Be prepared

Brutus, the old farm truck. A family member for over three decades.

I have been working all week on a couple of ideas for my Sunday blog post.  Although I don’t usually write it until the end of the week, I give some thought as to subject matter, finding or taking photos, etc.  This week’s post was going to be about books. 

However, life had other plans.

I was in my studio early this morning, packing a painting to ship today.  My husband and son were outside installing a new battery into old Brutus.  (See former posting here.)  It was a sunny and blessedly cool morning so I had the door to my studio open while I was working. 

Suddenly, something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye.  I glanced outside and saw a fire beneath old Brutus.  AAAAaaaggggghhhhh!  (And my car was parked right next to the truck.)

I shouted to my son who came running, handed him the fire extinguisher that I keep handy in the studio, and he ran off with it.  Well, two more extinguishers later, the fire was out. The outdoor faucets and hydrants are too far from where the truck was parked to have been any help.

We’re not sure yet what started the fire – maybe an electrical short, maybe a fuel leak, or even a mouse nest in the air cleaner.  We’ll have a mechanic friend stop by next week to give us an assessment. Fortunately we were prepared or it might have been a very different story. 

Although we live in a remote area which is our reasoning for having some home fire protection, I would urge everyone to have a few fire extinguishers on hand.  You just never know what kind of emergency you might encounter. 

I’m not qualified to advise what types of extinguishers to get but there are several varieties for the many kinds of possible fires – paper, wood, chemical, oil, grease, etc.   Check online or with your local dealer or hardware store to see what they advise. 

You don’t know when you will need one.  Or wish you had been prepared. 

The rest of the story

Here are some photos of poor Brutus after the fire incident. As I said, we don’t know what type of fire it was. This is the damage.

To outward appearances, Brutus still looks pretty good….for a 37 y/o truck.
On closer look, the hood is scorched. That white powder is from one of the fire extinguishers.
Ah, here’s the damage. What was burned and melted? We’ll find out this week.
One of the small fire extinguishers. This one is a C rating, meaning it will handle three kinds of fire/flames.

Writing a personal narrative

I can’t draw a straight line.

I’m not good at math.

Science always confused me.

Mom liked my brother best.

We were poor growing up so I don’t know how to handle money.

Do any of these sound familiar to you?  What is your personal narrative?  What stories do you tell yourself….or worse yet, allow others to say about you that may not be true? 

I was having a conversation with someone the other day that I’ve known for years but whom I rarely hang out with much since we left school.  He made a remark about how I am shy or some such.  I let it slide but it suddenly dawned on me that he doesn’t know me at all.  Where did he come up with this story and, more importantly, why do I allow someone else write my personal narrative for me? 

I haven’t been shy since I hid behind the door when I was a toddler.  In fact, I’m one of the few people I know who doesn’t fear public speaking at all.  I ran for office in school, worked for one of the world’s largest companies, have given numerous presentations on stage, in groups, on TV and radio. Nope, no butterflies.

This led me to ponder what other narratives do I allow people to attach to me?  Or do I tell myself? 

What stories do you tell yourself?  Were you known as the smart sibling?  Or the trouble-maker?  The hard worker or the messy one?  Sometimes we tell stories on ourselves or allow other people to define us.  Maybe we were never like that.  Maybe we tripped once, but are we really a klutz? 

So, what should we do if someone starts telling our personal narrative for us?  First, I think it’s appropriate to spend a little time thinking about those boxes that people have put us in, and be ready to stop the narrative.  You don’t have to jump all over the person – maybe they’re just trying to find some common ground – but be ready to explain that you’re not really like that.  That you haven’t run into a door since you were sixteen.  But also, don’t let them argue with you.  Maybe they’re more comfortable when they have you in that box even if it isn’t true.  Just shrug and smile.  Or give them a good long stare.  They’ll get the hint.

And then give some thought as to how you would like to be perceived.  Maybe you’ve changed over the past twenty or forty years.  You don’t have to keep living someone else’s narrative of you.  This is your own life and you are the author of your own story.

Series Paintings

Tire Swing, Park Series. Kit Miracle, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30.

I have introduced several series of paintings over the years here on my blog.  It seems that I’ve started another one, the Park Series.  This will focus on, what else, scenes from the park.  A park.  Many parks.  Parks are usually filled with scenic landscapes and people doing activities, two of my favorite things.

Most of the series paintings are a little larger than some of my other pieces.  They also tend to concentrate on the same color palette.  In fact, I’ll often make a schematic of the colors I plan to use.  Using the same color family adds a cohesive theme to a series of paintings.

Some of the series paintings I’ve created over the years include Westerns, particularly The Grand Canyon, Intimate Spaces – Beach Series, Intimate Spaces – Breaking Bread Series, The Food We Eat, Lucky Red and Alley Views.

I might have an idea for a series of paintings at the beginning but more often I just cruise through my extensive batch of snapshots until something catches my attention.  I’ll write about using photos as an art subject in a future post. 

I’ve created a step-by-step page for the painting above, Tire Swing for those who are interested.  Click here for more detailed information.

Meeting famous people

It’s been five years since I retired as Director of Jasper Community Arts Commission.  JCAC is the only city-owned arts department in the state and one of the few in the country.  It was started by a group of private citizens in the small town, then later turned over to the city.  Although initially it was just a performing arts venue, eventually it came to encompass visual arts, arts in education, special events and so much more.  Now, of course, they’ve expanded to the new Thyen-Clark Cultural Center which is way beyond anything anyone envisioned at the time the performing arts center was created.

The performing arts are still a major focus of the arts department.  With an auditorium which seats 675, we’ve hosted a number of performances over the years.  During my tenure as Director, we presented about a dozen performances a year so I had the great pleasure of meeting a variety of entertainers over the years.

I’ve often been asked who was my favorite which is truly an impossible question to answer.  We presented singers and musicians, dancers and comedians, actors, jugglers, and acrobats.  It was all good.  Well, mostly. But we won’t talk about that.  Obviously, a small Midwest performing arts center cannot afford top Vegas headliners. But we had a wonderful variety of quality entertainers.

So, I thought you might like to hear about a few of my favorites.  Not all, by any means, but there were still some memorable performances.

The first one was Marie Osmond.  This was right after I was promoted to Director.  Tickets had just gone on sale and the phones were ringing off the hook.  Marie was just starting to revive her career.  On the day of the performance, the tour bus showed up and everyone disembarked.  I don’t remember very much about the actual performance since much of my time was behind the scenes.  Marie did two shows for us that day which was our way of doubling our capacity.  She was not feeling well at all and had a very bad cold.  But like the real trouper that she was, she went on stage and gave the audience a show to remember for years.  She sang a mix of her pop standards, but then she gave us a variety of Broadway tunes.  It was perfect.  The audience was blown away.  Such a nice person and so professional.

Another favorite performance was Always…Patsy Cline.  We were having trouble right down to the wire of determining if the show was going to go or not as the Broadway management hadn’t returned the final contract.  Fortunately, through the perseverance of the wonderful agent I worked with, the show went on.  I cannot remember the name of the actor who played Patsy in this performance but she was super talented.  She was a little, tiny thing but belted out over 25 songs during the performance.  But one of the memorable moments is that Louise, the woman who was Patsy’s pen pal, was played by Sally Struthers.  So nice and down to earth.  Quick to laugh and just had a kind word for everyone. 

As an aside, I quickly learned that the biggest stars were often the best to work with.  Undemanding, kind, thoughtful of the staff and crew.  The performers that we had the most trouble with were those who were just getting started with their careers and kept trying to impress us with their star status.  We were not impressed.

Due to our location in south central Indiana, we are on the way to or from many major cities in the Midwest.  We are only about three hours from Nashville so we were able to present quite a number of county music stars.  Many enjoyed the smaller venue, plus they could sleep in their own beds at the end of the evening.  Some names you might recognize are Clint Black, Ronnie Milsap, Kathy Mattea, Lee Greenwood, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Sandi Patty and so many more.

One of my favorites was the Time Jumpers with Vince Gill.  This group is comprised of a bunch of Nashville musicians who get together for weekly jams.  Vince often sat in on the jam sessions (he has since left the group).  He was very conscious about not making the performance all about him, and all of the other musicians were extremely talented, too.  When we were negotiating the contract, I asked what they wanted to eat.  They said just some beans and hamburgers would be fine.  I replied that we could do better than that.  We ended up serving fried catfish and creek fries.  They loved it!  So happy not to have to worry about leftovers. Vince was kind enough to pose for this photo with one of my staff members and me.  We usually avoided putting performers on the spot since they were here doing a job, so this was an exception.

Vince Gill posing with staff member Emily Colucci-Peake and me, Kit Miracle

Speaking of food.  I quickly learned that all the dance and acrobat troupes ate like linebackers.  Usually after the performances, not before.  They expend so much energy during their performances and are such terrific athletes.  We presented the Russian National Ballet twice.  I wasn’t sure how our town would respond to Swan Lake but it was a sold-out house and you could have heard a pin drop.  We could count on every scrap of food disappearing at the end of the evening.

There were so many other wonderful performances that bring a smile to my face when I think about them.  The Blues Brothers, Under the Streetlamp, Women of Ireland, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Diamonds and Glenn Miller Orchestra, Richie Havens, Leon Redbone, The Ahn Trio, The Texas Tenors, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Tommy Emmanuel, Jim Brickman and more. 

Over 132 performances during my time there.  I was so very lucky to have this experience.  I have truly missed live performances during the pandemic shutdown but I think we’re all ready to come out of our nests.  If you have a performance venue nearby, I hope you can get out and enjoy the experience. 

Jasper Community Arts

Compositional framing

There are many rules and ideas for composition.  No one idea is perfect for all situations.  You may have your favorites or you may like to try new ideas frequently.  Today I’m going to discuss the idea of framing.  I’m not talking about the frame of the painting but using framing as a composition device.

Plein Air Painting, Birdseye, Indiana

I most often use framing in landscapes, cityscapes, and sometimes interiors.  This means that I’ll often place a large tree or bush near the front of the picture frame, usually on one side or another, with the main view in the middle distance.  This leads the viewer’s eye into the painting and directs its focus.

Sometimes in cityscapes, the view might be between two buildings or down an alley. 

In a recent couple of paintings of the same subject – a child flying a toy airplane at the park – I first explored just the child and the plane.  In the second painting, I used the framing composition to lead the eye from the near subject matter, to the large tree on the left, to the child and plane in the background.

In another couple of paintings, I painted a straight view of a Grand Canyon vista.  The second landscape shows the Grand Canyon framed by tree in the front.

Here is an interior view using compositional framing.  The doorway, chair and plant, lead the eye through the doorway to the desk in the distance.

There are no hard rules on when to use compositional framing.  It’s mostly a matter of what you feel comfortable with, what helps your painting.  I’ll often do several thumbnails or even larger charcoal drawings to test the feel of the subject. 

Some idle Tuesday

Don’t worry about the future
Or worry, but know that worrying
Is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing Bubble gum
The real troubles in your life
Are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind
The kind that blindsides you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday
Do one thing every day that scares you

                Baz Luhrmann,  Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)

I thought about titling this post Life Happens but the lyrics from Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) kept rolling through my mind.  Although normally I’m pretty regular at posting, the past two months I’ve only been able to post a couple of times.  Life happened.

One day I spent plein air painting with a friend.  The next day saw my husband being transported by ambulance to a big city hospital some distance away.  The next four weeks were a blur.  Surgery.  ICU.  Tubes and drips and ventilators.  Me making daily round trips of 150 miles.  I memorized the mile markers, counting down the miles each way.  Testing the speed limits.  Crossing time zones and arriving at the same time I left, or two hours behind on the return trip.

I think I lived on trail mix on those drives.  Listened to some recorded books.  Mostly thought about…whatever.

This spring was beautiful and all the flowering trees and plants were trying to cheer me.  But it is also one of the busiest times here on the farm.  The garden, which fortunately had been plowed and tilled, only got planted with the aid of my granddaughter.  My son came by to mow the grass – it’s a huge yard.  But everything else had to wait.  Trimming, weeding, recordkeeping, cleaning, etc.  There are just so many hours in the day.

I did manage to finish a couple of commissions which helped keep the crazy thoughts at bay.  But no real creative work of my own.  It’s all about priorities.

My husband has been home for about a month.  He’s recovering nicely but still has a way to go.  No marathons in his future.  And he probably won’t be cutting firewood this year which is just fine with me.  It’s messy and dusty.

I don’t think there is really any way you can plan for an unexpected life-altering event. I think about this every time I see some sort of tragedy on the news; people who left their homes in the morning and then…some idle Tuesday arrived.  Friends have been so kind and understanding.  In the Midwest, people bring food.  The neighbor will take your trash to the dump.  Small thoughtful gestures.

We’re both doing much better now and some semblance of normalcy is creeping back into our lives.  I’ve been painting more.  Although I have written off the garden this year (now we’re experiencing a drought) but I did get my first little tomato yesterday.  Small blessings.

Hug those you love and be kind to those who are going through difficult times.  Someday you may need some strength and comfort, too.  Probably. 

Painting local

The Little Cottage, acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14, KitMiracle I was driving down a side street of nearby Birdseye, Indiana, when this scene captured my attention. One of the smallest houses in town with the largest tree in town. The front path and gate are framed by beautiful lavender and blue irises. Painted in heavy impasto, a very impressionist-style painting.

One of my favorite parts about traveling is seeing new vistas.  Visiting the mountains, the parks, the ocean, historical sites.  It’s all good.  I always take my art equipment and capture the areas on canvas.  Parking my easel on the edge of the Grand Canyon and painting for a couple of hours is my bliss. 

But one of the best parts about traveling is returning home and seeing your own world through new eyes.  Noticing that which you may pass every day but in a new way.  You can look at your own home town as a tourist.

At the Crossroads, Schnellville, Indiana. Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14. KitMiracle It was a spring morning and the sun was playing in and out of the clouds. This little road has many twists and curves, the beautiful hills catching the sunlight. This little crossroads only has about six houses and reminds me of many villages in Germany or France.
Seven Cedars in Spring, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12, KitMiracle. Along the same Schnellville Road, these cedar trees were silhouetted against the spring sky.

Spring here in Southern Indiana was so beautiful this year.  Often we’ll receive a late frost or freeze which pretty much ruins everything, but this year was spectacular.  The wild flowers in the forests and fields put on a show to remember.  I captured the spring greens of the fields and byways for several weeks, and even had my husband drive while I was shouting, stop here! to take photographs.

The Old Lady’s House, acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14, KitMiracle. I used to drive past this house frequently on my way to work. A very old lady lived there who always mowed her lawn by hand, and she always wore a kerchief. I think her grandson lives there now. Located in central Dubois County, this is a very typical spring view in these parts.

The results have been paintings of spring fields and crossroads, little villages, gentle vistas of all types.  Not my usual big, bold colors but a much more gentle palette.  Often painted in the style of Pissarro or Monet but not actually deliberately.  I just want to bring to the viewer’s attention and appreciation the overlooked landscapes of our everyday world.

Take a look around your own world, your home town, the back allies.  I’m sure you can find some wonderful vistas, too, which you may have overlooked a hundred times.  They’re out there, I promise.

View more about these paintings online at this link.

Spring in bloom

Several varieties of daffodils bloom throughout the spring. So easy to grow.

I wasn’t sure if spring would ever arrive this year.  We’ve had weather ranging from sleet and snow and ice, to upper 70s and 80s two days later.  Very unpredictable.

But I love the spring greens this time of year.  It only lasts a few weeks before the heavy greens roll in, but that bright yellow-green just perks me up. Didn’t we used to have a crayon called “spring green?”

The bluebell blossoms start out as pink, then turn sky blue when they open. They pair well with naturalized narcissus.
From one small patch, these blue bells have naturalized all over the yard. I have given starts away and even planted some along a wooded path last year. When they’re finished blooming, they totally die back and won’t be seen until next spring.

I have been driving around just gathering photos for future reference.  One day, I even had my husband drive the little country roads while I took pictures. Have to capture the scenery while it’s here.

However, the beauty just in my own yard has been refreshing also.  A cacophony of whites and yellows, blues and purples.  The really exciting thing about the spring flowers is that they’re so fugitive.  They don’t last for long and I know that I won’t see them for another year. And in most cases, they are pretty much maintenance-free.

Now the real work begins.  Planting the garden, preparing flower beds, trimming the lane, picking up winter debris.  It’s always something here on the farm.  But I love it.

The lilacs have been particularly spectacular this season. The scent is almost overwhelming but welcome for their few weeks of blooming.
Here are more naturalized flowers by the old well.
Wisteria on the arbor. This is the first year that our wisteria has bloomed. Such a beautiful flower but a little invasive. I have to trim it back from nearby trees and bushes.

Spring is coming

Male wood duck. (Photo courtesy The Spruce.)

This past Friday we were assaulted by Mother Nature with freezing rain, hail, sleet.  Just wave after wave, all day long.

But SPRING will arrive eventually.  Forsythias are in full bloom, the daffodils are nearly past, the crocuses that I planted last fall finally came up although I think the chipmunks and squirrels got most of them.  The yard is a carpet of spring beauties and the redbud is ready to pop.  The bluebells are out.  Blue and yellow. 

Even my largest crabapple is late.  This time a few years ago, it was in full bloom.  A week of warm weather will surely see it out.

Although we lament the weather as Mother Nature doesn’t always follow our wishes, we know spring will eventually get here.  The swift who makes a nest on the porch of my studio is already nesting.  The mourning doves are pairing up.  And I’d better get the rest of the birdhouses up real soon.  Like today, maybe.

As I drove down the driveway late Friday afternoon, I stopped at the creek (which our drive crosses), just to see what I could see.  And I saw this beautiful wood duck paddling around.  This is the first one that I’ve seen in over thirty-five years!  The plummage was beyond words.  So colorful and distinctive.  I hope that the wood duck family starts a family nearby but the creek with its after-storm gully washers is not the best place for a nest.  Maybe up the hill a bit.

Anyway, all this is a reminder that even if you live in the same place and don’t go anywhere, surprises can find you.  Keep your eyes open.

Spring is coming.

Brown eggs

Five Eggs, original painting on canvas, 12 x 12, Kit Miracle

If you happen to get to the post office or a farm supply store this time of year, you will hear the peeping  sound of baby chicks.  They are SO cute!  And it takes all kinds of willpower to NOT buy a bunch of each. 

There are many varieties, but I particularly like the speckled ones and the ones with feathered feet.  They look so fancy.  We’ve had many kinds over the years.  I also loved the bantams, the females, not the males which tend to be aggressive for their size.  One year, one of my favorite dun-colored females disappeared.  I was certain that she was the victim of a raccoon or hawk.  But after about three weeks, she reappeared with about eighteen little bantam peeps following her. They were so tiny and cute.  I don’t know where she hid but apparently it was a good hiding place.

This antique sponge bowl holds five fresh brown eggs.  Do they taste different?  That’s hard to tell but they sure are deep yellow when cracked open. Probably from all the extras that the hens get in their diet than those that are confined to chicken factory farms. 

We’ve also had blue and green eggs, too.  It is rumored that they are lower in cholesterol but I don’t know if that is true.  They’re just so beautiful to look at.

The sponge bowl, by the way, gets its name from the decoration.  The glaze was applied with a sea sponge.  I have only seen these in blue. These stoneware bowls are very heavy for their size. I bought this at auction many many years ago and still use it for fruit and whatnot.