Let it Snow!

     That would be a rare December event in Washington, but snow comes in other forms. Last week I moved a large painting to hang years of our cards pinned to ribbons – homemade and very imperfect. They trace decades with images of houses, children, pets, hikes, travels, and Christmas joys.

     And now two more rows – cards from our sons’ families fill out the wall, and those reduced me to tears, never far away these days. Not just for missing my family but for all the pain in the nation. (I’m with Bernie Sanders in his support for both direct payments to people, unemployment relief, and help to state and local governments. Now.)

Something slow motion haunts this month for me – time unstructured by longstanding traditions – years of going to Alaska in the early part of the month for real snow, and then later, the Californians coming. But not this COVID year.

     The Christmas cards arrive though, maybe earlier than usual – the first one in October. I welcome hearing from faraway friends and love to see the holiday images on their cards – often including snow. One year I managed that on our card.

     My drawing was made up, but this year Mrs. Hughes sent a real photo deserving “best of snow scenes,” showing the house she festooned with many white lights along the eves, glowing against bluish snow on rooftops and trees. With a lighted garland draping the snowy fence, the old red house has never looked better!

     Talking to Lady B about snow a couple of weeks ago, I reminded her (I can still do this with Lady B, her father cringes when I start in on a memory of his childhood) of the time we sat in her dining nook staring out the window and calling out for snow – and then watched amazed as solitary flakes begin to fall. The conversation moved on, but she began to draw and made the most wonderful image:

My old friend reads to her grandsons on FaceTime and inspired me to try. It’s not the same – awkward to hold the phone to show the image and still read the page – not like a real cuddle by the Christmas tree with books. But needs must, and as Sweet B said: “I love to read these books – again and again.” A benefit to reading electronically is the chance for a one-on-one conversation on the side.

     Like the cards, many of the best holiday books feature snow scenes, specially falling snow. We’ve already read “Santa’s Snow Cat” several times, a beautifully illustrated tale of Santa’s white cat who falls from the sleigh through swirling snow. (It ends happily.)

     Sweet B suggested some ways to do it, when we talked about the difficulty of painting snow scenes, promised she would try when we hung up. Then I remembered that she already painted a snow scene with her dad when they made the beloved mural on our garage wall this summer:


 And we opened a card from young friends with a terrific photo of their so cute, ruddy-cheeked toddler in a snow suit and a message inside:

“For every dark night, there is a brighter day.”

Thanksgiving in the Year of COVID-19

     Traditionally we split holidays with the Alaska grandparents. We do Thanksgiving, so this week would ordinarily bring feverish grocery shopping, planning and cooking for meals beyond turkey day, bed making, toy arranging, and ferry schedule coordinating. I love arrivals – that blissful moment of sighting one family or the other in the festive crowd disembarking the ferry – I’ll miss that.

     And the little moments, when easy companionship happens amid holiday bustle, will be absent this year – making pies or reading books with children, a chance for an extra walk at evening with a willing son, laughing with Sweet B’s parents while wrestling the bird and trimmings, Mr. Carson arriving with a platter of colorful roasted vegetables, and last year, a poolside chat with Mrs. Hughes while kids squealed in the water. This distanced holiday provides no opportunity to plop down and annoy a visiting grownup child sitting quietly by the fire with his book. And the isolation of 2020 presents a real void when the video call ends, and the rest of the weekend looms.

     But I think we can make that call and meal together celebratory – if not like the old days. As my old friend, who lives here and is a psychologist, would say I’ve been “somewhat directive” (seems a polite and professional term for bossy) – asking that the Zoom meeting be set up, suggesting maybe we could do vegan meals, sending boxes north and south to the grandchildren that contained possible table decorations (shopping in my linen drawers and realizing the chances were slim of 16 people at a big table again), candles (can you have a candlelit meal on Zoom?), and paperwhite bulbs for December.

I loved the N.Y. Times’s Style Editor, Vanessa Friedman’s, recent Open Thread Newsletter. She intends to dress up for the electronic event, and writes: “When the news around us gets worse and worse, dressing is a way to use the external to find a note of grace for the internal. That’s worth a bit of celebration.”

 The “thankfuls” of the children around the table are always the best, and I’m curious to see what they make of this year. Sweet Brother won’t speak out, but his birth at top of mind. The young parents always warm my heart with their love for each other and their children. I’m hoping for a better performance than in the past, when I have mostly grown tearful and inarticulate. When the video goes dark, I’ll be glad the families are cozy together in their foursomes. And from this reimagined Thanksgiving, we get safety and the hope that next year we will be together again. Not small things.

     And there is still much to be grateful for – health, those connection-saving video platforms(!), vaccines coming, state officials standing up to the president’s despicable attack on democracy, and a new administration!

And I add a heartfelt thank you dear readers. I have much gratitude for all of you – your comments and caring keep me going. I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving in this temporary incarnation!

“Hamilton” Redeems July Fourth in the Time of COVID-19

Probably I should drop the “…in the time of” business, because it’s all COVID time – our reality in perpetuity. Only the degree of infection changes – and it roars again now.

And didn’t the celebration of the nation’s birthday seem like a party that wasn’t, like an ill-behaved child’s birthday party cancelled, or maybe this is also apt, the child got sick? At least that was my Fourth of July. Only the president seemed to spend it in his alternate universe where a lethal virus and heartfelt protests don’t coexist, where he is threatened by all of us wearing masks and wanting fairness and health – frenzied hoards in his selfish, petty mind.

Gloomy weather and gloomy spirits on Saturday – until the evening, when we joined Disney, and, with millions of Americans watched the unparalleled, “Hamilton,” on television. What a gift from the creator, Lin Manuel Miranda. Oh, I know he’s already made a fortune, but watching all those performers – the dancing, the singing, the stage, the lighting, the humanity of the show – that should earn buckets of money.

And anyway, Miranda has now given it to us (for $6.95) – to watch and absorb how inexhaustibly creative it is – so clever, so witty and wise. And beautiful, and joyful, and tragic. It rewards multiple viewings (on top of all our listening to the soundtrack).

When I saw “Hamilton” two years ago (a lifetime ago), I kept thinking of the line, “immigrants get the job done!” (Even more true now in the time of essential workers.) This time I saw the inequities built into the whole American endeavor from the beginning. And registered, as the new Americans begin to create a nation (mocked by the glorious King George), the partisan fighting, the negotiating, the compromises.

On television it’s more personal, but it lacks the electricity of real people making this happen in front of a live audience (remember those times, sitting close to strangers!). But filmed during a performance in the early days on Broadway – now we get closeups of faces, beautiful Phillipa Soo as Eliza, singing her heart out in joy and grief, Miranda himself as Hamilton, expressive face alight. I would never have imagined it could be so luminously transferred to the screen – preserving the magic for all to see.

Firecrackers boomed across our island as we watched, and I finally felt slightly celebratory – for the creativity of Americans, for Black Lives Matter protesters (along with pain that this is still necessary on this 244th birthday). And maybe a glimmer of hope that we won’t “give up our shot!”

A Couple of Images from Christmas Just Passed

The Alaskans’ Christmas card was the cleverest ever! The back shows a smiling snapshot of Lady B and Baby Brother, but on the front is a drawing made one night at dinner by Lady B and depicting, as her mom said, “her parents – besotted with their children and absolutely exhausted.”

It arrived while Sweet Baby was here for the holiday (and such a good holiday!). The second she saw the card, Sweet Baby sat down (for a good long time), inspired by her cousin to draw a large and colorful version of her aunt and uncle and their house with a wreath on the door!

It’s winter break time — time to recharge on dark days (although today we have sunshine and I can see tulip and daffodil starts in the garden)! The blog starts its 11th year (!), but I’ll be back I think.

Thanks so much for reading – may your new year be off to a fine start!

Frances I, II, and III

Surrounded by sorting and packing chaos, three stuffed replicas of Frances sit on my worktable. They seem less disturbed by the activity than the real Frances would have been.

Each has a red felt heart on its back side, embroidered with the initials of Lady Baby, Sweet Baby, or Baby Brother. Soon I’ll pack up the stuffies to mail, along with a little note explaining that Frances is gone. She wasn’t friendly to the children, but she was important.

Each Frances is slightly different and wrong in its own way. They looked like her in the paper pattern, but lost resemblance in the stuffing. Little muslin bags of beans weigh them down, so they sit easily, but their floss whiskers sag, and they look disapproving and slightly strange – not cuddly (maybe that’s lifelike). I tell myself the imperfections matter less than their existence.

I’m leery of that impulse, said to grow stronger as we age, to let ideas die, to fail to push against resistance and stalling and overcome inertia. Making these three became important to me as a memorial – the figuring out and stitching were an occasional escape from the tasks at hand, the handwork therapeutic – but also as proof of follow through (at least this time).

The trio stares at me – or past me – multiple reminders of Frances and of making. I like to think of them joining the other beloved stuffed animals with names and history – but I’ll miss them!

 

Chance Encounters and Maira Kalman

Lately I’ve kept Maira Kalman’s “The Principles of Uncertainty” propped open next to my computer, a place for my eyes to go while waiting for the printer to print or the scanner to scan. I turn the page each day, looking for “the eternal pleasure of chance encounters,” as Kalman would say.

An entry I came upon right after writing about Andie seemed perfect: dated July 5, 2006, Kalman writes (though it looks better in her irregular handwriting than in text): “My dream is to walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials neatly in place. A camera. A notebook. A traveling paint set. A hat. Good shoes. A nice pleated (green) skirt for the occasional seaside hotel afternoon dance.”

Then I listened to this podcast – what a treat:

https://onbeing.org/programs/maira-kalman-the-normal-daily-things-we-fall-in-love-with-sep2017/

And Kalman’s “nice pleated (green) skirt,” and general fondness for objects, put me in mind of a certain twirly skirt.

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A New Header And An Old Friend

Finally “Her spirits rose…” has a new header – the banner at the top – one of several variations I made thanks to my friend who paints in the woods, Andie Thrams.

Last summer Andie, (www.andiethrams.com), came to stay in the Buffalo for a lovely long time. We have known each other since the night 20 years ago we met as strangers in the Anchorage airport for a midnight flight back East. We’d been linked by a mutual friend, who thought we would get along (being flower painters), and an invitation to attend a retreat for people “who keep field journals in their work.”

We share a love of watercolor – and the making of handmade books. Andie introduced me to Vamp and Tramp, those traveling purveyors of artists’ books who represent her ongoing series, “In Forests,” beautiful accordion-fold hand bound books, illuminated by paintings and words. Most of these now reside in collections of libraries and universities around the country.

Andie paints the pages of her books while seated on a little pad on the forest floor. She hikes or kayaks into wild places, carrying her art supplies in a backpack – brushes, watercolors, long sheets of paper, and easel – and immerses herself to paint. The press of development, the wildfires and bark beetle of climate change threaten her studio spaces, making observing and recording these woodland parts of the natural world ever more urgent.

Giant firs, cedars, sequoias, coastal redwoods (she has a long list of beloved trees) and their understory of berries, ferns, and fungi can be overwhelming to paint. But Andie captures the changing greens of season, the glowing light through forest canopy, and enough individual form to make species recognizable. Most days here, she headed into our nearby woods – or ranged further and longer to the old growth of the Hoh Rainforest.

Toward the end of her stay, before she went to kayak with her husband on the fjords of Vancouver Island for two weeks, we sat at my computer, and she attempted to bring my meager Photoshop skills up a level. She tried not to lecture me about my faulty filing system – I can be slapdash about organizing; she is orderly and patient.

But I’ve kept it up, “lassoing” images and making future headers (including the one below in Andie’s honor – wildflowers I drew in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains).

Thanks, Andie, for computer tutorial, visit, and long friendship!

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Armchair Series – Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman often paints chairs, “Comfy Chair” depicts a warm-pink wingback with doilies, and she illustrated the book, “Lucky, Plucky Chairs” by Rolf Fehlbaum, told from the chairs’ point of view. From a Design*Sponge story I learned that Maira Kalman’s New York apartment has white slip-covered armchairs on a black and white rug, in a white room (except for art and treasured collections). Her exuberant paintings come from a tranquil, blank-canvas living space.

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Small, Simple Things

I regret my news consumption these days – responding to alerts on my phone with curiosity, dread, and some wild hope that things will change – a frustrating activity. What if I captured those moments?

Carl Richards, in a recent New York Times article, suggests how to “turn wishes into reality” instead of regrets. This sentence stuck out: “Small, simple things done consistently over a long time produce meaningful results.”

It seems to hold so much hope and possibility. A concept good for practical things – saving money, exercise, pulling popweed in the garden, and truly magic for creative work – the 15-minute freewrite, a drawing a day, a few rows knitted!

Having a self-assignment helps – an ongoing series like drawing teacups, flowers, house moments – assuring a place to start and asserting good pressure once begun. Lately I’ve realized that even the rabbit hole of Internet research on a personal project has far more benefit than incessant news viewing. (But still I struggle to resist.)

So I am writing this as a reminder, an encouragement – and to chastise myself. A short time consistently carved from the day might increase skill and will fill a drawer, a sketchbook, or a computer file. Whether those endeavors result in “meaningful results” or not, at least they don’t exacerbate anxiety – and do offer moments of absorption. Some of the best moments life offers.

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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!

wm-morris-bed

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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!

tiny-bird-1

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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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The Teacup Project I

I could title this an escape into teacups. Autumn always brings the appeal of a drawing project on the blog – a month of penline drawings or flowered objects from the V&A. This year, more than ever, I want to refocus my mind away from the incessant and scary election palaver.

So, sourced from the Internet’s byways, I offer a selection of teacup encounters, planning to share them till Tuesday the 8th. (And daily on Instagram.)

Rather than fretting about what’s next in my real work (or for the country), I’ve loved being absorbed in thoughts of these comforting objects, as I sit under the circle of my desk lamp with pen, watercolors, and tea to hand!

teacups-geo-wash

teacups-nesting-teacups

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