Monday, September 28, 2009

Happy Trails

I mentioned my little Sunday hike on FaceBook and how I got lost........well, not lost, lost. It's just that the Tim Ernst hiking trails guidebook I took with me (and left in my car) is 17 years old, and during those 17 years, it seems the green trail (as opposed to the red, blue & white trails that criss-cross it) has expanded from a 5 mile loop to a 10 mile loop, and about the time I thought I should be returning to my car, I wasn't even close, so I wandered around for a while, never feeling scared or panicky, just irritated with myself. I had never gone hiking alone before. There's a group of (mostly) ladies called The Happy Hikers that I hike with sometimes in the fall, winter and early spring. They range in ages from 30-something through 80, but don't let the age fool you. The older ones who started the club can often out-hike the newbies. Anyway, this experience has left me contrite and convinced me that I should hike with the ladies, even though they tromp through the woods faster than I would and don't take photo breaks, so half the time I'm running to catch up after I've snapped a couple of quick pics, and the highlight of their day is not being in the woods nearly so much as the lunch afterwards at some nearby diner. But I digress.

I'll have to say here that my family has told me not to go hiking alone, too many America's Most Wanted stories of deranged madmen hacking up unsuspecting females on lonely park trails. This Sunday, though, I thought, I'm 61, and I can do as I darn well please, but as I got out of my car at 11:50, put on my hiking boots, got my water bottles, etc., I did feel very alone. Luckily I still had the old mace gun in my pack, and I took it out to see if it still worked. No spray, just a dribble. I decided if I got attacked by a deranged madman, I'd have to ask him to kneel and look up so I could dribble mace in his eyes.

But on my own, I had plenty of time to examine every leaf. (That's what Jim says I do. He won't go with me hiking. He has bad knees. I think men have specialized pain receptors so that they only hurt when they're asked to do something they don't like doing. He goes to hunting camp several weeks out of the year, and he always comes home with tall tales and yarns about the fun he and his buddies had building stands, riding 4-wheelers, and stalking defenseless animals. He never says, "I sat in the cabin the whole time because my knees hurt.")

I had a lovely day, for the first 2 hours, till about the time I thought I should have reached the trail head, and I ran out of water, and my little pocket camera's battery pack died, and the Pterodactyl mosquitoes discovered me. I had my cell phone, and I could have called Jim, but what would I tell him? "Uh, honey, I'm lost in the woods near the wild grapes and just after I passed a clump of red fungus"? But it wasn't as if I were a thousand miles from Nowhere. From a bluff I could see the Arkansas State Capitol building in the distance. If worse came to worst, I could have swum the river, gone shopping, and then taken a cab back to my car. At 3:30, I gave up on the trail, went to down to the highway and made my way back to my car on asphalt, not the ending I had envisioned, but 5 more minutes in the shadowy depths, and I'd have been a goner, anyway, sucked dry by those blood-thirsty mosquitoes.

The best photo ops always come after the battery dies, and so I didn't get the covered bridge, the pool of lily pads, the waterfall, etc.; I've posted a few of mine, but I'm not a nature photographer, and I rarely can resist the urge to paint or at least run a couple of filters on them. My favorite photographer is Dave Finley ;my second favorite would be Tim Ernst Tim is more famous, but I don't know him personally. Dave is my son. Check out all their sites for some gorgeous wildflower photography. I guess I'll have to be content with chasing the Happy Hikers through the woods.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Notes to My Grandmother

Just a few yellowing photographs,
Stories told by my aunts,
Glimpses of memory that may not, in truth, be memories,
These are all I have of you.

But I feel you
In my veins, in my laughter and my tears,
I know you because my breath is yours,
And my eyes see the world as you did.

And there is the longing
For the warmth of your arms around me,
The last time your lips brushed my cheek,
For the last time I was safe.

I daydream, sometimes, about
Bringing you pretty things,
Baubles and bright colors you never had,
And a pink daisy painting I did for you.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why Aren't You Painting?

This month I'm answering a few Questions in Corel Painter magazine's Q&A section, and I did this painting as an example, using only the Acrylics Captured Bristle brush, changing the Bristle settings along the way. If I had to choose just one from among all the Painter brushes it would likely be this one because it's so adaptable.

Some of my followers are wonderful artists, and we've encouraged one another often through the years. If, however, you have never painted at all, you should (and I don't often tell anyone they should do stuff) give it a try. Art isn't, or shouldn't be, reserved for the bold and artsy few. We're all creative beings; some of us just haven't gotten in touch with our creativity yet. Whether you're interested in watercolors, oils, acrylics, colored pencils or whatever, invest in a few art good art supplies. Good art supplies. For example, if you go to Wal-Mart and pick up a cheap set of watercolors, brushes and paper, you've cheapened your creativity, (and there's a world of difference in quality art supplies) but you wouldn't think twice about spending $25 on a blouse, so take the $25 to an art store and buy one large sheet of paper (that you can cut into smaller pieces for painting), a medium quality brush, and 3 tubes of medium quality paint in red, blue and yellow. You may want to buy a beginner's technique book, but these days you can find plenty of tutorials online to get you started. And of course, I'm always here put in my 2 cents worth if all that white paper gets too intimidating. If you find that you really don't enjoy doing watercolors, don't think you've wasted your money. You've dabbled in one art form that somehow will stand you in good stead for the next.

Or you might have thought about trying digital art, which is just as much fun, just as addictive, and much less messy, but the cost of Corel Painter or Adobe PhotoShop may have put you off. True, spending hundreds, even thousands, of dollars when you're not sure just how much you'll love it doesn't make a lot of sense, but here comes Ebay to the rescue! The latest version of Painter, for example, is 11, but the earlier versions, back as far as 6 or 7 have many of the same tools and brushes, and as long as they work with your computer and browser version, (be sure and check this) they're a great way to get into digital painting for a few dollars. Or there are a few graphics software programs that you can download for free, like Gimp. I haven't used it, but I've known artists who used it exclusively, and it's a good way to get started.

What words of advice would I give you?
Believe in yourself, but know that you're your own toughest critic. Don't throw away anything you paint. I promise it will look better 2 weeks or 2 months from now when you take it out again.......and if it doesn't you can always tear it into pieces and use them in a collage that you will like. Paint subjects you love, not what you think someone else would love. Set a schedule and stick with it when you first begin, whether it's 15 minutes a day or an hour 3 times a week...........and finally, show me what you've painted! There's nothing more exciting than watching someone discover his or her own creativity.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First Bonsai

(Click on the image for a closer look)
Okay, right, so it doesn't exactly scream Bonsai. It's my first untrained, raggedy attempt at pruning a Bonsai tree. I've always admired them but hadn't seriously considered trying my hand at it (not sure why; I've tried most everything else that's artsy) until Dave, Deb and the kids sent me a Dwarf Azalea Bonsai for Mother's Day from, such a beautiful and unexpected gift, growing in a Bonsai pot with gravel and a water tray, and it came unpruned, ready for me to make it my own, but I didn't rush in with the clippers. Instead, I set it outside under the Wisteria arbor where it spent a happy summer and even bloomed. I don't rush into anything that's important to me. When I buy something like a camera or monitor, I'll research for months, finally order it, and when it comes, it still may sit in its box for another few weeks while I acclimate it into my life and my thinking. At this stage in my life, I doubt I'll wake up sane and normal any day now. Besides, most of my friends and family are slightly nutty, too, so who would I talk to?

So this morning I knew this was pruning day. I've been researching online, have ordered a book. Of course there will be a book. If I forgot how to breathe, I'd just buy a book on breathing. You may wonder why I didn't wait for the book to arrive. Hello, I couldn't; this was the day. Beginning with the obvious dead twigs, I worked my inward, imagining as I went that it was a huge tree overhead, shaped by decades and years of wind, rain, heat and cold. I had always sort of imagined that Bonsai must have some archaic, poetic meaning, like windswept bower of the ancients. It doesn't. It means tree in a pot.

The snipping went pretty well, but the wiring, well, let's just say I've got to develop a gentler touch. When I broke a couple of small branches while trying to train them with the copper wire, I figured it was the Universe nudging me to consider a slightly different shape. Turns out, it's my kind of art because it will never be finished, and I'm pretty well hooked already. I've been looking at Bonsai tools, pots, and Dwarf Junipers. And anyway, it was meant to be. I've had the tiny Oriental mudmen for years, can't recall where I got them or why, but when I began seeing how they were used in the photos online, I knew where they belonged, beneath the branches of my first Bonsai.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Notes from my Inner Child

I first learned about this technique back in the John Bradshaw days, when he was introducing each of us to our inner child, and it is powerful stuff, and I carefully filed it away with the rest of my treasured discoveries that are gathering dust in the cluttered nether regions of my mind. No matter how successful and happy and charmed a life you've led, you've taken some emotional beatings along the way, times when the Universe didn't seem to know your name, and times when you wanted to crawl under the covers and stay there, but we're resilient creatures, and we bounce back and present our smiley face to the world.........but we all have issues that nag at us and tell us that even though the sun is shining, there's every chance that we'll mess up today, and most of those issues developed before we crashed headlong into puberty.

All my followers are creative and intuitive and insightful, and you've probably been aware of your inner child, but do you ever talk to her or him?
If not, it's high time you did. When I do, I invariably have an emotional reaction, whether it's bubbling over with joy or a deep sadness, or sometimes remorse that I've waited so long in between talks.

Go to a comfortable quiet place, preferably when you're home alone, and take a notebook and pen. The first time I read about writing notes to myself, I was like, well, that's just strange, but I'll try most anything once, and I liked the idea of the different halves of my brain conversing with one another. It turns out that our dominant hand (for me it's my right hand) speaks for the grown-up part of us, and the non-dominant hand connects with the inner child. That inner child knows about the issues we've sloughed off, knows the real reasons behind our actions, and would actually like to voice them if given half a chance. Draw a line down the middle of the page and take a couple of deep, slow breaths. On the left side of the page with your dominant hand, write something, anything, like Hello or How are you doing? or What would you like to talk about? Take another deep breath. Now with your non-dominant hand, respond on the right side of the page. The child-like, unschooled scrawl will regress your thinking to about age 4 or 5. I don't know exactly why or how, but it does. Once you're into writing notes yourself, it can become a very useful tool. Maybe you've been wondering why you can't seem to meet your goals or why you're putting something off that on the surface is what you've been wanting to do. Your inner child knows, and she or he will tell you, maybe gently, maybe in a burst of anger at your failure to grasp the obvious. I find that the process is exhausting, and I can't do it for long periods, maybe only a few minutes, but I promise to come back soon.

Let me know what you think, no matter which half of your brain it's coming from and even though my Comments gadget seems to have gone AWOL. Oh well, maybe it will find its way home.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Of Purple Trees and Other Bits of Wisdom

You know how, when your children are little, you always mean to write down the funny, sweet things they say and do, and hopefully you remember to write down a few? Public school teachers hear a hundred fold as many quotables from their students that we think we'll never forget. I know I've forgotten most of them, but with school starting all over the country, I was thinking about my son and my former students today.

It was actually pretty smart of my Dave to pick up on plural nouns when he was just 3, and when he wanted one piece of lettuce, it was a "letta" just as one piece of cheese was a "chee". And he kept secrets really well. He loved to paint rocks and painted one that looked exactly like a Razorback hog and wanted to give it to my sister for Christmas, but I told him we would keep it a secret; as soon as she walked in, he ran to her and said, "Aunt Nan! I painted you a Razorback, but it's a secret!" He gets this ability from me.

Then there was Dudley in my 9th grade English class. I swear to God his name was Dudley, and pretty much everything he said sounded like a joke, but he didn't mean it that way. I remember handing out test papers, and the one I put on his desk happened to be upside down. "Uh, Mrs. Finley, I think you printed the tests wrong!" And there was the time I was explaining the pros and cons of something or other in our literature study, and half the class was totally puzzled because they thought I was saying frozen pecans.........I guess you had to be there. And there were the 3 years I counseled 500 kindergarteners. I probably could have filled a notebook with their cute chatter, but most of it has slipped away. I do remember Robert, who often had accidents in his pants. The clean clothes closet was just off my office, and when the teacher walked drippy Robert past my door, I said, "Robert, did you tinkle in your pants?" He said, "No, ma'am, I just peed in 'em a yiddle."

Of course sometimes they're smarter than we are. When Rani was first learning to jabber a few words, she said from her car seat behind me, clear as day, "Purple trees". I said, "Oh how sweet! She thinks the trees are purple! No, baby, the trees are green." About that time I saw where she was looking, and all the tree trunks had splashes of purple on them, as posted land............. And the first time 7 year-old Stewart spent the night with us, I put him to bed in a small guest room we'd never used. Minutes later, he was beside me saying, "I can't sleep. There are lights on the ceiling." Leading him back to the bedroom, I explained comfortingly that the lights he saw probably were headlights from the roads that wound up the hills and sometimes shined through the trees into the house. We turned out the light, settled onto his bed, and I looked up to see dozens of glowing lights on the ceiling, tiny stars, placed there by the previous owners for their children. After we talked about them for a minute, he was fine.
Moral of the story: If it makes you smile, laugh, or tear up, write it down.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Going Postal

No, that's not how our postal employees look, but it's not far off, and the building, which was plenty big enough to serve 10,000 patrons a few years ago, before the mass exodus from Little Rock of families with children, struggles to serve 22,000 and growing by 100 families a month. So, in the 6 years we've lived here, I remember twice, maybe 3 times when I didn't have to stand in line half-way out the door to mail a package or buy stamps.

I've sold nearly a hundred of my used, unwanted art books on over the years (and Jim will tell you they can't be missed from the shelves and stacks of other books). It's a pretty cool deal. You just post them, along with your prices and descriptions, and wait till one sells. When it does, notifies you to mail the book to the buyer and deposits your money, minus their commission. Today I had a book to mail to New York, waited my turn, behind people who couldn't make up their minds which postage stamp to buy and others who needed a forklift to bring in their packages. I was torn between whether I wanted the 60 year-old hippie guy with shoulder length blonde hair or the pudgy, motherly looking lady who seemed to have gone to elementary school with most everyone in line.

I got her...............
clerk: What can I do for you today?
me: I want to mail this book.
clerk:Is there anything perishable, liquid or hazardous in the box?
me: No, it's a book.
clerk: Do you want to insure it?
me: No, nothing extra, just try to get it there. (I didn't tell her that insures the books on their end.)
clerk: Do you want it to go by Express Mail?
me: No, just the basic, cheapest way.
clerk: Okay, let's seeeeee, as she begins to tap her computer screen....
touch, touch.....touch, touch, touch.......touch....touch.....
clerk: That will be $7.65.
me: No, that's not right. I never pay more than $2 or $3, even for hardback books; this one's soft cover.
clerk: (Managing to look both blank and exasperated at the same time and hefting the book a couple of times.)
But this one's HEAVY! Okay, let's try something else.
touch, touch.....touch, touch, touch.......touch....touch.....
clerk: That's $7.75 by Express Mail. (Hoping I had forgotten my earlier request.)
me: No, I mail books all the time by Media Mail, and it's always $2 or $3.
clerk: Oh, is it media?
me: Yes, it's a book.
clerk: Well, you didn't tell me that. Is there anything else in the package?
me: No, it's a book.
touch, touch.....touch, touch, touch.......touch....touch.....
clerk: Well then, that will be $2.77.

Now here's the thing, I still think postage is a bargain, even though there's talk that they may stop Saturday deliveries and even though the government constantly seems to be bailing them out. I couldn't have gotten the book to New York for $7.75 on my own, but I have no intention of paying 3 times the going rate, just because the line is now nearly backed up to the train tracks. She apologized, and I said no problem. She said that people sometimes get really upset with her. I just smiled, thinking, I'm not surprised at all.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

We're home!

I posted more vacation photos at

I'm not sure how many days by the ocean it would take for me to walk away without regret or longing, but 8 isn't the magic number. On our eleven hour drive home, we were already making lists of things we wanted to do next time and stuff we forgot to bring. Maybe we can go back next August, when most of the tourists are gone.

Our condo was very reasonably priced (fall rates after August 21) and had 2 bedrooms, 2 bunk beds, and a sleeper sofa and 2 baths, so we had plenty of room. Jim, who's a TV junkie, loved that it had 3 TVs. I loved that it had a great kitchen. I like to eat out occasionally, but for the most part I like cooking my own meals, and we cooked fresh seafood 3 nights and ate most of our breakfasts & lunches there. I discovered a fish called Scamp! Omigosh! It's my new favorite fish, but I won't be able to find it again until we go back to Florida.

I didn't get sunburned (this time), but then I'm not much of a sun worshiper these days. I loved to get up in the mornings and walk along the beach, taking photos, finding shells, just enjoying the Gulf breeze and watching the gulls. Then Jim and I would go find something fun to do during the day, and after dinner (we're early birds and eat dinner around 5 PM) I would be back on the beach to swim and watch the amazing sunsets........................