24 June 2011

Top Five Friday: John William Waterhouse

Everything in creation has its appointed painter or poet and remains in bondage like the princess in the fairy tale 'til its appropriate liberator comes to set it free. 
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were such liberators.  And they set many princesses ~ and princes ~ free with their brushes.  My original intent for today’s Top Five Friday was to pick five of my favorite paintings from within the entire body of work of the Brotherhood.  But that is an impossible task.  There are too many to whittle to just five!  So over the next few weeks, I will highlight one member of the Brotherhood and choose the top five of his paintings.  Today we look at John William Waterhouse, who is easily one of my favorites.

J.W. Waterhouse was born in Rome in 1849, one year after the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.   But he is linked with the Brotherhood through his paintings, especially those painted from 1884 onward.  The subjects of most of that period are the same ones that inspired Rossetti, et al: King Arthur, Greek myths and legends, princesses and fairy tales.  As such, he is considered a “Modern Pre-Raphaelite.”

Waterhouse lived only 68 years and painted right up until his death from cancer in London in 1917.  You can find out more about his life here at JW Waterhouse, or by reading Peter Trippi’s Waterhouse or Anthony Hobson’s JW Waterhouse.

And now to the paintings!

Ophelia – Blue Dress (1905)
There are many renditions of Ophelia, but this is one of my favorites for the sheer brilliance of the colours and the despairing expression in her eyes.  The detail in the hem of dress, the folds of the skirt and the stream behind her ~ ominously dark and grave-like.

Confession: I’ve always wanted a dress just like this one.  Any seamstresses out there?

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May (1909)
My second favorite Waterhouse, again for the sharp colours.  The natural setting, the beauty of both the women and the flowers they are picking, and the gentle stream behind them [so different from the dark one in Ophelia] all lend an air of peace to the scene.  You are sure that the ladies have just had a picnic by the stream, and once their bouquets are picked, they will head home, each to her own restful cottage.

Miranda - The Tempest (1916)
I can feel the wind tear at my hair and hear the waves pound the shore whenever I look at this painting.  Waterhouse captured the movement and passion of the storm that rips at Miranda’s dark red hair.  In fact, quite a few of Waterhouse’s female subjects are gripping their long, dark, wind-blown hair.  [Again, love the dress.]

Mariana in the South (1897)
Taken from Tennyson’s Mariana in the South, the colours, the dark melancholy of the subject and the sheer length of her hair are what draw me to this painting and make it one of my top five.  Granted, she’s kneeling, but her hair is still really long!  I can only get mine to grow to the small of my back.
She, as her carol sadder grew,
         From brow and bosom slowly down
Thro' rosy taper fingers drew
         Her streaming curls of deepest brown
To left and right, and made appear,
         Still-lighted in a secret shrine,
         Her melancholy eyes divine,
The home of woe without a tear.
~ from Mariana in the South

The Crystal Ball – with skull (1902)
Even with tackling just one painter for this list, it was still difficult to pick just five of Waterhouse’s paintings.  But I had to highlight The Crystal Ball but I have a print of it hanging in my dining room.  Red is my favorite colour, and it’s the accent colour in my dining room, so this print went really well on the latte coloured walls. 

The detail here again is amazing: the tiled floor, the gilding on the chair and the scrollwork on her dress ~ which again I would love to have.

Some have interpreted the figure as weaving a spell with the aid of a crystal ball, spell book and skull.  But I take away a meditation on mortality and spirituality.  Something along the lines of et in arcadia ego.

That is the beauty of art, whatever the medium: the artist paints and the viewers [or reader] takes it in, mixes it with his or her own life experiences and philosophies and sees a message written just for them.  The artist can view this personal interpretation as an annoyance: an obstacle to the message they are trying to convey.  But aren’t we also re-interpreting the subject when we paint/write/act/play?

What about you?  What do you see when you look at these paintings?  What other Waterhouse paintings inspire, excite, calm or enthrall you?

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Next Friday: The Top Five Paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti

17 June 2011

Top Five Friday: Flowering Shrubs

God made rainy days so gardeners could get housework done.
~ Author Unknown

Unless of course, the gardener is also a writer.  Rainy days are for writing and reading ~ ahem, I mean research.

Today marks the beginning of a new feature here at La Belle: Top Five Fridays.  Every Friday, I will showcase top five lists in the following arts categories: Food, Gardening, Writing, Music and the Visual Arts.

This week’s top five comes from my love of flowering shrubs.  I love these five show stoppers mostly for their vibrant colours and/or their spicy scents.  Flowering shrubs are a Godsend to the gardener: they not only provide colour, but structure as well.  And they bloom every year and need minimal care. 

All links will lead you to Nature Hills Garden Catalog.  I chose to link to them because they are an organic seed and plant catalog, but I have not actually purchased any plants from them as all the flowering shrubs I have were passed down to me.

Top Five Flowering Shrubs

Photo Credit: M. D'Eigh
Ever since I was a little girl, the lilac has been my favorite flower.  If someone brings me a bouquet of lilacs, I know they really know me!  Their very scent heralds the onset of Spring.  Best advice I’ve received about lilacs: wait until they finish blooming and then prune them.  Pruning helps them produce more blooms the following year.

Photo Credit: Adam Hickmott

These luscious, voluptuous blooms are the divas of the garden.  We currently have three mountainous shrubs on the northeast side of the house and they range from lavender to a rich violet-tinged blue.  They make a grand tabletop statement bunched in a large bowl or in a short vase.  Just make sure you get them in water pronto.  I waited too long once and only 3 of the 6 blooms perked back up when I finally placed them in water.  [Don’t ask.]

After the bold hydrangeas, I love peonies for their bright pink colour and mesmerizing scent.  Maybe mine are just quirky, but their heavy little heads are forever bowing and scrapping to some unseen garden royalty.  I come out in the morning, and there they are, dragging the ground in shame, bit of dirt between their petals.  I’ve tried peony brackets, but they simply love to bend to the ground.  If any gardeners out there have any advice, I’d be most grateful!  Bowing and scrapping notwithstanding, peonies make a wonderful addition to the garden.  And you can divide them and share with a fellow gardener.

Photo Credit: M. D'Eigh
“Rhodies” are the back up singers in this band of diva-ish shrubs ~ but they give you a lot bang for you buck.  Ours live between the Hydrangeas and are also currently in the front of the house, facing southeast.  The shrubs which fast true east fare a little better than the one that faces more south.  Not sure why this is.  But we plan on re-planting them somewhere else and putting in boxwood.  As you can see from this picture, the blossoms are strong in colour, but delicate in shape.  Sadly, one big thunderstorm with heavy sheets of rain washed away all the rhodie blooms. 

Photo credit: Simon Howden
Silly me.  I always thought lavender was an herb, not a shrub.  But these little ladies can get pretty big!  And they bloom year after year.  Bees and butterflies love it ~ and so do I. Especially stuffed in little lacy pillows or in a container of homemade bath salts.  The lavender flower also makes a nice “bow” on a boxed gift. 

What are your top five flowering shrubs and why?

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

14 June 2011

The Writer's Journal: Journaling to Woo the Muse

. . .the finished poem will never be as magnificent as this half-formed vision of it.
~ Linda Bierds, from The Writer’s Journal

My first journal was brass-locked and lavender with tiny blue flowers all over it ~ complete with tiny brass keys ~ that Santa brought me when I was in the fourth grade.  When I re-read my old journals, I only noticed the gaps between entries big enough for both Paul Bunyan and Babe to walk through.  Such a lack of consistency reeked of laziness and indifference. I bowed my head in shame at each missed date – oh the mortal sin of it all!

Turns out, most writers are sinners.  And in this regard at least, that’s not such a bad thing.  Your writing process should help you, inspire you, save your inky rear end when you get stuck.  If you’re chained to it, it becomes a brick wall instead of a ladder. Writing is a fluid art ~ sometimes what worked for you last year is old and tired this time around.  And journaling is just one of many ways to woo the Muse.

In “The Writer’s Journal,” Sheila Bender asked forty writers to explain how journaling affects their writing process and to share excerpts from those journals to illustrate.  The various forms of journaling that are highlighted are as diverse as the authors themselves: Janice Eidus [The Last Jewish Virgin] uses letters to “bear witness to [her] life and thoughts.” (p. 68); Ron Carlson [Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald] writes bits and bobs on “envelopes, folded memos, torn slips, wedding announcements, rodeo programs and such” (p. 38) and keeps them in a shopping bag that escaped being thrown out in the garbage more than once.

A shopping bag?  And I thought my bag of various notebooks was disorganized!

To see how others writers write is at once stimulating and comforting and a fascinating read.  Now I know that when I don’t touch my journal for days, I’m in good company.  And that my system, however quirky or slightly insane it may seem to other writers, works for me.

At least for today.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What works for you?  Typing in random thoughts on the computer? Writing letters to a friend?  I’d like to hear what your writing process is!

13 June 2011

Food Meme: Food from Apple to Zucchini

I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.
 ~ Julia Child

One of the great aspects of the 2011 Blogathon was getting to “meet” the great community of bloggers that participated.  Some had been blogging for years, other were brand-spanking new.

Bookworm has been blogging since 2009 and just recently began a series called  Civil War Sundays where they talk about different aspects of the war.  It’s fitting that they began the blog posts this year ~ the 150th anniversary of the war.

Another blog post Bookworm did recently was a Food Meme ~ one I haven’t seen before.  I love memes and haven’t participated in one in awhile.  No clue who started it, but here is my contribution:

A is for Apple: What’s your favorite variety?
Hands down: Granny Smiths.  Great in pies, cobblers and in my favorite kitchen appliance: the juicer.

B is for Bread: Regardless of nutrition, what is your favorite type?
Shameless of me, but my homemade French bread, recipe courtesy of Southern Living.

C is for Cereal: What is your favorite kind currently? (just one!)
Not a huge cereal fan, but if I had to choose, probably Cream of Wheat.  Does that count?

D is for Donuts: You might not currently eat them, but what kind do you fancy?
Before I became dairy intolerant, custard filled.  Sigh.  Now I don’t really eat them, but Paul’s Bakery in Fredericksburg has THE best doughnut holes EVER.

E is for Eggs: How would you like yours prepared?
When I could eat them? Fried.  In bacon grease.  Over easy.

F is for Fat Free: What is your favorite fat free product?
Kale?  I don’t do processed.

G is for Groceries: Where do you purchase yours?
Farmer’s Market in the summer, Whole Foods, then Trader Joe’s.

H is for Hot Beverages: What is your favorite hot drink?
Regular: chai tea.  Alcoholic: hot mead. 

I is for Ice Cream: Pick a favorite flavor and add a fun topping.
Coconut milk-based ice cream: coconut with Framboise.

J is for Jams or Jellies: Do you eat them? If so, what kind and flavor?
Pumpkin butter.  Ahhh.

K is for Kashi: Name your favorite Kashi product?
Crackers? Maybe?

L is for Lunch: What was yours today?
Ha!  Lobster roll [CT style] from The Lobster Truck with a dill pickle and an Arnold Palmer.  That and 73 degree weather and a nice breeze ~ can this day get any better?!

M is for microwave: What is your favorite microwave meal/snack?
I don’t microwave if I can help it.  Cooking with gas, baby!

N is for nutrients: Do you likes carbs, fats, or proteins best?
Proteins. Love kale, spinach and anything made of meat – in moderation of course.

O is for oil: What kind do you like to use?
Safflower for cooking.  Olive oil for everything else.

P is for protein: How do you get yours?
Chicken and greens.  Tough being a foodie who is both egg and dairy intolerant.  

Q is for Quaker: How do you like your oats?
With coconut milk, butter and brown sugar.  Or in a cookie with raisins.  Whaaaat?

R is for roasting: What is your favorite thing to roast?
Mwhahahaha.  Oh.  We’re talking about food.  Ummmm ~ red peppers?

S is for sandwich: What’s your favorite kind?
Pulled pork with homemade slaw.  The P.O.R.C. mobile has a fantastic sandwich ~ not to mention to-die-for chocolate truffles on a stick!

T is for travel: How do you handle eating while traveling?
Again, before food intolerances attacked me, I would try to find the local mom and pop places and ask for the local favorite.  Now I also look up Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives to see which places were highlighted before I travel.  I also google the nearest Whole Foods.  What can I say ~ I like my food organic!

U is for unique: What is one of your weirdest food combos?
Hmmmm.  I'll have to think about that one.  Or ask someone I've fed recently...

V is for vitamins: What kind do you take?
B Complex, Antioxidants, Flax Oil, C, E, Carotene, a dietary supplement and one other herb that’s supposed to be good for stress.

W is for wasabi: Yay or nay?
Just a pinch.

X is for XRAY: If we xrayed your belly right now, what food would we see?
Ewwwww!!  Probably lunch; possibly yesterday’s potluck dinner: fresh fruit salad [ala moi], Chinese chicken pasta salad, tomato and corn salad, sweet potato soufflé with pecans and brown sugar [Oh. My. Gosh], broiled asparagus, and green tea with raspberries.

Y is for youth: What food reminds you of your childhood?
Fried chicken [mom still makes the best], bigos [sauerkraut with kielbasa, chicken and beef], chicken and dumplings, boiled custard [there is a reason we only make it at Christmas!]

Z is for zucchini: How do you prepare it?
I don’t.  I hate it. We grew acres of it when I was a kid.  But I tolerate it in bread. ;)

What about you?

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

10 June 2011

Reading for Writing: Top 10 Writing Blogs and Books to Improve Your Skills

Lists are the butterfly nets that catch my fleeting thoughts...
~ Betsy Cañas Garmon

I admit it.  Sometimes I read to avoid writing.  I troll Amazon looking for yet another book that is sure to turn me into a Hemingway or a Flannery.  I devour volumes of poetry and inhale sheets and sheets of poetry handbooks.  I follow several “writerly” blogs and use their creative prompts and heed their hard-won advice.  And of course, I assimilate works of the great authors and poets in order to learn their techniques and imbibe their amazing gift for word imagery and nuance.

All these resources are great places to go for inspiration, knowledge, and the honing of one’s craft.  For your research pleasure ~ in alphabetical order ~ here is a list of the top 10 blogs and books [it was tough to pick just 10!] that I have found both helpful and entertaining in becoming a better writer.

Can Poetry Matter – Dana Gioia
Nothing speaks for eloquently to the role and place of poetry in modern life today like this essay.

Confident Writing – Joanna Paterson
Even though I’ve never met her, and have only been reading her blog for the past few months, I feel as if I know Joanna personally.  Writing style can say a lot about a person, so I know that she’s warm, friendly, generous, empathetic, courageous, and a great writer to boot.

Poetic Asides – Robert Lee Brewer
A Writer’s Digest blog with more useful tips and prompts.  Has weekly poetry prompts on Wednesdays.

Poemcrazy – Susan G. Wooldridge
“It’s impossible to teach anyone to write a poem.  But we can set up circumstances in which poems are likely to happen. . . .Playing with words, we can get to the place where poems come from.”

WordCount – Michelle Rafter
Michelle always has tips that are useful right now for freelance writers.  And she throws a great Blogathon!

Write Anything – Various
A great blog with tips, creative writing prompts and Fiction Friday.  I haven’t participated in that yet, but maybe today!

Writing Forward – Melissa Donavan
Whether it’s how to improve grammar, word choice, editing advice, or creative writing prompts, I always learn something.

Write It Sideways – Suzannah
Writing advice from an accredited teacher.

Write to Done - Leo Babauta and Mary Jaksch
From the A-List Bloggers Club.  These articles are spot on and will heat up your writing!

Writerly Life – Blair Hurley
Another great source for writing prompts and writing advice.  I love Blair’s writing style: it’s open and easy to read ~ I feel like she’s right there in the room with me, encouraging me to keep at it.   Must read: Writing Bullies

Finished reading?  Great.  Now we take the plunge and marry the knowledge we’ve gleaned with the talent we possess and go create.

So. . .what are you waiting for?  What am I waiting for?  Let’s write!

Oremuc pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What writing blogs do you read every day?  What books on writing or poetry do you recommend?  I’d love to hear!

03 June 2011

Word Count Blogathon Wrap Up and News

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. 
~ Ray Bradbury
The blogathon is over and I missed a few days.  All in all, however, I reached my goal: writing every day.  It may not have been published here, but I wrote something, somewhere, almost every day.  And that is a great discipline to have as a writer.  Many thanks to Michelle Rafter for hosting ~ I'm looking forward to next year's!

In other news, I have had a family emergency and have been on and off the road and without internet access since last Saturday.  So while I will keep on writing [three poems and one new song in the last week, by the way!], I won't be publishing until at least Monday when I go back to work.

Have a great weekend and I hope to "see" y'all here again soon!

Oremus pro invicem,
 ~ Mikaela