Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, November 20, 2017

Guillain-Barre Syndrome Changes Everything

My little date book was full for the month of November. Lots of exciting plans spread out over the pages--book signings, art openings, a radio appearance. I looked forward to so many events to promote my new children's book, An Artful Animal Alphabet.

Then along came Guillain-Barre Syndrome out of nowhere. My husband awakened on October 30, 2017 unable to move out of the reclining chair where he had fallen asleep at 6 a.m. He was paralyzed. A friend came to help and couldn't move him. We called the rescue squad. They all suspected a stroke.

All my plans changed. The month disappeared from my calendar. I slept in a chair in his hospital room; so did one of our daughters. The medical teams did not know what he had, much less what caused it. The MRIs--first, two of them at Riverside Doctors Hospital in Williamsburg, then the big one at Riverside Regional in Newport News--showed nothing, but it was not a stroke. Then Dr. John Livingstone decided it could be Guillain-Barre Syndrome and started him on a five-day IV treatment. That specially formulated drug and the oh so many prayers worked a miracle. I watched him practice raising his arms and legs all through the night of the second day of treatment. It was amazing. He went from not being able to feed himself to getting almost normal movement of his arms and hands over night.

I don't think I had ever heard of Guillain-Barre syndrome before. This rare disorder causes the body's immune system to attack its nerves. Usually the first symptoms are "weakness and tingling in your extremities." The symptoms spread quickly and paralyze the entire body. The cause is unknown, but sometimes it is traced back to a respiratory illness or stomach flu. My husband had neither. I've read that someone got it after a senior flu shot. My husband was told to never get another shot--flu, shingles, pneumonia, etc. I also read about cases they believe can be traced back to under-cooked poultry including rotisserie chicken. I don't plan to buy those chickens again at the grocery store.

My husband is fortunate. He spent only one week in intensive rehab and came home walking without the aid of a cane or a walker. I spent that week on a small bed in his room.

Guillain-Barre changed everything. I am playing catch-up in a big way while my husband works to regain his strength. My next big event is an art show and book signing at Rappahannock Art League in Kilmarnock on December 1. I hope Olen will be strong enough by then to drive at night across the long bridge over the Rappahannock River.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Saving the Alligators at the Jefferson Hotel

Alligator Photo in Jefferson History Museum ©MM Sikes
Over the years, one of the most fascinating stories I have encountered is that of the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia where alligators once roamed in the lobby. According to hotel history, following a fire, renovations were made to the hotel soon after the turn of the 20th Century. Soon, live alligators were placed in the marble pools that were located next to the statue of Thomas Jefferson in the rotunda.

Over the years, people who had brought alligators home from Florida to keep as pets found that they were taking up too much space in their bathtubs, so they would bring the reptiles to join those already at the hotel. Some were left in containers on counters; others were deposited at doors. 

Stories have it that bellmen would sweep alligators from the furniture upon their arrival in early morning. The exotic creatures became part of the hotel lore. One tale has it that an alligator once wandered into the hotel library and was mistaken for a footstool by a guest.

Old Pompey, the last of the resident alligators, died in 1948. Today, a bronze statue by an entrance
"Old Pompey" at the Jefferson ©Mary Montague Sikes
door pays homage to him.

Anyone who wants more alligators can also visit the Gators Gift Shop on the lower level of the hotel. You won't find live alligators there, but the stuffed toy variety might be more appealing anyway.

In my new book, An Artful Animal Alphabet, Old Pompey is part of the story that I think children will enjoy. My fascination with the Jefferson alligators continues.

 Product Details

Friday, October 6, 2017

Enjoying a Kathleen Conover Workshop

Kathleen Conover Demonstration ©Mary Montague Sikes
Every year, I enjoy taking one artist workshop. Somehow, this year I went a little crazy and took three. Last week, we traveled to Boone, North Carolina and Cheap Joe's magnificent workshop facility for Kathleen Conover's outstanding class.

Because I don't usually like working on Arches watercolor paper which headed the supply list, I doubted I would get very much from this workshop. However, because Mary Ann Beckwick often spoke of Kathleen during her classes and because it was at Cheap Joe's, I wanted to take the workshop.

I was not disappointed. "Chaos to Order" was one of the best workshops I have ever taken. Kathleen is thorough and provides a detailed outline for her instruction at the very beginning.

The first day we made 12 starts, creating "chaos" by "playing" with texture, repetition, variety, and much more as we worked with her patented "gesso juice". By 5 p.m., I was exhausted and ready for dinner. We had the beginning of paintings, using plastic wrap, wax paper, stencils, stamps, sponges, and much more.

The week continued at the same fast pace. I didn't create any masterpieces, but I learned a lot about composition and using design. Of course, I already knew a great deal, but sometimes reinforcement is something everyone needs. The small works (1/4 watercolor sheet) can be planning art for larger paintings or they can be finished pieces in themselves.

It was inspiring to be in the midst of a classroom full of dedicated artists. We each had two tables on which to work. We all did value studies and spent time editing our work. I loved being with them and with Kathleen for the week. Now I need to read over and study the class outline once more and use it to make order out of the original "chaos" pieces I didn't complete in class.
In the midst of chaos.

Monday, September 18, 2017

We Can't Control the Weather

Island Club 2016 ©Mary Montague Sikes
A few weeks ago, I thought I had everything figured out--book events and art happenings. We would drive down to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, enjoy the beach and favorite restaurants for a few days, then I would teach two three-day workshops at the Art Academy. It would be fun. I looked forward to expanding my wings with cold wax as well as exploring more mixed media with students. During our time at Hilton Head, I hoped to learn to play pickle ball on the beautiful Island Club tennis courts.

At the end of the week, we planned to get on the road for four hours, heading down to Valdosta, Georgia for a book signing and children's program for An Artful Animal Alphabet. I would get to know my new publisher and visit an Art Center. What could be more perfect?!

Well, as you know, Mother Nature in the form of Hurricane Irma had other plans. Our resort, Island Club, in Hilton Head was closed and the road entering the community, blocked. Although we hoped to get part of our week's vacation, we learned that the resort would remain closed for the rest of the week and some units for this week as well. In addition, the bookstore in Valdosta suffered some water damage, so that signing event was cancelled as well.
Hyatt Windward Point Key West ©Mary Montague Sikes

We are glad we chose Key West over Sedona for a vacation trip in May. Windward Point was beautiful then, and I suspect the lush palm trees and green grass are lush and green no more. And, too, I wonder about the fascinating pieces of sculpture that greet visitors as they land at the airport and later as they stroll the streets, drinks in hand. Could they have survived? I hope, but I doubt. Perhaps with damage.

We make plans. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. We can't control the weather.

Perhaps one day ...

Seward Johnson sculpture Key West ©Mary Montague Sikes

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Scheduling Events for My New Book - An Artful Animal Alphabet

An Artful Animal Alphabet is my first book directed mostly to children. Because of the artwork,  it is an adult book as well that might even be fun to display on a coffee table.

I have just begun to schedule events for my new hardcover book. The paintings in the book are ones I created for the April Blog Challenge several years ago. At the time, I had no plans for a book. Then I grew fascinated with the results and decided the mostly small paintings deserved to be seen by more people. Now, I realize that means scheduling events in art galleries as well as in book stores and other shops.

My first art gallery signing is scheduled for Petersburg's Friday for the Arts on September 8 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Ward Gallery for Contemporary Art. This is a beautiful site for any event, so I expect it to be very special for a book signing. I plan to exhibit a few of the little paintings in addition to having my books there. My paintings from the first gallery show I had at the Ward Center are also there, so this will be a very special combination for me.

Some of the paintings in An Artful Animal Alphabet are based on photographs taken by my daughter, Amy Sikes, during trips to Australia and Tazmania. Amy is a true animal-lover who finds most fur creatures special. I chose one of her photos as my reference material for the possum which is a bit of a different animal down under than the American opossum.

Later this month, I have a signing scheduled in Valdosta, Georgia. On November 4, I'll participate in the Book Festival at the James City branch of Williamsburg Regional Library. At all the locations, I plan to have some of my original paintings that inspired the book. I also have a little art project to do with children that will relate to my book.
My paintings at The Ward Center ©Mary Montague Sikes

These are fun books. If you have suggestions for book signing locations, I would love to hear about them.