Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Samhain!

Halloween is All Hallows Eve, the last day of the year in the Celtic Calendar. And tomorrow, November 1st is New Year's Day. So while the holiday has been adapted and adopted by many cultures, this is a day to honor the harvest of the fruits of summer, end of the year and look forward to the new year with all the rebirth to come.

This is a fire festival, honoring the turning of the season when the sun sets and the moon rises earlier. A time to settle differences, throwing out careworn ideas and making contact with the spirits of the ancestors.

When I was little, Halloween wasn't celebrated at my school. I went to a Catholic school where we were instructed to dress up as our 'patron' saints. There were no parties or candy or games. At home, we had a normal Halloween. I dressed up in a costume, trick or treated in the neighborhood and got a sack of candy.

I didn't find out about the Celtic holiday of Samhain until I started looking into my Celtic culture. I used to be upset by the misunderstanding surrounding this holiday. But now, I love how the Celtic holiday has been integrated and adapted by so many cultures and religions. In a way, the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which represents the end and beginning of a year of life, has had its own end and beginning with all the cultures embracing it in their own ways.

So to all of you, Happy Samhain eve. I wish everyone a happy, healthy, abundant and safe New Year!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Impatiens and Pumpkins.

A late summer turns to fall. Fast.

This picture tells the story. My impatiens is blooming right next to the Halloween pumpkin. Just last week, it was sunny with temperatures in the 70’s and hot. My roses were still blooming and tomatoes were ripening on the vine. Now, it’s cloudy and chilly with almost freezing temperatures at night.

My roses are forming hips instead of blooms and the tomatoes are ripening inside and it’s time to harvest my basil. It happened so fast.

Green trees are suddenly turning lovely shades of red, gold and orange. Pumpkins are popping up on porches. Squirrels are bustling around the park hiding their supplies for the winter. It’s time to savor the flavor of fresh, homegrown tomatoes and harvest basil to make pesto. I put the fresh pesto in paper cups and freeze it, then pop out the little rounds into a plastic bag so I can enjoy it on fish, chicken and pasta during the winter.

But tonight, I put some of the fresh pesto on hot pasta and added the last of the fresh, sliced tomatoes on the side. We enjoyed the last taste of summer.

I have mixed feelings about the season changes. I always miss the warmth, light and blooms of summer. I love the daylight stretching into the evening hours, eating outside on the patio sipping cold drinks. But there’s something cozy about writing with my feet up on the window seat looking out at the rain. I love the crimson leaves bursting out against the grey skies, sipping hot tea and eating cookies warm from the oven.

One of my favorite fall meals is soup. This Tuscan Bean Soup is a family staple and both my ‘kids’ love it so much, they made sure they had the recipe when they moved out on their own. I made this pot using my garden-grown tomatoes diced up instead of canned. Here’s the recipe.

Tuscan Bean Soup
1 16oz can white beans
1 16 oz can whole or diced tomatoes
1 32 oz carton organic chicken broth
3-6 cloves of garlic whole or chopped
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon basil
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
Add a little olive oil to cast iron dutch oven or soup pot, add the garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add drained and rinsed white beans, thyme and basil. Stir gently.
Pour in tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer for 30 minutes or more. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a little grated parmasean cheese and toasted bread.

Enjoy this warm, cozy soup on your next cold, fall day. While I enjoy my impatiens next to the pumpkins on my porch and watch the leaves slowly spiral down in the cool breeze.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Local author shares her secrets.

Tuesday night at my local Powell’s bookstore, Laini Taylor, local author and artist gave me an inside look into her writing process. Yes, she was promoting her new book, “Daughter of Smoke and Bone.” Yes, I bought a book. Yes, I wanted to know how one writer writes. But that’s not why I went.

What did I really want to know? That I wasn’t alone.

That first drafts take time, sometimes even years. That the first section of your story may wind up being one of the last chapters. That some writers just write, not knowing what the characters are going to say, do or be, and they discover the story as the story tells itself. And that writing alone in your kitchen can lead to a very clean kitchen but not a finished book.

So, sometimes it’s better to get out and write in a noisy place. Maybe that’s why writers love coffee shops so much.

Laini Taylor was a delight to see and hear with her bright pink hair and polka dot dress. Her little daughter, Clementine, was adorable. And it’s nice to see a creative person admit that sometimes, writing takes a back seat to her family. That doesn’t mean creating and writing doesn’t get done. It does.

Laini has written 4 books, one of which is a National Book Award winner. And the new book, “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” was a finalist for the award this year. It was inspiring to see and hear such a successful writer be so open and willing to share her family life and her writing secrets.

Now, I can’t wait to read the whole book. And get back to work on my own writing.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Empty nest secrets. Revealed.

I stopped to talk to a neighbor today, and found out both of her children have left home to go to college. Both of my children have left home, too. As we talked on the street corner, we both discovered a few things nobody tells you about having an empty nest.

One, it’s quiet. Very quiet. After years of children laughing, crying, playing, shouting, running, jumping, dancing, drumming, singing and non-stop video gaming going on, it stops. It’s silent. And even with careers, friends, animals and spouses, you’re not prepared for this kind of quiet. As she said, “I’ve never had this kind of time and a quiet house. I can eat whatever I want. I can do whatever I want. I don’t know what to do!” It’s freeing and spacious and relaxing and un-nerving.

Two, it’s a mess. A really big mess. After years of growing babies, little children, teens and young adults playing and eating, going in and out, it’s dirty. Even if you taught your kids to put toys away, clean the bathroom sink and sort their clothes, you’re not prepared for the mess they leave behind. As she said, “It’s good to know we’re not the only ones cleaning, painting and packing up boxes for goodwill.” It’s a fresh start, yes, after a whole lot of elbow grease.

Three, it’s a project. A big project. Remember how much work it was to put together the nursery, redecorate for big boys and teenage girls, well, it’s time to do it. Again. Only this time, you’re doing it for yourself. As she said, “My husband said that this is the last time we’ll have to do this, because they probably won’t be coming back home.” Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes, they leave for a year or two and come back. Sometimes they get a job and lose it or married and divorced and come back home. Sometimes they leave and don’t come back home.

Either way, as long as I’m alive, my kids will always have a home they can come home to, whenever they need it. And I look forward to having them all come over for dinner, holidays and birthdays when they can, and I’ll revel in the mess, noise and confusion.

It was quiet, then noisy, and quiet again. Clean, messy and clean again. It’s home; furnished for entertaining adults, then for kids playing with toys and games, and entertaining adults (and children now adults) again. It’s still a nest, too, cozy and clean. Although it’s not as full as it was before, it’s not totally empty, either. There are two of us, still here. Enjoying newly redecorated rooms, a clean space and quiet…Shhh…don’t tell the kids, ok? (More on re-nesting coming soon.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kiln Unloaded. Thumbs Up.

Waiting is hard. It was a cold, rainy day with temperatures in the low 60’s. And my kiln had heated up to cone 06, which is about 1,700 degrees. So I waited an extra 12 hours to open my kiln until it cooled to room temperature. But it was well worth it!

Here’s a peek I took, very briefly. I was looking to see if there were pieces of clay inside the kiln or obvious cracks in the two faces I’d sculpted. I was so relieved to see everything looked good!

The next day, I unloaded the kiln. I lifted out the first two layers, and inspected. No chips. No cracks. Then, I carefully removed the kiln shelves and stilts to get a good look at the two lower levels in the kiln. Again, no chips and no cracks.

I rolled the cart over to the counter across the garage where I stacked the bowls, colanders, cups and faces ready for glazing. Then, I took a deep breath, sighed with relief and gave thanks to the gods of fire.

No explosions. No cracks. No problems. I am very happy and grateful!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Kiln Loaded. Fingers Crossed.

Just loading the kiln is a little nerve racking, trying to find places for all the different pieces, making sure there’s enough space in and around everything. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle and juggling act rolled into one. (And I hate jigsaw puzzles.) So, every time I fire up my kiln, I cross my fingers and pray to the gods of fire for help.

I prayed extra hard this time because this is my first kiln firing with ‘mixed’ pieces. I have the hand-built masks/faces. And now, I have a collection of new wheel-thrown pieces such as bowls, cups and colanders. So loading the kiln required more shelves and more juggling. This time, I also had pieces made from 4 different clays from low, mid-range to high fire and some are a mixture of clays. Add to that all the stories I’ve heard of explosions and cracking destroying months of hard work and making functional pieces totally unusable.

And so, fingers crossed, I fired up the kiln.

I turned the dial on low for 2 hours and checked it twice, no loud explosions. Yet. I turned it up to medium and peeped through the vent slit three times, all seemed ok. I turned it up to high, removed the venting prop, closed the lid all the way and hoped all was well. Finally, the kiln turned itself off and I breathed a little sigh of relief.

I’m hoping when everything cools down to room temperature, all will be well. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. Until then, I’m still keeping my fingers crossed.