Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Manifesto

www.pneumafox.blogspot.com

Even when you try to opt out of the crazy, it finds you.

See, I exempted myself this year from Christmas; the secular consumption fest, that is. We decided on one gift for the kids, one they will love and will use everyday. I diligently sent in my money for the school parties when asked a few months ago. Since we will be out of town, I decided not to decorate, not even a tree, which with a whirling dervish eleven month old would have been a nightmare, anyway. We've made candy, cookies, and tried to build a gingerbread house, which we gave up on and merrily ate the iced walls, instead. We've all been humming carols, some despite ourselves, and the kids have yet to even mention the lack of all things decorative. Except their gratitude for not being sent an elf on the shelf, which they declared creepy. On the contrary, they both sat down at the same time and wrote letters to the teachers to include with the peppermint bark we made. This seemingly small act is akin to a Christmas miracle. For both of my grade-schoolers to sit, willingly and with moderate grumping (the middle child cannot help himself - he is a champion complainer) write a letter?! Amazing. I admit, I was delighted in the smuggest way possible that they might have actually caught on to what I've been trying to get them to understand with my seemingly humbug ways. Ho, ho, ho, hubris...

Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Diwali, or Festivus, or Ramadan, or Solstice, or Kwanzaa, or Jul, or whatever you celebrate has nothing to do with spending money. Not one of these celebrations require anything more than what you are expected to do, as a human being, for one another. Feed each other, comfort each other, be with each other, appreciate the passage of time, remember the dead, celebrate the living, honor your faith, grow your spirit, let go of the darkness and welcome the light. Stress yourself, empty your wallet, and became a general jerk to everyone you encounter for a month, in my limited scholarship, is not decreed in any of the above rule books. Yet, we become disciples to the descent into the crazy every year.

So, friends, as I gather my skirts of idealism around me and try to teach my children to recognize and celebrate what really matters, I wish you a wonderful and safe holiday season. Thank you for taking the time to join me here and I look forward to sharing the joys, difficulties, ups, downs, in, outs, and beauty of another year with you. Cheers!

www.pneumafox.blogspot.com



Friday, November 22, 2013

One Wolf

pneumafox.blogspot.com
Ah, the beguiling pomegranate, beneath all of her allure and grandeur, she is but a tangled mass of hard won - and fleeting - delight. They were on sale and I couldn't resist.

We've been sick, one a week this whole month, another dropping as soon as one gets better. Ugh, the exhaustion! Thankfully, it has felled us all and hopefully the next virus won't be for many months. I did feel well enough to get out to see an old friend, well, that a might be an overly optimistic description of our relationship, but I have an inability to keep enemies. The whole process drains me so I just move on and never see them again or when we reconnect, and I act as if no bad happened, because I've learned it doesn't matter, if it ever did. I've made too many mistakes and unintentionally hurt people along the way to pretend I am better than anybody.

Anyway, this friend, she was a colleague and eventually my employee when I was promoted. We were both going through major stuff in our personal lives when we met, in fact, we do not know each other outside of the parameters of complete crisis and transformation. At the time, she was in the depths of her alcoholism and spiraling downwards quickly while I was emerging from a painful divorce and clawing my way back into the light. There was a middle ground between our paths, one where we recognized the broken bits in the other. There we formed an odd trust and source of comfort. Reminds of Rilke's epistolary advice, "Do not assume that he who seeks to comfort you now, lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life may also have much sadness and difficulty, that remains far beyond yours. Were it otherwise, he would never have been able to find these words."

She finally started AA, but I left the company shortly after, and lost touch with her until she invited me out. We shared a lovely breakfast, chatting and laughing as easily as ever. She was there to honor the program's step of amends. When she read her apology letter to me, recanting all of the instances where she let me down or took advantage of my kindness, all I could think of was, this is the hundredth time you've apologized to me. I accepted her apology, but more importantly, told her I had forgiven her long ago. I had forgiven her every time she screwed up, not because I am some incredibly good person, but because I knew I couldn't do anything to save her and to bear a grudge or ill will would have hurt me, not her.

I was glad to look her in the eye and say,"all that is past and gone, clean slate." I truly meant it, but later that evening in bed, all of the memories, the grievances, and terrible situations played out in my mind and kept me awake. I tossed for awhile, trying to re-compartmentalize those few years of the complete bs all of us at that job dealt with. When my mind wouldn't stop spinning, I opened my laptop to write and in my feed was a post that simply stated 'If you call one wolf, you invite the whole pack'. This proverb was well timed and as I pondered how meeting her again brought back to me the whole pack of characters and events we dealt with, good and bad, their emotional grip loosened. The fangs and fear faded back into darkness, again memories and nothing more. I slept soundly.

The next day, my son was freaked out by what he thought was a bowl of blood and guts in the fridge. I laughed and explained they were pomegranate seeds in their juice. He listened intently when I recanted the myth of Persephone, having being tricked into tasting a ruby pip in the underworld, which eternally bound her to Hades for half the year. When she walked the earth, life and light returned, but soon enough, she would have to retreat back into the depths; death and darkness blanketing everything. He found this most interesting but when I offered him a seed, he refused, exclaiming he preferred the light to the dark, thanks. Me, too, baby, me, too.

pneumafox.blogspot.com

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Whose Other Side Is Salvation


We went for a walk today, into the woods, and found strung high above our heads, the skull of a deer. At first glance, coming across a thing like this, your gut tells you it's a warning. But, on closer inspection, the quiet, the utter silence feels more like a beckoning, a call from somewhere within; a remembrance perhaps. But, of what?

I'm not sure what is going on in the world in general, but in the small corners of my social network, people seem frazzled. Things breaking down; computers, cars, relationships. Even a few nervous breakdowns posted right out there for all to see. People are on edge or exhausted, overworked and under-rested, about to snap. It feels as if everyone is taking in a tremendous deep breath and holding it with no exhalation in sight. I'm feeling this energy, too, mine in the form of some inexplicable need, a weariness, a restlessness. Change is coming, the leaves are falling, the light is different, the stars are brighter, our souls that much closer to our surfaces.

Standing there, beneath this beautiful creature, I realized there is nothing I can do to anticipate what comes next and I think this is the lesson. To let go and be open to what awaits. Trust this incredible universe, trust myself, and be patient. The answers are on the way, the decisions will be made in their own time, the right path marked, as with the leaf strewn path beneath the skull. There is nothing to fear. I believe these set backs and hold ups are happening for a reason. It's time to stop holding on to the rope of the boat that brought us here and step fully onto the new shore.

 In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
 
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
 
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
 
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
 
nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned
 
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
 
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
 
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
 
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The City and the Wilderness

 charcoal and acrylic on paper by Heather Fox, 2013

“Be brave enough to live creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You cannot get there by bus, only by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful; yourself.” - Alan Alda

How true and timely is this sentiment. There is a great need, sharp like thirst, to carve out time to purposefully lose myself in some form of creative work. I find it centers me, brings me back to the present, and keeps me from becoming stressed by the what-ifs of the future. We find ourselves in this strange waiting place, not really being able to do much about our move, yet knowing everything will need to be done at once as soon as an offer is accepted. My family and I sit on the edge of flux, dipping our toes into the idea of what we want out of the next decade, but unable to really give weight to one option or another.

I used to believe you had to have a long range plan. Then I learned from others that kind of thinking traps and defines you. When the time comes to live out your grand plan, you make endless excuses not to go forward, reluctant to leave the city of your comfort. Maybe you feel the plan isn't so grand for you after all or regret never living for the present all of those years. Maybe you turned away from what could have been an amazing new path, for fear of failing or losing (imaginary) ground toward the big plan. I find life fits better when you make small immediate decisions, execute them as well as you can, and be equally delighted by the unexpected positive or negative changes. All works out in the end anyway and usually for the better. As long as the journey doesn't kill you, there is always a tomorrow.

Now, what will you do with your tomorrow? I'm going to a fall festival in the mountains and then to the big pumpkin patch, and possibly a waterfall picnic. The rest, the next big steps, will arrive when they are ready, and I won't boil the water for tea until they knock at my door.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My Dearest Autumn,


My love, how long has it been since we've enjoyed the soft indulgences of company? Far too long for my tastes, as you know how deeply I adore you. For one so lovely in all the graces, you are maddeningly unpunctual. Hide from me much longer and I will begin to take offense. Such a child of summer you are, delighting in the long shadows behind the house until well past time to come home. Shame on you for making me wait, there, by the windowsill, hanging by a cobweb of a hope. Was that you, in the gloaming? Could it possibly have been? No, again, no, for whole seasons, no; you toy with my affections.

You, my dearest Autumn, are no more than a cat meandering through my garden, dropping half gone offerings on my doorstep. Reminders of how truly enamored I am with your presence, even if it is only in the vague awareness you might deem exist to me once more. I gather these scraps you leave, fill the corners of the my home with them. I am mad, you see, after all. A bedeviled woman with bowls, platters, and jars spilling over with your little artifacts. You give me life, you must see, how you do! Your cool touch, your particular scent, your secreting the darkness ever nearer, cocooning my soul. And when you leave my side so soon? How I tremble, how dark and empty and dead the entire world becomes. The unbearable bleak of the proceeding days is lessened only by the coy promise of your return.


Promise is such a torturous affair, plunging one into the depths of hope; a prison, a cruel, key less cage. But, my selfish love, I write most fervently to you now, for I feel you coming. I hear the distant padding of your step, feel the shift in the air at dawn, and there, in my kitchen, balanced between east and west windows, I am enchanted by new shadows come to visit. In the mornings there comes a stillness, carried on the back of eastern light, silhouetted with overgrown hedges, filtered by the dirty streaks of thunderstorms now passed. Light like this comes creeping, blanketing the dusty corners, shyly at first, then growing so bold by end of day, my home seems engulfed in fire and ashy warmth.

I make haste, tidying the garden, harvesting the last of the peppers, tending the pumpkin vines, sweeping the clippings from the stones, all the while trying too hard to pretend the air is not so humid. How these cage bars rattle in my heart, compressing my lungs, my ribs paining upon waking! My love, my dearest, I beg you return to me, for then, and only when I feel the lightness of your breath across my lips, filling my lungs with your crisp and heady scent, shall I be free again. Come home, my love, it has been long enough. For if I cannot know you again, I humbly pray the ether I've departed to inhabit will be nothing but an endless season of you.

Yours,

Heather

Though lovers be lost, love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
-Dylan Thomas

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wandelen & Lopen

photo by Dylan Struys

My Father-in-Law, whom the kids call Opa, visited us from Belgium for a little over a week to meet his first Grandchild. What a week! Eating. Drinking. More eating. Even more drinking. Laughing, roaming, long afternoon naps, exploring, etc. etc. etc. Plus it happened to be the first week of school for the older pair and by the time he was safely aboard his long flight home, we were all merrily exhausted. In fact, it seems to have taken me days to get back in the normal routine, and I know exactly why.

I miss the temporary routine with Opa around. I enjoyed his quiet morning ways, waiting until after I had accomplished the mad dash to the bus with the kids to come downstairs. We'd sip coffee, eat bread with preserves and cheese, chatting, and being entertained by the baby crawling around to get into one peril after another. They would play together while I cleaned up and at some point, Opa would disappear. At first I was bemused by his unannounced exits, but he was never far, maybe out walking the neighborhood or upstairs playing guitar. Dylan worked a few half days and when he would arrive home, he'd ask where his dad was, and I'd have to honestly (sheepishly) answer, "I have no idea." He nodded and mentioned his dad is a wanderer. After a day or so, I was used to losing him in the crowded street market, in a store, in the park, or in the house. He would silently amble up to us again much later, as if he had never been gone.

Tolkien wrote, "Not all those who wander are lost." I cannot imagine a more apt description for Opa. He has traveled the world, from one film set to another, and the stories he shares are incredible, but yet, delivered humbly and without guile. He takes in stride differences in cultures, some suit him more than others, but he is rarely openly negative about them, he simply understands things are different. He speaks many languages and delighted us with an acted out explanation of the difference between 'wandelen' and 'lopen', depending on if you speak Dutch or Flemish. Equally wonderful was his amusement at all the American stereotypes being proven true at every turn. I imagine I'll be amused when I visit Europe as well. We got along famously and I am so grateful to feel at home in the company of all of my in-laws. And the baby? As you can see from the photo, she adores her Opa.




Since his departure, I've been busy, but a good busy, drawing, knitting, reading, while the little naps. I'm gearing up for the cool weather knitting to begin, already have baby leg warmers on the needles and the wool for her tunic is winging its way to me as I write. I also have the inclination to make myself a new cowl and eventually stitch a baby quilt. The thought of autumn brings out my cozy creative side. We'll see how many projects I actually finish. I find the pre-fall knitting plans are similar to the pre-spring garden plans, but oh, how lovely it is to fill my thoughts with making things rather than worrying about things.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Go Beyond


This weekend was another recon mission to Atlanta, trying to determine a suitable place for us to land next year. I grew up in Atlanta and haven't had any desire to move back after I left 13 years ago. Don't get me wrong, Atlanta is a great city, one I love to visit, but the reasons for moving back are at their core only one thing: family. Our families are there and will be expanding in the next year as marriages and moves happen. We want to be close so our children can develop relationships with their aunts, uncles, grandparents, and future cousins.

So, we snuck into town, dropped the baby off with her Moeke and Auntie J, and drove all over creation. We stopped in Marietta Square and had an absolute blast at the farmer's market. I loved it! In an area of only a couple city blocks, I managed to take at least one hundred photographs. Marietta Square is a great place to hang out on the weekend, people watching, petting rescued greyhounds, chatting with strangers who treat you like they've always known you, and houses the most charming selection of oddball shops and cafes. We could easily see ourselves living here. After a croissant (worthy of a cheap Belgian cafe according to Dylan, which is high marks for pastry made stateside) at Sugar Cakes Patisserie, we toured the area to check out houses. Trusty apps at hand, we soon discovered the same depressing fact we discovered on our recon mission to Decatur, another wonderful city with a happening square, the houses are too small for a family of five, too expensive to be worth it, and the schools rate just shy of 'might as well not go to school at all'.


Is this a general truth or a southern city problem? In order to give your children a decent education, you have to live in the middle of nowhere? This catch-22 is beyond disconcerting. Why is it that the vibrant (read non-strip-mall, pre-1950's homes, diverse areas with walkability) rake in some of the highest property taxes, property values, and sales taxes, yet have the worst schools? Why? Am I remiss in believing that if you are capable of paying a couple thousand dollars on a mortgage each month, your children's local school should reflect some prosperity of means? Isn't the education of a society its ultimate foundation? Why is this being accepted as "just the way it is"? An incredibly lazy assertion I've heard many times from otherwise respectable people and no four words make me seethe more. To be fair, these cities have some great schools, but they require living in the depths of the suburban desert, and frankly, I want out of that desert. Do I want inner city living? No, too congested and expensive, but do I want middle ground? Yes.

That yes is my biggest problem right now.

I keep apologizing to my husband, saying things like, "I'm sorry we'll probably end up in boringville where we have to get in the car just to get the mail." He keeps telling me to stop worrying about disappointing him, that he's happy to be near our favorite spots, even if we can't walk or bike to them on a whim (our shared vision of Utopian living). And he's right. The move, the logistics, the situation are not disappointing him. Sure, he'd like to win the lotto so private school is an option and we could live wherever we pleased, but he's not looking at this move the same way I am. Honestly, I'm worried about disappointing myself. But it seems selfish, so I reflect my personal turmoil onto him or onto the kids. Not fair.


After these past several years, I need a new start. A fresh start. A stepping away from the old and jumping head first into the new. So much of my life has changed dramatically, but so many things are still the same, still not quite right, and are holding me back. Imagine having had surgery and your wounds have healed in time, but the stitches weren't completely removed. Little bonds, little bits of once necessary security that held everything in place, but now irritate you when you notice them. I keep wondering if the city I am pining for is out there somewhere- maybe Nashville or Asheville, or why not Montreal, Halifax, Reykjavik, or Ghent? One day, I'll find the right mix. Right now, the priority is schools, but it won't always be this way. No matter where we end up next, we'll make the best of it, because nothing is ever perfect, but I'm deciding that searching for the lifestyle I really want, filled with the things that feed my soul and enrich my life, is not selfish. If anything, it is the correct path, and I need to keep going because this journey isn't over yet.

There are always moments when one feels empty and estranged. 
Such moments are most desirable, 
for it means the soul has cast its moorings
and is sailing for distant places. This is detachment— 
when the old is over and the new has not yet come.  
If you are afraid, the state may be distressing, 
but there is really nothing to be afraid of. 
Remember the instruction: 
Whatever you come across— go beyond. 

Nisargadatta Maharaj

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bend it like Bhindi


When I was learning to knit, I would study pictures of knit garments for hours, especially when ravelry started up. I read blogs of knitters, checked out scores of library books, and probably did some early damage to my eyesight admiring the enviably even, tiny, stitches. I progressed as a knitter, confident in my own stitching, and the pictures began to look completely different. There were models, backgrounds, light, and even an odd farm animal or two during my Rowan phase. Had these things not been there before? Of course they were always there; nothing had changed except the scope of my attention. Suddenly noticing a detail you had overlooked for a long time can be disconcerting, and difficult to live down. For two years, I had no idea my car had cruise control until I was a passenger. I simply could not see the button under the curve of the steering wheel. Who knows what else I've missed all these years?! Frankly, it's a wonder my children haven't wandered off and been lost on outings. Oh, wait, that's because I'm the one that wanders off and gets lost. Oh, well, let's chalk it up to my appreciation of, rather than attention to, detail.


Scope is defined as the extent of an area or subject matter something deals with or to which it is relevant. Trying to learn better techniques for photographing food, I began to look past the subject matter and to the broader scope within the frame. I'd study a photograph and think, the cake is lovely, but what makes the whole picture so pleasing? This questioning led me to search for stylists and photographers who have no qualms with sharing their tricks and techniques. These people are quite the opposite of the Oz artists, you know the ones, the "pay no attention to the man behind the curtains!" sort. Thankfully, there is plenty of good info out there for creating backdrops, some as simple as using different fabrics, and my new favorite - foam board.

In the three photos here, I used two pieces of black foam board, each a few dollars from the craft store. On one board, I rubbed white chalk gently over the surface and erased it to give a chalkboard effect. I like the way it reflects a soft light back into the photo. The contrast of black makes the food pop. I look forward to experimenting with white and neutral boards for a softer, more feminine effect. The okra became Bhindi Masala, as satisfying to eat as it was to photograph.

While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.
- Dorothea Lange

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pear & Chèvre Tart


What better way to celebrate the height of summer than with a fall tart? After some deliberation, Dylan decided we should christen our new tart pans with a combination of honey, goat cheese, pears sauteed in butter and bourbon, on the most sublime crust ever. Off we went separately for the ingredients and met again in the kitchen, hungry and excited to concoct our own recipe together.


We tend to have a general idea of how to create a dish, relying heavily on memories of restaurant meals or old cookbooks, but I wanted to go to the source for the tart dough. I googled tart dough and the first several recipes listed the usual, Martha Stewart-ish sugar dough, which looks delicious but has about eight more steps than I care to deal with, especially the dreaded, chill for 6 hours to overnight. Really? I stared at the screen convinced instructions like this are how the French keep the rest of the world from bastardizing their cuisine by dent of our sheer laziness. Ha Ha! Zey zink you ef to cheel eet over ze nuit! Eediots. So, I kept searching, and voila! David Lebovitz blogged the end all, flakiest, tastiest, most incredible tart dough courtesy of Chef Paule Caillet. 20 minutes start to finish. No tendonitis from trying to combine cold butter and flour, no giving up and resorting to boxed puff pastry dough. This dough is truly sublime. I will use this recipe to make simple shortbread cookies, with fresh rosemary or maybe lavender sugar, or pistachios. Ooh, or making a tomato tart version, or peaches and marscarpone cheese...I love experimenting.





While I prepared the dough, Dylan sliced the pears (2 small Taylor Golds) and sauteed them in butter, brown sugar,  and a bit of bourbon until soft. I spread the warm dough into the buttered tart pan and baked it for about 10 minutes, just until it started to brown. When it cooled a bit, he spread honey goat cheese on the bottom, sprinkled some freshly chopped rosemary on top, drizzled local honey on that, and then layered the pears. Back into the oven until the crust browned and the pears caramelized a bit. The aroma! Oh my, the aroma alone was enough to wish we had made two tarts so I could eat the first instantly and take the pictures later.


The finished tart was worth the wait. The crust was flaky, buttery, with a satisfying amount of crumbly texture. The rich, savory, cheese paired nicely with the fruit and honey sweetness. This would make a great brunch dish. Who am I kidding? I could eat this tart morning, noon, and night. My only word of caution is to definitely make two. You'll be sad the next morning thinking it would have been fabulous for breakfast. Live and learn and make (several) tarts!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer in Progress

Where has the summer gone? It's gone into my watercolor journals, afternoon thunderstorms, visiting family and friends, hummingbird watching, photo shoots, and tons of drooly baby kisses.

I'm excited to share my husband's website,  dylanstruysphoto. He's been extra busy this summer on photo shoots. I have so much fun assisting him. Although, I tend to start snapping my own shots, of pretty little blog things, like lanterns and cups of coffee, so I do more running to catch up with him and the model than actual assisting, really. Holding the giant diffuser is the best part; it makes me feel like a kid with a kite. Congrats, Dylan, your portfolio is fantastic!

We definitely need a studio room in our next house. Having to clean up our art supplies and camera equipment after each use is a drag. No wonder my kids don't want to clean up their rooms; it isn't a mess, it's creativity in progress! I'll try to remember that the next time I step on a lego.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pepper Place Market


Pepper Place Market is one of my summer pleasures. The bustle, the noise, the smiling crowds, and overflowing tables of produce delight me. We have a small market a couple of miles from my house, but it is in infancy stage, with more craft vendors than food vendors, so we take in the stalls in ten minutes, then make the forty minute drive into the city for Pepper Place. Here, we stroll, sip, taste, talk, tap toes to great music, and people watch for hours.

My husband appreciates the days he can snag some scapes, fiddleheads, and uncommon greens, and I especially love the presentation and styling the farmer's put into their displays. The combination of burlap with hand lettered chalk or slate boards is charming, freshly on trend, and as appealing visually as the produce is gastronomically. These people have passion for this dirty, sweaty, uncertain business of farming, and I admire their energy.


There is a vendor, the TartBandit, a pastry chef from Atlanta, who makes such beautiful, colorful, tasty looking macaroons, I am drawn to her table every Saturday, even though I don't like macaroons. I've yet to get a decent shot of Mary-Claire's offerings because of the crowds camped out in front of her booth. Ah, I have a mission and another excuse to make the drive! If you know anyone who is under the weather, contact TartBandit, and they will stealthily leave a box of pastries on the downtrodden's doorstep; random acts of pastry. Love. Love. Love.


Another fantastic vendor, and one that gives me hope for our future food consciousness, since the evil corporations misdeeds are being dragged out into the light, is Jones Valley Teaching Farm. Jones Valley is a non-profit farming cooperative to promote nutrition education and sustainable farming. Their yields are amazing, their community outreach, like food crates for seniors and hands on learning for youth are commendable, and the wild flower CSA is a great deal for people like me who like to treat themselves to fresh flowers on the table without breaking the bank. Small luxury investment, huge return on joy.

It is useless to force the rhythms of life. 
The art of living is about learning 
how to give time to 
each and every thing. 

 Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Boketto



Several weeks ago, I inadvertently shared my morning coffee with my laptop. While she was drying out, I took advantage of the lack of distraction and found myself busy doing, well, not much and everything at once, daydreaming, mostly. The Japanese have a word for staring vacantly into the distance: boketto. Here reside the most important thoughts, the ones you can't control; the escape artist mischief makers.. Frances Mayes wrote, "Only in looking back do you find those crumbs you dropped that marked your way forward." Boketto is the bakery for those crumbs.

Many hours have been passed painting, strolling farmer's markets, watching the baby learn to sit on her own, and enjoying dinners al fresco. I've been in constant amazement as the older children grow inches overnight like the sunflowers out back and eat more food than I can in a sitting. I've stared off into space each morning watering the rogue pumpkin vine, a surprise gift from the compost of last year's jack-o-lantern, knowing this will be the last summer I will spend in this particular backyard. I've donated artwork to the community garden here for their marketing, I've attempted to read three terrible books, finished two really good ones, and have hesitantly taken the first bittersweet steps towards uprooting us all and moving to another state. 

I have no idea what the next year will bring, but I know enough to take the time to appreciate what the now has to offer. So far, the tastes, textures, smells, colors, and light of June have been glorious and not soon forgotten.









Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Whatever


I've been teaching myself something new. Sketching has always been there for me, but watercolors? Brand spanking new to the medium. So far, I am enjoying the playing around part, but get frustrated when I try to be serious and the painting looks nothing like it does in my head. Really, how could I ever expect some pigment and water carry the weight of all of my expectations?

I went through the same process when I taught myself to knit a decade ago. A wake of half finished, shoddy, asymmetrical projects trailed behind me, until one day, I decided just to give up on knitting the perfect, difficulty-level-10 lace shawl, and make some simple socks to keep my feet warm. Since then, I've knit 98 socks. Now, I could knit in my sleep, and quite often, I do knit without looking so I can watch a movie or read a book at the same time. Don't be impressed, every mother out there understands this type of multitasking is ten percent talent and ninety percent survival skill.

I'm wearied of hearing myself grumble about all of my perceived short-comings, an annoying habit I have fallen into lately.  On the surface I feel as if I have lost all ability to do anything except grouse on the things I don't like about what I am doing. Even my sentences are all Mad Hatter jumbles! But, what is really happening isn't a loss of capability, no, the situation is much more dire. Boredom. Pure and simple, I've been acting like one of my kids, sitting in a room full of things to do and complaining there is nothing to do. Usually, when they announce their utter, mind melting boredom, I mumble something practical, like, "go play with something or whatever."

Time to stop grumbling and go play with paints or whatever.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cake as a Metaphor


I had baked a cake about a year ago, made from scratch, and I remember humming and smiling to myself over how grateful and awe struck my children would be with my superior baking skills and careful thought for their health. No high fructose, no bleached, bromated, hydrogenated, or otherwise plastic ingredients for my darlings! My Mary Poppins meets Ina Garten fantasy bubble burst when they declared my labor of love "tasteless." I quietly took off the imaginary apron, pearls, and heels I was wearing, cleaned the kitchen, and refrained from baking a cake since.

Then I saw this cake, pictured on a box of cake mix, and suddenly craved cake. I'm not a sweets person, so I wheeled my cart away from the display, but found myself staring at my grocery list, watching each penciled item morph into the word cake. Asp...ar..a...gcake, e..g..g..scake, pot..a...t..o ...scake. See? The cake was inevitable, undeniable, and I could feel my imaginary apron cinching my waist all the way to the checkout.

When my son refused to believe I had made the cake rather than the bakery, requesting a second slice for forensic purposes, I knew the cake was good. Never mind it looks nothing like the photo on the box and the strawberries tasted most un-strawberry like, the general consensus was pleasant and the process enjoyable. Motherhood is similar; reality will never live up to the staged photos and advertised promises, but for every dozen failures to please or be pleased, there is a quiet, imperfect success. Happy Mother's Day. Have some cake.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Open Invitation


Feet, hands, my hair, basically anything she can grasp goes straight to her mouth. She's a delight. I am especially fond of our afternoons, when sister and brother come home, talking to her as if she is their age, not eight plus years younger. She waits until they've moved on to other entertainment (usually cleaning out the pantry of anything edible) and slips off into a small nap. During this nap time, I've taken to sketching again. Such a soothing practice, just paper, pencil, markers, and the newest addition of watercolor pencils. I'm having so much fun experimenting with those. The oldest and I enjoyed using a smashed strawberry to color wash a beet I illustrated.

Last week, I opened the garage door while painting some old bedside tables white for the nursery. Apparently, this is an open invitation for the younger children on the street to venture inside. Consequently, moms, dads, grandpas, toddlers, kindergartners, first, third, and fourth graders paraded in and out all week. One mom was forced into coming over by her father-in-law, who rang our bell at dinner time, introduced his grandson, and said, "Ok, I'll be back for him in about thirty minutes."

My husband and I just stared at each other in disbelief. Did this man really just leave a child with total strangers? I remarked the parents are lucky we aren't psychopaths, to which he responded that we aren't Republicans either, which they may believe to be even worse. Less than ten minutes later, the grandpa and the mom were at the front door, he looking pleased with himself and she like a woman on the verge of finding her child had been heinously murdered. I invited them in and heard her sigh of relief upon seeing her son intact and her sigh of consternation as her father-in-law exclaimed, "She is an introvert and needs to meet more folks!"

I found this all simultaneously hilarious and painful considering I am introverted too. I could completely empathize with her mortification over the whole scene. But, to her credit, she came over again the next day, and I think we will be friends, that is, if we continue force ourselves out to see each other again.

I grew up in households with open doors, both of my grandmother's homes were bustling with family and friends and I long for that sense of community as I get older. My husband recalls fondly his childhood memories of long meals at his Opa's house in Belgium, full of food, drink, and laughter. Strange, how isolating modern living can be, especially when you move to different cities and never see, much less know, neighbors. I can feel this changing in me though, a greater pull towards being involved in my small corner of the world. I feel as if I am being invited by life to do less growing up and more growing out.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Color


We had a wonderful anniversary weekend in Atlanta, a city I've always referred to as home, but with each visit, I realize it has silently morphed from home, to hometown, to the city in which I was born, to a place I once lived. What used to feel familiar and inviting is now unrecognizable and less interesting than ever. If pressed to describe Atlanta in a word, I would choose sprawl. If given a two word option: pretentious sprawl.

There are a few things about the city I do love: sitting at outdoor cafes and being surrounded by a half dozen foreign languages, festivals every weekend, vegetarian friendly restaurants, and the tiny gelato shop near my mother-in-law's house. Roughly the size of a closet, Paolo's has room enough for a cash register, an espresso machine, and a cold case full of flaky cannoli, tempting tiramisu, sparkling marzipan, and a rainbow of gelato. The shop stays open late, so around 10 pm on Saturday night, we joined the line spilling out the door and down the sidewalk. The young man behind the cold case served customers non stop, his hands moving as fast as his unintelligible accent, his patience never wearing thin no matter how many samples the four kids in front of us requested. Their father gently prodded them to decide. I joked with him it would be easier to choose by their favorite color, but I was glad they were ahead of us, slowing things down, so I would have time to decide. So many flavors, but in the end, I took my own advice, and chose violet flower gelato simply because it was a pretty color.

The weekend was a study of color, first among the 250 artist booths at the Dogwood Festival, to the Frida and Diego exhibit at the High museum. The festival is one I have fond memories of; I've attended for over twenty years, and I used to buy pieces, but this time around only one booth caught my fancy, and the rest served to spark my imagination, but the cost and content left me empty-handed. The downside to being a creative soul is looking at a beautiful piece of art for sale and thinking I should just keep my money and go home and reproduce what I am admiring. The Frida exhibit was well done; their art interesting, compelling, and topical, but the photographs of the artists were what my husband and I enjoyed most. He appreciated the compositions and moods. I appreciated the photos for the glimpses of Frida's jewelry and adornments. More than her art, her style appeals to me.

Above is a photo of another necklace I made last week with wool left over from the baby's blanket and sweater. I realized when I started writing this post, I had not even taken the lens cap off my camera this weekend. I think it was because I was enjoying myself too much, and often a photo falls flat from the reality. I'd rather journal the days or even work them into a story. The laughter, the chilly wind off the park lake, the smell of street food, and the warm company couldn't possibly translate as colorfully as my memories.

Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing? 
 Can one really explain this? No. 
Pablo Picasso

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Interwoven

Have you seen Quince and Co's offerings? Delightful. I'm smitten with the rich yet subtle color ways, weights named after birds, and charming patterns. One collection is Interwoven, a sweet little book of jewelry options. I raided my wool for all of those left over bits of skeins. I easily came up with half a dozen color combos; the first my eldest daughter wanted was turquoise + red, which happens to be a favorite of mine, as well. She supervised from behind her tablet while I cut, braided, and wrapped for less than an hour. The next necklace I make will be of thin braided strands. Addictive little process with lovely results.

I am grateful for any opportunity to share creative time with her. She's about to turn ten, beginning to maneuver the delicate stage of prepubescence, the hints of everything changing, inside and out, with no real idea of what that really means. At times she does or says such grown-up things and I find myself watching her, silently warning her in my head, "it will hurt, and be confusing, and the next decade will form you, and I am sorry that I can't make it easier, but you have to go through it to get to the you on the other side."

The urge to over protect children is so very strong. The art of shielding them from our interference is difficult, but what parenting is made of.  I am reminded of this when my 7 year old son rails against being considered a little boy in public, yet still requires my comfort and doting in private. Or, when I want to put the baby's dolly in her hand rather than letting her continue through frustrated attempts at grasping it on her own. If I were to make every challenge they face easier, what would they learn of their own reliance, of the universes of ability and transformation inside themselves? Giving them enough help to comfort but not so much they are dependent is such an intricate dance. I imagine I'll feel this way no matter their age, no matter the circumstance. Admitting you have no control over the pain or fear or just plain old sadness your loved one's will inevitably face is one of the hardest exercises in growing up we all have to do. There is no other option. They have to learn for themselves that joys cannot exist without a balance of sorrows, pleasures without pains. All we can do is wait for them on the other side, take their hands and be content with who they choose to become.

There are thoughts which are like prayers.There are moments when whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees. Victor Hugo

























Thursday, April 4, 2013

For the Love of Beet

One night, before my husband and I were married, he served me a variety of jewel toned roasted beets with goat cheese on crispy crostini. It was one of those special moments in our deepening relationship, one that was simultaneously beautiful and terrifying, and all I could safely say was, "Oh my God!" The dish was so lovingly plated, nonetheless, I hated beets. 

The look on my face must have translated my inner struggle, because he convinced me to try the dish with a promise these wouldn't taste like any beet I'd ever had and, after all, there was plenty of goat cheese (which is manna, I tell you). Well, I decided to try the crostini, trusting him, but thinking, as my teeth sank into the tiniest edge of a golden beet, how sad it would be to tell friends my relationship ended because he served me beets. Fortunately, he was right. They were unlike any beet I'd tasted, and after we devoured the whole plateful, we discovered a couple new things. First, roasted beets have been done a terrible disservice (as have many vegetables) by being served from a can. Whoever thought that was a good idea should be flaked and powdered. Secondly, I'll eat just about anything with enough goat cheese on it. Except mushrooms, no matter how much my husband promises I could love them as I now love beets. A self respecting girl has to draw lines somewhere. My line happens to be fungus.

I made this roasted beet, chèvre, and arugula pizza for dinner a few nights ago. I was inspired by a recipe for a beet salad, but decided to throw it on home made pizza dough. Delicious. Even better when you cook while listening to anything by Astrud Gilberto. Here's a short list of food blogs I've been following lately; enjoy!

Naturally Ella :: seasonal vegetarian dishes, lovely photography, humble & funny like a good friend.

Manger :: professional chef living in France with professional photographer husband. Not humble or particularly funny, but oh so nice to look at.

Vegetarian in Dixie :: So I know where to eat in and around Birmingham. Great photos and links.

Bakers Royale :: for the sweet side of life, indulge in this self taught baker's collections of recipes and sources. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Details

While photographing a wedding over the weekend, I remembered why I don't particularly enjoy photographing people. There are several factors involved, the most obvious of which is my height. I'm a shorty and we all know the horror show of a photo from below the chin... yeah, we've all seen an image of ourselves from this unfortunate angle that turns even the thinnest person into the golden Buddha. Sadly, trying to suck in your bottom jaw doesn't work. Trust me.

Because of my stature, when the audience stands, I often lose a shot. When the couple dances, all I see through my lens is Great Aunt Bertie's lavender curls. Also, people like to talk to me, which I appreciate when I'm free to chat, but my easy approachability really sucks if I miss the cake cutting because that peculiar relative (you know which one, every family's got one) is intent on sharing the comprehensive history of cake fondant.

I prefer the details. The food, the flowers, the light on the edge of the waiting champagne glasses... oh, how I love to photograph these things. They tend not to move about, make funny faces, or sweat. Yes, leave the details to me. I forget and remember this about myself every time I pick up a camera.

When finding my bliss in the details at home, I need to remember to do it well before the wok is steaming and everyone is waiting to eat. I'm obsessed with food blogs right now, so the family may have to get used to a few ingredients going missing while I satisfy my muse. I'm sure they won't mind.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reclamation


Look, blooms! How very exciting! Spring never fails to surprise me. Of all the seasons, she is the stealthiest. As soon as my eyes have adjusted to the dark of winter, spring sneaks in, layering the landscape in thin veils of light and faint washes of green. One day, I will wake up and wonder who stole into our neighbor's yard and planted blooming tulips. Imagine if your boring lawn was vandalized with flowers. How delightful.

Spring moves quietly, gracefully, joyfully. She is like the allegro of a symphony or the embrace from a long lost friend; a gentle reminder of the abundance to come. Mid March is time to prepare for the coming seasons. Plants can be voluptuous or slender, healing or poisonous, bold or reserved, whatever they turn out to be, I love them all. Plants are undeniably sexy. They are the Latin soul of my Scandinavian aesthetics. I desire to be surrounded by green riots of growth. Frankly, I don't care if these plants produce anything or not. The vegetables or flowers aren't the end goal this year. Giving an avocado pit or a sprouted potato a second chance compels me. What better way to honor the dormant potential in myself than to take what I have mistaken for ugly or useless and nurture it back into something beautiful?  This spring is about the reclamation of wonder. 

And radishes. I have a sudden taste for radishes.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Possibilities of Washi

I was advised, in a round about way, to not automatically expect a person with clearly set and identifiable traits to act as expected within the boundaries of those traits. In other words, my expectation would affect the possibility this person would act in a different manner all together. Reminds me of a middle school science lesson, when science was wondrous and magical, relatively speaking.

During my morning yoga practice I meditated on all of the times I've been with a friend, loved one, or enemy, and disrespected their potential by not giving them the chance to be themselves rather than the version of themselves I've interpreted. I can see how I've failed to listen to their thoughts, cutting them off when I think the next thing they say will be that thing that annoys me so about them. Or I've patronized, not taking time to acknowledge how they've grown.  I wonder where all of those interactions could have gone, had I not turned from them so quickly to avoid a conflict that may have been destined to be a beautiful moment. Is there a place lost possibilities go? A distant shore pebbled with skipped kindnesses and drowned intentions, perhaps.

Afterwards, I sipped coffee and browsed Pinterest, completing the trifecta of favorite morning rituals. I am currently fascinated by washi tape. Washi tape is practical masking tape made impossibly cute, as all things Japanese tend to be. The crafty uses for washi tape are so abundant, I could never decide which is the cutest or most practical. Like tattoos, there are so many amazing designs, I will never get one, simply because I couldn't choose which design to commit to. I saw an invitation decorated with washi. I was lost in imagining a dinner party by washi invite; glorious food, friends' smiling faces and tinkling laughter, the flowing wine. I felt a warm happiness wash through me for a party that hadn't happened at all. Maybe, if the possible uses of brightly printed masking tape can make me feel so good inside, letting go of my expectations of people, might accomplish the same feeling doubled; for them and me.

We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Raincoat


Ah, February, how you wear me out. I've been chasing sunshine for weeks now. There! A ray of light in a corner, let me go huddle in it like a cat. Until this past weekend, we've had rain, with a few days of drizzle, and one lucky break of fog. When the rain stopped briefly, we set out on foot two days in a row! It was thrilling... wet, muddy, and cold, but thrilling. I'll take it.

In an effort to clean out my stash closet, I wound some bright yellow wool into pretty little finch colored cakes and cast on for a baby cardigan. About an hour into knitting, my son, with all the tact a 7 year old can muster, stated, "That is so bright I am blind." I pretended to be dismayed. When my husband informed the baby I was making her a raincoat, I did my best to pout and look wounded as I pulled the needles out and unraveled the whole collar.

I wasn't really upset. I had been questioning the choice of wool with each stitch, but championed on because that is what I do nowadays. Listen, I'm forty with a six week old. I haven't slept soundly in at least 10 months, my pregnancy brain has slipped into what google search informs me is early onset dementia, and my body, well, I avoid mirrors from the neck down. When I do catch a glimpse of my changing self, I get pretty damn sad. I know it takes time. I know, because I've done this twice before, but when you feel you've lost control of everything, normal proportion and perspective go out together on a long holiday. Funny how we forget what it is really like to have a baby. Mother Nature is clever that way.

I cast on again in a pretty blue wool. Rather than doubting myself with each stitch, I am intentionally reminding myself nothing remains static, to let go of the way things were going to be and look forward to the way life will be. I intend to find joy in the little moments while the big issues reign themselves back in. For instance, I am happy to have a family who practice honesty, or else I could have suffered terrible regret many years from now upon hearing my daughter proclaim, "I can't believe you dressed me in a hand knit raincoat. I must have blinded people."

Or, I could knit them all yellow raincoats, sing a round of you are my sunshine, and blame it on the dementia. Sounds like a plan.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

40


Sylvia Plath asked, "What did my arms do before they held you?" What did they do? I don't quite remember what life was like before my children or my husband. Looking back it seems they've been here all along. Of course, they haven't always been in my arms, but I like to think they were part of me when I was young. They were a baby tooth, or a freckle, or skin where now resides a scar, all come back to make me whole again.

I turn forty today. To celebrate, my husband and I are going on a long walk through a state park followed by a picnic lunch by the lake. We'll enjoy the one day this week forecast to have sun and warm temps, escaping the February gloom for a few hours. We'll be silent for long stretches, listening to winter birds and daydreaming of things personal to each of us. We'll fall into long conversations about all things right and wrong with the world and just as we get close to solving everything, the light will change, and we'll fall silent again, each snapping photos of lovely things.

The day will be sweet and slow and quiet. Then, we'll pick up the older kids from school, have loads of chocolate cake, and settle into the comforting rhythm of a Thursday night, which is similar to a loud conga line led by a drunk uncle. Someone will inevitably burst into tears, because it isn't really a birthday party until somebody cries; a phenomenon my kids call 'birthdayitis'.

My birthday wish? Sharing cake, laughter, and tears forty years from now as I wonder what my arms ever did before.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Continue


Early one morning last fall, I shuffled toward the kitchen to make coffee. A warm glow forced open my eyes. The rising sun had transformed my staircase into a Wyeth painting. I love his work, his light, his grainy interiors and dusty windowsills. I fully appreciate his glorification of lived in everyday spaces since I gave up dusting for Lent... in 1997.

Knowing moments like this are prone to fleet,  I raced back into the bedroom for my camera, all the while thinking, this is a pneuma photo, I should post it there! Sigh.

There I stood, in the same house, yet everything had changed. Everything had changed in wondrous, happy, and sometimes confusing ways. Really surprising ways, I mused, as I rubbed my hugely pregnant belly. See, three years ago, life was poised to give me a succession of ins-outs-ups-downs at such an incredible speed, all I could do was let go and live as fully as I dared. Three years of constant change, struggle, and lovely blessings, all leading up to this quiet moment, watching sunlight slip across a wall.

Well, the baby is a month old now, her brother and sister have both grown at least 6 inches since the summer, my husband is expanding his artistic portfolio in exciting and enviable ways, and I am ready to  share my musings again. To my dear friends here, I've missed you. To those new to pneuma, hello, my name is Heather, what's yours?

In three words I can sum up everything 
I've learned about life: 
it goes on.

Robert Frost