Friday, February 22, 2019


Can you find the ant on the mushroom?

After our heavy rains, I went looking for mushrooms. They sprout up at different times of the year in Northern California, even in our dry, hot summers. But I expected to see more of them in February.

As I walked along a path, I thought I would be surprised by new crops blooming everywhere. Instead I found random tennis balls from the nearby courts forgotten under the trees. I discovered tennis balls are as hard to photograph as mushrooms are. The light confuses my iPhone in much the same as round mushrooms do.

I also found the last of the prickly Liquid Amder seed pods blown into bunches on the edges of the path. We used to collect them and spray them gold or silver for holiday ornaments. The birds love the seeds inside the pods, but all the seeds were gone by now.

Liquid Amber tree seed pods

I didn't find many mushrooms on my walk until I came back to our backyard. We have a dead alder stump in the middle of the yard. The top part of one of our redwoods broke off, thundered down to the ground and whacked the alder so hard that it too eventually died. A tree sculptor carved bear heads in the trunk once the rest of the tree was cut down. Last summer clusters of mushrooms covered the roots of the tree. Now fungi have started crawling up the sides like fairy staircases and into the carved spaces on the bear's head and paws.

Fairy staircases or Yellowstone-like pools?

The fungi are beautiful and remind me of the monarchs that usually swarm the trees along the Monterey coastline. I thought about those beautiful butterflies whose population in the last year declined by 86% -- a precipitous drop. Scientists offer climate change, habitat destruction, and pesticides (Round-up is particulary harmful) as reasons for the loss.

These mushrooms are also known as Turkey Tail Mushrooms

Our alder tree is going through a natural process of decay. We can't do much except watch it crumble, little by little. We humans, though, have accelerated the loss of the monarchs on the West Coast. They live here all year round and the smoke from last year's fires was harmful. Big environmental issues like this seem to be so enormous that it's easy to feel helpless.  I've learned that the last couple of years of political upheaval provides a blueprint for action. Getting together with others to do even small things can result in amazing achievements. If you can find space in your garden for some local, nectar-rich plants, join me and plant them. You might save a butterfly!

The Xerces Society has produced a series of plant guides to help all of us to find plants that will do well in our locations. Check them out!

Friday, February 15, 2019



I couldn't resist replacing my planned post for today with this photo from a good friend. A kitty and hearts. What more can you want to make you smile?

I'm a day late to write about Valentine's Day, but I'm taking inspiration from my son, who once said we should celebrate days like Valentine's, Mother's Day, and birthdays every day of the year. So if you missed creating something special for Valentine's, here's your chance to create a sweet surprise (minus the cat).

The hearts in the photo are simple to make. Take a sheet of 90 or 140 lb watercolor paper, dampen it, brush watercolors across the sheet. Let it dry, cut out heart shapes (use a shape-cutting machine or your own hand-drawn design) and add your message of love with a marking pen.

My friend's other card is more complex, but still doable. You need to collect a sheet of red paper for the background, a gold doily, some images such as the butterfly (either from a magazine or from a craft store), ribbon, hearts (make your own or head to the craft store), and some circles to put your message on.

Once you've assembled your cards, hide them in places your person is most likely to find them: sock drawer, under a pillow, at the breakfast table for a morning surprise.

You could also download the images below to fill someone's week with surprises and cheer. Print these images on cardstock for stability.

Have fun with love.

by mARTha Slavin

by mARTha Slavin

by mARTha Slavin

And one for your cat.

by mARTha Slavin

Friday, February 8, 2019


by Bill Slavin

To the rest of the country, winter is making its worst mark. In Northern California, white blossoms cover the flowering pear trees, the daffodils bloom with joyous yellow, the primroses and shy hellebores spread their colors along walkways and under the trees, while leftover poinsettias seem out of place. Rain comes and even snow to the local mountain tops, but sun breaks through, rainbows appear.

by Bill Slavin

Our Spring comes as early as mid-January. We luxuriate in the warm sun, but we need the rain, and more rain to keep back the hot firestorms of Summer. In the meantime, we glory in the pink and white tinged street trees, we marvel at the tulip leaves pushing their way into the sunshine, and we check the tips of the deciduous trees to see the beginnings of new green growth.

by Bill Slavin

I hope you enjoy a little bit of Spring photographed by my husband, Bill.

Friday, February 1, 2019


Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with the life I have?

Most of us ask ourselves those questions over and over again in our lifetimes. We look for the meaning of life in various ways, through religious practice, journal writing, astrology, Ouija boards, sweat lodges, psychedelic substances, meditation, personality quizzes and more sophisticated evaluations such as the Myers-Briggs Indicator and the Enneagram test.

I grew up during the explosion of New Age philosophies and cults such as EST and Hare Krishna, so I tend to be skeptical of systems that purport to give me all the answers to questions of life. But I also understand that sometimes these systems provide comfort and insight for people who are looking for the answer to the question we all ask ourselves: Why?

I still like doing self-exploration quizzes and tests that I come across. At a writers' workshop this past weekend, I sat with a dozen other people as we looked at colors to identify important areas of self-knowledge and inspiration. What colors would we choose and what do they mean? we were all curious.

The leader spread out a large grouping of Pantone colors and asked us to pick the one color we would take with us if we knew we wouldn't return for a long time. I normally would have picked Yellow, my favorite color, but her question stopped me. Would I really want to be surrounded by the brightness of yellow day and night? I picked a shade of blue instead, thinking that if I had to live with one color, I would select something that would give me serenity. Because of my Scandinavian heritage, I chuckled when I saw the name of the blue I selected: Swedish Blue 18-4330 TPX

In the Aura Soma color system we were exploring, blue represents my soul color, and signifies communication and finding my voice. I thought of writing my blog and my artwork in relation to my choice. I next selected a burnt sienna shade of orange, Tiger Lily 17-1456, for my Challenge color. Orange stands for creativity on the plus side and doubt on the negative. As a creative person, those two qualities go hand in hand as I work. My last color choice, Magenta 214,  my Resource, is supposed to give me strength and a love of the small things in life. Again, I noticed a corollary to my own life: I tend to find the small things around me that other people may not notice, and I write about those small things and their significance to me.

I didn't pick pale or extremely dark colors. I was surprised when I put them together as a palette to see that the three colors rest in the same value range, not too light, not too dark.

My best try in watercolor to represent the Pantone colors that I selected.

Working with these colors was an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. Like many opportunities to explore self-knowledge, I took pieces of the system to gain more insight into the depth and breadth of all my experiences. One more piece of the puzzle of a full life.

What color would you choose if you couldn't return
 to your starting point for a long while?

Take a look at all the color choices that Pantone offers:
More about Aura Soma: