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!

The Best Days of Your Life

OK… think.

And you won’t even have to think too hard.

In fact, don’t think hard at all.

Just tell me some of the best moments of your life…

And I’m gonna bet a couple of things.

First you will remember big events. Weddings, Births, Graduations, Funerals. Those are important, of course. But do they really make your heart sing? Upon closer inspection… maybe not.

For me, yesterday was one of the best days of my life. And the amazing thing is that I knew it even while it was happening. In this life, short as it is, that is progress I’m proud of. Check yesterday’s post for the Fun Fun Family Day at My House. It really was special (and ordinary) enough to go in the top ten memories of my entire life.

picnicSlide

The whole family sat out in the yard with the kids playing, the older ones chatting and loads of food groaning on the tables nearby. The littlest ones may never remember it all. But I will treasure it always. The most fabulous thing in the world is that it was an ordinary day that exemplifies your life as you know it.

So here we sat… shoes kicked off… moving our tables and chairs into the shade as the sun shifted… while the littlest girls ran willy-nilly all over the yard. They are our future, you know.

So they chased each other, ran under the trees and occasionally just fell to the ground in delight. Then someone would shout “Everybody HIDE!!!” And off the little girls would go.

Do I have to remind you what it is like to be 5 years old and under? I think not. So that’s where the fun starts… Little ones think if they aren’t looking right at you – you can’t see them! And when you actually see them doing it, you remember that time long ago when you did the very same thing!

The 5 year old ran into the trees. She knew she needed shelter.

The 3 year old found a dip in the yard and laid down in it. We could see her but she felt totally underground so it was a perfect hiding place.

The littlest one went on the far side of a big flower pot and crouched low. She shut her eyes just to be sure no one would be looking.

Mere hiding

AJ and Josey, the older grands, went on the search for them. Naturally they knew the game and respected how each little girl had hid. They were kind enough to call ahead and say they couldn’t see them. All of us adults were laughing like crazy as the game played out.

Honestly, what is more fun than a day like that? You’ve got a group of special loved ones gathered together, everyone is just hanging out and it’s a most extraordinary ordinary day. Exactly what I love the most! It’s the kind of day a soldier thinks of when he’s far from home. Or a child who has rebelled and wants that family contact once again. It’s the very thing that was so ordinary you barely noticed when it happened – and now it is the most important thing in the world. Diamonds and rubies can’t buy it – you just had to be there. And we all have been if we think back…

And you know what made me realize that? An old article in Reader’s Digest originally published in 1949. It’s called “The Day We Flew the Kites” and I’m going to reprint it for you here. It takes just a few minutes to read and it says it all.

The Day We Flew the Kites

by Frances Fowler

“String!” shouted Brother, bursting into the kitchen. “We need lots more string.”

It was Saturday. As always, it was a busy one, for “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work” was taken seriously then. Outside, Father and Mr. Patrick next door were doing chores.

Inside the two houses, Mother and Mrs. Patrick were engaged in spring cleaning. Such a windy March day was ideal for “turning out” clothes closets. Already woolens flapped on backyard clotheslines.

Somehow the boys had slipped away to the back lot with their kites. Now, even at the risk of having Brother impounded to beat carpets, they had sent him for more string. Apparently there was no limit to the heights to which kites would soar today.

My mother looked out the window. They sky was piercingly blue: the breeze fresh and exciting. Up in all that blueness sailed puffy billows of clouds. It had been a long, hard winter, but today was Spring.

Mother looked at the sitting room, its furniture disordered for a Spartan sweeping. Again her eyes wavered toward the window. “Come on, girls! Let’s take string to the boys and watch them fly the kites a minute.” On the way we met Mrs. Patrick, laughing guiltily, escorted by her girls.

There never was such a day for flying kites! God doesn’t make two such days in a century. We played all our fresh twine into the boys’ kites and still they soared. We could hardly distinguish the tiny, orange-colored specks. Now and then we slowly reeled it on in, finally bringing it dipping and tugging to earth, for the sheer joy of sending it up again. What a thrill to run with them, to the right, to the left, and see our poor, earth-bound movements reflected minutes later in the majestic sky-dance of the kites! We wrote wishes on slips of paper and slipped them over the string. Slowly, irresistibly, they climbed up until they reached the kites. Surely all such wishes would be granted!

Even our fathers dropped hoe and hammer and joined us. Our mothers took their turn, laughing like school girls. Their hair blew out of their pompadours and curled loose about their cheeks; their gingham aprons whipped about their legs. Mingled with our fun was something akin to awe. The grown-ups were really playing with us! Once I looked at Mother and thought she looked actually pretty. And her over forty!

KitesWe never knew where the hours went on that hilltop day. There were no hours, just a golden breezy Now. I think we were all a little beyond ourselves. Parents forgot their duty and their dignity; children forgot their combativeness and small spites. “Perhaps it’s like this in the Kingdom of Heaven,” I thought confusedly.

It was growing dark before, drunk with sun and air, we all stumbled sleepily back to the houses. I suppose we had some sort of supper. I suppose there must have been a surface tidying-up, for the house on Sunday looked decorous enough.

The strange thing was, we didn’t mention that day afterward. I felt a little embarrassed, Surely none of the others had thrilled to it as deeply as I. I locked the memory up in that deepest part of me where we keep “the things that cannot be and yet are.”

The years went on, then one day I was scurrying about my own kitchen in a city apartment, trying to get some work out of the way while my three-year-old insistently cried her desire to “go park and see ducks.”

“I can’t go!,” I said. “I have this and this to do and when I’m through I’ll be too tired to walk that far.”

My mother, who was visiting us, looked up from the peas she was shelling. “It’s a wonderful day,” she offered; “really warm, yet there’s a fine, fresh breeze. It reminds me of that day we flew the kites.”

I stopped in my dash between stove and sink. The locked door flew open, and with it a gush of memories. I pulled off my apron. “Come on,” I told my little girl. “You’re right, it’s too good a day to miss.”

Another decade passed. We were in the aftermath of a great war. All evening we had been asking our returned soldier, the youngest Patrick boy, about his experiences as a prisoner of war. He had talked freely, but now for a long time he had been silent. What was he thinking of–what dark and dreadful things?

“Say!” A smile twitched his lips. “Do you remember… no, of course you wouldn’t. It probably didn’t make the impression on you it did on me.”

I hardly dared speak. “Remember what?”

“I used to think of that day a lot in PW camp, when things weren’t too good. Do you remember the day we flew the kites?”

Winter came, and the sad duty of a call of condolence on Mrs. Patrick, recently widowed. I dreaded the call. I couldn’t imagine how Mrs. Patrick would face life alone.

We talked a little of my family and her grandchildren and the changes in the town. Then she was silent, looking down at her lap. I cleared my throat. Now I must say something about her loss, and she would begin to cry.

When she looked up, Mrs. Patrick was smiling. “I was just sitting here thinking,” she said. “Henry had such fun that day. Frances, do you remember the day we flew the kites?”

by Frances Fowler
Copyright 1949 by the Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.

I originally read this article many years ago and was touched by the beauty and simplicity of it. And I wasn’t nearly the age I am now. I am not ancient by any means, but I’m sure getting old enough to be aware of my own mortality. I know when one of those very special days comes along. I treasure them and store them up in my memory bank for later because who can know what will happen as we go along the older path of life? I want every fond memory at my beck and call and yesterday was a treasure trove of them.

By the way…

I usually put a link to these sketch blog posts on FaceBook so my friends and family will see them and read them. And all my contacts are kind enough to make a FB comment or two along the way. But this time… if you will humor me, please comment right here on the blog. (And if you want to “follow” me, there is a link on the right side of the blog here – which just means you will get an email whenever I make a new post.) What are your favorite memories?

We all really need to know. It is our gold mine to draw on when we have little else left. I know what mine are… do you? Tell me now!!!

 

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