Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday Socializing - The Happiness Project

My daughter read about The Happiness Project in a magazine and told me about it. Gretchen Rubin is the force behind it and she has been very successful with it. There is great, inspirational information and some good tips for working on personal growth and happiness. I particularly like the recent post on Saint Theresa. Check out this blog if you haven't already.

Beware, you might get hooked and you might find yourself smiling unexpectedly.

(the mug is from Seaglass Vintage on

Friday, May 28, 2010

Skirts on Friday - Traveling Skirts

I just spent eight days on the road with my skirts. I was in airports, on planes overnight, and in a big city tooling around. I was worried that I might feel limited by my skirts project, but I think it actually made traveling easier.
When I packed my suitcase I had plenty of room because the skirts don't take up much space, and because I only had 4 bottoms with several tops for each one. Everyday I could easily choose and outfit and get dressed without much fuss. In a big city sometimes pants/trousers don't look stylish enough, but a skirt almost always has the little extra style that looks dressed up. (You can usually add small accessories like a fancy top, a scarf or jewelry to make it look more so.) I admit that I was not as chic as many of the women I saw, but I was also not as out of place as the tourists in their jeans and athletic shoes.

As I found out this past winter, it is definitely possible to stay warm enough in a skirt, and it is even easier to stay cool. The weather last week was partly sunny, partly rainy and I could see by my husbands trousers that I was better off in a skirt because his pant legs got soaked at times. I had a raincoat and an umbrella but there was one day when I wish I would have had some wellies. While packing, I had to make sure that I had style while taking care of the comfort of my feet, and there was only so much room in my one bag. I am always struggling (and failing mostly) to find the perfect accessories for the very bottom (the so called "foot") of my outfit.

This leads me to my other obsession and possibly a cause for a future year long project -

shoes ... but that is another story altogether!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Somewhere in the World - Sydney Australia!!!

downtown Sydney

delicious Malaysian Laksa

on a ferry in the harbor/harbour

the Quad on the beautiful University of Sydney campus

on a typical quiet neighborhood street

I just have to cover Sydney again this week since I have just returned from a week there and I have loads of photos. My husband and I went, not as tourists, but as soon-to-be residents! We were exploring neighborhoods and schools and basic livability. Everyone was friendly, the city is vibrant, and there are loads of neighborhoods that spread out around the downtown like petals on a rose. We had great food and enjoyed some art, gardens, public transportation and a ferry ride. I know we are going to love it there!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Textile Tuesdays : #24 - Hampton Court, Part 3

The rain continued to fall off and on all day. We tried to explore the gardens and the grounds whenever there was a break. There was a vast open garden with sculpted trees, shrubs. There were geometric paths cutting through the grass, converging on a big fountain, which was still spraying water despite the rain. A majestic swan floated peacefully around the fountain. I can still hear our footsteps padding through the soaked gravel in the silence. Mira approached the swan calmly and fearlessly, kneeling down to commune with it. She squatted there for a long time with neither one of them moving. The swan faced her but did not come toward or away from her. As other tourists came out, they took photographs of this enchanted scene. We had to move on though because there was also a sunken garden, a giant grapevine, a long wisteria arbor, and a boxwood maze to get through. Even in the rain, we could not help but stop and smell the lilacs dripping off the bushes all around us.

Towards the end of the day, as we were getting tired and thinking about the train ride back, we decided that we just had time to go look at the Tudor kitchens. These are several large rooms with huge fire pits, large stone tables and racks with dead birds and rabbits hanging by their feet. The kitchens have been kept in tact as an educational exhibit and there is a model with a taped recording describing the way they were run.

On our way out, we walked down an out of the way corridor, and I happen to notice a closed door with a sign that read “Embroiderer’s Guild”. This sign seemed totally out of place to me. There were no other offices or shops near where we were and the only ones we had seen at all were connected to the running of the palace. I felt a bit like Alice when she comes upon the bottle that says, “Drink Me”. I remembered the guild’s booth from the needlecraft show but I had no idea that they could be found at Hampton Court.

I didn’t know if it was open to the public, but I decided that I had to check it out. Inside was a small room with hallways leading to a few back rooms. These back rooms were for members to do work, have tea and lead classes in needlework. The front area had a small counter and two walls lined with books – hundreds of books on all subject having to do with textiles! They were piled up on the floor as well. There were books on textiles from different regions such as Turkish rugs or Thai embroidery. There were whole sections on histories from quilting to fabric production. There were shelves of books on technique. They had fabric printing and dying, embroidery stitches, knitting, weaving, quilting – everything you could think of and more. They even had a section of children’s books having to do with fiber arts.

I kept sighing “oh my God”, over and over. I was overwhelmed and caught completely off guard at the end of the day, in a castle, in England, in a fiber artists dream. I forced myself to focus and grabbed a few things: one on quilting, one on embroidery and watercolor, one on textiles and one on doll making. I thumbed through them quickly and they all looked great. I couldn’t afford to buy a whole stack but I decided to let myself get one.

The Anatomy of a Doll by Suzanne Oroyan caught my eye. I was so excited to see an artistic treatment of the subject, one that was completely in line with my own style of thinking and similar to my work. It contained the original creations of almost one hundred different doll makers. Besides pages of beautiful photos and an introduction designed to inspire creativity, it also had specific instructions on how to achieve certain effects in facial expression, body type etc.

While I had planned to get something on textile production or embroidery, I could not pass this one up, so I bought it. I was so inspired by the designs but also by the mere fact that so many women (mostly) were dedicating their time and creativity to something that a large percentage of the population would consider frivolous but which I loved. These designers were treating dolls as art and the results were wild, gorgeous and inspired. I wondered who these women were and where they lived. I guessed that they must be English and that the book was a British publication since that was the context in which I had found it. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it was an American publisher and that the author lived in Eugene, Oregon which is where I had lived when I was selling my own dolls at galleries and craft shows. The whole coincidence and the circumstances under which I had come to the book made me feel like fate, serendipity or something (maybe a ghost) was at work that day.

Before we left, I got a book list from the Guild for future reference. Mira turned in her ghost sighting worksheet to the information desk and got her picture taken with the two gentlemen who seemed as enchanted by her as we were with the palace. As we rode home on the train we saw two unmistakably bright green parrots fly by the window in the rain. We got into a discussion with two American tourists who were over on their annual bird watching holiday. What started out as a miserable stormy day had turned into a dream. We had seen history preserved, had smelt flowers thriving in a storm, spent really good mother/daughter time, and had discovered a great fiber arts resource. I mulled over all of it in my mind and I sleepily thought how much I liked London and all it had to offer.

(I finally found some of the pictures from out day at Hampton Court and scanned them into my iphoto. The resolution isn't so great but at least you can get a feel for the day. Notice, I am wearing a skirt!)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Bientot! Hasta Pronto! G'day!

I have been remiss in my writing the last few days because I have been busy getting ready for my trip to Sydney. I am going with my husband for 8 days to do "recon" on schools and real estate. I'm leaving in a few hours. I have everything done on my check list except shaving my legs and plucking my eyebrows. So I am off to do that now. I will try to post something when I'm there if I have internet access, but otherwise I will be back on the 24th of May. Ciao!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Textile Tuesdays : #23 - Hampton Court, Part 2

The continuing day of adventure in an English castle that led to a textile discovery...

Even though we were anxious to tour around the grounds, we were hungry and wanted to get warmed and revitalized. The woman who gave us our tickets pointed the way to a garden café. Walking through the dripping shrubs and trees, on our way to the tearoom, we saw a large group of completely soaked teen-agers rushing in the opposite direction. They were French students escaping back into their bus. Hopefully, they were able to glean some enrichment from their field trip.

The café was warm and cozy with lovely soups, tea, breads and other perfect lunch items. The walls were full of windows that gave a nice view of the surrounding gardens. We could hear the wind squeaking through the cracks and see it whipping the branches back and forth. After soup, sandwich and some yogurt, I indulged my daughter with hot chocolate and a donut and I sipped hot milky tea. Mira kept smiling at me and telling me that I was the best mommy in the world. At that moment, I felt like I was definitely a contender. Sometimes it’s easy to be a good mother. I wanted to hold that moment and never let it end. Part of me said it was time to move on so we could see what there was to see.

Inside we went to the information center first to get some activity materials that they have especially for children. Out of three or four different activities, Mira chose one that involved exploring possible ghost sightings. We had a great time investigating the various locations where people had reported stories of ghosts over the years. This got us moving around the castle and gave us some background on various historic people and incidents. Since the storm was blowing the windows and things seemed dark and empty, it was not hard to imagine that there might be some truth to the stories. At one point we heard a loud high voice rising up through the halls. Everyone, including the guards, stopped and stared, then another guard walked by and said that the soprano from the opera was going to be performing at a special dinner there and she was practicing.

Wandering around, I kept my eyes open for textile sightings as well. In several of the rooms, there were 15th century Belgian tapestries that hung from the ceiling to the floor, just where they have been hanging for about the past four hundred years. They were originally hung as decoration but also to keep the rooms warmer and sometimes to conceal secret doorways. It is unbelievable that they are still in such good condition.

Other textiles that I noticed were the beddings. Silk covered the quilts, pillows and canopies as well as the actual posts and bed frames. These, I found out, had not survived in their original condition, but were restored. In one room, the entire bed was covered in burgundy silk brocade and in another room it was gold. The whole effect was very rich but plain which was typical of much of the English style at that time.

In the chapel, there were kneelers that had been needlepoint stitched with various royal insignia or images of Hampton Court Palace. There was a thistle, which stands for the Stuart family and the Tudor rose. There was also the image of four pillars, each with a different pattern on it. I had seen this image and actual pillars like it around London but I did not know what it represented. It is common to see stitched kneeling pillows in chapels and churches around England. These are done by the local churchwomen and donated to the church. This ancient tradition carried over to modern life, is just another example of the status and prominence of needlework in English society.

(The final part next tuesday..)

(I can't believe that after searching through hundreds of images on the web, I can't find any of the needlepoint kneelers at Hampton Court. I have seen such a variety of needlepoint images -good and bad - that I am going to have to do another post just on that. Unfortunately, when I was there, it was before digital cameras and my photos are packed away. I will try to dig them out! so the photos at the top are the closest I could get.)

1. An embroidery done by Mary Queen of Scots

2. An authentic reproduction of a Tudor bed with embroidered fabric made by Stuart Interiors.

3. A screen embroidered by Anne Boleyn

4. Needlepoint Kneelers from a different church in England (sorry I don't know which)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Life in a Southwestern Mountain Town #10 FIRE!

This time of year is fire season. The snow is barely melted and before anything can grow, the winds kick up and start dirt storms so bad that trucks on the I-40 carrying food and merchandise across the country, have to pull over to the side of the road and wait for the air to clear. Cars sway, trees bend, windows wobble, garbage cans get blown over, and worst of all, sparks fly.

Later on, in the summer, when there are thunderstorms, fires can be started by lightening. But, invariably, this time of year, there is some "human caused" reason for fire. I am not talking kids in a field playing with matches (although that does happen). I am talking about poor planning on the part of professionals. The Forest Service does "controlled burns" that are supposed to prevent wildfires. They burn piles of brush and dead wood, but they do it even when it is dry, hot, and windy! There is a fire southeast of town right now burning over 500 acres and it is the result of welding being done in the forest by the Fish and Game department. Seriously, hot, flying sparks with 20 -30 mph winds. This is the second time in the last couple of years that a major fire has been started by this exact behavior.

I parked my car in the driveway last night and today it is covered with dirt and ash. I was on my back porch for about 15 minutes and my sinuses were burning so badly that I had to take Advil and nose spray.

Over the years, since we have lived here, the trees, fields, and forests have burned and been thinned out. It seems to be a better situation for the eco-system and for the safety of the humans. But there is always more to burn and more careless people.

The photo at the top is from SOS Wildfire Support.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday - Funday! My Big Week-end!

This Sunday was a fun day and it was a follow-up to a fun Saturday! Yesterday was my birthday and today is Mother's Day, so I got a full week-end of treats! I gave heavy hints and helped get things organized so my expectations would not be disappointed - and it all went swimmingly!

I got gifts, homemade cards, and a pedicure along with lots of little indulgences. But the best (and most important) part was the desserts. I made my own cake, which I really enjoy doing. My daughters made a strawberry/rhubarb pie, and my husband bought a decadent little chocolate mini-cake.

I did my workout video this morning and really got my cardio going so I could burn some calories and make room for more!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Skirts on Friday - Friday Night!

Oh yes it's Friday night and the feelin's right... I can't believe it but I have reached the stage in my life when my kids are both off doing their own thing!!! My husband and I are free to go out or chill on our own! The weather is finally warming up, the days are getting longer, and I am feeling happy!

I ate a lot at a local Greek restaurant and I am stuffed, but I am trying to have a steady workout routine so I can stay fit. I have been pretty good about exercise and eating healthfully and I think it makes me feel better in my skirts!

Happy Friday Everyone!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I have an idea!

I had a weird idea last week. We were driving home from Phoenix and I was staring out the window, thinking. It is finally Spring and, sadly, I was noticing all the animals that had been killed - some recently while scampering recklessly for food or sex or the hysteria of a full moon, others from a while ago, caught in a storm and buried under snow, just now revealed.

I also noticed all the garbage and car parts that had collected over the winter. Torn off tire treads, smashed plastic and metal, bags and household items that had flown off in the wind, look like the excrement of the giant mechanical creature that is our system of transportation.

As we whizzed by, I realized that it was sometimes hard to tell the difference between the natural and the mechanical corpses. It gave me the idea to do a series of sculptures that would be a statement on the cold, callousness of what we glibly refer to as "road-kill".

I think it would be a very macho project and I am not sure I have the stomach or the arm strength to do it. But, someone could collect scraps of tire, car parts, etc.; bones, pelts, and antlers; and combine them into sculptures of animals. Without being violent about it, they could show the animal lying down. They could sculpt and sew the pieces of cloth and rubber into a kind of stuffed animal.

I always say a prayer when I see an animal dead on the road or the side of the road. Sometimes see small white crosses stuck in the berm off the road commemorating where a human has died and I say a prayer for them too. It is a remnant of my catholic upbringing - a nice one, I think. It makes me remember that we are all part of a family on Earth and that our techno-industrial world has to be a help to the natural world, not it's antithesis or enemy.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Textile Tuesdays : #23 - Hampton Court England - Part 1

The photos above are from a blog called Tier 1London. Unfortunately, when we were there it was before digital, so all my beautiful photos are buried somewhere in storage.

Here is part one of my story that really does have something to do with textiles in the end! but you will have to check in for part 2....

By the middle of May the weather was still off and on with rain and sunshine. Some days were wet and stormy and others held the promise of summer and heat. After being forced out of our flat so the landlady’s son could move in and live rent free, we had moved into a quaint but small Victorian conversion flat. It was on a nice street that was mercifully closer to the girls’ school but it was actually smaller and darker than our old cube-shaped apartment. We were only going to be there for two months before we heading out to Ireland and then home, so we didn’t even unpack all of our boxes. It hardly seemed worth the trouble but it did make the apartment seem unsettled. The space was cramped and torturous acoustically due to high ceilings, thin walls and wooden floors. Because of this we could hear all the noises the neighbors made, our own voices floated and bounced around the rooms, and worst of all, the girls had to refrain from shouting and jumping around. Unfortunately, this is exactly what they felt like doing after being cooped up for so many rainy months.

The winter had been long and difficult and the unwelcome move had left us all a little more fragile. My older daughter, Mira, who was normally quiet and sweet, had been crying and whining a lot. She wanted to be with me all the time and did not want to go to school. I was a little worried because after their initial settling in, both girls had loved their school. The teachers, students and administrators at Highgate Primary had provided friendship, encouragement and a sense of belonging. At this point however, the instability of our living situation compounded by the fact that her beloved teacher had taken ill and been replaced by a substitute, had made Mira shy and unhappy.

I decided that I would take her out of school one day, and the two of us would go on a relaxing and rejuvenating outing to Hampton Court. David agreed to stay home from the office and watch Valerie so Mira and I could have one on one time. We planned to go on a Thursday to avoid the weekend crowds. Unfortunately (and typically) it happened on that day to be pouring and gusting wildly. The girls were crying and David and I were arguing about what to do. We had had our hearts set on it, the girls had missed the start of the school day, and I had the travel logistics all planned out. Staying in the gray, little flat was too grim an option so we decided to charge on. David would stay home and bake cookies and do art projects with Valerie and Mira and I would face the challenge of the weather with our heads down and our hearts high.

The hardest part was bundling up and stepping out the door, running two blocks to the bus stop. We went on the bus to the Archway tube station, again running out of the bus, pushing our umbrellas into the wind and rain, and down the steps to the Underground. We took the tube to the spacious and beautiful Victoria Station where we got the overland train to Hampton Court. On the train, we felt exhilarated and proud that we were on our way and only a little damp for the wear. The train took us to the edge of the city and into the suburbs past Wimbledon. The last leg of the journey was a short walk from the train station to the castle gates.

Even though the area was quiet and uncrowded, we huddled together and ran shrieking as the gusts shifted and almost turned our umbrellas inside out. We were literally loosing our footing and Mira’s hat almost blew into the Thames. At the entrance to the palace grounds, we laughed and screamed down the wide empty pathways and our voices were carried away on the wind. The weather seemed to have kept away the typically large crowds so we were able to get in quickly and move about freely. After about an hour and a half of travel, we almost felt as if we had discovered some out of the way castle.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday - Funday! The Wind in the Willows Video!

When my girls were little I would take them to the library and we would get piles of books and some videos (before DVD's). I felt like it was a treat for me as well as them to be exposed to beautiful stories and images.
I had heard of The Wind in the Willows, but I had never read it as a child. We found this version at the library and watched all of them multiple times. There is something so pure and basic about their little world and the way these artists represented it. Treat yourself and watch a little on youtube. If you like it, perhaps you can look at your library or even on to find the whole series.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Saturday Socializing - Tree Hugger

One of the first blog/webmags I ever followed was I was researching an article on hemp clothing and it came up in a google search. I love this site and could really get lost in it, spending hours clicking and linking from one story to another. I usually try to just go straight to the Fashion and Beauty section because that is where the textile stories are. This week they cover everything from men's underpants to a clothing factory in Peru.

So check it out, bookmark it, and keep abreast of the latest, and widest range of Environmental stories!

The T-shirt is from an etsy seller called Goblin Designs.
The two photos are mine from the Hoh Rainforest in Washington and along a country walk in the Peak District in England. Notice the old "wall" under the roots of the tree in the first photo. Big, old, living trees, breathing air and giving oxygen!