Everyday adventures

The Art of Artful Journaling

June 29, 2010

Since I returned from Missouri, I’ve been scrambling to catch up in my latest art class, Laure Ferlita’s Artful Journaling: Foundations. (I’m two lessons behind, and should be working on an assignment, but instead I’m writing about the class…)

I’ve wanted to learn how to do illustrated journaling for several years, after seeing an acquaintance’s gorgeous journal while on a trip to Greece. I’ve drooled over books about creating illustrated journals by Hannah Hinchman and Clare Walker Leslie and started sketching off and on. Since I love the look of watercolor, I wanted to incorporate it into my journal, but the first time I tried it (with the help of a library book), I realized I needed a real class with a teacher I could ask questions of. Laure’s current class is the best so far for what I actually want to do: add sketching and painting to my journal when I travel, as well as work on a nature journal here at home. Each lesson helps us build what Laure calls a “visual vocabulary,” techniques and skills for creating different effects, page design and so on. Assignments have included making a color chart (surprisingly soothing and fun), creating a set of borders, using a “placement map,” and making word art (one of the assignments I haven’t done yet).

Here are three of my pages (the color isn't quite right because I have to take a photo of the art instead of scanning it):

(Still need to darken the cast shadow between the cookie sides.)

Summer’s more relaxed schedule is a good time for exploring new hobbies and experiences. For me, illustrated journaling is both a simple pleasure and an everyday adventure. It’s fun—and it stretches me just a little outside my comfort zone while helping me move towards one of my goals.

What about you? What kind of simple pleasures and everyday adventures are you taking part in this summer? Do share!

Arabia Museum

Strawberries and Gelato and Steamships--Oh, My!

June 24, 2010

My final day in Missouri, we went to the City Market and the Arabia Museum in Kansas City. I drooled over the large produce stands selling one-pound containers of strawberries for a dollar, as well as jewel-like cherries, peppers and lettuces. At least two vendors carried bulk spices, their luscious aromas perfuming the air. Fresh flowers, homemade fudge and fresh-baked breads tempted me, too, and it was a delicate form of torture to wander through the stands and not be able to buy anything because I was flying home the next day. (I consoled myself with a triple chocolate gelato from an Italian deli.)

Garden art--so cute!

In addition to the produce and food stands, the City Market has shops, restaurants and the Arabia Steamboat Museum, an attraction my aunt, who is an archaeologist, had been dying to visit. A little history: in 1856, the Arabia steamed up the Missouri River, laden with more than 200 tons of merchandise bound for pioneer settlements and general stores. When she hit a “snag,” or submerged tree, she sank in mere minutes, taking her cargo with her. All 130 human passengers survived; the only fatality was a mule, who has now been nicknamed Lawrence (of Arabia—get it?). Museum visitors are encouraged to pay their respects to Lawrence as they leave the exhibits.

A fraction of the Arabia's cargo.

But back to the Arabia (see how easily I’m distracted by anything equine?). Over time the Missouri River changed its course, leaving the Arabia buried 45 feet beneath a Kansas corn field, half a mile from the river’s edge. Arabia was excavated in 1988-1989. Her amazingly well-preserved cargo is the largest pre-Civil war artifact collection in the world—everything from dishware, clothing, tools, guns, foodstuffs, medicine, trade beads and buttons. They’re still restoring what was excavated, and expect to have at least 15 more years of work ahead of them! At the preservation lab in the museum, we watched a restorer work on a pair of boots, and sniffed a sample of perfume recovered from the Arabia. To learn more about the Arabia, visit http://www.1856.com/, or read Treasure in a Cornfield, by Greg Hawley.

More treasure.

And that concludes our trip through Missouri. Thanks for traveling with me—I’ve enjoyed reliving it all!

Rest in peace, Lawrence.

Everyday adventures

"Orphans Preferred"...

June 21, 2010

While we were in St. Joseph, MO, we toured the Pony Express Museum. (I’m sure you know why I was interested in it!)

The mail must go. Hurled by flesh and blood across 2,000 miles of desolate space—Fort Kearney, Laramie, South Pass, Fort Bridger, Salt Lake City. Neither storms, fatigue, darkness, mountains and Indians, burning sands or snow must stop the precious bags. The mail must go.” –M. Jeff Thompson, Mayor of St. Joseph, Missouri, April 3 1860, before the inaugural ride of the Pony Express.

The Pony Express was founded because of the need for faster communication with the West and the looming Civil War. On April 3, 1860, riders left simultaneously from St. Joseph and Sacramento, CA, carrying specialized saddlebags, called mochilas, filled with mail. The first westbound trip took 9 days and 23 hours, and the eastbound journey took 11 days and 12 hours. The riders covered approximately 250 miles in a 24-hour day. A letter cost $5 per half-ounce to mail (approximately $95 today!) and a rider could carry only about 20 pounds per ride.


Riders had to be light (under 125 pounds), tough and most of them were age 20 or younger. Riders included many “colorful characters,” like 15-year-old William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Even though it was called the “Pony” Express, Mustangs, Morgans, Pintos and Thoroughbreds were chosen for use.

"Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred." A (probably apocryphal) ad in a California newspaper.

Pony Express service lasted only 19 months, until Oct. 24, 1861 when the Pacific Telegraph line was completed and the Express was no longer needed. The Pony Express eventually had more than 100 stations, 80 riders and between 400 and 500 horses. Despite the hazards of the route such as Indians, extreme weather conditions and wild animals, only one mail delivery was ever lost and one rider killed.

“It was not until December 1860, that I had an opportunity to ride. The boys were dropping out pretty fast. Some of them could not stand the strain of the constant riding. It was not so bad in summer, but when winter came on, the job was too much for them… My first ride was in a heavy snow storm, and it pretty nearly used me up.”—William Campbell, Pony Express rider.

“There were about eighty pony riders in the saddle all the time, night and day, stretching in a long, scattering procession from Missouri to California, forty flying eastward, and forty toward the west, and among them making four hundred gallant horses earn a stirring livelihood and see a deal of scenery every single day of the year.”—Mark Twain, Roughing It

Despite the romance of the idea of the Pony Express and its usefulness to those relying upon its news, it was not profitable and led its founders to bankruptcy.

Original Pony Express desk

The Pony Express is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. For more information, go to www.ponyexpress.org.

Everyday adventures

"See the Bullet Hole"--The Birth and Death of an Outlaw

June 17, 2010

On the way to our first genealogy destination, we stopped at the James Family Farm and Museum, childhood home of Jesse and Frank James, in Kearney, Missouri.

Original structure is on the left. Added-on rooms to the right.

The cabin, built of log and clapboards, is quite small, and was originally built in 1822. The Reverend Robert James brought his wife Zerelda and son Frank there in 1845, and Jesse was born here in 1847. After the Reverend’s death (he had gone to California after gold was discovered and died there), Zerelda remarried (twice, ultimately). She began giving tours of the farm after 1882, a practice continued by Frank after her death, and later, Frank’s son and Jesse’s grandsons. The home contains many items belonging to the James family, including two beautifully made quilts crafted by Frank’s wife, Annie, who seems to have been a gifted seamstress. In the 1890s, Zerelda added two ready-made rooms to the original structure, purchased from the Sears catalogue.

Jesse was originally buried on the family farm, but was later moved. Replica of original headstone.

In addition to the family’s home, there is a small museum which contains more James family items, including Jesse’s and Frank’s saddles, the family Bible with entries made by Zerelda, the boots Jesse was wearing when he died and the tombstone of Frank James’ treasured horse, Dan. It seems that when Dan died, Frank had him buried on the farm some distance from the house. Frank included Dan’s grave in the public tours he gave, but as he aged, he found it harder to make the walk to it, and the horse’s tombstone was moved closer and closer to the home. No one knows now where the horse is actually buried!

Later in the trip, we visited the house in which Jesse James was shot to death at age 34 in 1882. He was living with his wife and two children in St. Joseph, Missouri, under the name of Tom Howard. Jesse’s tiny white house still bears the scars of that shooting: a hole in the wall, subsequently enlarged by treasure hunters, and gouges in the wood floor where more treasure hunters carved pieces of blood-soaked wood out of the boards! The home also contains artifacts from Jesse’s coffin—his grave was exhumed in 1995 so that forensic scientists using DNA testing could determine if the body buried in his grave was really him. (It was.)

The home where Jesse was shot

While looking out over the peaceful acreage at the James farm, I wondered what made Jesse and Frank become outlaws. Until this trip, I knew virtually nothing about the Jameses—and still know only a little. I wondered if Jesse and Frank intended to become what they became—but how could they have?

We hadn’t planned on visiting either where Jesse James was born or died…it just happened. Lives can be like that, too.  Sometimes when you’re on a road, you don’t know where it will lead. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have choices to make along the way.

Outside the James Museum

Everyday adventures

Toto, We're Not in Kansas, but...

June 15, 2010

I returned yesterday from a quick trip to meet my mom and aunt in Missouri.  This sign greeted me in the Kansas City airport:


My aunt has spent years researching her family's genealogy, and planned this trip with my mom so they could visit a number of small Missouri towns where key ancestors had been born/married/lived/died.  They invited me to join them and I jumped at the chance--road trip! Armed with Aunt Jary's two carefully compiled three-ring binders, we toured central Missouri, driving through tiny towns and tramping through cemeteries.

Surprisingly, I found the exploration of these old cemeteries rather fascinating. Except for the occasional bird, we were alone in an atmosphere of deep peace. We had nothing but rolling farmland around us, and sometimes a breeze lifted the tree leaves and stirred the little American flags someone had placed on some of the graves for Memorial Day.  I found myself wondering what these people had been like in life--how had they lived? What were the relationships between those buried on the family plots? Some gravestones marked the short lives of infants and young children. One of my own long-gone relatives had died in her 20s of consumption. 

The grave that held the most interest for me was this one:

A "great-great" who fought for the Union in the Civil War, P.M. was imprisoned in Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prison camp in Georgia, and lived to tell the tale.  I've been to Andersonville twice, but unfortunately I didn't yet know about my own personal inmate either time.

We visited several other places of interest while on the tombstone tour--and I'll share more with you later in the week.  Until then, watch out for flying monkeys!


Sweet Summers

June 07, 2010

With days growing longer—and hotter—and the kids about to be out of school, I find myself remembering sweet summers of my childhood, when I ran wild and free at my grandma’s house in Cottonwood, California.

My mom and I spent many vacations at Grandma’s together, but from the time I was about 8, during summer vacation I spent at least two weeks, sometimes a month or more, at her house on my own, without my mom. (Strangely, even when Grandpa was living, I always thought of the Cottonwood place as “Grandma’s house.”)

To get to Grandma’s house, we drove for at least eight hours, winding through flat farmland from our home in Southern California, to Cottonwood, population 3000-plus. I opened my car window to smell the alfalfa fields and watched the road signs eagerly, counting down the miles until our exit. Once I saw the Bowman Road sign, I could barely contain my anticipation. It would only be a matter of minutes until we reached Grandma’s house.

The tires crunched on the gravel driveway where we parked to unload. I would jump out of the car eagerly, running through a gate in the white picket fence. The little white house, trimmed in barn red, nestled there, like a hen sitting on her nest.

At home, I had only a tiny yard to play in. At Grandma’s house, I had 22 acres in which to roam freely. For a city girl, the cows, chickens, dog and cats held deep fascination. Accompanied by my grandparents’ dog, Taffy, I explored nearly every inch of the property, from the straw-yellow hills behind the house to the sweet-smelling cow barn, to the irrigated cow pasture where I tried to make friends with my grandparents’ beef cattle. Though I could never convince Grandma to get me a horse, I pretended to ride one—or pretended to be one—while exploring.

When I tired of galloping through the pasture, I swam in the irrigation ditch that ran behind Grandma’s house like my own personal river, caught frogs for frog swimming races, or stretched out on a beach towel on the wooden bridge that crossed the ditch, baking myself in the summer sun. Or I would read in a lawn chair under the huge oak in the front yard, listening to the soothing sound of chickens softly clucking while they searched a flower bed for tasty bugs. Occasionally, the rooster’s crow broke the quiet of the afternoon.

Grandma was a great cook and I ate slabs of her homemade bread covered in fresh butter or homemade jam all day long. I reveled in peaches and watermelon purchased from local produce stands, or plums picked right off the tree. For a special treat, sometimes Grandma would make boysenberry cobbler, the purple berries oozing juices through the crumbly top crust.

Grandma’s mother, Great Gram, lived across the street in a tiny, pink house and many evenings I’d go play Rummy with her. (One of my first lessons in sportsmanship came at the card table: You can’t play cards with the grown ups if you cry when you lose.) I loved to play cards with her, but I admit to an ulterior motive as well. She made the best milkshakes I’ve ever had. She’d pour canned Hershey’s syrup over several scoops of chocolate chip ice cream and icy milk, then mush up the whole concoction with an old-fashioned egg beater. It was so thick, I had to eat it with a spoon.

My mom and step dad live in the house with the red trim now. Sadly, we don’t get to visit very often, since we live 2500 miles away. But when we do make the trip to Cottonwood, I’m reminded that I was once a girl with no cares, running wild through a cow pasture and slurping up milkshakes without a thought of their calorie count.


One Award, 10 Random Facts and Four Beautiful Blogs

June 03, 2010

At the end of The Week That is Best Forgotten, Laure at the Painted Thoughts blog sent me an award:

I’m still new enough to blogging to really appreciate these awards, and get a kick out of answering the questions that go along with them. For this one, I’m supposed to tell you 10 things about myself. You already know of my horse addiction and several of the various other pastimes I enjoy, so here are 10 random facts you probably don’t know:

I worked on an archaeological dig in Jerusalem when I was in college.

I’ve been quoted in two books.

I do a crossword puzzle every day, in an attempt to keep my brain cells snapping and popping.

I sing along with the radio in my car. Loudly.

I’m allergic to kiwi fruit.

I was born and raised in California, and still miss the wonderful climate.

My husband and I have been married for 22 years, despite having worked together in the same office twice and currently working out of a shared home office.

I’m totally addicted to a game on my computer called “Mahjong Titans.”

My great grandmother was full Cherokee Indian.

My favorite flavor of ice cream is mint chocolate chip.

More important than the random facts, I get to share some blogs I enjoy. I hope you will like them, too.

The Enchanted Earth. I keep passing these awards on to Meredith because her blog is utterly delightful. She takes beautiful photos and writes uplifting and creative posts. One of my recent favorites was “Star Stuff.” Check it out.

A Nature Art Journal. Elizabeth’s nature journal pages are wonderful, and I’m inspired by looking at them.

Hope in Every Day. Krista’s blog title says it all.

Walking Nature Home. Susan is a writer, her husband is a sculptor, and he is fighting brain cancer. Her writing is lovely and positive, even in the face of her husband’s illness.
Thank you to Laure for giving me one more reason to smile last week, and to all of you for your kind and encouraging comments.

Edited to add: One more great blog to visit: Blueberries, Art and Life. Teresa's thoughts on art and life--and she's already won this award once before!