Category Archives: Work in progress

Draw the Dictionary 2017


In 2017, I plan to draw and paint.  When I think about goal-setting, there are a few important steps that help lead to success:  1) start small,  2) give yourself time,  3) expect obstacles,  and  4) tell people about it.

Starting small, for me, means doing what I can with what I have.  It means putting pencil to paper.  It means a canvas or page size of no bigger than 12X18 inches.  And it means interpreting the image in a way that is meaningful to me (keep it simple, let the process happen).

Giving myself time for art is so tricky.  I wish I could commit to a daily practice, but for my process and life, every other day is much more do-able.   Like many of you, I have a family and obligations.  But time can be scheduled.  I’m committed to blocking off small windows each day to do the art that fills me up.  And I recognize that things happen, and I might miss a day or two here and there, and that’s okay!

That brings me to expecting obstacles.  Time is the biggest challenge, and like any other habit, the schedule will take some acclimating.  My second obstacle will likely be stagnation.  I struggled with this during my 50 State Birds project, and I think part of the problem was that I had locked myself into a particular format, and medium.  There wasn’t any room for exploration.  While I’m so thrilled that the project is complete, and as a whole, represents so much more than the 50 State Birds, I am certainly glad to be embarking on a fresh new project.  I have a giant list of strategies for when I’m stumbling, and I vow to keep showing up.

Part of keeping myself accountable is telling people about it.  I asked 26 family and friends to give me about a dozen words.  Every two weeks, I will have a new envelope to dive into.


I think there might be other artists out there looking for an art challenge that will help them create as well.  So, you’re invited too!  The rules are that there are no rules.  Use whatever media you like best (pencil, paint, pen & ink, collage, 3D, digital…).   Use my words, or your own, or a mix.  Join me for a week, or a month or the year.  Or pop in when you need a fresh prompt.  Share your work at the #drawthedictionary on Instagram, if you’re willing!  Know that I’d love to see your interpretation of the word in your art.  Even just checking in to see where I’m at will bolster my confidence, and keep me moving forward.  Questions, thoughts or suggestions?


Birds, flowers, and book-binding.

I started my U.S. State Bird & Flower project on a whim, and for a moment, it crossed my mind that perhaps I should begin the project in a fresh sketchbook.  My existing sketchbook was built for the Sketchbookery class I took with Mary Ann Moss over at Dispatch from LA.  It’s a great, serviceable sketchbook. The downfall is that I used a mix of paper for pages: watercolor paper and illustration paper.  Regular illustration paper is not equal to the watercolor task.  So when I first painted the bird and flower for Alabama, and saw the prospect of 49 more pages, I did a quick tally (I had only 5 watercolor spreads left) and starting the making of a new sketchbook with exclusively watercolor paper pages.  I like to use old book covers for my sketchbook covers, but with the imaginary deadline of finite pages, I ended up making a book from scratch.  I covered two pieces of thick book board with a remnant of book cloth, and stitch-bound the folios to the soft binding.


sketchBOOK innards

Then, for fun, I used metal stamps and hammered “sketchBOOK” into the sun-bleached cover.  I lined the inner covers with a bit of marbled paper that I had been hoarding.  It’s really simple, as far as covers go, but it is up and running, and that was my ultimate goal.  This new book measures slightly larger than my first.  My only regret was binding it with RED waxed linen thread.  It is very loud on a blank page.  Next week is SFPL’s Spring Book Sale over at Ft. Mason, so I’m hoping to find suitable covers for sketchbooks #3, #4, and maybe #5.

As you might recall, I’m working alphabetically through the states.  This week I’m sharing California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Delaware.


Oh how I fretted over this quail; I really tried to do it justice.  California quails have an iridescent breast.  I used some silver watercolor paint mixed in with the grey, and it does catch the light.  His eye and beak were challenging, and his body even more so.  But success with the poppies!  This cluster is based on a group that popped up along our front walk.  I placed a sheet of white paper behind it and took several photos—but did not pick or cut it.  The map’s coastline: challenging.  It’s easy to get involved around the Bay Area, with which I am most familiar.  I lost a bit of perspective down around San Diego, and may have missed many little islands.


I like how the Lark Bunting’s eye came out, but am unhappy with his beak.  It looks more duck-like than a real Lark Bunting beak.  I thought a nearly-black bird would be easy, but black paint loses dimension, and he looks rather flat as a result.  The Colorado Columbine is meant to be the purple and yellow variety.  And as I searched, I saw some gorgeous specimens in an array of shades.  I would have benefited from seeing how this flower grows as well.  The map: easy.


My native state!  The American Robin’s eye is my favorite thus far.  The photo I used was very high resolution so I zoomed right in, and paid close attention.  It totally makes the bird so much more lifelike.  I should have done the same level of detail on his feet.  (Next chance for a robin: Wisconsin).  The mountain laurel brought back a flood of memories that any Northwest Corner kid will conjure.  The map: the coastline is a challenge, much like California.  And I may have elongated that thumb which includes Fairfield County.


First, there are not enough photos of Blue Hen Chickens on the internet!  Delawareans, take note!  But I found a few good images and aimed to render the plumage properly.  I found many great peach blossom photos, and oh how I wish we had a pair in our yard (I love peaches).  I don’t know if they are as fragrant as the citrus blossoms, but they are lovely in color, and remind me of cherry blossoms, which bloom very early here in San Francisco. The map: I’m pretty sure that Delaware has a bit of a tilt, thought this version may be exaggerated.  The jagged edge follows the Delaware River, and I was interested to find it smoother than an ocean coastline.

bird books

Books: borrowed & beloved.  This is the book stack that is keeping me informed and inspired.

Thus far, I’m learning to look closely at bird eyes, and the tiny feathers that neighbor it.  I’m looking at how buds burst from a tree branch.  I’m paying attention to the shape of states, and what happens when their edges meet the sea.  I’m also delighting in the Latin names of the birds and flowers.  Mimus polyglottos, Gallus gallus, and Callipepla californica.  I do not speak nor read Latin, but I appreciate specificity, and being able to search for imagery using both common and Latin names.  Perhaps I’m getting way ahead of myself, but I love this project so much that I cannot wait to expand upon it. There is a WORLD of birds and flowers out there…

As always, I’m posting regular images of my progress on Instagram; follow along there if you like.  Otherwise, I’ll be back next week with: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and Idaho.

PS: I’m excited to tell you that I have an indoor hibiscus in bloom! Perfect timing for Hawaii.  And I noticed that a lilac is blooming at a nearby church; the Lilac is the state flower of New Hampshire which is a ways off in the line-up, but I plan to skip ahead and draw it since drawing from life is much more fun.


President Hibiscus. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘President’

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State Birds

Here in California, the fifth graders learn about U.S. States.  And back in December, our household was steeped in all things Massachusetts (my son’s state of choice).  Each kid in his grade chose a state, and presented a full oral report, plus written and illustrated work about their state.  The Massachusetts triptych was also presented to the family on Christmas night, and still sits in my living room.  I’m sure all 60 kids were fatigued of their state project work by the end of it, but we needed an auction project.

Auction projects are my wheel house.  At our school, each classroom cooperatively creates a unified piece of art to auction off at our spring fundraiser.  I genuinely love to help orchestrate these art pieces.  I’ve helped: kindergarteners construct fabric collages; first graders publish their favorite sing-a-long songs; second graders vote on favorite animals and color their facets; third graders cut and fold paper houses that clustered into a chandelier; and painted leaves with cursive adjectives; string art state, and anchor.

And this year, for fifth grade, I asked them to draw their state birds.  I was inspired by a piece of art by Chris Waind, and I cannot resist an ampersand.

bird ampersand

I collected all the student’s birds (drawn on the same paper stock with colored pencil), and I arranged them on a watercolored ampersand.  A friend and classmate bought the piece, so we can still visit it!

So, I have state birds on my mind…

And I was smitten with the state bird of Alabama, the Yellow Hammer or Northern Flicker.  None of the fifth graders had chosen Alabama.  (Sorry, Alabama!)  However, the anniversary of my grandfather’s death (who lived in Alabama for several years) was approaching, so I thought I’d draw the Yellow Hammer in tribute.  It wears polka dots and a bib—irresistible.


So many things came together on this page: the text box for common & Latin names, the color palette across the top, the little shape of Alabama, and the journalling—exactly nothing specific about Alabama, per se, but all the thoughts and memories and delights that occurred to me as I made my way through this process.  Plus, my backyard camellia is in bloom, so I had a real-life floral model.  And as I drew, and painted, and wrote, it occurred to me that this would be a fun project.  I love to draw birds and flowers.  I love to draw maps. I like to write my own personal associations.  And I want to improve all these skills. So thanks to California fifth grade curriculum, a project is born.


It is sheer coincidence that I started with Alabama, and when I realized I could simply carry along alphabetically, I happily did!

I made a seasonal error on the Alaska page since the flowers don’t bloom until mid-summer, and by then, the ptarmigan would likely be sporting full, deep brown camouflage.  But I am okay with this mistake!  I would never have even known about the camouflage had I not embarked on a bit of research.


When I started Arizona, the doubt crept in.  I’ve never been to half the US states, and only driven through Arizona—who am I to write anything about it!?  But, the Seguaro cactus bloom challenged and enchanted me.  I truly wanted to attempt it.  White flowers are tricky with watercolors, and demand either masking or fierce control.  (I have neither).  But shadowing helps, and I made rough attempts at it.


Arkansas, another state that I’ve only seen from the highway, is one of five states to claim the Mockingbird.  Am I going to tire of drawing mockingbirds? Especially since the male and female look similar?  I like this first attempt even though I cheated.  I used ink for the white feathers, and a big bold brush marker to darken the space between the white ink.

Now that I’m underway, here’s a sense of my process:

1) research the state bird and flower, including Latin names (which always interest me), noting any interesting facts.  I also jot down any associations that I have with the bird, flower, or state.

2) find photographs of the birds and flowers.  I like at least five or six photos, especially of the bird in a variety of portraiture.  And anything that details the plumage.  I always work from photos, and am thankful for all the nature photographers who post their work on the internet.

3) sketch out the bird/floral arrangement.  Hand-draw the text box, and state abbreviation.

4) I usually outline with ink the bird and flower before I paint them.  I have been alternating between a light grey pen and a black pen.  I haven’t settled into a rhythm for this part yet.

5) find a map of the state, and free-hand draw it on the facing page.  No scale or anything, just paying attention to the general shape, and placing a star at the approximate capital.  (Alaska was WILDLY difficult to draw!!)  Then I use a pattern marking tool that was my grandmother’s to ink in journalling lines.  It’s faint, and fast.

6) watercolor!  I play with palette on scrap watercolor paper, and once I settle on a color, I dive in.  I try to work from lightest to dark, but the bird feathers do not make this easy.  Lately, it’s been very dry, which makes watercolor painting a step more challenging—it dries within a minute or two!

What’s next?  The California Quail and Poppy are in pencil form, and being that this is my home state, I want to get it right. I started a Pinterest board for collecting.  And I need to make another sketchbook to continue this project along since I’ll run out of pages before Delaware!  My intention is to post the photos here after every four or five states.  (The A’s are all done!)  I hope you’ll follow along.

CA in progress

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Making: January

Every year, instead of making a resolution, I choose a word and let that word infuse my whole year.  This concept came to me from Ali Edwards.  She’s the creator of the on-line class One Little Word.  You can read for days about this project here.  I’ve had a word for the past five years: focus, unruffled, dare, effort, and one I cannot remember because I didn’t document it at all.  This year my word is: MAKE.  It is an action-packed, externally-focused, see-results kind of word (unlike focus, unruffled, and dare).  It is an extension of 2014: effort.  I really tried to find a word that embodied the create-more-than-I-consume mantra.  Make is just simpler.  So, I intend to make something creative or make progress on something artful every day, including a weekly prize-type thing.  “Thing” is a vague description, I know, but I want these prizes to be varied.  I also plan to make nutritious meals.  I cook now, but I want to include new foods that we haven’t tried.  I want to USE my cookbooks (or pass them on if they don’t inspire).  I want to make gorgeous salads for myself at lunch, and I think the key to this is Sunday preparation and a heavy-duty mandolin.  This year, I also want to make connections with other makers.  By nature, I am introspective, and thrive on solitude.  As a result of all my making things, I plan to share them here, and on Instagram (which is instant gratification for all).  I hope I can strike up more on-line conversations and inspiration.


In a dual effort to create & connect, I am taking an on-line art class called Sketchbookery. Sketchbookery, taught by Mary Ann Moss, is a class about cannon-balling into a set of watercolors.  It’s a class about looking at the things that surround us all.  It’s a class about making spectacular mistakes—for me, anyhow, I won’t speak for the group.  Mary Ann guides you though the building of a sketchbook or two, and the filling of those sketchbooks with watercolor drawings of a wild variety of things, all at one’s own pace.  I made my sketchbook from an old Good Housekeeping Cookbook.  I gutted the book, and will use the book block in another project.  The three folios are made up of heavy watercolor paper and illustration board, and stitched to the reconfigured spine.


inner cover

I covered the frontispiece with decorative feather paper, and drew a graphic frame for the introduction page.  It was the first time in many months that I water-colored anything, and it should have been easier.  I simply didn’t make enough of the color, and while I was mixing and testing a new batch, it dried splotchy.   I blotted a puddle with a paper towel, and it left an impression that I liked.  But in all, it needs something.  More color, perhaps.

Then I dove in to the prompts and drawing portion of the class.   The frame, truth be told, was painted first even though the starting prompts were blind contour focused.  I needed to *just start* somewhere, thus a frame was born.  Then I drew and painted an old Smith Corona typewriter that I use all the time.  I always think of that Williams Morris adage: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  This old typewrite nails both categories.  I even had a pan of silver paint in a vintage set so the chrome bits are done up right.  Mary Ann often titles and/or journals on her pages, and her fonts and journaling was what initially drew me to her style.  Besides, I think in words first, so everything needs a bit of text on it.  I will forever journal on the page, since the story behind the Useful Thing is as much a treat as the painting of it.


Mary Ann’s class is chock full of videos with demonstrations and live-action sketch-painting.  There are special guests (cats, Pam Garrison, mid-century chairs).  But I’m going to be vague about the assignments because I think you should take the class, if it interests you. (Take a peek at the class trailer here).  But do not feel like you must be a competent sketch artist; you’ll have great fun even in the trying, and to paraphrase Mary Ann, “Perfection is no fun.”

Letting go of perfection is hard work, though!  And it’s probably my chief struggle with any art form.  Since I love to create, I muster along.  My sketchbook challenges thus far include shadows.  Shadows are such a simple thing, in theory.  They lend gravity to each fork, each leaf, each old car.  I used neutral tint grey to establish the shadow under the pin cushion below.  I have a Faber Castell brush pen in grey that works for shadowing.  Mary Ann uses blue grey paint, which lends a virtuous shadow.  My real problem is when I start a drawing, and then move locations or wait till later, shadows (and glares) have moved. Ah, the passage of time, and the call of children…  Part of my real challenge is letting go of making it perfect, and/or rapid-capture of the shadow and highlight.  Yet, part of the joy is really looking, and noticing the curves and soft edges of a mid-day shadow.


I also struggle with replicating symmetry.  What my hand did on the left curve of a fork is not what it mirrored on the right, even after drawing nine forks!  I woe the day when I challenge myself to draw a vase, or a set of curvy hips, (or—dare I even suggest it– a portrait!!).

forks in progress

Lastly, I wish I had made the entire book out of watercolor paper.  Since I’m just learning and playing, it doesn’t matter much, but it would be one less variable if the paper were uniform.  You’ll note that I’m not fretting here about my drawing skills.  They are representational, they are my style, and they may–or may not—improve with practice.  No matter, because I absolutely love getting lost in a drawing.


I’m finding small successes, too.  I adore being able to sketch nearly anything, nearly anywhere.  The portability of it allows for me to be creative on the go:  from an airplane seat!  from my driver’s seat!  to a park bench!  I like the effect of drawing with a black 0.3 pen, then coloring in with paint.  And I appreciate Mary Ann’s suggestion of fancy alphabets to title and label one’s sketches.  I will continue to MAKE brave and daring representations (or spectacular mistakes) of Beautiful & Useful Things.


PS: at time of press, I just finished this pineapple.  Said pineapple was drawn and painted whilst supervising a homework session with my 5th and 3rd grade boys.  Also while enjoying a mug of green tea…into which I accidently dipped my paintbrush!  Oh, the perils of watercolor painting at the dining room table!


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2015: Creative Resolutions

Hello!  In brief, we can chalk up my absence to pneumonia.  I won’t go into detail because those weeks are lost.  But I have three things that made the whole experience slightly more bearable.  Aside from a variety of western and non-traditional medicines, I found some comfort in: Bronchial tea, herb throat drops with an effervescent center, and the best travel pillow ever (even though I stayed within my own four walls).

Now that I am feeling more like myself, it’s all things 2015.  Here’s my daily journal to start off the year:

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This year I want to make something each day.  By hand.  I’m trying to create more than I consume.  I want to make intelligent mistakes (craft-wise)—the kind that I can articulate to you so you can avoid them.  I want to create with abandon.  I purchased a year-long goal calendar from Elise Cripe.  If I make something, or make progress on something, the circle gets filled.  Perfection won’t happen here, as I am a realist, and I know that one good flu bug could wreck this house for weeks.  Or a crazy day pops up.  Or a friend is visiting from afar.  But my little mantra for 2015 is: create daily.

All this creating feels great, and freeing…maybe a little too unstructured. So I’m adding in a small caveat:  prizes.  In addition to creating with abandon, once weekly, I’ll craft a prize.

What: A Prize Year is a year-long project where I am creating a prize ribbon once a week.  At the close of 2015, I’ll ideally have 52+ prize ribbons, and more importantly, have experienced the creative ebbs and flows of a year-long endeavor (simple, though it may be).

When: weekly, in 2015.  Weekly feels do-able.  I will reward myself for completing each prize with a notation on my calendar.  I bought a very simple kraft paper calendar, and I hand-carved a tiny prize-shaped rubber stamp.

IMG_4391 copy

Why a year-long project?

This is a creative exercise for me.  The weekly format and prize form provide a structure, but beyond that I will try to not limit myself in regard to materials.  I could, of course, assemble 50 prizes now, and dole them out over the year.  But I’m really interested in the process.  I’m curious to see how the project evolves, and changes.  I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a year-long commitment, creatively, and that is precisely why I’m pursuing it.

Why prize-ribbons?

Except for that perfect attendance award I “won” in high school, I‘ve never actually won a prize.  But I love the shapes, textures, varieties of prize ribbons.  Historically, they were personally ornamental.  Then militaristic, designated for royalty, and symbolized valour.  I want to delve into the history and craft of ribbonery.  I want to acquire some old equestrian ribbons, and dip them into Plasticine.  I want to make ribbons out of paper, and felt, and fabric.  In a variety of shapes and sizes.  I like that prize ribbons can be serious (think Nobel Peace Prize), or irreverent (You finished a spool of floss—way to go!)

Who: Me, the one-woman hand-making, prize-loving crafter.  And YOU, if you’d like!  (if you use Instagram, tag your photo to #aprizeyear, or send me a link; I’d love to see your prize creation).

So, that’s my windy road map for 2015.  Care to join me?

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Works in Progress: October 2014

It’s a works-in-progress month around here. And I sort of love it because when I hit a road block on one thing, there are eight more projects waiting in the wings.  But, to the detriment of this particular space, it means that I have no finished work to share.  (And my real camera is still being repaired, so I must make do with the phone camera and RadLab editing).  Are you ready for an assortment?

Paper to Petal

I began writing a review for Paper to Petal by Rebecca Thuss and Patrick Farrell over a month ago. I had great success making some blossoms for a wedding, but felt that I needed more crepe paper.  So while I await some vintage Italian crepe paper, and continue to scour my go-to thrift stores for millinery supplies, here are some complete flowers.  I have a notion to make a giant Polish pajaki for Christmas with this paper flowers—big plans!  Pajakis are paper chandeliers that are a traditional Christmas decoration in Poland.

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Teeny Tiny Menagerie

This book by Niriko Komurata with “380 Whimsical & Wonderful Animal Embroidery Motifs” landed in my book bag, and I was instantly inspired to take up the hoop. Around here, we use cloth napkins every single day.  All but four newer ones have been in heavy rotation for twelve years.  They are tired.  So I had been thinking about whipping up a new set of matching napkins, 24 fresh ones to take us through the next twelve years.  I don’t want to embroider each napkin with the same thing, and I don’t want our initials on them—some of us are messier than others, and then there’d be evidence of it!  But Noriko Komurata’s book solves this challenge.  I plan to choose 24 (or so) animals and embroider them on the napkin corners.  This is a longer term project that I intend to realize over the winter.  Each of us has favorite animals, and family members and friends will be assigned accordingly.  In preparation, I borrowed a serger as I feel the serged napkin edge will allow me to make all the napkins now and press them into service, while embroidering them at will.

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Art Journaling

There is a band of self-proclaimed “crafty vixens” who create weekly art journal pages based on prompts. They have created a space for accountability and creativity, and I’m vicariously following along (#getmessyartjournal) until there is room for me to participate.  So, while I am just doing my own thing, I’m really inspired by their gang.  Here are links to their ring-leaders: Caylee and Lauren.

I found an old banco di roma calendar book at the SFPL BIG book sale. I extracted half the pages to allow room for my own add-ins.  And I cannot stop making pages. Love it.

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Scandinavian Memory Book

We took a trip. We took 3000 photos.  And before we forget (who’s kidding; we’ve already started to forget…), I want to capture as much as I can.




Nutty Millet Breakfast Cookies

I just met Megan Gordon. (Not in real life, but in a book which is nearly as good). Especially because she gave me the recipe to her Nutty Millet Breakfast Cookies.  I am a creature of habit, and my breakfast each and every morning is nut granola with some berries or diced apple with almond milk.  Done.  Daily.  Except those mornings when we run out, and then I scramble to throw the mix together and bake it off.  When I spied these cookies, I thought they might just solve our whole entire morning.  The kids would gobble them, they are freeze-able, so we won’t run out.  They are easily portioned.  And they are chock full of good whole grains.  I did have to specially purchase barley flour, wheat bran, and millet.  I followed Megan’s recipe to the letter (though I used golden raisins instead of conventional).  These cookies are perfection for me, and not just for breakfast.  I am telling everyone about them.  (I’ll be honest though, my kiddos didn’t love them—for breakfast or otherwise).

Ingredients: 1 cup whole wheat flour 1/4 cup barley flour 3/4 cup rolled oats 1/4 cup millet 1/4 cup wheat bran 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon ginger 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup coconut oil, (melted) 1/2 cup maple syrup 1 large egg (beaten) 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1/3 cup raisins (I used golden raisins) 1/4 cup roasted walnuts (chopped) 1/3 cup roasted pecans (chopped) To prepare: Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat. In a large bowl, add the flours, oats, millet, bran, baking powder, baking salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt. Mix until combined; set aside. In medium sized bowl add the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, egg and vanilla, mix; then add to flour mixture stirring ingredients together with a wooden spoon. Stir in raisins and nuts. Mixture will be very thick. Let sit 10 minutes. Using a large spoon scoop out dough and place on cookie sheet about 1-1/2 inches away from each other. Flatten dough to about 3/4 inch thick.

Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet 10 minutes before moving to wire rack. Store in an airtight container. Freeze-able. Makes about 18 cookies. Recipe has been slightly adapted from the Whole Grain Mornings cookbook by Megan Gordon.

Next up, I’m going to make the Peach Breakfast Cobbler with Cornmeal Thyme Biscuits and the Blueberry Breakfast Bars.

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Thanks for jumping all over the place with me today.

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To Do Lists

Over a year ago, I purchased four linen chevron curtain panels from the Crate and Barrel outlet (meaning, once they are gone, they are gone forever). They sat in the bag in a corner of the living room.  Then I found the perfect wood and brass rods…which sat in their own corner for a few months.  Myquillyn Smith’s book was just the kick in the pants I needed to get out the drill, tape measure, and level, and go for it.  I have tall windows.  I thought I bought four 96-inch panels.  Alas, I did not.  Somehow, one 84-inch panel was in the bunch.  So now I have one high-water curtain with three that need a little hemming.  This needs to be said: I know that I have a beautiful home and I am grateful for our bright, safe shelter from the world and all its elements.  But there are neglected spots, odd cover plates missing, and a desperate patio.

Smith, Myquillyn.337904
The Nesting Place:
It Doesn’t have to be Perfect to be Beautiful.
Illustrated. 199pp. Zondervan, 2014, $19.99.
ISBN-10: 0310337909
ISBN-13: 978-0310337904

When I think of what needs to be finished, or rearranged, or painted….well, you know those people who magically get stuff done? Those people who Christmas shop in July?  Who actually professionally frame artwork?  Who commit to gorgeous wallpaper?  I’m not one of those people.  I second-guess.  I ruminate.  I consider my options in a very non-statistical, intuitive fashion.  Then, I get lost in a tangent of art journaling, crepe paper flowers, and snippet poetry only to be snapped to reality with a kitchen island that desperately needs paint, and kids who need help with their homework.  And the holidays are coming!  Which means I need–of all things–candles.  And that’s how my To Do list starts.  Each and every autumn, I decide to be WAY more organized about the holidays (which I love).  But I also adore autumn: cool sweater weather, rainy days, meat braising.  I soak up all the autumnal goodness, making Halloween costumes and carving pumpkins.  Don’t even get me started on my homage to apples…  The next thing I know it’s the Monday before Thanksgiving, and people are asking me what the kids might like for Christmas.  Ack!

Where was I? Oh yes, my To Do list.

Have you ever come across an anonymous Shopping or a To Do list? The scrawl of tasks and necessities.  The block-print of forgetfulness overcome.  The illegible short-hand.  Well, I have altogether stopped creating To Do lists for the house on account of feelings.  I am afraid to make mistakes.  And then, The Nesting Place landed in my book bag.  Myquillyn (also known as the Nester in home décor/DIY circles) is a champion for the “get it done, and live in it” style.  Her subtitle says it better: it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.  This isn’t solely a home décor book.  It’s not just a how-to book.  It’s more of a reminder that I need to enjoy the space I have, and quit these fears of making another mistake, and hem the darn curtains already!

I read Myquillyn’s book cover to cover and am absolutely motivated to write this review, but all I really want to do is declutter (or “quiet”) every room in our house, photograph the back patio and get some reader opinions on what might work in that space, buy some crisp mat board for two thrifted pieces of art, and dig out the stud finder to hang that mirror in the dining room. Basically, I want to make a list and get stuff done.   My living room looks like it belongs to someone else, and that needs to change NOW.

You can find Myquillyn creating amazing vignettes and spaces at her website, but plan accordingly because there is SO much goodness to read and view.  Also, she’s on Instagram.

Thank you, Myquillyn Smith, for writing a purposeful, old-soul book about making an authentic home that allows people to live and breathe and play and work in it.


PS: In the meantime, I leave you with a curiosity.  This is “old” news.  Back in March of 2014, an apartment in Paris that had been abandoned some 70 years earlier was unlocked:

A thousand stories are coursing through my imagination on this discovery. French privacy laws protect the identity of the granddaughter, but these laws also allow me to linger in the mystery and build my own fiction as to why the owner never went back, yet kept paying the rent.  Fascinating!


Journal-Keeping: 612 Days (and counting) on Record

My Grandpa Ray kept a calendar journal.  He used the annual free wall calendars from Hoffman’s Hardware store.  Each day, he’d jot in the weather, and maybe a note.  For instance: “Cloudy. Cort called.”  Or “Rain-1 in. Morgann here.”  He might state a doctor appointment or if he filled the gas tank, but always the weather.  I love these calendars, and I wish I had them (or just one of them!) to browse through. I really admire his consistency, and his simplicity.

On January 1st of 2013, I decided to start a daily journal.  Just a few lines each day recording minor happenings, and things the boys said.  It was all in an attempt to remember our days, and allow for better documentation and storytelling for our family book (which is my version of Project Life™ that includes stories + photographs).  I wasn’t sure if I would stay on track with the journal.  I have always kept small books for jotting down ideas, and lists, and memories, but I had never had success maintaining a daily journal.

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At the end of February, I’d filled the first journal, and moved into Book Two…which lasted through mid-May, and so on.  I kept the journal on my night table.  By adding the day’s happenings each night, I got into a great habit, and it was so satisfying to have one full journal.  It made me wish I’d started the practice years ago.

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I use journals that had been lying around empty.  My handwriting in these books is downright messy compared to a thank you note or even my grocery lists.  I just wanted to capture the essence of the day, with my filter, mark our course as a family.  Sometimes, I forget a few days.  I take the journal to the dinner table, and we all four chime in and recollect those events.

It turns out that I’m particular about the size.  I think this has to do with the content I’m writing down.  I want to fill a page or two.  And 4X6 inch books are near-perfect.  I happily use lined, unlined, gridded mid-weight paper.  But I always customize the covers.

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I am feverishly repurposing some journals that I have had for a while.  I deconstruct the hardcover, split the too-thick book into thirds, and re-bind in soft cover.  (This process is a whole other story that I’m happy to share).  I don’t need for these journals to last forever because it seems that the very act of writing it down helps me remember things more clearly.

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The journals have become excellent argument enders.  For example, when did we see that Stephen King opera? (Saturday, September 28th).  Who’s turn is it to host a holiday? (Up for grabs).  We also charted our progress through Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.  After starts and stops through Book 1, we pulled out Book 2 on Monday, October 14th and read almost nightly through Book 13 on Sunday, February 23rd.  Whew.

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There are days that only have lists of watercolor paint names, or Oscar nominated films we should watch, or notations about the weather (still no rain; we are in a drought!), or what I cooked.  There are lists of what we’re reading, if we see family or friends, and whether the Giants won.  There are days that don’t get recorded, and that’s okay.  To me, it means we’re living.

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Every once in a while, I interview my boys, time-capsuling their favorites; the simple things that they are enjoying right now.  And sometimes my own favorites.  This may seem vain, but here’s the thing.  I would love to have a record of this daily-ness from my mom or my Grandmother.  I’d love to know her go-to nail polish color or how often she met up with her friends.  I’d love to know her small triumphs (forced amaryllis is blooming!) and her challenges (car battery died…again).  Even though I don’t go into much depth, I think you can tell what’s constantly on my mind: my family of four, and the orbit we’re on.  Daily.  And simple.

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Summer: August Edition

I have too many project ideas.  This would be a superb problem if my free time were correlative. It is not.  However, I can choose how to spend my small windows of time, and this week—now that school is back in session—I’m making all sorts of things…

  • Fancy To Do: Lists.

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I’m also making–

  • Wedding place cards and a seating chart: the bride and groom have a monogrammed cork with a pre-cut channel for the card.  We’re collaborating on shape and calligraphy, or well, my best handwriting.
  • Crepe and tissue paper flowers by the handful: I’m working from Paper to Petal: 75 Whimsical Paper Flowers to Craft by Hand by Rebecca Thuss and Patrick Farrell.  I love this book, and can’t wait to share an in-depth review.  And also a synopsis, because I think it would be a good writing exercise to condense my lengthier reviews.  Meanwhile, I’m wrapping floral wire with floral tape on repeat, because it’s the hardest part for me.
  • Thank you notes: I have a lot to be thankful for–good teachers, remarkable friends, thoughtful cousins.  I love to craft personal, meaningful notes that get a stamp, and travel by air, and arrive in a mailbox that might otherwise contain credit card offers, alumnae requests, and grocery circulars.  I cut and fold envelopes.  I use vintage paper and fortune cookie fortunes (among many other bits & pieces). I stitch and stamp address labels.  The whole shebang.
  • Travel Journal: Our family took a wonderful trip to Scandinavia this summer.  There are thousands of things to say about this adventure, and I don’t want to let too much time slip by before corralling photos and tickets and favorite memories into one volume.  For example, I want to remember overhearing a Norwegian mom tell her kids to eat their sangwiches, which is exactly how my Norwegian grandmother pronounced sandwich, and I’ve never heard another person say it that way.
  • And, rituals: Since I make so many things alone, without much feedback, momentum is a challenge.  I am reading Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, and that is helping my perspective.  But also, I’m establishing some rituals to put me in a more creative framework during those small windows of available time.  In the meantime, here’s the current state of my workspace:
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west-facing desk

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east-facing desk.

Thus far, my craft ritual entails brushing my teeth, drinking green tea, rejecting the mess, and sitting down with pen to paper.  I’m trying to ignore, MLB at Bat, and Instagram.  The ritual needs some work.

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Knitting: the ultimate endurance craft.

Auntie Joni was the knitter in our family.  My grandmother (who taught me many of the needlecrafts) could repair a hole in a sweater, and she often darned socks, but it wasn’t her choice craft.  Auntie Joni (my grandma’s sister) ruled the roost when it came to wool.  She was fast and adventuresome.  She knit intarsia, Fair Isle, cables, and lace on one hand while playing the piano with the other.  I’m kidding, but you’re picturing her energetic virtuosity, aren’t you?  When I was a kid, she knit up mittens each the size of a Thanksgiving turkey, then shrunk them to just fit the hands of her three children.  The wool of these felted mittens was so dense, they were rendered near-waterproof, and perfect for downhill skiing.  Visiting Auntie Joni was always an adventure through a gallery of works-in-progress.  Like my Grandma, her sewing room was stuffed with bags of fabric and baskets of wool, threads graffiti-ed the carpet, and stray needles barbed arm rests.  No matter the season, Auntie Joni had several projects on the needles.  It wasn’t until I was nearly 30 that I caught a bit of an interest in knitting, and by then, lived too far from Auntie Joni for proper knitting lessons.  I bought a copy of Stitch n’ Bitch and taught myself to knit and purl.  I made a square.  Then I made a scarf for my one-year-old.  And then, I promptly knitted and felted an intarsia tote bag for my sister.  Auntie Joni’s mittens came rushing back to me when I pulled the half sized bag out of the hot, soapy water.

I’m a s-l-o-w knitter.  Being self-taught, my technique is wanting.  I can’t be engrossed in a movie or conversation.  I can’t knit in the passenger seat.  I often lose count.  It’s sort of amazing that I’ve finished anything on knitting needles.  But a few years ago, I went to Stitches West Yarn Convention in Santa Clara with my sock-knitting friend Monica.  I spied a must-have cardigan.  I tried on the sample, and knew exactly which size to knit.  I bought the pattern: Mondo Cable Cardi by Bonne Marie Burns at Chic Knits.  And then I obsessed about the yarn.

Mondo Cable Cardi from Chic Knits

Mondo Cable Cardi from Chic Knits

Knitting your own sweater is brave.  You need to be sure of your sizing and keep your gauge consistent.  You need to love the yarn, because it’s an investment.  And you need to commit: ie. Finish the thing, already!

Sizing & gauge—I felt confident about the size since I was able to try on the sample.  And I generally don’t have problems maintaining tension.  Working from an unknown pattern however, requires research and help from the knitting shop pros—if you’re a sweater novice.  Or in-depth reviews of the pattern on Ravelry, the knit/crochet on-line community.

Yarn—I chose a hand dyed yarn from Madeline Tosh. It is superb. The color is called Thunderstorm, which is an inky midnight blue with flecks of blue-grey.  It is a luxe, non-itchy merino wool that I cannot wait to wear.  I have had to purchase two additional skeins to assure that I won’t run out, and that dye lots won’t be totally off.  If you have a large project, like a cardigan, then it’s best to purchase all the yarn at or near the same time to assure colors match.  There are complicated knitter tricks for avoiding striations when switching between skeins, and you can find many books and Ravelry threads about this topic: just search “yarn pooling.”  Hand dyed yarn has its own innate variation, and that it what I love about it.  I don’t mind that colors pool slightly, or that areas are somewhat splotchy.  It’s part of the yarn.

Commitment–it is 80% complete, as it has been for 2 years.  Until now.  About 8 weeks ago, I spied a nearly complete cardigan in andreacollects Instagram feed.  We have had a good-natured back and forth about the progressive state of her cardigan (now complete), and the stagnate state of mine.  It’s July, or “winter” in San Francisco, and I’d like to wear this cozy piece.

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For the last couple of evenings, I’ve been adding rows to the incomplete left sleeve.  It’s nearly to the stage of switching to double-pointed needles as the sleeve decreases.  Then I must work the collar.  The pattern has a crew neck version, but I like the 4-inch width for warmth.  I plan to wear this cardigan as a jacket.  Lastly, the whole thing will be blocked, or washed gently and dried flat.  This process should even out all my stitches and hopefully lay down that curling bottom edge.  If not, then I plan to take out the inch of intermittent (5 knit to 1 purl) rib, and re-knit a closer knit/purl ratio rib—this should help the edge lay flat.  I hereby vow to post a progress report thereby holding myself accountable to you, my three readers.

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