Daddy's Christmas Angel

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What a Lovely Surprise to Receive a Blog Award

What an absolutely lovely surprise I got earlier this week when not one, but two kind writers awarded Notes Along the Way a "One Lovely Blog" award. The honor came from both Pat Stoltey and Marian Allen.

After eight fun but tiring days on the road, traveling from Virginia by way of Pennsylvania through several more states up to Wisconsin then back again by way of the West Virginia route, I was glad to settle back down in front of the computer. It was a really a nice surprise to discover the awards not long after I turned on the computer!

Almost a week after our return I am still struggling through the almost 16,000 e-mails in my Inbox. I've always had a backlog but nothing like this. I suspect many would suggest I go to digest on some of the loops to which I belong, but I don't want to do that--not yet anyway. I just hope I haven't missed something important caught up in the swamp that has overwhelmed me.

In keeping with the One Lovely Blog award, I get to pass this award to the following eight bloggers. Here are their sites:

Congratulations and enjoy!


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Taking Chances, Making Choices

Albert Pujols bats in spring training, Sikes photo
On Tuesday night when St. Louis Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo halted Randy Winn as he rounded third base, Albert Pujols was visibly upset. It was the top of the ninth inning when Winn stopped running and the Pujols hit that could have resulted in the tying run did not. Pujols, the greatest player in baseball today, wouldn't have stopped. We've watched him go through Oquendo's stop sign on many occasions. He would have taken a chance Tuesday and scored. When the next two batters popped out, the game ended and the Cardinals lost 4 to 3 to the last place Pittsburgh Pirates. Winn's choice resulted in a Cardinals loss that could mean the difference between them going to the playoffs and perhaps the World Series or going home at the beginning of October.

Sometimes we need to take chances to get ahead in life or even to make our lives interesting. I think of Janet Evanovich who had a nice little writing career as a mid-list author of series books for Loveswept. I was surprised when Evanovich suddenly stopped writing for the romance line and took a year off to create the first of her Stephanie Plum novels. She had a dream of being rich and famous and she made that dream come true by taking a big chance in her career.

We make choices every day. Most of them don't require taking a big chance, but some of them do. Many writers and artists as well don't take a chance when they should.

Write something different; write the book of your heart. Experiment with your painting; use untried materials; develop a new style.

Life is too short not to take a few chances. Are you willing to try?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Driving Across America and Being Free

Sunset, Rockford, IL copyright MM Sikes
Do we realize what a privilege it is for us to drive across our beautiful country? We have that freedom and, as I studied the landscape, I marveled at the wonder of it all!

We just got home from almost two weeks of driving (with five days spent in Alexis Lavine's excellent artist workshop). During that time we drove through 11 states, and I couldn't help but wonder how the first settlers managed as they traveled by covered wagon or horses through the rough Pennsylvania mountains and across vast plains.

As I researched one of my novels, I discovered a series of books, Covered Wagon Women, in which Kenneth L. Holmes compiles letters and diaries written by women making treacherous cross-country journeys. One of the diaries from 1868 describes the journey of a woman who started from Liverpool, England with her family, traveled by boat, train, and then covered wagon. Along the way her young baby died, and she witnessed other tragedies.

Today, it is easy to see why Katharine Bates was inspired to write America the Beautiful following a trip to Pike's Peak in Colorado in 1893. We passed "amber waves of grain" and "purple mountains majesty" all along the way as well as many other majestic sights. In Wisconsin, a giant rock formation caused by a glacier appeared out of nowhere along the edge of the highway. And I discovered why the Wisconsin license plate features a red barn. They were everywhere!

The people of Ohio should be proud of the lovely service plazas located about every 40 miles along I-80. Besides state of the art restrooms, they have attractive food courts with well-landscaped outdoor dining areas featuring attractive round tables. A centrally-located TV monitor provides timely weather information. These plazas make inviting highway rest stops.

And one evening in the middle of our trip, we saw a perfect half-rainbow and then the most glorious sunset followed with the richest colors I have ever viewed. What a wonder to be free to drive across America!

Mary Montague Sikes

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Joy of Painting Versus Joy of Writing

Which is more rewarding? Which brings the creator more joy?

Painting or Writing?

We see the two matched when we open a child's picture book. I often wonder is the writer of that book more important, or is the artist?

I don't know the answer. While the visual impact is strong and immediate, there must first be the writer's idea for the story that is then illustrated by the artist.

Both writing and art are essential in my life. I just returned from a week-long intensive artist workshop taught by Alexis Lavine at Cheap Joe's in Boone, NC. Being among so many creative people is invigorating and inspirational. Under the talented direction of Alexis, we learned new techniques and different directions our creativity may take us. The workshop reminded me once again how much I love color. It also reminded me that often words should go with the art that is created. Sometimes what is in the heart of the artist needs to be explained. Sometimes an author looks at an art work and is inspired to write.

Students work intently in Alexis Levine's artist workshop.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned this week was there is too much joy in both painting and writing to give up either one. It's just another balancing act!

What do you think about the joy of painting versus the joy of writing? Who is more important in the creation of a picture book--author or artist? Or is it equal?  I'd love to know your thoughts!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sitting on a Butterfly Bench

Butterfly Conservatory Bench
The beautiful metal butterfly benches scattered throughout the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory intrigued me. They are lovely and truly sculptural art pieces. They make flattering backdrops for portrait photography.

As I strolled throughout the garden walkways, I was drawn back to the perfect look of the benches. The fluttering butterflies were fascinating to watch as they settled on the foliage. There were colorful fish in the waters of the pond. Birds flew up into the trees; colorful little tropical birds (I don't know their names) perched inside pots hanging on one wall or settled on the foliage there.

Late afternoon, the area was crowded with lots of folks with digital cameras. Background music provided a pleasant backdrop for sitting on a bench and "being in the present" like Rana DiOrio's book for children promotes. Visitors to the Conservatory were warned to check for butterflies before going out but we found no hitch hikers on us when we left.

The Conservatory visit was special; the gift shop was spacious and full of wonderful things. However, sitting on a butterfly bench and watching the tropical world of creatures all around was the most special of all.


Copyright Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tip for Travelers

Doing some traveling this summer and fall? Are you looking forward to a no hassle trip? If you are, consider traveling light.

Over the past few years, my husband and I have visited many memorable destinations both here and abroad, and we've had a great time because we've learned to pack and travel light. We travel with one roller bag and one personal item each. The roller bag is the size that will fit into the overhead storage on airplanes, and the personal item will fit under the seat in front, if necessary.

You can carry all the clothes you need in that roller bag. Roll clothing to keep away wrinkles. Think about packing clothes that are color coordinated. I always pack or wear black or dark slacks. A pair of jeans and  long white pants are essential items for my wardrobe. I like to take a traveler's skirt, pants, and top like you can buy at Chico's for dressy events. A print jacket is nice to have, so I usually wear or pack one. I've learned now to always wear a scarf because it can get very cold on an airplane and in restaurants. Unless you're heading to the deep tropics, it's a good idea to pack a sweater (more than one for winter travel).

Wise travelers wear comfortable shoes that can easily be removed for the TSA inspection line at the airport. I have a couple of pairs of walking shoes with Velcro fasteners that are perfect. (I don't like sandals in the airport because that means going barefoot until the shoes pass inspection.) One or two pairs of dressier flats or sandals complete my shoe wardrobe. If we plan to do a lot of walking, I carry tennis shoes and pack undergarments inside them.

My husband and I usually travel together, so we use his personal bag for cosmetics, vitamins, drugs, etc. My personal bag holds my purse, reading glasses, sun glasses, a book, telephone, camera, extra batteries, and more. Computers go on top of everything inside the roller bags.

Although we pack light, we still have items with us we don't use. Believe it or not, we've spent two weeks in Hawaii, two weeks in Paris and southern France, weeks in Jamaica, St. Martin, Trinidad, Canada, and many, many other places carrying this small amount of luggage. It's a lot more fun when you don't have to worry about lost baggage. And we figure, we can always buy something if we need it.

When my publisher picked out the woman with the roller bag logo for my Passenger to Paradise book series, I was thrilled. It was the perfect emblem for the travel behind the stories!

Monday, August 2, 2010

An Icon in a Tropical Paradise--A Hometown Hero

Look-Alikes Gather with Bulls 
The weekend of July 22, 23, and 24 in Key West was filled with Hemingway Days Festival activities, including the Running of the Bulls featuring Hemingway look-alike candidates riding the bulls down Duval Street. This whole wacky event starts in front of Sloppy Joe's, Hemingway's favorite bar hangout during the 1930s. Every year Sloppy Joe's hosts a Hemingway Look-Alike Contest.

All the art and crafts tents as well as the many food tables that lined the blocks at the end of Duval Street reminded me a little of the Crab Carnival festivities in our little town of West Point that takes place each October.

The Hemingway Days Festival started me thinking and wondering if the folks in Key West, back in the years the Pulitzer Prize-winning author was living and writing there, appreciated his talent. Or did they consider this man an eccentric who enjoyed fishing, socializing, and imbibing in alcoholic beverages?

Hemingway is surely an icon now, revered in Key West where visitors flock to the house on Whitehead Street that was the home of the author and his second wife, Pauline. They also head to the Museum of Art & History at the Custom House which features a broad display of Hemingway items as well as an interesting and informative video about his life.

Do many little towns find a hometown hero who wasn't always so heroic? Richmond, VA claims Edgar Allen Poe. Our little town has Chesty Puller, the most decorated U.S. Marine in history.

Does your town have a hero to go along with a festival or some other event? Do they revere their writers and artists of the present day? I'd like to know about some of these events and who the heroes are.

Mary Montague Sikes