Spotlight: Dorothy Mitchell (LaVonne)

By Nancy Polanski (nap) on February 28, 2011

Our interview this week is with Dorothy Mitchell, who owns several cubits and a store which sells painted gourds, jams, jellies and handmade crafts. She has tried her hand at the widest variety of crafts I've ever seen, and she has some wild stories to tell of rock hunting expeditions in the desert. Let's meet LaVonne.

 Dorothy Mitchell and her sister Mary (Marti) live in Somerset, Kentucky. Today our interview centers around Dorothy who you may know by her Cubits name, LaVonne. Dorothy recently took over the All About Gourds cubit when its owner could no longer manage it, and she also owns two other cubits. When I asked her if she had a memorable childhood, she began by explaining a little bit about her earliest years.

Dorothy: I was born on the Summer Solstice in 1945. My given name is Dorothy La Vonne. On that day in history, Japanese troops were defeated on the Pacific island of Okinawa after one of the longest and bloodiest battles of World War II. Having seized the Ryukyu Islands from Japanese control, the United States next prepared to launch an onslaught against the Japanese mainland. Dad was in the Army stationed in Santa Maria.

When he was discharged, he moved our little family to Fontana, California, where we lived on five acres of land. It was planted in citrus trees. Mom raised rabbits and Dad drove for Swift & Co. As time went by my sister, Mary, joined the family and when she was about six months old dad moved us to Provo, Utah. There my two younger sisters were born. That made four of us girls. Dad was over powered, surrounded. We lived there until 1952, when mother had had enough of life there and insisted we move back to California.

My childhood was relatively quiet and I was happy. I can remember things in flashbacks, bits and pieces. My summers were most memorable. We went camping for the whole summer; we hiked, ran barefoot and half naked, swam in the creek, made pools so we could have deeper water. For those few weeks my sisters and I were little hellions. I remember one time we were all sitting around the wash tub playing cards and drinking Kool Aid. We had dirty faces and disheveled hair, sitting there with just swim suits and panties on. It was on the beginning of a weekend and we knew there would be cars with people coming up the road to camp and we wanted to keep the campground all to ourselves. So when we heard a car coming we took up our bottles of “wine” (these were wine bottles that we had put Kool Aid into) and the show began. We slurred our speech, staggered like we were drunk and really put on a show. Needless to say we had the campground to ourselves the whole weekend.

Nancy: How funny! How old were you for that performance?


Dorothy: Well my baby sister was five or six so that would have made me 12 years old.

I graduated in 1963, turned 18, President Kennedy was assassinated that November and I got a job in a department store. At nineteen I was married and by 1965 expecting my first child and 1966 had my second. I became a single parent in 1971, my mother passed away in 1972 and life again changed for me.

It was at this time that I began to take an interest in crafts. First it was crocheting and knitting, both of which I did miserably at. I was always good at sewing and so began making all my daughters clothes, sewing them by hand. I still have them and they are as good as new. As time went on, I took on larger projects. When my father remarried, the lucky lady asked me to make her gown. After a few mistakes it turned out rather nicely. I took some pride in it when her friends remarked on how it looked.

Nancy: That is phenomenal! You must have been darned good at sewing to tackle such a huge job. Please tell me you have a photo of that dress? How long did it take you to make it? I'm also impressed that she trusted you with something that important to her!

Dorothy: Sorry to say I don't have any pictures. The dress was a light turquoise blue shiny material, with hardly any give to it. The pattern was Empire style with a graduated flare to the skirt. And I added a jeweled decoration to the neckline and sleeves. I've sewn since freshman year in high school, it was one of my courses. And at the end of the year when they passed awards, I was one of the ones who got the "prestigious" Singer Sewing Award.


I had discovered my creative muse and from that point on I engaged in a variety of crafting venues. I learned cake decorating and even taught a class at the local YMCA. I had 10 ladies interested.  

I bought craft magazines and when an idea spoke to me I would undertake to make it. I made wreaths from the pine cones and winter berries I collected, added ribbons and small ornaments and sold them for $25.00 each. I even tried my hand at making stuffed animals, giving them to my local police precinct and fire department for them to give to any children they encountered who needed a friend. I had learned quilting and so made a few for family. I gave them when a new baby joined the family and when a child went off to college.

Then one day I picked up a quilt magazine and they were doing an article on doll size quilts…so I was off again on a new project. I made doll quilts (Barbie size) and put them in a consignment shop. They sold out so fast I could hardly keep up with it. In time the quilts were transformed into sleeping bags for Barbie and Ken. Again I had a hot item. In time, I did a campaign to market these mini quilts as small wall hangings, each one showing different quilt patterns. All were made by hand. While in college I took a class in silversmithing and lost wax casting, entered my pieces in the Pomona County Fair in Calif and came away with blue ribbons. When Mary and I lived in Ventura County we became interested in horticulture and joined the Ventura Rose Society, showed flower arrangements and won blue ribbons, best of show and other mentionable awards. There are other instances of my life that are memorable but that would make this a very long article. Over the years, I learned to do cross stitch, embroidery, work with wood, clay and paint gourds (for this I have to thank my sister, Mary) paint rocks, make jewelry, crochet and knit. Now that arthritis interferes with some of my crafting, I have had to put it on the shelf. See what I mean? New thoughts just keep popping out, the more I sit here.

Nancy: I would so very much love to see samples of your handiwork. Please, please tell me you have photos! Will you be adding any of these crafted items to your store in the future?

Dorothy: At the time I didn't see the value of taking or keeping any pictures of the things I made. Mary does have some of the arrangements we won awards for but unfortunately she has them in storage in California at her son's home. She will bring them back w2011-02-27/nap/25ce98hen she goes to visit in April. In time I will add some things to my store, like the mini quilt wall hangings, and stuffed animals, soft dolls and a few others.

Nancy: Oh I'm so sorry we can't show photos of your handiwork here. But let's get back to your interview, Dorothy. I understand you're a nurse.

Dorothy: I went back to college in 1982, got Associates Degrees in Behavioral Science, Human Services with an emphasis on Alcohol and Drug Counseling and a Certificate in Nursing (Licensed Vocational Nurse). In 1985, with my certificate in hand, I went to work as a nurse. I worked Long Term Care with the elderly suffering with diminished capacity related to Alzheimer’s or Dementia, Acute Care in the hospital taking care of surgical patients and those stepping down from ICU. I was gifted with the ability to sit with those who were called to the other side. I calmed them, provided them with a sense of well being instead of being afraid to go on. I told them that their loved ones who had gone before them were waiting for them. In one instance I had a little lady tell me that her son and her husband had visited her to tell her she would be with them soon. She had not seen her son since his passing as an infant, yet when he stood with his father in her room he was old enough to talk to her. Shortly after she told me this she closed her eyes, smiled and passed over. The room had a warmth to it, and I actually saw a misty cloud pass from her and rise up through the ceiling. The room was fragrant with her favorite fragrance - French Lilac. Over the years there were other happenings and to tell them would take a book.

Nancy: I have a lot of respect for your nursing career, especially as it relates to dementia patients. I have had a lot of experience as a caregiver and I know it's not only difficult, but rather heart-breaking. How long were you involved with nursing?

Dorothy: I was a nurse for 13 years before my health got in the way. Working with the elderly with all their problems is very stressful and yes, heartbreaking. I had family members to deal with, console and encourage. Then my dear little patients..ahhh, I sat with them many a night when their time came to cross over. I could probably right a book about those experiences.

In 1997 I retired on a medical disability and in January 1999, I left California to live in Kentucky since my daughters and the grandchildren moved here too. When I left, Mary had a job and wanted to stay close to her son and grandson. That was her reason to stay there, even though she found that in order to live in California she had to work two jobs. She also has health problems that had interfered with her ability to do a lot of walking or standing. She had knee surgery and that helped some. In 2008 she couldn't deal with it any more, so she packed up her two cats, got in her car and headed for Kentucky to live with me. She arrived just in time to see me through a serious, life threatening condition that put me in the hospital for ten days. Had she not been here, I probably would have gone into a deep coma and died. Today I am healthy again and glad that she is here.

Mary made some friends at Dave's Garden and then when Dave built Cubits, I became interested in joining. I was satisfied just being a member until they initiated the store idea. I created D&M Enterprises after creating the forum GOURDS, JAMS & JELLIES, HOMEMADE CRAFTS. Then recently there was a request for a forum on Diabetes so I opened a forum for that purpose, LIVING WITH DIABETES. My latest activity was becoming owner of ALL ABOUT GOURDS, as the previous owner needed to step back and concentrate on family. When no one stepped forward, I decided to pick up the “gauntlet” and keep it from being lost.

Marti and I were enjoying last evening reminiscing about events that we enjoyed together in the past. When I was in College and enrolled in the Jewelry class the "bug" bit us and we joined the local Rock Hounding club. We learned to make cabs, and went on field trips on the weekends.2011-02-27/nap/301d0c

I recalled one trip into the Mojave Desert to a quarry where they used to mine Verde Antique which was used as a decorative stone in the interior of buildings like banks and large office buildings. This stone was a combination of yellow to lime green. We were up on this large knoll digging in the dirt and another member and I came across this boulder that must have weighed at least 300 lbs. When we unearthed it, the problem of getting it down to the trucks faced it next. Well I suggested we roll it down; the members thought that was not going to do it....I insisted it would, so we pushed and rolled it over to the "right" spot to start it's journey down the hill. About half way down it stopped, so I crawled down to it and sitting on the ground used my feet and legs started it again on the trip down the hill. It started to really get up steam and headed for the trucks, some of the guys said "Oh no! Its going to hit the truck!" I assured them it would not do that. It started to bounce (at this point I didn't even know if it would miss the trucks or not, but kept my composure) and toward the bottom there was a stand of boulders, our little boulder bounced, struck the top of the largest boulder went over and landed about four feet from the back of my friend's truck. I turned around and said "See, I told you it wouldn't hit the truck" (as I sighed relief).

Over the years we took trips throughout the Southern California Desert Areas for agates, geodes, travertine, opal, petrified wood, petrified palm root, onyx, tigers eye just to name a few, and along the coast we collected surf tumbled glass and moonstone.

In 1982 Marti bought a Chevy Luv 4wd pick-up. We drove it out to the Mojave Desert and into an area that was rich in moss agate and calcite. We had a map of the area that showed trails, and roads and it also listed what type of vehicle was appropriate. We started up this road for 4wd vehicles and as we went it became more difficult to traverse. About halfway up we encountered a section of road that had been washed out, so I got out of the truck and began tossing boulders and dirt into the washout so that our tires on that side would be on the road and not over the side. Marti slowly continued forward and we made it through and continued our climb.

After what seemed like forever we finally reached the top and could see for miles. After a short rest we surveyed the best way to continue down the other side. Deciding on a route, we started over the side and down the hill. Marti was going slowly to make sure there were no surprises. Well, near the bottom we went around this bend and there was our road! Just a large washout that was as soft as beach sand. Well Nap, after much consideration I convinced her to go ahead, and told her how to approach the problem. I told her to start down the hill, angle to the left and then keeping her speed up, go off the drop-off and still not braking, drive out of the washout. Fortunately, she was going fast enough that she cleared a good deal of the way and the tires grabbed solid ground. She drove up onto more solid ground, stopped and I climbed back into the truck and off we went. We were almost to the bottom, just one more hill to go down. We started down the hill and noticed a mobile trailer sitting at the bottom off to the left, with a woman and two little kids in the "yard". We struck up a conversation with the lady and she said, "You come over the mountain?" We said yes. She was amazed because what was listed as a 4wd road on our map was actually a donkey trail! Marti and I looked at each other and began laughing. From then on we "nicknamed" the truck donkey although its real name was Jr.

Nancy: You know, I was going to say how much I would LOVE to go rock and gem hunting with you someday, but after hearing some of your treacherous expeditions, I'm not really so sure I still want to! Do you like to go exploring anywhere else?

Dorothy: I like the outdoors, and used to go backpacking in the California mountains. There I enjoyed the scenery, the animals and the streams. Now today my Doctor has put his foot down and I can't go walking in the woods any longer.


Nancy: Well, Dorothy, it's time to wrap this up. Have you any last thoughts before we close?

Dorothy: It seems that the older I get the more of my interests I lose. I refuse to let it all become part of the past and continue to do all that I can of my crafting.

As usual in life, one has ups and downs, but I have to say that for the most part it has been a good life. I have three daughters who have married and gifted me with nine grandchildren, and three of them have made me a great-grandmother. All my experiences, good and bad, have been the building blocks of who I am today. I still have years to go before I am finished with learning, experiencing and growing into the complete person I was meant to be while on this plane of existence. Even when I pass over, I know it is just another type of journey with new experiences and places to explore. To most, this thought makes little sense but it is what I know, it has been revealed to me as I walk this path.

Nancy: That concludes our interview with Dorothy Mitchell. I'd like to encourage you to leave your comments or questions for LaVonne in the area below. It's been my pleasure to present another Cubits member to you today, and I look forward to seeing who will be in Sharon's Spotlight next week. Please join us then.

Related articles:
biography, crafts, dessert, diabetes, gems, geology, gourds, interview, rocks, spotlight

About Nancy Polanski
I live in Western New York. I'm retired, after working for 30 years in the Microbiology Labs at our county hospital. My time now is spent mostly with the Karen refugee population in Buffalo, advocating for them, teaching, helping and enjoying them. I've twice traveled to their camps in Thailand and experienced their culture. It seems they have taught me more about life than I have taught them.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Enjoyed! RhondasRealm Sep 23, 2012 7:15 PM 1
What a life of adventures Lance Mar 2, 2011 10:54 PM 3
Great interview! Zanymuse Mar 2, 2011 8:43 AM 21

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