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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dad’s way

A week ago, exactly four months from the day he passed on January 19, we collectively and lovingly offered remembrances and goodbyes to Dad. It was a beautiful memorial service and a wonderful gathering of family and friends to commemorate his life and share stories of how his presence touched our lives. We began at eleven in the morning and didn’t finish until eight the night. Dad always did know how to party.

In the course of going through countless images for making photo boards, I came across one that captured, for me, the essence of Dad’s exuberance. The innocent joy of a five year old barely contained in the elegantly clad body of the eighty plus years man. In a perfectly balanced gesture of both giving and receiving, while shaking the hand of past Hobart & William Smith president Mark Gearan and at the same time accepting an award from his beloved Statesmen Athletic Association, Dad exudes pure joy. It was that joy that we passed around to each other last week.

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How does one distill sixty years of a beloved relationship into five minutes?

My contribution to the service follows….

“I loved sharing the start of a day with Dad. He was brilliant in the morning. It was his time. Anyone up at the crack of dawn with him could rest in his orbit of gentleness and powerfully focused energy, as he was preparing to enter the challenges of the day. My summers during high school working for him in his dental office were spent in this orbit with him, driving in the wee hours to greet his first seven am patient. I got to ride in the coveted red Carmen Ghia, feel the chill of morning air as we drove through farmland to get across town, and have breakfast with him in his favorite diner. Two eggs over easy with rye toast. There was little conversation. It was comfortable silence even then. He had trained me and trusted I would do a good job. And I in turn could witness just how much his patients trusted him. And though he never looked the part, no white coat for Dad, his uniform was nice slacks, short sleeved shirt, and his famous white bucks, he had a way of putting everyone to ease by truly listening and letting you know how much he cared.

Because Dad was a caregiver. He embodied the quality of being a supportive presence as surely as the air he breathed.

When I was twenty, he stood on the platform with me waiting for the train that would take me out of his orbit and into the jungle of NYC. I felt loved, his glistening eyes full of tears told me how much he cared, and that he trusted I would be ok.
As I lay on a hospital gurney waiting alone in the hall to be transferred to a room, after complications of giving birth to Molly, he appeared out of nowhere, quietly standing next to me, eventually asking ‘How are you?”, making space for me to say, “I’m so happy!” He had not been able to get the hospital in time for Ben’s birth. But when he heard that Ben had Down syndrome, I was told that he simply said, “What a gift.”

In the years of young children and career all colliding, when he and Mom would come to spend the holidays with us, Dad’s Christmas gift to me was to shop for all the food, and then cook our Christmas meals. He would even help form the crescent shaped kuerbies made from his mother’s own recipe. I think all he ever wanted for Christmas was a pair of socks, these cookies, and to be with family.

I didn’t understand it until recently, that his gift for letting go of just enough expectation in another person, was just enough to let that other person shine.

Taking care of family came naturally to Dad. He was devoted to his siblings Mona, Judy and Ted. We always knew when he was on the phone with one of them. His body language and his tone of voice spoke of his delight and ease with each of them. From both the Fords and the Brodines, I have heard countless recollections of how Dad gave of his time and presence when needed, quietly, without fuss or fanfare or desire for recognition. He was there, fully participating in all the ways that counted growing up, the fun family weekends and outings, the road trips, and holidays that always included aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents galore.

When Dad turned seventy, I treated him to an introductory yoga weekend at Kripalu. I had been going to this wellness center for years, and it was a sacred place of rest and relaxation for me. I was a bit nervous about how Dad would manage the serenity of this type of environment, wondering if I was making a mistake in bringing this highly energetic, action oriented man to such a place, sharing one of the typically small rooms with him, the man I had grown up hearing snoring even from my room at the other end of the house. Well, not only did he not snore, but he seemed to know exactly when I needed alone time and would leave to explore on his own, even asking if I would like a cup of tea when he returned. He would eagerly get up for breakfast in preparation for his yoga classes each day. He loved it. He worked hard, asked questions, and found camaraderie with everyone he met there. After that, he always referred to ‘doing his stretches’ before emerging for the day. I like to think that he had learned yet another way to make space for his generous spirit to flow.

Dad cared for all of us beloved humans in his life, especially for beloved Ginny, for his beloved dogs Misty, Mandy, and Maisey, for his beloved green lawn and vegetable garden, for beloved Hobart College.

And aside from the copious amount of cucumbers he ate each summer, Dad was a master of moderation. It was how he cared for himself. He didn’t eat too much or drink too much, or work too much. But he could play hard, and care deeply. He didn’t proselytize about his way. He just quietly listened to his own body and did what he needed to do to stay healthy. I grew up benefiting from the healing power of hot toddies and warm salt water prepared with his beautiful hands. In this last year of his life, he was challenged to consider how his vision of the healthy Bob Ford he embodied, might need to change. In this last year, he did his best to turn his generous presence to himself.
I have been blessed with sixty years of knowing Bob Ford as my father. I have been lucky enough to share a stream of morning energy with him that will last a lifetime.

Rest in peace Dad. I love you.”

boundaries

I had forgotten to call Nora and put her leash back on. I’ve learned that if I don’t do this down by the brook, out of sight and mind of the end of the trail, she will race ahead to neighboring yards and in my mind, to danger beyond. She pushes the limits of the boundary I continually set for keeping the walk under control and safe. Knowing that once she has made up her mind to push past the boundary, no amount of calling will bring her back. And at the same time, she always comes back, if only to play hard to get alongside the path I am walking, only coming when she is ready. It can be exhausting and worrisome. I’m supposed to be in control of my dog.
Note, Yogi wasn’t even with us. I had just come to an agonizingly fought decision to not let him off leash in the woods. There have been too many episodes in the past few months of him taking off and wandering way beyond recall. I have had to get in the car, only to find him alongside our country highway, ready to cross and continue exploring. It has taken me months of angst and self-judgement, “I should have trained him better”, “this is not the right home for him, he needs a farm with a job” etc, etc…with thoughts flowing as insistently as the water now flowing with force through the rivers and brooks. Thoughts that can’t be contained, or ‘bound’ in any way either. It is ironically one of the things I love best about water, how it will flow exactly as it needs to in its free state, unbound by dam, or pipe, or container with a lid.

I have finally accepted that Yogi’s nature will always be to wander, regardless of whatever internal ‘trained’ boundary I have set with him. The irony is that he, unlike Nora, is an easy walking companion on leash. He doesn’t pull at all. I can actually walk through my woods with him tethered, connected and stress free. I have finally come full circle to consider the gift of being able to now explore places I have resisted going in the past year because I was concerned about the dogs being off leash, places I could never go with Nora easily. We don’t have to be together, all three of us, all the time. Within the expanse of meadow, their everyday playground, the two of them have ample time to romp, rest, and contemplate together, boundary trained to the edges protected by an invisible fence.

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I am working on a new quilt that explores the limits of a most definitive boundary, the circle. I’ve just finished the quilting lines on one of two celestial bodies I imagine in relation to each other. I am looking for where and how this body of energy can relate to its context, the rest of the quilt. Yet another way to explore the nature of boundaries.

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I think about setting boundaries a lot. How do you set a loving boundary with a twenty-seven year old adult child who has moved back indefinitely? Or with elderly parents who need more than you are able to give? With past lovers when there is still love? Yes, setting boundaries with dogs is different. And yet, I wonder at the delicate balance between yielding to the needs and freedom of another while clearly and effectively being in control of our own counsel. Yogi and Nora structure the emotional flow of my day from the moment I wake up until the moment I decide to go to sleep at night. Their gift to me is the reminder that a desire to stay in my bubble of solitude is an illusion that only serves temporarily. Eventually, the bubble always bursts. The essence of a fluid way cannot be contained.