Thursday, April 29, 2010

Savoring--Contrasts in Jacksonville Harbor, Nature & Commerce

Following up on the previous post, I have two more photos to show you from our dinner cruise on Jacksonville's beautiful, wide St. John's River. At one point, three dolphins greeted us, playing all around the boat as we enjoyed their company. I wish I had a better picture of them. Although I did my best to capture an image, snapping away as they circled and leapt, many of my photos are of ripples where there had been dolphins a second before. Oh well, with or without boast-worthy pictures, I will not forget the experience. We were awed and privileged to be near these sleek, intelligent animals. They seemed to be riding the rising tide of the salt water sweeping into the river, a twice-daily flow that enriches the variety of marine life we see in the river. Even where we dock our sailboat, about 14 miles from the mouth of this mighty river, the water is brackish enough to support many salt water creatures from small crabs to those gentle giant sea mammals, manatees.
The other photo is a contrast to the rich marine life in the river and shows a ship in port--just one glimpse of the heavy shipping Jacksonville's active port supports. The graceful bridge in the background is called the Dames Point Bridge--one of our favorites among the many river crossings. Reviewing my photos from that evening, I realized again how much I enjoy living in this area. I love the varied natural habitats and extensive nature preserves in our forests, meadows, salt marshes, and ocean coastal areas. However, I am also a city kid through and through. Growing up just north of industrial Muskegon, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Michigan, I loved to watch the activity at the commercial docks. Once the St. Lawrence Seaway opened the lake to international shipping, the loading and unloading of ships, the transfer of goods to trucks and trains, and other dockside activities increased exponentially. Yet, there too, we were near gorgeous natural habitats and preserves and enjoyed the best of both worlds, in my view.
Question of the day: No particular question comes to mind--just the thought that we are very fortunate in our home area and all the places we have lived. I hope you find beauty and fascination all around, as well.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Exploring--A New Perspective on Our City, Jacksonville, FL

These views of Jacksonville, FL, are taken from a boat on our mighty St. Johns River. I think our city looks amazing from many angles, and particularly enjoyed seeing it from the deck of a power yacht this past week. One of our friends, William Gardner, had made the winning bid at a charity auction for a dinner cruise for 25 people aboard the yacht belonging to one of our local business owners. The experience felt quite "upper crusty", well out of our usual league, with a bartender, and a caterer who produced astonishingly elegant food in the small, but well-equipped galley . However, we were among wonderful people--some of them friends and some of them fascinating new acquaintances to enjoy conversing with. The whole experience seemed quite magical and refreshed me for the rest of the week.
In a way, seeing the city from a fresh perspective feels like a metaphor (loosely speaking) for what I need as a blog writer. I am feeling the need for a new point of view lately and am trying to take a mental "cruise on the river" to see if I can find a fresh approach to the blog. It's not a matter of being unhappy with the kinds of posts I have been writing, just a matter of needing a boost to keep my own interest in it alive. On Wednesday, the blog was one year old, and the anniversary is making me reflective, it seems. Lately, I have posted less often--sometimes because of other commitments, but sometimes simply because I had trouble deciding on a post topic or getting motivated to write. I try for general interest entries on the overall theme of creative living, but find myself rejecting ideas that seem too ordinary. Yet, there have been times when an entry that seemed a bit dull to me struck a chord with some of you. Your creative comments and insights revealed deeper levels of meaning that had not occurred to me.
So, maybe the new direction I need is to be less perfectionistic and more conversational with posts. I know I need to post more frequently to keep readers interested. No promises though--I've aimed to start a better post schedule several times in the last few months and then failed to come through for you. However, my original goal of posting at least every five days or so is a good one and should be achievable. That would make for at least six posts per month--I would like to get back to that. Do any of the rest of you who blog have trouble staying with it at times?
Question of the day: Do you have suggestions for me regarding blog topics you have liked or ways to stay on a blogging schedule?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Exploring--Charming Chattanooga, Tennessee

We spent a delightful 10 days after Easter visiting dear friends in North Georgia and beloved family members in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In both places, we enjoyed some fascinating sight seeing as well as meaningful time together in conversation with people who mean a great deal to us. The whole region was showing off its spring bounty of bright green foliage, blossoming trees, bushes, and bright flowers in spectacular, warmer than average weather.
Today, I am showing a few photos from downtown Chattanooga, set on the lovely Tennessee River at the foot of both Lookout and Signal Mountains. If you visited Chattanooga 10 or more years ago or if you have a mental image of it as a decaying industrial city, you would be amazed at the transformation of the central city. The Aquarium (one wing of it pictured here) is the most interesting, educational, and just plain beautiful aquarium I have visited. When it was built, planners began to beautify the entire nearby riverfront area so that it gradually became a stunning destination. The grand brick, white columned art museum gained a sleek modern art companion next door. A wide walkway down to the Tennessee River from the Bluffs Art District, with galleries, restaurants, and specialty shops, commemorates the cruel resettlement of the local Cherokee tribe out west. Lined with inset Cherokee symbols (you see the first few in the photo), the walk incorporates a waterfall symbolizing the infamous Trail of Tears and ends in a fountain spraying into the river. The entire area is beautifully landscaped. One overlook in the Bluffs district houses a sculpture garden; a couple pieces are in the foreground of the river view photo.
Although we often wish we lived closer to our brothers and sisters (we have 3 siblings each), one advantage of being spread out in various states is that any visit to family allows us to explore a unique area of this wonderful land. Plus, we have free accommodations (!) and people we love in varied areas we enjoy exploring.
Question of the day: What destination would you suggest to other readers--a place that might surprise them and exceed their expectations?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Savoring Our Home--Creative Use of Space--Art Studio

The reason my last post said that you might chuckle when I showed you my new art studio is that it is located . . . in our master bathroom! Again, I must credit my caring and creative husband for this genius, though unorthodox, idea. He also did much of the preliminary work to create the space for me. That was no hardship for him, however; give Mark a sledge hammer and something to demolish, and he is a happy guy.
Previously, I had been painting in the kitchen and frequently taking down and putting up all my gear because it was in the way otherwise. Workable, but not great, especially as I began to paint more and more often. Also, the large west-facing window often required the unsatisfactory choice of either enduring a glare on my work or closing the blinds.
We had planned some fairly extensive work in our master bath anyway, had the money saved up and our plans in the works. One day this plan came together in Mark's mind with his concern that I needed a painting studio. In our down-sized home, the master bedroom is a comfortably large enough room without being over-sized, and the master bath & walk-in closet are exceptionally large for this size house. Like many master bathrooms, it boasted a huge so-called garden tub which I had used only once in the six plus years we have lived here. When filling it completely drained a good-sized water heater, I decided that using it was WAY too wasteful. There is a normal tub/shower combo in the second bathroom for my occasional soaks.
The garden tub was set into a 5' X 8' nook around the corner from the shower stall with a wonderful, large, north-facing (perfect for painters) window. I won't take you through all the stages of the decision-making process, but simply will say that the sledge hammer performed its magic, and I gained a lovely art studio. For quite awhile, I used it with wall board patches around the tub area, the original ugly wallpaper above that, and an exposed concrete floor beneath (we tore out the worn carpet from that area--why would anyone carpet a bathroom?). It worked great, but was not very attractive, as you can imagine.
Now, we have completed remodeling the master bath and are delighted with the results. Large stone-look porcelain floor tiles laid on the diagonal unify the bath, little toilet room, and closet; the walls are a tranquil, warm caramelly color; we raised the vanity (which did not need replacing) to a more comfortable height on a plinth base (Mark and a handyman did that together) and gave it a new terra cotta colored counter top with vanilla sinks. I apologize if this is more information than you are interested in, patient readers. It's just that I am truly thrilled with our new master bath/art studio.
Question of the day: What has been your most unusual, creative use of space to make your home function uniquely well for you?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Savoring Our Home--Creative Use of Space--Home Office

Since I will not be able to write a new post for the next 10 days or so (for happy reasons--too busy in a good way), I am repeating two well-received posts from last year that I hope will interest new readers. These also tie in with a recent post on green living and the reuse, repair, and recycle principle--in a different way. These two posts are about using space in our homes creatively and efficiently. Hope you like these two spaces even a fraction as much as I do.
For a change of pace, we are back to hearth and home. I wanted to share my awesome, space-saving desk with you. We have discovered some very creative ways to use space in our down-sized home. My two favorites are this custom-made workstation and my painting studio. I'll show you the studio next time. You'll be amazed--and it may give you a chuckle, too.
Twice in our lives, we have chosen to move from fairly large homes to much smaller ones. Each time, we got rid of all the stuff that accumulates when there is always plenty of room for more. Each time, we felt younger and lighter on life's journey after paring down to the possessions we most needed and cared about.
However, living in a dramatically smaller space requires adjustment as well. For example, moving in semi-retirement from a large Atlanta home to a perfect-for-two North Florida home left me without an office of my own. My husband had visions of happily sharing the small third bedroom as a family den/office. He reckoned without the extent to which his need for order clashed with my ten books and twenty projects at once clutter. We coped while he looked for a better way.
His creative genius led to the suggestion that one end of our kitchen, where we kept a narrow bookshelf and an old TV set (TV still there, as you can see) had room for a desk for me. I was skeptical. The kitchen is not large to begin with, and we ate many of our meals at a small table on that end. Also, the generous side window extended to within 22" of the wall--how could that be enough room?
Well, we mused, looked at ready-made desks (none right for the space), and planned until we had figured out the basic design for the office nook pictured above. A retired gentleman turned genius cabinet maker constructed and installed my dream desk and bookshelves. Six roomy file cabinets hold all my projects; numerous small and large drawers, some with built in dividers, hold papers and supplies; a slide-out keyboard shelf serves my computer needs. And whatever is cooking (I call cooking my other art form) is only steps away. What could be better?
Today, it is hard to imagine how unlikely an office location this seemed at first--or that we had actually contemplated adding a small room onto the house for an office/studio for Mary. The space we have is more than enough. It just needed creative re-purposing.
Question of the day: What change in the use of your space has brought you the most satisfaction?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Learning--Reference Photos for New Landscape Painting Projects

Each of these photos is slated to serve as a reference for a new coastal North Florida landscape painting. The sandpiper feeding in the foam spun by Atlantic Ocean waves is started on a 9" x 12" canvas board. So far, the major change from the photo is to swap positions of the bird and seaweed debris--didn't want our feathered friend skittering right out of the painting :>). The major challenge of this piece will be to render a pleasing, faithful impression of the sea foam and the wet shimmer on the sand. Even in the photo, that ridge of foam looks a bit unreal--so stay tuned for how my wrestling with it all turns out. It will be great for my learning process to work on this scene.
I think I mentioned the other photo a few posts ago when we had some fun conversation (thank you, thank you, commenters!!!) about a dune scene that left the viewer no clear way to cross over to the beach. This scene shows one of many dune-preserving boardwalks on Jacksonville Beach, the only permitted way to cross our precious dunes in order to protect them and the life forms they support.
Right now, I have just begun to sketch possible compositions for the new dune scene. The photo cuts the composition almost in half vertically--not acceptable. Secondly, I am not happy with the way the foot bridge competes for attention with the white fence. So, I have been juggling the elements in thumbnail sketches in a way to feature the foot bridge, the intended focal point. Once the plan for the composition is ready, I will consider the palette--will punch up the color and contrast some, but still keep it natural and a bit soft. Lots to think about for this one. It's time for me to paint something new in an 18" x 24" size (or possibly even larger). Dune Crossing may be the one.
Question of the day: If you are an artist or have a creative hobby, what is your planning process? Are you more intuitive and inclined to pursue that flash of inspiration spontaneously; do you have a meticulous planning or preparation process; or are you somewhere in between?