The Ground is Shifting

I woke up this morning with a sense of unbalance that I found hard to place. I’ve never really felt this way before, but then, I’ve never really been this old before. With all the changes in the world—in my world—(mostly…not good), the best way I can describe it is the ground shifting under my feet.

The easy place to start would be a general observation about the leadership of the country. The country that’s supposed to be in charge. You know, the “adults” in the room? I don’t really want to get into politics on this blog, so let’s just say it’s heading in a crass and vile direction that is profoundly disturbing and personally sickening. The feeling that it will only get worse is the part that makes it so very heartbreaking.

Something else that’s shifting in my world are the galleries that I’ve been able to find representation with. If my count is right, nine galleries were showing my work last year. By the end of the year two of those had downgraded (one to online sales and pop-up exhibits, and one moved into a smaller physical space with a bigger concentration on classes), three had closed down completely (one having been an institution in Pittsburgh in the same building since 1945), and in another instance the person who brought me on board and had been my contact for a couple of years chose to leave the business entirely.

Add to that the health of family members. Not going to get specific here, but sometimes it doesn’t matter how well you take care of yourself, health issues happen anyway.

And speaking of health, I’ve lost some people that the world had no right to take. Two were friends who passed away within a few weeks of each other, one at 47 and the other, 43. Not to mention that I’m still reeling from losing Tom Petty. And Prince. Really, world? People who brought beauty and happiness into the lives of others just vanish from the planet, and yet other crass and vile individuals are still here bringing ugliness and discord…(see paragraph two above).

As if the things out of my control weren’t enough, I also made a final decision yesterday about something that’s been churning over in my mind for the entirety of last year. I decided to terminate something I was trying desperately to hold onto in my professional life. It was the right thing to do and it was the fair thing to do, but it feels an awful lot like somebody died.

So, yeah. A little anxiety.

The days are getting so very, very short. Each day I decide what I’m going to create based on, “If I can only get one thing finished before I’m gone, what would I want to leave the world?” My fitness tracker tells me to walk every hour about two minutes after it told me the hour before.

We’ve been closing the curtains in the evening about ten minutes after we’ve opened them that morning.

Is this just age? It doesn’t feel like a crisis, at least, not yet. It just feels like a shifting of the ground I’m on. I’m not clinging to yesterday so much as holding on just enough to steady myself.

Playing in the mud

I touched clay for the first time in a class I took during college in 2001. It affected me so much I married my professor. (Different story all together, but just know it really can affect you.)

I played in it off and on until I graduated in 2005 and demonstrated a couple of pieces to a high school class I was teaching later that year. I hadn’t had my hands in the mud for nearly 15 years, and I could feel it pulling me back. Following potters on Instagram certainly didn’t help.

Four days ago I threw three pots. The first pot was exceptionally bad. (My husband, being the teacher, thought he could help by observing and commenting when it was necessary. I made him leave after the first pot.) For the second pot I also threw a lid, but of course it doesn’t fit well, as is often the case with me and lids (I need to practice more). I trimmed all three, thought I had gotten my fix and could let it go for a while.

Then I got up yesterday and realized, nope.

On my first attempt at throwing I was having a hard time. I could get the clay centered, but after I opened the shape it got off-center. So I cleaned the clay off the bat, wedged it to get it back in shape (and dry it out some) and tried again.

Once again, I got the clay centered, but after I opened the shape it got off-center. So I cleaned the clay off the bat, wedged it to get it back in shape (and dry it out some) and tried again.

And again, I got the clay centered, but after I opened the shape…you get the idea. What was going on? Was I opening it off-center? Was I putting too much pressure on the outside while I was pulling? On the inside? Was the wheel too fast? Too slow? How many times did I need to be rejected by the clay before I conceded that it was just going to be a bad clay day? Those happen sometimes, and you just have to let them. But for some reason I just wouldn’t let myself give in.

So I cleaned the clay off the bat, wedged it to get it back in shape (and dry it out some) and tried again. Slowly. I concentrated. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but why wasn’t it working? And then, somewhere in the middle of that pot, I suddenly remembered.

I wasn’t listening. I was doing all the talking.

I stopped for a second and got a little teary. The very thing I loved so much about playing in the mud. The thing that pulled me in from the very first time I started to throw. It was the conversation. I was trying to force my will on the clay and wasn’t giving it a chance to have a say of its own.

So I slowed down. A little less pressure. A little more give and take. I let the clay tell me what it wanted to do.

And now we’re both much happier.

I’m not a cook

Pumpkin donuts waiting for glaze

Growing up, my mother ushered my sisters and me out of the kitchen while she cooked our meals and ushered us back in when it was time to clean up. Needless to say, I became an adult with no idea how to cook or even the desire to try.

Until, I guess, now.

It started with a lot of leftovers and the search for more protein in my diet. I’m a vegetarian, so I’m always in search of protein. So a couple of years ago or so I started throwing together what I would call “Egg White Omelettes,” which seemed pretty accurate. I cooked egg whites and threw in whatever leftovers I had. Vegetables, of course, but also veggie burgers, french fries…absolutely anything, really. I figured out if I liked everything I put in individually, I also liked whatever mixture they made together.

The next major step was trying to figure out what to do with all the butternut squash my brother gave me this summer from his garden. (For the record, I don’t care if I cook a whole butternut squash again in my life. I’ll gladly use the ones already peeled and chopped up in the produce aisle.) When I finally got to the last of the squash leftovers, I decided I didn’t have anything to lose. I added egg whites and taco shells and cornmeal and breadcrumbs and mushed up my own butternut squash veggie burgers. They tasted good fried up with potatoes or a vegetable, and I started feeling pretty satisfied with myself.

Fast forward to last night. I’m currently on a mission to use up stuff from the freezer and cupboards that have been collecting dust for too long. (Don’t ask me how long; I won’t tell you.) I had leftover mashed potatoes and wanted to make some noodles to put on top (something we did growing up; not sure if that’s a thing for everybody or just us), but when I got in the cupboard I was a little disappointed we didn’t have any. But scrounging around, I did find some old lasagna noodles. (Don’t ask me how old; I won’t tell you.) I thought maybe I could make some pierogi lasagna and sat down with the internet to find out how. Turns out you need a lot of stuff I didn’t have in the house. But as I looked through the fridge, I found some things we did have, and that I liked the taste of on their own…

So I cooked up the lasagna noodles and layered a pan with the mashed potatoes and slices of polenta and veggie mozzarella shreds and garlic and onion and noodles and topped it with seasoned salt and Italian Seasoning and parsley flakes and oregano and sage and thyme and breadcrumbs and covered it and baked it on 350 for 40 minutes and uncovered it and baked it for 20 more and I can’t tell you how delicious that little concoction turned out to be!

And as if that wasn’t enough, my husband bought me donut baking pans for my birthday, and I’ve baked a couple dozen three-ingredient pumpkin donuts that were also delicious (using up old pumpkin and cake mixes and pumpkin spice and powdered sugar and vanilla from the cupboard, don’t ask me how old; I won’t tell you). But when I baked them tonight and went to measure out the powdered sugar, I realized pretty quickly there wasn’t enough left. But since the internet knows everything, I found out how to make my own powdered sugar ,and I swear it actually worked.

As I cleaned up the dishes from tonight’s pumpkin project, I kept hearing Nixon’s voice in my head, “Because people have got to know whether or not their president is a cook. Well, I’m not a cook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”

He said “cook,” right?

Maybe teaching yourself how to cook feels a little more rewarding than having someone teach you. Being an artist and ready to experiment doesn’t hurt. And working through the trial and error on my own makes me feel like I’ve earned everything I’ve got, too.

Three ingredient pumpkin donuts and a bowl of glaze

It’s been a long, long time…

I used to make it a point to get something new on this blog maybe a couple of times a week. I always felt I needed to have some kind of image to talk about before I could post. This time, though, I’ve decided the images will have to wait while I write some words.


I dread writing, but from some of the things I’ve read, that’s the attitude of a lot of people. I used to say, “I do pictures, I don’t do words.” I told my Fiction Writing professor once that, “It hurts,” and he said, “Then you must be doing it right.” Makes you wonder why anybody would want to do this to themselves intentionally.

For me, today, I’m doing it to myself to get back in shape. I have writing to do, and I haven’t been doing it. When I opened the file this afternoon I realized how long it had been and didn’t really know how to start the gears back up.

So I decided to do what everybody does (well, what everybody is supposed to do) before they go running: I’m going to warm up. And I’m going to do it by writing drivel like this that never has to make it past the eyes of an agent or editor or publisher to actually get published. As a matter of fact, the only eyes that will probably see these words are mine and the hundreds of spammers out there waiting for me to post something new so they can pummel me with their spammy comments. Apparently they don’t care that I monitor that activity, and their words will never see the light of day.

My words, on the other hand, are about to see the light of day as soon as I hit “Publish…” in three, two, one…

Autumn Rust

Autumn Rust by Nora Thompson

I needed to take a little time for myself and smear some paint around, and this is what came of it. It’s called “Autumn Rust.” I painted it with acrylics on stretched canvas, and it measures 20″ wide x 24″ high.

Art of Facts: Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories, part 2

So here’s the final illustration of the Pittsburgh H for the Art of Facts exhibit. I’ve titled it “Pittsburgh is Spelled With H” after the newspaper article in The Gazette Times with the same title. You can see the sketch for the illustration and an explanation of what we were asked to illustrate in this post from last August.

It’s also worth mentioning that this illustration was accepted into the show!

Sunrise run

I finally got a Fitbit last November for my birthday. I had never carried my phone with me in the mornings when I ran until a couple of months ago when I got the Fitbit, and I would often kick myself because of the beautiful sunrises I wasn’t getting photos of. Well, now that’s changed.

Here was a recent early-run sunrise, complete with low-lying misty fog.

I did catch a sunrise last August when I was out for a walk. Much, much pinker than this one.

Biking in unheard-of February weather

We took advantage of the beautiful mid-60s temperatures and headed out for about 15 miles on the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail. We started at the West Newton trail head and turned around on the other side of Van Meter.

The bench outside the West Newton train station visitor’s center.

Texture texture texture. You never know when it will come in handy.

Love ya, blue.

And my inevitable action shot. Going 9.2 mph, apparently.

Visual Journal

Journal Doodles: 2016-08-13

This one is actually cheating since I drew it over a two-day period. I ran out of steam the first night, and had trouble thinking of ways to illustrate what I had done that day. As it turned out, I did pretty much the same things on the day I finished it, so it worked out in the end.

For the record:

  • I did some colored pencil work on my entry for the Pittsburgh Society of IllustratorsArt of Facts exhibit.
  • I used my handy Pomodoro One app to keep me on task: 45 minutes on; 15 minutes off. The “off” times I spent cleaning the studio though, so not really off.
  • We finally got some of the rain that had been falling all around us for days.
  • I watched a little baseball before bed.
  • I’ve been spreading pumpkin butter on graham crackers for breakfast all week. Well, for a few weeks, to be honest. It’s never too early for pumpkin something.

By the way, that red mark the pencils are pointing to that looks like a little sideways heart? I didn’t draw that; it was just an imperfection in the paper. Somehow it still seems appropriate.

Zen Garden

A zen garden!


We have a new addition to our back yard, and my husband gets all the credit. He did all the work; all I did was point and nod and sit back and admire.

Zen Garden

Among other mediums, he works in clay, and a few years ago he had an exhibit showing his tabletop clay zen gardens. He hand built and shaped slabs along with little clay rocks and things to rake the sand around (he even hand built the rakes). We’ve included one of the tabletop zen gardens in our yard-sized version, but we’re letting the rain collect in it without the sand so the birds have a spot where they can drink.

Zen Garden

We did a test run using sand in our outdoor version, but it wasn’t working so well, so we bought pea gravel to use instead.

Zen Garden

We also bought stepping stones, and some local wildlife (rabbit, squirrel and chipmunk) have already tested them out. I only know because I watched them from the kitchen window, but I haven’t caught them yet while I had my camera close. The chipmunk climbed to the corner of the top of one of the tall rocks and stood as tall as he could. I think he even squeaked, “I’m king of the world!”

It was a small squeak, so I could have misheard, but that’s what it sounded like to me.


The Iron Worker by Gerrit Albertus Beneker

The Iron Worker by Gerrit Albertus Beneker

On a recent visit to the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg (Pennsylvania), I found myself drawn to The Iron Worker, an oil painting from 1905 by Gerrit Albertus Beneker. Drawn to it as in, I would walk away, and then walk back and stare. Several times. I studied the brush strokes maybe a little too closely; I backed away and soaked in the composition.

The Iron Worker close up

I’m not sure entirely what it is about this one that grabs my attention. It might be a combination of things: I’m completely in love with the palette—those colors, you know? I love his brush work and the strength of the silhouette against the background and the gesture he created in the body and the shape of the hand to go with it.

The Iron Worker info tag

When I read more about him online, it didn’t surprise me to learn that Mr. Beneker was an illustrator.

Of course he was.

Gerrit Beneker tells stories; that’s what illustrators do, and that’s what illustrations do. But, to be honest, I don’t think it would matter what story he was trying to tell. This could be happening on an alien landscape or in some distant future or in a prehistoric past. Those colors are magnetic, and they’re sucking me right in. That’s the kind of feeling I want to aim for in my own work.

Sunrise walk

My ankle hasn’t recovered yet from the sprain back in June, so some mornings I need to walk my route instead of running it. I don’t bring my phone with me when I run, but I do when I walk. There’s been many, many times over the years when I wish I had my phone while I’m running to capture the beautiful sunrises that everybody else is missing, but I’m left instead with just trying to soak it all in.

On a recent walking morning the sky cooperated, and I was finally able to record that sunrise. I don’t have too many spots on my route with an unobstructed view of the sky, but I happened to hit one of those spots at just the right time to get this one: