Daddy's Christmas Angel

Friday, February 17, 2017

A House in the Woods Is Special

"House in the Woods Getting New Roof" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Years ago, when my husband and I were newlyweds, we picked out land for our first house. After exploring many locations in our little town, we decided on some heavily-wooded property that included more than we needed. It was beautiful, remote, and lacked a street to it. At the time, we thought we would live in this house for a few years, then move elsewhere.

My father-in-law took great interest in the building of this house. My husband drew the plans. It was special.

As the construction was underway, we decided to lift the roof higher, so that second-floor rooms might be completed at a later date. The house featured a heat-pump and was the first total electric home in our community. It was special.

The house was built on a site that left as many of the natural dogwood and other trees as possible. Every window in the house provided a picturesque view of the surrounding wooded landscape. The edge of the woods on our land overlooked a creek coming off a river that the first English colonists explored long ago. This house was special.

Three children lived and grew up in this house. They played among the trees, watched the fruit trees we planted in the orchard grow tall. They saw the small magnolia turned into a giant tree overlooking the far corner of the property. This land was special.

A street I never wanted was built. We sold the property on the other side of the street for two houses to be built. We eventually built a studio for my painting, complete with skylights. This house was more special than I ever dreamed it would be. How could we leave it? It was part of the family.

As I write this post, I look out over the woods beyond my writing studio window. The trees are barren this time of

"Winter Trees at Sunset" ©Mary Montague Sikes
year, but they still intrigue me. I have photographed and painted them through many seasons of the year. I will paint them again. I wonder what images they have seen over the years.

Hurricane Isabel ripped some of the largest trees in our woods from the ground. As the waters of the Mattaponi River overwhelmed the creek, the winds destroyed our orchard. We didn't replace the fruit trees. Now, a grassy knoll with green grass stretches where the trees once stood.

We love our house in the woods. Entering my painting studio or the writing studio brings me a feeling of joy. Our first house grew into our forever home. It would be difficult to leave this special place and all the memories that lie hidden inside these walls.

As seasons pass and leave their mark, trees are beautiful any time of year. A house rising among their branches is always special.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

What Journalists Expect from Your Website

"Sunset at 35,000 Feet" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Do you have a website? I expect that most of you do, especially if you are promoting either your book or your art, or maybe both.

Perhaps you have something unexpected on your site, like my sunset picture that would probably seem out of place unless you are promoting photographs. But it could be an attention-grabber if you wanted to draw someone in to take a longer look. Sometimes it's good to feature a surprise.

If journalists are looking at your site to find out more about you, will they like what they see? Will they find all the information they need to write your story or to want to contact you for more. If you are an author or an artist, you need publicity to develop your brand, to become known.

Here are some thoughts about what you need on your website:

1. A brief description of who you are and what you do. Example: Mary Elevator Jones is the author of five dynamic adventure novels, including the acclaimed, Up to the Sky, which has spent nine months at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.

2. A list of your latest releases, including books (with covers and Amazon and/or publisher links) and magazine articles (if you write them).

3. Your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, and other contact information.

4. A short bio with photographs. Use large enough files (200 dpi) so the photos will be usable in an article written about you.

5. Your logo--get one if you don't already have it--, youtube videos (if you have them), book trailers.

6. Press coverage about you, including newspaper stories, radio, TV links, and anything else you think is pertinent.

7. Press releases about you and your work that are ready to use. Have pdf. and Word versions.

As I look at my list, I realize that I do not have all of this on my website. I need to take a look and add a lot.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Journey to Costa Rica

"Last Evening in Costa Rica" ©Olen Sikes
Last summer, when I went to pick up my painting and piece of sculpture from the Chesapeake Bay Pen Women show at the Bay School in Mathews, several women urged me to support the Bay School endeavors by purchasing a raffle ticket. The Bay School Community Arts Center has been a wonderful facility for area artists, providing classes, a gallery for display, and much more, so, of course, I wanted to buy a ticket.

Although I didn't have a pocketbook with me at the time, I remembered the emergency money stashed away with my cell phone. I found a $20 bill there and purchased the ticket, expecting only to make a donation and nothing more. I forgot about it, so you can imagine my surprise when Pam Doss, executive director, called at the end of September with the news that I had won the trip to Costa Rica.

The prize was round trip airfare for two, along with a stay at one of two Marriotts located there. After researching both resorts, we chose Los Suenos Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort at Herradura, partly because it was available in January when Virginia is often cold and dreary.

I was especially excited because the only "Passenger to Paradise" book I have ever written without visiting the location is Jungle Jeopardy which features part of its setting in Costa Rica. Now that I have been there, I can feel most confident about the details I researched.

The Los Suenos Marriott Resort is lovely, situated next to a luxury marina that was hosting a three-leg fishing tournament which appeared to be quite an important event. I know nothing about fishing nor related tournaments, so I could only observe the setting up efforts and imagine what would take place later.

The resort pools were magical. The buffet breakfast (included in our package) each day was outstanding. We were happy to enjoy many of the features at the resort, including a zumba class and Spanish lessons.

I'm happy I found that hidden $20 bill and that Olen and I enjoyed the luxury of Los Suenos Resort. Thank you, Bay School, for a magical and memorable trip to Costa Rica.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Broken Heart Syndrome - Is It Real?

"Broken Heart" ©Mary Montague Sikes
The death of Debbie Reynolds only a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher passed away has stirred discussions about broken heart syndrome. After I started researching this on the Internet, I was surprised by the amount of material I discovered there.

According to many researchers, including a past president of the American Heart Association, broken heart syndrome is real, can be triggered by sudden unexpected emotional stress, and can be fatal. Stress that provokes heart arrhythmia can lead to death.

While I don't believe the actual cause of death has been determined in the case of Debbie Reynolds, her son, Todd Fisher, reported that Reynolds was on the phone with him when she was strickened. 

"I want to be with Carrie," she said.

The two women were very close and, in fact, lived next door to each other. The loss was a shock.

I was interested to read that a Duke University study several years ago suggested that married couples have lower rates of heart disease than singles or those not in long-term relationships.

Perhaps romance novels with happy endings are more than fiction. Perhaps they reflect a bit of heart reality. People can actually die of a broken heart.

What do you think?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Creating an Angel Card - Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All

"Angel from Xanadu - Mystic Visions" ©Mary Montague Sikes
For quite a long time I have painted an angel for Christmas each year and then made cards using the new image. For 2016, devising the right painting to share was especially hard for me. Negativity covered our land and although it became a prevailing wind over which I had no control I continued to try.

After creating my first angel image that I liked, I discovered my new painting on canvas would not work as a card. The colors didn't resonate for Christmas, and the painting actually looked best when paired on the studio wall with another new painting created during the summer.
"Angels Maybe" ©Mary Montague Sikes

Back I went to the studio to try making a new watercolor painting on Yupo--"Angel Wings-Mystic Visions". While I really love this dramatic painting, I soon realized it would probably not work well for a Christmas card. Once again, it was back to the studio.
"Angel Wings - Mystic Visions" ©Mary Montague Sikes
This time I decided to include a more traditional angel in my painting, "Angel from Xanadu - Mystic Visions". This, too, is watercolor on Yupo. However, the angel is painted with gesso and acrylic paints.

Because I am fascinated with the idea of a magical place in a fantasy universe that I call "Xanadu", this will be part of my new series of paintings. I'll be writing more about the mysterious and colorful planet of Xanadu during 2017. I will also create additional paintings about a place in space where peace and beauty reign.

What do you think? Do you believe in mystic visions?

Merry Christmas!