Posts Tagged 'travel'

Enjoying summer while we may

IMG_4538 beachThe weather has been oddly monsoon-like. Someone told me there’s a layer of wet air (like a river) being pulled up the coast. So, while the UK discovers forgotten landmarks due to the heat crisping all the verdant green, we have rain everywhere, as well as mosquitoes and air too humid for jam to set. If we have your weather, Columbia, we’re sorry, and we’d send it back to you if we knew how.

Before this week+ of wet weather, there was a brief jaunt out to the shore, and a bit of sitting on the beach. We saw a Fowler’s Toad (I think) unbury itself from the sand near the dunes, and then bury himself again. Guess he didn’t want to sit near us.

The Power of Art Supplies


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.


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.

Reading (and traveling): My Antonia by Willa Cather

Red barn near Lincoln. Go cornhuskers, go!

Red barn near Lincoln. Go cornhuskers, go!

Earlier in the month, I was driving through Nebraska, and decided to avoid the University of Nebraska game (traffic around Lincoln is normally pretty calm, unless everyone is driving to the game with red N pennants waving from their windows).

I looped down to Red Cloud, not far from Kansas’ border, to see the landscape described in Willa Cather’s novel, My Ántonia. If you haven’t read it (either because it wasn’t in your high school curriculum, or you didn’t grow up in the USA), this slim book is worth trying if for nothing else to give a sense of the open expanse, and lonely beauty of the land the author grew up surrounded by. It is interesting to see how the people of Red Cloud peopled many of Willa Cather’s most memorable stories. (Can’t figure out if the people in the stories were long past, or if anyone felt nervous being friends with her, with her ability to transform local gossip into stories.)

I started rereading My Ántonia prior to setting off on my journey, and it was lovely to be see the landscape scroll out in front of me while I drove. One of my cousins had mentioned that many of the people of Nebraska were leaving the areas where their ancestors had homesteaded, and were deserting the land for the cities. And Red Cloud seemed no different, although possibly everyone was watching the Cornhusker game. On a Saturday afternoon, their downtown looked deserted and there were few options for lunch until I got further north above Division street. I was too late to get into the Cather Childhood home, but I had a lovely time exploring the Red Cloud Opera House, and driving around town to see the different locations mentioned in the Willa Cather Foundation Town Tour. The people who work in the Willa Cather Foundation were lovely, and helped me to find a copy of One of Ours, Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that seems to be unobtainable elsewhere. Link to a virtual Catherland here:, where you can virtually visit the prairie at dawn, or look inside the Cather childhood home from your own living room.

It’s hard to explain the appeal of the prairie. Most places in Nebraska have planted redcloudprairietrees to remind people of the Europe or eastern US they left for homesteading. There are few trees, maybe a few cottonwoods, and the hot wind from Kansas buffets you as the temperature rises to 100 degrees F. There isn’t a person to be seen if you go down a hill away from the highway.  But here is the landscape as it was, with prairie chickens that dance in the early morning, and a world filled with relentlessly blue skies above. Regret: I wish I had thought to find a closer hotel, so I could have gone out there to stay for the sunset and watch the stars come out.

If you want a unique visit to an author’s house, Red Cloud and the prairie provides a place that is still rooted in the world that the author wrote about. Filled with grit blown by the wind, tucked away, and worth the drive.


One of my favorite museums in the Midwest had their Misommar festival this weekend. And I’m stuck in hot, uncomfortable Maryland. Although I did get to perform in church, and do some knitting today — so gently festive.

I need to plan these things better. Maybe next year, I should try to organize a family trip over to Sweden itself…. Or at least manage to get up to Philadelphia for August’s crayfish festival? I’d take a day off from work for that. So how are you planning your summertime?

Happy longest day of the year.

Spring has sprung

There are slow motions toward spring cleaning. Emphasis on the “slow”.

It’s hard to work up enthusiasm for cleaning while the outdoors is so beautiful….

Blooms at the arboretum

Blooms at the arboretum

We went to the US National Arboretum last weekend, before the weather turned cold again. There were so many people hiking, basking in the sun, and taking photos. The azalea gardens are a great draw, and they have already started.

We did not see the latest attraction — the bald eagle’s nest — because the roads were closed off to pedestrians and cars, to protect the new pair. It’s been about 70 years since there was a nest at the arboretum, so they’re being quite thorough (including volunteers guarding the roadways to keep us tourists out).

The bees made up for no sightings of eagles on wing. I caught a photo bee-2015-natlarboretumof one in the ornamental quince bush in the Chinese gardens.

A bit like Castrovalva

Up on the hillside behind the hotels and restaurants are the rose gardens of a monastery, a castle, a deer preserve — all on terraces.

RapperswilEverything seems circular — up a long staircase cut into the hill, and you’re up past the monastery and into the castle grounds, then to a church, and then back down to the main part of town. I only had a day to myself, unfortunately, but I managed to get out of Zurich so I could see some of the country. The older part of Rapperswil-Jona felt a bit like Castrovalva in Dr. Who (probably due to all the different steps going up and down, and the circular terraces), only without the Master hiding somewhere. There’s an island in the middle of the lake/river where there once was a prehistoric pile dwelling and others nearer the shore; I did walk out on a wooden bridge that was supposed to be near one of the sites. According to a UNESCO website dedicated to Pile Dwellings around the Alps, there are remains of older civilizations that you can walk over without knowing it throughout Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, and Slovenia.

I took lots of pictures of the mountains across the plain. More photos will pop up in my flickr feed on the side, probably, but not a great deal of insight on which mountain peak I captured in a photo. Link to the Tardis Wiki for the Castrovalva plotline here. Not to be confused with the actual Castrovalva, in Italy, which clings to a much larger hillside (the inspiration for one of Escher’s prints, which I think were in turn inspiration for the Dr. Who episode… stuck in a bit of recursion.)

The problem with work travel

… is you are constantly reminded that there is a great world out there that you could see, but you’re inside.

I did manage to see lots of great landscapes, but I was there for an eyeblink and then had to go somewhere else. On Saturday I did manage to walk around. A lot. I found the yarn store (it was closed) and I found the local museum (20 minutes before it would close). But I did manage to take a train to one of the hills overlooking the Zurichsee, and nearly expired walking up the rest of the way to a restaurant at the top of the hill (10 minutes easy walk … not so much). Evidence that I was in a place where people value wool, even if I couldn’t get in to shop:

Closed on the weekend, like most of the small towns in Europe.

Closed on the weekend, like most of the shops in small-town Europe.

Places worth revisiting – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary in the 1980s was an amazing mashup of historic buildings, hills in the distance, and armed Soviet guards in the subways. The subways had massively steep inclines, which were miserable in the snow of January. The electric trolleys were a different shape than they are in the States, with speedy reflexes on your part being your only hope of jumping safely on and off. No one seemed to speak English, and German was the only common language I had with the shopkeepers.

The city was beautiful, the people seemed friendly, and it’s just one of those places that is worth a revisit, even if it’s only in my daydreams.

  1. Fabulous monuments like the Fischerbastei. Here’s an aerial view (from the sky: look at the turrets hugging the cliff)
  2. Amazing churches that show the blend of historic influences on their walls, like Matthiaskirche
  3. A Dominican cloister preserved within the walls of the local Hilton hotel (we stared at the ancient well through the windows)
  4. Hotel Gellert (I really don’t know how the tour afforded to book us here, but we loved gawking at the spa and mineral baths,but weren’t brave enough to go in among all the businessmen in towels)
  5. The Central market, with its garlic vendors, rabbit hutches, and more fruit pyramids than I’d seen before
  6. And of course, the Hungarian National Gallery in the Royal Palace

So, if you could go back to someplace you visited in your youth — where and why? (Yes, this is the sort of stuff I think about while commuting. Much better than thinking bad words at people who don’t use turn signals.)

Book Festivals

After finding out I missed the Brooklyn, NY Book Festival last weekend, I’ve been looking at others around the USA.

I missed the Library of Congress Book Festival earlier in the year, but they post videos from it are here. They also have downloadable former book festival posters, (my favorite book poster from it here). You might like the one with dragons better.

Here are some other upcoming book festivals:

Funding cuts have sadly affected some book festivals. Others just seem to be poorly advertised. A lot of the ones I wished to go to were so early in the year that I’m still reading my Christmas gifts, or they’re places too far away like Miami, Chicago, California, or London, UK and Edinburgh in Scotland. A book festival, no matter how small and quirky (see April Fool’s Day International Edible Books Festival), is still a lovely place to meet authors, to find out about new books, and to find others who speak your language (or are up for a long, pleasant debate).

Visiting a Rathaus in the rain

Fountain in the interior courtyard of Hamburg's Rathaus -- look at all that rain!

Fountain in the interior courtyard of Hamburg’s Rathaus — look at all that rain!

When in Europe, sometimes the weather isn’t picture postcard perfect. I’ve seen rain, snow, and shockingly hot weather (if you’re somewhere that normally doesn’t need air conditioning). When in Hamburg, it rained. So we went out anyway, and enjoyed looking at statues — to the left is a detail of the Hygieia-fountain [it honors victims of a cholera epidemic] in the interior courtyard of the Hamburg Rathaus. Continue reading ‘Visiting a Rathaus in the rain’