here and there

I am back with my parents in western New York State for the week. Ben is with me this time, a holiday visit to stretch across the space between Christmas spent apart from Nana and Papa this year as they continued their current journey with convelescence. Instead of making the kuebies (one of Dad’s favorite Christmas cookies) that are typically made on Christmas Eve, I made them on New Years Day, and the tin now sits on the table here as a reminder of traditions we have shared for so many years past. It’s not that that we haven’t had a Christmas apart in our individual homes ever before. It’s just that Mom and Dad coming to us in Massachusetts these past twenty years had become a tradition of its own. This year was just different, bittersweet as Molly Ben and their father John cocooned in my country home with the snow and peace of the day.

Still, feeling the difference on Christmas Day, worried, Ben asked if his grandparents were going to die. We all did our best to reassure him that they just needed to heal from their repsective surgeries, that it would be too hard for them to travel this year. Ben is no stranger to death. He remembers his Grammy K and Great Gramma Gigi, both had come to live in our community when they needed more support, both eventually moving to nursing homes where Ben would visit and provide comfort before they passed. One of us added philosophically that as human beings, we all age, just like Grammy K and Gramma GiGi, and we all die someday, trying to put the cycle of life into perspective for Ben. We even talked about Desi, our very old cat who now lived with John and was beginning to fail. Little did we know that the process of Desi letting go would begin so soon, that she would stop eating the day after Christmas, that Ben would be witness again to the poignant process of death.

I now sit for hours in my favorite chair here in the wee hours knitting, waiting for the sun, my view out to the woods at the side of my parents house, and remember the sunrise captured here a month ago.

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I took the image home and let it simmer. There is something about the contrast of red on dark with glimpses of hills and sky between a tangle of bare winter branches that had captured my attention. My new stock of hand-dyed cloth made there in the fall, in the same hills as this image, was now sitting here on my studio work table alongside piles of commerical cloth scraps. It wasn’t long before I began to experiement with contrasts here too.

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The developing blocks went up on my design board and it took only days to piece together a composition that evoked for me, the feeling of being there, watching for the sun’s playful presence. Now back here, sitting in the chair, waiting for sunrise, I travel across the space of my imagination between here and there, to my studio there, to time spent sewing it all together, knowing that my heart will be holding the essence of being here with my beloved parents at the same time.

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Desi died the day after we arrived here. She was a beauty. My last image of her was in John’s lap New Year’s Day, a skeleten with fur, still emanating her beauty as John stoked her gently, back and forth, back and forth.

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extremes

On Christmas day in the woodlands behind home, an extremely beautiful light was seen emerging from behind an otherwise blustery, snowy display of winter.

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Today was also one of those spectacular winter days with intense bright sun and frigid air, extremes that also came together in a most compelling and refreshing way. It was the kind of day that was impossible to stay indoors for too long. Walking into the woods, body wrapped in layers of down and wool and protective footwear, felt really good on the one hand. It also felt really hard on the other. Soft fluffy snow on top of crunchy crusted over snow wasn’t deep enough for snow shoes, but just deep enough to make each step a slippery challenge. I was frustrated that I hadn’t brought my cramp-ons but I wasn’t going to turn back. Cranky and feeling the pressure of moving too slow, I urged Molly to go ahead, even if I didn’t want her too. The extreme beauty of the day had tossed me back into the turmoil of extreme emotion. What was this? How dare these extremes play with me so. Bittersweet feelings, my almost sixty year old body and soul wanting to just move as it wanted to move, not any faster, not any slower, not to the expectation of any other. I thought of all the years when my younger body and soul moved fast, really fast, and no doubt projected what could only be felt as the nature of my extreme energy then, to whatever companion I was with. I witnessed the flow of cool clear water co-existing with the beauty of crystallized snow,

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compassion for my younger difficult self washed in, and I eventually re-united with Molly further up the path.

My current knitted project is more ambitious than usual. Using number six needles and thinner yarn, I have been experimenting with texture, mixing knit and purl, and a palette of color that features extremes as well, warm white accent in relation to purple, blue, green and gold. This one is taking a really long time. It evokes something traditional, perhaps even Peruvian or South American, as if to create some sort of context for the reality of my daughter actually being home here, in this very different home than where her heart has been for the past three years. I set the two small balls of yarn I am working with down into the bowl of crystals this morning (so Yogi won’t get them).

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Another kind of extreme. Of soft glowing color resting with very hard and and dense, but equally glowing color. Both earth’s elements. The only seemingly insignificant difference is that the molecules that define one are simply moving slower than the molecules of the of other…

 

finding the magic

Home less than a day, Ben and I had already watched The Santa Clause 2, an annual favorite. Now the next day, just as we settled into a game of mancala, I casually asked him what he wanted for Christmas. Perhaps inspired by the magic that ligered from our movie viewing the night before, or perhaps it was just the moment he was waiting for to express the magic he was envisioning as a gift from Santa. Either way, I sat back in amazement and listened to a series of wishes that felt impossible to fulfill.

His first request was to go to ‘Rock Candy Mountain’. Literally. He described having his own tent to crawl into and when he came back out, he would simply be there in that magical place. He sounded quite clear in the process and the images that could transport him. I sat there frantically considering how I could adapt this into something that could in some way approximate what he was imagining, perhaps setting up my tent here by the tree for him to find in the morning, somehow empowering him to dream what he was imagining. I knew the feeling of this movie I had watched with him over and over as a child after all. Then grasping at straws, I suggested that maybe Rock Candy Mountain pnly lives in the set that was created to make the movie a long time ago and that the set was now gone, no longer real, that maybe Santa could bring him a new DVD of the movie instead. Ben looked at me with evey bit of the twenty-four year old he is, as if I was talking nonsense, and said, no, Rock Candy Mountain was real and that’s where he wanted to go. And at the same time he must have seen something desperate in my face because he switched gears, tried again. He said, “How about this Mom. I want the silver box that opens and fills the room with stars and I can then be with Grandpa’s Magical Toys”. He went on to describe all the toys in detail. I knew he was referring to another movie, but not anything I had ever watched with him when he was younger. So I pulled out my phone and went to Youtube, Ben guiding me until I found the show he was referring to. We watched together as the kids, left alone in Grandpa’s toy workshop, opened a silver box to release a magic swirl of tiny stars. It surrounded them like a mist, and shrunk them down to be the same size as the toys. Of course, the toys then came alive. That’s what Ben wanted then, to become small and become one with the toys. He was smiling joy at the possibility. Once again, my rational brain tried to suggest an alternative, but he would have nothing of my musings that only altered the feeling of the magic for him.

Ben is a very intelligent human being. He knew I couldn’t go there with him. So he switched gears agian. He smiled conspiratorily, came over to where I was sitting and whispered in my ear, “I want a heart, in a necklace”. He stood up, put his hands on his heart saying ‘a crystal, to wear right here”. Who is this boy, this man, this child of mine born with Down syndrome, as perfect to me as any child could be, that he can bring me to the verge of tears in an instant with his wise ways? I immediately went to the practical, wondering what kind of heart necklace I could actually find or make for him, trying to dispel my gender identified bias that it might not be appropriate. I even went so far as to suggest maybe a crystal heart he could hold in his hand, but he just looked at me blankly, dismissing once again any deviation from his vision.

Finding magic is a deeply personal thing. Who am I to judge where it lives for Ben? Or for my beautiful daughter Molly, whose heart sees magic in far away lands too. My kids don’t judge me for my obsession with trimming the Christmas tree just so, six boxes full of ornaments each year that somehow find their places together one more time. It is a feeling of magic that is hard won. When I put the first few on, it sems impossible that there will be room for all the rest. the kids put a few on, make an effort, but when I am left alone again with the tree, the boxes are still very full. I can’t leave it alone. I leave the room but the minute I come back I am picking up more ornaments, finding their places. Then there is always a moment, like the swirl of Ben’s stars, that I can feel the magic of light balancing with the amazing cacophany of little toys on the tree that have now come vibrantly alive for me.

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Heck, even the dogs know how to find magic. Like Yogi’s daily capture of some thing inside that he runs outside with, that will have me donning boots and chasing him through the meadow to retreive because it is often something valuable, like my brand new shoes, or slippers, or piece of mail. I even found my wallet out there one day! What could be more magical than seeing his human come alive, chasing him to his heart’s desire.

In these cold dark days it is good to find the magic where I can, in the light, in traditions that inspire, in the simple sight of the world coming alive each morning,

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or in heart that can connect with another heart.

road to home

I’m at that exciting place in the publishing process, when the final proof has been approved and printing is about to begin. I’ve worked hard to get here. First the years of writing and re-writing and finally hiring a professional editor to bring the book home with polish. I was fortunate enough to be able to barter one of my quilts for graphic design services with a colleague who makes her living as a book designer. Finally, the wonderful local Leveller’s Press is able to print color and black & white on the same paper, eliminating the need for the book to be ‘all color’ and thus, making this endeavor, full of color photos, affordable. I’ve discovered that I am good at the details, happy to proof and proof again until everything is just right. I’m just plain thrilled to be getting this unusual book in print.

During the first proof review, when you get to see the book actually bound for the first time, when all the last details pop up to be addressed, it was suggested that as publisher, I could come up with a name. Walking in the woods the next day, I opened my awareness to the possibilities. Almost immediately the words ‘road to home’ came to me. And like being drawn to that expensive skein of yarn the minute you walk through the door, coming back to it after looking at every other possibility in the store, and not thinking twice at this point at the cost, these three words eventually became Road to Home Press. I just kept coming back to the feeling of a perfect fit, for capturing the spirit of growth, that no matter what road you choose for staying open and aware, the potential for experiencing awe and love in relation to who or what or where you are, is always there.

No coincidence of course that Facebook offered me this quote I posted five years ago…

“Make that desire to stay aware really tasty so you can evolve. Evolution is the best game in town, and there is no better high than an epiphany.” – Ana T. Forrest

Walking in the woods with the dogs through the first real snow this morning, I felt the excitement of Road to Home Press being on the verge of delivering it’s first offering. As with all that follows when I make the desire to stay aware ‘tasty’, when the outcome is equally uncertain, I know I can aways see another possible road to home in front of me.

I call the dogs and they come running for their tasty treat.

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And though I know they are bound to me with invisible ties of loyalty and love, it is important that I continue to make their desire for coming home truly worth their while. Even waiting for a moment to deliver the treat can cause anxiety and concern…

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The snow has now started to come down hard. The dogs head back outside, they find their individual toys and do their individual romps. And then there is a sparkling moment where their play evolves into a rare nose touching of peace and stillness between them. I embody the sweet feeling. This too feels like home.

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adding wood to the fire

It was fifty-two degrees in the house when I woke up this morning. It always feels colder, these predawn moments in the first days of frost. I immediately started the fire in the porch room wood stove.

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When we are solidly into winter, I will keep this stove going twenty-four hours a day, damping down a full hot chamber to last through the night and give me glowing embers in the morning. But I resist starting this practice too early. The frugal in me wants to preserve the current stock of firewood, make sure I have enough to eek out the winter, stubbornly refusing to order more just in case. So I will wait, and anticipate when the days become as frigid as the night to begin the practice of adding wood the fire continuously, to keep the inside of home warm enough to support the productive flow of life here.

I think of the wood kiln firing Molly and I attended this past weekend. My neighbor Mark Shapiro is a renowned potter and has created an impressive body of work that draws an impressive community. I learned that day that it takes at least five people to be attending to the needs of the voracious fire inside the kiln, heating the chamber to an epic temperature needed to fire the beauty inside. I learned that the fire was started at five in the morning and would likely go until well into the evening. I watched invested potters attend to their various jobs, conversing, taking breaks for soup and tea inside, and coming back to the fire with absolute dedication. I marveled at the intensity of heat that was building.

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Invited back to the opening and unloading of the kiln to take place three days later, I had the honor of carrying one piece of magnificence after another into the studio to be placed on tables and shelves. I learned it was a ‘good firing’ with almost no casualties. I can only imagine the sense of anticipation in the three days of waiting. It was a sight to behold, the arrangement of beautifully crafted objects waiting to be removed.

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As I stood talking with Mark and his apprentice Eli about being a visual artist, about the thrill of seeing and appreciating such accomplished work, I shared about the upcoming publication of my book. When I said the title, “Adding Wood To The Fire – A Quiltmaker’s Way”, there were smiles, as the synchronicity of FIRE serving both literally and figuratively, the flow of our respective work, registered.

The book is in the hands of the printer and all that’s left is to do a final review, make the last little tweaks, and make the commitment to send to press. I received the final proof of the book cover exterior yesterday.

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This first effort, of integrating art and life in a series of chapters that have been written over and over and over these past four years, has now led to my own days of anticipation, of waiting to see the actual book in hand. I am only imagining a ‘good firing’ here too…

 

the order of things

I live with a rack of empty jars. They have been background for a long time, all sitting there waiting to be filled. I notice them in the dim morning light as I look around for a container to pour the gorgeous pink salt Molly has travelled home with. She loves this salt. It is the only food item she has brought into the kitchen since she arrived. It is the real deal.

Within moments of landing in the room I have given over to her, Molly re-arranged the furniture. I affectionately refer to as ‘the dorm room’, three single beds that have often been filled with three friends visiting at a time, to my parents and Ben at Christmas. It is a generous room which invites participation. Molly needed to create a sense of order here that was hers. I resisted of course. The order of the room as I had made it felt right to me. It had never occurred to me to make a change. I finally yielded, and was rewarded with the experience of a new order that also felt just right. Molly’s order, but order I could embrace too. As an architect I considered how confident I have become in the experience of order that I make for others. and how settled I have become in being able to live in the daily order of my own making. I loved that Molly, in just a few short moments, was able to shift me out of a stuck place. The room quickly filled with her things and her essence, becoming a safe place for her cat Jupiter as he adjusts to life in a new country with two strange non-Peruvian dogs and their human.

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After filing two jars with the salt, I looked around, then grabbed the oil soaked rag under the sink and began to dust the surfaces that were calling out loudly in the sunlight, knowing I wouldn’t be able to settle into the day until the surfaces gleamed the gleam of saturated, well nourished wood. I felt how the rhythm of my own brand of experience of the order of things that I respond to can condition every movement of my day, putting items in their places, sweeping floors, adding two more pieces to the quilt, clearing counters, three more rows of knitting, stacking a little more wood, making the bed, and so on….

I took a photo the other day that I keep thinking about.

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There is something about the collaboration of stone and wood and air in this particular place that has called to me every time I’ve walked by. On that day the sun and foliage were in just the right place for me to see the order that I typically only felt there. There is no explanation for why this image should invoke a sense of order for me, but it does. It is simply a quality of order that I seek to embody and flow through in all I do. It is what sometimes take months to find expression in a design or a quilt or a chapter of prose. And when it finally does, it is because it is right in front of me and I have finally yielded to it.

The order of home is now changing as I continue to yield to my beautiful daughter’s presence and way. Every little modification is a revelation, and an opportunity to revel in the joy of true and new at the same time. There’s nothing like an adult child coming home to live to stir things up. Even Jupiter is now venturing out of the room, considering his options.

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Now, when I look at the rack of empty jars, I see only the potential of what will fill them.

browned purple potatoes

I pan fried purple potatoes for supper the other day. Nestled in the blackened cast iron pan, they were a sight. They came from my favorite local farm, organic, fresh, full of moisture and life. I’ve never seen a potato so beautifully purple all the way through, shades of shades of purple, like a fine piece of hand-dyed cloth that registers a palpable flow of color.

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If I could assign a color to my life right now, it would be this purple in the pan. It is the color of spirit moving through my days of calm, resilience, and solitude, the color I see in passing awareness. Three years of living life to my own rhythm and beat, punctuated by needs of the four-legged’s that share this home with me has been a life full of shades, of the ups and downs of reckoning with just me. It is the first time I have emptied out drawers and closets to make space for another human here. Daughter Molly is coming home!

And then, after a time, when the potatoes had been cooking just so long, I began to turn them to reveal an indescribable shade of browned purple, flashing gold. It was the color of cooked to perfection, crisp on the outside, soft and pliable on the inside, something new ready to be savored.

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The last time I saw a purple potato was when I was visiting Molly in Peru. It feels like a sign, a premonition of something alive and fresh about to breeze through. That she is arriving with her beloved cat Jupiter (pronounced ‘hoopeeter’) means she has left her beloved second home in search of something new. Life is about to change. Two dogs, a cat and a daughter all under one roof. For however long. I can’t wait.