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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Memories Are Made Of This.

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Every summer I vow to slow down and enjoy. Every summer I do anything but. This summer was no exception. I'll not bother to mention my gardening work. There's plenty of that in other posts. I'll just get to the rest of it.

I had heard that one of my cousins in Arizona had sustained a very bad leg break that would keep her in a cast for three to six months. I sent her this black and white get well card. Materials used were Spellbinders Nestabilities Scalloped Circles and Standard Circles, Spellbinders Borderabilities A2 Curved Borders 1, Memory Box Vivienne (cutout) and Darla (solid) butterfly dies, Spellbinders Shapeabilities Sprigs (leaves) and Cuttlebug Swiss Dots embossing folder. Solid butterfly was cut from vellum and embossed. I punched tiny flowers, sponged the edges with a coordinating ink and embellished them with tiny self adhesive rhinestones. Stamped verse from Inkadinkado Round Frames set.

My parents share the same birthday. My father, who is a year older, turned 80 this year and we marked the occasion with a semi-surprise luncheon at my house. The birthday card I made for them also served as an invitation to dine at my home. I call it a semi-surprise because although they knew my sister's family and mine would be there, they were not aware of the other family members that had been invited. My father, in particular, was surprised at the attendance of his brother and nephews who live nearly three hours away and whom he doesn't get to see very often. Card materials feature a variety of die punch and electronic cut flowers and leaves, Spellbinders Floral Ovals and text from Cloud 9 Design's Simple Thoughts - Happy Birthday clear stamps.

In a large heart shaped basket I placed some paper, envelopes and pens along with this oversized tag (left)  featuring a photo of my folks taken during their youth. It was the same photo I used for their anniversary favors. The guests were encouraged to write a message to the birthday couple or to insert a card of their own into the basket. As decorations I created more oversized tags, this time featuring a photo of my handsome father taken at my parents' 60th anniversary celebration in April on one side and the event on the other. I hung these around my house and in the backyard, then distributed them to the guests as favors afterwards. The tags, the heart, the corner stars and the black text were cut using Craftwell's eCraft electronic cutter. I created the cutting files in Serif DrawPlus 6. The black text is self-stick vinyl.

Here is a picture of my father posing with his photo cake. Yes, people, he really does look like that. No Photoshop. No trick photography. My dad is a handsome man who looks much younger than his 80 years. Eat your hearts out, ladies.

This is a photo of some more handsome men, my son, Alex, holding my cousin's grandson, William, both of them wearing a good coating of cake frosting on their faces. The expressions on those faces are priceless. My nephew Michael in the background is also enjoying the moment. The fact that a sudden deluge washed out the backyard and we all had to run indoors didn't dampen the fun.

Family, food and good times. This is what memories are made of.


Ballo ergo sum

- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My Babies Are Back!!

Two weeks ago, the unthinkable occurred. My computer died. Well, not exactly died. It was more like it went into a coma. It would begin as usual and then hang at the BIOS screen and not boot up so for all intents and purposes it was dead. I couldn't access anything on my hard drive and  (HORROR OF HORRORS!!) I couldn't connect to the internet. This state of affairs was particularly vexing inasmuch as I had just upgraded my system's RAM, video card, operating system and power supply. I had invested in enough upgrades to consider my computer brand new. It was working beautifully for three weeks until PFFFFT!...it wouldn't boot up. I immediately called my brother-in-law, the computer whiz who installed all the upgrades. He had never before seen anything like the problem I had. After eliminating all the obvious causes, he guessed that the problem was either the motherboard or the hard drive, neither of which is good news. It was now time to call in the big guns.

I took my electronic lifeline to Sysut Computers on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn and left it in the capable hands of Adam. The following day I heard the diagnosis...it was, indeed, the motherboard, a rare but not unknown condition. A replacement board had to be ordered, installed and the computer checked to make sure all was running well. The new replacement took nearly a week to arrive. Although it took very little time to install, there was still the issue of testing the machine to make sure everything was running correctly. This ran into the Labor Day weekend so, of course, I couldn't get it back until after the holiday. All told, I was without a computer for 15 days. My trusty Kindle Fire allowed me to access my email during the downtime.

Normally I lose my mind when my computer acts up. My heart starts to race, my breathing becomes quick and shallow and hyperventilation is a distinct possibility. The thought of cutting the electronic umbilicus is gut wrenching but this time...nothing. When faced with the reality that my machine was not going to move past the blue BIOS screen, I just sighed, then turned to my second favorite machine...my trusty and ever present sewing machine. If I was told I had to leave in a hurry and could only take three things with me, my computer and my sewing machine would be my top two. THAT'S how much they mean to me.

Let me be the first to tell you not to believe those who tell you that lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place. Why? Because my sewing  machine also gave up the ghost not one, but TWO times in a span of three days. I had it serviced after the first incident, brought it home and it worked like a dream for about 24 hours until I heard an unwelcome CRUNCH and the feed dogs came to a stop. (For you non-sewers, feed dogs feed the fabric past the needle. You cannot machine sew without them.) A second repair shop trip revealed a drive gear that broke into several pieces and tumbled out of the machine like confetti when the repairman opened it. Fortunately it was a quick fix and I was back to sewing in no time. I caught up on loads of mending while I was waiting for the computer to return.

So my mechanical and electronic babies are back at home and I am a happy, happy woman. Happy, that is, until the credit card bill for all these repairs comes in. Hyperventilation may yet be the order of the day.


Ballo ergo sum - Gitana, the Creative Diva

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Little Update

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Because there is going to be some disruptive construction work to address a leaky basement issue in the near future, I have to move all the plants out of the back end of the front garden in order to keep them from being destroyed when work begins. My apple tree is very popular with the local birds and squirrels which have been busy helping themselves to the abundant green apples on the tree. This creates a big mess because they tend to eat a bit of an apple, it falls to the ground, then they move on to another apple. Every day I'm throwing away pounds and pounds of green apples, as well as lots of fallen leaves, when I sweep the yard. All the bending associated with digging, uprooting, replanting, sweeping and collecting has done a number on me and I've been hobbling around with pains in my lower back for over a week. It was so bad one day I didn't get out of my bed. In spite of the pain, I love my garden.  My harvesting has begun and I'm already thinking about what cool weather crops to plant before the frost hits. I suppose I'm a sucker for punishment.

My personal garden show is non-stop and ever surprising. This week I was greeted by white and lavender Rose of Sharon flowers. I never even saw them budding because I was totally captivated by the beautiful caladiums that were showing off at their feet...er... roots. I was also surprised by morning glories on my front fence. Last year they took forever to bloom but this year they came up sooner than I anticipated. And my plum tomatoes are all blushing, leading me to believe I'm going to have a bunch of them ripening at the same time. Mmmm, I see homemade tomato sauce in my future.

In addition to my outdoor activities, I've been working on a baby scrapbook for my youngest grandson. He's already over a year old so I'm frightfully behind on this project but I'm almost done. I'm adding a couple of pages dedicated to his early school days and I didn't have any embellishments that conveyed that schoolroom vibe so, of course, I made some. I created miniature composition notebooks, pencils and a tiny ruler that I will glue onto the scrapbook pages. As usual when I'm making miniatures,
I tend to get carried away and I made way too many for the current project at hand. I made close to a dozen books in 1:12 miniature scale before I realized the proportion was much too small for the pencils which I created without any regard to scale. So I made some more books in 1:6 scale which worked out much better. I glory in the details when I make miniatures so these books contain actual ruled pages that can be turned between the traditional black and white covers. The one inch square grid they're on gives you an indication of their actual size.

Oh yes, I am truly a sucker for punishment.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Personal Musings on the Issue of Depression

In light of the recent death of Robin Williams (I'm sooo bummed out about it) and the discussions about depression that have arisen in its wake, I would like to add my personal observations.

In the early 1990's I discovered I was suffering from depression. I say discovered because I was not clinically diagnosed nor was I ever treated for it. So how did I know I was clinically depressed and not just feeling a temporary case of the blues? I read it in a medical pamphlet in a pediatrician's waiting room. During a routine visit for one of my children, I picked up one of several informative pamphlets the office offered as reading material. This one happened to be on depression and I chose it because I suspected it as the source of my malaise. It contained a checklist of symptoms of depression -- constant fatigue, decreased energy, not caring about personal appearance and/or hygiene, feelings of helplessness, feelings of hopelessness, excessive sleeping, insomnia, not wanting to get out of bed, loss of interest in activities once considered pleasurable -- the list went on. As I ticked off the symptoms that I had been experiencing I came to an uncomfortable and sad realization -- I was indeed clinically depressed. Of all the symptoms on the list, only two of them didn't apply. In retrospect, I strongly suspect that postpartum depression was the culprit but it didn't matter. What did matter was that I was in a place I didn't want to be, didn't know how to get out of and had no one to talk to about it. In spite of having friends and family, I felt totally isolated and lonely, as if everyone in the world had moved on with their lives and had left me behind.

When you're in a depressive state, nothing anyone says really matters because you're unable to process and internalize it. Words roll off you like water off a duck's back and you feel as if no one understands what you're going through. That, in fact, is true. No one does, at least no one who hasn't been through it themselves. And even those who have don't necessarily know what to say or what to do to make a difference. In my case, I felt as if I was trapped in a hole and couldn't climb out. The only thing that kept me going was the need to care for my three children, one of whom was a newborn, another was a toddler and another was a a young teenager. They were my lifeline and the thing I focused on. I knew they were counting on me and I wouldn't let them down, no matter how bad I felt. I owed them that and my commitment to their welfare was fierce.

Eventually (perhaps a couple of  years or so) I was able to climb out of that black hole of despair (without drugs, I'm happy to say) and return to some resemblance of a fully functional human being but I can't put my finger on any one thing that triggered my recovery. What I can say is this: Depression is real. It is not a cry for attention. It is not something you'll "get over" quickly. It IS something that is very misunderstood and it manifests itself differently in everyone. Some people slowly make their way back to life. Others fall deeper into a pit of despair. Take it from one who has been there and back. Depression is real, its scary and it is no joke.

Here is a link that I found very informative and may help you should you find yourself or someone you know in a depressed state. Remember this...there is help if you look for it. Be well.

Ballo ergo sum 
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kitchen Wizardry - Rugelach

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After rolling the rugelach.
My family and I love rugelach. For those of you who are not familiar with this delicacy, Wikipedia defines it as "a Jewish pastry of Ashkenazic origin". It is essentially a crecent shaped pastry made of cheese dough and filled with fruit preserves. I've been buying them at Costco for years but in recent months the price of the rugelach has gone up and the quantity has gone down so I decided to see if I could make some of my own.

After adding the cinnamon sugar topping.
I found a recipe online here that appeared to be simple enough and I decided to give it a go. It was quite the  experience and I learned a few things. First thing I learned was not to make rugelach in the summer. Because of the high cream cheese and butter content, this recipe created a very soft dough made even softer by the heat in the kitchen. Trying to work with this dough was like trying to tie egg whites into a knot. The second thing I learned was that the quantity given for the fruit preserves wasn't quite enough. I nearly doubled it in order to have enough for all the dough. The third and most important thing I learned was that with this recipe you have to work FAST because the dough gets softer and softer as you manipulate it. Turns out that if you keep the dough AND the cookie sheets chilled as much as possible, the process becomes a bit easier. Oh, and one more thing. The recipe calls for rolling the dough into a circle, adding the filling then cutting it into wedges like a pizza pie. Don't even think of using a knife to cut that dough. You'll make a big mess. Use a pizza wheel instead. Soooo much simpler. 


Ta-daa! Delicious.
The finished rugelach didn't look anything like the store bought variety and I was sure that my first attempt would be a disappointment but to my amazement that was not the case. They turned out delicious (albeit not very attractive). They tasted every bit as good as the ones I was used to buying. My husband quickly became enamored of the fresh baked delights and insisted on tasting them continually to make sure he wasn't mistaken. Even I thought they turned out wonderfully and I'm my worst critic. 

I guess I will now be expected to bake rugelach from now on instead of buying them. Next time I think I'll use an apple filling made from the apples on my tree. Hmmmm. Wanna guess what I'll be doing this fall?


Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Busy Summer

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Every summer I have visions of taking it easy and concentrating on my gardening, puttering around the house and generally trying to be as free of outside engagements as I can. Every year it seems that the universe conspires against me and places all manner of commitments in my path as if determined to undermine every single relaxed summer thought I had. This summer is no exception.

The busy-ness began in the spring with the preparations for my parent's 60th wedding anniversary. On the heels of that event came Mother's Day, Father's Day, a Memorial Day barbecue, my husband's 60th birthday celebration at the end of June followed by another barbecue the following week. Somewhere in between all this I participated in a Moth Storytelling Workshop which had a culminating recital in mid-June. A week later my flamenco dance class participated in the annual student dance showcase where my classmates and I did a short flamenco number. As if all this wasn't enough, I enrolled in what I thought would be a short sandal making workshop. It took me over two months of Sundays classes to complete a pair of ugly sandals. This weekend my nephew Daniel, who lives in Europe, flew in for the first time in years just in time for his 24th birthday which was celebrated, along with his younger brother's, at my mother's house on Saturday. On Sunday, there was a barbecue at my in-laws to celebrate my mother-in-law's 82nd birthday and to send off my husband's twin nephews to college in Atlanta. I truly have not had a weekend to myself in months.

Well, the birthdays are over until September when my father turns 80 and  my father-in-law turns 87. Then there's a whole spate of family events in October. I'm taking this time to breathe a bit before the next flurry of activity. I'm also posting a photo of my brother and his two handsome sons for whom we celebrated birthdays this weekend. You can tell they're related...they all have the same devilish eyebrows.

I think I need a vacation.

- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I've Been Published...Sort of.

For the past six weeks, I was a participant in a storytelling workshop for seniors conducted at a local public library by The Moth, an organization dedicated to nurturing and preserving the art of storytelling. (You can learn more about this wonderful organization by visiting this link.) The end of the workshop was marked with an open mike presentation where all the participants told the stories they had honed over the weeks to a live audience. It was an amazing experience made even moreso by the incredible stories we heard from our fellow participants.

Judy Kamilhor, the Coordinator of Older Adult Services for all of Brooklyn Public Library who was responsible for bringing the program to our branch, wanted to post some of our stories on the library webpage and asked if I would be willing to send her my story. I sent her two -- a version of the story I told at the open mike as well as a story that I had written well over twenty years ago. She has graciously placed them on the Words of Wisdom section of the seniors webpage and send me the links which I have pasted below. Please take the time to read them. They're both short but I'm sure you'll be able to relate to at least one of them. After all, it is our experiences, our stories, no matter how different they may be, that teach us how much more we are alike than we are different. Enjoy!

http://www.bklynlibrary.org/seniors/morph
http://www.bklynlibrary.org/seniors/big-day

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Official Start of Summer

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A Black Swallowtail Butterfly blesses my garden with beauty.
My loose leaf lettuces in all their colorful glory.
Memorial Day, the unofficial beginning of summer, has come and gone along with the requisite barbecue celebrations that go with it. We hosted a barbecue that was very well attended by more than 30 family and friends. My son manned the grills, cooking burgers, hot dogs, barbecue and jerk chicken wings, spare ribs and steaks to complement the spicy guacamole and salsa he made from scratch. (Yes, my boy can COOK!!) My contribution to the food was vegetable rice and a big salad fresh from the garden. Not only did I use leaves from the various colorful varieties of lettuce I'm growing, I also added some chickweed, cilantro and mint, also growing in the garden.

Yes, Memorial Day spells summer to some but for me the official start of summer is the arrival of the migratory birds and the butterflies and this year I was not disappointed. I've already seen a bright red male cardinal and heard the call of mourning doves and the neighborhood's resident mocking bird. Although monarchs are usually the first butterflies to visit my garden, this year I was treated to the sight of a gorgeous Black Swallowtail that flitted among my creeping phlox blossoms and sampled the few blooms left on my old azalea bush. The sight of that beautiful creature filled me with more joy than I can describe. This year I planted some milkweed seeds in the hope of growing some milkweed plants to attract more butterflies, particularly the monarchs that I dearly love. Hopefully they will germinate. In the meantime, my garden beckons and I will answer its call with pleasure.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Long and Winding Road

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My digital artwork on display above the librar4y stacks.
Sometimes you just don't know when the circumstances of your life will take a turn and lead you in an unexpected direction. A nephew of mine who works for the public library notified me of a storytelling workshop being held at his branch. I agreed to participate in an attempt to get my father, someone who has been writing stories most of his life, to come along. Well, Dad didn't come and I went on my own. At last week's meeting, the staff member who coordinated the storytelling workshop announced the library's first art show and sale taking place this weekend. When I expressed interest in participating but said there was not enough time for me to prepare anything, I was asked if I had any completed work that I could exhibit. Well, heck yeah I've got completed work...lots of it. And so it was that I literally grabbed any work I could lay my hands on and decided what to display at the library.


The display cabinet containing my custom cards.
Remember I said this was a show and sale. There was no way I had the time to set up in the morning, break down at night, repeat the process the following day while manning a vendor table for six hours. That's when I was told that there was a lockable showcase available where I could set up a display for viewing. Okay, I thought, this is a sign that I'm supposed to be here and now it's up to me to take advantage of the opportunity. I set up a quick and dirty display of my cards and ATCs in the showcase and was also granted wall space to exhibit some of my framed digital graphics work.


The display case from another angle.
It is a two day show so I expected to have to pick up my goods sometime on Saturday to clear our the space. Again Providence intervened and I was told that I could leave my cards and digital art work on display until the end of June if I so desired. Wow. Can't get any easier than that. Set up the display and just let it stay for six weeks. But it gets even better. The library staff person coordinating the show asked about one of my cards and I explained it was from a project I created for the senior center for which I used to volunteer. When she heard that, she wondered if such a class could be offered at the library and told me to think about it.

So the workshop I had hoped to get my father interested put me in a place that offered me the opportunity to show my work and possibly start a class in card making. Not too shabby. Now let's see if the exposure leads to anything. Hey, ya never know.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Creating Memories

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My parents flanked by my brothers
This past weekend I had the great privilege and honor of seeing my parents renew their wedding vows in celebration of their 60th wedding anniversary. Given the divorce-riddled society we live in nowadays, such a milestone is rarely achieved. Such an occasion deserved nothing less than a tremendous effort on my part and I'm happy to say I delivered.

I chose a theme of butterflies and flowers in spring colors of
Matchbook favors in spring colors.
peach, blue and green and carried this theme throughout all the items. The favors, in spite of being the smallest of these items, turned out to be the most intricate and labor-intensive. Each matchbook was comprised of 15 individual pieces, all of which had to be cut one at a time. The butterfly alone is made up of four separate pieces. Although there were only 22 matchbooks, it took over a week of creating a prototype, tweaking it, then going into production. Once they were complete, I needed a means to carry them so they wouldn't be crushed or soiled. For this I used a bakery box and
A peek inside the favors
decorated the top to match the predetermined theme.

A decorated bakery box to hold the
favors.
There was one other thing I had to do last minute and that was to arrange and decorate my mother's bouquet. She didn't want to go through the expense of buying an expensive floral arrangement from a florist so she chose to purchase a dozen roses and some baby's breath from a local supermarket flower shop and handed them to me. She also gave me some silvery ribbon from which to fashion a bow. Inasmuch as I'm not a floral arranger, this prospect had me a little nervous but I'm happy to say that turned out beautifully as well. Unfortunately I neglected to photograph the finished bouquet, with its full, silvery bow, long sheer streamers and tissue paper wrapping hand stamped with watermarked images of hearts and butterflies.

The card I made to present
to my folks.
I then had to make a card for the occasion because, let's face it, Hallmark just wasn't going to cut it. Since I couldn't do any work on this project during the day, everything had to be done at night. I lost many hours of sleep but managed to finished everything in time AND managed to get some shut-eye before the big event.

Here are some of the materials I used to create the projects you see here. If you have any questions about how any of these was made, feel free to send me an email at gypsiwoman55@yahoo.com. 
  • Bazzill Basics cardstock - Glass Slipper
  • Colorbok Glitter Paper Pack - White
  • Michael Miller Memories Fabric Paper (discontinued)
  • Cutting Dies: 
    • Paper Artist - Viney Swirl; 
    • Spellbinders Nestabilities - Floral Ovals; 
    • Spellbinders Borderabilities - A2 Scalloped Borders One
    • Spellbinders Borderabilities - A2 Curved Borders One
    • Spellbinder Shapeabilities - Butterflies Two
    • Memory Box - Vivienne Butterfly (for butterfly body)
  • Embossing folders:
    • ProvoCraft Cuttlebug - Swiss Dots
    • Sizzix Textured Impressions - Elegant Lines
  • Distress Stickles (Ranger Industries) - Stormy Sky, Wild Honey
  • Inkssentials (Ranger Industries) - Glossy Accents
  • Aleene's Fast Grab Tacky Glue
  • Miracle Tape (double-sided super sticky tape) - various widths
  • Martha Stewart scoring board
  • Fiskars 12" SureCut Deluxe Craft Paper Trimmer
  • Assorted scissors and craft knives
  • Assorted bling and fabric flowers from my stash
This is by no means a comprehensive list but it does represent most of the materials I used for these projects. The length of the materials list alone should be an indication of how much work went into these items. Nevertheless I would do it all again in a heartbeat. For my mom and dad, anything.



Ballo ergo sum
 - Gitana, the Creative Diva