Summer Reading Update

Monday, July 12, 2021 0 No tags Permalink
Summer Reading Update - How to Stop Time

We are maybe 1/3 through the summer, and I’m making progress on my summer reading. First up was Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time which I guess would be classified as a fantasy novel. The main character ages very, very slowly. It was a good read, but not very memorable. A week after I had read it, I forgot what happened in it. If you’re looking for a light beach read though, this could be your book.

summer reading update - convenience store woman

Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman is maybe more of a novella. I started and finished in it just a couple of hours. It was an interesting read for sure. The woman the story is centered around has some sort of un-diagnosed personality disorder. From not being understood in childhood to trying to find her place in life, she finds peace working part time in a convenience store. The descriptions of the store and her surroundings are quite good. You can really feel yourself there. Though I couldn’t identify with the character personally, the story gave me insight into another kind of life. I don’t think this is a book for everyone, but I have a few friends who might like it including my cousin Angie.

I’ve also been daily reading selections from Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic looking for peace and inspiration. I’ve also been tracking down the Splash watercolor books. They are excellent for ideas and inspiration. Here’s my latest watercolors, #44 and #45.

The second one got a bit of traffic on the watercolor Facebook groups I belong to, and I did learn a lot through all of the comments. It seems the watercolor people are more active than the gouache or acrylic people. I did start a new watercolor last night and it’s not going well. Hoping it can still be salvaged. I need to sit and wait for things to dry instead of constantly reworking them while wet. Things always look different in the morning. That’s a pretty good metaphor for life as well. Worry and overwork things at night and it’s a disaster. The morning light will cast a new reality for you.

Next up on my reading list: The Burning [Tulsa Race Riot] by Tim Madigan

No More Amazon

I’m done with Amazon. Their refusal to pay corporate taxes, the way they treat their staff members, and the horror that is Amazon Prime delivery services has finally ended it for me. So for me, it’s no more amazon. I’ll be paying more to place orders at independent stores and will be supporting hopefully the USPS (even UPS and FedEx are better than Amazon Prime deliveries). Today I ordered a book from The Book Beat in Oak Park, Michigan. Last week I ordered two from Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately we don’t have any great independent art supply stores around here, so I usually order from Blick. My favorite peanut butter is cheaper on Amazon, but I ordered directly from the company. And don’t even get me started on Etsy:

Favorite Soap: Pie Town
Watercolor Paint: Ruby Mountain Paint Co.
Washi Tape: my friend Michele at Goat Girl

Anyhow, in July please consider shopping local or supporting independent sellers online. It can really make a difference in their lives! Let me know in the comments if you have a favorite local or online independent retailer.

It’s been raining a crap ton (over four inches in the past week). Everything is wet, inside and outside the house. Ants have moved into my office. But at least we haven’t had to water? Consumer’s Energy gouged electric rates daily from 2:00 – 7:00pm. That’s not an exaggeration. It was literally a 50 percent increase. When it rains forever, it’s pretty humid. And the only way to beat it back is using air conditioning. Which is now much more expensive. At least it’s not as hot as it is in the west right now.

No More Amazon. The rest of my summer reads will be purchased through independent retailers!

I did start the summer reads with Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time. It’s pretty good so far. Lots going on this week, and at this point I’m not sure how everything is going to shake out. In the meanwhile, try to breathe deep and appreciate the little things.

Summer Painting

summer painting #42 - gouache pet portrait

The painting of Star for the Pet Portrait FUNdraiser for the Humane Society is done. Or, at least as done as it’s going to get. It’s framed, too, which should help. I hope the owner is pleased with it. This is painting #42 in gouache, and the first summer painting completed. I enjoyed working on it. As I’ve been doing donation letters at work, I’ve had YouTube painting videos on in the background. For whatever reason, I decided maybe I should try watercolor as well.

summer painting #43 watercolor landscape

So here’s painting #43, my first attempt at watercolor. The sky is good, I think. The rest still needs work. It’s an interesting medium and feels a bit more loose than either gouache or acrylic. I think maybe it also is more of a celebration of color over line?

We had more rain and storms last weekend, but fortunately no power loss or damage. We’re due in for rain every day this week, which will give me back time spent watering. I hate to think of the weeds once the sun comes out again! In Portland temperatures are nearing 110 degrees. Once again, the west is so dry. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before the wildfires start. Our arugula is pretty much shot. No green beans or tomatoes yet. The flowers look pretty good though.

News is starting to really come up about the danger of the COVID Delta variant. Michigan is now completely open and I doubt very much if it will close again, no matter the numbers or deaths. Right now we are planning in-person events for the shelter in the fall. Hard to know what that will actually look like. I’ve been working on a variant of the Whole 30 diet plan to get rid of inflammation. It might be starting to work? Giving up sugar is a killer, though. Worse than bread, pasta, salt, or alcohol.

Misc. Updates

misc. updates Van Pennen's Flowers

Time for another misc. updates post. How quickly June passes! Since the last post, I did finish my final baby blanket, but forgot to take a picture. Hopefully no more baby blankets for some time. I have a personal crochet project I’m kicking around in my mind, but in the meanwhile I’ll probably just crochet a few cat blankets for the shelter. Last week was super hot and humid, but this week is cooler.

misc. updates family

Last weekend Aunt Suzie, Gail, and Sydney came to visit. We went up to Lansing to water the graves, and the lavender was in bloom on the Thorne/Cleary plot. Drove past Hudda’s house, stopped for lunch. It was a lovely few days, and it’s a reminder of how lucky I am to have family I not only love, but I really like and enjoy spending time with!

misc. updates cemetery flowers

In my last post, I mentioned the pet portrait FUNdraiser for the Humane Society. In the end, we had 26 people request a portrait, for $520 in total revenue which is really disappointing to me. Some of the completed works have already come in, and they are fantastic. I’ve been slowly working on the one I assigned myself, otherwise known as painting #42 in my collection.

I’ll have to take some photos and a video of the gardens. I’ve had to water a lot as it’s been so hot and we haven’t gotten much rain at all. In fact, Calhoun County is now in a “moderate drought”. The flower beds look good, though we have yet to have a single monarch butterfly or caterpillar. I would guess our group didn’t survive the winter in Mexico. The honey bees and bumble bees are enjoying the flower garden, and we’ve had some moths as well.

Michigan is pretty well open from the pandemic closures, and what isn’t open by state regulation will be released completely July 1st. The shelter is still open by appointment only, mostly for the stress benefit to the animals and staff members. Not sure when that will change. The Field of Flight balloon championship will go on as usual this year, with 20,000 guests expected and only 42% of Calhoun County folks vaccinated.

I’ve started pulling together my list of Summer Reads. With so much going on (gardening, painting, work, worrying) I’m not sure how much time I have to read. I’ve got three books set for sure, then some potentials if I get time. Here’s the list

Will Absolutely Read:
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
How to Stop Time: A Novel by Matt Haig
The Burning [Tulsa Race Riot] by Tim Madigan

Might Read:
Again Again by E Lockhart
Florida Man: A Novel by Tom Cooper
Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

What are you reading this summer?

Misc. Project Updates

It seems I am working on a lot of things and not getting a ton accomplished these days. I have found May to be a strange month. The weather was either much too hot (90 degrees!) or much too cold (frost predicted for Memorial Weekend!). I came down with a bad case of hives of unknown origin and have been on a course of steriods that initially had me feeling AMAZING but now has me feeling the sickest I’ve been in a very long time, both mentally and physically. I am hoping June turns out better all around.

I did finish another baby blanket. This one is for a girl; the nursery theme is pink, blue and gold dinosaurs. The blanket is Bernat Softee Baby in navy and pink, hdc waffle stick with an L hook. I think it turned out ok. Now I’m working on what I hope will be the final baby blanket for a long time. It’s again in Bernat Softee Baby, but in navy, light blue and gray stripes. I’ve switched from British mysteries on Britbox to British gardening shows in an effort to relax and de-stress. I wish to be as zen as Monty Don’s dogs.

Mom and I did the greenhouses and the cemeteries. Mt. Hope did manage to raise Jeanette’s and Alberta’s stones. What a difference! I was very pleased to see them. I have planted the vegetable garden and it’s coming along well. I put in six new perennials in the monarch garden at home, plus all the annuals. It will be a pain to have to cover them for frost this weekend. We’ve had almost no rain at all. Bob and I planted 30 pines and dogwood trees at the shelter at work. You can see a video of my garden on my YouTube channel here.

Mom and I took an online course on Udemy from Nick Stewart on painting with fountain pen ink. I haven’t had enough time to really get into it. I love the idea and I love the way his look, but so far I’m not having much luck. Maybe I’ll have more time over the holiday weekend?

We are doing a FUNdraiser at work with pet portraits in June. People will pay $20 and submit a photo of their pet. In return, an “artist” will create the pet in drawing, painting, fiber art, etc. The original image and the artistic image will be posted up online and people will vote for the best representation. The artist could win a $50 gift card. The person who made the donation will receive the original artwork in the mail. Most of them will be done by Board members and volunteers, so they won’t be professional. Some of them might look like the work of a toddler. But it’s all to raise money for the shelter pets. I did this quick study (less than an hour) in gouache to show what could be expected. This is technically painting #41, since I’m not counting the few postcards I did for National Postcard Week. This isn’t really a finished work, but it is my first attempt at an animal.

National Postcard Week 2021

Wednesday, May 5, 2021 0 No tags Permalink
national postcard week 2021

It’s National Postcard Week 2021 and I didn’t get my crap together. I had selected a great vintage card and was going to photoshop Maxy’s head on, but I didn’t get it done in time to have the cards professionally printed. So this year I’ll be sending fewer cards, with an uglier, more personal touch.

national postcard week 2021

I’m not counting these as paintings, because I’m doing them in about 15 minutes each. And they aren’t turning out great. Some of it is I’m trying to paint new things. Some of it is that the postcard paper is really crap. The images are inspired by various card sets…flowers and different tarot cards. Mom and Kirsten did such an amazing job on their tarot cards for the Trail of Terror, I thought some fun small cards would be good inspiration.

national postcard week 2021

I’m going to have to practice the cat cards more if the shelter is going to do a pet portrait thing in June and I volunteer to paint. I mean, the middle one above looks like some kind of demon. Of course, I wouldn’t use postcard paper and probably not acrylic either. It’s easier to fudge gouache and blend it better I think.

Bob was so romantic. He found this vintage postcard of the dining hall at Brook Lodge and sent it to me for National Postcard Week 2021. The card is from the 1960s. We ate dinner here on Memorial Weekend many years ago, and Bob proposed to me by the water surrounded by forget-me-nots.

It has turned cold again. We had a fire last night and will hopefully have a few more over the next few days. I did get the radishes, arugula, carrots and beets planted last weekend. Bob and I planted 30 trees at the shelter over the past two weekends as well. We still have a few weeks before greenhouse day, so hopefully the warmer weather will catch up. Really looking forward to having the martini event behind me.

Painting #40

Wednesday, April 28, 2021 0 No tags Permalink

Painting #40 is a postcard-inspired gouache piece. Forty paintings. Am I getting better? I don’t actually think so, though I continue to learn new things. I’ve hit the wall again on what I want to paint, so it’s been awhile since I’ve done any painting. Work has been stressful and I’m just plain tired, so that isn’t helping the old inspiration either. I also haven’t been playing recorder. I think things will get worse before they get better, with the martini event just over two weeks away. And my god, the nightmares I’ve been having. Though I’m sleeping, it’s not good quality and I wake up more tired than before I went to bed. Something’s got to change. I’m starting to feel a bit desperate again, which is never a good feeling.

sleeping Maxy

Bob and I planted trees at the shelter last Sunday, the ones purchased from the Calhoun Conservation District. We still have more trees to plant. When trees are only $1 a piece, it is quite easy to order a lot of trees and not think about the reality of planting them. Next week is National Postcard Week and I’ve done absolutely nothing to prepare for it. Is it too late? Depends on how much pressure I put on myself I guess. I’ve been biking on the spin bike and outside again as well. I’m going to do whatever I can to stop snoring (any tips or advice?), and exercising an hour a day is my current plan. So far, no good. Maxy is the only one in our household getting good sleep on a regular basis (see photo above). He is 18 and is a treasure.

Crabapple trees are blooming. Geese are walking around with their babies. One day will be 82 degrees (yesterday) and two days later it will be in the low 50s (tomorrow). It has been a month of extreme highs and lows, and it still doesn’t feel like spring is settled in for good. Mom’s deck is done, and it looks great. Aside from the tree planting and the new exercise routine, I’m too tired to work on any projects. Maybe after the martini event?

Painting #39, Crochet and Snow

painting #39

As we approach the end of April, we can enjoy weather and hobbies. Or maybe not? Painting #39, crochet and unfortunately snow this late in April. I don’t have in my notes snow after April 9 since 2007, so this year is a bit unusual. It is also snowing where my friend Beverly is, in Kentucky. My thoughts are with her and her family.

Painting #39

Latest gouache painting #39, Twin Palms Court. Need to work on letter painting for sure. I think the brighter colors up front and more faded in the back is helping to show more depth of focus, as suggested to me on a recent Reddit inquiry. The palm tree on the near left might look more like grass, though the ones in the back are a bit better. The best bit is the pole for the sign I think. I’m working on another pink motel now. Perhaps pink motel is the new theme? I’d like to work on something a bit more abstract, but how does one do that and still get the perspective correct without using a ruler? And once you pull out the ruler, it seems not as abstract. Suggestions?

snow

Snow

It’s cold. How cold? Cold enough to snow yesterday and ice up the car this morning. The sun is out and the temperature is supposed to reach 45 so I would guess the snow will be gone this evening, but it’s still supposed to be cold tomorrow. And maybe 80 degrees by Tuesday again. I’m picking up trees from the Calhoun Conservation District tomorrow for planting on Friday. It’s possible I selected too many trees since they were so inexpensive and I felt I was helping a good cause.

Put the hummingbird and oriole jelly feeders up last weekend. This next weekend I’ll be planting radish and arugula seeds. This time of year always goes so fast!

crochet

Crochet

I’m crocheting another baby blanket. It’s Bernat Baby Softee yarn in pink and navy. It’s a HDC waffle stitch on an L sized hook, so it’s super soft and drape-y. The yarn is more likely to split, so you have to keep one eye on it with the other on Rebus on Britbox. After this (weaving in the ends will take forever), it’s back to the shawl and more blankets for the cat room. Staff members are loving the different colors.

Painting #38

Tuesday, April 13, 2021 0 No tags Permalink
painting #38

Painting #38 is the latest piece. Part of it still seems really flat. It’s from a photograph in a Conde Nast Traveler magazine. Sometimes when painting just isn’t going good, I think I should quit but in reality I should probably paint more. Bob gave me some good advice on inspiration and things to try, and a commenter on Reddit gouache had some great feedback for me.

This morning Bob and I went to get my Johnson & Johnson vaccine when it was announced that the CDC and FDA were requesting a pause on it because of blood clots. I’m going to try to get the Pfizer instead through a walk-in clinic over the next three days.

We may be getting snow on Thursday, but I don’t expect it to stick. The perennials are coming up, and I need to weed the garden. Kitten season has started at work, and of course we are short-staffed.

Signs of Spring

Friday, April 9, 2021 0 No tags Permalink
signs of spring carnival

Signs of Spring are everywhere to be seen now. The maple trees are fuzzy puffballs, the forsythia, daffodils, and crabapple trees are in bloom, and the carnival has arrived in town! Probably the carnival isn’t the best thing for our huge local spike in COVID, but it did brighten my soul a bit driving past it. We’ve had some rain and everything is really greening up.

signs of spring carnival

It’s hard not to get excited about planting. I ordered some tree seedlings from the Calhoun Conservation District to do some planting around the shelter. Still too early for vegetables, but by the end of the month the trees can go in the ground. I am tracking the progress of the hummingbirds on the Journey North website as well. There’s so much excitement in the air, it’s hard to keep one’s thoughts tethered to work and responsibilities.

signs of spring carnival

We’re in a bit of a pickle at work, with not enough staff. I’m working this Saturday, but may get in a situation where using my vacation time is difficult. Kitten season has started as well and we have several mom cats with kittens. They aren’t well socialized, so we will be working on that. I feel like I need a whole extra day to catch up on sleep again. Meanwhile, the stacks of letters keep growing and I can’t catch up on anything else. I am scheduled for my vaccine on Tuesday, the Johnson and Johnson, in Albion. I also have to get a crown towards the end of the month. April is moving so fast, as this time of year often does. I can’t even think about the martini event without feeling dizzy and sick to my stomach. Better to concentrate on painting, the recorder, and upcoming gardening and hope for the best. What signs of spring are you sighting in your area?