Tag Archives: country living

Jack Frost Visits

Jack Frost on my windowpane in the studio.

After a balmy winter holiday, the temperatures in the Midwest plummeted.  We recorded minus 4 degrees (F) this week.  Needless to say, I’m a wuss and am not spending much time outdoors.  However, even working in my studio has challenges.

As I have mentioned before, my studio is an old summer kitchen about 30 feet from the back door.  It was designed when cooking was done on wood-fired cook stoves (which it actually had when we moved here.)  This was to keep the heat out of the house in the summer.  You’ll find one of these buildings on many old farms in southern Indiana and throughout the Midwest and South.  I am lucky that ours is about 15 x 25’, which is pretty large for a summer kitchen.  In this case, the family and field hands actually ate in the building.  It is a perfect size for a studio.

Unfortunately, the whole purpose of the design was to keep the heat out of the house so they didn’t really care about insulating the building.  Thus, it’s very drafty.  Although I have a gas heater, unless I want to go broke, I keep it turned down.  This week I was wearing a hat, many layers of clothing, two pairs of socks (the cold comes up through the floor), and I was still chilly.

I snapped this photo of the beautiful patterns of the frost on the windowpanes.  It looks like giant feathers.  With all of our insulated windows and super-heated houses, window frost has become more and more uncommon.

The beauty of nature is all around us, even in the most unlikely places.

Since I was confined to studio painting, here are a couple of my recent works.  Plus, I tweaked the still life with red cabbage and artichokes that I posted on here a few weeks ago.  Artists are never quite satisfied with their finished work. Renoir was known to bring his paints to gallery exhibits even after his paintings were hung, just so he could make changes.  I’m not quite that bad but I might fiddle around with a painting which doesn’t quite suit me.

Here’s hoping that the weather is better where you are and that warmer days will be here soon.

Artist Still Life, oil on canvas board, 10 x 10, Kit Miracle

Down by the Creek, oil on canvas, 20 x 16, Kit Miracle

Red Cabbage and Artichoke, 18 x 24, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle. Still Life revised from previous version.

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A Year of Change and Adventure

The Midwest has been locked in a deep freeze for the past few days and will continue to be for the next several.  This is a good time to snuggle in the warmth of the house with a hot cup of tea and reflect on the changes and adventures of the past year.

Leaving the office on the last day. Walls empty. Bulletin board empty. Most of the paperwork gone. Lots of memories.

The most dramatic change for me this year was my decision to retire last spring.  Leaving a job that I loved, my wonderful work family, and in the middle of an exciting new building project which had been on my wish list for a decade was difficult.  The hardest part was making the decision.  However, City Council approved the funding for our part of the building, the Library referendum passed, donors made huge commitments, and an energetic and intelligent young replacement was found.  I was able to walk out the door with a light heart knowing that Jasper Arts would be in good hands.

This left more time to pursue my own interests or get back to them.

First and foremost was my painting.  Although I’ve been a professional artist for over thirty years, job demands and time constraints meant there was less time for creative pursuits.  I never gave up my art but now I am able to devote as much time as I want to it, which is generally several hours every day.

My studio is the old summer kitchen surrounded by herbs, flowers and giant maple trees.

My schedule is pretty much my own.  I can get up when I want but that’s usually pretty early. Hard to break that 5:30 a.m. habit.  Now I can linger over that second cup of tea and my commute is only 30 feet from the back door.

I have been catching up on ten years of projects (how often does one really need to clean out the attic?)  Satisfying but not usually on top of the To Do list.

Gardening is another passion.  This year I was able to get outside before the heat of the day instead of dealing with chores at the end of the day.  Very nice.

My bike is tuned up.  I used to ride 100 miles a week and hope to get up there again this coming year.

Reading, of course, is always high on my agenda and I have eclectic tastes.  No more business or fundraising books!  Yay!

A short nap after lunch is always a nice thing to insert into the middle of the day.  (Apologies to those of you who can’t take advantage of this.)

Plein air painting of Among the Mangroves, Florida Keys 2017

My husband and I took our first winter vacation in thirty years this year. Couldn’t do that when the kids were young and in school, then later when I was working because winter is the busy season for the performing arts.

The Huntress I – oil on canvas, 20 x 20, Kit Miracle

Our charming granddaughter was also able to spend much of the summer with us.  She loves the beach (of beautiful Lake Patoka nearby), anything to do with nature or bugs or animals, painting and crafting with grandma, and is game for just about any adventure.

At the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh

We traveled back to Pennsylvania to visit relatives.  While there I took her to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh where she could see real dinosaur bones up close.  She was elated.

And my husband and I took a fall trip back to Massachusetts to visit relatives. We visited the iconic Rockport sea town and stopped off at Stockbridge on our way back.  We also took a detour to Niagara on our return.  It’s big…and loud!

Rockport, Massachusetts

Niagara Falls

There were family barbecues, day trips to interesting places, some plein air painting, and just time to kick back next to the fire pit and enjoy the day.  What could be better?

So, goodbye to 2017.  It was a good year.  Now I’m making plans for 2018.

Stay tuned.

Cedar bench for the garden

Cedar bench featuring Southern Indiana cedar boards

Cedar trees are indigenous to southern Indiana and many parts of the Midwest.  An evergreen, they add color to the winter landscape.  They often grow on soil where other trees can’t seem to get a foothold, limestone, sandstone, and rocky.

This year my family surprised me with refinishing two cedar benches in the garden.  Although the benches were still serviceable, after 25 years, they needed an update.  This locally cut cedar was selected due to its resistance to insect damage and other wear.  I was told by the guys that even the old cedar boards were still in pretty good shape beneath the surface of lichen and weathered materials.

The iron bench supports were repainted and new boards were planed and sanded for this lovely look.  If you are not familiar with cedar, it has a wonderful smell which will fade in time as will the bright coloring to a silvery grey.

I’m looking forward to spending some time on these benches this coming year (whenever a gardener has time to rest).  They also are a reminder of my mother who owned the original benches so I guess they’re about 40 years old now. I remember many conversations we had on those benches over the years.

Deer Cam – Spying on Nature

This is a large male bobcat. A really spectacular picture. Although the males are only about 30 pounds, I wouldn’t want to run into one. And my granddaughter and I had just walked down the drive earlier that morning! Yikes!

One of my favorite gadgets is our deer cam or trail cam.  Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure…and surprise of catching many critters on camera.  I’ve moved the camera around the property several times but it seems that the most active spot is a place on our driveway where it crosses a creek.  There are woods on either side with some fields nearby.  Although much of the animal traffic seems to be at night, I’ve captured some pretty spectacular daytime shots, too.

Coyote with pear. Taken in back orchard this summer. About 40 feet from the house.

Check out the photos and enjoy a brief visit to my part of the world.  I’m not including all the neighborhood cats, multiple pix of my dog (and some other dogs), the delivery people and other vehicles and tractors.

By the way, a trail cam makes a great present to the outdoor lover in your life.  We have two cameras but I’d love to have more.

Buck in velvet this summer

Heron strutting down the driveway.

A very large rooster strutting down the drive. Probably an escapee from my neighbor’s chicken house.

Mystery critter. I had moved the camera nearer the house and it was also near our security light. I kept seeing this creature pass in front of the lens. I finally concluded that it is a photo of a bat in action. What do you think?

Is this my best side? I get so many photos of deer (deer cam, right?). The light is infrared so they can’t see it, but I think they hear it click when it takes a picture.

Two raccoons heading up the drive for a midnight snack. Probably the culprits for the losses in my neighbor’s chicken house. They are NOT cute. They are mean and vicious and can destroy a garden in a night.

A large coyote with a bite mark. I’d hate to see what gave it to him.

Coyotes often travel in packs. While usually shy, they were nightly visitors to our orchards this year.

Wild turkeys are very crafty and great survivors in the woods. They actually can fly and manage to raise a brood every year.

Many possums in the area. I don’t particularly like them but they are reported to eat thousands of ticks each day. That is good. They will also break into a chicken house and eat the eggs and baby chicks. Not good.

Groundhog. Not a desirable creature as they tend to dig out building foundations and otherwise become pests.

A standoff between a crow and a squirrel. It appears that the crow is holding something in his beak.

Night visitor. This is the scariest of all of the photos I’ve captured. The intruder is coming up the drive in the very early morning on Easter Sunday. (And, no, it’s not the Easter bunny!) With his knapsack and large knife, I hope that he was planning to do some mushroom hunting in the woods. But, also, the neighbor’s house was broken into that morning. Kinda creepy. Our dog was locked up unfortunately.

Autumn in the country

Most people think of autumn as the time to slow down, but here in the country, we have work to do before we can take it easy.  We’ve had a couple of hard frosts but the weather has actually been pretty balmy in the 50s and 60s.  This really helps extend the growing season here in southern Indiana.

Fall view in the country, looking down to the creek.

One of my favorite things to do is look for the hardy flowers that are still blooming, even after the frost.  I still have some geraniums, alyssum, Sweet William, and even one tiny confused violet.  There is almost always some flower which manages to make an appearance except in deepest winter.

Hardy flowers that survived a hard frost. Alyssum, geranium, sweet William and a tiny violet.

We also like to plant a fall garden.  As you can see by the photos, the frost killed the weeds but the kale is still happily growing.  The cold frame will protect some more kale and lettuce until probably early December.  We’ve got fall peas growing but ….no blooms.  And probably no pollinators if we did have blooms.  The asparagus and garlic have been put to bed under straw.

Garlic bed under the straw and some happy kale. See how well it survived the frost which killed the weeds.

Fall peas look great but no blooms, and probably no pollinators. Note to self: plant earlier next year.

Cold frame with kale and lettuce. Asparagus bed behind under the straw. We will cover the cold frame as the weather gets colder.

My husband has a deer blind in a small grove of locust trees overlooking the bottom field and creek where we often see deer.  I’m not really worried that he’s going to get a deer as he’s only gotten ONE in thirty years.  But….you never know.  And the toll the deer population takes on cars in this area is steep.  Our family alone has hit seven deer over the years.

Deer blind overlooking the creek and lower field.

Our wood pile is growing. Today the guys dragged several logs out of the woods as it’s easier to cut and split them all in one place, plus they handle the wood less than when they cut and split it in the woods. Thanks also to our son who came home for the weekend to help out.  This is hard work!

Cutting firewood on a Saturday morning in November.

The walnuts have been picked up by the boy scouts who turned them in for money at the mill.  What they missed, the squirrels are tucking away.

Fall at the creek. We have several creeks but pass this one every day as we go over it on the drive.

This giant oak tree has history and is one of my favorite trees on the property. I call it The Sentinel as it “guards” the driveway.

And, it’s just a beautiful time to take a walk and enjoy the season while I can.

I hope you enjoyed your visit to our country place.  Feedback is always welcome.

Surprises

A nest of baby mice found while splitting firewood.

Life in the country often means some hard physical labor, always trying to keep up with the garden and chores.  But sometimes there are surprises.  Yesterday morning we were splitting firewood and found this soft nest of sweet baby mice.  Look at their tiny toes and ears.  Unfortunately, mice are a constant problem in the country but today, we gently set the nest behind the woodpile.  Maybe mama will find them.

A walk in the big woods.

It was a beautiful early fall day on Friday so I decided that my dog Mikey and I needed to explore the big woods to see how things were progressing towards autumn.  I always take a bag to collect fall things – acorns and pretty leaves, bits of lichen and moss.  Our property is a mix of gently rolling hills and streams with some acres of hardwood (red and white oaks) up on a hill.  It is one of the highest places around and one of my favorite escapes.

Beginning of the walk through the east bean field.

I usually don’t head up to the woods in the deep summer – too buggy and too many weeds. So I was eager to see what had happened since I’d last been up to the big woods last spring.  Of course, this called for long pants and long sleeves, and some bug spray.  Dang, I hate chiggers and ticks!  And biting flies!

An old weathered tree stump on the dry creek bed.

Through the hickory grove. Love the way the light strikes the dead cedar on the left. My companion Mikey waits almost around the bend. He’s very patient.

Another almost dry creek bed. Look closely and you can see plenty of deer traffic through here, especially some very large prints.

I’m always fascinated by interesting patterns of fungus and lichen.

It’s a little early for many of the leaves to have changed color here but there were the beginning signs.  And, as expected, the creeks were really dried up after the past few weeks without rain.  Normally everything is very lush, even in the deepest of summer.

Mikey loves to go into the woods and runs about 20 feet for my every step.  Of course, one will never see any wildlife as he chases it all off.  But I eagerly look for signs and wasn’t disappointed to see some pretty big deer prints in the mud near one of the creeks.

Getting ready to cross under the powerline. Usually this is a cleared path but since we’ve added another path, this one has grown up over the summer. The weeds were taller than me! I’m heading towards that dead tree on the hill on the upper right.

Wading through chest high weeds, I appreciated the brilliant colors of this late patch of goldenrod.

I actually just walked through this (looking back). Path is totally grown over with some fierce briers, snatching at my hat and clothes. I can’t imagine the early pioneers and explorers wading through this kind of terrain, although deep woods really have little undergrowth. This is caused by the open spaces that were created when some trees were taken out.

Reached my “resting” chair, an old chair that we dragged up into the woods on a favorite lookout space. I had to clear the weeds off just to sit down.

Over the past 30 years, we have done some selective timbering.  The last time was a few years ago and a new path was cut to the big woods on the hill.  The old path had grown over but I wasn’t prepared for just how much it had grown over since last spring.  I almost got myself into more work than I anticipated as I had to practically hack my way through the overgrown weeds and briers.  It was a relief to come around to the new path (and mowed) area. I sure don’t know how the pioneers did it except that real heavy woods don’t have much undergrowth.

We’ve hacked our way through the briers and have come out on the downside of the loop with the cleared new path. Yay!

Now the hiking is much easier, exactly what I was anticipating.

Coming out of the top woods, heading back under the powerlines.

The view from the top of the woods on the hill. If you enlarge this photo, you’ll see farms in the distance which is about a mile or more away.

Easy walking through the lower woods. These are mostly hardwoods, red and white oak.

Poor Mikey was as tired and thirsty as I was. I have never seen him lie down to drink. I think he really wanted to roll in the water on the cool sidewalk.

Mikey and I had a good hike (about a mile and a half for me) and much more for him.  But we were both exhausted by the time we returned to the house.  An immediate shower was called for to help prevent any chiggers or ticks from digging in.  So far so good.  Lots of good material for future paintings and a pleasant way to spend a fall morning.

The Huntress I and II, oil on canvas

The Huntress I – oil on canvas, 20 x 20, Kit Miracle

The Huntress II – oil on canvas, 20 x 20, Kit Miracle

The Huntress I and II are two paintings that I created earlier this year.  Although I have often created a series of paintings, this is the first time that I created a pair of paintings.  They each stand alone from a design view, but work better as a pair.

My aim here was to create a bit of mystery, to simplify the background and the figure, and to play off the high intensity light without adding a harshness to the scene

Check out the step-by-step page to learn more about how I made these beautiful pair. https://my90acres.com/artwork/the-huntress-i-and-ii-step-by-step/

Selling Art on Etsy….or Not

My90Acres, Etsy shop

A couple of months ago I had lunch with two old friends from high school.  We hadn’t seen each other for decades so there was much to catch up on – families, careers, retirement, etc.  We had such fun.  As the newest retiree in the group (just since May), I was curious about how they spend their time.  As it turns out, my friend Susan started an Etsy shop.  We talked some more and I thought I could probably revive some fruit and vegetable paintings that I used to do when I was traveling the art fair circuit.  Later, when I returned home, I looked at my friend’s shop DoodleDogDesigns (cute personalized doggie bandannas) and was impressed by how professional it was….and how many sales she has had!  Wow, who doesn’t need a little extra income?

KitMiracleArt-Etsy shop

Within a week, I had set up a new Etsy shop, My90Acres with the intention of focusing on artwork related to the theme of this blog, i.e., living in the country.  The paintings are all original watercolor / pen and ink sketches, matted to 8 x 10.  These used to be my bread and butter item when I did the art fair circuit for 25 years. Very popular with buyers who want to add a pop of color to their kitchens and living spaces.  Afterall, just how much grey can we live with these days?  And they’re small enough to fit into those awkard spaces in your home, on the soffits over the cabinets, between the cabinets and the counter, between windows, or even on a shelf.  I had customers who would come by my booth every year to add a few more paintings to their collection.

Veggie Painting, My90Acres, Kit Miracle

I was also surprised that an Etsy shop that I’d started a few years ago was still registered to me, KitMiracleArt.  So I decided to revive it for all of my other artwork.  I’m ambitious if nothing else.  Besides, I have plenty of artwork on hand and plenty of time to pursue my interests now.

Autumn Road

So after two months of the Etsy experience, this is what I have to report.

Pros

  • The investment was minimal. I already have the studio and all the tools I need to do my work.  The Etsy fee is only 20 cents per item and 3% per sale which is a small fee to get my work in front of so many people.  I did purchase museum-grade ready-cut mats.  Not much overall.
  • I already have the skills. I’ve been painting professionally for over 30 years. I have years of selling at art fairs and running a business.
  • I have a modest amount of computer skills with my original web site since the mid 1990s, plus managing the website, blog, and other online activities at my former job as Director.
  • I’m pretty good at marketing and SEO (search engine optimization). During my decade as Director, we sold out about 50% of our performing arts events. And a Google search of my name reveals that I come up five times on the first page.
  • This forced me to take a complete inventory of my studio, plus clean up. Neither of which is a favorite activity of artists.
  • I was forced to learn my “new” digital camera which I purchased two years ago.
  • I was also forced to learn a really good photo manipulation program which I had installed over a year ago.
  • And, my time is still my own; I still get to paint and do something I enjoy. I love those afternoon naps, too!

LuckyRed #3

But all is not paradise in the land of Etsy.  There were some surprises.

Cons

  • Running a successful Etsy shop takes LOTS OF TIME! I so admire those people who are really good at this and totally appreciate the effort they have put into their shops. The actual time invested to make this happen was a surprise and affected almost every area related to my Etsy shops.
  • Establishing a new shop and reviving the old shop was more work than I anticipated. What was I thinking?!
  • Production time increased. Just to get enough products for the My90Acres shop required a concerted investment of time.  This could almost become a job. Did I mention that I just retired?
  • Taking good photos is paramount. If your pictures don’t look good in your store, you don’t look professional. I was forced to learn the new camera so this ultimately was a good thing. It takes a lot of time to set everything up, check the lighting, take the photos, and put everything away.
  • Photo editing (after I learned the new program) takes a lot longer than I anticipated. I really want my pictures to look good.  Many evenings will find me working on my laptop while my husband is taking in the Cubs game.
  • Writing the descriptions for each item takes way more time than I imagined. Afterall, I want to be informative but perky, to entice the buyer to actually purchase something.
  • Promotion is critical and again, takes some investment of time. This includes making sure your tag words are good, searchable, promoting on social media, and just keeping up with it all.
  • Educating myself about the ins and outs of Etsy has also been a treat. I’ve read a couple of books but will say that the Seller’s Manual on the Etsy site has been a tremendous help.  I’ve also watched several videos on the topic (there are over 1 million Etsy videos on YouTube).
  • One needs to have some business background – budgeting, accounting, inventory – to have a successful shop. Fortunately, I had this already but new Etsy shop owners should educate themselves in this area.
  • Planning and organization are key. I’m pretty organized but the amount of time involved has been a surprise.

Bottom line

So, my shops have been open for less than two months.  Lots of visitors from all over the world but no sales yet.  My friends are encouraging and I’ll stick with it because, hey, I’ve got the time to devote to it now.  And….shameless marketing….I’ve got sales going on in both shops through September 18th.  Time to start shopping for the holidays! KitMiracleArt   My90Acres

Pumpkins and Sunflowers, KitMiracleArt, Etsy

Painting wildflowers

Swamp Mallow – wildflower, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

After almost four months into retirement, I’ve been able to devote a lot more time to my creative side.  This means time spent in the studio as well as venturing out for plein air painting.

One thing that I’ve been having fun with this summer is painting wildflowers.  With 90 acres, plus the many streams, country roads, fields and forests in the area, there is plenty of subject matter. In a ten minute walk in almost any direction I can snag a handful of different wildflowers.  And the variety keeps changing throughout the season.

Joe Pye Weed – wildflower, watercolor pen and ink, Kit Miracle

My love for wildflowers was born in college when I took a couple of terms of field botany.  (Please don’t ask me to categorize any plant through Gray’s Botany; I have totally forgotten how.)  But I spent one summer doing an independent study of wildflowers with my amazing professor, Lucky Ward.  We would travel together on dusty back roads, collecting samples for the college museum and to press.  What an experience!

Goldenrod – wildflower, watercolor pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Wildflowers have always remained beloved friends even though they are often overlooked by many, or just considered “weeds.”  Too bad.

Trumpet vine – wildflower, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

So this summer I’ve tackled identifying and painting a lot of local flowers.  These are not botanical drawings but merely simple watercolor with pen and ink sketches.  My aim is to capture the beauty that surrounds us in the small bits of color that we pass so blythely by.

Evening Primrose – wildflower, watercolor pen and ink, Kit Miracle

So, what to do with all these little paintings?  I decided to start an Etsy shop called, of course, My90Acres to sell them.  No sales so far but I’m hopeful.

Queen Ann’s Lace, wildflower, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Meanwhile, I’ll still be hiking through the weeds, chiggers and all, to see what is blooming this week.

Red clover or purple clover, watercolor pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Jewel Weed – wildflower, watercolor pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Toadflax – wildflower, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle