Botanical Themes

At the Huntington Gardens, in an exhibition of wildflower paintings and drawings titled “When They Were Wild: Recapturing California’s Wildflower Heritage,” I saw rooms full of flowers – from fairy orchids to countless depictions of California poppies.

It struck me how many images, both botanical drawings and flower portraits, had flowers painted over background landscapes, or field notes written right on the page, or included accession stamps (because they are from a library’s collection). Those thoughts were in my mind when I got home and received an invitation to participate in “A Drawing Invitational Exhibition Exploring the Botanical Theme of Plant Life.”

And so was my slightly overgrown garden (now in its eighth summer and much in need of attention after so much gardener-away time). In truth there are only stalwarts in my garden, anything delicate has been engulfed, or harassed by slugs or, if outside the fence, devoured by deer. I love the stalwarts – nepeta, lavender, rosemary, a giant sage – so do the bees.

My gardening nowadays is pulling out, weed whacking the grass growing in gravel, and reclaiming edges. The garden is mostly textures of Washington green, all winter boney trees and ferns, the varied leaves of hellebore and pulmonaria, a one or two pleasures at time sort of place, daffodils and tulips in their season, ripe fruit in the autumn. When I belatedly bought some rudbeckia, cosmos, and a new geranium,the clerk at the garden center said: “Ah, color!”

It was a pleasure to think about making drawings, and I carved a stamp to be a border for text, thinking I’d like to make garden notes inside it. I knew that I’d like to draw what survives here – one for the invitational and all to post here for the next few weeks!

garden notes to follow

A Thank You!

To Vicki Lane! I was so delighted to read the post Vicki wrote about “The Year in Flowers” on her blog (! Last winter I sent Vicki a copy of my book, now nearly 20 years past publication, just for fun and in recognition of blog friendship, so I was completely surprised to see photos of it in my daily peruse of Vicki’s blog.

Vicki inspires me by the discipline she shows in making daily posts. Unless teaching a class away from home, she never misses, and I’m always intrigued by her mystery writer life in North Carolina – so very, very far from the Pacific Northwest. I wrote about Vicki’s blog here.

Thank you Vicki – I was touched and appreciative!

The Workroom – Fall 2013 – An Invitation

If you are curious about pursuing a creative project of your own in the company of similarly directed people, please consider joining The Workroom’s fall session. The course starts in a month and will run for six weeks from September 9 to October 18. I’m excited to start thinking about a new group this fall!

Sometimes it’s lonely to do creative work on one’s own – and a collaborator in our particular endeavor isn’t always possible. The Workroom is a little like childhood’s “parallel play,” because each participant brings a project at whatever stage it exists – whether early or needing some infusion of energy to complete – and is supported by the other participants and me.

Colleagues waiting, even if only virtually, for us to show up and do what we set out to do is very inspiring. Last year’s participants often discovered new things by putting a plan into words and beginning on a path toward accomplishing creative work. Being part of a supportive group makes for accountability and provides inspiration and stamina.

This session offers a bonus! Each participant who completes the course will receive one of my foldbooks – this one inspired by lessons from The Workroom!

More details are available in past blog posts (here and here). On my website you will find comments from past participants. I would love to include you! The group is small, so please sign up now if you are ready or let me know if you are thinking about joining us. If I can answer any questions, please email me (

September is a great time for back to class! In the meantime I hope you are having a wonderful summer, full of outdoor time, friends, and family!

Workroom foldbook cover

Summer Meals

Mark Bittman, in his new cookbook, “VB6: Eat Vegan Before Six to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health,” writes about his successful weight loss – achieved by eating vegan on a part-time basis. Bittman increased his eating of fruits and vegetables and eliminated processed and animal foods during the day, but could be indulgent and eat whatever he wanted after 6 p.m.

The recipes in the book are mainly vegan, and his ratatouille has become my go-to dish for this time of year. The CSA and farmers’ markets provide green goodness by the armful, and this recipe wants to include all that zucchini and broccoli, all those green beans.

Summer cooking should be easy, and this good dish has such easy prep! At Downtown Abbey we made a version of the ratatouille by roasting the vegetables first – delicious! But at home I cooked the vegetables on the top of the stove – a little quicker this way:

Combine onions and one or more of the green vegetables above (what you have on hand) with a goodly amount of olive oil, also peppers or eggplant if you want. Cook gently for a while. Add a can of drained and rinsed garbanzo beans and canned tomatoes (I used two cans of diced tomatoes, but fresh would be great). Bittman suggests including thyme or marjoram for herbs. Rice is nice along side.

Another summer meal comes from the wordsmith, and I’m going to share her email, because this dish sounds so unusual, so easy and delicious (and a good way to use the broccoli bounty!):

“Yesterday I made a chilled broccoli soup with the CSA produce. Chopped up the broccoli and braised it (without stirring) for 5 minutes in olive oil. Removed it from the pot and then sautéed an onion. Put the broccoli back in the pot with the onion and added 2 cups of water, simmered for half an hour until the broccoli was fork-tender, then used an immersion blender to moosh it all. Added 1/4 cup of fresh, chopped dill and the juice of a lemon, some sea salt. Put it in the fridge till it was cold. No dairy, no stock. Wow was it ever good, and so filling!”

Thanks wordsmith – I’m trying this!

green beans

Needlework in Southern California – A Sampling

On a quick trip to California to see our younger son and his sweet bride, we had great visit to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. All the gardens were open and full of bloom, although there is much construction of a new visitor center.

An exhibition titled “Useful Hours: Needlework and Painted Textiles from Southern California Collections” (up until September 2nd) featured samplers, pictorial or plain, from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, stitched mostly by girls or young women. The exhibit also included examples of elaborate needle skills using wool or embroidery floss on coats of arms, family trees, mourning pictures, and pockets (clothing lacked pockets, making detachable pockets useful).

The gallery guide says: “Because they represent rare examples of work designed and made by women, samplers are also valued today for the extraordinary insight they offer into the early training, daily lives, and social and cultural values of American women in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.”

I recognize the historical nature of this exhibition (the pieces were made between 1763 and 1844 – see examples here), but perhaps the curators missed a bet by not flashing forward and including contemporary work.

I am thinking specifically of Lisa Borgnes Giramonti, an artist keeping this medium alive in a particularly So Cal, Hollywood way. After viewing the predictable homilies of the traditional samplers, it would have been fun to see a glimpse of the contemporary and cheeky samplers from Lisa’s show titled “Stitching Up the Noughties.”

Lettered in silk embroidery floss on burlap, the needlework offers her insights into the “daily lives, and social and cultural values of American women” early in this century. She is irreverent and wry and witty. To make it clear these are contemporary samplers, here’s a favorite text from Lisa’s sampler titled “On Being Realistic”:

“In days gone by,

a work like mine

Would have admirers

All in line.

No more are home arts

prized like rubies,

Today we must have

perky boobies.” (Lisa Borgnes Giramonti 2009)

You can see some of her samplers by following the link on her popular design blog “A Bloomsbury Life” or  here and learn about Lisa’s book due in 2014, “A design book about how our favorite novels (by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh and many, many more can help us live a more stylish and meaningful life”).

I’m looking forward to it!