Friday, April 21, 2017


Spring is everywhere, isn't it? This time of year always reminds me of our time in Tokyo. Unlike California where many types of flowers bloom at once, Japan's plantings appear a little bit at a time. First, the plum blossoms, then the cherry blossoms fill the air with their faint perfume. People organize cherry blossom viewing parties and make a point to go to temples, shrines, and parks during March and April. After the trees cast off their blooms, the tulips come up followed by wisteria, roses, hydrangea, and then iris in June.

Some shrines and temples are known for growing particular types of flowers. Kameido Shrine in Tokyo is a great place to view wisteria while Meigetsuin Temple in Kamakura blooms with hydrangeas.  In June you can walk next to the iris-filled streams in Meiji Shrine in Toyko. You might also get a chance to see young women in their Spring kimono walking the grounds.

Do you have a favorite garden that you go to in the Spring?

With the wet weather we had in the Bay Area this winter, public gardens here in the Bay Area are filled with flowers at their peak.

Easly Spring at Filoli

The tulips at Filoli in bloom

Filoli and the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto both have large plantings that you can wander through.
Hakone Gardens in Saratoga provides another chance to see a Japanese style garden.The Blake Garden in Kensington is a research garden, part of UC Berkeley, with surprising views of the Bay Area. Even at Ruth Bancroft's Succulent Garden in Walnut Creek, you can spot flowers on the succulents and cacti that she planted there.

Though the flowers are already gone from this cactus, the fruit left behind is beautiful too.

Have you seen your first iris, bird-of-paradise or a Swallowtail butterfly of the year? Are you counting the bees in your area? If you are, send your data to the Great Sunflower Project.

Let me know if you have a public garden near you.

Check out these websites for more information about public gardens in the Northern California and Japan:  Palo Alto, CA   Palo Alto, CA  Menlo Park, CA  Saratoga, CA  Kensington, CA

Friday, April 14, 2017


It's not always easy to do art. Sometimes in a class, I can hear that inner critic jump in. I watched last weekend as another woman lamented, her inner critic in high gear, "I've never done this before. I really don't like what I did. The colors are all wrong. The texture under the watercolors is too black.This looks like junk." All the other people in the class rushed to reassure her, but she didn't believe in herself and continued to let that inner critic win.

Last week I jumped at the chance to spend time with other creatives interested in learning new techniques. We all attended the Art and Soul Mixed Media Retreat in Portland, Oregon. I knew  that working around others can be great fun, but can also be challenging. Looking over someone shoulder can interrupt your confidence and undermine your creativity. I know that, and I go to classes telling myself, "This is practice. This is just practice."

Art and Soul runs for a week and offers diverse classes from how to use encaustic wax to jewelry making, from quilting to watercolors, and lots more. I chose just three days of three different classes. Outside our hotel, the Spring storms raged, but we didn't notice as we delved into projects that captured our imaginations.

I spent my first day with Roxanne Evans Stout in her Nature's Gathering, Exploring Stenciling class, where we experimented with pan pastels, acrylics, stencils and ephemera to create an accordion book filled with layers, words, and textures.

I started by covering the watercolor paper with pan pastel markings.
One side of my finished piece

Catherine Anderson's class, The Secret Life of Trees, involved using old photos that we wet and scrubbed with sandpaper to achieve beautiful, sturdy background paper. We rubbed on pan pastels to add color. We applied paper napkins, used tea bags, textures, torn paper, string, and photos and drawings of trees.

A duplicate of an old photo

After scrapping with sandpaper and rubbing with pan pastels

 By the end of the day, we had pages filled with intriguing images. I used the poem, Advice from a Tree by Ilan Shamir, throughout my pages.

On Saturday Helen Shafer Garcia taught monoprinting using easy tools including a printing brayer, acrylic paint, aluminum foil, a sheet of hot press watercolor paper, and a pencil or ballpoint pen.

To start, Helen crumbled the foil and then spread it out on the inking surface. She applied a small amount of dark acrylic paint to the foil with the brayer. She placed the inked foil, ink side down, on top of the watercolor paper and drew freeform shapes on the foil with her pencil. She lifted the foil off to reveal a textured paper. The foil could be printed again to make a 'ghost print.'

A ghost print just needing some shapes drawn with crayon

I followed her instructions for making the monoprint. Once the paint was dry, I drew more freeform shapes directly on the watercolor paper with crayons. I painted around the crayon shapes with watercolor. I did the same thing with some of the dark printed shapes. I used white gouache to cover up parts that I didn't like or to bring out a design that I wanted to create on top of the first layers.

During those three days at Art and Soul, I worked side by side with other people who explored and pushed their own abilities. Sometimes with new techniques, the learning process can be discouraging; other times a sense of joy pervades the room as people make new discoveries about themselves and their own abilities.

Check out these websites for more information about retreats and instructors:

Art and Soul Mixed Media Retreats:

Roxanne Evans Stout:

Catherine Anderson:

Helen Garcia:

Friday, April 7, 2017


Do you remember middle school? Most of us do with a twinge of pain. Those were the days when we looked in the mirror and saw 'gawky and clumsy,' wanting to be a grown-up one minute and hanging on to childhood the next, heard our voices changing, and our bodies growing in uncertain, mysterious ways.

I sit in a classroom with the students I work with as a Writer Coach and see something different. I think, "I'm sitting next to hope." I work with two eighth grade boys, Larry and Tommy, on assignments about John Steinbeck's novel, Of Mice and Men. The story is difficult, but the students in the class have seen the movie, read articles about the Depression and the Dust Bowl, which sent many people to California searching for new lives.

Both students are grappling with the relationship between two itinerant workers, George and Lenny: are they friends or more like father-son figures? The students are being asked some tough questions about loyalty and friendship, the dream of owning a piece of land, and loneliness and companionship. Listening to the students speak about the themes in the book gives me hope.  They see parallels to today's world of immigrant workers, people with special needs, and the security of a strong friendship. Larry brings up some of his own family's experiences while Tommy uses his math logic to puzzle out the relationships.

As I sit with them, I am filled with hope. I know that middle school is a time of great change, a time when students begin to define themselves and their beliefs, and to question what they have learned. These students already have a better grasp of how the world works than I did when I was their age. I'm glad to see schools such as this one take on the task of developing critical thinking in their students. I sit with hope.

On my walks, I often come across Lost Things. Each one of them has a story of how they became separated from someone. In the top right hand corner is a line of items that someone else found and moved to a sidewalk. In an other photo, there is a shoe caught in the flotsam of the water around a pier. Children's things slip away easily, but how about that boot?

Friday, March 31, 2017


Photos by Bill Slavin
Find more at

Spring and we hear the cry of a hawk in our neighborhood again. A hawk used to nest in the tree in our front yard, but crows chased that hawk away. Now the strong, high-pitched shriek of this new hawk thrills us as we spot him in the branches of the trees.

One morning we watched two doves lay down twigs and leaves in the roof gutter near our dining room window. Last year they successfully produced eggs, sat attentively on the nest till the eggs hatched, fed the babies repeatedly, helped the babies learn to fly and to feed themselves until, the parents' work done, the fledglings flew away. We watched the complete cycle for the first time. In previous years, because the nest is completely exposed, a hawk had gotten everything -- parents and eggs.

Now when we hear the scree of the hawk, we wince and hope the doves will be secure once more. On the one hand, we glory in the beauty and strength of the hawk; but on the other, we watch with kindness as the two doves build a nest and a hoped-for future.

The hawks and dove made me think how often we are faced with challenges that are not black and white. We may have reasons for favoring part of one side and the other. In one of my online classes several years ago, the instructor gave us a list of words and asked the question, "What is valuable to you?" I cut the list of words out and rearranged them in the order of importance to me. I tried the list among friends and discovered surprising differences and similarities in our lists.

Here is the list. Make a copy, cut the words out and place them in the order that is important to you. Cutting them out and re-assembling them in your order is an important part of the process. You may find yourself reorganizing the list after your first try. What would your friends choose? What would someone who doesn't agree with you choose?

Beauty and Creativity                                          Love and Compassion

Joy and Laughter                                                 Health and Well-Being

Respect for the Environment                               Knowledge and Truth

Appreciation and Contentment                            Justice and Morality

One step further:  would you agree with this list of basic American values?  What would you add? What order would you put these words in?

Freedom                                Individualism                    Pragmatism

Volunteerism                         Mobility                            Patriotism

Progress                                American Dream               Efficiency

Equality                                Achievement                      National Security

I found the American values list along with a detailed posting about what these values mean at GoldenLine, the LinkedIn website for Poland. Everyone in the world wants to understand us, don't they?

Friday, March 24, 2017


Cover for my sketchbook for the Brooklyn Art Library's Sketchbook Project

Daylight savings time, no matter how lovely that extra time in the evening is, fools me every night. I look up at the clock, am startled to discover that it is 6 P.M., which throws me into a panic. I think, "So little time left and I'm just getting started." People ask me how I begin writing. What is hard for me is to stop. Once ideas bubble to the surface, many follow.

A few pages from the sketchbook

One of my favorite parts about writing is the research. This week I've looked up the origin of margarine, which was developed in 1969 by Hippolyte Mege-Mouries (that name goes right into my list of names that I collect) in France as a substitute for butter for the armed forces. I've read about regulations against collecting birds' nests (in California we have a regulation, but the Fish and Game Department decided not to enforce it) and I hunted for the differences between jackrabbits and cottontails (we have a jack in our backyard). I've delved into the debate between private and public prisons (part of a teacher assignment at the middle school where I volunteer as a Writer Coach). I searched for Freya, the Nordic god of love, sex, and fertility after my sister sent me a quiz about "Which Nordic God Are You?"

I listened to a radio interview with someone whose two creative sons developed schizophrenia. I couldn't resist finding out more. Studies show that creative people and people who develop schizophrenia or bipolar disease often share a common gene, neuregulin I.* Think of Van Gogh or mathematician John Nash of A Beautiful Mind. For some people that gene increases their creative abilities or their ability to think divergently. They filter out less information than most and use that ability to formulate new ideas. For others, they may develop mental illness because their brains become overwhelmed in processing all of those details.**

I haven't come up with any new connections between margarine, rabbits, birds' nests, schizophrenia, prisons, and Norse gods. If you do, let me know. You are a creative person indeed.

These bits of information that I garner, along with all that I collect while talking with friends, walking through neighborhoods, gardening and de-cluttering our house become gems that could be turned into essays about life. With all those possibilities, when Daylight Savings Time comes around again, I'm gob-smacked when 6 P.M. shows up on the clock and it is time for dinner. I've been fooled by time again.

  You can find more information about the Sketchbook Project here: 

Friday, March 17, 2017


One of my favorite websites, HOLSTEE, asked writers to submit articles to their blog about the topic, Simplicity. Just the word itself sent me on a mental quest. What a wonderful idea to have a simple life, something most of us crave. Do you have a favorite way to make your life simpler?

I have a friend who is a wiz at decluttering her house. She has removed objects that no longer matter to her. Walking into her house feels like taking a breath of fresh air. Her art adorns the walls, and the furniture is arranged so that you want to sit, relax and have a long chat. The best part of a visit is opening the door to the back yard into a lovely garden with a 180-degree view of bay waters, hills, and Mt. Diablo in the distance.

I haven't learned her art of decluttering. I tried the trendy method of holding an object to see if I still feel any connection to it. No luck for me. Not only do I have a response to almost everything, but the object becomes a new distraction as I sit down and look through its pages or rub the sides of the teapot to bring back fond memories or wander through the stacks of art materials in my workroom. I can always find something interesting that keeps me attached to the object.

Do you work at simplifying your life in other ways? I found one helpful idea from The One Hundred Hours Project, which offers a card to manage time. The card has circles that I can fill in each time I spend an hour on my designated interest. When I have 100 hours accumulated, I can give myself a reward for the time I've spent doing something meaningful to me.

Produced using a Gelli-plate

I spent a week one summer at Scripps Camp, a retreat for alumnae from Scripps College. We stayed in the simply-furnished dorm rooms with just a bed, desk and chair. To my surprise, I accomplished a lot, even forfeiting opportunities to take workshops and to attend get-togethers with other alums because the room opened my senses to the quietness and stillness of the world around me. I wasn't thinking of a million different things like I do at home. I had time to listen to the silence.

I still struggle with how to carve out that kind of space in my daily life. Going to our local coffee house, sitting outside, and sketching people at other tables gives me a little of that freedom. Cleaning out my workspace helps too. Walking on the Iron Horse Trail opens my eyes to the natural beauty around me. Occasionally I work somewhere else in the house instead of my workroom, which offers me another perspective.

What do you do to live a more 
simple, more fruitful life?

Two good websites to explore:



Friday, March 10, 2017


As a public school teacher, I was required to take a loyalty oath to the U.S. and California Constitutions. I didn't think much about it. I was used to saying the Pledge of Allegiance, the Girl Scout oath, and other symbolic words about honor. Other people have not been so quick to gloss over words that become superficial in their repetition. In 2008, a teacher in the Cal State University system was fired because she refused to take the oath for religious reasons. She was a Quaker and agreed to sign the oath if she could insert "non-violently" before the word support in the statement. (Read the statement below.) With media attention, she was rehired, but others who had similar religious objections have not been so fortunate.

I think about the oath now and realize that it was instituted during the McCarthy era in the 1950s to eliminate teachers who belonged to the Communist Party. (The oath, because of court decisions, has been revised to exclude firing because of membership in any club or organization.) I am part of the white privileged group in the U.S. who doesn't often experience the fear that can erupt when questions about our thinking, our origins, our family history, and/or our political positions arise.

Before I was born both my parents worked for Disney Studios until shortly after my dad's cartoon students joined striking artists at Disney in 1941. Disney thought my dad encouraged his students to strike. My parents left the studio and moved to Vermont where he worked as a freelance cartoonist and as an engineer in a New York company. When they returned to California, he began working for Western Publishing Company, which contracted with Warner Bros. to create the Bugs Bunny comic strip and books.

A cartoon that appeared in the company newsletter where
my dad worked as an engineer for a short time during WWII.

Many people involved in the entertainment industry were denounced, even without proof, to the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s. My dad was a widely-published comic strip artist by then. He knew of one artist who couldn't find work because of suspicions about his loyalty. My parents worried about the threat of being accused of being members of the Communist Party, even though they were not politically active. I remember as a child feeling that fear from my parents.

One Saturday my family climbed into the car and drove to Alhambra to shop. My dad, as he usually did, left the car unlocked with windows open. When we returned, a flier had been thrown on the front passenger seat. My mother picked up the paper, which was an invitation to a Communist Party gathering, and hid it under her purse. At home, she put the flier on the entry desk with the intent of disposing of it later. Before she had a chance to do that, a friend came over. The flier was still on the table though no one mentioned it.

When the friend left, I remember the look of fear that crossed my parents' faces when my mother picked up the flier off the table. If the friend reported seeing the invitation, my dad could lose his job. Luckily for them, the friend either didn't see the flier or didn't care. The incident was soon erased when the paper was torn up and put in the garbage. But that sense of fear has never left me. I had an inkling of what some people live with every day and I haven't forgotten that.

My dad loved to draw horses and the freedom they represented.

"I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter."


In 2013, two artists from Britain went to Normandy to commemorate International Peace Day by marking the beach in honor of the men who were killed during D-Day of World War II. 
Their blog, reached by clicking on the link below, describes what they did: a beautiful example of caring about sacrifice, loyalty and honor.