Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Mosaic Bowling Ball #10 - The Memory Ball

Where do I start?  This bowling ball was the most fun project to date, but they always are.  I absolutely love it, but I always do.  This project is dedicated to my Mom, Antoinette Nasti.  I feel I can never do enough or dedicate enough, to keep her memory alive.

As with all of my projects, they begin in my head long before anything is gathered or glued.  This one began, probably just after I finished #9, the Junk Ball.  Being the junkie who wants to simplify and declutter our lives, making use of junk to create something beautiful while clearing out stuff is just the epitome of upcycle crafting.  The fact that another physical entity is made doesn't bother me too much.  I'm not sure how long they'll last anyway.  And who wouldn't want lovely garden art.

I've already digressed, but I suspect that will happen a lot before I am done, as I have a lot to say, and I haven't necessarily organized my thoughts.  After completing #9, the Junk Ball, there was still a box of junk.  A small box, one of those they sell at Michaels, about the size of a shoe box.  But a shoe box can hold quite a lot of little bits and bobs.  And more items have gotten added to the box.  I like that there's now a box in the garage, so as I come across stuff, I just put it by the front door, then take it out to the garage.

Back in December, when I was cleaning out Mom's house, there were so many of these little items.  Things I knew no one would want, so they weren't candidates for the estate sale, but things I couldn't bring myself to throw away.  The little glass angel she kept on the shelf above the sink.  Her house keys.  The magnets on her refrigerator.  Pins and costume jewelry and all the little things that roll around in a drawer, just like they did here in my house.  I would stuff them in my pockets, or toss them into my backpack, and then they made their way to that box in the garage.  But not for long.  As soon as I completed the Mosaic Succulent Wall, I moved a blank bowling ball into the garage and I was ready to begin.  I knew this project would be dedicated to Mom and contain all the stuff I brought home in my pockets and backpack.

 I started with the glass angel.  Mom had lots of little angel figures throughout the house.  It's funny, I didn't really know she liked angels.  I wonder if she bought them or if people gave them to her.  I sat him right around the finger holes of the ball, surrounded by blue glass nuggets.  I also wanted the sunflower magnet, taken off her refrigerator, to be a focal point.  I don't know that she particularly liked sunflowers, like Megan does.  I suspect it was more about the color matching the yellow and black kitchen.   I created a medallion design with the sunflower as a focus, china rims plus gold and green glass gems I bought at JoAnns (using two 50% off coupons, I got both bags of gems for $6.99).  Tiny spaces are filled in with millefiore beads that I bought on Murano.  Remember that day on lovely and colorful Murano, where I was so overwhelmed at finding a mosaic shop that I could hardly breathe, let alone pick out something.  I am so happy to put these beads to good use.


The next section I added was the Raggedy Ann, also a magnet from her refrigerator.  This I surrounded with some blue ceramic mini tiles, more glass gems and millefiore, and some pearl button covers from my junk box.  Did she like Raggedy Ann because of her name?  Again, something I don't know.  This reminds me of getting a Raggedy Ann doll for Christmas one year.  I might have been as old as 8, but I treasured that doll.  It sat on my bed in the house in Bloomfield.  At some point it was joined by Andy.  I still have them both in my bedroom.  Megan played with them for a while, but I made sure to get them back.  I love those dolls.







The Pisces medallion and the other gold medallion were already in my house, but I am sure they were Mom's.  She and Megan share being a Pisces, I'm an Aquarian.  I believe she gave these to Megan a long time ago.  Now they have a home on the ball.  Another memory, distant and faint, but something about asking to play with jewelry.  All little girls ask to play with jewelry, right?  I can't remember if I asked Mom or Aunt Jo, Mom's sister. But I remember being thrilled to play with jewelry.   And  I feel I need to save some costume jewelry in case I am ever asked.

By the way, in case this is not yet clear, this mosaic ball is a Memory Ball.  Because, there are so many memories evoked both in the process of creating and hopefully whenever I gaze upon it.  There are so many stories embedded in this ball.  I feel like it needs to come with instructions.  "Please treasure this ball, it was made with love and contains precious memories".  Sort of like the tag that comes on Paddington Bear.










There's one more magnet I included, her name.  "Ann".  Her full name was Antoinette.  I suspect she didn't like that much, as hardly anyone called her Antoinette.  I like it, it's different.  There were three Ann's in the family, Aunt Ann across the street (Uncle Junie's wife) and Aunt Ann, Uncle Petey's wife, who I think was really called Anna.  The "Ann" magnet is flexible so it wrapped well around the curve of the bowling ball.  Near this is a mirror of unknown origins, and a gold and pearl piece from a necklace.  This wasn't her necklace, but I picked it up at Robert's house when I was there for her funeral.  This necklace sat on their dining room table for days.  No one wanted it, but no one would do anything with it, except argue about who was going to do something with it.  Finally I said I would take it, and now it too has a home; I simply cut off the chain.  Below this is one of her house keys, and a hair clip I found on the street in New York when I was there in December.



Her house keys were on a key chain with a St. Christopher medal.  He's the one who makes sure you don't lose things, therefore appropriate for a key chain.  This I placed behind the angel bear, with the rest of her keys scattered over the surface.  This is the first time I've used keys on a ball.  I like how dimensional they are.  I have lots more.  On one of my crafting forays I once bought a whole box of keys.  I don't think I've used any.  I remember once Dad got a whole bucket of keys.  This was at the house in Newark I am pretty sure, so I was less than 8 years old, and the memory of the circumstances is gone.  But I remember the bucket of keys.  It was a large bucket, like a 5-gallon paint bucket, and it was nearly full with keys.  Dad collected metal of all sorts and he would sell it as scrap for cash.  I think someone brought him the bucket.  I don't know what ever happened to it, I guess he sold it.  To me, it was a bucket of treasure.  I think I can remember sifting through the bucket.  There would be that pungent metal smell and my hands likely got pretty dirty.  But oh the treasure.  Behind every key there must be a story.  These were old keys, some of them skeleton keys.  There is another key chain I found in the dining room hutch, I "heart" NY.  I don't know anything about it.  To set the record straight, I don't "heart" NY, I "heart" San Francisco,  but I like the way this apple-shaped key chain takes up space on the ball, surrounded by gems, china and millefiore.

Mom liked to play scrabble.  I can't remember the last time we played.  I should have played with her when I visited.  I should have done a lot of things.  But playing Scrabble is a happy memory, so I put some scrabble letters on the ball to spell out "M O M".  Don't worry, I didn't pilfer these from my game.  At some point in my craft supply collecting, probably in my Artist Trading Card days, and likely in the same timeframe in which I bought a box of keys, I bought an extra set of tiles to use for crafts.  I made sure all my game tiles were safely in place.  There is that "Letter Distribution" guide on the side of the board.  I used it to carefully sort through the tiles to make sure they are all there. And while I was at it, I played a game.  With myself, because no one will play with me.  Just as well, as I am a very bad loser. I won, but it was close.   I included other game pieces on the ball, mahjong and dominoes.  These are mostly costume pieces from junk jewelry I've made, although at least one dominoe, the large red and purple one under Raggedy Ann, is a piece I found on the beach at Carmel.  I wanted to include a couple of dice I picked up at Mom's house, but like the jars of marbles I carried home, which yes did put me over the 50 lb limit, I'm not ready yet.  They seem too precious, I don't know their story.   Suppose they are somehow too valuable to be siliconed in place.



What else is on the ball?
- buttons and pins and earrings I got at Scrap in San Francisco; I remember sorting through the tray of things that was outside and therefore sitting in an inch of rainwater.  But they were free!
- a watch ring that I gave Megan for Christmas one year.  I'm not sure it ever worked or was ever worn, but it was a well-intended gift.  And somehow she learned to be reasonably on time in life, an important characteristic.  I had to mount the face on a piece of tile, and it kept wanting to curl back up, so I had to sit and hold it in place for about 15 minutes.
- there is a whole set of intriguing copper enameled circles, some with numbers on them.  I think I found these in Megan's boxes of junk.  Not sure of their origins, but they are lovely little things.  I have more, likely to appear on the next ball.
- circular mirrors and filler tiles; glass tiles that I got at Mendel's Far Out Fabrics, glass and ceramic tiles left over from all the previous mosaic projects, flat-backed glass beads; all those glass gems I got at the closing sale at Big Apple grocery are all gone now.
- a few beads and pearls, all of these likely found on the street.
- a couple of those flattened pennies I found at Mom's house; I'm surprised there weren't more of these.  I have a bunch more that Megan collected when we traveled, but I'm not ready to glue these to a ball yet
- costume earrings and button covers
- and on the very bottom, out of sight, bits of glass and ceramic plates



 


 


Now for some practical notes:
- GE Silicone II clear 30-minute rain-ready is THE product to use; it's messy and a little noxious (I always work in the ventilated garage) but it holds, it's waterproof and the flexibility enables it to handle the expansion and contraction of the bowling balls in the heat and cold.   I like using the 30-minute rain-ready on a rounded surface.  When I used the 3-hour product, there was too much likelihood of items slipping out of place.  A tube lasts for multiple projects and with coupons is just a few bucks.
- for a few hollow objects like button covers, I fill them with ready-made mortar.  This is not necessarily weather-proof, but it gets covered with silicone so I think it will be okay
- oh and what the heck is this ball sitting on?  No idea, but I suspect it's a chafing dish holder, as there appears to be a place to set a Sterno.  I got it at Savers for $3.99 (less with my donation discount)
- is everything weather and sun proof?  Not sure.  I remember how disheartened I was when Junk Ball #9, after being left on the front porch for only a week, had the main focal enamel pin completely bleached of color.  I've since painted it and moved it to the shade.  I did put some polyurethane coating on the ceramic magnets.
- Some objects are far more dimensional than others.  Since I am not grouting, I am not too concerned with an even surface, but I did use plastic buttons or bits of tiles glued to the backs of objects, like those copper discs, to raise them
- I finished this project in less than a week.  Because of the curved surface, I can only work on a small space then have to let it set.  Again, the 30 minute set time is a plus.
- What if there is something that I really want off the ball?  It can be pried off with an exacto knife if necessary.
- Although I have not done so yet, I may grout the white china bottom, but only if I feel like it will improve the sustainability of the project.

In conclusion, I don't think Mom or Dad would necessarily "get" a project like this, although they both greatly appreciated craftiness.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure anyone will get it, but as I started out saying, I love it.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.




Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Puerto Vallarta - Other Highlights

As I look back through the pictures and write my belated travel journal, I have to admit that the good outweighed the bad of Puerto Vallarta, which again makes me a little sad, because we've decided we will not return.  So I will enjoy these additional highlights.

The grounds of the resort were beautifully planted and spotlessly maintained, and the plants even had signage.



The "Boy on the Seahorse" is an icon of Puerto Vallarta.  It's smaller than I expected, but perhaps there is another larger one we didn't see, as my post trip research has revealed a fascinating story.


There was often some kind of fiesta or entertainment in progress, particularly on the Malecon.  I loved this local color.





In the nicest parts of downtown, the streets were lined with bougainvillea which looked particularly lovely against the often blue skies.



As part of the dreaded timeshare presentation rewards, I got a massage and facial, with this being the massage location and view.





We enjoyed two shows at the resort, a Thursday night fiesta that included great food, open bar of course and wonderful entertainment, and a Friday night fire show with amazing feats of acrobatics with fire.


There is no lack of people watching, an opportunity to really think about how other people travel and how other cultures reciprocate.


Adios, Puerto Vallarta, it was real!

Touring Puerto Vallarta - Marietas Islands

Just offshore at the north end of Banderas Bay rests a group of small, volcanic islands known as the Marietas Islands. These islands were made famous by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and are now a protected national park, or the Mexican equivalent.  Because of this protected status, no one is allowed to land on the islands (and there doesn't appear to be many places where one could do that anyway), but tons of boats stop offshore, allowing people to experience the natural beauty, bird and marine life.

There is one cinder-cone island where the roof has collapsedand there is a little beach inside.  They call this the hole in the ocean or hidden beach, and it was one of the main reasons I chose this tour.

 
Unfortunately, it was not completely clear to me that the only way to reach this island and little beach was by snorkeling or swimming, neither of which I do well. There were some pictures showing paddleboards, so I thought perhaps I could paddle there, but no.  And the length of the swim required differed.  Some said 75 feet, or perhaps 75 meters.  When we got there, the tide was high, so no snorkeling was allowed since the entrance to the cave was very high compared to the top of the arch one had to swim through (one guy spent the rest of the day with an ice bag on his head from misjudging the opening and a wave).  And the distance was more like ...well, too far for me.  This was the melee of people swimming toward some indistinguishable cave opening.


 
The other unfortunate aspect is that I didn't realize this was the hole in the ocean part of the trip.  I thought people were just going snorkeling, which I don't like.  Even if it had been clear, I probably would have been too afraid to do this.  The ocean was a little rough and quite cold, and even with life vest and fins, I might have been too scared.  There were life boats patrolling, but anyway, I didn't do it. Tod was brave (although he admitted it probably would have been too much for me) and was rewarded with goofy pictures inside the cave.


While most of the people did make this swim to the hole, there were about a dozen of us left on board, some too sea sick to do anything but hold plastic bags in their laps. Although it was not "smooth sailing", it was not a bad ride for me, so I rather enjoyed the quiet.  I did decide to lay off the alc for this trip.  Meanwhile, the captain tooled around a little so we could get a closer glimpse of the islands and the birds, particularly the blue-footed boobies.


This is a photo from the internet, as I didn't have a camera to get a shot like this, but this is exactly what they looked like, and there were hundreds of them on the islands, along with brown pelicans, frigate birds and of course sea gulls.


After the "hole" we drove to another island where we went kayaking and paddleboarding.  Since we couldn't land anywhere, the boards and kayaks had to be unloaded from the boat (once again, hats off to the crew who worked like dogs to unload the gear and make sure people had what they needed, and help people into the water from the back of the boat).  This was a little tedious, but finally I got out onto the water.  It was once again rougher than the water I like to paddle in, but manageable.


Of course, there was the challenge of maneuvering around a lot of other people.

On the way back to port, we were rewarded with dolphin sightings...


and a ridiculously entertaining show by the fabulous crew.


While this was not my favorite tour, it was a nice sail with beautiful scenery and perfect for those a little more adventurous than I.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Touring Puerto Vallarta - Hidden Mexico

Our second tour with Vallarta Adventures was entitled Hidden Mexico and included six activities plus the bumpy adventure of riding Mexico's rough roads in this crazy vehicle, called an open-air Mercedes Benz Unimog, driven by Nary, who I hope was completely familiar with the capabilities of these vehicles, because he seemed like he was taking the turns on the narrow roads pretty fast.  Anyway...

 
The first stop was the Botanical Gardens.  We had read about these and thought about going on our own, taking city busses.  We actually walked out to the gas station at the edge of town where one could supposedly get the bus.  The busses were somewhat labeled but not clearly.  We decided to leave it to the professionals.
 
Robert Price and his mother Betty founded the Vallarta Botanical Gardens in 2004 after realizing the need for conservation and environmental awareness in the area. Bob was specifically concerned with the numbers of orchids that poachers were taking from the nearby jungles to sell commercially.
He envisioned a place where orchids could be propagated and displayed without depleting the local populations. The Garden opened to the public in 2005 and has been flourishing ever since.

The garden specialized in orchids, but the most amazing plant was the jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys), hanging in huge clusters of unique green flowers.

They used the flowers to decorate our glasses of jasmine iced tea.

The gardens weren't very large, or perhaps they were larger and we just didn't have time to visit them long enough.  They were filled with wonderful tropical plants and a nice building with a lovely view down the mountain to a river valley.






Oh before the Botanical Gardens we visited some petroglyphs, but rocks in a field don't do that much for me.  The best part of this little adventure was the exchange between Ari and her mother Marian the librarian over the lack of bug spray.  ("MOM, it's OK!)"  We had bug spray, which we leant to them, but I still got bit about 10 times.

The next stop was at a roadside stone-oven bakery, a family-run business producing these wonderful loaves of filled bread.  There were all kinds of jam-like flavored fillings, plus some ham, cheese and jalapeno.  They were delicious and I regret not buying a whole bag of them, at only 5 pesos each.  Apparently local families all buy bread from this roadside in addition to the tourists.  I hope so, as this seems like a tough way to make a living.

 

And then there was El Tuito. 
El Tuito was founded in the 16th Century at about the same time as the mining towns and Talpa de Allende. However there are no mines or Virgins (at least the religious kind) in El Tuito.  What it does have is grazing land and water and it was on a major Spanish road that ran from Barra de Navidad to EL Cuale and Mascota. The famous Manila ship that came once a year from the Philippines would unload some of its cargo at Barra before continuing on to Acapulco. El Tuito could supply fresh pack animals, food and water to the travelers.

It's hard to describe El Tuito.  Despite the higher elevation, it was HOT.  The roads were somewhat paved.  Aside from the church, the buildings were nondescript. As a 16th century village I expected old stone houses like we've seen in Italy and France.  It was not like that.  It could be that the primary building material was adobe, which is not a long-lasting material.  Our first stop in El Tuito was the home of a family of artisans.  The family had some cows and made cheese, and they served us tortillas, fresh cheese and salsa.  They were so friendly and gracious, serving their freshly-made food in the back yard, with their little cow just on the other side of the fence.  That's our guide Abraham showing us how it's done.

Then we visited the workshop where the husband and father made things from rosewood, like vases and mortar and pestles.  I would have like to buy something from this hard-working family, but I really don't want to acquire stuff at this point. 

Marian the librarian did buy something, which was nice, and thus we got to try some raicilla.
Raicilla is a distilled spirit, originating in the south western portion of the Mexican state of Jalisco, and pre-dates the arrival of Hispanic people in the country. It is similar to Tequila and Mezcal as it is also a product of the agave plant.
Like tequila and mezcal, it pretty much tasted like alcoholic cactus.  Next we visited the town hall, which was mostly for the purpose of using the bathrooms.  They did have flushing toilets and running water, but just barely.  Along the way we passed several civic offices.  Everything was dark and plain.  That's what struck me the most.  There was hardly any color or decoration anywhere, just hot stone, cinderblocks, wires, some trees.  This restaurant did have a colorful awning and tablecloths.




The church was very colorful, and in fact looked like it had just received a fresh coat of stucco and paint.


Inside it was a little plainer, but still colorful and very familiar as a catholic church.

The most colorful part of town, by far, was the cemetery.  We drove there as it was a little ways down the road and up a hill.  I meant to ask why the graveyeard was not collocated with the church as I would expect, but it could be there wasn't the available land.

Many of the grave sites were  quite elaborate.





I wish we had more time in El Tuito, the place was fascinating.  I would have like to discreetly walk up and down the streets and try to get a better glimpse at life in this town.  As we were leaving town we did see children getting out of school.  It was early but evidently the day ends early, about 12:30, for school children here.  They were being picked up by waiting moms and walked home just like anywhere.

Finally, it was time for lunch.  The tour really outdid itself on this aspect.  We had lunch at the Villa Azalea Inn & Organic Farm, a luxury hotel about a half hour outside Puerto Vallarta.  They served the fresh and delicious lunch in the river behind the property, of course accompanied by an open bar, with fruit mojitos being the specialty of the day.


This was such a unique experience.  The river was mostly less than knee-deep and very clear, with little fishes swimming by.  This freaked out some people.  I found it delightful.

Once again the time was too short, but there was so much jammed into this tour.  The final stop was at a tequila distillery.  The Don Chendo distillery had the distinction of being the only distillery on the hill. 



After tasting seven different tequilas (I tool small quarter shots, as the amount of alcohol being consumed was beginning to be alarming) we were free to buy (we didn't, we can get tequila in the US) and left pretty quickly for our ride back to town, but not before I had a chance to play with Anjelica the burro.

The truck was able to drop us off downtown instead of at our starting point way north near the port and airport, which was convenient for getting dinner.  We went back to the Margarita Grill because it was so good, and once again got the molcajete-prepared salsa.  I didn't mention this before, but there is live music at the Margarita Grill and it was good, if a bit non-traditional.



This tour was amazing.  I cannot say enough good things about Vallarta Adventures, our guide Abraham and our driver Nary.  I wish we could have spent more time in the gardens and in El Tuito, and lingering in that river with more drinks would have been fun, but as it was, we were gone all day.  But I'm so glad we did this and really did get a glimpse into a part of Mexico one would never know existed if you just hung at the resort.