Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The End of an Era - The Counter finds a new home.

This baby has been with me for ten years. It came into my life the first month my shop had moved to its West Broad Street location.  A lovely woman walked in, saw me ringing people out on a card table and said "Honey, you need a COUNTER." Turns out she was a retired antique dealer and this 1800's North Carolina general store counter was stashed at the very understanding, long suffering friend's house.  She ended up selling it to me for a very reasonable price.  I felt like a legit shopkeeper right then and there.  A couple of neighbors and Randy's macho pickup delivered it to the shop. We literally carried it in by our fingertips because it cleared the door by a scant half inch! (And no, I did not even think to measure the door!)  This counter was the epicenter of activity for years.  I dragged it from Falls Church to Lewes Delaware to Coastal Virginia where it has taken center stage in my studio.  The only issue with that is it really to short to work from so it mostly just acted as storage.
Karma came knocking when my friend Anna took me on a whirlwind tour of Hilton Village in Newport News.  We popped into Design & Consign and met owners Stephanie & Robert. Design & Consign's two locations are packed FULL of lots of vintage goodies, furniture and home decorating elements. Lots of chatting ensued and they are now the proud owners of both the counter and the revolving cases.  I am happy they have found a new home where they will live out their intended purpose and will be enjoyed by more than just me.

Let's be real- it's bittersweet to sell the counter. I have wrestled in the year since my big move whether or not to open up another shop. I miss the community we created and the friends I made through running the business.  But I must confess I enjoy the freedom of not being a 7 day a week retailer and I am thrilled with the leaps and bounds my art practice has taken.  I am hoping when Bob retires this fall we will be able to have a life balanced with creating, playing, online work and shows.  Fingers crossed it will actually happen.

The counter has been around almost 200 years and it will be around for another 200.  If you want to go visit it, either in person or online, you can check out Design & Consign on Facebook here. The new location opens in June!

PS I have been invited to do a collaboration with Stephanie & Robert. Stay tuned for details!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"May cause dizziness" - Confessions & reflections on Mental Health Awareness Month

I am lucky. Until now, I have never suffered from anxiety and depression like some of my friends and family do.  Perhaps that is why I didn't realize how far down the rabbit hole emotionally I was until something very simple happened.

To back up a little bit, last fall I was having some breathing issues that I thought were allergy related. As it is not unusual to react to new environments after a move I didn't protest when my doctors prescribed some new medicines for me to try.  The next time I went in I was prescribed more meds as my breathing was labored, my heart was racing sporadically and my blood pressure was all very erratic. Tests were ordered to discover whether I might have pulmonary fibrosis (as it is present in my family) or an artery blockage.

As you can imagine, I felt like crap.  I was anxious and scared to think I might need major surgery or have a fatal illness.  I found it harder and harder to simply move. I found it harder and harder to get motivated to work.  I slogged through my days- doing what needed to be done and nothing more. I wasn't sleeping well and had to drag myself out of bed in the morning.  Simply, I was not my normal self.

After my exploratory surgery determined I indeed did not need a bypass I told my doctors I wanted a re-set. That I felt over medicated - lightheaded, jittery and erratic. I asked if there was any harm to discontinuing the pulmonary and heart pills I was on for a week or two. With their blessing, I discontinued them.

Two days later I woke up and told my husband "I feel like myself, instead of trying to ACT like myself."
Turns out the initial medication I was placed on just causing me to physically have the symptoms of panic attacks, anxiety and depression without the stereotypical "blue" feelings. I assumed Ifelt nervous and sad because of my escalating physical symptoms. Laying in bed at night and having my pulse leap to 98 beats a minute, breaking out in a cold sweat reading a book, being half way through a 2 mile walk and not being able to catch my breath - none of this was anything I have ever encountered.  

Lucky me, my mental health issues were solved by NOT taking a pill.  I have a whole new sympathy for people that have depression creep up on them or suffer from other mental illness.  When I confessed to close friends and family what had happened, everyone, EVERYONE was surprised and nobody saw it happening. Even those friends that suffer from depression themselves did not recognize it in me until I started reeling off my symptoms.  Then they recognized themselves.

1 in 5 people in the United States suffer from some sort of mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness ( has a plethora of resources to access if you or a loved one needs help.  If you want to learn more about the warning signs of mental illness check out their link here

If you need help, please ask for it. If you love someone that deals with the reality of managing a mental illness every day, educate yourself on how you can help them.  If you don't think you know someone that struggles with mental illness you are misinformed, you do.  

1 in 5

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
PS It seems like most of my health issues at this point can be solved by losing 50 pounds so cheer me on if you see me out walking. Of course they are still are threatening me with a statin but I am a little gun shy...

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Staycation - A Pirate, a Bride, and a Field Trip or two

While my hubs was busy at his Bar-be-que competition this weekend I fully intended to catch up on the work I missed with medical hi-jinks earlier in the week.  The bad news was I just flat out wasn't up to working with my hands as my wrist and arm are still healing from the medical tests.  The good news? I can drive with my left hand so I decided a little field trip or two were in order. 

These ruffled lilac tulips are calling my name. So unique.

 First stop? Brent & Becky's Bulbs in Gloucester, Virginia was hosting an Art in the Garden show on their lovely grounds. Not surprisingly the flowers were insanely beautiful and the artists work matched!  I had fun chatting with the artists and learning about their work.  My favorite booth was Connie Powell's. 
Connie Powell and wonderful work
 Her work was very soulful with lots of subtle layers. I bought a lovely piece for a friend's birthday (unless I decide to keep it for myself!) and I am hoping that Connie might teach me her secrets of nose drawing some day.
you can follow Connie @connie.supthinpowell on Facebook & Instagram
 I got home in town to see my neighbor grandson and his new bride posing for photos after their wedding before they headed out for their reception. After Friday's horrendous rain it was so wonderful to see that blue sky above the wedding tent!
Congrats to the young couple!
 Sunday dawned and Bob & I decided to take a trip over to Yorktown and watch our pal Tony and his pirate crew invade Yorktown.  There was a whole Pirate festival going on today.  The people and the dog watching were fantastic, as you could quite imagine.
I love the contrast of the pirate ship against the behemoth Coleman Bridge.

Our man Tony let Bob come aboard.
 It was such a lovely day outside that we wanted to grab a bite for lunch while we were out. Umi Sushi is a "hiding in plain sight" tiny restaurant right on the Yorktown Riverwalk.  Not exactly pirate fare but very tasty, especially when we nabbed the last outdoor patio table.
Umi Sushi Lunch special. Love that Spicy Tuna Roll
 One of the joys of being self employed is that you have a flexible schedule.  Of course there is an old joke that self employed folks are the only silly folk that quit forty hours a week jobs with a boss so that they can be their own boss and then work 24/7.  Now that spring is here we are making a conscious effort to get out and learn more about our area. Here's to new adventure! And healing so I can get back to work...

Dionysus was hiding in the ladies room in one of the local restaurants. The surprises keep on coming!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Happy Birthday from the Hospital - real life vs social media

 Tuesday was my birthday. Tuesday was also the day I went into the hospital for some cardiac testing to try to puzzle out some answers on troublesome ekgs and stress tests. So while I was waiting for my procedure I sat and read all my wonderful Facebook birthday messages.  I was sort of amused that everyone assumed I was gallivanting around, eating gourmet food with a champagne toast when instead I had been fasting before heading to the cardiac care unit. Aaah, social media self vs real life. (Although to be fair, I did not post any fake photos on my birthday.)
The operating room techs shared a slice of a fellow staffer's cake with me after my procedure!
 Happily, nothing was discovered that required surgical intervention. I am thrilled and beyond relieved. It was scary feeling like a ticking time bomb.  It was also a reminder that I need to take better care of myself.  With all the medical hi-jinks my husband has been through all I pretty much coast on the fact that I have never had high cholesterol or sugars and that even though I am overweight I "carry it well" and am fairly active physically.  Apparently that is not sufficient when one hits middle age. So off to the gym I will go.

Which was WAY tastier than the salt free dinner I got as I recovered.
 I use social media to hold myself accountable in my art practice. If I look at my feeds and see nothing new it's time to hit the studio. I also use social media to remind myself to look for beauty in the details. My son harasses me occasionally about stopping to take photos as opposed to just experiencing the moment.  I tell him by looking for photos I notice things I might not if were not looking for beauty.  I am an optimistic person that doesn't dwell on the negative in real life and I think my social media self reflects that as well.  I am annoying pragmatic and realistic 99% of the time but I think complaining or being negative is truly a waste of breath so here I am, in all my creaky middle age splendor.
Here's what 58 with no make up and new earrings looks like.  Happy birthday to me. 
PS on the 100 day project blog the night before I went into the hospital- there was a wonderful post about not beating yourself up if you missed a day or 8. My competitive self was grateful for the permission to rest. this will be Day 20 of 100. I am proud of myself for not bailing...

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

Bunny shortcakes
 Holidays tend to bring out the food memories and traditions with people.  One of our now favorite Easter desserts - Strawberry Bunny Shortcakes started somewhat whimsically.  Back in the olden days (early 90's) there was a gourmet chocolate shop in Tysons Corner called Ethel M's.  It was named for Mr. Mars' Mom. Yes, Mars of Mars Chocolate Co. Ethel M's made beautiful, flavorful gourmet confections and they were a Stifel family special occasion treat.

At Easter one year they sold handsome cookie cutters filled to the brim with chocolate. The cutters were supposed to be a decoration I think but they were adorable functional cutters and I use the cutter the following year to make our shortcakes a little more festive. And that is how they have been made, of course, ever since!

Do you have any quirky holiday dessert traditions?  Do tell!
Bunny shortcakes moved to the coast last year!
PS Happily we have two cutters so someday the kids will each have one when they set up housekeeping and start cooking Easter dinner!

Friday, April 19, 2019

"For I am His and He is mine" the promise of Good Friday

 Today has been a dark day as has been my mood. Most of the East Coast is getting pummeled by quite the storm, high winds, whipping rain, the day is quite dark. I have been struggling with some health issues and lucky me I get to go in to the hospital for an exploratory procedure next week on my birthday. While the staff is apologetic they all agree it needs to be done. So I am going.

My mood ranges being sanguine and terrified. (Wait a minute, I know I am chubby but aren't I supposed to be the healthy one in the family???) I am delighted I have access to modern healthcare but yet still one worries...

What has been a comfort the last few days is songs that pop into my head.  I wish I could say I was a good enough Christian that bible verses would be ever present comfort, but ahem, that is not quite true. Instead what appears are Christian rock tunes and sacramental songs.  This morning I was getting ready to go on my walk and the modern hymn "In Christ Alone" popped into my head and wouldn't leave.  I sang it through about three times. This song is cathartic.  I can't say it was all good because the song moves me to tears, literal tears every time I hear it.  I have sung this song at Sunday services, at a wedding, at funerals, even at a concert featuring the composer.  Every. Single Time. It makes me cry.  And I am not a crier. But it's a reminder, what ever the outcome, it's all good. Especially on Good Friday.

The lyrics are below.

If you would like to read the story behind this song or hear it played click here.

“In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

Somewhere between resignation and determination - scraping faces

 I posted this photo on social media yesterday and I realized that I have reaching a new stage in my artistic development.  I am no longer panicked and filled with doom when I have to scrape a face away and start over (not shown, the other three I scraped and didn't take a photo).
 I noticed all the "scrapes" in the past have been portraits. All faces need to be proportional of course but portraits have to be exact.  Otherwise they just aren't the same person.  Move a nose half an inch wider or an eye a quarter inch down and it is just not the same person!
 Generally when I am painting a face that is not a portrait I don't worry about it as much, I just figure it gives the subject more personality!  This time though I just looked at it and said "Nope, this isn't it". Now mind you I have no idea what Miss Now Blue Face wants to be yet. I will let you know when she "tells" me.
But it is very exciting to realize I am not longer scared to scrape or cover up something that isn't working. Instead of being scared I am now working from a place of somewhere between resignation (sigh, this isn't working) to confidence (you can do better, try again). I guess that is why they call it an art practice.
If you want to see other works in practice/progress or finished works  (including these with faces!) the best way to stay current is to visit my Instagram feed or Facebook page and follow along.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

"Who's Playing a MaxFli 2?" and other questions I ask myself as I am cleaning up the beach.

 Our shore front looks quite picturesque from the house. One of the reasons we bought our dream home was the southern facing panoramic view of the York River.  Look to the left you can see the Chesapeake Bay and the sunrise, look to the right and you can see far up river toward the Coleman Bridge and the sunset. The water quality in the Chesapeake is at a all time high (read about the good news here.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that our current Congress will continue to defend the great progress that has been made in conservation practices. I try to do my part by cleaning up litter when I walk on the roads (remember everything flows to the Bay and then the Ocean eventually) and our beach.
 Happily, most days our beach at low tide looks like this - tons of shells, weird pieces of driftwood and the occasional pine cone. Days after storms tend to bring man made flotsam. Today's haul was quite eclectic.  Broken bottles, a patio light, chip bags, chicken wire, plastic tubing, soda cans and a golf ball.  (not shown, a sock, a glove and 2 10 foot fence posts!)
Not sure of someone is using the back of the boat as a driving range or what. But river litterer, I've got your number and it's a MaxFli 2.

Note to self: that darker sand is silt and you will sink if you step on it with your new, no longer pristing, walking shoes...

As Woodsy the Owl used to say.  "Give a hoot, don't pollute". Brought to you by the woman that likes to walk barefoot on the beach.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A Most Unconventional Abstract Wedding Portrait

I have a client I call an UnIntentional Muse (behind her back, I must confess). I met her years ago at my old shop in Falls Church where I always admired her graciousness and sense of style.  When she started her floral business I followed her journey both in real life and on social media.

While Deborah does beautiful glorious wedding and event work she was never too busy to whip up a corsage or boutonniere for my kids as they headed off to a high school dance.

I am very inspired by Deborah's color combinations.   Way back when, I was so taken with a casual bouquet Instagram post I asked her if I could paint it. (See the painting here.) Her tulips were an inspiration for some paintings this spring as well.
Marriage Muses

Deborah has always been a very positive about my art and really supportive as I try out ideas. When I saw this wonderful casual wedding photo of her son and his new bride I felt inspired to try something new. An abstract that alluded to the photo but that would be sort of a "hidden portrait". An art piece that you could hang on your wall that didn't necessarily say "We just got back from our honeymoon".

 I started out with a stretch canvas and blocked in basic forms.
 I played with adding and scraping back many layers of paint using palette knives, paint brushes and other tools. The hardest thing about this process is letting a layer dry before adding the next so it doesn't turn to mud! I tried to keep an eye on my inspiration photo to keep its proportions and lightness in mind.  This was tricky as I don't normally use this much white but it was fun to play with the texture of the paint and the multiple layers.
 Deborah was tickled with this unconventional approach - I am looking forward to trying this again with different photo.  Let me know if you have one you would like me to tackle!
Mountain Wedding by TW Stifel

See Deborah's other beautiful floral work
Wedding photo courtesy of

Monday, April 15, 2019

"We are homesick most for the places we have never known.' Carson McCullers.

 I must confess I didn't recognize Carson McCullers name when I stopped dead in my Instagram feed when I saw this photo. Upon reading a birthday tribute to the author of 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" all I could think of was that she herself looked hunted, or perhaps haunted. The unattributed photo followed my thoughts, I felt compelled to try to capture that look in her eyes.
 Reading a little more about her (like the Wall Street Journal article here or the mini bio here) revealed a complex, challenging life. Now I need to decide which of her novels to read first. Please do tell me if you have a favorite.
Carson MCCullers - detail by TW Stifel
 This portrait is on stretched canvas with a loose collage of vintage and antique papers adhered as a foundation.  I pencil sketched her face. Many erasures later I used Liquitex acrylic paints thinned with gel medium to almost a watercolor transparency to paint her features and shadows. The shirt was sculpted in heavy body acrylic with a palette knife, scraping it pretty hard so the paper was show through.  I am pretty happy with how she came out.
99% of the photos of McCullers are somber so I was delighted to see this one on

Sunday, April 14, 2019

First Fruits - Tomatoes are a Fruit, right?

 My next door neighbor back in Northern Virginia was quite the generous Master Gardener. He ascribed to the biblical principle of "first fruits". Working on the theory that everything belongs to God the ancients would offer up the first fruits of their harvest as a sign of gratitude. Henry did not take his to the temple but lucky for us he brought them to his neighbors. I was especially excited when I received the first raspberry!
Turns out our Coastal Virginia next door neighbors are just as generous green thumbs. They came over this afternoon bearing a flat of robust grown-from-seed plants that we can transfer into our newest raised beds! This is especially exciting for us because our old house was as treed as the lane leading up to our house so we couldn't grow anything other than ferns.  Our new house (Theresa quit saying "new " you've lived here for 18 months!) has a sunny flat backyard, perfect for gardening. I feel so honored that they shared their first fruits with us.
The weather has been crazy here in Virginia. Spring has been especially long because it's been so cool. But it's rained insanely throughout the year and especially lately. We had two inches just yesterday. I swear you could here the leaves unfurling! These two photos were taken 48 hours apart.

Spring always feels like the New Year to me. Maybe it's because my birthday is April, maybe it's all the new growth all around but I am inclined to think big thoughts, make big plans, conjure big ideas, in the spring. I'm excited to see what my first fruits will be.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Showing up in the Rain

 I woke up this morning to the torrential sound of pouring rain and Facebook reminding me of a dozen local markets, fairs and events in the area. All outside of course.  I must confess my first reaction was relief I wasn't vending at any one them and I prepared to do nothing more than putter around my house all day.
 But I rallied, dragged my husband away from finishing the taxes, loaded the car up with umbrellas and slickers and headed to Norfolk to the spring Crafted Munchie Market at the O'Connor Brewing Co.   Happily O'Connor's is vast so there was room for artists and makers both indoors and out.   We were so glad we went. It was a great turn-out even with the soggy weather.  We bought some beautiful goodies and met some really talented folks. I was glad we got off our duffs and went out and supported local creatives.  You work so hard to get ready for a show and it can be very demoralizing if you have a lousy turnout.
 I found out I like Sour Oatmeal Tripel draft (trust me it tasted better than that sounded). The bad news was the food trucks couldn't run their generators in the deluge.  Good news when we snuck around the corner to The Public House to grab a late lunch they were serving, you guessed it O'Connor on tap.  Live, Love, Local!  I highly recommend the fried green tomatoes and the mushroom sandwich.
 The other good news? Finished the taxes.  Paid a lot more than last year but hey, they are DONE thanks to my in house CFO.

Friday, April 12, 2019

When Your Project Matches Your View

 I am in the beginning stages of pinning up this upcycled dress today and then I went for my walk.
 Apparently Mother Nature approves of my color combinations!
 The base of this dress is a classically shaped Isaac Mizrahi princess seamed frock.  It has some microscopic snags on it so I can't sell it as-is.  But structurally it is sound, it's beautifully made and fully lined so I felt compelled to play with it.
 These photos are a little washed out- no sunshine once I went back to work this afternoon. I will try some more in the morning light tomorrow.
I had a choppy last couple of days, doctor's appointments, repair guys in and out, no concentration to paint. Playing in fabric piles is a happy diversion. Certainly more fun than cleaning house, that's for sure.