Opening this Friday evening, November 1st, Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, the gallery where I show my work, will host “Tea Party” – a multi-media exhibition. I was invited to participate early last summer, and my “Twenty-Five Teacups” will be at the party.
Because I love everything about tea – the warmth, the lift, the comfort – and the cups – whether reaching for a favorite at home or choosing from a good grouping at a friend’s house, I was excited right away to be included.
All spring I’d been thinking about pattern and the Souleaido squares were still on my worktable, so I began there, settling on a grid of twenty-five squares, composed of two patterns (wallpaper and tablecloth) and a teacup (mug or cup and saucer, each has its time). I adapted some of the fabric squares and had fun searching for other inspiration to make up backgrounds (learning a lot about the little motifs used in patterns for centuries).
I rearranged repeatedly (my painter friend encouraged my keeping on through many photo texts). I enjoyed manipulating the color, shape, and stylized flowers in the patterns. Then, with all the backgrounds and cup silhouettes complete, I decorated the cups with more recognizable flower species – from this summer’s garden, from my morning walk, and from my old work.
The squares are small (5½” x 5½”), on heavy Fabriano paper. The gallery plans to hang them unframed in a grid (attached by tiny, powerful magnets), and price them at $65.00.
I will post all 25 teacups for a while here on “Her spirits rose…,” beginning with “Teacup Seventeen” (Helenium) – orange flowers for this Hallowe’en week!
50 Years! My good-natured (the explanation for this longevity) husband and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary in California last week. I still can’t grapple with that number, but it was fun to mark it with the SoCal branch of the family.
From their house we drove north to a rented house in Montecito, (right near Santa Barbara) for three days. Cars and people a plenty, but the beach is perfect – white sand, hard-packed by the water and fine for walking. We picnicked on the beach, watched Sweet Baby love holding on to her dad’s shoulders as he caught waves near shore on a boogie board, walked along Butterfly Beach and goggled at the mansion built by the emperor of Beanie Babies, visited Ganna Walska’s Lotusland (built over decades with an astounding collection of tropical and sub-tropical plants, some 20 different gardens filled with stories of horticulture and history, never just one of anything but mass plantings of giant trees), played a lot of UNO and JENGA, and ate a celebratory meal at a Montecito restaurant (featuring fantastic plant-based food) to mark the actual event.
We laughed a lot about that blustery day 50 years ago, when we married in a cabin on Kenai Lake in Alaska – and I thought about how lucky I’ve been and how grateful I am.
Most often these days Sweet Baby draws mermaids – complicated aquatic creatures with elaborate clothing, curls, and crowns crowded onto a page – but she took time out to draw us on our special day in 1969!
In the midst of a week when governments fiddled while the Amazon burned, and continual bad and crazy presidential behavior bludgeoned us, I received a welcome letter from Sweet Baby in the mail. It contained a penline and crayon portrait of me (she says) with long curly hair, a rainbow-skirted dress (with a tiny bow), an apple in a green tree, and a heart for love. Spirits rose!
If you have only two days for a visit with important people, you pack in all the favorite activities. So, no “Borrowed Flowers” today, because I keep thinking about Sweet Baby and her cousins and our time with them.
At ages seven, four, and two, abilities and interests vary, but affections seem of a kind. Elaborate train track set-ups interested all, and provided agility training for the grandparents with tracks and cars and engines scattered about. In a melding of super heroes and princesses, the three play well together (until they don’t, as Mrs. Hughes once said).
Little presents for the visit need to be equal in number and significance. This time, a book for each from Cynthia Rylant’s “Mr. Putter and Tabby” series (neither Tabby nor Mr. Putter have been cute or peppy for a very long time), worked, and led to many readings. Late on Saturday afternoon when Downtown Abbey became the “The Napping House,” Lady B and I sat at the kitchen table, and she, starting with Tabby, drew the characters from the books, while updating me on her life.
During dark times this winter I wondered if I’d ever walk in the mountains again. But, the road into Powerline Pass where we camped over night last summer, provides an easy way into a grand mountain valley for Baby Brother and his granny.
Encouraged by the fleet-footed girls, he determinedly walked the whole way! Whatever her older cousin does, Sweet Baby attempts. When they tiptoed out a fat log into a puddle and neared the end, she asked “Now what do we do?” before gamely splashing down in the leap from log to land.
An inbound hiker told Uncle Tutu that he’d seen a black bear cross the trail an hour earlier, so we walked a mile singing, “no bears, no bears, no bears today” and sat on the flank of Flattop Mountain in a patch of bearberry, to eat our sandwiches and peanut butter cookies. The cousins played in tunnels formed by the “gimme shelter” trees (black spruce bent and gnarled by the wind).
Walking out, luckily before spirits flagged, I remembered “Simon Says” – “take ten steps and do the hula” or “take 19 steps doing the skaters Granny Katy’s physical therapist taught her.” At the uphill just before the parking lot, Lady B took charge: “Simon says run up the hill!”
At breakfast each morning, Mr. Carson is doing a wonderful thing with his children. I didn’t ever get to ask him how or why this came about, but they work on their “lines” (from a Shakespeare play), now “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I nearly teared up listening to Baby Brother and Lady B recite lines from Oberon’s speech with such a sense of fun:
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
I loved it – and learned from them about oxlips (a primula found where cattle and oxen graze) and eglantine (wild roses! I never knew). Later that day, when we walked through the Alaska Botanical Garden, the three ran circles around the beds in the Herb Garden until Lady B came to an abrupt stop and shouted: “I found thyme!”
Oh, and another thing, Lady B opened that door to the world’s knowledge, adventure, and pleasure and has become an able reader. When I asked her if it felt like magic, she agreed with a firm nod of her head.
I’m beyond grateful to the surgeon and the physical therapists for putting my knee together to allow more shared experience with these children. When we got home, on a FaceTime call to check in, Baby Brother greeted us with a grin, saying: “Hello Mr. Poppa Jammy! and hello Mr. Granny Katy!”
When an AAA tow truck driver named Geno came here last spring to charge a car battery, I asked him if he thought we could transport the Buffalito on a flatbed tow truck. (Our cabinet builder friend built the Buffalito in 2008, and I wrote about how it came to be here). Geno kicked the tires, looked underneath at the truck chassis, and said yes.
So, on a Saturday evening in early September, Geno came with a regular tow truck and pulled the Buffalito out the driveway to the main road. Early the next morning we walked down to watch him carefully position the Buffalito by the huge flatbed, slowly winch it up, and attach it securely with chains.
It was a sweet sight – early on a quiet Sunday morning – that small yellow caravan up high on the no-nonsense tow truck, heading down the road to a new home.
I had such bittersweet feelings – I loved the process of creating the Buffalito with our cabinet builder and have enjoyed the sight of it every day by a garden along our driveway. But times change, and it’s gone to a really happy home – a sunny spot at our young friend and her parents’ house on Bainbridge. They welcomed it by washing and ironing the curtains and giving it a thorough vacuuming.
Positioned just near the deck off their living room – someone reading or sleeping on the Buffalito’s bed or working at its little table could easily nip into the house. My young friend’s mom said it cheered her to see it from inside, adding “it will be used,” and that Lady Baby, Sweet Baby, and Baby Brother have anytime visiting privileges.
It’s an ongoing miracle to me that my young friend and her family live now on Bainbridge. She’s in Scotland studying languages at St. Andrews University, but will be back for the holidays.
And in the winter darkness, maybe a lamp will glow through the Buffalito’s windows to welcome her home.
Lately I’ve been longing for another Ferrante or Knausgaard experience, that long abandonment of present to the narrative world. A hefty and engrossing biography, Georgina Howell’s “Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations,” satisfied.
Born in 1868 into a wealthy family from the north of England and one of the first women educated at Oxford, Bell – mountain climber, explorer, historian, archaeologist, writer, linguist – became one of those redoubtable English women of the 19th Century who broke with convention. The Victorian era began to crumble in her lifetime, spurred in part by women who, in spite of still wearing long, tiny-waisted dresses and big hats, began to agitate for education and freedom from male supervision.
Bell’s greatest renown comes from her journeys in Arabia, adventurous by any measure as she crossed empty deserts, explored ancient historical sites, and got to know chieftains of nomadic tribes. Her travels ring with names now sadly familiar in a modern context.
Because of her deep knowledge of the Middle East, Bell took part in the historic negotiations after World War I and the end of the Ottoman Empire, which imposed borders on ancient peoples and lands (a contribution not without controversy). Part of the fascination of the book is to read now about a time before these nation states.
To people back in England Bell probably seemed just a spinster, but Howell uses Bell’s rich letters to weave into her story the two, ultimately sad, but passionate romances of Bell’s life.
We travel so lightly nowadays with our easy outfits, roller bags, and airplanes – the two-page listing of what Bell took on one of her expeditions boggles the mind. Howell writes of a 1913 expedition: “She would take plenty of luggage this time and be ready for anything. First, there were her two English-made tents, one for bathing and sleeping in, one for eating and writing, both with a loose flap that could be tied back, laced shut, or used as a shady canopy. She ordered more of the skirts that she had designed with her tailor for riding horses in the Middle East: neither side-saddle habit nor breeches, but an ankle-length divided skirt with an apron panel. In the saddle, she would sweep this backward and gather the surplus material behind her and to one side, where it looked in profile like a bustle. When she dismounted, the panel fell around her like an apron and concealed the division. She bought lace and tucked-lawn evening gowns for dinners with consuls and sheikhs, for sitting at a dining-table at an embassy or cross-legged on a carpet in a tent.”
There’s more, lots more on her list, from a caseful of shoes and boots, candlesticks and linen sheets to a crate of revolvers.
What a life she lived – and what a great pleasure to read Howell’s book about it.