Monday, November 26, 2012

First Snow


I couldn't resist frolicking in the snow this afternoon!

Snow salted the sky today, giving us a little taste of winter. This is the kind of snow I like - pretty and it doesn't stick! I love the cold, and I can stand just about as much as any other Viking out there. Snow, however, makes me tremble. I hate to drive and, thus, slide through snow and the ice that is sure to accompany it. Since I was enjoying an afternoon off and had nowhere to go, I was able to appreciate the innocent flakes. I took the family dogs Maddie and Simon out to play in the first snow of the season with me, and we couldn't have had more fun!

Look at this silly dog! Maddie happily chomps a frisbee as snow gathers on her snout.

Even Simon, easily chilled, enjoyed roaming around as it snowed.

Dashing through the snow!

The dogs dragged me all over the yard. I was attached to Simon's leash, you see. Maddie is a true cold weather aficionado. She will sit happily in the middle of the yard during the coldest days. It is like pulling a chew toy away from her to get her inside. Simon, who is typically a dog much more prone to shivering than is Maddie, actually enjoyed being outside this afternoon. I was surprised, since he will usually huddle on the porch at any hint of a chill. I think my excitement rubbed off on the dogs, and we tramped around and tasted snowflakes until my hands grew numb and red.

Then, we went inside and curled up in blankets and watched Netflix. It was a beautiful afternoon!

Not quite a Winter Wonderland, but pretty nonetheless!

The sky was overcast and windy, but it made for interesting photographs.

Have you seen snow yet in your locale? I'm not sure if I can really count this since no evidence is even left of the snow... And what are you watching on Netflix? I could use some good recommendations.

Alison :)

Friday, November 23, 2012


My cousin Jennie Byrnes made these amazingly adorable and equally delicious Thanksgiving cookies. But don't be jealous. You can order your own special occasion cookies from her through her facebook page Custom Cookies by Jennie.

The past couple of years have been rough: my grandma died; I lost my job; my dad had a triple bypass; my Aunt Vickie died unexpectedly and definitely prematurely; and I have been dealing with pain related to a herniated disc in my spine. Despite all this, I usually feel thankful and even blessed. Since Thanksgiving is the traditional time to share one's blessings, I want to share mine with you.

Here is an incomplete list of what I am thankful for right now:

1. My Family - Where would I be without these guys? My parents, sister and brother provide stability, support and home-cooked meals whenever I need one. My sister hashes out ideas and problems with me and also helps me get organized. My mom listens to me without interruption and is usually right when she gives advice. My dad answers all my financial, political and historical questions. My brother helps me with tech-related problems and with anything regarding the dogs.

2. The Dogs - My parents' dog Maddie and my sister's dog Simon add so much fun, joy and physical exertion to my existence. They comfort and warm and annoy me like the younger siblings they are.

3. My (Much) Younger Cousins - Since my aunt died, we have definitely seen a lot more of my very busy cousins Robert, Michael and John. They tie me to my childhood school district, surprise me in so many ways, and make me feel like I'm still just one of the kids (even though I'm 20 years older than the youngest of them!).

4. My Job - Although all jobs have their downsides, I am so thankful to be working in an environment where I am supported and valued and get to interact with people on a daily basis.

5. Artists - Especially ones I know. They inspire me, and sometimes they even want to work with me or get my opinion.

6. Friends, New and Old - These special people who I choose to have in my life challenge me, enrich my life, support my dreams and goals, and, overall, keep it real. 

7. My Body/Good Health - Goodness, if there is one thing all the pain I have experienced lately has taught me it is that we all take our bodies for granted when they are working well. It is only when they give us trouble that we really appreciate our health. Thank goodness for modern medicine and good doctors. Otherwise, I would probably be in incredible pain and perhaps bedridden right now. This experience has inspired me to treat my body better and really appreciate what it can do.

8. Being Creative - My apartment sometimes - well, oftentimes - looks like a volcano of stuff has erupted all over. Sometimes I wish I could just get rid of it all and lead a pristine existence. Then, I think of how boring my life would be. What would I do all evening if I didn't like to make stuff and wasn't inspired by random junk?

9. Being Able to Help Others - I am not rich, but I am thankful I was able to select an angel from the Angel Tree and purchase an Easy Bake Oven for a little girl named Ariana, who otherwise might not have a very merry Christmas. I am also grateful I just happened to find a soldier's id on the street last summer. She is stationed overseas, and I send her care packages just because I became aware of her existence. I am glad I can do that.

10. The Generosity of Strangers - For instance, today, a woman helped me pick up the pieces of the candle holder I dropped and broke all over the aisle at Target. I didn't even see her face, but she sure made my day. People make small gestures and engage in large efforts all the time, yet the goodness of strangers still surprises me.

11. Smart & Well-Informed Women* and the Irreverent Ones, too - From Michelle Obama to Chelsea Handler, from Rachel Maddow to Melissa McCarthy, I sure do admire all the brilliant, high-achieving, sass-mouthed women I know and know of.

12. Blogging - Having this space where I can share my thoughts with you and practice writing thrills me beyond words.

13. Pinterest - I know it sounds goofy, but isn't everyone allowed at least one goofy entry on her list of gratitude? Pinterest has introduced me to new blogs, artists I had never heard of, inspiring imagery, new ideas and recipes, something to bond with people over, etc. It has also given me some room to dream, design and plan. And everyone needs a space to let her imagination roam free.

After re-reading this list, I feel more thankful than I did when I started.

In addition to all that, I am one lucky goose. I attended not one, but two, Thanksgiving dinners this year. Feast your eyes:

Simply prepared natural/local foods with a lot of flavor: cranberry sauce, stuffing, boiled beets, candied sweet potatoes, roasted red potatoes, turkey, and a great big dinner roll. So I really like my starches!

The broccoli I noshed on while awaiting the "real" meal.

Dinner's ready!

On Tuesday, my friend Rebecca prepared and cooked an entire meal herself, excepting the pumpkin bread I contributed (made by my own two hands) and the rolls Chalanna and her friend Ingel brought. 

Chalanna and Ingel came for the meal and conversation, while I arrived early to play deejay and entertain the cook. Rebecca stuffed and cooked a turkey, candied sweet potatoes, boiled beets and mustard greens, roasted red potatoes with rosemary and thyme, fixed stuffing, and prepared custard with rice and raisins. All I had to do was sit there and watch. The meal was magnificent and inspiring in its simplicity. It made me think that someday I might be able to roast my own potatoes with good results. I was also impressed with Rebecca's sense of timing. All the dishes were ready at the same time.

This turkey was prepared to perfection! It was juicy and flavorful. Also, props to people who can take great photographs of Thanksgiving turkeys. It takes skill I obviously do not possess.

Boiled beets made better with nothing but butter.

And that is exactly when Chalanna and Ingel arrived. Those two were such a good addition to the party. Chalanna can make any topic of conversation seem exciting. She puts people at ease and is skilled at connecting people who may or may not have anything in common. I had a lovely time breaking bread and celebrating with my friends. 


My beautiful family. I am standing on the fireplace at the right. The end of the mantel was poking me in the back, and I was afraid I was going to topple off. That might explain the pained expression on my face.

My cousin Emily and my sister Lisa are excited to see each other. I was excited, too!

My dad John, my cousin Raymond, and my Uncle Curt enjoy catching up.

Each year on Thanksgiving Day, my family rotates the hosting duties among the cousins on my Grandma's (mom's mom) side. I always enjoy hanging out with my extended family members. They are amazing people, not counting the fact we are all related by either blood or marriage. My cousins also give me perspective on the history of my family. Each time we get together, we discover more traits we have in common with one another. Sometimes the resemblances are downright eerie. This year we drove out to the gorgeous home of my cousins Vicki and Raymond. We had a good turn out and tons of good food, as usual.

While Shelley roasted the turkey on her own, she needed a little coaching from my Uncle Bob to carve it.

A smorgasbord of deliciousness: mashed potatoes and gravy, deviled eggs, ham balls, ham roll, turkey and noodles, cabbage casserole, green beans, corn, a little ham and turkey, cranberry-apple salad, cranberry salad, and candied sweet potatoes. Yum!

Thanksgiving ham with a sweet glaze.

My cousin Shelley cooked the turkey. It was her first turkey ever, but you would not have guessed it from the results. The turkey was beautiful and tasty, too. With the turkey, we had ham, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry and cranbery-apple salads, cheesy potatoes, cabbage casserole, dinner rolls, deviled eggs, ham roll-ups, ham balls, turkey and noodles, a seven-layer salad, and I am sure I have forgotten something. 

We also had a counter-top covered with desserts. 

We never lack for desserts: pecan pies, pineapple, pumpkin pies, chocolate pie, iced cookies, fudgy-marshmallowy cake, pumpkin bread, and...

...Pumpkin pie croissants, which I thought were incredible - although two non-pumpkin fans mistook the pumpkin for peanut butter.  Oops, that was unfortunate! But wait...

...There's more! Gobble, gobble! And that's exactly what we did to these Reese's Peanut Butter Cup turkeys!

And you thought I was the one with a sweet tooth. In reality, we all enjoy a good dessert spread!

After eating, we spent a long afternoon catching up and playing games. I hung out and listened as my elders talked. Then, the younger women powwowed together for awhile. That was definitely my favorite part of the day. Yep, I liked it even better than my mom's pumpkin pie!

How did you celebrate Thanksgiving? And what are you thankful for at the moment?

Alison :)

* Remember when John Kerry ran for president and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry said women were smart and well-informed? I have loved that quote since she said it, and I reference the line often.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Texture of Fall

I know every blogger writes about their favorite aspect of Fall. And I am going to do it, too! I could talk about pumpkin anything, breathing the crisp air as I hurry to my car in the morning, setting out gourds, carving jack-o-lanterns, making Halloween costumes, screaming 'til I go hoarse at Kansas City's terrifying haunted houses, eating turkey and other yummy treats with my family on Thanksgiving, watching the Thanksgiving Day parade, going to the apple orchard, drinking cider and making s'mores around a campfire, sitting on scratchy bales during a bouncy hayride, watching leaves as they fade from green to gold, orange, crimson, purple and brown, making the first batch of chili or taking the first scalding bath of the season, switching from iced coffee to hot mochas with mint, or wearing well-cut jackets before it grows cold enough for a blankety coat. 

Instead, I am going to focus on the textures of Fall. The world crinkles in the Fall. The grasses crunch. The leaves rustle on trees. Bark grows coarse, as do hands. Acorns and pine cones pebble the earth. Squirrels grow fat and fluffy. Flocks of birds cascade across the sky as they travel south. Geese drown out city noises with their distinctive honks. Ladybugs hide indoors and bring luck with them. Deer roam in droves. Voices grow gravelly with colds and strep throat. Men cultivate beards both shapely and shaggy.

I enjoy taking walks as the world slows down in preparation for winter. I photograph matted grasses and roots buried by crispy leaves. I collect dry twigs and rough bark that have fallen from trees. I admire ragged remnants of nests and find a feather if I am lucky. I hike through bristly grasses on the hunt for perfect little bits of nature to bring home with me.

At home, I break out the small-wale corduroy and my warm nubby sweaters. I rub thick creams into my dry rough heels, elbows and hands, only to repeat my ritual daily until spring comes again. I wear a fuzzy hoodie every night before bed. I curl up beneath heavy handmade quilts when I lie down to sleep.

These are some of my favorite textures of Fall. What textures of Fall do you like the best? 

Alison :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In Search Of...

The lovely and talented Rachel Frank, Dustin Dennis and Amanda Lechner at the opening of In Search Of...

With Amanda. I was so EXCITED to see this girl!

Full disclosure: I think my friends are the most talented and wonderful and brilliant and kind and amazing and fascinating and phenomenal and gorgeous people in the whole world. It may come as no surprise, then, that I might display just a tad bit of bias when I share the details of In Search Of..., a traveling exhibition organized by Dustin Dennis, Christopher Ulivo and Amanda Lechner. Dustin and Amanda are longtime friends, who I have known since my days as a student at the Kansas City Art Institute (and before, in the case of Dustin). I will share details about the exhibition without even attempting to give a strict analysis. I was too darn excited to see Dustin and Amanda, who were in town from New York, to wear my critic's hat. And believe me, Dustin and Amanda are just as wonderful and brilliant and kind and amazing and fascinating and phenomenal and gorgeous as I say they are. 


Mike Peter Smith, Untitled (Cyclops), 2012. Cast urethane, epoxy putty, brass, cyanoacrylate and paint. 9 in. x 6 in. x 5in.

In Search Of... is a speculative exploration of natural, and unnatural, history. Its take on how we explain and understand that which is beyond explanation or understanding runs the gamut from the frightening and weird to the idealized and fantastical. The world and the answers at which humans arrive are not fixed, or at least they don't have to be. In this exhibition, at least, creative inquiry is not only permitted, but encouraged. According to the curatorial statement, In Search Of... takes its title from the 1970s speculative documentary TV series of the same name, which was hosted by Leonard Nimoy and covered a wide range of strange phenomena. The statement goes on to say the "artists in this exhibition create images and abstract scenarios that engage transformative moments, look to alternate histories or imagine other realities, creatures and lands. They are not interested in finite possibilities but instead look to the strange, fictional, and unknown to emerge with material that posits new scenarios, alternate conclusions and yet more questions."

Overview of In Search Of... with work by Betsy Odom in the foreground. Betsy Odom, Bulldog 2 (Spacesuit), 2009. Mixed media, Gatorade coolers, tube socks, mesh, nylon. 60 in. x 30 in. x 28 in.

Overview of In Search Of... with work by Leah Beeferman in the foreground. Leah Beeferman, 1201.2280v1, 2012. Laser etched plexiglas, formica tabletops, speakers and audio. 96 in. x 24 in. x 30 in. Dimensions variable.

The exhibition opened on the first cold and icy day of the season. That didn't stop a crowd from gathering for the opening reception at the University of Kansas, Art and Design Gallery. I knew many of the visitors, as many old school pals showed up. KCAI is represented in the exhibition by Matt Bollinger, Rachel Frank, Ross Sawyers, and Frank Heath, in addition to Dustin and Amanda.

Here are few pieces by KCAI alumni:

Ross Sawyers' piece is a poetic vision of a phenomenological experience;

Ross Sawyers, Untitled, 2011. Archival print. 24 in. x 36 in.

I have always admired Matt Bollinger's drawing style, and Double is no exception - the texture and tones appeal to me, and the applied movement makes me feel a little queasy;

Matt Bollinger, Double, 2012. Graphite on paper. 30 in. x 22 in.

and Frank Heath's framed prints are two versions of the same thing, separated by nothing but time (and all that goes along with that).   

Frank Heath, Rerun TELEPHONE OPERATORS (Village Voice, June 2, 1987 / June 2, 2012), 2012. Classified ad. Pigment 2 prints. 13 3/4 in. x 12 1/2 in.

Rachel, who was in the same graduating class as Dustin, Amanda and I, was in town for the opening. Her piece is absolutely beautiful. Her cowhide beaded with a Rorschach test-like pattern makes me want to sit in a field and read stories from the flanks of cows. It also shows just how mindlessly we humans slaughter animals and use their body parts, including skin, for our own pleasure.

Rachel kindly let me photograph her with her piece.

Rachel Frank, Hide Stain, 2012. Glass beads, thread, cloth, wood and Holstein cowhide. 60 in. x 53 in. With detail.

Amanda's contributions to In Search Of... are two intimate narrative paintings. Lone figures enact scenes of (pseudo-) scientific research and discovery, seemingly with endless patience. Amanda has a deft hand and paints with skill and precision. 

Amanda with one of her highly detailed scenes.

At left: Amanda Lechner, Magnetron Plasma Ball, 2011. Egg tempera painting on panel. 14 in. x 11 in. At right: Amanda Lechner, Gaiter Pratt Delegates, 2011. Egg tempera painting on panel. 14 in. x 11 in.

Dustin presents a mysterious looping video featuring a man, a woman and an over-sized eye. This disturbing science fiction sequence is still on my mind. What is ethical? What are the limitations of human development? To what lengths would you go for scientific discovery?

Dustin striking his "serious" pose. Gotta love the beard, besides.

Dustin Dennis, Untitled, 2012. Digital video. 5 minutes (Stills). Do you recognize the actress? That's right, it's Rachel!

I spent at least two hours at the exhibition, and I could have stayed longer, even if I hadn't been chasing my friends around with my camera. Other pieces I was taken with include the following:

Jackie Hoving's highly patterned collages of people with what struck me as bionic add-ons;

Jackie Hoving, Vision, 2010. Mixed media collage. 30 in. x 22 in.

Ryan Mrozowski's sleek installation - with his visual punning, he's definitely a man after my own heart; 

Ryan Mrozowski, Illuminated Book page (#26), 2011. Single book page, light bulb, artist's frame. Dimensions variable.

and Christopher Ulivo's fanciful vision of Pete Seeger as the Robert Johnson of folk music. Do you see hints of Bosch, too? Plus glitter.

Christopher Ulivo, The Last Thing They'll Take From You Is Your Banjo, 2012. Egg tempera on panel. 13 in. x 10 in.

Overall, I found In Search Of... to inspire thought and the desire to make things. That's a powerful combination for any artist who is out viewing art. I highly recommend this exhibition. In Search Of... will be exhibited at the University of Kansas, Art & Design Gallery, until December 7, 2012. Be sure to check it out if you are in town! If you can't make it to Kansas City, some of the work will be on display at North Branch Projects in Chicago, Illinois, in January 2013.

Congratulations, Dustin, Amanda and Christopher!! 

Check out the exhibition, and tell me know what you think. Have you been to any exhibitions I should see? Let me know.

Alison :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hyperkewl: Relics Project

Placing organic materials, including the dirt and brick pictured here, in my reliquary.

In addition to working on Altar for Women, I have also been involved with Hyperkewl's Relics Project. According to the project statement written by Rosemary Barria,

"A walk will take place in Fall 2012 in various cities, such as Chicago, Kansas City, and Lima to place reliquaries created by people in community.

People were asked through facebook, email and by word of mouth to fill a provided reliquary with relics.

A relic is traditionally important to many religions, including to Buddhists, Christians and Hindus. They are typically remains of saints, bones, and pieces of clothing or other objects, placed in a church, a temple or shrine. Pilgrimages are made to them to give honor or to receive magic from them.

Hyperkewl re-appropriates the power of reliquaries beyond traditional religious context and asks the participating to place their own magic inside and to gift it to a place of importance to them, regardless of what it is. Each participant leads their own walk and decides if a ritual or some other delivery is appropriate.

After the walk, a map will be available online for the community to revisit these reliquaries. Each reliquary, becomes a new point on a map from where our special experiences are acknowledged.

We are re-accessing our environment and imposing our personal relics. This is magic."

Hanging my reliquary.

Adjusting my reliquary.

My reliquary in place and still unfilled.

Each participant was either created from scratch or was given a blank form to use as the basis for a reliquary. After the reliquary was completed to the specifications of each artist, then each artist could fill his or her reliquary with relics. I, of course, chose a tedious and time-consuming process, which gave me time to reflect upon family, home, safety, and the importance of having a place to call home.

I wrapped and wove string around my reliquary to create a safe space to fill with relics from my past. It occurred to me that every place I've lived has its own special blend of materials, so I chose to relocate bits and pieces from my first home to my parents' current house.  My Safety Ne(s)t acts as a sieve to sift organic materials from my first home into the stuff of my parents' current home. By doing this, I am hoping to compress the organic materials of the two homes from my childhood into one space.

Placing my relics in the reliquary.

I carried my materials from my old house to my parents' house in a red bowl I recall from my childhood.
Green maple leaves from "my tree."
Here's what I said about my project:

Home is a powerful symbol. For me, the word evokes comfort and safety. Home is more than the family that resides there; it is a location, a geographical and sentimental coordinate that exists outside of linear time. Although my parents, siblings and I moved from our first home 20 years ago, "the old house", its goings on, and the land on which it was built still feature often in our conversations, my thoughts, and certainly in my dreams. 

For my reliquary, I relocated organic elements from the site of my first home to the land where I grew into adulthood. These materials include the following: brick, grasses, dirt, bark, twigs, leaves from "my tree," and flowers that still bloom, despite my mother's yearly inattention. The materials I gathered are now nestled in a netted nest-like structure, not only for safekeeping, but also to be filtered through the gaps between the woven strings, picked up and re-utilized by animals, and to eventually join the site of my family's current home irreversibly. 

I look forward to following the progress of these relics, as they wear and blow away. I expect them to leave stains on the structure of my reliquary as time passes, just as home has shaped and molded me over time.

Alison L. Miller

Below are images of the final piece:

The star-shaped opening occurred as a natural result of my weaving technique.

I was so excited to find flowers in bloom at "the old house."

I know this post is photo heavy, so I'll call it a night. In another post, I will highlight some of the other participants' reliquaries. They are all incredibly personal and beautiful.

What relic would you put in your reliquary? Where would you place it?

Alison :)

*My awesome mom took the photos of me, and I took the rest.