Wildflowers and Dictionaries

A young woman came to my door this week and before she entered the foyer, she handed me these. A bouquet of wildflowers that as soon as she was gone had to be placed outside as the goldenrod makes Lee sneeze. I can not remember the last time someone gave me a bunch of wildflowers all tied up. They are so much more magical than flowers from a florist. It might be the sense of urgency they project. And a bouquet like this can’t help but be received with a sudden smile of thankfulness.

She had called a few days before from Nashville, Tennessee to ask if she could come by to see me and talk about my art practice. How could I say no to that. An interest in combining art with what the natural world has to offer is her passion for now as she sorts out what to do next in her very young life. I showed her my work using earth pigments and constructions of altered plant materials. Then gave her a copy of my book after getting her contact information. There will be other things I can think to share with her somewhere down the line.

Something else I came across this past week was a letter to and from the Merriam-Webster dictionary offices.

I keep it in the back of my dictionary.

The background story is that in 2004 I had finished reading The Life of Pi. In the conclusion of the story it seemed that the evidence of a meerkat was in question. I was quite sure at the time that I knew what one was…but I must add right here that even now spellcheck is questioning me. Anyway, I went to my dictionary to look the word up and found it was not there….nowhere was the word “meerkat”.

I wrote to Merriam-Webster and unfortunately did not keep a copy of that original inquiry as to why the word was not there.

Here is their response:

April 5, 2004

Dear Ms. Webster

You did not mention which Merriam-Webster dictionary you are referring to, but I assume it must be Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary since meerkat was not included in the ninth edition (the one you apparently own). I can’t say for sure why it wasn’t included, but I can tell you that meerkat was entered in the tenth edition of the Collegiate published in 1993 and is still there for the eleventh edition published last year.

Since the English language is constantly changing, you might want to consider purchasing a more recently published dictionary at some point. For the Collegiate Dictionary, for instance, we typically add 10,000 new words and senses for each new edition. Thank you for writing. Feel free to write again.


Joan Narmontas

My response back to Joan on April 9, 2004

Dear Joan,

Thank you for your prompt reply. The dictionary I own that lays open covering the top of the “Information Center” and where the word meerkat is absent is a 1989 Webster’s Enclycopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the Enblish Language.

Surrounded with these books in all their permutations, you may not fully appreciate the value of a dictionary just sitting open at the height of a bent elbow. It is a 1,854-page invitation to learn and reaffirm what knowledge we have regarding meaning, pronunciation and spelling, not to mention the location of places and names in history. The pleasing pattern of a notched fore edge that seduces the fingertips into moving from one set of paired letters to another if for no other reason than to feel that place and flip whole sections of fluttering pages forward and backward.

And the Illustrations! On pages 278-279 there are drawings of a Clipper ship, Clipper bow, Cloister, and Close helmet with its Visor, Ventail and Beaver carefully labeled. How can anyone resist these small, well-placed visual definitions? Just the other day my husband (the same delightful man who built the “Information Center”) brought me an old hand forged iron piece to use in my artwork. “I think it is a clevis or something like that”, he said. We immediately turned to the dictionary and found a picture of a clevis, which clarified that what we had, was the hook that a clevis was constructed for in the first place.

When our children were growing up, every Sunday morning at breakfast we had to all come to the table with a new word. Pronounce it, spell it, define it and use it in a sentence — then you could eat. Our dictionaries have always been used and loved for what they bring into our lives.

So far I have had to add a piece of paper with the formula to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and I see no reason why I can’t simply place the definition for meerkat in the same way….tucked in at page 891 where the word megajoule sits in upper right, just begging to be read about at the bottom of the page and insisting I moisten my finger to turn the page and view a megathere. I love this book. Keep making them.

Best regards,

Sandy Webster


I put these letters about our use and love of a dictionary in this blog with the bouquet of wildflowers because I wonder if these are things of the past.

It would be a shame if they were.

To rely on “spellcheck” all the time can be a mistake, especially when they question “meerkat” and want to turn it into “marketeer”. To use an app that is supposed to identify plants is also not such a good idea. Recently mine could not even recognize a Japanese maple. I still turn to my Audubon and Peterson books for identifications so I can turn actual pages, see a variety of illustrations and read.


Til next time when there seems to be something to say or show.

Making Adjustments

Three years ago the crepe myrtles outside the studio looked like this….manageable and quite pretty.

But this year they really grew tall and floppy, so the woodsman was called in.

Now they look like this. Next spring they can start over.

We walked at the dam again this morning. It is getting chillier out there. For some reason this Canadian goose decided to leave his group and turned back to stay behind….complaining all the time.

Here is a picture of the river birch or paper birch in the yard two days ago when the late sun was doing its best to cheer things up.

There is more maintenance to do around the house and yard, more than Lee can do anymore. It is strange to come to grips with the idea that some of the most simple tasks that I took for granted he was doing or could do are just a bit out of reach. Since there is just the two of us living here, those tasks fall to me.

I can do them but it is the remembering to do them before heading off to bed early with my kindle so as to get up at four a.m. to prepare for the gym. While I am gone he takes his shower and starts his toast. He used to make the coffee every morning but forgot the sequence. Now I prepare it the day before so all he has to do is push the “on” button.

Anyway with the art group here last Sunday and everyone showing their work, I got to thinking, “What to work on now that the samples for the class, Books All About the Stitch is over?”

I need something that I can leave at a moments notice. Something I can control size-wise, and of course, something that has meaning.

So after taking apart this old sketchbook and removing the signature that had drawings from my now deceased brother’s home, (the fact that they were still there in the book prevented me from continuing to use it) I am working on a new idea.

The cover paper that covers the board is an egg tempera painting I did of a collected nest. The binding for the pigments was glaire and not egg yolk. Glaire is what is made from the egg white and used on more flexible surfaces. The size is about 9 inches by 11 inches.

Anyway back to what it is being used for now. I drew the outline of one of my hands and am filling in the space with all the things that are now falling into my hands to do. Here is the start of the first hand.

This will be easily filled in to the wrist which is just to the left of the deer. He still feeds the deer but sometimes needs reminding. It will all fill in like the index finger is.

I will continue to make pairs of hands in the sketchbook. One hand on each page. I might try different ways of holding my hands but not sure how good an outline that would be as far as seeing that it is a hand.

These should be not only therapeutic but a good reminder of what has been added to my list of things to do. And what else I like about this idea is that the images are all random which is so much like it is as he needs help or just stops doing something.

I think that if someone else was going through this and they could not draw or did not want to, they could fill the outlined hand with words of what needs attention. A hand full of written tasks going in all directions. It would be also very interesting visually.

Okay, enough. Til later.

Picking Up The Pace

The fog at the dam this week is beautiful. We can feel fall in the air and are wearing extra shirts. It takes me about 3,500 steps to complete this walk. Mostly it is in silence. Lee takes in the view and I think things through. I get ideas in the repetitive movement of putting one foot in front of the other.

One thing I think about is a class coming up that I have to teach called, “Books That Are All About The Stitch”. There is pleasure in threading a needle and piercing cloth and/or paper. And so many ways to enhance stitched bindings. It seemed like a good idea for a class last year, so I put it on paper and now am faced with having to get it ready by early November.

This week I am working on new books using the stitch as a main feature.

Here is a small one on a quilt being put together one patch at a time. I like the simplicity of this.

And inside.

And the pages being worked up for another type of stitching and “thready” binding.

I have pulled out earlier books using threads and stitching as the “story”.

The Mending Book that I sent to Sandra Brownlee after she had the most perfect response when holding it. I love the darning on the spine.

And stitching into reproduced drawings and then mounting them onto a page like my Kimono Book.

And this one, “My Book of Days” all stitched cloth with bits of paper worked in.

Anyway they are places to start and more will be added by the end of the month.

The other day Lee brought me a dead bird. I used to draw them as soon as he gave them to me but this time I just took pictures to work from. This weekend I will sit down and paint him carefully in watercolors to honor his beauty and life lost on my studio window. He is a yellow-throated warbler.

Lee gave him a proper burial. A very pretty little bird that we never get a glimpse of in the wild.

Tomorrow is Lee’s birthday….eighty-one. We are going out to dinner with friends tonight and celebrate. Tomorrow we will go out to lunch and celebrate again.

A friend mentioned this week that if I was seeking balance maybe I should turn off the news. I don’t think I can do that. How can I continue to write my congressmen about what needs to be done if I am not paying attention to how much they are not doing?

Too many people in our country turned off and tuned out in 2016 and left us with the mess we have now.  So balance or no, I will stay as involved as I can be at this stage of our lives.

But it has been a particularly tough week for witnessing the loss of civility…..More pins are a good idea.

I am going back to the threading of needles and setting up my watercolors.

Til later.

Changing Out Sketchbook Signatures

This is a quick cover to hold three signatures from my travel sketchbook below and a pocket to hold collectibles from my trip in March to Australia.

I simply snip out the used signatures and then restitch them into the spine of a new cover.

Then replace them.

Now I can use this book for my next trip down under. Which by the way is now all sorted with a first stop in Hobart to be with friends a few days before coming to Melbourne to stay a day or so at my favorite hotel and then off to Grampians Textures with exciting students. One of them is taking me up to Baldessin Press for several days before I head off to Geelong area to teach before returning to Melbourne and flying home. If it goes as my travel agent has planned, I will be flying Virgin Airlines Australia. Never used them before but always up for new adventures.

Anyway, back to the sketchbook. I designed this travel box/book to hold just the right amount of paints, hand made and purchased watercolors, pencil, sharpener, eraser, brush etc. The leather cover part has a pocket attached inside to hold a small palette and is a good place to tuck things.

Here is some of the insides of the transferred signatures.

First stop and most favorite stop is Jude’s in Hobart for a cuppa.

Space between signatures.

How three hole signature is sewn….going in through center hole in signature and rigid spine, in one of the other two holes, across the center hole and out the third hole to come back in on the other side of the inside long stitch to do a square knot over that long stitch. Easy and secures it just fine.

Here is the spine.

And there was enough space left at the back of the book to glue in a sandwich bag to hold all the bits and pieces collected on that trip.

I always glue these “pockets” with the opening toward the signatures so as not to lose things but still have access.

So now to just stitch those new signatures into the old sketch portfolio and I am all ready to go.

The past few days I did get twenty sets of cards packaged up. Tonight is another small dinner party for just four of us. The shrimp pasta dish the other day was quite successful and tonight it is a new recipe for balsamic chicken over rice.

And here is the dam this morning….beautiful as they lower the level for winter. I used to take my students out here to gather pigments for making local watercolors. Pretty isn’t it?

Til later when I find something else that looks interesting.