An End and a Beginning with Art

It is no secret that Curt and I appreciate art and have created much of our own. We also have been gifted art, we have traded for art and we have purchased art. The art we buy will probably never appreciate enough that you would call it an investment but we don’t buy art to make money. We buy it because it makes us happy. We enjoy looking at it. There are very few walls in our house that do not have a piece of art on them or, in the case of sculpture, in front of them.

For awhile I have been admiring the work of a Wisconsin Plein Air artist by the name of Steve Wysocki. Steve lives in Northern Wisconsin in a town called Armstrong Creek. He is a tireless painter. He recently posted pictures on Facebook of him painting on a frozen lake while ice fishing with his son. The guy can’t stop. And when he isn’t painting he is working on the family ranch, The Armstrong Creek Bison Company. If you look through his body of work you will immediately notice the influence the bison have on him. Now I mentioned that Steve is a Plein Air painter, well Plain Air is a French term meaning “open air” that refers to creating a work of art outside. It literally means the artist has his palette and canvas and easel and paints outside and he is literally painting what he or she is looking at, they are not just outside. Once again, when you look at Steve’s work I think you will understand.

Last summer I saw one of his works on a Facebook page and I was immediately drawn to it. I inquired about the painting but at the time I just couldn’t justify the cost no matter how much I liked it. Time passed, I scanned Steve’s online gallery, good work but nothing clicked. Then that painting I loved was accepted into the Northern National Art Competition at Nicolet College in Rhinelander, WI. You may be saying, so what, but not so fast. This show has a National reputation and hundreds of artists enter every year for inclusion in the show. More than $8500 in awards is given out, including three $1000 awards of excellence. I thought for sure someone would snap it up. By now I was in communication with the artist so when I found out the painting had not sold at the exhibit (whew!) I showed it to my husband and asked him what he thought. He also liked it a lot and Christmas was coming. These days It is hard to buy gifts for each other so we decided to make Steve an offer and maybe, just maybe, this would be our Christmas gift.To make a long story short this great crow now lives with us. This was our last new art for 2017. And perfect for a couple of bird watchers.

“Flight” by Stephen Wysocki 16″ x 20″

Just a note to say this one is not Plein Air. Steve can’t paint that fast but his website said this image came from a trail camera he had set up.

The first piece of 2018 came as a surprise gift. I have a high school friend that I have reconnected with on Facebook recently. We graduated in 1967 so it has been a long time and in school we were probably acquaintances at best. We ran in different circles. But that’s the miracle of FB sometimes. I’m not going to go into the convoluted way how Rich and I found each other but since he has retired from a tech industry job he has been deeply involved in his first love, photography. Lots of great nature work, textures and occasionally a bird or two. Whenever a bird would show up in his lens he would send me a note asking, ‘what is this bird?’ And I or Curt would give him an educated guess (some were pure guesses, others were definite IDs depending on the photo). Over the last couple of years Rich would post pictures of his serious work and for a short time he had a shop on Etsy. Now I believe you have to visit his business FB page, Image with Vision, Inc., for information on him and his work. Worth a look. He lives in Chicago but on the far east side, almost in Indiana, so he does a lot of shooting at Wolf Lake and the Indiana Dunes State Park. Yes, even in the winter. Also a recent trip to Alaska has provided some inspired shots. Last week I received a cryptic message from Rich saying I should watch the mail. This is what arrived.

Corrugated Iron Ice #3-Wolf Lake , 10″x 6.625″ photograph by Richard Ackerman

It is a photo I had admired on his page. The simplicity and the color just drew me in. He sent it along as a thank you for all the bird identification and the support I have sent along to him in his new found love. Can’t wait to get it framed.  So this was the new art that began our journey into 2018. Hope your year is filled with art and images that make your life richer.


Last Monday Morning View Out My Window before the New Window Arrives

No, it won’t be the last, last view out my window but the last one from this particular wood and glass structure that creates a portal to the outside world from my inside world. Long story short, next week we are having all of the windows in our house replaced. This is an event I am hating and loving. I wish I could just leave before any workmen show up. Hide out where there is no communication and then come back in a week to miraculously new views. All dust, dirt gone. All curtains, blinds, shades back in their original positions. But no, I will have to be here…probably getting up at 7am, and getting dressed, because there will probably be men pounding on my house or looking in my windows. So for now enjoy the last full view, this window is going to b e transformed. Here’s hoping I live through the transformation.window10

Monday Morning View Out My Window #4

Boy has that field greened up since last Monday. And the sky has just a few wispy clouds. What a beautiful morning.

20140512-230545.jpgYes, a beautiful morning over England. The view from my window comes to you from 15,000 feet in the air. We were descending into Heathrow and this was the countryside west of London out of the window of row 36, seat F. Enjoy. Next Monday should be another surprise.

The Monday Morning View Out My Window #3

The sun is shining. Can you tell? Probably not because it was pretty bright and I think the cat in the picture sucked up all the color. Some subtle changes have happened, first off, the field has been plowed so that nice warm yellow has been replaced with brown of turned over dirt. The grass is getting a lot greener. I have to confess I enticed Butchie up to the window so there was something more to look at this week, however he just wouldn’t give me a classic cat pose. He kept wondering where were those treats that I more2The next two Mondays I’ll be looking out of different windows. If I am able to post, you’ll see them here otherwise this view from this window continues on May 26.

The Monday Morning View Out My Window #2

Hmmm, maybe I should have picked a different day of the week.

This looks about as dreary as last Monday.

window2My window is still drippy and it is still overcast but it’s clearer today. When I looked at last week’s view I realized it was a pretty hazy/foggy morning. This Monday you can see all the way over to the bay (Green Bay). That’s the second light blue section below the darker blue horizon line. Keep moving your eyes down from there and you can see a white truck moving left to right on the highway. Also there are teeny tiny houses over there too.
It helps if you enlarge this picture.

Will the sun finally shine next week? Stop back and see.

A Trip to Wisconsin: Don’t forget to Pack the Blue Vitriol

Make it stop!

Make it stop!

The wind, the wind! The blowing, the creaking of the house, the whistling of the windows! Will it ever stop? The constant, never-ending scream of the wind. Arrgh! Get the blue vitriol.

Photo: Wisconsin Death Trip

Photo from: Wisconsin Death Trip

Well it is windy. I think the weatherman said 20mph, gusts to 35. And it is cold this morning, 24, but its been colder. My house is creaking and some of the windows are whistling – note to self: get those replaced – but its supposed to end by noon. My furnace is fine, my fridge is full and my Sweetie is warming up the espresso machine so I really don’t have anything to complain about. But the whining of the wind this morning reminded me of a strange book called Wisconsin Death Trip. If you have not come across this book in your travels, it is worth the journey.

Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy

Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy

First published in 1973, This book by Michael Lesy, is based on a collection of glass plate negatives taken by Charles Van Schaik in Black River Falls, Wisconsin from 1890 – 1910. The subject matter ranges from children in coffins, to farm animals, to family portraits of some of the grimmest-looking people imaginable. These are coupled with newspaper excerpts of suicides, murder/suicides, madness and misery. This period of history in the US was tough, because if you were either making your fortune or you were having a really bad time. The distance between city folk and country folk was pretty wide and the country people weren’t doing too well. There was drought, foreclosures, and poverty, and in Wisconsin, the weather didn’t help anyone’s attitude either. It gets cold, really cold, and it snows, a lot, and back then you had a bunch of kids to feed and you had cows or other animals to feed and wood to chop and water to thaw. When the wind whistled, it whistled loud and found every crack in the house. We are having a lot of pipe freezing this winter up here, and its a pain and a big inconvenience but back in 1893, you couldn’t just wrap the pipe in heat tape or use the hair dryer, hell, you had a well that froze up. Just going outside to get the water was a big ordeal, not to mention hauling it over to the barn once you dug a path through the snow. And then you had to go out to the barn a couple of times a day to make sure the trough hadn’t frozen over. If the well froze, you were melting snow.

from Wisconsin Death Trip

from Wisconsin Death Trip

And then there were the epidemics (smallpox, diphtheria), alcoholism, gangs of armed tramps, barn burnings…. well it isn’t surprising that old Ben hung himself after offing the family or Sarah drank blue vitriol when she discovered she was pregnant – again!. When I read this book for the first time, probably in the early 80’s, the reference to blue vitriol was new to me. And it came up more than once in Wisconsin Death Trip. Sure people were hanging themselves, using garden tool in unique ways, jumping in the lake with rocks in their pockets but drinking blue vitriol? I found out it is copper sulfate ( copper and sulfuric acid) but what the heck were they doing with it on the farm in the early 20th C.? It was pretty common on the farm since it was a fungicide, insecticide and a blue dye. Interesting enough, it was also used as an emetic, drink a little-you vomit….drink a lot-you die.

Because it just sounded so odd, it became one of those phrases you use in a family that if outsiders heard you they’d scratch their heads or have you committed. With us, whenever things got crazy around here or the wind didn’t stop blowing for 10 hours straight or you had a bad day at work, you’d say something like, “I can’t take it, where’s the blue vitriol.?” Sounds creepy? Maybe. But for us it was a way to lighten up a stressful situation. Too bad those farm wives in 1901 didn’t think that way. To them drink actually meant drink.

Now this may all sound pretty morbid and yes, some of it is, but this book is also fascinating. It will give you a different perspective on the “good old days.” Of course not everyone was behaving like this but some were. And it wasn’t just in Black River Falls, it was happening in other towns in Wisconsin, and in Iowa, and in Nebraska, and in Minnesota.

So hang in there. Winter will be over someday. The pipes will thaw. The wind will die down. No need to get out the hedge clippers, the rope or the blue vitriol.

PS: If you like Wisconsin Death Trip you might enjoy two fiction books that pull inspiration from WDT, A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick and
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.


It was 40 Years Ago Today

Look at these poor souls. I bet they don’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of…. Do they even have jobs? Probably heading home after a long day in the field picking someone elses crops. Or maybe they’re a couple of hippies about to get in their VW van and head off to Woodstock. They might even live in the van and it sure looks like they sleep in their clothes.


Would you believe these two own a house, a truck and both are employed? She’s a librarian and he’s an art professor. She specializes in fiction, does reader advisory, his main area is ceramics. Yes, they used to own a red VW van and they do own the Woodstock album. But that’s about as close to being hippies as they get. And they pick their own veggies not someone elses. I think they just put in an asparagus patch. For awhile they raised sheep. sheep

I’m sure by now you’ve guessed that those two are us, in 1981, standing in our backyard after a day of tearing out something or repairing another thing or planting vegetables and flowers. Could I be any skinnier? Wouldn’t mind having some of that figure back. Curt has a bit of a hair thing going on there and it was red back then. We were married in 1973, moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1978 because Curt got hired at the University of Wisconsin  teaching ceramics. I got a job at the Brown County Library in January of ’79 and we bought this house in May of the same year.

My folks (Minnesota) and Curt’s (Western New York) made a few pilgrimages to Wisconsin to help us with repairs and remodeling and this picture was taken at one of those visits. It’s the end result of a day’s work sitting at the road for the garbage guys.house2

Today we celebrate 40 years together. We’ve raised a son, worked 30 years at our jobs and retired. We still are working on the house (it never ends) but now our garbage has to fit into tidy bins or the sanitation workers won’t pick it up. Gee, I miss those garbage guys.

How are we celebrating? Well Friday night we went to a movie and Saturday was dinner out (with appetizers, bottle of wine, dessert, the whole shabang!) and today, the actual date of our nuptials? Curt is going to a flea market with a friend and I’m either going to another movie or just putting my feet up and reading. Newlyweds would just be crazy about being together, and definitely doing something together on the actual date. After 40 years, you can do whatever you want and no one gets crazy. Because at the end of the day, there we are, together, sharing what we did, who we saw, what we read.

Now, to be honest, the 40th is still a big milestone and we have decided it needed a bit more than dinner and a movie. So in September we’ve got a trip to China planned. Hope they let old hippies in to their country.

June 16, 1973

June 16, 1973

Blogging about Food is a Lot of Work

We usually blog about food, although we also include birding, art and other sundry topics from time to time. Jeanne posts more often than I do but together we try to post about twice a week.  I also follow several food blogs by folks that have similar approaches to mine or who just strike my fancy.

One blogger I follow is, Conor Bofin who writes One Man’s Meat. He posts about once a week. His writing is witty and often punny. Sometimes he’s down right hilarious as in this disquistion on the proper use and finish of the mashed potatoes on various meat pies (fish, shepherd’s or cottage).

Blog in and blog out, he weaves his obvious love of food and cooking with his love of family and his relationship to his community.  His photography is good, certainly better than mine, but not so good that it overpowers the food. He’s not creating photographic art but rather good photographic documentation of whatever dish he’s featuring. Mr. Bofin frequently owns up to photographic gaffs (usually leaving a key ingredient out of the photo of his mise en place) that would go unnoticed if he hadn’t mentioned them.  But, he also takes credit for some well framed and composed images.  And from time to time he nails it – capturing that elusive plume of steam rising from a bowl of freshly served stew, the crispness of some freshly gathered vegetable or the bloody beauty of a haunch of some beast ready for the oven. At his full-time job he runs an advertising agency in Dublin, Ireland so his concern over his photography may be understandable.  I appreciate his efforts and genuinely look forward to his posts (which I wish were just a bit more frequent).

Other food bloggers seem to have either nothing else to do or a staff of assistants to produce their posts.  Their writing is not any more extensive than most food blogs – usually a recounting of the origin of the dish and a serviceable recipe to follow if one wishes to attempt replicating the offering.  But their photography – Oh, their photography!  It borders on art.  And it comes in volumes – dozens of images to detail every step of the recipe – every step from boiling the water to adding the salt!  Ending with glorious shots of the finished product that would make a New York food stylist proud.  How do they do it?  How can they cook while, seemingly at the same time, stage and take all those photos.  Take for example, Ree Drummond who blogs under the name The Pioneer Woman.  She runs 5 different blogs: (The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Pioneer Woman Entertains, Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, Pioneer Woman Home and Garden and Pioneer Woman Homeschooling), she has published 4 books (2 cooking and 2 children’s) and she has a show on the Food Network.  She posts frequently – a least once a week, sometimes more frequently, for each of the 5 blogs.

But what puzzles me is how she can put together a food post with so many photos.  Take this recent post for Butternut Squash & Kale Quesadillas.  Now, I make quesadillas.  I usually make them for breakfast using what leftovers I have on hand.  They’re easy – two tortillas, some cheese and some other things (meat and/or vegetables) – toast them until the tortillas are nicely browned and the cheese is melted.  Slice into quarters and eat.  No magic, no secret techniques.

Ms. Drummond’s post about the quesadillas, on the other hand, runs to 48 photos including 17 images on peeling and cutting the squash, 2 of melting butter, 2 featuring her new manicure and 5 of the finished dish.  Don’t get me wrong – the quesadillas (and most of her other offerings) look tasty but really, 48 photos?

I blog about what I cook too.  Not everything but from time to time when I think I’ve made something interesting or that other people might find interesting.  I try not to blog about basic cookery, assuming that most readers have some passing understanding about how to peel and cut a squash, grate cheese or boil water; or of they don’t that they know enough about the web to find multiple sites with that information (it’s amazing what you can find on wikiHow and Wikipedia).

What I don’t get about bloggers like Ms. Drummond is how they can manage to actually cook something AND take all those beautifully staged and framed photos at the same time.  I suspect the presence of another hand (or two) – maybe a photographer who doesn’t have to wash chicken mush or onion juice from their hands every time they need to pick up the camera (meanwhile losing track of the pan on the stove and coming close to burning the whole mess) – or maybe a food stylist to make sure each of the ingredients are well seen in the set up shot and identifiable in the money shot of the finished dish – or even a continuity assistant to make sure that no step in the preparation or cooking is missed or that no errant ingredient ends up in the finished dish that wasn’t present in the set up shot or the list of ingredients.

On the other hand, my efforts usually fall short of such professional attentions.  I can usually manage a set up shot but almost always forget to put some major ingredient in the shot, as in this shot for Coconut Chicken Curry with Cashews that I got from David Tanis in the NY Times which I followed closely except for substituting sweet potatoes for the parsnips in his recipe.


Ready to go. Yup, everything EXCEPT the chicken, sweet potato, tomato paste, mint and cilantro

As I went along, I only remembered to take a couple of photos that don’t exactly show off either the food or my photographic skills very well.

Tomato paste added to the sauted onions looks rather unappealing at this stage

Tomato paste added to the sautéed onions looks rather unappealing at this stage

Well, at least I remembered to get a clean shot (meaning BEFORE I started eating it) of the plated curry.

Coconut Chicken Curry with Sweet Potatoes and Cashews

Coconut Chicken Curry with Sweet Potatoes and Cashews

Well, I guess I’m more of a cook; being a media savant is too much work.  Bon appétit!

Counting Fungi

Has it been raining a LOT where you live? Not sure? Well take a walk through your lawn and your gardens and count the mushrooms. I came up with 91 today and that didn’t count the ones I found on the tree in the front yard. It rained here everyday last week. So if your mushroom crop seems to be growing exponentially its time to quit doing the rain dance and to start calling out for the sun gods to return.

Here are some of my mushrooms, and darn, none of them are edible.

Brisk Walk

Had a bunch of errands today. I have a very good friend and former colleague who is retiring in 2 weeks. The sendoff party is next Monday but we will be on the road to North Tonawanda, NY (more on that in a later post). I wanted to get a couple of presents I had for her to the library where others could hide them now and add them to the other goodies she surely will receive next week. But first I had to wrap them. That sounds easy but one was a scarf I’d knitted. I like to give gifts you can use for most of the year in Wisconsin. Anyway since I had knitted it I felt it important to add material content and washing instructions. That took about 20 minutes to locate the wrapper from the yarn, make up a clever little card, and attach it with a clever little ribbon. Once that was done, I got it wrapped and ready to go. I also was gifting her with a favorite print we’ve had for many years. It is called “Good Citizens” and it is an image of sheep, all on the run right toward the viewer. These girls have lived at our house a long time, it’s time for them to move into another sheep lover’s home. That didn’t take as long. Now off to church to buy some gift cards for Starbucks and Target. (Our church gets a percent of gift cards sold, they call it scrip). To Target to get tissue paper and a nice big gift bag to put everything into and then to the library. Drop off gifts, see old friends, talk for a while, pick up audio CD ( Freedom by Jonathan Franzen), sort books for upcoming book sale and then out the door.

Now when I started this trip I also threw my gym bag in the car but now I just don’t want to go. No will-power whatsoever but a lot of guilt. I stopped for a cup of coffee instead. So once I got home I figured I had to walk off that guilt. The gym probably would have been better. It’s 47 today in my neck of the woods and a pretty brisk wind forced me into a knit cap,  a muffler tied around my neck.  As I headed out the door, I grabbed my gloves and my camera. Surely since I had officially bid adieu to Old Man Winter, spritely Spring would be showing herself. Here is what I found.

Hosta on side of house

The daylilies I thought the snowplow guy killed. Hah!

Lichen or moss, which is it?

Water running through the roadside weeds from under the snow.

Mushrooms on a stump from last Fall

Bittersweet still hanging on.

I think I only put in about a half mile but since half of that was uphill into a brisk, nay – stiff wind it must count for more, right?