Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Earlier this week, an e-mail arrived from McCall's in Golden, Colorado, in response to a couple I had sent them.  I had asked once again when to expect the return of the final quilts. At one point I had been told they would be shipped out to us in early December.  The e-mail contained reasurring news. 

First, they had not sent the quilts out in the flurry of holiday mailings.  One of my fears was "Music of the Night" would be lost in a corner of a warehouse storing undeliverable packages.  I imagined a box at the bottom of a pile, its side burst under the weight of other packages, and my quilt becoming home to a family of field mice.

Second, the package containing my quilt was not in a semi-trailer that had blown over during the fierce winds rampaging across the highways in Colorado.  In that imagining, boxes were strewn across a snow and ice encrusted road and were slammed into by other huge trucks.  I could see those boxes being ripped apart under wheels by truckers valiantly trying to avoid other vehicles.  In the blinding storm, quilts would be tugged out of open cartons to fly away into the stormy night only to be found high in the wilderness by a pack of wolves.

Third, an unwary secretary hurrying to her desk in the morning, tripped over the strap of a briefcase left lying beside a vacant chair.  In her wild windmilling to avoid tumbling to the ground, the cardboard container she was carrying in one hand sailed across the room and smacked into a quilt hanging on the wall - my quilt.  The container held four lattes intended as a morning wake-up for the secretary and three colleagues.  While friends gathered around asking if she was all right and helping her gather herself and her belongings, my quilt wound up unnoticed, soaking up those lattes.

In my fourth improbable scenario, one night the cleaners were at work.  One of them was vacuuming the room where the 12 quilts are hanging when another cleaner stopped to chat.  As they joked and talked about their holidays, the hose of the vacuum held on the shoulder of one cleaner, quietly ate the wings off the dragonflies, sucked up the owl, and beheaded the grandmother on my quilt.

What wild imaginings have plagued me this past month!  Now I can laugh at them because the quilts are being returned and are not being held ransom by a rogue employee.  The delay was due to a misunderstanding.  The person charged with taking care of the mailing thought it had been decided to avoid the holidays by mailing in January.    She (who as far as I know doesn't even drink lattes) is going to send me the tracking number once "Music" is on its way. 

Happy New Year! 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cynthia Emerlye - Artist

Today I have spent a lot of time on line.  And it all started as a search for photos of thistles (I have some of my own, but I'm not satisfied with them).  That turned into a search for sketches of thistles.  A decent botanical illustration (especially in black and white) has a clarity that photos don't always have. You see, I'm thinking of embroidering a thistle, and it's hard to do that if you don't know exactly what a thistle should look like.  Once you know that, you can "interpret" or "stylize" the flower yet still have it be a recognizable thistle (or lily, or peony, or - you get the idea).

Anyway, I came across a sketch of thistles by Cynthia Emerlye, and I was immediately smitten.  Her drawing is not of the botanical illustration variety, but she clearly depicts the shape and properties I needed to see.  Well, I couldn't leave it at that; then I had to go to her blog, and oh my, you must visit this blog: to see her work.  Her logo calls her work "opulent" and "ornate", and she is right!  And just wait until you see her kirigami (Japanese paper cutting) . . . amazing work. 

Beware, once you begin looking through her blog, you may spend more time there than you think.  That's what happened to me today, and I'd love to pull you in, too!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Wishes

As the days draw closer to the holiday, schedules become more full.  So even though we've managed to keep ourselves free-from-frenzy, we do, like you, have a list of things to do before we leave to visit Rebecca's family for the holidays.

Let me take this time to tell you how much you have meant to me this past year.  You know your support has been incredible and something I cherish.  Now every time I doubt myself, and I do still have those niggling worries, I merely say with some confidence, "I can do it!"  You have taught me that, but the other thing you've taught me is even more important.  When I follow that first statement with, "And if I can't, at least I will have tried!", I know I've been given a great gift.  Sometimes it really is the journey that matters.  Thank you for encouraging me so I could learn these valuable lessons.

May your days be filled with journeys that matter to you, and may you find people whose hearts and minds are open both to the importance of your quest and to what it means to you.

No matter what holiday you celebrate, enjoy it and your family and friends.  I'll be back to this blog after we return.  As I said in some of our holiday, cards:

In this coming New Year,
May your Days be filled with Music
and your Nights with Magic!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No Snow in the Forecast

The rain is over, and the sun is shining!  It's hard to believe Christmas is only a few days away.  According to the weather predicters, there is no snow in the forecast.  Isn't it odd to feel conflicted about snow? 

When I was working and had to drive 40 minutes to work, snow was a big deal.  It meant I had to leave earlier (and I already left quite early), drive slower, and be more aware of the other traffic.  There were places in my trip that presented hazards in bad weather that one could fly through if the day was fine.  If the snow or ice was really bad, I'd eagerly watch the school closings to see if my school was closed (it often was when local schools weren't because of the hilly terrain where I taught).  If I saw the magic word, "Closed", scroll across the bottom of the TV, I'd do a little happy dance, get back into bed, and revel in the knowlege that I had an unexpected free day.

In some ways, it was ironic that I would be so gleeful because snow days wreaked havoc with lesson plans and inner schedules.  There were times when having plans thrown off even one day (especially around holidays) was awkward and getting things back on track took a lot of extra planning.  However, it was the "inner schedule" I mentioned that was the real killer.

That unexpected free day through off one's sense of timing.  Getting back into the groove was harder in some ways than getting back after a vacation.  The unplanned nature of free time is hard to adapt to.  First of all, one can spend half a day dithering about what should be or could be done.  I would usually decide to do nothing that had anything to do with work and spend my time doing things I rarely had time to do.  Then when it was time to go to bed, I would feel guilty and out of sorts because I hadn't gotten ahead in my work.  The next day at school, I'd race around doing all the extra things that had to be done when a day was missed: writing out the day's schedule, changing the agenda, posting new "due dates", seeing everyone who had to be seen to re-schedule meetings or library time, figuring out how to get two days of classwork in one day, and all the other details that had to be taken care of.

Now imagine how the students felt when they came back.  They had had a delightful free day and were suddenly thrown back into a school day.  BUT, and it was a big "but", their school day would be slightly off kilter.  People would be a bit distracted, timing would be odd, and the entire day would seem like being inside one of those carnival mirrors that skew normal reflections.  And the worst thing about it?  They had no control over it. 

It was very much like having no control over the weather.  The next time you feel out of sorts about the snow or lack of it, think about it.  Since we have no control over it, isn't it better for us to relax and roll with it than get all upset about it?

Yes, it probably would be, but as humans (even as adult humans), it's hard to do that, isn't it? 

Gee, I'd love to have a bit of snow for the holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Decorating Cookies

Yesterday I mentioned that I was baking the first batch of cookies for the holiday season.  The cookies were basic sugar cookies (one of my personal favorites), I opted to make cut out cookies instead of the easier drop ones.  That's something I haven't done in quite a while, either, so somewhere along the line, I'd misplaced my memory of how much fun those are to make.

In all our culling of Christmas-related items, I didn't touch my cookie cutters.  Even though Rebecca has quite a few, there are still enough Christmas ones left with which to have fun.  I even found the plastic one that I used to make the felt teddy bear I showed you in an earlier blog.  Anyway, yesterday I made reindeer, little gingerbread-style boys, stars, and trees.  Then I designed a two-for-one cookie.  Decorated one way, it was Santa in a sleigh.  Decorated another, it was two women in a pink convertible! 

Mind you, it wasn't planned (don't I wish I were that clever), but when David looked at the undecorated cookies, he said, "I know what that one is; it's Santa."  Now, afterwords he said he didn't see Santa as I had, but he put the idea in my mind.  Collaboration is a great thing!

Actually what I wanted to tell you about is what I used to decorate the cookies.  Yesterday was the first time I used this product so my work is a little rough around the edges, but did I have fun!  I used Betty Crocker's "Cookie Icing" that comes in a pouch, and no, I'm not being paid to say this.  I know you're thinking that you prefer to make your own ,and you don't want all the additives.  I understand that.  But unless you're willing to work with royal icing, you really should at least try this product.  Here's why.  First, it comes in a kneadable pouch with a tip so you don't have to have the extra icing bags and tips.  Where you cut the tip determines how thick or thin a line you can make.  Second, it comes in a lot of colors including black (!) though I haven't found yellow, yet.  Third, and here's the clincher for me, the frosting hardens!  That means you can take a plate loaded of decorated cookies to a friend's house, and the frosting on the bottom cookies stays on the cookies without smudging all over!  Fourth and finally, it tastes like frosting.

What's the drawback?  I don't know how easy it may be for children to use because it requires steady pressure to get a good line, and it takes a bit of strength to do that.  I'd like to try it with my grandson and see how he does with it.  For him, I think I'd snip the tip of the pouch so he'd have a wider opening for the frosting to come out, and he could "paint" a larger area.  Today I'm making cookies in the shape of turtles for him.  It should be lots of fun! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Busy-ness

It's one of those times when everyone is so busy, one doesn't think one can squeeze another task or commitment onto an overflowing calendar.  Doesn't it surprise you that we manage to do so and many times without even blinking?  Last night I found myself wondering how I ever managed to do all I did and work at the same time.  Truly, I don't think I accomplish as much now as I did then, but I certainly am as busy.  Or at least I think I am.  Let's see -

Somehow it is already December 17th, and last night for the first time I sat down and addressed Christmas cards.  Never mind the fact that I could have done it right after Thanksgiving - if I didn't have "so many other important things to do".  What were those "important things", I wonder?  I'm sure I thought they were at the time, but now? 

Yesterday I started baking Christmas and Hanukkah cookies.  These were not continuations of previous batches; these were the first.  Have I done an incredible amount of baking and cooking up till now?  Well, no.  I've made the odd meal here or there, the usual breakfasts, an occasional special lunch, and a treat (yeah, like slicing an apple?  get real!).  I can't say I've spent a tremendous amount of time in the kitchen.

How about homemade gifts.  Well, there I'm doing better.  I have two things made . . . well, almost finished.  They will be by Christmas - or at least one will be.  The other? Maybe.  The third is cut out and will probably be a birthday present instead of Christmas.

Maybe it's work that's holding me back.  Honestly?  No.  I did have to spend several days finishing a sample, but that's all.  After all, I only teach a day or two a month.

So, "What have you been doing with your time?" you ask.  I've been reading, painting, playing the piano, walking, chatting with friends (including my husband), sewing (not always Christmas related, I confess), going out, attending a wedding (now that was really special and worthy of lots of time!!!), but that's about it.  There were other odds and ends like normal housekeeping chores, too, but nothing that took more than a day.

So what has kept me from getting everything done in a more timely manner?  I'm retired.  The pressure is off.  I know that the world won't come to an end if I don't do everything I used to do.  I actually think I have a better perspective on the relative importance of things in general, but it's taken a long time to get here.

Before you agree the next time you hear someone complain about getting older, stop and think.  Every age has its benefits.  I'm still discovering the many that go with my age.  Remember your Wordsworth?  His "Ode to Immortality"?  
     What though the radiance that was once so bright
     Be now forever taken from my sight,
     Though nothing can bring back
     The splendor of the grass,
     The glory of the flower,
     We will grieve not, rather find
     Strength in what remains behind . . .
     . . . . .
     In years that bring the philosophic mind.
All of the above was written because, while I always admired these lines (forgive me for not looking them up to get them exactly right - this quote is from memory), I didn't/couldn't appreciate them as I do now.  And by today's standards, I'm not that old (just check the mean age in this week's obituaries).

Anyway, I just want all of you to take a deep breath, look at something beautiful, spend 20 minutes with your feet up and your eyes closed, and ask yourself, "Is this frenzy really worth it?  In ten years, will this all be so important?"  If your answer is, "Yes!"  then go to it, and I'll cheer you on.  However, if it's, "No" then re-evaluate what you are doing to yourself and find a way to bring calm to your life. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tuesday = Painting = Learning

Every Tuesday morning I have my painting class, and it has become another bright star in my week.  Of course, you probably already know that because I've written about how happy I am that I actually seem to be getting somewhere with it this year.  Since the same thing seems to be happening with my piano lessons, it may be that "third year's the charm" thing.

Whatever it is, I hate to miss a Tuesday of painting if I can help it.  Well, this week I missed.  What with the holidays coming, I had gotten behind in my hand-piecing project.  The sample had to be finished for display by the twentieth of this month so I spent several days stitching all day.  Don't feel sorry for me because I do enjoy it, and it had to be done.  The piece was finished this past Monday, and given our schedules, the only "good" day and time for delivery was Tuesday morning . . . hence, no painting.

However, this story has a good ending.  Sharon, my painting teacher, teaches a class on Thursday night and also offers it as a make up class for those of us who miss our regularly scheduled class.  How's that for luck! 

Anyway, I went last night, and as I painted I thought about how we learn.  Of course, there are many different ways, but I'm going to talk about the power of learning by doing.  Last year Sharon told us a story about when she was a student and was working on a painting of bananas  - dare I say it? - fruitlessly (Ha!) for some time.  She said she just couldn't get the shadows right.  She tried gray.  No good.  She tried brown.  No.  She tried green.  Still didn't look just right.  Then she had an epiphany.  Color complements!  The complement of yellow is violet.  When she tried violet as the shadow, it worked perfectly.  All right.  I know my color theory so I listened to the story and filed it away.

Now, remember the first painting I did this year, the Green Bottle?  At one point I said my shadows weren't quite right?  Of course, at the time I thought I just didn't have the angle right.  Last night I realized that at first I had used gray (from the concrete wall) as my shadow.  However, during class, Sharon suggested that I pull some of the bottle green down into the wall, and I thought, "Oh, okay, and I'll use green as my shadow under the barn siding."  Ta-dah!  It was wonderful, but I didn't make the connection to color theory (green is the complement of red). 

Now I'm working on a painting of an opening in the rock on the cliff walk in Canyon de Chelly so it's all orangey with a cadmium blue sky.  Sharon suggested blue in the shadow of the opening.  I used ultramarine and loved it.  So then - finally - I made the connection.  Light bulbs went on and rockets flared in the night sky!  I used cadmium in the shadows on the rock face.  L-O-V-E it!  Color complements work (blue is the complement of orange), my brain knew it in an all too academic way, but it took using it (more than once!) to really know it. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Final words on Santa's

Okay, you're all laughing so hard I can hear you loud and clear!  Now I feel I have to defend myself. 

You see, about seven years ago, we stopped putting up a regular Christmas tree.  I continued decorating the rest of the house as I usually did.  Gradually, even that diminished to decorating the downstairs only.

Can you imagine the amount of decorations I amassed over the years so I could have Christmas in every room?  Each bedroom had its own little tree (although for safety reasons those were artificial).  Windows were festooned with ribbons, hanging glass balls, glass icicles, or painted cookies.  Bathrooms had Santa's and candles.  Snowmen dotted the bookshelves, and the living room had carved wooden figures from Germany as well as a tree heavily laden with all sorts of ornaments from hand-made expressions to the old Polish or Czech ornaments.  In the dining room were ropes of beads swirled among the crystal candlesticks on the table, bowls of apples or oranges studded with cloves, and the dessert plates, bowls, platters and silverware ready for the dessert goodies.  Needless to say, Santa appeared in almost every nook and cranny!

Most of what was passed on this year were the tree ornaments.  Of course, Santa's. snowmen, figural candles, went also, but we kept the majority of the Santa's (as you could see).  If you remember, my rule was that everything that was kept had to be used or displayed.  Why else keep it?  Hence the exuberance of Santa's on the piano.

Possibly, I started this year's clutter control with that which is hardest for me to sort through.  If so, it should stand me in good stead as we tackle other areas.

Passing on clothing will be a snap after this! 

* Total number of Santa's on the piano?  Twenty-seven!!!  How did you do?   

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Clutter Control Update

David tells me we are almost finished with all the various Christmas boxes from the basement.  I find it hard to believe, but he has taken 4 trips to Good Will so he should know!  There are two boxes for Rebecca to sort through, and I have thrown away bags of old, ratty, not-worth-dusting "stuff". 

Now before you get all excited and drive over to pat us on the back, here is a photo (taken today) of the top of my piano:

It's hard to see what's there, isn't it?  Don't worry, just for you, just so you can appreciate the contents of this photo, I've taken two close ups.  Look carefully, and I won't be offended if you start counting. 

Left side
If you are counting, you might want to mark the piano lamp as your stopping point for this photo.  Right side coming up . . .

How many did you count*?

All right, before you break into whoops of laughter, pause and reflect.  Ask yourself, "How many Santa's did she have before the Great Sweep?"  Then think, "This is only the top of the piano . . . !!!"

Really, all joking aside, it's so much less than we had.  Also, you need to realize that in order to sort through everything, everything had to be taken out, dusted, cooed over, memories exchanged, and well, then each and every thing had to be displayed. 

Makes sense to me! 

*Tune in to the next blog to get the final count of Piano-top Santa's. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Music of the Night's" Return: Update

Some of you may not remember that the finalists in the McCall's Quilt Design Star Contest had to send the last quilt to McCall's in Golden, Colorado.  After the announcement of the winner, I waited for the return of my quilt and began to become a little uneasy.  Eventually I e-mailed our contact at McCall's and was told they were taking more photographs and the quilts would be returned shortly.

At least that's what I thought the e-mail said.

As more and more days passed, I became more and more anxious about the fate of my quilt (we all know about the local woman whose prize winning quilt was sent to a magazine but never came back) but managed to convince myself that I should wait until a month had passed since the end of the contest.  During this period, my friends would frequently ask if "Music" had arrived yet and would commiserate with me about the inexplicable delay.  They were all as flummoxed as I over why additional photos would be taken since I was not the winner.  What were they doing to my quilt?  What were their plans for those photos.  In short, what nefarious plan were they hatching? 

Finally, December 9th, the one month date, arrived, and I got ready to check for a phone number for the McCall's contact.  For some reason, I decided to reread the original e-mail that contained the explanation for the delay.  It's a good thing I did for when I read it carefully, I found more information than I had the first time I read it.  The message actually stated that the photographs of the quilts were being color-corrected as the photos are to appear in the May/June 2012 issue of McCall's Quilting (as our neighbor said, "Yeah, probably postage stamp size!").  The quilts would probably be sent back the second week in December which starts today.

So now I can smack my head for not reading carefully and then hang it sheepishly for imagining the worst.

Nefarious plans, indeed!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Hyde Collection

When you were young, did you have a favorite book?  Were there books you read that had illustrations that fired your imagination?  Did you read a comic strip that made you laugh almost every day?  Does a particular story from your childhood still surface in your memory?   I can remember hosts of books whose pages spelled magic for me and illustrators whose work was so special that I would lose myself in their art.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of going with two friends to the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls to see the exhibit Children's Book Illustration.  Although small by some standards, it was a wonderful exhibit.  We saw illustrations by Caldecott, the artist in whose name our prestigious book award for illustration is named.  Big names like Kate Greenaway, Palmer Cox (of Brownie fame), Jules Feiffer and Walt Kelly who were primarily cartoonists, Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things Are, and Gruelle who created Raggedy Ann and Andy.  Those are just a few (I can remember books from years ago but can't remember the names of all the artists we enjoyed yesterday - sigh!). 

The exhibit displayed the art work from early illustrators to current day.  It is amazing how printing capabilities have changed the art that is possible to have in a book.  One of the best things about yesterday's trip was being with two such knowledgeable people.  Johanna, like me, knows quite a bit about books (and their authors) for young people, and Sharon was able to explain the methods used to create the art. 

Additionally, this exhibit was organized by the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, CA (so there's another place to put on your worthy-of-a-visit places).   The Hyde has the Cartoon Museum's absolutely wonderful pamphlet/worksheet booklet for children that Johanna and I thought was superb.  It contains explanations as well as questions with space to write an answer in a beautifully designed and illustrated, color brochure.  Take your grandchildren and have fun! 

We had enough time to stroll through and enjoy the first floor of the Hyde House (incredible art - Tintoretto, Ingres, early illustrated books) before we had to leave. You'll be amazed to know we didn't even spend any money in the gift shop, and my favorite stores are museum gift shops!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Painting Day

Tuesdays are the days when I have my painting classes; and they have become one of my favorite days.  Now, I know I said I would show you the entire series of my last painting, the Green Bottle, and I will.

But I do have to tell you that I started a new painting today, and I am very pleased.  This one is of a small section of Canyon de Chelly so, as you can imaging, it's mostly rock.  Do you remember the photo of the Canyon wall that I showed you way back?  I just checked, and it was on August 24th.  Now, you may know that rock isn't easy to paint; there are so many colors and the textures . . .  wow.  Anyway, I am liking what I have done which is to paint my impression of the rock.   What the colors seem to be.  Hey, it's fun, and I think it's working.

So any way, here's the Green Bottle from beginning to end:
Second Day
Green Bottle appears
The Green Bottle finished
While I don't seem to be able to get these photos arranged as I would like to, at least you will be able to see all four at one time. 

I'd love to hear from you and an easy way to do it is simply e-mail me.  Let me know what you think about the Green Bottle.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An Old Ornament

I'm still working on going through all of our boxes of Christmas ornaments.  We've found some jewels, some clunkers, some memories for us, some nice ones for Good Will, and some treasures belonging to Rebecca. 

You'd think that getting all dusty and tired from pawing through numerous boxes would make me decide to stop now.  After all, I've really cleaned up quite a bit.  But I haven't finished yet, and every now and then I find something that makes me sit right down with the item cradled in my hand and - sometimes - tears in my eyes.  Sometimes the ornament will bring back memories that keep me thinking all day long about a time, a person, or a place.

Today was such a day.  At the very bottom of a box I found, very carefully wrapped in tissue paper (I should have stock in it - I wrap everything!), an old handmade ornament  It was a small felt, rather flat teddy bear.  It couldn't be more that 3" tall if that.  Talk about memories!

When we were first married, David was working on his doctorate and I was working as a stewardess.  Like most newlyweds, we didn't have any extra money.  The idea was that since we planned to spend Christmas with his family so there was no need to spend money on a Christmas tree.  We could enjoy the one in his family's home. 

Well, I wasn't having any part of that!  We had a miniature palm in our apartment so I decided to decorate it, and make it our Christmas tree.  No money, no decorations - no problem!  I decided to make the decorations.  Painted eggs were first on my list.  Carefully I made holes at each end of some raw eggs (they were inexpensive and scrambled eggs made a good supper). That meant I had to blow the raw egg through those small holes and into a bowl.   I still remember sitting on the floor to do that because it made me dizzy and I didn't want to fall over.  I think we still have a few of those in a box that I haven't opened yet.

The other ornaments of that year were the felt ones.  Do you remember how inexpensive the small squares of felt were at Woolworth's?  I had some and allowed myself to buy a few more colors.  I remember making elephants, rabbits, and teddy bears by tracing around my old hand-me-down tin cookie cutters with green wooden handles.  Then they were cut out, faces were painted on or tiny scraps of felt were glued on for eyes and mouths.  Next I would stuff them with bits of cotton cut from a roll pulled from a dark blue box, and  sew up the sides.  Finally, I'd add a bit of embroidery floss or string as a loop so they could hang on the palm tree (and later, on real Christmas trees). 

What a wealth of fond memories.  And what a lesson!  Those years of making do are long past, and now it's so easy to get whatever I want almost immediately.  No fuss, no muss, no waiting.  The days when I made ornaments, gifts, and clothing have flown by too quickly.  I need to remember how much I enjoyed making things and the thrill of finally purchasing something for which I'd saved a long time.   The past is gone as are many of our old ornaments thanks to this clean-out, but I'd better hold on to that felt teddy bear.

He has such good stories to tell if I remember to listen.     

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Holiday Parties

Now here is a topic that frequently gets bad press.  Holiday parties (especially office holiday parties) are often portrayed as times of drunken lechery or worse.  While I am sure that must happen somewhere sometime, I can't remember ever having suffered through one . . . or even in my very much younger years enjoyed one.  Do you suppose television's situation comedies and/or B movies are to blame?   

This topic occurred to me as I was driving home with David from a party held by a group of which he is a member.  We've been going for years.  It always follows the same format, and we have a grand time every year.  I'm sure that part of our pleasure comes from that predictability.  After all, sometimes it is all right to know what to expect.

However, the real reason we like this particular holiday party has to do with the people and the manner in which they conduct themselves.  First of all, there is a cocktail hour.  I noted tonight that even though no one over indulged, we are not the only couple that has a designated driver.  Generally speaking, I would guess that the average attendee drank 1 - 1.5 alcoholic beverages.  The purpose of this part of the party is to allow people the chance to chat, get reacquainted with the spouses of friends, talk to people one won't be sitting near at dinner, and allow everyone to arrive before sitting down to the meal.   There was laughter and happy chatter, but no one made anyone else uncomfortable.

Next we sit down to eat dinner and chat more.  There is also a very brief business meeting (to which most people listen politely) with some awards given (everyone claps and congratulates the winners).  Then we eat dinner and have our coffee and dessert while anticipating the next, favorite part of the evening. 

The organization holds a blind auction every year after the holiday dinner is finished.  Each member is expected to bring at least one (preferably more) item for the auction.  All the items are wrapped in appropriate winter or holiday paper so no one, not even the auctioneer, can see what the item is.  Some packages are decently covered while others are quite attractively presented.  The pretty ones usually receive higher bids, but that's no surprise.  It's also no surprise that the auction starts slowly, and sometimes the first several items go for a song.

That doesn't last long.  Soon there is good natured rivalry in the bidding.  Each person tries to outwit someone else by slipping in a surprise high bid.  There's laughter, quips are traded between bidding "opponents", comments about the possible contents of the mystery package being auctioned, memories of previous auctions exchanged, and finally someone wins.  To the delight of everyone, curiosity is satisfied immediately as the winner is obliged to unwrap and display the item won.  There have been gag gifts in the past, but I don't remember that there were any this year.  I think that most people were quite pleased with the contents of their packages.  David was, and one item in particular really captured his fancy.  It was something he'd never seen before, didn't even know it existed, and he was fascinated.

Here's the nicest thing.  At the end of the auction, everyone goes to the treasurer and pays her or his tab.  I've never heard any complaints, and people pay without argument.  You see, all the money goes back to the club to help defray the cost of next year's guest lecturers/demonstrators.  By spending money in this light-hearted atmosphere, the members of the club ensure their enjoyment of next year's meetings.  They make it possible to engage top speakers on topics about which they want to hear learn.  All this while having a great, unexceptional time.

Hmmm . . . I wonder if there's actually a lesson to be taken from a holiday party that might apply to our daily lives? 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Painting, Day 3 - Mystery Explained

This past Tuesday was day 3 of my painting class and day 3 for this painting.  With the exception of some (minimal) detail work, I consider this painting finished.  Now that is a HUGE change for me.  Last year from September to mid-May, I worked on four paintings; a still life of pumpkins and gourds, stones at the edge of the lake, a beach "sketch", and a quick landscape study.  That's four days a month of class, and frequently one additional day a week at home if the paint was dry enough.  I don't consider any of the four "finished".

It was painfully slow, and I actually knew I was getting stuck on the details, but despite Sharon's attempts to move me on, I just couldn't get past the wall I had erected.  Then on that last day, I decided to try the palatte knife for that quick landscape study from a calendar photo, and you know the results of that experiment.  The palatte knife seems to be the crack in the door for me; it's certainly gotten me out of that detail rut in a hurry!

The Green Bottle
Some of you have been extremely good sports by trying to guess what my painting could possibly represent.  A few years ago in Vermont, we visited a farm on Darling Hill in the Northeast Kingdom.  Davis and Esther, David and I wandered all over that gorgeous place and took loads of photos of all the barns and out-buildings (all painted barn red), gardens and animals, views from every vantage point and even some interiors. 

This particular photo of the side of an out-building, its window, concrete wall, and the dusty green bottle on the window sill has been a favorite for some time.  It seemed the perfect subject for my first serious attempt at painting with the palatte knife.  The shapes are basic, the detail simple (the better to ward off my detail crazed bete-noir!), leaving the color and texture paramount.  If I could capture both of those important facets, I thought I would have both answered my question about my choice of tool and a decent painting. 

I have succeeded! This is a painting of which I can be proud, and I can see it hanging on a wall in my house (that's a first). 

It's too bad that the above photo is not very good (I'll have to ask my friend Brian to take another for me). The paint reflects the daylight in such a way that it's difficult to see the bottle. So I took another, close-up photo, not very sharp, but the bottle is more evident. It, too, was painted with the knife rather than a brush. 

What do you think?  After the details are final, I'm going to try to show all stages of the painting so you have a better view of the changes.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Moving on to Christmas

This is the year.  I have finally faced the fact that since we no longer put up a tree, it is time to go through all our tree ornaments.  Today, David brought up a box marked "good ornaments" from the basement.  "No fair," I thought.  "How am I going to be able to make a decision if these are ones we really like?"  So I told him it might take me a while to go through them let alone make any decisions.  "I know," he grinned.


Okay, so once he'd gone off to bonsai class, I sat down with the box and started.  I had established some guidelines.  I figured I'd make a pile for Rebecca's ornaments, a pile for David's ornaments, a pile for ornaments I want, and a pile for Good Will.  Then I refined the criteria for my pile.  I could set aside any ornament I felt like saving, BUT if I can't find a way to use/display the ornament this year, it has to go.  Whew!  So I turned on the TV (distraction from pain) and opened the box.  An hour later, David's pile had maybe 6 items, Rebecca's 20 - 25, mine 15 - 20, and Good Will's was overflowing.  Wow, again!

It can't have been the box with the good ornaments.