A Thank You to Barack Obama

So I have been drawing house moments, chairs and a “settle” and a kitchen dresser, trying to shut out what’s happening, but emotion builds. In part because of the possibilities lost with the loss of the election, and the stark contrast we now face. No grace, no thoughtfulness, no kindness. I don’t even like the present and the future office holders in the same paragraph.

I’m grateful for years of that beautiful smile and sense of humor, for the best example of parenting I could imagine, for being a genuine consoler-in-chief when needed over and awfully over. You can’t delegate compassion and goodness and empathy, you sing “Amazing Grace” at the Charleston church because it’s who you are.

I appreciated not ever doubting that the best interests of the country’s people came first, and that there would be dignity always. President Obama was a grown up (is, it’s only Tuesday), making decisions by listening to the smart, knowledgeable people around him, and then figuring it out with his own set of values, his own formidable intelligence.

A huge part of my gratitude is that because of Barack Obama, we got to know Michelle Obama, that shining star of how to behave in tough, nasty situations and rock a stylish wardrobe, and the only redemption in crying my way through the farewell speech came in realizing he isn’t going away. We won’t have him in charge any more, making White House decisions with calm and reason – but we have him with us politically, to be a citizen as he said, to figure out how to go forward.

Have you seen these photos and captions by the White House photographer Pete Souza? http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2016/11/the-obama-years-through-the-lens-of-white-house-photographer-pete-souza/508052/

Or these:

https://medium.com/the-white-house/behind-the-lens-2016-year-in-photographs-9e2c8733bbb3#.bowsyxffm

Thank you, thank you President Obama from the bottom of my heart.

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Kind and Dear

It’s January and cold – in Washington these days the thermometer rarely tops 32° and sinks to 22° – making me long for our usual winter 42° and appreciate house and heat.

This month I try to turn my attention to the house, clearing Christmas, which stops looking jolly and becomes clutter (except the tree, those lights are still so welcome). And January also invites more organizing, seeking comfort and cheer from order.

But in numerous ways I avoid those tasks. Although this year, I happily reboxed Christmas on January 6, energized after reading about the Irish tradition of “Women’s Little Christmas,” the old, but still observed celebration of the women (and surely now men), who worked so hard to make the holidays for their families.

A more typical stalling maneuver is to look at books about houses, including a Christmas present, Ben Pentreath’s “English Houses,” a beautiful book full of photos of loved houses that creak with tilted floors and worn Turkey rugs. Pentreath introduced a room new to me, the “snug,” a tiny room with books and fireplace looking just like the word. (I discovered while writing this that Pentreath writes a blog about his life in Dorset:    http://www.pentreath-hall.com/inspiration/).

And this January I miss “Red House West” – may it return soon! I did see a Pin from the blog’s proprietors of an imaginative under-the-stairs bed, cozily curtained off. And I began thinking about how certain house elements, sunny French windows, odd but comfy chairs, deep window sills, long pine tables make me stare at a photo and want to be there.

Leanne Shapton, an illustrator I admire, said she processes life by employing series and repetition in her work. Maira Kalman does that too. And an artist, Debbie George, I discovered while painting teacups last November, paints antique teacups and flowers one lovely image after another.

January lets such thoughts string together into a project. So, I’m going to look for little moments in rooms that make a difference – quirks, rumples, using houses I know or photos from books or the Internet. Done up doesn’t always do it, but personal often does.

And I can start with this little poem that William Morris had embroidered around the top of his four-poster bed:

     The wind’s on the wold

     And the night is a-cold

     And Thames runs chill

     Twixt mead and hill,

     But kind and dear

     Is the old house here,

     And my heart is warm

     Midst winter’s harm…

That’s the idea!

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Tiny Bird, Tiny Girl

Last Friday, on a morning walk in Fort Worden with Sweet Baby and her family, I dawdled while they climbed the steep “up/downs” on the outside of a bunker, and, wondering idly if I could see inside, stretched up to peer in a window. To my surprise, I spotted a tiny pottery bird on the window ledge, sitting on an equally small piece of paper with the typed message:

“If you find me, you may keep me. from, Phoebe Cantelow.”

I wanted to keep it. I recognized its making, and knew I would put it on the windowsill in my workroom with two of its kind already there (they are owls, each slightly different in the way of handmade things).

I felt such gratitude for the happy surprise, reminding me of art making and generosity – a hopeful totem for a new and worrisome year. (I looked up Phoebe Canetlow, and love what she says about starting her working day by making a little bird as a way of centering herself for a day of sculpting.)

Having Sweet Baby and her family here for the Christmas bustle, and for the quiet days afterwards, made me so glad. Sweet Baby is always on the go with language to match. She converses sometimes in expressive and endearing but unintelligible paragraphs. Other times she’s clear: she comes into our house from the Buffalo and declares loudly: “Kay-tee! Poppa Jim! Hi!” She took to mimicking my reply, greeting me with “Hi Sweetie!”

Her parents often say, “gentle” to quiet over-zealous movement, and Sweet Baby smushes the consonants into “gshentil” to admonish us. When the car engine shuts off, she declares: “O KAAY!,” and her “Bye-bye soon” is perfect shorthand for farewells. She is rightly wary of our cranky Frances, and when we go upstairs she repeats with finger to lips, “Ssh, meow sleeping.” With a three-word sentence she warns us “Meow eating food.”

She loved our meals by the fireplace when we all sit at her level at the low down spool table, and eat pumpkin pie (another one). She likes real things best, “helping” to put things away, pushing a tiny grocery cart at the Co-op with flag waving, or caring for her baby girl – putting her to sleep for naps, carrying her in a doll-sized Ergo, and cuddling her in a re-purposed tea cozy.

We spent a day on Bainbridge Island, and while Sweet Baby napped in the pack, we took a long and looping walk in the Bloedel Reserve – winter quiet and winter green. Sweet Baby was overjoyed to see our niece, “M-Ah!,” sitting with her to eat a gooey PB&J at the bakery and holding her hand to walk to the Kiddie Museum.

The family is back to California now, and the new year really begins. But before they left, I tucked one of the tiny owls in the Sweet Bride’s coat pocket (she’s fond of owls).

Thank you for reading “Her spirits rose…,” and all your thoughtful and appreciated comments – this will be the seventh year!

May 2017 bring many happy surprises to you and yours!

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Perfect

Early Christmas morning I managed (with some pride at my efficiency) to get the pumpkin pie for dinner in the oven – and then left it there for hours while we opened presents and ate breakfast. I sent my old friend on Bainbridge a photo of the result, but then she countered with an image from the night before – the charred remains of her Lucia rolls – “425° for four hours.”

Sweet Baby loved it all – from waking up to discover mysterious packages under the tree and a baby girl doll, to having Christmas dinner on Bainbridge with little boys who know how to enjoy the underneath of a festive dining table.

My old friend (who was hygge before hygge was a thing) sent a message at midnight: “The evening was perfect – with all the imperfections.”

Yes.

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Just A Few Days To Go

Emotions fill the holiday season, I know that. But this one is different. I write while preparing for the arrival of our younger son, Sweet Bride, and Sweet Baby – and I recognize the privilege of time and space to make merry. Writing helps me wrestle my thoughts away from the anxiety that much cherished is threatened in the new year.

I had planned to write about Ann Patchett’s new book “Commonwealth,” to say that I read all six hours back and forth to Alaska, finishing as the plane landed in Seattle. In the beginning I was confused, chapters back and forth in time, characters I couldn’t quite keep straight, but by the end it seemed perfect to finish with Christmas and a family cobbled together by love.

I cried watching Patti Smith sing Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall” at the Nobel ceremony, and I thought of my blue-eyed sons and wanted to write about them, about how astounded I am by them and how grateful for them. They are accomplished and hardworking, and when I watch them care for their own “darling young ones” or hold their wives’ hands, I am undone.

And then today I read “How Does It Feel” in The New Yorker, the wonderful piece Smith wrote about the Nobel event. The link includes the song, and she tells of how she came to sing it, from artful choices and rehearsals through breakfast the next morning. It all fits together to honor art and science, family and friendship. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/patti-smith-on-singing-at-bob-dylans-nobel-prize-ceremony.

Most of all, at the year’s darkest point in the season of lights, I write to wish you all kindness, beauty in art and nature, and love.

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A Very Happy Time

A pre-Christmas trip north to Alaska is a cherished tradition now. Several mornings we drove to preschool, where candlelight flickers in the classroom, and viewed the “snowcake” Lady Baby created. We decorated the Downtown Abbey Christmas tree, read many Christmas books, and did a lot of “come let us adore him” around Baby Brother. After her mom laid it out for us, Lady Baby helped me (sitting in my lap, and pushing the lever for backstitching) sew a stocking for her brother.

One day we made Christmas cookies – a nearly all-day affair. Lady Baby can now do all the steps – rolling and cutting and decorating. For part of the time, Baby Brother slept on me in the Ergo, but he woke in time for decorating at the kitchen table.

He’s so long, he’s outgrown the nest I can make for a baby by crooking one knee and placing my ankle on the other. So we used a pillow as a head prop, and he smiled and chuckled (he does that now!) as frosting flew nearby, and Poppa Jim pretended to be stealing cookies.

This year Mrs. Hughes suggested a Saturday morning exchange of our gifts to each other, and Lady Baby was so excited to come downstairs and discover presents under the tree. Outdoors, the North wind did blow in cold and snowy dark till after 9 a.m., inside we sat in the cozy living room by the lighted tree. Baby Brother slept on his dad while Lady Baby deciphered gift tags and dispensed packages – a perfect sampler of Christmas morning magic.

When we reminisced about the cookie making, Lady Baby said: “That was a very happy time for me.”

So me too – the whole trip.

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December Red and Gold

It’s bleak this early December – Thanksgiving put away and Washington dark of evening and dark of morning. Winter is come.

But it’s the political landscape that chills. A good friend says when she wakes in the night and worries, she reminds herself that President Obama is still president, it’s OK to go back to sleep. And it is more important than ever to look for the cheer and light in this month, for us and for the children for whom we pictured a world with increasing compassion and decency.

On Instagram I’ve comforted myself by posting pictures of #goldreclaimed, because I loathe the recent associations of gold with intolerance, ugliness, and tastelessness. This political year did a number on red as well.

I began the Instagram posts after my eyes fell on a little tourist picture we bought – the reclining figure of Peace – a reproduction from “The Allegory of Good Government and Bad Government” (here) in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, Italy. Painted in the 14th Century by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, this huge three-paneled fresco remains painfully relevant.

On the “Effects of Good Government” panel, depictions are pastoral and bountiful as you might imagine. The panel on bad government is faded, but you can make out the captive figure of Justice, deserted derelict streets, and two armies advancing toward each other in the countryside. The “Effects of Bad Government” depicts “a devious looking figure adorned with horns and fangs…identified as Tyrammides (Tyranny). He sits enthroned, resting his feet upon a goat (symbolic of luxury), and in his hand he sinisterly holds a dagger.”

Ugh. So here’s to holding on to hope ‘til time to act, and in the meantime to red and gold in art and life. This little bit of research lifted my spirits not at all, but the red and gold in Lorenzetti’s Peace does.

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