Friday, April 29, 2022



"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly: what is essential is invisible to the eye."

Do you recognize this quote that I read in a recent article? When I read them, I knew immediately the words came from Le Petit Prince, an illustrated book by Antoine de Saint Exupery, 

The Little Prince captivated me in college when I read it for the first time in French, then subsequently many times in English. The thoughtful, sweet story resonated with me as a college student making her way in the world. I looked at the tender drawings and saw the loneliness of the little prince so far from home. The drawings in the story are spare yet relate so well to the themes of the book about love, friendship, and responsibility as the little prince travels the universe and learns wisdom from his experiences.

Why did this story intrigue me so much at that time of my life? Was it the illustrations? The foreign-sounding name of the author? The baobab tree? The little prince's action of picking up seeds from the baobab tree to protect his little planet from being overwhelmed by these large trees? The humor behind his encounters with people on each asteroid he visited? I remember one of the encounters, a lamplighter who has to light his lamp each day at dawn and dusk. This lighter lives on an asteroid so small that dawn and dusk occurs every few minutes. Yet lamplighter was dedicated to his job. As the little prince travels the universe, his experiences help him to develop an understanding of a person's responsibilities towards himself and to the world around him. The themes of the book made me cherish Le Petit Prince and work to adopt a sense of responsibility to the world around me.

Paul Gallico's Snow Goose is another tale of bravery and mystery that I read while in college. The story is about a reclusive artist who develops a relationship with a snow goose as World War II rages. The artist and the goose participate in the Dunkirk rescue by hundreds of small English boaters who took to the waters to save thousands of soldiers stranded at Dunkirk in France during the war. I think of that rescue when I hear about the entrapment of Ukrainians in Mariupol right now and wonder why we can't do something similar to save hundreds of lives.

I think that I'm reaching for these thoughtful stories as a way to see hope and bravery in a time of doubt when the sense of responsibility and character within human beings seems diminished. When I taught English in a middle school, we read The Diary of Anne Frank together. I choked up in front of my students as I read aloud Anne Frank's quiet words, "....I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."

Friday, April 22, 2022


Sketch by my dad of the two of us in his studio

The rain started as the plane landed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. I had watched the weather report for Minnesota for the last month as the weather went from the low 20s up to the the 50s in a couple of weeks. I couldn't decide what to pack. Those 50s happened during the week before I arrived. Today, in the third week of March, the forecast was for rain and snow. That's spring for you in Minnesota. As I sat waiting for a shuttle I overheard two flight attendants talking. One had spent February in Minnesota while she was training. Coming from Florida, she couldn't grasp how people withstood the 20 degrees below weather. Silently I concurred. I grew up in California and lived in other places but never spent an entire winter in that kind of weather. Minnesotans had to be hardy people. I thought of the long-ago photo of one of my aunts as she stood at her front door between two walls of snow that towered over her. Farmers ran ropes between buildings so that they wouldn't get lost in a blizzard.

My dad graduated from St. Cloud State University and became an art teacher at the School for the Deaf in Faribault, Minnesota before he was hired by Walt Disney to work on early animated movies. After leaving Disney, he drew the Bugs Bunny comic strip for 30 years. Now all these years later, the university accepted our collection of his drawings and other material that he did for the strip. They will be archived in their library for others to see. I am returning for a reception in his honor.

Sketch of the iced-over Mississippi River, St. Cloud, Minnesota

I caught the shuttle to St. Cloud, a town right up against the Mississippi River, where the university is located. I settled down for a ride that I was grateful that I didn't have to drive. Snow began to fall as we edged out of the airport. Not a hard storm, just enough to cover the ground and vehicles along the road with about six inches of light snow. The snow softened everything and muted the colors to greys, browns, and blacks, which reminded me of our winters in Japan. We passed the Fort Snelling Cemetery with its rows upon rows of white grave markers like stiff rows of wheat stalks in fields nearby. Along the road, signs continually popped up, crying, "We're Hiring."

The road reminded me of the drive from the Bay Area to Sacramento -- one town connected to another, with no real definition in between, except on this road, the occasional, solid stands of pines and aspen, seemingly untouched by progress, appearing then disappearing along the way.

Living near a coast, I'm used to the boundaries of mountains, hills, and water. The prairie goes forever even in a snowstorm, and it is hard to determine direction without the sun. The low clouds hovered over the roadway, but I still felt a sense of a never-ending universe all around me. 

Corner of E. Germain St & 5th St. in St. Cloud, Minnesota

When we reached St. Cloud, we drove through the old downtown area with its brick buildings with ornate detailing around windows and doors. The main street was empty of people. The large department store had closed and For Lease signs spanned windows along the street. Near my hotel, a few stores stood ready for customers including a bank, a Mexican restaurant, a game store, and a sandwich shop with a sign, "Hiring Drivers." Names like Granite City Comics reminded me that St. Cloud has been a place of mining, railroads, lumber, farms, and maybe a little good humor. The weather emptied the streets of the university population at the downtown's steps.

St. Cloud's campus had expanded greatly from the time my father attended in the late 1920s. There were only five buildings then, all nestled against the Mississippi River. Riverview, the model school for teaching, is the only building remaining from that period. The building is now used by the Communications Department. It has been restored so that the wood paneling and parquet floors shine and includes the original classroom doors with handles low to the ground for small children to turn. Old wood clocks hang above each door in the classrooms. Absent are those familiar odors of mustiness, cleaning solutions, and sweat of old schools.

Though people are traveling more, many of the hotels I looked into for this trip were not quite ready. Their in-house restaurants were still closed, and neighborhood eateries offered limited hours. In the hotel in St. Cloud, I stared hungrily at the blackboard menu in the small cafe in the lobby. Nothing on the blackboard was available. Instead, in their glass cases rested plastic-wrapped, pick-up selections for their few customers during the pandemic. I looked at the plastic containers wondering how long they had been sitting in the cases. No room service was available unless I ordered delivery service from outside. I picked up one more container of yogurt parfait and drank coffee out of a paper cup with the residual taste of paper lingering as I entered the elevator to my room.

As I unpacked in my hotel room I heard the lonely whistle of a train, a sound when I hear it anywhere brings me back to Minnesota. My dad's family came from Willmar, which was a main hub of the railroads for many years, with one train track of many running right behind my grandmother's house. At one time, Willmar had a roundhouse where we could go watch the locomotives being rotated around to go back from where they came. When I hear a train whistle, I think of Minnesota and returning to my roots, and with a little sadness, having to turn around to go back to California again.


Don't miss these two wonderful blog posts from thoughtful writers:

Literally Letty:

Stephanie Rafflelock:

Friday, April 15, 2022


photo by Bill Slavin

Our garden burst with color this year. I'm puzzled because our winter has been so dry. One big rainstorm in December and little else since. The garden seems to have ignored the lack of water and is celebrating with the rest of us the return of Spring, renewed life, and glorious weather. In the Northern Hemisphere, color is everywhere.

photo by Bill Slavin

As I walked by the dining table, I saw Bill's basket of pillboxes all in pastel colors. I felt the memory return of a basket of softly colored Easter eggs and the fun of dyeing them for the holiday.

My sister Linda and I dyed eggs the day before Easter. My mom would hard cook a dozen and set them to cool. While we waited for the eggs, Linda and I emptied the pellets from the PAAS egg dyeing kit into separate glass bowls filled with vinegar and watched the chemical reaction as the tablets dissolved. We sat around our dinette table with its metal tube legs and a yellow top that was imperious to anything we splashed on it. We drew on the eggs with white crayons to create hidden designs that would only appear when we dipped the eggs into the dye. We rolled the eggs over and over again in the dye to make the colors intense. Sometimes we dyed only a part of the egg in one color, then dipped the egg into another color to create different hues. Ours were not the perfect creations done by Ukrainian pysanky artists, but we kept busy trying to make our best ones.

On Easter Sunday, we woke up to search the house for the eggs that the Easter Bunny had hidden. The Easter Bunny, rooted in old pagan stories, the festival of Eostre, and celebrations of fertility, has connected with the traditions of Christianity because of the Spring season of rebirth. Eventually, my sister and I became the hiders of the eggs for our older sister's children. Our mom would make deviled eggs from the discovered dyed eggs to serve at our holiday dinner.

Deviled eggs, a favorite of Craft Day participants, made by Terri Waterman

Many other cultures celebrate Spring, often with bright colors. People in India fling intensely colored powders at each other to celebrate the Hindu Holi Festival. What fun to abandon all reserve to cover each other in colored powder, especially this year.

In April in Thailand, the Songkran Water Festival takes place, without colorful props, to celebrate their new year. People use spray guns, hoses, and buckets to dunk others with water. With temperatures close to 100 degrees in April, the water comes as a welcome relief.

Nowruz in Iran celebrates new life (No=New, Rouz=Day) with a thorough house cleaning. Donning brightly colored clothes, celebrants set bonfires and gather for family get-togethers.

The Spring Equinox is celebrated in Mexico with thousands of people dressed in white who scale the Teotihuacan Pyramid to soak in its energy for the year.

With two years of pandemic life behind us, we seem to be celebrating this year's festivals and traditions with more intensity and more color. Even our gardens are celebrating!

photo by Bill Slavin

Are you like me concerned about the number of books being banned in community libraries across our country? Write a letter to your representatives. Here's a link to help:

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Friday, April 8, 2022


I'm still working on this idea

Do you remember the first time you went to a library and checked out a book? I have heard so many good stories from others about how a library became an important part of growing up. We owe the public library system to Benjamin Franklin and his friends who started a lending library available to anyone in their town.

Did you watch Ken Burns' film on PBS about Ben Franklin this week? You can still catch it and remind yourself how Franklin, a man of many talents and interests, foibles and transgressions, helped mold the idea of the United States.

Franklin was a self-taught scientist and inventor. His invention of the lightning rod grew out of his experiments with electricity. His discovery prevented many tall buildings from catching fire due to lightning strikes. He never took payments for any of his many inventions. He felt that they should be available to anyone to use. He was a supporter of the smallpox vaccine after his second son died from the disease.

Franklin was a printer, writer, and voracious reader. He is known for his newspaper and the yearly Poor Richard's Almanac, which provided information about weather, times to plant, and sayings, such as, "Never leave till tomorrow that which you can do today," that people incorporated into their daily lives. He helped to develop our national postal system, which brought the disparate colonies together and which helped him to understand the need for the colonies to be united into one entity.

I'm still working on this broadside about Franklin

Franklin was also a womanizer and left his family in Pennsylvania for years while he lived in London. He was deeply prejudiced. His ideas about equality did not include women, people of color, or indigenous people, and he was a slave owner. To better understand his earliest beliefs read his Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries (1751). Later in life though, he changed his thinking about slavery and the abilities of black people after observing the children in schools run for black children. He eventually became President of the Abolitionist Society and petitioned Congress to provide the means for slavery to end.

In other words, Franklin was a complex man who managed to rise above his own early beliefs to help construct a country united around equality and freedom. Learning or re-learning about people like Franklin shows how important it is to know history. Without that perspective, we could easily slip into a different type of governance. We are still trying to live up to the ideals that our country was built upon.

We are lucky to be able to read about his life in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

This is National Library Week. Celebrate your library!

Other good reads, not about Benjamin Franklin:

More information about Benjamin Franklin here:

Friday, April 1, 2022


3 examples of European folk art (artists unknown): 1. Austria  2. Germany 3. Poland

Few of us knew how important Ukraine would become to all of us. Because of the war, we now know more about a country rich in tradition and culture, a country the size of Texas, and a country that exports its grain, lithium, coal, steel, and petroleum products. Ukraine also exports its arts. Ukraine's folk art, similar to folk art in other European countries and in Russia, fills the surfaces of pottery, embroidery, woodcarvings, and decorative painting on furniture and houses with flat, repeating patterns, geometric shapes, animals, flowers, and people. They are rich in color and design.

Painting by Maria Prymachenko (courtesy of Colossal)

When you bomb a city, you also bomb the heritage of a place. Looking at photos from last year of Ukrainian cities, we see grand buildings reminiscent of Paris, Prague, and Budapest, which all somehow escaped the bombings in World War I and II. Now we feel outraged at the sight of the demolished buildings in city after city. Already a museum in Ivankiv that housed the work of Maria Prymachenko (her work above) and others has been destroyed. Prymachenko often drew references from her embroidery but included strange beasts and mythical figures. Picasso and Chagall admired her work.

Other Ukrainian artists of this century have incorporated folk traditions in their own more experimental work. Olesya Hudyma fills every inch of space in her fantasy paintings and makes reference to religious figures in her Madonna series.

painting by Olesya Hudyma  (courtesy of stringfixer)

Ukraine is known for its painted egg decorating, called pysanky.  Each area in Ukraine produces different eggs designs. The artist Oksana Mas has turned a small craft into large works of art, using wooden painted eggs as the foundation for large sculptural pieces, including monumental works displayed at the 2011 Venice Biennale. The eggs, a symbol of life in many cultures, are painted by volunteers who work with Mas to create her installations. Some of her pieces, including the 2011 piece, have been disassembled so that the eggs can be sold individually.

Spheres of Good and Spiritual Renaissance by Oksana Mas

Of course, the lives lost in this war are the most devastating consequence of the bombings, but the loss of cultural memories will have an impact on all of us as well.

Read more about these wonderful Ukrainian artists here:

Olesya Hudyma's artwork can be viewed here:

Read about the monumental work created by Oksana Mas in 2011 for Venice Biennale:

Check out Etsy for artwork to purchase by Ukrainian artists: