Sunday, September 29, 2013


Once upon a time, I wrote a blog post about my mom's best friend, Joanne Prokop.

You can find the post, A Kinder Kidney, in the December/2012 folder. I wrote about Joanne's struggle to find a kidney donor. She has Polycystic Kidney Disease and has been waiting to find a match with a donor.

Good News! After four long years of waiting... a match has been found and Joanne goes in for transplant surgery tomorrow to replace her failing kidneys.

Please keep her and her family in prayers and positive thoughts as she begins the new chapter of her life with a healthy kidney.

An update to the update: Joanne has been recovering very quickly after her kidney transplant. It was very nice to see her and know she is doing well.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Turning Back Time

While I write this blog post, I hear the tinny circus music of the ice cream truck becoming louder as it drives up my lane for what will most likely be the last time of the season. Lightning storms will motivate them to pack their goods in deep freeze for the winter. I can't help but think back to the time when I was a child and I don't think there was an ice cream truck anywhere in the wild corners of Mendocino County.

Debra, me and Monty. Astonishingly, at 53, I still accidentally give myself that particular haircut. 
Behind us may be the stairs to my grandfathers workshop... I am not sure of the date.
Frog Woman Rock - 1984
(Renamed from Squaw
Rock in 2011)
I have a few scattered memories of my early school days spent in the hills of Northern California, outside  the small community of Hopland, where we lived in the old Riverbend Hotel and Stage Stop; it was quite the pale pink monolith rising up from the side of scenic Highway 101 just north of Frog Woman Rock* (Until 2011, known as "Squaw Rock") where the legend of star-crossed lovers was memorialized on a boulder off the highway with a little extended real estate that no one ever seemed to use for anything other than a turnaround.

Our home was a three- storey dwelling that had a great deal of potential as a restoration project... of course I didn't know this when I was 6 years old. HGTV was nowhere in sight in 1966. However, I can look back in my mind and see the old construction and all the possibilities that were present and I find I am very fond of the memory of that house.

Me, Debra and Monty ready for school. Highway 101
is behind us and the vineyard extends to the base of
the hills where the Russian River flows.
In the neighborhood of our hotel, there were four houses. The DeMarcantonios' were the wealthy wine farmers who lived on top of the cliff behind our house. The very steep road that lead up to their mansion was narrow and on the left, the yellow hills climbed in tandem with the road, but to the right, I imagined the earth falling away to what seemed like miles of nothing to the nearly dry, Pieta Creek.

Once, while on a walk with my parents, I remember following my older siblings out into the tall wheat-colored grass, when Dad called us back we all ran at top speed. My brother and sister made it back safely to our parents, but as I neared the road the downhill slope gave me increased speed and I didn't know how to put the breaks on my legs. Lucky for me, Dad could run faster and we met in the middle of the road, him scooping me up into the safety of his arms before I reached the cliff side.

At the top of this mighty mountain was the castle... the fortress of the DeMarcantonio wine family, (in retrospect, this home was a Spanish style rambler.) They were the richest people we knew, evidenced by the dog named Queenie and a dish that sat on their coffee table all the time and was always magically filled with candy.

From the perch overlooking the valley, the DeMarcantonio family looked down upon us in our three-storey home and and also saw the goings-on at my grandparents' dwelling situated a bit north along the highway. A little further up on this bank of structures was Grandpa's store, Jensen's Rock Shop and Metal Arts, which was packed floor to ceiling with knick-knacks and shells and rocks and all kinds of stuff.

Ethel and Carl Jensen, my grandparents pictured to the left below, lived in the front of an abandoned gas station. The room was very small and split down the middle by a beautiful wrought iron screen that my grandmother covered in fabric and used to divide the space into a kitchen-dining-music-study-living room and a bedroom-bathroom-closet.

Grandma and Grampa are on the right, Aunt Uli's 
mother is in blue. There was an upright piano behind 
my Aunt Uli and Uncle Paul on the far left. 
It now sits in my garage, neglected.
The bedroom-bathroom-closet was fascinating. Their double bed took up the bulk of the room, leaving a little space for a dresser. The closet was the only thing in the space that was actually used as intended... it housed clothes, but it also was utilized as the bathroom and when you moved the clothes aside, there was a coffee can that doubled as a chamber pot.

The coffee can/chamber pot was the convenience because there was a bathroom that could be accessed by turning left outside Grandma's door, through the tunnel-like variegated metal-roofed workshop of my Grandpa's metal arts business, out the end door, down the staircase to the ground, and then wind your way around the green metal door of the cinderblock construction that was the public restroom of the original gas station.

It was a hike during the day, but at night... it was beyond scary to make that trek with a flashlight held in a shaky hand that made the situation worse by creating threatening, animated shadows from the stacks of metal and junk that would later be repurposed into art with form and function but that in the meantime, just looked like monsters ready to be awakened, hence the conveniently placed coffee-can-in-the-closet trick.

My childhood playground. (Click to Enlarge)
The fourth home in our little roadside community was a place I never visited but was inhabited by a man I never saw but heard stories about him from my Grandpa and Dad. The tales of "Mr. Davis" only served to make him seem like the "troll under the bridge."

Mr. Davis– not his real name but the marker I hold in my memory when my mother is not present to correct me– was known for killing deer and not using the meat, which for my parents and grandparents who lived the struggle to keep food on the table, could not stomach such waste.

Whenever we saw the black shadow of the vultures, they seemed to glide ominously above the mysterious Davis' property and the rumors always came back to the same theme: "if you end up on the Davis land, he will shoot to kill."

These were the people who made up the human inhabitants of our neighborhood.

This was our front yard. Our front door was on this side of the tree.
Old Highway 101 was rerouted, which turned it into a short lane.
In 1984, reroute construction had just begun, instigated by the
Russian River washing out the road near FrogWoman Rock.
In our old hotel, we housed many "non-human" residents. Most notably, hundreds and hundreds of bats.

At dusk, we would call out to the bats in the attic, sending them in a big black wave off into the sunset. This was our evening ritual.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, Dad would jump around the room using a broom like a Louisville Slugger, swinging it through the air to knock a stray bat out of the ball park... or the window or possibly scare it back into the light fixture it crawled into from the attic. However it got into our room, it never ended happily for the bat, much to my sister's distress.

Debra is an Animal Rights Activist and when I think back to her reaction to animals dying, whether by cars on the highway, butchers who make house calls or by relatives ridding our home of pests, she did not tolerate this well at all. There were always tears and the end result was that the three of us spent some time attending funerals for any number of creatures big and small.

An unwelcome group of inhabitants were the bees. I remember my grandfather, Jeff Bradshaw, dressed in his big white beekeepers suit as he carried away a giant nest of honey bees that lived in the back corner of the roof. I could say he looked like an astronaut (if I knew that was a career option prior to 1968) as the flying trail of bees followed him and their home to his old white pickup.

I don't remember the fence, the paved road or the fruit
crates but this is the back of our home when mom and
I drove through the area in 1984.
In the basement, the ground floor, we were very careful to check for Rattlers and black widows before exploring some of the darker corners as there were no steps up to a foundation. In these dark corners with dirt under our feet and cobwebs overhead, we found shelves of ancient mason jars filled with well preserved pickles and fruit. It looked like an abandoned laboratory to me and these were relics that were never disturbed.

My all-time favorite interlopers were the snowy owls that hooted from the tree near our third-story bedroom window. While reading bedtime stories from books my grandmother loved, she would pause and encourage us to go to the window and say "goodnight" to the owls.

Grandma's bedtime stories were the very best. The Wind in the Willows, Mother Goose and The Tail of Peter Rabbit were my favorites. After the story and the goodnight hugs and kisses, Grandma would tuck us into bed, turn out the light and leave us to our slumber with the snowy white owls gently who-who-ing us to sleep. It was the best of times.

It was the place where innocence lived. The place where my sister, brother and I were a wild tribe of children, animal rescuers, explorers... where the only rule was to be home by dinner or we wouldn't get to eat... before the Bat Massacre at Pieta Creek*, before we sought the fences and greener pastures in the suburbs of Seattle and then Ellensburg, before our family structure crumbled and before I learned the secrets I would keep from myself.

My grownup self knows that our world had to change. My parents weren't happy. But the child trapped inside me still cries at the ending of Mrs. Doubtfire.

*Frog Woman Rock -

*The Bat Massacre at Pieta Creek was when my uncles and grandfathers came together and killed as many bats as they could by sweeping them out of the attic and throwing them against the front of the house until the pink plaster siding was splattered and stained with rivulets of blood and the ground surrounding our front door was black and red welcome mat of mangled bat bodies. Some people believe that bats are a sign of goodness, health and luck. When things go wrong, it is said that the Bat Medicine is gone.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Seeing Singer Sargent

While I was in Chicago with my daughter, Courtney, we debated whether to visit the Museum of Modern Art or the Art Institute of Chicago. We would only be there for two days so if we wanted to see the city, we could only take time for one museum. We had to decide.

I chose the Art Institute of Chicago as soon as I realized they had several works by Cezanne. I have been studying his work lately and find it to be very intriguing. I knew this to be the right decision because after talking with some of the museum staff, we discovered they also have 6-8 John Singer Sargent Paintings on display.

That would be AMAZING! I have love, love, loved John Singer Sargent's work for like FOREVER! He was known for his ability to sketch with paint and the result was much like a finished work of art. This created some jealousy among his peers. Madam X, pictured below in its three different forms, was one of his most notorious pieces.
A photo of the 3 versions of Madam X from the Tate Museum
I first saw Madam X at the Seattle Art Museum and was intrigued and in awe by Sargent's ability to create such a perfect painting. It was so long ago, and I actually think I saw the first version of this piece with the shoulder strap down. Madam X was not one of my favorite paintings but it had an impact on me because of the story and disapproval the painting received. I was surprised it didn't get great reviews. It is a pretty impressive work of art.

This painting was considered a scandalous entry when it was debuted at the Paris Salon of 1884 and originally was painted with one strap sliding off her shoulder. The reviews were terrible and consequently humiliated the subject, Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, who was a beautiful socialite in Paris society who used her femininity to advance her position and status. Although Madame Gautreau was famed for her infidelities, the scandal of the painting's reception did not work in her favor.

Eventually two other artists painted portraits of her that were similar in style, yet not nearly as dramatic, and were very well received by the art critics and the public. John Singer Sargent gave up his dream of becoming a famed portrait painter of Paris and moved to London where he continued to paint amazing portraits and became famed for this ability, despite the negative experience in Paris.
Since that long ago viewing and until this trip, I was only able to see John Singer Sargent's work through the internet and books.

Fast Forward to the Unexpected Chicago Visit, 2013.

Shortly after entering the Art Institute of Chicago, it became clear that it would take more than a week to explore all the art available for viewing.

We decided we had to pick up the pace and get moving if we were going to see the Singer Sargents... and a Cezanne... Dali... O'Keefe... Gauguin... Monet... Wood... Hokusai... oh Art Institute of Chicago you attention hog!

This realization came after we spent a large amount of our time being amazed by the 68 piece Thorne Miniature Rooms Collection where Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago constructed perfect miniature historical period rooms between 1932 and 1940 and where one foot equals one inch in scale, display after display amazed us both. (Yes, that is the Montgomery Ward family connection.) Mrs. Thorne directed the most talented craftsmen/women on every aspect of each display.

The amount of detail in each work was really accurate from the dishes on the shelves to the weave of the braided or Persian carpets to the teeny tiny toys scattered on the floor where children would have played had they been Lilliputians.

The rest of our visit seemed like a mad dash to the finish. There were complete buildings we didn't have time to explore on the campus. Next time.

Following are the paintings that I was so happy to see in person. I was surprised by the fact that we were allowed to take pictures of these paintings and that on more than one occasion, I was able to step right up and stand inches away from these great works.

These are the highlights:

Master printmaker Hokusai's Great Wave at Kanagawa is a stunning print and one of my son, Benjamin's favorites so, of course, I had to get a photo... or two. (Look how close I am to the art. I am feeling like someone should have run over and scolded me.)

Although Claude Monet is not my favorite artist, the Art Institute of Chicago has an impressive collection. The Haystack series is pretty interesting because it is several paintings of the same thing. Monet repeated his subject matter over and over.

While wandering through the different rooms, for a moment, I thought we had walked into the same gallery we had just been in, because I was seeing the lilies again. The Art Institute had... 30 or more Monets.

Tehamana Has Many Ancestors, 1893, by Paul Gauguin is a beautiful painting. I love everything about it. The design of the background, the uncomfortable pose, the striped dress, the lighting.

In 2012, before I went to Denmark I saw an extensive showing of Gauguin's work at the Seattle Art Museum. It was really a beautiful display of his many talents as an artist, printmaker, and carver.

When I visited the Glyptotek across from Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, the woman said it was a shame I hadn't come at a different time because their extensive Gauguin Collection was in Seattle.

Paul Cezanne is another favorite that I am just now discovering. Seeing The Basket of Apples, 1893, was a kind of a thrill, I have to admit. I was totally an art nerd and Courtney just laughed as we discovered new treasures around every corner.

Van Gogh's Grapes, Lemons, Pear, and Apples, 1887 is one I have not seen before. I think that most of the time, the famed painters of the past have a handful of art they are known for, but when you dig deeper, you find treasures that surprise. With Van Gogh we are so used to seeing the self-portraits and the brighter colored works.

Talouse Latrec, Equestrienne, 1888. I love this.

John Singer Sargent

Okay, finally, the reason for this post: John Singer Sargent and what I love about his artwork.

Mrs. George Swinton, 1897

First of all, his skin tones are beautiful. He puts the delicate pinks in the right places and highlights are subtle but add a richness and reality to the subjects features.

When he paints the hands, Sargent uses just a few strokes and the hands look natural and realistic, but when close up, I see the strokes and the changes are just varying hues of light and dark.

The fabric is masterful. He has an amazing ability to capture the light and shadow and nature of certain fabrics and how they bend. Also, the satin and taffeta are reflecting perfectly where the cloth rises and folds. The sheer quality of the left sleeve is lovely. Up close it looks like a jumble of paint strokes.

Mrs. George Swinton was huge, over 90 inches high. I loved seeing this painting in person.

I took many many more pictures at this museum and, as you know, I can go on and on about these artsy experiences.

So I will wrap this up and say that I am thankful my daughter brought me along on this impromptu trip to Iowa and I loved it that we somehow ended up in Chicago. I saw 6 paintings of my favorite painter and so much more.

I love Chicago!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Reassessing Renoir

The Art Institute of Chicago is a wonderful place to explore. I believe it would take a few weeks of daily visits to see everything there is to see, but still that wouldn't leave time to actually study the works on display.

While in Iowa finishing up our visit to the town of our family origins, Courtney and I were studying a map and trying to figure out where we would be for the next few days. We discovered that Chicago was pretty close and right next to Chicago was a Great Lake... Michigan to be exact.

We dipped our toes in the Mississippi, why not a Great Lake? Asking that question is how we ended up at the Art Institute of Chicago.

I am a graduate of the Art Institute of Seattle and I don't remember ever seeing an art museum on campus. It was the early 90's, but still,  I did think all the Art Institutes were connected and that you could easily transfer from one school to the next and still get the same education and the same opportunities. After seeing the massively amazing Art Institute of Chicago, I have decided one is not interchangeable with the next.

While dashing around looking at all the displays, I stumbled upon a Renoir. It was somewhere between the Talouse Latrec pieces and the Salvador Dali offerings. This made me pause. I have heard some criticism towards the inclusion of Auguste Pierre Renoir into the Great Masters of Art for his Impressionist Paintings.

Auguste Pierre Renoir, 1841–1919) was a French artist who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. As a celebrator of beauty, and especially feminine sensuality, it has been said that "Renoir is the final representative of a tradition which runs directly from Rubens to Watteau." Wikipedia

Let us look for a moment at a comparison within this tradition from Rubens to Watteau (click on the painting to enlarge):
A Girl with a Watering Can,
1876, Auguste Pierre Renoir
The Honeysuckle Bower,
1609, Peter Paul Rubens
Commedia dell' Arte,
1718-19, Antoine Watteau

I do not understand how the Renoir is "the final representative of a tradition which runs directly from Rubens to Watteau." I really would like to know how these paintings are linked and what tradition is this quote in reference to?

Renoir is an impressionist painter, Watteau was into Rococo, and Rubens was Baroque. I suppose we could draw a line from the exacting work of Rubens to the less exacting style of Watteau and then ultimately to the Renoir as the style loosens considerably from the other two.

I find this interesting, and yet I do not know the answer.

Feel free to chime in.

Madame Leon Clapisson, 1883

Monday, August 12, 2013

Quick Question!

Does it seem odd to anyone else to drive halfway across one farming state and only see two different crops?

Recently, my daughter and I went to Iowa and while we were there, we saw some lovely scenery, historic sights and a whole lot of corn. Scattered throughout some of these massive corn fields were smaller crops of soy beans.

It was pretty amazing to me, growing up in a farming community like Ellensburg I saw a diversity of crops from corn, alfalfa, hay, wheat, cherries and apples. I never really thought about how a farming state could become singularly motivated, so while I was in Iowa, I learned about corn.

I already knew a little about subsidies to farmers, but I needed a lot more information. Following, is a very brief and somewhat vague version of the subsidy program in a wild walnut shell:

The subsidy programs give farmers extra money for their crops and guarantees a price floor... meaning the price will not drop below a predetermined price, ensuring farmers can continue to survive during the leanest of times. This sounds like a pretty good way to keep farmers farming so they can continue to feed the masses.

In 2006, farmers were paid $40,000 per person on the farm or $80,000 per couple, depending on their crop, of course.

The top three states receiving subsidies are Texas, Iowa and Illinois. Iowa recieves 9% of its farming income from subisdies.  "The Total USDA Subsidies from farms in Iowa totaled $1,212,000,000 in 2006." Wikipedia. (This represents 2% of the state's population that continues to farm.)

The largest soy bean field we saw.  Corn on the horizon.
Today, as it turns out, Iowa farmers are getting rich. The corn prices have skyrocketed, and consequently, the subsidies keep coming because they are not dependent on how high or low the farmer's income happens to be at any particular time. What matters, is that the subsidies keep the farmers farming so the Agri-Business thrives,  corn additives can continue to lure shoppers to market for high calorie packaged food, cattle can consume more corn-feed, and ethanol can keep engines running.

Also, another side benefit is that the U.S. can sell more crops and be more competitive in the World Market, thus making it difficult for farmers in developing countries to attain economic growth. As you may have guessed, the U.S. Agriculture Subsidy Program is very controversial. (I do not guarantee the accuracy of my facts.)

The Tassel - The Male Part of Corn
Back to the Corn! What you see in this picture is the plant that is cultivated for next year's corn feed crop. The top of the corn stalk is called the tassel. This is the male part of the plant. The ear is the female part.

While we were learning about corn, the kids in Central Iowa, were already shoulder-deep in the De-tasseling season. What happens during de-tasseling is that the tassels of the crop are removed and then every other row is pulled so that alternating rows contain a male plant with tassels in tact and a female plant containing ears. The silk grows out of the ear and is pollinated by the tassel. This tiring job can earn the de-tasselers about $12-15 per hour. (Thats better than some graphic designers earn after years of expensive un-subsidized education.)

De-tasseling was primarily a line of work filled by the children of the community but as times change, the kids are opting out, forcing farmers to hire seasonal workers. This change in the workforce then has implications and impact on several other interesting and controversial subjects such as migrant farm-worker's conditions, corruption, undocumented workers, minimum wage, and labor disputes. (Fodder for another post, I am sure.)

Anyway, back to America's crop, the tassels pollinate the ears and voila, up to 1000 embryos can be created on each ear of corn, thus creating the seeds for next year. So this cornfield like many of the fields we saw while traveling through Iowa, were planted just to make seeds in a cross-pollination process that most likely was genetically altered in some way to become a super-all-powerful-death-defying-uber-amazing corn plant.

Just look at these stalks. They were all so green and thriving that it was a little weird. Field after field as far as the eye can see. It really was a beautiful sight and I found myself wanting to sing our National Anthem on more than one occasion. Instead, Courtney and I ignored the "No Trespassing" signs and stepped into.... a cornfield!

I would like to point out, for the record, nothing bad happened in our cornfield. I have heard that "nothing good happens in corn fields."

The best fact I learned about corn came from our friend John. "Each kernel on the ear is represented by a strand of silk. If the silk strand gets damaged, it will create a hole where the kernel should have been."

Question? Have you ever wondered why some kernels of corn were collapsed when you peeled back the husk?

Now you know. I love this fact. It made me very happy to learn this little bit of corn trivia! This info, although important to a farmer and genetic engineer, is not useful to me which is why I will remember it forever. Thank you, John.

I had a great time in Iowa. We spent some time with friends, which was really the best time and we learned quite a bit about the state of our ancestors.

I was able to help Joan a bit with her wedding plans for her daughter who will be married later this coming weekend, which brought to mind my daughter's wedding that we celebrated a few days ago.

Some of the sights that will stay etched in my mind: The wild walnut trees and beautiful purple flowers growing in a field near burial mounds that made me pause, feeling sadness for the extinct Indian tribes of Iowa.

Near the Iowa River I saw amazing vines growing from the trees and walked across the muddy water on an old train trestle while intoxicated inter-tubers floated below.

Our friends shared, their families, the fruits of the garden, love and prayers.

Our friends in Grundy Center and Steamboat Rock are the BEST!

As I sit here in my home, drinking a glass of my favorite wine, I offer a toast, and a team meeting to our friends. Have a joyful celebration this weekend and thank you for the wonderful memories. Good times.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Post Pierce Promulgation

I am now two weeks out the other side of finishing my time at Pierce College. Whew!

I have discovered many things about myself throughout this "Back to School Journey" and some of these things surprise me.

A few of my personal and educational discoveries are:

  1. From Point A to Point B, I like to finish things - I have a bit of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). You might have noticed that characteristic while reading my blogs. I like to number them... or alphabetize my entries. In my Design 220 class, we were required to blog on all of our projects ( I felt compelled to tie in my blogs numerically in relationship to the assignment number.

    Or maybe you noticed a rainbow colored headline series or the fact that I have sections in my library that are arranged by subject, alphabetically or that I am bothered if things don't line up for one reason or another? (The line-up issue can cause my husband to sigh and carry on.)

    Another OCD sign for me is once I start a book, I feel I have to finish it. About ten years ago I was reading a novel and it was very poorly written.  I threw it away. (I know, I haven't really let that go but I am prepared to throw another novel away if it is that bad. I just choose my reading more carefully now.)

    The Completion compulsion worked very well for me, as it usually does. I finished school and now have an AA in Digital Design to add to my list of accomplishments. (Okay, I still have paperwork to do... I'll get there. Procrastination... yes I could have made this blog about that.)

  2. I didn't enjoy going back to school - This one was a shock for me. I love learning and enjoyed taking continuing ed classes, so when I was attending school full time again, I didn't relish it in the way I thought I would. This possibility never occurred to me. I just always thought it would be fun. As it turns out, it was difficult and oftentimes a very lonely experience. I spent so much time and energy on school, that I didn't socialize with my friends, family events suffered because homework deadlines loomed, I didn't reach out to other students and the stress of all of this made me sick. Going back to school was definitely one of the most difficult things I have done.
  3. My Invisibility Shield worked against me - Like a Hobbit in the presence of a Goblin, I have an uncanny ability to be
    Martin Freeman in the Hobbit.
    invisible in some social situations. I can figuratively disappear. This is actually a good skill to have when danger is present. Not so helpful when you need attention for one reason or another. I am not a squeaky wheel so there were times my comments or questions would trail off into the ether never to be seen or heard from again. Also, due to my tendency towards insomnia and the overwhelming homework load, I didn't always have the energy to retract the Invisibility.
  4. I love painting - Drawing was something that came naturally to me and at times, I didn't value that talent. I thought of drawing as this skill I possessed that others wanted to see but that the emotional toll of drawing was pretty heavy and so over the years I have spent less and less time drawing to the point of almost forgetting how to do it. The attention to detail and need for perfection smothered me at times.

    In the Fall of 2011, I enrolled late at Pierce College and the only classes available were a managing online classes class, a design guidelines course Beginning Digital Photography and Beginning Painting.

    In Dave Roholt's painting class, I found a love of acrylic painting. I had no idea this would be true. I remember that first painting, the purple blue and yellow still life. I worried over the details so much that by the time I was ready to do my second painting, Still Life with Glass, I was so over-thinking that it would take me forever because I am a detail freak, that Dave suggested painting with the large brush and go in detail at the very end. That was brilliant! I didn't end up using any of the small brushes and I was happy with the results. It was freeing to be released from the pressure I felt when wielding a pencil. As a result of this discovery, my artwork has appeared in three Art Gallery shows and two publications. One of my paintings (actually three), The Blue Room Triptych, is hanging in the Pierce College Puyallup Library. I am happy to be a painter.
  5. Hate is too strong for Math - Weird, I know. I wouldn't go so far as to say I like math, but I don't hate it anymore. There were times in my math classes that I actually looked forward to some of the exercises. (Lining up all those numbers was a very OCD fix moment for me.)

    When I took my college assessment test, I thought the results were amazing. I earned my usual good marks for the English and Writing and was not required to take more classes in these subjects, but when I looked at the notes from the test evaluator, I was shocked. I got a 54 in math? What? Half of the questions on the test, I didn't even understand. I checked D for many of the multiple choice and didn't answer some problems that I couldn't comprehend what the question was asking me to do. And I got a 54. Wow, I thought that test was so messed up.

    Later when I was registering for classes, my adviser mentioned that I didn't have to take any math because I fulfilled that requirement with my BA in 1987. I thought, regardless of the test results, I should sign up for a math just so I know how to solve basic problems. So I said, "I got a 54 on my math test, but I still think I should enroll in a basic course so I can take the Business Math." I then showed him my Compass Test Results.

    He laughed and said, "that is the class they are recommending you start with."

    I qualified for math 54. What is that 5th Grade?
    My siblings and me somewhere
    between 1969-1972. (Possibly in
    5th grade and I am not holding
    a math book)
    Now, that made more sense. So I proceeded to take math 54 and then skipped to 107, because there was no way I was taking math 54, 60, 95, and 98 just so I could take 107-Business Math, which is recommended for the Digital Design degree. No Way!

    I made it through both 54 and 107, although my family might disagree with the fact that I don't hate it. There were a lot of tears and frustration when I thought I would never get it. But thanks to the patience and calm demeanor of my husband, Gerard-The-Amazing-Math-Tutor and the  empathy and compassion of my son, Benjamin, also not a lover of math, I got most of it, and that is good enough for math, in my world. 
  6. I am a Print-maker - This one is right up there with being a Painter. I enjoy printmaking to the point of wanting to have my own press... in my very own art studio. I would willingly give someone who donated a print press to my cause, a print from every run I made until that print press or I broke down. Any takers?

    I didn't actually register for a printmaking class when I was introduced to the fine art of Printmaking. I was in the intermediate drawing class... yes, I took intermediate drawing to reconnect and make peace with my drawing skills.

    Along the Roadside, Graphite, 2012
    What is funny about this, is that I used the class to explore other forms of medium besides graphite and really, aside from my daily sketchbook assignments and a live model session in which I used my left hand, I only created one finished pencil drawing.

    One of our assignments in this class was to create a solar print. This process required me to draw in order to have the design for the print. I came to print day completely unprepared and did a quick sketch, which turned out okay and gave me something to work with. I was thinking this printing process was a lot of work and that I wouldn't want to continue so whatever I came up with was fine.

    A funny thing happened. I discovered I liked the process.

    How many steps does it take to make one solar print?:
    • Drawing. Check.  
    • Copy of art onto a transparency. Check. 
    • The image transparency is attached to the solar plate and then exposed to ultra-violet light. Check. 
    • Don protective vinyl gloves to wash the chemical emulsion off the plate until the image is apparent and the chemicals are gone. Check. 
    • Let the plate harden. Check. 
    • Soak the print paper. Check.
    • Don different gloves. Check.
    • Set up an inking station. Mix the ink with Easy Wipe to make it more pliable. This is called warming the ink. Check. 
    • Apply the ink to the etched plate. Check. 
    • Rub it into the etched areas with a wad of tulle. Check. 
    • Wipe the plate with a taffeta to achieve an even tone in the blank areas. Check. 
    • Clean up the plate edges and wipe away any stray ink on the back or sides of the solar plate. 
    • Check. Lay the plate on the print bed. Check. 
    • Remove gloves. Check.
    • Pat dry a sheet of paper and lay it over the top of the plate, careful to center the paper over the plate. Check.
    • Roll the print through the press. Check.
    • Move the print to the drying rack to dry... for at least 24 hours. Check.
    • Wipe the print bed clean. Check
    • Begin the process again from step 6.

      My first print ever, "Playa."
      I realize this is an art form that is about the process. I decided I like processes. When I quit drinking coffee, I missed the steps required to prepare coffee. I enjoy juicing, cutting produce, placing it in the juicer, and cleaning my machine.
      I rarely vary my steps in these processes and do the same actions in the same order. (Reference my first discovery of this blog post.) It made sense and I really do like the results. Over my almost two year time at Pierce College I have made many prints.

      My last quarter, I finished nine different prints when my requirement was to do four. I do love it. You can view some of my latest prints and other artwork at
  7. I prefer to connect with people - This is one I already knew. I do like making connections and learning about the people I have interactions with on a regular basis. By isolating myself at the beginning of this educational journey, I denied myself something that I feel is essential to my well-being.

    "I am a people-person." I have heard folks say this over and over, but for me it is not a cliche. I am. I like knowing how people feel about any given subject. When a classmate says something, appropriate or not, I want to explore the comment and find out why they said it or what it means.

    Winter quarter, my second to last quarter at Pierce, after returning from the Students of Color Conference and connecting with my co-workers, Megan and Arsenio, among many others,
    Arsenio Lopez, III and Megan Hamilton giving me a hand.
    I realized I was missing this major part of who I am. I finally took the time to look beyond my overwhelming stress levels to build relationships with a few of the students I spent time with every day.

    Whether studying with my classmates or chatting with my coworkers, this made my last few quarters so much better, despite continuing to feel overwhelmed. Live and learn... another cliche.
I learned so much more than I have promulgated in this post, but I feel if you made it to this point, I owe it to you to wrap it up.

This was a huge learning experience for me and although I am finally done with school... I can't help but wonder if I should look into getting my Masters in Fine Art. Hmmm, being a student wasn't that hard....

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Out with the Old

Hipsters! Consider yourselves served. I would like it to be known... I picked up my new glasses this week. (These spectacles are reminiscent of my glasses from 1993.) The fact that I have these glasses is the sign for all Trenders to move on to the next big thing. It's like when the crocuses pop up as the first sign of spring.

I find I often come to trends on the tail end or well past the trend arc. I was the next-to-the-last person to get a cell phone. (The last person was my brother-in-law.) I only caved in to the cell phone thing when my car broke down in the fall of 1990 and I was 40 miles away from everyone I knew. It was freezing and I had a parakeet in the car. A nice man stopped and asked if I needed a ride and I said "no, but can you call my husband from your cell phone?" That was a little pathetic. Nice man called. Husband rescued me. The bird lived.

To prove my theory, witness my recent discovery of flaxseed.  I just started using it and I found out a few days later that flaxseed is out and chia seeds are in. (I know, flaxseed has been around for a few years but see, this is what this post is about. Me discovering things later. Like The Police. I found them after they split up and I decided I liked Sting anyway...a very controversial statement.)

Def Leppard acquired from Pinterest.
It's like when Madonna ran around in leggings under her underwear and Def Leppard wore messed up jeans. Underwear is something I still believe should be hidden which would explain the lyrics "like a virgin..." and I didn't get into the ripped jeans until mine wore out and they became fashionable... a little late. Always a step or two behind, sometimes never catching up.

I got into leggings but I didn't buy them until everyone moved on to high-waisted jeans and all the leggings went on sale and then I couldn't get enough. I had leggings in all kinds of colors and matchy-matchy tops to go with them... not realizing that I wasn't old enough to wear matchy-matchy. I figure in 20 years I can go matchy with any color of my choice. Diane Keaton did it with black and I am going to do it with pink or maybe lavender. I haven't decided. I might mix them up. That will be a perk I am going to embrace.

There is only one time I remember getting the jump on the trend. I had the cool specs first and that was right before Sarah Palin hit the scene with interesting glasses. My glasses. Finally, for once I had them first but all I heard was "oh, you got Sarah Palin glasses." NO. Sarah Palin got Darcy Cline glasses... and I can see Mt. Rainier from my house. Really. If you press your face up against the front living room window you can see a snowy slope through the trees.

My first pair of bifocals, the Darcy Cline glasses, required some practice to get used to the dual planes. Right after I got my new prescription, I fell down the last three stairs landing on the concrete on my knees. That hurt. I didn't see them because I was looking through the reading lens. I became a little paranoid after several incidences where I almost fell while looking through the wrong lens of my bifocals. (So if you see me clutching the stair rail, its due to fear of smashing my knees... or breaking my neck.)

I like to think of myself as a person who doesn't jump right into the latest fad. My boss made an assessment of my situation. "You're not a Hipster," she said. "You're like a reverse Hipster." Yes I am a Retspih. (The 'h' is silent) 

Aside from the Darcy Cline Glasses incident, I generally stay behind the curve and most trends that I end up with have cycled through everyone I know.

Barbara Streisand & Robert
Redford in The Way We Were.
Rastar/Columbia Pictures
NO wait. In 8th grade, I liked Robert Redford in The Way We Were. All my friends thought he was ancient. (Now, that gets funnier as I get older.) He has gone on to be an advocate for environmentalism, Native American rights and the arts.

I also fell in love with Barbara Streisand. None of my friends caught that trend because they were all into The Jackson 5, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Bachman Turner Overdrive, and Elton John. I listened to those musicians as well and some have remained my all-time favorites, but Barbara Streisand has a voice that wouldn't quit and I loved it that she kept her unique look and sound when the pressure to change must have been pretty great. Yep, I am still a fan.

My new glasses lead a line of old
specs slated for the Lions Club
Donation box.
Back to the seed that grew this Out with the Old post; the important feature of my new glasses is that when I wear them, I can see very well. I don't have to ask my classmates to tell me what the words are on the projector screen during lectures. I can read them for myself. I don't have to find that perfect two-inch depth margin where I can read clearly... thanks to my new bifocals, and most notable is I will not mistake caution signs for busses. (That one was for my kids.)

I love my new glasses in the same way I loved my 1990's glasses and I relish the end of this latest fad when I will be able to walk through a crowd and not recognize my style on anyone else. That's when I will be an original again.

Think of me as the "Jumping the Shark" of trends gal. When I get around to it, its already gone. So Hipsters, what next?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Nothing New?

During my time at Pierce College, I have had many opportunities to learn new things, radical ideas, interesting concepts. I say to myself "well, yes... college is like that." But I have been to college before and this learning thing is nothing new.

After 52 years of living I have a pretty good grip on who I am and where I fall in the societal scheme of my world. I am a product of a teen marriage. My divorced parents are decendents of mixed European races: Danish, German, Irish with a bit of Native American thrown in. I have two siblings; We grew up low to middle income. Pretty ordinary for an average American.

When a learning opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it. I'm not going to lie, the idea of spending two nights in a hotel and having all meals prepared... throw in a little live entertainment... of course I am ready to learn something new.

Along comes the Students of Color Conference(SoCC) in Yakima. Yes. I applied and was accepted and I was ready to have a fun-filled weekend. I expected the performances and I knew I was in for some interesting workshops about race, equality and diversity.

First on the agenda: White Race Identity Caucus. "Who am I?" as Jean Valjean sings "24601."

I had no idea.

I felt like we were going to be asked to stand up and say "Hello. My name is Darcy and I am a white racist."

I had no idea that because of the color of my skin, I am a racist.

I wanted to argue, "but I'm not a racist!" I am not.

But I am white.

And with my white skin, comes privilege that no other groups can claim. Yay me. I win.

Why didn't this feel like a win? I don't want privilege simply because I was born of white European decendants. Thats not fair. And it for sure doesn't say anything about my talents or brainpower... or anyone else's. I want fair. (I can talk about fair later.)

There was a moment of silence in that room where we all tried to absorb this concept. I did not like it at all. This concept argued in my head. "I try to be the same to everyone... but my skin color makes it different."  It doesn't matter how much I want it to be otherwise, it colors every interaction I have with people every day.

Now that is a learning moment, isn't it? My skin color makes me different. After 52 years I have just now felt for a moment what it was like to be judged by the color of my skin. (A moment can't really give me a true understanding of what it is like to be on guard all the time, but it helps put a little, tiny check mark in my experience tab.)

This concept was presented to me on our first night when we were all asked to select an identity group. I selected white because that is what I am... although I have liked that I have Native American heritage and have read about different tribes and watched documentaries, I know this does not make me a Native American nor an expert. And also I didn't claim this identity because I have not taken the time to research my father's grandmother's lineage. So, white I shall be.

The important lessons for me were to really look at the advantages I am given and haven't even thought about the fact that I have them. I have power and privilege and because of that, I have a voice that is not silenced by oppression. I can walk into my child's school and demand things that will be given because it came from me. I can get upset and angry in public and it will be a sign of my passion for what I believe. A woman of color must not show passion or it is interpreted as a "race thing" and she runs the risk of losing the attention of the policy-makers, the administration, the people in power. She has to be so much better at public relations than I.

A person of color runs the risk of losing ground every day. Every new day brings the same battle, the same hidden traps and the same pitfalls.

Here is where fair comes in: I learned the difference between equality and equity. Equality is when everyone gets the same thing, but equity is when everyone gets what they need. We all have different needs so equality isn't really equitable... it's a new and interesting concept for me, and I like it. I was reminded to look at the meaning of oppressive terms and think about who is the minority and what does that mean? I am a minority and yet we still call the greater population of people of color "the minority."

The list goes on. The topics I listed were a small drop in the larger pond of issues I had skipped merrily by in my ignorance until the White Race Identity Group Caucus "kicked me in the teeth," as one of my fellow White Caucus attendees stated so eloquently.

I remember the feeling of terrible loneliness as I left that room and stepped out into the hallway. As I made my escape, I ran into an incredibly nice young man from our group. I said "how was your identity meeting?"

He was so happy and excited, he was practically vibrating with joy. "I love it! I am so excited about my culture and my people! This is the best conference ever!"

I was genuinely happy for him. That is how it should be for him. I was also sad for the white students who were in my group. There was no joyful celebration of identity for the minority.

Our somber group dispersed into the hallway packed with people laughing and cheering. I couldn't even begin to identify with the explosion of excitement and anticipation. I wasn't excited. I was bummed, actually. I wanted to be somewhere safe so I turned away from the crowds and made a dash for the doors where the Yakima wind was blowing fresh and clean.

I went straight to my hotel room and when I got there, I felt even lonelier than I did at the Students of Color Conference. I sat down and cried.

Then that got old very quickly so I quit being a baby, made some coffee and went to the next session and learned more.

And then the next... and the next... and the next and learned.

What I learned at SoCC was really quite profound. I need a few more years of constant study to understand the whole concept of power and privilege and oppression. And even then I may not know everything I need to know.

Every speaker, dancer, storyteller, and presenter was motivational and profound.

I can't really explain how moving the experience was. I have more to learn, certainly. Given an opportunity to go to the conference again, I would take it, for sure. I want to make sure I convey the idea that this is a journey begun. I am not the flag-waving proclaimer running through the streets. I am not out there in that way.

What I hope to do in my life is interrupt oppression in the way that I can do it and to do it... every day. I know there are little injustices that happen minute by minute and my goal is to not tolerate it. The kicker here is that I may not recognize oppression. I know its tricky but I am going to try... do not listen to Yoda. There is TRY. If we keep trying, we will get it right.

In one of the sessions I attended on Sisterhood, I was sitting there in a roomful of women when the speaker dropped a bomb.

"Thank you all for coming. Men, thank you for being here to support women. You are not allowed to speak. You may listen." She took a breath then continued, "White women, thank you for coming. You may not speak, but you may listen."

I was shocked and hurt. I remember a moment a few years ago when I was helping at an event where a musician performed for a small group. After the music ended, we were all talking and when I spoke, the Privileged White Male singer said "stop talking." It was awkward and embarrassing.

I have never been in a similar situation like that again... until SoCC. But this time it was different. I was handed an opportunity to learn. To see what being stifled feels like. To know that I could speak... but that I wasn't welcome to speak. For that two-hour period I was not allowed to participate because of the color of my skin.

That was powerful.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Mexico

I know it has been a bit since I last posted, but finals are over and that brings a close to this difficult quarter. I have one more quarter to go and then I am officially graduated. Whew! Why does it seem harder this time around? A question for another time. I hope you enjoy my latest post. Thanks for reading.

Recently, my boss asked "where were you born and where do you call home?"  I was born in Ukiah, California but I believe home is where my family is, so for me, it's true to say home is where the heart is. This answer is always true.

There are times I have an additional answer to this question. La Gloria. La Gloria is a small town near Tijuana, Mexico tucked into the dusty yellow hills 20 minutes outside Rosarito, close enough to the pacific ocean to smell the salt and seaweed scented breezes. Cool mornings touched by fog are the relief as the sun climbs high and the temperature soars, scorching in its intensity, .  I love it. I have been to La Gloria 16 times over the course of 9 years. For two weeks every summer, La Gloria was home.

It all began with an uneventful Sunday morning. My oldest daughter, Courtney and I were sitting in the crowd of parishioners.  I know I was not really paying attention.  I was busy thinking of all that needed doing. The laundry, finishing up school shopping, getting a plan for the coming holidays... I admit, I wasn't using my God-given time wisely.

Sometimes the homilies speak directly to me and I pay full attention because there is a bit of wisdom tucked away in each of those carefully written talks.  At the time, it was Father Gary speaking and at the end of mass, he didn't release us.  "Please be seated. Eileen is here to talk about her recent mission experience in Mexico."

United States vs. Mexico
I imagined a collective groan from the room full of Catholics who had done their time, ready to move on. Courtney and I sat and listened.

Eileen talked about serving our young people by being involved in the Esperanza program at Holy Disciples. She talked about experiencing the challenge of helping people build a better life. She talked about the grassroots program that empowers people to work towards the common goal of a close-knit thriving community. Low interest loans, payback programs, community involvement... and she talked about Mexico. It was interesting.

I was in my early forties and I began thinking about how I had always wanted to travel, join the Peace Corps and make a difference in the world. I didn't grow up in a household that worried about what was happening outside of our own country or even beyond our neighborhood, so I was easily discouraged from this yearning. I went down a different path instead.  That all turned out good but I couldn't quiet the travel bug.

So when Eileen talked, I listened and thought "I could do this. I could finally go somewhere." Yes, travel was the bait.

The Neighborhood built on a dump site. This picture was
taken from the clinic that was built to help the community
resolve their many illnesses due to toxins from the refuse.
I looked at Courtney and she looked at me and we said "lets do that."  So we did.

It turned out to be more than an opportunity to travel. It became a calling.

My first trip in 2002, in which I was a chaperone was so profound, it was beyond explanation. The entire experience was rich in culture and struggle. I couldn't get enough of the scenery and the people. I found a sad beauty in the blue tarp communities and took hundreds of photos. I loved the families we met and learned to communicate with very little Spanish... and there was the hard work, the extreme heat and limited conveniences. It was all very interesting.

It felt so good for me to do this... I was part of something important and our first family was wary of us, having had a previous group that didn't talk to their children, complained about the food the family served and made the construction crew wait in the car while they ate lunch at a McDonalds.

We won them over, though. Before long the kids were singing songs with our group and we were exchanging recipes in the kitchen...  and fixing up their house... it was just like home.

I think the Esperanza International program is a smart, grassroots program to
teach communities how to care about their surroundings. The families accepted into the program must hold jobs to pay back very low interest loans on a cinder block space that can be added onto in later years. Unlike the wood structures, cinder block homes do not catch on fire or get washed down the hillsides.  The 2-3 foot foundations keep them firmly in place. They are also very good in the heat, providing much needed shade in 100+ temperatures.

The program is built on the theory that friends within a community will work together to make it a better place and want to stay.  Each family can be on the waiting list for a home for two years. During those two years, they help and support other families while their homes are being built. When it is their turn, the people they have helped, then help them. It is a "pay it forward" philosophy.

The work was long and hard and tiring but what I enjoyed most was learning about their lives. This always happened with the moms in the kitchen, usually a room made of parts found in the junkyard: a garage door, old lumber, barrels, and roofing materials housing a cook-top electric stove powered by wires crawling across the lot to be joined with other wires in the street that ran down the side of the road to the nearest working utility pole.
The progression of the foundation.

When water ran down the street, I could see the sparks snapping as children ran around and jumped the wires as they played. I remember one volunteer could not get past the U.S. code violations: "They would never do this in the U.S."

He didn't love the experience, which I think is fine. Some people like to get down into the trenches and work till they drop when natural disasters devastate a town, community or region. Some like to go on managed missions to make a difference. Other people like to send money. All of this is good.

Ladies of the community preparing food for the workers.
One of my favorite memories of the kitchen talks, was when I sat and listened to a mom talk about her challenges to use holistic methods of dealing with her family's health. It was like being hit over the head. The daily life in the ever expanding edges of Tijuana is so difficult that I never considered there would be time to study alternative lifestyle choices and yet this mom was totally motivated and excited about this. She expanded my narrow thinking.

My family and I have spent many summers traveling to Mexico through the Esperanza International mission program. this was something we looked forward to every year. I couldn't wait to go back... year after year. I loved every minute of the experience. I loved working with the youth of our church as each person changed and grew in one way or another. I loved meeting the families and hearing their stories... watching the children get to know each of us... helping in the kitchen... building.

I miss it.