Friday, October 29, 2021


Spreading Joy and Smiles

All photos by Bill Slavin

Bill (husband) decided one morning to start each day with a smile. He walked into the dining room and greeted me with a grin. We laughed.

Bill's gesture reminded me of the words of a middle school counselor. She had recommended to one of her students to go to bed with a smile on her face, no matter what, because she knew that this small act could help the student change how she felt about her life.

Still grinning, Bill and I turned and watched the goofy ring-necked doves who crowd into our too-small bird feeder. They flap, dance, peck, and bump against each other to ensure their chance at the seed.

The doves reminded me of a recent conversation with friends. We talked about taking dance lessons. Both couples had tried lessons to help each other around the floor. Dance instructors expected students to dance with the other people in the class as well as their own partners. Our friends said that they both danced better with the other people than they did with each other. We did too.

Another friend took lessons with his daughter right before her wedding to be sure that he didn't step all over her feet.

Bill and I took the same classes over and over again: swing, salsa/cha-cha, Texas two-step, even the tango. We wandered into classes in San Francisco, Danville, and Walnut Creek looking for the answer to our two left feet. We practiced our steps at large holiday parties. Bill liked to be in the middle of the dance floor, in the thick of the swaying bodies. I much preferred the edges, having had my feet stepped on by too many big, bone-crushing feet of other dancers too close to us.

We even had a moment of fame during our tango class. The instructor knew a local TV newscaster who came to the class with a camera crew to film the class learning this dramatic, intricate dance. The reporter interviewed the group on camera, which would have been hidden away in the news except that the snippet aired just before the annual Oscar ceremony. We heard about our star-studded performance from everyone we knew. We grinned (or was that a grimace?) at their surprise at seeing us on TV. Here we were with our two left feet on display for all our world to see. Swans, we were never meant to be.


Karen Hannah, through the Postcard Underground blog site, has a group of people sending out postcards of gratitude to people who are working to make a difference. I signed up immediately. 

I've been sending postcards to political leaders, sometimes thanking them, sometimes chastising them for not being the kind of people we need in leadership positions. I've been sending postcards to voters. I send postcards to friends and exchange postcards with artists and writers. Now I can have a way to say thank you to people across the country who want to help others. 

Places to sign up to send postcards:

The Postcard Underground

Jennifer Benioff's Love Notes

Louise Gales' heART Exchange

Jenifer Hoffman's Citizens of Conscience

To brighten your day, check out Reasons to be Cheerful, a new online magazine that heralds solutions to problems. Today's headline: How One Woman Protected Millions of Acres:

Friday, October 22, 2021



Rain slides down the window. Yes, rain, blessed rain. The streets run wet, the thirsty trees lap up the drops on their leaves, the ground soaks it in, the scent of rain freshens the air. Rain, adding just a fraction of the moisture to our drought-ridden landscape. California, beautiful state, full of mountains, rivers, trees, ocean beaches, lakes, deserts, sand dunes, trails, grass, birds, squirrels, coyotes, mountain lions, and of course, people, all dry and dusty from months of no moisture. Rain fills us with hope, gives us a chance to take a break from the dread of wildfire and worry about the low levels of water in reservoirs.

Mushrooms running rampant after the rain

Looking out my window, I am reminded of a Facebook group whose members take pictures of what they see outside their windows and post them on FB for anyone to view. There are extraordinary shots of sights from places I will never go. The beauty of distant hills, a lake, or the ocean framed by a window above the streets below. Groups like these keep me tied to Facebook. It has been a way for people to find my blog, for me to connect with creative and nature journaling groups, for me to contact distant relatives and friends. I keep my time on FB to a minimum, but I continue to question my dependence, especially with the whistleblower's revelations of what we already suspected of Facebook. There is no money from my activities for FB, but every week I think there must be a better way for me to be present to the people I've found on Facebook.

I go back to working on a painting, writing, or designing a journal page and think about how we often let big existential questions slip by us. The climate crisis. Threats to our democracy. Too overwhelming, too scary, too inconvenient to change. Even something as insignificant as dropping Facebook becomes  a challenge. I watch out the window as the mail carrier stops at our mailbox as he has done all through the pandemic and for many years before. I walk out of the house, expecting to find the usual flyers, bundles of ads, and a few bills. Instead, clustered together were three postcards. As I read the messages from friends far away, my spirits lifted. It surprised me how such a simple gesture could inspire, buttress my soul, and encourage me to look at the day in a new way.

Let's make November a postcard-sending month. It's almost Thanksgiving and a good time to reach out to friends and family.

Thank you to Christine, Francine, and Cherie for your kind words.


October is a good time to get your COVID booster, 
your flu shot, 
have a mammogram set. 
Take care of yourself!

Friday, October 15, 2021



Center page of my first BAL sketchbook

Hope, like so many positive feelings, is fleeting. Think of laughter, joy, wonder, and how quickly they come upon us and just as quickly recede. We often remember every second of a regret, mistake, every feeling of sadness or anger, or misfortune. Somehow it is easy to write about these more somber emotions. That is what drama builds stories on, after all. Facebook bombards us with articles that stir these emotions. But hope is not so easy.

I thought of hope when a small brown package arrived yesterday. Inside another brown envelope contained a sketchbook from the Brooklyn Art Libary (BAL), a non-profit group that encourages people to sketch and to send in their sketchbooks to share with the world. They explain their project on the envelope:

"The Sketchbook Project is the world's largest library of artists' books, crowd-sourced from every corner of the globe. The project is changing the way creative people share their work while creating a worldwide community resource. By filling a sketchbook, you are joining the movement, adding your voice, and becoming a part of something huge. Draw, write, collage, cut, print, photograph -- it starts with an idea."

An idea is hope.

I ordered this latest sketchbook because I thought my COVID Diary could fill the pages of the sketchbook. By sending the book to the library, my diary becomes more than the story of a year and a half of my life. My book becomes part of a universal experience.

The word LAUGH. Can you find it?
A sketch made during An Vanhentenrijk's FOC workshop last weekend.

Several years ago, I ordered another sketchbook that I haven't completed. Unlike the other BAL books, the Library asked people to write in a journal using one of two prompts. The journal I received said, "Hope." After a few pages, I got stuck. The book sits, unfinished, because I didn't want to write something treacly. I thought of Emily Dickinson's lovely line about hope being a thing with feathers that has become so overused.

I went back to the basics and made lists of what gives me hope.

Planting a tree: first, for the idea of longevity, then for the connection to another living being.

Babies: a new life in a very uncertain world. Don't we all wonder what the world will be like for our children? Yet, just this week, we celebrated the arrival of a new baby in our neighborhood.

Global natural events: a full eclipse of the sun brought out millions of people to watch. A full moon, especially a moon that rises closer to the Earth than usual.

A tree full of bees: first, because bees are disappearing at an alarming rate, and second, a tree full of bees is a promise of what's to come.

A small plant rooted in a crack in the pavement: shows how tenacious the will to live can be.

And more: being present and listening to old friends and new acquaintances. The change in seasons. 

The list is getting longer and I am now assured that I can fill the sketchbook with HOPE.

One of my mantras: SAY YES TO LIFE

Check out the Brooklyn Art Library and look through digitized examples of the thousands of sketchbooks contained there:

Would you like to try calligraphy? Check out the Friends of Calligraphy website:

Check out An Van Hentenrijk's calligraphic gallery here:

Friday, October 8, 2021


My new art journal before COVID 

Sitting in doctors' offices to have my eyes checked regularly or having a cup of coffee at outdoor patios became my routine outside activity for the last year and a half. To pass the time, I pulled out my small art journal that became my COVID diary and began to draw. Sometimes I would make doodles in small squares, similar to Zentangles, but with my own patterns. Sometimes I would draw the people and objects around me.


I am now at the end of my COVID Diary. The counties around me are considering opening up from the important mask mandates that have kept us safer than other parts of the country. The rates of COVID are down in our area, and we can only hope that this time, loosening restrictions will be okay. As I finish this journal, I also consider that it is time for me to continue to expand my contained universe of the last year and a half with activities that take me more and more into relatively safe experiences.

Visiting towns around the Bay Area has been one way for Bill and me to explore the area we've lived in for many years. This week we drove to San Rafael to drop off two watercolor paintings of mine that have been accepted in the CWA juried member show for the fall. The local show is an opportunity for painters like me to enter smaller shows. I look through national shows occasionally for inspiration and realize I'm not ready for those shows, but the member shows fit my level of work well.

 The center's building is a restored Victorian on a hill near the mission in San Rafael. It is the former home of the Dollar family, another wealthy family from the 20th century, with roots in the Bay Area. The property was saved from development by community members in 1974.  The grounds contain a water-wise garden as well as exotic trees from other Mediterranean climates. This time of year, the grounds are dry and dusty, but the inside of the house is light and airy, the perfect place for an art exhibit.

We've found other interesting places to explore. Walnut Creek's plazas are good places to people-watch and draw.

Fillmore Street in San Francisco offers coffee shops, book stores, and good places to eat outside in their parklet patios.

How have you been keeping a record of COVID times?

I've had several people ask me about my visits to the eye doctors.  I have glaucoma, which causes pressure on the optic nerve. I've had it for over 15 years. My right eye has a narrow strip of lost vision that I only notice when I close my left eye. It is amazing how eyes can compensate.  My glaucoma is controlled by eye drops, a stent in my right eye, and frequent visits to my eye doctor to check the pressure. I am stable and lucky.  The people in my sketches have macular degeneration, which is much harder on people, I think, leaving many people with vision loss.  Best advice: annual vision checks to catch either eye disease.


Three writers from the Friday Writers group that I attend have published books during COVID. They are all good reads:

In My Mother's Footsteps: a Palestinian Refugee Returns Home by Mona Halaby is a memoir of growing up in Egypt and Geneva after being uprooted from the family home in Palestine in 1948 during the Nakba, the occupation of Palestine. Her writing is a tender remembrance of close family life and the effect the Nakba has had on her family and other Palestinians.

75 - a Number, a Passage, a Present by Audrey Ward tells us the story of living in Europe for two months after her retirement plans changed. The poem at the beginning of the book will grab you. Audrey earlier wrote a memoir, Hidden Biscuits, about growing up with an itinerant preacher/father and mother who traveled through the South to lead Revival meetings.

Shelter in Place Art & Limericks: In the Time of COVID by Mary-Jo Murphy, who is a wonderful artist and writer, has kept a COVID diary too.

Here are the links to Mona Halaby's, Mary-Jo Murphy's, and Audrey Ward's books:

Check out Zentangles on their website here:

Learn more about San Rafael's Falkirk Cultural Center here:

Friday, October 1, 2021


With Autumn here, trees get a lot of attention. People plant trees as memorials to loved ones. On a larger scale, the organization One Tree Planted has planted over a million trees around the world. They have provided meaningful employment as well as worked towards their goal of affecting climate change. The significance of trees has caught the imagination of writers with books such as The Overstory, The Long, Long Life of Trees, and Finding the Mother Tree.

Trees are also the focus of the Treewhispers project created by Pamela Paulsrud, an artist and calligrapher, who works with groups to make paper rounds from shredded recycled paper. The wet pulp is spread inside small hoops. Once the paper is dry, each person writes a short story about their relationship with trees. The group attaches the circles to long cords. Pamela has created exhibits around the world using the thousands of circles she has collected. Her latest project included the Kalligrafos Calligraphy Guild. After making circles, the group suspended the rounds on long cords in the winter forest of the Thomas & Brenda Burns' property. People could then walk through the forest of trees and paper circles.

My vista is smaller. I've been picking leaves off the ground as I walk the neighborhood. I've discovered that we have 5 different kinds of oak trees on our street. I've collected red and black oak leaves, both deciduous oaks, and evergreen live oak, valley oak, and possibly netleaf leaves. The leaves of the deciduous and evergreen oaks are quite different, and I questioned why all these trees are classified as oak trees. Lucky for me, Google exists. I discovered numerous societies and studies dedicated to oaks. As I read through the information, I realized, once again, that real research on any subject takes time. A casual researcher like me can find possible answers from experts, but there is always lots more to learn and to verify by collecting data, comparing samples, and asking more questions.

Thinking back to my old science lessons, I assumed that trees could be identified by their leaves and bark. I had forgotten about cross-pollination and how important that is in the life of trees. Looking at the many oak trees in our neighborhood, especially along a creek, I laughed at the idea of these trees busily hybridizing themselves.

My next question: why are the leaves of the deciduous and evergreen trees so different? After reading many fact-filled articles, I concluded that deciduous trees use their leaves as protection from the wind, which is why their leaves are thinner and deeply lobed (valley oaks).  Evergreen oaks need protection from temperature changes so their leaves are smaller and thicker (live oak).

Big or small, our relationship with trees spans centuries. We climb them, we are sustained by their acorns and fruits, we build with their wood and use the wood for heating, we play with wooden toys, we plant them to provide windscreens to protect our crops, and we use the galls and nuts to make ink. 

Best of all, the last question is: 
What better way to spend a hot afternoon than under the shadow of a sheltering tree?

Good sources to understand tree identification:

Check out Pamela Paulsrud's Treewhispers' blog:

Vimeos of Treewhispers exhibits:

Check out the Kalligrafos Calligraphy Guild:

YouTube video about OneTreePlanted: