Friday, December 13, 2013

China - Then and Now - Thirteen Years Later

I first went to China in 2000 in order to see the Yangtze River before the dam was completed. China was still emerging, and the tour included all the major cities and sights. Everything about the tour was highly organized and tightly controlled . I came home with a keen sense of the vastness and beauty of China but little insight into the every day people. The trip was a study of the romantic China and looking back it seems like a Disneyland experience. It was one of my last trips to take film pictures and I filled a shoe box with some really great photos.

I was content to have seen the China I saw and had little interest in returning as there are so many other places in the world I still need to see. That changed when my only granddaughter, Sydney went to China to teach English. I thought it would be fun to visit her but did no real planning until she mentioned that she lived close to Harbin where the Ice Festival is held. I have seen pictures of the Festival but due to its remoteness I figured it was just a place to enjoy in photos. Now it seemed like a possibility.

Sydney has winter break at the time of the Festival so my planning began sometime in August. First I checked the weather - minus 30 degrees in January. Oh my, now I have to figure out how to stay warm. I have plenty of long johns and wool sweaters and socks but need to secure better outer wear. Some internet research had me ordering ski pants, Sorrel boots and a really heavy down parka from ebay. I now felt I could move on to the next step and book airlines and two days of hotel before meeting up with Sydney. That done I was now ready to learn a few key phrases so I could at least take a taxi to my hotel. I found audio clips on the internet and managed to learn only three words, hello, thank you and please. 

I got my first glimpse of China before I left the airport in Los Angeles. I flew Air China so many of the passengers were Chinese. Signage indicated that only one carry on allowed with no mention of a personal bag. The weight limit posted was also ridiculously low for a carry on. Soon I noticed an official looking man randomly taking peoples bags as he said Thank You. Wow, I understood Chinese. Because I had a carry on and a personal bag half the size of my carry on I just knew he was going to find me eventually. Close to boarding people started getting up making what looked like a line to board. It was more like a loose mob. No matter how many times the desk attendants said, "Sit down", no one moved. I was never really sure when first class and others finished boarding and economy started. It was just one big flow of people moving forward. This was my introduction to how Chinese quietly defy authority in a small way and yet maintain an orderly flow of movement. China, here I come.

My plan was to take a taxi to my hotel and rest for a few days. Sydney had other plans for me. She would take the train to Changchun to meet me at the airport and get me to my hotel. I tried to tell her I could manage for a few days but she insisted. Well, I was glad she insisted because trip to hotel involved train and then a taxi in a very confusing atmosphere. Without Sydney's help I would probably still be trying to find my way around the train station.

Me at South Lake Hotel
Five star South Lake Hotel was way south of town and in a beautiful wooded location. The rest of Changchun is considered the Detroit of China. Check in required I put up a 1000 yuan deposit. This is how it is done. Lunch and breakfast hours are limited so  Sydney and I scrambled to get some lunch. My breakfast the next morning was another experience. Without asking I was brought an assortment of small dishes, about twelve in all. There was fish, sausage, egg, vegetables, pickled cabbage noodles, all cold. A waiter asked if I wanted noodles so I said yes just in case the small dished turned out to be not to my liking. The second morning I only got the twelve dishes. No one asked if I wanted noodles.

Rodin's Balzac in Sculpture Park

View of Changchun from Sculpture Park
Our first outing was to the world's largest Sculpture Park in the middle of town. I am sure it is better looking in the spring and summer than covered in snow. It was impressive anyway. Next we went to Puiy's Palace and a very large museum dedicated to the Japanese invasion in 1931. The museum was beautiful and the many attendants held signs saying "Quiet". The Chinese suffered greatly during this time period. It can be compared to the Holocaust in Germany.

Me standing by Puiy's car

View from train heading to Harbin
We rest at Sydney's apartment in Siping before proceeding to Harbin. By now I understand Sydney's craving for western food. In general the food is too salty and too much oil. No matter how varied the dishes look there is a sameness in flavor that one tires of. I did like some of the dishes but Chinese food is not one of my favorite cuisines. 

Scratch my belly
Nicki, one of Sydney's students joined us in Harbin. Another colleague, Steven meet us at our hotel and made all our arrangements during our stay in Harbin. I am now into the idea of having a taxi or driver whenever we go anywhere. Harbin is the northern most city in China and I am now feeling like I am seeing the "real" China. We do repeated ten minute walks to go places that are closer than a taxi ride. We are schlepping to small hole in the wall eateries. I overlook the dinginess and trust that I will not pick up something and become sick. Sydney's friends know enough Mandarin to order knowledgeable from a menu and can answer questions about the dishes. One evening we trudged over to Steven's apartment and climbed six flights of stairs to enjoy a dinner prepared by Steven. We have a cab and driver to take us to all the sights and wait for us so we don't have to find a cab back to the hotel. One of our drivers, Joe wears aviator sun glasses and a light jacket in spite of below zero temperatures. Joe's English is really good. He learned by watching TV. Joe's father has one of the cleanest taxis around. It is immaculate and had a red light in front that sparkled like an elaborate Christmas ornament. We go to the Tiger Park and I buy a live chicken to feed to the tigers. You can buy a chicken, goat or whole cow that the workers toss out to the tigers.

Me, Steven and Micah Eating Harbin Ice Cream

While in Harbin we saw the Ice Festival, Snow Park, Tiger Park, Saint Sophia Russian Orthodox Church (now a museum) and ate the famous Harbin ice cream. We walked the streets and watched a troop of older Chinese ladies doing what looked like Chinese line dancing. They were quite good for performing in such cold weather.

Small problem - I got busy during this past year and never finished writing this post so it is unfinished and a bit late in making it onto my blog nearly a year late. I think it conveys the spirit of my trip.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cranberry Pumpkin Pie

I found a recipe for Cranberry Pumpkin Nut Bread in the holiday Penzey Spice catalogue. I liked it so well I thought it could be adapted for this years pumpkin pie. As much as I like traditional pumpkin pie I now have a new favorite.

Makes one 9 inch deep dish pie.


  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 - 2 teaspoons grated orange rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 can (15 oz.) Libby's pumpkin (plain)
  • 1/2 (6 0z.) can evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup chopped fresh cranberries
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
  • Whipped cream (optional)
  • Directions

    MIX sugar, cinnamon, salt,orange rind and vanilla extract in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk and orange juice. Fold in cranberries.

    POUR into pie shell.

    BAKE in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Two Articles

Article I
  Why I Don't Sew for Other People Any More

Way back in the 1960's I sewed for other people. I did it because I was a stay at home mom with time on my hands and I liked to sew. I didn't have a large clientele, but the people I sewed for understood the art of fine garments and appreciated good fit and one of a kind designs. I made career suits, gowns for balls and many fun outfits for very appreciative clients. 

Many years later, in the 1990's after retiring from a career in teaching I decided to sew again for others. The world had changed, and no more were there ladies who wanted fine garments. Now they just wanted cute and cheap. Oops, I should have said inexpensive. I did pick up a few clients, and the surprising thing was that most of my clients were the morbidly obese who wanted nice garments like their thinner sisters. One sweet little lady said she used to be my size but when her husband died she just ate her heart out. She had tried a seamstress before, and the results were a disaster. I made her three well fitting dresses that made her very happy. 

Another client was a young high school girl who was as big as a barn. She was in desperate need of a good fitting bra and had no idea that bras could be purchased in such a large size. I am guessing something in the range of 50+ DDDD to J cup size might have helped. And, yes, those bras do exist. Fittings were a major challenge because I never knew where her flesh was going to land. We got through the fittings, and when all was done she had a prom dress and sweet little jacket to match. The expression on her face when she tried it on made the effort worthwhile. I think these very obese women were two of my most appreciative clients.

Now you would think I would continue sewing for other people but a move to New Mexico from California gave me a different clientele again. This time there were no redeeming aspects in the ladies who came to find out what dressmaking was all about. We would discuss what they wanted, I would quote a price and they would just stammer and gasp and tell me they could buy a dress cheaper. No kidding. Because I am happily retired I just didn't feel like wasting my time on these go nowhere interviews. Nor did I want to see the look of horror on someones face when I quoted a price. Heck, they don't hesitate to pay their plumber or mechanic more than I charge. And that is why I only sew for myself and family, if they catch me in a good mood.

Article II
Why I Sew for Myself When I Can Buy a Garment Cheaper (Maybe)

I have been sewing since I was 3 or 4 years old. That is a long time. Many of those years were spent sewing my own wardrobe. Why I continue to sew for myself can be summed up by three reasons, (1) I like clothes, (2) I like well fitting clothes, (3) I like clothes that I can't afford. It is easy to understand 1 and 3, but 2 is the heart of what fine garments are all about. 

Firstly, I am vertically challenged. I used to be 5'2" or 3". Age has brought me down to 5'1". No sense lamenting the garments that my tall sisters can carry off. Sometimes even 1/4" makes a difference in how something looks. The best I can do to off set this handicap is to stand up straight and walk well.

Next I will work my way up, starting with my  feet and look at why ready made garments just don't work. My feet are just about average, and my toes are fairly even and straight so I can splash on some polish and wear a nice pair of sandals. Ankles are trim and calves are a bit thin but fairly well shaped. Once I get to the knees it all falls apart. My knees are just plain knobby and well, the thighs are definitely not in proportion to the calves. If the calves are a bit thin the thighs are definitely hefty. And to make matters worse I had had varicose veins since I was in high school. The only way a dress works is with a pair of tights or leggings. Ankle length dresses, when they are in fashion are sort of OK. Regular pants are too long and petites are too short. I decided a long time ago that if I have to alter anything I would just make it.

My over all silhouette is a pear. I can live with that. But when I was younger my upper body was easily two sizes smaller than my hips. Age has helped. The difference is only one size smaller now. I am long from my waist to crotch and short in the torso. Compounding the fitting is a bust measuring 32 D. Shoulders are narrow and sloping with the ball of the shoulder rolling slightly forward. Chest is hollow which disguises the large bust but only in looks not it fit. 

When you sew as many years as I have you get to know your body really well. Now that I know all the reasons why ready made clothes just don't look good on me I can work on making garments that do work. Most of my pattern alterations are in the length except the increase in bust size. I can either draft my own pattern or make the alteration on a commercial pattern. Because I look best in classic lines without to many extraneous things going on I tend to use a pattern for years and vary it ever so slightly.

I started with my feet so I will end with my head. Thanks to good genes and a good surgeon I continue to look younger than my years. Somehow my hair is still its natural color. To sum up my feet and head are my best features, and what is in between requires careful fitting to compliment the good parts. And that is why I make my own clothes.

My Sister's New T-Shirt Wardrobe

In August my sister came to visit and we fine tuned the fit on her patterns for T-shirts. We worked out most of the fitting issue, and I finished her wardrobe after she left for home in Montana. She ended up with a vest, a hoodie and ten new T's.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Busting the Stash

I decided to "Bust the Stash" which means I will continue making T-shirts until all the fabric is gone. Some of my fabric is really old. Not sure why I haven't made it up. Especially pieces I really like.

This fabric has been around for so long I don't remember and it is one of my favorites. It will probably be my favorite shirt next winter.

I bought this fabric in Tucson about eight years ago. Just a lot of scraps to play with. There are five different fabrics in the top.

Just an ordinary stripe with a twist for the sleeve. 

This reminds me of a referee's shirt. Not sure I really like it but will wear it anyway. Colors are cream, gray and beige. Whenever I look at it I want to put a splash of red on it. Maybe a scarf or necklace. Will dig around to see what I can come up with.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

My Sister's T-shirts

I started with a set in sleeve for my sister (the white shirt), but she wants raglan sleeve shirts. I had just purchased a raglan pattern so she is in luck. I had to fiddle with the neck line and will later convert it to a V-neck at her request.

The V-neck is a success.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Time Out For Some Pants

Need to take a break from making so many T- Shirts. Decided to make some pants. The first pair was from left over T- shirt material and some of the scrap from the tunic shown in the T-shirt post. These will be pants for yoga class as they are soft and stretchy.

The second pair are a real experiment. I had three pieces of floral drapery fabric in different color ways. There was only enough fabric to make one leg from each piece of fabric so I just alternated the colors and tied it all together with a two toned band of hand dyed cotton at the hem.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Obsessing on T-Shirts

I haven't sewn any garments in a long, long time. So now I am making designer T-shirts as fast as I can. It is not because I need a new wardrobe - I just like to design. My style is "design on the fly". I lay all the fabric out and start moving them around to see what goes with what and begin thinking of ideas. Sometimes I keep an idea and go for it and other times a new combination emerges as I am working on something else. So far I have completed six for myself and two for my sister. The shirts for my sis are to test the pattern for fit. I mail them to her and she lets me know what is working and what is not working.

I must confess I like garment sewing much better than quilting. There may not be any more quilts in the future.

I have three more shirts waiting to be finished and fabric for a few more. This is my entertainment!

I made this T from an old cotton knit skirt. I liked the fabric but the elastic waist was no longer elastic. The neckline trim is from a scrap of fabric that is probably 20 years old. I really liked the fabric and couldn't part with it. The edge is pinked and hand sewn with embroidery floss.

This is an ITY knit with and overall pattern. The white is a little bit cream colored. The trim is from a tunic that will show up later. I reversed the sleeve and used the wrong side of the material for interest. I really like how well the trim went with the black and cream fabric. the color and scale were just right.

Another ITY graphic print that was just two bold and shiny for my taste. By adding the black and abstract polka dot fabric I was able to "disguise" the intensity of the graphic print. I no longer have access to fabric stores so must order online. Sometimes I get surprises. This was one of the surprises.

Nothing too spectacular with this shirt but I love the fabric. I made the band from a piece of hand dyed silk fabric cut on the bias. I made a small reverse pleat at the neck and hand stitched for added interest. I may do something at the hemline to make it more interesting.

A nice classic blue and white mini stripe with a touch of red and grey stripe. This one could become a favorite.

And finally the ethnic ITY print tunic. I wear it with skinny black pants or tights. This was another one of those oops fabrics. Just a little two bold for me but I kinda like the smaller motifs in it and in small trim pieces it looks rather good.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Final Drawing Fall Semester 2012

The final drawing for this semester was colored pencil of a picture I took of Ship Rock, New Mexico many years ago. I used a set of woodless pencils to lay down a base and then worked the detail with the regular prisma pencils. Having the set of woodless pencils is a real bonus for working background and large areas. I have struggled with drawing realistic looking rocks and managed to draw Ship Rock without any trouble. I was pleased with this final drawing.