Friday, March 29, 2024


My small studio  Photos by Bill Slavin

The wind has been whistling around our building this past week. There are no trees tall enough to reach the eighth floor to shield us from the howling. The wind can be just as strong on the sidewalk and I have to catch myself from being knocked over when I stop at a corner,  I don't hear the wind like we do from our apartment. Weather is different up high. We cannot see rain slashing down from the sky when we've had rain. We can only tell that it is raining by looking at a dark building across the way to see the lines of rain or by watching the puddle splashes on the rooftops or the street. We can't tell whether it is hot or cold at ground level from our view. We check the weather report and find the temperature is almost always a moderate 50 to 60 degrees. Our concrete building holds the cold so we prepare for chilly weather below. Most of the time we are glad for the extra scarf or jacket, but sometimes we are fooled and find the warm sun outside the building's door. Since we've been in San Francisco, seasons have whispered by with little change in the landscape. Most of the street trees are perennials, and there are few flower beds to give away spring's secret arrival. It is different living up high.

Photo by Bill Slavin

We look down on roadways, see the streetcars turn at the next corner, and look towards the Giants ballpark in the distance whose lights flash on during the night even when it isn't baseball season. We hear music from a nearby outdoor hotel bar and sirens racing down the street. We can watch the full moon rise above the clouds at the horizon, something we couldn't see when we lived in Danville. The moon there would only appear above the hills and treetops. During rainy weather, we have gasped at the half-circle rainbows that appeared as the clouds drifted away.

Photo by Bill Slavin

When a fire alarm sounded in the building next to us, we realized that if we had to evacuate the building, we would have a long, slow trek down eight flights of stairs. Something we hadn't considered until the sirens called next door.

After a year spent selling our house and moving five times, we've purchased a condo in a nearby neighborhood in San Francisco. Our condo is on the fourth floor and a little easier to exit in an emergency. The stairs right next to us lead down to the second floor's broad expanse of common area and then another flight of stairs to ground level -- the kind of safe exits we didn't have to consider in a two-story home. 

The view from our window will be different from where we are now. We will miss the seagulls, the small park, and the channel that separates Mission Bay from the rest of the city.  We will have on one side a full view of the city's skyscrapers, and down below us, a quiet tree-lined street tucked close to the Bay Bridge. Instead of rooftops and the East Bay hills that we can see now, we will have a closer view to the left and right of us of other apartments and their residents than we have had in any other place we have lived. We have always liked to live without pulling window coverings down wherever we have been. With our coming move, we will need to adjust our ideas about privacy. 

Living up high in the City is different.

Photo by Bill Slavin

As the writer of this blog, I am lucky to have a creative partner who provides wonderful photos sometimes. Thank you, Bill.

Friday, March 22, 2024


I walked into the Department of Make-Believe and wished I was a kid again. Large, colorful shapes covered every surface within the main rooms. Moss hung from the ceiling and bright pillows covered a small stage. Along one wall a bookcase displayed the published works of the kids who spent time after school within the home of Chapter 510, a non-profit group that provides outreach to school-aged youth in Oakland to encourage their imagination and writing skills. The Department of Make-Believe: a magical and creative place to enter.

In Oakland's Old Town, Chapter 510 flourishes right under the tall street trees and next to the well-preserved Victorian row houses. Swann's Market, a market hall where one can find food from all over the world, and Ratto's Deli are nearby.  Founded by two energetic women, Janet Heller and Tavia Stewart, Chapter 510 has provided a creative space for young people, especially brown, black, and queer, to learn writing skills, bookmaking, and publishing. In this space, they learn how to create stories as well as podcasts and present their work to live audiences.

As Chapter 510 states: "We believe that writing is an act of liberation. When young people write and get published, they transform themselves and their communities, succeeding in school, work, and life."

As a child, I was encouraged by my parents and teachers to develop my creative side, but I was lucky. Not every child has that support. Back then, I never found a place specifically geared to nurture creative writing and to connect with other young people with the same interests. In school, I was steeped in academic/business writing styles, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I started writing in a personal journal. My journal not only helped me develop my thinking about concerns and issues but opened up my creative writing practices too. I experimented with poetry and personal essays. In the process, I paid more attention to sentence structure, grammar, and the flow of an idea within a sentence, paragraph, or essay. As always, practice made a difference. I came out of my quiet shell through writing and found myself often in front of large groups as a leader.

I am delighted that Chapter 510 is extending the same kind of encouragement to young people as they say, "that every young person in Oakland can write with confidence and joy."

Here's the cover of I Have Wings/Yo Tengo Alas, a book by Chapter 510 fifth graders, inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Like all non-profits, Chapter 510 could use our help. They need volunteers, mentors, donations, or the purchase of one of the books written by the youth who gather in Oakland Old Town every week.

Check out Chapter 510 here:


Friday, March 15, 2024


While waiting for Bill to get a shave at a barber shop, I wandered into the Cotton Patch, a fabric store nearby. The store, in an old bungalow, is filled with quilting fabric, sewing machines designed for quilters, and all the other accessories for that craft. When I did quilting, I frequently roamed through their huge collection of cotton fabrics ready to inspire.

A row of batik fabrics caught my eye. I couldn't resist the blues and purchased three 1/2 yards of beautiful fabric. The batiks took me back to Japan again where blue and white is a favorite color scheme. We arrived in Tokyo during the year of the rabbit, and rabbits proliferated in the blue and white designs of home furnishings.

At first, the abundance of rabbits and the blue and white pottery was overwhelming and I vowed to avoid their purchase. But eventually, I learned to appreciate the patterns. I frequented a shop in the Azabu Juban in Tokyo that sold items in that familiar color scheme. I also visited an indigo dye producer, bought an indigo jacket covered in embroidery, acquired pieces of blue and white china, and collected small samplings of blue and white fabric intending to make them into a quilt. At my Sayonara party at an onsen, we all wore blue and white yukata to commemorate our friendship.

Sayonara party at an onsen in Japan.  
We all wore blue and white yukata

Instead of a quilt, I am playing with small pieces of the batik fabric and paper that I've held onto while waiting for the right idea to come along. The pieces include several photos of textures that I've captured on my walks, ribbon from a gift, seeds from a tree at the Cal Poly Pomona campus, paper bags, a sheet from an old Japanese book, and a strip of orange, hand-made paper. Blue is the dominant color of most of the pieces, but I plan to insert orange, its complement on the color wheel, as a highlight. Collages, like quilts, give me a way to use personal items in a piece of art to bring back memories of places and people.

What works and what doesn't?

All the Worlds in One Place by Martha Slavin

Feathers & Brick by Martha Slavin

Though I haven't glued down anything yet on these two pieces,
 I think these two designs will be keepers.


 So often when I write a post, I find other writers using the same topic during the same week or after I publish mine. This week Kevin Fisher Paulson wrote about language and grammar and the New Yorker published a wonderful cartoon about color theory:

Take a look at the offerings at the Blue and White store in Tokyo:

Thursday, March 7, 2024


We take time for granted, don't we? Except when we realize how quickly a year is going by. It's already March (IT'S ALREADY MARCH) and we are in a Leap Year, which makes me wonder again why we have a Leap Year.

Last year I noticed that the dates in February matched up with the dates in March. In other words, usually March 25 is on a Saturday just like February 25. April and July had a similar pattern. I flipped through calendars for previous years and found the same peculiar alignment except during Leap Years. A simple thing you would notice only if you were looking at a yearly calendar, not your normal weekly planner or monthly calendar.

In the West, we officially adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582 CE to correct the date for Easter, which had moved because the Julian calendar being used at the time did not account for the loss of portions of a day in a year. (You have to be a mathematician to figure this all out.) All of the calendars adopted by various cultures have to account for the need for extra days to continue to be accurate. We add a day in our Leap Years, in India and with the Chinese lunar calendar, months are added or subtracted.

The Hindu calendar, a much more complex system of time, revolves around changes in the sun, moon, and constellations and is much more 3-dimensional than the Western calendar. If we lived in Japan, we would be using the Gregorian calendar, but also we would understand that we lived in era Reiwa 6, because each new emperor selects the name for the era of his rule. During the 6th century, the Japanese borrowed their original calendar from China and Korea, long before the Gregorian calendar arrived. In most Asian countries, 2024 CE is also the year of the Dragon.

When we lived in Japan, we realized another change to our calendars. Flying to and from California to Asia Pacific countries, we lost or gained a day. I didn't mind adding a day on our return home, but even losing one day the other way seemed unfair.

 And now we are approaching another time adjustment. Most of the U.S. changes to Daylight Saving Time on the second Sunday in March. This year on March 10. Benjamin Franklin originally suggested the idea, but the U.S. didn't implement DST until WWI. Farmers objected to its implementation after the war (farm animals don't change their time to fit our schedules), and DST was dropped until later in the century when we were no longer a majority agrarian society. There are now efforts to keep DST year-round. If you are like, me the adjustment to the time change in the Spring takes time.

Friday, March 1, 2024


High-rise apartments and office buildings line most of the streets in our neighborhood. We are also close to two professional sports complexes, which means some days the streets are filled with cars and people. A couple of blocks away from our apartment is an empty block-long parking lot used by people attending events at the sporting venues. One day, we turned the corner and found that the entire parking lot was filled with circus tents. Cirque de Soleil had come to town and overnight, like magic, had erected tents all over the lot. We hadn't been to one of their performances in a long time, so we bought tickets, walked into the largest tent, and watched with awe the acrobatic performers. Behind us sat a family with an eight or nine-year-old boy who had never seen acrobats in person. We heard his rapturous "Oohs and Ahs" as his eyes followed the acrobats through the air. What a delight to hear him captivated by their magic.

I thought of that performance when Carol DuBosch, a calligraphy teacher, posted a challenge to create a pangram, a sentence that contains every letter of the alphabet. I like challenges and I like whimsy, so I decided to try. First, I asked myself, is it even possible to design a sentence that uses each letter only once and still makes sense? Of course, after a few tries I discovered pangrams are more challenging than I anticipated. I remembered the grace of the acrobats who did amazing feats, but only after years of practice and perseverance. 

What makes a word work are the vowels. They have all kinds of uses, don't they? They are handy to finish words and to separate words into syllables. How do I find enough short words that don't rely on too many vowels?

I looked at examples from a list of pangrams, of which the most famous, "A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," still uses two "e's". I did find a pangram that is only 26 letters long: "Mr. Jock, TV Quiz Ph.D., bags few lynx." My favorite of the pangrams came from Carol DuBosch: "I vow that poetry, quilts, and ink can fix and jazz up a boring home."

My own attempts didn't succeed very well. (Not that I spent too much time on this activity.) I couldn't make a sentence with only 26 letters that made sense, which is common with pangrams (who bags lynx?). My sentence was too long with too many double letters: "Quickly wax over my dainty, lazy judges from the pub."

A little laughter for the day and puzzlement too.  Maybe this week I captured some of the whimsy and challenge we felt while watching acrobats in the air.

One last piece of whimsy. A good friend gave me these two paper ornaments called Triskele paper globes. They are beautiful and will be a welcome addition to hang near me. (Thank you, Janet)

If you would like to try to make one, check Hattifant's website. You will be surprised at how simple these are to make:

Cirque de Soleil performs in San Francisco till March 17:

Find Carol Dubosch's calligraphy:

Check out these fun facts about the English alphabet: