Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Somehow last night came and went without a blog entry.  For that I apologize; it surprised even me when I realized it this morning.  However, it does tell me that I need to take a holiday break as, like every one of you, too much is happening and is going to happen from now until 2013.
So, I have said in a series of holiday cards:
From our house to yours -
I'll be back in 2013.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Another Day with the Boathouse

Great day at the studio today!  We celebrated both the holidays and our friendship as you will see in the photos.  But we did not forget why we were there and after some refreshments, wonderful tea, and laughter, we each got back to our work.  Here's the wonder of this studio, Johanna is working with watercolor, Arlene is sketching in pencil, Lena is working in pastels, and I am dabbling in oils.  We admire, encourage, and envy the work each other does, but we each grow in our own way at our own pace.  It's a very supportive group and Sharon is a joy as a teacher.

Arlene, Johanna, Lena, and Moi

Sharon in the front
Today I worked on some of the things I talked about last week.  The color of the rocks closest to the boathouse now reflect "atmospheric perspective" (simply put their colors are more subdued because they are farther away from the rocks in the immediate foreground).  The evergreen behind the boathouse is less garish though still not finished, and the ramp from the boathouse to the water is not only nearly done, but its reflection is in the water.  And that's the funny part - that reflection seems to hang there in the lake attached to nothing.  When the reflection of the boathouse becomes more substantial, all will be well.  I hope.  You may remember that the original reflection of the B'house was originally merely sketched in to "hold its place" in the painting. 

To me, adding that ramp really did the job of tying the composition together as a whole.  Still quite a bit to work on, but once the holiday sewing is over (and the holidays, too!) progress should pick up. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Visit to See Ann

After several attempts to come up with a workable date, D and I were able to go see my sister-in-law Ann who lives about 2 hours from us.  She recently needed to have a pacemaker put in to regulate her heart beat, and we decided that we have to get to see her more frequently.
In lovely weather the drive is a nice one.  Today wasn't lovely, but we also didn't have the winter weather we would have encountered in a normal year.  It was just a gray, damp day.  We listened to some old radio shows, and as we weren't expected until lunch time and were early, we made a stop to poke around in some shops.  Then we went on our way.
Ann is about fifteen years older than I am, but that was never an issue in our friendship even early on when it could have been.  What makes this a noteworthy enough visit to share is that now she is beginning to show signs of dementia. 
I don't know if today was a good day or if the pacemaker has improved her mental state or whether it was a combination of the above (probably the latter).  Whatever it was, the visit was enjoyable, but I found myself mentally ticking off behaviors that made me think, "Yes, this is not Ann-like; this must be a sign of the onset of dementia."
On our way home, I thought about that - the mental check list - and initially felt ashamed of it.  But then I thought, "Wait a minute.  I've stopped denying that her mental capacities may be floundering.  That's a good thing.  By recognizing the changes, I will be able to deal with them and accept them as they appear.  I won't get impatient and expect her to be as she was; rather, I'll accept her as she is now."
It sounds good, and I think it is.  But I know it isn't fool proof.  Even though I don't live with her, there may be times when I want to throw up my hands and walk away.   Yet, in the long run, knowing some of what to expect will make it easier to plan more frequent trips.  It will be easier to spend time with a dearly loved sister as she is now and not spend  the visits regretting that she isn't the vivacious woman she once was.
The slip-slide of mental faculties is dreadful to witness.  As long as my visits are pleasurable for her and help her care giver, and I can continue to be a patient, caring person, then I will find a way to bear witness to that disintegration.  Then possibly I can tell those who may have to do the same for me what they can expect - not from me - but from themselves and their own feelings. 
Passing on that knowledge to the next generation would be a fitting legacy for Ann, the woman, the mother, the teacher, the priest. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What Can WE Do?

That's a question many of us have been asking after the horrific events of the past several days.  I certainly don't have any super answers.  But I can tell you what I've done.  I've signed petitions to urge our government to forget about politics long enough to pass some reasonable gun control bill that would include background checks.  With that, I urge them to make a commitment to help the mentally ill.  We have to do both. 
One of our local quilt shops is calling for pillowcases for the students who survived.  I have made a promise to myself to make as many as I can.
Also, I have promised myself that as opportunities arrive to help in some way, I will take advantage of them.  Some of the things I do may seem insignificant, but I don't believe they are.  Those little ones and the adults around them who survived need all kinds of different support, and while I can't reach out to give them hugs and whispers of reassurance, I can make one tiny bright spot in their week or month. 
And it makes me feel better, less powerless.  We all feel the need to do something, and I suggest that we all find some way we can contribute.
Don't forget that keeping busy helps.  I have spent today working on gifts, finding fabrics suitable for pillowcases, baking for an up-coming holiday celebration, and spending time with my family.  Life goes on, and that's one thing that will be hard for some to deal with.  Keeping busy helps.
Finally, I was lucky beyond measure that our daughter and grandson drove in on Saturday to spend the day.  We were able to hug our loved ones, and believe me, we took advantage of that.
Share with us what you are doing.  Have you heard of things being done with which others can help?  Share that information.  Send me a note, and I'll pass the information along as best I can.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Boathouse - Day 5

Part of me feels I should stop writing until after the holidays because I cannot post photos of my activities, yet.  My sewing machine has been whirring busily away, and after the gift exchanges are over, I will share the results of my work.
In the mean time, you will be subjected to whatever floats through my mind - as you've probably already noticed.  But today I do have this week's work on the Boathouse to show you.  It's amazing how little I seem to have painted in my two hours in the studio!

I just checked and this is the fifth day of painting for this work.  That's not a lot, it's just that it has taken longer by calendar than my usual paintings.  Well, it's a busy time of year.
So here's what I've done and decided.  I finally started back on the trees which my hand has been itching to do for some time now.  The background trees are quite sketchy, but at least you can see where they will be (if you click on the photo to enlarge it).  The birch in the front of the boathouse is on its way.  The dark brown "outlines" on either side of the trunk will be softened slightly and the upper portion is not even worth mentioning.  There is an evergreen above and behind the roof though the color is in transition. 
As I was painting, I realized that I really don't want it to be dawn because as my brother pointed out that would change the shape of all my shadows.  They would be pulled on the diagonal to the lower right which the composition most definitely can not  handle!  So I'm back to my non-specific time, maybe morning, sun not visible but shadows indicating where it might be.  Whew!  The colors of the rocks nearest the boathouse on the far right need to be muted, and I haven't gotten back to the wooden ramp from the boathouse to the water.  And there will be leaves, of course . . .   the distant shore . . .  
Much yet to do, and more paintings crowding my head asking to be let out onto canvas!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Comment for a Friend

Today I had several e-mails about recent entries; thank you to all of you who take the time to comment.  I know how much effort that takes! 
I've been avidly reading and enjoying the blog of a dear friend (who is in the midst of renovating sections of her wonderful home).  She's so pleased with her choice of paint color because the gray make her happy.  She is right when she also says, "Go with your gut" no matter what might be popular (coral is an "in" color, for example, that would not make me happy on my walls).  I can see her in a gray room.  Gray is the color of mist.  Mist is usually silent.  Mist and silence indicate the presence of a body of water.  Water means rhythym.  Rocking is soothing therefore gray equals tranquility.
Isn't is fun to let your mind follow a whisper of an idea to see where it leads you?
Anyway, I was going to say that while I have enjoyed reading her entries and poring over her photgraphs, I have not commented.  The right words aren't always ready, the time may not be available, distraction may set in - there are a hundred and one reasons for not commenting.  But when I find the moment, I try to grab it.
So, Karen, this entry is for you.  I am so happy when you write, and as I read, I always have an internal dialogue with you.  I admire you for keeping yourself active and for allowing yourself to find joy when it does come to you. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Secret Delights in Making Holiday Gift

No, I'm not going to whine and complain about all the gifts I have yet to make.  Today I am going to celebrate something very lovely I have discovered about gift making.  Actually, we all know the basic feel good reactions: the nobility of making something for someone else, the pleasure of anticipating the pleasure of someone else, and the knowledge of making something useful that will be used.  There are other reasons you could probably list; these are just a few that popped into my mind.
Today I learned some other wonderful things about making gifts.  There are times when I am asked to make something, or times when I realize I know the perfect gift for someone even though they haven't asked for it.  There is a sense of secret delight that to me is different from the public one associated with gift giving.  It's that little hug you mentally give yourself as you prepare the "perfect" gift.  It's an earned pat on the back.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's a pleasure from start to finish.  That's one special joy.  It isn't really new, but verbalizing the way I feel is new.  Now I have a truer sense of why the rare "perfect" gift is so special to me as well as to the recipient.
Here's the one that's really a first for me.  I have made a few things this year that I wouldn't have done if they weren't intended as gifts.  On top of that, some were items I've never made before.  The personal thrill came from doing an excellent job, making something really special for someone, knowing that I can do it again, and knowing that possibly, just possibly, I would make it for myself.  It sounds selfish, but here's the thing.  All those feeling-special-about-me things means that I have been given the ability to do something that will make another person happy.  It means my time has been put to good use.

It means,"Stop complaining, Noel!" 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Grandson as Artist

Aren't the drawings of young children wonderful expressions of freedom.  Most of the time, I am lucky enough to be asked to admire drawings by children who aren't shy, who haven't been taught the "correct" colors of things, who don't care about perspective, and who draw simply because it's fun.  And their art is spontaneous with no thought of composition or all the other things so many of us think about the moment we take up our "art tools."
Here is a work of art done by our eight-year-old grandson, and I am so impressed!  Until recently, the only things he was interested in drawing were either flamingos or turtles.  He worked quite hard at this until something better came along, and he was tired of coloring-in the shirt anyway.

It is a portrait of me, and I am delighted with it.  I love the smile he gave me and adore my ears!  Very seriously he told me that he had some difficulty with my nose.  I told him I have trouble with it, too, especially when it runs!
I plan to take it back to him at Christmas time and request his signature.  One thing I will teach him is that every artist should sign her/his work!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

As you can tell from the title of this entry, I'm about to discuss a book I've read recently.  Before I begin, I should remind you that this book like others I've mentioned here, was one I read for my Young Adult literature course.  And I will also remind you that I am a champion of YA literature for adults as well as for the intended audience.  In previous entries I've talked about how these books are marketed, how the publisher often makes the decision about whether to publish a book as adult or young adult, and how too often worthy books are ignored by a reading public that might otherwise snatch up a YA book if it only were marketed for adults.  Enough said.
We started our year with historical fiction, and I found myself hoping to avoid the preponderance of WWI and WWII books usually on the list.  Too many of those books are wrenchingly hard to read due to their subject so I was thrilled to find books on medieval Wales, Tudor England, and early 20th century New York City to name a few.  There were also three about WWII (or at least I read three - I don't think there were others).
The first I read, Faraway Island by Annika Thor, was about Jewish sisters from Vienna who were relocated to Sweden and was quite good.  It covered a facet of the war (relocation of children at risk) that I hadn't seen covered before.  It was correctly labeled a YA book, and I recommend it for that audience. 
The second WWII novel, My Family for the War by Anne C.Voorhoeve, quickly became my favorite read from this year's choices in historical fiction.  It's a translation from the German, but I didn't notice any issues (some classmates did) because I was captured by the story of a girl who got out of harm's way on the Kindertransport* and wound up with a family in England.  Similar to Faraway Island?  Superficially, yes, but . . .  While this book is YA, I think adults would read and appreciate this story.  The protagonist in this book starts out as a young teen but is an adult by the end of the book.  It's very moving (check it out on Amazon or somewhere on-line that has plot summaries).
It was my favorite until I read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and then, oh my!  I am including a plot summary from 's review of
September 21, 2012 ( because it is a very complex plot, and I don't want to give anything away.
This story, about two young women, a Scottish spy and an English pilot during World War II in Nazi-occupied France, pulled me in, yanked me around, and left me feeling breathless. The narrative begins in Queenie's point of view, as she writes to literally save her life as a prisoner of war in a French hotel that's been converted into a place of torture by the Nazis. Queenie oscillates between recalling what she knows of the wireless operators working for the Resistance and Ally forces--including their codes, locations, and activities--and details about her torment as a prisoner. As a once refined, upperclass student at Oxford, Queenie employs literary devices to dramatize her story for her captors, writing more than required. She also needs to write, to help her deal with her terrifying situation and to return to a time when she was still with her best friend, Maddie.

Maddie, the English pilot, is not refined. At a time when women were discouraged from flying--used only as a last resort--she just wanted the opportunity. Raised by grandparents who own a motorbike store, Maddie has her own motorbike (and independence) and quickly learns how to work on engines. Once her talents are recognized, she quickly becomes the go-to pilot for a French Resistance unit flying by moonlight on secret airfields getting people in and out of the country, not far from where her best friend is being held captive.
This book covers things that occurred during WWII that I didn't know about, and after reading books, granted only fictional ones, that cover that war, I thought I had a passing understanding of the period.  This novel proves to me the more you know the more there is to learn.  Anyway, I think this book will be (if it isn't already) short-listed for an award.  Indeed, the NYT's review ( hints that it could be a contender for the Prinz Award (aka "Michael L. Prinz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature").
Whew, what a book!  Do read the review which will explain more about why it's such a good book, and if you enjoy historical fiction (remember, this is fiction), try to get this one from your local library.  It's worth it.

 * The Kindertransport (children were taken by train - the transport) was a rescue mission mounted by Britain to save European children from death.  Before the war broke out, England managed to rescue 10,000 children who were placed with British families until the end of the war.  Unfortunately, the majority of those children were never reunited with their families because they had died in the war.   Again, if you're interested, look up "Kindertransport"; it's fascinating reading.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas from Nancy

The day before yesterday we found a package on our front stoop addressed to D from his sister Nancy.  It was from White Flower Farm, a purveyor of plants and related goodies, so we put it in the garage to stay cool until yesterday when he had time to open his gift (knowing that it was probably plant material we knew we couldn't wait until Christmas).

In the box, he found everything he needed for a terrarium, and I do mean everything.  I was too excited to take photos until he'd started planting, but here he is on his way.  First he laid down a layer of gravel and then some pellitized charcoal.  Next was soil that had been soaking up water while he completed the first steps.  At that point he unwrapped five plants and thought about how he would arrange them (yes, five plants!).

You can see he's on the fourth plant in the above picture.  You may notice that two of the plants have green and red coloration (and fern-like leaves), one has green leaves with white veining, there's a bromeliad in the center that is taller and has corn plant-like leaves, and the last plant is a "button"-leafed plant.  It's leaves are nicely rounded.  What a striking combination of plants!*

Gently pressing soil around the plant.  In the foreground of this photograph you can see the plant identifying sticks and the sheet of detailed, step-by-step instructions on the right and the top of the terrarium on the left.

Plant number five is being settled in place.  After this he was to put sand on the top of the soil for aesthetical reasons.  For those same reasons, he opted not to do that as he likes the more natural look of the dark, loamy soil (the sand was the color of curry powder).  I think the green of the plants against the backdrop of the soil is simply lovely.

Plant have been misted and encased in their new home.  D had a great time putting this together, and it was the first thing he checked this morning.  The glass had the hoped for light condensation on the interior, so we knew all was progressing as it should.
This was an inspired gift, Nancy!
*for those of you interested in plants, here are the "proper" names:
red and green plants: Selaginella sanguin erythropus 'Ruby Red Moss'
        the 2nd one's plant ID tag is missing, but I remember it, too, was a Selaginella
green leaf with white veining:  Fittonia (painted net leaf)
bromeliad: Bromelias Vriesea 'Kallisto'
button leaf: Pellaea rotundifolia 'Button Fern'

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Quilts Ready for Mailing!

It's a Banner Day!  All three quilt labels have been sewn on, and the quilts are ready to go.  As I sewed, I thought about the labels I used to make.  They were hand-drawn with a motif appropriate for the quilt and hand lettered with great care (did you know that for art students there is actually a class called "Lettering" which is required for freshmen?  Or there used to be.  Not my finest hour!).  Anyway, those labels took almost as long to make as the quilt.  Which is why not all of my quilts have labels (even though I really, really think labels are important!).  This label fabric by Timeless Treasures is a life saver; do buy it and use it.

Since I am sending these quilts to youngsters, sending books to go with them is a no brainer for me.  The "Wonders of the Deep" special edition of Life magazine will go with "Liquid Assets on the Loose", of course.  The coloring book is for the younger of the two little girls who are receiving the fairy quilts (though she's just 18 months old, she has to get something), and the alphabet book is for her older sister.   

I believe children can grow into books just as they can grow into clothes.  Hopefully, the little ones will like their packages, but I think their parents will be more interested than they will.  After all, what's exciting about a blanket?

Doesn't matter.  I loved making these quilts and thinking of the three little ones snuggled under them wrapped in my love.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Words of Wisdom and Binding

You'd think I'd learn by now, but clearly, it has - once again - taken family and friends to knock (though quite gently, I must say) some sense into my little pea brain.  If you're wondering what I'm talking about, think for a minute what you would have said to me after reading yesterday's entry, and then, read the comments on that entry.  What wonderful people I know; to you who took the time to try to point out the obvious, thank you!
 The magic in those words made me float through the day, and I finished binding both fairy quilts!  It must have been because I felt more relaxed, and I realized that what gets done gets done and what doesn't doesn't.  It's not a big issue.  What is important is, as I have said before but needed reminding, family and friends.  Even my painting teacher wrote and said that she's stopped beating herself over the head because she isn't painting regularly.  She said she is busy making gifts and baking and both of those activities are definitely creative, too.  Same kind of message, different approach. 
No photos of the quilts because although I used the same technique as I did on "Liquid Assets on the Loose", the result isn't dramatic.  This time the binding was not a solid color; it was multi-colored swirls of purples with silver forming the curlicues.  The thread I had chosen matched the swirls so the decorative stitch I had thought to use simply got lost on the material.  I still used an "embroidery" stitch but a far more simple one.  It's pretty because of the binding not the stitch, and that's okay by me (besides the simpler stitch went faster).  Tonight I wrote on the labels (fabric printed with labels - another grand time saver!), tomorrow I will cut them out, and then hand stitch to the back of the quilts.  When that is done they will be ready to take to UPS. 
I think that will call for at least one glass of wine - maybe two.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Holiday Frenzy - Again!

I'm back into my state of feeling completely overwhelmed by the amount of work I need to complete before the holidays.  It seems that no sooner do I start to get a rhythm going than something unexpected comes along to shut down that music entirely.  Tonight I almost fretted myself into a real state.
Before I could completely hyperventilate, though, I got out my calendar, crossed a few things off, made a phone call, and sent an e-mail.  I've also decided, that no matter how enticing invitations might seem, I will not accept any until a certain amount of work is done.  After all, if all the bindings (today I discovered that the bindings for the fairy quilts are too short and had to cut two more lengths - thanks to the goddess of math-challenged quilters I have enough fabric!) and labels aren't sewn on none of them can be mailed.  I'd hate to have one part of the family feel overlooked! 
Another thing I will do is ask D to help out by fielding phone calls from charities asking for help and by trying to keep all similar interruptions to a minimum.  He's good at that since he knows how those same calls disrupt his work flow.
And here's the frustrating thing - I've enjoyed every one of both the unscheduled and scheduled side steps I've taken!  You know, it just comes down to that age old question:  Why can't I do everything?