“Big Bad Birds”?

Last year Bainbridge Arts and Crafts presented a group exhibition called “Big Bad Bugs,” and this year I’m invited to participate in their May show: “Big Bad Birds.” The deadline approaches quickly – it’s a temporal truth that time speeds up toward a due date.

Drawing a winter wren for the Twitter exhibition in Oslo reminded me how I love to draw birds. And from a few years ago, I have the photographers’ permission to draw from pictures of juncos, winter wrens, robins, sparrows, chickadees, and other beloved birds – now filling the woods with their spring song.

I’ll post more here later, but the image below is a start –- getting familiar again with bird colors and shapes. In the end I hope to make little paintings – maybe on wood, not big or bad birds, but small and sweet birds.

Bird Study - neighbors

Beginning a bird study – near neighbors in pencil and watercolor on Rives BFK…


A Postcard for Twitter

One Saturday morning at the very end of January, on an uninspired gray day, flat sky indistinguishable from sea, and no wind to part the clouds or better the weather – I happened to read about the 2015 Twitter Art Exhibit.

This is the fifth installment of #Twitter Art Exhibit – a “worldwide art experience” that invites artists to make a postcard-sized piece of art (no guidelines or themes other than a precise size and suitability for family viewing). Artists donate their work to sell for $35.00 at an exhibition in Moss, Norway. Home-Start in Moss benefits this year (an organization that matches experienced volunteers to families with young children to offer help and support).

The very thought gave structure to a dreary Saturday!

Flipping through postcards already submitted – both strange ones and lovely ones – I began to wonder what to do. Such an opportunity to do good with a little picture – something that appeals across borders. Needs to be in Norway by March 1st. Color, what would be colorful? What about spring somehow?

a Winter Wren and spring colors


“Essentialism” and the Lady Baby

Alaska winters test humankind and, when I visited this January, old, hard-packed snow crusted the bleak backyard at Downtown Abbey. The Ladies Cora and Winna joust and tussle endlessly out there, and shredded stuffing from tug-of war-battles with chew toys litter the landscape.

During these short, cold, snowless days, outdoor playing with children requires ingenuity. After dinner Mr. Carson takes Lady Baby (dressed in full cold weather gear) and both dogs (wearing reflective vests and blinking lights) to go “spelunking.” Carrying a small purple lantern she received for Christmas, Lady Baby leads the way through the neighborhood dark.

But indoors is warm and cheerful. In spite of new toys for Christmas and birthday, most favorite is a jumble of toys in a big plastic bag, purchased by Mrs. Hughes at a second-hand toy store some months ago.

The bag contains a pick-up truck or two, a boat, and a lot of somewhat articulated plastic guys – Lady Baby calls them “camping guys.” They do have a tent amongst their gear, but they also pack heat, wear goggles, cargo pants, and vests of different colors. Some appear to be uniformed officers with hats and badges.

But many of these details don’t register with Lady Baby, she makes up job descriptions, abilities, and story. Mostly the guys ride in the pick-up pulling the boat (driver and a passenger in the cab, the rest in back). They can bend their knees into a sitting position, though they often tip and slide from their assigned seats. They have names, but I’m wont to mix them up.

One day I noticed the moment she crossed over from batting-around-bored into an imaginary world. Wanting to finish a small sewing project for her mom, I’d picked up my needle. I sensed her regard me, assess my potential, and then turn to something elaborate with the guys as she moved them around the room. We happily did our parallel play.

At nap and bedtime, she often requests (one of several stalling mechanisms), “tell me about your day.” That’s an irresistible command, so I say OK, and she says, “No, you say, OK if you lie down and be quiet.” Then I begin – “once upon a time Lady Baby got up in the morning and found her granny” – and I carry on describing our activities in detail, ending with – “and then she got cozy with Monkey and the other stuffed animals and went to sleep.” And she usually does.

A participant in The Workroom recommended Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” McKeown’s theory of keeping to what matters, though written for hard-driving executives, applies to much of life. He’s adamant about the importance of play and the value of sleep.

Both are Lady Baby strengths. She lives a life of essentialism – few screens, good food, sleep, loving family and friends – and plenty of play.

Jack and Dale


Resisting Temptation

Walking with a friend one morning last December, we talked about habits and diets and health – and about her tendency to be an all-or-nothing sort of person when it comes to food. She’d recently lost access to a dietician food guru who helped her eat the way she wanted.

I told her about a system of “pre-commitment strategies” I’d read about, employed when people recognize they want to accomplish the kind of goals we set when we know something is good for us, but fear we lack the willpower to resist temptation. Research finds that people do best when they pre-commit to punishment if they fail. That’s right, not reward, but punishment.

Often this punishment is monetary. Websites like “StickK” help design a commitment, hold the money, and turn it over to a designated person or charity if slippage occurs. A list of goals people have committed to scrolls up the side of the website, along with the total dollar amount on the line (19 million a couple of weeks ago). A further twist, confirmed by research, finds the best compliance occurs when people stand to lose money to a despised cause.

We laughed about how counter-intuitive this is and about dreadful possible recipients. But when we reached her house, she told me to wait a minute, and came back out with a check written to me for $1200 – a year’s commitment!

I am to hold the check (pinned to my workroom wall), and she is to eat no dairy or sugar. Over the holidays we clarified our expectations, the possibility of unintended consequences: what were replacement sources of calcium and Vitamin D, how not annoy hosts as a dinner guest with food limitations, and how to travel and work long days with no easy availability to her chosen food.

Going whole months seemed dangerous. It would be easy to fall off the wagon in week one and say what the heck, I might as well eat whatever! So our contract agrees to a weekly check in, leaving $25.00 increments at risk.

In a draconian addendum to the contract, I will return her check and my friend will write another check to send her hard earned money away (and have her name registered as a donor). Given the designated recipient of the money (and both our tendencies to do what we say we will do), it will kill us if this fails.

For two weeks I happily put gold stars on a calendar at the end of each week. I heard great reports about the power of this strategy from her. She also said that rereading the article, (I had to ask her to send the link back), meant even more to her now that she was involved in the “program.”

And then, dinner out with risotto (parmesan cheese) happened. My friend confessed the transgression and ruefully admitted she’d have to write a check.

Painful. I couldn’t stand it – so offered an opportunity for redemption. Because another of her goals is to increase the two days a week she exercises without fail, I proposed that two weeks of daily exercise (five days without fail) could turn that black mark to gold star. Glad for the chance to exercise her way out of slippage, she accepted.

She’s back on track. And I love hearing from her every week – and drawing her gold stars in place!

January calendar 2