Flowers ... paper and otherwise
Last week I received a beautiful gift from a friend ... a handmade paper box with cut paper roses adorning the lid. In the note she sent along with the box, she talked of the Victorian meaning of flowers ... roses in particular. They hold meaning for love, honor, faith, beauty, balance, passion, wisdom, and intrigue.
My friend's flowers reminded me of the collage work I've done with flowers, much of it inspired by collage artist Mary Delany. Born in 1700, she started her collage work at age 72(!) where it's now exhibited at The British Museum.
Delany's work was especially striking with black backgrounds and vivid colors.
The floral arrangement above mimics Delany's style with the black background, but with natural materials. You can try it yourself by deconstructing and arranging just a few flowers (this arrangement is a lily, a daisy, some greens, and a small yellow flower I can no longer identify). Make your arrangement on black paper or some other background ... just be mindful of working outside and the breeze, it will wreak havoc with your petals (yes, that's the voice of experience).
If you remember, a few weeks ago, I talked about wanting to create larger work and I think I've found a new direction. Three-dimensional paper flowers. Big ones! I'm so excited.
But I must be patient. The supplies I need are not available locally, so I'm waiting for them to arrive in a few days and hope to have something to show next week.
And remember, it's not too late to start something new. Mary Delaney did at 72 and from what I've read about her, it changed her life.
Let's get going.
Making something from nothing
My mother used to make lampshades. Mostly hand-stitched silks shades with fringe. They're beautiful. She also did a turn with paper shades featuring cutouts as well as vintage florals, butterflies, and birds collaged on parchment papers.
She no longer makes shades but still has the vintage papers. When she and my sister were clearing things, they asked if I might be interested in them.
While I usually use painted sheet music in my collage work, I'm really enjoying the challenge and change of working with different materials.
I'm not sure if it's a fanciful flower or butterfly floral? Doesn't really matter, I can't stop.
Yesterday I created more. And in the process relished the satisfaction of making.
For well over an hour I sat snipping papers, switching one flower for another, digging deep into the pile of papers, tilting my head from left to right analyze the layout before settling on the best possible arrangement, then gluing things in place.
It took most of the afternoon before I talked myself into sitting down at my desk to get started, and am so glad I finally got there.
Of course gluing papers in place may not be your idea of fun, but whatever it is, I encourage you to sit down, stand up, or do whatever it takes to get going. I think you'll be glad you did.
Not much snap and even less ginger
When the recipe for gingersnaps called for more ground cinnamon than ground ginger, I questioned it. Seems a recipe for gingersnaps should call for more ginger than cinnamon, right?
I love to bake, especially cookies, and I've been looking for recipes that are a little more substantial, with less sugar (I know, it's a cookie, they are inherently sweet). Anyway, I found a recipe to try, but did raise an eyebrow when it called for more cinnamon than ginger.
I decided to follow the recipe as it was written, and no surprise, they tasted like cinnamon cookies ... and not at all snappy.
But I wanted to try again, this time eliminating the cinnamon altogether, doubling the ground ginger, and adding fresh ginger.
They're still not snappy, but that's OK, I like them ... and even the one who usually raises an eyebrow at my "crunchy granola" experiments likes them.
While I have no idea how the science of baking works, like why we use baking soda vs. baking power (or with these cookies, add both), I knew I could eliminate the ground cinnamon, replace it with ground ginger, and add the fresh ... from lots of other baking experiments.
Learning without even trying
It's why I love hobbies. We get to learn and experiment while doing the things we want to do. To follow our interest as long as we want. Or quit if that feels better ... which is why I like to bake cookies, not bread.
What are your favorite hobbies ... and which were your one-and-done?
Let me know!
Not sure where this is going, but it was fun getting to where we are
All of my collage work is relatively small. I snip and cut some pieces of paper that, if they drop from my scissors, can be hard to find on the table.
Sometimes they're stuck to the scissors; other times my hand; ocassionally they stick to the glue itself, embedded in the top of the glue stick; and then there are those that seem to vanish ... lost forever.
For a while I've thought of making larger collage pieces, but how?
Cutting larger shapes from the sheet music I paint wasn't working. It's too thin and I couldn't make sense of it. But what about cutting the shapes from cardboard shipping and storage boxes?
Trying something different
The barred owl is about a foot tall. He's a bit long in the beak, and there are things I'd change, but overall, not bad for a first go.
When I took it outside for photographs, I thought ... anyone who sees me will think I'm crazy. And then I thought ... who gives a hoot?!
I don't know what will become of my larger collage work, or this owl friend of mine, but I do know it brought me immense pleasure just to make it.
And sometimes, that's all that matters.
The other day when I was feeling restless, not sure what to do with myself, I knew the best thing to do would be to do something.
Presenting myself with a new challenge meant I had to work with new materials, and endure some frustration and challenges. But it I'm glad I did it. I know more than I did and looking at the owl makes me smile.
What a hoot!
July is Anti-boredom Month and it seems the best cure for boredom is action.
Making, doing, and learning.
It's also inevitable. We're all bored at one time or another. The question is, what will you do to get un-bored?
Unsolicited but welcome advice from my neighbor, Charlie
It wasn't the first bit of advice from Charlie, but I remember it because I realized how much I had to learn.
"Them there are pole beans." he said, "You need to put a pole in the ground so they can climb."
We were standing in the backyard admiring (well, I was admiring) my first vegetable garden. Things had started to sprout and Charlie spotted the green beans.
While I was well aware they were green beans, I missed the "pole" part. He was right. They needed poles to climb.
I pushed three poles into the ground and watched them twist, turn, and reach new heights every week.
The next summer he got me with a bit of a joke.
It was this time of year, early July, when he came out back and said, "July fourth's come and gone, time to put the storm windows back on."
My eyes widened and his twinkled as he let loose a big smile and a chuckle.
It was a bit of an exaggeration, but there was some truth in what he said. Summer is fleeting. How do we make the most of it?
What are your must-have and want-to-do activities this summer?
How do you remember and squeeze in all the things you want to do?
Use Tinplate, the new activity journal.
Use Tinplate, to find inspiration, track, and record the best that summer has to offer. It's an activity journal filled with stories and prompts to boost your curiosity and encourage you to do more with the time you have between the things you have to do for the things you want to do.
It's available now!
I think you'll like it.
With the exception of the issue I bought a few months ago, the only time I read Highlights magazine was at the dentist's office when I was a kid. I loved the idea of stories and projects and puzzles in a magazine.
It was the same with the early editions of Martha Stewart's Living magazine ... a curated collection of ideas, inspiration ... and activities.
The transformative power of hobbies ...
When I was 14 years old, home alone and bored, I discovered the transformative power of activities. Of doing ... something.
That day it was making oatmeal cookies.
Since then I've had a go at sewing (definitely a good skill to have), fishing (not for me), ice skating (no camel spins or leaps, but I cut a fairly good figure eight), skiing (all set with that), snowshoeing (a keeper), gardening (which way to the farmers market?), hiking (I'll take a day hike, but there will be no Appalachian Trail for me), and lots of other things.
Some experiences (like letter writing, baking, and collage) became long-lasting efforts, others one-and-done.
But all along, what I've enjoyed most is how the doing makes me feel.
Be they long-lasting, short-lived, or complete failures, our hobbies, passions, and distractions leave us better informed, more confident, and happier for having tried.
And because of that, I believe it's in the doing, the learning, and exploring where we find our best selves.
What is Tinplate?
Tinplate, a 32-page activity book that feels like a long letter packed with ideas for things to do and try.
Ideas I think you'll like.
Why the name Tinplate?
Tinplate is a layer of tin applied to steel or other metal to protect against rust and corrosion. And that, I believe, is what our hobbies, passions, and distractions do for us. They are a layer of joy, distraction, and renewed curiosity between us and a sometimes hectic world.
I believe hobbies, passions, and distractions are the waystations of life. They offer the respite and opportunity we need to do the things we want to do ... in between the things we have to do.
July is Anti-boredom Month, the perfect time to launch Tinplate ... get your copy today!
It was so cold on our walk this morning, we weren't surprised to see five ducklings huddled together on the edge of the pond. They jostled and poked and climbed on one another until settling into mound of down ... fluffy, warm, and camouflaged.
Last week I mentioned my new project, Tinplate, No. 1, a summer activity book dedicated to hobbies, passions, and distractions. It's nearly ready, but before I can say it's done, I need to test some of the activities and take photographs. This morning I created natural mandalas from foraged materials on our walk.
This red maple mandala came about from the whirligigs (or helicopters if that's what you call them) that have littered the landscape for weeks. They've finally stopped falling and until today I'd only seen them as a nuisance.
We were standing in line ... a woman, a young boy, a girl about five-years-old, and me. The little girl wore a blue sun hat; a pink-and-white striped one-piece outfit with short sleeves and pant legs cut just above the knee; along with just-below-the-knee hot pink rubber rain boots.
I said hello. The little girl looked at me and held her gaze.
"I like your outfit," I said.
She looked down at her boots, put one hand on her belly, looked up and said, "It's a bathing suit."
"Even better." I said, "I'd like a bathing suit like that."
Without missing a beat, she said, "Too bad."
Yes, it is ... especially since earlier in the day I'd been considering a personal challenge this summer ... a swimming challenge. I love to swim and at the end of last summer realized I had gone swimming once.
We are surrounded by rivers, lakes, and the ocean(!) and I managed to swim only once. Yes the ocean water is frigid, but still, once?
This summer I want to change that. Not sure how I'll organize the challenge, but I'm hoping my new activity book, Tinplate, will help me, and you, do more of what we like this summer.
Tinplate No. 1 is a 32-page summer activity book filled with ideas, prompts, challenges, and plenty of space to write about what you've done and what you want to do ... all summer long.
In the meantime, tell me, what you like most about summer?
Are there foods, activities, destinations, or traditions you look forward to when summer rolls around?
I'd love to know.
Yesterday we stopped to
chat with Mac Daddy --
a man of few words who
walks with his dog, Mac.
We call him Mac Daddy
because we don't really know
him—or his name, but were once
introduced to the dog, Mac.
We crossed paths on the trail
in the woods out by the
We said—isn't it a beautiful day.
He said—yes it is.
We said it was good to be
out in the woods on such
a nice day.
He said he's been walking
out in the woods on the trail
Said his wife grew up
in the neighborhood.
Said they courted out there --
all "kissie face and huggy bear."
We parted with lingering laughs
and silly smiles, giddy with
conversation about what
people you hardly know
will tell you.
My life's not that interesting.
That's what someone wrote in the comment section of a memoir survey I sent a while ago.
It's not what I expected, and I don't believe it's true.
After all, what makes an interesting life to one person may not be interesting to another. Is an interesting life one with lots of travel? A successful career? Life on a farm? Sailing around the world? Lots of dinner parties and dancing?
Any one of those things might fill your days, but I'm not sure that would guarantee a good memoir. What makes a good memoir is your take on the world ... how you see things, and why they matter.
Your perspective is what people want to read about.
I like to write about the unexpected, curious ways the commonplace can (and does) surprise and shape me.
Memoirs that offer a behind-the-scenes look at how someone created or experienced something can be reassuring, educational, and inspiring.
The stories that resonate with people are the ones they can relate to ... stories that remind them about something they've experienced ... or want to experience.
Where you go and what you see.
So don't worry about whether or not you have an interesting life. Where you go with your writing and memoir is more about what you see and how something made you feel; sharing what you learned, and the joys, and frustrations you experienced. That's what people want to read about.
The stories you tell could be about the pets you've had and what you learned from them, your first job, how you started your business, or what it was like that first and only time you went to summer camp. It's the common experiences, disappointments, successes, and life affirming joy that people are looking to connect with.
When I re-read some of the stories I've written, they remind me of different times in my life; a life filled with curiosity and attention to detail. And that's what matters, no matter where or how you live your life.
What did you see? How did it make you feel? What did you learn?
Write about that.
Years ago I met a friend for a walk in the woods on a trail neither one of us had ever walked.
There was snow on the ground and the trail blaze, a white swash of paint on the tree trunks, was difficult to see against the snowy landscape. With each twist and turn, we had to look, really look, and concentrate to find the next marker.
Next Saturday is National Trails Day and it reminded me of that walk. And that reminded me of how hard it can be to see the good that exists in this ever changing, often difficult world.
So I decided to do something about it.
I created a good things journal ... to start a trail of good.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about that journal in my Sunday newsletter and a few of you said you were going to start a good things journal. If you've been thinking about it, but haven't started yet, don't have a book to write in, or find the idea of filling an entire journal a bit overwhelming, try this: the Good Things Zine.
A zine (pronounced zeen) is a mini book. You can download and print it ... the whole thing is on one side of one sheet of standard printer paper, folded into a book.
If you're not sure how to fold a zine, here's a link to a short video. I've included a dotted line to help you know where you need to cut the paper. And as you fold, be sure to fold edge to edge and create crisp, accurate folds. It will make a difference in the final steps.
I hope you'll make one and blaze your own trail of good things. Print, fold, and fill one. Then make another.
I never dreamed of being a tap dancer, so I was surprised, a few years ago, when the listing for “Tap Dance: Beginner” caught my eye. The schedule was good (Saturday mornings from 10:00 - 11:00), and the price was reasonable: $12/lesson for drop-in, less if you sign up for the full eight week session, and shoes. Shoe prices start at $25, though for beginners smooth-soled shoes were acceptable.
But I wanted the shoes.
It took three orders to get a pair that fit properly and I was ready.
Or at least I thought I was.
I was dizzy after the first class, excited after the second, and felt doubt creeping in after the third. The fourth class was the best. We learned new steps and the routine at the end brought things together nicely. I felt like I was starting to get it.
But it didn't last. Partly because the class moved too quickly for me to keep up, and then the pandemic hit.
Starting a new hobby is an exciting adventure. But it can also be rife with doubt, confusion, and questions.
• What does it cost to get started?
• Are you willing (or able) to make the investment?
• Can (or will) you commit the time it will take to master whatever it is?
All of these questions are important, but what I've learned is, we can't know until we try. And when we do, it may just lead to something else.
Is tap dance for me? I don’t think so. But I'm glad I gave it a go. And the shoes? I haven't parted with them ... yet.
Are there hobbies you've tried that have or haven't worked out as expected?
I'm working on a series of field guides ... interactive workbooks to help you explore new hobbies and interests. The first is slated for next month: all about summer. Ideas to feed your curiosity, help you step away from technology and explore the world around you.
What do you look forward to when summer arrives? Tell me about what it is and why you enjoy it.
Alarm bells sounded high and low, all around the pond. From a distance we heard the persistent screech of the blue jay, then the urgent squawk of a duck, and as we neared the pond, the bong-bong call of the frogs.
What, we wondered, was going on?
Stopping at the edge of the pond, we scanned the water, the trees, and the sky, listening and looking.
And then we saw it. A big owl, a Barred Owl (yes, we had to look that up when we got home), perched in a tree on the edge of the pond.
I'm not sure if the frogs were sounding an alarm, mating, or doing what frogs do, but the duck and the blue jay were visibly agitated. The ducked paddled frantically from one area to the next squawking all the way. The blue jay, in full screech with fanned tail, was swooping down at the owl ... from the left, then right, again and again and again.
But that owl.
Talk about composure. It flicked an ear and spun its head at the bluejay's aggressive fly-by graze, but otherwise it remained still. Focused.
Fascinating stuff ... and the final entry for the day in yesterday's good things journal:
3. the owl in the woods
I started the good things journal last month. A list of three good things I see, experience, do, or feel during the day. Every day.
It's a matter of semantics, really. Like me, you've probably seen the prompts to keep a gratitude journal (and maybe you already do), but somehow that never materialized for me.
Until I read about a "good things list."
It's simple. I keep a small notebook and pencil within ready, on a table in the living room. The idea is to make a list of three different good things you experience every day. Short entries, a few words each.
Here are some of the entries I've made (with the original numbering):
3. clean sheets
4. trip to the library
5. takeout pizza from Otto
2. raking the yard
1. the sun is shining
2. almond flour chocolate chip cookies
4. Wordle in two
1. a good night's sleep
2. got the laundry done
3. the own in the woods
Like the owl, despite the unexpected swoop of outside influences, I've remained focused.
One entry at a time ... on the good.
And yes, it feels good.
Sometimes I write one thing at a time as it comes to me during the day, other times I write my list at the end of the day. And more often than not, once I get started, I'll remember something and add that to the list, coming up with not just three, but four or five, sometimes six or seven good things about my day. Not monumental, over-the-top exciting things, but small pleasures that, in remembering and recognizing them, make it a better day ... today and tomorrow.
It seems I just can't help myself. Every time I make pancakes, which isn't all that often, I use the end of the batter to make heart shaped pancakes ... for anyone who's getting a plate. Doesn't matter how old you are.
Last week I made pancakes, and when I put the plates on the table (for just the two of us), there were smiles all around, including mine.
It's a silly thing and I sometimes say, nah, don't bother ... or, that's for kids, don't be so goofy. But then I do it anyway ... because even though it's silly and a bit corny, it shines some extra light on the day.
So let's not worry about being silly or corny or sappy(!) and do it anyway because it feels good ... no matter how old you are.
We never had a dog when I was growing up. There were a few cats, a snake even, but never a dog.
I can't even recall knowing any one dog all that well, but there came a day when I wanted one.
So I went looking for one, talked about getting one, did my research on bringing a dog home, and finally got one. A basset hound.
Why a basset hound? I think it was the ears. They have big, beautiful ears. Velvety ears. And they are solid dogs, well-tempered, and laid-back.
Unfortunately, they are not great about walking in a straight line, moving along from here to there ... at least not Agatha. Nope, she'd walk a few paces and stop. Sniff, move on, and stop again.
After reading the most popular and recommended books about having a dog, I understood the importance of daily exercise, and made sure we went out. Every day. We went in the woods and around the neighborhood, but it was always the same ... a herky-jerky trek from here to there.
Now, granted, I wanted a dog that was easy-going, but when it was time to get her out for some exercise, it became an exercise in frustration. For me and the dog.
The frustration, I realized, came from expecting Agatha to power walk, get moving, and do what I wanted her to do ... to go against her nature. Bassets are after all, scent hounds. Sniffing is what they do. Once I figured that out, I enjoyed our time outside.
What I learned
I learned to take myself for a walk first ... alone. And to accept what Agatha was teaching me ... to slow down and notice things.
In the coming weeks, I'll be releasing a new picture book, Things I Notice When I Walk The Dog.
It's a picture book memoir. Agatha's legacy ... and part of mine.
Think memoir's not for you?
If you think memoir is not for you, think again. People love stories and you've got some good noes.
Stories you can share in a collection or how-to book.
Remember, memoir is not an account of your entire life. It's the account of an experience or event where some kind of understanding, lesson, or insight occurred.
How did you get started doing what you do? What does someone entering the field you're in need to know? What do you wish you knew? Share it and help someone in the same position.
Have you completed a self-initiated challenge where you learned something you didn't expect?
What do you do in your spare time? Are you a mast chef, a marathon runner, or member of a band? What's that like? Let us know.
Your insights and experiences are unique. And that's why we want your take on how it's done and why it matters.
Once you get started, you'll be surprised a what you can share.
Writing about your experiences can feel self-indulgent or out of reach in the beginning, but you tell stories all the time. The challenge is putting them down on paper.
Want to ease into writing? Check out these new tools.
The Hello Dahlia! printable stationery and journal papers.
If you're working on a project, hang in there. Try something different. But most of all, don't give up. Give it time.
This cactus is my only plant. I'm fairly certain the only reason it survives is that it is a cactus and it doesn't need a lot of water. And that's a good thing, because I forget to water it.
All the time.
Dry as a bone when I take it down off the shelf. So I water it and talk to it and earnestly try once again to remember not to let it go so long.
It was a little starter plant when I brought it home. Just a few sprigs. But it was healthy. It blossomed and flowered ... and maybe even more than once a year, I think.
Is that possible?
When it grew too large for the starter pot, I re-potted it ... and then again when it outgrew that pot. It did well and continued to flower. Year after year.
Until it didn't.
It just stopped flowering and I don't know why. I talked to it, I paid more attention to watering and fertilizing, and did some research. But nothing. For years.
I tried moving it from one room to another, some with more light, some with less, but it never made a difference. Last year I put it in yet another location, high up on the top of a book case.
And something shifted.
It came back to life with a whole bouquet's worth of flowers. More plentiful, joyful, pink, and beautiful than ever.
Was it a fluke? Would it flower again? I wasn't sure.
It was not a fluke. It blossomed again this year with another round of fireworks ... new blossoms opening day after day.
I'm not sure what made it stop flowering, and I'm not sure what made it blossom again, but it reinforces the idea that we have to hang in there. Keep trying different things until something clicks.
I heard the train this morning, just like I hear it every morning.
It rumbles through the woods at the end of the street at the same time my alarm sounds ... 5 o'clock sharp. Every day.
Some days I wake before the alarm and hear the train, some days I hear it after the alarm. But they always sound within seconds of one another.
This morning it made me think of New Year resolutions ... and how I've decided I'm not going to make any.
No, instead, I'm going to make like the train and create a schedule. And stick to it.
There's a schedule when the train leaves and when it arrives. No vacillating. No saying, "Eh, I think I'll hang here for another hour or so and leave when I'm ready."
That's how it gets from one place to another.
There are places I want to go (literally and figuratively) and hobbies I want to try, and the only way to get there is to stick to the schedule and the plan. Sure, things may change and adjustments can be made, but once it's decided, the train will leave the station when it's suppose to.
Are there places you want to go? Let's get there together.
Our local meteorologist makes visits to local schools ... often very early in the morning.
Last week he made an appearance at one school at 5:30 a.m.(!) and gathered a group of shy, sleepy, hands-in-pockets grammar school students and asked them, "What do you like most about Thanksgiving?"
The first few weren't sure what to say and simply shrugged their shoulders. The next student, one ... who had a minute or two to think, said "family," which was followed by, "all the food."
The next few mimicked the previous answers, but the last kid in line ... the one who had the most time to think, had the best answer, "I like wishing on the wishbone."
I love that he said that, I love how he phrased it ... and I love the sentiment behind it.
Whether you'll be wishing on a wishbone or giving thanks in some other way, I want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.
And as Thanksgiving week gets underway, I want to say ...
I am thankful for you!
It means so much when you write comments, open my emails, and like my posts.
If you're interested in making note of what you're thankful for this Thanksgiving, click on the image above or right here, to download and print the "Today I Am Thankful for ..." sheet. There are two to a sheet so you can print extras for yourself ... and others.
What's your favorite thing about Thanksgiving?
But does it hold water?
I can't remember the name or subject of the class, but when I was in high school, one of our assignments was to give a demonstration speech.
One boy brought in a hockey stick and explained how to put a curve to the blade. It was a hat-trick* presentation ... 1) he was prepared, 2) he delivered his presentation with enthusiasm, and 3) with before and after hockey sticks on hand, he had relevant, engaging props. Even though I've never played hockey, I enjoyed the presentation.
When it was my turn, I initiated a hands-on origami exercise. The class followed along and we all folded a square sheet of paper into a cup. I recall some murmuring and a few moans and groans when I passed out the paper, but I won them over when I poured water from a pitcher into my cup and demonstrated that it would in fact, hold water.
It was the start of an origami obsession.
My next goal was to fold an origami crane and when I had that figured out, I challenged myself to fold one without looking at the directions. Still can.
Today is World Origami Day. If you want to ease into the art of origami, learn how to fold a cup that holds water: get your instructions here.
*In hockey, a hat-trick is when one player scores three goals in a single game. That kid put it in the net.
Some still hang
bright and red
others make like
polka dots, red on
The ones that
fill the gutter
line up like bowling
balls in the automated
Is it the imperfections,
or it it because they're not
already picked, in a bag,
in a store?
I wish it was my