It is in giving that we receive

I am starting to wake up to the fact that managing social media — particularly my personal feeds, which are not curated like my art business feeds — is an activity that comes under the heading of “socializing”. That is, navigating a social space. Which is to say: it is an extroverted activity.

That was not my initial user experience of the internet way back in the 2000’s when we were all just blogging into the void. That felt introverted. And I have been, without realizing it, mentally categorizing surfing the web as an introverted activity — EVEN THOUGH I was becoming more and more aware of the fact that reading things online put me into a “reactive” mode, not a “receptive” one.

I have been trying to keep a closer watch on myself as I surf the web, and that has become particularly true as the American public generally loses its mind over the Syrian refugee crisis. There is a great deal of inelegant behavior on both sides of the issue on my feed. (Because truthfully I don’t know what saddens me more these days: the blind hatred of “refugees”, or the eagerness with which my so-called progressive friends express hatred of the people who have this stance, rather than focus on dialogue and perhaps education.)

One thing I saw during an infrequent visit struck me. A friend-of-a-friend had posted something about her work at a local refugee resettlement office. To paraphrase what she said: she does not have time to educate people, nor discuss politics, nor point people to helpful info-graphics. She is too swamped and too overwhelmed {and, one gathered, too crushed and irritated} by the amount of hateful threats their office has received since the bombing in Paris. (Threats that include bombings and slitting employee’s throats).

“I don’t have time for this”, she said. “I don’t have time to deprogram you. All I can say is what I have said before: go volunteer at your local refuge resettlement office.”

I did some digging. ‘Refugee resettlement’ is one of those jobs that I’d never really thought about, but one that I was deeply moved to discover. Of course there are people who help on this side of that journey. There has to be.

Portland has a reputation for being the whitest city on the west coast, so I was mildly surprised to find a helpful list of programs right on the city’s website

Each of these programs linked from that list has, at the very least, a wish list of items most needed — usually toiletries and personal care related, but some with very specific needs like certain mattress sizes. These lists should loom large in all of our Christmas giving, I think. 

I stuck with my roots and emailed the coordinator for the Catholic Charities program. I knew they were busy, and did not expect a prompt reply. Within almost 24 hours however I received a beautiful email from the woman, with details outlining various positions available but also the smaller ways people can just plug in, which is likely how I will have to operate, at least at the beginning. 

The email had an application attached, and also had a fascinating sample of upcoming arrivals, as well as the current new postings on a sort of help-needed bulletin board. 

“This is by no means exhaustive” she said. “It’s just today’s update. I’ll be writing up a new update later today.”

It was something like 20 people, all with specific situations and needs. This person with some mobility issues that gets lonely when her son is at work and would benefit from some companionship. That person who wants to enroll in community college and just needs help going through that process. A recently resettled family that needs help navigating the bus system and getting the hang of the grocery store. Several people just needed friends, one in particular who lives with extended family sits at home fretting about things, and needs someone to “engage in positive activities” with.

That list was incredibly powerful for me. It was like seeing cells under a microscope for the first time. Or, in this case, putting demographics and very specific stories to a singular mass that we call “refugees”. Most of the people on the list I saw live in the same quadrant I do. Which is to say: most of these people are my neighbors. And each of them need something fairly human and basic, and I look forward to doing my share of of that help once I have gone through orientation.

It doesn’t solve the refugee crisis, but it is one very direct thing I can do to help. 

One person can’t fix it all. But if each person does whatever they can, well, that’s something.

And I’d rather do something than nothing.


With apologies to November

Usually this is the time of year where I place my feet firmly in the Thanksgiving / autumnal camp and make an argument for taking things one month at a time, to enjoy what we have now and not rush off to the GIMME GIMME GIMME season. (That’s really easy to do here in Oregon, because it is not going to even THINK about looking like ‘winter’ for at least another five weeks.)

But a funny thing happened on the way to November. After a rough day I was seized by a compulsion to make these little greeting cards. I had some folks to write to, and I am always of the opinion that non-bill related mail is as thrilling as it is rare (alas) and so fun mail should be made as fun as possible. So I started noodling around and made these.

I am not a stranger to celebrating the seasons with little homemade creations. In fact I do a version of it every year, I think. That paper turkey still makes an appearance every year, and why I have not yet made little skeletons and bats for Halloween is anyone’s guess. 

Anyway. These were incredibly fun to make, and they looked GREAT in envelopes. I started getting more ideas. I started roughing out sketches and thinking of maybe pimping these to a proper card outlet once I get enough ideas. 

To add to the excitement, people on my personal Facebook page started going bananas when they saw these. They wanted to know how to buy them, and whether or not I’d be making Christmas cards. Well? It had crossed my mind. But to offer the cards that were just sitting on my desk would mean…selling a handmade, original thing, which would put the price at something like $200 – $450 — which is to say, priced as a piece of ART, not a thing you can scribble on and send to your friends. LAME.

So the question became: how can I do it? Is this sort of thing viable for a one-woman outfit like Simply Kumquat?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I did eventually find a print shop that would be able to PRINT and CUT OUT the cards, as cards, which was something like a miracle. (Such places exist! I had no idea!). I scrambled around to get quotes, so that I could work out both: 

1.) if I could price them accessibly, and,

2.) if I would be able to order them at all.

Because the truth is: the upfront cost is incredibly high on these, particularly for a person who cleans houses for her day job. The first batch will cost roughly 85% of my monthly income, and for those playing the home game, 96% of my monthly income goes to obligatory spending such as rent and bills. I really do want to offer these cards though because they’re cool and I they’re the sort of thing I would buy off the rack if I saw anything like them in the shops. And I DON’T see anything like them in the shops, at least not where I’ve been nosing around.

Which is all to say: this is the test-run. The listings are live. Go order some and see if I’m not right. I have little flimsy fakers hanging around while I wait for the real proofs to arrive from my print shop, and even those are filing my heart with so much joy. 

If they sell, awesome! I can make more designs in spring. If they don’t, well, on to the next idea. 


Apples, apples everywhere

At the beginning of the month we trekked out to our beloved Mt. View Orchards to pick apples. We go every year, and with the addition of my brother-in-law — newish to preserving and very enthusiastic — we wanted to make sure we got a good haul. 

We indeed got a very good haul — something like sixty pounds!  That seems like a lot, but it was amazing how quickly we got through them, particularly with all the apple butter we made. Man nothing burns through apples like apple butter, especially if you keep adding apples to the crockpot as it cooks down, (which is what we did, slowly, over the course of two days.) That behavior will significantly decrease your apple population, but you also end up with the richest, most glorious apple butter you can imagine. Christmas presents: accomplished. 

We also made about five quarts of applesauce (I’d envisioned more, but I think I’m the only one in the house that cares about applesauce so we’ll just see how far that gets me), a glorious cake tart thing I make every year, and we are trying our hand at apple cider vinegar, since we had so many apple peelings on our hands. (And we go through rather a lot of that stuff.)

We also ate a lot of the peelings just as is, like chips, because dang these apples. You don’t want to waste a thing. 

Things I wanted to try but have not yet include apple chips in the dehydrator, Béa’s baked apples, and fruit leather (which may be where the pear / apple butter ends up, as it was not nearly as exciting as the straight up apple butter.) I also want to make Smitten Kitchen’s apple cider caramels, because HOW CAN YOU NOT. 

The result of all this — mostly of the apple butter — is that the house has smelt beautifully like autumn. Or like heaven, as one of my roommates put it. He sent me this video of little apple rosettes in puff pastry, to which I replied: challenge accepted. 

Cedar waxwing feathers

Something made a snack of a cedar waxwing in my backyard — I didn’t see it in progress but I found the feathers. A whole lot a smooth greyish brown ones, and several diagnostic ones, including the namesake “wax” tipped secondary flight feathers. 

I’d never seen these up close before — they’re very striking. As though someone shaped them with scissors and then dipped them in paint. 


It was roughly 11 years ago today that I sat next to the weird guy in Art History class, to save my shy friend the trouble. A few weeks later I took this picture of him. (Well, mainly of the scenery, let’s be real.) (And eight years after that, we tied the knot.)

People would always ask me where that picture was taken, and would be astounded when I told them — along the drainage ditch off one of the very quiet main streets in our very sleepy agrarian college town. This town is not really known for its picturesque pockets, but rather is known for being one of the least desirable places to get your bachelor’s degree in Colorado, of the mainstream choices. (It is also known for being home to a meat packaging plant mentioned in the book “Fast Food Nation”, and one of the places targeted in the ICE raids.)

My memories of that town include these things, but they also include the small-town downtown, with its fine park and pagoda, that would be lit up by lights every December and make a veritable Winter Wonderland to wander in. There was the excellent Mexican food — made by immigrant laborers — at taquerias where English was barely spoken and the telenovelas would be blaring, and the portions were as generous as they were delicious. The enormous cottonwood trees, not just limited to campus but sprinkled throughout the district, which would turn golden in October and filter the sunlight. The majesty of the sparse farmland to the north, where I would drive on lonely roads for hours in the crystalline frost of late autumn, before the ice of winter came in earnest.  

I really don’t think it was JUST because I was falling deeply in love — though doubtless that was part of it. That first picture really epitomizes something we both feel strongly about: that there is something impressive, surprising, magical, or just plain nice looking everywhere, so long as you’re patient enough to look. You don’t have to spend lots of money or time to find it. And it doesn’t have to be that far away.

Most recent picture I took of him. 2015. (Similarity to the first picture is purely coincidental.)
Most recent picture I took of him. 2015. (Similarity to the first picture is purely coincidental.)

Monster Drawing Rally.

On Friday I sat with about 80 other artists and illustrators before a bustling crowd to drew monsters, for the first (but hopefully not only,) Monster Drawing Rally

I have Kate Bingaman-Burt to thank for my inclusion, as she suggested my name to the organizers. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d suggested most of the people on the roster. She’s that most rare of creatures — an extroverted illustrator.

I ended up downtown long before the event started and warmed up by drawing people in the park. And I was glad I did, because by the time I had to sit down in front of the throng of people I was very calm and unconcerned about the whole thing. My job wasn’t to do “good work” or “impress” anybody, it was just to have fun and make monsters. 

It seemed like I ran into almost every single illustrator or designer I know in town was all super fun

Paper and provisional supplies were provided — though most people had brought their own materials (including me). Wet media was allowed so long as it dried (relatively) quickly, so although I warmed up with sharpie line drawings, I switched to paint once I sat down once I saw what good results some of my colleagues were achieving in the first round. 

Once you finished a picture you’d raise your hand, and a volunteer would come by. You would hand them your picture, one of the stickers with your name on it from the long page of stickers provided in your welcome packet. They would whisk both away. Picture into plastic sleeve, sticker onto sleeve, and the product thus readied handed to another volunteer who would clip it to the buying wall. All pictures: $35. No more, no less.

100% of the proceeds were to go to the art museum, which initially gave me pause, as it’s a lot to ask of an artist. (Be the main attraction in a big event (1), perform your work (2) in front of a live audience (3), and bring in revenue for an institution (4) — an institution that I’d imagine has an event budget (5).) However, in addition to the two free drink tickets and a free slice of pizza, the museum gave each of the participants free membership to the museum for a year, which is certainly nothing to be sneezed at. (Indeed, that’s why I worked for free at the Opera, to get free tickets.)

And it really was such fun. There was a boozy camaraderie afterwards, but I had old friends in from out of town and we needed a little camaraderie of our own. I hope they’ll do another one in the future. 


I live right around the corner from Scout Books and got to tour their facilities on Wednesday. (Thanks to the good people at AIGA Portland, who arranged everything.)

Our local AIGA chapter is an active one. In addition to their monthly mixers they’ve evidently started doing studio/facility tours. I need to make a point of going to more events because I always have a good time, though I wish there were more illustrators. Most of the folks I meet seem to self-identify as designers and wear complicated blouses. 

Scout Books started as Pinball Publishing, and I used to include them in my who-will-print-my-business-cards calculations back in 2005. They transitioned to focusing on Scout Books somewhere in 2009 and seem to be edging towards becoming a vanity press. The customization of their notebooks can include page content as well as cover variety. 

The notebooks I cram into my pockets endure long hours of hard labor, rubbing against handkerchiefs, weird rocks I find, and God knows what else, and so unless they are made of something truly substantial they really have no use in my battalion. For the longest time I have been using nothing but hardbound moleskine journals, which worked well until a few years ago, when their distribution model changed and subsequently the paper quality went downhill. It is thin and prone to bleeding now, much more than they used to be, and while I love the structure of these notebooks and the little pocket that comes with them, I am unsure of my future with them.

Scout Books are bound in chipboard, which is laughably inadequate for my purposes, but are made of a surprisingly hearty paperstock that is 100% recycled and sourced locally, which is much better than ‘whatever we found in China’. And now I have something like five little notebooks gratis, including one that I rounded the corners off myself. (!) So I guess for a while I will be putting these books to the test. 

And very soon I hope to visit Scout Books again, with a pen and larger paper, to try and capture some of the delightful people and machines working together. 

In the sunshine state

I am in Los Angeles right now, I flew in yesterday. I am here to take in some sights, but I am mostly here to participate in the Manifest:Justice Pop-up exhibit. 

I have thus far been delighted by the beauty and hospitality I’ve encountered (I honestly wasn’t expecting that, Los Angeles,) and so I am at once filled with a quiet peace, yet also conscious of the gross injustice, the white hot rage, the turmoil that is still going on across the country. 

What will we call now, in years to come? Which name will we attach to this and make it synonymous with the moment? Stonewall. Watergate. Right now might be “Ferguson”, but it’s looking like Baltimore is shaping up even stranger, even bigger, even angrier. 

It seems out of touch and self-serving to remark too much on the quieter, nice things I am encountering right now in the face of this disaster. My social media lists right now jolt between the perilous, the awful, the tragic; then suddenly to someone’s curated artistic lifestyle feed. A meadow with a floral headdress in gauzy twilight.  

But it’s also easy to be crushed under the weight of all this, particularly when it is — after all — not your community and not your story. That’s the cruncher, I think. The sinking, ashamed feeling of: if I can take the time to see so much beauty, and appreciate it so intensely, doesn’t that out me as not truly, deeply, completely effected by the chaos? Am I in fact a privileged being experiencing such luxuries as travel and jaywalking without an arrest? 

Probably. So how to use that privilege for good, not self-serving things?

At no point am I trying to commandeer the story — it’s another reason I struggled so much with the open call as I mentioned before. I want to serve that story, help tell that story, because the more people we can get telling that story — and the different-er their backgrounds — the more people will hear that story. But I know it isn’t my story, and the best people to tell that story are the people who are experiencing it

But it also doesn’t get one off the hook. You still owe that story your attention. Perhaps all the more because it is NOT your story, and it is bigger than any story you’ve yet encountered, for it spans so many generations before your story began. You need to listen to it. You need to listen and listen and listen and learn all you can from it.