Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Peace Be With You

If 2012 turns out to be our last year, let's make it a good one.

Here's to peace, love, growth and prosperity in the new year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Here's hoping that you have peace in your life and that whatever might prevent that peace can be enlightened or given a hug or a sandwich.

Here's hoping that your fears can loom just far enough away for you to have a good time and just close enough to keep you safe.

Here's hoping that your burdens are only heavy enough to make you feel strong.

Here's hoping that love will keep you buoyant.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tis the Season


I presently have four lists in my back pocket, six in my pocketbook, two in my coat, three on the kitchen island and an unknown amount on or near my desk.

I have a rule about the holiday season; If it makes me stressed out, I don't do it.

Freaking out over money, gifts, relatives and food ruins the whole deal for me.

This is not to say that I don't ever stress about those things. When I start to (or after I have already lost it), I stop what I am doing.

I ask myself if this is something I really want to do.

If the answer is "no" I cut it out (baking anything, for example).

If the answer is "yes", then I stop complaining and figure out how to do it in a joyful way (ask someone else to bake or buy baked goods, for example).

Sounds like I am just tricking myself into having a Merry Christmas?


The mind trick and the lists, works every time.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Let it Snow

I'm not a big fan of cold weather. There are some great things about snow though.

I love how beautiful it can be. The light refracted off of all those tiny crystals really is quite magical, before the snowplows, cars and people muddy it up anyways.

My favorite thing about snow is the opportunity to build something.

We used to make some great forts out of the icy top layer of the snow.  Best to wait until the top layer was frozen enough for a 50lb. kid to walk on without breaking through. We'd break off the chunks like pieces of slate and stack them up, stone wall style.

Snow people and animals were also fun. I never could get one to look as perfectly round as I had seen in picture books. The snow was not as pure. When you roll the snow across the yard you are pretty likely to pick up leaves, pine needles, pine cones, dirt and acorns as you go. There also was never a top hat available to place on his head upon his head. It was fun anyways. It still is.

The coolest thing I ever saw built in the snow was a homemade sledding track made by my cousin, Tim. 

The winter he built it was one of those classic New England winters where the snow was never in short supply and the temperatures never got above 32 degrees (F).  Tim was out there with shovels of all sizes and buckets of water to smooth and perfect the curves of the track. 

The back yard had just enough incline and square feet to get you up to heart-beat-skipping speed with jumps that only almost broke your tailbone. 

I was happy to ride it and I was happy to go inside where Auntie had a cup of warm cocoa waiting for me.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dude, Sweet


My daughter and I go see a local production of the Nutcracker every year.  The local dance schools do some pretty impressive productions, but after last year's show we decided that we were ready to see the real thing.

I set the money for the tickets aside in January, so that when the time came I wouldn't cop-out due to sticker shock.

November came around and I realized that we would be in New York on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  We had planned on going to the Boston show, but why not do New York and have Auntie come with us?

We got all dolled up and went to the matinee show at Lincoln Center.

It was a magical show. 

The live orchestra, beautiful, the sparkly sets, the colorful costumes and the amazing feats of athleticism from the dancers were enchanting.

When we got back to Auntie's we decided that no matter what the word was for Illustration Friday, I would have to do an image from the show.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mirror, Mirror


The battle cries between, "I don't care what other people think" and "I want to look young and beautiful" get louder and louder, the older I get.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Afraid of the Wolf

When I was a kid the woods were my backyard. It was easy for me to picture all those fairy tales that took place in the forest.

I was a quick study of the lessons from the stories that often ended in children meeting their doom.

I wasn't scared of these stories. I took them as useful information and filed them in my mind for future reference. This way I would know what to do if I came upon a house made of gingerbread or a talking wolf while I was playing in the woods.

Get locked in a tower? Grow my hair long. Got it.

White rocks, not breadcrumbs. Don't give directions to Grandma's house.

I still find much of the advice useful because I know that if you make the wrong choice you will get eaten by the wolf.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sunshine on My Shoulders

My favorite time of the workday is when the sun works its way to the west side of the building. This is  where the window next to my desk is. The large pane fills with sunshine.

I can hardly see the computer screen but the greenhouse effect on my little patch of the office is like a mug of hot cocoa.  The perfect combination of warmth and pep to get me through the rest of the day.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark


Where I live, I always have a great view of the night sky.

We have a low tree line, most of the buildings are two stories (or lower) and there is very little light pollution.  I love the night here. Dark.

The night usually starts out with a spectacular sunset.  Then the sky, like an overworked watercolor turns dark.  The stars and the moon start to appear as if on a dimmer switch in God's living room.

There is a new show every night.

Even on foggy or cloudy nights you can feel the vastness of the universe like a tremendous ocean that Earth is a little beach ball floating around in.

The morning sky brings a no less spectacular sunrise and lights the solid  and defined world. This is beautiful as well but leaves less to the imagination than the darkness of night.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Coffee Kingdom

Like any good Irish-American girl I was raised as a tea drinker.  I love tea.

My first impulse when company comes is to turn the kettle on as I offer a cup to my guests. The lighting of the tea kettle is also the first step to any* crisis situation. Tea is my rock, my friend, my life companion.

I also love coffee. I love coffee in a more desperate, get this coursing through my veins kind of way.  This may sound like an addiction.  I admit to times of abuse but I have it under control presently. I limit myself to around 16 ounces a day.  I can get through the day without it.

If I do start to get twitchy there is always my tea, patient and kind, to make everything alright.

*birth, death, illness, car, school, family, work, home, friends, etc.

Monday, October 17, 2011


My family and I went to New York City last weekend.

We were overdue for a visit. 

We spent the first day circumnavigating the Borough of Queens in an attempt to visit all of my in-laws in one day. We lucked out with sunny and warm weather. It was great to see our country kids bonding with their city cousins on the playground.

The next day we went to the Met

That place is nuts. 

There is soooooo much to see.

We did our best to cram in as much viewing as we could.


I had been there many times before, but I had never taken my kids. It was like seeing it all new again. Due to the unseasonably warm weather we had the treat of going up to the roof garden, which has a beautiful view of Central Park and the city.

We headed back to my brother and sister-in-law's in time for the Patriots game.

Even though I love the Pat's, I didn't come all the way to NYC to sit and watch a regular season game when I can do that on any given Sunday on my couch at home.

So, I took the girl on a long (Sunday schedule plus construction) subway ride downtown.

We went to Zuccotti Park.

I figured we should check out the protest while we were in town. The best thing about that was having to get my thoughts together enough to explain to my almost ten-year-old what the people were protesting.

On our way back to the subway, we caught a glimpse of the setting sun reflecting off the new World Trade Center tower.

For a moment I thought of making a left turn and heading towards the memorial.  My head was already swirling from an overstimulating weekend and the second-hand smoke at the protest.  I knew I wasn't ready to go there.

I don't know if I ever will be.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Apples and Oranges

I heard a clip of Steve Jobs' now famous commencement speech on Fresh Air the other day.  His words  about doing what you love reminded me of a grocery clerk that I had met when I was a college student.

I was working at a grocery store for the summer. I was getting trained along with a bunch of other college and high school kids. The woman who was training us was probably in her late forties. I don't remember her name but she was very kind and patient with us. She showed us how to use the cash register and scanner. We watched a video on how to bag groceries and we were given instructions on how to enter coupons and food stamps.

At the end of our training she gave a short speech, wishing us luck and letting us know that she would be around if we needed any help. Then she ended the talk by telling us how much she loved her job.

She explained how she loved working with people and being a part of the community. She felt very lucky to be doing something that she loved and wished the same for all of us.

Her little talk didn't have anything to do with our training and seemed unlikely to have much effect on a bunch of kids that probably weren't going to be working at the store past Labor Day.

But, her words have always stuck with me in my pursuit to do what I love.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Eat Your Books


I do not have a hard time saying, "No" to my children.

I am a thrifty gal who comes from a long line of people who make do with what they have. "Redigo, Reuse, Redivius" has been our family's motto for centuries.  Loosely translated means, "You don't need that".

However, there are two expensive items that I always say, "Yes." to.

Vegetables and Books.

"May I have more broccoli?"  "Yes!"

"Can I get two books instead of one at the Book Fair?  Please?"  "Yes!"

I am a sucker every time and they know it. Thankfully, the library and their small stomachs keep us from going broke.

Monday, September 26, 2011


 "Show your work." was a constant refrain from my teachers over the years.

The math teachers didn't like to see just a number for an answer. The English teachers didn't like an essay that didn't have a rough draft (preferably with research index cards included).

I didn't want to show my work.

When you ask a magician, "How did you do that?", the answer is of course, "Magic!". We are willing to accept that.  Why can't the answer just be, "seven" and leave it at that?

On the other hand I am a big fan of behind-the-scenes. I love to watch short manufacturing films.

The pencil sketches portion of a major art exhibit is usually my favorite part.

So, here is a glimpse of my process.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It is September.


Possibly, late September.

Time for the fall plan.

Time to take the body boards and beach chairs out of the trunk.

Time to take a look around and decide my next step.

No more time to mourn the end of summer.

I must try to remember how much I love fresh apples and pumpkin beer and how good I look in tweed.

Must make some new goals and learn some new stuff.

Must get down to brass tacks, because it is after all, September.

Monday, June 27, 2011


This is the last word in the spelling list series.  It is good timing because school is already out. Here is how I spent my day which I would normally spend in the studio.

I did several loads of  laundry.

I got the guest room (laundry room) ready for summer visitors.

I signed the kids up for parks and rec.

We went to a park and recreated.

Took the kids to the doctor for the yearly check-up.

Went to the neighbor's house to sit in the shade with an ice coffee while the kids swam in the neighbor's pool.

Now it is after supper and I am alone in the studio for a little while.

So, the plan for the summer is to sneak up here or sneak the laptop into the house whenever I get a chance.

I plan on keeping up with Illustration Friday and I hope to have enough time to work on some picture books that I have started.

I am also thinking about taking an online Adobe Illustrator course to sharpen my skills.  I have gotten pretty comfortable working with Corel Painter and Adobe Photoshop but I have avoided really diving in with Illustrator.

I taught myself Photoshop and Painter by using online tutorials and books from the library. This method is cost efficient but not time efficient. A class would keep me on task.

I am having a good time working digitally. I am at the point where I am drawing my preliminary sketches with the pen tablet. The first time I used the tablet it felt like driving stick-shift in London when I am used to driving automatic on the U.S. Interstate.

A year ago I was only using software for clean-up and coloring of scanned images.

I'd like to  change the saying to, "You can teach some old dogs, some new tricks".

Enjoy the summer, my favorite season.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


If you are in the NYC area check out this show that I did an unsolicited poster for:


for just the t-shirt

Monday, June 20, 2011


Three of my earliest memories have to do with cake. 

I remember my little sister's one-year-old birthday cake was a beautiful gingerbread house made by my dad's cousin.  "Those Christmas babies don't have it so bad.", I remember thinking.

A couple months later we had cupcakes for my birthday. There were little, plastic, Mickey Mouse characters on top of each one. It was fun to play with something that I had just licked, behavior usually discouraged.

About a week after that we were going to a friend's seventh birthday party. My mother had made a complicated sailboat cake. It was the kind that required cutting a sheet cake into various geometric shapes and then rearranging them like tangrams to look like a sailboat.  It was lovely. There was a number seven frosted on to one of the buttercream sails to make it look like a racing boat.

As my mother was carefully placing the cake into the holder I exclaimed, "Wow! You never make cakes that fancy for your own kid's birthdays".

I meant to let her know that I was impressed, but I could tell by the look on her face that I had said the wrong thing.

She calmly put the lid on the cake holder and said, "He doesn't have a mother to make a birthday cake for him" and we joined the rest of the family in the car to leave for the party.  There was no further discussion on the subject.

At four years old I didn't understand the gravity of the situation. 

I did realize, as I do today that I was lucky to have a mom that could make a cake like that even if it wasn't for my birthday.

Illustration Friday-launch

Tuesday, June 7, 2011



Because we have to go.


Because you have had enough.


Because you agreed.


Because Daddy is waiting for us.


Because your turn is over.


Because I don't have another quarter.


Because you don't have permission.


Because you will get sick.


Because I asked you nicely.



Because...I said so.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Illustration Friday-asleep

This was originally posted in the Spelling List series as "each".

Monday, May 23, 2011


I learned the fine art of talking to strangers from my grandmother.

My grandmother lived in the city and didn't drive a car. She rode the bus.

I lived in the country and the only bus I rode as a little girl was the big yellow school bus. So, when it was my turn to stay at my grandparents part of the adventure was the riding the city bus downtown.

I was a shy kid. I had a stick-like figure, a mop of hair and big eyes that I used to stare at people rather than talk to them.

Grandma (pronounced gramma) was also shy. She was just the right size for hugging. She had grey hair and glasses so thick that there was a blur to the exact color and shape of her eyes.  She did not stare at people. She would, in her quiet voice speak to the person closest to her.

As we rode the bus she would comment to the person next to us about the weather or the economy or how a recently reported tragedy in the news was, "a shame".  These openers were usually enough to get folks talking.  Grandma had a good eye for who to leave alone and who to speak to. It was only occasionally that she would get a curt but polite response. For the most part, people had something to say, as if they had been waiting all day for someone to ask their opinion on the subject.

When we got to the shops she would talk to the fellow shoppers about the quality or price of the products or about how it was impossible to find clothes to fit her skinny grandkids. These weren't long conversations. They ended by the time a passenger got to their stop or paid their bill at the store. The brief encounter would usually end with, "It has been nice talking to you".

These little discussions rarely led to life-long friendships. The words exchanged didn't solve any great debates of our time. They were merely a brief connection, a small reminder.

We are not alone.

Illustration Friday-soaked

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011


There is a long list of things I don't want to do.

Most of these items are on an actual list, right here in my left cheek jean pocket.  I have to make the list so that I will remember to stop pretending that I don't have to do the things on the list.  This list doesn't even include the things I really don't want to do. This is the immediate list. This is the cut it out already and get that done list. This is my get it done before they charge a late fee list.  

The list is there to tell me, "C'mon now, get 'er done".

The list is also there to reassure me that I'm not as big a slacker as I might think.

Let me take a look at today's list and see how I did.

thinking about it still
it was raining so I couldn't
mostly done, the night is young
started to work on it, got frustrated, stopped working on it (that one was double underlined and had two exclamation points, hmm)
sent an email inquiry about the matter
yes, but not written
written, but not mailed

Not bad. Blog post wasn't even on the list.
I'm going to give myself bonus points for that.

Illustration Friday-safari

It's a jungle out there.

Monday, May 9, 2011


A few years back, I was in the wedding party of friend. I had been looking forward to this wedding for a while. It was the first time my baby daughter was going to sleep over at my sister's.  I was back to my regular dress size.  My husband and I booked a hotel room. We would have the whole night to party. Woo Hoo!

Well, I threw my own wet blanket on myself by figuring out that I was pregnant with our second child.  It was about a two days before the blessed event that the reality of my situation started to come to light.  I was barely pregnant. I hadn't even taken the over-the-counter test, but I knew.

I decided to keep it secret for the time being.

My plan was to order seltzer with lime so it would look like I was having gin and tonics. Later, when I was ready for bed by 9:30pm it wouldn't seem so strange.

As I was dancing around with my daughter's secret sister or brother, it occurred to me that both the bride and the groom had only one sibling.

She had a brother and he had a sister. I was trying to imagine what that would be like. I have three sisters and a brother. The one of each deal is much more common than the variety pack of five, but it is a weird concept for me.

I know that not every kid who comes from a big family has a good experience. I also know that the size of your family doesn't give you a better experience, only different. To quote your middle school English teacher, "quality not quantity".

I can't really imagine it though, just like a twin can't imagine being a single.  Absolutly everything about my life would be different.

These are the kinds of things you obsess about when you are pregnant at a wedding, where you are not drinking and the banquet chicken cannot be served fast enough.

At one point I turned to my mother, who was also in attendance and is one of seven kids. I nodded towards my newly wed friends and their siblings.  I asked her, "Can you imagine having only one sibling?"

She replied, "Can you imagine not having any?".

I put my hand on my belly and for the first time that day felt happy about my expectant state.

Illustration Friday-beginner

Monday, May 2, 2011


I want to be brave.

I am willing.

The problem is knowing which scary choice is the one worthy of my valor.

I guess that is what makes the choice brave, not knowing it is the right choice.

When I played baseball as a kid I would just pray that I would hit the ball and then I would run like the wind if I did. I never knew if I should stay on first base or not.  I would keep running, until I was out or until I landed safely on base.  I figured that, the faster I ran the sooner I would be safe at home.

I thought you were either good at baseball or you weren't. I had no idea that a little coaching or practicing of technique could get you further in the game.

I got through most of my childhood and adolescence using this swing and run technique. I don't recommend this style, it leaves a pretty spotty record on subjects ranging from algebra to modern dance.

When I got to college I realized that many of the things that I was natural at could be taught to just about anybody who had the will to learn. Sure, natural ability give a person an unfair head start, but not much.

This set off another light bulb; I could learn to do things that I had the will to study and practice.

Der, I know.

This leads to much reading.  This leads to trial and error.  This leads to planning, organizing, more reading, thinking, preparing, practicing, taking a class, attending a seminar, trolling the Internet, second guessing, erasing, writing, asking opinions, getting second opinions.

Eventually, the time comes to take what you know (even if it is not everything) and pray that you make contact.

Then, run like the wind.

Illustration Friday-lesson


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Illustration Friday-bicycle



There are often debates about what is art? What is literature? What is serious music?  We're always doing that, labeling, sorting. 

There must be something in our DNA, that as a species we feel the need to but things into categories. Once upon a time this instinct must have been critical to our survival. I like to sort things. One time when I was babysitting at a house that didn't have a T.V. or a radio, I separated a large bag of peanut M&Ms. I own a label maker, I get it. 

It still annoys me though when it comes to artistic endeavors.  

My answer is, "Who cares?". 

Here are some more important questions to ask of a work of art:

Does it capture my attention? 
Does it stir something in my mind or heart? 
Does it evoke a memory? 
Does it get me up dancing?
Does it make me laugh?
Does it take my breath away?
Is it something I want to share?

Is it a good story?

That's the real genetic trait that separates us from the Bonobos, storytelling. 

And it is all storytelling.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Illustration Friday-journey-Maria

by Maria Swiatkowski
My daughter and I were talking about the Illustration Friday word this week, "journey".  I told her that the word reminded me of the band by the same name. 

I explained that they did the original version of that Glee song she likes. I then Googled them, so she could see what they looked like.  

A picture of the same cassette that I had won in the seventh-grade for the foreign-language-week-poster-contest showed up in the images. This was the one cassette that my older sister and I could agree on.  We would listen to it as we fell asleep, one side each night.

I explained what a cassette was. I told her it was what we used to listen to music, in the old days of the nineteen eighties. 

Before I could get a Journey video up on the screen, my daughter grabbed her markers and a piece of paper out of the printer tray and said, "That's what I'm doing for Illustration Friday".

Illustration Friday-journey


Monday, April 18, 2011


We've got a lot of breakfast joints around here.  There are more breakfast places than ice cream parlors here on sunny Cape Cod.  Most places have lines out the door in the summer and a decent crowd of regulars in the off season.

I love to go out to breakfast.

I usually get one of those big meals with a name like, "Farmer's Special". Eggs, bacon, homefries, toast and coffee. Yes, please. I'll have some coffee.

I got this love of breakfast from my dad.  

When we were kids, Dad worked a lot of hours as a repairman for for the phone company.  On weekdays, Joe would pick him up in the New England Telephone van before we left for school in the morning. We'd see Dad again at dinner and shortly thereafter say we'd say "goodnight". 

Saturdays were for running errands, doing yard work or repairs to the house, as well as keeping an eye on a good percentage of us five kids.

Sundays were a different story.  If you got up and went with Dad to the early Mass at St. Mary's there was breakfast in the deal.  

I'm no early riser.  There are few things I cherish more than sleeping in.  Breakfast with my dad is one of them.  

From my Sunday morning slumber, I would hear Dad getting ready to go. In a semi-conscious state I would get myself dressed and in the kitchen just in time to go with Dad. "Ready?", he'd say and we'd be out the door.

There wasn't a lot of conversation. I would still be waking up on the short ride to church. Other than, "Peace be with you" we didn't talk during Mass.  At the diner, Dad would say, "Hello" to a few folks. He'd say a few words about the headlines or the Red Sox to the guys sitting at the counter seats. Those guys would wave to me as he reminded them which kid I was.  

The meal itself was usually pretty quiet. When we were done, Dad would say, "All set?" and we'd head back home.  

These days I see Sunday morning from the mom's perspective.  My husband takes the kids out to breakfast and I stay in bed on the one day that I can.  I don't do this purely for the love of my comforter and down pillow. 

I'm staying out of the way of breakfast with Dad.