Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Safe Trip, Neighbors!

Just remember: You and I ruled the neighborhood. The double throne you saw at the antique store should have been ours.
I'll miss you, girlfriend!

As Promised

A Sample of My Morning Ideas in Action
(Thanks, Kids!)

Following this idea of modular art: Why modules? There is an implication of progress in modular art, of infinite variety; the possibility of rearranging and discovering new color combinations, new tensions and harmonies. There is continuity to it. Each piece has a few characteristics in common: three colors, the use of pattern, a border of some sort, and some aspect of collage. Unlike more individual, more focused and “serious” artworks, there is a lightheartedness possible here, a potential for play and manual manipulation that ultimately creates new work from old. In the process of taking ourselves and our artwork lightly, we can allow our innate abilities to flow more freely and create work we might otherwise subdue with self-imposed editing. Here, there are only those four rules: color, pattern, border and collage. Everything else is fair game. And though it seems like we might be limited by those rules, they ultimately allow us creative freedom.


Is it the rules that free us, or the acknowledgement of the rules and the ability to work within them? In a world without rules, given unlimited possibilities, a young artist can be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of choices s/he must make in order to create a work of art. Each decision looms large, and seems mighty important. Given smaller, multiple bites, modular work with given parameters, those decisions seem less ominous.


As I write, I see so many parallels to child psychology and the educational process. We begin with simple bits of information and close structure, such as learning the alphabet, then move on to sorting consonants from vowels. As the years progress, and the child is taught more and more of the structure of a subject (such as language, our current metaphor), s/he is allowed more choices, and more varied parameters. Eventually, having internalized all of the structure, having mastered the grammar and the syntax, the rules of composition, the concepts of metaphor and simile, the student of language can begin to play with the subject, can begin to make art. Poetry becomes possible. Novels, expository writing; the rules, while present, can be artfully bent to the will of the writer, and conscious genius can begin to emerge.


We can extend the metaphor to our own personal growth and development as well; life as art. We begin with structure and the comfort it brings, and then learn to use those things we’ve learned creatively as time passes. And therein lies the fascination.


I believe I am entering a time of possibility in my life, a transitional time. I believe I have learned a great deal from the parameters I have created for myself, and am beginning to see some glimmer of the possibility of a more creative venture ahead of me. It’s still emerging, like a distant horizon in the morning fog, but I’m coming closer to it; it’s there.


What will it be?

Monday, December 28, 2009


4 AM: Tossing and turning. The only thing going through my mind is the project I hope to introduce to my students today. I have several who are adrift, and I think I can interest them in something that has caught my interest. And no, it's not the project you see here. I'll explain that later.
7 PM: I am watching Julie and Julia. I am thoroughly enjoying this movie, and I'm moved to order "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", having read "Julie and Julia" a few years ago. I'm interested in series lately. Series of days. Series of blogs. Documenting change and growth.
Yesterday I found a few minutes to look over my newest issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Awesome. Always awesome. In it, there is an article by Debbi Crane called "It's a Grid!" about a (you guessed it) modular project using reversed canvas panels and the collaged detritus of everyday living. I like this idea; I wanted to adapt it to a classroom project, and the thought gestated throughout my early hours of sleep then birthed itself prior to dawn. I had a plan. I executed the plan during my classes today. It worked; I'll post a picture soon. Maybe tomorrow.
I'm also exploring encaustic because of the lush, rich surfaces it allows. I want to learn encaustic. I read about it this afternoon, and if I can find my ancient block of beeswax, I'll attempt it tomorrow too. Beeswax is sensual. Encaustic is sensual. I want to do multiple jewels of encaustic collage that offer glimpses of soulful truth. Hopefully I'll be able to find the inspiration to follow the medium.
And, last but not least, I have mounted all 8 (later tonight, 9) of my goat-themed bottle labels in 4X6 frames from the dollar store, as you see in tonight's illustration. I have been thinking about the comment made by the shopkeeper of "Cheese on Main" in Ocean Grove last summer; she was lamenting the scarcity of goat-art. Well, I found some. Modular goat art. Pop goat art. And each one came attached to some sort of tasty libation, saved over time. It doesn't get much better than that. AND...since I have been practicing moderation these days, I am still maintaining a slow and steady low-carb weight loss that just plain feels healthy. 18 pounds less unhealthy that a month ago. YAY me! Yay wine, and art, and pretty ephemera! Life is good. (I'll have to send some goaty art to that nice cheese lady sometime soon. I'll bet she'd love to meet Faith and the Girls!)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Got Change?

Parents, how do you tell time? "When my daughter was 5...when my son was 12"...sound familiar? This was when my daughter was 5. I was 25. So many things have changed since then.
Change isn't always easy, and we don't always understand it. Our circumstances change, and we adjust. Our bodies change, but our souls remain the same. We learn from the changes we experience. Sometimes the changes come with tears. Often.
Then we find a new way.
We each have cycles of change. They're not necessarily in sync with our beloved's. We learn and grow. We learn to accept the fluid nature of our lives. Our babies grow up, and have changes of their own; our patterns change. We adapt. Some of us change more than others. Some of us don't tell each other that we've changed, and it remains a private matter. Some of us sing our changes out loud.
The one thing I know is this: we are here to learn. And change is a part of that. Love endures; love grows. We are each a work in progress, and change is the catalyst for growth. The part of us that remains constant is our integral nature, though even that is moulded, if ever so slightly, by the things we learn.
Change is good.
2008: Change can be beautiful.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Still Smiling

Okay, it's blurry, but that's how the day went. Blurry picture? At least we got one.
Daughter's fried transmission? We have a truck to lend her.
Ran out of gas on the interstate even though the gage said 1/2 full? AAA saved us.
Steps are difficult? We found a pub that was on one floor.
Waitress fouled up and put Peter and Great-Grandma Coble on the second floor? They fixed it.
Bad weather coming? We had our family get-together today. Even if it was a struggle getting there.
And Mom, if you're reading this...now you know why we were late. Didn't want to worry you. Everything turned out JUST FINE. We made memories today; that's what matters. Megan and the boys and I shared a few laughs in the truck while we were waiting, and we dealt with things as they occurred.
And Mom, thanks for picking up the tab! That was an extravagant gift, and very unexpected.
So, if I book a cruise next Christmas for the whole family, you wanna surprise me again?
Just kidding! Merry Christmas!
I love you all!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lights in the Woods: December 20th

I have no pictures of the opening of Lights in the Woods, tonight. Couldn't find my camera. Let me just say this: draft horses pulling a long wagon in the moonlit snow are beautiful. The crescent moon was beautiful. I will be sure to take my camera next weekend.
Peter and Earl joined me for the first couple of hours, then left when it became obvious that there were more than enough volunteers. I stayed for the duration, and my lesson was this: no one deserves to be outdoors in temperatures below 20 when the wind is blowing, for any sustained amount of time. It hurts.
I suspect that Earl has just become a part of our family, in one way or another. I knew it when I saw the cat kissing him last night. Cats know. Goats know too...and he was a good helper in the barn tonight. Uncle Earl.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lives of Quiet Desperation

Chickens Roasting at Goschenhoppen
Last Summer
What do we really need? As I'm watching TV tonight with our friend Earl, I'm struck by the dichotomy of our worlds. Earl lives with very little by his own choice, but this morning he asked to come in for the weekend because of the impending blizzard. You can read about him HERE. On Saturdays, I visit Earl with soup and a sandwich. This morning, as I was handing him his breakfast, he said "Maybe I'll come in for the weekend. It's up to you.", and I was happy he did, because this snowstorm is supposed to be a whopper. Peter and Earl have been watching old movies all day, and I've been feeding them warm soup and muffins and coffee. But that's not what I've been thinking about.
I'm watching TV as I make my weekly soup in the kitchen today. While I stand at the stove, I'm seeing ads about fashion and decorating, the perfect way to fillet a shrimp for that extra-fabulous appetizer, the latest exercise programs being touted by an amazingly well-preserved 45 year old Christie Brinkley, fiction about vampires and princes, and the repetitive dire weather warnings that precede a blizzard. I'm hearing about automobile accidents and car insurance, the stock market and Tiger Wood's conquests and shame. And I'm watching an elderly man who has lived outdoors for 25 years kiss my cat and laugh at the joke he just told my husband. He's watching two men fence in an old movie called "Scaramouche"; he told me he likes James Bond and cowboy movies. What does it mean to him? What do we really need?
We need food, certainly. We need to be able to protect our bodies so they don't freeze or become diseased. We need companionship, whether from people or animals; sometimes we need more, sometimes less. We need wonderment; whether the fascination of the intricacies of a snowflake or the plot of a good book or movie. And we need peace in our souls; whether from the simplicity of our natures, from finding our centers, or from faith. I think that peace is the most important thing of all. With it, we can put away the desires that are filling the pathogenic void that many of us feel. How often have you felt uneasy, then decided to redecorate, or buy new shoes, or travel to the Bahamas? Did the unrest go away when the object of your desire was obtained, or did it just change its face? Maybe you had a drink to quiet it. Or maybe you cleaned your house, or jogged a mile or two to dispel the energy. Maybe you picked a fight with someone you live with. Maybe you had an affair. If you felt comfortable in your own skin, at peace in your soul, I believe those energies and desires might not be so intense. What do we really need?
I'm not suggesting that we all take up a nomadic life like Earl did, or take vows of poverty. I think that the key to finding that quiet place inside is to live honestly, a difficult task in the world we live in. We all live lives of compromise for so many reasons; political correctness, professional obligation, social or religious expectations. Some of us were brought up to be selfless; some of us were brought up to be social climbers. Most of us, in one way or another, chafe at the confines of our civilized lives when confronted with situations that are in conflict with our true selves. What to do? Thoreau said that "Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." I think the answer is this: Let your soul sing it's own peculiar song, if just a little; then let it sing more loudly when it can, whether that happens on the weekends or the evenings, during your retirement or (if you're lucky) every day. Because living an inauthentic life is the worst kind of hell there is. We all know that our time is precious. Ask yourself: What do I REALLY need? I'm certainly thinking about that tonight.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Make it and Take it.

A pillowcase for one of the boys
Fitted sheet; I think I'll keep the top sheet plain so they can get some sleep!
Handmade recycled magazine page bow. Here's the tutorial.
Handmade recycled magazine page Moravian Stars.
Here's the tutorial for these little gems. Don't you just love making something out of nothing? It makes me realize just how rich we really are.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

In Their Bones

Trevor and Hobie

Look closely. I do. When he's not looking, I search the curve of his chin, the color of his eye, the tilt of his nose. He doesn't know that I do this. No one does.


Am I there? Some hint of me that will pass on, when I'm gone? This beautiful boy, this vessel, my family, my hope...will he and his brother remember enough to tell their children, if I never meet them? Will I meet them? Will they remember?


On Saturday night, we took the boys to my daughter's open house at work, where we saw the fork lift she drives, and the huge warehouse where she works. They ate cheese and cookies, vegetables and dip, drank punch and soda, and saw Santa. The older one, Jared, had to be persuaded to sit on Santa's lap, and did so with an amused and slightly indulgent air though the little one, Trevor, smiled his brightest smile, and wished his brightest wishes that night. He's just beginning to be self-conscious; his school picture this year sports some odd manipulation of his haircut that I'm sure was unsanctioned by his mother. He's becoming himself. Am I in there somewhere? He's seven now. Will he remember me?


On the drive home Peter, Jared, Trevor and I were tired and not looking forward to the hour's drive home in the car. Peter plugged in the GPS to find our way in the dark, and Jared was interested in it, so we switched seats. I told him it was the world's slowest video game, and he laughed; I left him to the front seat to discuss satellites and left turns, road maps and 2-D views with his Grandpa Peter. I sat in the dark, deep backseat, in the quiet with Trevor, our youngest, our last grandchild. I stroked his hair, and he fell asleep, his head tilting in the moonlight. With each streetlamp, I watched his face come into the light then fade: the long eyelashes of youth, the full cheeks, the thick, soft hair; and I knew that this child might be the last one to really know me, to know my blood, to have clear memories of the hands that held him throughout his life, the smell of the goats on my coat, the dinners I made for him, the homework we did together. Who else will know me after him? My boys, my heart. Will I ever know him, the grown man? Time will tell.


I clearly see myself in my daughter's eyes. I feel her nearly as well as I feel myself. I confuse our memories and the pictures of us as children, sometimes. These boys are more removed, but still parts of the same whole; family, our blood, our line. And as fractured as I've made it, as difficult and dysfunctional as the years have proven for me and mine, this thing remains: I know myself through my daughter's and grandsons' eyes, and the curves of their bones. I know myself through the little hands that reach for me in their sleep, and through the sharp, thin shoulders that relax under my hands. I know their smells and their dreams, and they are a part of me. And I am a part of them...and theirs...for one more generation. Do we really remember longer than that, as a species? It's the rare story that transcends immediate memory. It's a story of photos, and songs, and traditions, but not the feel of a hand, or the blue of an eye. I'm happy to see the love in their blue eyes. And I hope, for awhile, they'll remember mine...and maybe tell the stories of our times together to their children. My hearts. My hope. My family.

Friday, December 11, 2009

When the Pump Goes Out, and the Water Freezes...

We still need you. Get the bucket. You'll need one to bring warmer water, and one to take away our milk. No milker? Do it the old fashioned way. There are only 16 of us, and 4 are nearly dry. You can handle it. Your classes are larger than that! We'll only step in the bucket once or twice, so the cats can have a drink or two. We like to share. And, hey, we heard your hand was a little off. God gave you two. Use them.
While you're at it, load us up on the straw bedding. It's darn cold in here.
And come back tomorrow.
We love you.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What To Do When You're Doing Dishes

Add some citric acid to raw milk, then heat it to 96 degrees. Turn off the heat.
Mix some rennet with non-chlorinated water. Add the solution to your warm milk, and let the curds set up. Wash a few more dishes. Cut the curd into cubes.
Scoop the curds into a strainer lined with cheesecloth.
Drain awhile. Dry those dishes.
Nice curd.
If the dishes are done, follow up and make mozzarella by heating and pulling the curd. Easy peasy. Then do the cheese dishes.
Final photos another time. I got busy. Busier.

Which is REALLY the Home Team?

I've been struggling a little this week. Early in the week, Peter brought up the Christmas decorations, but we've both been so busy after work each day that we only completed the tree and a few indoor decorations last night. It does feel good to see it there again, though; it made the cold wind blowing through my coat a little more bearable as I pumped gas on the way home tonight. The thought of a warm cup of soup, a blanket on my lap and the Christmas tree lights warmed me from the inside-out. I need that comfort tonight. I'm hurting.
Ever since I was a small child, I have periodically been plagued by fever blisters, and I woke up with the nerve pain that signals one yesterday morning. This prodromal pain can be oppressive; this time I almost feel like I have the flu, though without the "cold-like" symptoms. Headache, nerve pain, swollen lymph nodes...I just feel sick and miserable. And to top it off, I have a large group of blisters forming smack in the middle of my cheek. Why? I dunno. I'm not sick otherwise. Stress? Maybe. Changed diet? Maybe. To keep me humble? Most likely. The stress is unavoidable in my profession, and the diet change is for the best, so I'm keeping it. As for staying humble: I can always use a reminder. As always, I'll just have to deal with it.
I'm 52. I've had this for 48 years. And I'm pretty tired of it. Parents: don't kiss your kids when you have an outbreak. Quarantine yourself. Herpes (even type 1 like I have, the non-STD one) is the gift that truly keeps on giving. This one outlasted my dad, who most likely gave it to me with an innocent kiss in 1961. He had no idea. And he most likely got it the same way, back before parents knew it was a virus.
Are we simply multi-generational vehicles for ever-changing, eternal viruses that find their warm and comfortable homes in our bloodstreams like microscopic vampires? They're strong and insidious little "suckers". Sometimes I think the viruses are winning; at any rate, tonight with a headache, swollen glands and a face that feels like it's on fire, the score is as follows: Virus:1. Me:0.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

On Sundays I Cook

On a Snowy Morning, a Touch of Spring is Best
Farm fresh eggs, poblano pepper, ramps from the freezer, mushrooms, homemade butter and homemade goat cheese.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Things Could Be Worse...

The birds felt it coming. They were perched in the tree tops and on the street lamps, just waiting for the snow.

There was nearly a white out when we arrived at the farm. Flint Hill has a climate of its own. If it's raining in the valley, it's snowing on the hill. Snowing in the valley: blizzard on the hill. You get the drift (pun intended). It's really quite beautiful, though I do anticipate a difficult winter if I'm able to keep milking. Kathy has begun to dry out the herd to prepare for the new kids, so we're down to one milking a day; this is timely, as I was diagnosed with advanced carpal tunnel in my right hand two days ago, and may need a little down time to have it fixed. Upsetting news.

Things could be worse. I could be this poor guy.

These boys know how to spend a snowy day. That's my new farm vest they're sleeping on ($6.96 at the local thrift store for an L.L. Bean down vest. Score!) I didn't have the heart to make them move; I wore something else! Next time I'll make sure to hang it up!

First Snow

The first snow of the season arrived this morning, bringing with it a beautiful display.
Confused flowers in the herb garden at Flint Hill Farm, where I milked tonight. Thankfully, the goats had been brought in earlier. They hate to get wet. The roosters, however, are on the prowl.
And Mac was there to say "Good Night!"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sweet Fruit

Gris-Gris contemplating his navel.
"So that's your prompt for today- what do you believe in? what's your dream? what do you know for sure?" (From "What Kate Did Next", an inspiring blog on the writing process by Kate Lord Brown.)
I believe that by living simply, I can better understand the larger truths. For me, it takes a certain inner peace and order to allow me mental clarity, and my life as an artist and teacher is anything but orderly. If I compound the clutter of my physical environment with a cluttered and stressful schedule, my mind gets lost in the fallout; I spend my time fixing and restoring rather than creating and dreaming.
Since meeting and falling in love with Peter, who is equally creative and cluttered, I have walked a thin line, balancing the excesses of our combined imaginations with the excesses of our combined households. We do not like to do monotonous, repetitive tasks. This includes simple household tasks, though we do them (of course) out of necessity.
It seems to me that by living a more rural life, combining interesting, non-repetitive labor with our "creative" work, we can lessen our need for physical objects or our psychological dependence upon our "things". We can focus and utilize our skills, be stimulated by the world we live in, and lead a more positive and satisfying life.
I keep saying "we"; I wouldn't impose my desires upon Peter, though I would certainly share my ideas. Just sayin'.
So, MY dream is to have a simpler life, and to work on a farm. I'm living that dream, bringing it closer to fruition each day as I simplify my life and my environment. It's a process, not an epiphany. This is the fruit of my accumulating years; as I ease into my 50's and begin to have an eye on retiring from my teaching profession, which has been my professional backbone for 23 years, I feel the need to reinvent myself...gradually. And to do it with honest, self actualized vigor.
My UBER-dream is to own a small farm, though at this point I'm struggling with the dream vs. the reality of my own aging body and our combined meager bank accounts. If some miracle occurred and we were able to buy a little farm with a few goats and chickens, I'd try it in a heartbeat. Arthritis and carpal tunnel be damned...I'd work through the pain to achieve that goal. Would I still have time to dream and paint? I don't know, but I suspect I would if I got the balance right. Not too many animals, not too much maintenance, not too many outside distractions.
What do I know for sure? I know I am infinitely creative. I know I have a loving and supportive husband and a few excellent friends. I know that I want to have a meaningful life that contributes to a better world and helps others. I know that I want to have more time for my extended family. I know that I don't have the energy I had in my teens, when I tried this life before, though my coping skills, financial base, life experiences and self-actualization skills have improved tremendously. Funny how those attributes have grown in inverse proportion to my physical beauty! We ripen. Maybe the best grapes are actually raisins. Or at least over-ripe, sun-sweet fruit!
I have a little prayer that I composed, which I recite internally in times of need or change. This is it: "Dear God, Goddess, Powers-That-Be: Please center me. Through the nurturing of the earth, the directionality of the air, the transformative properties of fire, and the power of water, guide me, strengthen me, and make me whole. Bring me home." I haven't said it to myself in awhile, but I often did, before I found the farm where I tend the goat herd now (which feels so natural and good to me). It helps me still my mind and listen to my inner voices, which are always honest. It brings me peace.
Thanks, Kate. Good prompt.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thrift Store SCORE!

23 pairs of knitting needles, 20 handmade lace doilies,
and one German mustard(?) crock from my mother's hometown.
Total: $2.97
(Thank you, local thrift stores!!!)