Rainbow Art Journal – Lighthouse

I feel like I have been working on my Rainbow Art Journal for an eternity. I definitely work on this project in fits and starts with long periods of neglect. Deciding it was time I got those mixed media muscles working again, I cracked open my Rainbow Art Journal and play around with some acrylic – a medium I have not used in months.

I am still malingering in the blue section of the Art Journal. I don’t think I am even half way through the pages yet but finally getting to the end of the blue section will, I suspect, feel like movement*. Blue often makes me think of sea and sky so that is what inspired this illustration of a lighthouse. It did not take me long to recognise the extent to which my painting skills have atrophied due to an extended period of not practicing. The results are ugly. It’s a very rough and patchy page and my lines are very wonky and wobbly, even by my own standards. It was tempting to give everything an additional coat of paint and start over but a) I did not have the time available and b) I figured it would be a place marker in my Art Journal, demarcating where I returned to the project and started over, and therefore provide a measure of the progress I can make from this point forward.

60 - Lighthouse

*A check of my blog reveals that I embarked on the blue section in September of last year. Even more staggering is the fact that I started the whole Rainbow Art Journal in January of 2017. I really am tortoising my way through this project!

Concord Point Lighthouse and Elk Neck Park

We had started our second day in Baltimore so early that we found we were leaving the city before noon.  We, therefore, decided to do something spontaneous as we drove through Northern Maryland and head to the Chesapeake.

We first stopped in Havre de Grace.  I have driven past the small city several times before but have never actually been in.  It looked quaint and picturesque, the type of place that would be pleasant for a stroll.  We went straight to the Concord Point Lighthouse, which is sited where the Chesapeake meets the Susquehanna.  During the War of 1812, the British attacked the city and, during that attack, Lieutenant John O’Neill manned the cannon single-handed in order to defend the town.  Injured and captured, the story goes that his 16 year old daughter rowed out to the British vessel and plead for her father’s release.  She was succesful and her father was released and the British Admiral awarded her bravery with an expensive snuffbox.  When the lighthouse was built in the late 1820s, O’Neill and his family were made its hereditary keepers as an expression of gratitude.  The granite lighthouse is 26 feet high with the lantern bringing it to 36 feet.  Although we could not go inside, apparently it is a rope ladder that allows people to ascend through a trapdoor to the lantern.  The keepers did not have to be accommodated within the lighthouse itself as there was a separate dwelling nearby.

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After our visit to the lighthouse, the boys were keen for a dip in the water.  We, therefore, headed to a town named North East – which also looked very pleasant – and Elk Neck State Park.  The kids immediately donned their swimming gear and rushed down to the shore.  The beach was rough, scrubby, and pebbly but the kids said that it turned to finer sand once they were further out in the water.  The incline into the water was gentle and the kids could get really quite far out while standing.  Beaches are not my thing but the kids had a blast swimming, splashing, and floating around.  It was a good way to burn off their energy before the rest of the journey home.

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Wild in Cape May

In the Summer months, it seems like the entire of Philly and its suburbs decamps to the Jersey Shore.  I actually know plenty of people who also head to the coast at regular periods throughout the year.  It appears that the Jersey Shore is the destination of choice for most of our neighbours.  We, however, have only been a couple of times.  This is partly because I don’t like sand and partly because we are contrary besoms.  However, it is mostly because none of us find we can relax in crowded settings.  This is even more so in beach settings because of the experience of losing our youngest child on a crowded beach several years ago.  All of which preamble is to explain why it is, over three years since moving to America, we have only been to the Jersey Shore a couple of times.  Since we had an unseasonably nice day for February last weekend, we decided we should expand our explorations of New Jersey’s coastline and head to Cape May.

Suspecting the beach would still be chilly, we made the focus of our trip the Cape May County Zoo.  The zoo is free which appeals to my thrifty nature but had me concerned about the welfare standards.  Thankfully I was wrong to be cynical as the enclosures actually seemed well designed and considered.

We headed first to the reptile and amphibian house.  The kids and I always spend a lot of time in these areas at zoos so we wanted to prioritise having enough time there.  We were pleased that so many of the snakes, lizards, and frogs were on display in their tanks as quite often they are tucked away in little hollows and can barely be seen.  There were snakes large and small from places near and far; a variety of turtles, including one who was very crinkly and spiky looking; a large alligator; brightly coloured frogs and a chubby frog squashed in the corner of its tank; axolotls and newts; and an iguana riding on a tortoise’s back.

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With the exception of the tiger, which refused to put in an appearance, the mammals too were all out and about and easy for us to see.  My 9 year old was eager to see marsupials for some reason so was delighted to see wallabies lazing around in the sun, looking like they were watching Netflix on the sofa.  We also got to see a brace of black bears.  Aside from the baby black bear that ran across the road in front of us in West Virginia last summer, it was the closest any of us had been to a black bear since one of them was walking right along the fence line.  Its companion, meanwhile, was lying on its back with one leg up in the air against a fence.  In addition to seeing the lions, we heard the male roar.  It was an incredible sound, only the second time my kids have heard a real life lion roar, though the sight of the lions lolling around like large moggies was a bit less awe-inspiring.  There were also leopards – traditional and snow varieties – and a red panda, zebra, giraffes, ostriches, lemurs, and bison.

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We didn’t see all of the animals that inhabit the zoo (there are apparently over 250 species) but because admission was free we didn’t feel like we had to push things and see every last creature.  I would have kept going but the kids were rapidly escalating their hunger levels from peckish to rampagingly hangry so we decided to leave while the going was good and go in search of food.

After a very tasty sojourn in a Mediterranean diner, we headed for the actual shore.  It would have been cruel and unusual of us parents to take the kids to the Jersey Shore for the day and not actually let them anywhere near the beach.  The coast was decidedly chiller than even a short jaunt inland and the sky was darkening quickly but the kids were still determined to have fun.  We forget sometimes that these kids were used to playing on beaches year round on the west coast of Scotland and are pretty hardy and determined as a result.  They all kicked off their shoes within minutes and, while two of them did a sort of Chariots of Fire run along the sand, two of them lifted up their trouser legs to have a bit of a paddle in the Atlantic.  A bit of a paddle, however, turned into a wade and – before we could even issue a warning they would no doubt have ignored anyway – two of them ended up soaked.  Their answer was to just peel off their sodden trousers and continue playing in the surf.  Our youngest child was, therefore, frolicking in the sea with bare legs and a winter coat.  He looked hysterically ridiculous but he was having an absolute whale of a time.  Sometimes the boys just really need to be feral in the great outdoors.

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I couldn’t come to the coast and not see a lighthouse so our final destination for the day, as day slipped into night, was the Cape May Lighthouse.   The current lighthouse was built in 1859 and is the third incarnation of a lighthouse at that spot.  I guess third time was the charm.  I arrived too late to enter the lighthouse so I just had to content myself with looking at it.  Maybe some day I will return and force myself up the claustrophobic spiral staircase in order to see the view.

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Road Trip #8 – Grand Haven

Road tripping with kids is a pretty hectic and pell-mell affair.  Whereas when we were a childless couple we could just play things by ear, take diversions, rock up to somewhere without having accommodation totally fixed, the same is not true when travelling with four small dudes and needing a place that can take six weary bodies.  We, therefore, deliberately, consciously built in a relaxing break into our rip-roaring tour of several states by renting a vacation property in Grand Haven, Michigan.  We would spend three nights there in order to slow our pace down, deep breathe, do some chilling – and get some laundry done at a local laundrette.

Grand Haven is a smallish town nestled on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  Baby Face Nelson committed one of his first bank robberies there but I think such peaks of excitement and drama must be rare there.  It is a pretty chilled, sleepy place and must be even more so when it is not tourist or summer season and things get a bit dormant.  It was just the antidote we needed after a series of busy days.

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Grand Haven has a state park right on the beach so we purchased a pass and the kids enjoyed splashing about in Lake Michigan for a couple of days.  As with Lake Erie, the water was shallow and, therefore, pretty warm.  I sat on the beach and spectated their antics while reading a book which was my little relaxing luxury.

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We also saw the town’s musical fountain show.  This happens every evening at sundown and is a free event for the community and visitors.  We strolled down to the riverfront as the sun was setting and grabbed a spot on the bleachers and people-watched while waiting for the show to begin.  It has been going for about 50 years and is a synchronised display of water and music.  The kids recognised some of the songs and were singing along.  I am increasingly out of touch with contemporary music but could hum along with the more vintage tunes.  It was well done and cute and did not outstay its welcome.

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On another day as we strolled through the town, we popped into Kilwin’s confectionery shop were we watched fudge being made.  I adore fudge but I was a good girl and resisted temptation.  Mr Pict and the boys all ordered ice cream (I am lactose intolerant which makes that easy to resist) and declared the ice cream to be delicious.  There was certainly a lot of it crammed into each cone.

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Grand Haven has a pier and lighthouse so we took a stroll to have a look see on a day when it had been thundering all morning.  I have mentioned my mild lighthouse obsession so I enjoyed walking out onto the pier and getting up close to the red lighthouse.  The lake was still very choppy from the storm and waves were crashing up onto the stonework walkway.  Mr Pict and the boys found it relaxing to watch the waves breaking on the pier and ever so often they would get walloped by a wall of water.

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Normally when travelling I like my days to be stuffed full of activity.  I do not want to waste opportunities or squander time.  I want all the experiences I can when I am somewhere new.  I will admit, however, that it was actually rather pleasant to be forced into a more stately pace by the more languid pace of life in Grand Haven.  Recharging our batteries for the next leg of the trip proved to be pretty useful too.

Road Trip #5 – Lake Erie & Marblehead Lighthouse

After spending a big chunk of the day in the dark vaults of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we all needed some fresh air and to burn off some energy.  We were driving from Cleveland to Toledo so decided to take a more coastal route.  Skirting the shore of Lake Erie, we decided to pull over and go for a paddle and swim.  The beach we chose was called Lakeview and was somewhere in Lorain County.

This was mine and the kids’ first experience of any of the Great Lakes.  I had obviously read about how huge they were and looked at them on maps but in the same way I could not truly appreciate the scale of the Grand Canyon until I saw it for myself I could not appreciate the vastness of the Great Lakes until I was standing on the shore looking at them.  Had I not known any better, I could have sworn I was standing on the edge of a sea.  In fact, I kept tripping up over my words and referring to the lake as the sea.  It even had waves.  Fresh water but with waves.

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Mr Pict and I chose just to paddle but the boys changed into their beach clobber and dived straight into the water.  I do love that we have reached the stage in our parenting careers where all of our children can swim so that we can keep an eye on them, of course, but also relax when around water and not have to hover over them.  The area they were allowed to swim in was actually very shallow so even the 7 year old with his short legs could still touch the bottom on his tip toes towards the outer edge of the swim area.  The kids had a whale of a time playing in the water and on the sand but their excitement peaked when they found a dead fish floating in the water.  That was when I remembered the warning of the Lorax.  It had seemingly come to pass that Lake Erie was too polluted for the fish.  Maybe it was time to get the kids out of the water before they sprouted extra eyeballs.

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We drove along the coastal road through some moribund places and some charming towns like Vermilion and then at Sandusky Mr Pict and I decided to take a detour onto the Marblehead peninsula to the north so that I could see a lake lighthouse.  Mr Pict and the kids do not find lighthouses interesting but I have a mild obsession with them (one that could become a major obsession if I didn’t keep it at bay) so Mr Pict was happy to both undertake the detour and distract the kids so that they were not aware that we had gone off the road to Toledo.

The Marblehead Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in continuous use on the American side of the Great Lakes.  There are a lot of clauses in that sentence but basically I felt it was important for me to visit the lighthouse.  In operation since 1822, the lighthouse has been operated by 15 lighthouse keepers, including two women, and transitioned from whale oil to kerosene to electricity.  It would have been very interesting to see inside.  Sadly, however, it was closed on the day of our visit so I could not go into the lighthouse, just circle around its exterior.  My two youngest sons accompanied me and enjoyed playing on the rocks and clambering over huge chunks of driftwood.  We also witnessed a couple marrying on the shore, my kids no doubt appearing in the background of their wedding photos, and found the skeleton of a bird.  Such is life.

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Beautiful Briny Biro Mermaid

The theme for the tenth week of the Colour Me Positive art journal challenge was “beauty”.  The quotation provided was “Every piece of you is a burst of something beautiful”.  There were lots of directions I could have gone in based on that starting point.  However, a chat with my 8 year old led to the idea of a mermaid.

I have a checkered history when it comes to creating mermaid art works.  My most recent effort was a success but I suspect that was because she had no visible mermaid features.  I decided, therefore, to keep things simple with a monochrome illustration.  I did introduce an element of challenge, however, by deciding to use biro as my medium, drawing straight onto the page with no pencil guidelines with the exception of the exterior blob shape so as to keep the wave shapes in line.  With no ability to rectify mistakes (excluding Tipex) I was forced to slow down and draw more thoughtfully than I often do.  It was, therefore, pretty relaxing.

The drawing evolved on the page so that it eventually depicted a mermaid in the foreground, sunning herself flirtatiously on the rocks, a shipwrecked sailor looking cheerful as he believes the beautiful mermaid will rescue him, and a lighthouse because I like lighthouses and it suggests perilous waters.  Of course, we all know that mermaids like to drown sailors.  It’s dolphins that do the rescuing.  For that reason, I titled my illustration “Dangerous Beauty”.

10 - Dangerous Beauty - Mermaid - Biro - Art Journal Page

Montauk, Long Island

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Having travelled up to Massachusetts via the edges of New York City and Connecticut, we decided – for several reasons – to change up our route back.  Thus, on Day 4 of our three-generational vacation, we headed to New London, Connecticut, to catch the ferry to Long Island.  This was actually replicating the same journey Mr Pict and I had made almost exactly thirteen years earlier as we concluded our road trip with a meander back to JFK airport.  Having been ushered onto an earlier ferry than the one we had booked for, we arrived on Long Island in early afternoon.  Our chosen destination for the afternoon was Montauk Point.  It was chosen by my boys and me.  Mr Pict and my parents just went along with it.  The boys wanted to go there because they are fans of the Percy Jackson series of novels by Rick Riordan and Montauk Point is the setting for a pivotal moment in establishing the central concept of the series.  Slight spoiler alert here but said scene also features a minotaur.  My kids love minotaurs.  So that is why Montauk was on their “must see” list.  As for me, I love American lighthouses.  I actually recognised a good few years ago that I could easily become obsessed with lighthouses, visiting, collecting, photographing them, and add that to my long list of nerdy passions.  However, I am successfully resisting the temptation of becoming a lighthouse geek and instead maintain a normal relationship with them.  However, when my kids suggested Montauk, I  was in full agreement with them because of the presence of the lighthouse.  All things in moderation.

As I have confided before, in advance of any vacation, I construct a spreadsheet that outlines the pertinent details for all of the places we might possibly visit as part of our travels.  For one holiday, in Rome, I even constructed a colour coordinated map and key.  I had, therefore, undertaken quite a lot of research for this trip.  Montauk Lighthouse, however, was my first ever failing as a travel researcher.  Apparently I had misunderstood the rules regarding access to the site: I had thought that the lighthouse could be accessed for free and that there was a fee only for entering the museum and ascending the tower; the reality was, however, that we had to pay the entry fee to even get to the base of the lighthouse building.  Sigh.  Fee paid, we entered the site.

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Though perhaps not the most picturesque American lighthouse I have ever seen, Montauk Point Light is nevertheless one of the most historically significant.  Set as it is at the easternmost point in the state, it was New York’s first lighthouse and one of the oldest active lighthouses in the country.  Construction of the lighthouse was authorised by George Washington in 1792, when America was still in its infancy.  It was also the first ever public works project in America.  Of course, it now little resembles the original lighthouse since height has been added to the tower and other additions and modifications made.  It also ceased to be manned by civilian keepers when the Second World War led to it coming under the responsibility first of the Navy and then of the Coastguard.

We began our visit with the ascent up the 137 iron stairs to see the actual light.  For someone who has vertigo and a moderate case of claustrophobia, this ascent presented quite the challenge.  As per instructions, whenever we encountered someone descending, we had to step to the right and let them pass.  As you will know, the right hand side of a spiral staircase is the thin end of the wedge.  Thus, we had to balance our weight on our tip toes and pads of our feet.  I don’t know about anyone else but I also had my fingers locked onto the tread of the steps and my right arm wrapped around the central stair column.  I am not entirely sure why I pushed myself to do it since it was a foggy day which precluded me obtaining any decent photographic views from the top.  Once inside the platform area, we were instructed to climb another short flight of steps in order to view the actual lamp.  Once upon a time, this had been a lamp burning whale oil but it had gone through several evolutions since then and the boys were amazed to learn just how small the lightbulb is that generates the light nowadays.

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Views not seen, we rapidly descended and were back on solid ground.  My parents and I decided to have a quick look in the museum while Mr Pict supervised the boys playing outdoors.  The museum was like travelling through a time warp.  One end had probably not been updated since my childhood, with labels generated by an old ribbon typewriter and a mannequin representing one of the lighthouse keepers.  However, the rooms in the other section of the museum were completely contemporary and well-designed.  As well as displays outlining the history of the lighthouse and its various keepers, there were also displays about the local tribes, the Montaukett and the Naragansetts.  There was also information about the slave ship ‘Amistad’, an episode in history that was symbolic to the Abolitionist movement.  The ‘Amistad’ connection was because the fugitive slaves who had taken control of the ship made landfall at Montauk, having been deceived into thinking they had reached the African shore.  There, they were discovered by a US Revenue and Customs ship and were taken into custody.  This then precipitated the celebrated trial which concluded with the deliberation that the slaves should be set free and returned to their homeland.  Since I am never one to not mention a Family History connection even in passing, I shall add the detail that John Quincy Adams represented the slaves when their case came before the Supreme Court.  Both the Adams Presidents and Mr Pict and our sons are all descended from John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of ‘The Mayflower’ which makes them distant cousins.

The boys needed some time to wander, roam and be generally feral so we headed down to the shore beneath the lighthouse.  There they scrambled around among the rocks, searching in rock pools for sea-dwelling beasties, held crabs and studied interesting rocks.  My oldest, who is Minecraft obsessed, set himself the challenge of finding rocks that resembled all of the different rocks that feature in the Minecraft universe.

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Long Island is a difficult place to find dinner on a budget.  As we traveled from Montauk Point towards our hotel, we stopped off several times in search of some nosh.  There were dining options galore but nothing that represented good value, even among the ones we could enter with four grubby kids.  Eventually we plumped for a diner which appeared like manna in the wilderness on the roadside and devoured the food we ordered as if we were wolves after a lean winter.  Finally replete, it was just a short journey to our hotel.  Our beds for the evening were in a Ramada.  We had adjoining rooms with a door between them which was ideal for the kids who could wander between grandparents and parents until bedtime.  The mattress was much too firm for my liking but at least there was no fire alarm to contend with.