Thursday, August 27, 2009

Time off work + Family Camp = Ahhhhh

I returned to work on Monday after a great trip to Madeline Island, off the southern shore of Lake Superior, near Bayfield, Wisconsin. Our vacation week actually started the previous Saturday in Birchwood, WI, with a surprise 60th birthday party for my brother-in-law, that became even more hilarious than expected when we learned that he had known of the surprise for at least a month, and never told anyone. Nevertheless, the party was a huge success, with family and friends getting together, having a good time.

On Sunday, Pat, Schroeder and I packed up the trailer and headed north, not really sure where we would spend the next couple of days. We found a very peaceful National Forest campground, north of Drummond, that gave us a chance to catch our breath from the busy weekend, and relax a bit. We were the only campers there.

Our next stop was Bayfield. We toured the town, treated ourselves to an ice cream cone and visited a couple of art galleries (one of my favorite things to do when away from home). Then, after checking out a small city campground just outside of town and discovering all our favorite, lakeside spots unavailable, we decided to board the ferry and start our island adventure a few days earlier than originally planned.

Big Bay State Park was our destination, on the eastern shore of Madeline Island, and though we had campsite reservations for later in the week, we assumed it would be no problem to snag a spot on a Monday. Little did we know that the campground was booked solid! (Fact: Big Bay has the highest nightly occupancy rate of all Wisconsin State Park campgrounds, according to a park ranger.) It was only because another camper had just canceled that we were able to settle into a site early.

The weather was beautiful during the early part of the week, and afforded plenty of opportunity to enjoy the beaches and tour the island. (Opinion: Housed in a former schoolhouse, Madeline Island has one of the most charming public libraries around!) I snapped some research photographs for future paintings, and spent a little time sketching some of Madeline Island’s landscape. Rain moved in Wednesday afternoon, and continued through Friday, but in between raindrops we hiked, and biked, and geocached, and read, and ate, and just enjoyed having free time. On Thursday, we moved to our reserved site in anticipation of Family Camp, our annual camping trip with our three “kids,” son-in-law, and the boys’ girlfriends. Camp was a great time, as always, and included some competitive games of Catch Phrase and Ladder ball, a round of golf, great conversation, a surprise visit from friends, campfire stories, moped riding, bicycling, a stop at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe, and delicious food in large quantities. It’s amazing to me how well we eat when we are on our camping trips!

By the time Sunday rolled around, everyone was sorry to see our time together come to an end. One at a time, each couple packed up and headed for the ferry. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, with calm water in Lake Superior, and several sailboats sharing the channel. A few of us met again on the mainland, and spent some time driving around in search of pie, eventually finding some wonderful apple and blueberry turnovers at Coco, in Washburn. We sat outdoors on Coco's colorful Adirondack style chairs, enjoying our treats, while bakers, Nick and Jim, popped a few more turnovers into the oven so we would have a supply to take home.

To a certain degree, I believe we were all delaying the inevitable. We knew we needed to hit the road; it was already 4:30 p.m. but no one wanted to see the trip end. Finally, amidst more hugs and good-byes, we each headed our separate ways.

I can’t wait until we can do it again.

Family Camp, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gardening like Monet?

Many years ago, I spent a Sunday afternoon at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, admiring a visiting exhibit by one of my all-time favorite masters, Claude Monet. From what I’ve learned, Monet noticed the village of Giverny, in northern France and on the bank of the River Seine, while on a train. He immediately knew he wanted to live there, and after saving enough money, purchased a house and land. It was there that he created the spectacular gardens that were the subject of many of his later paintings, and some of his most memorable works. As I left the gallery that day, I stopped in the gift shop and purchased a children’s book called Linnea in Monet’s Garden, and a small, cloth doll modeled after the main character in the book. Both were to be a treat for my daughter, Laura.

I’m not sure what ever happened to the book or the doll, but my memories of Monet’s garden paintings remain vivid. The tranquil scenes, and his use of color and bold brushstrokes have always been inspirational to me. It was, perhaps, with Monet's Giverny gardens in mind that we set out to build our own perennial garden in the back yard. Its main shape has been present for quite awhile, as has an arbor, covered with flourishing roses, and a flagstone walkway, but we’ve finally begun to polish the garden off. We’ve added and amended soil, and lined the garden edges with stones that we have gathered from all over the property. Over the last few days we have planted 20 flowering plants, thanks to generous birthday gifts to Pat from our children and her mom, and have added a healthy layer of mulch. It will require several years, and probably double the amount of plants before everything matures and fills in, but we’ve got a good start. The garden will be beautiful, and it will be a treat to watch it grow and develop.

The Waterlily Pond, by Claude Monet. (Public domain image.)

The last plant was put in its place last night, and because it is close to 6 feet high and very thin, I thought I would attach a tall, wooden stake for support to the nearby retaining wall that faces the pond. I carefully positioned it so it was vertical, and pounded the first nail through the cedar into the wall. Then, just as I was going to strike a second nail, I found myself inside of a swarm of angry bees. Evidently, my pounding caused an unwelcome vibration in the wall, about two feet below the new plant, and the bees’ peaceful existence was disrupted. I must have looked like one of those cartoon characters, running from a swarm of bees with legs spinning, arms flailing, and (almost) screaming obscenities at the little honeys! My hammer, nails and pride went flying as I was chased out of Linnea’s Garden.

Luckily, I only got three bee stings, one on my shoulder and two behind my knee. Nevertheless, I was sore and quite exhausted from the ordeal. Some baking soda paste on the stings and a cold washcloth on my forehead, and I was ready to return to the garden. Treading lightly and keeping my eyes and ears open, I tied up the plant and then skedaddled out of the area, leaving the bees and wall alone. Until another day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Where's a clothespin?

After I inserted a couple of bagel slices into the toaster this morning, I looked for a clothespin to reclose the bag. I hate, with a vengeance, those little white plastic “C” shaped clips that are often used on bagged products. They just aren’t user friendly. The only thing worse for this purpose is the wire clamp used to hold potato bags closed; those are not reusable at all. In our house, potato bags get ripped open, and never again closed up properly. Anyway, I digress. Back to the clothespin.

I needed a spring-type clothespin. We usually have a few in a drawer, along with twist ties, rubber bands and a variety of bags and wraps and such. But today I couldn’t find one. Where in the world, I thought to myself, are the clothespins? I knew that we keep a few in a bag in the laundry room, but I couldn’t find any out there, either. We’ve purchased clothespins in the past, in big packs of 50 or 100. Perhaps some have vanished forever, springing their escape from clothing hung outside to dry on a windy day, but not many. To where do they disappear? Is it like the sock that always seems to show up without its mate at the end of the wash-and-dry cycle? It’s not like a clothespin can cling to the inside of a pant leg with a static charge! Early on a Monday morning, when cranky ol’ me is trying to choke down some breakfast at 5:00, I just didn’t need this annoyance! A twist tie would have to do.

Fast forward to noon. I had lunch at my desk, like I usually do, and ate a few mini carrots instead of potato chips. (I gave up chips a couple of years ago as part of my attempt to eat healthier.) The sandwich was great, and the carrots were fresh out of a new bag. As I was ready to close up the bag, I blindly reached into a drawer in my desk to find…a clothespin! In that couple of nanoseconds, my brain registered, Sure, you don’t have any clothespins when you need them at home because they’re all in a drawer at work!

Hmmmm. This drawer is often bumping into my keyboard, so I don’t usually open it all the way. For some reason, today I pulled it open as far as it would go, and what did I discover but 29 clothespins, buried beneath legal pads and Post-it notes! A veritable goldmine of those little wooden, spring-loaded suckers. In a series of quick calculations that almost prove I must have some degree of OCD, I figured out that the 29 clothespins, along with perhaps 15 twist ties, and a handful of rubber bands, equates to around 50 bags of carrots that I have brought to work for lunches. And, since I very seldom go out to lunch, and since a bag usually lasts me for a couple of weeks, and 100 weeks is about two years, and since I have been eating carrots instead of chips for two years, I have now solved the case of the missing clothespins!

Sometimes it amazes me where an idea for a blog will come from.

Editor’s note (a.k.a. Mrs. S.): If the writer of this blog would look, he might also see that there are at least ½ dozen clothespins in his studio - on nearly empty paint tubes, holding paper to the easel and clipping various papers together. :-)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Old sketchbook analysis

It seems like I’m always cleaning or organizing in the studio. I was going through some old (ancient?) sketchbooks from my junior and senior high school days, when it occurred to me that I might have had some issues as a teen.

Anyone who watches television cop shows like Criminal Minds or The Mentalist has seen episodes where the investigators have had to delve into the past of the unsub (unknown subject). If those same investigators were to look at my old sketchbooks, they may start formulating a theory about me!

Beyond the usual art class assigned drawings, there was a collection of sketches worthy of a character study, and an entirely different person expressing himself in those books. When looking at a delicate picture of a bouquet of roses, followed on the next page by a sinister, dark figure on a waterfront dock, one might presume that I was reminiscing about a movie I had just seen. But how to explain 20 or 30 of those kinds of characters? It was almost like I was creating a pen and pencil underworld, where good and evil met in combat. The creepy creatures that I drew were gruesome, and certainly based on nothing more than an active imagination. But, what an imagination!

There were war pictures. On one page I drew an anti-war design, I suppose reflecting some pacifist feelings that I seem to remember having at the time. But, turn the page, and see my drawings of Nazi soldiers being obliterated during World Ward II by Air Force fighters. Someone might analyze these and conclude that I had some kind of an internal conflict between a just war and one that, perhaps, never should have happened. (Vietnam was in progress at the time.) Personally, I don’t remember being that deep when I was 16.

Then there was my “mining” period. I had several drawings of huge cliffs, pits, valleys and water channels, where heavy equipment was digging, plowing and moving earth, while creating tunnels, bridges and roads. I don’t know what was in my head when drawing those pictures. And I’m not sure what it meant when the miners were under attack from army tanks or submarines. At least there weren’t any dark, subterranean creatures taking part in the battles.

I need to explain that my subjects were not all creepy or violent. This was a kid who loved his family, went to church and got good grades in school. I had many nice drawings – of my friends, cars, puppies and cartoons. But as I reviewed these sketchbooks, including hundreds of drawings, I never knew quite what to expect on the next page. To this day, I can’t explain the darkness of some of my oldest art. Perhaps a therapist would tell me that I was expressing opposites of my life. That, because of my conventional, east side, Captain Whitebread background, I was building a fantasy world that I had never seen, except on TV or in the movies. The therapist might add that it’s just part of growing through the adolescent years, and nothing to worry about.

I prefer to think of it as early indications of a creative genius, like ……oh, how ‘bout Rembrandt, or Monet, or Van Gogh?