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Paul often reads to me while I cook. With holiday preparations underway for Christmas 2016 Eve supper there was ample time for this week’s headline story in our small town newspaper of childhood Christmas traditions recalled. That led inevitably to stories from our own childhoods.

Sugar Plums first and then the Christmas tree

When we were young trees were decorated and packages arranged only after children were asleep in their beds presumably with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. Children were expected to wait to be called or at least past a certain early morning hour before Christmas could begin.

Bells in the family

We’ve always had bells in the family, not the thin metal, cheap ones but real harness bells, weighty and resonant. My parents prized a strand of five woven into a red rope that hung from a hook on the back door. On Christmas morning they were rung to signal me and three siblings that it was time to come downstairs accompanied by Santa’s deep-throated gravely, “Ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas!” Our mother’s voice was never recognized in any hint of tone or timbre. Our father was by nature too guarded and serious to be so playful. Long after I knew their secret, it remains a special memory and a phrase like music that I can recall perfectly. Whether I say the words aloud or not, tomorrow morning the memory will connect me once again to Mother.

Who Santa really is

I was the eldest of four, each of us born five years apart. My parents grew concerned as I neared age seven that I might learn and tell the larger truth about Santa to the youngest. That Christmas Eve as they tucked me into bed, they revealed who Santa really is: the season’s love and generosity openly expressed and shared in gifts and greetings among cherished family and treasured friends. Parents, they said, are the real elves, surrogates who do the magic work themselves. They invited me to join with them for the sake of my siblings. The words were gentle and honest, words I emulated with my own children as they too began to participate in Christmas magic. But that night I closed my eyes and held my breath until my parents tiptoed away. And then I cried myself to sleep at the loss of reindeer who could fly and a red-suited stranger who visited all the world’s children in the night.

Guilty sled runner tracks in the carpet

Paul recalled a Christmas in Bronxville when his older brother waked him early on Christmas morning, “Wake up! Don’t you want to go down stairs to see what’s under the tree?” Paul was very young but savvy enough to see darkness outside and mistrust that it was past seven o’clock. “Just come look at my clock then!” which big brother had slyly set forward. So both boys navigated the wide staircase and flipped the switch to light the tree in a vision of sparkling light and color. That’s a strong, visual memory that Paul carries today. At long ago Christmases the children’s gifts weren’t wrapped but arranged openly beneath the tree. That year a train and a sled demanded immediate play. Tired after a while of their too early adventures, they went back to sleepy beds where their parents found them and when guilty sled runner tracks in the carpet’s deep pile gave them away.

Wishing you joy and peace and kindred souls

However you enjoy these wintry days, take time, as will we, to remember those who taught us by their example to love, respect, and be generous of spirit. Home is wherever and with whomever you rest your heart. May you be blessed with joy and peace and kindred souls. Merry Christmas to all!

The Husky is now in its winter hangar and we dislike having to drive so far to enjoy flying Fire Horse. The hangar is dark and cold but the runway is long and plowed, so it’s the responsible thing to do. Good judgment is smart!

Minimize Risk

Most of us have an intuitive understanding of danger, hard-wired as we are to avoid loss or the possibility of loss. That can be a good thing unless it unreasonably restricts what we might otherwise safely enjoy or when the fear itself is larger than fact.

How real is the danger?

Basic risk management involves recognizing the true nature of a threat: Listen to instinct; know what’s happened to others; train for it and preplan. Then compare the potential cost to the potential benefit; do it formally or informally, but do it.

Know your personal style

This seems on its surface to be only about piloting but for almost forty years aviation management practice has been making  its way into the board room, operating rooms, and into the family circle. It began with a tragic accident.

Avoid risk with good decision-making

Seeking the sky, Husky heads into deep winter on a longer, wider, safer runway

In 1977 on Tenerife in the Canary Islands two fully loaded 747s careened into history when they collided on the runway. This deadliest of accidents was the final link in a chain of irony, confusion, coincidence, and bad luck. From it grew the NASA training program that pilots know as crew resource management and business professionals recognize as participative management and employee involvement. The FAA now introduces pilots to their own dangerous attitudes with the chance to modify them before they result in an incident or accident.

Smart people doing dumb things

As a passenger you might fear equipment malfunction or violent weather, but most aviation accidents are entirely avoidable if you address failures of communication, leadership and decision-making that cause them.  In other words the path to most accidents starts before the prop ever turns. Stick with me here because the same dangerous attitudes can also ruin your business or your family. Life has costs, potential legal and liability hazards, financial pressures, human factors, public relations challenges, technical breakdowns, emotional facets, operational perils, and more. What you believe turns into how you act and that can create danger. Know yourself to manage that risk, the first step to improving how you interact with the most important people in your life.

Five Hazardous Attitudes

As pilots we’re taught to identify dangerous thinking along with a prescription for each to avoid trouble before it starts. Do you recognize any of these in yourself?

  • Anti-authority: rejects advice, doesn’t follow the rules, and is proud of being a non-conformist—better to listen to the voice of experience or remember that the rules are there for a reason.
  • Impulsivity: acts first, thinks later—slow down and think before you act;
  • Invulnerabiity: believes it can’t happen to him or her,  that they carry a special shield of invincibility—remember that the worst really can happen to them;
  • Machismo: is the show-off, the pilot who declares, “If you think that’s good, watch this!” And yes, it’s not just men but women too—in the interests of safety and responsibility substitute pride in following guidelines and obeying rules;
  • Resignation: gives up too easily when confronting a challenge and is willing to leave it to fate—be like The Little Engine That Could and say instead, “I won’t give up. I can do this!”

Never risk a higher value for something of lesser worth!

Attitudes like these may cause less dramatic or violent outcomes, but they also result in loss of respect and opportunity. Cut corners, hurt feelings, lack of respect for others, arrogance, self-importance, failure to anticipate unintended consequences–they break other things that could help us run more successful businesses, have happier families, or live more satisfying lives.

Make every risk to benefit trade count! Among the greatest treasures of life are interpersonal peace, personal pride, getting the most from effort spent, earning respect, enjoying life, gaining happiness, having a loving home. Let’s be smart and don’t trade them for anything that’s less valuable.

Wishing you wind beneath your wings

John Skattum in this month’s Air Facts Journal says you know you’re a pilot when you start pre-flighting your car. It’s true! But flying isn’t the only way to learn good management practices about the rest of your life; if it’s not flying, find something that works for you. As for me, I’ll always choose safety over convenience. The hangar may be dark and cold but the runway is long and plowed. Spring will come!

 

To each of our family members and friends, here’s a wish for a very Merry Christmas! May you be surrounded by those you love–present at your table, connected by phone or email, or in special memories.

Christmas Inspiration

Each year we look for inspiration from the trees and decorations of others. Our children are grown and, as we’ve seen most of them at Thanksgiving time, there’s a luxury in decorating or not. Today I’m posting my favorite Christmas tree of the 2015 Christmas season as seen in the foyer of Swan House, an elegant, late 20s neo-classical home designed by architect Philip Trammel Schutze for the Edward Inman family of Atlanta. Inspired by this lovely scene and in an excess of exuberance, we went all out in our own Christmas decorating here in Richwood Valley. Tomorrow I’ll post our own Charlie Brown tree for a smile! But for now there’s Christmas Eve supper to prepare.

May all the best and your hearts’ desires come to each one of you!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

My favorite 2015 Christmas tree in the foyer of Swan House, Atlanta, Georgia

The King’s Sweater – A personal history, then and now
1940 and 2014 Then and Now

1940 and 2014 Then and Now

The King’s Sweater pattern was copied from an original mid-20th century child’s sweater. Its significance to a knitter is in the traditional Scandinavian design and colorway of true red with off-white. This particular sweater has historical significance as well having been worn by the current king of Norway, Harald V, on the early spring day in 1940 when on the ruse of a skiing holiday the entire family escaped capture in advance of the Nazi invasion of Norway. The little prince was then just three years old and the tale of the family’s escape is harrowing with twists and intrigues worthy of a novel. The child’s paternal grandfather was King Haakon VII and together with his son Crown Prince Olav (Harald’s own father and later King Olav V) spent the war years in London with the Norwegian government in exile. Prince Harald together with his mother Princess Martha and his older sisters, the Princesses Ragnhild and Astrid arrived later that summer in Washington D.C. and in early autumn they moved to a new home in Bethesda, Maryland, where they were to live for five years until the war’s end. There are photos of the little prince playing with President Franklin Roosevelt’s dog Fala on the White House lawn and in the background of FDR’s fourth inauguration. Today Harald is King of Norway and is said to speak English with a trace of an American accent.

A Personal History

We settled on a new version of this sweater as a gift for a very special child to honor his birthright traditions. Born a citizen of Norway and a citizen of the United States of America, it seemed fitting to remember a personal history that unites his two cultures. Still in the possession of the royal family, a Norwegian woman was given access to the sweater for the purpose of making a pattern. The yarn is from the same company, Rauma Strikkegarn, and in the same colorways as the original. The company has produced this true, clear red since 1927 although they’ve experimented with darker reds and bluer reds over the years. To make the buttons for the left shoulder opening, four ten øre coins were purchased from four different coin shops in order to have historically appropriate ones; these are circulated coins in good to excellent condition dated with the years of Harald’s birth and earliest childhood—1937 and 1938,  the year  the original sweater was made—1939, and the significant year of 1940 when the sweater was worn on the day of escape from Norway and also the year it was worn again for Harald’s passport photo taking him into exile at Pook’s Hill, Bethesda, Maryland, in the United States.

It’s an interesting story about the journey of a little prince who grew into a wise King and a story our little prince will learn more about as he grows. The best gift, of course, is to be loved by so many people on two sides of an ocean!

The King

The King’s Sweater is still in possession of the royal family of Norway and was displayed in 2007 at the 50th anniversary celebration of King and Queen’s coronation.

This Norwegian coin was minted and first circulated in 1937, the year the current King of Norway was born. Four of these coins form the base of the shoulder buttons. The other three dates are 1938 and 1939 when young prince Harald was a toddler and the sweater was knit. The fourth coin is 1940 when the sweater was worn into an American exile.

This Norwegian coin was minted and first circulated in 1937, the year the current King of Norway was born. Four of these coins are the base of the shoulder buttons. The other three are dated 1938 and 1939 when young prince Harald was a toddler and the sweater was knit for him. The fourth coin is 1940 when the sweater was worn into an American exile.

 

The design is cleverly made to fit easily over a young child

The design is cleverly made to fit easily over a young child’s head.

If you’d like to knit The King’s Sweater yourself, with or without your own personal history, you can find Laura Rickett’s pattern at Ravelry, along with others of her design.

What DOES zone editing have to do with it?
Minus 21 Farenheit at the winter creek

This is creek water frozen solid while making a texture of large ice crystals. See the detail of shadows in the bank above and with a glint of snow diamonds here and there.
Canon 5Dm3: 100mm 2.8 L ISO:50, 1/60, IS USM with UV plus 8xND filter;
Panorama, then zone editing in CS6 with channel masking for luminosity layers, then curves first before other adjustments, final hi-pass sharpening

Snap-Crackle-Pop through the night

When you live in southwestern Wisconsin -21°F (that’s below) zero is February normal. We expect it; we plan for it. Life doesn’t stop because the temperature plunges. The house cracks like gunfire as it shrinks into midnight, snaps-crackles-pops all through the night, then explodes into morning with the sun. It wakes me for an early run, gets me thinking about images with plans to match what the eye sees to what the camera captures.

Ready, set, shoot!

When it’s bitter cold and you’re passionate about photography, being prepared means more than long underwear, triple layers, and chem-heat. The equipment demands preparation too for the brilliant-bright day. For instance, in a mostly white scene proper exposure benefits from a neutral density filter and knowing what camera settings are most likely to produce the shot. I’m wearing mittens so prepping the Canon means menu-ready with lens and filters in place and settings dialed in. Last week I set a task to learn even more about zone editing in order to get the most from white winter shots. When it’s this cold, I’m willing to sit and even lay in the snow, but adjusting a tripod doesn’t work so these shots are all handheld. My goal was to see details in the snow even when squinting into the brightness behind sunglasses. These accomplished what I wanted. To judge for yourself, click a photo to see the original in a new window.

Sitting in a snowbank at -21°

If you’re a photo nut like me, read in the bezel below each photo for the basics of what worked. For everyone else the pictures speak for themselves, an up-close look at what draws a photographer out of a warm house in the early morning of a frigid day, a string of many such days of this 2015 winter when the temperature never climbed above zero!

Cold Creek

Notice the frost flowers blooming 20 feet below where the spring flows out of warmer ground. A few feet further and there’s no open water.
Canon 5Dm3: 100mm 2.8 L ISO:50, 1/125, IS USM with 8xND filter;
Development from five AEB bracketed shots with Curves adjustments, then mostly hand masking and some clone stamping,

I’m actually laying in the creek for this and the next one. Five minutes later I rushed into the house for coffee and dry clothes. Did I mention that it’s MINUS 21° Farenheit (minus 30 Celsius)?

Click to see the original image in a new window.

Moving closer–and getting wetter as I lay in the creek. Focus on the snow flower bouquets on mossy stones.
Canon 5Dm3: 100mm 2.8 L ISO:50, 1/125, IS USM with 8xND filter;
Development with Lumenzia

Don’t be a little crazy like me . . . stay warm! But do give Lumenzia a try in your  own workflow!

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Merry Christmas from Light Pixie Studio!

This is how Mother Nature decorates our Christmas tree in the central meadow at Richwood Valley. How fortuitous that Mr. Cardinal stopped for a rest between flights to the creek from the forest to take a look around and brighten the winter with red. It’s a Merry Christmas kind of day.

As Light Pixie Studio has developed over these past ten years, the greatest and most unexpected pleasure has come from the stories heard and the clients met. So as not to spoil someone else’s Merry Christmas surprise, I chose not to send Christmas greetings to you until the actual day was past and the gift given. Three months ago I received a Polaroid spoiled with age, one that had been pinned up as a reminder of happy winter scenes and Christmases long ago. My client was a son acting as agent for himself and his siblings. They grew up with the winter scene below just outside their window and–with this as backdrop–merry Christmas memories evolved. Their mother is now a widow living in a smaller home not far away. That Polaroid was her memory link to happy times with husband and young children in the home someone else now owns. I restored the image and added the top of the central tree where the camera cropped it away. Then it was enlarged to life scale and printed on heavy archival cotton rag, framed for their mother’s new home for a renewed Christmas memory of those happy days.

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Light Pixie’s creative fuel

Thank you for making another successful year at Light Pixie Studio. Your visits and comments at the website are valued greatly; they are fuel for my creativity. Your stories are inspiring and your commissions and other purchases always appreciated. Here’s wishing you and yours a wonderful season full of joy and peace! Take time to say thank you, make amends, give with a generous heart, and may you receive your own heart’s desire whatever good thing that may be! Merry Christmas

Another Mighty Midwestern Winter

Another Mighty Midwestern Winter

Cold-hearted beauty

When first snow fell in November Winter said, “Four months, maybe five and it’s over.” We’re saying, “About time!” Weeks of deep cold, painful cold, frost on the windows and ice on the walks, Midwestern winter be gone!

 

Another mighty Midwestern winter and still below zero

By mid-February the first crocuses should poke through mulch where earliest sunrays fall, but not this year. Twenty-four below zero one night, nineteen below the next. Last night it was minus nine Farenheit, warmer than four other nights this week but bone-chilling for sure. This is the Midwest after all. We’re used to it. We have the clothes for it. Long-johns under dresses and layers five sweaters deep.

 

Road salt camouflage

Yesterday I stopped at the carwash to see if there was still a white car underneath the grey road salt and brown sand. Then I drove home at twenty miles an hour to keep it clean for one day longer–in vain.

 

Spring, where are you?

Somewhere in the mid-South, Spring is making first feints, getting ready to move north along the rivers and plains, spreading life-giving warmth into Wisconsin and Minnesota. While we’ve been distracted by Midwestern winter, the sun is growing stronger and the days are measurably longer. Perhaps we’re tougher now than in November but it does seem a little warmer. Finally!

Oh winter, you are beautiful and mighty! Go now and leave us memories of your loveliness to cool us through the heat of summer.

A NOTE: What inspired this reverie? Nightly news from New York City spends a great deal of time bemoaning winter. TV meteorologists exaggerate normal winter weather as if a mighty winter is intentional abuse from Mother Nature. In the Midwest we endure the worst while New Yorkers whine. Weather is weather. Get over it! Be strong. Embrace the beauty. It’s good for you!

 

Imploring the weather gods

Springside Pond

It’s been warming all morning and well into the afternoon finally reaching 10 degrees by mid-afternoon. That’s in Farenheit for my Celsius friends who will recognize minus twelve. It may be spring by the calendar but it’s still deep winter here in Richwood Valley! And in the frame below all the tracks in the snow? There are many odd terms for animal congregations some of which are known only to specialists or those who work crossword puzzles. These tracks are not those of an exaltation of larks nor a wake of buzzards, a murder of crows nor a convocation of eagles, but a rafter of turkeys. You’re seeing their tracks, marching multiples still looking for food!

Does this look like the first day of Spring to you?

Richwood Valley

 

 

Southwestern Wisconsin in the winter is cold. Colors are muted but there to be found. In the bottom of the creek bed are ancient sedimentary rocks cast there by massive forces, worn down by wind and water, tweezed apart by swelling frost. Green mosses thrive in all months while grass grows slowly under the snow.

Nighttime lit by the moon or Sylvania casts golden shadows and bounces lens rainbows into the blue-dark sky.

Some creatures are built for speed even in their heaviest coat. (Click any image to see them full-sized)

I’d never heard of the Rainbow Bridge until recently. In context of planning this painting it was abundantly clear what was meant. That a meadow full of beloved pets might exist where they wait patiently and playfully for their beloved owners is both comfort in grief and a wish for love and companionship. How touching to imagine it! The preciousness of life is what this touches so be sure to squeeze the good from today and everyday.

Keisha and Cubby: Waiting at the Rainbow Bridge

 Keisha at left was described to me as the couple’s favorite dog of all, a constant friend and companion, full of joy and eagerness, sweet of disposition, joining faithfully in morning walks and loyal always. At right is Cubby who, owned by a distracted neighbor, knew a very good thing in the happy company and care to be found next door. In their place now is Ruby, a solidly round little pup who fills today with her antics.

This painting was to be a surprise birthday gift for the man but his wife was too enthusiastic to wait a month to give it. That and a lucky circumstance allowed me to be present in the gallery to see his reaction for myself. That makes this painting especially meaningful to me as well. To translate someone’s loss into a special memory is my own little piece of paradise, a painted poem.

For anyone who has ever loved an animal friend, here then is the poetic prose entitled Rainbow Bridge written by an unknown author sometime in the last twenty to thirty years:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together
.

The snowmobile part of the portrait–that is, a far more complex structure to paint than the young college student astride it.

I enjoyed the working session when we talked about his machine and reference photos were taken. It seemed to me that he did as well. In this case it was his smile that captured my attention–not too much, not too little, but just right. I referred to it as his generous smile which equally fit his personality. I like young people, especially the hopeful, ambitious, forward focus of youth engaged in building the future, a credit to their families and a joy to their friends.

In the several months of work on the portrait, I learned a lot more than expected about the physical structure of such a snow machine. No, I’ve never ridden one and it’s a far cry from the airplane I pilot. Great color and curvy lines to appreciate though! Snowmobiling has been a big part of the young man’s life and for him it’s the best thing about winter. In his own words,

“It’s freedom from everything, just being able to go out riding and not really knowing where you’re heading. Finding new places to go is the best part . . . pretty much, snowmobiling is my most favorite hobby.”

Since the machine and the freedom it represents is such a value to the young man I worked hard to get it right.

Polaris

As for the young man I would call him brave to sit for his portrait with a stranger. Ander is of Scandinavian root and references bravery. His other name suggests fame so perhaps somebday he’ll make a name for himself as a brave man.

Ander’s Son

Late morning, we see a wolf at its kill. Golden eyes stare defiantly as if to say, “This is mine!” Facial posture including curled lips, bared teeth, intent stare, raised hackles signal a wolf ready to defend its turf. He may growl and he may snarl, but the stare tells all–this is a dominant animal on guard and ready. Such a direct stare is a blatant challenge, asserting rank and status, an important communication tool for this bold, strong-willed canine.

Wisconsin wildlife, Wildgame Innovations, 10 January 2012, 11:21:12 a.m. 50° F

The wolf at its kill

Mine!

 

Frosty Window

Mid-January is late for a full descent of winter but today was the day. Frost painted the windows at dawn and left icy surprises on the walks.

I’ve been trying to capture an image like this for a while. A macro lens and turning off the auto-focus feature turned the trick. Otherwise it kept pinging the inner pane between the lens instead of where the frosty signature actually was on the outer glass.

Canon L-series macro lens, EF 100mm IS USM, f2.8, Av, ISO 400, 1/125s.

Winter Fruit

Late afternoon with the sun tucking behind the hills . . . color developed in the sky beyond my favorite winter fruit. I’ve painted the same American highbush cranberries in previous Januaries and they never disappoint.

Canon EFS 17-85mm IS-USM f4.0, Av ISO 400, 1/60

 

This is my newest work. Jim loves his dogs and the time he spent with Sadie and now Cody working with them in the woods and fields. Sadie on the right was a fine girl with a robust personality and an active sense of humor. Some years later Jim acquired Cody who is also a good hunter and friend. Jim wanted to commemorate both dogs in a more permanent way than a photograph and hired me to do it. When we first met he commented wryly that when he dies his children might just throw a painting of the dogs away . . . but if he’s featured in the painting as well, they’ll keep it. The commission grew when Jim asked to include a pheasant and a wood duck. The painting was almost finished when he requested the U. S. Navy Veteran logo be painted onto his cap!

Jim describes the final result as very satisfying to have a memento of the life he’s chosen, lived on his terms surrounded by what he values. How wise to find a way to celebrate life when you’re young enough and robust enough to live it.

I enjoyed this commission very much and am proud of the obvious enjoyment Jim takes from having it in his home.

Best Dogs Ever

Best Dogs Ever