On the Lone Prairie

I may be on the prairie, but it is anything but lonely! So far today I have seen 5 deer, one Great Blue Heron, one pheasant and several chubby red-colored squirrels, and tons of birds and insects. The mosquitoes were quite friendly tonight as well. And did I mention I have two twenty something roommates? Boy, it’s been a long time since I’ve had one of those! There is one gal and one guy, both are doing internships before they enter grad school. They are extremely nice and friendly. I noticed one give the other the eye when he was about to swear, little do they know I can swear like a sailor with little provocation. I am guessing that they are having the greater adjustment, sort of like unexpectedly having to live with your mother. They were shocked when I asked them where I could put my groceries, as apparently Ramen noodles, Budweiser, various flavors of wine and vodka make up the four food groups here. I should note that I have not seen either of them open a bottle since I arrived. Perhaps they should offer me one and that fear might be allayed also.

Unlike my previous gig out at Agate Fossil Beds NM in Western Nebraska, this place has lots of water, trees and corn and bean fields. The town of Beatrice, that’s Bee-A-Trice if you please, is only 4 miles away. I could walk to town if I had to. It has 3 grocery stores and more gas stations than you can shake a stick at, making it highly unlikely that I will need to walk to town.

What it is missing, however, is rattlesnakes. I cannot say that I am disappointed in the carefree manner in which I can now walk, and in the grass no less. There are two visitors centers here. One is the Education Center which is just across the parking lot from my park housing, where lots of special events are held during the course of a year.

This is the beginning of Prairie Week. Isn’t every week out here Prairie Week? The park system is holding writing workshops for local school kids at the moment. Nebraska is known for the excellence and quantity of the authors and poets it has produced. That makes a lot of sense to me. I imagine the folks out here get a lot of writing practice due to the severity of the Nebraskan winters, as it is just too darn cold to do much else. I am excited to actually be participating in a photography workshop on Thursday. I have never had a class in photography so I am hoping to have a great time learning how to photograph the prairie. The other, newer, park building is the Heritage Center. The architect designed it in the shape of a plowshare, the instrument used by homesteaders to transform the prairie into farmland, then eventually into a dustbowl and with much labor from the National Park Service over the last 75 years, back to prairie again. I think you will agree it makes quite a statement as it rises out of the tall prairie grasses like Big Blue Stem.

I will be making presentations and giving demonstrations in both buildings on numerous occasions during my stay. Each Artist in Residence is required to make one formal presentation about their work. I agreed to set up and work on my quilt tops at The Heritage Center for the next two days. Once the staff saw how easy that was, they asked me to do another gig on Saturday. For me, this one is a little more intimidating. 100 Native American children are coming down from an Indian School in Lincoln, Nebraska. They represent many of the indigenous tribes that were forcibly removed from the Great Plains by the American government. I hope I can do justice to the task, but I have a feeling I will be learning a whole lot more from them than they will learn from me.


Remember that little ditty? We used to sing it on the bus, shout it on the playground and yell it out the car windows. It came in handy for spelling tests. I am recalling it now as I had a wonderful afternoon today in Hannibal, Missouri as I travel west to Homestead National Monument. Hannibal is perched on the banks of the mighty Missisip and home to Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. I toured his home and those of his childhood friends who appeared in his books as Tom, Huck and Becky. I am reminded how his early experiences contributed to his creative process in later life I also just love his acerbic wit.

What has this got to do with quilting or anything else you might wonder? Well, obviously I have not turned out to be a paddlewheel captain, famous author, or bankrupt for that matter (thank goodness) like Mark Twain, but my childhood and some good genes has had a definite influence on my creativity. I come from a long line of artists, or perhaps more correctly, makers.  We have wood workers, wood carvers, painters, sewers, knitters a canoe maker and a jewelry maker in the family. With the exception of my graphic designer son, all the rest of us are self taught. When you look up “outsider art,” on Wikipedia, our family portrait next to the definition.

Some of us have been more successful than others in our artistic endeavors. My dad made a living for many years making furniture, and my mother had the ability to knit intricate cable knit sweaters while watching television and without even looking at her hands. My English aunt on the other hand, knit herself a wool bathing suit during the 1920’s so she could be de rigeur. She did in fact make quite a fashion statement when the weight of the salt water caused the whole shebang to stretch down to her knees Typically the water temperature off the north coast of England does not lend itself to topless bathing.

My parents also endured my creative endeavors with great tolerance as I look back on it now. When I used gooey homemade flour paste to adhere images of Twiggy, the Beatles and Stones all over the basement (well cellar, really) walls, they never once said, ” Holy S***! Do you see that two ton coal burning furnace over there? Are you trying to start a conflagration that will burn the house down?” When my cousin and I thought it was a great idea to carry a thirty pound rock two miles out of the woods in order to extract the quartz crystals it contained, my Dad gave me a hammer. Note to self, that job really requires a diamond tipped industrial strength drill. Lastly, after reading Huck Finn, my brother, cousin and I constructed a raft worthy of the mighty Mississippi out of an old door, several Styrofoam coolers and some twine. My dad nonchalantly threw it in the back of his pick up truck, drove it 20 miles to throw it in a farm pond and watched it promptly sink the minute we boarded. Tom and Huck would have been greatly disappointed but my dad never said a word. Good thing my family was instrumental in developing my artistic abilities, because I never would have made it as an engineer.

Thelma and Louise

As I prepare for another art adventure this week, I have been thinking about all of the travel adventures I have had with my best friend Anne. She has played Thelma to my Louise over the past 40 years, all without picking up any deadbeats, killing anyone, or managing to drive our car over a cliff. But what to do when Thelma lives 3,000 miles away? Anne was our foreign exchange student in high school and she lives in Wales. Although we have traveled all over the world together, she is not always available. So rather than stay at home, I have discovered the charm of solo travel.

“I haven’t been everywhere yet, but it’s on my bucket list.”
– Susan Sontag

I think I have already mentioned how shocked a young waitress was recently when she learned I was dining alone. Her eyes became the size of saucers when she learned I was heading out on a hike afterwards, “Really?” she exclaimed, “I didn’t know you could do that, I will have to try it.” I was afraid if I told her I also went to the movies alone and traveled solo she might drop my dinner on the floor and I was pretty hungry, so I kept that information to myself.

Many of my female friends also think I’m just plain nuts to travel alone. They always want to know if I am afraid. What they don’t know is there is little to fear except the fear of the unknown, which really is the point of travel to begin with. It is a fallacy to think that bad things happen when you are away from home, most auto accidents occur within one mile of your home, air travel is safer than driving your car and someone can break into your home just as easy as a cabin, hogan, or hotel room. Heck, I never could get the door to lock at the last National Park residence where I lived for two weeks this summer and no one was really concerned, “Hardly anyone comes down here after closing except the rancher that lives down the road.” That was good enough for me, I grew up on a farm where we never locked our doors either until one of the neighbors reported a peeping Tom looking in her window and my Mom put her foot down. See what I mean about s*** being more likely to happen at home?

A little shot of adrenaline now and then wakes you up, helps you to notice your surroundings and makes you feel alive. Luckily, common sense runs deep in our family, so I do make an effort to avoid deliberately putting myself in harm’s way. In order to avoid plowing into a random buffalo or Black Angus, I avoided driving on the prairie after dark. I also endured severe cravings for a good steak dinner while in Nebraska a few weeks ago, a state with more cattle than people, after I figured out that the only place to get one was in a beer joint with about 50 pick up trucks parked outside. Something about the proposition of being the only female in such a fine dining establishment puts a real crimp in my appetite, and remember that door that wouldn’t lock? I draw the adventure line at anything but a stray bit of livestock following me home.

I will be off on my next National Park adventure at the end of this week. Stay tuned here to learn what happens next, and stay safe out there!

Mesa Verde – These Boots

These boots have carried me a long way from home and have been a godsend here in Colorado. My Merrells and Thurlo hiking socks have taken me up ladders and ledges, up cliffs and down canyons. Through Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Oak Tree House and many others. I was very thankful for them today when a woman about 8 or 9 years older than me tried to maneuver our backcountry hike to Oak Tree House in her Keds, carrying a large handbag instead of a back pack. I watched her fall right on her can and totter along the entire trail. I tried not to walk right behind her in case she fell off a ladder and took me down with her. She did the ultimate back country no, no and asked the ranger if she could sit on one of the fragile 700 year walls. The response: “if  you think you are going to have a medical emergency it would be alright.” I interpret that to mean,” I would rather you sat on a wall than pass out and fall off a cliff costing the government $20,000,00 to save your sorry butt.”

As I consider the value of good pair of hiking boots today, I think back to another pair of boots that impacted my life. I should preface this by mentioning how I always used to dread getting gifts from my Dad, and with good cause I might add. Basically, he was complete crap when it came to buying gifts. If he made something for you, that was alright because he was a fantastic craftsmean and the furniture he made was truly a work of art. You were probably OK if he bought you a book, since he usually bought nature books; so chances were at least 50/50, and worst case scenario, you could take it back to the book store. Other than that, Oh Lord!

One time he bought a teenaged cousin of mine a size 6 sweatshirt, because that was how big he was the last time my Dad saw him. Another time I came home from work and found a cement Indian painted in garish colors sitting on my front porch, a birthday gift from my Dad. But the all time doozy of a gift was one Chiristmas when he bought my mother the most beautiful coral colored wool cocktail dress. It was a real stunner, but also, I believe a size 6. My mother had never been a size 6 in her life, she was pretty much a solid 12 or 14 despite the fact that she was only about 5 feet tall.

Well, she was highly insulted that the dress was about 3 sizes too small and made my Dad take it back to the store. I don’t think she spoke to him for a whole week. So you can imagine my brother’s and my trepidation, when the next Christmas she opened a box containing boys high top work boots from Sears. These were hiking boots my Dad quickly explained, so that she would be more comfortable when we went hiking and camping. I could not have  been more surprized when my Mom smiled, put them right on and declared that she loved them. She wore them for many years after that momentous Chritsmas Day when my Dad actually purchased a great gift. Here’s to you Mom. Happy Trails.

Mesa Verde and Black and White Thinking

The  Ancient Puebloan People of Mesa Verde are known for their unique Black on White pottery. Much of it was raided and sold by pot hunters, a practice that. unfortunately, is still occurring today, do you hear me eBay? There are still fine examples to be seen in the museums here and I am struck by how many of these ancient designs have been used by quilters and artists for centuries. It seem even Hitler stole the swastika from the ancient ones. However, being a therapist by trade I am reminded of a type of cognitive distortion referred to as “back and white thinking.” I fear, and notice the verb I use here, that I have my own black and white thinking process going on.

Mine is the staunch, and heretofore, unshakable belief that I am an acrophobic (fear of heights) person. I have been afraid of heights ever since about the age of three, when my Dad put me on his back piggy back style and climbed up a rock face in The Hocking Hills. Ever since then I have not been able to climb up a 3 foot step ladder without my knees knocking together. Flashback to the 1960’s, the last time I visited Mesa Verde with my family. They were either very ignorant about the conditions of the hike or were being very cagey in not telling me that you had to climb three ladders up the face of the cliff to get out of the place. I suspect the latter. Although I did ask why I just couldn’t go back the way we came in, I was told that due to “federal regulations,” this was not possible (so they said). So, with my Dad pushing from behind, I made it up to the top. My knees, however, kept locking in place making my progress so slow, that I can still remember other visitors shouting up to the top, “What’s going on up there, is something the matter?
This all leads me to the point that it is fear that often  keeps our thinking and actions locked into place, just like my knees. Knowing that I was deathly afraid of heights I applied for this artist residency anyway, a sort of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy,” that has worked out pretty well for me. I must say I have been put to the test both yesterday and today. During the hike yesterday to Petroglyph Point I came to a part of the trail where I had to get my leg up on a rock ledge to get to the next level and I was just too short to do it, I contemplated going back the way I came, but fearing Federal Regulations finally found a hidden hand hold and went on up. Not one minute later, the trail turned to a near vertical angle and I was literally hanging on to trees (shrubs?) to keep from pitching backwards into the canyon. Brought me right back to those childhood cartoons where the tree breaks. I was expecting to see The “Road Runner and TNT next.

Today I went on the most vertically challenging ranger lead hike there is, to Balcony House. This gem required climbing a 32 foot ladder up the cliff face, that’s three stories folks, then at the end climbing up the cliff using hand  and foot holds carved in the rock, luckily there was heavy duty iron chain to hold onto. You can bet your life that I never looked down not even one peep.

One last fear-based challenge takes place first thing Friday morning when I take my first back county hike out to Long House. To get there I will have to drive about 45 minutes down a road that is officially closed and locked for the season, then hike out to the dwelling alone, Incidentally there was a siting of a mountain lion in the dwelling this spring… I will have a radio with me, but of all things, I am worried I won’t be able to work the radio properly. Is there a name for that? 

Preparing for Backcountry Hiking or How to Build a Cat Hole

  Hiking on The Petroglyph Trail
One of the truly exceptional aspects of this once in a life time experience of serving as Artist in Residence at Mesa Verde National Park is the opportunity to apply for a backcountry permit to hike and visit the areas of the park without the distraction of other visitors. This is a fairly rigorous process, as well it should be, to both protect the integrity of the park’s antiquities, natural resources and the safety of the the people applying for this privilege. Before I left Ohio I had to watch a video about backcountry safety (no mention here of how to handle animal attacks of assorted kinds, see previous post, Thank You brother Bruce) as well as read a manual on back country etiquette. Now I have to fill out a permit for each visit, have it signed by two people and carry a radio advising the rangers of my arrival and departure time, in order to save the government the expense of costly search and rescue missions involving helicopters, which I am told get charged to your Visa account at $15,000.00 a pop. Now more about the etiquette part.
 Petroglyph Wall
For those of you who were wondering, no this is not about being polite while you are hiking, it is about being a steward of the fragile environment that is Mesa Verde. Two primary concepts are: take only photos, and carry it in, carry it out. The manual gives sage advice on what to do if you, shall we say, need to use the facilities while you are in the back o’ beyond. I am not kidding, if you need to go Number One you are supposed to pee on a rock or pine needles as urine attracts animals who might decide to burrow into fragile archaological sites. If you need to go Number Two, and believe me when I say that this has not happened to me since I was about nine years old, you are supposed to dig a hole just like a cat a little ways off the trail. Having had cats all of my life, I think I can just about manage this should it become necessary.
The Great Smoky Mountains  circa 1956 or so

This process has not really been that hard for me. I visited my first National Park, The Great Smoky Mountains, when I was just 4 years old. After that our family started camping and hiking on a regular basis and I learned how to act in the wilderness. Here are a few things my Dad taught me that still come in handy: 1. take the time to learn the difference between Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy, you’ll be glad you did  2.When you camp, don’t do dumb stuff like cutting down green trees for a fire, then try to set them alight with a can of gasoline 3. Be quiet after 10 PM  4.  Music makes a joyful life, sing around the campfire 5. Take time for a vacation, see the USA in your Chevrolet even if it means limping home on your spare tire with only $1.25 and a box of stale soda crackers left to your name 6.Lastly, If you want to get close to the hand of God, go fishing, take a hike in the woods or paddle a canoe. You’ll find him in even the tiniest leaf stirring in the wind, the call of a bird or in the rosy glow of a sunset.

Artist Residency Mesa Verde National Park: Personal Archaelogy

Although it goes against my natural inclination to procrastinate,  I am packed and ready for my trip to Mesa Verde National Park early tomorrow morning. I have actually spent months in preparation; researching the Ancient Puebloan people, purchasing and testing out needed gear, getting into condition and learning the basics of operating my new camera. I even drug my suitcase down from the closet and started packing a week ago. I thought I was done but I had to make a last minute trip to Cabela’s due my brother’s advice last week. As a seasoned outdoorsman and wilderness canoer, he advised me not to wear cotton jeans or underwear into the back country unless I wanted to “have yer crotch rubbed raw if it rains.” I am now in possession of a $60.00 pair of lightweight, water wicking, sun shading hiking pants. Hey, I take my crotch seriously.

Bruce provided other sage advice on matters related to wilderness hiking. On the arid conditions found at the parks’s high altitude: “Drink lots of water. If yer not peein’, yer in trouble.” On managing dangerous wildlife:  Rattlesnakes: “Just watch where yer walkin’ for Pete’s sake.” On Bears : “Make yourself as big as possible, wave your arms and shout, and for Cripe’s sake, don’t run.” On Mountain Lions: “It does’t really matter what you do, by the time you hear one they are already on you and going for the juggler. Yer dead meat.”
One of the most compelling reasons I applied to do a residency at Mesa Verde was to be able to study the ancient people who inhabited this amazing region a thousand or so years ago. They built their sandstone dwellings first on the mesa tops and later inside cliff overhangs perched high above the valley floor. In a way, I will be able to fulfill my childhood dream of becoming an archaeologist. Studying the artifacts of ancient peoples in an attempt to learn about their culture and drawing similarities between their human experiences and our own both fascinates me and resonates in my art work. As I was packing I got to thinking about my own personal archaeology.
A few years ago, when my Dad was living in a nursing home, my brother and I spent over a month cleaning out his home and out buildings, in short, unearthing the artifacts of our father’s life. We came across many items that made us put down our brooms and just reminisce about our childhoods. I will be taking two of these items along with me on my journey, my Mom’s binoculars and my Dad’s Audubon bird book. They remind me of all the times my family spent camping and hiking. Bird watching was just one of the things we did to pass the time in the many state and national parks we visited over the years.
In our family, the worst two words in the English language were; “I’m bored.” The automatic response was, “find something to do or I’ll find something for you.” So while we camped my brother and I read (well, I did), collected leaves, shells, moss, etc., played cards, had contests to see who could roast the biggest marshmallow, hung around with other camp kids and whittled sticks and soap animals. My dad kept his pocket knife razor sharp due to his personal philosophy that you were less likely to get cut if it was sharp. Only one kid ever severed an artery. We all enjoyed the diversion of ride to the local emergency room immensely. So, as I head west tomorrow, even though they are no longer with us, I’ll be thinking of my parents and how much they would have enjoyed this trip. I’ll watch a bird or two for you guys.
Stay tuned for more western adventures. Ahhhhhh…. The American Southwest, where everyday is a good hair day.

Adventures of a Textile Artist Abroad

Caricature of a Textile Artist at a Wedding
No, I haven’t been abducted by space aliens or been lost at sea, but I have been too darn busy to write for quite some time. I spent much of the winter quilting and preparing for several solo exhibitions scheduled this year, getting ready for my son’s upcoming nuptials, settling in to a new position at work, and best of all, travelling. I just returned from a trip to Great Britain last month where I was the Matron (I hate that word, sounds so old) of Honor at my best friend’s wedding. More about that later. I have noticed that being a textile artist is somewhat like being a pregnant woman who notices babies everywhere she goes. Babies are cute, but wherever I go, I notice textiles. This trip started off with the purchase of some pretty high end textiles in the form of a custom order dress and hand dyed shoes.
The Road Less Travelled
I spent a month last October looking for the perfect dress to wear to Anne’s wedding, who by the way re-married her ex-husband after twenty some years of being divorced. After much trying on of elaborate textile confections, I settled on a design selected from a photo on the Internet. It was so new that samples were not available to try on when I visited the bridal stores. So, with blind faith, it was paid for and I settled in to wait out the four months required for it’s creation. I arrived at the store with baited breath for the fitting, and found the dress wrinkled and covered with loose thread ends that I meticulously clipped off. Considering the cost of the dress, surely the owners could have afforded to do this themselves. Other than that I was pleased. It was made of lace and silk in shades of cappuccino and mocha, quite pretty and just the ticket for this special event. The wedding was in Wales, so I had it pressed at a charming little bridal shop made of stone and slate in the tiny village of Cowbridge; it looked lovely. Meanwhile, the run up to the wedding day was filled with pampering and preparation. Chauffers drove us to appointments to get our hair done, to have french manicures, massages and spray-on tans. The last is not an experience I would recommend for the faint of heart.

Welsh Daffs
For this special event, I was ushered upstairs to a storage room containing a three sided camping tent. I was then asked to strip down, stand in the tent and hold out my arms and legs at various angles, while twirling in a circle, etc. as the attendant sprayed me in the face and everywhere else with a cold mist of slimy, sticky orange dye. I was then instructed to stand on a towel and flap my arms about for the next ten minutes to encourage the drying process. To complete this total degradation, the attendant was about 19 years old and appeared to be about a size two. She was probably thinking she did not get paid enough to do this kind of work and maybe she should please her parents and enroll in college after all. The whole experience enhanced my empathy for the inhabitants of Abugrabe Prison…the only thing missing was a few snarling German Shepherds!
Upon arriving in Wales I got a tour of the new marital abode, a country manor house, hey I was moving up in the world. I was introduced to my new bedroom and was pleased to be assigned the “Rose Room,” which overlooked the “back garden,” a 3 acre field dotted with ancient Elm trees. A pitcher of Welsh Daffodils graced the windowsill, as I arrived on St. David’s Day. Over my bed hung a quilt I made for Anne 4 years ago entitled, The Road Less Travelled. Since I had completely forgotten to document this work, I was happy to get a photo to add to my portfolio.

The Pump Room, Bath, England
A few days before the wedding Anne and I took an excursion to Bath, England which is about an hour an half away by train. As we exited the station and made our way towards the heart of Jane Austen territory, I spied a small sign hanging over the door of a little shop. After all these years I have developed a sixth sense about quilt shops, and sure enough, in this land of Roman England, Jane Austen and Georgian architecture I found myself perusing bolts of quilt fabric and purchasing a few fat quarters and some needles with self’-threading eyes for Anne. Oddly enough I had told her about them just that morning when she complained that she was having trouble sewing on a button because she couldn’t see to thread the needle. Following this textile adventure, we toured the lovely new museum at the Roman Baths and raised a glass of champagne to Jane Austen as we celebrated the upcoming nuptials and Anne’s Birthday with lunch at the Pump Room. As we walked around the corner to the loo, what should we find but a spectacular quilt about 15 feet long and ten feet high documenting all the royal lines of British Kings and Queens. It was a stunning work, but behind glass with a high glare so I was unable to photograph this amazing textile. (Note to self when making irreplacable pieces of art, spend a few extra quid on non-glare glass.)

So, you may be asking, what happened to the lovely silk and lace bridesmaid dress that traversed an ocean and back again to celebrate the wedding of a dear friend? I fear it is destined to become one of the world’s most expensive quilts. I HATE it! It was uncomfortable to wear and unflattering. Although I have gained some middle-aged weight, I still only wear a size 10 dress. However, in the wedding photos this little number made me look three sizes bigger, a woman truly deserving of the title MATRON. So it currently resides, rolled in a wad at the top of my closet, waiting to either be dry cleaned or cut up. Another adventure waiting to happen. Cheers!

The Adventurous Life of an Art Quilter???

Unless you are a quilter, you may be asking yourself how a person can actually use the words “quilt” and “adventure” in the same sentence? Yes, quilters bear the burden of being stereotyped as little old ladies who sit home alone with their sewing and their cats. But things have changed in the last century or so. OK, so I do have a cat, well three actually, but I don’t sit home alone. I like adventure. Perhaps that’s an odd admission from a person who is too afraid to ride a roller coaster, bungee jump, water ski, snow ski… well you get the picture. But I do like a challenge, so in the winter of 2006 I signed up to go on a quilting cruise to the Caribbean. I had never been on a cruise, and never been to the Caribbean… On top of that, I went by myself… alone! My friends and family were aghast.I flew down to Florida and spent a few days in Daytona with my son who drove me to Miami in his little sports car. I had a stylish ride. What a great start to my adventure. I checked into my room on board the ship and met the roommate that the cruise company had arranged for me. She turned out to be a very nice woman from California. So far, so good. Then we had to go on deck for a life boat drill, complete with life vests, life boats and whistles we could use should the ship go down in the dark. Gulp!! I’m starting to wish I hadn’t seen that movie, The Titanic. However, a few drinks and a trip through the 40 foot buffet line took the edge off my anxiety. The cruise was sponsored by Quilting Arts Magazine so I was looking forward to meeting Pokey Bolton, (who I later learned is a descendant of Pocahontas, hence the nickname Pokey), as well as the instructors hired to provide us with quilting seminars during the voyage: Leslie Riley, Laura Cater-Woods and Arlene Blackburn.

Lesley Riley


I am not a person that is easily impressed by fame. I think I could sit next to a celebrity on an airplane and hardly give them a second glance, unless perhaps there was smoke emanating from their shoe or lap. After all, they are just people like the rest of us and they look a whole lot smaller in real life. But I was going to get to meet Lesley Riley and Laura Cater-Woods for cripes sake! One of Laura’s art quilts was on the cover of the very first Quilting Arts magazine I ever saw, and I was totally in awe of her work. I can say that I was not ashamed to ask her for an autograph, and I was thrilled to bits when she commented on the quality of my first free motion quilting. After all, if Laura saw some potential in me, then maybe I could master this difficult technique. I was so celebrity struck that I forgot to take her picture.


Arlene Blackburn


I loved how the trip was organized. The two days at sea, were spent in the classroom with the other quilters taking seminars from world class instructors. The other days were filled with the adventure of five different ports of call. I should mention that one of the items on my personal bucket list was to climb on Mayan Ruins somewhere in the world, and low and behold, this was one of the options available on the cruise. But let me back up for a moment. The day before visiting the ruins in Mexico, we were scheduled to drop anchor in The Cayman Islands, so I signed up to go on a snorkeling “adventure.” Now, although I had a roommate, we were not really interested in the same things, so I went on all the day trips by myself. I had plenty of experience with snorkeling as a kid. Our neighbors had a swimming pool and we snorkeled practically every day of the summer. So this was going to be a piece of cake, right? Well, I have to say, as I am sitting on the deck of the boat, listening to the safety sermon about how to wear your gear, and not to worry about sharks because there aren’t any around here (right? don’t they watch those National Geographic specials?), I started to have a tiny bit of anxiety. After all, no one in the whole world knew I was sitting on this boat, except perhaps the folks that took my reservation back on the ship, and I figured they were pretty busy people who might not notice I hadn’t make it back until it was way too late. And then there was that movie I watched, about those two snorkelers who were left behind and died in Australia… never seen again. Well a true adventurer wouldn’t give it a second thought, and besides I paid a ton of money for this cruise, so by god I was jumping in.


Yipes! Although I had great memories of snorkeling as a kid, I had completely forgotten about nearly drowning in the neighbor’s pool. That little memory came flooding back about the time I hit the water. I was having difficulty breathing and kept swallowing copious amounts of sea water. I should mention that I had purchased a disposable underwater camera for the trip in order to capture a few Jacques Cousteau moments for posterity, and was determined to take some photos. Too afraid to stick my head in the water for more that two seconds at a time, I just held the camera below me and clicked the shutter. Upon development of the film, I was pleased to note that in addition to my feet, I did get several shots of fish and other sea life.

Now fast forward to the next day. I am sitting on the bus with nine other people on the way to the Mayan ruins, and now have a terrible sore throat and a fever, obviously the result of ingesting polluted salt water. But there is no way I am missing out on climbing those ruins. Our guide pulls out box lunches that contain tuna fish sandwiches and tells us to hold on to them until we reach the ruins, about an hour away. Now I used to be a microbiology technician, and I am already questioning the advisability of serving tuna fish in the tropics, but sit, as directed, with the sandwhich on my lap for an hour. As we exit the bus, we are told that there will be a lovely place to picnic at the end of the tour, again about another hour from now. I begin to calculate the time it takes for bacteria to reproduce and figure in another hour I could be vomiting, too. I decide to eat and walk at the same time. I am proud that I read the guide books and have liberally coated myself with heavy duty bug spray. No one else seems concerned about the mosquitoes. After I inform them that this is malaria country, I make several friends who want to share my heavy duty Deet. I am truly in awe of the ruins and am photographing them from every possible angle to get the best shot. Then I remember another Nat Geo episode about the crafty Fer de Lance snake that inhabits this area. I did not notice a first aid kit on the van. I begin to walk gingerly, but made it safely to the picnic grounds, which was on the bank of a breathtaking lagoon. I notice that no one is eating their picnic, apparently I am not alone in my opinion of the tuna fish. I am very glad to see a restroom, altough it is merely a hole in the ground with no doors. The roof is covered with palm fronds. The women take turns making sure the coast is clear from the males in our party. When it’s my turn, I start thinking about how those Fer de Lance snakes are reputed to hide in palm frond ceilings, then drop down onto their unsuspecting victims. Death come rapidly. In my hast, I manage to drop my brand new, and expensive sun glasses down the hole. I decide to view this loss as a sacrifice to the gods that keep me safe from snake bite. Despite what you may think, I had the trip of a lifetime. And you thought quilting was for little old ladies!

What I Did on My Summer Vacation – Part One

Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park, San Diego
It has been a mad house around here lately. A lot of commitments at work, preparation for a solo show, trying to keep up with the yard, etc., so I really needed a break. This year it was California here I come. If you are a woman of a certain age, perhaps you had a big crush on the Beach Boys as a teen, I sure did.
Torrey Pines State Park, La Jolla
Living in the middle of Ohio, about the closest we came to an ocean was Lake Erie, so California had a certain cache for all the kids in my neighborhood. We wore beach attire, listened to songs about woodies and little deuce coops and rode our skate boards on our flat as a pancake geography and imagined we knew what it was to ride the big one with Gidget and the Big Kahuna. I dreamed of being a “California Girl.” When I actually met a real person from California, I was in the ninth grade. She was frankly pretty square (as if I wasn’t?) but it didn’t matter, she was from that magical state and must have achieved Nirvana at the age of 14.

San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla
Anyway, my son and his girlfriend moved to San Diego last fall so she could enter a doctorate program, and he hasn’t been able to wipe the smile off his face since. When I ask him on the phone how the weather is, he just giggles and tells me it’s 70 degrees and sunny…it’s always 70 degrees and sunny. I stayed for four days and was able to see a lot of interesting things. La Jolla was beautiful, I loved Torrey Pines State Park. We went hiking and the views of the Pacific Ocean were stunning, as well as the pines themselves, which are extremely rare and very photogenic. The hills were covered with succulents and apparently also sprinkled with two varieties of rattle snakes, which we luckily did not see… or hear.

Harbor Seals in La Jolla Cove
We also visited the San Diego Museum of Modern Art. They had one of Andy Goldworthy’s cairns on the lawn. If you don’t know who Andy is, you’ve got to check him out on google. He is the most amazing sculptor who uses only natural material like vines and rocks in the most spectacular ways. When I got home I reserved as many of his books as I could find, as well as a video documentary about him from the public library. Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of his work in La Jolla.

San Diego Museum of Modern Art in La Jolla.
We also drove to a wine growing area called Temecula, about on hour north of San Diego and tasted wine all day. I had my fair share, but at least half of what I tasted was dumped in a jar designed for just such a purpose. We also visited the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park. I had been dying to visit the Japanese Garden there and it was very peaceful and calming.
No trip would be complete without including textiles somehow. This time I visited the Quilt Visions Gallery not far from Dan Diego Bay, and was really impressed. The gallery is dedicated to art quilts only, and three artists were exhibiting, including Valerie Goodwin. I have seen photos of her work in SAQA bulletins and Quilting Arts magazine, but let me tell you, photos just do not show the amazing layering and detail of her work. The women that run the gallery are volunteers and like all the quilters I’ve met, were very friendly and informative. They let me know that anyone can join Quilt Visions and have the opportunity to apply to their shows. They also had a nice gift shop with hand dyes, books etc. I bought an art quilt pendant that I can’t wait to wear. I also got a hot tip on a fabric store called Rosie’s, but ran out of steam and money before I could get there. Next trip it will be at the top of my list. Anyway, I did a little California dreaming and came home rejuvenated and ready to get back in the studio and back to work.