Monday, February 8, 2016

Painting a Barn and Hay Bales

I've been painting a lot lately and really enjoying limited palette studies with watercolors.   Here's a recent effort - a late fall scene along Highway 157 in Greene County.   [Looks better blown up a bit, click to enlargen.]

We're about to get another dose of winter.   I have a feeling I'll be painting a lot more this week.

Hope you're all having a wonderfully creative winter and that you're staying good and warm.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The New Bookshelves

Our January project is finally done and it was worth the considerable amount of time it took.   Eric built these shelves on the wall around the 'will be a bathroom someday' door.  [Right now that little room is full of salvaged doors and door frames that I picked up last year, plus the pile of tiles for the someday bathroom, plus a few rolls of tar paper for the floor, a pile of assorted wood, the drywall buckets and tools, etc.]

He used birch plywood, stained and shellacked to match the other doors and trim upstairs.  

They are beautiful!   I've started moving up some of our gazillions of books.  This will let us clear out the smaller bookshelves in other areas of the house that have been double-stuffed during the building project.    Since the girls both work at a library, they are graciously allowing me to do the first pass at organizing the books, then they'll finesse, and then I get the final OK.   We are one step short of putting Dewey decimal numbers on everything.   [I heard you laugh.   When I was a kid, I had a prodigious collection of books myself and I DID put faux library labels on every single one.]

Next project:  Installing the floor in the guest room [Feb], then the floor in the Big Room upstairs [March]. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Time to Tap the Trees

It's just about that time again.   Time to tap the maple trees and start gathering sap for syrup.   And syrup means SPRING.  

Spring is good.   So is homegrown, home made, maple syrup.   We finished our last bit this week and there was much sadness in Mudville.  

Our old blue sap bags wore out last year and we moved to a tube and bucket system.   Behind the bag in the pic, you can see what I'm talking about.   That's what we'll be putting in in the next day or so.    I'll try to get some pics of how exactly this works.

For more links about how we do this, check out this post.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Another Hive Down

I checked the hives on Wednesday when the sun was out and the temps near 50.  The pink hive was actively housecleaning and doing cleansing flights but the other was silent.    I waited a few hours because the smaller hive often takes a bit more coaxing to break cluster and come out, but never saw a single bee. 

So.   The next day I waited until it was warm again and lifted the lid on the quiet hive for a quick look and found a completely silent hive.   I lifted some of the candy I'd put in during the fall and found the dead cluster up high, tucked right under the food source, barely fist sized.   They didn't make it through the couple nights of 0 degrees early last week.  Just not enough bees.

It's very discouraging.    That's 3 out of 4 hives down this year. 

I put some tar paper around the pink hive, checked the quilt box for good ventilation and tucked another giant bag of leaves up next to the bottom of the hive on the east.   It has excellent wind block on the west and north, with sun exposure to the east and south.   Assuming the sun shines again, that will help.    However, it's going to get near 0 again for the next couple of days.   Let's hope these ladies are tough enough to make it.  

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Editing a Painting

I have finished my first watercolor class on Craftsy.  [Yay!] The last project was to take a painting you had previously done and work on it.    I decided to work on the large boat I had painted before.

Boat 12x18.  Watercolor.  January 2016

Goal:  Identify problem areas and fix them.  Put paint in, take paint out, etc.

Execution:  I added color and detail to the background trees, the water, the orange grass behind the boat and the interior of the boat.   I darkened the shadows inside the boat and under the boat on the grass. 

Learned:  Editing was very enjoyable.  Increasing the contrast between lights/darks really makes a difference in how a painting reads.  

Although I could keep working and re-working the painting forever, I think I can stop with it here.   I like it the way it is.    [I think things can always be different, but not necessarily better.   I don't buy into the 'You can always make it better' philosophy.]

Next up:   A watercolor/pen landscape class.   Should be interesting.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Winter Bees

No pic for you today because the bees are under a bit of snow, but we saw them flying earlier this week so fingers crossed they'll make it the rest of the winter.

Since hope springs eternal around here, Eric and I went to a class yesterday on Queen Rearing and Nuc* Overwintering in the Michael Palmer style.   It was really interesting.  We hope these bees make it through and we can grow the yard a bit this year for real.   I ordered 2 more nucs from the instructor, who raises local genetics and doesn't treat.   They're more expensive than ever this year [$175 each] but the local, disease resistant bees would be worth it if I can grow the yard.  

We took the class at Stuart Ratcliff's apiary in Bedford, Indiana.   He's on facebook:  Ratcliff Beekeeping.    He taught us all about grafting and raising queens and then overwintering the nucs.   Grafting doesn't interest me much, but there are graft free ways of making your own queens and I'll be trying some of those this year if we come out of the winter with live hives. 

In class, Stuart asked us what our goals for the yard are and I realized that I've been so focused on getting the bees through the winter that I hadn't really thought about anything beyond March.  So we've all been talking about it.  This will be our 5th year with bees.   If these hives make it, then we'll grow them for honey.  We'll be converting the long hive into nuc spaces - a quadruplex with a window in the back.   The screened bottom will have to be replaced with a solid bottom.  We'll have to make tiny inner covers for each section and tighten up the dividers between nucs.   It's likely we'll cut it down to a medium, but we can always put mediums in a deep and not the other way around.  

This is one of the problems with having to buy nucs [and typical starter kits that have those discounts on equipment].   Nucs are deeps and perpetuate the need for at least some deep boxes in the yard. Starter kits almost always have 2 deeps per hive.    We'd really like to go to all mediums.   I think we'll be able to do that eventually by only using deeps for the very bottom boxes, when we have to.  If we use mediums for all of the rest of the boxes, then in the spring when it's time to reverse the boxes, we'll have a medium on the bottom, can take the deep away [cut it down or save it] and can use mediums only on that hive from there on out.  

There are a lot of options for us.   We'll see what the rest of the winter brings.  

* For definitions of many bee terms, see my bee page tab above.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

An Apple a Day

Apples.  4x6 each.  Watercolor.  January 2016.

This was a homework assignment for the Craftsy class by Mary Murphy on Watercolor Techniques.

Goals:  Practice glazes [multiple layers of colors].  Use gouache for highlights.  Practice using masking fluid.

Execution:  Used many glazes to achieve the colors on the apples. Start light, work darker.  Used white gouache for the reflections on the apples.  Used masking fluid for spots on apples.

Learned: It's OK to start dark with some layers.   I think I got the best color on the top left apple, and that was the one where my first glaze was 'way too dark' on the bottom of the apple.  Also, masking fluid takes a long time to dry so have a hair dryer close by when you use it or wait for hours. 

Another thing I learned was that I'm good at thinking in terms of subject and shadow, but I have a big empty space where 'backgrounds' is supposed to be in my art brain.    If anyone can point me to a resource that specifically teaches how to think about backgrounds [not just composition in general], I'd be grateful. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Arting is good for my brain

Over the past year, I've been practicing painting with watercolors.   It's good for me because watercolor has a mind of its own.   I have to surrender control...and at the same time being an artist is about being responsible for every single line on the page.   Making art is about making choices.    The whole process is a little paradoxical and that feels good in my head these days.   

I paint to be brave.   Actually, I do a lot of things to be brave, but painting requires me to really step out of my comfort zone in a lot of ways.   I don't feel confident sketching, making mistakes, letting go, learning to see the truth in the lie and not feeling like a liar, showing the art to other people, etc.

I love how my head feels when I paint.   The process puts my brain in a really good, non-emotional place.   This is especially important in the winter, when I'm not outside getting as much sunshine as I need and when I tend to brood.   Brooding is bad unless you're a bird.  Which I am not.  Even though my name is Robin.  

SO.   For the next while, I'm going to be posting my artwork on the blog.   I am not looking for approval, I'm just putting it out there so I can see it from a different perspective. 

The photos of my art won't be fabulous.   I paint when I can and that's often when the light is not great.  I paint anyway.  The photos aren't in great light either, but my goal with this is to get it posted, not get it ready for jurying into a show.   So I'm posting them anyway.  Feel free to ask questions. 

Notes:   I paint two or more paintings at a time because I hate waiting until things are dry to do more work on a piece and you kinda have to do that with watercolor.   With 2 paintings, I can work on one while the other is drying.  This was a great strategy!   Double the practice and I can try something a bit different on the other painting as ideas occur to me.   Bonus - I like different things about each one.  

I'm taking a watercolor class online via and many of these will be homework from the class.   The teacher is Mary Murphy.   I like her a lot and I like the way Craftsy lets you post projects, talk to each other, ask questions, etc.   I'll be doing a landscape painting class later with a different teacher.  I let you know when I start that.

Boat 9x12.  Watercolor.  December 2015

Goal:  Use a sponge for texture.
Execution:  Used a fine sponge for added detail in grass in foreground.
Learned:  I'm not a big fan of sponges, but now I know how to use one. 

Goal:  Use big brushes.
Execution:  I started with the bigger brushes [1" and 3/4" feel huge to me] for the background, then worked smaller as I went. 
Learned:  I love working this way on larger paper!

Boat 12x18.  Watercolor.  December 2015

Goal:  Use really big paper.
Execution:  Used really big paper.
Learned:  It was a lot more comfortable than I expected.  I need to start buying more big paper.

Goal:  Use Frog Tape to tape out sections of the foreground/subject so I can paint better backgrounds. 
Execution:  I used the yellow tape to tape out the boat, did the backgrounds, then pulled the tape off and did the boat.
Learned:  The tape trick totally works.   Will do it again for large areas.  [I also have the masking fluid for fine lines, small areas.]

Monday, December 7, 2015

Garden Huckleberries Final Report

I told you at the beginning of the year that I was going to plant a couple of rows of garden huckleberries on the advice of one of my neighbors, who loves them for pies. 

I did my research, was surprised at the fear and skepticism surrounding these little things, but planted them anyway.

I started them from seed in my milk jugs along with everything else last spring.  They sprouted just fine and managed to evade the puppy destruction experienced by the peppers and most of the baby tomatoes and I was able to get 14 plants in a bed [2 rows] along with the brassicas and some later tomatoes.  I planted them 18 inches apart in wide rows. 

They bloomed white flowers in small loose clusters at the end of branches, and kept on growing.   And blooming.   The bees liked them and soon there were green berries on the clusters and soon the berries expanded to the size of small blueberries and turned black.   And the little bushes kept on going. And going. And going.   At one point the margined blister beetles attacked.  They go after the leaves, not the fruit. I spent two or three days picking those little buggers off into soapy water and that seemed to take care of it. 

One of the sites I read through was by a guy who liked eating garden huckleberries right off the bush as soon as they turned black.  Another said to wait to harvest until after the first frost.    I tried one fresh berry in the summer when one cluster was good and black.   It was utterly disgusting.   Think of a blueberry that tastes somehow sort of like an unripe tomato.  

Hmm.    But that other article had said to wait until after the first frost, so I let them go thinking I'd harvest and make one batch of jam in October and if they were awful, I'd chalk it up to a learning experience and never do it again.

And October came and the bushes were loaded with black berries.  And it frosted a couple of times and I shanghaied my youngest and we spent 20 minutes stripping the plants of the berries, except for a few for seeds just in case.

Note:   These babies stain in a BIG way.   Wear junk clothes when you work with them.   The stains do not wash out, which means they are an underutilized plant for natural dyeing.    I got a gorgeous blue on the cloth I used to strain with.   We'll see how fugitive it is and maybe do more experimenting next year.   One very cool thing is that they stain your hands purple, but when you wash your hands with soap, it turns the foam bright screaming blue.  Bright. Screaming. Blue.    I had to wash several times before the foam was the normal color again.  

The best information on cooking them came from Mother Earth News.   Remember - these are no substitute for blueberries.  You can't just drop a handful in muffins.   They must be softened and sweetened before you use them.

I got about a gallon and a half of huckleberries from my 14 plants.   I decided since mine were very ripe, I'd skip the baking soda boil recommended here.   I dumped them all in a large pot and added enough plain water to barely cover.   Then I boiled the living daylights out of them for about 2 hours, until they were soft enough to crush with a potato masher.  I crushed and crushed.  When I'd had enough of the crushing, I strained them through cheesecloth, kept the juice and tossed the seeds and skins to the chickens.   Next year I'll save those for dyeing. 

I made one batch of jelly using my regular jelly recipe - just to taste - and it was.....  Delicious!  And really pretty!   The taste is somewhere between grape and a very bright blueberry.  I had enough juice for three batches total.   Here's the recipe:

Garden Huckleberry Jelly

4 cups huckleberry juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup Dutch Gel All Natural Lite pectin [You can substitute Ball or Sure-Jel, just make sure it's the low sugar type.]
2 cups sugar  [or more, to taste]

Bring huckleberry juice, lemon juice and pectin to hard rolling boil.   Maintain boil for 1 minute.   Add sugar and return to hard rolling boil.  Boil for 1 minute.   Ladle into jars and process for canning.

Soooo - I asked the family - Will we plant these again?     The unanimous answer was a resounding YES.  They were easy to start from seed.   The plants are easy to grow in our zone 5B heavily amended clay soil.  I basically ignored them all summer long.   The jelly is delicious.   I'd like to try making pie filling with it next year, too.   I will wait again until after the first frost to harvest, then cook them and divide them up for pie filling and for jelly.  

I will definitely save the spent seeds and skins for dyeing, as well as a bit of the whole fruit to see if there's a difference in color.   Because of the wide difference in color when exposed to acid [fuchsia] and alkali [green to blue], I'm expecting that wools [acid] and cottons [alkali] can be dyed very differently, or at the very least I can get a difference in color on the same fiber with a post dyeing dip in vinegar or ammonia.  We'll see.

Monday, November 23, 2015


I told you in my last post that I had combined two hives and in the process started a lot of robbing.  And these robbers were relentless. 

It's normal to see a lot of action in the front of the hives and around the entrances.  

It is NOT normal to see action all around a hive, under the hive, around the back, with bees trying to get in the seams, and bees fighting and dropping off the hive in clusters.   That's robbing behavior. 

The robbers will strip all the stores from a hive in no time flat and kill an entire hive as well.  I knew that the worst of the robbers were other honeybees, joined with a few yellow jackets and some giant bumblebees.  I just didn't know if the bees were from one of my other hives or from a feral hive or a neighbor's hive.

First rule of robbing:  Stop It Now!

What to do?   There are several options:
  • robber screens
  • wet blanket over entire hive
  • set out feeder 100-200 yds away from the hives to lure robbers away
  • close up hives completely
  • open up all hives so that robbers go back home to defend
  • something even more drastic if you can think of it.
I had already put robber screens on the hives as soon as we had our first hard frost and the winter dearth started. They didn't seem to be making much difference.

I put out a feeder but that had minimal effect.

I tried wet blankets and that didn't work.  The robbers went under.

I didn't want to open all the hives, because it looked like all the hives were getting robbed and that meant the robbers were mostly likely coming from another area and not my bees robbing each other.

The guys on Beemaster bee forums said to do something even more drastic, so I turned the hose on the bee yard and hosed all the hives down.

It worked.

Then I suited up completely including gloves and screened off all three hives. 

The next morning, the hives were covered with bees again and I knew for sure they were coming from outside my yard.   I left the hives completely closed with screens for a couple of days until the robbers didn't come back, and then I took the screens off late one evening so my bees could have a bathroom break and get back in without having to worry about robbing.   Robbers go home at dusk.  

Note:  Bees HATE flashlights, so if you go out and must use a flashlight around the hives, make sure you suit up completely.   I was paranoid and insisted we suit up, and boy, were we glad we did.

A couple weeks later, I put sugar and quilt boxes on all the hives.  I reduced the combined hive to a single box as fast as I could and using hive cloths to keep things covered as I worked.  By the time I was done another robbing frenzy had started and I got the hose out and took care of it.

This time the robbing was mostly centered on the combined hive, so I closed that hive up completely with screens and left the other two alone with their robber screens on. 

If there are robbers in a hive when you close it up, within three days, they either fight to the death or are forced to join the hive. If there are a lot of robbers and they join the hive, you've effectively increased the size of that hive, which would be a good thing in my case.    So I left it closed for three days.  

Things are calm now.   All hives have robber screens, extra sugar and quilt boxes on for the winter.

Let's hope they'll make it through til spring.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fall Bees

It was a busy fall around the bee yard the past couple of months.   Two of the hives decided to requeen in late August - one of the Russians and one of the nucs.   

The Russian hive produced 27 queen cells, which we tried to make nucs with and failed, but the cell we left in the hive produced a fabulous queen and that hive is doing very nicely now.   We're overwintering it in two boxes.  

The other Russian hive is doing fine and will winter in a single box.  

The nuc with the new queen never got very big and so I decided to combine it with what had been a much stronger hive.  Unfortunately, the combine was slow because you have to find one of the queens to take her out.   I had decided to keep the new queen and it took for freaking ever to find the other.   By the time I finished the combine, there was wholesale robbing.   By the time I got the robbing under control, there were not enough stores to warrant two boxes over the winter, so I reduced them down to a single box.   Which started more robbing, which I'll talk about in the next post. 

At any rate, I'm going into winter with 3 hives this year.   I am hopeful that the two Russian hives will do OK.   The other hive is very different in demeanor and I'd be thrilled if they made it through at all, but I confess I won't be surprised if they don't. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Classes for 2016

Thanks to everyone who came out to this year's Bloomington Spinners and Weavers Guild show in Bloomington.   We spent many happy hours talking to wonderful and creative people about all sorts of projects.   Thank you for coming and for sharing your creativity.

I heard several requests for classes for next year and since I hadn't made any decisions, I thought I'd open the topic up for discussion on the blog for a few weeks and find out what you were most especially interested in.

Please take a moment and tell us what you're thinking.

The classes I want to offer are full-service type classes.   Everything is provided, all you have to do is get yourself here.  We live in Greene County Indiana -  25 minutes southwest of Bloomington, Indiana.   20 minutes northeast of Bloomfield, Indiana.   1 1/2 hours southeast of Terre Haute, Indiana.   1 1/2 hours south of Indianapolis.  2 hours north of Louisville, Kentucky.

Each class would be limited in size to 4 or 5 people max, so you'd be getting a lot of individualized attention.   Each class would include hands on experience and a goody bag to take home.  Everything is provided - all you have to bring is yourself.   Full day classes would include home made lunch and a walk along the paths through our woods and fields, if you like.

Thanks for taking the time to help us focus our classes for 2016. Please click on as many things as you are interested in.

What kinds of classes would you be willing to come here to take?  
Half or Full day?  
Day of week?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Artisan Guilds of Bloomington Show


It's almost time!   We're so excited for this year's Artisan Guilds of Bloomington holiday sale.   Three of the best guilds in the midwest gathered in one location for all of your holiday shopping needs.   Come see our astounding collection of fiber art, pottery and glass art.   Meet the artists, listen to local musicians and taste some great treats.  

2015 Bloomington Spinners and Weavers Guild Show
Friday, November 6,    4pm - 9pm
Saturday, November 7,  9am - 5pm 
Downtown Bloomington, Indiana - Corner of College Ave. and 3rd St.
Free Parking!

Fiber:  Downstairs to the left
Glass: Downstairs to the right
Pottery: Upstairs

Look for my booth in the left hand room of the fiber guild area.   I have some new designs in scarves this year - look for the packed-warp bamboo scarves.  So beautiful!    

We look forward to seeing you!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Another Rural Sonnet

It's been a while since I've posted rural poetry. Lately we've been cleaning a lot.

A lot.

And let me tell you this place is dirty.

Really dirty.

But I'm sure that has nothing to do with why we don't get much company.   Nothing at all. 

Or why, perhaps, we don't invite people over very often.    Nothing at all. 


Rural sonnet number whatever....

Ode to a Dirty House

Accumulated dirt from twenty years
And more, of living on a gravel road—
[A rolling cloud of dust likely appears
When every auto, bike, dog, cat or toad
Goes by when things dry out]—At any rate,
That dirt fills every pore of this old house.
It covers everything. Our real estate
Will soon be mostly in than out. I grouse
Each time I clean the tops of shelves unseen
For years. Each surface traps and glues right down
Vast swaths of gritty, grimy, anti-sheen.
The cobwebs make it worse because they’re brown
With gunk. I’d keep ahead of all that grime
But I’d be doing housework ALL the time.

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