Friday, May 13, 2022

Nature's Blessings

There is a trail through a patch of woodland close to my home that I helped create years ago. In more recent years crushed stone has been added to the paths and wooden stairs have been built to ease passage on the steeper slopes. This somehow bothered me when it was done as it took away the wilderness effect.

I love to walk in the woods. It cures my ills and recharges my soul. I forget about my achy joints and just enjoy the sights and smells around me. The play of the shadows on the forest floor and the sight of any animal tracks I come across fill me with delight. 

I live in a tiny village but on the edge so I can see a wide-open field lined by the trees through which this trail passes. My own piece of land, where my house sits, is just an 80 by 120-foot lot. (Excuse me if I don't convert to meters. I have never heard of lot sizes expressed that way). There are no real fences between my property and my neighbours and I enjoy that openness. 

Over the years the town council has downsized the allowable property frontage from 80 to just 55 feet. That put new houses closer together and gave people less breathing room. Now there is a housing development that will contain an apartment building and row houses with less than an 18-foot frontage. That is city living, as far as I'm concerned, and will change the very nature of my village.  As this bit of wilderness is destroyed to pack in so many new homes it is displacing the creatures that lived there and driving many of them into town. 

I am currently reading a book called Black Lion by Sicelo Mbatha (with Bridget Pitt) which has the subtitle Alive in the Wilderness. It is an autobiography of a Zulu wilderness tour guide and tells of the life lessons he learned over the years from the animals and from spending so much time in the natural wilderness.  This book reminds us of how important the wilderness is to our lives, not only to the plant and animal species that live there but also to our own emotional and spiritual wellbeing. We all need a quiet natural spot where we can find the solace and comfort nature offers us.

Until I read this book I knew I could never be comfortable living in a city but I had never had the reason why so clearly express to me before. A simple walk in the woods always makes me feel better, renews my energy and fulfills my soul.  Sicelo Mbatha spent a lifetime trying to teach others this simple but forgotten lesson.  Undisturbed places are important not only to the plants and animals that live there but also to us.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Digital Motivation

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that my art practice has been motivated by various online seminars, courses, and Facebook pages for quite a while now. All this digital motivation has caused me to see a gradual, but steady improvement in the work I produce.  I have recently found that a digital gadget is going to help me be motivated to move more often and improve my well-being as a result.

A couple of years ago I bought my husband a Fitbit and have frequently teased him whenever he decided he needed to go for a walk late in the day because otherwise, he wasn't going to make his goal of 10,000 steps.  A couple of weeks ago he gave me an early birthday present and bought me a Fitbit Charge 5.

I found that I had become less active and spent entirely too much time sitting while using the computer, playing with the tablet, reading, or doing art projects. Sitting too much is not good for me, or anyone else for that matter. The Fitbit has a function that is supposed to warn you to get up and move if you have not managed to put in a minimum of 250 steps by ten minutes before the hour is up. I have not succeeded in getting that function to work yet, so I decided the best thing to do was to make sure I got those steps in at the beginning of the hour as often as I could. Anything after that would be a bonus. 

250 steps are easy enough to accomplish just doing simple housework like making the bed and putting away laundry. But there are times when I hear the words, "Have you got your steps in yet?" from my dear hubby. He's good at noticing when I have become glued to a chair these days.

It didn't take long before I learned a few tricks. I discovered how I could walk around the inside of my home to gather any remaining needed steps and I can put things away while I'm at it. Or, I could go to the basement and quickly walk from one end to the other a couple of times without anyone noticing and teasing me about it.  That being said, my hubby now also suddenly decides it's time for a random stroll from room to room all over the house.  He didn't use to worry about the hourly goal as he was more focused on the end target. He likely gets in more steps than ever now that he is following my lead, though he has always been more active than I am anyway.  It gets really funny if we both suddenly get up to accomplish those missing steps at the same time and pass each other going in opposite directions. 

Yes, this gadget has provided motivation to move and now it also has me watching the calories I take in compared to how many I burn. I am already starting to lose weight, slowly but surely. Digital motivation is a real thing and it does work. I might just have to get one of those apps that let me go on a virtual tour of some far-off land using the steps I accomplish here at home.  That may really get me walking!

Thursday, February 24, 2022

I Surrender

 I am a bookaholic. I have admitted that before.  I love to read and have always preferred physical books over digital ones. At least that was how I felt up until this past week.

There was a little Kindle on sale on Amazon before Christmas.  It was calling to me and I was so tempted.  I had enough gift cards from the surveys I do to cover the cost but I talked myself out of it. I prefer real books, as I said, and can read Kindle books on my tablet anyway. The problem is, the tablet is not as comfortable to hold as a real book. A bigger problem is that my tablet is already overly full and though I dump the cache and clean it several times a day, it still malfunctions often. Downloading another book would only add to the problem.

It was only after that amazing sale price was gone that I regretted not taking advantage of it.  So, last week, when I saw the sale reappear I jumped on it.

This cute little Kindle arrived at my door a few days later. I wondered at first if I would be able to read such a tiny screen. My tablet is a 10-inch version and actually bigger than some books.

A friend suddenly sent me a link to a free e-book she thought I would enjoy. I figured it would be a good way to test out this new gadget.

The text was clear and easy to read with none of the glare a tablet screen produces. This Kindle has a matt screen that doesn't reflect light from my surroundings, and it's not backlit either. It's like reading a regular book page and very easy on the eyes. The Kindle weighs nothing and is easy to hold, even in bed.  It is small enough I can easily tuck it in my purse and take it anywhere. I used it while waiting in the car twice already this week.  I have already finished reading that first book and written the review. Now I have another one lined up and ready to go. I caught myself saying, "I love this thing!" more than once this week.

I still have a lot of physical paper books to read. I also realize that they are filling up my house just as apps and files are filling up my tablet. Buying the Kindle was a good decision after all, and I no longer hate e-books.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Two Years In

Two years ago we went to a new restaurant in a nearby town. It was a really enjoyable event and I remember telling my friends all about this place. I know some of them have been there since, but I never have. Shortly after that dinner out the pandemic changed all our lives.

Not only did I not go back to that restaurant, or any other for that matter, but I didn't go into any stores either. In the beginning, friends picked up what I needed in grocery stores, and if we really needed something else it was ordered online.  That first Christmas came and went and was totally ignored by us as we were not comfortable shopping in crowded stores and the lineup outside the post office grew ridiculously long and the weather too cold to stand in it so we were no longer ordering online.

The grocery stores installed safety measures and I went back to shopping for food myself. We only ventured into a city mall a couple of times this past year to pick up something needed at a specific store so those were just quick in and out experiences. It was not crowded so that made me feel relatively safe. We did not go there during the Christmas season but we did manage to get some gifts bought this year.  Most of them have not been delivered yet but we hope to remedy that soon. 

The latest variant is highly contagious so once again I am not shopping in the grocery stores. I now order online and we park in the lot and have the order brought out to us.  I tried this in the beginning but there were too many bugs in the system and I gave up. Now it's quick and easy at my chosen store. After only one month I find I have already saved over a hundred dollars on my food budget shopping this way, despite the rapidly rising cost of food and the added convenience charges.  It probably saves time too, but I am losing out on the added exercise of walking around the store.

Yes, I have had both vaccinations and my booster shot and know a lot of you are feeling safe now. But the case numbers were rising again because of that and the extra contagion. Right now, though things are improving, the number of people with Covid-19 is still higher than it was at the beginning of some previous shutdowns.  I am a senior who gets bronchitis to the point where I can't catch my breath when I catch the regular flu so I do not want to take chances with this virus. They say this Omicron variant is milder than the previous versions but that is just doctor-speak for "it's not as likely to kill you," but it still could, and has taken many.

I am part of the Stop-Cov Study and routinely send in dried blood samples to check for antibodies. They check my antibody levels against those of other people in my age group and how my group is doing compared with other age groups.  My latest report shows that I have had no antibodies and have been basically unprotected from September until my booster shot in January. That's not everyone, but that is the results my tests show. We are all different and I am certainly glad I have remained careful.

I had to travel to a city an hour and a half away for a medical test. Since it was Valentine's Day we decided we would venture into a restaurant partway through the afternoon and enjoy a meal out. It wasn't busy at that time and it was great to finally have something other than fast food or takeout in the car.  The restrictions are being lifted soon but that does not mean I will jump back into normal life right away.  If the trucker convoys and other related demonstrations don't cause a superspreader I will feel more confident that it's time to get back to pre-Covid life.  

Monday, February 7, 2022

Just Start

Is there something you would like to do but think you can't?  Have you ever actually tried? Or did you try and not do as well as you had hoped and then just give up?

I remember seeing a painting of a dalmatian in a how-to magazine once that totally fascinated me. I was learning to paint but I didn't think I could ever do anything like that. I came across that old magazine recently and now that painting doesn't look nearly as intimidating as it once did. I've learned some skills.

I didn't use to be able to draw a decent stick figure but I have now been commissioned to draw two pet portraits just because I post what I'm learning on social media. If you want to do something you don't think you can do, take steps to learn how. Start today and just keep going. I know you can do it, whatever it is. It might take training. It might just take practice.  It might take luck or it could be that even your happy accidents lead to the success you weren't even expecting.

Sometimes something you do will lead you to do something else you had not thought of before, or it might even inspire others.  A new cyber friend of mine went out to take pictures of the new snow clinging to the trees.  She was disappointed later when she realized the photos were badly overexposed. We interact on a creativity page and she decided to share those shots after all. She ran them through a filter and was surprised by the truly lovely results. If she had just deleted the pictures without trying something new she would never have discovered how beautiful her mistakes really were.  And today, when I tried to take a specific picture, the angle of the sun was making it next to impossible.   I was inspired by what this lady had done and decided to see if I could turn an over-exposed picture into something beautiful too.  There are no mistakes, there are just opportunities.  

Go create some opportunities for yourself. Whatever it is you ever wanted to do, go take that first step. You may really love where it leads you.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Scribble Art

 For the past couple of years, I have taken part in Self Portrait Sunday. It is a group on Facebook where the only rules are to only draw yourself from a mirror or another reflective surface (no photos allowed) and you can only post on Sunday. Beyond that, any method or medium is fair game.

Recently I followed a 30-minute demonstration by Dena Marshall on Etcher about how to draw a dog using a scribbling method. My results turned out better than I expected so I tried another of one of a friend's dogs. I admit I did revert to hatching partway through both drawings because neither of those dogs had curly hair and I didn't want them to look like they did. I decided to try again with my self-portrait this week. I may need a bit more practice with this technique but I find it fun and rather freeing. I like to work with a pen, and if you are scribbling you don't need to worry so much about putting a line in the wrong place because you can just scribble over it anyway. There is a 90-minute workshop on Etchr later this week that I might just have to look into.

This is the dog I learned how to draw in 30 minutes.

And these are the drawings I have done on my own since.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Off to a Good Start

Most of the time when I pick a project or challenge to follow, something else I would maybe have preferred comes along and I let it go because I am already involved in something. At this time of year, there is certainly no shortage of such offerings as they know people want something that will give them the needed push in the direction they want to go.  I didn't choose one this year. I signed up for several as they came along. In fact, I picked up another one this week.

So, how am I doing?  Ha.  Obviously, I'm not committed to any one project but I have managed to do something each day toward two different kinds of challenges.

My first project for 2022 was to create 12 bookmarks to exchange with 12 other artists (yes, I am going to start calling myself that now) across North America.   I have done greeting card exchanges in the past and traded ATCs (Artist Trading Cards) this past year so I couldn't resist getting in on this.  I used four stamps I carved myself to create my bookmarks and sent the results off to one address where they will be redistributed along with other submissions to the various participants. There is only one other Canadian taking part. I can hardly wait to get my package, not that I need more bookmarks, but because I love to get art in the mail. It's a great way to make new friends.

There was a 5-day challenge to draw flowers.  I did a quick sketch in my junk journal on day one but the photos of the flowers presented during this particular week didn't inspire me at all.  I may look back on that some other day this month when I am even less interested in what is being offered elsewhere.   We'll see.  The idea, for me, is just to do something artistic each day.  The bookmarks kept me busy.

Besides the quick flower sketch I did on day one, I was also prompted to draw some of my pens for a month-long challenge. Each day since then it has come up with other simple things like cups, nuts or feathers. I didn't get inspired to do much with those and I was much too busy doing the other type of project I'll tell you about in a moment.

I did get inspired by something I saw on Facebook though. I follow this interesting creativity coach who lives near Paris, France. He is about to put on a 5 Day Creative Challenge and he has been doing the occasional video lately to stir up our creativity and get people interested in the challenge. (Yes, that's the one I picked up this week). In a recent video, he was telling about learning to draw using the blind contour method and mentioned his results looked like monsters. While he was talking about it, he rather looked like a monster himself, since he was shining a light up toward his face. I instantly wanted to see if I could draw him like that.  The lighting was so dramatic that I thought it would be fun to try. I dug out my acrylic inks and it turned out better than I expected. Normally I only draw self-portraits. I may have to try a few more people!

Two other challenges I'm working on have more to do with decluttering. I usually do one every year to kick start my spring cleaning.  It aims me at places I've forgotten to clean or only do once a year. This year there is a shorter new one as well, that is interesting in that it gets you to declutter just your own stuff, and not worry about the messes others in the house might be making. Between the two of them, so far this week I have cleaned out a drawer, decluttered all my cups or other drinking vessels (how many do you really need?), cleaned up and decluttered my night table and other bedroom surfaces where my own stuff might be, and did the same in the bathroom. Getting rid of old makeup, or good things I don't use is not as easy as it might sound! I also went through all the food cupboards and storage and got rid of anything that had gone past its expiry date. 

I have had a productive week even if I didn't do something for each and every challenge every day. I even got this blog posted so I think this year is off to a good start.