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The Little Things

The Little Things

Close-up of a section of my word collage

Over the summer, I have been trying out different materials and combinations of papers by somewhat following projects in the book “Creative Paint Workshop” by Ann Baldwin. I say “somewhat” because I don’t have some of the exact colors of paint she uses, and it is not locally available. I am starting to understand how glazes work and which colors go well together. For me, reading about the process doesn’t explain it. I have to experience it at the end of my brush to “get it.”

The other difference is that in the last two collages I wrote about, I was using papers from my trips that had certain meanings for me which I didn’t want to cover up completely. In this collage, I used pages of words taken from an assortment of old books, magazines, and my stash which I randomly selected. It is called a Word Collage because there are no images.

I remember seeing a large collage of words at one of the local art shows some years ago. The artist had carefully pasted down sentences, and phrases of words, line by line, horizontal and vertical, many of them well known sayings, and in the center was an image of a yellow rubber duck. I liked the idea, wished I had time to stand there and read the whole thing, and realized what an incredible amount of work it had been to make.

In addition to using no images, I did not build up texture with fabric, cardboard, or molding paste. I started with a piece of watercolor paper which had a few dabs of paint here and there. I pasted down papers from old books, magazines, and a library signature card.

First layers of papers and paint

I added a few rubber stamp images, letters made with a stencil, and a first layer of acrylic Quinacridone Burnt Orange paint. The different papers take up the paint differently because some are really old, and magazine paper has a different finish than books. I filled in the white spots with Transparent Yellow Iron Oxide. I added fluid Paynes gray around the edges.

Library signature card
Page from old dictionary

At some point I noticed that the page from the shorthand book had a title: “The Little Things.” With all the talk in the papers and on the radio, (I don’t do TV), about how divided we all are, it occurred to me that in personal relationships it’s often the little things “that divide us — that catch our attention.” So I picked up my Sharpie and wrote that phrase under the shorthand paper.

Page from shorthand book

The very dark area on the left side is an attempt to try a technique in the book. The instructions were to put a clear layer of matt medium over the first layer of paper and again after the paint layer. Then paint an area with regular acrylic Paynes gray put on thickly, and while it is still wet, write into it with a rubber paint shaper to reveal the lighter paint underneath in the letters. My try at this didn’t come out as well as I hoped it would, partly, I think because the paint I used is old and a bit lumpy.

The finished word collage

In the process of layering these paints, I noticed that fluid Paynes gray going over the yellow produces a sort of green hue which I liked, so I carefully touched a few more areas here and there to spread that green about.

The yellow shape in the lower left corner is the first leaf to turn color and fall off my birch trees. It sat on my kitchen counter for a week or more, until it became the final touch in this collage.

I like the idea of making collage using words, especially if I just grab various papers and paste them down, noticing what the words say as I look at it later, and pondering what they might mean to me now.


Walk-by Mixed Media

Walk-by Mixed Media

This began with a zipper style sandwich bag, containing a small slice of French bread, being left on top of a toaster oven. I needed some extra counter space one day and tossed it up there. Later that evening, someone else didn’t notice it and used the oven, resulting in a lamination of sorts. I was able to carefully peel the bag off the oven top, and immediately decided it would be included in an experiment of mixed media art.

Laminated plastic bag

Over the last week we have had a few days without rain and I have been busy finishing up winter chores outdoors. Since my studio is in an open room right off the kitchen, I saw the toasted bag every time I walked past my work table. Knowing I wouldn’t have time to begin another extensive art project, I thought about how I might use this bag. I went looking for a base that already had something I started but never used. I found an 11” x15” cardboard with a black surface on which I had made a textured shape of a starfish using white plaster.

I put this on the work table next to the bag. After numerous trips past it, I got up one morning and decided to paint the plastered part with some Golden Ultramarine Violet acrylic. After more walk-by’s, I added some Golden Interference Blue to highlight the purple shape. To the left side of the starfish, I added a narrow tag board rectangle that I had painted last summer with gesso and a bit of paint which covers an ad.

Painted starfish
In this condition, it sat on my table for a day or two as I went in and out of the house walking past it uncounted times. It needed something else before I added the bag, but what could I do quickly that would pull things together?

Going in and out of the yard, and looking out my kitchen window, I watch my silk prayer flags flying in the wind all day. They have been shredded by the many windy days this winter. I’ve been picking up the shreds and bringing them inside to use in something.

By laying some pieces over the board, I could guess how they might look. I was hoping the starfish would show through somewhat. Three scraps were glued on with acrylic medium, which goes right through the fabric, so I just dabbed it onto the fabric as it lay over the plaster and the rest of the board. I covered it with wax paper and weighted it to dry overnight. 

I was somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t see most of the starfish the next morning, because the paint on the fabric was dense enough to block the purple. I added a hint of the Interference where I knew the plaster was. Then I glued on the cooked plastic bag with soft gel, weighted it again, and let it dry.

I set the piece up so I could view it from a distance. I thought it still needed a little something. I considered a thin white strip on the right edge to kind of balance the white on the left side. That would draw too much attention, so I added some scribble with colored pencils.

Plastic Ocean

“Plastic Ocean” had no design plan other than to use the damaged bag. It evolved as I walked by it many times a day asking “What if …?”  This doesn’t make great art, but keeps the mind working.   Art therapy indeed.

The Shell Game — What I Picked Up

The Shell Game — What I Picked Up

Whelk shells from Mother’s Honeymoon

When I was a young child, my mother would hold the shells, pictured above, up to my ear, so I could hear the ocean. She found them on her honeymoon in February 1941, somewhere in Florida. The picture below, made with shells and painted, was a wedding gift to my parents, and it hung on our living room wall all the years I was growing up.

Mother’s shell picture

When I was about nine, we started to spend my father’s vacation at a cottage on Lake Erie, where I would occasionally find shells in the shallow water or at the beach. I’d put them in my pocket and take them home.

I might have become a biologist of some sort, if my high school biology class had not been such a disappointment. John Marshall High had two or three biology teachers but only one biology classroom.  I went to Jr. High at the high school, and the art room was just down the hall from the biology room, so I walked past it several times a day. All tenth graders took biology, and I had been waiting for three years to be in that class with all the wonderful natural displays. Unfortunately, my biology class took place in the physics lecture room, which only had roll-up charts of the solar system.

I was twenty-one the first time I saw the ocean, when my family stayed a night or two at a motel in Virginia Beach, Virginia, after a few days in Washington, D.C. where we visited the White House, the Smithsonian, and the Pentagon.

I was eager to see the ocean again when my husband and I spent two weeks touring through Florida on Ray’s vacation. Living in Cincinnati, we drove down the Atlantic side stopping here and there. Coming back north on the Gulf of Mexico side, I remember floating on the salt water at St. Pete beach. The beach was loaded with hundreds of shells. Most of them were small or broken but that didn’t matter – I wanted to take them all home.

I have been hauling home shells every chance I get for over fifty years. I learned how to catalogue what I found with an item number, the date found, and the location. Most of the shells I could identify from shell books. Now, my collection has over 4600 item numbers, but many of those items have more than one shell of that species with that location and date, so I know I have well over 5000 shells.

When I was working, I went on several trips with a small group of collectors where we spent every day collecting and cleaning shells. I collected in Baja, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Panama, and The Bahamas. Also, from Santa Cruz to Seattle on the west coast.

Last year, I finally got everything I had collected, or otherwise acquired, entered into my log. This started as a hand written list, but is now also in a digital data base. The shells are housed in metal or plastic cabinets in my office room.

Some of the cabinets where I keep my shells

And then, given the size of the collection and my increasing age, I began to ask myself, what will I do with them?  While I haven’t found an answer to that question yet, I’m aware that some museums and universities will take donations of well documented collections, so that might be a possibility.

I can’t really answer that question until I know what I have, and what condition the shells are in. They are housed by families in the drawers. I have begun to print out sections of the digital record, one family at a time. I’m looking at each item. I’m finding a few shells that are not in the right family, as well as typos and formatting inconsistencies in the digital list, which I am correcting.

This is an exciting time to be identifying each shell with all the resources available on the internet. I can see wonderful images just by entering the scientific name of the shell.

When I attend the annual convention of the Conchologists of America, I’m often asked which shells I like best. I don’t have a favorite family, but I probably will discover one or two I like best while I’m doing this.

Big shells on top of a bookcase

This is my hobby that I enjoy after dinner. I’ve only just begun – this will be a long project with about 160 families.  I’m having so much fun seeing what I have, where they came from, and remembering the place, or the trip, where I found them.

A Glance Back, a Peek Ahead

A Glance Back, a Peek Ahead

I started 2018 by choosing the word “Weed” as my word for the year and I did all kinds of weeding in the yard, in my eleven bookcases, and in my closet. I’m still finding cupboards and drawers that could use some cleaning out, but they will have to wait.

I went through approximately a nine foot stack of old magazines cutting out pictures and discarding the rest. I’ve done such a good job of staying on top of this, that Saturday evening when I needed some magazines to select random images that appealed to me for a quick exercise in a book I was reading, I could find only one magazine in the recycle bin.

I began the year completing one or more unfinished projects that had been hiding here and there, as well as finishing an online collage course I had started in fall of 2017. I went through the rest of the year feeling like I wasn’t putting in the studio time I wanted to.

A quick inventory on Sunday of the work I did counted fifteen collages using a variety of materials, and two baskets made from the Watsonia I harvested from the garden in September. I completed two additional online courses, attended the Basket and Gourd two-day conference in Visalia, and led one activity for my local mixed media group.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s has had two primary activities—get the big leather-like Sycamore leaves out of the back and side yard into the street for pick-up tomorrow, and in the evening when I was exhausted from the leaves, set some art goals for 2019.

My inspiration board for the last three years.

First, I have a room divider in the studio that is also a place where I can hang things that inspire me. Nothing has changed on it since 2015; past time for something new to look at.

I have been thinking about a yard art project for over a year which involves many small items I have collected that are no longer useful. In the last few months I have been planning how to actually do it, and acquiring parts for it.

Many years ago when I lived in Cincinnati, I did some plein air painting and really liked it. But then I had my first baby and it was too much trouble to leave the house to paint. On Saturday, while raking up leaves, I stubbed my foot twice on a tree root in a place I walk often. I covered it with one of those square milk carton carriers which will make a perfect place to sit and paint in my yard.

Safety solution – a seat for plein air painting

On my computer is a digital book on how to use cold wax. I finally got around to ordering some cold wax, so I can try using it as I watch the lesson. I have one more online collage course lined up, which I hope to begin on Friday of this week.

In 2018, I have acquired as gifts or at estate sales, eight wonderful books about various artists that I’m eager to read, perhaps at lunch time, or instead of Facebook.

Art books waiting to be read

These are enough ideas to get me going. I’m praying for a lot of rain in the next few months, so I don’t spend all winter working outside like last year. I think it is important to write out some specific ideas for the creative work, and to leave some space for new ideas and opportunities to emerge.

Wishing you a Creative New Year!

Sweet Christmas Chaos

Sweet Christmas Chaos

I left home at 2:48 p.m. on Monday, December 24 headed seventy miles north to Roseville, CA where my son Chris lives. It was dry, but threatening. As I drove up the on ramp at Hammer Lane, the first rain drops hit the windshield, and before the next exit the wipers were going on high speed. The heavy rain continued on the two lane section of I-5 until Elk Grove where the road picks up a third lane. Fortunately, the heavy traffic was headed south on the other side of the freeway.

Sacramento had easy, normal rain when I passed through. It was still raining when I arrived at my son’s house at about 4:30. When I stepped into the house, I was greeted with three new faces. Two of them ran toward the door; the third stood there in shock, and quickly disappeared.

One of the kittens

Jeremy helped me unload my car of gifts, food, a duffel bag, and pillow. There was a face-to-tummy hug from my grandson, Vinnie, who disappeared until dinner was served. Jer was busy putting food in the oven at the right time, and fixing a salad. I learned all about his new job.

The almost three-month-old kittens were busy checking out my shoes, chasing colorful Christmas bows, and grabbing anything that moved on the Christmas tree. Once Chris got home from work, dinner was on the table in no time, my grandson ate and was back in his room before I had tasted everything once.

I had brought my IPad and was hoping Vin could show me how to do a few things on it, but I was never able to catch his eye, mainly because I couldn’t see his eyes due to his new hairdo.

When I go to Chris’ house, I seem to get caught up in a vortex of image and sound, so foreign to what I’m used to, that I just watch it happening around me, like I’ve stepped into the middle of a movie.

About 9 p.m. the shy kitten made an appearance, keeping her distance from me, while the two large dogs gnawed new bones, and we watched a movie called “Dumplin.” Things shifted into high gear as gifts were wrapped, the TV news repeated itself about every half hour, the kittens got into more stuff, and the Pope reminded us why we have Christmas.

When I got up to use the bathroom at 5 a.m. Christmas morning, one of the cats was outside the door of my room, staring at it, waiting for it to open. When I came out of the bathroom, she was gone.

Christmas morning Vinnie opened most of his gifts and had gone back upstairs before I could finish a small bowl of oatmeal. Once all the gifts were opened, I put on my makeup, and curled my hair. The two kittens attacked the neatly stacked pile of tissue paper and discovered it slides wonderfully on carpet.

Two kittens working over the tissue paper

My grandson went to his friend’s house wearing his new clothes, Chris cleaned up the kitchen, and soon it was time for me to get on the road back to Stockton, with the sun shining brightly. It is nice to go for a short visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

December Rituals

December Rituals

Since the end of summer I have been accumulating clothing and household items that need the attention of the sewing machine in the small front bedroom of my home. This room is mostly used for storage of things I might use in my art, as well as my 12-harness loom, a small loveseat with a hide-a-bed for the rare occasions when we have a visitor for a few nights, and my sewing machine.                                    

My sewing machine this week.

The Singer sewing machine was my first purchase after I began my first graphic arts job in 1962. It has a cam system with discs to make decorative stitches, and it will sew in reverse with just the push of a lever. My mother’s machine did not have a reverse feature which required me to turn the item 180 degrees to sew over the end of the seam to lock in the stitching. My machine was portable, so I could set it up in front of the TV on a card table. Soon after I got married, I found an old treadle cabinet, with four small drawers like my paternal grandmother had, at a yard sale.

Until the last few years, I did a lot of sewing, making most of my clothes. Now, I mostly repair things. I wanted to get this room cleaned up before I start making plans for next year. Tuesday afternoon I finished the sewing. Next, I will be baking nut bread and a few Christmas cookies.

Christmas is one of those events that can take over your life for weeks or even months if you let it. I used to make hand-woven gifts, bake dozens of cookies, wrap gifts with ribbons and bows—the whole big deal. Then my sons married,  had families, and wanted me to come to their house.

When I worked at the Livermore VA for ten years, we had so many Christmas events and decorations at work that I was happy to get away from it at home.  When I stopped working full time with the ninety-minute one-way commute, doing all my holiday rituals became another chore on the list. I would decorate inside, but spend all day outside raking leaves. I’d wrap and mail gifts, but never see them opened.

There is nothing wrong with making a special time if it brings you joy, but I came to see it all as a huge distraction, taking me away from subjects I was studying, or projects I was in the middle of. I was spending my time and energy on activities that I didn’t care about, and didn’t seem to matter much to anyone else.

Now, I decorate in less than an hour, putting candle-type lights in my windows. I bake two kinds of cookies I really love, and enjoy a few hours with my sons and grandson on Christmas Eve and morning.

Since I’ve been writing every week about my art making, yard tending, and occasional travels, I see no reason to write a Christmas letter reviewing the year.

My wish for each of you is that you cherish the meaning that this season holds for you. I pray you will enjoy good health and peace in your heart in the New Year.    Marilyn

A Memory from a Deep Well

A Memory from a Deep Well

I was quite surprised at the end of last week when a long forgotten memory surfaced in my mind as I thought about what I had heard and seen in the Supreme Court hearings on Thursday. I was asking myself if anything in my life was similar, in which I did not know details, like where something had occurred or how I had gotten home, but still had a vivid memory of some parts of the event.

I was seventeen at the beginning of 1960 when we moved to a new house in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I did not make friends easily, and I had not begun dating, but I had a boyfriend at our cottage on Lake Erie, who I saw in the summer.

A life-long best friend of my mother, who lived in this suburb, called her and asked if I would go to the prom with a friend of her son who needed a date. When my mother told me about it, I said I didn’t want to go, but was told I should go and I would have a good time. My father likely supported her in this.

My Ninth Grade Graduation Dress

Mother said my dress from ninth grade graduation would be fine, and I was taken to her friend’s house on the evening of the event. Her friend’s son, whom I had met before, was driving. I do not remember what his date looked like or her name. I do not remember the name of my date, but I do have an image of his face. The place where the dance was held did not look familiar, but it was dark outside when we arrived.

What I remember about the dancing was that I could feel his penis against my leg all the time. After the dance ended, I discovered that this was an all night affair. The boys decided they did not want to go to the bowling activity. I don’t know what the other girl wanted to do.

My date and I were in the back seat. He wanted to kiss me and be close. I wasn’t afraid, but I was extremely uncomfortable being in that car. I thought the night would never end. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any money with me, so even if I could have found a pay phone, I couldn’t call.

I had never been told how to handle this kind of situation. I had often been told that I was not to talk to strangers, so I wouldn’t get into a situation. This was repeated so often and so strongly that at the age of 42, when I started to attend the community college in Livermore, I was trying to figure out if people in my classes were strangers or not, and could I talk to them.

Nothing happened except some unwelcome kisses. I was not assaulted. I don’t remember how I got home. I think, since I was uncooperative and said I wanted to go home, they may have taken me home early, because I don’t remember anything about the breakfast that was to be the last part of the prom. I was lucky.

What is coming to me now as I write this, is that I had to ring the door bell at home because I didn’t have a key. When my parents asked how the prom was, I probably said “fine” and that I was tired. I went straight to bed, and never talked about it.

This memory would sometimes flash through my mind when my mother mentioned her friend, but I would refuse to acknowledge it. It wasn’t a strong enough memory to come up while I was writing my memoir.

The other day was the first time I really thought about the event, and allowed myself to acknowledge that my mother had insisted I go to this prom as a favor to her high school friend. I guess she knew it was an all night affair, but I didn’t understand that before I went. Although Mother passed away eight years ago, I have verbally forgiven my mother this weekend for putting her friend’s request before my pleas not to be taken there.

As I have read and listened to what is being said about both testimonies, I’m sorting out what I believe from what I saw and heard. I did not hear all of the hearing, but only heard parts of it. As a trained therapist, I think there is a lot of information missing on the woman’s side.

That tiny repressed memory I have tightens my stomach as I recall that night even all these years later. So, I can believe Dr. Ford had an experience with someone and not recall details of dates and places. I also find it difficult to accept that during her psychology training this trauma was not sorted out, and is still troubling her daily life. And, I think Mr. Kavanaugh has every right to be angry as hell.


A Week in San Diego

A Week in San Diego

Military ships in harbor across from my hotel room.

I arrived home last Saturday evening totally exhausted from my trip to San Diego. I didn’t realized just how tired I was until Sunday when I woke up with fuzzy thinking and sore muscles everywhere. I don’t think it was from physical activities as much as from over-stimulation.

The room I had at the Sheraton Harbor Hotel looked out onto the water where I could watch people walking briskly along the edge of the bay. In the water were jet-skis, sail boats, Hornblower cruise vessels, Navy ships, and tug boats. The hotel is directly across from the Navy Air Station with helicopters coming and going all day long. Standing on my balcony, I was suddenly aware of how much I miss living near a body of water as I did growing up, and later in Virginia.

The first day I was there, I took my first Uber ride to the local San Diego Shell Club annual Shell Show in a building at Balboa Park. This show had exhibits prepared by the members, and a room full of dealers who had shells for sale.

A court yard in Balboa Park

Arched walkway in Balboa Park







After viewing the exhibits, I found a bench outdoors and ate the lunch I brought with me. I enjoyed the architecture of the walkways with the columns, being able to see the matching shape from the arches on the other side of the walk.

On Monday there was a field trip to the San Diego zoo also located in Balboa Park in an area with hills and ravines. I saw many of the large animals on a zoo bus ride designed to give us an overall tour of the place. The leader suggested we get ice cream after the ride before we separated to explore on our own. I enjoyed a Hagen Das dark chocolate covered, chocolate ice cream bar at 11:00 in the morning.

Young Panda munching on bamboo

Five giraffes keeping cool

The zoo has many smaller animals from around the world, including beautiful birds which often had to be located hidden in the trees in their enclosures.

One of the ladies I was walking with could rattle off the Latin names of all the plants. Of course I had to see the five giraffes, two of them only a year or two old.

Tuesday we visited the Scripps Aquarium in La Jolla with its spectacular displays of underwater creatures including colorful mollusks that don’t have hard shells called nudibranches, fish, and other sea creatures. Then we had time to get lunch and visit shops.

Tropical fish at Scripps Aquarium

Lacey creature at the aquarium







The Conchologists of America convention (COA) – the reason I was in San Diego – got going on Wednesday, with three days of short presentations about shells, interspersed with silent auctions, six of them, where attendees could bid on packages of shells and related items. I don’t generally buy shells because my collection is predominately beach collected, but I enjoy the silent auctions.

The Welcome Party Wednesday night began with a parade and photos of those who had decorated a hat for the occasion. I wore my head-gear which I detailed last week in this blog.

Also on Wednesday, my roommate arrived from Arizona. I met her last year in Key West and we talked about sharing a room at the next COA. It was wonderful to make a new friend and have someone to talk to. She had driven from Arizona, which added a whole new dimension to the trip. The vibe in San Diego is full of energy, people walking up and down the streets, eating lunch, and shopping in the older section of town, like Stockton would like to have. (We have the old buildings but not the tourists.)

Notable presentations included two by a man who has been diving and collecting in the waters of Alaska and the Aleutians for the last forty years. He has found that shells that occur all along the coast of Alaska stop suddenly at a point in the Bering Sea where the water temperature becomes two degrees colder.

Several talks showed results from DNA analysis that is starting to shed light on how land snails in the Bahamas migrated from island to island and resulted in new species.

We even saw video of a devise used to find and bring to the surface mollusks that live in the deep sea and are rarely seen.

Thursday night featured an oral auction where we watched attendees bid on rare and expensive shells. Before I left town Saturday afternoon, I cruised through the bourse, where sea shell dealers from all over the world displayed their finest treasures. I found the table which had an assortment of shells for $5 each, and selected a handful of shells I don’t have or have never seen before.

Next year COA will be at Captive Island, Florida in June. Hopefully, I will find time to reorganize my collection in the next nine months.

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.

Planet Gazing

Planet Gazing

When I moved into my house twenty-one years ago, I made cafe-style curtains for the five windows in my bedroom, which is in the back of the house. I wanted to be able to wake up and see the sky as soon as I opened my eyes. At night, the moon shines into the room, and when it is clear I see some stars even though I’m only two blocks from several busy intersections.

Some years ago, I realized that the brightest “stars” were planets. I’ve read a few books by armature astronomers, seen a few presentations, and I try to remember which planets are in which window. Last Saturday night, I actually saw the planets.

On the third Saturday of the month, weather permitting, the local astronomers set up their telescopes and invite the public to come see our universe. I had been seeing a notice in the newspaper for at least the last two years, but never got around to going. I’d put it on my calendar on Tuesday and come Saturday we had clouds all day. Or, I’d get busy in the yard and decide that finishing what I was doing was more important.

This event, by members of the Stockton Astronomical Society, (, is held at Oak Grove Regional Park on Eight Mile Road in San Joaquin County, along side of I-5 going north from Stockton, about three miles from my home.

I got there before dark so I could look over the park, because I drive by frequently, but had never actually been inside it. The park is loaded with ducks and other birds. The day had been hot, but the Delta breeze was making it a perfect night.

Venus is the brightest planet and the first to appear in the west just after sunset above the trees. For a brief time, Mercury could be seen as a bright pin- point between two trees near the horizon.

The moon had been visible since late afternoon, high in the sky looking south. I saw its lacy-looking surface in the first telescope I looked into. There were eight or nine telescopes of all sizes set up by individual owners.

As the sky darkened, Jupiter became visible just to the right of the moon. I was getting acquainted with some of the astronomers and their family members. The owner of the scope gets the planet in view so each visitor can take a look. When I looked at Jupiter through the scope I was surprised to see three round balls next to it all in a row, similar to this photo, but they were graduated in size and looked like little creatures following mama.  Amazing!

Jupiter with moons in a row on right

There was a lot of standing around and waiting for darkness so more things would be visible. I was watching the people. And making a mental list of things to bring next month. Like a chair, a flash light, and munchies.

One of the astronomers told us that he has a set up at home to take photos of stars and other space objects, like a star that blew up in 1054, which somehow he saves on his phone. Fascinating. Way beyond anything I can understand.

To the east, Saturn appeared near the horizon. We had to wait until it moved up in the sky a little and somewhat clear of the “dust” from earth. By now it was dark, and many more people had come to look through the scopes.

Saturn tilted

Saturn was tilted so its rings looked like a doughnut standing on its side, bright yellow with a touch of orange. What I saw in the center was the grey ball of the planet. This image is the closest I could find on the net. We were told Saturn will be better next month.

By this time, my body was telling me it had stood around enough for one night. Next time I come out, I’ll know what to expect, and I’ll stay longer and see the stars.