All posts by melkolstad

I'm an artist, instructor, speaker, curator and advocate living in Fond du Lac, WI. I love art! You can find my work at https://www.melkolstad.com - thanks for reading! :)

My Awesome Treehaven Experience!

This year continues to be a year of firsts for me – first art fair, first invitational solo exhibit…and now, my first-ever art retreat class at a remote location!

I applied for the ArtStart Rhinelander‘s School of the Arts retreat called Art in Nature back in May.  I had heard about it through Arts Wisconsin – the School of the Arts has a rich, 60-year history and ArtStart is revitalizing it, which is wonderful news.  So imagine my delight when I discovered that I would be teaching my proposed class, “Collagraphs from Nature” there!

The entire retreat was held on the Treehaven grounds.  This place is AMAZING.  Imagine a fully modern summer camp, and you get the gist of the place.  It’s used year-round, mainly by UW-Stevens Point forestry students.  It’s nestled in the middle of nowhere, in Tomahawk, Wisconsin.  It’s truly remote – I felt so secure in its isolation.  I love places like this. (MAJOR bonus – it was about 15 degrees cooler there than in Fond du Lac, where we’re having a bizarre heat wave of 90 degree weather this week!)

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My sweet room in the White Pines cabin!
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Don’t you just love this handmade sign for the gift shop? 😀
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This is the Winterberry Dining Hall. I felt like I was back at family camp!

I arrived on Friday afternoon and immediately set up my room.  I was so happy I could do this ahead of time, because then I could relax the rest of the evening.  We all had dinner together and heard the keynote speaker, Kristin Thielking, who’s a professor of sculpture at UW-Stevens Point.  She talked about the beautiful structures and installations she and her students create in natural settings.  It was so inpsiring, as it was the first time I’d ever really been interested in large sculptures.  I broadened my mind as to what a “sculpture” could truly be!  And now I have some ideas for our own Gottfried Prairie and Arboretum!

My class was right away on Saturday morning, so I ate breakfast with the group and got back to my classroom to make sure everything was set up and ready to go.  I had nine people in my class, which was a great size!  I showed them how to make collagraphs the way that I make them, and we had a total blast.  Here’s a slideshow of their beginning monoprints, their composing stages, and their final collagraphs, which were made from items found right on the Treehaven grounds or from some items I had gotten in our prairie.  Each student’s finished pieces were unlike anyone else’s, and that made me so happy. I absolutely LOVE it when that happens – when the artist’s vision comes through in their work.

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This teaching experience is another highlight in a year of highlights for me.  I enjoyed myself immensely!!  And to top it all off, I stayed for the afternoon and took Debra Jircik’s Harvest Papermaking class, which I’ve wanted to take for the past three years or so.  Kismet!  I loved it, as I knew I would.

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Here we are with our papers made from corn husks, milkweed stalks, iris leaves, day lilies, and Abaca fiber with crushed leaves! They all turned out so beautifully.

It was one of those weekends I’ll always remember and cherish.  I was yet again reminded how extremely fortunate I am to be able to teach and create art in this way. It doesn’t get much better than this!  🙂  Many, many thanks to Melinda Childs and Ashley McLaughlin for just a wonderful retreat!

 

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Ten Years of Live Trades

Think for a moment about those things you like to do in your free time – do you belong to a club?  Is there a hobby you have where you meet with folks who share your passion? If so, have you enjoyed these meetings for a long time?

For me, the answer to all three questions is a resounding YES. And yesterday, we celebrated TEN years together!

Some background, and I apologize to those readers for whom this story is a repeat: back in August of 2006, I was enjoying a lunch break at one of my favorite downtown places, Bagelmeister. I had picked up a new (to me) magazine called Cloth Paper Scissors, and immediately fell in love with its contents.  But they kept referring to these ATC things, and I was lost.  What the heck was an ATC?  When I Googled “ATC”, the first thing that came up was Air Traffic Controller.  Apparently more research was needed!

When I realized that it stood for Artist Trading Cards, I was instantly obsessed.  I checked out every book from the library that I could; I read every article online; I scanned Flickr (this was pre-Facebook for me by about two years!) and created my own account; I looked through Yahoo! Groups.  And in my searching those groups is where I “met” Carolyn Brady.

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One of my favorite ATCs – it’s really simple but I love how I found a vintage invoice and a kid’s book illustration that so beautifully worked together. Looks like I made this one on November 20, 2010.

I had been trading ATCs online for about a year when I first started chatting with Carolyn, who was looking to start a live trade in the Milwaukee area.  I LOVED this idea, and while I couldn’t make the first meeting for some reason, I started going by the second one, in September of 2007.  None of us knew that, ten years later, we’d have only missed ONE month in that decade, and that was only because of a snowstorm last December.  None of us knew that we’d be around in 10 years.  None of us knew how awesome Carolyn would be, and how many wonderful friends we’d make because of this group, which is still going strong.

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Here’s Carolyn (middle), Pauline (right) and me at my very first trade ever, at the now-defunct (but always fabulous Artist & Display in Milwaukee. Notice that this was pre-glasses and short gray hair. 😀 (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Brady, as is the featured image)

I found out yesterday that in the ten years we’d been meeting, I’d attended 65 of the 119 meetings, which put me in the Top 20 of attendees.  I’m really honored and proud to be in this group, which has meant so much to me in the last 10 years.  It’s such a comfortable group, which is extremely organized by Carolyn but at the same time is totally laid-back and super fun. There’s ZERO pressure in this group to be anything – you can do anything you want, there’s no judgment, and there’s always a feeling of inclusion and camaraderie. Those are rare and wonderful things in any group, especially after meeting every single month (except that one) for a decade.

If it weren’t for this group, I don’t think I would’ve grown enough as an artist to have the courage to leave my job and persue an art career full-time.  Indeed, when I think back to that time, at which time I’d only been making art for about 3 1/2 years, I feel a little sick to my stomach at how brazen and confident I was.  That was the ATCs talking, for sure.

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As you may already know, this was the ATC that literally launched my full-time art career!

I love this group so much, and I’m so happy I found these wonderful people when I did.  I won’t be able to attend a meeting again for four months due to (ironically) all of my other art teaching gigs.  But I’ll be there in December for my favorite trade of the year – our annual holiday potluck and funtimes in Cudahy.  I can’t wait.

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P.S.  If you’ve never heard of ATCs before and want to learn more, Carolyn’s FAQ is an invaluable resource!!  Start here and become obsessed yourself.  Perhaps like me, you’ll realize that you’ve made over 1200 ATCs in the past 11 years.  🙂

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Craziest. Night. EVER.

We have a saying in Wisconsin that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.  (Actually, I think most Midwestern states have that saying.)  Last night, I found out how true that saying is – almost literally!

I participated in the first-ever igNight Market in Green Bay, which happens to be my hometown.  I’d heard about it via Facebook and thought it would be fun, since I hadn’t done any sort of selling of my art there.  I left Green Bay in ’96 and this business of art wasn’t even on my radar yet.

I was pretty nervous about this market, since I knew Brian would be out of town and I’d have to go it alone.  I was as prepared as I could’ve been, which is always helpful, but I was still anxious about putting up the tent myself, as this was my first real art market ever! (I also realized afterward that I just can’t go it alone to these markets – not yet, anyway.)

I got to the market at the perfect time, had a super amount of help from the fabulous staff with set-up, and was on my way.  For a first-time event, the crowd was fantastic!  I had brought my collagraph series and my Painted Desert rust-dyed encaustic series along – one on each table (you can see that in the photo, above).  I had also brought along some of my matted linocuts.  The wind was pretty strong so I had to keep some of my work flat, but it didn’t seem to matter – people were really interested and I had wonderful chats with a LOT of people, and I made some sales!  (It is here where I have to say I am so very grateful for my amazing dad in-law, who made those cool shelves for me!  He’s such a great guy.  I’m super lucky.)  😀

I also got to see many Green Bay friends whom I don’t see enough, like my old college roommate Pia and her husby, Phil.  We had a chance to reminisce and also talk about an upcoming ride we’re doing, which was great.  I saw two of my art friends, Steve Ballard and Geri Justinger.  Steve’s wife Patricia was so lovely and got me water, which I desperately needed.  Geri is super thoughtful and had brought me a huge lot of graphic tape the last time she was at a thrift store and delivered it last night (thank you again so much, Geri!!). I got to see my friend Cheri Larson, whom I hadn’t seen since 2013.  But the craziest meeting happened to be with my friend Amy, whom I met on our first day of 6th grade in 1979, and her husband Bill.  I hadn’t seen her or Bill in person in over 20 years!  It was fantastic.

It is during this reunion of sorts where things get really bizarre.  As you can see from the above photo, when the market began there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  It was really warm, and I was sweating profusely, but so was everyone.  I think it was even fairly nice out when Amy and Bill found me.  But then….

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Yeah.  This happened.  You can see that Bill is hanging on to the tent so that it won’t blow away.  There were some other lovely people in the tent on the other side who were helping me too, just some folks who took shelter when the storm hit.  (What you can’t see is the insane amount of lightning.) The radar said we were in a “dangerous thunderstorm alert”, which was supposed to pass in about 10 minutes (it didn’t).

About 20 minutes later Bill ran and got their car and drove me to mine. I had made the executive decision to leave, on account of the fact that the streets were getting flooded and everything was soaked.  I was really afraid for my art (which, I am happy to report, made it through unscathed!).  They asked if I needed help tearing down and I said no, that it would only take me about 10 minutes.  When I got back to my booth, they were both there, waiting for me, and helped me load up my car.  I could’ve cried from thankfulness.

I drove home through one of the worst storms I can remember driving through – it was really rough.  We were all going about 35 mph for a good 20-mile stretch (Green Bay is about 70 miles from Fond du Lac).  But I took my time and I made it home in one piece, set everything out to dry, and went to bed.  🙂

The take-away from all of this?  Actually, there are many:

  • I have wonderful friends, even ones whom I hadn’t seen in decades
  • There are so many lovely people out there willing to lend a hand
  • The payoff for being super-prepared is immense
  • I will try to not sweat the small stuff
  • You don’t mess with Mother Nature – she’ll win pretty much every time.  🙂

I have one more of these markets, on September 16.  Brian is coming with me this time and I’m pretty sure the weather won’t be quite as wicked!

Teaching – and Learning

In the past four days, I have either taught or taken a class!  That might be a record for me.  It’s going to take me a while to actually process all that happened, so why not move it along with a blog post?  😀

Last Friday, I had the pure joy of leading a one-day artist residency at Brandon Middle School for the Art Club kids.  They have to “earn” this day by attending a certain number of meetings during the year, and they either get a field trip or a visiting artist.  This year was the artist year, and their teacher Barb Bellmer asked me if I would be their guest.  Would I?!?  I love residencies!  I had the kids (6-8th graders) do a large-ish collage in the morning, and then use encaustic in the afternoon.  Here are some photos of their great work!  😀

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On Saturday, I was lucky enough to take Megan Woodard Johnson‘s “Intuitive Collage” class in Grafton.  It was a wonderful class, and also fun to play with paper not from my own stash!  (It totally makes a difference, because Megan’s collection, while very similar, is much more “curated” than my own and her color palette is far more discerning than mine.) It was really fun to just PLAY, with no thought about anything except the process. It was much-needed fun, and lots of my friends were in the class, too!  😀 Here are the collages I made during the class!  😀

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On Sunday, I had two dear people over to my house for an Individual Art class – my friend Monica and her daughter Ivy wanted to do encaustic collages.  HOLY SMOKES! I am still in awe of the pieces they made – they couldn’t be any different, but they’re both amazing!!

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Yesterday, I FINALLY was able to take a class with the fantastic Heidi Parkes – I’ve been wanting to take her class for literally the past year, but it just never worked out.  So I decided to just take a private lesson yesterday instead! She is a fiber artist who lives in Milwaukee and is a champion of the Slow Fashion movement.  She believes that mending our clothes is not only thrifty, but also employs the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which celebrates the imperfect.  It was a relaxing and contemplative (and totally fun!) way to spend a rainy Monday afternoon.  And I’m also going to be able to wear my fave jeans and t-shirts again! 😀

 

In writing this post, I am reminded once again how incredibly lucky I am to be living this kind of life.  Am I insanely busy?  Yes.  But I love both teaching AND the fact that I am able to learn new things as well!  And as every teacher knows, you always learn something new from the people who take your classes.  I know I do, EVERY time.  All of these processes and collaborations; the ability to learn more about and spend more time with wonderful people; the act of living one’s life in and about art – this is what it’s about for me.  I hope to live this life for as long as I am able to enjoy it.  🙂

Best/Worst

Life is funny.  In the times where it’s even-keeled, we just sort of chug along, don’t we, not really thinking about much of anything except our own plans.  Whether it’s work, the weekend, what to have for dinner – it’s just so easy to be complacent.  I think this is where most of us spend a majority of our time, and honestly?  I think it’s a great place to be.

But then Life comes along and kicks your ass.  It could be the death of a beloved pet, something awful happening with your career; your partner or kids becoming ill; your parents’ aging and myriad issues that brings; or maybe it’s a combination of crises. Whatever the “thing” is, you’re all of a sudden thrust into Survival Mode, where you can’t even see past the day or hour at hand.  Sure, Life is still happening, but it’s all kind of a blur now.

Life can also come along and bestow upon you some of the most amazing experiences you can imagine.  It might be the best year you’ve ever had at your job; it might be that you’re marrying your best friend; it might be that you’re finally going to have a kid that you’ve been waiting for your whole life. Whenver “things” like this happen, Life seems to fly by in a whirlwind of activity – stressful in its own way, as most of Life is still happening, too.  Laundry still has to be done.  🙂

This has been my year so far.

Let’s get the crud out of the way first.  Our beloved Pommie, Dudley, left us on February 25.  He’d been my constant companion for the last 5 years and 9 months. He very rarely left my side, and his absence created a loss I wasn’t quite ready for. ——————————                            During this time, we were also adjusting to having my mom here in Fond du Lac – she moved up here in January, as it was clear she couldn’t live by herself anymore.  So we set her up at a lovely apartment in an assisted living space.  She was chugging along until the middle of February, when she passed out after having what turned out to be her last cigarette – her oxygen level was at 60% and the docs discovered her COPD was now advanced emphysema.  She was in the hospital for 5 days and afterward, needed more services.  All seemed to be going okay until this past Thursday, when we were at the grocery store and she took a terrifying fall, which crushed her shoulder bones and two vertebrae, plus part of her tailbone.  She will be in a rehab facility for 8-10 weeks, and is in a great deal of pain. All of this is compounded by her worsening dementia. —————— Lastly – this may sound like absolutely nothing compared to the two other “things” I’ve mentioned, but we also said good-bye to Carol, my beloved 1997 Toyota Corolla, on February 21.  She had been my trusty (VERY trusty!) sidekick since May of 1998.  That car saw me through the birth of my second niece (and some very smooshy memories of my first niece’s experiences with her new sister); my divorce; my dad’s death/funeral; and served as our “second” car when Brian and I got our van.  She did manage to reach 200,000 miles before we parted ways, and her final act was a donation to our local public radio station (via the Car Talk Vehicle Donation Program). I’ll be honest – I cried.  I had so many amazing adventures with this car and for a while, it seemed like I’d have her with me forever.

BUT!!  BUT!!  YOU GUYS!!

Holy smokes – it has been the most amazing year EVER for my art.  EVER.  Since January 1, this is what I’ve done:

  • I created 30 pieces (one per day, January 1-30) for the 30x30x30 show at Var Gallery (which hangs this week!).  This was my first-ever real “collection” of works. I created pieces that I rust-dyed and then stitched, followed by a layer of beeswax.  Here’s one of them, for a sneak peek:
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Painted Desert IV, rust-dyed muslin, machine embroidery, encaustic wax
  • I finished/installed my two shows at UW-Fond du Lac that I created specifically for this site: The Collograph in Minature/Pervasive Plastic.  This opportunity, which was so generously given to me by art lecturer Wendi Turchan, was a dream come true – to be able to show on a university level was something I never imagined I’d be able to do.  I also created pieces that were site-specific, and I’m so proud of them.  Here’s one of my collographs and a piece from the Plastic show:

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    Prairie (monoprint and collograph) and The Whole World is Plastic (tree branch, plastic bag strips, plastic bag)
  • On my third attempt, I was finally accepted into the Small Print Show at UW-Parkside!  My piece, A Canopy of Branches, was chosen to be one of the prints. Unfortunately, the weather and my health were both icky the night of the reception and I was unable to drive to Kenosha to see the awesome show.  But here is my piece!!  I’m so happy I got in on this one, because it’s a reduction linocut I’m really proud of.

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    A Canopy of Branches, reduction linocut
  • I am currently in The Humor Show at Riverwalk Art Center with my friends Nicci Martin and Susan Fiebig!  I am so happy to be one of the three chosen for this exhibit by curator/owner Kathryn Dreifuerst.  I can guarantee that this is going to be not only hilarious, but just a fabulous show. My portion of the show is called Bad Hair Daze, which is comprised of eight different embroidered collages featuring horrible ’80s hairstyles (here’s one of them!).  Our reception is this Friday night from 5-8 p.m. – hope to see you there!  😀fullsizeoutput_3a92The “She’s so Unusual”, from the Bad Hair Daze collection (embroidery, collage)

Lastly – I have to thank everyone who’s made this year, as trying as it’s been, so great.  Firstly – my family.  They’ve really rallied and helped so much with my mom.  Everyone has her back and it’s been so wonderful having their awesome support. I rely so much on my sister, Jenn, because no one knows me better and of course, we have the same mom.  🙂 Our “sister days” have been a life-saver.  Also, my art friends – what a wonderful group of people I know in Fond du Lac and the Fox Cities.  I know the best people in the world and I’m so proud and honored to call them my friends.  🙂 They have been so understanding when I’ve had to cancel things due to illness this year or last minute things that have come up with my mom.  I can only hope to be half as understanding as these great people.  I could name names, but you know who you are.  ❤

And lastly – my amazing husband, Brian.  To say that I couldn’t do any of this without him is the Understatement of the Year.  He has been my rock and I am so grateful and honored to be his wife, and astounded by his unflinching generosity in everything he does.  He’s truly the best.  ♥

It Feels so Good to be Done!

So it hasn’t hit me yet, but my two major projects for exhibition – The Collograph in Miniature and Pervasive Plastic – are now up and ready for viewing!  They were just installed this morning.

A little backstory – last summer, Wendi Turchan, who’s an art lecturer at UW-Fond du Lac, asked me if I’d like to show at the UW’s gallery(ies).  WOULD I?!?!  What an honor!!  I’ve had work in university shows before, but never a solo exhibit (much less two)!  She said I could do one or both of the galleries.  Because it seemed (keyword: seemed) so far away at the time, I said, SURE!  Why not?

As is oftentimes the case for me, I began planning right away.  I knew I wanted to incorporate printmaking, as I had just procured my first etching press (yes, there have been more since).  I had another idea for the other show, and it was in the works until late December. EEK.  I thought I had it all figured out and would begin working on it in December, after all my other projects and classes were finished.

Well, I did indeed begin working on the projects in December – before, actually – but as is ALSO the case, the shows began to be tweaked here and there.  New ideas were forming, which happens to me a lot when I begin working on a project in earnest.  It’s also maddening, though, because these grandiose ideas have to stop somewhere!!  I had to start really working!

It was when I embraced my love of miniature work that my big show started coming together in a great way.  I love working small so much, but have always felt bad about it -like if I work small, then I’m not a true fine artist.  Feh!  I should stop thinking that way. So I did!  I made 48 tiny collographs, which consisted of a monoprint base (made with a tiny Plexiglas plate!), and then these plates on top of that:

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(Plus many more – I wound up making around 70 of these!)

Here’s one of my 48 collographs, all finished and framed:

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I made this one with a yellow-y monoprint, and a collograph plate made with plaster fabric.  🙂

My other show, Pervasive Plastic, started to form long before my Collograph in Miniature show.  Way back in October or November, I put out a call for some “Chairman Bob” plastic bags (those in the Midwest might remember these bags from the Roundy’s/Pick n’ Save grocery stores a while back).  I got an awesome response!  So I began making mandalas from these plastic bags and other styles, like the ubuquitous “thank you have a nice day” bags, Target bags, and some from a pet store, supplied by my friend Carolyn.  They’re quite large – larger than anything else I’ve ever worked on!  But even larger still is a “tree” that I created using a large branch that split from our ash tree in our yard and long strips of plastic bags that I’d cut.  Here’s the tree, in all of its plasticky glory – it’s over 7 feet tall!

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One HUGE lesson I learned throughout this entire process?  Perseverance.  There were many hurdles I encountered during my work time: moving my mom to assisted living, being sick for a week (like everyone else in our city!), taking my mom to the ER and her landing in the hospital for a week, and having our beloved Pomeranian, Dudley, pass away a little over two weeks ago.  But you just have to keep going, don’t you?  If anything, the work was a perfect panacea to the other things happening around me.  It’s the first time I’ve ever created work that was site-specific, the first time I’d ever worked in a large series (and I LOVE IT!), and the first time I’d ever created a large 3-D piece.  I don’t know how I’m going to top this show, but I’m surely going to do my best to try.  🙂

As I close, here are some shots of the show set-up from today!  🙂  I have to give a MAJOR shout-out to my wonderful husby, Brian, who was a tremendous help in the installation today – a laser level is a GODSEND, and he’s so good with measuring!  And Wendi Turchan created all of my labels and worked the lighting, and printed my posters for me!!  I couldn’t have done this without them!   🙂

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A collage-riffic afternoon!

As an artist and instructor, there are some days where I feel guilty for making money doing what I do.  Yesterday was one of those days, for sure!

I taught a collage class through my friend Mary Jo Weidert, who owns Wild Apple Gallery in Menasha.  We met via Wisconsin Visual Artists – NE Chapter, and over the last couple of months she’s been forming classes with different instructors.  When she asked me if I’d like to teach this collage class, I was so excited!  Mary Jo has a great group of friends/clientele who were rarin’ to go.  We had ten in the class, and as you can see, they were BUSY!

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Some of the students brought their own bits of paper and ephemera, but most of what you see it my own stuff that I bring along.  I like to come fully loaded, so that workshop-goers don’t have to worry about lugging anything except their own imaginations.

And WOWIE!  Did they ever bring their imaginations – and their senses of humor!  Check out these wonderful collages and their processes!

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The entire class time was filled with laughter and general conviviality.  It was one of those afternoons where, on a blustery February Saturday, it was the middle of summer in that beautiful room at Your Daily Grind, where we held the workshop.  It was just a really lovely day.  Thank you so much, Mary Jo, for the opportunity!