Monday, December 10, 2012

Another Christmas

It seems every year, Christmas sneaks up on me a little faster. I spend just about every weekend in the fall doing an art show or preparing for one. September and October seem to be a frenzy of activity after the lazy days of summer. By the time I've finished my October shows I am getting ready for my Open Studio and then- Wham! it's the Christmas season again. My mail box becomes overstuffed with coupons and catalogs, some from companies I have never heard of before. The TV and the radio hum ceaselessly with jingles and ads for products that I don't need and never ending one-day sales that I sadly, eventually succumb to. I used to love going out and finding all those bargains and I admit, have been guilty of going a little over board with gifts for my family, especially my daughter. But I got such good deals and it was like treasure hunting...

 However, more and more each year, I am going out less and less to the stores. After my first and what will probably be my last shopping trip of the season the other day, I have decided that my treasure hunting from store to store may permanently become a quiet and maybe a little lonely trek through cyber space only.

The reason: people. What has happened to them? Every year that I go out to shop it seems people are becoming more and more rude and aggressive behind the wheel. In just one day people were parking so close to my car that I couldn't get in the door, tailgating me,cutting off in front of me and the most interesting off all, passing me on the left at a red light by driving up the medial strip to get into a turning lane and then flipping ME off! All I could do was shake my head.

I used to love to go out shopping at Christmas. I love the decorations and the Salvation Army bells ringing. I loved the high school chorus singing that I might happen upon,the fake Santa's and mesmerized young faces, and most of all I loved to share a little Christmas spirit by doing little random acts of kindness where I could- opening doors for people, sharing that extra coupon I have in my purse, buying a coffee for the person behind me in the coffee line.

I'm not down on Christmas. I will still do those things where I can and I encourage others to do the same. Just be kind people!

Christmas is a time of love and sharing even though it has been made into a big empty commercial holiday.

But for me, it's still about Christ- the joy of His birth and the blessing of His life, death and resurrection.

It's also about family and the people I love. I still find joy in baking cookies with my daughter, hosting our annual Christmas Open House, watching "Its a Wonderful Life" while eating pizza Christmas Eve, breakfasting Christmas morning with our dear friends and cooking dinner at home Christmas night. 

But my very favorite thing about Christmas is when everyone else has gone to bed on Christmas Eve and I go out on my deck and look up at the stars. There is no traffic on the road and it seems that I can almost hear the air because the world is has become so still. If there is snow- all the better. It is indeed, a Silent Night, Holy Night.

I hope that all those people rushing around, driving like maniacs and being rude to other people in their quest for STUFF, might also take a moment to look up and remember and feel the real meaning of Christmas and experience the joy and peace of the season.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pixie Dust

Sadly, that is a cigarette:0(
I have the cutest pixie of a daughter in the world. She's 18 and has her own most adorable style of dress that I guess could be best described as if you took a punk rocker and ran her into a wall of color and then had a mind meld with a hippy and then sent her to live in some bohemian tribe, she would fit right in. Sounds wild and crazy, but she wears the outfits that she puts together with such style that women have stopped her on the street over the years (she started this as a tween) to admire and compliment her. I so love this about her. When I was young I too had my own style of 80's hip, but my girl has it all over me. I never sported fairy wings as she has been know to do either :0). She has always been her own person, eeking mega brains and personality and an off the wall sense of humor. She is not only intellectually brilliant, but is a very talented musician and writer and not surprisingly, an artist. She had  always amazed and delighted me when she was little with her bright, detailed drawings brimming with joy and the observations of a busy young mind.

I suppose perhaps the museum visits and the bed time stories of Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassatt, Degas, and one of our favorites "When Pigasso Met Mootisse" might have had something to do with her love of art.
Or maybe it was "Please Don't Eat The Pictures" (Sesame Street at the Met) that we watched over and over together. Maybe her Dad and I had something to do with it, he also being a musician. She has always had a lot going on in her mind and emotions and being a very strong willed and independent only child, can be difficult to parent at times. We are also a lot alike in many ways, and at times, the mother -daughter relationship has been painful for both of us as she struggles to break away and become her own person and I struggle with letting her go. 

When she was little I looked forward to the time when I thought she and I would spend time making art together, maybe somewhere between 12-17. Little did I know that her fiercely independent teenage personality would want nothing to do with me in that realm. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. From the time she was small she always wanted to find things out for herself and thought she should know everything, which is why I let the desire to home school her pass. 

First Place HS ArtShow Painting

I had never "taught" her art. I purposely never sat her down and said, "this is how you do this." If she asked, I shared, but I never wanted to impose my vision or style on her.  I never wanted anyone to look at her work (if she pursued art) and say, you're good just because of your Mom. In that, I was successful, as she is such a wonderfully talented artist with a personal style and visual narrative that surpasses her youth.

To my delight, something wonderful happened this week. The time I have been waiting for came. She asked me to teach her pottery! She asked to come to the studio! She was letting me in! We can now learn and share in each others creative processes. I want to sing, I want to shout! It means so much to me to have this opportunity to share and bond with my daughter over the processes of art that have saved me.

What a delight it is to see her beautiful designs in clay coming out of her so easily.I love looking at her in her funky cloths and exploding with the creativity and specialness that is my daughter. Everyone in the studio comes over to admire her work and compliment her. I have always been proud of her for so many reasons, but this is a special kind of proud, and I am feeling an excitement about our new budding artistic relationship and us sharing where each of our artistic journeys might take us together. :0)

In the Clay Studio

Ceramic Incense Burners

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Magic Pen

 This pen and pot sist on the table next to my books when I am at an art fair, book signing or show. There is always a curiosity about it and adults and kids a like always walk up and quickly pull the pen out of the pot and ask "What is it?" and "Did you make it?

It is made out of sculpey clay or fimo and I did not make it. I bought it in 1994 at a craft fair from a parapalegic woman. She earned her money by making all sorts of animal pots-frogs, giraffes, dogs, you name it.
If I remember correctly, I think she sold them for a pretty cheap price and having just started out myself doing art shows and such, I thought it was a fitting and great utilitarian item to have for my display.

 I have decided that this lady must have gotten some magic blessing from God on her pens and here's why:
The pen is just a regular ball point pen wrapped in the sculpey and baked in an oven. Since buying it and using it regularly since 1994, IT HAS NEVER RUN OUT OF INK OR BEEN REPLACED!

Think about the ball point pens that you own or have owned in your lifetime. Do you have any that are 18 years old and still writing?

The BicWorld FAQ says that a bic pen will write for about 2 miles. Ezine articles says 5 miles. I don't know what either of those figures equates to in years, but I think that most of us would be hard pressed to find a bic pen even in our junk drawers that has lasted that long. And that is why I call this My Magic Pen ....

Monday, October 29, 2012

Self Publishing Book Expo

I got up yesterday at 5 a.m. to catch a 6:59 train to NYC. My destination was the SPBE held at the Sheraton in Times Square. I didn't know what to expect. I had found out about it last year but didn't have the bucks to attend and wasn't sure it would be worth the $135 ticket price if I did. Add to that the $85 train ticket, parking $8. Food, $50 (okay, I had a nice dinner and a glass of wine instead of a cheap sandwich). So the whole thing cost a few dollars. I was excited and hoping that I would come home with a lot of good information and I did. I learned a lot of things that I could do to take my book to the next level, but sadly, I also learned about some mistakes I have made. I attended panels on epublishing with Smashwords founder Mark Coker, (@markcoker) and learned about how to turn "Millicent and the Faraway Moon" into an epub format, a panel on bulk distribution with Brian Jud, (@bookmarketing) president of Book Marketing Works, another on getting found by book buyers with Patrick Brown (@patrickrbrown) of Goodreads. And that was just the morning. I did become a little testy when I found that there was no break between panels for lunch so I had to bug out of one few minutes early to grab a sandwich to take to the next panel with me. After that I attended another panel on distribution which put me in contact with David Lamb (@lamb) , the very warm and friendly president of Vantage Press. I split the last panel between Marketing and Getting Noticed by Influencers  and a panel on Facebook, Twitter and Linked In which I really didn't think I needed but found out very quickly that I did. That one was presented by the very nice and nerdy social media guru David Vyorst. (@dvyo). 

All in all it was a great day. The panels were led by very knowledgeable people in the self publishing industry and they were all nice and down to earth enough to approach with just about any stupid question. There was one lady who seemed to show up in every panel I went to who seemed to be completely clueless and seemed to have cornered the market on both stupid and irrelevant questions, that, had the presenters not had the fortitude to move past her, the panels would have gone completely off track. So, kudos to them.  There were many panels that I couldn't attend because there was only one session of each, so I guess my critique would be to think about making it a two day affair and offer two sessions of each panel. Also. build in some time for lunch. Other than that it was a great day that started off with a relaxing train ride where I met a really nice entrepreneurial woman, Amanda Steinberg ( (@amandasteinberg). I got back to my car in Wilmington at 10 pm. very tired but  satisfied at having enjoyed a very productive day and met some great people.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Back to France...Honfleur and Etretat

Normandy is known for its rainy weather and did not dissappoint while we visited Honfleur and Etretat. It was just awful drenching rain the entire time we visited both places. I can imagine how beautiful Honfleur must be on a sunny day with the Merry Go Round turning, the boats coming in and out of the harbor and the streets filled with people. Regardless, I found Honfleur to still be absolutely charming with its medievel half timber houses, tiny streets filled with chocolate, pastry and cidre houses and restaurants. Dyana and I found respite from the rain under the awning of a harbor side restaurant. I had a bite of snails there. Not the buttery garlicky fare more common in Paris and other places, but cold and served the Norman way with a garlicky mayonnaise. I had a beef burgandy that was heavenly in its buttery wine sauce. We trekked through all the small shops that we could trying the chocolates and the cookies and cidre. My indecision about what to buy left me out in the cold as when I went back to purchase, I found the cidre shop closed for their two hour lunch break. I did find some fleur de sel (the upper crusty layer of a salt bog) in one shop and made myself and Dyana each a ceramic container to keep it in when we got home.

The weather did not relent by the time we got to Etretat. We got out of our huge Mercedes tour bus and walked to the boardwalk promenade to see the beautiful cliffs, beach and church. The weather was so menacing that our enjoyment was brief and we took off  to have a warm cappucino and dry off a bit. I had to buy a real jacket with a hood as my plastic rain poncho had about had it against the winds. Despite the weather, both were stunning places to see. I have to say that as much as I liked Paris with all of its glamour, history and rich architecture, I feel I am very fond of the smaller towns of Rouen and Honfleur.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Self Publishing Adventure -Part 2

Picking up from my first post I will continue with the creation of my book. The next step, once I had a clear idea of the story and the page layout was to begin refining the details.

I had to develop my characters  and be able to paint them consistently throughout the book.

 Millicent was a no brainer since I have painted over 100 cows, but Mouse was a new creation and so I had to play around with him a little bit and create him  in various moods and positions throughout the book.

And then there was the Farmers wife...
 I had to make a lot of decisions. One idea I had in an effort to shorten the length of the book was to have a  split illustration but I felt it was too distracting to one part of the story or the other.

  My work began with these line drawings and others that I would eventually turn into paintings. Stay tuned for those next time....

Monday, October 1, 2012

New Independent Bookstores

Here's a shout out to my 2 newest retailers adding to my growing list of independent book stores carrying "Millicent and the Faraway Moon." If you live out that way or happen to be passing through, please make a visit to Bookland at 2114 South Queen Street York, Pennsylvania 17403. You can drop on over to their facebook page and like 'em too.

In adorable little Lititz Pa. you'll find Millicent at Aaron's Bookstore 35 East Main St
Downtown Lititz PA. After visiting Aaron's  you can stroll the quaint downtown area shops and find some good grub at one of the many restaurants lining the streets.

Lititz is hosting a Kid-Lit Festival which sounds awesome and I would encourage folks to attend to find quality independent books for kids. Unfortunately, I won't be there, I will be spending my anniversary weekend away with my husband, but you can always drop by the store and get your signed copy of "Millicent and the Faraway Moon" before or after the festival.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Guest Blogger- Shawn of Hull's Happiest Days Designs

Mary Oliver. Photo by Rachel Giese Brown.
I was recently jarred into awakening by a Mary Oliver poem. I was reading another blog and the author mentioned the poem, The Summer Day. I quickly opened a new tab, and looked up Mary Oliver and the poem. The Summer Day details the wonder and magical simplicity of what lies in the natural world. The poem reminded me to slow down and absorb the magic and the miracle that lies outside my door. All of this is not new fodder for a poem, quaint and somewhat clichéd, until the last line. That last line was a simple profound question; that put me on notice:
“ Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Wow, in one fell swoop she points out that I too am wild, (really?)  and secondly that my life is rare and my being is a reflection of the divine. Now that I have been given this gift, what do I plan to do with it? Ummm….Sheesh. I was just sitting here having a cup of coffee and thinking about what to make for dinner. Well, ahh…… I have been turning that question over and over since I’ve heard that line. That call to live up to the rare and precious opportunity I have been given. That call to live in largeness, abundance, and consciously. Yeah, that question kicked me out of the mundane.
I love this about poems, how in a few short lines the poet is able boil down to the very essence complicated and essential themes. How a poem can resonate in your bones for a very long time. How you can use poems to lean on during troubled times, celebrate happier times, and even explain the world.
I love words, I do. I love how they symbolize ideas, communication, and experiments in thought. Oh, I love me some words. There are poems that have marked certain times in my life, important moments of choice, and complicated thoughts I couldn’t quite get out. Are there poems that have changed you? Resonated your feelings? Marked time periods?
Here’s my list of milestone poems:
Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would not Take the Garbage Out – Shel Silverstein
She Walks in Beauty – Lord Byron
Daddy – Sylvia Plath
Recuerdo- Edna St. Vincent Millay
When You are Old – W. B. Yeats
The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost
Sonnet XVII- Pablo Neruda
The Summer Day – Mary Oliver
I challenge you to compile your own list and share it with us. Shaking up the mundane is not a bad thing.
check out Shawn's blog at: and her online store: 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

8 Days in France- Caen,Stinky Cheese,Calvados and New Friends

After leaving the lovely town of Rouen, we started driving toward Caen. On the way we stopped at a Cheese Factory. It was kind of funny because I kept thinking that this was the French equivalent of the Herr's Potato Chip factory near my home which gives tours and samples.  Inside it was much the same with the welcome area explaining in the process, the introductory videos, the long hallways with windows into the different making and curing rooms with the gift shop and tasting room at the end.

We got there in the afternoon, so unfortunately we didn't get to see any live workers because they milk the cows and start making the cheese while it is fresh very early in the morning and then go home, so that made the tour a bit dull until we got to the gift room. This was filled not only with your typical tourist cha cha's but with all kind of tasty delights which I had never seen or heard of. This is where my first encounter with Calvados, Cidre, and the very stinky cheeses that the Normandy region is known for occurred.

Calvados is a drinkable brandy created, believe it or not, from apples.It is very tasty and one of my new favorite drinks. Our tour guide said that when she was a little girl,her mother would cook a 13 course dinner on Sundays. They would spend hours at the table and in the middle of the meal, every one would take a shot of Calvados, because they say it puts a hole in your stomach so you can eat more! It is aged and priced like whiskies according to age and Calvados Boulard is one of the most famous brands.  

Normandy boasts the famous villages of CamembertPont-l'Evêque and Livarot and makes cheeses bearing their names. They also make a Neufchatel that is nothing like what we buy in the grocery store.

Cider  In an area so well known for growing apples it should come as no surprise that there is also a large cider industry.  The main production centres around the Pays d’Auge between Caen and Lisieux. We bought a bottle of the cider which happens to be alcoholic (about 5.6%) and I have to say that this was NOT my favorite. Nor was the  Pont-l'Evêque that we bought to eat with it.

 Once we left the cheese factory and headed to our hotel, I went upstairs to our room. The hotel seemed like the freakiest place because you walked into dark hallways and had to feel along the wall to find a light. Oh, those energy conscious Europeans! I don't think this would ever play in the US! Our hotel was in a quaint residential area and when I entered our modest hotel room, dumped my gear and looked out our window, I saw that it overlooked a back yard that seemed to be peppered with art and sculpture. I opened the window (you can actually do that in a European hotel) and stood taking inventory of the scene. In addition to the art and sculpture, there were people sitting in chairs and listening to someone read under a canopy and a table with wine glasses and lots of bottles of wine on it. All of these items put together in my head = art opening!

I grabbed Dyana and we headed around the corner to investigate. We found the opening to the yard and we slinked in timidly at first in case we were intruding on some private affair, but it became clear very quickly that this was indeed a show and sale of local artists. The home we later learned had been owned by a prominent French artist who had no heirs and had left it as an art center when she recently died.

Dyana is fluent in French and began speaking with one of the artists who was perched at a table under a tree, leaning back, smoking french cigarettes with some others. I stood around in amazement at what luck had brought us. Was it not enough to be in France and treading the ground of my artistic heroes, but now to be visiting with modern, living french artists? I was absolutely giddy inside! They were all so friendly and nice. Jeanne Francois spoke some English and took us to see his paintings in one of the co-op spaces where his show was hung. We conversed awkwardly about being artists (he said he had bagged the corporate life to be an artist) but the smiles and friendly laughter transcended the language.

We had to leave for dinner but when I went to close the window in my room, Karin, a friend of the other artists, saw me and insisted that we come back over and drink some wine with them. Dyana and I went back over and sat in the yard with JF, Karin, David and a lovely gentle man named Emmanuel. Dyana did most of the talking and I listened to them all converse in French but it's amazing how much can be picked up and communicated  through, laughter, smiles, hand gestures and nods. It was such a wonderful night. One I will never forget. Jeanne Francois is my friend on Facebook and you should check out his art and say hello. (Facebook translates comments). This is undoubtedly one of the best nights I had in France.

Jeanne Francois Pientre Peslot

David, JF, Karin, Emmanuel (L to R)