Over 10 years ago

… You know how WordPress (and other sites) love to tell you how many years you’ve been doing a thing (or how many months).  So I went back to the beginning, and looked at my first post on this little site. And it seemed pretty simple… I was adjusting to extra time, living in a new place, learning a new rhythm. And from that “really simple” post, we’ve had:

A lot has been going on behind the scenes here, and through it all it’s been interesting to see what people find via search engines, or what posts get comments. Many of my posts were written with this grey sweetheart sitting on my lap (long gone, safe from the terrors of the Kitten).  But I think his philosophy still stays true, 10 years later: Happiness can be simple. At least from the cat perspective, we just need to find the right spot.

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His Most Serene Fluffybutt enjoying the sun porch

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Places That Aren’t

Street-signs-in-Ellicott-CityIt’s an odd thing when you look through your photos from 8 years back, and realize that several of the places you photographed (because of beautiful light, or a wonderful moment) don’t exist anymore. But the decimation that hits areas after floods or tornados reshuffles memory.

Was something really there, or was it a pleasant memory that you misplaced … and it really wasn’t on the street you remembered?  Photos I have of Ellicott City, MD are dimmed by this odd out-of-body sense that what I photographed has become a faint memory for everyone.

Places I have loved have been changed by construction: McMansions built where a Century Farm was, or the removal of several city blocks to make way for a thruway. I have been turned around in my home town because 275 year old landmarks have been removed for “progress”.

Losing people, the historical narrative of your family, friends or beloved pets is worse, at least from my limited experience.  Even though the loss of place seems small potatoes in today’s news cycle, the places that aren’t still tug at my heartstrings and haunt my dreams.

 

 

Traveling by Memory

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Nebraska in watercolor pencil, and supposedly waterproof ink…

Lately, I’ve been daydreaming about trips I’ve taken around North America. Trips up to Connecticut, daytrips to regional parks in Pennsylvania, the long trek down coast to the bottom tip of North Carolina, and family journeys up to Stratford, Ontario, Canada so we could see Shakespeare in the round. The trips to Canada always had a special day when we tried to buy whatever we could with our last remaining currency before coming back to the States. Lovely times spent in parks eating the apples or plums we had bought, prior to crossing the border where they would become contraband.

One year, I drove solo across Nebraska to Colorado for a conference. I kicked myself for not scheduling more time; once I found a park where there were sightings of wildlife, I wanted to do an early morning vigil, looking for the Prairie Chicken. The drive was dreamlike: long stretches of road, with 2 stops for museums, meals, and to sleep in a clean hotel. I managed to avoid the traffic near Lincoln (big football game), had one of the best steak dinners ever in Kearney, and drove up into the foothills near Denver as the sun was setting. While I drove over the flat earth, with the mountains off in the distance, I could see movement out of the corner of my eye. And I thought, what the heck is that… ants on my window?

The ants continued to grow, and I thought, maybe those are a line of cars on a road…. But they were too even, with too little light between them.

And the road grew larger, until I could see that parallel to my road, but looking like they were going to cross on the horizon, was a line of rail cars following a line of tracks that was hidden partially by the optics of the dirt and scrub. Maybe 30? Maybe more. They seemed to shimmer in the heat.

The other day I drew what I saw in my memory, imperfectly. I’m beginning to feel like I need to sketch some of the places I’ve been, to relive how wonderful they were. So, if you were going to memorialize a trip…. what trips have you taken that you daydream about months or years later?

Journal ponderings

Years ago, I kept journals, mostly working thru the processes of: getting through school, adjusting to a messy adulthood (my 20s were intense), and moving sideways into a career. Now, I have a mix of (1) sketch notebooks, (2) basic notebooks (for writing notes during meetings), and (3) notebooks where I jot down notes for short stories. I’m starting to think again about combining category 1 and 3.

My notebooks are motly for my eyes. They are not as amazing and beautiful as these notebooks by artist José Naranja. Check out these links:

…..and get inspired.

Getting stitchy with it

pjs-fish.jpgI’m sewing up a pair of comfy pjs, using fish-patterned fabric. Unfortunately no serger or attachment for my old Singer to allow me to do an overlock stitch or zigzag*, so I’ve been doing some of the finishing stitches by hand, based on a couture book. But legs are very, very long, as is the outside hem, so I’ve been making up new words for this Fresh Prince classic while I stitch**, and “getting stitchy with it”. It’s taking a while, but better to handstitch on this than work on my knit lace shawl while my gauge is off.

Pattern: Kwik Sew K3602. The fabric is new to me: a stretchy knit cotton. So I’m trying my best to get a hang of it, mostly because I fell in love with the fish.

*Yes, I know I can buy attachments that can go on my model 404 Slant Needle, but part of me wishes I knew where I’d stored the original that came with my machine. I found the buttonhole attachment, and I’m thrilled.

**All apologies to the writer of the original tune. Bet they never thought something as uncool as this could happen, and now I’m imagining a retirement community where this and other music (LL Cool J, Salt ‘n’ Peppa, Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, Coolio, Madonna and Aerosmith) is piped into the dining halls. Hopefully there will either be a quiet room, or you can upgrade to classical, choral, or jazz on days when you’re not feeling up to 80s and 90s pop. [For those of you who do dystopian fiction, I think that’s a writing assignment in and of itself. What will we grimly to cling to with nostalgia as the world changes, and who else will be impacted by this choice?]

 

Musical Interludes

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“Piano Bench”, by Cory Holt. Benches by the Bay, Sturgeon Bay

I’m in between concert performances with the chorus, although there will be runouts to sing some of the same pieces. There were 2 lovely formal concerts, but I think we left every emotion and bit of energy onstage.

We managed to not weep along with the audience during Ryan Murphy’s “A Lullaby” (link to video of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing it is here). I managed not to tear up while singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (thinking about a family member who loved Kate Smith). We didn’t clash while singing the a capella “My Spirit Sang All Day” by Gerald Finzi (in practice it felt like we sometimes verbally collided or tripped over triplets).

Now, I need brain bleach to get the songs out of my head. Between listening to Big Band music, Ola Gjeilo’s beautiful work, and a Fountains of Wayne album (link is to an NPR tiny desk concert), I’m slowly getting out of performance mode and back to normal. I’ll take the tuxes to the cleaners and relax into a sort of post-performance melancholy. While we’re talking about music to kick away the blues, check out Jenny and the Mexicats in this NPR tiny desk concert.

Anyone else in a community chorus? Any ideas how to deal with the let-down blah feeling afterwards?

 

The Power of Art Supplies

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Sometimes, during rainy days, I practice using print materials.

Never underestimate the power of art supplies to allow kids to dream, teens to learn, and adults to grow. In college, I started out as an art major then switched degrees (keeping the art minor). I’ve carried what I learned from the classes (skills and a sense of space) along to every workday. I am not a professional artist.

But I still take tiny art vacations that allow me to reset my creative soul / sense of self / internal rhythm.

I’ve suggested taking art vacations to people who felt stressed, and one of the people I spoke with at a conference said, “That sounds interesting, how do you do that?” I had to stop and explain a little, but it occurs to me that busy professionals might want to take a mental vacation from their work cell phones. So let’s all unplug and focus on the page.

Gather your supplies prior to your next work trip, day trip or vacation. Like fishers collecting their gear or a photographer getting her kit together…

  • Pencils (2B are fine, as are colored pencils — but make sure you have eraser and a sharpener)
  • Pens (some people use ballpoints; you can also use markers or a Sharpie)
  • If you have watercolors, a brush, and watercolor paper, bring them along (along with a plastic cup for water)
  • Grab a leftover pad of sketch paper, plain paper, or recycling paper
  • Bring a list of parks and museums near your hotel
  • A bag to carry your supplies

Here’s the beauty of an art vacation: you don’t need to be a serious artist. It’s a vacation, where you use a different part of your brain.

If it’s raining, go to a museum and find something that inspires you that’s close to a bench. Draw what you’re looking at, or jot down images of how a painting makes you feel. Museums often have policies about the use of pen or marker, but you can always play around with your pencils and fill in with ink later.

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Quick sketches don’t have to be perfect; you can also snap a photo to sketch later.

If the weather is good, grab your hat and something to sit on, and sketch whatever interests you. If you want to experiment with watercolors, try wetting the paper with a brush and flowing the colors behind your pencil sketch. If your pen has waterproof ink, experiment with drawing in the sketch in the foreground, once the background is dry.

When I go on my vacations, my kit is normally packed from weekend day trips. My sketchbooks are a jumble of watercolor samples (mixing paint), ink drawings of the neighbors’ houses, colored pencil doodles of flowers at a historical museum, smudgy pencil sketches from a tavern in Europe. I challenge myself to at least a half to full hour of sketching during a trip, so I have a break from driving or talking with family. Experiment with what works for you.

Mostly: Have fun. Borrow your kids’ art supplies, and experiment. No one’s grading you, and you just may rekindle some of the joy from school art day.


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