New Year Thoughts: Botanicals

Just before the holidays, I had a call from a curator for the Gallery at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts in Winslow inviting me to be part of their June 2012 exhibition – a three-person show tentatively titled “Botanicals.”

My first thought was uh oh, I want to do this, but no flowers to paint ahead of a late May deadline. Winter makes one’s flower obsession seem far away and long ago – no easy inspiration from the flowers themselves.

That’s an Alaska truth, but Washington will have flowers – bulbs aplenty by March and April. The title “Botanicals” makes me a little anxious. The other people – Jan Hurd and Kathleen McKeehan are really botanical artists – but I am not. The title intrigues me though, and I do love to observe and paint flowers, as the others must. I am curious what else we have in common.

I’d like to make new paintings to meet the “Botanicals” definition, so I need to set goals and build experimentation time into a schedule (remembering “Willpower”).

One winter in Anchorage, I visited my favorite flower shop every week and drew their blossoms. I sat on a little red stool at the level of flower-filled buckets – with just a pen and paper pad on my knee. Being there in the bustle of the flower shop helped my winter isolation and my drawing.

For my painter friend that Christmas, I combined the December images with quotes (I was reading non-stop about flowers and gardens in those days) to make a “winter garden” calendar.

I recently found those drawings, and while I get myself back to thinking about flowers, searching for ways to inspire the images I want to see – exploring possibilities and limits – I will post some of those images or parts of them.

Thinking about flowers in February – a good idea!

Snow Days

Washington’s “snow event” will be over by the time you read this – I hope.

But snow seems never-ending in Alaska this year. Last week, the snowfall (88” by mid-January) broke the all-time record for accumulation to that date. Snow mounds on roofs and in berms, and more fell while we visited to meet our granddaughter.

We spent magical days encapsulated in a snow shaker, but warm and cozy, protected by the old red house. I thought often about bringing our babies home to that house. (But never in winter. Snow, single digit, and below-zero temperatures make a dramatic backdrop to the beginning of a life.)

In routines both new and utterly familiar, I got to hold the tiny baby while her mom slept, had a shower, or took a snowy walk around the block with the dad and the old dog. And I cooked. I liked making a meal, then walking with the baby about the house while her parents chatted at the table like a couple on a date.

I thought a great deal about my mother as I joined the grandmother ranks. She always amazed me with her willingness to be with the baby or the children – holding whoever needed holding, playing board games she never quite got (no matter how earnestly instructed in the rules), and tirelessly reading stories with speech bubbles full of “blistering barnacles” and the like.

In those days I couldn’t see why my mom didn’t mind not being part of the grown-up table conversation. She seemed selfless – knowing I wanted to be there, she’d divert the grandchildren – now I wonder. I feel like I joined that group of goofy people who smile knowingly about their grandchildren, and now suspect my mother preferred to be with our sons.

I loved holding this baby. She’s sweet and reasonable, and once fed, easily drifts to sleep in welcoming arms. To be with her is absorbedness of the best kind – I felt I was doing exactly what I should be doing at that very moment, also grateful, happy, besotted.

With the new dad back to work and snow falling and muffling outdoor sounds, the house grew quiet like a house does with no creatures astir – the new mom returning upstairs for a nap, the dogs and the cats sighing and settling and always nearby. So very quiet, but all the world right there.

I’m so thankful to have seen the new baby while she’s still tiny, yet already such a person, and watch our son and his wife transformed into caring, competent parents. It’s an ancient way of families being together – extra arms to hold the baby, grandpa to help with the chores. Shovelling snow, making food, and doing laundry never seemed so useful or so rewarding.

Snowy days to cherish.


New Year Thoughts: Root Season

Jack Bishop’s “Roasted Parsnips with Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary” were a hit at Thanksgiving. Either that, or I didn’t cook enough of them, because they completely disappeared.

His recipe is simple. Peel the parsnips, cut, and roast. Quarter large parsnips and slice out the woody center, but just cut small ones into inch and a half chunks. Toss them with olive oil on a baking sheet with a rim, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast at 425° for about 40 minutes, then combine two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar with two teaspoons of minced fresh rosemary, and drizzle over the parsnips on the baking sheet, tossing to spread.

Continue roasting for just a few minutes (Bishop says three). In the heat of the fray of Thanksgiving, I think ours got left in the oven over-long, but the resulting crunchiness may have contributed to their popularity. Tasty!

New Year Thoughts: Continuity

In my Granny Trudy stash I found an appliquéd and embroidered cloth with a sunbonnet girl surrounded by flowers in one corner with more flowers filling the other corners. I used it to make a little receiving blanket for the new baby, the flannel backing tucked over to form a soft binding.

Originally there were tape ties at each corner of the cloth, and when I told my sister-in-law about the blanket, she said the tapes tied the cloth to a card table during weekly ladies’ bridge games. (My husband and his sister remember enormous meringue kisses filled with ice cream made by Granny Trudy and their mother for those gatherings.)

I love the thought of this new baby girl having something for ordinary use with handwork made by her great, great grandmother. And relish the thought of a line of women who make things – sunbonnet girls, ice cream kisses, blankets, and babies.