Friday, December 3, 2021

SMALL STEPS TO A NEW YEAR

Preliminary sketch for a larger piece

Someone once said that the people who get ahead in life know when to say "No." That may be true but I have tended to say "Yes" instead. Yes often leads to too many choices, all of which would be fun, creative, or challenging. All make me think "I want to do that!" All have led me on a merry path of awakenings, learning new skills, finding shiny objects that divert my attention, and a life that has been full of interesting people, places, and experiences. It has left me in the mode of a beginner's mind, as a Zen teacher would say, with expertise showing through from the repetition of practice, which makes me think of another Zen maxim about paying attention to each detail and to good, slow work.

I digress from my chores and look out the window. It is sunny and warm, no rain in sight, but a beautiful time in California to be in the sunshine with the long cast shadows of autumn. I'm surprised to see photos of snow on the ground in other places. 

We've been taking small steps to prune our stuff in the house to find things we no longer need or can't remember where it came from, or we haven't hung on the walls for the last ten years. We wonder why we still have them. Some things when touched bring back memories of the people who gave us the item or a place we have traveled. I pick up a pottery vase made of two slabs joined together with a small opening for just two or three stems. Cherry blossoms are painted on the front and remind me of our time in Tokyo and the thoughtfulness of the person who gave us the vase. 



I have a collection of rabbits. They have proliferated all through our house and rest under the top tier of side tables, perch on the high shelf in the kitchen, or act as bookends peeking out from my journals. Why did I collect rabbits? It took me a long time to make the connection between them and my dad's drawings. Other objects we pick up puzzle us both. Where did this porcelain lion with a coat of arms come from? We shake our heads looking for a memory to drop out, but instead, it goes in a box with others for the White Elephant Sale for the Oakland Museum of Art in the Spring.




And what about our clocks? Bill found several at Parisian flea markets. They are delicate and mostly keep odd hours. I have one in my room whose shape I love. It stopped working a couple of years ago and the clock repair shop couldn't fix it. It still stands on my shelf, reading the right time twice a day, its smooth metal curved shape adding a simple design element to an increasingly cluttered workroom.


an ornate clock and candlesticks from a Paris Brocante


I stop what I am doing and go for a walk. I look for signs of late autumn on the ground and in the trees though most of the leaves blew down in the wind last night. I am at Osage Park where I find hedge apples. Do you know what they are? They are about softball size and are the fruit of Osage orange trees. I see them spattered over the ground on my walk around the oval park. It is a perfect walk, documented to be one-seventh of a mile around with every 50 steps or so changing the view from a play structure to rose gardens to baseball and soccer fields to the next 50 steps around a middle schoolyard full of kids running track to a memorial rose garden and arbor to a batting cage to a fence that runs along a creek where one year a mountain lion ambled by causing warning posters to be plastered on many surfaces in the park to more rose gardens with each bush carefully labeled with botanical names to picnic tables and a small building which becomes a concession stand during ball games and finally the last 50 steps ending back at the playground. 




The hedge apples fall near the concession stand and are peculiar looking with their lime green mottled skin and a dry interior with seeds clinging to the center core. At first, since I often found them broken open, I thought they were part of a game someone brought to throw back and forth. They don't look edible, though I see squirrels spirit away broken ones. I tried researching them and found they are related to mulberry trees (though if you have ever seen the fruit of a mulberry tree, you would wonder how they could be) and they used to be prolific here. Now, not so much. No one I knew had ever seen one before.

I pull my attention back to my work at hand and look for other small steps I can take to get back to a more normal life. Today has been just another day to say "YES."




Check out the White Elephant Sale, a benefit for the Oakland Museum of Art:

Someone from National Geographic finally has written an article about hedge apples:

Friday, November 26, 2021

GOOD TIME FOR BOOKS

 


With a chill in the air even in California, I look for good books to read. Mysteries have been my guilty pleasure since I was a kid. Bill and I often remark that English villages must be dangerous places to visit with all the "murders" taking place in them. We walked into Books Inc, a local indie bookstore, recently. On the checkout counter, we saw a book Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village by Jay Cooper and Maureen Johnson. We laughed through the book and its suggestions not to venture into the cemetery of the church (there is always a church) at night. Even walking into the local pub can be dangerous because the authors say the locals just don't like change. All in fun, of course.

If you aren't into mysteries, check out the following good books:

Sandra Cisneros, Martita, I Remember You or Martita, te recuerdo

The book is cleverly published with the English cover and version on one end upside down from the Spanish cover and version at the other end. We bought it thinking of our goal to learn Spanish and found the story to be a tender one of youthful friendship and the discovery of old letters that the main character describes as "those letters between us, pebbles tossed into water. The rings grow wider and wider."

Alex George, The Paris Hours

The story revolves around four seemingly disconnected people in Paris in the 1920s. We follow Marcel Proust's housekeeper, a journalist, an Armenian puppeteer, and a painter as their lives are metered out one chapter at a time during the course of one day. For different reasons they all come together at the end of the book by arriving at the LeChat Blanc, a local bistro, at the same time.



Victoria Finlay, Color, a Natural History of the Palette

A non-fiction book about the pigments that make up the colors that we have used for thousands of years to tell our stories. Ochre, from the yellowish compressed soil found in many countries, was the first pigment. It has been mixed with various binders to cover our skins to ward off evil or insects, to paint faces for hunting or war, and to set some people apart from others. In some cultures, ochre is secret and only visible to certain people.

Finlay takes the reader through the process of developing formulas for the colors, how they are made, then lost over time and then rediscovered in another era. We learn that blue and red mixed together make violet, but it wasn't until the 19th century while a chemist, William Henry Perkins worked on a synthetic version of quinine, that he noticed a small amount of residue from his experiments. He turned the residue into a dye that he called mauve, which in Victorian England became the trendiest color. The book is more than a book for artists. It's a walk through our history and explains how influential color has been on cultures around the world.

Charlotte Mendelson, Rhapsody in Green

Gardening for Mendelson occupies her life. She is the gardening correspondent for The New Yorker, but her own gardening plot is limited to about 7 square yards. In that small area, she grows an abundance of food, each plant contributing a small amount each day to her meals. Like many nature writers, she finds something more important in her garden than mere plants. She finds life itself and how it nourishes us all.

*********************

The Prolonged Nativity by Virginia Averill

Ginny Averill, the wife of one of my cousins, is a multi-talented artist and has an entire wall of her work at the annual group art show at the art gallery at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Marquette, Minnesota, from Nov. 28 to Jan. 16. The best time to view the show is on Sundays from 10 am to noon. Because of COVID restrictions, it is best to call ahead if you want to visit. 612-332-3221

Check out her website at http://www.virginiaaverill.com

Friday, November 19, 2021

THANKSGIVING VARIATIONS

 

The latest set of postcards made for the Global Art Exchange


A group of friends asked each other recently, "Do you have a favorite food that you can't do without at Thanksgiving?" The responses quickly came, "Turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie." I was reminded of another friend's son who has to have mashed potatoes or "Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving." The question made me stop to think, "What is special about the Thanksgiving meal?"

When we were first married, we would drive from San Francisco to LA to go to my parents' house and greet 15 to 20 family members including my grandparents. Mimi loved to play card games, but she also showed me how to set a dinner table so all the forks and knives were aligned one inch from the table's edge. Grampy loved to tell stories and kept the kids entertained before we sat for the traditional fare.



Our Thanksgivings changed when we purchased our first house. We alternated between in-laws and our house. Rather than the family-style I was used to, the in-laws would dish out the fixings onto each plate so that everyone got some of all the food. Bill's dad loved to talk politics and controversial topics and would challenge us all about our viewpoints. Nanny, Bill's grandmother, joined in the discussion, staying current about the news well into her 90s.

When we hosted, I used a recipe from an old Sunset magazine cookbook. I began preparations days before Thanksgiving. On the morning of, I started by filling the turkey with the rice stuffing that I had made the previous day and put the turkey breast side down on a rack in a shallow pan. About an hour before the turkey was ready, I pulled the turkey out of the oven, turned it over, warmed some brandy, ignited the liquor, and poured it over the bird, and then stuck it back in the oven. Those extra steps kept the turkey breast meat moist.

When we moved to Japan, we suddenly had to make new traditions. Turkeys were not a normal part of Japanese cuisine and are very small and expensive to buy there. We spent our first Thanksgiving without a turkey but at the home of a neighbor from our hometown who had moved to Tokyo a year earlier. Around their table sat a world of new friends from Sweden, South America, and the East and West Coasts of the U.S., all enjoying a meal together to celebrate friendship.




Our move to Paris a few years later let us to new traditions. We had to search for the normal Thanksgiving meal. We could buy a turkey from an American grocery store situated across town. Since we didn't have a car in Paris, we would have had to carry the cooked turkey and fixings all the way home on the Metro. "Impossible," we thought. Instead, we went to a butcher a few blocks from our apartment, who prepared a delicious half turkey breast including confit on the side. The butcher handed me the turkey on a large platter, and I think, mistaking me for another bird, ran his hands over my breasts. I was stunned, and not having my hands free or the right French words to respond with, I just turned quickly away and walked home with my prize. His shop closed down soon after -- perhaps he had taken too many liberties with his customers? That evening we shared the meal with a friend who was originally from Cote d'Ivoire, whose consulate was just down the street from us.

When we moved back to California, we spent several Thanksgiving dinners at Bill's parents' assisted living home, where the staff provided a delicious, overflowing banquet filled with the traditional fare. We chatted with the residents of the senior community and found many people who had lived full lives and still enjoyed friendships in their new home.

With all our parents gone, we now spend a quiet holiday with our son and enjoy our day together. I continue to cook turkeys, but I search for easier ways to fix them. Instead of a stuffed turkey, I've tried a butterflied (spacklecocked) turkey, which cut down on the preparation as well as cooking time. I then moved on from that experiment, first to a turkey breast spread with a herb paste, then rolled and tied into place. I've tried a sheet pan bone-in turkey breast, which takes only an hour and a half to prepare. The last Thanksgiving before the pandemic, I decided to keep our meal as simple as possible and made spaghetti instead.





When I think about the question about Thanksgiving, my answer has to be "the entire meal," but more importantly, I look back at the people we shared Thanksgiving with from LA to Japan to Paris and back to California. Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without them. They are the most important part of the day.





Friday, November 12, 2021

DAY TRIPPIN'

 


Maybe it is the Autumn light, the crisp air, the cerulean blue skies. Maybe everything seems fresh and new again because we've been so closed in. Maybe we have a chance to look at the world with new eyes.

After sequestering for so long, we found we had to learn to drive on freeways again. We cringed as speeding cars zipped back and forth through the growing number of cars. We held our breaths at the nearness of big trucks almost scrapping our car's side. With more practice, we have returned to our confident driving. 

We entered the grocery store and marveled at the colors in the produce section and grabbed a small thing we hadn't had in eighteen months. (We were so lucky that our son brought our weekly groceries so we didn't have to depend on deliveries or on going early in the morning to our local store. Thank you, Theo!)

We have ventured out on short outings, still wary of the Delta Variant, though now with good coverage from our booster shots. We went deeper into a time warp last weekend when we stayed at the Dream Inn Santa Cruz to hear the Big Brother and the Holding Company. Their fame derives from their association with Janis Joplin, the era of the late 1960's-70's, and the Summer of Love. We didn't know they still played together until we found news of the show. 



The balconies of the Dream Inn SC all face the ocean. The set-up for the show came as a response to COVID with the band at poolside while colored lights illuminating each balcony. We laughed because we were part of a light show. 



The music reverberated against the hotel walls and radiated out to sea. BBHC still has a terrific sound. They are experienced musicians (some of them are in their late 70's and early 80's). Most of the songs, such as A Piece of My Heart, Me & Bobby McGee, and Kozmic Blues, connected the audience with Janis Joplin. The singer KAte Thompson (one of 30 who has replaced Joplin) had a huge range, but the desire to hear the whiskey-soaked, raspy Joplin voice is hard to break.



Like the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and the Who, BBHC still performs the old-style rock and roll with its heavy, loud bass rumbling through the music. We were brought back to that long-ago era which made us think of the young performers caught up in the fame and the rampant drug scene of the time. People like Joplin, Jimi Hendricks, John Beluchi, and Jim Morrison of the Doors, who all died in the early 1970s from drug overdoses. If they hadn't made that fatal mistake, they could still be performing before loving audiences.



The Dream Inn Santa Cruz, built in the 1960s, has been remodeled and turned into a mid-century spare, clean place without the grungy feel of old beach hotels. As I walked into the lobby and looked at the minimalist chairs and tables, I had to remind myself that this is 2021 and mid-century 2020 is new fashion again. Once in our room, I looked down at the Boardwalk Arcade close by and remembered that the rickety wooden roller coaster that had given so many thrill rides had been torn down long ago. I could see people walking out on the long Wharf to take in the Monterey Bay views. 

Santa Cruz is Northern California's Surfing Capital as well as a college town. The hotel is situated close to Steamer Lane, where surfing competitions are held. As I stood looking out to sea, seagulls and pelicans swooped by reminding me of Summertime at the beach.

We walked through Santa Cruz's downtown streets and noticed the diverse group of people from college students to old hippies to tourists who filled the streets, masks on, for the most part, all hoping to wake up a little more from sheltering and to catch some of the old California vibes.



All photos by Bill Slavin


Check out these places in Santa Cruz:

The  Dream Inn Santa Cruz:

https://www.dreaminnsantacruz.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=bizlisting&utm_campaign=google_places

Steamer Lane:

https://www.surfertoday.com/surfing/steamer-lane-the-heart-and-soul-of-santa-cruz-surfing

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH):

https://www.santacruzmah.org

Artisans & Agency store filled with beautiful, hand-made goods with a back entrance to the cafe at the MAH:

https://www.artisanssantacruz.com

Friday, November 5, 2021

CONNECTING THE DOTS



Watercolor artists often use spatter to create texture, to create water's edges, or to introduce color in an area that doesn't need to be completely filled in. Trying to paint individual random dots without the use of splattering comes right up against a human being's need for order. We try, even without our realizing it, to make order out of chaos. We have even made patterns by creating the constellations when we looked at the billions of stars scattered over the sky. You can see this hard-to-break pattern-making in this small sketch where I placed supposedly random dots on the left hill. Not random at all. That's a spot where splatter would have worked much better.





Splatter with a brush creates the effect of randomness that painters want. Not that splatter is easy to do. It took me lots of trials before I could flick the end of my brush in a way that didn't end up with paint all over my glasses and face instead of my paper. The motion is similar to flicking an old thermometer.

Splatter is also a good way to create the foam at the edge of a wave. Again, the splatter provides random splashes that can be brushed out to become a natural edge of the water.


Practice turning splatter into water's edge


I thought of the need for people to make order out of randomness while we sat on a hotel balcony looking down past the poolside paving to the sandy beach beyond. As the sun set, the beach became deserted except for the dips created by thousands of feet crossing over each other leading to the water's edge. 

We came to the hotel to listen to a band concert. The band, standing on the pool deck, faced the balconies of the hotel rooms. As they began to play, people began to drift over to sit in the sand at the back of the band. I watched as they distributed themselves across the sand as if they had a seating chart with equal spaces between groups. I remembered seeing a graph of how four-year-olds spread themselves equally across a room as they played. No matter how we try, we make patterns for ourselves, whether on paper or in real life. 

Right after I published this post, I came across an email from The Postman's Knock, which offers lessons in calligraphy -- wonderful examples. Her topic for today is ink splatters!  I noticed during our Sheltering in Place that many writers chose the same topic to write about, unbeknownst to each other. Great minds think alike!

https://thepostmansknock.com/how-to-make-intentional-calligraphy-ink-spatters/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=boldermail&utm_campaign=how-to-make-intentional-calligraphy-ink-spatters-the-postmans-knock

*****************





Collage Artists of America's Annual Juried Show is online to view. One of my mixed media pieces was chosen, but take a look at some of the others. They are terrific!

 https://sfvacc.org/picking-up-the-pieces
 

Friday, October 29, 2021

SMILES

Spreading Joy and Smiles

All photos by Bill Slavin

Bill (husband) decided one morning to start each day with a smile. He walked into the dining room and greeted me with a grin. We laughed.

Bill's gesture reminded me of the words of a middle school counselor. She had recommended to one of her students to go to bed with a smile on her face, no matter what, because she knew that this small act could help the student change how she felt about her life.

Still grinning, Bill and I turned and watched the goofy ring-necked doves who crowd into our too-small bird feeder. They flap, dance, peck, and bump against each other to ensure their chance at the seed.



The doves reminded me of a recent conversation with friends. We talked about taking dance lessons. Both couples had tried lessons to help each other around the floor. Dance instructors expected students to dance with the other people in the class as well as their own partners. Our friends said that they both danced better with the other people than they did with each other. We did too.

Another friend took lessons with his daughter right before her wedding to be sure that he didn't step all over her feet.

Bill and I took the same classes over and over again: swing, salsa/cha-cha, Texas two-step, even the tango. We wandered into classes in San Francisco, Danville, and Walnut Creek looking for the answer to our two left feet. We practiced our steps at large holiday parties. Bill liked to be in the middle of the dance floor, in the thick of the swaying bodies. I much preferred the edges, having had my feet stepped on by too many big, bone-crushing feet of other dancers too close to us.




We even had a moment of fame during our tango class. The instructor knew a local TV newscaster who came to the class with a camera crew to film the class learning this dramatic, intricate dance. The reporter interviewed the group on camera, which would have been hidden away in the news except that the snippet aired just before the annual Oscar ceremony. We heard about our star-studded performance from everyone we knew. We grinned (or was that a grimace?) at their surprise at seeing us on TV. Here we were with our two left feet on display for all our world to see. Swans, we were never meant to be.







********************


Karen Hannah, through the Postcard Underground blog site, has a group of people sending out postcards of gratitude to people who are working to make a difference. I signed up immediately. 

I've been sending postcards to political leaders, sometimes thanking them, sometimes chastising them for not being the kind of people we need in leadership positions. I've been sending postcards to voters. I send postcards to friends and exchange postcards with artists and writers. Now I can have a way to say thank you to people across the country who want to help others. 


Places to sign up to send postcards:

The Postcard Underground

http://postcardadmin.blogspot.com/p/by-posting-cards-collectively-postcard.html?m=0

Jennifer Benioff's Love Notes

https://jenniferbelthoff.com/love-notes

Louise Gales' heART Exchange

https://louisegale.com/global-art-swap/

Jenifer Hoffman's Citizens of Conscience

https://americansofconscience.com


To brighten your day, check out Reasons to be Cheerful, a new online magazine that heralds solutions to problems. Today's headline: How One Woman Protected Millions of Acres:

https://reasonstobecheerful.world


Friday, October 22, 2021

IS IT THE WEATHER?

 


Rain slides down the window. Yes, rain, blessed rain. The streets run wet, the thirsty trees lap up the drops on their leaves, the ground soaks it in, the scent of rain freshens the air. Rain, adding just a fraction of the moisture to our drought-ridden landscape. California, beautiful state, full of mountains, rivers, trees, ocean beaches, lakes, deserts, sand dunes, trails, grass, birds, squirrels, coyotes, mountain lions, and of course, people, all dry and dusty from months of no moisture. Rain fills us with hope, gives us a chance to take a break from the dread of wildfire and worry about the low levels of water in reservoirs.


Mushrooms running rampant after the rain


Looking out my window, I am reminded of a Facebook group whose members take pictures of what they see outside their windows and post them on FB for anyone to view. There are extraordinary shots of sights from places I will never go. The beauty of distant hills, a lake, or the ocean framed by a window above the streets below. Groups like these keep me tied to Facebook. It has been a way for people to find my blog, for me to connect with creative and nature journaling groups, for me to contact distant relatives and friends. I keep my time on FB to a minimum, but I continue to question my dependence, especially with the whistleblower's revelations of what we already suspected of Facebook. There is no money from my activities for FB, but every week I think there must be a better way for me to be present to the people I've found on Facebook.



I go back to working on a painting, writing, or designing a journal page and think about how we often let big existential questions slip by us. The climate crisis. Threats to our democracy. Too overwhelming, too scary, too inconvenient to change. Even something as insignificant as dropping Facebook becomes  a challenge. I watch out the window as the mail carrier stops at our mailbox as he has done all through the pandemic and for many years before. I walk out of the house, expecting to find the usual flyers, bundles of ads, and a few bills. Instead, clustered together were three postcards. As I read the messages from friends far away, my spirits lifted. It surprised me how such a simple gesture could inspire, buttress my soul, and encourage me to look at the day in a new way.


Let's make November a postcard-sending month. It's almost Thanksgiving and a good time to reach out to friends and family.





Thank you to Christine, Francine, and Cherie for your kind words.

***********

October is a good time to get your COVID booster, 
your flu shot, 
have a mammogram set. 
Take care of yourself!