Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Heron on guard: A lesson in awareness.

Walking with Jilly through the park the other day, I almost missed this amazing sight. Why? Outside, it was cloudy and cold, but inside, my mind was clouded too, with all those every day, ordinary, meaningless thoughts.

Suddenly, I looked up and my mind shifted from mindlessness to mindfulness.

There on the bridge was this huge, gorgeous Blue Heron. I stopped and stared. Suddenly, I was still in body and mind.

I've seen many Herons on the lake over the years, but I’ve never seen one perched on the bridge like this before. I didn’t have my camera. Wouldn’t you know it? Luckily my husband, Mike, had his phone and managed to walk slowly up to the bridge and get this wonderful shot within a few feet of the huge bird.

Sitting on the railing, this Heron was surveying the lake like a person sitting on a park bench. Easy. Calm. Relaxed.

I learned a lot standing there, watching. I learned to stop and keep my eyes and ears and mind on what's right in front of me, here and now. I learned to be still and to focus my thoughts with calm strength, regardless of what's going on around me.

What a great lesson in awareness.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Paint the Sky.

Those are the words that popped into my head as I was driving home, yesterday.
Odd. "Why?" I asked.

I’m not a painter, you see.

“So?” came the reply, “you love the sky.”

I do. I’ve loved the sky ever since I can remember. Waking up in my childhood bedroom, the first thing I did was look out the window, up through the white blossomed Crabapple tree, to the sky.

There's so much to see - the wide range and depth of colors from cerulean and cobalt, to ultramarine and Prussian blue to deep purple and navy to Payne’s gray and black. Then, there are the clouds - puffy and fluffy with rose undertones, light and lacy with creamy yellow, dense and deep with shades of purple gray. Sunrise or sunset adds yet another wash of colors from cadmium red, alizarin crimson to hansa deep yellow and orange. All this color and shape and form moving constantly above me with the wind.

I've watched spellbound as the sky changes from black to blue to black again. I marveled as the shapes appear and disappear. The sky is a moving sculpture. I see clouds forming into faces of women, children and men, animals of all types fly, float and sleep above me.

As a little girl one of my favorite games was twirling. Late on summer evenings, I’d stand on the cool grass barefoot, spread my arms out to my sides and spin. Faster and faster, I’d go watching the houses, trees and people whirl past until, too dizzy to stand up, I’d fall onto the soft green grass. Then, laughing, I’d lie on my back and watch the sky go from day to evening in spinning splendor.

The sky is peace to me. Restful in its beautiful blues and rosy hues. Exciting deep gray greens exploding into thunder and lightening. Mysterious. Soft. Sad. And unending in its possibilities. It is a moving, every changing, never ending art show. Vast. Open. Alive.

I am inspired by it. Awed. Humbled.

Paint the sky? Now I know why…love.
But could I?

That’s the question that set me to work. First, with my camera, I took pictures of the sky. I took the photo for this painting on my phone, so I can't share it here. Second, I primed over an old painting and, yes, I did paint the sky. I think this one if almost done. Now what? Paint the sky, again? Why not.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Where do I want to be?

I was on my morning walk with Jilly. It was a damp, gray, foggy Oregon morning, nothing special. Jilly and I made our way around the lake. We said our good mornings, as usual, to all the ‘regulars’, people we pass in the park everyday. The only difference this morning was it was just Jilly and me. Michael was resting because he had a cold. I was feeling a little crabby and resentful, thinking of all the housework and chores that didn’t get done this weekend some because of Michael’s cold and some because of circumstances.

As I walked cycling through my resentments, I realized that it wasn’t really about what I thought it was about. It wasn’t about cleaning the garage or putting the knobs on the bathroom cupboards, at all. It wasn’t about feeling burdened by household chores, nope. It was about death, loss and fear.

I wasn’t really angry or resentful at Michael for having a cold. I was afraid. I realized there and then, I get scared when he gets sick. Why? Because he’s my husband, partner, best friend and I love him. I don’t want him to lose him. I don’t want to be in this world without him to share it with.

And he knew it, too. Because he said, “I’m not going to die, you know. I just have a cold.” Right. Everybody gets colds. In fact, my daughter had one last weekend and complained about the same symptoms. She’s fine. He will be, too.

So I saw my fear and nodded at it just like I nod at the ‘regulars’ I pass on my walk everyday. I felt my fear pass by me as Jilly and I walked on, too.

We passed the geese grazing on the grass and ducks swimming under the bridge. Jilly stopped to sniff the leafy mulch under the trees and I gazed out over the water to the foggy horizon. As we entered the woods, I started down our usual path intent on my usual routine – stopping by the birch clearing to do my stretches and onto the Be Tree- but I stopped. Ahead of me, across the path was a downed branch, partially blocking my way. I started to walk around the branch, but again, I stopped.

I went back to where the path was blocked, turned to face the downed branch and looked around me. What did I see?

To the right of the main path, was an open path. I decided to take it, and soon found myself at a cross roads. One path ahead led down to the lake, the other wound around to the birch clearing. On the path to the lake is a big, strong birch tree that I’ve passed many times, reaching out to it for balance on the slippery slope down to the water. It’s an old tree. That’s obvious by its height and width and deep roots. It has history in these woods, a connection and wisdom far beyond my short years here. And so, I decided to pay this tree a visit.

As I leaned back against the wide, strong trunk, thoughts ran through my head, lists of things I needed to do, places I needed to go and, of course, worry about my husband’s cold, health and happiness. My busy thoughts were, once again, covering up my real feelings, my fears not about life, but about death.

Then, one thought came up through the crowd and formed a question, “Where do I want to be?”

The wise Birch Tree answered, “Be where you are.”

I let out a breath that I didn’t realize I was holding and sighed. I didn’t need to do everything or go everywhere to escape my feelings of fear. I didn’t need to worry about my husband.

All I needed to do was follow the words, “Be where you are.”

I could see that right here, right now, everything and everyone is fine, including my husband. I smiled. I thanked the Birch Tree for her wisdom that brought such simple clarity to my day.

Where do I want to be?
Be where you are.

And Jilly and I walked on, along the open path, through the birches and home.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Bread Has Risen!

Last week's flat top loaf was a let down. But I decided to ‘rise above’ it(sorry, bad pun intended), make another one and figure out what went wrong. This week's loaf was much better.

I used the same recipe, same type of yeast, and the same rising time. The only thing I changed was the baking method and container.

Yep. It was the pan. First time, I put the bread dough in an unheated pyrex glass casserole in a pre-heated oven set at 350.

Second time, I put the enamel cast iron casserole into a cold oven set at 400, let the casserole and oven heat for 30 minutes. I took out the casserole, put in the bread dough and baked it covered for 30 minutes, then, uncovered it and baked till brown.

The result: A crunchy outside and chewy deliciousness inside!

Here’s the recipe I used:
1 pkg. quick rise yeast
1 TBSP sugar
1to 1-1/4 cup warm water
Mix together and let sit until the yeast bubbles.
While that’s happening, mix this together in a large bowl:
2 cups flour(I like bread flour)
Note: you’ll be adding 1-2 cups more during kneading
1 tsp salt
Flavorings if desired such as minced garlic, grated cheese, rosemary, coarse pepper, basil or oregano
Stir the yeast mixture into the flour mix in bowl. Add more flour by the cup full to make a sticky dough. Shake more flour onto the counter top, kneading and adding flour as you go until the dough forms a smooth ball. Butter a bowl, roll the dough ball around to coat it all over, cover and let rise about 1 hour. Punch down the dough, cover again and let rise until double about 1-2 hours. Thirty minutes before the loaf is ready, place covered enamel cast iron casserole inside the oven and set to 400 degrees. After 30 minutes, take the casserole from oven, place the bread loaf inside, cover and bake. In 30 minutes, take the cover off the casserole and bake the bread until brown, about another 20 minutes.

I know preheating the casserole in the oven is a chore, but it does produce a nice crusty loaf of bread. I think it’s worth the trouble. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Playing With Fire

Scary? Yes. Fun? Most definitely! Firing up the kiln and putting in my newest clay faces is always risky. You just never know...will it explode or crack? Will the oxide stains I rubbed into the clay and painted on the details come out the way I hoped? Or even better?

I put the four faces into the kiln on Wednesday, fired up the kiln and watched through the peep hole. Turning it up from low to medium in 2 hours and from medium to high in another hour, then look for the cone to bend and shut off the kiln. There's nothing I could do but wait, and that always feels like the hardest part. Especially, when due to the cold weather outside this week, I had to wait until the kiln was completely cool. Which meant waiting until Thursday morning to open it up. I didn't want to be too eager and risk cracking a piece because the garage was colder than the inside of the kiln.

Ah, the wait was worth it.

Every face came through in one piece. The Penny Mask iron oxide color came out beautifully and the black I added brought out the details. The only problem was the nose, it had popped off at the bisque stage. I wasn't sure how it would take the second firing, but it came through fine, no big shrinkage, so I can just glue it back in place later.

The big surprise was the Oak Leaf face. The raw sienna color I'd rubbed into the background really faded. That's a disappointment. I'm not sure if I'm going to add more stain or not.

The other two faces, Molehills and Spring came out much nicer than I thought they would.

So even though I was nervous playing with fire and impatient to have to spend the day waiting on the kiln, it was, indeed, worth it. I can't wait to try this with some other new pieces.