A’s and A’s and A’s

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My Women’s Studio Workshop class earned a collective A plus-plus-plus; I do so love the caliber of the people who come there. Once again, it was a sort-of dream class: everyone had a considerable practice already, and came to find ways to enhance that, or in search of another direction to take, or as a way to reconnect with the materials and/or to explore them further. We had an extra person, seven instead of six, with me being the eighth body; for a 3D class, that was pushing the limits of the smallish but beautifully-equipped studio, but we all managed the rather intricate dances we needed to do to navigate around the space. I learned a bit about my new-ish physical limits after straining my back rather badly the second day, but everyone was incredibly helpful, class and staff. I had two repeat folks: truly enjoyable Jim, from last year, who built himself a wee paper studio in his Manhattan space, and Terri from a few years ago, who had strayed away from paper for a while but came back to it with a diligent bang during the week. My only regret is that, after seven full days of working, I misunderstood the time the class would end on the last day (an hour earlier than I’d thought, which was also the opening of the au-gust festival) so we had no time to lay all the work – and I do mean ALL – out for a show and tell and photo session. You’ll have to trust me when I say that there was an incredible amount and variety.

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Here we are: Maureen, Barbara, moi, Terri, Jim, Ana, Louise and Dale.

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I also really enjoyed my roomie, Shelley Thorstensen, who taught a five-day intaglio workshop up front and rocked a mezzotint plate in the evenings. Early in the week, my class at the Morgan was cancelled, so I could not have asked for a better group nor better company nor a better experience all round for my official last-class-until-2017-at-least.

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During the week as the class was going on, all of WSW was even more of a hive of activity than usual, everyone building up to Friday’s opening of the au-gust festival along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. I installed my two groupings after class on Thursday, in the woods with Woody who was superbly helpful. Sadly, I missed Friday’s festival opening,  by falling asleep after class at the kitchen table (!) and on Saturday, because my car began flashing brake / battery dashboard lights. I suspected the alternator, so instead of seeing the afternoon performances along the trail (some very intriguing tree costumes had appeared in the second floor studio), I spent too much time at a busy Jiffy Lube in Kingston that the amazing Chris Petrone found for me. Jiffy Lube said there were no problems, so I had an oil and some filter changes, and had the tires rotated because it was inexpensive and I was there, grabbed a very late lunch and made it back past crowds of happy attendees in time to catch the tail end of Barbara Westermann’s interactive workshop, then packed and loaded everything but what I needed for overnight. After gassing up and grabbing some dinner and road food, I was able to walk part of the rail trail in the twilight and see some of the other impressive installations, though the woods were getting too dark for photos. A HUGE A- plus and congratulations to WSW for au-gust!  It is amazing, and is going on through the end of the month with a series of public events (ear-fungi will quietly linger on.) Photos on my Facebook page.

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Yesterday, up early in the morning mist, out to the car to find a lovely farewell: a beautiful healthy indigo plant from sweet Chris, waiting next to my driver’s side door. About two and half hours later, cruising through the last bit of the Catskills and admiring the bands of morning mist that had wafted up into lovely thin strands around the hilltops, BAM! The alternator blew. I managed to coast downhill past a retaining wall to be able to pull over onto the verge and put the flashers on. My partner Paul gets an A plus-plus-plus for insisting that we sustain a membership in triple A. After an initial frustrating 30 minutes of trying to understand a squeaky-voiced person over the phone, I was transferred to a man with a deep, enunciated voice I could mostly understand, and from that point on I’ve been truly taken care of. A highway patrolman came and parked behind me with his lights flashing until a huge truck came and hoisted up the car for a 60-mile tow (on my route!). I’ve just spent the night in a king-sized bed in a motel room overlooking the Susquehanna river, while a part is on its way to the very good triple A garage. The indigo plant got a drink and spent the night in the window with the garage’s plants. I’m awaiting the text that tells me I can be back on the way to Cleveland and the SmithSanctuary soon…where I will say a-a-a-hhh.

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Buddy, who hung out with me for several hours at the garage yesterday.

Kozo and Fawns and Bears, Oh My (Peters Valley)

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I am at Women’s Studio Workshop, my second stop of the summer. Peters Valley was unusual in a number of ways, but also quite good (not for blogging: wireless only in the studio where I was working, or outdoors on picnic tables, where Flying Biting Things were during my free times.) It’s literally a craft village located in the Delaware Water Gap national park in New Jersey; several of its buildings are a town that was evacuated to be flooded, but then wasn’t. I stayed in a house I liked with another instructor, Beth, who I had met before at Penland and liked (and liked again.)  We drove to the studios, which was the most unusual aspect. The studio complex I was in was not part of the original town, but was purpose-built a couple of miles away along a rutted dirt / gravel road a mile and a half long, through dense woods and past strange-ish ponds with dead trees sticking up out of them. Three times a day, I made the drive there and then back: so did everyone who worked in the woodshop, photo and fine metals studios, and my group in fibers: surface design.

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A scary pond, and a not-so-scary pond below, on the way to the studio (at top.)

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Each morning I woke, made coffee, and skipped the dining hall breakfast in favor of the Early Animal Show that went on in the big mowed meadow outside a convenient picture window. Two wild turkey moms, each with a flock of seven chicks, one group teenaged, another much younger (this morning, just the younger flock appeared, and sadly, it was reduced to six chicks.) There were also a varying number of deer with their young  every day, and the fawns were much fun to watch, playing, leaping, tearing around for the joy of it, reminding me of Chance-pup. And two bossy lady bluejays, feasting on the stunted blackberries growing up over the side porch of Lloyd House.

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I never got a shot of any of the bears, but Karen One (we had two Karens) did, on her phone.

I also saw black bears: a cub just melting into the woods the first day, a lone adolescent standing dreamily in the road, who stared curiously at me in my four-wheeled creature for a minute or two before deciding it was a good idea to run (while I scrabbled for my camera, but missed the shot.) And then one evening I drove round a bend and surprised a big mama bear with a roly-poly cub looking exactly like a glossy stuffed toy. They each shot away into cover on different sides of the road. I stopped the car and waited. A few minutes later baby bear came zooming across the road to mama, at an amazing speed for such a plump little thing. My city-dwelling self was purely delighted by all these sightings.

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One of the dorms, and a visit to the forge, inside and out. It pleases me when there are women blacksmiths; in this case, like at Penland, the blacksmith instructor was female, though this isn’t her.

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The class was lovely, five women hailing from eastern locations from Maine to Maryland. We cooked, dyed and manipulated kozo, and beat some and incorporated it into western sheets we pulled from 50-50 cotton rag and abaca I brought along; there is no beater. But there were moulds, deckles, pellons, good felts, a nifty small press, good hotplates and an amazing variety of dyes. JoAnna was a rocking Studio Manager / Fellow / Resident who made it all flow smoothly.

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The first sheet-making day. The big recycling bins are full of the discarded dye baths and cooking water with soda ash.

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Rumor has it that a New Jersey species of ear-fungus appeared, too: if you should find yourself driving along Thunder Mountain Road towards the fiber/ metals/ photo/ wood studios, you just might find one. Or if not, maybe you’ll see a bear.

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One of the best reasons to love being at craft schools: the intersections.  This is a bit of bark lace impressed into copper and then annealed, made in the fine metals class by Lauri, who is from Cleveland. She made a beautiful necklace using kozo-textured metals, and then made this for me!

Better Living Through Chemistry ?

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Mid-June. Almost a month of no blahgs. Sorry. it’s been an odd, personally disruptive time and I guess I’ve been hoping for a conclusion to the tale before writing. But that’s not happening yet. It’s yet more medical stuff. Early in May, I was given a month to try to change a (potentially life-threatening) condition before agreeing to subject myself to Big Pharm. Though I tried earnestly, I wasn’t able to alter my circumstances enough to escape.aaa2June

Though there are hundreds of political and intellectual reasons to oppose Big Pharm, many of which I subscribe to, the bottom line for me is that Big Pharm = Big Fear. For no reason anyone’s ever been able to discover, I’ve got a metabolism that almost never responds ‘correctly’ to even very common meds. From a first-grade vaccination that made my arm swell to the size of a small watermelon to total loss of muscle control to anaphylaxis to rashes and hives to five consecutive days of no sleep to full-blown 3D hallucinations, I’ve learned to avoid medical chemicals like little pill-shaped plagues. But, this time it isn’t possible, so with great (and unfortunately justified) trepidation, awhile ago I embarked on a search for A Pill I Can Tolerate. There’s only one way to do that, which is to try ingesting them.

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At the moment, I’m in the middle of a brief hiatus from a round of vertigo, hugely accelerated tinnitus, bright flashes of light in my peripheral vision and rampant insomnia, trying not to think about what may await me with the next chemical cocktail, and REALLY trying not to think about what this all implies for my (swiftly) upcoming teaching and show schedule. The garden is not yet finished, Chance is also now taking drugs (which seem to be working for him), and I have absolutely no idea when the next blog will be. And that’s that.

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Out in the world: the ZIA show closed, the Peters Valley faculty / staff show opened, I took on a 12th (!) 2015 show by invitation, my WSW class is full, the Pantone Postcard Project opens in the UK tomorrow and happily, the WSW ear-fungi survived the winter; the marvelous Chris sent these photos way back when she began planting.

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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!

Attempting to Spring

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Just checking in. I’m a little too busy. The current work is all tedious admin, so making a blog in small chunks is a nice break between stages. The deluge of paperwork is not due to the fact that I took on a 10th show with an attendant artist’s talk. It’s a local book-related group show, with a great independent place I want to continue to support, and it’s at a not-too-crowded time this fall, so I could not resist.

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Yesterday.

Though right now we’re sadly in the midst of a fat snowfall, we had one utterly glorious day in the low 70s last week: the first Windows Open day of the year, sweet breezes eradicating winter funk. It also melted all of the late-winter crusty grey snow, so at least today’s is a single layer. Even more important than the calendar or weather, the garden is confirming that spring is here, the hardy sprouting early plants making me smile.

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Today only one is still visible.

It was absolutely great to see Aimee when she was in residence at my alma mater (and also to finally see one of her excellent lectures) and to have a long dinner with her and Shawn afterwards; we closed the restaurant.

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Sadly, the walking that day nearly killed my back the next day, but physical therapy finally began a day later. For the next couple of months, I’m there twice a week, and doing changing sets of exercises and stretches twice a day, every day, at home. I got too eager and a (mere) mile and a half roundtrip to the grocery did me in yet again last week, so walking is still curtailed. But muscles are definitely being re-activated and re-educated and I’ve just reached a familiar but still strange stage of cracking and popping all over my skeleton as things loosen up, begin to shift.

Chance’s reaction to the home p/t is nice; all but two of the exercises occur on the floor.  After the first session of alternating exercise with “no,” he does some initial gentle snuffling, maybe a face lick or two, and then lies down quietly, often doing a stretch himself. Animals understand stretching; they are superb at it. Lupe will always look into my eyes and stretch a bit whenever I do; when I stay with my good Smith friends, their cat Mandy will lie down near me and purr loudly in approval of my stretches. Right now, all of us stretching while seeds germinate, plants and sap rise, feels a bit like connecting with the moving of the planet towards the new season. And, the first three of my variety of indoor-sewn seeds have begun to sprout: milkweed! Take that, post-equinox snow.

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Out in the world, all three summer classes are now open for registration, and the next two shows are imminent, all linked in the sidebar, and here’s a nice blog at Secreto de Papel that wasn’t solely about (S)Edition.

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Hello, 2015.

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Happy 2015, everyone!

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We were cooped up during this, but it was sunny. And very, very cold.  I would not have wanted to be a roofer, though I did have lunch-break hat envy.

We had a quiet, comfortable and yes: happy new year celebration and first two days of the year, with the operative word being: quiet!  Chance made huge strides on the 30th and 31st as our roof was noisily replaced with loud daylong thumps and bangs. He stayed in contact, looking at me when he heard something strange, and repeatedly made the choice to follow a verbal calming cue and get rewarded, instead of spiraling off into fear. He turned a huge, huge behavioral corner with the turning of the year, and when the fireworks (and guns) began at midnight, he again chose to seek my reassurance rather than to challenge the madly exploding world. He is thinking, not reacting. Hooray, pup!

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He wants to be a studio dog!  Past dogs have gotten mightily bored with me while I’m in there, and he might too, but for now I am making him a bed down there, complete with a juicy studio-only bone.

After naming 2014 the year of “productive balance” I was feeling quite cautious while pondering what I’d like to happen in 2015. While I was able to remain reasonably productive, the idea of balance ironically turned into 2014’s major challenge with our lives tilting to and fro. For 2015, three words are insisting on being uttered; they are: Positive, Transformation and Investigation.

Time and space definitely need to be left open for those last two things to occur, so once again, I’ve not applied for anything new, and have simply taken on some nice things that have come my way: six rather good shows and three classes planned (the first two are open for registration and are appearing in the sidebar), one or two residencies and at least one (fun) winter house project.

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The downed ear will spend the winter wedged into this notch.

Investigation may or may not change that tactic next year; regardless, I woke on the first feeling… wonderful, and that hasn’t abated. Now, off to a January with only two relatively easy deadlines and many, many lovely possibilities. Wishing you all a wonderful year of excellent choices!

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This wall may be transformed in spring; I am thinking of cutting off the main trunk of the Virginia creeper, but leaving its skeleton, a winter calligraphy I love.