Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Exploring--Sculpture Garden in Warwick, New York

Friends in Warwick, New York introduced us to an amazing local collection of iron sculptures in a bucolic natural setting. After a phone call to the descendants of the artist, Frederick Franck, we were granted admission to the grounds and were the only visitors that afternoon savoring this quiet, almost worshipful, setting. Pacem in Terris, the name of the property, aptly describes both the goals and subject matter of the art and the experience the visitor receives.
Originally from the Netherlands, oral surgeon Frederick Franck gradually evolved from being a hobby artist in the 1930s to devoting his full time and attention to what he described as a pilgrimage of "seeing". Some of his works testify directly to the horrors of war and violence; others more subtly suggest the beauty and preciousness of all life, our environment, and peaceful living. He described his art as the central spiritual quest of his life, a search for "seeing" in the deepest sense. Some of his works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, all in New York City, and elsewhere around the world. But I cannot imagine that seeing his works in any other setting could equal the inspiration of viewing the pieces on the grounds of his simple former home (now a small museum and bookstore).
These photos, from our memorable time at Pacem in Terris, show one of my favorite sculptures, the plaque about its meaning, and the rushing stream near the restored 18th century watermill Franck and his wife, Claske, lived and worked in for many years. If the photos are not clear, you may click on them for a larger view.
I have just been rereading sections from a book I purchased there, Fingers Pointing Toward the Sacred, a sort of memoir of parts of his lifetime spiritual quest in various cultures, including his account of interviews with Pope John XXIII, the Dalai Lama, Albert Schweitzer, and others. The book contains a number of his moving and evocative spare line drawings of people and places. The activity of losing himself in seeing and drawing formed a kind of meditative practice for him.
This season of renewed hope for "peace on earth" and for the coming New Year seemed an appropriate time to recall this remarkable artist and seeker and to show you one of his works.
Question of the day: Well, more of a thought--in my life's journey I have learned and benefited most from the wisdom of thoughtful, people who do not claim to be wise. I had that feeling of deep learning as we experienced Franck's art and as I read his reflections.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Savoring--Elegant Holiday Dessert Bar Recipe--Hungarian Pastry

When I made this dessert to bring to a holiday gathering, people raved about it, as always happens. Hungarian Pastry is elegant and festive looking and is melt-in-your-mouth yummy. The recipe is a family holiday favorite, originally given to my mother by a friend with Hungarian roots decades ago. Although we always called it Hungarian Pastry, it probably has an actual Hungarian name--if any of you know, please share its real name.
Preparation takes some time, but, in my opinion, making any kind of bar is simpler and less time-consuming than making cookies (all that placing individual dollops of dough and lifting them off the cookie sheet one by one :>). Made in a rimmed 10" x 15" sheet (sometimes called a jelly roll pan) and cut small, the recipe makes a generous number of bars--two platters full (the photo shows just one). One of the photos shows the kitchen tool that simplifies spreading layers--not the first time I have showed it to you. A staple in my mother-in-law's kitchen, we have these angled spreaders in several sizes. I used one about a foot long for this recipe. Then again, a kitchen knife will do.
HUNGARIAN PASTRY
1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), softened to room temperature
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs (separated)
2 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
dash salt (up to 1/4 tsp.; I use less)
1 tsp. baking powder
20 - 24 oz. jar raspberry (or other) jam
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1. Cream butter and sugar together well in large bowl.
2. Carefully separate the 3 eggs--put whites in a different, medium-sized bowl and set aside. Put yolks into the butter/sugar mixture.
3. Add vanilla and mix well again, until fluffy.
4. Sift the dry ingredients together (full disclosure; I don't bother to sift) and add gradually to creamed mixture, blending well.
5. Spread this soft pastry mixture on a 10" x 15" rimmed baking sheet and press out until firm and even.
6. Spread jam over the pastry layer, covering as well as possible. If jam is very thick, you can stir it first.
7. Beat egg whites until stiff and spread over jam with a light touch. It doesn't hurt if the jam and egg whites mix a little here and there, but they should be as separate as possible.
8. Sprinkle with chopped nuts.
9. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 40 minutes. Check toward end of time to keep nuts from burning. The egg whites will split here and there.
Cool in pan on wire rack. Then cut into fairly small bars (your call; I think I cut 64 bars, 8 across and 8 down).
May all your seasonal treats be sweet and beautiful. We joyfully and gratefully celebrate Christmas and wish all you other Christmas celebrators a merry and meaningful day. And we pray that all of you enjoy a happy and healthy New Year. Especially for those whose 2010 has been difficult, we pray for better times ahead.
Question of the day: What is your family's favorite holiday dish or treat?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Growing--A New Home for a Painting, a Surprise Sale

"Look to the Hills", one of two versions of a lovely view at a conference center in Warwick, New York, has been displayed at Trends Home Decor on Hendricks Avenue in Jacksonville, Florida, for several months. Some of you may recall a post several months ago about the two versions I painted of this scene, based on a peaceful, renewing place we love. On Saturday, I phoned Lori Taylor, the Trends shop owner, a very sweet person and wonderful supporter of her artists, offering to bring in a new piece ("Spring Breeze", a Jacksonville Beach scene finished and posted on this blog a couple of months ago). Knowing that she has mounted an "angel wall" of special pieces for the season and that the shop is fairly full, I suggested that I could take one of my other paintings home for awhile to make room for the new one. That worked for her. A note: you can use the search box in the upper left corner of this blog to enter terms like "Trends Home Decor", "Look to the Hills", "Spring Breeze" or "paintings" for more photos and information.
She had decided to keep the Florida scenes I was showing in her shop and to rotate this New York landscape out for awhile, so we took it down. I set it aside on a chair while we chatted. Then, a couple came in to ask her about buying two brightly painted Adirondack chairs displayed out front (she sells unique home accessories and furniture in addition to moderately priced original art works). The woman came in to browse while her husband arranged payment, and she spotted my painting propped sideways on a chair. "Oh, I love that!" she said, "Don't tell me you just bought it, and I missed out." I was happy to say that is was still for sale, and we began to talk. Discovering I was the artist who painted "Look to the Hills", she described what it meant to her in more detail, how peaceful she felt it was, and how well it would fit in their bedroom.
Talk about serendipity! The pleasure of meeting the couple who took this piece home and of hearing how it spoke to them was delightful. And if I had taken it straight home instead of chatting with Lori for awhile, we would have missed each other, and that particular piece would not have found its new home.
Question of the day: Where would we be without the occasional perfectly magical connections and moments that sparkle in otherwise ordinary days?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Savoring--A Creative, Thankful Family Gathering

With a brand-new daughter-in-law marrying our Jacksonville son this past January and our other son and wife newly moved from Southern California to Atlanta, this is our first year ever to gather the six of us around our very, very thankful table. Each person contributed to a delicious meal, and our "We Are Thankful For" poster garnered many written thoughts of gratitude throughout the day. Although creativity and beauty may not be the most basic essentials of life, it is difficult for me to imagine a meaningful life without them--in some form. The beauty of our Thanksgiving table was a gift from our Atlanta "daughter", whose artistry shines in everything she does. The photos show the table before dinner and the centerpiece she created, which is still lovely. My husband read a Psalm, and we all gave thanks for God's love and care. Family, good food, home, beauty, love, and our spiritual life--we are truly thankful and hope that all of you are experiencing blessings and gratitude in your lives as well.
Question of the day: With many people in difficult circumstances around the world, I don't want to be insensitive or glib. But, do you think it is possible to live with a sense of gratitude through both ups and downs?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Savoring--Maintaining Our Weight Over the Holidays--Happy Thanksgiving!

Several years ago, a Woman's Day article about maintaining one's weight during this treacherous season started me on a course that helps year-round. Although I have mentioned it before, it seemed worth posting again this year. At my age (old enough to know better, thank you), losing weight is harder than ever, so over-indulging for a couple of months and then trying to lose those extra few pounds is very difficult.
The genius of this particular program is that it does not involve depriving ourselves of anything at holiday meals and parties. Of course, limiting or skipping certain foods can help maintain weight, but it's not fun. These suggestions all involved adding healthy foods to our diet over the six weeks or so of the season. How cool is that? Beginning with fruits and vegetables, they increased one food group each week, the list including lean protein, dairy products, high-fiber foods, and others. The idea is that the more we fill up on good stuff, the less likely we are to go way overboard on other foods. It may not work for everyone, but it helps me--and is more satisfying than worrying over eating less of special holiday foods and then feeling deprived.
The first week, the article advised adding more fruits and vegetables to daily intake--especially vegetables. Although we have all heard this advice before--and many of us do eat several servings of veggies each day--there is always room for more. We eat a variety of fresh fruits and some dried fruits at breakfast and several servings of fresh vegetables with every dinner. However, our lunch is less likely to include vegetables. If you frequently have a salad for lunch, you are way ahead of me--making salad seems like a lot of work during a busy day, and unless I also make a healthful dressing from scratch (more work!), topping the salad reduces its nutritional value.
For us, keeping a platter of cut-up fresh vegetables in the refrigerator simplifies grabbing them for lunch and snacks. I also try to make large batches of stir-fried vegetables, ratatouille, etc. at dinnertime so that there might be leftovers to warm with lunch. The platter in the photo includes a few of our favorites (aren't the colors appealing?). Another favorite treat is jicama, cut into crunchy sticks--give it a try if you are not familiar with its mild, slightly radish-like flavor. Having the platter ready guarantees that we will eat these healthy treats frequently.
Question of the day: Do you have a strategy for controlling weight during the holiday season?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Growing--Cypress Swamp Painting Is Finished

The final version of this painting of a cypress swamp based on photos from our visit to a wildlife preserve in Punta Gorda, Florida may not look dramatically different to you from the "in progress" view in a previous post. However, in "person", the adjustments are quite noticeable. The background was developed more fully, then a wash of greyish blue softened it and pushed it back so that the cypress trunks stood out more. Additional texturing draws attention to the trunk furthest to the right, where the ripples from a critter that briefly surfaced create a subtle center of interest.
Although this 8" x 10" acrylic piece on canvas board started as a study, I have invested a fair amount of effort in its development as it became more interesting to me. I hope that it represents the tranquility and beauty of our precious wetlands for viewers, as it does for me.
Thank you to all of you who continue to check in regularly. It looks as though my postings will continue to be irregular for the next couple of months, but I will post as often as I can.
Question of the day: Why do swamps get such a bad rap in stories and movies, always serving as a setting for sinister activity, when they are actually quite wonderful?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Savoring--Black Bean Pinwheel Appetizer Recipe

Our newest daughter-in-law, Ashley, (she and Pete live here in Jacksonville, FL) loves to organize and throw a party, especially for Halloween, and her parties are wonderful. This year's party was her biggest ever, and we enjoyed it very much (isn't she sweet to invite her parents-in-law along with their many young friends?).

Be sure to check out my new 2013 feature, a blog recipe index.

I haven't posted a recipe for awhile and always get rave reviews for the appetizer I brought to the Halloween party, so thought you might enjoy it, too. NOTE that it is a MAKE-AHEAD recipe; for best results, you need to chill the cream cheese filling for a couple of hours before spreading and then chill the rolled "logs" before slicing. I have trimmed some of the fat from the original recipe, and it still tastes great--have also spiced it up a little. Of course, you will adjust ingredients to your own taste. I serve these with a bowl of salsa; spooning a bit on top of the pinwheel adds a little zing. Some guests like the pinwheels best just as they are.
You need a light touch to spread the cream cheese layer over the black bean layer. Just drop spoonfuls onto the bean layer and gradually spread it over. Of course, they taste fine if the layers mix, but look nicest if they stay mostly separate. You can see that I am far from being a perfectionist about them. I include a photo showing the tortillas spread and ready to roll. The other little photo shows my favorite spreading tool, which we have in several sizes. My own mother-in-law introduced me to this efficiently shaped spreader, which is super for many uses (frosting, anyone?). The platter shown is about 2/3 of the total number the recipe makes--I had a second, smaller plate full, too. And the family loves snacking on the trimmed ends from each roll.

BLACK BEAN TORTILLA PINWHEELS
5 10” flour tortillas or wraps (or about 6 or 7, 7” ones)—I like using the mixed grain tortillas or the sun-dried tomato wraps (which I think are a little thinner than tortillas)
2 15 oz. cans black beans (30 oz. total), drained and rinsed—Place in food processor & process until smooth, adding cumin to taste (I use about ½ tsp.). You may also mash the beans—they don’t have to be perfectly smooth.
Cream filling:
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened (I use Neufchatel, the lower fat kind)
1 cup low fat sour cream
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded Monterey Jack (or other) cheese
1 bunch green onions, chopped or about 1/3 cup chopped red onion
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ cup drained, chopped green olives with pimento
Instructions:
1. Cream filling spreads best if it is chilled a couple of hours after mixing. I do not always have time, and it still works—they are just harder to roll.
2. Warm tortillas if they are stiff—
Otherwise, just go ahead & spread thinly with black bean mixture.
3. Then, spread a thin layer of cream cheese mixture over beans. Don’t spread either mixture all the way to the edge.
Roll up tortillas tightly, wrap in plastic wrap & refrigerate until well-chilled.
Cut into ¾” slices. Serve with salsa.
Question of the day: Sometimes I think I could live on appetizers--how about you?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Exploring--Autumn in the Smoky Mountains

We have just returned from a wonderful vacation, enjoying visits with family and natural autumn beauty. Driving through the Smoky Mountains this time of year is a delight, although I should have taken more photos on our way in when it was sunny:>). We had been delayed by heavy traffic on the way and wanted to keep going, so I promised myself photos at several scenic overlooks on our way south again. However, the Smokies lived up to their name as we drove back through the park, so my mountain vista photos are quite subdued. The mountain stream right next to the main north-south drive through the park, bubbling through a mix of autumn colors and trees still green, provided my best photo op that day.
We had come from the Atlanta, GA area after several days with our older son and his wife in their new home. Although they are not exactly around the corner from Jacksonville, we are thrilled and very grateful to have them so much nearer than their long-time home in Southern California. We then drove to Gatlinburg, TN to research a lodge we hoped would prove to be a good location for a summer 2011 family reunion of our immediate family, my three siblings, their children, and grandchildren. One of my brothers and his wife met us there, and we judged the lodge to be perfect for our purposes--hope the rest of the family enjoys it as much as we expect they will. It is surprisingly affordable, with 12 bedrooms, each with a private bath, an amazing kitchen which will easily handle our meal preparation needs, large dining room, two lounges with fireplaces, a pool table, and more. Since our family members live in various cities, we have few opportunities to gather all of us together, and we look forward to the reunion.
A couple more nights enjoying time with our son and dear "daughter" ended our delightful autumn vacation--now home again.
Question of the day: What natural beauty are you enjoying this season? I love our fall beauty, but also know it is spring for our southern hemisphere friends--love to visit your blogs and get a sense of our larger world.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Savoring--Nature, Relaxation--Life is Good Today

Did you need to look at the smaller photos to figure out what the larger photo shows?
It is, of course, the view from our backyard hammock. We are thankful to have cooler weather to make this a relaxing place to hang out again. The smaller photos show one more view from the hammock, looking toward the house, and one of the hammock itself. Y'all should come on down!
I truly hope that all of you have taken time lately for the renewing relaxation of spending time in the fresh autumn air. Wherever you are, whatever your responsibilities or troubles, you deserve at least a brief break doing nothing beyond breathing in natural beauty. A nearby park will do if there is no peaceful place at home. Three deep breaths--don't you wish everyone around you paused for three deep breaths several times a day?
Question of the day: Where is your favorite place to breathe deeply?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Learning and Growing--Cypress Swamp Work in Progress

I just got back to this cypress swamp piece today after working on a new, larger landscape painting for awhile. I had mentioned in my last post that I was using Linda Blondheim's e-critique service in the early stages of this 8" x 10" study. She was complimentary of the overall composition at the point I showed you last time, but asked, "What do you plan as the focal point?" Even though I was liking it in that form, with the simple pattern of cypress trunks against a soft background, it did need something more to draw the viewer's eye. The reference photos (seen in the previous post), as you may recall, came from our visit to Babcock Wilderness Adventures, a tour of extensive, varied preserve areas near Punta Gorda, on Florida's Gulf Coast.
I experimented, just lightly sketching one or more egrets or other wading birds in various spots in the scene, but they seemed "too much" somehow. I liked the simplicity and relative emptiness of the piece and wanted just a hint of something more. But what? Walking past the pond in our neighborhood just as a frog, turtle (or some critter) put a nose up gave me an interesting idea. Perhaps I could suggest the rich underwater life in this swamp without showing any particular creature by painting in some ripples to suggest that a frog, fish, or maybe even a gator had broken the surface of the otherwise still water. So, here is a start in that direction, which I hope will add a subtle hint of life.
I will continue to texture the nearest cypress trunk to the ripples (right foreground). Now that a subtle center of interest will be there, I will reinforce that with more contrast and texture and will tone down the trunk in the left foreground just a bit to avoid competing. There is also more work to do (as you can see) in developing and filling in the background and in completing the water and reflections. This one is developing slowly, given its relatively small size, but I am completely enjoying the process and am in no hurry. Given that I may paint the scene in a larger format later, I believe that taking care with composition and values now will be well worth it. Even if this is the only version ever, it is providing a pleasant creative journey.
Question of the day: Do you suppose that the tranquility of the cypress swamp I am representing has influenced my mood and pace in this work? The process has not caused any frustration--unlike some other slow-to-fruition works. Thank you, Florida Wilderness.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Learning and Growing--Painting Process for a Study of a Cypress Swamp

This work-in-progress is an 8" x 10" study using reference photos (I have posted two of them) from our visit to Babcock Wilderness Adventures, near Punta Gorda, Florida, on the Gulf Coast. I am considering what to paint on a 30" x 40" canvas waiting in the closet, which is larger than anything I have attempted so far. So, I am planning a few studies to try out some possibilities.
I first made full-page black and white copies of a couple of my photos to help me see the layout clearly. I love color so much that I have trouble seeing the "values" in a potential composition. "Value" refers to the relative lightness or darkness of objects, as if on a grey scale, and interesting value variation is a crucial element in good composition. Failing to consider value relationships can lead to a bland result, even if colors are varied and pleasing. I decided to make the sky and some of the background just a half-tone darker than they look in the photo so that the sunlight on the cypress trunks would draw the eye as the lightest areas in the piece. The reflections in the water also needed to be darker for the contrast and sense of mystery I hoped to achieve.
The actual scene has a cluttered appearance that is fascinating in nature, but not necessarily good in a painting. So, I decided to concentrate on the powerful cypress trunks themselves, to have some semi-abstracted vegetation on the far bank, and to leave most of the rest out. That one diagonal line in the photo is appealing, but just stole the whole show in my preliminary sketches (even though it was not intended to be a focal point), so I regretfully left that out, too.
I'll say more about the palette colors and later composition decisions when I post the final version--it is nearly done. Today, I wanted to show you the way I revised the scene before painting. Given that I was leaving out so much, the piece needed (in my opinion) a few more cypress trees. So, I played "cut and paste" with the photocopies until I had a pleasing arrangement of five trees, receding to the far bank. A rough line drawing helped in assessing placement.
Linda Blondheim provided very useful advice, as I was using her e-critique services during the early stages of this study. After getting the piece to the stage in the photo above, I had put it away while I completed a larger work and now am ready to finish it. Linda's question, "What do you intend as the focal point?" had me experimenting with a few possible finishing details. Soon, I will show you the result.
Question of the day: I love to hear about other people's thinking processes--in any context, whether is has to do with art or not. Do you find that interesting, too?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Exploring--Cleveland, Ohio, Blossom Center, and Lake Erie Islands

I apologize for being gone for a couple of weeks, both from posting and from visiting your blogs. Nothing is wrong here--just have been swept away by happy life events. I will try to be a more active blogger in October.
Since I have not yet tormented y'all with any posts about "What I did on my summer vacation", here it comes :>). This past summer, we enjoyed a wonderful road trip to visit my sister in Salisbury, MD and my brother in Cleveland, OH. Of course, time with family is priceless, but I also enjoyed exploring both these interesting locations.
The first photo above shows a view of the Cleveland skyline as seen approaching the dock after a river boat tour on the Goodtime III. Fond memories of the interesting sights on the Goodtime II umpty years ago put this Cleveland attraction at the top of my list of things to see and do during our visit. The glut of photos from this ride in my IPhoto album indicate the many interesting sights, including Cleveland's iconic Terminal Tower, seen from every side as we followed the winding course of the Cuyahoga River. It is the distant, pointy-topped building on the right here. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the modern building on the left, designed by world-famous architect, I. M. Pei.
The second photo shows a quiet beach on one of the Lake Erie Islands. We explored Put-in-Bay, a touristy town on one island as well as lovely natural areas, all by golf cart (the line for bringing cars onto the ferry didn't seem worth the wait that day).
Finally, another nostalgic event--we attended a stunning performance of some of our classical music favorites at Blossom Center, summer home of the world-class Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. I think the last time we were at Blossom Center was in the 1960's. It is as breath-taking as ever, with the gorgeous wood of the stage area, the acres of wooded grounds, and the amazing acoustics that allow all listeners, even those on lawn chairs or blankets on the edges of this natural "bowl" to hear every lovely note.
Question of the day: Do you know a city or town like Cleveland, which is much more attractive and interesting to visit than many realize?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Learning and Growing--Painting Process on Dune and Beach Piece, "Spring Breeze"

Today's post is designed for readers interested in my landscape painting process and in composition design in particular. The photos above show earlier stages of "Spring Breeze", with the final version at the top. The lower left photo is quite early, with some elements, like the sky and footbridge, more developed and others, like the wildflowers, just barely indicated. It was a real challenge to get the balance and focal point to work well on this piece. My painting mentor Linda Blondheim provided invaluable advice during a couple of months of using her e-critique services. With her guidance, I gradually added more curve to the path--even the second version of the path in the photo on the right changed further later on. The evolution of the path illustrates how landscape artists sometimes need to adjust features in the actual scene for a more pleasing composition. The first version reproduces the way the path actually looked in my reference photo, but adding curves and more variation provided a much more graceful lead into the scene. In a departure from my usual process, I painted the footbridge in a fairly detailed form early on because I was strongly drawn to the sharp shadows cast by the railing. Since that area was my intended focal point, I worked to render the bridge in correct perspective from the beginning.
I have no idea how often I painted out and revised the wildflowers on the left side. Although they are a major element, I wanted them to balance, but not compete with, the footbridge and its interesting shadow pattern. An important step in solving the overly even seesaw look of the foreground was to make the left side dune higher. At one point, I cut some scrap paper into a much higher dune shape, taped it (with masking tape) to the canvas, and emailed that image to Linda. She agreed that a higher dune made the composition more interesting than having so many elements on roughly the same level, but suggested going a bit lower than the line of my cut-out. However, I hesitated before revising the dune so radically because Jacksonville Beach dunes are not that steep. We landscape painters vary, I think, in the degree to which we are willing to change the actual scene when we work from nature or reference photos. For several days, this work-in-progress stood on the fireplace mantel for consideration while I worked on other paintings. The need for a greater variation in line won out over realism. Also, since steeper dunes grace some nearby beaches, the change was not completely out of line.
If some of you are interested, I will talk about the process of painting the sky and clouds in "Spring Breeze"in a future post. It can be difficult to achieve a semi-transparent, wispy effect with acrylic paints, so sharing our methods could be fun.
Question of the day: More of a reflection than a question this time: For me, achieving an interesting balance of compositional elements in a painting, with both dynamic tension and restful features, seems like a metaphor for a set of life skills we all need. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Savoring--Butterflies, At Mandarin Gardens and In Our Yard

A couple of weeks ago, my master gardener husband suggested a unique "date" to see the butterflies at the Mandarin Gardens demonstration garden on Jacksonville's south side, his favorite place to volunteer. Because our weather continues to be fairly hot, we opted for a morning visit and then breakfast out afterwards. It was fantastic, just sitting quietly among the flowers and watching the butterflies and other pollinators work their magic. I resisted pulling out the camera for awhile in order to soak it in--then took on the challenge of capturing photos of very active butterflies. I'll keep the photos small, but you can always click on them to enlarge (sometimes a second click will give you an even closer view).
Master gardener that he is, Mark has also developed our yard into a haven for butterflies and hummingbirds, so I will share some photos from our yard as well as from Mandarin Gardens. According to my field guide, the photos taken at Mandarin Gardens show a Gulf Fritillary (orange with just a few black markings--seen on both yellow and lavender flowers) and a Long-tailed Skipper (brownish one on a bright orange flower).
The monarchs are just beginning to grace our yard on their way to Mexico; I took these monarch photos this morning. This one looks like a male because of the black spot on a vein of each hind wing. Although I can't always tell a Monarch from a Viceroy as they fly by, I know the Monarchs have been up north for awhile because the milkweed Mark plants for their caterpillars to eat has grown very tall rather than being stripped down to nothing (the yellow flowering plants shown alone in a photo above--very different from what I called milkweed as a child in Michigan). The black Palamedes Swallowtail photos were also taken in our yard, earlier in the summer.
Question of the day: Aren't butterflies amazing--beautiful and captivating in a special way and also so helpful to plant life?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Learning--New Painting of North Florida Beach, "Spring Breezes"

Adapted (fairly freely) from a photo I took at Jacksonville Beach, this painting shows a dune crossing at a relatively quiet spot along our amazing off-shore island. Wildflowers were loving the early spring warmth (hint, the photo was not taken this past, unusually chilly, winter) on a March day. "Spring Breezes" developed slowly, even though I had made sketches and careful plans. Something about the look of it seemed lifeless to me along the way in spite of the bright blossoms. Fortunately, I was scheduled for another month of e-critique with my painting mentor, Linda Blondheim, and she helped me realize my original vision--plus.
Today, I won't go through the whole story of the evolution of this piece. Perhaps I will post more details about the painting process soon, but for now, have decided to let it speak for itself. After all, if visual art needs words, we are not fully doing our job :>). Of course, some visual art is meant to be paired with words or other media, and that can be wonderful. That was not the plan in this case, and I hope it stands alone. You can click on the photo to enlarge it and see more detail, but I also have some detail photos to accompany a future post about the painting process. Just one note about the scene: If you are familiar with Jacksonville Beach, you know that our dunes are not really this high. Hence my earlier disclaimer about freely adapting the actual scene--using my "artistic license" again, friends. Just one more thought before I close for today:
Question of the day: For me, the paintings that I have struggled with most sometimes grow on me, even becoming favorites. Does that happen for you--whether in visual arts or any other challenging undertaking?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Growing--Nice Display of My Paintings in a Shop

The owner of Trends Home Decor in Jacksonville, Florida, has honored my work with an attractive grouping in a prime location in her shop. She likes the way these five pieces look in a grouping, and I am surprised myself by how impressive they look the way she has arranged them :>). Somehow my work looks more like real art displayed in her shop than it does at home (at least in my view). Sometimes we don't give ourselves enough credit for our own work and can benefit from the respect others give it. I think that is true at times no matter what kind of work we do.
A previous post recounted the serendipity that led to this unexpected opportunity to display paintings for sale and described Trends in more detail. I would highly recommend Lori Taylor's fine shop and the lovely, affordable art, home furnishings and home accessories she offers. If you are in the North Florida area, stop in to see for yourself. Trends Home Decor is located at 3919 Hendricks Avenue just south of Emerson in the San Marco area of Jacksonville, Florida. Note: If the paintings above are difficult to see, just click on a photo to enlarge it.
Question of the day: When have you had an experience that provided a welcome, different perspective on your work, your life, or yourself?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Exploring--Mediterranean Turkey--Our Cruise in a Gulet

In contrast to the strange, other-worldly landscape of the region of Cappadocia, Turkey, which I showed you a few posts ago, today I am reminiscing about a sail on Turkey's south-eastern Mediterranean coast. When we visited Turkey several years ago, we were able to skip out on our guided bus tour for four glorious days and nights sailing the gorgeous turquoise waters--and then hop onto the next bus tour with our chosen itinerary that came by. The wonderful Pacha Tour Company arranged it all in advance, delivering us directly to the dock and picking us up in Anatalya harbor after our sail to continue our journey.
Given that I have just reread all my journal entries from this segment of our journey, this could be a very long post :>). Instead, I will try to give you a flavor of the mini-cruise and let the photos tell the rest. We sailed in a gulet, a lovingly kept wooden boat about 70 feet long and maybe 20 feet wide. Our captain, his father, and his 15 year old son comprised our congenial crew. Eleven passengers stayed in the six cabins, all beautifully panelled, as you can see in the photo. Our bed was at least as wide as a queen and somewhat longer, filling the area under two generous windows, which let in the October breezes, comfortably warm in the daytime and pleasantly cool at night. With ample storage in drawers under the bed and a closet on one end wall, we were cozy as could be. The door to our spotless bathroom on the left side of the picture is standing open (actually closes at right angles to the cabin door). The bathroom had a porcelain toilet and pedestal sink, wide handy shelves with a rim to keep things in order even if the boat rocked, and a hand-held shower. There was hot water whenever the engine was running and for at least an hour after we anchored each night.
Days were lazy, with four lovely meals (including an afternoon tea) prepared by the 15 year old (along with all his other chores, I don't know how he made such great food in the little galley, but we loved it). We explored the coast at a leisurely pace, with frequent extra stops at anchor so that we could swim in the crystal clear, silky water in peaceful coves. There were optional dinghy rides to coastal towns like Kas and Kalekoy, which you see in two photos above (Kalekoy, that is)--one shows the town crowned by an old Byzantine fortress, and one looks down from a street on the hill to the harbor and boats anchored with ours just beyond the docks.
The whole journey was magical, with quiet opportunities to stare deep into the water--the rocks, sea floor vegetation, and an occasional critter clearly visible, even in 50 - 60 feet of water. We could read, sketch, sun, lie back and watch the sky, or socialize with other passengers, two German couples, several Dutch people, and a Canadian man. With encouragement, our captain gradually opened up and told us about his life, speaking gently in limited English (his son's English was better), and "grandpa" just fished and grinned as he communicated his love of life on the water in a good-humored sort of sign language. The cruise was delightful and interesting in its own right and also provided a laid-back interlude in our time in Turkey.
Question of the day: Do you also enjoy time out on the water, at home or when traveling? I can't seem to do without it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Savoring--Summer Flowers, Indoors and Out

For us, appreciating nature's beauty is an essential element of creative everyday life. We also love the trees and plants in our own yard and the birds and animals that come around. My husband particularly likes gardening and growing flowering plants--luckily for me. I like bringing flowers indoors, but didn't have the right kinds of plants in the yard for it. So this spring, we chose a spot to plant a cutting garden.
Because we are committed to planting North Florida natives as much as possible, and because this is a unique ecosystem--not tropical, and yet not friendly to many of the flowers we knew from other parts of the country--it has been a learning experience. We presently have mostly yellow and purple flowers, with some reds (the colors I wanted for bringing into our home).
So, here is a quick look at our cutting garden in its very first season and at a modest bouquet I gathered to celebrate our return from a couple of weeks away. I am glad to be back to blogging and apologize for the gap in postings. Even though I had two posts written in advance to post automatically while we visited relatives, more time has passed than I intended. I also hope to get back to a more regular schedule of visiting all your blogs soon. It seems to be a slow season for blogging in general with fewer visitors coming around than in the spring. Hope you are all enjoying a fine summer (at least those of you in the Northern Hemisphere; I need to remember that some of you are looking toward spring's approach :>).
Question of the day: How is your summer going? For those of you who blog, has this been a busy or a quiet season in blogland?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Learning--Cappadocia in Turkey--An Other Worldly Scene

Once again, a delightful encounter with local Turkish people has sparked memories of our incredible journey around Turkey in the fall of 2003. One recent Saturday, the Amity Turkish Cultural Center here in Jacksonville, FL presented their monthly Turkish cooking lesson. My friend Dee and I enjoyed learning how to make a very sweet soft cookie-like dessert called seker pare. Then, we were served a delicious Turkish lunch--all free and all presented with grace and friendliness. We will definitely return for another cooking lesson! I wrote about another of their events in a recent post when they treated a group of us to a Ramadan style breaking-of-the-fast meal.
Today's photos show the strange landscape and early fortress and dwellings in a region of Cappadocia in central Turkey. It looks so much like another planet that it served as a location for the filming of several scenes from one of the original Star Wars movies.
In a photo above, I am standing in front of some volcanic rock formations on an overlook near our hotel in the region. The odd cap stones are a different type of rock that wears away more slowly in the elements than the softer rock lower down, resulting in the characteristic "fairy chimney" formations. Mark is looking out over the Goreme valley where people from about 4000 years ago in Hittite times carved out homes and villages from the rock. Early Christians also used them as places of refuge and worship; we saw some Biblical wall paintings in a large area once set up as a chapel. This entire area is preserved as an Open Air Museum, but we also saw villages where some of these old carved out cave-homes are still in use right beside much more modern structures. The vertical view is of The Citadel, the highest point in Cappadocia, which was carved out as a Hittite royal fortress. You can click on any photo to enlarge it and view more detail. It was truly amazing to see this unusual region--also humbling to realize how long there have been established civilizations in Turkey, unlike my Northern European ancestors, who were barbarians by comparison not so many centuries ago.
Question of the day: Can you believe that the New Testament chronicles Paul's journeys to Cappadocia without ever once mentioning the weird scenery?