Loving and Losing Sylvia

It was 1982. Freshly graduated from the theatre program at San Jose State University, I had just landed my first theatre job. Feeling both excited and terrified, I also felt entirely out of my league. That’s when I met Sylvia.

Sylvia Muzzio

With Sylvia in the San Jose Rep costume shop, November, 1982

If you follow the money, you won’t find it in the theater. San Jose Rep’s small costume shop occupied a couple of classrooms in a vacant elementary school, in an unremarkable part of town. Yet between those walls, magic happened.  Under Resident Costume Designer Marcia Frederick’s guidance, Sylvia Muzzio, Marcia and I crafted some of the most extraordinary costumes you’ve ever seen.  We were three  creative women working in very close quarters, yet we always got along.

Sylvia mentored and mothered and minded the shop and taught me about theater and life along the way. She personified warmth and care. I shared things with her that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with others. Her open nature and gentle soul invited you in. It was a gift at the time, though it took age and maturity to fully grasp how special she was.

Sylvia nurtured her children, her grandchildren and those of us lucky enough to be part of her circle. She always wanted the best for people. She was modest and unassuming, but honest and direct as well. I loved her.

While I was in an unhappy relationship in those early years at The Rep, Sylvia told me that I needed to find an Italian, someone warm and affectionate (like her). When years later I met and married Mike Francini, I enjoyed recalling that memory with her. “Sylvia,” I said, “I found my Italian.”

Sylvia Muzzio

The four of us gathered for the first time in many years in 2010. Alys, Jim, Marcia and Sylvia

Marcia Frederick, Sylvia Muzzio, Alys and James Reber

Marcia Frederick, Sylvia Muzzio, Alys and James Reber, Founder of San Jose Repertory Theatre, November, 2013

Sylvia Muzzio

Sylvia and Rick share a laugh at a reception for The Snow Queen, November, 2013, San Jose Rep

Sylvia had a year of major health problems, hospitalizations and treatments, then seemed to miraculously kick every last one of her ailments to the curb. I saw her earlier this year for lunch, and though frail, she was upbeat and engaged. I started one of those “let’s get together when you get back from Shasta” emails and hoped to see her again this fall.

Sylvia Muzzio

With Sylvia and Marcia, 2015

Marcia called me on Monday to let me know that Sylvia was gravely ill. Sylvia and Marcia have remained close friends for many years. It came on suddenly in the last two weeks.

I spoke with Sylvia for the last time Wednesday morning. She was groggy from her pain medication, but she knew who I was and said it was good to hear my voice. She died this morning in her sleep.

And so I weep.

Death lies on her, like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.

Romeo and Juliet (1597) IV, scene 5, line 28.

Goodbye dear friend.

Halloween 2017: It’s a Wrap

pumpkin penduncles

Three pumpkins, three unique peduncles

In a flurry of activity, Halloween came and went. October 31st landed on a Tuesday this year, but trick-or-treating children continued to ring the bell until 8:30 that night. There were fewer than last year, but we still had about 300 costumed little ones at the door.

costumed children

Our driveway at the height of the evening

Passing out Halloween candy

Mike passing out candy at the door

Baby in pumpkin costume

Ray and Sara’s darling “pumpkin” stopped by for a visit and a photo-op

Mike took the day off of work so he would have time to carve pumpkins. It’s become a yearly tradition. We ended up with six pumpkins this year. I planted three from Bonnie Plant starters, and the squirrels planted three more. One of the pumpkins rotted in the week leading up to Halloween, but the others were hale and hearty.
The pumpkins went from this

To this

and finally this: I’ve had as much fun watching the squirrels “clean up” as I did when the pumpkins were whole and carved.

Mike came up with our costume idea this year. We dressed as “aging” (ha) black and white screen stars. We rented costumes from a local place called Natasha’s Attic. I bought a black wig but Mike’s hair is naturally dark so he just had to wear a hat. We applied grey theatrical makeup to any exposed skin, then used black mascara and white makeup for highlight and shadows.  If you follow this link, you’ll see the stunning example we worked from. We’re makeup novices, but we made do with our limited skills and had fun.

I helped my sister pull together her costume again this year. We’ve always enjoyed dressing up for Halloween. Sharon has MS and relies on a motorized scooter to get around so her costume has to be easy to put on and off.

Last year I bought a small, decorative cat from my friend Lexi’s Etsy shop. I knew Sharon would love it, and could use it to decorate the front of her scooter. That cute little cat inspired this year’s costume!  She decided to dress up like the little cat.

I made a small tulle apron to match the one on the kitty, and I used one of my soft pumpkins for her wrist. I added a scrap of green ribbon, then sewed the pumpkin to a hair tie. I picked up the cute glasses at a paper store of all places. If you follow this link to Kelly’s blog, you’ll see the two of us sporting a pair. Sharon popped out the lenses, then wore the kitty glasses over her own.  The small skeleton came from a shop in Willow Glen, and Sharon bought the faux fur scarf online. She’s always cold, so she really liked the warmth it provided.  I think she’s adorable.

At long last, we’re enjoying autumn-like weather. Halloween, 2017, is a wrap.

Halloween Cards: Chlorophyll Prints From My Garden (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my recent post about crafting from my garden.

I’m crafting Halloween cards from my garden this year using chlorophyll prints. Before harvesting the last of the pumpkin vines,  I made chlorophyll prints from the pumpkin’s leaves.

Pumpkin leaves have a rich, green, texture and that color and texture transferred beautifully on white card stock. I used my recently acquired Big Shot tool to make the impressions/prints. You can see the other card style in my recent post: Halloween Cards: Crafting from my Garden.  I blogged about my first attempts with chlorophyll prints in a post: Experimenting with Chlorophyll Prints.

I found inspiration on Dawn’s blog late last year. You can have a look at her beautiful card creations at Petals. Paper. Simple Thymes.

For this set of cards, I used the pumpkin leaf impression on the cover. I added a stamped pumpkin image and a few green leaves along with the stem.  Inside the card I used the chlorophyll print from the Nepeta once again, along with a pine-needle imprint for the small pumpkin.

I used craft envelopes for the smaller cards, adding a spider web detail to the flap. A few years ago, Tim Holtz came out with a stencil called Shatter. It makes the perfect spiderweb, don’t you think?

Blue ink worked well on the black envelopes, whereas silver ink showed better on the craft paper. Our post office is selling Disney Villain postage stamps this time of year. They’re the perfect finishing touch. Disneyland may call itself the “happiest place on earth”, but many of the movies I watched as a child scared me to my core.

But hey, it’s Halloween. Hopefully my cards don’t send a chill down anyone’s spine.

Note: I wrote this post a few weeks ago, but waited to share it in October. Since writing this light-hearted post, if feels like the wheels have come off the proverbial bus. I’m trying to regain some perspective. November is just around the corner. I hope it brings cooler weather and cleansing rains.

Northern California Fire Update:

Sonoma was the hardest hit county in this month’s wildfires with some 6,800 homes lost. Another 569 homes in Napa County were destroyed. The two wine country counties each lost at least 5 percent of their housing stock, according to estimates.

Santa Rosa, Sonoma County’s largest city, lost entire neighborhoods, including the suburb of Coffey Park and mobile home parks. The fires also left a path of destruction in Fountaingrove, a neighborhood known for its expensive homes.

Overall, the Northern California wildfires burned more than 245,000 acres, destroyed an estimated 8,700 structures and killed at least 42 people, according to Cal Fire. As of Wednesday, at least 16 people were still listed as missing in Santa Rosa. – Source CNBC

 

 

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In Search of Equilibrium

front porch with pumpkins

Welcome to our front porch. There’s a beautifully embroidered welcome sign, a gift from Marlene, and a trio of home-grown pumpkins

It’s hard to comprehend the bleakest October in recent memory. By day I’m trying to regain my equilibrium.  At night, though, my body betrays me. I wake with my hands closed tightly into fists and I have to remind myself to breathe. It’s been surreal.

Historically speaking, October is my favorite month. It starts with my birthday and ends with Halloween, with lots of playfulness in between.

This year my birthday dawned October 2nd with devastating news out of Las Vegas. Another senseless act of gun violence, perhaps the worst in our troubled history. There are more questions than answers; more lives tragically destroyed. Worst of all, nothing seems to change.

I received lovely birthday greetings throughout the day from family and friends. I swung through highs and lows the strangest mixture of darkness and light.

My friend Kelly and her husband Jim were due to arrive October 1st from Canada. They got a nasty flu instead, and were bed-ridden for several days. Jim had to cancel his trip entirely. We were all disappointed to lose our long-planned week in coastal Carmel

Carmel, Calfornia

Carmel by the sea

Kelly came a week later and we enjoyed the abbreviated time we had together.

alys and kelly

Kelly and I took a card class together

The day after Kelly arrived, we woke to more difficult news. An unprecedented firestorm swept through Santa Rosa late at night, destroying an entire neighborhood and damaging businesses and a major hospital. Many of the older residents were unable to escape. The loss of life is devastating.

smoky skies

Multiple spare-the-air days

I’ve been mentally “gathering my people.” My friend Leslie moved to Las Vegas three years ago to enjoy the open space and mountain air. I couldn’t reach her by text, so it was a huge relief when she marked herself safe via Facebook.

My friend Marcia lives in Santa Rosa and plans to visit today. It’s been on the calendar for months, but given the devastating fires, it will be especially good to see her.  Marcia’s mother had to be evacuated from her care home as the fires spread. The quick-moving fire ravished entire neighborhoods. At the height of the firestorm, 100,000 people were evacuated. 20,000 remain displaced and 42 people lost their lives in the fast-moving fire.

Santa Rosa holds a special place in my heart. I spent three summers working at SRT, Santa Rosa’s Summer Repertory Theater. I wrote about my friendship with Marcia earlier this year.

SRT program 1984

Summer Repertory Theater (SRT) Program, 1984

My in-laws lived in Calistoga in their final years. Authorities evacuated the entire town of Calistoga for two days this weekend as the high winds constantly changed course. Mike feels emotionally invested in the well-being of their former home and ranch, even though the property has since changed hands. Authorities allowed residents back home on Sunday and as far as we can tell, the homes in that area are safe.

Calistoga

Extended family in Calistoga (Mt. St. Helena in background)

Throughout this unfolding drama, my colleague Ellen Hovey quietly lost her battle with cancer. Ellen’s strength and courage inspired all who knew her.  She’s survived by her husband and her 17-year-old son with Down Syndrome. It’s a sad loss for all who knew her. I can’t image how hard it must have been to say goodbye to her young man.

I’m craving a walk in the woods, alone with my thoughts. I have my fingers crossed that the long-term forecast is correct and that the hoped-for rain arrives on Friday.  It will aid the fire-fighters and at the same time clear our the dangerous, smoke-filled air.

Equilibrium will return. For now I feel the weight of the world.

In early October 2017, a series of wildfires started burning across the state of California, United States. They broke out throughout Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte, and Solano counties during severe fire weather conditions effectively leading to a major red flag warning from much of the Northern California area. Seventeen separate wildfires were reported at this time.[3] These fires included the Tubbs Fire (the most destructive), the Atlas Fire, Nuns Fire and others.

Due to the extreme conditions, shortly after the fires ignited on October 8 and 9, they rapidly grew to become extensive, full-scale incidents spanning from 1,000 acres (400 hectares) to well over 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) each within a single day. By October 14, the fires had burned more than 210,000 acres (85,000 ha), and destroyed an estimated 5,700 structures [4][1] while forcing 90,000 people to evacuate from their homes.[5] The Northern California fires have killed at least 42 people[1] and hospitalized at least 185,[6] making the week of October 8, 2017, the deadliest week of wildfires in California history.

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Halloween Cards: Crafting from my Garden

This year I’m crafting Halloween cards from my garden. It’s been a lot of trial and error, but I’m having fun.

My approach to crafting Halloween cards is often catch-as-catch can. I’ll spot a few things here and there in a store, or I’ll pull together items from my stash. No two cards are alike, and I’m fine with that. For me, that’s part of the fun.

Halloween cards

Halloween cards from prior years

This year, using my Big Shot die-cutting gadget, I’ve made several chlorophyll prints from the abundant pumpkin leaves trailing across my garden. The leaves transferred beautifully, revealing wonderful detail.

pumpkin leaf chlorophyll print

Pumpkin leaf impression

With success on my side, I decided to try making prints using the bright yellow pumpkin flowers. I had to be judicious, because although the pumpkin’s leaves last for weeks, the flowers close and drop within a day or two. I made flower impressions in phases, also enjoying the process.

Pumpkin flower impression

A: Pumpkin blossom, B: Pressed pumpkin blossom, C: Partially removed, and D: pumpkin flower imprint

Though the flowers transferred well, the color didn’t last. Within a few days the brightness faded to a soft peach. I used the imprints anyway, for a subtle suggestion of color and because they work well with my Halloween theme.

Since I was on a roll, I braved the crazy heat, and gathered a few more items: the drying flowers of the Nepeta (cat mint) and some of the dropped pine needles from a neighboring tree. The dried flowers left a mottled brown impression, perfect for the pumpkin stems, also known as a peduncle.

nepeta going to seed

Nepeta going to seed

Drying Nepeta flowers and leaves on paper before pressing

Drying Nepeta flowers and leaves on paper before pressing

nepeta impressinos

Nepeta impressions for peduncles and background

The pine needles made a wonderful textured paper. I wanted to suggest the ribbing you would see on a real pumpkin. It’s subtle, but I like the way they turned out.

I rubbed yellow ink on the textured paper, then stamped two more layers of the stamp set with orange and russet ink. After stamping two different pumpkin shapes, I cut the small pumpkin images using my Big Shot. I made the stems using the Nepeta paper print.

Here’s the design:

I used a clever die to create the black card-stock base of the card. I used the pumpkin leaf imprint on one side and the flower imprint on the other. In the center I cut two small pumpkins from the pine needle paper using a clever die and stamp set that allows layering for a more realistic effect. I cut the stems, known as a peduncle, from the mottled Nepeta print for a natural look.

This particular style is labor-intensive, so I only managed to make eight cards. That said, I did a lot of experimenting along with using new tools. Next year I’ll be able to apply what I learned.  I punched squared out of all the different materials I used and mounted them on a piece of card stock. This will help me remember the different techniques for next year.

I used the remaining chlorophyll prints to make traditional fold-over cards. They were equally fun. I’ll blog about them later this week.

Are you trying something new and interesting?

Note:

To my friends out of the area, please know that we are safe. There is an active series of fires, 100 miles north of San Jose. Though we are sheltering from the heavy smoke as best we can, we are not in danger. My friends in Santa Rosa are safe. You can read more at the link below.

http://m.sfgate.com/news/article/2-big-wildfires-prompt-evacuations-in-Napa-County-12262945.php

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Raptors and Revelry at the Winery

You don’t often see the words “raptor” and “revelry” in the same sentence, and certainly not at a winery. Yet we celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary this past weekend at a fundraising event that incorporated all three.

Wente Brothers Vineyard, 1995, Seekers Vineyard, 2017

When you’re an animal lover, you get excited when an event lands on your anniversary for the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley. Wingin’ it at the Winery is held annually  to raise funds for this vital, local non-profit.

Count us in!

The center (WCSV) processes over 5,000 wild animals a year. Animals come to them injured or orphaned, and sometimes both. Staff and volunteers at the center make every effort to return the young to their family. Barring that, they rehab the animal or bird in a way that keeps them wild, and therefore self-sufficient. Once ready, they reintroduce the animals back into the wild, usually within ten miles of their original home.

Wingin’ it at the Winery included a live and silent auction, wine tasting, appetizers and a fully vegetarian meal. It’s not often I can attend an event and eat everything on offer. What a treat.

Seeker Vineyard

Gathering for dinner and a live auction

Auction items included art and wine, travel and experiences and a number of animal-centric gift baskets. Seeker Winery in San Martin generously donated the venue, along with wine from their private reserve.

Silent auction items on display at Seeker Vineyard

Silent auction items on display at Seeker Vineyard

One of the biggest draws though, was the potential release of an owl. There were no promises. The animals well-being comes first, but if all went well, we would get to witness an owl released back to the wild.

Like many non-profits, WCSV has a small staff. They rely on many volunteers to help care for and rehab the animals. I first learned about WCSV from one of my Pilates classmates. Ellen volunteers at the center, and used to share intriguing stories about her work with the animals

A couple of years ago we rescued this orphaned hummingbird

rescued baby hummingbird

Rescued baby hummingbird

and I turned to Ellen for guidance. She confirmed that taking the small and needy bird to the center was the right thing to do. That little hummingbird had a happily ever after story, when she was re-released back into the wild.

While we’re on the subject of re-releasing birds into the wild, you’ll never guess the extraordinary highlight of the evening?

Agency staff and volunteers released three raptors (in this case owls). They had been in the shelter since May.

As we stood together along the length of the vineyard at dusk, the owls flew into the trees, one by one. Though the owl in the center box was initially reluctant to venture out, she too eventually flew into the trees she would now call home.

Preparing for raptor release Seeker Vineyard

Back to front: Ashley Kinney, WCSV Hospital Manager,Holly Cormier, Development Director and Ellen Lovelace, volunteer

Ashley Kinney owl release

Ashley Kinney, WCSV Hospital Manager encourages the third owl to take flight…and she did

What a spectacular night!

Owl soaring

Full wing span as the owl soars toward the palm tree

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Little Free Library of Distinction

I’m so excited!

Our curbside Little Free Library is this week’s LFL Library of Distinction.

From the Little Free Library Newsletter, September 2017

Little Free Library of Distinction

Little Free Library of Distinction, September, 2017

The entry appears in the Little Free Library newsletter under the heading: One Library got a whimsical makeover

Here’s the link.

This is a great opportunity to bring attention to our library, and a wonderful way to celebrate and promote Donna Pierre’s stunning work. Here is how the whole thing came about.

After Donna put the finishing touches on our revamped library,  I sent updated photos via the LFL website. They wrote back letting me know they would update the map within three days.

Our registered Little Free Library is searchable via the world map along with 50,000 other libraries in over 70 countries worldwide. Through the Little Free Library movement, millions of books are exchanged annually. It is a joy to be a part of the movement.

Within a few days of submitting the new photos, I received this email:

Congratulations! Your Library has been selected as a Library of Distinction. Its unique design and the creativity and enthusiasm you have put into it make it an inspiring example for other Little Free Library stewards to follow.
We will share images of your Library and the story behind it in our weekly e-newsletter to Little Free Library fans and on our Libraries of Distinction Pinterest board.
If there are any details on your Library’s design or history that you’d specifically like to share in our e-newsletter, please respond directly to this email with that information; about 3-4 sentences would be perfect.
 
Attached you will find a certificate to commemorate this achievement, please feel free to print it and show it off to all of your friends! Keep up the good work.
Cheers,

The Little Free Library Team

Donna attached this handsome cat to the base of the library. I reworked the white sign by smudging it with green ink. Instead of re-attaching it to the face of the library, Mike installed cup hooks below the box for the sign to hang free. I didn’t want to do anything that would distract from Donna’s design.

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.

–Marcel Proust

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