragonfly washi paper and layered it onto red cardstock. Stamped the dragonfly from the Floral Vine set onto the red circle with VersaFine Onyx Black ink, then stamped a portion of a swirl from the same stamp set in VersaMark watermark ink and dusted it with PearlEx pigment powder (one of my favorite techniques). I lightly sponged VersaFine Smokey Grey ink around the edges of the circle, layered it onto the card then stuck on some red rhinestone bling in one corner. Again, very simple yet effective.

I'm still hoping to find time to make some Christmas cards to send out. Oh well, one more thing for my To So list.

Ballo ergo sum .
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Healing Myself through Art

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It happened again. My husband brought home a bug and infected everyone in the house. He got over it in a few days. I, on the other hand, have been feeling lousy for a week. Although I'm grateful that I have no coughing, little sneezing and no fever, the lethargy I am experiencing is awful. Normally I am an energetic person with a hundred and one things to do and a hundred more that I want to do. When I'm feeling this dragged out and blecchh, I do only those things  that comfort me and for me that's art.
 I completed these two cards this week. The pink and black card is for a Black and One Color swap and will go to one of my fellow Oriental Stamp Art members who lives in Australia. The layout is simple and clean and contains many of the elements I love most - high contrast, silhouettes and just a touch of bling.

The blue monochromatic treescape was made as a thank you card for our upstate neighbor who has been like a godfather to us, helping us out with just about anything we needed with the house we have purchased up the road from him. The bare trees remind me of the mountains that surround us in upstate New York. In my last post, I posted a photo of the first area snowfall as seen from the deck of our home and served as the inspiration for the card. It is a one layer card created with masking and sponging techniques as well and multiple stamping to create the forest. Again, it is simple in its layout but conveys a sense of serenity and calm. It also is suitable for a man, something that I struggle with most times because I love using more feminine touches.

These two cards, along with massive amounts of chicken soup and rest, have been my medicine. No doctor visit, no prescriptions and no co-pay. Can't beat that.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva