finally, some of the affirmations i have been hammering into sterling silver have landed in my etsy shop. i've also assembled a few more of the "prologue" necklaces, worn beautifully alone or with one of my pendants - or even with an heirloom charm or ring. if you are spending a quiet evening at home and have some spare time, amble over to the shop and see what has surfaced from my gentler days here at home on firefly road.
i don't know what happens with this blog, anymore. for 6.5 years, i managed to write posts on a regular basis, documenting actual events not as much as i wrote about the nature that surrounds me, how the changing of the seasons made me feel, how i reacted to encounters and obstacles, turns of events, losses, gains, everything in between. sometime in the middle of last year, i began to feel the need to bare my soul less and less, bit by bit, and here i am well into the last half of this month without having uttered a single word here on Ornamental. looking back, i think a lot of it has to do with my love for Instagram, for showing a photo or two daily, telling a little story with a word or two or three. sometimes without any words at all. the ease of snapping a photo through my iPhone, always handy in my back pocket, has seduced me into staying away from a medium that requires a great deal of my time and energy. i don't want to abandon the posts, i really don't; what i also don't want is to feel a burden of guilt and responsibility that sometimes comes with staying absent here for longer than the usual stretch of time. that's up to no one but myself. so, here i am with a brand new year, a brand new place to either stop some things altogether (habits, tendencies, worries and fears), or to let some things slide without giving them more than a single passing thought. sometimes i'll be here, sometimes i won't. it doesn't mean that my heart isn't into sharing my world with yours, it doesn't mean that the blog has lost its bearing in my life. i think i just want to let the posts be something you can anticipate and look forward to and enjoy when you have the time to read, when i have the spare time and an inkling to sit down and write. my life is so quiet, these days; i live in the middle of nowhere alone, as all of you know; i walk the back woods at different times of the day in silence with walter, listening to my footsteps on the rooted and bare earth path, listening for changes in the branches overhead and in the hills that surround me above and below. sometimes there is a bird or two - a hawk that circles and cries out in the late afternoon, a wren that rustles in the dead leaves searching for a bit of winter fare.
most times, in winter, there is the hushed silence of woods that have been left to the bare trees and to me. there is the wind, sometimes, there is the jingling of walter's collar tags; there is the rattle of thoughts bumping around in my head, and sometimes there is not even the sound of those thoughts drifting lazily through my mind and into ether. most times, it is a soft and blanketed silence, way out here on firefly road. how do you spend your winter days, your mornings, your evenings and your nights? you, who live on this side of the world, how do you pass your quiet time? do you read into the night, stepping into a wardrobe of imaginary places, or do you sit before the fire and write chicken scratches of poetry into a book of leather? do you, like i, sit quietly in a blue chair pulled up close to the hearth, do you stitch simple lines of red thread onto vintage flour sacking, do you remember special times with cherished friends as the needle slips down through a hoop and pierces the cloth, as it finds its way back up and through again?
do you spend your sunny saturdays visiting your favorite spot beside the river or the stream? do you pull on rubber boots and wade into rain-swollen waters, where you can search for treasures of glass and worn bits of sticks and wood, where you can watch the late afternoon sun dance across the surface of the moving stream that rushes on down to the sea? (photo of my boots and legs, by my beloved friend julie, who was here visiting from ohio for the long days and nights of being stuck indoors as the rain poured down - who caught and succumbed to the treasure hunt bug, a highly contagious thing)
my treasured river, the great Oconaluftee, after four days of heaviest rain spilled over its banks and flooded the surrounding woods, and washed the forest floors bare and clean
searching for fossils hidden amongst creek gravel beds, walking blindly through overgrown woods with a red-thread fiercely treasured friend that i will have and love as family for the rest of my life
for four long days and four long nights, a heavy torrential rain poured down last week in endless sheets, saturating every inch of wooded forest floor and sodden moss, spilling over in a gushing, furious mass from rivers and from streams. the sun finally decided to show up and share its warmth, and i found that stepping out into the yard was like stepping into a natural watery spring. there was not one bit of dry ground upon which to step, to walk. pair after pair of shoes were soaked; i was forced to wait until the waters had surely receded. i waited, and waited, watching first from these windows, and then from a safe edge of the river's higher waters.
in the heart of colder winter months, i am usually fortunate enough to draw inspiration from a falling blanket of forgiving snow. it hasn't come thus far, this year, and i find myself pulling out heaps of vintage fabric and antique trims, beading, velvet leaves in search of winter creativity; i hope for words to surface somehow, like little miracles, from the softness of my aimless stitchery. from strands of ecru embroidery floss, from tattered lace, i summon memories of the dried brown beech leaves that still cling to branches and whisper with the wind. i see the pale brown meadows that rest in the cold. i see the trees, grey and strong and bare.
from old pearl buttons and new drops of moonstone, i see the waxing winter moon, glowing shell-like and white in the sparkling night sky beyond my bedroom walls and through the window just above my head; i see the stars as they shimmer through the branches in the blanket of dark. i see frost on the ground, and in the steam from a piping hot cup of tea. i see all of this, on cold winter mornings and from warmer afternoons into the evening and on to the sleepy nights. i sit quietly, and stitch and think and hope and dream. i hope that this is how the long january evenings are finding you, too - in quiet and in rest, waiting through the short days and dark, long nights for the first quiet signs of tender spring.
Among other wonders of our lives, we are alive
with one another, we walk here
in the light of this unlikely world
that isn't ours for long.
May we spend generously
the time we are given.
May we enact our responsibilities
as thoroughly as we enjoy
our pleasures. May we see with clarity,
may we seek a vision
that serves all beings, may we honor
the mystery surpassing our sight,
and may we hold in our hands
the gift of good work
and bear it forth whole, as we
were borne forth by a power we praise
to this one Earth, this homeland of all we love.
- John Daniels
i really am here, although you'd never guess it by coming here to Ornamental. i used to be diligent about writing posts - sometimes three or four times a week. what happened? i have no less time now than before, or more. i've just shifted priorities, i suppose, and realize that taking the large chunk of time required to sit down and pull my thoughts and images and words together is more of a commitment than i'm currently able. sorry, folks. i've not been the best of blog upkeepers here.
i'm as busy as you all are, i imagine, making and primping and hanging a little of this and that on a tree or a shelf or a table. this year, first time in three, i've a christmas tree in the house - one that is simple, and frosty white, one that reminds me of the forest in winter. there are minimal ornaments - a few glass pine cones, a bird, a nest, a couple of blue-green garlands, a tiny little snow village underneath the bottom boughs. it has brought me great comfort and peace to sit of an evening under the glow of those tiny white lights. sometimes there is a fading pink sunset out over the mountains behind the reflection of my little snowy tree.
pardon the double vision - what you see here is a reflection of my porch starry lights shining onto the sliding glass door, and the purple lingering sunset outside my living room windows...
(thank you, little wintery forest beauty, for bringing the spirit of the season into the house with me.)
walter has been caught up in the firefly festiveness as well: yesterday when i was in the next room, i heard what i now recognize as excited, playful barks, and walked back into the bedroom to see that he had dug down into a plastic shopping bag and pulled out the toy i had bought to give him for a christmas present. that dog was bouncing all over the bed, elated over his discovery. a friend told me that his behavior reminds her of a toddler - which is so utterly true for this boy. this is where he can often be found, late into the evenings, when i am working with jewelry designs in my lap. the look? toleration, with a trace of long suffering. it's hard for me to ignore. (an instagram friend said that walter was hanging out in the "brocade arcade". i will never look at that chair the same way again.)
i thought i would give you a little peek at some of the work that is keeping me so busy and distracted these days. when i first began putting these latest wrap bracelets together, i had no concept whatsoever of the time/hand pain involved.
in chatting with a fellow artist friend long distance on the phone the other day, i lamented at those laborious amount of stitches, and said i didn't want to reduce the work involved by going the less- expensive no-stitch route. she suggested i call them the "bracelet of 1000 stitches" line, and we laughed - then agreed that it was actually a wonderful name. each stitch holds an intention, a memory, a little wish from me to she who will wear the ornamental piece around her wrist. i love applying little stitched X's onto the whipped-stitched leather pieces, tiny little antique faceted steel beads that were once made for french beaded purses are now finding their way, bead by miniscule bead, onto my beading needle, then from that needle to a larger, sharper leather needle, pulled through the leather, once, twice for security, then on to the next pearl or little row of beaded X's. x marks the spot. x is a kiss. x is here. x is a crossroads. x is two fingers held up and interlocked.
i think of a rubber band, and how folks used to wear one as a reminder of something, anything. i think of the red thread, tied around a wrist, around a soul. i think of buddhist beads, i think of rosaries. i think of everything, late into these soft nights when i am sitting before the glow of my tree, sitting in winter silence as the forest beyond this house sleeps quietly in the velvet dark, and i am stitching my heart into the leather bit by bit, thread by thread, thought by thought. it works like that. it is worth the work. it is what i do. every evening, i stay up far too late. when the clock strikes 12, i stand on creaky feet and make my wobbly way to bed, where i climb under flannel sheets and drift off to dream of old friends, of old places, of talks with those who have gone on to the beyond. in the mornings, i wake to a not yet risen sun that waits until after nine to climb up over the mountain ridge; a blanket of white and frost-kissed fog descends into this little cove, i make my dark, dark coffee (roasted long, french pressed, with a beautiful fragrant sheen of oil that floats to the surface of those first few sips) and i settle down with walter on the sofa for a few quiet moments before the day's actions unfold.
afternoons find me in the studio, sipping the smoky goodness of hot lapsang souchong tea or pungent orange and cinnamon market spice - each of these comforts, gifts from friends afar. i lift my cup to you all, i lift my cup to you here. i sip, and i ponder, and i quietly honor and celebrate. i hammer words of gratitude. i live. i linger. i move on ahead. xo
1. that ever-present roof over my head, which provides warmth and shelter
2. the ability to express myself through my words and through my art
3. the ability to whittle out a continued career after nearly 30 years of providing for myself, and for the boys, as a single mother and single woman, now in the middle of her 50's with boys grown and out of the nest.
4. dearest friends. you know who you are. you know why you matter. i love you, so much.
5. my readers here at ornamental. you matter very much, as well. thanks for continuing to come back, for seven years and heading into year number eight (hard to believe) of comments and of sharing, of listening, of responding, of simply being there.
6. my mother and sister and the boys. i love them with all of my heart.
7. the memories of my father and brother. their spirits continue to live on through me, in me, around me. they are in the wind, the trees, the waving grass, the flight of birds, the paths that lead through the woods.
8. a doctor who kindly listens to me, who is willing to work with me on medication adjustments, who helps me with samples, who understands, who takes the time to sit and talk. who treats me like a person, who thinks that i am worthy of being tended.
9. my four legged wild child, who keeps me heading out into the woods on walks and adventures. his approach to life is crazy and earnest and innocent, and i hope i will have half of his energy ten years down the road.
12. lessons that are learned every.single.day.
13. changes of seasons
14. winter. i used to hate it, but ever since i moved deep into the countryside seven and 1/2 years ago, i've grown to love the bare tree branches, the exposed bones of the land - the rocks, the streams, the roots, the clear forest floors. snow. expanded mountain range view when leaves are gone. flannel sheets. good books. a fire in the hearth. homemade soups. cinnamon rolls, also homemade, recipe by the pioneer woman, ree hammond. essential oils burning into the night (thank you, wendyxo). old movies. red wine and chocolate. french pressed coffee every morning. flannel pajamas printed with clouds, worn soft and thin by years of wear. cashmere scarves wrapped twice around my neck. fingerless gloves. the sound of the woods, all quiet now that most birds have flown south. the occasional red tailed hawk circling, overhead. two glimpses of owls, two days apart. groups ("murders") of crows, calling into the dusk. the thinnest crescent new moon, setting into the deep pink and blue western dusk above the mountain range that i can see from here. poetry. memoirs. ken burns on pbs this sunday and monday night. plans for traveling to alabama for thanksgiving. candles. hot showers with bath gel that is scented with citrus and evergreen. hot water. electricity. laundry, washed and dried and folded and put away. a new day. a new evening. a good night's sleep. life.
15. jewelry i made that speaks of silver linings. jewelry that i was a little hesitant to list and sell, concerned that it might seem like exploitation of the emotions i've suffered these past few months. jewelry that all sold in spite of those hesitations, all 30 pieces, in less than 48 hours. jewelry that continues to be appreciated and purchased and collected by those to whom my work speaks, to those who understand. i will never, ever, ever, take this for granted. ever.
i received quite a few emails from readers who were dismayed that the jewelry was gone before they had a chance to purchase. i've taken orders for several "silver lining" pendants, and will be more than happy to take several more, with the understanding that it will most likely be after i return from alabama that the pendants get made. these slender tokens of affirmation mean that much more to me, knowing that they resonate with so many of you. i am reminded of the way that sunshine breaks through clouds after fast and furious and heavy rain, the way that light shines down at times when we least expect to see it illuminating the path that lays before us, open and waiting and right there at our feet.
if i don't have a chance to get back here before thanksgiving, i wish each and every one of you a time of love and warmth and closeness with family, with chosen family, with four legged companions, with friends. i wish you a time of grateful reflection for all that has been showered upon you. i wish you light at the end of the tunnel, i wish you walks in quiet late autumn woods, i wish you time to sit and listen to the hush that softly surrounds you. i wish you peace. i wish you calm. i wish you deepest, heartfelt gratitude for all good things that life happens to bring your way. xo
saturday was one of those crisp autumn days with deepest blue skies, the sort of day that insists i get out and immerse myself in the warm sunshine. not wanting to leave walter behind, i piled him into the car with me and took that wild, wooly creature off on a car adventure. up and over cowee mountain we went, ending up finally at a thrift store that sits tucked down some winding road outside of the usual pickers' reach. i like that about a place. after carting an armful of shirts and sweaters to the counter, i noticed a little dress hanging on a corner peg board, a note pinned absentmindedly to its lacy midriff. rough condition. why couldn't it have said "fiercely loved"? well worn? weathered? aged? i snatched it up, last thing, before i walked out the door. we seasoned girls have to stick together, i thought; you come right on home with me. then yesterday morning, i spent a good hour playing around with light on a western wall in my bedroom, dangling some of my words with antique lace around its miniature neck. it wasn't a bad way to spend the rest of the morning.
i wonder what the doll looked like that used to wear this dress. i wonder what the little girl was like. the house. the attic. the trunk or drawer in which it must have been stored. the red splash of paint on the back doesn't show. the tears are endearing. the crumpled little flower where the lace is gathered in front is even more special now that part of it is gone (like the feathered tail of an spun cotton bird, eaten by a cat).
i don't know how anyone can ever part with things like these. but i've moved before, have dealt with piles of unpartable things. there comes a point where objects have to go. i've regretted so many partings along the way; and yet today when i look around at all the many things i've gathered that clutter this house, i understand. take in; let go. take in; give away...
this past week i sat quietly and hammered words letter by letter into silver. there is a limited edition of these "silver lining" pendants, as well as a few "prologue" chains, over in my little etsy shop, which has stood empty for what feels like way too long. here is what i said about the words i chose to use: "after muddling my way through an emotional rough spot these past few months, i decided to open up the truths of how i was feeling to the blog i write. the outpouring of support and encouragement from my loyal readers was a bright light, as well as nourishing balm for a tender, cautious time. i decided to make a limited edition of 'silver lining' pendants that honor those feelings we all experience and weather from time to time. wearing the words "gently polish every silver lining" can be an affirmation for the owner, as well as for those who read them." and this is so true, so very true; you've all given me great support and encouragement, every step of the way, as i've stumbled and walked in circles, trying to find my way. i'm finding it, step by step, sometimes stumbling back into the step i had just made, but moving tentatively forward again without as much effort as before. i can't tell you in just a few words how much you've all meant to me, how much you continue to matter as i come check in here at Ornamental. i've been writing this blog for seven years, come december. i can't believe i've kept it going, all this time. i hope to continue, for a long long time. xx
it's a beautiful day, i'm getting ready to head out to the river with walter for some exercise and fresh air, but thought i'd share a photograph with all of you that i don't think i've shared before. see if you can find my handsome father, circa WW2. i cannot believe how much he looks like my younger son roy, who was named for daddy, in this photograph. the age would be about the same that roy is now, give or take a couple of years. a hint: he is the only one hiding behind shades. cool, daddy-o. cool. what a pistol he was, and seriously? he continues to be. i know he is out there, watching over us all.
and finally, this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5TwT69i1lU
happy weekend, all. continue to offer up requests to the universe for those who are without warmth and shelter from the storms. xo
1. i stayed up deep into the night on tuesday, stumbled around the house until after 1am, and woke on wednesday feeling relieved and elated about this country's election. now, i hold my breath and then i exhale hope.
2. i'm still not feeling free of the weight of the world. i am still worrying incessantly about what i'll do from week to week to bring food to the table, electricity to the lamps. but yes, i have a roof over my head. i still do, while others tragically do not. this roof keeps out the rain and holds the warmth, and one day, it kept out the snow.
3. i know i do better when i have the laughter of a friend to blanket me. i'm used to handling being alone much better than being in the company of someone, anyone, but lately those tendencies have been reversed.
4. night is still my salvation. i relish sundown, and let the quiet of the dark outside my window be a form of gentle meditation.
5. i continue to walk the river several times a week. yesterday, we walked in the rain. we were the only ones on the trail, and i could feel the fine drops dampening my hair, my face; i savored this.
6. i have dreamed of my father twice this week. i miss him even more than i had realized in my waking hours.
7. i dreamed of my old pup aspen, who is likely running boyish circles around my father in some beautiful sunlit meadow.
8. i've slept the past two nights without waking a single time. i've slept the sleep of someone who lays her head down on a pillow and drifts off without once turning over until the light of morning comes.
9. into my back pocket, at the river's edge, i continue to collect smooth stones; i favor the ones that are smooth and curved on the sides, flat underneath. they are my water-worn talismans. i will do with them what any nature-loving artist would do; i tuck them away and carry them back to this house, where they patiently rest in collective little piles.
10. kindness and patience with/for myself is what i am striving to achieve. xo
photo snapped at a roofless abandoned stone house along the potomac river, headed to the Red Thread Retreat last week
last wednesday, i was spending the entire day rushing around, as usual, doing last minute errands and packing my suitcase and tool bag for an 8.5 hour drive northeast to a place where two major rivers join as one. i was nervous, more than ever. i felt a little trepidatious about the long drive, didn't know anyone other than the instructors - good friends i've known from teaching all these twelve or thirteen years, lesley riley and claudine hellmuth - and feeling as i've felt for the past few weeks and months, i was hoping i'd be able to rise to the occasion, to enjoy the company, the teaching, the camaraderie. of course, i was anxious about leaving home, anxious about leaving walter, anxious about teaching, anxious about being "on" for a number of days. i was an hour later leaving home than i had anticipated, and sad to drop walter off at the kennel; but the day was lovely, with blue, deep blue october skies, a lot of color still left in these mountain trees. before leaving home, i took the time to pack myself a lovely little picnic lunch as a gentle treat for myself somewhere halfway between here and there, in the shenandoah valley, virginia. it had been my intention to find a lovely rest stop area under trees, where i could spread out a cloth and my lunch, and spend a leisurely hour reading a little, maybe writing a little, and preparing myself to be back amongst a larger crowd (18 women, including myself) for over three days in one house. a late departure shortened that time to a few minutes, but still i spread the cloth, and savored the moment as a shower of white pine needles covered the cloth, nestled into my hair, found their way into the picnic basket and my drink. it was alright. they were dry, and the trees were greeting me in their quiet way.
thankfully, i had purchased a navigation system back in the summer, which allowed for a much more relaxed drive. just as the sun began to sink behind soft rolling mountains, i drove up the road to red thread. it felt like riding a bike, getting out of that car to greet familiar friends' faces. the house was lovely, tucked under autumn trees. we had one day of intermittant sun peeking out from a sky that quickly grew grey. a storm approached. every one of us would be affected by travel. the only way out took us down a narrow road right next to a massive river. but the time that we had there was magical, and nurturing. i opened. i knew when, in late evenings, to retreat and tuck into bed. i was kind to myself, and others embraced me with love and support. it was a wonderful thing.
by saturday afternoon, it was evident that my departure for home needed to be scheduled a day earlier than originally planned; i'd be driving into the part of a storm that was rushing in from the west, with snow and ice and rain. another part of the storm was rushing in from the east, promising to swell the river and flood the area, to knock out power and exit roads. leaving was tough - but new friendships had been formed, old friendships were acknowledged and honored, i taught with ease, i shared with everyone the anxiety and sadness i've been experiencing of late.
laughter was common, stories were open, the red thread was a common connecting factor that pulled us all together. i was not judged. i was lifted up by these warm women, and appreciated, and when i left, i was strengthened by all of these things. pulling out of the driveway and heading down sunday morning's long grey road was no longer a frightening thing. i spent eight and a half hours driving, driving, driving, watching dozens and dozens of electric truck convoys - hundreds of white trucks - barreling down the highway in the opposite direction, towards the east coast. rest areas were overflowing with recreational trailers towing cars, with families piling out of vehicles for a quick break. i ate behind the wheel. rain fell. it fell, and it fell, and by the time i reached the tennessee line, the road was cushioned in a shroud of thick fog. i was grateful for the change in schedule; i was grateful to be safely heading back home, even more grateful to be at the kennel before closing time, to pick up an elated walter and carry him back to firefly road.
on monday, the snow began to fall, first thing. it fell, in fits and starts, mixing in with freezing rain. by yesterday morning, the world as i know it here was an entirely transformed place: all trees were laced in white, and the vision beyond at times was nothing but a thick curtain of pale grey. when the curtain parted, velvet mountains were on display. we waited for the power to fail; i cooked black beans and rice, cornbread and curried chick peas. i brewed hot spicy tea. i rested. i remembered. i loved the taste of winter that surrounded me. i worried about the rest of the east coast, and prayed for everyone's safety. i read. i sat. i rested some more.
this morning the sun is back out, and the blue sky is a welcome sight. i'm still in a fog, but a little of the sadness has lifted. things are always put squarely in perspective, in the days after a natural disaster of such breadth and scope. i'm safe, i'm dry, i do have this roof over my head. it has been two weeks since i began the new medication, and i am finding myself a tiny bit more able to cope with the changes that life throws in my path. i do what i know to be best. i continue to worry and dwell on things that tend to confuse and frustrate me, but the sadness is not all encompassing. anxiety is not overwhelming, at least. the nipping fears are kept at bay, and i have hope. i've learned that much, about myself, this week. pumpkin by my artist friend, julie whitmore.
this poem was a gift from a new friend, patti edmon, in this morning's email. i met patti at the red thread retreat, and we both felt that we didn't have quite enough time to talk and share as much as we wanted. there will be time for that, i know there will. friends make time. they do. xo
The Seven Of Pentacles
Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.
Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.
Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.
Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.
~ Marge Piercy ~
shadow of the bear, october 2012; this shadow occurs twice a year, in october and november, for a short two week stretch. the shadow grows and grows within a twenty minute frame, then disappears as the sun sets behind the western mountains. this is a magical thing, and i happened to be passing through on the road between highlands and cashiers, nc, in time to see this unfold. hello, bear. hello, autumn. hello, you.
i had a little thought this morning as i rose well before dawn to prepare for departure on my trip to maryland, to the red thread retreat (lucky me!): i feel like this blog - Ornamental - has been many, many things for me in the nearly seven years (or is it eight? i've lost count). i began it primarily as a sort of visual, non-tactile journal, an account of the musings i ponder as i walk this journey of mine. i love taking photographs, love writing memories of the natural world that surrounds me - and it became clear to me from the onset that the time i invest in the blog is deeply appreciated by those who happen to pass through. there have been the rare, random ugly comments farther back in the past, some unpleasant remarks as i have bared my soul, but 99.999% of the time, my readers have been some of the most generous and compassionate people i've encountered in these 56+ years of life. you, readers, are just as much a part of this blog as i am. your comments are sound and kind and supportive and compassionate, and i know it helps so many, many people to read through those comments and glean the wisdom that is universally shared. it helps me more than i can say. so, i walked in here this morning as the sky turned from darkest dark to a pale opalescent pink and blue, i turned on this laptop all over again after shutting it down last night, and sat down to simply say thank you for being here, for being in this world. i don't see you on the other side of this screen, i don't always know who is out there reading these words; but i know that you are there, i read every single comment even when i can't write each of you individually to let you know how deeply grateful i continue to be. ever always, and forever.
things i am noticing this week, bit by bit by bit (it is a slow and almost indecipherable thing, so gradual are these tentative baby steps):
i am beginning again to slowly savor my footsteps that walk along the surface of the earth: this season, particularly, i am paying attention to the crunch and smell of dry, fallen leaves, the sharp crisp turn of the air, the deepest blue of october skies. i am beginning once again to take note of where i am, to see the loveliness that unfolds around me regardless of my mood. the world does not stop turning, just for me. it continues to turn, the sun continues to set and rise, the days and weeks pass with a grace that only nature can teach us, this way.
i'm taking the time to be tender with myself. a trip to the hair salon yesterday felt like luxury, and the time spent there lifted me. after i came home, a friend wrote and asked if she could see a photo of the results - the light that runs now through my hair. when i saw the photograph that i took and sent, i was gently surprised to catch myself smiling, unawares. this was a miraculous thing.
this week, for the first time in well over a month, i spent a couple of days at the studio table, hammering and sawing and drilling and polishing, and this felt very comforting, very good. i continue to be amazed at how straight i've managed to keep the surface of the table since i conquered the disastrous mess in the studio this time last year. i don't think i'll ever let it get to that critical state again; the cleaner surface is a lovely thing, a lovely practice to maintain. i straighten the day's work as i stand to walk out, just before i turn off the lights, and am pleased to walk in to an organized surface every single time i go through that door. this is no minor thing. the work that i turned out is for a retreat where i'll teach with two friends, 8.5 hours away in maryland. i'm actually looking forward to the drive, looking forward to the adventure. i'm not overly anxious about leaving home for a few days; the anxiety is still there (to leave walter at a kennel again for five more days is something that brings its own brand of angst), but is manageable. this is also no small feat, and i acknowledge and honor this strength.
i'm trying to make the most out of each hour of the day; i'm spending less time sitting and staring blankly, helplessly, into vapid space. evenings continue to be my most comforting time of the day, when expectations for the day's accomplishments have been set aside, when i can sit quietly and simply be. i've begun walking out the back trail, that opens from the back yard, at the last light of day. i love standing quietly on the trail, in the midst of the woods, and listening for any sounds that might make their way to me. standing still like that, not making any sounds of my own, i'm open to the call of an owl, the tapping of dry leaves moving with the breeze, the patter of the leaves that fall through the trees and down at my feet. i'm not afraid when darkness falls around me; i have walter with me, ever the faithful companion. we spend the last dying light like this, off in the woods, then walk through the warm light that waits for us inside the door. there is such quiet beauty in that.
i've returned to the river several times this week, and have looked at it with familiar eyes, with eyes that appreciate the continuity. at the farthest point of our walk, walter and i walk out onto a pebble beach, where i sift through the stones to find smooth ones i might choose to use in my new work. throughout the years, i've gathered these stones for a variety of reasons, and purposes. i've looked for shapes that remind me of the heart, i've looked for thin stones to drill. when i came back from new zealand last year, i planned to find an assortment of them to drill and stack on leather cord like pearls, and the plan quietly took its place in a back corner of my mind. now i search for stones that have a flat bottom surface, that have an oval or circular shape. collecting them is like collecting coins that rest easily in my back pocket. there are little piles of them in this house, everywhere. i line them up, i drop them in a bowl, i place them on a windowsill. rock smoothed by water: how miraculous that seems. i love the simple notion of that one quiet thing. i continue to find hearts nestled there amongst the round and the irregular and the oval, the flat, the rectangles, the everything. the hearts jump out at me, they beg to be carried home. i carry them home, where they take up residence with walter and me. xo
Fifty six things, on this 56th birthday of mine:
lately, it has seemed more and more difficult for me to step forward from my little corner of the world, wherever that corner happens to be at the time (mostly in alabama, for weeks at a time) and share with you however i might be feeling at that moment. i've been riding a roller coaster of emotions for months and months and months, mostly way down in the deepest part of the ride where the tracks swoop down, down, down. who wants to write and share when the feeling is as bleak as that? not i. my modus operandi is to shrink back into the shadows and hide where i can't be decifered. such a bad place to be, that corner into which i have painted myself. poor old Ornamental. this blog has suffered, so. i used to write on a three or four day-a-week basis; since this summer began, or even before, the posts slowed down to a pitiful crawl. what can i say? i was hiding. still am. i know i don't need to hide anymore, even though these days, that is what i usually want and tend to do. it's a terrible thing to feel this way, to watch myself fading further and further from the rest of the world. i'm still here, i really am, although you'd never guess it. i'm still here, and i'm reaching the point where something has to give. calling all angels
this photo tells a lot. i took it the other afternoon, after coming home from the hair salon, when i was lying on the bed unable to make myself get up and do something, anything, other than lying immobile for a couple of hours in the late afternoon. look at those glasses. this house has inexpensive reader glasses scattered all over the place, yet the only pair i could get my hands on at the time is broken. the glasses look like i feel: incomplete, a little damaged but still functional. so, yesterday, off to the river we went, walter and i. it is a place from which i draw great strength, where the sound of the rushing water and the cries of the birds and the wind in the trees can be a wonderful balm. i used to be on a very good schedule, rising at dawn, leaving the house at daybreak, driving over to the river so we could have an early start to the day. right now it is all i can do to wade around in this mayhem of a disheveled house, a place that doesn't even feel like home anymore because i've been away so very much. but, off to the river we went, and i wore my every day "river walker" earrings, to remind myself that i have feet to walk and a river to see.
i used to share a photograph of myself here at Ornamental once a week, when there was a Self Portrait website that i followed. years have passed, and those years are showing now, on this nearly 56 year old face. there are more shadows, and deeper wrinkles; the roots of my hair are white. i'm no longer the mid-30's woman with children under my protective wing, am no longer raising two shining boys, no longer baking for them, taking them to interesting places, sharing life's magic, teaching them the good things that i know. there is no fairy that visits the house for them; they visit now for me. from me, the boys learned to love the outdoors, to have a passion for the life that they are now living on their own, and this brings me great pride; yet, i still pine for their presence, even though they live hundreds and thousands of miles away. phone calls with them are precious pockets of time. visits are scarce. they are their own versions of what a good human being is: they love, they contribute, they strive, they honor and respect the land. their hearts are good. but i miss them. oh, i miss them, so much.
my poor little studio hasn't had much activity since i came back home; trinkets are still packed up in boxes that i carried with me to colorado. new gemstone strands that were purchased at the gem show here in july rest quietly in their little drawers. i'm sensing a change in the air, in many ways. my work needs to evolve, and i am finally - finally! - turning the art instruction outward from teaching, to making time and allowing myself to learn some new techniques instead. all these years that i've traveled to teach workshops, all over the world, i've not taken the time to be taught, myself. the time has come for me to push my work forward, in another direction. and with that push, maybe my life will have some good lessons, as well.
yesterday, in the afternoon hours after our river walk, i sat quietly at the studio table and remembered what i had seen in colorado. i remembered the colors and the way the rocks and the lay of the land pulled at my soul. i thought about the deep, deep reds when the late afternoon sun spread its warmth across the worn, layered rocks, i thought about the way the sky looked between middle of the afternoon and the mellowing of the golden hour's last light of the day. it was a quiet few minutes of sorting through things that pulled up colorado memories and sensations for me.
i loved that time with robin, barreling down beautiful back roads like jack kerouac, the wind from the open car windows whipping my hair across my face, the light on robin's profile reflecting all the beauty that the moment brought. such a gift, this time with my beautiful older boy. such a gemstone to hold and keep warm in the palm of my hand.
i know, i truly do, how much there is for which i am to be forever grateful. i live in a beautiful part of the world, my boys have good health, i continue to work at the things that i love and am able - no matter how much i worry or fret - to carve out a living making the bits and pieces of jewelry that come out of everywhere, down through my fingers, and into this world. the other day, when i was speaking over the phone with a good friend i've known for years and years, i openly shared with her how sad i have felt, how full of anxiety and fear my days and months have been. "you have a roof over your head", she said to me. and yes, she is right, but these were not the words that at that moment i wanted or needed to hear. i am honest and wide open to a fault, with family and friends, with all of you here at Ornamental. maybe that is why i've been holding back, here in the shadowed corners. maybe i've felt like sparing all of you the darkest details of the way i've been feeling, the way i've been living my life draped in a wet blanket of dampened emotion. i don't want to hear from anyone that i need to appreciate the things that i have; i have deepest gratitude, i just feel it through some sort of filter right now. i don't want a lecture, i don't want anyone telling me what they think i need to do. i'm only sharing with you how i have felt, i'm only trying vainly to explain the pockets of absence and the long stretches of silence that so many of you have experienced from me when the emails don't get written and sent, the phone calls aren't returned, the invitations are politely turned down. i'm trying, in all the little ways i know to do, to honor myself, to pick up the dusty pieces, to move forward in hope and with grace. right now, that is not at all an easy thing to do. my beautiful mother's beautiful hands, on the occasion of her 85th birthday when a neighbor graciously took the two of us out to a lovely dinner
on this late friday morning, the sun outside my window is brightly shining. there are still a couple of hummingbirds lingering at the feeder, the last of visits from their busy rainbow presence before they head on their valiant journey south for winter. how they fly so far, with those tiny tiny wings and rapidly beating hearts, i do not know. i'm going to do my best to journey onward, myself. there will be changes, many of them good. there will be things that i face in paralyzing fear, but hopefully the fear won't freeze me to the point of being unable to keep from advancing ahead. it's not an easy thing to do alone, to face this life, to provide solely for myself, to advance in age with courage and quiet dignity. one foot ahead of the other, right? one walk at a time, along that beautiful river. xo
it has been a quiet practice of serenity and meditation, hammering a new grouping of affirmation pendants. when sitting at the little studio table and focusing on words - letter by letter, pendant by pendant - i am gently guided away from worldly worries and taken to a gentle place of peace and calm. we all need more of that, i think; the news these days seems to bring nothing but conflict and tremendous trials. sometimes i question my need to stay informed. pieces in progress, before being adorned with pyrite drops and sterling wire
looking back at the work i've managed to hammer out, i see the way that it has brought me strength and inner peace. i'm hoping that the act of wearing them will do the same for you. hammered with antique metal alphabet stamps, layered with antique piano key ivory, aged and darkened and lightly buffed, sterling wire hand twisted to form a lovely loop - they are lovely pieces that take me into another direction with the notion of wearing a single, soothing word. there will be more in weeks to come; for now, there are a few listed over in my etsy shop. xo
i was away, as those of you know who are still with me here, most of the summer. there was one quiet stretch when i stayed at home for a good four weeks in a row, and i spent that time focusing on work that came out of the studio, jewelry that was born of quiet and calm and solitude. the rest of the time i was rushing back and forth between wisconsin and home, alabama and home, alabama, alabama, alabama, colorado. i'm leaving again for alabama tomorrow because the worry factor over my mother runs fairly strong right now, and because i realize that my presence down there is (as always) deeply welcome and actually needed. but the time i've had here these past two weeks have been lovely and sweet, paying homage to the last few lingering moments of my favorite season of the year.
i know how glad walter is to be right here at home, to have me right in his sight. he is making that so endearingly clear.
early mornings are spent out on the screened porch, in the trees, sipping french press coffee (italian roast, so smoky and good), reading a book, communing with walter and the lingering hummingbirds. i think he thinks we are holding hands. it's not the gentlest of touches, but i do not move, as long as he wants to stay like that. it is a while. then when he is ready, we rise and go for a walk through what still feels to me like a rain forest, the green is still so lush. these mountains this summer have not wanted for moisture; i know how blessed we are with this.
where are you all? i stay away, i stay quiet for a spell, and you seem to step into the shadows. i understand, i've been the same way. maybe now that autumn is beginning to get a little closer on the horizon, we'll come back in to the circle. it's difficult to tell. for now, i wanted to share a few photographs from my last day in colorado - a place that is forever engraved in my grateful heart. all of these images were snapped with my iPhone, in a little ghost town of a place called Saint Elmo, high up a winding gravel mountain road at the end of the day...
i miss my faraway, rocky mountain son; the gratitude i feel for having loved those moments, for being able to feel the depth of those moments as they happened, is a very big thing.
it was amazing, miraculous, inspiring beyond imagination. i can't wait to see where all of this will lead me, down the road. thank you, beloved colorado, for embracing me as beautifully as you did. my heart feels all the richer, for it.
“As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, "Pass here and go on, you're on the road to heaven.” - Jack Kerouac, On the Road
end.of.summer. those are three words that i never like to hear. summer always rushes past me at lightning speed, and leaves me standing vacantly in its wake with my mouth and heart wide open, wondering how the hours could have gained so much force from simple forward motion. this summer (and last year's, too, when i remember it) flew by so quickly that my sense of inner placement and balance have been altered. i don't know where i am when i wake. i never know the date, or the day of the week. the hours seem off, a little, somehow. but august, oh august. i always know you when you stand so softly, quietly, by my pining side. i do not ever want to say goodbye.
this post, as others from this summer have been, will remain brief. i'm still playing catch up from being gone from home more than i am ever here. firefly road, a place where i live and dream... a place that gathers dust and spiderwebs, stacks of unopened mail and magazines and endless, copius amounts of unordered and unwanted catalogs. such a waste of paper. poor trees... "A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves.” - John Muir
when next i write (in the next day or so), i'll feature photographs of jewelry i made while soaking in the glorious light of colorado. i still bask in that light, through memories that refuse to let me be. sweet memories, all; i won't forget. i'll also be listing in the next few days a grouping of jewelry that i've been making and setting aside for summer's end. so suddenly, that time comes. that time is here.
for now, late in this afternoon, i'm sitting out on the porch with the laptop where it was meant to be - in my lap - with feet propped up on the wicker ottoman, a glass of sparkling lemonade weeping condensation on the little weathered wooden table at my side. i work like this, tapping away on a familiar keyboard, scrolling through images, searching for words. it isn't a bad way to spend a working day.
folks have asked about remaining workshops for the rest of the year. i'll remind you that there is a link to them over in the righthand column of Ornamental; two remain - art and soul in portland/october, and the red thread retreat, also in october, on the border of virginia and west virginia. red thread is full, but there are remaining spaces in workshops i'm teaching at art and soul: a lovely lace/leather/bead nest necklace, a leather/hammered word-metal/bead wrapped bracelet, and a metal/paper page necklace of affirmation: winter nest
and just like that, another year of teaching will have passed. it was a quiet year for me, in workshop regard - playing catch up from last year, when all hell broke loose with the loss of my father, with the aftermath of grief and disorder that always follows. i taught at valley ridge, in wisconsin, and have the upcoming fall venues; then, quiet. winter. introspection.
next february, i'll be returning to artful journey with a mixed media workshop, one that incorporates a blend of collage/assemblage/jewelry making techniques in shadowbox form. this is another of my three day classes, and the only class i've scheduled thus far for next year. last night's dream
i'd love to have you join me in portland and/or in california!
i'm dashing this off madly before robin shows up for our last day of adventure. in fact, i hear him now. i'm sharing a few more images of this incredible place, before i duck back down to travel, to head back home.
it has been a magical time, need i say?
this is jenn, for whom i am ever grateful; she directs the art district, and the tin shop guest artist studio. she fell in love with a necklace i sat quietly and constructed, by stitching antique lace onto the back of antique linen measuring tape, with talismans of wooden beaver sticks from my river, an old buddhist prayer scroll, a key. the word maybe. all very powerful stuff, which was destined in the end for jenn.
these photos are blurred and inadequate; i'm hoping the ones i took with my digital camera will be better. for now, i wanted to share what has been coming out of my heart, through my fingers, into here.
this turned out to be for amy, another kindred spirit with whom i've grandly connected. i sat and stitched and embellished a little purse that represents mountains and sky and trails or roads, the stars, all of it. i'll tell you more about this, and amy, later when there is time. robin awaits - and so does my final colorado adventure of this trip.
it has been incredible. i love you, colorado. xo
red rocks park, everyone arriving for a concert at sunset
every single one of these photographs that i'm sharing with you were quickly snapped with the convenience of my little iPhone camera. i brought my digital camera along with me on this trip, but it seems too cumbersome and too involved to take the photos, load them into the computer, edit, sort, keep, cull. why has life gotten to be so fly by night?! but for the sake of saving time and energy, i'm sharing these with you.
robin was able to nab a couple of tickets online for neil young's sold out concert at red rocks this past sunday evening. my, my - what a life experience that neither of us will ever forget! a perfect summer evening with a perfect continual breeze, glittering lights of denver in the distant horizon, beautiful huge red rocks, a vibrant energy in the crowd, incredible crystal clear music and neil young's voice, then - the best of all - a huge rising moon, all orange and swollen, coming up over the eastern horizon above those glittering denver lights. to experience that with my son was perfection.
the one thing i wanted to do while here, outside of creating art in this lovely studio, and carving out as much time with my son as much as possible, was to visit the ancient (so ancient!) stand of bristlecone trees up on windy ridge. the photos below were all taken up there - i was breathless from the beauty, and overwhelmed as well - and it is my pleasure to share them with you. it was an amazing experience, deeply spiritual and moving. i created music for the trees around me by humming. i even made a video of that, and am grateful i have it to savor over and over again.
it was humbling to stand there next to such wise, ancient beings. just imagine what they've seen, what lives have come and gone in their presence. some of them are over 1,000 years of age - the oldest living creatures on this earth. humbling indeed.
i carried a few pieces of my newer creations in a small backpack, to photograph them hanging from trunks, from branches. after spending thirty minutes arranging and hanging and snapping photographs, the very notion of this seemed trivial, unnecessary, a waste of my time in the midst of such powerful beauty.
i swear, i believe they listened to me as i hummed a nameless nina tune. they listened, and they loved me right back. i know they did. i want to go see them again, and again. it was a holy, sacred time in a very holy place.
to have experienced this with robin was a priceless gift, one that i cherish and hold closely to my heart. and the journey continues....xo
another flight, smooth sailing all the way until the roller coaster landing onto denver's runway. such turbulence: you can see thunderclouds looming over an airport that reminds me of vast circus tents. a two hour shuttle ride to frisco, an overnight stay with my beloved robin (with his wounded wing on the mend after complicated surgery) at his new digs. behind the three story condo rental are meadows that were left after beetle kill devastated vast tracts of forest, all over this state. so sad. yet, the beauty remains, and wild flowers bloom in profusion right now.
a little blurry. it was early. jat lag prevails, as does the change in altitude: robin lives at 9,035 feet; breckenridge rests at 9,600. it feels very good to be back; it feels as though i left a few short weeks ago. tomorrow, my colorado creations begin. see what awaits? xo
a perfect wisconsin afternoon pocket of treasured time, photo taken by beloved katey
i don't know where this summer has gone. already, it feels as if it has turned around the corner from me, slipped behind one of these mountains to play a little hide and seek. days feel like hours, or single moments. plans go unheeded. things go awry. haywire. insane. i shrug as i write this: who hasn't known this part of life, the frenzy, the chaos? all of you have. this just happens to be my particular stretch of upheaval, right now.
yes, he was pulling them right off of the thorny vines, like a horse with curled lips. he could not get enough of those berries, and we'd spend early evenings walking down the
trail and down a gravel road to reach the prime picking spots. those were quiet times; i had a few moments, like that. this was a sleepy morning. see the green of the trees? it is still so green, here. we are blessed, in the western nc mountains, with afternoon rains that roll in from time to time. mornings are cool. afternoons, unbearably hot in this unconditioned house. breezes are treasured. for a few weeks, maybe three, at the end of june and beginning of july, i was able to hide away here on firefly road, to spend hottest parts of the day tucked away in the dark studio corner at my table, not moving, creating quietly. sometimes i would steal away to lie under the ceiling fan in the bedroom, late in the afternoon. i listened to birds calling, i listened to the sleepy rhythm of the fan as it turned and turned. it was a lovely period of reflection and of creating a collection of new bits of jewelry. it was quiet, and solitary, and there was no maddening going and coming back and having to suddenly leave all over again. i had the time to think back to my week at valley ridge - two back to back workshops, three days each, six straight days of teaching and sharing and being inspired by all of those incredible, wonderful women. new friendships were formed; we'll be friends for life, i know. there was much laughter, there were tender tears, there were lovely hours i'll treasure forever. first session, so many beautiful radiant souls!
second session, in front of that precious Tab camper of anita's - i want one! after six full days of teaching, i look absolutely wilted here, but was feeling SO good after being surrounded and embraced by these lovely, lovely gals... my dakota girls xo
kindred alabama spirit, dear katey; we found out after the workshop that we shared a plane ride right next to one another to detroit. an amazing thing.
robin was in alabama, recuperating from an extensive shoulder surgery that will have him out of work for three months; so in the midst of studio time, i drove the six hours down to alabama, visited with my mother a bit, then brought him back home to the mountains for a couple of days here with roy. then, a three hour drive to carry robin back down to the atlanta airport, another three hour drive immediately back home. i walked in the door at 7:30pm, burst into sobs from missing my boys, and within the hour, the phone rang - a call from my sister with the news that mama had collapsed in the middle of a grocery store, was in the emergency room. it was a stroke, she suffered no paralysis, just an inability to speak the words that she wanted to say. back to alabama i went the next morning, and stayed there for five days. mama is doing very very well - no lasting effects from the stroke - and will be wearing one of those medic alerts. the loving hands of mama's minister and our beloved friend david, who came to the hospital room to have communion. we all love this man with all of our hearts
i've reluctantly driven those well worn six hours back home to begin packing for my two week artist residency in breckenridge; i leave the day after tomorrow. now perhaps all of you will understand my need to stay away from the computer. even now, four hours after diving into this post, i am feeling the pressure of things that need to be done - laundry, packing clothes for a climate altogether different than my own, packing jewelry making supplies to carry out there with me. errands to run. purchases to make. all of that. julie is here, has driven down from ohio to carry walter back home with her. she is the best of friends - always here when i need her, will do anything she possibly can to make the world a better place. her last name is good. how perfect is that? earlier this summer, two days after my return from valley ridge, the two of us trooped out to western carolina university for a singalong viewing of The Sound of Music. there was a costume contest. in thirty minutes' time, we threw together what we wore up on stage. she, an edelweiss; i, fa - a long, long way to run. and i won, third place. we can't stop talking about it, all these weeks later.
next up is a lakeside viewing of Dirty Dancing, after i get back, with her/our beloved kim (it was filmed where we will be watching); we'll wear our frocks, and carry blankets to sit out on the lawn. we'll cheer baby and johnny on. (nobody puts baby in a corner...)... a good way to usher summer to a slow, sultry close.
for the quite a few of you who've written to see what's up - please don't worry. i'm okay. i'm here. sort of. off again, soon, for two weeks of an artist residency in breckinridge, colorado. i just don't feel like setting aside huge chunks of time for posting, or being right up front; for now, i'm happy staying here in the back corner, where i can tinker and play. the laptop only works in the hottest part of the house, right in front of the big sunny wall of windows. so, no email writing, no internet surfing, no posts being written, no photographs being uploaded into a file. i'm being quiet and staying in the darker studio, which thankfully is the coolest room in the house. i'll be checking back in here with some new wrapped jewelry pieces in the next few days, and will share some memories and photographs from my wonderful and beautiful week of teaching two workshops at beloved valley ridge. until then - thanks so much for asking, i really am okay. for now, you can see photos i'm sharing on a daily basis over on instagram... xo
"we lose ourselves in the things we love. we find ourselves there, too." - kristin martz
i love it when a quote comes my way that speaks with a strong but quiet voice. every day i'm sent a little message of encouragement from values.com; sometimes they grab me, sometimes they speak and then are absentmindedly forgotten, but they are always sound, and sage. last week, the one that spoke loudest to me was this:
"let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. it will not lead you astray". - rumi
angel casting by artist lynn davis; necklace emerged from the studio and startled me with its composition: antique mother of pearl buttons, a chunky baroque pearl, antique piano key ivory, antique text, old rosary mother of pearl, luminescent antique mother of pearl oval beads unearthed in wisconsin years ago
the studio continues to pull, and i am happy with this sensation. what a joy it is to create, to work very happily at what i do. my schedule has been a wild ride these past few weeks, with family and friends visiting, with a trip to alabama; work was put aside for a spell, resumed at a heightened pace, and now i'm off to wisconsin and beloved valley ridge art studio once again to teach two back-to-back workshops, six straight days of standing in the teacher's role. it's been nearly a year since i was last in that position, and i'm a little nervous about jumping back in. i hope i will not disappoint. i already know that my students will amaze me with their capabilities, with their own sense of creativity. bit by bit, i'll feel my way in these days before the workshop begins, i'll sort myself out and step into my instructor shoes. the shoes are red. my heart is still there, on my sleeve. let the lessons begin, for them and for me. in between the hours of sitting at my studio table, summoning ornamental pieces from some deep and ethereal place in my soul, i find quiet pockets of reflection, of deepest gratitude for the gifts and blessings that life has bestowed upon me. things will be quiet here at Ornamental for just a bit, but you know i'll be back as soon as i can.
things that have given me quiet and simple pleasure this week:
listening to william faulkner's Light in August on cd while working in the studio. beautifully and perfectly narrated by actor will patton (who also narrated charles frazier's Thirteen Moons that i listened to in april; thank you, fontana library!), it is an exquisite gift to have these words wash over and through me as i sit and tinker at the studio table. i studied faulkner as a college freshman for an entire semester (well, a quarter back then), and had not until now gone back to his words since then. hello, mr. faulkner. your work leaves me speechless when trying to describe the rhythm and cadence of your writing, the beauty of your incredibly wrought choice of words.
visiting with my beloved friend julie, who is down for a few days from ohio before she leaves to carry walter home with her while i am away. laughter, the sharing of stories, early evenings out on the deck with a little fire, walks out back on the trail through the woods as lightning bugs begin to appear, coffee out on the screened porch in the early mornings: good medicine. and walter unabashedly adores her, as well.
walter, walter, walter.
i wanted to give a little heads up to a brand new workshop i'll be teaching next february, at the lovely, lovely, lovely Artful Journey retreat, in the redwoods of central california. this will be my third time to teach there; it makes my heart and soul feel warm and full of light, just thinking about the place, the people, the spirit in the air. it is a sacred time, surrounded by quiet beauty. cindy woods o'leary, the retreat orchestrator, does an amazing job of making sure that each and every participant (and instructor) feels comforted and pampered (there have been, in the past, huge bowls of chunky homemade cookies, little bamboo plants, journals for everyone made from vintage papers and bound in scraps of antique quilts), and the classrooms are full of light, with views of natural beauty all around. i love this project - the incorporation of one's wishes and hopes and prayers and intentions into a work of art, something tangible and tactile, contained in a box that can then be tranformed into a piece of artwork hung on the wall or placed in a sacred spot on a table or shelf. the environment will be perfect for three days of quietly tinkering, stitching, wrapping, binding, and sharing our notions and our inspirations. i'll be bringing poetry and snippets of favorite book passages to read with you as well. i'll also once again encourage my students to bring boxes of their favorite hot teas and cocoas for our daily afternoon teatime there in class. the dates are february 28-march 4, 2013; registration opens july 10, at 10am pacific time. i know from past retreats that classes fill up quite fast, so if this sounds like something within your means and certainly within your dreams, don't wait too late. i would truly love to have you join us there. xo
regal moth, found dying in the grass out back... such a tender gift
i feel like all i'm doing here at Ornamental these days is sending you little bits and snippets of fly-by days, moments that are (thankfully) frozen with the help of a camera grabbed and snapped. my life, it seems, of late is a series of visits and separate weeks strung together to form what i call Life, which the older we get, the truer this is. days are SO MUCH shorter than they were back when i was a little girl and the hours felt like they moved in honey, sluggish and sweet and slow.
i'd like to sit here and write you for hours, telling you about all the many days that have slipped past, the highlights of each, the lows as well. but time is mercurial and elusive to this middle aged self, no matter how hard i try to pull it in with invisible thread, and there are chores to complete, work to execute, preparations for two back to back workshops (my first in nearly a YEAR, i will teach six days in a row) that loom ever large. i leave a week from today, and am trying not to let the panic set in. a few days after my return from alabama, i had the pleasure of a visit from roy and his sweetheart from wilmington; it was a haphazard time of in and out, here and not, as they set off to camp overnight with friends in panthertown (below is roy's birthday gift to me last year of a drawing he made me of that incredible wilderness area an hour from here), as meals were prepared in my tiny kitchen, as they were eaten on the porch in evening darkness and in morning light. (also in the photo are a stack of bristlecone pine coasters, slabs harvested from fallen limbs of those ancient regal trees; robin sent them to me from the wilds of colorado, a gift so sweet because of their background story...)
i've managed to squeeze in a few walks by the river, where surely that water rushing over stone and root changes the energy in the air; i've watched birds dip and fly away again with insects in their mouths, i've watched fly fishermen and women casting their lines through the air and onto the water's surface, i've pined for another dip in the water for walter, but respect the fishing tourists who have begun to frequent the park with their poles and their nets and their lines now that summer has officially begun.
these images are a little blurry - captured with my phone and processed through good old instagram. i get it now, i appreciate the little time it takes to pull out the phone from my pocket and snap an image that has presented itself to me. i'd link you to my fledgling account, but can't figure out how to do that, for the life of me. meanwhile, the long weekend flew past, my time with roy and lindsey evaporated like mist in the air, and now i'm left with a pocket of images and tender memories to add to my treasured collection.
oh. oh, oh, oh. i look at the photograph of these beautiful two and wonder when it was that roy crossed over the threshold from young boy to young man, to man. when did he grow that beard? when did he get that wise look in his eyes? when did he become the fellow who is so very tender with the special one for whom he so deeply, kindly cares?
my mornings and my evenings here on firefly road are quiet all over again. the storms blow in from the southwest, i watch the weather fluctuate alone. the beauty never ceases to pull strongly at my heart. life is rich. life is sweet, and it is sometimes, often even, sad. it is full, so full, and it is ever moving quickly, quickly ahead. xo
In The Middle
of a life that's as complicated as everyone else's,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather's
has stopped at 9:20; we haven't had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don't ring. One day I look out the window,
green summer, the next, the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,
our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day, we must learn
again how to love, between morning's quick coffee
and evening's slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies
twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail, a metronome, 3/4 time. We'll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.
dinner was fried chicken livers, fried cornbread, cooked cabbage, black eyed peas splashed with hot pepper vinegar, green beans, lemon ice box pie (oh, the joys of food consumed in the deep south!), all washed down with sweet iced tea (thank you katie, for putting that bug in my ear)
prolific poop factory, seen every morning on my walk through mama's neighborhood with walter
magnolia blossom - i picked two or three every early evening or morning to bring in as a gift from daddy to mama, through his daughter. for those of you who've not had the heady pleasure of drinking in its lemony scent, i hope you will have that privilege in your lifetime. they make me remember daddy with a fierce pining.
the road that led me home again; i'd spotted the black skies that were just ahead and thought i'd pull off the main road for a walter pit stop before the bottom fell out. i've passed this spot hundreds of times on my way back home, in northern georgia, but had never pulled over right here. the light in this beautiful spot was incredible, sunlight washed over everything in my immediate vicinity, thunder clouds hovering over the rest of my journey, and home.
bed, where i collapsed late last night. i've finally given in to instagram. not sure quite yet if i get what the big deal might be, but i'm willing to try. the artwork peeking out of my book is from my potter/painter friend julie whitmore, and makes a wonderful bookmark where i can see her sweet work every night.
i drove down to alabama the saturday before mother's day, which also happened to be the one year anniversary of daddy's passing. that sunday, the day of celebrating motherhood, it was just my mama and me, going to early service at her sweet little episcopal church (i wore a lavender frock), spending the afternoon lazing around her house savoring one another's company. she finally reached a point where she was ready to search for another canine companion, urged me to get online to see what i could turn up in the corgi world. look who i found:
doesn't she look worried?! callie is a four year old pembroke corgi, from a small country community outside of jasper, alabama - a three hour drive north from montgomery, where we drove on thursday to pick her up. i've tried (in vain, three times) to contact a blogging acquaintance who has a treasured cardigan, but never have heard back from her. anyone out there who is familiar with this breed, i'd love to hear from you. do they always look worried, like this? will she stop snapping and snarling at poor innocent walter, as time goes by? is there a chance that she might stop chewing with little pointed teeth on things that are not hers, such as walter's beloved grollie?! regardless, we love her; i love her for coming into my mother's life at this late date, for being there to keep her company. it was a wild week, full of dog preparation, long drives, appointments made, engagements kept. i stayed quite a few more days than i had anticipated, so that i could be there to help in any new-mother-way that i could. just look at this photo that i snapped a couple of nights before i left:
i want to call her callie mae. i think that is a lovely name for a southern gal, the mae being my contribution. she did come to us in the month of may, after all. here's what we've gleaned about corgis, or callie, in the few days we've spent with her: she loves to be around people, and is fond of meeting new folks. she is territorial about her food. she flopped down in pine straw and refused to get up, so i'm guessing she lived in a barn where there was hay. she pushes her food bowl around on the floor with her nose. she has grown to tolerate walter. thunderstorms terrify her (i've ordered a thunder shirt to send to my poor mother, for callie mae). she loves laps, and sofas. and treats. her bark, from the little we've heard, is firm and bold. here is what i never thought about, with a tailless dog: there is no tail wagging, ever. i think my mother will miss that; i know i will. we've not seen any displays of herding, but i'm sure that will surface, in time.
walter and i have finally made it back home again, where the rain settled in and refused to leave until this morning, 36 hours later. my four legged fella is thankful to be back in his domain, where no one protests anything that he does (within reason, i add). the threadbare tennis ball was quietly placed on the ottoman before me, yesterday morning, as i sat on the sofa and wrote some notes. dear walter. dear callie. dear mama. dear old longtime friends, dear south, dear life. xo
i've shown that photograph on this blog more times than i know; it's my favorite photo of the boys and me, and it rests in a frame beside my bed, where i see it every single day and night. roy was so blonde, then; his right knee is skinned. robin has a headful of curls, and fat little feet; i think that the shirt he was wearing had a beatrix potter image on the front of it. i stayed in a bathingsuit and oversized shirt that entire weekend, and we lingered on the beach in the early morning and late afternoons, into the golden early evening. i was young. i had the whole of motherhood ahead of me; i was only three years into that role, but thought i already knew everything about a mother's skills. i knew nothing at all, absolutely nothing. but i loved, very hard, and love harder and fiercer now still. being a mother has been the singlemost thing in life i've done where i can look back and say, well done, little mama. well done. i raised those boys as a single mother, from the time they were two and four years old; now they are great big tall, lanky men. they have their own lives, their own tastes, their own hobbies and pasttimes, their own loves. they have so much of me in them that it scares and startles all three of us, but that is mostly a good thing, in the end.
i'm spending this mother's day with my own cherished mama, down in the southern-steeped world of alabama. to all you mamas and all you sisters and all you pet mamas and best friends and caretakers and daughters/sons/brothers out there, i wish you the best that this day has to bring. xo
bed half-made up this rainy morning
sometimes i think i feel things just too damned much. one emotion will settle in like an unwanted guest and take up residence for a couple of days, or weeks; and when that happens, i curse my sensitive side for feeling every little thing in my life as deeply as i do. yesterday morning, i received an email from good old npr (somewhere along the way i guess they figured out what news matters to me) that the beloved author and illustrator maurice sendak had passed away. he was a year younger than my mother; why couldn't he keep going, as she does? my heart was heavy, heavy. it still is, today. like most folks my age, i grew up with his work; Little Bear was one of my brother's favorite books; Where the Wild Things Are came along a little later, but we still loved it, my boys grew up with it, and as adults the boys and i went with excitement to see the film the week that it was released (filmed in beloved australia). there were so many books, in my childhood house, and many were illustrated by mr. sendak. i remember a drawing he did of a small boy, bending over to smell the open book in his lap. that's what his artwork was like for me; i wanted to eat it, to drink it up. now, a middle aged mother of strapping grown men, i still feel like the little girl of those books when i wander out back and into the sheltering woods.
i often say no. i am a wild thing, too, and love a good rumpus now and again. we all do. we all dream of going to bed, at least i assume you dream as i do, and dream of watching our bedroom transform into the mysterious dark of the sheltering woods. i'm still that little girl who talks to rabbits, even to the trees, and the moon. what was it about his artwork? about the words he wrote? the emotions he conveyed? why does his death affect me as deeply as it has? yesterday afternoon i listened to a beautiful tribute to mr. sendak on a favorite npr show, fresh air. you can access it here. his feelings for the host, terry gross, were tender and dear. the last words he spoke in the series of interviews have truly resonated deeply with me: "live your life, live your life, live your life". i surely do try, mr. sendak. i do. after listening, i walked over to my bookshelves in the living room and tried, in vain, to find my tattered copy of Wild Things. i know now that it is with the rest of the boys' favorite childhood books, packed away in the basement of my parents' cabin. i had wanted to carry it with me, clutched next to my chest, into the woods out back, to place it at the base of a tree, close to the spot where the bells of the solomon seal are this week dangling from their green stems. his books have always made me feel that way.
i cried, yesterday, for this loss. maybe you did, too.
walter turned three years old yesterday, and i'm reminded again of how quickly the days and the weeks and months and years pass us by. it was on walter's second birthday last year when i said my final goodbyes to beloved daddy, chin and voice trembling as i fought back the tears, and his last words to me as he looked me straight in the eye were for me not to worry, i would be fine, and that he loved me so much, so very very much. somehow i managed to walk out of that room and drive the six hours back to firefly road, to a house that had once again been burgled and left wide open to the rest of the world. i picked up those pieces, packed my bags all over again, and headed across the state to wilmington a few days later for roy's college graduation. daddy died the next day, and after the graduation ceremony i spent another twelve hours driving an unending stretch of interstate to get myself back down to alabama. a lot followed after that - my scramble in vain to meet workshop proposal deadlines two weeks later, a trip across the world to reunite with treasured friends for a workshop in beloved australia (one of these days i'll share those stories and images with you), a week in new zealand with more close friends-turned-family, then a final settling down back home as summer drifted by. yesterday's celebration with walter seemed to be another rite of passage, another way to mark may 6. thank goodness for that - for the rituals of life, of death, and everything in between. we went to the river yesterday, walter and i, and his birthday treat was a rollicking swim and stick toss in the waters of the beloved oconaluftee.
the cherokee believed that "going to waters" brought great healing and spiritual cleansing; it is enough for me to stand at the edge of that beautiful river while walter plays, and listen to its voice as it rushes past on its way to the sea.* i stand at the water and listen to the rushing, i listen to birdsong, i listen to the breezes in the newly green branches of overhanging trees. water. how often it moves my heart, my spirit, my soul.
you'll probably remember the bits of smooth pebbles and broken, weathered shells that i pocketed while walking at the beach a couple of weeks ago; i walked along that water's edge, barefoot in the sand, and remembered the last time that i'd let those waters wash over my feet, a year ago. when i came home, remember? i discovered that one of the shell shards was a worn angel's wing, something i'd not seen until i dropped the pieces into a pottery bowl. seldom do i take the time to make a piece of jewelry for myself, but for this i've fashioned a string of oddly shaped pearls with the wing as its focal piece. the wing comes off, if i wish, but i love that it will now hang with pearls from a knob where i can see it every day - an incredible talisman, an incredible gift that quietly presented itself, from the sea. it came from the waters, where memory washed its healing balms over me. xo
*for an eloquent passage concerning going to waters, go here for a sample reading from Thirteen Moons, a very powerful novel i just finished for the second time.
finally! i've finished what i'm calling the "prologue pearls" line, spent all day yesterday photographing and editing, til well past dinnertime into dusk, as you can see above. i love these pearls - they feel to me like prayer beads, in a way, because i counted and fingered and threaded each pearl one by one by one onto silk cord, then measured and added lengths of sterling chain, assorted gemstones, a silverplate watch fob clasp. they are meant to be worn with the clasp in the front, so that a charm can be either tied on or hooked onto the clasp, after hooking the sterling chain.
easy to add, easy to remove and interchange. lovely with my charms, lovely with your own findings (think of an antique ring... another charm... a tiny cup with a handle...) or lovely on its own as a lariat, with a lovely gemstone dangle.
i am wild about this idea, will be making more of them when time permits. it is a quiet pleasure, very zen-like, to sit in the evenings on the sofa with a tray in my lap, threading pearls and knotting them one by one. sometimes i have to make myself stop, to go on to bed. after all, a woman needs time to curl up with a book, before turning out the light. it was the beauty of the written word that triggered this whole new line - the tiny little bits of poetry that i clipped from a pitiful little 1844 book that fits in the palm of my hand.
with the book falling apart, i've given the words new life - and the pearls are the prologue, stories without words, just waiting to be told. for my mother's day gift for mama (shh):
it's overcast here, after a lovely overnight rain that sounded delicious from the bed under an open window. just as i was swimming upwards to the surface from the water of sleep, i heard a hummingbird buzzing right outside the screen. it occurred to me that he or she was attracted to the red tulip in the stained glass, a gift from daddy many years ago. hello, daddy. hello, little bird. hello. xo
(note - for those of you who purchased jewelry earlier this week, i've held off shipping til tomorrow, in case you wanted to add to your order and shipping charges would be combined. i'll adjust, accordingly. a link to my little shop is here.)
slowwwwly, slowly, SLOWLY i am trying to list things in my etsy shop (next to impossible right now, the connection keeps going) and trying to share with you here a couple of photos of the work. does anyone else ever have a problem with typepad - the image uploading then never showing? i've gone through the process five times, in ten minutes, while sitting here staring at a blank screen. grrrrrrrrrrr. at any rate - i've fallen in love with the work i'm doing now - smaller pieces that can be attached or removed at will from a series of necklaces i've created.
the little vintage watch fob necklace this time around has one of my sterling keys incorporated as part of the closure, with a vintage brass floral locket, a pyrite drop, and a small freshwater pearl dangling from the key's loop. the charms i've made - of antique piano key ivory sandwiched between aged brass and mica, with words from an 1844 dilapidated book of poetry, palm-sized - can be added or removed as you wish, by simply threading the little loop onto the watch fob clasp or by tying with ribbon or thread to the key. i love this, so much, and will be working with this concept a great deal. i'll also be listing some lovely longer ivory charms with more detailed poetry excerpts and a fancier sterling wire loop, as well as beautiful pearl necklaces to which these charms can all be attached. i just need more time to finish listing these, a tedious and hair-pulling experience. i'm so excited about this new work that i actually reward myself time in the studio, after chores are done. reward! time in the studio is savored, now. which reminds me - i've written an article with lots of photographs of my beloved little cubbyhole of a workspace for the summer issue of Cloth Paper Scissors Studio Magazine, which ought to be out mid may. i'm told that they loved the photographs - so i'm both honored and excited to see it in print....
meanwhile - it's good to be excited about work and what i do, always, even if sharing it with all of you is like moving a mountain all the way across the state to the sea....xo
it has rained so much, so much this week. yesterday was one long series of thunderstorms that brewed and toiled and spilled over the mountains one after the other, rumbling and tumbling and cropping up over and over and over again. walter and i stayed inside, quiet as mice, while i spent a long day of dark and wind tucked away in the studio, listening to the tail end of Thirteen Moons, removing tiny words from a palm-sized antique book of fragile poems that has been resting on my studio shelf, delapidated, for going on 15 years. i read through pages of miniature text, cut some out with the sharpest of scissors, placed some here, placed some there. all the while, the wind blew and the rain fell. at dusk, a fog rolled in, and still the thunder rattled the windowpanes, through all of that muffling white.
by the time i crawled into bed with a book late last night, the rain was gone but the trees were audibly dripping, and a breeze brought the rich, heady smell of wet, black earth and new spring growth through the barely open window just above my head. this morning, when i walked out onto the porch and down the wooden walkway, i found the remnants of flower petals dotting the wood at my feet. snowfall, in april, then: the last of the snow from the snowball tree. i eat every day from japanese plates with flowers strewn across their surface, like this. they lace the plates on branches thin and brown, across palest blue-green mistiness: flowers in a shallow bowl, across a watery sky, poetry on porcelain. no wonder the fallen petals felt familiar, there at my feet. i wanted to thank those of you who took advantage of the jewelry sale, and helped me ready the shop for what comes next. i've spent a good solid couple of weeks mulling over how to fasten, how to adorn, how to manage and rearrange pieces that can be more than just one thing, can be taken off and added again. that's what sitting in a quiet little studio for hours and hours and hours will do to one who has nowhere else to be, as nature beyond my windows makes her own tender ornaments. what a lovely muse she continues to be, for me.
new pieces will be making their way into my little shop, within the next few days....xo
i don't know why i'm always surprised by the way a little light can change one's perspective on so many, many things. i snapped this photograph of my studio table and chair one morning around 9am, just after the sun had popped up over the eastern mountain ridge; i live in a sheltered cove here on firefly road, tucked up into the valley that is nestled snugly between two steeply pitched mountainsides, where a stream loudly rushes from somewhere up above to somewhere far below, down down down the road and on out into the river, where i suppose that water is carried to the sea. to wilmington, maybe. who knows. but on this morning, just after i had returned from alabama, i was walking past the studio door with cup of coffee in hand, spotted the way that the light was spilling very briefly across the table and seat of my chair. this direct sunlight does not last for long, through that northeastern corner of the house, and i knew to grab the camera and capture it before it was gone, a short five or ten minutes later. not soon after this, i discovered that my camera cord had been left in alabama, the photo was forgotten, and weeks passed. weeks, and another trip. click, click, click. time works like that - in increments of still life memories, in the way that light filters, spills, drapes across the things that we do or don't take for granted every day.
last evening, i prepared dinner and brought it in here to the living room to eat (i have no dining table, there isn't a place for one, so i eat every evening looking out at the very same view that i see now before me, here at the little sea blue/green wooden table). i was fascinated by the way that the last of yesterday's light was spilling across the old wood, through the old bottles and jar where this spring's flower bounty has been placed, where the petals have fallen and their spent beauty cast little shadows across the table's surface. so brief, this light, these shadows. i cleared the laptop from its perch, grabbed the iPhone and captured there in a tiny computerized box a bit of soft, etheral evening enlightenment. morning northeastern light, evening southwestern glow - so much to be seen, in the way that the petals and the dust and the bottle water came together for me, just so. and here, plucked from the shining water and sand surface of a walk along wrightsville beach just before evening darkened, a bit of shell that i had spotted and pocketed because i loved the weathered surface. in the evening light last night, only then did i notice the wing i held in the velvety mountain gloaming glow.
i have quite a few containers around this house that hold treasures from the places i have roamed; to keep these trinkets sacred as a collected group from my most recent of adventures, i've tied a weathered tag onto the handle of a small local pottery bowl (mud dabber pottery, over in balsam, just below the blue ridge parkway), so that years from now i'll see the seashell hearts and glass and tumbled stones and know why i've kept them for so long. for now, i love how they mix with the fallen snowball petals on my little table - the sea brought home to mountains, from water to land, to tabletop that came from a tree somewhere, far away, long ago.
*i started out this post to announce a little springtime jewelry sale, but when i sat down to write, the morning light spoke louder than the need to speak of business things. i'll end this quiet post by saying, simply, that for the next three days i'm offering a 25% etsy discount to my readers over in my little jewelry shop. the sale runs from today until midnight on thursday, when i'll remove the discount again and full prices return. there is a little box, when checking out with your purchase, where you can place the code - NBSPRING - and you'll see the discount from the original price.
now, go to a window and see what the light is revealing to you. let me know. xo
sometimes it is a good thing to leave the place with which one is most comfortable, most familiar. as much as it tugs at the heart to pull out of the driveway and head down the road, it is a lovely thing to pull in to another gravel drive, walk through the house and back out the front door to greet one's son, who is standing out on the sidewalk waiting for his mother to arrive. i'd never seen roy's "new" house, built in 1930 - his first address after living in college world surrounded by other college students. sitting on his great big front porch, shaded by enormous trees, looking out to a sweet old church across the street, i was reminded of the neighborhood in To Kill a Mockingbird. it was neighborly, with cracked sidewalks, an old eucalyptus tree growing in the front yard. white rockers, on warped boards. concrete front steps. flowers growing in random spots from the long-ago owner of the house, now passed on to another place, another time. roy is so proud of this place, and i enjoyed every minute of being there... enjoyed the fact that he wanted me to come visit, that he mopped and straightened and polished for me, and took an extra day off from work... that he enjoyed playing host to his mother who lives seven hours away, all the way across this grand and beautiful state.
there were many beautiful moments, all strung into a necklace that i wish i could hold in my hand. i hold it in my heart. i hold it in my aching/grateful/loving/beaming mother's heart.
those moments shine like little mirrors. they shimmer, and twinkle, and glow.
a few months ago, i finally - finally - finally dove into fiction written by "local" author ron rash. i've known of his work for ten years, had spotted and passed over short stories in the new yorker, and have placed his fiction on the back burner for that of other writers. what an arrogant, stupid assumption on my part, to think that his words would not be works of art i'd want to consume.
but when i was down visiting my mother in alabama back sometime last fall, she mentioned that she was reading something called Serena, and thought i'd enjoy reading it as well. while she finished her copy, i read - voraciously - another of his novels, One Foot in Eden, then quickly ordered and devoured Saints at the River. serena was next - i was haunted by it - then came The World Made Straight, then a book of his poetry, and finally i began to count down the weeks until his latest book, The Cove, was released on april 10. what i'm sharing with you here are images from a little "field book" that i made to carry as a gift for ron, who spoke and read from The Cove in the old courthouse of sylva yesterday. i felt like a giddy little school girl, making a gift for someone i'd never met. he is a southern gentleman, warm and kind, and received it with grace.
i look at these pages now and hope that what i tried to convey was clear. his words are like music; he is a poet, after all, with a grand sense of cadence and rhythm; the stories and their delivery will make your heart ache, and finally break.
it was a quiet pleasure on saturday afternoon to put this little book together for an artist of words. it was a pleasure to work with paper and glue once again, with black ink and pencil and scraps of mica and leather. a little clip from daddy's office held some bits together in a field book from september of 1912. goodbye, little book. i hope it will bring mr. rash a little comfort when his nights and days away from home are long, these coming weeks...
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand,
So what could I do but laugh and go?
i'll be listing another grouping of spring-inspired trinkets, these shown here and others, tomorrow. today? i'm off to play with a friend. xo
after what has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult two days, i discovered last night to my utter dismay that my email address had been hacked. that there are people in this world who thrive on this sort of thing disgusts me to no end. for the many, many innocent people who received an email with my name on it, inviting you to sign up for this and for that, i offer my profound apologies (and an order to NOT open the link)! thanks, ever thanks, to my dearest pal julie, who at midnight sat quietly on the other end of the phone and listened to me sob uncontrollably. she is such a lifeline, at the best and worst of times: after my wailing slowed down, she simply told me to go on to bed and get some rest, while she stayed up those extra minutes to straighten things out for me, long distance.
i had a fairly strong case of the easter blues - it was my first in 55 years to be completely on my own, away from family: since i had just spent 1.5 weeks in alabama less than two weeks ago, and both boys were tied down with work obligations in their far flung places, i was here, with walter, alone. i am not one to attend church - i believe in surrounding myself with the glories of nature for what someone else might call worship - and was thankfully able to do just that when a friend called to suggest we go on a hike. it was a lovely afternoon, photographing wildflowers over in the park (that sounds so nonchalant and casual, but it still blows my mind all these years later that within 15 minutes i can be walking a trail in the Great Smoky Mountain Park), and stopping on the way home for a frozen fruit drink. it wasn't until i walked back into the house and checked the answering machine that i began to fall apart. cell phones don't work in the park (and barely work here, for that matter). my mother had prepared an easter meal for my uncle bob, who was visiting from atlanta, and for a couple of sweet neighbors who have become family to us. after dinner, while still seated at the table, mama simply and quietly fainted, in the middle of a conversation. she does not remember the ambulance ride to the hospital, doesn't remember anything until a great while later in the emergency room. two nights and a day later, she is home again, to all of our great relief. i'm still confused about what could have caused this, and the angst over anything else happening to my mother anytime soon has been taking its toll on me. and like a great big dark rolling ball, all of the worry and the stress and the sorrow of this time last year, as we began to lose daddy, has come rolling back down out of the woods, where those fractious emotions had been lurking somewhere behind a great big tree.
i'll say what i said in my last post right here: more and more and more my family matters so greatly, to me. and "family" includes those friends who have stuck by me, through thick and through thin, through anger and confusion and tears, through all of the bad that comes also with the good, with me. i just can't adequately express the depth of my love for these chosen family members. or for my sister. my mother. my uncle. my boys. life is so precious, and so tender. and so, so sweet. xo
When I finally made it back home towards the end of last week from Alabama, I couldn’t believe the changes that had quietly taken place while I was away. Funny thing – I always expect things to be different after I’ve been gone for a while, and they never seem to be. Everything is (usually) just as I left it, a toy of walter’s in the middle of the living room floor, a pair of my shoes still waiting just inside the front door to be worn again. This time, I pulled up at dusk after a long day’s drive through springtime that had been in full bursting bloom in Alabama, then a softer version of spring in the middle of Georgia, then less and less green as I headed back into the foothills of these treasured mountains. At home, there were still no leaves on the trees; but oh my, how lovely the magic tree looked in its bridal white lace beside the house. this was taken the first morning i woke up here at home, from a side road just below the house. grass still uncut, as you can see...
I missed the whole process of spring here last year; for six weeks I was away, tending to my bedridden father, trying to be there for my mother in any helpful way that I could, teaching out in Washington state in a foggy state of mind, heading straight back down to Alabama the day after I returned east. It was a long, stretched out time of treading water, now that I look back on it: we did the best we could with the time that we had, and searched for little pockets of joy in the shadows of looming sorrow. So, to come home after a lovely two weeks in full-bloom Alabama and to witness first hand the unfolding of green and spring all over again here on firefly road has been a quiet time of gratitude and peace and joy for the beauty of life and all that it brings. it's lovely, even when it's foggy, which on most mornings it has surely been, and many times at dusk. soft, quiet, lovely. good medicine, for this soul. walks along the river (only a couple this week, as gasoline prices continue to soar) are providing more deep breaths of gratitude - the "preciousness" i discussed this morning on the phone with a friend - and the colors that come with early april nature are pulling strongly at my heart. there are little star-shaped purple flowers covering the forest ground along the river path, right now - purple stars, and trillium, in pinks and whites, and yellow wildflowers, the names i do not know. i have watched this tree heart through the barren months of winter, and was touched to see a small cluster of violets growing at its top, yesterday. i'm listening now, for the woodthrush songs; i listen, and i quietly wait. at home, i'm working in the memory of colors that i carry home from the river with me. it's all i seem to want to do, right now. colors are unfolding; nests are being built in unexpected places. when i went to look for the camera's cord to connect it to the computer, i was dismayed to realize i had left it back in alabama. for now, then, only phone photos are available, and they will have to do.
i'm not used to working in a myriad of colors. it's been a practice in frugality to dig through jewelry drawers hidden for 15 years to find a variety of something other than the blues and greens of turquoise or moss aquamarine and pearl that i am wont to use.
i love this exuberant photograph of mama, so much - taken very spontaneously with my phone, as she was planting her new herbs of the season. she hates having her picture taken, and the quickness of this made it a good thing for her. it has been an emotional week for my mother, and the smile on her face means the world. she has smiled, a lot. she has had quite a few tears, as well. we buried isaac's ashes yesterday, as thunderstorms rolled in from the southwest. beloved david, her little church's rector, met us at the cemetery and performed the dearest funeral for us, for sweet little us.
so isaac rests there, between daddy and my brother ben. as this should be. mama buried with isaac, his first toy - a knotted rope my brother had made - and a rose that our neighbor had brought her last week when isaac died. life is such a beautiful balance of bitter and sweet.
i'll never forget how gently david brushed the dirt back around the little spot where i had dug a small hole. the heart rock came from my river. poor david was leaving us to go home and pack for his family's spring break trip to the beach today; at midnight he was taking his twelve year old son to see the opening show of The Hunger Games last night. i love that dear man with all of my heart. i've worked hard while i've been here, making jewelry from things that i carted down here in little plastic boxes. i've made jewelry while mama and i sat and watched Lark Rise to Candleford, while we sat and talked and told stories about daddy and remembered, together. i photographed the finished pieces, edited the photos, loaded the necklaces and bracelet wraps one by one, in threes, to my etsy shop. just now, i've finished. it feels good to be done with that, for now. it's time for wine, and my mother. and a good walk around the neighborhood with mr. walter. go take a look and see what i've accomplished. the thread seems to bind all things together. xo
i'm still in montgomery, where spring has fully blossomed and days are as warm as may and june. trees are flushed out in green, azalea bushes are a riot of color, and it has been a pleasure to spend late afternoon/early evenings out here on my mother's patio, where i am sitting with the laptop perched in my lap. there are lots of stories to share - but for now i'm just checking in and sharing a couple of photos of jewelry thrown all helter skelter across the marble topped chest of drawers in my mother's front foyer. i hope to begin listing quite a few pieces of trinkets - three wrap bracelets, lots of necklaces - sometime tomorrow. spring rules here, and i am enjoying time with my mother, filling up the empty spaces with laughter and stories and simple presence of a loved one....xo
it's my pleasure and honor today to tell you about a fellow i've never met in person, but with whom i've shared countless emails back and forth for the past few years. seth apter is a talented artist, and is very dedicated to his blog in which he has conducted countless interviews with other artists of all sorts of media from all over the world. seth's heart, artwork by seth apter
he is a patient man, and oh so kind - someone for whom i feel tender and enamored, without ever having met him face to face. seth's book The Pulse of Mixed Media: Secrets and Passions of 100 Artists Revealed has just been released, and i'm proud to say that i'm one of the thirty one artists seth invited to participate in the book. asking me to do anything with a deadline is a major feat; i am a consummate procrastinator, scattered at best - yet, seth never lost his gentle and kind approach with me, or his faith in my abilities. somehow (miraculously) i did manage to create two new pieces - one is a self portrait, and the other was prompted by a question seth asked: How do you express passion in your artwork? oh my. well... here's a little peek of my self portrait (because i do always wear my heart right out on my sleeve): and a little bit of the artwork that is my answer to the question regarding passion, above:
seth asked a LOT of questions. good ones. thought provoking and different and starting lots of introspective processing within. this makes sense; in seth's day-life, he is a professional therapist, and i'm sure he spends an inordinate amount of time preparing the right thing to ask... not too pushy, not too assertive... just - well, just right.
last week i wrote seth and asked if i could turn the table and have him answer a question for me. here's what i asked: "i always spent time in my own therapy (years ago, now, when going through a divorce) asking questions of the therapist, which of course always got promptly turned right back around to me. but I'd like to ask how you manage to expose your own feelings in artwork after spending all day keeping your own emotions to yourself (or am I wrong about this? do you ever talk about your own fears while counseling a patient? your own sadnesses? joys?)".
and seth, ever seth, answered right back: "I find this question fascinating because it addresses the connection between my two careers and is something that I am forever contemplating. To answer your second question first. In many schools of psychology, the therapist is traditionally thought of as a "blank slate" onto which the client projects his or her own beliefs. Because of this, I originally hesitated to create a public blog and have made the decision to keep my blog primarily focused on my art, rather than myself. However, in my practice there are definitely times when I share my own experiences, feelings and reactions -- but only if I feel it may be of benefit to the client.
That being said, my energy is always directed toward my client. This fact actually makes it easy for me to make the switch to focus on my own feelings when I am creating art. All that energy gets funneled into what I am working on in the moment and expressed through the artwork. Making art is a great release for me and an activity into which I can completely lose (and find) myself. This is one of the reasons that psychology and art are such a great pairing for me...they allow for a much needed balance."
i'm very proud of seth. he's worked mighty hard for a good 18 months (most likely, longer) pulling together a great deal of information from thirty one artists - all of their answers to his questions, the artwork we all created for his book. i'd like to invite you to head on over to his blog and take a peek at what he has to say about the "clan" of the Pulse, and to wish him well on this wonderful journey he has begun. xo
this is how i am feeling right now, all tangled and jumbled and in need of sorting out some loose end bits of my life. i never cease to be surprised at how busy my life remains to be, in spite of the fact that both boys are now out on their own, i have no spouse, my biggest responsibility is to keep my head above water and on course. but being self employed has all sorts of busy-ness that comes along with the package, good and bad, and i don't spend all of my time sitting blissfully around tinkering with gemstones and with silver. i know you all know this, i'm just musing out loud here on this overcast wet cotton monday morning. i've been creating detailed, emotional pieces of jewelry, have so many pieces that are completed and in need of releasing on their way out into the world beyond these windows of firefly road. i have incomplete pieces as well, and journal pages to write, and photographs to edit. we all do. welcome, monday morning. welcome, mercury retrograde.
i've been spending a lot of our walking time wandering through undergrowth and bare-bone late winter woodlands, admiring the way that weather and water and wind and river currents take their lovely toll on stones, on acorn caps, on sticks and branches and twigs that have been chewed by beavers, tumbled by flood waters and left heaped in piles along the banks of the river. i can't stop myself from gathering, gathering, gathering these sweet nature cast offs and bringing them home to rest here on tabletops and in vases and springing from old rusted tins on shelves in the studio. i contemplate how to use them in my work, how to make them be an integral part of storage and beauty and ornament, all in one.
i also can't seem to stop from pulling out needle and embroidery thread to embellish these small bits of windfall goodness, to decorate their simple natural beauty with a little touch of domestic artistry as well. strips of green velvet moss twisted and stitched and further stitched on crooked little knobs of filed and drilled wood convey the green patches of moss i see every time i walk along the trail behind my house, every time we walk along the river.
i snapped the photo of this wrapped twig before i had spent an additional hour stitching "vines" of chartreuse embroidery thread, winding and looping the design up and around and across the velvet moss and wood, attaching with fine silk cord the peridot carved leaves, the pearls and faceted green garnet. i don't even know if you can see all that vine stitching, now that the stones have been scattered across the surface. it doesn't matter; i know that the added detail is there. i think of the hours i spent sitting at the studio table, quietly embroidering, and remember just how i felt, remember the music that i was listening to, (schubert for two, with its achingly beautiful ständchen D 957/4), the story that was being read out loud to me, via audio tape (The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje).
it is a challenge, so difficult, to photograph these things when the day is grey, when lighting is stubbornly low. i've tried, a dozen times. it was raining last week when i photographed the necklace at one initial stage, it is deeply overcast this morning when i've carried the completed necklace in here to lay quietly in whatever milky light exists. i am a little amused to take note of the myriad of minor changes that took place in the course of its creation - even in its name. what an interesting exercise this is, to document a piece from step by step by step, to show it as it slowly unfolds.
here we have a finished piece, a little out of focus, just as life can sometimes be:
i've used the cast bronze acorns and leaves, the bezel binoculars charm from my 1995 studio. i remember rolling meadows, i remember the weathered old barn and little stream that sat within view of my studio window. i remember the boys being young, so young, i remember our beloved springer spaniel, aspen, who spent countless hours with those boys romping through the garnet-studded stream, into the mossy woods beyond. aspen is three years gone, the boys have grown and live lives of their own. all of that gets wrapped up into this one sweet piece of woodland history. out of the studio also comes another quiet piece that speaks of tender growth, of other things. it's all quite poignant, to me it seems, this work that is flowing up out of my heart, spilling out into pieces that speak of a longing for spring. i love the butterfly antennae, the dragonfly-esque mother of pearl wings. i'll be completing and listing all of these - the bracelets, the "blue skies" necklace, the branched moss, the pearly wings, sometime this week. for now, i have a very very sad heart that aches for my mother, who is this very morning having to put her beloved golden retriever, isaac, to sleep. only this week we've discovered his cancer. he is a tender, loving companion who has devotedly kept my mother company these past months of loss. that she has to suffer yet another death in such a brief amount of time seems beyond comprehension. i'll be heading down there tomorrow to help fill that painfully quiet house with walter's rambunctious spirit, with stories, with a daughter's solid loving presence. this is the very least that i can do.
with gas prices being what they are, i've reluctantly had to cut back on the daily 15 minute drives over to the smoky mountain national park, where i walk along the river. this saddens me, for i feel much energy and creative flow as walter and i pass under tall trees along the side of the river. maybe it has something to do with positive ions being generated by all that motion of water flowing rapidly over old river rock; i always come home with a head full of new ideas for things to create, when there is time. on the departing gunnysack skirt tail of winter's final days, i'm craving the colors and lushness of green; while things along the trail are still grey and faded brown, there are patches of beautiful moss that coat fallen trees, damp stone, old stumps where trees once stood. these seem like little worlds to me where anything magical might want to live; the lush green is a welcome sight, and i loved stopping in our tracks yesterday, on a sunny afternoon when i couldn't stay away from the call of the river, to capture a little of the green that promises spring.
when we got back home, i wandered out back to see if i could find a little moss to bring inside for a visit. oh, the smell of it! damp, and cool, grassy and of the earth, a heady scent that i wish i could capture in a bottle to keep here at my desk. mossy love. you see who else could not resist this scent.
i made the mistake of allowing walter to accompany me back outside when i went to replace the moss in its little nest. as soon as i had tucked it into its niche and turned my back, he gobbled the stuff; it smelled that good to him, i guess.
today is yet another grey day, wet and rainy and chilly, a mean twist after yesterday's beautiful sunshine and bliss. i've wandered around the house snapping photo after photo of things springlike and green, seeking a little inspiration for what comes next. i want to capture the feeling of the woods as we wait for spring, i want to make one think of happy bird song and dappled sunshine on forest floors, i want to suggest ferns and vines and twigs and branches and moss that grows underfoot on every single thing. i'll drink tea from a cup with birds and leaves, its cup lined in promising green. i will drink from tea that reflects the branches of a reaching, waiting tree. i won't stop tinkering until i have a piece of jewelry completed that sings to me of heady, earthy spring...
i dedicate this post of the quiet, friendly woods to my faraway friend delila, a jewelry artist in finland who focuses expressly on all things of the magical world of nature...
every couple of years, when it gets to be this season of pining for the sweet smells of new growth and earthy moss and budding fruit trees in the spring, i walk over to my huge old antique armoire and pull out the denim jacket that my grandmother mimi embellished with her own freehand embroidery designs, back in the mid 70's. this incredible work of wearable art was something she spent god knows how many hours, days, weeks, months stitching for my uncle bob, who at that time was living the big city life in the skyscraper vista of lakeshore chicago. thankfully, this incredible sampler has ended up in my hands, and on occasion when march rolls around, then turns in its feisty, fussy way into the promise of april, i'll pull it out of its wardrobe darkness and wear somewhere that has birdsong and open sunshine. every single time i pull it out to hold and touch the garden stitched across every spot of this lowly denim garment, my mind flips out all over again. i can't fathom the amount of hand labor that my grandmother invested in this piece. i'm no textile expert, never have been, although i, myself, was wont to stitch a few chambray shirts for myself and for friends, back in my high school years; my stitches could never achieve this sort of precision, this spot-on depiction of flowers and leaves, insects, birds. there is a butterfly, a grasshopper, a perfect hummingbird. i stare at the wings of a bumblebee and shake my head in awe. amazing. to say that talent runs deep in my family is an understatement, as vain a sentence as this sounds; my own creative efforts pale when placed next to the work of my grandmother, my mother, my sister. anything they ever did was art in its truest form - cooking, painting, sewing, basketry, needlepoint, doll making, knitting - anything, and everything. on this rainy, dreary morning, even walter is taken with the glory of this true work of art. i'm thankful that i have it as a reference sampler to which i can turn, when the longing for stitchwork strikes. my own efforts pale, so pitifully, in comparison. but the desire is there, and i feel my grandmother's spirit and encouragement guiding me whenever i take needle and embroidery floss to cloth, to books, to jewelry.
all of this - the inherited histories, the way that i strive to express myself in all that i do, seems to be a continuous thread that has woven itself all through this life i live. and i'm happy to say that i truly love what i do, no matter how much of a struggle it can be at times, no matter how much i worry or fret. all in all, when i've come to a point where i can stand and look back - at my life and decisions that i've made, as well as at a finished piece of art - i am finally, when all is said and done, happy with the results.
i must admit that i put a heavier burden on my little "blue skies" endeavor when i shared with all of you the various steps involved, up to a point. i worried, when it came time to sit down at the studio table, rather than comfortably curled up on the sofa with needle and thread, that whatever, however the necklace design decided to become would not be worthy to display (for that is how it seems, more often than not; this work takes on a life of its own, much like a character in a novel). i worry too much. i love this crazy, glorious piece.
i love the primitive embroidery, the chipped, worn mother of pearl. i love the crazy baroque pearl clouds, the glint of blue in peruvian topaz, the soft hazy sky blue of african opal layered with antique mother of pearl sequins. the birds. the soft glove leather backing, the notion of a blue sky dream. the word "remembered", found randomly on a little studio shelf.
when i look at these photos, i smile - like a kindergarten student - and think, "i made this!". i do. and it came about in its own honest way - not by being 'inspired' by another similar piece, not by someone telling me what to do, not by throwing together random bits of vintage jewelry findings, but by lovingly creating focal components and then step by step, allowing my heart to lead the rest of the way. by remembering and honoring my longings for lost arts and connection, by letting a sunny day lead me to needle and thread, by letting needle and thread stitch me into something that came out of the sky and the clouds and the views from my window, into here. right here. and that, dear reader, is how this piece was made - from the view up over the mountain, from the emotions that washed through me as i stood on the deck that blustery day, from the desire to pick up blue floss and aged linen, from allowing myself a little sunday quiet and turning it into what you see laid out there on the studio table. a sweet story, i think, a fable of birdsong and blue skies. so here's a tender nod to my brother ben, who loved, so much, the wizard of oz, and who would always call, without a word, whenever the movie was on tv and hold the receiver up so all i could hear was dorothy, singing her young heart out, to the black and white sky. to me. xo
"and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true"
(added note, in afternoon: after walter and i went for a walk in wet woods, i came back for one last glance at the jacket before folding it to put in the bedroom chair. something told me to peek inside a front chest pocket, where i was surprised and delighted to find a yellowed, creased index card with my grandmother's sketch of the flowers, with their proper names. what a find. what a gift...)