Thursday, December 11, 2008

Paper bag ornaments

Three of the Suspects stamped onto a blank paper bag, colored, cut out fronts and backs, glued together in increments, stuffed with very small pieces of polyester fiberfil, glued the rest of the way closed (Aleen's Tacky Glue works well) and there you are. Glue a loop of ribbon, yard, twine, whatever to hang on the tree or decorate a package. Merry, merry.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Let it go

In 1948 I moved with my mother and father from her parents' light-filled and substantially-built Pasadena home on a block-deep lot near a drugstore, Chinese restaurant and coffee shop with malts, to a new subdivision in Baldwin Park. My brother was born later that year.

Harlan Street had no trees, no sidewalks, no lawns, no fences. At one end of the block was a working dairy - cows and all - and at the other the hard and dusty scrub land that reminded everyone Southern California was simply a desert in disguise. Nearby was a gravel pit with the trucks that came to carry the gravel away, and a drive-in movie where the program changed a couple times a week.

We were late-comers to the tract, those already settled having arrived seemingly as soon as the paint dried. While at age three I was young, I was a very good listener and heard the gossip the neighbors shared about each other with my very young mother. Compared with Pasadena where she had grown up, it must have seemed an outpost - Fort Apache from some western - and the smudgepots from nearby orange groves left us with sooty nostrils when we awoke on cold mornings.

The greatest attraction for me - the only attraction - in our backyard was the clothesline, two metal uprights with rows of rope strung between. My dearest cloth doll, named Checkersocks, was frequently pinned there as she dried, having been washed following - probably - being dragged through the Baldwin Park dirt that passed for a yard day after day. I remember sitting under the dripping doll, talking to her, waiting for her to be ready to play again.

It was the absence of fences, and the fact that our little neighborhood had been, not that long ago, just like the land around it, that inspired me to make friends with the tumbleweeds. I can't say the friendship went in both directions; I captured them, kept them around for a while, then turned them loose. Since they blew through our yard and every other yard in the region, stopped only by the houses, I began to catch them and tie them to the clothesline pole with the leftover rope. I gathered them in bush-sized, prickly bouquets and would talk to them as I did to my doll. We had a cocker spaniel named Ginger who only barked and jumped on me and they made better company; at least I had some control over them. Ginger never stopped jumping on me and finally "went away" which I assumed to mean back to the people who had given her to us. It was many years and a few dogs later that I caught on to that old parents' tale about sending Fred or Duke or Lobo to live with a nice family who had more space.

Eventually I would free the tumbleweeds, picturing a windy day so they could really make a break for it, then begin to collect a new batch. What I don't remember is how I managed to wrangle such dry, sharp and hostile relics and how I arrived at the place of considering them friends. When released, they raced west, eventually piling up along the chain-link that surrounded the power lines.

Lawns and fences did come to Harlan Street, about the time I started kindergarten, walking to school past the dairy and a road full of squashed frogs whose swampy home had been built over with two-bedroom stucco. As more families arrived, they had to add a second session of kindergarten and a bus carried me past the frog bodies but the sense of waking nightmare never quite left. When my brother was still less than a year old, we moved back to Pasadena for the smudge pots made him ill and the doctor said he couldn't live in such a place.

What caused me to think of Baldwin Park and my strange collection of skeletal, botanical friends was a conversation this morning, a suggestion that perhaps I might be able to let sad and unwelcome thoughts pass through my mind rather than allowing them to pitch their tents and suck the joy out of all I used to love about Christmas - the lights, the music, making cards and gifts, surprising my son, cooking. I saw myself stubbornly, but intentionally, grabbing hold of something that was meant to breeze on past and binding it fast in a place where it didn't belong. I acknowledged that I might find a way to observe the arrival of the tumbling thoughts and the feelings they brought without giving them energy and floor space. I imagined that I could nod at their passing, know they were just part of the territory and let them go.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A brief tutorial

The new stamp collection, The Un-Usual Suspects, appeared in the late summer. They were created to be all-purpose, utility characters. But we have moved into the Christmas season and their distinct oddness does not exactly connect them to any particular holiday, certainly not Christmas. So I prepared samples for one of the manufacturer's newsletters, with detailed instructions, which may be found at the link below, following ordering instructions for the stamp sets. The sets are also available from Stamp Your Heart Out in Claremont, CA (909) 621-4363.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Absurd Is Always With Us

As a Girl Scout leader for more years that she wished, my mother sometimes sought inspiration for troop projects from sources other than her own imagination. One such aid was a magazine called "Pack O' Fun" and her subscription seemed to run for years. I know it was still arriving when I was a teenager and she had long-since abdicated her woven-newspaper mats and paper bag puppets duties to a woman we all knew was a real Girl Scout leader, someone who could construct shelter in the wilderness, glare us into having mayonnaise on our sandwichs even though it made us gag, and remain unflappable when cornered by a flash flood or forest fire.

When I find myself in situations that feel like one of the infrequent funny episodes of THE X-FILES, I can draw a line of the bizarre back to "Pack O' Fun" and the issue, must have been March, which suggested leprechaun sacks of gold as party favors...made from used tea bags glamoured up with spray paint and glitter. I was and have been happy and willing to recycle and find creative uses for discards but this went too far. Forever after, any family party plans included at least a mention of "Pack O' Fun" and that particular extreme of thrift.

Which brings me to my point - the fact that identifying the absurd is a skill handier than knowing how to spot poison oak. We all find ourselves, some much more often than others, in circumstances when the bubble in our personal level tips steeply to one end. This presents different choices, but the only one I can think of is laughing. Maybe not in the moment, maybe not on the spot, but certainly inside where our most wise and philosphical self has just noticed we've been swallowed whole by someone's vast, lunatic episode, disguised as normal behavior and rational thought. I willingly own that a used tea bag party favor rates pretty far down the list of human folly but it is a simple, clear example.

There was the landlord whose ad I called about as we were preparing to move, nearly 7 years ago. Our rented house had been sold and, having experienced one harrowing fire-and-evacuation scenario, we'd been thinking for some time of moving into the flatlands. When I called about the rental I said we were still twitchy at the sound of helicopters and sirens and thought life outside the red flag zone would be more peaceful. "Yes," said the landlord, "but how do you feel about snakes?" Turns out his property was even further up the mountain than our present location and, by his innocent-seeming yet telling question, we knew this was not the place for us. My son and I imagined a patio landscaped like a serpent amphitheater or the writhing ground beneath Indiana Jones as he dropped in to discover the Lost Ark. And we shuddered. Some are reptile people, some are not. Now any time we are presented with a hard sell of something that holds zero appeal, we ask each other, "How do you feel about snakes?"

During that same search, we found a pleasant-seeming cottage - on a flat street - with a large back yard, ringed by avocado trees which surrounded a raised square cement platform roughly half again the size of the house which we decided must be a landing pad for the mother ship. As the realtor had simply given us the keys and sent us out to look on our own, there was no one to ask but sometimes weirdness just shrieks to let you know it's there.

The absurd dwells among us and the sooner we can recognize its sundry disguises, the quicker we can get to stepping on down the street or remembering that we left the iron on or the kettle boiling and need to get home, get off the phone or call for back-up. Some of us are magnets for the bizarre. My father was one, thanks to his daily newspaper column which led readers to believe, perhaps not incorrectly, that he was a kindred spirit in their diverse searches for whatever Truth Is Out There. My mind remains open about things which we truly cannot explain but I'm very clear about snakes as houseguests and can still spot a used tea bag, gilded or not, across a crowded room.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Running on empty

Our political process matters to me. Voting is essential. I have had strong feelings about candidates since my grandparents used their wide, wrap-around porch as the neighborhood polling place. I think I have now grown too old to survive another presidential campaign that lasts as long as this one. Trying to take in, as we count the days, not only what bombards us in the way of election news, but also financial woes, guesses and massive uncertainty and, here in Los Angeles, the threat and reality of fires, I have become depleted. I am not alone.

In my mind I see a guage, vertical like an old thermometer in a metal frame which advertises either soda pop (yes, THAT old) or a very successful garage. The mercury (for the sake of this illustration) has reached the top, past all the lines and numbers. Which might make one think "full" but the kind of full that so many of us are confronting really amounts to empty. We have no more room to take in anything other than gentleness, laughter, good news and rest. In conversations with a number of friends, I find that we all require greater amounts of sleep than normal. I would not be unhappy to wake up in spring and learn that I'd been transformed into a hibernating creature. My muscles and joints ache, my head feels like sponge cake that for reasons unfathomable has been left sitting in a bowl of milk. It cannot hold a thought or produce innovation.

Under the best of circumstances it is a task to find a path through life, come to recognize what we know to be our own personal truth and stand with that information, regardless of the situation. We need our energy, our rest, our clarity. I have come to feel that intentional chaos surrounds us, put there for the purpose of keeping us from the quiet in which we are able to find our way. Some years ago I recognized an uncommon virtue which I call "a capacity for stillness." In this stillness I find whatever wisdom I can access and what resonates within me as my truth. In chaos I become confused.

From now until Nov. 4 and, I can only trust, days beyond that, I have to remember that quiet is my ally and my source of renewal. Noise, news and uproar cause me to lose my bearings and my strength, I am Dorothy in the field of poppies, deflected from my purpose. None of us can function adequately in the midst of constant stress - and this doesn't even take into account all the personal crises with which we are faced, the ones that have to be processed and addressed.

I was led to stillness by losing my health which, ironically, was the result of running on empty for too long. I have come to know it as a great gift and become impatient with myself when I allow it to be interrupted by someone else whose hair seems to be on fire, but, in fact, is not. So I sleep and rest, draw and color, have calm conversations where laughter is the goal and focus simply on where next to set my foot. The tank begins to fill.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lyndon Street Neighbors

A short update on the stair walking - 17 out of 19 days, and off to climb when I've finished typing. A day of fatigue after the show on Sept. 28 and one day of 103 degree temperature caused me to allow myself a little slack. I cannot say if it was my best idea, but it was what I could manage and I am back.

What I have found - there is a precedent, so I shouldn't be surprised - as I wobble down and up the stairs, probably creating an alarming image of unsteadiness, which is not really true for while there is wobble there is also steadiness, is the number of neighbors who have asked if they could help me, did I need a hand. In each case I've said that this is practice I have to do but so appreciated their kindness, the fact that they asked. On that first day, one neighbor was just waiting at the top of the steps and helped me manage that last increment.

Nearly two years ago my son was acutely ill and his recovery took months, during which time our building manager and many of our neighbors helped carry packages up the stairs (it was Christmas), helped me bring groceries from the car - my mobility was greater in those days - and took trash to the bin. Our apartment is built around a courtyard and kindness poured from both floors, every door. Younger tenants simply came and took the grocery bags, and our manager told me just to leave anything that needed to be trown out on the balcony where he would see it as he made his evening rounds. I thanked each for every act of kindness and eventually posted a collective letter of appreciation by the mailboxes. I don't know what I would have done without them.

Today I received e-mail which spoke of our currently uncertain times and how we have strength we may have forgotten, the strength of being there for each other. I am grateful to live among people who notice, who pay attention, who act, who care. While none of them may ever read this, it gives me the opportunity to say thank you all over again and to re-examine the difference that can be made by a single hand extended in kindness and support.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You can go home again

On Sept. 28 I returned to my home stamping store, Stamp Your Heart Out in Claremont, CA, to demo a new collection, The Un-Usual Suspects. My timeline may be off, but I think the last time I did a demo there was around 1998 or 1999. Sunday's pencil coloring was scheduled to run for two hours and when it was over, I wished I'd signed up to be there at least all afternoon, probably all day. Not that there would be a day's worth of coloring tips to share, but if there was an ebb and flow of viewers, repeating the same information for each new group would have been a pleasure.

It was a day so filled with the most yummy goodness that I can hardly process it and I thank everyone who attended, Joan Bunte who invited me and who offered the hospitable welcome that SYHO regulars have come to know and appreciate. I thank the staff, those who were working, those who showed up in support. Familiar names and faces from classes and demos long, long ago. That I was there at all is the result of support from so many friends and family members and the good fortune which came my way when Stampington wanted to take an odd bouquet of characters and share them with the world.

Going home again, in the very best sense, is how the day felt, as though many missing elements had been found and restored and I could only wonder at the state of body and mind that caused me to let them slip away. It may not be home in any precise definition, but I believe we can find a place and a piece of ourselves, familiar as a childhood lunchbox turning up at a swap meet, where we can be comfortable, welcome, happy and grateful.

From such seemingly ordinary and unimportant acts as drawing and coloring on envelopes - busy-hands, quiet-mind - a life, a passion, a calling have emerged. It is a life I share with people who bring their dreams out into the open, people for whom half-measures are unknown, people who are sometimes willing, as my cousin would say, to let their freak flags fly (and long may we wave), people authentic and kind, endearingly unique, people who have never really lost sight of home for they carry it - and everything that matters - in their hearts.

My then-adolescent sister had a book she read over and over, "The Luckiest Girl." If they need an updated version, I have a suggestion about whom to call.

Let's do this again...soon.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let me direct your attention

Because I could not possibly state it any better, I shall refer you to

and her newest posting about the Un-Usual Suspects and a demo I'll be doing on Sept. 28 in Claremont, CA at Stamp Your Heart Out. Lisa offers links to the store, to me and to Stampington for anyone interested in ordering. Thank you, Lisa, for such a generous showcase. Anyone in the vicinity, please stop by. It would be wonderful to meet you and have you get to know Joan Bunte and her colorful, creative shop.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Making way for something new often demands moving (I used the term intentionally) outside the familiar or comfortable. I live on the second floor of a two-story apartment building, up (and down) 16 very steep steps. I have arthritic knees and I spent the summer drawing, coloring, staring, drooling, reading and not going out much. I did not practice my stair walking. I am having to come up with a whole new plan.

Approach tried and rejected: wake up, shower, dink around with e-mail or the newspaper or phone calls, then suit up for The Stairs, by which time I am tired and unfocused, sometimes totally intimidated by how far down the courtyard looks, and how high the second-floor walkway will seem from the courtyard.

New approach: a baseball cap to hide hair that could frighten the neighbors, getting suited up and ready to march as soon as the leaving-for-work traffic has thinned out. In more disciplined times, I learned to avoid the stairs during the high school lunch period; I am slow, a truly generous description, and hungry teenagers have not a minute to waste or wait. Always polite, I knew they felt that anything under the speed limit should be off the road. A carefully selected window of time, after rush hour, before midday heat. I am wobbly and wish I were more brave, strong, young, fit and never, ever procrastinated. But in this moment, I am and I do those things.

The Clean-Your-Plate connection. For me it requires becoming very clear about what matters most. If I had one wish and that wish would be greater strength, endurance and agility, there is my answer. First things first. If I find that I am tired after doing other tasks of dubious virtue before I exercise, I am not putting the top item at the top of the day. For me this assignment is plain, hard work and a baseball cap with simple, comfortable clothes makes it somewhat easier. Shower after the exercise? What a notion. There was a recent day when we had an earthquake, luckily far enough away to do no damage in our town but the thought of having to scramble down those stairs in an seemed that rolling me down them like a log would be easier and hurt less.

This may seem like a foolish, completely self-induced problem to the young, the fit and the never-put-off-until-tomorrow crowd. We all have our demons and the holes into which our good sense falls from time to time. Over the years I have had numerous well-meaning friends who, on a vast list of my obvious shortcomings have started sentences with, "...but couldn't you just..." If I could, I would. I can't imagine any of us choosing to feel so insufficient intentionally. I really believe we each do the best we can. When that best becomes better, we do it that way.

I have to own neglecting something vital. By staying occupied creating art and stories, I tried to embezzle myself a little slack, ascribing virtues to what I had done and shrugging my shoulders at the things I had not. And now important dates are looming for which I want to reach my car, drive off to see people and do things. I missed one significant event because I had not prepared and felt heartbroken for it. I hope to take inspiration from your stories and carry your determination with me as I make those downward steps, asking mercy from whatever protectors look out for imperfect joints. And imperfection in general.

Thursday morning P.S. I took my words to heart and did 12 of the 16 steps, the top, last one with a neighbor's assistance. Yesterday I barely managed 3. When I posted my entry yesterday I felt terribly exposed. Today I feel encouraged.

Monday, September 8, 2008


What is more desirable than skills or mad skills which would be the hyperactivated version of an ordinary, utility-grade skill? A friend's recent e-mail about being adrift in a sea of downsizing and the question of where to go, how to market one's self and the very real doubt about whether the job you are trying so hard to win is one you could even imagine getting up in the morning and going to, reminded me of a favorite quote (paraphrased and unattributed), which says, "Not everything that counts in life can be counted."

Quite a few years ago, a shift in circumstances turned my life from one of end-to-end activity - family, job, volunteer work, freelancing, 12-step meetings, workshops, interning - to one of simply being. In that state of being, I realized that I had what I call a capacity for stillness. I can spend time with myself without distraction and have discovered that useful information, perhaps it is guidance, comes to me in this state. It is, for me, an essential skill, yet how likely is it that we'll find it on a list of desirable qualifications for any job? Unless you know of a place that is hiring contemplatives.

Is it our skills, learned processes for accomplishing tasks, or our essential nature that we need to recognize as the gift we bring to any situation? Yes, I wish I'd gone to trade school and learned how to repair cars. Yes, I would like to be brilliant with a computer, rather than occasionally lucky. Yes, I'm glad I learned to type when I was an adolescent, glad I had the experience of learning something about video taping and editing, back in the old analog days, glad I learned to drive a car, glad that once upon a time I could edit a story while reading it backward in metal type. Skills matter. But so do the odd, unclassifiable, arcane and quirky talents we bring with us. Think of us all as "...strange visitors from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men." A soaring imagination, a gift for remembering the smallest bit of information, a (some might call) peculiar sense of humor, being able to know how ingredients will taste when combined in a recipe, intuition, a capacity for stillness.

In honor of all who, at this moment, are looking for a job, a better job, or to discover their life's calling, regardless of age, I offer this: bring the best of you, your authentic self, the desires of your heart, and the knowledge that no test or interview is a measure of who you are, never has been, never will be. Celebrate all your mad skills.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Un-Usual Suspects

For those interested, the new line of clear polymer stamp sets from Stampington & Co., including full-color samples and my coloring tips, may be found at

The Stampington website offers information on all their products including publications (Somerset Studio, among many others) and calls for submissions to current and future magazines/books. You may also sign up for their on-line newsletter.

If you are fortunate enough to live near a rubber stamp or scrapbooking store, please ask your retailer if they will be carrying this product. If you are new to stamping with the clear polymer dies you will also need a set of acrylic blocks (available from Stampington and others) on which to mount them. Once you've worked with clear stamps and can see exactly where your image is being placed, it may cause you to remember all those cards (or envelopes) over all those years which had to make up for stamps that didn't land just right.

Any stampers who love working with color pencils will find the Un-Usual Suspects offer the chance for endless variations. And the comprehensive coloring tips that come with each set will, I hope, inspire everyone to take pencils in hand and see what happens.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Wonder of Resilience

Talking with a friend who spoke of tiredness which he thought was caused by the heat, I suggested that perhaps there was something more going on, something more universal. My experience of the moment seems to have components of wariness, a harboring of energies (meaning no willy-nilly expenditures), the sense of circumstances requiring us to be serious, viewing events from a Big Picture perspective and not becoming dazzled and distracted by the loud, lurid and trivial.

It is a time in which many of the people either close to me or close to those I love are trying to find their way through enormous losses. A beloved husband, mother, sister, nephew; a small, smart dog who was family; a vanished job; diminishing eyesight; a home forefeit; dreams of retirement and safety evaporated; gloomy medical projections that, while not actually here, cause sleepless nights.

And I don't imagine that these tales are unique to my community. That we are all in this together becomes clearer as we have a chance to tell pieces of the story as we know it. And yet...I remain, as I have been for some years, overwhelmed by our resilience, our ability to grieve and still congratulate a friend on some current success, the way we can actually weep and laugh at the same time, the skill with which we can plan and hope while watching something of irretrievable value slip away. We are all, on wildly varying scales, survivors of catastrophe; I don't know of a life that has never been touched by grief or trauma or loss. And still songs are written, cartoons that are actually funny appear in the daily papers, impossible cakes are dreamed of, baked and enjoyed, babies, weddings, new ventures and old movies cause us to smile.

For my 50th birthday party I made laminated pins, a pair for each guest's treat bag - a birthday without treat bags? No. One pin said, "The first 50 years are the hardest," which I have of course revised as time has passed. The second said, "In spite of everything there is laughter." I haven't changed my mind about that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Where We Meet

My father was a writer. He treasured history, nature, words that had fallen from popular usage and the printed page. He would sometimes end a phone call or letter with, "Leave a note under the rock," which I always took to mean regardless of events, we would devise a way to be in touch.

Today, my second day of reading and responding to comments from kindred spirits met and unmet who have found this blog, I thought of the phrase which has stayed with me these many decades. What we are doing, as I interpret it, is leaving each other notes under the rock. As each one passes by, she picks up the message, reads it, adds whatever thoughts or images it has sparked and puts it back for the next pilgrim. And the words or their intention circle back to us, whether under the rock, over the wires or through simple telepathy. It took me some time to understand how a blog, unlovely as the word is, might enrich my life and expand my world and, I can only hope, allow me to do the same as I leave my rock-weighted note and walk away.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Street Team Challenge #22 - I'd Like to Thank...

Imagine yourself as one whose name is read when they open the envelope during some Hollywood awards show. You have mere seconds before the orchestra plays you off stage. How could that possibly be enough time to thank everyone who has helped you reach this moment? Be prepared. Start your list.

Where are you today - in your creative, spiritual, financial, personal, professional or any other version of your life? Where might you be were it not for all the love, teaching, effort, faith, trust, friendship, kindness or reckless enthusiasm that has been poured into you over the years? Who stood behind each of those blessings, large or small? For today, we can think our gratitude. We can reach back for the names and the uplifting acts. We can move out of our minds and into our hearts, clear that our success, our very survival, is the result of so many people who extended themselves for us in ways that were nothing less than the answers to prayers.

For today, give yourself the gift of remembering. Be present in the moments that shaped you and gave you courage, that taught you to believe in yourself. See the faces, hear the voices, recall the words. For today, simply allow the experience of goodness to be replayed. Sit in the knowledge that we are here with, for and because of each other. We can work on the speech tomorrow.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Beginning

August 7, 2008

For anyone who finds this, it is a week (as they all are) of blessings, one of them being that I discovered press releases when I googled myself, trying to see about having this blog be one of the google entries so readers can be sent here. A new line of clear polymer rubber stamps sets based on drawings of mine is in production by Stampington and Co., due to be released this month, and marketing director Sarah Meehan prepared and distributed (who knew there were so many on-line public relations sites?) a press release - oddly, one of my previous careers - with information about the stamp sets and the fact that each set will include detailed instructions for working with color pencils, assisting customers in duplicating the color samples.

It is also a week when the reminders are all around me that we are here to offer support, comfort, cheer - whatever useful things we bring to the table - to one another. As friends have taught me, one of the most significant gifts we have to offer is our witness, that we can hear and affirm each others' experiences. Sometimes the fact that someone listens is enough.