Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Call Me Artist

We've been in Quartzsite for about three and a half months. This is the longest stretch of time we've spent in any one place since we embarked on our RVing journey, which is coming up on two years. Usually we are ready to get moving again within two weeks, but not this time. Maybe its just the mentality of knowing that we intend to spend five months here, or maybe its because we have friends here. For me, I think its because I have more with which to occupy myself. Something that interests me greatly.

I enjoy the outdoors, but I've come to the conclusion that I'm pretty much an indoor person. I have no problem going for days without stepping outside The Beast—as long as I have something to occupy my mind. I read a lot but I can't do that day in and day out. I have my photography, which I do when we have (new) places to see. Being in the desert, there are tons of cactus plants to photograph, but the photos all come out looking the same. I came to the conclusion months ago that reading and photography weren't as fulfilling to me as I once thought they might. And it galls me to admit that. But photography is still huge in my picture. No pun intended.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have taken up pyrography, which is woodburning. It turns out I'm good at it and I can spend hours on end working on projects. When some people think of woodburning, they think of signs personalized for people to put outside their homes—like our's would say "The Cooks" or "Welcome to The Beast" or some such thing. Nope. Not that. I'll tell you my story:

How did I get into woodburning? I think it was one evening last September that Rob and I watched a 'Treehouse Masters' episode on Animal Planet. The episode featured a pyrographer who was commissioned to create an artwork for the treehouse. When I saw what she could do by burning wood I turned to Rob and said "I've got to try that!" Just like that. It stayed on my mind. I mentioned it to several people. I did some research and discovered a world of amazing, talented artists and a medium that was heretofore unknown to me. I was surprisingly unintimidated. I learned about the types of tools pyrographers use and decided I'd start with the least expensive option.

It was the last week of October when we arrived in Ventura to spend a week visiting our daughter Kristie and her family. I asked Kristie to accompany me to Michael's to check out what they had. I found the inexpensive woodburning kit I'd learned about online and chose some small pieces of wood meant for decorating or other crafts. Then I found a few patterns online and burned a simple Christmas piece. I thought, okay, I handled that alright. It was too easy. I decided to expand a little bit to see what more I could do with the burner. I downloaded a more complicated pattern. After we got here to Quartzsite, Rob bought some wood to build a game board to play 'Corn Hole.' He had bits wood leftover so I used a piece of it to burn my second project instead of using the 'good' wood I bought at Michael's—just in case I failed miserably. My second project was a dragon. It turned out so well that I felt more confident and have continued to increase each project's difficulty.

I bought books on the subject written by two different pyrography artists. Each with their own styles, they offer tips, techniques and projects from which to practice them. I also learned about the better woodburning systems that would allow me to do more, and all their lessons were tailored to the better systems.

I had an occasion to email all my daughters about something—I don't remember what—and in it I decided to write a note letting them know what I've been doing and how much I love it. Rob started asking me questions that led me to believe that maybe, just maybe, he was considering getting me the better, and expensive, woodburning system for Christmas—even though it was clearly not in the budget. A girl can dream, though, right? Never in my wildest dreams did I suspect my daughters were behind it. I was in the middle of a project when Rob dropped a box next to me and told me to open it. "What is it?" "Just open it." Which I did after, to Rob, an agonizing few minutes. "My Razertip? It's not in the budget!" "I didn't have anything the to do with it! Its from your daughters." I was speechless. A Christmas gift of the system I'd begun to lust after from all five daughters. "How did they know?" "I don't know but they knew about it." I didn't remember mentioning it until I looked back at the email and there it was in backlit splendor. I can't begin to say how much I appreciate this gift, and being that its from my girls has made it that much more special. I only hoped that I'd be worthy of it.

When I burned the lion, which you'll see, I was still using the old burner. A friend saw the lion while I was working on it and asked if I'd do something from a photo. She had a favorite cellphone picture of her daughter that she'd like done. My first commission? Cool. I told her I'd probably not start it for a couple of months because I wanted to get more technique down before I tried anything like—gasp—a person. Doing fur is one thing with the low-end burner, shading skin is another. Believe me. Then the Christmas gift arrived and I had hope that I'd be able to burn Nonda's daughter even sooner. And I did. To get ready, I worked on patterns from my books to learn the techniques each artist offered; and, I practiced using the new 'pens' until I felt confident enough to give it a try. I had to make sure that each time I touch a nib to wood, I was getting a consistent effect. Nonda was pleased with the results, as was I. 

In photography, the study of light and zones, the gradation from light to dark, act as a foundation for the work I now do, which is simply sepia tones on wood rather than the black and white of a photograph—but its done from my hand rather than my eye.

Who would have thought I could do this? Who could have known this is where I'd be led. Not I. I do meditation and before we bought our motorhome, my mantra had been "when an opportunity presents itself, I will recognize that opportunity and I will act upon it." Next thing I knew, we were RVing full-time after first talking about it 30 years before. I've felt for a long time that there's something I'm meant to do. I just didn't know what. So, last summer my mantra became "show me what I'm meant to do that is a gift to myself as well as to others." For one who could've only wished she could sketch or paint or watercolor, providence called and, without really knowing it, I recognized, at the soul level, the medium that now allows me to express my creative side like no other. When I watched that show and felt the excitement and motivation to try pyrography, I had no clue that it was my soul speaking to me. It was only after I discovered I was good at it and that I can possibly become great at it that I realized the Universe/Soul/Higher Self/God conspired to fulfill my needs, maybe my destiny. Why? Because I was open to it.

So when it happens to you, when that moment comes and your first thought is I've got to try that, do that, be that, don't brush it off, don't forget it, don't think you can't. For any reason. It is your highest self speaking to you. It is opportunity knocking. Just turn the knob, open the door, walk through, and don't look back.

The new woodburning system. Considered the best on the market at this time.

My very first project. The color is done with watercolor pencils and water.

Project number two. The Dragon on solid pine. About 5 x 7.

Number 3. Howling Wolf on 5 x 7 Baltic Birch.

Number 4. Husky on 5 x 7 Baltic Birch. I'd like to do this on about 20 x 30.

Number 5. Wolf on 5 x 7 Baltic Birch.

Number 6. Polar Bear with acrylic paint and watercolor on 5 x 7 Baltic Birch.

Number 7. Wolf by Birch Tree on 12 x 12 Baltic Birch plywood.

Number 8. The Lion on natural Basswood. Approx. 8 x 12.

Number 9. Gold Panning. This scene was taken from a sketch done by the famous western artist, Charles W. Russell. Approx. 7 x 11.

Number 10. Buffalo in Snow from a photo by Jeff Wendorff. 5 x 7 Baltic Birch.

Number 11. Tiger done with nothing but straight lines. One of the lessons I did to learn technique. 10 x 10 Baltic Birch.

Number 12. Dream Catcher on 12 x 14 Baltic Birch. Another lesson to learn technique.

Number 13. My first commissioned work. Erin and Puppy. This was about 40 hours of work.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Somebody Back East is Saying, "Why Don't He Write?"

I've been telling myself that its time I got busy and posted a blog especially because last time was nothing but photographs. But, quite frankly, I haven't felt like it. I thought maybe I'd completely lost interest but the truth is that I felt I hadn't anything to say. We went here, we saw that, blah blah blah, started to sound redundant and strained to my ears even as I'd occasionally check the status to see how many people have clicked to my blog—and its really not that many although a few of my past entries have had well over 100 hits. I'd like that for every blog. I only wish it would tell me who actually reads it. When we were home a few weeks ago, though, I received a couple inadvertent words of encouragement from friends who do read it. They tell me they look forward to it. Those folks are the ones who have me thinking I just ought to keep up with it.

I started to write a book before we left home on our RV journey in 2013. I've gone back and looked at it, reread what was written thus far, and decided it actually sounds pretty good. But the real problem is I can't quite come up with an outline let alone flesh out complete personalities, situations and scenes. The overall premise is quite good in my opinion but the length of a story, whether short or long, is in the details and I'm sorely lacking in those. The years of creative atrophy have withered all but a shred of the literary imagination I once possessed. I've definitely put the book on the back burner—indefinitely. One day may the lightning bolt of inspiration strike me before it's too late.

Why then are you writing right now, you might ask?

I was reading. I was reading the final, final book of my most favorite author of all time who died in July 2012. Maeve Binchy had one other book published posthumously, which she had finished but not completed the final edit prior to her death. I've read all her books with the exception of, I believe, a couple of her compilations of short stories. I have never read an author who can bring (brought) characters alive as she does (did); who has (had) the extraordinary ability to write stories that, when the book is done, you want to cry, "Noooo! It can't be over yet! I want to keep reading about all these people and their lives!" You feel like a fly on the wall in all her characters' homes.

Maeve was Irish and all her books are set in Ireland. In her earlier work, the images in my head as I read were rather dark (not in a bad way), and dingy, as though everyone lived in black and white—actually, more like sepia. The characters seemed to have simple lives and many seemed to struggle financially. Her writing reflected, without words even though one is reading words, the feel of Ireland at the time. As Ireland's economy improved, Maeve's words provided me images that seemed lighter and brighter, again without quite having it spelled out. What a remarkable talent! And I'm not the only one who feels this way. She has legions of fans and many, like I, who had shed real tears when she passed.

The book I am currently reading is one that her husband had published of Maeve's columns written for The Irish Times starting in the 1960s. As a young woman and school teacher (since that and being a nurse or secretary were the only career avenues open to women at the time), Maeve had a desire, no, a need, to travel and see the world. She would write letters to her father telling him of her experiences and he thought them so good he sent them to the newspaper removing only the 'Dear Daddy' part. This began her literary career.

I'm about two-thirds through the book and I'm reading the bits from the 1980s. One column spoke to me in which, I assume, Maeve was invited to speak at a writer's seminar or convention and she was asked a question about writing. Her advice: Write like you speak. Otherwise, the words come out unnatural, more complicated or loquacious (which I'm known to be), than when you just talk. I would love to write exactly like I speak but you'd be sadly disappointed. I write like I'd like to speak. What this means is that, in a conversation, you'd be waiting a hell of a long time for me to search the databank of my brain to remember the more descriptive words I mean to use. Writing, at least, allows me the time to ponder words, coax them out of the file deeply buried in the :C drive, which is also deeply buried somewhere in the right side of my brain, before typing them. Dictionaries and Thesauruses help when that same brain decides it would rather occupy a deep-freeze than spit out the word for which I search and know is there. Somewhere.

This column Maeve had written for the November 30th, 1983, publication. I'd only known Rob for almost 8 months and my daughters were only 4 and 7 on that date. Wow. A long time ago. But it inspired me to sit my butt in my chair and talk to y'all. And because that time was when words were easy for me and I wrote and wrote. A lot. I'd say it was mostly ramblings. I remember, at times, that I felt as though words were channeled through me rather than by me. I sure wish I still had them so I'd know what I was thinking then—and so I could admire the flowing vocabulary I once had before my hard drive randomly deleted files.

Along with not feeling like writing for the last couple of months, I've occasionally told myself that no one really wants to read my blog, that no one cares, so I feel very grateful that an old friend and a good neighbor brought it up themselves, on separate occasions and places, that my blogs matter to them. You know who you are. Thanks. Very much.

I feel I can safely assume that many people want to hear about where we've been and what we've seen, and maybe come back for my photographs, too. And, as I gave thought to all of this, it reminded me of a favorite scene in the movie Dances With Wolves in which Lt. Dunbar and Timmons, the wagon driver, come across the sun-bleached bones of a pioneer family and the implication their demise was facilitated by natives (because saying 'indians' isn't PC enough). Timmons, full of frontier hardened humor says, "Somebody back east is sayin' "Why don't he write?" Well, I wouldn't want to keep you wondering when I'm quite alive and well.

And just so I don't leave anything out, after leaving home in October, we spent a week at Bass Lake, south of Yosemite (where we spent a wonderful day with our daughter Susanna and son-in-law Terry); then, a week in Ventura with daughter Kristie, son-in-law Matt and grandson Cayman; and, now, we are in Quartzsite, Arizona, and will be here until April 1st. And, for those who haven't seen it on Facebook, I've taken up Pyrography. I'll show you photos of what I've done another time. I'm exercising my creative and artistic muscle. I don't need words for that.

Just a few photos from our day in Yosemite:

Terry and Susanna

A geological wonder.

Looking for an easy meal.

What happened to the lake?

Half Dome. Of course.

El Capitan.

Reminds me that Christmas is coming soon.

Dad and daughter resting a bit.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Photos, Photos, Photos!

I have so many photos that I will keep the words short. Since my last post, we left Washington, a place which didn't blow my skirt up regarding the people but it sure is a beautiful area. I wouldn't mind a view like Mount Rainier every single day. We next went to Sandpoint, Idaho.

We went to Sandpoint to visit our friends, Mike and Denise, whom we met in Savannah, Georgia, last fall, and we fell in love. Sandpoint has everything we want: mountains, a huge lake, trees—firs, spruces, quaking aspens—seasons, deer, moose, bear, low population, low insects, no poisonous snakes, trains with their accompanying whistles, adequate shopping and a creative, artsy and friendly community. When we've seen enough of the country to satisfy us, we intend to rent a house and spend a full year in Sandpoint to determine if we'd like to live there permanently. We especially have to spend winter there so we know if we can tolerate snow. They only get an average of about 7 feet of snow throughout the winter, but I haven't lived with snow since I left New Jersey in January 1980, and Rob hasn't since his last year of high school in 1965. I'm looking forward to the experience.

After we left Idaho, we started to head home. We spent a week in LaPine, Oregon, and visited with friends we met in Quartzsite, Arizona. We'll be spending five months in Quartzsite over this winter and will be spending a lot more time with Phil and Linda. Then we went to Lake Oroville, which is suffering terribly, like all of California, from the drought. Now we are home and will spend a couple of weeks here then head south.

I hope you enjoy my photos.

Beautiful Bonsai at the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection in Federal Way, Washington.

Look at how old the tree is from which the above Bonsai was created.

At the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

At Pike's Place Market.

A street performer with his African Grey parrot at Pike's Place Market.

He was so good with the kids as evidenced by this little fellow's smile.

Colorful chili peppers.

And veggies.

And restaurants.

A rainbow at the fun fountain by the Space Needle.

The lines to get into the Space Needle wrapped around the base a couple of times.

Our family chili dinner with Mt. Rainier in the background.

Overlooking Sandpoint, Idaho, from Schweitzer Mountain.

There is always something going on. This weekend was a car show.


I love old trucks.

Especially this old.

Cool paint job.

And who doesn't love candy apple red.

These are ceramics applied to the side of this building, which houses public restrooms. The photo doesn't do it justice.

This car was much more awesome in person.

Yes, this car really is this shade of lilac!

Our friend, Mike, with Tilley the Burmese Mountain Dog. What a sweetie! (Both of them).

Looks fun!

Sandpoint City Beach from Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced Pon-der-ray).

One of the fantastic homes on Lake Pend Oreille. Can you see the cow jumping over the moon?

My son-in-law said "yes, please" when he saw this photo.

Someone is making his home his castle.

Mike and Rob.

Denise and I.

One of the many trains that come through. Love them!

Huckleberry Cream Ale. How appropriate for the place where they grow abundantly.


Mike and Denise in front of their cute house.

In better years, you can see Lake Oroville from the campground. Now you only see where it's supposed to be.

Our camp spot at Lime Saddle Campground at Lake Oroville.

A buoy and buoy anchors waiting to be submerged again.

Rob looking out from Oroville Dam.

Cool sky looking west from the Oroville Dam.

There is some lake left.

A very dry spillway.

One lone salmon at the fish hatchery.

Salmon swimming upstream at the fish hatchery.

School children learning about the salmon.

Our favorite neighbors at the campground.

The lizards were out in full force our last day at Lake Oroville.

Rob chillin'.

This hummingbird diligently guarded 'his' feeder from two other hummers.

Our last evening at Lake Oroville delighted us with this deer family feeding right next to The Beast. We'd been seeing them often, but not this close.

Mama was a little nervous when we opened a window.

Junior posed for me for just a moment.

Rob tried to give the deer carrots. They didn't seem to like it, but the carrot was gone the next morning.