Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Things I Liked in 2011

2011... There were migraines, of course, because I always have migraines now, but I managed to find a few things I liked anyway! Here's a year-in-review that highlights some of those good things:

Mr. Gorgeous and his dog-walker,
Miss Gorgeous
During the first few months of 2011, much of my energy was devoted to being Mr. Gorgeous' dog-walker. We had a wet and windy spring and I was in the process of becoming more sensitive to changes in the weather, but even when I was feeling worn down by the persistent wind, I always got a kick out of being around that handsome collie and it gave me a great opportunity to take lots of photos of winter giving way to spring in the many parks we went to on our walks! I made this fun little video of Mr. Gorgeous (okay, his real name is Cedar) with footage taken during our many strolls. He has this lovely floaty sort of trot when he really gets going that I very much admire. My dog, which her mismatched mutt ends, is more of a wiggle-in-the-middle type of mover. Mr. Gorgeous definitely wins the prize when it comes to prancing!

Lookin' sauve and seeing red!
I got my red glasses in March of 2011, which made a huge difference in my ability to go out and about. My light sensitivity was having a significant impact on my ability to leave the house and use my computer, so the relief the red lenses brought me was huge! They bought me an extra hour or so of sitting in front of the computer screen every day and cut way down on migraines caused by incidental glare around the house, such as sunshine reflecting off of the kitchen faucet. I may get different colored lenses in 2012, but the red ones made 2011 much more manageable!

The center of a beautiful purple and gold bearded iris.
As spring turned into summer, I started moving away from photographing Mouse and into more general macro photography. The photos I took of bearded irises during the end of May and beginning of June are some of my favorite photos from this year. Many of them are up for sale the Natural Section of my macro store; you can see five of the best gathered together in my Bearded Irises Card Set. I also was having a great time photographing colorful candy (you can see some of those photos and more in this c.creativity Facebook album) and gathering all the props I needed for an alphabet book featuring Mouse.

And then, on July 6th, everything changed. That's the fateful day when I smacked my head against the stair rail and concussed myself. I spent the next few weeks in terrible migraine pain, horrendously nauseated, appallingly light and noise sensitive, and utterly fatigued. I started to see some concrete improvement after about nine weeks, but progress has been slow. Six months later, I have yet to reach 100% recovery; I remain more light sensitive, more noise sensitive, more sensitive to weather changes, have less energy, less stamina, and have a higher entry level (so to speak) of migraine pain. Only time will tell if these changes are permanent.

The presence of my beloved Abbey has been a major
source of comfort during my head injury recovery

Birds are awesome.
When I was first well enough to confront a lit screen after my concussion, I limited myself mainly to documentaries about the ocean; blue underwater scenes were about as much as I could tolerate visually. Netflix, of course, recommended many other nature documentaries I might like to watch and when I was able to handle more than just blue images, I took them up on their suggestion of David Attenborough's 1998 ten episode BBC documentary series, "The Life of Birds." Wow. That series is phenomenal! My jaw dropped so many times while watching it! I've always had a fondness for birds and respected them for being good at what they do, but the information and images in this series were really mind-blowing. It turns out birds are WAY cooler than I ever knew! You can watch "The Life of Birds" on Netflix, either streaming or on DVD, and I highly recommend it. David Attenborough has a number of other series, but only the "Insect Eaters" episode of "The Life of Mammals" had the same jaw-dropping effect. I've watched a lot of online TV and movies this year and "The Life of Birds" is definitely the best thing I saw.

My Canon Rebel T3i with a 100mm macro lens.
At the end of August, just when I was feeling really discouraged about my concussion recovery, I received news that I was granted disability. The decision was a heartening vindication of the previous two years' suffering, a load off my mind about my financial future, and the thousands of dollars worth of back benefits meant I could buy myself a fancy camera with a macro lens. I absolutely LOVE this camera. I love the quality of the photos. I love the power of the lens. I love how it makes me feel when I hold it and shoot pictures! I've already taken nearly 4,000 photos and I'm in camera heaven. It's an fabulous piece of equipment and it makes me feel confident to call myself a photographer.

The best team ever!
2011 has been all about Etsy for me. I officially opened my silvermouse store in December of 2010, so in the first half of 2011 I concentrated on growing that business. After the head injury, I switched my focus to my non-mouse photography and in a fit of hypomania, opened my ccreativity store. It's been a great project for me to peck away at, one that gives me a lot of pleasure. Another really awesome thing I've found through Etsy is the Createability Team, an Etsy team whose members either suffer from a disability themselves or care for others with disabilities. I've found a wonderful supportive, creative community there; seldom does a day go by when I'm not participating in the chat thread! It's a very positive group; you're absolutely allowed to have bad days and rant if you need to, but the overall tone is one of "we can do this, we'll get through this" and never have so many sincere virtual hugs been sent out over the internet! I'm inspired daily by the strength, determination, and courage that other team members display, getting up each day to live--and create--despite seemingly insurmountable challenges. It's an honor to be part of such a group and the Createability Team has become a vital support network.

You can check out the 'Favorites" section in either one of my stores to see what else has caught my eye, but here's a few other things I've liked on Etsy this year:

Fox Finger Puppet Set
I've fallen in love with LazyAnimals' darling felted finger puppets. The camels and bunnies and kangaroos and pandas are adorable, too, but it's the fox family that I find most enchanting. After all, they like to dig holes and pretend to be royalty! And they are wearing blue knitted hoodies! Also, if I didn't make my own cards, I would absolutely send out these ones featuring a holiday deer puppet!

I just happened upon this photo by dullbluelight the other day, but it has resonated powerfully enough with me to qualify as one of the Things I Like. You can find it here.

"these are some dancin-ass fools" <--that is the title of this drawing

Peter Harren's delightful little drawings always bring a smile to my face. The dog has just the best little groovin' look on its face! I love it when a few simple lines can be so expressive!

And I liked this photo of a strange and beautiful doll (with mouse ears!) so much that I bought it! (New Year's resolution: next time there's a frame sale, get a frame for this and all the other pieces of art that are languishing around here unhung!)

Other good things from 2011:

As of late, I've suddenly ceased to be interested in sweet food and have been craving sour/salty/spicy/briny foods. I've been really impressed by Trader Joe's frozen Thai entrees, notably their Thai vegetable kao soi and their vegetarian pad thai. The sauces are wonderfully seasoned, complex and nuanced, and taste better than what I've had in some Thai restaurants. Since cooking is hard for me and eating out even harder, it's always nice to have something microwavable that really tastes good. I mean, frozen vegetables are frozen vegetables, but those sauces/broths/curries are delicious!

The charming Chunk, a stud dog
rescued from a pit bull puppy mill,
learned how to relate to other dogs
without humping while at BAD RAP
 and now he has a home!
I owe a lot of my happiness on a day-to-day basis to BAD RAP, those Bay Area Dog-lovers Responsible About Pitbulls who do some of the best pitbull-type-dog rescue, rehabilitation, and education in the country. They also happen to write well and take great photographs!  I follow them on Facebook and am a huge fan of their BAD RAP barn blog, which chronicles the exploits of the dogs living in BAD RAP's beautiful rescue barn in Oakland, CA. Several former barn dogs have blogs as well; I enjoy all of these things, as well as following former Vick dogs Cherry, Handsome Dan, and Ginger Girl on Facebook. There are too many sad dog stories in the world; I'm better off following these funny, thoughtful, positive rescues. If you're afraid of or ambivalent about pit bulls, BAD RAP is a great place to start learning about this misunderstood group of pups. I realize that it's very silly to spend time communicating with "dogs" online, but it makes me happy and finding reasons to be happy is vital for me. At the end of the day, it's better for me to look at pictures and follow blog posts about pit bulls like Chunk, above, than read Chekhov or serious in-depth articles about social injustice or other such things that I enjoyed in my pre-migraine life.

Meece, meet Mouse.
I'm also happy to have met Meece the Chocolate Mouse this fall. I haven't recovered enough from the concussion to resume work on the alphabet book nor do I feel up to sending out the Colors with Mouse manuscript again, but I do have an idea for a Meece & Mouse children's book that wouldn't be too hard for me to photograph! It wouldn't require writing poetry, either, so my writing brain doesn't need to be working for the project to be completed! I always like to have several different projects in different stages to work on, especially since my abilities vary from day to day. I have a mouse photo book that I promised someone last Christmas that is one of my priorities (it was that head injury's fault! I didn't leave the house except for medical appointments for months!) in 2012, but Meece & Mouse is one of the major projects I expect to be able to complete within the first six months of the new year.

I think this pomegranate photo is my favorite out of all the
thousands of pictures I took this year!
Oh, and now I have an ottoman, so I can sit in my armchair here in my study and put my feet up while I watch TV on the internet, crochet baby blankets (it's a good low-stress-on-the-eyes activity), or dictate blog posts. (Confession: I am NOT dictating this blogpost with my headset and speech recognition software, but I have written others that way.) So, despite the ongoing chronic migraines and setbacks like head injuries and frequently being ill simply because the wind is blowing, I've found things to be happy about this year. I except 2012 to trundle along more or less in the same fashion, but look forward to any NICE surprises that may be lurking around the corner!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Memory of My Grandfather

Dr. Walter William Kelley
June 23, 1915 - December 10, 2011
Today, the extended Kelley family gathers in Los Angeles to celebrate the life of my grandfather, Dr. Walter William Kelley, who passed away on December 10th at the age of 96. I am unable to travel, so this blog post must serve as my  memorial.

My grandfather with his son and
four of his five daughters in 1958.
My grandfather grew up on a farm in North Dakota, spent several years in the CCC after high school, attended the University of North Dakota where he met my grandmother, went to medical school, spent several years post-WWII serving in the South Pacific, and then settled in the suburbs of Los Angeles, where he practiced medicine and raised six children. He outlived my beautiful grandmother, who passed away in 2000 after 56 years of marriage, and his youngest daughter. With the help of caregivers, at the time he died, he was stilling living in the custom California ranch house where he had lived for 55 years. He is survived by five children and their spouses, twelve grandchildren and their spouses, and five great-grandchildren.

My grandfather and extended family at his 90th birthday party.
My grandfather loved being a doctor and spent his career practicing family medicine. He particularly liked delivering babies; one year he delivered a hundred of them! He kept up his medical license for many years after he retired and until the very end, even after he'd forgotten almost everything else, he always remembered that he was a doctor.

Here I am, at the age of three, taking my grandfather's blood pressure with the cuff
from my Fisher-Price doctor's kit, proud to be playing doctor with a REAL physician!

He also loved to work in the yard and was especially proud of his roses, his lemons, his olallieberries (a relative of the loganberry) and his vegetables.

The entire back fence of the large yard was lined with roses.
At his 50th Wedding Anniversary
party in 1994.
My grandfather played golf well into his eighties and followed the fortunes of the Dodgers and the Lakers and played a mean hand of gin, but he was much more interested in words and ideas. As a boy, he used to read during the sleigh-ride to school. He discovered Shakespeare in college, kindling a love that would remain with him all his life. He relished the sound of rich language; my grandfather was not a religious man, but he loved the sound of the Bible, of poetry, of Shakespeare. He used to recite the Gettysburg Address in his head before going to sleep at night. He also liked a good joke! He was a thorough reader of the Los Angeles Times and the New Yorker. He kept up on politics and always watched Crossfire on CNN and other shows that addressed current events. If he didn't know something, he always looked it up. The dictionary and encyclopedia were regularly called upon during conversations. After the rise of the internet as a resource, my grandfather would often call our house to see if we could look something up for him. During one of my final conversations with him, I explained Twitter to him as best as I could; he called because he'd been reading a story in the LA Times that was using the word "tweet" in a way that he didn't understand. He believed in being curious and well-informed and lived his life very much by those principles.

The two of us in 2008.
It was over this love of language that my grandfather and I bonded as I grew into an adult. He was delighted to learn that I liked Shakespeare and could recite several speeches from memory. It meant a great deal to me that he saw me as an intellectual equal. While there is no doubt that I inherited my pre-maturely grey hair from him, I like to also think that I owe some of my own intelligence and curiosity to the strength of his genes.

But when I was growing up, he was simply "Grandpa."

Teaching me how to swing a baseball bat in 1984...

...acting as raft for my sister and me while vacationing at Lake Havasu in 1985...

...helping us pick oranges in a neighbor's yard in '88...

...playing cards with me and my grandmother's aunt later that same year...

...posing with me and the rest of his grandchildren in 1994...

...and attending my high school graduation in 1999.

And of course, Grandpa went hand-in-hand with Grandma. He once said that the two best decisions he made in life were becoming a doctor and marrying my vivacious, stylish, and loving grandmother, a woman I miss dearly.

On Easter with three young daughters...

...on their 50th anniversary...

...sharing a kiss a few months later at their 50th anniversary party...

...and together in 1997.
My grandmother's hair was still naturally black!
After my grandma died, my grandfather learned how to cook and do the laundry, worked hard to develop close relationships with all of his children, continued to host events at his house, play bridge, and remain active. He became increasingly frail as he got older, but up until the last year and a half of his life, he retained his sharp wit and enough mobility to live in his home alone.

My sister and my grandfather, taken this spring.
Then, though, scores of small strokes, an internal bleed that took several weeks to track down, proliferating skin cancers, and just plain old age started to take their toll. In addition to being almost completely deaf and nearly blind, his memory became more and more spotty; by the time he died, he had lost his short-term memory almost entirely. The one thing he knew to the end was that he was a doctor. Increasingly unsteady even with a walker, he fell, fracturing an arm, ribs, and his pelvis, injuries from which it would have been extremely difficult for him to recover, and would without a doubt have required him to move into a nursing home. That night, as he slept in the hospital, his breathing stopped, and, at last, his heart.

When a man of 96 dies after living a very full and wonderful life, it is hardly a sad thing. In fact, for the last year or so, I'd been hoping he would die soon. He had always been a man of considerable wit and dignity; it was hard to see him lose both. I was very fortunate, though, that I got to give him two very special gifts before his memory crumbled, and in that way, I made my peace with his passing, even though it would be a couple more years before he died, and when he died, it would be two years since I'd last seen him.

When my family went down to visit him the summer of 2008, I brought Mouse with me. I was aware that the clock was ticking; it was unlikely my grandfather would live too much longer and so each visit to the house must be viewed as potentially my last. My love for the house where my mother grew up and my grandparents lived is profound, perhaps even more so than the house where I grew up and live now. It was the place where summer vacations happened, a beautiful home with a freezer well-stocked with ice cream treats for visiting grandchildren and beautiful, sun-lit yard perfumed by flowers. I decided to use Mouse to document the details of the place I loved so much and took more than four hundred pictures on that visit. My grandfather was very curious as to what I was up to and charmed by the images I showed him on the screen of my digital camera. From that, I got the idea of making a book for him filled with images of Mouse and the house where he'd lived for more than 50 years.

The resulting book had 50 pages filled with photos of Mouse and every corner of the house and yard. My grandfather absolutely loved it. He took it everywhere with him and showed it to everyone. He was so proud of me. I got to write, so to speak, a visual love letter to the house that both of us loved and was able to share it with him and he, in turn, was able to tell me how much it meant to him. We seldom get to give loved ones gifts that are so meaningful and because I had that chance, I am able to let him go with peace. I do hope to get back the copy I gave him, so I might be able to hold the volume he cherished and feel his love in every crease and mending of the well-loved volume.

My own copy of the book is pristine; I hope to reclaim the much-loved copy I gave him.

If that wasn't enough, I had the opportunity to give my grandfather a second gift. When I saw him the next summer, I was finishing up a children's book featuring Mouse and showed him some of the pictures and poems. Knowing that he would most certainly not live to see the book published, I had a copy printed and sent to him. I saved the voicemail he sent me; the quality is poor because I had to hold my cellphone to the computer's microphone to record it, but I knew I'd want to keep this record of his voice and what he said.

I got a migraine during that final visit in 2009, a headache that was a harbinger of the chronic migraines that would set in a few months later. My persistent headaches troubled him; he'd suffered from occasional migraines over the years, but he had never before encountered chronic ones, and his grasp on medical science was weakening. I spoke to him on the phone from time to time; he always seemed to know who I was, which, toward the end, was something. And now he is gone and the world has lost a man of intelligence and humor, but he was very, very old, and it was time for him to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Every time I get up from the dinner table to look up the origin of a word, I will think of him, as I will whenever I hear or read Shakespeare, or look at one of many Mouse photos I took at his house. In the years to come, I will continue to see him as he looked when reading the paper in his brown leather chair or wandering here and there in the yard, dead-heading his roses and fussing with the rain birds. I'll retain the memory of his gnarled brown hands holding one of his tweed caps and the way he'd play with the carved staff he used as a cane in later years. The day will come when the sound of his laugh will start to elude me, but I'll always remember the shape of his smile.

I love you, Grandpa, and now rest in peace.

Monday, December 26, 2011

My Memories of a Child's Christmas in Wales

Our much-loved copy of a classic
Christmas story
When I was growing up, we had the tradition that every Christmas Eve, my sister and I would receive a new Christmas book. One year, perhaps 1986 or 1987, we were introduced to Dylan Thomas' "A Child Christmas in Wales," the 1985 version beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. A thus a life-long love affair began.

Even as a young child, I loved the rich and rolling language, the marvelous and evocative descriptions, the wry humor, and the profound love for this bygone world that gleamed through every line of the story. Coupled with Hyman's wonderfully detailed illustrations, a boy's experience in a small sea-side Welsh town in the 1920's was brought vividly to life. Between the words and images, it became a world that was very real to me and very dear. How dear? When I was in third grade, I dressed up as the young Dylan Thomas for Halloween!

"Dylan Thomas", age 8
My love for this story and language in which it is told has not waned over the years. I always have a mishmash of treasured phrases drifting around in my head: snatches of Shakespeare, fragments of poems by Blake and Frost and Byron, lines from the Aeneid and Oedipus Rex, and favorite descriptions from cherished novels. Floating amongst them are quotes from "A Child's Christmas in Wales," specifically, "mittened on them manfully" (one of my very favorite alliterative lines!), "from an aunt, alas, no longer whinnying with us," "a small, dry, eggshell voice," and the story's closing sentence, "I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept." I have read widely and avidly, but I think my very favorite book of all time is this one.

One Christmas, when my sister and I were in college, my family attended a reading of "A Child's Christmas in Wales," interspersed with Christmas carols sung in Welsh, held at a church that was apparently where Seattle's Welsh community worshipped. It was a bit of a dorky thing to do, but we were clearly, in the eyes of the others there, not literary fans, but a Welsh family celebrating their heritage. Our dark-hair, fair-skinned family has always been more aware of our Irish, English, and dark-haired Norwegian ancestors, but there is a bit of Welsh blood on both sides of my family, and it turns out that we LOOK Welsh. This tenuous sort of kinship has only deepened my love of the story, since it is, very remotely, connected to my own. The Welsh are a proud land of poets; it would be an honor, in my opinion, to descend from such a people, and to be able to claim "A Child's Christmas in Wales" as part of my heritage.

In some ways, my tender, cherished memories of rediscovering "A Child's Christmas in Wales" each year are as rich as those contained within the covers of my dog-eared copy of the book. My joy, as a young child, in lapping up the world described cannot be replicated, but my desire to share this experience with you is such that I have prepared a small project: Dylan Thomas himself reading "A Child's Christmas in Wales," accompanied by the Trina Schart Hyman illustrations that brought the story to life for me. It's taken me several days to find a hosting site for this twenty minute video, but please allow me to wish you a very Merry Christmas even though the day has passed.

A Christmas Gift: Dylan Thomas and A Child's Christmas in Wales from Colleen Powell on Vimeo.

Disclaimer: the recording (which my parents gave to me on CD a few Christmases ago) was copyrighted in 1952 and the illustrations were copyrighted in 1985. This is intended only for the viewing pleasure of those I know and hold dear.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Christmas Ornament Tradition

Another Christmas is almost upon us, so there is a 9½ foot Noble fir in our living room covered from tip to skirt with colored lights and ornaments. Most of those ornaments belong either to me or my sister. We have a special tradition in our family where each year, when the tree goes up, my sister and I receive a new ornament that commemorates something that happened in the past year. Our tall tree is therefore decorated not just with ornaments, but with more than thirty years worth of memories. 

The kind of ornaments we receive come in several different categories. One such category could be called milestone ornaments.

For example, I received this ornament the year I started school.

My sister and I were presented with a book ornament the year each of us learned to read.

Learning to ride a bike was celebrated with a shiny red two-wheeler ornament...

...and we each received a shiny red car the year we got our driver's licenses.

Other years, my sister and I are given ornaments that represent a trip we took that year, either as a family or, as we've gotten older, as individuals.

This beautiful carved bear commemorates the trip we took to Yellowstone and the bears we saw there.
We received snorkeling Santas the year we vacationed in Hawaii.

I attended college in Florida, which naturally was recognized with this funky alligator ornament! (I was quite fascinated by the alligators.)
One year, while I was in college, I did some traveling in Europe, which included spending several days in London. A Big Ben ornament commemorates that trip.

There are other years when we receive ornaments that represent a special interest or hobby or event that happen that year.

This particular year (when I was seven, if my memory serves me right), my sister and I were given our yearly ornament on Christmas Day after Santa had delivered jump ropes for each of us. My sister's jump rope was red, so this is her ornament. Mine was blue, and I have a nearly identical ornament, except the little girl has a blue jump rope and a red dress! (She is missing part of one of her braids, which is why I photographed my sister's ornament.)

I received this "Vixen" reindeer ornament the Christmas when I was a senior in high school and it's one of my favorites. A doodle I made on a whiteboard in my physics class turned into a running joke with my physics teacher and others about "Physics Vixens" and I even held that title in the school physics club. It just so happened that Pottery Barn made ornaments representing Santa's reindeer that year and so my parents were able to surprise me with this fabulous vixen! 
My sister and I both got this sweet pup-in-a-box ornament the year we adopted Abbey. My sister was living on the other side of the country at that time, but Abbey was still very much her dog, too!
 Another one of my favorite ornaments is this fat cat with a fancy "blinged-out" gold chain necklace that represents the so-called Bank of Benny, the cash that I earned from looking after the Ancient Kitty! This ornament took me entirely by surprise and my parents' long search for just the right cat really paid off: this fat kitty looks exactly how you imagine a wealthy banker cat might! Benny was a green-eyed, orange and white cat, too,  but nowhere near as plump! 

Last year, my family accidentally grew acorn squash in our community garden patch. (We thought we had planted pumpkins.) The homegrown, organic acorn squash turned out to be far more delicious than the acorn squash you can buy in the store, and seeing as we're all fans of acorn squash, we really treasured the ones we grew! My mother, thanks to the power of the internet, managed to find a place that sold beautiful acorn squash ornaments for me and my sister! 

And for 2011, my sister and I got camera ornaments! I, of course, launched a photography business and acquired a very fancy camera this year and my sister got a new camera, too. These camera ornaments are quite ornate, with all the buttons and the digital screen on the back and everything!

If you look at it carefully, our Christmas tree reveals that over the years I played the violin and the electric guitar, that I was a snowboarder and a softball player, that I went whitewater rafting and vacationed in Maine, and have loved things as diverse as turtles and art. There's even an ornament celebrating the year I rented my first apartment! When I decorate the tree each year, I love reliving all these memories as I hang them. It's a tradition well-worth keeping and sharing.