I have had an American Flag flying on the front of my house since I moved in, in May of 1997.
About three years ago, I saw a class offered that looked like fun, at one of those week-long art workshops that has many classes. I wanted to take that class, but it was at the opposite end of the week from the class I was mainly going for. Too expensive to stay away from home for a whole week. I did print out the photo from the online brochure of the finished product – a flag decorated with ribbons.
That photo joined my long list of “some-day-maybe” projects.
With the sewing machine open and ready last week, I decided it was time to do this project. I had a faded flag in the garage waiting for a second life. It was one of those projects that feels like “where to begin?” The obvious place was to go through my sewing and craft stash, gathering red and white ribbons and lace.
Once I got started it came together quickly. I pinned the ends of ribbons to a wide stiff floral ribbon with the flag underneath to get the spacing correct. Stitching across the ribbon ends was surprisingly easy.
I stitched the whole band onto the flag, and covered it with a gold ribbon across the ends for a finished look.
While sewing, I thought about where I would hang this flag. I considered the front of the garage, but decided that might be a mistake if I wanted to open the garage door.
Sitting on the patio the evening I had finished sewing, I noticed a large section of wall with no window. I can see this wall from inside my studio. Perfect.
I’m ready to Celebrate the Fourth with my best friend, Robert, eating on the patio and watching the neighbors all around us shooting fireworks.
Have fun, but be safe and careful. And remember we are celebrating that we the people have a nation – all of it. And together, we can make it better.
I just noticed another month has evaporated since I last wrote a blog. Where have I been? inside, outside, and eating fruit. My strawberries are still producing nice, good size berries, my refrigerator has a tray of plums from my tree, and the white nectarines are just about ready to come off their tree.
Outside I’m still cleaning up debris from my huge sycamore tree, which is now in the stage of shedding bark, huge pieces of it. The ivy beds around the house have gone into their normal overdrive to cover every inch of ground, and I’m cutting them back as quickly as I can. But this week will do little of that due to near 100 degree heat each day.
Last week, the mixed media group that normally meets twice a month in a member’s home, but has not met since March 5th, had our meeting in my yard. There were six of us and we spent the time catching up with each other, and having show and tell with the art we have been making. It was so wonderful to see my friends. Perhaps at our next meeting we will find time to make a little art together.
After participating in two online collage workshops in April and May, I decided to take a break and attend to some household activities that had been waiting for my attention.
I had a lightweight summer jacket that I like to wear in the morning when the house is cool which was shredding apart. I drew a pattern from that jacket and made a replacement. Since the sewing machine was open, I noticed some other items that could use some attention.
I’ve discovered that as I get older my clothes don’t always fit the same way they did before, or maybe I’m just not willing to put up with things that aren’t comfortable. I have two other lightweight jackets that I used to wear to work, but now the sleeves were constantly sliding down my arms and getting in my way. They must have come from that fashion statement where women had their jacket sleeves pushed up and bunched up by their elbows. I never did understand that.
So, I shortened the sleeves to suit me now. And so it went, altering those clothes I had put on in the morning and by the time breakfast was over I was changing into other garments for one reason or another.
The sewing project I’m most delighted with is a bit of an archeological rescue. Years ago when I was moving my mother, she mentioned that in her cedar chest were some things my paternal grandmother had made. When I had to sort out her belongings, I looked at them briefly and saw they looked like quilts. A year ago, when I was donating clothing I never wore, I looked at them more closely, but didn’t know what to do with them. They were quilt tops, with unfinished undersides. I put one of them at that top of the cedar chest, in case I got an idea of how to use it.
In the hot summer months, I like to use a bed cover that is light weight, rather than the comforter I use all winter. I took a queen size flat sheet that I had not used much, which was a few inches larger that the quilt top, and sewed them together on the edges to protect the unfinished edges on the backside of the quilt.
One of my fond childhood memories was studying a heavy quilt this grandmother had made, seeing all the different fabrics she used and repeated randomly in different blocks. Now I’m doing that again, searching for matching fabrics in different circles. Such simple things that engage and delight us.
I do hope that in the midst of the craziness around us, you are finding things that engage and delight you. Be careful and stay well.
This is always my busiest time of the year in the garden. While I’m cleaning up weeds and tall grasses that came up in February, and then dried out in our first hot week, I’m also harvesting spring and early summer fruit.
I’ve been picking luscious strawberries all month. The plants are doing much better this year than last year, possibly because we have been alternating a warm week, then a cool week in March and April. They are doing so well that on the Holiday Monday, I spent a chunk of time freezing berries to enjoy next winter.
I’ve been doing this for many years. I rinse the berries, cut them into bite size pieces and place them on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. This goes into the freezer in the kitchen for an hour or two, after which I scoop the frozen pieces into freezer containers and place them in my larger freezer. With this method, they don’t stick together. I can take out just enough for my breakfast granola each morning.
I also have what I call black berries, but are probably black raspberries, which started ripening last week. We are scheduled to have three days of 100+ heat starting Tuesday, so they will ripen quickly.
The apricot tree in the very back of my yard was loaded with fruit which began ripening two weeks ago. Fortunately, they are not all ripening at once. There were so many apricots on the tree, I invited my neighbors across the street to come and pick some about a week ago.
I usually have to fight the squirrels for the cots, but this year I’m not seeing as many of those rascals. They must have relocated across the street because my neighbor said he has a lot of them in his yard.
Those tomato plants I wrote about last time need to be planted in the ground, but I’m having a sprinkler problem, which hopefully will be resolved by the time you read this, and I didn’t want to transplant them right before the hot weather this week.
With all this going on outdoors, I’ve spent very little time making art. Crystal Neubauer had a second online collage workshop which included journaling. It ran from the end of April to the middle of May. We had assignments between the classes and we were also given “Prompts” to generate ideas for collages.
The prompt that I think came out the best was “Fifty Shades of White.” I have a lot of old paper: a few sheets from various reams of old typing and computer paper, old stationary, receipts, doilies, wallpaper samples, and old books. I glued them to a black substrate.
After the workshop, I cleaned up the work tables in my studio and set up one area so I could do a quick 5” x 5” collage each day. Ha! Haven’t gotten to it yet. The yard work and fruit processing are taking all my time and energy.
On Memorial Day, I made apricot cobbler and ate dinner outside on the patio with Robert, who was grilling burgers, just like normal. I hope you are all doing well and enjoying creative activities.
One of the mottoes I chose for this year, long before any of us knew what this year would be like, was “use what you have.” Months ago, when things were “normal” I was working through a Jeanne Oliver online class called Wild Awakening which got me using supplies I had but didn’t know what to do with. Last week I was trying to finish up a series of nine mixed media pieces from that class, before I started another online workshop.
The nine items were pretty much done, but the watercolor paper had rippled and they needed to be mounted on something. I considered using stretched canvas but I would have to order them and my pages were 11in. x 14.5 in. not the standard 11 x 14. So, I went through my house and the backyard storage building, and found a half box of those storage boxes you get at office supply for file folders. The lids were the right weight of cardboard and there were nine of them.
After trimming them to size, I still had the problem of how to hang them. I had come across some old wooden blind slats while searching for the cardboard. The slats had holes in them for the cords. I trimmed them so the hole would be in the center and they would be an inch wider than the 11 in. paper.
I used waxed linen on either side of the slat, tied an overhand knot, and left the cords three inches long which was inserted between the paper and the cardboard when I glued them together.
I put weight on each piece for two days, hoping to keep them flat, but the gluing wasn’t perfect. I inserted glue into the blips along the edges and clipped them with clothes pins to dry overnight.
Once these nine pages were mounted, I added a dried-up flax leaf to each one. I had trimmed the New Zealand Flax plant two weeks ago and I’m fascinated how some of these leaves bunch up in the center, each one slightly different.
I lined up all nine on the living room floor so I could see what they looked like.
Meanwhile, I had cleaned out my drawer where I keep seed packets and found some heirloom tomato seeds, I had saved on paper towels, probably about six years ago. On a whim, I planted a few from each towel in small cups. To my delight, some of them sprouted.
By last Friday, the tomato plants needed to be put into larger pots. I searched in the garage and tool shed for some bigger pots, but I haven’t saved any pots when I buy plants the last few years because I haven’t been starting seeds. It didn’t seem worth the effort for the return I was getting.
Then, I remembered I had seen the neighbor across the street planting something from small pots earlier in the week. I called them and asked if they had nine pots I could use. His wife brought them over to me and we had a short visit at the curb.
I know it is late to be starting tomato plants, but it stays warm until October or later where I live.
Now, if I can devise a way to keep the squirrels from stealing my almost ripe strawberries . . .
This is a really good time to creatively use what you already have – we are all inventors.
In January, I set up a drawing board with supplies to make a series of small 5.5 in x 5.5 in. collages, with the hope I would make one a day if I wasn’t working on a larger piece of art. The first one is the photo above. I had done some of these several years ago and enjoyed the activity.
I started cleaning up the yard and working on organizing my shell collection, so I managed to make the great sum of two mini-collages by mid-March.
When the collage artist, Crystal Neubauer, offered a free online workshop beginning the last day in March, I decided to participate, hoping to get myself making some kind of art, as I began to switch from winter cleanup to spot weeding and enjoying the first flowers in my yard.
Crystal had us working on 4 x 4-inch watercolor paper, and assembling one from a pile of scrap papers in, Gasp! five minutes. My first one did not get done in five minutes, but I think it does reflect our national state of mind on April first.
Her videos are archived, so I was viewing them the next day. In the second session, we were to use only neutral colors.
On the third lesson, we were to paste up two during the five minutes. The idea is to quickly select the scrap we are most drawn to and glue it somewhere in the square, then add other scraps that catch our attention to fill the space. These 4 x 4’s I used had some splotches of paint on them from some old work, and I glued the scraps so that some of the paint color was seen.
I still wasn’t able to do them in the five-minute time because I was using very small pieces. I noticed that I started by gluing a scrap I liked at an angle to the edges which left me with small white spaces that needed to be filled. But Crystal usually used only three or four pieces and filled up the corners first.
The next lesson she talked about using some mark making on the pieces to add interest. We did a 4 x 4 as a warm up.
Then we were to make a collage on 8 x 8-inches, using only three large pieces, again in five minutes. Mine turned out so awful I won’t even take a photo of it. Again, I had put things at angles to the edges and they didn’t connect in the center.
During all these sessions, Crystal was telling us to pay attention to the voices in our head that were saying things like “don’t use THAT piece, it’s too special, save it for later.”
The last video is where we slowed things down. Before the lesson we planned out what we wanted to use in an 8 x 8-inch, but didn’t glue. We looked at it in the next lesson before we glued it down, to see if we still liked it or wanted to change something.
I’m still thinking about what I’ve learned about my usual approach to art making. One idea this workshop generated is that I don’t have a ready selection of neutral papers to use for collage so that the accent or “special” material can really stand out. Gathering a box of neutral papers is a good place for me to start, because my collage box is loaded with the accent pieces.
I have also become more aware that I have a huge variety of materials to use all over my house. Estate sale finds, fabric scraps, shell fragments, rusty yard finds, lace, paper, old books, and basket making materials to name a few, but I have trouble focusing on what is inside my consciousness that wants to be given expression.
Crystal’s free online workshop is still available for another week or so if you want to check it out at Crystal Marie: Canary Rising here.
I have just spent the first three months of this year / decade getting my yard cleaned up from last fall. While my energy is much better this year than it was last year, I find that everything takes more time than it used to. Some of this is because I’m moving slower, being careful how I move about, so I stay upright.
I’m so thankful for my lovely flowers all blooming now – a perfect place to be when I can’t be anywhere else. Having been here for 23 years, I’m watching each tree and plant put on its spring finery, one after the other, in perfect order, just as they have in previous years.
It occurred to me last week that perhaps our Father in heaven has grown tired of our noise and nonsense, and lowered the volume. I’m not suggesting that God is responsible for the virus, but like many of His creatures, He never lets an opportunity go to waste.
This idea came to me as I noticed last week that my house phone was silent after years of constant daily robo calls. The junk mail has mostly stopped. I don’t watch TV, so perhaps your home is not as quiet as mine.
And it’s not just in the U.S. that life had become frantic. Although we barely hear anything about the rest of the world, Israel can’t get a government together, Venezuela is a disaster, Great Britain is tied up in knots, and everywhere there is unrest and uncertainty.
After I got home from Florida last summer at the end of June, I’ve been mostly at home, so my days now are not much different than they have been the last nine months. When I considered travel for this year, none of the gatherings I might attend were in places I wanted to go. I registered for a weekend with the basket makers in Visalia, but we’ll do it next year instead of this month.
I spent August and September cutting back a wall of ivy that I had neglected for too many years. I reorganized closets and drawers, donating clothes and household linens I no longer used.
I have a whole set of new routines that take up my time. Near the end of 2019, my dentist told me I had a gum infection. I have had crummy teeth since I was six years old. Seventy years later, I only have front teeth left and the uppers and lowers don’t come together in a useful way, which limits what I’m able to eat.
My dentist, bless her, is trying to make things better. She removed the tooth which was the source of the infection, and has installed braces on my lower teeth. Braces are different now than they were when I was fifteen. I’m spending a huge amount of time putting on wax to minimize pain on my lip, removing wax, cleaning up residue from the wax, and threading floss between the wires.
I’ve been using gummy vitamins for several years now. After the arch wire slipped out of the bracket on the end tooth, I decided I shouldn’t eat them, at least not whole, so now I’m cutting them up in teeny, tiny pieces every day with the kitchen scissors.
When I’m not in the yard or dealing with my teeth, I’ve been reorganizing the sea shells that I have collected for over fifty years. I’ve started reading those books that I keep saying, “I’ll get to someday”.
I had planned to work in my studio this winter when it rained, but it didn’t rain. So, I’m still trying to balance the yard time with the art making time, and so far, the yard is winning. The one thing I’m missing is meeting with my mixed media friends twice a month.
Individually and collectively we have been given an opportunity to reflect on what our lives have become, what we truly value now, and how we might want to make some adjustments. Let’s not waste it.
Last week I had the opportunity to be a participant in a research study being done by a graduate art therapy student at Notre Dame in Belmont. She is asking people who now have, or have had, a parent who developed dementia to explore how their identity may have changed during the time they were caring for them.
She sent me a package of supplies to make a collage, (not that I needed any supplies), but to have some consistency in size for the participants. As she interviewed me, I worked on the collage. We did this interview on FaceTime, so neither of us had to travel. I had about a week to prepare; to copy some photos, and find some words.
I thought about how my emotions and sense of self changed as my mother and I went through stages of change in her cognitive function from my not realizing what was going on with her, to seeing her not caring about how she looked, to bossing her peers about their behavior, to being called “you old bag” one morning before breakfast.
I found it odd that I was struggling to remember dates when certain things happened, when they had been crystal clear while I was writing my book a little over two years ago. I made some notes with dates so I could answer questions I might be asked.
I didn’t quite know what to expect. I found that I couldn’t talk about my experiences and focus on the collage at the same time. I would stop arranging and gluing if I was talking, or I would stop talking if I was placing images in the collage.
I started in the upper left corner with photos of my parents and me as a baby, and as a three-year-old. I added a woman’s hands knitting and handicraft images because my mother enjoyed those activities all her life.
I noted that at the time my mother started not paying her bills and not remembering to go to lunch, I was becoming ill as well and didn’t realize it.
There is a photo of her with her young great-granddaughters, me and my son. A photo of her holding my cat during the ten weeks I had her living with me before she fell and broke her hip.
The stages sort of move in a clock-wise manner until the last image is of her 95th birthday, her last, at the nursing home where she lived because she was no longer able to get in and out of bed or use the bathroom without assistance.
The collage is not as well done as I had intended, but the overall feel of it is how that time felt to me. Chaotic, thrown together as best as I could. The red background represents the underlying emotion in my life as a child, and as an adult.
The bright pink pointed area is about the time she was living at my home when I couldn’t allow my anger to be expressed even as I observed her, through a window from the garden, going through my clothing and jewelry, and found the lipstick from my purse smeared all over its case.
After my mother died at the very end of 2010, I began to read about Adult Attachment from some books I happened to see at the UOP Library where I was working. In 2012, I worked with a book by Ruth King titled “Healing Rage”. Sometime after that I started writing my memoir, Looking for Connection.
In the process of reviewing the relationship I had with my mother and dealing with her as she could no longer take care of her affairs, and eventually herself, and explaining all this to another person I had never met, I became aware that I haven’t been ruminating about all those past events anymore. The underlying well of anger is gone. Does this mean that I never get angry now? No, I sometimes feel irritated and angry about things that happen, but it’s not a constant thing, waiting to erupt.
It is an amazing sensation to be standing in my kitchen making breakfast and notice that I am smiling and feeling happy.
Thank you, Lord, for your healing grace.
Meanwhile, my garden is waking up and things are blooming even though I’m still cleaning up piles of leaves from last fall.
The program for the January meeting of the Bay Area Basket Makers (BABM) was to distribute materials for making a Challenge Basket. We each brought basketry materials to share, and we each went home with a grocery sack full of everything from waxed linen, to reed, beads, a leather strap, seagrass, yarn, and more.
The first challenge for me was getting to the meeting! Last year I didn’t get to any of the meetings for various reasons. I even missed the Christmas party due to neck and shoulder pain from overwork in the yard the day before.
Some of the members got right to work on their baskets at the meeting, but I decided to bring the sack home and do a small amount of planning before I started. I looked through my large collection of baskets I’ve made in classes, gotten from other BABM members, and bought at estate sales for ideas on how to begin.
I knew I wanted to use the twining method of building this basket because it is my favorite technique. I actually discovered I had a basket from an unknown maker that probably was a challenge basket because of the variety of odd materials and the different techniques she used.
Twining requires spokes so the two cords can twist between them. I needed to sort out which materials in my sack would make good spokes. Because of the volume of stuff to work with, it was going to be a large basket. I decided on a length of the spokes I wanted, and cut them from the heavy paper cord and the black plastic strapping in my sack.
We were also allowed to add a few additional materials of our own. I needed more spokes, so I rummaged around in my stash and found some plastic wrapped wire I had from my father’s wire stash which I inherited in 1996 when I moved my parents to California from Ohio.
Starting this kind of basket is the most difficult part, in my opinion. The spokes need to be held together as the first row or two of the weaving elements go under and over each one. It can also be started by plaiting the elements over and under each other, but if they are very different that doesn’t work so well. If the spokes are different, they should be alternated around the basket. I stared by holding the materials together with clothespin type clips and weaving under – over with a thin, coated wire for about three rounds.
I twined with seagrass until the bottom was the size I wanted for the base. Then I did two more rounds of seagrass while bending the spokes upward. At this point I started using the variety of other materials, each for about two or three rounds. After about eight rounds the basket looked like this.
Some of the materials, such as reed, had to be soaked to make them pliable for twining. The things that came off palm trees were soaked and then cut into thin strips. I decided to knot the ends of yarn together when I got to the end of them, and I left them hanging on the outside of the basket. Reed and seagrass ends were tucked inside. Once I was working on the sides the twining was pure fun! I had forgotten how fast it goes and how much enjoyment this gives me.
As the basket grew, I needed to add a few more spokes because the spaces between them had gotten too wide in a few areas. Some basket makers work hard to keep the shape of the basket in a traditional shape, but I prefer to see what the materials want to do. Especially when a large variety of materials is used, the basket has a mind of its own.
As the weaving nears the top of the basket, how to finish the top is the challenge. I had decided as I was choosing my spokes that I would most likely tuck each spoke into the next one over as the easiest finish. The black strapping spokes were turned over the last inside row and tucked into their own space. The wire spokes had little metal connectors on them and I wanted to leave them on the ends as a novel embellishment. I easily wound each wire around a tiny knitting needle for a funky finish.
At this point I still had beads to add onto some ends of waxed linen on the other side from this photo. I also cleaned up loose ends inside the basket, and shortened some of the yarn ends near the bottom. The cork from Robert’s New Year’s Eve champagne was sitting on my work table and got included in one of the early rounds of yarn. 2020 is off to a good start, I’d say.
In the last six weeks I haven’t written here for a number of reasons, but mostly because I didn’t feel I had anything much to say, and like everyone else, just trying to keep up with my To Do List has been a challenge.
In October, I stopped at the library to pick up an item I had requested, and while there I looked at the “New” book shelf and found an interesting looking fiction book titled “Flight Portfolio” by Julie Orringer. This is a story about an American man who went to France during World War II to help the artists in Europe emigrate to the U.S. Having been born during the war, I was taught nothing about it in school growing up.
This story takes place in about 1939–40, is very well written, and at many points is hilarious. I was reading a chapter each evening before going to sleep, and every night I was eager to learn what would happen next.
At the end of the book there is a five-page author’s note where I learned that it is based on the life of Varian Fry who is the main character, and some fictional characters based on implications of her research, which couldn’t be acknowledged at the time it happened.
My living room has a large picture window and about the only time I spend in this room is checking on whatever activity is going on across the street. The man is a general contractor which means he does all kinds of jobs and there is constant coming and going. One day, I glanced out the dining room window at what looked like a wall. In the living room I saw this:
It didn’t stay there very long.
On December 22, during a gentle rain I saw this beautiful, full rainbow, at times even a double rainbow, from that same picture window.
I continue to frequent estate sales near my home, usually on the second day of the sale. It is a great way to pick up odd tools, other items of fascination, and supplies for collage like fabric, old books, canvass board, and odd papers with handwriting on them.
A few weeks ago, there were two estate sales on the same street! At the first one I found a flannel nightgown, a “Pajamagram” with the tag still on it, brand new for just $5.
At the second sale, I couldn’t pass up what I’m calling a collage cookbook. This book has 815 pages. Has finger indexes like a dictionary, was published in 1939 for the San Francisco Examiner, and is titled the Prudence Penny Cookbook.
The owner made some handwritten notes on some recipes, but mostly added in recipes from newspapers, boxes, magazines, and typed recipe cards, which she pasted over pictures or taped to the top of pages with similar recipes.
I’ve never seen anything like it. I joked with the cashier, who is my former mailman, that I was taking it off his hands. He charged me a dollar for the book and two other small items. Such a deal!
On that nutty note, I wish you all a Happy New Year, full of whatever brings you joy. 2020 – Bring it on.
The photo above is my brother’s senior college photo taken in 1970. He was set to graduate from Kent State in Ohio that year, when state troopers were sent to the campus. I never did understand what that was about. Only the graduates and their parents had been allowed to attend the graduation ceremony, held somewhere, my mother told me several weeks after the event.
I was married, living in Cincinnati with my ten month old son, Chris. On the second Sunday of July, my mother called with the news that Ron had been in a motor vehicle accident during the night, and was hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury. He never regained consciousness and died on July 31st. I had been looking forward to getting to know him as an adult instead of an annoying kid.
Today would have been his 72nd birthday. Happy Birthday, Ron.
Last month, I optimistically started an online painting / mixed media course and got through the first few videos on practicing with the materials. At the same time, I was trying to get some things repaired around the house. I replaced the cracked windshield I had driven with for two years.
I made arrangements to have a sprinkler line reworked that had broken sometime in 2017. The broken pipe was somewhere under the cement patio that was here when I bought my house in 1997. In the process of the repair person assessing the situation, the broken line was turned on several times, so he could observe where the water was coming from.
The patio has a built-in fountain with a statue which was working fine when the sprinkler repair man was here, but by the next morning it had totally drained out of water. I couldn’t believe my eyes to see the pump chugging along with no water. I found several soft wet spots on the inside wall of the fountain and two places where I could insert a screwdriver between the floor of the fountain and the side wall.
After the sprinkler line was completed, I began repairing the fountain, patching numerous places in the concrete that seemed soft and the two holes I had found. Some days later, I put sealer on the repairs. Then, I spent a day painting the entire interior of the fountain.
Since it is November, the trees are coming unglued, which results in a whole new set of garden activities, mainly hauling leaves out to the street for pickup.
In the last two weeks, I’ve washed – outside and inside – most of my 23 windows and three glass-pane doors. Now I’m ready for rain.
Meanwhile, the work table in my studio has accumulated all sorts of items that need to be put away before I can get back to that course I started. There are collage materials I’ve picked up in the yard – pieces of a disintegrating tarp, bird feathers, and wire scraps the repair man left.
There are also books that came in the mail I haven’t had time to look at yet. A promotional gift pack that some little girl would like, but I don’t know who to give it to. A leaf painting from my Thursday art group to finish. Instructions for what to bring to the January Basket Makers meeting.
Under all that are the nine good-size sheets of watercolor paper patiently waiting for me to play on them. I will need to watch that video again.
So, I have actually done some painting this month. Just not the kind of painting I had expected I would be doing.