Saturday, October 31, 2009

And now, a week later . . .

Please wash your grotesquely, misshapen monster paws

At the end of quite an eventful week, this is what I got to spend several hours looking at last night—a really awful sign stuck to the door of a tiny little room in the Emergency Room at St. Vincent's. For what it costs for health care these days, I expect better graphics than this.

Here's another view from inside the little room. A round-y mirror stuck high on the wall in the hall just outside the door. No doubt it is there to prevent collisions between all those doctors and nurses running around, yelling "Stat!" and hurtling through the halls pushing machines that go "ping". But it's not like on TV. Nobody back here is in much of a hurry. Oh, I'd see the occasional orderly pushing a cart of laundry, then someone in scrubs would saunter past carrying a large soft drink and a Styrofoam fast food container. Mind you, the lobby was chaos, with head wounds, swine flu, people rushing people on gurneys from helicopters and ambulances through, heart attacks, asthma attacks, soccer injuries and more. But back here it is pretty quiet. We are lucky to be here, having endured three hours in the waiting room/lobby for our turn in the little rooms. Little did we know that the little room would entail another two-hour wait. But I've gotten ahead of myself—

Back to a week ago.

On Sunday my cousin Ginger called to tell me that our Aunt Clio had passed away. Clio was my Dad's sister and at the end Clio seemed only to remember him. "I had a brother named James." The rest of us had disappeared from her memory, including her only child who died nearly two years ago.

As an adult I lived for 13 years in Ashland, where Clio lived, and got to know her as I never had before. She lost her husband when she was still quite young, her son had joined the Air Force and she lived alone with her beloved dog when we knew her. She worked in the university library, a quiet lover of books. She was lovely, with an angelic face and thick wavy, silvery hair, but never thought of herself that way. She would blush and nervously flutter a hand to wave away compliments as just so much nonsense. She never had an unkind word to say about anyone, was a wonderful cook and a terrible backseat driver. She had a sweetness and vulnerability that drew people to her and made you want to take care of her. After we left Ashland her mind began to drift and her memories faded away. In the end it seemed it was all gone, except her brother James, and all the words to "The Red River Valley" which she could sing right up until the end. It was one of the songs sung at her memorial service on Wednesday.

My brother, Steve, flew to Portland on Tuesday and we drove to Ashland on Wednesday for Clio's service. It was a small group that gathered at the beautiful little cemetery overlooking the town and valley, so I was glad we had gone. The weather was crisp and clear and there was a bit of snow on the Siskiyous. After the service we spent a really nice evening with another aunt and my cousin and her family, and drove back to Portland the next day.

Steve planned to spend a couple days with us before heading back to Idaho, including helping us celebrate my son Andy's birthday yesterday. We started the day with a drive out in the country and a hike, then lunch. During lunch something lodged in Ray's esophagus and would not budge. He has had this problem before and it usually goes down in a minute or two, but this time it did not. He was very uncomfortable and after about an hour we decided to go to the emergency room—where we waited—and waited. Finally, five hours later, when it seemed the doctor was about to arrive with her "team" to extract the offending plug, it dislodged and Ray was fine, but exhausted. It was too late for the dinner out that we had planned for Andy's birthday, but when Ray and I finally arrived at our house, everyone was there with food and drinks and then the party was underway. A great end to a pretty bad day.

For me the word of the week was "family." To be there when they need us and to be able to count on them being there when we need them. I feel pretty lucky.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A salty tale

This morning Ray had left the empty salt container on the kitchen counter to remind me to buy salt.

Salt is something I don't have to buy very often. I'm sure this box has lasted for more than a year—maybe even two years. Long enough that the little metal pour spout thingie fell off. Actually that might have happened the day I opened it. Not a great design in my opinion. This is the salt I use for cooking. Ray made homemade noodles yesterday and finished off the box. I have a salt grinder from IKEA that holds chunks of sea salt. If food needs salt after cooking that's what we use. They say sea salt is "saltier" and you use less at the table. I'm skeptical about that, but I like the idea of grinding salt and it is prettier than plain old salt and I like the crystalline crunch. The salt in the box cost less than $1, if memory serves. The sea salt is a little more.

I read the Sunday paper over breakfast and read this article about "artisan salt". Hmmm. Seems this couple has a store in N. Portland where they sell fancy salt. This is not like garlic salt or celery salt, this is salt from exotic locations that contains some traces of minerals from their origins. Their basic salts run between $3.50 and $11.50 for a 1.5 ounce package. (the box above holds 26 ounces). Fancy smoked and volcanic salts are quite a lot more. My eyebrows shot up as I read, "Why use artificial chemicals in your cooking when you have a 100 percent natural salt made by guys using wooden rakes along the shores of the purest oceans in the world — with methods perfected by 3,000 years of experience?" He calls regular table salt an artificial chemical. Hmm. I looked at the ingredients on my box of salt—salt.

Seems the use of regular, or even kosher salt is a mark of poor taste, as he (shop owner Mark Bittner) goes on to say, "I say if the cheese at your house is Velveeta, then the salt you keep there can be kosher. But, since salt is the most effective flavor enhancer in food and the most commonly used ingredient in recipes, why not use a good one?" By now my eyeballs were rolling like pingpong balls. When describing the "spectacular" taste of an exotic Hawaiian salt on popcorn, he finished by saying, "I have salt moments like this almost every day. When I don't, I am told that I mope." I was snorting and guffawing by now. If you can stand more, go read his wife's fantasy about salt made from Marlon Brando's tears! I'm not making this up.

I remembered a story I heard years ago. Ray's father was a prisoner of war in Japan during WWII. The survivors of that camp used to meet yearly. Theirs was a bond that kept them in contact until the ends of their lives. One year Ray and I went to their annual dinner and I sat next to one of the former POWs and he told me the one little thing he missed most during those years was salt. A diet of rice and some occasional root vegetables was almost unbearably bland. A little salt would have made a world of difference. At one point he was taken, by ship, to another camp and he said when the ship pulled into the dock at its destination, the docks were adjacent to a mountain of salt processed from sea water. He said he wanted just a handful of that mountain of salt, even a pinch, but of course had no way of getting to it, but as the prisoners were taken from the ship past the salt plant they could taste salt on their lips, from the air. "Heavenly", he said.

I got my groceries at Trader Joe's this afternoon. The salt they carry is sea salt, but the salt, itself, looks exactly like the old Western Family table salt. The only ingredient: sea salt. It cost $1.49 for 26.5 ounces. The higher price may be, in part, because of the packaging, which looks to be superior to the old paper box and metal spout. It seems like a bargain to me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

On my way to where I was going

I left my house early this morning, headed toward Gerrie's where the Oregon Fiber Artists' Critique group was meeting today. I had to get gas, buy something to take for my lunch and mail a letter along the way, so I allowed plenty of time. Gerrie lives quite a ways from me. My route is slow and indirect, but the only way to get there. Saturday morning, chilly and quiet. I was nearly to Gerrie's, quite a bit early, when I saw, ahead of me, Westmoreland Park with a layer of mist spreading out from the little lake and creeping into the surrounding neighborhood, creating ghostly silhouettes of trees, people, ducks . . .
I parked my car, and with my camera and my Starbucks, I walked for a ways along the lake.

I watched a runner emerge from the mist and disappear again, then a boy on stilts.

Down toward the end of the lake a man was flinging some kind of grain into the air as ducks and geese dove and flapped around him, honking and squawking. When his bag was empty, he too disappeared into the mist, leaving the birds to fight over the food.

It seems like I am so often running late to wherever I'm going. I am tense and anxious, creeping through traffic or frantically searching for a better, faster route. How many beautiful sights and lovely moments have I missed in my distracted hurry? How many times have I arrived breathless and flustered? Not today. I got to enjoy a few minutes of misty morning in Westmoreland Park.

And I arrived at Gerrie's right on time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bird's Eye View of Mt. Hood

You may remember that I wrote that the next show theme for High Fiber Diet is "Bird's Eye View". I started my first piece for this show this week, using my photo of Mt. Hood from an airplane window as inspiration.

I am struggling a little bit and still not sure if I am going to like my finished piece, but, you know, that is usually how I feel at this stage of invention.
I did not want to create a straightforward representational landscape, nor did I want to work totally abstractly. I like that area somewhere between the two. My thinking was to work with the color in a more abstract way. I also decided to do some stamping on plain fabrics to create texture and dimension. With that in mind I made a large drawing to work from and started cutting pieces from solid colored fabrics.

As I cut I was laying my pieces out on a piece of rusty red fabric, thinking I might depart from my usual base fabric choice which ranges from gray to brown to black. This is the fabric that will create the lines.

The red was not speaking to me. I decided, instead, on a taupe fabric for the base. Before I started fusing the pieces, I used two little stamps I carved to stamp a pattern of Xs and circles on the fabrics. Then I used pastel pencils and paints to add more color and dimension to the fabrics. The taupe base proved to be dull—too close in value to the other colors, so I used a permanent marker to darken some of the lines.

Here is where I am with it today. I am liking it better and better, but there is still a lot to add—the land behind the mountain and the sky. It will be quite a wide, narrow piece when finished. The closeup below gives you a better idea of the stamped design and added color.

I'm beginning to think about how the stitching will work with everything else and getting excited about getting to that part. I'll continue to post the progress even if it self destructs at some point!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The annual "Autumn color" edition

It's been done. It's a cliche and everyone's doing it, but I can't help myself! When the leaves start turning I always think it's the best I've ever seen and I am compelled to take a bunch of pictures. Then I post them here.

Seen out on the walking path:

Watch where you step. The slugs are out in full force.

(Geez, it seems I took almost this exact same picture and posted it 2 years ago!)

The other day Ray said, "I wonder why the leaves turn such brilliant colors in the fall. You would think they might just turn brown and then drop off the trees. Nature must have a reason for the bright color." My only explanation is just to make us happy before winter arrives.

I hope you are seeing beauty like this where you live.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Open Studios, second weekend

This weekend was the second and last of the Portland Open Studios. We visited several today. I didn't take very many pictures this time. For the most part the studios weren't as interesting as those we saw last week. The studio below is that of painter, Theresa Andreas-O'Leary. It had been a small apartment attached to her home, with a separate entrance. Great lighting and a nice little kitchenette, which would be nice to have. Her paintings were very nice, as well.

My favorite studio visit today was ceramacist, Gene Phillips. He makes wildly patterned and textured pottery. I especially liked this kimono-shaped vessel.

He has a variety of items that he uses to impress patterns into the clay, including carved blocks and Indonesian tjaps. He also said he uses shoes and has become quite aware of shoe sole patterns. He had a piece of clay ready to receive impressions from visitors' shoes. This is the design my Clarks made.

Ray enjoyed talking with him about studio construction and learned that he had the huge kiln delivered and set in place, then built the room around it.

I hadn't planned to buy anything, but decided I needed this small plate, which will hold a candle or serve as a soapdish.

Then I noticed this heavily patterned platter and decided it had to come home as well.

Mary Catherine Lamb

Friday I met Gerrie downtown to celebrate her birthday and to see Mary Catherine Lamb's quilts that are showing at the Nine Gallery in NW Portland.

Mary Catherine Lamb died in August from complications from breast cancer. I never met her, though she lived here in Portland, but knew her quilts quite well. They are so clever with their imagery of saints and apostles, using a vast array of vintage fabrics and doodads, with their very Byzantine faces and poses. I really connected the first time I saw them. I always hoped I would meet her one day and felt such sadness to read of her death.

This one is titled The Archangel Michael bids you Aloha. You can't see it in my photo, but the coral colored background fabric is a souvenir tablecloth printed with Hawaiian flowers and the word "Aloha".

Here's a detail.

I love the look of Byzantine art, which was obviously an inspiration to her. Here is a Byzantine image of Michael the Archangel from the 12th century. This may very well have been her inspiration.

And details of two more of Mary Catherine's quilts.

Very sad to know that there will be no more of this wonderfulness.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Something so beautiful and something for June

One of the main joys of a visit to Washington D.C. is the National Gallery of Art, near the Capitol Building, on the National Mall. Though I have been there several times, it is always thrilling, and there is never time, nor stamina to see it all.

I love looking at art almost more than anything I can think of. And I love all kinds of art. I feel privileged to have studied art in college, especially art history. Seeing the paintings that I studied, actually hanging before me is, for me, always a revalation. It is not the same to see a painting in a book or a projected image or on the computer monitor.

I have never believed that art must be beautiful. It can be exciting in many ways, that are not what one would call traditionally beautiful. But there is art that is so beautiful that it tightens my throat and makes sudden tears burn behind my eyes. The painting above does that for me. It is by Vermeer, the 17th century Dutch artist—Lady With a Balance. Vermeer is lauded for his delicately lighted interior scenes and luxurious color. My photo does not, of course, do any of this justice. But, I ask you, isn't there something in that soft and luminous face, that speaks? Is that not a real woman from more than three hundred years ago whose essential humanity and quiet beauty live in the paint? Isn't that a miracle of some kind?

The painting, below, by living artist, Cy Twombly, may be at the opposite end of some spectrum from the Vermeer, but was also one of my favorites. I took the photo especially for my friend, June, who has a particular affinity for Twombly. At first glance the work looks, for all the world like a page of graffiti or scribbles, like one might doodle during a boring meeting, but there is intention and symbolism, as well as a tumbling kind of rhythm and energy to the images. I am also intrigued by the smudgy background that serves to create the structure and form of the composition. What looks random is actually a pretty classic compositional form—the S curve.

There, now you've had your art lesson for the day!

We did not make it out to see any more art studios on Sunday. Sofia came to visit, instead, which was much more fun. I do hope to go see more this coming weekend. I will be sure to take pictures.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Open Studios

Yesterday morning Ray and I made a spontaneous decision to buy a ticket for the Portland Open Studios event, which takes place this weekend and next. Artists all over the Portland area open their studios for tours. We were interested in seeing studios, as well as artists' work. I always love seeing where other artists work, and we still hope to build a studio here at our house for me to work in. We were looking for ideas. Ray is good at asking good questions, "what would you do differently?" for example and the artists we met were very generous with their ideas and seemed to love talking about their studios. Below are just a few that we saw yesterday.

Jan von Bergen
Jan is a printmaker and ceramacist. Click on her name above to see her beautiful work on her web site. I loved her prints. She works in a small room in a daylight basement. I have done printmaking, both on paper and fabric, and I envied her press. Jan seemed like such a nice person—very generous and interesting to talk to.

Sylvia Emard
Sylvia (in the blue shirt), a weaver and dyer, works in her small basement with one little window, but look how much light there is! She has solved the dim basement problem with daylight flourescent fixtures, plus the very smart addition of large mirrors, that literally double the light in the room, as well as making it feel much more spacious than it is. Isn't that a great idea?

Pam Greene
Oh. My. This one blew my mind. Pam Greene is a painter of wonderful, large landscapes. Her home, from the street looks like a very typical, not-very-memorable, suburban split level in a suburban neighborhood. Stepping through the front door is like falling down the rabbit hole into "artland". The entire house is a gallery of paintings, collections, memorabilia, light and texture.

When we got to this room, in her basement, we learned that Pam is a senior designer for Nike. This is a series of paintings she did of Nike footwear.

But wait, as they say in the infomercials—there's more! Behind Pam's amazing house, she had a studio built, where she paints most of the year. The mostly glass studio nestles between the house and a lushly landscaped hillside. I can't even find the words to tell you how divine this studio is, so I will just let you enjoy the pictures.

More about Pam here and here.

We are off to visit a few more this afternoon, but I'm not sure we can top yesterday's experiences.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bird's Eye View

When we flew out of Portland to go East a couple weeks ago, I was sitting by the window and looked down as the plane flew over Sauvie Island. Below me was the corn maze, it's pattern perfectly clear. I scrambled for my camera, but were well past the shot by the time I had it wrestled out of my backpack. But now that my camera was out I was prepared as we flew past Mt. Hood.

I am always fascinated with the views out of airplane windows. So often you are above clouds so all you see is white, but on this clear day, we could see the ground for much of the flight.

The theme for the next High Fiber Diet show is Bird's Eye View so I am thinking there may be some inspiration in some of the photos I took.

The squares and circles created by irrigation systems on farms is such a natural for abstract design. The clouds and their shadows on the ground add another element.

This is the Mississippi River.

The natural colors are subtle and interesting, but I begin to see even more possibility when I change the colors.