Monday, June 30, 2014

June Reflections

One of the really fun things about writing a blog (or a newspaper column, as I used to do) is looking back to see what you wrote in previous years. I took a few moments today to look back at the last three years of posts from June 30th.

In 2011, U.S. soldiers were still getting killed in Iraq and I wrote about the death of a young medic, Army Pfc.Brian Backus, a son of Harbor Beach, and what that seemed like to honor a fallen hero right before the Fourth of July.  June 30, 2011 -- Before The Fourth of July

Two of my planter boxes were the focus of the 2012 blog post for June 30th. We had traveled in Great Britain that spring and I was inspired by all of the garden pots that I saw in England.  June 30, 2012 -- British Boxwoods

Our grandkids have been regular visitors to our lake house during the month of June and in 2013 there were ice cream cones and lots of fun times to write about.  June 30, 2013 -- Grandpa's Waffle Cone

I can characterize June 2014, for me, as the time of geraniums and sunrises. And, most of all, after the dreadful cold winter, June has been the month of welcoming back the warm days of summer.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cousin Fun

Tonight was a cousin fun night. There was good food. Salad from the garden, spaghetti with marinara, and home made garlic bread. There was a bonfire with s'mores.

The cousins discovered a snake. They roasted marshmallows. They chased the evening shadows until the day was almost done.

Such cousin fun. How can one not count it a good day when the cousins get to play!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Da Mushrooms

From all the plenitude of art and nature journaling websites, I'm following John Muir Laws, painter of birds and trees and bugs, this summer. Late last night I played with a "How to Paint Mushrooms to Look Wet and Glossy" blog post. I copied his drawing freehand, using a Micron 02 pen and then took Caran d' Ache Supracolor Soft II watercolor pencils with a water brush to add the color. 

I let the drawing dry overnight and added the opaque accents that show reflected light for the glossiness. The opaque white is watercolor, too. I used Winsor and Newton Designer Gouache "Zinc White" and then added touches of Uniball white gel pen. 

It's my first time trying this technique, but once you've done something with your hands, your brain starts firing in a new way and you just might remember the technique when you need it again. 

Here's a link to the Laws website. If you are a bird watcher, you might know his work well already.  The lesson using mushrooms is on his blog. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Long Summer Days

I try to keep track of the times for sunrise and sunset in my daily art journal. A lot of the weather apps on mobile phones show those times routinely. Right now, at the end of June, the sun comes up before 6 am and goes down after 9 pm, making the days extremely long. All of that light is what makes things grow so fast in late June. Beans that were just showing on Monday have four leaves by Wednesday. The cut-and-come-again lettuce seems to always need cutting. It's a vibrant time of the year.

I always find that I get really tired this time of the year, too. I attempt to do way too much. With long days I figure that I should be able to get something done before breakfast and after supper. So I'm painting in my art journal before 7 am, working on my website in the morning, doing correspondence in the afternoon, and then weeding a garden bed at 8 pm.

Even long summer days require lazy time for a good book or watching a baseball game. As a matter of fact, that might be the best thing about summer days, that there is time for some lazy moments.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pottery Tuesday

It's a long drive to Bay City from our lake house but we did it, just so we could spend the afternoon painting pottery at Ward Studio on Water Street. 

Max smiles before he gets creative with his star bowl. He also did a bird and a wizard, painted to look like Dumbledore of the Harry Potter stories. 

Finn is ready to do a star plate. He also did a tiny turtle dog tag and a football bank. 

We did seven pieces in all. Now those pieces will be fired in a kiln and come back to us looking all shiny and new. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer Formula

It's the perfect formula for a summer day. Take two boys, two pond nets, one pail, and one afternoon. Toss in a willing grandmother and two walkie talkies.

The result is an afternoon spent hunting crayfish (one dead one discovered) and netting for fish (two dead ones captured).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hummingbird Art

Small sketches of hummingbirds, scattered through my June art journals, are changing the way that I look at these tiny creatures. I try to sketch them in flight as well as perched on a feeder. I've been using watercolor pencils, standard colored pencils, watercolors, Micron pen, and graphite pencil as my tools for these little drawings.

My go-to resource for working on bird drawings this summer is "The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds" by John Muir Laws, a talented bird artist. There are so many hints and observing tips in this book that I find more information to absorb every time I study another page.

For Father's Day this year, I did a small piece of framed art for Ed, a hummingbird at the feeder, drawn this June while watching birds at the lake house.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Album: June on Mackinac Island

Fog surrounds the Little Stone Church on Grand Avenue. With the surrounding waters of the Straits still so cold, fog is a common occurrence on Mackinac Island in June.

Bicycles lined up in a bike rack, an old cannon at the base of Fort Hill, and the Governor's Mansion in the distance all add up to a day on Mackinac. From bicycling, to an historic fort, to beautiful old buildings, Mackinac has lots of offer visitors.

The very late spring throughout the Great Lakes states this year means that the lilacs are still blooming on Mackinac Island. Imagine hundreds of lilacs, some shrubs and some tree sized, scattered throughout the residential areas, on the golf courses, and along the shoreline. Mackinac Island sparkles with the romance of old fashioned lilacs.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Morning Ferry

The first ferries coming into the the harbor at Mackinac Island this morning glided past Round Island Lighthouse. A sharp line of clouds to the southwest threatened the island weather for the day.

But the weather at the Straits of Mackinac is auspicious to say the least. A day that dawns foggy and cool will turn out to be sun filled with light breezes by noon. Rain in the morning often blows through the Straits as weather fronts cross the top of Lake Michigan and intersect with the width of Lake Huron's waters.

This unique Great Lakes micro climate pattern brings pollen free days to the Island and keeps the mosquitoes at bay. It is no wonder that people have been coming to Mackinac for centuries.

You can ride a bicycle around the island on M-185, a Michigan state highway that is restricted to pedestrians, horses, and bicycles only. It's an eight mile ride, fairly flat, and very doable, even if you don't ride a bike regularly.

Mackinac Island is 45.8 degrees north. In summer, the days weave a magical northern spell, especially in June and July. Right now the sun rises at 5:47 am and sets at 9:31 pm. Twilight dawn starts at 5:10 am; twilight dusk ends at 10:10 pm. You can go out to eat later in the evening and still take a downtown stroll for ice cream before it is totally dark.

For those of you regular Willow Blog readers who have never been to The Island (as we call it in Michigan), I hope that I'm giving you a few reasons to plan a trip to Michigan and experience Mackinac Island. Maybe when you come you'll be on the first ferry in the morning.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Foggy Mackinac

Ed was busy buying tickets for the ferry trip to Mackinac Island when I wandered over to the waiting area and took this photo. A line of thunderstorms, the ones that marched across the plains states and up through the midwest today, brought foggy weather to the Straits of Mackinac.

The boats and the docks across from Shepler's Ferry threw wavy patterns along the glassy waters while fog touched the image with soft light.

Foggy Mackinac. It's not the idyllic scene that scribes its way on to postcards, yet the character of the day said, "Come north. Come to Mackinac."

Monday, June 16, 2014

June Reading

I can't claim that my June reading has been eclectic as you can see by the pile of biographical writing that I've been plowing through. I read the Cronkite biography by Douglas Brinkley two years ago. I pulled it out around the 70th anniversary of D-Day, since Brinkley's description of wartime London in June of 1944 was so compelling. It was a poignant look at that exciting, yet scary time. I enjoyed reading about those days again.

Margaret Thatcher has always been on my list of interesting political figures. Her autobiographical account of her years as prime minister in the UK started out rather dry. I did learn that Number 10 Downing Street was run with far fewer staff members than The White House in those years, but, then, the British have royalty to pay for, too. I'm having a hard time getting focused on Margaret and those years in England, but my bookmark is moving.

"Hard Choices," Hillary Clinton's new volume of her account of the four years she spent as secretary of state should bring some reflective moments since the years she writes about are like yesterday. I especially admire her toughness, a trait that women are chided for, while men are seen as coming by toughness naturally. I expect that I won't always agree with her but the book should be a great read.

On top of the pile is a little book that my sister Heidi Hayes has been recommending on her Creatavita blog. The book is "Manage Your Day-To-Day" and it is about focus and discipline in daily habits. Since I'm a great one for losing myself on Facebook, this little book is reminding me to put down my smartphone and pick up my paint brushes or my knitting.

The June reading will become the summer reading, I'm sure, as the days in the garden and nights spent by the lake shore require some quiet moments. As you can see, I have quite a few pages ahead of me.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Volt Gets A Bath

The Chevy Volt picked up a velvet coat of dead insects on its drive last night. This morning, I hauled out a bucket of warm water with Dawn detergent and thought I could loosen all those carcasses and wings off of the front bumper. 

Wrong. The Volt needed a complete car wash. Two buckets later, one sponge, several bath towels, and several hosings, and the Chevy looks read for a party. 

I could hear my car as it breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank you! I needed a good soak. Don't I look electrically hot now?!"

Yes, Volt, parked near my garden beds, you look pretty good. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Double Charge Chevy Volt Day

I made a trip to the city today, a run that was over two hundred miles round trip. My errands took me to a location where there is a Detroit Edison sponsored public charging station for plug in electric vehicles (PEVs) like my Chevy Volt. 

So today's mileage was double charged -- once at home, the overnight miles that I get when I plug in at night, and again in the city, at a PEV charging station. 

You can see the MPG for the trip, over 66 miles per gallon, thanks to over 80 miles driven on the Volt's lithium ion battery. The low fuel warning (it came on at about 42 miles left) kicked in just as I turned in my driveway. But, tomorrow that low fuel warning will be gone as about 9.8 kilowatt hours of electricity will give the Volt another 39 plus miles of range. 

Volt drivers will be quick to spot the fact that I drove my Volt in sport mode for this trip. I like the quick pickup and driving ease that sport mode gives, especially at expressway speeds. 

You are reading it here and you are reading this again. I still love my Chevy Volt and a day of driving like today certainly underscores my admiration for this remarkable "Made in Michigan" car. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bedraggled Birds

A million dollar rain fell on the Thumb area of Michigan today. It was a rain that settles the clouds of dust that have flying behind the planters and cultivators as farmers work at getting the last of the crops planted and tilled. The birds were a bit bedraggled as they came to the feeder to find a tasty morsel, in spite of the rain. This female cardinal, a frequent visitor, hunkered down for a blast of rain, yet wanted some seed.

And this mourning dove looked downright wet as she pecked her way across the garden beds and looked for some of the seeds that drop from the feeder.

The rows of corn are easy to see against the wet ground as the plants begin their upward journey toward the sun and maturity.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Garden Map

I have always admired the diagrams of flower beds in garden magazines and books. They look so well thought out, so planned. 

My gardens are not like that. Instead, they evolve from year to year, even month to month. 

Today I drew a map of the woodland garden that Ed and I have been working on for three years. Sometimes I call it "The Red Bench Garden," since my favorite red wire bench sits close by. Using ink pen and watercolors, I painted an approximation of the plants and their positioning under the four trees that make this a fully shaded area. 

I like the drawn map, but I will carry my morning coffee out to the garden itself, where I can sit on the red bench, under the canopy of leaves where the birds flit and sing, and the astilbes will soon be at their feathery best. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Wild Strawberries

So inviting a plant, wild strawberries grow in cracks along asphalt paths at a nearby park. Nourished enough to blossom and fruit, the hardy berry plants also set runners that start other plants. 

These little guys can get to be a weedy mat around a tree or in a flower bed. Still, they are so appealing, with a star like white blossom and thoughts of sweet jam. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Smiling Pile of Poo

Youngest grandson Finn likes the Emoji keyboard on Apple Iphones. The emoji characters, also called emoticons, are little cartoon images that are based on the punctuation strokes on a standard typewriter. They have charm and they send a message that words sometime cannot convey. Finn usually includes the smiling pile of poo in any of the emoji text messages that he sends to me.

FiveThirtyEight, the data/sociological/sports/policitcal website that we should all be reading, listed the top one hundred emoticons in a post earlier this week. Writer Mona Chalabi says that emoticons have come a long way since :) and she is certainly right about that.

Her colleague, Walter Hickey, who is one the lifestyle writers for FiveThirtyEight, tweeted that the smiling pile of poop was actually the best emoji. Check out his tweet. It looks a lot like the text messages that I get from my six year old grandson. Very cool that adults see the value of emoticons, too.

And just to give FiveThirtyEight a bit more of a plug, here's Nate Silver and the In Search of America's Best Burrito project. Nate, the founder of FiveThirtyEight,  is from the Lansing area, so we Michigan people can be rightly proud of his success on the grand marketplace that is known as the internet. And Anna Barry-Jester, the Decider and burrito correspondent for FiveThirtyEight, is from Michigan, too.

Back to the poop. When I saw Walt Hickey's tweet, I knew that I would have to include FiveThirtyEight in this blog post, since I had already completed my watercolor version of the smiling pile of poop and wanted to feature it on the blog.

And, for those of you too lazy to read Mona Chalabi's article, smiling pile of poop is Number 88 on the list of top one hundred emoticons. But you will want to look up the list in her article so you can see what rank your favorite emoticon has.

Anyway, some days are like a smiling pile of poo.

End of sentence. End of week. After all, this is being posted on a Friday.


NOTE: To install the Emoji characters on an Apple Iphone, go to Settings, General, Keyboard, Keyboards and choose Emoji.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Tearing Out

I'm not real good at ripping big plants out of the ground, but today I wrestled with a clump of iris, some stubborn hostas, and a willing day lily. This garden bed will look much better after some more weeding and the planned makeover that is yet to come. 

Some of the plants were tucked into new places with a slug of water and a slap of soil. Still more are languishing in temporary pots until I find a new home for them. 

I must admit that I took a Tylenol before I attempted this mess. As a precaution. And, yes, I still ache. 

Ah, gardening. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Garden Tool Du Jour

That's my garden tool du jour, tool of the day, lying right there beside the leek sets in the garden. I crawled along the rows last night and used that tool to punch holes in the soft, willing soil as I tucked plants in place.

Kind of a sawed-off shotgun approach to a tool, this is a Chicago Cutlery knife that lost the end of the blade and has moved from kitchen drawer to garden tool basket. My mother had a similar chopped off butcher knife (big knives were always butcher knives when I was growing up, not chef's knives like they are now) that she used for potting plants and in the garden.

Guess I'm sort of a chip off the old block, taking after my Mom, as I knife my way through a week of planting garden rows and porch pots.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Geranium Journal Page

My brain is definitely leaning toward geraniums this week, as evidenced by this journal page. The photo in yesterday's post, Fragile Geranium, is from the same collection of plants that this sketch is taken from.

The sketch shows how leggy the stems get when the plants are held over winter. After putting the winter weary plants outside, I break off the old leaves when new ones appear. My old plants have a bonsai like character to their shape, something that I like very much, so I nurture geraniums all winter, just for the sake of having a touch of color during the coldest months.

Once they begin to show new leaves, I mix up a mild brew (usually half strength or less) of Miracle Gro liquid fertilizer and water them once a week with "go juice." I'm not a big advocate of chemical fertilizers, except when it comes to flowering plants. Then the sprinkling cans of water and tiny amounts of 12-4-8 seem to do the trick.

Here's another geranium post that I like, Last Summer's Geraniums, from June 4, 2011.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Fragile Geranium

Out of the 518 items on the Nikon chip, this one caught my eye. I set the camera to blur the background and capture the fragility of the geranium blossom. There are no leaves in the composition and this is not the red flower that is identified with summer and porch pots and lemonade.

Rather it is a moment captured through the merger of digital photography and one plant that stands tall and pink and fragile. And that is enough.