Thursday, October 29, 2020

Autumn Pleasures -- and a Tasty Treat!

There's so much to love about autumn and this year I am savoring it all the more, knowing my great lockdown will kick in soon enough. (It actually already has, apart from essential things.)

While on my walk I was amused by this gathering of ducks across from the ditch -- and the sign leaning against the tree.

Someone has been leaving seed for the birds there. I like that person!

And this little bird has a "bird's eye" view of everything!

Leaves are tumbling at far too fast a rate for my taste! But they make a wonderful sound when you drag your feet through them.

The squirrels are scurrying with great abandon, hoarding nuts for their winter larder.

This year I feel doubly blessed, seeing gorgeous color up north early in the month, and then this color down state now.

 I stopped at a pumpkin farm that was offering cider and donuts. There were crowds, but not at the cider stand so I masked up and got a treat!

I resisted the mums -- it was hard, but I did!

But they were incredibly lush and full.

But I couldn't resist taking some photos of the brilliantly colored gourds!

 On the home front I've been cleaning the art room and baking a lot -- lemon bread, pumpkin bread and and apple bread. The house smells so good when I bake!

 The clocks are changing soon and darkness will fall earlier.


 Be careful out there. The virus is casting a long shadow. Stay safe and well.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Adding Some Halloween to the House

I can't believe Halloween is this week. We won't be handing out candy this year, unfortunately. But I will be making some little bags for some kids down the street that I'll leave at their door. 

It's not a perfect world, is it? I'll miss that. But it will still be cozy and Halloweenie inside!

The leaves and more neutral pumpkins of the autumn decor will stay up through Thanksgiving -- but I have to add a little Halloween to the house, right?

When it comes to Halloween, I lean a bit more to the vintage look.

There's nothing like a cheery pumpkin fellow on a bike to make me smile! (And I don't mean, Rick, although he's pretty cheery and does make me smile!)

Many things I've collected over the years. Some have been gifts from good friends. They are all the more special when the person who gave it to you has passed.

I love berry wreaths -- and adding this sweet little girl made by former blogger Joanne Huffman to its center. She makes me smile.

 I have to have it all over the house -- even in the kitchen.

This shelf never has made it to where it belongs -- which is about eight inches above where it is! Still, I love it!

These are my Wizard of Oz trick-or-treaters, another gift from a friend. I wait all year to put these out!

And here are a couple of the others in the cabinet.

And every kitchen should have a kitchen witch. This one stays up all year, just a bit less prominently!

I leave you with a couple of additions to the fall things that will stay put for a bit after Halloween comes down.

A few more pumpkins here.

A mixed media piece there.

Meanwhile, if you are celebrating Halloween, have a safe one!

After all, ghosts and goblins are enough to worry about!

 And don't forget to wear your mask!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Summer Reading Wrap

Well, if there's one thing summer and Covid precautions combined will do for a person, it's ramp up the reading time! Here are a few I've enjoyed this past summer as I work my way toward my goal of 60!


 In "The Bookseller," author Mark Pryor follows an American detective associated with the U.S. embassy in Paris as he tracks the disappearance and possibly murder of one of his favorite bouquinistes in the City of Lights. What did the man know that made his life so valuable? I found it well written and of course with a Paris theme, much to love! I would read more by Mark Pryor.

Ann Hood's "Kitchen Yarns" is a collection of essays related to food and to the author's life. She includes many of her favorite family recipes, most of which look very good and pretty easy to make. 

Blogger Erika introduced me to the "Ruth Galloway" mysteries by Elly Griffiths. I read several of these this summer and two more are on the pile! Set in northern England, Ruth is a forensic archaeologist, specializing in very old bones. Needless to say, one who can identify bones can often get mixed up in murder. They are very atmospheric and while contemporary, have a historic focus, given the archaeological slant.

 I also read several books by Donna Leon. Her Commissario Guido Brunetti books are set in Paris Venice (thanks, Mae!) and combine intricate mysteries with a delightful narrative. Oh, when Guido and his wife Paola dine, you'll be wanting to cook Italian food too. (No recipes included, darn it!) The mysteries are complex and I've yet to figure one out but they are most intriguing. I've never been to Venice, but Guide makes me think about putting it on the itinerary.

"Every Contact Leaves a Trace" is another mystery (I love mysteries!) and this one is set on the grounds of Worcester College, Oxford. A husband and wife, both former students if the college, attend a reunion, but when the wife is murdered, her husband is caught in a mystery that draws in former students and tutors and even his wife's godmother. 

Rhys Bowen's "Royal Spyness" mysteries are an easy, fast read. After reading something heavy and you want something to breeze through, these are fun. Set in the 1930s, "Crowned and Dangerous" finds Lady Georgina's surprise elopement derailed when her beau's father is arrested for murder. As he goes to attend to it, Georgie returns to London but realizes she can't leave him to the case alone. It's just fun. 

 I usually love everything Ann Patchett writes. But I didn't love "Commonwealth." It follows the children of two families whose lives are disrupted when they become blended following their parents' divorces. The book follows them through time. You may love the saga. I was just bored and didn't much like the kids. Ann can do better.

 Back to mysteries. Why did I wait so long to read Josephine Tey's "The Daughter of Time"? This one reads like history in its way. Detective Adam Grant is in the hospital and in traction and as his friends bring him books and things to occupy his time, he becomes intrigued by a portrait of Richard III, England's king noted for the murder of the princes in the tower. But Grant is not so sure Richard is guilty and sets out to prove his thesis. I loved it. 


 If you watched the original "Grantchester" series on PBS, you'll have met Canon Sydney Chambers and his Cambridge police detective buddy, Geordie. The series was based on James Runcie's books and this summer I read two of them. The books take the series far beyond the episodes seen and read more like fiction than a regular mystery -- and yet, something is always happening and Geordie almost always needs Sydney to help solve the case. These are fun.

"Mudlarking" by Lara Maiklem may have been one of the more fascinating summer reads. Maiklem is a mudlark, one who goes digging through the mud when the tide is out on the Thames, searching for treasures of times past. This book follows her adventures at various sites on the river and combines her seeking and finding with history of the river and its people. It is intriguing and while I might not be wanting to dig in the mud with her, I'm was fascinated and learned plenty!

I learned a lot from "The Wild Remedy" by Emma Mitchell, too. Mitchell lives in England and like many must deal with the depression that comes from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Her lifesaving antidote is to dig deep into nature, following the cycles of the seasons with the eye of an acute observer and then recording her impressions both in words and through art. The book takes readers through a calendar year -- through her most glorious moments and most troubled times. It is exquisitely illustrated.

I have to say I was quite disappointed in Julian Fellowes' period novel, "Belgravia." It has recently been made a mini-series. I didn't watch. I could hardly get through the book. The premise is that a young woman becomes pregnant by her finacee right before he leaves for war in the mid-1800s. He is a nobleman and she is the daughter of a well-to-do merchant -- a fine woman but not for a man of his standing. The plot involves the hiding of the pregnancy from his family after he is killed in the war. Two families are brought together over another generation in a story of manipulative family politics. Julian ("Downton Abbey") can do better.

Two of the books I greatly enjoyed were from the British Crime Library classcs series. Both are closed-doors or "locked room" mysteries, books where the murder has occurred in a room in which there is only one exit -- and no one was seen entering or leaving. "The Division Bell Mystery, " by Ellen Wilkinson (herself a member of Parliament) is set in England's Parliament. "It Walks by Night," by John Dickson Carr, is set in Paris. And "Death Has Deep Roots" by Michael Gilbert is yet another that did not disappoint. I have to say, I love the British Library Crime Classics. Some of the writing may be a bit dated, but the plots are always intriguing. (And they have fabulous covers!)

And finally, "Love and Ruin" is a fictional biography. This is a genre I have a love-hate relationship. I love biography and this story of journalist Martha Gellhorn and her relationship with Ernest Hemingway is interesting. I'm sure it's quite well researched (it's author, Paula McLain, also wrote "The Paris Wife," about Hemingway's first wife.) But still... where is the line between fiction and the real deal? I considered it an excellent intro to Gellhorn and would like to read a "real" biography of her.


Most all of these I would recommend. Meanwhile, my stack is very large indeed.

I won't be short of reading material during our next lockdown!

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Thoughts on Creativity -- Yes, You Can! Yes, You Are!

I can't count the number of times I've had comments like "I wish I was creative like you." Or, "I just can't do art at all." Big mistake -- linking art with creativity. Yes, it is creative, but it's also technical, too, or can be. There are so many things that are creative that we don't always put in that category.

Then there is labeling -- one child is labeled "The Artist" and the other, "Susie Homemaker." I've seen this happen more than once. But when I was a child, it happened to me.

We should never allow ourselves (or others) to be labeled. It holds us back. Or maybe it makes us fight back harder.

My cousin Patty -- my three-years-younger cousin -- is indeed a natural. From the time she was seven or eight, she was drawing remarkable things -- chubby babies, horses (beginning at the tail and working up) and more. I drew stick people with round heads and triangles for dresses.

I tried so hard to be an artist like Patty. I was nine or ten and my mom did her best to help, making sure I had books and materials to help me learn. She encouraged me in every way possible. But one day, hoping to build my esteem in other talents, she said, "You know, everyone has a gift. Patty is an artist. You write. That's just as important."

Oh, did that make me mad. And more determined. I studied fashion ads in the newspaper, Millie the Model comic books. I learned how to draw a profile. When I was in sixth grade, the teacher called my mom in for a conference to ask if I was "all right." For my art project, I drew probably a dozen floating profiles in a sea of blue that I titled "Heaven." No deep psychological issue or loss -- I just hadn't learned learned how to draw good bodies yet.

I copied things. All kinds of things. You couldn't tell my Charlie Brown and Lucy from Charles Schulz's! I wouldn't call it art, but I would call it trying. And that's how you get to Carnegie Hall -- practice, practice, practice. 

Every summer at the lake, Patty and I would paint, quite often the smooth rocks we would pull from the water. 

I would paint little children in the style of Joan Walsh Anglund. Patty would paint clever, original things. But by then it didn't matter if it was original or not. I was painting. (I still use those rocks as door stops at the lake!)

As I went off to college, Patty would send me delightfully creative letters, illustrated with a fifteen-year-old's impression of college life in the fall of 1969, which was actually pretty on target! By then, I was putting all my time into my theatre major. The only art I was doing were sketches for costume and scene design courses. Then it was on to my career in broadcasting where I wrote and edited every single day for more than 30 years. In between event planning and fundraising, wrote ads, articles, brochure copy, press releases, radio and television spots. Or maybe events and fundraising were done in between all the writing.

When I left the office, I volunteered in my community, did some freelance writing and lots of crafty things. I made jewelry and ornaments, knit, needlepointed, worked on my photography and painted sweatshirts (which really isn't the kind of painting I had in mind.) I started doing some art shows. They wouldn't pay the rent, but I was being creative.

Meanwhile, four hours away, Patty was involved in her work doing direct sales and marketing. She was good at it, she had "the knack." But she didn't have time for painting anymore.

Flash forward several decades. I rediscovered art, this time with collage and art journaling, joining groups and going to workshops where I largely did mixed media work. No drawing required.

Then about five or six years ago, I fell in love with watercolor.  Who would imagine that I would be doing commissions for pet portraits and paintings of homes? And yes, I still write.

Patty? Well, she started painting again, maybe ten or fifteen years ago, focusing on wildlife and landscapes. 

 She's had work in shops but mostly does it for the love of it.

And you'll never guess. She is writing. Her poetry is magnificent -- it flows from her, almost unbidden and as a series her poems weave a magical, otherworldly story. 

Our Greg is a remarkable artist and somehow is making a living from it in a competitive world, working in large form. From the time he was six or seven and drew a figure of a guitar player -- in proportion -- we knew he had a gift. 

His younger brother Kevin was "the athlete." More than once when they were growing up, Kevin would say "Greg is the artist, I can't do that." (The art teacher they shared in high school several years apart did nothing to help build esteem or skill, either.) Yet even when Kevin was about eleven, when we went to a museum, he could look at art and seemed to have an understanding of it. Not of the techniques used, but the thought behind it.

Yes, Greg is still doing his art and making a career of it. Today, Kevin spends the time he isn't working or playing with the boys making furniture and home accessories, carefully working a board of wood into tables and wine racks.  And, when it comes to household things, like building a pergola or a home reno thing, Kevin's your guy.  I would call his work art.

We must never allow ourselves to be labeled. If you want to be an artist and can't draw a straight line or a realistic figure, go abstract. If you want to write a poem and can't think outside the limerick format, try free verse and don't worry about the rhyme. 

I believe we all are creative in our own way. It's how our universe survives. Some of us paint or draw, knit or build, sew or work with intricate miniatures. Others of us create gorgeous tablescapes, have remarkable gardens or develop fabulous recipes. And don't try to convince me that computer programmers who can master code well beyond me or scientists who combine elements that can create vaccines and medications aren't creative. It's just a different way of thinking and I'm grateful they can do that!

We all have the ability to create. To think out of the box one way or another and come up with something meaningful. My art will never be in a museum but that's not why I do it. I do it for love, for fun, and because when I do, I feel better, more at peace. 

And we all need our own peace.

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