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Archive for January, 2009

Gloria’s poem

IMG Last week I watched the Inauguration with my friends Esther and Gloria. What a moving experience that was! To think that they have lived, especially 99-year-old Esther who grew up in the deep, segregated South, to see Barack Obama become our President. Gloria grew up in Yonkers and went to integrated schools, but played with white children only at school.

A few days ago, Gloria sent me a copy of a poem she had published in The Carolina Quarterly in 1960, nearly 50 years ago. It is so perfectly appropriate right now that, with her permission, I’m going to share it with you.

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Isn’t that a glorious affirmation of our country? “I,” of  mixed racial and multinational background, she asserts, “I am America.”

From the back of one of her books:

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Don’t go away, friends, I will post on stitching SOON. Get back on topic. I promise.

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Anne’s vision

Yesterday I had a delightful visit with my daughter-in-love, Anne. First, we had lunch at a nearby Indian restaurant. Then, back home, Anne talked about her new business, Transform Fitness. In March she will be opening her own fitness studio. Nothing like the other gyms and fitness facilities you’ve see, Anne’s studio is based on a totally new concept of lifestyle change for the whole family. No one works out alone. All sessions are scheduled with a trainer or counselor or massage therapist, and small groups working together with a trainer or as support groups are encouraged.

What Anne wants to create is a community of people of all ages, including infants, who want to live a healthier, more fit, life. I’m excited about her ideas and the comprehensiveness of the services she will offer. Do go to her website. Here I’m going to show you her business card, brochure, and self-evaluation form.

Front and back of the card.

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Cover of the promotional/information brochure.

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Isn’t that a great design?

philosophy

The statement of philosophy reads:

“We are an integrated team of professionals who provide targeted training, healing therapies, and direct support for individuals of all ages and needs so that they will achieve vibrant and healthy lifestyles.”

services

Everyone gets an individually-prescribed program. There are even specific-sports-related training regimens. And protocols for pregnant women; moms and their babies together; and moms, dads, and babies. Services include adult exercise, massage and healing arts therapies, lifestyle and wellness coaching (with emphasis on weight management), and programming for kids of all ages.

Anne was the director of physical education at a Montessori school, and she brings that experience to this new venture.

process

Folks, this is the gold standard for fitness services. All the staffers are highly qualified and credentialed, as you can see at the website. The studio has been designed to Anne’s specifications and it includes an exercise room, a meditation/meeting room, kitchen, bathrooms, changing rooms–all sunlit and all natural. It’s under construction now.

evaluation

Five pages of self-evaluation and personal information, leading to a statement of goals, followed by an interview, comes first for all clients. Then, jointly, the client and the staffer develop a plan and protocol for the individual. Confidential progress records are kept for each client, with frequent assessments. I was blown away by Anne’s thorough preparation and the detailed operating manuals she has prepared for her staff.

She has a big vision of helping people transform their lives–body, mind, and spirit. Let’s all wish her well.

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In 1998 I signed up for the first offering of Katherine Colwell’s new EGA Individual Correspondence Course, a nine-lesson, 18-month course titled, Personal Needlework Connections Through Drawing and Design. [Although this course is no longer being offered, Katherine offers individual mentoring.]

In the first lesson, Katherine asked that I write about my own personal history in needlework. She also asked that I respond to specific questions. Today I’m going to show you what I wrote, exactly ten years ago, submitted January 20, 1999. The headings correspond to Katherine’s questions. In addition to the paper I submitted with my first lesson, I will also insert pictures of some of the work I did before learning of Katherine’s course, when I was trying to teach myself.

1. My family and other activities and interests that comprise my life

A 61-year-old woman, living with my husband in Charlestown Retirement Community in Baltimore, Maryland. I have been disabled with CFIDS (aka ME-CFS) since January 1993. Because of this illness, my interest in needle art has been awakened, for which I am thankful. My husband Ernie and I have been together for 27 years. Until I collapsed with CFIDS, we had had an equal partnership in every way. Now, however, Ernie takes care of all the chores and I get to do what I like. Well, life isn’t fair. Fortunately, however, he seems happy taking care of me. I spend at least 12 hours of every 24 in bed, resting and sleeping. Virtually housebound, I read, write, use the Internet, work on doll’s house miniatures from time to time and do needlework.

Before being forced inCardto this pleasant retirement, I had a corporate career in human resources and organization development, followed by four years as an independent management consultant, working mostly with CEOs of smaller and high-tech companies.

All that remains of my consulting practice>>>>

Here I am, in May 1998, when we moved to Charlestown.

Me

Charlestown is a wonderful place. Built on a 125-acre campus of a former seminary and retreat center, it is a community of 2400 residents and 1300 staff members. We have our own apartment on the sixth and top floor of our building, with a magnificent view of the sky, gorgeous sunsets and brilliant moonlight. The grounds are beautiful, with wooded areas, a pond and stream, many old and varied trees, lovely landscaping with flowers and shrubs everywhere, planted and tended by residents as well as by staff. It is such a busy, lively place that I have to spend most of my time in my own room. Unable to go to the dining rooms—of which there are six, each different—I have wonderful, quiet meals with my husband in our apartment. Most days, I do take a walk outdoors. [That was then.]

Ernie uses the health club and the swimming pool, goes bird watching in the woods and at the pond, takes advantage of the library and many reading rooms where a vast selection of current periodicals is available, and uses the shuttle to get to Washington, Annapolis, and downtown Baltimore for art shows he wants to see. [That was then. Not now.]

This is Charlestown. [You can see a bit of the pond in the lower right corner. The brown area of the lawn is now a putting green. There’s a check mark over our apartment, if you can see it, near the upper center.]

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Before moving here in May, we lived for five and a half years on a wooded lake in West Virginia, 20 miles from the nearest town. There I would go for days at a time not seeing another person. Before CFIDS, we lived in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, after moving many times in our careers, sometimes together and sometimes living apart—a commuter marriage.

We have five children, all married, with children—nine grandchildren who range in age from two years to 20. [Now 12 grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.] They live in New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado, and Washington state. Although we don’t see them frequently, we stay in touch by e-mail, snail mail, and phone. And I have done needlework projects with three of the grandchildren, two of them boys.

The first-born of  my family of origin, I have two sisters and a brother, with whom I have little in common and almost no contact. Not that there is any animosity, we just have different interests and lifestyles. My mother, age 84, is living actively in another retirement community on the other side of Baltimore. This year she was forced to retire, against her will and for the second time; and she is not yet busy enough to suit her.

What most interests me, starting at the top of the list, is the spiritual life, which to  me means creativity, in all its forms, and consciousness. To me spiritual development means increasing my imagination and ability to express what I see, inwardly and outwardly. It means expanding my awareness, becoming more attentive, and seeing more meaning in all of life. I study “the perennial philosophy” in various wisdom traditions and practice meditation daily. Among those whose work means most to me are William Blake, the great visionary poet and visual artist; Paul Cezanne, undisputedly one of the most spiritual and most influential of painters, and Anthony Trollope, the wise Victorian novelist, all of whose books are stories about how to live rightly.

I like food. Although I have had food sensitivities in the past, at present I seem to be free from food allergies. Thank goodness, because food is right up there next to the spiritual life! I love to grow food (although I can’t any more), shop for food (especially at farmers’ markets and ethnic grocery stores, which I don’t do now), prepare food, eat food, talk about food, and read about food—especially the writings of M.F.K. Fisher. No longer able to cook meals from scratch, I am now creatively improving the meals we get carry-out from the various dining rooms here, and I have discovered a creativity I didn’t know I had. Recipes are not much use with already cooked food. It’s all inspiration and improvisation—culinary art—and lots of fun.

My life is very simple, very pared down, and very full.

2. My needlework history

When I was growing up, all women, at least all the women in my world, did needlework. They made clothes and household items, altered and  mended them, and embellished them with stitchery. They did knitting, tatting, and crochet. They embroidered, usually working with kits, did counted cross stitch, and needlepoint or petit point. My mother was very proficient with needles and sewing machine and always had projects going. She particularly enjoyed smocking and I remember matching dresses she made and smocked for herself, my two sisters, and  me. My grandmother, too, always seemed to have needlework in hand and I have work she and my mother did in my home now. My mother still meets with her sewing circle of about 50 years duration, and still knits and does plastic canvas projects (which she doesn’t like much), and just a few years ago she made my niece’s wedding dress. Forty years ago, Mother and I made my sister’s wedding dress. I added the lace appliqué and made her a lace-covered cap. (We also made her wedding cake.) The women I knew stitched for economy, of necessity, and as a pleasant pastime. They stitched in order to give unique, personalized gifts. They stitched, no doubt in some cases, just because that’s what everyone else did. But none of the women I knew thought of needlework as “art.”

In junior high school, I began making clothes for myself, mostly so that I could have things we couldn’t afford to buy. But I liked doing it. I also knit argyle socks for each boyfriend in succession. I don’t know how much they appreciated them, but I felt very competent creating the intricate patterns with my three needles and  many bobbins of yarn hanging from them. As a young wife, I made curtains, bedspreads, and clothes for my children as well as for myself. I don’t remember doing any embroidery during those years. Then I went out to work, became career-oriented, and had no time for needlework for the next 18 years.

In 1978, self-employed and with some time between contracts, I decided to make crewel pictures for my sons, then in college. I bought kits and found that I really enjoyed working with the colored yarns and learning the stitches from diagrams. I finished several kits, undertaking more and more difficult ones, and then became so busy that the 16 X 20″ unicorn in the garden was left half-finished, in a pillow case, again for 18 years.

By then, I had had CFIDS for three years, I had been forced to stop working, and my husband and I had sold our house and everything else we could sell and moved to West Virginia, where we could live more inexpensively and where I could, we thought, get well. In 1996, stepping off a curb after seeing my doctor, I broke two bones in my foot. With a cast from toes to knee, lacking the strength to get around on crutches, and my leg propped up all day, I remembered the unfinished unicorn crewel picture. Though I no longer liked the picture, I finished it anyhow, enjoying the work tremendously. Finished and framed in carved gilt, it looked fine, as is often the case. At any rate, my eight-year-old granddaughter was thrilled to have it. And I wanted to do more needlework.

But I didn’t want to work  kits. Though I wanted to create my own work, I didn’t know how to go about it. So, as is my wont, I went to the library. Fortunately, the Martinsburg Public Library had many shelves of needlework books, most of them of the McCall’s or Erica Wilson projects type. But all of them had stitch diagrams, as well as patterns, instructions, and charts. My first attempts were what I guess might be called “doodlecloths.” I’d never heard the word before. I didn’t buy anything, but used leftover crewel yarn and needles from the unicorn kit and pieces of broadcloth cut from my husband’s discarded under-shorts. Playing around, with no design in mind, I just wanted to practice different stitches and see what I could do.

[Here’s the first improvisation I did, using left-over yarn and discarded shorts. I started in the middle and worked out from there.]

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I found many designs that I liked in the books from the library, but I didn’t usually like the projects. What I did was to adapt designs, choosing different materials, different colors. I created simple designs using motifs I liked from the books. By now, of course, I was buying threads and yarn, collecting fabric, starting my “stash.” We were living on a tight budget, so I tried to use what I had, including cutting up clothes we weren’t wearing any more, and buying from the Sale table in Wal-Mart. I consider everything I do a study or exercise or practice. It’s a learning experience, and most things I’ve made have been done for the sake of learning how to do something. It’s all self-taught, from books. During the past two and a half years, I’ve done crewelpoint, needlepoint, surface stitchery, appliqué with surface stitches added, mixed techniques, counted cross stitch, duplicate stitch, and blackwork. I like it all. I have continued to improvise, that is, to choose colors and start stitching, usually surprised at the pleasing results achieved by just stitching and looking, waiting for the  next idea, and stitching some more, looking some more, letting the work tell me what to do next.

[The following pieces were done before 1998, mostly as learning exercises, mostly using materials I had on hand. These yarns were still left over from the unicorn piece.]

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[My daughter-in-law was then production manager for an upscale necktie designer. She sent me a box full of necktie seconds, which I took apart. I still have lots of necktie silk. Here I was just practicing stitches.]

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[For this piece I used old t-shirts and polo shirts for the patches. Too hard to stitch on! But it’s what I had.]

knit-patches

[I thought I was doing something far-out when I made little shapes of the Sculpey I used for dolls’ house figures. On the back of each shape was a tiny loop I could stitch through, and I painted them with glitter. The fabric patches are more necktie silk on burlap–cheap! Just experimenting and learning. I had no idea of the kinds of mixed media work stitchers were doing.]

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[This is the banner I designed and stitched for the birth of granddaughter Katie in 1996. I got the motifs from a book, but the colors and choice of threads, as well as the arrangement, were mine. Still using crewel wool.]

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[Here I experimented with a technique of cutting out motifs from a print fabric and stitching them to a ground fabric. It has a name, perse something, I believe. I just used buttonhole stitch in a single strand of cotton floss to attach the cut-outs to the fabric. For my husband, obviously. But still just done for the learning experience.]

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[Here’s an adaptation of a design, worked in straight stitches, satin stitch, and French knots in Paternayan wool on cotton. I painted the center blue and reproduced the leaf, which was the logo of the consulting practice my partner and I developed. Shown on my old business card. I gave him this piece for his 50th birthday.]

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[Close-up of the design.]

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Still, I wanted to do thought-out, designed work. Trying my hand at design, I’ve worked out geometric patterns and stitched them. I’ve created counted cross stitch designs. Now these are very simple, done for the purpose of teaching myself how to do it. Most of them, nevertheless, have been given to family and friends as they turned out well enough for me to enjoy giving them. I have finished my embroideries by framing and by making into pillows, marbles pouches, and greeting cards. Not to  mention book marks, mug rugs, and a “bean bag” paper weight.

[More examples of the kinds of practice pieces I was doing: A birthday card for a friend. I used transfer crayons to get the design on the fabric, stitched in cotton floss.]

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[Here’s an example of crewelpoint, various stitches combined with needlepoint. This is a city block of row or terrace houses around a courtyard with vegetable gardens in the corners. Lots and lots of French knots for the hedge rows. Very dimensional stitching.]

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[Another birthday card, for which I made the chart.]

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[I didn’t know how crazy patchwork was done, so I just attached patches of fabrics, some from old clothing, using various traditional stitches, on a piece of felt.]

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[This design came from a book, where it was charted for cotton floss on Aida, I believe. I chose different colors, wool yarns, and worked it on burlap–the closest material I had to an even-weave. For my mother.]

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In the  meantime, I learned about EGA and joined. This brought me NeedleArts magazine and the approach to needlework I was seeking—stitching as art. I also acquired some books which showed sophisticated, serious needle art. My husband and I went to the  Mid-Atlantic Region EGA exhibit at the Hagerstown Museum, not far away from us and were captivated and awed by the quality of the work we saw there.

[Here’s an improvisation worked within the geometric pattern I drew on the cotton fabric. I drew on paper, then traced, the border pattern. I called it “Exuberance”, the only piece I’ve named, and gave it to my exuberant son, the musician.]

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In addition, during the past five years, I have been practicing meditation daily. Needlework, I recognized, can be stitching meditation, and design, of course, is bringing the inspiration of meditation into actuality.

My teachers and the major influences on my thinking about needlework are not needle artists, but artists in many other media—literature, music, dance, the visual arts—and spiritual teachers.

These individuals have influenced my orientation toward needleart profoundly:

  • First of all, William Blake, who said that anyone who was not making art was no Christian! (You have to know Blake to know the way in which he meant that.) To him, the practice of art is worship.
  • Then there was Carl Jung, who used art as the way to self-understanding. He taught the practice of “active imagination” followed by the creation of some work of art as a means of self-discovery and a way to wholeness.
  • Matthew Fox’s “creation spirituality,” actually his interpretation of the teachings of Meister Eckhart and Hildegard of Bingen, among other Christian contemplatives, in which we, being made in the image of the Creator, are necessarily creators also;
  • M.C. Richards, with her meditations on pottery-making in the book, Centering;
  • Patsy Cline, a quilt artist struggling to create despite severe cystic fibrosis whose work inspired Spirited Threads, about her life and creative process; and
  • Frederick Franck’s The Zen of Seeing.

I’ve also read and tried some exercises from Betty Edwards and Judith Cornell. Another book that encouraged me is Freeing the Creative Spirit, by Adriana Diaz. I did many of the exercises in this book. Serious play, I would call them. Cezanne is an instructive artist for needleworkers to study as so many of his paintings are built up of tiny brush strokes, like stitches. Deeply interested in the creative process, I have witnessed with great delight the beginnings of its development in my own experiments with  making dolls’ house miniatures, improvising meals, and doing stitchery.

Here you can see improvised flowers in a vase traced around a paper cut-out worked in crewel yarn on burlap. [Then I didn’t know how burlap deteriorated. It’s probably brown by now. I gave it to my daughter-in-law.]

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Am I a perfectionist? I don’t think so. I do value craftsmanship, however, and think that there cannot be art without craft. What matters to me is that work be done well and that it be right. Sometimes imperfection can be right, can be exactly the way to achieve the intended result, the right effect. If perfection means regularity, formality, according to rule, it may result in dead, stiff, inhibited work. But if perfection means taking pains, making the effort to get it right, then maybe I am one. I will pull out and do over until I get a piece to look the way I want it to look. And I consciously try to make the back as  neat as possible. I once saw a counted cross stitch verse with floral border from India that was done on 32 or maybe even higher count, sheer fabric, in many delicate colors. The back was as finished as the front. I could not for the life of me figure out how the stitcher began and finished off threads. Seeing that made me want to do work equally fine.

[Here’s my own counted cross stitch design for my daughter’s 50th birthday. I was just a beginner at making a chart.]

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Here’s another simple counted cross stitch design for a dolls’ house rug. The background is in tent stitch.

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[The rug went with the dolls’ house, the first wooden house I built, to my granddaughter who was thrilled it.]

3. The needlework method on which I will focus

Surface stitching, more specifically, contemporary crewel (not Jacobean) is the method I want to focus on. I love all the stitches. I love the way texture can be created by different stitches. It’s hard for me to choose favorite stitches, as it depends on the effect I want to create. Since I’m asked to do so, however, I will say chain stitch with all its variations, feather, and the traditional in-fill stitches. However, I can’t imagine copying line drawings without using line and straight stitches.

Transfer techniques I’ve tried include tracing on tissue paper and basting stitching the design through it, tracing directly on to the ground fabric using dressmaker’s transfer paper, as well as transfer crayons on tracing paper [then ironed on to the fabric]. I’ve also drawn geometric designs directly on the fabric using ballpoint pen, markers, and water-erasable pen. And I’ve traced and basted around paper cut-outs. I will use whatever method works for the materials I’m working with.

I like working with various threads and yarns, sometimes combining—Paternayan wool, 6-stranded cotton floss,  flower threads, pearl cotton, rayon, even acrylics for accents or special effects. I enjoy working on smooth, textured, and coarse (such as burlap) fabrics. I’ve used what I had at hand—broadcloth, oxford cloth, cotton knits, felt, denim,  muslins of various weights, linen, light velour, velvet, Ultrasuede, necktie silk, Aida, and canvas. Further, I like to combine appliqué with surface stitching. Though I don’t want to commit yet, I think I will probably use mostly crewel yarn on cotton ground. [Oh, how wrong this turned out to be, as I learned about so many other kinds of threads and fabrics.]

As for imagery, I’ve done flowers, gardens, and landscapes, including copying one of Cezanne’s Mont Ste. Victoire paintings (not to be shown!) I’ve done geometric designs, abstract designs, and calligraphy. I’ve done what I could do without knowing how to draw, though I did do one exercise from a sketch I made (also not to be shown!) Much as I like abstract designs, I look forward to working on still lifes, figures, faces, and other imagery I haven’t attempted or didn’t know how to begin.

Once I framed a crewel panel from scratch, working at a framing shop that provided all the tools and materials. Since then, I’ve either made my pieces standard sizes and framed them with ready-made frames, or I’ve finished them in some other way. I like to mount them over Pellon-covered foamcore.

4. My goals and motivation for this ICC

The reasons why I want to take this course are as follows:

  • to do more sophisticated work and become more accomplished,
  • to develop skills and techniques by being critiqued,
  • to further practice needleart as spiritual development, to learn how to create, not copy or reproduce (except for learning purposes),
  • to produce work that pleases me, and
  • to discover what I’m capable of doing in needleart.

It’s been six months since we moved from our secluded home in the woods of West Virginia to a lively, active community. Although I knew I wanted to take this course as soon as I read the description of it, I waited to register until I felt that I had  made the adjustment to my new environment. I believe I have established routines that will enable me to live here without bringing on avoidable illness and I’m ready to get to work.

Ten years have passed since I wrote that paper for Katherine, my teacher. Her course made a huge impact on  me. From her I learned the process I usually follow in making anything. Over these ten years, because I’ve seen so much fine needlework done be people all over the world, instead of feeling more accomplished, I feel more desire to do much better work. Seeing what is possible is a bit daunting, as I will not develop such skills in this lifetime. But what a blessing it is to be able to create something with pencil and paper, needle, threads, and fabrics. Gold metal threads, metallic threads, beads, novelty yarns, and anything else that comes to mind.

By all means, don’t miss seeing Katherine’s needleart. She is an extraordinary teacher, as well as artist; and she made a big difference in my life.

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Your petticoat is showing!!!

I love it.

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Laptop

Sitting at my computer for long periods, entering my physics notes, has made my back ache. So yesterday I hauled my antique Dell laptop out of storage. It’s ten years old, and I haven’t used it in about five years. It took me a while to figure out how to connect it! Then it took a while to figure out how to use it. I still haven’t gotten the external mouse working.

Laptop

Entering a few lines of text on the very small keyboard, using the Touchpad instead of a mouse, was a very slow process. Not to mention how slow the computer itself is.

Antique

Now I’m wondering whether I should buy a new laptop. Seems very extravagant, given the powerful, dual-monitor desktop system I have. I guess I’ll give the antique a little more trial. By then, my back may be okay.

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Lovely lunch

Son Pete and his wife Karin invited me to have lunch with them, Noah, Michelle, and Luke. It’s the first time we’ve all been together in over a year. First, Noah wanted to see the Charlestown model trains. (Click to enlarge and see it at Flickr.)

From there we piled into Pete’s van and drove to an Indian vegan restaurant. Michelle and Luke are confirmed vegans. We had a great meal and good conversation. Michelle and I talked about her college courses and her writing.  She’s a sophomore at SUNY Purchase and she’s writing her fourth novel. Luke and I had an animated discussion about physics. He submitted his college applications last week, and I’m waiting to read his essays.

The video I  made at the restaurant is too long to post here but you can see it at vimeo.

Here are shots of Pete’s family. What a joy to be with them!

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Michelle and Noah.

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Noah under the table.

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More books

Two more books have arrived to add to the pile I’m already tackling. John Wheeler died last year, after a highly distinguished career in physics. David Peat writes about creativity in The Blackwinged Night, including the creativity of nature, the universe.

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The physics-related books by my reading chair.

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I’m plugging along, but really, really missing stitching.

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