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Posts Tagged ‘Condo Gardening’

Ice Tea again

It is often said that artists can create the world the way they wish it would be!  This may be true of most of the arts, and many crafts as well—where one is fashioning beauty from ashes—or victory in the midst of something that seems like defeat.  In my poetry, I have often featured the presence of light in apparently dark circumstances.

Without getting more ponderous, when indeed my mood is upbeat as I share with you, the above painting is the world the way I’m eager to experience it—and will in a few weeks.  Having lived in Wisconsin for all but three of my eighty-four years, I should know (and do!) that April in my home state is not like “April in Paris”.

Sometimes we get teased a bit with warm splashes, and these are meant to be savored but not viewed as the permanent seasonal weather change.  Meanwhile, we can paint (sing, write, dance) whatever weather we want—thereby creating our own reality:  our own private world.  A case in point is this painting, titled “Ice Tea Again”, reflecting a pastime which is HUGE in my estimation:  drinking ice tea on our patio beside our pretty little patio garden, while watching the birds and chipmunks that enjoy the hospitality of our feeders.

I have done many ice tea type paintings, but this one is unique.  Were you to actually see the painting, now framed in a 16″ by 20″ softly gilded frame, you would probably observe that something new has been added:  touches of mixed medium accents which add texture and individuality to the piece.

At this moment two amazing British artists—Ann Blockley and Soraya French—are vitalizing, coaching, and inspiring me via books and (in Ann’s case) DVDs to experiment with mixed media.  So “extras” have been added to this watercolor and gouache rendering, including areas of enhanced color on and around the flower shapes made with hard pastel pencils and Derwent Inktense sticks.  The winding vines were formed by streaking India ink from a pipette and letting it ooze around on the damp paper.  You may notice the sketchy lines drawn by oil pastels* in areas alongside the vines.  And, as always, thick applications of gouache have covered a plethora of boo-boos.

The above-mentioned artists, and many others, stress the importance of playing with the mediums, learning what they can do and not worrying about the outcome.  JUST PLAY!  This really appeals to me after a rather dragged out autumn and winter beginning with the loss of my beloved corgi in October and adding a challenging shoulder replacement to the mix.  I intend to play, while drinking volumes of ice tea!

Included in the “play”, is the fact that I am diving into water soluble oils.  This is happening at my newly acquired hardwood easel.  The easel doesn’t work for watercolor painting, as there is not room enough in the bedroom studio to flatten out the surface.  But oils can be done on a tilt.  While watercolors, gouache, and mixed medium play happens at my dining room studio, oils are slowly drying and developing on the easel.

Margaret L Been — April 14th, 2008

*When I received my order from DICK BLICK of a beautiful, magenta colored wood box of 60 oil pastels (Van Gogh brand) I reverted to childhood.  I can’t express the wonder and joy of running my fingers over the surface of these sticks, marveling at the gorgeous color gradations.

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. . . of May.  April is delightful; I’m loving it.  But I can’t get May out of my paintbrushes which seem to be set on “Automatic Paint May“.

Here is “Coming up Lilacs“:

Coming up Lilacs

Don’t you just love the lilac colors?  We have French lilacs at every corner of our condo buildings, here in Nashotah Condo Heaven.  They bloom a bit later than common lilacs, and are not quite so euphorically fragrant.  But the Frenchies are beautiful and perform well in a marinara sauce jar (washed of course, but with its label intact) full of fresh water on the dining room table.

(Parenthetical Commentary:  Why are jars with their labels so much lovelier and infinitely more interesting as receptacles for flowers and dried weeds, than conventional vases?  There is simply no comparison, in my book.  If you haven’t bothered to save a nice big marinara jar, a huge pickle jar or a honey jar will also work—but I hope you don’t wash off those labels!  During nearly every supermarket trip I grieve the demise of glass jars and bottles which have knuckled under to (ugh) plastic.  Every bit of glass is PRECIOUS.  Olive oil bottles reside near the top of my food glassware list, because they are normally green and have such pretty labels!  Wine bottles are definitely the most gorgeous.  I ask folks to empty their wine bottles, and then pass them on to me—please, with labels.)

Back to May and the lilacs.  We do have common lilacs just a few yards away, in the park beyond our front door.  Every May I make frequent strolls to inhale the lilacs and journey back decades in time to my small-town-Wisconsin childhood home—a rambling Victorian with a commodious yard and guess what:  lots of ancient common lilacs.

In a week it will be May.  I wonder what my paintbrushes will do then!

Margaret L. Been — April 23, 2016

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May Again 2 3

This painting was inspired by the fact that my head is thinking “MAY”, and in this instance I planned ahead—deciding that the use of gouache would be intentional and prominent.  I am getting very excited about the look of oils created by slathering on the gouache.

The piece began with a wash of the primaries, quietly blending on the paper (Saunders Waterford 140# cold press).  Next, the tree and branches were formed with a pipette and P. H. Martin’s liquid watercolor.  I only have these bottles in the primaries, so I blobbed them all on to create a brownish black.

Finally, when all was dry, I applied the Star of the Show, the ever-faithful gouache in increments, letting the paint dry and then touching up with more.   I think the white is so beautiful when dabbed over the blossom colors.

We have hung this May scene over our piano.  But you are seeing only bits (above and also below) of the painting.  It is matted and framed to 20″ x 16″, in a  magenta colored frame.  Even with scanning two sections of the piece, parts of it were sticking out on all sides of my scanner.  So what you see is what you get.  🙂

May Again

The bird in the upper left was not planned.  He just flew in.  I guess it’s really spring, although not quite May.

Margaret L. Been — March 31, 2016

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S2

Scarves and shawls, plus capes and sweaters, fulfill as much of my creative energy as do paints.

Above are samples of pure silk blanks (available online via Dharma Co., CA) painted with Sharpies fine (brush tip are great) permanent markers (not the oil base ones).  This is too much fun.  Just color/color/color the scarf to your heart’s content, and when satisfied spray (saturate) with rubbing alcohol.  Allow to dry, then press with a hot steam iron.

These recently sold well at a pre-holiday fair.  Everyone loves them.  The selection of blanks is great—Dharma even has dancing veils.

S1

Here Pinkie is happily modeling the world famous Potato Chip Scarf–so named 1) because it curls and 2) because you can’t just make one.  They are as addictive as the edible, salty variety.

And below we have Pinkie again, cowling it up.

S4

Knitted, of course.  I go on yarn surges.  A few years ago, it was Debbie Bliss’s Baby Cashmerino.  Then Cascade 220.  Then Cascade Sunseeker.  Now it is Malabrigo Silky Merino:  49% silk and 51% merino wool.  All are wonderful.  All are unabashedly overflowing and falling out of countless baskets, many of which I have made in former years of “also passions”.

And shawls.  I make long shawls—prayer shawls, gift shawls, and some for myself.  A long shawl is the perfect wrap for our autumn and spring weather, either layered over a blazer and sweater or by itself.  And I love these little guys:

S5

(The borders are crocheted.)  No, I didn’t make the penny quilt.  For me, knitting needles are relaxing—but sewing needles and machines are nerve wracking.  This quilt is a beauty.  It was some unknown artist’s masterpiece, possibly during the Great Depression, as the fabrics are apparently used clothing.  The quilt is huge, even on our queen bed.  We won it at a local auction years ago.  It’s been moved two times, stored on a high closet shelf, and now we are featuring it on our bed.  Things are to be used and enjoyed, especially with a good number of years behind us and not quite so many years left.  Why not?  🙂

spinning in the summer

Finally, spinning.  The basket filled with color contains wool roving, and the white fiber in the pink basket is silk.  Two excellent Jensen wheels, Wisconsin made, grace our living room and in this case one of them is (characteristically in seasonable weeks) working on our patio.  What a joy to make yarn, and knit it.  I still have a lot of gorgeous deep brown Shetland from my last two silly sheep, in the late 1990s.

But the patio leads out to even one more of many passions:

Faithful Bleeding Heart

Coming SOON!  I can hardly wait.  How about you?

Margaret L. Been — February 28th, 2016

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Castle at Oban, County Argyll #2

Have you ever noticed the plethora of paintings that abound at garage sales, resale shops, and sometimes even in an antique mall?  These works, often created by people like you and me (home-grown, everyday artists as opposed to those who are world class or at least widely known) may be sold for anywhere from $15.00 to 75 cents by the artist himself or some family member who simply doesn’t have space (or an inclination) for “Grandma’s art”—or whatever else it might be.

I have purchased a lot of these works at rummages, and I’m always happy to make room for them in our home—even if it’s a bit of floor space against a cabinet or desk.  I marvel at the skill represented in “rummage art”, and always wonder why it’s up for grabs at a ridiculous price rather than adorning someone’s wall, or standing in the studio of its still-producing creator.

Perhaps in many of these cases, the artist just quit making art.  Somewhere along the line he or she lost interest in the process—while quite possibly thinking:  “I’ll never be “good enough”; so why bother?”

Most artists (whether well known or otherwise) agree that given an absolute passion for making art and access to good quality materials, anyone can be an artist!  Of course along with the passion and the materials, one must be willing to devote time—lots of time—to one’s chosen medium of expression.

Likewise, most painters agree that every artist encounters periods of self-doubt—days when nothing goes right in the studio, and times of incriminating flashbacks where we consider a previously accomplished piece far superior to anything we are producing at the moment.  In my life-long discipline and profession of writing, this experience is called:  “Writer’s Block”.

As a writer, what have I done with Writer’s Block?  I’ve gone right on writing.  Thus, with what we can call “Painter’s Block”, I am determined to go right on painting—regardless of whether or not my chimes (or anyone else’s) are ringing over the work in progress.  There are ways to deal with the dry spells, and sometimes even prevent them.  Here are a few:

1)  Periodically invest in new-to-you colors of paint, from different manufacturers.  There is nothing like squeezing a generous blob of fresh, gooey paint from a brand new tube onto one’s palette, to give a person a kick in the rear (reminiscent of the commercial for V-8 Juice®).

2)  On “down days”, generate prints from your computer file of your own scanned-in art.  I produce lots of 3″ x 5″ prints, and affix them to artist quality blank stationery by Strathmore—a fine company located right here the Fox River Valley Paper Kingdom of Wisconsin.  I rarely buy commercial greeting cards or stationery anymore, as I have a huge inventory of art to share.

3)  Try a different technique, paint medium, or variety of art.  Periodically I branch out into gouache, and get excited all over again with its possibilities in combo with transparent watercolors.  On days when the watercolors don’t flow the way I want them to, I may move to my collage table and get atrociously messy with acrylics paints and mediums plus my bins full of saved “everything under the sun”—from Oriental papers, cheesecloth, feathers, sequins, ribbons, family photos, dried flowers and leaves, symphony programs, theatre tickets, wedding invitations, old letters, and scraps of yarn—to dog hair.

Recently I ordered a set of Winsor & Newton water soluble oils.  This is tremendously exciting, as traditional oils are off-limits to my tetchy breathing apparatus.  Scientists have discovered a method of changing the molecular structure of the oil base (linseed oil, most likely) so that “oil paints” will dissolve in and clean up with water!  No turp, no toxic fumes.

4)  Take out a dud which you very fortunately neglected to file in your trash bin.  (Some flops are worth saving, for reworking.)  The above-pictured example was a really stressed out piece of Arches 140 lb. cold press paper—apparently “ruined” on both sides with failed attempts at a landscape.  I had one more go at vigorously scrubbing* the paper, removing all but faint tints of the paint.  (Arches holds up remarkably under such abuse—whereas some other brands of 140 lb. paper will not).

Due to the scrubbing, virtually all of the sizing was removed from the paper, creating a totally different effect from work on fresh, clean Arches cold press.  Without sizing, there is no resist and the paint soaks and soaks.  Therefore any paint containing sediment is apt to look more “sedimentary” with this process; the paint soaks away and the sediment remains—along with the scribble scrabbles of fiber which surface when you were destroy your paper.  Never mind all that.  Just keep plugging along, to see what will happen!

Not all my duds are as satisfying when reworked as this one, which is called “Castle at Oban”—because it recalls a trip my husband and I made to my ancestral home of Argyll.  Scrubbing the living daylights out of paper can create a total mess, but my Scottish Castle turned out to be kind of moody.  I like it.  It enabled me to work through Painter’s Block, and the very next day I created a work that truly delighted my heart.  Here it is:  Kingdom at Sea”.  I must have castles on the brain—and probably beautiful Scotland as well!

*A fantastic aid for scrubbing out paint, is the MR. CLEAN “Magic Eraser”®.  This unbelievable product removes stains and spots from all over the home, as well as on art paper.  My husband says, “It’s just a sponge.”  But I never knew a sponge could do what MR. CLEAN accomplishes with his “Magic Eraser”!

Kingdom at Sea

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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Yard Sale

I’ve been known to diatribe about something, and then turn around and contradict myself due to an urgent “change of heart”.  Awhile back I was holding forth (I think it was on http://northernreflections.wordpress.com/) on how Spring in Wisconsin is supposed to be cold and rainy, how we can’t expect it to be anything other than cold and rainy.  I guess at that point I was just happy to see a Canada goose!

But now I am turning around and contradicting myself.  I’m ready to at least hope Spring will be something other than cold and rainy.  What did I do in those pre-watercolor years without a palette from which to express my desires!  I guess a recalcitrant Spring was compensated by colorful yarns, and wishful thinking was projected by my painterly poems. 

Well now I’ve added paints.  Okay . . . so let’s get on with it:  “Yard Sale” above, and “My Arbor and Beyond” below.

My Arbor and Beyond 

Southern Wisconsin, at least my garden, will have to dry out considerably before we sink my still-in-the-box-from-HOME DEPOT-arbor between two old-fashioned, hardy rose bushes.  But yard sales could begin most any slightly warmer weekend, albeit by changing the title to “garage sales”.

Meanwhile, I paint.  🙂  And, as afore mentioned in another place, for those of us who love the growing things A COLD AND RAINY SPRING IS ALWAYS THE BEST!

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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March Swamp I

It is no secret that our soul climate on any given day can be reflected in the expressions of our soul—be they in the form of a poem, a song, or a painting.  For this reason, counsellors who work with children will pay considerable attention to the “climate” of a child’s art.

I normally spend from 20 to 30 hours a week at my palette.  A few days ago I realized that my work was becoming “dark”—not in subject matter, but in actual hue and tone.  Skies were murky.  Water was muddy, and mountains were drab rather than sparkling.  There has been a distinct absence of sunlight, moonlight, and fleecy clouds in recent renderings.  I didn’t need to look far afield for the answer to this puzzle; in fact it really wasn’t a puzzle at all.  Two weeks ago a family member was diagnosed with cancer.  Hence my paintings have darkened. 

So three days ago I decided, this will never do.  I am not a “dark” person—although I love dark skin, and “work hard” to obtain it in the summer!  I have passion for light, and so does my loved one who has cancer.  There is no way I can help her (or myself) through the days and weeks ahead by “painting dark”!

Now things are looking up in every way.  The cancer is Stage II, and it is believed that chemo will not be needed after surgery.  And I’ve pivoted my palette, paper, and paints back to the light.  The above print depicts a subject I love—a swamp, in this case a “March Swamp” with the sap of life rising above melting snow.

And below you will see another subject of love and light—one that may be wearing you viewers out because I feature it so often:

 Living on the Patio with Iced Tea

“Living on the Patio with Iced Tea”

SOON!!!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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After six years of direct painting either on wet or dry paper, I’m finally developing the courage to tackle the essence of traditional watercolor art—transparent layering.  Up until recent weeks, any forays into layering that I did were accidental—and if these attempts yielded anything better than the artist’s dreaded “mud”, then they were the quintessential “happy accidents”.

Perhaps I’m a bit thick headed!  It has taken years of constant immersion in books and DVDs—especially by watercolorists Barbara Nechis and Wisconsin’s own Karlyn Holman just for me to decide to focus on layering.  What a satisfying focus!  The subtle nuances of the initial wash shining through subsequent layers of varying color is a never ending source of surprise and delight.  One never knows what will emerge, and each painting is different from the last.

There are some guiding principles for the process:  thin layers of transparent paint work best, with gradual rather than radical color variations, and each layer must be thoroughly dry before applying another.  Some artists speed up the drying with a hair dryer.  I simply move on to another project, and give each wash more than enough time to dry.  It’s fun to go from painting, to soap making, to knitting, to my piano, to a good book.  After all, the name of my stage in life is LEISURE WITH NO STRESS—and that’s a wonderful thing!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how beautiful a city scene can be, when venerable old (or tasteful new) architecture is accented by gardens and the natural life which abounds therein.  Years ago, my husband and I traveled 2200 miles of back roads in Scotland, Wales, and England—staying at sheep farms along the way.  On the last day of our vacation we took a train from the village of Dorking to London, a journey of about an hour.  As the train catapulted (British trains do exactly that!) through back alleys of London residential neighborhoods, I was totally charmed by the gardens complete with picturesque potting sheds in even the tiniest back yards.  The plethora of vines and plantings pressed against old buildings (some being centuries old!) was a sight I love to recall. 

From that day on, I’ve passionately loved the English garden look—not those formal, ostentatiously groomed plantings on the large English estates but rather the cozy “cottage gardens” which ramble in profusion outside back doors of country and city homes across the UK.  When delineated by stonework, a wall, some fencing, or some other architectural detail, the cottage gardens exude a timeless sense of nostalgia and ambience. 

I have created the cottage garden look outside my own door with perennials, culinary herbs, and “garden art”, and this is the kind of garden I love to paint.  Hence the above rendering, the most multi-layered watercolor I’ve done to this date.  Things are finally clicking inside my skull, and I think I’m “getting it” at last!  🙂

My favorite part of the above painting is the shading of hues above and within the arc which represents some kind of architectural detail.  But I also like the “in your face” flowers which shout at you from the foreground.  These were painted in gouache, that wonderful opaque watercolor which builds texture similar to oils and acrylics but does not destroy one’s precious high quality watercolor brushes!

I like to say I am 1/2 Celt, as my mother’s family surnames were either Scottish or Irish.  But according to my records, many of these ancestors married people with English names—Blake, Wood, Soper, etc.  So it figures that I immediately felt at home when I discovered the English cottage garden, and have been (at least mentally) living in one ever since!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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Our outside thermometer registered 105° F this afternoon, in the sun.  Later in the day, near sunset, the reading dropped to 100°.  Perhaps the temperature gage (not showing in the above photo) is a bit off, as it was a “cheapie” sale purchase which I bought mainly because the instrument is encased in a cute crow which presides over that area of garden.  But give or take a little, 100° is HOT!

Yesterday Joe and I did something totally unprecedented for us:  we turned on our air conditioning.  We never had AC before we moved to our present home, and certainly never believed that we needed it.  For 30 years we had deep woods homes with large windows shaded by commodious overhangs, and rooms aired by ceiling fans.  Now we have plenty of lovely trees, but no deep woods on our side of the park.  We do have a ceiling fan in each room here, helpful but suddenly not quite helpful enough.  So we are running the AC.

At first it seemed downright eerie to me, being encased indoors with all of beautiful nature barred by closed windows and doors.  But every time I step outside, I realize that nature has gone a bit berserk.  Given the heat and Joe’s heart condition, cooler air has become a priority for us.

Still, we have early mornings and evenings to live outside.  For 2 mornings, I’ve pulled weeds and watered gardens at 6:00 a. m. when the thermometer registered a reasonable 75°.  At night I lie on the patio lounge for awhile, watching fireflies and basking in the warm night air which is pleasant in the dark.  (Happily, we have no mosquitoes!)

For two days I’ve been reflecting on our pioneer history, trying to imagine what it was like traveling west in a wagon train through places like Kansas and Death Valley, California.  Those intrepid souls contended not only with heat (or cold!) but with brutal winds, dust, potential hunger and thirst, realities of sickness and death on the trail without the comfort of a home, arduous labor, and the ominous possibility of getting scalped! 

I’m as comfort-loving as a cat!  I think I might have preferred to stay “back east” in a shady little town, rather than to venture into the unknown!  Yet who knows?  I love to read about the American West.  If I’d been a young wife in the mid 1800s I just might have gone there with my man!

Meanwhile if weather promises count, we’ll experience relief in the next 24 hours.  A forecast of 85° sounds WONDERFUL.  If and when that happens we’ll turn off the AC, throw open the windows and doors, breathe the outside air, and live beside our garden once more. 

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Our daughter, Laura, made this whiligig at a workshop near her home in Washington State.  The beauty is a composite of treasures culled from rummage and estate sales in her area.

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Those of us who enjoy junking are NEVER BORED—and we’ll probably never be tempted to go off the deep end financially with our passion for collecting, because the stuff we prefer doesn’t normally cost that much. 

The items we love best are those which many folks disregard, discard, and even look down their noses at.  These people don’t get it.  They’re missing a huge chunk of abundant living to be found in foraging garage sales, scrap yards, and curbsides!

Now that rummage season is in full swing, our joy cups run over on a regular basis.  We come home from a morning of foraging renewed, refreshed, and super charged with creative ideas as to where we will place, or how we will use, our newly acquired treasure.  One thing is certain:  where junkers are concerned, there are no two homes alike.  Our decor is highly individual.  It can be simulated, but never cloned!

In celebration of junk, junk, wonderful junk, here are some outdoor shots of our comfy little condo where Joe and I live contentedly with loads of junk:

↑  The small blue granite pitcher peeking out of the Hosta is mounted on an upside down lamp base from one of those derelict “Made in China” lamps which, after 2 years of use, tend to become electrically unsafe.  The base (hidden in the photo) was too pretty to discard, so I cut off its cord and glued my vintage blue pitcher on its bottom.  Behind the pitcher is a broken, circa 1930 plate.  I never discard broken china or pottery, as it can always find a pleasant home among my garden or house plants.

And observe the old watering can, complete with its “rose” on the spout.  These are pricey now, as most everyone wants an old watering can.  Fortunately, I found mine years ago.  🙂

 ↑   A saxophone playing frog leans against the bird feeder, with our mutant Bleeding Heart providing a background.  Froggie was actually a new purchase, a gift from our daughter Laura. 

Note the Virginia Creeper creeping up the trellis—one of my all time favorite vines, also called Woodbine or Englemann Ivy.  It’s indestructable in our northern climate.  More damaged pottery rests on a handmade-by-Joe bench on the right as you view the photo.

↑  A closer look reveals the frog’s companions:  a bunny and a skull from the Southwest, reminiscent of artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

↑  The hangy thingy next to the hummer feeder was assembled by a local artist who has a business called FUNKY FINDS.

You can see the tops of a couple of old screens.  Screens and shutters with chipped, peeling paint are always welcome—indoors or out.  One can never get enough of those!

↑  Here is our patio, right off the living room so that we savor a year ’round indoor/outdoor atmosphere.  The patio is the setting for many lazy spring, summer, and autumn days spent sipping iced tea, reading, snoozing, and cloud gazing.  The patio faces east, so that we can sun bathe in the morning and rest in the afternoon shade. 

This picture was taken in a downpour.  The card table gets covered with a lovely vintage cloth on sunny days.  It also serves as a place for my art equipment and afternoons of sketching and painting.

The smashing antique croquet set was a rummage sale treasure which cost $5.00.  It has all its mallets, balls, and arches—with an old rag tied to each arch.  We can take the croquet set up the berm to the park, just a few yards away, for killer games.

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In closing, here is one of my most precious photos of our grandsons, Nathaniel and Joelly, with their creation from their finds from a junk yard near our up north home.  Nathaniel is the driver of this unique vehicle.  I’m not sure what Joelly is doing with the stick—I think it’s a car window cleaner.  ↓

Upon all the evidence, I rest my case!  Junk is wonderful! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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