August 11, 2018

Nov sunflower
Dried sunflower, November 1999 (Prismacolor colored pencil on toned paper)

At the time I created this piece I was doing a lot of art on toned paper. Canson toned paper works well with dry materials like colored pencil, graphite and ink pens. I have used gouache on such Canson paper, but it’s not really made to get very wet and will pucker some after it dries. Not really a fan of that. I use toned paper in my art for very specific effects. For example, since the sunflower and morning glory were to reflect an autumn hue and time of year, the gold background supported the color of the dried flower as well as the time of year. Another example of my use of toned paper was posted with my April 7, 2018 Trib story. That featured a couple of tulips on grey toned paper. (For this illustration I actually did use Prismacolor colored pencil over gouache. But I applied the paint using a dry brush technique, so the paper didn’t get excessively wet—no puckered paper there.) I wanted the grey color to make the red flowers topping the thin green stems pop off the page. Of course when the story was printed, the background was eliminated—so much for that affect. I also used the grey toned paper for an illustration (done for a San Luis Obispo children’s a magazine story) of a couple sparrows drinking water from a wine barrel fountain in my backyard. The grey background echoed the color of the grey/brown birds as well as the grey patina of the oak barrel. And I used bright blue and white Prismacolor colored pencils on the grey toned paper to render water spilling into the barrel. Pastel colored pencils were used to look like a child had drawn a rainbow on the wooden surface. Again, the pastel colors popped nicely off the grey background. I have also seen toned paper used to great effect by other artists when he or she wished to add white gouache highlights. As I have said, I don’t usually do that because the final puckered paper bothers me more than the wondrous effect of white highlights.

Nov sunflower story
Telegram Tribune, SLO, November 1999

This article was originally written for the San Luis Obispo Tribune as something a mom or dad (family) could do with his or her child in the garden in the fall. It described a fun activity where a child would be encouraged to walk around outside, picking up seeds (e.g. dried sunflower seed heads etc), cones, bark or whatever seemed interesting. For added fun I encouraged the reader to also collect fall seeds on his or her feet by putting on old wool socks over their shoes for their journey. Some dried seeds will inevitably stick to the sock and hitch a ride to somewhere else. And when the walk is done you can plant the sock in a pot of potting soil, water and wait to see what grows. It’s often just a bunch of weeds, but there have been times those weedy plants have produced a California poppy or two (Those seeds are way to tiny to see and pick up. You just have to be lucky, I guess.)

So this week, as it has been extremely hot, I am imagining a cooler time of year. In fact, it is so hot my tomato plants are an “all over” golden color. It’s like the white-hot sun has bleached out all the green, leaving the plants a pale crispy yellow. A couple weeks ago it was so hot that every cherry tomato on my giant plant shriveled up. They looked like they had been cooked right there on the vine. (I was imagining I could cook some eggs on the sizzling dirt dusted hot concrete, adding just a few sun-dried/sautéed tomatoes to a gritty outdoor omelet.) I am left wondering how to save the tomatoes I have left. I have a fair amount of experience gardening, so when I plant something in my garden I have certain expectations of what should happen. And this summer’s strange crop has been anything, but what you might expect.

Is there a farmer in your genes?

When my son and I lived in Paso Robles our mailbox had been planted in a wine barrel filled with dirt out at the curb. (All the mailboxes on our cul-de-sac, and nearby neighborhood, also had the same “wine country” curbside mail delivery set up.) I planted that barrel at different times of the year with annuals. Early in the summer of 1999 I filled that planter with sunflowers. About mid July I added morning glory seeds (Ipomoea purpurea) to the soil. The intent was to have the drying sunflower stalk as a kind of natural stake for the twining wildflowers. (The art you see above reflects exactly what it looked like.) It was nice to have that round mailbox planter filled with such color year round. I remember that we had a very grumpy mail lady on our block. The first summer we were in that house I gave her a bouquet of my heirloom sweet peas that were growing in the planter, right under her generally disapproving nose. She told me later that it made the cab of her little mail truck smell heavenly. After that, she was rather nice and we had pleasant conversations every time I saw her on her route up our block. Not all my neighbors planted their wine barrel, but I always kept ours looking nice and even replaced it when the wood got rotten and started to pull away from the circular metal hoops that held the planter together.

I know there are a fair number of people who think gardening is for the birds, but I love it. About the time I was writing stories for the Trib I was also doing editorial work on gardening books for Sunset. Most of the time that work was fun. I got to talk to gardeners from all over the country, with most of my focus on gardens in the Pacific Northwest and the South. I spent a lot of time on the phone with these people, asking them about photos of plants in their gardens that were to be used in the Sunset books. I remember speaking with one gardener in Alaska that described thick plantings of 8 to 10-foot cornflower blue delphiniums she had around the perimeter of her log house in summer. She said they were extremely tall and thick because of Alaska’s extra daylight hours during that season. I guess I was lucky to have spoken with her at all that summer day as she had just gotten back from an extended Alaskan kayaking trip. She was also a painter and said that one of her greatest joys was to look out her studio window at snow-capped mountains that framed a nearby Juneau ice field. (I just this minute looked back at the photos of her garden in the book, “Gardening in the Northwest,” and it must be truly sublime to live there amongst all that garden beauty.) For the same book I remember interviewing an interesting gardener who was obsessed with abutilon and had them in pots all around his Snohomish, Washington garden during the summer months. I think I heard that Snohomish, an hour north of Seattle, is not a particularly hospitable place for such a delicate flower year round. In fact, I think I have also heard that the weather up there could be summed up as 9 months of winter and 3 months of late fall. So, his precious plants needed to be brought indoors during the cold weather months. He told me that all of the pots were brought inside his house and placed at every available spot he could find, including on his clothes dryer in the laundry room. He also added that he had to farm out many of his plants to indoor spots at friend’s houses as well. Such dedication to beauty!

I have many such stories of gardeners around the US, but I thought I would finish up here with a gardener I spoke to in North Carolina. His family has owned an apple nursery, Century Farm Orchards, for generations and they specialize in heirloom apples. He said that they were trying to find grafts of apples that were grown in his area during the time of the Civil War, but had somehow gotten lost over the years. You may or may not know that the apples we eat do not come from trees that started from a seed, but rather as a graft on an existing apple tree rootstock. Apples grown on trees that started from a seed, like those that planted by Johnny Appleseed, are used to make cider. And it seems that those early American settlers grew a lot of apples to make cider. If you want to know more about those early apples there is a wonderful book called “The Botany of Desire—A Plant’s Eye View of the World,” by Michael Pollan. Mr. Pollan not only describes Johnny Appleseed and apple cider made by pioneers in the early days of the US, but he also describes our human relationship/desires for 3 other plants—tulips, marijuana and potatoes. Very interesting reading.

So, like it or not, someone in your family was a farmer. And you probably wouldn’t have to go back too far to be able to name that someone. My grandpa on my dad’s side worked as a sharecropper and took care of horses for someone else on their farm in Nebraska and Wyoming. My dad’s mom’s family “worked the sugar beets” in Minnesota when my grandma was a girl. I don’t know as much about my mom’s early farming roots. It seemed that her parent’s families were most recently from cities in the east. Of course my mom told great stories about how her dad had come to California to be a farmer. He had chickens, rabbits, hogs and a huge garden when they lived in Mariposa. My son’s other grandparents were definitely raised on farms growing up. His grandma’s family settled part of Adelaida and raised almonds and walnuts. And his grandpa’s family settled part of Estrella and dry farmed wheat.

My dad had this old saying that drove us all crazy, and it went something like, “…you know my mom and dad were the first generation off the farm.” I was never sure what that meant, but it almost seemed like an excuse for their struggles to earn a living in Long Beach in the 30s. Of course there was a depression, so maybe everyone was struggling, whether they were fresh off the farm or not.

So, don’t be afraid if you find yourself at a nursery looking for something to plant, or you put on a sun hat and go into the garage to look for a shovel. And if you find yourself weeping with joy when a friend brings you a load of compost, soil amendment, or manure just go with it and plant something beautiful.

August 4, 2018

top of the Descanso, 6:28
At the top of the Descanso Garden, June 28, 2018 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

The background of this landscape is the San Gabriel Mountains. And the silver-white sliver of buildings in the middle ground is part of the small town of La Canada/Flintridge (population 20,447 as of 2016). If you have been following my blog you may have noticed that when I plop down to paint at the Descanso Garden I almost always turn right out of the main entrance and head straight for the rose garden. As you can see, I have changed my ways. Lately, I have been circling the garden on paths from left to right and then right to left—settling down anywhere but the rose garden to paint. I found this spot completely by accident, during one of my wanderings to the left of the main entrance. The trail to this view is not featured on their website or map of the grounds. It feels like a wonderful secret place that I have found and it’s almost like no one knows it’s there. Here you can sit up high on a flat piece of granite and look through layers of lovely oaks to the San Gabriel’s off in the distance. I can’t see anyone down below as the trees hide me from view. I can hear voices, but thankfully I can’t really make out what anyone is saying. It’s pretty wonderful and a perfect place for me, even if I don’t take out my sketchpad.

Oh, I still go to the rose garden, but only to stop briefly when a tart little rose is just too beautiful to pass by and I bend in to smell something wonderful. In fact, I have noticed that our summer heat intensifies the heady perfume given off by most of the Descanso roses. (Well I guess there is one good thing about the intense summer heat we have been experiencing.) But even though there are colorful clusters and single stems of wonderfully scented flowers all around I have decided that I am just not comfortable sitting there for any extended period of time right now.

Of course there is a story…The other day I was sitting comfortably and painting under the shade of a tree in the rose garden. A group of three moms, with three strollers, wandered by and then stopped at a nearby patch of lawn. They laid out their blankets and visited with each other while attending to their tiny infants. All seemed fine and I continued to paint. But soon, the women got quiet, save one. She had begun a grizzly and suspense-filled tale of the recent experience of giving birth to her youngest child via Cesarean. I was trying not too listen, but it was hard to avoid her description of the trauma for both the mom and baby leading up to the unexpected surgery—complete with her description of the individual organs that needed to be set aside so the doctor could reach in and get the baby out. What she was saying was way too personal for a public place, but she shared every gritty detail with great gusto. After a few minutes of this I found myself hurrying to finish my watercolor so I could leave. I’d had enough. Just as I put the last hurried bit of color on the page and was standing to let everything dry, she finally finished her story (with thankfully a happy ending for both mom and baby). Then it got really quiet and I heard the other mom’s muffled voices say something about needing to get home. So, they all gathered their baby items, babies, and left. I know if I had been one of the silent moms I would have been planning for the moment she took a breath so I could leave too. Yikes! So, I slowed down my planned flight, finished up and packed my bag. But I think the universe was trying to give me one last “beware of people (or new mothers) in the Descanso Rose Garden” message because on my way out I came across a dirty diaper on the grass. I’m not kidding! The next time I went to the Descanso I looked for a new hangout, away from just about everyone—especially new moms with strollers who looked like they had a tale to tell, or maybe just hadn’t quite gotten the hang of diapers. I’ve said it before, but I just don’t know if I really like people.

I saw my doctor the other day and somehow we got to talking about our mutual need to be away from people at times. (I didn’t tell him about the talkative “baby momma” at the Descanso…) But he had a lot to say about such feelings of being too near to others that kind of resonated with me. He described early humans as nomads, wandering around in their small family group looking for something to hunt or gather. There just weren’t a lot of people yet and there was always somewhere else to go without running into anyone you didn’t know. Even though I think I like the idea of having almost no one around (especially when there are way too many people at the beach). I get it. Even though I love the idea of walking a lonely strand of sand without seeing a single soul, there really isn’t anything romantic about being nomadic. It must have been tough, taking great effort to live and thrive in such a world. I guess life got a little easier when some of these same nomads learned to domesticate animals and farm—slowing their need to move around so much. But my doctor said that he thought humans were still basically nomads, with some deep primitive need to move on, move to someplace new. He likened it to the early settlers in North America who were moving westward, looking for something unspoiled and new. But there really isn’t anywhere new to move anymore. We’ve gone as far west as you can. We mused that some think it’s time to move off the planet into outer space. We both laughed and decided that living on Mars would be a terrible idea. I reminded him that there were no oak trees on any other planet, so space would definitely be “out” for me. He mentioned that he had recently become a grandpa and I knew he wasn’t going anywhere.

On my way home from the doctor’s office I thought of a wonderful story I had heard on the radio a long time ago, about very early human nomads. I don’t remember the “radio” guy’s credentials, but I think he was an anthropologist… Anyway, he started out by saying that our human brains haven’t really changed much since the days of the Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens. He didn’t go into great detail about the actual size or shape of those early human brains, but focused on their possible cognitive abilities (e.g. memory, attention etc) as it related to those early family units roaming around together. I distinctly remember him saying that such an early person probably knew, or remembered, a total of 50 people. That’s all he or she would ever encounter. That would include those in his or her actual group, and maybe the members of another group they might come across every so often. Seeing/knowing/remembering only 50 people in my “year in/year out” life seem like a manageable number for my 21st century nomad Neanderthal-like brain. I’m not sure if early Homo sapiens, or Neanderthals, had names, or if they even talked to each other. I can’t even tell you how many different people I have seen in my life, but it’s way more than 50. Bet you can’t either. I do find it amusing that I probably have 50 plus random facts that I can call up at a moment’s notice, but have been known to forget someone I have just met, even when they are standing right in front of me.

I just finished reading “The Enchanted April,” by Elizabeth Von Armin (1922). The premise of the book is very appropriate for this story. It’s about four English women looking to escape their “dreary” lives for various reasons. They don’t know each other, but are brought together by chance when they rent a medieval Italian castle for a month in April. I particularly like how one of the characters, Lady Caroline, ardently looked for a secret place to hide out while at the castle. Ms. Von Armin describes it as “…a little place jutting out from the great wall, a kind of excrescence, or loop, no doubt used in the old distrustful days for observation, where it was possible to sit really unseen…” And if that was not enough to keep her out of sight Ms. Von Armin adds a “thick clump of daphne” that grows in just the right place to further block any intruder’s view. So, Lady Caroline claimed that spot as her “hidy hole.” The hilarious twist to her wanting to be unseen is the fact that she liked to sit there and smoke, but her puffs of cigarette smoke obviously gave away her location to anyone coming even near to that spot. Of course this kind of information makes me wonder if she really wanted to hide away and be left alone. I think there are probably a lot of “I want to be left alone” pretenders out there (Greta Garbo, Grand Hotel, 1932). Just sayin.’

Final note about my secret spot at the Descanso

I took my son to this very spot the other day. He thought it pretty special too, but without any prompting he noted that the view would be better if there were no buildings. I had thought that very thing when I did the watercolor, and almost left them out. It made me smile to think that he is definitely a chip off the old anti-social nomadic Californian block. That’s a relief!

July 28, 2018

Henry and me
Life on the Farm: A tale of the magical reality in my CA life.

LOF 2-3
[pp 2-3, Henry and mom looking at the vineyard]
One summer Henry and his mom moved from Grass Valley to his grandparent’s farm and vineyard in Estrella. Henry’s mom really liked living on the farm.

It’s early summer. Henry wonders if he will make friends when he starts school in a couple weeks.

 

 

LOF 4-5
[pp 4-5, Henry and mom sitting on the front porch of their house]
One afternoon Henry and his mom sat on the front porch, drinking iced tea and talking. “It’s now our job to help grandma and grandpa take care of this house and all the living things on the farm,” said his mom. Henry thought she was looking at him a little too closely. He wondered if his mom could see that he was worried about living there.

“But I miss Grass Valley, our old house and my friends,” said Henry. “I wonder what they are doing right now?”

“I have no idea,” said his mom with a smile. “But could you help me with the goats and chickens? Or they will be wondering why they haven’t been fed yet.”

LOF 6-7
[pp 6-7, goats and chickens in a pen looking at Henry]
The shadows of the fence posts around the goat yard grew longer and longer as the warm afternoon wore on. Henry and his mom fed the goats, gathered eggs and cleaned the yard. Henry’s mom left him to finish up and went into the house to start dinner. She turned on her “cooking music.” That afternoon, it was “Kinda Blue” again and Miles Davis could be heard all over the farm.

Henry turned to look at the open door of the kitchen and smiled. When he turned back around, he couldn’t help noticing that all the animals, down to the smallest chick, seemed to be looking at him.

LOF 8-9
[pp 8-9, close up of a chick on a goat’s head]
“Come closer,” said a chick.

Henry moved in.

“Do you know much about us?” continued the chick. Henry stared at the talking bird. “Thank you for feeding all of us,” she continued. “And I hear your grandma makes the creamiest goat cheese in the north county, and my four-legged friends thank her for that. We need you. And we want you to like living here. By the way, we love your mom’s tunes. It’s our jam.”

LOF 10-11
[pp 10-11, yard filled with dancing goats and chickens]
At that moment the goats and chickens started dancing. Henry watched with “udder” amazement.

But after a time the music changed from Miles to Jack Teagarten. And instead of a cool jazz trumpet, Jack Teagarten’s jazz trombone could be heard all around the farm. Henry turned to look at the open kitchen door and realized that his grandpa must have come into the house and changed the music. Then he heard his mom call him for dinner.

Henry turned around to say goodbye to his new friends, but they were no longer dancing and had all gone back to roaming around the yard, just like regular chickens and goats. It was like that magical musical moment had never happened. “They must not be fans of Dixieland jazz,” thought Henry to himself. He felt kind of sorry for his grandpa because there weren’t many humans left who seemed to like listening to Dixieland either.

Henry wasn’t quite sure what had just happened, but he decided to keep it to himself, for now.

LOF 12-13
[pp 12-13, Henry looking out his bedroom window]
The next morning Henry woke up as the sun’s first rays of the day came into his bedroom. He decided to spend the morning looking for more unusual living things on the farm. He packed a few of his usual exploring items in his backpack and headed out the back door.

 

 

 

LOF 14-15
[pp 14-15, Henry walking through a sunflower maze at the back of the house]
Henry tramped through the dew-covered sunflower maze his grandmother had planted that spring. He saw a few beetles crawling around some of the stems, but none of them stopped to talk. Disappointed, Henry started to leave. To his surprise, he saw some red beetles gathering on a couple of the flower heads. He quickly grabbed the bug net and hand lens from this backpack.

 

 

LOF 16-17
[pp 16-17, art of beetles]
The red beetles began telling funny jokes and some brown ones made pictures as they hovered in the air. And green beetles crash landed onto his bug net and began writing about the weather. Henry watched all of this activity for a minute or two. Then all of a sudden a gust of wind shook the red bugs from the sunflower heads. The brown ones scattered like dust in the sky. And the green beetles flashed as they rolled from the net, struggling to fly away. Just like that, they were all gone. Henry hurried out of the sunflower maze, looking up and down the rows of flowers hoping to find them again.

LOF 18-19
[pp 18-19, oak tree and vineyard, maybe add group of blackbirds in the sky]
Once out of the maze he saw his mom standing under an oak tree at the edge of the vineyard. She seemed to be watching a bunch of blackbirds flying around and around in the sky.

He ran up to her and immediately started talking. “Mom, you’ll never guess what I just saw,” said Henry excitedly. “I mean, is this place magical or something?”

“I like to think so,” she said.

LOF 20-21
[pp 20-21, close up of grape plants with a couple spots of bright light]
Just then, Henry saw what seemed like 100 bright dots of light flashing all over the vineyard. “What’s going on?” said Henry. “Where are those flashes coming from? Can beetles make that kind of light?” said Henry, remembering his recent beetle encounter.

“I don’t know,” said his mom. “Your grandpa and I and some of the vineyard workers tied pieces of reflective tape to the plants this morning. When the wind blows, the sun reflects tiny bits of light all around the vineyard. The random flashes scare the blackbirds. That should keep them from landing on the plants and eating up our grape crop.”

And just like that she turned around and started running towards the house. “That group of birds are headed for the house,” said his mom over her shoulder as she ran. Henry ran close behind her.

LOF 22-23
[pp 22-23, bird’s eye view of vineyard, and house. Henry and his mom are at the top of the ladder.]
“Something’s different this morning,” whispered one of the birds on the roof.

“Yeah,” said another. “Yesterday, we were happily eating some of those tasty grapes. But now there’s something out there that’s scaring me right down to my pin feathers.”

“We didn’t really mean to scare you,” shouted Henry’s mom. “But you need to go somewhere else to eat. Leave our grapes alone!”

The blackbirds looked at Henry and his mother, made a collective loud squawk and flew away.

 

LOF 24-25
[pp 24-25, Henry and his mom running towards the pond]
Henry wanted to talk to her about the talking birds. But she had already climbed all the way down the ladder.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have yelled,” said his mom. “I think they’re headed for the cattails by the pond.”

Now she was running towards the pond. Again, Henry was right behind her.

 

LOF 26-27
[pp 26-27, close-up of a cross section of a pond with tadpoles and mosquito larva]
Henry and his mom got to the pond just after the birds had landed on the cattails. “You can talk to these birds?” said Henry, panting a little bit.

“I warned them not to eat the grapes anymore,” said his mom. “I hope your grandpa’s trick will keep then out of the vineyard. By the way, I wish there was some kind of magic to get rid of these mosquitoes. I don’t think blackbirds or chickens will eat them. Maybe we can get some kind of pump out here. That should keep the water moving and get rid of the wigglers. I’ll get your grandpa on that.”

Henry smiled, remembering how his grandpa was always trying to fix things. “Remember when grandpa was going to put great hunks of bubble gum down the gopher holes in grandma’s rose garden?”

“I think the idea was that the gophers would chew the gum and then never have room in their mouths to eat your grandma’s roses,” said his mom. “Kind of gruesome, actually, I guess they were supposed to starve to death as they endlessly chewed gum.”

LOF 28-29
[pp 28-29, scene at the pond with cattails and mud pies]
The blackbirds seemed to have calmed down. They clung to the cattails and sang to each other as they bounced on the stalks in the breeze. A few hens and chicks scratched in the dirt. Bright orange dragonflies hovered over the pond water, while sparkling beetles climbed the golden cattail stalks. Henry and his mom made mud pies. Then they invited all the living things to tea. No one seemed at all interested.

Henry and his mom were ready for some real tea and headed back to the house. Even though they were both hungry, neither felt the need to run this time.

LOF 30-31
[pp 30-31, view of the porch of the house, with Henry, his mom and his grandma and grandpa]
Henry and his family sat on the porch, drinking lemonade and eating goat cheese on crackers. “Well, Henry, that’s what I thought I’d write,” said his mom after she finished telling the story of their amazing and magical life on the farm. “I knew you were worried about coming here and leaving your friends. I thought this story might help. What do you think?”

“I really love the part about grandpa trying to get rid of gophers with chewing gum,” said Henry.

“He didn’t actually do it, but we did talk about maybe trying it one afternoon,” said Henry’s mom, grinning at her dad. “Hey dad, do you think the reflective tape will keep the birds away?”

But Henry’s grandpa wasn’t really listening to them. Jack Teagarten had just started singing his “bluesy” rendition of “Weary River.” It could be heard all over the farm. Henry’s mom looked over at the goats and chickens in the nearby yard. She believed so passionately in the real and imagined magic of their life on the farm. Were her eyes playing tricks? Or were they swaying, ever so slightly, to the music?

“I have been just like a weary river that keeps winding endlessly.

Fate has been a very cheerful giver to most everyone, but me.

Oh, how long it took me to learn, hope is strong and tides have to turn.

And now I know that every weary river, someday meets the sea.”

 

Post notes for “Life on the Farm:”

When I first got the idea for this story (late 1990s, early 2000s) it was meant to be a picture book for young children. There were to be two kinds of “magical” events going on simultaneously in the story. The first kind was to make the reader believe in the practical wonder and magic of the real world. It was meant as a kind of stewardship message of how we should not only be in awe of life on Earth, but also be “people of parts” who take care of that life. The second kind was meant to be the “get down and dirty” fantastic kind (e.g. talking birds, beetles that tell jokes etc). That was meant to help the reader suspend belief, making you want to go down the magical “rabbit hole” right along with the characters in the story.

I wrote several versions of “Life on the Farm,” maintaining the same basic storyline in each. The first one was done completely in rhyme and the second was written as a kind of math book with specific details related to computations and shapes. I wrote the final story in straight and simple prose, similar to what you see here. But, for this 2018 version, I modified many of the details (e.g. there was no mention of chewing gum and gophers in the first “go round”) and I believe it now has more humor. Oh, and the jazz references reflect real aspects of my family, and that contributes to my life growing up in Silicon Valley.

I make “light” of a couple real problems that people/farmers face in everyday life (e.g. birds eating a cash crop, mosquitoes in standing water and gophers). And those kinds of pests can be a real hazard, no foolin’ around. But I think that supports the idea that we should be stewards of life on Earth and sometimes we need to make hard decisions when faced with not only the good parts of life here, but also the bad parts as well.

I have lots more to say about magic and how it is portrayed in books, movies etc, but this post is already long enough. The discussion of magical events we have in our actual and imaginary lives will have to wait for another time. Stay tuned.

 

July 21, 2018

house from above
House from above, late 90s (watercolor and colored pencil on cold-presses illustration board)

In a previous blog I wrote that I sometimes have very vivid dreams about houses—walking through the different rooms in each night’s very distinct structure. This house was never the stuff of an actual dream. It is a compilation of little clapboard coated farm-style houses I used to drive past when we lived in Paso Robles. I remember wanting to create the most luxurious color possible for this “dreamy” house and landscape. My goal was to saturate the cold pressed illustration board with deep color and suggested 3-D texture from watercolor and Prismacolor pencils. Also, I was intrigued with the idea of looking at my farmhouse fantasy from above, as if seeing it in a dream (a kind of bird’s eye view). I remember getting some of my son’s wooden blocks and stacking them into a kind of two story house. That way I could use the three-dimensional model as a reference to get the angle I wanted while sketching. Once I got the pencil sketch down I scrubbed in the dark shadow colors with Prismacolor colored pencil—starting with indigo blue for the spots in deepest and darkest shadow. Next came a layer of diluted watercolor color, then more Prismacolor and then a layer of watercolor. I did this over and over, with layer upon layer of waxy colored pencil then watercolor. I don’t remember how many layers of pigment are here, but there are a lot. To help speed up the process I used a small hand held hair dryer to dry the watercolor so I could add the colored pencil—a trick I learned a while ago from another scientific illustrator. But even though the hair dryer helped to dry the paint more quickly it definitely took a long time to layer the colored pencil and watercolor. This is because I applied the various pigments while looking through a hand lens so I could look closely at the surface of the illustration board—ensuring the most complete and even color coverage. It was quite a process.

I liked this house so much that when it was finished I had it framed and hung it up in my bedroom. (Later a friend saw it, bought it and now it hangs on his hall wall.) Just about the time I was working on the house, I got an idea for a children’s picture book, where such a structure featured heavily in the narrative. From beginning to end, I worked on the art and a picture book idea from the late 90s to early 2000s.

white house from above1
Farm house from above, late 90s (watercolor and colored pencil on cold press illustration board)

Writing a picture book

In a previous post (August 2017) I have mentioned that I worked as a writer/editor of math and science textbooks, as well as teacher resource materials. That kind of publishing is known as “Educational Publishing.” But there was a kind of publishing that I was dying to be part of, and that is known as “Trade Publishing.” Trade publishing is really what most people think of when looking at books for a general audience, with some specifically targeted to adults and the rest for the juvenile market. I even belonged to a couple writing groups—one that met in Cambria once a week, focusing on trade books (mostly novels) for adults and a “Kiddie Writer’s” group that met once a month. I only went to couple of the meetings in Cambria. At that time my son was pretty little and it was hard for me to get away once a week and drive the 30 miles (60 miles round trip) to Cambria from Paso Robles. But for some reason the Kiddie Writer’s group just worked for me. Maybe it’s because they met only once a month or maybe it’s because I just had a better “vibe” with those women. Whatever the actual “long ago” reason I became a regular at Kiddie Writer’s. I remember very clearly the first meeting I attended. It was in Paso Robles at Juddi Morris’s house—just a mile or two from me. Juddi was known mostly for her non-fiction books. Some of those titles include: “At Home with the Presidents,” “The Harvey Girls: The Women Who Civilized the West,” “Tending the Fire: The Story of Maria Martinez” and “Route 66, the Main Street of America.” A couple of the writers also did non-fiction, but most wrote fiction for various trade publications. It was fun to learn about the different kinds of fiction that could be considered when writing for children (e.g. young adult novels, chapter books and picture books, not to mention short stories and poetry that could be written for children’s magazines.) But with that first meeting at Juddi Morris’s house I was hooked.

So, while I was a full-time mom of a very active boy I made a living writing/editing educational material. But, also during that same time I squeezed in time to write and illustrate picture books, often with my son as the main character. When I initially came up with the idea for this post I thought I might list some of the titles of some of my books, but decided it would be too depressing as not one of my picture book stories ever got published. I had a couple serious “picture book” nibbles, but nothing ever came of it. (I just remembered that I did share a piece of art and page-by-page text of a picture book idea called “Penguins Count” August 26, 2017. And I did write and illustrate stories for the parents of young children in a local magazine, so it wasn’t all that dismal.)

However, I decided to share one other picture book story here and as you can see this second piece of art (rough sketch) is taken directly from my original dream house at the start of this post. I added some characters (living things) to the farm and turned it into the opening pages (called a spread) of a story about a boy and his mom that move to a farm/vineyard with the mom’s parents. The characters you see here include: the mom and her young son (sitting on the swing on the front porch), blackbirds (on the roof), some goats (in a pen), a couple hens (scratching for seeds in the yard) and a patch of sunflowers (at the back of the house). It was so fun to look back at the art and story I had envisioned.

So, I decided this story isn’t going to end here. Oh no! With my recent renewed vigor and interest in this story, I scanned all the thumbnails (small black and white sketches) for the whole story and plan to publish it in my next post. Stay tuned…

Another Special Kiddie Writer Friend

There were a number of Kiddie Writers, besides Juddi Morris, that I got to know over the years. And it was always fun to catch up with what all those wonderful writers were working on every time we saw each other. But there was one writer who truly became one of my most treasured friends, and that was Lori Fisher Peelen. I think our friendship started out because we were creative moms with busy young boys at home. She had a son the same age as mine, and was expecting her third boy when we first met. I think we enjoyed the stories we wrote and shared at Kiddie Writers, but we also really liked spending time together, just talking. And you know someone is a good and treasured friend when you can talk about everything—the good and bad, and everything in between. We certainly did that as we shared our dreams, along with big concerns and some tears, but we also shared a lot of laughter. So, now it’s time to remember all of her wonderful writing and say that I recently found out that Lori has had a book published. It is called “Big Fish Dreams,” and it’s illustrated by Consie Powell.

Lori, it’s so hard to believe our young boys have grown up, but not hard to believe they have grown into nice young men. Congratulations on your book. So happy for you. Some dreams do come true!

 

July 14, 2018

Old Mill, San Marino
El Molino Viejo, The Old Mill, San Marino, June 16, 2018 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

The other day I painted this old adobe at the back of El Molina Viejo, also known as The Old Mill, in San Marino. The leader of our “Meet Up” group suggested we sketch there and we were joined by a number of LA Urban Sketchers as well. It was quite a gang of artists with maybe 20 to 25 people all together. The weather was just a bit overcast, but that made it a very cool and pleasant place to sit and paint. Generally, when I get to a new place to sketch, I give myself about 10 minutes to wander around—looking for the perfect shady spot. If I take much longer than that, I get anxious because I usually see a landscape I want to capture and am eager to get started. Not sure why I get this way. It’s like a timer gets set in my head the minute I step onto new ground and I can almost hear it ticking as I walk around. The Old Mill, and its lovely grounds, can be seen in its entirety in about 5 minutes. As I had found this perfect shady spot in that time my internal timer had not yet begun to gong. I was rather relaxed. So I wandered into the main building. Inside they have a tiny museum with a model showing how the mill worked when it was grinding grain. They also had journals, photos and several of the actual grinding stones on display. If you have never been inside an adobe, it’s kind of surreal. From the outside it looks to be of average dimensions, but once inside it feels quite a bit smaller, with low doorway openings and tiny windows. I think the rooms are actually smaller than you might expect because the walls are almost two feet thick, thereby taking up interior floor and wall space.

Wandering around inside the museum I learned that Father Jose Maria de Zalvidea, from Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, built the mill (with the help of the indigenous Native Americans) in 1816. It was meant to grind grain that would supplement food needed at the San Gabriel Mission. But it only functioned as a mill for 7 years before a newer, more efficient one, was built nearby. Later a family inherited the property with this mill and they converted the building into a place they lived in for a number of years. Even though The Old Mill functioned as a mill for only a short while, I was really interested in that period of time—when it was clear Native Americans worked at the mill and did the actual grinding of grains. They were also probably the same people who actually built the structure. I didn’t seem to be in my customary hurry to start sketching, so I engaged a young man at the information desk in a conversation about the mill when it was actually functioning as a mill. As I knew that California Native Americans subsisted on acorns, I assumed that at least some of the time they ground acorns. (If that was true, it wasn’t clear how they got off the outer hard shell of the acorn, so they could grind the inner pulpy parts–based on what I could see of schematic. And it didn’t look like they were set up to rinse and rinse the ground acorn flour because it’s too bitter to eat unless you did that.) Anyway, the young man seemed a bit perturbed with my question because of course they hadn’t ground any acorns here, saying that it was a gristmill and only corn and wheat were pulverized for the people who lived at the San Gabriel Mission. He further reminded me that the Spanish missionaries had taught the Native Americans to plant and farm such grains as corn and wheat. And the message that seemed to be left hanging in the air was that the missionaries had somehow saved some of the California Native Americans from eating acorns by teaching them to farm something else. It was clear that our conversation was over and the young man turned his attention back to his computer screen and I headed for my spot outside. As I walked down the steps of the mill I noticed that a wedding party, with photographer taking pictures, had arrived. Wow! The joint was jumpin’!

But all I could think about, as I set up my paint pots, was the notion that the Native Americans indigenous to this part of California somehow needed “saving” from their “primitive” ways. It almost seemed that what bothered those early missionaries was that it was just too “simple minded” to gather acorns, grind them and then make food. Somehow it would be much smarter to till the soil, plant seeds (saved from somewhere), water and tend the growing plants, harvest and then grind the corn or wheat—finally making something you could cook and eat. That may have been quite a trick back then as Southern California was (and is) a desert, without summer rains. And to further complicate this whole missionary scenario is the fact that corn and wheat are not native to California, and maybe there would be a problem growing something new in the Southern California soil.  I’m guessing that it’s a lot of work to gather, grind and wash acorn flour, but it also seems like a lot of work to plant, water, tend, harvest and grind grain to flour. Not to mention, seed for the next year’s planting would need to be collected and stored somewhere. And then, of course, someone would be hauling lots and lots of water.

Finally, I put aside my thoughts about those early days. I had done a sketch or two, mixed some colors and was loosely applying the big washes for this piece. I was contemplating colors I could layer for the walls of the adobe. But I was also attracted to the old stone wall that held back the soil just below the building. I used my “bark” colored Inktense pencil to outline the rocks and mortar. I also noticed just a hint of blue in the rocks and added some color with my “sea blue” pencil. I liked the way the colors worked together and the Inktense pencil lines gave some nice linearity to the rocks. I thought the pencil also provided an excellent “rock-like” texture to the pebbly watercolor paper.

I took a couple breaks to let the color dry and finally decided I was done and ready to wander around to the front to see what the other sketchers were doing. I started to pack up my gear. A man I had seen when I first arrived moved his set up to a spot nearby. I had never met him before and just assumed he was part of the LA Urban Sketchers group. We started to chat and I asked him where he was from. I thought he said he was from Highland. I thought he was referring to Highland Park, an old LA neighborhood I had heard about. As I am not from LA I assumed that maybe the locals shortened it to Highland. To be sure I had heard him correctly, as well as continue our conversation, I asked him where that was. With no condescension in his voice, but with a bit of smile, he explained that it was on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. I immediately started to feel pretty ridiculous, but he kept up our conversation in earnest, tactfully ignoring the apparent holes in my knowledge of geography. And as you may have already guessed he had said he was from Thailand not Highland Park. I found out that he and his wife were visiting their son here in LA. (I never did find out “where” his son lived in Los Angeles. I was just too embarrassed to continue this line of polite conversation.). In fact, the nice man was the one who had seen the announcement on the Urban Sketchers Facebook page and convinced his wife and son to come to The Old Mill to paint. And after I got over my mortification of appearing to be just another California airhead, I really enjoyed continuing our conversation. It turns out that they were a family of artists and all of them were enjoying an afternoon of sketching and painting in this tiny little spot in San Marino. Realizing that he was from Thailand reminded me of a wonderful friend who was from Brocklyn, but her husband was from Thailand and both their children were born there. When I was newly married, in the early 90s, we worked together at a school in Danville. She was a wonderful and gifted teacher of fifth grade and I was the school’s science teacher. Her husband was (and is) an amazing painter as well as a gifted sculptor, her son graduated from the College of Design in Pasadena and her lovely daughter studied ballet. So, she too came from a family of artists. Unfortunately my friend died of ovarian cancer in 1998. It was pleasant to think again of her when she was very much alive with her wonderful art, music, science and literature lessons. In my mind I can still see her big smile and feel her generous heart.

Soon my new friend’s wife and son joined us. We all chatted a bit longer and then went together to the front of the property. It was getting close to 4 PM and The Old Mill would be closing at 4. (Old Mill hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 4.) Everyone was milling around, trying to find the perfect spot to share our work and take a picture. I heard that a couple artists were upset that the wedding photographer had inconvenienced them when he asked them to move a bit so he could take pictures of the wedding party. One of the other artists and I locked eyes upon hearing this complaint and decided that whoever said that needed to “get over it.” I mean, we draw and paint all the time. But hopefully this couple wouldn’t be getting married again and therefore no such interruptions would ever occur again. I told the other “like minded” artist that a wedding “trumps” a bunch of artists with ugly sun hats any day.

And just like that, we took the group photo and then we all left in our respective cars. I don’t look at Facebook anymore, so I didn’t see if my new friend from Thailand posted any pictures of his family’s art on the Urban Sketchers group. But no matter, it was a lovely day of painting, connecting with a lovely family from Thailand and remembering once again of a dear friend that I still miss. For me, it doesn’t really get any better than that.

July 7, 2018

K and M backyard
Glendale backyard, spring 2017 (mixed media on cold pressed illustration board)

I created this while sitting in the backyard of a friend’s 1920s Spanish revival house. That was in spring 2017. What you see here is quintessential Southern California—large mature blood orange tree on the right, kumquat in the upper left (next to the terra cotta roof of the garage), glowing balls of yellow rose blossoms below that, delicate golden spirea foliage below that and a couple palm trees floating through that amazing blue sky in the background. It’s funny, but if you went into my friend’s backyard today it would look almost exactly the same—except the blood oranges have all been picked and devoured. But the roses are in bloom and there are still a few kumquats on that tree (different from the ones I captured that spring). However, all of this is about to change because in the next couple weeks they are adding on to the back of the house and the landscape you see here will be forever altered. Sometimes I feel like my mission as a California landscape artist has always been to capture a beautiful, thoughtful or important CA moment, as it will soon be different. In fact, I am always a bit surprised if I paint a landscape, go back after a year or 10, and it looks the same. And in point of fact I am always a bit in awe when I find a particular view I have enjoyed that has remained the same over any period of time.

Of course this bit of SoCal tranquility belies the change that has already taken place inside the house, even before the planned addition has been added. It’s the kitchen! It was gutted and is in the process of being taken from its original early 20th century cooking space into the early 21st century. It has been a huge disruption for its occupants, my friends, and has been going on for several months now. But the real story here is about food, and the problems one might face when the kitchen is torn up and you have only a frig and microwave for meal preparation and are washing dishes in the bathroom sink. Friends, like me, know that it’s important to share food with friends in need. This whole process has been a reminder for me of all the needy homeless we have here in Los Angeles and the blessing a cramped dining room with a frig full of food might be for them. Count your blessings, right?

I am a great one for bringing food to those I love. Last Christmas I signed up my friends for six months of Harry and David’s fruit of the month club. The fruit started arriving in February and as of this month, the monthly gifts of lovely fruit stops. (I was certain the kitchen would be done by now.) I have also been randomly calling at weekend lunch times to see if I can bring over delicious sandwiches, brownies with whipped cream, my mother’s rice salad or beans. Yes, I said beans. I have about 5 different versions of those delectable legumes. A couple of my bean recipes come from my mother and she would describe herself as a good “winter” cook, making lots of lovely soups and beans. I usually only make beans during the cool weather as my summer kitchen gets way too hot even to turn on the oven to make a frozen pizza. And I’m not really sure if anyone wants to dig into a big bowl of beans when it’s 90 bazillion degrees outside.

I’ve taken my beans to friends who have been sick, just had a baby, as a house-warming gift and have even taken huge pots of beans on camping trips. When my first niece was born I took a large pot of beans to my brother’s house. My sister-in-law asked me what they should do with them. We come from “bean people,” my brother and I, so I was surprised with such a question. I replied, “Heat them in a pot on the stove, or microwave. Put a couple scoops in a bowl, add a dollop of sour cream and eat it with a spoon. Of course a lovely piece of crusty bread and a glass of Zinfandel will round out the whole thing. Maybe a salad?” Was she kidding?

When this same niece started eating solid foods I took this same sister-in-law homemade applesauce, made with apples from my trees. I had had a bumper crop of apricots that year and I added a few to the applesauce. It was such a pretty color and made it absolutely scrummy. Well, she didn’t even taste it, but ignored the half dozen jars on the kitchen counter. So, I took it all home with me and ate it myself. It was delicious! Usually my gifts of food are appreciated and well accepted. I remember my dad saying, “No accounting for taste.” Oh well.

Back to the beans…I have listed here probably my most favorite bean recipe. It has meat in it, so it’s not for your vegetarian friends. I usually make a huge batch, so I have some for me. Frances Mayes in her book “Under the Tuscan Sun” has a wonderful bean recipe called Ribollita. It’s in the Winter Kitchen Notes chapter of the book (winter, not summer…). It’s actually what I make for my vegetarian friends as it can be made without meat or dairy. I have even served it to my vegan friends that are in need of a sturdy meal. Ms. Mayes adds Parmesan cheese at the end, but I have found that even a fine dusting of any cheese kind of congeals in the hot bean liquid which results in chewy blobs of goo. Not a fan of that. So, I don’t add any Parmesan at all. And like magic it becomes vegan.

Here is my “go to” bean recipe, and for some reason it has no name. So I will call it “Beans.” (Disclaimer: Cooking a pot of beans, made from scratch, can take 4 to 5 hours. So, plan accordingly. It will make the kitchen pretty warm, so that’s why I usually don’t make it during the warm months. I hope I have made it clear that I don’t make beans in the summer…just sayin’)

Beans

¾ pound of dried beans (*1/4 pound of 3 different kinds of beans is my usual—e.g. King City pinks (probably only found in CA), small white beans, black-eyed peas.)

¼ pound split peas (works as a thickener when it breaks down)

* I like black beans, but don’t usually mix them with others as all the lovely pink and white beans take on a grayish color. And even a big dollop of sour cream can’t take away the gray.

 

  1. Wash all the beans, put them in a large stockpot and cover with lots of water. Once it starts to boil, put on the lid and turn off the heat. Let it sit closed up for a couple of hours.
  2. Dump off the water and fill with fresh water to cover the beans again. Add seasonings to your taste. I like salt, pepper, sage, oregano and lots of dill. If you are making non-vegetarian beans, add a couple ham hocks. If you are not adding seasoning meat, you will want to cover the beans with vegetable stock instead of plain water. I also put in a large washed carrot into the pot. (You may not believe it, but the carrot absorbs most of the farts from the beans. If you don’t believe me, make this recipe without the carrot. But I warned you…) Again, bring it to a boil and simmer until the beans are the way you like them. I prefer them a little al dente as they will continue to cook when the remaining ingredients are added.
  3. Ladle out the ham hocks and the carrot. Once the ham hocks have cooled you can pick off whatever meat is there and put it back in the bean mixture. But you must throw away the carrot. Don’t eat it! Add a large can of chopped tomatoes and chopped onion. For my family I would add a large chopped onion (Be careful with too many onions as it can somehow add back the gas the carrot has extracted.). But add whatever size onion you and your family can tolerate. I usually let that cook 45 minutes or so.
  4. Finally, chop up some kind of sausage into great hunks and add it to the pot. I usually use kielbasa. Now, it’s all over but the shouting and you just need to cook the sausage until it’s done.
  5. Serve it up in a bowl and drop in a spoonful of sour cream, if you are not on a diet and/or your cholesterol is OK. Maybe you don’t need a tutorial on how to enjoy this yummy CA comfort food, but eating it with a hunk of San Francisco Sourdough bread and glass or two of Zinfandel from Paso Robles will definitely enhance the experience. Enjoy! (Actually, beans are best the next day as all the flavors have had a chance to mingle.)

I didn’t plan to say so much about beans in this July 7, 2018 post, but my bean obsession doesn’t seem to have ended with Frances Mayes’s Ribollita and my bean soup recipe. I just finished reading the best book, called “The Little Paris Bookshop,” by Nina George. And in one chapter a small cup of bean soup called Pistou actually brings a character back to life after she jumps into a stormy river. (The recipe for Pistou and other foods mentioned in the book are conveniently at the back of the book.) So, now I am destined to try making Pistou and of course some of the other recipes Ms. George has so generously shared with her readers. Actually, these beans sound like they are a little more summer friendly as the beans listed in the recipe are canned, and are therefore already cooked. Her final recipe in the book is Lavender Ice Cream. Sounds like “cool” heaven to me!

With the mention of Lavender Ice Cream and the fact that it was 108 degrees at 1 PM yesterday and 102 today, it’s time to bring this into a summer place of food. Here is my mother’s artichoke and rice salad. Oh, and this one is good with some cold grilled chicken and my “go to” wine cooler.

Mom’s Artichoke and Rice Salad

2 cups of left over rice, cooled

2 chopped green onions (both the green and white parts)

½ sweet pepper (This is where you can add some color to the salad with red, orange, yellow, green or purple peppers. If you like big chunks of sweet pepper, cut them that way. If you just want a little crunch, mince away.)

10 or so sliced green olives (Here again you can add your favorite and if green olives are not your fav, leave them out or add just a couple. I love the green olives that are stuffed with chunks of garlic, and the more the merrier for me.)

2 six-ounce jars of marinated artichoke hearts (drained and chopped, but save 1/3 cup of the liquid)

1/3 cup of mayonnaise

½ tsp curry

  1. Mix rice, onions, sweet peppers, olives and marinated artichoke hearts.
  2. Mix the mayonnaise, 1/3 cup artichoke liquid and curry together. Then mix the liquid mixture with everything else.
  3. I like it room temperature, but don’t leave it out too long. (I’m always a little nervous about foods with mayo that are not refrigerated.)

“Wine Street Inn” Wine Cooler

There used to be a fondue place in San Luis Obispo. I worked as a hostess, waitress and cocktail waitress there. They had a great recipe for a wine cooler, which I got from one of the bartenders I dated.

  1. Fill a glass almost to the top with ice.
  2. Pour in a favorite wine to about an inch and half from the top of the glass. Do not use really cheap wine. (Gives me a headache just thinking about it.) I would probably not use a really expensive kind either. Besides I don’t think a heavy red, like cabernet, would work very well. Again, I often use moderately priced Old Vine Zinfandel’s for this yummy summer drink. (I also seem to often have a bottle of Zin in my cupboard anyway.)
  3. Pour in a generous splash of carbonated lemon-lime drink to the wine.
  4. Cut a fresh lime into eighths and squeeze the juice from one of those wedges into the drink. Stir with an ice tea spoon.

Keep cool! Bon Appetit!

June 30, 2018

Eliza1
Costumes for Eliza Doolittle, Pygmalion, Summer 1984 (ink/marker on sketch paper, fabric sample for Eliza, Act IV)
Pygmalion2
Costumes for Pygmalion, Summer 1984 (ink/marker on sketch paper, fabric sample for Mrs. Higgins)

In last week’s post I wrote about Occidental’s summer drama program, where they presented plays in Oxy’s Greek Bowl for more than 50 years. I wrote about working in the costume shop the summer of 1984 and my role in the design and fabrication of costumes for the characters in Pygmalion. That story got me thinking about some sketches I had done. So, I dug through my myriad of portfolios and found some art. I designed and made the ivory-colored ball gown you see here for Eliza (Act IV). I enjoyed making this dress so much that I even lined it with some left over soft peach-colored silk that I had dyed. (It was left over from another project.) The actress who played the part looked stunning in the dress, along with the rented full-length white gloves and sparkling necklace and tiara (made by the Oxy props department). As it turns out I did not make the “men’s suit” inspired dress to the right for her. Well, actually I did make it, but in a bright red-orange fabric that all but glowed in the dark. In fact, it was just too bright and upstaged everything every time she walked out on stage. Oh well. Thank goodness there was a perfectly lovely Victorian period dress that had already been made for the actress playing Eliza (from a previous play—I think it was from “The Importance of Being Earnest”) and we used it instead. The other set of sketches show what I had envisioned for Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering and Henry’s mother. We didn’t make any men’s costumes, as there were so many Victorian period suits we could rent from various costume rental businesses in town. I remember we rented a mid-length black overcoat for Colonel Pickering. And we found a women’s cape made of fur in Oxy’s women’s costume room that I put around the neck and shoulders of that actor. It looked really cool on stage, like a great fur coat a man with great wealth would have worn to the theater in Victorian London in winter. (Of course it was LA in July, so the actor who played Colonel Pickering must have sweltered in his suit and tie, overcoat and fur mantle.) I don’t remember what I made for Henry Higgins’s mother. I know I wanted the cool dress I sketched here, but I think since she wasn’t really a principle character I found something else suitable for her to wear. And if I remember correctly, there just wasn’t enough time to make one more costume from scratch. It was so much fun to research, plan and execute all of the costumes for that play. As I said in last week’s blog, the summer of 1984 was pretty great for me!

Last time I also mentioned that I had taken a costuming class at UCLA extension before that summer. (For a brief time I considered “costuming” as a career. And such a notion started with this class.) A very bubbly blonde taught it and her name was Deirdre Naughton. When I first signed up for the class I didn’t really know anything about “costuming” and I didn’t know who Dierdre was, but I had heard of the TV show “Square Pegs.” (She was the head costumer for that 1982-1983 show.) Just as an aside—a costumer is generally the person who manages/organizes/cleans costumes worn by actors. And generally speaking a costume designer determines what will be worn. Either way, to work on costumes in movies and TV you need to belong to a union, or guild.

Deirdre invited Robert Turturice, a costume designer, to speak at one of our classes. He had so many interesting stories to tell, including his early work at Western Costuming where his job there was to dye shoes. That’s right, all he did was spray men’s and women’s shoes different colors. I don’t remember his exact words on the subject, but I wish I did. They were the kind of words a person should live by. I remember he said that you never knew whom you were “spraying” shoes for—it could have been for a major star or someone who had only one or two scenes in a movie. He admitted that it was pretty monotonous—white to brown, black to lavender, red to metallic gold, two-toned spectators etc. But he said he always did the best job he could for each pair because he never knew who was going to wear those shoes and he wanted that person to be outstanding and shine as they walked on set. I’ve reflected often on this story and truly believe he meant it as a metaphor for life—to do every job you are given the best you can. Of course he followed that one up with stories of his later design work in Las Vegas where he created leather dominatrix costumes for various showgirls. I guess he even wanted those dressed in head to toe leather to shine just like a beautiful pair of shoes. Thinking about the way he told those two stories, one after another, still makes me grin a little. There are of course other words to live by that might be something more like “don’t take yourself too seriously…”

And then Mr. Turturice got to his more current work, where he described doing costumes for the 1983 TV movie, “Blood Feud” (story of Bobby Kennedy trying to take down Jimmy Hoffa). That was so interesting as he described how the lawmakers/politician’s wore rumpled and ill-fitting shirts and suits. Whereas, the teamsters (lead by Jimmy Hoffa) were impeccably dressed with expensive suits, tie pins and cufflinks. He talked of setting up a kind of warehouse of suits, ties and shoes of different sizes and shapes for the various actors to try on before they made the movie at 20th Century Fox. He talked about using tea to dye the dress shirts to be a bit off white as a pristine white shirt was just too bright and would appear to almost vibrate when on camera. He also talked about something called Picrin, an all-purpose dry stain remover. Both he and Deirdre discussed this miracle product as well as going to “all night” dry cleaners in town. (I guess the armpit area of shirts and suit jackets can get pretty stained and stinky. It was explained clearly to us that it was the costumer’s job to get armloads of clothing cleaned before the next day’s “shoot.”) After Mr. Turturice finished describing what he did for “Blood Feud” he talked about working with Cybill Shepherd. Over the years he had become her “go to” designer and was about to start working on costumes for her in a new show (at the time) called “Moonlighting.” He didn’t have anything to do with Bruce Willis’s suits, but Robert Turturice designed every piece of clothing worn by Ms. Shepherd from March 1985 to May 1989. (In 1987 he won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Costuming for a Series for Moonlighting. And when I got married that summer, I tried to make my hair look like her character on the show. It looked great for about 15 minutes…maybe that was my 15 minutes of fame…)

But the final costuming story this one California girl wants to tell is about Ms. Naughton. She was wonderful and so generous with her ideas and suggestions. She talked endlessly about her job, even how she and Mr. Turturice had both participated in the Emmy Awards voting for people in the costume design and costumer categories. Deirdre also talked about how to break into the business, including how to get into the costumer’s union. In fact, on the second to last class she asked a couple of us if we wanted to do some last minute “in the trenches” costuming for a movie that was on it’s third unit. Of course I said, “Yeah!” And I threw myself into that project “with both feet and my hat off.” (That means with my usual gusto.) It was fun, but when the summer of 1984 ended I decided that I wasn’t really interested in pursuing “costuming” as a career. It seemed to me there was so much uncertainty about when, or if, you would have regular work, even if the work were a blast. But very late one night in early fall; I got a call from Dierdre. She wanted to be sure I had really considered becoming a costumer or costume designer. She was very encouraging and thought I would be really good at it. I appreciated the call and the words of encouragement, but didn’t have the heart to tell her I didn’t think it really was for me. It was so very thoughtful of her to make the effort.

Sadly, both Dierdre Naughton and Robert Turturice each have passed away. I found that out as I looked on the Internet for additional information to round out this post. It was fun to be prompted to recall and learn of her costuming credits, pre- and post summer 1984. For example, her costuming career started with “All in the Family.” And after she finished “Square Pegs” in 1983 she did costumes for a couple TV shows—“Head of the Class” and “A Different World.” It was clear that both Dierdre and Robert were each very creative and had a great passion for what they did—passing much of that enthusiasm along to me. I only met Mr. Turturice the one time and did not keep in touch with Deirdre after her late night call in late 1984. But I always liked the idea that such creative people were out there in the world doing cool things and pursuing a life in the “arts.” It’s hard to make a consistent living doing that. Maybe California still has wonderful and creative things that can be done under the sun for those of us who are square pegs that don’t fit into round holes or are the ultimate master at spraying shoes different colors. I know that if you are reading this, and have the soul of an artist like me, you know exactly what I am talking about and why we do it. Right?

Happy Birthday Deirdre Naughton, July 13, 1951

And Happy Birthday to my brother Brian, June 29

June 22, 2018

1Greek Bowl, Oxy art
Greek Bowl, Occidental College, June 13, 2018 (plein air, mixed media on watercolor paper)
2Greek Bowl
Greek Bowl, Occidental College, June 19, 2018 (watercolor, pen and ink on watercolor paper)

I went to Occidental College in Eagle Rock the other morning. At the top of the campus is the Greek Bowl. I climbed the concrete steps to the very back of this outdoor stage and sat pretty far to the right. Is that stage left? Or do those stage directions apply if you are not actually on the stage? While sitting there I painted the first piece you see. But when I finished it, I realized it was too close up and the viewer might not get the sense of the details and scope of this type of theater. I wasn’t sure if the three vertical ivy “wings” on either side of the rectangular lawn looked like anything other than just more greenery. I also wondered if I “scrubbed” some of the “plant” sections too much…and it was “overworked.” So when I got home I did the second one, from a photo I had taken. I like that it includes more details like the stairs and the round patch of lawn—not really sure why that’s there. Maybe it had originally been some kind of pond or fountain that was later filled in with dirt and grass seed. I understand that in ancient Rome they used to fill the Coliseum with water and have “mock” sea battles. Maybe Oxy students in ancient times had tiny “mock” sea battles there.

Starting in 1960 Occidental College began presenting plays (summer drama festival) in the Greek Bowl—adding a proper stage over the circular lawn and steps on either side for the run of the festival. Omar Paxson, an Oxy theater arts professor, started the festival and he ran it for some 26 years. And it was only a couple years ago Occidental stopped the program. (I remember hearing a local story about its last summer, but don’t remember when that was. But I can safely say that the summer drama festival ran for over 50 years.) Each summer they produced 5 plays, which included a Shakespeare, a Shaw, a Gilbert and Sullivan, and two other dramas. In the summer of 1984, I helped with costumes for that season. Earlier in the year I had taken a “costuming” class at UCLA extension and was looking to design and make costumes for plays, movies or TV. That summer they produced “Midsummer’s Night Dream,” “Iolanthe,” “Pygmalion,” “Our Town” and “Guys and Dolls.” I was in charge of costumes for Pygmalion, but helped make costumes for all the other plays as well. Most of the performers were theater arts students and they each had parts in all 5 plays. But the program had a unique learning/teaching component as each student was also assigned “behind the scenes” jobs besides their “on stage” roles. Some were assigned to be directors or stage managers. And some were assigned to help with lighting, sound, props or help us with various jobs in the costume room. The theater department was down the hill from the Greek Bowl, in Thorne Hall. Once rehearsals (in Thorne Hall) had begun for “Guys and Dolls,” the students and crew (like me) loaded everything we would need for the five different plays in a large truck and drove it up the hill to the Bowl. Once we got the sewing machines, sergers and worktables into the Treehouse, a small narrow building just below the bowl, we went to work. I immediately set up meetings for discussions with the director, scheduled measurement sessions for the actors and did sketches for costumes for Pygmalion. Our day-to-day crew, like me, and the student helpers worked really hard and got a lot done. The head costume designer for the summer program said we were all going to start looking like Quasimodo because we spent so many hours hunched over a sewing machine, or leaning over tables to cut out fabric. It was pretty warm in Eagle Rock that summer and it was pretty warm in the costume room we lovingly called the “sweatshop.” I had a blast! It was wonderful!

As the head designer for Pygmalion I designed quite a few costumes for women, especially for Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins’s mother. I also helped make countless long white and aqua tulle ballerina skirts for the many fairies of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. We went to local fabric shops in downtown LA to get a lot of the fabric we needed for such costumes. However, we didn’t fabricate all the costumes. We didn’t make men’s clothing, like suits or shirts for Henry Higgins or Colonel Pickering. Most of what was used for them was rented. As you might imagine, there are a number costume rental businesses here in LA. One of the big rental companies at the time was Western Costume Co. We got a few things from there, but most men’s clothing I got for Pygmalion (hats, ties, suits, overcoats etc) was from a costume shop in Glendale, called The Costume Shop. If you have never been to a theatrical costume shop it can be overwhelming. Just imagine a huge warehouse with floor to ceiling racks and racks of clothing and accessories. Huge places like this are divided up into sections such as western wear, Victorian, vintage 60s or 70s, circus clowns, suits for aliens, costumes for children and so on and so on. You can almost get lost in a place like that. But we found suitable suits and hats for the men in Pygmalion as well as Guys and Dolls.

Not only did we make costumes on the spot and rent them nearby, but we also used costumes from the huge store of costumes in the theater arts department at Thorne Hall. OK, probably the best part of this story, at least for me, is the women and men’s costume rooms that were connected to Thorne Hall at the time. First, to get to the women’s costume room you first entered the theater arts office, through another door and then ducked down a bit to enter a cavernous windowless room that was filled floor to ceiling with women’s costumes and accessories. It was not as large as The Costume Shop or Western Costuming, but it was big and also divided into sections much like the costume businesses in the area. Oh, and this room had only the women’s clothing. To get to the men’s costumes, it was a bit more harrowing. On the far side of this room was a ladder that went up about 15 or 20 feet. First you climbed up the ladder, and then crawled on a horizontal ladder that went lengthwise across the very tiptop of the Thorne Hall stage. Oh, and it was pitch black up there and you made this journey by feeling your way along the ladder. (Would have been great to have a miner’s headlamp.) Then when you got to the other side you climbed down (again in complete darkness). Finally, you went through a door into the men’s costume room. Fortunately there was a light in that room, so at least you weren’t looking for men’s coats, hats, shirts and shoes in the dark. And as you might imagine, eventually you would found what you were looking for and had to repeat the dark journey back to the women’s room—only this time you usually had only one hand to hold on as you were carrying whatever you had found in the other one. A number of times I could hear the actors rehearsing on the stage below me. I thought of making some ghost-like sounds to help me with the eerie feeling I had up there. But, you know that heat rises, right? And it was stifling up there and it was all I could do to talk to myself in my head and get to the light of the women’s costume room on the other side. Quite a story, right? When I was on the Occidental College campus the other day I looked for that outside door to the theater arts office that would have lead to the women’s costume room, but couldn’t find it. Looks like all of those buildings have since been remodeled. Actually, I can’t imagine it is still set up like that. But who knows!

In the summer of 1984 I was living in Long Beach and I drove to Occidental College each afternoon. It was also the summer of the Olympics, which was held in LA. Needless to say, it was pretty crazy all over town. Most evenings we worked in the costume shop until 2 or 3 in the morning and then I would drive on the “empty” LA freeways home. I would get up late the next morning and be back at Oxy by 2 or 3 in the afternoon. (The freeways were pretty jammed at that time of the day—quite a departure from my early morning drives.) Many of the actors in Occidental’s summer plays performed at the opening ceremony at the LA Memorial Coliseum the evening of July 28th. I can’t remember where we all sat and watched that on TV, as there sure wasn’t a television in the costume room, and there wasn’t any spare surface for anything. But we did watch it, hoping we would see some of the people who were performing that summer. Pretty cool.

So, that’s how it was that summer—hot, fast and furious. But maybe there is one more 1984 “costume” story left to tell. The wrestling events for the summer Olympics were held in Long Beach. My aunt was a volunteer for the venue. She got a really cute and colorful uniform to wear. So, that Halloween I went to a cool party in Laguna with a friend. She went as a cheerleader and I borrowed my aunt’s outfit and covered the business end of a toilet plunger with foil and went as an Olympic torchbearer. There I was, again surrounded by people in costumes. But this was a very different group of people and there was to be a very different evening of drama. Besides the usual vampires, witches and the lone wholesome Olympic torch bearer and her cheerleader friend there were quite a few men in drag, someone wearing a mask on the back of his head and huge fake genitalia attached to the back of the costume (it was his party) and a clown that had cut out a hole at the back of his costume, so his bare butt was showing. Oh, but we weren’t yet done. My cheerleader friend and I had had enough and were about to leave when one of the party goers, dressed as a nurse, turned on some music and started taking off her clothes. The guy who hosted the party (the fake genitalia guy) had hired a stripper. That was our cue to leave. And that means it is now my cue to end this LA story.

Oh, first day of summer was just yesterday. Hope you have a nice summer!

June 16, 2018

Paramount Ranch
Church at Paramount Ranch, June 9, 2018 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

I belong to a “Meet Up” sketching group. Last Sunday we went to Paramount Ranch to sketch/paint. I’d never even heard of the place, let alone been there. So, here is what I discovered while the wonders and mystery of my GPS showed me a map and the way to Paramount Ranch. It’s in the Santa Monica Mountains, between the hills of Agoura and Point Dume, Malibu. It’s a lovely, hilly area with lots of huge coast live oaks. There wasn’t much traffic on the 101 that morning so I was in good spirits when I arrived. And once I saw the countless oak trees at the visitor center, a particular favorite of mine, I was certain being there for a couple hours would be fabulous. While a waited for some of my painting buddies to show up I ate some yoghurt. Behind me there were a couple fire fighters washing a fire truck. (Always glad to see fire fighters out in such a place, as this area will be very dry and hot in a few weeks.) I wasn’t exactly sure what I was in for, but pretty soon a guy with a huge horse trailer pulled up. He jumped out of the truck and systematically began to unload 8 horses from the trailer, tying each one off at the side. I was starting to get the picture that Paramount Ranch and these horses were somehow going to be joined at some point.

A Background Paragraph on Paramount Ranch

This seems an opportune moment to provide a little background. (I looked all this up on the Internet when I got home later that day.) In 1927, Paramount Pictures bought the land and built some western town movie sets. Paramount used the sets for westerns they made for about 25 years. Then in 1953, they sold the property to a new owner and it became an independent movie ranch. At that time the new owners expanded the size of the Western Town set so the many production companies that were making westerns for television in the 1950s could use it. In the 80’s, the National Parks Service bought most of the land (including the Western Town) and now they rent it out to various production companies who are in need of a ready-made western set. Such production companies are allowed to make alterations to the buildings, but the western town theme is to stay in tact. Based on the photos I saw on the Internet it looks like Western Town can also be rented out for weddings too.

So, once I had finished my snack and my friends had arrived we started into Western Town. On our way in a friend noticed that what appeared to be wooden siding on an old building was actually a sheet of metal siding that had been fabricated and painted to look like a wall of huge wooden beams. But as we both realized, nothing would be as it seemed in this fake western town and I’m sure no one would notice such a fake wall when watching a TV western that might include that building. As we turned the corner I saw quite a few artist posses on each street corner. They had already set up their supplies and were already painting. None of these artists were wearing cowboy hats or western boots, but rather had on sensible sun hats and shorts. It was such a great juxtaposition of yesterday compared with today, real versus fake. And almost as if on cue, the real came along side the unreal when a huge group of people on 21st century bicycles zoomed past us—past the general store, with Dry Goods, Groceries and Clothing, the Hotel Mud Bug and the Great Bend Jail and Sheriff’s office. It was about that time I figured out that the guy with the horses had a plan. And it was about this time that I realized once again the craziness of the California dream, with entrepreneur opportunities galore. It was great!

I wandered around the town a bit and found a great shady spot under a huge coast live oak tree. (Last week’s blog was all about California’s oak woodland and the history behind those magnificent and important trees.) For this adventure I was delighted to find a nice spot, in the shade, under such an oak. It must have been at least 300 years old. I wondered who else might have sat under that tree to cool off. Episodes of the TV show Gunsmoke were filmed here. Maybe the marshal or a bad guy sat under the tree with his or her horse tied off nearby. To my right was a wooden wagon that looked to be at least 100 years old (probably another fake) and directly in front of me was the old church you see here. Of course it’s part of this western town and a fake as well. It was only recently added to the property and used for the HBO show Westworld. If you look it up you can see how it was a white church with a pretty tall steeple and faux graveyard to the right. It was pretty nice to peacefully sit there and imagine days gone by with wagons and horses. But of course the 21st century was clearly still here as directly behind me a group of Eagle Scouts was engaged in some kind of project. Near as I could tell, they were shoveling large amounts of leaves and dried acorns into wheelbarrows. Then they looked for places to distribute all these trimmings to other places on the property. Of course one of the spots they chose to dump the yard waste was only a couple yards away from me. These 13 and 14-year old boys seemed to be having only a minimal amount of fun, kind of complaining about the work they were doing and talking. Most of the conversation I heard was about school and that the grade F for sure meant Fail, but that you could earn an E if you were Emotional. Pretty funny and emotional if you ask me.

We had a throw down on one of the streets in Western Town after a bit. A throw down is when we gather together and place our sketchpads side by side and we talk about our art. For this one, we lined up our art on the wooden sidewalk up against a fake old building. And as I had guessed, the horse entrepreneur had rented horses for people to ride around Western Town as some of the artists had captured just that. Most artists had painted the various buildings, with and without horses. Others had painted the same church, but of course their interpretation of the old looking building was completely different from mine. It was all really great to see. We talked quite a bit about who we were, the art and materials we used. I am always amazed with the people who come to these events—animators, architects, graphic artists and then just regular folks like me.

After we finished the plan was to eat lunch under some trees. I had planned to do that and had my customary peanut butter and jelly sandwich prepared. But I knew the traffic on 101 would just be getting worse as the afternoon went on. Reality was creeping into the wonderful unreality of the morning. So, I ate my peanut butter sandwich and pretzels in the car on the ride home. And yah, the traffic was awful. But I have this little piece of art I can look at to remind me of the old days—the old days of today and long ago. It is a bit confusing at times, but that’s LA for you! Gotta love it!

June 9, 2018

River Road Oak
River Road Oak Tree, San Miguel, CA spring 2001 (watercolor and colored pencil on cold press illustration board)

This is actually a photocopy of a piece of art I had framed and gave to a friend. She was born in Paso Robles (very near San Miguel) and I think she probably loves oak trees as much as I do. But there is more to this piece of art than meets the eye as the amazing wall of clouds I painted here was not the actual backdrop of the hill with oak trees on that particular day. Here’s what I actually mean. I took the photo of the golden-looking oak trees on River Road in early spring 2001, but I photographed those clouds the previous fall (on that same stretch of River Road), after a wonderful bit of rain. As is the prerogative of a painter, I can do that. I can mix and match what I want. I can add or take away what pleases me. I remember thinking that the golden spring oak leaves I had set against the perfect sky of white clouds and pristine clean blue sky would look amazing. I think I also remember wondering about the color of the spring leaves on those trees as they were not green, but rather a golden color. So, I cannot be sure what kind of oak this is, but I am fairly certain it is not a live oak—a common evergreen oak tree we have here. But whatever kind of oaks I saw that day (and later painted), those sparkling golden leaves look pretty spectacular here.

I have always been enchanted by the oak trees (in oak woodlands) we have here in California. They have such a nice sturdy shape, they produce these cool-looking edible acorns (if you rinse and rinse out the natural bitter taste from the acorn flour), they are often very slow growing and tend to live a long time. For example, a coast live oak can live to be more than 250 years old. And since they live so long, you just get used to having them around. For me they are somehow a constant in an ever changing California world. I have written about the many changes we’ve seen since the missions were built in the 18th and 19th centuries. San Miguel has a mission that was founded in 1797, but burned down in 1806. It was rebuilt and complete in 1821. I like to imagine there were mature oak trees near the mission at that time. Maybe they are not the same ones you might see today, but I am sure they were welcome shade for the people who rebuilt that mission. When I was young I fondly remember seeing far away rolling golden hillsides of oaks from my Paso Robles friend’s kitchen window. Of course lots of houses have filled the spaces between the trees since the early 2000s. And neighboring hillsides of Paso oaks are now also filled with vineyards. I believe mature oak trees are considered an asset to a homeowner who is lucky enough to have one on the property. And I know I have heard that a house will sell for more money if there are such trees on the land.

I wrote about working at Addison Wesley Publishing Co, in Menlo Park (right next to Palo Alto) last time and that the building on Sand Hill Road was part of what is known as “Stanford land.” Not sure what actually means, but I think people who have businesses there don’t get to really own the land…somehow. Anyway, in the courtyard outside the two story office where I worked was a huge oak tree that towered over the top of that building. (I remember a couple of the guys who worked in the design department liked to sit under the tree and smoke cigars. Hmmm…) Next to us was a second Addison Wesley two-story building and towering oak on the property as well. Those trees were at least 200 years old and probably more like 250 years old. I worked there from about 1991 to 1994. That meant the trees may have been saplings in the 1750s, right? And that was way before Leland Stanford built Stanford (1891) and there was no such notion of “Stanford land.” Native Americans were definitely living near there when those trees were young. (A Native American man who worked with us in the editorial department said that Native American artifacts had been found when they put in the linear accelerator (SLAC—Stanford Linear Collider) and Stanford Shopping Center right next door to Addison Wesley. Pretty cool, huh?

Of course if you really want to get a sense of old trees here in CA, I have to mention the CA redwood. A typical lifespan of a CA redwood is 500 to 700 years, with some living to be 2000 years old. They don’t produce anything that we can eat, like an acorn, but you have to marvel at the changes that have occurred since some of those old trees were seedlings. If they could only talk and tell us what it was like…

Speaking of edible acorns

In the fall of 1993 I went on a hike with other like-minded tree huggers on trails through amazing groves of redwoods and oaks at Castle Rock State Park. Castle Rock State Park is on the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains and is not only a great place for hiking, but also a great place to go rock climbing. Anyway, the person who took us on the hike talked quite a bit about the oak trees on the trails. She described at great length about the tanoak and the tanoak acorn. It seems that the tanoak isn’t really a true oak at all, but a kind of cross between an oak and a chestnut tree. Native American groups in the coastal ranges of California relied on the tanoak acorns for food. And it seems a single tanoak can produce 200 pounds of acorn per year and it has been estimated that CA tribes would harvest 500 to 2000 pounds of acorns per family per year. Yikes, that’s just mind blowing to me.

An acorn has a very unique appearance. Each one has a little cap that fits snuggly to a small nut that is shaped like a football. As a kid I remember collecting acorns and acorn caps that were under oak trees. This happened during the time of year when the tree naturally dropped the nuts (seeds) in hopes that a new oak tree would sprout and grow into another oak. But also usually at this time the caps and nuts were not together anymore, and there would be hundreds of such acorns and caps spread around under each tree. I would painstakingly try to match the exact cap that went to the exact nut. And when I found one that was still together, I was in heaven. It always seemed like such a prize. I had learned in school that Native Americans ground up the nut part of the acorn into flour and then made bread. What a lot of work! I remembering my mom telling us kids that there were acorn grinding bowls carved into the huge granite boulders near the “swimmin’ hole” on their property in Mariposa. She said there were even smaller granite stones in the bowls that the local Native Americans had used to grind the acorns into flour. At some point I guess the grinding stones disappeared. If I ever saw the bowl impressions in the rock, I don’t remember. I was very little when my mother’s family sold that property.

As I said, I learned about how California Native Americans made bread flour from acorns, and I guess they had done just that (probably for generations) near my mom’s house in Mariposa. But I also remember thinking that after all the work of pulverizing hundreds and hundreds of acorns, you weren’t even close to being ready to make bread. I have never tasted acorn flour that had just been milled, but I understand it is really bitter and inedible. So, there is yet one more step of rinsing and rinsing (called leaching) the flour to rinse out the bitter taste. Then the acorn meal is dried and bread dough can be made and baked. So, there are a couple things I have always wondered about eating acorn meal. First, who thought such a hard nut could be ground up and eaten? (I read that they used to suck on them if they had a sore throat.) Second, who thought of rinsing and rinsing the flour to make it edible? (Probably why the Mariposa grinding bowls were so close to swimmin’ hole.) And third, how many years (generations) did it take to carve out a grinding bowl for acorns in granite? (Granite is one of the hardest rocks around, right?) And finally, didn’t that probably mean you were eating granite dust in your bread? I wonder if your teeth would grind down from years of chewing on granite dust. I wonder about these things…, don’t you?