Saturday, December 22, 2012

Reindeer Sketches

Reindeer in Wappingers Falls?! Yes, really! Adams, my favorite place to buy most of our groceries, has had two real, live reindeer staying right at the store for the past month! They have a really nice enclosure, half inside, half outside, at the back of the semi-outdoor garden center, and they seem to really like having people visit to see them.

I went to Adams early this morning to do my Christmas dinner shopping, and spent close to an hour sketching the reindeer. These two are very social and friendly, and when the man who takes care of them went into their pen, they went up to him for attention. One of them, Star, affectionately rubbed her antlers against him and leaned up against him like a friendly dog. The other, Angel, was a bit reticent, but when he scritched her under the chin, she leaned into his hand and rolled her head back and forth the way Rowan does when I rub under his chin.

It was a bit of a challenge to sketch them, since they were fairly active, so I just got quick sketches done standing in front of their enclosure, bundled up with mittens (the kind that open so my fingers are free but thumb is still covered), trying to capture them whenever they stood still for a few seconds.

I did these the way I do bird sketches; I would start one sketch, then start another when the reindeer moved, then another, then back to one I'd already started when she returned to a position she had been in before, and so on. Fun, and keeps me looking closely at my subjects, so even though I don't come up with anything like a finished picture, I really enjoy the process.

When I came home I looked up some reindeer facts to learn more about them and wrote some of those on my pages.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Third Sunday of Advent- a Time of Grief

What does one write about two days after a terrible shooting that took the lives of so many young children and the teachers and administrators who taught and loved them? Little else has been on the minds of much of our nation since Friday. How do we look forward to Christmas in the face of our grief and anger? Joy and celebration are not what come to mind.

Like the rest of us, I have no answers for the many questions that hang in the air, that bombard our minds. I think of the parents and other family members of the victims, and I feel overwhelmed with sadness at the thought of their brokenness and overwhelming grief. I think of the gunman's family and how horrified and grieved they must be.

Like many, I can't help asking why God would allow this. As I pondered and grieved over the weekend, though, I kept coming back to the thought that God is grieving too. That doesn't answer the "why" questions, but it does show me God's heart. He created all life, carefully and lovingly forming each child and adult who lost their life in Sandy Hook on Friday. He has told us over and over to love our neighbors as ourselves, that by loving one another we both express and experience his love. And he must now be grieving that so much violence was done to those he loves and that so many others whom he loves are torn apart with grief.

Advent is a time when we remember God's gift of Jesus, his Son. He sent Jesus to live on earth to bring us God's Fatherly love. Jesus lived, sharing God's love and, in turn, he was violently killed. God knows the grief of losing his Son and he shares in the grief of those who mourn.

In Advent we are also reminded to look ahead to Jesus' return, when "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:17) We grieve deeply for what has happened and for the brokenness of this world, and we look for the hope that someday we will be comforted and all our tears wiped away.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent Musings- Week 2

Today is the second Sunday of Advent, and I was just sitting down to think about writing this when my mother-in-law called. When I told her what I was writing on, she said that she really likes Advent, but that it's hard to think about Advent when all around us is Christmas. 

I agree. We're surrounded by Christmas decorations, Christmas music, Christmas shopping advertisements, and Christmas planning. Advent reflection gets lost, as quietness often gets overwhelmed by the noise of our world. It's hard to settle into quiet when we're bombarded externally, and even more, internally, by noise and to-do lists, but the richness of life is not found in checking off to-do lists. 

Richness is found in relationships-- relationships with those we love, and most deeply in relationship with the God who made us and who loves us deeply. Without time and effort, relationships dwindle and become dry. Advent is a time set apart to enrich our relationship with God by preparing ourselves to receive his love revealed in Jesus. Last week we focused on our need for a savior and how Jesus came to be that Savior. Another way we can prepare ourselves is to meditate on who Jesus is and what it means that he is the Christ, which means Messiah or Anointed One.

Let's make some quiet moments for ourselves this week to ponder some passages of Scripture that speak to us of who Jesus is and what he does for us.  

Each day we’ll have a verse or verses to meditate on to expand our picture of what it means that Jesus is the Christ. Let’s dwell on these verses, perhaps printing them out or writing them down to read throughout the day, allowing them to give us a deeper knowledge of Jesus and thus a greater anticipation of his coming again.
Monday: The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
   the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord...Isaiah 11:2

Tuesday: The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
   because the Lord has anointed me
   to preach good news to the poor. Isaiah 61:1

Wednesday: He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives
   and release from darkness for the prisoners... Isaiah 61:1

Thursday: comfort all who mourn,
 and provide for those who grieve... Isaiah 61:2-3

Friday: to bestow on them a crown of beauty
   instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
   instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
   instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:3

Saturday: The first thing Andrew did was find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. John 1:41-42

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cooper Lake

Last week I went to visit a friend in Woodstock and spent some time before our visit at nearby Cooper lake. I was there a few years ago and did some sketching then and have been wanting to go back to enjoy the serene quiet and do some more sketching. This time it was very cold, so I only sketched briefly and didn't do any watercoloring, since the idea of water made me shiver more.

I sketched the view over the lake, then walked and ran a bit to try (in vain) to warm up, then had to stop and sketch a smooth and aged dead tree rising with dignity from a swampy area. Then on my way back to the car I spotted a Bald Eagle perched in a distant tree, but it was far and I was cold, so I didn't draw it.

My sketches from last week:

A watercolor I did last year from a photo:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sketching at home and out walking

I woke up feeling kind of on edge and crabby today, and this morning was perfect for being outside, so I headed out for the rail trail with Rowan and walked and sketched for a couple of hours. The morning and early afternoon were sunny and only slightly breezy, so perfect for being out enjoying it. By this afternoon the temperature was dropping, there were heavy dark clouds, and the wind was whipping the trees, so I'm glad I was home by then.

I also spent some time watching the birds at our feeders. These sketches are from yesterday and today.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Musings- Week 1

December-- a month of counting down shopping days till Christmas, rushing to get the tree and house decorated, and fitting in parties and other seasonal social events? Or a season that includes times of quiet reflection, of preparing to celebrate Jesus' birth, of anticipating his return some time in the future?

Today is the first day of Advent, and I am pondering how I will manage my schedule over the next few weeks. I know I'll be preparing gifts, and since most of those gifts will be paintings I do, I will be occupied with that for much of the month. I enjoy doing that, as long as I don't leave it all for the last week. I hope to invite friends over for tea at various times in the coming weeks. And I do also plan to decorate the house and the tree.

But those things are not my first thought as I look ahead toward Christmas. I know if I'm not careful, these good activities will fill all my time, and I'll miss what I most long for in the depths of my being--connection with Jesus.  Jesus, who was born to save us, so that we can live in relationship with God. Jesus, who came to earth in order to reveal God's great love for us. Jesus, who will someday come again to make everything whole and right.

Below is a daily prayer guide I wrote for this week, to help us draw apart from our busy schedules a little while each day for some quiet communion with our Lord. There's a verse or verses to meditate on each day, to ponder how it applies to us and what it reveals of Jesus. Let’s allow these verses to lead us into quiet communion with our Savior, so that we don’t forget him in the midst of this season that bears his name.

Monday: Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:4-5

Ask God to guide and teach you, so that you can fully experience the hope he is offering you.

Tuesday: Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the worst. 1 Timothy 1:15

Think about the sin that has separated you from God, and then thank Jesus for coming to set you free from that sin, opening the way for you to come into a loving relationship with God.

Wednesday:  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus... 2 Timothy 1:9-10

Meditate on the thought of Jesus Christ coming as a Savior, revealing God's grace for you.

Thursday: We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 1 John 4:14

Ponder the fact that Scripture is full of eyewitness accounts of Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection. 

Friday: He will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21

Let this verse run through your mind throughout the day, assuring you of the gift of salvation for all who put their trust in Jesus.

Saturday: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God... In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. Isaiah 40:1, 3-5

Meditate on and draw comfort from these timeless words of hope.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Small Works Exhibition at Barrett Art Center

Looking for small, affordable works of art for holiday gift giving? Barrett Art Center in Poughkeepsie, NY is having a Holiday Small Works Exhibition from Saturday, December 1st through Saturday, January 19th.

Opening Reception
Saturday, December 1, 3:00- 5:00
Barrett Art Center
55 Noxon Street
Poughkeepsie, NY

I have four watercolors and one charcoal piece in the exhibition. My sister, Jennifer Thompson, and I painted together when she was visiting after Thanksgiving, and her two watercolors will be in the show. We always enjoy painting or sketching together when we're together, and we encourage each other and share our work often. You can also see my friend Deb Townsend's encaustics and another friend, Patty Ten's, pastels in the show. I'm excited about exhibiting with friends and my sister and am looking forward to seeing the variety of artworks by many local and regional artists. Come on out and join us on Saturday afternoon!

"Winter Sparkle" The view out our front door on a sunny winter morning
"Winterberries" Berries on a shrub I planted for the birds

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Storm King Mountain Hike

Warm sunshine, muted fall colors, rocks to scramble up, leaves to slip on (Oops, be careful!). Today was one of those perfect fall days when one has to be outdoors enjoying it. After church Stephen and I went across the river to Storm King Mountain and hiked a loop over Butter Hill and around Storm King, where we enjoyed gorgeous views up and down the river and of Breakneck Ridge, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Fishkill Ridge across the river.

I started a new, hiking size (4" x 6") watercolor journal, that I plan to fill with views from hikes in the Hudson Valley. This first entry is a sketch of the view from the trailhead parking lot after our hike. I didn't sketch while we were hiking, because we weren't sure how long the hike would take, and we didn't want to be caught out on the trail after sundown.

(Click images to view them larger)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Moving and the Passage of Time

I walk in the bedroom and stop. There's just a rug, stretching out long on the cleanly swept floor. No beds, no dresser, no end tables. I go back into the dining area and kitchen; tables, chairs, and counters are piled high with old videos, puzzles, a hair dryer, pots and pans, even the yellow baby blanket I wrapped Arielle in 24 years ago.

My parents are selling their farm, and we're in the midst of sorting and packing. What are they keeping, what do each of us take for our homes, what goes in the yard sale? Much to do, decisions to make, too many questions. Moving is overwhelming.

Keeping busy tackling the to-do list occupies my mind, my energy, my time... and keeps my heart at bay temporarily. But when I step outside for a few minutes, I see the sun warming the tops of the hills across the field, the cows grazing, five crows flying over as they greet the morning, and my heart speaks up with an ache.

I've loved this place and will miss it very much, but that is only part of the ache. A bigger part is the unmistakable pain of the passage of time, with the knowledge that it will continue to pass and the fear of what that will bring.

The cows will have to move too, and they won't come back to this field, but they won't miss it. They will live and graze in another field, and they will be fine. We all will continue to live in other houses and we will be fine, but we will carry our memories as precious and grieve for what we no longer have. The cows live each day, eating, walking, and sleeping, and then they live the next day, eating, walking, and sleeping. They don't regret what has passed; they don't worry about what lies ahead. They eat, walk, and sleep.

We eat, walk, and sleep, also, but we look back and enjoy memories, but also count loss, and look ahead and fear more loss. Moving bolds and italicizes that "time is passing" and we cannot push it far from our minds, as we usually do with the routine tasks and chores of daily life, because the tasks and chores of today are the bold and italic markers of the passage of time.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven... Ecclesiastes 3:1

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Gray Day, a Gray Cat, and a Cup of Tea

Today is one of those chilly, autumn days when I'd like to just sit by my window with a hot mug of tea and read a book. I had other things to do today, but I did take some time to start my day quietly. Before turning on my computer, I made a pot of white tea, picked up sketchbook and pencil, and scooped Silver onto my lap.

With hot tea to warm me inside and sketchbook to help me see the beauty outside, I ran my fingers through the velvety warmth of Silver's fur, watching the Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches coming and going outside. The bird (and squirrel) traffic at the feeders was steady and enthusiastic, perhaps making up for lost time during the storm, perhaps just increasing because the days are getting cooler. I sipped my tea, sketched my birds, stroked my cat, starting my day with a few minutes that transformed the gray of the morning from dull to cozy.

Feeder visitors- blue gray colored pencil and ballpoint pen
Silver is curious, as always
She'd drink it if I let her, but now I won't! This cat is never boring.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Maine Retreat

Wrapped in the warmth of a wonderfully soft, fleece blanket, steaming mug of green tea in hand, I settled on the deck and watched. Watched Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches at the feeder just feet from me. Watched two loons swimming a ways across the lake. Watched the morning light transform the distant mountains from misty outlines to purple splendor to the full glory of fall colors.

So began my days last week while on retreat in a cabin on Wilson Lake in central Maine. This wasn't my typical solitary retreat, as I went with a close friend, but it also included time for private reflection, personal evaluation, and contemplation. How could one not become quiet and thoughtful before such a magnificent display of God's creation?

My friend Sarah and I took a week away as a writers' retreat, and write we did (and cook, and eat, and hike, and sit on the dock star-gazing, and canoe on the lake, etc). Every day we did one or more ten minute writing exercises, which we then shared and discussed. Those conversations led to discussions of our writing styles, subjects, and goals, and to mutual encouragement as we enjoyed each others' strengths in writing. Sarah made some long term plans and got a good start on her next writing project. I worked on various writings, including some memoir-type selections and a short article about how crating can be a stress-reducing haven for a dog, with my old dog Bilbo as an example. That article is posted on the My Smart Puppy blog.

As I always do on retreat, I spent much of my time in silence, sometimes reading, sometimes journaling-- either in my private journal or my artist's sketchbook/journal, and sometimes just quietly observing nature and musing. As I started this retreat, a friend, Cindy Steffen of the Prairie Pond Woods blog that I follow, emailed me some questions that she had recently used when she led a retreat, and I pondered and wrote on these questions throughout the week (the questions, with some modifications, come from the book The Questions of Jesus, by John Dear):
  • What are you thinking in your heart? (a clearing of the mind exercise)
  • What are you looking for? (passions? desires?)
  • What do you want me (Jesus) to do for you?
  • Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside? (dealing with integrity)
  • Will you lay down your life for me (Jesus)? (what does that mean, etc?)
  • What is your name? (playing with God's proclivity to rename and Jesus' to nickname)
As all retreats come to an close, this one did too, but, as usual, I have come home with an inner peace and quiet that has me listening more than speaking and that holds me calm and steady in the midst of the storm raging outside.

Lake Wilson Sunset (plein air watercolor)
Artist's journal pages (click to see larger image) 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Maine Colors-- Scenery and Birds

Today was one of those crystal clear days when I can't get enough of the fresh air, the sunshine, and the scenery. From the moment I woke up and looked out the window of my bedroom (the window is right over the bed, so I can look out without even sitting up), I was entranced with the colors. At first the sky was just brightening up and there was a long line of orange over the hills opposite our cabin. Soon the sky was a soft pinkish, with violet clouds across the lake and dusky rose-colored clouds over the mountains at the north end of the lake. All day long the lighting and colors shifted. I did several sketches as I sat and pondered the thoughts and questions that came to mind throughout the day.

Yesterday when Sarah and I were walking in some nearby fields, we saw our first Bohemian Waxwings-- a flock of about six were flitting from tree to tree! I have seen Cedar Waxwings many times, and when I saw these I thought at first that was what they were, but then I noticed the different color of the undertail coverts and the white on the wing edges. Their voice is also a bit different. While we were watching these pretty birds, a Bald Eagle soared far overhead and disappeared into the colors of the hills.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Maine Night Sky

The Big Dipper hung huge above the far side of the lake, each star punctuating the indigo of the night sky. I followed the end of the dipper out to the North Star-- bright and clear, with every point of the Little Dipper visible. 

When I woke during the night last night, I lay on my bed in this beautiful rental cabin on a lake, looking out at stars more numerous and twinkling with more brilliance than I have seen in a long time. I couldn't sleep for some time, but I didn't mind; it was worth a few hours of lost sleep for the opportunity to savor the tapestry before me. Opening my window, I lay listening to the lapping of waves against the dock, while filling my soul with the light from above-- a wonder-filled night.

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee; 
how great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Thursday, September 20, 2012


My dear friend Ann passed away recently. Ann was one of the building blocks of who I am, not in large dramatic ways, but in so many small ways that, when I think about it, I see her imprint all over my days, affecting in some way or another how I raised my children, how I relate to Stephen, the ways I pray and meditate on Scripture, my willingness (that has never come naturally) to speak up when someone is headed for trouble.

Ann and I met shortly after she moved to the Ithaca, NY area, when she came to our small house church one evening. I don’t remember first meeting her, but I would guess that she introduced herself to me—she is far more sociable than I, and I was probably hanging back, a bit shy and reserved. Right from the start, she became family to us, mostly as a much-needed source of wisdom and encouragement to me, a young wife and expectant mother at the time, but also a warm and loving person in our children’s younger years, and a fun, wise friend for all of us. One of my children said he always had a sense of “her support, and a sense of her love, faith, and very profound kindness when she visited. It seems like she was like an aunt or grandmother to us…”

And there’s so much more—Ann's openness to reading all sorts of books and the many recommendations she passed on to me, both classic literature and interesting new books on all sorts of topics. We probably talked about what we were each reading in every conversation we had. The fun we had cooking together in my kitchen when she would visit, companionably sharing life. The wonderful stories of her children and extended family members, most of which in some way or another exemplified God's faithfulness and Ann's trust in him. Her insights into each of my children’s personalities and strengths and into mine as well.

It wasn't that we always saw things the same way, because we didn't. Ann was adventurous in her thinking and attitudes, while I am more skeptical and cautious by nature, but we always loved and respected each other and were always interested in each others’ thoughts. To hear that she is no longer here is hard to believe and very hard to accept. I will miss her always, but will always carry with me some of the ways she influenced my life and who I am.

Perhaps foremost, Ann’s example of faith, no matter the circumstances, influenced me deeply and helped me grow in trusting and loving God. She was never without Jesus, not just in the sense that he was always with her as he is with all believers, but also in the way she was constantly aware of his presence and in open, easy communication with him. I got to know him better through spending time with Ann. Perhaps that is what I will miss the most. Ann’s wonderful smile must be brightening heaven now and I look forward to a joyful reunion when I see her again. We will have much to catch up on.

This passage comes to mind when I think of Ann and her abiding faith in God:

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;

    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to go on the heights.
                                    Habakkuk 3: 17-19

Here are a couple of poems that Ann wrote on scraps of paper when she was visiting us:

Crocuses Beneath the Snow

Crocuses beneath the snow, 

      do you know- do you know
How near is the sun,
That winter is done,
And you will tiptoe forth
With a sudden golden sound,
Crocuses beneath the snow,
      Do you know?     3/21/89

Hemingway’s Heroes

Hemingway’s heroes move me, but not in
the way you might think;
His lovers don’t move me to love-
            His drunkards don’t move me to drink;
With his anglers I’ll not go a fishing,
            With his hunters not follow the trail;
His men can have all of his women,
            His women each bull fighting male.
His boxers can box themselves silly,
toss each other right out of the ring;
When they land with a thud in a puddle of blood
I personally don’t feel a thing.
Yet Hemingway’s heroes move me to
            Cry out with all of my might,
“If I earnestly try, I wonder if
            I like Earnest could learn to write.
(written July 1999?)
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