Something from Nothing

To the best of my knowledge, only God (or whatever name you’d like for the divine) can truly make something from nothing. Maybe. We don’t know for sure how that works. However, to me as an artist, it is not only possible, but very desirable, to take something of “no value” and make it into something of value. I put quotes around the words “no value” because I’m pretty sure that all matter is valuable. Humans put value on things based on how useful we think a thing is to us. In any case, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

Here’s a fun challenge to get you thinking about the value of the raw matter all around you: set a timer for five minutes and walk outside. If it is winter where you are (I am in Chicago), don’t even bother putting on your coat (but shoes are a good idea) and in those five minutes, gather as many useless items as you want from your immediate environment. They can be natural, as in a stick or rock, or something manmade, like a pop can tab.

Go inside. If you like, do an internet search for your objects: “stick art”, “pop can tab crafts”, “Oak Leaf properties”, etc. Especially check out YouTube tutorials. I”m pretty sure you will find that there are folks using these raw materials to make stuff cool enough to warrant posting a video. It is amazing.

Finally, make something from your objects. Just try it. How does it feel? Frustrating, confusing, liberating? Really pay attention to the inherent properties of your materials: texture, color, strength, brittle/flexible and so on. How easy is it to get your materials to do what you want them to do? Once you have your finished piece, how do you feel about the raw material you worked with?

If you do this exercise often enough, you will start to look at the world around you with different eyes. Things you disregarded as background noise, like weeds, dandelion fluff, rusted metal, bark and the like start holding interest. What are its physical properties? Would they lend themselves to a task I want to do?

This, my friends, used to be how humans looked at the world around them, until very recently (a few hundred years or less). There were no boxed solutions to search for in a special place, a store. The solutions and materials needed for survival were outside all around, and to be successful you had to keep your eyes open every time you stepped out the door.

I suspect that in spite of our pre-made conveniences, the ones that came from a factory and deemed valuable by virtue of costing money, it is still true. In order to gain real value from our immediate environment, we need to keep our eyes open.

I challenge you to step outside and see the world this way, and I’d love to hear about the results of your experiment!


Raw stuff for this piece: Kentucky coffee tree seeds found on walks home from work, canna Lilly seeds from garden, dryer lint, pics from an old gardening catalog. Not found objects: white flour, baking powder, powdered soap, and glue. Paint, glitter, glaze, string and plastic beads.


People are Good. All People.

The worst villans in history were good. No, I don’t mean their actions were good. They were horrific, reprehensible, gruesome, cruel, evil. But underneath all that, their essential human nature, although in many cases seemingly hopelessly occluded, remained intact. I don’t think believing that some people are simply born evil and some are good is going to solve the very real problem of murder and mayhem. I think any solution to the problem needs to hold out at least the theoretical possibility of reclaiming good human souls out of utter darkness, of uncovering the natural goodness of even the most awful of people.

This would change the way we look on our enemies in war, domestic abusers, and mass killers. I can’t help but think this would also change the way we solve the problem. Maybe we don’t know how to do it, or maybe we do on a small scale but don’t have the resources to do so on a societal scale, but the answer in the long run is not a handgun in your purse or ex-marines in every school. The answer is having a society where people do not want to shoot or dominate or abuse each other.

I know lots of people think this is utterly naive, but I am convinced it is so.



Books I’ve Recently Read on Kindle


books (Photo credit: brody4)

But first: My thoughts on kindle, technology, and the demise of the cheap paperback.

I love my kindle. My husband gave it to me two years ago as a Christmas gift, and it has revolutionized reading for me. The fact that I can walk around with something that weighs about the same as a paperback, that contains my own personally curated library, is thrilling to me as a lover of words. Much care has been given to craft a device that feels comfortable on the hands and the eyes, and I appreciate that. I think e readers will eventually (rapidly) replace paper for most uses, like the digital camera replaced the film camera. I still have the Pentax K1000 my uncle gave me when I was an art student taking photography 101, but for most uses can’t afford the film and developing costs. I felt incredibly bittersweet about the demise of film photography (as the prevalent medium of choice) but thrilled by the new opportunities afforded me by digital photography. With every revolution comes the irreversible loss of some element of the old technology, and I think what I’d be able to sacrifice, not without some sadness, is the cheap drug store paperback as a vehicle for literature. We’d save a heck of a lot of trees that way.

I don’t think paper printing will ever go away, at least it would make me very sad if it did. I have been a print graphic designer  for the better part of two decades so my affection for the printed medium will not fade that easily. In fact, the actual programming and designing for web has proven difficult for me personally adapt to given how entrenched my print design skills are. This is one reason why I love WordPress, because I haven’t mastered Html.

I’ve witnessed with the advent of desktop computers for graphic design. I was among the first generation of designers to use the computer exclusively for a living, and one of the last to be exposed to now-defunct hand techniques in school. Quickly on the heels of that change was the change  from film to digital cameras. I’ve seen the internet evolve and am now watching the transformation of the role of the website due to the invention of social media.

A similar thing is happening with our printed materials, and it is an inevitable extension of what has happened to the field of graphic design. The way we read has not only been transformed forever, but so many new mediums have been invented. We are literally changing the way we tell stories. Think about it, the full arc of human storytelling probably started around a campfire in a cave and has now culminated in the YouTube video and this blog post. I say culminated, but it won’t stop here; we will continue to find ever new and engaging ways of telling our stories.

Here’s what I hope happens: I hope paper books become rare and valuable, perhaps not as inaccessible as they once were when they had to be copied by hand by monks, but enough to give us pause and pay a bit more attention to the artistry of the object in our hands. The average home will have maybe a shelf of printed books, expensive, high quality printing and richly illustrated. On this shelf will also be at least one or two such books self-published by someone living in the house, or received as a gift from a loved one. Libraries themselves would contain small collections of such books that wouldn’t get checked out, for library use only. Everything else would be available on an eReader. I really like the way Seth Godin talks about the library of the future, but here I’d like to stress the use of libraries as repositories of the finest quality print books, to be appreciated in much the same way as one does a piece of art hanging in a gallery. There could even be openings celebrating the arrival of new printed books.

That perhaps is the biggest revolution of all…the ability of the average person to have access to the publishing process.

Let’s try to use our new superpower wisely.

Sorry, I guess we won’t get around to my personal book list this post, it turns out my prelude became a post in and of itself. That just means I already have a topic for tomorrow’s post. This seven day challenge is a bit easier than I thought it was going to be.

I Have No Hobbies

I have long been irked by the word hobby. Such as when people say to me, Oh, you’re an artist? What a great hobby!

I cringe every time I hear this. What does a hobby imply? To me, a hobby is something that is fun, but if you don’t have time for it, that’s no big deal. It’s extra. You don’t get paid for it, and you do it primarily for relaxation, that it is secondary to your real work (what you do for money) and you are expected to drop it when it is no longer relaxing or fun (i.e., there’s more important work to do so it doesn’t fit into your schedule anymore). People look at you funny if you spend too much time on your hobbies, and parents with small children certainly don’t have time for them. By this definition, I have no hobbies. Yes, with a family and paid work and unpaid work, I certainly don’t have time for hobbies. About my art, and my garden, and several related activities that feed into the same vision, I feel that:

1. I’d like to get paid or compensated or earn a livelihood from these activities, I just haven’t figured out a way to do it yet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t or can’t

2. I believe they have social value and importance to other people, not just as stress relief or a break from my “real” work

3. I continue to pursue them even when they add extra stress to my life, because I think they are too important to let go of in the face of other responsibilities

4. If I were to drop some of my “hobbies”  when they became inconvenient, other living beings would die.

This, to me, sounds more like vocation than hobby. The other day I tried to think of a single thing that I do on a regular basis that would qualify as a “hobby”, and I could not think of any. Maybe collecting Breyer Model Horses….but I stopped the collecting part long ago, and now I just look at the (very cool) collection.

So, in an effort to make peace with the word “hobby”, I looked up the etymology of the word. Bless my soul, Hobby used to mean a kind of horse. A lightweight, small, versatile  workhorse. Or a child’s toy horse, as in “hobby horse”. OH! there you go! Yes I do have lots of hobbies! Probably about 30 of them lined up on a shelf, that I collected as a child!

Ah, there. I feel better about the word hobby now. How can I hate a word that started out as meaning a kind of horse?

Climate change

As lots of us have heard already, 2012 was the hottest recorded year in history (in the contiguous United States). Personally it was very easy for me to see that something unusual was going on, as I had to fight to keep my garden and even a full-grown tree alive and healthy during the drought over the summer. And it isn’t over: as of January 14, here in Chicago, we have yet to have a significant snowfall that capable of even covering the blades of grass in the lawn, or that sticks around more than a couple of hours. Not only has it been an unusually warm winter, but we’ve had frighteningly little moisture of any kind other than a few grey, drizzly days. If you aren’t a farmer or gardener you may be happy about this, but right now I’m quite concerned about how I’m going to keep my veggies watered if this keeps up.

Yet, this ample evidence in my own back yard is not why I believe what the scientists are saying about Global Climate Change. I accept the theory of global climate change and our part in the process because a lot of science has been done around the GLOBE that indicates this is what is happening.  But by the logic used by many global warming deniers, I can tell you climate change IS happening. We’ve had some mighty freaky weather here in Chicago over the last few years. This summer heralded the worst drought I’ve ever seen. Chicago has, in my lifetime, gone from being known for big snow storms to no snow at all.  I’ve seen a flock of PARROTS in my backyard, for Pete’s sake. Obviously, this is incontrovertible evidence and we can now get on with fixing the problem.



These two were seen in the parking lot of a shopping center in Boynton Beach, FL on 5/30/09.
(Part of a Monk Parakeet Set).
A pair of lovely Monk Parakeets mauricholas/ Maureen Leong-Kee’s photostream
Scientific name: Myiopsitta monachus

What I Want to Eat

Nikita Photo on 1-12-13 at 6


My person, Laura, asked me to write a guest blog post for today because she got busy with other stuff. Which like I told her, is totally cheating, since I was there when she wrote that bit about her seven-day writing challenge.  People are way too busy, if you ask me. They miss out on so many of the important things in life, like lying in the sun, playing in the snow (if we ever get any again), and spending quality time with their pack members. But I digress.

You might be wondering who I am. You might also be wondering why my opinion matters.

My name is Nikita, and I am a 14-year-old female Siberian Husky. Which, if you know anything about dogs, is just about the smartest kind of dog there is. I am also beautiful, charismatic and a natural-born leader. In my youth I loved nothing better than to run and pull whatever I could, bikes, sleds, people on skis, carts, whatever. You wouldn’t believe how strong I was, I could pull as much as dogs twice my size (I’m a bit on the petite side).

While I must concede that my people are the pack leaders overall, I am the undisputed alpha of all dogs. So that, in a nutshell, is why my opinion matters. I make sure to protect and provide guidance to all of my pack. Especially my current pack mate, Dante, who, let’s just say, isn’t quite as intelligent as I am. Poor guy, he’s sweet but really needs some looking after.  Since it’s in my nature, and I’ve finally mastered the hunt and paw method of typing as well has how to use the spell checker function, I would like to share some of my sage advice with dog people everywhere.

What I want to say today is, well, lets just say, its OK for us to eat something that’s been on your plate.

Really, folks, in recent generations there’s been this crazy idea that dogs will be malnourished if they partake of leftovers from their people’s meals on a regular basis. I’m guessing that the idea started as a marketing campaign by a very profitable dog food industry but the end result is that people feel they really need to  make sure we never, ever get that tasty tidbit of pork chop or burger that you’re too stuffed to eat. It’s madness, and a waste of perfectly good food that often ends up in the garbage. Even more scary, irresponsible pet food makers are letting our food get contaminated, especially that cat poo from China (I say that because I can’t think of anything more disgusting than eating cat poo, although Dante assures me its pretty good). Talk about food that can make you sick! Check out this recent link about some tainted products that finally got pulled from the shelves….what took them so long! Then there’s all that hoopla a few years ago about pet food tainted with melamine.

Dog food options range from cheap kibble that’s bad for us to ridiculously expensive healthy stuff that costs more than human food. But what confuses me, is why do humans think that separate dog food is necessary at all? Why can’t we eat your leftovers? Or, dare I ask, share your meal? While its true that dogs need way more meat than humans, and some things you eat are poison to dogs, we generally like and thrive on lot of the same foods. We both want the same thing: roast chicken, pork chop, a hamburger, some thanksgiving turkey, your leftover oatmeal. Yum!

Here’s what you need to remember. Wolves became dogs by hanging around people’s villages, and eating what they ate.   So you see, its in our nature to want the food off of your plate. Now, if you are a fat slob and eat really bad food, then yeah, it isn’t going to be good for us either. Truth is, you should be eating less meat and we should be eating less corn in our food. How about you give me half of your steak, and you give yourself an extra helping of salad? Wouldn’t we all be healthier? There are folks out there who feel that dogs should be fed almost exclusively whole prey, raw, just like the wolves we descended from. I’ve got no problem with that personally. But if you’re feeling squeamish about raw meat (I understand, human stomachs can’t handle that so you worry about it making us sick too), just throw an extra burger or two on the grill. I prefer mine cooked rare.

There’s a reason why this topic is important to me, besides the obvious reason that it tastes better. Over the summer, I was having such bad tummy troubles that I finally refused to eat. I’m getting older, you see, and my immune system is not what it used to be. I kept picking up this nasty bug, giardia. Even after taking medicine for that, I felt terrible all the time and didn’t think I was ever going to feel better again. My person was so worried, she tried a lot of types of food before finding something that worked. Now, she cooks a big pot of what she calls “dog stew” each week. It has some rice, oatmeal, and a bunch of different meats in it, but mostly chicken. She puts in some digestive enzymes with probiotics, as well as something called “Missing Link”, right before she feeds us every day. And now my tummy feels great! My appetite has never been better. And, she no longer worries about letting us eat scraps off of the table. If it is good enough to feed her human pack members, and something healthy for a dog to eat, she gives it to us. She says she isn’t really spending more that way than if she were buying premium dog food, and with a little trial and error she’s been able to figure out how much food we need to stay at a healthy weight (I know when to stop, but Dante would eat all day long if we let him!)

So what I’m trying to say is, it isn’t really all that hard to feed us non human pack members healthy homemade food. If you are pretty good at making reasonably healthy food for yourself, you’re probably going to be able to figure it out for us too. So don’t worry, go ahead and cut your steak in half. Especially if you like it cooked rare.

YOUR dog will be so happy you read this! Then they will all know that, of course, I am the best candidate for Alpha of the Pack.


7 day challenge

As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been slack as of late in updating this blog. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t been up to anything, and certainly doesn’t mean I have had no interesting thoughts, but I’ve been getting enough sleep lately so that has cut into my blogging time. In order jump-start my writing for 2013 I’ve decided to institute a seven-day blogging challenge for myself, that is, I’ll publish a new post every day this week. At first I thought I should do a 30 day challenge, but then I realized that might be biting off more than I can chew. Plus I’ve already committed to a month-long diet turn around, you know, one of those New Year’s resolutions, which seems enough of a challenge for the next 30 days. But even that I’ve broken up into manageable week by week chunks.

The diet thing goes something like this: one week, focus on cutting out sugar and white flour (bad carbs) and pre-cooking a weeks’ worth of stir fry with black rice for my lunches, and bison burgers (sans bun) with salad for dinner . Weekends, no restrictions, and I’ll be using Weight Watchers points plus as usual. Week two, vegetarian pre-cooked meals. Week 3, dairy free and all organic and pre made meals. Week 4, vegan no sugar no white flour, pre made meals. My reasoning behind this is, by the end of the month I’ll have the massive cravings for sweets and carbs brought on by holiday feasting under control, instead I’ll be craving fresh veggies and homemade meals. Plus, I’ll have touched base with all of my dietary aspirations without having to take them all on at once. Going from cheesecake and turkey smothered in gravy to vegan, no dairy, no white flour or sugar, and all organic might be TOO much of a shock to the system. Just to clarify: I am unlikely to do vegan for more than a week, however much I respect the vegans. I do, however, aspire to someday to all eating all organic food. Heck, I could see eating all organic food grown by me, but that would require a bit more land and time than I currently have.

Along the same topic, I recently volunteered to cook soup and bread for the Re-evaluation co-counseling day long women’s workshop I’m going to. The organizer asked me if I could bring something organic and vegan for the event, and not being in the habit of vegan cooking I panicked a bit. I really like me some chicken or beef broth in my soups (or both together!) and I hadn’t planned on doing a special shopping trip. So I took stock of what I’ve got and made a soup that was totally vegan, and as close to organic, as I could manage. After conferring with the workshop organizer that mostly organic was ok, here’s what i came up with:

3 cartons of organic rice milk

4 cans of low-sodium V8 juice

Bragg liquid aminos – I kept adding this liberally throughout the cooking process but is was probably about a quarter cup

Organic no salt seasoning

3-4 kaffir lime leaves (organic, grown by me, and very exciting because it is the first time I’ve used leaves from this little tree)

1 tsp thyme (organic, grown by me)

1 tsp rosemary (organic, grown by me)

1 tsp oregano (organic, grown by me)

1 cup shelled runner beans (organic, grown by me)

1 cup green runner beans frozen, minced (organic, grown by me)

a small pinch of frozen lemon grass

a couple of slices of fresh ginger

1/3 cup organic yellow sweet corn

1/3 cup lentils

1 cup black rice

1 cup  Quinoa (organic)

1/3 cup shelled hemp seed (organic)

It came out really well. My son said it tasted like it had meat in it. I do have to say, the rice milk added a better flavor/texture than I expected, but the kaffir lime leaves really made it for me. I am SO glad I decided to buy that little tree as it is going to become a favorite cooking herb.

Have you recently tried inventing a new recipe born of a need to use what you have on hand? If so, how did it turn out? I’d love to hear about it!