Saturday, March 22, 2008

Expect to be Surprised

Part wisdom, part affirmation... expect to be surprised.

I thought our invitation to Mitchell and Julie's was for a potluck picnic, or something as casual. I should have brought our tuna salad in a prettier dish. I should not have brought Fritos. What can I say? Sometimes a bag of Fritos are a rite of Spring, like daffodils and new shoes. We arrived to a garden and home in full bloom. Julie had set the table with her beautiful china and silver, and elaborate dishes were coming out of the oven.

And they even had supplies for decorating eggs, and Alex mixed the potions, so we could get down to business. I realize these pictures may cause a bit of a stir in some parts of the country where snow is still falling... yes, it has been gorgeous in Southern California, and yet, I think I would actually enjoy a few more weeks in Wisconsin.

This little bunny dropped egg after egg in the cups of dye, so the artistic part of the program went fast.

Alex made a newly hatched chick. She's still popping out of her shell.

Here's the hen that laid her.

Most fun things, and even some difficult things, are more fun when shared. Our afternoon together was beautiful, and fun, relaxed. Mitchell's a sweet boy, with an easy laugh.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Carrots and Honey
Last night I ate carrots cooked in honey. It was a suggestion from Maria B. to Janice R., to cook the baby carrots with a bit of honey. I wonder how much exactly. I have carrots and honey. I even have a ham, and Janice R.'s amazing carrot cake recipe, and somewhere in the garage I have a packed box full of Easter decorations and Spring touches. I could go on for a long bit about Easter and how it catches me off-guard and unprepared most every year, fortunately I have labels, including an "Easter" category of past posts, so no need. It's all been said before. I really do try. I try to plan and clean and decorate and I even imagine going to church, but somehow my efforts fall short. Last year, probably around 4th of July, when I packed all of the Easter bunnies, baskets and egg decor, I really believed I was packing for another move. I did not think we would still be here. Not that we had a plan or even much hope, so I guess it's just a habit. It makes me sad how I dread holidays, even my favorites. Gad. I wasn't going to do this. Carrots cooked in honey is really very nice.

Maria and Jordan riding the ottoman, sister cowgirls of the living-range. I found this pair of feathered $1.87 bonnets at a thrift shop in Madison, Wisconsin. I love Willy Street and St. Vincent's. I love discovering an unexpected treasure and seeing it open up a new world for someone. I need to grab my camera again, the next time Maria is brandishing the inflatable sword, and wearing her brother's leather belt and her purple pirate hat. William says she appears in his room, dressed in her piratey garb, and thunders pirate words... Oooh arggh! I'm a pirate!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Suddenly It Is Spring

William initiated this Spring cleaning weeks ago and they are still at it. They are methodically, diligently sorting and organizing Lego bricks, components, characters and gears.
I tried to get a picture that included the cats; the cats like to tiptoe through the maze and find a spot to roll in, but they came to me when I showed up with my camera. This is Alex's room. This is the first time the boys have had their own rooms. In the "TreeHouse" their beds were in the dining room/kitchen/living room. In our "Rancho" they slept in one room and played in another. At "Neptune" they shared a room in the little house we had. Maria shares our room. I think the boys would just as soon share a room as not, or at least they agree that they enjoy sharing a playroom, er a "Lego Room."

They love Lego bricks. Love. Don't talk to me about the expense or the waste or the volume... I have a thoughtful and tested response to every negative comment I have ever heard against Legos. Even Maria uses Lego bricks to make things and she brightens when her brothers invite her into their world. She is very helpful with sorting and finding heads. I imagine she will be an engineer, like her brothers, able to comprehend the function of gears and pistons, and how to increase the speed of vehicles. Maybe she will have Alex's design skills, or some of William's creative abilities. She'll be lucky if she can be as methodical and disciplined as Max is with his creations.

Sometimes the house gets very quiet, and I call their names... William? Alex? Max? Maria?
Then I hear back, "We're up here. Maria's with us."
They are playing together. They often do.
They plan and design together, and share ideas for future creations.
They read aloud to each other and have sleep-overs in each other's bedrooms.
No, they are not always perfect angels... they get moody and mean, but it's quite rare and even understandable.
Truthfully, I think they are 4 of my favorite people in the world. I love their company and their ideas, their attitudes.
I love that they care for each other and that they have no qualms about sharing their love.
I marvel at their intelligence and curiosity, their appetite for learning.
Even when I think of our challenges, the areas we need to improve, the setbacks we want to overcome, I think that I am not so disappointed or dismayed. They fill my heart with so much pride and joy, that I can only expect good things, bright paths. Perhaps our paths are unconventional, and maybe we cannot always see the most direct route, but at the end of the day, you will find us together and happy, and I would not want to have it any other way.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


When I grow up I want to be an artist.
And a cook, a veterinarian, a midwife, a plumber, a welder, an author, a farmer, a potter, and a philanthropist. I am a certified massage therapist, and I claim a major university as my almost-mater... I nearly graduated, but found my true calling in being a mother. I like to dabble and sample, and I love to find art. Isn't it wonderful to discover something that makes you pause, awaken, tingle, yearn, imagine, ponder, shudder, question, smile, sigh, breathe deeply... ?
I like art that makes me wish I were the artist, that I was the creative force that brought elements and light, imagination and skills together.

The painting above is in Aunt Carol's home. I apologize. I do not know the names of most of the artists responsible for the art in this post. The colors and shapes reminds me of Kaffe Fassett fabric and his quilts. And Anna Maria Horner's new fabric, "Drawing Room." Those colors and bold strokes... so saturated, and infused. Am I using the right words? I did not study "Art" in school. Normally I use words like "yummy," "pretty," and "cool," or "really cool," when I am critiquing great works.

Aunt Carol's home is a warm, inviting gallery for art of every variety. A place where you can cast your eyes in almost any direction and find something to appreciate, contemplate, admire.

I felt at home there, because Aunt Carol is relaxed and has a gift for making me feel at home, and because I kept thinking how much her home is like my Mother's... with an eclectic collection of spiritual, personal pieces, textures and variety that reflects a life lived in appreciation of cultures, beliefs, dreams and color.

We had dinner there and she made an awesome poppy seed, almond cake with coffee frosting. Oh that was good. Artful cooking... mmmmm. We sang "Happy Birthday" to William. That was nice of her to play, to extend the celebration of William's birthday.

One more thing to love about Carol's house? Toys. Her grandchildren have corners, cupboards, closets, spaces and shelves to call their own, so that one is warmed by the knowledge that Carol loves and respects her grandchildren. She invites them in and gives them room for their interests and needs. It's so sweet to witness.

Like candy. Like polished light you can hold in your hand. My Mother's art is twisted metal, beads, stones, glass, gems, bits of history made into a new story. Gold. Sterling silver. Pearls. She works with a huge variety of elements and materials. She makes earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings and some things that have no name... stones wire wrapped and embraced in intricate shapes and colors... oh, you'd have to see one to know what I mean, which is why Geoff and I are trying to get her to blog, to open an Etsy Shop. She sells in galleries and shops. She gives her art away too. She seems to take great pleasure in matching her art with the people she loves, so family and friends always part with her company with something new and beautiful to wear. Which ring do you think I took for my own?

Grandma Nancy quilts and paints and for a few years now she has been painting with quilts, joining her two skills in original and stunning wall hangings. First she made "continent quilts" and now she is immersed in a series of quilts depicting her favorite artists, like Renoir, and here is Van Gogh:

This is the latest artist quilt completed by Nancy. Nancy is another favorite artist of mine. I cannot write. I am transfixed.

And now Geoff is teaching Grandma the art of the home computer, surfing and email. He readied her house for wi-fi and set everything up so she can read Chickenblog and visit fabric sites and chat with family through email. Geoff is one of my favorite artists. It will take me a few minutes to think of and list all of the ways he is an artist. He draws, paints and doodles very well. He designs. He programs computers. He writes original and patented software. He recites poetry, Shakespeare, Whitman, Poe, and others... he knows so many beautiful words and I am struggling to remember a few of the names of the many people he can quote. He can repair and replace radiators, brakes, engines, carburetors, fuel intake valves and he knows how they work. Mechanics are definitely artists. He can plumb a house, wire a house, lay tile, install windows, hang doors, frame and roof. He can calculate how much water you can collect from rain falling on your roof. He knows how much water weighs, and how to depict water on a television screen using equations he wrote himself. He understands economics, the stock market and video games. He can whistle a tune. His computer art depicts waves and water currents, trees, fabric flowing, crowds waving, a ball that bounces with the physics that represent force and direction. He taught me how to make grilled cheese sandwiches. There are 2 things wrong with what I am sharing: 1. I am not doing his work justice. 2. He is going to be totally shy and uncomfortable with me "carrying on" about him.

I began seeing art from the flight. I took pictures over the snowy plains as we approached Chicago. I am mesmerized by the patterns and shapes, the dark and light of plowed fields and iced meadows, frozen ponds, winding rivers, creeks and streams. In Summer the fields, farms and forests are as captivating in infinite greens and golds. In Winter I am challenged by the filtered colors, the muted light, and still I adore the beauty of the landscapes. There are 50 barns, 100 homes, 900 farms I meant to take a picture of, to capture for my scrap book of Midwestern art.

In one home we found whimsical art. Clay art made when Paul was a boy and I am so glad he did not throw it out or let it get lost in life's shuffle. Like this castle, or really just the tower of a castle that he made. It's chunky, folksy and warm,

...and at the base is a man coming out of a window. I don't necessarily want to understand what it means, to interpret it. I don't see that the piece has an intended purpose. What I do recognize is that it makes me want to know and appreciate the artist, to be glad that he made this castle, that he kept it. It evokes compassion and interest in the art and the creator.

I like Paul's bowl too. Like an avocado shell, sliced and scooped out, with feet, and the skin of a scaly dragon. It was perfectly, ideally weird and magnetic. Paul, you creative, soulful man, what beautiful art you make.

While we visited with Paul and his mom, Megan, Alex played with Maria. He drew a robot for her. Alex studies robots, designs robots, and makes robots. His little robot character, hastily sketched to distract Maria after a long day, was just the thing to inspire robot art from her, and Maria added an entire robot family parade to the page. Each of her robots was assigned a name and a mood. Ink and paper art, the art of affection and patience, the art of sharing and kindness. I love these arts, these treasured family arts.

Later, that same day, when we were having dinner at Carol's, Alex was immersed in his sketchbook again. This time he was inspired to illustrate the act of singing "out-loud." Another rough sketch, another spontaneous expression of Alex's wit and humor. I love it when art and humor entwine.

It's time to open a thesaurus. Look up Art... I find skill.
Can you have art without skill? Can art appear where there is little or no effort, no ability? Is art an equivalent of skill?

Is this "art?" Was it skill that brought a sketch and iron filings and a table top together and added a magnet?

Does it become art when manipulated by an imaginative boy?

Is it art if it does not last more than a day, or a minute?

There is a kind of art that I deeply admire: The art of making a home. Not all houses are homes. A home lends itself to sheltering and nurturing our bodies, our minds, our spirits and celebrating our lives. A home is comfortable, not simply by its design and purpose, but by the constant care of the people who live in it, who maintain it and project their values and gifts into it. I already touched on this subject in a recent post. In Margie and Howard's home, in Paul's place, and Carol's, at Grandma Nancy's... in all of the places we have been lately, I have been so struck and emotionally stirred by the art of homemaking, by being met by generous hosts, by kindness and warmth, by the art of preserving and honoring memories with tangible tokens and mementos. It has little to do with designs and features from magazines, or even immaculate housekeeping... it has everything to do with care, pride, sincerity and appreciation for people over fixtures and polished brass. Family pictures, children's gifts framed and displayed, a wide-open kitchen, time dedicated to sharing stories and ideas, laughter, homemade cookies, a relaxed grace, a gentleness. It takes skill to bring these qualities to life in a home, it takes art to infuse a home with this kind of elegance and beauty. There are a lot of things we can do and buy, that we are seduced into believing our homes are incomplete without, like granite and designer appliances, that are mostly only superficial and costly.

A happy thought: I have been in many artful homes, a lot of lovely and warm homes. Maybe the common thread is that the people who make a house a home are inclined to be generous, to say "Come on over," and mean it.

I want to be an artist. I have strayed from pride and heartfelt warmth for the place I live and the neglect is showing. This is a painful, honest admission. The reasons are many and real and very hard to overcome, but I am glad at least I want to do better, believe I can do better. I have so much inspiration, so much aspire to.