A Break and a New Idea

This blog repeatedly makes me alert for ideas, strong in fighting off discouraging thoughts, and happy designing engrossing work. But except for an occasional “iPainting Summer” or other image for the record, “Her spirits rose…” will take an August break. A break in the “gone fishin’” sense – gone reading, gone hiking, gone visiting, gone being visited – summer gone.

But not unthought about. Mindful of Mary Oliver’s words about the world’s most “regretful people” – those who feel “their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time,” a notion incubates in my mind for an addition to the blog this fall, and I wonder if it might interest any of you.

I’m thinking about creating a place online, perhaps “Her spirits rose…the workshop,” an eclass, a group where participants support one another and enjoy the process. Individual journeys with company. A blog of our own?

Space and time to begin to make something unique, art born of observing and transforming, coming from a particular life and expressed in an individual way. My role would be guide, but also participant, my creative challenge to try and make a setting that would inspire and encourage.

Participants could focus on any project, using media they choose – art is a big-tent word with room inside for many pursuits and obsessions. But the goal would be to work on our projects in a conscious, disciplined way, with routine and priority – a goal sometimes hard to achieve alone. It’s good to have colleagues. We won’t compete with one another – but will compete with ourselves – be accountable to our intention to do this work.

Internet wisdom holds that only 1% of people will actually participate in an online activity – a blogger I enjoy refers to the other 99% as “lurkers.” We are all lurkers sometimes, but in this experience we need commitment to participate.

I am thinking about six weeks of online meeting – beginning in mid-September. Often people attempt to encourage participation by charging for an ecourse – figuring we are more attentive to something we’ve paid for. I’m not sure about that. Or about group size – small I think – at least to start.

So – a thought to leave you with during the August break – is there something you would like to achieve, some technique to learn, a project you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t quite start – or finish? Or you know you want to make or do, but haven’t been able to focus enough to know exactly what?

August is perfect for a break, and September is perfect for new beginnings. Enjoy the former – and please think about the latter!

Oh Sweet Day!



Millbrook Clayworks – potter husband and artist wife – have a booth at the Port Townsend Farmers’ Market this year, and I love their style. When I inquired if they could make a honey pot for our younger son and his sweet friend, the answer was quickly “Yes, sure!” For decoration, I described the California garden, and the finished pot is sweet indeed, with blue trellis, hummingbirds, and ladybugs.

I didn’t know that the honey pot would become part of a wedding gift, but we took it along to help celebrate the first of two weddings of our younger son and his sweet friend. In the winter a traditional Thai wedding in Suphanburi, Thailand will follow this small one, an American courthouse union.

On the morning of the wedding, we took a foggy early morning walk up the hill near our son’s Los Angeles house, and exchanged walker pleasantries with a semi-trailer driver completing his fifth circuit of the hill. He said he wasn’t sure what you needed for a long marriage – “Maybe patience!”

I thought of him at the historic courthouse in Santa Ana where this ceremony took place – a beautiful old building with high ceilings and chandeliers – a courthouse no longer used for the hurly burly of daily law and much about wedding ceremonies. The whole day was very Southern California – from the court clerk who donned a robe to cover her black glitter-lettered T-shirt and jeans to the composition of the wedding party. The bride’s good friend attended, and the groom’s partners and staff joined us as we waited in the hallway to be called.

Beautiful in her long-sleeved lace dress, the bride carried a bouquet of peach-pink garden roses and wore tiny bits of sparkle on the band in her hair. The bridegroom – so handsome in a three-piece dark suit, peach tie with tiny elephants, and a rose boutonniere – smiled a lot.

The actual ceremony took place in a room set aside for weddings where a graphic on the wall spelled out “Love is Patient” and “Love is Kind” in large script. The clerk stood behind a little podium – like in a courtroom – decorated with the county seal cheerful with oranges. She directed the bride and groom to stand in front of her, clasping each other’s hands, under a paper flower-covered arch.

For all the unconventional potential of this modern union – the day felt traditional and beautiful. The familiar vows repeated – love and cherish, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. Then:

“You may kiss the bride!

Cheers from our little group, and many photos by many cameras followed, and more outside on the courthouse steps in late afternoon sunshine. Happiness – such a calm and easy wedding day – just the kind of day these two would have. Then dinner at a downtown L.A. restaurant – a big festive table with lots of laughing and talk of Thailand travel to come!

So no longer will I write of our younger son and his sweet friend – she is now his sweet bride – and we are so glad!

Empanadas Into Galette

The inside of our fridge glows green when you open the door these days – kale, chard, collards, turnip and kohlrabi greens from the CSA and the Farmers’ Market – oh, and beautiful salad mix and heads of butter lettuce also!

The other week I turned Deborah Madison’s delicious “Empanadas with Greens and Olives” into a galette (when portability is not an issue, a galette is so much quicker). I combined two full bunches of kale from our farmer, both small and new, but still substantial – thinking the whole time – this is a lot of kale!

But the kale cooked down in the sauté and made a tasty interior inside Deborah’s galette dough, formed into a rough pie. It even reheated well. I was inspired to tackle a more varied combination with this week’s offerings – and the result was even better

I love to make “Yeasted Tart Dough with Olive Oil” from Deborah’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” – it works! Begin by combining a package of yeast and one-half teaspoon of sugar with half-cup of warm water. Let sit till bubbly.  Mix a lightly beaten egg, three-eights teaspoon of salt, and three tablespoons of olive oil together and add to the yeast.

Add about one and three-quarters cups of flour till it’s hard to mix – then turn out and knead for four minutes. Put in an oiled bowl to rise.

In her recipe, Deborah calls for 10 cups of mixed greens – but I use what I have – this time a bunch each of kohlrabi, turnips, and collards. Rinse the greens, removing the midribs. No need to dry.

Sauté in two tablespoons of olive oil, one small onion chopped, two garlic cloves, two bay leaves, one-quarter cup chopped parsley, and one-quarter teaspoon red pepper flakes. When the onion “begins to color,” add the greens. Cook till the greens are really tender.

Put the greens on a cutting board and chop roughly, addhalf a beaten egg, one-half cup of cheese, and one-half cup of pitted Kalamatas.

Then roll out the risen dough into a “thin circle” – about 12”. (Rolling out on a piece of parchment paper makes the dough easy to transfer to a baking sheet without rims or the back of one with rims.

Pile the greens into the middle, and pull up the edges of dough in a freeform way – leaving the middle open. Brush the crust with remaining egg.

Voila! All the fun of baking – smell of fresh bread, shiny crust orange with paprika – and many, many healthy greens!

Walks with Lady Baby

Each time I visit Anchorage I fear Lady Baby will have outgrown my comfortable pick-up zone. But not yet. In June she didn’t seem heavier but much longer, taller even. When someone holds her, she stands firm on those sturdy legs.

I took Lady Baby on morning walks, along with part of her entourage – Lady Cora and either Grandpa or my old neighbor. Lady Baby rides in a front carrier, the amazing Ergo, and begins the walk with a lively lookout – her face so small compared with the wide world. She gazes at trees and sky, hedges and houses till her eyes narrow, her lids grow heavy, and she leans into me.

On the long morning walks, I talk to Lady Baby, watch for traffic, and stay alert to sidewalk irregularities. But later in the day on a little sleep-inducing walk near the house, I am visited by memories of earlier times on exactly that sidewalk, by that street. Most of all I remember the days when our younger son (in a Snugli, front pack of those years) would sleep, while I walked beside our older son maneuvering his brand new two-wheeler.

For someone who had no continuity in my life before Downtown Abbey – a dozen childhood homes, none having any connection to anything else and not lasting for long – the constancy of place, in the same spot with a new generation, amazes me. And makes me feel very lucky.

Sometimes I wonder what I would say now to the young woman who walked there with her newborn and a four-year old – a parent in the trenches – tired, happy but distracted, thinking how the wobbly riding was getting better, wondering when the baby would need to eat, and what’s for dinner. How short my time perspective was at that point – how little I knew.

What if you could do that kind of time-travel and let your young self know things – like how fast the years of childhood will go – how rich those years will seem when looking back, how many more decades there will be for other things.

Most of all I’d like to acknowledge that it’s hard what she’s doing – seemingly not valued and not rewarded – but very important. I would like to give her a glimpse of the grown up product – show her the joy ahead – when they don’t need help to nap or ride bikes.

And wouldn’t my young self by surprised to see the granny with the baby of the bike rider!

New Potato Salad

One evening our older son, standing in for Mrs. Patmore, made a salad with newly arrived CSA potatoes. He used a Mark Bittman recipe from “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” – a potato salad not so much about mayonnaise. Bittman writes: “To me, the basic potato salad is made of just-boiled potatoes dressed in good mustard vinaigrette.”

This is Bittman’s mustard vinaigrette recipe (although you could surely use your favorite): in a blender combine half-cup of extra virgin olive oil, three tablespoons good wine vinegar, a teaspoon of good mustard, salt, and freshly ground black pepper – a “creamy emulsion will form within 30 seconds.” Taste, and add vinegar till the balance is right to you. Add a large shallot cut into chunks (optional) to the blender. Turn on and off till the shallot is minced. Adjust salt and pepper.

Bittman uses a pound and a half of pretty much any potato (from new red to russet baking potatoes) cut into bite size pieces. Put them in a pan with water to cover, bring to a boil and lower heat. Cook until tender but firm – not mushy. Drain, rinse, and drain again.

Add a quarter-cup of minced onion (scallion, red or yellow) and half-cup minced parsley to the potatoes. Combine the cooked potatoes with the vinaigrette – it’s important to do this while the potatoes are warm so the vinaigrette is absorbed. Ideally, Bittman says, serve at room temperature, but at Downtown Abbey it was still warm and so good.

I made this back home, and followed Bittman’s recommendation for when you are in a hurry: just whisk the vinaigrette together in a bowl and add the cooked potatoes. By mistake I left out the mustard (by reading the plain vinaigrette recipe) – never mind, still good and reason to make again and add mustard.

With new potatoes appearing soon, this is easy, delicious – and timely!

“Print Workshop” and the Lady Baby

Lady Baby just marked her six-month birthday. On our June visit, she used her hands with concentrated effort to manipulate what she’s picked up or been handed. She rotates each object (anything new and safe I can think of – my little alarm clock, the red “Keep Calm” water bottle, a zipped up toiletries bag) and studies all sides.

Using voices high-pitched or low, we ask her how big are you?? Then answer ourselves with arms stretched wide: SOOOOooo Big!! (of course). When a friend of ours, but a new person to Lady Baby, told her she looked so big, she broke into a big grin – ah yes, I’ve heard that before!

Textures matter – a rough cotton bedspread, a rustley rain jacket, Lady Megan’s fur coat, the bathroom sink faucet. At first I held my arms around her while she sat on the edge, her bare feet in the sink – with just a little drip of water and a shiny faucet to pat. Then her mother suggested a little water in the sink might be fun. We rolled up her pant legs and proceeded to “pool party.” Lady Baby pedals her feet in the water, giggles, and then looks at me in the mirror in confirmation of the fun of it all.

On a beautiful Saturday, everyone was busy with tasks: Mr. Carson scraped and sanded the front porch in painting prep, Mrs. Hughes finished a pillow for the kitchen nook in her workroom, a member of the senior staff mowed the lawn.

Upstairs in the quiet, Lady Baby slept against me. Sunlight filtered through muslin curtains, I could hear birds, the clickety-clack of the push mower, and Lord Cromwell purring at my side – a fine setting for a good long nap.

And during it, I read almost all of Christine Schmidt’s “Print Workshop: Hand Printing Techniques – Truly Original Projects,” a book belonging to Lady Baby’s mother. Schmidt’s approach is relaxed, very much a “make-do with what you have” guide for the home printer. Regardless of method, the prints have a rustic quality: “uneven, imperfect, just right.”

Schmidt’s accompanying drawings illustrate the tools and techniques she introduces, and I liked reading her supply lists. Not complicated, but including things unfamiliar to me – a way to make a big stamp pad out of felt, something called a “rubber block” which looks a lot easier to carve than linoleum or wood (though she writes about those also). Schmidt describes embroidery as “drawing with thread” – and teaches how to transfer a design to embroider – using printing.

It’s inspiring – makes you badly want to stamp or print something – a summer read to encourage fall projects (never too early to prepare now that the summer solstice has been and gone). Maybe it is time to revisit the fun of printing and learn something new!