Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays

Here's my holiday card...

Snow Days

Wow...Seattle has gotten about 12" of snow in the last week. I stuck an 18" metal ruler in the snowdrift on my patio table and it disappeared to the 12" mark (and YES, I was measuring the right way.) Given that the very mention of the word "snow" sends Seattlites into fits of panic, I had a couple of good, old-fashioned snow days. And in all fairness, icy hilly streets that haven't been plowed are akin to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride which I'm happy to avoid as well.

So that meant I unexpectedly had free time to dink around in my studio. I made my Holiday Cards and got a little obsessed with incorporating design elements from Gustav Klimt into my drawings.

Here's how I spent my time..

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hero Rats!

Yesterday, an acquaintance told me the most amazing thing. Rats (yep, the heretofore underappreciated garden-variety rodents) are being trained to literally sniff out landmines. Because their sense of smell is so acute and they are easily trained to do repetitive tasks they are ideally suited for this dangerous work.

According to the International Red Cross, more than 100 million landmines have been deployed in over 90 countries. That's one hundred MILLION. That's a lot of zeroes…plenty to kill or maim about 50 people a day. And because landmines are usually used in underdeveloped countries without sufficient resources to detect and remove them, whole tracts of land become off-limits to families for farming, children playing and trucking in much-needed supplies.

Enter HeroRATS, the brainchild of a Belgian organization. About 10 years ago, this group realized that trained rats would be a low cost, efficient and local way of addressing this problem.

The rats' training begins at the tender age of 5 weeks. First they're conditioned to become used to the sights and sounds of the world. Can you just picture these little guys on tiny leashes, noses twitching, GOING FOR RIDES, MEETING NEW PEOPLE?
After that, they're trained to associate their handler's clicking sounds with rewards of bananas or peanuts (cheap and available in developing countries). When the rats are finally trained to detect particular smells, they become full-fledged HeroRATS.

NOTE: It's common knowledge that the dream of every rat is to become a HeroRAT! Note that "HeroRAT" should be said with the same enthusiasm and cadence as "SuperMan". Watch An Amazing HeroRAT in Action!

HeroRATS have 3 different job descriptions…some sniff out the presence of explosives in soil samples, others work on-site finding hidden landmines, and yet others are trained to detect the presence of tuberculosis in sputum samples. Tuberculosis, you ask? Yes! TB is a huge problem in Africa. HeroRATS can evaluate 40 samples in 10 minutes, equal to what a skilled lab technician using a microscope can do in 2 days. Catching and treating TB early can stop the spread of this deadly disease.

And if you now find yourself worrying about the courageous little buggers, be assured that because of their small size, HeroRATS don't trigger the landmines. They simply scratch the soil where they find one and then move on. To learn more or to adopt a HeroRAT, check out

Not the blues

And just to shake up the color scheme a little's some red for you.

Dr Hill, I Presume?

This collage contains an old Rolodex-style index card that identifes Dr. John Wesley Hill as a "prominent peace speaker" from New York. Isn't that mysterious? Who typed up that card? For what purpose? It makes me wonder what flotsam and jetsam from my life might end up in someone's artwork years from now.
I did some cybersleuthing on "the google" and determined that in 1915 Dr. Hill was president of the International Peace Forum. Its purpose was "to promote industrial and international peace by encouraging a systematic study of the causes of strikes, lock-outs and war, and the best methods of bringing about conciliation." Works for me...

More photographic wonderfulness...

I happened upon a roll of this "Jantzen" ribbon at a garage sale last summer. It must have been made for undergarments or swimsuits (notice the little diving figure?) I have no idea what size "26" is, but I'm pretty sure I haven't been it for a long time.

The Bird is the Word!

I'm really happy with the series of stitched paper collages I did a few months ago, if I say so myself. I'm going to teach this project at the Salvage Studio next spring and have my fingers crossed to teach at another venue next summer. The photos were taken by my stupendously fabulous photographer friend Julie Sotomura.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Modern Hair Salon Philosopher

Yesterday morning I went in for a long overdue haircut.

What always happens is that I wait too long to make an appointment, then in a single nanosecond my hair becomes too long for me to stand for one more minute and I decide to trim it myself despite my utter lack of training. I grab a pair of craft scissors, do that little comb-a-section-straight-up-and-hold-it-between-two-fingers-and-cut-at-the-top thing I've seen my hairdresser do bazillions of times. I can manage the front and sides, but since I can't hold a mirror AND cut, the back gets neglected.

Because my hair is somewhat curly and, shall we say, on the "casual" side, it usually looks OK for a few weeks. Then the parts I didn't cut get way too long and I can't even them up and I sheepishly go in for an actual haircut by someone who knows what she's doing and who never chastises me for taking matters into my own hands.

That someone is Hahn, who owns Hahn's Modern Hair Salon not far from my house. One reason I love going there is because the salon is so NOT modern it's a kick. The tiny shop is maybe 10 x 20 feet. There is not a separate area to get your hair washed; instead, you sit in a single chair and Hahn swivels you one direction, lays your seat back and washes your hair in a sink that unexpectedly appears under a hinged counter. When she's finished, she sits you back up, swivels the chair the other way and proceeds to cut your hair.

It's what I imagine it would be like getting your hair cut on an airplane.

There aren't any fancy smocks or capes...just a little towel clipped around your neck. If I don't change my shirt afterwards, the itchy little hair fragments work their way down my back throughout the day. She charges a whopping $19.

Anyway, another reason I love Hahn is that she is one of the most upbeat and expressive people I know. She chatters away in heavily accented English, never missing a snip even if her phone rings or someone else enters her salon. And she never fails to ask about my life, following up on whatever we talked about last time.

Yesterday, I was watching her in the mirror and she sighed deeply and said, "You know I sigh when there's something on my mind." Being so insightful I'm very nearly clairvoyant I asked, "So what's on your mind, Hahn?" And she told me that her sister in Vietnam died last Sunday after being recently diagnosed with cancer. She said she knows her sister is in a better place and isn't suffering anymore, and for that, she's glad.

I asked Hahn if she and her family are Buddhists. She said yes but added that she personally celebrates all sorts of religious holidays. And then she summed up her personal philosophy with, "If it's good I do it; if it's bad I don't."

It doesn't get much simpler than that. Good...yes. Distinctions easy to focus on when life gets complicated. And maybe that's why Hahn seems so happy every time I see her.

Hahn was celebrating 10 years of being in business by letting her patrons choose a little bottle of lotion. I had never before encountered (or even imagined) the two quirky scents that were available...Berry Merry Rose and Pumpkin Butter Juicie. Pumpkin lotion? I opened one up and took a whiff. Yep, it was definitely pumpkin, with a pale orange color to match. I didn't hesitate...I chose that one because I love pumpkin pie, not just at Thanksgiving, but any time.

Pumpkin was good, so I did it. Doesn't get much simpler than that.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Never in a zillion years...

...would I have attempted this:

What it would look like...

I loved the starkness of Mirjam Bruck-Cohen's weaving entitled Verbal Abuse.

Cats, yarn, prototypes and bubbles

I just found out that the deadline for submitting workshop proposals for the next Art Fiber Fest is in a few days. It's an annual art retreat organized by Teesha and Tracy Moore and it's basically a smaller, fabric/fiber version of ArtFest. I taught at Art Fiber Fest for its first two years and it was fabulously, wonderfully fun. Go here and look under Workshops to find out more.

Anyway, I'm completely booked tonight and my weekend is literally packed from 5pm Fri until 10pm Sunday. That means I've got to come up with samples, photograph them and write up descriptions on Wednesday and Thursday evening. Eeek!

Last night I spread out a bunch of yarn and fabric and started prototyping like mad. My beloved cats, not understanding the dire nature of my schedule, offered to help. Their version of helping is to turn skeins of yarn into tangled piles that resemble nothing so much as hairballs.

I found myself getting exasperated with them and then I took a few seconds to look into their furry little faces and I really saw how happy and playful they were being and really, how much I loved them. So I took a few minutes to play and cuddle with them before I went back to my project.

So...I am envisioning being in a bubble of "creativity, focus and ease" to carry me through the next few days. Stay tuned; I'll post said photographs of said prototypes as soon as I take them.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Why I Can't Remember Important Things

I've known for some time that my brain is cluttered with useless information. No matter that humans supposedly use only a fraction of their brain best parts have been stuffed with goofball tidbits (like the YMCA Swim Song in my previous post) which prevent me from remembering things other than my library card number.

Take for example this lesson I learned in elementary school, possibly from the same geography book that enamored me of Kira. We were studying a country in Africa (again, that little detail escapes me) whose government was initiating a census so they could plan infrastructure improvements. In order to educate the citizens about the census and alleviate fear about strangers poking around their communities, the following song was widely broadcast:

"One, two, three, four
Who's that stranger at your door?
Five, six, seven, eight,
It's the census man to enumerate.

Enumerate? Yes, he's to count
Numbers of people; it's paramount.
Information vital to our government
For planning our future development."

I shudder to think what I might be like when I'm old(er) and doddering(er). Am I going to sit somewhere and torment my caregivers with endless renditions of chanty little rhymes? When asked what I want for dinner will I wag an arthritic finger as I respond, "Is that the census man to enumerate?" I SO apologize in advance to anyone who ends up putting up with that.
The picture came from here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Library Love

I LOVE my local library. I just love it. Except for the occasional indulgence, I don't buy books anymore. The library sends me an email twice a month listing new books they've received in the categories I've specified (books on tape, oui! craft books, oui! cookbooks, non!). I decide what I want and put them on hold via computer, then I get an email when they're in and I pop by to pick them up. It could not be easier.

And you want to hear something really funny? I don't remember anyone's phone numbers (I mean, my daughters are Speed Dial 1 and Speed Dial 2), and I barely remember passwords and PIN codes, but I have my library card number memorized.

I remember going to the library across the street from my elementary school. It was one of those old, musty, dusty places where you checked books out by laboriously writing your name (well, it seemed hard as an 8 year old) in pencil on a little lined checkout card. How on earth did they ever keep track of books? How many were actually returned? Maybe the honor system was such that they actually got most of them back.

The Patron Saint of Artgirl Island

Frida, as a collage under glass...

When artgirlfriends destash...

...this is what you get. A very cool glass flower with vintage stamen in the center. Thank you Jamie!

The Original Artgirl Island

Isn't this title the best? Published in 1935, the Secret Museum of Mankind contains an impressive collection of grainy photos of people from all over the word, some of which seem mysterious and exotic even today. Tattoos, gravity-defying headdresses, impossibly stretched's all in there.
When I was in 4th grade, I remember the first assignment we were given in our Geography class. I don't recall exactly which South Pacific island group we were studying, but the young girl's name was Kira. She lived with her family in a thatched roof hut that had a crushed coral pathway leading to the beach. She wove palm fronds to make mats to sleep on. She collected shells and coconuts and swam in the ocean. Her skin was smooth and brown and her long hair was shiny black. Her life was perfect, carefree. I wanted to live on an island like Kira...I wanted to BE Kira. The single drawback was the crushed coral path that would surely ruin my feet, but I read that the soles of Kira's feet were accustomed to the hot sand and rough rocks, and I had faith mine would acclimate, also.
Our assignment was to recreate Kira's dwelling and island. How perfect...I would make a miniature DIORAMA! Weren't dioramas just the coolest things when we were kids? I threw myself into the assignment. I wove together raggedy strips of green construction paper to create the roof and sleeping mats. I covered a cut-down oatmeal box with brown paper to make the hut. It seems like I tried to glue down some sand (where would I have gotten sand?) around the hut. Listing construction-paper palm trees surrounded the hut and I defined the ocean with a blue marker.
This assignment made me so happy I decided I LOVED geography. I could not wait for the next chapter and my next artistic inspiration. But the next section was about a little boy who lived in Finland, in a normal looking house. Ack! A boy! Ice and snow! A boring house! A picture of him in a sauna with other boys! Double ack! That's when I realized it wasn't geography I was the notion of living on an island paradise.

Maybe these grow in a Himalayan valley?

Growing up, my favorite book of all time was Lost Horizon, the story of Shangri-La. I never understood why anyone wanted to leave.

20,000 Leagues Under The Martian Sea

Many, many soft wings

Silly Cat Head

Don't you just love the expression on this little guy's face? I bought him at the Mukilteo Artists Garage Sale (a don't-miss event if you're in the Seattle area); I think perhaps the rest of him got broken off or something. But all I needed was his silly little head anyway.

Bottles of Blue

This picture was from my last blog, but I liked it so much I'm bringing it back.

What would YOU do?

In this time of change, possibility and hope, I find myself wondering how the large events that are unfolding will impact us as individuals...and what effect each and every one of us can have on the big picture.

How many of us have some dream we have not achieved...something fluttering in our hearts that is calling to us to set it free?

Is it the fear of failure that holds us back? The fear of success? Not knowing what to do? Not having a team behind us to support and inspire us? Are we convinced that no single person could possibly make that kind of difference?

What if we weren't constrained by our worries, our resignation? What if contribution to each of our communities was absolutely integrated into our way of living? What if we allowed ourselves to be raised up on the shoulders of those around us, and we automatically lent a hand in turn? What if the world's children were raised to believe that anything was possible?

So the question I'm pondering is, "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?"

What if you aimed for "no child goes hungry" and you "only" managed to feed 10 or 100 or 1000? That would be a game worth playing, wouldn't it? In your quiet moments of reflection would you feel like a a failure? Of course not. There would be more work to do, but you would know the difference YOU made on this planet.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bees are cool, too

Here's a page from an altered book entitled, "The Life of Bees". I kinda like the window in the mica effect, if I say so myself. Such a mysterious statement..."she listens, untroubled, to the murmur of inferior instincts out there in the darkness". What does that conjure up for you?

Zebra birds heading for an after school snack

And speaking of is a Jamie Johnson painting featuring her patented zebra-striped momma and baby bird flying home from school. OK, I made up the "flying home from school" part, but I did NOT make up how wondrously talented our Jamie is.

The birds covet the people

A girlfriend of mine (Maureen…you know it's you) told me about a "friend" who famously misunderstood the lyrics to the old classic, The First Cut is the Deepest. According to Maureen, this friend thought the words were, "Baby I know…the birds covet the people". Which is pretty damn funny. I mean, why on earth would anyone actually write a song about birds being really sad and downtrodden because they want to be more like us????

But you know what the worst part is? Once you hear the WRONG lyrics, it's almost impossible to get them out of your head. They're like a zillion times more powerful than the correct lyrics. We've all heard, "Blinded by the light…wrapped up like a _____", right? And no matter how many times I have read what the right lyrics are, I always, always think they're singing about you-know-what...which is equally bizarre, because why would anyone be singing about THAT?