Getting Real With Artist, James McLeod

Getting Real With Artist, James McLeod

 

I met artist James McLeod at a friends card party, and right away his mix of New York savvy and N. Carolina (southern) charm intrigued me. However, being somewhat shy of new people (yes it’s true) I was not being much of a conversationalist. Thankfully, the gal sitting on the other side of him was not shy. She, like him, was an artist and they struck up a conversation that eventually lead to James pulling out his cell phone to share pictures of his work. I was amazed, and hooked. His life-like sculptures looked ready to leap out of his phone!

I contacted him a few days after the party and thankfully, he agreed to speak with me. We enjoyed a chat at a local coffee shop, and the more I learned about him the more impressed I became. Down-to-Earth, warm, and funny, James McLeod is as wonderful a person as he is an artist. Keep reading to learn more about this incredible multi-media artist / Renaissance man.

SnS: Hello James and welcome to TheSquidandSquirrel. I understand that you are not from the PNW. How did you come to call Spokane home?

James: Well, I actually grew up in New York, but a few years ago I injured and re-injured my back and couldn’t walk or work for about a year. I lost everything, but I had corrective surgery and once I got back on my feet I had to start all over. So I had a cousin living here in Spokane. He said, “Yeah, this place is great. Why don’t you come check it out?” I told him I was at the end of my budget so if I came I’d have to make it work. I showed up with $400 and a suitcase. That was five years ago.

SnS: Wow, brave! What or who got you started creating art?

James: I’ve always been an artist. When I was four years old I made my first sculpture out of pipe cleaners. I made the big bad wolf. I can remember it like it was yesterday. He had legs and arms and feet, green pants and red suspenders. He was lighter around his mouth and his tail was extra fuzzy. I’ve been creating ever since.

Also, growing up in NY I spent a lot of time in museums and if you go to Manhattan a lot of the buildings are very sculptural. They have a lot of lions and people and muscles and all that kind of thing. I was forced to go to Broadway and off-Broadway plays and every class trip was to a museum, or something to that effect. So I was inundated with fine art, and that level of exposure had an effect on me.

SnS:. Cool. What is your favorite medium?

James: As far as medium, clay sculpture has been my thing for a long time. Now that I’m going to school I’m getting opened up to a lot of different things. Before this I was self-taught, through observing life, and other sculptures. Now I’ve dabbled in acrylic painting, and I’m not sure what to call the style. It wasn’t realistic in any way shape or form, but you knew it was human. You could identify what it was, but it was very folky, so I put it down. That’s not good enough for me.

SnS: You’re a perfectionist at heart.

James: Yes. My goal for my artwork is that when you see it, it should have a life. If it’s a thing, it should look like it’s going to get up and walk away, or at the very least you should see it thinking. That’s my goal when I’m creating anything.

I’m really getting into oil paint now. I took an oil painting class and found I have a gift for it. That’s the biggest thing about school to me right now. I’m being exposed to all sorts of things I hadn’t done before. I’m getting just enough instruction to take it and run with it, and I have plans to do a series of politically influenced works dealing with various aspects of activism. In school I’ve kept my subjects fairly sedate so that I don’t ruffle any feathers, but I’ve been told to take my hands off the wheel and run! So that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve also gotten involved  in bronze. 

SnS: Yeah, that piece you brought is amazing! (See picture below)

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Untitled

James: Thank you. I’ve always wanted to do bronze because when I was little we couldn’t have pets. So I would make my pets out of clay, and they would live and have babies, and little stories attached to them in my imagination. But my brother would come and pull out my clay tray, take them out and chop their heads off. So when I came back to play with them, I would find them mutilated. So I thought, “Well, if they were in metal he couldn’t do that!”

I’ve always wanted to work with metal and the piece I showed you was my first bronze. I’d like to do much bigger pieces but with what’s available to me right now, in terms of tools and kilns I can’t go too big. I would love to have a kiln the size of this building and make pieces that big. So that’s a goal.

I’ve also done a little 3D design, but it’s not really my thing. My focus is the imitation / replication of life. Not just the angles, but also the feeling of it. I’ve seen people who are technically perfect who could sculpt you perfectly, down to the eyelash, but you know it’s a statue. There’s no life in it. So I try to incorporate both perfection and life. Sometimes I make things a little bit stylized to give life to it because nothing in life is perfect. Sometimes when you cartoon it a little or give it an imperfection it makes it more lifelike. That’s the only departure from realism that I’ll do.

SnS: Have you had a mentor?

James: That’s hard to say. Yes and no. There have been people along the way that have fed into my box of tools. But I’ve never had a “mentor”.

Tybre Newcomer has been helpful and was instrumental into getting me the position in the sculpture studio as the tech. I get to help the students, which is a big opportunity for me because it helps me to hone my skills. It’s also made me more patient in terms of their learning process. No matter the skill level, whether a Picasso or Joe Blow from around the corner, if you put effort into it I’m ecstatic and I can show you how make it look like what you want to see. When you articulate to me what you want to see I can help you get that regardless of your skill level.

There was also a lady, Maryanne, in Colorado Springs, CO who gave me my first sculpting job back in 1996. In her studio I made animals, because she wasn’t good at that. So I made buffalo, chipmunks, and wolves. I also made generic people in proportion so that she could then take them and make cowboys or Natives to fit her Southwestern theme.

SnS: Some artists have a creative ritual, like listening to music, going for a walk, or rearranging their studio before they can work. Do you have a ritual that helps your creative juices flow?

James: Do you see this thing right here? *He holds up an Iphone with ear buds attached* That’s what I do. I listen to music, tune everyone out and I just work and listen. Listen and work. Dance a little bit.

SnS: So who do you listen to?

James: Oh Lord, I have a big playlist. I listen to a little dance hall reggae, soul music, and jazz. My favorite singer in the world is this lady named Ledisi, I’ve been following her since she was a regular person. She had been singing at the Blue Note in the Village in NY, and after I left NY I’d still go up there to get autographed CDs and now she’s really famous. But I love her. There’s nothing she can’t do vocally. From the highest high to the lowest low. She’s phenomenal. But yeah, so mainly I listen to soul, jazz, a little bit of Journey.

SnS: You just won something in school. Tell me about that.

James: Yeah, so excited!  There are 2 classes you have to take before you graduate as an Art major. One is Portfolio, where you take your ten best pieces, write a bio for yourself, do a resume, get a professional photograph of yourself, and do a Power Point presentation. Then every art professor gets in a semi-circle around you and your work and they critique you. They are very to the point. They don’t try to make nice, so none of that “Oh he’s sort of frail emotionally”. Oh no. So I got a lot of good feedback and it was a unanimous decision from all the teachers. Of course, they told me that they didn’t like the orange I used. But I like orange. I don’t care what they’re talking about. The orange is sort of an invitation into my world. It’s telling you that I’m in there and I’ve got more for you to see, so I won’t listen to that one. Still, I won Portfolio and a $250 scholarship. 

SnS: Congratulations! Are you going to display the ten pieces you made?

James: I’d love to, but I need to get ready for (SFCC) Exhibit, so I’m hoping to be able to make more things, better things for that particular show. Right now though, I only have 2, 3, or 4 of a lot of different mediums. I’d like to create a more cohesive group of items that have some type of theme before I show. I don’t want to have a Dollar Tree sort of show.

SnS: Understandable. So, what are you plans after school?

James: I would love to open an art school minus the art history. To me that’s a waste of time. Those people (famous artists in history) are glorified and seen with rose-colored glasses, when usually they are insane, on drugs, or whatever but we’re taught to think they were these awesome people. My only interest in them are their techniques. So the school I want to open up would solely be techniques, techniques, techniques and things of that nature. A place where you could use your own vision, and not be influenced by somebody from 1717. You have your own mind, your own thought process and my goal is to give you the tools to bring out whatever it is in you, that you want to portray to the world. Whatever that may be. I’m not here to indoctrinate anyone in anything, I’m here to give you whatever you need to bring forth what you want the world to see.

SnS: Do you have a favorite artist or two? Someone whose work inspires you.

James: Duane Hanson. I saw his work in my Modern Art class. It was so cool because it was like very realistic. Not only realistic, it had LIFE. Like when you look at his pieces you couldn’t tell that they were not living people.

SnS: Very cool. Where else do you find inspiration? (Nature? Books? A double espresso?)

James: I love going outside, which I haven’t done a lot of since I got to Spokane. I’ve been too busy with school and trying to keep my head above water. But growing up, we’d go visit my grandfather’s farm out in N. Carolina during the summer. I loved it all: the trees, the chickens, the dogs, the cows. I like to get out to the woods.

SnS: If you could travel anywhere for art inspiration, where would you go?

James: I don’t know. Hmmmm. I love the sculptures in Greece and Rome. I love the realism in them even though some, like the David were sculpted to be a little proportionally off. That’s because they were meant to be viewed from a lower position, forcing you to look up. So I understand that. I’d also love to travel to Central America to see the Olmec sculptures.

SnS: Okay, what if you could travel through space or time? Where would you go then?

James: Well, this will sound cuckoo crazy and weird but it’s true. There’s this civilization called the Muu civilization that pre-dates all of what we call factual history. I would love to see that. See these people, see what they did, and how they did it. Half of their civilization is under water, and it’s like giant monolithic structures. So I wonder, who were these people? If they had the skill to make that level of structures, then I bet their sculptures were even more wonderful.

SnS: Anything you want people to know?

James: I’m currently accepting commissions for portraits or sculptures. I’ve done a lot of personal commission work here. Mostly dogs, and I love dogs so that’s not a bad thing. I just need a picture of the head, from the side and top, and the front, and a view of the body and I’ll make it just like it is. I prefer to experience the dog in real life, to understand its personality so I know who he / she is so I can build that in too.

SnS: Excellent. Thank you for sharing your time and talent, James.

If you would like to contact James McLeod you can reach him at – 

jdbonthego1@gmail.com.

 

 

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Me. . .

When I noticed today’s date and realized I didn’t have an artist or author lined up for this month. Again.

It’s true. Time really does fly when you are having fun, but also when you are preparing to publish your first novel. That’s right. I said it. I’m close to publishing the first novel in a series, and I’m freaking out.

Sure (beyond the GIF) in real life I look calm, perhaps a tad comatose, slug-like even but appearances aside, I’ve been busy editing (and freaking). Happily so.

My editors are a joy to work with. They’ve put up with me and my weirdness and made my book so much better! Which frankly is a miracle for which they should both achieve sainthood, or at least get a thank you in the acknowledgments and definitely a hug.

That said, I’m just going to beg off on this month’s interview (yes I know, “again”) and get this book business put to bed. Oh and believe me, when it becomes available online you will hear about it. Until then. . .

Stay tuned friends, art lovers, and Urban Fantasy bibliophiles and thanks for sticking with me.

loveya

Celebrating World Book Day!

Celebrating World Book Day!

In honor of World Book Day I figured I’d post about some of my favorite authors. When I was a kid, Stan Lee ruled my world, with the singular exception of anything Superman related. But one week of staying in bed with a superior case of chicken pox changed my reading habits forever.

I was bored, itchy, and cranky. My mom, God bless her soul, knew that if she didn’t do something soon I might drive her to drink. So with wisdom and kindness she handed me the complete collection of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. I read them all over the course of 36 hours, and a life time love affair with reading blossomed. A book worm was born!

bookworm.jpgMom’s next gift, the Dune series by Frank Herbert, was an attempt to keep me happy a bit longer. It worked long enough to keep her sane until I went back to school and rediscovered the school library. From then on, if I didn’t have a book in my hand, there was one near by.

Piers Anthony was my go to author for the next few months, then Anne McCaffrey. Anthony’s Xanth series full of adventure, crazy creatures, relatable characters, and corny puns soothed my pre-teen angst. McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern with her strong female characters standing up to social injustice as well as facing down many physical dangers helped get me through those difficult years. I went on to read every series both of these authors had to offer, and there are more than a few.

As I matured, I moved into historical fiction with James Michener,  James Clavell, and Victor Hugo. These three authors had a fabulous grasp on both the physical areas they wrote about and the historical details needed to bring their characters to life.

Michener’s books, usually single word titles based on the name of the area he wrote about (i.e. Hawaii, and Chesapeake) built clear pictures in my mind. They allowed me to travel without leaving my room, taught me a bit of the history and gave me a glimpse into the culture of the area while still telling a great story.

Clavell’s novel ‘Shogun’ was a made-for-TV mini-series before I discovered it. I watched it with my mom. I was young enough to be embarrassed by some of the steamier scenes but not so embarrassed that I didn’t want to read the book. I borrowed it from a friend the next week. My mom borrowed it from me after that. I remember being fascinated by Clavell’s take on Japanese culture, the Samurai, and the idea of ‘face’ or honor.

Victor Hugo’s  Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame transported me through time. They made me more socially aware, helped me reexamine my own motives, and the motives of those in power. Life changing? Yes, and I recommend them highly. These books all prompted me to write, and eventually become an English major in college. I learned about British and American Literature mostly, but later took some classes in Literature from around the world.

Now, many years later and battling chronic illness, I’ve settled into more entertaining reading. Books that take my mind off of the bad days full of aches, pains, and foggy brain. Authors such as Patricia Briggs , Lynsay Sands, and Molly Harper have made me laugh, cry, spit coffee, choke, and occasionally be super grateful for panty liners. Vampires, werewolves, & fae monsters, OH MY! Seriously, their worlds are just too fun.

Finally, there are a group of local authors to whom I owe so much, I’ll never be able to repay them adequately. They helped me get through the process of writing my own book. (The first in a series. It’ll be published soon but I’ll post about that later.) I’ve been honored to be in writers groups with them, and to have interviewed three of them for this blog: D. Andrew McChesney author of the Stone Island Sea Stories , Kate Poitevin  author of the Tir Gaeltacht series, and Sue Eller author of the Emily Trace Mysteries. These three, as well as all those in the Tin Pencil writers group, have helped me get to this point. It’s exciting, unnerving, and amazing to be in such great company. If you get a chance, and want to support these terrific authors, check out their interviews or Google them and pick up a copy of their books. You won’t be sorry.

Happy World Book Day everyone!

 

 

Finding beauty using Art & Science – an interview with Photographer, Jerry Mudge.

Finding beauty using Art & Science – an interview with Photographer, Jerry Mudge.

Part Artist, part Scientist, Jerry Mudge says beauty can be found everywhere, and he’s got the photos to prove it.

His photographs first caught my eye when I wandered into local art gallery, Avenue West. A brightly colored photo of something I couldn’t identify, something glossy and oddly geometric despite the randomness of shapes and colors, drew me across the space. I’d never seen anything quite like it, and I wanted to know more about the artist. Lucky for me, when I inquired at the register, the person manning the station was Jerry himself. He showed me more of his photos, explained a bit of how he captured the images – using skills that ranged from traditional to experimental – and I was hooked. 

Keep reading to learn more about the creative photography of Jerry Mudge.

SnS: Hello Jerry, thanks for interviewing with me. I’ve admired your work for a while. Now I’d like to learn more about you, the artist. Please tell us (my readers and I) where you are from.

Jerry: Glad to be here, and that you like my work. I was born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. My family homesteaded the Wolf Lodge area, just east of CDA, so my roots are dep in the area. I moved to the Spokane Valley about 14 years ago. I was getting ready to retire from Kaiser Aluminum, and Sandy (my wife) had a few years left to work in Spokane, so we purchased a home in Spokane Valley.

SnS: What did you do at the aluminum plant, and how long were you there?

Jerry: I was there for 31 years and I did everything from driving fork truck to making Safety videos and posters. We called them Impact posters because they were fairly graphic, but they got the message across. I retired as a Supervisor.

SnS: Wow, so even at an aluminum foundry you still got to be somewhat artistic?

Jerry: Somewhat, yes. We did all our own filming and editing. I got to use the company’s cameras and video equipment, and even got to drop an ingot onto a Jeep for one safety film. Of course when news of the ingot drop got out, everybody came to watch!

SnS: *LOL* I would too! So what got you interested in photography in the first place?

Jerry: In the early seventies, my uncle was getting into photography. I became interested after watching him and bought my first Minolta camera. We worked together on some black and white photos. You know, the kind. We’d take a profile picture of someone’s head then add gears and things to indicate the workings of their brains. We just played with it, and had fun. I went further with photography than he did, though, and as my interest grew, I soon set up my own dark room where I processed and printed my own color, and black and white photos.

As time passed and family became a priority, my love of photography was placed on the back burner but was always there.

SnS: So did you uncle train you in photography?

Jerry: I am 99% self-taught. The only real training I’ve had were a couple of 4 hour afternoons with a professional photographer. I already knew all the technical stuff, but he really helped my composition. 

SnS: How did you learn all the technical stuff?

Jerry: I learned most of it through experimentation and reading. A lot of reading. 

SnS: Is there a moment from your learning process that stands out to you, where something went terribly wrong, or incredibly right?

Jerry: When I first started using digital. When I bought my first digital camera it was like a foreign world to me, because instead of the dark room, you had to use the computer. I was computer literate, but not in the programs for photography. It took me a long time to figure that out. 

I’ve never really had anything go amazingly wrong, but I’ve had EUREKA moments with certain pictures like “Flowering Beauty” and “Fire & Ice”. 

SnS: Okay, well now I have to ask. What is that blue stuff in “Flowering Beauty”?

Jerry: *Smiling widely* Table cream and food coloring. The flower was submerged too. There was a lot of experimentation to get that shot.

SnS: That’s amazing!  So what’s “Fire & Ice” made out of? I haven’t been able to figure that one out.

Jerry: Ferrofluid. That’s a black, magnetic fluid that looks like oil. It’s one of the messiest things you’ll ever come across. You put a magnet next to it and it creates these forms. That’s the geeky part. I really like using science to base, and get cool photos from. You don’t see photos of this stuff very often, but I love it. 

SnS: You sound like a bit of a creative scientist, Jerry. I’m picturing your photography space full of beakers and Bunsen burners.

Jerry: Well, uh, no. But truth be told, there’s a card table in my basement. It’s all finished down there, so I have to put a big tarp down or I’d be in a lot of trouble if I messed up the carpet. 

SnS: *LOL* So how did you come up with the idea for those shots?

Jerry: Well, I saw the ferrofluid on a TED Talk. The flowers were my own idea.

SnS: Excellent! So do you use lots of different cameras for certain shots?

Jerry: I only use one camera, but I do use specialized lenses for different types of images (i.e. macro, landscape, etc.).

SnS: Do you enhance your photos on the computer?

Jerry: I’ve done a few, but for the most part, I don’t manipulate a lot. Generally, I may sharpen, increase contrast, or enhance color if needed. Occasionally I use HDR (High Dynamic Range) to capture fine detail and to lighten shadows. I try to keep HDR looking natural though, and not over processed.

SnS: So is photography your job or your hobby?

Jerry: It’s a hobby to me. I do it in my retirement. I enjoy pushing myself to learn new techniques and processes while capturing the beauty around us.

SnS: So if you could travel anywhere in time or space for your photography, where would you go?

Jerry: Although I am a sci-fi geek and also like to travel, I don’t need to go far to find amazing things to shoot with my lens. From the largest landscape to everyday things that we take for granted. For example, take a couple of forks from the kitchen, light them at an angle on white paper, and you can come up with great shots. A drop of water on a blade of grass, the colors in a soap bubble. Beauty is everywhere, you just have to look around and you’ll find it no matter where you are on the planet. 

SnS: Okay, so do you have a photographer you admire, or a favorite photo that inspires you?

Jerry: My favorite photograph is of an Afghan refugee girl taken by Steve McCurry and published on the cover of National Geographic magazine in June, 1985. The way the photographer has captured her intensity has always stuck with me.

SnS: That is a memorable photo. Beyond photography, do you have any other hobbies?

Jerry: I do woodworking. I create handmade boxes, bud vases, and candle holders. My wife upcycles furniture, so I get to help her with that too. 

When I retired, I got into remote controlled airplanes and I competed in large scale aerobatics all over the Western US & Canada. I flew really big stuff, with ten foot wing spans, and I built them all from scratch. When I got older and couldn’t see as well, I couldn’t compete as well against the younger folks, so I got out of that and got back into photography. That was around 2006 or 2007. 

SnS: What got you into woodworking?

Jerry: I just wanted to do it. I saw some band saw boxes, they interested me, so I went out and bought a band saw and started making them. I’ve always worked with my hands. I enjoy it, and I like to do things that are different. My band saw boxes aren’t shaped like normal boxes, they are all different and you can’t find things like them in regular stores.

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SnS: No you can’t. They are really neat! So how did you land here at Avenue West Gallery ?

Jerry: I did a brief stint in another gallery for a while, but wasn’t happy with how it was going. I took my items back and didn’t show for a year because I had to work up the guts. I didn’t think my work was good enough. Eventually I heard there were openings here, and I already knew someone who had their art here. I was nervous because this is a juried gallery, but here I am.

SnS: Yes you are, and that’s great! If you were to give advice or encouragement to other artists afraid to put their work out there, what would you say?

Jerry: Just do it. Just try to get through that fear because it’s very rewarding when somebody likes your work. Not everybody is going to like it, and you’ve got to be prepared for that, but it’s still very rewarding. Especially when you sell something. It’s just like, HEY look at that! 

Also, one thing is that I strive to be a little different than anybody else. The thing to remember is that you might have a hundred artists all looking at the same thing (painting or photographing it), but every one of their interpretations is going to look different, and be unique. That makes it worthwhile. 

SnS: Good advice. Thank you, Jerry. Now where can our readers find and enjoy your incredible works?

Jerry: I currently have photos on display and to purchase at Avenue West Gallery – 907 W. Boone Ave. in Spokane, WA. I also have photos to view on 500px  My photos are available in many sizes and mediums; canvas, metal, paper, etc. and I may be contacted at JerryMphotography@comcast.net. 

 

 

Fizzle or Sizzle, blogging is therapeutic.

Hello Gentlereaders, (yes I squashed those words together, leave hate comments below) I am posting this to let you know that I have not given up. Despite missing a post here and there recently, I’m still kicking this pig.

Explain

When I started this blog, I wasn’t certain which direction to take it in. I mean, I LOVE to write, but I couldn’t make an instant decision. Should I write book reviews? I certainly read enough, and I definitely have opinions about what I read. Should I review films? That idea was short-lived as I can’t afford to hit our new and improved theaters every day at $12.00 a pop + whatever insane amount they charge for a bottle of water. I still have kids living at home. Kids who enjoy eating occasionally. 😉

Dickens

So here I was, stewing over what I wanted to blog about when it hit me. My town is having somewhat of an Art renaissance right now, and I seem to be surrounded by both Artists and Authors. Aha! A stroke of genius, right? It’s a good thing I didn’t *facepalm* when that lightbulb lit over my head. I might still have scars. With my blog focus finally set, I gassed this vehicle up, took it for a spin, and enjoyed every minute of it. **There’s the SIZZLE!**

Recently though, someone (very kindly) told me that even though they enjoy TheSquidandSquirrel, they wonder why – as I’m also working on a novel and doing a bit of freelancing – I bother to blog at all. That question took me aback for a moment. I mean, I know why I like (LOVE) to write, but why saddle myself with a blog that requires monthly maintenance? I told them I’d have to get back to them on that one. After pondering for a bit, I’d like to finally answer that question. **I hope they read this!**

fingerscrossed

I write this blog because it helps me to be accountable to the blessings I’ve been handed. Unable to work the average full or part-time gig due to disability **That’s the FIZZLE**, this endeavor (despite missing a few posts) helps keep me moving. It keeps me focused on staying connected with people. It allows me to get out of my house, work at my own pace, and meet new and interesting people. People with incredible talent that needs to be shared with the world.

It also (hopefully) brightens somebodies day occasionally. Maybe lifts a spirit of someone out there – either by the gorgeous art, or by learning that they are not so unlike some of the amazing folks I’ve interviewed. At it’s heart it is a labor of love. Love of writing, love or art, love of books and authors and people in general.

Hugsloth

It is also a kind of social therapy for me. Many folks with chronic conditions like mine, tend to become social hermits. As their condition progresses, their world becomes smaller. I’ve seen it happen, and I refuse to go down without a fight. My blog and the people it allows me to meet, learn from, and befriend, helps me not to disappear beneath the lead blanket of health issues. It helps me to hone my skills as a writer, and as a person. It has helped broaden my mind, and open my heart. This little experiment of a blog, has been a complete blessing to me, and I hope at least a small one to you all.

That said, if you’ve read this far, congratulations on your tenacity. And thank you for sticking with me. I won’t go into the gory details of what’s derailed this month’s post, but suffice it to say I am back on the trail of yet another fun and interesting interview. So check back next month and thanks again!

Live long and prosper! (No, that isn’t a *hint*)

Livelongspock   MJ