Sunday, December 29, 2013

It's a New Year, It's a New Day

Well, it's not quite the new year yet, but it will be soon.  Anyway, Sunday seems like a good day to start things on, or at least prepare.  And I'm just raring to go for the new year, it seems.  I just want to revel in newness and turn over several fresh new leaves.

This morning I drove through torrential rain to see my baby niece Hannah Jean be blessed in church.  She slept the entire time, and afterward I held her through the rest of the service.  She is so new, so beautiful.  What fun to be a child!  But I feel like one still sometimes.  There is so much to do in this world--how will I ever do it all?

Looking back on 2013, it has been a good year in so many ways.  But I have so many things I still want to do better, or start.  And so many unfinished projects.  My goal to make a Christmas gift each month did not happen (but I did make 47 hats for my employees!), and my goal to paint a new painting each month did not happen (but when I did paint, it was fun!)  And so I am going to renew those goals and try them again.  I'm also going to add some goals to my 2014 list.  Here are the ones I've thought about so far:

  • Make two quilts.  One will be the Hawaiian quilt I promised to make for Loren and Nicole when they got married five years ago.  The other will be for Kraig and Claire.
  • Write letters.  Back when I broke my hand, I swore that "when my hand heals, I'm going to write a letter a day!"  Now that my hand has been perfectly recovered for over a year, it's about time to make good on that promise, although I'm hesitant to promise a full 365.  I'll keep a tally and see how I do!  Birthday cards count, but Christmas cards don't.
  • Keep a list of the birds I see and identify in my backyard.  I like making lists, and although I'm sure the birds of central North America are well documented, I would like to study them a bit myself, and learn who feasts on the black-oil sunflower seeds at my backyard feeder.
  • Paint.  As I said before, I'm renewing this goal in the hopes that I can do better this year.  I'm going to carve out a little nook on the back porch, where Chris used to do his crossword puzzles, and I'm also going to help myself out by getting some of my photos printed so that I can work from them.  Much as I love the purist idea of painting en plein air, it's just not practical when you work full time.
  • Make gifts for next Christmas.  Somewhere in between finishing a set of quilted place-mats and starting a set of fingerless gloves, I lost momentum last year.  However, there's no reason why I can't try again!
I'm also renewing the goal (for C) to clean out our front room so that by next year we can have a spot for guests, and even a Christmas tree.  Oh, and try to write on my blog more often!

A Flower unblown: a Book unread:
A Tree with fruit unharvested :
A Path untrod : a House whose rooms
Lack yet the heart's divine perfumes:
This is the Year that for you waits
Beyond Tomorrow's mystic gates. 

~Horatio Nelson Powers

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Only Way

The church of the week is a guest church, not from Durham, but from Wilton, NC.  I just couldn't resist it, so white and red and graphic against the side of a small country highway in a town with just one intersection.  I have no idea if it still in business, but there it sits. 

The Cantaloupe Festival

When C and I were on our honeymoon, we just wandered across North Carolina, taking blue highways wherever they led.  Along the way we saw a sign for a cantaloupe festival and for the past three years C has joked about it.  Finally this year I decided we should go see what it was all about.

Turns out that the town of Ridgeway, in Warren County, just a smidge before Norlina and the Virginia border, used to be a major producer of cantaloupes.  The Waldorf-Astoria used to serve Ridgeway cantaloupes in its dining room.  Well, I think Florida may have outpaced us--all the farm fields that I saw were growing tobacco and soybeans--but the Cantaloupe Festival lives on.

Parking in a hayfield was only a dollar, but I guess we didn't have to pay because we got there about an hour before the festival was over.  The first thing we saw was a rock band (well, four guys with electric guitars and a fifth guy singing) on a stage playing Lynyrd Skynyrd songs.  The singer used a music stand to sing from a book of "classic rock" songs.  A sparse crowd under an awning fanned themselves and relaxed in the 95 degree weather.  At the firehouse next door they served Brunswick stew, and the field was full of tables and tents and foodtrucks (mostly shaved ice and funnel cakes).  Some inflated kids games were on one side, and a stoic teenager drove kids around the entire thing in a sort of train.

At the opposite end of the small fair, a bluegrass band played, with a wider variety of instruments and talent.  And next to them was the most wonderful part of the whole fair--the homemade cantaloupe sherbet!  For only $3 it was heaven and a brain freeze.  But such a delicious one!  I would go back next year just for that.

Most of the people in the booths were from local businesses and the like: the roofing company, the Masonic Lodge, the historical society, and that sort of thing.  I snagged a foam cantaloupe slice with Warren County printed on it, and a pen.  Some people were selling handicrafts, including one eager girl who did some interesting woodblock prints.  I had to laugh at one guy, selling photos, because when C asked him where he took a particular photo, the guy said something like, "At the museum."  It was a photo of a photo!  And he was offering it for sale as his own work.  Sigh...

The most interesting table was manned by a wizened old man whose self-proclaimed "hobby" is to study rare and unique apple varieties.  I was just mesmerized by the way he displayed them, beautifully organized on a white board with their names written below each.

After we left the Cantaloupe Festival, C and I wandered around Warren County.  We saw the county seat of Warrenton, full of abandoned old mansions with historical markers and none to keep them up.  Some were so haunted looking.  The courthouse was very beautiful.  The town was so sleepy, but we did run into a local who advised us to drive out toward Inez, where some old plantation houses still exist.  We did so, and saw Cherry Hill, and others, in passing.

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the most bizarre front yard I've ever encountered.  In an otherwise normal little newly developed cookie cutter neighborhood, one house had four or five large rectangles in the front yard, outlined with wood, and in the center of each was a carved (fiberglass?) lion's head, surrounded with plain bark mulch.  They were five identical lion's heads in bark mulch rectangles, and the wood rectangles around them had a small piece of scroll molding at the bottoms.  So weird!  We could only stop and stare.

And that is why we love to explore.  Because you never know what you are going to find down the blue highways, the two-lane little byroads of North Carolina.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mount Gilead

The church of the week is Mt. Gilead Baptist Church on Dowd Street in Durham.  It was built in the nineteen-aughts, I believe, but that's all I know.  It has great hinges on its fabulous arched door!  Not in the picture, a great cast-iron bell.

Weekend Ramblings

Lately C and I have felt the urge to go explore our state on Saturdays.  Maybe it's because the weeks themselves have been so busy, we feel the need to escape on Saturday and go see something different.  This weekend we went to Hillsborough.  The county seat of North Carolina, it is a place full of history, but it also holds sentimentality for us because it was where we applied for our marriage license and celebrated our upcoming marriage in 2010.  And, since it is just a hop and a skip away from Durham, it's an easy place for us to go explore.  This Saturday we visited two walking trails in Hillsborough.  The first was "the Poet's Walk" around the grounds of Ayr Mount, an 18th century home that is now open as a sort of museum with guided tours.  We didn't go inside, but walked the Poet's Walk, a delightful meander through fields, woods, around a pond, and up and down gentle hills.  We glimpsed the Eno, full from recent rains, visited an old family cemetery, and marveled at the wildlife.  There were many butterflies, caterpillars, centipedes, birds, fish, and frogs.  Even some buzzards.  I'd like to go back and paint--there were some very picturesque vistas.  It would have been so lovely to live at Ayr Mount!

The next place we visited in Hillsborough was the old Occoneechee Speedway.  Once a busy auto racetrack, now a woodland walking trail, it was a little spooky.  The oval track is a mile, a nice walk, but there are other pathways into the woods where you can explore.  We glimpsed more of the Eno River, and looked around for signs of the old racetrack.  You can still see some of the guard rails, some wire fencing, and the cement bleachers, along with a lone light post that seems to be dropping brackets from time to time (I made sure not to stand under it!)  The ticket booth is shot up with bullet holes and the concession stand is a haven for wasps, but the flag stand has been recreated and advertises the history of the place, as well as its affiliation with Pepsi.

As we were walking through the woods, on what turned out not to be a trail (we were a little lost at that point!) we heard a loud hissing noise and suddenly C motioned for me to stop.  I froze, and he gestured to the tree in front of him.  There was a huge barred owl.  It hissed again, and we heard an answering hiss from a nearby tree.  There were two owls!  I couldn't see the other one, but the one near us was very near.  It was so neat to see it, although I know we were making it a little nervous.  We tried to stay still and silent, but in a few minutes a couple with a dog came along on the trail and the owl flew silently to a safer spot in a nearby tree, then turned around to continue watching us with its dark eyes.  

Sunday, June 23, 2013


The Durham church of the week is pretty typical of the classical revival style churches you see everywhere.  Built in the late 1930s, I think, it probably would not have looked much different if it was built a century or two earlier.  Maybe not.  I've determined to brush up on my architecture knowledge, so hopefully I will start having some useful and/or interesting things to say about the churches I highlight here.  For starters, here's a gem: those white stone blocks on the front edge corners of the building are called quoins and the pieces of wood that you can see on the inside edge and underneath the triangular pediment are called dentils (because they look like teeth, I guess.)  This beauty is in a neighborhood of Durham called Braggtown, and the church is thus called Braggtown Baptist Church.  I couldn't get a good picture of it, but there was a rose garden on the front lawn in the shape of a giant cross.  However, I have not yet found any information about how Braggtown got it's name.

It is located near the historic Stagville Plantation, once the largest plantation in North Carolina, which C and I visited yesterday.  There, you can tour the plantation house (not at all Gone With the Wind fancy), some of the slave quarters which are still standing, and a barn that was once the largest building in North Carolina, built entirely without nails.  It was amazing and humbling to think that about 900 slaves used to live on and work the fields that are now mostly woods as far as the eye can see, all for the benefit of one family. 

There are a lot of other very interesting historical sites here in North Carolina that I hope C and I can take the time to go and see when we have time to on weekends.  I am going to try and blog about those visits as often as they happen, as well as continue to post churches on Sundays, reviews of the books I read, garden highlights, as well as craft and art projects that I do.  Having the themes of travel, churches, books, garden, and arts will hopefully inspire me to blog more and also be my journal of sorts, since I neglect to write anything down otherwise.  We shall see how I do!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sweet Daddy in the House of Prayer

I noticed this week's church the first time I saw it because it was so striking.

In fact, my picture does not really do it's colorfulness justice.  I really need a better camera... (the sky was blue that day! sigh...) The cross-shaped windows are made of the glass bricks that are so ubiquitous in Durham architecture, and there is a primary color theme that includes red glass in the front doors and blue glass in the two side doors, as well as red glass in the octagon windows.  All this with the giant white lions make for an unusual Durham church building.  Then when I saw the name of it, I immediately remembered this church in Harlem.

Turns out this denomination has about 145 churches across the US.  The other fun fact is that they call their worldwide leader "Sweet Daddy."  There have been four or five Sweet Daddys since the church was founded in the early 20th century.  And from the looks of it, the buildings are often very colorful and uniquely decorated.  My casual research did not give me any insight into the winged angels/people on the outside of some of the church buildings, but several of them, including the Harlem building, have them.  I'm guessing it has something to do with doctrine put forth by the founder of the church.

Well, I do believe in the power of prayer, and that all people should pray.  Have a great week!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

First Baptist

This week's church is the First Baptist Church on Cleveland Street right in the middle of downtown Durham.  C and I went on a picture-taking drive after our own church let out this afternoon and it seems like we kept circling around and ending up at this church.  Endangered Durham has a history of the building here.  And while I was reading about it I also came across an interesting modern history of the congregation here.  

A neoclassical temple-form, this church building dates to 1927.  An old postcard featuring the church:

 Besides looking at churches, I like to read about them too, and it was interesting to read about this one.  C was telling me that the US has more churches per capita than any other nation.  I believe it.  Sometimes when I'm driving around and see a tiny church in the middle of a tiny neighborhood, I am amazed that enough people attend it to keep it open.  I guess this church doesn't have that problem.  It's pretty huge and prominent.  

Anyway, I've got several pictures of churches to post in the upcoming weeks, so I promise I will do it.  Mostly I have been busy working in my garden, and I sort of feel like doing a blog post about all the plants I'm growing... but I don't know if it will be interesting to anyone but me!  But seriously, there is a wild foxglove growing in my garden! 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Drive

Today's church, the Family Missionary Baptist Church, probably used to be a gas station.  Now instead of filling up on fuel, you can fill up on the spirit!  If I were them, that's what I would put in the sign on the window.  And then I would start making it look a little less scary.

Anyway, C and I went for a country drive this afternoon.  He's been feeling pretty sick with a cold and cough, and I'm not feeling too hot myself, so driving around seemed like a good way to be lazy and still see new stuff.  We headed north and found ourselves driving through towns like Stem, Providence, and then into Oxford.  Here's a lovely place we passed:

And we also saw this place, which was a contender for this week's church pick, but I couldn't really pick it because it's not in Durham:

We stopped at a tiny cemetery in the middle of some newly plowed and planted fields and wondered over the graves of the Tippets and Currins.  We ogled Victorian mansions in downtown Oxford, saw a beaver cross a road (C said it was a muskrat, but I think it was a beaver) and we walked across a no-longer-used bridge over the Tar River.  We also saw this place:

Who says a wood-chip factory can't be a work of sculptural art?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My TV Bipolarity

I've got TV bipolar disorder.  There are two shows I have been watching, and they are completely different.  The first one is Mad Men, and the second is Call the Midwife.  I'm sure everyone knows about Mad Men: set in 1960s New York City and the world of a cutthroat advertising agency, centered around Don Draper, the ever unfaithful yet ever unflappable mystery wrapped in a mystery man.  He's not happy, his wife isn't happy, his ex-wife isn't happy.  His children aren't happy.  His coworkers aren't happy.  They all do destructive things to themselves, and it's gorgeously filmed.  

The second show I've been watching, Call the Midwife, is perhaps less well-known, and in its second season.  Produced in England, it tells the story of a group of nun-midwives in east London during the post-war 1950s baby boom, and their young assistant nurses, especially Jenny Lee.  The characters are sweet, cheerful, kind to each other but witty, sad at times but very happy a lot, especially when they have helped someone, and it's gorgeously filmed.

I guess I like both shows because they are beautiful, not just visually, but in a well-executed artistic way that encompasses acting, filming, costumes, writing, and everything.  It's fun to look for parallels in Mad Men and try to guess how things that happen or are shown are supposed to relate to each other, or contrast.  I think the creators put a lot of thought into it, and I appreciate that.  But then sometimes watching Mad Men just seems like a waste.  I am frustrated by it because I want to see the characters grow.  I want a woman to think Don is disgusting and refuse his advances for a change.  I want a married couple to be happy and faithful.  I want someone to be genuinely kind.  It leaves one feeling very disappointed in society and wondering how trustworthy people really are.

On the other hand, Call the Midwife leaves me feeling peaceful and uplifted.  It is a much more realistic show in the sense that there is a wider variety of types of people.  Some husbands and wives are loving and kind, some aren't.  Some are good mothers, some aren't.  Some babies are born easily, and others aren't.  The poorest Londoners of the time are portrayed realistically, maybe slightly sensationalized because it is a TV show after all, but beautifully.  Every show has a victorious moment, a realization for someone, a moment of sweetness or sometimes bittersweetness.  And the thing I love the most about Call the Midwife is that the main characters are kind, helpful, and hardworking.  They may struggle with insecurities or personal heartbreaks, but who doesn't?  The writers of this show chose to portray women with real moral values and valuable skills, and even highlight those things.

So, while I can't stop myself from watching Mad Men, I encourage everyone to watch Call the Midwife.  Both shows capture the mid-century nostalgia that we all have right now, but one is just hollow beauty, and the other full of nourishment.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tabernacle of Joy

The church of the week!  I was going to use a different one, but then my husband and I were driving past this one, and I snapped a picture out of the car window, and I liked it.  The scripture in the window reads, "Except the Lord build the house, they that build it labor in vain."  And you can't read it but the sign on the telephone pole points to a Catholic church across the street.  Poor little tabernacle of joy.

In other news, it's been a great weekend apart from the deluge of little green canker-worms that are starting to rain down.  Yesterday I spent an hour picking them out of the tender green buds of the dogwood tree in my front yard.  This is going to be the year I put sticky stuff on the tree trunks to kill next year's batch of worms!

C and I have been enjoying the springtime otherwise.  I feel like my pictures of springtime on Instagram are cheering up my friends in the north and west who are still in winter.  My garden is growing.  We planted beans this weekend in one of the boxes, and will do the second box soon.  C was so excited about the beans that during church today he was calculating how many bean seeds he planted and imagining the green beans we'll be eating in a few months.  

We went for a long walk in Duke Forest and I could not stop admiring all the baby greenery, the array of wildflowers already in bloom, the rain-swelled creeks, the birds and the butterflies.

I've been going to the temple monthly, which is my own tabernacle of joy, and when I was there yesterday I just got such a peaceful happy feeling that seemed to tell me, "You have a wonderful happy life so enjoy these moments!"  And so I will.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Jesus Time

First I must apologize once again for being so absent from my blog!  It has been a busy few weeks.  But today I finally got a chance to rest and relax.  This weekend was General Conference (check it out at and for the first time I decided to try and test my hotspot to the max.  The hotspot that my cell phone generates lets me use my computer at home, but I've only used it for small quick things until now.  Today I streamed live video for four hours!  Luckily I have an unlimited data plan.  It worked like a dream!  And it was so nice to listen to the conference talks in my own living room rather than get dressed up and go to the church.

It was such a gorgeous day and the conference talks were all wonderful.  During the afternoon intermission, C and I went for a Sunday drive, and we came across this little church by the side of the road.  C had seen it before and wanted to show it to me.  I loved it!  My favorite thing about it is the golden silhouette of Jesus on the door with the word "nondenominational" written across him.  And I really like the artist's attempt at symmetry with the way the words are painted on. 

We also took a nice walk through the woods near Falls Lake, where we saw so many trees beginning to bud, lizards and bugs coming out of hibernation, and a bright red biplane that flew so close to us we could have shaken the pilot's hand almost.  We also saw horses galloping across a meadow.  So, all in all a very nice day.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Greater Faith

I'm not actually in Durham today, so here's a photo of an abandoned Durham church.  At least, I think it's abandoned.  Maybe there were people there at Christmas time, but no one ever took the wreath down, and the sign is falling off.  Despite the decrepit looking structure of the whole place, you gotta love the red cross on the door, the detail of the ironwork, and the effort that went into putting on a clean white face to the world.

I went to church today in a small coastal ward, where the testimonies borne were full of great faith.  In fact, more than anything, it's the faith that holds a congregation together.  They described themselves as a family, and from the sound of it, they really were--visiting each other when sick, serving, and praying for each other at all times.  Some had recently been very sick and were restored to health, some had moved away for a time, and now were back.  Some were just working on small daily issues.  All had great faith and testimony.  The hymn that closed the meeting was apt, and beautiful:

E'en down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sea Fever

On the list of things I need in order to be happy is a pathway that leads to the sea.  March is the perfect time to be at the beach in North Carolina.  The weather is sunny but not hot, and the nights are cold enough to want to be in the hot tub looking up at a clear starry sky, and the beaches are empty of people.  And what is it about the ocean that calls to us?  The heartbeat of waves, the endlessness of the horizon, the never ending ebb and flow...  I am speechless but full of love for the beach.

Yesterday I walked for a long time next to the waves as the tide came in and cast ashore billions of shells.  I saw a hollow hermit crab shell.  Pelicans dived into the rolling waves, and a flock of inky blue-black grackle sat on the fences that protect the dunes and chuckled at me.  How little acquainted I have been with nature lately.  How much I love to be in the outdoors!

And mostly, I'm blessed with wonderful friends to spend the weekend with at the beach.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Church of the Week, and a Bonus

Love, Faith, and Power, at Deliverance Temple Church.  I've often caught a glimpse of this church as I peer down a side street near where a friend lives.  So yesterday I decided to go have a look at it more closely.  I am charmed by the gothic windows and the detail around them in this architectural mix of renaissance revival, gothic, and southwestern elements.  And it's hard to see it in my photo, but there is a red cross on the sidewalk leading up to the door.

While on my way there, I noticed a building being torn down right next to one of my favorite signs in Durham.  Thinking they may tear it down next, I snapped a photo, so here's a bonus for today.  It's not a church per se, but it has a scripture on it!  And the reason I love it so much is because it is such an odd mixture of text, color and shape, which someone must have really been passionate about at one time.  I'm not sure what it looked like when it was first built, but it looks like it started out one way, then many letters fell off, then it was all painted whitish and red, and then someone went back and painted all the letters that had fallen off in blue, adding the extra touch of elongating the plus sign to make it look more like a cross.  I don't know why, I just like it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Max's Daffodils

I love it when C tells me stories about Max, his dog.  When Max was just a puppy, C adopted him, and it was twice lucky for Max, who had already survived a car accident as a stray.  Now Max had a master, and C had a good dog.  Max grew up to form a close bond with C, who once on a long hike saw that the puppy was tiring quickly, and carried him the few miles home like a lamb across his shoulders.  They were an inseparable like-minded two, and Max lived a good long life.  Dog days go quickly though, and I only met Max once, when he was very old.  C no longer wanted to risk leaving the ailing old dog at home, and so would bring him to work in the bed of his truck, then go out and visit him periodically through the day.  I was C's coworker at the time, and didn't realize the situation until one day I happened to be passing through that area of the shop and C motioned for me to "come and see."  I, curious as ever, followed him outside and met the friendly old blind white dog, whose age could not hide his devotion to his master, and who licked my hand with dignified friendliness.

Several weeks later I happened upon C again at work, and he was trying not to cry.  It's very shocking to see a man cry, and I realized Max had died.  Not having words, I bought the most cheerful thing I could find, a miniature daffodil plant in full bloom, and gave it to C.  He planted it on Max's grave, where he lay buried under the Rose of Sharon tree in his back yard.  And sometimes when C tells me about Max, tears still come into his eyes, he misses him so much.  And that makes me want to cry.

Nine-odd years later, C and I are married, we have no dogs but memories, but the miniature daffodils continue to bloom and cheer both our hearts.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jesus' Word

This week C and I have had a few doctrinal discussions related to scriptures.  He recently finished reading a book called "Misquoting Jesus" in which the author identifies and discusses specific areas of the New Testament gospels that scholars feel have definitely been changed, either deliberately or accidentally, by translators and transcribers throughout the two thousand odd years since the original Apostles wrote them.

C wanted to know how it affects my relationship with Jesus, knowing that the words in my scriptures may not be the exact ones that Jesus spoke.  So I told him that, besides the fact that anyone with some understanding of how the Bible came to be knows that it was written down and then copied and recopied multitudes of times before it ended up in our hands, my faith is not based in the text, but in the living Jesus Christ.  If we put our faith in the literal words on the page, we are worshipping language and semantics, yet if we put our faith in Christ, knowing that He lives and He is in control of the world, there is nothing to worry about.  If He needed us to have more information than the current version of the Bible contains, then He would give it to us.

In fact, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I believe that Jesus speaks to a prophet in these current times, and has given us further scripture, so that we are not left wondering what is true and what is error.  He gave us the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price to both confirm truths in the Bible, and give clarification of important doctrines.  These books are translations too, but have less human error than the Bible may have, so I can grow closer to my Heavenly Father and to Jesus Christ by reading from these texts, as well as from the Bible.  I also have another tool, and that is the Holy Spirit, which can tell me if something I read is true or not.

It doesn't worry me that Mark may have originally described Jesus as "angry" and that word may have been removed by monks who didn't think it appropriate.  I can find out the personality of Jesus myself by reading all the accounts of Him, by praying, by listening to modern-day talks by prophets who have interacted personally with Him, and by doing the things He commanded us to do.  If he was angry, it won't be with me, if I can help it!

So, when I saw a Durham church called "Jesus Word," it seemed appropriate for today.  Sorry the photo is a little blurry...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Little House

For Book Club this month, I read Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It was fun to revisit a childhood favorite.  And it's still a favorite!  I got sucked right back in to the world of 1870s Wisconsin frontier territory, and re-read the whole book in one evening.

There are so many things I love about the Little House series of books!  This book in particular, the first in the series of books that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote as an adult reminiscing on her life, is wonderful for it's coziness and simple charm.  Laura describes her life as a 5 year old child, which is full of some things we might not associate with a child.  She devotes a whole chapter to her father's gun, describing how the bullets are made and the gun barrel cleaned.  She speaks frequently of bears and panthers, but also corn cob dolls and maple sugar treats.  There is no huge story arc, a la Harry Potter.  No sensationalism or controversy here.  Just a joy in retelling the simple day-to-day life of Laura's family.

Part of the fun, too, are the pencil illustrations by Garth Williams, as above.  My favorite one I couldn't find online to copy, but it also has a bear in it.  Laura's father has gone out to check his traps in the winter (he trapped animals for their fur) and comes across a bear that has just killed a pig.  He shoots the bear and "brings home the bacon."  Anyway, the illustrations shows him approaching the bear, who is standing up on his hind legs and holding the pig in his arms, like a doll.  I don't know why I love it, I just do.  It makes me laugh.

It must sound awful for me, in this day and age, to be laughing about a man shooting a bear that has killed a pig, but for the Ingalls family, it was their way of life.  They had to survive the long cold winter days and nights by fighting with the wildness of the world around them sometimes.  I can only marvel at what they went through in that little Wisconsin cabin!  All I need to survive the winter is an electric blanket, and a good book.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Church of the Week

I'm reviving my old habit of posting pictures of churches on Sundays.  I don't live in Harlem anymore, but Durham seems to have just as many interesting houses of worship.  Today's choice is, I think, currently closed, but it is located on the corner of Sowell and Glenn and used to be the home of the Miracle Temple Holiness Church.  Before that it was the Ebenezer Baptist Church.  It's kind of tucked into a neighborhood at the top of a little hill, near the footbridge that crosses the Durham Freeway.

Anyway, it made me think about the name Ebenezer, which comes from the Bible.  There are actually a lot of churches in the South named Ebenezer, and it makes sense because the name "Eben-ezer" means "stone of strength."  When King Samuel, in the Old Testament, was in the middle of battles with his enemies, he "raised a stone" or maybe built some kind of altar with which to give thanks and perform worship to God.  He called it Eben-ezer, and that is what these churches are named after.  Churches are like rocks in the community, centers of immovable strength in some ways.  So, I think Ebenezer makes a great name.  And, this church is made of stone!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

An Etiquette Lesson

This week I had the novel experience of having to take a new employee to task about dressing inappropriately.  My workplace has a very casual dress code, so not very many things cross the line, but there's a first time for everything.  It was another reminder of how little we keep private these days, what with facebook and Twitter and all other types of social media and celebrity culture.

I feel like I gave that young woman some good advice about developing professionalism no matter what her job is, and I'd like to give some more advice, or at lease suggestions, to young people out there, about privacy, especially online.

First of all, young people, now that Valentine's Day is over and you've come down from your sugar and endorphin highs, please tell me that you are a little bit embarrassed that you posted online a photo of you and your true love passionately kissing, with some kind of message full of gushy extended words: "I looooooove my smoooochy boo!" Because you should be embarrassed.  I don't care if 6 people clicked the Like button.  All 578 of your other mutual facebook friends felt a little bit nauseous at the sight of it and laughed nervously and scrolled past it very quickly.  You and Smoochy Boo should definitely keep sending those messages to each other, but you should do it privately.  I know you are happy and proud of each other, but love notes are immensely more powerful, more sincere, and more meaningful when they are directed to your lover's eyes only, and not the world's.  Also, despite what you see on TV and in the movies, nobody likes to watch other people kissing, and if they do then they are gross.

Second, about those Valentine's gifts he gave you...  Everyone who is in a happy relationship got some kind of gift on Valentine's Day, not just you!  Yes, yours was the most special, but only to you!   I'm not trying to be mean, but when I see six photos posted on facebook in succession, beginning with the wrapped gift and ending with the unwrapped gift, with every stage in between tagged with #lovemyhubby, #besthusbandever, #hugsandkissesforever, etc., then I wonder if you are in a reality show that needs publicity, or else you have a super eager personal assistant, or maybe just plain too much time on your hands.  Or, heaven forbid, bragging.  It's not that I'm against posting photos of sweet gifts on facebook, my suggestion is to try and have a little more tact, a little more self control, a little less "look at how rich and wonderful my husband is because he got me this stuff!"  Okay, so I'm a little guilty here because I did post a picture of the heart-shaped cookie cutter that my husband made for me out of a tin can, and the cookie I then made for him using said cookie cutter, but my post was more out of a sense of "I can't believe he just made a cookie cutter out of a tin can!" than "look at me unwrap this name-brand thing he bought at the super expensive store for me!"  It has always been rude to proclaim one's wealth. It alienates you from your friends in some cases, or brings you the wrong kind of friends.  So, when you feel like bragging, think twice.  Tone it down.  Enjoy your blessings for sure, but remember that not everyone has what you have, or cares that you have it. Yes, they want to see cute pictures of your kids.  Yes, they want to know what fun places you are visiting.  But mostly your friends and family just want to know that you are happy, and that is all. 

My third and final bit of advice for this post is to remind you, young person, that what you post online has the potential to exist forever.  Just because you delete it doesn't mean it is gone.  So before uploading pictures of your naked pregnant belly, or writing a status-update about how you breast-fed your kid until they were 5, or how much you are going to love and adore your current boyfriend who can be seen kissing on you in the majority of your photos, think about how embarrassed your kid is going to feel when their friends see that, or how you are going to feel when you break up with that boyfriend and start dating someone else.  Just think about what you write and what you share with the world.  Sharing an abundance of personal information and feelings with close friends and family is wonderful, but to do so in a public forum is so often inappropriate.

Anyway, as with all advice, you are free to take it or leave it.  You may completely disagree with me, or you may have learned your own lesson from experience with the above.  Perhaps I have broken an etiquette rule by presuming I have something to teach.  Nevertheless, I just hope that with all the amazing ways we have to communicate with each other these days, we remember that not everything is meant to be communicated with everyone.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Back to Nature

One of my resolutions was to make a painting each month, so when a 70-degree January Saturday fell in my lap, I had to jump on it and go paint.

The night before, C helped me get my stuff ready.  I dusted off my trusty paint box that journeyed through many a western Massachusetts field in college, as I learned the art of plein-air painting in college.  The tubes of oil paint inside were crusty and twisted, but C carefully wiped them with turpentine and picked out the dried obstructions.  The paint inside was perfectly good, though they've sat for at least 5 years untouched.  My handful of brushes were fine too, minus one with a loose ferrule, but it wasn't a good brush to begin with.  One day, back in college, I was painting with my class at the edge of a waterfall, and my teacher commented that I might as well paint with sticks rather than use the paintbrushes I was using.  I couldn't help it--I was a poor art major!  A few of those "sticks" remain in my collection, though I do have several nicer brushes to work with these days, he would be happy to know.

I cut up some old clothes into rags, found a small glass jar to use for turpentine, and threw in some sharp pencils and an eraser.  There was just enough turpentine left in an old container to take along, too.  We went over my paint colors and C filled out my collection with some burnt sienna, lemon yellow, and raw umber that he'd squirreled away in his own paint box.  He also had some old pads of palette paper, still good enough to use!  Then C cut a piece of masonite to fit in my box (it has a slot for the painting to go) and we attached a piece of gessoed Bristol paper to it, hoping that Bristol paper would be stiff enough to paint on without buckling.  I usually paint on mat board, as I dislike the texture of canvas.

The next morning we threw a few folding chairs and a blanket into the car, along with the stocked paint box, a radio, snacks, and a camera, and headed out on a painting journey.

C knew of a country-ish road in Orange County that had some nice vistas.  In fact, he had a feeling that a house where he'd stopped once to look at a for-sale car was now sitting empty, though still kept up fairly well.  We stopped and knocked on the door just in case, but no one answered.  And so we set up camp in the driveway, which looked across a road into a rolling field with layers of trees and further fields, and an interesting cloud patterned sky behind.

First I covered my paper in a wash of reddish brown, then mixed my colors.  When I started painting, I worked on the sky first, and then from back to front, as taught (I guess we always do things the way we were taught, but there is no "right" way to paint) but it was slow going.  As I worked, C told me stories, cranked the radio (it has a thing that you wind to recharge it's battery) to keep it going, walked around, took pictures, and constantly laughed at my suggestion that he ought to paint too.  "Art is for suckers," he said, and frequently says!

And maybe it is.  For me, it's like a butterfly that I chase, and sometimes I get close to it and catch it, sometimes I don't.  This time I didn't even get near.  I feel like my art muscles have all atrophied!  It was very difficult to get my paintbrush to do what my brain wanted it to do.  But that is why I set this resolution, and I intend to keep working at it until it becomes easier.

The next day I worked a little more on my painting, and every day since I peek at it.  It's good to look, study, plan, and learn.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


1. To paint one landscape painting each month.
2. To make one Christmas gift (or more) each month, so as to be ready in advance for next year.
3. To not have any more cavities.
4. To have my wing. (The front room of the house to be mine for making beautiful and for receiving guests)

Those are my only resolutions. I suppose there are a few more I could and would like to make, but I will just keep it simple.