Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stained Glass Antics 2014

 We hit 25F today which is our normal high for this time of year.  It felt great, too.  Snow was predicted for today, but nary a flake was flying when I went to exercise class.  As we were working out, someone mentioned how the room was getting darker and when we looked through the vertical blinds, we were amazed at how much snow had fallen in less than an hour.  I believe the grand total for our area was around five to six inches which all fell between 10AM and 4PM.  We were kept busy tonight snowblowing and shoveling.  Unfortunately, the temps are going to drop below zero again over the next week. 

Carl and I have been lamenting the fact that winter is going by so fast.  I know that sounds silly coming from people who are living through Polar Vortex attacks, you'd think we'd be pining for warmer weather, wouldn't you?  But it's the truth.  Winter is my vacation time.  I don't know how I'd cope if I had to garden all year round.  We need the break.  And besides, winter is stained glass time and we're running behind.

Here's a look at what we've accomplished since the snow started to fly:
My good friend, Nancy, is an extraordinarily talented lady and enjoys quilting, crocheting, needlework and crafting beautiful works of art, and I was at a loss for what to give her for Christmas.  Quilts are one of her passions, so I made her a quilt sun-catcher.

Speaking of quilt blocks, our annual submission for the Association of Stained Glass Lamp Artists is due in mid-February, and this is the design chosen for the annual Quilt.  Here it is after cutting and grinding, but before foiling and soldering: 

Flax flower taken from a US Postal Service stamp design
 I don't know what happened with my color selections this year, but I guess it will do.  I'm sure it will look better surrounded by all the other submissions.

Along with the quilt panel, we have to get our lamp photo submissions sent in soon, too.  We're hoping to have the Daffodil ready to go this year, IF I get it cleaned up in time.  We were lucky to be selected for the 2014 ASGLA calendar with the Laburnum and our little Peony shade last year. 

As I mentioned in my last post,  I didn't get around to cleaning the Daffodil shade until this past week.  Soldering makes a big mess out of stained glass and it has been in this condition since April 2013:
Look at all the crusted gunk soldering paste leaves behind even after the shade was scrubbed multiple times.  The only way to get the gunk out is with some elbow grease and a dental pick.
This dental pick has seen a lot of stained glass gunk over the years.  I have a slew of other tools I use too, but I keep coming back to this one in particular,  as it is well-balanced and really good at getting into all the cracks and crevices.  I feel like a dental hygienist as I scritch and scratch around.  When our son David lived at home, he would leave the room whenever I was working on detailing a lamp; he hated the noise it made.  
I put on an apron and set to work with the dental pick in my right hand and an old toothbrush in my left.  As I scrape the soldering paste off the glass, I swipe over the remnants to get rid of the excess so I can see where I need to go next.  Try as I might, I'm covered in gunk by the time I'm done.  The soldering paste has dried up and the resulting texture is very similar to old varnish which flakes off in small pieces.
I perch the lampshade on my lap and balance it there as I work.  I haven't dropped one.  (Yet.)  I think there are 684 pieces in this lamp and each one needs to be cleaned, inside and out.   I wear two sets of glasses since for some reason my optometrist can't get my bifocals strong enough for this intense close-up work. 
Once I get the outside done, I then have to repeat the entire process on the inside.
I worked on cleaning the lamp for over twenty hours this week.  In between scratching sessions, I stick the shade back on the base for safe keeping.  When the bulbs are lit it was apparent there's more work to be done.
Looking better, but there's still more gunk to deal with.  I should have taken a 'before' photo, though, since the shade is a lot brighter now.

After the Daffodil is completely cleaned, I apply a patina to the lead lines to darken them and then the shade will need to be polished again.  

Moving on:  The full-size Wisteria is ready to be put on the form.  I am anxious to get it off my dining room table where it's been sitting since Christmas on a huge sheet of Plexiglass.

There are five repeats of this pattern and many of the pieces are small, some even smaller than my pinky fingernail.

We got right down to the end and found we were short seven pieces.  If you're ever done a jigsaw puzzle, the experience is much the same, don't you hate it when there are pieces missing?
Drat!  Where is piece 373 in repeat 2?

Unlike jigsaw puzzles, the problem is easily solved. We made new pieces to replace the missing ones.
There, all done.  

Look at the bucket of 1,954 Mylar pattern pieces...I'm glad this job is done.
 We started this lamp very late last spring, very close to planting season, and it sat unfinished until now.  Actually, I'm surprised we didn't lose more than seven pieces.  The stained glass hunks are stuck to the Plexiglass with poster putty and the whole shebang was stowed behind Carl's recliner in the living room for over ten months.  Whenever Carl would recline in his chair, he'd knock pieces off the Plexiglass and I'd have to be careful not to vacuum them up.  Come to think of it, that's probably where the missing seven went......

This is one big lamp, I couldn't get all the repeats in one picture, so here's a bunch of them:

The blue glass is all Youghiogheny 'Wisteria' glass, handpicked from their factory in Pennsylvania.  The green glass in the leaves is Lins, which is no longer in production.   

One thing we've learned about stained glass is you never know for certain how a shade will look until it is soldered and off the form.  No matter how many times I look at the repeats on the light table and obsess over changes, there's the inevitable moment of truth when the shade is lit for the first time.  That's when I see the subtle and not-so-subtle errors in my color selections which looked fine in the flat but look altogether different in 3D.

With any luck this weekend I might get my dining room table back.  Carl has the fiberglass mold coated with beeswax and ready to go. He still has some work to do fine-tuning the bronze crown and branch set that forms the top of the shade.  

I'm not sure where we will display this huge lamp when it's done.    We're running out of space in this small house.  But we'll find a place to cram it in somewhere.

I realize the joint is looking like a stained glass showroom/hoarder's paradise, and in retrospect I will admit we are obsessed.  They brighten up our nights all year round, but especially in the winter when we appreciate our glass flowers the most.
Floral Bouquet

 We hope to set up the time lapse camera as we stick the Wisteria pieces on the form; it makes a fun little movie and feeds my 'instant gratification' urge.   

I guess it's a good thing stained glass projects take so long to build, though, or we won't have any room to turn around.  

My practical mother is continually anxious about this addiction of ours.  Every time we finish a project, she wants to know if we're done now.  "How many lamps does a person really need?"

Um, yeah, well......she's got a point.

At least one more.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

We Survived Another One

Polar vortex, that is.  

As I'm writing this it's still only -3F, but that's a huge improvement over the -19F we were this morning.  I think we hit a high of 0F this afternoon which was almost balmy.  When we get back to the 20's which is forecast for later this week we'll be running around in our shirtsleeves.

But this morning when I first stepped outside, I knew it was cold since my first deep breath resulted in my nostrils freezing up.    This is a really weird sensation if you've never experienced it, and doesn't last too long, that is unless you quit breathing.  And if that happens, well, then you've got more problems than frozen nostrils, I'm afraid.  

The dogs went out with me to tend to my morning chores, but they were done with their business of making yellow snow and back in the house in under a minute.  There was no dilly-dallying.  

I grabbed the garbage can and headed out to the road to plunk it in a snowbank and then trudged over to the mailbox to mail the land tax bill.  Our mailbox has been hit by the snowplow three times already this year and the lid doesn't fit very well any more but with some persuasion on my part, I managed to pound it shut and get the flag hoisted.   

Our driveway is a shifting dune of snow.  Carl made it out to go to work, but the Oldsmobile (yes, he's still driving the 1989) dragged bottom the entire way.  I raised my sleep apnea mask this morning when he left and told him if he needed help shoveling his way out, hey, just let me know, and then promptly passed out again.  He didn't wake me, and he didn't shovel either.  The car did all the work. 

After I got back to the house, I blazed a trail to the chicken coop armed with a big scoop shovel.  The goat trail I've plowed is only a shovel-width wide because I'm too lazy to take two swats and the drifts are over 3' high on either side.   

When I finally reached the coop, I spent another five minutes shoveling out the area where the door swings open.  The door was frozen shut, so I plodded back to the garage, found a trowel and pried it open.  The Girls were glad to see me since I had a treat of leftovers from the house.  They love bread.  And vegetable scraps.  And meat.  Especially meat. 

 I checked to make sure their water supply wasn't frozen (we keep it perched on top of a heated dog water bowl) and their feed was full and reluctantly shut the door on their happy clucking.   With the heat lamp on in this extreme cold, it's daylight 24 hours a day in the coop which must be like living in Alaska.  

After tossing a bit of bird seed out for the wild birds, my feet and fingers were already starting to hurt, so it was time to go in.  I grabbed a Leslie video and walk, walk, walked for five miles.  I was sweating when I got done.

Our furnace is still running quite steadily, but we are lucky since we have geothermal heat.  Some of our neighbors heat their homes with propane and that's another story.  There is a propane shortage and the fuel is being rationed and must be paid for before the delivery person will pump from the truck.   No one is getting a full tank of propane, I've heard the limit is 150 gallons which, when it's -20F, doesn't take long to go through.  The price is also skyrocketing which is a darn shame. This happened to us when we were using fuel oil a few years ago as a heating source, too, and I feel for them.  There's nothing you can do but pay the bill and hope you don't run out before the cold weather ends.   

I spent the afternoon working on cleaning up the Daffodil lamp from last winter's work.  More on that to come, but I told Carl if he EVER uses the type of solder he used on this lamp again, I quit as clean-up person.  He assured me he won't make that mistake again. He used a rosin core solder someone had given him, and it makes a big mess.
 Normally I would have cleaned the wax, flux and other goo off of the lamp immediately, but this shade was done late last spring and we jumped right into gardening, so it sat, uncleaned for almost a year.  Actually, I don't think the grime hurt the shade at all, because now instead of being ultra-sticky, it's sorta dried up and flakes off in most spots.  It's just a long, drawn-out job.

When Carl came home from work, he went up to Mom's and retrieved her newspaper from where the delivery person flung it in the driveway.  I can't figure that one out, I have her mailbox cleared of snow, but every day they whip the paper out in the middle of her yard.  The paper is stuffed into a plastic bag to keep it dry, but we have to search for it since it's drifted over.   I'll have to take a look at her mailbox tomorrow, it can't be too bad, since the mailman hasn't complained.  Carl retrieved her mail right from his car window, so go figure.  I don't like Mom going outside when it's this cold if I can help it.  

When Carl came back down here, he spent another ten minutes driving back and forth in the driveway with the Olds again, plowing a trail with the car.  I didn't want to start the tractor in this frigid weather, but tomorrow will be a warmer day and we'll get this situation fixed.

I continued working on the Daffodil shade until 5PM.  I finally had to quit, I was cramped up from the uncomfortable position and so restless; except for tending the hens, I hadn't been outside for 24 hours.  Taking a peek at the thermometer reading -1F, it was time to go skiing again.  

I put on my snowpants, ski boots and scarf, coat and gloves, grabbed the skis off the dining room wall (yes, I keep them in the house after skiing so the snow and ice melts out of the bindings) snatched up my poles and headed out to do battle with the elements again. 

My nose didn't freeze up like it had done this morning, so I took that as a good sign.  The wind whipping around the north side of the White Pines did take my breath away, but it wasn't too bad.  The worst part was crossing the field where there are no trees for a shelter belt, for that fifteen minute stretch I started to get a brain freeze.  

If you're not familiar with a brain freeze, have you ever eaten ice cream too quickly or chewed on an ice cube and had the top of your head start to hurt?  Well, for me, the cold wind brings the sensation on quickly.  The windchills were still in the -20F range and pretty brisk, around 13mph, so I started skiing a whole lot faster to get to the trees again.  On the way home I simply turned my back into the wind and skied southeast with the wind until I reached the White Pines.  I made a few laps around the garden and through the trees and back again and after an hour, I was ready to come in.  The cold air was refreshing and the break I needed.  

So, there you have it, a look into my scintillating activities on yet another Polar Vortexed Day in Wisconsin.  

Stay tuned for another exciting adventure into 'Cleaning Gunk Off Lamps' coming up soon.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Vortexes or Vortices?

These are the things that keep me up at that we are well into our second serious bout of Polar Vortex-erization here in Wisconsin, is the plural of vortex spelled 'vortexes' or 'vortices'?   I looked it up and apparently either spelling is acceptable.  

Ok, 'vortexerization' is not a word, but if this cold weather trend doesn't end soon, it might make Webster's dictionary next year just as 'twerk' did in 2013.  (Isn't it hard to believe a little twerp made the word 'twerk' famous enough to get it into a proper dictionary?)  Vortexterized should at least be considered.    

The not-balmy breezes are howling around the house with ferocity at the moment and our furnace seemingly never shuts down.  Our two elderly little dogs look pitifully at me whenever I leave them out to do their duty and I can't blame them, but the cold weather does speed them up considerably.

 If you've ever owned a dog, you know the ritual; they usually have to search for just the right place to relieve themselves.  Once the temps go way below zero, suddenly finding the perfect spot is meaningless and  they're back in record time.

We've had snow almost every day and relentless wind to go with it, so the 574 and the snowblower are in demand quite a bit.  On Saturday night I removed the snow from my mother's yard.  I was glad Joel stopped in so I could turn the tractor over to him to drive down and blow out our yard.  After 45 minutes on the open tractor, my hands and feet were starting to smart.  

Our driveway was drifting in again last time I looked, but I'm not  sure the tractor would start anyway.  Hopefully Carl will be able to get out of the driveway to go to work in the morning.  Oh, well, there's always shovels.  

Our temps are supposed to go down to about -7F tonight, but the wind is what is making it miserable, with windchills ranging from -20 to -30.  Monday night is really threatening to turn us all into popsicles....they are predicting -20F with windchills to -40.  

Since I am facing what looks to be at least a few days of enforced stay-in-the-house-as-much-as-possible time, I decided to go skiing   tonight for one last hurrah.  The days are getting longer already, I went out at 5PM and could still see quite well.  The temperature was around 5 above and the wind was nasty, but as long as I skied around the backside of the trees and the white pines in the Back Eight, I was reasonably comfortable.

I realize these skiing stories must be getting tiresome, but without the skiing, I would end up like Jack Nicholson in the movie 'The Shining'.  "Here's Johnny!!" is not something Carl wants to hear me bellow as I chop down the house door with an ax.  Ski poles are much safer, I'll leave the ax in the barn for now.

 I skied north first, down the lane, headed for the Back Eight.  My trail is still visible, even under the two fresh inches of snow.  

Making the turn to the east, I pick up speed since it's slightly downhill.  A few folks have asked if I take a flashlight with me when I go out after dark and whether I'm afraid of coyotes or other wild animals.  The answer to those questions are no and not really.  I don't take a flashlight because I have my hands full of ski poles and in this instance a big ol' camera hanging around my neck. 

Here we are, rounding the bend and heading northwest in the picture above.  Daylight is fading.  As far as coyotes go, I've never seen one.  I have heard them, though, but not in the winter.  Bears make me more nervous, and though I haven't seen one of them either, I heard there is at least one in our area.  I simply choose to believe they are hibernating right now, as any civilized man-eating mammal should be when the temps get this low.  

There were a few deer hanging around up until about two weeks ago but now I don't see their tracks any longer.  They have probably moved into the deep woods until the worst is over.  I have seen fox tracks and abundant rabbit trails so hopefully these two species are keeping themselves in balance.  

About the only thing I fear outside at night are stray dogs.  I did notice a pair of very big dog tracks up near the woods tonight just as the darkness was settling in, but consoled myself that the tracks weren't fresh since they were drifted over considerably in places.  But then as I stopped for a breather and looked behind me, I noticed my ski tracks were also nearly obliterated as fast as I was making them, so that did make the hair on the back of my neck stand up a bit. 

I always carry my cellphone with me, but when I'm two miles from home, I guess rescue is going to be a long time coming if I'm becoming a giant chew toy for some roaming canines.  Hey, I've got my ski poles, remember?  (Maybe I should carry an ax.)

Finding my way back home here, going past the Quarry.  We must have some Seriously Big Rabbits, check out those trails in the snow.

Look, it's the Ruins under snow.  
I was fumbling around with the camera's settings, trying to get the auto-focus turned off and finally succeeded in getting some pictures with a flash.  The tree is 'Skylands' a yellow spruce that probably should have been wrapped against this brutal weather, but it's a bit late now.  My fingers were getting numb so I gave up on trying to get fancy with the photography and took what I could get.

Squirrels have been galloping around in the snowbanks gathering black walnuts.  The tufa wall is taller covered in snow, looks better this way.  Since the wind was picking up even more, snow was falling from the trees.

My fingers were getting on beyond mere cold and the 35mm Nikon was not happy to be outside either but I finally managed to get a picture of the dome in the Formal Garden.  The snow is amazingly deep down there, all the stone walls are buried.  It's a good thing I wrapped the dwarf crabapples against rabbit damage or their trunks would be torn up by now.  There is a regular Rabbit Highway going through the Dome.

Ah, remember when it was warmer?  And greener?  This was last August and no, I never did move the planter out of the dome, either.   If I were a good gardener, I would have wrapped the Dwarf Alberta conifers against snow and winter damage, too.  

Bad, bad, gardener.  Maybe the protective layer of snow will be enough....some years are better than others.  I'll keep my fingers crossed.

About all we can do in this extreme cold weather is think warm thoughts and grin and bear it. 

 It can't last forever.  

Nothing lasts forever.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I'm Published

In what looks to be a giant ego attack, I have written a book.  Well, make that six books, because that's what it took to get my blog postings from the last four years into book form. 

Wow, this picture is blurry.....but it's better in real life.

 So, who decided my blog was worth sacrificing trees for?  I did.  I published myself using blog2print.  I've been debating doing this for years, and this past fall decided to take the plunge.  

Carl and our sons thought it was a good idea to print a hard copy since there is a lot of history in the blog and it's nice to have books to page through and reminisce.  It's sort of like a scrapbook for lazy people.  I'm awful at scrapbooking, so I took the easy way out.

Using the blog printing service was fairly simple.  You have choices on the color and type of cover, front and back cover photos, format style and which blog posts you want to include.  Since I write way too much, my books ended up being too big for one volume, so I broke them down into two volumes of approximately 400 pages for each book.  

I decided to have 2010 published first and waited to see what the finished product looked like before I went any further.  

The pictures turned out quite well.  There probably could be more pictures and text per page in some cases, and you do have the option of running posts together to save on room.  
I opted to have my blog printed the way it was originally written.  There is an option to have the pictures printed separately. I'm not sure what that would look like, so I decided to leave the format alone.
Some of the pictures came out nice and big, and others are small, it seems that any picture taken in the 'landscape' format is large, and the 'portrait' format is smaller. I'm not sure why that happened; maybe there was something I missed in the translation, but all of the pictures are clear.  

Once the first book came back, I decided to print the rest of them, too.  I also did a compilation book of the gardens from 1978 to 2013 which we can use as a history lesson of sorts when we have garden tours.  (Yes, that's right, we like to bore the tour groups, too.)

My mother is reading two of the books this winter, so they aren't pictured.  She's been a little embarrassed by the pictures I've posted over the years of her and the stories I've written, but she forgave me when I explained that there is only one copy of each of these books, not millions. 
 You can put any picture you like on the back cover of your book.  I want to get some plastic protectors for them because their glossy covers are easy to scratch.  

This wasn't cheap, the average cost of one 400 page book was around $150 which is a lot of money, but when I thought about trying to put all of these photographs into a scrapbook, I reconsidered.  The cost of printing photos, arranging them and writing text was high, too, and this way, the work is already done for me.

I haven't had 2013 printed yet, but I plan on doing so. 

I'm committed now.   

(Or should be.)