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#augustbreak | imperfections

2011 August 8
by joy

a hat and ten toes

When I’m on the road to a warm, sunny destination, I pack a sensible wide-brimmed hat.

It used to rebound quickly after freeing it from the confines of my suitcase. After years of twisting, stuffing and squashing, though, it’s tired and misshapen.

Then there’s the chip in the polish on my right big toe, an imperfection from kicking a heavy object by accident.

A chip.

A weathered brim.

Imperfect but functional.

I prefer lived-in to pristine.


#augustbreak: Friday chicken

2011 August 5
my aracauna hen

My homage to Havi Brooks at the Fluent Self.

She’s been doing her Friday chicken for years.

Here is my Friday chicken: my 10-week old aracauna hen.

fasten your seat belt anyway

2011 August 4
by joy
fasten your seat belt

This time of year, I lose interest in the garden. It’s a combination of the heat, the maintenance and the harvest.

I like to start projects, not maintain them. I make things happen and watch them grow.

My husband likes to graze through the garden to thin the fruits of the zucchini and pick through the chard. This year the harvest is late. Our tomatoes are small and green. Our flush of strawberries are months later than I expected.

Sometimes things go like that. You fasten your seat belt, feel under the seat for the life vest and you push off the shore.

And sometimes you have to wait, work on your own time and pace, heed the silence and the growing process.

I’m trying to be at ease with the rhythm of my soul while navigating the currents.

I’m working on some secret projects.  I’m alternately excited and scared. I don’t mean to be vague, but it isn’t the right time to let them be handled and poured over. They are still too tender and new to be unveiled.

Letting myself be OK with this.


taking an August Break for photo play

2011 August 2

I’ve joined Susannah Conway’s August Break this month as an experiment.

A little playfulness goes a long way, methinks.


I’m notoriously bad at these month-long challenges, but appreciate the low-key flexibility and creative spaciousness. Plus, I don’t generally write about these things until after the event has long passed. I’m working an edge.

I forgot my little point & shoot camera on my last two trips, so I played with the Retro Camera app on my Droid mobile phone, taking snapshots on a recent flight.

The app adds a bit of randomness in the final result. Perfectly imperfect photos are forgiven.

Embarking on a new journey.


sketching & painting with Jane LaFazio in Utah

2011 July 28

I don’t consider myself an artist. I honestly don’t think I can draw. I didn’t study it in college. I’m not particularly crafty. So it was a bit of a stretch to sign up for mixed media artist Jane LaFazio’s Sketching & Watercolor: Journal Style retreat.

I was pulled by the idea of retreating in Utah, since I’d only visited national parks in other parts of the state. I wanted to study with Jane. I’ve been following her for awhile, first through her colorful blog, then on Facebook. Love the vibe on her blog and travel sketches and knew she leads trips to Mexico, France and Italy. This seemed like a great opportunity to get to know her teaching style.

personal challenge: the 8-pan palette

Right off the bat, I liked that Jane created a short supply list at Dick Blick. I took her suggestion and bought a simple 8-pan palette by Prang to challenge the idea that I need a expensive watercolor set.

Jane is a light-hearted, encouraging teacher who gave each of us room to create and plenty of personal attention. Each session focused on a theme: fake birds (to start), followed by a still life, wildflowers, landscape done on location. Jane gives clear, easy-to-follow demonstrations, clearly explaining her thought process.

Jan LaFazio sketches a landscape

Jane LaFazio shows us how to sketch a landscape at Pineview Reservoir, Utah

She works first with pencil, then pen, carefully tracing her lines. After erasing the pencil marks, she takes the brush and paints, adding finishing touches, like borders and captions, in pen.

Because we were working with Fabriano 5″ x 7″ hot press watercolor blocks, the small format made each project less intimidating…somewhat.

I should note that I’m a watercolor beginner. I’d played with watercolor, but not worked with it, and certainly not to achieve a recognizable end product. I’ve mostly dabbled in creative process.

I’d never varied colors to achieve any semblance of realism. I’m not kidding. Jane had to instruct me to use blue + brown to get grey.

I had to write it down.

bronze magnifying glass | pen & watercolor - july 2011 | by me!

I appreciated Jane giving me specific suggestions as to how to achieve a particular goal, like depth or shadow for a rounded object. With my landscape, she suggested I “take a Q-Tip and pick up some of that color, then add more grey.” It worked.

The dry climate also contributed to all of us working quickly. It helped push any critical thoughts aside because I was so focused on mixing the next color before the paint dried. (“Keeping a wet edge” is important if you’re blending color.)

I surprised myself. I can draw! I loved the nuanced colors I created from that simple palette, too.

care & comfort at high altitude

Accommodations, all meals and transporation to and from the Salt Lake City airport were provided by Dianne of Creative Inspiration Mountain Retreats. Diane’s nurturing friend Peggy cooked a wide variety of healthy salads and meals, accommodating special diets. She was kind enough to send recipes!

Our retreat included a gondola ride to the top of Snowbasin Resort, the site of the 2002 Olympic Men’s Downhill event for a buffet dinner at the Needles Lodge (8,710 feet), where the winter snow had yet to melt.

Dianne arranged for each of us to have an in-room massage from Free Spirit Mountain Spa in nearby Eden. For a very reasonable additional price, you could extend your massage by 30 minutes. I opted for the extension and it was a fabulous massage. Michelle had a wonderful touch–I fell asleep, though I suppose that isn’t a heroic feat.

the 4700 sq ft "Log Palace" in Utah we called home (photo from Creative Inspiration Mountain Retreats)


Utah vista

Log Palace vista (with portable stool)

on connecting & rediscovering a lost love

I always underestimate the social aspect of a retreat. I go to retreats to learn, rest and play. In spite of my introverted, monk-like self, I end up connecting. Susan blogged each night and practiced songs she composed on the baby grand piano in the living room. Walked among the thistle, dandelion and sage with Nancy and Carolyn. Admired creative blogs from Melissa and Sharon. Laughed with Jane and Cecilia.

One thing that most people don’t know about me is that I took piano lessons for a couple of years before high school. As with most things, I don’t play for anyone but myself, let alone in front of others.

Hearing Susan play inspired me to ask how I might start “doodling” at the piano. Susan is taking lessons in composition, and it turns out that retreat organizer Dianne teaches adult beginners.

My huge bonus was getting impromptu improvisational lessons from both Dianne and Susan! Dianne made it so comfortable for me, that I actually played in public–OK, well, maybe only five people were left–and I played very imperfectly. I couldn’t remember more than eight measures of a few songs. I had performance anxiety, but didn’t die of embarrassment.

Since returning home I’ve dusted off the sheet music and old songbooks. I’m playing with curiosity and a lot of self-compassion, having fun at the piano again.

What an unexpected gift! Thank you to Jane, Dianne, Susan, Peggy and all the wonderfully creative women in Utah!