Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tea with Bilbo

Bilbo watched me expectantly, his stub tail wagging, as I put the kettle on, took a mug out of the cupboard, and rustled in the tea cabinet. He knew what that meant: time for afternoon tea. Bilbo, a rescue Australian Shepherd with an unknown history, had a tendency to become anxious if anything in his routine changed. And, of course, most routine went out the window for our family of five during holidays, with three active teenagers and their friends in and out of the house. Add to that my tendency to become stressed during the holidays, and neither Bilbo nor I was a happy camper.

One year, as Bilbo’s anxiety mounted and my holiday-related stress rose, an idea occurred to me. Why not share a cup of tea with Bilbo? I started making a pot of chamomile tea each afternoon, knowing the calming qualities of chamomile, and looking forward to a few quiet moments for myself. Very soon, Bilbo and I were both looking forward to this daily interlude of quiet connection in a busy time of year. I’d make the pot of tea, pour some in a bowl and add a couple of ice cubes, pour myself a steaming mugful, then give Bilbo his tea at my feet, while I sat in my rocker with mine. He would lap, I would sip, and both our stress would retreat for a time. After drinking his tea, Bilbo would settle with a sigh, always touching one of my feet. I would sit quietly so as not to disturb him, and we would enjoy a few moments of quiet connection.

Each dog has given me different gifts; one of Bilbo’s gifts to me was a way to slow down and enjoy simple peace and quiet in the midst of holiday stress. Bilbo is long gone, but those quiet moments shared over a cup of tea are some of my most precious memories of him.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Walk in the Woods with a Child

I recently came across the following poem that my Grandmother wrote many years ago, after walking with me in the woods behind our home one day.  I think I was probably about eleven, when Gramummy asked me to take her for a walk in our woods and show her some of my favorite places. (At that time I spent most of my free time exploring our woods and the 750 acre sanctuary beyond our stone wall.) I remember the joy I felt at the opportunity to share my wonderful world and point out the little signs of the wildlife I loved. I didn't know Gramummy had written about our walk until years later, after she had died, so it was a special gift to receive this poem.

Walk in the woods with your children
And learn the wonders of God.
I walked in the woods with Melissa
And heard the song of a bird,
I saw the print of a field mouse
And smelled the scent of the wood.
I felt the presence of creatures
That gave perspective to man
And yearned for the power of childhood
To know God's miraculous plan.

                         Edith D. Beach

This Barred Owl reminds me of one early morning years ago, when Jonathan, Arielle and I got up before dawn and went out into the woods to observe and sketch. We were thrilled to find a Barred Owl posing beautifully in a tree, and we stood for a long time admiring and sketching him.

Riga Falls, where I sat on the damp woods floor and sketched with my nephew Felix last summer

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Babycakes Cafe Exhibition

Babycakes Cafe in Poughkeepsie, NY offers space for local artists to hang their work, and my work will be there through the month of December. I'm delighted at the opportunity to exhibit my work locally, and Babycakes has become one of Steve's and my favorite spots to go for an evening out dinner date. Arielle and I have also been there for brunch, and so far everything I have tried there has been delicious.

Here are some of my watercolors you can see at Babycakes.



Surveying His Kingdom

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blue Ridge Thanksgiving

We met up with most of Stephen's family for Thanksgiving last week in Buchanan, Virginia, a quiet, artsy, rural town in western Virginia. The James River flows by one side of the town, and the town is flanked by both the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Mountains-- a beautiful place. It was a wonderful time of family fun, hiking, game playing, laughter, and catching up with each other- a perfect Thanksgiving.

The last day we were there, Jonathan and I went up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, pulled off at the first scenic overlook, and sat on the sidewalk absorbing the view and talking about his life in seminary, while I sketched the view.

After we went back to the James River Inn where we were staying, I did another painting loosely based on my plein air sketch.

The evening before we left, I took our three dogs out for a walk along the river and was treated to a gorgeous sunset with pink and purples and golds coloring sky and river and leaving a glow on everything else. I had neither my camera nor my sketchbook with me, so I did my best to commit the scene to memory, and then I painted it when we got back to the inn. I want to do more painting from memory, both as an art exercise and a memory exercise.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Berkshire Break

I visited a friend earlier in the week in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains, and had a wonderfully refreshing break from my busy schedule. Her house overlooks a wooded valley bordered by soft mountain views. The fall colors are mostly past, but the reddish brown of oaks remains, dotted with the blue green of pines and spruces.

I spent a leisurely morning painting the landscape from the dining room, as it was drizzly and chilly outside. Clear sunny days may be spectacularly beautiful, but I especially love the soft, quiet beauty of a misty, wet day in the mountains, and that's what we had.

After a morning of painting, my friend and I hiked through neighboring fields, which were carpeted with thyme-- such a delightful fragrance! In the afternoon, when the rain had stopped, we relaxed in the hot tub on the deck, enjoying the fresh air, the beautiful scenery, and the hoots of owls calling to one another in the nearby trees. A perfect day away!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Darkness and Dawn

Opening my eyes, I gazed at the dawn-streaked, still-dark sky, bare trees standing in tall silhouette, with neighbors'  lights twinkling through the woods. I headed straight for my studio, but kept the lights off and stood at a window, studying each tree's shape, lingering on the many small branches and twigs revealing its unique "fingerprint" in the sky.

I cherish these minutes before sunrise, when the woods and trees and birds all seem to be holding their breath in anticipation of what is to come. Quiet moments when the day's work has yet to begin, and the night's softness blankets the world outside my door. Lights still off, I took up my brushes in the quiet studio and started transferring darkness and light to paper-- a reminder of magical moments filled with hope. The beginning of a new day.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Recent Thoughts and Works

I've been quiet for a while for a variety of reasons. Mostly, I miss Bituminous, and although he isn't on my mind all the time anymore, every time I have come to my blog to post something, I would see my post about him and have to go do something else. It's amazing how such a small creature can have such a large presence, and that presence is still very much missed.

I've also been quite occupied with dogs to train, and that has been good, but does make it hard for me to find the chunks of time I need in order to get into a writing frame of mind. This past week, though, I took a complete break from facebook, and that has made a huge difference. Even though I wasn't spending a great deal of time on facebook, the time I was reading there was having a somewhat scattering effect on my thoughts. Staying away from it freed my mind up in ways I hadn't expected. I found myself much calmer and more settled inside, and I was able to work much more efficiently and enjoyably, whether at writing, housework, or correspondence. Although I will be visiting facebook, I am planning to carefully monitor and limit my time there.

I have been painting as I have had time and opportunity, especially outside when weather has permitted (which hasn't been all that often, between summer heat that extended into fall, then nonstop rain, then a heavy October snowstorm!). Unlike facebook, painting has a calming effect on me, and I almost always feel better for having taken time to paint, no matter how my paintings turn out.

Here is a sampling of my paintings and sketches from the past three months:

Riga Falls-- Plein Air Sketch

Stump -- Sepia Graphite
Harvest Moon

Rocky Mountain National Park- Charcoal Study

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Blessing Named Bituminous

A lapful of love, a warm chin in my elbow, a soft paw tapping my chest, green eyes gazing into mine. This was Bituminous for many wonderful years.
This morning his time ran out, and I let him go peacefully before he lost his peace in this life. He snuggled his cheek into my hand right up to the end, enjoying my gentle love that wanted to keep him forever, but even more wanted for him to never know the suffering that would have come soon due to his failing body.
My Bituminous—a mighty hunter in his younger years; a friend small in stature but great in trust; a beloved member of our family for over eighteen years. Somehow, because he had beaten the odds so many times over the years, I thought he would keep on going forever.
I learned much from my little friend. Early on he showed me what trust looks like. I remember stepping outside before bed and calling him to come inside. The night was black and so was he, and all was silent. Then a small piece of the night would step into the circle of light spilling from the windows, and Bituminous would come running joyfully to me from the darkness. A small creature, less than one tenth my size, hurrying toward me without hesitation, with perfect trust. From him I learned to have a greater trust in God, who is so much greater than I.
In recent years Bituminous has helped me learn to slow down and savor quiet moments. Over the past few years I have spent many happy hours with my warm cat on my lap, with him sleeping or watching me, and me reading or watching his calm breathing. Life slowed down as I stepped out of the rat race, into peaceful reflection and silent connection that enriched my days and helped me grow into the person I am today.
Thank you, Bituminous, for the gifts you brought me. You were a gift in every way.

Duck Pond Gallery

On Saturday my first solo exhibition opened at Duck Pond Gallery in Port Ewen, NY. The opening reception was a great evening with friends and family from near and far in attendance--such an affirming and encouraging time! Many more people were there than I expected, including some we hadn't seen in years, so it was a time of one joyful surprise after another as people walked in the door. I also especially enjoyed seeing various circles of my life meeting in one place-- family, dog community friends, art friends, church friends, and home schooling friends. In addition, I met several artists whom I am looking forward to getting to know.

I have fifty-one paintings on exhibit, including birds, other wildlife, dog portraits, landscapes, and a few florals and winter trees. It was certainly exciting for me to see my work framed and hanging in one place, and I am even more motivated to keep on painting and expanding my skills and my horizons as an artist.

I owe a very big thank you to all the people who have encouraged and supported me along the way and helped me get to this point. Without their input, I would not yet be exhibiting my artwork.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Playing with Summer Color

I've been busy preparing for my first solo art show (more on that in an upcoming post), but yesterday I had to take a break to enjoy the vibrant colors of summer. Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea) and Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia)are blooming profusely in my garden so, as the sun was strong and the temperature was in the nineties, I cut a few and brought them into the relative cool of my studio to paint.

I just played with water and color on my paper, not worrying about detail or precision, merely attempting to capture the lively, bright feel of the blossoms. I didn't want the beauty of summer to pass without me taking at least a few hours to saturate myself with it and relax with a brush in my hand as I captured some moments of fleeting color.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Another 10 minute writing:

A Color

Brown—a rich, nourishing color. The color of soil when it’s full of organic matter, ready to supply life to all manner of plants and trees.

When I put on my brown shirt I can slip silently out of sight. No one can find me unless I wish to be seen. But I am not merely unseen by people; I could use grey for that. In brown I fit into another world—the world of trees and earth and wild animals. Of rocks in the creek, bright with sunlight dancing through the water, making rich and alive the varied browns of the creek bed.

I am present in time and place, not pushed and pulled in the often confusing world of people. My brown shirt is like a mantle of calm that allows me to step out from under so much that jars and rattles.

I smile inwardly when wearing brown; I am in a world that makes sense and I can be me.

And now I shall put on my brown shirt and step out of sight…

Monday, July 25, 2011

Brief Writings

A friend and I have been doing some quick writing exercises, then discussing them. We each pick a topic (perhaps just a word to use as a jumping off place) and each write on both topics. Each topic has had either a ten minute or twenty minute limit, so there's no time for careful planning or for editing. Afterward, we discuss what we've written. It's been fun, great for jump-starting writing ideas that could often be expanded, and often leads to some surprising thoughts, images, and insights in both the writing and the ensuing discussion. Here are a few of the pieces I've written.

Face to Face with an Animal (10 minute writing)

He alights on my shirt front and looks up at me, bright, black eyes fixed on my amazed, brown eyes. Time stands still as we connect across seven inches, across species, even across class- bird and mammal. He a tiny Black-capped Chickadee, I an adult human being.

An intricate creation, perfectly formed, independently functioning, or at least as independently as any of us can imagine ourselves to be. I wonder if he realizes that every breath is a gift. No, he wouldn’t realize it, but he does live it-- living each moment fully in the present, trying, learning, repeating, and finally trusting.

And I am overwhelmed by this gift of trust, given so gently, so much at risk if I were to prove false. Trust—a precious thing to give and to receive. I receive it from the tiny bird; I give it to his Creator and mine, he who made both the bird and me, and on whose hand I alight and rest.

A Joyous Childhood Moment
(10 minutes)
I bounded through the front door and turned a somersault , then rolled on the large Oriental rug in the entryway. Energy overflowing, I did another somersault, then leaped up and looked out the French doors, beyond the brick terrace, past the dogwoods clothing the hill in pink and white splendor, and to the soft, blue hills in the distance. I look down at my legs and smile. The soft blue denim with white stitching was magical, giving me strength and skill and possibility.

My first pair of blue jeans opened a new world to me, and I knew inside that I could do anything and go far. They made me feel free in a way I hadn’t felt before. Someday I would walk into those hills, those blue hills that beckoned to me every day.

Rest (10 minute writing)

Oh, thank you! I hold out my hands, palms up, to receive the gift, and embrace it with a sigh of gratitude.

Rest— my body, but even more my soul is renewed in times of quiet. Quiet, but it might not be still time—perhaps hiking in the woods, invigorated by the lack of social pressure and by stretching my legs and pushing my body. That may not be rest for some, but for me it is as though fresh life is being pumped through my veins.

With each step I take, my vision of who I am comes into clearer focus—ageless, clean, made of joy. Sight unobscured, I see; ears clear, I hear. I breathe deeply and am filled with boundless energy, with overflowing peace, with bubbling joy, with deep gratitude.

Sensory Input at this Moment (10 minutes)

Hard metal presses against my seat, my feet, my back, slightly softened by the towels with which I’ve covered the deck chairs. The hum of air conditioners fades in and out of my awareness but is always there, as is the sound of distant traffic.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker churrs from my left across the stream. On all sides I hear the tapping, tweeting, chirping, rattling, and singing of birds—so delightful! Dog toenails click on the deck , then soft fur brushes the underside of my knees.

Colors are muted by humidity and by the heavy cloud cover; that softens the greens and makes them all alike. A hummingbird hovers briefly by the dogwood, then vanishes.

The freshness of mint, the jungle-scent of thyme waft by, the blue tartness of my morning berries lingers in my mouth. This is morning on my deck… thus my day begins.

Growth (10 minutes)

They stretch and push, then pop out of the ground and surge upward, reaching toward the light, spreading leaves outward and skyward to catch the sun.

I was watching some awe-inspiring time-lapse photography of seeds germinating and growing into strong, young seedlings. Growth—amazing to see and inspiring to watch.

But growth isn’t always so clearly visible. In fact, sometimes it isn’t even discernible until seen in retrospect. Nor is it always lovely and awe-inspiring to watch. More often than not it’s a messy, halting, sometimes painful process.

Beauty out of ashes, and those ashes seem to be all one sees for quite a while. Even once the beauty can be seen, the smudge of ashes remains for quite some time, perhaps to remind of us whence we came. Is that so that we don’t take the beauty for granted but remain aware of the process? Or perhaps so that the next time we or someone else is struggling to emerge from the ash heap, we can hold out hope that they or we can grow toward upward and someday stand tall in the light.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Musings and Doodlings from the Great Smoky Mountains

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2

My mind mused often on Psalm 121 as I gazed at the ever-changing, always majestic, mountain view from the deck of our rental house on the side of a mountain in Tennessee last week. We had a wonderful week that included time with all three of our children and time to hike, as well as to rest, read, paint, and ponder. Rather than retelling the story of our time there, I'm posting photos of my trip journal pages, so you can join with me in my enjoyment of the mountains. These are not polished paintings and carefully selected words, but rather my on-the-spot musings and doodlings from the deck or by the side of waterfalls and other places in the park. (Click on images to enlarge them)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Some Recent Paintings

It's been a while since I've posted much art work. I slipped into a bit of a painting slump after Steve's father died in January, and I'm only just getting back into the groove. It's not that I didn't paint all winter-- I did, but most of what I painted just didn't turn out. It's interesting to see how much one's emotional state impacts artistic expression. I've always known it does, but it's hard when one is stuck in the midst of it. I was feeling somewhat aimless and generally sad, and my paintings seemed to be without focus or feeling of life. I have also found it hard to write, I suspect for similar reasons. Doing a couple of pen & ink drawings was helpful in getting me jump started painting again; getting lost in the small details pulled me into a different place and restored my confidence and enthusiasm.

Here are the pen & ink drawings I did.

And a couple of paintings I did of Milo. He always makes me laugh with his antics, and his wagging tail cheers me no matter how down I might feel, so painting him often lifts my spirits.

These Chickadee are two of my beloved little friends who eat from my hand

And this is Jade, the Mallard Drake who visits our stream with Agate, his pretty mate, every spring. I did this from a photo Jonathan took many years ago, so our springtime visitor this year may be a son or grandson of Jade, but the Mallards visit without fail for a few days every spring, then go elsewhere to nest.

I seem to be back into a painting mode and am eager to pick up my brushes and play with color again. This afternoon I will be painting with a friend in her garden full of beautiful flowers, so perhaps I'll be posting flower paintings soon.
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