Painting in a boat on the river

August 30, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Posted in art, blogging, country life, country living, faith, family, knitting, Life, love, marriage, relationships, romance, shopping, summer, travel, volunteerism | 5 Comments
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I have lived here just over five years, started writing my blog five years ago in early August.  It is circumstantially strange, but the blog inevitably became an integral part of marriage.  I suppose it is conceivable it will always be that way.  None of us know how long this blog relationship may last, it is brand new territory for us all after all.

It’s funny, because I can go back and see what we were up to on or about this date back at the beginning of our marriage, and see more clearly how our lives and activities have evolved over this little bit of time.  In 2006 on this date I was writing about the ice cream social fund raiser we had at our church the night before.  Today I am writing about a little time we spent on the river last night and the Artists of The Oak Art Trail event of this past Saturday.   Beautiful times, beautiful experiences, beautiful home.

Yesterday afternoon when my husband got home from work, on a spur of the moment we headed over our cottage and went out on the river.  I grabbed a few tubes of oil paint, some brushes and palette knives, and a few gesso-prepped boards invarious sizes.  He grabbed his tackle box and rods, and we rowed a little ways out into the river before he left the boat to slowly drift.  I am not a plein aire painter particularly, although I do love painting outdoors.  I am usually meticulous in my drawings and painting techniques, working in my studio where I can focus and study and paint with an eye toward fine details at times.  But I have longed to be sitting in one end of a boat painting with my husband fishing in the other end.  So many things have happened over the past five years that we never once, until yesterday, fulfilled that particular longing in our hearts.

The river was beautiful and peaceful.  We drifted downstream slowly, toward a center island in the river.  The shadow and light was perfect, with dapples of sunshine in the trees, on the grasses, and flowers.  As we drifted toward the little island, a swan came out from behind it and was not at all disturbed by our presence.  I created a tiny little painting — it is probably only about 2 1/2″ by 3″ or something.  But, I had to mix paints quickly while sitting sideways in the boat, just a field paintbox propped against the side of the boat holding an impromptu palette, a small assortment of brushes and knives, a rag, etc.  And the scenery was changing as we drifted, so I had to paint quickly.

This was the first painting I think I have ever done where I didn’t fret as I worked on it.   I just mixed the paints and got to painting without a drawing or anything planned out … no opportunity to be meticulous in the least bit.  It is a sweet little painting, a little token to commemorate the first of our little adventures in the boat doing somethings we both love — fishing for him, painting for me, and being together in the tranquility of our mostly private little piece of the world.   Heaven.

I am into my fourth blissful day in a row this morning.   We have plenty of good days in life, but they don’t always come one right after another like this.  I write about the good and the best days, but there is no need to mention the lesser days of struggle, heartbreak, strife, or loss.  Those are the days and times that give us strength and contrast.  We all have them — you have them as well, I am certain.  If you didn’t, your life would be stagnant and we all know stagnant waters are … well, they’re stagnant.

This river of life — my river, your river, the rivers of life and living that flow through and around us all — this river is best when it is moving.  It can move slow or fast, but the transitions and bubbles, the white water, and the ripples all work together to create the stuff of life.

On Saturday our Art Trail event came off beautifully.  I wish you could have been here … actually, some of you were.  This was the fourth or fifth year of the art trail, but only the second year of the “loop” created by the art group I am a part of, Artists of The Oak.   In the first couple of years of the trail, there were only three to six visitors total.  Can you imagine how discouraging that was to any artists involved in it. You prepare works of art, get all set up and ready to greet the public, and believe it might be possible someone will see something you have created and actually want to pay some money and take it home with them.  Then, to have three or four people show up over the course of several hours.  Well, it is a heart breaking experience really.

Then last year at our urging the event was moved to the last Saturday in August (as opposed to early October) when there are plenty of vacationers around.  We volunteered to have several artists come to our place and set up tents on our lawn so that the public could see more art and artists with less driving.  Plus, there seems to be something very inherently lovely and inviting about this little piece of Earth.  With our grand old willow tree and the fields bordering our lawn on two sides, and the river right across the road the setting is quite beautiful.  The end of August is the best weather you could hope for an outdoor event of this kind, and with a few artists all together at once place we figured that even if no public showed up for the event at least we would all be together enjoying a beautiful summer day.

So, last year’s event saw an increase from three or four people to thirty-five to forty visitors … very encouraging.

This year we all pitched in on the costs for printing 2,000 full-color flyers about our “loop” in the Trail as well as 1,000 oversized postcards about our group.  We started getting the flyers and postcards out three months in advance and all of the artists helped get those flyers distributed around the county.  I wrote a press release that really told our story, and some of the papers in Western New York gave us some great coverage.

I think I mentioned last week that our regional arts council had dropped the ball on this event, leaving us and me in particular, with quite a lot of work to shoulder in making sure the event was executed well and continued to move upward rather than becoming stagnant.  For me, there was a quite a lot of frustration in the process because I kept thinking there was going to be interest and activity and action and accomplishment on the part of the arts council … some care.  However, that was not the case and as the date was coming into view the realization that we were pretty much on our own dawned more and more clearly.

Regardless of that frustration, the day of the event everything was in place and beautiful.  The weather was perfect and the tents on the lawn looks inviting and festive.  The accordion player who had generously agreed to come and play for an hour or so stayed on for most of the day.  His electronic accordion is now cordless, so he was able to wander around playing as he strolled by the tents along with visitors.

We had a potter and four painters here at our place, two of the painters worked on on paintings live as the day progressed; the potter brought her wheel and threw some pottery as she had time to.  We even had enjoyed a fly-by visit from two bald eagles, one flying so low in great big circles that we were able to clearly see his bald head.   Our dear friend Roger helped my husband with set up the night before the event, and came back Saturday to continue pitching in and helping out wherever he could … he is that kind of guy.  He manned the free helium balloon tent, blowing up balloons all day and giving them out to adults and children alike.

Our other dear friend, Larry, baked give different types of cookies and made several large air-pots filled with coffee (French Vanilla and Hazelnut), along with a big old jug of iced tea and another big old jug of lemonade.  He brought his big baker’s display case and had a set up under one of the tents (which he brought), right beside of another tent (which he brought) that was set up with chairs borrowed from our church so that people could sit and enjoy the live music.

Larry gave away free cookies, coffee, iced tea and lemonade all day long to anyone who wanted something.  He chatted with people and made them feel very warm and welcome.  This was all done at his own personal expense and effort because he wanted to do something helpful and fun for the community.  This is not a man with many extra pennies to rub together, but he gave of himself freely and generously with a heart full of love.

There was a young girl who came by and played classical, acoustic guitar for a while.  We gave her gas money so she could afford the drive over, but other than that she played out of the goodness of her own heart.  Larry sent her home with a gallon size ziploc bag stuffed full of cookies … good ol’ Larry.

Ours was only one of four locations staged by members of our group.  There was another stop, Marti’s on Main in Albion, an art gallery started by Kim Martillotta-Muscarella–a member of our group.  She hosted several artists at her place, plus the public was able to walk through the gallery and see many works of art on display by various members of our group.  Arthur Barnes was on hand at his historic cobblestone building, and another artist was nearby at another historic building demonstrating his painting techniques.

Concurrent with our “loop” of the Art Trail was the portion of the trail that was organized and promoted by the arts council.  On our loop, we had an estimated 150 to 200 visitors who came through.  That was a tremendous increase from the three or four visitors in the first two years and that is because of our efforts, our organization, and the fact that we put quite a lot of care into what we were creating — we, the artists in Artists of The Oak.  In speaking with a fellow who was on the other portion of the trail organized by the arts council … he had five visitors.  So, that disparity clearly demonstrates the contrast in the effectiveness of our efforts as compared to those of the arts council.

The only reason I am pointing this out is that it is really important for people to realize that you can create a big difference by investing yourself in an activity and taking care of it yourself rather than waiting for someone else to do it.  I think the biggest difference between what we did and what the arts council did was that we cared and put ourselves into what we were doing, we truly cared about the end results.  We didn’t just want to be able to say that we did it, we wanted the results of what we did to count for something and we wanted the event to be memorable for everyone concerned — memorable as a good thing, not memorable as a failure.

Next year we will do our Art Trail again but it is going to be our Art Trail, a distinctly separate event from the one that is put on by the arts council.  They should continue to do their event and invest themselves into in what ever way and to whatever extent their mission statement dictates they should.  I wish them success and good times.

As for Artists of The Oak … as wonderful as this year’s event was, next year’s will be even better and we will all invest ourselves in it even more than we did this year.  I hope to see more of you as well!

~firefly

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Pass the torch of magic

December 14, 2007 at 7:40 pm | Posted in Christmas, country life, country living, faith, family, food, free knitting patterns, gifts, Holidays, knitting, love, photography, Santa Claus, volunteerism | 17 Comments

Another of Fireflys Santas from her Santa CollectionI come from a very large family: three brothers, my sister and I, and our parents. Each sibling got married, we each had two children. For many years we were all living very close to each other and the holidays were these huge, jolly, loud, vivacious, loving, and magical feeling times we shared. We are funny and creative people, some have boisterous voices, clever talented wit runs rampant in our ranks and generosity runs deep in our souls. We enjoyed each others’ company tremendously, and sometimes we went quite overboard on Christmas presents for each other, the grandparents, the kids … you can imagine.

I remember one Christmas in particular with a large Christmas tree standing beautifully in a corner of a large room at I-don’t-recall-specifically-just-whose-house. Presents surrounded the tree, overflowed from underneath it, and streamed out in piles and rivers beyond the reach of its lofty, abundant boughs.

That was a big Chirstmas, but not the best Christmas I can recall … oh, it was a great Christmas, don’t get me wrong. There was love abounding, family galore, a house full of laughter and excitement. It was great. But it was not the best.

I remember another year when I was a single parent, living out in the high desert above Los Angeles with my children. The spring of that year one sister-in-law suggested the family try something new for Christmas: rather than every one freely exchanging gifts with each other, we would draw names and each person would focus their attention and budget on buying something for just one person. We were each to create a wish list of “big” things we wanted. Honestly, I didn’t agree with the concept, but it seemed others in the family agreed and so we were to give it a try.

Some Preserves Firefly is giving away this ChristmasThat was a tough year for me financially, so I would have to make something for whoever I would draw the name of. But there was a problem, we weren’t going to draw names until Thanksgiving. That wouldn’t give me enough time to figure out a project, get supplies and make something. I had the bright idea that I would get someone to help me “rig” the drawing so that I could pick early in the year one person to bestow something special on and have several months to prepare.

Over the course of the summer I bought various supplies and I made a lovely assortment of peach colored and coordinated items for my sister for her bedroom. They were beautiful items … a fabric covered hat box, a padded fabric jewelry box, a cross stitch project of some kind, other items I don’t remember so clearly now.

Thanksgiving came, we all got together and during the course of the day time for the big drawing came up. I pulled whoever was in charge of the drawing aside and told them my problem, so we “fixed” the drawing so that I picked my sister’s name and all seemed well.

Then it happened.

A discussion got started.

Turns out, not everyone was in agreement with the plan of drawing names and shopping for only one person. There were lots of emotions, different points of view, and general confusion. A thought occurred to me, which I felt would resolve the entire matter even though it would cause a problem for me.

I said that the wonderful thing about holidays, and especially Christmas, is that we all get filled up with these wonderful feelings each and every year … feelings of love, and magic, and so forth. I realized, and I told them, that what makes holidays stand out so crisply for each of us is tradition. We have certain traditions of food, timing, experience, generosity. And when we experience those traditions, we know it is “Christmas”, or “the holidays”. Our personal family traditions trigger in us the stirring of special feelings, and tradition is what helps keep it special and not just some ordinary day. I pointed out that our tradition of wild, un-abandoned gift giving was a long standing tradition and the idea of drawing one person’s name wasn’t a bad idea it was just not our tradition and so we probably should not do it because it was going to undo our tradition too drastically.

I told them all, that I had good reason to wish we would go forward with it because I had already spent my whole budget on just one person … I told him about the problem I had, and how I had solved it by preparing ahead of time and then rigging the drawing. But, I said that in spite of the situation I was in, I didn’t think we should mess with our family tradition.

Everyone agreed with the points I had made, and we tossed out the names we had drawn. Christmas would proceed as usual. Yippee. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but yippee anyway.

As the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas passed, I did what I could to come up with something I could do for the other many members of family given that I had very little money or time. I must admit, tradition or not, I was struggling quite a bit with how to pull the Christmas I was creating out of a nose dive and I honestly was not sure what I was going to do. Crying didn’t seem to help, but tears flowed regardless of my best efforts to prevent them.

One week before Christmas, I sat down to go through a pile of mail, sorting through the mounting stacks of bills and junk mail, putting the junk mail in a bag to be thrown out, putting the bills in a stack to be stared at despondently … well, not really but sort of. When I was finished, I got up and grabbed the junk mail bag and headed for the trash can in the garage. For some reason, I stopped as I got to the door. I had a strange feeling I should check the contents of the bag one more time for some reason. So, I riffled through the contents, and then I noticed an envelope that had escaped my attention before. I was addressed to me, my name and address were typed. Then I looked at the return address and it was … from St. Nick at the North Pole.

What?

Yes, the return address was something like “1 Rudolph Way, North Pole”.

No way.

I opened it up, and inside was a cashier’s check for $500, made out to me.

Someone had anonymously given me $500.

I sat down and cried again, but the mood was quite different.

It was magic. Whoever, whatever the source of the check in that plain little envelope, what I had been given more than anything else was magic and I just have to say I appreciated that bit of magic so very, very much.

I shared some of my St. Nick money with my next door neighbor so she could help Santa with something for her little boy and I shopped for my family with the remainder, and set some aside for a special Christmas dinner and treats for my children.

Years later, in fact, the last Christmas I spent in Los Angeles, I had an opportunity to pass the torch of magic that had been passed to me way back in the California high desert. A ministry in the inner city of Los Angeles was conducting their annual toy drive, and they sent out an email asking for new toys to be donated for their cause. They would distribute the toys to poor children and families in the inner city who would not have Christmas otherwise.

Fireflys Moonbears so cute and cuddly and softI had about 1,000 teddy bears in storage left over from a business idea I had tried that I had decided not to pursue. They were called “Moonbears”, made from some characters I had designed back when I used to do teddy bear designs for greeting cards (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away). My little Moonbears were very high quality, brand new, and it was sad I had not been able to sell them. I decided to donate 50 of my stock to the ministry, and made arrangements for them to be picked up.

Then I got to thinking about it, and I thought why not give more. At first it felt generous to give 50 bears, when they were only asking for one toy from each person. Their target was to gather toys for 300 children. Why not give them 300 bears?

So, I called the ministry and told them I would give a few more bears to their cause.

Then I got to thinking about it even more, and I thought … why not give more. Why not give away almost all of those bears and help Christmas happen for more than just 300 children.

As it turned out, I gave them 900 or more of my dear Moon Bears. These bears had angle wings and halos, and some had glitter in their fur. They were very high quality, soft, and cuddly and each one was endowed, I believe, with a big dose of my love and good wishes.

The lady who I was coordinating with at the ministry told me that the large donation of bears had been an inspiration to her and the other staff because normally the toys they received were low quality or seconds. My bears were so high quality and the number of them so much more than anyone had expected, that the staff became inspired and they got together a bunch of gift bags and tissue paper and put together lovely gift bags for hundreds and hundreds of kids with my bears and other donated items in them.

I have to say, I think that Christmas is my best Christmas ever. I felt as if I were a real part of the concept of St. Nick, Santa, the big Claus. When I heard about the happiness, the smiles on the children’s faces as they opened their gifts, and the wonderful feelings the whole experience stirred in the staff … magic.

Over the years I have had Christmas during times of great abundance, and some during times of bare necessity survival, hanging on by the skin of teeth, so to speak.

What I have noticed about Christmas is that no matter what isn’t there, what I can always find a way to put into it is magic.

It doesn’t really matter what you call this time of year, it is a time of magic. That is the tradition of Christmas, magic.

A hand knit hat Firefly made as a gift this ChristmasIn every act of brotherly love, of generosity, kindness, redemption, reconciliation … in these acts whether large or small (and more so in the small than in the large) we are, each of us, carrying on a long-standing tradition of creating and experiencing magic. It is a torch that has been passed to us and among us, and each Christmas we keep it going, and going, and going.

Look around you between now and Christmas. Is there someone you haven’t thought of who needs to feel the warmth and light of that torch embracing them, bringing hope and joy their way if even for just that one magic moment or day?

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and joyous Abuntide (a holiday I invented for the Moonbears) Pass the torch, live brightly.

~firefly

It’s cool being a bug

August 28, 2007 at 5:17 pm | Posted in art, blogging, charity knitting, country living, dating, dogs, faith, family, food, free knitting patterns, Habitat for Humanity, knitting, love, marriage, pets, photography, relationships, romance, summer, volunteerism | 13 Comments

28-aug-07_b.jpgI have been a bug now for a little over one year, and I have to say … it is cool being a bug. Bugs used to creep me out. Okay, bugs still creep me out to a large degree. However, when I became a bug I was fortunate enough to become one that has never creeped me out in the least and one which, in fact, only conjurs up magic in my heart and imagination. Therefore, I do not creep myself out and I have made some very good friends, friends who rather seem to enjoy addressing me by my bug name every bit as much as I enjoy being so called … firefly.

Little did I know when I started my blog last year in early August that it would become anything what it has become by now. I am grateful beyond expression for the warmth of the many comments and emails left by you folks out there. It has been and continues to be an inspirational journey and one that is very cool to take together. You have been with me as I have discovered and become some sort of a part of the landscape that is my new home in rural, Western New York. As I have explored and photographed this endearing place, I have fallen in love with it more and more and you have been a part of that process. I don’t want to over-acknowledge it, because I in no way intend to end this experience. Instead, I would like to do all I can to increase its value and meaning in my life as well as yours.

The evening light shows become more and more spectacular as the year grows older. Saturday evening we were snuggled up on the sofa watching something on television when a very late evening amber-rose light cut shone through the room with gently shifting dappled shadow lights across the television and on over to my oil painting studio across the room. It would be impossible to witness such light without a sense of lively magic permeating the environment. Just as the twinkling light of little fireflys in mid-summer bestow a sense of magic to brighten the soul, so does this rich late-summer, late-evening light brighten and soothe. It reminds us that magic does indeed exist … tangible. Reach out, touch it, taste it … for it is there.

28-aug-07_d.jpgA few minutes later we looked outside, catching sight of the magic light cutting through the trees here and there, high and low. The world was ablaze with magic light. I whispered, “Let’s go outside!” and away we went in a hurry before the magic could fade away. The sky was gray and pink in muted contrast to the bits and pieces of tree foilage, green by day, lit up in tones of deep amber rose. It was breathtaking and made me feel library-quiet because I so did not want to disturb it.

Later that night, as we were beginning to go to sleep, my husband said, “Is that a firefly?” I looked toward our north-facing window (the one that overlooks our barn) and saw one lone firefly blinking on and off right at our window. It was strange, a bit ethereal, to see that single firefly hanging around our bedroom window–this late in the summer. We usually only see them out amongst the trees and shrubs, by the barn and the willow, earlier in the summer. I stayed awake as long as I could watching the one firefly but I fell asleep before its light went out or away. What future magic did the firefly portend? What was the meaning of the little creatures’ visit at our bedroom window? I wonder …

Sunday seemed a perfect day to me. We enjoyed fellowship with our friends at church in the morning, and went teasel testing on the way home. (Teasels, if you recall, are the main ingredient of my Thistleonian Critters. We have been tracking their development this year to try to determine the ideal time to harvest them.) Back at home I had some experimentation to conduct on watercolor paper I wanted to adhere to wood panels for the barn paintings I am longing to get started on. We also watched the Turkish Grand Prix Formula One race which my husband had TIVO’d that morning. After the race, the watercolor paper tests, and a few other home-bound tasks, we set out to harvest a bucketful of teasels and shoot some photographs of apple orchards being prepped for picking, followed by a trip to a local farm market for a couple of scoops of our favorite ice cream.

28-aug-07_horsec.jpgWhile we were out on the photography run, my husband spotted a group of dappled horses enjoying their lazy Sunday afternoon. Three were laying down having a rest, one of those was rolling around like a happy dog …

Side Bar: I have to remember to tell you sometime about my observations regarding the behavior of New York cows versus California cows.

Be sure to check out my One Painting a Day blog to see the latest paintings I have posted there from my “Beginning with Barnum” art show at The Winery at Marjim Manor. Plus, I have found an artist-friendly auction site where I will be posting any of my auctions from now on. Of note, I will be donating 10% of my auction proceeds from the Beginning with Barnum paintings to our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. You can check out a gallery of current auctions here.

Back to the Blog … It was a wonderful summer scene, that group of happy horses lounging, rolling, napping, slowly chomping on hay. We pulled over so I could shoot some photos from the car, and as I shot my photos I was viciously attacked by–I don’t know what. At first all I felt was a bit of a stinging sensation on my forearm, but being the dedicated photographer that I am I bravely continued going for the shot I wanted … one, two, three, and four shots I clicked before pausing to see what was causing the increasingly strong feeling of pain on my arm. At first all I saw was a dark crimson circle of blood standing out in stark contrast to the snowy white of my ultra-soft long sleeved tissue tee. Blood! A stain the size of a nickle, a nickle I tell you! Eee-gaads! What was going on? Quickly my eyes caught sight of some dark, evil creature perched in the middle of the bloody spot. With no time to think, I swept at the monstrous beast with my hand while calling out to my husband that we must flee before it returned. For the first time in my life, I had been bloodied in the line of photographic duty.

28-aug-07_horseb.jpgI barely escaped with my life and I’m not entirely sure that even the mighty power of my economy size Stain-Stik is going to remove that blood stain from my pretty little tee. But, I do this dangerous photography work for you, dear reader. For you. No, no … now don’t try to dissuade me from continuing onward. If bloodied I must be in order to chronicle and bring to you the beauty of this world, then bloodied I shall be and without so much as a wince or a tear, no not I.

Don’t the horses look sweet though. I love the way one of the younger horses lifted its head, roused from a little nap to see what was going on over by the road.

28-aug-07_e.jpgSunday evening, as a mostly perfect day came to a close, I went out to our willow tree and captured some of the magic light of evening dancing through the cascading canopy above. Lovely, just lovely.

This morning, mid-blog, the doorbell rang and when Blu and I answered it, we found a group of four young men who had taken a dunk in the river when their canoe capsized. Their cell phone was drenched in water and so wasn’t working, and they needed to borrow our phone. I handed them a cordless phone while Blu barked to make sure they knew just whose home they were at. I invited them to stay on the porch to wait for their ride, so for about thirty minutes or so we had strangers out on the porch and in the yard enjoying a bit of rest just as the Wheelmen did in years gone by. I enjoyed hearing their voices as they stretched out on the hill at the corner of our yard and imagined what it must have been like when the Wheelmen would stop by on their way to Lake Ontario, stretching out in the shade of the trees and gulping down cold water from the well out back. We have a good life here at our place, and I am happy for any opportunity to share it just as it has been shared so generously with me.

Yes, I am a bug and life continues to unfold and open up, displaying more and more grace and beauty, filling my heart with a sense of gratitude overflowing and dancing along like the water in the river across the road.

It’s cool, being a bug.

Wishing you a lovely day,
~firefly

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