Saturday, May 13, 2017

Milan :: An Ancient City

Sforzesco Castle
Piazza Castello
As I walked across the Piazza Castello, or the outer courtyard, toward the Sforzesco Castle my eyes drifted up to the outline of the fortified castle walls against the skyline. No modern skyscrapers in view, just a view as seen through the ages. Stunning. One of the main landmarks of Milan originally built in 1358 by the Visconti (one of the two important Italian noble dynasties of the Middle Ages).

By now, those who follow my blog know that I love the history behind my travels. And this recent stay in Milan proved to be one of those magical trips where I could dive headlong into the history of the place.

Duke's Courtyard
Ducal Courtyard 
One of the surprising things I learned in studying the history of Milan is that it was originally founded by Celts around 600 BC. Wait, what? I always associate Celts with Ireland, but Celts were originally the people of Medieval Europe (around 1200 BC) who spoke Celtic language and had cultural similarities. It wasn't until roughly 450 BC that the Celts migrated north to the British Isles. The Romans showed up around 222 BC, ambushed the Celts, took over and renamed the city Mediolanum (Milan). And thus founded the Northern Roman capital city.

Sempione Park
The castle was a highlight of our stay in Milan. We spent 2 full days exploring it, walking through the many courtyards, looking at the sculpture, stonework, tile work ... you name it, this place has it. The walkway ceilings surrounding the Ducal Courtyard looked like something you'd see in the Game of Thrones in the Kingdom of Dorne. And I loved the reflecting pool in the Duke's Courtyard, an oasis in the middle of Milan.

Another wonderful discovery was the massive city park just outside the castle. One of the back gates is a drawbridge that lets out onto the expanse of Sempione Park, a 95 acre park of rolling hills, lakes and walkways. 

Our weather for this trip was unbelievable. Everyone kept telling us it was 'unseasonably warm.' Just our luck! We wandered through the park on a gorgeous 80-degree day with a bit of a breeze. You could not ask for better weather. We spent the afternoon just watching the world go by. There was too much to see in this ancient city for one trip. We will return, of that I have no doubt.

Monday, May 1, 2017

UFOs :: Round 2

Karen announced another UFO hop, and like many of my bloggy friends we're all in. The motivation to work through all those half finished pieces on the bead table is strong. 

Many of us have stared down these UFOs for years shifting the piece this way and that trying to capture a glimpse of what the piece might look like finished. Myself included. I know I, for one, want to see these pieces come to life and move off my bead table once and for all!

The process is slow trying to work through my collection of UFOs, but I have finished another piece. This one actually includes two UFOs into one (score!). I paired a bezeled glass cab with a small bit of grey, beaded herringbone to create a 'bib fringe.' Not sure if a bib fringe is a real thing, but hey I'm in to fringe these days and I'm trying all kinds of variations. I liked how it looked together, so I went for it in this piece.

The problem was that I could tell that once I tried to include a backstrap it was going to twist and turn. So I mounted it (aka glued it) on a heavy gauge piece of silver that I had hammered. This created the perfect anchor for the focal and an easy way to attach some leather. Not sure why this final UFO was such a struggle with so many starts and stops, but it is finally in the finished pile. Now I'm trying to decide what might be next to tackle from this pile of UFOs.

Be sure to check out everyone else's finally finished UFOs: Karen, Francie, Christine, Therese, BobbieKim, Liz, Liz E, Amy, Hope, Christi and Margo

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lake Life :: Como

There is nothing like sitting in an old town square, next to a lake and slowly watching life go by. You can feel the relaxation seep through you in waves as you slowly exhale and soak in the sun.

I have heard about Lake Como over the years, and somehow expected it to be more of a scene given all the celebrity sightings and talk of secret Mafia meetings. It was nothing as I imagined. I did not see George fly by in a speed boat, or anyone from the Versace Villa sit and sip an Aperol Spritz in the town square, which by the way, is my new favorite summer drink. It looks a bit like orange Kool-Aid, and I couldn't get over that I saw absolutely everyone drinking it from wine glasses? It took me awhile to figure out exactly what it was (Prosecco with Campari), but by the end of the trip it had become my go-to drink. 

The main center of this idyllic town was not crowded, but still quite active with people enjoying local cafes or shopping. Perhaps it was the time of year? I kept hearing that it was unseasonably warm. It was in the high 70s while we were there, but apparently it is typically in the low 60s this time of year which might be still a bit cold for lake life. Whatever the reason, we seemed to hit this little town at just the right moment in time. Everything was in bloom, the weather was perfect and there was room to breathe.

Across the water from the main square, you can see the villas of the aristocrats scale up the hillside. Lake Como has been a popular retreat for the wealthy since Roman times, and you could feel that in the architecture. A stroll through the narrow back streets that surround the square open up to a secondary square with the local cathedral built in 1396 in a Gothic style. It was simple, yet stunning, and nowhere near as ornate as other European cities. But it commanded the skyline giving it a beautiful focal to the town. As you can see I simply fell in love with this little town and cannot wait to go back for another visit. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

UFOs :: Flipping the Rorschach

Oh those UFOs, they are the bane of a beader. They taunt you from the bead table, calling to you, as they lay there unfinished. You simply stare down at it knowing you need to either change direction or rip it out. Ugh, but the amount of work that went into it, and that original image you hold in your head keeps you from ripping it apart. Sound about right? Sigh.

I have so many of these unfinished objects that I've lost count. I knew for this hop I had to pull out the mother of all UFOs ... this beaded collar. Or at least that is what it was supposed to be, and yet when I assembled the collar it hung like a large rectangle. Why? Because I had the curve of the collar at the neckline completely wrong. Or should I say that it had no curve at all, it was a straight edge. I mean come on, who has a triangular neck? Clearly I had not thought this through, and yet I'd spent all this time putting these beads in place. Yep, the moment you just want to chuck it at the wall. This is my first attempt at a collar necklace, and a mistake I won't make again. Hugh sigh. 

I could not get myself to rip this one apart. Look at this piece. I spent hours upon hours beading in vintage, irregular Turkish seed beads and then lined the edging with vintage glass pearls. Then backed the piece with suede. There was ab.so.lute.ly no way I was pulling this thing apart. And so it sat on the bead table for more than a year. When Karen announced this UFO hop I knew I was going to pull this thing out and force myself to deal with it. 

So here is what I did. I decided that the one side of the collar could actually be the focal of an asymmetrical necklace. I went back to my stash to pull out more vintage pearls to balance the other side. My mother had given me a pile of old pearl necklaces that matched the small Turkish pearls from a friend. I also needed to pull out the backing and get rid of one of the connector jump rings I'd embedded on the left side. I left the other connector on the right to use as part of a toggle. I wanted to balance the width of the pearls to the collar so I added a square plate that I could anchor the pearls. Then it was just a matter of adding a backstrap.

What took so long to come to this solution? A solution that took me roughly 2 hours to complete? I think it is the same angst for all UFOs. You start a piece with a vision in mind, and it is hard to re-set that lens. But once you let go and flip the Rorschach you can finally re-imagine your piece. 

There is a crew of us working on UFOs, so check out the rest of the blog hop: Karen, Christine, Amy, Therese, Kim, Liz E, MargoCathiLiz and Francie.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

St Petersburg :: City of Murals

Life Reimagined by Sarah Sheppard
We recently spent a week down in Tampa and St. Petersburg Florida. I can't say that either of these places were anywhere near the top of my bucket list, but I have to admit that I was very pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed ourselves. We managed to have something planned for everyday we were there, which was a full 10 days. We did everything from aquariums, to museums, walking tours, amusement parks to zoos. My husband completely overbooked us, but my daughter and I willing tagged along from one place to the next. 

Xtreme Ethel by Derek Donnelly
For me the highlight was St. Petersburg. It's an artist enclave, or Florida's version of Portland, OR's NE Hawthorn street, or San Francisco's Noe Valley. Need I say more. I felt like I was at home in this eclectic little town. We took an afternoon to walk the murals just off Central Avenue. You just walk over to the alley off of 8th street to start the tour. It runs roughly another 4 blocks straight through the back alleys with one mural after another. The thing that captured me most was that this was an endless display of art, outside and open to the people. Art should be enjoyed, and this series is worth the walk. 

Snake Woman by Leon Bedore
I'm not sure if I could say which one was my favorite, although anyone who knows me knows just how much I love Frida. And yes, there was a mural of Frida smiling right at me. I did really love the one by Sarah Sheppard called Life Reimagined, which is about disrupting aging. She explains that the gears represent the grind of the working world. The woman is part Banyan tree that sinks its roots into the community and her arms reach out to the Phoenix. She is looking for her rebirth and what is to come next in life.

by Shark Toof 
As we started our tour, the first mural we saw was one of a skateboarding granny called Xtreme Ethel by Derek Donnelly. This mural depicts Ethel Percy Andrus in her 70s who was a woman ahead of her time. She was the first female school principal in California, and in retirement she found that too many talented older people were 'put out to pasture.' She wanted to change what it meant to age, so she created several associations (the most notable one being AARP in 1958) to empower older Americans to continue to pursue their passions with independence, dignity and purpose.  

Space Rainbows by Ricky Watts
Another mural I loved was Ricky Watts' trippy Space Rainbows. Ricky says that his art is "psychedelic, abstract eye candy." He says that public art brings energy to a community, which I have to agree with since this mural tour has people strolling from block to block down back alleyways as though they are wandering the halls of a museum. The art is all out in the fresh air with the sun shinning down on it. Perhaps that is why they decided to call the St Pete's Mural Festival SHINE. The city continues to encourage new editions to the collection and actively seeks out artists to paint more. I never thought I'd be drawn to a city based on street art, but I for one will want to return to this city of murals just to see what's been added to this outdoor collection. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

UFOs :: The Everyday

I showed you my first grouping of UFOs in my last post. There are more. Many, many more. But let's work on this pile first.

Next up is the dark purple glass cab to the right of the green one I just finished. This purple one almost looks black and has a faint pattern in it. It is so hard to photograph to bring out the pattern, but this picture off to the upper left was the best I could do.

I was wearing this one around the house to check how it hangs and if it needed any adjusting. My husband actually noticed saying "oh that's a pretty one." He so rarely comments on any of my pieces that it threw me. I do like the simplicity of this one, and that it would be good to wear for everyday. I wear a lot of black and this one might just be ok to wear to the office. I might need to take it out for a test drive for a meeting I have tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

UFOs :: Completing Unfinished Objects

Hello, my name is Cynthia, and I am a bead-aholic. I get distracted like a child in a candy store when I'm standing in front of a table of beads. My mind races with possibilities, but many times fails to complete the thought.

We all like to joke about UFOs (UnFinished Objects) lying around our bead tables. I have a hopeless, and chronic issue with them. I start many projects, but get distracted somewhere along the way.

I'm not sure what causes it. Perhaps it comes from the rush I get when a pattern appears in my head and I hurry to get it worked out through the beads. And once I see the beads come together I get distracted by yet another shinny objects on the bead table.

Sometimes it is a technique I'm practicing and I work it over and over in my hands. It is like when I was a child and was learning the piano. I would work the same couple of bars in the music over and over again until my family would beg me to move on because they just couldn't listen to it any more. It could also be because the piano sat in the middle of the living room not far from the television. Yea, on second thought it could have been that. 

Lately I've been obsessed with cabochons. Tiny ones, misshaped ones, shields .... anything that can be glued and beaded around seems to be in progress and lying on my bead table. My kids like to joke with me that I think almost anything can be beaded. Perhaps. I do love a challenge. So when Karen put out a call to start a support group for UFOs, my beady friends assembled like moths to a flame. First up for me is this green glass cab that I have had sitting around for roughly 3 years. Not as old as some UFOs, but certainly time to finish. Part of my mission with completing these UFOs is to also try to use beads within my existing stash (aka no buying of new beads .... OMG did I just say that?). This necklace uses green aventurine that I've had much, much longer than 3 years.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Soothing the Soul

This piece speaks to me on so many levels. It combines a Native American look and feel with a traveler's compass. That embodies so many of the things I love. 

The first magnetic compass was invented around 200 BC during the Chinese Han Dynasty, but not really used in its traditional navigational sense until the 11th century by the Song Dynasty. Amazing just how long ago this was invented and how advanced the civilizations that used it must have been.

The last time I took some time away to bead for the weekend with Christine, she asked if we could practice fringe. Ah fringe, how I love it. I had with me two of these leather compass focals that Melinda Orr had made. I punched several holes in both of them and we got to work. One of the many things I love about beading with Christine is that we can sit, and bead, and just be. We can talk non-stop for hours, and then we can sit quietly and bead. Both are important, and both soothe the soul.

This piece actually hangs long, not quite at waist level. And when I wear it it swings and gives a bit of a musical sound with all those brass feathers. I don't keep many of the items that I make, but this one just might make the cut. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Taming the Beaded Beast

Lately, I've been packing a 'bag-o-beads' with me whenever I am away for the weekend or on vacation. I find that there is always downtime. Whether that is a lazy morning with a cup of tea or late afternoon waiting for the family to assemble for the evening. That is the perfect time for me to get lost in stitching. Just feeling the beads in my hands and relaxing.

On my recent trip to Mexico I was practicing a Cellini spiral (or as I like to call it a Bernini). There is something freeing about a stitch that has troubled you for so long; when something just clicks and it feels like you've unlocked its secrets. For this one, once I realized it was just a simple peyote stitch it no longer seemed so complicated. After I had the first couple of rows in place, I would just slip a pencil or thin pen into the center of the beadwork and follow the peyote around in a circle. 

There was one other thing that saved me many times from pulling out the beadwork. Because this is a twisted pattern (yes in oh so many ways) you can lose count on what bead size or color comes next. Just remember that the bead you are coming out of is the bead you are adding next. After that, it became a lazy stitch in my hands.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Hiking the Yucatan :: Tulum

Templo del Dios del Viento
Tulum is stunning. It sits on cliffs overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. It is the only Mayan Ruin near the sea, and not a surprise that it is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. 

The city was one of the last built by the Maya and was in its height between the 13th ad 15th centuries. Tulum survived roughly 70 years after the Spanish arrived, but the diseases the Spanish brought with them appear to have contributed to the city's downfall. The local Maya continued to visit the site to burn incense and pray through the late 20th century until tourism just overwhelmed the site.

While it is called Tulum today (meaning wall or enclosure), the Maya called it Zama meaning 'dawn' as it faced the sunrise. The name was given to the city by explorers Stephens and Catherwood in 1847 when they found the abandoned ruins surrounded by a stone wall. The city served as a major port in the region connecting an extensive trade network between maritime and land routes. 

My favorite picture is of the Wind Temple. and probably the most photographed. The building is called the Templo del Dios del Viento (the temple of the god of the wind). The wind god is known as Ehecatl with his temples built as cylinders to reduce air resistance from the winds that came from all sides. Some called this deity Huracan, which is the origin for the word hurricane.

One thing that surprised me was how many iguanas we saw; they were simply everywhere. Hidden under the thatched roofs, sunning themselves on the ruins and strolling across the main courtyard. You can see the spikes that run down their spine which give them their names 'Mexican Spiny-Tailed' iguana. They seem very unnerved by all the tourists and simply just stare you down as this guy did to me. To locals they can be a bit of a nuisance as they eat plants, flowers and prey on nesting birds, small animals and sea turtle eggs. They can scare locals by lashing their tails and biting if they feel threatened. I kept my distance using a zoom to photograph him. Just in case he got testy!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hiking the Yucatan :: Ek' Balam

The wild beauty of Ek' Balam is captivating. I had no idea what to expect from this place as it isn't talked about much, and we had a hard time finding it. There are next to no road signs and it was literally 'off the grid.' I had been very diligent about buying the extra GPS maps for Mexico, but it was of no help finding this location. We went by it twice and in circles for another half hour. But it was all worth it once you step through that ancient doorway.

Ek' Balam Sacbe
Somewhere between 700-1,200 BC Ek' Balam was at its height. It always strikes me when I hear how advanced the old world of the Americas was so long ago. And makes me wonder what event caused its downfall. For this site, they believe it was a siege on the city by an enemy based on the how hurried one of the city walls had been constructed and looks to be crushed.

The main pyramid of this site is considered one of the largest ever excavated in the Yucatan. Because of its low profile (and lack of wall-to-wall tourists) you are still able to climb and explore it. In my last post you will see the view from the top down the steps. Somehow I managed to take this picture from the top, but no picture of the full pyramid? Clearly I was distracted by the carvings and secret doorways. It was captivating sitting on top of this pyramid. The Mayan jungle sprawling out across the low lands and the wind cooling us off from the heat. It did have a way of transporting you to another time with only the sound of the wind and nature and no modern architecture anywhere to be seen. Thankfully, both the hubby and my oldest daughter managed to take pictures that I can share. One of the best was of the huge 'monster mouth' mid-way up the main pyramid. This is a portal to the Mayan underworld. It is hard to capture the right angle to represent the size and dominance of this doorway under the thatch roof of the pyramid. 



There is a series of sacbes, or raised 'white way' that connected the ancient Mayan Kingdom from one site to another. At the end of the road you'ld pass through an archway as you entered one of the Mayan sites. You can see the beautifully preserved one of Ek' Balam with the raised stone road that connected this site. We saw these sacbes at all the sites we visited. I could image all the travelers through the ages walking across these stones, traveling between cities, trying to make their way in the world.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Hiking The Yucatan :: Mayan Ruins

Tulum
Chacmool at Chichen Itza
Exploring the many Mayan Ruins has been on my bucket list for a long time. And I finally visited a few over the holiday break. Actually, quite a few places on my bucket list are up on the header of my blog. Each one represents a place I've been that was on the list, or places I have yet to go. You can see the Chacmool front and center above, and I finally got to see it.

These sculptures appear all over Mexico from as early as the 9th century AD. The original, ancient name used by the Mayan and Aztecs is not known. The name Chacmool was given in 1875 by Augustus Le Plongeon who excavated one of the statues at Chichen Itza. The name translates from the Mayan as 'thundering paw' as he found the statue buried beneath the Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars. The Chacmool is thought to be used as an alter to place offerings to the gods. Typically these reclining figures are holding a bowl on their stomach where offerings of tamales, tortillas, tobacco and in some cases human hearts are placed. Some believed the Chacmool depicted slain warriors, others say they represent a defenseless, passive appearance of a Mayan captive. A full frontal view of a face is rare in Mayan art except among representations of captives.

Ek' Balam
As much as I had dreamed of seeing Chichen Itza, Ek' Balam was unexpectedly my favorite. Don't get me wrong. Chichen Itza was awe inspiring. The main pyramid was stunning. The Ball Court jaw dropping. But Ek' Balam was off the beaten track and more rustic. We were able to really explore and get up close to the ruins. Both Chichen Itza and Tulum are so over crowded with tourists that so many of the structures are roped off. The Chacmool I wanted to see at Chichen Itza is inside the main pyramid, which was not accessible to climb and thus I was unable to see what was inside.

I loved the wild beauty of Ek' Balam, and that it still felt somewhat hidden within the Mayan jungle. We climbed the main pyramid straight up the narrow stone steps giving us an endless view across the tree tops. It was breathtaking. Literally. Once I looked down from the top I nearly panicked at the thought of how I was going to get down. In the end my daughter and I decided the safest route down was on our butts one step at a time. There is no shame in safety!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

In Memoriam :: Carrie Fisher


This is a blog post from 3 years ago that I'm reposting. I think Carrie would have enjoyed this one given her sense of humor. If you want a good laugh check out a recent interview with her and her dog Gary.

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Christine's Rolling Blog Hop is, well... hopp'n! I posted two of my spools 2 weeks ago, and I was waiting for a lull to post my third spool reveal. But looks like I'm going to need to squeeze back in.

The posts are just roll'n in, and we've seen some fantastic designs! I have all the links to everyone's reveals so far at the end of this post so you can check them all out.    

For my third design, I was working with this large, more irregular shaped spool. I did struggle just a bit with it trying to figure out what direction I wanted the design of the spool to be until I remembered an image I saw of a young Native American girl. She had beautiful dark hair tied up on either side in what is called a "Squash Blossom" style. The hairstyle is a Hopi custom which represents the sign of a girl's marriageability. The young girl will twist her hair in the shape of squash blossoms, which is the sign of fertility for an unmarried girl in the tribe. 

I wanted natural colors and fibers in this piece, so I used a linen colored silk from Darn Good Yarn, a mix of seed beads, Czech beads and howlite. I am loving this howlite stone with native designs. It has subtle tan-cream veining throughout the stone, which gives it a natural look. I also stained the spool so it had a deep color. The focal is long (6 inches!) and has a good weight to it. I envision it being worn waist length.

Ok, I know this is an irreverent move on my part, but once I started putting this blog post together I simply could not get an image out of my head. Is it just me? or do those squash blossom twists remind you of Princess Leia in Star Wars... I always thought of her hair as more of a Danish pastry swirl, but maybe that is just the recollection from the Ross and Rachel scene in Friends. Once I started googling images, both the Native American girl and Princess Leia kept coming up together. It was all over for me; the image stuck. The one I can't get out of my head is Nicolas Cage dressed like Princess Leia ... that is one that cannot be unseen... Gah!

We're almost through the rolling blog hop! Check out all the links and projects already revealed. Our host: Christine (Christine's post), and all the rest of the rolling bloggers: 
Janet (Janet's post), Hope (Hope's post), Bobbie (Bobbie's post), Tanya (Tanya's post), Maryanne (Maryanne's post), Cynthia (my first post), Liz (Liz's post), Lisa (Lisa's post), Kim (Kim's post), and the bloggers still to post: Therese (Therese's post), Karin (Karin's post) and Erin (Erin's post)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Perspective

A few weekends back I was able to get off the grid and just be. I 'unplugged' for the most part, from my devices. And had a few days of complete, and necessary relaxation. 

I didn't think about the office, what needed to be done at the house, if one of the kids needed something from me, or for that matter if my husband did either. It is a rare event, and so blissful when it occurs.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the things on my 'to do' list. I wonder how I will ever get through it all. I have a list on my desk in the office, another running tally I send myself from the train as I commute into work for the things I realize I forgot. I have another more permanent list of items in my notebook of tasks that take much more time as these are large, multi-month projects. And those are just the lists I have at the office. There is a whole other set of them for the house, the kids and when I get time ... my hobbies. The things that help me relax. Yes, I have a list of things for relaxation. 

I find that sometimes I lose my balance in life. While it is important to know where you are going, you can't see your footing without looking down --- that momentary glance to see where you stand. It is a shift in perspective from seeing the world as you move through it, to focusing on your next move. Not the move for tomorrow, next Tuesday or next month. But within the next few minutes, perhaps the next hour. Truly just living in the moment. No lists. I nearly missed this amazing sidewalk sculpture as I was walking the eclectic streets of Woodstock. Someone had installed a short little path of cement leaves, but I was busy looking at the store windows trying to decide if I would go inside. 

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