Friday, June 30, 2023


by Esther B. Heimdahl (my mom)

In a flower shop near our apartment in Paris, the owner had strewn heaps of rose petals all over the floor. As I walked in, the petals shuffled beneath my feet and filled the air with their aroma. I thought of that abundance of petals while bemoaning my lack of lemons and their heady scent. I had opened the refrigerator door to grab a couple of lemons forgetting for a moment that my usual supple of lemons was gone. A neighbor used to share lemons from her tree. She kept me and other neighbors in lemons all year long, but she moved away recently. The lemon bounty has stopped for now. Our friendship started over lemons but grew into a more caring one as time passed. Her move made me think of abundance and scarcity. We so often squander whatever we have in abundance and yearn for that abundance when something is scarce.

Lemons by Martha Heimdahl Slavin

A couple of friends talked of friends of theirs who had either moved recently or passed away. They had been friends who met for coffee, read books together, went on walks, or had the occasional dinner out. With each life change, their abundance of friends started to diminish, and they realized that social media, phone calls, and texts couldn't make up the difference of an in-person friendship that had been a part of their everyday lives. I listened to my friends mourn the loss and realized how much more meaningful my friends have become. When I was younger, we were all so engrossed in our own busy lives that I didn't always make the time to be with friends. Now I think of friends that I know and how we both know each other in ways that can't easily happen from a distance. I thought of my mother's statement when she and I were talking, "Some people take a long time to grow up." She was talking of someone else, but the idea has stuck with me. As I grow older, I continue to learn valuable life lessons.

by Esther B. Heimdahl


Friday, June 23, 2023


As the pandemic began to ease in spring 2021, Bill and I sat on the large patio of the Coop in Lafayette enjoying a glass of iced tea and a salad. We felt a little uncertain about being too close to other people, but the day was lovely and few people occupied other tables. The server came by with a small cup of paper-wrapped sweeteners and put the cup on the table. When we finished our meal, she began clearing the table. She grabbed the small cup, tossed it on her tray, and exclaimed, "We have so much waste here now. Everything we put on the table has to be thrown out." I wasn't quick enough to ask if the restaurant recycled or composted, nor did I take the sweeteners home, but I thought of how many small ways the pandemic changed us, especially long-held patterns of behavior. All of us became more aware of what we carried or threw away.

The pandemic cleared the skies for a while with carbon emissions down, but plastic bags and brown paper bags proliferated because customers were no longer allowed to bring in their own reusable bags. Unwilling to go out in public, we ordered online and created stacks of cardboard boxes used only once for home deliveries. The throwaway masks that we adopted could be found dropped on the street, clinging to bushes, or worse, caught in birds' claws or around their necks. Two years later, the pandemic for the most part is a thing of the past, masks have disappeared, and the lessons we learned along with them. Instead, we have come out of the pandemic often more angry and less civil with each other. I think of the cars that now race around others on the freeways, swerving either in back or in front of another vehicle, too close to stop if something unexpected happens.

In our return to hurried lives, I often wonder what I could do as one person to make changes in the way we live. I discovered two people, Gloria Majiga-Kamoto of Malawi and Sharon Lavigne of the United States, two winners of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Awards, who created movements against the use of disposable plastic products in their countries. Majiga-Kamoto works to ban the production, importation, distribution, and use of thin (one-use) plastics in Malawi. Lavigne stopped the construction of a plastics manufacturing plant near the Mississippi River in Louisiana.

They both showed me what one person can do. Even small actions at home, like making sure our recyclables bin is filled with recyclables and not trash, matter. As we have prepped our house for sale, we have found local businesses that help keep our usable stuff we no longer need out of landfills by either selling, donating, or taking articles apart for recycling. As an artist, I continue to repurpose materials that have been used in other places or are leftovers in my mixed media artwork. I am glad to see other people devise creative ways and new opportunities for those who continue to think of our longterm future.

Read about the Goldman Environmental Awards winners here:

Friday, June 16, 2023



Plein Aire painters spend time outdoors in all kinds of weather catching the right kind of light, the shadows that change as the day progresses, and the feel of the air, whether it's sunny, foggy, rainy, or windy. They try to capture both what they see and what they feel. I can sit in the shade on a patio for a while and draw in my sketchbook, but I haven't learned to sit for hours outside in all kinds of weather to become a Plein Aire painter. I prefer to take a photo and paint in my workroom without the distractions of passersby or the weather creating havoc with my painting tools.

Bill and I spent some time recently in Pacific Grove walking along the beach, watching the waves breaking against the rocks, and photographing the lighthouse that unlike most is far from shore. The Point Pinos lighthouse is one of seven along the California coast. It is still operational and worth a visit. The current lighthouse keeper is one of the three female keepers throughout its history. The lighthouse keeper no longer lives on the premises as the light is fully automated, but I was impressed to learn that the lighthouse had been tended by women in different eras.

This photo shows how far away the lighthouse is from shore.
Can you see it between the fence posts?

We come to this part of the coast often. It's a good place to photograph and discover interesting items that have washed up on the beach. I look for textures and take photos of the detritus strewn across the sand. In my photo file, I have a large collection of similar pictures from various places. I think they will make a good watercolor someday. Once I'm home, I realize the image doesn't have enough value contrast and the detail of the flotsam would be tiresome to draw. My attention span isn't long enough, and the photo turns out to be the best way to showcase what I saw. Somewhere in my work though, the textures I've gleaned from these images will appear in my paintings.

This time as we walked we came across small, round, flat, and transparent beings called velella velella scattered across the beach. Each one has a sail-like structure attached to a darker, flat disc. They normally sail around the ocean, but in spring or fall with a hard wind, end up on beaches along the coast. They are hydroid polyps, not jellyfish, but they still sting. They are beautiful too.

Pacific Grove on the Monterey peninsula is full of history. It is a small beach town that used to be a summer meeting place for church camps. Many of the small houses display plaques at their entrance to show who used to live there. Pacific Grove is also the resting place for monarch butterflies that migrate there from Mexico every year. We discovered Lucy's on Lighthouse, a new place for us, among the good restaurants and cafes in Pacific Grove. We loved their Affogato Milkshakes. Lucy's is a fun reminder of beach towns and surfing along the California coast. Though I've never been on a surfboard, I couldn't help humming "Let's Go Surfing Now, Everybody's Learning How...."

On the patio at Lucy's

More about the history of Pacific Grove:

Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History:

Transparent fish:

Lucy's on Lighthouse:

Friday, June 9, 2023


Do animals grieve?
We all have seen films of elephant herds mourning one of their members, but I never thought about birds grieving until I stood on our deck and watched a robin couple squawk back and forth after their nest had been raided by a blue jay.

The two robins built a nest right outside our family room door. The male caroled his presence every day in nearby trees. The female brought more and more twigs to the nest and shaped the nest so that it fit her body perfectly. Within a few days, she stayed in the nest most of the time. The male began striking our windows with his claws extended. We put our shades down in the hope that he wouldn't be injured by his attacks on his reflection.

When we came back from our walk one day, we heard the two robins screeching in our front yard. Their calls came from high in the trees and were directed at a Stellar Jay diving into the bushes alongside our house. The jay swooped into the tight space between the hedge and the wood siding. Nearby, two juncos with a nest in the bushes also called out in distress. The robins flew in pursuit of the jay until he hurried away.

The next morning we awoke to more raucous cries. We peeked around the shade and didn't see the female in the nest. We walked outside onto the deck and looked up to see the two robins crying from a tree branch. Two juncos sat near them on other branches. The robins continued to cry over and over for a long time until they eventually flew away. We could see pieces of the nest hanging from the branches. Later in the day, I checked out the nest, spotted four crushed blue eggs, looked down, and spotted a broken robin's egg lying on the ground below the nest. The Stellar Jay had been successful.

Every year we have nesting birds who thrill us when we see the babies attempt their first flight or harass their parents constantly for food. We have also seen losses from blue jays, crows, hawks, and even some birds you wouldn't imagine as nest raiders. We don't know if the robins' calls expressed their grief. What we do know: we had a chance to witness something in the wild that we had never seen before and we were touched by it.


Friday, June 2, 2023


Studying flowers in the garden gives me a moment of calm, a time to take a deep breath, and be in the moment feeling the air around me, picking up the scent of orange blossoms near me, and closing my eyes to the sun.

Roses bloom in the garden with exuberance right now, even when excessive heat curls the tips and tinges the edges brown. I watch the roses change in a short time from first buds to gloriously open to losing their luster, decadent, and faded. The drooping petals, as they slump towards decay, remind me of women from the Victorian era in their voluminous, but tired velvet gowns. 

Roses with color variations on their petals make perfect painting material. I can push colors to the edge of each petal and brush in another to mix in with the first color. Sometimes, if I add too much color, I can let the paint dry then pull out some of the deeper color with a damp brush and mingle another color with it.

I could have blended the edges a bit more on the flower on the left to eliminate the line between the pink and yellow on the petals. Luckily, I can still go back to this painting and fix that. Watercolor is easier to manipulate than most people think.

The edges on this rose look much better. I managed to paint a more subtle gradation from pink to yellow. 

A walk around the garden gives me time to recharge, refresh, look around me, and find something challenging to paint.