A Week of Retreat in New Hampshire

I recently spent a week in New Hampshire, pet-sitting part of the time, visiting part of the time, and having a delightful mother-daughter time with Arielle for part of the time. It was a refreshing and restful week, during which I spent much of my time painting and reading. The weather was beautiful the first few days I was there, so the dogs and I spent hours outside together.

Most of the painting and drawing I did was in my sketchbook journal. Working in my sketchbook sometimes helps me be more relaxed than painting on sheets of paper, plus I love being able to look back over my sketchbook journals as a pictorial record of my days. Just like my day to day life at home (or especially when on retreat), the pages aren’t polished or even all that carefully cropped (mostly because it’s hard to get them flat for a photo). As such, my journals reflect more of me being in the moment and in a meditative frame of mind than on the go and externally focused, as I am when I’m out and about.

I always love to see other artists’ casual sketchbook pages and find them inspiring, so I figured I’d post mine here. All of these sketches were done from life with no preliminary pencil sketching. (If you click on the images, you’ll see a larger version and can read the entries.)

Petra’s Peregrinations

Petra is my live wire. Rarely tired, Petra could be on the go all day long and still look for more to do. As I type, she’s dribbling a tennis ball by bouncing it on the floor, catching it, bouncing it again, and so on. Sometimes she lies flat on her side, looking calm, but rolling a tennis ball in circles with a front paw, all the time staring at it, until apparently it suddenly needs to be grabbed, at which point she leaps to her feet and takes the ball captive.

All three of my dogs are enthusiastic about their meal times, and I love the different ways they express their eagerness for me to finish dishing out their kibble, each in a way that reflects their own personality. Rowan sits close to my right side, his nose under my elbow, as I reach into the bin to scoop up the food. His front paws dance slightly up and down and he trembles with contained energy, but he doesn’t otherwise move or make a sound. Milo dances with his whole body, leaping into the air, flipping his head and ears, and baying with uncontained excitement.

Petra peregrinates. As soon as I reach into the bin, while Rowan quivers and Milo bays, Petra trots off in the opposite direction, heading down the hall, through the living room, through the kitchen and back to me. She pauses, surveys the situation, then sets off on her circling again. In the past few weeks I’ve been saying, “Petra peregrinate!” as she starts off, and now she is starting to peregrinate on cue if I tell her to at other times during the day. There’s no good reason for the command “Peregrinate,” except that it is fun for Petra and makes me laugh. It fascinates me to see how, like Milo, Petra turns her excitement into motion, but unlike Milo, her enthusiasm is expressed in a calm and contained manner.

Petra has finished her dribbling and has moved on to practice her back spin, something she has begun working on recently. She places a front paw firmly on the ball, grabs at it with her nails, then pulls her paw back and down hard and fast, causing the ball to shoot out from under her paw, but with a strong back spin so it quickly moves back toward her, at which point she pounces on it and repeats the game.

Petra is a fun, fun dog to have around, always thinking, always ready and eager to work with me, always willing to do some problem-solving.

Painting with Jennifer

Jennifer was up in New York for our mother’s 80th birthday (we had a party for her last weekend), and yesterday Jennifer spent the day here so we could paint together. Because she lives in South Carolina we don’t see each other very often, and we always enjoy the chance to paint together. Jennifer has been painting far longer than I have and has provided inspiration and encouragement for me often since I started painting seriously. Also, our shared interest in art is one of the things that has drawn us together as adults, so it’s always a pleasure to spend a day painting together, whether attending a workshop, sketching from the car on below-freezing days, or painting a variety of subjects in a warm house. We share ideas and enthusiasm and we help each other with our paintings. Thank you, Jennifer, for a fun day yesterday!

Here are the sketches and paintings I did– no great art, but all great fun:

A quick sketch of Silver, who was sleeping in my studio

And a quickie of Bituminous, from a photo

Snowdrops from my yard

Canadian Sunset, from a photo by a friend who lives in the frozen north

Sharjah Sunrise, from a photo by Pat Southcombe who lives in the United Arab Emirates.

Sophie, a friend’s beautiful baby granddaughter

Book Review– Holdfast

I just finished reading Holdfast, by Kathleen Dean Moore, a philosophy professor and naturalist. What an interesting book! It’s a series of short (that works well for me), very engaging essays that touch on a broad range of topics, with many interesting tidbits thrown in. Two of the tidbits I especially liked were the fact that Chickadee brains actually expand in the fall as they hide seeds for winter eating and that marine mammals sleep with only half their brain at a time. I looked both up (of course) and am filled with awe about the Chickadee brains and their memories and am fascinated to learn about the way dolphins sleep.

I also liked the way the author describes her reaction to and appreciation of simple, everyday nature observations, as well as less pleasant stuff like deforestation and supposedly renewable resources, like forests that are used for logging. I have a feeling her philosophy classes might be understandable to those of us who don’t naturally think in big, philosophical words and concepts.

Interwoven with all of the essays are glimpses into her family life and who she is as a person with likes, dislikes, joys, fears, and questions, which drew me in and kept me wanting to read more and get to know her. I’ll definitely be looking up more of her books.

Kathleen Dean Moore is a presenter at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College that I’m attending next month, and I’m looking forward to hearing her speak and hope to meet her.

Musings on Very Early Spring

I lifted my eyes from my book without moving my head to watch the Chickadee alight on the log in front of me, cock his head, then straighten up and sing a few notes of Spring. He again cocked his head my way, then hopped forward to select a seed, considered a second seed, then flew off with a slight whir of his wings. A second Chickadee immediately landed and studied me, while I studied her. From 30 inches, each feather, even every barb of each feather, was clearly discernible, so small, so complete, so perfect.

I can’t quite come up with the word for how it makes me feel, but it is somehow soul-filling to be able to watch so closely. It’s the same feeling I have when I smell the fragrance of hemlock needles drenched with warm sunlight or listen to a Winter Wren warble it’s fairytale song.

Most of our yard is still covered with about four inches of snow, but the bare patches are growing daily. Yesterday I discovered a clump of snowdrops, still closed but nearly ready to open. They still weren’t quite open today, but have expanded enough that the green on the inside is now partially visible– a promise of warmth, sunshine, and the coming greening of the earth.

Musings on Mindfulness

I opened the door to let Rowan out then, as I was closing the door, I turned to head back to my desk. Out of the corner of my eye I saw stars twinkling in an inky black sky. That’s a sight I can’t resist, so I stepped outside… and heard an owl hooting from the trees at the base of our hill. That’s a sound I can’t resist, so I shut the door behind me and stood in the crisp night air, enjoying the peace and richness of the moment.

I almost missed that wonderful sight and sound because of my rush to get back to my desk work. It was good work I was doing, but it was better to take a minute to stop, observe, see, and hear what I miss more often than not, and best to use that as a reminder to be mindful for the rest of the evening.

I’ve been musing on living in a mindful manner and one key element, for me at least, is to slow down and fully live each moment, each opportunity. I’m sure it’ll be a long time, if ever, before I fully live every moment, but I hope to become more aware and slow down my rushed thoughts that try to carry me into a new activity before I’m even finished the previous one. I think that is what has to happen in order for my movements, thoughts, and words to become more conscious and imbued with grace. And that, in turn, should help me tread more lightly through life, so that I can observe without overwhelming and interact without interfering.

More Dogs

Dog on my easel
coming to life with color
I’m eager to see your face

I’m still painting dogs. I just love trying to capture on paper the feeling of connection in the expression of a devoted dog looking at his or her person. I also like to play with colors or sometimes with just one color to capture the feeling of a dog, whether looking at his person or sleeping contentedly.

Sleeping Beardie

Shaggy Dog– this is my second painting of this Shaggy Boy. I enjoy trying to get the feeling of the bright sunshine on his fur.

Here’s the start of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I don’t usually start with the eye, but on this one I did. Often the eye is the last part that I paint. On this pup, though, his eye is really the focal point, so I decided to start with that.