Friday, December 7, 2018

A Weekend in Miami: The Everglades

My husband had business meetings and a dinner in Miami last Thursday. Thanks to an empty nest, I could tag along.  We explored on Friday and Saturday.  We'd never been to Miami and it was fun to discover all sorts of new things, from culture to wildlife, in the surrounding area.

Today I'm going to share some of my favorite nature pictures.  If you follow me on social media, you may have seen some of these images already.  I will confess to being swept away by the alligators we saw swimming through the wetlands and which also came right up to our airboat to check us out.  We also walked on a few trails in the Everglades National Park to explore further.  I didn't realize that each walk is designed to introduce visitors to a different micro-ecosystem within the park.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of wildlife.  I've never been so close to an alligator in its native habitat (meaning, not on a golf course or in a corporate center pond).  They seemed to be as intrigued by us as we were of them.  Some of the birds were skittish, but others let us get pretty close for photography. We explored throughout the day, right until dusk.

The marsh is really beautiful as the sun sets
Our guide didn't know this alligator, but he was a calm and curious fellow.  In my vain mind, I like to think that he was responding to my calling him a handsome, marvelous boy.
This is George.  Our guide said he was one of the dominant males in the area we were in.
I was pretty excited to get this picture of an osprey taking off from its nest.  If you look closely, you can see a bit of fish in its left claw.  Did you know that ospreys always carry their fish with the tail facing backwards?  Scientists think it's to make it's more aerodynamic.
The Purple Gallinule is a common wetlands bird in Florida, but I'd never seen one before.  Aren't the colors lovely? And look at those feet! They're about the size of a chicken: the bird, not the feet.
This is a green heron.  It's one of the few birds that uses tools.  It will try to lure prey closer by dropping or dragging a feather, twig, or insect in the water to attract a fish.  Pretty clever.

It was exciting to learn about and see wildlife we'd never encountered before.  I was snapping pictures like crazy.  Admittedly, I've seen osprey in New York, but never as up close.  A week later I'm still be scratching some of the bug bites I got, but they were totally worth it.  

Next up: culture / history at Vizcaya and art at Wynwood Walls.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Glimpse of Houston

I wasn't able to go to the Quilt Festival to see my quilt in the Dinner at Eight exhibition.  Fortunately, my friend, Deborah Boschert shared a picture of it.  Curators Leslie and Jamie paired quilts to amplify the impact of the overall show.  Here's Daily Bar Code hanging next to Leslie Tucker Jenison's piece, Interstital.

Photo courtesy of Deborah Boschert


Monday, November 19, 2018

Carbo Loading

What's possessed me?  Instead of cleaning the house, putting extra toilet paper in the bathrooms, clearing out closet space, -- you know, all the things you should do when lots of people descend on your house for a week long visit.... I've been spending days trying to make rolls and bread.

I've gone a bit off the deep end.

Still, it's been kind of fun.  Now there are multigrain dinner rolls that will be warmed up for Thanksgiving dinner.

The yeast in the cranberry nut breakfast rolls (complete with the dusting of raw sugar) was most definitely ALIVE!  The balls of dough went from these polite little things

to these monsters, that had no sense of personal space. 

And then, they baked into these beauties.

The wild rice and chive batardes baked nicely too, though we'll have to see how they taste at dinnertime.  They browned quickly and I'm wondering if I should have covered them with foil to keep baking.  Instead, I took them out of the oven, sooner than might have been wise.  They look lovely, but they might be a bit raw inside.   Ah, the adventure.

Well, if it doesn't work, we can all chow down on oatmeal butterscotch cookies.  The cookie jar is packed with them, with extras on the side.

While I wait for dough to rise, or when I'm tired of cleaning, I turn to my pup for a little break.  She's been keeping me in stitches with her antics.

This dog just oozes love.

Now back to cleaning the house.  It got a bit dusty while I was working.  But maybe it's flour.....

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Picking Up Where I Left Off

It's 11PM and I've finally found the time to sit and write. Life, filled with all sorts of good stuff, took precedence over blogging this last month.  No complaints, though it may have seemed to you that I fell off the face of the Earth.

Here's the summary version of what's been going on:

1) OUTRAGEOUS ORNAMENT: Extreme Jewelry in the 21st Century at the Katonah Museum of Art
I've practically been living at the museum.  Powerpoint presentations, lectures, sample tours, educator previews, opening night and other public tours have occupied my time... and I've loved it!  The exhibition is eye-opening on many levels.  So many guests have been surprised by how much content and conversation a show about body ornamentation can generate.  I know I was, when I was first introduced to the material.

Marjorie Schick, Spiraling Over the Line, 2008
I'm taking a tour-leading hiatus this month, but will be back at it in December and January.  I'll keep you posted about my schedule.  I'd love to see you there.

It's been a horribly wet fall.  I guess it's just an extension of our horribly wet summer.  Luckily I've been able to dash between the storms to get my garden winter-ready and to snap pictures. A recent frost made me pine for winter.  Too soon, I know.

Hmmm... I've just realized I've done a lousy job of posting pictures if I can't find the time to write.  I'll have to work on that some more.

I traveled with my daughter for fall break.  I spent time celebrating milestone birthdays with dear friends.  I hunkered down for a peaceful Saturday night with my husband after he'd been gone for 11 days on business.  All precious.

And now, the clocks have turned back.  The shorter, grayer days seem to push me to the studio.  But, that'll come in when it can. Right now, I'm prepping the house and the refrigerator for Thanksgiving.   My parents will be visiting, along with three of my son's college friends.  It's going to be fun!  Time to start the biscuits!  (If I think of it, and if they turn out, I'll post a picture of my first attempt at homemade biscuits.)

Now it's off to sleep.  Big day tomorrow.  VOTE!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

I'm on the D@8 Blog

Detail of my quilt, Daily Bar Code, that's part of the upcoming Dinner@8 exhibition

Every year, the Dinner@8 team asks participating artists a few questions and the answers  are then posted on the D@8 blog.  Today's my day!

You can find my answers here.

There will NOT be a test later on.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Outrageous Ornament at the Katonah Museum of Art

I'm very excited about the upcoming KMA exhibit, Outrageous Ornament: Extreme Jewelry in the 21st Century.
Robert Baines, Yellow Giraffe, ca. 2012
Sterling silver, powder coat, electroplate, paint

I'm the docent trainer once again, so I've had the privilege of getting sneak peeks at the checklist and working with Jane Adlin, the curator and former Associate Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Modern and Contemporary Art Department.  As usual, I've fallen down the rabbit hole, amassing more research than I can use.  This topic is fascinating because, until now, I hadn't considered jewelry an art form like painting.  But it most certainly is.  This is art  that can operate at a variety of scales and has the added intimacy of including the body (actually or implied).

This is art that demands to be considered, just like any other fine art, for its ideas, inventions and content.  Wearability, the use of precious metals, and adherence to traditional expectations are not required.

I hope you'll be able to come to the exhibit and see for yourself what I'm talking about.   Outrageous Ornament opens October 21st  and will run through January 27th.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Beautifying the Hospital

I'm pleased to report that seven of my photographs from my Noir Cactus series and Cactus Abstract series will be hanging in an area hospital for the next six months.  I hope they'll brighten someone's day. Here's an image from each of the series.

Cactus Abstract 9, ©Vivien Zepf, 2018

Noir Agave, ©Vivien Zepf, 2018

Monday, September 10, 2018

Getting Bigger

Mishmash in the works
The scrap beast is growing.  The question is, do I make it finished as a square or a rectangular quilt?  If it's a square, how can I make it big enough to snuggle under?  If I make it a rectangle, will the pattern feel incomplete?

I think there's some rearranging work in my future, but I suppose I have a few more blocks to make before that happens.  As of this morning, I had to make some new half square triangles. I've used up all the ones I'd stitched years ago.   Now progress will probably move a bit more slowly.  Given the weather, I'm glad to have the project.  Yes, we're getting more rain...

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Out Exploring

I'm out exploring the natural world and here are a few photos of things I've seen.  There will be more later; I'm off again shortly.

The pelican rookery
 A striped crab in a tide pool
A horbor seal coming right for us. See the water just slicking off its back?
An orca coming at us, too.  Magnificent!
Always fun to watch dolphins off the bow.  They'd just eaten their fill at an anchovy bait ball.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Meet Your New York SAQA Rep: ME!

That's right!  I'm the SAQA rep for the New York region as of this week. Woo hoo!

My primary goal as rep: get the region moving again.  How? Implement plans is to do some fun stuff together and build community.  Be on the lookout for a regional newsletter in the next few weeks with more details.

I hope you'll join me in reinvigorating our region.    My email inbox is always open for suggestions, comments, feedback, you name it.  You can reach me at my private email address or my official SAQA rep email address:

I'm looking forward to the fun!

Friday, August 17, 2018

More Maps

Tomorrow I hit the road again, this time with our youngest.  It's back-to-school time.  (Bummer. I've loved having her home.)  

In the last month and a half, I will have driven more than 3,500 miles.  That's the same as flying from New York to London.  Of course, I didn't do it all at once, but still.  It's sort of fun to think of it from that perspective.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Quilt Police

It's raining and I can't go outside.

I've tackled my studio clean-up.  All the fabric that was lying about has been sorted, folded and put away.  The design wall has been cleared to make room for the current project.


Yes, the ugly quilt blocks are off my table and on the wall.  I've decided this will be my next project.   I thought I could piece it without worrying about making a masterpiece.


I am the Quilt Police.  They are me.

Apparently I can't quite let my hair down, even on a quilt I don't have a strong attachment to, that I think is rather funny looking.  I still want seams to line up and points to be sharp.   I have zero problem with mismatched seams from others. In fact, I often admire other makers' piecing freedom. It's just not me.  Now, that's not saying everything's perfect.  But I have already ripped out several seams to make a block better.  Yep, I am the Quilt Police, for my own work.

There could be worse things / habits, I guess.  And, looking on the bright side, it's good prep for working on the Lone Start quilt, and a few other items I have in mind, that require a bit more finesse and care.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Double Red Donation

Yesterday, I gave blood.  There's a blood shortage, as there is almost every summer.

When I checked in, I've never know anyone to be so happy about my height and weight.  You see, if you're of a certain height and weight, you can give what's called "Double Red" or "Power Red" donation.  That means a special machine will extract double the amount of red blood cells -- two units worth -- from your blood, but it returns your plasma and platelets, plus a bit of saline.  Since red blood cells are the most frequently needed element of blood transfusions, this doubles the donation's potential impact.  I didn't know this was an option.

If you're in good health and haven't travelled anywhere truly off the grid in the last three years, please consider making a donation.  Here's a link to upcoming blood drives in the New York area if you're interested.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What Next?

Do you ever ask yourself, "Hey, whatever happened to that quilt I was working on?  Do I even still have it?"

This morning I bypassed the piles of fabric that should have been put away, in favor of rooting through my drawers for unfinished quilt tops.


The layout to come.  Right now I'm calling it Donuts and Donut Holes
There's one!  I started this quilt top by taking wonky vintage blocks, cutting them apart, and re-piecing them in a new and smoother arrangement.  I have two more large "donut" blocks to make so the bottom row will have a donut > donut hole > donut pattern. I was planning to insert white fabric everywhere you can see my white felt design wall.  Size will be dictated by how many old blocks I have left to cut up. I don't think there are enough to add an additional row.

Here's a close up of one of the squared up large donut blocks.  I love the irregular seams within the square shape.

A close-up of a donut
As I rooted around, I came across some quilt blocks I had completely forgotten about, plus a shoe box filled with half square triangles and four patches to make more. They were even all ironed and flat.

Completed blocks laid out on my table.  Can someone please remind me of the name of this block arrangement?
I think my objective for this quilt had been to use as many remnants of fabric as I could from my stash, trying especially hard to use novelty fabric I'd been gifted and wouldn't otherwise use.  Some of the bits are lovely.  However, there are quite a few that are .... BLECH!  This is, quite possibly, the beginnings of one of the ugliest quilts ever.

Finally! The quilt that popped into my head last night. The one I wondered / hoped I could find.

A Lone Star quilt, not looking too shabby after having been folded and away for a while
There it is!  Folded and, somehow, not smashed.   The left side (as we face it) has been sewn on.  I discovered the already-cut bit for the right side.  But I remember I didn't know what to do next since I didn't have enough of the background material to make top and bottom borders.

So now the big question is, What to Work on Next?  There are pros and cons of each.
#1: PROS:  There's not to much sewing left to do to finish it
      CONS:  I just finished a quilt with a white background
                   Now I'm not sure this layout is interesting enough

#2: PROS: Lots of the parts are already done
                  It doesn't need to be perfect
                  I don't care if it ends up on the floor in my
                      daughter's college dorm room. Could be of use to her
      CONS:  It's really ugly.  Can I stay engaged?

#3: PROS: This one has jogged my memory.  Should I ignore that?
      CONS: I might have to re-learn Y seams.
                  This one might involve more care and thought than I have
                         the mental energy for right now.

Thoughts?  Suggestions? What should I work on next?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Hydrangea: Who Knew?

I've often wondered about my hydrangea bushes.  They can't seem to decide what color they'd like to be when they grow up.  See the lavender and pink flowers?

Well, that's not accurate. Correction: there are purple and pink sepals on the same cluster.  Sepals are modified leaves. It turns out that hydrangea flowers aren't flowers at all.  

Who knew?

I've always thought that hydrangea color is related to the pH levels in the soil.  But that doesn't entirely explain how there can be multiple colors in one cluster.  I decided to dig (HA!) deeper.

The reason for the different colorations is a biochemical reaction involving aluminum ions bonding with the various ions in acidic or basic soils, such as hydroxide or calcium hydroxide. The resultant ion combinations interact with the pigment in the sepals, with different results from basic and acidic combinations.

How much pigment is changed, and with what ions, is the factor that influences color since, it's been discovered, the pH level of each individual sepal is the same, regardless of the color.  pH isn't what changes the color.  Aluminum ion levels do the trick.

Who knew?

If you'd like to learn more, here's an article from American Scientist that explains it all.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Side Trip to Wyoming

I traveled to Wyoming after spending a bit of time in California with my oldest.  I was heading out to meet our younger daughter who had been working at a wilderness, backpacking, and riding camp outside of Dubois, Wyoming, the town which has the most remote post office in the continental United States.  It's one and a half hours east of the Grand Tetons.  Letters from New York to camp take seven full business days to arrive.  The camp entrance is along a road that's often closed well into the spring due to dangerous weather-related road conditions.  Moose and pronghorn antelope graze around camp, sometimes wandering through the cabin and tent clusters.

A view on the way to camp
Some have asked why my daughter -- a suburban girl -- wanted to be stuck in the wild for weeks.  Well, as the infirmary assistant, she was getting great experience.  Right now she'd like to go into medicine and this is in keeping with that plan.  Also, this quote, which she wrote on one of the infirmary white boards, sums up her feelings well.

Despite some of the hardships of the job, she loved it.  She even trained with Guardian Flight to assist in the event of a helicopter med-evac.  Regrettably, she had to leave after seven weeks. She's received advance organic chemistry and genetics school work to do, as well as some online training for her lab job that starts in the fall.  At camp, there's no wifi or cell service, so remote learning wasn't an option.  She had to leave early.  Tears were shed.  She loved the people and the adventure.  But she knew she had to come home.

We had an extra day to explore before heading back to New York and decided to visit Yellowstone.  We had a great day, including a close encounter with a bison.  (I posted this on social media, but I'll share here as well.)

There once was a bison who liked to play follow-the-leader in traffic. All the cars would line up behind him. One day, he saw a dirty red car on the other side of the road and decided to investigate. He got very close to the car so he could look into the window to see who was driving. “Ah”, he said, “Vivien’s driving. I’ll hang here a moment to chat.” For once in her life, Vivien was speechless. He got bored and moved on. The End. #yellowstone #giggledhystericallywhenhehleft

Playing follow-the-leader
Getting closer  
                                        He's right next to the car, close enough to touch (but I didn't)
We saw some of Yellowstone's incredible, bizarre, and beautiful sights.  

A glimpse behind the Upper Terrace in Mammoth Hot Springs

Biscuit Basin

A u-turn in the Yellowstone River
Yes, that's a grizzly digging for grubs.  It's fuzzy because my lens isn't strong enough to get closer .
It'll do; I wasn't getting closer!
The day ended with a dramatic storm over the Tetons. The winds whipped across the fields and the lighting positively crackled.  One large, thick bolt reached down from heaven and danced on the tip of the Grand Teton, the tallest mountain in the range. 

You can see the storm coming in from the left
The rain eventually fell so heavily it obscured the mountains
A lovely view as the rain cleared
After three weeks on the road, I'm home.  It's been fantastic, but I'm very glad to be sleeping in my own bed and using my own washing machine.  After a chance to see America in its infinite variety, I'm refreshed and restored, ready to tackle the stacks of mail and chores that piled up while I was gone.  Bring it on.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Farewell, Chicago

At the end of June, I flew to Chicago to help my daughter pack up her apartment.  Movers took the furniture and boxes.  We climbed into a tank of a minivan, with her dog Piper, for the 2,000+  mile drive to San Francisco.

Driving across a significant chunk of America seemed daunting at first.  All those miles.  All those hours. 

I'm so glad we did it. 

I always knew it would be great to spend so much time with my daughter.  We don't have that many opportunities to be together, given that we live  far apart.  I was relishing that aspect of the trip.  The driving, as it turned out, was relatively easy.  The hardest part was fighting scenic boredom at the start of the trip.  Illinois is flat and swathed in hundreds of miles of corn fields.  It didn't get interesting until we crossed the Mississippi, a perfect example of a swollen river.  It seemed stuffed to its limits and about to burst.

The hills of Iowa break up the monotony of the corn fields.  White boxes painted on the highway are a visual aid to help with aerial speed monitoring.  We watched as a helicopter with specially mounted equipment hovered over the highway for just that purpose.  Giant wind turbines speckle the fields.  Did you know that 35% of Iowa's electricity comes from wind generated energy?

At first, Nebraska seemed like a copy of Illinois: flat and overflowing with corn fields.  But just past Lincoln, the highway seems to take a right turn into a new landscape.  The corn fields disappear, and long views filled with bluffs and sage-covered hills emerge.   In a remote town, at least one Nebraskan business owner has a sense of humor.  

The scenery took another uptick in Wyoming. Mountains and carved hills that seemed to have been inspiration for the setting of the Pixar movie "Cars", popped up suddenly.  We spied pronghorn antelope in the distance.  The  windy, mountainous roads were a bit unsettling with a 75 mph speed limit, especially in a van that shook violently at those speeds and pulled hard to the right.  We managed the ear-popping mountain passes safely, but others did not make it home. We saw the aftermath of a horrible crash between two semis that kept us at a standstill for more than an hour.  Road signs abound that warn of driving fatigued.  It was very sobering.

The land around Salt Lake City looks post-apocalyptic.  I can't imagine how the settlers traversed the barren wasteland in 103° heat -- the temperature the day we drove through -- wearing long sleeves and floor length skirts.  The mountains in the distance must have been a terrible tease.  That said, it was also remarkable.  I've never seen anything like it.  From a plane, yes, but there's a completely different feel of it from a car.  I was transfixed, though the view didn't change dramatically.   As we neared civilization, dinosaur "fossil" sculptures seemed to rise up from the desert floor.   Great idea and perfect for the landscape. 

Nevada is beautiful.  Wild, with isolated clusters of buildings that are called towns.  Stallions battle between herds of mares. Pronghorn antelope graze amongst the horses.  The mountains aren't as white-knuckled for driving.  Seeing Reno was a bit of shock after all the open space.

California is breathtaking, almost immediately after crossing the border.  Lush forests sometimes obscured the horizon as we wound around the mountains.  The highway occasionally mirrors the path of the Truckee River; we crossed it numerous times, spying mini-canyons as we drove over the bridges.  I had forgotten that California has strict laws about interstate commerce.  We would have had to surrender any produce we had at the border.  (Puh-leeze. We were snacking only on carbs.) For most of the trip, our fellow highway drivers had been polite.  All bets were off in Sacramento.  The drivers were nuts.  As someone who is completely comfortable driving in New York City, that's saying something.

It was a clear afternoon as we crossed the Bay Bridge to enter San Francisco.  A few more miles and my daughter was at her new home.  That night, we went to the "Off the Grid" Food Truck Friday event at Fort Mason. Welcome to San Francisco.


My daughter's furniture took a much longer vacation.  It arrived 10 days after we did.  Ah well. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Collaborative Quilt Project -- Part II

My brain and Muse waged a great battle to complete my second half of the Collaborative Quilt Project.  Here's the piece that I received from another participant.  As a football fan, she was inspired by the prompt "half" to create a football halfback.

I do enjoy going to a few college football games each season.  There's great energy in the stadium and the games almost always coincide with a visit with one of our children.  But I consider most of the prime-time TV football season to be the perfect time to hang with my husband on the couch.  He watches and I do needlepoint. I occasionally stop to respond to a good play.  Football's just not really my thing.

And so, I struggled with how to incorporate myself into the piece I received.  I got interesting help from an Urban Dictionary definition of halfback: 

A person originally from the northeastern U.S. who retired  to Florida only to later move "half way back" to the southern Appalachain mountains." 

I thought, "Yeah, I can work with that."

I thought I'd keep things tongue-in-cheek, to make it seem as if the halfback was seeing a visual representation of the other halfback definition. I started to add a change of address note, lawn flamingos and mountains.  

Ugh.  No.  Definitely not.

At this point, there was only one thing I could possibly do to salvage the situation. I cut the whole thing up. I was a little nervous, but didn't think I could possibly make things worse.

I cut one and a half inch strips, sliced those into smaller sections and sewed them back together, adding a few fabrics from my stash.  I then reassembled them into a new pieced cloth.

Much better.  But I didn't think I could/should just cut this cloth into a 15" square and leave it at that.  My first half in the project was a wonky pieced composition.  Doing something like that again seemed like a cop-out.  I also didn't think it would be fair to Ann to make something that didn't reflect her inspiration.

How could I make this thing reference football again.....?

Viola!  Here we have a new 15" x 15" piece called, "Football and Flamingos".   I cut out football shapes from the pieced cloth and re-emphasized those shapes with black outlining to create an abstract composition.  Elements of both definitions of halfback exist in this piece:  Ann's in the repeated football shape, and both of us in the fabrics.  (If you look closely at the right side football, you can see a snippet of the original change of address note I'd made.)

There was a HUGE transition from the piece I received to this one.  I don't know if the original maker likes it.  I think she's in shock; there's been radio silence.  But I'm pleased.  I tried hard to be respectful of her inspiration, but also fit myself into the final piece as well.  I made every effort to do my best work and I think this looks pretty cool.  The piece will eventually be wrapped around a 10" canvas when presented with the other finished pieces.  Most of the white border will disappear behind the back, making the football shapes even more prominent.  

This was a mind-bending experience for me.  It was a creative puzzle and also an exercise in relinquishing control.  Remember, I had to give up my first half to someone else -- not the same person I got this piece from -- for completion.  I haven't made up my mind as to whether or not I'd participate in something like this again.  I think there was a wide range of skill sets in this group.  The  quality in what was made varied greatly, too.  I think this might be good project to do if you could handpick the participants in order to know the commitment they have to the project and their quality of work.  This case was an "are you interested" kind of project which meant a whole host of different things to the participants.

At any rate, I'm glad I was part of this round of the project.  I hope I get this piece back because I like it.  But who owns the final piece hasn't been officially decided yet.