Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

From our house to yours, we wish you a happy, healthy and safe new year.

I plan to post some of my favorite books and activities from 2009 and my goals for 2010 very soon. In the meantime, thank you to all of you who read and post here. I love hearing from you, and you make me feel more connected to the world. But right now I have to make an appetizer for New Years Eve!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Crossing Another Off the List

Ivory Billed Woodpecker
vintage trading card

OK, I didn't see an ivory billed woodpecker. If I had, I think all sorts of universities and birding groups would be here interviewing me, since the bird is so elusive and rare. What I did see on Christmas Day at my sister-in-law's house up in Door County was a pileated woodpecker, which looks rather similar to the bird on this old card.

I've been saying I wanted to see one for several years. I'd wistfully comment that I wanted to see a pileated woodpecker and people (my aunt, the sister-in-law, whoever) always would tell me they had seen the bird. Ho hum. Where have I been? But a personal sighting eluded me. Two summers ago I thought I saw one at the top of a tree in Oregon, but I was a passenger in a car, and the look was too quick to be certain. On Christmas Day I was upstairs on the telephone to my aunt when I heard the group downstairs calling to me to look out the window, and there it was, a monster woodpecker with a red brush cut hanging on the suet feeder. Woody Woodpecker himself. I got a good look, and was well pleased.

That was a really fine gift, seeing that woodpecker. I'm fifty-nine today, with lots of Christmases and birthdays under my belt, and it's getting harder and harder to see, hear, or taste anything very new. The Christmas Day sighting of this wonderful creature was about as good a gift as I could want.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Northern Lights

5x7 inches
watercolor on Yupo synthetic paper

Christmas is over. We made it to my brother's house for Christmas Eve, despite cold rain and high winds. Dick had called his sister to cancel our plans to drive to Door County for Christmas Day, but when it was sunny and dry here in Janesville, not a blizzard as forecast, we called to ask if we could still come. The answer was affirmative, so we packed overnight bags, loaded up the cat bowl and headed out. The further north we drove, the cloudier it got, and the more the winds picked up. By Algoma Lake Michigan was a sort of ochre color, the high waves filled with sand. The water crashed dramatically over the jetty near the red light house, but it was so cold, wet and windy I didn't ask Dick to pull over so I could get a photo.

We made the trip safely, but Dick's other sister and her husband slid off a side road into a tree, and their vehicle was wrecked. We ended up staying an extra day and giving them a ride back home on Sunday. By then the roads were clear and dry, and the trip was uneventful

I had started this little watercolor before we left, then I finished it this morning. The inspiration was a desk calendar photo of northern lights, something we haven't seen in a few years.

Cold Climes
by Mary Brittnacher in the 2009 Wisconsin Poets Calendar

I've lived my life in frosty air,
Near firs and moss and hedgehog's lair.

For me the seasons are a book;
That tells a story wherever I look.

Browns of springs show many hues;
Flowers of summer are always news.

Gold, red, and rust of fall,
Never fail to give their all.

Deep in winter I watch the birds;
Sleeping woods speak silents words.

Story same, story new,
That rivers and wrens tell clearly and new.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


5x7 inches, oil (sold)

We have just passed the solstice, the darkest day of the year. I find myself attracted to painting images of sun. This is a little exercise I based on an exercise in a book I checked out of the library. I have been experimenting with using water mixable oils over acrylic under paintings. The biggest challenge is finding somewhere to put the paintings while they dry. For now, that's a disused bathroom in our basement. I painted this a couple weeks ago and it seems dry.

Winter with its cold weather and darkness turns me into a brooder. I enjoyed making art this year, and have worked with paper collage, mixed media, watercolor, acrylic and oil. I've made it into some shows, won a few awards, sold a few pieces. One of my pieces that feature recycled materials was purchased as an "eco-friendly" award for a local business. Most mostly I have a growing stack of painting slowly filling up my closets (and bathrooms). A part of me asks, what is the point? I buy materials, pay out entry fees, take classes, and mostly it drains my bank account and fills up my storage space. Is the enjoyment I get from making art worth it?

Most likely I need to market myself more. I have pieces in a local gallery and coffee shop, but this year nothing sold from those places. I did sell by simply showing people my work, one on one. I have not tried selling online, though I may do that. Of course selling isn't everything. I enjoy the company of other artists. I enjoy making and showing art. But I worry about if I am getting any better, and if my enthusiasm will become a financial burden for us.

This uncertainty may be a function of too few sunlight hours. Maybe I should fret less and just go to the studio.

OK, that's where I'll go, but first a poem from my desk calendar.

Sunsets on My Farm
by Candace Hennekens, 2009 Wisconsin Poets Calendar

A flaming peach blazes
through green needles,
the pine bough marking
summer solstice.
As the crow flies

fields of soybeans
groves of trees
an abandoned farm
lying in the rays' path.
As summer wanes

the sun slips down
to Westphal's farm,
then Albert's place,
drifting faster now
past trees, barn, silo

until the sun sets
at winter solstice
behind the old oak
standing tall
in the fence line.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Platform Boots

12x12 inches
watercolor on Yupo synthetic paper (available)

At least a couple time a year I like to paint something in response to an online subject. Maury Kettell has a site called Watercolor Passion, and four times a year he posts a challenge. This one, which ends December 31, is "Shoes."

My interpretation of the theme was to use my friend Rich Fletcher's photo of a big city shop window filled with platform shoes. I painted fast and loose with bright saturated colors. The nice think about Yupo, a synthetic plastic surface, is that the colors stay bright and are easy to lift. I had a good time lifting out the reflections on the window.

Here's the link to the site:

There's still time to submit a painting of your own if you'd like to give it a go.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sledding Santa

I decided not to put up a full-sized Christmas tree this year, but I did dig out some favorite ornaments and decorations. I bought a little wooden Santa Claus ages ago, and he has become a favorite. The old guy still has some child alive in his heart, apparently. Just so I could look at him more carefully, I decided to paint him in my sketchbook. Who knows, maybe he'll end up on a card some time.

I had a good surprise yesterday when the English pen pal I started writing to in 1961 and hadn't heard much from for several years wrote me an email. When I was about ten I sent fifty cents in to some magazine and got back an address for a pen pal. This boy and I wrote a couple times, but didn't have too much in common. However, his mother started writing to me, and to my mother. I met the family in 1972 for the first time in London. Then over the years we met several more times. Through weddings, divorces, deaths and births we kept writing, though not so often in the 1990s. Then five years ago both my mom and the woman who had written so faithfully died in the same week. I didn't hear from the son and his family except for a Christmas card with signatures until yesterday. Now the boy I wrote to so long ago is a grandfather, and he promises to catch me up on their family via email.

It's a wonderful world, eh?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Beautiful Days

Winter in Wisconsin can be dark and gloomy, but the cold snap in the aftermath of our recent snowstorm is beautiful snowy trees. Mornings are especially pretty, with combinations of sun and shadow on the frosted branches of maples, oaks and conifers. The only hitch is that the weight of so much snow has been breaking off branches, and in some cases taking down power lines.

My eye craves color in all this white. This poinsettia from our local FFA is as bright as a cardinal.

Sometimes the color comes from little things, like these colored glass bottles from a local resale shop. Note to self - try a painting of these sparkly things.

It's hard to see here, but this little artificial tree is flocked almost solid white, art imitating nature. I like the combination of little white lights and big colored ball lights. I made a dozen or so paper cranes from origami paper to use as extra decorations.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cold Morning, Warm Buns

Last night we wedged the backdoor shut so no frigid air would seep in, kept the cabinet doors open under the sink so the pipes wouldn't freeze, and brought the cat to bed for a little extra heat. We were lucky because our furnace never quit runningt. Quite a few people in town lost power yesterday when snow laden branches fell on power lines.

This morning it was below zero, and I decided to warm it up with a recipe clipped from the Janesville Gazette. This thing is a dieter's nightmare, but it sure smelled and tasted good this morning with snow blanketing the outside world.

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls
recipe provided by Judy Stoney

12 cinnamon rolls, uncooked and frozen (I got mine at the U Bake store)
1 cup butter - yup, two whole sticks
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 small box butterscotch pudding
1 small bag chopped pecans - optional but I love them

Directions: Place the frozen rolls in a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt the butter, add the brown sugar and stir. Stir in the dry pudding mix. Stir in the pecans. Pour this mixture over the frozen rolls in the pan. Let the rolls sit on the counter overnight. I covered mine loosely with foil.

In the morning preheat the oven to 350 degree. Bake the rolls for 20 minutes. Let rest five minutes then tip out onto a platter. Or do what I did and leave them in the pan and dig them out with a spatula (one less thing to wash).

Happy eating!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow Day

This was what we saw out the dining room window before bed last night. Local weather forecasters called this storm a "beast." Our beast, little Bucky cat spent a good part of the evening in the cellar hiding from the snow thunder.

The scene this morning was a study in black and white. I was awakened a couple times during the night. Once when the cat climbed into bed for some warmth and security. Once by snow plows on the street, and again at 5:30 a.m. when the school district's new automated calling system announced that school is cancelled. Trouble is, I have been retired for three years. Plus, when the test call came two days ago I called the central office to remind them to remove me from their list. They assured me they would, but apparently the new system still has some kinks to work out.

We live on a hill, which makes winter weather tricky. We can step out the door and be lulled into thinking the weather is fair enough, forgetting the shelter the hill provides from wind. There's no pulling out of our driveway on these days and heading up the hill. We've had hours of entertainment watching other people try it though.

So, it's a day to stay in and read, or paint or work on cards. I didn't put up a big tree, but several small ones provide a little color on a day that has me humming "A Hazy Shade of Winter."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On This Date

December 8th and we are in for a big winter storm. People are out buying snow shovels, snow blowers and snow tires. I think we'll settle in for some reading (Winter Study by Nevada Barr is getting really good) and writing of Christmas cards. I can do some painting.

Lots of things have happened on December 8th. John Lennon was shot on this day in 1980. It was the birthday of Sammy Davis Junior, also of Mary Queen of Scots, James Thurber and Diego Rivera. It was the day in 1941 that the the USA entered World War II.

It was my mom's birthday too. She was born December 8, 1930, so she would have been 79 today. She wasn't a big fan of birthdays, but she did say that in 1941 the family forgot hers with the news of our entering the war. As a child she was not too happy about that. She's gone now, but I think of her every day. Maybe a little more today. Miss you Mom.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

2009 Christmas Letter

I spent most of today updating my address book and working on Christmas cards and the annual letter. Then I thought, why not post it for everyone to see?

Christmas greetings!

I’m discovering that Christmas is, as much as anything, a time to keep track of friends and family, and an opportunity to look back over the year that is rapidly coming to a close.

Dick and I are both well and doing what we said we wanted to do when we retired. We both are reading up a storm, and we enjoy taking trips. This year in March we traveled with UW Whitewater to Peru. I don’t have a formal “bucket list,” but if I did, seeing Machu Picchu would be on it. In August we flew to Colorado and spent a couple days in Rocky Mountain National Park, then went on to join our Badger Buddies in Breckenridge for a few days of companionship and hiking. We took smaller trips too, to the UP of Michigan, up and down the Great River Road as far as Red Wing, and we spent of week of Thanksgiving in Key West, Florida.

I took a trip with DIck’s sister Sandy in May that I’ll never forget. We took Amtrak’s Empire Builder west to Washington State. In Spokane we met quite a few distant cousins related to my Grandma Tess. I was thrilled to find one of the houses she lived in as a little girl in Hillyard, and to see the old Adams family farm in Fairfield. I was particularly happy to meet these Smith and Adams in person, and to be able to help secure a stone for my great grandfather’ Adams’ unmarked grave. I also got to collect more stories, photos and family history information. After that we drove along the Columbia River gorge, and up into the Olympic National Park. We ended up in Seattle and took the train back from there.

Other highlights of the year included Dick riding another couple thousand miles on his bicycle (he’s much fitter than I am), my 40th Elkhorn High School class reunion, and my painting. This year I continued to work and take workshops in watercolor and acrylic, but also began experimenting in oils. I have some art in a local gallery, entered several shows with the Wisconsin Regional Artist Program. In June we had a reunion of UW Whitewater roommates and their spouses in McFarland. It has been a real joy to be able to keep up with these women and men and their lives for more than thirty years, I have also been writing my Late B(l)oomer blog, where I post some of my artwork, photos from trips, family stories and an occasional recipe. I’d love it if you would stop by and take a look. Here’s the web address:

There were other fun things, meetings and trips with my doll collecting group, lunches with teacher and fellow reading friends, trips north to visit my aunt Ellen, our annual Badger football outing in Madison.

I can’t close without showing you our ”furry child” Bucky. She is our little friend and lap-warmer, and she reminds us that life at a relaxed pace can be a very good thing..

Warm wishes to all of you for for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cock of the Walk

On our recent trip to Key West I was charmed by all the roosters and hens that wander freely everywhere. I took several pictures of the critters, and then last night I decided to try out my water mixable oils.

In November I took a workshop with Shelby Keefe, and artist who paints impressionistic urban landscapes using acrylic under paintings in complimentary color, and oil on top of that. At that workshop I tried her technique with all acrylic paint, which was OK, but I wanted to try oil. For a whole year I have had a set of these water mixable oil paints in a drawer in my studio, never feeling brave enough to try them out. Since they clean up with water, toxic fumes are not an issue in my small painting space. What a treat to be able to mix colors on a palette and then come back later and still be able to work on the painting! For a bird like this with brilliant feathers, I was excited to get such deep color so quickly, and to have the color stay the same, not dry darker as acrylics to, or lighter as watercolors do.

One issue that worried me was where to store paintings like this while they dry. Eureka! We have a small non-fuctioning loo in our basement, and I can stand the paintings against the wall in that little room, hidden away and safe until they dry.

This painting is 11x14 inches, painted on canvas board.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Exploring a New Watercolor Book - and a Poem

I usually plan my trips to the local library around my fiction reading, but a couple days ago I browsed the new arrival shelves and found one that looked interesting. The title is Exploring Textures in Watercolor, by Joye Moon. It is published by North Light books.

Moon lives in Wisconsin and I've seen her name in area workshops, though I have never taken one. This 5x7 inch watercolor is the result of my doing the first exercise in her book, which has to do with basic skills and techniques. I thought I might do some small watercolor Christmas cards for friends, and this is a scene I probably could do quickly.

The book has 14 chapters and is nicely indexed. Some of the chapter titles include the following:

Discovering the basics

Exploring geometric shapes and color theory

Turning a negative into a positive

Pouring your heart out

Capturing sparkling white

Painting the garden

Painting people

Collage painting

I enjoy looking at her demonstrations, and I hope to do a few in the next couple weeks. It hasn't snowed much here yet, but I thought I'd share another poem from my desk calendar, one that imagines an early December snowstorm.

December 1
by Ronnie Hess in the 2009 Wisconsin Poets Calendar

The mail carrier has delivered
The season's first snowstorm
Pulling the tempest out of a bag
Slung across his shoulder:
Wet circulars and post cards
Iced holiday greeting cards.
This drab gray afternoon
He looks vaguely familiar:
The red face the beard
The big black galoshes
The baggy pants
The white postal truck
Isling at the corner
Ready to take flight.