A patchwork of things

Hi Everyone!

I hope all is well in your world.  We have a little touch of Fall in the air today but are in great need of rain as you can tell by this photo of my car.  We live on a dirt road. Washing my poor car will not help right now.  dirty car

It has been another non-stop week and my brain is tired, but I will try to share what I can.

I finally finished my dress last week.  Pictures will come later, but the pattern is called the Fen Dress by Fancy Tiger Crafts and I absolutely loved how it turned out.  If I had realized how simple the pattern was I would have finished it during one of my insomnia nights. There will be more made. Next one will be in a plaid flannel I think for winter.

Knitting has been my sanity saver the past few months since I do not have the time or space to drag out my paints.  Here is my next luscious skein of yarn for my next pair of socks.  yarnThis hand dyed yarn is from On The Round in Maine.

Next week should be slower and I plan to possibly finish my daughter’s logo for her blog, Body By Nutrition, then start on a drawing commission.

In the never-ending process of cleaning out three, sometimes four, generations of stuff from my husband’s family I have discovered what talented ladies his Mother and Grandmother were.  Both were excellent seamstresses who made most of their own clothes as well as their family’s.

I think there is a future post on all those unfinished projects we crafty/artsy folk have laying around and tucked into corners of closets.  Here are a couple that I found.  I think the finished star was made by D’s Grandmother and the partially pieced one made by his Mother.  I found the lovely old needle case in with some of these.  It contains all sizes of needles including old, tiny beading needles.  patchwork

Hopefully in the not so far future, I can finish the quilt squares.  There are not enough for a quilt (unless I unearth some more), but probably some pillow tops for the family.

In other news, those of you who know Miss L. will notice her sporting new glasses soon.  She had mentioned she lost some glasses this past winter.  I don’t know what made me schedule her an eye appointment before other doctor appointments that she needs since she never complained about headaches or difficulty seeing, but I did.  Boy, am I glad.  She has 20/300 vision!  The doctor made her pinky swear that she will wear her glasses all the time in an attempt to correct her vision at least to a better point than where she is.  Seems there is a limited age range where this particular problem can be corrected and she is right at that limit.  So if you see her without them on…remind her! Those pinky swears are serious stuff!

I gotta go get some more work done.  I have no affiliate advertising on this blog.  Any businesses mentioned here I share in case you want to check them out.

Have an awesome week!  I will be MIA next week.  We are escaping for some much needed R&R to a secret location.  All I can tell you is that there is an ocean nearby. YEAH!

 

Photos by Christel Huttar

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Memory Lane

Hi Everyone!

Wow! Check it out!  I made my post on time this week.  Progress!

This week has involved Miss L. heading off to school.  So far, so good.  She likes her homeroom teacher, is making friends and is complaining about having to get up so early in the morning.  Typical first week of school in my experience.

I am up to my eyeballs in estate stuff.  As in, there is STUFF in our barn, under the tobacco barn overhang, in the bedrooms and in the vehicles waiting for it all to be sorted and sent to wherever it needs to go.  I am not a STUFF person and this is making me crazy.  I keep telling myself “this too shall pass”.

Other than the few minutes I take here and there to knit a few rows on my second pair of socks and the beginning stages of a logo design I am doing for my daughter’s blog, there isn’t a creative thing going on right now and it is depressing.  I get cranky when I don’t have a drawing or painting or SOMETHING going.  I’m not seeing much hope of starting anything soon either.

In all the cleaning out of storage units recently, my sister-in-law handed me this.

 

I had not thought about this book in decades, but it brought on a flood of memories and the realization that it influenced my artwork in ways that I did not know.  Jericho was published in 1974 and I was twelve years old.  The artwork is by Hubert Shuptrine and poetry by James Dickey.  To be honest, I never read the poetry until now, but I remember being absolutely mesmerized by the paintings and drawings.  The funny thing is, I had no idea in my memory where I saw this book to begin with.  Now I know that it resided on display in the foyer of my husband’s grandparents lovely old house.  Evidently, I saw it there because I can’t imagine where else I would have seen it at that point in life.  Strange how life circles back sometimes.


Hubert Shuptrine’s paintings and drawings amazed me with their detail, emotion and moody atmosphere in the same way that Andrew Wyeth’s work would a few years later.  I am still drawn into both artist’s work now just as I was then and find myself all these years later starting to do drawings and paintings in the same vein after decades of avoiding rural settings.  Strange how life circles back time and time again.


Wishing you a peaceful week and lovely memories.  Send prayers, supplies and donations to our friends in Texas.  They need them all.

Sudden Insights, This and That

Hi Everyone!

I wrote the Sudden Insights part of this post a couple of week ago but for some reason it only showed up on my Facebook page.  I’m adding to it this week.  My apologies for the wonkyness.

May 26, 2017: Sudden Insights

Who else is living through monsoon season? We had tornados yesterday in three counties including where my family lives and where we live. We are all safe and unscathed, but there were places with extensive damage. I have not heard of any injuries, but I would be not  be surprised if there were some. Most bad weather you have some time to prepare, but tornadoes are not so kind. I once had a tree go through my bedroom. I still get edgy during a storm thirty years later.

Thanks to a combination of monsoon weather (no gardening can be done in this relentless rain), a holiday week (before the long Memorial Day weekend) and one of my major suppliers moving their location (closed all week) I have had some extra time on my hands. Nope, as tempting as it is, I have not been napping. I have been painting and drawing.

After last week’s post about working on portraits I found myself very stressed and frustrated with the progress on those. In the wee hours of the night (my usual insomnia) I asked myself, “What do you REALLY like to do?”.  I looked at my past work and my Pinterest boards where I save artwork by other people that I like and am inspired by. 

Here is what I discovered:

I definitely do not like doing landscapes. I couldn’t find a single FINISHED landscape in all my past piles of work. Sketches, yes. Started paintings, yes. Other artists’ landscapes, yes. Finished work of my own? No. I have done buildings and house portraits but landscapes of sweeping vistas. No.  Clearly I need to just let that one go unless somewhere in the future I get struck with some sudden change in direction. I will just enjoy the views I see and the beautiful work by other people. 

Portraits of people cause me a great deal of stress.  Commissions especially, but even painting my own kids was stressful. Human faces are so subtle in their detail. A slight deviation of an eyebrow or curve of a lip changes a person into someone else.  It is especially hard to work from photos. So much detail is lost with bad lighting. Kudos to portrait painters who can do a true likeness from photos alone. If I were a portrait artist I would have to require in person sittings at least during part of the process.  The fact that my portraits have all been children or pets compounds the problem. It is a waste of time to try and get either to sit still!  All of my work has had to be with photographs, thus the stress to get it right. 

I won’t say that I will stop doing portraits because they make me dig deep to see, test and hone my skills and work on my patience level, but I think I will limit what I take on knowing how much stress they cause.  There have been times when I have had several right before Christmas and that was not fun.  

So what the heck do I like? THINGS! Seems I might be a still life painter.  Looking at past work and picking out the ones I got the most joy out of were things. Things in nature to be exact. Seashells, gourds, deer skulls, etc.  I like animals too and odd manmade things, particularly with rust involved.  I knew I had hit on something when my brain started popping out ideas like popcorn.  

I guess that all these years I never stopped to analyze what I really enjoyed. My time with pencils or paint was so limited I just jumped at the chance to do SOMETHING.  If you do creative stuff, you know there is such a joy to the process that you crave the time to spend doing it. Music, art, sewing, pottery, etc. is all an encompassing process that takes you out of normal life and into some other realm.  Now that I have some insight I can work accordingly. I can’t say plan accordingly because I rarely plan what my next project will be.  They seem to choose themselves! 

Here are a couple of things I have been working on this rainy week. My first horse painting is finished! Trust me, that is a big leap. 

I need to get back to the easel. Next week the weather clears up and we will probably have to use machetes to weed the garden. There will also be new additions to the farm this coming week that I will introduce you to. Wouldn’t it be horrible to get bored?! Not going to happen around here anytime soon!


June 9, 2017:  This and That

This week is one of those weeks that is hard to describe.  We have enjoyed several lovely evenings outside watching crazy chicken antics, various and assorted wildlife and birds and fun visits with the neighbors.  On the other hand it has involved either learning of the passing of friends’ parents or knowing that several are friends are in the final days or hours with a parent. Days of alternating joy and sadness.

My son is in his second week of his Iceland trip and currently offline in the wilderness there.  My daughter finished her last year of teaching and is transitioning to a new career. Danny and I will celebrate our 1st anniversary.  The ebb and flow of life.

I sought the comfort of my pencils this week with this fish drawing.  After the intensity of my Bob painting last week I needed the meditative process of drawing to ponder life’s changes. 

My thoughts and prayers are with my friends and children as they navigate endings and new beginnings. My thoughts and prayers are with any of you going through the same turbulent waters.

Peace be with you this week.

Find your people

Hi Everyone,

Hope you are having a smashing week.  By the time you read this I will have taken a road trip to Charleston, SC to see my daughter and celebrate her 24th birthday.  It is hard to believe 24 years have passed so fast.

Yesterday (I am a week ahead of myself so there is a slight time warp here) I had one of those lovely visits that reminds me that I need to see my people more often and we hermit like creative folk need to go out in the world more occasionally.

In my continuing cleaning out of stuff I decided to part with a box full of scrap paper that I have been trying to do something with for years.  Evidently I have not had any luck with that since it was all still there.  My friend Juanita has a kids craft time at her church so I have started donating my unused supplies to her.  I decided to drop off the box yesterday and caught her at home.

We have very similar work and personalities. Both work from home in creative jobs and run our own creative businesses.  We are both serious introverts who happily work away in our own little worlds.  BUT get us together and we can talk for hours about just about anything. By the time I left her house my brain was bouncing with ideas for a problem I had been trying to sort out about my Etsy shop and hopefully I left her with some ideas as well.

It is hard to find those people who make up your tribe when you work solo, but we need to.  They add so much to our lives when we make the time to catch up, sort out, problem solve and laugh together.

If you get a chance, check out Juanita’s Etsy shop and tell her hello.  Now, go find your people and make a visit.

 

Photo credit

 

 

Wanting what you don’t have

Hello everyone! Yes, last week was a doozy and I did not get to write a post amid the scrambling to get everything done before the family chicken stew. Which, by the way, did not happen…the getting everything done, that is.  As often happens, at least with me, the list is unreasonably long.

Most of the family made it including some that live a good distance away and hadn’t seen the others in several years. I had planned to share a few pictures, but got so caught up with visiting, fixing food and chasing grand babies that I forgot to take any. I did get this one. No, this is not our mess. We had everything cleaned up when we went to bed but forgot to take the trash out of the can. Our ever rowdy raccoons evidently had their own party. image

Switching subjects now. How do you like that subtle segway??  Here are a few wins and failures that have happened recently. Knowing that I can’t possibly be the only creative person that has as many, if not more, bombs than winners, I like to reassure my readers that they aren’t alone. If I AM the only one that bombs projects- please don’t tell me. I like my little fantasy world.

So, for the bombs first (I like to end on a high note). I so very, very much want to be able to paint luscious, loose, moody oil paintings (only with acrylics because I don’t like the oil solvents). I try so very, very hard, but this is what I get. Not what I am going for at all. The brown bottles below are more what I want to achieve, but I did that one first so it sort of feels like a fluke. ☹️ 

After I did my deer skull drawing it began to dawn on me that maybe I’m better off sticking to what I do best. It’s like having lovely straight hair, but always wanting curls. You want what you don’t have. I am in my element with pencils and charcoal in my hand, but want to paint.

These drawings are virtually effortless for me. I occasionally have a bombed drawing, but with painting I have many more failures than successes.  The problem is that I don’t always want so much detail in my work. I am not trying for photo realism. That’s what photography is for. BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW TO STOP MYSELF once I get started on a drawing. It’s truly frustrating.


Any suggestions would be appreciated or jump in and let me know if you deal with a similar problem.

Gotta go get horse feed. Have a great week!!

Deer skulls and chicken stews

Yesterday I realized we are only a week and a half from our annual family chicken stew.  Until recently I thought everyone, at least everyone in the South, had chicken stews.  After a recent news article, I discovered that chicken stews are very regional events.  Without involving recipes (a point of contention at times), a chicken stew is held in the Fall.  Chicken is usually cooked in a large cast iron pot (another point of contention at times) into a stew, obviously.  It requires a large gathering of people bringing large quantities of food to accompany the chicken stew.  Weather permitting, it is best held outside and involves a bonfire or fire in a fire pit. Alcohol is often involved, though we tend to skip that part here.

So, I am now in panic mode to get all the cleaning, organizing and yard work done before next weekend.  I am a firm believer that a party should be held at your home at least once a year.  Not that I am big entertaining sort of person, but for the top to bottom cleaning that gets done. After this coming week my Fall cleaning will be done and I can go into Winter content until Spring. I will be exhausted, but content.

This week I sat down and took on a drawing project that I have been wanting to do for a couple of years now.  I have also been procrastinating for a couple of years because I didn’t think I could pull it off.

I found a deer skull in the woods. Not an unusual event here.  We find all kinds of animal skeletons laying around.  Maybe the skull is kind of creepy, but it had so many interesting nooks and cracks and shadows begging to be drawn. Finally I forced myself to focus and see if I could still draw the way I could way back in high school.  Here is the finished piece.

deer-skull-drawing

I have been doing a little happy dance.  This may be my best drawing ever.  It took constant self discipline to slow down and not rush the process. I have had to rush most of the work I have done in the past 25 years.  Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines breathe down my neck constantly.  You expect that with graphic design, but even with commissioned artwork most of the time there is a deadline.  The client has come up with the idea, usually, almost TOO close to the time they need it. Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, etc.

It was an absolute pleasure to know I could take as long as I needed to do this drawing.  I did not want to put it away and come back to it though.  That is how things find themselves in the permanent Unfinished Projects file.  I have a draw full of those already.  Estimated time for this was probably around ten hours over three days. While it made me very happy, that much focus has worn me out. There will be at least a week and a half break before I take on another big project. Ha, just in time to do that chicken stew cleaning!

Have a wonderful week.  If by chance, you don’t see a post from me next week, you will know that I am scrubbing, dusting, washing or organizing something.

 

Young at brain

I started this post early last week then got caught up in several projects we have going on around here and totally and completely forgot to finish it. Ironic considering the title.

When I am NOT forgetting things, I have been TRYING to keep my brain young. This doesn’t mean taking Ginko supplements (though maybe I should!) or doing Suduko (even my best young brain couldn’t do that).  It means I have been trying very hard to not catch myself saying things like, “when I was young we had more sense than that”, or “the world is going to hell in a hand basket” (Just how old IS that saying? Who even knows what a hand basket is anymore).

I remember hating to hear old(er) people rant and rave about the younger generation as if the young uns just invented stupid. Stupid has been around a long time and is not limited to a post baby boomer age group.

night-skyphoto-1473376701383-7ad74b5611e1

So, I have been trying to look at the world through younger eyes and see what is going on out there. I listen to my kids and other young adults I run across to get a perspective that I do not generally glimpse in my everyday life.

In many ways I think the 20 somethings will be smarter in the long run than my generation. They recently watched their parents navigate the Great Recession and are more careful with their money.  At least my kids have realized that McMansions are not the great investment the Baby Boomers thought they were. They are also much more aware of the environmental impact we are wreaking on earth. They live in a global world. My generation at best had a national world or regional world. Our perspective on life in another country may have come from a pen pal you wrote once a month or saw a little of on the nightly news.  I now keep up with numerous people daily all over our amazing dot via Instagram. How freaking cool is that!

I listen to friends complain about how bad, lazy, uninformed, etc. young people are.  First, I remember how utterly boring the news was until I reached the age of tax paying! Second, I have the amazing pleasure of spending one week each year with high school and college age young adults. In that week they repair around seven homes for people who do not have the financial and/or physical ability to make their homes safe, warm and dry. This is done in 90 degree heat and usually involves mud and bugs as well. And unlike many adults they do not complain!  Five straight days of sleeping in a gym, enduring subpar showers, generally not eating as much as they like and NO COMPUTERS. All this is handled with good humor and patience.

From my perspective, if these amazing young people don’t catch the “we have alway done it this way” disease from us, we have hope for the future. They despise our political system and well they should. Our Constitution has been whittled away at by both parties. Hopefully these bright and compassionate up and comers will clean up the mess.  I don’t believe they are as influenced by money and power.  They have seen what it does to society.

Not only do I want to stay young at heart as the years continue to pile up, but I want to stay young at brain.  I don’t want to shut down fresh ideas or not listen to and consider the views of our younger generations. They have such a different world than the one I came into.  I think it is going to fall on their shoulders to save the human race if the current powers that be don’t destroy it first.

Photo by Tyson Dudley

Impatience and Disappointment

I forgot.  No excuses.  I just forgot to write a post last week.  I remembered on Saturday evening.  It was even on my To Do list and I still forgot.  I will try not to let that happen again…at least not soon.

At my age you would think that I had learned to be patient in how long things take.  Every time I think I have learned that lesson something else comes along to prove otherwise.

Right now I am aggravated in how long it is taking me to get my work space set up and workable.  I make progress, then something needs to be fixed in the house and here comes all the furniture, appliances, boxes, etc. piled back into my office and it clutters my mind as well as the space.

Last week we finally resolved some car issues that took about a month longer than I would have liked.  It all turned out fine, but my impatience stresses me out for no good reason.

I think there is a serious conversation going on here.
I think there is a serious conversation going on here.

I have been “helping” D. train our horse, Bob.  My helping means I hold the rope and pet the horse when he (Bob) gets stressed. I am trying to learn from D’s patience.  It is one TINY step at a time teaching a horse his ground manners and to accept a rider.  Today consisted of just showing Bob the blanket and putting on and taking it off his back, then trying the same thing with the saddle.  Bob was not thrilled with the saddle.  D. would let him smell it, touch it to his side, then walk away with the saddle.  I have no idea how long this process will last until Bob will calmly accept the saddle on his back.  Three weeks ago Bob wasn’t happy about a bit in his mouth either, but now hardly notices it.

So, I’m trying to keep in mind that life is more of a slow, one step forward, two steps back process.  Eventually you get where you want to go, but it is rarely in our perceived timeframe.

This week’s other life challenge is dealing with disappointment.  Disappointment mainly in people.  I have had two incidents where people I have a high regard for have let me down.  I know things happen and I know business decisions are rarely easy, but the customer service has been highly disappointing.  In my business things go wrong also, but I do my best to make amends and resolve the issue that makes the customer, if not ecstatic, at least satisfied that I did my best to help them.  One of these situations will result in me not using the business again, the other I am waiting to see how it plays out.  I hate feeling this way.  I am a peace, love, give a hug person who despises conflict.  Unfortunately, in our flawed humanity conflict is often more the norm.

A abundance of Zinnas means you draw Zinnas!
A abundance of Zinnas means you draw Zinnas!

On a brighter note, I have found a tiny bit of space to work on drawing and painting again.  I even managed to dig out the sewing machine and make a cushion cover for a chair that the dogs were beginning to cause damage to with their nails.

Oh, and salsa!  We are making salsa and canning it this week.  That just makes me happy.  Fresh tomatoes turned into salsa that I can eat in February and have a taste of summer all over again.  As Martha says, “it’s a good thing.”

I have a salsa addiction.
I have a salsa addiction.

 

Get lost. Slow down. Change directions.

sunflower 2016
My sunflowers are enjoying the heat. They are at least 8′ tall and still growing!

I hope you all have had a lovely week. It has been a typical July week here. Hot as Hades all day with a late afternoon thunderstorm that hopefully cools the air a little. Often it doesn’t. Sometimes the air is so humid and thick after a storm that it feels difficult to breathe. You would think you could squeeze the juice out of it. My poor bees are spending more time on the outside of the hive than inside. I’m thinking I should get a tiny air conditioner for them. No, I do not spoil the creatures that live with me (much).

The past couple of weeks have been spent getting settled, finding my way around and meeting people. If I counted correctly, this is my tenth move in my lifetime. Most of my moves have been within miles of each other, but this is the third move to a completely new area. My first major move was as a newlywed to a different state. My then husband was working third shift, the company had put us up in a hotel until we could find a home and I knew no one. I couldn’t stay in the hotel room during the day while my husband was trying to sleep, but I had no where to go.

This was before cell phones and we had two not-so-great cars. So, I did what any bored, fearless (you have that in your 20’s) young woman would do. I got my car keys, filled the car up with gas and proceeded to drive in and out of town until I was hopelessly lost, then figure out how to get myself back to the hotel.  Honestly, it was a huge adrenaline rush. Sometimes I barely made it back before my husband got up to go to work.  By the time we moved out of the hotel three weeks later, I rarely got lost. I found all the important places (Town Hall, library, the MALL) and lots of scenic areas of the countryside.

I have been using this same technique with slightly more common sense this time.  Lately our vehicles have been just as bad (except for THE BEAST, our F-350 pickup that I LOVE to drive), but I do have my cell phone and AAA card with me now. I found the library. People seem to think that libraries are not important anymore. I beg to differ. The bulletin board alone was a wealth of information. Local events and services that I had not been able to find online were on the bulletin board.  So, I have the library, found the arts council, town hall, pharmacy, car mechanic and our local state park for hiking. Hey, not a bad start for two weeks of being lost!

ghost flowers 2016
I discovered Ghost plants on our way to pick blackberries this week. They are such an oddity with all the color this time of year.

The harder adjustment I am having to make is the pace of life here. I’m pretty sure it was the same way when I was growing up out in the country but I wasn’t aware of it. EVERYTHING is slower. I have been in Surburbia for twenty years. I have worked two jobs for about twelve years. I shuttled two kids to thousands of practices and events for eighteen years. All that has come to a screeching halt. I often find myself standing somewhere in disbelief that there is nothing on my To Do list that HAS to be done immediately. Trust me, I’m not complaining, but after decades of rushing around and working under endless deadlines, it is disorienting.

Now that I have said that life has slowed down, just this week events have fallen into place for D. to start a business he has been planning for about two years. Originally he was going to start it next year after he retires, but an opportunity presented itself that was too good to pass up. This means that for about four months I will be back to working two jobs again as we start this while he is still working full time.  I will fill I the details as this moves along.

blueberry jam 2016
More slow stuff. Making blueberry jam.

I need to mosey on now to finish tiling these floors (they WILL be done by the end of the month!).  I’m going to leave you with some hard earned wisdom. If life is a little boring or drab, or the creative juices have quit flowing (they do sometimes), literally get in your car, on your bike, take the bus, use your feet and go get lost. The change in scenery and the adventure will do you good. Don’t use the GPS. Use your God given instincts!

zinna butterfly 2016
Just one of the hundreds of butterflies that have been visiting my zinnias this year. I have never seen soooo many in one place before!

All photos by Christel D. Huttar.

Seeking normal

Hello everyone! I was determined to get a post in this week. Better late than never. Last week we did not have any cell service at the school where we stayed so I could not post anything.

Wedding over. Move over. Mission trip over. Now it is down to finding all my stuff, creating a realistic schedule and settling into a new normal. This week none of that happened. My car has been undergoing repairs the whole month of June. Changing my name has taken a ridiculous amount of time. The garden has required work to get it back in shape after being gone for a week and unexpected farm chores and family/friend visits have slowed down planned projects.  Maybe this IS the new normal!

I did get my work space somewhat workable, found my paints and managed to squeeze in time to do these tiny paintings this week. It’s a start!

First painting in my new home and new life.
First painting in my new home and new life.

Here are some pictures of our life events of the past three weeks.

My bouquet and table arrangements
My bouquet and table arrangements
Our walk in the woods to the ceremony.
Our walk in the woods to the ceremony.
Vows by the lake.
Vows by the lake.
Our simple, vegan wedding cake made by my daughter.
Our simple, vegan wedding cake made by my daughter.
There were threats involved here. It was too hot to have chocolate cake smeared on my face.
There were threats involved here. It was too hot to have chocolate cake smeared on my face.

The ASP mission trip involves a caravan of rented vans to get all of the humans and equipment to our destination.

Our customized ASP van!
Our customized ASP van!

This was my 7th and Danny’s 3rd year on the ASP trip.  Each year there is a core group involved who believe in having a good time.  Pranks and jokes are daily occurrences.  One of the men stated that he laughs more in this one week than he does the rest of the year.  This year… well see for yourself.

First night at the center we found this in the hallway.
First night at the center we found this in the hallway.
Can you read the sign? Honeymoon Suite
Can you read the sign? Honeymoon Suite
Who can beat this for honeymoon accommodations???
Who can beat this for honeymoon accommodations???
Our team hard at work on dry wall.
Our team hard at work on dry wall.

We got home Saturday and slept the whole afternoon and most of Sunday as well.  There isn’t much rest on ASP.  This week I managed to get my office/studio is some sort of working order and just had to get my hands on a paint brush.

 

If all goes well, I will be back on schedule next week.  For my American readers, I wish you a fun, safe July 4th weekend.