September 26, 2010

A Visual Journal

In the summer of 2008, I had some minor knee surgery, which required me to indulge in all sorts of edible and visual treats, as well as new books and magazines, nothing too heavy. Okay, for me, that might be a graphic biography of Harvey Pekar's cancer journey, Our Cancer Year, which actually was very serious and sad, but also interesting and amazing. You can find it here on Amazon. Pekar, the author of American Splender, passed away this year--check out WKSU's website on Pekar.

I discovered Pekar, like many wonderful writers I've "met" in my life (pre-WWW) through my local library stacks. Also, Lynda Barry's books were there, and I was mesmorized by her drawings and humor and raw honesty in One Hundred Demons. Here is a link to Barry's work and her books.

Which brings me to the personal... several times I've tried to keep journals. It's never worked. Ever. No matter how lovely the journal or earnest my beginning efforts. Perhaps it is better. Perhaps the collage that is my memory, somewhat faded, "distressed" here and there like an altered-art technique, "embellished" with moments captured on film, create just as real of a past as words on a page I'd read years later and wonder "Who was I then?"

Still...time isn't standing still and what seems like everyday events now might be the thing in ten years that I really wished I'd buckled down and noted in detail. Conversations with my sons, where Mark and I spent our vacations. What books I'd liked, authors I'd worked with... where my artwork went... how my dog looks when he falls asleep on the couch... It might be so very very important, to me. Probably not to anyone else; diaries, by their nature, allow self-absorption. I want to be able to sit and look at scrapbooks and drawings and remember this wonderful collection of years called My Life. Maybe that is self-centered. Maybe it is pride.

I think it is my way of living joyful events twice. When they happen and when I remember them. And remembering sorrow, how I coped and how I got through it. Remembering people who passed on--how precious are my memories of those no longer here. It is all important to me. And, under the haze of a few days of pain medication and a really great thing called the Polar machine (which kept my knee nice and numb for a good two weeks)...I started drawing a visual journal.

I didn't draw them for anyone but myself. And I share this as an encouragement for you to try the same. Whether with words, lines, photos, video, or a scrapbook... preserve your memories, remember where you came from, and dream of where you would like to go. Don't judge your words or your drawing ability. Don't over-analyze. Put it down. Put it all down. Embrace it and release it, simultaneously.

Here are some links on keeping a Visual Journal.

September 18, 2010

Preserving Memories with Scrapbooks: Super Scrapbooking Links

Note: After my essay, below, there are dozens of links to scrapbooking websites, videos, crop locations, supplies, and more. So, scroll down if you are in a hurry, or better yet, bookmark this post so you can refer to it later.

A few months ago, I attended my first scrapbook "crop." I knew nothing about scrapbooking previously, beyond a visit to a camera store in Pickerington, Ohio, that had an astounding selection of scrapbooking products and tools and few people in the store buying or advising. There was little warmth there, and that made all the "stuff" seem very commercial to me. Also, a bit expensive.

Now, I see things differently. A friend named Janis invited me to a dinner with her needlework club (Athens Friends and Newcomers). There, I met Margaret, who invited me to the evening book club of the same main group. The book club met in the home of a woman named Jan Weckman (who I later found went to Kent State about the same time I was there). As the book club disbanded, we passed the door of a spacious craft room located off the foyer. I asked if I could see the room: two rooms, with big tables, comfortable chairs, a large-screen TV hooked up to a computer, all manner of tools and punches and stamps and binders and paper!

"What is this?" I asked, all Janice-in-Wonderland. "This is where I hold scrapbooking workshops," Jan replied (or something to that effect, I felt like I'd found the end of the new-crafty-person-in-town rainbow and, one-two-three, I'd signed up for the next class.

It was a Saturday morning at 10 a.m. and went until 4 p.m. The reasonable price included a healthful lunch as well. I took along the scrapbook I had been working on (with no exposure to other scrapbooks or "crops"). And purchased a few products Jan had in her studio from Creative Memories (with all the tools she had available, only the most basic of supplies were needed, and everything CM offers is acid-free and will keep your family photos safe for generations).

It was a great way to spend a rainy summer Saturday, and the eight women there were friendly and interesting. It was easy to start conversations because everyone had their family photographs with them and there were scenes of a child here, a vacation there, a holiday as well. The second crop I attended at Jan's house had a few of the same women, and a few I hadn't met yet. The third crop, earlier today, the same. I saw some women I knew and the others were scrapbooking friends-to-be. We swapped the information we had about the recent tornados that hit Athens and Meigs Counties (about 38 hours earlier), and I marveled that more information had not been available in this age of instant news (but the newspaper's building had been seriously damaged and our other paper in town only publishes twice a week).

Afterward, I couldn't help but think of my grandmother, Helen Greene. She made beautiful quilts, all pieced by hand and quilted by hand by the women in her church group. I wondered how their conversations compared to those in crops today: children, husbands, school activities, work, books read, recipes tried, movies, illness. But also there are periods of silence. Jan has quiet jazz playing in the background and fresh brewed coffee. How blessed I feel to have found Jan and her workshops.

Since Jan sells Creative Memories products, I am using those products now (previously I had bought materials at Wal-Mart). I also purchased CM's "Storybook Creator" and am learning how to do the digital scrapbooking. Since I've worked in Photoshop for years (creating book covers), it was pretty easy for me to pick up, but even without that background I think it would be fairly easy. After an hour or so, anyone with some digital photos (or print photos scanned in) should be happily creating a digital scrapbook page. (See my first effort in the image above.)

I spent some time searching for scrapbooking information online and perhaps these links will be of interest to you too. If I've left anything out (and I'm sure I have, this is not an exhaustive list, who has that kind of time...), let us all know in the comments field. Or, join Appalachian Morning on Facebook, and leave a comment there.


  1. General Information

  2. Videos

  3. Scrapbooking Supplies & Tools

  4. Workspace

  5. Digital Scrapbooking

  6. Instructors / Crops / Conventions

  7. Scrapbooking Magazines

  8. Books on Scrapbooking (and Card Making)















































Creating Keepsakes Conventions - Scrapbooking conventions held throughout the United States.
Memories ScrapbooKing Expo - Shows in Ohio, Florida, and New Jersey.
Scrapbooks Megameet - Scrapbooking conventions in the Great Lakes area.
Scrapbook Tour -Midwest
Scrapbook Portal Events - US and Canada.
Crop All Day - North Texas and Oklahoma.
Get Croppin' - mid-Atlantic area
Crop a Lot Retreats - East Coast
Croptopia Getaways - Northeast (cruises, too)



September 17, 2010

Tornado Hits Athens County, Ohio

NOTE: For links to storm information, scroll down to the bottom of this post.

Update: Information on status of recovery and places to contact to help or receive help. WOUB link.

Subtitle of this post: "If dogs could have a look on their face that says 'I told you so!'"

Here's a personal timeline at our home here in Athens, Ohio, which is also the home of Lucky Press LLC (publisher) and Janice Phelps LLC (design). Four tornadoes touched down in Athens County last night, and 2 in nearby Meigs County.

7:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, 2010:
I'm on the couch with the laptop writing and checking FB ). I hear thunder in the distance, know that Jackie our Chihuahua will not want to go outside in it, so decide to get them up early to get out before the rain hits.

7:30-11:00: Tyler and Jackie spend all morning huddled with me on the couch while I work on websites, work on illustration sketches, work on novel, check Facebook. We have a direct look out huge window to our beautiful woods and everything is gray, rainy, and wet. I love it--great day for creative work.

11:00-5:30: working on computer

5:30 - 6:30 p.m. I am on the phone with a publisher, oblivious to weather.

6:30 p.m. We turn the news on and hear reports of storm cells and a "hook" design in the system that looks dangerous. The area between Lancaster and Athens is in danger of tornadoes. I call our elderly friend, David, in nearby Logan (home of the beautiful Hocking Hills) and tell him to stay down on his first floor (he has no TV).

Now, here's where the canine wisdom comes in. Tyler (9-year-old Pekingnese) wants to sit right up against me, behind me on the kitchen chair.
Jackie (7-year-old Chihuahua) is hiding under the table, taking a break from wondering why I haven't drawn her Autumn Season illustration yet. Farley just wants our food. After dinner (or more accurately, "supper"), Mark goes off for his ONE HOUR on the treadmill (are you impressed, because I certainly am!) and I wonder how, once again , I can sit on the couch while my husband works so valiently to stay fit.

I pull out exercise mat from its demanding place near the TV, turn on on-demand
Parenthood episodes I never saw when televised, and lie on the floor attempting pathetic "crunches." (Cathy, I hope you are reading this.)

Tyler comes and sits right next to me as thunder rolls in. Jackie comes over and sits next to me under the Eames footstool that reminds Mark of the nice chair he no longer has and what about their changes to the headrest anyway? Farley takes Tyler's spot on the couch, positioning herself as close to me as possible, but submitting to other dogs' desire to be closest to Mommy.

Suddenly, a really LOUD clap of thunder. It's approximately 7:10 p.m. Tyler jumps on top of my prone body. If this was a cartoon, there'd be no jumping, no lifting off with the back legs, front legs extended... it would be drawn with a determined dog lifting off the floor, all 4 paws at the same time, and landing just so on my stomach.

I hug him and say, "It's okay. It's just thunder. Everything's okay." I use this as an excuse to put away exercise mat and dogs join me on the couch to watch TV. I had to do this, they needed me.

Our night progresses with a video from NetFlix (Friday night lights and, by the way, the DVD was defective and we missed the end of the show), an hour of reading (Mark, a book on "cosmology" and me a book I bought for 30 cents at Athens County Library sale about a midwestern guy, 60, who is a commercial pilot facing retirement)....

Then! As Mark is reading a book on his iPad, he checks the Web before turning out the light and gets a notice that a tornado touched down in Athens County! The high school is damaged as is the building where the local newspaper, The Messenger, is housed. Time of touch-down: "about 7 pm" -- Tyler was right!

From our other newspaper, Athens News: bleachers in stadium down (twisted), press box went through concession stand, cars in parking lot smashed, mobile homes nearby flipped, injuries....Two 1,000 lb air conditioners were ripped off the high school roof and thrown to the ground. A giant stone sign outside the school (which required a crane when it was installed) was "crushed."

Students and parents had gathered for two soccer games between rivals Alexander and Athens. All students from both teams were accounted for, but can you imagine the panic of parents? There was also a volleyball game going on and the roof was blown off the building where they were playing. 7,500 +/- Athens County residents do not have electrical power this morning.

UPDATE: I drove up to The Plains (about 4 miles away from our home) to check on a friend's niece's home (thankfully OK). Lots of trees down, some roof damage to homes, the high school - you couldn't get close to it, lots of emergency vehicles there - lots of cherry pickers and many many guys with chain saws. So many beautiful big trees down. Metal carports, etc. mangled. No electricity (this update is at 1:45 p.m. Friday). Mark said the electricity is out at Kroger in Athens. Electric service is always a problem in our area during bad weather (storms, snow, or sometimes for no apparent reason -- same with water). I've gotten used to it.

PHOTOS: I've posted photos of The Plains here on my Facebook page, with access to all.

Here is a link to "reader-submitted" photos at The Athens Messenger.

Other tornadoes I remember:

In the late '60s, it was July 4th in Canfield, Ohio and we were at the fairgrounds for fireworks. I was in junior high school then and had crawled under a fence to sit on the field as close to the fireworks as possible, with a friend. We looked up in the sky and saw what appeared to be a tornado. Everyone in the stands immediately ran for cover inside the structure, down where the concessions were sold (and where I later had my first job, selling photos of demolition car drivers!). I can still remember being crowded and up against a wall in the back of the structure, and the press of the crowd. Ugh. Now, all these years later, I heard from my mom the concern she felt as a mom, not knowing where I was amidst those hundreds of people, and how relieved she was when my older sister found me.

In the early '70s, Xenia, Ohio was severely damaged by a tornado. Today, it is a lovely small town and an inspiration to other towns hit by disaster.

The Super Outbreak is the largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 US states, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York; and the Canadian province of Ontario. It extensively damaged approximately 900 square miles (1,440 square kilometers) along a total combined path length of 2,600 miles (4,160 km).[1]

The Super Outbreak of tornadoes of 3–4 April 1974 remains the most outstanding
severe convective weather episode of record in the continental United States. The outbreak far surpassed previous and succeeding events in severity, longevity
and extent. source: Wikipedia

Also see "Super Tornado Outbreak of 1974" Farmer's Almanac.

May 31, 1985. I lived in FL, but my parents lived in Brookfield, Ohio during the 1985 United States-Canadian Tornado Outbreak. A Pennsylvania-Ohio outbreak of 43 tornadoes swept through (including 13 in Ontario), one touching down only a mile from their home. There were 88 deaths. A girl I went to school with just had time to grab her baby and get to the basement door before her home flew away.

March 21, 1985: A tornado hit Venice, Florida, a town 1/2 hour south of where I lived at in the 1980s and '90s. A grocery store was damaged and a neighborhood lost several homes. Worse, a woman and man whose RV was parked in a store parking lot were separated forever when the woman was pulled from the RV by the sucking force of the storm and died.
(Killed 2, injured 47)

There was also a Super Tuesday Tornado Outbreak in 2008 in the Southern US and lower Ohio Valley.

Now, it is "the morning after" the tornado. Some folks are in a shelter without a home. Some are wondering what will go on at their school on Monday. Some are counting their blessings. Time to get dressed and go love my hometown.


Latest outtages: AEP and South Central Power
Details of storm damage

Athens Messenger
Athens County, Ohio TWITTER
Athens County Emergency Management
Athens County Red Cross
Lancaster Eagle Gazette

What Causes Tornadoes? (What to do when they are nearby. Myths, scientific diagrams, etc.)

September 16, 2010

Autumn Leaves in Ohio

The temperature and humidity are dropping. The days are getting shorter. Between May and September, here's what the weather seemed like to me: springlike, rain, rain, rain, hot, really hot, continued hot, can't-stand-it-hot, cool, muggy, 48 degrees, socks, thunderstorms...

But I know that soon the leaves will change color. I will look out our kitchen window and find the small tree where the birdfeeder hangs has turned yellow, yellow, ORANGE! After I spent s e v e n t e e n looooonnnngggg years smoldering in Florida, I returned to Ohio (and a March blizzard) with joy and anticipation of Spring! Summer! and Fall!

Now, 11 years later, I still feel excited when the leaves start to change, and now that Mark and I have over four acres of trees, I have lots of opportunity to study their cyclical hues. As the days shorten, the sun rises in our dining room window and sets right across from the kitchen window. When the leaves give up and scatter to the wind, it is then I can see the hot rosy sun set behind the hills as we meet in the kitchen for dinner. Here are some photos* from our place on Earth to you, from fall 2009, scenes I will enjoy this year as well.

(*All photos ©2009 Janice Phelps Williams. All rights reserved. If you want to share these with friends for noncommercial use, please tell them about

September 10, 2010

Our Time in NYC-- September 11th

It is cool here today in the Appalachian Foothills. I wore a sweater this morning, but now in the afternoon the sun is bright and the sky is blue and clear. There is something about the blue sky this time of year that I associate with the events of September 11, 2001, because the sky was so blue that day above the skyscrapers.

My sister Joan E. Phelps, my son Bryce Merlin, and I were in the city, having arrived by car from Ohio Sunday night, Sept. 9th. On Monday we visited Central Park (see photo with Joan and Bryce below) and went shopping. That evening we saw Michael Jackson's 30th anniversary concert.

We were exhausted and excited afterward and I was afraid I wouldn't sleep, so I took a Tylenol PM. The last thought I had before closing my eyes was that we'd catch the subway and go down to the World Trade Center first thing in the morning, around 8. We'd go up to the observation deck and show Bryce the Statue of Liberty. His father and I had been there before he was born, and I remembered the fantastic views. Bryce called the statue "the most beautiful woman in America" and I knew he would love the sights from the WTC.

That afternoon, Joan and I had an appointment at Publisher's Weekly. This was a big deal for Lucky Press, the publishing company I'd founded and Joan helped me to launch. We were from Ohio and this was only the second time I'd been in NYC.

(Photo: Bryce Merlin on the steps of the Parks building in Central Park)

Usually, Bryce and I wake up at 6:30 or 7:00. Invariably. But not this Tuesday morning. Bryce walked from his small adjoining room to my bedside. "Aren't you going to wake up, Mom?" he asked. I looked at the clock: 8:52 a.m. I couldn't believe it. The times I've slept past 8:30 a.m. I could count on one hand.

Joan woke up too and while I was in the bathroom she clicked on the TV. And then, well, you know... When the second plane hit, I sat on the bed stunned. How far away were we from the site? Should we close the windows we'd opened to let in the fresh air? What was happening?

We explained to Bryce, who has mental and physical challenges, that we would not be able to go to the World Trade Center, but that we would eat breakfast near the hotel. I didn't want to frighten him, but wanted him to know something sad and serious had happened ... was happening.

I took Bryce across the street for bagels and juice. Upon our return, Joan told us about the Pentagon. We took a walk after breakfast; the streets were so quiet. I will never forget the sound, the light, the sky, and the bus that drove up from the site, filled with people who looked dazed and dusty.

We stayed one more night and left in the morning. I'll never forget the site from the bridge, of the smoke and of the endless stream of traffic waiting for permission to enter the city. I'll never forget any of it; but someday I will be old, I will be dead, and 9/11 will be a story that people tell their grandchildren. There will be a monument, but no one will be alive who was there on that day. We will all join those who died. Life will go on without us. Will the buildings, the trees, the sky hold the memory of us at all?

There is nothing unusual in my story. I know that. There is nothing unique in my feelings or thoughts. I am part of a whole and yet alone too. When I returned home, I didn't want to sit at my desk in my home office and work ten hours a day, six days a week, any longer. I was more aware of what doesn't last.

I bought the book of all the obituaries of those who died: Portraits 9/11/01 (New York Times). I still have it, and for me it was very healing to read about these people. Their lives, their wonderful lives, lost. I mourned for them and realized my own story is pretty small, and my own life still needs a lot of work; but there is no guarantee I will have time to do the work that needs to be done within my mind and heart; the creation that is my life.

n the first few days back home as I watched TV obsessively I kept imagining being on a staircase with Bryce urging him to go faster, run! Run! I'm overweight and he is ungainly and his hearing aides would have clogged up... how frightening it would have been. Eventually I stopped worrying about something that never happened.

(Photo of Joan E. Phelps in front of "Lucky" sign, taken 9/9/10)

I don't believe "God spared me," for that means he didn't spare someone else. I believe in luck and in lack of luck, in coincidence, in being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then what we do with all that, and all that happens in the spaces of narrowly missing death or tragedy, that is where we find important lessons, if we can calm our pounding hearts long enough to pay attention.

A few years after 9/11, on Dec. 31, 2006, I had a much closer call with death. It wasn't a few miles away then, it was right there when I experienced a severe allergic reaction to CT dye in a hospital ER. I was more prepared for the sense of mortality this time.

Three months later, I met a wonderful man. We were married, moved to a great town, bought a house. Since 2001, I've written 2 books, published the work of other authors, and Mark has written 3 books as well. Joan has retired to Florida. Bryce has started working in a sheltered workshop and has had a girlfriend for 6 years now. My son Jesse has graduated from college, started a promising career and met a wonderful girl. My mother is a lovely healthy senior citizen; I've met so many wonderful writers in my work, illustrated two kids books, and gone on two cruises. I've done so much since 2001. I've returned to NYC twice: once with Jesse and once with Mark.

I feel so sad for those families who are missing their loved ones today, and every day since then. May God bless you with comfort, love and peace.

September 9, 2010

Me, posing as an artist -- literally!

Earlier this morning I upoaded some photos to Blogger as a "blog to be written" but voila! I pressed the "publish post" button, and here we are... photos and no story.

So, a few quick notes before I return to illustrating "The Great Top-Secret Kids Picture Book" (no, that is not the real title; I am, indeed, sworn to secrecy).

Anyway, first up is a photo of me with Mrs. Catharine Lotze, art teacher at Canfield High School (Canfield, Ohio, 1972).

A few months later, between my junior and senior years of high school, my parents allowed me to travel to West Virginia to take part in William Gerhold's watercolor workshop (for adults, I was by far the youngest person there). Here I am just prior to a really bad wasp sting (or horsefly, who knows) zooming up my pant leg. (1973)

A year later, my senior year of high school, I am standing reluctantly for my photo in the high school year book of Brookfield High School, in Brookfield, Ohio (1974).

And, lastly, here I am in a photo taken by Mark on our honeymoon, 2007. See, I am still painting!

Stay tuned while I look for "photo of freshman KSU art student with really big glasses!"

Update: 10/4/2010: Here is the photo. Engleman Hall, Kent State University, 1974--freshman year. The second floor of this, the oldest dormitory at KSU, was set up as an "art floor" -- and co-ed (very progressive at the time). The first floor house "The Center for Peaceful Change." The rooms were very small, I wonder if they still hold 2 students each!