Beloved, Award-winning Toy

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As a mom with just one child, you could argue that I’m hardly uber-qualified to review toys. However, my secret weapon is the fact that I am also step-mom and step-grandmom to a goodly number of kids… So, I’ve experienced my share of kidstuff over the years.

With my husband’s grandchildren living just down the road, our goody-filled toy box helps keep my family ready for impromptu visits. Its been my job to make sure the box does not disappoint.

Last night, my husband’s grandson stayed over. Although granddaddy’s favorite little pre-schooler seems to have come from the womb totally obsessed with trucks, tractors and earth-moving equipment (both real and toy versions), last night we found him completely bewitched by the “Mix or Match” puzzle that he’d unearthed in the toy box.

The “Mix or Match” by Popular Playthings is both clever and simple to operate. Pull up the handle (which also ensures the toy puzzle is easily carried) to unlock ten rotating blocks on bars. Each rotating block’s four visible surfaces feature one of four different animals… cow, rooster, sheep and pig. By spinning or rotating each of the blocks, the puzzle idea is to coordinate the images on the blocks to come-up with a matched face. Once all the blocks match (ie, you have the complete face of the cow, for example) push the handle down to lock the face in place.

Even more fun than matching the blocks to create each animal face, is mix-matching the blocks to come-up with silly mix-matched faces that incorporate two or more of the different animals. For example, one might have a cow muzzle with pig eyes and lamb ears with a rooster chest.

Last evening, as I watched our little grandson working the gizmo over and over, grinning, laughing and calling for me to “Look!” at his wacky animal creations, I remembered how, a few years earlier, his older sister had succumbed to the spell of the marvelous “Mix or Match” when she was her brother’s age. Now a “big girl” in elementary school, she’s still smitten with it. And, I’ve caught my high-school-aged son fiddling with it too, but don’t tell him I told you so…

Five years ago, when I first purchased the “Mix or Match,” I hoped it would appeal to my husband’s then-pre-school aged granddaughter. In addition, I wanted an inexpensive plaything that was danger-free; easy to clean; virtually fail-safe to operate; packable in a backpack or tote; easy to carry and use in the car or during an outing; and capable of holding a child’s attention for more than 20 seconds. Whew! By anyone’s standards, it was a tall order to fill.

Regardless, I got all that and more with the “Mix or Match” animal farm puzzle. For about ten dollars (cheap by today’s standards), this Dr. Toy Best Children’s Vacation Product Award Winner is a great buy. And, if farm animals don’t make your kids smile, there is a zoo-animal version a well. Better still, after years of use at our house, in our cars, on the hammock, in the field, at the barn, and more, the puzzle still works. It still looks like new. And, it’s still beloved by kids of all ages!

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. ©2012 EddinsImages.

Buddha Toad

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Every once in a while, you run into an individual who’s got that “It” thing going on. You know, the bigger-than-life types… the ones who exude confidence, awareness and over-the-top, in-yer-face personality. The ones with an undeniable energy. The ones who stake their claim to the space simply by being there.

And, in my experience, these It-Factor types occur with animals as well as humans.

And every once in a while, I run into an animal who just oozes It-Factor. Like my Buddha Toad here. I mean no disrespect to the followers of Buddhism, however, I do think he seems to have attained some sort of knowledge and enlightenment. Just look at him. When he sits back in my hand and looks out at the world (and scornfully at me), I am convinced that he knows far more than I do…

My research indicates that this little fellow may be an Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus). According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, these little toads are quite rare in the state and require a “very high conservation need” as the species is at high risk for extinction or extirpation.

Photo note: I tried, tried, tried, to achieve a photo with Buddha Toad’s nose in the same focal plane as the rest of his body… however, my trusty iPhone camera was not so trusty on that day; Buddha Toad’s nose remains out of focus in a photo or two. But then, I figured his personality transcends all technical issues… so I’ve published anyway. I promise to find another It-Factor amphibian and try again!

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Rainbows and Green Orbs

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Double rainbow in the Virginia countryside after the storm. © 2012 EddinsImages


It has been a week since the Eastern United States was hammered by a fast-moving, deadly storm. Here in central Virginia, after an eerie, silent stillness with no warning of what was to follow, we were blasted by a sideways, screaming wind. Nothing else… just wind. Then, the wicked, other-worldly tempest brought-on wild, non-stop lightning in the clouds above – as if someone was flicking a light switch on and off, on and off. The lights flashed all around us without pause. There was still no sound, except the roar of the wind. Later came lightning that was lower in the sky, accompanied by rumbles of thunder, downpours of rain, and hail. Throughout it all, most devilish was the incessant wind. Many likened the 70-plus mile-per-hour wind to the scary roar of a train.

We took the rampage seriously. After returning home safely during the first-half of the storm, my husband sat inside the house with the front door open, listening, for the sound of an approaching tornado. My son and I retreated to the far side of the house, opposite the ancient maple tree outside, wary that the tree would fall into the house. We learned after-the-fact that this unusual storm is called a derecho – a widespread, fast-moving weather event that features intense, straight-line, damaging winds and sometimes thunder and lightning.

And, sadly, for many in Virginia, that very scenario was a reality. Most tragically, however, is the fact that when it was all over, just an hour or so later, lives were lost, property was severely damaged, and, for a great number of families, power was out. Today, one week later, the clean-up continues. Many families remain without power. We’ve seen working power crews here from as far away as Texas. I am so very sorry for families who lost loved ones.

Even so, Mother Nature has a way of recovering. First, there was the double rainbow outside my barn. Even without electricity at the barn, seeing the rainbow brought me a feeling of hope.

Green chestnuts fall to the ground early during a Virginia storm. © 2012 EddinsImages


Then, throughout the past week, I’ve been finding little fallen orbs of nature… beautiful trinkets dropped by trees and plants. And each is green.

Close-up of a ready-to eat green pepper that survived windy weather. © 2012 EddinsImages


Green, the color of nature. The color of rejuvenation. The color of life.

A handful of black walnuts picked-up from the grass below after stormy weather in Virginia. © 2012 EddinsImages


So, with these verdant little reminders of our future and all that is good in life, we rebuild, replant, and reclaim.

Fallen green apples and their seeds ensure that more, beautiful apple trees will grow for future generations. © 2012 EddinsImages


Live goes on…

Country path leads under the double rainbow. © 2012 EddinsImages


All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Swimmy Summer Fun Photo

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Swim meet funny face! © 2012 EddinsImages

I know… I know… it is unusual – unheard of, really – for me to post just one photo… However, for once, here it is! Herewith, I present my contribution to Blissfully Domestic’s Summer Fun Photo Challenge. This week’s topic is Fun/Playtime.

Photo taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

PB&J for Hardworking Teen Volunteers

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High school students from all over Virginia are visiting and working in our community this week. The students, toiling alongside volunteer professionals, help seniors in need as part of a program called Work Camp that is organized by the Diocese of Richmond.

Nearly 180 volunteers are spending Monday through Thursday performing home improvement projects for families – mostly seniors – who were identified through social services. The twenty-or-so projects around the county range from building wheel chair ramps, to painting projects, to knocking-down home walls.

I am proud to say that my very dear friend who works in adult protective services was instrumental in bringing the Work Camp volunteers to our small community – our county is the smallest in the entire state of Virginia. Last weekend, when she mentioned they were looking for some peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich makers, it was a no-brainer.

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Ever make 180+ PB&J sandwiches with plastic-baggie covered hands? Let me tell you… it is a peanut buttery mess! In fact, we made such a sticky goo, that I did not dare risk taking photos with my iPhone!

Regardless, earlier this week, my teen-aged son and I joined my friend and another high school student and we put  together modest, bagged meals for volunteers who have been camping in the middle school all week. We spread peanut butter and jelly on loaf after loaf of soft bread, we bagged sandwiches, and we  “loaded” little brown bags with “one sandwich, one piece of fruit, one bag of cookies, one bag of chips, and one napkin.” Not much for our volunteers to eat during a long, full, day of hard labor… and I understand it was to be the same meal for them each day all week. And then, the volunteers got to sleep each night in the middle school (after their timed showers)!

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My hat is off to these wonderful kids and adult volunteers who took a week out of their precious summer helping out strangers in a faraway community. These super stars deserve far more than the simple bagged PB&J meals they were served…

Hopefully, after returning home, each volunteer will enjoy a meal fit for a king or queen. I’m sure the grateful folks they’ve helped this week would approve.

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Lifeguard Rescues Tree Frog

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Gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor) rescued from the pool. © 2012 EddinsImages

Two days ago, the lifeguard at our local pool rescued a frog from the pool skimmer. Based solely on looks, I have unscientifically identified the little darling (the frog, not the lifeguard) as one of two Gray Treefrog species native to Virginia. According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, the way to distinguish the Gray Treefrog, Hyla versicolor, from the very similar-looking Copes Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis, is by their found location and their different calls. My friend was silent, so, because of our location in the state, I’m going with Hyla versicolor.

Without a doubt, this beautiful little amphibian is one of the most endearing, gentle creatures I have ever had the pleasure to see and hold. I was completely bewitched by the little froggy’s charm and expression. And, my found friend had the most sublime, silvery and green glimmery, shimmery skin… almost ethereal. And under froggy’ arms and legs was a rich, golden-butternut color.

I do worry about my froggy friend because pool chemicals are dangerous – often deadly, in fact, to many animals. I learned many years ago while working on an environmental education program that amphibians are especially sensitive to environmental changes and toxins. Scientists know that changes in amphibian populations are often the first indicators that something is wrong in an environment. In fact, as our world becomes more polluted and humans continue to alter our natural environments, amphibians become more and more likely to disappear… forever.

After a dip in the pool, this little Gray Treefrog finally found safe haven nestled high in a tree. © 2012 EddinsImages

Hopefully, our lifeguard made this save in time. And, the last I saw, my charming little froggy friend was nestled high in the leaves of a dogwood tree. But seeing his little face here does remind me to take care when it comes to wildlife and nature… it is all to easy to take what we have for granted. Someday soon, saving frogs may not be as simple as scooping them out of the pool.

Author’s Note: My research indicates “gray tree frog” and “gray treefrog” are each used [correctly] to indicate the same animal species. I’ve used the contraction in my text.

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Bead Show Beginner

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Brightly colored beads on display. © 2012 EddinsImages

I have a friend who makes beautiful jewelry and accessories with beads.  Throughout the year, she travels to bead shows in our region. For several hours, she shops each show for beading materials.

Boxes of beads at bead show. © 2012 EddinsImages

As much as I love jewelry, you’d think I’d be relatively sharp about beading. I am not, however. In fact, I know very little about the art and business of beading. So, it was a delight when my friend invited me to join her recently during one of her bead show adventures. It was a smaller show, she said, a good show for a beginner beader. Looking back on it, it is easy to understand how a large show could overwhelm someone unfamiliar with all the choices!

Strung beads hang on display. © 2012 EddinsImages

Now, during the past few years, my stint as jewelry editor for Suite 101 compelled me to learn a little about beads. In fact, I’ve enjoyed reading Lois Sherr Dubin’s marvelous, iconic book, The History of Beads (Abrams, New York), as well as other books and online articles on the subject. And one of the things I do know about beads is that there are extraordinarily talented artists who handcraft beads and that these collectible pieces may be found at bead shows. So, I was on the lookout… of course, I found something special, but that is for another post!

Intensely colored strings of beads. © 2012 EddinsImages

When I first walked into the bead show, one thing was obvious: a bead may be made from just about anything. Historically, the first beads were made from seeds. And there were seed beads at this show.  But also, there were beads crafted from minerals, metals, paper, acrylic, glass, clay, polymer, rubber, plastic, and more. There were decoupaged beads, sliced-stone beads, and glass-blown beads. Overall, my favorites were the lamp glass beads.

Handcrafted glass lampwork beads. © 2012 EddinsImages

In addition to the beads and raw materials themselves, there were jewelry findings, chains, colored wires, cording and other materials with which to craft personal adornments.

Beautiful colored spools for beading projects. © 2012 EddinsImages

Now, as my friend has been beading for years, she knows her materials and she knows what her future jewelry components should cost.  “Don’t buy those,” she warned while nodding to a table near the entry, “they are way overpriced. I’m sure someone else has similar wares for less.” We moved on.

Fun beads for jewelry. © 2012 EddinsImages

And she is always mindful of the return on investment for potential sale pieces. Accordingly, my friend first canvassed the entire show before making very savvy purchases, both in terms of eye-appeal and price.

Swarovski crystals adorn beads on display at the show. © 2012 EddinsImages

After visiting a few more bead and jewelry shows, this summer, she’ll spend several weeks making beautiful jewelry… most to sell during a local, autumn craft show to benefit charity. Some more baubles will be for gifts, and a few trinkets will be keepers for herself… the jewelry pieces I’m sure to gawk over when I see them finished!

Natural stones and minerals make for great jewelry. © 2012 EddinsImages

Working-with and collecting beads is something anyone of any age – from toddler to octogenarian – can do, as a hobby, business or both. Whether making beads or stringing beads, it doesn’t have to cost more than a few dollars. And the creative possibilities are endless. Moreover, the potential to create and collect very personal objects is quite seductive.

Jewelry handmade with Sculpey oven-baked polymer clay. © 2012 EddinsImages

Now that I am a bit more educated, soon I hope to foray into another, bigger bead show. I can see this as quite an addictive activity…

Summer Fun Challenge: Water Photos

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Recently, I signed-up to join Blissfully Domestic’s Summer Fun Photo Challenge where Angela England hosts a different photo challenge topic during each week of the summer. Results are posted on Fridays.

Feet in the pool. © 2012 EddinsImages

Week One’s task was to photograph Water, and the topic is open to any interpretation.

Pool stripe. © 2012 EddinsImages

So the other day, I hopped over to the pool, iPhone in-hand.

Summer pool shadow. © 2012 EddinsImages

No doubt, folks thought I was a bit looney as I waded into four feet of pool water with my iPhone.

Pool stair. © 2012 EddinsImages

Regardless, I managed to keep my iPhone safe from the dangerous waters!

Pool legs and red umbrellas. © 2012 EddinsImages

And, people at the pool thought I was even nuttier, probably quite narcissistic, as I spent the afternoon in the water taking pictures of my own hands and feet.

Red-painted nails in summer pool. © 2012 EddinsImages

Okay, okay… so I got a little help from my husband taking the photo of my two hands (after all, I couldn’t push the button). However, it was frustrating because he couldn’t see what I saw, so, quickly the team photo tactic was abandoned.

Lane line close-up. © 2012 EddinsImages

One time, the life guard called out, “Are you trying to get a photo of your ring?” Ummm… not exactly…

Painted pool fingers. © 2012 EddinsImages

And, I snapped a more shots of the pool.

Pool feet and black umbrella. © 2012 EddinsImages

Hummm… what to we have here? A crack in the stair?

Pool stair close-up. © 2012 EddinsImages

Then, more shots of my legs. They looked cool.

Distorted legs in pool water. © 2012 EddinsImages

Another quick look around to see what I missed…

Pool number 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Then, it was time to get out and hit the pool deck.

No Diving. © 2012 EddinsImages

All in all, it had been a lovely day at the pool, don’t you think?

Shadow over the kiddie pool. © 2012 EddinsImages

The topic for next week’s Summer Fun Photo Challenge is Technology…  not in my comfort zone, for sure!

To join the fun, visit Blissfully Domestic’s Summer Fun Photo Challenge. Each week we’ll get a different theme and each Friday we post results. Here’s what’s ahead…

  • June 15, Week 1 = Water
  • June 22, Week 2 = Technology
  • June 29, Week 3 = Fun/Playtime
  • July 6, Week 4 = Light
  • July 13, Week 5 = Family/Home
  • July 20, Week 6 = Money
  • July 27, Week 7 = Travel
  • August 3, Week 8 = Friendship/Love
  • August 10, Week 9 = Food
  • August 17, Week 10 = Learning

So grab your camera, and join in the summer photo fun!

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Fiery Garden Flowers

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It’s been raining here for two days, providing lots of water for my just-planted garden perennials. I am a little bummed because just before the rain, some of my roses were about to burst open. Now, the partially opened buds, especially those of gorgeous and dramatic “Pink Traviata” rose, are heavy and rain-sodden. I’ll have to wait for the next round of buds to see gorgeous flowers in full-bloom.

Rose Pink Traviata (color pushed to red). © 2012 Eddins Images

And, this is the second wave of nearly-open buds to get drenched this season. Sad as this is for my flower-greedy eyes, my new plants and their roots will have a marvelously moist season, with lots of sun in-between, so that they may become well-established.

With that in mind, I can wait a little longer for my pretty flowers to show themselves in full boom.

Meanwhile, I snapped some photos the other day when the sun was bright and temperatures were really, really, high.

Bright as the sun, fiery Gallardia. © 2012 EddinsImages

With temperatures close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it was sweltering HOT in the garden… and the flowers didn’t seem to mind a bit.

Sunny, orange daylily. © 2012 EddinsImages

Focusing on the bright colors of my garden offerings, these vivid red, pink, orange and yellow flowers reflected the sun’s sweltering early-June heat.

Screaming pink and yellow “Pink Traviata” rose. © 2012 EddinsImages

Still early in the season, and with summer not yet officially here, I can only imagine what July’s searing summer temperatures will bring!

Even in shade, this lily puts-out striking green, yellow and russet heat. © 2012 EddinsImages

So, while I wait for the rain to subside, I’ll quench my desire for more sunny days with these photos of hot flowers waiting for me in the garden.

Beautiful cala lily “Captain Melrose” loves part-sun. © 2012 EddinsImages

Even in shade, their bold and intense colors, like those in cala lily “Captain Melorse” are striking and exciting to the eye.

Who doesn’t love popular golden-yellow hemerocalis or daylily “Stella de Oro?” © 2012 EddinsImages

When the rain finally subsides, one again my brilliant garden beauties will be bursting with dramatic, fiery colors. Best of all, they will be even bigger, bolder and better than before.

All photos taken in natural light with an iPhone 4. Photos © 2012 EddinsImages

Rocker Redo with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

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DIY home decorating project features vintage furniture painted with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint colors Old White, Cream and Versailles. © 2012 EddinsImages

After completing several DIY painted furniture projects, I’m kind of liking my Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. As Ms. Sloan promised during her visit to the east coast this spring, her low VOC paint does adhere to anything, and requires no primer or special prep. I like that. Also, it is quick drying and presents a “matte velvety” finish. Perfect for decorative painting projects, especially worn or old furniture that could use a facelift.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint palette offered in the United States for 2012. I’ve fiddled with color settings a bit on my computer in an attempt to accurately replicate the color card in my hand on your computer screen. © 2012 EddinsImages

So far, my eight ASCP colors – out of 29 offered by Sloan today – are each quite conservative and light in tone. They are: Old White; Cream; Versailles; French Linen; Country Grey; Old Violet; Duck Egg and Louis Blue.

I need some more colors in my palette… more intense colors with punch! These are code words, off course, for: buy more paint! The only problem is, when I try to decide which two or three colors will come home next… immediately, my list grows to no less than eight different hues. Hummm. At close to $40 per quart, I’ll be giving some serious thought to my choices.

Grandma’s unpainted, solid wood rocking chair. © 2012 EddinsImages

Meanwhile, here are some photos of a rocking chair I repainted recently. My grandmother purchased the chair about 40 years ago for my brother’s bedroom in the family home on Cape Cod. The chair is quite comfortable, especially for a rocker. However, I am tired of the plain-jane stained wood, and my house today is littered with stained wood pieces. Something had to be transformed…

Closeup of my DIY project: the rocking chair repainted in layers with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. I sanded in places to show the original wood finish. © 2012 EddinsImages

For the rocker, I used Old White, then layered and textured a bit with Cream and Versailles. Also, I sanded in places throughout the process to let the original wood show through. So far, I’ve not finished this piece with my final layer of wax, however, I plan to top it with Annie Sloan Soft Wax in Clear.

Rocking chair back painted at home with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. © 2012 EddinsImages

All in all, the project took several hours… a solid half to three-quarters of a day, considering drying time between coats. I was going for a sort of worn, shabby chic, textured look that was light (but not white) and would work in a variety of decorating styles.

Close-up of rocking chair details: Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, layered, texturized and sanded with no wax applied. © 2012 EddinsImages

I am quite pleased with the chair’s new versatility in our country home. In fact, it goes perfectly well with the little blue stool I painted with Annie Sloan paint earlier in the year…

Finished (for now!) vintage rocking chair and stool repainted with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. © 2012 EddinsImages

All photos taken with iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

School’s Out… Time to Remember, Rejoice, Relax!

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Woodsy feet relax at the little babbling brook. © 2012 EddinsImages

Yesterday was the last day of middle school for my son. It is hard for me to imagine that in the fall my only child will begin high school. A competitive swimmer and honors student who has earned all “A”s this year, he placed first and second at the regional- and state-level National History Day competitions. This weekend, we’ll be in Washington, DC, at the national competition… I’m so very proud of his accomplishments!

Today, I’m taking the morning to welcome summer.  Although it is cool for June, it is sunny outside, the birds are singing, and I am going to enjoy a thoughtful, long walk past misty fields, grazing cattle, pastel mountains, roadside flowers, and meandering brooks with polished rocks and shy little frogs.  I’ll be thinking about how our lives have changed, and I’ll be remembering how far my son and I have come since his dad passed away when he was just a little boy. That’s when we left New England behind to start our new life in Virginia.

And, I’m going to celebrate and rejoice how proud I am of my son and how much I adore my husband today.

Then, I’m going to listen to the cheerful songs of my favorite mocking birds and the gurgles and ripples of the little babbling brook at the bottom of the hill.

I will sit and relax while I welcome the lazy days of summer in Virginia.

Photo taken with an iPhone 4.© 2012 EddinsImages

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar: Persnickity Portrait Subject

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Lookee who I found in my carrot patch yesterday… a beautiful eastern black swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes).

Eastern black swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes) found in my central Virginia carrot patch. © 2012 EddinsImages

At first, my attractive little visitor was mad at me and flashed a bright orange osmeterium. Looking like soft orange antlers, the forked osmeterium organ emits a liquid compound containing chemicals called terpines. Unfortunately, I missed the photo of the brightly colored, antler-like osmeterium when it was visible… it looked sensational against the bright green foliage and orange carrot roots.

Thinning the carrots led to the discovery of a black swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes). © 2012 EddinsImages

Regardless of my missed opportunity, as the sun played hide and seek above, I took a few more photos in the changing light before releasing my visitor. Yet, without a maco lens and precise focusing abilities, my iPhone camera and I found this creature to be the most persnickity of portrait subjects. The little animal’s front end was in constant motion and I could not get a well-focused shot – let alone get any sort of smile – or even a wink!

Wiggly, eastern black swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes). © 2012 EddinsImages

Mother Sun bleached out the appearance of these vibrant colors in my photos. However, I can see the bright and contrasting colors applied to interior decorating projects… Easily, I can envision this palette in a kid’s room or kitchen. Pop in some hot pink or purple for a bit of whimsy. Against an expanse of white, I see a very chic and modern living space.

It won’t be long before this eastern black swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes) flutters away, transformed into an eastern black swallowtail butterfly. © 2012 EddinsImages

After finding an expired mama eastern black swallowtail butterfly during one of my walks recently, it is heartwarming to see her life was not in vain. The life cycle continues! Without the short black spikes that appear around the black stripes of younger caterpillars, the creature in my carrot patch looks about ready to pupate. After just two weeks in its chrysalis stage, I look forward to seeing this little beauty spread its wings as a majestic swallowtail butterfly.

All photos taken in natural light with an iPhone 4. Copyright © 2012 EddinsImages

My Beautiful Roadside Finds

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For several years now, I’ve spent way too many days and nights sitting in front of my computer. After a young life of always being active and outside, my suddenly sedentary, middle-aged body did not fare well stationed behind the computer. A few months ago, I finally decided to do something about my unhealthy, inactive lifestyle and underused, overweight body.

Roadside pink clover.  © 2012 EddinsImages

I decided to briskly walk between two and four miles each and everyday. Now, of course, it goes without saying that I have not achieved my everyday goal. I knew that.  But, I also knew that if my goal was to walk each day, I’d probably actually do it four or five days each week. And, I have been walking.

Wild roses found by the side of the road. © 2012 EddinsImages

Better still, something quite unexpected has happened…

Surprise encounter with a snapping turtle crossing the road happened during a spring rain storm. © 2012 EddinsImages

I’ve found myself stopping and admiring the beautiful things I find by the side of the road.

Soft wisps of feathered seeds. © 2012 EddinsImages

And, lucky for me, I’ve not once forgotten to bring my iPhone, the one with extraordinary little built-in camera.

Ladybug on a roadside leaf. © 2012 EddinsImages

Now, halting my brisk walks to stop and snap photos along the way has certainly not helped me to build muscle and loose pounds. No, not one bit. However, my country road walks, and the little discoveries that come with each trek, have proven to be the most exhilarating and pleasant part of each day. What I’ve accidentally accomplished has been well worth the continued struggle with my extra poundage.

Soft peach and fiery orange colors contrast and create drama in this roadside iris. © 2012 EddinsImages

My walks have helped me to rediscovered something I love: Photography.

Fresh and tiny, white with green clover flower makes a big impression… if one looks closely! © 2012 EddinsImages

I’m having so much fun, in fact, that for the life of me, I can’t figure out why I stopped making photos years ago. There was a time when I wanted to do nothing but make photos.

Inside the roadside peach iris. © 2012 EddinsImages

Today, the little things that catch my eye can be as simple as a common weed that I may drive by everyday. I just never take the time to appreciate it.

Common dandelion with seeds blowing in the wind. © 2012 EddinsImages

Or, it may be as elusive as a plant seed that falls to the ground only once each year. I never saw tulip tree seeds in New England, however, for a week or so, they fell all over and around our gravel country road.

Spring beauty from a tulip poplar tree. © 2012 EddinsImages

Tulip poplar tree flower in bright sunlight seems to glow. © 2012 EddinsImages

Fallen tulip poplar tree flowers in the roadside shade. © 2012 EddinsImages

One time as I trudged up the road, I stopped to watch a couple of eastern black swallowtail butterflies (Papilio polyxenes) frolicking and courting one another. Then, the joy I’d felt when I watched the two butterflies frolicking was replaced by sadness. Only one was left when I returned, left lifeless on the road, its wings blowing and blurred by the wind. how bittersweet.

Expired female eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) in the road. © 2012 EddinsImages

On another day, I saw another beautiful winged creature, zebra colored with bright splashes of red, the zebra swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus) clung to the ground as the wind whipped its delicate wings. Surely, this precious creature was near the its bittersweet end.

Zebra swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). © 2012 EddinsImages

Zebra swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus) displays uncommon, sensational black, white and red beauty. © 2012 EddinsImages

Regardless of the bittersweet endings, what I’ve enjoyed most about my walks is the joy of seeing things anew. Taking the time to stop, observe and take-in all Mother Nature has to offer has awakened something inside me. I’ve spent too much time racing by life, as I drive absently in the car from one appointment, one errand to another. I now realize how I’ve missed much of the beauty and inspiration my world has to offer.

Common, white wild rose is set-off by lovely spring green leaves. © 2012 EddinsImages

Just a weed that I pass by everyday… © 2012 EddinsImages

These days, I may not be loosing any weight. However, by getting outside – away from my chair and keyboard – and by pausing and taking the time to see, I’ve found a much more meaningful, beautiful, and inspired life.

Itty bitty white clover flower seems to be blushing close-up. © 2012 EddinsImages

I plan to embrace it.

Hearing grass and leaves rustling, I could not see what animal was near, or even where it was. Too much noise for a squirrel, and the wrong noises for deer, I’d just about decided it was someone’s hunting dog when… out from the tall grass popped Mr. Groundhog! © 2012 EddinsImages

All photos taken in natural light with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages.

Art Replaces Postcard, Snapshot and Souvenir Keepsakes

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I love art. Not too long ago, I discovered that a huge cache of my stored art was destroyed due to water damage. I was heartbroken. The lost art helped me to realize how much I value and appreciate these very personal collectibles. For example, over the years, postcards, snapshots and souvenir trinkets disappear in crowded drawers, dusty albums and forgotten boxes. But the art remains on the walls and tables, and lingers in my mind. Like the best desert you’ve ever eaten, or your mother’s cooking… you never forget the art. And the more time passes, the more I respect the extra-special and highly personal nature of the art I’ve collected.

Fortunately, not all of my art perished.

Painting of hay bales and Blue Ridge Mountains captures the essence of my new home in Virginia. © 2012 EddinsImages

As I look back on it now, I realize that many of the art pieces were collected while traveling. Or, purchased because they depict specific places where I’ve lived and loved. For example, when I first relocated to Virginia from New England, one of my first purchases was a painting of hay bales in a field with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background… a scene I see everyday here.

Painting depicting the serene New Hampshire pond that I left behind. © 2012 EddinsImages

Perhaps, my most favorite piece is a painting of a small pond that was just down the road from my old farm in New Hampshire. The woman who sold the painting to me loved it as well because she also lived near the pristine pond she called it one of the most peaceful places on earth. The man who painted it lived in a neighboring town. The painting makes me think not only of the place I adore, but also of the people I so enjoyed and miss seeing today.

New Hampshire’s Mount Kearsarge. © 2012 EddinsImages

A small watercolor reminds me of Mount Kearsarge, the mountain at the end of my old home road in New Hampshire. My son will never forget the time I decided we should have a “picnic” on top of the mountain. It was during the summer just after my husband passed away and I was a little scattered… we had no food for a picnic in the house so we went to the nearby McDonald’s and purchased lunch (yes, I kind of shudder about this now!). Then, I drove 15 minutes to the near-top of the mountain (I’d underestimated the time needed to drive up the mountain) where we found a picnic table overlooking the landscape below, including our farm. Since climbing on foot to the top of the mountain would take another several minutes and our “picnic lunch” was getting cold, we decide to picnic at the overlook. Only problem was, despite our generous application of bug spray, the bugs were merciless. We lasted about 5 minutes, then headed for the car where we finished our “picnic!”

Main Street, Chatham, Massachusetts. The Wayside Inn is depicted on the left. Who is that on the sidewalk? © 2012 EddinsImages

Chatham, Massachusetts, is one of my favorite places in the world. Growing up, I spent my summers in Chatham. Also, as an adult, I lived in Chatham for many, many years. When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to stay at the Wayside Inn on Main Street.  My other grandmother, my mother and I shopped, and I modeled as a child, in the Children’s Shop across the street from the Wayside Inn. Every Friday night, my family and I (along with everyone else in town) would enjoy the summer band concerts in the park next door to the inn. I’ve got a print depicting the bandstand hiding somewhere.  And for several winters, I worked with my great friend, Nick, who gave horse-drawn hay rides up and down Main Street during special town celebrations. During one particular winter hayride stint, I wore a red jacket as I walked up and down the snowy street alongside the team that Nick drove, wearing his tan overalls. The two horses that pulled the red wagon were Harry (the chestnut Belgian) and Tommy (the white Percheron). Then, one June evening, Nick drove Tommy the Percheron as he pulled the black carriage carrying me to my wedding in the square-steepled church with the clock, just down Main Street from the Wayside Inn.

The little white Sprite… my first sailboat. © 2012 EddinsImages

As a child, I spent fabulous Cape Cod summers racing in Stage Harbor in my little white Sprite sailboat.

Print of a watercolor features City Hall in the city of Savannah, Georgia. © 2012 EddinsImages

Just last summer, my son and I visited Savannah, Georgia. We were both impressed with the city’s many pristine parks and old architecture. Savannah’s City Hall is gorgeous. In an art gallery alongside the river, I remember how my son and I were having anxious fits as the sales woman took forever to ring-up our two small watercolor prints. She was chatting merrily, on and on… completely oblivious to the ginormous, very black and very menacing storm squall heading down the river toward us. When we finally got our two prints, my son and I ran crazy-fast, racing the storm,  to our car parked in the lot across the street. We got to the car just as the raindrops hit the windshield. Before the doors were even closed, the black skies split open with streaks of white lightening. Torrents of water cascaded around us. My son and I laughed with giddy relief as we high-fived ourselves, safe in the car.

Traditional New England logging. © 2012 EddinsImages

A large black and white print of a traditional logging scene reminds me of winters in New Hampshire and the fair (that my son so enjoyed each year) where I purchased the print. Clearly, I like horses… they keep cropping-up in my art choices!

Below Quebec City‘s Chateau Frontenac. © 2012 EddinsImages

My son’s late father took me on a trip to Quebec City. It was one of just two trips we took together. Who can forget the great, famous Chateau Frontenac with its distinctive green-roofed tower overlooking Old Quebec, the marvelous, historic neighborhood of Quebec City? Unlike the sunny scene depicted in my print here, it was a wintry 20-below zero degrees Fahrenheit when we were there! I remember there was snow and ice everywhere and my camera was too cold to work. My favorite places were the restaurants – some of the best food I’ve ever enjoyed – and the marvelous book store with all the books in printed in French.

Notre Dame on a rainy day in Paris. © 2012 EddinsImages

If you’ve ever been to Notre Dame in Paris on a rainy day, you’ll know that this painting is exactly what it looks like outside the great church. I love this little water color for its marvelous atmosphere and simple beauty. Its one of my favorite pieces of art. And, as just an add-on to some other more pricey art purchases, this is one of the least expensive pieces of art I’ve ever purchased.

Print depicting Times Square in New York City. © 2012 EddinsImages

There’s only one Times Square! I grew-up less than 30 minutes from New York City and I never appreciated the city until I moved away. I’d love to live there now.

Bird art received as a gift from my dad when he was traveling in Asia. © 2012 EddinsImages

For years, my dad traveled around the world for his work. He even went to China way back in the 1970s (he says an agent from the government came to question him afterwards). Anyway, he most often went to Japan; and sometimes, he brought back beautiful little watercolors and prints for me. I’m so pleased these works were not lost to the water damage! And I so enjoy them. By comparison, although I have some of his photos and I love photography, I don’t ever look at photos my dad took of his trips… I much prefer the art.  When I think about it now, it seems that most likely it was my dad who started my penchant for collecting art while traveling.

Bird art given to me by a friend after her trip to the Northwest. © 2012 EddinsImages

The best part about finding and displaying art from travels is that friends sometimes catch on. For example, I’ve never been to the Northwest Coast, however, a friend who went to visit her family there brought home a watercolor print gift depicting one of my very favorite birds, a heron. On the back of the print there is information about the artist and her distinctive Northwest Coast Indian paintings. My friend knows how much I enjoy birds, especially herons, egrets and cranes. I consider this gift very special, indeed.

My son’s print from Kauai. © 2012 EddinsImages

During a family trip to Kauai, my son picked-out a couple of fun watercolor prints. As my son spent weeks chanting, over and over, the Hawaiian fish name “humuhumunukunukuapuaa” (pronounced HOO-moo-HOO-moo-NOO-koo-NOO-koo-AH-poo-AH-ah), finding a souvenir to showcase the most well-known fish of the Hawaiian Islands, and to celebrate my son’s accomplishment remembering such a name, was a no-brainer! Finally, he learned that the fish was “really” just a “common” Trigger fish. He rolled his eyes and shook his head, and was, of course, somewhat disappointed that the fish is really nothing all that “special.” Of course, the family memories it will always bring to my mind makes this little fish very special to me.

Spinner dolphin print from Kauai. © 2012 EddinsImages

What precious goodies have you brought back from your travels?

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Dog Owner’s Best Purchase… Ever

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Mr. Snuggy, before his haircut. Doesn’t he look like he’s had enough of his messy coat? © 2012 EddinsImages

We have dogs. Lots of dogs. So many, in fact, that I will refrain from specifying the exact number. What I can say is that all, except one, were rescued… um, except for the puppies. But, that’s another story altogether. And, of course, we’ve got lots of other animals as well…

Lets just say my husband, son and I have morphed into a sort of private animal rescue league (yes, my husband is a saint).

Anyway, as it turns out, most of our dogs are breeds, or breed crosses, that require regular grooming. And that presents two problems: 1) Half of our dogs get car sick to and from the grooming salon, even the seasoned travelers; and, 2) Paying someone to wash and clip more than half a dozen dogs every few months can become both burdensome and pricey.

Finally, when a vet determined that we’d have to clip one of our chow chows regularly (to stave-off a recurring medical issue) we decided to bite the bullet. We purchased our own electric clippers. For less than $150 dollars – about the cost of just two professional groomings – we bought ourselves an Andis AGC clipper kit with detachable blades, plastic blade attachments, clipper oil and a carrying case. The packaging on the AGC clipper proclaimed it to be, “SUPER Duty. Great for the toughest grooming jobs. Thin to thick coat dogs, including heavily matted.”

That’s us!

Our Andis AGC electric clipper set and clipper blade spray. Despite our less-than-meticulous care and storage, the clipper has never failed to perform. © 2012 EddinsImages

Also, we purchased additional blades. In total, we have an Andis 10 UltraEdge 1.5mm blade, an Andis 7FC CeramicEdge 3.2mm blade, and an Oster 7F blade. Our final purchase was a spray can of Andis Cool Care Plus coolant/disinfectant/lubricant/cleaner/rust preventative. We’ve found the spray essential to use throughout each grooming to keep the working blades cool and lubricated and the dogs comfortable.

Time for a haircut. © 2012 EddinsImages

To be fair, I’m not altogether unfamiliar with clippers; owning more than two-dozen horses gets one accustomed to such things. However, the intricacies of grooming a dog is an entirely different animal than the broad swipes one makes clipping a big horse body.

Andis clipper works problem-free through thick, lamb-like fur. © 2012 EddinsImages

Certainly, there are grooming techniques, “dos and don’ts,” if you will, that professional dog groomers know and practice. My husband and I don’t have the slightest bit of training in such matters. However, we are extremely careful, especially when it comes to delicate pup face and neck areas. We’d rather be safe and less perfect than sorry. Same goes for anything we do with grooming scissors. The health, safety and comfort of our beloved pets is far more important than making them look even close to “show perfect.” I won’t begin to discuss the horror stories I’ve heard about grooming “mistakes,” even those made by licensed professionals.

Whenever we groom one of the dogs, there is at least one cat hanging out – rubbing, licking, purring – to show support for his or her comrade. © 2012 EddinsImages

Regardless of our dog-grooming ignorance, we’ve managed for the last year and a half or so to take all dog clipping matters into our own hands.

And, the results have been surprisingly good.

Feet and faces still need a bit of practice, both from the dogs and their neophyte groomers, but, each time we do it, we all get better and better at the process.  We don’t use a grooming table or any sort of restraint; in fact, our little maltipoo, Mr. Snuggy (who has a lamb-like thick, curly coat) has gotten so he just rolls over to “help” as we clip his underside. And, he always feels better after his grooming; for days and days, he is more playful, bright and affectionate after his haircut.

Mr. Snuggy always accommodates. © 2012 EddinsImages

Without a doubt, the Andis AGC clipper has been the very best pet-related purchase we’ve ever made.

And, I do believe the ceramic blade remains cooler than steel blades. The Andis clipper has paid for itself over and over again. It has plowed – without ever overheating, stopping, or injuring a dog – though dirty, matted, thick, undercoated chow chow hair; filthy, mud-clobbed, stick-tangled, poop-matted border collie fur; dreadlocked, twisted, matted and chewed-from-play maltipoo hair; and long, knotted maltipoo-beagle coats.  Often, there is so much matted hair, the process reminds me of the spring  sheep shearings I watched as a little girl

Is it lamb or maltipoo? © 2012 EddinsImages

Even so, our dogs don’t seem to mind the process nearly as much as they did the scary trip to the dog groomer. And, when it is all done, each dog always seems to appreciate his or her “new” coat. Especially Mr. Snuggy, who knows he’s a handsome fellow.

Mr Snuggy’s new haircut. © 2012 EddinsImages

Best of all, we’ve saved ourselves a pretty penny and the hassle of unpleasant car interior clean-ups during rides home from the professional grooming salon!

© 2012 EddinsImages

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Iris Flowers, Up Close and Personal

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Iris viewed from above. © 2012 EddinsImages

Its been a week of stormy spring weather. Every day, we’ve experienced fat, angry, lightening bolts, house-shaking, cracks and roars of thunder, and sheets and sheets of wind-driven ran.  Last night in the car, as we headed home from town under brooding, bruised skies brightened with wild, white flashes of lightening, ginormous raindrops pelted the car. And when we were almost home, big balls of hail pinged off the car and bounced in the road around us.

Very dramatic.

Waves of lavender orange iris. © 2012 EddinsImages

But, its not all been drama weather this week.

A look into the iris. © 2012 EddinsImages

In between the tempestuous conditions, we’ve had hours of peaceful, balmy days. Days when garden and roadside stems push upward and blooms stretch outward.

Iris, up close, after the rains. © 2012 EddinsImages

Perennials have been unfolding leaves and petals right before us.

Looking down on beautiful Iris “Batik.” © 2012 EddinsImages

And showing their blooms.

Peek into the peachy pink iris. © 2012 EddinsImages

And I’ve been outside, walking with my trusty little iPhone camera.

Folds of blue iris petals, worn from stormy weather. © 2012 EddinsImages

The irises are in full-force. And their show has been amazing.

Iris “Batik.” © 2012 EddinsImages

Even after damaging storms, they manage to impress.

Spent blooms, after days of sun, hail and rain. © 2012 EddinsImages

Very dramatic.

Pink and purple canyons of Iris petals. © 2012 EddinsImages

Its been a joy to take the time to stop and look at each flower.

Jumble of intense iris. © 2012 EddinsImages

I’ll be sad when they’re gone.

Iris “past her prime.” © 2012 EddinsImages

Truly, I’d never appreciated them before.

Lavender iris veins. © 2012 EddinsImages

The irises are extraordinary.

Taking the time to examine each roadside iris is a joy. © 2012 EddinsImages

I’ll be sad when they’re gone.

Sunshine-flled iris. © 2012 EddinsImages

So, the plan is to purchase more this year… my little iPhone camera and I will be waiting for them next year.

“Batik” iris, weathered but none the worse from storms. © 2012 EddinsImages

Meanwhile, I’ve chosen my favorite. Which is yours?

All photos taken in natural light with an iPhone 4. Copyright © 2012 EddinsImages.

Spring Flowers After the Storm

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Sunny Knock Out® after the morning rain. © 2012 EddinsImages

This morning began with a thunderstorm. Afterwards, I took my trusty iPhone out to the garden to snap some photos of raindrop-laden blooms.

Then, I crunched the front-end of my truck on my way to the office.

*sigh*

Purple clematis, real close! © 2012 EddinsImages

Since I’ve not been able to get any real work done today, I decided to post a few of this morning’s flower pics…

So far, they’ve been the best part of my day.

Clematis Henrii after the showers. © 2012 EddinsImages

And they make me smile.

Mini rose after the rain. © 2012 EddinsImages

Hopefully, I’ll have a better day tomorrow.

Purple clematis close-up. © 2012 EddinsImages

I won’t wreck the truck (been there, done that).

Clematis Henrii Bud.© 2012 EddinsImages

And tomorrow, I’ll get some real work done!

Wet purple clematis leaf. © 2012 EddinsImages

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Texturizing with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

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My first texturized paint victim: The Little White Target Stool. © 2012 EddinsImages

Once upon a time, I stood many hours a day in front of an easel as I applied oil paints to canvas after canvas. Invariably, at the end of each day, I found the serendipitous riot of of colored-paint dribbles, accidents and wipes on my palette much more satisfying that the carefully selected strokes and precise swaths of paint I’d meticulously applied to my canvases. That’s one reason I abandoned my fine art painting (but that’s another story, for another day)…

During a recent Annie Sloan Chalk Paint workshop here in Virginia (please read my April 7 post), I was most delighted to hear British decorating paint guru Annie Sloan talk about methods for texturizing her paints. And, I was even more turned-on when she said, “There are no rules.”

Detail of hand-painted stool. © 2012 EddinsImages

I spend so much time these days striving to get things exactly right, carefully writing, designing, working and reworking things over and over, not wanting to make a mistake, that I’ve forgotten how to just have fun, and not worry about consequences. Annie Sloan gave me permission to work quickly, to be messy, and best of all, to make mistakes.

I love it.

I’ve got a basement chock-full of old, unloved furniture, and I decided to experiment with a few pieces.  After the Annie Sloan workshop, I stopped off at Janet Metzger’s The Empty Nest at The Fox Den Antiques Mall in Warrenton, Virginia, to purchase a few cans of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. The “experimental” paint colors that I chose were mostly lighter tones in blue, green and creamy neutral hues. Also, I purchased a can of Annie Sloan clear wax and a can of dark wax, and I picked-up some uber cheap paint brushes at Lowes (the short-handled kind of brushes that come several to a package… I mean really cheap!).

First coat of purple paint is applied roughly over an inexpensive, smooth, white stool form Target. © 2012 EddinsImages

My first paint victim was an inexpensive, little white stool that I’d purchased at Target several years ago for my husband’s grandchildren to use. The stool’s surface was very slick, and and after years of use, it looked quite shabby (not in a good way). It was going to be interesting to see how successful I could be trying to transform a slick, monochromed, modernesque surface into something I hoped would appear multi-colored and textured, as well as old and worn (in a good way).

With my cheapo paintbrush, I quickly covered the stool with rough strokes of Annie Sloan’s Old Violet, leaving some of the stool’s original white finish still showing. This first step took me less than a minute from start to finish. FWIW, the Old Violet appeared to me to be lighter and brighter IRL than you might think when just viewing a small paint chip (especially when I left some of the base white showing through). However, I was going to address the “bright” a little later…

The top of the stool shows multi-layers of textured paint and waxes. The underside has no dark wax yet. © 2012 EddinsImages

When I was finished with the first layer of color, the paint easily rinsed out of the cheapo brush in water (as well as my hands!). After the Old Violet dried, just a few minutes later, using the same brush, I applied random strokes – some quite thick and “blobby” – of a light blue called Louis Blue. Then, before the Louis Blue dried, again with the same brush (not so carefully rinsed this time), I added a light yellowish green called Versailles. And again, I made my strokes random, in all sorts of different directions using various amounts of pressure. I tried to apply heavy applications of paint in order to create ridges and valleys of texture over the originally smooth surface.  Also, I pushed the wet Loius Blue and Versailles colors together in a few random places on the stool. Moreover, I used a rag to wipe-up and smear paint in areas.

There were no rules. I was making a mess on-purpose.

Then, I reapplied some more of the Old Violet here and there. Next, with the same cheapo brush I spattered some of the Versailles over the surface (this would have been more successful with a decent brush). Finally, I added some Old White spatters. The entire process took less than an hour.

After applying several layers of paint, then sanding, and a adding coat of clear wax, a dark wax is applied to tone the color and accentuate the “hills and valleys” of the painted surface. © 2012 EddinsImages

When the paint was dry enough to touch, I applied a coat of clear wax all over the stool and gave it a good rub. Next, I hand-sanded some areas, including some of the edges and corners of the stool to let under-layers of color show through, replicating “years” of wear and tear. Then, I applied a coat of dark wax, heavier in some places than others. After a few minutes, I wiped-off the dark wax, using varied amounts of pressure around the stool. This toned all the colors and left dark low-lights in the nooks and crannies of the textured paint.

About two days later, when the wax was fully dried, I buffed the stool by hand to give it a more polished finish… and viola!

Finished! © 2012 EddinsImages

No longer ugly and abandoned in the kids’ room, my reinvented, repainted stool has proven to be quite versatile. The mix of toned-down colors blend in just about anywhere around the house and I don’t worry about getting it dirty. The rumpled “old” surface wears wonderfully well and the more it is used, the better it looks. Plus, it reminds me of my younger days, filled with oil paints and wonderful mishmashed palettes. Yes… I definitely need more colors.

So, I plan to purchase some more Annie Sloan Chalk Paint; I’m thinking, a red, some darks and there are a couple of brights I’d like to play with as well. Of course, knowing me, eventually I’ll end-up with just about all of the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint colors (there are about 30 offered in her palette today).

Meanwhile, I’ve got my eye on a really boring wooden rocking chair sitting here in the family room… <wink>

Reinvented and repurposed, the hand-painted stool. © 2012 EddinsImages

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Introducing the Egg Cup

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The egg cup… hard to find in the United States these days. © 2012 EddinsImages

Part of my mission as a mom is to pass down arcane life skills and information to my son, so that when he’s a grown man, he will be fully prepared and confident to handle whatever surprises life throws at him. Of course, passing along esoteric, obscure, or old-fashioned skills most often goes hand-in-hand with passing along family stories and traditions.

So, it’s not all for nothing.

Before introducing the egg cup to my family… two soft-cooked eggs were chopped and  served in a bowl, the way Grandma did it. © 2012 EddinsImages

A few weeks ago, EGGS were on my mind. I don’t know why this was the time for eggs, maybe, because it was nearing the Easter holiday, a time when the media bombards us with bunnies, chicks and eggs. Regardless, I decided that my 13-year-old son needed to know how to prepare a soft-boiled egg (also called a soft-cooked egg). He could cook a scrambled egg, he could prepare an omelette, and he could fry an egg. However, he’d never learned to soft-boil an egg.

Let alone eat one.

And, I determined, if I was getting into soft-boiled eggs, I might as well get into egg cups. After all, you never know in life when you might meet-up with an egg cup. And, if you’ve never encountered one before, an uncracked egg sitting in an egg cup waiting to be eaten can be daunting.

Now, if you’re from the UK, or many parts of Europe where using an egg cup is more common, then, you may feel I’m a bit out of line for calling an egg cup “arcane.” However, the fact is, egg cups are few and far between here in the US.

Pottery Barn egg cup with attached saucer and bunny cameo cloche. © 2012 EddinsImages

So, about the time I began planning my egg tutorial, low-and-behold, Pottery Barn was having a sale… their spring catalogue featured the “Cameo Egg Cloche;” a white, glazed stoneware egg cup, with a little attached dish on the bottom, and a bunny “cameo” imprint on a separate cloche cover. Better still, each was on sale for less than six dollars. How could I go wrong? I ordered three, one for me, one for my husband, and one for my son. We’d make it a family affair, eating soft-boiled eggs out of our new egg cups.

Of course, even with the best-laid plans, nothing ever goes quite as expected. After the initial egg cup presentations were made to my family, when the  appointed day for egg cup lessons came to be, my husband was nowhere to be found.

I think, he hatched a plan to be away that day…

Son’s first crack at an egg in the cup. © 2012 EddinsImages

Regardless, my son showed a remarkable amount of patience and poise as he tolerated my soft-boiled egg and egg cup tutorials.

I told him stories about how, when I was a girl, I ate soft-boiled eggs at Grandma’s house. I remember Grandma’s early 20th-century kitchen, with the painted, sage-green cabinets, linoleum floor, enameled sink and drainboard, white gas-range, and her red transferware. Inside each transferware bowl was a depiction of a past-century couple under a tree.

Yummy, sloppy-good, soft-boiled egg. © 2012 EddinsImages

I’d watch Grandma boil the egg, cool it under running water – not for too long, just until cool enough to hold – then, hit the cooked shell with the back of a knife around the top before carefully removing the “lid.” Next, with a teaspoon, in one motion, she’d carefully scoop-out the egg from the shell (like magic, I thought), and place the loosened egg in the transferware bowl. My egg would be chopped with a spoon, before salted and peppered. I daresay, there would be a pat of butter added as well. Sometimes, there would be toast with butter and jelly on the side. I’d eat my delicious egg, whites cooked, yolk still partially runny, until I reached the bottom of the bowl where I’d discover the garden scene. Grandma ate hers with little pieces of buttered toast mixed in with the runny egg. When we finished, Grandma and I would make-up a story about the garden couple in the bottom of the bowl.

Inside the egg…  © 2012 EddinsImages

However, even after years of eating soft-boiled eggs with Grandma, I’d never eaten an egg from an egg cup. So, the polite and practical use of  the egg cup was something my son and I learned together last week. To cook and serve:

  1. We started by placing an egg in cold water inside a saucepan.
  2. Then, we heated the pan until the water came to a full boil.
  3. After two to three minutes, we removed the egg with a slotted spoon and cooled the egg under running cool water… just until it was cool enough to touch (still quite warm).
  4. Then, we placed the egg into the egg cup.
  5. Using the back of a knife, we hit the top side of the egg-shell with a sharp rap to crack the shell.
  6. We followed by pushing the knife tip into the egg and slicing across the top, until the “lid” fell off to reveal the interior of the egg. Our first peek inside… here’s where we learned whether we’d gotten it right in terms of cooking time! We concluded that I prefer my egg slightly runny and my son prefers his egg cooked a little closer to hard-boiled, so we needed to adjust cooking and cooling times appropriately.

All that was left to do was season the egg interior with salt and pepper (if desired), carefully dip the spoon in (so as not to slosh out all the egg on the first bite)… and enjoy! Dipping slivers of toast made from my pumpkin bread was a tasty treat as well.

Dipping toasted pumpkin bread was “eggstra” delicious! Eddins Images

Ummm… we won’t mention here that if one finds his or her egg to be slightly undercooked, and if one decides to put the egg with “lid” removed but still in the shell,  into the microwave for a few additional seconds, then perhaps, when one finally inserts his or her spoon into the boiled-then-microwaved egg… there will be an EGGSPLOSION.

Don’t do that.

<grin>

So, after a few days and a dozen eggs or so, armed with a bit of new arcane knowledge and skill, my son is ready to take-on a world full of eggs and egg cups.

Now, we just need to find some egg spoons…

Son’s first egg-cupped egg… all gone! Eddins Images

Some of What I’ve Learned about Egg Cups:

  • An egg cup is little dish or bowl specifically designed to serve a boiled or cooked egg.
  • Most egg cups are single cups on a pedestal. However, a double egg cup may have two sides, one large and one small.
  • Using a double egg cup, place the large end over the unopened egg to keep the egg warm until it is time to eat. Then, flip over the cup and set the egg into the smaller cup for consummation.
  • During the 1930s, the double egg cup was especially popular; egg was removed from the shell, placed in the big cup, chopped and seasoned with salt and pepper and then eaten right from the big cup.
  • Toast or bread, often sliced into narrow “fingers” dipped into the egg is a favorite treat.
  • The egg sits with its larger end in the egg cup.
  • A special egg cutter (ACK! who has one of those?) can be used to break open the shell.
  • An egg spoon is made to fit into the egg.
  • Egg cups are most common in the UK, Europe and Canada. Less common in the US.
  • Art depicting egg cups dates as early as 3AD. Actual egg cups were found in ruins of Pompeii dating from 79AD.
  • Prior to 1700, egg cups were made from wood then silver.
  • An egg cup may be made of just about any material, form porcelain, to plastic.
  • In the 1700s, French citizens purchased egg cups to copy King Louis XV, as he supposedly could “decapitate an egg at a single stroke.”
  • Often, 1800s egg cups made of silver were gilded inside to prevent sulfur from the egg from staining silver and affecting flavor.
  • 1800s egg spoons were often made of horn, bone or ivory so as not to taint the egg taste.
  • Beginning in the 1930s, egg cups with attached platters were made.
  • People collect egg cups all over the world. Egg cup collecting is called pocillovy. An egg collector is known as a pocillovist.

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Drama Queen Iris ‘Batik’ Welcomes Spring

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Award-winning Iris germanica “Batik” is stunning close-up.© 2012 EddinsImages

Look who came out to play in my Spring garden yesterday!

Award winning Iris germanica “Batik” is a dramatic, and I daresay, show-stopping garden plant that blooms Spring and Summer. Such a Drama Queen! I can’t imagine my garden without several of these flashy sword-leaved beauties featuring royal-purple flowers with random spatters and streaks of white on its standards and falls. In fact, I plan to add more to my garden each year.

Iris “Batik” is a hardy and most dramatic garden bloomer. © 2012 EddinsImages

For an iris, “Batik” shows a rather conservatively sized yellow beard. Hybridized by grower Ensminger in 1985, the 26-36″ border bearded iris was awarded the American Iris Society Honorable Mention in 1988, the Award of Merit  in 1990, and the Knowlton Medal  in 1992. Like everything in my garden, this perennial plant is easy to grow and should return year after year. It likes sun, is drought tolerant and may be easily propagated by dividing rhizomes, tubers, or bulbs.

Can’t wait to see what blooms in my garden tomorrow…

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Springtime Clematis Blooms

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Clematis Nelly Moser announces Spring’s arrival in central Virginia. © 2012 EddinsImages

I have a love-hate relationship with Spring. After frigid temperatures and months of nothing but dull landscapes of brown and grey, April’s warm weather – along with peeps of fresh green outside – are always welcome. Yet, it seems that I always get excited too soon. You see, invariably, an early thaw leads to a few warm days.

Yea!

Then, it gets cold again.

Wah!

Worst of all, many plants that dare to bloom during the early thaw, ultimately, wither and die. (I’d share photos of my husband’s tomato plants, but, it is too depressing). I hate that.

Nevertheless, I’ve learned that my clematis are better timekeepers than I. They seem to get it just right, year after year. And, when clematis variety “Nelly Moser” finally opens her petals, I know that Spring weather is here to stay. My striped, candy-pink Nelly, above, is just a newbie. Planted last fall, she is actually the smallest of all my clematis plants (there’s not much more to her than what’s shown in the photo), and yet, she is still the first to bloom, along with another couple of my youngsters, white clematis “Henrii.” My Henrii group are a bit less protected than the single Nelly Moser, and they got whipped in the wind during the last few days. My first-to-appear Henrii bloom looks a little shabby. I didn’t take his photo.

Now that I think of it, the Nelly Moser is just sitting in clay soil (not good for her) and, still,  she is first to bloom! Note to self: amend soil or move Nelly…

Regardless, both Nelly Moser and Henrii are fairly common varieties and are regarded as excellent repeat bloomers, each with a relatively long flowering season. Although, I remember not being overly impressed with either variety when I was first familiar with clematis, (candy cane pink = too cute; white = boring), I’ve come around over the years. Because of their easy maintenance, excellent hardiness, great repeat blooming, potential for sizable blooms (Nelly Moser, up to 9 inches; Henrii up to 7 inches ) as well as prolific blooming – I’ve had these varieties absolutely smothered with flowers, even when I’ve totally neglected them –  each has grown to become an all-time favorite of mine. Best of all, I adore roses, and clematis make perfect rose companions.

Hummm… now that Spring has arrived, my rose buds will open soon.

I just love Spring!

Photo taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Report from Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Workshop

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Chair painted by Budget ReDesign‘s Terry Eldridge in vibrant Annie Sloan Chalk Paint welcomed attendees to decorative paint guru Annie Sloan’s American Tour workshop. © 2012 EddinsImages

Last week I attended an Annie Sloan Hands-on Workshop in Leesburg, Virginia. I’m relatively new to Annie Sloan, as well as the paint she says she’s proud to have invented. However, while wallowing in self-pity because “I never do anything creative anymore,” and reading online about the British paint and decorating legend’s American tour, I signed-up on a whim. Maybe a workshop would re-inspire my creative juices…? After all, waaaay-back-when, there was a time when I was actually trained in fine arts. And, I do have an obscene amount of old furniture pieces lanquishing in the basement – surely, each could benefit from a painted facelift. Besides, lately, there’s been quite a buzz about Annie Sloan’s paint on decorating blogs and websites across the country. Time to find out what the buzz is about, and give myself and my old furniture a much needed kick-in-the-pants.

Collection of furnishings, painted and waxed with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, presented by Cathy Johnson’s Laissez Faire & Company. © 2012 EddinsImages

A fine artist, Brit Annie Sloan is one of the world’s most known and respected decorative painters. A darling of the Shabby Chic movement in interior design, as well as French, Swedish and – on the other side of the design field – Urban and Boho Chic styles, Sloan has written 23 books, has been featured on numerous television shows, and presents her painting techniques and design ideas throughout Europe and the United States. And, of course, she owns her own paint company. Also, she sells a line of fabrics, and painting accessories.

People came to the workshop from all up and down the southern East Coast; I met one woman who had come from as far as South Carolina. Also, several Annie Sloan “stockists,” the people who carry her products here in the United States, brought painted furniture pieces and accessories to display in little vignettes around the lobby. The furniture and accessories providing workshop attendees concrete examples of what could be accomplished with the paints. Several stockists included their “recipes” detailing how they applied and treated the paints and waxes to achieve their unique effects.

Highboy chest in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

Presented by The Cottage, this highboy – hand painted and waxed with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint products – was an impressive piece on display. © 2012 EddinsImages

What I most appreciated about Annie Sloan was her insistence that when working on a painting project, there’s really no “right” or “wrong,” and that one can be as creative and different as one wants to be. “These are really easy techniques. After you’ve got that, it’s the color that matters – even if you’ve got the technique, if the color is not so good, then… not so good [overall].” Of course, Annie Sloan assures audiences that not only are her Annie Sloan Chalk Paint brand colors good, but, they go a long way as well.

Addressing [what had to be] many more than 100 people, Sloan was full of good humor and stories. She called her paint “highly pigmented,” which means, just about one coat is all that is needed for a single color application. “I usually say when I paint a piece of furniture, one-and-a-half coats,” joked Sloan. Meaning, one coat, plus a little more to get the spots you missed or the places that need a little more coverage.

A lighthearted moment between Annie Sloan, left, and well-known designer/blogger “Miss Mustard Seed” as they met for the first time. And, yes, my photo is distractingly blurry… my apologies! (I didn’t want to impose on their time to ask for another picture). © 2012 EddinsImages

Also, I love that Annie Sloan claims to have developed the paint because she wanted to “get it done in a day.” No prep. No sanding. And no waiting days for it to dry. Just paint it on and let it dry an hour or two. How can you not love that! And, it means Sloan was looking to create a paint that would “stick to anything,” not just wood.

Certainly, by all accounts, she got her wish. Workshop attendees reported that the paint sticks to just about everything one can imagine, including: clay pots; brick; metal; laminate; even shoes and… a driveway. The most problematic surface, said Sloan, is “really, really shiny, cheap, plastic. It’s not the best.”

I can live with that.

Regardless, “I’m always inclined to see what happens,” she told the crowd. “Having this paint is a bit like having a child – you think you know all about it, then, it does something!” Sloan’s excitement and playfulness regarding her products and processes was infectious.

Sloan added that she painted the outside of her shop in Great Britain with her Chalk Paint and, after few years, it held up just fine. She did caution, however, that when working with the paint for exterior finishes, “If you want that sort of weathered look, then this is the perfect paint for it. If you want ‘perfect’ then, this is not for you.” In other words, for many, it is the patina that the paint acquires over time that makes it most desirable.

Detail of furniture painted with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, rubbed and waxed.  © 2012 EddinsImages

Sloan said her palette, originally just 12 colors, now 26 different hues, is based on 18th century colors like Prussian Blue – think of the colors Marie Antoinette brought to life – and early 20th century colors, like pure white and brights – Paris, Impressionists, Cubists. Also, Sloan said that often she mixes her out-of-the-can colors to create her own custom colors, depending on what she needs. Colors in her palette are made to coordinate with one another side-by-side, layered, as well as work together in the paint pot.

All in all, the day ended too soon for me. I was decidedly disappointed when Annie Sloan’s morning presentation on color (before lunch and our hands-on workshops) was cut short because, apparently, we spent too much tome talking about waxes – Aghhh!

Kudos to Miss Mustard Seed; word is she is greatly responsible for making the event happen (happily, I managed to meet and thank her). Also, thanks to the stockists and others who coordinated, taught workshops, and brought their wares to display. And, of course, my sincerest gratitude goes to Annie Sloan, whom I was delighted to meet, for her shared experience, wisdom, stories, good humor and fabulous, easy-to-use PAINT.

And… yes… I am inspired!

More next time…

All photos taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

Spring’s Wonder

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“Every spring is the only spring – perpetual astonishment.” – Ellis Peters. © 2012 EddinsImages

Remember when you were very young… how the simplest little thing could be an object of absolute joy and wonderment?

Like flowers in an early spring garden.  Or, a favorite object.

Springtime at my Grandparent’s house in New Jersey: after long, grey, northern winters, any bits of color – crimson buds against cerulean skies, green leaves reaching up to unfurl from hardened earth, screaming yellow flowers with neon noses held atop emerald stems – were welcome celebrations of the earth’s rebirth. When I was very little, it was bliss to be outside without a cumbersome snowsuit, feel the warm sun on my skin, smell early-blooming narcissus in the garden, and feel the rich, cool dirt in my hands, on my knees and under my nails.

Each spring I scrunched under the shrubs in the backyard to discover my favorite lion-faced pansies bobbing atop rich, freshly turned soil. Carefully, I’d lift-up the delicate pansy heads to examine their charming purple and white faces. My very own little lions. I’d spend forever, studying and comparing one flower to another, choosing my very favorite. And, each day on my visit to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s, I’d run outside early in the morning to be sure my very favorite lion-face was still safe and blooming.

Best of all, nestled amongst the lion-faced pansies, were two cast-iron frogs, one painted light green and the other dark green with a white belly. In my shaded pansy paradise, I petted and played with the frogs, adoring them as if they were living creatures, hour after hour.

It was all so simple and wondrous. Each spring, each day…

Today, half a century later, my darling grandparents are long gone. Their home is gone. And, their marvelous garden with each spring’s promise, is gone. However, my beloved cast-iron frogs have found their forever home with me. Their paint has all but worn away, and each little frog has patinated so that the pair shows a near-identical, rusty-bronze color. To anyone seeing them for the first time, they are hardly the cheerful Spring Princes of my childhood days.

However, I remember.

To me, the frogs are every bit as wondrous as they were fifty years ago. They remind me of spring in New Jersey. Of lion-faced pansies. Of Grandma and Grandpa. And, they remind me of the joy and excitement I felt when experiencing the simplest things. By contrast, today, often bogged-down in the day-to-day mechanics of adulthood… raising a child, being a wife, caring for pets, making a living, managing a home, shopping and child shuttling from one activity to another… I feel overwhelmed. Some days, all I can do is get through the nuts and bolts of living. No time for whimsy.

Then comes spring. Everything is anew. Each day is fresh. A redo from the day before. And all the days before that. I can forget my troubles. Move forward from my mistakes. And I see that what made me happy fifty years ago still makes me happy today. I just need to remember. I just need to make time to enjoy life, experience the wonder, as I expected to when I was still a child.

Spring reminds me to be the me I expected to be.

I’m off to find some pansies for my frogs…

Photo taken with an iPhone 4. © 2012 EddinsImages

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