Tuesday, August 31, 2010

the pass around journal - dreams

Here's the next peek into the pass around journal. The journal is a children's project where one page is completed and a prompt is left for the next participant to work with. It has been making its way around the city and I'm trying to catch up.

I was waiting for this one - illustrate the dream you had last night. What a fun prompt!

Maybe the adult version that was suggested could be a traveling dream journal - illustrated snippets of a collective unconscious???

"It is on the whole probably that we continually dream, but that consciousness makes such a noise that we do not hear it."
- Carl Gustav Jung

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Grew This - I Ate It Too! Philadelphia Vegetable Gardens

The idea of growing some of what you eat is gaining mainstream momentum. It's no longer confined to the rugged homesteader or the country farmer. Over the past few years we've started to see more community gardens and many new and exciting ways to use urban spaces for growing food. The trend toward having a connection to the food you eat is being integrated beautifully into yards everywhere.

Planting and tending to your own vegetable garden, or keeping a few backyard chickens does more than supply food, it offers an opportunity to understand what it takes to get food to your plate. Not only will you supply yourself with fresh organic vegetables, you will be more likely to value food produced in an environmentally friendly, humane way and support farmers who do the same. There's no way around it - once you experience being part of the cycle of sowing, tending and harvesting you will honor the process. Knowing where our food comes from is the key to our health and the health of the planet. If you haven't already, I suggest reading one of Michael Pollan's books on the subject. There's now a young reader's version of The Omnivore's Dilemma that I'm looking forward to giving my son. The truth about food is hard to swallow, but once it's digested you can't help but see those vegetables in the yard as beautiful.

As the interest in urban farming began to spread the first gardens to pop-up were generally backyard spaces tucked away so that you couldn't see them unless you knew they were there. In some neighborhoods there's a stigma attached to growing your own food that is just now beginning to dissipate. I believe it's two fold. First of all most people are just used to a certain type of landscaping; we know that a tidy lawn, mums, pansies, shrubberies and some mulch will keep you looking like a good home keeper. Nobody wants to stick out like a sore thumb. Unless you live in a progressive neighborhood, taking the leap is pretty daring. Secondly, the American dream includes rising in the class structure. What would it say if you had to grow your own food? For many years families who had to rely on their gardening skills longed for a day when they could escape being shackled to the necessity. Understandably, part of the joy is in having the choice.

Over the past five years I've watched my neighborhood change. Sure there were the hip crunchy folks with big back yards that have been letting the squash and tomatoes run wild for years, but just this summer I've begun to see some pleasant surprises. Collards, broccoli and chard have been spotted in a landscape unchanged since the 1950's - worked in like an ornamental as if it had always been there. And one of the biggest surprises was the fact that my chickens have been welcomed. We have some regulars who come by to visit on evening walks and the other day I saw a line of summer camp kids being led through the ally to take a look!

Here's what's going on around the neighborhood - people finding joy in getting to know their food.

A little bean field next to a perfectly manicured shrub!

Cucumbers planted at the top of a retaining wall in the back ally.

Claire McGuire recently bought a beautiful twin in the city of Philadelphia. Starting with only a lawn, she and our neighbor Kevin designed a beautiful flowing vegetable garden that integrates flowers with the following vegetables and fruits:

heirloom tomatoes



summer squash






apples (which will be espaliered against the fence)

Claire was kind enough to let me photograph this beautiful garden in the month of August - thank you Claire! All of us gardeners are self conscious about the toll the August heat takes on the plants.

If you're in the area let me know what you're planting around town. I'm especially interested in getting some more images of local city chickens.

Enjoy...and keep growing!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

oh, they're mad alright

This will be short - there's plenty to read on the subject and I'll leave the jokes to Jon Stewart. Sure Beck and Palin's careful cultivation of folksy backwardness might soften the delivery, but what's being served is still good ol' divisive nastiness. Glenn Beck's "non-political" Restoring Honor rally is exactly the kind of ambiguous orgy of fear and prejudice the Republican party has mastered....oh, I'm sorry, this wasn't about politics was it. The speeches are like a game of Mad Libs - you just fill in the grey areas with whatever your personal prejudice happens to be. There's always a whole lot of "You guys said it, not me!"

At the end of it I'm not quite sure what they're looking to restore. As far as honoring our military - we honor their service by not asking them to endanger their lives chasing money and phantoms.

Friday, August 27, 2010

autumn in the air - wood stoves and papier mache

It's Friday and now that I'm back in town I'm making an attempt to stick to my schedule - that means a homekeeping post. My home projects have been guided by my attempt to clean my way through Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook. You can read more here and here.

The first cool nights and the faint glimmer of autumn light have inspired a wishful thinking post - I want a wood stove, but I haven't come across the deal that will make it happen yet. However, I do practice the art of building a good fire whenever we get away to the cabin in the fall and winter.

Today I explore the firewood chapter of the Homekeeping Handbook.

There are two major categories of firewood: Hardwoods which come from deciduous, broad-leafed trees and softwoods that come from needle-bearing coniferous trees. Hardwoods are the best burners; they are more dense and contain less resin. Softwood is great for kindling; it gets a fire started fast.

Any wood you use should be seasoned first. After being cut and split the wood needs to rest outdoors for six months to a year. Seasoning reduces the moisture content; to get good burn you're looking for it to drop by at least 25 percent. If you're having wood delivered take a look at the center of the log, seasoned wood should have cracks and a dull color. For stacking and storing firewood provide a supporting base at least three inches off the ground to protect from moisture and bugs and allow for air flow. Bark up, crisscrossing layers work well. Leaving air flow is important to assist with seasoning. The handbook passes on the advise found in The Old Farmer's Almanac: the space between each log should be, "large enough for a mouse to run through, but tight enough to keep a cat from chasing it." There is debate about covering outdoor wood piles during seasoning. A tarp keeps the rain off, but if you're not removing it frequently you're missing out on the benefits of sun and wind and trapping moisture. Your attention to the weather will make for better burning fires all winter.

Check out this link for some beautiful pictures of firewood and a chart ranking trees by their energy content per air dried full cord in 000's of BTUs. This is interesting information, but very few people who depend on wood for heat have access to the best hardwoods; mastering the seasoning is what's most important.

My dream stove.

Oh, one more thing about the beginning of fall - I begin to work in papier mache again. Sketches are ready and I can't wait to post the first pieces of the season!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

money - the passport of the intellect?

"There are two things: a search for a road and a search for freedom. It's so very hard to get freedom. You know all those things in life keep crawling over you all the time, so it's very hard to feel free." - Alice Neel

What is the path to freedom?

First a definition - I like how Albert Camus summed it up, "Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better."

I'll say "being better" is increasing health, creativity and peace. None of those things can be bought, but it's painfully obvious when lack of funds stands in their way.

If you look around right now you might start to believe the path to freedom is paved with yoga retreats, sabbaticals and hobby farms, but what if you need to find peace and nurture creativity right in the midst of it all? What if your second work day starts at 10:00 PM? What if you need to provide nutritious meals for your family without increasing the budget? This perspective is missing from most of the books and articles regarding adventurous self discovery and improved health. Going green, mainstream appreciation of eastern philosophy and foodie mania have done a lot to make people aware of alternatives, but their attachment to marketing produces the same patterns of polarization we already see in our class system....I would venture to say that in some ways they have made them worse.

This divide is illustrated in many ways; sometimes it shows up as anti-intellectualism, but I think some of what we're calling anti-intellectualism is simply exhaustion and well founded loss of hope (both of which breed fear and anger). After a lifetime of working for slave wages would you encourage your child to pursue a degree in fine arts? Would you have time to read after needing to work 80 hrs a week to make rent? I know you would hesitate to take a chance when there's no safety net.

I'm interested in people who have their feet in both worlds. the ones that found freedom despite the odds. There are many voices that have been ghettoized, they're occasionally given a platform, but it's not much more than a side show. We'll know we're collectively on the path to freedom when we hear these voices, not just on patronizing cultural appreciation days, but at a level of acknowledgement educated white males have enjoyed for centuries.

So how do we accomplish this? I believe this evolution begins with a living wage. The dignity of receiving a decent exchange for ones work will be the first step to reducing the stress that cripples the mind and body. This breathing room will allow for the time and funds needed to nurture health and creativity; it will change family structures and education opportunities. Only when we understand how these inequities have shackled us will we begin to live in the land of the free.

I recently enjoyed reading this post at cheapbohemian on the subject of creativity and money. I encourage you to take a look... you might find yourself saying, "Virginia Woolf is my homegirl"

Friday, August 20, 2010

"All things are ready if our minds be so"

"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves." Carl Jung

Serendipity - fortuitous coincidence

Shakespeare speaks about serendipity in act 4 of Henry V "All things are ready if our minds be so"

Many scientific discoveries have been serendipity in action - Albert Hofmann and Louis Pasteur knew this to be true. I mention Scientific serendipity because understanding how it works in these cases will show you how prepared minds can make discoveries about themselves and the world around them - seemingly by chance - without any esoteric or mystical inclination. If a humming bird can find its way alone from British Columbia to Mexico, certainly we humans have been endowed with some instincts as well. How to prepare the mind to use them - that's the key.

The concept of synchronicity is now being integrated into once fixed and linear fields such as career counseling. It's become apparent we can't make the important decisions in our life without acknowledging all the levels we operate on, so whether you call it an intervention of grace, Jung's acausal connecting principle, or mother's intuition, imagining you "see the signs" isn't just a flight of fancy.

Be still

don't grasp

watch what happens

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

the pass around journal

It's so busy here this time of year! We're slowly adjusting to a school schedule and trying to get the most out of the last weeks of summer. I know the participants of the pass around journal want a peek at the completion of their prompts, so I'll make an attempt to catch you up over the next few days.

The pass around journal started out with an invitation and a prompt. Each child would receive the journal with a prompt created by the child before them. They would complete it on a page of the journal and then create a prompt of their own to pass along. The pass around journal acted as a summer activity, but it was also sent around to strengthen the love of journaling. A personal journal can be our spark when we need inspiration and help us learn to be still and listen to ourselves - clearing away the clutter and noise. A group journal adds the element of passing notes, sharing windows into our lives and discovering what we share, and where we differ.

So far the ages have ranged from six to nine for this project. I imagine writing could become a more significant component with teens or adults...that would be fun!

Here's one of the recent exchanges:

You can see more here, here,and here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Art makes work; work makes art" (done being on hold)

Lakshmi represents the beautiful and bountiful aspect of nature.

We've been experiencing a pause button moment around here (actually it's been a couple weeks) It's just one of those times when things need to be evaluated, a healthy thing to do, but lack of forward movement can make me feel a little lost. I try to still my mind and stay in the moment - Om shrim mahalakshmyai namah - what an exercise with three young children asking me, "What next, what next!"

The pause has also effected my work; for a while I felt like I couldn't start anything. This went on until a couple of days ago when I realized I was missing my almost daily walks in the Wissahickon. I pulled out a canvas and told everyone I needed fifteen minutes. I put in the basic composition - notes to myself about what it was that struck me at that moment. Later I realized that the painting was of the light in the woods at spring time, a time when I was not asking the questions I am now.

What a refuge the forest is! A symphony of change, movement, and growth contained by the promise of its seasons. I'll hike to the spot again tomorrow before I add the finishing touches.

When I was washing my brushes today I realized I was done being on hold.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

guest blogging at cheap bohemian

This is a perfect inspiration image for my personal decorating style....simple, beautiful use of color, and great use of vintage finds. I found it in an article by Sarah Coffey for, Apartment Therapy - Chicago

My guest spot at cheapbohemian - from poetry to advice on saving, "better living through thoughtful penury" is the goal. I will talk about homekeeping and the Japanese aesthetic ideal, Iki.

Monday, August 9, 2010


I'm going to be away for a couple days and will fill you in when we return. We're headed out for a memory lane tour peppered with some new adventure.

You see, there's an ongoing debate in my head right now; a debate between the philosophies:

Bloom where you're planted.


The only thing constant is change itself which has many variant translations I'm sure you're familiar with, for instance:

Nothing endures but change - Heraclitus

The Buddhist doctrine of impermanence - Annica or Anitya

I've been challenging myself for a few years to still my desire for change and movement (I've always said I have a bit of gypsy in me and I'm sometimes overcome with the desire for adventure) I've been given the hard sell on eliminating transition and I can honestly say staying put has brought with it some treasured experiences, deep connections and a house I enjoy working on...but let's face it, nothing quit changing even when we were sitting still. The trouble is, deciding whether a situation is legitimately more difficult to manage than it needs to be, or whether frustration has gotten the better of me.

Well, I could ramble, but you see the problem - two conflicting philosophies and one person who has stayed still long enough to doubt her instincts. I'm hoping a face to face with the past coupled with some new surroundings might bring it all into focus. It's easy to romanticize things when you're looking at them through the veil of distance.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

holons & totems

I was thinking about totems today, and how the most important figures are placed at the bottom stabilizing and supporting the ones above them. I was thinking about families climbing up onto each other's shoulders - like acrobats balancing and reaching up toward the sun.

It was a visual reminder that our individual strength and wholeness is essential to the structure we hold so dear. When I proposed the title, holons for MamaCita's last group show (which after group discussion became, (w)holon) I was reading the book A brief History of Everything by, Ken Wilber. It was here that I was introduced to the word. I liked how holon summed up the expansive ideas of the web of life, reflections, and infinity. Simply put, a holon is something that is simultaneously a whole and a part. I remember observing this truth even as a child, but not having the words to explain the satisfying understanding. Now when I see it illustrated with such simple beauty - like a totem, or the cells and organs of the body - I am reminded that my full effectiveness comes from my spirit being healthy and strong.

The strength and power of a mother is often chipped away at by the very things that are supposed to display her competence. I witness women struggle to stay true to a parenting style they secretly question, or look to prove they are selfless, as if this is the greatest gift they can give their children. I don't remember seeing many creatures at the place of honor in the totem looking exhausted and lonely. If fulfilment was truly expected, I'm sure our minds would find a balance, an elegant, honest balancing act - individuals supporting each other as they reached toward the light.

It's noisy out there; we humans have created a cacophony leaving us vulnerable to doubt and guilt. Silence it. In this stillness we find strength and we can trust where our hearts lead us.

miso - it's what's for dinner

I love soup and will happily eat it all year round. Tonight I'm making miso soup; it's light and may not be a meal on its own soup, but it is a healthy accompaniment. Once you get the basic ratio down you can tweak it to your liking.

Miso is a fermented paste of soybeans, brown rice, or barley. It's tangy and salty and great for dressings and marinades - keep a container in the fridge (it lasts a while) and you can experiment.

For a basic soup:

  • boil 4 cups of water
  • add wakame, or arame (dehydrated seaweed) to the water. Let simmer for 10-20 minutes.
  • add a third of a cup miso, but don't let it boil. A trick I learned is illustrated above - take a sieve and drop it in the water then push the miso paste through it with a wooden spoon. This helps it dissolve faster; you don't want to overcook any of the ingredients and loose valuable nutrients
  • drop in cubed tofu and cook until it reaches the soup temperature
  • add a dash of toasted sesame oil and/or soy sauce to taste
  • throw some sliced green onion on top
  • This is the base; you can add whatever veggies you like.

I'm hoping this soup will give me the energy to push on after tuck-in time. A client picked up a commission today and I have a little time before my next two are due, so tonight I can get into the studio and experiment a little. I went to the art supply store today and came home with canvas and some fresh new paints -- here's hoping my energy will hold out!

Friday, August 6, 2010

so how long can I keep this around?

That's right, I missed my garden post yesterday. I didn't have time to collect all the images I need. The post will be a collection of surprising front yard vegetables around the city. Things have really changed in the past 4 years! There are sections of the community that are very traditional when it comes to their front yards. I'm pleasantly surprised at what I'm finding this summer and how people are working these beautiful vegetables into the landscape.

It's Friday and cleaning my way through Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook continues. This week I was entrenched in the kitchen chapter. Oh, there's so much to tackle in the kitchen! Food storage, essential pots and pans, tools and gadgets, how to stock your pantry...as you can imagine the list goes on and on. What I chose to focus on today was what to keep in the pantry and how long.

During the fall and winter I bake a lot; can I keep those half bags of flour, sugars and baking staples around safely for a few months, or a year? What can be frozen? Below is an abbreviated list of some of the pantry staples, their shelf life and how to store them according to Martha:

Unbleached all-purpose white, whole wheat, cake (not self-rising) and almond -store wheat flours in airtight containers at room temperature up to one whole year. Almond and nut flours can be frozen for up to 6 months.

Baking Staples
Pure vanilla extract will last several years; leavenings lose their potency after about a year, and should be discarded on their expiration date - don't go through the time and expense of a recipe just to have it flop because of spoiled ingredients. Cocoa powder, unflavored gelatin, dry yeast, and corn starch should all be stored in airtight containers away from heat and light sources.

Spices and seasonings
Most spices will lose their potency after about a year, but the flavor will deteriorate faster if stored improperly. Keep them in airtight, light proof containers away from heat. Choose an accessible drawer or cabinet or a wall-mounted rack (not above the cook top)

Aged balsamic, cider, white wine, red wine, rice wine, and sherry-keep all types of vinegar in their original bottles, and store them in a cool spot for up to one year.

Extra-virgin olive, vegetable, peanut, and corn; especially oils such as toasted sesame and white truffle-store vegetable oils in their original bottles, unrefrigerated, in a cool, dark place up to six months. Refrigerate nut oils (such as walnut), and use within three months.

Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook goes on to cover storage safety for meat, fish, eggs and dairy, canned goods and vegetables. Whether you brief yourself using this book, or another, the information is important for organizing your kitchen. Taking inventory and checking your dates will definitely spur you to start cleaning out the cabinets and refrigerator, or you might find that you were throwing away things that would have been perfectly good for a couple more months. I remember hearing famed chef, Patrick O'Connell say that Americans treat their refrigerator like a pantry, so afraid of spoilage that they stick everything in there. As you can see from the list above, many items are just fine for up to a year if kept dry and out of the light.
I love to cook and taking the time to organize my kitchen and arm myself with the right tools will make the experience even more pleasurable.

To see other home projects look here and here

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

new landscape in progress

Ahhh, it feels so goo to be working on a landscape again. The last time I was working on my Wissahickon series, they were all small works; I'm starting off with a 36 x 48 this time. Today I put in the basic composition and made some decisions about the pallet. Can't wait to get back to it tomorrow.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

new classes (and a peek at the pass around journal project)

Here are the classes I'm offering in the month of August:

Fabric jewelry class
We will work with needle, thread, fabric, and beads
Ages 6-9
August 18th and 19th, 10:00-1:00
Pack a lunch, healthy snack provided

Plein Air Painting Class in the Wissahickon
We will take off from Northwestern stables and paint the landscape of the Wissahickon.
August 21st
Pack a lunch in a backpack, healthy snack provided.

Here's another peek at the pass around journal project, more here.


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