Punch Drunk With Leaves

For a lover of color, nothing can surpass the lovely colors of fall. One  can never be sure what colors will comprise the palette of each year’s changing and falling leaves. In some fall seasons the leaves seem to dry up and wither into brown curls before Halloween, as though they don’t have the will to go on.  But some years the leaves put on a show of riotous colors before they eventually fall and land into drifts of red, gold and yellow. If leaves had feelings, and maybe they do, I think they would rather end their lives in a triumphant blaze of color, as they are doing this year.

I wonder if anyone else has almost driven their car off the road staring at this tree.

For the past few weeks I have been enthralled in this year’s … leaf season, I suppose I will call it. As many participate in the ‘football season” and plan their time around watching it, I have organized myself around.. well, participating in the fall leaves! Because of my allergies I can no longer jump and roll in the leaves, so mostly I stare at them, take their pictures, and exult. Even the shades of the colors are thrilling; crimson, persimmon, pumpkin, magenta, gold, copper… Sorry, I just can’t stop!

A few leaves hang around on a patio chair.

I have made my poor husband into a “leaf widower’. I find myself saying, “Uh huh, Mmmm,” when he speaks to me, as I gaze past him into a stand of gorgeous maples. I turn down his invitations  to do do things at times because no activity may interfere with my   obsessively photographing  leaves.  If we do go somewhere in the daytime, he must expect to stop the car several times for me to “just get a few” shots of whatever beautiful foliage we pass. No matter how many pictures I take I never seem to have enough.

Now that the branches are becoming more bare I think I can pause for a few minutes to share a few  the brilliant beauties I have been admiring. I’ll try not to look out the windows, for if I do I will fall into a trance which will require me to wordlessly grab my camera and head for the yard.

This leaf appears to be roasting itself over a campfire.

Even when they fall they’re making lovely designs.

The lines and imperfections are just marks of character.

 I simply cannot recall a more vibrant leaf season, so I’m not apologizing for enjoying it while I can. I would take pictures of every single tree if I could. I hope the leaves are as lovely where you live as they are where I am. If not, enjoy these! And to “leaf widows” and “widowers” everywhere, do not despair; this too shall pass.

Art History

Last Thursday night was the last meeting of my painting class. That evening we were three students, and the instructor, all women. As we each worked on our own paintings, we began a leisurely  discussion on how important it is for us as humans to make art, and how we share with the world when we do so. Our time was limited, so we didn’t delve deeply into these important matters. But when I left the class I continued to think about the meaning  of art to me and to others.

My fellow painting students were aware that I was an inexperienced painter, first because I told them and second, because they could see my work. But only I was aware of how meaningful it was to me  to finally let myself take a painting class. From my earliest memories I have loved to draw and paint, but as many in my generation can attest, schools in those days did not reward creativity. Rather, they stifled it with such techniques as holding up people’s work in front of the class for a blistering critique, or withholding an art activity to punish the class. Had I had many art supplies they would not have been respected at home where I had younger siblings and not much privacy. I was afraid to study  art in high school because I thought only “weirdos” took that. I see now I would have loved to be one of those weirdos. Life kept happening, but art did not.

Fast forward to about the last ten years, when I first began to have some time for myself. I started to paint pictures. My method was to add paint, add paint, and add paint until I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Since I didn’t really know how to draw, that is all I could do. At first it was tremendously rewarding. I enjoyed the process, and though the content was primitive and poor, I had had no instruction and was therefore blissfully unaware of any  deficiencies. But after a time I had drawn all the random shapes and stylized flowers I could stand. If I wanted to go further I would have to seek instruction.

For a time I just lived with a big red ball of anxiety whenever I thought about taking a class. To a part of my mind this sounded like jumping off a ten story building barefoot, while another part yearned for the knowledge. I did not know when I would ever put my own instruction to the top of my to-do list. However, last year I got a jump start when my sweet niece asked me to paint her portrait for her birthday. An acceptable likeness here was mandatory, for an eight year old art critic does not mince her words.

Who wouldn’t want to paint her portrait?

And so for love of Mary Hannah I took a figure drawing class.  After each three hour drawing class I was so exhausted I immediately went home and and took a  a nap. At the end of the class I felt I had learned a lot, but still needed lots of guidance. When I drew I could sometimes see that something was wrong but didn’t know what it was, or how to fix it.  I knew I would have to continue to draw in order to learn. When Mary Hannah came to town this summer, she saw the sketches I had made of her from photographs. She immediately began to change them to her own satisfaction. I would count her now as a satisfied customer.

Mary Hannah makes adjustments on my sketches.

And she even did a sketch of me!

But what about getting back to painting?  What about making a nice messy palette filled with exciting color combinations? What about dipping a brush into one of the dabs of color and watching it come alive on the canvas? What about stepping away from the canvas and waiting for your heart to tell you what needs to come next?  And what about the chance to learn to do all these things while knowing what I was doing?

One morning after a jangling dream in which I was a kindergarten teacher with 50 students, I pored over the latest circular from Flicker Street Art Studio where I had taken my drawing class. I knew what the dream meant; I was taking care of everyone else except myself. It was time to take the plunge and paint.

Taking the class meant six weeks of rushing out of work at the exact time the class began in order to race across town  and be only twenty minutes late. It meant cramming some sort of tortilla wrap in my mouth  and washing it down with a bottle of water during said racing. But I got there, and the kind Melissa Dunn, our instructor, was ready to catch me up to the rest of the class.

Melissa, a working artist whose studio blog is linked above, made a welcoming environment for the hesitant soul such as myself.  My anxieties  vanished after the first class when I saw that Melissa while providing correct instruction also urged  us to listen to our own instincts. ( Note: unlike Sister Claire Marie.) I am just sure I appeared poised and composed on the outside – ahem – but inside I was grinning like the silliest clown in the world! I was doing it! I was painting! You complete me!

Friday, the day after our last class,  still thinking of the emotional fullness that comes with creativity, I ran quite accidentally across the following words by John O’Donahue:

“Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become.”

I don’t have to be a professional artist, but I do have to listen to the part of me that needs to  imagine and create. I may not know much about painting yet, but I know I can let myself take a class when I want to.  I am the only one who can be an artist of my own  days. I know I won’t regret it.

In Which I Appear In An Expat Blog

Whee! I am sprinkling imaginary colored confetti  all around the room thinking about the story I have to tell! I’ve been sitting at the keyboard struggling with how to preface my tale by reminding readers that my husband/ traveling companion and I are exact opposites, and that therefore we are in constant tug of war trying to find overlapping ground in and out of our mutual comfort zones. And that sometimes it’s not pretty. But when we can both get a healthy push outside what we were expecting, we are ushered into the land of great memories.   So grab a handful of confetti, and come on! Sprinkle it into the story wherever you want!

Last week I went with my husband to Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he goes at least once a year on business. I go with him as often as I can.  We always  arrive two days early for him to recover from jet lag before he teaches a class  for two and a half days, and  I amuse myself. Because he has to take his vacation days for these trips ( They are a sideline, not his regular job) we usually have to leave as soon as he is finished with his class. As one might expect, I feel somewhat chafed under this routine, though I am certainly grateful to get to go anywhere at all, and have tried to make the best of the short time by planning something new for us to do together on the one full day my husband has before his work  begins.

This time my plans were to go outside the city to the Hoge Veluwe  Park. a large wildlife reserve with a world class art museum and restored hunting lodge of the former land owners. Free bicycles are available for riding through the park. The plan was to go  through the park, the museum, and the lodge and then  stop at the nearby Airborne Museum. which tells the story of the World War II battle of Arnhem. My husband agreed to these plans except he just wasn’t sure he wanted to ride bikes in this cold weather.

So Sunday morning, we embarked for the train station, two hours later than we planned, due to having accidentally set our clocks back TWICE for Dutch daylight savings time , and proudly without a guide book, because I had an international phone plan, and I was going to use it. Oops! When we arrived at Arnhem, where we were to catch a bus to Hoge Veluwe, I couldn’t get my phone to work. ( Later I did find out how to make it work.) We stood around the train station trying to read the bus schedules. There was no one on duty in the bus information kiosk. I asked a couple of bus drivers who told me to take bus numbers which didn’t exist. I stepped into a third bus and was trying to describe where I wanted to go, when I heard a  voice behind me saying. “Is this where you are trying to go?”

I turned and there was a young woman with an open guide book, pointing RIGHT at our destination. “Oh yes,” said the bus driver. “We go there.” Aaah! So we boarded the bus, along with the young lady, who explained to us that she too was going to see the Kroller Muller Museum at the park, which has the largest collection of Van Goghs  outside of the Van Gogh Museum. Then we all faced the front and took a winding route through the countryside until we arrived at the back entrance of the park.

Of course we did not realize we were at the back of the park, which meant that the museum was farther away from us than we expected. We heard the young lady with the guide book ask the admission desk lady how one would get to the museum from the gate and heard the woman reply that one could walk or bike the SIX MILES to the museum! Well! So much for “Mr. I Don’t Think I Feel LIke Biking Today.” I’m thinking at that point he was rather relieved to know that biking was an option.

So we found ourselves  combing through the bike racks for the right size bikes, as the little young lady did the same. I call her a little young lady because she was of rather short stature. Sadly, none of the bikes were right for the length of her legs. “Oh well,” she said in a philosophical tone. “I’ll just walk”. Oh my. I felt awful leaving her there while we rode. I found myself offering to try to ride her in or on the kiddie seat which was on the back of each bike, though I knew she did not know us well enough to accept such an offer. As I expected, she declined , and set off resolutely to cover the six miles to arrive before the museum closed.

Cold and windy day

Nothing will induce this man to wear a scarf.

Meanwhile, we set out on our gearless bikes in the 40 degree  windy weather to ride across the park. The terrain went from wooded, to meadow, to sandy, and back to wooded. Every few minutes I would lament the fate of the young lady, for even on wheels this was a difficult six miles.  Couldn’t one of us have ridden the young lady on our bike handlebars? Did she have a warm enough hat? By the time we neared the museum I was hungry and cranky. After parking our rides in the bike stands we ate a quick  lunch in the cafeteria.

I will tell you that the museum is worth seeing. It was founded by the Kroller Muller family to house their growing art collection.

It was good to see the Van Goghs.

Remember this man! We’ll be seeing him later.

Sadly we did not have enough time to give the museum the perusing  it deserved, but I think we made it through most of it once. In one gallery I was relieved to run  right into the young lady I’ve previously mentioned. She recounted her arduous journey, reporting that about halfway through the walk she’d commandeered an abandoned child’s bike with crooked handlebars. It had a rough ride, but she made it work, finding out that when she’d parked the bike it also had a flat tire! We were glad to know that to exit the park we would go on a different, shorter path to catch the bus.

The afternoon was waning, but we took a few more minutes to see some of the sculpture garden. And when we returned to the bike racks, guess what?? There were no bikes left!!!   Someone had taken our bikes!!! So as the sun sunk lower in the sky we walked about a mile and a half to the edge of the park. And there, huddling in the hood of her coat, was the young lady, whose broken child’s bike had NOT been stolen. She knew the bus schedule, and announced the bus we wanted would arrive in twenty minutes. A handsome young Dutch man – yes, the one I told you to remember –  joined us at the bus stop and echoed the expected time of the bus.

As we  listened to the night sounds in the woods, stomping  our feet for warmth, we  finally made one another’s acquaintance. Our young lady introduced herself as Lindsay ,  a native Texan who had only been in the country for two months of a two year stint working in the Hague. She had been trying to go somewhere in the country every weekend. Twenty minutes   became thirty, and then forty, before we decided we had better hike to the next village “only” a fifteen minute walk further, to catch another bus.

Again  we trekked down the road. I was gratified that Lindsay agreed to wear the extra scarf I had brought. I would hope someone would lend  my daughter a scarf under similar conditions. I was in that “slumber party” mode by then, which for the un- slumber -party- minded means that everything appeared extremely funny, for example,  remarks such as “I could break into that barn over there and steal a COW and ride it to the bus station!” So I laughed like mad, knowing all the while that my husband’s brain was swarming with doomsday scenes of himself being stranded in the countryside, unable to teach his course the next day.

Finally we reached the next village, and the bus stop, which judging by the odor of manure  was just on the other side of a horse farm.  The helpful and again handsome young man read the schedule and determined that we had just missed the last bus to Arnhem. But in about another hour, a bus would come and take us to some other  unknown town where we could catch an unknown  train to Amsterdam. To appease my husband’s unspoken worry I said we could also take a taxi to the train station. I don’t think it helped, as he quickly retorted that would cost too much money.

So I shrugged and gave up on making suggestions.  “Where’s your bloody colleague?” our Dutch young man yelled at a bus going in the wrong direction. “Yeah! Lindsay and I echoed,”Where’s your bloody colleague!”Lindsay remarked she would surely have something to blog about from today. Blogs! We both had blogs!  We quickly got to writing down one another’s blog addresses. I couldn’t see my husband but I assume he was staring at the sky and grinding his teeth. Soon his efforts paid off, for we spied a bus pulling up on an adjacent street, and then one which went to Arnhem! We dared not hope as my husband ran over to the bus to confirm its destination. My husband was so flustered that he referred to all of  us passengers as “colleagues” to the bus driver, and exhorted said driver  to  wait for us. We colleagues sprinted  right around to the bus and boarded, except for the handsome young man who apparently was going another way.

Ohh, heated bus seats were a welcome luxury. We hurtled through the night, skipping past most bus stops, as they were deserted. Before we knew it we were pulling into the Arnhem train station. Now all we had to do was get on the train!  Spying  a train timetable,we   saw that the next train to Amsterdam would depart in two minutes! Yikes! The three of us sprinted through the train station. Lindsay and my husband took an escalator; I pounded  up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs was the train for Amsterdam. Lindsay dove in the door. I followed her. My husband followed me. And just then the train pulled out of the station. Looking around, gasping for breath,  I reflected that we must have gotten on the first class car. This car had wood paneled walls. People were eating, and buying beer. We kept walking through cars looking for second class. But all the cars seemed so nice. Eventually we ran into a conductor who asked Lindsay for her train ticket, Perusing it, she announced that WE WERE ON THE WRONG TRAIN!!!! Yes, we had indeed boarded not the Intercity, but  the super fast German ICE train to Amsterdam. Oh well, we were on the train now. “You will have to each pay four extra euros for the train,” the conductor solemnly  informed us, no doubt wondering why all three of us were laughing like hyenas. After forking over the extra euros, we asked if we could stand in the snack area, as the train was so crowded.

It seemed only fitting  to celebrate our adventures with a beer which my husband procured for each of us. So we sipped our beers in the train saloon, propping ourselves between the train windows and the table. mighty glad to have places to prop ourselves. We were relieved and exhilarated, for we had bested adversity that day. Cheers to us! Cheers to the handsome Dutch stranger! Cheers to adventure! Cheers to whatever we hadn’t already cheered!

Our co-adventurer Lindsay.

As Lindsay exited the train at Utrecht, we waved through the window until we couldn’t see her anymore. Early the next day I checked Lindsay’s blog, BitsandPieces04@blogspot.com , and saw that she had already posted about our adventures! Reading her account I felt I was living that day all over again. It was thrilling   to read about myself through someone else’s eyes, and know that we had shared this madcap adventure!  I tried to comment on her blog, especially to ask permission to mention her blog, but it wouldn’t let me leave a comment. Lindsay, if you read this, I hope it’s OK!

I’m home now, marveling over how travel enriches my life. It teaches me that two very different people can can share adventures. It rewards me for the time I spend learning about another country and culture. It reminds me that sometimes I’ll just have to use my  wits regardless of how carefully I  plan. It renews my conviction that all people are connected, and that bonds can be forged among all people. If you get a chance when you travel, do something you have never done before. You won’t be sorry. And I can’t promise, but you could even wind up being mentioned in an expat blog!