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Bridgnorth, Shropshire, our former home.

When your past calls, don’t answer.  It has nothing new to say.

2014.  Ten years ago, we left the United Kingdom to make a new life in Canada, the land of my birth.  In this tenth anniversary year, my family and I will shortly make our first return visit to the land that I called home for 25 years of my life.  The impending trip has filled me with a longing for places left behind, filled me with memories of my years in England and Europe.  Today, my memories have wandered over my time working as a stewardess on a private yacht in the Mediterranean.  It was only a summer, but a summer that was long and filled with amazing experiences, travelling from city to city all along the Mediterranean coast, to Corsica and Sardinia, Elba and then across France, through Paris.  I had just finalised divorce from my first husband.  I had great prospects in the UK for school and love and a good life.  I took the job to get away, to be present and silent with my own thoughts, to decide what I wanted to do next.  My family were keen for me to return to the US, to take up the university direction that had been lost in the early marriage.  I had decisions to make.

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I am particularly remembering San Remo in northern Italy, not far over the Italian border from Monaco.  The ship spent awhile there undergoing some repairs. I had an opportunity to wander the city over several days.  I have three lasting memories from those days . . . the young men on every corner, each seeming more gorgeous than the last, who admired me openly, murmuring “Ciao, bella. . . .” in low bedroom voices; the strange absence of women – one or two beautiful, lively young women, and black-clad old women, with nothing visible in between; and the young man on the scooter who followed me everywhere, and who stationed himself by the end of the gangway for three full days, shouting “Bellissima, bellissima!” every time I appeared on deck.  🙂  But I am particularly remembering San Remo for a certain life turning-point, on a faint long-distance payphone call to tell my parents I was not returning to the US.   Sometimes, looking back, you can see those points so clearly, the moments of decision that change the course of your whole life.

I returned to the UK after my term in the Med was finished.  I enrolled in law school.  A year after my return from the Med, I remarried, to the man who remains my best friend and life partner today, 28 years after we met.  I went on to steep myself in the history and culture of Great Britain, made it my home, pushed my roots deep into that ancient soil.  Returned to visit the US for the first time ten years after I had moved to England. . . . Patterns repeating themselves . . . . As I recall feeling then, I have been feeling odd, mixed feelings about returning to the UK nearly ten years after we left.

College of Law, Guildford, Surrey

College of Law, Guildford, Surrey

After law school, I pursued a successful legal career for 15 years, achieving considerable success as a litigator, writer and teacher.  These were the same years over which we continued to try for a family, and over which I repeatedly miscarried.  Not long after my daughter was finally born, I achieved Associate Partnership with a firm 200 miles from our home, and the transformation of our lives that would lead to this place began.   Another one of those turning points so visible in hindsight.

A decade ago, I walked out on that professional career. I haven’t talked alot about why I left, or how I felt at that time. The truth is that I felt I was the loser – that the male bastion legal profession had succeeded in driving me out. My strengths and gifts as a woman were meaningless. My parenthood was a burden to them. I was judged on whether I could be more than any man, and still that wasn’t enough. I did not see my child awake all week, but still that wasn’t enough.  And so, after 15 years, I walked away.  We took the decision to start over, to make a life in Canada where I might escape my qualifications and have a hope of making a new career.  We sought a strong creative community where we could pursue our creative goals for the future and raise our child in a strong environment close to nature.  cropped-header-homepage.jpg

I and my family have gained enormously from that decision and live a life far beyond the modest dreams we held ten years ago. And ten years later, I know I was in the wrong career, that there was constant friction between my true self and a role that grated against my values more with every passing year. Intellectual challenge isn’t everything.  I have also learned that I do not have to use all my skills and talents in one place.  Today, I enjoy a career fulfilling the passion of my heart, as a book artist, writer and teacher.  My work is held in collections around the world, I am privileged to travel and teach, to write, to share my passion with others.  I have many opportunities to use my legal training and skills in other areas.  There is a natural flow to my work, my career and my life.  I am not fighting upstream or compromising my values and my goals.  I look at these images of myself ten years later and I see my true self. I look younger.  Fully occupying my life and my spirit. I see what is in the eyes. I have found my place.

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I return to England a very changed person, fully occupying a flourishing arts career and loving the life I live and share with my family.  I realise now how much of my old life was lived in fear.   Fear of failure . . . . fear of somehow being ‘found out’ to be not quite as brilliant as they thought I was . . . fear of losing everything.   I have finally learned that the only cure for fear is to face it.  And in facing my worst fears and taking control to make the change on my terms, I have reaped joy and the life I was meant to live.   This return visit will have joys and sorrows and alot of mixed feelings, I know.  But it all looks different to me from this vantage point.  I realise I am the winner after all. 

Good Heavens!  Is it 2014 already?  I had such plans to blog about the amazing events of 2013, and then, before I knew it, the year was over.  I don’t make resolutions as such, but I do have aspirations for the coming year.  One of them is to get back to blogging on a more regular basis.  Starting now!524284_423843824323686_1004332719_n

When I last wrote, I shared with you the exciting acquisitions of my work that had taken place in 2013.  I remain a little bewildered and deeply grateful for those events, and hope things continue along those lines in the coming year.  “River Worn” has since appeared in an exhibition of the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, University of Toronto, as part of the “A Death Greatly Exaggerated” exhibition.

Fisher Library

2013 was significant for me in other ways too, including travel to teach at CREATE in California and in New Jersey.  Those trips are always a great deal of fun, having the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones that share my passion for art and creativity.  In the summer, I travelled to both Los Angeles, California and New Jersey with my dear friend Tiffany Teske for a busy couple of weeks of solid teaching.

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As it turned out, as great as they were, these were not the most lasting memories 2013 brought.  For in 2013, I celebrated my 50th birthday.  The gift I chose was to make a solo road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway of California, between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  On previous trips, I have travelled the PCH from near the Mexican border to LA, and from Seattle south to the border with California.  The Washington/Oregon trip had been transformative, a few short days that changed my inner landscape profoundly.  I hungered for another time at the wheel, experiencing this time and place in its fullness, through my own eyes and soul.  

The time was fully as transformative as expected, but not at all in the way I thought.  As part of this important time, I took the opportunity to share some of the time with an old, old friend I had not seen since high school more than thirty years before.  The time shared was powerful for both of us, dredging up deep and long-buried feelings of separation and loss, and the painful goodbyes and torn roots that characterised our military lives.  The connection in some ways completed a circle, and in others tore open old wounds that can’t ever really be resolved.  I met my young self on that trip, traversing that road for the first time since I was five years old, and looked some of my oldest hurts in the face in a way that released some things I have carried all my life.  In between the tears and the talks, there were many hours cruising the PCH, stopping at random times to photograph, laughing over the kitsch, experiencing the Monterey Bay Aquarium and rekindling a long-cherished and remembered friendship.  The circles continue to widen from that trip, an internal revolution.  Resolution.  Transformation indeed.  I am finding words inadequate to express the depth of impact, the quake that continues to resonate through my very being.

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Part of my plan to mark this auspicious 50th birthday year included a list.  At the start of the year, I embarked on fulfilling a list of 50 Things I’ve Never Done.  Although there are still five months until my next birthday, I’ve only a couple of things left to accomplish.  I started off with no plan, opportunistically and openly embracing new things as they arose and seeking them out as they occurred to me.  Fulfilling the list has been by times fun, liberating, profound, eye-opening, terrifying, thought-provoking and laughter-filled.  I won’t share the whole list, but the list has spanned everything from something as simple as cooking and eating new foods (e.g., vegetarian moussaka) and destinations (New York!) to reaching beyond my own inhibitions and fears into the places that scare me (like lighting a bonfire with gasoline on New Year’s Eve!).  The activities have often been shared or brought to me by dear friends and have provided some unexpected bonding moments over the year.  I might have to make a list of some sort part of my lexicon each year! 057 (2) (480x640)George Washington Bridge (480x640)

And then, before I’d had a chance to catch my breath, I was picked up and whirled into a trip of a lifetime to South Korea!  I was fortunate to have had a piece of work juried into the Alberta Craft Council exhibition “Pulp Paper Pages”.  A collaboration with the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild, it was an opportunity to showcase the best of book and paper arts happening in Alberta at this time.  As part of an existing relationship, the Council applied for and was successful in obtaining grant funding to send a delegation of artists and the exhibition itself to South Korea.  I was so lucky to have been chosen as one of the artist delegates to accompany the exhibition to the Hanji Paper Festival in Wonju in the Gangwon Province of South Korea.  I have recently been commissioned to write an account of that trip for Bound and Lettered magazine, and so will wait to share the detail with you in that article.  From a personal perspective, the trip carried great gifts of new friendships and discovery, and included many items on my 50 Things I’ve Never Done list (like eating stingray and praying in a Buddhist mountain temple).  For the time being, let me share some of the images from this most wonderful trip.

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What a busy, fabulous year it has been.  There have been so many more events and participations I haven’t even mentioned.  I’ll leave you with a little clue to some of what has occurred this year.  Look out for lots more!  Wishing you and yours absolutely the best this year has to carry over your threshold.  Be well, be creative, be strong.  Happy New Year!1397961_617779771596756_516434779_o

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

011My customary summer break from my blog is at an end.  My feet are once again under my desk, and I have already begun on a series of new work and projects set for the winter months.   I have so very much to tell you about the events and travel of Summer 2013 that I will need to write a series of blogs over the next four weeks to cover it all.

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It is hard to know where to begin.  I guess the best place is to pick up where I left off, when I wrote about the devastating flooding that hit our dear mountain town just as I returned from my birthday trip to southern California.  Our dear mountain town and all those other communities so deeply impacted by the flooding slowly move toward healing in the deeper layers, well below the surface functioning that resumed within days.  The scars on our landscape remain despite the continual work on remediation.  The scars on our memories remain even deeper.

In all, despite those painful days and weeks, it was a lively and exciting summer, filled with events of amazing magnitude.  For this post, I will tell you that the summer saw two significant acquisitions of my work.  I haven’t got over a bit of jumping up and down excitement over these!

'River Worn' page detail

‘River Worn’ page detail

The Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library at the University of Toronto acquired my concertina book “River Worn”.  This piece was a much-beloved concertina nearly 6 feet in length at full extent, illustrated with river-worn rock images taken on a visit to the Kootenay River in British Columbia, and containing the lyrics to an old camp song, “Peace, I ask of thee, O River”:

Peace I ask of thee, O’ River
Peace, peace, peace
When I learn to live serenely
Cares will cease.
From the hills I gather courage
Visions of the days to be
Strength to lead and faith to follow
All are given unto me
Peace I ask of thee, O’ River
Peace, peace, peace.
~ Author Unknown, Camp song

The piece had previously passed through the hands of two California rare books dealers before finding its final place in the Thomas Fisher Library.  I am honoured  to have my work included in their special collection, and hope to get to Toronto to see it there myself one of these days.524284_423843824323686_1004332719_n

Over this same period, I had some work on display at the Abecedarian Gallery in Denver as part of their Artist’s Book Cornucopia IV. I had received email notification from them that one of the pieces had sold and would not be returning to me, but that was all the information provided.  When the package arrived in June with the returned work, I didn’t open it right away, knowing as I did that it was just my returning work.  A few days after its arrival, I finally opened the package.  In the top of the package was a letter from the gallery to advise that the piece had been purchased by Yale University.  I must admit with a blush that there was a certain rather shrieking and incoherent telephone call placed to my sister some three thousand miles and two time zones away (ergo, 1am her time . . .) before I recovered.  To her great credit, she advised me that shrieking phone calls at 1am from my home were generally welcome, as they usually meant good news!  A Sense of Place has now been catalogued and can be viewed in the Haas Arts Special Collection at Yale University Library.29304_393947807267_2001527_nWhen I next write, I will tell you about my adventures in California.  And then there is New Jersey . . . and New York . . . and South Korea.  As I said, it was quite a summer!

I wrote a few months ago about the creation of my artist’s book ‘withlostlongedfor’, and what it meant to me.  Though coming from a raw place far deeper than I usually share through this venue, your response to the piece has been universally positive and overwhelmingly kind.  I promised when I wrote about its creation that I would share the piece with you when it was done.  ‘withlostlongedfor’ is currently on display at the Sunny Raven Gallery here in the Bow Valley.

I created a scroll book out of stitched layers of stained silk.  This is a very personal piece for me, and one into which I put the voice of grief over the loss of my children.  This is not a story I have had the courage to tell up to now, and going into it, I felt fear and trepidation. I was not at all sure I would be able to complete the story, but I thought if I could, it would ultimately be very healing.

The Concept

The title of this book is derived from a poem I wrote many years ago, after one of the many miscarriages, and the text of which I included.  I have told the story of the events that transpired and that ultimately led to the creation of this book, so I won’t tell it again here.  However, to understand the meaning and power of the piece, you may wish to understand its source.  If so, I encourage you to read my original post, which I wrote as a part of my commitment to finally bringing this piece to life.

The Process

I have detailed the process through this picture diary, showing the steps I went through to create the scroll, and my thinking as I did so.

The Piece

I love this piece in the sort of mixed love/sadness you might expect.  It was indeed the release for me I believed it to be, and the response to it has been tremendous.  Thank you.

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I will never forget.  Elephants for remembrance and garnet beads to symbolise drops of blood.

I will never forget. Elephants for remembrance and garnet beads to symbolise drops of blood.

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I hand stitched a protective pouch from silk dupioni, labelled it

I hand stitched a protective pouch from silk dupioni, labelled it

The scroll.

The scroll.

Here, you can see the floating text, applied to different layers for it to fade in and out in appearance.  Segments of the crimson stitching bond the layers together loosely.

Here, you can see the floating text, applied to different layers for it to fade in and out in appearance. Segments of the crimson stitching bond the layers together loosely.

Here you see the old mill bobbins with their steel trim.

Here you see the old mill bobbins with their steel trim.

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“Follow Me”, Limited Edition artist’s book, copyright 2013 Dea Fischer

Have you visited my Dea Fischer – Book Artist page on Facebook lately?  There are some fun tutorials and lots of pictures of my book arts and other work out in circulation, plus many great shares of book-arts-related info and the work of gifted book artists working around the world.  The number of ‘likes’ on my page has been steadily leaping upward.  I promised when we reached 500 ‘likes’ that I would do a giveaway when we reached 1,000.  With that number, it seemed most appropriate to give away a copy of Quarry Books’ “1,000 Artists’ Books”, published last summer.

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My book “A Sense of Place” is included in this wonderful and inspiring book of some of the best book arts happening around the world today.  There are only 53 ‘likes’ to go and then it’s giveaway time!   I will use a random number generator to choose the lucky recipient from all those who have ‘liked’ the page up to and including the 1,000th person.  So, what are you waiting for?  You have to be in it to win it . . . . .

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“A Sense of Place”, copyright 2011 Dea Fischer

379604_10151702682052268_1592579976_nI have been pulled away from my usual weekly posts on this blog by a busy summer of teaching and travel.  My next post was to be a happy and thoughtful post about my adventures in California, teaching at CREATE Orange County and road-tripping up the Pacific Coast Highway for my 50th birthday.  However, returning home to Alberta in mid-June, the Great Mother had other ideas.  I find myself instead writing about what has quickly become known as the Great Alberta Flood of 2013.

After two weeks in southern California, I had returned still very much ‘away’ in my mind and spirit.  Reconnecting with my friends and family and the beauty of our Canadian Rockies home, I gradually came back into the Alberta headspace, left the California coast behind and began to re-inhabit my Alberta life.  It had rained quite alot while I was away and everything looked lush and green.  The rain kept up for part of each day.  One week after my return, the skies closed in and the rain settled in constant.  This is a pretty ordinary occurrence for June in the Rockies.  We all thought we were just in for the usual.  We talked pleasantly about rainy day activities and carried on as normal.

On Wednesday, 19 June, the rain turned torrential.  The creeks began to rise as they often do during spring run-off.  We’d had some flooding this time last year that had done some damage.  Repairs were needed and carried out.  Money was spent.  We started to wonder idly to each other whether the repairs would hold.

By Wednesday night, we were starting to get nervous.  Overnight, the torrential rain continued and the biggest creek through town, Cougar Creek, began to rage.   About 3am Thursday morning, members of the Fire Department began knocking on doors, warning nearby residents to prepare for evacuation.  After that, it all happened so fast: the creek broke its banks and quickly began to swallow ten, twenty, thirty feet of land from either bank.  Over Thursday morning, all attention was focused on Cougar Creek and the evacuation of residents from that side of town.  Back yards were eaten away, then swept away, trees, decks, hot tubs.  Then the waters began to churn against the foundations of the homes.  By this time, the usually dry creek was a 50-metre wide raging monster.  Heavy equipment operators battled from the creek bed to save the bridges.  School buses ran evacuees to the evacuation centre set up in town.   Other creek beds around town were raging too, heavy equipment shoring them up to save roadways, diverting waterflows as best they could.  The river began to rise.

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Stoneworks Creek’s new cut out of the mountainside, just beyond our home.

At 8:50am on Thursday, 20 June, my husband jumped in the car with me to drive me the three minute drive to work, leaving our 14-year-old daughter slowly waking up at home.  Some water was running along our road, but not too much, what you might expect for that level of rain fall.  At 8:55am, Stoneworks Creek in the mountainside above our home broke its banks and carved a brand new 20-30 foot deep cut out of the mountainside, straight down onto our road.  Our road was immediately turned into a rushing brown river, with us on one side and our daughter and neighbours on the other.  At 9:05, my husband tried to re-enter our road, but was turned back repeatedly.  The road was closed and an emergency evacuation had been ordered.  For another hour, my husband tried to get back home, and then to raise our daughter on the telephone.  The power was gone, and she wasn’t answering.  Terror and barely constrained panic rising in my throat, I ran from my work in the sandals and light jacket I had arrived in, hurrying on foot to try to reach our home and daughter.  Half an hour later, I was at the blockade.  The staff member manning the blockade shrugged – he didn’t know if I could get through on foot, but I was welcome to try.

At about 10:45am, I reached the edge of the flood waters.  By this time, barefoot and streaming with water, and with eyes fixed firmly on the police lights whirling outside my home, I forged through half a kilometer of rushing floodwater to my thighs, choking on the fear in my throat.  My eyes searched for sign of my daughter.  I could barely breathe as I ran and stumbled through those muddy waters in search of the blood of my heart.  Reaching the RCMP officers on the front doorstep of my building, they at first didn’t want to let me in.  I looked the wide-eyed young man in the eye and told him my child was in there, and asked him if he was prepared to try and stop me.  He gave me five minutes.  Shaking from head to foot, streaming water and mud, I ran the length of the corridor, hands fumbling with keys and burst into our dark home.  I ran, calling for my daughter, for the cat, stripping off my clothes as I went, grabbing anything dry I could find to put on, groping for shoes in the dark, my heart pounding in my throat.  There was nobody there.

Within the allotted five minutes, I ran out the front door in dry clothes, too distracted and fearful to remember either a jacket against the torrential rain, or the case of important papers in the hall closet I ran past.  I sat on the evacuation bus with my neighbours, my eyes searching for my daughter everywhere, waiting to be taken to the evacuation centre.  The bus forged through the deep and fast flood waters, choked with debris, taking the residents to safety.  Everyone taking pictures out the windows, hardly anyone talking, fearful eyes meeting fearful eyes.

The evacuation centre had been set up in the building where I work.  After registering, I ran into my work to be immediately greeted by two colleagues.  My daughter was safe, had been evacuated ahead of me and was with her dad in town.  My heart seemed to stop and my breath seized in my chest as I ran for the phone.  Much to my rather hysterical relief and pride, my daughter had been down in the parking garage helping neighbours move their belongings when we were trying to reach her.  With great presence of mind and resourcefulness, she had prepared herself for evacuation, organised the cat and a few belongings and got out safely in the few minutes she’d been given.  I was and am so proud of her.1017229_543691835678330_1845570344_n

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Image by Schovanek Photography

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Battling to save the bridge. Image by Ian Stibbe.

Overwhelmed by the many offers of places to stay, we were able to settle in a generous and absent friend’s house on the other side of the valley.  As with many families, we had been evacuated with no chance to pack any belongings or gather important medications or papers.  The situation got worse and worse in the valley, reports flying rapid-fire through Facebook as news was passed from friend to friend, important announcements and evacuation orders shared, the condition of the bridges and homes reported.  For the rest of Thursday, we ran storytimes and activities in the library to keep the children in the evacuation centre calm and busy.  Throughout the day, the community opened its hearts and its doors to absorb the displaced families.  As we moved through Thursday and into Friday, reports spread of devastation happening further afield in southern Alberta, of other communities equally devastated and in urgent need of assistance.   Thursday night, and again Friday night, we all lay awake long into the early hours, finally falling into fitful sleep to the crash of rock and the grind of heavy machinery battling to save the bridges all through the night.  Through all of this, the river rose and rose and rose, and we waited fearfully for it to crest.  Would the river break its banks too?  Or would the dykes hold?

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Leading an 18-truck convoy to a neighbouring community, packed with food, water and other relief supplies.

The torrential rain finally stopped Friday night, and Saturday dawned with blue and sunny skies.  The people of our town crept out under the incongruous sun to meet their friends and neighbours on the streets and trails, to look at the devastation and try to assimilate what had happened to our dear mountain town.  For the fourth day in a row, Town staff, volunteers and emergency crews worked on, grey faced with exhaustion, keeping the emergency plan and communication and evacuation centres going 24 hours a day and battling the raging waters.   Everyday heroes emerged, pulling together to support, provide aid, care and assist.  Our community flooded the relief centre with donations.  Convoys were taken to neighbouring communities.  People worked together to care for each other and their neighbours.  New friendships were forged through adversity.  And still the emergency and work crews battled.  The river dykes held.  The creek flows crested and gradually started to fall.  Heavy rain resumed late on Saturday, and again on Sunday before the sun finally started to emerge and help the drying out.

We finally re-entered our home on Tuesday, 25 June, after restoration of services and after the floodwaters had fallen.  Water was still running, the parking garage was earthed up and sandbagged, full of water and mud.  Belongings for many people in storage lockers were damaged, but for us it was just stuff.  Our family was safe, our home essentially unharmed.  We had turned our hands to volunteering, to help our friends and neighbours as many others did, and did not allow ourselves to stop and think.  There were so many who were much, much worse off than we were, and we were counting our blessings.  However, it took the legs out from under me at last to enter our home to find the pants I had been wearing during the evacuation hanging over the shower rail, muddy to the thighs.  943244_10151734459702268_1383060229_n

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Image by Schovanek Photography

As the days have passed and the waters have slowly receded, the river has slowly resumed its normal spring flow and our town starts to get back to business, we are confronted every day with the stories of our friends, of our neighbours, of our families devastated by the events.  Homes structurally damaged beyond safety or repair, families who have lost everything.  We have heard the stories of near escapes, of shock, of fear, of heroism, of love and a sense of community that goes bone-deep.  We see the aftershock in each other’s eyes.  We embrace with a tighter grip than before, hold each other a little bit longer, offer help and comfort, safe haven or willing hands or just a ready ear and an extra hug.   Through social media, we keep in contact with our friends in other devastated communities, share resources and information, send help and supplies and love.

For us and for many families, the events of the last ten days have made us re-evaluate many things.  Adversity is the maker or the breaker, for sure.  I have been so deeply humbled by the extreme love and caring that has surrounded me and my family, and poured out of us toward those who have become our extended family in this valley.  The brightness of the sun shone harsh light on the scars on our valley today and hurt my eyes and my heart, but we are prevailing, and we are closer because of it.  To the neighbours, to the Emergency crews, to the Town of Canmore staff and administration, to the RCMP and the Red Cross and the Army, to the local businesses who devoted labour and equipment and time to helping save this town, to the hundreds of tireless volunteers who continue to labour still in all these communities, thank you so much from one family.  We are honoured to be among you.

And so in a month, I depart for CREATE New Jersey! The experience of CREATE Irvine was wonderful, and I will share some images and stories soon. In the meantime, there are many fantastic workshops to choose from in New Jersey, and places still available. I hope you will come join us for some creative play!

the starbook

CREATE 2013 I'm Teaching ButtonAs April winds towards its end, I am beginning my preparation to attend the CREATE Mixed Media Retreat in Irvine, California.  This is a time each year that I relish for multiple reasons.  The atmosphere, new and old friends galore and creativity combine to make for a fun and enjoyable time.  I lived in California until I was ten, and it is always a joy to return.  Best of all is that I get to travel with my dear friend and colleague Tiffany Teske.  Tiffany and I both lead busy lives in the same community, and so time for anything more than the occasional cup of tea together can be hard to find.  We look forward to the time of travelling (and co-teaching in a couple of workshops) as our time.

This year, in both CREATE SoCal and CREATE New Jersey, I am teaching six workshops!  Here is a…

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The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
~Jacques Yves Cousteau11bc86ce365a11e1abb01231381b65e3_7

And so, the time approaches for me to make what is becoming an annual pilgrimage to the California coast of my childhood.  Excitement is building as I have made travel arrangements and begun my work on samples and supplies.  The opportunity to travel back to California regularly has become the greatest gift of my artistic life, and has given me a touchstone with my past that has long been absent.  We lived in the Greater Los Angeles area for a number of years during my childhood, and returned there often to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  I spent my childhood on LA’s beaches and imprinted my soul with the colour of its sunlight.  Visits have involved a kind of double vision for me, seeing the LA of today and the LA of my childhood overlapping.  My beloved grandparents lived out the second half of a life that was amazing to my eyes on that coast.  Returning brings me back into the arms of those aunts and uncles and cousins I so love and teaches me that, for me, California will always be home.

This year will be the fourth year in a row I’ve been privileged to make this journey.  The trip this year marks some precious landmarks in my life.   Once again, I will enjoy sharing and creating with all the enthusiastic, talented and creative students and teachers at the CREATE Mixed Media Retreat in Irvine.  A full week of creation, good talk and fun times (with a bit of wine, I’m sure) to come.

50 birthday cake

The second week will be something very different.  For the first time since my husband and I met 27 years ago, I will take a vacation on my own, away from my family.  The trip will mark another of my growing list of Fifty Things I Have Never Done.  For June 6 will be my 50th birthday.  To mark it, I will undertake the next leg of my journey to complete the Pacific Coast Highway.  This time, I will tour north from Los Angeles, ending up with a few days seeing old friends in San Francisco.  I haven’t been to San Francisco since I was a very small child.  The trip will culminate in meeting with a most dear friend I have not seen since we were both in high school some 34 years ago.CA-Highway1Sign-XL

As with my trip along the Pacific Coast Highway in Washington and Oregon last year, my days and nights will be spent kicking along through the nostalgia of the small coastal towns, walking for hours barefoot on the beach, touching the sea and talking with my grandfather, whose ashes were scattered in the sea off that coast 25 years ago.  This poem was my grandfather’s favourite and was read at his funeral. The words of the poem go to a deep place inside me that expresses the feeling of my sojourns to the sea better than any words I could conjure. My favourite line? ” . . where the wind’s like a whetted knife . . ” I’ve never known another that expressed my family’s feeling for the sea quite so perfectly.

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

By John Masefield (1878-1967).
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)

I am eager for my days by the sea and for all those weeks will bring.  Leaving will be hard, harder each time, harder than ever this year with such special things and people to say goodbye to.    Even the prospect of a painful goodbye will not keep me away.  My beloved sea, I’ll be on my way soon.285789_10151228140617268_1161624324_n

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach–waiting for a gift from the sea.”
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh