Wind brushing through the Willows; ice-covered creek gurgling as it wends beside the woods and under a footbridge; the squeak and crunch of zero degree snow under my insulated Muck boots.

Sun blindingly bright on white snow; tree limbs silhouetted against pink and orange hues of sunset; moon casting sharp, black shadows of fences and trees; stars twinkling in the indigo sky.

A peaceful spot to think and write. The luxury of time to read without interruption. The joy of playful walks with my dogs. Beauty all around to capture with brush or pencil in my journal.

I spent Friday and Saturday alone in the guest house at my parents’ farm. It’s a small, simple, quiet place that allowed me the space and time to unwind, read, reflect, write, paint, and walk in beautiful surroundings with my dogs. No road noise, no people, no internet, no sounds but those supplied by nature.

I was long overdue for some retreat time, and I feel wonderfully refreshed and energized by my time alone. When I first got there I found myself hopping up and down, distracted by every little thought and impulse that passed through my mind. After a few hours I was calm on the inside, sitting quietly with Milo curled on my lap, a cup of tea in my hand, while I alternately read and gazed out the window while pondering the books I was reading (The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen and The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney).

When I woke up at 3:00 AM, the bright moonlight drew me out into the frigid but peaceful night. Petra and I walked quietly up the hill to look out over the valley, then Rowan and I explored down toward the pond and danced gleefully in the snowy field.

Time alone in silence helps me find and draw forth the quieter parts of myself, the parts that get shoved down when I live with noise and the busyness of daily life and my inner compulsion to keep constantly connected with the world via the computer. I like those more reserved aspects of my being and feel more complete and alive when I nurture them. I won’t wait so long before seeking solitude again.

More Dogs

I’m still painting dogs and loving doing each one. Every dog is such a unique individual, and it’s my pleasure and a challenge to capture some of what makes that dog who he or she is.

I haven’t painted my Petra yet. Actually I have, quite a few times, but haven’t felt like I’ve really captured who she is. Petra is so full of action and verve and inner strength, that it’s been hard to get all that on paper. I think I may need to try a different style, perhaps looser, to get the essence of who she is. I’ll keep trying.

I’m actually off to the vet with Petra in a few minutes, and we were at the emergency vet with her on Saturday night. She seems to be having a reaction to her rabies vaccine and also some other illness, perhaps a recurrence of Lyme Disease. At any rate, she’s been an unhappy and not-so-energetic girl the past two days. She did run up a couple of trees yesterday (she leaps six feet up trees, then “runs” a couple of feet higher, before turning and gracefully dropping to the ground), but not nearly as high or as enthusiastically as usual.

This is Bounce, a small but mighty Sheltie. Bounce is an elegant lady of a dog who belongs to a friend of mine.

And here’s Pip, a small powerhouse of a dog, who belongs to another friend of mine. Pip is a blast– intense, funny, smart as a whip, and very, very focused.

I Love Painting!

I had so much fun today! I’m still pretty much housebound (the cold air is hard on my lungs), so I have lots of time to paint, and today I could hardly tear myself from my easel. I love days like this when I become so excited about whatever I’m painting that I can’t wait to get back to it when I stop to eat or to get chores done. Even when I don’t have brush in hand, I’m painting in my mind, which is just as much fun.

I started out this morning with a really quick watercolor sketch of a Basset Hound. That was just a warm-up to get my mind flowing with color. Then I worked some more on the duck I started the other day. I think I’ve pretty much finished him now. I made an interesting discovery about the paper I was using, while working on the duck. It is some rough paper that our next-door neighbor had when I was a child. I don’t know how long he’d had it at that point, but he was quite elderly, so I’m guessing for a while, which means this paper has been around for at least 40 years.

What I discovered is that I can lift all of the paints I was using off this paper, even some greens which are usually staining colors. At first it was a bit disconcerting to have the greens, which I was trying to paint over, come right off the paper, but it occurred to me that I could make good use of that characteristic.

I spent most of the day painting this Basset Hound, Gomez, who spent a couple of months with me last year. I really, really liked him and was sad to see him leave. I had the best time painting him today and remembering what a fun and sweet dog he was, once he got over the worst of his Separation Anxiety, which is why he was here. My goal in this painting, as with most of my dog paintings, was to capture the love and connection in his expression as he looked up at the person he was with (in this case me).

Process and Potential

I used to look at a partially done painting and be discouraged; I didn’t have the confidence to be patient with the process or the experience to see the as-yet-unrevealed beauty that was developing. I was often tempted to quit on a painting, sure that it was a failure. Now, however, I’m learning to look at the potential and step back to think about how I can bring out strong points and work on ameliorating weak areas. I can picture in my mind how a painting might turn out– usually several possible options of how it might look, depending on which path I take.

Pondering that while painting this evening, I realized that that is what my own and other people’s lives are like. Works in process, developing into who God has made us to be, as yet unfinished and sometimes discouraging if we look with a limited perspective. The good news for me, though, is that God is a Master Painter, and he is guiding the process and selecting the “paints” that color my life to bring out the potential and inner beauty he has built into me. I might not find certain stages attractive, but it is all part of the process of growing me into who I am meant to be.

Here is the painting I was enjoying doing this evening. One of many painting of Jade, the Mallard Duck who used to frequent our stream every spring for a week or so.

Early stages with only a hint of where it’s going.

Starting to look more like a Mallard, but still has a long way to go.

This painting isn’t finished yet; it needs to “rest” at this stage so the paint can dry thoroughly, otherwise what I do next would interfere with what is here. No visible change or effort going into it doesn’t mean nothing is happening, though. The washes are setting a bit as they dry and I am pondering what to do next. It’s all part of the process.

For the Birds

I’ve been watching and sketching birds at my feeder and painting birds. I was fascinated to see a White-breasted Nuthatch carefully and thoroughly sunning himself.

I was sketching when I noticed a White-breasted Nuthatch lying motionless on the feeder. I thought perhaps he was sick (he didn’t look injured) and sketched him while watching to see if he would move. After a few minutes he did, just to shift position so that he was tipped forward in an odd position, then he once again remained motionless for a few minutes. I began to wonder if he was sunning himself when he shifted again, this time to hang sideways, head downward, on the edge of the feeder. Again he remained motionless, obviously soaking up the sunshine.

For a warm up today I did a quick watercolor sketch of an Ostrich, using one of Arielle’s photos from South Africa as a reference. I ended up liking my sketch and am sorry I painted it on such a tiny scrap of paper and right up to the edge. It was fun, though, and I’m sure I’ll be painting more Ostriches in the coming days.

A while back I painted a gull in flight and I wanted to do the same bird again but with a stormy sky this time. She keeps flying forward, despite the stormy clouds around her.

And here is the Mallard I’ve been working on. This is from a photo Jonathan took of Jade, the Mallard drake who used to visit our stream every spring along with his mate, Agate.

Moving into a new year

I’ve had some time alone this morning and have been thinking about the passing of one year and the start of another. I’m not into making New Year’s resolutions, but I do like to look back at the past year with gratitude for what was good and to make peace with the hurts and disappointments. This helps me move into the New Year with the past being a springboard for living fully in the present.

A painting from 2009. This speaks to me of wisdom gained and lessons learned, even in darkness and through hurts; now it’s time to learn from the past and leave it behind.

Another 2009 painting. I have so much to be thankful for; there was much joy sprinkled throughout the year.

A painting that I started yesterday, as yet unfinished, that moves me onward into 2010, eager to see what lies ahead and to keep my eyes on the goal.

The prayer guide I wrote for our church for this past week has helped me meditate on 2009 and look forward with anticipation to 2010.

“One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3: 13-14

New Year’s resolutions rarely seem to result in lasting change, yet the start of a new year seems like an ideal time for evaluating and redirecting ourselves. We don’t have to be stuck in our pasts. We have a goal to strive for, which us gives purpose, direction, and motivation every day. This week let’s seek to come to peace with this past year so that we can leave it behind, and let’s realign our focus on Jesus so that we can follow him more faithfully. If we get our past in perspective and our goal clarified, our actions should fall in line more effectively.

Daily Prayer Suggestions

Monday: Take time today to reflect on the past year. Thank God for his love and many blessings. Entrust the disappointments, hurts, and concerns to his loving care. Ask for mercy where you have fallen short and gratefully accept his forgiveness. Joyfully thank him for the abilities he’s given you and the ways he’s worked through you.

Tuesday: Allow God to strengthen you and fill you with his peace as you continue to leave the past with him. He redeems our brokenness and brings good from it, and he strengthens us where we’re weak, if we allow him to.

Wednesday: In many ways we can’t know what lies ahead, but we do know that God is in charge and that our lives are in his hand. Reflect on what it means that God is sovereign, and entrust your hopes and dreams for this coming year to him.

Thursday: What is your goal in life? While we have many intermediate goals, God calls us to seek first his kingdom, to set our eyes on Jesus and live for his glory. Commit yourself to wholeheartedly seeking God and living for him.

Friday: Ask God to give you such a passion for him that you will eagerly strive to know him better and follow him in your daily life this year.

Saturday: There is a prize; God promises to bless us when we follow him. Rejoice in God’s goodness and his promises.