December 25, 2013

Peace and Joy

December always seems to go by at high speed. There is so much effort expended preparing for one day. I meant to post more often but 'whoosh', the month flew by.

We have tried to keep things simpler this year. We put out less decorations. (The photo shows a simple but beautiful candle arrangement Chloé made for our table, with our tree in the background.) We bought less things although the pile of gifts under the tree still seemed monumental. We have shifted our traditions over the years as our family changes. We still eat tourtière on Christmas Eve to honour my husband's Quebec traditions although I now make both traditional meat and vegetarian tourtière as Emma is a vegetarian.

In honour of my anglophone traditions, we open our gifts on Christmas morning. In Quebec, it is more common to open gifts just after midnight on Christmas Eve.

We used to have a turkey dinner on Christmas Day which is what I always ate growing up. But cooking a turkey for a family of four, actually three since Emma doesn't eat it, made less and less sense.

The past couple of years, we have eaten 'raclette', a traditional Swiss meal. No Swiss heritage here but it works for us. We put out plates of potatoes, cheese, vegetables (this year--green beans, asparagus and cauliflower), pickles, cured meats and marinated tofu.  We sit around our round kitchen table right beside our Christmas tree. We light a fire in our fireplace. Each person chooses and cooks exactly what they want on a small communal raclette grill. We cook, we eat, we chat. It is perfect.

I hope you are enjoying your holidays whatever your traditions.  May you find pockets of peace and joy in all of the bustle. I won't be posting again until the New Year so I will take this moment to thank you for your friendship and to wish you all a beautiful new year!

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I am having a Boxing Day Sale in my Etsy Shop. I am offering 20% off all purchases (prints, cards and original paintings) when you use the coupon code BOXINGDAY. It is effective now until midnight on December 29th. All orders will be mailed during the first week of January.

December 9, 2013

A Love Note to December

December has arrived. Our snow came and went and is, as of today, back again. Yes!

Last week looked oddly like springtime. It felt so strange to lose the snow so quickly. I didn't take photos then.

Here are some of the wintry photos I've taken in the past week or so when we did have snow. The forest walk that Meeko and I take once a day and occasionally twice is restorative for me. About 35 to 40 minutes surrounded by nature is a joy. Meeko bounds and leaps and then waits for his less rapid companion who is usually off taking a photo somewhere. We both revel in the sights and sounds of the forest, each other's company as well as occasional encounters with fellow nature lovers, both two-footed and four-footed.

Airborne! 'Superdog' in his head and in my heart. :)
If you look at all of the frozen water, you get a sense of why we can't walk here for three seasons.
Wrap yourself up. It's getting cold.
Autumn and winter. Soul mates.
Love in the forest.
Gorgeous spiky frost on the marsh. It reminded me of a feather boa.
Touchdown after leaping over the log!
Frost-tipped echinacea in my garden. (The only photo not from the forest.)
My beautiful heart tree. When I was trying to find it again, I actually said
'Where is my heart' out loud and then 'There it is'.  My heart.
More leaf love.
Is there such a thing as too much leaf love. I don't think so.
We have lived in our house here for over fourteen years. I didn't know about this beautiful path, even though it is just at the foot of our street, until we had Meeko.  I owe thanks to my furry friend for so many things.

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ 

November 28, 2013

Warm Wishes from Canada!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers! I have been looking at Instagram today and it is making me hungry! All of those beautiful photos of Thanksgiving dinners. Oh my, the pies!

We celebrate Thanksgiving in October in Canada so we fill our bellies then but, come November, we feel hungry again! Imagine that!

I am offering free shipping in my Etsy shop this weekend for the big Black Friday + Cyber Monday shopping weekend. I've never offered free shipping before. I hope it helps some holiday shoppers. It's available to everyone no matter where you live and there is no coupon required. I've already adjusted the shipping to zero in all of my listings. It is available right now up until midnight on Monday, December 2, 2013. I hope you take a moment to have a look.

I had the weirdest dream about it last night.  I dreamt I was wildly trying to cancel my free shipping offer as I realized that the frozen hamburger patties were going to defrost in the mail. Huh? I was mailing single frozen patties in envelopes. How bizarre! Where did that come from? When I was writing about my dream in an email to my sister this morning, I started laughing to the point of tears.

If any of you do take advantage of my free shipping offer, I promise no defrosted hamburger patties, just pretty paintings, prints and cards celebrating flowers and nature. You know me by now. :)

In other news, we finally have pretty snow here! Usually Montreal leads in snow but, this year, everyone seemed to get it before us. Two nights ago, we got our first snow but it was slushy and, well, it just didn't count. Last night, we got a light covering of pretty snow. Not much but this one counted. Plus, the temperatures were cold enough that Meeko and I were able to do our winter forest walk for the first time this season. Talk about joy! Part of the trail in the little forest near us goes through a swampy area so it needs to be below freezing to walk there. It's inaccessible for three seasons of the year. I wasn't sure if it would be okay today but the water was frozen 'just' enough. It is one of the few places that I am able to walk with Meeko off-leash. We have worked so hard together, so he knows that he can run ahead a certain distance but then needs to wait for me to catch up. I was so proud of him today to see that he had our routine memorized despite the fact that we haven't been there since last March. I wish I had my camera with me today as the forest was so pretty but there will be plenty of opportunities in the weeks ahead.

Once again, Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends and Happy Hanukkah to those celebrating today too! I was just reading that Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah haven't coincided for 125 years and it won't happen again for more than 70,000 years. Wow! Wherever you are in the world, whether you are experiencing snowflakes or sunshine, and whatever your faith, I hope you are celebrating both the day and season. 

November 17, 2013

A Very Special Painting

When I received the message on Facebook this past summer, I remember reading it with my hand over my heart. Andra introduced herself as the mother of a little girl who had recently died of cancer, a day before her sixth birthday. She wondered if I would do a painting in memory of her daughter.

My initial reaction was that I couldn’t possibly do it. It seemed so sad. I thought that doing the painting would make me feel sad. Then I reread her message.

The girl she was describing was a joyous and happy person. Andra listed the colors she liked best: pink, red, yellow, light blue and green. She told me how Helen loved flowers, ladybugs, rolly-pollies, butterflies, birds, the beach and sea creatures. She said that she wanted the painting to include Helen’s name as well as some of her loves.

I realized that this was a very happy painting she was describing.  Helen enjoyed so many of the same things that I do. She was someone who loved nature and who thoroughly appreciated the world around her. The list of Helen’s likes included many of the things I love to paint the most.

I wrote back to Andra and, over a series of emails, we came to an agreement that I would do a painting for Helen. She wanted a painting that was larger than I usually do. After much thought, I committed to doing a 16 x 20 inch watercolour.

Andra was lovely throughout the process. She left the visual side of the painting entirely up to me. I showed her the initial rough sketch I had come up with and then she very, very patiently waited to see the final version. The painting took me several weeks to complete.

My initial rough sketch when I was trying to figure out the contents and composition.
I started by painting the banner and then began adding all of the other elements.
Slowly but surely, I added all of the creatures and flowers.
With most of main elements in place, I started to pull the sky down and behind the flowers.
This watercolour was an absolute joy to work on but it also was a lot of work. Its size, the number of things it included made it one of the most complex paintings I have worked on in a very long while. The detailed sketch alone took me two days. I don’t generally do detailed sketches but this painting required it. By the time I finished the painting, I realized I had looked at almost 50 reference photos in order to be sure that I was being true to all of the creatures and flowers I had included. In my research, I even found a flower that is called ‘Helen’s Flower’ (Helenium). It’s the yellow flower on the left and right (visible in the full view of the painting). The shell, sea urchin and starfish were all from my seashell collection. Some of my garden flowers were used as models.

A detail from the centre of the painting
Details from the bottom of the painting - A snail, mushrooms, a heart-shaped rock and three rollie-pollies playing together on the rocks at the right hand side.
It was so important to me to create something that was not just a good painting but something that was appropriate to and worthy of Helen’s memory. I wanted to create a painting that Helen would have loved.

Do you want to know something? I didn’t feel sad once while working on this painting. I felt happy. As I was working on it, I found myself thinking ‘Wouldn’t it have been nice to have met Helen and then I realized I did. I had met Helen “through” my painting.

After I sent photos of the completed painting to Andra, she responded within minutes:  “Oh, my goodness...It is absolutely beautiful! Helen would have loved it! The painting is soooo Helen…” Mission accomplished. I had created a painting that was true to Helen. I burst into happy tears.

When I asked Andra's permission to do this blog post about my painting and the story behind it, she said she would only agree if people didn’t feel sorry for Helen or her family. She said “Helen was so joyful and happy, she must be remembered that way too.”

My painting was done for a beautiful, joyful little girl who loved the world and all those around her. This painting is a celebration of a wonderful person named Helen.

November 13, 2013

Painting Goodbye to Autumn

A few weeks ago, I started a painting of two maple leaves and a key. When I went back to work on it yesterday, I found that the leaves had curled up in my absence. I don't blame them. Autumn naps are lovely.

Curly or not, they had still retained enough colour to use them as references. I put the final touches on my painting this morning.

I love painting leaves so much. They are like tiny quilts full of different colours and textures. I love the challenge of trying to replicate all of the hues, veins and crinkles.

I have tried a lot of different watercolour papers in the past couple of years. For this painting, I went back to a paper I used to use quite often: Saunders Waterford 140 lb. cold-pressed paper. I had forgotten how nice it was to work with.

A detail from my painting
It is freezing cold here right now. Time for scarves, boots and gloves. I always hold out until the very last moment for hats. :) We have had snowflakes in the air but not on the ground so far. There's a small reprieve from the wintry weather ahead though. Temperatures are supposed to be quite mild over the weekend, so I have lucked out as far as weather for planting bulbs goes. Good thing too as I have over 300 of them to plant. We have to put our garden furniture away too.

Here are some photos from Instagram (a work-in-progress photo, a leaf collection from a walk and the finished painting):
I'll leave you with a photo of my studio assistant this morning. He'll have you know that inspiring someone as they paint autumn leaves is exhausting work!

November 7, 2013

Garden Lullaby

This week, I gave myself a gift. I took a break from my work and spent a day and a half in the garden getting it ready for winter. I often say "I need my garden and my garden needs me". It is without a doubt a reciprocal relationship. Whatever I give, I receive back in beauty, a rested mind and restored spirit.

I was lucky that the weather was unseasonably mild. It was perfect for gardening. There have been plenty of years when I have done end-of-season work while freezing. There have also been years where I have been completely surprised by early snow and have had to leave the garden in its messy state until spring.

I removed annuals from pots and flower beds. I trimmed a few perennials although I leave most of them intact until spring to serve as bird food and winter interest. I moved a few perennials to better places and cleaned up the vegetable garden. I was happy to find a small patch of violas still in bloom in the center of the veggie patch.

I always have mixed emotions at this time of year. There is sadness that the growing season has come to a close. At the same time, I feel a sense of peace with the quiet state of the garden and a sense of hope at what the next year will bring.

Some of the trees and shrubs are completely bare. Others still have bits of color.

Yesterday's sunshine provided me with a late-season encounter with a garden friend. A little ladybug took a tour around my garden-gloved hand before taking off.

Throughout, I worked under the thoughtful gaze of my garden supervisor.
I am hoping that the good weather holds out a bit longer. I have a big order of spring bulbs on its way to me. Their shipment was delayed and I won't be able to plant them until next week.  Keep your fingers crossed for me that they arrive before temperatures plunge!

November 1, 2013

Recipe Cards

Recently, I had to prepare for an annual craft show that I do.  I always find the preparations to be stressful. Figuring out how much inventory to create can be very challenging. One good thing about getting ready for a show is that it spurs my creativity--it lights a fire underneath me. Yes, I work best with deadlines.

In the days before this year's show, I came up with the idea of creating recipe cards with my watercolor paintings. I realized that I had enough food images to create a set of ten cards.

I love how they've turned out. I printed them on the same luxurious stock that I do my note cards on. The 4 x 6 inch cards are printed on both sides with light lines to guide your handwriting. Each set includes all ten images. The image is repeated on the back of each card at the bottom. You can see them in my shop here.

They come in a nice little package that would be perfect for a gift or stocking stuffer. I know that lots of people keep their recipes on their computers now. But I also know that there are still many who enjoy the personal touch of handwriting when sharing a recipe with a friend or family member.

You know the saying 'Necessity is the mother of invention'? Initially I was going to insert the cards in small sleeves that I have but they didn't quite fit. I didn't want to buy additional supplies just before the show so I figured out a way to put them in the bigger sleeves I use for my 5 x 7 cards. I printed a backing card that shows all ten images. I secured the cards with a paper band and then I punched a hole near the top and tied it with some jute so that the cards would stay at the bottom of the package. In the end, I think I ended up with something much nicer than what I originally intended. Here's to motivating stress and the resulting creativity! :)

I have some new cards and prints that I did for the show that I will be adding to my shop very soon as well. Happy November! 

October 20, 2013

Leaves and The Sound of Music

When I was working on getting ready for my arts and crafts show, I had a moment of panic. I thought 'Oh no! I am going to miss all of the autumn leaves.'  Well, I didn't miss them all but there sure are a lot of them falling today. The wind is quite strong. It makes me a little sad to see the trees starting to look bare and the leaves all piled on the ground.

On Thursday, the weather kept changing. It was raining and then it wasn't. Back and forth. Meeko doesn't enjoy the rain so much any more. When he was a puppy, he didn't mind any kind of weather. So I waited for a gap in the rain to go for a walk with him. When I got out on our front steps, I had to run back in for my camera. The leaves on the front porch all had these gorgeous, big fat water droplets on them. It was a moment of magic.

As I was taking these photos, I found myself singing out loud. I was singing 'My Favorite Things' from the Sound of Music. Isn't that funny? (And what do the neighbors think, I wonder?)  Raindrops on leaves might not be raindrops on roses but, to me, they are just as beautiful.

That last photo is my favorite.

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I am celebrating an anniversary this weekend. Today is the 2nd anniversary of my shop opening on Etsy! It feels longer than that somehow. To show my thanks to all of my customers and supporters, I am offering 20% off today and tomorrow on anything in my shop (October 20th and 21st). Just use the coupon code 2THANKYOU at checkout.

❤ A big thank you to you all! 

October 12, 2013

Giving Thanks

Meeko was telling me that I haven't been focusing on him enough lately. True. I've been working very hard the past few weeks, both on a commissioned painting and preparations for an autumn arts and crafts show.  He has been getting less chin scratches and sofa cuddles from me. Our walks have sometimes been at a faster pace than usual (that part he doesn't really mind). Sometimes they have been later in the day than normal and he has had to work harder and harder to get my attention (sock stealing, sighing, stalking my every move, quiet but heart-wrenching crying beside me).

This is the Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. The weather is absolutely beautiful. It is a time for looking around us and giving thanks. My nephew and his girlfriend are visiting, so I was forced to stop working and pay attention to other things. I did some housecleaning this morning. As I was cleaning the kitchen table, I noticed that the chrysanthemums in the pots on the back porch weren't looking great. I went out and started deadheading them. It was methodical, soothing work and they look beautiful again. As I was looking after them, it hit me that I hadn't worked in the garden since early September. I realized that today was the first day in weeks that I haven't either been working on a painting, my Etsy shop or my show preparations. (You can see some of what I've been up to on my Instagram page.)

Meeko accompanied me outside and I gathered flowers and leaves from the garden and filled several vases. So now, autumn is outside and inside.

Our guests have arrived and Meeko is very happily entertaining them.

This weekend, I am giving thanks for being forced to slow down a little, for the beauty of nature, for my garden and its gifts, for family, friends and my sweet and patient furry boy.



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