Alternately purring and spitting

Yes, the title could refer to a kitten, like little Jarito (I don’t name them!), the current foster kitten in residence.

Jarito. I call him JJ.


But what I was thinking of with the words “alternately purring and spitting” was Southern writer Eudora Welty and Southern women in American literature. That so aptly describes Southern women to me.

Eudora Welty (1909-2001)


I had heard of Eudora Welty.  GRITS (Girls Raised in the South) tend to look out for Southern writers.



Even though I’ve lived most of my life in California, I spent my childhood years in Atlanta, Georgia and was raised by proud Southern women. Yes, there are a myriad of social justice and human rights issues to discuss when one brings up the Southern United States, but there is also a unique and sometimes beautiful culture that I wax nostalgic over, even though I didn’t necessarily experience it.


But what led me to Eudora Welty and a fascination with her was hearing actress Stockard Channing read Welty’s short story “Why I Live at the P.O.” (written in 1941) on Selected Shorts, one of my favorite NPR podcasts.

American actress, Stockard Channing
Actress Stockard Channing.

The story is hilarious and poignant and so very Southern. The characters have names like Papa-Daddy, Uncle Rondo, and Stella-Rondo. The narrator is Sister. When I heard the story read aloud, I felt right at home! The story was published in her book A Curtain of Green and Other Stories. Despite its quirky, humorous overtones and absurd (or not, you decide) characters, there is an undertone of isolation and bitterness in Sister’s narration of the 4th of July holiday in small town Mississippi. The P.O. refers to the post office; Sister is the town’s postmistress.



You can read the story here or listen here, if the links work. It’s well worth the $2.99 to buy your own download if the audio link doesn’t work. I tried, but sometimes I fail!

Welty herself was born and died in Jackson, Mississippi. In addition to being a writer, she was also a talented photographer, capturing the lives of the rural poor for the Works Progress Administration during the Depression of the 1930s.


Her photographic work is being shown at the North Carolina Museum of Art in the exhibition Looking South: Photographs by Eudora Welty, on display until September 3, 2017. Art critic John Szarkowski wrote:

“Like those of [Helen] Levitt, Welty’s photographs do not show us the only truths of her subjects’ lives; perhaps they show us only the rarest and most evanescent truths, in which case we are the more grateful for these proofs of their existence.” 

Best known for her short stories, she also published 5 novels. She never married or had children, and kept her life mostly private. Her stories focus on individual lives and stories, using local color and humor to convey sometimes stifling environments and families.

Illustration by Ryan Sheffield for The Eudora Welty Portrait Reader.


As described on the website The Bitter Southerner:

Why Welty? For a lot of us who grew up in the South and liked words, Welty represented not only what we knew, capturing the characters and cadences of our region, but also the range of what was possible — telling honest stories about a place that continues to struggle and progress.

As President Jimmy Carter put it when he presented Welty the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980: “Eudora Welty’s fiction, with its strong sense of place and triumphant comic spirit, illuminates the human condition. Her photographs of the South during the Depression reveal a rare artistic sensibility. Her critical essays explore mind and heart, literary and oral tradition, language and life with unsurpassed beauty. Through photography, essays, and fiction, Eudora Welty has enriched our lives and shown us the wonder of the human experience.”




One can visit Eudora Welty’s home and amazing garden in Jackson. The garden was created by Welty’s mother, Chestina Welty, in 1925 and carefully restored by garden restoration consultant Susan Haltom.

Eudora Welty’s mother, Chestina tends her roses.
garden 2
Eudora Welty’s garden.

Welty’s home is a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Eudora lived there from 1925, when she was 16 years old, until her death in 2001. It is located at 1119 Pinehurst Street in Jackson. She gifted the home to the State of Mississippi and it is a museum of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

1119 Pinehurst Street, Jackson, Mississippi.



I myself am not a gardener. I love the IDEA of gardening, but the REALITY of gardening is another story.


If you are at all intrigued by the life and work of Eudora Welty, please check out the Eudora Welty Foundation. You don’t have to be one of us GRITS to appreciate her writing or photography. Or of any of the others who I would add to the pantheon of great Southern women writers. Clockwise from upper left: Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Conner, Kate Chopin, Alice Walker, and Zora Neale Hurston. There are many more; these are just a very few.


Hopefully you feel inspired to read, write, or take some photographs. Or dig in your garden. Or whatever makes you happy, be it painting, cooking, sewing, etc. They can all be therapeutic activities, good for your mental health and sense of well-being. Even observing creativity is good for you–reading, listening to music, or going to a museum. According to the lifestyle website Verily, such activities:

  • Relieve stress
  • Increase and renew brain function
  • Help prevent Alzheimer’s
  • Improve mood
  • Cultivate your social life

So instead of going to the gym, I think I’ll go read a book. In the garden. With some music. Getting healthy!

Painting by Niels Frederik Schiøttz-Jensen (1855–1941)




The banjo moves up on my life list

I hate the term bucket list. You might as well say, “I’m going to die any day now. What to do?” I’d rather say, “Life is a mystery. What would I like to do?” Bucket list sounds so final. Life list sounds open and celebratory.


For the longest time, going up in a hot air balloon was a feature on my list. I lived for a while in Napa, where hot air ballooning is a major activity. But no one I know would go up with me. I know too many people who are afraid of heights. And I was afraid of going alone. So I still haven’t done it. I would hear that sound of the air whoshing up into the balloons as they drifted over my house near the Napa River. Taking my coffee out on the deck, I’d stand in my pajamas and wave longingly at the tourists in the balloons as they drifted by.


I signed up for a watercolor painting class and the first thing I painted was a hot air balloon.

balloon painting

I’ve read Around the World in 80 Days more than once. Of course, there isn’t a hot air balloon in the book, but thanks to the film version, I can’t think of the story without a hot air balloon.





I still have hot air balloon dreams. Maybe over Paris! Paris was also a long-time life list item. And in 2014 I finally got there! Was it everything I dreamed it would be? Mais oui! Certainement! I’ll brush up my bad high school French and go back anytime. Given my name and French heritage, you’d think I’d have speaking French in the bag, but alas, languages don’t necessarily pass down in families once they assimilate to the United States. So I was really An American in Paris:


For a few years now, I’ve said I want to learn to play the banjo. I see banjos at the Alameda Point Antiques Fair (the flea market) now and again, but they always look pretty beat up, and I never have the courage to haggle with the dealers since I know absolutely nothing about banjos.


I don’t know why I love them, but I do. Recently, we went to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. What a beautiful place! I worked for years in museums, and I was quite impressed with the displays, collections, volunteers, everything! They even have a conservation lab, which was my first foray into museum work.



Some of my favorite displays at the museum were the Americana, Bluegrass, and Banjo sections. Banjos! In a museum! I felt vindicated in my banjo love.

Since, I have come to find out there is an American Banjo Museum and American Banjo Hall of Fame. Woo hoo! Now I have a reason to go to Oklahoma City. Some of the illustrious inductees include Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Roy Clark, and Steve Martin. There are women in the hall of fame too: Debbie Schreyer, Helen Baker, Georgette Twain (love that name) among others.


Last night, in one of my weird, mixed up dreams, I bought a banjo. The main theme of the dream was that I was trying to board a ferry into San Francisco. It was an ordeal. I had to go through a labyrinthian mall to buy a ticket. And while wandering lost through the mall, I saw the world’s most beautiful banjo. I had to have it. I bought it. And in nonsensical dream style, instead of putting the banjo in a case for me, the salesclerk carefully and elaborately wrapped it in brown paper and string, like the gorgeous and mysterious Christmas present.

The dream banjo didn’t look like this; not quite so fancy. More Danish Modern meets banjo. This is Gibson’s Earl Scruggs Golden Deluxe.

The banjo often doesn’t get a lot of respect. Mark Twain (any relation to Georgette?) said something about a true gentleman is one who knows how to play the banjo and doesn’t. But I don’t care. I’ve had a crush on Steve Martin since the 1970s. Then, when I was in high school, the banjo was part of his comedy schtick. Now he’s a respected, Grammy winning musician with his band, The Steep Canyon Rangers. And he’s still funny.




Can I learn to play this late in life? The question is more, will I follow my dream. There’s even a Dummies book for me.

banjo for dummies


I challenge myself to follow this one. I made it to Paris. Maybe soon you’ll see me in the sky, in a hot air balloon, picking on a banjo and having a great old time.



The Do It Yourself Museum ©, maybe someday brought to you by the Hallmark Channel ™

I wear the crown of Queen of the Unfinished Project.

Good thing my sister sent me the tiara. If I had to make it, it’d be half-finished.

I enthusiastically start things, to either lose interest or time or both, with the promise that someday I will get back to each and every project. If I start something new and I am not immediately good at it, I give up (for example, my very brief flirtation with the pottery wheel; that thing is hard!). That romantic scene from Ghost? Total fiction.

Remember folks, this is a Hollywood movie and these are actors.

I finally got one not horrible mug-like thing, applied some glaze to it, and then never went back to pick up the fired piece. And my hands and shoulders hurt like hell for days.

Not my finest work.

For years I have wanted to do something with eucalyptus “buttons”, which are easy to gather here in California where so many eucalyptus trees were planted at one time. I finally found an old frame for a dollar at the flea market, bought some glue sticks, and happily glued away for a day. Never picked it back up.

I actually think it looks cool like this.

My mother was a talented seamstress, but I didn’t inherit her patience. Over the years, I’ve gone through spells of “I’m going to start making clothes” to then get frustrated when I realize it’s best if you take the time to make sure the clothes will fit you when you are done.

The current fabric and pattern stash.
I had a brilliant idea to repurpose a brown satin tablecloth into an evening dress. It hangs unfinished in my closet, about 4 sizes too small now. I have nowhere to wear a brown satin evening dress anyway.
The mending pile, gathering dust.

I tried quilting for a while. I bought bags of fabric scraps off of eBay, I downloaded quilting patterns, I made about a dozen wobbly quilt squares, and now they are in a tub in a closet somewhere.

I had good intentions.

There was knitting. I took classes, bought yarn everywhere I went, did finish a couple of sweaters I am too embarrassed to wear, and gave up about 3 years ago.

The sweater I started for Bob. He picked the yarn and the pattern. I’m probably about 20% done after 4 years. Maybe for his retirement present…


The reduced yarn stash; I cleaned it out a while ago but couldn’t part with the yarns I bought on trips to Germany, Halifax, and Salt Spring Island.

Drawing and painting? Yes, I dabble in those. Have all my life. When I was younger I would finish what I started. What happened? I’m currently into coloring books, but mostly buying them, not coloring in them. I also started a project of drawing portraits of animals at the shelter, but didn’t get very far with that.

Doesn’t it look like fun?
Bought on a summer vacation. Again, I had good intentions.


When I first met Bob way back in 2004, I was taking a watercolor painting class at Napa College. I enjoyed it a lot, and finished my first painting and was mostly happy with it.

I finished!

I started my next painting, one of a bird on a branch. It started out okay, commenced going downhill, and went into a tub in a closet. Then Bob decided to write a book. A challenge was issued. If he started writing a first draft, then I would finish the painting. He wrote.

Bob has now written the first drafts of not just one, but TWO novels.

I didn’t paint. For a couple of years. I was oh so subtly reminded of the deal a time of two. I would get out the watercolor paints and the unfinished painting, stare at it for about an hour, and put it away again. I began to hate that innocent sparrow. After a long time, I finally resolved to do my best. Bob was on a trip to China, and I figured I’d surprise him. I painted, but not happily. I felt coerced. I hated the poor bird. I said “Enough!” and framed it as is, pretending I’d finished it. Everytime I see it on the den wall, I am unhappy with it. But it reminds me that when you are unhappy or angry when doing something, it shows. Chill out, relax, try to have fun.

Meh. Stupid bird.

Bob has been thoroughly enjoying his writing classes and the group of people he’s been working with, so of course, I decided to give writing a try! My brilliant project–a memoir of the summer of 1972, when my mother married my evil stepfather, split up the family, and moved half of us to California from Georgia on a cross-country drive from hell. It was going to be poignant, funny, and an actual finished manuscript. I bought a road atlas to map out the stops I remembered from the trip, I hung a map with notes on my wall, I signed up for weekly classes.

We took the southern route, through Texas, in the summer, in an old station wagon without air conditioning and a driver who smoked and drank the whole way. Fun times. (The purple line through the northern route is a later trip in the 1990s, in the winter snow. Yes, backwards planning both times.)
My stack of notes and index cards. I could restart that memoir someday…

What I turned out to be good at was making up titles. My favorite–“A Good Title Only Gets You So Far”, which would then be a blank book when opened.

I guess I am more of a concept person.

So what happened? I enrolled in a PhD program and gave up my career in memoir and fiction.

I am determined to finish this project!

But I still wake up, usually at 3:30 a.m., with great ideas that I think I should really start putting on paper.

So here we finally get to the tantalizing reference to the Hallmark Channel in the above title.


I am a romantic and a sentimentalist. I have a real weakness for the rose-colored glasses world of the Hallmark Channel. The movies make me happy. I indulge when Bob is at work or his writing classes. I eat chocolate and wish I lived in the Hallmark world of small, charming towns, quirky friends and neighbors, and the cafe that everyone gathers in for coffee and cookies. I still believe that this town exists somewhere.

My latest 3:30 a.m. title and concept:  The Do It Yourself Museum. Please do not steal my idea. It would make a perfect beach read and then Hallmark Channel movie.

By way of explanation: I’ve until recently worked in a lot of museums. I love small town history museums, with old typed labels and dusty cases and volunteers waiting to greet you.

A small town history museum somewhere I’ve been, perhaps in British Columbia.

I love to curate mini-collections that no one but me, Bob, and the cleaning lady ever see.

I want to have one of these museums in my Hallmark town. The main character, a down-to-earth middle aged woman (no, not in her 20s, not tall, not thin; this is my vision) drives into Hallmark Town, falls in love with the town, and lucks into the job of running the town museum. She buys an adorable cottage with hanging flower baskets on the big front porch (rocking chairs required) and butts heads with the handsome mayor, who wants to turn the old museum into a commercially-profitable something or other to attract business to the town. As they bicker, they fall in love, and she saves the museum and the town. I’ve got the Hallmark formula down!

If you know anyone at the Hallmark Channel, have them contact me. I’ll either be out on the golf course (see Life Lessons Learned Playing Golf) or at banjo lessons, depending on which I decide to enthusiastically take up next.

In my mind, I’ll be a cool cross between Steve Martin and Taylor Swift.

If lucky, I’d probably be more like these ladies (assuming I ever manage to play a note).

Or I could just pose with the banjo, and pretend I know how to play it.

846-03164971 © ClassicStock / Masterfile Model Release: Yes Property Release: No 1960s YOUNG BLOND WOMAN PLAYING BANJO WEARING PLAID SHIRT

As soon as I finish that PhD, I’m signing up for lessons! I’m sure I can find a banjo at the flea market.


Western Museums Association Annual Meeting 2015

In my capacity as Assistant Registrar at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, this year I attended for the first time the 80th annual meeting of the Westerns Museum Association at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, California, held October 24-27, 2015.

Our new logo for the UC Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive
Our new logo for the UC Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive
WMA 80th Annual Meeting, San Jose: Listen, Learn, Lead
WMA 80th Annual Meeting, San Jose: Listen, Learn, Lead

Instead of registering as an attendee, I signed on as a volunteer. In my opinion, the event has been much more rewarding this way–I keep busy, meet almost everyone who comes through the door, go to sessions I might not otherwise attend but end up enjoying and learning from, and learn first-hand how challenging organizing and running such events can be. There has been an amazing team working for months behind the scenes putting this event together and making sure everyone’s needs are met to the extent possible. I have gained a true appreciation for what goes into making this kind of gathering happen.

My first task was the day before the conference even started–helping to assemble the registration packets for the 500+ attendees and speakers. After a stop at Philz Coffee for fuel, I made my way to the Fairmont Hotel to join the assembly team.

Philz in San Jose; when you see a Philz, you gotta stop!
Philz in San Jose; when you see a Philz, you gotta stop!
My problem at Philz--deciding what to try.
My problem at Philz–deciding what to try.

Assembling more than 500 packets is a serious  operation!

The Fairmont Hotel, San Jose
The Fairmont Hotel, San Jose

IMG_9068 IMG_9070 IMG_9072 IMG_9074

Opening day “pre-conference” events included trips to Runnymeade Sculpture Garden, the 49ers Museum and the Splendid Heritage Collection as well as workshops such as CSI: Registrars, Using Design Thinking to Develop Visitor-Centered Experiences, and Tips and Tricks to Ramping Up Your Career at Any Level.

Runnymede 49ers splendid

Sunday, we got down to serious business. The Exhibit Hall Networking Lunch got everyone together for food and networking. Concurrent sessions in the areas of community engagement, collections, leadership, visitor experience, development and technology ran through the afternoon, followed by a Culture Crawl on South First Street. The scavenger hunt style tour of the public art in San Jose has people out collecting clues, including the one where I was the volunteer helper at the mural The Heart of the Valley.

exhibition hall networking luncheon mewseums acme

Turning Outward: Museums and Libraries as Sites for Community Innovation and Revitalization.
Turning Outward: Museums and Libraries as Sites for Community Innovation and Revitalization.

culture crawl

Your friendly conference volunteer
Your friendly conference volunteer

On Monday, the Poster Session provided 8 individuals the opportunity to present their research and ideas.

BAMPFA's own Rachael Dickson preparing her poster on Museums without Walls: The Intersection of Art Museums and Public Art.
BAMPFA’s own Rachael Dickson preparing her poster on Museums without Walls: The Intersection of Art Museums and Public Art.
Maya Makker of the Computer History Museum on Public Users, Private Knowledge: Crowdsourcing and the Changing Role of Museum Expertise.
Maya Makker of the Computer History Museum on Public Users, Private Knowledge: Crowdsourcing and the Changing Role of Museum Expertise.

Another BAMPFA favorite, Program Manager Sean Carson, was on the panel for the session The Morning After: Educating and Engaging Beyond the Party.

BAMPFA Program Manager Sean Carson
BAMPFA Program Manager Sean Carson

My particular favorite session was Dust: Our Dirty Little Secret, with moderator and registrar Rebekah Monahan from the Woodbury Art Museum and panelists Melissa Hempel, Director/Curator of the Woodbury and Sheridan College Professor of Visual Arts Tawni Shuler. Dust–I’ll just say it’s very scary stuff and you are better off not knowing what’s in it. If you have an interest in freaking yourself out, I recommend The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes.

dust dust 2

On Tuesday, I was able to snag a coveted ticket to the Registrars Luncheon, the annual business meeting of the Registrars Committee Western Region (RCWR). We are a fun crowd!

registrawrs reg 2

Registrars Committee Western Region Board Chair Clare Haggarty getting the raffle drawing ready to go.
Registrars Committee Western Region Board Chair Clare Haggarty getting the raffle drawing ready to go.

Another BAMPFA presenter was Stephanie Cannizzo on Curating and Caring for the Conceptual with co-panelists Jill Sterret from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and artist Jennifer Brandon, moderated by Beth Dungan.

Stephanie Cannizzo seaking on the Yoko Ono exhibition Grapefruit that she curated for BAMPFA.
Stephanie Cannizzo speaking on the Yoko Ono exhibition Grapefruit that she curated for BAMPFA.

The conference is winding down this afternoon, but I thought I’d end with some glimpses of the abundant museum and public art offerings in San Jose. It’s not just for techies!

Tech Museum of Innovation
Tech Museum of Innovation
San Jose Museum of Art
San Jose Museum of Art

IMG_9064 public art 1IMG_9142