May 31, 2017

Tassle Lariat

I FINALLY finished this amazing project from Helena Tang-Lim's class last summer. Working on it on-and-off between other things, it took nine months. Sort of like having twins !! 

Helena's projects are always stunning, and most of them take a REALLY long time to complete. I am wrestling with this, because I sometimes feel it takes too much time away from my own creations, and yet I always learn from the process. 

But for this moment, I will just allow myself to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. 

If you're a beader, you may want to explore Helena's website... she has some beautiful kits and workshops.

May 29, 2017

This is What They Died For

This weekend our nation observes Memorial Day, when we honor the memory of soldiers who gave their lives in battle to protect our country and our freedoms.  It is a long weekend, granting many people extra time off from work, ostensibly to turn some attention to our national memory, and also to celebrate and practice those freedoms we hold dear.

So, how do we observe this weekend?  Some people go to cemeteries to honor their own loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice. Others gather with family and friends to spend precious quality time together. Some go to houses of worship. Many go shopping.

Personally, I go to Seattle. 

Each year Gershon and I attend the annual Northwest FolkLife Festival in Seattle, which runs for 4 full days every Memorial Day Weekend. It is the most amazing celebration of life, of heritage, of diversity that I know of.  Over 5,000 people perform, and a quarter-million people attend. In attendance and onstage are every imaginable ethnicity, age, skill level, gender, and body type in the world. There is music and dance and poetry from almost every nation on earth, and food vendors offering sustenance and treats from across the globe.

This incredible festival of music, dance, poetry, and theatre is a microcosm of America. I sat and watched a Philippine fiddler perform Scandinavian music, saw Hawaiian dances performed by every possible ethnic group, and sat with a recent immigrant from Vietnam who proudly watched her daughter play violin with a Balkan street-band. We saw white people playing African music, and black people singing Croatian ballads. Many music and dance schools come to perform, and the pride of parents watching their children and students learn the arts of their own heritage can't help but move your heart. This is what they fought for.

There is also ample opportunity for attendants to participate. At every turn, there are huge crowds on their feet, shaking to Brazilian music, learning Polynesian steps, enjoying Zydeco dance with live musicians. There are American sing-alongs and African drum circles. Pregnant women dance, while new fathers feed their babies. There is life, and movement, and song and joy. This is what they defended.

America's best self is what our martyred soldiers fought to defend. Our loving country, which welcomes the tired, poor, and tempest-tossed to join our society. Our diverse country, where you do NOT have to lose your heritage in order to become a proud American. Our vibrant country, whose national mosaic becomes more beautiful with each new immigrant who takes the oath of citizenship. This is what they died for.

There are places in the world where you could never see something like this event. Diversity is not celebrated, not permitted at all. Religious freedom isn't allowed, expressing your true identity is harshly punished. Wearing shorts in public? No.  In some countries, even their own native music is forbidden.... it is only being preserved by people far away, at events like this. Freedom of self and expression is what our soldiers fought and died for.

We live in troubling times. Sometimes we feel that our way of life is under attack, from within and from without. There is much talk of deploying our military to "defend our freedom."  But we need to be very clear about what that means. For what reason do we send our troops into harm's way? For what purpose have they volunteered? What have our brave soldiers fought and died for?

All those noble men and women weren't fighting to defend hatred, bigotry, or xenophobia, even though some of them may have felt those things. They also didn't lay down their lives to enrich banks or oil companies.  They were fighting to defend our national ideal of true freedom for all, to give us more time to try to achieve it. We haven't accomplished it yet, but we're still trying. It is a difficult goal, one that has never been truly realized anywhere. America is the last, best hope for that ideal. With gratitude to all who fought and died during this struggle toward our goal, let us honor their memory and work hard to make their sacrifice count.

I go to Seattle to remember. Where do you go?

May 23, 2017

Beading With Kinga

On Sunday I got to take a beading class with Kinga Nichols!  I have known her online for several years, but it was a treat to finally meet her in person!  She is a free-spirit, and many of you are familiar with her fantastical beadwork creations. Well, it turns out, she is a lovely teacher as well.

Kinga taught three workshops for the Portland Bead Society this weekend. I took one of them, entitled Cathedral Windows, Broken.  Kinga's emphasis is always on doing what feels right to YOU, and getting outside the traditional "box."  So we have a pattern to follow as a starting point, but are given the freedom to use it however we want. Here is the sample of this project. All kits were the same, but they won't all look the same when they're finished.


The other two workshops were a pendant and her famous Fish bracelet.

Kinga also gave a lovely presentation to the Bead Society at our monthly meeting tonight. She talked about the development of her approach to beadwork, including the evolution of her iconic fishes, and ended with the same message about the importance of being true to yourself. It was wonderful!
Once again, thank you to the Portland Bead Society for helping us to expand our horizons and grow as artists!

May 14, 2017

Happy Mothers' Day, Owl-Style

The owl games in Portland are finished, but today was Mothers' Day, so there was a little more fun to be had before I mail them off tomorrow.

The owls came with us to Mothers' Day breakfast at the Multnomah Falls Lodge.  It wasn't their kind of food, so they just hung out and watched politely.

After the festive meal, Gershon and his mom walked up to the falls, and I stepped inside the visitor center to get out of the rain. Guess who was there?!? A big, life-size owl up near the ceiling, just ready for the perfect photo-op!

Later in the afternoon we went to a performance of the Bach Cantata Choir, and the Owls were very well-behaved. Not a single hoot (maybe because they were zipped up inside my bag?). 

Finally we went home, packed up the tiles, and said a fond farewell. Tomorrow they travel to the far-off land of Louisiana.  
It's been an awesome experience!

May 13, 2017

Two By Two

Day 3 of the Portland Owl Odyssey: Couples' Mah Jongg

My last group with the Owl set played Saturday night. This is a group of 6 couples who play monthly. We've been playing together for 11 years, and have become a tight group of friends. Once or twice a year we go to the beach for a Mah Jongg weekend. Each of the couples attending added to the theme by bringing owl stuff... a solar-powered owl toy, a framed owl picture, owl masks, and owl earrings. 

Owl mask guarding the TV.

I issued the same one-bam challenge to this group, but it was really hard to achieve. Finally one of the husbands won, and went over to choose a prize from the basket. He didn't hesitate, chose a pair of owl earrings, and presented them to his wife!  OMG, so sweet! (I urged him to take a second prize for himself, but he declined.) Later his wife made the BIG HAND, picked it herself, and of course it included a one-bam. So she got $1.20 from each player, plus a prize from the basket. Did she choose a prize for hubby?  Ummm... no.

 Sheryl wins the BIG hand.

It was a lovely, comfortable evening with old friends. Everyone enjoyed the Owl set, the prizes, and the owl snacks. It's one more sweet memory that we share.

Happy Mothers' Day

On Mothers' Day we honor all women who nurture... not just our own mothers, but all those who love, feed, protect, foster, rescue, teach, enhance, or encourage other living beings -- human or animal. On this day we celebrate love.

May 12, 2017

Class Is In Session!

The second group to play with the Owl set was a group of my Mah Jongg students, who came over to my house on Friday morning. They are new to the game, still getting the hang of it, and it was sweet that they brought homemade cookies and fruit salad.

For a moment, I was disappointed that so few people showed up, but as is so often the case, it worked out perfectly. We spent quite a few hours chatting and playing, in a low-pressure environment, with a charmed Mah Jongg set.  And Dana joined us later in the afternoon.  The conversation was amazing. It almost seemed like the Owl freed us to speak of personal things... health issues, families, politics, pride and fears.  And as it was unfolding, something important was being born. One of the women was clearly hatching a BIG idea for a win-win sort of event.  If & when it happens, I'll let you all know. 

I offered the students a similar one-bam challenge, but the prize was a pair of Owl earrings. The student who won was happy about winning, but even more exciting about her Mah Jongg hand!

I started out this day kind of bummed, but in the end it was very fulfilling, and I will always remember it.

May 11, 2017

Thursday Night Flight With The Owl

The Owl set has finally landed in Portland, and the time has come to play with it.  It's a beautiful Chinese Bakelite set, with stylized owls on the one-bam tiles.

Different groups have different relationships with this game. This weekend three different groups will be playing with the Owl set, and I will be writing my observations about each one.

The official Owl Odyssey poster is accompanied by various "cousins" of the Owl tile, watching over the festivities.

Our weekly group has been playing for many years, and the tiles give us a familiar anchor, putting us in a comfort zone from which we can share, vent, grieve, rejoice, and be crazy.

It doesn't really matter what kind of tiles we play with. But at the same time, we can appreciate a beautiful or special set. We started the night with Shehecheyanu, as we always do with a new or special set.  The Owl set brought some people's attention to the beauty and art of the tiles themselves.  I could see one person clearly falling in love with my 'French Ivory' set.  I love watching the relationship between the people and the game, and how it has evolved over the years.

Table #1 has the visiting Chinese Bakelite Owl set

Table #2 enjoys my beautiful French Ivory set 

Table #3 has my own Chinese Bakelite set, 
with those crazy Chinese Empress jokers

Dana wore her one-bam t-shirt for the occasion!

Special Owl dice for tonight's games
In honor of the Owl tiles, I issued a special one-bam challenge. Anyone who makes Mah Jongg with one-bam tiles gets an extra prize from the goody basket. Even a single one-bam will get you a prize.  It's harder than you might think! We had 4 winners.

For various reasons, some of our group couldn't be here tonight. But Carolyn checked in with some crazy text-messaging...

There was another fascinating element to tonight's Owl game.  We had a guest player who lives 2000 miles away, and whom we had never met before.  But Mah Jongg brought us together, and now we have a new friend!  Alice West Sadaka lives in Ohio, but she's in Oregon this week visiting her son, and she mentioned on Facebook that she wished she could come play with the Owl set.  So I invited her, and she came!  Sometimes modern technology is an incredible thing!

We all had a great time, and she brought me some lovely presents. She hustled us a little bit, winning an awful lot of games, but she made me feel better about accumulating Mah Jongg sets, because I only have ten... she has about 20!  It was an amazing little chapter of this Owl Odyssey.


We also received these little rub-on tattoos from the group who had the Owl set before us. That group in Santa Maria, California had a giant BBQ last week on Cinco de Mayo, with 40 people playing Mah Jongg! They claimed the tattoos brought good luck. Not sure if that's true, but it was a sweet gesture to send some to us. 
So let's see... the set originated in China, lives in Virginia, and we have representation tonight from California, Oregon, Ohio, and Washington. 
Mah Jongg is universal!

Tonight's players:
Esther, Sue, Emily, Dana, Kim, Julie, Julia, Elana, Ro, Alice

Tonight's tiles: