Sunday, November 29, 2015

Phone photos

Recent photos on my phone show the deepening of our late autumn. With the rain the leaves are darkening, the shadows are deep blue-gray and the skies have turned to soft, liquid watercolor blends. This season is, in my opinion, the most distinctly representative of the Pacific Northwest. It is rich and earthy and fragrant with fir and cedar and rain.


When the clouds lift, the morning sun comes in sideways, creating patterns across the carpet and highlighting every dust mote and dirty window.

Yesterday I went out to run some errands and driving home in the late afternoon I was transfixed by the view of a soft focus, distant Mt. Hood against that gorgeous pink/blue sky. When I got to the crest of Cooper Mountain I had to stop and just enjoy the view for a few minutes.

This afternoon I'm back in my studio, after a week including our Columbia Gorge getaway and Thanksgiving, and very little studio time. I am thinking, for the first time this year, about Christmas. I saw instructions online for a 5-pointed origami star, so the first thing I did was to see if I could make one.

Neat, huh? (Instructions here)

Now I am back at work on the Quito quilt.

This part is going to take awhile.


Thursday, November 26, 2015


Today. This is my favorite holiday, not so much for its historical significance as for what it has become—a time to celebrate family, friends and whatever we feel truly blessed by and most thankful for. I look back, now, on nearly 70 Thanksgivings, shared with people so very dear to me, many now gone from this earth and know beyond a doubt that each was a greater gift than anything else I've ever been given. Most Thanksgivings have blended into a common memory, but some stand, individually, as extraordinary. Surely our Ecuadorean Thanksgiving of 2 years ago is one of those. Another that I remember every year is Thanksgiving of 1968, my first away from my family and perhaps my first realization of the preciousness of friendship and shared tradition. I wrote about it in 2006 and am happy to share that story once again...

Thanksgiving 1968

Kathleen and I grew up together, nearly like family. Our mothers were best friends and our families shared many Thanksgiving dinners.

In 1968 Kathleen and her husband, Gary, moved to Connecticut to go to graduate school at UConn in Stoors. I had graduated from college the previous spring and I was working for my sorority (Alpha Omicron Pi) as a traveling chapter consultant. We were all far from our Idaho homes and discovering new worlds.

I spent the week before Thanksgiving visiting the chapter at Northeastern U. in Boston. It was a sad and dispiriting week. The chapter was one of the oldest existing AOII chapters in the country with a wonderful legacy of outstanding women, but it WAS 1968 and the world was blowing up in a lot of ways, both good and bad, and sorority life was becoming a symbol of elitist, old thinking and the chapter was suffering badly. The few remaining members wished to return their charter and close the chapter with some dignity. The alumnae, for whom this chapter had meant so much in their lives, were distraught and in total opposition. I felt for all of them. And I really had nothing to offer. So, at the end of this sad week, when I was feeling very homesick, Kathleen and Gary drove to Boston to pick me up and we went back to Connecticut for Thanksgiving.

What I remember most was how happy we were to see each other, how homesick we all were, how beautiful Connecticut was and the music. Three albums. During that long holiday weekend we played these three albums over and over and any song from any of them will instantly take me back to that Thanksgiving. Gordon Lightfoot, The Rascals and The 5th Dimension. When was the last time you heard of any of them? In 1968 they were all at the top of the charts.

We cooked our first Thanksgiving dinner away from home and family, together. It was a makeshift affair, but based on what we knew our mothers would be cooking on the other side of the country. Kath didn't have a pie plate, so we divided the pumpkin pie ingredients into the compartments of her muffin tin. Then we forgot that we probably should adjust the baking time for these tiny tartlets. They came out of the oven looking like black hockey pucks—inedible. We made way too much stuffing but Gary held the turkey steady while I crammed every little bit into the bird. It is a wonder it didn't explode. We invited another Idaho State grad who was also going to school at UConn, whose name may have been Allen—I have forgotten—to join us. We drank a lot of cheap wine, lighted candles and sat on the floor around the coffee table (which may have been crates) to eat our feast from Kathleen and Gary's lovely wedding present dishes. We laughed a lot, called our families and bravely held back our tears at the sound of their voices. They were together. We were together. Something right and balanced there.

When I left a few days later I could see, from the plane window, Kathleen and Gary standing just inside the waiting area. Between us a bitter wind and some snow was blowing. Gary had his arm around Kath's shoulders and she was crying. I was sitting on the plane crying silently as well.

I was so thankful for those friends. I am still thankful for them and for that memory.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Taking a break from everything

Ray and I are not good at relaxing. We've never taken the kind of vacation where you just lay on a beach for a week—never would—can't even imagine how that would be fun. We are retired from our jobs, but neither of us fritter away the days playing computer games or watching soap operas and Judge Judy. We are busy. But for the last couple of days we indulged in a very relaxing getaway. Ray left his yard work and paperwork, and I left the quilt design that had been consuming me behind.


We headed for the Columbia Gorge. Less than 2 hours away, in that beautiful location, is the Bonneville Hot Springs resort and we indulged ourselves in good food, good wine, natural beauty and hot, steamy pools and baths and massage. Happy 45th anniversary to us!

Mt. Hood

The mighty Columbia River. Put it on your list if you've never seen it. I think the Columbia Gorge is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

The great room at Bonneville Hot Springs.


The weather was cold and rainy, with a fierce wind, but even so the gorge was grand and dramatic by day and there is something kind of breath-taking about immersing yourself in a steaming outdoor pool with cold rain pouring out of the black night sky. Images to remember.

And now we are home and ready to whip up a feast and enjoy Thanksgiving with our family. I hope you all have a beautiful week.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

I need a plan


To plan or not plan is a big topic amongst my art friends. The "spontaneous" crowd claim that preliminary sketches and working drawings kill the creativity in their work, because once they have put their energy into the plan, they are bored and have lost their excitement for making the actual art. I find that thinking hard to understand, but, OK, there is definitely more than one way to skin a cat and I'll give them theirs. For me, I need a plan. Not a detailed, set-in-concrete plan, but first a little tryout sketch to work out the logistics of the composition and some color ideas, then a to-size working drawing.

You can see, above, that I printed my iPad sketch, gridded it, then enlarged it to actual size. I learned this particular technique in a workshop with Elizabeth Barton, and I really like working this way. I used to enlarge my small drawing on the computer and print it out on a million sheets of paper that I taped together. That was one less step, but I have found that the extra work of gridding and hand enlarging the composition helps me simplify and tighten up the composition, plus I am really internalizing the structure this way. When I am ready to start cutting the individual pieces I have a fairly good feeling for how they will go together. But, even so, this big drawing is merely a guide and a lot can change when I start seeing what the fabric brings to it.

I keep most of my big drawings. I have never used one a second time, but if I did I know the resulting piece would not look a lot like the first one. I had an idea today as I was drawing this. Maybe when I finish this one I will make another as a night scene—an homage to Monet and his many versions of the Waterloo Bridge, or Rouen Cathedral! Or maybe I will be done with the basilica in Quito. I don't know, but at least I have a plan.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Begin again

The next theme for High Fiber Diet is "green", which can be interpreted as we wish, however, it must be made using a certain percentage of recycled materials. For me nothing could be more "green" than my stash of recycled shirt fabrics. Even though I took a break from using the shirt fabrics, they re still exciting to me, so it seems like a good time to get back to them.

First I needed an idea and a sketch. I had a photo I took in Quito two years ago that really appealed to me, but would be a challenge to simplify in a way that could yield an interesting composition. This is where I love sketching on my iPad, which does not lend itself to fussy, detailed design, so it forces me to pare down the detail to a more essential form. Then, playing with color on the iPad is when it gets really fun.


I needed some purples, so I did a little over dyeing of blue fabrics to get some nice, rich purples.


What I love about over dyeing is that one dye bath will produce varied results, depending on the starting color of what you put in it.

I'm making a pile of fabrics that I think will work.

This might be my favorite part of the whole process...


Saturday, November 07, 2015

The 4 Ts

We had some friends over a few weeks ago and they suggested we "do the 4 Ts" together sometime. I had no idea what that meant, but I soon learned that it's a fun way to spend a day exploring Portland and lots of people were doing it. The Ts are: Trail, Tram, Trolley and Train, and it is a sightseeing route through some of the best parts of Portland via those 4 Ts.


We had a break in the rain yesterday, so headed out in the fog, taking the light rail train to the Washington Park Zoo, where we were meeting Terry and Virginia, and where the route begins.


Emerging from the train station, we found a sign directing us to the start of the Markham Trail, right along the busy highway. We were very quickly in thick forest, climbing upward, and upward, seemingly far from civilization and the city, then, surprisingly, emerging on a familiar street at the top of the hill, not far from where we used to live. Then another upward hike to Council Crest Park, the highest point in the city, with vast views of the city. The fog had burned off enough that Mount Hood was barely visible in the distance.

Before we left Council Crest, we found a friendly stranger to take a photo of our group, then, following the great signs, we continued on the Markham trail toward Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) on the next big hill over. The trail took us down, down, through thick forest, then up, up. Occasionally we would come upon an incredible house hidden out in the trees. Deep in the forest we arrived at a shelter with a little amphitheater and a most welcome porta-potty and drinking fountain. From there it was the final, and hardest part of the hike—steep, uphill and seemingly never ending until we emerged on the OHSU campus. The end of the 4+ mile Trail segment.


Making our way through the hospital at the medical school, we followed the signs and found the place to board the aerial tram that connects the two parts of OHSU—the old campus, at the top of Markham Hill, and the new campus down below on the Willamette waterfront. From the tram you look down on neighborhoods that look surprisingly toylike from above, and across the city in all directions. The fall colors from that vantage were stunning yesterday.


We stepped out of the tram car and there was our next T— the trolley. It wound along the waterfront, up through the campus of Portland State University, then into the heart of downtown Portland.


Beautiful, bustling downtown. Just across from the trolley stop, the MAX train was just pulling up and we hopped on to ride several blocks where we were looking forward to sitting down to a late, leisurely lunch. Along the way we enjoyed the sights and sounds of our city, including a llama walking down Yamhill street past the Apple Store. After lunch we reboarded the train which took us back to the zoo, where we had started out hours before. The circle was complete. A perfect day and a good, satisfying, well-earned weariness.


Today the rain is back and I can feel our hike in my leg muscles.

For more information about the 4T trail, click here.


Thursday, November 05, 2015


We had the driest summer I remember, followed by a a long, beautiful, dry fall and now the rain has started. Oregon rain. I'm an Oregon transplant from the high desert, but I have learned to love the rain. I may be singing a different song when we get to February, the month of please-make-it-stop, but for now I am celebrating the rain. It really comes down when we get serious about rain, here. Looking out my kitchen window a couple days ago it was sheets of pouring rain. And it was a beautiful sight.

I was driving and through the rain and mist this week, and saw a solitary, brilliant red tree in a field, bravely doing its best to fly it's autumn colors in the downpour and it seemed like something that might lend itself to fabric interpretation. At least, something to experiment with. I had this idea of an overlay of some kind of textured, sheer-ish fabric, so I took myself off to the fabric store to look for cheesecloth or scrim, or...? What I found was mosquito netting, and while not exactly what I was picturing, I thought it might do. More experimenting needed, but I think it might be something. The mosquito netting is soft and drapey but pretty stable. There is more to it than tulle, and not crispy or shiny.