Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Spring Fever 2021


Spring is here. I've been working in the yard a lot. But I've also I've been making a few postcard collages in advance of the National Collage Society's annual small format show. I've had to warm up to collage again after a long winter hiatus.

I've also continued do some small quilting projects. This one took awhile because of the dense quilting stitches. Lately I find sewing more relaxing than collage.

Here is another mini-quilt with a retro fashion vibe.

But mostly I've been cleaning up the yard after the Big Texas Freeze of 2021. Here are two succulents new to the yard, plopped down in a big container formerly home to bromeliads. I lost all my large bromeliads. I'd never seen a star-shaped aloe (on the left) before. Joshua's Nursery here in Houston always has some good succulents.

The fig tree came back into bloom, thank goodness!

Lemon balm and rosemary are the new beginnings of a small herb garden. It was sad to lose my dill. I replaced it once but that plant took a dive shortly after I planted it. Dill, my favorite herb, doesn't like heat, so I can only grow it fall through early spring.

One thing the Freeze did was make us reconsider what to do about some very old, overgrown shrubs we were tired of but too chicken to prune. Finally now we pruned them back drastically, and if they refuse to stay healthy, we will have to replace them.

I enjoyed re-purposing an old gelatin mold into a succulent container. A small pot fits perfectly into the center ring. Some of the Haworthia come from decades of pups I've been able to keep growing. Of course, we took all the succulents inside during the ice storm.

 One thing I did not take a photo of is our front lawn. We reseeded part of it with a Texas wildflower mix in the fall, but so far only the Indian Paintbrush has come up. I was hoping for bluebonnets. The lawn itself is largely giving up the ghost. Soon we will be putting plugs in and hoping for the best. Lawns can be so tyrannical. But I have no other solution for the front of our property. I've written happier Spring Fever posts in the past. This too shall pass and the optimist in me is busy planting a few flower seeds, especially zinnias, a flower my father often grew in the side yard of our home in Floral Park, New York. Happy Spring!

Friday, February 19, 2021

The Big Freeze, Houston, February 2021


I had COVID-19 at the beginning of January. 'Twas not a Happy New Year, but I had a mild case. My husband Tom and I did not go to any group holiday parties or meals, so perhaps I caught it haunting fabric stores. I'd been sewing all through the winter holidays. Initially, I thought it was a sinus infection.  I only has a couple of days worth of breathing troubles, no fever and good oxygen levels. I did not spread it with anyone. Tom and I ate at the dining room table every night, 8 feet apart.
Anyway, then this week, along came the Big Freeze/Arctic Blast. 
The photo above shows ice cracking at the curb.

At first the snow was a novelty, as it often is for Houstonians. But as the temperatures continued to plunge and we lost power, not fun. No power meant no heat. There were rolling blackouts that lasted as long as 20 hours. You can read all about it in any major newspaper. Texans were in big trouble.Then yesterday, the power came back for good. After 3 or 4 days of what felt like a survivalist life style, we could keep warm, take showers and turn on the lights! It felt miraculous.

Tom is a an Excellent Napper. He is famous for it. So while he napped, I mostly read and texted with girlfriends. To keep warm at night, several layers of quilts and blankets topped by a sleeping bag did the trick. As for clothing, talk about layers -- at one point I counted seven on my person. Some of the time, I wore a face mask, hat and gloves in the house. Going outside was torture.

Tom took this silly photo of me holding the Energizer lantern that was an excellent source of light. I bought it months ago when a friend showed us hers on a Zoom call. We are going to buy another one to keep on hand for emergencies.

And so, that is my tale of the first 6 weeks of this new year. Dramatic and draining, and I'm hoping for sunnier days. Our yard is mostly green mush. There will be a lot of work to do out there. Today the temperature has still been below freezing. But tomorrow we will see 50 degrees and hopefully sail on into the early Spring weather we usually get while most of the country is still cold. And hopefully, so it may go...

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Best Books 2020




Here are some great places to browse for best books of the year:

The Ultimate Best Books of 2020 List from Literary Hub - An amazing list sourcing 41 lists to present the most frequently found titles. (The book that landed on the most lists was The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.)

NPR's Book Concierge - A great place to browse, with categories such as Staff Picks, Book Club Ideas, books For History Lovers, etc.

Goodreads Staffers Share Their Top Three Books of the Year - This list includes 2020 titles as well as older ones.

Library Journal: Worst Year, Best Books 2020 - 144 titles across 15 categories such as Literary Fiction, Biography and Memoir, Graphic Novels, etc.

The Amazon's Editor's Best Books of the Year - Including customer favorites as well as staff picks.

This year I do not feel motivated or qualified to make a list. Usually I analyze my Goodreads list and pick the 5 star reads to write about. But during this pandemic year, I scrounged around my house for books to read during the time the public libraries were closed. Then a childhood friend who now lives in Los Angeles started sending me boxes of books which I then passed along to other friends. All well and good, plus eventually when the libraries reopened, I could reserve books again. But I fell out of the habit of writing reviews here or on Goodreads. Maybe that habit will return, I don't know. I will say that my all-time favorite book of the year was 28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand. It was one that everyone I knew who read it wanted to talk about! Here are the only books I blogged about here this year Hidden Valley Road:Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker, This is Happiness by Niall Williams, and In the Distance by Hernan Diaz.

I also noticed my attention span for books was not quite as strong as usual. And I started streaming various series from around the world. I got hooked on Heartland (Canada) and Offspring (Australia), both very long running series. I was also making art and sewing. And there were some months at the beginning of the year that our family was busy helping my husband retire and move out of his large wood shop. Somehow we managed to sell his table saw and other large tools, so that was a big success. He is happily ensconced in his man cave now called the Hideout located in a wing of our rebuilt garage.

And so ends a most trying year. 2021 has got to be better! I count our blessings that no one in our families contracted the virus, and that my brother came through heart surgery AOK. I am grateful for the blessings that my secure retirement from Harris County Public Library brings me. All over the world, so many people are suffering and there are many repercussions yet to come. Hopefully there will also be improvements in disease prevention, the environment and world unity. May it be so.

Monday, November 2, 2020

The 2020 National Collage Society Juried Show


Today has finally come along -- the National Collage Society's 36th Annual Juried show is online! It really made my summer when I learned I had two pieces accepted. The one seen above is titled Go To the Launching Pad at Once (8 x 10"), using game board, quilt, map and various other imagery. The title comes from some wording on one of the game pieces.

Then there is the largest collage I have ever created, titled Colorscape, on a 28 x 28"  wood panel.The small squares include all kinds of patterns and small images, and the surrounding area is composed using satellite maps. I used a method known as fusion collage, involving many layers of gloss medium and a tacking iron.
About a week ago I took out my sewing machine and started quilting. Perhaps I am missing the Quilt festival, for it is that time of year here in Houston. I did not feel like investigating the digital version. And now I can't stop sewing, as I am having a lot of fun, mostly making items to give away as Christmas presents. It feels good to take a break from collage. There are certainly parallels between quilting and collage, and in the mixed media world, they may even combine. What I have noticed is that in both mediums, I enjoy the composition and choosing colors the most. And for me, the hardest thing is the finishing touches. In collage it is the last few pieces as well as top coats and other matters related to adhesives. In quilting, it is the binding that I dread. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes not and out comes the seam ripper. But in both mediums, the way forward includes patience and forbearance. 

Getting good at something takes plenty of practice. In any case, during the Covid-19 pandemic, I feel fortunate to enjoy arts and crafts. Both before and during the pandemic, no day is long enough. Of course, like everyone, I miss my friends and family. I get to see some of them on Zoom, and that helps, but (again), like everyone, I miss the real thing. Patience, patience -- time marches on, and someday this too shall pass... 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Hidden Valley Road:Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker


Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker a masterpiece of research and storytelling, the real life kind.

How did anyone survive inside this family so wrecked by the specter of schizophrenia? I have always been fascinated by large families and what makes them tick or fall apart. Herein, the Galvins numbered 12 siblings, the mother kind of floating along somehow (she seemed delusional to me) and the father often absent due to his military or academic duties. As the children came into young adulthood, one by one, 6 of the 10 Galvin brothers are diagnosed with schizophrenia. The two youngest being female, were both spared. They suffered in their own way and often had to pick up the pieces.

If you have any interest in psychiatry or psychology, you will get into this book. It is a horror story of sorts, and I felt a bitguilty of being a drive-by spectator reading about this deeply broken family. And yet at times, in small lulls, there are times the family comes together, maybe not all of them, but most of them. They care for each other and carry on. Much therapy is needed for the caretakers as well as the mentally ill. All sorts of medications are tried, as well as theories given.

Eventually the Galvins become part of an important genetic study. Readers are educated in the history of psychiatry as related to schizophrenia, as well as the ongoing genetic research. No one has completely cracked the code of this mental illness, but several discoveries made and explained. Such honorable work is ongoing, and hopefully a day will come when schizophrenics and their families will no longer have to suffer like the Galvins. May it be so...

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Fine Art America!

I took the plunge and joined Fine Art America this month. A friend suggested I do that and I took the nudge. So now some of my collages can be purchased as prints, coffee cups, throw pillows -- you name it! And even if the actual artwork sells, the print-on-demand items can still be sold. And so here are a few of the collages I've listed on the site:

I may have to order an item or two by myself from myself! I have been pretty lazy about finding ways to sell my art these past few years. So this gives some hope. One can only sit on stacks of art for so long. I've been lucky to sell a few pieces at the annual art show at the Jung Center here in Houston. But that show did not take place this year due to the Covid19 pandemic. I enjoy giving away some of my art as presents to friends and family. I participate in arts and craft shows, but they must have reasonable entry fees and be held inside buildings. I've learned the hard way that paper art does not sell very well in outdoor settings. 

There are various groups one can join on Fine Art America, and I found a few to try. In one of the collage groups, I somehow got spotlighted and got a bevy of visits, some encouraging comments and one Tweet. So I will continue to look for groups and get more involved.

I consider myself to be more than a hobbyist, but less than a professional artist. I suffer from chronic pain in the form of neuropathy in my legs, but often if I focus on making art, I forget about my pain. I like to take art classes and never met an art supply I didn't want to play with. Perhaps once an art major, always an art major?!! "Collage before breakfast" is one of my mottoes. I enjoy putting my art up on Instagram. This summer I took a printmaking workshop from the Glassell School of Art. And though life often interferes with making art, I am strongly motivated to continue my art practice.

Monday, June 29, 2020

This is Happiness by Niall Williams

This Is Happiness (Bloomsbury, 2019) by Niall Williams seems to capture the very love of storytelling the Irish carry in their souls. For some readers, it may be on the slow side, but I sunk right into it.

The novel takes place in the remote Irish town of Faha which is not yet electrified though the twentieth century is several decades old. A man named Christy comes to town to get the electrification process started. Later, we learn he has another reason for being there. In any case, he boards with an old couple whose seventeen year-old grandson, Noe, is also visiting for a spell. Noe has left the "thorny austerity" of a seminary, not sure he wants to be a priest. His "wings had failed to open." Noe is ripe for change.

Faha has always been a very rainy place. But during this particular spring, it stops raining. People are almost blinded by all the unfamiliar sunlight.

Christy and Noe become fast friends. Christy has pretty much been around the world, yet he is a humble man. And I found him to be wise, as does Noe. Yet, he carries a secret that has in some ways has broken his spirit. He needs to right an old wrong. He confides in Noe, and soon Noe is also involved in hopefully orchestrating a resolution for Christy. (I am being a bit vague here because I don't want to create a spoiler.)

More than just these two characters and their shenanigans (Christy takes Noe to pubs, etc.), the novel is a richly detailed portrait of life in Faha. You come to appreciate the way folks talk, tell their stories and interact. Everyone knows everyone else's business and history. Noe's grandparents are in the minority as far as electricity goes, deciding not to go though with the wiring of their house. What a phenomenal period of time it is in Faha. The whole town is stirring, changing and we wonder if it will be for the better.

Another development involves Noe's first taste of love and romance when he comes down with a fierce crush on the snooty town doctor's daughter, and eventually also wonders if he isn't a bit also in love with her two sisters.

I have forgotten to say the book is told from the point of view of Noe looking back several decades at his this period of his life. He appreciates that poignant time of his own coming of age, as well as Christy's wise ways. Christy had a way of living in the moment. "This is happiness" is something Christy says, meaning simply being alive as he and Noe are cycling over the hills, winded, on their way to a pub one night. As they listen to some plaintive music at the pub, Noe mentions how looking at Christy, he could see not only his happiness, but also his sorrow. Hanging out with Christy greatly enlarges Noe's world.

I liked this book so much, I almost wanted to read it again as soon as I finished it. I have always been impressed with the tenderness of Niall Williams' writing. He has never let me down. I've only physically been to Ireland once (with my 100% Irish mother), but reading Niall Williams' books means I feel like I been there many times, privileged to go way deep into the heart of many Irish matters. And so I am grateful to the author. And impressed by his literary talents! Thank you, thank you.