In Honor of St. Patrick’s Day

Once upon a time, I picked up a cheap tin whistle and tried to play a few notes.  A brilliantly talented 14 year old kid taught me my first few tunes (she is now all grown up and is my dear friend and co-worker and emerging young artist).  When my son went away to music camp for the first time, I went along to chaperone… and to try my hand at the whistle class.  My Irish instructor was none other than Louise Mulcahy whose grace, talent and overall sweetness that week boosted my confidence to keep learning and keep trying and to just have fun with it.  It was the beginning of a long journey in music that I have never regretted.

Above is a video of Louise and her Dad Mick playing a few tunes accompanied by guitar.  I happened to run into Louise while in Ireland last summer and she remembered me and seemed genuinely thrilled to find that I am still playing and have even moved on to playing flute, inspired in part by her playing.

There is a lot of crazy out there in St. Patrick’s Day land with too much drinking by folks wearing too much green, but for those of us who celebrate Irish Music, Dance and Art all year long, it’s an excuse to do what we do all day long.  And to do it well…. there’s an article today in the New York Times about a young man named Drew Lovejoy who dances with my daughter at McGing Irish Dancers.  He’s a world champion, but to watch him interact with all of the other dancers at McGing, you would think he’s just one of the kids.  No ego or attitude, just a love for the dancing.  It’s inspiring.

Today seems like a good day to let you all know that I plan to take a group to Ireland in late September/ early October 2013 for another version of my Illuminated Travel Journaling class.  This one will be outside of the scope of the Art Academy since it’s international.  I’ve already begun making plans by teaming up with the folks at Irish Blessings Tours.  Below you will find a guest blog post by Bee Smith from Irish Blessings.  She is a font of tourism knowledge in all things Ireland and I’m sure with the two of us combining our talents , this trip is going to be a one-of-a-kind experience…. Stay tuned for more information as we tighten up plans.  I’m already so excited!!!

And now, here’s Bee:

“Journaling you Dream Vacation through Art and Haiku

 by Bee Smith, Irish Blessings Tours

Smouldering Lough Talt

Hemmed in by the hills

Cloud above the cauldron

 In August 2011 I guided Amy and her friends around my part of the world – West Cavan in Ireland – a landscape of myth, megalith and sacred power places.  It turns out that Amy leads groups who journal their trips through art.  While I am a deep devotee of art, that gene passed me by.  I did, however, get the writing gene and while Amy wields her drawing pencil, I journal trips by writing haiku.

 Haiku is a Japanese poetry form, deceptively simple and fiendishly difficult (but fun!) if you play by the classical rules.  It is simply three lines composed of no more than seventeen syllables. The classic format is lines of 5,7,5 syllables but these days we tend to play it a bit looser since we are not writing in Japanese after all.  There is generally a ‘seasonal’ word that tells the reader the time of year for the scene.  It also is alive to the natural world, which then can stand for the universal, even Zen, truth. Unlike English poems we don’t use simile and the metaphors are very oblique.  What you aim to do is to capture a moment in time and share the feeling/seeing/hearing/sensing with the reader.

 A cow’s anguished moo

A calf taken from its mother

Sentient beings


I generally have a small notebook in my handbag and haiku is a convenient way of jotting down what I am experiencing. I’ve been a professional foreigner for more than thirty years.  I left the USA in 1980 and lived in England, where I met my Irish partner, for twenty years.  We moved to Ireland in 2001. We live deep in the country on an acre where we garden organically.  For someone who loves nature and needs solitude and quiet it is like heaven. Only better, because I’m alive to enjoy it.

Over those thirty plus years as an expatriate I’ve done a fair share of travelling and visiting many parts of the British Isles and Ireland.  I first visited Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles in the 1980s and kept going back.

Through poetry I not only met my partner, I also made other friends.  One of those poetry buddies suggested to a group of American women that they let me organise a tour for them over the Festival of Brigit, who also happens to be the matron goddess/saint of poetry.

So poetry gave me my new vocation as tour guide and creatrix of tours for people who want to immerse themselves in an authentic Ireland.  This Ireland is not always furnished with an interpretative centre but allows the visitor to draw their own conclusions.  It does allow the visitor to experience for themselves, take the pulse, to be inquisitive and meet people in their locality.

I also have to say that part of my mission is to get more people to visit Northern Ireland and the northwest of Ireland.  Both areas suffered economically during the troubled years before the Good Friday Agreement.  But since they are less well known they are also very genuinely hospitable to visitors.  The sites are lesser known and offer many surprises.  It also has to be said that the wildlife thrived in this area, which is now a top eco-tourism destination in Ireland.

However, the stereotypes from the television from the Troubles still adhere in the public’s conscientiousness.  But as someone who has visited time and again that violent imagery is far from the complete reality.  As I was wont to say in the 1990s, “ I see more excitement on the corner of First Ave. and 13th  St. in Manhattan on a Friday night than you’d see in a month in all the North!”

It was a pleasure to see a tour, women mostly from the American Midwest, be genuinely surprised that they didn’t have to go through Passport Control when they crossed into Northern Ireland from the Republic.  Neither did they see huge watch towers and helicopters hovering.  All they needed to do was keep straight what currency to use in Armagh, which used to be known as Bandit Country. That has all changed with the Good Friday Agreement.

View of Armagh City with St. Patrick’s (CoI) Cathedral

Open hearted travelling yields many pleasant surprises.

 It is a way of touring that lends itself to journaling through art and poetry, in particular that three lined haiku that can get swiftly jotted in the pocket size notebook. To travel should engage your heart as much as other senses. Jotting down a haiku you often capture that heart sense. It captures that moment just as a photograph. But the poem or drawing uses your hand, muscle, coordination – and they are connected to your heart.

The roaring cascade

Raw assertion over rock

Lichen bearded glen

 Amy wants to bring visitors to Ireland and deepen their travel experience by facilitating journaling with art.  Likewise, I am keen to get people to haiku. We all have eyes but some of us feel frustrated that our mean squiggle doesn’t do justice to what we witnessed. But we all have language. With words and a poetry form to discipline our sight we can journal our travels even if we can’t draw a straight line.

Amy and I plan to join forces to guide American visitors to these special places in Ireland using the travel journaling techniques of art and haiku poetry.  If you are interested in this type of tour experience,

contact Amy here at her blog. 

You can learn more about my part of the world through my blog at

 Dragons or angels

Sunlit cloud writing

I can now read the sky”

Thank you BEE!! I look forward to working with you!!!  And to you readers, as always, I’ll keep you posted….


Taking stock and shifting gears

My work life has always had plenty of branches, and lately those branches have reached beyond the scope of our nest and into the world a bit more.  I’ve not been so studio centered so there is not as much solo art being made, and this blog practice continues to shift into the land of longer, more convoluted stories of What’s Happening Here.  All of this being so, it’s an exciting time in the work sphere, and beyond so I’ll catch you up to speed on where things are.

As you may know, I juggle many jobs.  The most important one being that of Parent.  With my teens not quite driving but still busier and busier by the day, we spend a lot of time running around to various school, music and dance related activities.  Jack is branching in his work as much as I am in mine.  Between his classical and Jazz studies at school and his Jazz and Irish music duties outside of school, he is constantly playing music.  This past weekend we both played at the Museum Center’s Celtic Lands Festival.

First with the Riley School as a group.  And later, with Jack in the lead of the kids band in a kid centered concert in the Children’s Museum theater.  Seems like only yesterday, he was one of the little kids.  And being a Celtic festival, Maddie had a dance gig as well that day.  Good thing there is overlap in their cultural activities, or I’d be in the car even more!

Later that day, Jack moved on to his Jazz activities which these days includes a local gig at a place called the Blue Wisp.  He and some of his fellow musicians, the Young Lions, play there most saturday evenings for tips.  It’s great practice for all of them, and has led to some other gigs here and there for them as well.  They are a joy to watch and are consummate professionals, even at this young an age.

In spite of all of this, I was able to steal away a few hours over the weekend and attend an Owl Prowl at Spring Grove Cemetery.  I love Spring Grove.  It’s a place to sit with the spirits of those we’ve lost as well as a place to sink into the beauty of nature.  Just last week we marked the third anniversary of Esme‘s passing with a gathering at her weeping cherry tree.

I still can’t fathom that it’s been that long ago, and yet feels like just yesterday…

And so, the time spent at the Owl Prowl was pleasant, yet pensive.  The presentation portion was in the Norman Chapel of the cemetery.  I had never been inside this lovely building and felt a world away….

We did hear an owl call later, just as we caught up to the crowd where the guide was calling them with a recording.  I really enjoy owl calls.  Both those of the local varieties to be found right outside our door, like the Barred Owl, the Screech Owl and the Great Horned Owl, as well as those from farther afield…. like this guy at the zoo, a Eurasian Eagle Owl I spent some time sketching last week….

It felt really great to sit down with my sketchbook and my watercolor set and get lost in the drawing process for a couple of hours.  As you may know, I am gearing up for another visit to Taos in June with a group of students interested in keeping an illuminated travel journal.  I am looking forward to getting back to teaching this magical process, as it inspires me to capture my own life and travel adventures in my sketchbook.  Taos has a magnetic pull and a way of making connections between people that is, in my experience, rivaled only by Ireland.  A number of weeks ago I was approached by a film-maker, based in Taos, about the potential of being a part of a very unique film project…..

And so, let me introduce you to Jody McNicholas, of Walk-In Productions.  Jody is putting together a project called the Eco-Chic Retreat which you can read all about at the website.  As much as I love the idea of a retreat to Taos, or Ireland or wherever the wind blows me with my work, I know that a travel centered retreat is not always a possibility at all times for all people.  And yet, the need to back off of the daily grind, to dig down deeply inward and take stock of things is a crucial practice in this wild and wooly world of ours. Jody, and I, along with a whole basket full of talented artists, healers and makers are in the process of crafting a container for the at-home retreat experience.  The Eco-Chic Retreat will provide viewers with mini-classes in all of our various fields of self-work and exploration, such as yoga, nutrition, painting, journaling, meditation…..  It is something you can take a weekend to commit to, or simply apply a bit to your daily life.  The film will be the type of thing you get together with your girl-friends, your partner, your sisters, to encourage the self-care so many of us lack in our lives.  In so doing, we will be that much more outfitted to care for our loved ones, and our communities.  Each bit of the film will be a little bit different, owing to the differences in all of us participating in the project.  Each of us will provide a bit of what it is we teach in our classes and place-centered retreats so that you get an over-arching spectrum of skills and ideas to apply to your own life.

Jody found me and my work through the magic of google.  The convenient timing of my time in Taos for the Mabel Dodge trip is nothing short of serendipitous and I’ll be able to film my part of Eco-Chic while there.  I am honored to be a part of this amazing project and will of course keep you updated here as things progress with the film.  At this time, it looks like it will be released in the fall time frame, allowing for it to be on everyone’s holiday gift giving lists!!  I’ll keep you posted….

So yes, another spoke in my Wheel of Work.  Puppetry is shaping up.  I have learned 2 shows and have a third one to get under my belt in June.  The weeks of rehearsals are exhausting, but the performance schedule is composed of feasts and famine, which suits me just fine as it enables me to keep up with part time work at Carroll Concertinas.  And still, as if it all weren’t enough, we are in the process of renovating another area of this old house of ours.  To keep the budget in scope, we are doing a lot of the work ourselves, which is fun, but time consuming.  This house sits on an amazing bit of land, but was poorly built (as so many things were in the 50’s) and so we have been systematically rehabbing it.  In our lower level there was no insulation whatsoever which kept it cold and dank much of the year.  We’ve torn all of that dankness out and have framed in some new storage and insulation.  It’s already more pleasant to be in.  As this area continues to shape up, I can see what I want in there.  One half of the room opens out to our yard and so it is light filled and wonderful during the day.  It has a fire place too, for wintery days.  My plan is to put one of my drawing tables near the hearth so that I have a place to paint and draw, even when the weather is too cold or too hot to be in the studio….

And what of the studio?  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the idea of a studio.  Especially my studio space, which is lovely to be in, about half of the year.  The room goes unused a lot with all of the work I am doing outside of the house and due to weather extremes.  It also has some serious issues which we will need to deal with sooner than later.  A leaky roof, birds in the rafters…. you get the picture.  Part of this shift in my work is the idea that I don’t really need a dedicated space that much anymore.  If I can carve out a drawing/ painting station in our new family room, and have an embroidery/knitting nest on the couch, I am left with needing just a small wax table set up in the studio space.  I’m looking to tidy it all up a bit.  Organize my books onto our new shelves downstairs, make the studio more of a breezy sunroom to be used when weather permits.  After all, that’s what it was built for.  It’s time to get rid of the fireplace out there that is the cause of the roof leaking and part of the reason it gets so very cold/hot depending on the season.  The room has served me well over the years, but I can see it now as needing a little day bed for napping, should the opportunity present itself.  My work is happening in all kinds of arenas right now and that doesn’t seem about to change.  And I don’t think I want it to.  As exhausting as it all is, it’s exciting and I love every bit of it.  Though I am trying to carve a little more time out for painting and drawing.  That’s where my heart is…..

hothouse flower

I’ll admit to feeling a bit wilted lately, with a full schedule of puppetry rehearsals for the Frisch Marionette production of Peter and the Wolf and the Frog Prince (Frog Prince Himself, above),  actual live Hansel and Gretel shows….

…and the arrival of a chest cold.  But I had to share here a couple of links to High Street’s media blast featuring a series of terrariums I created just for their spring display!  I visited the store yesterday and got a few snapshots of the set up taking shape.  I hope to get  back there this weekend to take some more, but for now, here are my little hothouse beauties in situ.  Do stop in to see them at High Street if you are local here to the Cincinnati area.

You can catch more about High Street’s interest in terrariums as a design trend here.

More soon!!