Precarious Unpacking

Are you familiar with Jenga? You know the game where there are a stack of pieces that you pull out one at a time until someone pulls the wrong piece and everything goes tumbling down? Welcome to my world. Nearly three months in and still unpacking. We left a house that was a little more than three thousand square feet, and moved into one just shy of fourteen hundred. To say space is an issue is an understatement. My studio is jammed with books and supplies, and there are still unopened boxes in the garage. The kitchen isn’t even half the size, actually about a quarter of the size of my old one. The weight of “stuff” is upon me. I mentioned Jenga because that is how things are happening around here. I open a box and put a precarious stack of things together, and hope nothing will fall. It’s not that I am being careless; it’s that I actually don’t have anywhere to put anything. As I told Dan this morning, “You know I’m in trouble when I’m happy that I broke something. It means that I don’t have to find a place for it!” We are collectors. (Actually it’s more me than Dan, but this is California, you know 50/50? He owns half, I own half, so he gets half the blame) Thirty years of flea markets and antique stores, and our shared passion for books. He is equally guilty on this one. We love to read, for Dan world events, current events, and history; I have an addiction to design, art, and cookbooks. We built shelves, lots of shelves, but there just don’t seem to be enough. There are bookcases in the studio, one in the guest room, and soon to be one in the very small master bedroom. Then there is art. This one would be obvious because I’m an artist and photographer, as is my daughter, and my son (if he could ever admit it) has a good photographer’s eye. My mother-in-law is an artist, as is my brother-in-law, we love Maxfield Parrish, and vintage prints, photography, and have cool funky fleas market pieces….I think I’m starting to sweat, like I said, overwhelmed, buried alive, frustrated, and unfortunately, extremely sentimental. It makes getting rid of things a nightmare. I look at a box with dread, but then I open it and the “Oh I remember this.”, or the “But the kids made this…gave me this… might want this…”, and then there is, “It might be worth something, we can’t just get rid of it.” Breaking stuff (on accident I swear) takes the decision making out of it for me. I feel an instant pang of regret, followed by an equally joyous moment of elation because I have to throw it out. I’m sure to some of you it would be easy. No room for that old doll? Off with its head. Another antique plate? How many plates can one eat off? Gone! But not me, I remember every piece, every moment. I know that the vintage wooden pillars with the delicious aqua patina were a steal for $35 at the Wheeling, Illinois Flea Market. The guy had no change and I did, so he let them go. The white shabby half column? From a road trip through Ohio with Dan and the kids, the same trip that brought me the reproduction funky, slightly creepy, painted crow with the glass eyes that seem to stare right through you. The four green Depression glass plates that Jessica bought for me, one of the first gifts she bought me with her own money. The little ceramic chef that was a gift from my mother-in-law that reminds me so much of Brian. I obviously have issues. For me vintage pieces come with a former life, a connection to another soul, something that someone cared enough to hang on to, maybe it comes from the desire to have a larger family. Most of our family is in Ireland. No big family reunions, no crazy aunt that everyone giggles about behind her back, no old family home with an attic filled with treasures. For most of my life it was just my parents and my three sisters. When the four of us were married and had eight children between us, I was thrilled. When the kids were small holidays were great. Now I am here in California, the kids have all grown, my daughter lives in New York, my niece currently resides in Nebraska, another nephew exploring the idea of Texas, my sister soon to move to Nevada, and our parents are gone. We’ve gone from a party of eighteen to three, and that is only until Brian decides where he will end up, and then there are two. There is no one in the world I would want to be in a duo with more than Dan, but it does get lonely in our little world…did I get sidetracked? Yes, of course I did. Back to the stuff! The boxes are dwindling. I am finally making some headway, and making some hard choices along the way. We have decided to set aside some things we really love, even if that means they live in a box in the garage for now.

In an earlier post I mentioned the possibility of starting a blog about our new home and the renovations we would undertake. The truth is that the house just isn’t large enough to do that. We have made some changes, significant ones, but I think that I could cover it in about two posts. Some changes will have to wait for monetary reasons, some because quite frankly we are tired, and some because we have decided that this time, in this house, we will take our time and get what we really want. So for now I’m off to the land of bubble wrap and moving boxes, and hope that in today’s game of Jenga I come out the winner.

One final note, our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary was June 24th. Dan’s job made it impossible to go out for dinner. As anyone who reads my ramblings might know, the one thing we miss the most about our old house is our garden.The new garden is a hideous mess of dead weeds and hard cracked ground, but there is just a small bit of a patio. I decided with a little help from Brian to create a little piece of our favorite city, Paris, in our own back yard. A quick trip to the home improvement store for some lattice panels and metal brackets, some rummaging through our stuff, and a bistro was born. We had dinner in the garden, and enjoyed it so much we plan to expand on it. (That will be of course once the Jenga game is completed) A few photos of the “bistro”.




Beginning The Countdown

As I contemplated what to do tonight the old 99 Bottles of Beer began to sing in my brain. You know, 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer…except my version has something to do with 90 more projects to do. I’d write out the whole thing but:

A. You really don’t want to read it

B. It makes no sense at all.

Anyway, I’m feeling a little pressured these days. The three hundred sixty-five day project is three-quarters of the way through. As much as I have accomplished, and it is a lot, my studio is nowhere near cleaned out, which was in the beginning the idea behind cleaning out my “artistic refrigerator”. I still have multitudes of supplies, and worse yet I bought more! I also feel like I didn’t get to enough drawing, or oil painting in the last nine months. Both are things I’d like to spend a little more time on, but there is also the random supply crap. You know, the bits a pieces that one might pick up along the way and say, “Don’t throw that out, I can make something with that.” I have lots of that stuff. The unfortunate thing is that with my random stuff it tends to be on the larger side, like Theresa’s kitchen cabinet doors. Remember those from a few months ago? I took a stack, did a few projects, had a lot of great ideas, and never followed through. I have decided I need a list of what I hope to accomplish in these last three months. I’m going to work on the list tomorrow…what’s the line from the other song? “I love you tomorrow, you’re always a day away…(I think the blood may have pooled in my brain from the two hours I spent in the dentist’s chair today)

Tonight I decided to grab one of those cabinet doors and do something with it. One of my favorite pieces of the last few months was the reproduction of a business card I did for my husband. It was from the restaurant in Paris where we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. The piece now hangs in our kitchen. I took a larger cabinet door, some drop cloth fabric, glue, and gesso, to turn the door surface into something I can paint on. I prefer turning the door over where the trim is a flat panel. I glued the drop cloth down, not cut perfectly, but I plan on trimming it out anyway, and right now I am waiting for the first coat of gesso to dry. At this moment I’m not even sure what I will be painting on it, but I have drying time to brainstorm…Brainstorm is over. Valentine’s Day ahead, I’ve got an idea. A heart, not a cheesy red Valentine, but a tone on tone, thinking sepia, in the center, a lovely quote, again tone on tone, and random crap to be added to frame. Unfortunately the gesso isn’t dry, and it still needs another coat. Looks like a two-day project. While we wait for that to dry (Because aren’t we all waiting for me to be finished?), I have another project. Years ago I picked up a vintage souvenir box from Mount Vernon at an antique store. The box was trashed on the inside. I redid the inside with some beautiful moss-green velvet. Tonight I replaced the top with one of my photos from Paris (note to Dan…Dear Dan, I must return to Paris, running out of photos to use, must return to replenish my supply…) The top had some flaking on the inside of the glass frame that I chose to keep, I like the patina of it.  I think it came out really nice. Definitely one for etsy. Tomorrow I will return to my cabinet door. I hope to add an additional coat of gesso before bed tonight.

Before photos…


IMG_9734After photos…





Has Anyone Seen My…?

Maybe it has to do with all the balls I’m juggling in the air these days, but I seem to be losing my mind just a wee bit. For example, twice in the last week I have gone in search of my glasses only to find them attached to my body. I hang them on the front of my shirt, I’ve done so for years, yet somehow these days that little fact seems to be slipping my mind. I do have a very long history of losing my car, and I mean losing it everywhere. Church, the grocery store, the mall, so much in fact that I now have particular spots that I use just so I know where to look. A while back I wandered aimlessly through a store lot searching for my pickup. I was just about convinced it had been stolen. I had been looking for a good ten minutes. I finally called Dan, who after he stopped laughing, reminded me that I had driven his car. Which by the way I had walked past at least three times in the search for my own vehicle. I’m obviously not a stupid woman. Look what I can do. I also solve the New York Times crossword puzzle every morning. I’d say I have about a seventy-five percent average on finishing it alone, seventy-six to one hundred if I bug the crap out of Dan. So obviously I remember some things. He was making fun of my latest glasses mishap today, referring to me as the absent-minded professor. I am of course getting older, and I have a lot on my mind, but I’m beginning to wonder if some glitter hasn’t made its way into my brain. Or maybe it has to do that as an older woman I have learned to prioritize what matters to me, pushing little details to the side. (That sounds good doesn’t it?) I can still tell the men in my life, Dan and Brian, where every single thing they can’t find in this house is at. It seems that my bad memory only has to do with myself. That would make sense since I usually put myself last. So to sum it all up, I’m forgetting things because:

A.  I am trying to do too much

B.  I am absentminded

C. I have glitter on my brain

D. I’m older

E. I put myself last

F. All of the above?

Actually I have decided that it because for the first time in my life I am devoting every waking moment to creativity. My house is falling down around me, and right now I don’t really care. I am motivated and determined, and have had in recent weeks some new-found confidence in my work. The things that are important to me are always on my mind. My family, my kids, and most of all Dan, but for the first time in my life I’m beginning to see the glimmer of a dream for myself, and if that means I lose a few things along the way…well, except I really do need those glasses.

For tonight a little “upcycling”. A vintage box that I found in OK shape. I’m giving it a touch of nostalgia. One of my photos from Paris changed to black and white and then computer colorized, decoupaged to the top. Inside copies of some of my collection of vintage French postcards, and a small mirror. I have a few finishing touches to complete, but the glue on the mirror needs to dry so those will wait until tomorrow.  I’m pretty happy with the finished product.IMG_2729





Dreaming Of Provence

Its been four and a half years since Dan and I were in Paris, and there isn’t a day that goes by when we don’t dream of going back. We talk about the trip often, it was for our twentieth wedding anniversary. We couldn’t afford a honeymoon when we got married. Next June we will celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary, and the plan had always been to go back to France for it. With our current financial situation, and a new business (hopefully) in our future, that seems unlikely. But we can dream, and plan, and we do. We spend time talking about the places we didn’t get to, the places we would like to return to, and our ultimate dream, which would be to take a boat leisurely down the Seine, and explore the villages along the way. Dan is an Air Force brat, has traveled the world extensively. I have spent some time in three countries aside from France, but for both of us France is the place to calls to us both. Dan speaks of moving there, I’d love to, but I’d never move away from my kids. (I realize they will move away from me, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it) If we had gone to Paris on our honeymoon when we were young and first married, I believe we would be living there now. So for now all I can do is sit with the one I love, and share a dream, and sometimes paint a picture.

A field of Lavender in watercolor. Painted from a photo, let’s just dream that at some point I’ll paint one again plein air.11 25


Unsolicited Advice

When my friend Theresa offered me her old kitchen cabinet doors I was thrilled. I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoy re-purposing things. We already have multitudes of stuff in our garage, things that I’ve picked up over the years, always with some purpose in mind. Unfortunately there are too many pieces that I haven’t gotten too. I hesitated to take on the doors because I knew I had other projects I should attend to. I’m glad I did it. I only took four, there are several more for me to pick up, and I’m anxious to get to them. I’m working on the fourth one tonight. Before I let you in on what I’m doing with this one, I’m going to hand out a little free relationship advice.

I’ve been with Dan for twenty-seven plus years, married for twenty-four. What makes things work is this, think about each other, and then actually follow through and show it. Tonight as I was working Dan put on a movie that I love, just because he wanted to do it for me. Each day, in the smallest ways, we show each other kindness and consideration. He knows there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thinking of him, and I know the same. I had suggested that he pick a movie to watch because I was working. I brought it up because as he was choosing a movie, not for himself to enjoy, but one for me, I was using that last cabinet door to make a gift for him as a surprise. That’s how we work, always thinking about each other. A few years ago at Christmas we were opening gifts with our children and much to my surprise I received an Easy Bake Oven from Dan. I had mentioned to him that I had always wanted one as a child and had never gotten it. That same Christmas he unwrapped “Rock em Sock em Robots” from me. He had told me once that he had loved playing them as a kid with his brother. The kids were way beyond the getting toys years, and both of them laughed at us, but it was for me another reason why we are so happy together. We surprised each other that Christmas, but it just goes to show how two people who really care about each other end up thinking the same way. The movie Dan put on tonight was “Life As A House”, it stars Kevin Kline and Kristen Scott Thomas. A very meaningful movie about what’s really important in life. It was a good choice. I know what’s important in my life, my family back in Chicago, my kids, my friends, and in particular my husband. Four years ago Dan fulfilled a life long dream of mine, he took me to Paris for our twentieth wedding anniversary. Tonight when I was trying to decide what to do with the last door I decided to use it as framework for a painting for Dan. We went to a restaurant in Paris near the Moulin Rouge for dinner the night of our anniversary, Le Moulin De La Galette. The restaurant is housed in the only other existing windmill in the Montmartre area in Paris, and has been the subject of many great works of art. I had grabbed a business card on the way out the door. Dan loves the card, so I decided to reproduce it on a piece of canvas for him. I actually ended up rescuing a damaged canvas as well. An old canvas in my studio had been bent out of shape, I stripped it from its frame and cut it to fit the door. For tonight only the figure is done, I need to paint in the rest of the info from the card. As always it is late, and I will finish in the morning. I promise a finished photo for tomorrow night. So here we go again with a work in progress…for my husband, I love you.8 24 (1) 8 24 (2)

Good Things Can Come In Small Packages

5 25I have to admit that there was so much I didn’t take into account when starting a year-long project, particularly one that requires writing and the creation of a piece of art each and every day. I know that I have touched on this before, but life got in the way again today. It’s a holiday weekend, we had friends and family over today, and so I find myself once again rushing to finish something for my blog. I seriously had several false starts. It seemed as though I wouldn’t get anything done for tonight, and as tempting as it might be, I refuse to put up older work unless I am near and dear to my bathroom floor (which I was, by the way, last week). I feel like I’d be cheating myself if I did, and I have been cheating myself for far too many years. Not every project has to be a big one. Just creating is the idea. I mentioned the 365 Project when I started this, and the tag line on that book states, “Do something creative every day and change your life.” It is so true. Here I am not even two months in and I can feel the difference. Like so many artists, and more so, so many women, I don’t place enough value on myself and what I do. That is changing, I’ve learned a lot about myself in ways I never considered. I’m so excited about the months ahead, wondering where this journey will take me, and anxious with anticipation to see what work I  will produce.

Back to the subject at hand, life getting in the way of my project. I realized tonight that there might be days ahead where it will be difficult to get my work done. There are birthdays, and our wedding anniversary, and other holidays, all of which will require my attention elsewhere. I guess I will just try to take them as they come and hopefully still be able to create a little something. I did just that tonight. From a photo outside Claude Monet’s house in Giverny. I saw a gardener standing still studying the garden and took a photo. It is a photograph that I would like to paint some day, but for tonight a pencil sketch on an artist card. It is only a two and a half by three and a half-inch drawing, but this one I love. I captured the essence of that moment.  It took me back to Monet’s garden, and our journey there. We took the train from Paris to Vernon, and chose to walk the rest of the way to Giverny instead of boarding the bus with the other tourists. The air was filled with the fragrance of  flowers, and each cottage and garden we passed was more beautiful than the last. When we finally saw Monet’s house and garden, I turned to Dan and said, “How could you live here and not paint?” Now I have to ask myself, “How could you have been there and waited so long to paint?’

It was one of ten days in France with the one that I love, and that makes this little piece of art priceless.