Tuesday, November 28, 2006

No Time to Bead...

snow storm, Nov. 2006, photo by Robin Atkins This is from Monday morning, after it snowed here all day and all night Sunday (see previous post). We had 18 inches in our yard, according to my "stick-in-the-snow" measurements... up to our knees in snow.... wet heavy snow.

snow storm, Nov. 2006, photo by Robin Atkins Everything was bowed down with the weight of the snow. Plus we'd had freezing rain the night before it started snowing, so the branches and leaves were already coated with ice.

snow storm, Nov. 2006, photo by Robin Atkins Here's the Madrona tree right outside our back deck.

snow storm, Nov. 2006, photo by Robin AtkinsHere's a close up of the Madrona berries. They look so pretty in contrast to the white!

snow storm, Nov. 2006, photo by Robin Atkins Here's where we start to notice the damage. This is the trail from our house to the studio. Obviously some trees and branches down here, broken from the weight of the snow and ice. This calls for a temporary new trail and a lot of clean up when it all melts.

snow storm, Nov. 2006, photo by Robin Atkins If you remember from the previous post, Robert tried to pull our neighbors pickup with our Bronco, got it stuck too, and decided to leave it where it was. Three trees fell across our drive way during the night, narrowly missing the front of the Bronco. That was quite the chain-saw and back-breaker job to get those three trees off the driveway. Several more fell across the driveway between our garage and our neighbor's house... more work to keep us warm in steadily decreasing temperatures. Oh, and by the way, I didn't mention, did I that we lost power Sunday evening, our pipes froze, and we lost our telephone line. But then, there was lots of snow to melt on our wood stove.

snow storm, Nov. 2006, photo by Robin Atkins Here's one of those trees across the driveway... You can see how the weight of all that snow and ice just snapped the trunk.

snow storm, Nov. 2006, photo by Robin Atkins
The hero of the day was our neighbor, John, who has a tractor because he's a bamboo farmer. Bless him, he plowed our road on Monday, and today came back to plow our driveway (after we cleaned the fallen trees out of the way). This is one of the blessings of living on an island... we work together, and help each other during hard times.

snow storm, Nov. 2006, photo by Robin Atkins
This is just a pretty picture taken up by the studio. Robert collects old rusty things. This antique portable fire hose is one of my favorites.

snow storm, Nov. 2006, photo by Robin Atkins
With the power out for two days, no water, and no phone, and the temperature falling... the only thing that keeps us going is our wood stove. Here's Robert with a load of wood. Yesterday it was about 15 degrees (F). Right now it's down to 8 degrees. But for now, we have power, light, phone and computers. Still no water, but that's ok... there's still lots of snow!

What with all this hauling, chopping, clearing, etc. I've had no time to bead during the day, and no light to bead at night. Whaaaa. Guess I'll just have to take my beads to Minnesota, where the weather's been balmy with rain showers! It's supposed to snow a bunch more here tomorrow, but hopefully I'll be gone before it starts. Snow is ok in moderation, if the power stays on, and if your pipes don't freeze, and if your trails and driveways don't get blocked by fallen trees.

Wish us luck that the Bronco will start and make it into the airport tomorrow morning. There I'll catch a small plane (6 or 8 seats) to Seattle. I'll post to the comments from Minnesota after I arrive there. Then it'll be a week before I'm back to blog writing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Little Beads of SNOW!!!

snow storm photo by Robin Atkins This is how the trees looked from our upper deck this morning at about 10:00 am.

snow storm photo by Robin Atkins This is how the entrance to our wood shed looked (after I got a load of wood - see footprints?) this afternoon at about 3:00 pm. We're up to about 10 inches here!

snow storm photo by Robin Atkins You can see the ten-inch accumulation on our upper deck rail. It's the best place to measure.

snow storm photo by Robin Atkins Miss Hollie Three-Bell-Huntress says, "You what? You want me to step out in THAT?"

snow storm photo by Robin Atkins "Well, OK, but I'm sticking right next to the house where it's sheltered."

"Hmmmm, I see it's not going to stop soon. Think I'll come back inside and sit by the fire for a while."

snow storm photo by Robin AtkinsOur neighbors went to town (6 miles) to stock up on groceries. Good neighbors that they are, they called from town to see if we needed anything. Yes, they'd bring us milk... But when they delivered our milk and tried to back out of our drive, slip, sloosh, spin.... Oooops, stuck good.

snow storm photo by Robin Atkins OK, so we'll try to shovel it out. No luck.

snow storm photo by Robin Atkins Well then, let's get out a length of chain and hook my husband's Bronco to the neighbor's truck. Four wheel drive ought to do the trick, right?

snow storm photo by Robin Atkins Pull. PULL! Now eight wheels are spinning, but neither the truck nor the Bronco are moving an inch.

Ok, they agree... We'll just leave them where they are for now, and see what tomorrow will bring.

That's the report from San Juan Island, Washington, where it rarely snows... maybe once a year. It's dark now... and still snowing. The record here is 3 feet, which stopped everything except kids with sleds and adults with snowshoes. Since I'm due to go off island in two days (going to Minnesota to see my Mom), let's hope and pray it not only stops snowing, but also warms up considerably... or I won't be going anywhere.

How's the weather in your neck of the woods?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

T is for Thankful!
B is for Blessings!

While our turkey is cooking, the joyful smell of its crackling juices pervasive throughout every cranny in the house, it seems appropriate to make a gratitude list. Mine is random, unedited, in the order conceived… and incomplete.

I’m blessed with a wonderful family. We all like each other; we’re all friends!

Mom, photo by Robin Atkins
Mom ~ who is nearly 90, amazes me constantly. She’s totally deaf, lives across the country from me, and doesn’t do computers… so we communicate the old fashioned way – with letters. Her extensive vocabulary, flawless grammar and love of books have undoubtedly contributed much to my appreciation for good writing.

Mom and Dad, photo by Robin Atkins
Dad ~ and Mom had a rare and envious kind of marriage that was rock solid, founded on deep mutual trust, respect and regard. Together they set a golden example for their family, and provided a road map for navigation through difficulties, illness and loss. For this I am incredibly grateful!

Family gathering, Thanksgiving 1998
My siblings ~ Thom, Matt, Jon and Roxy, their spouses and their kids – I’m so proud of them all, so happy to have their friendship, to have this lovely sense of community, support and family, even though we’re spread across the country! The picture above is from Thanksgiving (in Minnesota!) 1998, when Mom and Dad were still in their home.

Robert Demar at Work, 2005
Robert ~ I’m equally blessed with a wonderful husband. At age 54, I thought I’d never find anybody with whom I could share such a relationship as my parents had. Better to never marry, I thought. But all that changed when I took a photography class at the Coupeville Arts Center and just happened to sit next to Robert Demar. He made me laugh then, and he still makes me laugh. I adore laughing, but am a serious soul… so I need him to fodder the chuckle within. Companions, partners – mates for life– that’s what we are!

Many friends have blessed my life… Here are a few of them:

Liz and Robin, photo by Robert Demar
Liz ~ I’ve probably talked more, revealed more, listened more and learned more with Liz than anybody else in the world. We go back 36 years. We read our morning pages out loud to each other. That’s trust!

Creativity Sisters
Creativity Sisters ~ This group goes back a long time too. Formed early in Beadland (17 years ago), we do art together and encourage each other, especially when life gets in the way of our art.

Quilting Sisters
Quilting Sisters ~ Together, we do lunch and work on our art/quilt projects every Tuesday. I’m so grateful that finally, after living on this island for 8 years, I found local girlfriends. They enrich my life more than I can say.

Friends who invested in a rental property together
Slum Lords, Inc. ~ Well, we were actually really good landlords, but we got a chuckle out of calling ourselves “slum lords.” Four friends (Doug, Anne, Liz and me) back in 1982 bought a duplex together as an investment. The real investment was in our friendship. The duplex sold many years ago, but we still meet from time to time, our bond strengthened by the trust that comes with shared business and money experiences.

My Hungarian bead sister, Anna, and her kids
Anna and Jinghong ~ During my traveling abroad years, I was fortunate to acquire two sisters. Anna, my bead sister (pictured above with her kids), lives in Hungary. Among other things she learned English so we could talk and correspond. Jinghong, my soul sister, bless her heart, knew English so well when we met (Beijing, China, 1991) that she could have been a professional translator. Sensitive and expressive, she wrote beautiful long letters, all of which I still have. Now we communicate more often on the phone.

Many others have and do touch my life in a special way, including all of you blogging friends. Friendship and sisterhood are huge blessings!

My hands doing finger weaving
Hands and eyes ~ a pair of each to make art possible… Oh my goodness, what would I do with out them!

Robin, cycle rider, on her way to Jasper, 2006, photo by Robert Demar
Balance ~ Maybe it was years of dancing that gave me good balance? The blessing of it now is that (at age 64) I can ride my motorcycle! Here are pictures from our recent trip to the Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. What a delightful way to be in the world!

Beaded Blessings, improvisational bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Beads ~ Precious beyond their cost or merit, every little bead (and all my time spent with them) is a treasure, inspiration, and gift. Fabrics, fibers, tools, buttons and paint are right up there as well.

San Juan channel, photo by Robin Atkins
Home ~ Our lovely 5 acres in the middle of San Juan Island, Madrona trees, moss and wildflowers, deer; our sweet and funky little house; our island community; Mt. Baker and all the mountain majesty surrounding us; the beaches and ocean waves; eagles, fox, rabbits, orcas… These are riches beyond measure!

Hollie on the trail to our studio, photo by Robin Atkins
Hollie ~ Our delightful feline, Miss Hollie Three-Bell-Huntress, is a clown and born entertainer... How would we ever manage without a cat in the house to boss us around?

Elections ~ The fact that we can (and do) vote and this year’s election results are small blessings in the thorn of media propaganda (especially prior to elections).

This list could go on and on… but the turkey needs my attention. So adieu my good friends…

Blessings to you this Thanksgiving Day!

Friday, November 17, 2006


beaded vessel, detail, by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Have you ever taken part in a challenge? How did you feel about your work? Would you do it again?

In the long-ago days of my bead shop (Beads Indeed!), I issued a challenge to my customers, The 23 (BAD) Bead Challenge, and had about 40 entries, most of them highly creative. A few years later I judged a Challenge sponsored by the Minnesota Bead Society, again with many surprisingly wonderful "out-of-the-box" entries. But, until recently I'd never had an opportunity to be a participant in a challenge.

quilt camp, 2006

Never... until last year at Quilt Camp, which is an annual event sponsored by our local quilt group. For 4 days, about 35 of us gather at Camp Orkila on Orcas Island (NW Washington) to quilt, sew, finish things and socialize. Every year the organizers offer the participants a challenge for the following year.

Last year each of us drew from two different baskets. One had letters in it; the other various quilting techniques (red work, paper piecing, hand quilting, etc.) The challenge was to make a quilt using the drawn technique and to include at least one block starting with the drawn letter.

I drew the letter "N" and the technique "embellishment." There was a big whoo-haaa-ha about that one. The word "cheating" was mentioned, as embellishing is certainly right up my alley. However, since quilting is rather new for me, I figured I'd have enough of a challenge making anything at all and figuring out what to do with the letter "N."

In a flash it came to me... Nine patch, Northern lights, Nice! I figured I'd make a jacket, a fancy quilted jacket, an aurora borealis jacket... all embellished with beads, with shimmering, dancing beads... and it would have a mini nine patch border. If you've ever seen the magic of the northern lights, you can probably imagine how delightful such a jacket would be to wear. I was thrilled with my idea.

Over the next 10 months or so, I dreamed about this jacket, envisioned it, considered many different approaches to constructing it. In short, it was a huge creative challenge. And in long, I just didn't do it. Thinking about it was way fun, but I couldn't take the first step toward getting started. Maybe the idea was bigger than me. Maybe making garments just isn't my thing. I don't know.

Three close quilting buddies and I get together every Tuesday, have ourselves a pot-luck lunch, and spend the remainder of the afternoon stitching. It's a lovely thing... a subject for another post... to have this continuity of creative support! For the past couple of months, the three of them have been working on their challenge entries.

One Tuesday we had a discussion about it. Basically they got on my case a little about not making something for the challenge. They suggested I make something simple, a pot holder maybe... anything. I remember one of them mentioned how important it is to participate and belong to the group, and how disappointed I'd feel when all the challenge entries were displayed but not one by me. Yes, they had a point... I already felt left out as they hustled to finish their entries. But time was short, and what to do? I fretted about it.

Less than three weeks before this year's camp (the challenge due date), inspiration finally came to me. At a friend's house, I noticed a little hanging basket she had made, hand-pieced from silk. Instantly I could picture making something like that, embellished with beads and of course with a nine patch or two. It took me a week of intense work. But here it is!

beaded vessel by Robin Atkins, bead artist

The fabric is silk, except for the organza I used to make the little windows and to line the whole vessel. Little treasures are sandwiched and hand quilted between the layers of organza.

beaded vessel by Robin Atkins, bead artist

beaded vessel by Robin Atkins, bead artist

My quilting buddies were right! It felt grand to be making this, grand to put it on the table next to the other entries, and grand to have created something totally new!

Below are two other entries. The teapot quilt is by one of the Tuesday lunch bunch, Lunette. She drew the letter "T" (yup, T is for teapot). Machine-quilting is the technique she drew. She got the top done in time for the challenge, and it's pinned ready to quilt.

teapot quilt by Lunette Higdon Hertel

Here's a detail of one of the teapots... cute use of doilies, don't you think?

teapot quilt, detail, by Lunette Higdon Hertel

Everyone at the camp gets to vote for their favorite challenge entry. Here is the winner. It's a doll quilt by Linda Coleman. She drew the letter "E" (eight-point star) and the technique of "foundation paper piecing." It's a beautiful example of excellent workmanship... so tiny, and yet every point is perfect!

Eight point star quilt by Linda Coleman

I believe all of us who met the challenge felt good about doing it. In a sense, we are ALL WINNERS - we all stepped up to the challenge, saying, YES, I can do this!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Spirit Dolls and Charm Sources

In my previous post, you saw an "essence doll" by Nancy Combs. Here's another of her dolls. This one is all about the essence of her friend, Marlene. Take a look at these pictures, back and front of the same doll. Before reading further, what do you think Marlene likes to do in her spare time? What can you tell about her personality?

essence doll by Nancy Combsessence doll by Nancy Combs
Here is what Nancy has to say about this one: "She's a "Chico's" gal. Her charms include a cat, dog dish, scissors, sea shell, dolphins and cards for bridge club beach retreat, a cork screw and a designer purse. On her back is a sea turtle to represent the two of us baby siting sea turtle nests."

One of my first thoughts on seeing Nancy's dolls was that she must have a wonderful source for charms. So I asked her if she'd share it with me. (I love it when people are generous with their sources!) Her favorite is eebeads, which has a fabulous variety of relatively inexpensive gold and silver plated charms. For jewelry, I wouldn't use plated charms, because the plating rubs off fairly quickly. But for charms on a doll, I think they're just the ticket! Another of Nancy's recommendations is The Charm Factory, which offers a splendid variety of sterling silver charms. My personal favorite source is Argentum Aurum, which offers a very unique line of sterling silver designer charms - high quality.

If you have any additional good source for charms, and would like to share it, please include the URL for the site in your comment. Thanks!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

New Concept
For Spirit Dolls

Thanks to all who wrote comments or sent private email about the memory dolls I'm making for everyone in my family in rememberance of my Dad. Some who responded wrote about related ideas, such as Tressie, who said her Mother made memory bears from her Grandfather's shirts. How sweet is that!

One person, Nancy Combs, who is a writer for CQ Magazine Online, sent me a picture of an "essence doll" she had made for a friend. According to her explanation of the concept, she tries to capture the essential essence of the person for whom she's making the doll.

spirit doll by Nancy Combs
This one, made for her friend Beth, captures Beth's vibrant personality and tells her story. Here's what she wrote about the doll and Beth, "Here charms include a spoon, teapot and skillet" (representing her career as a home economics teacher), "sea shell and cards for our bridge club retreats to the beach, a black glass bead (representing Coal) and a Cardinal, both to represent WV, a cross to represent her work with her church, scissors for her prolific sewing and, a suit case for all the traveling she and her DH are doing since their retirement. Her hair is representive of her red, usually out of control, hair."

Besides the idea, I also like Nancy's use of pieced fabrics and thread embellishments. Thanks, Nancy! I see some "essence dolls" in my future as well. Actually there's only a subtle difference between the type of dolls Nancy makes and the memory dolls I am making about my Dad. Rather than trying to capture the essence of Dad, I'm trying to capture the connection or bond that exists between him and each member of our family.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Memory Dolls ~
All About Dad

You may remember that my beloved Dad passed away on July 13th this year. Everyone in the family loved and respected him, and we miss him more than we know how to say.

A few days after he died, Mom pulled out his neck ties and asked me if I thought any of my brothers would want one or more of them. Instantly it popped into my mind that I could use the fabric in his ties to make memory dolls - one each for Mom, me, my brothers and sister, and each of Dad's grandkids. Mom liked the idea too. Most of us picked out the specific tie we wanted.

Here is a picture of the dolls, constructed and with picot bead edging around the bodies, ready to embellish.

memory dolls by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Here is one side of my first completed doll. This one is for Mom; it's the tie she picked.

memory doll for Mom, by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Here is the other side of Mom's doll.

memory doll for Mom, by Robin Atkins, bead artist

I did silk-ribbon roses on Mom's doll because Dad always bought her long-stem red roses for their anniversary... and often on Mother's Day or Valentine's Day or her birthday, as well.

silk ribbon embroidery on memory doll, detail, by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Each of the dolls will have a locket around the neck. The lockets open, and inside there will be a picture of Dad on one side, and a picture of the person for whom I've made the doll on the other. Each of the dolls will also have a miniature book hanging from one of the arms.

miniature book and locket for memory dolls by Robin Atkins, bead artist

The book represents a favorite family tradition - that Dad always read out loud to us before bedtime. There are five kids, with 16 years between the eldest (me) and the youngest. As my brother and I entered High School, "mature and sophisticated" as we were, we still hung out around the dining room table to hear Dad read to the younger ones. And after we left the nest, part of the attraction of a visit home was to hear Dad read. He always chose books that were good literature, well written, often challenging to the intellect... books like Wind in the Willows, which was popular with all of us.

I made miniature copies of this book by scanning pages, reducing them, printing, and binding with Nymo thread. Thery're only 1/2 by 3/4 inches, but with a strong magnifying glass, you can actually read some of the text!

Each of the dolls also has flowers and leaves (because Dad loved to garden), a jade bear (an animal considered to offer a connection between mortals and the spirit world), pearls (representing Dad's purity and honesty), a heart (representing his love which still surrounds us, and our love which surrounds him wherever he is), a star (because of his wry sense of humor and way of laughing, his eyes all a-twinkle), and a dove (representing his spiritual beliefs). Oh, yes, and each of the dolls includes the label from one of his ties.

At first, as I cut apart the ties and began to construct the dolls, I felt ragged... grief, loss and emotions all over the surface of me. I could only work on the dolls for a short time before the tears would come. But as I've continued to work on them, meditatively, holding dear thoughts and memories of Dad in my heart, I've begun to feel less raw and more connected to him in a special new way.

Note: This is my first post in Beta. If you have any difficulty leaving comments, etc., please email me at this address: robin[AT]robinatkins[DOT]com. Hope it all still runs smoothly for you.