Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Christmas in July

Christmas in July? Really? It's barely turned summer. Should our thoughts be of snowflakes? Especially when one isn't all that fond of snow?


Well, two things prompted me to get on the bandwagon (or start one)! The first was a gorgeous post by Patty at Magpie Tales on her Christmas in July collage. Just about everything Patty does inspires me; her blog and technique are both wonderful.

Then I was invited by the folks over at Patience Brewster (they make the incredible cards and wonderful holiday ornaments) to join in on the Christmas and July celebration. I love the work of Patience Brewster and thought, "Well, I was already thinking of it..."After all, if you've followed me for any length of time you know I am a Christmas nut. I have to start preparations early just because if I don't, life gets in the way. I always do a show in November with friends which includes not only my regular card and gift inventory but Christmas-related items as well.

The trouble is... what to post about? And when, in my crazy July, do I get the time to do it?

The answer to the first was pretty simple. I've been trying my best to channel my inner Kristen Robinson and put into practice what I learned in her plastering class (see this post for more on that one!). I had decided that I wanted to include some of these boxes in my November sale. While I was using Kristen's techniques, I also wanted my work to reflect me and not be a copy of hers (which a: felt unethical and b:
who can copy Kristen?).

There are lots of sweet ideas for holiday-themed boxes. I decided to venture into the Christmas department of my basement (trust me, that's what it feels like -- about one quarter of the basement has all the Christmas trees, wrapping, ornaments, wreaths, decorative pieces, creches, candles... you get the idea. We don't photograph this area. If we were smart, we would declutter it. In fact, if we were really smart, we would actually put everything away from last year so next year it won't be so hard to find in December!). My mission: The bottlebrush tree collection!

Once you get the right elements, you are on your way with this project. I plastered my boxes, painted them and then started adding the embellishments.

The first of what I hope will be a series of holiday treasures!

And here are a couple of others that cross the seasons! The seaside is welcome at any time.

And who doesn't love a little love?

While I am at it, I am also making some flat pieces, which we also did in Kristen's class. Mine are leaning toward using natural objects and a nature theme -- at least so far. Here are a couple that are finished.

As former blogger Leann used to remind us early on, the time between now and the holidays really starts to fly. And while I'm not all for getting out the trees and tinsel this early, I know November and December are always on the crazy side and at least in terms of creating and planning ahead -- well, now is the time!

As for Lizzie, as long as she gets two square meals a day and her crunchies, a few toy tosses and lots of love, she's a happy camper any time of year!

Are you getting a head start on the holiday or is it just way too early to think about it?! Meanwhile, I'm headed back to the lake for art camp with Kate and more Christmas (and other) boxes! For my most recent "postcard from the lake" check it out here!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Postcards From the Lake, 2015 Edition

I'm a little late to the summer catch-up party between the blog events for Paris In July and Vanessa's Tea Party posts. Plus pulling together Rick's birthday party which was last night. But nonetheless, a postcard from the lake.

Rick rode his bike up -- camping halfway and was here for a week. I stayed on after he headed home, enjoying mostly glorious weather apart from one storm.

This was the first two weeks of July and the weather was drop-dead gorgeous for two weeks, apart from a rain/wind storm that took down two (and a half) of the screens that Rick and I labored to put up on our porch a few days before. Actually, he did most of the labor. I was more like the screen sous chef, holding things in place and untangling the spline. That said, I re-did much of it solo, as he left for back home and work. I've been doing homeowner repair. I do pretty well till I get to the tall part. Too short and too much vertigo to stand too high!

The fireworks were lovely, of course. We have a ringside seat, as they shoot them off straight across the lake from the cottage. Personally, I think last year's were a little better, but they beat most displays I see and no arguments or complaints.

Big arguments or complaints about the neighbors. They are on the other side of a wooded lot and starting at 8 p.m. on Fireworks Night (which was July 3 for us) they ramped up music so loud I swear they could hear it a half mile away. It wasn't bad for awhile (well, it was, but you could cope) but when we went to bed around midnight it was just as loud and lots of bass, even with the windows closed. Our neighbors on the other side were having a pleasant bonfire. Chatting and all but nothing obnoxious. They said they were up till 1:30 and it was still going strong. I feel for the people directly on the other side of them.


The fourth was a lovely day. We did our traditional picnic -- Rick rides 50 miles. I bring food in the car and we meet for what I call the Lake Woebegon parade, have lunch and take our own ways back. A very long parade, with flags, candy-tossers, kids, queens and Moses.

A nice visit from Kevin and Molly added to the fun of that first week, after which they managed to squeeze Rick, his guitar, computer and bike into this somehow and took him home.


I've been enjoying the Ducksters -- mom and eight babies who float by and hang out for awhile. They float in formation and when mom marshals the troops, off they go.

Then there was the magical day when 40 Canadian Geese gracefully moved across the lake -- a peleton of geese, I think, all in formation. It was magical. (There was also a brief moment of panic, the one we all have when they decide to come up on your beach and it turns into the ultimate litter box!)

I've had meet-ups with two Lansing friends who have moved north, Maura and Gretchen. Maura and I had a good long catch-up and lunch and it was hard to say goodbye! Gretchen surprised me with a second visit and the surprise offer of a boat ride. It was the first time I'd seen the lake from the lake in ages and it couldn't have been a more glorious experience.

I touched base with mom's best friend who lives here and finished my fifth seventh book.

And yes, a little bit of art, too. Well, a lot of that, but I'll save that for another time. (This is actually better now that I've gone back and played with it, adding a bit more Lizzie touches to it. Might repost it later!)

I leave you as we began, with a sunset.


I hope you're having a great summer. I'm taking part in the Paris in July posts (so lots of looks at all things Parisian) and Vanessa's Mad Hatter tea party, so if you're interested in those things, scroll down the posts a bit!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Paris In July: Paris on the Bookshelf

So many of you wonderful Paris In July bloggers have written about remarkably complex, eloquent and classic books related to Paris and my "to be read" list is growing by leaps and bounds. This list is a tad more routine, perhaps -- or maybe not! It includes a number of my recommendations (and not-so-much) of Paris-related books.


Let's start with a favorite, "Paris," by Edward Rutherfurd. I love this historical fiction writer's style, taking a region (or in this case, a city) and following it throughout history through the lives of several families whose lives intersect over the generations. With Rutherfurd we step onto the scaffolding as the Eiffel Tower is being built, back to the court of Marie Antoinette, through the revolutions and the World Wars, and much in-between. His handy family tree chart in the front of the book guides you as he jumps from one period and then back to another in a somewhat non-linear fashion. That took some getting used to but once I did, I was hooked and read like a crazy girl! Good writing, good history, good characters!
 Another favorite, "Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman" by Alice Steinbach, has enough about Paris to say that it qualifies. Steinbach says that she had fallen into the habit of "defining myself in terms of who I was to other people and what they expected of me." The book is her quest to find out who she was apart from those people. Her travels take her to Oxford, Milan and of course, Paris, where she finds not only her soul mate but a wonderful group of travelers and terrific experiences. She is a marvelous writer and I heartily recommend this one as a travel memoir.

David Downie moved from San Francisco to Paris in 1986. "Paris, Paris: Journey Into the City of Light" chronicles his life as a new Parisian,  He breaks the city down into categories such as Paris Places ("The Luxembourg Gardens," "Ile Saint-Louis," "Place des Vosges," and seven others); Paris People ("Coco Chanel," Les Bouquinistes, "Midnight, Montmartre and Modigliani," "Paris Artisans," and six others and Paris Phenomena ("A Dog's Life," "Why the Maris Changed Its Spots," "Life's a Cafe" and eight more).His writing style is engaging and whether you relate to the topics because having been there -- or because you'd like to be, I think you'll find it most enjoyable.

And now for something completely different, "Death in the City of Light" by David King. This true story focuses on Dr. Marcel Petoit, a serial killer who charmed Paris during the Nazi occupation. He preyed upon the city's most vulnerable who were seeing to escape the city and the Gestapo and subjecting them after death to a different crematorium -- the one in his own basement. It is well written, shocking and fascinating.

Finally, one I didn't like so much -- "A Town Like Paris" by Bryce Corbett. OK, I think this is a case of age coming through. Corbett moved from a routine London job to a relatively routine Paris job, simply to try something new and live in Paris for a bit. He was young, twenty-eight and living the wild and crazy life that lots of younger people do -- work, party, party some more. For awhile it was entertaining. After awhile I just wanted to say "grow up." And he finally does, sort of. But not soon enough for me. Might be your new favorite, who can say?

There are others on my pile I haven't read yet, not the least of which is David McCullough's "The Greatest Journey." His writing usually falls into the "favorite pile." Hopefully this one does, too!

This post is part of Tamara's Paris In July blog event. For more posts related to travel, books, movies and Paris history, photography and more, check the right-hand column of her blog at Thyme for Tea!

Friday, July 17, 2015

When Tragedy Turns to Forgiveness

In the aftermath of the recent Charleston shooting, great note was made of the family member who forgave the killer.

This, too, is a story of tragedy and an act of forgiveness, one that made some national news and took place a month before the Charleston incident. Forgive the preface, but it puts my interest in this story into a personal light, not just sharing an old news story we happened to find online. And the end is worth waiting for.

Those of you who know me and the Gypsy characters best know that Rick is one serious cyclist. In the long-ago before he met me, he was a racer (and I'm really glad that was before we met). Now he's a distance road cyclist, riding with the big dogs, pelaton-style every week. His idea of a fun weekend is a hundred-mile ride and lately he's taken to bike camping, hauling his tent and stove on the back of the bike.

I, on the other hand, like my spinning bike at the gym, all but nailed to the floor where I won't fall off of it. The thought of riding a bike on a road -- a real street with cars, not the neighborhood or the back roads, but a busy road with SUVs going over the limit and so much more -- well, that terrifies me.

And it terrifies me that he does it too. We have had our share of incidents in the nineteen years we've been together, some of which have been written about here. I'm not sure if I was doing a blog when he was hit by a car when cycling in the Upper Peninsula. After all, a crash is a crash. But if you're nailed by the car, the car often wins.

Many cities have a Ride of Silence honoring fallen cyclists who have been killed by cars. It's a reminder to share the road, give bikes the space they need. And, to never, ever drive distractedly. When a cyclist has been killed at a given spot, they will place a ghost bike at the site to remind others to share the road.

All this is a preface to a recent news story from our little city that culminated a few weeks ago. Trust me, very few things from Lansing make national or international news. But this story hit not only the Detroit Free Press, but also the UK's Daily Mail, New York Daily News, the L.A. Times and networks (at least their websites.)

It all began last fall when Jill Byelich, a young mother with two children and a woman who was riding responsibly on her side of the road wearing reflective clothing and with lights on her bicycle was hit by Mitzi Nelson, a young woman who was checking a text on her cell phone.

We didn't know Jill Byelich, but when any cyclist is harmed by a car, its big news in our household. There was tremendous anger at the driver, a huge outpouring of grief for such a senseless accident and a lot of discussion as to an appropriate punishment to fit the crime. Rick felt that she should have to do some sort of public mea culpa, maybe PSAs or something where she told her story of driving distractedly and the price that Jill and her family paid -- and one that she herself would pay for the rest of her life in knowing she took a life. There was talk of jail, of restitution, how long a sentence should be. But of course, it would all be up to the decision of a judge.

The case was resolved during the first week of June and although there are those who said the settlement was too light (based on reading the comments in the various online news stories), I'm not so sure and neither is Rick. She ended up with six months in jail (the final 90 days may be deferred, depending on her progress), two years probation, and over $16,000 in restitution and court costs. But the two things most important in our book is that she had to do 150 hours of community service and speak to school assemblies or driver's ed classes about the hazards of distracted driving.

And, at the suggestion of Jill's husband, the judge prohibited her having a phone or electronic communication devices while she is in jail and on probation.

So, where's the forgiveness? Just ask Jordan Byelich who said in court he felt that she was remorseful for the accident. And then, as she was leaving the courtroom for jail, he hugged the woman who had killed his wife.Was it the cellphone ban that made the news or this moving and poignant moment? The cellphone prohibition is extremely rare, according to the National Safety Council. But so, too, is such a gesture of compassion and forgiveness.

Jordan Byelich hugs Mitzi Nelson as she prepares to leave the courtroom. (Photo: Rod Sanford, Associated Press,
Can he truly forgive? Maybe. Maybe not. Nothing was reported that Jordan Byelich said "I forgive you" to Mitzi Nelson. But such a gesture carries within its generosity and care the seeds of forgiveness, if not the action itself. It is, perhaps, the most positive step he could have taken -- for himself, as well as for Nelson.

I'm very big on forgiveness. Sometimes it isn't easy. But anger or hatred over a wrong deed or action can tear at a person's life forever, perhaps even more than the deed itself. It can keep you awake at night, destroy your ability to think clearly because those demons come in and override your productivity. It can turn a person into a one-track broken record that plays the same annoying song repeatedly. In the end, the only one who pays the price is the angry person.

Jordan Byelich and his children will always miss their mother. They will grieve for years to come, sometimes intensely, sometimes in bits and bursts that will pop out at unexpected times. It will be an uphill battle for awhile and then the road will level out a bit. They will learn a new normal that they never planned on learning. They'll have hills and bumps in the road. Some days will be harder than anyone could imagine. But chances are that with love, an ability to share and talk about their feelings with each other, they will
be all right.

In forgiving, they will truly begin to heal. Their energies can focus on healing, on the life they have to live to make their future be the one Jill would have hoped to see.

After years of volunteering at a center for grieving children, one of the worries I always had was if the surviving parent was "up to the job." I'm pretty darned sure that Jordan Byelich is. If he can raise his children with the compassion that he has shown to Mitzi Nelson, I'm pretty sure those kids will be just fine.

And parting words? Please -- share the roads, keep off the phone, eat, floss and apply make-up only at stop lights and not if you are first in line (because that's really annoying to everyone behind you). Bicycles belong on the roads as much as vehicles. And the bottom line is: Would you want to live with Mitzi Nelson's story for the rest of your life?

And remember, that person on the bike might be your neighbor. Or your neighbor's child. Or Rick. Or a total stranger. But chances are, whomever it could be, he or she has people who love them, who would grieve.

Michigan's Ride of Silence, ending at the State Capitol, honoring killed and injured cyclists.

Please, it's cycling season. Be careful out there.

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