Category Archives: family

Pioneer Lady

My Grandma Agnes was born in Washington state in 1899 and lived to be 99 years old. She moved with her family to Imperial Valley California in 1905 and grew up on a farm there.  Her father was 56 at the time but moved his family to the desert because he heard the farming was good there and they grew cotton. Life was hard in the desert. They had to scrape the topsoil of the land before they could even think of planting with a device known as the Fresno scraper, drawn by four horses.  They had canals for irrigation. The area was drawing many immigrants for the farming and was developmental in many areas. My grandma had one of the very first x-rays. She fell off a horse and broke her arm. A horse and buggy took her to a hospital where one of the very first x-ray machines existed. I think she was ten or eleven at the time.  They lived in a tent house; there was wood up to waist level but the rest of the walls and roof were a canvas tent.  They would run across the street to dip themselves in the rain barrel before bed and throw the rain water on the walls and sheets to keep cool at night.  I asked my grandmother if it was hard and she said oh no – she loved it. She could have all the animals she wanted and there was always something to do.  They played in the canals and helped on the farm. She said she didn’t know about air conditioning and didn’t know any different so she was happy..

Grandma Agnes was the youngest of four children and there was a great difference in age between she and her two older brothers.  Her sister Grace was I believe ten years older. Grandma Agnes loved to read. She loved school and wrote the Brawley High School’s fight song.  She was the first one in her family to go to college and went to University of California Berkeley where she made a lot of friends and lived in a sorority.  She fondly told me of going to the baths at Ocean Beach with her friends.

Never one to go for an MRS degree,  Agnes then went on to grad school in Boston and got a job in publishing at Harper’s. She loved walking to work in her little grey suit.  Again no complaints about the cold; she was just so excited to be a working girl. She met my Grandpa – we called him Pop but everyone called him Leo even though his first name was John.  He was an engineer from MIT who went on to design the aqueducts in the San Fernando Valley.  He was very interested in Agnes but she was off to visit Europe for the first time.  When she returned and was in California with her family he happily took the train across the country to see her. “I would have followed her to the ends of the earth,” he confessed once to my aunt Molly.  Besides falling in love with Agnes, Leo fell in love with the desert.  When they married they moved to Los Angeles to raise a family.  He worked for the D.W.P. and she worked as an educator in the Los Angeles Unified School District, driving across town to teach children who were confined to home.  She later taught at UCLA and declared she would disown me or any of my sisters if we even applied to U.S.C. I never dared tell her of my screenwriting classes I took there.

In their retirement they traveled all over the world and would come home with gifts from places like Kenya and Ireland and extensive slideshows of photos taken by Pop.  Sadly on their trip to China with my Dad Pop suffered his first stroke.  It was frightening to say the least getting him back to the states.  After that he was not quite the same – he was always happy and excited to see us but had difficulty speaking. It was hard on my grandma, but she helped care for him until he passed in 1987 at the age of 88.

The last decade of Agnes’ life she lived in Quaker Village, a lovely retirement home for seniors in Stanford California. She ran the library and found the other three democrats who lived there.  I would go visit her and we would walk back from lunch to her little apartment.  One day she pulled her walker over to park on a bench.  She wanted to tell me things.  I asked her what her favorite time of her life was and she said she loved taking the family out to the desert, packing up my dad and aunt Grace and getting out into the desert air. The tradition continued with their grandchildren.  She and Pop had an A-frame cabin in the high desert. It’s  where I saw my first snow.  He was an avid photographer and we would go on hikes leaving him behind to set up his tripod. We hiked up a hill and would always bring a rock to put on the rock pile.

Agnes always had a great attitude and did not take her privileges for granted. When it came time to vote she insisted on going in person.  I said she could send an absentee ballot but she pointed her crooked little finger and said, “I was alive when women got the vote. I want to go in person.” She never missed an election and was always very interested in what was going on in the world, years of yellow National Geographic magazines lining her bookshelves as a reminder. I suppose when you grow up like she did in the desert seeing the world is always a wonderful adventure.

In this year’s election there is the greatest possibility ever of a woman becoming our president, and yet there is still no equal rights amendment to the constitution.  Like Agnes I don’t want to take my privileges for granted nor do I want to be stymied by my position as a woman in society.  I want to be like Agnes, using my knowledge to help others and forging ahead despite what societal norms about women dictate.  Happy National Woman’s Day. Let’s make it a point to get that Equal Rights Amendment passed.





seeing can be disbelieving

I have been spending more time with my mom lately. The truth is she can’t see very well. I was the one brave daughter who told her I don’t want her driving anymore . I now have the lovely task of driving her to a myriad of doctor’s appointments. It’s a sad and cruel truth that as we get older we have to go to the doctor a lot. Who has time for such drudgery? You could say “retired old people.”  It hasn’t been so bad.  I have been enjoying the time we have together.  But today she said something I just cannot wrap my head around.

Today I took my mom to the eye doctor. We showed up for her appointment to find out her doctor had up and retired two weeks ago with no notice. Why didn’t anyone call her to tell her this before I bore two hours of traffic on the 405 and a mad dash to PCH to get to Irvine via Jamboree on time to prevent my mom from worrying too much? Would a phone call have been that much trouble?  We could have postponed this appointment. The optometrist gave her an exam anyway, and told her the left eye had improved. They took a photo of the inside of her eyes to show a real eye doctor later. The optometrist said she is okay to drive because the left eye is perfectly fine for driving if she feels okay to drive and can see well that day.

To pass the time waiting for her appointment we talked about the news. Hot topics besides my friend’s Indian Jewish wedding were Diana Nyad swimming the channel, and Ariel Castro comitting suicide in jail. My mom had heard about the heroic swimmer but not about the horrific predator.  I said It was quite a feat of timing on Castro’s part since they were checking on him every thirty minutes at staggered intervals. I told her he hung himself in his cell with his bed sheet.  She was impressed he could figure out the logistics in his cell.  But her next comment is almost too offensive to post here.  Yet I need to process this and I know she will never read my blog since she can’t figure out her computer. She said, in reference to the teenagers turned women he held in captivity and raped and abused for a decade, “Well, you know, none of those girls was very attractive.”

Silent pause then a quiet thud as my chin hit the floor.

I declared, “They were held captive for ten years! You can’t exactly expect them to look their best. They were cute when they were teens. They were pretty. Besides he didn’t choose them for their looks, he chose them because he knew them and could trap them. I can’t believe you said that!”


My mom sheepishly said, “Well, maybe I just couldn’t see them very well.”

Failing sight issues aside I can’t believe her focus was on if the girls were attractive or not. How about the fact they were horrifically victimized, suffered all kinds of heartache over their losses, and yet somehow survived. Perhaps she was just trying to make gossipy conversation like she does with her buddies at the gym. But it was unconscionable. Does she really think this way? I hope my mom can gain some real insight as she loses her physical sight.

Whether they were attractive by society’s standards is not the issue. Women should not be abused, period.  Looks have absolutely nothing to do with this.

To me the most beautiful woman in the world is the 64 year old swimmer who after her fifth attempt to swim the channel between Cuba and Florida walked solo onto the beach in Key West with swollen lips and puffy eyes and abrasions on her cheeks and with slurred speech told us to never ever give up, you are never too old to reach your dreams, and it is not a solo sport, it’s a team.  Alongside Diana Nyad I include the three women in Cleveland, Michelle Knight, Georgina DeJesus and Amanda Berry.

Art-A-Day Update and More

gwen partin

Over a month has passed since my last Art-A-Day project post. I have had good response on the Facebook posts. People like, comment, etc. I’m tracking the likes and comments and plan to do a “best of” type of entry at some point – definitely at the end of the year.

As I draw every day, even though it may not seem like it to the outsider, I am exploring ideas for larger work. The sketches I am doing for the Art-A-Day are generally 6×9. These are only part of what I plan to work out in a larger format of up to 30×40 inches.

I have been studying textile design for a number of years and though I have made some work related to this, I have not exhausted my interest. From the library where I work at Dakota County Technical College, they often have book discards. These are…

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Family; the Book of Laughter and Remembering

This blog post was written in July 2011

Just got back from Minnesota, and sadly it is warmer here in normally tepid LA than it was there. Everything feels dull compared to the pretty green landscape and gorgeous blue sky dotted with little white clouds I saw in St Paul and surroundings.  I have re-entered la la land, the land of bland, the city of blah.

It was a fun holiday weekend, filled with all the typical Minnesota good clean fun and quirks I have grown to love. We ate, we drank, we played lawn games, we watched dvds, we played with cats, we got dusted with fireworks cinders.  Much of the agenda is created to please our little niece Ellie, who at nearly thirteen is not so little anymore.  With three doting aunties and her very patient mom Ellie is the only one of the next generation in our family.  Oh the pressure.  As a result of being an only child she is a picky eater and a stickler for rules.  I have a one-up on my windbreaker wearing sisters in that I am a “girly-girl” as Ellie puts it and can coach little miss Ellie in all things hair, nail polish and clothes, clothes, clothes.  She once asked me, “Claire why are you a girly-girl?” “In this family someone’s gotta be it” I answered. I deserve to have this special privelage.  I live 1300 miles away.

Ellie isn’t like the kids in LA.  She is more innocent. Less sarcastic.  More interested in what’s going on among her friends than Hollywood, although she was vaguely interested to know that I actually know Nikki Reed from the Twilight series.  Ellie lost interest when I mentioned Nikki was engaged to someone she hadn’t heard of, namely Paul with the Rod Stewart like voice and cute smile from American Idol.  I think she just wanted to polish her nails and watch High School Musical with me which is what we ended up doing. We watched all three!

I was surprised when on our little sojourn to the Fraconia sculpture park that Ellies’ sullenness wasn’t due to being away from her friends and stuck with her aunties in a car on a holiday weekend.  “What’s wrong Ellie?”  I asked. She surprised me with, “We should be interacting!  We should be connecting!  Instead we are walking around looking at these big art pieces.”  WOW.  She actually wanted to interact with us!  What to do?  It took me a while to really get it.  First I told her “Oh hey I know the drive was a drag but we’re e going to a fun dinner tonight…”

What she was asking for was interaction.  NOW.

We climbed atop the giant skin segment wart installation. I ventured to give her what she wanted.  “Okay.  So you want interaction.  We’ll ask each other questions!  I’ll start first.  This is an easy one.  What’s your name?”


“Your full name.  And what does it mean to you?”


“Ellie Raine Martinson”

“I like your middle name”


“How do you spell it?


“That’s cool.  Another question.  If you could be any other name than your own what would it be?”

“I like Raine.”

“That is a pretty name.  Are you thinking maybe you will switch to it in college when you need to break away from your childhood identity?”

She pondered that for a bit.  She didn’t answer but maybe five years from now we will all be calling her Raine.  She spoke.

“My turn; what’s your name?”

“Claire Louise Partin”

“Louise?  I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah – it’s my mom’s middle name too.  Grandma Martha’s middle name.”

“Neat.  Okay more questions.”

And so I created a monster.  We all asked each other questions the whole ride home and I found out about my sisters’ favorite teachers, Ellie’s favorite foods, places my sisters wanted to live, and dreams of careers we wished we would have pursued.  We remembered things we’d forgotten about our childhood, we laughed, and we gave Ellie some fun new knowledge about her family. Ah youth.  Thank you Ellie for expressing your concern.

I can’t wait to go back to Minnesota and play the question game again.

Quilt Guilt

by Claire Partin on Monday, September 27, 2010 from facebook

I have a confession to make. I beat my mom.  I have been doing it for years.  I do feel a little guilty about it, but figure it’s okay because she used to beat me.  Now before you go calling the authorities I should clarify.  I beat my mom at scrabble, dominoes, and now online with words with friends.   She was the master but now she is getting older and having sight issues and let’s face it meanwhile I have gotten better knowing the weird quirky words like “io” and “qat.”  I learned them from her. These are words my mom spent years learning playing the sunday crossword puzzle.  She does it in INK!  Such a smart cookie.  But now the tables are turning and she rarely beats me anymore.

When I pathetically bragged about this on facebook my sister Melissa made me promise not to beat my mom on her birthday. Thankfully I had already beat her the day before and we had started another game.

I went to take my mom for a belated birthday lunch yesterday and we played dominoes and yes, I won.  I told her,  “I don’t like beating you, I just really like winning.”  I think she still battles her motherly instinct to let her child win.  But she now resists her impulse to help me and has become a little more of a ruthless strategist.  And its fun to play with her.  A great way to be together without getting into any sort of deep conversation.  If we want a real conversation we need to stop playing and go sit on the couch, which we will occasionally do, maybe twice a year.  It works for us.  It’s the Partin Way.

At the beginning of the year I was taking a meditation class and learning how to ask for what I really want, and I wanted a red and purple quilt, a bigger version of one my mom had made and was giving to a friend.  The back story on this is this particular friend also got some chairs I really wanted from my childhood and also got some of my mom’s best quilts.  I was never very good at asking my mom for things, and when i would i wouldn’t get them.  So asking for this quilt was kind of a big deal for me.  My mom said the fabrics were no longer available and gave me a guilt trip that i did in fact have some of her best quilts.  My feeling is my sister with the kid (Melissa) is the one always getting a new quilt from my mom.  So I asked for what I wanted.

Melissa (maybe from her own guilt?) offered to help my mom find the fabrics online after I told her the story.  She validated me saying I should get that.  The meditation classes were working!  I was learning to express my desires not only to my mom but to my sister and was being heard!  My mom made the quilt!

BUT she loved it so much she wanted to keep it for herself.  Damn!  And not only that she told me this on MY birthday and then went on to say I need to lose weight because it shows up in my face!  Jeez!  Can’t I ever get what I want?  And why can’t I be complimented at least on my birthday!? This was turning into a guilt quilt and I didn’t like it, not one bit.

I think I may have complained, yet again, to another sister and here is the solution to all this.  My mom made another version of the quilt for herself.  But I still don’t have it because she needs it for an example.  She’s dangling it front of me like  a carrot!  No, it’s sweet really.  I’m not sure what the real lesson is here.  Maybe I will know once I actually have that quilt in my hot little hands.  It really is beautiful!

My mother, though losing her sight from macular degeneration, is like Monet in his later years doing her best work ever, and it all comes from love.  I know she really loves making them.  She loves fabric and color and design and working with her hands. She also expressed to me she loves that people have her quilts to wrap around themselves.   It is like she is hugging each and everyone of us when we use them. She has also made many baby quilts and loves that she is part of their young lives.  Lucky kids!  Lucky us!

Relationships are like quilts, with many fabrics and patterns and textures.  If you’re lucky they turn out beautifully designed like my mom’s quilts.  I love my mom and feel like our relationship is still developing, perhaps waiting for the border or backing, but a creation in progress like a quilt or painting.  I still won’t let her win at scrabble, but she will always be the master designer and artist.  I can only wish to be like her and get better and better at what I choose to create.

And if I am lucky enough someday when I am 79 some younger lady will be beating me at scrabble or dominoes, and not feeling guilty about it.

Mid-century Modern; Addiction or Psychological Affliction?

by Claire Partin on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 from facebook

They say that some of us get stuck somewhere in our childhood, that this is where we go emotionally when things get tough. I don’t know if I am emotionally a five year old, but this is definitely where my design aesthetic is stuck. Back when my parents were still together, back before I knew about pain or separation or what it meant to be an outsider, my parents bought a super cool 60’s house in the Eichler Tract of Orange, CA when my father, Robert, (everyone called him Bob) got a job teaching art at Cal State Fullerton. He was a hip young artist, his large canvases informed by his years in New York at Columbia when artists such as Rothko, Frank Stella, Jasper Johns and Warhol were emerging prominently on the scene. My mother, Martha, was a stylish Vassar educated woman who graduated at the top of her class at Parsons School of Design in New York City. And though my parents were probably both in New York at the same time they did not meet until my mother moved to Los Angeles to be a young designer for Lanz. Rumor has it my dad was first attracted to my aunt Molly at the party set up for young adults associated with the University of Kentucky; That’s where my Grandpa Ted (Martha’s dad) ran the Art Department and my dad had taught for one summer. But since my dad was shy, my mother was definitiely more his speed than charismatic aunt Molly. When my parents met they were two adorably shy, gorgeous, thin and stylish young adults in California. (When My Grandpa Ted and my Grandma Doris met they were two gorgeous stylish young adults at the Art Institute in Chicago – I see a pattern forming.)

On their first date my dad took my mom to Zuma Beach to see the Pacific Ocean. Imagine her joy at coming over the hill to see the long stretch of beach and the impressive blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean! She said she had never seen it, though she had, but certainly not like this. They collected pebbles on the beach. They were in love. They got married. From what I can tell from the photos it was a very sweet wedding except that my dad insisted she have blue roses and the dye got all over Martha’s hands. Still Martha was gorgeous in the fifties gown she designed, and daddy was devilishly handsome in his white tux. I think it was white.

My parents moved to North Carolina where my father got a position teaching art at North Carolina Greensboro, and one after another all three of my sisters and me were born in Moses Cone Hospital. Then my dad got a better position at Cal State Fullerton and off we went. California was so very dramatic in those first few years. I was only 3 1/2 when we first got there. I got very sick and was hospitalized before we left, and my younger sister Melissa was with a high fever when we moved out. What with sisters in and out of the hospital getting tonsils out, getting stitches for hitting our heads (usually me), not to mention floods and fires and Santa Ana winds, it was very dramatic being here in Southern California. Not only that as I recently learned the people who brought my father to the art department at Fullerton had a falling out with the department and he was left without a political foothold in the department.

And then there was a big earthquake, literally, a really big one. My bed slid across the room. Daddy said he was in the kitchen and felt like he was surfing. I have never been too much afraid after that of earthquakes; nothing has been that bad since in my experience, not even the Northridge one. So if you are ever freaking out during an earthquake just know that maybe I am the one who will be cool enough to check the gas line.

Ironically not long after that quake my parents separated and eventually divorced. The day my mother sat us down at the table to tell us they were getting divorced is a story for another day, and it’s pretty interesting in terms of mine and my sister’s reactions and how we all turned out. I used to perform a monologue I wrote about that day called “Divorce.” It is so very common now, but it wasn’t so much back then.

But before all that turmoil my parents were supposedly happy together, and we kids loved playing tiger with daddy (daddy on all fours, one kid on each leg, one on his back, one hanging from his stomach) in the hip orange rug living room of our modern house with the gorgeous tall windows and white painted fireplace. After you got out of the station wagon parked in the cool carport you opened the turquoise front door with the exaggerated large knob to an atrium where I bounced around on my blue hippity-hop. Sliding glass doors opened to a pebble walkway that looked like a river bed. We even had burlap covered closet doors. Outside, lining the front of the house, fun banana leaf and bird of paradise plants to run behind and a fairy ring of pink geraniums. Inside, beamed wooden ceilings and sleek Danish Modern sideboards and living room tables and chairs and lots of light. Daddy would come home from his studio in the Orange Circle off Chapman in his paint bespeckled coveralls and kiss our mommy. We were happy. Is it no wonder this is where my design aesthetic is stuck?

And don’t think this was the stuffy heavy Hollywood Regency coolness like you see on Mad Men with all the fake gold and big heavy ceramic ashtrays for smoking. Sure they smoked but they quit when I was seven and everyone grew two inches. My parents were hip and colorful and streamlined; think Marrimekko. They both had fair skin and dark brown hair. They made a beautiful couple. My dad wore these soft velour striped sweatshirts in blue and green and drove a light blue VW bug. He had a soft elegance about him, a quiet American earnestness. My mom made these bright bold patterned sleeveless dresses she called jumpers, and had her thick brown hair piled in a big bun on her head, and when my parents had dinner parties she would laugh and laugh through her bright red lipstick. I thought my mom was the coolest woman to walk the earth. She wore pantyhose. She was slim from her days as a dancer. My dad was handsome and funny. I learned later he was shy and reserved around strangers. And sometimes he would get mad. But to me he was silly and warm and fun, especially when we played tigers or went to the park to play on the swings.

I once asked my mom if she missed fashion design once she got married. She said she didn’t have time to think raising four girls. Besides which she was very creative making all our clothes and matching clothes for our dolls. Apparently my dad told her when they got married there would only be one artist in the family. “How could you let him say that to you?” I asked. Martha shrugged and said, “It was the fifties.” Wow.

But the time I am idolizing in my brain was when my parents were still together and I thought it would be like that forever. And it’s no wonder I find the 70’s aesthetic to be a little sleazy and uncomfortable. Oh sure now I can appreciate the kitschiness of a smoky plastic dining room set or a hang ten tee shirt or a hooked rug you hang on the wall or a torn boot clay planter, not to mention macrame. But at the time I cringed at the brown plaid couch we had in our rented townhouse that my mom got while she was selling our gorgeous wood paneled, high ceilinged, beautiful Eichler Tract home. I hated our Avocado fridge even though the Brady Bunch had one kind of like it. It took me a long time to wear brown and I still shy away from earth tones.

Case in point my current couch is a sectional in bright pink. Super kicky and bright. Maybe this is a combination of 60’s and 80’s. The eighties were when I came into my own as a young adult. I bought clothes at thrift stores and developed my own style. I wore stretch black denim skinny jeans (back in style!) with a long, cut-out neckline bright pink sweatshirt, and scarves; lots of scarves. I stopped being the girl from Orange County (who I never really was anyway) and embraced the midwest.

I have been back in California for many years. I love it here. But I don’t think I could ever live in Orange County again, despite the nice wide streets and ample parking they have there. No, I like LA and all it’s ethnic diversity. But it doesn’t mean I will ever give up my love for 60’s mod and mid century modern. No way. I guess to me it represents the new happy. It signifies a new life, the sense of possibility California presented to me and my family when we first moved here. And there is nothing wrong in staying stuck in that design bubble, so long as I mix it up with something new and keep it fresh, so long as I am aware of what I like and am not just drawn to it out of comfort. I have learned a lot about mid century design since then. Who knew the Eichler tract would turn out to be so revolutionary and famous? I didn’t. As a child it wasn’t design, it was home. Nothing wrong with going back home.