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Red-Tailed Rainbow by Margaret Almon.

Friday Five: What Makes You Smile?

I am playing the Friday Five at the RevGals.  This week’s question is What Makes You Smile?

Stratoz at the Rochester Jazz Festival
Stratoz at the Rochester Jazz Festival


1.  Listening to live jazz with Stratoz.

It’s coming up on 10 years since we started enjoying jazz music, and it has brought us many smiles, especially since the musicians are usually smiling themselves.


Bingham's Homemade Pies, Lenox, PA
Bingham’s Homemade Pies, Lenox, PA


2.  Pie.  From Bingham’s Homemade Pies(which is on the way to the Rochester Jazz Fest, fortunately) to Pie Night with our friends at the home of Good Food, Happy Man, pie makes me smile, especially when in good company.  I had my first black walnut tart this year.


Red-Tailed Rainbow by Margaret Almon.
Red-Tailed Rainbow by Margaret Almon.

3.  The Color Wheel.  As evidence of how much the transitions between colors makes me smile, check out my Color Wheel Pinterest Board.


The West Main Diner, Lansdale, PA
The West Main Diner, Lansdale, PA


4.  The West Main Diner.  Stratoz and I call this our World Headquarters for Nutmeg Designs.  The friendly service and good food is always worth a smile, and helps the business meetings run smoothly.


5.  The Grout Monster.  My friend Joanne, who delights in grouting, and helps me when there are too many mosaics to grout alone.


What makes you smile?


Related Posts:

Nutmeg Designs Mosaics and Icelandic Jazz of Sunna Gunnlaugs

Color Wheel Love

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five: Where is its home?

Today I am playing the RevGal Friday Five: Where is its home?

Tell us your favorite homes for five things, the places that you can always and reliably find them. 

The idea of items having “homes” has taken awhile for me to catch onto.  In my house, it seemed only special things had homes.  The Christmas decorations were in an odd closet that was positioned over the stairs, and only my younger sister was small enough and brave enough to climb onto the railing and launch herself up into the storage area.  My parents shared the spare bedroom as a sewing room for my mother and an office for my father to write poetry, and the sewing machine with all the sewing notions and fabric lived there, as did the typewriter and university letterhead.  When I left my home, I carried a sense that everything ordinary went in piles on whatever surfaces were available.

My first clear appreciation of homes for things came when I started making mosaics.  I have a whole room for my studio in our house, and I have a regenerative cycle where I fill up the drafting table with all the tools and dishes of glass for a project, and then as I finish a project, I take time to put things back home so I can start again.

1)My nippers and other tools reside in a wooden box by the drafting table.

Margaret Almon's Studio with a view to Wayne Stratz's Studio
Margaret Almon’s Studio with a view to Wayne Stratz’s Studio.  Photo by Allison Puketza of 4A Photography.

2)Then I put the containers of glass and tile back into my Tower of Tesserae.

My Tower of Tesserae
My Tower of Tesserae(aka Ikea closet organizer)

3)When my sister moved to South Africa, I was reunited with my dresser from childhood, and I store substrates from slate to olive wood crosses to picture frames in the drawers.

Dresser of Substrates
Dresser of Substrates

4)My intention is to put items that I need to grout on top of the dresser, but sometimes they expand to other surfaces if I’ve put off grouting a bit too long.

Ready to Grout
Ready to Grout

5)The really little pieces of glass go into tins organized by color.  The rogue bits end up in all parts of the house, hence our motto at Nutmeg Designs, “No Bare Feet.”

In the Studio with Bits of Glass
In the Studio with Bits of Glass


More Studio Photos:

Say Grout

Art Studio Portraits by Allison Puketza

Friday Five: Resolutions and Absolutions Edition

I’m playing a belated Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals on Resolutions:

Before: My Dining Room Table Desk
Before my Desk
The Corner: Before my Desk


1. In the past, what resolution has been your most successful? What change have you made that has been the most beneficial, to your mood, health, finances, or other way of being in the world?

In 2012, I wanted to make space for my business.   I took an online class in getting organized from the Artbiz Coach, Alyson Stanfield.  She asked us to take before pictures, and then create a space where we could work on our business.  Stratoz encouraged me to get a standing desk, so I could get away from all the sitting, and so I commissioned Dave and Mindy Spray of Creative Wood Designs by DAMI.  Dave measured the corner, and my height from elbow to floor and worked with me to create a desk that fit me.  I am amazed and how standing makes it easier for me to organize, to make to-do lists, and feel at ease rather than hunched over the dining room table with piles of stuff.  My desk has a big drawer, storage under the drafting top, and a flat area for a pencil cup.

Standing Desk from Creative Wood Designs by DAMI
Standing Desk from Creative Wood Designs by DAMI.

2. What is one thing you hope to do differently this year with regard to health, either physical or spiritual?

Discovering the Alexander Technique as a way to find more ease in my movement and in the studio was wonderful in 2012, and now I want to incorporate the idea of “constructive rest” into my daily life, and rest breaks while I am working in the studio, which is part of having compassion for myself.  F.M. Alexander, originator of the technique, believed that we are a unity of mind and body that makes up the self, that English doesn’t have a word to describe this whole unity of the physical-mental-emotional-spiritual self.

3. What is one thing you hope your family will do differently this year,  ways to deepen your connections with those you love.

More art and jazz dates with Stratoz.  We both tend to lack momentum in getting out of the house, or are busy with craft shows, but when we go on a date it’s awesome.

4. What is one thing you hope your community of faith will consider doing differently this year?

Stratoz attends the church on the corner, and there’s a new rector who just arrived in September, after an 8 year search.  I know people from this congregation than any one I ever was a member of, and they have a welcoming spirit, and I hope they find ways of being emboldened in sharing this welcome with the community.


5. In what area would you most like to learn to be gentle with yourself? For what would you most like to forgive yourself? Share your ideas and strategies for extending yourself the kind of grace we know we are assured of.

I want to be gentle with my body, and give myself enough rest, and the opportunity to release tensions that accumulate in my muscles.  I want to have compassion for myself, and rest in the idea that there is no “perfect”, and to practice letting go of tasks before I “feel done” with them.


10 Ways to a More Ergonomic Mosaic Studio

Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals: Corner Shops and Lansdale’s Real Main Street

I am playing the Friday Five at RevGalBlogPals on the theme of Corner Shops.  Where I grew up in Edmonton, there were many corner stores,  and I was intrigued by the array of goods, and the possibility that I could someday buy Key-Tab notebooks(we called them “scribblers” in Canada).  When Stratoz and I moved to Southeast PA in 1997, we were deciding where to live, and my sister said Lansdale had a real Main Street, and indeed it did, and that’s where we’ve been ever since.

Edmonton’s equivalent of a Main Street for me was Whyte Avenue, in Strathcona, which used to be an actual town, annexed into Edmonton.  I didn’t know that, just that there were shops in interesting buildings and I could easily walk from one to the next.  When I moved to Bethlehem, PA in 1985, while my mother was attending Moravian Seminary, I was amazed at how a real Main Street brought in busloads of tourists!

1.  If you suddenly received a ton of money and could open up some kind of store or service just for the pleasure of having it (assume it wouldn’t have to be too financially successful!), what would it be?

I have an online shop for my mosaics, Nutmeg Designs, and sometimes I wonder about having a physical store.  Setting up for craft shows is exhausting and the idea of having a permanent home for our art is appealing, especially if I had this ton of money to ease the start up costs, but I love having a studio in my home, where making art is intrinsic to my life.  There is something magical about making an entire environment for people to step into and become part of, and I can envision having a coffeeshop, where art is on the walls, and there is music and pastry.

Part of me is attracted to the idea that places we enjoy being, in which we have community, and use our senses to make connections with our world incarnate,  could actually be financially successful.  I heard the expression “showrooming” where people try something on, touch or otherwise experience an item, at a physical store and then go order it online for a lower price.  Anyone who owns a yarn store knows about this phenomenon, and while there are times when a lower cost is important, I also do not want to make this my default way of shopping.

2.  What service or store that no longer exists do you miss most?

Landale, PA Main Street by Don Groff.
Lansdale, PA Main Street by Don Groff.

I miss the Spice Smuggler in Lansdale.  The owner retired, and it’s now a cell phone store, the original awning still remains.  This shop had walls full of bulk spices in glass jars, tea, and gifts, and I always felt at ease asking those who worked there to measure out spices for me, because they loved and respected their customers.

2nd street Lansdale-- sign lingers
2nd street Lansdale– sign lingers. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Stratoz took this photo of a shop on Second Street in Lansdale, long since abandoned, and I know he’d love to walk to a stained glass store. Stained glass is a trial to photograph, and with art glass every sheet is different, even of the same kind, because art glass is handmade with swirls and ripples of color.  Buying stained glass online is usually for emergencies when we need a particular color, and it’s a solid color. We were sad when Inspirations Stained Glass closed in Lower Providence, but Rainbow Arts and Crafts in E. Norriton stepped up and started a stained glass section in their store, for which we are very grateful. [Sadly they too have closed, but Colors of Glass has taken their place as of Summer 2015.]

3.  What local business do you think you could make better if you were to take it over? And if you don’t mind sharing, what changes would you make?

I am going to reframe this in terms of what my favorite local businesses have in common.  They know my name, what I like, are interested in what I do, are a positive force, and are reinventing themselves in order to respond to their customers.  We are ecstatic that after seeing almost all our local bakeries close over the course of 10 years, but now we have Alice Bakery in North Wales and Ambler and Bakers on Broad in Souderton, we can always find deliciousness.

Napoleon from Alice Bakery, North Wales, PA
Napoleon from Alice Bakery, North Wales, PA. Photo by Margaret Almon, who generously shared this Napoleon with Wayne Stratz.

4.  What spot nearby seems to be impossible for businesses to survive in?

There is a small tavern on a side street that went out of business, and there have been several pizza parlors, an ice cream shop and a youth drop in center which have not survived.  The tavern drew people from the neighborhood, and it didn’t matter that it was on an isolated street.  I am hopeful for the newest business there, Smoke Rack BBQ, because they sell BBQ and people will come a distance for good BBQ. [Now replaced by a pizza parlor yet again in 2014].

5.  We’ve all seen stores that combined books and records, beer and laundry, or coffee and whatever. One of my favorite places to get coffee in Honolulu is a cafe and florist, and there is a car garage that’s also a diner in a town nearby. What would be a cool hybrid of two disparate ideas for somewhere you’d like to hang out?

Stratoz and I had a fine gourmet dinner at a French Restaurant in a bowling alley when we lived in Illinois.  A typewriter repair shop in on Broad Street in Lansdale also sold honey that the owner collected from hives in the back of the shop.  When we first started going out, Stratoz and I thought we’d like to run a Diner/Bookstore.  We are regulars at Lansdale’s West Main Diner.  If there was a bookstore next door, we’d be in heaven.  We are happy though that the Pedaller Bike Shop moved in next to the West Main Diner.

Knitting Room at Seamen's Church Institute

Seafarer’s Scarves for Christmas At Sea

Seafarer's Scarves for Christmas At Sea
Seafarer’s Scarves for Christmas At Sea, Seamen’s Church Institute, Port Newark, NJ.

I am a Christmas at Sea Knitter, and sent my 2012 donation of Seafarer’s Scarves off to Port Newark, NJ. I was saddened to hear that the Seamen’s Church Institute(SCI), which sponsors the volunteer knitting program, got flooded by Sandy, but grateful for the dedication of the SCI staff who salvaged many of the knitted gifts that were soaked, as Paige Sato recounts in her update:

Friday 10 SCI staff returned to the port with sleeves rolled up for some hard work. We painstakingly sorted through each and every Santa sack, identifying and sorting the wet and/or damp from the dry.  I am THRILLED to say that over 1200 gifts (out of 1600) were FINE!  Thank goodness for plastic bags!

The wet and damp gifts were brought home over the weekend and laundered (as were any of the wet cloth ditty bags).

Today (Monday), we sorted through the nearly 7,000 items that were stored in boxes.  Every employee with electricity ponied up to the task and piled bag upon bag upon rubbermaid container into their cars and vans for more laundry.

I believe we will save well over 95% of all these knits. All the cloth ditty bags have been saved.  The toiletries–well, we’re not so lucky there.  But that’s the least of my worries.

SCI has collected handknitted hats, scarves and vests and socks for mariners and seafarers since 1898, during the Spanish American War!  Affiliated with the Episcopal Church, SCI is an ecumenical agency that advocates for men and women who work at sea with professional education, pastoral care and legal aid.

Knitting Room at Seamen's Church Institute
The “Christmas At Sea” program offers hand-knitted articles of clothing to each seafarer who enters the port between October and February. Volunteers gather and knit, pick up supplies and drop off finished scarves, hats, mittens, and sweaters for delivery.

If I lived closer, I’d love to knit in the SCI’s volunteer knitters room!  What do you volunteer your time for?

May we receive with gratitude.

Be Present at our table, Lord

Be present at our table, Lord;
Be here and everywhere adored;
From Thine all-bounteous hand our food
May we receive with gratitude. Amen.

From The Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church(1969)

The text was written by John Cennick(1740), to the tune of Wareham by William Knapp.  We sang this at my Moravian church as a table grace, and I loved how the words sounded, and the image of God’s “all-bounteous hand.”  The tune came into my head today, on Thanksgiving.  I searched for a video or recording, but the Moravian version is scarce.  Other versions abound, with a different ending two lines, and here is one of those.


A Mosaic Pendant Giveaway Hosted by Photographer Kerri Farley

Blue Jay Mosaic Inspired by Kerri Farley's Photo
Blue Jay Mosaic by Wayne Stratz Inspired by Kerri Farley’s Photo
Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
~ Thomas Merton

Kerri Farley has been an inspiration, with her bird and nature photography(and her choice of quotes), and Stratoz was particularly taken with her Blue Jay – Sweet Soul Shining Through and he asked if he could do a glass interpretation and she said yes, and he created Kerri’s Blue Jay.  As the Blue Jay wended its way to its new home with an old friend, Kerri purchased one of my pendants and went on its way to her!

Kerri said she loved her pendant even more in person, and featured it as part of her Macro Monday, with exquisitely detailed macro shots, and we joined together to do a giveaway of one of my 1″ mosaic pendants from my Nutmeg Designs Etsy Shop.

Kerri Farley’s Guest Post for Orange Tuesday.

Congratulations to Dawn of Dawns bloggy blog for winning a pendant of her choice.


Color Can Be Learned: Nita Leland and Exploring Color

Alas, Nita Leland’s Exploring Color: How to Use and Control Color in Your Painting is out of print, but used copies are still around.  I found a copy at the public library in 2004, and was entranced with Nita Leland’s assertion that color can be learned.  As I explored collage and other visual mediums, I noticed how strongly I responded to color, and I wanted to understand this language of hue and tone and contrast.  I took a watercolor class, and all I wanted to do was mix colors, which didn’t translate into actually painting much.

RYB Color Wheel rgbcoded
RYB Color Wheel rgbcoded

It was exciting having a name for why two colors practically vibrate next to each other(ie. orange and blue, complementary colors), and learning how colors transition into each other around a color wheel.  I found my notebook of color experiments, and it brought back the thrill of trying these combinations out for myself.  I played with a “tetrad” of red-orange/yellow-green/blue-violet/blue-green.I wrote a page of anxious notes about whether the colors were what I thought they were, but that’s part of what happens with colors. They shift and shimmer depending on context.  Fortunately, I wrote at the end the page that I really liked the red of the ship against the blue, and the yellow-green against the red-orange.  Color sense cannot be completely articulated in words, and along with learning the language color, I’ve also learned about the unspoken nature of color.


Red Blanket Flower Mandala by Margaret Almon

Remembrance Day in Canada in the 1970’s: Poppies and Neil Young

Red Blanket Flower Mandala by Margaret Almon
Red Blanket Flower Mandala by Margaret Almon, glass mosaic on wood, 8 inches.

Growing up in Canada, November 11th was Remembrance Day, and we would have assembly in school, with a moment of silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve their country during times of war, conflict and peace.   Growing up in the 1970’s made for some unusual assemblies.   I remember both being chosen to recite John McCrae’s In Flanders’ Fields.  McCrae was as a physician in WWI and wrote this poem about the red poppies that sprang up in the many fields in Flanders where soldiers were buried.  For a moving reimagining of these fields, read Maureen Doallas’s poem What Girls in a Poppy Field Know, from her blog Writing Without Paper.

«In Flanders' Fields» - published & illustrated in 1918 via stoixeia on Flickr.
«In Flanders’ Fields» – published & illustrated in 1918, written by John McCrae via stoixeia on Flickr.

I also remember my grade 5 class sang Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush at assembly in 1977.  We practiced for several weeks in the music room, which was a series of carpet covered steps, auditorium style, no chairs or desks, descending the lowest level, where the piano and our teacher would stand.  We learned the song from listening to a recording of Neil Young, and I picked up on the mournful nature of the lyrics, especially this stanza:

I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes.
I was hoping for replacement
When the sun burst thru the sky.
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high.
I was thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.
Thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.

I don’t recall what my teacher said about why we were singing this song on Remembrance Day, but looking back, the image of being in a burned out basement, and hoping for a replacement seems apt for evoking the desolation of war.  I didn’t literally know what it meant to “get high”, but I understood the longing timbre in Young’s voice.  I remembered this assembly when hearing Neil Young interviewed on Fresh Air about his new album Americana, and how American folk songs and protest songs ended up in schools cleaned up and deprived of some of their power.  Young is Canadian, but drawn to these American tunes.  I wonder what he’d think of one his songs in a school assembly.

Here’s a great version by Thom Yorke of Radiohead:

The Artist’s Way By Julia Cameron and the Accidental Artist

Collage circa 1997 While Reading The Artist's Way
Collage circa 1997 While Reading The Artist’s Way

When Abby Sernoff of 111 Collage Design and I had a chance to meet, we discovered our shared experience with The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron, and how this led us into collage.    I got my copy out, and looked in the index, and “collage” only has one mention, in the chapter, Recovering a Sense of Connection, as a kind of pictorial autobiography, with past, present, future and your dreams.  That one exercise opened up a whole world of visual expression for me, a language I didn’t even know I knew.

I was reading The Artist’s Way in 1997 because I wasn’t writing poetry, and I was searching for ways to move toward my writing, rather than wrapping myself in avoidance.  I had gone from getting my MFA in Creative Writing in 1992, to going to Library School in 1993, to getting my first library job at the reference desk of the University of Scranton in 1995, and I felt lost, as if I wasn’t real.

The beliefs we have about ourselves can be constricting, painful, damaging.  What I noticed, when collecting images for my collage, was the open doors, a window, and up in the corner, the phrase, “Have your next Escape Clause.”  This was unsettling, since I’d just gotten my first real, professional library job, and that was supposed to be my escape clause, my way to be self-sufficient in the face of a degree in poetry.

Now, I notice that I have two artists toward the center of the collage, Frida Kahlo and Maya Lin.  I resonated with visual artists, but until I started making collages, I didn’t believe I had kinship with them.

The collage task was the main thing I took away from reading The Artist’s Way, Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message.”  I kept making collages, and I enjoyed searching for images, and then laying them out on the table and making connections, finding patterns, symbols, colors.  I was beginning to find my escape clause.

What became or is becoming your escape clause?  What doors opened in your life?