Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hogmanay... Fast Approaches!

Time here in Rockport has recently been sped up and defined by the cold, icy conditions of Nature its self. Much of our time and activity has out of absolute necessity been devoted to maintaining warmth... comfort and life necessities. While our situation could hardly ever have been construed as "life threatening," it most certainly has, at times been uncertain and outside of our control. This obviously has been at the very least disruptive to my own artistic schedule and to a very large degree my posting at this site. I currently find myself in the unusual situation where I find that I have two unpublished posts... "waiting in the wings." Which should I release? Should I release any... but rather hit the delete button... and head into the New Year with a nice clean sheet? Or... should I simply return to the painting-in-progress and do what I love most. Too many questions. Time for a decision!!

Here goes...


Hogmanay... in my Family Scottish tradition represents the equivalent of New Year' Eve. In the Birrell tradition from which I come, we once celebrated the Eve by gathering as a family...playing and singing up until the hour... at which time the New Year was brought in together... glass in hand... singing "Auld Lang Syne." Though that occurred more than sixty years ago... and many of those attending have passed on... this ritual burns alive in my heart and memory as clearly to "Me" each and every New Year's Eve.

I don't however, leave it in the past to be lost. I choose to practise it ... in my own fashion slightly differently each New Year. Tonight... Deb and I will share the evening... for as long as we both can remain awake playing together... either Scrabble or Cribbage. We do that just before evening meal with a drink... most usually each and every day of the year. That is... "living" Hogmanay.

In the morning... I will arise early and head out to carry out the second leg of the Birrell Hogmanay tradition- "First Footing." A short description is that this activity involves being the very first person to pass through the threshold of a valuable family member, neighbour or friend... bearing a small, simple gift. It is believed that this action will bring health and good fortune to the recipient during the entire New Year. Whether that is exactly true matters little. It certainly will bring surprise... and immediate Joy to the householder at the very least - and that's the purpose that I always have in mind.

I will "first  foot" my Mom and Dad at their grave side "residence"... they deserve that honour ... always. I then have my house holder (in Rockport) already in mind... given that these folks made our dream to return to Rockport and my beloved St Lawrence River become reality. That gift has made our lives and our circle... full. We are ... greatly blessed!

We spent the day travelling to Aurora, Ontario... four hours one way to spend the day with my youngest lads and pals, Liam and Bryn. We were unfortunately unable... because of the treacherous weather conditions, to have our Christmas celebration this year in Rockport. However... Deb and I have spent so many wonderful hours and Christmases together that this "blip" has no effect or feeling of disappointment whatsoever for any one of us. It is the quality of time we spend together that is important over the years that truly matters... not the quantity.

We enjoyed a wonderfully sumptuous midday meal together...exchanged our presents.... laughed and hugged each other joyfully. We are so very proud of these two young men... each so unique... each with so much promise and goodness. To stand in their and listen... we feel the warmth of knowing and feeling... we are... a strong family! "We"... are deeply blessed!

My "Annual"  Xmas Card for Bryn the Chef... and Liam the Shutterbug and Computer Guy

"Mama Bear"  Deb unwrapping her tea heating outfit... Party time! Bryn on looking... proudly!

Liam and Dad... "Sharing" goat cheese entree at the ready! Yums!

Still Soul Mates... after all the years!

Three kids!... Love these guys! They are such decent human beings... beautiful minds and fine young men!

In closing this last minute change of post offering... I wish to thank each of you who have added so regularly and generously to my personal and painting lives through your visits and comments. I truly feel blessed to be a part of this blogging family of artists. I look forward to more back n' forth visits and sharings during 2014. I wish all of you... Happy Hogmanay... Happy New Year... and Good Painting!

Use each and every day that you can to celebrate your life- Paint! Paint! Paint!
I will end with a paraphrased quote from the iconic Scottish poet laureate, Robbie Burns, his Grace which I learned from my Grampa's lips and heart:

May the best you've ever seen
Be the worst you'll 'eer see,
May the mouse nay leave your girnal (cupboard, pantry)
With a tear drop in his 'ee. 
May your lum (chimney) keep briskly reekin' (have smoke in it... or you remain hale and hearty) 
Till your old enough to dee (die),
And can you aye be just as happy... 
As I wish you aye to be!

Rich blessings in 2014... to ALL!!!!

This was my Christmas card for this year. Here's ours ... to your house!


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Art is in the the eye of the beholder

The ice storm indeed wrought havoc nearly everywhere in Ontario and reshaped the Christmas celebrations of many... including us here in Rockport. On my walk arounds in  Rockport during it... I found icy art sculptures in every nook and cranny in the village. As is often the case in life, there exists a strange paradox in dire situations such as these. Being able to see both sides requires an open mind to look beyond the obvious to reveal accompanying beauty. But I realize was well... that the dire side of one's situation has to be dealt with before one can consider any other side of the coin. Fortunately, mine was less dire and less prolonged.

I well remember great periods of cold and deep winter of my early childhood. One parallel memory from my early life that strongly remains with me is the profound wonder I felt when I would go window-to-window in our warm home in awe of discovering the frosty... complex geometric etchings on each. What miraculous works of art they were... to my young eyesthen. And that sense of awe and wonder has not been depreciated at all...even after all  the years. Now ... I realize more than ever...it is wonder that most shapes my own view of my world and that directs my creative energy and interests. Could that be true for all artists? Are we merely, as sc-fi writer Ursula Le Guin suggests in this quote: "The creative adult is the child who survived."

 I wonder.....

Here are some of the icy wonders that Mother Nature created... and that I enjoyed and photographed. Perhaps you might enjoy them as well. So, I am passing them along... without comment to you for your enjoyment... and use... should you be so inclined.

                                             Two glorious wonders at work: ..." Fire n' Ice"

"I believe that wherever you find the profane, can the sacred be far behind?"
-Douglas Coupland, Canadian Novelist

Remain warm and safe...
Good Painting... and looking... to ALL!!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Another Christmas "C' Word.... Cold! - Part One

Where to start???

Christmas was singlehandedly shaped... like frost on a window pane by a fierce and crippling ice storm which quite literally encrusted Rockport... and all of Ontario into a beautiful, but potentially deadly ice- shrouded world of thick crystal. While one could admire the visual beauty of the landscape itself... that feeling was short-lived in the wake of the crippling cold of -22C. The paradox created by the presence of the two made the situation very difficult to assimilate... it so seamlessly blended both beauty and fear.

The absence of electrical power commencing at 6:10 am on the morning of December 21st across Ontario quickly chilled and evaporated any thoughts of a "Winter Wonderland." The ensuing cold was bone chilling and the blackness disorienting. It was obvious that these conditions were not in any way going to be temporary... so it was necessary to go into a survival mode approach to daily life... immediately. And we did!

Ironically... as you might recall, we faced this very same cold and light-less pre-Christmas scenario last year, when Allison, Andrew and Lisa had come to join us in Rockport for a Sherman Christmas. We more than survived the event and actually enjoyed the situation... finding a truer and more memorable take on the true meaning of Christmas - Family! This year... Bryn and Liam were to join us here and were to arrive by bus in Kingston on the evening of December 22nd. Needless to say... reaching Kingston in either direction was unsafe and absolutely out of the picture. We were all quite simply... iced in... and helpless to move. Every action would need to be directed towards finding necessary heat, light, fresh water and food. Nothing else mattered... and technology could not provide the solutions to these needs.

Fortunately... the media had projected the storm's coming and given our dilemma last year, Deb and I headed into nearby Gananoque on December 20th... a full day ahead of the storm and got the supplies we thought that we might need to carry us for an extended period until power could be restored. Those purchases included three cases of bottled water... a variety of hearty soups... packages of wieners... bread and buns, extra tea lights, candles, a 6 volt battery for our large emergency light. Deb had already made a lovely quiche for Allison's planned visit on Dec 22nd. So we were well stocked in these basic essentials.

I spent extra time on the wood pile, preparing a goodly supply of fireplace-ready wood and kindling. I went down to the bowels of our basement and resurrected my trusty aluminum camp coffee maker, a light aluminum camping set of pots, two sleeping bags and my trusty LED hat light which snaps on the brim of my ball cap. All that remained to be done was to fire up the fireplace with a substantial bed of coals to keep the fireplace at work... and I knew... that in this deep cold that our air tight stove would be voraciously hungry... but more than up to the heating task. By late afternoon, we were well prepared for our "pioneer re-enactment"... HA HA!! Deb even melted snow atop the firebox to provide hot water for doing dishes and hygienic purposes. I will skip the set up I created to handle "waste management". Suffice it to say that it worked ... and despite having no pump to deliver water to our bathrooms... it didn't hang around long! HA HA!!!

Being placed in this redefined daily lifestyle really drove home a cogent thought as I sat immersed in the cheery glow of the fireplace. Despite our advanced state of modern technology and dependency upon electronic gadgetry to perform for us and to entertain us... sustenance really comes down to the five essentials for survival: Light, warmth, fresh water, food and shelter.It hasn't changed at all really... since humankind first walked upright and huddled collectively in caves around a primordial fire. For two consecutive days... we faced that absolute reality. I gained a greater respect for the first settlers and residents of Rockport who eked out a living along this vast river....basically cut off and alone in their world without roads, telephones, medicine or the promise of a better tomorrow really. It must have been a challenge just to survive... and they did... just as we have.

Here is a montage of photos to provide you some visual insight of our experience. I know that the beauty bedazzles... but think..... COLD! BRRRRRRRRRRR!

Beneath the icy arches lies The Boat House Restaurant.... no meal service till Spring!

Our "Islesview" Ice Palace... winter-locked!

Welcome to Rockport... the Crystal Palace of the Thousand Islands!

Looking down into Rockacpulco... no tourist traffic today...  or visitors to The Paint Box Gallery on the extreme right!

Birches... bowed in prayer? Yes... praying for release from the weight of their icy head dresses!

 An elm casualty at my daughter Lisa's. Just missed the studio!

Maple snowflakes!

Blue skies... what a blaze of colour and light! Breath-taking!

 Icy Altar Screen for St Brendan's RC Church

Fire n' Ice...

Narrow's Lane Ice Road

A tough ol' shag bark hickory loses the battle at Lisa's Ice storm 2- Lisa 0!!!

It snowed yesterday and today... causing more damage. Hoping it will end and that the wind won't enter the picture. Roads are once again safe to travel. My hat is off to the gutsy and dedicated road and hydro crews that pulled our bacon out of the fire in record time. AS I speak... at least 100,000 + residents of Toronto are still without power and necessities five days later. A cold and dastardly Christmas memory for them. My thoughts and prayers are with them... many of them elderly!

I did manage two small attempts to satisfy my art urge in the candle light. I have another piece on the easel that you will enjoy... whenever I can get to it!

Allison's best Pals salute "Her"!!!

My card and Ice Storm Commemorative envelope for my SweetHeart... and Pioneering Pal Deb! Sorry about the "flip out"!!

Until then... Stay warm! Stay safe!... and.. Stay tuned!

Good Painting... to ALL!!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"C" Words... Christmas... Childhood... and Creativity Through Cards

Few would disagree that the our current celebration and the original essence of Christmas has wretchedly been allowed to become commercialized to the point that it now transcends common... or economic sense. We seem have lost track of what should be the real focus which is simply sharing time with family and friends... and for slowing life down long enough to enjoy Christmas, as it was intended.

As I have mentioned in a post from a Christmas now long passed, there are two very separate usages and spellings for the word "present." When one looks at Presence vs. Presents, one can clearly see that their only shared similarity lies in the fact that they are homonyms. However, beyond the polar difference in the two words can be found legitimate grounds to view them as synonyms... sameness.

If one can get their head beyond the commercial and artificial gifting practice and consider the possibility that one's simple presence can be viewed as a gift... then a very new approach to celebrating Christmas emerges. Wrapped within this "presence" is the same good feeling of giving... but minus the anxiety... wear and tear and the exponentially growing costs of Christmas gifting. To that... add the warmth one feels in their soul to be looked upon by their loved ones... as the most cherished gift of all! Put your Christmas Elf... and your own simple gifts in the hands of your loved ones this Christmas. You will be overwhelmed to discover how cherished "You" and your presence really are to your love ones.

Christmas Card "Gifting"

As a young child... long before I had learned to print or write, I can vividly remember sitting and watching my Dad carry out his yearly Christmas card ritual...  night after night in early December, methodically and almost mechanically at the kitchen table. I remember too, having him offer me a bit of time to "practise" my own early hieroglyphics. Though we had little extra money to buy gifts for other than the immediate family members, we made gifts for friends and sent cards to other friends whom we cherished in lieu of gifts. From that early scenario derives my current annual practice of sending out cards as gifts/tokens of caring to friends near and far.

Over the years, I too have adopted my Dad's ritual and have in my own fasahion..."Sheman-ized" each card in a variety of ways which not only satisfies my creative urges... but as well, personalizes the "gift" in a small way beyond the generic flavour of the card itself. In the past, I would offer cards bearing a chosen ink sketch printed in black line on coloured paper... usually blue. I would colour these with strategically placed dashes of red and silver colour to add punch and a Christmassy feel. I then housed these in envelopes on which I hand drew images/cartoons and coloured these in coloured pencil colours. When I view collections of these on the walls of my friends years later... or when I receive a call that thanks me for sending this year's card... I know that my wee gift matters! That means so very much to me- it is a highlight of my Christmas celebration!

Here are some images to share with you from this year's efforts. I have completed the process... and they are safely in the postman's pouch and on their way!

"Santa"... busy checkin' off his list. The only time in my life when his desk looks this organized!... HO! HO!

 Annual Newsletter and samples of finished stuffed envelopes

This  year's card to Andrew and Melissa... hopefully... will arrive before wee "Mac"... (Malcolm Justin Michael) ... expected in late February. Never know though...  with Canada Post and their "Snail Mail/ Pony-less Express"!!!

 "Country Living" gift shop and art studio in Lansdowne owners and Friends, Isolde and and Dr Barry van Jaarsveld will open this one. They are fantastic ballroom dancers to watch... and they can boogie too! Great folks with generous spirits and hearts!

PS Two very wooly and whimsical molded life-sized resin sheep are the greeters at their shop entrance. So COOOL! Ya can't BAA-lieve it till ya see it!

This card goes to son of Isolde JD and his beautiful and intelligent young new bride Lisa... who also manages Country Living for Barry and Isolde. Should see the growing collection this young lady's HUGE cross stitch masterpieces! Absolutely brilliant! Never an idle moment for this creative spirit... between customers!

This card will join the decades of Christmases past framed and dominating an entire kitchen wall and their bathroom. Each card is a treasured and cartooned memory related to the times that we have shared together since Grade Five at the Prince of Wales School in Brockville... circa 1955. This year the image pokes fun at the fact that the Philips have absolutely no more wall space in any room in their entire home. This fact is mainly due to the presence/presents of my large collection they have either purchased or have been gifted with over our long friendship period! Friends are ... Forever... no matter the bumps in the road!... Right Badgers????

This is my card going out to The Rockport Cruise Line staffers Kathleen, Carol and Joyce, who worked with me to generate a new line of cards which has successfully added to the revenues of both of our businesses. Here's to 2014...  and new horizons people! Thank you for believing in... and supporting my vision and work!

I hope that this post causes some of you to look at your own Christmas traditions... not to abandon them... but rather to perhaps infuse some new ideas that might satisfy that annual "push n' pull' we all feel when life and Christmas shopping "duties" seem to get in the way and take us out of the creative mode. This is one way of many that I employ... and enjoy to remain creatively pushing forward and feeling in charge of my own journey.

I will devote my next post to sharing "a trip down memory lane" to share my Card images... or "ghosts"... of Christmasses past with you... and as well to send along an "e" Christmas card to share with each of you who have continuously visited and supported this blog! Stay tuned!...

"I... am deeply blessed to add you to my list of Friends... no matter that I have yet to physically meet any one of you! Thank you for your Friendhsip and support!

Good Painting to ALL!!!... and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Embracing Change... While Preserving Tradition

All of us derive our value systems and rituals from a plethora of traditions passed to us largely through nurture. That is to say that from our very beginnings, we are basically formed products... of our parents' cultural, religious, moral principles and background. For the most part, we generally embrace and practise traditions formulated from these experiences for most of our entire lifetime. Such a practice conveys a sense of uniqueness in our identity... a sense of belonging and a stronger feeling of permanence in our lives. When we marry, or choose a life partner and perhaps begin our own families hopefully, the traditions of each partner will be blended to create a new tradition which honours important aspects of each side. There exists no greater example of the strength of such tradition than the fast-approaching celebration of "Christmas" in the North American Christian-Judeo tradition.

While many of us choose to celebrate this tradition in the Americas, there is currently much controversy afoot as to the "political correctness" of terms and rituals associated with this Christian tradition. It seems to me, that for most of us, we simply would agree to share a common view that one should be entitled to choose to celebrate... or not celebrate "Christmas" in the manner to which we are accustomed. My choosing to call my own celebration "Christmas"... intact with Christmas card exchange... a Christmas Tree... singing familiar Christmas carols and sharing a Christmas turkey with my family and closest friends is my tradition. I look forward to... and celebrate it quietly within my home with Joy and great pleasure. It is quite simply "High Mass" in the Sherman year of many rituals and traditions. This is not to be seen as a judgement of others... nor is it a manifesto. It is merely intended as another opportunity to share my life and the family blessings that I enjoy with my readers and  blogging Friends.

"The Gathering of the Green"

Project One - Christmas Garlands

This tradition created in my childhood home by my Mom remains "ever.... green" in my own Christmas rituals. It was the early precursor that lead us gleefully into our actual Christmas festivities. I am unaware of any evidence that this practice is continued today in the homes and lives of any of my siblings. Here is a brief description of the ritual as it began... and pictures to show how I continue to practise and enjoy the ritual in my own fashion. Even Deb is excluded (by her own choice) in accomplishing the activity. Quite frankly,  I enjoy completing this ritual under my own steam. It perhaps is my own version of the Advent Calendar tradition...  practised by many children and their family members beginning December 1st in many homes. Mine does not (thankfully) involve chocolate... but derives firstly from my entering the woods to gather two types of specific evergreen species to be used to complete the two pre-Christmas activities. The first species is an evergreen runner which we call creeping cedar. It is found on the floor cool, damp and shade of forested areas... usually in the company of white pines and spruce. Here is a  picture of it as it grows in its forest habitat. It too... prefers quiet and solitude!

 One must go to gather it before frost has frozen or it cannot be harvested. We usually harvested after church  in late November and kept our harvest in black garbage bags in the garage or in a cold storage area. One simply grabs one part of the creeping vine and gently breaks the vine. Little by little, the vine which is lightly embedded just below the surface of the leaf and needle-strewn loamy soil of the forest floor. If one extricates it slowly and methodically... one can create long and unbroken lengths which make perfect real green garlands which remain green throughout the entire Christmas season.

My mother created a challenge for our group to see who could pull the longest chain. She always added more enthusiasm and a creative challenge to us in all things we did together. Later, we would weave these lengths into longer garlands that could be inter woven and  used to decorate newel posts and the stairwell... or attractively along the length of the the fireplace mantel. Artificial poinsettia can be interspersed easily and provide that traditional Christmas green and red combination. Here is a picture of our stairwell circa Christmas 1959. Pictured are my beloved maternal Scottish Grandparents... Andrew and Christina Birrell. Don't they look "brolly"... and infinitely... deeply in love? They were generous ... loving souls... and remain much a part of my current life and my Christmas thoughts!

Here is our outside patio staircase railing this season... ready to welcome "Islesview" Christmas visitors

Project Two - Christmas Wreaths

The second evergreen variety we harvested each Christmas... I call "Princess Pine". I learned where to find it and about its decorative use at Christmas from my caretaker friend Bob at Front of Yonge School in nearby Mallorytown. I then brought it into my family's decorating tradition. This wee plant derives its name from the fact that it strongly resembles a miniature version of a favourite and traditionally used scotch pine fir. At its tip it has a greenish-yellow spike when it is fully mature... not unlike the top of most pruned Christmas tree varieties. It can be easily removed and again stored in a cool place in black garbage bags so it doesn't dry out.

The plant is used to create long lasting wreathes. A wire coat hanger is first bent into a completely circular wreath shape and this forms the base for attaching this greenery. Three to four strands of this wee tree are bundled to form a bunch with one common step. It is then wired to the base by wrapping this bundle snugly to the coat hanger using florist's wire, or thin copper wire from electrical motor windings. Either are easily acquired and the green coloured florist's wire is available from most craft shops for a very reasonable price. This act is repeated until the wire coat hanger is completely covered,. Bows and other decorations of choice can be also purchased at most good crating shops at reasonable prices... to fit ones whims and tastes.

Pictured here are the results of this year's foray. I discovered the source while painting en plein air at The Eagle Point Winery at the Harvest Paint Out in early October. I was unable to get sufficient amounts of the Princess Pine to create two entire wreathes from that species alone. So I unincorporated what I had remaining for the second wreath with bundles formed from cuttings taken from the remaining creeping cedar strings. This blend actually created quite a dense and unusually attractive blend for the wreath... so it might well become the new traditional wreath... to be handed on to the Allison to carry forward and teach.

Here is a wreath in progress. Note the coat hanger base and pile of yet to be attached  individual strands at the  upper left

Here is one of the competed wreaths simply but colourfully decorated. NO real expense... and the joyful experience of creating your very own Cheery Christmas decorations!

This is the view of our deck and bay window. Note my use of one tired single snowshoe... recycled for a "second chance" as a Christmas installation. Check out yard sales and flea markets. These can be found everywhere... in cold...snowy Canada! HA HA!!.... MUSH!!!

Stay tuned! Later in the week I will share further traditional Sherman family Christmas activities as they unfold. Art can be expressed in so many more ways than framed paintings on a wall. In our family... young and old can join in to create the festive fabric of our Christmas celebrations.I am most happy to share it with each of you who might be interested!

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas....".... in Rockport Ontario!

Good Painting!... and Season's Greetings to ALL!!!