an everyday photo, every day | photography • art • poetry

  • house front
  • autumn leaves
  • Downtown Pittsburgh on a lovely October day.
  • photo of sparrows on branch
  • pastel paitning of snow
  • wild grapes
  • shadows on wood door
  • sunflowers
  • virginia creeper leaves
  • trees and wicker chair


24 Years



Twenty-four years ago today I signed the mortgage on my home and got the keys, came back and stood on the front porch completely surprised it had actually happened.

Single women in their late 20s didn’t buy houses too often, especially not fixer-uppers. I was regularly asked where my husband was, what he thought and why I didn’t wait until I had one. I was also told, literally told, that I didn’t want a “house” because I was a girl and it would be so much easier to buy a condo because then there would be someone around to fix things and take care of the yardwork–I might not know what I was getting into and I should be careful.

I chose this house specifically because it was a fixer-upper, so I could turn it into what I wanted without having to pay for a bunch of things other people thought were improvements, like new wall-to-wall carpet and fresh paint. I never cared for wall-to-wall, and I can apply my own paint, thank you. And I’d been taking care of my parent’s house for years, inside and out, and rented a house for five years where I learned all the ways an old house needs love.

That house was due to be updated by the owners and I had to move out. Rent was so expensive in the late 80s and felt like a waste of money when a mortgage payment was less for more. I also had six rescued cats and wasn’t about to give up any of them for anyone’s lease. In fact, I wasn’t going to have anyone tell me how I was going to live. I’d paid my way through college, always worked full-time plus at least one part-time job, paid off my parents’ mortgage, paid to put my father in a nursing home, bought my mother a car, I didn’t feel I could continue with my master’s and any other degrees so I was at least going to have a house.

I had a savings and was easily approved for an FHA loan for no more than $30,000, and after looking for several months and finding a realtor who actually helped me look for the house I wanted instead of one more expensive because “you’ll be making more in a few years” or “you’ll get married and be able to sell”, I looked at just a few serious, good houses and found this one, and knew this was it. The house was small, but I walked into the back yard with all the trees around and the deck and felt right at home. The seller just didn’t know it yet, and still wanted $39,000.

A few weeks after I’d seen it I drove my mother to see it. As we drove up the street I saw fire trucks and people milling in the street. “I think that’s near the house,” I said. “In fact, it’s at the house!” The owners had moved out nearly a year before and the tile in the basement was picking up so the realtor had advised removing it and painting the floor because it looked bad and wasn’t going to stick anyway. The man attempted lifting up the glue with gasoline, with the hot water tank still lit. He survived with serious burns to his hands, and the house survived too. He quickly agreed to my offer. I spent some time with FHA issues like lead paint and leaks, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. The basement was professionally cleaned and repaired and there was a brand new coat of plain white paint on the walls for the smoke damage.

I spent my first year or so undoing some of his other good ideas, like the gray smoke warped and stained wallboard and amber light fixtures in the bathroom, and the metal casement windows that had been painted and sealed shut with homemade plexiglas storm windows that completely covered the window openings and bolted to the wall. Between that and the unkempt back yard, I knew these people seriously did not want the outdoors to come in. I tossed open all the windows and doors when I’d been working on the FHA compliance and let the air inside.

I have heard by anecdote and small bits of proof that this little place was originally a two-story addition to another house on the corner. My realtor had told me this, a few older neighbors, and a customer service rep a the electric company who had grown up across the fence from this house. He was very young when they built the foundation and took the two-story sunroom off the wood-sided mansard-roofed Victorian on the corner and set this house on it; there is a two-story porch there now that is exactly the size of my house. My house is 15 ft x 22 ft, the joists run the short way as if they had attached to a house, it was clearly two rooms up and down because the walls don’t match upstairs and downstairs, and the pipes go up to the bathroom in a square bump-out in the corner of the kitchen. The roof does not have a soffit and fascia. The back wall sags a bit, and I presume that was the side attached to the house.

It was intended to be a starter home, inexpensive, easy for me to do a few repairs myself to save money, then pay for a few updates then sell it for a larger house where I could stay and run my business and do my artwork. I guessed I’d be here about 10 years. But the stress on my hands from all the fixups I did early on worsened the tendonitis and other damage in my hands from setting type and working on computers, and I decided to turn toward my art career instead.

My mortgage was sold through three corrupt mortgage companies from 2003 to 2009 and it’s been difficult to keep up with their bizarre requirements. I’ve been involved in a class action suit as well as gone to court and had several modifications, and I may have finally landed at the final one where the payment is actually a little less than my first payment 24 years ago. But it’s my little place. It’s a little small for all the things I want to do, but some days the world is too small for all the things I want to do. I’m happy to celebrate. It’s one of my early accomplishments, and it’s an anniversary I always celebrate, just by enjoying my home. I took a hiatus from improvements when I decided to focus on starting my business, and that was extended by caring fo my mother for a decade. Now it’s time to get back to business.

Here’s the first photo I saw, and what my house looked like the year before I bought it.

Realtor's photo of my house.

Realtor’s photo of my house.

Poem for Saturday: Like a Tree

painting of birch trees

Birches 1: Autumn Showers, oil pastel, 22″ x 16″ © B.E. Kazmarski

Autumn has arrived as usual, and each day the colors of the season appear in new places. Here in Western Pennsylvania with our miles and miles of tree-covered hills, more brilliant reds and yellows stand among the deep olive green as if someone had stippled a single wide brush stroke here and there on the hillside, just for effect. Because I am compelled to photograph and paint these colors I know that while we see some colors even in September, the leaves don’t begin to turn in earnest, in that big wave of change, until mid-October, yet many hillsides are already halfway there. This year our warm and wet summer is said to produce a spectacular autumn leaf show.

Because I paint Western Pennsylvania, nearly every one of my landscape paintings contains a tree, usually more than one, and often the trees themselves are the subjects; I have included a slideshow of a number of paintings, below. I have gigabytes of photos of trees, just for the trees’ sake, not to mention ones where the trees are the supporting cast. The other day I ran an errand entirely on winding back roads so that I could drive 10 miles per hour and photograph the beauty unfolding at every turn, even if they weren’t particularly good photos; the change had come so quickly that I was completely distracted and it was either that or have someone drive me or I’d wreck my car.

pencil sketch of doves in bare branches

Biding Time, pencil and watercolor, 14.5″ x 20.5″ © B.E. Kazmarski

Above, “Biding Time”, a pencil drawing of the old maple tree that guards my house, with resident mourning doves. This maple has guarded this house for over 60 years, and me for the past 23. It bears the scars of storms and age, hollow to the ground, fragile now, yet it is a part of my life each moment I am here, from my bedroom first thing in the morning to the course of the day outside my office window. Drawing this, in detail, in pencil, took several weeks, working a square inch or two in an hour or so and I got to know the tree so well; the leaves are lovely, but the trunk and branches tell the true story. I added very slight watercolor washes to show the bird’s breast tarnish and the contrast of blue on the upper feathers, and the slight gather of moss on the tree branch, all to give it a bit of dimension.

I think of the trees around me as I think of my friends, those constant presences that are more a part of us than we know. They inspired this poem.

Like a Tree

To live my life like a tree,
to grow steadily from small beginnings,
fervently when possible, and quietly adapt when necessary,
stand in peace and harmony with my neighbors,
bear my fruit appropriately,
bring shelter and comfort to others indiscriminately,
and when my season is over
graciously give my gift to the earth
for the benefit of myself and all around me,
and without fear
patiently wait for my moment to return
in spring.

poem © 2000 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Enjoy a slideshow of a number of my paintings including trees in all seasons and states of being, and media from pencil to acrylic paint. You can find all of these paintings, originals or prints, on my website in Landscapes and My Home Town, and in my Etsy shop. Also visit my Autumn Gallery where all my landscape originals and prints are on sale until December 21, the winter solstice.

Read the rest of the poetry from my first ever poetry reading and art show at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, in 2007 entitled Paths I Have Walked.

poetry book

Paths I Have Walked, collected poems.

About Art of the Watershed and the Collected Poems

A series of seasonal images of the Lower Chartiers Watershed

“I have travelled a good deal in Concord,” said Henry David Thoreau in Walden, his paradox of exploring a small town and its surroundings teaching him as much about human life and the interactions of nature as if he had traveled rare and exotic places about the globe.

I’d love to paint faraway exotic places, but in the interests of time I stay close to home for my hiking, bicycling, canoeing, walking and painting excursions, that being the valley where the Lower Chartiers Creek flows.

I’ve seen some exquisite sights on my adventures, and committed them to various media. The most moving are the ones I’ve chosen to paint large and in detail so that I might convey at least a portion of the grandeur that moved me beyond awe to action, sharing the places right around us though most people would never see them. Thus was born the series offering an image indicative of the watershed in each season.

About the books and the poetry readings

My biggest inspiration for poetry, prose and artwork is the world right around me, and I enjoy the opportunity to share it from the perspective of one who walks and hikes and bikes and carries a camera, art materials and journal everywhere—even around the house—so the inspirations are fresh.

In December, 2006, two of my poems were chosen to be published on a section of the Prairie Home Companion website entitled “Stories From Home/First Person” for submissions of writing about the place we feel most familiar. I’m a long-time listener to PHC and reader of Garrison Keillor’s books as well as a daily listener to The Writer’s Almanac featuring news about writers and writing and of interest to writers as well as a poem, all compiled and read by Keillor himself. I was astonished to fi nd my poems were among the first chosen from apparently thousands, and so happy to be able to share them with a potential audience of so many similarly inclined writers and readers.

My poetry readings and art exhibits were the vision of Maggie Forbes, executive director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, after learning of my publishing of those two poems. I owe her many thanks for encouraging me to present this combination of my visual and literary art, a first for me. Each year I am invited back to read my poetry and exhibit my artwork. I love that building, every inch of it, and the opportunity to bring people in to visit is an honor.

And visit my poetry page to see more about my poetry and other writing, and to purchase Paths I Have Walked.

Visit my website to see the full set of paintings included in the “Art of the Watershed” series.


virginia creeper on weathered door


Sometimes the scene is just visually stunning, especially with a little flash of angled late afternoon sun on that bright red Virginia Creeper. Love the peeling paint, the weathered wood, cloudy windows and the door hinge. Yet the plant flashes its brilliance before it fades, while the building simply fades.

This is from several years ago, but each October, on a day as warm as summer, I remember this moment and share it again.

. . . . . . .

For a print of any photo, visit “purchasing” for availability and terms.

If you’d like a print of this photo on various materials—canvas, metal, acrylic, and more—it is available in my photography collection in my Fine Art America gallery entitled, simply, “Red”.

For photos of lots of black cats and other cats—and even some birds as I first published this post there—visit The Creative Cat.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Downtown Pittsburgh on a lovely October day.

Downtown Pittsburgh on a lovely October day.

Saturday was lovely and whenever I drive through Mt. Washington I try to stop and photograph Pittsburgh, in any season or time of day.

Here’s a panorama I put together from a series of photos.

Panorama of Pittsburgh

Panorama of Pittsburgh

See other photos of Pittsburgh.

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For a print of any photo, visit “purchasing” for availability and terms.


Award of Excellence for “Snowfall”

pastel paitning of snow

“Snowfall”, pastel, 11″ x 8″ © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

I submitted three paintings and I learned that I’d won an award in the South Hills Art League annual juried show. Above, “Snowfall”, which I’d shown in my exhibit “Sun Shadow Ice & Snow: Seasons of the Panhandle Trail”, won in the second highest award category, “Award of Excellence”. Of the three pieces I entered I’m surprised this one was a winner, but I like snow, so why not? The original is for sale, framed, for $250, as well as prints for $25.00 each, which I will add to my Etsy shop after the opening reception tonight along with the other two paintings.

If you are local, please join us tonight:

Opening reception Saturday, October 11, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.

Exhibit open Friday, October 10 through Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Galleria Of Mt. Lebanon
1500 Washington Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15228

Below is the story behind the painting, and below that are the other two paintings I entered in the exhibit.

It isn’t always eternal summer on the trail, though memories might make us think so. Winter is my favorite season to paint. I love the subtleties of color and shape with snow in the air and on the ground, and on the trail I am often all alone with the quiet of a winter day, or a gentle snowfall.

In this case, I was glad for the time alone and quiet, and my art materials. This is from several years ago, one of the sketches I’d actually done in the front seat of my car during a late winter ice and snow storm, with a personal connection. I’d moved my mother to a personal care home in a neighborhood adjacent to the trail and often combined visits to the trail and visits to my mother. She didn’t care at all for trails, but she thought it was pretty cool when I would pull up in front of the home on my bicycle in shorts and a tank top to visit and cool off and eat my lunch on a summer afternoon when all the other daughters were in jogging suits driving minivans. Though my mother suffered from a number of heart and lung conditions she was overall well but weak, though she often suffered from mild dementia; visits could be troubling.

So it was this winter day when I had driven there. The roads were cleared but the trail was not, still, I wanted a dose of nature after my visit and knew of a spot close where I could pull up next to the trail. Not a mark was in the deeply fallen snow, and I decided I would not be the one to leave mine, it was just too perfect. The snow was falling too heavily to work outside my car, so I angled my car just right and sat in my font seat and began a sketch, then decided I should leave before the roads grew worse.

I’d always intended to finish this off, adding some bare trees fading into the distance in the heavy snowfall, but I think there was a reason I stopped at this point, and I think it captures this snowy afternoon and my conversations with my mother as it is.

. . . . . . .

A Bend in the Road (sold), prints available

pastel painting of woods on back road

“A Bend in the Road”, pastel, 14″ x 22″ © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

 The Swimming Hole, $350

pastel painting of three kids in swimming hole

“The Swimming Hole”, pastel, 17″ x 8″ © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

. . . . . . .

If you are interested in purchasing this painting or any other originals I have posted here on Today, please contact me. I will also have prints of this painting after the exhibit.

Almost Missed

wild grapes

Grapes 1

When the tiny green grapes began to turn dusky purple and the leaves to gold, I envisioned an image of them in their contrasting and complementary brilliance, sunny, glowing gold and rich purple. Each day I took more and more photos hoping to find that vision.

wild grapes

Grapes 2

It was not to be. Grape leaves tend to fall before they turn yellow, and are burnished with brown and gray as well. The sun was not going to wash these leaves and grapes at the right angle for the image I wanted. But in the process I took a lot of photos that I didn’t even notice were truly descriptive of the change.

wild grapes

Grapes 3

Transitions, poem in progress

I was looking so hard for what I wanted
I forgot what I was looking for
and found what was there
tiny purple grapes
in dusky skins
amid their glowing autumn foliage,
the natural end
of what I had begun.

wild grapes

Grapes 4

Sometimes I can let go of all my expectations before I begin a creative venture. Perhaps sometimes I need to work my way through my expectations and come out the other end without them.

. . . . . . .

For a print of any photo, visit “purchasing” for availability and terms.

Diner Greeting Committee


Diner Greeting Committee

Especially welcome on a rainy day.

The photo was so dull and underexposed I did major manipulations to color and contrast, and then applied a “poster edges” filter in Photoshop. I photographed it thinking it would make a good watercolor someday but wasn’t sure I could pull it off with all the colors so dull, now I think it will be okay.

. . . . . . .

For a print of any photo, visit “purchasing” for availability and terms.

Not Fast Enough

virginia creeper leaves

Not turning fast enough!

The leaves aren’t changing fast enough for me so I did a little work on them. A Virginia Creeper vine grew up my deck post and while all the rest of it is turning it characteristic scarlet to red-violet, I’ve been waiting for this to turn red so I can photograph the light through it. It’s still green, so I photographed it anyway because I liked the way the leaves cast clear shadows on each other, and also tried it in black and white where it looks like a puzzle; these are below. And then I skewed the colors in Photoshop! I’ll make those leaves change when I want them to!

virginia creeper leaves

Bits and Pieces in actual color.

virginia creeper leaves

In black and white.

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For a print of any photo, visit “purchasing” for availability and terms.


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