August 29, 2015

Finding Stavewood

My husband likes television. I am much less of a fan. Many evenings you can find us, him with the remote control in his hand, relaxing on the sofa and me with a project or my tablet in my hand looking up inspirational ideas. He seems to gravitate towards programs looking for a scientific explanation for something. For example, he recently turned on a program where they were trying to figure out what it was the three wise men were following to the birthplace of Christ. Was it a star, a comet, a planet? Long before they answered the question I lost interest while searching for crochet patterns. Another time he watched a program where they were trying to figure out why the Aztecs had off-center staircases in their buildings.. This got me to thinking.

I imagined a time, very far into the future. A time long past you or I, when the world has changed radically. That's not so hard to do really. I see how much the world has changed in just my short lifetime. In many lifetimes it will have changed much more radically. In this far-in-the-future time I imagined archaeologists coming across a copy of Stavewood. What if we stopped printing paper books and all that was left was eBooks? When the terminators or whatever come they will have wiped out the memory banks and all electronically written words will be lost, all but whatever hard-copy books were tucked away, by us, ancient man.
The future man finds Stavewood and begins to read. It has a location, Minnesota. He might know where Minnesota once was. There's also a map of Stavewood.

The map of Stavewood

On the map there's a river, and buildings and a creek. If future man searched archives of maps of the planet would he look for the Towhee River? If he read the book he would know what the houses looked like. If he were to find all of the books in the series he would know even more about Stavewood and the secrets that lie within. 

Like the early astronomers would he imagine that it was once real, like they had one time imagined there were canals on Mars? Would he wonder what it would have been like to live there and why the people in the novel made the life choices they made? In a far future would the morals of man have changed so drastically that he would struggle to understand the people in the story? Would he question if it were simply a story, or maybe more? Would he think it quaint that in 2013 we lived the way that is described in the book? I imagine him, on the future television, wearing a rather odd haircut, like the fellows who conjecture about aliens, trying to explain how Stavewood existed and what it had to have been like. It could be interesting.

This is why I have trouble paying attention to television.

Please visit again next week!

August 22, 2015

Color Me Calm


    Coloring. I have loved it since I was a kid. One of my fondest memories was the birthday that my grandmother gave me a big box of crayons. I had climbed the tall flight of stairs to her apartment on 11th Street in Santa Monica, Ca and found her there in her little kitchen, her quilting scraps waiting to be pressed on the Formica table. The room was sparse and bright with philodendrons gracing either side of the tiny window. My Grandma ‘Lena was a wonderful dumpling of a woman with a kind face and huge heart. That day she asked me if she were very wrinkled. She was in her mid-sixties. I looked at her and thought, yeah, she was kind of wrinkly, but until that moment I had never noticed and I never noticed again. I told her, no, she wasn’t too wrinkly. She smiled and told me she had a surprise for me and gave me a box of Crayola crayons, the big box with the sharpener in the back. I was so excited I thought I would cry. I cracked it open and neatly arranged inside were 64 colors of pure art just begging to erupt onto paper. It was heaven in a green and yellow box.

      I loved to draw. My father worked for a paper factory when I was very young and we always had rolls of paper. Yards of a slick, white sheet that would roll out to create an aisle of creativity. Later, when we purchased sheets of paper I took ideas from the kits you could buy in the supermarket. I made my own paper dolls and designed dresses with big, generous tabs to fold to keep them on. I would sketch the dolls on paper and glue them to the cardboard from cereal boxes. I remember saying I liked certain kinds of cereal because their boxes had more subtle designs that didn’t show through the glued on picture of the doll. They didn't look too unattractive if left exposed on the back of the doll either. Once, when I was able to buy a “real” paper doll set I was grimly disappointed that the cardboard used for the dolls was so flimsy.

      Of course, in a household with six children, the crayons were used up quickly, broken and sharpened into waxy nubs, shared and loved by all of us. Now and again, on special occasions, we would be gifted with a real “coloring book” and to this day I can remember the thrill.

      When my own children were young they always had crayons and all the art supplies I could afford for them. I must admit it was partly a selfish act because I needed art supplies in the house for myself as well.
      For years, after supper, my children and a few of their friends from the neighborhood would take the crayons to the dining room table and gather to listen. My husband has not only a wonderful singing voice, but he is what I have often called the best "reader out-louder" I have ever heard.  And so he read. He read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, in character, To Kill a Mockingbird and then later more contemporary books like Forrest Gump and Dances with Wolves. My daughter listened to those stories while doodling quietly. My son preferred to just listen. They and their friends sat as quiet as mice, lost in their father’s great reading voice and colored quietly. Parenting is sometimes difficult but in those moments it never was.

An image from the Angie Grace book Balance done in Bic Ultra-Fine markers

      So now, many years later, I have discovered new and amazing coloring books. Books with pen and ink roses and buildings, birds and gardens and intricate circles. Like the promise of kaleidoscopes captured on paper, the drawings beg to be brought to life. Armed with my collection of colored pencils, markers and of course, crayons, I have rediscovered coloring.

      There are books now for adult coloring everywhere, in the craft shops and bookstores, online and in person. There seems to be little information about the art other than an article here and there by a psychiatrist or two saying how coloring is good for your high blood pressure or how wonderful it is for relieving stress. Many things that children enjoy fall into those categories. Here and there are bits of information about supplies. Maybe there’s not much because it is basically pretty simple.
      Many of the new adult coloring books are much more intricate than those designed for children, especially very young children. Now you need to keep your coloring confined into much smaller spaces. I like coloring inside the lines, it requires concentration and dexterity and somehow seems to make your mind forget about everything else except putting color into a tiny little spot. The world slips away and all that matters right for that moment is getting that color into that space. Perfect concentration.

From Angie Grace's Balance done in Crayola pencils

      Some of the books have bolder drawings with backgrounds designed for another type of coloring: shading. A massive rose on the paper requires you to imagine a light source. Where does the sun fall on the petals of a rose? What color is the shadow that lies beneath the curls of those fragile petals? You must decide if you want your rose to look real, or if you want it to test the eye of the viewer when the shadows fall in unorthodox ways onto the rose.

Roses done in Copic markers

      Like many forms of art, even simple coloring can become a bit of a pricey pursuit. A good box of high quality crayons won’t set you back much, but a nice metal tin of slender colored pencils, the professionally smooth type, can get expensive. There are several brands of markers, in a wide variety of package sizes and tip widths you can buy. You can color with the markers they sell for children’s crafts and posters, but you might prefer the ultra-fine tipped markers that let you color a tiny section as big as the head of a pin. Over the years I have gathered many different types of tools for drawing and coloring and I have tried some of the most popular and easily available.

A mixture of Crayola pencils and Bic markers

     I have used not only crayons by Crayola but their colored pencils as well and liked them. They are a good, affordable medium with smooth lead and a varied range of colors. For under $5 you can still get that reliable box of 64 crayons and for something in the range of $15 Crayola now makes a giant box of 152 colors. Yum. For a nice set of Crayola wooden pencils you would have to shell out a whopping $10 and they would last you a really long time. It's plenty of relaxation and entertainment for the money.

My coloring basket

      If you want something more vivid in your coloring experience you can get bright markers with names like Bic and Sharpie, about 36 in a set for about $25. For a bonus, if the art bleeds through your paper, which you should expect it will, you get that lovely dreamlike version of your art on the back of the page. If I color pages from a coloring book I always take them out of the book first. If you don’t, you should seriously consider slipping a few sheets of scrap paper between pages to avoid bleeding. The bleed on the back is very pretty, but not if it ruins the the following page. Personally I like to use one of those lap pillows with a hard surface when I color. I like to turn the paper as I work, another advantage to tearing or cutting out the page. I also tape a small scrap of paper to my work surface. The caps on the colors, or the painted outside of colored pencils don't always represent the real color as it will appear on the paper so I scribble on the scrap piece to see what color I'll get.

The back side where the markers have bled through the paper.
From Angie Grace's Balance done in Bic Ultra-Fine markers

      If you're really artistic, and you’ve grown tired of the simpler coloring supplies, you might want to invest in professional colors. There are choices there as well. Prismacolor makes professional pencils for the real enthusiast. For about $60 you can get a lovely, tidy tin filled with 48 high quality pencils in gorgeous colors. And, if you want the crème-de-la-crème of markers take a look the Copic markers that run about three hundred bucks for a set of 36. After you catch your breath, be aware that these are the markers of master illustrators. Their colors blend into one another seamlessly and they even make a marker that will subtly take away color so that you might get the light shining off those rose petals almost as perfect as Mother Nature painted them. Almost, and if you are very good.

Lap pillow and scrap paper for testing colors.

           In whatever medium you choose to lose yourself, try the delightful art of coloring. If you have ever enjoyed a quiet moment filling in a sketched illustration or ever felt the humble pleasure of simply relaxing with crayons just for the joy of it, then enjoy it again. Maybe it is the perfect thing to put on your holiday list for yourself or someone else who might enjoy this gentle art. There are many places online you can download free adult coloring pages. With even a little box of eight crayons you can let the worries of the day slip away, just for a little while and become childlike again, quiet with your colors and a moment of contentment.

From Creative Heaven's Peacock book in Bic Ultra-Fine Markers

Please visit again!

August 15, 2015

My Father

 My father and I

      I remember my father as a man with too much energy. Many of my recollections of him involve some fix-up job he was doing around the house. I recall late nights with the Los Angeles Dodgers playing on the transistor radio, a portable little gadget in the leather case with a pattern of tiny holes punched into it to let out the sound from the speakers. There he was, tall and Swedish and lanky, running metal conduit into the bedroom walls. It was a long aluminum snake designed to house electrical wire and it rippled and zipped and rattled as he shoved into into the wall cavity. It had to have been ten o'clock at night. Like a termite, whenever he was home it was likely he was in a white t-shirt, chewing something up.

My father laying brick 

     Over the years our water heater was in about three different locations in that house, although I don't recall the reasons why he was unhappy that it was in one place or another. Now I sometimes wonder if he just wasn't ever satisfied. Eventually he situated it in a laundry room by the back door. The room must have been an addition, since a large window in our bathroom opened into it. It was handy, in our crazy household, to shove our wet towels through that window after Saturday night baths. They would fall, sometimes long neglected, onto that attached laundry room floor. I don't remember the house ever being finished, as long as I lived there, and after my mother passed away his projects all but stopped in that place.

My parents

      He drank, and it wasn't until years later that I understood the ramifications of that. I still, even in my sixties, struggle with trying to understand him. Drinking brought out the worst in him. I try very hard to find the best. It is what I really would like to remember after all.

      In his constant pursuit for home improvement I recall what came to be know as "the block wall". It all began on winter's evening when a storm blew threw Venice, California and took down the wooden fence between our yard and the neighbor's. In a household with six children, where we were largely confined to the yard, a fallen fence was a problem.
      My mother's family owned a building material business. Now nearly a hardware empire, it had been started in a shack in Santa Monica by my maternal grandfather who was a carpenter. They sold cinder blocks and probably still do. The fallen fence was going to be replaced with something much stronger.
      One warm spring day my strapping young uncles arrived, with plenty of cinder block, and as much Olympia beer, and the construction of the block wall began. In my memory it took only a few days of hard labor, although it may have been several weekends. They erected a huge boundary, not only between us and that one neighbor, but between us and every neighbor on three sides. Salmon colored blocks, topped with what they called a "wagon wheel" design surrounded the property. I swear that inside every block there still resides a "dead soldier" - an empty bottle of Olympia beer. Sturdy wooden gates were installed and across the front of the Spanish style stucco home a sort of a baffle of open wagon wheel blocks created an entrance way. Many of my childhood memories still live within the confines of that cinder block wall.

My grandfather and uncles in the back row

      Over time he laid a patio of sorts, flat caps of the same block spread out to cover one section of the yard. It was there that we played war behind tipped picnic tables, lobbing broken bricks at one another until I ended up with thirteen stitches in the back of my head. Although it was never declared, the war was won, or perhaps lost that day because I don't recall ever playing war again after that. I also remember rolling in empty corrugated cardboard barrels over those block caps and my next-youngest sister emerging with a huge potato bug clinging to her back. She froze, crying, "Get it off, get it off", without even moving her mouth. With a rake the bug was knocked down and disappeared between the block caps, which were never grouted. As long as I lived in that house I was sure that ugly bug was lurking there. It still gives me the willies.
      Eventually that yard had a lemon tree and an apricot as well and a big avocado from next door that hung over the block wall. My father would slice the big green fruit, fresh from picking, around the middle, slap a sharp knife into the pit, pop it out and then bite into the thing. I learned that I don't care for biting into an avocado.
      In fact, he ate just about anything. He loved pig's feet, and those fried pork rinds as well. We always had big jars of hot, pickled vegetables around, far too spicy for a child to appreciate and he poured mounds of chili powder and other hot spices onto his spaghetti. My mother insisted that his taste buds were dulled by cigars. His eating habits were a sight to behold. The cigars brought out other characteristics in him as well. In fifty's style he wore a uniform to work that had cuffed pants. Apparently cuffs make a very good ashtray for fallen cigar ashes. I remember my mother shaking them out in that walled yard as well.
      My father was the king of his domain. When he wasn't tearing apart our house he was out late hours, sometimes until near dawn, and my mother would stay home dutifully and unhappily waiting for him to return. I always remember him as living and working hard. I do not know how he lives now, in old age, since I have not seen him in years.

      He was also a hot tempered disciplinarian. I understand the need of discipline with six children, but that much responsibility takes it toll and his rule was fierce and violent. Those are some of the memories I grapple with the hardest.
      But, from everything in life we must learn, and it is ours to sort out and try to put into perspective. One of the greatest lessons I learned since all those years ago is that I am not responsible for his choices, but only for my own. In fact I am not responsible for what anyone else does. My husband is his own man and he makes his own choices, as do my children, who are all grown now. You would think it is an obvious lesson, but it was not for me. For a very long time I believed that I was partly responsible for my father and many of the things that he did, but now I know that I did not walk in his shoes, and I never made his choices for him.
      The night he proposed to his second wife I made arrangements to leave home, at seventeen, and began a journey of my own. Now and again I pull out old photographs from my childhood and try to make sense of life.
      I'm still at it.

August 8, 2015

Time is on My Side

     Time. There are people who swear I have more of it in a day than anyone else. Um, no. I have exactly the same amount of hours in my day as all the rest of the world. Sometimes they ask me, how do I get so many things done in that time? And why does it seem I have so much time? I have begun to wonder myself, so this week I took notes. I carried around a pad in my pocket and just jotted down a few time checks of my activities. Not every activity, or course, but usually little groups of them. The results were interesting, even to me. So here it is, my day in an overview. I have compiled it into a collection including how my activities vary from day to day. Here goes:
    I usually start my day at about 7:30 a.m., occasionally later on Sunday. I rarely sit down and have coffee until I straighten up the house. That involves making the bed as soon as I get up, picking up any clothes, straightening the sofa, gathering any glasses and such from the evening before and loading the dishwasher. I cannot focus in a mess. That usually takes about 15 minutes and the house looks decent and it gives me a handle on starting my day. Then I pour a cup of coffee, usually grab a yogurt or a hard-boiled egg and a glass of V-8 and I sit at the computer.
    My morning business involves checking my several email accounts, and responding to every email, every day. Most of it just gets deleted and readers who ask about my books and folks that are seeking publishing advice are answered. I check Facebook, my blog page, Twitter etc. That ordinarily takes me about one hour. In that time I have found I can stay on top of all of my accounts. If I have any updating to do, such a post on the blog (which I have pre-written), or if I need to update links to my books, I will do that. I also check any new reviews on my books every day as well. Before nine I’m through my coffee and ready to get on with the day.
    I get cleaned up and dressed at that point. I don't spend as much time on my hair and makeup as I used to. I have moved towards simpler styles now, but I still do put on my makeup every day, even if I don't plan on going out. I load the washer, put the coffee cups in the dishwasher and start the machines. By 9:30, if I am working on a new novel, I get to it. On the days I write, I take brief breaks to hang out the wash, or put it into the dryer, stretch and get back to writing. I get in a good writing session and most of the housework is in pretty good shape. Not only do the little breaks keep me limber but they give me time to contemplate my story. I have stepped away from the keyboard, but I am still writing. I never use that time to surf the web, which will ruin my creative concentration. At about 12:30 I take a break, sometimes I vacuum, or water my flowers outside, wash out my birdbaths and I putter a bit and get ready for lunch. On Wednesday I do my nails or clean out the fridge. The hour varies from day to day. Some days I write a bit longer.
    Three days a week my husband comes home at about 1:30 for lunch. We take about 45 minutes for lunch. My husband likes television and I will usually get out a project or read until he goes back to his part-time job.

 A sewing project for cherries beside my chair:

 Lunch hour cherries on my kitchen cabinets:


    After lunch I fold and put away any laundry, make any business phone calls I need to make and either go back to writing or do a project around the house. This is the time of day I might put wainscoting behind the stove or clean out my kitchen cabinets. Other days I might set up my loom, get out my spinning wheel or do research for my writing. At 4:30, pretty religiously, I stop, step away from the computer and sit down. It’s my hour before I need to shift gears and start dinner. I usually have a snack and sometimes I do nothing at all. If I have been embroiled in my writing or a creative project I can use that hour for that, but I rarely do. I might call my daughter or a friend. If it’s a pretty day I put up my feet on the deck and read or daydream. That one hour is mine and I try to enjoy it. Some days it is the only time I am not working on something. Because I set aside a little time to do whatever I want I never feel that I don't have time for myself. I do! I am careful not to fritter it away doing things that don't really fulfill me and then wonder why I have no time.

My current late day project:

   Dishtowels on the loom:

    At 5:30 I start dinner. After dinner I clean up the kitchen and enjoy my evening. I don’t usually just sit and I find the evening seems to get boring and is wasted away if I have my phone or iPad out for surfing. I try instead to enjoy something productive like knit or crochet, or read, and unless there is a movie I am interested in I don’t really watch TV much.
    I turn out the lights at about 11:00 before bed and that’s about it.

   This schedule does vary on different days of the week and seasonally. In the summer I take one morning, when I would be writing, and work in the yard one day a week. In the winter months I take that one day a week and I tend to write much more or research. I do get much more writing done since I now write almost full time.
    What if you work, you ask? I’ve done that as well. I apply similar tactics. Get up and straighten up. There are two things I find that rob me of my day. One is keeping a house, however small. Housework multiplies terribly. That dirty glass on the counter tells you that it’s okay to leave another and the next thing the whole kitchen is a mess. For me the weight of responsibility has me thinking about cleaning until I get to it, thus robbing me of life, creative thinking and loading me with stress. For myself, if my house is not in order then nothing in my life falls into place. I keep hearing about how creative people are messy. I believe there is a big difference between a creative mess, which I have made a-plenty, and living like a slob. Even a creative person only thrives and is accomplished in some kind of order. I don't try to look for excuses, but instead for solutions to make better use of my time.
    The second time thief is anything with a screen. If I feel like my day is getting away I take a hard look at the time I spend fooling around in front of a monitor. Surfing the web can suck my day away, as can television. I do surf, and I am a huge sucker for Judge Judy, so I sit down, take a specified amount of time, enjoy those things and then walk away. If your days slips away take time to know why. Time is yours and mine. There are those things that have to be given time, and those things that steal it away while making you believe you are “enjoying” it. Don’t trick yourself. Take control of your time then you will find you might have lots and lots!
      This is a schedule of what works for me. I get about eight hours of writing work done most days, I have a beautiful home and garden that I love. I have time to read a good book and to enjoy my creative projects. My husband is a musician and we got out in the evening and enjoy live music and friends frequently. Do I ever feel like there is not enough time in the day? Sometimes, but not all that often. I guess it's because I don't let time sneak away. So, if there's an answer to the question of how I get so many things done in one day I suppose that's it. I manage and watch my time. I lose much less that way.
     Oh and Sunday is the day I write my blog for the following Saturday morning, so happy Saturday and Sunday! Please come again!

August 1, 2015

The Pursuit of Happiness

     Happiness is difficult to define. To each of us it is relative. To a wandering Neanderthal it might have been trapping a good meal after walking for miles. Something tasty on the trail would have been pure bliss. But then he would want more and more. And so it is with people still. Human beings are pretty darned hard to satisfy. I try to remember that whenever I do a happiness check, which I do with some frequency. That nagging question, am I happy? pops up and each time I do that happiness check I refine my definition just a little bit more. I base it on how I feel personally and how I see the people around me seeking their own happiness. I try to find a realistic answer to that daunting question: Am I happy?
     Time has made it very apparent to me how elusive contentment can be. Like that caveman, I live in a world where my big human brain always thinks it wants more of everything. It battles with my common sense which tells me something different, that of course I don’t want everything. That would not be good for me or healthy or bring me real happiness. Yet it doesn’t answer that question: Am I happy? Interestingly, if I don’t let that question come to mind very often, I am much happier. What a strange conundrum that is. If I don’t wonder if I am happy then how will I know if I am? Mind-boggling.

     I see the search everywhere. Little promises of happiness are all over the place. They're in marketing, online, on TV and all about us in our world. If we have physical ailments there are cures that are yours for the asking. Don't let heartburn or diarrhea or constipation or ingrown toenails come between you and your happiness. There are pills for that!
     Ah, drugs. Solve your sleep problems, control your weight and yes, find euphoria. Just watch out for the heavy price tag that comes with addiction. And if that's become an obstacle to your happiness, no problem! There are rehabilitation centers everywhere with hot tubs and beautiful people.

     So then let's eat our way to happiness. There are colorful signs and gleaming aisles of tasty calories beckoning us everywhere. Drive along nearly any road in the country and there are guiding lights to all of it. Our brains are hardwired to eat when we see food and to be happy while we are at it. The temptation soon has us salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. That crispy, creamy doughnut or that double bacon cheeseburger are mighty tasty while we eat them. Oh yeah, we are happy, at least for the moment. But, a few days later that food is translated into a firm pair of love handles, and the happiness slips away. Now it's going to take a treadmill and a gym membership to get us back on the happiness path. 

     Yes, if it sounds nuts, it is. And so, I’m learning not to be a happiness addict and I’m happier for it. I'm learning balance. I have food enough to sustain me and bring joy. It’s important to me as well that I am not overweight. Moderation is the key.
     Of course that happiness question eventually will pop up again. Right now, should I answer it, I have to say, yep, I’m pretty darned happy. And you know what else? I’m pretty happy that I feel as if I’ve earned it as well. That makes me even happier. You can’t beat that!