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Category Archives: other people’s cool stuff

Fifteen-Minute Field Trip

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Plants and pinwheels

plants and pinwheels

What do you do when the weather is beautiful outside but you have to work all day? Take a mini-vacation at lunch time, of course.

My original plan today was to walk over to this little local place that makes great cupcakes and have myself a treat during lunch. Unfortunately, the icing was not set to arrive for another hour. “You could get it without icing,” the man at the counter suggested. A cupcake without icing? What’s the point? I wanted to say, but instead I just told him, “That’s okay, thanks.”

Plants and Pinwheels

I was disappointed, but something two doors down caught my eye. Plants and flowers were set up in pots right on the sidewalk with colorful pinwheels and doo-dads decorating them. What was this place? I’d walked this street dozens, if not hundreds of times and never noticed it.

I paused, about to take out my camera to snap a photo or two, and saw a small Asian woman had come down the steps and was bending over the plants. She smiled and waved me over.

“Is this a shop?” I asked.

She nodded, and insisted I come inside. “My husband is out, so I was about to close up the shop, but for you I’ll make an exception.”

The tiny space inside was packed with one-of-a-kind jewelry (her husband’s designs), paintings (both her and her husband’s), sculptures (hers) and pottery (her husband’s) as well as tons of jewelry and statues and knicknacks from Thailand, where she told me she was from.

The Peace Project

As I was looking over one of her paintings, a large purple and yellow piece with what (to my untrained eye) looked like an image of a Thai deity, she invited me to the back to see her studio, an even smaller space that she shared with her husband and had crammed full of sculptures, works-in-progress and a large TV. “I like to watch the news while I work,” she told me.

Shadow of Peace

Shadow of Peace by Ing-On Vibulbhan-Watts

She briefly pointed out what was hers and what her husband was working on, but what she was most enthusiastic about was what she called the Peace Project. Half a dozen prints of a large peace sign throwing a shadow over the landscape, filled with quotes, scribbles, doodles and sayings made by Newark students, teachers, friends and others.

She showed me several prints, each filled with quotes from a specific group or school. The one at left was for an exhibit at Salon Creative Lounge in New York City (the photo links to more information). She was very passionate about it. Her entire face would light up when she imagined what it would be like if each teacher would start the school year asking their students what peace looked like to them. “It only takes ten minutes, once each year. But imagine what would happen if our children began every year thinking about peace for 13 or 14 years?” And not just children. Adults. What if we all spent just ten minutes thinking about peace every year?

The woman’s name is Ing-On Vibulhan-Watts. Her website is She insisted that I not take her picture, because she said she looked awful (she didn’t, and I wish she had let me just so you could see the beaming smile.) She didn’t want any credit, just pleaded with me to share this project with my circle and ask everyone I know to think about peace for just ten minutes. “If you don’t know what peace means to your own family, then what do you know?”

Jasmine flowersAs I was leaving I snapped a few photos of the plants that had first drawn me in. She came back outside, and pointed to the tallest one. “It’s avocado,” she said, “I planted it from the pit.” “This one is jasmine,” she said, and when I told her I love the smell of jasmine she plucked two delicate little blossoms and handed them to me. The perfume alone was like a mini-tropical vacation.

I told Ing that I would share her project, so I’m passing along her question to all of you.

What does “peace” mean to you?

Matt Kish Illustration Winner

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The White Whale, ink and acrylic paint on found paper (an old TV repair diagram) 7.25" by 10.75"

I know, I know… I said I would announce this two days ago… but better late than never, right?

The winner of the Matt Kish illustration at right is

…. drumroll, please….

Troy of!

Honestly, it was a tough call – there were so many interesting and original suggestions – including a few books that I had to look up, because I’d never heard of them, and some of my personal favorites (Wuthering Heights, I’m looking at you).

But Troy immediately won me over with the vivid images he pulled up from The Grapes of Wrath, and what more timely novel to illustrate in our current economic state of affairs?

Troy wrote:

If I choose a book to illustrate, it has to be John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Some of the imagery in this magnum opus novel rivals that of Melville. I can think of a myriad of images to portray. The spent Oklahoma soil. The dust cloud. The men that have merged with machine on the industrial farms. The thin men, women, and children wandering toward the promised land of California. The citrus orchards and the green fields. The caravans of jalopies. Violent punches. The wary glance during an encounter with a rival for a job or a claim. The broken bodies and their broken spirits. The hope that continues to shine in the midst of all the misery. The final tender scene, giving nourishment and life.

I think it’s scope and sweep across the American landscape is as large as Melville’s similar broad brush over the seven seas. Likewise, it’s examination of things as they are—and by contrast, what they could be—is as cutting as Melville’s political, religious, and cultural critique.

Congratulations! Hope the White Whale finds a great spot in your home!