Monday, October 29, 2007


I have been inspired lately to draw and paint seasonal imagery. I had never tried a calaveras, a Day of the Dead skull, though I am attracted to the vibrant colors, and the idea of remembering behind this tradition. This piece is an experiment in combining oil pastel with watercolor. I wanted it to represent my happy memories of a lost friend, so the colors are bright and cheerful and the skull is surrounded by marigolds. There is also a necklace of colored beads around the image, though it didn't fit on the scanner.

Yesterday, on a whim, we drove in to Milwaukee to the Charles Allis Art Museum to see a performance called "Phantasmagoria." The brochure described it as a "19th Century Gothic Variety Show." Since there was no Packer game on television, my husband thought the trip might be fun, and it was, in a retro literary way. The show was a combination of music (Scriabin), dance, reading of literature (Frankenstein, Shelly's "Christabel" and "Prometheus Unbound" and more), and some interesting visual projections. I was very excited at the beginning to see a man actually playing one of those creepy electronic devices used in 1950's science fiction movies, the Theremin. Here's a bit more from the brochure:

"Phantasmagoria first emerged in the 1790s immediately following the French Revolution. New technologies of visual reproduction and new sources of light ushered in an era of visual illusion. These included entertainments of light and shadow that created not a simple image, but rather a total environment. By a variety of projection devices--moving the lantern to creat images of enlarging or shrinking the image, projection of a wavering image on billows of smoke, effects of transformation through mechanical slides or anamorphic lenses-- the projections appeared to come to life. These images could be presented as representation of spirits."

That's what this proogram tried to do, but by also using more modern technology such as the computer. There were small problems, a few stumbled lines, some awkward transitions, and an unintentionally funny shadow puppet sequence. But I enjoyed the idea of a spooky entertainment that emphasized ideas and innovation rather than pure gore and slick showmanship. It was fun stepping back into another century for a couple hours, and driving back home by the light of a harvest moon.

Now I think I'll reread Frankenstein.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I've Been Tagged

Sharon has Tagged me, so it is my turn to reveal seven random things about myself, then pass it on to seven other bloggers. I’m game, but here’s the thing. I don’t know how to add links to other bloggers. Further more, I’m too lazy to figure it out! Or at least I already have plans to work out, read and paint today. Plus all the blogs I regularly read have already been tagged (I think). I know, excuses, excuses. Anyway, thanks to Sharon for thinking of me. If anyone wants to email me and tell me how to add links, I would be grateful.

Here goes:

1. I grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, where my family kept a menagerie of pets. Besides the usual multiple dogs and cats, at various times we had a mean Welsh pony, a mean parakeet, turtles, tropical fish, a crow, a raccoon, and foxes.

2. I recently retired after thirty-two years of teaching middle school and high school English and Speech. I also coached forensics, not the kind on CSI, rather competitive public speaking. I enjoyed teaching, but am also enjoying this new phase of my life. That was then; this is now.

3. I am married to a lovely man whom I met in a college class, History of the English Language. The first time I spoke to him I called him by the wrong name, but he neglected to correct me for several dates. We’ve been together since 1975. He retired the same day I did, and it worked out fine. No children, one cat.

4. Starting in 1961 I had an English pen pal. I sent 25 cents in to a magazine for a name and address, and started writing to a young man in London. We wrote a few times, then he lost interest, and his mother picked up the correspondence. I visited them in London many times, until her death in 2004, only two days after my own mother’s death. I miss both of my moms.

5. I still have a baby tooth.

6. I am beginning to think that taking art classes is an excuse not to paint on my own. I hate it when my painting suddenly looks like somebody else’s style. The trouble is, I’m not sure what my style is, except that it involves a love of color.

7. I want to find a way to combine my various enthusiasms, reading, painting, travel, collecting old dolls, and researching family history. Right now my blog is the only way I seem to be able to do that, but the search continues.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Two Seasonal Paintings

I laughed looking at my elementary school Halloween painting, because lately I've been painting exactly the same things, pumpkins, cats and leaves. My recent pumpkin painting is being made into folded cards, but the printer is a week overdue, so I need to go see about that later today. The painting of leaves is one of several I've done lately, some more intricate than others. This one was complete as an experiment in texture and layers. I didn't obssess over it, and that probably accounts for its freshness. The silly black and white Halloween cat was painted because I was horrified at how expensive nice Halloween decorations are. I decided I could do that, and that I could make it more personal, so the cat is my Bucky. Of course Bucky likes her Meow Mix, and she isn't this long limbed and lean. But hey, I had fun.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Window Painting

I grew up in the country, but I went to school in Elkhorn, starting in sixth grade. The city had a tradition of sponsoring a Halloween window decorating contest. School children would submit a small tempra painting, and some would be chosen to paint their designs on downtown business windows. It was invariably a cold day, and we'd stand outside with our sets of poster paint, water and rags and paint. Here I am, in fifth or sixth grade. I don't remember if I won any prizes for my little design, but I remember enjoying doing the painting and looking at others. It surprises me that I entered these contests, since I'm not much of an outdoor painter these days, and I'm reluctant to let strangers watch me work. But I didn't have any of those concerns in elementary school. I haven't seen an activity like this in a while. Maybe it's too too messy. Maybe children are busy with other activities. I don't know why the city discontinued having the schoolchildren paint ghosts and jack-o-lanterns on the storefronts, but it was a part of growing up in the 1950's and 1960's that I enjoyed.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More Pumpkins

This is me on my first Halloween. Up until the my younger sister was born our family lived in a little trailer beside my grandparents' farmhouse. I have almost no memory of this time, except for one that could be a dream. I'm standing in my PJs in my crib, awakened by thunder and lightning, and I am terrified. Many times I think I remember people, places or events like this, and then I find the exact image in one of these old photos, or in one of Mother's old home movies.

Mother was a creative person whose only real outlet was our family. She went to Layton Art School in Milwaukee for a year, but then dropped out to marry our father. She took pictures and home movies. She decorated for holidays. She sewed and knitted. We had lots of dresses, all sewed by her, and she made slipcovers, covered pillows and curtains. She smocked little baby outfits for her friends, and knitted little sweaters and caps. In almost very holiday related picture there is something she made, in this case the little carved pumpkin. It was hard for her when she was older and sick, when she lost her ability to do fine handwork, since that was the way she expressed her creative side.

Anyway, today we'll go out to get pumpkins. My husband isn't a fan of holiday decorations most of the time, but he likes carving a jack-o-lantern at Halloween. He works for hours on his creation, and loves to roast the seeds in butter and salt. I enjoy the finished pumpkin, but am not excited by scooping out the slimy seeds. And to tell the truth, I'm a little scared of handling a sharp knife. Maybe I can get him to do the scooping.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Playing With Leaves

When I was little I enjoyed raking leaves into big piles and jumping in. I also loved the smell when we'd burn those piles of leaves out in the orchard, no doubt adding to air pollution and global warming. But what did we know? We thought eating lots of hamburgers built muscles, whole milk gave us strong bones and teeth, flouride was a Communist plot, and a really dark suntan was sexy. In Wisconsin you were only a good citizen if you slathered lots of real butter on your Wonder Bread.

These days I'm not so wild about raking, since sore muscles and blisters aren't my favorite things. At my age, jumping into a pile of leaves wouldn't be such a good idea either. The police would be at my door (and maybe Al Gore) if I tried to burn my maple leaves. But I have been having fun painting. This isn't great art, I know. But the leaves in my neighborhood are beginning to look incandescent, and when the sun decides to come out they almost burn your retinas. I feel called to paint the bright colors. This painting is just a series of layers of watercolor, starting quite light. I took real leaves, traced around them, then added a slightly darker layer. More leaves, and another layer. More leaves, and still a darker layer of color. Sometimes I just need to play with the leaves, even if it's just up in my studio.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Raking and Lightness in Autumn

Me, raking leaves, about 1956

Lightness in Autumn
by Robert Fitzgerald

The rake is like a wand or fan,
With bamboo springing in a span
To catch the leaves that I amass
In bushels on the evening grass.

I reckon how the wind behaves
And rake them lightly into waves
And rake the waves upon a pile,
Then stop my raking for a while.

The sun is down, the air is blue,
And soon the fingers will be, too,
But there are children to appease
With ducking in those leafy seas.

So loudly rummaging their bed
On the dry billows of the dead,
They are not warned at four and three
Of natural mortality.

Before their supper they require
A dragon field of yellow fire
To light and toast them in the gloom.
So much for old earth’s ashen doom.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Murder Mystery

Edward Lemuel Adams

I know, it's morbid. But I can't help being interested in what really happened with my great grandfather. Yesterday I posted my grandmother's memories of him, but I suspect there it more. For one thing, besides photos, I inherited books from various historical societies and regional publications. In a thick paperback history book called Early History of Fairfield: Glimpses of Life in a Pioneer Farming Town there was a loose sheet, a photocopy of an obituary. This is what it said:

The remains of Edward Adams were brought to Rockford Wednesday and interred in Fairview Cemetery. The funeral services were conducted from the Presbyterian church at two o'clock by Dr. Duncan of Fairfield and services at the grave by I.O.O.F. lodge of Fairfield.

According to newspaper reports Mr. Adams was shot and killed by Matt Snyder, a logger, at Hamilton, near Seattle, late Saturday night. Both men had tried for the same job, which Adams secured, a quarrel ensued with the above results.

Mr. Adams was a son of Mr. and Mrs. H.H. Adams of near Fairfield and was well-known to the older residents of this section.

The aged parents, wife, daughter, brothers and sisters have the sympathy of the entire community in their sad bereavement.

My goodness. I understood Sarah and Len were divorced by then. Grandma said Grandpa Adams fired the other man. It doesn't look that way from what I found. The search continues.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

More from Grandma's Autobiography

October 13th was my grandmother's birthday. I missed getting a card to her on time many years because I would forget about Columbus Day and no mail delivery. She was born in 1903, and the story of her life, and of her mother’s life have interested me as long as I can remember.

Edward Lemuel (Len) Adams married Sarah Ellen Hodgson on January 1, 1900, in Leavenworth, Washington. I have no idea how or where they met. I know that he worked for the Great Northern Railroad as both an engineer as a boilermaker. I know he was social and liked to go out and meet friends. I know he and my great grandmother were divorced, and that just a few years later he was dead. Here’s how my grandmother tells it in her autobiography:

“By the time I was born my folks had moved to Leavenworth, way up in the Cascade Mountains. My father was an engineer on the Great Northern Railway, and Leavenworth was where the extra engines were added to the trains so that they could make it up the steep mountain passes.

I was about two when we left Leavenworth, and moved to Hillyard. My earliest recollections are of Hillyard and the little tan colored house we lived in. The McClain family lived next for in another little tan house, exactly like ours inside and out... The McClain girls were my friends. Evelyn was my age and Agnes two years older. Agnes made our lives miserable. She bossed us around and told on use when we were naughty. She also threw all my playthings out the upstairs window and broke all my dolls. I remember my fourth birthday, when I had a birthday party, the only one I had as a child. We had cake and ice cream, and I threw up.

I knew that my mother and father were not getting along. There was a lot of yelling and door slamming after I was put to bed, and nobody answered my questions. My father was a very outgoing, sociable sort, and he liked to stop in at the local saloon after he got home from a run and have a drink with the boys. Mother was brought up to believe the devil was in every drop of alcohol. She couldn’t abide his drinking, even in moderation. ...At this time she was very young, very straight-laced, and unforgiving.

About this time we moved back to Leavenworth. I don’t know why, probably because Father was put on a different run. We only spent one winter there. I remember we were housebound all that winter. Our dining room windows were completely covered with snow and we had to light oil lamps to see. The view out our front door was just huge snow banks and the tops of men’s hats bobbing along as they walked out on the sidewalk.

Things went from bad to worse with my folks. I hated to have my father come come because it meant a fight. The night it came to a head I had an earache and was crying. My father had a headache...He yelled at Mother and told her to quiet me, and she told him she was leaving and he’d never have to hear me cry again. He didn’t believe her, but the next day after he left for work she packed our suitcases and asked the neighbor to take us to the train depot. We landed back in Hillyard, with no place to go except the McClains. Our old house had been rented.

(Grandma writes of her parents' divorce, and how her mother secured a position as housekeeper on a Washington ranch.)

About this time tragedy struck. We received word that my father had been murdered in a logging camp in the Cascade Mountains. He had been foreman and had to fire a logger for drinking on the job. The man left, but came back that night and shot in in the head. I was devastated. I hadn’t been that close to my father; only two years of my life I could remember was spent with him, but in the lonely years that followed I built him into a fantasy figure. I remembered time he gave me rides in his big black locomotive and how he loved to show me off to his friends. The large walking doll he gave me was my most prized possession, and I allowed no one else to play with it.

Mother and I went back to Fairfield for the funeral and I met my Fairfield relatives. There was my spunky little grandmother for whom I was named, my grandfather, and assorted uncles, aunts and cousins. It was wonderful to find I had a large family after years of Mother and I being alone. The day of the funeral it was raining and miserable. The little church was crowded and I had to sit on Uncle Otto’s lap. After the service was over he insisted on carrying me up to the casket to say good-bye to my father. All I saw was the dreadful hole in his forehead... I cried and refused to be comforted. It is still engraved on my memory. I was ten years old.”

Thursday, October 11, 2007

1950s - Halloween

Sherry Ellen and Patty Sue Pierce, about 1956

Up until recently, Halloween was my favorite holiday. Part of it was because I adored dressing up. Part of it was because I liked candy. A big part of it was because I loved scary stories, scary poems, scary movies.

This old photo is of me and my younger sister, dressed up by my mother for Halloween. I recently had our old home movies which Mom transferred to video tape, transferred again to DVD format this summer. There we are in those costumes, at a party in our farmhouse, along with the other small children who lived on farms on our road, or who lived in nearby Millard. We're chasing around our maple dining room table in the home movie, the littlest ones looking confused and giddy. I'm just twirling around like some demented Cinderella. We almost never bought our costumes, and it took weeks of planning and sewing to assemble them.

As for candy, we always got some, but not like the town kids who could drag a pillow case around the block to hold all their loot. When we were the age we are pictured here, Mom would take us in the Mercury and drive us to farms around the country block, maybe six places total. Usually we all had to go in and visit. One man from church insisted we perform before he'd put a treat in our bag, so we'd sing a couple lines of a song for him, hating it. The neighbor at the end of our long gravel driveway was our favorite. She had a paper sack already filled with treats: homemade popcorn balls, strawberry rope licorice, and a peanut butter blossom cookie. Occasionally there were wax lips, crimson Dolly Parton kissers, that eventually were chewed to bits. When we got a little older we walked our country road in the dark. That was scary. One cold Halloween as we walked along the road, winter jackets over our costumes, there were spotted salamanders on the asphalt. Can't beat that for a chill. Do I remember the nice neighbor lady had hot chocolate when we arrived at her place? I know that nobody threw away my homemade treats for fear of tampering.

Then there were scary stories. I don't remember there being any adults who censored the stories we read. We had lots of books of ghost stories, lots of those Alfred Hitchcock short story collections. We subscribed to a series of books that arrived by mail, The Best of Children's Literature. Seems to me I remember my first bloody Grimms Fairy Tales from those books. At church we had youth Halloween parties, and nobody suggested we were being corrupted by the devil, even when I dressed as a black cat. When I was older we often made our own haunted houses, and played the Dead Man Game - you know, the one with a rubber glove filled with wet sand for his hand, candy corn for teeth, a carved carrot for a nose. We watched scary television, old Vincent Price movies or B Sci-Fi movies about radiated mutants, or outer space creatures. But they were in black and white, and nothing that gave us nightmares (usually).

I'm not so wild about Halloween now. I enjoy handing out candy to dressed up children, but we get fewer and fewer every year. Most of the costumes appear to be purchased, and I know that moms work outside the home now, so I understand that saving time is a good thing. But the holiday seems to me to have become just another opportunity for marketers to sell us costumes, decorations, candy and cards. And the news items about parents objecting to ghost stories or even Harry Potter just depress me. My husband and I will buy candy, carve pumpkins (and roast pumpkin seeds), and play A Night on Bald Mountain during trick or treat time, but I'm afraid Halloween isn't my favorite any more.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pumpkin Squares

A few weeks ago I drove up north for a workshop, and on the way home made a stop at an orchard/pumpkin patch. I brought home a bag of Cortlands and a photo of a pumpkin nestled in its leaves. I finished the watercolor version this morning.

All that staring at the pumpkin picture made me hungry for something featuring pumpkin. I cut this recipe out of a magazine ages ago. The paper is yellowed and the tape is coming loose, but I can still read it, so I thought I'd share. Happy fall!

Frosted Pumpkin Squares
4 eggs
1 2/3 cups white sugar
1 cup cooking oil
1 16 oz. can pumpkin
2 cups flour
2. teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped walnuts

Beat the first four ingredients well, then stir in the rest. Grease and flour a 17x11" pan, then spoon in the batter. Bake at 350 degrees 25-30 minutes. Cool, then frost.

1 3 oz. package cream cheese
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powered sugar

Mix together and spread on the cooled squares. Add more chopped nuts if you like that.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Bucky Cat

I wrote about Bucky when we adopted her from the shelter back in spring. Our eighteen-year-old calico went the way of all good old cats, and we wanted a new kitty to fuss over. When she came to us she was a seven and a half pound bundle of nerves, her eyes huge. Usually that's all we saw, because every loud noise sent her scrambling up the stair and under a bed, or into the rafters of the basement. She was a picky eater, rarely touching her bowl when we watched. I wondered if she ate or drank at all. Not even catnip impressed her; the volunteer at the shelter called her a "non-responder."

My, how things change. Over the months she has settled in to the point that not even the heavy equipment out on our street rebuilding the sidewalks and the roadbed rattled her. She no longer hightails it out of the room when visitors arrive. She discovered Meow Mix and has lost her fashion model figure. She's a plushy little fireplug of a cat, who leaps into our laps every time we sit, and who sings and vocalizes very convincingly every morning if we don't come down the stairs and fix her breakfast. Oh, and she responds to catnip very well, thank you.

I always loved the style of calico cats, but this black and white tuxedo cat is also very appealing. I enjoy sketching her, and and thought I might do a series of black and white animals, cats, cows, rabbits. There are more exotic black and white critters, penguins and orca whales, but I generally stick to what I see in my own world. These days I mostly see Bucky.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A Walk in the Woods

Normally by this point in the year I'm tossing old sheets over my impatiens, hauling pots of coleus into the garage overnight to extend the growing season just a bit. Not this week. It has been summery warm, to the point we ran the air conditioning last night, something unheard of in this house. But despite the warm weather, the trees are starting to turn and I pestered my husband to come on a morning walk in one of our county parks.

I remember a book of Eliot Porter photographs I had as a kid, called In Wildness is the Preservation of World. Those stunning pictures of natural beauty have stayed in my mind, even though the book has disappeared. I remember in particular photos of autumn color, leaves reflected in water. Today on our walk, my eye was drawn to the slant of October sun, to the dying leaves falling in golden showers, and to their reflections in the running creek. My photos don't approach Eliot Porter's, but taking them helped me see the beauty around me. How wonderful it was to be outside, instead of cooped up between four walls! Today was a gift.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Remembering Seattle

I love fall in Wisconsin, warm days, blue skies, rolling farm fields, brilliant leaves. But I also love visiting Seattle, for the markets, for the coffee, for the museums and tall buildings, but mostly for the things we don't have here. I love the ocean and the mountains. We stayed in a hotel that faced Elliott Bay, and I couldn't get enough of watching the Washington ferries scooting back and forth, the cruise ships, and the sail boats. We've been back a week, but I keep thinking about the beauty of the place.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Seattle Scenes: Pike Place Market

Back when I was teaching (two years ago), we had inservice meetings every month. Some were good, some were snoozers. One of the good ones was a motivational film produced by the folks at the Pike Place Fish Market. The general idea was that you as a worker would be more productive, happier, and do a better job if you sought to enjoy the work you do. It was all about attitude. Now this is an idea that has merit, though having the principal of your school tell you this late in the afternoon when your feet hurt and you have a long list of errands to run before you make it home isn't the best timing. Still, the videos and discussions were lively and fun, and I wanted to see the young men in their orange overalls and knit caps toss some fish. They weren't looking too happy when we arrived, since all the tourists, including me, were standing around with cameras hoping they'd toss a tuna. That morning there were more gawkers than getters, and the boys weren't throwing around anything but jokes. I was a gawker, since I knew I didn't want to lug around a fish all day to the Art Museum, or the Space Needle But they were congenial, and if you want to see them yourself you can visit their website and gawk away. You can also order a fish.

There was, of course, much more to the market. There were flower vendors, bakers, stands of vegetables including artichokes as big as a toddler's head. There are restaurants, artists, craftspeople. The original Starbucks shop is there, with their original logo of a saucy mermaid. It's a fantastic place to watch people, which is what we did most.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ferry Tales

I had an quite a week. Dick and I signed up last April for a short Elderhostel trip to San Juan Islands in Puget Sound. I was interested in seeing that part of Washington because I remembered that my great grandmother, Grandma Smith (Nellie to the adults), had spent part of her girlhood there, along with her two sisters, Jennie and Dora. We wanted to try another Elderhostel, and this excursion would allow me to see an area I knew was important to my family history.

In the 1870's my great great grandparents, then living in Ontario, moved to Iowa to farm. Things didn't work out well for them; their crops were destroyed by grasshoppers. So, on the advice of relatives already in Washington, they sold the farm and headed to Council Bluffs to catch the Union Pacific emigrant train to San Francisco. The letter advised them that they could homestead 160 acres on Lopez Island, and join other friends and relatives already there. That's what they did. Unfortunately along the way they stopped to help some people sick with Scarlet Fever, and my great grandmother sickened and died herself. Great granddad, the girls and seven others continued by train, and later steamboat to their destination.

Our trip was considerably easier, though it also involved several modes of transportation. We flew from Milwaukee to Seattle (the photo is of Mt. Rainier, taken from the window of the plane). From there we took two buses from Seattle to Anacortes. At Anacortes we took a Washington State Ferry to San Juan Island, and then walked to our hotel. It wasn't far, but by then I was tired hauling my little wheeled bag up the hill to our destination.

The Elderhostel presentations helped me to understand the importance of boats and ships to people living in this archipelago of islands, and I learned some local history. One of the two days I left the group and went alone to Lopez to meet Clark Lovejoy and his family. Clark, who is 85, remembered my great grandmother and her sisters. I had the honor of going through family albums, hearing stories, and being welcomed in the warmest way. I had lunch, a tour of the island, and a chance to go through files at the Lopez Island Historical Museum. Oh, how I wished afterward that my mother and grandmother could hear the stories that I heard that day!

After we left the San Juans we retraced our steps and returned to Seattle, where we revisited the Space Needle. In 1976, when we were first married, we took the Amtrack Empire Builder and spent one night in Seattle. I don't remember where we stayed, but we had dinner at the revolving restaurant at the top of the Needle, and I remember it best because there was an eclipse of the full moon. No eclipse this time, but we enjoyed our visit, especially the Pike Street Market, the Seattle Public Library, and the Seattle Art Museum. We also enjoyed the aquarium and the Elliott Bay Bookstore. That's a couple of English majors for you.

Now I am continuing to untangle some of the tangled threads of my family story, still searching, reading, and trying to see how it all fits together.