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Month: August 2017

Remembering Venezuela

Remembering Venezuela

Remember Venezuela

In March of 1998, I went on a shell collecting trip in Venezuela. This was my first trip to South America. In the Caracas airport, everyone had cell phone to their ear which astonished me, because that wasn’t the norm in the U.S. at that time.

I learned later that people had cell phones because the land line service was so unreliable, as was the electrical system in general. The power would suddenly go out at our motel so we couldn’t cook or have a hot shower.

In the van from the airport, hearing the theme song from “Titanic” on the radio brought tears to my eyes because my children had played that music at their father’s funeral two weeks earlier.

On the beaches were thousands of turkey-wing shells making it difficult to walk. The water was dirty. In remote fishing villages, we saw families with many children, living in tiny cement block houses with thatched roofs.

I tend to pick up anything interesting on the beach and sort it out later. I came home with a huge number of shells and other refuse, which included driftwood, feathers, thick cord, colored 2-ply twisted cord, beads, a domino, rusty metal, part of a net, buttons, fish bones, and tangled mono filament.

I used some of these items in an encaustic piece, and also in the pouch pictured above. The pouch began with coiling a thin cord over a thick piece of cord which ended sooner than I expected. I continued with other colors of cord doing knot-less netting. The rim is a row of crochet with the last bit of 2-ply cord.

Using found objects from the beach provides small amounts of materials in colors and structures I would not normally choose from my stash. The result is truly one of a kind.

Key West Adventure

Key West Adventure

The first thing I noticed on my way to Key West last week was that airports in Sacramento and Atlanta no longer have monitors running news networks. Waiting areas were so much nicer without all that noise.

This was my first visit to Key West so I had signed up for two tours in the old part of the island.

The Conch Train

On the Conch Train the driver provides a running commentary of the sites we pass, telling the history of old buildings, the styles of architecture of the old homes, and the famous people who lived in them.

I learned that if you build a house in Key West, the roof must be metal to prevent fire from burning the city down like it did in the 1800s.

We learned why the light house is not on the shore, and why the cemetery was moved. They missed one grave which emerged later, so the old cemetery has one grave in the middle of a grass-covered lot.

The train makes three stops and you can get ice cream at each of them. It was hot and sticky. The streets were crowded with tourists walking about in the briefest of outfits.

The second day I visited the Truman White House and realized I don’t know much of anything that happened in that part of our history. I was about three years old when he became president, and I never learned about World War II or Korea in school, because it wasn’t in the history books yet.

WPA Mural of fishermen

I enjoyed the Aquarium which had WPA murals on the walls, as well as fish and other sea creatures. At the Shipwreck Museum, I found all sorts of old baskets around large jars made from whatever natural materials were at hand.

Baskets around jars.




At the shell collector’s convention, which was the reason I was in Key West, I heard presentations about what is being done to protect the reef that runs along the Florida Keys, the longest living reef in U.S. territory. I heard about research on some of the creatures that live on the reef.

In between the presentations, there were silent auctions of gorgeous, incredible shells from a collection that had been donated to fund the club’s endowment which provides scholarships to students of marine biology.

Silent auctions are fun because there is so much beautiful material to bid on, but one has to weigh the beauty with one’s budget. It would be easy to get carried away. I also had to judge what I could get into my luggage. I came home with about a dozen lots, most of which had multiple shells. I easily have 75 new shells for my collection.

I did get on the beach for two hours one morning and found a few common shells, but better ones can only be found while snorkeling. I had hoped to do more beach combing, but most of the shore has a cement sea wall which makes getting in the water difficult for someone who is no longer young.

It was a wonderful trip and a much needed break from my usual daily routine

Lightening Whelk

Lightening Whelk

Lightening Whelk

I went to college as an adult starting in 1984 at the community college in Livermore, California. I took several art classes toward my minor, to balance out the math and history requirements.

The assignment I enjoyed the most in the 2D – 3D Design class was to take one object and show it from many different angles using line and shading techniques.

Since I was skilled and comfortable using pen and ink, I chose that medium and a favorite shell as my object. I used a whole shell and two broken ones of the same species. This provided me with lots of angles, nooks and crannies.

The Lightening whelk, Busycon contraruim, is found in the sand near the low-tide line from North Carolina to Florida, and Texas. I’d picked these up on trips to Florida in the 1970’s. This shell is unusual in that the opening is on the left side, whereas most shells have the opening on the right side.

Conchologists are people who collect and study shells, and we have a quarterly magazine and members from all across the country and other countries as well.

This week I’m seeing many beautiful and unusual shells at the annual Conchologists of America convention being held this year in Key West, Florida. I have not been to Key West, although I have been to Florida many times, and I’m excited to be here for a week.

In between tours of the island, programs about all things shells, silent auctions of shell related items, special events,  and parties, I plan to pick up shells on the beach.

I hope that wherever you are, you are enjoying your summer.

High Adventure

High Adventure

High Adventure

The summer of 2005 stays in my mind as one of total freedom. I had retired from my Creative Art Therapist position with the VA at the beginning of the year, and I had no obligations, nowhere I had to be.

In the hot evenings with doors and windows wide open, fans running, and the stereo playing my favorite music, I felt like I was on a “High Adventure” making baskets for an upcoming fall show with the Bay Area Basket Makers.

Constructing baskets with natural materials often means working with dried leaves and vines that have been soaked so they are pliable.

I recall standing next to the kitchen sink, where daylily leaves soaked, making a sopping mess on the counter at midnight. These small baskets formed quickly and dried overnight. See a daylily basket on my July 11 blog here.

Working with heavy materials needed more soaking time, took longer to make and needed to be kept damp, or rewetted if they dried out before being completed.

Since money was tight, I used what I had. Some materials I’d picked up from other basket makers who were giving them away. The base on the basket above is something off a palm tree which flattens out when soaked.

I used a heavy cotton cord to stitch a circle of date fruit stalks onto the base. I proceeded to use figure-8 coiling to build up the sides.

When I needed to start a new piece of cord, I left the end of the old cord hanging out after I knotted the new cord to it. After the coiling was finished I added beads and washers to the ends of cord at various places around the circular shape.

When the base dried, it curled up around the center shape very nicely. I can’t plan that – I take what the materials do.

Which is why working with odd materials from nature is a High Adventure.

No Rest for the Busy

No Rest for the Busy

What ever happened to kicking back with a good book in the summer?

Last summer I was busy reorganizing my garage and storage building, cleaning up the yard, and playing with small collages.

This year the yard again is a mess, but that’s the nature of my yard. I’m spending an hour or two in the evenings cleaning out plants that have spread too much.

I’ve added something entirely new to me in the last month. When I flew to Portland at the end of June, I had a terrible time getting my suitcase into my car. At 35 pounds, it was too heavy for me.

I’ve never been strong in my upper body but things have gotten worse in the last year because I’ve spent many hours sitting at the computer creating this website and writing a memoir. And with all the rain last winter I was not in the yard cleaning up as I usually do.

Having committed myself to another two airport trips this year, it was clear I needed to get my body in better condition.

I’m a member of the Osher Life Long Learning (OLLI) program at the University of the Pacific, and I noticed I could, for a modest sum, get some personal training. I can be disciplined about some things, but exercising with weights at home isn’t one of them.

So, I added to my already full schedule, three sessions a week at the UOP fitness center, working with a young man to build some strength and stamina. After two weeks, things don’t feel as heavy when I lift them, and walking in my neighborhood is starting to feel less like a chore.

The trade-off is less writing, so this blog is now posting once a week. And the other writing I’ve been doing – stay tuned – I’ll be writing more about the book in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying your summer, whatever you are doing.