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1. Summer Travels and Blog Hiatus

  A month ago, I was coming to the end of my MFA, and after six months of searching for a job, had almost given up hope. I thought that after the summer, I would need to relocate back to … Continue reading

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2. Happy Birthday to Squire Babcock

According to Facebook (my birthday calendar of record), it's Squire Babcock's birthday, which immediately brings to mind a great road trip with Aaron Burch and Matt Bell to Murray State University, a fried bologna sandwich, the Wiggles, a great cheeseburger in the middle of Ohio, broken bottles of beer, Matt Bell's great sleeping dilemma, and really enjoying the hell out of Squire's novel, The King of Gaheena, on the ride home.

 

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3. Taiwan Trip Diary: Days 11 and 12

Dharma words and stamps from our monastery stay.

Here we are at the end of our trip. I've been dragging these posts out in the hope I'd never reach this point. But, yes, all good things must come to an end (I've never really known why) and we were sure to cram as much fun into the last two days as possible. Starting with breakfast at The One and these coffee cups. I loved them so much I had to buy a set for home:




I don't think my husband is as impressed with them as I am, but I thought they were cute. And they're definitely a fine example of "splash ink" technique.

After leaving The One, we headed back up toward Taipei and a village famed for its ceramic work. We were running a bit behind schedule so we decided to forgo a sit-down lunch in favor of exploring what the street vendors had to offer. They were especially plentiful thanks to the ongoing national holiday. My choices included a steamed spinach-green onion-and-cheese bun, a fried doughnut, and a huge cup of iced lemon tea that lasted me most of the day.



Loved this tunnel kiln! I need one at home.

Bought chopsticks for home, too. 
Finally learned how to use them, LOL!

The afternoon took us further into Taipei:


Taiwan's "White House."

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial
(unfortunately covered with
scaffolding.)

. . . and the National History Museum. I thought this little pagoda was perfect painting material:


Before studying any artwork we needed afternoon tea in the museum cafe:


The view from the cafe windows:

Someone actually gets to live in this building.

These beads date from 403-221 BC.
Still so modern. I'd buy them!

After the museum we found ourselves in a busy part of downtown where I had the opportunity to investigate some of the backstreet shops. Thanks to having bought the pig teacups I needed a larger carry-on. I found just what I wanted in a small suitcase store: bright pink canvas and made in Taiwan. A great souvenir for future travels.


Which store first??



Dinner that night was once again "family style" when we met up with some of Ming Franz's cousins, former high school classmates, and teachers in a downtown restaurant. It was a genuine reunion for them all, and wonderful for us to be part of such a special evening.

Then we were back to The Grand Hotel for our final night. By now we had traveled in a huge circle, seeing three coastlines and parts of the interior too. We also arrived back in time for  the start of "frog season." Right outside our windows: croak, croak, croak all night. As I noted in my journal: "These frogs are VERY disagreeable!"

A grand entrance, indeed.

Accompanied by the frog serenade, our packing lasted well into the early morning hours. We had become so spoiled in our big bus, a vehicle designed to sit 30-40 passengers when there were only 10 of us, that our daily habit was to load up the empty seats with our purchases from each stop and then forget about them. Now was the night of reckoning and everything had to find its place or get left behind. First to be discarded were all the beautiful shopping bags--so lovely but way too bulky. 

The next morning, packed and ready for our night-time flight, we still had a full day to spend in Taipei. First stop was a visit with Welsh paper artist, Tim Budden, now a Taiwan resident, who led us to his studio through this interesting neighborhood:

Hot spring water flows right through town.



Mr. Budden explaining the
intricacies of paper art.

Following our studio tour, we were off to Taipei 101, regarded to be the world's highest completed building. We were booked for lunch on the ground floor at an Anthony Bourdain-recommended restaurant specializing in xiao long bao, steamed soup dumplings. Yum.





Before lunch we had 30 minutes to ride up to the 89th-floor. 






Next and final stop: The Eslite Book Store. The best bookstore in the whole world. Several stories high, filled with treasures I'll never see here in the USA, I could have moved in permanently. I bought more brush pens (black, forest green, gray, and rust red), a book on painting cats in the Chinese style, and a book on French shabby chic. In Chinese. Don't judge.

And then we were off to the airport. Our superb and talented tour guide gifted us all with special little items to remember our trip. For me it was a wooden key-ring carved into the shape of horse complete with saddle, bridle, and tons of intricate detail. She told me she had chosen a horse so that I "may keep traveling, and go far." She also gave me a postcard of a Taiwanese kitten, "Because you love cats!" 

On the way to the airport . . .

After dinner on the plane I think I slept more soundly than I did at the monastery. I don't remember much about the flight home except for the movie I watched before falling asleep: The Crossing--a recent film set in Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War. It was excellent, and a real tear-jerker, but then it suddenly ended with the words 'To be continued." Apparently Part II comes out this summer, but I wanted to keep watching!

Along with two of my travel companions, I had decided earlier to stopover in San Francisco before going home to Albuquerque, and I'm glad I did, but it sure seemed strange (and lonely) to be on our own without the group or my roommate.

A room of my own.
New pink Taiwan travel bag in the back there.

My version of my cat postcard:
"This kitty is sad to leave Taiwan."

And then we flew into Albuquerque, and . . .  that's all, folks, 12 unforgettable days of Taiwan. I hope you've enjoyed reading my trip diary; I certainly enjoyed sharing it with you. May you one day travel far and wide, too!

(Next post: A review of my travel sketch supplies, what worked, what didn't. Stay tuned.)

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4. Taiwan Trip Diary: Days 9 and 10


I'm coming to the end of my Taiwan trip; just four days left as I continue with Days 9 and 10. In many ways, these last days were amongst my favorites, but then I say that about every day in Taiwan, so it's difficult to know if there was anything I didn't enjoy to the max!

Day 9 started in Kaohsiung with a visit to the famed Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, both overlooking a stunning lotus bed and lake.


At this point of our trip we were also poised on the cusp of a national holiday weekend, coinciding with Easter, and so there were lots of  local tourists and food trucks to keep everyone happy.


After climbing to the top of the pagodas and wending our way back "out of the mouth of the tiger" (sounds like a kung fu movie), we next went to a modern art museum. I thoroughly enjoyed the innovative installations including a life-size street scene made from dried banana peels (it was amazing!) and a variety of art videos (which also gave me a chance to sit down for a while).

We left Kaohsiung after lunch in a Hakka-style restaurant (read more on Taiwan's Hakka population here), and headed for our next major stopping point: the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Memorial Center.

Prior to our arrival at the monastery, I had no idea what to expect other than a night of austerity: gruel for dinner (if we were lucky), lights out at 7 PM, compulsory meditation, and pre-dawn rise-and-shine.

I couldn't have been more mistaken. The monastery was a beehive of commercial activity filled with hundreds of visitors, an art museum and up-scale galleries, a shopping mall, plenty of individual specialty shops tucked away into various hidden corners, several top-notch restaurants, a 7-11, and of course a Starbucks right in the main entrance! In other words, it was paradise. And that was just the small part I was able to see. Apparently there's also a university, conference centers, and all kinds interesting visitor and educational facilities.  


It was also very noisy. As well as finding preparations underway for an outdoor concert to be held sometime that weekend, a construction project prevented our tour bus from dropping us of at our dorm-room accommodations:


Despite our difficulties getting up the hill and into our rooms, we were encouraged at all times to look on the bright side:


And they were right: tune out the noise and confusion, and the grounds were magnificent, the main feature being this enormous Buddha:


The theme of spiritual living extended into our dorm lobby . . .


. . . leading to our rooms: simple, clean, and cozy, and designed for students with strong backs. The mattresses were comically rock-hard, probably the only austerity we experienced in the place, but mine also provided the best night's sleep of my life. Maybe I should get a piece of plywood to sleep on here in Albuquerque!

Sketchbook reminder: Do Good Deeds . . . 

Banners and signs placed throughout the walkways reminded visitors to"Do good deeds, speak good words, think good thoughts." A worthy sentiment and one that was very different from what I discovered when I unwrapped a throat lozenge halfway through our tour. I wasn't getting sick, I just felt like I needed some Vitamin C. The lozenges I brought from home were packaged in what the brand called "positive affirmations," and the one I picked on this occasion revealed the statement: "Inspire envy!" Whoa. What a contrast to "Do good deeds." Give me the lessons of the Buddha any day.


That evening we gathered in one of the mall restaurants for the best vegetarian dinner to date (vegetarian cuisine being the only one available, and just right for me) followed by yet more shopping. I was able to purchase more beads, this time ones inscribed with little spiritual symbols and writings (none about envy, I'm sure), and a couple of brush pens I totally fell in love with.

Morning proved to be far more peaceful than the day before, the machinery turned off and the air humming with the sound of nuns chanting while others walked in silent procession or worked in the gardens:



The only catch to the day was the complete absence of coffee in the breakfast room. I need coffee in the morning, as in, I really need coffee in the morning, and I've already mentioned how good the coffee in Taiwan is. In my desperation I remembered the Starbucks, but I also remembered it being a long way to walk and I wasn't sure when our tour bus would be leaving.

As I stood alone in the middle of an empty courtyard, contemplating what to do, a party of nuns and monks led by a tall German greeted me with a hearty, "Good Morning! Where are you going?" Immediately I thought this was one of those trick koan questions, and that I was supposed to have some brilliant reply such as, "To find enlightenment, O Master!" Instead, all I could weakly croak was, "Starbucks?"

The monk's reply: "Hahahaha! Then I wish you luck! They are closed!" Drat.

However, thanks to my quick-thinking roommate, I was able to avoid a caffeine headache when she surprised me with a can of iced coffee from a vending machine. Yay! The day was saved. I thank her with a thousand Buddhas:


Even after we left the monastery, monks and nuns seemed to be following us. Lunchtime in a village known for its wood-working artistry let me snap this photo:



And then we were on our way to: THE ONE. Oh, my goodness. Oh, my. THE ONE really is, The One. (That's what it's called, The One. The One what? Just. The One.) Now a luxury spa, resort, hotel and restaurant, it was originally the playground of a Taiwanese newspaper mogul. Built in the 1980s in a traditional and palatial style (no nails were used in its construction), it is gorgeous. I took dozens of photos, mainly for art references, but here are just a few to capture the ambiance:






Really, I could live here forever.

Highlight of the Day: Before dinner at The One (which was. what else?, a multi-course extravaganza) I had a chance to sit and dream with my sketchbook in my own private alcove. The area I found was decked out in pale lavender silk, embroidered cushions, antique Chinese furniture, and dimmed lighting. 

While I was luxuriating upon the divan and pretending to be an eighteenth-century empress, I thought I would experiment with one of my new brush pens. Wow--where have these pens been all my life? It was like painting with silk. Another unforgettable moment from Taiwan.


(Side note: the stamp in the upper corner on this sketch was from our visit to the King Car Whisky Factory where they make--and we got to taste--Kavalan whiskey, judged to be the world's finest. In an interesting coincidence, King Car was founded by the man who developed "Mr. Brown Coffee," the canned coffee that saved my life at the monastery. Thanks, Mr. Brown!)

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5. Perfection Is Not the Point

Do you have an inner art supply monster?

Whenever I visit an art supply shop, this is what happens: 
I forget the world around me completely and I feel the exact same way as I used to feel when I was little, visiting a candy shop or toy store. There is SO much to see, there is SO much I want to try and play with! Suddenly, time doesn't exist and all my focus goes into feeling the structure of sketchbook paper, smelling crayons, trying pens, wondering about techniques and endless possibilities. Sometimes I even start sweating a little just because of all the choices there are. I can't walk out of an art supply shop or stationary shop without buying anything. Even if it's just a pencil sharpener - I will get my fix! But usually, I walk out with a lot more than just a modest pencil sharpener...
20140622 AwesomeFlyingSketchbook2a
It's even worse when visiting art supply shops in different cities or countries. 
Finding brands that are hard to find in Amsterdam makes me greedy. 
When I visited New York, my suitcase was so heavy when I travelled back home after a few days: I had collected a huge stack of sketchbooks!
Recognize this kind of behaviour? I'm sure you do!

And then what?

Some people find it so hard to start a new sketchbook or art journal. All those sketchbooks need to be filled - and the fact that they are hard to come by and kind of precious because of that, could become a threshold to crack them open. 
Have you ever felt the fear of "spoiling" your nice journals? Or do you just dive in, and see each blank page as a new corner of your creative playground. To make some kind of art everyday, to experiment and to record whatever captures your attention that day?

Is an art journal supposed to be a book full of perfect pages?

20150531 Parijs7
Not much of a view during the 4-hour train ride - still I enjoyed myself thanks to my sketchbook
To me, perfection is NOT the point. Sure, it's great to have a collection of beautiful drawings, but my art journals reflect my days. They contain memories. They help me kill time when travelling or waiting. They help clear my mind. Even a crappy drawing of a fun moment is a well kept memory. Or the other way around: a fun drawing changes how you feel about a boring moment. Perhaps the not-close-to-perfect drawings even have more character as well!

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6. Taiwan Trip Diary: Days 7 and 8


Okay, I'll cut right to the chase: Taiwan Trip Day 7 will forever go down in history as: 
DAY OF THE MONKEY 

Long story short: my poor roommate was attacked, MUGGED, by three of the little devils. (And they weren't all that little.) 

I have never been so stunned--or frightened-- in my whole life. Monkeys might look cute and innocent on the surface, but wow, can they get mean. I was thoroughly impressed at how my roommate stayed so cool, calm, and collected as she divested herself of the creatures, talking to them in a quietly authoritarian voice (even whilst getting a huge bite in the process!), but it was a terrifying moment. 

Personally I would have had a complete nervous breakdown. The worst part was that we were on a bridge stretching a deep ravine. One false step and . . . well, we won't go there. All I can say is, if you ever get the chance to see monkeys in the wild: run. (Needless to say I made the above sketch from an image on my camera at a later date. No way was I going to stick around for longer than it took to snap a photo or two.)

Before monkey madness, the day started out quite peacefully in this coastal village where we stopped for lunch and some sightseeing:


The restaurant we ate at was what they called "chef cook style." Instead of customers choosing meals from a menu, lunchtime clientele simply got what the chef made that day. And of course it was delicious!

But then it was back on the bus to monkey territory. If I seem a little obsessed, it's because a) I was really looking forward to seeing the monkeys, and b) then I was traumatized by their antics. I can't even look at monkeys on TV at the moment. However, for your enjoyment, here they are again:




Me, before witnessing "the attack."
Hurrying back into the bus to resume traveling (and making sure my roommate was okay (She was. No puncture wound, thanks to the thick weave of her shirt, but there was a large bruise.), we then carried on in a state of exhaustion to an organic tea plantation. 


Here we tasted (and purchased) a variety of fragrant teas, the most-prized and expensive being a type known as "honey oolong." This particular tea gets its sweetness from cicada secretions. Yes. (By now nothing could faze me.)


Next stop: a "Buddha's Head" fruit stand. Each of these interesting little fruits is an exact replica of the tight curls atop the head of the familiar representation of the Buddha. Or this is at least what we thought. There seemed to be some difficulty in translation because sometimes they were called "Buddha's Hands." But to me they look like Buddha's head. Whatever they are called, they are wonderful, kind of like apple and pear custard.


And then our hotel--a lovely family-style hot springs resort owned by a friend from Ming Franz's high school days. What a treat! The sulphuric water scent was strong, but, oh, so healthy. For me it was pure nostalgia reminding me of my teenage trips to the hot pools of Rotorua in New Zealand, always with that smell hanging in the air at every turn. Here at the resort we could get the spring water in our rooms too, so naturally I took advantage of a long soak before bed.

Resort koi pond. I fed them, too.

Day 8 continued our up-close-and-personal portion of the trip, getting to see a side of Taiwan most tourists rarely see. After leaving Ming's friend's hotel, we next went to visit her former high school where one of her classmates is now the principal. (They were a very dynamic group!)


These kids were the lucky ones. The rest of their classmates 
were busy cleaning and mopping the hallways.
Wish my school had been this pretty.

After a short tour of the school grounds, we then assembled in the library where Ming gave the school one of her books and we were all presented with official school tie pins and a morning snack.

And then we were off for lunch and adult beverages at the Tsingtao Beer Factory:

Dragons love beer too.

Where I discovered this poster:

And had to know who these bad boys were . . . 

Before I could find out though, we then had the very special opportunity to visit with some of Ming's family living in her grandfather's one-hundred-year-old house. Parts of the home are still maintained just as they were in the past, and it was a unique privilege to be invited inside. I was especially taken with the family pet:

It took me forever to realize this kitty
didn't speak English, and that  it was useless
to repeat, "Kitty, look up! Look at me, Kitty!"

Ming's family owns a nursery in the town, and they graciously next took us for a visit there. The plants were exquisite, nothing like the dry specimens we have here in Albuquerque.

All that lovely mist . . . 

Cooled and refreshed, we then took off for Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second largest city, an architectural mixture of London, Barcelona, New York, Paris . . . It's beautiful! Here we stayed on the 39th-floor of a luxury hotel atop a posh department store with late night shopping. Dinner in the building's restaurant continued the family theme as we met with our tour guide's mother, sister and her husband, and their two adorable little children.

And then my solitary adventure began . . .

Remember the guys in the poster? I had the bright idea that I would try to find some of their music in that downstairs department store. Except I didn't know the name of the band, or anything else about them except they like Tsingtao beer.

So under the universal heading of "heavy metal" I bought what I thought would be some good old Taiwanese rock'n'roll. Carrying my daintily-wrapped package, I went in search of tea-towels, thinking that would be a nice thing to bring home. Except I couldn't get anyone to understand what I wanted. I even demonstrated what I thought "towel" looked like if you were playing charades. All that happened was the sales clerk started imitating my extremely strange movements until we were both doing this weird dance in the aisles and I had to shake my head, say, "Sorry, but thank you so much," and run away. 

I ran so far I then got lost and couldn't find the exit to the hotel. To make matters worse, the loud speakers came on: "The store is closing in 1o minutes." In English, nonetheless. For which I am eternally grateful. Otherwise I would have had to have slept somewhere between women's fashion and men's shoes. I think I got out of there with 30 seconds to spare. Whew.


Grateful to be back in our room with a view.
More exciting than New York!
Good night, Kitty!

Highlight of the Day: Say it isn't so. Discovering that the CD I had bought was this:

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7. More Paris pages

Here's a few more sketchbook pages I made during my weekend in Paris. Great memories!

people sitting alone are often playing with their mobile phones; that way they sit perfectly still for a sketch



this drawing took 2 cappuccinos and a mineral water and some perseverence
quick last sketches before catching my train back home

in the train back to amsterdam

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8. Taiwan Trip Diary, Days 5 and 6

Into the mountains!

I've been sick--flu, cold, allergies, whatever you want to call it, but instead of blogging I've been stuck in bed reading (and finishing) Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet for the last couple of  weeks. My particular copy of The Quartet contained all four volumes in one door-stopper of a monstrosity, and my shoulders and wrists are suffering the consequences, LOL! Anyway, I'm much better now, have moved on to some lighter reading, and am ready to continue sharing my Taiwan trip, Days 5 and 6.

So . . . by Day 5 I had devised a sketching routine for my bus rides. I decided to divide some of my sketchbook pages into grids of six and then whenever we stopped at the traffic lights, or just slowed down, I would draw as quickly as possible in one or more of the squares. Some of the drawings are a bit esoteric, for instance:



At other times, however, the scenery was so consistent I was able to use a full page and go for some color, such as when we were following the coast:


They're funny little drawings, I know, but they mean a lot to me--and I now have some good references for larger work later this summer.


Other than drawing, the main focus for Day 5 was the National Center for Traditional Arts, and perhaps one of my favorite places on the tour. The idea behind the winding streets and specialty shops is to give visitors a sense of "old world" Taiwan while demonstrating how the various items for sale from puppets to paintbrushes are made. I found it utterly charming and ended up buying incense (complete with history lesson and a chance to sniff a wide variety of sandalwood shavings); preserved kumquats; dried "squid" cheese (a stringy cheese snack guaranteed to have not harmed any squids); and my most extravagant purchase to date: handmade lampwork glass beads for yet more jewelry-making. (I’m going to have to open my own shop at this rate.)

At lunch, served in a building that had once been an old kiln, one of our group members asked an interesting question: What have you learned about yourself so far? At first I seemed to have so many answers I couldn’t concentrate on just one, so I think I said something inane, like, “A lot!” But later that afternoon I wanted to examine the question in more depth. Here’s my reply straight and unedited from my journal: 

“I’ve learned that I don’t need to go on my dream-vacation to Japan. This trip is enough and even better. For years I thought I was “Japanese” in spirit. Now, after this trip, that no longer rings true. I have learned that I am more complex: for instance, in the Palace Museum I read that everything in Chinese culture and life holds meaning and symbolism. And it all has to add up and create the ultimate state of harmony. I have learned that I want that too. And that I want to use my five senses in my art and writing much, much more than I have in the past. I guess I've learned I am hungry for life. I want to keep learning."

Time Travel!

After lunch my quest for more "art and life" came to vivid life when I got caught up in a street theater performance—letting me believe I had been transported to another world and  century.

Then it was back on the bus for our next destination: our hotel and such a steep drive into the mountains we had to be calmed (i.e., distracted) by watching a spectacular movie on Taiwan's geographical wonders. Refreshments for the ride were what our guide referred to as “donkey tongue cookies.” Although I think something may have been lost in translation, they were very good, about ten inches of pastry filled with cinnamon, and I suppose they do look like donkey tongues (not that I'm any kind of expert on the subject).

And then . . . we arrived at our hotel, a wonderland of a resort owned and managed by the local Aborigines. I had NO idea we would be staying here (or anywhere like it, for that matter):

Magical morning.

My "10-minute" version of our cabin.

The dining room--great for early morning
journaling and sketching.
 

Using our hotel as "base camp,"  Day 6 took us hiking into the marbled cliffs of the Taroko Gorge:




Helmets were compulsory in this section--not, in my opinion, to protect us from the falling rocks, but because of the narrow walkway along the highway where buses, cars, and scooters whizzed, I mean whizzed by. Add to that my general fatigue from reaching the halfway point of our journey, and it's a miracle I didn't fall over the edge or in front of a speeding Porsche.


Taroko Gorge also provided my first monkey sighting in the village where we had lunch, followed by cold beers in a scenic garden setting while waiting for a few of our more-adventurous explorers to return. 


Beer finished, it was onto the bus and off to  a marble factory where we were able to take a peek into the high-security jade jewelry vaults. These star-fire gems (there is no other way to describe them) were unlike any pieces of jade I'd ever seen before--highly lustrous in shades of green, blue, and lilac, quite expensive, and guarded by uniformed girls straight out of a James Bond film. And, boy, did they keep their eyes out for sticky fingers. Once we'd had our look-see the cases closed with a bang, bang, bang and we were quickly ushered into the next room. Very quickly.

Marble chunks perfect for home or garden!

Back on the bus we had a lovely surprise waiting for us: our bus driver had bought us all porcelain pendant necklaces while we were admiring the jade. Mine was a miniature Blue Willow plate on a deep blue cord which I wore for the remainder of the trip. (It's currently on display in my writing room as part of my "Taiwan Memories" grouping.)

Necklaces in place, we then set out for another Aborigine village, this time with a lively dance show followed by a "hot pot" cook-your-own-dinner restaurant. As was often the case, I was given my own special vegetarian items to cook, starting with this amazing lotus flower:

 
A small lotus bud placed in  boiling soup water turned into . . . a 
genuine Kodak moment.
(And yes, I drew it in my sketchbook too.)

Highlight of the Day: Our Luxurious Leader Hotel. We were lucky enough to stay two nights in this beautiful setting and I don't think I'll ever forget a single moment. 

P.S. The dialogue in the video is in Chinese, but I thought that would provide an accurate example of what it was like to be there, rarely able to understand a single word anyone said! One difference between the video and our own stay is that the the grounds are shown to be more crowded than they were for us, but otherwise it's exactly the same. I even recognize some of the staff and  performers. So please turn on the sound, sit back, and enjoy.


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9. National Parks: Top 10 Kids’ Books

For those of you planning to take your kids to a national park in 2015, here are some excellent books you need to take along for the ride.

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10. Taiwan Trip Diary, Days 3 and 4

Dawn breaking over Taipei's Grand Hotel.

Hello, Everyone! Where do the weeks go? Despite my best intentions, it's been nearly two whole weeks since my last post. I need to catch up, so let's just start with Day 3 dawning over Taipei:


Sunny and mild, Day 3 found us traveling to the Tamsui Bay region where we explored the ancient Spanish Fort San Domingo, with its classic old Western-style architecture, garden, furnishings and views of Guan-yin Mountain. For some reason I didn't take any photos--probably because I was concentrating on the views:

Tamsui Bay--looking forward to painting this.

Going through the various rooms of the fort's living quarters, displayed to resemble the way the house appeared during the time of the last British Consulate, I came across this intriguing message on the wall: "One may ask, From which angle will the mountain look like the Goddess of Mercy most?" 

Hmm. I found the answer fairly soon when I turned the corner and entered an exhibition of mid-century modern Taiwanese art focusing on scenes of Tamsui. Cubism, Fauvism, 1950's "primitive," so many different techniques but all with an Asian flair I loved--a little too much as I then had to run to the gift shop to buy the exhibition catalog/book. And there went "traveling light."

After the fort and a drive along the coast, we lunched (feasted) at a seafood restaurant. Being a vegetarian I was given my own special selections, but I couldn't help but be impressed with the artistry of the fish presentations--fish as food sculpture was a new one to me! Better still was the fact that I started using my chopsticks with serious proficiency. I can only thank the Goddess of Mercy for such kindness.

Scooters!

One of my favorite things was seeing all the family businesses in action.
So many just like this.

After lunch: the wild and crazy Yehliu rocks, a coastal phenomenon unique to Taiwan. The rocks are truly unbelievable, shaped like chess pieces, dogs, mushrooms; whatever you can imagine there's a rock to match. Climbing up and down the walkways got a tad slippery for me (especially with my uncanny ability to trip whenever possible) so midway along the tour I stopped to rest with one of my fellow travelers, a lovely woman and new friend from the UK. While we were happily chatting in the shade about how difficult it is to get Americans to call a bathrobe a "dressing gown," we noticed people taking our photo, not once, but several times, only then to be asked if the photographers could be in the photos with us. It turned out that tourists from mainland China had never seen an American--or English--traveler in person before. They were thrilled, and I have no idea how many family albums we'll be appearing in over the next few months. 


Yehliu mushroom rocks--incredible!


Straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Day 3 ended and Day 4 began in the port city of Keelung:

From our hotel room window!

Night view from the hotel restaurant.

Early morning stroll along the docks.

The sidewalk was narrow . . .  but I was on a mission . . . 

. . . to buy these. Delicious.
And then we were off to gold mining country, waterfall viewing,


and a terrifying bus trip while standing (I had to keep my eyes closed) into the romantic and exceptionally steep village of Jiufen. Once we arrived we still had to go further uphill, climbing, climbing, and climbing to the very top of the village accompanied by the pervasive scent of what's known as “stinky tofu," a local delicacy and a taste I'm embarrassed to say I never tried. I’m a bit disappointed at myself for being such a coward, but it was just too . . . stinky. 


The streets of Jiufen filled with happy strangers. 

No clue what they're selling here,
but it looks like something fun!

"No, it's your turn to buy the stinky tofu!"

Unbelievably, it was lunchtime again (the meals never stopped appearing). This time in a delightful open-air wooden tea room with the usual abundance of delicious offerings. Good thing we were forced to walk down to the bottom of the village to catch our bus. Calories, calories!


Before leaving the village we were given an hour or so to sightsee on our own, so my first choice was to visit a natural stone store I remembered passing on the way up and where I was able to buy beads for jewelry making. I came away with jade, aventurine, and citrine (so, so pretty), and at a bargain, too. (BTW, in case there's any doubt, let me just remind everyone that shopping IS sightseeing. It's very educational to learn how shopkeepers in foreign parts write up receipts, display their goods, etc. etc. I highly recommend it.)

After shop-seeing and some more much-needed walking, we then learned how to shove our way onto the shuttle bus. Being a Sunday, the place was crowded to capacity, so we had to be aggressive if we wanted get down to our tour bus waiting at the bottom of the mountain. So all together now: Shove, shove, shove! I felt terrible. Sort of.

Safely back on our home bus again, shins and elbows intact, we again followed the coastline, this time to the tune of soul-soothing classical music, before we stopped at this architectural wonder of a museum:

The island-shaped Langyan Museum.

Inside the museum I was able to learn more about the Aboriginal people of Taiwan, and the history of the Chinese settlers. My favorite moment was sitting inside a replica of an Aboriginal thatched hut to watch a movie (the big screen TV was something of an anachronism, especially as I was sitting on a log) about their daily lives, arts and crafts, and hunting methods.

After the museum: another spectacular hotel doubling as a spa (complete with deep stone-tiled spa tub and hot spring water right in our room) and known as "A Spring Full of Indulgence and Comfort." Taiwanese pajamas were provided for our comfort, that is if you were the size of a small teddy bear, but the cute free flip-flops fit like a dream--I'm still wearing them as I'm writing this post!


Tea for two.

Highlight of the Day: Shove, shove, shove! Nah, just kidding. Fortunately, we never had to be so ruthless again. Instead, I found the majority of the trip to be extremely calm and restful, a mood I'm celebrating with my new Pinterest board: I Love Taiwan! I'd love for you to take a look when you've got a free minute or two. In the meantime, stay tuned for my next post, Days 5 and 6.

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11. Taiwan Trip Diary: Days 1 and 2



Taipei from the bus.
<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]-->Today I start my "Taiwan Diary" posts, outlining as best I can our 12 days of non-stop fun. 

Day 1 of the trip, a full travel day, might not sound like a thrill-a-minute, but I actually enjoyed it. Starting here at home in Albuquerque: up at 5.00 AM to shower, breakfast, and get to the airport (thankfully just a 20 minute drive away) in time for my flight to San Francisco where I would catch the plane to Taipei.

From Albuquerque to San Francisco I got the surprise of my life: several crates of puppies were packed behind me in the cargo area—aarf, aarf, aarf for the next two hours! At first I thought it was the guy sitting next to me--I was terrified he was making barking noises and I would have to call security.

When I realized he couldn't possibly be barking in three different languages (i.e., chihuahua, poodle, and mutt), I finally arrived in San Francisco: collecting luggage, checking in to EVA Airlines, and meeting up with the rest of the tour group. After a several hour wait, we then boarded our plane for a long (14 hours?) trip made bearable by movies, a much better system than the days when I used to fly back and forth to New Zealand. 

I watched The Theory of Everything (the recent film about Stephen Hawking); Someone to Love (Scandinavian tear-jerker about a selfish rock star who has to raise his grandson when the child's drug addict mother--the mean superstar's daughter--overdoses. It might have been a bit heavy for in-flight entertainment, but I felt I got to see a side of Scandinavian life I would otherwise have missed); and Gemma Bovary, a rather strange and dark French comedy (I think it was a comedy) about a woman whose life mimicked that of Madame Bovary. Which anyone familiar with the story would know is not very comedic!

By the time we arrived in Taipei it was a couple of hours before midnight, but we had yet to get through immigration, a seemingly endless line of night-arriving travelers. Once that was over, we were next into a shuttle van and off to the City Suites Hotel, a clean and comfortable stay perfect for when you have absolutely no idea where you are, what time of night or day it really is, and just need to crawl into bed. 

At first my roommate (who turned out to be the best roommate anyone could ever ask for!!) and I couldn't get the lights to work until we figured out we had to place our room key card in the light switch. And then we couldn’t figure out how to turn them off--I think we slept with the lights on. Until dawn, at least, when I got up and unplugged all the lamps without telling her so that she thought there were no lights at all. Not my smartest moment.

What I do think was a pretty smart move, though, was my idea to throw away my entire airplane outfit! Yep, this had been my plan all along. For traveling I wore my very worst yard clothes and during the rest of the trip I managed to throw out 1 pair of jeans, 4 tops, 2 cardigan sweaters, a pair of shoes, and ALL of my underwear and socks. Talk about traveling light. My "Throw and Go" system was the best travel brainstorm I’ve ever had: months ago I started collecting things that would normally go in the rag bag or trash and decided to wear them one last time on the trip. I will never travel any other way again. "Throw and Go" not only solved the laundry problem, it left plenty of room in my suitcase for shopping.

Day 2 found me getting up at 5.00 AM again—I felt completely rested and ready to see the sights. This pattern seemed to follow me the rest of the trip—I didn’t want to miss a thing! 

The day turned out to be cold and overcast, making me grateful to have brought a raincoat with a removable liner and hood. Coming from Albuquerque, I found the light drizzle something of a novelty, providing a mysterious dreamlike atmosphere that only added to my sense of adventure. Our tour guide also informed us that water brings good luck, a statement that proved itself just about every day.

After breakfast (with some of the best coffee I've ever had in my life--another great thing that continued throughout the entire trip) and waiting for everyone to gather for the bus, I took a few minutes to sketch the back view from the hotel lobby where a small canal or stream was flowing past:



My chosen medium was watercolor pencils, and everything was going fine until I went to fill my water brush with water and it broke in two. For anyone not familiar with a water brush, it's a brush that holds water in the tubular barrel and is (usually) great for travel. Except for when it breaks, which had never happened to me before. During the flight it must have developed some kind of airlock from the pressure, finally snapping in two. At first I was totally devastated; my whole "art plan" depended on my water brush. I consoled myself with the fact that we were going to an art supply store in the afternoon where I could buy a new one and I could always add the water at any time, but I wanted to paint now.

Painting woes aside, it was time to get on the bus, and our first tour stop of the day was the residence, now a museum, of Chang Dai-Chien, Taiwan’s most famous splash ink artist. 

The entrance to the neighborhood housing the residence.


The Master's carp pond.


The Master's inner courtyard.


The back of the residence. Bonsai trees, rushing water, mountains, and white butterflies.


The Master's pickle jars!

The residence was definitely well worth the visit, an experience made even more interesting when our guide explained that the reason for all the water (ponds, waterfalls, river) was not only for the visual beauty, but for the sound. Chinese art strives to use, and be inspired by, all the senses, something I want to keep in mind for future artwork.

From the Master's House our next stop was the National Palace Museum—one of the largest collections of Chinese antiquities in the world.

I have no idea who these people are or how they got in my photo.

Before we started exploring the museum though, it was time for lunch. With chopsticks. Here is the sad story of me and chopsticks: despite having watched 3 Youtube videos prior to my departure on the correct usage of these darn little sticks, and practicing at home with knitting needles, I still made a big mess. Everyone else at my table seemed to be genius chopstick users. The thought occurred to me that I  was going to have to solve the problem soon or I might soon be banned from the table. I couldn't eat with my fingers forever!


From the museum steps. (And an exciting view of the backs of people's heads. Sorry!)

Once I was finished throwing my food around the room we were given several free hours on our own to wander and absorb the magnificence of the actual museum. Again I noted in some of the displays that same theme of Chinese art using all the senses, particularly those that help to find  the "chi" of whatever subject is being portrayed. For instance, if the artist was painting an animal, that chi might be found in the way the little creature lifted its paw or angled its head--an excellent starting point for any work of art.




Although the museum was far too big to cover in a single afternoon, I managed to see more floors and exhibitions then I thought I would, but it was tiring work. To recover I decided to get another cup of wonderful Taiwanese coffee and go outside for some more sketching. Another piece of advice I recalled from The Tao of Sketching was to cultivate "visual memory," so I tried to reproduce a Ming vase I saw in one of the exhibitions. I don't think I captured its "chi" exactly, but it makes a nice memory all the same.




My sketch and coffee finished, the chilly weather drove me back inside and surprise, surprise, into the museum gift store. I had wanted some cat art and sure enough, there it were two prints just waiting for me:

Lots of chi here, don't you think?
I'll be framing these soon for my office.

At last it was time to go to the art supply store, an old-world traditional shop up a steep flight of stairs and next to a street vendor making and selling delicious-smelling steamed pork buns (and that's from a vegetarian!). While the others in our group ordered authentic carved name seals (I opted out because I wasn't sure I really had a need for one) I started searching in vain for my water brush. Not only were they nonexistent, no one had a clue what I was talking about (neither in English nor with the help of Chinese translation.) 

Which leads me to this important travel tip: keep the various parts of your brush separated while flying. Better still, take at least two brushes—this was one case where “traveling light” was too light.

However, all was not lost. I ended up purchasing something much, much better: a little Chinese watercolor brush I will treasure forever. The only downside of this brush was having to use a bottle of drinking water for dipping and cleaning it, and then having to constantly remind myself not to drink my paint water . . .  


Such a sweet little brush. Excellent quality. I love it.

Last stop of the day was dinner and bed, all at the spectacular Grand Hotel where we turned into royalty. Sheer heaven. What a way to travel.



I reveled in the abundance of soaps, shampoos and lotions all smelling better than Chanel No. 5. Chinese artistry celebrates the senses for sure.

Highlight of the Day: Rubber stamps! Starting at the National Palace Museum I discovered that most tourist sites and even some hotels provide rubber stamps and ink pads to commemorate your visit with a mini work of art. It was so much fun collecting the various images throughout the country and I think they really enhanced my journal/sketchbook. The one I added to my museum sketch (and after I was able to use my paint brush) was one I found several days later at a Buddhist monastery. I have no idea what it says, or if I have the characters facing the right direction, but I'm glad I found it.

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12. Oblong Books, Romantic Times, and BEA/BookCon

I’m doing three events in May: an appearance at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, NY; several panels and a signing at the Romantic Times Conference in Dallas, TX; and a few things around Book Expo America here in New York City.

Oblong Books
Sunday, May 10, 2015

4:00pm
6422 Montgomery Street
Rhinebeck, NY 12572

Justine and I will be talking about our new books, Razorhurst and Afterworlds, and of course signing whatever you want us to sign.

Here’s a link to the event.

Romantic Times
Dallas, TX
May 12-17

I’m on three panels:

YA: From Magic to Gadgets to Alternate Worlds, A YA Fantasy Primer for Writers
Thursday, May 14, 2015 – 1:30pm to 2:30pm
Atrium Level (2nd Floor)
Room: Bryan-Beeman B

Uplifting Service
(Justine and I are special guests in this librarian-focused event.)
Thursday, May 14, 2015 – 2:45pm to 3:45pm
Atrium Level
Room: Cotton Bowl

Humble Beginnings: Your Favorite YA Authors Share Their Teen Writing
Saturday, May 16, 2015 – 4:30pm to 5:45pm
Atrium Level
Room: Gaston

Also, I’ll be at the huge Book Fair signing on May 16. Several of my books will be available for sale there.

Note that you have to get admission to the RT Convention to attend an of these events.

And finally, I’ll be at several events around Book Expo America and Book Con here in NYC.

Book Expo
Javits Convention Center
Friday, May 29th
10:30 – 11:30 am, Zeroes signing (in signing area)
3:30 – 4:45 pm, CBC Tea (room TK)

BookCon
Javits Convention Center
Sunday, May 31st
2:00-3:00 pm, Afterworlds signing
3:30-4:30 pm, The Big Bad Theory
(Sci Fi Panel, moderated by CharlieJane Anders)

More details to come!

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13. Back from Taiwan!


And what a trip it was. Here's a photo of me in the Taroko Gorge area, about halfway through  our 12-day journey. I chose this one out of all my 893 pics because I thought it summed up my day-by-day existence pretty well: happy as a clam and having the time of my life whilst overcoming my reluctance to stand too close to the edge. (P.S. I did get right up close by the end of the day. In fact, I don't think I'll ever be afraid of heights again.) 

As you can see, we had to wear helmets in this particular section, but to be perfectly honest I should have been required to keep mine on my head until I got home. My head was always in the clouds (giving our wonderful tour guide a constant source of worry with the repeated refrain of: "Valerie, watch OUT!"). And that's because:

Taiwan was . . . incredible; one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. I am so grateful to artist Ming Franz for giving us this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel with her to her home country in such a personal and insightful way. Any expectations I may have held in advance were far exceeded; both from a cultural and a tourist point of view. My sole job every day was to have my luggage ready for collection in the morning, get on the bus, and be prepared for adventure. The perfect way to travel! 

Traveling light!
Our magic flying bus.

Because the trip meant I had to miss participating in this year's April A-Z blogging challenge, I thought I would make up for lost time by writing several posts about the trip over the next couple of weeks. Don't worry--they won't be long or too exhaustive. As much as I would love to share every single second with you, I also realize how easily travel stories can become a big snooze, so I'll keep everything down to the highlights. 

Something I wanted to mention before my next post though, is to remind everyone that my primary reasons for taking the trip (besides having lots of fun, traveling with Ming, and meeting new friends) were to, a) learn more about Asian and Chinese art, which I certainly did, and b) to sketch with a free heart and without my Inner Critic (I think I threw her off at the Gorge somewhere). In order to achieve the right state of mind for these goals, one book that really helped me ahead of time was  The Tao of Sketching by Qui Lei Lei. I found his timetable/chart for sketching invaluable, e.g. "2-3 minutes, just use pen or pencil and go for quick lines," as well as his sage advice, "Never give up," (draw or paint in whatever circumstances you find yourself, which for me was drawing on the bus with all its bumps, sudden turns, and spilled water galore) and, "Capture what 'punctures your heart.' ” 

Taiwan punctured my heart. But more of that in my next post: Travel Days 1 and 2. Right now I'm going to eat a yummy preserved kumquat, one of the treats I brought home from this amazing place, The National Center for Traditional Arts. Oh, how I wish I was still there!



Tip of the Day: Besides drawing, I also did a little bit of writing in the form of listing 12 items to remember every day. It was a good system as it saved me from the pressure of “having to journal” when I was too tired to do anything but smile. Best of all, the ensuing 144  are right at my fingertips, easy to transcribe into another form, e.g. this blog, without having to search through pages and pages of rambling observations and inner musings.

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14. Juicy Jack Adventures: Meet the Wild Pack, by Leigh Carrasco | Dedicated Review

It’s summer vacation time for BT and his mom. They are going to visit BT’s grandmother, Abuela in Spanish, at her farm in Peru and this time Jack, BT’s guinea pig, gets to go with them.

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15. Bits of Heaven

Most of us lucky ones live many lives on our sojourn on earth. We assay many roles, we experience varying circumstances. We Live. And we make amazing memories while we do that.
My dad was a very senior doctor in the Indian Railways, and we traveled a lot - always in British Raj style. Of all the memories I have of that life, the holidays are the sharpest, and the most beautiful. A snapshot of  explaining murals on a lovely temple in Orissa to him, eyes scrunched against the sun, is probably clearer today in my mind than it was then.
Travel is a wonderful way to expand the mind. It teaches you about the place you visit, opens your mind to other cultures and people, tells you you can move, change and adapt. It is an entirely positive experience in most cases. Everyone likes to travel, some in any way, to anywhere, some with more specifications. For me, I would travel less, but travel well... really well. Four stars minimum. The fact that I cannot  bring myself to shell out for more than economy-class plane tickets is bad enough. But elitist compulsions aside, I believe travelling is a must for personal growth. A person who grows and dies in the place he is born in misses out on a lot. A lot of pain, maybe, but a lot of fun too. 
But I digress. I was talking of the memories that travel engenders. A holiday is a separate space in our lives. It is a time when we take out time for the 'unnecessary', when the routine, generic parts of living are given secondary place to the special, personal part. Precious taking precedence over the pressing. That itself makes it sacrosanct.
When we create memories with people we love in a different place, we make a personal landmark in time-space. A special time is created, a bubble in itself, indestructible. 
A trip to Orlando for the opening of Harry Potter Park is an indelible memory, easily revisited. The smiles, the frowns, the heat, the conversation. The silly guitar photo. Nothing that happens or will happen can change that. A big party at home becomes one of many, but the trip will remain unchanged through Time. The first time I swam with  Manta rays is as fresh today as it was then. I can feel the cold salt water, the rough scaly fin as it brushed me, the slowing of time, the meaninglessness of the world outside the water. Another bubble I can retreat to anytime.
That bubble is a reminder of who we are, of what we do, of what matters. It confirms that life has to be more than our earthly existence. We get little pieces of heaven in our experiences as we travel, and those are what we tuck away in our hearts and minds. Because every time we experience something new, see something beautiful, taste something fabulous, we know it cannot be meaningless. We know there is more. And we know that a lifetime is simply not enough - certainly not in this miserably limited existence. 
So when we are all standing in front of our Creator on the Day of Judgement, and he opens the gates to Heaven, (after all, does anyone think they might actually go to hell??) I am going to ask instead for the 6-star resorts on the beaches and mountains of all the worlds to travel around with the people I love. And yes, with the full dessert buffet. And if he has to do a bit of recreating... well, that will be one hell of a memory!

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16. Getting Ready for Taiwan: Art Pack


I'm leaving for Taiwan in the morning! I’m pretty much all packed, ready to go, and have even shopped for, and prepared, a dozen meals for my husband to eat while I’m gone.  In other words, just put me on the plane. 

It seems like I’ve been getting ready for this trip for months, concentrating mainly on choosing and gathering the right art supplies. My dithering had a lot to do with the fact that I’ve never been a big fan of plein airsketching or painting. Past experiences of trying to sketch outdoors usually include me being (in no particular order): too hot, too cold, too thirsty, hungry, under attack from various evil insects, struggling to keep my paper flat and dirt-free from a wind that never stops blowing, and then by the time I've got everything under control I desperately need to find the restroom. I’m hoping this trip will be different, or at least teach me some better survival skills. 

Another big factor in choosing my supplies is they had to fit in my travel purse without being too heavy or bulky. So what I've narrowed the kit down to is:
  • A Stillman and Birn Epsilon 6"x 8” sketchbook. After weeks of experimenting with various papers, this seemed to be the very best book for both dry and wet media, as well as giving me plenty of pages for journaling. The paper has a lovely smooth finish and suits me well.
  • A large striped rubber band to keep my sketchbook closed and the pages protected from all the other stuff in my purse (and the wind once I'm outside). This one is from Smash products and has a nice jaunty flair, don't you think?
  • A zippered pencil case to carry:
  • 1 Caran d’Ache techno B pencil.
  • 1 Caran d’Ache watersoluble graphite B pencil.
  • 1 mechanical Bic pencil with rubber grip and extra leads inside the pencil.
  • 1 Caran d’Ache red watercolor pencil.
  • 6 Faber and Castell watercolor Art Grip pencils (yellow, blue, brown, violet, and 2 greens because I couldn’t decide which green I liked best).
  • 1 waterbrush--this one has a large-size tip, but a short handle, perfect for packing.
  • 1 black gel pen (from my favorite coffee store: Moon’s Tea and Coffee here in ABQ).
  • 1 Uniball BLX Siglo pen in green ink (for journaling).
  • 1 glue stick (for collaging).
  • 1 double pencil sharpener.
  • 1 kneaded eraser.
And that’s it! I figure if there’s anything else I’ll need, I can purchase it there, but I think this should cover all possibilities and sudden inspirations. Thanks for visiting; see you in a couple of weeks!

Tip of the Day:  Travel light--it's so easy to be tempted into carrying an entire art studio's worth of supplies for a day of sketching or even writing. In the last few weeks as part of my travel-prep I've been sketching with a black ballpoint pen--and I loved the results. Sometimes simple really can be better.

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17. Why I Get Nothing Done During Spring Break

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North Myrtle Beach, S. Carolina

I actually do take a stack of grading to the beach with me. I pull out a report. Start reading.

Is that a dolphin? Oooo it’s two.

Look down and try to find where I left off. Jot down a comment.

Oh look. A gull landed so close I can touch him. “Hey guy. How you doing?”

Look down again. Read the same paragraph.

This would be so much better if I took my shoes off, and you know, squish my toes in the sand.

Set report aside. Take off shoes and socks. Dig feet into sand. Dig for a long while. Pull out report. Read the same paragraph.

Oh the heck with it. I’ll grade on the plane.

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18. Travel Journal: In Transit

When you're traveling and you have a lot of hours to kill, you might as well enjoy the ride (or flight) and make a drawing of it.

I hope you liked my little blog series here on travel journaling. I loved sharing the drawings I made in Thailand in February and it brought back the wonderful layed-back attitude and feeling again.

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19. If You Were Me and Lived in … Scotland, by Carole P. Roman | Dedicated Review

Roman has created a good beginning platform that readers can leap from and soar into the mythical and lively world of Scottish culture.

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20. The Adventures of Bella & Harry: Let’s Visit Rome!

Bella and Harry, two friendly Chihuahuas, visit countries around the world with their family of people. In this edition, Bella and Harry visit Rome, Italy.

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21. Travel Journal: Drawing Thai Boats

I still haven't shared all the drawings I made during my week in Thailand. Here's a drawing that took me over an hour and was an adventure from beginning to end.

Intrigued by all the colours of the Thai Fishermen's boats, I planted myself in the shade of the waiting area on the pier of the marina. Then, I took a good look first, to single out an area to draw. I chose this row of three boats and focused on those, so I would not get distracted by all the other colourful elements around them and in the background. Then I started drawing. Drawing all the lines and shapes (making a lot of use of negative spaces) was very interesting and challenging too, since the boats were floating and constantly moving a little bit, turning left and right, with the waves of the water. I just relaxed and whenever an element got out of view because of the swell of the sea, I just focused on another detail or shape, to get back to it later.
At some point when I was well into my drawing, a fisherman left with his boat that was on the right side of these three boats, so all three boats moved drastically towards the right, closer to the quay, and for a moment I was afraid that it would mess up the whole scene and my drawing, but all I needed to do, is move a little to the right so I had the same poit of view on the boats again.

Step by step, my drawing grew while I listened to the constant chatter and bustle around me on the pier. At some point I realized I had an audience: tuk-tuk drivers waiting for the next ferry to come in, were watching my drawing moves closely. When I looked around and up to them, they gave me encouraging thumbs up.
The moment I opened my travel watercolour box and waterbrush, I even heard a few 'ooh's' and 'aah's'.

As you can imagine, I was very proud when I finished the drawing and felt a great sense of accomplishment.

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22. Travel Journal: Drawing Vehicles

In last Monday's blogpost I shared my adventure on drawing fishing boats from the pier in a Thai marina. On that same pier, I sat again the next day, to draw one of the many tuk-tuks on the island. I found a place in the shade, with a good view on a parked tuk-tuk. There was a little terminal post I sat on. Not very comfortable, but it gave me the right point of view and perspective to draw all the details of the motorcycle and its awesome cart build around it.
Again, I found myself drawing for an hour or so (my butt was totally numb after that!), and every now and then someone would walk over to stand behind me for a while. looking over my shoulder. The last 15 or 20 minutes of the drawing, one man stood behind me to follow the process intensely and each time I looked up, he would give me a big smile and a thumb up. I don't speak Thai and he didn't speak much English either, so 'good' and 'thank you' were pretty much the words we exchanged.
After adding the last bit of colour, I told him it was finished and he wanted to take a picture of the final drawing with his mobile phone. After that, he thanked me and walked over to the tuk-tuk to drive off with it. I hadn't realized he had been waiting for me to finish the drawing. So I apologized and thanked him about a million times (I am glad I know how to do that in Thai!). It was really awfully kind of him, and I felt kind of bad for letting him wait and maybe miss out on clients! I felt relieved when 10 minutes later I walked by the tuk-tuk, parked in front of a house in town. it had a blanket over the motor so that indicated he was done for the day. The driver had been on his way home anyway and I believe he was proud that his tuk-tuk was being portrayed and it was worth a little bit of hanging around on the pier before heading home. Otherwise I'm sure he wouldn't have waited for me to finish the drawing, and just drive off anyway.

Later that day, I added a little layer of coloured pencil, to deepen the colours and add some more depth and contrast to the drawing. I left room for writing on the right side of the page and I might as well still write this story there.

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23. Travel Journal: Beach Memories

Keeping a travel art journal has so many benefits. While drawing, you enjoy the moment so much more, your senses open up and you really look at your surroundings. It makes you appreciate the place, the moment, your time, and it makes you realize how lucky you are to be where you are.
Plus, you're creating a book of memories to never forget.
Seeing this drawing again brings me right back to the warm breeze on my skin, the sound of the wind through the palm tree leaves and the sound of the waves. 

 

After doing the drawing above, a lady who worked at the beach restaurant came over curiously and flipped through my sketchbook. Then she asked me to draw her. I felt challenged, I never did something like that on request, but I thought 'why not?' and gave it a go, next to a bunch of blind contour drawings I made of my husband earlier that day. 
The drawing doesn't look much like her, but it was a nice and intimate moment and a great way to connect with a local anyway. I asked her name, which was Tui, and then I asked her to write it on the drawing. Not my best drawing ever, but a wonderful memory.





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24. Creating Settings: Bringing the Sounds, Sights and Smells Home

Lisa Doan | The Children’s Book Review | March 6, 2015 When I began writing The Berenson Schemes, a middle grade series in which responsible Jack Berenson is repeatedly lost in the wilderness of foreign countries by his globe-trotting parents, I gave some careful thought to creating the settings. The books take place in the Caribbean, Kenya and […]

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25. Travel Journal: Studies

When on vacation, there is plenty of drawing time, and I love that! It gives me the opportunity to take the time to do elaborate drawings, but also to study. Trying out new techniques for example, or focusing on drawing things that may seem daunting to draw.

During my trip to Thailand in February, one morning I sat down after breakfast to have a very, very long look at the surf. Then I looked some more. And even more. I focused on the patterns the water made, the ripples, the waves, the foam and air bubbles, the swirls and movements of the water, the reflections and the transparency. The constant moving of the subject was very challenging, but I just got into the page and started drawing bits and pieces, focusing on the different aspects and trying to translate them onto the paper, discovering new things with each pen stroke and with each long stretch of looking at the sea. This whole process gave me a lot of insights and was very interesting.

Another thing I don't draw often: animals. I don't have pets, and even though I love looking at dogs and other animals - I hardly draw them because I don't seem to get the chance. Which basically means that I never take the chance to draw an animal.
In thailand, I got lucky because I found myself sitting close to sleeping cats a few times. A great opportunity to study and learn.
Even on lazy holidays, there's always room to study and learn.

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