Friday, October 31, 2008

Some Scary Things

It's Halloween, and scary things are afoot.

First, my electronics are spooking me.  My beloved Powershot camera, the one I haul with me everywhere, up and died, had to be replaced.  It started not flashing, then not focusing. When I took it to the camera shop, after investing in a pile of new batteries, I learned it would be cheaper to replace it than fix it. Ain't that the way things go these days? 

Also, my little Panasonic TV in my studio works OK, but has a built in VCR, and no way to play DVDs, so I invested in a new little flat screen number.  The old TV took up lots of precious real estate in my tiny room, needed a cable box, and will soon be obsolete with regard to its ability to tape programs I don't want to miss, so replacing it should be a step up. I just anxious about replacing a television that still works.  I guess I'll store it in the attic and then see if anyone wants a spare.  

Then last night my Mac, which has never giving me a moment of difficulty decided to just shut down. Poof! Like magic.  Not once, but several times.  I got on my husband's machine (I insist on backups around here) and tried a couple maneuvers on mine that finally got it going again, but I had sweaty-palmed visions of losing data, and having to take the computer in to the emergency room.  Today all is well - for now.  

My own body is scary too.  We went for a walk yesterday in Janesville's Riverside Park.  Hadn't been there since the summer flooding, but the day was so sunny and warm we had to get outside.  Volunteers in the park have refurbished a section of the Ice Age Trail called The Devil's Staircase, a steep and beautiful trail that hugs limestone outcroppings along the Rock River.  Oh boy, it wasn't the usual walk in the park.  There are steep old limestone steps, and with my bifocals I had a devil of a time seeing where I was stepping, and on that trail a misstep could lead to a tumble and a swim.  It was fine, I just took off my glasses.  Then there are my knees, that didn't like either the steps or the uneven terrain.  Again, it was fine.  But I'm not liking having taking a walk require a dose of painkiller afterward.  The not-so-scary part was the chance to get out with my husband; in fact that was very nice indeed.  

As long as I'm admitting my fears about aging, I'll admit that I am tired of the time and expense involved in coloring my hair.  Even though my Grandma Tess didn't stop until she considered herself "old" at eighty, I am trying to come to terms with my current mature self.  So I have a half inch streak of silver at my roots, and when I look at myself in the morning mirror it is frightening.  Not exactly the Wicked Witch from Snow White, but not the face I am used to.  Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


5x7 inches  watercolor on Aqua Bord (like clay board)

I've been taking photos of pumpkins for a couple years, hoping to get one I really liked and could paint. Don't you just like those rich colors?  These were at a local farmers market, and today I decided to give it a go on a sample board that Kristy Kutch handed out in a recent colored pencil class.  She demonstrated using watercolor pencils on this board, but I went for the regular paints.  The nice thing is that the paints soak in, but I was able to lift out highlights. I need to research more on this surface.  Should I spray on a fixative? How should it be framed?  If anyone knows, I'd love to hear from you.

The last couple days I've been pulling out the dead coleus and begonias, killed by recent frosts.  I felt like the grim reaper cutting off the snowball bushes and peonies, and it reminded me of this poem from the 2008 Wisconsin Poets Calendar.

Late Fall Sequence, by Margaret Benbow

Autumn night -- smoke and
owl call coiling grey around
ghost hydrangea

Walk home fast alone
dark fall night -- leaves wind or boots
striding close behind?

Cut their heads clean off -- 
Rose  tomato  zinnia
black ice moon tonight.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More Tyvek Sketches

I'm still playing with the Priority Mail envelope I cut up and recycled as free art material.  This one is supposed to be one of the roosters from Old World Wisconsin, but he looks at little strange, too compact somehow.  I do like the texture the Tyvek "paper" gives to the background.

This one also has issues, one being the coloring book effect of the black Micron pen with the wataercolor and marker washes.  I used both regular watercolor and TomBow markers.  I like the markers because they have both a fine pointed end and a brush end, and can be softened with a brush and clear water.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Old World Wisconsin, and a New Material

watercolor on Tyvek

This past week we took a drive through the Kettle Moraine of southern Wisconsin to do some leaf peeping.  Our drive took us through the little town of Eagle, so we decided to stop at Old World Wisconsin, a living history site created by the State Historical Society back in the 1970s. We hadn't been there in ages, maybe fifteen years.  The last time I was there it was with over a hundred eighth graders.  Anyway, it was a beautiful fall day for walking around all the farmsteads, churches, and stores of Yankee, Norwegian, Polish and other immigrant groups. Since it was midweek, there were no crowds, only a couple school groups.  At most houses the volunteers had stoves burning, and in several food was cooking.  The garden produce was being brought inside, and at least one pig had been turned into hams and sausages, and was smoking. This sow was enjoying the sunshine and rooting happily in some foliage.  She came trotting over when I called her, and enjoyed having her ears scratched.  I love farm animals, and there were plenty to see, oxen, horses, and chickens.

Our walk through the historic site took us past a large marsh where the colorful trees were reflected in the water.

At one farmstead I met a man who was dressed for the cool weather in a wool overcoat and knotted scarf.  I complimented him on his mustache, and he let me take his picture.  I hope to do more with his picture later. 

This fast sketch, like the two above it were experiments in using watercolor on Tyvek.  I met an artist near Mineral Point recently who was using the material in mixed media projects.  She told me that she recycled old Priority Mail envelopes, so I tried cutting up one I found at home into post card-size pieces.  Then I did loose watercolor washes, and finished up with Micron pen.  I like that pen for line work, since it comes in various widths, and it dries waterproof.  On the picture of the sow I also layered in some TomBow marker, which blended well with the watercolor, and since it is not waterproof, allowed me to soften some edges.  The Tyvek is a manmade material, and seems to have qualities of both paper and material.  The watercolor soaked in, but I also could soften and lift color fairly easily.  I spray mounted the finished pictures into my sketchbook.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Virtual Sketch Date: Pears

Sometimes I like to try online challenges as a way to stop procrastinating and get back into the habit of going to work in my little upstairs studio. I stumbled across "Virtual Sketch Date" this week, and liked the reference photo very much. I saw some people's responses to this challenge on Flickr, and decided to give it a try. This response began as a sketch, which I put under a piece of clear acrylic which had been coated with a monotype base. Then I painted over that, and made a hand print. Then I went a step further and added color and detail with colored pencil.

Here's the sketch, original reference photo, and completed monotype. It works nicely for me to keep my eraser, shrpener and pencils together in a foam meat tray. I like to work on my cutting mat, because the surface is softer than the table alone, and because it's plastic it's easy to clean.

Here is another response to the same challenge. This one was done in my Moleskine journal, and was an experiment in mixing media. I copied out a Hilda Doolittle poem, Sheltered Garden, in my journal, then covered the writing in thinned down gesso. I used my pear sketch to guide me in painting the pears in acrylic paint, some of which I wiped away before it dried. I then used a black Micron pen to add dark lines, and added some highlights and background color in pastel. It was labor intensive, but interesting.

Sheltered Garden by Hilda Doolittle

I have had enough.
I gasp for breath.

Every way ends, every road,

every foot-path leads at last
to the hill-crest --
then you retrace your steps,
or find the same slope on the other side,

I have had enough --

border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies,
herbs, sweet-cress.

O for some sharp swish of a branch --

there is no scent of resin
in this place,
no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,
aromatic, astringent --
only border on border of scented pinks.

Have you seen fruit under cover

that wanted light --
pears wadded in cloth,
protected from the frost,
melons, almost ripe,
smothered in straw?

Why not let the pears cling

to the empty branch?
All your coaxing will only make
a bitter fruit --
let them cling, ripen of themselves,
test their own worth,
nipped, shrivelled by the frost,
to fall at last but fair
with a russet coat.

Or the melon --

let it bleach yellow
in the winter light,
even tart to the taste --
it is better to taste of frost --
the exquisite frost --
than of wadding and of dead grass.

For this beauty,

beauty without strength,
chokes out life.
I want wind to break,
scatter these pink-stalks,
snap off their spiced heads,
fling them about with dead leaves --
spread the paths with twigs,
limbs broken off,
trail great pine branches,
hurled from some far wood
right across the melon-patch,
break pear and quince --
leave half-trees, torn, twisted
but showing the fight was valiant.

O to blot out this garden

to forget, to find a new beauty
in some terrible
wind-tortured place.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Favorite Halloween Candy

watercolor pencil, colored pencil, graphite

I bought a bag of these chewy peanut butter taffy candies last Halloween, then ate them all by myself.  The kids at the door are after chocolate, and they can have it.  I love these little black and orange confections.  I don't love candy corn, except to look at - the colors are great.  Necco wafers are OK.  Love red licorice, but not the black.  When I was small I had a thing for big red lips, also Dracula fangs made from wax, but they are just too strange for a person my age.  I like taffy apples, but they are too messy for me - all the dripping of juice, scattering of bits of nuts, strings of caramel.  Nope, give me a sack of taffy to unwrap and chew on.

How about some of you who visit me here?  Leave a comment about what sorts of candy you like to find in your Halloween bag.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Here's a recent entry in my illustrated journal, which is more or less the end result of a string of recent related circumstances.  My husband brought home an interesting book from the library, Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America, by Jonathan Gould.  He was enthused over the book, claiming it was more than a biography of the Fab Four, but also an entire social history of music in the 50s, 60s and 70s.  I found him listening to a CD of Revolver, and wanting me to frame up the Sgt. Pepper record cover for him.  Since I'm in the middle of two other hefty books myself, but was interested, I had him mark out a couple chapters for me to sample.  Looks like I'll need to put the title on my "to be read" list. Anyway, that got me listening to my old Beatles albums and copying a few more songs on my computer, which led me to an old favorite from the white album, Blackbird.  Blackbird doesn't rock, but it's lyrical, lovely, Paul's voice sweet and unpretentious: "Blackbird singing in the dead of night, Take these broken wings and learn to fly, All your life, You were only waiting for this moment to arise."

Then last Sunday I decided to take advantage of falling gasoline prices and drive to Madison to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art to see the George Segal show, and then to attend a film that was part of the Wisconsin Book Festival.  The Segal plaster figures standing in bread lines, in doorways, on diner stools, were strangely wonderful.  I hauled out my purse notebook and scribbled a sketch of a man seated on crates, and wished I had more time to do better.  But I needed to be seated for the documentary I drove there to see, 1000 Journals, by Andrea Kreuzhage.  The website for 1000 journals was one of the first I visited when I started doing my illustrated journals, and I still enjoy visiting those wildly random pages.  They're inspiring, though I always feel a little boring after see them again.  There's something a little too restrained about many of my experiments, and little too cautious about spoiling a page in a book that cost cash, and that may be around after I am not around any more.  But back to the documentary.  I loved it, was fascinated by Someguy's inspiration to see what strangers would collaboratively write or draw in journals.  I was interested in the variety of people who participated in the project, and in the various ways people added to the pages.  I never would consider altering anyone else's work, though some people enthusiastically did.  I certainly wouldn't paste a page over anyone else's entry, though some did just that.  I'd love to see one of these journals "in the flesh," though I suspect I have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Which brings me back to my stack of unfinished journals.  I have a pile of about a dozen, none finished, all filled with wildly different styles and media.  I admire people who work straight through their journals to their conclusion, have one for pencil, one for pen and ink, one for collage work.  Mine look like five people worked in them, but the fact is they metaphorically represent me, unable to find a personal style or subject and stick to it, unable (or unwilling) to finish.  I decided to copy out the lyrics to Blackbird using one of my cherished fountain pens.  Then I watered down some gesso and covered up the writing.  Then I watercolored over that.  Then I took an old Readers Digest condensed book that I use for sketches and blind contour drawings, and scrawled out a blackbird, cut it out, and used black gesso on it.  Then I glued pieces down with gel medium.  Now I wish I had used more watercolor, maybe on some of the collaged bits.  But I didn't.  It's done.  Maybe I'll try a few more with other lyrics, or old diary style pages I did other years.  We'll see. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Busy Weekend

Even though Halloween has become a retail-driven holiday, with row upon row of bags of candy, lights, cheap costumes, a fair number of people still make home-made decorations.  One house on our block has a crowd of these milk-jug skeletons handing from the branches of their evergreen tree.  They aren't especially spooky, but they do catch the morning light in an interesting way.

On Friday the Janesville Art League took a bus trip west to Mineral Point.  The past few years artists in southwestern Wisconsin have sponsored a studio tour.  Painters, sculptors, potters, woodworkers, mixed media folks, all open their studios to the public.  Mineral Point, an old town with a Cornish heritage has been a favorite stop for my husband and I for years.  We've toured the historic homes, visited Pendarvis, the old Cornish mining area, eaten in old pubs, and browsed among antiques.  The Art League folks concentrated  on the galleries that have sprung up in many of the storefronts.  I spotted a good view through a window in an antique store, and took this photo.

Saturday I volunteered to portray Nellie Tallman, wife of a wealthy Janesville businessman in the Rock County Historical Society cemetery tour.  I've done this twice before, but I enjoyed this year particularly because the day was so sunny and warm.  Guides escorted six or seven groups of history buffs through the oldest part of Oakhill Cemetery, stopping to hear short talks from volunteers dressed up to portray historic locals Dr. Henry Palmer (1827-1895), Carrie Jacobs-Bond (1862-1895), Catherine Holmes Atwood (1820-1902), Levi Alden (1815-1893), A. Hyatt Smith (1814-1892).  

In between groups I sat reading beneath a hickory tree, and was startled to see a three-inch walking stick insect hiking across my black-gloved hand.  He wasn't the only creature I saw. Squirrels and all sorts of birds were out, feeding on nuts and berries.   

I don't have many decorations that are specifically for Halloween, but I have become fond of my old plastic jack-o-lantern light.  It gets plugged in at the beginning of October, and stays up for the month.

I found this poem in my 2008 Wisconsin Poet's Calendar.  I thought of it after I looked at the photos I took this weekend.

Repairing the Breach, by C.J. Muchhala

Killed for their knowledge
of belladona, ergot,
fleabane and rue, the women
lie fallow under snow.

Their moon-blood
clots in ruby seeds below
the frost line.

When the rains come
the women run
twiggy fingers through
stalks of hair, unknot
their woodbane girdles.

They dance.

In slippery crotch
of sacred oak,
they dance beyond
their howls, their burning.

Blackbirds fan
dark wings above
their blessed bones.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Happiness is a Pile of Leaves

Our Retired Lunch Bunch ladies met the other day to eat salads and catch up with one another's grandchildren, trips, and projects.  One friend had a new car to show off.  I got to brag about my new furnace.  The old one was old enough to vote, and I had images of the machine expiring on some cold January morning.  So we have a new one, but it isn't as fun to talk about as a new car. The other topic of conversation was how beautiful the trees are just now.  Even our waitress, refilling our ice waters for the third time, commented that the color is stunning.  That inspired me to take a short walk around the block. 

I don't know what this tree is, but the leaves are huge.  The ones on the ground look big enough to use as emergency disposable plates.  What a rainbow of colors the leaves show!

I like the way these fallen maple leaves were lit by the afternoon sun.

I though I captured a greedy cedar waxwing swallowing orange berries, but he was hopping around too much for me.

Ash trees blaze as  if lit from within.  We had one in our front lawn until it split in half two years ago during a storm.  The glorious color only lasts a little while though, then the leaves shower down and are gone in a single day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Jefferson Valley

I keep playing with this picture.  It began its life as an experiment in texture - a layer of black gesso on illustration board, followed by a layer of white gesso, textured with plastic wrap.  The results suggested trees to me, but it took months before I got to trying to tease birch trees out of the shadows.  The image here is better than the original because I cropped it and deepened the hues, something I'm having difficulty doing on the actual painting.  Perhaps it's time to dip into the acrylics, or maybe just try again, bigger the next time.  None of my paintings caught the wonder of the real trees, which appear ready to burst into flame on the streets around my house.

I finally finished my book of American sonnets, and am ready to walk it back to the library. Here's a final sample, one that speaks at least somewhat to the problem of really seeing darks and greens in nature.  Here is a writer who really sees.   It's Jefferson Valley, by John Hollander (b. 1929).

The tops of the spruces here have always done
Ragged things to the skies arranged behind them
Like slates at twilight; and the morning sun
Has marked out trees and hedgerows, and defined them
In various greens, until, toward night, they blur
Back into one rough palisade again,
Furred thick with dusk. No wind we know can stir
This olive blackness that surrounds us when
It becomes the boundary of what we know
By limiting the edge of what we see.
When sunlight shows several spruces in a row,
To know the green of a particular tree
Means disbelief in darkness; and the lack
Of singular green is what we mean by black.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Prince

I've been taking a group art class led by a friend at a senior center.  I'm of a mixed mind about spending the time and money.  Part of me wants to spend my cash on materials and framing, wants to concentrate on my own projects.  Part of me wants to get out and try new things and get feedback on what I create.  And there is a wee voice saying, "You can take classes, or you can paint."  Anyway, we were using charcoal to make simple drawings, and then powdered charcoal and fabric dye for interesting texture.  I did this one very quickly, and don't mind the boldness of line.  The design was adapted from a little watercolor I had done in my Moleskine. Besides the charcoal and dye I used the paint I already had on a saucer.  

I'm still reading my book of sonnets.  While many of them seem very personal, some make more general statements about "life, the universe, and everything" (nod to Douglas Adams). The Prince, by Yvor Winters (1900-1968), interested me in light of our current political scene.

The prince or statesman who would rise to power
Must rise through shallow trickery, and speak
The tongue of knavery, deceive the hour,
Use the corrupt, and still corrupt the weak.

And he who having power would serve the State,
Must now deceive corruption unto good, 
By indirection strengthen love with hate,
Must love mankind with craft and hardihood:

Betray the witless unto wisdom, trick
Disaster to good luck, escape the gaze
Of all the pure at heart, each lunatic
Of innocence, who draws you to his daze:

And this frail balance to immortalize,
Stare publicly from death through marble eyes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Latter Rain

I'm still playing with leaf prints, and I'm learning a little every day.  For example, disposable plastic gloves, the sort health care workers use, make the process much less messy.  These leaves came from our deck, where the silver maple has been shedding them for a week. When we built the deck around the tree twenty years ago, it seemed like a great idea.  But years of sweeping up little red spring tree-flowers, green helicopter seeds and yellow autumn leaves have changed my mind about it.

The Latter Rain, by Jones Very, is a new poem to me.  I'm seeing these vaguely melancholy autumnal poems everywhere lately.  The imagery, to me, is very lovely.  We had so much "early rain" this season, so much flooding, that it's good to remember that rain can also be a good thing in the cycles of nature.

The latter rain, it falls in anxious haste
Upon the sun-dried fields and branches bare, 
Loosening with searching drops the rigid waste
As if it would each root's lost strength repair;
But not a blade grows green as in the spring,
No swelling twig puts forth its thickening leaves;
The robins only mid the harvests sing
Pecking the grain that scatters from the sheaves;
The rain falls still -- the fruit of all ripened drops,
It pierces chestnut burr and walnut shell,
The furrowed fields disclose the yellow crops,
Each bursting pod of talents used can tell,
And all that once received the early rain
Declare to man it was not sent in vain.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mezzo Cammin, a print and a poem

It has been a beautiful day, one that has torn me between wanting to walk outside, and wanting to get some reading and painting done inside.  I've done some of each, though not as much as I hoped.  The image here began its life this afternoon as a leaf print from the venerable grape ivy that hangs in our enclosed porch. For years I pruned it back, but the last year or so I've been curious to see how big it will grow.  Anyway, I made a leaf print in my Moleskine, then added some transparent watercolor.  I scanned that, then used the cutout filter on Photoshop Elements to simplify the image.  The results are interesting enough to me so that I plan a little series, manipulated leaf prints paired with a poem.

This week I'v been slowly reading poems from American Sonnets: An Anthology, edited by David Bromwich.  Some sonnets were familiar to me, but most were not.  This Longfellow poem probably would not have spoken to me when I was younger, but his sense of mortality here is strong.  It is interesting that the poem says that his inability to reach youthful aspirations was the result of cares and sorrows, rather than of distractions.  Writers, counselors, those who try to help artists of various sorts to reach their goals, talk about being too self-critical, or about distractions, but they rarely speak of sadness or worry as interfering with the creative process.  Longfellow appears here to still have hope for the last years of his writing life, so the poem ends on a positive note.  I think I'll go upstairs and paint.

Mezzo Cammin

Half of my life is gone, and I have let
The years slip from me and have not fulfilled
The aspiration of my youth, to build
Some tower of song with lofty parapet.
Not indulgence, nor pleasure, nor the fret
Of restless passions that would not be stilled,
But sorrow and care that almost killed,
Kept me from what I may accomplish yet;
Though, halfway up the hill, I see the Past
Lying beneath me with its sounds and sights, --
A city in the twilight dim and vast,
With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights, --
And hear above me on the autumnal blast
The cataract of Death far thundering from the

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Colors of the Season

I have been considering how the colors of the season creep into my painting. Last spring and early in the summer I found myself steeped in pastel shades of yellow, green and pastel rose. Here in southern Wisconsin right now the colors are warm, the ochres and golds of the ripening corn and soybeans, the pumpkins and squash displayed at the farmers market.Orange, red, gold, and some green shows up in the photos I've been taking.

Here you can see the colors just beginning to paint the tops of the trees near the nearly deserted beach in Lake Geneva.  We decided to capitalize on the warm sun and take a boat tour of the lake yesterday. In another week the colors will blaze.

It's interesting to me that the ochres, reds, and greens I'm seeing around here have crept into an experimental watercolor I've been fiddling with this week, even though the inspiration was a photo I took at Sleeping Bear National Seashore in Michigan a month ago.  This painting began as puddles of watercolor swept on to damp 140 lb. Arches, with various items tossed on for texture.  After the paint dried, I peeled off the torn paper and shredded packing material, and began the process of adding and subtracting.  I don't know where the warm colors came from, since they weren't in the original scene, except that my eyes are seeing them all around me now, and I'm attracted to them.  

Thursday, October 9, 2008

RCHS Oakhill Cemetery Tour

The past week I've been reading about this woman, Nellie Tallman.  She was married to a man who lived in a grand mansion, a place where Lincoln really did spend the night. I've been asked to portray her in an event that the Rock County Historical Society puts on every few years.  They convince a few interested people to portray notable figures from the community's past in a tour of Oakhill Cemetery.  I've stood by her grave and told her story twice before, and I'm looking forward to doing it again on October 18th.  I enjoy the chance to read more of local history and share it with people in an interesting way; this year I rewrote the script so I think it reads a little more smoothly than before.  She has a fancy tombstone, and her plot is in the oldest and prettiest part of the cemetery, high on a hill that looks out over the county. There are some challenges.  I never seem to get a costume that looks authentic, and my hair is just too short to arrange in any way that looks at all Victorian.  Sometimes the weather is an issue.  Last time, about five years ago, I shivered and shook up on the hill in a stiff breeze and drizzle. One of the historical society folks took pity on me and brought me an umbrella. It was amazing to me, but people came on the tour despite the inclement weather.  I have a shawl for this year, and if I'm lucky the weather will cooperate.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

60s Halloween Window Painting

In the 1960s, in Elkhorn, my home town, the downtown merchants used to sponsor a Halloween window painting contest.  Schoolchildren could submit a design, and if chosen, got to paint the design on a store window with poster paints.  Seems like I remember there being prizes, but maybe we just got our name in the Elkhorn Independent.  I liked drawing and painting, and I had a competitive streak in me, so I entered several times.  These pictures make me look very serious, but mostly I think I was self-conscious about my glasses and the space between my front teeth.  This one must have been taken about 1961.

I enjoyed painting on the windows; I think this was the jewelry store.  It was cold, though.  I had on a hat and winter coat, and the corduroy pants my mother used to love to have me wear. No gloves, so my fingers would turn white.

He I am again, about 1963.  I'm still keeping those teeth hidden, and am looking chilled.  Or perhaps I was outgrowing the activity.  Looking at these paintings now keeps me humble.  It occurs to me that these contests were great motivation for me, a chance to create designs, and to get some recognition for my art.  It was fun to see all the colorful pictures on store windows, and I have to think that it brought people downtown.  I don't suppose it was very much fun for storekeepers to clean off the poster paint in November, but looking back, I'm glad they allowed us kids to decorate.  

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Monday Poem, Lightness in Autumn

Lightness in Autumn, by Robert Fitzgerald

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

I reckon how the wind behaves
And rake them lightly into waves
And rake 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
When 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 such for old earth's ashen doom.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Old Halloween Pictures Revisited

I've been playing with old photos my mom took of me at Halloween time.  These have all been hand-tinted, and generally cropped and doctored on Photoshop Elements.  Here we have me in saddle shoes on the far right, and all the older neighborhood kids sitting on the couch in our trailer, probably 1952.  Until I was three and my younger sister was born, my family lived in a trailer in my grandparents' yard.  Mother always liked Halloween, as I do.  It allowed her creativity to shine. She carved pumpkins, sewed costumes, and planned parties for us kids.

Here I am again, holding the paper mache cat lantern, and my sister Patty Sue with the pumpkin lantern.  By the time this picture was taken in about 1955 we had moved out of the trailer and into the old family farm house I think of as my childhood home.  I found both lanterns on eBay last year, and they decorate my sideboard in the dining room now.  I mentioned that Mother liked to sew.  She made these outfits for us girls out of old sheer curtains.  She liked the princess theme, as you will see.

Here we are again with our closest neighbors, Sharri and Curt.  Their mother, Merceda, gave out the best Trick or Treat bags ever, filled with not only wrapped candy, but strawberry ropes, candy cigarettes, wax lips, and peanut butter blossom cookies - the ones made out of peanut butter and a Hershey's kiss. They're still a favorite.  Mom made our princess outfits in this 1957 picture too.  

Halloween has been a favorite for me.  I've always liked reading and telling scary stories, liked scary television programs and movies.  I've always enjoyed dressing up in costumes and wigs, enjoyed using make-up and masks to disguise myself.  As an adult it's not eating the candy so much as it is how much I enjoy seeing children come to the door and being able to give out the treats.  If there are some peanut butter kisses or mini-Snickers left over, so much the better. For several years I enjoyed being a fortune teller at Snap Apple Night for the Rock County Historical Society, though that tradition seemed to have come to an end.  Likewise I used to love telling ghost stories in the park for middle and high schoolers and adults, really scary ones, but the city recreation department decided to go with less scary activities, significantly labeled "not too frightening" for the little tots instead. A tradition my husband and I have is carving pumpkins together.  He actually likes it better than I do, since I am a little nervous of sharp blades.  But he looks forward to carving and lighting the jack-o-lanterns, and he makes salted and roasted pumpkin seeds, so I can't complain. 

One other thing that appeals to me is that participation in Halloween is strictly optional.  If I don't feel like handing out treats, I turn out the porch light. If I don't decorate, send cards, or buy gifts, nobody seems to feel slighted.  Over the past few years merchandising of decorations, costumes and candy has gotten to be a bigger deal, but it certainly doesn't bludgeon me like the December holiday.  Anyway, every day now I'm putting out my autumn decorations, a lighted plastic pumpkin, vintage lanterns, baskets of mums, dried leaves, and scented candles.  I wish Mom was around to see how I'll decorate this year.