This is the scene I mentioned earlier that is a flashback within a flashback (actually... within a flashback because the whole story exists in the memory of myself in 2016).
I'm still working on it, and might end up splitting the text of the last panel into another one, but hoping it comes across clearly.
This scene fits in with the central introduction of me as a child, pouting because of my own sensitivity. My grandpa happens to be telling my dad about how my mom learned to swim, and how at first she was afraid of the cold lake water. I'm hoping this will juxtapose well; I go from being really scared of fishing to alerting my whole family that an alligator is right near the dock. The goal is to show my childhood self through a similar growth in hardiness/courage, and how that was inspired by both my grandfather and my mother.
We'll see how it comes across once it's colored and inked!
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 Juliete 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 could make na exception and lower my own expectations of 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 my 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!
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.
This is my parents' cat, Link. Six years ago, he followed my brother Andy and his wife home one day and they adopted him. Shortly after, Andy needed to move to a different apartment that did not allow pets; my parents "temporarily" took him in, and since then Andy and his wife have bought a house and adopted two dogs without demanding Link return to them. This is because it was pretty clear that Link found his forever home with my mom and dad, who now have an empty nest and are both retired, but love to dote on Link. That said, Link was named after legendary Nintendo character - a complement to my aunt's cat [Princess] Zelda - so my parents regularly adjust this name to the more affectionate "Mr. Binky".
My dad likes to think that Mr. Binky is our deceased basset hound Dewey reincarnated. Dewey died in June 2011. Binky was found in June 2012. When asked his rough birth date, the vet estimated June 2011. He also sometimes races us down the stairs the same way Dewey did (albeit a bit more gracefully).
Binky likes many things. The auto-feeder that dispenses his meals at specific times (he doesn't know that this was incorporated due to weight gain), the indoor water fountain, the birds in my parents' [multiple] cuckoo clocks, the cushy back of the couch, and the view from the window while my mom fills the bird feeder in the backyard.
Binky does not like the cat that my parents' feed once or twice a day with Binky's personal stock of canned wet food. They call him "neighbor kitty" even though a good neighbor kitty would not taunt an indoor kitty like Binky with his outdoor access.
Here is Mr. Binky/Link waiting for me to turn the faucet on in the bathroom so he can paw at the drain and get his head all wet.
This is the first time I've been home for Thanksgiving since 2011, when I was still in college. From 2012-2015, I was working retail and the holiday shopping season made it impossible to grab three days to make the trip home, eat, and come back (especially without a car and the limitations of a multistep bus trip). In 2016 I spent Thanksgiving week in Florida and visited with my grandfather one last time before he passed away a week later. And last year I stuck around Boston and celebrated with Chris's family.
This year, I decided to make the trip because it's my ten-year high school reunion. There was some confusion with planning so it ended up falling through almost entirely, but I still got to see some of my classmates who I haven't spoken with since graduation. So many people are married, expecting, parents, and/or live out of state; some of our classmates have even passed away. It's weird how things move forward so quickly.
I left at first light Thanksgiving morning, and because there was zero traffic, I made the five-hour trip in only 4 hours and 15 minutes, including a stop for gas. It was also a beautiful sunny day (albeit 10 degrees out) and I split my listening between Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on audiobook and assorted music from my iPod when I got antsy.
It has been such a relief to have a few days at home with my parents. My mom is an excellent cook, and nothing says home like her potato and cheese casserole (lovingly referred to as "cheesy taters"). She also prepared apple and pumpkin pie and in my biased opinion, pies made by my mom and my aunt Mary are the absolute best out there.
It's back to work tomorrow, but I'm looking forward to having an almost two-week break to return home in December. I've been working holidays so I can save up vacation days and can't wait to cash those in. Work has really been running me ragged and I can't wait to just be at home where all I need to think about is what book to read and which baked good to eat. My brain desperately needs a rest.
As some bonus material, I've also included a photo of my varsity letter. Apparently we got a pin for everything.
I got this mug during my return to Alfred last spring; my memory card had just failed right after I had finished documenting a painting of mine that I stumbled upon in one of the administrative offices. I was really excited to see it, so figures that I didn't end up getting a photo of it. By the time I realized there was a glitch, the offices were closed, so instead I wandered around the book store looking for a replacement and getting nostalgic, wondering why I had never stocked up on school memorabilia before (answer: I was an existing student and was poor). I got a couple of t-shirts and this rather simple cup. I'm not really a coffee drinker, but every now and then I will have half a cup to avoid falling prey to dangerous weekend nap impulses.
Here are a couple of photo updates on the comic I've been chugging away on. I haven't shared much about it in writing because I am still figuring out where I want to take it (though I do have a lot of storyboarding done, and have a growing set of Google documents that include a story framework and various thoughts, ideas, and memories). That said, I have very little time to work on this project with my full-time work schedule, not to mention 2 hours of commuting every day. But I'm still trying to chip away on the weekends for now, even if each set of week days seems to negate my weekend momentum.
I recently listened to a really wonderful interview with Debbie Tung (creator of "Quiet Girl in a Noisy World"), hosted by The Introvert, Dear Podcast. She talked about the struggles of choosing to quit her full-time job as a developer and pursue art full-time instead; they asked her if she recommends this choice to other artists out there, and she was hesitant to encourage that choice because it makes life quite hard economically. Not to mention, Debbie lives in the UK, so there are not the same concerns about student loan debt and access to healthcare. Here in Boston, it's almost impossible to afford rent even with full-time work - not to mention a mortgage (condos around here typically start around 400k, and houses are basically inaccessible unless you are up for paying 600k or more). I sometimes daydream about moving out to the country into a little cottage, where I can be alone with my brushes and pens and enjoy an uninterrupted creative process, but it's something I'm far too anxious to pursue in this stage of my life. Right now, I have health and dental care through work, a 401k, and a stable paycheck, which is a lot more than I had working in retail. Plus, comics are very hard to make a living off of unless you have proven success through a book deal. It's not the same as running an Etsy or doing commissions, which I take here and there but don't actively pursue or advertise. For now, I'll continue to cherish my free time and continue my work during the week.
Catching up at this point because the wedding really took it out of me! It was a perfect storm of jet lag, Schnapps, Austrian beer and wine, and staying up chatting with wedding guests until 5:00am. I passed out as it was getting light, briefly woke up at 10am to eat something and drink some water, and then didn’t fully get dressed until well after 2:00, basically resetting to American time. I haven’t stayed up that late or drank more than a couple glasses of wine probably since college, so I feel like I'm still recovering two days later.
That said, it was such a fun wedding! The ceremony took place under a long line of linden trees in the front lawn, looking over the valley. I tried to covertly take some photos while also staying out of the way of the actual photographers and not ruining any photos with my camera being out. They did a nice job of pairing English and German, and the ceremony was completed with the bride and groom signing their names on a marriage certificate, as well as the Maid of Honor and Best Man. After they walked back down the aisle, they took part in an Austrian tradition of cutting a heart shape out of a large sheet, each racing to cut out their half. Lukas won, but Katie was a good sport.
We had drinks on the lawn, took some photos, and then headed into the hotel for the reception, which included speeches, slideshows, messages from family and friends near and far who couldn’t make it, and a couple of hilarious newlywed games. Before dinner, the server, my cousin Tina, and even the bride checked in on me to make sure my vegetarian needs were covered. So sweet! And the resulting veggie-friendly dish was absolutely delicious.
After dinner, I spent a lot of time chatting with my parents and family I hadn’t met before. I was feeling a bit socially anxious so didn’t really join the dance floor that much, but it was still nice to do a lot of visiting. Once my parents went to bed, I hung out with my cousins, did a bit of dancing, spent some time at the bar in the lobby, and even made some new friends of Austrian descent.
Like I said, I’m catching up now because I didn’t end up doing much of anything post-wedding aside from sleeping and taking a leisurely dip in the pool. Then today, we left the hotel and headed into Vienna. We’re staying at the Hotel de France, which is pretty conveniently located close to a lot of the sites we want to visit. More on what we’ve been up to later, but here are some photos from the wedding! I’ll add them to the wedding photo tab once I’m back in the States.
Drawing of Katie and Lukas from the wedding.
The vegetarian dish, and one of the most amazing desserts I've every had. Also the crème brulée served at the restaurant, which I had multiple times during our stay.
The pool, and sunset on our last night at the hotel.
We had an amazing wine tasting last night!! Reunited with the cousins, and finally met Lukas (Katie’s fiancé). The founder of the hotel directed the tasting, and even gave us a sample of a wine from 1914! Note his spectacular mustache. After the tasting, we had dinner at the restaurant again, and had some family time.
This morning, I slept in extremely late, and then had some pastry with mom and dad. Afterward we walked along the grounds and took some photos, then I went out for a run and boy am I out of shape. Although in my defense, it’s all hills and it’s also almost 90 degrees out. I ventured onto a trail in the woods, and then got a bit spooked and turned around. I only did a couple miles, and then joined the folks at the pool. I’ll have to get some photos of that tomorrow.
Next up is the wedding! Everyone is getting their makeup and hair done now, so I’ll probably get changed shortly.
We made it to Austria!!
Despite my best planning (neck pillow, eye mask, and only relaxing nature videos as stimulation), I had a rough time sleeping and am extremely jet-lagged. I was in the back middle row, right next to the bathroom, so even when it was quiet, the high-power suction of the toilet woke me up every few minutes. I was also in an aisle seat so was able to stretch my legs out a bit, but had nothing to lean my head against aside from my neck pillow. I wish I had packed Benadryl; historically that has knocked me out.
I arrived a bit before my parents and Aunt Bobbie, who were flying out from JFK. I collected my bag and then sat and waited in a jet lagged stupor, catching my first earfuls of rapid German conversation. I found their baggage pickup area once it showed up on the arrival board, staked out the area, and we were happily reunited before heading out to find our ride The wedding is out in the countryside surrounding Vienna, so we had a scenic drive through the city and then out into the foot of the mountains.
The hotel is absolutely beautiful. It’s called Berghotel Tulbingerkogel, and faces a valley with a long stream of mountaintops far beyond. I’ve never seen so many layers of mountains. It almost looks unreal, like a theater set painting. Our rooms look out on the view, and I have the door wide open to draw in the mountain air and sunshine.
In other news: during check-in, I met a dog named Anke. She is adorable.
After we got setup, we were starving, so my parents and I checked out the award-winning restaurant downstairs. Please expect lots of food pictures on this trip.
I do prefer to stick out the first day of international travel without napping, but am worried that I will crash during a wine tasting this evening, so I’m going to shut my eyes for a few hours. More news to come.
So sweet! Spent the weekend with Juliette in New Haven, and got some practice with feeding and clothes changing. Surprisingly no poopy diapers while in our care, but a lot of false alarms. We also did a lot of rhythmic bouncing up and down the hallway when our girl got restless. It puts her right out though!
I can’t explain how much it means to me to be part of my niece’s life. When I was a kid, most of my extended family lived out of state, so I only every saw them for a couple weeks at a time each year. I know from working four years at a neighborhood toy store that kids grow up alarmingly fast, so I hope to be there regularly to spend time with my niece and be part of her life month to month.
It also just blows my mind that my brother has a kid?! In my eyes, he’s still the troublemaker who goofed off during after school programs and played pranks and constantly played Nintendo 64 on the weekends, but now I see him so confidently caring for his daughter and letting her snooze on his chest. I still feel like a bit of a kid myself, so it’s weird to think of the cycle of childhood/parenthood resetting before I’ve had a chance to really digest being an adult. But I suppose I'm kind of digesting this experience through the filter of aunthood, so it's a nice way to dip my feet in.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Brookline, MA.