Sunday, 30 May 2010

My First Oil Painting Purchase

Most people know that I'm a big fan of Nancy van den Boom's work. I love her work and the way she uses color and light. I mentioned this already in an interview that I did with her a few months ago.

Before I come back to a new examination and opinion of Nancy's work, I need to refer to a recent documentary I had seen a few months ago. It was an anthropological study on art. The most significant importance of the program I took with me was this: globally speaking, the landscape painting (or photograph in recent years) is the most popular with human beings. There is something about a landscape painting that goes straight into the primitive core of people and speaks directly to their feelings of safety and well being. And of all landscape paintings, the most popular of these are those that contain 4 features: water, a possibility for shelter, fertility of surrounding area and 'a way out'. By a way out, I mean a pathway, a stretch of openness, or an area of the painting that one can imagine travelling to. This final point fullfills the intrinsic need in almost all humans of seek out unexplored areas or experience new ideas.

Nancy's work displays all of these four features and does it in a way that is much more 'delightful' that what I've seen in other landscape paintings.

While not all of Nancy's paintings feature water that can be directly seen, her work is so full of greenery and color that it implies that water, and a great deal of water at that, is easily obtainable. In addition, there's always something in Nancy's work that is both calming and exciting at the same time. It has taken me a while to put words to it, but I've come to realize that looking into Nancy's work makes me fantasize about being in the world she creates. I can see myself having to work, yes, but having to work much less - perhaps only a few hours a day. Everything is fruitful and the people are happy in visual worlds that Nancy captures. It's a place where it rarely rains, and when it does, it's just enough to keep everything as it should be.

As a final comment, as much as I love Nancy's work I am certainly not in the place in my life right now where I can drop down 500+ American dollars for one of her pieces (which I think should be sold for more.... but we don't need to tell her that). As a mother of two small children, a mortgage, a 'regular' job, etc, 500+ dollars is always better spent on other items, usually involving the needs of the children.

I mentioned this to Nancy a few months ago, and asked her what would be the price of a much smaller painting. She almost immediately produced a tiny piece and showed it to me. And since then she's created many small paintings. I have liked them all to varying degrees, but when I saw this sea side landscape I knew it was the one for me.

So now I can say that I have purchased my first oil painting: a small 10 cm by 10 cm canvas. I love it already and cannot wait for it to arrive in the mail. And it costed me just under 30.00 USD - perfect for my budget at the moment. I hope to collect more in the future, with possibly a few larger pieces as the children start leaving home.

It's not often that a purchase makes me feel so good - I am generally not a very materialistic person. While I am sure I will love this painting as long as I am around to see it, I do hope one day in the future my grandchildren can say 'Our grandmother knew and communicated with that famous artist in the Netherlands.'

We will have to wait and see.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

My New Herb Soaps -

I've been working hard harvesting all sorts of herbs - or working with herbs that have been harvested for me. Here are the soaps that I have cut and set out to dry:

Above and below are pictures of my newly created Dandelion Soap. This was wonderful to make and I have just fallen in love with the golden color of the soap.

Above and below are samples of organic Laurel Leaf that has been picked and dried for me by GUFOBARDO who has supplied me with many organic herbs. Do contact her if you are interested in what herbs can be purchased from Sardina and what her prices are.

Above and below are pictures of the soap I've been making from STING NETTLES. I'm very much in love with these soaps and have made a few batches already.

And finally here are pictures of Organic Thyme soap. The thyme has also been gathered and dried for me by GAFOBARDO. It smells fantastic and I cannot wait for it to be finished drying and placing it up for sale.

If anyone is interested in purchasing some of these soaps early, just leave a message in the comment sections and I'll contact you.
In the meantime, here's to organic living!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Stinging Nettles and Seaweed Continued.....

We've had another weekend at the cabin, with both myself and my husband looking forward to lots of work.

I of course was looking forward to gathering dandelions for my soap. But alas, on Saturday morning I woke up to this:

Lots of rain. I don't know why I was so surprised. The weather forcast I said it was going to rain over all of Hordaland (the county/province of Norway where we live and have our cabin), but I had been optimistically assuming that the clouds would roll over us and drop their rain in Bergen as they often do.

Not this time however.

On the other hand, the cherry tree is in bloom. This is not something that we usually get a chance to see. Usually Nature and Us do not work so well together and we miss it. So even though it was raining, it was a nice treat.

Another good look at our tree..... it could be a few years before I get another picture like this.

And down on the grass there are lots of wild flowers growing here as well.
But it's time to get to work.

I pull out a bag of nettles that I picked last weekend, dried and froze to get rid of their stinging and burning qualities. And I have with me a couple of sharp objects to help me complete my task.

After the nettles have been dried and frozen, they are so nice to work with. Soft to the touch and no nastiness involved whatsoever.

But before things get too messy, I remember that I cannot do any sort of decent work without good coffee and good music. Last Christmas I received a new Walkman cellphone from my husband. The instruction booklet said that the phone is capable of holding up to 8 000 songs..... but I'm no where near that number. I don't think I'll ever have enough money to download so many songs.
The music is a collection I've downloaded mostly from Itunes, and the coffee is actually imported from Denmark. Don't get me wrong, I love living in Norway.... but there is not a brand of good Norwegian coffee to be found here. After 10 years of really trying hard to like the most popular brands, I simply admitted defeat and have been importing ever since.

So I move myself to the only semi-solid structre we have outside: an old bench. Even our picnic table moves and wobbles so much that I would not trust working on it with sharp objects.

Some basic, course chopping the first time around......

And then switching over to fine chopping, Jamie Oliver style.... though I have to admit I've never seen him use a clever.

And after the nettles are chopped finely enough, they go into a nice, big ziplock bag where they will wait patiently for me to use them in soap.

For those who are wondering why I don't dry my herbs completely, it's because on the west coast of Norway we get so much rain, and it is so damp that except for 2-3 weeks in the summer (if we're lucky!) it's impossible to dry anything naturally. Smoke houses have been used for centuries for both fish and meat, but it seemed that smoking herbs was perhaps not the end goal for me.

After the nettles are packed away, it's time to work on the seaweed. This has been hanging here the last week or so, semi-drying. It wasn't perfectly dry, but I had planned to put it in the freezer along with my other gathered herbs.

I start off with a little bit and begin to chop.....

It's really hard work because as it dries, seaweed becomes more leather like. This little bit above took me almost 15 minutes to chop. And I'm starting to wonder if my time/profit cost ratio is worth it in the end.

I go back and cut some more seaweed down from it's drying rack. I'm using the sheep shearing scissors that my husband's grandfather used.... and it is questionable if he was the first to use them himself.

So I was struggling, on the second little helping of seaweed. Even with my sharpest tools it's a struggle. It was at this point my husband took a coffee break and came to see what I was doing.

Now I do have to admit that I did marry my husband because he was the smartest man I ever met, both with IQ intelligence as well as practicle intelligence. After watching me for a bit he asked me if it was possible to grind the seaweed in the meat grinder we have.

Now what a great idea that was! I had not thought of using my meat grinder as I have not used it myself for almost 4 years. I use it when I/we catch lots of fish. If the fish is fileted and then ground, it can later be used for making fishcakes, gratain or fish puddings (like meatloaf). And, as long as you have all white fish, you can mix it together. But we have not been on any big fishing trips in a long time. Any fish that is caught is usually eaten for dinner that very day.

So we got the meat grinder out, set it up on the edge of the balcony and put it to work. It worked like a charm!

It was grinding up the seaweed better than I could ever chop it and I'm glad that my hubby and I make a good team. BUT! It really started to downpour at this point and this particular balcony railing was not a good place to have the grinder. So both of us decided to call it a day for these activities, and spend some time with the kids.
The next day it was starting to clear up. There were rain clouds in the sky, but luckily they were going over us.

And always in the distance we could see some blue sky.

So I set up my meat grinder on the other balcony... the one that had the much nicer view looking out to sea.

And here I started my work.

It's still pretty tough work and today (two days later) I've still got some sore muscles in my right arm.... but it is definitely much easier and much more time efficient than using the chopping method.

And I like the idea that I'm using human power instead of electricity - the ultimate eco-friendly way of getting the job done.

And when it's all ground up.......

Into the antique bowl with the large crack on the side it goes.

When it became clear that my arm was getting sore a bit too quickly, I needed to figure out a way to turn the grinder around without having the risk of breaking dishes that would fall several meters down to the ground. A nail and a plastic lid saved the day. (Although both hubby and I agree that we need to stop in at IKEA on our next trip and find better and bigger tools for me. Perhaps even a bucket that can hang under the grinder..... we'll perfect the technique before summer ends!)

And slowly the cracked antique bowl fills......

And after a short hour it is completely full and I'm out of seaweed. This too has gone into plastic ziplock bags (which can be washed and reused!) and is in the freezer waiting for me to make soap out of it.

Stay tuned for the next harvesting adventure!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Harvesting Stinging Nettles and Seaweed

My family and I have been spending some time at our seaside cabin during the last week or so. It's been great to get away from the rush of the city and work (although I do love my job - let's not get that wrong).

I've also been using this opportunity to harvest both nettles and seaweed, which I've been dreaming about all winter.

Here is the seaside of our cabin. Most mornings we drink our coffee and eat breakfast here. Right now we're doing it with thick jackets on, and watch the steam rise from our mouths. But it's worth it.

If we walk to the end of this balcony and look over the edge, you will see where we will be building the fourth (and thank goodness the final!) balcony during this summer. After this is done, all the big work will be done for at least another 7 or 10 years or so. We're looking forward to that.

Looking down to the left, one can see the stone beach just below us. It is actually illegal to build cabins this close to the sea in modern times, but follow this blog and you will find out why we are lucky to have this place.

Looking straight down, one can see all the nettles that needs to harvested (or as my husband would say - to be gotten rid of. I'm doing my best to harvest as much as possible as it grows to at least a meter high, and he's the one who will have to work in it while building the porch. Mind you, he finds a weed-whacker works wonders).

In order to get down to the nettles, it is necessary to walk all the way around the cabin. There will be stairs down from the porch one day in the future, but as for now we need to go the long way around.

Here is the door to our basement.... and the reason why we have a cabin so close to the sea. These stone walls are part of a foundation on a living quarters that can be dated back historically to the 1700's. And it logically goes back at least 100 years before this as this is when the old farm stead (which now belongs to my husband's second cousin) was recorded historically. Many farms had what can be loosely translated as a 'farm hand' or 'yeoman' in romantic terms. This was however not a romantic title to have.

The men (and probably also their families) that lived here would be allowed to live on a small corner of the farm in exchage for 10-14 hours of work a day. After that, they were free to go home and work on their own garden and produce their own food for their own survival. They were also allowed to fish, but part of this harvest had to go to the owner of the farm. And interestingly enough, there was a law stating that one day a year (a specific date which I am not sure of, yet) the owner of the farm could throw out this man (and his family if he had one) for no reason and replace him with someone else. So when it really comes down to it, those who lived here were slaves to the farm owner with no possibility for anything else.
But this is why we have a cabin so close to the sea. It is legal to continue building on an existing foundation, something my husband's grandfather started doing immediately after WW2.

And opening the door to the cabin, we see that we use this space for storage, and not a nice and tidy storage area either.

To the left we see an old window set in stone which would not have existed in the 1700's. It was no doubt added when my grandfather-in-law when he started working on it close to 70 years ago.

Shelving on the wall directly behind the door with all sorts of old nails, pipes, and knick-knacks that have been saved by various family members during the last 50 years.

To the right of the door, we can see the foundation for the the chimney, which can no longer be used without burning down the cabin. We however are content to use small electric heaters. My husband and I have done so many reperations and additions to the cabin that to replace the chimney will be something our children will have to do.... if they decide to do so.

As one can see however, this is not a large space. It measures about 3 meters by 5 meters, at the most. It's hard to fathom that an entire family, with at least 4 children and possibly many more, used to live here.

But here it is what I'm looking after - garden gloves. Because stinging nettles is pretty nasty stuff.

Stinging Nettles, or Brennenesle as it is known in Norway is not something you want to play with. The scientific name is Urtica dioica, and when touched, it will actually inject small amounts of poison under the skin. It stings and itches like a Dickens. If you have tough adult skin and can grit your teeth for 15 or 20 minutes, it usually goes over. But if you are a kid like my daughter, and accidentally run into it while playing football while wearing shorts and short sleeves, it can leave horrible red welts all over your body. Luckily Aloevera salva tends to work quickly.
At the same time, nettles has been used for centuries both as food and for it's medicinal qualities. It's rich in both A, E and K vitamins (something desprately needed during the 1700's when there is little time to produce or collect your own food) and is also rich in flavoids and plant acids. Common uses were against internal infections, heart and kidney problems, arthritus, and as a blood stopper. For these same reasons, it can be also used for the skin, once the stinging part of the plant is destroyed.
But first I have to pick a bunch.

Here is what I picked in 15 minutes or so. And even though I was wearing garden gloves, I was stung several times on the palms of my hands, though the material of the gloves. I've since made it a point to wear latex washing gloves after this.
But instead of grabbing the Aloevera, I decided to try seaweed, which I have also heard works wonders against small rashes and scrapes.

Leaving my nettles behind, I grab a bucket and head further down my property to the sea.

This rock wall that can be seen here is the first project of work at the cabin I was given 12 years ago, newly married and living in a country where I did not speak the language. There is a reason why I'm pointing this out and I will come back to it in a bit.

Another view of the same wall for the opposite side. Stick with me, there's a reason why I'm pointing this out.

Here we have the seaweed that I will be harvesting. It looks like we have two different types located on our beach, but really this is not true. What is seen above is what the seaweed looks like when it's establising itself on a rock face.

And this is what it looks like after it has had time to grow a bit.

And this is what it looks like when it has had a winter to grow without any of us removing it from our swimming area.
This type of seaweed is Ascophyllum nodosum, or is otherwise known as Norwegian Kelp. It is high in nutrients and minerals. The first thing I did was drop my bucket (well after taking pictures in any case), grab a few handfuls of seaweed and rub my itchy hands on it. Abracadabra, my itching stopped, and I was a happy girl again.
Other things I have learned about Norwegian Kelp - it stimulates cell growth, tones and hydrates the skin, and can apparently be used in soups, broths and chowders. While I have not tried that, I can say if you catch fish, pack it in this seaweed and then toss it on the fire, it will be the best meal you've had in a long time.

A close up of the seaweed - here are the small gas bubbles that help the seaweed float to the surface when the tide comes it. The closer to the sunlight they can come, the more photosynthasing that can occur.

While I'm busy with my gathering, I suddenly hear a noise behind me - it's my daughter who's suddenly gained an interest in snails and small crabs that the tide leaves behind when it goes out.

Here's a quick shot of the treasures she has found.

This shot shows the difference between an inexperience wall builder who has never pushed anything other than a pen and textbooks for 10 years (that would be me) compared to an experience farmworker. And that was the point I was alluding to earlier.

On the way up, I hang all my seaweed on a super old (50+ years?) apple tree that has long since stopped producing apples. It will be cut down and replaced in a year or so, but in the meantime it can be useful to me.

And my daughter follows me up because she's told that if she's going to look for more snails and crabs, she needs to put on a life vest.

Into our half finished kitchen to boil some water to make the nettles more customer friendly.

We still carry our water in by the bucketfull because it costs a small fortune to be allowed to be connected to the local irrigation system. And we would rather have a fourth porch instead.

And the water goes onto our old-fashioned oven that we inherited from my husband's grandmother.

While the water's slowly boiling, I carefully transfer the nettles into a siv.

Finally the water is boiled and I can pour it onto the nettles. Quite a nice vegitable smell rises up in the steam, similar to spinach but not as strong. Although I think I will add some mint essential oils when I use it in soap.

And while I wait for the water to do it's trick, I admire the view.

And ask my daughter what she's found.

She tells me she's found a mussel, lots of snails and a ton of bitty-small fish swimming just out of her reach.

And now it's time to separate the nettles from the other grass that it was harvested with. A job that is easily done without any painful consequences with my bare hands.

And here we have lots of nettles that is now ready to be added to my soaps.

It would also be interesting to note that I have read that fireweed loses its stinging abilities when dried, which is something I am also going to try. But since I intend to use this immediately, I couldn't wait the 5-10 days drying takes. But I will get back on that one and blog about my experience with that.