Saturday, December 31, 2011

A snapshot of the past.

I took this picture on Christmas Eve. We were driving home after spending an afternoon with my daughter admiring the big decorated Christmas tree and lights and shop windows in Bridgeport Village. Heading through the last of the holiday traffic, we stopped at a red light. I looked into the side mirror on the passenger side of the car, got out my phone and snapped the photo.

I saw the perfect reflection of the sun setting into the darkening landscape.

We’d just passed by these bare, gray trees silhouetted against the sunset but I hadn’t even noticed. I hadn’t seen this wonderful sight. And if I hadn’t looked into the mirror next to me, and seen the reflection, I’d have missed it.

It made me wonder. How many sunsets do I miss every day? While I’m driving through traffic, talking on the phone, checking my email or hurrying make it home?

Today, on the eve of the New Year, seems like a perfect time for reflection.

Time to see the past in the mirror. Take a snapshot of the sunset of this year sinking slowly behind us and admiring the beauty of the year that started out with bare trees and expectation, budded into blossoms and fruitful experiences, then changing leaves and lives; finally, letting go and letting the past mulch, knowing it’s not all about loss but fertilizing our future.

Maybe it’s only by looking backward that we can see how much we’ve moved forward.

It’s been a year of moving forward for all of us. New skills learned. New relationships made. New ideas and challenges. Some things worked well, some things didn’t.

Twelve months ago, it was a new year. I had no idea what it would bring. I was learning to throw clay on the wheel and struggling. I didn’t know why I was playing with clay instead of metal. It just felt right even if I kept doing it wrong. I persisted. My daughter was engaged and there was a wedding to plan. I had forgotten how something so wonderful can get so very complicated and stressful. I struggled to make it the best day for her that I could. My son moved into an apartment. That meant another room was full of memories, toys and dust. I boxed books, washed walls and repainted. The old carpet was ripped up and replaced with new. Now, my home is refreshed and re-nested and renewed. And for my husband and me, our lives together are renewed as well.

We were at a red light. Stopped in the present, I was able to see the reflection of where we had been in the mirror. I snapped a shot of the past. Then the light changed and we moved forward.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Frosting inside and out.

I woke up this morning to the sun glistening off frosted rooftops. It’s such a beautiful beginning to the shortest day of the year. Celebrating the solstice goes back to my celtic roots when people toasted the return of the light with fires and feasting.

Walking through the park with Jilly, I admired natures artistry. Leaves sculpted into shape by the cold and painted with silvery frost. Icy sculptures were everywhere around us, from the tips of the grasses and reeds to the leaves on the pathways. Even the roads were crisscrossed with a plaid embossed by tire treads up, down and across the streets.

The sun burst across the lake. As we walked along the paths, I admired the sparkle everywhere. The ice softened the edges of the gravel and bark dust rendering them as landscape art instead of mulch. But practicality and beauty is Mother Nature’s forte and today was just another of her many wonders.

And some I almost missed. As I was taking another frosty foliage photo on my cell phone, a tall silhouette moved behind the reeds. It was a large, blue heron oblivious to the frosting everywhere, moving slowly and softly in search of a fishy breakfast. I gasped and changed my focus catching this close up photo of one of my favorite birds.
Later cozy and warm in my own home, I enjoyed a different kind of frosting. I heated up the oven and made one of my favorite Christmas cookies, Chocolate Kringles. My Gram used to make these for me and she sent me boxes of homemade cookies when I was away at college. She died years ago, but her recipe lives on. I bake Kringles every Christmas and now, my daughter bakes them too.

And as everyone knows, everything is better with sugar. Especially this time of year, it’s the one time I don’t have to feel guilty about baking. My Grandmother Gallacher taught me to make shortbread from scratch when I was a teenager. I make her Cherry Cake every year, too. But this year, unable to find sweet red cherries, I substituted sweetened cranberries. I hope she doesn’t mind and if it turns out well, I’ll have to change the name to Cranberry Cake.

And change is good. Today, we celebrate the change of the seasons, the change from darkness to more light. With winter’s frost decorating the world and sugar frosting cookies and cakes, we can taste the sweetness of life all around.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Birthdays. Beaches. The flow of life.

I started celebrating my birthday this week with a trip to the beach. I do love the beach. Watching the sunset. Sipping champagne. Nibbling treats. All while watching the waves roll in and out.

It’s life in an ongoing panorama. The water flows in bringing mussels, sand dollars and seaweed. The seagulls and crows crowd in to feast. Then the tide washes out the cracked and empty shells. I’m not being morose, really. But let’s face it, life gives and life takes away.

And it’s not all bad. I breathe in and out. There are new presents, thoughts, friends and family that come into my life. And there are things that no longer fit, help or work that need to flow out of my life. Some things, like the half-buried seashells stuck in the sand, take a little more time to let go of than others. But, like the shells, the sand shifts and slowly releases them into the flow.

Watching the sunset sink into the sea, I see all the years come and go. I remember the good times and the bad. I’m grateful for the good and hope I learned from the bad. I know everyone says growing older is growing wiser but I’ll have to wait and see about that. Right now, I’m still growing and learning and making mistakes and trying to be kind to myself along the way.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Falling fast into winter.

Fall came late this year and winter, it seems is early. It’s not officially winter according to the calendar, but it’s here.

Leaves are delicate frost sculptures at my feet.

The lake is a frozen landing strip for the ducks.

The fog rolls in thick over the lake.

And then, the sun comes out blazing. Bouncing off the frost covered bridges and spreading sparkling lights all around.

Winter, even unofficially, is wonderful.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Forest for the trees

Picture by Martha Benedict

Without forests, we would lose our true roots. We are just one of the wonderful creatures of this big world. Sometimes, I forget that, but I was fortunate this month to be part of a fiber installation, Forest For The Trees, in California that brought attention to the wonders of our wild world.

Sponsored by the Arroyo Arts Collective and Yarn Bombing Los Angeles, this site specific installation is a collection of knit and crochet pieces built on site. Fiber artists from around the world sent knit and crochet trees, ground cover, flowers, even monsters and rare birds.

I contributed my aluminum screening and crocheted mythical bird, Phoenix. I made the bird from recycled materials. I’m proud to have been one of the artists to create this fiber forest installation at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park, California.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ripping up the past.

The walls and ceilings were painted. The woodwork was scrubbed. And today’s the day to rip up the old carpet. I can’t wait to step on the soft, clean beautiful new floor. But I can’t help looking back as the past is ripped up from underfoot.

There’s an orange stain in my son’s room, about three feet from the wall where the end of his bunk bed used to sit. There was a chair that I used to pull out and climb up on so I could kiss him goodnight. Every night he slept with glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling over his head like a celestial night light. One night, after a big Thanksgiving dinner, he got sick from a little too much pumpkin pie.

He hates pumpkin pie to this day, but today, the stain will be gone, once and for all.

There’s a hole by the closet and door in my daughter’s room. It’s about an inch or so deep and there’s fuzz all around it. There used to be a white metal daybed along the one wall covered in a fuchsia and jade quilt with bunny prints on the wall where I tucked her in at night. She always fell asleep with a little purple unicorn tucked under her arm and a night light softly glowing across the room. She grew up and moved out to go to college. A year later, she moved back in bringing her fluffy, white kitten, who loved to dig holes in the carpet in her room.

She still loves her kitty (and so do I), but today, the holes will be gone, once and for all.

There are stains and marks and divots all over the carpet upstairs in my house. I’ve vacuumed and steam cleaned and spot cleaned probably every inch of it in the last 17 years.

This carpet's seen sweet little pajama footed feet grow into big, smelly feet. It’s seen kittens grow into big cats and old cats and die. It’s seen young pups get too old to make it up the carpeted stairs.

It’s seen a couple young and vibrant and sleep deprived cheer children through soccer, band, choir, college and, now, becoming young and vibrant couples, while they become older, closer and less sleep deprived but still bouncing in the cheering sections when needed. It’s seen accidents of all kinds caused by colds, flus, sleepovers, secret stashes of candy, cookies, drinks and, yes, tobacco. It’s seen bunk beds become big beds; toy chests become desks leaving empty indentations in the pile.

But today, all those marks of the growth, the giggles and tears, the sighs of comfort and stress, the sleepless and restful nights will disappear. The past will be ripped up and replaced by new carpet. Shiny. Clean. Unblemished. With no wrinkles or holes or stains or mats left by former occupants or past mistakes.

Underfoot is the present and in this moment, it’s brand new. I sink my feet into the soft support, smell the fresh tang of new fibers and admire the clean slate gray carpet that spreads across the room. Where our steps will lead now, I don’t know. I do have a hope, though, that this new carpet will cushion and comfort the feet that pad and walk across it in spite of the inevitable divots and dirt of life.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks.

It’s the simple things that make life wonderful. Usually, those simple things just slip by me unnoticed. Not today.

Today, I want to give thanks for all those simple things.

A blue sky. No rain. And a walk around a lake.

Looking up through the birch tree at that clearing sky and seeing a birds nest.

Taking walks with my husband and my sweet dog, Jilly.

Laughing at Terra terrorizing a towel. (No one was hurt, not even the towel.)

Today, like many people I give thanks for my husband, my daughter, my son, my friends and neighbors. A little breakfast delivered with kindness. A cup of eggnog and fresh coffee cake shared with love. A burger and fries and good talk.

Today, for all our abundance, health and love…I am simply thankful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Horses and Acrobats and Love.

I saw Cavalia a few days ago and I’m still amazed and charmed by the show. It was all that was promised and more. A unique blend of music, acrobats and horses. . Yes, there were beautiful, well-trained horses and skilled riders. Men and women danced on high wires, jumped, tumbled and flew through the air. Even the horses danced.

It was stunning, amazing, thrilling and lovely. Live music and vocals. Beautiful backdrops and film clips. Playful stage props and costumes. Fast paced action sequences and graceful ballets (done by horses).

But what really stayed with me was the love between the riders and trainers and horses. I watched the riders stroke the horses and the horses nuzzle the trainers. The love story between man and horse illustrated on cave walls began early and despite faster and more powerful transportation, man and horse are still loyal partners.

Cavalia is a beautifully crafted show from beginning to end. But what it really shows is love.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Consumed by Clay: Passion or obsession?

Pots got trimmed and the wheel got cleaned before the dishes. Bowls were thrown before I showered. The cat had to bump my studio door to remind me it was her dinnertime. The dog barked at nothing to get my attention away from the wheel. Tea and coffee got cold and forgotten. Dinner was leftovers. Again.

Clay seems to be taking over my studio, my day and my life. I don’t know why. Is it passion or obsession?

I’m not a newbie to art or the art process. I’ve taken art classes for 4 decades or more. I’ve made a lot of art, paintings, pastels, collage, beadwork, fiber pieces, copper repousse’, mixed media sculptures and masks. But I have to say that I’ve always been able to leave them, sometimes for weeks at a time. I used to call this the ‘percolation’ process. I always thought that in order to have a good piece, I needed to leave it alone for a while. And the process has worked for me.

Not anymore.

I just can’t seem to do that with clay. I’m organized. I make lists and plans and schedules. Even when I plan, that today, I will get to that cleaning, errand, email, website…all of a sudden it’s 5 pm and I would, but you see, my hands are covered with clay.

My writing that was taking up most of my time last year, is moving at a snail’s pace. Even my beloved blog posts have gotten further and further apart. Because, well, I just have to get to that piece before it gets too dry. Or I just need to add this leaf or handle or texture. Really, I’ll just be a minute…then I’ll run that errand, get the mail, do the laundry. Honest. I’ll check my email, read my favorite blogs, post on Facebook.

And I will answer the phone. Honest.

I do really want to hear from you, but, well, there’s this bowl, cup, platter, vessel or face that just really needs a little water or maybe a little trimming… Maybe you should leave a message…

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Lone Goose.

I heard the honk from the sky and I didn’t think much of it. After all, geese are quite a gabby group, always honking to each other on land, water or in the air. It makes me wonder what they are all taking about all the time. I hear them honking loudly on the lake almost every day.

In the spring, I can see they’re defending their nesting territory, announcing births and protecting the goslings swimming around them. In the summer, it’s flight school time. I hear nervous parents honking warnings to goslings learning to fly and flight trainers calling out the flight path and landing patterns to the group. In the fall, large v-shaped groups of geese fly above honking loudly in continuous cacophonous discussions. I see the clashing of opinions about landing sights and wind directions as the geese formations shift and move across the sky.

But today, the honking is different. It is not a group, but one goose. The honk sounds once, twice, then silence. I stop, listen and go to the window but I’m too late to see the goose flying by. As I sit back down in my chair to write, I remember what I learned about geese years ago. Geese are very social birds. They live, eat, protect and train their goslings together. They nest in the same area where they were born. There are resident geese and migrating geese. Resident geese, like the ones at my neighborhood park fly 200 miles or less from pond to pond for food, but go back home. Migrating geese flying in ‘V’ formation travel as much as 3,000 miles from their spring nesting place to the winter shelter together honking all the way. I can imagine the discussion, “Are we there yet?” and “The food looks good, let’s stop there.” Geese are an organized, intelligent and social group. They have leaders and followers and teachers, too. And if they see a gosling out of line, even if it’s not theirs, they quickly give it a poke in the right direction. Yup, you guessed it, that’s where the phrase, ‘goosed’, comes from. Unlike ducks, geese mate for life. Once paired, they find a nest, defend it, and share hatching duties. Every year, over and over, for life.

When I heard that one goose flying alone and honking alone, I knew. This goose was alone. What happened to the mate? It could be many things, illness, attack from a predator, an accident between them and us. It doesn’t really matter what happened, because it doesn’t make the loss any less. I looked up at the empty sky, thanking the universe that my own mate is safe, blessing the goose on its lonely fall journey. And I nod my head, seeing that geese and humans may not be so different after all.

Friday, November 4, 2011

New work popping up everywhere.

As a working artist, there’s pressure to produce. Sometimes, it feels like my pieces just flow out one after another. Sometimes, it feels like a tug of war that I’m not winning.

I’m sure there are artists out there who churn out work with ease and efficiency. I’m not one of them, at least, not this week. But the weird thing is, just when I think I’m not getting anywhere at all and leave my studio in frustration, I come back the next week and there, all around me, are new pieces. And they’re not bad.

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me. Honest.

I walk out in disgust and total frustration only to return to a room filled with pieces in process that I find myself excited and pleased about. It seems to happen overnight and I’ve long suspected that I have some very artistic elves living in my house, who while I am asleep or working in another part of the house, step in and nudge my pieces along the right road.

This last week, after spending days working on several pieces, feeling the frustration of coils drying up and snapping, slabs cracking and screening crinkling in all the wrong ways, I left my studio to clean and redo a room upstairs. This week, I walked into my studio to find the bowl and coils had become one, the slab held its shape and the screening was ready for paint.


The process of making art is a kind of magic. It can be wonderfully exhilarating and frustrating and fun and difficult. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Ok. Maybe I would, but then, what would those elves have to do?

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.