The Long Wait for Spring

[This post was scheduled, of course, before Boston. It’s always peculiar, and happens more often than I like to admit, when events so thoroughly override anything one might have to offer. I don’t know what to do but go on – with a heavy heart. This morning a friend in Boston suggested observing the good things that do happen (]

Spring is here and warmth will surely follow – the birds know and the weeds know!

I’ve been revisiting springs past in blog posts while designing paperback foldbooks – little accordion-folded books, the size of a greeting card, but having eight pages – opened, they can stand on a bookshelf. I laid out the foldbooks adapting snippets from “Her spirits rose…” to accompany images of birds and spring for two books, and a third with encouragements from The Workroom.

While I worked, the wind howled, fir trees creaked and the ocean tossed angry whitecaps. The thermometer read 50° outside, but the house felt frigid. Frances wisely curled herself into an Oreo cookie lodged between bed pillows and comforter all day.

Reading the old posts I remembered how spring surprised me when we first moved here – disappointed me really. Being so accustomed to the late but lightning progression of an Alaska spring, I fixated on how long it took to get warm here, how many setbacks and stallouts. I realized the truth of Henry Mitchell’s words: “What we loosely call spring, meaning the season in which plants grow vigorously and come to flower in a time of nice skies and warm airs is partly imaginary.” Imaginary – or the memory of a day now and then.

At the end of last week I saw a proof of the foldbooks. A local photographer, David Conklin, using a large printer with archival ink, printed them three-up on a long piece of lovely Entrada paper. It was exciting to see them all on one piece of paper ready to cut and fold.

Spoonflower has also been fun to see this week. “Garden Tools, Garden Pleasures” is posted amongst the 12 pages of gardening tool-flavored fabric in this week’s contest (lots to look at there!). I have much more to learn – my fabric looks better here on the blog than it does in the contest. But in the way of creative contagion, the Spoonflower attempt energized me for the foldbooks.

I will post pages from “Spring – A Foldbook” while we wait for warmth – coming sooner for some than for others – but coming!

Spring Foldcard cover-2

Royal Bodies – Then and Now

The press has excerpted bits of Hilary Mantel’s London Review of Books lecture, “Undressing Anne Boleyn,” delivered at the British Museum (, reducing her literate comments to schoolyard insults leveled at the Duchess of Cambridge – and it’s causing a giant flap.

Maybe when we glance in fascination at the royals, we look for clothes and mistakes, but Mantel’s long gaze is historical and stares at monarchy itself – a foreign concept to us. But a fascinating one, and you know my heart is with the pageantry of it all – whatever would the British put on cookie tins without the royals?

So I like to think of Kate as smart, picture her recognizing her place in history (knowing she is neither Anne Boleyn nor Marie Antoinette but a modern woman), and rising above the media fray, embracing the fuss even. While Mantel describes herself, as “as a person of expanding girth and diverse afflictions,” Kate is young and beautiful, pregnant with an heir to the throne – royalty!

But Mantel wins with words! Oh it is delicious this piece. Mrs. Hughes, after reading it, said: “How does Mantel do that? Take every thread and weave it together in the end to make the reader feel so satisfied.”

That lecture must have been some event, an evening when the well-worn British praise “Brilliant!” would be exactly right. It’s “Wolf Hall” for our time with Mantel’s descriptive passages about Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana so true and imaginative at the same time.

As she works on the completion of her trilogy, Mantel’s heart must really be with the Tudors centuries ago – but her mind can look at now and make magic for us. She considers her own experiences with the British royals with a seemingly spot-on description of the slightly tacky ring to all of it, when the fairy dust blows away and the folding chairs and the sticks from the canapés are revealed. She is masterful. In her descriptions of the queen parting a room of trying-to-be-cool guests or Diana’s moment of transformation into princess, the prose sings – just like the books.

Mantel asks, “What does Kate read?” I hope she reads Mantel and chuckles. Truly, she has the last laugh. She loves her prince and he loves her, she gets to live in Kensington Palace – I wish her well. And I’m nuts for Mantel.

©Katy Gilmore

Repeating Patterns

On Saturday, the first of three fine weather days before our 70° Easter Sunday, I spent too much time in front of the computer – happy to be warm, sitting in a pool of sunshine, obsessively learning how to make a repeat pattern.

I had recently recommended Spoonflower to a friend. It’s a fabric (also wallpaper and decal) on-demand Website (I’d heard of it but not tried), and I got sidetracked big time in a wander through that looking glass.

All I could think, while watching the cherries and the wedding elephants I’d uploaded multiply instantly in brick or tile pattern on Spoonflower’s site – even appearing on a wall behind a table and chair – is that I would have died for this in my fabric screen-printing days. Now you can do anything with a few clicks!

Spoonflower offers software that’s easy to manipulate, no set up fees, and an eight-inch test patch for five dollars. It even includes access to PicMonkey, a “fearless photo embetterment” site that can crop or resize your image.

Spoonflower holds a weekly design challenge contest (last week was “Living in Jane Austen” and the fabrics are fun to see). This week’s challenge is to design a fabric featuring garden tools – that’s what set me off. I could imagine using the art from my garden journal, resizing and repositioning individual images to make a block to repeat – and also thinking with exitement of other possibilities from the archive – fabric with spring flowers, vegetables, shoes!

I did feel pangs of guilt, pushing those garden tools around with my mouse, thinking I should probably pick up a real trowel or weeding fork and go outside. But the excitement of challenge defeated guilt, and eventually I’d figured out the required “fat quarter” (a piece of fabric bigger than an ordinary quarter of a yard), and nervously posted “Garden Tools, Garden Pleasures!”

A detail:

And a miniature fat quarter:

Potatoes, Rebaked, Deviled, and Pied*

*Pied – liked baked in a pie – not multi-colored like the Pied Piper’s cape, but that is off subject. Potatoes are the subject.

Going through past posts on “Her spirits rose…” (for a new project – more about that soon), I came on the recipe for a quiche with a potato crust. I noticed because potatoes have been on my mind.

Have you read “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows? A dear book, it’s about the solace and comfort of reading and about a young author’s serendipitous discovery of her next book (a tale for readers but also for writers), sad and awful in its historical truths, but loving and wonderful in its characters and their relationships to each other and to reading. The book peels back in on itself – nicely.

The novel’s structure, character development, plot, and setting unfold in epistolary style. The epistles being letters written in 1946 England between the young writer, Juliet Ashton, and some residents of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands off the south coast of England.

Guernsey was occupied by the Germans during the war, and left by Britain to fend for itself. The Guernsey residents who become Juliet’s friends write their wartime stories to her. She becomes involved in their lives and, inevitably, travels to Guernsey. (See if you can read this and not want to journey to Guernsey yourself!)

The author, Mary Ann Shaffer (the book was finished by her niece Annie Barrows) does a masterful job with the characters. She reveals them completely through their letters, as they tell stories of wartime hardship and the unlikely way a literary society (of all things) helped counter fear and hunger. A potato peel pie appears (but is not recommended by the author.)

But back to recommended potatoes. I noticed these: Devilish Potatoes  and Angel Potatoes . Devil or angel – whichever you would like to call them – a zillion versions are found on the Web, which means using whatever flavors you associate with deviled eggs (spicy mustard, celery seed, paprika, or not).

New potatoes, an egg-like size, are coming soon. I used small red potatoes and made them simply with a little mayo, mustard, turmeric for color, and paprika.

Because they can be made ahead and served at room temperature, they’d be a great offering for a picnic, a potluck, or even – should you belong to one – the meeting of a literary society!

Keeping On While Warmly Dressed

The artist Rembrandt van Rijn painted more than 40 self-portraits. Some of the best known he made later in life, like this one now on exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum as part of “Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London.”

Collected at the end of the 19th century by Edward Cecil Guinness (the brewery heir), these 17th Century Dutch and Flemish paintings are often huge, filled with gauzy dresses and clouds, rosy or porcelain-white cheeks, battlefields, hunting dogs, ship-crowded harbors, hats of every persuasion, and the fruits and flowers of trademark Dutch still life. It’s a rich exhibition, including Rembrandt etchings, and an extra gallery with paintings of the period from Seattle collections.

My clever friend visited the show earlier this spring and found herself inspired to add unexpected design elements to the quilt she is working on. I left thinking about Rembrandt’s self-portraits. How hard self-portraits are to do, how easy to avoid, and about Rembrandt living only a few more years after he painted the one at the museum.

So I made an attempt (harder to do than ever). The only commonalities with Rembrandt being a certain grayness, the many layers of clothing we wear for work (a fur-lined cloak for him, several sweaters for me) – and keeping on.