Friday, April 29, 2011
When you consider speaking, ask yourself whether what you have to say is an improvement on silence. (Swami Kripalu)
Sorry Bapuji, I forgot to ask.
Not a vlog but a video in which I attempt to tell stories, babble a fair bit, get teary eyed and have no real conclusion (but Mel, did I have content?) Yes, I did refrain from reading my more emotionally charged piece of memory retrieval ... if you watch this, you will understand just how emotional that other piece must be!
Profound thought from all of this: why does doing your own thing (or thang as it would sound spoken with a twang) become burdened by expectations and judgments? When did we lose the ability to just do what we love because, well, we love doing it?
And now I wonder ... is there some kind of adrenal rush from making these things? I am floating around now in a haze ...
(although, curse you Vimeo! There is some evil gremlin within who always ALWAYS chooses a screen shot where I look like I am about to be seriously ill on the laptop.)
edit: links I need to share - Jen Lee Finding Your Voice
Natasha Reilly Creative Nachos
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
I cannot believe I had never heard of dandelion honey! Someone over on the goddess circle mentioned it and after sending me her recipe (a non recipe and in metric measurements) it looked so simple, I figured even I could make it.
The fun part was gathering all the dandelion heads. Cowgirl and I headed out with a big bowl to a nearby field and quickly filled it with dandelion flowers. They pluck right off (you do not want any of the stem or leaves as they will make the honey bitter) and stain your hands a lovely golden shade.
I rinsed them thoroughly, trying to get rid of any bugs (but one did scurry to the top of the pot), and then dumped them into a large kettle and covered them with water. My directions specified around 1 to 1.5 liters but I probably added 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water. (I was almost finished when I realized I could check online for a recipe with more precise measurements - although it was fun converting kilos to pounds, then pounds of sugar to cups. The online recipe calls for 4 cups dandelion heads and 4 cups water.) I sliced up one lemon and added to the pot. Then I brought it to a boil and simmered for a half hour, after which I took the pot off of the heat, put the lid on and let it sit for 24 hours.
The next day I strained the mixture through a fine sieve (cheesecloth or tea towel I was told; the sieve worked fine) and had a lovely golden liquid remaining. I put that back in the kettle and added - yikes! - 2 cups of sugar (the online recipe calls for 2 1/8 cups) and then sat back and cooked the dickens out of it! I brought it to a slow boil, stirring occasionally (I have a gas burner) while waiting for it to become viscous as honey. After a couple of hours of cooking, I finally found the above mentioned recipe that noted the transformation from yellow sugar water into honey could take up to four hours ... which it did.
Once I got it to a honey-like consistency, I poured it into glass jars (my batch filled 2 normal size jars) which should keep for at least a year. Not that mine will last that long. I am enjoying it in my tea, on my yogurt and in my morning "tonic" drink. It has a lemon flavor to it that I like, although I can see why the recipe I didn't use calls for a vanilla bean.
There you have it - easy peasy dandelion sweetie honey! And barely a dent in the dandelion flower population.
Monday, April 25, 2011
While Spring has been slow in manifesting, it has been on my mind for a long, long time. It seems with each passing year I anticipate the arrival of Spring with a little more urgency than I did the year before. Is this a natural part of aging? (She says as she dons bedraggled slippers, moth eaten cardigan ...) Or a sign of a growing sensitivity and awareness? It feels as if my bones crave sunlight and warmth, my senses desperate for the sights and scents and sounds of new life.
Thankfully, there were tantalizing glimpses of sunlight and wafts of spring breezes peppered throughout the holiday weekend. It did not rain as forecasted and the neighborhood Easter egg hunt went off without a hitch (which means the snake living in the field was found before the egg hunt!)
Cowgirl had a grand day: Mr. Rabbit and the Fairies and Fred, our Gnome delivered a bountiful basket.
I even got my buns down to the sewing machine and made her the tote bag I had been promising for months. (Note to moms considering crafty acts of love and kindness: do not expect gratitude equal to the effort or frustration put forth in said project; do expect demands to become more elaborate and precise.) What was to be a simple bag morphed into the faux-quilt bag. I talked her out of an actual patchwork bag - I loathe cutting multiple and precise squares - and into this more haphazard affair although Cowgirl was very specific about the fabric selections and their arrangement. Random is not in her vocabulary.
In addition to the miracle of a rabbit delivering thousands of baskets on one day (hence the need for our Fairies and Fred to help out) we had a little in-house miracle of our own: Cowgirl rode her bike without the training wheels.
Her current bike is way too small for her and jokingly the Husband told her she would have to ride it first before getting a new bike. So she hopped on and that was that. (I'd like to believe my girl inherited her determination and persistence from moi but she was definitely born with it.)
I also managed to finish off a few more pieces for my 49 by 49 project. One of my intentions for the project was to experiment more in techniques and media, the small format of the cards lending themselves to trying new things out. Which is my way of saying - and expecting - that I won't always like the end result. I decided I would not trash any effort unless it is really abhorrent. I am being practical: I know myself well enough to know that the gremlin of perfectionism lurks in the shadows, waiting for a chance to trip me up and leave me paralyzed in inaction should I start to get all fussy. I also believe mishaps often hold the greater insights which reveal their lessons over time.
Okay, much ado about nothing.
It is probably obvious the theme of Spring would continue into this series. One figure new to me is that of Butterfly Maiden. I draw this card fairly often when pulling Goddess cards. Having recently finished Snake, I found it interesting to consider the meaning of transformation from a different angle. Whereas Snake medicine for me is about letting go of what no longer serves me, Butterfly medicine and Butterfly Maiden seem to offer me lessons in learning how to open myself up and welcome change. I read somewhere how this goddess affords us the opportunity to understand the process of evolution within our lives. This perspective is in alignment with my spiritual beliefs and growing understanding of myself and my journey. I do believe we are born with certain lessons to learn, tasks to fulfill - or not. There is a choice. But it seems to me growth, understanding, happiness and fulfillment are found when I move through challenges and see obstacles as opportunities to expand and develop personally and spiritually.
An obvious inclusion in this series is Hawk. I had been putting this card off as Hawk such an important totem in my life, I wasn't sure how I would create a card that represented Hawk's significance. Hawk's medicine is the gift of clear sight, patience, knowing when to take action and a heightened awareness to messages and signs. Hawk is about strengthening intuition and strengthening decisive action. Go figure I was indecisive in knowing how to portray this powerful teacher!
In my life, Hawk has both circled and hovered over head; sat watching me from roof tops, tree branches, light post and poles; has crashed into my dining room window; and continues to leave me feathers like bread crumbs affirming my progress upon my path. I attempted to transfer an image of a hawk's feather to the card, painting the silhouette of hawk in flight behind it. I tried a masking fluid which pulled off more paint than I had intended. I may return to this card, but for now I am heeding Hawk's example of patience and conservation of energy.
My newest friend and ally has been Robin. Of course, robins are the quintessential harbinger of Spring and this season the only thing keeping me going through the icy rain and gray mornings has been the sight and sound of this plucky bird. Robin represents new beginnings, new growth but with a sense of joy, laughter and song as we move through the transition. On a personal level, Robin has shown me lessons in determination and patience. Every year we battle the robins who wish to make their nest on our front porch. While I love the idea of robins finding our home a suitable place to entrust their eggs, the reality of robin poo and robin attacks is not so romantic. So we remove their nests and as fast as we take them down, equally fast a new one appears.
While robins may appear common and ordinary, their message is anything but. They mark their territory by their song and teach us to claim our place by using our unique voice. I actually found a tiny feather from a robin's red breast and I wear it in my medicine pouch - the red breast of robin aligning it with spiritual passion and dedication. Perhaps their persistence and dedication in nest building and worm seeking a reminder of the skills essential for us on a creative and spiritual path.
Speaking of determination, this blog post has taken me far too long to compose and I have another project waiting for me this afternoon: dandelion honey. It may be raining outside, but it will be sweet in my kitchen.
Friday, April 22, 2011
today I sit, coffee cup between my palms seeking some warmth on yet another cold, drizzly day.
(I don't mean to sound bitter, but everyone's images of Spring in full throttle are depressing me; I seem to have developed an unrequited love for the sun. I call my girlfriend up on the phone, she says "hello?" and I simply sigh. She always knows it is me.)
today I walked the dog and tried to imagine myself in Ireland, the soggy greens of Spring that deep, that moist ...
however, this stale cup of coffee is not refreshing me like a good cup of tea, luv.
today I long for a day outside of time luxurious space to dream, think, remember and then play.
today I must:
-take the dog to the vet's
-buy eggs and dye
-jelly beans and peeps
-make a card for a baby shower
and god, cook another dinner.
(It is not the cooking I find overwhelming; it is determining what to cook, the weekly meal planning and trips to the store a stone I repeatedly roll up hill. It seems I've misplaced my gusto, the joie in my vivre.)
today I receive unexpected guests, memories descending upon me, snippets of songs clouded by time: Easter services, family dinners, pastel print dress and buster brown shoes, my godmother singing "Hey Jude" on the organ with a samba beat.
today I awoke longing for a respite, a mini-vacation if you will, not an escape, but a bubble of time suspended - allowing the emotional snow fall within my snowglobe to settle.
today I want to luxuriate in books and words - yours and mine
today I feel closer to my truth, fingertips brushing the velvety surface
my senses know what my mind can never grasp.
today I sit here and dream while one eye keeps tabs on the clock; my morning slipping away
a cat stalking me through the high grass.
my list grows, preparations must get underway:
a bunny village to erect
today I will remember this weekend is about hope, birth after death, rabbits and resurrection, creativity reanimating the world
another chance to align myself with my expanding heart, each beat, a mantra
i am i am i am ...
the seeds of my salvation reside within me; within the simple truth of goodness - mine and yours -
seeing the world through wide eyes alert, open, receptive to magic and miracles and a heart willing to take it all in.
today I step gingerly over the wet dog, wrap a sweater about me and take in the wonder of robins fat from the bounty of worms
and await the return of the sun.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Acknowledging abundance (Aparigraha), we recognized the blessings in everything and gain insights into the purpose for our worldly existence. (Nischala Joy Devi, interpretation of Sutra II:39 from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras)
I am sitting here sipping a well deserved hot chocolate: it has a long day ... it is 46 degrees outside, the weather forecast for the week ahead is rainy and cold and I just spent 20 minutes listening to Chinese zither music with Cowgirl as a wind down from a marathon evening (the girl loves her zither music ... it is bizarre ... but she also loves greasy chicken skin - not the chicken mind you, but oh my, that crispy skin! So there you have it.) I ran around after work trying to find items for the bag lunch Cowgirl required for a school field trip to a farm tomorrow (everything had to be disposable) only to discover the trip has been canceled because of the rainy forecast. I tried a new recipe for dinner - a spin on shepherd's pie only all vegetarian. Meaning: lots and lots and lots of chopping, steaming, boiling, baking for a ten minute meal choked - oh yeah, choked - down and then an equally arduous time cleaning up. Then on to bath time, bed time and the zither music.
And that was the good part of my day!
Actually, my day took a turn when I was walking the dog and noticed a small package was on the front porch. Did I order something from Etsy while under the influence of Wal-itin (my Walgreen's knock off of Claritin)? Immediately glancing at the return address my heart skipped a beat - " A Secret Admirer"?
Imagine my surprise when I discovered this inside:
Ah ... I know that lotus flower ... I know that handwriting ... I know I am in for a very, very special treat and dear Kristen, you did not disappoint!
Family Tree by Kristen Walker
I am not exaggerating ... this unexpected gift revived my flagging spirits, it reminded me that goodness and abundance and love are the foundation of this Universe, and that giving and sharing and receiving are our natural tendencies. And now I marvel at what was my reading for this day "The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up." (Mark Twain)
This one act of generosity set my mind turning towards all the other gifts of inspiration that have been washing my way. Sarah Ahearn Bellemare's new book Painted Pages arrived over the weekend and I am in heaven! I love how she explains her process; the influence of poetry and photography in her mixed media pieces; and how she uses her sketchbook as a both a record of her creative process and as a tool to collect and hold ideas, thoughts, and insights. It is both a visual diary and a creative laboratory and I am excited to dig into the process.
I immediately pulled out my book of Pablo Neruda's "Odes to Common Things" and spent a lovely few hours yesterday making this piece as a thank you to an unsuspecting new friend:
I am also grateful for the steady arrival of art postcards spicing up my trips to the mailbox. So far I have received 8 out of 10 cards from ihanna's international swap.
It has been lovely connecting with new artists through their cards, via email thank-yous and checking out their blogs. So far I have receive cards from Finland, Sweden, Norway, England, Argentina and the U.S. I love the pull out message in this card:
And of course, this one really spoke to me
I am a lover of noses :)
All of this reminds me that whenever I am feeling a bit weary, the best medicine is to stop whining, stop wringing my hands, just stop and look around. Abundance quietly awaits my attention and it is pretty awesome and often colorful, creative stuff.
And the insight into my purpose? I'm not certain, but I am pretty sure Joy is heavily involved. I mean, if happiness is a warm puppy, joy is a wet nose.
And now my cocoa is cold ... but warm is my heart with all these lovely wishes surrounding me.
Friday, April 15, 2011
In no particular order, here is our week ... soggy and sunshiny, heavy and light, dull and colorful.
narrow strip of beach
the water before me
choked by leaves and vines
the thought of swimming through that muck
to reach clear waters.
heaviness of the weather
a cloak that impedes movement
threat of coming storm
wafts about me
creeping sensation of worry.
emptied on all levels
emotional waves knocking me over
I no longer want to get up.
Just lie here.
Let me be carried out to sea.
This day I carry
the world’s struggles
one more stone in my pocket
my defenses are weak.
Where is my bravado?
my voice whimpers
I cannot remember the tune.
I want to bury this
under the flowering crab tree
in the back yard
piling moist dirt
and the fear.
Then climbing into your bed
slipping my body
seeking the goodness of your warmth
I curl in upon us
vital organs guarded
and I surrender
as roots pull me under
I let myself drop -
In doing so, I sink down into dark waters
where I cannot see
but can sense
space opening up before me
Don’t think or feel
On this raft of two
I find my bravery
I know we will steer
towards the horizon
where we will see
the fin of Joy
breaking through the surface
of the waves.
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
Monday, April 11, 2011
I am working on my ninth painting for my 49 by 49 series (49 postcard sized pieces by my 49th birthday in October.) The themes that have been coming up again and again for me revolve around transformation, patience, and process.
Oonagh is a Celtic goddess, although she also is considered a dragonfae queen. Her people were the original inhabitants of Ireland and when the Gaels invaded her clan transformed themselves into leprechauns and thus were able to continue living in their home peacefully and without having to compromise their lifestyle or values. The message of Oonagh is "There is no need to hurry or force things to happen. Everything is occurring in perfect timing." Oonagh is here to assist me with transitions.
I pull this card a lot. If there is one thing I know I need to work on, it is relaxing into flow. Even when I think I am going with the flow, I am still thrashing about, pushing and then resisting and always questioning whether I am on the right path or if I've wandered off course. Understanding that change is a constant process and that we are always in some kind of flux, Oonagh is helping me to enjoy where I am in my journey. Patience in allowing things to manifest in their proper time is another lesson I am trying to learn with Oonagh's assistance. Knowing each step is important, I focus upon what I can do today and let go of worries about my final destination.
Snake has been a powerful totem in my life. Snake is about transformation; it is also about opening to the energy of kundalini which one friend describes as the energy of one's personal/spiritual evolution. Throughout my life, snake has visited me in dreams and of course on hikes. I actually paused to snap a photo of a black snake I found curled upon next to a hiking path in Devonshire, England (three people had walked right by it, I was the only one to notice it) and found out later in the pub it was the only poisonous snake in England, the black adder. And I had leaned in to take its picture!
In my life right now, Snake is all about shedding what no longer serves me; letting go of beliefs and ideas that no longer fit who I am or who I aspire to be. Snake is a reminder that transformation isn't always comfortable; it is often through discomfort that I realize it is time for conscious change.
In choosing the subject matter for these pieces, I am trying not to plan things out. I am allowing my guardians and guides to present themselves to me, so that this painting cycle becomes a kind of mindfulness practice. Each week I find myself reflecting upon where I am and the forces that have guided me thus far. As I am currently in a reading group for Women Who Run with the Wolves (my third attempt to read the book; I haven't made it all the way through yet) an obvious choice was La Loba or Wolf/Wild Woman.
"By whatever name, the force personified by La Loba records the personal past and the ancient past for she has survived generation after generation, and is old beyond time. She is an archivist of feminine intention. She preserves female tradition. Her whiskers sense the future; she has the far-seeing milky eye of the old crone; she lives backward and forward in time simultaneously, correcting for one side by dancing with the other." "This old woman stands between the worlds of rationality and mythos. She is the knucklebone on which these two worlds turn. This land between worlds is that inexplicable place we all recognize once we experience it, but its nuances slip away and shape-change if one tries to pin them down, except when we use poetry, music, dance or story." (-Clarissa Pinkola Estes)
I am aware of the cycles in my life where La Loba has called to me, guided me to venture within and awaken parts of me numbed, stunned or dormant. She seemingly retreats into the wild while I learn to use these new parts of myself. I slip back into a domesticated life until her call rouses me to action once again. I have dabbled with her magic, tried on the fur and occasionally bared my teeth but a part of me has held back. Or maybe she has always been guiding me, it just has taken this long for all the pieces to come together. I am now recognizing her cry in all that I do. I am trusting my instincts to guide me in every step I take. She has brought me far and I am not about to abandon her now.
Brigit is another Celtic goddess I've long been fascinated by. It is her fiery energy, the force of her will and determination which resonates with me (in Ayurvedic terms, I am predominately Pitta or Fire and Vata, wind and air.) She represents the three ages of women: maiden, mother and crone/wise woman and as such she is available to guide us through our transformations, connecting us to the powers and lessons available in each phase. She reminds me to identify my passion and to use that light to inspire and guide me.
Each painting has taken me further and further into a journey of self discovery. I find the process of selecting my next subject, deciding how I want to depict it and then actual act of creation has enriched my understanding of these forces. As I paint and then write about these pieces, I am finding the lessons are being integrated more firmly into my life. I can only hope the fire of Brigit will carry me through the next 40 paintings!
Friday, April 8, 2011
Something exciting happened to me yesterday. Writing my final piece for my story telling course, I was so deep into the process of retrieving memories and giving words to them, that I lost track of time and was late picking Cowgirl up from school. Only a couple of minutes. But I had been so immersed into this other world, it was a shock to lift my eyes and see how much time had passed.
This stepping out of time and into a realm beyond time is what I love about art making, writing and reading. In college, I remember my first art professor explaining how there is this more medieval experience of time when we make art and it does not conform to minutes, hours, or even days. It is like taking off on a space ship, journeying far and wide and then returning to earth to find everyone has aged but you have not. Maybe that is the secret allure of making art: it is the magic elixir of youth?
This experience got me thinking about the other times in my life when the pace of the outside world is only faintly perceived. For me, the best way to lose - and yet expand - myself is through reading. Curling up with a good book is something I learned from my mother. Growing up, our house was filled with the piles of her books: on coffee tables, on the nightstand, on the floor by her armchair, and all over the kitchen table. My mother loved to read and she devoured books on pace with her consumption of shoes and handbags.
She would read to me every night before bed and being a budding bibliophile, I would continue looking, if not reading, my books under the covers and with a flash light. To their credit, my parents never told me to turn the light out and I argue with The Husband about Cowgirl's new habit of asking for the hall light to remain on, her door cracked open "a little bit more" because I know she is moving to the end of her bed and reading after we tuck her in. I will not deny her her books.
I remember the summer my mother read me Charlotte's Web and we both cried. I asked her to read it again and she gently, but firmly, told me I could now read it myself. And I did. Over and over and over. I also re-read Stuart LIttle and all of the Little House books. I would wake up early and stay in my bed re-reading these favorite books, lost in the world with their pages.
One summer, when I was 11 or 12 with very little to do, I would walk the mile to our public library to pick out books. I would return home and spend the rest of the day reading. I averaged book a day. I was an avid fan of Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes and anything by E.B. White. I remember the thrill of my first library card and the sense of arriving when I could move upstairs from the Children's room to the Adult section of the library, trading in my peach card for a light blue one. I would wander the stacks, pulling books down and scanning their pages, looking for something that would fit my mood. I read some pretty inappropriate material as a kid: Jacqueline Susan's Valley of the Dolls being one book I knew I probably wasn't supposed to read. But I discovered many authors through my meanderings. There was no greater thrill than finding a good book and discovering the shelves held additional works by that author.
As an adult, one of my greatest pleasures was to get up, make a cup of coffee and then climb back into bed to read. With Cowgirl around, that pleasure has been put on hold for a few years. I have introduced her to the joy of reading in the bath. Her school is sponsoring a reading month, everyone reading the same book and the request being families take time to read out loud together. It is a little advanced for Cowgirl, so reading an 8 page chapter a night takes us some time as I have to pause to explain or describe things in more detail. So we draw a nice bubble bath and relax as we learn more about about Emma, her black pony Licorice Twist, and steamship travel up the Mississippi river.
I remember certain times and places by what I was reading. Jane Eyre while in Scotland; Milan Kundera in Ireland; the life of D.H. Lawrence in Sedona; Harry Potter in China; Eat, Pray, Love during our first family trip to Cape Cod. And there are the books I return to year after year: Ann Lamott's Traveling Mercies; Natalie Goldberg's Long, Quiet Highway; John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meanie. The Mists of Avalon. Women Who Run with the Wolves. Old friends I revisit, finding something new with each return.
So I made a trip to the library and have a new stack of books awaiting me. A few new titles and one old friend - Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I want to clear my day of all tasks, make a big pot of tea and hunker down on the couch with a bag of snacks and my pile of books. I want to slow down my experience of time.
And here is my plea for real books - books you hold and turn the pages and find on the shelves of bookstores or libraries or in your friend's home - they carry more than just the words or images on their pages. They carry a history of readers who turned the pages, left crumbs, marked favorite passages, creased the corners or otherwise used and valued them. As much as I understand the benefit and convenience of kindles and other devices to hold hundreds of books within their lightweight casing, they do not allow the kind of discovery and connection one has when browsing through stacks of books. Come visit me and you will have access to my library; you may pull down any book and from it discover something new for yourself. But you will also learn something about me and the worlds I have visited.
There is nothing quite like holding a new book in your hands: the smell of the paper, the act of smoothing the pages down, flipping ahead to look at the pictures, and peaking at the end of a chapter when things feel too tense and you just have to know what happens. But the best part of having a real book in your hands ...
... is the pleasure of sharing your joy with another.
(A heartfelt Thank you to Natasha and all the fearless writers in The Stories You Will Tell for inspiring me to discover a love of both writing stories and reading good ones. And now, excuse me as adventure calls ...)
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
I participated in iHanna's art postcard swap and thought I would share a couple of new techniques I recently learned and now love.
For the swap we were to make 10 cards. My normal way of going about things would be to make 10 different cards, totally stressing over the deadline and struggling at the end to come up with one more idea. Well. This girl is getting a little smarter. I decided to make all ten cards the same basic design and just play with color ... allowing the restrictions to push me to experiment more.
So here are the steps. (And I am also proud of myself for thinking to document the process ... although it isn't complicated at all and the color is pretty sickly in these photos.)
I used masking tape ripped into small pieces to cover the surface of a postcard. I first masked all the edges and then filled in the center.
Using a dry brush, I applied a thick coat of acrylic paint over the masking tape and let it dry.
I then added a second color and used a baby wipe (or paper towel) to smear and blot up the paint to reveal the color beneath.
Here's where it got fun! I had ordered some mehndi stencils online and decided to use the hand one. I followed this video for tips. (I trimmed a cheap kids brush so as to have a flat, thick brush to "tamp" the paint over the stencil.) The brush has to be dry, so I divided my cards up and picked one color to use on 3 or 4 of them, knowing I would have to wait awhile after cleaning my brush and stencil before I could tackle another batch.
Once dry, I used water soluble oil pastels to accent the edges and used stamps dipped in acrylic paint for the letter and small flower in the center of the palms. On the back of each card, I glued information about Joy Warriors, a picture of me and Cowgirl and this website. Now my cards and invitations to join Mission:Joy are traveling to recipients all over the world! Half of my cards went to Europe and Canada.
I think this may become the official Joy Warrior logo (or some version of it) ... what do you
And yes, I am just realizing the theme of hands continues ...