Saturday, October 31, 2009

Quilts, fly fishing, and Susan Damone Balch

This week I'm getting back to quilting, crafts, and healing. My friend and teacher, master quilter Susan Damone Balch, has written a guest post about her work and her latest quilt. That's a photo of it above. It's called Apache Trout (and it's for sale, by the way. Her contact information is below if you're interested.) The quilt is as intricately and expertly designed, executed, and filled with intent as all of Susan's quilts. But I'll let her speak for herself!

Hope, Recovery, Fishing, and Quilting
Susan Damone Balch
Quilt Artist & Fly Fishing Instructor

I am passionate about both quilting and fly fishing. However, there was a period of about 10 years where I neglected my quilting for another healing art….fly fishing. It started when I became involved with Casting for Recovery, a national non-profit organization providing support to women in all stages of breast cancer treatment and recovery through fly fishing retreats. Their motto is “To Fish is to Hope.”

Between 2000 and 2007, I immersed myself in a full time job as Program Director of Casting for Recovery (CFR). Throughout those years I traveled around the country and had some incredible experiences, met some amazing women, helped to introduce thousands of women to the art and healing power of fly fishing, and had the opportunity to fish in some beautiful places. Mostly, I gained a new outlook on life. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that life is just too short!

As precious as those years are to me, I was not doing my art on a regular basis any more and really feeling the void. In the spring of 2007, I made the difficult decision to resign my full time position and re-commit to my art work. I am still involved with CFR and teaching fly fishing, but I am spending most of my time now in my beautiful home studio and, as Joseph Campbell says, I am following my bliss.

“Apache Trout” was one of the first quilts I completed when I returned to my art work. It was inspired by a trip to the White Mountains of Arizona where I was leading a Casting for Recovery retreat and had the opportunity to catch one of these little feisty creatures.

Native to Arizona, Apache Trout live in small stream habitat above 5,900 feet and are found nowhere else in the world. Once near extinction (listed as an endangered species in 1969), they have been restored to much of their historic range through decades of cooperative protection and recovery efforts. (The White Mountain Apache Tribe has been instrumental in their recovery along with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, AZ Fish and Game, and Trout Unlimited.) The hope is they will someday be the first species of fish to be removed from the endangered species list.

But back to the quilt...I could not have done the design surrounding the trout without the help of [master quilter] John Flynn and the mathematical formulas he provided in his “Feathered Sun” book. The animal totem images in the corners are representative of the healing powers they are thought to possess. The snake represents fertility and life force; the frog, emotional healing and cleansing; the scorpion, defense and self-protection; and the lizard, caution and regeneration.

Quilt photo by John Polak

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Newseum Rocks!

I was in Washington, DC, this weekend for a meeting and, dutiful writer that I am, I went to visit the Newseum. That's a museum on Pennsylvania Avenue that chronicles the history of journalism ( My friend Hildy had told me she’d heard it was highly worth seeing—and it was. In fact, it was fantastic! I had a great couple of hours there.

First off, it's a beautiful glass-windowed building with an incredible view--it gazes down the block to the U.S. Capitol.

Second, the exhibits are fascinating, varied, and often interactive. My favorite was the collection of Pulitzer-prize winning photos spanning some 40 years. Most were outrageously sad and somber: a naked young Vietnamese girl running from napalm ...a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Somalia...a Thai man being hanged.

Others were incredibly joyful: Bill Clinton laughing amidst a parade...a young boy looking up at a kindly policeman.

Still others gave me chills: a rain-soaked Barack Obama making a last campaign stop despite a downpour...soldiers raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima.

There were so many other great exhibits, too: Pieces of the Berlin Wall, a 9/11 exhibit (complete with tear-inducing video interviews with journalists on the scene at the World Trade Center), photos from Woodstock, pictures of presidents and their dogs, a crime wing containing Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s actual cabin in the Montana woods, and covers of the current day’s front pages of newspapers from all over the country (with nary a throughline story among them!). And finally, George Stephanopoulos’ tiny (and I mean tiny) studio, where he shoots his Sunday news show. Basically, it consists of a small round table sitting in front of a row of windows looking down to the Capitol. Amazing how spacious TV can make a set look!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Middle-Aged Movie Maven

I go to the movies. A lot. It’s one of the forms of creativity (and therapy!) I most enjoy.

And I’m convinced no one sets out to make a bad movie. They just happen.

They’re there at the multiplex, and I’ve sat through more than my fair share of them. So you might as well benefit from my inability to resist the cinema.

Here, hits and (mostly) misses on the fall schedule:
1. Capitalism: A Love Story. Not Michael Moore’s best. I’m a liberal and I found this movie tiresome. As always, he makes some good points, but we’ve been so inundated with the financial mess that it’s old news. He’s uncovered some great footage of FDR speaking to the nation and some shocking standard practices—like major companies that take out life insurance policies on their employees and cash in when people die. But for the first time, I questioned some of Moore’s facts and his stunts. It was a little dull, to tell you the truth.

2. Couples Resort. HORRIBLE. I thought this was a comedy, but it’s just NOT FUNNY. Never see a Vince Vaughn movie again. He has as bad taste in movies as Jennifer Aniston. Yes, he was funny in Wedding Crashers and Swingers, but he seems to have lost his mojo. This movie isn’t a comedy; it’s more like a Lifetime movie with a couple of laughs. (And yet it’s number 1 at the box office. Go figure.)

3. The Invention of Lying. Sorry, I just don’t find Ricky Gervais’s deadpan humor funny. This movie is interesting and Jennifer Garner is adorable. I even like Gervais’s character. I just didn’t like the movie.

4. The Informant. Matt Damon is awesome as a chunky corporate spy, but the movie slogs along at a snail’s pace. Another wasted opportunity. It looks like a comedy from the previews, and yet…

5. All About Steve. The cast almost makes this movie: Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, and Thomas Haden-Church are good actors and play well together. The plot is just too preposterous, though, and the characters too broadly drawn (Bullock plays an intellectual misfit with a penchant for loud outfits). And what starts out as a wacky comedy turns serious halfway through. But see The Proposal with Bullock and Ryan Reynolds instead (a real romantic comedy, just out on DVD) and The Hangover with Bradley Cooper (very raunchy but TRULY hilarious, especially the picture show at the end!).

6. Extract. Ugh, why are they giving Jason Bateman such terrible parts? He can be so adorable, so funny. But not here. He just whines a lot (he plays a similar role in Couples Resort). This one-note comedy even wastes Saturday Night Live’s Kristin Wig as Bateman’s wife.

But all is not lost. I actually have liked a few movies lately…
1. 500 Days of Summer. Quirky, clever and unexpectedly charming.
2. Julie and Julia. As you may have heard, the Julie portions of the movie are throwaways we could have done without, but Meryl Streep’s Julia is priceless. Not to be missed, along with Stanley Tucci as her husband and Jane Lynch as her gangly sister.
3. District 9. A sci-fi movie (about aliens living on earth) with a message.

As always, too, I’m hopeful the holidays will bring some better movies! I'll keep you posted.
Photo copyright of Melinda Nagy/

Monday, October 12, 2009

Frugal Kiwi!

I discovered a new website recently: Frugal Kiwi ( This woman from New Zealand is BRILLIANT at finding inexpensive ways to do everything from cooking to cleaning and gardening.

This week, she gets crafty and makes felted soap (soap covered with wool felt). It's pretty, and it allows you to use the soap down to the last sliver. Then she says you can use the felt for a broach or pouch.

Great Christmas gift, great activity to do with kids and others--and nontoxic (no messy chemicals or safety goggles required!).

Check it out!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Burst the bubble!

Another week, another book. I know my posts haven't been about creativity and healing lately, but rather social and psychological topics. It's kind of hard to ignore those subjects in today's world. And we'll need all the creativity we can muster to get out of this mess, so bear with me!

Anyway, this week's post:

Any of you read Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed, a book that spotlights the working poor, people who work long, hard days as maids or waitresses or for Walmart, and yet can’t make a decent living? She took on poverty-wage jobs to see how these people live. It is a real eye opener, leaving you with a sense of compassion and indignation that’s hard to shake.

Her latest book, Bright-sided, explores the positive-thinking movement in America that she claims ruined the economy and set the stage for last year’s financial and real estate collapses. For a while there, it seemed you couldn’t get anywhere in America unless you were a positive thinker. But when you’re only looking on the bright side, she says, you don’t see the danger ahead. You live in a type of denial. (And people who tried to point out problems in the system were typically shunned as whiners and complainers, and even fired. That guy who tried to warn the SEC about Bernie Madoff’s tricks comes to mind.).

What’s more, she says, positive thinking has created a “winner takes all” mentality in America. If we refuse to see social inequality, we don’t have empathy for other people who aren’t doing as well as we are. We think that if they just tried harder, they too could grab the brass ring. But that’s too simplistic…some people just can’t get a break, and most of us do, at one time or another, lead Thoreau’s lives of “quiet desperation.”

Life is suffering. All the religions say it. It’s the human condition.

(As an aside: Buddhists say that we suffer because we want what we don’t have, and we don’t want what we do have. So the key to happiness is accepting right where you are and what you have right now.)

I’m all for Ehrenreich’s call for a return to realism and a sharing of the wealth--and the health insurance. Our finances are already demanding it, and socially, we need to move toward a more encompassing society, one that doesn’t segregate the few who are well-to-do from the many more who are poor and struggling. We’re all in this together.

Check out Ehrenreich’s website at and her blog at, where she talks about working in America.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Gloomy Economy--and the Lessons We've Learned

“Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify.”
--Henry David Thoreau

The past two years have been tough psychologically and financially for a lot of people, especially those who’ve lost their jobs, their homes or their retirement savings. As the recession begins to fade, it’s important for us not to forget the lessons we’ve learned from the gloomy economy. Yes, the stress of worrying about our finances has been nothing to sneer at, but if we’re truthful, we realize that cutting back on our spending has probably helped us get rid of some habits that were taking a toll on our bodies and our psyches. In fact, the financial downturn may have offered the opportunity to refocus on good health habits, such as eating right, exercising more, sleeping better and enjoying friends and family. By shopping less, we’ve been given the chance to revel in experiences, the true key to happiness.

“Most Americans already have pretty much what they need, so they don’t need to buy more,” says Judith Levine, author of Not Buying It (Free Press), an account of a year-long experiment in which she and her partner Paul bought only necessary items such as groceries. The couple found that most discretionary purchases are impulsive—and that typically, if they waited a few minutes or hours, the impulse passed. They also came to realize that we buy largely for social reasons—to stay in step with our peers and neighbors and gain status. But now that the Jones’ don’t have what they used to, the rest of us don’t have to work as hard to keep up with them!

More to Life Than Shopping
It’s hard to deny that shopping can be a pleasurable pastime, but before the downturn most Americans had spent the last few years numbing themselves into a false sense of security by buying and filling their homes with stuff. We had a gadget for everything, a toy for everyone, a fast car, a big house, the latest smartphone and the coolest video system—and pressure to have more and more. Since it’s unlikely we’ll return in the near future to our loose and fast ways with money and materialism, here are some fresh ideas on how to save money in your everyday life so you can focus on what really matters: Your family and friends.

If you:
…can’t afford to go out to eat, cook at home and make meal preparation a family affair, which will bring you closer. When you do go to restaurants, share appetizers and entrees—a good move for your wallet and your waistline.
…can’t afford expensive gifts, make a deal with family and friends to give less-expensive gifts or even regift for a while. Hold a jewelry or clothing exchange, where you and your friends trade gently used items. Alternatively, you might swap time and services—offer to babysit, for instance, or to spend time together playing board games.
…can’t afford to buy the trendiest clothes or bags, make them yourself (I'm all about the crafty!). Hobbies and crafts have many psychological benefits, from distracting you from everyday worries to helping you relax, boosting your mood and giving you a sense of achievement. Being creative may even confer anti-aging benefits, according to research conducted at George Washington University.
…can’t afford gas, walk, bike or take public transportation. You’ll save money and get more daily exercise.
…can’t afford the gym, go for a walk or bike ride instead. Or invite friends over to do yoga or Pilates—using a tape or TV show to guide you—instead of taking a class.
…can’t afford movies, shows or your cable bill, borrow movies, CDs and books from the library instead of buying or renting them, usher at shows and look for low-cost entertainment at museums, bookstores, churches and other venues. Also spend your TV-less time going back to basics: reading, listening to music, exercising, volunteering, pursuing hobbies or just talking with family and friends.

Any other suggestions, folks?!