Round 2 – Athena

Post Sandy and now with power; I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts, get caught up on my life, and figure out how and what to write about. After only a few days without power and a week without access to the internet I felt lost.  It makes me feel spoiled and I can’t imagine what people who are still displaced must be going through.

Tonight it seems that round 2 of the storms is making it’s way along the East Coast. The trees still have leaves and we haven’t even begun raking in earnest.

Unlike last week when Sandy hit, I have batteries and dry firewood in addition to bottles of water and lots of peanut butter and jelly.

I’m tempted to leave my patio furniture and grill on the porch until spring.

Hoping I wake up to bright lights and sunshine.

The Hatches are Battened Down

In spite of the ongoing coverage of the the latest hurricane making her way up the east coast, I was oblivious to the news until Thursday afternoon.  Thank goodness I embarrassed myself at my hair appointment by responding to the question, “are you ready for Sandy?”  by asking “who’s Sandy?” so I had a clue that something was going on before anyone else asked me.

I decided it might be a good idea for me to turn on the news and find out more about the storm and what to expect.  Is it wrong for me to admit that I had to use the TV Guide channel to locate the local news station?  I quickly became absorbed in the reports of the storm and the predictions of high winds, widespread power outages, and potential flooding.

Fifteen minutes into the broadcast, my musings as to whether or not my trip to Raleigh would be affected by the storm, the phone rang.  I didn’t need to look at the caller ID to know it was my parents.

“Hi there, so do you know what’s going on around you?” asked my dad.

“Oh, you mean about Sandy, the storm that’s coming up the coast?”  I replied (quite pleased that I actually did know).

“Have you gone to the store yet?”

“No, I was planning on doing that tomorrow,” I said.

We chatted for a while and discussed what supplies I should buy, whether or not it would be a good idea to use the gas grill if it was on the porch, and options for traveling to Raleigh if my flight on Tuesday is cancelled.

I realized I was holding my breath and interrupted my dad, “Ok, so I wasn’t freaking out before but now I am.  I’m going to the store to stock up and I’ll figure the rest out later.”

“Just one more…..”

“Bye, I’m going now..I’ll call you when I get back from the store.”

While shopping for bottled water, bagels, pop tarts, and really green bananas (that are already ripe) my landlord Jeanne Marie left me a voice-mail to make sure I was aware of the storm and knew how to prepare.  It seems that my reputation for being in my own little world precedes me.

She also sent me a checklist of things to consider and I’m happy to say that the majority of them are covered with the exception of filling the tub with water.  Unfortunately I’ll have to ignore the caution against using candles because by the time I got to the store there wasn’t a C size battery to be found.  However, my gas tank is full, I have two hundred dollars in cash, and there’s a good old fashioned can opener in my silverware drawer.

Jeanne Marie called yesterday and she was impressed to know I was so on top of things. Not only were we stocked up on water, Christian and I had already moved anything up to and including the trash cans, that could turn into a missile from the backyard onto the porch.  I had to confess that the only reason I was on top of things was because I’d had a hair appointment the day before and that my parents urged me to get to the store.

trash cans on the porch_preparing for Sandy

I think Romeo knows something strange is going on.  He stood still as a statue in front of the screen door and finally nosed his way out onto the patio.

He stood guard and watched intently while Christian lowered the basketball hoop down on the driveway and weighted it down with bags of sand.

basketball hoop laying in the driveway_preparing for Sandy

I have to wonder what was going through his mind and whether or not he realizes that his 13 pounds of bravado wouldn’t be much of a match for a a 50 mph wind.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that phrases like “we’re far enough inland…” and “maybe it’ll be more like a nor’easter…” are part of my vocabulary.

So for now, we’re as battened down as we can be and it looks like just a normal but blustery fall day.  My guess is that the pretty red and gold leaves on the trees in my neighbors backyard will be shredded and on the ground three days from now.

leaves on trees in backyard two days before Sandy

The wind is picking up bit by bit and if the way my porch curtains are being lifted already, it’s going to get interesting. I’m hoping that we get as lucky as we did during Irene when we only lost power for a couple of hours.  And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my travel plans aren’t completely disrupted.  In either case there’s not much I can do other than be thankful for the people I have in my life who made sure I had my house ready for Sandy and hope for the best.

wind blowing my porch curtains two days before Sandy arrives

It’s Not What We See – It’s What We Feel

Seven months and 25 days ago I almost made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

Thank goodness I didn’t succumb to my irrational fears about taking a drawing class at the age of 50.  I thought the class started in January, but my faithful journaling  helped jog my failing memory and put the dates in order.

On March 9th of last year I drove to the Janney House – home of the Artist’s of Yardley and almost passed out.  Ok, not really – but I did almost turn around and leave as I was walking toward the studio.  If it hadn’t been for another late arriver, I’d have chickened out for sure.

Today was the first day of a new session.  I didn’t know what to expect today.  Anne always surprises me  and I was delighted to recognize students from my previous classes.

Today’s lesson was what I least expected.  In the past two classes we’ve focused more on drawing what we see – not so much on interpretation. I guess in other words, it’s been more about technique.

With four returning students Anne decided to mix things up and have us do something completely different.

I have two words.

Georgia O’keeffe

There’s a funny story behind what inspired her to have us draw a rose in an interpretive style – but it’s one of those stories that gets lost in translation, so you’ll just have to trust me.

She gave us each a silk rose and a copy of  Georgia O’keeffe’s abstract white rose.  It’s really beautiful.


I learned something about myself today.  I like working on a smaller canvas.  My first drawing took up half of the space and just looked odd.  I couldn’t seem to interpret the rose because I was constrained by the space.

I made the connection between all of my recent drawings on small spaces and mentioned it to Anne.  She immediately responded and brought me a smaller size paper to work on.

This really worked for me and I have to admit that I saw some promise in the early stages.

I at least liked a lot more than my first draft – which looked more like a carnation than a rose.  It’s all about shading and understanding what makes sense – easier said than done.

Tonight, I lost myself in music and didn’t ‘think’ about it. I just ‘felt’ it.

It’s far from finished, but I think it’s my interpretation of this particular rose.  As a friend mentioned to me recently – I’m finding my signature.

My Renaissance Morning

My life has been a whirlwind lately and outside of taking gorgeous pictures at the lake, I haven’t had much time for the artsy side of me.  My friend Kim must have somehow known that I needed both a respite from thinking about the best way to build a website and the amplified quiet in my house.  I wonder if she also knew that it has been a long time since I’ve taken myself out on an artist’s date.

Five hours after returning home from Raleigh I headed back to the airport to drop Christian off for a 9:15 am flight to Nebraska.  I95 is unpredictable.  The likelihood of an accident, road construction, heavy traffic, or a combination of reasons for a delay necessitates leaving for the airport a minimum of three hours before the departure time.

I checked my phone after a much-needed nap and listened to a voice-mail from Kim.  Before I could talk myself out of it I returned her call.

“Hey Kim, it’s Beth.  Thank you so much for the invite.  I’d love to meet up with you and your friends tomorrow.”

“Awesome! We’re meeting at Playwicki Park to paint.  Do you know where it is?” She asked.

“Umm, nope.  If you send me the address I’m sure I can find it.  Is it ok if I bring my camera to take pictures and a sketchbook?  I’m still not ready to paint,” I said.

Kim replied, “It’s a bunch of artists and whatever you want to do is fine.  I’ll send you the directions and see you tomorrow morning.  Looking forward to it.”

My GPS didn’t find Playwicki Park (it’s a fun word, I had to say it again)  so I printed out Mapquest directions and headed out for my date.  It turned out to be easy to find and a brick archway at the entrance welcomed me to my destination.  Not one, but three bridges spanned the brown river.  Two grand structures designed to support the weight and speed of a train and one smaller bridge which easily bears the crossing of a car.

I think the weather must have been specially ordered:  sunshine, blue skies, low humidity, and a slight breeze.  I don’t know if it’s possible, but I think it made the greens greener and the contrast between colors more vivid than usual.

I helped Kim carry her easel and paints to the river bank where the other ladies were already set up.  She scoped out a spot, hooked Cosmo (aka the best-behaved dog in the world) up to a tree, and settled in to paint. That was my cue to wander with my camera.

The view of the bridges was breathtaking.  But it wasn’t the water or the history that captivated me.  It was the playground.  It reminded me of a ghost town. Something was missing. There were swings and things to climb on as well as slides and see saws or as I call them, teeter totters. It may sound strange, but I would swear it was begging for kids.  The playground felt lonely.

I haven’t seen a playground with old fashioned swings and slides for years.  There was nothing made out of plastic with the exception of the swing seats.  It brought back fond memories and made me a bit sad at the same time.

Today, we don’t often hear the squeals that mean “you pushed me too high, but I really want to go higher.” Let alone the bump of a teeter-totter in the sand or the sound of wax paper against the surface of a slide. Why is that?

Have we as parents opted for Disney World and jet skis in an attempt to provide ‘fun’ for our children?  Have we forgotten that perhaps what they need is to experience is some imagination accompanied by exercise?

I don’t pretend to know what’s right and I know that times change. However, I couldn’t help but watch the artists painting on the bank of the river as so many have done before and wonder if we haven’t lost something that might be important for the next generation.

Are we forgetting how to observe the world around us without taking it for granted?  Are we neglecting the simple pleasures in life? There is so much to experience that doesn’t require a Visa or MasterCard.


butterfly on a pretty weed

My kids find it embarrassing when I stop to take pictures of things like a pile of shoes on someone else’s porch, a muscle car in a parking lot, or of a stranger’s garden. I think the word they use if they catch me taking pictures of a person is “creepy.”

In my defense, I only take pictures of random strangers from a distance and I don’t post them on Facebook. I like having them as a source of inspiration for writing and as a visual reminder of the many characters in life.

I thought twice about taking my camera along on my late afternoon walk. It was overcast and muggy and the day didn’t have the lighting I had in mind. I love taking pictures around sunset. I think there’s something romantic and nostalgic about that time of day. Of course pictures taken at sunrise may also share those qualities but it’s highly unlikely that I will ever discover whether or not that’s the case. The only reason you’ll find me up before sunrise is because that was the flight time with the very best price.

I stopped in front of the favorite garden along my route. There are flowers from spring until fall and I’m drawn to the bursts of color and the combination of plants and flowers that are both whimsical and wild.

Lost in thought, I focused in and snapped one picture after another in an attempt to capture the contrast of the oranges, yellows, pinks, and purples against the small sea of waving green.

“Excuse me,” called a voice from the porch.


My kids worst fear has come true, I’d been busted. As a rule follower at heart, my face grew hot and my pulse quickened.

I swallowed hard, “Hi there, I was ummm…just ummm…you have a beautiful garden. I especially love the day lilies.”

I opted out of trying to explain why I was taking pictures and attempted to distract her with a compliment and called out the one and only flower that I knew the name of.


“I noticed you taking pictures and I just wanted to tell you that you are welcome to wander anywhere in the yard for as long as you like.”

Really? She wasn’t mad?

“Wow thanks! By the way, I’m Beth.”

She waved from the porch, “Nice to meet you Beth, I’m Bonnie.”

Bonnie joined me in the yard after she finished her late afternoon snack. She gave me a personal tour which included an introduction to the frogs in her pond, I’ve nicknamed them Fred and Fernando. There was a third frog, but he wasn’t showing the camera his best side.

fred the frog
Fred the frog
fernando the frog
Fernando the frog

Bonnie shared a passionate overview of how her gardens have transitioned over the past twenty three years. I had never given a second thought to how many things could impact the art of bringing flowers to life.

I told her my tale of woe and how my second attempt at gardening hadn’t gone nearly as well as the first thanks to the deer and the heat. She listened with an understanding smile and invited me to stop by in the fall to collect as many perennials as I wanted.

I think we made each others day.

I wandered along the towpath taking pictures of butterflies and what I consider to be pretty weeds. I thought and I walked and I realized, flowers and butterflies are beautiful even on a cloudy day.

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Pre Prom…Yes Virginia, There is Such a Thing – Part Deux

After seeing the floats in the staging area I couldn’t wait to see them en route to the prom topped off with the finishing touches, the young men and women of the class of 2012.   The parade started at 5:00 pm and as a part of the video crew, Christian needed to be there at 4:45.  Based on the size of the crowd at the Pre Prom tour I wanted to get there early.

“Did you get my text?” I asked.

Christian responded, “Four is way too early, it only takes ten minutes to get there. I think we should leave at 4:30.”

I reached up to straighten his tie, “Let’s compromise on 4:15.  There were a ton of people there earlier and I want to be able to get a parking spot and a good seat.  One lady told me that she and her husband put their chairs out before 9:00 am this morning and they are in the second row.”

At 4:25 pm I pulled into one of the last spots available in the parking lot.

Temporary bleachers, soccer mom chairs, and people were packed under the trees along the side of the parking lot facing the school entrance.  The walkway under the “Noodle” (the wavy awning that stretches from the door to the sidewalk) had been transformed with a red carpet and was guarded by life size super hero cutouts.

Every inch of sidewalk between the school and the caution tape was covered with a variety of outdoor folding chairs. The road between the campuses was lined with people.  I found myself wishing that I had been smart enough to bring a chair or even better that I knew the people under the bright blue pop up canopy. The chair carrier bag I borrowed from one of the girls next to me didn’t offer much of a cushion between me and the parking lot but at least I was able to sit and keep my skirt from getting dirty.

Students pulling wagons weaved their way through the crowd shouting, “Pretzels! One dollar!  Water!  Two bottles for a dollar!”

At 5:00 on the dot the string of cars and floats were ready to go and the gentleman coordinating traffic motioned the first vehicle to proceed. I snapped pictures like crazy trying to capture each and every moment of color and creativity from the convertible decorated with balloons to the fire trucks and floats.

There were police cars and pace cars, golf carts and semis.  The cars vehicles pulling the floats and transporting the seniors were so shiny and clean that you could see the reflections of the crowd as though we were looking at a fun house mirror.  Everyone was into it, many of the floats had ‘live’ props ranging from Willie Wonka and the Oompa Loompas to Tinkerbell casting candy out to the children along the way.  Although if I had to judge enjoyment based on the pouty lips of the small princess on one of the Where the Wild Things Are float, not everyone thought it was a fun idea.

Some of my favorites included the tractor (that reminded me of my Grandparents farm) pulling a space ship from which we got short glimpse of the Prom goers when one of them would open the door for a breath of fresh air.  The Toy Story Float took five frames to capture, I laughed out loud at the “Joker” driving the Batman and Robin truck.  I fell in love with the horse-drawn carriage and my heart melted as Jasmine kissed her prince.

One group of kids got the dance started early with a DJ in the back of the truck and dance moves happening on the float.  There were many smiles and happy waves and only a few bored beauties along the way.

I cheered and clapped when confetti and bubbles were released and danced through the air.  One of the funniest things might have been when the entire crowd, including me, gasped and then laughed when we realized that the sun disappeared because of the blimp and not a UFO.

The drivers of the wooden framed car, modern SUV’s, limos, and boats stopped in front of the noodle and the ladies and gentleman of the night descended from their floats and walked along the Red Carpet under the Noodle to enjoy the prom and a very special night in their life.

Next year expect a report from ‘behind the scenes.’

Pre Prom…Yes Virginia, There is Such a Thing

Before she was seven, Katie picked out her wedding dress from the J.C. Penney catalog, announced that she was going to marry Michael Jordan and buy the house across the street so she could live next to me forever.

I’m fairly certain that if we had lived in the Pennsbury school district of Bucks County PA, instead of Nebraska, her choices would have started with a senior prom dress and theme for her float rather than a wedding dress and a house.

The Senior Prom at Pennsbury High School even has a Wikipedia page dedicated to the extravagant event.  After four years of hearing about it coupled with the fact that Christian was attending the prom as a video technician I thought I might go see what it was all about.

One of the women in my Artists group, whose youngest son is a senior, is very active in the months of preparation for the event.  One morning during our open studio session Melinda showed us pictures of previous years murals and creations.  The deal was cinched, I had to see it first-hand.

My plans for Saturday morning were precise.  I would check out the decorations, head for the gym for a swim and back home in plenty of time to get some chores out of the way before the parade.  I arrived at 1 pm, an hour after the school opened for tours and two hours before it was over. I planned on being there for thirty minutes tops. We waited under the cloudless sky and it occurred to me that I should have applied sunscreen.  I thought it was a little sad that there were more conversations happening on cell phones than among the people in line, but nonetheless it was a festive and friendly atmosphere.

Twenty minutes later I caught a glimpse of the red carpet protected by super heroes while I bought a soft pretzel and some water.  I snuck back in line and stood in front of a floor to ceiling mural of Dorothy’s Ruby Red slippers on the Yellow Brick Road.  I’m a sucker for the Wizard of Oz and even if nothing else resonated with me, it was worth the wait.

Every inch of every wall including the restrooms was decked out in murals, paper mache, animated doo dads, and lights.  The school was transformed into a world where somehow Lord of the Rings made sense across the hall from the Power Rangers.  My personal favorite was the image from the Princess Bride accompanied by one of my all-time favorite movie quotes in beautiful lettering in silver paint.

From the Princess Bride, “That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying ‘As you wish,’ what he meant was, ‘I love you.’ And even more amazing was the day she realized she truly loved him back.”

I couldn’t help but notice the pile of pizza boxes forgotten on a shelf under the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; a small but obvious sign of the many people who worked tirelessly to put everything together. I left in a daze and I was determined to get to the gym.  I took a detour past the West Campus and found myself sidetracked by the ship from Peter Pan parked on the street and just ahead of it was the house from UP, complete with balloons.

I would have rear ended the woman in front of me if it hadn’t been for the officer directing traffic.

“Ma’am, she’s backing up,” he said.

Distracted by the Where the Wild things Are float I responded, “Huh?”

“Ma’am, stop your car. Please, and then you can get out and look.”

I regained my senses, parked the car, grabbed my camera, and said, “Thank you!”

The parking lot was a wonderland of creativity; there were tractors and flatbeds,  boats and semis decorated mostly in movie themes and almost all with words about the future and fulfilling dreams, which made me smile.  I imagined the banter and perhaps the squabbles that occurred around the dinner table as the floats were planned and designed.

These floats would deliver the seniors of 2012 to their Senior Prom in a long time tradition which is deserving of another post and a whole new set of pictures.

And for the record, I did make it to the gym.

It’s Never too Late to Bloom

sunflower a work in progress
As a young girl I enjoyed few things more than losing myself in the adventures of The Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner)and Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren), but my favorite will always be the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.   Every time I opened the pages and began to read, I became Laura (of course with the exception of Farmer Boy).  I’m not sure what I identified with the most; it could have been that her family moved often, maybe it was because it was set in the Midwest, or perhaps I saw myself somewhere inside the girl with the spunky and offbeat spirit.  I think I secretly wanted my nickname to be Half-Pint.

I recently found myself once again identifying with Laura, although this time it was with the author not the character.  I was blown away when I learned that her adventure as a writer began when she was in her forties and she got her start by writing columns about rural life for a couple of publications in Missouri. I was even more inspired by the fact that she was sixty-five when her first book Little House in the Big Woods was published. I never would have guessed that the “real” Laura was a late bloomer.  I also nearly spit my coffee out all over the keyboard when I read that her daughter Rose was her editor and collaborator.

It reminded me of my relationship with my daughter (and editor) Katie and our good natured banter and email exchanges; not only does she help me wade through the mysteries of when to use a semi colon and not a comma, she also provides me with great suggestions and isn’t afraid to let me know when a piece needs some “fine tuning” or in some cases “fine tunaing.”

I still enjoy living new experiences and adventures vicariously through characters created by my favorite authors, but these days I’m also creating a few of my own.  I’d been thinking about taking a drawing class for a couple of months but I hadn’t done anything past bookmarking the site and waffling about whether or not it would be a good decision.

I finally got up the nerve to register for the beginning drawing class. I provided my information, took a deep breath, clicked the submit registration button, and then didn’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved by the message on the screen.  “We’re sorry, the class is sold out.”   I reached for the phone.

“Hello, I just tried registering for the beginning drawing class but it’s sold out.  Can you tell me when the next one will be?” I asked.

“We don’t have it scheduled yet, but there is room in the Intermediate/Advanced drawing class,” she replied.

“Oh…ummm…no, I couldn’t possibly do that.  I haven’t drawn in more than twenty years and that was just one class.  I think I should wait for the next session for beginners.”

“It’s like riding a bike, once you’ve done it, all you have to do is get back in the saddle and the rest will come.  Maybe this is opportunity knocking, we only have three people registered and we’re going to have to cancel it if we don’t get one more. I really think you’ll like it,” she coaxed.

Two weeks later I found myself driving up the narrow drive toward the nineteenth century farmhouse that the Artists of Yardley call home.  I perched on my stool in front of the easel and tried not to hyperventilate while the instructor held up the image we were supposed to reproduce.  After more than a few false starts and lots of calming encouragement from the teacher I settled down and just drew.

The subject matter for the first lesson was a Sunflower in full bloom, it somehow fits doesn’t it?

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I Love a Parade

One of my favorite childhood memories is the Fourth of July parade in Berthold, North Dakota, my dad’s home town.  I  remember the thrill of waiting for the parade to begin and the anticipation of scooping up Tootsie Rolls and butterscotch candies as they bounced onto the street at my feet almost like it was yesterday.

Yesterday I went to a parade for the first time in more than ten years.  I haven’t gone to a parade since my kids have gotten ‘too old’ for me to take them.  It strikes me though, maybe parades are like a good animated children’s movie and you shouldn’t miss out on them just because you don’t have a small child to disguise the fact that you’re the one who really wants to see Happy Feet Two.

For the past four years I’ve driven under the banner that spans Main Street from the week before Thanksgiving to the first Saturday in December. And every year I thought to myself “I should go to The Olde Fashion Christmas Parade.”  This year I didn’t just think it, I did it.

At 2:45 pm I hopped on my bike, braved the chilly temps, enjoyed the sunny blue sky, and pedaled my way down the towpath into town.  I felt a small thrill of anticipation run through me as I emerged from the towpath and walked my bike toward the corner of East Afton and Main.  While I’m a bit too old to scoop candy out of the street I still couldn’t wait to hear the marching band, wave to the beauty queen perched in her convertible, and plug my ears at the sounds of sirens and gunfire. I parked my bike and scoped out a good spot to take pictures and watch the activity around me.

I had to laugh as I watched one little girl in particular.  She was completely unable to contain her excitement and in spite of her parents and grandparents best efforts she escaped into the street more times than I can count.  She peered one way and then the other, her blue eyes as wide as saucers, clapping and squealing “I think I hear the drums.  I think they’re coming!”  It was only thirty minutes, but it felt like three hours as we waited for the parade to begin and with each passing moment my feet got colder and her enthusiasm grew rather than diminished and she passed the time by twirling and dancing her way to a better viewing spot.

Parade volunteers passed out goody bags with crayons and a coloring book. The souvenir vendor wheeled his cart of inflated candy canes and super heroes up and down the street and grunted, “Parade Souvenirs! Get ‘em here!”  Kids were everywhere: playing tag, eating giant pretzels, and riding on mom or dad’s shoulders.  There was a mixture of approaches to keeping kids from going too far into the street from doing nothing, to holding on to a hood like a leash, and everyone’s favorite the group of siblings being bossed around by big sis (the latter was by far the most effective). 

Finally the blinking lights of the police car leading the parade were in sight.  The adults around me chatted idly while the children hung onto their hats, threw scarves up in the air and bounced up and down.  The parade had begun and the rat a tat tat of the drum got louder and louder.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the carolers dressed in Dickens’ like garb and I smiled and tapped my foot as the band marched by.  I laughed at Scooby Doo and Dora, was delighted when George Washington waved at me from his boat, and stood in awe as the majestic horses passed by.  But most of all, I relished the air of excitement and the feeling of community.

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