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!