Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fireside Nostalgia

When you have a leisurely day close to the end of the year, thoughts can turn to other Christmases, other years, uplifting things and touch on the realities, too.  December has always been a month of reflection for me.  Quiet moments here and there to reassess, remember and regroup.  It is unlike any other month of the year.

I woke up early this morning, my eyes open in the predawn darkness.  I lay there listening to my husband's smooth breathing, relishing the sound as it washed over me in harmony with the dog's dreamy sighs.  The past few weeks have been filled with anxiety and concern.  While he is now doing fine, I am well aware that anything can happen in any of our lives at any time.  I am thankful that now wasn't his time.

I finally wiggled my feet into my slippers and quietly stole downstairs, turning up the heat and flipping on the Christmas tree lights.  Deep into a good book, I made a cup of tea and read until it became light outside.  There is fog on the lake - warmer out than is customary for the last day of the year.  Kids are usually ice-skating by Christmas.  Not this year.  The skim coat of ice thickens and dissolves with the unseasonably fluctuating temperatures.

I toasted the last of the panettone, liberally spreading butter on its fragrant surface. Taking it and another cup of hot tea, I tucked my book under my arm and headed down to the family room to lay a fire and light some candles.  I planned to enjoy a day of decadence, stirring only to load the washer and dryer and run a dustcloth on a few surfaces if the mood struck.  It did, but didn't ruin the ambiance the slightest bit.

When Bob woke up and came down with his coffee later, the fire was crackling and blues was softly playing in the background.  We reminisced about holidays past, family and friends and how much our connection to them means to us.  We have talked with many of them over the past week, catching up on lives which are traveling in all different directions. 

I have plans for next year.  I plan to be gentler on myself, going with the flow and approaching new challenges with gusto.  The challenges I speak of have wings.  I want to paint en plein air, soaking in the smells and sounds of the scenery that will be sketched on my canvases.  I will enjoy the company of family and friends regularly, if not in person then by phone.  I will continue to simplify as it has brought me great pleasure this year and I certainly have a considerable ways to go with it.  I will keep my sketchbook by my side and strive to draw every day, experimenting with color when the mood strikes.  I will dig in the dirt, spread mulch and plant flowers to my heart's content. I will continue to write as it is my compulsion and pleasure.  I will savor life and all it brings to my table.

I hope all whom I love and all whom I have yet to meet have a gentle year filled with hope, love and inspiration.

Happy New Year's Eve!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Near Misses

When someone you love has a near miss, you find out how you will react to the real thing - not something I want to go through again for a very long time. I now can confirm that I will be a basket-case.

It is the same with driving on the highway and seeing another driver veering into your lane out of the corner of your eye.  Depending on how close he gets is the difference between whoa and oh, my God. The residual reaction pounding through your brain may dissolve in minutes or strengthen your resolve to take mass transit.

Sometimes, the near misses are second-hand or after the fact.  It happens in someone else's life and the shock is quick.  Nerves are calmer when disaster is already averted.  Only my husband's feistiness kept him from succumbing to a diabetic coma early Wednesday morning.  Fear and apprehension stayed with me for several days so I was open to the whopper of a cold that hit me Friday night which, at least, took my mind off its infernal worrying.  We had never gone through anything like this before.  The EMT said his blood sugar was 15.  He should not have been conscious.  It was awful.  But he is okay now.

I am thankful.  If I ever think again that he is driving me crazy (which he will), I will remember this morning when I woke up to yelling and thrashing and nonsense words and the day I could have lost the great love in my life.  I am thankful he is okay.  I am thankful he is part of my life.  I thank God for allowing me to love someone so deeply that I feel blessed.

Friday, December 9, 2011

29 Ways to Stay Creative


This is a great video which reminds me of all the ways I can keep creativity in my daily life.  It is by To-Fu Design, a Japanese graphics company and is just the motivation I need on those days which are filled with the world's longest to-do list! 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Create a Wonder of a Day

Hathaway's Wintery Blooms - Donna Saiia
Louie Schwartzberg is an amazing artist.  Patience plays a critical part of his art, something I can appreciate and embrace (at times, thank goodness).  Since this is the season for thankfulness, sharing his work with you is my gift of gratitude for all you mean to me and all I love about the world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


In the early stages of adult life we eagerly strive to create our reality.  We educate ourselves in our chosen profession-to-be, shrug off the clothing styles of school acquaintances and slip into well-worn jeans and warm sweaters and play dress up with delight when the occasion calls for it.  Forays into multi-floored stores for 'grown-up' furniture to blend with what we have scavanged from family starts to define our home.  We try on different hats, explore new interests which capture our attention, travel.  Our thirst knows no bounds.

We are the inventors of the landscape of our lives.

Castelnau Picampeau, France
Then we are hired for a job that isn't exactly what we went to college for and we shift focus.  A cozy apartment becomes a bigger one.  Padded shoulders go out of favor (thank goodness) and we morf toward new styles.  We read the book a friend lent us and see a world deeper than portrayed in romance novels.  We haunt the library for more.  Life expands and grows around us like a cocoon.

People enter our lives and some leave, moving on to follow their own path.  Loving expands us.  It is a slowly revolving door and each relationship grows us from the inside out.  We learn from example the type of person we want to be.

One job leads to another.  Relationships evolve.  Family.  Friends.  We weather crises and find strengths we didn't know we possessed.  Looking back we see a series of reinventions - one sliding into another.  Close-up, they are more abrupt. Change is scary and challenging and, at the same time, exhilirating.  Fate gives us options but we make the choices.  We move forward because the clock ticks and time's-a-wasting - this is not a dress rehearsal.  We try to pull back the reins and slow the process, but it travels on hooves hell-bent to get to the goal.

We raise a family, work to make our lives an easier journey, start saving for the 'future'.  We shift and change over and over.  We are still pulling on those reins, though.

Reinvention - it is not a goal but a stage in our continuing life.  Slip on that new jacket and take up the reins.  Hope you have an interesting ride!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Knee Deep in October?

It has been an interesting week.  A massive nor'easter wiped out power in a great part of New England and days passed before we got ours back.  The generator failed the first day which made for pretty chilly nights. 

It was devastating to wake up on Sunday morning and see all the broken trees.  One huge branch hit the roof of the studio but slid off without doing damage, thank goodness.  Others are total losses and a huge rhododendron out front is uprooted.  Fourteen inches of wet, heavy snow dragged the branches down to the ground and held them captive.  I pulled on boots and dug out my winter coat and gloves and set about releasing the branches from the snow.  With the sun's help, perhaps they would lift back up again.  All over town (and the state) downed trees blocked roads and balanced on houses.  Just like the ice storm a few years back, the horrendous crack of branches had filled the night.  I hadn't thought I would hear that sound again.

Once again we drew chairs close to the fireplace and lit candles.  Other than the inconveniences, it was cozy and we talked and read by booklight, cooking pizza on the grill outside.  On Tuesday, when friends got their power back, they brought over their generator and hooked us up so we could have a few lights and keep the refrigerator going.  Wednesday, when the power came back on, we cleaned up the house and things started getting back to normal.  Not as long as our 12 days off the grid that icy cold and stormy December in 2008 but long enough.  My mother is still without power in Connecticut and it is not expected until late Sunday.  That is way too long.  

Getting back to normal is nice but doing without shows us that we can cope, we can be innovative and nothing is insurmountable.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Keeping the Mundane Out of My Ballet

For awhile now, I have been noticing the routine of my actions.  Getting up, getting ready for work - the patterns of my routines are mostly an unconscious ballet of concise motion.  On weekends, the pattern is more fractured.  Not burdened by the need to get out the door at a specific time, a certain relaxation of habitual motion is nice.

I have a desire to change all that.  I don't know why I am chomping at the bit to stir things up.  Perhaps it is all part and parcel to my edit and purge sweep to narrow the burden of stuff' to a pleasurable level.  'Simplify, simplify, simplify' - Thoreau. 

I was going through several of my craft drawers and rather than editing, I found myself reminiscing (must be that autumn thing).  Running my hand over needlepoint stitched many moons ago, discovering cards of antique buttons collected in a former life and treasures wrought with sweet memories I am loathe to discard tugged at my melancholy heart. 

It seems that I want freshness in my life without letting go of the comforts which include some of the usual habits.  Like a vase of fresh flowers from the garden's late season offerings, I crave a blend of old and new, comfort and adventure.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Autumn Reflections

I was just visiting Diana Baur at a certain simplicity as her inn's season is winding down and autumn visits the Piedmont in its wake.  She is looking at her seven years' history there and how different aspects of her life have prepared her for the challenges of a move to Italy and much different life than any she'd experienced before.
Frye Measure Mill, New Hampshire
As I wrote on her blog, I, too, am in a reflective mode but also one of underlying, fierce activity of the mind.  I have so much I want to do - so much to discover and savor!  As autumn in New England blooms with brilliant reds, oranges and yellows, it also signals the time when the same leaves I now enjoy on the hillsides will glide onto the ground in gentle waves and the scenery will change to something more austere.  The coming cold is not to my liking but I adapt.  I mean, frankly, in today's world, going from house to warm car to work and back again on the weekdays is not a hardship.  When the snow drifts down and builds on the tree branches in a fresh fluffy coat, I am mesmerized and love the journey.

My steps have brought me back to New England after a 30 year absence when I raised my family in Ohio and I am reveling in the sheer beauty of this area and all it has to offer.  While there are other places I would love to explore, I am thankful to be amongst such natural beauty every day.

Still, I have a few more dreams up my sleeve and, particularly at this time of year, they rise again just as summer wanes and winter's solitude is on the horizon. Time for reflection in front of a roaring fire instead of on a beach.  Time for brushing the sand off my path and seeing where it has meandered to get me where I am today. 

So far, so good.  A few bumps and bruises when I lost my footing but, overall, not a very rocky path.  I hope the road in front of me is rather smooth because I'd like that for awhile.  It will be what it will be, though, and I will adapt.  I always do.

Monday, October 10, 2011


I love the organization of my Franklin Planner but, over the years, it has plumped up with notes and jottings of varying importance until it is one heavy little sucker.

When you have a mind like I have which is interested in everything, having it all in one place is a life-changer.  That doesn't mean I don't have file folders with articles torn from magazines and reference photos on my computer for future paintings, it just means that the immediate post-it jottings have a home with an address and they are not on little squares which can be lost to the ether on a whim.

Now, that zippered black book is filled with years of notes.  I like it that way.  What is wearing on me is transporting it back and forth to work because I need said notes and the calendar and the address book in both places.  I do not want to duplicate it - God forbid!  What I have done, though, is get a trim little red binder which holds just my calendar, address book and two tabbed sections of plain notepaper for personal and work notes.  Personal is in the #1 tab, naturally.

I love it - it even slips in my purse.  It is a fraction of a pound.  I can swing said purse onto my shoulder without pulling it out of the socket.  I have duplicated nothing. 

I love downsizing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Monadnock Art Tour 16

October is the perfect time to head up into New Hampshire and wander the backroads from studio to studio.  There is a leafy smell in the air that enchants and breathtaking color to amaze us.  Chris and I made our annual trek to the Dublin/Peterborough area to tour what we could of the 50 art studios tucked into the foothills of Mt. Monadnock.
Jane Howard in her studio
We packed a lunch of Tuscan pasta, sandwiches and fruit so we could make the most of our day and explore as much as we wanted to.  A quick trip to the Price's for fresh cider and we were on our way.  We started at Jane Howard's studio, eager to see how she had grown in the past year and what new things she was trying.  She was working on a self-portrait and had completed a wonderful woman knitting (you can see it next to the window in this photo).  Her architectural beach scenes have a unique quality which I love.  My favorites, though, are the painted collage still lifes like one above the window.  They tell a detailed story of varied interests which draw you in to speculate about the person who collected these items and why they are of importance.  The nice thing is that you can vary the story in your mind each time you look at the painting.  I love that about them.

We visited quite a few studios some of which were in old homes built in the late 1700s and mid-1800s.  Low beamed ceilings and wide planked floors complemented the timeless art on view.  Others had bright, light-filled studios with cans and cans of brushes and paint stained easels.  Having just bought a wide, flat blending brush, I know the obsession for good working tools.

The day was inspirational and the scenery exquisite, even if the foliage hasn't peaked yet.  All the more to enjoy in the weeks to come!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

October Pumpkins

It seems that everywhere I turn, pumpkins are lined up on lintels and gracing the stone walls as I pass through Groton on my way home at night.  Mums are tucked into old iron pedestal planters and the leaves are gently turning from green to golden yellow and red.  Makes me thankful to live in close proximity to so many sugar maple trees!

I have my own cheery pumpkin which sits on my desk at work.  It is stitched in silks, perle cottons, metallic fibers and ribbon thread and is embellished with beads and memory thread with a cute little crow in the corner.  The black lacquer Betsy Box from Sudberry House is a perfect mount for it since I can hide my stash of Halloween candies inside with no one the wiser!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Expectations Great and Small

'Our expectations help us see but they also blind us to what we don't expect.'   - Ellen Langer, On Becoming an Artist

There is a saying about not seeing the forest for the trees.  Most often, we do see the forest.  It is the individual trees which become lumped together to form the whole.  If asked to draw the forest, the trees are reduced to a random uniformity of what we perceive trees look like.  Stick-like trunks rise from the surface of the ground and leaves form a canopy on top.  They blend together to form the 'forest'.  Their depth and breadth can become lost in the interpretation.

While skimming across the harbor on the schooner on Saturday, we expected to see unrelieved clouds.  After all, it was a gray, rainy day. 

By accepting this, we formed certain expectations of how the sail would go and that we would have to forgo sparkling waters and deep shadows.  On this day, the edges of buildings onshore were blurred.  The gray sky rendered the water in a charcoal blackness.  The only lightness came from the turn of the waves in our wake.

We expected it to look this way but nature has its own mind about things and creates drama where there is none - if our minds are open to the possibilities around us.  Tumbling fog softened the shoreline and obscured the details of homes and inlets.  Suddenly, we were aware of warmth on our backs and a sparkling motion in the water close to shore.  Just overhead, a hole of blue spread open the clouds changing everything. The opening was brief but lasted long enough for everything to shift.  At one point, when we sailed under the edge of the grayness above, the sea was split in two with murky grayness to port and sparkling blue waters to starboard.  A distinct line formed in the water separating the colors.  Just like that, my perception of the sky and sea changed forever.

A Proper Send Off - Jay Albert, Cape Ann Images
The sail culminated with a memorial for Joe Garland who passed away just shy of his 89th birthday last week.  He was a beloved Gloucester persona, a timeless friend and historian of all things fishing and all things Gloucester.  We sailed into the harbor to gather with other fishing boats and schooners waiting to pay their respects.  When Zack lit the cannon, a cacophony of booms, horns, whistles and shouts filled the air sending hundreds of seagulls up into the skies in spiralling tornadoes of motion.  A proper send off and a memorable sail once again on the Thomas E. Lannon.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lannon Adventure

Once more, we sailed on the Thomas E. Lannon in Gloucester, MA.  Eleven years ago, it was to take my father's ashes out to sea, today it was to enjoy the sail and say hello again.

It was raining when we woke up and so cloudy that we feared the schooner would not sail.  Knowing New England, though, it could be a deluge of rain here and clear as a bell on the seashore so off we went.  As predicted, the roads became drier the closer we got to Gloucester.  The cloudiness didn't bother us - there wasn't a chill to the air and I knew the sea would look special in the gloom just as it could when it was bright and clear.

What we didn't expect was to see the fog rolling in along the horizon and then along the southern shore of the harbor.  It swirled between the trees and the water close to shore glistened.  Glistened?  Couldn't be, but as I turned to look north, there was sunshine hitting the bow and casting shadows through the rigging.

It was fascinating.  I have never experienced anything like it and I marveled at the phenomenon.  What started out as a sail without enough wind to fill the sails turned into an amazing experience.

Eastern Point Light
A pocket of blue sky opened up as we turned back towards the harbor after we passed the Eastern Point Lighthouse.  Rays of sunshine lit the fog so that the layers slithered along the coast.  The sky had darkened over the town but stayed away from us.  It is so hard to describe nature's movements sometimes.  I am just thankful we could soak in its unique persona in such a wonderful way.

Monday, September 19, 2011

South End Artists

Chris and I went into Boston for the weekend to walk the South End to see the art on display in the studios there.  After miles of walking and stimuli that filled our brains with color and images, we left sated and totally pooped.  Some would have to wait until next year to be discovered by the two of us.

It is so interesting to see what other artists create.  The buildings were filled with studios, sometimes 20 or more on each floor.  Having never painted in such an environment, I don't know if it would be stimulating or intimidating.  While some artists were at the beginning of their learning curve, others were masters.  All seemed highly involved with their craft.  Their studios were more than work areas for them.  They were places to gather and talk as well as create.  With some, you could see the influences of great artists almost as if they were trying on another person's coat to check the fit.  Several were disturbing, having delved, perhaps, into realms of their minds where issues refused to be worked out.  While I can appreciate and understand the depths of their art, I prefer to skirt the pathos in favor of lightness.

Now that the cool days are rushing in, the city has a new lift to its spirits.  Color enters the stage at every turn. Bittersweet wreaths and pots of garden mums grace doorways.  Festivals fill the streets as we all clamor for one more celebration.  As the leaves rustle along the cobblestones before landing in a huddle in a corner, we marvel at the pleasures of a city stroll.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Obsessed with Books

That's me.  I have one in hand to read at home and one on pause in the car for the drive to work.  Heaven forbid they are similar.  Then I am mightily confused for a few minutes until the plot moves to the surface of my brain and I am fully engaged.  While I prefer reading words on paper, shifting the book slightly as I turn to the next page, there are times when a really good narrator can leave me breathless with suspense. 

I am not sure how I feel about technology offering a different, less tactile way to peruse words.  I can see the benefits of eReaders on a long plane trip.  It is compact and can hold a plethora of books.  I assess my stash when I travel, shelving heavy tomes in favor of several thinner ones which can slip in my bag.  As one is finished, it is left at the airport or on a train for another person to pick up.  That is part of the pleasure of books.

Just as I prefer not to 'smarten up' my phone, I am resistant to embrace yet another generation of computer-driven machines which move me away from my page turners and have me staring at an impersonal screen.  Sitting at a computer most of the workday, exploring the web occasionally at night is enough for me.  Not saying I might not give it a whirl someday when faced with an eight hour flight - I am just saying...

I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  It was riveting.  I took Friday off to work in the garden - such clear blue, fantastically bright summer days are a treasure and I don't waste one of them.  In between battles with tenacious weeds, I sat in the shade with a glass of Lady Gray iced tea and read.  I started it on Friday and finished it Sunday afternoon.  It was hard to put down.  You must give it a read.  It has made me more than ever aware of my blinders.  Sometimes I can be so unaware.  I want to know more - I want to learn about other cultures, other lives.

I applaud friendships which develop between unlikely partners.  I am saddened by the reserve I observe in those who prefer to limit their involvement - sometimes for the whole of their lives.  I abhor the injustice that man heaps upon man in the name of righteousness (and I don't mean the religious kind).  Our relationships are complex and are the result of the effort we put into them.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Meadow Pond

The last few strokes of paint feel like a symphony's final notes.  Cymbals crash and the notes rise to a crescendo until they fade away and you are left with their sweet tone vibrating in your mind's deepest recesses. 

This painting started out very differently.  Aiming for a spare and serene vista, it evolved over time into a remembered pond from my childhood - at least a fictionalized version of it since it is no longer there except in my mind's eye.

I spend summer hours floating on a makeshift raft someone had made and tied to a branch pounded into the soft earth on the edge of a nearby pond.  This usually involved getting my toes squishy with mud and pulling off the occasional leach, but I was young and I really wanted to float on that raft.  It was in a field not far from our house.  Not big but ample in size for a short float with a good book.

In this version, I can hear the laughter of children splashing and frogs heading for cover in the reeds to observe the activity from a distance.  A path worn by animals or humans - perhaps both - winds its way along the shore, grass closely cropped by the many footfalls.  The clear vibrant day, like so many I have known, welcomes all comers to linger at its shores.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Take Flight

Music and nature blend into one.  The music is Yann Tiersen's "L'autre Valse d'Amélie" from the "Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain" soundtrack.

powerlinerflyers from wesley johnson on Vimeo.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Finally, a birthday present (offered in April, mind you) is reality. I must give all the credit to my procrastination but I am happy to have a wonderful new easel for the studio.  It is massive but just right for my needs.  I love doing large paintings and this one will support them perfectly.  With two masts, I can even paint two canvases at once.  I saw tall, narrow canvases in the art store and side by side, they would create a interesting piece of art.

I read all the reviews before deciding on this one and the only fault anyone could cite were the assembly directions but they said the same thing about other easels.  Armed with that knowledge, I went slow and managed to get it together - all 66 pounds of luscious wood.  They were right, though, the directions were the pits. Thank goodness for online photos!

I have used the same easel for most of my life.  It only presented a problem when I wanted to do a large painting.  I'd have to hold it steady with one hand, wield the brush with the other and play a demented game of Twister to load the brush with paint.  Since Chris works with a smaller format, I have now passed it along to her.  The one my parents bought me when I was in my teens is now my daughter's. It is nice to know that it will witness her artistic growth as it did mine.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fourth of July Boat Parade

As usual, the 4th of July weekend was a blast starting with the boat parade on Saturday.  This was the first year we weren't in it since we were gone much of June and when the boat finally did get in on July 1st, it was acting really testy and ended up needing a new fuel pump.

Anderson's boat was a paddle-wheeler this year with dual smokestacks and rotating paddle wheels.  The usual cast of characters dressed the part making The Gambler a hit.

It is wild to see a car on the lake.  They took out all the heavy parts - engine, axles, whatever - and mounted the body on pontoons.  Motoring around the lake, it is disconcerting to spy it coming towards you.  It is nice of him to use his turn signals, though, when he changes course.

We partied at Oram's, walking over to Paul and De's to hear the band.  Dave made masses of chicken and the tropical shrimp I brought was devoured in minutes.  Will have to make that one again.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Threads of Interest

Our homes tell a story.  So do our workplaces.  My bulletin board at work is ever changing as my interests evolve.

Some offices I enter sport childish colorings pinned in prominent places.  They make me smile and I know this represents an important part of this person's life.  Occasionally, an office will be more sterile with reports pinned at eye level and schedules neatly penned on wall calendars.  Even after years in the same space, there is nothing there which gives you insight into the person who occupies that room.  Why is that?  Are they unhappy here?  Perhaps they don't feel comfortable.  Perhaps they are just private people.   

I spend eight hours a day in my office and almost two getting to and from it.  While it is separate from my personal life, I love what I do there and I couldn't imagine not making myself at home in the space.  I love cozy.  I love welcoming rooms.  I want my home away from home to reflect my interests so I am reminded of why I work.  My job is creative and my walls inspire me.  They form the threads of my interests, the basis for my existence.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Art of Basically Doing Nothing

Each day can be an adventure but sometimes, doing nothing is very satisfying.  Relaxing with good friends is a good example.  Afternoons when nothing is discussed more serious than who is going to lean over to grasp the wine bottle for refills.
MidLife Jubilation - Fran Mangino
Pockets of time absent from tasks and activity are sometimes more rare than we would like.  When you live with someone else, that time seems cut in half.  Moments of solitude are stolen from the busyness - a few here, a few there, a blessed hour to flip through a magazine or finish a book. An afternoon with girlfriends in a fit of giggles over something inane someone said. These hours become more precious for their brevity.

Fran's painting always reminds me of those pleasures.  I met Fran Mangino many years ago at an art show when I lived in Ohio.  She was just starting to paint at the time.  Each year showed more progress and her watercolors blossomed not only with flowers but depth as well.  This is one of a series she did which celebrates the truisms of midlife and I have it in my office to remind me to relax and play whenever I can (that is her on the right). My nothing moments are like strands of pearls - long, sinuous and appreciated for the beauty of their being.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Common Footing

I remember well the days when Christina wanted nothing more than to be different from me - mostly in her teenage years as she was finding her own footing.  My creativity and craftiness were not exemplary achievements on her horizon.

That was okay with me - just because I found them endlessly fulfilling did not mean my children had to.  I knew they would find their own pursuits.  But at the same time that she was scoffing at my life, she was bemoaning the fact that her father, brother and I had all the talent in the family and she had none. This went on for some time.  Frequently.

Now, this was from a child who exhibited her own talents in many ways.  When she was in the sixth grade, she created a wonderful ceramic bowl which I held my breath about when she was deciding who to give it to. The inside is as interesting as the glaze on the outside - pressed clay forms the bowl shape and the glaze is darker in the minute cracks than on the surface.  Clay flower buds lay inside as if dropped in the bowl while they were gathered.  I love this bowl and that it was molded by Christina's hands.

I still have her little paper canoe, made for an elementary school Thanksgiving project many years ago which sports a campfire in its center.  We still share a chuckle about that.  If I remember right, she just wanted the occupants to be warm.

When she was in her late teens, I was working in the studio and she mentioned again about her lack of talent in relation to the rest of the family.  I decided enough was enough and gave her a drawing project to tackle along side me.  The more she drew, the better it became and her confidence soared.

I never heard disparaging remarks about her 'lack of talent' again.

Christina's first oil painting  5/11
Now it is a decade or so later and I have a huge warm afghan she made me to cuddle in and her drawing on my wall.  Since this spring, she is working side by side with me in my studio.  It has been wonderful to explore painting together.  We learn much from each other.  Sometimes I feel I learn more from her than she does from me.  I may teach her technique and new ways to observe what we normally take for granted, but she teaches me how to embrace and share a common bond that enhances our relationship in a new way.

Mostly, I just like to do things with her and that is all that matters.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

One Thing Leads to Another

Now that it is getting warmer, I am all about the prep.  Prepare the flower beds for new plants to come and mulch to keep them tidy.  Clean the deck furniture and put it out so I can sit and enjoy the sun.  Sweep the spider bodies out of the studio, wash the floors and open the windows to air it out. Restore the easel and paints to their proper home.

As I move from one thing to another, the soft music of the wind in the trees does its thing as it always does and when I find a sample canvas board from the trade show in January, I rub my fingers across its smooth surface and imagine what would be nice to paint on it.

It has been a long time since I picked up my oil paints.  Working mostly in acrylics for some time, the mysteries and quirks of a different medium seemed like extra work.  But it is such a nice small board - only 6" x 6".  Not big, not daunting at all.  I loved oil painting once and perhaps this spring was the perfect time to experiment. After all, it is just about the prep.

My hand led the way and my experiment became an experience.  Everything I loved about oil painting came back with every stroke.  The flexibility of blending, the fluidity of motion - they all conspired to draw me in and I loved every minute of it.

Rocky Cove by Donna Saiia

Monday, April 4, 2011

Under the Eaves

In all homes, there are hidey-holes where the treasures of our lives reside.  Mine have several homes, the most notable is under the eaves where boxes (plural) of photos and mementos lie in wait.  Albums fill most of a bookcase beside my desk chronicling special events, trips and the growth of our family's history.  What is not yet in the albums is under the eaves. And there is a lot of it.

Saturday was the perfect day for me to sort thru the mementos and see what should be kept and what should go.  The pictures are wonderful reminders of happy times but do I really need ticket stubs and playbills?  I don't think my decendents need quite that much detail of my everyday life!

Café Florian
Caffe Florian, Venice
I found treasures and photos of some events which would have slipped my mind forever without the visual jog.  In the bottom of one box I found a packet of sugar from the Caffe Florian in Venice where Bob and I swooned as we listened to the musicians play.  Not something I consciously saved but something which slipped to the bottom of the box unnoticed until I found it the other day and I could hear the music once again and feel the vast darkness of Piazza San Marco surround us like a velvet cape. I remember the soft coo and rustling feathers of pigeons settling in for the night knowing that another feast will await them in the morning when the tourists wake up and explore.

Moments in time - my time - sometimes shared with others, sometimes experienced alone.  Savored.  I think I will make a cup of tea now and sprinkle some sugar slowly over the brew.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool's Day Snowstorm

'Only that day dawns to which we are awake'  Thoreau, Walden
It started snowing last evening and continued thru the night leaving us with a magnificent white world in the morning.  Heavy, wet snow blanketed everything - bowing branches to the ground and clinging to the ice still frozen on the lake creating a sinuous path around the point.

I want to stay home with a cup of tea and just sit by the front window and watch the snow cascade down the pine branches like little avalanches.  My job awaits, though, and I settle for what I know will be a beautiful drive into work.  As always, I am enthralled by this brief encounter with nature, knowing the day will bring changes and what I see now will not be there later.  I am a little sad that my responsibilities keep me from enjoying it to fullness.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Come on, really? Snow?

Only time will tell, but snow is supposed to start tonight and go thru part of tomorrow dumping 6 - 12" here.  Closer to Boston and the coast - rain or slushy rain.  And I was just getting used to seeing the ground again.

Patio in Castelnau Picampeau   9/10
I am still on my purging quest for less clutter.  The bag I took out to the recycling bin this morning must have weighed over twenty pounds.  When I look thru my files, though, excitement stirs when I look at the pictures I have cut out and saved.  The patio pictures remind me of writing outdoors in southern France on an old wooden table covered with a checkered tablecloth set in the shade of a wide branched tree.

I want that feeling here in my own backyard and so back they go into the file.  Ditto the garden paths and fountain plans I might need someday.  Can you tell I am in an outdoors state of mind?  Drat that snow!  I could be raking up the last of the fall's leaves this weekend from under the quince bush (everything gets stuck there).  If it snows as much as they say, I will be lucky to find the quince bush!

Bliss is Marty bringing out more libations!
That's okay, though.  I have stitching to do and a great book to read and a garden to plan.  I know it will be warm again soon and the great white blanket will soak into the ground and disappear again.  Then I will get out that rake and have a field day with it!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tears for Japan

All week, I have been looking around me and seeing the abundance we have in our everyday lives and trying to imagine it all swept away. The reality is that I can only imagine. I have a home and heat and can cook anything I want when I want. My family is safe and I have a job I love to help keep us that way.

I have been shaken by the unbelievable devastation in Japan and I was wondering if I could share something with you.

There is an organization I learned about from Diana at A Certain Simplicity called Shelter Box which is one of the most amazing projects I have ever seen. If you have been looking for a way to help the people in Japan without homes and now under a nuclear threat, please take a minute to check this out.

So far this year, they have sent out almost 104,000 Shelter Boxes and shipments are on their way to Japan as we speak. Each box can shelter 10 people and provide the basics to survive which is so important to the families who have lost absolutely everything.

Each box contains a tent for up to 10 people, insulating ground pads, blankets, tools - shovel, hammer, saw, ax, and wire cutters; a small stove which can provide heat as well as be used for food preparation, mugs, dishes, pots and pans, water storage containers, even a children’s pack with crayons and coloring books. The box itself can serve as a table and a dry storage area or a bed for a small child.

If you can help, please visit their website and take a look around.  You will be encouraged to find that, as we are all finding in many areas of our lives, people step up when the going gets tough.  I am glad I had this opportunity to do so and hope you will consider it as well.

Thanks for listening.

Monday, February 28, 2011

On the Road Again (or as I know it - In the Air Again)

Winter is my travel time for work.  Three shows in two months - meetings with vendors - miles of convention show floors - wheeling and dealing for the catalog.  I like the total focus on one thing to be accomplished and then the quiet evenings in the room to read, write and stitch.  Recharges my batteries.

Snow played havoc with plane travel this year.  I never heard of so many serious storms - ones which disrupted thousands of flights (mine included at both California shows).  It make me wonder what we will be facing in upcoming years as the weather becomes more erratic and intense. The snow on our deck is creeping up towards the top of the railing and is near impossible to remove as rain thickens its coat only to freeze again.  We will have to wait for the slow spring melt.

British Airways whisked me to London last week for the Stitches Show without incident.  After two west coast trips in four weeks, this trip was a quick hop-skip over the water.  Two and a half movies later (would finish Eat, Pray, Love up on the return trip) and I was in a cab in rainy London heading for the hotel.

Thank you, Travelzoo!  The Tower deal was amazing and the view from my 7th floor window was the Tower Bridge in all its glory.  What a sight.  It didn't matter that it rained the entire trip although I would have loved to feel the sun on my face just once.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Profound Inspiration

It is impossible to anticipate when inspiration will strike and a resounding a-ha will escape to echo around my realm.  The reverberations flow like the tide catching facets of other elements buried deep in my mind. 

I suppose no one thing can be that impetus but rather a chain of influences and circumstances sets one up for change.  Mine has been a desire to simplify and stop the rattling in my brain from a thousand things to do so that I can enjoy the here and now.  I have not consciously gone in search of remedies but they have come to me nonetheless.  At this stage of my life when sixty is on the not-to-distant horizon, I find myself looking inward for joy and contentment.  I also find that there are many external things which hamper that desire.

I know it began at Patrick's house in southern France.  A serenity pervades the place and the four of us were content to revel in its pleasures rather than scurry all around the countryside following a tour book's recommendations.  Writing in my journal (as did Kathy and Marty) was a contemplation born of the aura around us and the uniqueness of the experience of being in this particular place at this particular time.  None of us walked away unchanged.

When Karen lent me 'Choosing Simpicity' by Linda Breen Pierce a few weeks ago, I had no idea that it would show me through others the complexities in my life which were making it impossible to feel content.  I see my heart's desire and there will be much pleasure in the quest.

Her book is a result of the simplicity study she conducted by interviewing people who had simplified their lives.  From all walks of life, with many methods of simplifying and diverse impressions of their past and present lives, I saw so clearly how I waste my energy and what I could do to make this latter stage of my life into a more enriching one.

Just as I rowed my first canoe toward open water this summer, mastered its balance, even in rough currents, and shouldered its weight on dry land, I am excited to find my joy and contentment in simplicity.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Embracing Simplicity

A Teacup by Jennifer Orkin Lewis
 A curious thing has been happening to me over the past few years.  I find that I am becoming increasingly bothered by clutter.  Not craft-stash-clutter, but life clutter.  Habit clutter, responsibility clutter, people who wear me down, inane TV shows - there are quite a few things I have been drawn to assess in favor of peace and contentment.

As my bones creak and stamina declines (what is with that?), I have a strong desire to move past the habitual to-do's.  Why waste my reserves on something I don't really like in the first place?  There are a plethora of ideas in my pocket just waiting to take me on a proverbial road trip of pleasure.  Ahhh, but where is the time?  It is right where I left it, only it was taken up by things totally unnecessary and usually involving procrastination.

Things.  Stuff.  Collections.  The stuff in my world is distracting and overwhelms my mind whether I am in their proximity or not.  I have never considered myself a person who collects for the sake of collecting, thank goodness, but that hasn't stopped me from amassing a nice set of cookbooks (a shelf's worth of which have gone unopened for many years), a fair number of Longaberger baskets (some of which are packed away under the eaves upstairs), and a drawerful of dog toys, only two of which Bailey actually likes to play with.  Purge - donate - eBay!

My scheme has picked up steam as more and more time is freed up.  My mind is happier, too. This is amazing. Also, I find that I am doing things more slowly, savoring the experiences, listening intently to friends and approaching more aspects of my life with a single-mindedness that is rewarding.  The more I simplify, the more I gain in fulfillment.  Nice.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Snowed Under /Out From Under

The snow this year has been piling up.  Just after the most recent storm, I was driving home from work and noticed along the sides of the road that the snow blades had exposed a timeline of the storms' history.  Like sediment, layers of snow told the story of the past month's deluges.  It was fascinating in an archaeological kind of way. 

Of course, the best thing about new snow is that, for awhile, all the nasty, dirty snow wears a clean coat.  Everything sparkles in the sun and even the strongest sunglasses cannot dull the intense whiteness.

I have been joyfully hibernating.  I have read countless books, cleaned a little and simplified my busy life.  It is amazing how many time (and mind) wasters I have filled my life with.  Some may have started for good reasons, but have been continued out of habit rather than need.  Take my budget notebook, for instance.  A page for every month to track purchases and bills and plastic pockets for the receipts.  Originally, we were trying to identify our cost of living and where we could trim.  It worked.  Never occurred to me to discontinue it.  And did I mention that it is time-consuming?  Yup.  Well, we trimmed and saved and now I have said adios to the chore.  I kept only the critical receipts for taxes and house renovations.  How nice to have that eliminated from my life.  Now I can get back to my book or putter in my studio unfettered by paperwork. 


Monday, January 17, 2011

Weekend Finds

No matter how thorough I am when I pack up the Christmas decorations, there are always a few which hide and then show up weeks later.  I'd like to say I have discovered them all, but only time will tell.

It is nice to restore order and give the house a more streamlined countenance.  Saturday was cleaning day, Sunday was for baking - both nice on a cold and snowy winter weekend.  I added pomegranates to the apples in the pie crust which was yummy - next time I want to add more.  Reducing saved paperwork upstairs, most of which could be pitched, felt good.  Why do I save so much?  Every time I purge, I think of Chris having to go through this stash someday.  I wouldn't want that chore and I certainly don't want her to have it either.  There are plenty of minimalist people in the world - you'd think I would have brushed up against a few in my lifetime.  No such luck.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sunny Long Beach

The TNNA (National Needlework Show) just ended and, as usual, the talent rivals any art gallery.  Creating art with needle and thread is soul-satisfying.  Choosing from amongst a plethora of images is impossible.  Good thing I was here for work instead of myself or I would have been bankrupt by the end of the first day.  I have a healthy stash at home, thank you very much, and two needlepoint pieces plus a pair of socks to knit with me in my hotel room.  I did have Lisa, at Nashville Needleworks, order one piece for me from Melissa Shirley Designs.  It is a beautiful folk star embellished with holly and ribbons by Mary Lake Thompson for next Christmas.  I couldn't resist!

I took a class while at the show and am excited about working on the design.  I knew I would put the project I brought with me aside when I started this one - it is beautiful.  

Other than my luggage getting routed to India instead of Los Angeles, it was a good trip and I was able to get in some stitching in the evenings uninterrupted by TV or housework.  Two of the benefits of traveling alone are a comfy chair all to myself and room service. 

Sunset over Long Beach Harbor
I think they felt sorry for me when I arrived at the hotel without my luggage.  They gave me a wonderful corner room with a table and chairs by the window and a comfy arm chair with ottoman.  The sunset the first night had the horizon on fire which was a little disconcerting since the busy docks were out there.  I head back to snowy Boston tomorrow.  The warm sunshine of southern California will have to wait for my next visit in a few weeks for the Hobby Show.  This time I think my bag will stay with me on the plane.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More from New Year's Weekend

Spending the last few days (and the first of the new year) in a regal old hotel near Boston Common is bliss.  Exploring the city, experiencing our first "First Night" with all the festivities, parade and fireworks was a blast.

It was unseasonably warm which had families out in droves.  Everyone was so excited to be there and the line at the skating rink in Boston Common was a long, patient one.

The sculptures were magnificent but drippy as the sun warmed them, softening their details.  George Washington was having a difficult time crossing the Delaware, but the dolphins took the excess water in stride.

We watched the midnight fireworks from the harbor which was unique, but I envied the masses on the pier who were counting down the seconds only to break into a roar as the clock struck the hour.  It was quiet on our boat.  They didn't do a countdown or play Old Ang Syne.  Next time, I want to be with them. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

MFA Art of the Americas Wing

John Singer Sargent      The Daughters of Edward Darley Bolt
I am in heaven!  I love the new wing at the MFA.  Bob and I spent a long weekend in Boston for New Year's Eve and I got to explore the exhibits to my heart's content.  While he napped (he is tolerant of my museum forays up to a point), I savored the works of John Singer Sargent (my favorite), Mary Cassatt (another one) and impressionists to moderns.  I left two floors for another time.

John Sargent  An Artist in his Studio
This one, of an artist friend in Italy really shows his love of white on white with the bed linens draped over the footboard.  The rumpled sheets, hastily pulled back out of the way, reflect the light streaming in the window.  He was a master at juxtaposing color and creating balance.

Mary Cassatt      Afternoon Tea
Mary Cassatt depicted the gentler side of life with her mother and child portraits and friends enjoying an afternoon tea.  How wonderful to be able to see these works in person any time I want!I can only imagine what treasures are stored below that I have yet to view.