The Ghost of Victoria's Most Famous Architect - Francis Rattenbury

Happy Halloween!

If you enjoy tales of ghosts, eerie hauntings and strange sightings, an opportunity to experience one of Canada’s most haunted west coast cities… Victoria, B.C. …on Halloween has to be one of the best reasons to make your way to this island city on the last day of October in any given year.

There are dozens of spots in the downtown core and beyond that are said to be haunted. One of the more familiar stories is that of a tall, dashing, handsome chap with a moustache who lurks in the stairwells of the Empress Hotel.

A beautiful, grand hotel at the head of Victoria Harbour, this historic hotel opened in 1908. Designed by the architect Francis Rattenbury, many people are immediately smitten by their first glance of this hotel’s majestic, old world charm. Little do visitors to Victoria know that the ghost of B.C.’s most famous architect, whose life ended in scandal and tragedy, has been seen on numerous occasions, roaming the splendid wood staircases of the Empress Hotel.

Francis “Frank” Rattenbury arrived in Victoria in his early 20’s and set about creating a name for himself in Victoria Society. Shortly after the Legislative Building (one of Rathenbury’s first of many architectural triumphs that still stands on Victoria’s harbour) was opened in 1898, Frank married Florence Nunn.

The daughter of a retired British Indian Army officer turned prospector, many of Victoria’s young maidens gossiped behind closed doors at the time of their engagement wondering what this successful, handsome and most eligible of Victoria bachelors could possibly see in the very plain Florence. Nevertheless, Rathenbury did marry Florence in a June wedding and they went to live in a beautiful beachfront home in Oak Bay. They subsequently had two children, Frank and Mary.

Rathenbury’s professional success made him the darling of Victoria society. However, trouble was brewing behind closed doors in his Oak Bay home. On a personal basis, “Ratz” was often thought of by his peers as an “ill tempered” and “mean” man who was extremely frugal with his money. This side of his personality quickly reared its ugly head.

Florrie and Frank soon discovered that they were ill suited to each other. In the years following, they grew to dislike each other intensely. Despite this sad state of affairs, they continued to live together. Ratz, now drinking excessively, took up residence in separate quarters of their home. It is said that in later years he refused to even speak to his wife directly and only communicated with her through their daughter.

One evening in 1923, at a dinner in his honour at the Empress, Rattenbury, now in his mid 50’s met Alma Parkenham. Still in her early twenties, already once widowed and once divorced, Alma was a beautiful, accomplished pianist, composer and musician visiting Victoria from Vancouver to give a piano recital.

Frank was instantly smitten by this vibrant, daring, young (and for the times, loose) “flapper” woman who reportedly drank and smoked openly in public! Within days, the pair were embroiled in a publically open, torrid love affair much to the dismay of the elite in Victoria society.

The tongues of Victoria’s upper crust wagged furiously when Frank and Alma began appearing at social functions together, apparently oblivious to public opinion and with scant regard for Florence’s feelings and reputation. The titillating rumours circulating in town, about Alma in particular, were numerous, harsh and cruel.

Within a short period of time, Frank approached Florrie and asked for a divorce. Florrie refused. Frank, not about to give up his mistress, began entertaining Alma nightly at the family home in Oak Bay, no doubt hoping that Florrie would quickly change her mind. She did not.

Frank, now becoming desperate to be rid of Florrie, upped the stakes. He began to harangue her with decidedly cruel behaviour. He invited Alma for overnight stays at their home. Florrie was forced to listen to their squealing lovemaking accompanied by loud drinking and drug use.

When Rattenbury realized this was not getting him the desired result he sought, he decided to move out. His parting “gift” was to have the heat and lights turned off in their home. Tired, heartbroken and deeply embarrassed by the antics of her estranged husband, Florrie finally gave up. She agreed to his request for a divorce.

Frank and Alma married in 1925 as soon as the divorce was final. His reputation in ruins through the scandalous affair with Alma, he was publically shunned by his former clients and colleagues. With commissions no longer forthcoming, his finances suffered greatly.

The couple became social pariahs. They were no longer invited for dinners, parties or the theater. Shunned on the streets of Victoria by the social elite, people no longer spoke to either of them.

In 1929, they decided to move to Bournemouth, England for a fresh start. He and Alma, along with their infant son, left Victoria for good.

The move to England did not bring the hoped for betterment in their finances and social standing. Financially strapped, Frank’s relationship with Alma, who loved to spend money, began disintegrating. Bitter and despondent, he quickly turned into an impotent, alcoholic old man who sat hour after hour in a dimly lit room.

Alma, on the other hand, still young and enjoying some success as a composer and musician, craved excitement. With her usual carelessness, this 38 year old woman began an affair with George Percy Stoner, an 18 year old high school dropout Francis had hired as a chauffeur.

One night in 1935, while sitting in the drawing room in a drunken stupor, 67 year old Rattenbury was murdered from behind. Several blows to his head with a carpenter’s mallet quickly rendered him unconscious. He remained unconscious for a number of hours and then died in hospital. Alma and Stoner immediately came under suspicion. Murder charges against the two for the gruesome crime followed quickly.

The sensational trial, laced with all manner of titillating sex, drugs and tales of infidelity lasted five days. As a witness, Alma “described how, trying to bring her husband round, she first accidentally trod on his false teeth and then tried to put them back into his mouth so that he could speak to her. … Mrs. Rattenbury said when her lover got into bed that night and told her what he had done, "My first thought was to protect him." In the end, Alma was acquitted of the charges. Stoner, on the other hand was convicted and sentenced to death.

Was Alma distraught at the thought of losing her lover to the hangman? Had she committed the murder herself and was now riddled with guilt? With her reputation permanently destroyed and faced with the prospect of living the rest of her life in disgrace, was she consumed with guilt and shame? We shall never know. She committed suicide four days after the verdict. She stabbed herself repeatedly in the heart, fell into the River Avon and drowned. Her body was discovered within hours. There was no note. The headlines in the London newspapers were said to be the most dramatic and sensational since the sinking of the Titanic.

Meanwhile, the public was outraged at Stoner’s verdict. They blamed Alma for leading him astray and corrupting this young lad with “undue influence” and her sexual charm. A petition for clemency, signed by thousands, was presented to the courts and the Home Secretary agreed to commute Stoner’s sentence to life imprisonment. He served seven years for the murder of Francis Mawson Rattenbury.

And Frank… well I believe he still roams the staircases of the Empress in his long, black frock coat begging for forgiveness… hoping to redeem himself for his ghastly treatment of Florence, seeking to repair his tarnished reputation with the public and his peers, wishing he had never crossed paths with the likes of Alma!

Happy Haunting!


Copyright 2008 Sharon House. Please do not use for either oral or written presentation without written permission from the author.

Thrifty Tuesday Art Tips - juice boxes, elastic bands and gift bags

Today for your thrifty arting pleasure we have 41 tips for juice boxes, elastic bands and gift bags PLUS a terrific gift bag project with instructions.
Yesterday, I went back to do a count on how many art tips have been published since I started the blog. I thought I had made an adding mistake (math has never been my strong point ;) when I saw the number....267. I added it up again and sure enough it was correct. Of course this doesn't cover all of the tips that were submitted in the recycling contest, remembering that there were duplicate tips in most of the lists and there are still some to come. But anyway you look at it... that is one awesome number!

Thanks to Terry Howard, Martha B., Leslie, Donna Zamora, Susan Marie, Kelsey Jones Evans, Stephen du Toit, Moon Willow, Christine Bell, Pam Yee, Pam Crawford, Donna Hall, Elizabeth from Kansas, Alicia Edwards and some from yours truly for submitting these great tips!

Please take a moment to say thanks to them for their generosity when you visit their blogs or come across their name in the various art groups on the web.

Thanks too to all those folks who have written me an email about the tips, posted a thank you in one of the art groups, left a comment on the blog. I try to answer all the emails and comments, if I have an address, to personally thank those folks who have taken the time to write. I sincerely appreciate each and every one of you and am just tickled when I get an email from a blog viewer!

On to today's tips...

Save those small juice boxes and ....according to Donna Zamora, “wait until Thrifty Tuesday suggests a workable idea for them.” So Donna, here are 15 nifty ideas just for you! SMILE

  1. Make small shrines
  2. Create bodies for art dolls
  3. Add a chipboard roof to create a little house/birdhouse.
  4. Make shaker boxes. Cut the top off of one juice box. Cut an second juice box to make a lid for the first juice box. Fill the juice box with beans. Push the lid on top of the first juice box. Put tape around it to seal it and decorate the box.
  5. Use to line a niche box in an altered book
  6. Use an altered juice box on a belt as a rather unique embellishment.
  7. Cut off the top on three sides leaving one side for a hinge, rinse them and use for storage of small items.
  8. Use juice box straws as arms and legs on stick figures. The accordion part of the straw makes great joints.
  9. Save those small juice boxes and take them back to the recycling depot for money to buy some new art supplies. (Note: not all recycling depots accept juice boxes)
  10. Fill with plaster, then decorate as building blocks for children or to use in a shrine.
  11. Make a juice box purse or tote by cutting apart, punching holes and sewing, or crocheting them back together
  12. Cut off the top of a juice box on 3 sides add a latch and you have a little treasure keeper or gift box.
  13. Make a stackable mini storage unit from empty juice boxes
  14. Use as a backing for art work, book cover/pages
  15. Cut off the top, wash thoroughly, then decorate to use as favor holders for parties.

Save those elastic bands and ...

  1. Staple them into your art as a great embellishment.
  2. Use them to hold things in place as the glue dries.
  3. Use them to hold overstuffed notebooks closed.
  4. Use them to create a closure for note card booklets or handmade books.
  5. Cover them with a fabric tube and use as hair scrunchies that don’t pull your hair.
  6. Save those elastic bands and make a huge "stress" ball … slowly… one elastic band at a time!
  7. Save those elastic and rubber bands to bundle mat-board or cardboard pieces for a unique disposable stamp or applicator
  8. To create an interesting design…. wind one around a brayer, then run the brayer over ink pad or acrylic paint spread on a flat palette.
  9. Wrap elastic bands around a wooden block, randomly or in a design, to make your own unique rubber stamp.
  10. Save those elastic bands to bind a book.
  11. Wrap WAXED PAPER, FOIL, TP ROLLS with rubber bands or yarn to make printing tools.
  12. Save those elastic bands and use in collage. Alicia said: "I once saw an octopus made out of elastic bands. It was awesome."

Save those gift bags and

  1. Use for instant covers; the handles are great for closures, elements for theme pieces.
  2. Metallic gift bag (free) paper is wonderful to emboss or make bits into highlight elements like stars, crowns, birds etc
  3. Cut gift bags up for backgrounds on cards, collage, ATCs, art journals, covers and ABs.
  4. Sit on a shelf as pretty storage for bulky art items. Don't forget to attach a 'gift tag label' so you know what's inside.
  5. Cut them up to use as you would any paper stock.
  6. Save those gift bags, alter and keep them on hand for the next gift-giving event.
  7. Add your own embellishments and reuse them as gift bags. Re-art them for someone special.
  8. Tear them apart and use the pieces in paper mache for book covers. The color is great!
  9. Save those gift bags and stand a pot-plant inside
  10. Cut them up into flats and use them for wrapping smaller gifts
  11. Make paper beads
  12. Use the designs in collage, altered book or a pop up book.
  13. Save the cord handles to bind a book.

A Gift Bag Project and Instructions

Here’s an idea for gifts bags that I just love! You don’t want to miss this one….

Create a miniature scene in a gift bag. Imagine a little Christmas scene for someone special. What an awesome gift it would make!

Fay Zerbollo of St. Louis, MO makes absolutely fabulous “gift bag room boxes”. I got in touch with Fay last week and she graciously agreed to allow me to post a few of the photos of her gift bags to whet your appetite and tantalize your soul until you can make one of your very own .

To get a copy of Fay’s “how to” instructions click here.

Even if you aren't ready to take on another project right now, drop by Fay’s site to see all of her wonderful creations and get inspired. You’ll be glad you took the time to browse through her site. She is truly a master artist when it comes to assembling these wonderful gift bags.

Have a fun Halloween week... Time permitting, I will see you on Friday with a spooky story!


Thrifty Tuesday Art Tips - Old Business Cards and Plastic/Paper Grocery Bags

59 great recycling ideas submitted to the September 2008 Brainstorming Recycling Contest by Terry Howard, Martha B., Leslie, Donna Zamora, Susan Marie, Kelsey Jones Evans, Stephen du Toit, Moon Willow, Christine Bell, Pam Yee, Pam Crawford, Donna Hall, Alicia Edwards, Elizabeth and some from yours truly!

Save those old business cards and

  1. blend them together with other paper to make great handmade papers.
  2. Use calligraphy, stamps or tiny cut out word to make a quotation on an old business card and fill a business card holder for instant inspiration.
  3. Use an old business card to add a layer to a collage.
  4. Save those old business cards and alter them like an ATC.
  5. Save those old business cards and paint or glue pretty paper on them, add a name and you have a place card for a dinner party.
  6. Glue two together to make them thicker cut them into inchie size and make inchies.
  7. Save those old business cards and use the reverse side for sentiments on greeting cards.
  8. Wrap business cards in interesting cloth or paper scraps as 3-D embellishments
  9. Decorate with paint, beads, clip art, drawings and use as "found" art or bookmarks.
  10. Paint and cut out shapes with paper punches.
  11. Collage them as art pieces or alter them to become YOUR business card.
  12. Use old business cards like a squeegie when painting backgrounds, etc.
  13. Make a fan book out of old business cards.

Save those tags on new, store bought clothes and

  1. You have a ready made tag for your art, along with the hanger. Start by gessoing or adding a collage background, then proceed to decorate as you would any tag.
  2. Stencil or stamp them, the hanger thingy makes a great way to display small 4x6s, add to make depth, use in a collograph.
  3. Cut up the tags to make Inchies or other small items
  4. Add altered tags to books, pages or cards, gifts
  5. Alter and use as bookmarks or decoupage material in your art.
  6. Use the tags as a template for quilt designs or book inserts
  7. Paint unusual shapes as a base for your new embellishment designs
  8. Save those tags on new, store bought clothes and if they are pretty or have catchy phrases, cool looking fonts you can use them in any collage. If they are big enough you can use them as a base for ATC’s or Moo cards. Some tags are really pretty and need just the right picture or embellishment.
  9. Save those tags on new, store bought clothes and paint, collage, embellish to make ornaments.

Save those plastic shopping bags and

  1. iron them together to create a "fabric". Use at least two or three bags, iron between two craft sheets, allow to cool, and peel. You can sew on them, or just use them as the entire background. If you are in a swap, they are light as air to mail.
  2. Save those plastic shopping bags and mash into wet stuff for texture or dip a wadded one into paint and apply backgrounds.
  3. Cut plastic bags into strips and crochet/knit a shopping bag. Tape one side to your worktable top leaving one side open; handy to scoop trimmings, and other refuse into the bag.
  4. Using two plastic bags, insert one into the other. Tie off the top, trapping air inside, and use as a cushion for packing items to store or mail.
  5. Run an ATC-size chipboard (cut from a cereal box of course) through your Xyron sticker-maker, then wrinkle a piece of the bag and brayer it onto the sticky side of the chipboard. Paint, gesso, ink or use as is.
  6. Save those plastic shopping bags and use to make cool designs by cutting them flat and squishing them into wet paint. Lift when dry.
  7. Weave them into mats to protect a work surface or ease you bottom during those long work sessions or in the football stands during long games.
  8. Save those plastic shopping bags and melt them together with an iron into layered "cloth" to dress scarecrows
  9. Save those plastic shopping bags and make beads out of them. Cut into triangular long strips and wind around a bamboo skewer blast with a heat gun and there ya go!
  10. You can cut them into strips and knit or crochet them into tote bag, purses, or pool side slippers.
  11. Cut into strips braid and make a rug or kneeling pad for gardening.
  12. Save those plastic shopping bags and iron them together and sew them into your newly created art bags/grocery bag/etc as a liner.
  13. Save those plastic shopping bags and crinkle up to use with paint for great backgrounds.
  14. Split them apart and use to cover your work surface to keep it clean.

Save those brown paper grocery bags and

  1. Make mini-books.
  2. Create background papers. Crumple and place in a mixture of glue and water, then remove, wring out, and add bits of mica powder and paint while still wet. Hang to dry. When dry, swipe black or dark colored dye ink over the hills. Iron if you choose.
  3. If you are lucky enough to get brown paper bags with cool pictures on them, cut out the pictures and incorporate in an AB spread or art journal.
  4. Save those brown paper grocery bags and unfold them to make book covers, whole books or just a page or two.
  5. Make envelopes and home-made tags, good for ATCs.
  6. Cut into smaller sizes for Moo cards or inchies.
  7. Tear and collage onto background for ATCs Cut selected words to use on collage, altered books, cards.
  8. Cut brown paper bags into usable sizes and use as you would any paper stock
  9. Fill brown paper bags with a few inches of sand, insert candle, for a lovely outdoor lumineria for parties or holiday decor. Fold the tops down into a cuff to stabilize the top and punch/cut decorative holes if desired.
  10. Save those brown paper grocery bags and spray with Walnut ink. Gives a nice aged look.
  11. Use to protect work surfaces when painting/crafting.
  12. Use them for wrapping when mailing gifts, boxes, etc.
  13. Use them in brown paper mache to create covers for altered books.
  14. Use the paper from brown paper grocery bags for layered and distressed pieces - it's strong!
  15. Use as background paper. It is very versatile and can be painted, inked, chalked, embossed, glued etc.
  16. Brown paper bags make terrific homemade prim style wrapping paper tied up with twine.
  17. You can wet brown paper bags and mold it around items, let it dry and it holds the shape, much like paper mache’.
  18. Tear into pieces and incorporate into a design with other paper and fabric
  19. Make faux leather paper from brown paper bags. Spray it with Perfect Ink Refresher. Crumble it. Spread it out and go over with with an ink pad.
  20. Print on it for wrapping papers of all kinds.
  21. Crumple and spray paint it.
  22. Crumple and web it.
  23. Use brown paper bags as blotters, to cut templates and patterns. Use to cover books.

Happy Arting... see you on Halloween!

I will be in Vancouver this coming Friday and over the weekend watching hubby pound on his drum (he's a tenor drummer in a military pipe band... you know the guys that twirl the sticks GRIN) in the Salute to the Military at the B.C. Lions Football game. Ah he looks so cute in his kilt...and boy you should see him twirl those sticks! I wouldn't want to miss it LOL!


Wisdom Tale - The Eight Cow Wife!

Whatcha think? Time for another tale? Well, let's see. I think I'll tell you my alltime favourite tale... “The Eight Cow Wife". Ah good, you're intrigued already.

I love the message in this tale and delight in telling it any chance I get! This story was also a favourite of my very special auntie Flo who passed away last May at 86. I must have told her this tale a dozen times in the year before she died. She never tired of hearing it... always requesting it again and again and just sighed every time she heard it. I miss our phone calls (at least once a week since forever) but most of all I miss her and her cute giggle!

So just sit back with a nice cup of tea or coffee and imagine you are on a tiny, remote island in the warm South Pacific. Are you comfy? Good, now let the tale begin.


Now Johnny Lingo wasn’t exactly his name. But that’s what Shenkin, the manager of the guest house where I was staying called him. You see, Shenkin was from Chicago and had a habit of Americanizing the names of the villagers on this tiny island in the Pacific.

Everywhere I went on the island, Johnny’s name was mentioned.

If I said that I wanted to spend a few days exploring one of the neighbouring islands, talk to Johnny Lingo they’d say. He’ll show you around.

If I wanted to fish, talk to Johnny Lingo they’d say. He’ll take you to where the fish are biting.

If it was pearls I sought, talk to Johnny Lingo they’d say. He’ll get you the best buys.

The people of Kiniwata all spoke highly of Johnny Lingo. Yet when they spoke of him, they smiled, but those smiles were slightly mocking.

One morning, as I sat chatting with Shenkin, even he advised: "Get Johnny Lingo to help you find what you want. Let him do the bargaining. Johnny knows how to make a deal."

"Johnny Lingo!” hooted a boy seated nearby. “Ya he sure knows how to make a deal”.

I didn’t get it, so I turned to Shenkin. "Hey Shenkin, what’s going on here?. Everybody tells me to get in touch with Johnny Lingo and then they break up in gales of laughter. What’s the big joke?."

"Oh, the people like to laugh about Johnny." Shenkin said. "You see, Johnny's the brightest, richest and most handsome young man in the islands. But five months ago, at the fall festival, Johnny came here and found himself a wife. He actually paid eight cows for her! Nobody here pays eight cows for a wife, but Johnny Lingo did.”

“Guess there’s no accounting for love,” I thought to myself, but I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one.

"Good Lord!" I said, "Eight cows! She must be a beauty that takes your breath away."

"Sarita is not downright ugly," Shenkin said. "But she’s… well rather plain. Skinny. Walks with her shoulders hunched and her head down. Why, that girl is scared of her own shadow. Her father was pretty worried that he’d have her on his hands for the rest of her life. But then along came Johnny and he got eight cows for her. Now the villagers get a lot of pleasure from the fact that the sharpest trader in the islands got the wool pulled over his eyes by her father… dull old Sam Karoo. And that’s why they snicker and laugh when they talk about Johnny."

Now I was really curious. So I asked Shenkin, "How did that happen?"

"Well no one really knows for sure and everyone still kinda wonders. All the cousins were urging Sam to ask for three cows and hold out for two until he was absolutely certain Johnny’d pay only one. But then Johnny went to visit Sam and said, ‘Father of Sarita, I offer eight cows for your daughter.” Well old Sam nearly fainted on the spot. He was mighty relieved when they married the next day before Johnny could change his mind."

In that moment I knew. I definitely wanted to meet this Johnny Lingo.

The next afternoon I beached my boat on the island where Johnny Lingo lived with his bride. And I noticed as I asked directions to Johnny’s house that the mention of his name didn’t bring any snickering smiles to the lips of the villagers on this island.

I knocked on Johnny’s door and he graciously welcomed me in. As we sat and talked he asked where I had come from. When I told him, he smiled gently and said: "My wife is from Kiniwata."

"Yes, I know." I said.

His eyes lit up. "Ah…They speak of her on Kiniwata? What do they say?"

The question caught me somewhat off guard. I wasn’t sure how to reply so I said: "They told me you were married at fall festival time."

The curve of his eyebrows told me he knew there had to be more.

”They also said the marriage settlement was for eight cows and they still are wondering why."

His eyes sparkled with pleasure. "Everyone there knows about the eight cows?"

I nodded.

"Well everyone here knows about it too." He said. His chest expanded with satisfaction. "Always and forevermore, when they speak of marriage settlements, it will be remembered that Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for Sarita."

So that’s the answer, I thought: vanity.

And then I saw her. I watched her enter the room to place flowers on the table. She stood still a moment to smile at the young man beside me. Then she swiftly left the room.

She was, without a doubt, the most beautiful, poised and confident woman I had ever seen in my life. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle in her eyes all spoke of a pride which no one could deny her.

I turned back to Johnny Lingo and found him looking at me. "Oh Johnny, she is absolutely gorgeous. I.. I.. don’t understand … why they would snicker and laugh about you.”

Johnny looked at me and said. "I know you probably heard that she was homely and they think that I let myself be cheated by her father. But have you ever thought what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And later, when the women of the village get together and talk, they always boast about what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe five, sometimes six. How do think the woman who was sold for one cow must feel? I would not let this happen to my darling Sarita."

"I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman. I wanted her to be happy, but I also wanted an eight cow wife.

Now you say she is different than what they told you. This is true. She is. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. You see, on her island, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. but when I paid eight cows for her and treated her like an eight cow wife deserves, she began to believe that she was an eight-cow woman. She discovered that she is worth more than any other woman in the islands. And what matters most is what a woman thinks of herself.

************************************ SIGH ************************************

I won’t be posting until the 21st again. This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving and hubby and I are taking a four day weekend together to buzz around, have some fun and stuff ourselves with turkey dinner and pumpkin cheesecake pie. Hey with all the economic woes going on, we need to do something to get our attention away from the stock market! Laughter and tasty comfort food seem to be the only commodities left that can actually make you feel good these days.

Next week I will be at a storytelling festival for four days. While I am there, I'll be doing a workshop with Donald Davis... North Carolina storyteller extraordinaire... and boy am I looking forward to that. I sure do miss North Carolina storytellers (and that lovely N.C. drawl) since moving back to Canada. I am also looking forward to seeing Gay Ducey, as southern a woman as they come, a librairan and a storyteller who can spin a tale out of nothing and make you laugh till your sides ache! And of course, all my storytelling buddies plus my dear friend Kathy from near Seattle who will put up with me being her roomie while we are there LOL.

Perhaps in the meantime, it will give you a chance to get caught up on all the posts you may not have read yet or go back and re-read some of your favourites!

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Have a lovely weekend.


P.S. I've been tagged by my South Dakato art buddy Mar... what a little devil she is... but I won't be able to do much about it until later in the month. Be prepared... you might be next LOL!

Thrifty Tuesday Art Tips - Bottle Caps, Blister Packaging and Canning Jar Lid Inserts

Now who could have guessed that Terry Howard, Martha B., Leslie, Donna Zamora, Susan Marie, Kelsey Jones Evans, Stephen du Toit, Moon Willow, Christine Bell, Pam Yee, Pam Crawford, Donna Hall, Elizabeth and Alicia Edwards would come up with 24 uses for a "lowly" bottle cap, 9 ideas for "useless" blister packaging and 12 ideas for canning jar lid inserts that usually go into the trash without much thought? Certainly not me! I don't know about you but I was pretty impressed by those numbers!

Here, for your arting pleasure, is the result of their brainstorming.....

Save those bottle caps and

  1. alter them to use as an embellishment on a page, ATC or tag
  2. paint/decoupage and make into Christmas decorations
  3. bottle caps make funky earrings or pendants on necklaces
  4. make magnets for the fridge using your favourite photos
  5. cover with fabric, glue a cardboard circle that fits the back of the bottle cap. Glue a thumbtack to the cardboard backing and voila you have a “designer” thumbtack
  6. glue bottle caps to a Styrofoam tray to store tiny findings or beads
  7. adhere stickers to the top of a bottle cap for embellishments in scrapbooks, altered books, etc.
  8. mount small fun-foam shapes on the back of bottle caps - more small printing blocks!
  9. cover with fabric, threads and beads for Christmas decorations
  10. drill a hole in the top and attach to a book page as an embellishment
  11. fill the deep side of the bottle cap with resin and embed artsy bits, objects, micro beads, fiber, printed graphics, pictures or photos in it.
  12. make into games pieces or charms
  13. use as a dangle in wind chimes
  14. plastic bottle caps are great for holding glue when you are applying with a paint brush for glitter
  15. use as a stamp to make rings or bubbles for fish on your "canvas"!
  16. bottle caps make nice tiny frames, distressed and painted for a textured area.
  17. chain bottle caps together to make a jingly addition to a book, page or ???
  18. flatten, bend in half and attach as page tabs
  19. glue a makeup sponge inside a large 2 liter bottle cap to save your manicure when applying inks
  20. make a finger-size pincushion
  21. use as "feet" for a box or shrine
  22. use to create a "Shadow" box with a mini-scene or art bits. Wrap the edges with fiber or micro-beads. A pin-back will turn it into jewelry.
  23. melt the bottle cap liners together, stamp them while hot, colour with inks and they look like a wax seal.
  24. use as a head on an art doll.

Save that clear plastic blister packaging and

  1. emboss it or make a die cut for your art out of it.
  2. paint with alcohol inks to make 'polished stone' backgrounds
  3. frame 3-D artwork in clear plastic blister package boxes
  4. recyclable plastic can be die cut (or stamped then cut out) to shrink with heat gun or oven just like the store-bought shrink plastic materials.
  5. cut out a design, press into wet paint and “stamp” onto paper with it.
  6. cut blister packing into cloud shapes. Paint them white. While the paint is still wet, spread tiny bits of cotton on them. Use as cloud embellishments in your art.
  7. use the flat pieces to cut out a stencil pattern
  8. make a miniature scene inside shaped blister packing
  9. use flat blister packaging as "windows" in shaker boxes, cards. slides, frames or collages.

Save those canning lid inserts and

  1. cover with fabric, used gift wrap, ribbons or images from cards, attach a hanger and use as an ornament for your Christmas tree.
  2. drill a hole in the top and attach a chain. Use as a chime in outdoor wind chimes.
  3. cover the insert with batting and fabric. Glue to the underside of the insert. Cut out a cardboard circle to fit the bottom of the insert. Glue to insert. Paint the outer canning ring. Push the insert into the ring and you now have a decorative jar lid for buttons, cotton balls or even preserves/jam you make to give away as gifts.
  4. use the inserts to make picture magnets for the fridge
  5. use the inserts to make interesting/different/unusual place cards for a party
  6. make an unusual book. Collage on the inserts. Drill a hole to “bind” the inserts together with a binder ring
  7. glue an image to the insert and mount in a scrapbook, altered book or card
  8. paint and decoupage the inserts to make sun catchers, mobiles, etc.
  9. use the inserts as a base for decorative candles
  10. use the canning inserts to make bodies for “metal people”, bird house roofs, and tin assemblages
  11. use as a base to make a round pendant. Drill a hole in the top and attach a jump ring and chain
  12. use to cut out metal “dog tags” for your art.

I'll be taking next Tuesday and a couple of Fridays off from posting this month as I prepare for an upcoming art show in November. a workshop I will be doing on the Latest Trends in Mixed Media art group at the end of this month, eating turkey with all the trimmings on Canadian Thanksgiving (October 13) with my family and four days away at the Forest Storytelling Festival in Port Angeles, Washington.

WHEW... that should keep me off the streets and out of trouble for a few days!

Have a great week...


“A” is for Apple Pie…

Last Saturday morning my ten pounds of peaches and forty pound box of apples arrived from the fruit farmer! Hubby’s eyes lit up. He licked his lips in anticipation and I swear I saw some drool escaping down the side of his chin. LOL.

It wasn’t rocket science to figure out what was going through his mind. My pie loving hubby had visions of hot peach or apple pie, flaky sweet pastry with a dollop of homemade ice cream and a cup of his "killer coffee" to wash it all down, spinning wildly out of control in his head. LOL

One of my Fall rituals each September is a marathon session baking pies. I have my Gramma to thank for that. She taught me how to make pie pastry when I was all of eight years old.

Gramma and Grampa lived on a very large dairy farm in northwestern Ontario that my French Canadian grandfather inherited from his father when he died, well into his nineties, in the 1930’s.

What a wonderful farm it was! Acres and acres of hay fields, a small fruit orchard and a vegetable garden filled with row upon row of corn, peas, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsnips, pumpkin, carrots, squash and turnip. Rows that seemed to stretch for miles and miles.

An old fashioned barn for the cows and the horses.

A long white hen house for mama hens and their chicks.

An ornery barnyard rooster named Big Ben named after the Big Ben clock in London, England. Need I say more? What a noisy character he was....

A building that served both as a root cellar for storing the fall harvest and ice house for cooling and storage of perishables.

A mud pit with a fence for Papa Porky, his wife Bess and their squealing little piglets.

A hay barn and place to store the wagons and farm implements when the day’s work was done.

A rambling, old farmhouse with many tiny rooms, a large attic filled with all sorts of goodies from years gone by (including great-grandfather's fiddle) and a gigantic kitchen with two long tables that probably sat at least 12 people each. I remember the old rocking chair that sat by the large wood burning cook stove. I was rocked to sleep in that chair on many occasions when I was really little.

A water well and bucket just outside the back door. And yup the outhouse was a bit further out in the backyard... with a fancy curtained window in the door no less!

A long porch with rockers and chairs for sunset sittin’ and watchin' before bedtime. Grampa was up at 4 in the morning to milk the cows before they went out to pasture. He "hit the hay" pretty early each evening.

A miniature "farmhouse" and tiny flower garden filled with pansies, daisies and sweet peas. Such a lovely playhouse built by a proud grandfather (my great-grandfather) for his first granddaughter.

It was to this land and home, a handsome young man with a delightful French accent brought his pretty, Minnesota bride to live and raise a family prior to WWI.

In the early 50’s Grampa built a modern, new house with a small “tearoom” porch for Gramma just up the road. Gramma just loved her new house even though she complained every now and again that the kitchen was “too small”… she couldn't fit 12-14 people around the kitchen table at one time now! It was in this kitchen that she taught me the “art” of making pastry.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved apple pie and homemade ice cream! When we went to visit, Gramma always made sure she had a freshly baked apple pie sitting on the sideboard waiting for me. Grampa, of course, always needed help to finish off churning the ice cream. He needed a “tester” to quickly dip a small index finger into that cold, cold mass of cream and sugar and have a taste. This, of course, was just a “precaution” to make sure the ice cream was really ready.

Each summer, my cousin Lanny and I (we are close in age) would get to spend a couple of weeks on the farm with our grandparents just as our three older “girl” cousins (now teenagers) had done when they were our age. Not only would we get to gather the eggs, feed the chickens, pick vegetables and fruit or play in the old playhouse my great grandfather had built but we got to go on the tractor out into the fields with our grandfather or help gramma in the kitchen. It was the highlight of our summer school vacation.

During harvest time, the farm bustled with activity and people! The “clan” of aunts and uncles, farmhands, and friends all gathered to bring in the bounty and put it up for the winter ahead. While my mother and her sisters canned fruit and vegetables in the old farmhouse kitchen up the road (it was wired for electricity in the 1920’s), Gramma, aided by her granddaughters, would get busy in the new farmhouse preparing the evening feast for a crowd of ravenous “workers”. Pies, made with a variety of fillings and freshly churned butter, were always on the menu!

Each fall, these wonderful childhood memories come flooding back to me. As I put on my apron and get out the butter, shortening, flour, sugar and cinnamon, eggs, cream, pie tins and my gramma’s old rolling pin, I am magically transported back in time to gramma’s kitchen! My grandmother is my kitchen angel at pastry making time. Even though she died suddenly when I was just twelve, I can still feel her presence and hear her voice instructing me in the fine “art” of creating flaky, delicious pastry.

  • Now Sharon, never make pastry on a rainy day. The flour can absorb too much moisture and make it dry.

  • Make sure dear that everything is very cold before you start. The flour, the butter, the lard, the water.

  • Cut the butter and lard (shortening) into the flour until it is the size of the peas in the garden.

  • Mix your pastry as quickly as you can and handle it as little as possible. The heat from your hands will melt the “fat” around the flour and that's what makes pastry tough. We want the heat of a hot oven to do that job!

  • Form the pastry into a nice round ball and pat it down into a circle. Put it in the fridge for 15 minutes to get it cold again.

  • Roll the pastry circle eight times. Once up, then down. Turn the pastry sideways, once up and down. Imagine it is a clock. Put your rolling pin in the middle of the clock. Roll once towards ten o’clock; once toward five o’clock; once toward two o’clock and once toward seven o’clock. That's enough... just practice and you'll soon know how to do it like this.

  • Wind your pastry onto your rolling pin and transfer it to the pie tin.

  • Mix a beaten egg until it is frothy. Add some cream. Now brush the egg wash on the top crust to make a pretty brown top crust once it’s baked.

  • Sprinkle some sugar on the top of the pie just before you put it in the oven It will caramelize on top and it’s very tasty.

  • Bake on the middle rack in a 370 degree oven for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees. You'll know when the pie is done. It will be lovely and brown on the top. It will burn if you put it on the bottom rack or don't turn the oven down.

Last weekend, I doned my apron and had a marathon pie making session ! I made eight peach pies and some homemade vanilla ice cream on Sunday. So far this week, I have made another 22 pies… cinnamon apple, cinnamon apple/blackberry and apple/raspberry… all but three of them headed for the freezer to enjoy at Thanksgiving, Christmas and over the winter.

My hubby is a very happy man. All is right with the world when there’s pie in the oven and the house smells of cooked apples and cinnamon when he walks through the door at the end of the day. I love all the appreciative compliments I get when he takes his first sniff and looks at all the pies cooling on the counter. He never fails to praise the pastry as he savours his piece of pie after dinner! LOL

Now just to prove that I am not fibbing… here’s a photo of half the top shelf of my freezer….double stacked with 20 pies... the remaining were still cooling when I took this photo

And… just to make your mouth water… here is one of the pies…

Now… if you aren’t into making pastry, here’s an art project for you.

But first a humourous little story.

Remember that photo of the apple pie at the beginning of this post? Well...

One of my husband’s uncles loves my apple pie and raves about my pastry. I swear that man can smell it all across town because he usually shows up for a "cuppa" (a cup of tea), out of the blue and unexpectedly, just as they are out of the oven and cooling on the counter.

One afternoon he stopped by for tea and saw that same pie at the beginning of this post, sitting on my counter. We chatted about this and that and I noticed how he kept stealing a sideways glance at it. But he said not a word about the pie.

He drank his tea and nibbled at the cookies on his plate. He waited and waited and waited for a piece of that pie to be offered.

Finally he could stand it no longer. “Do you think I could have a slice of that nice apple pie you made?” he said boldly.

"Sure," I said. "But I don't think you'll like it. The pastry is rather tough."

"Oh, just a little piece will do!" he said, licking his lips in anticipation.

Well the jig was up. I told him the truth. He just roared with laughter when he found out it was a “fake” apple pie. He has never let me forget it!

Want to try your hand at making an apple pie top? Make a batch of flour and salt playdough. Cut out strips and weave them together to form the top of the pie. Decorate the pie with an apple and leaves made from the "playdough". Place it on the middle rack in your oven (about 225 degrees) until its dry. This can take some time at this low heat, so just be patient. It will look "cooked" when it's fairly white with no moist spots. Remove it from the oven with oven gloves. It will be hot!

Let it cool, preferably overnight, then ink the “cooked” pie crust and apple with vintage ink. Fill the aluminum pan beneath it with cinnamon pot pourri and hot glue the crust to the pan. It will make your kitchen smell wonderful and you'll probably fool your best friend with your newly acquired, fantastic pie making abilities!

Best get busy. I still have a third of a box of apples to deal with!! Hmmm… guess I’ll make some southern fried apples to have with the pork chops tonight. Maybe I’ll make enough to bottle up for over the winter too… or what about some apple mint jelly for lamb… or a filling for apple crisp… or maybe some apple chutney for curry… or .....

Tootles for now…