Friday, July 31, 2009

Our newest family member (hopefully)

Slinky, the kitty

For the last couple weeks, we have had a little pure black stray male kitten hanging around our house. He had slowly became used to us (husband and I) and my husband told me that if he came close enough we would take him to our vet and have him neutered, get his immunizations etc. since our other two cats have not been getting into fights with him.

Well, last Tuesday night, he came right up to us, and we grabbed him and put him into one of our cat carriers. I took him into the vet on Wednesday morning and the vet said "no problem!"

That night I kept him confined to our bedroom, to try to give him a chance to rest up a bit after his operation. Unfortunately, he did not take that chance, instead spent the whole night jumping from floor, to bed, to window, to bed, to floor, and so on every 10 minutes or so. Not a very peaceful night I must say!

Now last night, (Thursday) there was some tension as our other two cats met him face to face in the house. There was a little bit of growling, and hissing; plus a couple of trounces performed by Leo, the king cat. Nothing too major though. All evening long he kept trying to either bash the screen door open with his head, or claw them open with his little paws. I also found out he can jump at least 6 feet in the air! Just before I went to sleep I checked on the cats since all three were inside, and all three of them were on seperate window sills in our bedroom, all keeping a watch on the world outside.

This morning when I got back from the dentist office, Leo was sleeping about a foot away from Slinky, the new kitten.

Slinky is about 5 months old, pure black, and weighs 8 pounds. He is sooo adorable!

We have hopes that once we let him back outside that he will choose to come back to us.

You wanted my attention Mom? What would you like?

Yawn! Nap time! (again)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Organic garden update

We have had such interesting weather the last little while. It has been much cooler than normal, with only a few really hot days. It had made me a bit worried about what effect it would have on my garden.

Apparently, not too much of a bad effect! My raspberry canes are loaded with berries.

My tomatoes (all varieties) are producing lovely green tomatoes, and more flowers are showing up almost daily.

My leeks are doing very well indeed.

My onions are going to be spectacular!

One surprise though, what I thought was a volunteer squash is in fact volunteer zuchinni! In fact it is monsterously huge. I could not find someone available to take a picture of to show the size of it, so I will try to explain using my raspberry canes. Now these canes are growing upwards of 7 - 8 feet high. And you know that the compost bin is about 3 feet high. Some of the leaves are over a foot in diameter!!

Isn't it wonderful what can be done in a garden that does not get exposed to chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fresh Peas!

Saturday I had been able to get a large quantity of fresh peas from a local Amish farmer. In fact, I got about 24 litres of them. It took over 4 hours of shelling for me to finish, and even though I gave a friend a 3 litre basket for his kids, I still ended up having 10 bags of peas (2 cups per bag).

I also shredded a bunch of zuchinni for winter. I froze them in bags of 2 cups each, so that when I do my baking I will be able to just grab a bag. Normally I shred then freeze on cookie sheet in little one cup mounds, however, since I was given a box of small bags from my local butcher the last time I had purchsed 100 pounds of hamburger I chose to use those instead.

At the same farm, I got some of these wonderful wax (yellow) beans. They made a great addition to the pastry covered shepherds pie I made for dinner. The rest I blanched and froze for winter.

To blanch beans for freezing, you must choose fresh, firm vegetables, wash and prepare them the way you want them. I chose to just snap them in approximately 1 inch pieces. Then, put them in a wire rack or in a cheesecloth bag, and dip them in a large pot of boiling water for 30 seconds. Then, put them in a second large pot of boiling water, wait for it to return to a full boil, and time them for exactly 3 minutes.

Next, take them out, and put immediately into a bath of ICE water, to lock in the flavours. Drain, spread out on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer to surface freeze. After approximately an hour, shake them loose and place in freezer bags.

Never try to blanch more than one pound at a time, or over cook them, as they will loose their flavour or go really mushy.

First zuchinni and raspberries

On Friday evening my husband had gone out to the garden to do some weeding and noticed that the first zuchinni were ready! We had been watching them very closely over the last week, hoping to catch them at the perfect size. Well, we missed it by a day I guess since there were some big ones (over 8 inches long, 3 inches wide), too long for just slicing and eating but perfect for shredding for winter. He did manage to get 3 that were the perfect size (under 5 inches long and about an inch wide).

I have been eating small handfulls of raspberries for the last week and that night he was able to find about 2 cups full! What a wonderful treat it was. I ate some for a treat that evening and the rest for my Saturday morning breakfast.

Summer weekends

Now that the gardens are starting to provide some wonderful fresh vegetables, I will be away more than usual. Yesterday I went to a roadside stand and was able to get some small cucumbers, new potatoes and celery. It was a bit more expensive than I anticipated, but that is ok, that was their first year with the roadstand and I am sure they will learn that they will have to be a bit more competative. Especially when people's gardens are producing as well.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ontario Cherries

Sunday was spent driving from Otterville all the way to Arkona to visit some cherry orchards my husband used to go to (and one he worked at) when he was young. It was a long drive, it took us about 2 hours or so.

The red sour cherry trees were loaded! It only took us about 20 minutes to pick 5 gallons of sours, and then I spent a good hour washing and sorting them, then had the owner and his daughter pit and bag them for me while I went back to the sweet bing cherry trees to try to help pick those.

It was pretty much the end of the season for those trees. Apparently this summer in that particular area they had a problem with the cold spring, and a mildew. So the easy-to-reach berries were already gone, and the ones that were left were way up high in the tops of the trees. Now, I am no good in climing ladders (too afraid of falling) so I mainly sorted those that he picked. It took about 2 and a half hours to get a 5 gallon pail of those, but were they ever sweet!

We stopped off at another orchard to see how their cherries were doing and it was very busy there. I ended up buying a baker's dozen sweet Ontario corn and pre-ordering my peaches for August. I will be getting the free-stone peaches. Two bushels of grade A for my canning and one bushel of grade B for my jams.

We then drove home, and bagged the sour cherries in individual bags for making pies during the winter. There were about 30 bags in all of those.

Then, we canned the sweet cherries. I made a very light syrup for this. Four cups of water to two cups of sugar. During this process we discovered that the snap lids I had were too thin and popped up during the canning process, so I had to make a quick drive into town to buy new ones. After I had gotten home, we had two bottles break in the canner. But all in all, we ended up with 17 quarts of canned sweet cherries for winter. Yummy!

A very busy weekend

Saturday my husband and I spent about 5 hours weeding one of my flower beds. It was the new one, the one that does not have it's woodchip mulch yet. Well, actually, it is the one that was tripled in width and lengthened last summer. So far it is full of lilies, chives, poppies and some lilies of the valley.

We then thinned out some of the lily bunches, and transplanted the hybridized ones. I had tagged them while they were still flowering into the different colour combinations. I now have groups of yellows, yellow with red/orange centers, pumpkin orange, my special dark burgandy and apparently only one white one. It is the pure white one that I tagged, somehow missing the one with the green tinge to it. Hopefully it will appear next summer for me so that I can move that one too.

My elodie lilies are now blooming and so are the poppies that I had gotten from my neighbour John (who passed away a year ago). I think he would be very happy to see how well they are doing.

We also dug along the side of the house between the side walk and the wall footing, removing the topsoil and getting prepared for pouring concrete there. We will be putting in a concrete pad as well at the base of the kitchen door in prep for a small deck.

My yucca plant is definately blooming very nicely. First year it has done this for me, and I am very impressed with the display it is putting on for me. I will take a picture in a few days when it is in full bloom. It is so tall!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ashpaints on

My Interview with An Awesome polymer clay artist on

Introducing : Ashpaints!

When did you start to work with clay?

In January, 2007 I bought some Sculpey III holiday packs that were 80% off at the Hobby Lobby after Christmas sale. They sat on a shelf for a while because I had several commissioned paintings to finish before I could actually get my hands into it. The last of those commissions were delivered around the first of April and I was free to play with the clay. I was pretty much burned out on painting – after over 25 years as a decorative artist – and needed a new creative outlet.

Why did you choose clay as your artistic medium?

After watching Donna Kato and Lisa Pavelka on the Carol Duval show, I thought it might be a good medium to try and Hey, it was on SALE! Donna and Lisa made it looks easy -- like anybody could do it. I had worked with paper clay on gourds so I figured the polymer clay couldn’t be that hard to learn. I was both right and wrong on that point! Right in that the clay is easy and fun to work with and wrong in that it wouldn’t take me very long to master it! Every time I sit down at my work table I learn something new!

What do you love most about working with clay?

Most? Now that’s a difficult question. I think probably the surprise factor ranks right up there -- even when things don’t work out the way I originally intended. Some of my best work has come about because something didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to. And the joy of cutting into a new cane! That ahhhhhhhhhh moment! I love to watch the faces of our guild members – particularly the newbie ones – when they get that first look at what they, themselves, have made with the clay! It’s very rewarding!

But there’s also the cost factor. Yes, you can spend a small fortune on clay and clay equipment but you don’t have to. Besides which, you haven’t seen my paintbrush and paint collection!!! When paint dries, it’s pretty much beyond further use. You may be able to reuse the surface that it’s painted on, but the paint is a loss. When clay doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, you just use it as a base for something else, make a mold with it, make a stamp with it, mix it with the “out of the package” clay to create more pleasing colors, the list is endless. Other than the clay itself, you don’t have a lot of supplies that you have to replace on a regular basis. Our Guild president developed a list that we have on our website ( ) called The Basic Toolbox which lists the things that a guild member needs to collect for their travel toolkit with emphasis on the fact that you don’t have to have them all right at first, but some things you might want to slowly add when you get that 40% off coupon for Hobby Lobby or Michaels.

And there’s the therapeutic factor. I’ve always had the “need” to create in some way. My grandmother taught me to embroider before I started to school and I’ve been doing something ever since. The decorative painting filled that need for a long time but had become more of a job than a joy, which is why I started looking for another outlet. Clay is perfect! You don’t have to have a lot of equipment or space. My first clay table was a rolling tv cabinet with a shelf that I picked up for under $20. I glued a ceramic tile on one side, drilled holes to anchor my pasta machine on the other side and I was in business. I used plastic containers with pull out drawers from WalMart to hold my clay and tools. Four of them fit perfectly in the shelf area. When not in use, I could park it out of the way. I have since added a larger work table and some cabinets to store my “stuff” in. (There’s more information about the cabinet project in my blog -

What is your most favorite creation?

Whatever I’m working on right now. I know that probably isn’t the answer you were looking for but it’s true! There is so much to learn and so many different ways to create with polymer clay that I’m always learning something new. I guess if I had to narrow it down, I would say canes. That was my first love in polymer clay and I just keep going back to the canes! And since the information about using Play-doh to pack your canes hit the internet, I’ve been caning like crazy. I love being able to make my cane, pack it with play-doh with a scrap clay wrapper, reduce it in several different sizes, then remove the outer clay wrapper and the play-doh for a beautifully shaped flower cane. Definitely a WOW moment!

Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere! I subscribe to PolymerCafe as well as several of the jewelry magazines that frequently offer polymer clay instruction. I spend a fair amount of time on the internet and there is a wealth of information and inspiration out there.

I guess I would have to say that my best source of inspiration is other clayers -- both my online friends and friends that I have made because of polymer clay. After going on the Polymer Paradise Cruise with Lisa Pavelka, Christi Friesen, Lynne Ann Schwartzenberg and Desiree McCrory in April 2008 and hearing all the other people talking about their guilds and how much fun they were and how much they learned from each other, five of us Mississippi girls formed our own guild. We figured that if it was just the five of us getting together every month to clay and play, it would be worthwhile. But we’ve been able to share our enthusiasm with a lot more people and our guild has about 20 members after just one year. We celebrated the first anniversary of our first guild meeting in June.

Do you have any advice for people who are considering working with polymer clays?
Find a group to work with – either local, online or both. The International Polymer Clay Guild is a good place to start to see if there is a local guild anywhere close to you. Another good way to learn is to join an online group. There are quite a few out there. I know just on YahooGroups there are a large number of online email groups dedicated to polymer clay. Most have people of all skill levels who are willing and able to answer your “newbie” questions without making you feel dumb! Some of them have challenges. Participate. It will make you stretch your skill level… And if you do find people around you who want to learn too, get together periodically and teach one another. My absolute favorite thing to do is have a Clay Play Day where we book a room at the local library and just do our own thing. It’s fun to see what everybody else is doing and bounce ideas off of each other.
About the only other thing that I can say is practice, practice, practice! I don’t want to sound preachy but it’s a fact that you get out of it what you put into it. That’s true with pretty much anything you do. If you really want to get better at polymer clay, you have to get your hands in it!

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, I really enjoyed learning all about you and your awesome work!
Please, feel free to check out Ashpaints on Etsy, by either clicking here, or any of the featured pictures (it will take you directly to those listings)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Steps involved in the creative process!

I read something awhile ago that I think is worth a repost.

When we look at items for sale that have been hand-made or hand-crafted, we often wonder, "Why so expensive???" Well here are some reasons why this is. In fact, we can ask the question “Why is the price so LOW?”

Courtesy of Adornyourself ( ) , one of the fabulous artists on Etsy, I have quoted her post as of August 26, 2008 :

“Adornyourself says:I think we as craftspeople don’t always do as good a job as we can at letting buyers know what actually does go into producing a handcrafted item.

A pottery friend of mine has done and hands this to customer’s who ask why a handmade mug costs to much!

I challenge all of you to do this for the items you create and post it here.

Here’s Sams’..

so glad you asked!!)
1. Drive to Oakville and pick up the clay – 2 1/2 hour tripEACH WAY.
2. Unload load clay into basement studio.
3. Weigh out amount needed.
4. Wedge (knead) clay.
5. Centre clay on wheel and throw the mug shape.
6. Remove from wheel and let dry 24 – 48 hours; depending on humidity.
7. Put mug back on wheel and trim.
8. Hand create handle.
9. Let handle dry 1 to 5 hours; depending on humidity.
10. Attach handle to trimmed mug
11. Cover handle in hot wax to slow drying on very dry days.
12. Let mug dry 1 week minimum. If mug cracks at this point,re-cycle clay and start over at step 3.
13. Take mug upstairs to kiln in the garage and fire to 1850 F -about 15 hours.
14. Take mug back downstairs to studio for glazing. If mug hascracked during first firing, discard and write-off.
15. Mix glaze(s). Each glaze require approximately 3 hours tomix and sieve.
16. Put hot wax on the bottom of mug so it does not stick tokiln shelf.
17. Choose design and glaze mug.
18. Let mug dry thoroughly.
19. Bring mug back upstairs to kiln in the garage and load. If glaze scratches or gets bumped on journey, wash with hot water andstart back at step 13.
20. Fire glazed mug to 2400 F. This takes 24 – 28 hoursdepending on electricity demands.
21. Hold at 2400 F for approximately 25 minutes. Make sure allshelves reach the exact same temperature.
22. Wait approximately 14 hours for kiln to cool to under 400 F before opening.
23. Remove and check mug. If cracked, start over at step 1.24. If mug has miraculously survived to this point, clean sharpbits off bottom with grinding stone by hand, and put out for sale.
25. Last, but certainly not least instruction; try not to attackthe foolish person who innocently asks “Why does this mug costso much?”

AND, let us not forget all the hidden steps NOT numbered in here.

- Answer phone-
Sell pots
- Pay Ontario Hydro
- Develop new glazes and slips
- Come up with new pots and ideas
- Pay Ontario Hydro
- Put out signs on road
- Have MTO take signs off road
- Pay Ontario Hydro
- Re-cycle clay
- Pay Ontario Hydro
- Attend conferences and workshops

Thank you for your time and attention.

Feel free to modify to your routine, and hang where everyonecan see it!! “

So, in the spirit of things, I thought I would put in my 2 cents worth, and post some of what is involved in my sculpting with Polymer Clay. Whether it be a Gift Tag Topper Ornament or a full sculpt.

“The steps to making a mug seem to be similar to sculpting for me, only I can bake it in my oven
Think of what I want to make
Draw it
Choose the colours
Condition the clay (by hand or by pasta machine)
Mix the clay (for colours) and hope to get it right the first time
Start the sculpt
Scrap the sculpt
Start the sculpt
Try to get rid of all finger prints or crease marks from surgical gloves
Heat the oven (only 230 though)
Bake the sculpt
Let it cool completely in the oven
Sand it
Paint the sculpt (if applicable)
Glaze the sculpt (usually 5 – 10 steps)
Make the base (if applicable)
Glue on any embellisments to base and sculpt
Take pictures
Edit pictures
Decide you do not like the pictures and take more
Edit new pictures
Measure sculpt, and base in inches and centimeters
Write up the description
Figure out the tags
Guess the approximate price I HOPE to get
Make the box for the item (if applicable)(which involves, measuring, cutting, glueing, embellishing etc)
Weigh and measure the boxed and packaged item
Get the shipping quote for Canada, USA and International
List the item
Market the item
Put it into my inventory books
Finally sell the item "

So, I for one will no longer be thinking in terms of “Oh, this is too much money” it will be more like, “I do hope they are making Some Money off of my purchase!!!”

Have a great day all! And, please do not forget to stop by my shop to see all the polymer clay creations, bamboo windchimes, catnip teddy bear toys and other great gift ideas for your loved ones! I also have a limited supply of commercial made supplies left, so come get them now while supplies last!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gifts From Nature

In March of 2008 I was looking for a new craft that I could do during winter months when I could not be outside in my gardens. I was selling toys online at the time (TY Beanie Babies, NASA miniature replicas toys etc) and had run across some amazing artists. They sculpted using something called Polymer Clay. Dragons, fairies, animals, anything one could imagine. I had purchased a couple of little dragonlings, and thought to myself, " I wonder if I could do that?"

So, I did some research to find out what I would need to have in the order of supplies to try out this new craft. I purchased some Fimo Polymer Clay, some glaze, and started to play with it. I sculpted some frogs, a pig, ladybug, sea serpent, butterflies, dragonflies and so on. I was hooked!

I did sell some of these on the website I was currently selling on, and had a wonderful time. Over the span of a year, I joined another site, called Etsy (which is a handmade crafts, vintage, and supply website) and started to sell some there.

In the fall when I was doing my normal thing, collecting and drying flowers to make potpourri, I had a thought. What about making things with a combination of polymer clay and dried flowers and leaves?

Just think...a way of sharing my Gifts From Nature (the name for that line of products I am making) with the world!

How do I make them? Well, in a nutshell, I collect interesting specimens of various flowers and leaves. I put them in large books (acid free paper), and put something really heavy on them to dry them flat. It usually takes at least a month for them to dry completely. Most of the time they keep their colours very nicely. (Only a few have turned brown.)

Then, I decide what I am going to make. I cure the clay before adding the dried organic element though. I usually use Delta Ceramacoat to affix the dried leaf/flower to the clay object, and put at least 2-3 coats of the glaze on afterwards to ensure that it will not peel away. It usually takes at least 2-3 days for that part of it to be completed.

So far, I have made key chain fobs, charms, a sun catcher, a couple of necklace pendants, some ACEOs and some brooches. I even made my parents and sister their Easter Cards using pansies from my flower beds. I think they have all turned out quite nicely. I have plans of extending my line of Gifts from Nature in the future, so keep watching! I will share them with you as I complete them.

If you would like to see the ones I have available for sale now, you can check them out in my shop on Etsy.

Here are some of my creations so far.

Pansy Suncatcher
Pansy Brooch
Dianthus (Sweet William) Brooch
Dianthus (Sweet William) Brooch
Easter Card with Dianthus and a green Tourmaline pendant
Easter Card with Pansy and a green Tourmaline pendant.