Friday, July 21, 2017

FAMILY STORIES


Every family has stories. Some of the stories contain the trauma, hard luck, and drama that follow certain members. Some members seem to glide quietly through life without too much disruption. Other stories fill a room with laughter.  What are your family stories?


My dad's parents had 7 children. They lived in the middle of farm country in Minnesota. At a reunion with 77 cousins where everyone around me descended from or were related by marriage to that couple, I listened as some of the old stories brought us together again.

Though none of my cousins remembered my grandparents dancing,
this drawing captures the joy and light-hearted fun that is part of my family's heritage.                  
drawing by Ralph C. Heimdahl


We all had tales of family members, but the stories we all remembered were told by my Uncle Kermit years ago. With his dry wit, Kermit used to keep us in laughter with the tales of the two bachelor tenant farmers who lived on my aunt and uncle's farm. The stories are named the Charlie Arnie stories and everyone at the reunion laughed when someone just mentioned his name.

Charlie Arnie was an uncomplicated man who took things literally. When his partner got lost one day, Charlie reported his disappearance. When asked what his partner looked like, Charlie Arnie replied, "He was wearing a new pair of overalls and a hat." At that time, in farm country that could describe just about anyone.

That's all there was to Kermit's story, just a few phrases that caught a picture of the consternation and amusement revolving around Charlie Arnie. He became so well known in the small community where he lived that they named a one-block street in his honor, Charlie Arnie Way.




Before all my aunts and uncles died, I decided to ask my relatives to remember a short anecdote about their lives growing up (mostly in Minnesota) as a Heimdahl. I asked each one to answer, "I remember...." I collected the responses in a book, which we printed and distributed to all the relations. I was pleased to see younger cousins at the reunion reading the book, which was part of the display of family artifacts brought to the reunion.


Do you have any family stories you would like to preserve? Start by asking the question,


"I remember...."


Heimdal, the guardian of the rainbow in Norse mythology

Friday, July 14, 2017

WHAT'S IN FRONT OF YOU

"Nearsightedness"

Sometimes you don't see something that is right in front of you. While we were on vacation last week, I walked right into a tall, metal post. No excuses, but why would you plant a post right in the middle of the sidewalk? Then again, why would you not look where you are going? One of those embarrassing moments we all have, or at least I do. Today I just realized that part of my first name, Martha, includes the word, "art." How unobservant can one be? But what a delightful surprise. Art is not only in my genes but even in my name. And I only have a slight bruise on my cheek.

This summer I've been working to produce one postcard a day. 
You've seen some already. 
Here are others. 

Help me select the ones to turn into real postcards. 
You can email me your choices with your address to marthaslavin@gmail.com  
I'll send you a postcard back!
Or leave your choices in the comment section on this blog posting.

Happy Summer!


#1 Racing Horse


#2 Dreams


 #3 Carrot Queen









                          #4 Grace

#5 Golden Gate Bridge

#6  Letting Go



#7 Sailboat

#8 Traces of Leaves

#9  Geranium

#10  Kindness Matters

#11  Kindness Matters Too

#12 Flower

#13  Bouquet

#14 Roses

#15  White Flowers

Friday, July 7, 2017

REMEMBERING WHAT WE STAND FOR





We drove down to the DMV in San Jose recently so that Bill could take his written driver's test at the large facility there. We ended up in one of the flat, barren areas of San Jose--six lane roads, few trees or bushes, bare concrete buildings which replaced the groves of apricots and fields of flowers that filled the valley long ago.

While Bill was in the DMV, I looked around the neighborhood for a coffee house. There wasn't a Starbucks outside of the DMV; just a couple of strip malls with signs in Vietnamese and English advertising dental services, groceries, a dollar store, and a bustling laundromat. At the end of the strip mall stood a store with a dark interior, with a mirrored bar at the end. The place was filled with men of all ages. I didn't enter because I thought the place was a bar, there were no women inside, and it was only 11 a.m. I remembered how disoriented I felt when we first moved to Japan and I wasn't familiar enough with the culture or the rules of the area around me. I walked across the street still looking for a coffee house. No luck. I turned and looked back across the street to see the sign above what I had thought was a bar. The sign read: Tully Coffee Shop. I crossed back over, but before I had a chance to get a cup of coffee, Bill came out of the DMV.

We drove down Stevens Creek Boulevard, which for as long as I have been in the Bay Area, has been a wide street with strip malls hugging the edges of the road. As we went by, I noted the signs on the buildings:



A trip for a driver's license ended up with my looking at my world with renewed eyes. I saw the best and the worst of towns in the United States. The worst: the endless concrete strip malls, and the best: the mixing of cultures because we are a nation of immigrants. Where else can you see so many diverse entrepreneurs in one place? And how much richer we are because of it? The small shops inside the strip malls attest to that.





Did you see the two articles in the New York Times this Sunday about the U.S. Constitution? One is a full reprint of the Constitution with annotations; the other is an article, "The Constitution, By Hand," about people who meet in groups to write down the Constitution, word for word. In the process, they develop a better concept of what the Constitution means. Good idea, don't you think, for all of us to do?

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/30/opinion/sunday/the-constitution-by-hand.html




Friday, June 30, 2017

LETTING GO OF PRECIOUS

Doing artwork means learning to let go of something you made that becomes precious to you, and also, learning to know when to stop. This month I've challenged myself to do a small postcard-sized painting each day. I also continue with my watercolor class which is teaching me a structured practice to make precise contour drawings, to look at form carefully, to create soft and hard edges, and to mix colors on the paper, not on my palette. My postcard-sized paintings are emotional and fast, layering colors and torn paper, and finding shapes in the abstract. These two opposite ways of art have been a good exercise for me and free me after intense concentration to help me let go of "precious."



In my class, I just started a painting of an onion. When I stopped for the day, I really liked what I had done. This is the hard part, especially if you are new to painting, to let go of what you've painted to continue to progress. Once I put paint to paper again, I know that I will mess up somewhere and I will lose that precious bit of painting. I tell myself, "It is only practice." I take a photo and then pick up my paint brush.





With my small paintings, I must learn when to stop. They begin with splashes of color, layers of torn paper and other bits, a layer of gesso over that, sprays with acrylic ink or intense watercolor, gesso again, stenciling, acrylics, and calligraphy. Then maybe another wash of gesso. My intent is to find something within the painting to pull out and emphasize. Very often I find circular shapes that become the sun or moon and the rest of the painting becomes a landscape.

Or flowers.





Sometimes faces appear.


 Sometimes I just leave the paper to dry, use the painting as a background paper.  Again, sometimes these paintings don't work at all and they go into my pile that may be cut up for something else.


I love pieces of paper that I've used either as a paint palette or underneath another painting. They are spontaneous marks on the page. I often use them in the next painting. I think I'm going to have to do something about those two big blobs on the left side though. What do you think?



Mountain on Fire

Friday, June 23, 2017

SUMMER HEAT




What do you do to retreat from the heat?

With the temperatures hovering around 100 degrees in the West, we look for cool escapes.








A quick trip to Carmel helped. We went kayaking on Elkhorn Slough at sunset on Sunday. The water was calm, the light breeze kept us cool. We watched as otters frolicked with each other, cormorants tended their babies on nests on top of tall posts in the middle of the harbor, and pelicans swooped up and down across the breakers out on the beach. The fog rolled into Carmel the next day just before the mid-morning temperatures rose. We sat in the shade of a lovely garden filled with hydrangeas, fuchsias, and bumblebees. We walked the Carmel streets, took photos and painted what we saw from the inn's small patio. We stayed cool.








Now back home, I'm thinking of more ways to escape. I know that in our shady backyard the temperature drops by at least 5 degrees in the shade. We don't have humidity or bothersome bugs so we can sit outside for awhile. I think of portals I would seek as a child. trees and bushes create natural tunnels that provide respite from the heat. The ground in those tunnels stays cool and the air even cooler.


Take a walk on the cool side.




We have a favorite bookstore in Carmel where I restocked my supply of mysteries and memoirs. Several of you have recommended some good reads too.


Have fun reading and stay cool!

Linda:  Elizabeth Berg's The Pull of the Moon

Sue:  Ivan Doig, English Creek, Dancing at the Rascal Fair, & This House of Sky 
         Frederick Bachman novels
         Rick Bragg, Ava's Man
        Annie Proulx, That Old Ace in the Hole

Bill: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Me:  Elizabeth Alexander, The Light of the World
         Edward de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes
         the Dr. Siri mysteries set in Laos by Colin Cotterill

Terrific Carmel bookstore:  http://www.riverhousebookscarmel.com

Check out Elkhorn Slough:  http://www.elkhornslough.org

Rent kayaks at Kayak Connection:  http://www.kayakconnection.com/elkhorn-slough/

Great place to stay in Carmel:  Carmel Cottage Inn  https://www.carmelcottageinn.com

Friday, June 16, 2017

TIME AWAY FROM THE NEWS


One morning on our deck as I was reading the paper with all its glum news, I felt something land on my shoulder. I reached up to brush it off. My hand briefly clutched a feather-weight clump of softness -- full of life and air beyond my normal expectation. It was one of the finches that populate our yard. Luckily, my touch didn't hurt it and it quickly flew away.

Looking beyond our deck, we have a brief show of flowers every year. They last just long enough for us to enjoy their bounty before the deer arrive to feast.

photo by Bill Slavin 

I'm not mad at the deer. They were here first, we get to savor our flowers long enough, and the deer, like the finch on my shoulder, bring us unexpected joy. Each year fawn scamper through the yard following their families. Their bright spots and funny antics as they chase each other up the hill and jump ridiculously high over our low wall bring us to laughter.





This year we have a new wild animal: a family of jackrabbits has made a burrow somewhere near us. The male jack has been a resident of our neighborhood for a couple of summers. I've watched him fly across neighbors' lawns and sit comfortably on our front grass in the shade. This year we watched a baby make its first moves away from the nest. It skittered out from a bush for a couple feet, doubled back, then came out a little further. In a couple of days, it too, found a spot on the front lawn to graze and sit. Now occasionally at dusk, we see the almost grown jackrabbit jump from behind a bush and scramble up the hill.

At John Muir Law's lecture about drawing mammals, he showed us fluoroscopic images of rabbits in motion. Their spines are far more flexible than ours. Just by looking at the curled-up skeleton, you can see how easy it is for them to jump.



Jackrabbit Skeleton


As I finish typing this post, I am watching a deer cross our front lawn -- in pursuit of the last daisies, I'm sure. I thought how lucky I am to be able to spend the day watching wildlife rather than obsessing over every piece of glum news in the paper.

I hope you have a chance to find some joy outside this weekend. 




photo by Bill Slavin

Now that it is almost summer do you have your summer reading picked out?  Several friends recommend Amor Towles' A Gentleman in Moscow. Another good read:  Jenny Forrester's memoir, Narrow River, Wide Sky.

Check out Amy Hamilton's website for some beautiful wildlife illustrations:  https://amyhamilton.ca

Friday, June 9, 2017

PIECING FRIENDSHIP TOGETHER

The first time I began to understand the power of a women's group, I was sitting in a classroom taking a quilting class. We were all working on our own squares, piecing together our own patterns. I listened to the conversation rise and fall, surprised by the lack of competitiveness and of ego. I was young and that moment opened my eyes to an experience that I seek often. I've joined women's reading groups, political action groups, writing and craft groups. Within those groups, I discovered how a group can encourage and support each member to be more than themselves.

Quilters have a long tradition of quilting with others or for others. I remember the power of the AID/HIV Memorial Quilt Project with many quilts stretched across the public spaces of Washington, D.C. I think of the Gee's Bend quilts and the other quilters who will piece together t-shirts and other clothing items to make a memory quilt.

My aunt Ella Mae produced many quilts and belonged to a group who shared fabric and challenged each other with different themes. My friend Mary has a studio in her home that she devotes to quilting. She makes beautiful quilts for friends, family and as auction items each year.



A section of the quilt that Mary made for me.

Appliqued pieces around the edges of the quilt

When the tragic events occurred in Orlando a couple of years ago, Jill, another quilting friend, created a quilt using squares made by my craft group. When the quilt was finished, there were several leftover squares, which another friend, Marcia, and I sewed to make another quilt. This quilt, when finished, will go to one of the charities that sends quilts to a person in need.

Craft Day quilt completed


Second quilt from Craft Day pieces


Teresa, another prodigious quilter, explained how she put together this beautiful blue and white quilt.


Finished quilt in a blue bedroom


"The blue and white quilt that I made was actually created by a 'modern' quilting bee, one of many that exist internationally between people who may never have met. Each woman in the group of 10 is assigned a month. In her month, she can make the distribution as flexible or specific as she likes. She can mail fabric or just give guidelines and let people chose their own fabrics. The blocks are returned to her within that month (hopefully!) and she assembles them into a quilt adding whatever else she needs.

"For the blue and white quilt, I gave each person two white triangles, many strips of different-colored blues, and a foundation paper pattern. They sewed the blues together in the order that they chose onto the foundation paper. (Foundation paper is thin and gets ripped off once the block is complete.) This technique is called foundation piecing and ensures that the blue strip, while sewn in wonky seams, ended up the right size. Then they added the white triangles. I made these oversized and squared up each block myself after the pieces were returned.

One square from Teresa's 'many hands' quilt
"After getting the blues-only blocks back, I decided the quilt needed a little 'zing' color. The blocks with green (and all but 10 of the blue ones) were made by me. I asked each person to sign her block, too. It's a nice memory. Most of the women used a permanent fabric marker. One woman embroidered her name."



Quilting is one way to connect with other people, sometimes across the globe. What begins as a small effort can touch all parts of our world. The quilts are made with love and friendship, with many hands touching the fabric, and end up wrapping someone else in love.




Read more about inspiring quilts and places to donate quilts:


http://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/gees-bend-quiltmakers

http://www.aidsquilt.org

http://blog.missouriquiltco.com/quiltingforacause/















Friday, June 2, 2017

FISHING AT THE CLUB


We live next to a country club with golf courses, which have man-made ponds at some of the greens. The largest pond is on the 18th hole. Any golfer coming in to finish a round must hit the ball across the pond onto a small island. Many of the balls land in the pond instead.

With all the national turmoil in the news, especially in the last few weeks, I needed a good laugh. I opened an email yesterday to find:

A Message from the Country Club:

"Reminder to all Residents -- Fishing in the Club's lakes is not allowed and can be very hazardous. Many times, golfers are still playing the course and people are fishing in the lakes, this is a significant safety issue. We ask that you respect the rights of the Club and their property."



Just think if your fishing hook caught a golf ball. Do you throw it back?



How did the fish get into the ponds in the first place? There are no natural inlets to let fish swim into the ponds. Did bird or animals drop them into the water in hopes of a ready supply of food? Or more likely, one of the people who like to fish dumped a bucket of fish in the pond?




These drawings of fish are not representative of what you could catch if you fished the Country Club ponds. I drew these because I'm part of John Muir Laws' Nature Journaling group and fish were one of his exercises. He demonstrates sketching animals and birds at various locations in the Bay Area, but not at the Country Club's ponds.

Check out John Muir Law's blog: