Sunday, June 22, 2014

paper dolls for an anniversary

alma and mort
My parents just celebrated their 70th anniversary!  That's quite an accomplishment.  In trying to come up with a gift idea that would be fun, meaningful, and not add to their mission to downsize, I was stumped.  Then shortly before the actual date I hit on an idea.  My aunt Verlee is a paper doll collector.  I used to love paper dolls when I was young, made them all the time.  They don't take a lot of room, but can show a lot of history.  I decided to make a set of paper dolls for mom and dad that included clothes from the 8 decades that their relationship has existed.

I spent hours going through photo albums and boxes of images trying to find pictures that could piece together a story.  I sent my parents a card (a little lame)  to congratulate them with the promise of a gift to come.  And then I have spent the last three weeks figuring out how to do this and painting.  The dolls were the hardest part and I'm not totally happy with them, but they'll have to do.  I'm not great with the computer and took the faces from old photos, resizing them as best I could. I decided to use a younger set for the first 30 years and an older set after that.  If I were to do this again for anyone, I'd figure out a good standard body and make a few more ages so I could capture more of the hairstyles.

drum majorette and army air corps uniforms
I painted the clothes on watercolor paper, and then printed them out on thinner paper so they could actually be used if someone wanted to do that.  I'll get a folder to put it all in - and send it off this week.  It's been a great project.  I've had a lot of time to contemplate their lives and our relationship.  I hope this gift will stimulate conversation between them, help them to reflect on what this marriage has meant to them.  And I think it will give them some laughs as they share it with their friends and get to hear their stories that were being created at the same time.  As we get older, we come to treasure the stories most of all.

1970's casual cocktail clothes

1990's ski clothes

2014 anniversary celebration

Monday, March 3, 2014


Today was cold and still too much hard icy snow to get out with Ethan so we planned a make believe birdwatching expedition.  We made binoculars of toilet paper tubes glued together and decorated them, adding yarn to put them around our necks.

 Then we made up a bunch of birds that we taped around the house - in the "lamp" bush, on the fridge, taped to a closet door.

 He immediately recognized hummingbirds, owl, and robin.  Others we loosely interpreted, but he loved looking through Roger Tory Peterson's guide book to find things that kind of looked like our pictures.  I was delighted with how enthusiastic he was with the activity - we did this off and on all day.

 And later he drew his own birds.  There is nothing quite so wondrous as watching a child's imagination take over.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Birthday Celebration

It's been over 6 months since I last posted anything.  Family things happened.  Illnesses and accidents  happened. There has been sadness and there has been joy.  I'd like to spend some time on some of the joy.

daddy at 90
My dad's 90th birthday was Christmas eve.  Since he lives in Seattle, we don't often get to celebrate his birthday with him, not wanting to leave our grandchildren.  But a 90th birthday seemed to be a pretty special deal and one we couldn't miss.

What do you get someone turning 90 who has everything he needs or wants?  I decided to make a book for him about his life.  I have boxes and folders filled with old newspaper articles, letters, photos, and family history.  They're not organized very well, so it took a lot of digging.  My house was turned over to this project for a couple of months in the fall. 

Trying to figure out how to approach telling his story gave me a new appreciation for people who write biographies!  So many decisions have to be made. And I had to be realistic about the time frame I had to work with - I should have begun this  a year ago when I first thought about doing this.

I bought a spiral bound sketch book, about 8 1/2 by 11".  I decided to hand write the story, beginning with a title that would give me some lea way:  "An Incomplete, Significantly Biased Chronicle of the Remarkable Life of Morten Thornton Beck Joslin".  That way, I couldn't be accused of leaving things out, reporting my own point of view, etc.  I realize that everyone who knows him could have experienced the same event and come up with a different take on it.

His grandparents had come from various parts of this country and other countries - so the question began to take shape - how did they all arrive in such a place as to make it possible for him to be born?  And then there was all the moving around that he did over his lifetime, between the military service, college, job.  I learned so much about the family in doing this. 

It became apparent that I couldn't keep it a secret since I wanted to include as much accurate information as I could and much of that was only known to him.  What a memory he has! He gave me so many details that at times I couldn't write fast enough. 

I left empty pages throughout the book so that he, mom, my brother or sister could add stories that I had not put in.  And I copied lots of photos, as many as the book would hold, to accompany the narratives throughout.

He was thrilled.  I was so excited to have been able to do this for him.  And we will copy it for our kids and grandchildren so they will have a better sense of this man whom many of them will not have a chance to know as well as he or they would like. 

My mom's 90th is coming up in another year - I should start working on that soon!

Have you thought of writing down your own stories?  Or those of family members?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Prayers Without Words Part 3


This is one of the newer pieces.  I had Holy Cross Monastery in mind when I painted it, thinking of how that community opens its arms to all the souls who come there for respite, refreshment, or challenge.  People show up from many places, in various conditions and are made to feel welcome Hospitality is such an important practice - whether it's on a deeper level, considering how we treat refugees, immigrants, "the other", or even more frequently, how we make anyone around us feel welcome and important. How do we support those whose paths cross ours?
Think of a time when you have truly felt overwhelmed.  It often builds slowly, you may feel like you've got this one, you're ok, but stuff just keeps happening and pretty soon, you are buried.  Everything comes crashing down on you.  You might experience suffocation, panic attacks.  Often when we've been through something like that, we at least know that we survive and come out the other side.  We might be able to call out, to say the one prayer we can speak - "Help!"  We might just be able to go limp and let the wave wash over us, trusting that a silent prayer has been heard.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Prayers Without Words Part 2

These hot humid summer days I find myself dreaming of water.  I look for opportunities to take it in, be in it, listen to it.  There is the physical need for water, of course; and beyond that there are all the metaphorical and symbolic images of unquenchable thirst that we experience in our lives. 

When I wanted to paint this thirst, my inner eye saw deep desert orange, hot, unrelenting.  I used to live in a semi desert climate- and actually the middle of the day was white hot, burning your eyes, making you want to hide.  But now, orange comes to mind.  I see this vulnerable self that is composed largely of water, but the inside is as hot and dry as the outside.


We can become dulled by everyday struggles, we stop seeing and perceiving in creative ways. When we are able to interrupt our routines, either through vacation, retreat, or making small intentional changes in our patterns, we may find our brighter selves, the ones we thought we knew, coming out again.
The tarnish builds up so insidiously that we often aren't aware of how much we are in  need of refreshment.

What does your thirst feel like?  What are you doing to refresh yourself?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Prayers Without Words - A Series

It seems odd to write a lot of words about a series of paintings entitled Prayers Without Words, and yet, I feel compelled to do so.  I guess my hope is that the pieces might be more useful to viewers if they have a little background and explanation.

I began this series while on a yoga retreat four years ago.  In preparation to head off to the monastery I decided to add a compass and ruler to my usual art supplies. Usually my inclination is to paint saints, angels, more representational pieces.  But what developed on this occasion was a series of 15 simple abstract pieces. I found myself meditating on various prayer situations, trying to see how they might be  envisioned  in color, circle, and line. 

The completed paintings were very small -  2 1/2" by 3", and I had left no border for framing them.  Over the past four years I've given some away, thought about how I might rework them, add to them.  I've even made some into larger water colors or acrylic paintings.  When I took a painting course at Omega with Jeanne Carbonetti in May, I showed them to her and she encouraged me to mat and frame them.  For the past six weeks I've been redoing the original ones in a 4" size, and have come up with nine more.  The originals were rectangular; the new ones are square.  They are matted in 8" by 8" black frames.

I'll post a few at a time.  I find myself thinking of other prayers to add - some come with an image, some, like "Love", I need more time to envision.  If you have prayers that you would like to see in this format, let me know, and I'll see what I can do.

The first one is Community.  I chose mostly bright colors, circles that intersect in all kinds of ways, big ones, little ones.  There are small areas of discordant color - as there are in all relationships.

The second one  is Solitude.  We each have various needs for community and solitude.  It is in solitude where we find the quiet and space to figure out who we are, what we bring to the community.  For myself, I need a lot of solitude.  I find I get lost without it.  And yet I love to be in full community, too - to rejoin those wild wonderful, sometimes messy circles.

May you know yourself and honor yourself to find the balance you need for community and solitude.


Friday, May 3, 2013

A Perfect Spring Day

How many perfect days do we get?

Today Al and I decided to go for a hike to Minnewaska.  I hadn't been there in years and had forgotten how lovely it is there.  The morning was sunny, warm, but with a delicious cool breeze that kept the bugs away.  Because of the slight elevation flowers are behind the valley - coltsfoot was abundant, ferns were just unfolding.

We decided to walk around the lake first.  I wish I knew birds well enough to identify them by their songs and flight patterns.  They were everywhere.  We spied a water snake coming to the edge of the lake to warm itself.  Al had been hiking last week with a friend who loves snakes.  They came across a rat snake sunning itself and Al was surprised to see Mike reach down and gently stroke the snake's back.  Mike said that it was trying to warm itself and so was a little more sluggish than it would have been on a warmer day.  The snake enjoyed the warmth of Mike's hand.  We didn't try to touch this one - just enjoyed spying it along with lots of salamanders and a few small fish.

In my early 30's I loved going to Minnewaska to swim.  The water was alkaline, silky, a beautiful blue.  There was a raft where you could lie in the sun and warm up until you were ready to swim again.  Brave souls would dive off the cliffs.  It's much more regimented now, and even the water has changed. You didn't used to see fish.  But I'm glad the state took it over.  Otherwise, there would no longer be any public access.  We attended some of the hearings when there was a dispute to decide whether it would go to the state or to developers.  I remember one of the opponents of the state complaining that if the state got it, you'd only have "backpackers and skinnydippers" there.

We walked down to Awosting Falls - such a beautiful spot.

After lunch on the rocks overlooking the lake we headed out to do some errands.  Even those were pleasurable, colored by the magic of the day.