Friday, December 26, 2014

What Makes You Smile?

A child's giggle, spotting Orion in the night sky, a warm 

bath, a surprise meeting with an old friend, 

fox in a tree outside our dining room window, turkey

 chicks in our yard, a hawk soaring overhead, 

going fast on a bicycle down a hill.

What makes you smile?

See you back on Fridays in the New Year.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Cheer

I know you are as busy as I am this holiday season. Are you in the midst of wrapping packages? Do you now have a pile of scrap paper? Today at Craft Day, I turned some cardstock into gift tags. 

I cut 10 pieces of cardstock into 2" X 5" rectangles. I used a corner punch to round the corners. I punched a hole in each one at the top. I glued 5 of the pieces in the center of a piece of scrap wrapping paper. I trimmed the paper away from the tag except at the bottom end. I placed the other 5 tags on top of the first five and used string to tie them together. Then I wrapped the scrap paper at the bottom and glued it down to the other side. I attached cutout doilies and taped ribbon to finish the tags. A quick project to use up some of those pieces you and I don't want to throw away.  (They are good for something!)

Now that we are in the week before the holidays,  I am going to leave you with some holiday views that I hope will bring some cheer into your heart! Thank you to my husband Bill for these super photos! 

  Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Shades of Red and Green

We are still between Autumn and Winter here in the Bay Area of California. We haven't had a cold snap yet, but at least we have had some good rain for the last couple of weeks. Not enough to cure our drought, but enough to turn the hills green and the leaves that are left dark red.

I walked up our street today scouting for possible ideas for watercolor sketches.  I focused on red and green in nature.

Here is what I found:

You will have to look very hard at some of these squares to find the red or green in the photo. There are so many different shades! When the holidays are over, I hope to show you the watercolor sketches that result from my search for shades of red and green.

What colors do you see at this time of year where you live?
Don't forget to take time for a walk, a cup of coffee, reading by the fire, or whatever gives you peace.

I made this mosaic of photos at   

Friday, December 5, 2014

Oodles of Doodles

I've doodled all my life: on corners of important papers, while I'm talking on the phone, when I am trying to think of something to write. I've doodle and sketched across Asia and Europe.


Sketches from China and Amsterdam

Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, teachers and artists, have created a new, more focused doodling called Zentangles*. They have developed patterns to use and a system of doodling that incorporates mindfulness. Each stroke of the pen is followed by your eye: a great meditative practice.

For those of us who are long-time doodlers, following patterns and using their mindfulness practice is helpful, but  I have more fun creating my own patterns and just letting go to see where doodling will take me.

Sometimes doodles will turn into sketches that I think might be worked into something more finished, and sometimes not. They just stay on the page where I made them. I never thought that any of my doodling would be published, but a request for doodles came from Interweave Press last Spring, and I sent some examples in.

This is a piece I called "Letterform Lover's Nightmare," which will appear in the new book, Zen Doodle: Oodles of Doodles by Interweave (they publish Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.)

Look for the book at and then try some doodles! Show me what you doodle -- even the ones on your scratch pad or iPad.

*Also, check out Zentangles at for a different type of doodling.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Simple Pleasures with Good Friends

Do you have some unfinished projects that are in the back of your closet or stuffed in a drawer? 

Every month for the last three years, a group of friends gather at my home for Craft Day. We sit around a table and work on unfinished projects. Some people work on knitting, others are jewelry makers, some work on paper crafts, while others quilt or assemble photo books. We drag projects out of our closets that might not have seen the light of day again. We have a few hours together, but most of all, we chat about children, grandchildren, recipes, restaurants, vacations and problems.

We take a break at noon for "Stone Salad" (named after the children's story, 'Stone Soup') and soup. I provide the greens and the soup while everyone else brings just one item to add to the salad. Nuts, roasted vegetables, salsa, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, cheese, and dried fruit have all been added to the greens along with deviled eggs and home made rolls on the side. We bring whatever is handy so that no one has to work too hard to make a contribution. We are always surprised by the variety when all of the ingredients are assembled. Then we finish with scrumptious home made desserts.

At the end of the day, we have all made a little progress on our projects. Best of all, we have had a chance to enjoy each other's friendship again. When I started the Craft Days, I wasn't sure if the idea would catch on. Now I know it works because each person who comes brings with her a willingness to share.

When we first got together, we each made a postcard with a word or phrase that inspires us. I think those words have lead us to new adventures on Craft Day! 

Here's a recipe for Sweet Potato Soup that was just perfect for November's Craft Day!

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into slices, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt
1 pear, peeled and cubed
3 ½ to 4 cups of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 tsp. paprika
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper
¼ to ½ cup of heavy cream
chopped pecans for garnish

Roast sweet potatoes at 425 degrees for 20 minutes
put sweet potatoes and pear in food processor and puree
Add broth and blend again
Add paprika and nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour into stock pot and heat through
stir in ¼ cup of heavy cream 
To serve: spoon into soup bowls. Add a small circle of heavy cream and garnish with pecans

Friday, November 21, 2014


Philip reminded me of so many squirmy, little seventh graders from my teaching days.  He sat across from me at a table in his school as we worked together on a writing assignment his teacher had given to his class. First, Philip yawned and fiddled with his pencil. I had to draw him back to his task. We worked for a while. Then he turned slightly towards the window and watched a bird fly by. The paper he was working on was a class question about bullying. The class had already spent time talking about the consequences of bullying and how a bystander could intervene. The question was a hard one, but Philip had participated in the discussion because he was ready with answers a soon as I began to ask him questions about his assignment. The paper in front of him, though, was blank. Philip just didn't know how to write down what he was thinking. That was why I sat across from him. I am a volunteer writer coach with the WriterCoach Connection in the Berkeley, Albany, Oakland, and Richmond school systems.

The program has been a part of the secondary schools in these school systems since 2001 when Dr. Mary Lee Cole, who had observed another successful program on the East Coast, introduced it. I had chosen to work in a middle school because I was familiar with that age group and I knew I had something to offer them as they developed their writing abilities. I knew to expect blank papers and fidgeting. I also knew that once someone from that age group became engaged they were fun to work with. Watching them think through a problem was enjoyable as I saw them grapple with their own understanding. I have seen the 'light at the end of the tunnel' look come over faces as they comprehend in a deep way an idea before them.

Philip and I had only fifteen minutes to work on his essay. We spent part of the time going over what he thought were important points to make, and the rest of the time I sat while he began to write his essay. I returned the next week. His face lit up briefly when he saw me enter the classroom. When we sat down together, he brought out his papers from the clutter in his binder. The papers hadn't been worked on since we last met. I hadn't expected that. But, at least now he had a whole page of writing, and we could work to insert additional information within his first draft.

At the end of our fifteen minutes, Philip tucked away his papers, and I walked with him back to his classroom. I hoped that he would take out his papers again, finish the remaining details, and turn his assignment in. I thought how lucky he and his fellow students are to have the WriterCoach program. I wished as a teacher that I had had something similar in place when I taught middle school.

California has been in a severe water drought for the last four years. The funding drought in our school systems extends far longer than that. But, sometimes, someone like Dr. Cole finds a brilliant solution such as the WriterCoach Connection to increase the readiness of all students with the use of skilled volunteers. Her answer reminds me that money can't solve every problem. It's the commitment from people that matters.

Check out WriterCoach Connection's website: 
They are doing incredible work for our young people!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lettering Made Easy

Have you tried something repeatedly, ended up not satisfied with your efforts, then suddenly, it all comes together?

These are some of the tools I've used in my quest to become a calligrapher.

That sequence of try and try again reminds me of my life-long attempts at learning calligraphy. Just because I love letterforms, I think I should be able to whip out a reasonable piece of lettering without much practice. But calligraphy and lettering take practice -- just like learning times tables and just as exacting.

These are some early attempts

I take classes and set goals to practice, practice, practice, but other interests catch my attention and the practices disappear. I've had wonderful teachers, who are professional calligraphers and who like to share their techniques. I've tried *Tiny Writing with Carol Pallesen, Pointed Pen and Spencerian Handwriting with Bill Kemp, Handwriting as Text Type from Georgianna Greenwood, and Hand Lettering from Billy Ola Hutchison. I've attended the annual Letters of Joy in Washington and played with lettering with brushes on my own. But I then I put the practice aside because I am not satisfied with the results.

From the Tiny Writing class
More practice with Georgianna Greenwood

In the last four weeks, I've tried calligraphy again. Each Wednesday I've been going to Castle in the Air, a magical store on Fourth Street in Berkeley, which offers calligraphy classes. I've been taking Chancery Cursive from Paul Veres with five other people. With his good suggestions, I finally feel a sense of accomplishment. Calligraphy is working for me!
The answer for me: a turn of the page. 

As a left-hander, I have tried different ways of holding the pen, I've tried writing upside down, I've tried using everything from a sponge to a Cola pen (made from a piece of a Coke can) to twigs, to giving up, nothing worked well until Paul suggested that I turn the paper so that the lines run vertically instead of horizontally. Voila! It Works!

Though I am not at a point where you would ask me to do your wedding invitations, I do feel a newfound confidence and joy in lettering. Now I just need to watch spelling!

So much of what I learn in art applies to my life in other ways too. Have you worked and worked on something, only to be frustrated? Then, in just the right moment, all that you've learned comes together? I hope so for you too!

* Find these calligraphers/teachers here:  Carol Pallesen,
Paul Veres and Bill Kemp teach classes at Castle in the Air, Berkeley, CA  
Georgianna Greenwood,
Billy Ola Hutchison,
Letters of Joy workshops in Edmonds, WA:

Friday, November 7, 2014


A good friend suggested a way to counteract all the horrors we see in the news. She has started posting photos of flowers and other items of beauty on her Facebook page. I thought, "What a wonderful way to give each of us a moment to enjoy the beauty in our otherwise busy day." So, I am making this Friday a day for beauty.

I hope you can take the time today to take a walk, sit among the fall leaves, sip a cup of tea or coffee, hug a friend, stretch, watch a squirrel burying food for the winter, skip (when was the last time you skipped?), bake some cookies, read a poem, practice breathing, pamper your toes. Just one of those things can bring you back to your kind, human self among all the 'busy-ness' of your world. 

What with Autumn in full delight, I'm offering you some of the sights of the season. Leaves are one of my favorite objects to paint.

Cattails remind me of Minnesota and the sloughs filled with them. Wheat is beautiful blowing in the wind.

With a big hug and a smile, I hope you enjoy your day!

Friday, October 31, 2014


A thank you to all my readers who have helped to make my posts a pleasure to write. Big thanks!

Artists are great collectors of "stuff that could be useful someday." We always ask ourselves the question, "Oh, boy, what could I do with that?" when we pick up a piece of cardboard, tree branch, used stamp, corks, egg cartons, greeting cards, cardboard toilet paper tubes, styrofoam, pretty napkins, and blank pieces of paper. I have a stack of my favorite collection: the paper towels that I use as paint rags while I am working on a painting. Here's what the top of my stack looks like:

Pretty ugly? But torn into small bits, combined with paint, stamps, stencils and decorative paper, they become paintings!

First layer
 I've used the paint rags as the basis for a book of 36 small mixed media paintings called Accidental Landscapes. First, I separated the layers of the paper towels so that the towel was as thin as possible (and I had another piece to use!)  I cut 140 lb. watercolor paper into 6" X 6" squares, coated both sides with white gesso, let that dry and began to adhere pieces of scrap paper and the torn bits of my paint rags. I painted over that with fluid acrylics, metallic paint, and then stamped and stenciled where needed.

Finished painting: an accidental landscape

Here is another beginning.

Finished painting

When I was finished with these 36 squares, I made a mosaic of the paintings.

I had to clean my brushes as I was painting, so guess what? I now have a whole new stack of paint rags to play with. 

How do you use all those interesting bits that you find and can't quite throw away?

I used Big Huge Labs to make this mosaic.   Check them out at

Friday, October 24, 2014


    I have saved some of our son's toys. Well, to be honest, I've saved a lot of them. In the attic, I stashed Lego blocks, Thomas the Tank engines, and small but menacing Warhammer models, part of a game that Theo played in junior high school. I displayed wooden trucks and a Mr. Potato Head in a glass-fronted cabinet in our hallway. I still keep board games that nobody except me likes to play anymore. The games -- Shutes and Ladders, Uncle Wiggly, Parcheesi, Clue, Monopoly, Mastermind and Othello -- are squirreled away in the guest room in my hope that a guest will spot them and bring a game out to play. The games chronicle the sequence of rules that Theo grew to understand: one set more difficult than the next.

     Today I had the idea of opening up the old steamer trunk in our bedroom and using it as a place to hold all my unread books, which right now are jammed into three baskets on the floor next to our bed. I love to read and can't help buying almost every book that interests me. But my time to read is more limited than it used to be. I am writing, volunteering, and doing artwork that I put off while Theo was growing up. If I stuffed the books in the top of the trunk, they would be out of the way of the vacuum and wandering feet in the dark of night. I could keep the lid open to remind myself to take one of the books with me as I go about my day.
   I opened the lid of the trunk and saw Theo's old Teddy bears cradled together -- ones that he had sucked, dragged, and almost squeezed the life out of when he was young. They lay so expectantly that I couldn't help think that they were waiting for the next child to come along.

    There was Baseball Buddy with his white and blue striped uniform and cap, Kiddy Bear, half of Baseball Buddy's size, with his blue knit shirt, Sleepy Bear with his striped blue shirt and cap, Adventure Bear with his striped red hand-knit sweater, and Okie, a bear wearing a pair of Oshkosh overalls just like Theo wore when he was two and three. Like the games that Theo no longer plays, these stuffed animals still remind me of the many days that Theo and I played with them. I grabbed my camera, took a picture, and softly closed the lid.
     Theo has graduated from college, and is employed in his field of photography. When I've asked him if he would like to keep his old toys and games, he says, "Put them in the attic for me. In thirty years, I'll look through them and decide what to do with them."
    The books will stay in the baskets for now. I know I will read them all eventually. But the trunk can stay the same way it is too. Who knows when a little kid will ask me to open the trunk to see what lies hidden under the lid?

Friday, October 17, 2014


 Do you remember clothing from your past? What you wore when?

In fourth grade, I discovered the Hollywood dress designer, Edith Head. Who was she?  She designed clothing for Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Tippi Hedren, among others. My mother thought I looked like her. I was inspired by her success as a working woman.


That year I made my first fashion statement. I curled my bangs in imitation of Edith Head and posed for my class picture. All I needed were the round glasses.

By eighth grade, I was an avid reader of Vogue magazine. I learned to sew and made a trapeze dress, the latest style from Paris. The trapeze later became the very short, baby doll tent dress. 'Tent' is the cogent word here. For someone who was 5'2" and 95 pounds, the trapeze looked more like another fashion trend of the time, le 'sack.'

My sister and I made most of our school clothes while we were high school, but my favorite item to wear at home was a muumuu. Easy to make and easy to wear.

In college, I wore a bright orange, polka-dot dress, called a balloon dress, that allowed me to move around easily.

I madly embroidered a pair of jeans in my 20s -- as close to being a hippie as I ever got.

And I can't forget the traditional Christmas sweater.  How many of these do you still have?

As a teacher, I found this yellow dress and knee high boots to be the perfect uniform for teaching art and English. Easy to move in and my boots made my stride purposeful.

While pregnant, I loved a sweater and pants outfit with horizontal stripes that must have made me visible a mile away!

After moving home from overseas, I adopted a Japanese hopi coat that I wore over cropped pants.

Edith Head designed elegant dresses for the actresses who wore them. I was inspired more by her success and quirkiness than by her designs.
My fashion sense tends towards the easy and comfortable, and quirky. If you know me, you know that I wear round glasses. Looking back at what I have worn over the years, all I can say, is: "Where was Edith Head when I needed her!"

What clothing did you wear that brings back good memories?

*  (Edith Head image)