ping ping ping

There is this particular place on the path down to the brook, a very precise moment, when a ping ping ping inside magically morphs into exquisite sensation. It feels like the tissue that occupies space between my heart and solar plexus is expanding. My breath catches. It stops me in my tracks every time. It’s not always the exact same place when this happens, it’s like there is this clear line, not straight or identifiable by sight, that marks just where the edge of very old meets new, where what has always been meets what is always possible. Today is no different, even when the context of strong wind and bright low sun, blue sky and cold air holds magic too. 

For the first few years here, I thought it was a tree that was drawing me into its orbit and highlighting this line for me. It’s not a particularly distinctive tree except for the two trunks that have become one, and it feels undeniably old. It overlooks where the brook makes a dramatic turn and the water sculpts a landing. It is larger that any of its companions. It has commanded hugs at times and always receives reverence. Today as I passed by, my body adjusting to the sensation, a question appeared, ‘how is it that after four years I can still feel this way?’

I think there is little difference between food and art when playing in the creative realm. One moment this morning I was drawn into the kitchen to make a pite (pronounced payta), the Albanian pie my grandmother used to make with homemade phyllo dough. Making pite like my gramma puts me squarely into the realm of what has always been. It embodies the tradition and skill of making something so unbelievably memorable from simple and fresh and I am always amazed at what an accomplishment it is to pull a puffed up pie out of the oven and know I belong to a long lineage of those making this identifiable, sacred food.

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And at the same time I was drawn into the studio to cut up a quilt I thought was close to done. Moving from sacred to sacrilege. It’s not the first time I have done this, in fact, it is a way of working that allows me to cross the line into what is always possible with my work.

 

I have no idea what will emerge after I begin to play with these four ‘new’ blocks. Which is the whole point. I realize I have been dancing on that edge of very old meeting new for a long time. Seeking places where the possibility of movement from a ping ping ping to heart opening presence has become a way of life. Some people call it balance. It always feels like this could be love.

Today, for the first time, I walked out into the middle of the brook and sat down on a large boulder there. This centerline of the brook happens to be my actual property line.

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Here is another edge where it is possible to feel the wonder that is there, magnificent running water over ancient stone, as the space between what I think is mine and what is not. Edges are not lines dividing black and white or have and have not. I think they are always spaces that that contain the promise of something different.

hawthorn kombucha

The first thing I did when I got out of bed was to go check the kombucha (fermented teas beverage). It is now week four after finding a scoby growing in the bottom of one of the large store bought bottles I had left sitting with my empty, ready to re-use glass jars. (scoby, a mushroomy-looking thing, is an acronym for “symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast” looking much like a floating slab of blubber, and what makes kombucha’s fermentation magic happen). I had washed the bottle out, but clearly there must have been some trace of scoby, combined with leftover moisture trapped inside and well, nature took its course.

Twenty-five years ago, I was one of many ‘in the know’ who experimented with brewing my own after being gifted with one of the rather gross looking mushrooms. It wasn’t the craze it is now, but something that got passed word of mouth amongst nutritionists and healers. It didn’t last long for me. My passion for making food from homegrown healthy bacteria got channeled into sourdough bread-baking instead. Now, with a newly developed market for kombucha and a wide variety of store bought options out there, I have started drinking kombucha again, enjoying the nourishing addition of the lightly fermented tonic to my diet and digestive health. It is expensive to buy however, and the thought was there that I could start making my own. I have no idea how long the scoby had been living at the bottom of the bottle though, months I think, and you would have thought my discovery was like finding gold. I immediately researched the plethora of articles available on line, made a half gallon of sweetened black tea and slid the scoby and its vinegary home into the tea, covered with a porous woven cloth, and was in business a week later.**

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There is something about watching something grow, being present for the changes, and enjoying the benefits of waiting for an outcome, known or unknown. It is this something that gets me out of bed each morning, both the anticipation and the love for what it is I am being present for. Even the awareness of this ‘something’ has been a growing thing.

Seven years ago I started writing this blog, dedicated to the awareness of where connections get made in the making of something beautiful and nourishing. It is something at once tangible and fleeting at the same time. Love of a thing that lasts only as long as I am present with it on the path I choose to follow. Is it that simple? Now seven years later, I am called to consider where I have grown, what has been completed or healed, and what this next cycle might reveal.

After a summer of significant rain, of watching frogs jump out of the path of the oncoming lawn mower, of grief over the loss of another significant male presence in my life, my father, of looking out my kitchen window each day at the magnificent hawthorn tree that lives there and the magnificent bounty of berries forming this year, I am feeling overwhelmed by how significantly I seem to have veered of my path these past months. It has been a cleansing kind of summer if I want to be generous. After the most recent storm (the tail of Florence), I finally ventured down into my woods. even the path was running water, and the sight of the surging water in the brook below triggered a surging in me, of a longing for being here that I have ignored for too many months.

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There are days I think it is the rain that has kept me out of my beloved walks in the woods. But the fact is, life has changed. I have grown. And the resulting change in a day to day routine that seemed so perfect just nine months ago has eventually brought me face to face with how deeply heartbreak can live when faced with a change you are not ready for. That even with nourishing beauty and spontaneous accomplishment, I still feel that heartbreak deeply and can still question my motivation for getting out of bed each day. There is no blame or person I can reliably pin this to. Heartbreak just is, and it has always co-existed with the joy and fun of life I have had the privilege to experience at the same time.

Like the copious amount of raindrops, there are so many hawthorn berries. I watch after each rain as they become a little fuller, more red, now ready to harvest. I have begun collecting them, a little bit each day, putting some in a jar to make tincture, spreading some out to dry, all in preparation for making hawthorn cordial to honor this time, to offer myself and my loved ones a tonic to heal bloody heartfelt wounds of the spirit that might be there.

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The something right now is healing through growth. The something is always growth, but I don’t always see. I think I will add some hawthorn berries to my next batch of kombucha.

I recently came across this saying (from wildwomansisterhood’s Instagram page), and the invitation to reflect on this something called growth….

You’re so hard on yourself.
Take a moment.
Sit back.
Marvel at your life:
at the grief that softened you
at the heartache that widened you,
at the suffering that strengthened you.
Despite everything,
you still grow.
Be proud
of this.

 

**Kombucha (Tea)
for 1 gallon (or halve recipe for smaller quantity)

Boil 14 cups water. Turn off heat, add (1) cup sugar and stir to dissolve, then and add (8) tea bags, or equiv. (I have been using Trader Joe’s Irish breakfast tea bags).  Let cool to room temperature (lower the pot into a bath of cold water in the sink to aid the cooling). Pour cooled tea in gallon size glass container, add scoby and (2) cups kombucha. (you can grown your own scoby, get one from a friend, or purchase one, lots of info online for this.) Cover jar with a porous something (I use a cloth vegetable bag or a coffee filter) and secure with rubber band. Let sit at room temperature for at least seven days. Taste. It should be slightly effervescent and slightly tart. If the scoby isn’t developed enough the kombucha may also taste weak, so just brew longer and keep tasting every few days or so. You can drink right away if you like the straight taste, or bottle for second fermentation.

Have clean bottles ready for second fermentation. (I use two half gallon size bottles). At this point you can get very creative. I add a couple pieces of fresh ginger and some pineapple bits to each bottle. Any fruit will do. It gives additional sweet/flavor to the brew and aids in a quick second fermentation for stronger fizz. Cap tightly and let sit at room temperature for up to two days. Best to uncap release the gas every (12) hours or so. (I have heard of kombucha explosions happening in a friend’s kitchen…not a pretty thought). Two days is enough for me, it tastes delicious and has a good fizz. I then keep the bottles refrigerated. Yum!

eyes wide open

The countdown to Molly’s departure for Peru started a week ago. With only one weekend left, and after nine months of negotiating the challenge of life anew with an adult child who had moved back home, I was now planning every meal as if it was the last supper, considering every hour together a precious gift. We threw care away, had homemade pizza, beer, and ice cream two nights in a row. Simply because it was so good the first night we didn’t want to wait to have it again. Crust that was made with love and devotion, topped with the simplest of just ground tomato, basil from the garden, and fresh mozzarella.

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Making pizza seems simple. But there are so many nuances and tweaks that can make all the difference. The dough is time consuming, requiring four hours to proof, and still would not come out the way it is supposed to, light and airy. I found myself reminiscing about how essential it is to have a stone baking slab like the one I still use, bought when she was just a baby and carried faithfully to each new home. How I have to adapt to kneading this particular dough by hand with a spatula for the fifteen minutes because I don’t have a stand mixer. Fifteen minutes devoted to turning the wet dough over and over again in the bowl while contemplating another goodbye. Kneaded this way probably isn’t enough, the dough doesn’t triple in volume the way it is supposed to. I remember when Molly turned to me a few months ago, just an hour after hearing from her doctor that returning to Cusco would be ok, and she said “I’m going back.” We got a dense chewy crust instead. Delicious. So very good nonetheless. I will get a stand mixer someday. In this case, I can wait.

After pizza, with my inner Italian mother fully awakened, I went on to make fresh pasta and pesto for Molly’s actual last supper.

We ate it with a bottle of Malbec, her favorite red wine. Watched a last movie together, while she engaged in long soulful moments with the dogs.

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Sometimes events in life align in a way that can open a door for something new. As Molly departs, I turn my gaze in the direction of my mother, who has recently expressed desire to come live with me. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. How hard it must be to live alone after sixty years of having a life partner. About how nice it would be to have a shared life supporting each other in ways only a mother and daughter can. I’ve had to step back and stop taking this aspect of our time on this earth together for granted. As I have with Molly. Even though I’ve gotten used to living alone, coveting my solitude. Mom also covets her solitude. She is ready for a different way and so am I. The view from her new space in the addition I am designing for her will be inspiring. I can feel the truth of this. It feels good to say yes because I want to instead of thinking I have to. Why wait?

On my frequent visits with Mom these days, I cook a lot for her too. It seems, all she really wants is my tuna pasta, made a classic Italian way with lots of garlic and a little tomato and tuna packed in olive oil. I went to our family favorite Italian store in town yesterday to stock up on this tuna. Dismayed to find there was only one can left on the shelf, I asked the owner if there was any in stock he could get for me and he quickly said, “No, so sorry, my father cleaned me out this morning. He takes it to Florida with him so he can make his tuna pasta there.” There are clearly some things that we must take with us wherever we go.

Molly is a nester. She took her favorite shower curtain back to Cusco after sharing it with me for nine months, after having it with her in two homes before she left Cusco, now to grace her next home there again. Mom will bring many of her treasures to share with me as well, beautiful things that will no doubt thrive in a new context. Molly ceremoniously presented me her special painted horse before leaving, a gift of spirit and color that warms my heart and takes me right to where she is each time I see it. There is something about the wide eyed energy of this sweet horse ready to take off that resonates.

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The generational thread that binds me and Molly and Mom together is strong. From each other, we are finding space to make bold decisions with confidence and love. With our eyes wide open.

making art

I’ve spent the better part of the past week preparing a new gallery on my website to showcase collages made from fabric scraps. Its been a bit of an obsession. What began as a way to assemble scraps from my beloved scrap bin into usable sale worthy packs of fabric delight,

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has led to framing each view as a fixed piece of art.

As a quiltmaker, I have resisted this way of defining art. Even as an architect and artist, I have always sought for the way of art as a continuum of experience despite the ‘reality’ of a fixed view that might define its value. What I love about quiltmaking is the ability to create a multi-sensory experience. As a quiltmaker, I love the tradition of making something to be touched, wrapped, draped, and/or viewed in a multiplicity of ways. Confining an image to the wall has never felt like enough for me. Now, with these little framed fabric collages piling up in my studio, because I can’t seem to stop making them, I have to wonder why. Why am I doing this and why do I enjoy it so much?

The blurb on my website offers this description,
“Framed works of art embodying Kathy’s passion for making spontaneous design decisions, using pieces of color and texture that have been saved from twenty-five years of quiltmaking. Each assemblage is a collection of varying sizes and shapes of cotton, linen, wool, and silk fibers, of varying configurations, set behind glass to fix them in place.” Making these smaller fabric assemblages  is another kind of continuum I suppose, one that carries the energy of what I love in the making from one place to another.

Engaging with this endeavor has left me with lots of questions about how we, as a culture, view and value art. It is a matter of consciousness after all. After reading some excellent articles on the subject. http://eroskosmos.org/english/art-and-evolution-of-consciousness/, and https://upliftconnect.com/art-changes-consciousness/, I re-connected with what I have always known, that it doesn’t matter what manner of art I am making, I simply feel like I am in love during the making. It is such a good feeling.

And yet, the potential for feeling overwhelm looms. I feel this every day. My capacity for response is directly related to the sped up and complex collective of experience of the world today.  Most days it feels like there is no place or value for simplicity. A feeling of well-being in a simple act of love feels as transient as a connection to the internet. Perhaps this is the way it has always been. But I can’t help but wonder, what if we consistently chose to keep going back to the place where we felt love instead of choosing to be led by fear?

I read that the blood flow increased for a beautiful painting is just as it increases when you look at somebody you love. This tells us art induces a feel good sensation direct to the brain. Not surprising really. I suppose I am still just optimistic enough to think that this can be the core purpose for making art, that it is enough to offer a way into love.

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catching illusions

I wrote to a friend yesterday that I’ve been busy catching illusions. I referred to my commitment to let them stay so I could grieve their passing. And then spent the rest of the day wondering what I actually meant.

I thought first of the literal meaning of images I like to catch on camera. Rarely these days, do I just accept that image as finished or ready to share. No, I play with it as modern technology will let me, immediately, right there on my phone, with a spontaneity that feels good. I can search for the feeling inside me through color and shadow and composition and emerge with an image that looks as real as what I began with.

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This past week, the resulting images have felt magical and hopeful. Is this too an illusion? Is it simply the expression of me in relation to what is out there in a way that I want to be true?

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Is art then the treasure hunt us humans do to touch truth? Because what is on the surface might be too painful or too difficult to accept as true.

Another friend recently made a reference to being very sensitive. That she had little tolerance for the corruption, pollution and general malaise of our current state affairs, of how badly we human beings treat our own bodies, treat each other, treat our country, treat our planet. The definitive ‘yes’ of resonance I felt resulted in a clear thought that sensitive people simply have no tolerance for any kind of illusion that insists we desire what we cannot have or might be unattainable. I just hate it when this thought arises. I want to celebrate the tradition of freedom I have been been raised with. It is July 4th after all. I want to believe that we all have equal opportunity and equal access to what we all need. I am sitting with the illusion that we are all truly free. I feel the grief that this is might not be true, of how many human beings in this country are prisoners of isolation, loneliness, and fear, that manifests in discrimination, violence, poverty, and ill-health.

I like to think that as Americans, we are all treasure hunters. I think this can mean we actually have the freedom to hunt for the treasure behind the illusion that all is well, and that the true gold standard is to be truly seen and celebrated no matter where we came from or what we look like or what we believe.

My celebration today is to acknowledge where community can be celebrated, in whatever form, in relation to the humans that are there, to the animals who make their presence known, to the abundance of life giving plant life,

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to the dance of fireflies in darkness and dragonflies in light, to the coolness of flowing water in extreme heat, to an infinite richness that can be accessed at any moment no matter how much money I have in my pocket. I want to celebrate and at the same time I grieve the illusion that catching illusions and celebrating peace is possible for all human beings. I don’t take this freedom for granted. I am not hungry or fighting for my survival. I am white and middle class and have known privilege. I can protest and demonstrate and resist the utter craziness of the state of world affairs AND I can find peace at the same time. I don’t think it is an either/or, black and white proposition. It is my right as a human being. Happy Independence Day. May we all find our true freedom.

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kitchen garden

It’s been exactly one month since I planted my kitchen garden. I ignored the corners of the two raised beds I built three years ago, now warped and pulling apart, the gnawed edges where Yogi cut his new teeth almost lost in the silvery weathered gray. The small lupine casually planted in the space between them was already making its presence known. I had added compost and manure fertilizer to the soil weeks before, raking it in, imagining the dirt drinking in the nourishment, the earth’s placenta, hoping for healthy new growth that will result. It is a garden designed to eat out of every day. It is not a garden designed to yield large enough quantities of anything to put up for the winter. Located right outside my window, part of view I covet and love, of distant hills, meadow, apple trees, and dogs, it has to be beautiful too. It has to tickle my senses, invite my pleasure, give me places to rest my joy.

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And this first month does not disappoint. The mixture of starts and seeds, of flowers and vegetables, has yielded a landscape of variety and texture already. Added to perennial and ever expanding lupine, lemon balm, sage, calendula, day lilies, mint, strawberries, and peonies, there is now three types of string beans, cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, radishes, mustard greens, kale, butter crunch, red oak, and romaine lettuce, corn, red flame beans, tomatillos, and a whole quarter bed devoted to my favorite snap peas. I’ve added tarragon, parsley, zinnias, basil, and nasturtiums to already established edges. The earth outside one side of a raised bed is devoted to a variety of sunflowers. Pots filled with flowering annuals and colorful vines form the edge next to the door, the more creative side of the fence that has been necessary to keep Yogi out of the garden.

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Every day now I gather handfuls of greens and herbs just minutes before preparing a delicious salad. I don’t wait for anything to get limp or soggy, no, they get washed, cut ups and tossed with the barest minimum of dressing to eat right away, to savor the taste of immediately fresh.

Two years ago, I attempted to make a bigger garden to grow ‘quantity’ in. The thought was to enclose a large rectangular area with a protective fence like a typical country garden. I had a whole section of lawn dug up, had a fresh plot to work with that only required moving a few rocks. But on the opposite side of the house, in a place that my eyes rarely landed on, this plot remained untouched for a year. I thought, ok, then, I’m not ready, so began to add things, dead leaves, compost, straw, cardboard, anything to keep the grass and weeds from growing back, to make a mulch that could nourish the dirt over time. It is an untidy mess over there still, waiting. Instead, I have discovered the permaculture delight of keeping things close to home and in view, with two new garden beds that I can see throughout the day from my kitchen window. One is now filled with flourishing zucchini, melons, and hubbard squash. The other is still deciding what it wants. I will plant leftover seeds there today, have the pleasure of watching for more new growth in the next month.

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All to say, I am watching my relationship with the kitchen garden with interest. This morning I took note of the holes that are starting to appear in the leaves of things from unseen destroyers. I saw a gorgeous orange oriole fly out of the garden as I came into view, wondering what nourishment he found there too. I feel the resistance to eating more than I do now, wanting to have some for tomorrow, instead of simply planting more seeds in the places that open up in the process. The garden is ever changing. There is no definitive beginning and end, no ultimate harvest, no sitting back and assuming all will be well without my eyes and touch and care. I wish every day for this be enough for now, to get by with the small amounts of fish and meat and grain and beans and daily homemade bread that I have in ample supply, to eat only the fresh things that are here right now, to not run to the store to buy fresh things I don’t need. I pray for the patience to wait for the rest that will surely come.

chasing a porcupine

In all my years walking the woods here, I have not once seen another animal other than Yogi and Nora, in clear view. These days, it is just me and Nora. I’m still getting used to making the walks into the deep woods off leash without him, still trying to reconcile his wandering instinct that most likely will never change, with my desire to let him run free. But I have found him one too many times at the side of the main road after too long looking for him, watching him try to cross, wanting to wander even further. And so Nora and I leave for our time in the woods to the sound of his wailing from inside his crate. He knows where we are going and doesn’t trust yet that his time will come later, a nice long walk at the gorge or down to the brook, on leash. It’s the best I can do. I need to respect his ways. He has quieted even before we are out of earshot.

It is early, bright sun, blue sky and a barely perceptible cool breeze this morning. I let the woods do their magic, dispel the last of the accumulated worries and bits of fear that found their way into my awareness overnight. By the time I wake up, it is mostly contained. But there is always a lingering sense of something unwanted there, like a trickle from a body of water that looks contained, but can never really be truly contained.

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This is the beauty of the woods for me. It eagerly soaks up my lingering doubts, drinks it deep and transforms the energy of the moment into one of promise again. Nora races ahead, comes back to find me, splashes in her favorite spot in the pond, and honors both her freedom, and her invisible tether to me, at the same time.

Then, after all these years, I see a porcupine, fully present and in full view right smack dab in the middle of the path. It is a big one, dark and very much alive. Nora races ahead to greet it, and of course, the poor thing turns to scamper off as quickly as it can. But the porcupine’s slow lumber is no match for the lightening quick movements of Nora who has now begun to bark frantically, maintaining the distance between herself and the creature a very uncomfortable few inches. My yelling falls on deaf ears. Exorbitant vet bills flash through my mind as I watch the large quills of the porcupine sway back and forth. It tries to escape up a face of rock. But Nora runs around to greet it at the top. I can’t watch. I simply walk away, calling to Nora to come, ‘this way’, ‘treat’, finally muttering, as if she can hear me, ‘you are making a big mistake Nora, please please please come…’. The barking stops. Silence. I hear her thundering up the path behind me, and note as she races past that she is quill free.

At home I open my animal medicine book (Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams & David Carson) to the chapter on porcupine. “Porcupine has many special qualities, and a very powerful medicine: the power of faith and trust. The power of faith contains within it the ability to move mountains. The power of trust in life involves trusting that the Great Spirit has a divine plan. Your task is to find the pathway that is most beneficial for you and that uses your greatest talents to further the plan.”

Yes, the Woods tell me each and every time, just keep writing your path. Become the child again. Appreciate this new day as an adventure for discovery.

Porcupine is a gentle, non-aggressive creature. It’s quills are only used when trust has been broken. It does my heart good to know that Nora chasing the porcupine, barking her desire for connection, might not have been a threat or something to fear. The porcupine might not have liked being chased, but somehow it trusted that there was no bite behind Nora’s bark. Or so I’d like to believe. And why not have faith that animals can mirror for us the way to open our hearts and trust? “Trust can open doorways to the creation of space. The space thus created allows others to open their hearts to you and share their gifts of love, joy, and companionship.”

As if in answer, we emerge from the woods back into a sunlit blossom filled space.

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