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