Daddy's Christmas Angel

Friday, March 28, 2014

Visiting the National Parks--Where We've Been and Where I Long to Go "A to Z"

"Rocks at Tahoe" ©Mary Montague Sikes
After last year when I did a painting a day to create an animal alphabet, I was undecided about participating in the A to Z Blog Challenge 2014. Although I loved the 2013 work I produced which has already been in several art exhibitions, painting a new piece of art each day was time-consuming and difficult to keep up during a week-long art workshop I decided to take.

What to do this year?

Since I don't have enough small canvases stockpiled, I am unprepared to undertake another painting a day challenge. However, I may do a painting here and there throughout A to Z. For this year's theme, I've decided to go with National Parks, focusing on those we've visited and places where I long to go.

A to Z ChallengeMany of the most beautiful parks that have attracted me seem to be located in the West. I love those places that offer photo opportunities in every direction like Tahoe in California which is a National Forest, not a Park. I started to wonder about the difference between National Parks and National Forests and found there is a big difference. National Parks are developed to protect the "natural and historic resources." They are operated under the Department of the Interior. The National Forests focus on preservation of many resources including a variety of commodities and services. They are under the Department of Agriculture. Hunting is allowed in the National Forests but not in the Parks.

I'm looking forward to the A to Z 2014 Blogging Challenge. Please stop by and take a look each day, starting on Tuesday.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why Do Authors Kill Off Main Characters Like Will from the Good Wife?

While I don't follow a lot of television shows, I have watched "The Good Wife" from the beginning. Although Will Gardner had many character flaws, he was often endearing and likeable. He helped make the show one of the most popular on television. So why did the writers mess with a winning combination? I've read that Josh Charles who played Will wanted to leave the show. Couldn't the writers have sent him off somewhere, leaving the hope and the possibility of a return?

Killing off popular characters appears to be a trend. Last fall, the writers of "Person of Interest" put a violent end to Agent Carter. She was another favorite of mine who made the show click on many levels. Other characters have stepped up in importance to take her place, but the show is not the same with Carter gone.

My own books feature danger and sometimes murder, but I have yet to kill off one of my main characters. Years ago, my first novel, Hearts Across Forever, featured Obeah, a type of folk magic and religious practice brought to the West Indies from West Africa. The white witch of Rose Hall in my story learned the practice in Haiti and used it with the slaves who worked on her plantation. Part of that practice harmed cats. My cat-loving readers were upset with me. I decided to never again involve the death of a cat in my writing. Killing a main character would be worse.

Who next, I wonder, in the popular TV series world? I don't want to even think about it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Making a Talk and Visiting an Art Gallery

"12th Anniversary Cake at Crossroads" ©MM Sikes
Coming back to Crossroads Art Center has proved exciting. It was amazing to see throngs of people crowded throughout the large art facility for the March open house on the third Friday. The gallery reported that 1500 to 2000 people came to the 12th Anniversary celebration of the Center, located in Richmond, Virginia. Two bands played in different locations in the galleries and classrooms, and vendor trucks provided food for sale in the parking lot at the front. With spring weather, it was a festive setting indeed.   

Earlier in the day, March 21, Roger Loring and I were speakers at the Authors Luncheon in Gloucester which was a fundraising event by the York River Circle of King's Daughters to benefit the Children's Hospital in Norfolk. We spoke to an audience of 200 which was delightful.

Then, my husband and I headed to Richmond and put down a rug in my new gallery space at Crossroads before the big open house. It was a busy day!
My gallery at Crossroads Art Center.
"Author's Luncheon"

"Entertainment at Crossroads Art Center" ©MM Sikes     


Monday, March 17, 2014

The Power of Words in Writing and in Life

The words we speak, write, and even paint have power. I learned a lesson long ago as a child that words can hurt and that hurt can last forever. As a little five or six-year-old, I was happily singing a popular song when my uncle laughed at me and said that I couldn't carry a tune. His words stung, and I never forgot them. My childish joy was gone, and I didn't try to sing again except later on as part of the church choir.

"A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword." Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

As writers, we understand the power of words. We recall the first time we saw our names in bylines on stories we wrote for newspapers or magazines. We were proud of the headlines above those stories. The words meant something. Other people were reading the words we hammered out on typewriters and, later, on our computer keyboards.

Many of us have discovered the power of words in the titles of our books. Those words, the titles, can mean the difference between good sales and minimal sales. A few years ago, I was enamored with the title, Night Watch, for my novel. Since part of the story featured an art theft of old master paintings, the name of one of the most famous of those paintings seemed perfect. Not so. Other books had the same title, so mine did not stand out. I lost the power of words I once held in my hand.

Artists find power in the words they paint, or sometimes hide, in a work of art. I have a series of work
"Will There Be Peace Anywhere" ©Mary Montague Sikes
that I am creating that usually includes the word "peace." That word is quite powerful. Its use in art adds to the power, I believe.

I am thinking about the power of words this week because that is the subject of an authors luncheon talk I will make on Friday. This is a fundraiser by the York River Circle of King's Daughters in Gloucester, a group that supports the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk VA, a very worthwhile cause. (Anyone interested in purchasing tickets, please let me know.)

Words have power and so do good deeds.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dining In at a Florida Resort

"Beach at Palm Beach Shores" ©Mary Montague Sikes
The first year we stayed at Palm Beach Shores Resort, I was unhappy with the valet parking which had mandatory daily charges whether we used it or nor and, also, the lack of a suitable restaurant on the premises. Still, we returned for another year and then another. This year marked our 10th stay at the resort which we now love.

Over the years, the beautiful ocean side setting on Singer Island has remained lovely and inviting. Now there is an excellent restaurant, The Islander Grill and Tiki Bar, inside the resort complex. We love the menu specials each evening which include a 1 1/2 pound lobster dinner on Fridays for $19.95. Larry and Marco and all of the staff always make us feel at home, so we look forward to a wonderful dining experience almost every evening with each visit.

We enjoy breakfast each day at Johnny Longboats, located right across the street from Palm Beach
"Lobster Dinner Night" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Shores. What a convenience that is, and we enjoy meeting the staff there as well.

For lunch, we often go across the street from Roger Dean Stadium and dine at Muggs. Or we can head back to the resort (about 20 minutes from the stadium) and stop along the way at  Duffy's off of PGA Boulevard where the crab cakes are outstanding. There are many other little restaurants available as well, in both Jupiter and in nearby Juno.

One day, we drove up the coast for lunch at the Ocean Grill in Vero Beach. The crab cakes there were excellent and so was the view of the ocean.

"Ocean Grill at Vero Beach" ©Mary Montague Sikes
This year we truly enjoyed the convenience of the valet parking at Palm Beach Shores. Jason and the rest of the parking staff were amazing in the handling of all the vehicles that were constantly coming and going. We can hardly wait to return next year to the beauty of Singer Island and to the baseball fields of Jupiter, Florida.

"Dawn at Palm Beach Shores" ©Mary Montague Sikes

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Leaving Spring Training and Back to the Real World

"Cardinals Celebrate Spring Play on Practice Fields" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Returning from a long vacation is always hard. Leaving this year's St. Louis Cardinals spring training was harder than usual because it seemed things were just getting started.

The weather was especially nice this year with no rain outs or delays. Our last day, we went to the practice fields where Willie McGee, a Cardinals favorite from the past, was working with some of the young players. When he was leaving the fields, he turned around and came back to sign autographs for the enthusiastic fans waiting by the low fence that separates several of the back fields at Roger Dean Stadium. McGee told us he has a lot to learn for his new coaching job.

That's an interesting thing about former Cardinals players. Many of them want to return to the team as coaches and in other capacities. Talking to another spectator at the last game we attended against the Washington Nationals, I learned that Rick Ankiel, the outstanding pitcher in the Cardinals organization who lost his pitch control and became an outfielder, has officially retired. While enjoying his love of fishing, he has high hopes of becoming a coach somewhere for the Cardinals. This week, Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals outstanding Cy Young winner, took a job with the front office and is at spring training. And so it goes.

I see games on television with many empty seats at the spring games of other big league teams, but the Cardinals games are mostly sellouts. Two of the games we attended had standing room only which made for a very crowded stadium. One of those games was the one with Boston where storm clouds brewed for most of the game.
"Storm Clouds, Boston and St. Louis" ©Mary Montague Sikes

This week, I will play catchup on writing projects and art back at home, but I will miss the ball park and the back fields at Jupiter, Florida. I will dream of next year and plan paintings of players batting and fans screaming. I will remember watching Adam Wainwright throw his warmup pitches in the bullpen in front of Section 102. Sadly, the real world is less kind than the fantasy land of baseball.
"Adam Wainwright Warming Up" ©Mary Montague Sikes

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Games and More at St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training

"In the Dugout at Roger Dean" photo by Mary Montague Sikes
"This is the place to be," I was told by a small group of friendly fans standing at the side of the St. Louis Cardinals' dugout in Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Florida.

In the past, I've gone down to the front railing by the Cardinals bullpen. That's where players sometimes stop to autograph balls and other items. I'd never thought about going to the bullpen until that day when we had seats right behind it. But, the fans were right. During the time waiting there, I got five autographs on my baseball, including Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, and Mark Ellis.

"Al and Dan at Roger Dean Stadium" photo by MM Sikes
Dan McLaughlin and Al Hrabosky went through the gate next to the bullpen to tape their pre-game remarks. I feel like Dan and Al are old friends because we watch their MLB broadcasts on Fox Sports Midwest by satellite TV throughout the season. The next day, when I stood at the same location, I got to momentarily chat with both of them.

My second day by the bullpen was interesting, but I failed to get any autographs. The uncle of Matt Carpenter edged his way to the front, next to the railing, promising to summon his nephew. Carpenter did come over, hugged his uncle and signed his ball and two others. Yadier Molina stopped to sign but left just as he reached me to go stand with teammates for the singing of the National Anthem. Peter Bourjos proved wrong the fan who claimed he never signed by stopping and autographing baseballs and other items for several minutes.

Although it's fun to get autographs, I really enjoy watching closeup the reactions of fans and players alike. It's interesting to see how players handle themselves in this situation. Most are extremely polite. I loved watching Adam Wainwright who accepted a couple of balls tossed to him in the dugout along with pens, signed them, and tossed them back.

Wainwright's smile says it all. He loves playing baseball, and he loves being a St. Louis Cardinal.

And I love being next to the bullpen where story ideas might evolve for the writer in me and paintings might be inspired by the photographs I take.