Welcome to the inside of my brain. I’ve hit a serious roadblock to my art so I thought perhaps I’d try blogging. I’ve been doing some writing during the pandemic just to keep my creativity active so, lucky you!, I’m going to share it with you.
August 4, 2020
Hurricane Isaias has come and gone. In Virginia at least. I was prepared so it was rather anticlimactic. Everything is put back now and all is well. No damage but lots of lovely rain. My basement sump pump drain needed some attention but I just had to dig a bit of a trench to relieve standing water in the garden. I’ll need to do something more permanent later but that can wait. It’s now a lovely day with blue skies and cool breezes so I’m going back outside to enjoy it. Have a good day!
August 3, 2020
I hadn’t thought about this until I read an article in the Washington Post this morning but one activity that will apparently be a thing of the past is asking someone, or being asked, to take a cell phone photo of your group. This is something that has been a lot of fun for me in the past. I’ve always said yes when anyone asked me to do it for them and I’ve been really brazen in asking others to do it for me. Especially when I’m out with the Fredericksburg urban sketchers. There is usually too many of us to do a selfie and part of the fun is being able to pose with our sketches. I remember one instance when we were sketching at the mall because it was too cold to sketch outside. We were in the food court and there were about a dozen of us so I looked around and next to us was a family with several adults. I approached and asked if one of them would be so kind to take a photo of us. They just looked at each other and I thought that they maybe didn’t speak English so I held up my cell phone and pointed to our group. The gentleman stood and nodded yes then held up his hands and walked away. I realized that he was going to the restroom to wash his hands first. This was pre-covid so he was just being courteous. He came back a few minutes later, took the photo and sat back down without saying a word. The rest of his family had not taken their eyes off us during this entire exchange but when he sat down, they all smiled at us. There have been many other examples of peoples’ kindness at this simple connection and I will miss it. Apparently cell phones are petri dishes for germs and we can no longer be cavalier about it. C’est la guerre.
August 1, 2020
I went to my studio at Libertytown Arts Workshop this morning. I needed to pay the rent and pick up some paperwork. Discovered I’d sold a painting last week. That was a nice surprise. I’m actually selling just about as many paintings as I did before the shutdown. My income from teaching however was what I relied on to pay the rent so I’m spending savings now. It made me kind of sad today to be there and not feel like I could stay and work. I’ve not actually done anything creative there since I started sharing the space with my friend Amanda. Usually rearranging stuff gives me a burst of energy and this time is was a big change but the energy just hasn’t been there. I’m going to continue to keep the space for as long a I can and hope that one day we’ll feel comfortable being there. I’m glad they are open to the public and taking proper precautions but the idea of working in a mask in a room with one interior door and a window that doesn’t open seems like too much of a risk for me right now. I really miss my students. Teaching drawing was something that surprised me. I’d never really thought of myself as a teacher, never trained for it, but I love it. And I think I’m pretty good at it judging from my students’ output. But now it’s all on hold and I don’t know when I’ll be able to do it again. Meanwhile, the stuff I picked up today was a box of all my class notes. I’m going to spend some time going through them and see if I can make them better. May need them again one day.
July 30, 2020
I’m actually writing this on July 31st because yesterday I took a little road trip to have lunch with two dear friends. It was the first time I’d been that far from home since mid-March. We met at The Market at Grelen, a tree nursery that has a café with outdoor seating and a small gift shop. We had a lovely lunch at a large table well away from other diners. Then, wearing our masks, we ventured into the gift shop for a wee look around. Now, I’m a great one for retail therapy, and I was really looking forward to this because the only place I’ve shopped in the last 4 months has been an occasional trip to the grocery store. Plus, I remembered from previous trips that I had gotten some real treasures in this particular shop. So imagine my surprise when I realized that all I wanted to do was get back outside as quickly as possible. It wasn’t claustrophobia although it was a bit “close” inside. I just began to realize that there was nothing there that enticed me even a little bit. I felt that all the things for sale were pretty useless or expensive or both. I found myself thinking that I would far rather do without or figure out a way to repurpose something I already have. Thrift has never been one of those traits of my Scottish ancestors that made it’s way to me so it wasn’t that. I can’t help but think that this was a response to the way I’ve been living since the pandemic began. It was just really great to have a chance to be with two of my best friends and enjoy their company for a bit. It felt like a real adventure!
July 29, 2020
I think I killed a hawk today. I was driving to Snead’s Farm to pick up my CSA box of veggies and he collided with my car. I barely had time to see him swoop in from my left when the right edge of my windshield got in his way. It was an awful sound. I know it must have hurt. I couldn’t stop. There was nowhere to pull off and there were lots of cars behind me. I felt really bad. Hawks are one of my favorite creatures. I always feel they’re a lucky omen when I see them. Now I have to live with possibly killing one. I know it wasn’t really my fault, but still…
July 28, 2020
I consider myself a gardener. My mother and aunt were gardeners. Their parents were gardeners. In fact, my grandfather’s middle name was Gardiner [sic]. When I am “working” in the garden, I’m totally involved. I’m not thinking about anything but what I’m doing, whether it’s weeding, digging, planting, pruning, I’m completely in the moment. It’s when I take time out and simply sit in the garden that my mind can get involved on a more philosophical plane. I gained my horticultural knowledge mostly by osmosis. I watched my family and listened when they talked plants. I learned mostly the common names for things and how to identify them. It wasn’t until I took the Master Naturalist course a few years ago that I learned just how much I didn’t know. Now I’m more aware of native plants vs. often invasive outsiders, I’ve learned more about pollinators, weather, trees, insects mushrooms, and I still feel like I know nothing. The natural world has always been my happy place. While Mom taught me about plants, Dad taught me how to identify venomous snakes, constellations, cloud formations and what they mean, how to get my bearings in the woods, and how to hunt responsibly. The heatwave we’re having right now has kept me indoors much more than I like. I’ve tried to keep my garden alive by watering every morning but there’s no substitute for a good, long, soaking rain. We’ve hardly had a thimble-full all month. Today, I found myself thinking about how I will rearrange things in the garden next spring. I’ve lost one large tree so the shade plants under it are suffering and need to be moved. I’m trying to simplify the garden now that I’m not as flexible as I used to be. I’m eliminating things that take a lot of effort (wisteria) or that are pretty only when they bloom (day lilies) in favor of things that stay pretty all season (hostas, peonies, varigated liriope). I keep thinking I’d like to do an entire sketchbook of my plants and leave it with the house. I certainly would have benefited from that at some of the places I’ve lived. Guess I’d better get started.
July 27, 2020
Gratitude. Feels like an ordinary word, right? But expressing it can be hard. I’ve had many occasions to feel grateful lately and each time I try my best to let the other person know how much their generosity means to me. But often I come away wishing I could have done it better. Not enough thanks makes it feels hollow, and being too effusive seems to trivialize the gift. But when someone does something really big for me and expects nothing in return, my thanks have to strike that perfect balance of letting the person know how I feel without making them feel uncomfortable. My go to “thank you” is often a piece of my art and while I feel good about that, it does place an obligation/burden on the recipient. They may not like my art but then feel obliged to hang it in their house if it’s a place I go. Others may resent the fact that it feels like quid-pro-quo which then cheapens their generosity. So I have to think how I would feel if the situation was reversed and then I realize that my gratitude is all that’s necessary.
July 26, 2020
I keep thinking about my education and what I wasn’t taught. I’m feeling like I was raised in a terrarium–plenty of everything to survive, even thrive, but an extremely narrow world view. I’ve traveled a lot in my life, been to at least 7 other countries, some more than once, and that has definitely helped to make me a much more tolerant and understanding person. However, after more than 7 decades on this planet, I am still having to unlearn things I spend most of my life believing were true and indisputable. It’s disconcerting to say the least. I find myself suddenly questioning everything. Even looking things up on the Internet is suspect. Maybe especially there. Snopes is my new best friend. But are they lying to me, too? I’m beginning to understand flat-earthers. If you can’t see it with your own eyes, can you believe it? My Lutheran upbringing taught me to believe by faith alone. I’m understanding questioning your faith. My fourth grade history teacher told me slaves were treated well on the plantations. Really? My high school was named for a confederate general. I was happy when they changed the name a couple years ago but I didn’t think about all the statues. Now I understand that those confederate statues should never have been erected. I don’t believe statues, buildings, schools etc. should be named for individuals (no matter how much money they donate!). Let’s call them after places or trees or something forever. Because I’m betting that a few years from now we’ll be changing them again. Cycles. Still, I’m feeling caught up in this one and it makes me question it all.
July 25, 2020
I haven’t written about little Macchi here yet so I think it’s time. After my 20-year-old cat, Alice, died in March I was without a pet through the first few months of the quarantine. That was ok because it gave me time to mourn her. But by the end of June I realized I was ready for a new cat to share my home with. I never actively search for a pet because all my life they have found me when I was ready. So I just started thinking/talking about my readiness. One day I was reading on my front porch when a neighbor couple walked by with their two big dogs. We’ve known each other for a couple years but only casually. They stopped for a chat and in the process of talking about pets I happened to mention to them that I was making myself available to another cat in my life and was just waiting for it to find me. They looked at each other then proceeded to tell me about the cat they had. Brandy, the wife, took the cat in when Brandy’s mother passed away but because of their big dogs they’ve been afraid to let kitty near them so she has been confined to their 2nd floor for two years. She goes out only to go to the vet. They told me that they had been feeling very guilty about the cat being stuck on the 2nd floor and they haven’t had a lot of time to spend with her. So Brandy offered Macchiato to me. I was surprised because I could tell how much the cat meant to Brandy so I told them I would be honored but they needed to take some time and make sure it’s really what they wanted to do. They agreed and left and within an hour Brandy was back to tell me they really wanted me to have her. So, on July 1, Macchiato came to live with me. It has really been an amazing experience. She’s about 5 or 6 years old (she was a rescue so they aren’t exactly sure of her age). Her markings are interesting because she is a combination of a Siamese (blue eyes), calico (bits of brown and grey here and there) and possibly tabby (a ringed grey tail). She is a stout little thing–short legs and a very short tail–and could probably stand to go on a bit of a diet but I’m not starving her yet. She loves having the run of the whole house, especially the back screened porch, and she seemed to accept me right away. She is extremely affectionate, loves being in the same room with me and, if I’m lying down, she parks herself right on my chest with her face touching mine. I’m convinced Macchi is an old soul and that perhaps we’ve been friends in another lifetime. I had a great connection with Alice. We knew each other well after 20+ years, but with Macchi it was there almost immediately and the bond grows every day. I’m much more relaxed with her here and I think she is, too. I plan to keep her inside so she’ll be safe and so will the lizards and birds in the garden. She seems curious about the outside but doesn’t try to get out when I open the door. I’m looking forward to a long relationship with this little fur person and I’m sure I’ll be writing about her again.
July 24, 2020
Elevenses. One of my favorite parts of the day. I first learned about elevenses about 40 years ago when I spent some time in the U.K. When you have breakfast at 7:00, 11:00 seems like a perfect time for a snack. Yesterday I made a mixed-berry galette with the berries I picked on Wednesday so that, and a nice cuppa, is what I had for elevenses today. I’ve been reading a mystery series by Pete Brassett set in bonny Scotland where a cup of tea is the panacea for everything. Plus I’m re-watching Hamish McBeth on Netflix so I’ve been drinking a lot of tea lately. Part of my heritage is Scottish so it makes sense to me. I recently came across a geneology of my mother’s family written in the early 1900s that traced my family back to the 1200s from what is now the southwestern border of Scotland with England to England after the Normans left, to Ireland, to Pennsylvania, USA, to Augusta County, Virginia, where my grandfather was born. I even discovered a famous relation. Sir Joseph Paxton was the landscape designer who designed and built the Crystal Palace for Prince Albert and his 1851 Great Exhibition in London. Sir Joseph was a botanist and wrote a book about plants that he embellished his own sketches. Sound familiar? I feel quite a bond with him. I bet he liked elevenses, too.
July 23, 2020
I’m still trying to work the bugs out of this blog. I know some of you are not receiving email notifications and I’m working on that. Just know that I’m trying to write a blog a day before noon so just check back here now and then. There is a new editor that I’m trying here that may shed some light. If it gets too complicated, I may switch to a different method. Bear with me.
We had a lovely storm with quite a bit of rain last night and it’s been a cool morning. However, it just heard the A/C kick on so there goes that. Sigh. I am not a hot weather person but I really hate having to be inside. The best thing about my A/C though is that my solar panels take care of it. I’ve built up a surplus of energy over the cooler months so my electric bill is usually around $8/month. This was one of the best investments I’ve made to my house. I recommend it highly. The ROI was expected to be about 10 years but I think it’s already paid for itself in much less time. Shout out to the good folks at AltEnergy in Charlottesville, VA.
I really didn’t mean to write a blog about the weather! So here’s a tip I learned on Facebook this morning: the V-shaped join on a shepherd’s hook that holds your birdfeeder can catch a squirrel’s tail and pull it off if it gets caught there when the squirrel jumps away. A gruesome thought brought to you by Ed Clark of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
July 22, 2020
Today was CSA pick up at Snead’s Farm. I signed up for the season and go once a week to get a box of goodies. Sometimes I get veggies I’ve never tried before like kohlrabi, which I loved. Today’s haul included a huge canteloupe, 3 ripe tomatoes, 8 ears of sweet corn, 2 green peppers, a box of blueberries, 2 eggplants and a quart of “pick-your-own” blackberries and raspberries. I usually go when they open at 9 a.m. because it’s cooler, especially on days we have to pick our own berries. I don’t mind doing that. It’s often families with young children and today was no exception. I love overhearing snippets of conversation. “Just pick the black ones. The others aren’t ripe yet.” “I want to go to the car. It’s not fair!” “Life’s not fair.” “Stop eating so many. Mr. Snead said you can only eat one for every one you put in the box.”
Going to the farm is a welcome outing for me since it’s about the only place I go now. My world has become quite small during the pandemic. I’ve put gas in the car twice since March! I love the drive to Caroline County. I can be there and back within 45 minutes unless I take my time picking berries or stopping to sketch. I ran into Emmett Snead today and he told me he was happy to see my name appear on the CSA roster this year. I love that he has carried on the family farm and is doing well with it. I know it’s very hard work.
July 21, 2020
Good morning! I just came in from checking on the garden. I’m waiting to water until this afternoon in case the weatherman is right and we have a storm. Fingers crossed. I’ve tried to keep things alive in this heatwave but I’m starting to think survival of the fittest. My natives will probably be ok and the plants in deep shade seem to be holding up but everything else is really stressed. The leaves on the trees are beginning to yellow and fall but that’s probably a normal coping mechanism. The biggest success is a tomato plant I got as a seedling from my friend Aline. It’s about 7′ tall and has about half a dozen shapes on it with lots of blossoms. This is ironic because I really don’t like tomatoes but I love growing them. I love the smell of the leaves and how there is progress to be seen every day. I tried to grow baby French carrots in a pot but only one survived and I harvested it today. Put it out of its misery. My garden had such a good start this year what with the spring rain and me being home to tend to it. I suppose it could be worse. I have no grass to turn crispy like my neighbors’ lawns. Gardening has gotten me through some rough days during the Pandemic. As some of you know, my 20+ year old cat died in March and that pretty much crushed me for a while. And here I was isolated by the stay-at-home order so what was I do do but garden. I couldn’t seem to paint or draw so I spent my days outside digging in the dirt and my evenings binge watching Queer Eye. I had high hopes for the garden. My neighbors were into theirs as well so it was fun to know I wasn’t alone in my endeavors. I knew July and August in Virginia can be brutal and it hasn’t let me down. I wish there was some sort to voodoo I could perform to bring on the rain. When I first moved to this house, we had a long summer drought and during the first rain afterwards I happened to look out my window to see my neighbor dancing naked in her back yard. I’m not there yet but who knows…
July 20, 2020
I am currently re-reading A Life in Hand by Hannah Hinchman. It was recommended to me years ago by Rhonda Roebuck and I remember devouring it the first time I read it. Now, many years later, I’ve read it again for the first time. I was a newbie illustrated journaler when I first met Rhonda and, through her book, Hannah. Now, with 20+ journals done, I can no longer claim to be a neophyte. Still, much of what Hannah writes in her book rings true and reminds me of wonderful things I’d forgotten. Things like taking a Memory Walk–a place from your childhood that you try to imagine then draw as you walk through it in your mind, and asking yourself questions to get the memories flowing like what were the smells in my grandparents’ house? Here is a quote from Hannah that I had underlined the first time…
Each of us is supplied with the same basic equipment as the first human, and lives under the conditions that make being human so remarkable: we have an arsenal of senses, in a world of countless things to sense. We have minds that can hold images and form ideas of past, present and future all at once. We have won a moment in the unfolding universe. Doesn’t that warrant comment?
After all those sketchbooks I’ve filled, I still wonder sometimes why I’m doing them. But perhaps Hannah is right. We deserve to be counted whether we do it with writing, art, teaching…whatever we do in this life. It’s all quite remarkable indeed.
July 19, 2020…
Quiet Sunday morning here in the ‘burg. Sometimes, like today, the fact that it’s quiet catches me off guard. I started noticing this during the beginning of the pandemic quarantine as soon as the weather was nice enough to be out in the garden. All I could hear were sounds of Nature–bird songs, the breeze in the trees, insects. I even noticed I could hear birds’ wings as they flew through the garden. All traffic sounds were missing. The train whistle didn’t blow as often. Even lawn mowers and chain saws were MIA. It was heavenly! Then, as folks realized that gardening was going to be their favorite activity, man made sounds began to come back. Conversations between neighbors started up again as we each sat on our respective front porches and shouted at each other. Still no traffic which made it easier to hear. Gradually the normal sounds have come back and, because they seemed normal, I tuned them out. Today was different. I expect that because it’s Sunday and quite hot already, people are staying put. And now the sounds of people’s A/C kicking in are invading the quiet. The heat will chase me inside in a few minutes but, for now, I can sit here on the porch and pretend that all is well. Hope your day turns out the way you want it to. Cheers!
July 18, 2020…
Last month my friend and fellow sketcher, Casey Shaw, asked if I would consider taking over his article in the Front Porch Fredericksburg magazine. He writes a monthly column about sketching in our little town and I’ve had occasion to fill in for him for the odd month before. I enjoy doing it so I said yes and asked what the next deadline was. He said “yesterday.” So my June column was dashed off rather quickly. I’m going to share these musings with you here.
Hi everybody! I’m excited to fill in for Casey for the next few months. I’m always grateful to be asked.
Like many of you I expect, this strange new world we’re living in has changed so much in my life. One thing that happened early on was my sketching muse deserted me. My creativity was accessed by cooking (I’m a novice), gardening and building things but, when I thought about sketching, I just wasn’t interested. I used to fill a sketchbook every couple of months but that came to a screeching halt in March. It wasn’t just sketching either. Since my studio at LibertyTown Arts Workshop was closed, I wasn’t going there to work or teach and my studio at home didn’t feel comfortable. It made me feel really sad to lose my art mojo. Then a wise friend said just relax and ride it out so I let go and just continued playing in the kitchen, garden and workshop. Then, last week things felt different so I grabbed my sketchbook and went for a walk. I’ve been drawing every day now and I think my muse is back!
This building is the superintendent’s residence at the Fredericksburg Battlefield on Lafayette Boulevard. I’ve always been intrigued by its architecture but I’ve never sketched it before. I’m trying to keep my sketches simple and loose so I’m not spending a lot of time with details. It felt really good to be back in the saddle.