19th century (female) doilies turned into 21st century (male) art?

I was dumbstruck today at the Renswick Gallery in Washington, D.C., when I came across a larger than life-size "figure" by Rick Cave called Soundsuit.   The art is made of numerous, colorful doilies of all sizes and shapes sewed onto a life-like shape.

My grandmother, Josie, a woman born in the 19th century, used to crochet doilies exactly like the ones the artist used.  I wondered how she'd feel if she were still alive and she came upon this work of art?  Would she be proud or puzzled, ashamed or flattered?

And I also wondered from where did the artist get his hands on this treasure trove of handmade lacey doilies?  From the older women in his family? 

And I bristled a bit at the idea of what was always a woman's hand work turned into a man's art?   I don't want to be part of the gender wars, but I would probably have embraced this work of art more warmly if it had been done by a woman.

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Crossword Puzzles

I was telling a friend about my crossword puzzle work.  

I don't do crossword puzzles.  I don't understand them, all their obtuse clues--Bestselling Michale Buble album--make my eyes glaze over, and all those blank squares waiting-to-be-filled-in make me tense.  So why every morning am I cutting these puzzles out of the newspapers we get delivered--The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times--and  decorating them with stickers?  I wait until I have a pretty big pile and I stuff the whole bunch into a colorful envelope--turquoise, pink, orange--and send it to my niece in El Paso. 

"That's a random act of kindness," said Johnnie, bequeathing unto me a huge, unexpected compliment out of the blue.

I hadn't thought much about my crossword puzzle "work;"  and I hadn't labeled it one way or other.  About a year ago, my husband and I were visiting Chris, my nephew, and his wife, Jennifer, and somehow she mentioned about loving to do crossword puzzles.  She said they help her relax.  As the 30-something mother of two young boys, I could see how some relaxation, just for her, could be helpful.  She also said that she never gets any mail in her mailbox.  It would be fun for a change to get some mail.  

I had been so uninterested in crossword puzzles that I'd been oblivious to their existence.  I hadn't realized most newspapers carry them regularly, daily.   As soon as we got back home, I noticed crossword puzzles everywhere.  In the second section of the Wall Street Journal, the Arts section of the New York Times, even the sub-par Los Angeles Times has a crossword puzzle. 

Every morning I started tearing out the puzzles, and because I wanted Jennifer to remember me,  just a little, as she was solving the puzzles, I decorated them.  Depending on the season, and what stickers I had on hand, I glued on stars, pumpkins or Christmas trees.  I was careful only to put on the stickers where they wouldn't interfere with the puzzle.  

Jennifer said getting my colorful envelope was the highlight of her week.  That might be hyperbole.  But still nice.  She said that when she went away, she'd take the envelope on the plane and it was her way to relax.

When I started tearing, clipping, decorating, and mailing these puzzles I had no way of knowing that this activity would assume the quality of a daily zen ritual, and also send a message: We may live 1,000 miles apart, but I think of you daily, Jennifer, and I care about you.

I certainly had no way of realizing that once I started, I wouldn't stop.  And I had no way of knowing that my friend, Johnnie, would say, This is a random act of kindness.

Cranberry Bread

This is special and festive enough for the holidays.
I also like to make a special bread with cranberries. Taking advantage of the cranberry’s availability, I’ve made this in the spring. As in my cranberry conserve recipe, this also features cranberries with oranges.

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Seattle Clam Chowder

When I was growing up in the Pacific Northwest, a special family weekend included clamming for goey ducks (a big clam used in chowders) very early in the morning and returning in time for a fried clam breakfast. As little kids, we used to wait until the very last moment to race the tide back in; part of the thrill of clamming was that we sometimes got stranded out too far, up to our waist in water, and had to rescued. On my return visits to Seattle, I try to include a clamming expedition.
My version differs from many traditional recipes in that there is no cream and no bacon. I guarantee this is so delicious these ingredients are not missed.

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Traffic!

Before we left for Montana this June the NYT had an article about the most dangerous things people do around the country.  In Los Angeles the people who were interviewed said that the scariest, most dangerous thing they did was drive.  I agreed completely.  

In LA one has to be super-hypervigilant, always on the look-out for the other driver, who is probably using their cell phone.  These distracted drivers obviously haven't read Matt Richter's brilliant book A Deadly Wandering about the tragic consequences of texting-while-driving, or even using-the-phone-while-driving.

The 405 on a typical day in LA traffic.

The 405 on a typical day in LA traffic.

When you take into account how crowded the roads have become, how much the traffic has increased, how frustrating it is that it takes so much longer to get anywhere, it's not surprising when people are road ragers.

So, it's no wonder after a summer spent driving the tranquil, pastoral, rural roads of Montana, a big sky, wide open place with less than a million people in the entire state, I felt rattled when I returned to LA highways.  I look around me and think:  Where did all these people come from, and all these cars?

I've heard recently about people who have left LA because they can't stand the traffic.  I'm not there.  Yet.   

The road to our home in Montana.  

The road to our home in Montana.  

Poppy seed dressing

This simple, show-stopper is delightful served chilled over fruit salads. The grated onion and mustard combination can fool people’s palates. Some guests have guessed it has coconut in it. The traditional southern recipe calls for so much sugar, it’s like dripping candy over fresh fruit. This version keeps the essence of a good poppy seed dressing, but does away with its excesses.

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Beach-Walking

Last night was a full moon, and so this afternoon was one of those rare extreme low tides.  A -0.5 tide.  It's an invitation beckoning one to take a beach-walk. 

Once I stepped foot on the windy beach, everyone I encountered was happy--happy to be walking on the soft damp sand, way out into the Pacific, happy to be saying hello to our neighbors.  

Lynn, my sister-in-law, suggested it was perfect conditions to find treasures.  Often on this beach I find beautiful stones--a solid stone with an uninterupted band of white encircling it.  A stone a friend has named Lucky Stone because you can make a wish on it and the wish will come true. 

 There were no found treasures today but treasures of another sort found me.   Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift From The Sea writes: The beach is not the place to work; to read, write or think.  I couldn't agree more.   It is a place to breathe in the kelpy sea air, to marvel at the pelicans flying in perfect formation overhead, to get lazy along with the rolling of the waves.  I end up glowing.

Spiced Crab Apples

This is great for Fall when sweet, pretty, miniature crab apples start showing up in the produce department. From Dr. George York of the University of Southern California at Davis, I got the following advice on how to make spiced crab apples. This has several steps, but it’s mostly passive: you do one step and then wait. Don’t be put off by the multiple steps. It’s worth it.

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Babe’s Clam Dip

Babe’s Clam Dip, makes 2 cups

 

This is a modest, 1950s recipe, which my mother made as long as I can remember. No family reunion was complete unless Babe brought her clam dip. Mom always used cream cheese and probably thought it heresy to make it any other way, but hoop cheese (a West Coast term for Farmer Cheese or soft cottage cheese made with less than 1 percent fat) works too, although the texture is different. WIth cream cheese you get a stiffer dip that goes well with crackers or celery; with hoop cheese it ends up with a softer consistency.

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Role Models--select them carefully

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, so in the afternoon I grabbed Lana's sun parasol and went for a walk.

I sent this message and photo to a few closest friends:

Perfect day for a beach walk.  Wish all the people I loved lived close enough to walk with me.

My brother, who is just one year older than I, responded:

Yup, better together now on the beach rather than waiting until we have attendants wheeling us to karaoke.

I know he was joking, but still.  I wrote him back that he needs better role models.  I told him about my friend, Luchita, a beautiful woman from Venezuela, who is turning 96 in a few weeks.  She's having a one-woman gallery show of her painting in November, is also flying to Hawaii in November, and will be traveling to Milan soon to attend the gallery opening of her son, Matt.  Now that's the kind of role model I want to hold onto.   

Below:  Jo and Luchita Mullican, 2006

A Word That Makes Me Wince

Lately I’ve been thinking about words that I use a lot and like—fabulous is one of my favorites--and other words that make me wince.

In Jane Brody’s Personal Health column in today’s New York Times she writes about "Recovery Varies After Spouse Dies.” Brody writes that “Psychologists have long maintained that after after a brief period of sometimes intense bereavement, the vast majority of surviving spouse spouses adjust well…--a psychological outcome referred to as resilience.”

Maybe you’ve already guessed it. RESILIENCE is an over-used word I’ve grown to dislike, and its step-sibling EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE is a phrase I dislike even more. Why such a strong reaction? Because after my former husband died, contrary to what my therapist kept saying, I didn’t know if I had the “resilience” to continue. I didn’t feel strong and springy, that I would bounce back.

The Webster dictionary defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Dictionary.com defines it as the “ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

When the word is used for a spouse to buck up after the death of their partner—be resilient, or you’re more resilient than you know—and if you don’t feel resilient, does that mean you're failing at grieving and bereavement?

The word, which crops up everywhere, has become a buzzword. PEOPLE magazine profiles individuals who are resilient after a disaster. Really?

Psychologytoday.com describes resilience as “that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.” Really?

Resilience is yet another example of the psychobabble of our times. It gives short shrift to the serious depths of what’s involved for most people in healing and moving forward.

Hiking the Crazies--A Waterfall Junkie's Dream!

The Crazies, a rugged, rocky range of mountains outside Big Timber, are about a 90-mile drive from our home in Bozeman.  Brad Coffey, with whom I do some guided hikes, suggested the Crazies because he knows how much I prefer a hike-with-a-waterfall.  

Brad Coffey, guide and friend.

Brad Coffey, guide and friend.

As we're leaving home, heading over Jackson Creek Road, just to our right, on the ridge of a hillside, a herd of at least 200 elk are silhouetted against the sky.  It's an unbelievably dazzling Montana sight.  

U.S. Highway 191 North out of Big Timber takes us across wide open, rolling ranch lands that are nearly empty of anyone and anything.  This vast area is so isolated it reminds me of a friend's father, a rancher, who continued living on his ranch out here after his wife died.  His daughter told me how worried she was about her father's isolation and loneliness.  When I see the emptiness of this limitless landscape I understand her concern.  

The last 18 miles of Big Timber Canyon Road to the trailhead at the Half-Moom Campground in the National Forest is a rocky, dirt road that is thick with dust and is deeply pot-holed.  This is seriously hard and slow driving that requires a sturdy, truck-like vehicle with a high wheel base.  To make the driving even more tricky, there are many deer on the sides of the road and piles of identifiable bear scat--black with colorful berries--are visible in the road.

The first waterfall--Big Timber Falls--is an easy 3/4 mile hike from the parking lot.  The vertical drop is a stunning 100 feet, and even though it's almost September, the cascading waterfall is still huge.  For a waterfall junkie like myself, this is a shrine to waterfalls, and this is only the first one on the trail.  I could stay here all day.

Big Timber Falls  After Big Timber Falls, the terrain gets even more rugged.  I'm wearing my usual hiking shoes, and in these seriously rocky conditions I should have a heavier shoe with a much thicker sole and more traction.  I can't say I've ever felt the soles of my feet when I'm hiking until today.  I'm not sure that's such a good thing, either.

Big Timber Falls

After Big Timber Falls, the terrain gets even more rugged.  I'm wearing my usual hiking shoes, and in these seriously rocky conditions I should have a heavier shoe with a much thicker sole and more traction.  I can't say I've ever felt the soles of my feet when I'm hiking until today.  I'm not sure that's such a good thing, either.

We stop for lunch at the first bridge where there's yet another gorgeous waterfall.  The bridges are man-made, the materials are dropped in by helicopter, and are strong enough for a parade of horses from the nearby dude ranches.

We stop for lunch at the first bridge where there's yet another gorgeous waterfall.  The bridges are man-made, the materials are dropped in by helicopter, and are strong enough for a parade of horses from the nearby dude ranches.

A feast of snacks enjoyed on the bridge within view of yet another waterfall.   

A feast of snacks enjoyed on the bridge within view of yet another waterfall.

 

At the second bridge, at about 7,800 feet altitude, a couple of Frenchmen are swimming in the icy-cold creek.  By day's end we've gone about 6 miles, and taken almost 20,000 steps.    Big Timber Falls will rate as one of my favorite hikes--right up there with hikes in Chilean Patagonia and the Tobacco Root Mountains in Montana.   

At the second bridge, at about 7,800 feet altitude, a couple of Frenchmen are swimming in the icy-cold creek.  By day's end we've gone about 6 miles, and taken almost 20,000 steps.  

Big Timber Falls will rate as one of my favorite hikes--right up there with hikes in Chilean Patagonia and the Tobacco Root Mountains in Montana.

 

Jo's "Simone Biles" moment on the beam over the stream.

Crossing a major stream on the way to the waterfalls on the North Cottonwood Trail, just outside Bozeman, Montana.  It only looks like I'm smiling and confident.  My hiking partner, Brad Coffey, who took this picture, kept reminding me that the logs shift and move.  Right, Brad.  And then I did a back flip.  Just kidding.  The unstable logs are why I look so nervous in the picture below.   

Crossing a major stream on the way to the waterfalls on the North Cottonwood Trail, just outside Bozeman, Montana.

It only looks like I'm smiling and confident.  My hiking partner, Brad Coffey, who took this picture, kept reminding me that the logs shift and move.  Right, Brad.  And then I did a back flip.  Just kidding.  The unstable logs are why I look so nervous in the picture below.

 

The waterfall at the end of the North Cottonwood Trail was our reward.  A 2-hour hike in, and 2-hour hike out.  Gorgeous.  Well worth the trek and the balance beam work!

The waterfall at the end of the North Cottonwood Trail was our reward.  A 2-hour hike in, and 2-hour hike out.  Gorgeous.  Well worth the trek and the balance beam work!