This portrait was for a friend of mine from high school. He wanted to surprise his fiancée with something personalized for Christmas and chose this family photo from right after they adopted Luna the corgi. I used my new lamp with a hollow opening to record a time lapse (almost) start to finish, which I've never done before. I may need to look into a different app however; the one I've been using only records for 20 minutes at a time.
Yesterday afternoon I unpacked and then we had a few friends over and watched a few epsidoes of The Chris Gethard Show before heading to bed. A couple friends may come over for New Year's Eve, but it will probably be a very small affair.
In the meantime, I brought out all of my comic storyboards and am trying to pick up where I left off. A roadblock that I am experiencing right now is that so far I have started with a scene that leads into a flashback, and within the flashback, a memory is shared. I want to illustrate the memory, but I'm worried that it's too multi-level to have a flashback within a flashback, à la Christopher Nolan. I suppose it's an interesting problem to solve, and it could be a good opportunity to break away from the traditional framing that I've been gravitating toward just to give myself structure. But I still feel a bit out of my depths. Hopefully something compelling comes of it.
It has been such a wonderful week at my parents' house. As you can see from all the photos below, the main attraction was my niece and goddaughter, who is the sweetest baby ever. She's always so happy and only cries when she is uncomfortable and needs to change positions, take a nap, or eat.
I arrived last Friday afternoon after a rainy, misty drive, and Juliette arrived with my brother and sister-in-law the following evening. JJ had some dinner, took some time to bang a wooden spoon on the table (provided by grandma), and then prepared for her nightly routine. This included a bath in the kitchen sink, pajamas and a fresh diaper, and bed. They have this big suit they put her in that makes her look like a marshmallow, but it prevents her from rolling in her sleep so she stays on her back.
The next day we mostly hung out with the baby and I (clearly) took as many photos as possible. I also took quite a few videos, particularly of her testing out a a goofy blubbery noise with her lips that was quite amusing. At one point we went back and forth making the sound and I was laughing so hard I could barely make the sound back.
On Christmas Eve, mom handled the cooking, and Juliette was passed around from lap to lap. My parents call this a "pass-around pack". We did a couple of small photo shoots, including one with the guinea pigs to compare to a similar pose of my brother with my parents' guinea pigs Jemima and Manfred. We took another of Juliette in my dad's old cap from when he was a baby, and another with a HESS truck (my brother was fond of those as a kid).
We opened Juliette's presents on Christmas Eve afternoon, before dinner, and at that point she was a little tuckered out and had just woken up from a nap. Then we had a traditional Ukrainian dinner of fish, pierogies, and mushroom soup while Juliette sat patiently on Andy's lap. From there, it was time for the Christmas Eve service at church; she got a kick out of the carols, and eventually fell right asleep, even as candles were passed around for the final hymns. My dad's congregation got a big kick out of her and it sounded like they had heard a lot about her and seen photos over the last six months.
On Christmas morning, the baby and family needed to head out to Buffalo where my sister-in-law's family lives, so we had a quick breakfast of French Toast Casserole (prepared to perfection by grandma), and then we packed up the car, the baby, and the dogs, and they were on their way. My parents and I stayed behind and exchanged the remaining gifts.
Since Christmas, I've been very sleepy and have been doing a lot of napping. It may not have been the most productive week of my life in terms of art, and I had been pinning a lot of high expectations to this week in terms of progress on my comic, but I think given that it was Christmas and I'm so rarely near my family, I made an exception and softened the pressure I was putting on myself. Next week it will be back to work again, but at least it will only be a three-day week.
This afternoon the Buffalo crowd swung through once more to pick up some remaining items and break up the trip back down to Long Island. Luckily, we'll be seeing everyone again in February for Juliette's baptism, so it wasn't as hard to say goodbye as it was the week she was born, or the weekend we babysat and weren't sure the next time we would see her. I'm just amazed by how quickly she is growing! Would it be selfish to extend a "free babysitter" offer every other month so I can spend some quality time with her?
Anyway, vacation is quickly coming to a close. Tomorrow we're going out to Friendly's for breakfast, then I'll make the drive to Boston. We are having a New Years Eve Eve party to celebrate our roommate Hardik who is moving to San Francisco in a couple weeks. But it will be nice to have a mellow New Years Eve and New Years Day to settle back into the groove. Happy 2019!
Check out this adorable Christmas gift from my sister-in-law and Juliette! A Christmas tree finger painted by Juliette and embellished by mom. Plus these post-crafting photos. It sounds like she enjoyed the painting, but not mom preventing her from putting her hands in her mouth, or being dirty afterward. I sense an artist in the making!
It was crunch time at work this week which meant staying late and finding new places to focus and get things squared away during the day. I worked from 7:30am to 9pm today to tie up loose ends and have at last put up an out of office message! I also thought ahead and packed yesterday, so now I can relax tonight and go to bed early.
Also tacking on a random photo of my room, which looks very organized since I tend to clean everything before going away.
I've always wrapped gifts in brown paper, ever since I found a commercial roll of brown paper and metal dispenser in my apartment when we first moved in after college. I finally ran out a couple years ago and have been using Scotch brand rolls, but forgot to restock before preparing to wrap this year. In a pinch, I went with grocery bags and festive stamping and ribbons.
All the presents are wrapped (except for a few that I've ordered that haven't arrived yet), and I have four more days of work. Then I'll load all of the presents into a rental car and head out for home Friday morning!
A few months ago, my trusted desk lamp broke as I was adjusting it. It served me 6 solid years, and Chris even used his electrician chops to make it continue working even without the articulating stand, but that meant propping it up awkwardly in a basket, which made it less effective. This past weekend, Chris gave me a replacement as an early Christmas present, and I tested it out by doing this year's holiday card. The old lamp had a magnifying panel in the middle which my eyes never quite adjusted to, so I'm enjoying that this one is hollow and I can be very close to the paper without blocking the light with my own head.
I printed 30 copies at work and used the cutting station to get them to size (and accidentally cut my knuckle open), and grabbed some envelopes at Paper Source. Now for the writing, addressing, and stamping!
Every December I spend a Sunday at the toy store where I formerly worked wrapping presents for donations to the MSPCA. I went with December 9 because it's close enough to Christmas so that there is a lot of shopping, but not close enough to the last-minute frenzy that I'm overwhelmed. Plus Sunday works best because hours are 10:30-6 instead of 9:30-7, so it's a bit more manageable for one person. Today we made $218!
While at the store, my friend Melissa pointed out a very bittersweet new children's book called "The Remember Balloons" by Jessie Oliveros and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte. It tells the story of a little boy and his grandfather who experience the sorrows associated with dementia. In the story, different colored balloons represent fond memories. The little boy has a small few due to his young age, and the grandfather has a whole bouquet collected throughout his lifetime. However, as they get older, the grandfather starts to let balloons go. Over time, he even loses balloons that were shared between him and the grandson. When most of the balloons are gone, the boy's parents point out that because the grandfather had shared all of his favorite stories while he still remembered, the boy had taken over the balloons his grandfather had lost and they were now his stories to share.
It's a very sad story, but it made me think of all my connections to my grandparents. Last year, I recorded some of my maternal grandmother's memories of her early life and how she met my grandfather, and this year, she barely knows her own daughter, let alone any of her grandchildren, and I'm not sure any of those memories are accessible to her anymore.
My maternal grandfather passed away two years ago. His memory was still sharp and he rarely missed a beat. While this story describes the different kind of loss that comes with losing a person rather than that person's life, I still relate to the metaphor of cherishing happy memories and trying to bring them forward over time, even if they are secondhand.
My paternal grandfather had a similar struggle with dementia. Over the last ten years of his life, the details of his childhood and early adulthood years were very unclear, and we were never sure if a story was real, invented, or taken from somewhere else. It made it very hard for him to communicate with his family toward the end. I remember him describing his crossing of a rickety bridge in France when he was a young man, even though he had never been to Europe.
My paternal grandmother died 15 months before I was born, and though I never met her, I still hear stories about her today. Maybe they are not as clear as they would have been coming from her, but I can imagine them through the words of those who knew her best.
Although this book brought tears to my eyes, it's a valuable one to have on hand for anyone with a young person trying to come to grips with the loss of a loved one.
This weekend, Chris and I went out and got our first full-sized tree. This has been a dream of mine since I first moved in, though there was at least one year where I settled for decorated a floppy houseplant, and several with a four-foot tabletop tree.
Since moving out on my own, setting up holiday decorations has always made me feel closer to home. My mom always had an extravagant collection of humble-looking wooden Santa figures on the mantlepiece. Every year my brother helped my dad with the Christmas lights, and I sat and untangled the gold beads as my mom hung them in loops around the tree. On an afternoon that was free of precipitation and preferably above 40 degrees, my dad wrestled with white Christmas lights on our rhododendron and burning bushes, and a petit pine tree out front.
Decorating the tree was a family affair, usually done in front of Peanuts Christmas and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, both recorded on a VHS tape from an airing on cable in the very early 90s. Closer to the holiday, we would watch The Snowman and drink hot cocoa.
Our tree never had a theme, but rather it was made up of heirloom type ornaments that hinted at our various interests. We had three mini carousel ornaments; one could even be hooked up to a Christmas light socket, causing it to slowly rotate with a quiet "bzzzzz". The carousels all connected to our upbringing in Broome County, NY, the carousel capital of the world.
There were plenty of book-related ornaments, some made of glass, others of wood or metal, representing my parents' careers as librarians. I was always partial to a brown-haired angel in a light pink dress, mostly because it was pink and sparkly. It was one of those delicate frosted glass ornaments that need to be packed in wads of tissue paper, and I usually hung it on a lower branch along with about 15 other ornaments that my parents covertly redistributed over the course of the evening.
There are little Victorian house ornaments whose windows are illuminated by a planted light, reflecting my parents' interest in history and architecture. Here and there are golden ornaments from the annual White House collection, which my cousin Jackie sent periodically while she was working in the FBI. For a while, there was a light-up Starship Enterprise because of my mom's obsession with Star Trek, and later we added a Zeppelin, referencing Randy from A Christmas Story shouting "It's a Zeppelin!" on Christmas morning.
As a kid, we added an assortment of Harry Potter and American Girl Doll ornaments to celebrate the younger generation, and a significant collection of basset hound ornaments to celebrate our family dog. Most of the former have been passed back to me to hang on my own tree, partially so I have things to hang, but also because my parents have more ornaments than they can fit on the two trees that they usually install. There have also been some recent additions of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower to celebrate trips to Europe.
Over the last few years, my mom has started making ornaments out of her pysanky, and she creates a new design for each year. The first one that I received broke after a tragic hammer related incident, and I keep the other two very safe when not displayed.
Chris and I have also started growing our own collection, including a large blown glass orb from his mom, a ceramic BB-8, and a Tom Brady. While I don't have any Santa figures, I do have some glass snowmen and little trees and pine cones that I decorate with twinkle lights. My parents also gave me a small wintery vignette made of wood with built in lights, which they found in Rothenburg, Germany (a walled town tracing back to medieval times).
They say that nostalgia does not mean living in the past, but bringing the past forward. I like to think that by continuing to decorate my tree with old and new ornaments, I'm bringing forward a lifelong tradition into other parts of my life, while also creating slightly varied traditions in my own household.
After finishing decorating the tree, my family would sit together and play a round of "I spy with my little eye...." while calling out specific characteristics of an ornament on the tree. The only light would be from the colored lights of the tree, which reflected in our eyes as we admired our work. I'm looking forward to having a rich enough selection of ornaments to keep the "I spy" game going in the years to come.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Mansfield, MA.