All along there were incidents and accidents, there were hints and allegations . . . or. . . you got chocolate on my peanut butter.

So in case you've been wondering, Hannah and her adorable hat have arrived safely in Virginia. There was a minor incident in Kentucky involving a guard rail and the passenger door, but you can read her blog if you want to know about that. Not having actually seen the damage, I will not speculate. Anyway, her Frieda Kahlo memorabilia has been retrieved from the storage shed, her apartment is set up, and she is already cursing biology.

Chelsea is also safely ensconced in her ivy-covered walls. I went downstairs on Saturday and was poking around in the space she and Jake vacated when I noticed her yellow blankie -- HER YELLOW BLANKIE!!! -- folded neatly
(with determination?) at the foot of their bed.
Has the world gone mad? Going away to Vermont Law with no blankie? Of course I had to call to inquire. She said (a little weakly and with a small laugh) "I thought I could do it."

"What are you wrapping your head in when you sleep?" I asked. Because I know she has done this for as long as she's been Chelsea.

ALL THIS LEADS TO TODAY'S QUESTION: Is it possible to go to law school during the day and still wrap your head in your blankie at night?

Hannah had what I deem to be a perfect answer for this. She made a comment on my last blog post (the one about creative making) that I told her I was going to lift and use in my next post. She said, "go ahead, since you obviously don't have any moral issues with plagiarism" (see "Betty Crocker Boys & Girls Cookbook". Smart aleck.)

In response to my assertion that universes (chocolate and bacon) must never collide, Hannah said this:

"I would have to revise your statement and say that bad things happen when universes touch -- greatness happens when universes collide. There can be no apprehension when mixing worlds together -- apprehension gets nothing done. Jumping into the possibility of failure is the only way to truly succeed."

Bravo, Hannah! This may mean that Chelsea should actually take her blankie with her to law school, but at the very least it certainly implies that it's okay for her to be a lawyer during the day and a blankie toter when she gets home at night. I also think it is a validation for my long held decorating rule that: if you put together the things you like, they will all play nicely.
My house is eclectic (to say the least) but it
feels good. (it helps that I have never sought out the opinion of a professional decorator
on this topic).

I just bought Hannah a copy of one of my (and her) favorite-all-time books. I had a vintage copy but she didn't, and we both consider this to be a must. I am a little jealous, however, that her copy has something mine lacks. It contains pictures from a stage production of the book! LUCKY! I just loved one of the pictures with its accompanying caption:

I couldn't agree more completely. I have always thought my different friends should know each other. In fact, here are two of my best friends who hit it off famously. How could they not? I love them both. Automatic click. They may belong to different universes (they absolutely do!) but the important thing is I drew them both into my universe and it feels good. Two great tastes that taste great together.*

(*too young for this allusion? It refers to iconic 70's advertising involving an accident, some allegations, and the birth of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.)

I'm going to assert that this rule must apply to most things. I had such fun sharing Maira Kalman with you last time that now I'm going to offer you this:

and this:

Which reminds
me of
my favorite
Wisconsin billboard,
"Cheese & Taxidermy."
True story.

And who's to say that a cookie jar shouldn't take a trip to the universe of science? What if your mother baked cookies AND invented scuba gear? Awesome collision!

I'm feeling this way about the whole blog thing. A marvelous intersection where writing meets art. A hint of something that could become something even better. I'll send your blankie if you want it, Chels. You could have show and tell. Blankie, meet my law friends. Law friends, this is my blankie . . .
Now everybody get along.


Famous Dave covered bacon strips in chocolate and called it "Pig Lickers."

I would call it "ick lickers." Never underestimate the ability of the people of Minnesota to come up with completely original culinary sensations to serve at the State Fair. But at least Dave tried to do something new. Personally, I believe there are two basic food universes -- one includes chocolate, and the other includes bacon. Universes should never collide; bad things happen.

But on to the point: I found a wonderfully serendipitous vintage wordstrip at an antique store the other day. How can I ever use it in a piece? I must keep it forever. It says:

What a brilliant and straight-forward command! And being on a wordstrip, we must believe it is intended to be understood by any second grader. Picasso famously said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." The best part of the wordstrip is that it doesn't say
WHAT to make or HOW, it just says make something.

One of my early inspirations in needlework is named Mary Bero. I noticed while looking on the internet the other day that her pieces are now selling for $10,000 - $20,000. This should give us all hope to press on -- her pieces are very small, dense embroideries (sound familiar?)

Anyway, Mary says: "Every idea is worth a try -- to find it, watch it, experience it, develop it and thereby have a relationship with it." She said EVERY idea. So when Famous Dave started melting chocolate to pour over his bacon and his mother rolled her eyes and said, "WHAT?!", she should have just gotten out of the way and let Dave have a relationship with his idea. After all, "pig lickers" are selling like hotcakes and Dave does have Famous in front of his name.

The person who most personally inspired me to live a life of making was my Aunt Lillie.

She's the one pushing the stroller, I'm the one riding -- Massachusetts, ca. 1964? This photo lives in my studio because Aunt Lillie taught me about seeing the possibilities in the scraps.

Of cold roast beef or of rick rack --
it didn't matter what. She was a maker.

But what shall I make, you ask? Maira Kalman suggests that no particular talent is required to make a worthwhile contribution. Just make something with what you happen to have on hand.

Make something of yourself.

We'll go back to my favorite, Sir Walter Raleigh, at this point for a refresher on the topic of "how much you should worry about perfection in your creations:"

This quote gives me great comfort. Besides, the important part is the doing of making, not the something of making.

One of my other inspirations is a man named Dilmus Hall. Dilmus was one of 22 children of a Georgia sharecropping family. Dilmus made art because he believed it to be our duty.

I'm so glad I found the wordstrip before anyone else snatched it up -- perhaps I needed it most. Because I should be in my studio right now and not sitting at the computer.

But before I go . . . my hero Louise Plummer said:

"For me, being a creative person means to make a mark in the world.
It is the act of making something new,
whether a symphony, a novel,

an improved layout for a supermarket,
or a new and unexpected casserole dish."

So let's all make something. And please, write and tell me about it! If you don't want to make art, go ahead and make a casserole -- you could even put some chocolate in it, if you like. It might be really good?!


It's a peculiar feeling when your baby calls from a Chinese buffet in Tomah, Wisconsin.

And she's off! This is a day every mother dreams of. Should I laugh? Cry? Scream? Dance naked on the kitchen table? Make all my favorite foods that my kids used to complain when I made? Or just feel a little wistful for a while. And hopeful. For me and for my babies. It's a bit like giving birth, I suppose. There's the feeling that they're finally OUT, and that IT'S FINALLY OVER. But at the same time, there's the feeling that something that was your own special little secret has been leaked to the world and who knows where it will end? As a continuation of my sharing of old poems (last one, I promise) I'll offer this one that I wrote when Lindsay was a baby. I was following her down the sidewalk one sunshiny morning and it just came over me. It still never ceases to feel true to me on days like this:

I can think of several illustrations that come in handy for today, as well. There's the "Stay at Home Mom" series, of course, but there's also "Let it Go":

and this oldie but goodie from the archives, "Dreams take Flight." Because our children are like dreams -- real yet elusive at the same time, fantastic, full of our comfortable selves but also full of new things our conscious minds could never have imagined.

And lastly, people ask me all the time if this is an illustration of Hannah:

I'm not sure why. Because she is singing? Because she has such dark hair and the cheeks suggestive of two perfect beauty marks? Because she is riding on a bird? I usually smile and say, "I guess it is."
Today, anyway.

Because today somehow the Maxima swallowed up Hannah and ALL of her piles and pulled out of the driveway. She put on an adorably jaunty hat (for courage, she explained) and then . . . POOF!
Good luck, sweetie.
Look out, world. Hannah's home.


Whew! I'm going to sleep so much better tonight.

When you begin digging through your elementary school poetry file (see previous post if you're confused), which you might actually keep if you had a complete career as a writer and retired at age 20, like I did . . . you come across interesting things. So I feel the need to clarify a few things now. First, the poem in the previous post was not from 4th grade, but was instead from 3rd, or perhaps even 2nd (?) grade. Because after I posted it I came across another beauty that was most definitely from 4th grade.

How can I be sure? Because it was written in cursive, the 4th grade technological leap forward. And it was written in free verse, infinitely more sophisticated than my previous work. I remembered this poem very well, because -- actually -- I have a confession to make concerning it. Now is as good a time as any, I suppose. I loved loved loved my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Spackman. I have a particularly fond memory of her standing at the blackboard, swinging her hips in a strangely mesmerizing way to "Love's Theme" (an early 70's pre-disco instrumental spectacular involving a lot of synthesized violins. Remember? Very popular on am radio) when I showed up early for class one day. Mrs. Spackman loved loved loved my poem, "Lemon Shiver." She made a huge deal of it. Actually, she made a huge POSTER of it and hung it in the 4th-5th grade pod, where it stayed all year. She copied it on this pink paper and distributed it to the entire class. She complimented me repeatedly and profusely on the magnificent image I had conjured of a "Lemon Shiver" -- what a remarkable turn of phrase for such a young girl! I basked in the compliments (probably because they made up a little for the indignity of having no horse-drawing skills) and smiled serenely. But inside, there was mostly discomfort because . . . well, because . . . it was never my turn of phrase!

I stole the phrase "Lemon Shiver" from my Betty Crocker Girls' and Boys Cookbook, which, during elementary school, I spent entire summers studying. And of course, being a young poet, I was perfectly capable of recognizing an elegant turn of phrase and then lifting it for my own work, and I admit I did so and then stood up proudly to take the glory.

I do have to say that Mrs. Spackman's praise and utter belief in my abilities did much to give me the courage to press on in my artistic pursuits, and I have often thought fondly of her and thanked her for it. But I do feel a bit twinge-y in the guilt department whenever I think of the crowning achievement of my 4th grade career, "Lemon Shiver."

I suppose it's a little like Rousseau felt when everyone found out he traced his famous tiger out of a children's coloring book. But then, he's Rousseau, so I hope he hasn't spent too much time losing sleep over it.


Did you hear me? I only said "maybe".

I didn't say for sure I would. It makes me feel both nervous AND tired. But I'm thinking about it. . . so more on that later. First, I suppose I owe an apology to a certain college student who was a little bit -- shall we say -- miffed about my last post. In my defense, I said that most bloggers would have taken a picture of the offending room/hallway/piles and posted THAT, but instead I had chosen to include a charming illustration and only a partial list. But I guess already this isn't much of an apology, so . . . sorry, Hannah. I love you so so so!

Today I will sing your praises. Because after hours of intense labor at the computer, Hannah's etsy shop is up and running and today I had to ship a pair of earrings to the Isle of Man! She was open literally 3 minutes and she had already gone global. I bow down. If you haven't checked it out, you simply must! (vintagescrewball.etsy.com) Hannah, you're my hero.
And now, back to the beginning where I said I said maybe. As any 3rd grader can tell you, when your mom says maybe it is actually just a little softer way of saying no. Because if the answer was yes, she would have just said yes, right? But maybe gives you just a little hope in the back of your mind, even though the front of your mind weighs all existing evidence and realizes that maybe is actually a one-letter-longer version of nope. What I'm thinking about (maybe) is committing to doing a sketch every day for a year. Who cares? Why is this meaningful? Why would I even have to pause and think about this? Why should you have to read about it? Because if you know me at all, you know that I am a raging draw-o-phobic. This is problematic for someone pursuing a career in visual art. I realize that. I know I must overcome it. I think it goes back to sitting next to Cass Linebaugh in the 4th grade. Cass already seemed to have won all of life's prizes. First of all, her name was infinitely cooler than mine. Cass. It just oozes cool. Then she had these long braids that were bound up in these extremely cool and cass-like leather braid thingys. The boys went wild. But the real kicker, the thing that haunts me to this day, is that Cass could draw horses. I mean real, actual horses. With shading. Horses that looked much more like a SIXTH grader drew them than a lousy 4th grader. And she drew them all day and everywhere. The teachers oohed and aahed. The boys went wild. My pictures of sunsets consisting of two giant "M" shaped mountains with a setting semi-circle between them (occasionally punctuated with rounded "M" shaped birds flying off over the hills) just couldn't compare. While I couldn't actually lay my hands on one of those pictures, I offer as exhibit A the following poem from the same time period -- I'm CERTAIN you can imagine the illustration I'm talking about. . . .

Scarred for life. So anyway, in the interest of growing, in the interest of revitalizing my art, in the interest of all that is true and brave and worthwhile (and perhaps even in the interest of prizes), I have put this challenge out there for myself. Let me get the last little chick out of the nest next week and we'll see what bravery springs from the existential dilemma that will undoubtedly ensue. Hannah suggested I could POST the drawings every day. EEEEKKK!
I only said maybe. Besides, I happen to know that Hannah can draw horses, too.


Stuff to the ceiling, stuff to the sky . . . her piles of stuff are a mile high . . .

Not MY stuff of course, but that of a certain soon-to-depart college student whose mounting piles have now mostly cut off the entrance to my studio and are threatening to choke the upstairs all together, if left unchecked. Can't we start loading some of that into the trunk of your car? Actually, CAN'T YOU START LOADING SOME OF THAT INTO THE TRUNK OF YOUR CAR??!! I thought I had taught her to "have nothing in your home that you do not find to be useful or believe to be beautiful." Well, in all honesty William Morris taught us both that, but the problem appears to be that: 1) She either can't differentiate between useful and beautiful or, 2) She thinks its just beautiful the way everything might become useful if she hangs on to it. Of course then she comes up with things like Venus made from a Captain Crunch box and I have to forgive her for everything and put it on my coffee table because it's just so -- for lack of a better word -- STUNNING. Everyone should have a Venus made from a Captain Crunch box. In fact, perhaps no one should ever throw away empty Captain Crunch boxes. It's like pouring possibilities down the drain with the leftover gold-tinged-crumb-floating milk. What's that quote about hating most in others the qualities we despise in ourselves?

Here's a PARTIAL list of things I had to step over to get into my studio today:

--2 LARGE metal daisies (these will look great on the walls of my room!!)
--2 expandable peg coat racks (these will be great for hanging my vintage hats on!!)
--1 set hanging baskets (these will be great for keeping STUFF in!!)
--1 enormous plastic bin - ENORMOUS - of painting supplies (I need more painting stuff!!)
--1 large vintage spice rack (I could paint this and put stuff ON IT!!)
--1 big blue IKEA bag full of dishes and rugs (we need more rugs!!)
--2 3-foot pieces vintage wood molding (I could put hooks on these!! And hang stuff!!)
--1 stack empty picture frames (my room needs more pictures!!)

See, she's only taking the essentials. I understand completely.


It's not JUST a mechanical system to represent three-dimensional objects and space relationships on a two-dimensional surface

Perspective, of course. It also implies a larger, more comprehensive view, as in "Let's put this problem into perspective." Have you guessed I've been on the phone with the auto mechanic? The 10 year old car that went in for an oil change this morning . . . . will come back 3 days and $850.00 later, and that's only because I refused the additional $850.00 suggested repairs. As my husband says, "never underestimate a car's ability to kick you when you're down." Exactly.

However, we still have our health. And a roof over our heads. And we got a little desperately needed rain. And USA Swimming is just doing swimmingly in Beijing. We're just feeling a little p-i-n-c-h-e-d right now, with tuition payments starting again AND CARS WE NO LONGER EVEN WANT BUT CAN'T AFFORD TO GET RID OF ACTING UP. Enough said -- I'll stitch on a smile and stand up straight -- keeping the proper perspective provides a crucial foundation for inner peace and happiness. Just ask this gal:

Having counted my blessings, I now look much more like the lady on the right, and therefore my mind is free to pursue more creative endeavors. Yesterday I promised I'd have the new piece started, so here's the wool I chose:

In the interest of perspective, I will tell you that the center is about 5.5" x 6", so you get an idea of the size of the piece. And the outer fabric isn't quite as RED as the scanner made it look, but is actually a much more luscious pinky-red mottled affair that really makes my heart go pitty pat. A great piece of wool can still do that. As you see it is already basted and ready for the next step, which will be sewing down the green rectangle and then doing the background stitching. Looking at it here, it occurs to me that I could add some black french knots to the center and call it "inside out watermelon - squared" or something like that (a much more conceptual piece than what I initially promised . . . and I could have it done tonight!) but I guess I'll stick with the original plan. Pictures with birds and suns and stuff like that make me really really HAPPY. There's no need for auto mechanics (or girdles, actually, but that's another post) in Susan's Sunshiny Birdy World.


What's for Supper? . . . and . . . Do I Have to Make it?

One of the best things about my job is that I get to peruse my extensive old magazine collection as often as I wish while still pretending to work -- everyone should be so lucky! So I decided I probably have a moral obligation of some kind to share the wealth, especially since most of the time only tiny bits of print show up in my work and therefore, I get most of the benefit from my old magazines and you get -- well -- none. Since I shared one of the best recipes in the world with you on Friday, here's what is probably not one of the best recipes in the world. But if you're still looking for dinner options tonight . . . HAVE YOU CONSIDERED TOAST TULIPS??!!

I find it comforting that there was a time when housewives spent their days looking for truly excellent recipes for tuna a la king, taking special care to be sure the presentation would be as pleasing to the eye as the cream-of-mushroom-soup-sauce would be to the palate.
Unfortunately, my family is more likely to encounter a ball of thread scraps or some wool bits than a tasty and nutritious supper dish when they come to me at the end of the day. But at least my two oldest children remember when I used to cook real dinners (tablecloths and everything!) I fear my youngest suspects those dinners of legend are merely family lore, subject to the vagaries of memory grown rosy with telling and re-telling. I will confess I never served toast tulips, with or without a tablecloth.

But to the matter at hand: I have decided to, in the interest of sharing my process, let you see a piece as it unfolds (some stages will be approximately as interesting as watching paint dry -- I'll try to skip those or spice them up with additional tasty recipes or something). Please be aware that good things take time, and that this may take up to a month. But I will enjoy chronicling the process, and perhaps it will help me to work a little faster. I'm not specializing in fast this summer for some reason. We'll begin with the sketch: (here you can imagine a pause while I try to decide which piece to share with you -- yes, I think that one will be good . . .)

Tomorrow I will choose some of the SPECTACULAR wool I recently brought home from Taos and we'll get this party started! Until then, I wish you a warm supper prepared by someone who loves you and is willing to dirty a tablecloth just to catch your crumbs.


It's Not that Easy Bein' Green . . .

Especially if you're a newly minted Vermonter trying to adjust to life in a 160 year old inn. Everyone send good wishes to Jake and Chelsea, who find themselves in a bona fide struggle/adventure trying to adjust to their new lives. And while I'm on that subject, Happy 1st Anniversary, you two!

It is easy bein' green if you're Lindsay drawing a picture of Kermit the Frog (above), which she created with a box of crayola crayons while sitting by a swimming pool. She's unbelieveable. I've never created anything with crayola crayons that didn't look like -- well -- crayola crayons. She has my undying respect and admiration. Everyone send good wishes to Lindsay that she can find an art job to showcase her enormous talent. No one deserves it more!

It is also easy bein' green if you are referring to eating guacamole at Gabriel's, just north of Santa Fe, NM. I happened upon Gabriel's actual recipe today. If you haven't experienced Gabriel's, it must be added to your list of things to do before you die. They actually come around with a guacamole cart and make it at your table in a bowl the size of your head. And it truly is MUSEUM QUALITY guacamole. Gabriel spent 25 years figuring out the perfect way to ripen an avocado -- it involves black garbage bags, bananas, a scientific formula for when to leave the bag open and when to close it, and a little Santa Fe magic . . . You can try making it at home with this recipe, but if you don't have Gabriel on hand to ripen the avocados for you, I fear that the attempt will be -- while perhaps quite delicious -- still vain. But we can all dream of eating guacamole at Gabriel's on this Friday night!

Green happens to be my favorite color. I used to say that blue was my favorite color, because I wanted my mom to like me and her favorite color was blue (analysis, anyone?!) but around about the middle of elementary school I figured out that I could pick my own favorite color. It was, and continues to be, GREEN. Perhaps that explains my love for Kermit and guacamole. But would it explain why I bothered to share any of this with you? If you are still reading, and you have a bag of tortilla chips, come on over . . . . there's enough guacamole in my dreams for EVERYONE.


Small Works is brought to you today by the letter "S" and by the number 30something

This is a picture of me while I was trying to upload the images to create a slideshow of some of my work this morning (the "s" is for slides and the 30something is how many it takes to make Susan crazy). Was it my ridiculously unreliable internet connection? My advanced age? (people now seem to be born knowing how to DO THINGS) The natural shyness, or perhaps stubbornness, of my subjects? I'll let you draw your own conclusions. But I'm ever so glad that I can now introduce you to some of the people in my neighborhood. Someday -- when the hair I tore out this morning has grown in -- I'll figure out how to scan the slides so I can add some of my older work. I'll save that for a day I'm really bored. Probably February.


Here's something I've been talking about trying for a long time -- a scan of one of my pieces (rather than the usual photo). Very interesting . . . and very disappointing. I think she looks like what one of my pieces might look like in a horror movie (my people are always quite "cute" yet with something sinister lurking that you can't quite put your finger on -- this takes the sinister thing to a new level). The lighting makes her look just AWFUL, but at least you get to see the piece I completed most recently, pre-photographer. Come see it at a show when it's in a really great painted frame and I promise (actually hope is the more accurate word) you'll like it much more!

While I'm at it (showing things that really shouldn't be put up for public view), would you like to see the sketch that this piece came from? Are you remotely curious about the process? It is a mystery for the ages that I can't draw at all, but I can make pictures with a needle and thread. I can cut a much better line than I can draw. Here's the sketch:

So now you see what I have to work from, you can better appreciate the miracle of it all (that anyone could create something from such a humble beginning). Actually, my being self-taught is probably one of the things that makes my work unique, and certainly makes it meaningful to me. I don't think I'd trade that at this point. Which brings me to my favorite Sir Walter Raleigh quote: "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangenesse in the proportion." So I'll call myself "untrained by choice". I'm sure I could learn to draw, but I guess I'm unwilling to surrender what I have to the inevitable change that learning a set of rules would require. Which brings me to another quote, this time by Adrian Monk: "Don't change anything. EVER. It's a very old rule."


Last night Hannah talked me into buying fabric for a new painting -- naughty, naughty Hannah -- in her defense, I should add that I talked her into buying $47.00 worth of new beads and canvases that she obviously didn't need . . . This is one of the new fabrics -- I've never tried anything with batik before, we'll see how it goes. And the white background is so utterly DIFFERENT for me. Stretch, stretch, stretch. I read something I liked last night, something about how although perfection is a sign of skill, like any rule it is a limitation. The writer went on to say that "it encourages you to do things over and over. It can harbor fear and anguish . . ." Well! I am cut to the quick! You may know I have a little problem with perfectionism. You may know that I spend most of my life doing the same things over and over. And some of you may even know that I won't attempt a sketch if there is another person in the house (not completely accurate, but I will hide it under something if I hear a footstep on the stair). On the other hand, it is my perfectionism that makes my stitched work really sing. Part of the "wow" factor is most definitely rooted in the perfectionism of the thing. So, a delicate balancing act to be sure, and something I might try to work on in my body of work this fall. For now, I will take my highly irregular (for me) batik fabric and attempt to paint something on it in a fearless (and less than perfect???!!) manner. We'll see how that goes.
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