Thursday, February 4, 2016

Goal Check-in: One Book, One Picture at a Time

For today's post I thought I'd share how one of my goals for the year is going: Use one art book at a time completing ALL the lessons.

The book I'm starting with is How to Draw Buildings, by  Ian Sidaway. I chose it for a number of reasons: 
  • It dovetails nicely with my other art goal and theme of drawing and painting doorways, especially those connected with my current WIP, Ghazal.
  • It give me a good foundation (no pun intended) for my weekend outings with Urban Sketchers.
  • I really, really want to learn how to use perspective better/correctly.
  • Being familiar with buildings and architectural detail will help me with some ideas I'm tossing around for illustrating picture books.
  • The more buildings I draw for practice, the easier it will be to sketch in my travel journals.
  • And more than anything, I just love buildings!
I particularly like the way this book is structured. Each lesson is divided into three: first is the main example with several pages of instructions followed by the suggestion to "Try Another Medium," and ending with a third prompt, "Try Another Building." 

The first chapter, and the one I've completed, is all about drawing simple small houses, beginning with graphite on white paper. I used a new 9 x 12 inch Strathmore Recycled 400 series sketchbook I bought for just this purpose:

Once I'd finished the drawing, I then moved on to Part II: try another medium. For this I chose to use an ultrafine black Sharpie on a heavier sketchbook page (Strathmore Visual Journal) that I had already painted with a background using my Japanese Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolors:

The last section, "Try Another Building" provided a photo of what the book called a "stern little house," which it certainly was. For this piece I chose a sheet of student-grade watercolor paper that I had previously experimented on last year by placing a piece of crumpled wax paper face-down on the surface and then ironing the whole thing with my craft iron. After removing the wax paper and letting the watercolor sheet dry, I then painted it with a light wash of Prang watercolors (my super-favorite, ever-so-cheap but excellent brand for art journaling, etc.). The result was an interesting resist pattern resembling bare tree branches that also matched the photo in this last part of the lesson. 

I drew the house and filled in the "trees" with Faber-Castell Polychromos color pencils and white charcoal--doing my best to make the whole thing as stern as possible.

So there you are, three houses, three ways, and all ready for the Three Little Pigs to move in! Another interesting option might be to write a story or vignette based on each of these settings. Anybody want to try?

I've set aside Sunday afternoons to be my "class time" using this and my other how-to books throughout the year. Next Sunday I'll be moving on to Lesson 2 and two-point perspective (the example shown on the cover of the book above). Already I'm feeling nervous which is exactly why I'm using this step-by-step approach. No more just buying books, looking at the pictures, and working on the "easy" parts. Instead, I'm "building up my courage" to go straight through from cover to cover, lesson to lesson. And because I've put that in writing, I'm now honor-bound to stick to my goal! (Taking a deep breath.)

Tip of the Day: What difficult phases of the creative process do you find yourself frequently avoiding and therefore never learning to the degree you want? For me it was never attempting the "advanced" lessons in my art and other reference books. I've found that breaking a task down into easy steps is a good way to overcome and/or work with anxiety. For instance, gathering all your needed supplies for a project a day before you start can be be one step. Setting a timer to work on a portion of the project for just twenty-minutes at a time can be another. Whatever you do, keep in mind that the only way to learn anything is with steady practice, not "instant genius absorption." Good luck and have fun!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Make Every Day a Vacation

2015 was so travel-filled for me that I'm actually looking forward to staying home as much as possible this year. There are dozens of fun things to do in here in Albuquerque and never enough hours in the day (or night) to fit them all in. But as much as I love seeking out new museum displays, creative groups, or shops and restaurants, it can also be too easy to to become complacent and take them for granted. This year I want to change that.

One of the things I was most aware of while I was traveling was how different everything felt to me--from the air I breathed to the way the light struck a windowpane, and how quickly I stopped noticing those little nuances once I was back home. Around Christmas-time I was desperate to know why that was. 

Beyond the obvious answers such as, "Well, you don't have to wash the windows when you're on vacation," or, "Each day abroad is a chance to re-invent yourself," I realized that when I travel I put a lot more effort into what I can only call mindfulness, probably because I know it might be my only chance to experience that particular travel destination ever again.

So my major question for the year is: How can I cultivate that same travel mindset here at home and not just when I'm riding a tour bus? How can I make every day a vacation day? To get the ball rolling, I made a list while I was writing out some morning pages and here's what I came up with.

Have afternoon tea. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to have afternoon tea either in a tea shop or right in my hotel room. I especially like trying out different flavors and brands that are foreign to me. Lesson learned: relax, savor, and enjoy some new tea brands (yay, oolong . . .).

Get up early, even when I don't have to. When I travel, I can't wait to get up and get out the door. All those places to see! Here at home, struggling to wake up before it's entirely necessary can be torture, especially in the winter. Then I remembered how much I love those fancy little shampoos and body washes the hotels provide. Stocking my bathroom shelves with spa toiletries has made my mornings a lot easier to face and far more luxurious--just like when I'm on vacation.

Sketch, sketch, sketch. Take photos. Of anything and everything. Sketching and photographing my surroundings lets me to see the world with new eyes--even the places I already know. Having a sketch plan or goal before I leave the house each day reminds me to take the time to look.

It's okay to draw like a little kid. When I sketch in my travel journal, I don't care how it turns out. I'm just going for first impressions and ways to capture the memories. The same applies to my daily journal entries. It's a viewpoint that cuts out the angst and makes creativity a joy to pursue and express.

Love the day without expectations. It's impossible to know in advance what you'll encounter in another country outside your own, yet, somehow, that never seems to matter. As far as I'm concerned, if it's a vacation, it's all good--exactly how I want to experience my day wherever I am.

Trust I am being taken care of. Goal: Give up daily worry, anxiety, everything negative that keeps me fretting and wastes my energy. The bus driver knows where we're going--so let him drive. My one and only job is to enjoy the view.

Eat well, eat small. Thanks to my vegetarian lifestyle, it isn't as easy as it should be to find a wide array of food choices when I'm on the road. And that is probably a good thing--less chance of stomach upsets, less chance of over-eating, and less chance to spend/waste money on not-so-great meals. This year I want to stay more conscious of only eating when I truly need to, rather than because "it's so yummy I can't resist and I don't care about stupid old calories." 

Walk more. Walking in Albuquerque (at least for me) isn't always a great idea: lots of traffic (and drivers who run red lights), broken and uneven sidewalks and streets with potholes, and the neighborhood shops aren't close enough to home to bring back groceries, etc. on foot. What we do have to counter that, though, are beautiful parks, open-air shopping malls, and a number of museums worth visiting throughout the year. It's no problem to drive to these places and then go for a good long walk once I'm there--with my sketchbook in hand. A wonderful way to stay in a holiday mood.

Travel light. I've always been a big fan of down-sizing, minimizing, and de-cluttering, but even when I think I've done my best, sure enough I find something more to give away, toss out altogether, or purchase yet another storage bin for. This year I am going to put a lot of thought into what I buy, asking myself: will it fit into my suitcase (i.e., my house/life) and how heavy will it be? And do I really need it? The answer, just like when I dithered over purchasing an entire set of Portuguese tiles last year, will probably be "no." And that's fine with me.

Tip of the Day: Whenever I travel I like to immerse myself in learning about the history, the food, the art, the entertainment, and of course, the people of each new place. One way to make every day a vacation is to do the same in my own backyard. A concentrated "course of study" about subjects as diverse as New Mexico's santos or native plants will go a long way to make being at home more interesting to me. I'm sure you'll find just as many fascinating topics in your own home town!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why I Love Writing (and Drawing) in Cafes

This past weekend found me in two cafes: Saturday drawing and painting in the Albuquerque History Museum cafe, and Sunday writing with my writer's group in a bookstore coffee shop. Bliss! 

Ever since I first read Natalie Goldberg's advice in Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind about writing in cafes, I've been hooked on following her example. I can't think of a better environment than a cozy--and often noisy--cafe to help writers and artists at all levels relax, focus, and get some work done all at the same time. It's a practice I've been following for years, and one I've come to rely upon to get me out of the house and filling the blank page. 

Some of my top reasons for choosing cafes over, say, the library or the laundromat as a makeshift office/studio include:

1. As the old saying goes, a change is as good as a rest. And the cafe scene is always changing.

2. Someone else makes the coffee.

3. You have instant “material.” All those strange people sitting around chatting, arguing, reading, slurping . . .

4. You get used to writing with distractions and even a certain amount of discomfort. Great for learning to switch off from the "real world" and concentrate on the project at hand.

5. Discipline. You’ve made the effort to travel all this way, so stay there!

6. Ritual. Same place + same time = familiar and comforting routine.

7. Writing by hand is good for the heart and soul.

8. Or if you prefer, plug in. Many cafes have free WiFi, great for the budget-conscious.

9. If you're close enough to a local cafe, you can walk there. An excellent workout!

10. You can buy yourself a treat for “good behavior” and pages written. (And it doesn't have to be cake. If you're in a bookstore, museum, or gift shop cafe, how about a new book, magazine, pen, or journal?)

11. You have the opportunity to hold meetings with other artists and writers without using--or cleaning--your house.

12. Busily working away in your journal or sketchbook in public sends the message that you are a Professional, helping you to be exactly what you want to be.

Tip of the Day: Writing or drawing surrounded by a crowd can sometimes be daunting. To overcome any shyness or self-consciousness you may feel, especially if you're a newbie to cafe creativity, try sitting with your back to the wall. That way no one can easily look over your shoulder--something people love to do when you're sketching. (It's taken me a long time to simply smile and keep going whenever that happens. And believe me, they soon get bored and leave.) Another tip is to use a journal or sketchbook with a firm fold-over cover so you can write or draw while the book is propped on your lap rather than on the table, a good way to maintain your privacy and confidence. Latte, anyone?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Happy 2016 Goal-Setting

Every year I like to set my goals--not so much to make the year into a non-stop homework assignment, but more to clarify where I want to go and how I want to get there. This year I have five:

1. Keep submitting the novel (The Abyssal Plain) I finished editing last year. Which means: making serious submission lists, staying tuned-in to what's happening in the publishing world, not being defeated by rejection, and just going for it. Yes.

2. Finish the edits on my new novel, Ghazal, and have it submission-ready by the end of the year. I'm really looking forward to this particular task because I particularly love this manuscript. It's based on the theme of "Thirty Doors, Thirty Stories" and one of the things I'm planning to do as a spin-off goal is to create thirty mixed-media illustrations to go with the manuscript. (People with long memories might recall that one of my 2015 goals was to paint and draw scenes of doorways, something that fits my current WIP perfectly and still maintains my interest.)

3. Write short stories. Initially my goal was to "write one short story a week." My goodness, only one? Not . . . three? I don't know who thinks up these things, but after failing to write any short stories during the first two weeks of the year, I thought this imperative was somewhat draconian. To save my sanity and accomplish my other goals, I just plan to write short stories--when I can--rather than embark upon another novel this year. (Whew, that feels better.)

4. Go for the A-Z Blogging Challenge again. This will be my second year participating and another good reason to not fill up my calendar with "must write" short stories. The challenge involves blogging every day except for Sundays during the month of April, each blog post based on a topic starting with A and working through to Z. I enjoyed my first outing with the A-Z'ers and can't wait to see what kinds of new blogs I'll discover this year.

5. Work through my art instruction books one exercise at a time as if I were in a class. After my last bookshelf purge, I was interested to see that the majority of books I kept in any single subject were all my art instruction books. I love them, but I have to admit to not always using them. Too often I just look at the pictures and/or do only the intermediate lessons. I read the beginner's lesson and think, "Oh, that's boring. I don't need to learn about color mixing or how to make pages and pages of pencil marks for practice." This is always followed by then going to the advanced lesson and reeling when I see how complicated it is, my usual thoughts being, "I could never do that!"

This year that's all gonna change. I'm going to tackle one book at a time rather than diving into all of them at once (another bad habit), and do the exercises in order: beginner, intermediate, advanced. If I have to be bored painting circles, or do the advanced lesson on how to draw the perfect sleigh horse with shiny little bells in its mane (yes, this is a real lesson in one of my books) twenty times to get it right, so be it. I might end up having to stay with just one book for the entire year, but it's the only way I'm going to progress with my art skills and justify why I'm keeping those books.

So that's me. How about you?

Tip of the Day: Find a group of supportive listeners and goal-setters to help you brainstorm and solidify ideas for 2016. Before writing this post, I met with my writer's group specifically to discuss our goals for the year. It was a wonderful and inspiring meeting that encouraged me to a) have some goals, and, b) go gentle on myself. I was also able to pick up some fresh approaches on how to tackle the various projects, things such as adding more meditation and "quiet time" to my day, or venturing out into new selling opportunities. Best of all, I didn't feel alone in my quest to make my year something special. Thanks, group, and good luck with your own goals!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016! Start the Year with "What, Why, How"

Sweet little monkey
I met in Taiwan. (One of the "well-behaved" ones.)

Happy New Year and Happy Year of the Monkey! (I knew all those monkey pics I took in Taiwan would come in handy one day.) I particularly like the shot of this little one looking so pensive and sweet (or that's what I tell myself. For all I know he's just plotting how to jump down and bite his next victim. . . .)
But back to the positive side of things, and to get the year off to a great start, today I'm guest blogging over at Linda K. Sienkiewicz's website. Linda kindly asked me a few weeks ago to participate in her ongoing series of interviews on creativity categorized under the heading "What, Why, How." You can read my entry here.

Thank you so much for the invitation, Linda. It was a fun exercise. Hope to see you all there!

Tip of the Day: How would you reply to the big questions for 2016 of What? How? Why? Setting aside some time to write down your answers could provide some valuable insights and new directions for the year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015: It Was a Very Good Year

No doubt about it, 2015 has been one of the best years of my life. And as I usually do around this time of year, I like to look back and see what events or turning points made the previous twelve months so special. Not that it's always been easy to do so. Some years the best I could say was, "Well, I survived!" Other years have been so filled with goodness it was difficult to keep my list down to a manageable number. 

2015 definitely falls into this last category, with the top twelve being (and in no particular order):

1. My trip to Taiwan. I can't say enough about how much fun this trip was, or what it meant to me: Life-changing, to say the least. I wrote several blog posts about my trip, starting with my Taiwan Trip Diary, Days 1 and 2. For the holidays I recently was sent a link to this lovely little video about a group of young people traveling to many of the same Taiwanese sites I visited and I can't stop watching it. I hope you enjoy it too!

2. My trip to Portugal. I never really expected to travel to two countries in one year, but somehow I got there! Portugal couldn't have been more different from Taiwan, but in retrospect I find myself remembering the trip with an equal amount of fondness. In case you haven't seen them, my Portuguese blog posts start here.

3. Finding a new direction in my artwork. Until Taiwan, I pretty much was what you could call a major "dabbler." In other words, I rarely found an art supply I didn't want, or a technique I didn't want to explore and experiment with. I had enough materials and sketchbooks and papers and brushes to open a small store. My only goal seemed to be "do it all!" Now, eight months later, I have donated 90% of my "stuff" to the library and an art center for the disabled. I've been left with what really speaks to my heart: a small set of watercolors and my favorite pencils in graphite and pastel, as well as limited sets of colored and water-soluble pencils. Pencils and drawing seem to be "it" for me and where I want to stay. I also discovered that I resonate the strongest to an Asian-Expressionist style, something I never would have known had I not gone to Taiwan and "found my art-self."

4. Keeping a daily sketchbook habit. Another great benefit of traveling. I took sketchbooks with me to both travel destinations and now I can't go anywhere without one in my purse. A day without a sketch of something is a day lost to me, and I've come to love daily sketching as much as daily writing.

5. Blogging. I wasn't as frequent a blogger as I had hoped to be this year, with long gaps in between posts, and many of my posts being about travel rather than writing (which is really meant to be the focus of this blog . . .) but, hey, I hung in there! I did have fun writing my posts when I had the time to sit down and write them, and it has been a pleasure sharing my adventures with you all. Thank you everyone so very much for reading and being there for me. Next year I'll try to get back on track with more posts on writing and creativity (although I must say it's gone through my mind how much I'd enjoy being a dedicated travel blogger, too! Maybe sometime in the future??)

6. My wonderful groups: writers, artists, sketchers . . . I don't know what I would do without my inspiring and helpful groups. I have a schedule of five to six meetings a month with all of these talented people and I couldn't be more grateful. 

7. Reading Paul Scott's entire Jewel in the Crown series, including the sequel: Staying On. For some reason in January, I became obsessed with this series and had to read every single word--sometimes twice. It dominated every minute of my limited reading time to the exclusion of not reading very much else this year. The particular volume I bought had ALL of the books in one gigantic paperback that just about broke my wrists holding it upright, but I was glad I stuck with it. 

8. Beading at last, with lots of new beads from Taiwan and Portugal. Last Christmas I was gifted some professional-quality beading tools and this year I made good use of them, resulting in some new and original jewelry for myself and others. I've still got a lot to learn, but it sure helps to have the right tools and supplies.

9. Finishing my novel, The Abyssal Plain 101% to my satisfaction and submitting it. In many ways this was probably my most important achievement. I had hoped to have had the manuscript finished last year, but then kept seeing changes I wanted and/or needed to make every time I thought I was through with editing. Well, now I am finished and I've even sent it out to some agents. Let's see what happens!

10. Our first year in the new house we spent all of 2014 renovating. Can't believe I lived through this episode, but here we are with nothing left to paint, repair, or replace. The back yard is still a bit of a work-in-progress, but we're regarding that as a "hobby for fun and entertainment" rather than "We can't move in until (fill in the blank) is fixed/finished." It feels good to now only have routine housework on the to-d0 list, as opposed to things like "buy new doors."

11. Cleared out my bookshelves to an absolute minimum. In the same manner I de-cluttered my art supplies, I emptied my bookshelves down to the bone. They're now very bare, very lean, and hold only some pottery and the books I refer to again and again. Anything else I want to read comes from the library. 

12. Discovering that I want to concentrate on writing short stories. This has been a very new discovery, like only about a month ago. And it's also been a "homecoming." When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, many years ago, I wanted to write short stories. Then I learned two things: a) I tended to write very long pieces. In fact, they were so long they weren't short stories at all. They were novels.  And, b) print magazines were disappearing at a rapid rate with very little openings to publish short stories. 

A lot has changed since then. Not only has the Internet provided hundreds if not thousands of new opportunities for publishing short pieces, but I have reached a point in my life where I'm ready to be more succinct. It may have something to do with the fact that I have four more novels in first-draft mode ready for editing and rewriting and I'm in no mood to write a fifth.  Yet I don't want to stop writing altogether just because I have manuscripts to edit. Short stories feel like the perfect answer: a good way to keep my creativity flowing, and a good way to stay in touch with publishing while I continue to revise one novel at a time.

So that was my year in review. How about you? Any special highlights you'd like to share? Leave a comment! In the meantime, Merry Christmas and I'll see you next year. Stay warm!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Adventures in Portugal: It's a Wrap!

Ericeira. I love this shade of blue.

Happy December, Everyone! How did NaNoWriMo go (assuming you signed up)? For all those who gave it a miss this year, I hope you had a wonderful November all the same. For my part, I'm happy to report I made it the full way to 50K with a few words left over, finishing around 7.00 PM on the final night. My secret strategy was to get up half an hour earlier, go to bed half an hour later, write through most of my lunch hour, and then have a massive marathon session over Thanksgiving. Somehow this seemed to work. I won't be editing or revising the results for a very long time, but they'll be there in their shiny new binder for when I'm ready to do so. One day.

In the meantime: back to Portugal!

Our next stop from where I left off in my last post was Ericeira, a charming surf-town, full of long scenic walks and beautiful sea views. I especially loved the residents' use of the color blue which matched the sky and sea exactly:

The town square made for a great rest stop:

Before we came across this stately inn right on the beach where we decided to stay for the next two nights:

I especially loved my room with a view where I could easily curl up on the window ledge for reading and sketching:

Our first morning in town we awoke to fog and clouds, but we were still eager to wander the grounds after breakfast. . .

. . . and to then take off for a day-trip to Sintra, a place famous for its fairy tale palaces and villas and Byron's accolades describing the city as the most beautiful place in the world. I'm sure he didn't have the same amount of tourists and traffic to contend with that we did, but the despite the crowds the town center still managed to retain a romantically gothic ambience that I loved right away. We even found a sweet place to park (for free!):

As soon as the car was safely stowed, we started walking through the twisty-turny neighborhoods:

And then saw the sign to The Moorish Castle. Out of the blue, my husband decided he couldn't live without seeing The Moorish Castle. As he put it, this would be the only chance in our entire lifetime to see one. Ever.

I wasn't one-hundred-percent convinced that it was the best place to spend the day, but I agreed to give it a go, so off we went. As with many of the signposts in Portugal (e.g., the famous monoliths), there weren't exactly what you'd call directions on the signage, or any description of how long or treacherous this walk/hike might be. All we knew at this point was it would be uphill, and involved cobblestones--serious cobblestones that must have been there since the time of the Moors from the looks of their uneven surfaces. 

Undaunted, we began the ascent. After about fifteen minutes, we began to wonder where the castle was. Surely it was up here somewhere? More climbing. An hour later we met some people coming down the hill.

"Is the castle up here?"we asked. They gave us what can only be described as looks of deep pity.

"You're about a quarter of the way there," one of the men said.

Uh-oh. Decision time. Keep going, or give up? We kept going. The cobblestones turned into steep stone stairs designed, I'm sure, to keep marauders at bay. An hour, or two, or three, I have no idea anymore, we got there. Almost. We still had to buy tickets costing the equivalent of about twenty dollars to get in. I couldn't have said "no, too expensive" if I'd wanted to because by now I was ready to absolutely perish. I was desperate to eat and drink something--anything. We asked where the tea rooms were. "To your right." Off we go--nearly to our deaths as we followed the ticket seller's directions and carried on up and up the castle ramparts. Where there was nothing but sheer terror. No railings, no real or level steps; nothing at all until I refused to go an inch further. 

"There are NO tea rooms on castle walls!" I told my husband. "They didn't build them that way." By now he had to agree with me. The only trouble was, how to get down and out of here? I clung to the rail-less wall with my fingertips and dared one quick photo to prove I'd made the trek:

Legs shaking, hearts pounding, we got down to the castle courtyard. And guess what? The tea rooms were: TO THE LEFT. THE LEFT. Not the right. And they were out of tea. We were grateful for the coffee they did have, and the fact we could grab the last two muffins in stock before preparing for our descent back into town. This time we took a different route used by the tour buses, which was both shorter and far more dangerous as we had to avoid being run over every few minutes by the biggest buses I have ever seen

Finally back in town, we emerged onto this wonderful sight. The Quinta da Regaleira and what will forever remain The Place I Would Much Rather Have Gone To, but it was too late in the day and we still needed to get some real food. Castles behind us, we found a great little outdoor restaurant serving vegetable spaghetti that was so good I've made it at home twice already.

We drove back to Ericeira for a second night, and then we were off to Lisbon, the final stage of our journey:

Lisbon was one of the places where I had pre-booked a hotel and in a very clever place (if I say so myself): right across the street from the airport. We planned to be in Lisbon for two nights, and because our flight home was scheduled for 7.30 AM, it couldn't have been a better spot. Best of all, we didn't need our rental car, didn't have to worry about parking, and we were able to use the airport metro to get into town in a matter of minutes. A real win-win. We were also able to buy tickets in the hotel lobby for two days on a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus which truly was the very best way to see Lisbon with its steep and narrow cobbled lanes:

Great views from the top of the bus!

The bus traveled far and wide, taking us to so many places we could never have seen on our own.

Best of all, just before we hopped on for the first leg of the ride, I discovered a bead shop--the only one I saw in the whole of Portugal. It was incredible--exactly what I had hoped to find. I bought all kinds of little silver charms of ships and starfish, enameled bunnies (no idea what I'll do with bunnies, but they were super cute), as well as several hand-blown glass "focal beads" that will look great matched with something else some day! 

When we did get on the bus, we found it came equipped with ear buds and a recorded commentary (in English and a dozen other languages) interspersed with Fado music--the Portuguese national soundtrack. What a way to travel--I completely zoned out and absorbed the music, the sun, and the colorful city-scape. 

We explored the city this way for two days, hopping off when we wanted to eat lunch in an outdoor cafe or have afternoon tea in an upstairs Art Nouveau bakery. On our last evening, we thought we'd take a break from the bus in exchange for a river cruise. There were many, many choices of ferries, yachts, and mini-ships, but the Arca was the one for us! 

Unfortunately, by this time my camera batteries had died, so I've had to borrow a photo from Trip Advisor to show you why we loved this little craft: 

The Arca is a replica of an ancient Polish vessel of the type that sailed through the rivers of Europe with cargoes of wine, sardines, and other supplies several centuries ago. Feeling like Pirates of the Caribbean, we sat outside on purple velvet cushions close enough to the water to dip our hands, and were served with great conversation with the captain and our fellow passengers, along with our choice of complimentary wine or beer. And because this was the last cruise of the evening, the captain extended the trip so we could watch the sun set on one side of the boat while the moon rose over the other. He turned off the engines and let us drift while we all sat in total awe and silence. I will never forget how pink the sky was, or the sound of the water lapping the hull as a soft breeze blew overhead. It was a beautiful way to end our trip. I don't have photos, but I do have my sketchbook:

Lisbon sunset.
Lisbon moon-rise.

And then it was back to the hotel to pack. The next morning I was up at 5.00. We simply walked to the airport, had a breakfast of croissants, juice and coffee, and then learned:

We couldn't go home!!!! We still don't know what the problem was, but for some reason we couldn't get onto our flight. The best we could do, the airline said, was go to Madrid and figure it out from there.

Long story short: we flew to Madrid only to learn there were no flights to Albuquerque for two days. At first I went into total panic mode, but then when the airline said they would put us up in a 5-star hotel, provide food vouchers for our meals as well as our transport, we were like, heck, yeah! Who wants to go home anyway? We even had several, still unworn, changes of clothing suitable for the much-cooler Madrid weather.

Peeps, this was the absolute best surprise trip ever. The hotel was in a quiet neighborhood, our room had a balcony overlooking a park with a fountain, and the metro station was only a short walk away. The first thing we did after resting up was head into town and the Prado--a place I have dreamed of visiting ever since my university days when I majored in Spanish Literature (bet you didn't know THAT about me, LOL!).  After seeing as much art as possible, we next found the Madrid equivalent of the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus and crammed in as many sights as we could. Without my camera, and being far too busy to sketch, my only pictures of the city are some postcards. (One is of a goat in a stone barn. Not exactly "Madrid" but I liked it.) The rest will have to stay in my memory until it makes its way into a few paintings, sketches and stories for the future.

After two full days, we then flew home with no further incident. Guess the universe really wanted us to see Madrid!

So that was my trip to Portugal and very unexpectedly, Spain. Thank you so much for reading. Until next time, Happy Holidays!