Tuesday, June 29, 2010

the mysterious spectrum - Horse Boy

poster photos by O. Rufus Lovett and Justin Hennard

A couple months ago I picked up the movie, Horse Boy while returning some of the kid's DVDs. I didn't have the time to watch it that week, so I catalogued it with the ever growing list of movies I intend to watch. This one in particular kept popping up, so I decided to make time.

Horse Boy is an insightful and moving documentary about a couple who's son is diagnosed with Autism and how they come to the decision to travel through Mongolia on horseback to visit nomadic Shaman in the hopes of finding help for their son. The movie touches on the connection between humans and animals, the increasing role fathers are taking in the development of their children, and the ties between cultures.

Autism is a core element to this story, but it acts as a symbol for so many other aspects of family life.

When people speak about Autism now, they speak about the spectrum. Because there are so many different ways that Autism manifests, it is extremely hard to make concrete rules for diagnosis. What each family needs will vary greatly, but I wonder if in some cases the struggle is being increased by our need to fit people so neatly into education systems and careers. One doctor in the movie points out that if you study the healers in other cultures, you will find that they all have something that we would label, "being on the spectrum" in this country. Are our environmental factors pushing over the edge a natural variation in human experience?

What do I know about this great mystery of the mind? Not much, but here's something I'm certain of - nature can heal. It brought tears to my eyes to see this father push to follow his instinct to keep his son close to the animals and the earth. And here's something else - some of the ways I see and hear things - ways of viewing the world that I find invaluable in my work, would land me somewhere on the autism spectrum. Seeing sound, tasting color, using language in "odd" ways, general sensitivity to my environment are all things that can be found on various Autism check lists.

What this film really drove home was that for many people the answer isn't going to come from an effort to fit the person into the lifestyle, but to find the lifestyle that fits the person. I hope parents can be open to that kind of flexibility whether the struggle stems from Autism or any number of other things. I'm asking myself right now to answer hard questions about where my family will flourish.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

contentment and responsibility (sunbathing with a chicken)

Oh, the honest pleasure of soaking in the sun's rays close to someone you trust.

It's moments like this that evoke a feeling of pity for the human animal. Here we are with this miracle mind - one that harnesses wonders and dazzles with its explorations, yet can't make out a path to peace and abundance. It's the stories about the oil in the water, the poison on our plate, and the unending rotation of battle that make it apparent we forgot that balancing at such great heights requires responsibility.

When holding an animal that's content you realize that you pretty much require the same things to get there - a lack of hunger, companionship, and trust. I know, those things go by a lot of other names....if only being seduced by complications didn't cause so much harm.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

waiting for paint to dry, next step in the 20x20 oil on panel double portrait

I've been busy working on the house with A while he's been home the past couple days, that and plenty of Summer playdates, playdates, playdates. I just now finished up a couple hours in the studio - A took the kids with him to Lowes.

I went into that door I was dreading - that kind of french scroll work is not my bag. I had the option of changing it, but find it such an identifying characteristic of the row houses in our neighborhood that I want to keep it in this portrait of the girls. I need to go in and chisel away at it and get to the details of the hands. It will nag me to look at it like this while I wait for the paint to dry enough, but I thought I'd share anyway and not edit my annoyances out of the process.

You can see the rest of the process here, here, and here

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


After my last steamy post about the rising tensions in the city this time of year, I am happy to say I'll get a change of scenery in about a week. We're off to the mountains, you may have figured out by now that part of me lives there. Every trip to the country is a bit of a fact finding mission to evaluate how we could make our dreams of the great escape a reality.

Things I'm looking forward to the most this morning:

1. enjoying my morning coffee outside and listening to forest sounds.
2. sitting in the sun and watching the kids play in the springs.
3. being able to fill up my water bottle from a tap in the middle of town and know it's as good as the best bottled water.
4. dip in the bath house.
5. stop by roadside produce stands.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

anger (smoke up your ___)

I was downtown in heavy traffic the other day - the time of day when all the delivery trucks are double parked and people are cussing and fuming in the heat. I was heading toward a green light when a woman stepped out into the crosswalk with a ton of bags and a frappachino, I stopped in time for her to cross safely, but the man to my right barely did. After the screeching wheels, all that could be heard was a man crawling halfway out of his window screaming, "Why, why!!?? you #%&$ &^#*$!" his face was red, his teeth were flashing, and I feared he might fall right out of his beamer. This, along with the adrenaline of almost being hit, incited her rage and she came close to giving him a sticky, cold, mocha shower.

Behind his dirty mouth and flushed face were frightened fatherly eyes, and behind her cooler than coolatta veneer was a rushing heart and sizzling embarrassment - I felt bad for both of them.

Anger is intimidating, but it helps when you realize that anger is like the great and powerful OZ hiding behind the curtain operating the smoke and lights. It's a big step to challenge yourself to face anger with compassion, but it doesn't seem so daunting when you ask yourself what the anger you're facing is taking the place of - is it fear, hurt, loneliness... embarrassment? It may not be that love just comes pouring out upon the realization, but at the very least you will gain the perspective to confront the situation with more grace. I use the same approach with myself - instead of saying,"I am so angry!" I force myself to replace the word....and, unfortunately, there are times that the exchange happens in retrospect.

I don't know if it's because it's starting to heat up here in the city, but I've been reminded of this allot lately. I watch theatrical pageants of veiled emotion - all of it dressed up as anger.

Monday, June 21, 2010

my favorite way to enjoy plantains

This is a dish I enjoyed making with three generations of women in my husband's family some time ago. It's a vegetarian dish that takes the humble plantain and gussies it up a bit.

Make sure the plantains are pretty ripe for this recipe - you want them much riper than you would for tostones. In the picture you can see they are starting to turn black in spots, this means they're just starting to get soft and sweet inside. The plantain's skin is very protective, much more than a banana, so don't fear the blackening. If it really gives way when you squeeze, then they've ripened too much.

Take off the peel, cut them in half, and boil until cooked.

Place the cooked plantains in a bowl. Once they are cool enough to handle, slice them lengthwise and remove the middle seeds and vein. Usually these stay inside fried plantains, but these will be mashed and the texture and appearance will be improved by taking them out.

Now mash them like mashed potatoes.

Take the mash and place a gob in the palm of your hand, make a thumb print to stick some cheese into. I really can't remember what cheese was in the recipe the first time I had it, but it was similar to feta and I like the way feta's salty bite contrasts the sweet browned plantain. Pull from the sides of the ball to cover the cheese, you can add a little more mash to cover and then smooth it - just make sure the cheese is covered, but not lost. Place the ball in hot oil and fry. give it a gentle press with the spatula to flatten a little, but not enough to break it open.

Cook through till cheese is cooked and the outside is nicely browned and sprinkle with a little salt.

They are delicious with crema, or sour cream and pico de gallo.

Friday, June 18, 2010

O Pioneers!

When I was little I loved wandering away from the house and making a little home in the woods out of branches, blankets, and whatever I could haul along in a backpack or pillow case - these are some of my favorite memories. I learned a little about the trees and plants from my parents and would gather anything I knew I could eat - bunches of dandelion, sassafras, and mulberries. I loved the feeling of having my life in my own hands - it was a thrill to imagine I had to survive on the meager offerings of the forest.

Watching my daughter make a fort with her friend the other day, I started to think about how so many of the things that bring me happiness now are not that different. I want freedom like I felt when I wandered until I found a spot that was just right and made the most of what I could find. I welcome the challenge of figuring out how much nutrition I can get from the little plot behind my house, I like the the challenge of making a small home special and brilliant and I can actually say I enjoyed all the moves to new cities, standing in an empty flat and figuring out how it could feel like home in less than eight hours. I know this connection with freedom, survival, and challenge has sculpted my life. I've given up things others have told me were important to hold on to it, and as I understand more fully what's needed from all of us, I doubt myself less everyday.

I remember reading an article with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm He was talking about the challenges of changing farming in America and how he often hears people bragging about their son or daughter who's a lawyer, or investment banker, but has never heard someone say with pride, "My son is a farmer!"

There are people who enjoy a different path to success and what this different perspective brings, we need. Hold onto that desire to be independent you felt a child, just know that real freedom might end up looking different than they told you it would.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

mural dedication

Today we finally held the dedication for the mural I completed with the 60, 7th graders from a local school. The experience has been challenging and fulfilling. You can read a little more about it here. The mural was to be dedicated to a respected and cherished member of the faculty that had passed away earlier in the year

For much of the time my focus was directed at getting the students involved in the process, teaching some basic skills, and just dealing with the mechanics of it all - I didn't have a chance to really feel the completion until today.

We were limited in many ways with the project, but at the end of the day I don't think it matters much. The follow through was what was important - using what we had and putting our intention behind it.

It was very special to meet Mr. K's family at the dedication. The highlight of the day was to know they felt the mural truly honored his memory.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

20 x 20 oil on panel double portrait for (w)holon show

And we're almost there.

I don't think I want to work the faces much more. I will evaluate how the highlights settle in tomorrow.

There's an intricate iron door behind them on our left, I've been thinking about how to approach this - I don't want it to get fussy.
Previous steps are here and here

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

20 x 20 double portrait - next step

I found a little time to work on the 20 x 20 oil on panel double portrait today. The previous steps can be found here. I've been holding off giving much detail to the face yet until I bring the background up. I hope to finish by next week.

More to come.

Monday, June 14, 2010


I remember posting that I wanted to work on the 20 x 20 piece last night - I ended up making cupcakes instead. My youngest daughter has a July birthday, so she celebrated with her class today before they left for Summer vacation.

I thought we'd make my favorite carrot cake recipe, but she wanted to treat her classmates to something with more pizazz. As you can see, it was birthday zing all the way. If we do it every now and then we won't become so desirous of the contraband.

I thought I'd finish and paint after, but realized I was spent after baking for a couple hours with no AC. I've gotten better at realizing when I should just let it go and not work when I'm too tired - priming, measuring, stretching, or shipping can get squeezed in, but at this stage in a painting I'm liable to regret not having my full attention.

Tonight's another night.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

next work in progress (20 x 20 for (w)holon show)

I found some studio time this evening and got started on my 20 x 20 piece for the upcoming show. If you haven't, please see the previous post with the 4 x 4 squares which are also part of the (w)holon show. This will give you a definition of a holon and some insight into the show.

I went into the studio about an hour ago and this is where I'm at tonight. The piece is a portrait of my two girls on the front steps in oil, on panel. I'm not going to over think this, I'm just going to post what I'm doing as I go along until the piece is finished. As you can see, I'm going right in with the paint - drawing in washes and continuing to evaluate with each stroke. Sometimes a painting starts and the entire process is like a dance - it's elegant and each step is satisfying. There are also the paintings that I wrestle with, the ones that I consider taking to the curb on trash day a few times. Sometimes these paintings come together in a surprising and satisfying way - sometimes they are put to rest.

I hope to post more tomorrow.

Friday, June 11, 2010

the first wing clipping

Graphic courtesy of A Guide to Raising Chickens by, Gail Damerow

Today my daughter assisted me with clipping the chickens' wings. Our silkies can only get a couple feet off the ground with their special ornamental feathers, but the buff orpingtons grow the standard flight feathers, and unless we want them running in traffic we need to trim those flight feathers to take away the balance needed to fly. Chickens don't fly much anyway, so I like to believe we aren't taking away a big part of their life when we do this.

We picked them up and pet them until they were nice and relaxed and then pulled the wing out like a fan. I pinched around in the area we were supposed to cut just to test for sensitivity. If done right wing clipping is not supposed to hurt. The primary flight feathers are tucked up under the wing when they walk around, when the wing is spread out you can see a difference in length and color - we follow along this line when we cut.

I think it went well, the chickens don't seem traumatized, and only time will tell whether we have prevented them from flying too high.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

the finished motmot

Here is the completed papier mache motmot. He's a handsome guy and is related to the kingfisher which you may be more familiar with. Unlike many other species, both the males and the females sport the brilliant plumage and long tales.

The warm weather relatives of the kingfisher are thought to bring with them peaceful times or, "halcyon days" the seven days of winter when storms never occur. They fall on either end of the shortest day of the year. As the story goes, during theses seven days, Alcyone, in the form of a kingfisher, made a nest on the beach and layed her eggs there. Her father, Aeolus god of the winds, held back the winds to keep her safe. This is where the motmot makes its nest - by water in tunnels in the banks.

Motmots are the national bird of Nicaragua and here they are often called, guardabarranco ("ravine-guard")

I will be taking orders for the motmot birds and 50% of the profits will be given to the Center for Development in Central America http://http//www.jhc-cdca.org/

Where many live on less than one US dollar a day, these contributions can help bring worker owned cooperatives, health care, and organic farming to those in need - the building blocks for building healthy, self sufficient communities.

Each bird is unique and comes on a perch. The body is approximately 12 inches.

The cost is $75 and the delivery time is two weeks.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

busy doing nuthin'

You know that Biz Markie song - Busy Doing Nuthin'? That's how I felt all day. Can I go running? Can I start the new painting I'm itching to get at? Can I surprise the girls with that mural on their wall I've been planning? Can we get together? NO - I'm busy doing nuthin' - well, not technically nothing, but nothing gratifying... nothing that will even be noticed.

There's been a lot of this for the past couple weeks, paper work, tying up projects that have stretched on too long, cleaning, and little fix it jobs around the house.

So, as I'm putting away stacks of laundry, cleaning the kitty litter, and polycoating things I'm tired of looking at, this is streaming through my head in that crazy Biz-garble:

That's junk
This goes ooutto all you b****** doin' nuttin'
Ka-ka-cause that's all you be doin'
Am-am-i right b, am I right doc
Am I right shell, am I right V
They go nowhere fast and then backwards...
Word up, I didn't even..okay
Bblabaldblablball, ah!!

That's why I love you, Biz - Bblabaldblball - exactly.

Through all the chores and drop-off and pick-ups I must have run past the nasturtiums by the front door 100 times the past couple days. I can see they are blooming and I've wanted to kneel down and smell them, but I haven't even stopped, I just eye them and fly on past. The thing is, I'm actually someone who enjoys household chores to some degree, I love keeping a home and a garden and figuring out how to do it well, so I ask myself what's going on when it seems like the balance is off.

Well, today after the nasturtiums had been warmed by the sun and the slight breeze was lifting their scent up to my nose, as the blossoms bounced and waved, I was seduced. I lay down on the grass and let the sun warm my face as I breathed in their pepper-radish-rose-orchid perfume. As I admired their graceful necks and lily pad leaves the silly song got fainter...and fainter... until I couldn't hear it anymore.

I need to be careful with these busy nuthin's, they're sneaky.
The nuthin' busies, on the other hand, they're lovely.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

motmot in progress

Here's how the motmot is made - should be finished up tomorrow evening. Can't wait to paint him!
Remember - 50% of sales will be donated to the Center for Development in Central America. CDCA has been working in Nicaragua for 15 years to support sustainable economic development, sustainable agriculture, health care and education.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

today on a hill - Atharva Veda XIX

When I took this picture today, my children appeared to be seeds carried away by the wind, or small animals venturing away from a nest.

This I wish for them -

May the atmosphere we breath

breath fearlessness into us:

fearlessness on earth

and fearlessness in heaven!

May fearlessness guard us

behind and before!

May fearlessness surround us

above and below!

May we be without fear

of friend and foe!

May we be without fear

by night and by day!

Let all the world be my friend!

- Atharva Veda XIX, 15

Dishes from the garden

Lunch - with quite a bit from the hens and the garden. In a month or so we should be able to provide everything except the couscous.

Cook some large pearl couscous (the large is so much better for holding up to all the veggies)

Get some garlic and olive oil going in a big pan

Put in the cherry tomatoes and cook and stir until they start to blister and pop

throw in the slivers of sweet pepper - let them soften

throw in the kale, toss it around but don't over cook

Then toss your pan of veggies with the couscous - presto!

I cooked one of this morning's eggs and placed it over the couscous, the yolk breaking into the mixture is delicious!

This basic dish will be good with whatever we happen to be gathering in the garden....enjoy!

Friday, June 4, 2010

the portrait in progress

I work in private, and unlike my papier mache and acrylic paintings, I am not in a habit of giving classes, or step by step demonstrations of my oil portraits. Tonight I thought I'd go ahead and show some of the steps leading up to my most recent finished portrait.

As you can see I do not work to fill in a detailed drawing, but rather draw with washes and continue the drawing and evaluating with each stroke of paint. If I'm missing a step in the pictures, it would probably be the single color wash - usually burnt umber or purple. Next time I will not get carried away forget to pick up the camera.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

the smell of roses

Usually, when there's a smell I can't locate wafting around it's not a good one, but last night I was in bed and smelled something like a mixture of roses and nag champa - I could not find where it was coming from. I remember this happening on one other occasion many years ago.

Today when I was tending the garden I looked up at my big pink rosebush, the blooms passed for the season some time ago and there are some spent blossoms that need to be dead headed. Out of one of the dead blossoms was a new blossom blooming from the center. I am not a rose expert, but my understanding is that a hip will form where the bloom dies. This "re-blooming" may happen from time to time, but it's new to me.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

glitter and artistic frustration

Painting is my passion - it is also my job and brings with it deadlines, budgeting of time/money, and stresses like any other. Even if I weren't involving a business aspect with what I do, I would never say that painting is a stress reliever; there are paintings that keep me up at night and bring me down to the studio to work bleary eyed in my pajamas. That said, the euphoria of having it all come together is worth all of this. Like all the other things that bring purpose to our life, this is a complex relationship and part of the sweetness is in the drive and the struggle.

Here are some quotes that I have collected on the subject:

"I am very depressed and deeply disgusted with painting. It is really a continual torture."
- Claude Monet

"There are about five people in my life to whom I really listen. They may not always be right, but they know what I'm trying to do."
- Emily Mann

"You feel like a prisoner if you don't create. You're jailed up inside yourself."
- Edie Brickell

Every day is different, every work is a journey, but when too much time goes by without glimmers of accomplishment (which, by the way, only you can be the judge of) it can become maddening...I will now refer to those as "Claude moments"

So, about the glitter - for me it is a stress relief. I like covering things in glitter to relive pent up artistic frustrations. I find a little chatski, or old plastic toy, and cover it with garish silver glitter. The instant transformation and harmony that the various little animals take on when they are unified with the little light reflecting particles is very pleasing. In a way I think I'm priming my mind for a sense of accomplishment that will fuel my pressing on with a more weighty subject in the studio arena.

Martha Stewart isn't the only glitter queen.


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