November 30, 2019

1Doo Dah
Doo Dah Parade, Pasadena, 11/24/2019 (pen and ink and graphite)

Last Sunday morning (11/24) I found myself a block off the east side of Colorado Blvd at my first Doo Dah Parade. What is the Doo Dah Parade, you might ask? I will try to answer that with this art and these words. Technically, I didn’t actually watch the parade, but instead I watched the various groups and individuals who were going to be in the parade arrive and set up. I didn’t see any of my fellow sketchers when I got there at 9, but I didn’t wait. I rolled out my sheet of bubble wrap on the NW curb corner of Nina and Vinedo, sat down and started sketching the Rock and Roll Preservation Society truck. They seemed to be decorating the truck with balloons and providing rock and roll music for all of us. Every now and then someone stepped up to the mic on the truck and performed a sound check. I think this could be described as a good introduction of what was to come as most paraders were enjoying the music and greeting others as they began to show up for the 11:00 event. Soon, I was joined by a few of my artist friends and we all scattered to capture on paper the 2019 Doo Dah Parade. I decided rock and roll would definitely be part of this, but still wasn’t really sure about the thread that held all of these people together for a common purpose. But even though I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, it seemed that most people who were wandering around met up with many people they knew. And most were really happy to see each other and you could tell it was just the beginning of a big street party. And judging by the sign on the truck, inviting people to “Follow us to the pub,” they were probably a welcome and expected end of the parade as well. 

2Doo Dah
“See No Grouch,” Doo Dah Parade, Pasadena (pen and ink, graphite)

Believe it or not, it got warm sitting on my little bit of that curb, so I moved across the street to another curb in the shade. Here I saw this rather quaint and hand decorated float. And sitting in a chair next to this float was woman playing the “Baby Shark” song on her harmonica. As you may have guessed, I am still wondering what this parade will look like, or if it will happen at all. A parader came and sat next to me on the curb and he said that the parade was originally meant for floats, or entries, that were not powered by gasoline engines. Hence this particular “Dah Doo” entry must have been from that vintage time. Soon Uncle Fester came walking along, pulling a wagon behind him. (Google “Uncle Fester, Doo Dah Parade” and you will see what he looked like.) Again, lots of people came up to say hello and a few took “selfies” with him. Just before 11, he cranked up a bubble maker he had attached to a wagon and placed a large mug of what appeared to be liquid nitrogen smoke on his head. (There is a picture of him with this cup on his head as well on Google.) So, I guess he has been doing this for a number of parades. Next, I saw a couple guys on stilts and again, they seemed to know lots of people there. Finally, a guy with a vintage turquoise corvette zoomed up, got out of the car and wove his way into the gathering crowd.

3Doo Dah
Just before Doo Day Parade, 11/24/2019 (pen and ink with graphite)

I kept thinking I should walk through the parade entries as they were lining up, but convinced myself that there was plenty to see right from my little spot. I was still trying to figure what I was looking at and decided that maybe this is a typical story of the kind of extremes you can find in CA—from old hippies to Uncle Fester with his bubble machine with the very posh Pasadena downtown as a backdrop. You sure don’t get a sense of Pasadena’s “old money” with these sketches, but that’s what seems to be the point—affluent Pasadena, bagpipes and a live rock and roll band on the back of a truck.

It was getting close to parade time when I finished this sketch. I packed my bag and walked the length of parade. There were aliens, people on motor scooters, a guy with his Jack Russel terriers in a remote control car, Bernie supporters, and a whole bunch of people in costumes I can’t even describe. But what surprised me most was the sight of one of my sketching buddies, sitting on her collapsible chair in the middle of this mayhem, sketching away. It was quite a sensory overload—something for all your senses. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that there was quite a smell of weed in the air as well. 

Growing up in Northern CA I had heard of the Doo Dah Parade and remember seeing a video of the Synchronized Briefcase Drill Team. (Sadly, they weren’t there that day.) Still wondering if I completely understood this party parade I Googled the Doo Dah Parade when I got home. (If you want a better picture of what I’m talking about you can do the same. I think there is a picture of the Briefcase Drill Team.) I guess it was started in 1978, as a way to “thumb your nose” at the traditional Rose Parade (that started in 1893) that is held in Pasadena every January 1. It seems that the Rose Parade always takes place on New Year’s Day morning, unless that day falls on a Sunday. Then the parade happens the next day, or Monday. This tradition of no Rose Parade marching on Sundays began early on when the parade organizers did not wish to disturb horses hitched outside churches along the route during Sunday Church Services. (There don’t seem to be many churches along the parade route anymore, just a couple huge ones—Pasadena Presbyterian and First United Methodist. No body’s probably worried about disturbing the horses anymore, just the Teslas…) So, that first Sunday in 1978, was the first Doo Dah Parade and they have been presenting that parade in Pasadena ever since. Of course it’s not exactly on a specific day in January anymore, but somehow a varying date for such a parade seems somehow fitting to such an irreverent group of people.

So, is this story about the contrasts of traditions, lack of traditions or just the wackiness we have come to associate with CA, especially SoCal? As a second generation native of this hilarious state of frequent displays of irreverence and nonconformity it puts me in mind of my dad. He was quite a fan of Groucho Marx and often quoted him. And one of his favorite Groucho quotes went something like, “I wouldn’t belong to an organization that would have me as a member.” And that about sums up the Doo Dah Parade, I think. It sure sums up this CA girl.

November 23, 2019

rocks in garden
Art for Tribune, SLO, story, 12/12/1999 (colored pencil and watercolor on cold press illustration board)

It seems like I’m always digging through my art, looking for an odd piece of paper, brush or some kind of pigment that I haven’t seen for a while, but know is there. Or at least I think it’s there and I’m willing to dive in. So, I found this little colored pencil illustration when I went looking for some decent sized pieces of crescent board and tracing paper. I wanted to send my niece the piece of art I posted on October 6 and needed something to stabilize it so it would make it through the mail unscathed. I thought I had remembered sketching these river rocks about this time of year at least 20 years ago because I vaguely remember writing a story about kids in the garden that went with it. I had actually forgotten the overall point of the story, so now I was on yet another search into my artistic past. I was convinced I had written it for a kid’s magazine when we lived in Paso Robles and my son was about 5. So, I looked through all of my copies of those, but it wasn’t there. I was sure it had not been published in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, but I looked through those clippings anyway. Low and behold there it was, and everything about the art and story came tumbling back to me. Funny that I should go looking for something that I did almost 20 years ago to the day, right? 

During those years in Paso Robles I was working as a freelance writer of math and science textbooks and teacher resource materials for young children. But what I really wanted to do was write about things to do in the garden with kids. As my son was of the perfect age to test out all of my ideas, I went crazy. I made long lists of activities and thought provoking suggestions that parents of young children could do outside. I was fortunate that between the Trib and the children’s magazine in Paso I got to explore and share those ideas with my art and stories in print. But I had so many things on that list that never made the ink of any periodical. Back then there wasn’t such a proliferation of blogs and self publishing was frowned upon by my other writer friends. A publisher was supposed to give you a contract and pay you directly for your work. That’s quite a shift from how it seems to go today. But my approach has evolved too. Now the art I have, past and present, functions as my muse and the idea for a story somehow always presents itself based on that art. Of course back then I was just trying to entertain my son and the list of ideas to try out came from that. But nothing I wrote about had to be exclusive to CA—It was just meant to be a message to parents that went something like: Go outside with your kids and look for something amazing! Of course we probably have more temperate/dry California days that we can go outside and do something. I won’t complain about that…

Now I look to entertain myself with geeky details of art materials, specific places in CA I have firsthand knowledge and my CA family stories. Don’t get me wrong, I work with kids and still believe they need to be outside and doing things in the garden. But the art seems to have taken on more of the central story as of late.

Pattern story 1999
Patterns in the Garden, SLO Tribune, December 1999

So, here it is. Once I found this clipping I remembered how fun it was to see the art and story together. It was the lead story in that section of the Sunday paper and took up over half the page. They had printed my art full size! That was a fun surprise. I still love the idea of kids looking for patterns in the garden and anywhere else their minds take them. I’m here to say that I wrote this a while ago, but looking for patterns is still a primary goal of teachers teaching in the elementary grades today, at least here in CA. In fact, I would go a step further and add that our brains seek out patterns, whether we like it or not. So, why not intentionally seek them out where ever you go. If you have been a recent follower of my blog this combo of art and newspaper story should look familiar. My November 9th post had a botanical of a Paperwhite (narcissus) with a SLO Tribune story (also from 1999) that focused on giving simple gifts from the garden. For that offering I made a couple observations about what I might do to update that story. But I have to say, I probably wouldn’t change anything about this one. I probably would remind the parent of an active child that you didn’t really need to go to a lot of fuss looking for materials. This story was pure serendipity and all started with my trimming some flowering plum trees. My son had come upon a pile I had made of 3 to 4 foot sticks and started stabbing them into our front lawn, making a kind of forest with a path you could walk through. And while I sat on our porch, watching him, I looked through his forest to our dry stream bed that flowed from the top of our front yard down to the sidewalk. You might be wondering what is actually flowing in a dry stream bed. Well, nothing, of course! Those of us in CA who can’t count on water staying in a place we left it (like a man-made pond or small creek) have come up with all kinds of great ways to have flowing water without actually having water. And a dry stream bed, complete with medium-sized to large-sized stones, was perfect waterless water feature for my front garden. As I watched my son busy himself with the sticks I plucked out a few rocks and created this on the lawn next to my son’s man-made forest. I added a couple pansies, and a small stone frog to the illustration, just for some color. Pansies are a kind of “go to” flower that adds color to drab fall and winter CA gardens.

I wasn’t the only one on our cul de sac who had a dry stream bed in the front garden. There was a guy up the street from me who also had a dry stream bed in his front yard as well. Every year at Christmas he put out strands of blue lights on the rocks that he had wired so they would turn on and off to look like water flowing down the rocks. Yup, we are obsessed with water out here. Of course his water only flowed at night and needed electricity, which somehow might be a hazard under normal circumstances…

But guess what? It rained last week in SoCal. Woo hoo! And it’s supposed to rain on Thanksgiving this coming week. And again I say woo hoo! So, what am I thankful for? You guessed it, real water, not the fake stuff I just told you about. And what are you thankful for? Probably that I won’t chatter on, for a time, about fires and our parched CA landscape. And, of course I am thankful that won’t be on my mind for a while as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love, One California Girl 

November 16, 2019

Stars at Descanso2
Enchanted Forest stars on the arbor, Descanso Gardens, 11/10/2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

If you have viewed many of my posts you will know that I am massively obsessed with the Descanso Gardens. It seems that I have been drawn to that magical place since I moved to SoCal 5 years ago. We also have the Huntington Botanical Garden right next door, with the Getty not really that far away as well. But I prefer the Descanso. Actually, the Huntington has some very specific rules about painters in their gardens and I just haven’t gotten around to looking into that. And a friend’s wet watercolor materials were confiscated by a museum guard before she even got on the tram that takes you to the top of the hill and the Getty Museum. A mutual friend said my normally unflappable artist friend was seething and probably going to write a scathing letter to the Los Angeles Times. I’ve also shared with you the rather unfriendly guards at the Norton Simon…But no one has ever stopped me as I enter the Descanso with my backpack full of watercolor painting materials. And I love them for that simplicity. In fact, they have started an artist in residence program. And their first artist was Carole Kim and some of her art was recently on display at the Sturt Haaga Gallery next to the Boddy House on the property. If you look at her bio on the Descanso Gardens website it says she, and I quote, “…seeks to illuminate the intersection between contemporary arts and the sciences represented by the garden—botany, horticulture, biology, ecology, conservation and the study of gardens as cultural artifacts.” In looking a little further into Ms. Kim’s work and background I noticed that she was a past artist in residence (2013) at the Montalvo Art Center. This is cool and significant as Montalvo is in northern CA and I lived very near that place growing up. We used to ride our bikes over and around the hills of Villa Montalvo. My mom was part of a Montalvo service league that had fundraising events to rebuild/remodel various structures on the property. Every Christmas they had a huge event at the house, with each room decorated for the season. And of course because it was a fundraiser, they had various hand crafted gifts for sale as well. My poor mom was always upset with many of their “hand crafted gifts” and each year would say something like, “Why doesn’t someone tell the little old ladies that no one wants a crocheted toilet roll cover made from strange colored yarn?” She thought they should do wine or champagne tasting as the Paul Masson winery was nearby, not to mention The  Novitiate Winery that was then in the hills of Los Gatos. As you might have guessed, my mom quit after a few years. But she found a happy home as a volunteer at Village House in Los Gatos. 

I think that in the past few years the people who run the Descanso have been making a great effort to improve almost everything there, from upgraded garden areas to special events, without a strange hand crafted item in sight. One of the more successful events they have been presenting since November 2016 is the Enchanted Forest of Light. We went to see the lights that first year and have gone every holiday season since.

So, as you might imagine they were getting ready to debut their November 2019 season, opening Sunday November 17, when I was there last weekend. Most years I never actually plan to be there when they are setting up—so many wires and unlit lights. I go there so often to paint that I’m always surprised to see that it’s once again time for the event. But this year I remembered it was happening and thought I had heard of a new light installation that was to be featured this year. I thought I had heard of a stained glass house that was to be placed next to water and I thought it would be fun to try to paint that. So, when I got to the garden last Sunday I set about to find the stained glass house. I wandered all around the places that had massive amounts of wires and lighting, but did not see what I imagined would be there. No matter. I found myself in the rose garden, under the dangling stars that are hanging from an arbor near the fountain. And I found a lovely covered bench, surrounded with climbing roses, and painted the gorgeous fall trees, dangling stars and blooming roses you see here. (We have had such warm weather that there are still some roses blooming. If you are living in a very cold place, I am sorry…) 

praying mantis
Praying mantis on rose in rose garden at Descanso Gardens, 11/10/2019

While I sat there, comfortably creating this sketch, I had a strange feeling that I was being watched. Sure enough, I looked beyond my perch just a bit and saw a praying mantis looking right at me. I think he, or she, was also enjoying the roses in the rose garden that lovely morning. 

I have sketched the “Enchanted” stars in the rose garden a couple times now, and they look pretty spectacular even in the daylight. It’s actually easier to draw them during the day as you can pretty much sit where you like. At night, they block many pathways through the garden and you are forced to be directly under the stars. Aside from being too close to the stars to make them look interesting, there really isn’t anywhere to sit and sketch. The Enchanted Forest of Light designers have set up a carefully directed event that takes people from one place to the next, cutting out most of the rose garden all together. Here’s how it goes: They let in groups of people every half hour, with a very tempting (if not compulsory) journey from one display to the next that also goes past several outdoor bars and gift shops along the way. 

I’m not sure we’re going again this year. I know some people are really into traditions and might consider doing this every year as a compulsory holiday event. That’s fine, I guess. But I think our trip to their newest block buster event called “Carved” will be our fall/holiday evening at the Descanso for this year. What was “Carved” you say? Well, the short answer is lots of pumpkins. They had 1000 professionally carved pumpkins that lined a 1 mile walk through the Camellia Forest and Oak Grove and we were there the evening of October 26th. Just imagine hundreds, yes hundreds, of lit jack o lanterns winding along paths, past a couple bars and gift areas. (Now that’s the way to have a fund raiser, right?) And then every few yards or so there were some giant-sized pumpkins that had been very intricately carved. Once you found your way to the house made of pumpkins, there was an area where artists were busy carving away some very large pumpkins—quite dramatic and amazing, I must say. I was trying to imagine where you would find people who could do this. I thought maybe they could be tattoo artists, but a friend said he thought that there was no shortage of animators around here and the pumpkins were probably done by them. There is quite a bohemian artists culture here and their pumpkins were there that night.

That’s all from one SoCal girl right now. But the big news is that it is supposed to rain this week. Oh, Yesssssssss!

November 9, 2019

paperwhite black and white
Black and white Paper-white, habit lower right, 1990 (pen and ink)

This post starts with a pen and ink drawing of a favorite flower in my then holiday garden—the Narcissus, or Paperwhite. I did this during my days when I worked as a scientific illustrator for the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. This layout of plant parts, complete with habit, is very typical for a botanical rendering. I was never commissioned or paid to draw this one. I just happen to love them and wanted to do one on my own.

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Paper-white in color, habit lower right (gouache and colored pencil on toned paper)

Fast forward 10 years for this smaller color version of the exact botanical. I had taken a class at the Academy where we learned to use gouache on toned paper. I like the idea of using toned paper that either has some connection with the subject (green paper for a green plant). Or I like to use grey toned paper as most colors you layer on heather grey or blue grey will pop with great contrast. 

narcissus story
Narcissus story in the Tribune, SLO, 12/5/1999

I can’t remember if I did the above art for this article or not. But one way or another it was used here. I do remember that I was disappointed when I saw the finished article in the paper as an editor scrubbed out most of the green background. I’ve always thought it looked fuzzy or out of focus. Looking back, I should have submitted the pen and ink for this story. I was trying to be so agreeable back then. I was trying to do these wonderful color renderings of plants…There was a lovely editor that seemed so pleased to print my work. And the publisher of The Tribune, himself, had told me how much he liked my art and stories and had promised that he could make me famous (not rich) with my work. So much for that!  

And even though the image doesn’t really show the art in a great light, rereading the story got me thinking about the subject matter. I’m not sure I would give someone Paperwhite bulbs to be planted on top of layer of small rocks in a saucer. Oh, it works alright. If you keep the saucer just filled with water, the roots will take hold of the rocks and the stems, then flowers will follow. But then what? Once you force a bulb to bloom like that, it will never bloom again and you might as well throw it away when the flower and stem dry up. You also have to extricate the roots from the rocks, which is kind of annoying. I still like the idea of giving such a “thoughtful” gift to a friend. But if I were to write that story today I would suggest to the reader that he or she might change the ultimate action for the person getting the gift, telling the “gift receiver” to plant the 6 or 8 bulbs in the dirt in the garden. Then the thoughtful gift becomes more sustainable. The card I would attach to the gift would then remind the person they had received a “pass along plant” that will hopefully bloom and expand production over the years. Paperwhites are pretty hardy. I like putting them in because deer and gophers don’t usually bother them. I have had moles dig around my narcissus, but they are carnivores and won’t eat the flowers. They can sometimes ruin a perfect row of daffs. But that’s ok with me as I never plant them in perfect rows anyway. I think it’s always a good idea to throw them out in drifts. Oh, and they for sure should be in a spot that does not get summer or fall irrigation as the bulbs can rot. So, these are pretty good little things to give as they are sustainable and drought tolerant—everything we need here in CA anyway. Maybe where you live too?

There is something else in this article that I would expand upon. Can you guess? I mean, who thinks of such obscure songs (A Garden in the Rain) to even include the lyrics of something that seems so random. My dad told me that his mom, my grandma, used to sing it as she did many of the songs in the 30s on what was called the “Hit Parade.” She didn’t have it easy as my grandfather was an alcoholic and she had to get various jobs to help put food on the table during the depression. She went to work at various laundries and when WWII started she worked in the shipyard in Long Beach as a riveter. Yup, she was what was known as a “Rosie the Riveter.” Dad said she would sing in the kitchen before dinner, probably with the radio on, peeling potatoes. She would do this, it seems, before she really had plans for dinner. There are other singers who have performed “A Garden in the Rain,” but those performances were from long ago. I happen to have a Diana Krall’s rendition of the song on a CD.  My dad loved Diana Krall…

So now I am wondering what my next 20 years of art will look like, and what updates I might have for this story. If I am still around and haven’t lost too many memory marbles I hope to revisit my take on gifting Paperwhites. Maybe I will have spread more of them around me and in my friend’s gardens. I’ll be like “Miss Rumphius” (picture book by Barbara Cooney). Miss Rumphius said that in her life she wanted to do three things—live by the sea, travel to far away places and make the world a more beautiful place. And to make the world more beautiful she planted lupines. So, maybe my narcissus will spread like so many lupines in her story. Only time will tell.

In Remembrance of my dad

I meant to post a story about my dad nearer the day he passed. (October, 14, 2012) Uh oh! Maybe I’m already loosing some of my memory marbles. Only time will tell. (Hey, didn’t I already say that?)

Miss you dad. You’d be glad to know that Henry bought a turntable and has been listening to Nat King Cole and Jack Teagarden. 

November 2, 2019

neon museum
The Neon Museum, SketchCrawl, 10/26/2019 (Graphite on sketch paper)

On the morning of last week’s post I was on yet another SketchCrawl, dubbed the USkLA Brand Boulevard Sketch Walk. Our fearless leader, Virginia Hein, organized a very fun, inspiring and surprising walk up and down Brand Blvd. There were so many firsts for me that day that I actually can’t describe all of them—makes me sound totally unaware of my CA surroundings, right? But our first stop was the Neon Museum, where we sat in the shade beside the building and sketched some old neon signs that are part of the exterior. I focused on the swimmer at the top of the museum—loving her modest swimming suit and swimming cap (women wore such caps many years ago). I was surprised to finally see that the giant Clayton Plumbers neon sign just to the right and off the street was actually part of the museum. I have been past that museum countless times and just assumed there was a plumbing shop back there. I always wondered how to find the entrance to the business, but could never find it. That’s because there isn’t one!

Next, we walked north on Brand for several blocks and stopped at the Alex Theater. The Alex is a landmark here in Glendale and was built in 1925 in the Art Deco and Classical Revival styles. Some of us walked across the street to get a better view of the 100 foot tall art deco column with neon lights topped with a spiked neon sphere. I joined that group, but didn’t post the sketch here as it was just “so so.” I couldn’t quite capture the scale of that 100 foot spire so close up. But no matter, we left a little later and headed south on Brand to an interesting fountain. It was just a bit off the street, but I had never noticed that is was interactive. On a tall building in front of the fountain was a wall of moving lights accompanied with interesting moody sounds. And if you touched some sensors on a platform in front of the wall and fountain, you could change and affect the wall of moving lights. I was again blown away that I hadn’t noticed any of this before, even though I  had walked past this fountain countless times. However, I was glad to check out its coolness for the first time. 

Tower at the Americana, SketchCrawl, 10/26/2019 (pen and ink, Inktense and watercolor pencils on toned paper)

Then it was off to the Americana, where I had yet another first in a very familiar place. This piece was done while sitting at a rather lovely outdoor spot above a central area of the Americana—at a Barnes and Noble bookstore. I had no idea that the third floor of the bookstore had a balcony that opened out to this plaza. What a treat, sitting outside on a balmy mid morning with a whole bunch of my fellow artists. I had been to their coffee area on that floor many times, but just sat at the tables nearby. So, before I took up residence there I went inside and got a cappuccino. Then I went outside and found the perfect spot to sketch. It doesn’t get any better than that. I think I should add that I have always liked the look of this rust colored tower and would love to report that it houses something very amazing. But as it turns out, it is the structure that houses a glass elevator–not very exciting I think. Certainly no Eiffel Tower, right? 

After a time it was time to move along to our last stop of the USkLA Brand Boulevard Sketch Walk. I kind of hated to leave, but vowed to come back for another visit as the plaza was being transformed into a huge holiday shopping miracle. We packed up all our materials and headed back to where we started—the Neon Museum. But this time we didn’t stop at the museum, but went past the Clayton Plumbers neon sign to the Glendale Central Park at the back. And here I saw a first that moved me most that day. Virginia directed us to a corner of the grass to see a statue. It was called the Korean Comfort Women Statue—a statue of peace. Such an unassuming, yet moving statue. Such a thought provoking sculpture. Maybe that’s what great art does, it provokes you in some way. I wish I could do this piece justice with a better description, but I can’t. Google it. You won’t be disappointed. I hope to go back sometime soon to do a sketch. 

So, here’s to a day of wonderful discovery and firsts! Maybe you have had similar experiences where you learned about something in your area you had never heard of before. Take a walk and take a look!

Update on the Southern CA fires… 

I didn’t write about the SoCal fires last week. I just couldn’t bear thinking about it anymore, even though it’s all around me. All the smoke and dust in the air is pretty hard to take—literally and figuratively. On Friday, 10/25/2019, many of the public schools in the northern part of LA were closed because of a nearby fire that had been whipped up by intense winds the afternoon before. When I walked out of my office the afternoon of the 24th (around 3:30) there was a huge wall of smoke on the horizon. So, I immediately went home. I felt momentary relief to be driving away from that mess. But in the early hours of the 28th, the west side of LA caught fire. The area burning there was near the Getty Museum, and the public schools close by were closed a couple days because of the intense smoke in the skies. Then Thursday morning, Halloween day, the Marie fire (near Santa Paula, in Ventura County) exploded. We are all so done with this…

Here’s to peace! And happy birthday to my youngest niece! (I think I owe you a painting.)