Friday, December 29, 2017


Letting Go. Be Calm. Be Courageous

At this time of year, many online artists and writers look for a new word to define what they want to accomplish in the coming year.

A couple of years ago, I picked the theme of Letting Go. I used that idea in paintings, often using a butterfly as a symbol, and in writings that helped me open the windows and let the imaginary butterfly in myself go.

Last year as I thought about a new choice word, nothing resonated with me. I decided to let whatever word repeated itself throughout the year become My Word. As the months went by, I realized that the word Joy often came up in my life, in my work, and in my writings, which in a year of turmoil, came as a surprise to me. I spent much of the year feeling anger, frustration, and helplessness over an election that had made obvious fundamental changes in our democracy. Looking back though, the first moment of joy came on Jan.21 when I joined 2.6 million other women and their supporters in the Women's March.

Joy kept cropping up. I felt joy while sitting in art classes talking and working with other creatives. I felt joy while meeting old friends for lunch, and getting together with family and friends for significant reunions. I felt joy observing our son as a maturing person with thoughtful ideas and the ability to express them, and I felt joy being with his girlfriend and seeing the comfortable interchange between the two. I felt joy in reading, sitting outside enjoying the weather, eating meals, watching sports, and laughing together with my husband. The joys of friendship, the joy of accomplishing a hard task, and the joy of being part of a family -- all came to the surface many times last year -- even with obvious upheaval all over the world. Joy was in those connections.

Elizabeth Fishel, leader of Wednesday Writers, the writing group that I belong to, once said that to write about small things is to write about universal experiences. In those everyday events, we can find joy.

Next year a new word. I have been paying attention again for a word that resonates. I was listening to KQED to an interview with Dr. Robert Lustig. His point that we need to slow down to have a fulfilling life is not new. He suggests that we all need to Connect, Contribute, Cope and Cook. Cook?
Yes, cook for two reasons: one, to eliminate sugars from our diet; and two, to share a homemade meal. So, I am heading to the kitchen right now to put together a hearty chicken and fresh vegetable soup that I can share with Bill, which will fill us up with energy and warmth and give us a good start to the new year.

What word do you choose for 2018?

Here's the recipe for Garden Vegetable Soup

6 medium tomatoes
6-8 cups of low-sodium chicken broth 
splash of apple cider
1 turnip
4 medium potatoes, cubed
3 stalks, celery with tops, sliced
1 onion, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
2 small bunches, broccoli with stems, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 head of cabbage, sliced
1/2 lb. mushrooms
1 cup raw spinach
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley

Add the following after the other vegetables have been processed:
1 small cubed potato
carrot rounds
1 cucumber, shredded
1 yellow squash, shredded
1 zucchini, shredded
2 tsp salt
cooked, shredded chicken, if desired

Place vegetables in a large pot and cover with broth. Bring to boil, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender (check the potatoes for doneness).  Take out about a quarter of the vegetables and process in a food processor. Pour processed vegetables into a large bowl. Repeat processing small amounts of vegetables until all the vegetables have been done.  Pour back into soup pot. Add remaining vegetables and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add chicken, if desired.
author of Getting to 30: a Parent's Guide to the 20-Something Years,
author of Sugar Has 56 Names & The Hacking of the American Mind

Friday, December 22, 2017


A good book, a warm fire, a cozy blanket, a cup of tea or hot chocolate -- a comforting way to spend a winter afternoon.

I've asked people for their lists of favorite books for 2017. From their suggestions, I've already started my stack for the coming year. Maybe their favorite will become favorites for you too. For this posting, I've selected books unknown to me.

The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild by Graham Spence
The remarkable story of a man and his relationship with the herd of wild elephants living on his preserve in Africa. The trust and loyalty that he built in their relationship was nothing short of astounding.                                                                            

The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Egan
"I was so moved by the strength and determination of the people who lived during the "Dirty Thirties." What amazed me when I questioned my dad about what he remembered, all he could say was 'It was a dirty time.' It brings forth with glaring clarity the progress of communication. In the 30s, no one really knew what was happening outside their own neighborhood."          

The Forgetten Seamstress by Liz Trenow
A young seamstress joins the staff of Queen Mary of England before WWI. The resulting story involves an affair with the Prince of Wales, consignment in an asylum, and the discovery, years later, of a quilt that tells this compelling story.                                

Bill Slavin:
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen
Kurt Andersen observes in this book that America was "founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by impresarios and their audiences, by hucksters and their suckers."  His observations of the American character explain why we are living through a period of 'fake news,' believe-whatever-you-want turmoil.        

Elizabeth Fishel:
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Stout
Beautifully connected stories of life in a small town. The intimate dramas reflect our own attempts to struggle with understand ourselves and others. Stout is the author of My Name is Lucy Barton.

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
New York, 1888. Thomas Edison has patented his electric lamp invention and sues his remaining rival, George Westinghouse. The story revolves around the young attorney who is pitted against Edison and the resulting intrigues and manueverings of Nikola Tesla and others that bring light to the Gilded Age.                                                                                

Kathie & Joan:
The Faith Club by Ranya Idiby
What started as a meeting of 3 women of different faiths to write a children's book about their religion evolved into an enlightened discussion of their own prejudices and misconceptions about each other's religious beliefs. With a discussion list and resources to start your own faith club.
Marcia & RH:
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
This is a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources to tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson's eldest daughter, Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph, a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped American legacy.          

Linda & Holly:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Published in 1943 but pertinent for today, the story revolves around "an impoverished, but aspirational Irish-American adolescent girl and her family living in Brooklyn during the first two decades of the 20th century," ( another period of mass migration.  

What a great list to begin the new year! If you have other suggestions, please let me know by leaving your list in the Comments on this blog or by emailing me at

You can see each person's complete list by clicking on the tab, BOOK LISTS, at the top of this posting. Happy reading and thank you to my favorite readers -- all of you!

Friday, December 15, 2017


photo by Bill Slavin

We called my maternal grandmother, Mimi (pronouced Mim-e, not MeMe). She was hard of hearing and wore a clunky hearing aid on her chest with wires running up to the earbuds in her ears. When she talked on the phone, she placed the receiver at her heart so that she could hear you better. Her white curly hair wrapped around her head and she had the peaches and cream complexion of her English ancestors. She and Grampy, her husband, had broken with their respective churches so they could dance. They moved across the country in the 1920s from New York to California while Grampy worked as a professional portrait photographer.

My grandparents dancing on the way to California

She and I were close, not in the lap-sitting, hugging way, but as two people trying to span a great distance of time. Mimi taught me traditions: good manners and how to set a table with the silverware one inch from the edge. She told me stories of my French and English ancestors. She let my sisters and me play the organ that sat in their small living room. I loved to fiddle with its pulls and to try to reach the baffle-pedals to make the deep sounds that an organ makes. She had a stack of old-timey church music we all used. She was still a faithful churchgoer and knew Rock of Ages, Down By the Riverside, and Michael Rows the Boat Ashore by heart. Mimi also loved card games and taught us solitaire, gin rummy, and poker. She always won.

On my tricycle on my grandparents' driveway

We talked, not about great, wise ideas, but of everyday things: using lard in pie crust, cleaning the last flick of food out of a jar, making beds with no wrinkles. Mimi and I spent time in her garden where her favorite flowers, Calla Lilies, grew. She was the only person I knew with pierced ears. She wore oxford shoes, nylons that she rolled down just above her knees, and flowery, ill-fitting housedresses.

Mimi saved her McCalls magazines so that I could read the cartoons and cut out the Betsy McCall paper dolls on the back page. As I grew older, I began to read the stories published in the magazine. One day as I was reading a story, I came across a phrase that had been underlined, "Old age means loneliness." The words stood out on the page and I stopped reading the story. It had never occurred to me that my grandmother could be lonely. She had always been a constant reassuring presence in my life. Mimi, like my parents and other relatives, was someone who gave me unconditional love.  I put the magazine down and began to think of Mimi in a different way.

Emily Hart Belfi

My family visited my grandparents every Friday evening. On Sundays, my grandparents would often come to our house. The relationship between the four adults was not perfect and as I grew older, my parents would often leave early on Sunday for a Sunday drive. I began staying home on Sunday saying that I had homework to do. But I really stayed home because of that short sentence underlined in McCalls. I stayed home to visit with my grandmother who had done so many small things for me. I wanted to give something back.

Friday, December 8, 2017


Part of a group of Christmas stuffed characters that we have collected. The TomTen in the back with the long nose came from my Aunt Myrtle, who made them.
Bill's Nannie made the crocheted Santa in the front.

This month I had thought to try to do one kind thing each day. On the first day I set out to do small kindnesses, I ended up glaring at a young woman in the grocery store who cut in front of me to pick up a newspaper without an "excuse me" or any indication that I was there, and who then, with paper in hand, sauntered right back in front of me before exiting the store. I paused after she left to consider why that action so upset me.

As I pushed my cart outside, I realized that what I missed were the courtesies that used to pave the way for polite interchanges in our town. This year, especially, I find my curmudgeon part surfacing as I try to remind myself to give people the benefit of the doubt. "She probably needed to get home quickly," crossed my mind.

The holidays easily create a contrast between rudeness and kindness. While I rush around doing the last-minute things that I set out to do that day, I am bombarded by the cacophony of crowds, traffic, holiday music blaring on the sidewalk, the need to finish quickly and get home. At the end of the day, I walked into the same grocery store where the young woman had cut in front of me. I was surprised by the calming effect of Christmas music over the loudspeaker. I usually think music in a store to be another irritant. The store wasn't crowded, I knew what I wanted but the colors of the vegetables and fruits caught my attention and I couldn't help looking at the Christmas craft goods on display. As I slowed down to look around me, I took the time in my mind to change the sound from an annoying extra noise to familiar music that reminded me of holidays in past years.

I thought again of my desire to practice kindness for a month. Kindness doesn't have to be big gestures: letting someone else in a hurry move past me, listening to someone on the phone when they need to talk, and paying attention to what is around me, but also stepping back from the action to let it just swirl around me.  I had often been told and read articles that stated that the only way to be truly kind to others is to first be kind to yourself. I have practiced mindfulness for a long time, but I never thought of being mindful as a kindness to myself. In that last moment in the grocery store, I finally understood this meaning. The small gesture of slowing down released my coiled sense of urgency that prevented me from letting another person go ahead of me graciously. Maybe what I really need to do every day is to offer moments of kindness to myself.

I hope in this busy season you will also give yourself a dose of kindness each day.

A neighbor at our Craft Day brought supplies to make these candle ornaments that she found on Pinterest.
I spent a whole day making several batches of them.

Friday, December 1, 2017


Have you ever spent time in an Apple Store? If so, you know that they are crowded with people looking at the latest electronic gadgets, awash with helpful employees at your elbow, and jam-packed with Geniuses at the back desk. Fun and annoying at the same time. 

I was looking for a smaller, light-weight laptop to carry with me while traveling. I knew what I wanted so my transaction ended quickly, but Bill had his eyes on an Apple watch. While I waited for him, I pulled out my small sketchbook and pencil and started to sketch the people and dog in the store.

As I sketched, I felt like a Luddite. 
A pencil and a piece of paper and lines drawn across the page. So old school. 

In the early 1800s, Luddites formed to combat the advancement of machinery with the thought that industrialization would eliminate jobs. Now we name people who resist technological change as Luddites, like a former colleague who used her computer as a doorstop.  Though I use my computer every day for many different things, I haven't moved over to the iPad as a drawing medium. What I have seen of others' work on the iPad is extraordinary. I've tried working on the iPad but found the lack of feeling between the stylus and the page to be uninteresting and uninspiring. Apple says they are working on that.

I sketch everywhere I go.
Sitting in a hotel bar in Portland, Oregon.

While attending my college class reunion in Claremont.

 Waiting at the Ontario Airport, I watched people hurry to the exit.

While riding the BART train to San Francisco and back, I drew people with earbuds or head phones.

Sometimes I practice calligraphy or draw the back of people's heads.

Or I draw while sitting outside cafes.

In a  class for Illustrator, the instructor saw my drawings and asked me why I bothered with the class since I could already draw and could scan my drawings into the computer. But I knew that Illustrator could be a useful tool for me if I could conquer the long learning process. Most of these drawings have been enhanced so that the pencil lines show better. 

I am not the last hold-out. I recently read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the head designer at Tesla who uses pencil and paper to sketch out his ideas for their futuristic cars.

 Sketching in the Apple Store tickled my sense of humor. I knew that carrying a pencil and a small pad of paper around is an easy way for me to fill up time while I am waiting, but I stood out in the Apple Store. I didn't see another pencil or a piece of paper anywhere.