Sunday, October 24, 2010

Omi's Apple Kuchen

My friend Helen gave me her mother - in - law's recipe for apple kuchen - and when apples are abundant, I make a new batch every few days.  It's such a great recipe because the ingredients are almost always on hand, it goes together really quickly, and it is absolutely delicious!  It's fabulous by itself, decadent with some good ice cream.

Here's the recipe:
1 1/2 C. sugar ( can use less)
3 large eggs
3/4 C canola oil
pinch of salt
1 1/2 C. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
8 to 10 peeled Rome, Cortland, or other large good cooking apples
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 to 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Grease 9x13" pan.  Slice apples and add until pan is 2/3 full.  Add lemon juice and cinnamon. Set aside.
Beat sugar and eggs together until smooth.  Add oil and salt and beat.  Mixe in baking powder, flour and vanilla until smooth.  Spread on top of apples.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour until golden brown and apples are bubbling

Happy Eating!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Today's Smoothie

Midsummer Mixture
 Back in April I entered a Green Smoothie Challenge offered by Suzanne Seeger of Enchanted Chameleon.  The time was right for me.  After the two weeks of the challenge it stuck.  I've become a devotee of my morning drink.
The spring was the perfect time to jump into this.  The idea that I could experiment with wild greens that were coming up in my yard - dandelions, plantains, arugula, violets, raspberry canes, grape leaves, mint - made it extra fun.  And as the late spring greens became abundant at our community farm, I was well supplied with spinach, chard, kale, lettuces, collards, bok choi, beet tops, and other varieties. 
I add fruits as I have them.  I don't like to put berries in my smoothies.  I love them too much all by themselves to mix with other tastes and textures.  I don't like to eat bananas - but they're great in smoothies.  They help keep the texture even, they add sweetness when they're very ripe, and of course, they're full of good nutrients. So I almost always include those.  Mangoes,melons, pineapple, papaya, grapes, peaches, apples, plums are my other additons.
In the beginning I did feel a little hungry in the morning - even though I'd drunk almost a quart of the mixture.  I would spread it out through the morning if I could, figuring if I could make it till lunchtime, then I'd have a regular lunch.  I began to like the lightness.  And the virtue.  Don't you love to experience virtue once in a while?  If I clean the refrigerator, organize my desk, or do my exercises, I feel like I've done a really good thing for myself - and I revel in it.  For a little while.  Same with getting my day off to a good start with my morning drink.
When I've gone on vacation, or been invited out to breakfast, I've skipped the smoothies.  But I'm always happy to go back to them.  That's how I know that it's not a passing fad.
I went for a check up last week.  It was the first time in almost a year that I'd gotten on a scale.  I know that my clothes have become more comfortable, some a little too loose.  So I wasn't surprised to find out that I'd lost weight.  It has been a slow process, but I'm not in a hurry.  I'm enjoying it.
So here's what I had this morning:
   1 MacCoun Apple
   3/4 C. papaya
   1 Banana
   2 leaves of turnip greens, pulled from stems ( I find it necessary to limit these greens - they're quite peppery)
   2 + C. kale leaves pulled from stems - I mixed the varieties
   1 Tbsp. aloe juice
   2 C. water
All blended in my super duper Blendtec blender.
What do you do for yourself?  What makes you feel virtuous?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Found Day

View from our cottage deck
Holy Toledo!  Can you believe it's October, already?  I can't say I've been going full tilt.  We had a glorious two week vacation on an island in the Bay of Fundy early in September where we only followed our inclinations as they came.  Go pick berries, find rocks, sit and read, do tai chi on the deck?  What shall we eat?  Fish? Vegetables?  Freshly baked bread and cheese?  Shall I wear the black pants or the green ones?  I only have two to choose from.
But then we came home.  And all the energy from that marvelous rest has been put to use.  Appointments that had been put off,  Farmer's Market, baking and preparing  the reception for my first solo show, a day in NY going to museums, this week a fabulous high energy retreat for people who work with youth in the church.  My parents are coming for a visit this coming week and my house looks like we've been through an earthquake.  Today I was supposed to be going to another farmer's market.  So there was going to be precious little time to restore it to order.  Where is Mary Poppins when you need her?
Then yesterday I got news that our group's participation in the farmer's market was cancelled.  I feel badly for the members who had counted on this and for the way it happened - it was a bit shabby on the market's part.  But for me, I felt I'd been given the most wonderful gift - a day of my own!
I can go to the farm and pick raspberries.  I can savor making foods for my friend's 50th birthday party tomorrow (Happy Birthday, dear Stephen!), and for a block party this afternoon where I can meet my neighbors and enjoy their company, instead of feeling like I'm squeezing them in as I rush home from doing the market.  I can gently begin to create order in my home, giving thanks for the upcoming visit from my parents.

The gift of attention
 I feel blessed.  May you find blessing in this day.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Happy Friday - August 20, 2010

I'm still participating in Jamie Ridler's Happy Book Club, which meets online on Fridays.  Summer attendance has been sporadic - I don't think there's any such thing as "lazy" days of summer - seem to be more of the "hazy" and "crazy" days.  And it is flying! 
But it's been mostly wonderful and exciting.  Wednesday, Ethan was one week old.  He continues to be the hit of the household with his brothers and all the rest of us.  I put together a little Smilebox slideshow with photos from his first few days.  Are you familiar with that resource?  It's really fun to do - to put up a little show of your vacation, or family events, art projects - and is relatively easy.  It's also free, unless you want a fancier version with customized music, etc.  But even then it's very reasonable.
Torn from Home - Diptych
The other exciting thing for me is that I'm getting ready for a solo show - my first.  It's just at the Unitarian Fellowship nearby, but the space is lovely, and it has kept me working hard this summer to come up with a theme that will pull some of the various things I do together.  I've made some new paintings for it, besides planning to display some previous work.  I'm a little anxious about getting the final details in place.  But I'm also energized by it.  I'm hoping it will give me the confidence I need to try for some other shows and competitions.
Wishing you glorious August days.
Catskill Spring Flowers

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Happiness is New Life - August 14th, 2010

Ethan has arrived - a little earlier than expected, but totally welcome.  In fact we're all overjoyed.  It's amazing how such a little being goes right to the hearts all around. 
I was able to be with my daughter through the whole process.  She needed to have an induction and was admitted to the hospital late in the afternoon on Monday.  I always thought that inducing pregnancy was a pretty simple process and expected that we'd have a baby by the next afternoon sometime.  But I was wrong.  It can sometimes take several days.  And when she still wasn't making much progress by Tuesday afternoon, part of my job was to ease her discouragement and frustration.  They took her off the pitocin and let her get up to have a shower, some supper ( she was so hungry by then), and then started the process all over again.  In the meantime she had monitors for her contractions, monitors for the baby's heartbeat, automatic blood pressure readings ( those cuffs have a mind of their own and you begin to feel like they're out to get you!), and the IV line in her opposite arm.  She was not a happy camper.
But our mantra became - the baby is doing great - he's got a strong heartbeat, he tolerates the contractions well, you're doing fine; so we just wait.  Eventually he'll decide to come.  But she's now thinking it could still be a couple of days and neither of us is getting much sleep.  Listening to his heartbeat one night I thought it sounded like a train on a railroad track - you know how they click over the joint of the rails - ta duh, ta duh - a rapid steady beat.  I kept thinking "You're on your way, sweetie - and we'll be there to meet you!"
Wednesday morning the report seemed to be that there was some progress, but not much.  But then all of a sudden the body kicked in with its own hormones, they stopped the pitocin, and within a few hours we had our baby.
He came out with so much energy - stretching, crying, kicking, ready to take it all in.  I ran to get his dad and then left to go pick up his brothers so they could share in the welcome party. 
Shawn held him tenderly - he's 15 and remembers when Marcus was born.  Marcus just looked on in awe, not ready to try to hold him, just so thrilled.  At one point he looked at Ethan in his brother's arms, looked over at his mom, hugged his dad's leg and said "I love being part of this family!"  Perfect response!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Happiness is an Artist's Date

Years ago I read Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, and doors opened.  So much of what she suggested makes perfect sense.  But I don't practice what I learned frequently enough.  I write in my journal (preferably in the morning) occasionally.  I have managed to silence some of the "nay" voices in my head.  And I am sporadic in making my artist "date" - the times when you take yourself off to  look at art, nature, inspiration, materials - any of the things that might stimulate ideas, creativity, energy for your art.
But this Friday I feel like I had a whole Artist Retreat.  While it's often good to do these dates alone, this one was in the good company of my friend, Leslie. 
We got off to a challenging start.  She got stuck in ridiculous traffic and we missed the train.  So we decided to have coffee and found a place close to the train station where we pretended this was part of our plan - instead of getting off the train and having coffee, we'd do it now.
Once in New York, we jumped on a subway to SoHo to visit her sister in law who is an artist.  Katherine took us to a neighborhood restaurant that was perfect.  A sycamore tree was growing up from the sidewalke and they'd built their awning around it - lovely.  The food served was bright, fresh, spicy, delicious.  Then we walked through the neighborhood to her apartment to see her paintings.  Watching the people on the sidewalks and the streets, the clothes, the hair, the postures, the modes of transportation was great fun.  And then there were Katherine's paintings!  Fabulous!  Walls of them.  Street scenes, cityscapes, portraits of her friends, luscious color and movement.  Just the fact that all this wonderful work was accomplished in a 600 square foot apartment, and there was still room for living and  guests was inspiring. 
Leslie's shoes weren't working for her so we decided to go to Century 21 to look for replacements and just to see the store.  What a wild place!  I hadn't been there since just before 9/11 - so being in that neighborhood, passing St. Paul's where I'd spent a day volunteering, brought back memories and images.
Then on to Tu Lu's, a gluten free bakery near Union Square.  More fascinating neighborhoods to walk through.  And interesting conversation with the young woman helping us.
Finally we caught a subway uptown to end our day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Met is so huge that I can only take in a couple of exhibits with  attention on any one trip.  After a brief refreshment in the cafeteria where we planned what to see, we headed for the rooftop where the Starn brothers have installed Big Bambu, a fabulous sculpture in progress.  The evening light was golden, visitors were in a festive mood - the whole rooftop felt magical!
Downstairs we visited the American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity exhibit, that was beautifully done.  I loved the juxtaposition of costume, film, and text and the opportunity to think about what clothing does to us and for us.  Leslie and I could have much longer conversations about this, I'm sure.
There was a quick look through some modern paintings, especially Matisse, but the museum was closing and we had to head for home.
My head is still spinning.  I'm eager to spend some time writing about my impressions and then perhaps see where some of this may pop up in my own painting.  And I'm eager for another artist date, perhaps more focussed.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mid Summer Musing

Ugh! I have joined the ranks of the complainers.  It's too hot.  It's too sticky.  I have no energy.  There are so many things I need to do!  With little relief from these 90 plus degree days and high humidity, with upcoming family visitors, with aggravations like a refrigerator conking out in the midst of our hectic days, with upcoming shows and no new work produced - I've been feeling such frustration. 
So my morning meditation is to look for the blessing.
There is nothing more welcome than the early morning air in summer!  I'm perhaps more aware of this sea we are immersed in than at any other time of the year.  The cicadas' chorus is one of my favorite summer sounds.  Three little wrens were getting flight instructions in our backyard this morning, one perched on the porch railing only a few feet from us, peering back at us as we watched with delight. 
Since I'm too hot by early afternoon to do much else, I've been getting a lot of reading in.  And I'm thoroughly enjoying Kent Haruf's Eventide.  His earlier Plainsong has been one of my all time favorite books.
Exploring new water experiences with grandchildren has refreshed and delighted us - catching polliwogs, learning to mudcrawl, even imitating a lab retrieving sticks. 
And then there are the tomatoes, blueberries, squashes, peppers, peaches, apricots - so many favorite fruits and vegetables ripening at this time of year.  
This is the time of year that we are able to gather more of our kids and grandchildren together, along with family from afar.  My brother and his family are coming in this week - we're lucky to get them on the east coast.  My parents will come in the fall.  It's a time for reconnections.  While there are losses, too, these emphasize the importance of celebrating when we can be together.
What does summer mean for you?  What blessing do you find in these days? 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Happy Book Club - June 27th

I can't believe I've been away from this blog for 2 months!  I can't believe summer solstice is over.  I can't believe the kids are out of school.  But I can believe that time flies and that there is huge value in learning to appreciate the moments we're in.  I've been practicing that.  I used to get crazy trying to keep up with things, to document the details, thinking that was what I needed to do to capture my moments.  Lately I've been rethinking that - thinking that I should instead be just living them as they come and not worrying so much if I forget them.  I trust that other joys will follow - as will sorrows.  As will aggravations.  But my practice is to focus on this moment.  And of course, I know that as in meditation, I will keep bringing myself back, over and over again, as I wander.  On my morning walks I've been paying closer attention to the feel of the air on my skin, listening to the birds as well as the garbage trucks, smelling the honeysuckle, watching the way the leaves reflect the light, the shadows are long at 6 am.

 We have lots of day lillies in the garden - and every day is a new configuration of color and shape.

My new Blend tec blender is a joy - my green smoothies are really smooth now.  And I'm so happy to have found this way to start my days!
I took a workshop on playing a digeridoo - and I bought a simple one to use.  It makes me laugh to practice flapping my lips, blowing out my cheeks, bringing whatever sound out of it that I can. 

Marcus graduated from Pre-K - and now we have summer days to go on adventures, anticipating the coming of his new baby brother.  These are the tumbling baby pins I made for favors for the shower we had for my daughter:

After a year and a half, I finally have progressed to a point where I have days without any back pain!  I am so grateful!
I'm happy to be back with you.  And if you'd like to see some of the fun and thoughtful experiences others in Jamie Ridler's Happy Book Club are experiencing  you can find them here - you're welcome to add your own!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Happy Book Club - April 30, 2010

Happy Friday!  Perking along with Jamie Ridler's Happy Book Club gang, sharing another few instances of what brings smiles into my life.

1st - this mug shot of Marcus.  He was insistent that he have a mohawk hairdo yesterday for school!  I mean when he woke up in the morning and his hair was back to its usual sweet cap of close waves, he broke down in tears until my daughter re -worked it with a little water and mousse.  Then he was all smiles and ready to ham it up! 
2nd - Monday was my daughter's birthday - but I woke up in such a grumpus mood.  I had a slight headache, just in a funk.  I was making my morning green smoothie when my dear husband called me into his little office where he'd just finished installing new speakers.  He put on Judy Collins singing "Someday Soon", put his arms around me and started dancing, his own little version of a 2 step in a 3' by 3' space.  What a sweetie - funk gone.
3rd - A friend invited me to join her meditation group this morning.  It was fun to meet some really interesting new people and they all go out for breakfast afterward - so I tried a delicious ginger peach scone.  My breakfasts lately have been just my green smoothies, so this was a real treat.  And I had my smoothie when I came home.  It was good, too.
Little delights noticed make all the difference in day.  What has pulled a smile out of you this week?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Self-monitoring - Watches, Scales, Sizes. and Other Nonsense

This isn't a very sexy title, but lately I've realized that I'm developing a different system of keeping track of myself.  I know others have already thought about this - and would love to hear what you might have come up with. 
For the first time in perhaps 45 years, I no longer wear a watch routinely.  I needed one when I was working - to check pulses, respirations, how long someone had been standing or doing an exercise.  I still use an alarm clock most mornings, since I need to meet a friend for our early walks, much of the year before sunrise.  And of course I have to check clocks for appointments or picking up grandchildren.  But otherwise, I move to the rhythms of the day. 
When I stretch or work on balance I find myself still counting out seconds - an old habit.  But since I've been doing yoga, I've been changing this to focusing on my breath.  And if I want to sustain a stretch, I count my breaths rather than the time.  It's a subtle difference, but I feel myself relax more when I do this.
I don't use a scale.  When I go to the doctor's they weigh me - but that's the only time I'll step on one.  I hate them.  I come from a family of thin people.  I was never thin - and the scale has always felt like a tyrant.  My clothes tell me how I'm doing with my weight.  When I do certain exercises or movements I can feel whether I need to lose a few pounds - and most of the time that's the case.  Keeping track of body fat with calipers or finger pinches is another thing I don't do.  I've got eyes, and they don't lie.  And it's easy to tell whether I need more muscle strenth by trying a few pushups.  When I can't do even modified ones in good alignment, I need to work at it.
I don't count calories or carbs - I know the things that are loaded with them, I know the foods that are especially good for me.  If I were diabetic, I'd need to count the carbs to balance out my insulin - but otherwise, I don't think it's necessary to do that.
Sizes of clothes don't determine what I'll buy or wear.  It's not necessary to work to get to a size 10. Sizes help to approximate where to look on the racks, but beyond that guide, sizes are irrelevant.  I will not be dictated by them.
I've decided  that the only thing that counts is how I feel - and so it's become really important to pay attention to that.  In the past six months I've been learning a lot about my body through yoga.  I see where the losses in strength and flexibility have gradually developed and have been trying to reverse them so that I'm more comfortable in all my movement.  I have gradually been moving away from some of the cooking that I used to love to do - realizing I have more discretionary time and a better diet when I let a lot of that go.  Our meals are simple, well balanced, nothing fancy.  I use local and fresh food as much as possible, and both my husband and I have reduced the quanitities that we eat.  I've recently been experimenting with green smoothies (thanks to Suzanne at Enchanted Chameleon and find these to be delicious, satisfying, and for some reason inspiring.  After putting such good nutrition into my body, I'm somewhat reluctant to mess things up with a bunch of junk.  But I'm not depriving myself - if I want a piece of cake or a couple cookies or a few chips - I have them.
So this is some of what I'm learning - and if you have experiences of how you're moving to a healthier self, while leaving some old crutches behind, let me know.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy Thoughts - April 23

I am full of happy thoughts this morning.  It is another beautiful spring day.  I can't remember when we last had such a gorgeous spring.  So many years it either is cold and rainy or we go right into summer weather.  This has been idyllic - the kind that inspires poetry, painting, dancing, music.
Marcus and I have been continuing our outdoor adventures whenever possible.  These were inspired by a challenge over at 5 Orange Potatoes .  One day this week we were at the lake at Vassar and found a huge snapping turtle resting in the water.  At first we thought it was a turtle shaped log, it blended in so well with the murky bottom.  But then it slowly started to move away.  I had my camera but wasn't quick enough -we were too busy watching it.  He asks every day I see him "Can we go on an adventure now?"
The other great thing I'm enjoying this week is the Green Smoothie Challenge over at Enchanted Chameleon .  Suzanne set up a two week challenge with lots of encouragement, recipes, how - tos, where fores - and I am loving it!  I have NEVER been interested in drinking a meal.  That may go back to my high school days when I was trying to take off a few pounds and the rage was Metrecal.  Awful stuff.  I hated it, I resented having to drink a lousy tasting liquid while my friends were devouring their sloppy joes.  So even when I've read in the last few years how people enjoy their fruit smoothies for lunch, or hear about the raw food revolution and how good green smoothies are for you, I just wasn't that interested.  But lately I've been working on my well-being.  I'm 64.  I sing the Beatles song in my head a lot - "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?"  I've had some back problems  that have curtailed my rowing and have left me feeling weaker and less flexible.  So I took up yoga.  I've also started tai chi - something I did 30 years ago, and am now happy to be relearning.  I'm looking at my diet, wanting to divest myself of a few pounds.  And I want my food to be in line with my desire to care for the earth.  I was ready to hear Suzanne's message.
The first few days of the challenge I played it very safe.  A little leaf lettuce, some banana, mango, papaya; some spinach with banana, papaya and pineapple.  And I've only been drinking half a batch a day - waiting to see how my body would handle it.  But today I'm so excited because I went out hunting in the yard for some greens to add - dandelion leaves, red clover leaves, mint.  I mixed these in with some leaf lettuce, papaya and pineapple, two cups of water - delicious!  I am hooked!
All of these connections have come to me through Jamie's online book clubs - the current one being Happy Book Club .  There are so many wonderful people participating in these, all sharing some of their discoveries with each other.  Thank you!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Great Outdoor Challenge - April 14, 2010

Today was magical.  Our after school adventure  was to take a little hike at one of the local historical sites.  Marcus was so enthusiastic about the idea of following a trail in the woods.  And when he saw that there was a pond, a few streams, bridges of various sizes, insects, fish, birds, and flowers of all sorts, he was ecstatic.  At one point we were walking along quietly and he whispered: "It's so silent.  I like it."  He was very taken by the stillness.  We could hear a bee droning - which he pointed out to me was a wood bee.  And we could hear a distant towhee, I think. 
We came to a tiny stream where he was able to get down to the water level and examine it closely.  There was a single trillium blooming on the bank - a real treasure.
When it was time to go and we were walking back, I encouraged him to be the leader so he could practice his pathfinding skills.  At one point he seemed overcome by joy and came back to me,hugged me around my legs and declared "I love you, Nana!" 
You can read about other participants' experiences by going to 5 Orange Potatoes.  Creating opportunities for children to explore the natural world is a priceless gift - we all benefit.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Great Outdoor Challenge - April 12th

I look forward to picking Marcus up after school on any day - but since we've started participating in the Great Outdoor Challenge set up by Lisa at 5 Orange Potatoes, it's even more fun.  I try to stay loose about what we might do - depending on the weather, how much time we'll have together, and our moods.
Today is gorgeous.  And he chose to come to my house.  We decided to try painting with different weeds and flowers and twigs to see what kinds of textures we could come up with.  Marcus was in his "blue" period.  Day lilly leaves and dandelions seemed to be his favorites - I kind of liked the dandelions, too, and also the dry stems left over from last year's day lillies.  Some of the weeds we chose were too light for the heavier tempera paints we were using.  They might do better if we watered them down more. 
Fingers were good.
He wanted to use the lupine leaves to splatter with - but since we didn't have on play clothes we agreed to try that method another day.
So what will tomorrow bring?

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Happy Book Club - April 9

Happy Friday, everyone!  It's rainy and cool after a gorgeous, warm week - and it's ok.  The little changeups in weather keep me appreciating the special aspects each day.
I have to tell you about a few notable happy times.
First, though many people I know ask me "Why on earth do you bother with Twitter, etc., I have made some wonderful acquaintances through those networks.  The picture above illustrates this point.  These lemons are from Quinn McDonald's tree in Phoenix, Arizona.  We've been in contact for over a year and recently someone in the group was commenting on the scent of lime blossoms in their yard.  I remarked how I used to love having a lime tree when we lived in Mexico when I was young.  And Quinn wrote back adking if I wanted some lemons.  Her tree had an abundance and she'd be glad to send me a box.  That package came just before Easter - and it was like unpacking sunshine!  The lemons were huge, juicy, delicious.  She'd left some of the leaves on them so they were also gorgeous.  I have had fun sharing them with special friends, making sauces, putting zest in my coffee. On this rainy morning I have a ginger cake in the oven to serve later with a warm lemon custard that I made a couple of days ago.  Boy, everytime I walk into my kitchen and see those lemons, I smile.
Second, through my connecting here with Valli, I found my way to the blog Five Orange Potatoes.  This woman writes a lot about sharing her love of nature with her daughters and since this month has been declared Children and Nature Awareness month she's got a challenge going - each day people take their kids, grandchildren, friends or neighbors' children - and go outside.  And then write about it.  I started doing it with one of my grandsons whom I see regularly, and we've been having a wonderful time finding new ways to look at our surroundings. You can see a couple of things we did on an earlier post on my blog this week. Valerie's own blog on children's books instigated a flurry of buying some new additions for our little library, too.
And third, with a small push from one of my friends, I ended up painting out of my comfort zone, and have discovered that I do like painting larger than I thought I could/would.
As I sit in my studio and listen to the birds, watch the bright colors of blossoms and new leaves against the gray day and smell the ginger cake baking, I am experiencing a few moments of bliss.  That is a wonderful way to start this day.  I so hope that you, too, can make room for something precious today.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Children and Nature Awareness Month - What Fun!

One of the blogs I've recently discovered is 5 Orange Potatoes.  Lisa writes wonderful posts showing how she spends time with her children doing art projects, exploring nature, living a life that pays attention to what's important.  April has been declared Children and Nature Awareness month and she's suggested a challenge where readers send in photos of how they are spending time with their kids outdoors, preferably learning something in the process:
So here's what my little  5 year old grandson and I have done so far this week:
Monday we had the whole day together because he still was on spring break.  We took a short drive to Norrie Point Nature Center on the Hudson River, where we first went in to see what animals, trail maps, and resources they might have.  We saw tanks of fresh water and salt water fish, different species that live in the river (which is still an estuary here).  And we saw mud puppies!  They were very cool.  While not uncommon, we hardly ever get to see them because they blend in to the water and mud so well and they are very quick.  Then we got trail maps and went exploring for a bit.
Tuesday we had less time, so we made a map of his yard and started cataloguing all the plants and animals we could find there.  We found we have a lot of research to do!  And some waiting for more identifying characteristics to appear.
Today's adventure was a quick trip back down to the river where the main lesson might have been why we don't want to throw rocks at geese.
But this is just the best month to be encouraging discovery - there are new plants shooting up every day, more and more insects hatching out, which will mean more fish and birds coming around for the feast.
I hope you're enjoying spring delights wherever you are.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Little Push

What is it that makes you push your boundaries? Where do you get stuck?

I see over and over how I limit myself. My scripts go something like this: "I don't do that (paint large, paint certain subjects)." "I don't have time." "I don't have the skills". And underneath is the fear "Oh, I'll try that and make a fool of myself."

Fortunately, I get prodded with challenges that make me take a leap. Sometimes it is through one of the artisan's guilds that I belong to. They'll throw out a theme and ask people to come up with something either in their own medium or something new they'd like to play with, and create a piece of work. Those usually have a pretty lengthy warning time - so I mull and stew - and eventually decide that I do have something to say about the topic - and stretch a little. Voila!

Sometimes it is through a commission - "I like what you've done here, and I'd like something like that but ..." and I'm onto a new adventure.

Two weeks before Easter, my dear friend Marge asked me if I would consider doing six simple paintings to accompany the Flood narrative at the Easter vigil. I was seduced by the "simple". I like to accomodate Marge. I was flattered that she thought I could do this. So I agreed. Then she said, "They need to be visible halfway back in the church." Oops, they'll have to be bigger than I usually paint. Poster board was acceptable.

I tried to come up with the six quick and effective illustrations. Storm and lightening, dove, and rainbow - they were pretty easy to envision. But the ark on the waters, the animals and people gathering to go on the ark, and the one where they're disembarking - I couldn't come up with anything that would avoid a fair amount of detail and I didn't have a lot of time.

I ended up devoting several days to the project - but I found myself playing with new forms, and textures. I had a great time doing it. Painting larger has become less intimidating, and I really liked doing the animals, figuring out how to arrange them to show off their attributes.

It is precisely this kind of push that keeps me growing as an artist - and I suspect, as a person.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Happy Book for 26 March

Today is a good day to start off thinking about The Happy Book club: It's cold and blustery - just when we've gotten lulled into spring mode. But this week, the weather has made me really happy. I think this is my favorite season. I love, love, love the lengthening days, watching for new plants and flowers every day, hearing all the bird songs as they call to their mates. I love walking out the door and smelling earth. I love the misty gentle rains that make your skin feel fresh, almost make you feel like you should be growing and blossoming, too.

I was walking by the "lake" at Vassar before sunrise earlier this week. A great blue heron took off from the edge of the water just a few feet from me - rising ghostly, large audibly flapping wings. Such a great image against the barely lightening sky. It filled me with wonder.

Marcus, at 5, loves dinosaurs. Students at Vassar had painted dinosaur footprints on the sidewalk in front of the geology building, and when I saw them on my morning walk I knew I had to take him there. So I picked him up from school yesterday and took him to see them. He asked if they were real or painted. I told him they were painted but it didn't diminish his enthusiasm. We followed them into the woods where they seemed to originate and every little depression he called out "Look, here's another one!" And the mud hole was surely the site of some bones that we should dig. It is so much fun to play with a 5 year old.

I hope you're savoring happy times, too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Collage Workshop

I just finished an eight week storytelling collage workshop with Kathryn Antyr: What a great experience this has been! She uses the theme of the Hero's Journey, borrowing information from Joseph Campbell and others and leads participants as they set out on their own explorations. Each week we were given affirmations, prompts and examples. In addition she set up a group board where we could share our questions, comments, and the work we were doing. It became a small band of fellow travellers that I looked forward to meeting up with as we pursued our individual courses.

We may get to actually hear each others' voices via a conference call this weekend - the next best thing to an in person gathering.

I was just introduced to Smilebox - a fun way to set up slide shows of your pictures. While it says it only takes 5 minutes to get going, I found it took me quite a bit longer to figure out what I was doing. But it really was fairly simple after I got the hang of it. And you can see my collages and a very brief summary here: .

I hope this comes through. That would make me really happy!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Completing the Icon

Once the highlights and floats are finished, there are still many details to attend to. There are borders that will need delineation, cleaning up. Haloes are usually outlined, often with red and white, signifying the spanning of earth and heaven. The outside border of the icon is edged where the bole meets the background. Enliveners are small brush strokes of bright light to emphazize features on faces, hands, edges of garments. And no icon is complete until it is named. Sometimes the name is placed near the image, sometimes it's written on the border.

The icon will need to dry thoroughly before the final step, which is the oiling.

In our class, we lovingly refer to this as "The ahaa moment". When someone is ready to oil, we gather around to watch the transformation. (I wish I had a picture that could capture this. Perhaps I'll remember to do this on my next icon and will post it.) The board is warmed slightly, and linseed oil is also heated a bit. With a small prayer, it is poured over the icon. As you pick up the board to gently spread the oil, you watch as the colors come alive, jewel-like. It's the difference between the stones you find at a beach that are dull gray or mud colored and as soon as they get wet, they gleam with layers of color and detail. The oiling process actually takes a couple of hours to finish, watching carefully to see that the oil is being absorbed evenly, that colors are staying intact. And then the work is to remove the excess gradually, leaving just enough for the level of sheen desired. Linseed oil is another of the smells I've come to love.

I recognize, too, that iconography is not just a way of doing art. It becomes a vocation. And it is always a lesson in humility.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Highlights and Floats in Icon Painting

After the Roshkrish or opening of the icon, there are typically up to three sets of highlights and three floats over the skin and clothing. If there are background details those will also have highlights and floats, but the number will vary depending on the desired effect.

In this image of the Virgin of Guadalupe I actually added another layer to the Roshkrish because the colors had not dried as darkly as I wanted them. Then I started with the first highlights. On the face and hands the first set is usually the darkest. The process involves using three wells in a palette. In the first the pigment is mixed with egg only. In the second, water is added to some of the first egg mixture - usually about half and half. And in the last well there is only clean water. Areas where the highlight will be the strongest get the first mixture. The second mixture is then applied at the borders of the first and carried out a desired distance; finally with a clean brush, the edges of the previous application are touched with the clean water and carried to the outer border of the face so that ultimately only the underlying darkness will show through. Ideally, pigment flows through the water, settling itself in a relatively smooth gradation. Often you're not sure how it is going to dry - you apply the paint carefully as you can and then keep your fingers crossed that as it dries, the effect you were going for will have been realized.

I sometimes think as much praying goes into the making as the icon will ever experience once it is completed. There are so many steps where things can go wrong. Whenever my teacher hears someone suddenly gasp or suck in their breath, she is quick to say "Stop! Let it dry. It can be fixed." I hear her voice in my daily life now when I make other mistakes. It's a good mantra to have.

Highlights on garments are applied in a particular sequence, too. The first set of highlights are to define the physical body. You generally choose a color close to the underlying color but with a lot white added to it. And the three wells are utilized again. The second set of highlights represents the spiritual body.

Each time the highlights have dried thoroughly, a transparent float is applied - using pigment in a 1 to 5 egg/water mixture. Mixing 3 colors provides for a rich float.

I love mixing colors. It provides an ongoing education and constant surprise. Dry pigments may be very different looking once they're introduced to a medium. Some are strong, some are weak. Some need more grinding or they keep showing up in particles. Some can't be used till the final float because they keep coming through every succeeding layer. Some pigments are from heavy metals and need special precaution in using them.

Since the best way to learn these qualities is by experimenting with them, I've often come up with results that were disappointing. And then I use Olga's advice. I let it dry. I mix up another float. I may re - highlight an area. I fix it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Happy Book February 12

I was going to skip writing this week. I have small delights that I'm grateful for, and big blessings, too. But was there anything to share in particular? Anything that might resonate with someone else? Perhaps there is.
I LOVE Valentine's Day. That's day after tomorrow. I had a friend who said she hated it. She was single, had not had many significant relationships outside her family. She'd been focussed on her career. She saw it as a holiday for lovers (by which she meant couples). I was staying with her for the weekend and so first thing we did was plan an outrageously delicious dinner. Then we walked to this fabulous little deli nearby and bought the most wonderful, buttery heart cookies with sprinkles and frosting. We remembered out loud how much fun it was when we were little to exchange valentines, to make our own, to play with pretty papers. I think I almost had her convinced that it could be a special day even if you didn't have a partner. Almost. Since then, she has found THE ONE - later than she ever anticipated, but I'm sure Valentine's Day takes on a whole new meaning for her now.
I am still convinced that it is a great day, no matter your relationship status. It's about love. It's about giving that away - as much as you can. I saw a photo online the other day of one of those sheets that people put up to advertise something - then it has the tear strips at the bottom so people can tear off the contact information. The sheet had in BIG letters: I LOVE YOU! and the little tear strips were all saying the same thing. So you could tear one of those off and carry it around in your pocket. Love for the taking.
So there you are. That's what is really making me happy this week. Go and share some love. And find out what others are saying about what has made them happy at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Opening an Icon

In the past couple of posts I've described a little of the board preparation and laying down the image for the icon - here I want to talk more about the actual painting.

The medium used to hold the pigment is egg yolk. Preparing this is quite simple - one of those things that sounds harder than it is. Carefully separate an egg, gently wash the yolk with water, then dry it by transferring it back and forth in your hands until you're able to grasp the sac between your finger tips. pierce it with a pin or knife point and collect the liquid yolk into a small bowl. Add about a tablespoon of water, a little white vinegar, and transfer to a bottle with an eye dropper top. This mixture will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

An icon is developed through a series of highlights and floats using ground pigments, the egg mixture and additional water. Part of the learning process is discovering how the different pigments work. Some are much weaker than others; some are grainier and have to been ground finer with a mortar and pestle, some will be scrubbed even further when being mixed with the egg. Color mixing is fascinating - not only for the individual colors at any point, but anticipating how one color will look when it's got additonal highlights and floats over it.

The opening of the painting has a wonderful Russian word - Roshkrish, which means chaos. And when I look at what I've put down, I do wonder how it will all turn out - it is pretty messy looking and unattractive. The colors are typically dark and dense. I have to remind myself that this is the foundational painting - that these are the colors that will show in the deepest folds and recesses. Everything built up after that goes to light, except for a few details that will get darker paint.

In the pictures above, I've shown the opening of an icon I painted of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a fairly straightforward image. And I've shown a collection of things needed at this stage - the powdered pigments, the egg, the eye dropper bottle, some good brushes, and of course, the so important journal where I try to keep track of the outcomes of my experiements in color mixing. I also try to jot down any other little notes to remind myself - recipes for bole, gesso, egg yolk. Reminders - "Eyes are large, mouths are small, fingers are elongated" - all the myriad details. The symbolism of various colors and aspects. I think this is partly what hooked me. Remember when I foolishly said that I thought I'd take one session to learn the techniques and then move on? Hah!

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Happy Book: February 5

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. I walked this morning, as usual, and it was dark and 14 degrees F out when I left the house. But by the time I was returning the sky was like the inside of a shell - delicate rose, apricots, lavender - so lovely. Deer and crows and my good friend keep me company. What a happy way to start the day.

I wonder where the books are and how they are filling up? It is fun to think of them travelling all over the world, being delightful visitors, endearing themselves wherever they land. I can't wait to meet in person and spend a little time getting to know all about their adventures. This is all because Jamie Ridler had the terrific idea to send them around so that people could add their own happy thoughts and pictures to each one - follow the journeys here: .

This is what I have to share this week:

1. My daughter was showing my 5 year old grandson his baby book earlier this week. Then when she was in the kitchen Marcus called to his older brother, "Look, Shawn, mommy laid a baby!"

2. I had a really wonderful talk with my sister this week and we've decided we have to find a way to spend some time together, just the two of us. Distance and family obligations make that difficult, but not impossible.

3. I've gotten a couple of real letters from friends recently. I LOVE getting mail - real mail. I think I'll make some time to send some hand written letters, too.

4. Going through pictures for my collage class with Kathryn Antyr I found a fabulous picture of my mother laughing with her mom. My memories of this grandmother are not as happy as of my other grandmother - she spent much of her later years lamenting her unhappy childhood, grieving over the loss of my grandfather, and then suffering a gradually debilitating dementia. This picture reminds me of how much fun she could be.

5. The happiest thing of all was celebrating my grandson's 5th birthday - making cupcakes with him to share with his class, hearing his excitement about turning 5. We almost lost Marcus last summer in a near drowning accident. That event has colored my relationships with everyone I love; I am so happy to have the time that I do with each one.

I hope you've had a wonderful week, marking your own delights and opportunities to express gratitude!