Friday, July 31, 2020


The kind, thoughtful words of the eulogies for John Lewis yesterday brought tears to my eyes. The words reminded me of what good is in all of us. The words encouraged us to recognize that each of us has a point of view and that we all have worth. John Lewis surely epitomizes the phrase Black Lives Matter.

The sounds of the measured voices in the church in Georgia, rested me, pulled away the sense of despair that haunts me as I listen each day to the actions and words of people who have forgotten the meaning of our democratic values of compassion, empathy, honesty and equality, and who I fear will take those values away to fulfill their own purposes. For a while, I was restored to a quieter, more meaningful place.

Sometimes we don't understand the value of people like John Lewis till they are near the end of their lives. His commitment to equality, justice and making each day better for all of us holds us together. He wasn't alone. He had mentors and colleagues who worked for those same values. He reached out to people, big and small, to form coalitions to fight for those issues.

Keep Moving Forward, he said. 
He did so all his life. 
He represents what is best about America.
 He gave us hope.

As a champion of voting rights, John R. Lewis asked all of us to vote this coming election. Remember that your vote is your voice.

Watch the PBS documentary about John Lewis here:

Friday, July 24, 2020


Do you see a cactus
or an animal burrowing into the rocks with only its tail and hind end showing?

Arizona in February is too hot for winter, but we kept to the shady side of the street as we walked along the art district of Scottsdale looking for something we could take back with us on a plane. The sun cast deep, long shadows along the streets. The district radiated creative opportunities.

I stopped at a fire hydrant to take a photo.The hydrant was a stark object against a plain wall. I liked the position of the wall and the hydrant because together they could be the start of a watercolor painting. It wasn't until I got back to our hotel and looked through my photos that I had a good laugh.

Another fire hydrant in Canada

The photo reminded me to double check my images to make sure there are no unintended attention grabbers. One of my first college art class oil paintings taught me to step back and look carefully at my work. I labored over this still life and brought it home where it hung in my parents' dining room. It wasn't till one of my nephews asked what the deer was doing in the painting that I realized what I hadn't seen before. Now I can't see anything else.

I'm still learning that lesson. After taking an online class this summer, I looked over a watercolor sketch and saw, not the natural gas container I thought I had painted, but a big loaf of bread sitting outside the cabin.

I come from a family who looks for hidden objects: faces in unexpected places, shapes that turn from one thing to another. That activity has helped with my artwork. I can quickly pick out the optical illusions that I need to correct before someone else gets a good laugh.

Have you read any good books this summer? Here's my stack:

Friday, July 17, 2020


by Bill Slavin

Are you keeping a journal during the pandemic? Are you writing down your thoughts about your reaction to each week's news? Are you taking a moment to write one sentence of gratitude?

Years ago the advice to write one gratitude sentence daily grated on me. I thought it belonged with all the other cheery, shallow suggestions found in self-improvement books or magazines. Ideas that didn't really get to the heart of any hurt you may be feeling. Then I tried it. I spent a year writing down one item each day, something that I was grateful for. Each entry was brief, not something that I had mulled over for long. The ideas were simple things: seeing a bird come to our feeder, the first new green of Spring, a cool breeze at night after a very hot day. During the year, I didn't notice any change in attitude from writing the sentences. It wasn't until the year was complete and I read all 365 sentences together that the impact of that small exercise revealed itself to me. I realized that the sentences had helped center me and opened my eyes to what effect the world had on me.

by Bill Slavin

During SIP and the daily political uproar, I find it hard to be grateful each day. I don't think about it much because I am too busy being busy with art and writing projects each day, and trying to tamp down any anxiety over the coming election and the need to be sequestered. Yet one thing stands out in my mind: our son Theo.

At the beginning of the SIP, Bill and I had ventured out a couple of times to the grocery store. Theo got upset with us for walking into a place with its high possibility of exposure to the virus. He told us to stop and now arrives each Tuesday with our groceries for the week. He has persisted even though he lives in San Francisco and we are out in one of the far-reaching suburbs of the East Bay. He comes masked and ready to stay at least 6 feet away at all times.

Eager for more of his company, we ask him to stay for lunch. Bill barbecues hamburgers or hot dogs. We set out condiments with individual spreaders, potato chips and drinks. Theo has hand sanitizer in his pocket and uses it before he approaches the table. Bill brings the BBQ over to the table and he and I move away so that Theo can prep his food. Theo then moves to a chair spaced away from us while we prep our food too. Then we eat and talk for a couple of hours, masks on except when we eat or drink. We hear of his life at home trying to make some progress with his band that isn't able to perform live, we listen to his opinions about politics, racism, global warming, and people not wearing masks. He suggests that the next house we live in should have only one story. He talks about his weekend with Rose, his long-time girlfriend and our favorite person next to him. We share our lives too, how little we do outside our house and the activities that keep us busy in our shelter-in-place. Eventually he collects his plates and as we move away, he stacks his dishes on top of ours, turns and waves as he leaves for the long drive back home.

He has taught us unconditional love again. I am grateful for him every day.

by Bill Slavin

Friday, July 10, 2020


As my sixth anniversary of writing my blog, Postcards in the Air, drew closer, the world ceased to function normally. March 16, the date of the Shelter in Place order for the Bay Area, coincided with the starting date in 2014 of my first weekly blog posting.

During SIP, I began to notice patterns in writers the world over. Each week as I sat down to write my blog, I would try to find something that related to the pandemic as well as to my main topic of art and nature. So often after I finished my post, I would find an article or essay about the same topic, for instance, walking and observing more of nature, decluttering, and the emptiness of urban places. Just like me, writers expressed themes that SIP brought to their attention during each week. I marveled how so often my thoughts matched other writers.

In March, I wrote about how being an introvert made sequestering so much easier. I wrote about staying in place because I catch colds easily. I wrote about a squirrel building a nest, oblivious to the pandemic, and how all of nature ignored our travails. I wrote about first responders and neighbors who came forward with help. I wrote about how our society has forgotten the value of the common good. Each week a different topic for me came to my fingers. Each week after I had written my post, I would find articles by other writers on the same spectrum of thought.

In April I pointed out how so many of us were tackling projects that needed to be done, such as cleaning out closets and reassessing our values. Or we had given in to the stress of the pandemic and found ourselves not able to do much at all. I used calligraphy to prompt people to think about the words, Remember, I Wish, and Together. I showed my husband's photos of our walk around the now-empty San Ramon business park, where birds and ducks were flourishing, and humans had disappeared. I wrote about Earth Day and how the skies had cleared because of the lack of vehicles on the roads all over the world.

In May I wrote about the effects of the sun, how humans need the sun and how they are willing to break rules in order to be out at the beaches. During the month, I wrote about how everything mechanical was breaking in our house. Bill used his long-lost DIY skills, but some repairs needed experienced people. We worried about having other people in our home.

I wrote about an online class in making collages and how the practice of collage layering requires me to step back from the process and evaluate what I put down on paper. I came back to the wildlife that ventures into our yard each spring. We have deer with new fawn, squirrels and birds making our yard their home.

"There is no road. The road is made by walking."
Translation of lines from Antonio Machado's poem, "Caminante no hay Camino"

And then George Floyd was murdered, and the world changed again. I asked myself if this was the time to write a blog about art and nature. I found myself delving into organizations that provide activism for change and support for issues that Floyd's death brought back to our country. I found books to read and reminders that I needed to continue to be active, to stand up for rights, and to test my own prejudices and beliefs. Every essay that I read in the newspaper or online after I wrote mine had similar thoughts and calls for action.

Bill's list of books to read plus the NYT podcast "1619"

Even five months into the pandemic, I was still not ready to return completely to my regular themes. I published an article about a small project that involves making art to express more awareness of the cost of deaths by gun violence. The Soul Box Project (SBP) collects origami boxes with the name of a person who has died from suicide, domestic violence, random or gang-related shootings, or from mass shootings. The project leaders are based in Portland and have exhibited as many as 15,000 boxes at the Multnomah Arts Center and at the Cerimon House in Portland, as well as the Oregon State Capital. In April 2021 the SBP plans to bring 200,000 boxes to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The boxes remind me of the AIDS quilt project, which illustrates the power of something that starts small and grows in significance. Again, I felt the universal pull to this idea. Just after writing my blog, I received a notice from the Commonwealth Club that the AIDS quilt is coming back to San Francisco.

My sense of collective consciousness with other writers seems to continue each week. A couple of weeks ago, I finished my post about artists as agitators and gave the Che Guevara poster as a prime example of artistic activism. I turned off my computer and went to watch KQED, whose Canvas series that evening focused on artists across the country making art to express their reactions to both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

I think of myself as an independent person, thinking my own thoughts and writing them down as they come. It's only during a country-wide or world-wide event that I realize how close we all are in thought, how connected we all are to each other.

I am showing this week some of the artwork that I conceived while Sheltering in Place. This time period has been beneficial for creating whether I am doing calligraphy, collaging, or watercolor. Other people find the time to be constructive too.

Check out the latest article about crafting by Elizabeth Fishel in Medium.

Friday, July 3, 2020


by Martha Slavin
On the dining room wall of the home of my Aunt Alice and Uncle Finn hung my aunt's family tree, beautifully drawn using blues and greens, her favorite colors. Within the image of the tree, each name was carefully written. Alice married into a family with seven brothers and sisters. Perhaps the tree was her way to remind people that she had a family to remember too.

Many of my relatives on my dad's side developed an interest in their connections to Scandinavia. Several cousins delved into genealogy, gleaning old photographs and lists of ancestors. From one list, with names dating back to 1625, I decided to construct an ancestral tree for Clara Thorson, my paternal grandmother. I purchased a half-of-a-pie-shaped chart that covered a 20" by 30" piece of vellum. The chart was divided to indicate paternal and maternal origins. At the center of the half-circle, I could write the names of my grandmother Clara and grandfather Peter Heimdahl.

As I was posting the names of my grandmother's ancestors in pencil, I realized the impossibility of the task I had set out for myself. First, the sections were too small to write names, birth and death dates clearly or as beautifully as my original inspiration. I had to have a very sharp pencil to squeeze just the names into each space. Secondly, because the sections were so small, I made a mistake and used the while chart to write my grandmother's ancestors. Some of the names, such as Sigrei Guttormsdatter, Ambjorg Bjornsdatter, and Tolleiv Gjerdingadn Thorson, were long and hardly fit in the spaces. There was no room left for my paternal grandfather's family. At the time, I had no or little information about his family or my mother's side either.

Looking at the chart made me realize how many people it took to make me. Studying the names also made me wonder more about the people in the chart. What would a medical chart look like? Where did I get my nearsightedness or brown eyes? What did people do for a living and what did people die from?

Since they were ordinary people, I have few stories about those beyond my grandparents. I knew that there were two farms in Norway that belonged to the Thorsons and Heimdahls (original name Olson). My grandmother's father came to Minnesota, married another Norwegian immigrant, and became a farmer outside of Willmar. My grandfather and his brother came to the United States because as younger brothers they would not inherit their family's farm. They changed their name from Olson to Heimdahl because there were so many Olsons already in America. The brother continued on to Washington. My grandfather settled in Willmar, Minnesota, and eventually became the local tax accessor. Both families, the Thorsons and the Heimdahls, came originally from the district of Hallingdal, though they didn't know each other in Norway.

Elevated grain storage to keep rats out -- Hallingdal Outdoor Museum

I think of the tale we heard at an outdoor museum tour of farm buildings near Nesbyen, the town my grandfather came from in Norway. During the plague in the early 1300s, a father locked his daughter in a grain storeroom to keep her safe. She was the only one in her village to survive.

I think of our tour guide in Norway whose father was part of the resistance in WWII.

I think of my own great grandfather who walked from New York to Minnesota to settle there. Each of those people had life stories, which could be expanded from the one sentence on this page.

My aunts and uncles loved to tell stories and would regale us on summer evenings with tales of bringing in the harvest, swimming in the lakes, and catching rides on skis while holding on to the back of a local farmer's wagon.

by Ralph C. Heimdahl

 I remember hearing about the antics of Charlie Arnie who lived on the farm of one of my relatives and who has a street by the farm named after him. I remember hearing stories of my great grandparents, but the details for all of these stories are long gone from my memory. Stories that don't get written down, don't survive.


Another box load of boxes for the Soul Box Project.

Check out the Soul Box Project, a project to honor victims of gun violence: