Category Archives: Life

Life is Good …

Earth Day on Campus… now that the last of the essays have been read, the reading journals tallied, the anthologies evaluated, and final grades have been submitted. Phew! In case anyone is interested, it took me 30 hours, or about one hour per student.

Next? sort through the clutter of personal history that is currently residing in my dining room, now that we’ve emptied the storage unit (and reclaimed that monthly fee for our own use again!). One fun treasure that surfaced is the photo album I made after my second European hitch hiking tour in 1972. Particular snapshot favorites? Me, sun bathing on the beach in Paros (Greece) in November, fully clothed, including tights and heavy sweater. (I’ve never been one for bathing suits.) And then there was the interminable card game on the island, as my boyfriend and I waited for the return of my passport to the consulate in Athens. I was on a bit of a “Roots”-themed mission, determined to get in touch with my Greek heritage. Things began to go haywire during a late-night border crossing into Yugoslavia when I discovered I was in possession of someone else’s passport and mine was probably long-gone with another girl who had stayed at the youth hostel in Salzburg. Only the ignorance of youth can account for my thinking that it was a good idea to continue on into Greece with someone else’s identity.

Textile History

Handwoven rug inspired by Amish quilt designs, family heirloom crocheted bedcover, and South American donkey blanket, all piled onto restored antique rocking chair..

Amazing where a few relics can take one. But for this week, there’s nothing like the impending arrival of house guests to inspire a flurry of cleaning and tidying. And I’ve just washed a stack of cottons in beautiful blues — ultramarine to periwinkle, with a sprinkle of teal dots for pleasant measure — in preparation for the new bedroom quilt. Pure happiness. … back soon,

Kewpie Comfort

Kewpie's First Garden TourWhile I wasn’t looking, Kewpie leapt off the window sill and made a giggling dash out the open door. Somehow I think she knew that a mini photo shoot would cheer me up after having lost the Zig Zag Table Runner Sew-along Contest. (sigh…)
Bathing in Pink PeepsThe peeps didn’t have a chance of surviving beyond Monday. Between Kewpie and me, the week’s bonus Weight Watcher points have come and gone.

Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you
for all of your encouragement and voting support during the sew-along contest. It was a fun and exhilarating run, while it lasted!

A night of tea, tales, and touchstones

This month is our fifth anniversary. We are a small but energetic group of four writers with loads of other creative interests on the side. Sometimes drawing or painting or photography or gardening or sewing or knitting or cartooning takes center stage, and we come to the table with few words on paper to share. But we’re good about show ‘n tell. Without fail, sparks of inspiration fly between us and I coast on renewed energy for days afterward. This month, K’s daughter, home on semester break, planned a special surprise for us. When I entered the dining room, it was as though we were in our own private function room at an elegant country inn. A tea pot that stayed replenished. Vintage cups and saucers. Silver flatware and holiday china. Talk about pampering!

Our glorious chefs, in their adorable monogrammed aprons.

The girls spent their day shopping for fresh ingredients and cooking. Our menu:

Moroccan Chicken Stew served over Quinoa
Onion & Rosemary Bread and Herby Olive Oil for dipping
Almond & Cherry Chocolate Clusters
bottomless cups of tea

While we oohed and aahed over our food, the girls were kind enough to write up the recipes. The evening was nothing short of warmth and encouragement. And at the end of it, we trundled to our cars with a few more dessert clusters for later.

If you’d like a copy of the recipes, leave me a comment below. I’ll email them out to you as an attachment.


Miss Marple

Remember my grand-pup, Penny Lane? I call her the neighborhood Miss Marple. This is her favorite perch, where she stays on top of all of the comings and goings streetside. There is just something about the tilt of her head that feels regal, and that chubby paw pad — irresistible. I hadn’t been in the apartment five minutes before I pulled out my fancy new phone, aka point-n-shoot camera. Penny has that woeful, droopy-eyed  look just like all basset hounds, but I promise you, she is an exuberant and joyful girl.

We were in the city to celebrate my son’s job promotion. Much to my maternal dismay five years ago, his life path did not stay on the course I’d always had in mind for him. He informed me that the only motivation he had to be in college was me. Not enough! Cajoling and reasoning were useless. So I wrung my hands, smiled, and encouraged him to follow his passion. He’s chosen to follow in the foodie footsteps of his father, a grandfather, and an uncle. He works hard but loves the business. Much to my amazement, after a thirteen-hour day on his feet, he prepares dinner at home! I feel my proud mama chest puffing right up as I type this.

By the way, he just finished reading the memoir manuscript.  First family member to do so. My favorite text message from him said: “Enjoying your teenage exploits and adventures with a cocktail.” His close read gave me valuable feedback on voice and timeline. Talking books is something we’ve always enjoyed together. How fabulous to be discussing this one, not only as writer and reader, but mother and son. Wow! Celebration, indeed.

New gig and a Knitalong

Early days

I was swept away with the knitalong excitement over on the Spud & Chloe blog and just had to join in the fun. But first I had to wait for my yummy watermelon yarn to come in the mail. Then there was the obligatory but somewhat tedious gauge swatch. So glad I took the time for the swatches, as I had to drop down two needle size stitches from the size #7 needles  being used by our fearless knitalong leader, Susan B. Anderson. The lady at a local yarn store told me that if you knit Continental style, as I do, your gauge will be looser. Good to know. Note to self: always do a gauge first. Even if it delays new-project gratification. Worth the wait.

Meanwhile, there’s been a lot of career excitement around here. Within a few short weeks of graduating with my MFA, I was interviewing for an adjunct position at my new alma mater.



Taking Direction

tea leaf fortuneToday’s tea leaf fortune. The message I received as I prepared cups of tea for myself and my Creative Entrepreneur brainstorming partner, Trudie. We had just been discussing a marketing plan for my Joy Cards.

The background I chose for my little photo shoot (I could not leave this message undocumented!) is a bolt of fabric that I wove in another lifetime. Not literally, of course. But at least 30 years ago. It is a 12-harness weave inspired by Gustav Klimt’s painting “The Kiss.” Quite a few of my handwoven fabric designs were rooted in the art work of favorite painters. I liked to experiment with the painters’ palettes and color balance, play with variations that diverged from the original work. The golden rayon warp lends drape to the fabric; the rainbow weft was hand-dyed by yours truly and is the heart of my interpretation of Klimt’s painting. I could never decide on what to sew with this fabric but have instead always enjoyed it as a simple, delicious roll in my stash basket. I think it reflects the spirit of my tea leaf fortune, too!

Full House

Our guest feels right at home.

We’ve had company this week: Penny Lane the basset hound, my very own grand-pup. Actually, she’s two, so she’s a tad beyond puppyhood. But still, it’s been like having a toddler again — whining when I’m out of sight, even for a minute; lots of messes to clean up; daily outings for fresh air and exercise; and a preference for sleeping with ‘the parents’ rather than on her own!  Yes, Penny’s preferred nighttime location is under the covers and at our feet. Not wanting to disrupt her routine any more than necessary, we have accommodated this surprising habit. I confess: I’m looking forward to laundering and sun-drying the bed linens today. And taking down the doggie gates that have provided the two kitties, Jenna and Corabelle, a hound-free safe zone.

Long walks with Penny have afforded me some time to contemplate my next sewing and knitting projects. But first, some stash photos. Tomorrow. See you then!

Seeing the Patterns in Coincidence

 For the love of dolls

A recent blog post by my guru of all things entrepreneurial, Barbara Winter, caught my attention. She writes about “intentioned serendipity,” which may sound like an oxymoron, but it all depends on how you look at it. Some people may take objection to the concept of serendipity, relegating it to the New Age world of woo-woo. If you fall into this category, then perhaps “coincidence” will suffice. I love noticing coincidences. Acknowledging them, pondering their meaning, is like following a trail of crumbs in the forest, right behind Hansel and Gretel.

Shortly after reading BW’s post, I read an interesting anecdote on Facebook, posted by a classmate in the MFA program. Last week she was in need of details about boxing in the 1930s, for something she’s writing. Lo and behold, the next day she gets a call from her boss with a new home care nursing assignment. (drum roll …) When she arrives at her new client’s home she is blown away when his living room wall is covered in memorabilia from his boxing days in the ’30s!!! Love that.

So why the doll and toy mosaic? I have my own little tale of serendipity this week. Not big, but something. The kind of coincidence that has me snapping my head left and right, looking over my shoulder to see who’s responsible for this magic.  …

Our visit to see friends in western New York last week included a stop at Monkey See, Monkey Do bookstore, where our friends’ son was enrolled in Cooking Camp (sounds fun, doesn’t it?). On a whim, I asked the owner  if there were any copies of The Lonely Doll in stock. You see, this was one of my favorite picture book series when I was little. My love for dolls has stayed with me over time, to the point where I make little set-ups with them in my craft room, window sills, and book shelves, and take workshops to learn more about how to make them, too. Since finding a cozy niche with vignette photography, it has been on my mind to create my own series of doll story photo illustrations. Alas, there were no copies in stock at the bookstore. They could order one for me, but I was only passing through and would be gone before it could arrive. So I restuck the idea into the interior reaches of my To-Do-&-Make queue and didn’t give the idea much further thought. Until yesterday.

While looking in the library stacks for Joyce Maynard’s memoir, guess what I found in its place — on the shelf where Maynard’s book should have been? The Secret Life of The Lonely Doll – the search for Dare Wright! It’s a biography of The Lonely Doll’s author and photographer, whose name I never really knew. I practically squealed with delight at the surprise, the serendipity, the coincidence, and went right to the check-out counter.

One line on the cover jacket really spoke to me: “…the unforgettable story of a woman who, imprisoned by her childhood, sought to free herself through art.” Echoes from my own memoir’s summary. Wow.

So, getting back to the patterns in coincidence. I believe that if we are focused on something, the bread crumbs are there for us to follow. It’s all a matter of noticing them. And then, of course, what we do with them. Nothing happens without action.

I’d love to hear your stories of serendipity. Care to share?

Artist Date! Time for something completely different

Approaching Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto, NY, an hour south of Buffalo.

I promised myself and my dear friend G_ that as soon as I was finished with school, I would make the trek out to Buffalo for a long overdue visit. G and I met on the job twelve years ago. Although we only worked together for less than a year. we’ve stayed in touch and current with each other’s lives with monthly, regularly scheduled “phone dates.” (This works really well, by the way!)

So on Wednesday, after a celebratory lunch at the Asa Ransom House, we piled into the car and headed to Griffis Sculpture Park, which just so happens to be one of G’s most favorite places on the planet. And now it’s one of mine, too!

Look out -- giants on the horizon!

Photos were taken with the camera in a cell phone, as I’d left my bulky SLR at G’s house.

Approaching the Aluminum Bathers.

We weren’t able to see everything in a single afternoon, but the Aluminum Bathers were my personal piece de resistance.

Mist from the pond’s fountain entices the swimmers in the water.

A few of the bathers up-close.

Walking some of the park’s 400 acres, I could feel my world view shifting, tilting, turning. And that’s what an artist date is all about, isn’t it?

The Pink Dress and a Black Robe

pink dress_2

It’s been a wild and woolly few weeks, culminating in my graduation last Saturday evening. Final academic requirement for the MFA was a 20-minute public reading from the body of work produced over the past two years. Seeing as my project title is Homemade Heart, it seemed absolutely necessary that I make my outfit for the presentation. Inspiration for the pink linen dress is rooted in the feminine and lightly vintage clothing worn by Juliette Binoche in the film Chocolat. How lucky that on the day I went shopping, patterns were on sale for $1.99! The Singer sewing machine is one I purchased years ago from a neighbor who was on her way into a nursing home. I think I bought it as much for my love of anything to do with textile production as that I felt sad that she had to leave her home.  This dress was the machine’s inaugural adventure after a much-needed trip to the repair shop, and it performed perfectly.

Lisa Allen reading - July 2010
As I read the introduction, the image of my thesis cover displayed for the audience. For the body of my reading, the screen was blank. But for the final six paragraphs, a stream of twenty-one pieces of art work from my teenage notebooks accompanied the narrative. 

Lisa - final slide

The last image is a print from a self-portrait done in linoleum wood block. Note the clapper in lower right-hand corner: one of my mentors, Richard A. Carey.

QandA: Robert, Babette & Lisa
After the morning’s readings, we responded to Q&A from the audience. To my left, Babette Levin and Robert Atwood.


Lisa and Diane at graduation 2010

At long last, the moment (a serious one, judging by our facial expressions in this photo) was upon me. Mentor and author Diane Les Becquets presented me to the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts, Karen Erickson, for my hood and diploma.

And a happy ending.