Greetings on this winter solstice:) Wishing you much candlelight, mulled wine, hot chocolate and hibernation.
I’ve finished teaching my first semester of geology at Moravian College, a new job for me at age 46. It turns out I love teaching, which is a pleasant surprise:)
November marked the end of my work with Lehigh Gap Nature Center where I’ve been leading a native plant project for the last five years. I’m pleased to say that the book I wrote as part of the project has been surprisingly popular among people interested in native plants. This is in no small part due to the fantastic illustrations by Tom Maxfield and the graphic design by his wife, Keri. Beginning with a single Facebook post, the book (which has a digital version) reached more than 17,000 people and was shared more than 700 times all over the United States.
Now, if only my creative writing could get so much attention!
A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to see the poet laureate, Tracy Smith, speak at Warren County Community College. She read from her memoir, Ordinary Light, as well as from her poetry. The grace and humor of her words left me feeling bigger inside, broadened by her spirit. Read more about her here.
I’ve given up saying when I might be finished with my second novel. But I can say it’s getting better. Insightful critique from other writer friends has been invaluable. It’s impossible to write a book alone and I’m fortunate to be part of a community of writers who help each other.
The Baum Art School in Allentown, PA recently featured the work of Jane Conneen, an artist from Bath, PA, who’s known for her botanical drawings and miniature hand-colored etchings. Some of her work is no bigger than a postage stamp. This is one of her larger works:
Fields and wildflowers served as a basis for many of her paintings. At the age of 76, she decided to go back to school to learn bookbinding and created more than thirty specialty miniature books late in her life:)
As someone also inspired by the botanical, here’s my recent paintings of witch hazel :
In winter there’s more time for hanging out with family and friends. Time for thinking about life in deeper ways. And time for more cheese. Here’s my son in his new Christmas light-up sweater:)
Today is the official first day of autumn! The arc of the sun begins to shift toward the south and the birds and butterflies are already migrating.
To mark the season, here are words from the venerable Mary Oliver:
Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness
Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
who would cry out
to the petals on the ground
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married
to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do
if the love one claims to have for the world
So let us go on
though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.
— MARY OLIVER, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author, most recently, of “Swan: Poems and Prose Poems”
My friend and creative co-conspirator, Lauren Kindle, is working on a wonderful new project this fall called ‘Intentional Loitering.’ A sample of her recent work is shown above. She’s forgoing her to-do list for a bit in an effort to encourage “curious and shy” new ideas for her paintings. You can read her recent blog about it here. The author George Saunders talks about something similar in this podcast.
Along the lines of art projects, I received a grant from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts to show my paper quilt project at the Nurture Nature Center in Easton, PA, in spring 2018. (Yay!)
As is always true, the writing (in this case of the grant application) helped me hone what I’m really doing with this project. I’ve retitled it “Seams” and you can read about my new vision here.
One of the women inspiring the project is Jenn Rossmann, a professor of Mechanical Engineering and a gifted writer. For your reading pleasure, here’s a recent short story by Jenn.
And I’m working on my second novel. I use a Pinterest board as a visual for the writing. Thought you might be interested in checking it out here.
I leave you with this recent picture of a monarch in our yard. A few are still around before they migrate south to the overwintering grounds they have never been to before. They’ll find them, somehow.
Here’s to wonder and mystery.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. The photo of the monarch butterfly above was taken by my talented husband, David. Here we are together:
“So we grew together,
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted;
But yet a union in partition,
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem.”
Thinking about a summer party? I’m endlessly fascinated by what’s in my 1951 copy of “The American Household Encyclopedia.” In case you’re thinking about hosting a buffet supper, perhaps this direction on table setting will be helpful:
In other news, I continue work on my narrative paper quilt series. Right now I’m making nine blocks inspired by my talented and kind friend, Armen Elliot. She uses her camera as a kind of magnifying glass to look closely at what interests her. Most of her photos are about relationships. She works with people and families “to create something for them.” To read her interview and/or to learn more about the paper quilt project, click here.
This is one of Armen’s photos:
If you haven’t heard, my first novel came out on Earth Day, April 22, 2017. I’ve done many talks about it since its debut and I’ve enjoyed myself (even though at first I was very scared to stand up in front of people and read from my novel like an actual writer!). In case you’re interested, I’ve written about the experience of learning to own my new writer identity here.
In celebration of my book’s release and because three is my lucky number, I’ll be giving away three copies. All you have to do to enter a chance to win is share this newsletter with one other person and then let me know you’re interested in a copy of the book by sending me an email. I’ll select three winners on June 30:)
And, as a special treat, here are two paintings by my friend Elizabeth Snelling. She paints her surroundings, family, friends, animals and plants. She says “If I can achieve an authentic portrait of domestic life, now and then, I’m happy.” She told me she uses lots of beakers in her still life work because her grandfather was a chemist and when he died she took many of his old, German hand-blown laboratory glass for her own.
I really love her masterful use of pattern. For more of her art and about her, see this.
I leave you with a poem about Fireflies by MARILYN KALLET
beautiful and quiet all around you.”
Day and night are equal in length. It’s a pivotal moment, that will tip the balance of light and dark.
So even though it still looks like this outside in my part of Pennsylvania:
Soon, very soon, there will be this:
That heart-quickening feeling of a first warm spring day is captured here by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins. If you’re in a more melancholy mood this spring, see this beauty from Amy Gerstler.
I’m continuing to work on a series of narrative paper quilts made of thread, paper, and watercolor. These nine art quilts are based on nine women who, like me, are into art and math/science.
I wanted a way for other people to interact and be a part of my quilt project so I’m making two separate pieces that relate to identity and I’m inviting the public to help complete them by offering answers to two prompts.
I’ve included a picture of one of the pieces below — a tree. The other will have elements of wind in it. These will be on display at Nurture Nature Center in Easton, PA beginning in late April. I have one prompt related to each piece. Selected answers to the prompts will be quilted into these two pieces later, as leaves for the tree below and flower petals for the wind-related piece. I’ve already added a few responses (as leaves) to the tree (see detail, below).
I welcome your answers to the prompts, either as a comment to the newsletter or as an email.
For the tree:
Describe yourself in three words.
For the wind:
I would like to be more ________.
All answers will remain anonymous on the quilt:)
One of the women inspiring the series of nine paper quilts is Chawne Kimber. She’s a brilliant mathematician and internationally-renowned quilter. She’s changing the world with her art. See an example of her stunning work above and more here. And finally, after eight years in the making, my novel debuts on Earth Day, April 22, 2017! In April and May, I’ll be traveling around with my book talking about how one might pursue a creative life even if you’re not “that kind” of person. Because since I’ve worked most of my life as an environmental scientist, that’s how it was for me. Come to one of these events and if you show up you get a small prize to celebrate spring:)
“Something in the air this morning makes me feel like flying.”
Thanks for reading! xoxo
Celebrate this quiet time between holidays by lighting some candles, taking a walk in the woods, looking at the stars or whatever you do to find stillness. That or plan something revolutionary.
Some primal winter words from “Closing The Circle,” by Jim Dale Huot-Vickery:
“Let the snow and ice and darkness, the winds and shadows, the deer bleats and wolf howls, the grunts and snorts and bawls, the fox barks and raven calls, the countless crystals and brilliant moons, the dreams and loves and enduring life: let the winter sing sing — You took me — let it sing on and on, beneath the beautiful stars.”
And see this correspondence in poems between gardeners and poets Ross Gay and Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “It is our hope that some of the pleasure and anxiety of tending these gardens — which is to say, tending to ourselves, our relationships, our earth — comes through in these poems,” says Ross. “There’s bounty, yes. But there’s loss and sorrow too: like a garden, like a life.”
This winter I’m at work on a little art project. It’s a narrative paper quilt.
This is a hand sewn work based on women who, like me, are into art and math/science/nature. I’m interested in their experiences to better understand my own.
I’m working with an uneven nine-block quilting pattern. This is my first experiment with quilting, which I see as a deeply personal art form created by women to reflect collective experiences, imagery, and ideas. I’ve chosen to work with paper because I love paper, but also because it’s a flexible medium that serves new and mature ideas equally well. The work is fragmented, patchworked, patterned, and layered. Each quilt block is inspired by the women featured in the project. Here’s one part of a nine-block square:
The women inspiring my paper quilt include:
I’ve interviewed all of these women over the last six months. (I’ve imaged conversations with Louise Jefferson and Mary Vaux Walcott since they are no longer alive). Most of these interviews are ready to read on my website, and the rest will be posted soon. In the next issues of this newsletter, I’ll be showcasing some of the women featured in this project, as well as their work in arts and sciences. So stay tuned!
In other news, maybe you’ve heard my first novel is debuting on April 22, 2017 (on Earth Day). Here’s a picture of the cover:)
If you’d like to read a little about it, please see this. My book will be available for pre-order beginning February 23, 2017. If you pre-order, please send me an email through my website with your mailing address and I’ll send you a small thank you gift:)
And finally, on a related note, I’ll be teaching a fiction workshop at this conference in February 2017. If you’re local to eastern, Pennsylvania, please consider attending even if you don’t think of yourself a writer, yet. This conference promises to be full of creative and compelling ideas for most anyone.
Thanks for reading!