Saturday, January 31, 2009

In Praise of Bucky

Bucky, our black and white tuxedo cat, sits in a patch of winter sunshine.  I altered the photo with Photoshop Elements (love that program).  She's a fine creature, affectionate, playful, and just nervous enough about visitors to quietly excuse herself from the room when they arrive. Nobody complains about Bucky cat.  On these cold winter days and nights she is as warm on my lap as an electric blanket, and in the morning she is a fine alarm clock, wakening me with a slow dance along my hips, and a rumbling hum.

The cat's song
by Marge Piercy

Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness,
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother's forgotten breasts.

Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I'll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.

You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty times the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees?  Jump between roofs?

Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are as pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes.  I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.

Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail.  Love speaks me entire, a word

of fur.  I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Amazing Detective Cases!!

pastel and ink on typing paper

pastel and ink on typing paper, much cropped

contour drawing, also pastel and ink 

A few months ago I was rummaging through drawers of old magazines at the local consignment shop and I found a 1961 issue of Amazing Detective Cases.  This one was a special issue, Crime In Screenland.  The banner at the top shouted Sin, Sex, and Sadism in Hollywood!  I had to have it. By today's standards the photos and stories are mild, the usual tabloid stories of drugs, murders, and so on.  The ads are classic.

Now!! A fish lure that swims by its its power!  

Strange, mysterious house plant catches, .. eats flies and insects -yet the "Venus Fly Trap" bears lovely white flowers!  

Let me send you this amazing electronic kit!

I haven't seen so many exclamation points since I taught eighth grade language arts.  

The plan was to cut up the magazine for collage, but instead it has been a source of experimental drawings.  The black and white photos are a combination of glamour shots and crime scenes.  I played with using letter stencils to emboss thin paper with pastels, which after they were fixed, served as textured background for the pen and ink drawings.  The last one was a contour drawing, with hatching over the pastel.  I'm not sure I love them, but I may do a whole series, and start including some of the men, all of whom look like escapees from  film noir.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Copy Cat, and a Poem

detail from a recent paper collage, rotated

Thanks to Kim Saxe for the idea to look for details in my recent paper collage of the January Virtual Sketch Date.  She had great fun doing this, and I was inspired to try it myself.

Lakes Don't Freeze Even
by Luck Rose Johns, Wisconsin Poets' Calendar 2009

When the breath of winter
stops the lake solid,
the ice doesn't freeze smooth as glass.
Like kids playing frozen tag,
the water is stilled in mid wave.
Cold heavy chunks of white
sculpt a still seascape,
rough as a winter potholed highway.
A smooth surface would only belie
The the rhythm of life underneath.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

So True!

Today is Lewis Carroll's birthday, and I decided to post this little clipping I found in a newspaper advertisement.  I had it taped inside my high school locker in the 1960's, later dry mounted to a piece of illustration board and tacked to a bulletin board.  These days I sometimes remember it when I'm slogging along on the treadmill. Certainly in my life if I don't keep on keeping at it - whatever "it" is - I start to fall behind. Whether it's reading, drawing, painting, or trying to keep reasonably fit, unless I persist, I lose ground.  A high school wrestler in one of the classes I taught once said that his philosophy was that you are always one of three things:  falling behind, staying the same, or making progress.  I hope I don't fall behind in the things that are important.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Recent Watercolor Sketches

Over the holidays I purchased a watercolor Moleskine and I am enjoying the sketchbook very much.  This one is larger than the one I saw a few months ago, with no perforations for removing the painting.  These two sketches were adapted from online news photos of the Obama inauguration.  I don't usually like to work from photos taken by other people, but on January 20th we were at home, which probably was the best place to see the festivities.  Here are Yo Yo Ma and Aretha, both looking very cold indeed.  At least Aretha had a coat, gloves and a hat.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Icicles of Death and a Poem

"Icicles of death" is what I call the ice daggers that hang from our roof line.  They grow, drip, sparkle, and ultimately crash to the ground with wet thuds, not the sound of breaking glass as one might expect. 

by Linda Pastan

Contorted by wind,
mere armatures for ice or snow,
the trees resolve
to endure for now,

they will leaf out in April.
And I must be as patient
as the trees--
a winter resolution

I break all over again,
as the cold presses
its sharp blade
against my throat.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh My Darling, Clementines!

8x10 inches, monotype with added colored pencil

This month's Virtual Sketch Date (see the side link) challenge is a photograph of a peeled clementine.  It looked so delicious I had to remind myself there are still oranges and grapefruit left from the case of fruit we bought from the FFA at Christmas.  I like trying these challenges different ways.  The top picture is my first try, a monotype.  These are great fun to do.  I coat an acrylic plate with a base medium, then use Createx water based paints to paint directly on the prepared plate.  Then I take a dampened sheet of Masa (rice) paper, and lay it on the plate, and use my hand and an old wooden door knob to apply pressure.  Then I lift the image, and dry it between sheets of newsprint.  I liked the result well enough, but then felt compelled to go back into the picture with colored pencils. I discovered I darkened one are too much, and so then I went back in with a little bit of acrylic paint to fix it.  My morning project ended up taking most of the day.

8x10 inches, paper collage with added watercolor

Here is my second version of the clementine.  This one was done very differently.  The image is made of cut and torn paper, adhered with acrylic gel medium.  It's a messy process.  My work table and floor was full of paper snips, and my hands are still peeling adhesive.  Then I tried something I had never done before.  Once the paper was all applied and the image coated with gel medium, I went back in with some light watercolor washes to add a little delicate color to the top of the fruit, and around the shadows on the counter.  I was afraid; I didn't want to spoil what was already done, but was pleased with the effect and plan to try more collages that incorporate either watercolor or acrylic paint.

I'd still like to try a painting of the clementine on Yupo, a synthetic paper I've been playing with this month.  The rich colors might work out well on that surface.  We shall see if that actually happens.  I'm curious what readers of this blog think about the two approaches, which one appeals to you more.  Do some of you like to approach a subject in more than one medium?  I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Unfinished Projects and a Poem

It's still cold outside my warm little house, the snow piled so high in places that my six foot three inch husband has trouble throwing it to the top of the pile.  No snow blower for Mr. Tough Guy.  I'm inside reading and working in the studio, ideas hatching like chicks, but I still have projects that sit unfinished.

This darned colored pencil piece started out as a companion for a similar picture of red, white and blue buttons.  It's small, six by six inches, and it sits out on my work table, silently inducing guilt every day while I flit from sketchbook, to painting, to collage.  I keep all the pencils I'm using in a foam meat tray, but every day it's the same.  The picture doesn't call out to me right now, even though I've already devoted hours to the project.  That's one of the beauties of colored pencils.  They wait patiently.

This is an unfinished collage of the January Virtual Sketch Date.  I did a monotype of the image already, but was that enough?  Does a chicken have lips?  Sherry has to try it as a collage, and maybe a Yupo painting.  The collage is fun, a challenge to find the paper, cut or tear it just so.  How fussy to I dare to go?  Do I want to add paint to the cut paper?  Hours speed by as I play with tinting tissue paper, newspaper, vintage receipts.  I'm gradually wrecking my flat brushes by using them to apply acrylic gel as glue.  Hmmm, may be I should try a soft gel medium and see if it wrinkles the magazine paper less. 

Then there are the books that I feel compelled to read.  In general, being a former English major, I prefer literary fiction, and often have several novels going at once.   But lately art topics have been informing my reading.  This massive reference work combines two of my passions, writing and art.  Who knew Hugh Lofting, the creator of Dr. Doolittle, wrote the stories and illustrated them from the trenches of World War I?  I read thirty pages a day, and I'm about half way through.  But then there is the Essay on Criticism to read and discuss with an online group, and Dreams From My Father to start for my neighborhood book group for next month.

And I need to get out of this house.  I've been using the cold as an excuse to not go work out. Today I'll go.  After all, there's a hot tub at the athletic club as well as a treadmill.

Here's a poem that expresses how I feel in the dead of winter in Wisconsin.  I know it's not February yet, but it could have been written for me.

by Bill Christophersen

The cold grows colder, even as the days
grow longer, February's mercury vapor light
buffing but not defrosting the bone-white
ground, crusty and treacherous underfoot.
This is the time of year that's apt to put
a hammerlock on a healthy appetite,
old anxieties back into the night,
insomnia and nightmares into play;
when things in need of doing go undone
and things that can't be undone come to call,
muttering recriminations at the door,
and buried ambitions rise through the floor
and pin your wriggling shoulders to the wall;
and hope's a reptile waiting for the sun.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Red Room...Studying a Master

watercolor (3x3 inches) inspired by Matisse's Harmony in Red

another small study from the same painting

Matisse's original oil painting, Harmony in Red

There is something about being holed up in a warm house on a cold weekend that encourages productivity.  I've been reading up a storm (The Writer's Brush, and a P.D. James murder mystery), and spending time in my studio hatching ideas.  

I spent a good afternoon yesterday preparing painted papers for a collage that's gestating in my brain, and also doing two small studies, little watercolors based on Harmony in Red.  Matisse's painting with its bright primary colors and cheerful design is an antidote to the blahs of a cold gray and white winter day in Wisconsin.  Watercolor pencils allowed me to achieve intense color and also do the outlining I see in the original.  It's pickier work that I anticipated, but interesting. Matisse was more interested in cheerful and clear color combinations and shapes than he was in making an ultra realistic rendering.   Two down and two more to finish, then I want to try this month's Virtual Sketch Date a couple different ways.  I should do my Everyday Matters sketch as well, and there's an unfinished colored pencil piece to work on.  It'll be a busy Sunday one way or the other.

Do some of you who visit here do studies based on other painters?  Do you think there's value in this sort of work, or does it lead a person to be derivative?  I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness

Altered photo of Madison antique shop window

I took this photo of a shop window two winters ago.  The owner does a brilliant job of arranging the miscellaneous curiosities into window displays.  I kept meaning to paint it, but never figured out how.  I adore antique shops, consignment stores, used book emporiums, and I'm not sure why.  What was it about this peeling "open" sign, a beauty shop hair dryer,  old table, manikin head and a flying cherub that made me want to stop and take a picture?  Perhaps nostalgia, or perhaps as a reminder that nothing lasts forever.  

Anyway, flipping through the Norton Book of Light Verse, I stumbled on a poem I used to read to eighth graders.  The poem is a fluffy bit of rhyming couplets, but it also reminds me not to take myself too seriously, and not to wait too long to get to planned projects.

On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness
by Arthur Guiterman

The tusks that clased in nightly brawls
of mastadons, are billiard balls.

The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is ferric oxide, known as rust.

The grizzly bear whose potent hug
Was feared by all is now a rug.

Great Caesar's bust is on the shelf,
And I don't feel so well myself.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Two More After Matisse

3x3 inch paper collage, from Matisse's Woman Before an Aquarium

3x3 inch college 

It's funny how one idea leads to another.  I was at the Art Institute, looking at Matisse.  A week later I find an inexpensive copy of Transforming Vision: Writers on Art, and am intrigued by the Matisse painting on the cover.  Then I go to an Art League luncheon and watch a watercolorist who is inspired by Matisse.  I decide to experiment with paper collage, using Woman Before an Aquarium as my inspiration.

Thee four small collages are in my journal/sketchbook, and they look good together.  If I do it again I'll work larger, because cutting with tiny embroidery scissors is quite challenging.  I'll want to use heavy paper, and not so much moisture, since the paper has a tendency to buckle. Still, I enjoyed studying the original painting (it's on my desktop this week), and adapting it with the materials I had in the studio.  

The painting inspired writer Patricia Hampl.  Her poem, Woman Before an Aquarium begins this way:

     The goldfish ticks silently
     little finned gold watch
     on its chain of water
     swaying over the rivulets of the brain,
     over the hard rocks and spiny shell.

She also has a memoir I'm planning to read: Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime.  Apparently she visited the Art Institute as a recent college graduate, and was thrilled by the painting, and the book looks at her take on the woman in the painting.  I'm looking forward to seeing what she has to say

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Writers and Art - Two Books

Paper collage, 3x3 inches, detail from Matisse's Woman Before an Aquarium

Another paper collage adapted from the same painting

Art and literature have been two personal passions for as long as I can remember.  As a child I drew, cut and pasted, colored all the time.  I cannot remember a time before I could read.  In high school I took every English class offered, and I also took art classes as often as I could, which my friends advised against claiming it weakened my resume for college.  There is another whole issue, lack of respect for art.

At any rate, I stumbled into two book recently that speak to both of these.  The first, Transforming Vision, was sitting on a sale table at Half Price Books.  It's a beautiful book, with around fifty paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago.  Chicago is a hundred miles from here, but it's an easy train ride, so I visit the Art Institute two or three times a year.  Familiarity with the paintings makes the book seem like a new look at old friends.  In it authors including Saul Bellow, Delmore Schwartz, Francine Prose, Rita Dove, Willa Cather and Stanley Kunitz write essays, stories, poems about the the artworks - including Matisse's Woman Before an Aquarium.  I read a couple a day and am never disappointed.  My next trip to the Art Institute will be a treat after having thought about the work discussed in this book.

I got the other book on interlibrary loan.  It's The Writer's Brush: Paintings, Drawing and Sculptures by Writers, by Donald Friedman.  This is a large book, heavy, lavishly illustrated.  In it the author gives biographies of writers who created art, and especially discusses their thought on the connections between the written word and images created in art.  This is a tremendous reference, one I'm rationing out to about thirty pages a day. I find myself being surprised at familiar poets and novelists who also made art (Enid Bagnold, Elizabeth Bishop, William Faulkner), and delighted to discover writers whom I did not know (Russell Edson, Carol Emshwiller).  The authors/artists are arranged alphabetically, and I'm only up to Jules Feiffer.  Every page is interesting. 

It's the dead of winter here in southern Wisconsin, and I am grateful to be able to stay inside to read and do artwork.  I remember all those cold days when I was teaching, going out in the dark to clean off the car, slide to work, come out in the dark, clean off the car and slide home in the dark, only to have paperwork to finish.  These days are like gifts.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Yupo Koi and a Poem

Koi, watercolor and acrylic glazes on Yupo

I know, everyone paints koi.  But I wanted to try something watery for this plastic surface.  A local garden shop has a koi pond in their greenhouse, and on bitter cold days, sometimes I walk there among the houseplants, and sit to watch the fish.

by Amanda Jernigan

My little lack-of-light, my swaddled soul,
December baby.  Hush for it is dark,
and will grow darker still.  We must embark
directly.  Bring an orange as the toll
for Charon: he will be our gondolier.
Upon the shore, the season pans for light,
and solstice fish, their eyes gone milky white,
come bearing riches for the dying year:
Solstitial kingdom.  It is yours, the mime
of branches and the drift of snow.  With shaking
hands, Persephone, the winter's wife,
will tender you a gift.  Born in a time
of darkness, you will learn the trick of making.
You shall make your consolation all your life.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Yupo Rooster and a Poem

Rooster, watercolor on Yupo

About once a month or so I join a local painting group in a studio in an old warehouse by the railroad tracks.  It's a congenial and committed group who enjoys a weekly dose of watercolors, and also loves to chat and snack on cookies or cheese and crackers.  Last week they were experimenting with Yupo, a synthetic paper.  I did those tight child portraits based on vintage photos first, but this time I was much looser.  I borrowed a source photo and did a basic painting of this bird.  The original chicken is standing on a wooden deck with shrubs in the background, but I wanted to just play with something less literal.  When I got home I added the background, and created texture by tilting my board to create runs, and salt for a speckled effect.  Later still I used watercolor pencils for some line work details on the legs and in the plumage.

By the way, you would do our local art league a favor by clicking on the link "Janesville Art League" on the left sidebar.  They will continue to get a free listing if people visit the site.

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

An old man in a lodge within a park;
  The chamber walls depicted all around
     With portraitures of huntsmen, hawk, and hound,
     And the hurt deer.  He listeneth  to the lark,
Whose song comes with the sunshine through the dark
     Of painted glass in leaden lattice bound;
     He listeneth and he laugheth at the sound,
     Then writeth in a book like any clerk.
He is the poet of the dawn, who wrote
     The Canterbury Tales, and his old age
     Made beautiful with song; and as I read
I hear the crowing cock, I hear the note
     Of lark and linnet, and from every page
     Rise odors of ploughed field and flowery mead.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Children of Air

Jennie Belle Holly and Ella Mae Holly.  Watercolor on Yupo, from antique photos found at a consignment shop

One of my pleasures is browsing through old photographs in shops.  I love the serious poses, the clothing of these unknown people.  It's sad seeing these pictures sold as curiosities.  Surely these girls were daughters, sisters, wives, mothers.  Why aren't they cherished in someone's family album?  Jennie Belle and Ella Mae, photographed by a St. Louis photographer, were identified.  I think they were from the 1860s, based on some other pictures in the stack. Long since grown up and gone away, they are "children of air".

To Any Reader
by Robert Louis Stevenson

As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
In another garden, play.
But do not think  you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you.  His intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear; he will not look.
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Looking Back

Startling image, isn't it?  One of the things I became interested in in 2008 was vintage advertising imagery from the 1950s and 1960s.  This one led me to thinking about some of the art goals, large and small, I worked on last year.

My most ambitious goal was to mount a show of at our local library.  I was sweaty-palmed about the idea, but  also determined.  I submitted several paintings for review and was accepted.  Elation was followed by real concern.  Many works needed framing, which is costly. The show covered ten years of my work, so the paintings varied in size, medium, and content. Would the exhibit look amateurish?  Then there was the issue of the cable television interview. Would I sound foolish? In the end the whole experience was positive.  I wrote an artist statement, evaluated what I saw as being my best work.  The interviewer, a sympathetic woman, has since become a friend.  Written and verbal feedback from the show was positive, and people apparently enjoyed the variety.  I even sold one painting.

I entered several group exhibits sponsored by the Wisconsin Regional Artists program.  This fine program, run by the University of Wisconsin around the entire state encourages nonprofessional artists to show their work and be critiqued.  A few pieces from each show are eligible for a state exhibition in Madison each year.  I entered large watercolors in several shows and was initially frustrated at not winning awards.  The paintings I did last winter were among my favorites ever.  But eventually one was chosen, and was recognized at the state level. I relearned what I already knew, that one has to create artwork for oneself, and not invest too much psychic energy into receiving kudos from other people.  Still, it felt good when one of my paintings was recognized.  

I entered a plein air painting event in Beloit, worked outside during a week of winds and storms that eventually led to terrible local flooding.  But I met new people, rose to challenges, and eventually sold a painting.  

I learned to cut simple mats, and I began to frame my smaller work.  It still costs money, but I can make my little mixed media pieces more affordable by doing my own framing.  

I put my work into other venues.  A local coffee shop has had several pieces since June.  I also have watercolors and mixed media pieces in a local gallery.  While having my art in public places feels good, no work has sold.  Nobody has come up and mentioned seeing my art in these public spaces.  On the other hand, fewer pieces are resting along the baseboard of my office, or in the attic.  

I gave a few framed pieces of my artwork to friends.  This actually took as much nerve as putting paintings in the library show.  Would these people like, appreciate, an original piece of art?  Would they be too embarrassed to say that it wasn't their style?  

I continued to post my artwork online on this blog and on Flickr for an audience of people I have never met.  This is the place where I have gotten the most feedback and support.  People are endlessly kind and helpful in their comments, and for that I am grateful.

I attended classes.  There was one in watercolor techniques, one in colored-pencil, and one that utilized mixed media collage.  I remember telling a non-artist friend about a class I had signed up for, and she asked me why I was doing that.  Didn't I already know how to draw and paint? Apart from the fact that none of us ever knows everything there is to know, or has developed our skills to a level that we are satisfied with, I take classes to hang out with other artists.  I'm inspired by other people's work, their philosophies, their energy.  But increasingly I am beginning to feel that my time and money needs to go into making my own art, creating my own projects, deciding my own goals.  The time spent in packing up materials, listening to other people, driving to and from classes, might be spent more profitably in working on my own sketchbooks, reading my own books and magazines.  And yet it feels important to me to get out of my own space, my own head, my own rut.  I'm still not sure to what extent classes will figure into my upcoming year.

I read books and magazines related to art that informed and inspired me.  I enjoyed books by John Ruskin, Winston Churchill, and a host of contemporary artists who made me want to keep going, try new things.  But as in classwork, sometimes it occurred to me that I could read about art, or I could do it.  Sometimes reading is just an excuse not to take action.

I made art.  I worked in several sketchbooks, and became less nervous about letting other people watching me work.  I painted in watercolor, acrylic, and even a little bit in oil.  I experimented with collage and mixed media, and discovered that I love this approach.  

As for resolutions, I'm still thinking.  I want to try creating some series, perhaps in a small format. While small pieces are pretty much lost in group shows, they are relatively affordable to frame and to buy.  If I do, say, twenty small pieces that are all the same size and framed in a similar way, I'm thinking they will have a bigger visual impact than a similar grouping in various sizes and framing.  I'm not making any promises about settling into one medium, but at least small art won't be too hard to store. 

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Frosty Morning and a Poem

morning frost on my bedroom window

Frost Flowers
by Barbara Coan Houghton, Wisconsin Poets' Calendar, 2009

At 10 below my garden sleeps
beneath the snow.
Hungry for bloom,
I walk beside the river
paved with ice.
There a field of frost flowers
Fractures the sun,

Garden of a different sort.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Snow Hearts and a Poem

The Little Book of Hand Shadows
by Deborah Digges

You who began inside me,
see a tortoise, a stork, a wolf come out of my hand.

Stand behind me, your shadow eclipsing
my shadow.

Make a cock crow by opening and closing two fingers.
We can be anyone now.

We can be spirit, ships homing, ten brothers in heaven.
Can you feel the sweet wind of their wing beats?

Can you smell the damp forest
as the walls fill up?

They breath with things.
Crook  your right forefinger which forms a paw.

Remember a crab moves a little sideways.
Pick me up like you used to and whirl me around.

Mother Hubbard's dog begging.
Your Dapple Grey appears to be running.

Our shadows spill shadows.
They pool, they molt.

They grow out of the dark, they grow
out of themselves.

They crowd the ark, they crow  the world with their finger-ears
and thorny toes and their broken beaks

and knuckled hearts,
their broken beaks and knuckled hearts.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Recharging Batteries

College roommate Cathy and me at the Walnut Room of Macy's, on State Street in Chicago

View from the Signature Room on the 95th floor at the Hancock Center

Wreathed lion at the Chicago Art Institute

On Tuesday my long-time friend Cathy and I each took a train to Chicago and met at the Art Institute. We toured the new impressionist galleries, then caught a cab to the Hancock Center where we feasted our eyes on stupendous view of downtown and the lake shore, and had a good lunch too. Then we headed back to Macy's to ogle the Christmas windows and visit the department store's sparkling tree. A kind waiter took our photo together. As I hiked up Madison Street toward my train back to Wisconsin, an eggnog latte in hand, the weather mild, thousands of tiny lights spangling winter trees, I felt about as happy as possible.

That led me to consider what it was about the day that had such a positive and energizing effect, and what it might suggest for approaching 2009. What elements combined to act as a tonic to mind and body?

1. Change of scenery:
While I don't ever see myself wanting to live in a large urban area, visiting one is a wonderful change. Busy traffic, crowds of people, shopping, the lake, galleries are all very different from my quiet life in a small city.

2. Exercise:
I know that getting moving is important, even in winter when taking a walk often means at best being very cold and at worst means chancing a nasty fall. I do spend time on the treadmill of my local athletic club, but it cannot compare to getting outside and having things to see, hear, and even smell. I was lucky Tuesday because the mild weather meant clear sidewalks, and if I was wary of taxicabs, little chance of injury.

3. Art:
There are dozens of museums and galleries in Chicago, more than I'll ever see. But even spending an hour at the Art Institute recharges my batteries. My friend has a membership, so we waltzed in past lines of visitors and headed to some old favorites. I was excited because I had recently watched the old movie
Lust for Life about Van Gogh, and had read a fictionalized account Gauguin's life, The Moon and Sixpence. Seeing so many paintings, both familiar and new, by the two artists was a treat.

4. Friends
I'm retired, so I don't see my teaching friends every day. My parents and mother and father-in-law are gone. I have no children. So much of the time it's just my husband and me. While we're good friends, it is wonderful to spend time with other people as well. What a gift it is to have friends with whom we can always feel comfortable and welcome, who know our faults and eccentricities and still accept us!

5. Music and books
The train trip to Chicago is two hours each way. While the views from the train are congenial, they are also very familiar. I take along old
New Yorker magazines and catch up on the features and short stories missed before, then I leave the magazines on the train for others to read. This time I also brought along my iPod, with some saved up podcasts and lots of good music. The time flew by, and the annoyance of people having loud cell phone conversations simply disappeared.

Change of scene, art, friends, exercise, music and books are all things I want to incorporate into the upcoming months. They help keep me healthy in body and spirit, and recharge me when Midwestern cold and gloom wear me down.

Happy new year to all who visit here. May your year bring you health and happiness.