Category Archives: Lovely Things

Palawan! (In which she reminds herself to maintain perspective)

This week I am trying frantically to finish preparations for the first big business meeting of the year and my first international trip of the year.  This evening I was griping to the kids about the insane pace right now and the loss of even a day off for the next two weeks – not even a day to slow down and pack!  Argh.

And then I paused for a moment, randomly clicking around the interwebs because I had reached that point where the words and the graphs on the PowerPoint slides no longer made sense to me and remembered.  After the big, stress-filled business meeting I am going to Palawan!  Immediately after my business review is complete I am climbing aboard a Philippine Air flight to Puerto Princesa with my colleagues and coworkers to attend our annual strategic, team building and development meeting.  On Palawan!!o-PALAWAN-PHILLIPPINES-900

I really lost perspective.  Palawan is the largest of the 81 provinces in the Philippines.  In ancient times Chinese traders traversed land bridges from Borneo to Palawan.  They were followed by many, many migrants to the Philippine Islands.  The caves of Palawan have revealed china, pottery and other artifacts from those first visitors.

Palawan was also the first area within the Philippines colonized by Spain in 1622.  Centuries later the Japanese invaded the province on May 18, 1942.

What excites me, though is that Palawan is considered the last ecological frontier in the Philippines.  Its 1700 islands are covered with tropical rain forests and vast areas of marine wilderness.  One of those unique treasures is the underground river in the Puerto Princesa National Park.   Check out the Wikipedia info on the park and the river, but also check back here in a few weeks and I will post my own pictures and impressions.

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The first day of our Leadership Meetings includes an excursion down the subterranean river.  After that we get to listen to some speakers from Frost and Sullivan and Forrester, play some team building games and flesh out our 2015 strategy. And I almost opted out.  I almost chose to just fly home to have a weekend.  Forfeit my voice in the strategy sessions.   Watch the snow melt in my yard rather than paddle down an underground river.  I was ready to burrow back into my winter hibernation cave rather than explore a Unesco World Heritage site, one of the New Seven Natural Wonders  – paid for – in full – by my employer.

It is so easy to lose site of the bigger picture when we are caught up in the urgency of the now.  It is important that I am well prepared for the upcoming meeting.  It’s important to my career that I present well and dynamically, that I engage my audience and that my presentation is relevant and vital.

It’s not necessary, however, to lose site of the rest of my life.  I am still lucky enough to have two of my adult children who choose to live with me (and yeah, I know, rent is cheap with me, but I don’t care!) and the one who doesn’t live with me, who lives thousands of miles away in New Hampshire, works for the same company I work for.  We are connected.  So, so connected.

I just had to report all of my vacation days for 2014 (apparently there was a glitch in the tracking software and although the hours were deducted from my accrual, the actual dates were lost – try recreating every day you took off for the last year, not easy!) and I took a lot of time off in 2014.  I was lax about taking time out for the first few years working for my company so I had a lot of days accrued.  And I took 29 days off in 2014.   That’s a month and a half of paid time off last year.

Some of that time was to be a barely-needed care giver when my mother had surgery  (a post will follow some day about my appalling lack of ability to handle a real crisis during that time, but I am still processing it and can’t get it written yet).  However, even more was time off during the Holidays and a leisurely trip to North Carolina to wonder at my sister’s brilliance and revel in my parent’s garden.  Another week was to ride the train from Colorado to California and play with food and photographs and paper with my sister.  I had a month off to just be me in 2014.  That’s a luxury many don’t share.

And now I have the all-expenses-paid opportunity to experience warmth in winter and wonder in our world.  And I nearly lost sight of what was being offered to me, and I completely lost perspective.underground palawan Palawan-1 puerto_princesa_underground_river_04 palawan

Lucky for me I still have time to reaffirm my willingness and even my strong desire to participate in creating strategy, building teams and being a part of this oh so wonderful world – and a chance to paddle down an underground river in just a little over a week.  I need to go pack!

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver

Bella Grace

Bella Grace Collage 1-28-2015 12-52-45 PM 960x540I can remember Sunday mornings as a teen sitting in the cool, darkly paneled sanctuary of All Saints-by-the-Sea listening to Father Woodward deliver a homily that felt uncomfortably aimed at me. Sometimes it felt as though someone had been reading my journal, the message was so pointed and so exactly what I needed to hear, whether I wanted to or not. That connection with my core, with who I was and am in my most quiet and private places is what anchored me in my faith life.

I have a similar, although less holy, core connBella Grace Collage 1-26-2015 7-47-48 AM 4608x3456ection with Bella Grace, the newest offering from Stampington & Company. The editors say “Bella Grace is a special publication devoted to discovering magic in the ordinary” and I have to agree. The aesthetic is one of muted colors, evocative images and rich matte paper, all elements I am drawn to.

On page 8 of the recent issue (Volume 1, Issue 2) D. Smith Kaich Jones speaks of silence and says “I even like my colors quiet.”  Yes! I have often struggled to explain why I am drawn to the muted, the dusty, the … quiet… colors. My beautiful sister surrounds herself in luscious jewel tones and I understand why. But I like my colors quiet.

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As an inveterate form filler-out-er and workbook lover the writing prompts with space to contribute right there, on the lovely page has me reaching for my pen again and again.

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Without skimping on the imagery more attention is paid to the words in Bella Grace than in some other Stampington publications which focus on the images and the how-tos. As a word person that’s important to me.

This is a magazine that has stories on Silence, Wind, Water, Photography, Writing, Polishing the Silver Before Vacation, Musings on Grass and Savoring Chocolate all in one lovely package that fits in my work bag, lives on my nightstand and is becoming lovingly well thumbed.

Bella Grace Collage 1-26-2015 7-48-02 AM 4608x3456 Someone, somewhere has been reading my journal. How else can a magazine so perfectly curated for my tastes be explained?

For the record, I am in no way affiliated with Bella Grace or Stampington & Company.  This isn’t a review, it’s an exploration, a thinking-through, maybe an homage.  I have not been paid in any way for this post.

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Ornaments and Tags

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I spent an afternoon this week playing with clay like a child.  It was as fun as I remembered, but this clay didn’t smell of earth, like real clay, or that odd salty, musty smell of Play-dough.  I made baking soda and cornstarch clay which is surprisingly easy and economical to make, smells wonderfully fresh and clean and handles beautifully if you use it the same day as you make it.  I found that storing it over night resulted in a crumbly mess.

I will share my process and recipe, but be sure to check out some of the pins and posts that inspired me to make these ornaments and gift tags, there’s so much you can do with this clay.

This photo from mariegracedesigns.com first piqued my interest in baking soda cornstarch clay.  This one adds some sparkle to the dough, but the clay has a slight glimmer without adding anything additional.  I love the use of pine sprigs to press into the clay here.  I only used stamps on mine, but want to go back and use rosemary and other botanicals when I make more.  Laura at dishfunctionaldesigns.blogspot.com did some nice things with ribbons on hers.

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I used the Cooks.com recipe of:
2 cups baking soda
1 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup water

Mix the cornstarch and baking soda then stir in the water.  The water will remain on the top of the dry ingredients and will take a bit of time and stirring to combine and ensure mixture is smooth with no clumps.  Cook over medium heat stirring constantly.  The dough will start to stiffen up and clump quite suddenly.  Stir quickly to avoid scorching until the mixture resembles lumpy mashed potatoes.  Turn the dough out into a bowl and cover with a cool, damp cloth until it’s easy to handle.  Turn out onto counter dusted with cornstarch and kneed four or five times.

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Roll out to1/4 inch thick.  Stamp using your choice of colored inks and stamps or press articles into the clay to make patterns.  Cut out with sharp cookie or biscuit cutters or with a knife.  I learned from experience that using a glass or other cutter with a thick or dull edge makes for messy results.

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You can allow the cut ornaments to air dry or place in the oven at 200 for an hour or so depending on the thickness of your items.  A hotter oven or extended baking times will cause the clay to brown.

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After my initial cuts I re-rolled the dough which resulted in a nice marbled effect.

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These ornaments were made with the re-rolled/marbled clay.

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Once dry the ornaments feel like porcelain or Jasperware.  Seal with a spray sealant if you prefer a smoother finish.  I can’t speak yet for how long the ornaments or tags will last without being sealed, but will be watching over the next few seasons.

This is definitely a medium I intend to experiment with more.

On being away….

I have been away for a while.  I traveled to Asia for business immediately followed by a sisters-only vacation (first time since before we had kids of our own!) and suddenly, back in my real life there are a lot of things that I needed to catch up on. Overflowing in-box, looming deadlines, and a lot of virtual blank space here at Autumn Journal.

Even with the incredible pace since I have been back, the warmth of the vacation peace hasn’t worn off. 

I took the California Zephyr from Denver, Colorado to Truckee, California.  It’s been a long time since I traveled long distances by rail.  The trip takes about twenty-four hours  following the Colorado River and then the Truckee River over the Rocky Mountains, across the Utah and Nevada deserts and into the Sierra Nevada.

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It’s easy, in our busy, city centric world to forget that there are still vast, open spaces in our country.  Amazing views; long, long stretches of space and sky.  There’s nothing quite like sleeping on the train, although I will bring my down pillow next time.  On the way home my sister and I packed fruit and pretzels, some chocolate and a nice bottle of red wine so I could skip the pre-fab food options in the dining car.

I desperately needed this trip to fill the creative well and I would recommend a trip via train to anyone who doesn’t have a tight timeline and who doesn’t get ruffled when departure and arrival times are variable! 

So what did you do on your summer vacation?  Did you fill the well?

Here’s a Google+ auto-generated Story about my trip.  I love this feature!
https://plus.google.com/116020909650484645985/stories/ca0d4608-92ff-3e00-b5c2-afe2de7bd417147c42ca550

Mail and Papercrafts – What Could be Better?

This year I participated in the annual handmade postcard exchange created and coordinated by iHanna.nu and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys mail and loves playing with paper.  I received postcards from around the world (see the last two pictures  in the gallery below for some of the postcards I received).  You can check out a couple of the artists who I was lucky enough to receive cards from here.

Monique Houlmann  sent my favorite card from France.

Quinn McDonald is an artist I have long admired and I love her work featured in Stampington magazines.

I find that I work well under a deadline and this experience was no exception.  I made the ten postcards that I sent across the world over two days.  I used collage, my Silhouette Cameo, metal, paper ephemera and fibers, photography and digital techniques including PhotoShop on my computer and PhotoShop Touch on my iPad. I even dropped in a paragraph from my WIP on one of them

And it was fun!

I am very new to digital art.  I have been teaching myself PhotoShop and Adobe Illustrator over the last few months, but I am so very far from expert. I am considering taking an online course.  I would love to take a practical, hands on class, but I travel so much for work that I simply can’t sign up for anything that requires that I am available on a given day or time on a regular basis.

I have one of the postcards propped up on my desk, reminding me every day that I love to create with my hands.  I love words, I love paper and I love mail.

Are you in love with mail; paper mail with stamps and ink and written words, as much as I am?