Dear Lauren, again

I know it’s been awhile, three years since you died to be exact, but I’m back, writing, because I’ve things to tell.

First, I hope wherever you are there are some good birds.  I mean really good ones. Like your caracara. Lots of caracaras, all for you.

Caracaras all for you

I just got a female white-winged scoter, which was no. 368 on my bird life list. She was in the middle of about 60 lesser scaup on Ft. Myers Beach, floating and diving offshore. I love her because finding her was such an adventure.

White-winged scoter

I searched by myself last Sunday. The tide was low, and I got waylaid by a wonderful Indian wedding.  Are there any that are not joyful? I hope not, because they are so much fun, I’d hate anyone to miss out.  The groom arrived by boat–you could hear the drumming as they approached the island– and then he put on his fancy hat and mounted his bedecked white horse.

The groom

His family and attendants marched up the street to Bollywood music and drumming.  The bride’s family met them at the resort, and then all 250 of the guests headed to the beach, stopping for drinks served in real coconuts. (I wanted one, but we, the onlookers, were told politely to step back.)

Wedding flowers

When the bride, magnificent in red and gold, arrived  on the beach on her palanquin, carried by about six guys, she flashed her own cellphone, much to the crowd’s amusement, since they were doing the same. I smiled all day, especially when I realized how many hours I spent happily not doing what I set out to do.  Thanks to you, I knew all about Indian weddings and could provide commentary for the clueless public on the beach. I did not stay for the stealing of the shoes, however. (I took these photographs with my cell phone. I know you hated yours, but the camera is terrific.)

Back to the duck…Monday, I returned and spotted the scoter in among the lesser scaup offshore. I really did have to scope every duck carefully to find her. Makes it all worth it.

The second time, John went with me and was first in-line for coffee at the Dairy Queen while I was occupied. I can’t remember, but I think you liked their coffee…but all coffee was as vital as blood to you, wasn’t it?  Just think of all the types of pots we’ve all tried and loved–perk, drip, Mr. Coffee, Chemex, god forbid, INSTANT, electraperk, and my favorite–the orange enamel one you just dumped the grounds in and boiled.  That was good coffee.

This coffee pot is apparently now “retro”

Do you get a chance to read wherever you are?  I hope so. My favorite new book is The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott. I love stuff about Irish Catholic families for some reason. My friend Kathy heard the author speak, and said she mentioned the ideas of substitution and sacrifice as topics she wanted to explore in her latest novel.  In it, the substitute is a man who fought in the Civil War for another man who paid $300.  My own great great-grandfather did the same and I tried to find out who fought for him, but the records are gone.

Nuns have to turn their heads to look out.

The book has nuns in it, but they are interesting nuns. Did you know those big black and white head coverings were to keep them looking straight ahead not at the world around them? I found that interesting, especially after I purchased a new winter jacket for our trip to DC over New Year’s. It had a hood, and I couldn’t see anything to the left or the right.  I wonder if nuns were ever struck while crossing city streets– faith, I guess.

My favorite in the Vermeer Show at the National Gallery by a fellow artist, Gabriel Metsu–so much going on in one painting…Woman Reading a Letter

I wish you had been in my pocket when we visited DC for New Years. The Vermeer Show was fantastic. I love Vermeer because of the camera obscura stuff, but this show was of him and other Dutch artists painting around the same time (mid 1600s). Whole galleries of women opening and sending letters and making lace and even scraping turnips. And then men, and drunks and rich folks just hanging out.

Vermeer does light, women and pearls so well

Love letters and satin, and little dogs, and whoever heard of brothel paintings? We had lunch with Henriette Rahusen , who is assistant to the curator, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. ,whom we met. What a treat. I am so proud of what she has done with her life. Many years a World Bank wife and mom, and now a historian with a PhD. Oh, and she says the artists painted everyone with light on the left because right-handed artists would position their easel near the window in a way that their dominant hand, or painting hand, would not cast a shadow over the area of the canvas or panel they were working on.  GOOD TO KNOW.

Henriette treated John and I to lunch in the staff dinning room in the East Building.

Renoir’s The Luncheon of the Boating Party is back at the Phillips and its surrounding exhibit had a slightly similar theme.  It featured all the people at the party, and what their relationship to Renoir was–fellow artists, benefactors, his wife, other friends, and one fellow they couldn’t find much out about, poor guy.  The exhibit included several paintings by the party goers, which gave you an idea of what their lives were like, about 200+ years after Vermeer and his cohorts.

The Luncheon of the Boating Party

Of course, The Boating Party itself is fantastic.  It draws you in and you wish like sin you could have been there too. Young, beautiful and happy. Drinking eating and laughing on a beautiful day on the water under that fantastic awning. Which he painted in later. There are such geniuses in the world.

We had a great time in DC with our friends, eating and drinking and talking and laughing.   It has been three years since we last were together. It was sort of like the Boating Party but it was cold and there was no awning. But there was love. And loss. And an appetizer called a Grand Plateau.

Capitol Grill’s Grand Plateau.

Oh god or whatever,  I hope you know how much I miss you. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve thought, “Oh, Laurie would just love this.” I just hope you get this, somehow, someway, and till the next time, love from your friend,


PS I also want  to talk about grandmotherhood, but another time. And plants, and the oculus at the African American Museum on The Mall. And joining Zonta, and even Trump. And how he drives me to drink, which I have given up for the month of January.  More later.








People of Lauren

For my  wonderful friend, Lauren Ritchie, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 69 at the peak of her career as a ceramic artist and potter.

My Tribute from the  service celebrating her life, June 13, 2015, in Syracuse New York.


Display of her work and my cairn
Display of her work with my cairn


“My name is Elaine and I am a friend of Lauren. It has been my privilege and my luck to be so for over 45 years.

Yesterday morning as I walked the shore of Lake Ontario — a cobble stone beach in particular — I imagined today’s celebration and all of us who would be gathered here today. For we are the people of Lauren. We are all Lauren’s people or we would not be here.

Cobble stone beach o Lake Ontario
Cobble stone beach on Lake Ontario

People of Lauren are lucky, but I think we also have some responsibilities. I would like to humbly offer some simple tenets that we all can practice. I know there are more, but these seven are what I thought of.

1. Be more generous. Be more generous. Be more generous. Open that door in your heart and remember Lauren’s generous heart never shut down.

2. Lay down your fears. Not simple, but try.

3. Laugh. Life is short. Enjoy it.

4. Nurture your art. You have it. Lauren knew it, and so do you. It’s what you love.

5. Forsake your lawn. Plant trees and flowers. Share what you plant.

Lauren's garden 2014
Lauren’s garden 2014

6. Read. Listen to NPR. (Try it, you might like it.)

7. Be a rock onto others. Hold still. Listen. Be there. And even though rocks can’t really do this — suggest things that might help. Lauren always did.

Build  a cairn
Build a cairn

Last I’d like to suggest a small ritual. Whenever you can, build a cairn. It’s a stone pile of remembrance, and sometimes a trail marker. Mine is on the display table, made with seven rocks I gathered yesterday. Don’t upset the landscape, but if there are stones, pile them up. Leave it behind so that all those who follow will know that people of Lauren have gone before. For we are the people of Lauren…Pass it on.”

Happy Lauren and me

Dear Lauren


You and me, summer 2014.  Two happy birders
You and me, summer 2014. Two happy birders

March 26, 2015
Dear Lauren,

I think about calling you every day…the thought occurs to me that I would like to talk with you about how much I miss talking to you.

And, if you were here–in this silly world–I am sure we would be sharing things on Facebook. Just stupid stuff — art and birds and other things that make life worth living.

I could have told you about our women’s retreat and the blue yarn and the gorgeous canoe trip on the Alafia River. The river of fire. You would love the river of fire. My friend Mary and I saw a mama gator and her babies, and in four miles of canoeing on this winding  river, we saw only one beer bottle. No other trash. Isn’t that wonderful, you and I would say, marveling and assuring ourselves that life is good.

Alafia--The River of Fire
Alafia–The River of Fire

And then I would tell you about my money raising efforts for our church. About how uncomfortable I have always felt about asking people for money, and how I decided that someone had to step up, and the thing I like about being a Unitarian Universalist is that you get to explore new ways of thinking.  My comfort zone is pretty wide, but it doesn’t include asking for money. We would agree about the money, but I would know that you don’t see much use in belonging to any church, and I would change the subject. All the same, I hope your memorial service will be at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Syracuse. The Art Fair they sponsored was one of your favorite shows.

And there was always the weather. I’d ask you how things are going in upstate New York and you could bitch about the snow and cold. I loved your asteriks –you called it not snow but S***. We really agreed on the stupidity of snow.

You’d share what was happening in your own studio, and preparations for Art Walk, which were always a pain, even though you had it well organized, with meetings and people and new artists on board. Every June, you and your garden made Art Walk rock. Even when it rained and someone took the street signs down.

One of your lanterns
One of your lanterns

And we would talk about Gallery 54 in Skaneatles and how things were going there–what was selling and how many sponge holders and lanterns went out the door. There must be a lot of your sponge holders by sinks in upstate New York. And I know the really lucky people have one of your lanterns. They are magic.

Next to birds, we loved to talk about gardens and plants. What about your gorgeous Japanese maple that snapped off this winter–any hope? I have bird houses in my front garden now, and the pottery head you gave me and my ruined pillar, My abandoned folly.

My front yard
My front yard

I hope someone will care for your garden this spring. And leave some of your ashes there. And put water in the birdbath.

Lauren's garden 2014
Your garden July 2014








I probably would have told you what I was reading, and then you’d have shared what you were reading, and we would compare notes on Antiques Roadshow finds, and Home and Garden TV. I know we would agree that Fixer Upper was the best show, even though it’s set in Waco. Both of us always liked old houses, especially fixed up old houses, and Chip and Joanna have done some good work, even if it is in Texas. We definitely would have liked Chip and Joanna.

We would have liked Fixer Upper
We would have liked Fixer Upper

Of course, we would talk birds. First a feeder report from you. Is the red-breasted nuthatch still there? I saw a brown-headed nuthatch here in Florida! Nuthatches rule! Only you would cheer. What else is coming in–any red-wing blackbirds yet? One is sitting outside my window now. I would tell you about Caloosa Bird Club trips and how fantastic Wakodahatchee is and that we must go there next time you come to Florida.

And then I would ask about a dessert for eight, and you’d suggest champagne sherbert and I would put it in the little blue glass bowls I inherited when we owned the house next door to you in Syracuse. I would use the recipe you wrote out by hand.

in your handwriting
in your handwriting

Then I would just cry a bit, because you are gone and I miss you. And all the silly trivial things in life that we shared. And all the big stuff too. I know this letter  will never be finished. I will close it the way I always have–
More later,

Kykuit: The Rockefellers’ Place on the Hudson


Kykuit on the Hudson
Kykuit on the Hudson

Nelson Rockefeller was once the governor of New York state. He never carried cash, people said, and when I met him  in the ’60s at the State Fair, I was a Girl Scout. He was eating a coney (which he did not pay for), and it made the news.  Later, when I moved to Washington, DC, in the ’70s, I worked for a congressman with the memorable name of Herman  T. Schneebeli who had been Rockefeller’s freshman roommate at Dartmouth,.  Rocky would come by, and in his low gravely unmistakable voice say that he wanted to see “Herm, that old SOB.”  I was young then and such language from a public figure probably shocked me.

Little about the Rockefeller Estate, Kykuit, shocked me until we got to the basement. Kykuit means “lookout” in old Dutch, and the estate was built by patriarch John D. Rockefeller and another of his sons, John II, called Junior. It became a Historic Trust property after Rocky died in 1979. It is located 25 miles north of New York City overlooking the Hudson at Tappan Zee. You board the bus to the gated grounds in Tarrytown.

Beautiful gardens abound
Beautiful gardens abound

The gardens are very beautiful, and view of the Hudson River is breath-taking, but the house is rather, I hesitate to use the word modest, but let’s just say it isn’t Vanderbuilt’s  Biltmore.  Rocky and his wife Happy raised their sons in this three-story house that has 40 rooms.  The whole tour is tightly controlled and you never wander alone, nor is there any discussion of past tragedies or scandals that are part of the Rockefeller heritage.

The Miro in question
The Miro in question

The house is filled with nice stuff.  Gold and mirrors and some especially graceful and beautiful Chinese figurines.  Nice furniture, and some 20th Century modern art on the walls.  In the living room, for example, there is a Miro over the sofa.  Except it’s a copy, made bigger to fit the wall space. But then the tour guide escorts you to the basement.

It smells like a basement, and there are no windows, or if there are any, they’re high up.  It’s humid and claustrophobic, but the white walls are covered with art.  There are also sculptures. And white couches that the guide tells us were used when the family entertained and wanted to take in the vibe (my words).

The basement hideaway
The basement hideaway
The Picasso Tapestries
The Picasso Tapestries

Huge tapestries, woven by one woman in France impressed me the most. Her name was Madame J. de la Baume Durrback and it took her a year to weave each.  The tapestries are all copies of paintings by Picasso, writ large and woven under his supervision. Just hanging there, in the basement! It was as if someone had a hobby (collecting modern art) and had died and no one could break up the collection or change anything.  Talk about throwback.  Remember the rec room–that secret hideaway in the basement?  Imagine a really big one with works of art that should be in museums in the basement of a 100-year-old house

When you come above ground again at Kykuit, it’s a relief. The tour ends in the light and airy stable/carriage house. What a relief to look at cars and carriages and read about how many National Parks (20) the Rockefellers donated the land for and what they have done for conservation.

Oh, and I just read online that the tapestries are going on exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Art  December 20, 2014 thru March 8, 2015.  I’m glad they will be admired by more art lovers and will escape the rec room for awhile.


This is the tapestry of Guernica, my favorite Picasso. The painting is in Madrid



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Storm King

Storm King Mountain
Storm King Mountain

Storm King is a big round mountain that hulks above the upper Hudson River.  It is an imposing presence, even if it’s tree-covered.  The romantic-sounding  Corwall-on-Hudson is the nearest town.  At first look, the Storm King Art Center is a normal farm with a fancy house on a hill.  The grounds are pretty, with many pieces of  sculpture scattered around the lawn.  Interesting, but not spectacular.  Except for the columns.  I love outdoor columns, and I hightailed it over to them right away. The valley below is lovely, and there was a tractor bailing hay and –surprise– some giant and amazing pieces of modern sculpture in the distance.

Storm King Art Center
Storm King Art Center
Columns on the lawn at Storm King
Columns on the lawn at Storm King
Looking down on the valley
Looking down on the di Suvero valley









Obviously, there is much more to this place than meets the eye alone.  There’s a convenient tram, or you can just start wandering.   There are 500 acres of trees and hills and woods and mowed fields and wildflower meadows and sculpture.  Lots of it–over 100 pieces, some of it gigantic.  You  can take a walk a see a huge head of Buddha on its side. Or find yourself dwarfed by an elaborate concoction of huge metal beams painted scarlet.  Or you come over a rise and see a simple stick house that seems to float on air.  And then there’s a long and beautiful serpentine rock wall that emerges from a lake like a dragon.

Andy Goldsworthy
Andy Goldsworthy

We loved our day there with our son and daughter-in-law, Jordan and Julie, but in writing this blog, I realized how hard it is to describe Storm King.  Previously,  I associated sculpture with cities.  In front of museums and office buildings, or in them.  Or in gardens with urns.  And part of me thinks that after you’ve seen The David by Michelangelo, the rest is downhill.  (That was 44 years ago, but I remember.) Storm King sculptures are all modern, many by living artists.

It was perfect weather , and by the end of the day I was grateful for letting the forms and movement and colors catch my sense of sculpture and turn it upside down.   I became involved with the pieces. I wanted to see more, and I wished I could see them every day, in every light and every season.  I loved being outside and being amazed by 20th Century sculpture.  There, I’ve said it .  This was something new.  A new place. A new way to view art and to watch others view it.   Here’s my slide show, meager as it is (artists are credited when I can figure it out. Here’s a tip–write stuff down when your memory is fresh ):

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My advice:  go see this place.  It’s like no other and so worth the trip.

Of Balloons–and Dreams, and Many Things

Ballooning is a dream...
Ballooning is a dream…

The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things:  Of shoes–and ships–and sealing -wax–Of cabbages–and kings–And why the sea is boiling hot–And whether pigs have wings.”

Lewis Carroll



We went on vacation recently.  How’s that for a first sentence? I can follow it up with…wait for it…I saw a lot of sculpture.  Fascinating, you say?  I went up in a  hot air balloon, attended a 100th reunion, spent time with adult children and with good friends.  We also contemplated FDR as President and Rockefeller as Lord. (The last two are related, via the Hudson River.) I did some birding at Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, a really cool place, and spent time in Washington, DC, the Blue Ridge, Lancaster County, and upstate and downstate New York.  We took in such hot spots as Skaneateles, NY, and Intercourse, PA. Modes of transport included plane, metro train, foot, automobile and kayak. Photographs were taken.

On the Mall at Sixth and Constitution
On the Mall at Sixth and Constitution

We lived in Washington for over 35 years, so it’s home.  The National Gallery of Art and the sculpture garden on Constitution Avenue across from the Archives are long-time favorites. Imagine a cool, clear day.  Low humidity, which to Floridians is manna from the gods. Throw in an Andrew Wyeth exhibit of windows, and some Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas and you’ve got me shivering.

Andrew Wyeth Exhibit "Looking Out Looking In"
Andrew Wyeth Exhibit “Looking Out Looking In”


Mary Cassatt--Little Girl in a Blue Armchair
Mary Cassatt–Little Girl in a Blue Armchair

Then, stroll up to the sculpture garden and amble by the big typewriter eraser, the even bigger spider and more old sculpture friends and you’ve got me stopped cold in my tracks.


Typewriter eraser by Claes Oldenbury and Coosje van Bruggen
Typewriter eraser by Claes Oldenbury and Coosje van Bruggen
Spider by Louise Bourgeois
Spider by Louise Bourgeois

Next, we had a tasty lunch, good conversation under the trees, and then walked over to the Hirshhorn sculpture garden.  On the way we peeked at a new tree –wrought in stainless steel–wavy and tangled on one side and smooth and serene on the other. I think it’s symbolic, but beautiful anyway.  I wanted to see it with snow in winter…NOT!

Stainless steel "Graph" by Roxy Paine
Stainless steel “Graft” by Roxy Paine

It was a most fantastic day topped off with a wonderful meal at the Capital Grille (motto: “We wine. We dine”) with interesting, thoughtful and exciting people. Here’s to you, Kathy, Bill, Anne, Bob, Harriet, Steve, Judy, Michael, Julie and Henry. We love you all.  Museums, sculpture and friends. DC at its best.


Next day,  we cleared our minds and headed for the Blue Ridge where we attended Shiloh Quaker Camp. First there were Work Crew Skits featuring a running salad skit (name all the salads YOU can think of)  and a campfire.  I had a flash back to Girl Scout Camp, but I was completely wowed by the songs sung at Shiloh.  My favorite was “I Like Tasty Italian Desserts,”  written and directed–in three part harmony–by a 17 year-old counselor named Diego.  Favorite line:  “Serve me some crispy cannoli.”  The camp director, Hope, our daughter, was also in fine form.   For over 20 years, she has never missed a summer at Shiloh, except when she attended other BYM camps like Teen Adventure.  We are very, very proud of our Director Daughter. Thank you, thank you Baltimore Yearly Meeting for your camping program.


At Shiloh:  Hope, 9, Jordan.14
At Shiloh: Hope, 9, Jordan.14, 1993



Director's Cabin at Shiloh, Pre-Civil War
Director’s Cabin at Shiloh, Pre-Civil War


Hope 2014
Hope 2014








After wandering around in Shenandoah National Park for awhile and visiting a couple of wineries, which are popping up all over Virginia, we headed for Lancaster County, PA., and something completely different.

Looking up
Looking up
Climbing in

A big black, red, yellow, green, orange and purple balloon awaited us in Intercourse, a small dot of a town in Amish Country, most famous for it’s “welcome to” sign.

Traveling around in a balloon is a dream. As suspected, the Amish and Mennonite farms from above are beautiful.

Amish farms are beautiful from the air
Amish farms are beautiful from the air

The ride is  quiet, except when the burners whoosh hot air to make us rise, and rise we did–high enough to see the Chesapeake Bay, and buildings in Philly and Newark. (For a video go to:  Takeoff and landing is fun, but here’s a truth:  YOU CANNOT STEER A HOT AIR BALLOON–our pilot could only make it go up or down–a hot air balloon is not like a sailboat. (How could be as old as I am and still have that notion?) About sunset, we swooped to land a couple of times only to be thwarted by a tiny breeze blowing in the opposite direction. Finally we alighted in a housing subdivision, where no less that 50 residents gathered to watch, including the local police and our chase vehicle. I heard someone say it was the most exciting thing that ever happened in that neighborhood.  For more great pictures, see my husband’s photo blog of our adventure at: Many thanks and recommendations to New Horizon Balloon Team and our pilot Todd Plank. And to Nancy, who seems at home after moving back to  where she began

Landing was fun for everyone involved
Landing was fun for everyone involved

Obviously, there’s more of our vacation to come.  Sculpturely speaking, we’ve just touched the surface.  Coming up–Storm King and Kykuit, and a visit to Stone Barns. Birds! More family! More friends! We will not speak of cabbages and kings–but of many other things.