Painting Trip, Day 10

(Note – I’m really far behind now… the place where I’m staying lost their internet service, so I have some catching up to do.)

The first thing I did this morning (Wed, Sep 16, 2015) was get up and take some photos of my BnB because it is so beautiful and now my camera is working again.

Here’s the front staircase when you first walk in. I have a key to the front door because the homeowners don’t come and go that way.

Carl Rd staircaseHere’s my bedroom…

Carl Rd bedroom 2with a beautiful desk in the corner…

Carl Rd desk 1and of course I have my own “princess makeup seat” in the master bath…

Carl Rd master bath 1And should I get bored, all I have to do is go out to the library for a book, a cup of tea, or a choice of one of the hundred or so movies on disc in the cupboard…

Carl Rd library 1Downstairs, Harriet has a nice collection of shells in an antique cabinet…

Carl Rd shell cabinetAnd she loves china teacups as much as I do…

Carl Rd teacupsAnd what would a Victorian home be without a Silver Service???

Carl Rd Silver ServiceThe kitchen is the gathering place, of course…

Carl Rd kitchenDon’t you feel sorry for me having to “rough it” in this private home???

Good grief, how did I even find this place??? I’m a little bug in a rug here!

So… it’s day 10 of my trip and day 2 of the Colley Whisson workshop. I got to the gallery in time to get the last parking place, but as soon as I walked around back I was discouraged. Believe it or not, a landscaping company had come in and aerated and seeded the entire lawn. It was a muddy mess.

All of us were walking through muck to get set up and I was feeling kind of grumpy from not sleeping the night before. In fact, I parked my gear under the shade tree and went and sat in a rocking chair on the porch to think whether I even wanted to set up at all. I still hadn’t decided when Colley said he was going to start the morning demo.

Colley and I were both getting a cup of coffee on the porch when the gallery owner’s dog came charging out the back door, growling and nipping at Colley. I jumped back and blurted, “WHO’S DOG IS THAT????” Boy it made me mad! I can’t stand it when people think their precious fur baby “won’t hurt a fly” and here he is snarling and baring his teeth.

Colley was much nicer than I felt. He made light of it and went on back to the shelter to start the demo. It was standing room only. I took a place where I could stand on one foot and then the other and felt kind of miserable. Then… the construction guys next door started up a chain saw. No one could hear a thing.

So now we’ve got mud… a mad dog… and a chain saw blaring nearby…

All of a sudden I felt like I had to get out of there so I walked to the car, leaving all my gear sitting in the yard, and drove back to my BnB. I had reached my limit and I needed a break. I climbed in the bed and fell asleep for an hour.

When I woke up I felt refreshed and ready to go. I drove back to the gallery but of course I had lost my parking place. I parked a few blocks away in the church parking lot. But it wasn’t a bad walk to the gallery.

As soon as I rounded the corner into the gallery back yard I ran straight into Colley. “Did you miss me?” I asked.

Colley looked at me sheepishly and asked, “did you go somewhere?”

“Yeh, but I’m back and I’ll go get started,” I replied.

I set up my easel and quickly did my stage one painting while everyone ate lunch. I was caught up in no time.

Actually, Colley doesn’t have to babysit me. He spends a lot of time with some people because he has to do a lot of corrections on their painting and he wants to teach while he’s doing that. Mostly with me he’ll point out weak points and tell me how to do it differently and then I do it.

So I caught up right away and all was well.

The rest of the afternoon passed very quickly and soon it was time to pack up again. I swear all this schlepping gear is the worst part of the whole thing.

Someone pointed out a gravel lot near the back yard and said we could load and unload there since it was so much closer. That looked good to me.

I tore down my gear, lugged it all back to that gravel lot and began to walk to my car. But when I passed that gravel driveway out front (that goes back to that gravel lot) there was a large pickup and trailer parked in the drive that you couldn’t get around. I saw a worker walking by and waved at him to ask what he deal was. He waved back and kept on going.

That’s just GREAT.

I’m exhausted, my feet hurt and now I gotta go run this guy down. I walked to the back of the house and knocked. He tried to ignore me but I could see him. Ha! He finally came to the door and I asked him if he was going to be there for a while and I told him I had gear out back to load up.

“Not my problem, lady,” he said. “And I ain’t backing this trailer anywhere until I’m done.”

My heart sank but I just said OK and went back to where my gear was. I had it carried back out front in a few trips. Now I just had to go get the car and come and pick it up. When the worker saw me schlepping he said, “sorry, lady.” And I said, “yeh, I know.” I don’t think he was all that sorry or he would have helped me. He was an able-bodied man younger than my own sons. So I just gimped along and let him watch. There’s always karma, you know…

I decided what I needed was a glass of wine and a hot meal. I had looked up restaurants in the next town to see what the choices were. I chose JJ’s Wine Bar. The neat thing about this place is the wine bottles are in automated machines with your choice of pour. There are a lot of selections of white wines, red wines and premium wines. You can choose a 1 ounce taste, a 5 ounce half glass or a 7¼ ounce full glass. They give you a wine “card” that goes into the machine and keeps your tab.

wine choices 1

I tried a half glass of White Bordeaux from France to start. Quite citrusy, but not a good buy here. They are charging you $7.20 for a 5 ounce glass when the whole bottle sells for $8. The wine itself is only rated 3.9. That’s a cheapo wine…

White Bordeaux price 1

I was sitting at a table on the front porch and when I went back in, I wanted to try a premium wine. I looked to find the most expensive… It was a 2012 Palazzo White Blend from Napa Valley. A full glass would cost $34 but I got a 1 ounce “taste” for $4.70. It was an excellent fruity wine with a long finish featuring strong peach and pineapple flavors. JJ’s is still overcharging since you can buy a bottle of this for $55, but I guess that’s how they make their money to stay in business.

Palazzo price 2

The waiter was very genial and talked me into ordering food. I got the Black and Blue Flatbread, which was herbed cheese on the flatbread, topped with thinly sliced beef, then shredded mozzarella and blue cheese and sprinkled with burgundy onions. Very tasty! I got a half glass of 2013 Malbec from Argentina to go with it. This is a pretty juicy, berry-flavored, moderately tannic wine. This 5 ounce glass cost $7.50 but again was overpriced since the entire bottle costs $10-$11. JJ’s is charging that for one full glass so it is at least a 400% markup. Of course, that’s at retail price. A wine bar like this surely gets a discount case price or more for volume purchases. Now we’re talking 500-600% markup. That’s bogus. I don’t need high prices to make me think I’m getting something special. Forget that.

Malbec price 1

I had a good time at JJ’s but wouldn’t go back just because the pricing is out of line. I would enjoy looking up the wines myself and buying a bottle at one-third to one-fourth the price. I can sit on my own patio and enjoy a glass of wine just as nicely, thank you very much. The only thing special about this place was the service and that was dependent on one waiter who might not always be there. I hope they pay him well.

So I took my leftovers, drove back to my room and drew a steaming hot bath. It was good to soak until I couldn’t keep my eyes open and then fall into bed.

It was a great day of painting even if lugging all the stuff is hard on me. Here’s my painting from today…

interior Colley scene by Starr

Painting Trip, Day 9

(Note: once again, I’m a day or two behind!)

L ForkOK, it is Tuesday, September 15, 2015. Ninth day of my trip and Day One of the class with Colley Whisson at Leiper’s Creek Gallery in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee.

This little unincorporated village is only a short distance from Nashville but it will instantly take you back in time. It boasts a population of about 650 on 1,100 acres of land.

I am thrilled to be here. I started following Colley Whisson about 3 years ago when I was in Italy. I was looking for inspiration online and there he was. I have been a fan ever since of this Australian artist and never dreamed I would get to meet him, let alone take a class with him.

And today I got to tell him that!

But not before I looked like a complete idiot…

So let’s back up here just a bit.

I was on the computer last night and realized that the clock on my phone and the clock on my computer were different. Hmmmmm….

Turns out I’ve crossed into the next time zone and it is an hour earlier here! Who knew?

I’m glad I found this out before class today!

But I did get up and get ready for class at the right time. I went downstairs ready to pack my cooler and my hostess, Harriet, asked what I wanted for breakfast. I honestly did not want to put her out but she insisted. Soon we were eating Turkey Bacon, slices of fresh organic avocado and for me… an egg over easy with a piece of toast. Harriet brought out her Jack Daniels Whiskey jam for me to try. Yum!

Off I went to class with a carful of “stuff” and a lot of trepidation. New workshops are always a venture into the unknown. We artists have a joke (which did come up today) that when people find out we are painters, their typical response is… “oh that must be so relaxing!”

Hahahahahahahahaha!

There is NOTHING relaxing about it. I find it pure hard work. Especially painting en plein air… in other words, outside.

I got to the gallery this morning, got a parking place, and noticed other artists trekking toward the back yard. I followed them and discovered about a dozen people in the midst of setting up easels and spreading out art supplies. And even though I was a half hour early, the space under the shelter was gone. That meant I had to be out in the yard. Great.

It took me four trips to get everything from the car and it was all in a big pile. My feet hurt and we hadn’t even started. I felt at a loss and didn’t know where to start… so I didn’t.

Colley introduced himself and started with a demo. We all gathered round to stand and watch.

My feet were BURNING already and Colley is very softspoken. It was hard to hear him, especially when I am leaning first on one foot and then the other. I had a hard time paying attention.

But others didn’t!

The one thing Colley asked was that no one snap pics of his original reference photos. Photos of anything else were fine, but these are his photos that he has taken and wants to paint from. They are not public property.

Some did not respect that. Colley would take one step back from the easel to turn and talk to us and two people would literally jump in between him and the easel and start snapping photos. Colley couldn’t even turn back to the painting in his own personal space! This, along with the pain in my feet, was really getting on my nerves.

Colley only did “stage one” on his canvas and then we were all to go to our easels and do the same. Everyone dispersed and started painting. Except me.

I still wasn’t even set up and my gear was all out in the direct sun. No way was that going to work for me. I looked around and decided to join two women under the nearest shade tree. I schlepped my stuff to that spot.

Then, before I was even set up, Colley appeared to direct our little section. The other two gals were painting away and I didn’t have a thing out except the blank board I intended to paint on. For some reason I was befuddled and couldn’t get going. Colley walked up and I told him I’m a slow starter. “No problem,” he replied. “I’ll be back.”

I’m pretty sure everyone around me thought, “oh, here’s a live wire! Can’t even get the paints out of the box!” Which is true…

Somehow I got semi-organized and roughed my drawing in pretty quickly. Then I went up to the shelter to Colley’s station and got some of his “medium.” This isn’t something I’m familiar with, but the point of the workshop is to paint like he does. And he invited us to use his supplies because he represents that particular paint company and they give him paint to share with his students to entice new customers.

I got the board covered before noon but it didn’t look very good. Great… now I look unorganized and like I can neither draw nor paint. This is not a good start.

Soon it was noon time and everyone made a mad dash for the “gas station” next door, Puckett’s. What a neat place!

Puckett'sPuckett’s is the cornerstone of Leiper’s Fork. They’ve branched into a couple more locations but everyone says those don’t count… this is the original store that was founded in 1953. It started as a country store where you could get fresh groceries, a home-cooked meal and a tank of gas. And that’s what it still is. Tourists and locals both flock to it.

Puckett's orderStill, this is a little ole country place with one gal manning the grill, one dishing up hot entrees and sides and another girl on the cash register. It isn’t fast. And I was last in line. I thought my feet were plum gonna fall off before I got my turn to order a fried bologna sandwich with mustard. As soon as I placed my order I sank into a nearby chair and waited. And waited.

I began to think they’d forgotten me, but they hadn’t. That’s just how long it took.

Here’s another neat thing about Leiper’s Fork… they have a sort of “mascot.” It’s this vintage sheriff’s car they park around town for visitors to enjoy. I laughed out loud when I saw it and hoped Andy or Barney would be nearby. If only…

Sheriff car

I took my sandwich back to my spot under the shade tree, which was no longer in shade. “We’re gonna have to move,” said the girl beside me. I knew she was right but I wasn’t happy. Schlep all this stuff again? Yes, indeed.

Across the yard we went in several more trips and set up again. I was aggravated thinking how temporary this would be since we were going to have to tear it all down and pack it back in the car at the end of the day. I am not a dedicated plein air painter and I do not have portable or light equipment. And all this schlepping is making me grumpy.

I wasn’t the only one…

After a late day demo by Colley, we were sent off to finish our paintings in the last hour of class. Several of the older ladies were grumbling that they needed to stop for the day. I felt the same but I hobbled back to my spot and willed myself to finish my painting. I can’t even believe I did it, but I did.

Colley came around and stopped abruptly when he got to me.

“Nice job!” he exclaimed. I ignored my feet long enough to say a half-hearted thanks.

Colley must have thought I didn’t believe him because he lowered his voice and said, “I want you to know I don’t give false praise because that isn’t really fair. You have done a very fine job today.”

I smiled and Colley went on. “Workshops are hard and not everyone has a good day in them, you know. So I like to give praise when it is due and when I think someone needs work I’ll acknowledge that they’ve had a rough day.”

We chatted for a couple minutes and Colley moved on to the next girl nearby. I heard him say to her, “You must be having a rough day…”

Well, I guess that got me through the final packing up process because I did get everything back in the car. Then I had a devil of a time getting my own legs lifted high enough to get in the car myself. Good thing I’m staying nearby!

Here’s my painting from the first day of class…

rural Colley scene by Starr

Painting Trip, Days 7 & 8

My trip is flying by and I am having a hard time keeping the blog current. But I still want to do it because I am having such a wonderful time!

So… to recap…

On Monday, September 7th (Labor Day) I left home and drove to Lewisburg, West Virginia. I ended up at this charming Craftsman bungalow.

Bungalow

I was very at home here while I took the 4 day painting class from John Poon at the incomparable Greenbrier Resort. In fact, I looked longingly back at the picture-perfect front porch as I drove away on the following Saturday morning.

Bungalow front porch

On Saturday, September 12, I drove to Sevierville, Tennessee and landed at this mountain home.

mountain b&b

My hosts, Liz and James, were extremely welcoming and made me feel like part of the family. I described hanging out with James and the kids in my last post. We had a fun time having art lessons.

Well, on Saturday night, I realized my camera battery was drained and I got out the charger to plug it in. It didn’t work. I didn’t quite believe it so I walked it from room to room plugging it into different outlets. It still didn’t work. Daggone it!

I got on line to look for one and it was quite confusing. I decided to look for a local camera shop since this IS a tourist area. I thought I found one but had to wait till morning to call.

Meanwhile, I fell asleep early and then woke up early as well. I got on the computer from about 5 am until 7 am and started feeling sleepy again. That’s when I crashed. I slept HARD for several hours and roused about 10. Wonderful! I needed that!

I got up and did a load of laundry – one of the perks of staying in this B&B – and tried to call a couple camera places. That didn’t work out so I looked up where the nearest Walmart was. They had what I needed online and I could only hope they would have it in the store in this tourist hotspot.

But they didn’t. Drats.

Oh well, while I was here, I wanted to get the kids from last night a “kneaded eraser.” They loved mine because they hadn’t seen one before and they decided that real artists have to have one. So I got the erasers and more. I got the kids a small sketchbook, mechanical pencils and a drawing pen. The little girl got a coloring book and crayons and some stickers. Then I threw in packs of animal crackers, pouches of juicy juice and some Dove chocolates. I bought some large freezer bags to make each kid (and James) a goody bag. I knew they would love it.

Then I wanted to drive through Pigeon Forge and maybe find a place to eat.

DollywoodAs I drove down the crowded strip, all I could think was… Good Golly, Miss Dolly, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?

Yes, this is the original home of Dolly Parton, country music queen. She was one of 12 children, born and raised on a run-down tobacco farm in Sevier County. But these days, Pigeon Forge is no longer a scenic Cherokee hunting ground. It is a country-style Las Vegas hokey hoe down that completely overshadows the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. Honestly, if you bring a kid here will they even notice the mountains? I don’t see how they can when all you see are wall to wall billboards, flashing signs, arcades, amusement park rides, go karts, magic shows, water parks, laser tag, black-light mini-golf and a ride through a fake Egyptian tomb. What does any of this have to do with anything? And what in the world does it cost?

Pigeon Forge 2The beauty and grandeur of this place has been lost to outlet malls and Dolly’s marketing team. Just this summer her new 100-acre DreamMore Resort opened. It is decorated with her instruments and album covers and guests are greeted with a signature drink… pink lemonade. The logo and décor focus on Dolly’s personal fascination with butterflies and you can even get a “bedazzled butterfly” manicure or pedicure in the spa.

Just what we all need. It’s what I would fight this traffic for… NOT!!!

Paula DeenThen I saw this face on a big ole billboard… seems she’s getting in on the action with her new “Family Kitchen.” Is there no end to this?

I actually did stop for dinner at one of the restaurants and it was terrible. I felt herded in and out like one of a flock of sheep. The food was mediocre as was the service. If I had booked a show I would have had to white knuckle the arms of my seat to stay in it. But I didn’t. I couldn’t wait to get back to my room outside of town and get away from this hot mess of commercialism.

Naturally everyone says it is ok because it creates jobs in a notoriously poor area. Well get this…

When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park opened in 1934, there were NO tourism-oriented businesses in Pigeon Forge. In the 50s through the 80s, theme parks and factory outlets arrived. This drove up land value to the point that local farmers could no longer afford their property taxes and were forced to sell their land.

This meant that the cost of living in Pigeon Force went up, but the only jobs to be had were low wage opportunities in the tourist business like go-kart operator, T-shirt salesperson, or cabin cleaner.

Only 13.7% of Pigeon Forge residents have a college degree because the local economy favors uneducated part-time labor in the tourist industry. There are few long-term career opportunities since non-local business owners have no interest or incentive in providing benefits such as health insurance or paid sick leave.

I don’t see the value in any of it. How many millions of dollars are people spending here and not even looking at a mountain? Lord help us.

So I drove back to my home away from home to watch the sun go down behind the blue misty mountain in the distance. James tried to help me with my camera and we couldn’t get it charged, so he loaned me his to use for the evening. I was able to download the photos off his memory card, delete them from the card and return it. It was great!

TN mountain11

Sunday had been my one free day of the trip – no driving and no class – and I was able to recharge my batteries a bit. Now I needed to get my game plan together again.

Monday morning it was time to pack up and go. It’s amazing how spread out I can get in a couple days and it took me a while to get organized. I lugged all my stuff out to the car to load up. The chickens were still penned in from the night before, but there were two overly friendly cats on the scene. I kept having to shoo them away from the door as I went in and out. Finally, I was loading the last of the bags into the trunk and the black cat leaped onto the wet front windshield and slid backwards. He made a screeching sound as he tried to regain his footing.

The cat disappeared from sight and I assumed he fell off the hood of the car. But when I reached up to pull down the hatch, there was that midnight-black cat, perched in mid-air, ready to jump straight into my face. I screeched and flew backwards, the cat made a mighty arching leap past my shoulder and the hatch slammed shut. I lost my breath for a minute.

Geez o pete! At least I didn’t full-out scream! Sorry, folks. I just don’t like cats. Those who do say they are playful or mischievous – I think they’re sneaky. And Mr. Black Cat didn’t endear me any further. Ugh!

So I was on my way to my next destination. It was about 5 hours or so to Franklin Tennessee and I was already enjoying the journey. As usual, my goal was to drive a couple hours before I had to stop – because I always have to stop to break up the trip.

When I first started out, I was still in the country. And it’s amazing what you see. For instance, did you know that at Floyd’s Market you can also buy fireworks and get a tattoo? Or maybe it’s just in the same complex, I’m not sure. But that’s just one example of one-stop shopping. And I won’t describe the billboard I saw for dental implants… people with missing teeth aren’t normally used for advertising… are they?

Then, every couple miles or so, I saw a hamburger joint called Krystal. It kept saying “the original square slider.”

Hmmm… sounds like “White Castle” back home. I rather like White Castle once in a while, so I decided that was what I wanted for lunch. But I had my two hour driving rule in place. I’d have to wait for a bit, but then I could compare the little square burgers…

Well, two hours passed and I started looking for a Krystal sign. They had started getting scarce. What I DID see was a Waffle House at almost every exit. Which is what I had been hungry for a week ago when I left home and couldn’t find one after my two hour rule was up.

Darn it, all Waffle Houses and no Krystal. Then I saw a White Castle sign. That meant I must be out of Krystal territory. Ah well…. Waffle House it would be. And besides, I needed a good cup of coffee to go.

It was a quick lunch and I was right back on the road. I had most of the day’s drive under my belt and only about an hour and a half to go. I’m getting pretty good at this driving stuff!

Soon I was near my destination and I was now in beautiful country. This area reminds me of the splendid landscapes around Louisville, Kentucky. Suddenly there were horse farms with long stretches of black fencing and fields full of those rolled up hay bales gleaming in the sun. I NEED MY CAMERA!!!

At last I pulled into the drive of my B&B here in Leiper’s Fork and it is a stunning place. I can’t believe these people even share their home with strangers! Here’s a view of the front of the house…

Victorian

When I get my camera charged up, I’ll take some more shots. This home is downright gorgeous and I have the whole upstairs to myself… library/sitting room, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Plus fridge space and the outdoors. I took my knitting out on the front porch for a while and sat in one of those classic white-painted rockers. What a treat to stay in such beautiful surroundings!

Now I need to get to bed as my class starts tomorrow. I’m very excited for it, but I know I’m going into it a bit worn out. I’m sure adrenaline will take over. I can’t wait!

Painting Trip, Days 5 & 6

(Note – still posting late due to exhaustion! Trying to stay current…)

Well, I missed a couple days because I was just too tuckered to write about it. I’ll catch up now…

Friday, was our last day of the painting workshop. Again I went in two hours early to paint but I could feel myself wearing down. I had packed my lunch and I also went through McD’s for a coffee and a breakfast sandwich to take with me.

Fortune was with me as I pulled into the North Entrance parking lot and there was an available space. This would make it easier to load up everything at the end of the day.

I trekked through the lot, into the building and was halfway down the hall when I realized I left my breakfast sandwich in the car. I hesitated for a moment, but I realized I DID have my coffee. That would have to do. I didn’t have it in me to go back to the car for a sandwich. And if that’s all I lose on a trip like this, then I’m good.

Up the four flights of stairs I went, hopefully for the last time, and felt my knees about to give out. By the last flight I was literally pulling myself up by the railing and willing my legs to keep going. I was just glad it was early and no one else could see me struggling on the stairs. “Last day… last day… last day…” I told myself with each step.

When John walked in about 8:30, he grinned at me and said, “first one here and last one to leave!”

“Yep,” I replied, “I don’t want to miss anything!”

Gradually everyone else wandered in and we all settled down to painting for the rest of the morning. After lunch, we looked at numerous slides of paintings and went over all the lessons of the week. It was a lot of information and I felt like my brain was completely full.

Here’s Nancy Marshall, who owns Walls Gallery at the Greenbrier with her husband David. She and artist John Poon are discussing her work in progress.

Nancy & John 2

There was a final critique of the work we had done and I was pleased with my efforts. I don’t have anything else finished enough to show here, but soon I will.

Then, of course, it was time to pack up. I had been dreading this moment. Again I was fortunate. My classmate, Lorine, offered to go get a hotel cart for us to share. Oh joy! She went for the cart and I began scraping my palette clean. It’s a messy job and I was just finishing pulling everything together when Lorine got back. Her gear is acrylic (mine is oil) so she didn’t have as much to clean up.

It was a long journey back down as the elevators are tucked away and not very convenient. When we got outside, I made two trips to the car and back. I still wanted to stop in the Gallery and chat with Nancy – who had organized this whole class – before I left. The gallery is quite beautiful and high-end for our part of the country. Nancy has been in the gallery business for over 30 years and she works tirelessly to promote truly fine art from both the artist side and the client side. Artists generally need professional representation and buyers generally need guidance in developing their collections. Nancy and David, being artists themselves, are truly expert at the entire process.

Nancy was kind enough to let me snap some photos of some of the gallery pieces for my own enjoyment later. My favorite piece in Walls Gallery right now is a very large landscape (48×60) by John Poon. My photo does not do it justice or portray the absolute glow it has in real life. Also, David makes sure that the Gallery pieces are framed correctly. He designs the frames, has them milled from raw wood and finished by skilled craftsmen in 24 carat gold leaf. Some are finished in equally fine silver. Here is John’s exquisite landscape priced at $24,500.

Poon Landscape

And here’s a funny tidbit… just a few days ago, when John arrived to teach this class, he was looking at this painting on the gallery wall. He immediately saw an area he wasn’t completely happy with, so he snuck down to the gallery at 2am, got out his paints and touched it up. He was careful to stay out of sight of security so as not to get caught!

So that’s it for this workshop for me. I am beyond tired but I can honestly say it is the best class I’ve ever taken. I can’t wait to type up my notes and think more about it all as I plan to paint more. This workshop did exactly what a workshop should do… refresh, stimulate and enable the artist to grow. I’m so happy to have had this opportunity.

Greenbrier Red Lobby1I didn’t have a chance to see a lot of the Greenbrier, but I did decide to go to the Ladies’ before I left for the last time. I had to go up to a different floor and I walked up on this “lobby” that was too big to even capture in one photo. I took a couple shots here… I can’t imagine what other gems are in this place that I didn’t get a chance to see! (You reallly MUST click on these photos to enlarge them to see the grandeur!!!!)Greenbrier Red Lobby2

Driving back to Lewisburg I felt the tiredness wash over me so I did not go out to eat. I had enough leftovers at my room that needed to be consumed or they would go to waste. So one more chat with Lynn, a bite to eat, a hot bath and to bed. In the morning I need to pack up and move on. Lynn’s home was a delightful respite that made my stay so enjoyable.

Now here’s an unexpected twist…

I’ve been planning this trip for weeks and somehow I did not book accommodations for Saturday night. What?

Well, nothing to do but roll with it. My next stop is a motel in Knoxville TN so I called and asked them to add Saturday night to my Sunday night reservation. Turns out it wasn’t so simple. I had a special rate for Sunday because I had booked more than two weeks ahead ($84) but now there was some big ball game in town and there were no rooms available anywhere. However, Country Inn & Suites would have mercy on me and squeeze me in on Saturday night for an additional $300…

I guffawed… and guffawed again because I’m so tired I’m slaphappy.

So a last minute scramble on AirBNB found me a room for two nights in Sevierville TN for even less than the Country Inn’s special rate. I enjoyed calling them back to completely cancel.

When I woke up Saturday morning it was time to pack. I rolled out of bed and went down the 3 stairs to the main floor and my knees screamed in protest. Ohhh… I finally let down my vigilance and realized I’m gonna pay for all those stairs. I need the Tin Man’s oil can for my joints and some ibuprofen to keep going.

Lynn and I hugged goodbye and I was on the road right at 9am. I had almost 5 hours to go through the mountains and it took me 6 hours because I stopped a couple times. Which was fine with me as I’m not in a rush and I’m enjoying the drive and the view. I actually saw 3 different accidents – all on the other side of the divided highway, thank goodness. One was a jack-knifed truck with traffic at a standstill for about a mile. People were milling around outside their cars while they waited.

I couldn’t quite see the second accident – only the wrecker’s lights – and again the road was closed and traffic backed up for a good mile. Eeks. Made me be much more watchful.

The third one was a lady who had catapulted right down into the middle of the large grass median. She had left a trail of deep tracks and was just emerging from her vehicle looking pretty shaken. Must have been a wild ride but she looked ok. Yikes!

At any rate, I found my destination even after missing the turnoff twice. But that’s normal for me. Now I’m settled into someone’s Mountain home, first floor all to myself. The owner, Liz, and her adult son James are extremely welcoming. They fussed over me nonstop and made sure I was comfortable. Liz also told me to keep the outside door shut all the time because the free-roaming chickens like to come right on in. And that is true! Every time I went to the car, they would run up to investigate. They must think seeing humans means food or something.

I grabbed my camera and took some photos of the chickens. Look at this strange little silky… isn’t he a hoot?!

silky 3

I also snapped some shots of the view of the mountain…

TN mountain 5

And then… my camera went black. Time to charge the battery. Except the battery won’t charge. I fooled and fooled with it but I don’t know if the problem is the battery or the charger or both. This is AGGRAVATING!!! I’m only half way through my trip and I NEED this camera! I’ll have to deal with it tomorrow.

Later in the evening I went to sit outside and Liz and her grandson Josiah came up to chat. Josiah introduced himself and gave me a nice firm handshake – which was very impressive. He and I began to talk.

“Are you a real artist?” Josiah asked.

“Indeed I am,” I replied. “Would you like to see a couple sketchbooks?”

His eyes lit up and at that, his brother and sister and Liz and her son James (the kids’ uncle) all gathered round. James is an accomplished photographer and musician and showed me an unusual instrument he was currently working to master. I can’t even tell you what it is since I had never seen one before!

So we looked through my sketchbooks and everyone loved them. Josiah asked me, “what’s your secret? How do you draw so well?”

I told him there really isn’t a secret – it’s a lot of learning and practicing, but if you want to do it you probably can. Then I could see the wheels turning in Josiah’s head.

“How old do you think I am?” he asked.

“12,” I guessed.

Josiah laughed out loud.

“Up or down?” I asked.

“Down.”

“11.”

“Nope.”

“10”

“Nope.”

“Don’t even tell me you are 9!”

“Yep,” grinned Josiah.

Now this kid is tall, charming, articulate and handsome. The world better watch out on this one…

“OK,” I said. “Do you think you can draw something as simple as a coffee cup?”

“Of course,” he said. “If I had a pencil and paper…”

“You wait right here,” I instructed. And I went back inside and got pencil, paper and a coffee cup. I brought it back outside and sat him on the ground and the cup on the concrete in front of him. “Draw,” I told him.

beginner coffee cupJosiah did a good job but it was a typical newbie drawing where the top of the cup was way too round and the bottom very flat. It’s just a matter of not understanding the shape of a cylinder. And how would he if no one had shown him?

I said, “OK, Josiah, good job. Now I want you to go inside and bring me out one of those bar stools.” He and his 7 year old brother Brandon raced to get the stool. We set it up in front of where I was sitting and set the coffee cup on it for me to draw. “Stand right beside me, Josiah, and watch.” He jumped into place. His Uncle James scooted right in beside him.

coffe cupI began to draw with an oval for the top and explained the perspective. Then I drew a dotted line down the center and told Josiah that since the cup is exactly the same on both sides, you can match the sides up with a center line. You also draw a curved line at the bottom. Then I pointed out the shadow and put that in.

Josiah was adorable. He kept looking at his Uncle James and saying, “I can see it before she even draws it!” And I knew he could FEEL it, which is what I always do. And that’s something you can’t teach. Josiah’s got it and he doesn’t even know it yet.

At that point a few raindrops started coming down and Josiah was disappointed to stop even though James had gotten the kids a movie to watch. So we all piled back into my digs, James drug out a folding table and set it up and we continued. Brandon wanted in on the action so James found another coffee cup, I got out some more pencils and paper and we all began to draw. I told the kids they would miss their movie if they didn’t go upstairs soon, but they didn’t care. “We never get art lessons!” exclaimed Josiah.

Josiah also grew thoughtful and told me he missed his grandmother who passed away a while back. Then he commented to me… “you have the same face.”

“A grandma face?” I asked.

“Yeh,” he said, and smiled at me. It made my heart swell right up with affection for this child I don’t even know. I hope Josiah will remember this evening when an artist visitor came to stay for a couple days at his granny’s house. I know I will.

James wrote down a supply list to get the kids (and himself) for later and we had a blast. And Brandon was exceptional! I think he has natural talent that just needs guided and he’ll end up an architect or an artist or both.

Finally the kids’ parents came back to collect them and they were still in my place drawing their little hearts out. Completely missed their movie and didn’t care. I even fed them some candy that they don’t normally get, so they were happy. In fact, Brandon took a couple pieces of candy and ran them upstairs to his little sister Serenity, age 5, so she didn’t miss anything. He’s a sweet little guy.

So my trip continues to be eventful and fun and full of the unexpected. Now I need to find a camera battery or charger or both. Egads… of all times!!!

Painting Trip, Day 4

Looooonnnnnng Day!

I was so tired last night all I could do was go to bed, so that meant I could get up early this morning. The alarm went off at 6 am, I hopped up and packed my lunch and off I went. I got to the Greenbrier two hours early and had the classroom all to myself. And I got a lot done.

When the instructor, John, arrived, I was able to get a private critique and keep painting. Good stuff.

As everyone trickled in, we worked on our individual paintings until John was ready to demo. Today’s demo was on CLOUDS. And again, just as with yesterday’s lesson on TREES, I was totally captivated. I know that sounds silly to someone who doesn’t paint, but you really can’t do these things unless someone shows you how. People think artists have some sort of God-given talent that flows out the end of their arm, but that simply is not true.

clouds

Art is a science and a craft that needs to be studied to be understood. A lifetime is not enough to gain mastery, although some are ahead of others. That’s why I take classes. Any hint I can get to improve my work is fuel for my passion to do artwork. And I DO get excited by subjects like TREES and CLOUDS. Everything you do builds on something you’ve learned.

Our afternoon lecture was on DESIGN. This one was harder for me to understand but I think I started getting the hang of it toward the end. Gads! How much can one person absorb at a time? I feel like I need to take the cork out of the top of my head so old stuff can flow out and new stuff can flow in…

By 5 pm I was beat. That’s 10 hours for me today in the studio but I was glad for every moment of it. Tomorrow will be our last day of class and I will be sad when it ends. Information-wise, that is. Myself… I’m wearing down a bit. But only because I haven’t kept such a full schedule in a while. But this has been an absolute blast and the most “learning” I’ve done in ages and ages.

Food & FriendsI think I was a zombie on my drive back to Lewisburg. However, I like to go to dinner after a long day like this and tonight I went to Food & Friends. Another excellent place. For as small as Lewisburg is (>4,000 population) they have a number of restaurants and retail shops way bigger than their local community.

This place is famous for steaks and seafood. The special of the day was beer-battered grouper, some fried oysters, fried shrimp, coleslaw and wedding soup (if you got soup instead of salad.) I did. And it was scrumptious…

F & F meal 1Also, the bread comes baked in a flowerpot. It is an over-sized yeast roll and when you put real butter on it… it is heaven. You could go to this restaurant for this bread alone!

By the time I got back to my room I wondered if I could even make it in the door. My knees were aching, I was walking all gimped up and I needed to process this day and get ready for tomorrow. I really felt totally exhausted but totally exhilarated at the same time. Weird… and tiring.

So here’s my finished painting from today. I don’t think it will look any different from what I usually do to those who know me, but I have made leaps and bounds mentally in this class. And this is a nice little painting.

Farmhouse ptg2

Now off to bed so I can go in early again tomorrow and not waste any class time. Can’t wait!

Painting Trip, Day 3

Today was a really good day.

It makes me so happy to say that because there’s nothing better than a really good day that makes you just enjoy your life.

It was Day Two of the painting workshop so I set off for the Greenbrier a little after 8 AM. Lo and behold, I drove right up on a close parking spot. Hooray! What a good start!

A couple of classmates were late so I had time to sit and chat with the instructor, John Poon. He’s a very interesting man… but then I think I am rather interesting, too. So it was fun.

The first lecture of the day was on…. TREES.

This might sound a little strange, but trees are not really the easiest things to paint. I’ve never done them very well at all. I’ve studied pictures in books and been mystified as to how you achieve a believable look to a bank of trees. Well, today I found out how to do it.

John broke the process down to the basics and explained exactly how to portray the various shapes so that they end up looking like a real tree and not a splattery mess. I’ve never been so fascinated with such a mundane subject. Honestly, it was like I had a brain-shift. Or a Eureka moment. Finally, I understand how to paint a tree. I don’t know that I can actually do it yet, but I know how to approach it now.

Then John did a painting demo of a landscape of trees. I pulled up a chair as close as I could get, notebook in hand, camera at the ready and was glued to the spot. Frankly, it can be pretty slow watching someone paint – it isn’t miraculous or anything – but I wasn’t one bit bored. I could have watched him paint all day.

Poon Demo 1

We broke for lunch and I was glad I had my packed pasta. John kept touching up the demo painting off and on and I was a captive audience. When I find a good teacher like this, I just can’t get enough. I don’t want to be annoying, but I’m not going to waste any time, either.

After lunch we painted for an hour and a half and then gathered around for another lecture. This time on “color.”

Oh my!

I’ve studied color a lot. A whole lot. I’m no dummy about color. But John totally took it to another level. Really, how can I have been painting my whole life and not know some of these things? I’m totally gobsmacked by the information I am getting in this workshop. It has been worth every penny and then some. In fact, I’m so excited by what I am learning that I’m pretty much on a “high.” It is literally fueling me up from the inside out.

So I’m halfway through the workshop… two days down and two to go. I’m planning on going in early in the morning to paint by myself before everyone else gets there. I have to try out some of this new stuff I’m learning while I’m all set up and ready to paint.

After class, I enjoyed the 10 mile drive back to Lewisburg. The country roads are so pretty and it gives me a few minutes to decompress. This time, when I got back to town, I stopped at a Mexican place, Del Sol Cantina. Their little courtyard is covered in flowers and the service was quite good. And once again, I have more than half of my supper left to pack for lunch tomorrow.

Del Sol

Now all I have to do is repeat last night’s routine… a glass of wine, a hot bath and a comfy bed.

Right now it is raining softly outside and the windows are open to let in the fresh air. What a good night to snooze in a mountain hideaway!

mountain rain

Painting Class, Day Two

Note: I am still a day behind. This is yesterday’s post just getting loaded today…

So far I’m tired and the art class at the Greenbrier Resort hasn’t even started yet! I got up early to have a cup of tea, get my bearings and re-organize my art supplies. I had called the class organizer last night and asked just how we were supposed to manage getting gear into the building. She told me to drop things off at the “North Entrance,” go park the car, and someone from the gallery would help me.

Uh… yeh.

There’s just no way to easily transport a heavy, solid wood French Easel, a tackle box of paint and a huge tote of wood panels, mineral spirits, paper towels, etc. Not to mention a hat, painting apron, bug spray, sunscreen, a water bottle and assorted snacks. I was dreading this part of the whole thing.

North EntranceI got to the Greenbrier early, got my daypass and found the North Entrance. Look at this… pretty snazzy for a “side door” doncha think? I pulled up, unloaded my stuff to the porch and went to look for a parking place. Ugh. Nothing to be had. So I circled like a vulture until I found one and then walked back to where I had left my things. Really, it wasn’t that far, but since I haven’t been walking, I was a huffing, puffing mess in no time. And I still didn’t know where I was going.

Plus… I wore decent shoes instead of my tennies and I already had blisters on my heels.

It wasn’t even 9 AM.

I found my way to the gallery – two more trips of schlepping – and they weren’t open. So I parked my stuff and sat on a bench in the hallway. A tufted, padded bench in a very GRAND hallway. I got my breath and waited.

Before long someone came and opened the Gallery and asked if that was my stuff outside the door.

“Yep,” I replied.

“You need to go to the West Virginia room with all this.”

“Do you have a cart I can use?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” said the young girl, “but when the owner gets here, she’ll know what to do.”

“I’ll wait,” I said. I had no intentions of moving another inch in this enormous place without assistance.

Fortunately, the gallery owner was very accommodating. She not only produced a cart, but an able-bodied man to steer it. Off we went through a maze of over-decorated splendor from a century past. I was gawking all the way.

Once settled into the class room, others began to trickle in. Turns out they weren’t particularly dressed any nicer than me – AND they had a ton of stuff, too. The difference was they knew what to do…

Each had pulled up to the front door, valeted the car and had a bellman load their gear onto a cart. Duh.

I complained a bit about my “hike” from the car and lack of convenient parking and one lady said, “I just gave the valet $5 and he parked the car for the day.”

“But there will be a different valet when you go out later and you’ll have to pay him, too!” I observed.

“Oh, it’s worth it,” she replied.

Hmmm. I guess I can walk a few blocks each way for 10 bucks. Even if I do huff and puff.

Anyway, I was settled in and the fun was about to begin. I had read great reviews of the artist-instructor, John Poon, and I was excited to get started.

We went around the room introducing ourselves and John asked each of us what we would like to get from the workshop. Then John told us to pick out a photo from the stack he had on the table and spend 45 minutes doing a quick study painting of it. That way he could observe us. He would be able to tell a lot by seeing how each person approached the assignment.

No one produced anything great, including me. But it was nice to cover a small canvas in a short time.

Soon it was time for lunch. There are several restaurants available and I chose to just walk downstairs with several other ladies to the one called Dorothy Draper’s. Ms. Draper was an iconic decorator who outfitted the Greenbrier in its over-the-top décor. Evidently she was considered America’s most influential “tastemaker” at the height of her career and the Greenbrier has maintained her oversized floral patterns everywhere. Some look rather classic to me. Others are down-right gawdy. I can’t say I’m a huge fan.

drapers-header

The restaurant looked like a princess pink room gone mad. The back of the floral print booths are scalloped with gold finials at each point. Rather like a faux throne. Or a pepto bismol explosion.

Even though this is the “low-end” restaurant that will let you enter in casual attire, I knew it would still be pricey. I enjoyed a $20 hot dog.

Actually the hot dog was $8 and the iced tea was $4. (Wow!) I was chatting when the bill came and the receipt was quite faint. I saw the total was $15.95 and thought, hmmmm… that added up fast! But I just wrote $5 on the typical “tip” line and handed it over. Later when I looked more closely, here was the charge: hot dog, $8… iced tea, $4… Historic Preservation Fund, 78 cents… 20% service charge, $2.40. THEN the line I added the $5 tip to said “extra gratuity.”

The kicker is the bottom of the receipt says, “For your convenience, a service charge has been added to your check.” Evidently they are somehow doing me a favor by serving me an $8 hot dog and a $4 glass of iced tea. I can’t imagine what dinner in the main dining room must cost!

Two of my lunch companions did not bat an eye at this. They both own HOMES on the Greenbrier property. Neither lives there full time. It’s just one of their getaway places. No wonder valet parking is a given. Just part of the lifestyle. A lifestyle I haven’t really been exposed to. Here are some typical cottages at Greenbrier…

Greenbrier cottage

Still, I enjoyed the lunch and the hike back to our classroom. I would love to walk around the Greenbrier to see more of it while I’m here. It is absolutely endless.

Back in class, John gave a rather long lecture with slides on “values” – which is the lightness and darkness of the paint colors you use. And now I could see what a good teacher he really is. The information was quite eye-opening and not quite like anything I had heard before. It will take me a bit of practice to learn it, but it is good stuff that should help me a lot.

Then we painted again, trying to use this new information. And this is the frustrating part of any workshop… trying to do something new and just making a mess. It always happens.

When the day ended, I trekked back to my car and drove the 10 miles back to Lewisburg. As I was going through the small downtown I noticed an open parking spot right in front of the Stardust Café. Everyone had recommended this place to me, so I took the spot and went in.

Stardust cafe

The place is small, but charming, and has a very good chef. The service was great and my plate of Sicilian Pasta was huge. I boxed up more than half of it to go because it will make a perfect lunch tomorrow. I’d much rather take my lunch than try to eat at the Greenbrier. In spite of what they call their “impeccable standards” I find it all very pretentious. No more $20 hot dogs for me – although I CAN say I had one at the Greenbrier Resort!

So it was a good day and I learned a lot. Now all I need is a glass of wine and a hot bath in the lovely clawfoot tub back at my room. And tomorrow is tennis shoes only. Darn the blisters!

candle-lit-bubble-bath-300x224

Day One of the September 2015 Painting Trip

Note: this post was written yesterday but I didn’t have time to get it posted. It’s a day late and I have so much more to write!

Well, after a long hiatus, I am getting back to painting again. The urge continues to hit me every once in a while and off I go. Three years ago it was Italy… now it is the Midwestern USA.

A couple months ago I got a longing to take a really good workshop and began to search for one. It was trickier than I thought to find something within my budget. Most of the ones I really wanted were in arty hot spots that were very expensive and/or too far away. And I really don’t want to pack art gear to fly. I have enough trouble getting myself through an airport as it is.

However, I am infamous in my family for getting super-sleepy while driving. No matter how short the trip! Love of the open road? Not me…

Still, I found two workshops that I thought I could get to and inquired about them. Both were full. Drats.

But a short time later I got a notice that one class had an opening if I wanted it. Even though it was my second choice, I jumped on it. I was excited to have it booked.

Then… the other class opened up as well! Oh no! I’d already sent my deposit to the first one and there was no going back. Sooooo … I booked it, too! Turns out one is the week after the other and they ARE within driving distance of each other… for a normal person. It’s gonna be a stretch for me.

And that’s how I spent a couple weeks gathering paints and brushes and prepping several sizes of panels to paint on. Next was finding accommodations.

Have you heard of the website called AirBNB? Let me tell you, it is fabulous. You plug in your location and up comes a network of people who rent out rooms in their home in the style of a Bed and Breakfast. The descriptions are great, there are reviews and pics of everything, and you can find rooms cheaper than the local chain motel. I found charming places with private rooms and bath near where I needed to go. Voila!

Finally Labor Day arrived today and I was packed and ready to go. It was no small feat as I am an “over-packer” and can’t seem to quit it. Add art gear to that and there was almost no room for me in the car!

Today was sunny and hot but I had a small cooler beside me and a clipboard of Mapquest directions for every twist and turn I was about to drive. Now the trick would be to stay awake.

I set off from home with a cup of black coffee and no breakfast. I had to drive just over 5 hours to the far side of West Virginia, so I wanted to go an hour and a half before I stopped. Then I could get brunch.

About 40 minutes from home I felt my eyes getting heavy. I HATE this feeling in the car. And I really don’t know why it always happens but driving just seems to lull me to sleep!

I began to talk to myself and then to sing. Loudly. “Summer ti- ime! And the livin’ is eaaazzzyyy…” It helped a little. I cranked up the air and blew it toward my face. That was better. I reached in the cooler for a piece of string cheese and worked on that for a while. Finally, the sleepiness passed.

I was so proud of myself I started to think about what I was hungry for. Breakfast. Waffle House. Eggs and those crazy smothered, covered & scattered home fries. Oh yeh. Surely I would see a Waffle House soon and get my reward for driving myself through the sleepies.

But there was no Waffle House. In fact, things were getting pretty sparse in the foothills of the Appalachians. And I was getting mighty hungry. Oh if only I had some Doritos and a Diet Coke out of the trunk! The crunch would keep me going!

Eventually I saw a truck stop. Not one of the big glam fancy places. Just a worn looking local deal, but it seemed like the real thing. I swung in. Surely they would have eggs and hash browns. Otherwise it would be a pit stop and I would keep going.

Indeed they had what I wanted. “Whatcha drinking, hun?” asked the waitress, an older gal with a streaky blonde pony tail, rolled up faded jeans and slip-on scuffed tennies. “Diet cola,” I replied. And I grabbed a greasy menu to make my choice.

Later, after two eggs, bacon, home fries and a biscuit with sausage gravy, I was refreshed. I didn’t eat it all, of course. I’ve still gotta lot of driving to do!

mountainsBack on the road I soon crossed in West Virginia. A little while after that I was on the turnpike. Up and down through the mountains I went. Not a straight inch of highway anywhere. In fact, I discovered that W VA, the Mountain State, is the only state that lies completely within the Appalachian Mountain region. Nearly 80% of this state is covered in hardwood forest. No wonder John Denver dubbed it “Almost Heaven.”

wv_new_river_gorge_bridge_allNow that I was no longer sleepy I was enjoying the drive immensely. Soon I came to the New River Gorge area. I had been here once before to go white-water rafting – an adventure that scared the bejeebers out of me – and I looked over that marvelous bridge at the rapids below. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to cross that engineering marvel in one swift minute at 60 miles an hour and not worry about going overboard! I’m an artist, not an athlete!

I did make one more stop to get gas and stretch my legs and then it was on to the final hour of driving to my destination. I had booked a room in a small bungalow in Lewisburg, about 10 miles from where my art workshop will be held at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs. It would have been nice (and convenient) to stay at the Greenbrier, but it was exhorbitant.

The Greenbrier offered a “special” to class participants… 3 nights for the price of 2. All yours for $951!

That’s crazy talk. No can do.

My directions took me straight to the sweet little bungalow and my hostess, Lynn was out working in the yard. I could tell immediately that I would be right at home.

Lynn gave me the “tour” while I decided what had to come in out of the car. Her house is so cozy I could move right in. Very Craftsman in style, and her touches are so eclectic and charming that I just smiled to look around. She is one of my “tribe.” That I know.

I took a break in my room and made sure I could get on the internet (I AM an internet junkie, you know.) Then it was time to check things out. I decided to drive the 10 miles over to the Greenbrier to be sure of where I would be going in the morning. And boy am I glad I did!

Lewisburg is very small – less than 4,000 population. And the 10 miles over to White Sulphur Springs on Route 60 is cut right out of the side of the mountain. You are in the heart of things here. Rock ledges rose and fell on either side and modest little homes dotted the landscape. I began to wonder how something as grand as Greenbrier got to this remote place.

Turns out it was all about “the springs.” Wealthy folks have been coming to this area to “take the waters” since 1778. The Greenbrier sits on 10,000 acres and boasts 710 rooms, 10 lobbies, 40 meeting rooms and a convention center. It is a National Historic Landmark.

When I came upon the main entrance gate, the grounds suddenly became masses and masses of flowers. But you can’t just drive right in. There is a uniformed guard in the gate house that will inquire why you are there. I explained that I was checking it out as to where to go in the morning for the art class. He gave me a pass and let me through but told me not to pull up under the front awning.

As I went back the drive the trees opened up and the first view of the immense building was spectacular! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more majestic sight. The white façade against the backdrop of the immaculate grounds in the mountain setting was simply stunning. I’m pretty sure I gasped out loud.

Greenbrier1

Then I noticed the parking. Or should I say the lack of parking. Luxury cars were lined up in a single row on both sides of the entrance but were roped off. When I began to come back around the drive I saw a parking lot off to the side but it had a sign proclaiming “valet parking only.” Evidently much of the parking on the grounds is valet only.

I stopped at the gate house and handed the guard my pass. “I’m confused,” I said. “How will I get my art supplies into this grand place?”

“Well,” he replied. “You can drop them off at the front, then go park over there,” and he pointed across the road from the entrance, “and take the shuttle back to the resort.”

“Oh great,” I thought. “I am not that organized so I’m going to have to repack everything and I’ll still look like a schlep going into this place.” Because on top of that, they have a dress code! I’m not sure how far it applies to people coming in for the day, but it’s pretty prominently displayed. For instance, people are only permitted to wear swimsuits and robes in the actual pool and spa areas. The dining areas do not allow tank tops, short shorts, sweatpants, cut-offs or baseball caps. Children over the age of 10 are expected to be dressed the same as the adults.

The more casual dining rooms allow “resort wear” – collared sport shirts, dress slacks and walking shorts. Then there’s Business Casual – but jackets are suggested for men. IF you wear denim it should be “well-kept and in a dark shade.” However no denim is allowed in the Main Dining Room or in the Casino Club after 7pm. Think James Bond…

So now I’m worried. I had planned to wear capris with decent-looking tops and tennis shoes for comfort. I’m not currently used to standing all day to paint. Now what?

At any rate I’ve got to condense my gear and spiff myself up and I’m not quite sure how to pull that off. Hopefully I’m not the only one in this predicament.

Meanwhile I am enjoying this lovely home I am staying in. Lynn has a “star curtain” of LED lights on her dining room window and she left it on for the night so I could find my way to the bath. I was so delighted with the look of it that I got out my camera and took a photo in the middle of the night. I have to find one of these star curtains for myself!

star curtain 1

So, time to get ready and see if I can get myself transported to the Greenbrier in one manageable piece. I feel like I’m off to OZ…

star curtain 2

The Wonders and Evils of FaceBook… and Finding Old Friends

If you are someone who gets online regularly these days, you have encountered Facebook – a social networking site where you can connect with friends.

A lot of people make fun of Facebook (FB), saying they don’t care what you had for breakfast or how you feel about politics, but there is so much more to FB than that. I tend to think of it like that old rhyme by Longfellow (1904) that said,

There was a little girl,

And she had a little curl

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good

She was very, very good,

And when she was bad she was horrid.

I say this because I’ve had some horrid experiences on FB. Twice I’ve actually closed my account because of negative feedback. But both times I returned because I missed it. Once you make friends on FB you really do wonder what they are up to every day. It is a virtual, but living, network.

I think what you have to realize is that FB, while being a very social place, is also a platform for narcissists. Hiding behind an anonymous computer screen makes it easy for a lot of people to say derogatory or inflammatory things they might never say to someone in a face-to-face setting. And the more they do it, the more emboldened they become. They are cyber-bullies. You’ve probably encountered a few if you’ve been on FB for a while.

These are the folks that “block” and “unfriend” you the minute you say something they don’t like. It sounds inconsequential. After all, who cares? It’s only FB…

Turns out plenty of people do. After I was blocked and unfriended by a number of people, I researched the subject. And in today’s world of social platforms, there truly is a system of “etiquette.” Certainly everyone has the right to maintain their status on FB as they see fit. But it can be a little bit like junior high school.

Remember that popular girl who demanded that no one in her circle speak to anyone she was displeased with? That actually happens on FB! Offend her and you are toast to her and her friends. One article said that “unfriending” along with “blocking” is the equivalent of throwing your drink in someone’s face at a party. And let me tell you, if you happen to be the “blocked & unfriended” – that is exactly what it is like. It is a power play someone uses to publicly let you know you are excluded from their world. Very definitely junior high mean-girl mentality.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of “blocking” or “unfriending” people unless they are somehow dangerous or threatening or obscene. All you have to do is “unfollow” them and you don’t see what they post. It’s the polite way to ignore those you don’t want contact with all the time.

Others feel more strongly about the “unfriending” business and use it liberally. They say they are taking charge of their timeline and controlling who has access to it. Which sounds reasonable at first.

But here’s the thing…

Why did you “friend” such a person in the first place? Did you actually know them? Were you trying to expand your friend-count as though FB is some sort of popularity contest? A lot of people do this. They have many hundreds of FB friends – basically anyone they’ve ever talked to in their lives. But honestly, if there was no FB, would you really have 500 “friends” in real life? I don’t think so.

And that means, you don’t know a lot of these people at all. All you know is that when you post the pics of your latest vacation they all jump on and say “Wow! Hope you had a great time!” And you can bask in the glow of all these friends who congratulate you even when they don’t know you or even particularly care.

I’m not saying that to be mean. I’m saying it because FB is very much a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, you can reach out into cyber-world and put on a show about your wonderful self. And when you’re down for a day, you can post that and others will give you encouragement. “Hang in there,” they chime. “You can do it!” they applaud. “Don’t let the turkeys get you down!”

Oh, how good that sounds! Hordes of friends always there every time you type a few words into FB. No more crying into your pillow at night… just post it on FB and the positive feedback pours in. (And let me say, this is a wonderful thing among real friends, but pretty superficial among those hundreds you’ve never met.)

To me, this is not the beauty of Facebook. It is the illusion. The mirage. The false assurance that others have your back when truly, they don’t know you… have never met you… and wouldn’t recognize you if they ran into you on the street.

So, if I feel this way, why in the world am I still on FB???

Simply because…

It’s like that little girl, who when she was good, she was VERY, VERY good!

And FB at its best is a social connection like no other.

Believe me, I have lots of FB friends I’ve never met. Some are acquaintances that I play games online with. Some I’ve met through business connections who want to expand their network. And my list of “un-confirmed” friends is quite long since I decided long ago to not just “friend” someone I don’t know in the interest of building up my “friends” numbers.

But… and this is a very big BUT…

Some days you are just cruising along, minding your own business, and a request will show up on your FB timeline like a blast from the past. And it’s someone you actually know. And you haven’t seen them in 40 years. And they aren’t looking to build a friend list… they just found you and genuinely want to know how you are.

This, too, occurs all the time. I can’t tell you how many old high school mates, neighbors from the old stomping grounds, friends of my children and others I’ve known through the years who have found me on FB. These people are actually friends. They are treasures from the past. And you never know when they’ll come back into your life via FB.

I love it when this happens. And it just happened to me again a few days ago.

This particular friend request came from someone who was a pal of my dad’s more than 60 years ago – and still is, although they are not in regular contact today. Somehow he came across me on FB and got in touch. And since we live in different cities now, this would never have happened in real life.

I immediately recognized his name, Bill Venrick, and excitedly responded. “Are you that old friend of my dad’s?” I asked.

“Indeed, I am,” he replied. And our conversation continued from there.

I went to Bill’s timeline and discovered he is still celebrating life with his wife Jean (over 60 years now) and that in recent years they have published several books on the history of Lancaster, Ohio, which is hometown for all of us.

The Venricks have written a history of the Boys Industrial School (known to locals as the BIS,) complete with historic photos, called Echos from the Hill. They also recently published the history of the Fairfield County Children’s Home called A Place to Call Home. Both of these locations are of great historical interest to anyone who lives in Fairfield County or grew up there as they were/are local landmarks and institutions.

(Note: these books are available from the Fairfield Heritage Assoc, 105 E Wheeling St in Lancaster OH, or The Frame Shop on the corner of Union and Columbus St in Lancaster. Or you can call the Venricks at 740-654-3072 to get a copy of either or both by mail.)

But I’m not just promoting the Venrick books here.

No, I’m pointing out the wonders of FB friendship when it happens just right.

As I said, Bill “friended” me and we were able to chat and get a bit reacquainted. Then the most wonderful thing happened…

Since Bill and his wife really were friends of my parents all those years ago, he just happened to have some photos to share with me. He sent them to me in an email, and when I opened them up, I literally burst into tears. Let me show you why…

Here’s Bill with my dad, Ralph Tipton and a friend, Ronnie Wilkinson (now deceased) one evening in early 1952. Bill is the one wearing the foam rubber nose and my dad, Ralph, is in the middle… (please click on photos to enlarge)

Bill V, Dad, Ronnie

In the following photo, the Venricks had stopped by after church to play a little music at my dad’s place. From left to right is Jim Buckalew (dear friend of the guys, long deceased), Bill’s dad Ike Venrick, Bill, my dad, Ralph, and his step-dad, Lawrence Featheroff. I can’t tell you how much I love seeing this photo of my dad and grand dad when they were so much younger than I am now…

Music - Dad, Grandpa, Venricks, Buckalew

THEN! Bill includes these precious photos that made me cry…

Here’s my mom, Margie, age 17, holding me at age 3 months…

Margie & Lynnie 3 months

And Dad holding me as well…

Dad & Lynnie 3 months

And mom and dad with me that night in early 1952 when I was just 3 months old.

Mom, Dad & Lynnie 3 months

These are not pictures I had seen before – or ever would have seen – if not for Mr. Venrick finding me on FB and sharing them with me. I haven’t had a chance to share them with my dad, but I will. And he will be quite surprised to discover that his old high school buddy still had these photos and found me to share them with. What a treasure!

Sadly, my mother died just over a year ago but I know she would have enjoyed this time capsule when she was so young and hopeful with a new babe in arms.

This, my friends, is Facebook at its best. Connecting people from all walks of life, from different generations, and with timeless memories to share.

When FB is good, it is very very good.

May everyone enjoy it as it is meant to be.

Tomato News

cherry tomatoes2

This is an unusual tomato year for me. My cherry tomatoes from last year seeded themselves and took off right away. I didn’t even have to plant them! And the few bigger tomato plants I put in haven’t borne much fruit. So I’ve got dish-fulls of the little guys and just a few regular tomatoes from the neighbor. Not enough to can but too many to eat outright.

So I went online in search of what to do with the cherry tomatoes. Seems some people just wash them and plop them in freezer bags for later. Some roast them in the oven to dry them. I might try both of those methods later on.

For now, I found a recipe by Mario Batali on Serious Eats and was rather surprised by the rave reviews. I DO make marinara sauce but it involves skinning the tomatoes at some point and that is a messy job. But this specifically says you can use the cherry tomatoes and you don’t have to peel them! You don’t even have to cook them very long! It is a really fresh sauce.

I’ve tried fresh sauce with regular tomatoes before and didn’t much care for the skins in the sauce. But this recipe has enough good feedback that I’m game. It is Spaghetti al Pomodoro, intended to be a lighter dish with all fresh ingredients.

First I’ll give you Mario’s recipe as written…

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 teaspoon hot chili flakes
  • 2 pints of Sungold Cherry tomatoes (or 3 cups of chopped fresh tomatoes and their juices)
  • 20 leaves fresh basil, cut into fine slivers (chiffonade)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino

Procedures

  1. It is even easier than it reads. Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a spaghetti pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt. Heat a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and garlic, and cook until light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the chili flakes and the tomatoes, and cook over medium heat, stirring to keep the garlic from cooking any browner until the tomatoes just start to burst or deflate, about 5 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat, and set aside. Drop the spaghetti into the boiling water, and cook until 1 minute less than the package instructions call for. Drain and toss in the pan with the tomatoes; place the pan over high heat and toss to mix well, about 45 seconds.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheese, then the basil, and toss well to mix. Then pour into a heated bowl, and serve immediately.

Now me… I’m pretty loose with directions and I just wanted to use what I had on hand.

Cherry tomatoes… check.

Basil… went out to my mini-garden and picked a few leaves and chopped them… check.basil2

Garlic… instead of slicing, I minced a couple cloves up fine since I don’t like big pieces of garlic in my food… check.

Red pepper flakes… got ‘em in the cupboard… check.

Pecorino? Nah. Never have it. It is a pretty strong cheese. When I was in Italy for a few months it is the main cheese they eat. It ranges from ordinary-strong to flat-out stinky-crazy strong! I never got used to it. So I’ll use what I have on hand… shredded parmesan and a bit of finely shredded mozzarella. Check.

And here’s a couple tips for you concerning the other ingredients…

As for olive oil and dry pasta, I rarely buy those at the grocery. I have a source I like much better and it isn’t what you’d expect. One of my very favorite stores is Home Goods (part of the TJ Maxx family) and I have to go there once a month just for a window shopping fix. Home dec is my thing but I can’t bring home everything I love from Home Goods. However, I can go down their gourmet food aisle and have a hey-day!

Folks, this place is a treasure! When I first saw these “grocery items” in a store like this, I was a bit afraid of them. Who buys food in a retail store? But I got brave enough to try it and now it is one of my go-to places for good stuff. This is where I buy pasta from Italy, olive oil from Spain and tea from England. Hey this store brings the world to you and the items are not in a gourmet market at three times the price! You never know exactly what they’ll have, but it will be good.

Check out the jarred olives, the canned paprika and the real-deal shortbread cookies. I always have a box or two of “designer” cookies in my cupboard to serve with tea if a friend drops in. It is so impressive – and delicious! And if you want to take a “hostess gift” or a “just because” gift to a friend, pick up one of these items. Then go back a few aisles and get a gift bag. You’re all set! (You can thank me later!)

I recently visited my dad and stepmother and I hate to go anywhere empty-handed, so I picked up a lovely tin of crispy chocolate chip cookies from Denmark at Home Goods. I know my dad and his wife like something sweet with their morning coffee. And sure enough, when I came out the next morning, they had eaten half the tin!

“Did you know those cookies are from Denmark?” asked my dad. “But, of course!” I replied. “Only the best for you!” Now aren’t I just the clever one!

Anyway… back to the Spaghetti al Pomodoro

I truly am surprised I’ve never tried this before because I am a NUT for anything Italian. I collect books on Italian cooking and I’ve spent YEARS perfecting my pizza recipe. So it was time to use the cherry tomatoes and here’s what I did…

First I put a saucepan of water on to boil. Threw in a good amount of salt. This is necessary to get the pasta the right flavor.

While the water came to a boil I washed off the cherry tomatoes and chopped them up. I also minced the garlic and fresh basil.

egg pasta2This is the pasta I had on hand… it is an egg pasta from Italy formed into little “nests” about the size of the palm of your hand. It is VERY thin and will cook in no time. (I used two of them.)

I heated up a larger, shallow saucepan and poured in some olive oil. Just a couple swirls… I don’t measure. Then added the garlic and stirred and stirred so it wouldn’t burn. In went a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir a little more.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes and continue to stir. This doesn’t take long at all since it is a fresh sauce. And since I’m a rebel in the kitchen, I added a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper (you do use a pepper mill, don’t you?) and a teaspoon or so of sugar to combat the acidity. Keep stirring. Then I got out the potato masher and gave it all a good stomping.

By now the pasta was done. This really thin pasta cooks fast, but if you are using any other pasta, cook it a bit less than the package says. You want it “almost done” when you put it in the sauce to finish cooking.

And here’s another secret of mine… I don’t drain pasta. It’s an extra wasted step.

cooking spiderAll you need to do is use your “spider” to scoop the pasta out of the water and into the hot pan of sauce. The little bit of starchy water that clings to the pasta thins the sauce out just right. Cook the whole mess for another minute or so to get the flavor of the sauce into the pasta. (Honestly, you HAVE to finish cooking the pasta IN the sauce or it just isn’t right!)

Finally, pour it all into a serving dish and toss with the basil. Add your cheeses and bring it up to your nose for a big sniff. Close your eyes and swoon. That first bite is going to be as yummy as it smells!

I have to tell you… this recipe was a revelation to me. It is quick and easy and fresh and tasty. The red pepper flakes gave it just a bit of kick. The tomato skins seemed to dissolve and the basil smelled divine. And you should be able to make this with any fresh tomatoes you have on hand. I really can’t imagine I never made it before! Believe me, it takes much longer to tell you how to make it than to actually do it!

pasta pomodoro2

I’ve got another dish of cherry tomatoes on the counter that are almost ripe, so I’ll be making this again in a few days. I have a package of little pasta bow-ties – from Italy, of course – that I think will be perfect! Can’t wait to try this again!

And before I leave you with this Tomato News… here’s another idea for your regular-size tomatoes…

I learned this years ago from my sister-in-law Karen. One summer night, she and her family came to our house for pizza. Karen brought along a couple of nice ripe tomatoes and sliced them up. When the pizza came, she encouraged us all to put a slice of tomato right on the hot pizza.

Hmmm… it wasn’t love at first bite for me, but it was oddly refreshing. But I will say, the first time I tried it, I liked the pizza better by itself. Still… every once in a while when we got pizza and there was a fresh tomato on the counter, I would try it again. And I always thought… hmmmm… but kinda good.

tomato on pizza2

Well, now I’m a convert. (And must I lecture you on how you develop your taste? It takes more than one try, folks! Grow up and try things! More than once! Otherwise you’ll never know what you are missing.)

Anyway, today, I’ve got just a few luscious red tomatoes on the counter and I got to thinking about that pizza connection. Suddenly I had to have it. I called Cousin Vinny’s for a thin-crust pepperoni and while I was waiting I sliced up the ripest tomato as thin as I could get it. (Use a serrated knife for this!)

When the pizza came, I put the tomato slices right on the hot pizza and sprinkled just a PINCH of salt on the tomato. Yes, it’s salty, but I like to TASTE the salt on top. Wow! What a special treat that can only be had this time of year. (Thanks, Karen!)

So enjoy your tomatoes while you can. It’s feast or famine with those babies!

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