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Month: August 2018

The Hat Parade at COA

The Hat Parade at COA

Back View of Hat with Shells

I have been in San Diego for three days, and have been busy being a tourist. I arrived on Saturday so I could attend the San Diego Shell Club annual show which has exhibits designed by collectors and vendors selling shells. This was planned to coordinate with the national convention so that attendees can enjoy both events.

As a rule, I don’t purchase shells but I enjoy looking at them, and I’m also interested in books about shells to add to my library. To truly take in the exhibits one must take time to read the labels and understand what the exhibitor is explaining in his display.

Most Conchologists of America (COA) conventions arrange field trips the two days before the meetings begin, so visitors from around the country can see some of the city. Monday morning I will be on the convention field trip touring the San Diego Zoo. Tuesday, the trip I have chosen visits the Scripps Aquarium and downtown La Jolla.

Today, Wednesday, is the actual start of the convention, which consists of a series of presentations by collectors and scientists, who talk about a particular family of shells they have studied, other aspects of collecting, or research being done.

In between sessions there is a silent auction of shells from donated collections or shell related items. We walk around tables of shells on display and bid on those we would like to add to our collection. These timed auctions benefit COA, the shells have data on when and where collected, and most of the items go for a reasonable amount. I can add shells to my collection from places I will never be able to visit.

Front View of Hat on my head, red band holds my ponytail.

This evening is the Welcome Party where this year there will be a Fancy Hat Parade. Registrants are being encouraged to wear a decorated hat. As I thought about what to do for this challenge, I decided I’d construct head gear with beach combing finds that didn’t make it into my collection.

I selected miscellaneous yarns in blues and greens to represent water and seaweed, and started to crochet, adding on shells as I went. All of the shells I used were broken when I found them so I could easily attach them with one stitch.

The biggest issue I had to resolve was how to keep it on my head.

I started by making an open circle that I can pull my ponytail through and hold it with a stick to

My ponytail coming up through opening to secure hat

secure this display.

The grey, tan, or pink stuff floating above the colored yarn is a very sheer ribbon to simulate moving water.

It is hard to evaluate how it will look by trying it on and using a hand mirror to see all sides. But, I feel confident there won’t be another hat like it


Back of Hat from side


There are 18 shells on the hat, but they are hard to see in the photos.

Simple Pleasures

Simple Pleasures

When my grandchildren were little, I had a basket of outdoor toys in the garage in case they came to visit. I had some balls, Frisbees, chalk, and a pin wheel. When I was little I always liked pin wheels. Games and athletics were not my thing.

Two or three years ago when I reorganized the garage, I got rid of the toys but not the pin wheel. First of all, it was my favorite green color. So I stuck it in the ground of a flower bed that wasn’t doing much. As it turned out, I see this bed and the pin wheel from my kitchen window. It became a sort of weather vane on how windy it was on ground level.

By early this year, the sun and wind had become too much for the little pin wheel and it fell apart. I expected to get another one when the spring toys arrived at the dollar store. No pinwheels this year. Not to be found at my drug stores, the grocery stores, or Walmart.

Finally, after Memorial Day, I found a red, white, and blue one at Michaels. It felt too stiff to me, but

Stiff Pin Wheel that Rarely Spins

I brought one home anyway. I promptly stuck it in the ground where my lovely green pin wheel had been and . . . it sat there and didn’t move. Even on a day when branches were flying off my big tree it didn’t turn.

When Robert returned from Florida at the end of June, he needed a marker at the end of his new parking pad, so, I mounted the stiff pin wheel on a pole, where once in awhile it will turn for a minute.

Last week, I finally found one at a grocery store that had about six light-weight pinwheels on a mark-down table. I brought one home. It has all the colors: red, orange, lime, blue, and purple, spinning like crazy in the spot where I can watch it from the kitchen window. As my husband used to say, “It doesn’t take much to amuse her.”

New Pin Wheel in Garden

The other simple pleasure from my childhood that is still a passion is beach combing. You can read about the shell collecting trips I’ve been on in my Memoir, “Looking for Connection” available as an eBook on Amazon.

This week I’m packing up to attend the Conchologists of America’s annual convention in San Diego all next week. I will hear about other people’s collecting adventures, bid for some shells in silent auctions, and enjoy sea breezes.

Shell Mandala

Shell Mandala

Shell Mandala

A few years ago I stopped by an estate sale near my neighborhood where I spotted this interesting item on a table with kitchen utensils. What attracted me were the Cowry (Cypraea) shells that are found in warm waters with rocky shores. I have some in my shell collection that look like these; I found them in 1981 on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

There were other items of interest at this sale, and I put it back on the table. By the time I was ready to pay for my other finds, the guy conducting the sale had decided he had made enough already and was giving people grocery bags to fill up with whatever items they liked for a dollar a bag.

I looked at the shell thing again, and although it isn’t the type of decor I usually choose, I decided I wanted to rescue it because I appreciated all the work that went into making it.

Detail of Shell Mandala

It appears that the material used was raffia wrapped around a thin strip of something natural that is strong but flexible enough to make the circles, star shape, and the zigzag inside the outer rim.

The fan-shape weaving is Teneriffe Lace made with thin threads of raffia. I’ve never even contemplated trying to do this, but one of my basket-maker friends does this. She combines it with pine needle basketry and gives them for the Christmas gift exchange.

Detail of gift with Teneriffe Lace


When I got home, I hung this mandala under the wall clock in my dining room where I see it several times every day. I’m referring to it as a mandala because of its circle design. Many different faiths use mandalas with meditation. They are thought to integrate and stabilize the personality. A little of that each day is a good thing, right?



This month, even though I’m still cleaning up the yard mess from spring, my focus is on shells. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of beautiful shells at the 2018 convention of shell collectors at the end of the month.




Dad’s Barometer

Dad’s Barometer

Dad’s barometer from his basement workshop

I don’t know how many barometers my father had, but I know he liked them because three of them came with him to California in 1996, when I moved my parents here for their final years. Of course, living along Lake Erie which is known for its quickly generated summer afternoon storms, may have been the reason he kept an eye on them. And as those things go, his barometers eventually took up residence at my house.

My dad was a “ham”, an amateur radio operator for 65 years. On the wall above his desk in the basement where his rig was set up, on which he talked to other “hams” all over the world, hung a wood plaque with a seven inch round barometer made in England. Below the dial, Dad had pasted a center slice of ham covering the name of some company. My father was always trading electronic equipment and supplies with his buddies, and he acquired this handsome barometer somewhere along the way.

Not surprisingly, I like barometers too, although one hardly needs one in California’s central valley. One of Dad’s bigger barometers decorated my garage next to the side door for about ten years until it became so weathered I couldn’t read the dial anymore.

I wanted to hang up the one with the ham picture in my computer/ shell collection room, but I didn’t want to look at that ham slice everyday. When I removed the ham, the wood underneath it had some painted writing partially scratched off. The only practical solution was to make a collage over the mess.

I could have covered it with flowers, birds, or butterflies, but I really wanted to have something that honored those traits I share with my dad: trading supplies and equipment with my friends, picking up treasure out of other people’s junk, and giving new life to odd, useful things.

Detail of collage on Dad’s barometer

I covered the writing with a grass-cloth wallpaper sample. The two metal stars at the top corners are part of the plaque, and I had to carefully cut the wallpaper to fit around them. The tan mesh in front of the gold foil is a chair caning material I have a roll of. The round grey/white thing in the center is a burned out light bulb socket. Other ephemera include an old buckle on a strap, a cruddy penny, and a wadded up piece of rusty barbed wire.

I used fine copper wire twisted to suspend a Tim Holtz blurb from the barbed wire which reads: “reality is limited, imagination is limitless.”

Detail of the quote
Noticing a Brilliant Blue Sky

Noticing a Brilliant Blue Sky

Mixed media substrates on wood, paper, and cardboard

On Friday, July 27, about 1:00 p.m. I drove into the Livermore – Pleasanton area and marveled at how blue the sky was as I descended from the Altamont. On the way back home about an hour and a half later, I drove through the back roads as has been my habit ever since I commuted into Livermore daily in the early 2000’s. I enjoy checking on the crops, seeing the animals, and the circling hawks.

Altamont Pass Road winds through the golden sun-baked hills which now are mostly black from grass fires. I again thrilled at the blue sky behind the turning, white, windmill blades. The road joins Grant Line a short way before it crosses the two canals that move water south through the central valley. Between the canals is the Mountain House Bar & Grill where Altamont Road heads north and Grant Line continues east.

Gesso with mesh on cardboard

There is a little rise in the road as it goes over the second canal, and from there I can look out over the whole valley between Tracy and Lodi up to the north. There is a grey-purple blanket hovering over the Central Valley. The sky in Stockton has been a dirty white all week. To the west of us there was a fire on Wednesday and the air smelled of smoke on Thursday. The Yosemite area to the east of us has been burning all week. Friday, Redding, quite a bit north of us, was burning. No matter which way the air moves, we get the smog.

This summer we have had a breeze almost every day, and some days it has been windy, but by the end of the week little air was moving. My plan for last week had been to put in as much yard time as I could, to get finished with the spring clean up which I normally complete in May. The part of the yard that isn’t cleaned yet is in sun all afternoon. With the temperature near 100º, I’m only out there from 6:30 p.m. to almost dark.

A week ago, I had set out materials on my work table for making collage, but couldn’t seem to make

Gesso with marks and paint wash

a start. I decided to look at a mini-course on Jeanne Oliver’s network ( called “Inquire Within”, where the instructor starts with her method of preparing a surface which can be scratched into leaving marks when it dries. Or, the gesso mix can be put on through a stencil to add texture in a specific pattern. She uses gesso thickened with plaster of Paris, which I don’t have, but I mixed in baking soda instead.

I applied her method to eight different surfaces: watercolor paper, wood panels, and several kinds of cardboard. After the gesso dries, she rubs acrylic paint on the surface and then wipes off most of the paint before it dries, leaving a light color tone with darker areas where the scratch marks or a stencil were used.

Gesso through stencil on wood

Most of what she is doing is basic stuff I’ve heard or seen before, but it is good to refresh my memory and get me actually doing something with materials. In the next videos she demo’s selecting images and parts of photos and how she incorporates them into a piece so they don’t look like magazine cutouts.

While she is instructing on technique, she is talking through her process of choosing and combining images, deciding where to paint, then changing her mind and doing something else. She reverses something that doesn’t work out well, and applies a different technique. Hence, the title: “Inquire Within” by checking with her inner feeling about the piece as she goes along.

Gesso stencil on watercolor paper
Canvas on cardboard with gessoed stencil

So far I only have substrates waiting for images, but at least I’ve started some work. It doesn’t look like the heat and bad air are going away anytime soon.

Gesso and paint on wood with string that was on the brush


Maybe I’ll actually complete something.