May have been.

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May was: medically, a doubled dose of April’s ineffective drug; a visit to a specialist, another test, and finally, a double drug cocktail that appears to be working, after nearly a full year of attempts. The tradeoffs: 10 days or so lost to reactions, the swollen lower legs you see on old people (which feel like wearing dense squishy meat socks), and losing the ability to drive. Tomorrow June begins with a visit to the specialist, and ‘tweaking’ –  which perhaps will allow me to regain my car, if not my ankles.

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The kozo flowered. I’ve never seen this before, and really liked the alien-odd blooms.

May was: a fun month of experimentation for our collaborative project, doing something I have always had an interest in but could never figure out how to incorporate into my work successfully before, or even to experiment with, as it is time-consuming. The studio was a totally productive mess, there was research, supplies arriving, lots of processing and cooking and making. Even the initial failed experiments were hugely interesting, and no materials were wasted. Now my part of the prototype work is finished (a little late thanks to the first paragraph) and I am eagerly awaiting seeing the results (and in the next few days, playing with the bits of experimental leftovers.)

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May was: Vivi healing, having her stitches out and jumping right back in to being her feisty funny self. June is her eighth month on the planet and we’re pretty sure she is half Australian cattle dog / blue heeler / Queensland heeler (different names for the same breed) and, as everyone says, “something else.” At times, she seems to have terrier-like qualities, but then when she is startled, she emits a hound-like arooo, a bay more than a bark. A couple of weeks ago, she began to carry one ear forward, the other out to the side. She loves all the time outdoors when I’ve moved the studio out or when I am in the garden, and May was: lots of both, and that is good. So is the whole pack.

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April

April so far has been like its weather, swiftly moving from serious snowfalls to thunderstorms to fine 80-degree days. My current life largely continues in a state of self-health-absorption, keeping multiple daily records, and working to focus on the sunnier days, and to peacefully endure the storms.

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Early in the month, I saw a different doctor. I didn’t expect much, based on previous experiences within this system. Imagine my enormous relief when one of the first things she said was “We need to find out WHY this is happening.” She ordered tests, outlining the reason for each, and before prescribing (yet) another drug to try, she told me how it worked, why it might help, and offered me a choice of types, summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of each. Then she talked about the mind-body connection, at which point I blurted out, “I like you! You are absolutely my new doctor.” A professional who consults with me, at long last.

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So, though April is still another month, another drug, it comes with a big batch of hope for diagnosis and resolution after a year of simply having drugs thrown at a symptom. The new med has been odd, working some days, others not, with annoying but short-lived side effects in the mix. I spent a half-day at the hospital having almost all the tests done at once; the final one is later this week at a different clinic. We decided not to tackle arthritis treatment until the first problem is solved, so I am relying on external pain remedies like rubs and sticky patches. I got the green light to build back into real exercise and p/t again, and that feels so good.

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Maybe it’s the new hope, or maybe I just needed to gain control of something, or to put all this self-focus to further use, but I suddenly decided to try to end a thirty-year nicotine gum addiction. I tapered off for a few days, then went for it: have been nicotine-free for two weeks. Fingers crossed. So far, it’s looking bright.

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I’m not the only medically-interrupted entity in out household this month. Vivi had spay surgery two days ago, poor wee pup. She’s doing well, but even with mild sedatives, we quickly learned that the most difficult part will be keeping her relatively inactive for the next two weeks. When we picked her up at the vet’s, she whimpered a little in the office, in the car, and for awhile at home, then slept and slept. The next morning, boom, she was ready to run! climb! play! I got her a lovely little inflatable Elizabethan collar so she can use her paws and see, and am trying to keep her supplied with things to chew or puzzles to solve; she’s as active mentally as she is physically. Lupe too has arthritis meds, and Paul his daily routines, so we’re all in this healing space together.

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It all seems very far from art, so I’m glad I took on the portfolio project (and nothing else) to keep my hand and brain in, the wheels greased. My collaborator and I are meeting this week, which is exciting. I’m also making sure that I do step out of this little shell in other small ways, like popping out now and again just for fun. I went to work and learn and laugh with a good friend, and back to our old hood to lunch and catch up with another who was passing through town.

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And I’ve gotten the gardens cleared and ready for the planting / transplanting/ growing season. Best of all: the milkweed came back for a second year, even earlier than I was advised to expect it. Something about that connection to time, the continuity of planning / planting and the art that arises conceptually and materially from that stream is touching me profoundly just now; I hope you find something similar as the growing season moves on.

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And now…

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A good place to chop up a stem harvest on a hot day, with assistant.

Home a bit over a week now and beginning to feel…fresh, as if this is a new time, a new paradigm. A lot of clearing out has happened indoors, making way for some fine, needed changes. Unpacking happened. A great deal of chopping back and chopping down and a few harvests were completed outdoors. Though the big harvest is past, I did get home in time to eat some tomatoes and more are ripening here and there. The indigo plant has its new home. Chance training goes on daily and mostly well, and of course there’s been inevitable bouts of admin.

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I still pause every year as school season starts, but this year it’s with not a single pang at all, just gratitude. As soon as I began to breathe in this no-teaching year, to feel it peacefully settling around me, there were three tempting requests in my inbox. I’ve been contemplating (and constructing some initial parameters for) just one of them: a new reprisal of an old way of working that seems to be falling into place after falling into my lap. I had just barely begun to think of it as a future possibility when I was asked to try: win / win. That’s all I’ll say now but the potential is excellent.

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Jalapeño, nigella, lupin, lunaria.

Mostly, my mind is on the immediate future in the studio. Early last week, I managed to quickly harvest the daylily stems on a very hot day (a smaller crop this year, taken about a week later than I like.) Working in small increments during the week they were cut, soaked, cooked, rinsed and are soaking again, ready for the beater today. A fiber prep mini-marathon is underway: the stems plus abaca, flax, water hyacinth root and backyard mulberry to begin a few August-to-October projects. The weather has been fabulously mild the past several days and more sweet days are expected all week, so the late summer studio (which includes the outdoor spaces) is in full glory.

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I’ll grow these again; flavorful but definitely mild enough for the other human. This one was 9″ long. It’s a pasilla-type pepper called Holy Mole (which I admit I chose just for the name.)

Out in the world:

Here is an article about Unusually Natural which opened Friday at the Guenzel Gallery of the Peninsula School of Art up in Door County, Wisconsin; I hope there will be photos! And here’s one about An Embarrassment of Riches which opens tomorrow, August 25, at the NIU Museum’s Altgeldt Galleries in DeKalb, IL (I will see this one; two of the other artists and I will be carpooling to the reception and panel discussion on September 10.)

And, if you make books and you’d like to show them, this call for entries opened Friday and runs through September 15th for an October Chicago Artists’ Month exhibition.

Goodbye June

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We have no grass because we have Chance of the Giant Feet. It’s hard to document, but the bulk of the Milkweed Farm is all along this side of the garden behind the existing plants, from the young kozo at the right to the alley. There’s a bit in the opposite bed and scattered around in a few other locations as well. A friend came earlier in the month and took away lots and lots of plants for her new yard; I dug out last year’s hollyhocks and moved them to the other side of the house where they can duke it out with the equally persistent orange day lilies.

Just checking in, so I can feel like I’ve kept up by posting something before June is over. I don’t feel like writing about the health issues, but though I’ve finally discovered a drug I can take for one of them, suffice it to say: they are continuing. aaaaseedlings2

The packed upper-center rectangle shows the milkweed seedlings before thinning for transplant: hundreds. I’ve unsuccessfully tried to plant milkweed before, so did not at all expect these seeds to be so viable.

I DO feel like writing about the momentous 10 days the country just went through, from our worst to our best. It was a time of important revelation for me in a macro and micro sense, but right now there is no time to give that the justice it deserves because of my agonizingly slow writing process. I am into the flurry-of-deadlines-I-am-not-prepared-for stage as I get ready for (and worry about) this summer’s teaching road trip and the exhibition shipping dates that precede it. aaaaseedlings3

How it had to be accomplished. Looks easy and comfortable, no? It wasn’t…but it will be worth it!

One thing I did accomplish: the bulk of what I hope will become the Milkweed Farm is in place; just a few more transplants into available nooks and crannies and with a bit of luck, next year there should be a fine home harvest. It was so ridiculously physically difficult to do that I made a decision: next year will be a year off to focus on rebuilding health. (With ‘off’ meaning: taking on nothing beyond a day’s drive away.) aaaaseedlings4

Mostly milkweed, mixed in with some annuals culled from around the yard: they appear to be thriving. (Yeah, they’re probably way too close together, but that’s how I roll…)

Out in the world, the Summer 2015 issue of Hand Papermaking arrived and looks great.

Seasonal busy-quiet

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This year’s ‘farm’ – three types of tomatoes (one a late variety, so that I can be home to enjoy them), two types of peppers; along the fence, dill, lemongrass, chives and marigolds to protect them all.

It’s been raining and raining. Wednesday we had a break, though it was quite unseasonably cool, but that day was taken up by many strange errands out in the world. Yesterday, we had another, and the temperature went up a bit; I got to spend the day in the garden, and got the vegetables and herbs planted, finishing the last of the porch herb pots just as it began to rain again. Today is a grey, misty maybe.

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Only a wee bit of the massive hospital p/t rooms.  I’ve spent a lot of time here the past couple of months.

During the rains, I’ve been: trying to keep up with the currently lengthy p/t sessions, Chance training (and Chance-curing; he was ill for three days, recovering now), working on the horrendous state of the house (with not much effect in ratio to labor), dealing with upcoming shows (one of which I dropped the ball on, badly), and some new health issues (annoying and time-consuming only.) When the rain stops, my brain and body are all about two things: garden and health. I’ve finally been given the green light to walk again, after new required shoes and lessons from the therapist on how to walk now (I’m to build up distance – and pace – very slowly.) I’m only up to ¾ of a mile, but it feels so good.

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The snazzy (and least costly) ridiculously expensive running shoe color on an actual sunny day.

Mostly, it’s garden. I’m totally absorbed, and there’s much to do. As small as it is, it’s also the most land I’ve ever had, and the only patch owned. It always makes me marvel at the abundant and tenacious life in the concrete-bound city, at the neighborhood as ecosystem. An amazing assortment of plants have wandered in and volunteered to stay over the years and I’ve now been living and planting here long enough to see some of my own contributions travel around.

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Volunteer tulips that showed up as a single tiny plant about five years ago.  There were no bulbs in this patch of soil, so they must have propagated by seed, which is supposed to be very difficult. There are no purple tulips anywhere nearby, so where they came from is a happy mystery.

One of the unpleasant things about the city is all the chopping back that has to be done to maintain (even to my haphazard, untidy standards) a small yard; I would love to live somewhere where things could just grow and grow and grow. (But then I’d need a motorized office-garden chair.) The other not-great aspect is neighbors who use copious amounts of chemicals and weed-poison sprays, which is why my tomatoes and peppers and most of the herbs are grown in pots.

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The smallest spring garden center purchase ever, before planting; the veggies and herbs that didn’t survive the winter, plus one perennial I just could not resist: the native wildflower called prairie smoke (which I have never actually seen growing on the prairie.)

That’s my quiet current world: running out to do equal parts of clearing, planting, dividing, chopping back and relocating plants when the skies let me, and happy with it. And apart from walking on my own, there has been an increasing series of loose-leash, treat-laden, and actually fun walks with Chance; I’m hoping we’re over a hump. We go a little farther each day, and I hope soon our walks can be combined and enjoyed by both of us. The neighborhood lilacs have been sending out their ribbons of scent on the wind, and when we can be out, it’s grand.

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Just outside the kitchen: basil pot, spicy oregano, purple sage, cilantro / coriander pot (self-seeded), summer savory, rosemary, lemon thyme, tarragon…

Out in the ether-world, perhaps in a bit of a stretch, I was surprised when the Exo-studies appeared on a basketry site, (thank you!) And out in the physical world, as of early this week, there was only a single spot left in my seven-day August class at WSW. There are still spaces left at Peters Valley and the Morgan!

May Be This Way

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I always love Anne Hughes’ installations. I like this one even better with the duct dots above.

The ZIA opening reception was very, very nice and warm. A surprising and diverse group of long-ago and newer friends attended (including one person who actually saw the announcement in the newspaper rather than on social media. Think of it.) I appreciated the support, and also had a very fine time catching up. I had no time to take more than a couple of quick snapshots afterwards. I remember sheepishly posing for tons of photos, but have only seen three. This shot by Linda M. Barrett is the absolute best of them (it’s one of the things she specializes in, and she did direct me a bit -“To your left. Chin up now!”- which is part of her work and it shows. In the others, I was somewhat sad to see the arthritis so blatantly visible, affecting my posture.)

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On social media, Linda appropriately captioned this with the hashtag: scale is everything!

I got the new work onto the site a few days after the reception.  My hands-down favorite piece in the new series sold. Here is the series, and the news page will link you to a couple of other new works. Done! I also showed some older works and Anne made a great selection from ZIA’s inventory, so it’s a substantial grouping of works.

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For the month of May, my main preoccupation will be nurturing: the gardens and continuing to school my body against arthritis (Chance training goes without saying, and it’s been going well.) Let that be a warning regarding the content of the next few blogs (and most of the rest of this one.)

Monday after the opening was my first garden day. I sat on an upturned 5 gallon bucket to rig a support around a burgeoning peony. Afterwards, I simply could not rise, so I slid off the bucket and scuttled, crablike, to a place where I could grab the house to pull myself up with my arms. That was a bit of a shock, especially since working while standing has been so very much better. I definitely need my body to be functioning more than that.

Last Friday, the day before the ZIA opening, I ‘graduated’ from the spine portion of p/t, with a good, workable and flexible routine. This week, we began to focus anew on the knees, with the added perspective of the spine issues. The therapist gently but frankly reminded me that arthritis is a degenerative disease. So, I need to keep a better grip on it, and I’m very glad to be able to take this time to get there. The hospital p/t will end in mid-June with a blended back-and-knee routine in place, and I’m researching a few additional options to complement it. Meanwhile, yesterday was a beautiful t-shirt warm day, and after a good, calm(!) session with Chance, I did the exercises out in the back yard, and the mat work on the deck, looking up at endless clean spring blue, breathing it with the movement.

Then, the rest of the day in the garden, with this mobility solution, which worked nicely.

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This tiny strip of garden got trashed and made even tinier when the big fence went back up, while I was at Ragdale last fall. Dormant plants were chopped out and tossed into a pile that was under snow when I came home. I found them during a late-December thaw and just threw chunks of roots into the garden or the vegetable pots before it (immediately) snowed again. Yesterday I pulled off dead material and re-planted the ones that had sent up shoots, while clearing up the first of 8 garden spaces. Bits of everything survived, even indigo (!) and I think I see new growth from the young kozo, whose branches were randomly snapped off. Life is good in all its forms, though it might not make interesting blogs.

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The space is one of the few places in the yard that gets all-day sun, so it’s important. 

Out in the world, I was very, very sad to read about the passing of Jane Farver. While at Spaces Gallery in Cleveland, she was a fantastic early supporter, who not only helped me to see the immense value in following my own odd winding path, she also shored it up. I am definitely not the only artist so influenced; she will be missed.

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Blooming for Jane.

April, popping.

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Happily checking in: now there is radio silence because I’m busy with good things.

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A studio marathon is (finally) well underway. It is just…glorious, dancing with color in the beautifully increasing light. It’s so wonderful to have finally resolved a sticky color conundrum, and to finally see this series coming to life. Also, the process requires drying breaks which conveniently rest my back.

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That’s a little less necessary since two days ago. There was an unexpected and rather dramatic result from physical therapy, a deep pop pop pop, and my lower spine released or adjusted itself, significantly decreasing pain and increasing mobility. And, I’ve finally gotten approval for the therapists to also address the ongoing situation with my knees…comfortable walking is in my near future!

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That’s also allowed me to get out into the garden for short periods to start the early spring chores, including fencing out Chance of the giant shovel feet. His training goes very slowly, when it comes to the world outside our gates, but I love him anyways. He’s still a giant pup who ran amok in a neighbor’s plastic egg display, chasing a low-flying robin. I laughed, went back and redistributed eggs while the unscathed bird followed me, scolding.

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ALL my indoor milkweed has popped up!  That gives me hope for the big batches I seeded outdoors (and also a means to identify the seedlings when they appear later in the season; I’ve never cultivated milkweed before.)

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Out in the world, (S)Edition appeared on some of Saatchi Gallery’s social media. And here is a lovely interview, in which I answer Really Good Questions popped by WSW’s Lizz Thabet.

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