“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.” — Oscar Wilde

I have a new man in my life. He treats me like I am the kindest, most fun, person on earth. He wakes me early in the morning, at first gently touching my face, then with more passion, rubbing his cheek next to my own. He sits next to me while watching TV, reaching over to touch my arm tenderly.

I have nursed him through a nasty cold, making his favorite foods, and massaging his neck tenderly. I have put up with his utter contempt for riding in the car with me, only to get a gentle kiss when at last we reach our destination.

Ours is a new love, and it has all of that energy that new love brings. We can’t wait to see each other when we are separated. We take naps together, and check on each other when one has been away for a bit.  We both are somehow aware of how lucky we are to have each other, though I am older (by a lot), and perhaps more educated in the ways of the world.

His name is Kashmir Hastings, (named after the great Led Zeppelin song, and Hercule Poirot’s trusted companion), and I had the honor of adopting him from the Animal Humane Society.  From the moment I saw him in an ad from the shelter advising that he was found along a highway as a stray (where were you?) and visited him in the shelter, and waited out the time for a health check (URI, hernia repair, neutering), and finally (!), taking him home, I knew that we were meant to be companions.

It has been several months now since we have lived together, and we have adjusted to each other’s presence.  My Fur Baby (as he is often called) sits in a chair near the entry waiting to greet me when I return from anywhere.  He has learned to fetch and return a ball, play silly games, and sit alongside my easel and watch me paint (critic). I swear that I know him from somewhere, though I don’t know where or how.  What I do know is that he is a gift, a treasure, and that he has learned to trust that I have his back, so to speak. Adoption from a shelter is a wonderful option if you have a little or a large space in your heart. You just might find, as I have, that special someone, who you have been searching for, is right there, waiting for you.

Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream

I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been

“Kashmir” lyrics – Led Zeppelin 1973

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Create Something Beautiful!

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I finished a painting (24″ x 36″ on hardboard) this week (shown) and started another. I love to paint, but I also like to make things – nearly anything – doll houses, bird houses, cookies, cakes, costumes, the list goes on and on. When I was a child, I climbed trees with markers in hand and drew on the bark, (no, trees were hurt in the making of art) or made boats out of large cucumbers from my mom’s garden and tried to sail them down the river. I made mud pies with children’s pans, and left them in the sun to dry. They were decorated with dandelions and grass cuttings when popped out of the pans. (Could that have been the start of this? https://crowrivernorthceramics.wordpress.com/).

Because spring has sprung, I also am inclined to organize and refresh my home. Yes, I am that person who moves furniture, exchanges accessories seasonally, and can’t wait to plant seeds and watch them grow.  It snowed yesterday and I took the opportunity of a dreary, overcast day to create something of beauty. It doesn’t really matter whether that is knitting a scarf, baking cookies, (Yes, they were sugar cookies) or setting the table with your best table service, (even if it is just you eating on them). I think that when your intent is beautiful, beauty results. So, go create something beautiful today!

Zinnia

Zinnia/Linda L. Brobeck
Zinnia/Linda L. Brobeck

My mother loved to garden. She spent most of her time outdoors – a Swedish, blonde, fair skinned, woman who freckled and burned year after year – her house merely a place she slept , so that she could return outside again the next day. She could grow anything – we once had a huge bird of paradise plant that got so big that it took up our entire porch. People told her that they were tropical outdoor plants, impossible to grow inside or in cold climates. She’d listen; smile, and nod – like she was actually listening to their advice – and then she would go home to defy their textbook logic. There were ferns so big that they appeared almost exotic. There was the year that she brought back avocado pits from a California trip (avocados weren’t readily available in northern stores at that time). She grew avocado trees so high that they bent over in the hallway beneath the 10′ ceiling. She gave those to a school when at last she gave up on houseplants and went to Arizona for the winters.

Though my mother could grow houseplants, she preferred to garden outdoors. And garden she did. She planted everything that she could think of, trees, shrubs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. My mother had a huge garden with peas, beans, potatoes, beets, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, watermelons, strawberries, and dill. She was particularly proud of her cucumbers and strawberries. As a child, I hated being told to go weed the garden. I had allergies, couldn’t tolerate heat or humidity, hated bugs, and could think of a million things that I would rather be doing. If I knew that she was heading to the garden, I would find a paperback, climb a tree to sit high in the branches to read, or go the woods, where it was shaded and cool and poke around stuff with branches that had fallen or broken off. I was a garden deserter, always AWOL.

My mother would can at least 30 or more quarts of dill pickles each year and always set the table with a dish of pickles. Sometimes there were pickled beets. One year she left me in charge of the beets, which were cooking in a pressure cooker, while she went outside for something. I probably watched it for a couple of seconds before drifting off to read a book or daydream about something. At some point in my absence, the cooker started hissing, and I returned to the kitchen to consider what was happening. I didn’t consider for long before beets covered the kitchen ceiling, floor, and everything else in the room, including me. It is pretty hard to make up an excuse when covered in purple beets. I got out of pulling weeds that day by cleaning every surface of the kitchen. My hands were purplish red for days.

I could say that I inherited my mother’s green thumb, but that wouldn’t be truthful. I never really asked my mother why she planted. I thought it was because it was a way to economize, but that wouldn’t have explained all of the flowers. Perhaps she planted for some of the same reasons that I do. I’ll never know the answer. I love to witness the seeds as they sprout up, leaves unfurling, gaining height and strength, until they explode in a riot of colors. I have always found a space to plant – whether it was in an apartment window or a hillside covered in lilies or irises. There was the house that was always in shade where I cultivated a variety of hostas – divided them yearly -until they covered an entire hill behind the house. There are the dahlias that lived year after year with careful placement of wintered over bulbs, until one too mild winter when they molded. Then there are the zinnia and marigolds that cover increasingly larger areas each summer. I love the oranges and yellows of the marigolds, but don’t like the smell. Luckily for me, critters don’t like the smell either; so many other flower varieties are surrounded by them to keep them from becoming a snack for the wildlife. This brings me to the zinnias. I have multiple kinds of zinnias – though I can’t tell you their names. Every year, I plant bags of seeds, collected from the year prior, and watch them grow tall and strong. They bloom well into fall. Sometimes, I find old sheets or tablecloths to cover them, when the weather forecast is for frost. Finally, when there is no longer a chance to keep them blooming, or I tire of the daily ritual of covering and uncovering them, I let them go. When they are done blooming, and the lovely colors have turned brown, and the plants become dry, I pick the seeds apart, flower by flower, until I have gathered paper bags of seeds. When I have finished picking the seeds, I pull the plants from the ground to compost. There is a sense of emptiness – to see the place where the colors once were beacons for butterflies and bees – now dry, with the darkness of soil and fallen leaves. But there is beauty in that also. The turning of the seasons reminds me of the cycles of life, and the wonderment that occurs year after year, of rebirth and renewal.

I will never love bugs, heat, or humidity, so I’ll probably never plant a vegetable garden. I have planted herbs and lettuces in planters, but I would prefer going to the Farmer’s Market. I plant many other things and love to watch them grow and bloom.It is, perhaps the mother in me, the nurturer, the creator. I have spent years creating; my hands in clay, or covered in paint, hands in soil planting seeds or roots in the earth and watching the life cycle of all. I have never felt closer to God, as the Creator, then when I am in that creative, nurturing mode.

This spring I will get out my bags of seeds and plant again. I will, I am certain, feel the divine within me. The earth will turn, flowers will sprout and bloom and life will be renewed. Perhaps for a moment, I will see my mother, sunburned and silent, watching over the new life that has sprung from the earth. My mother and I are certainly unique in our journey and purpose, but perhaps more alike than different in our humanness.

Empty or Still?

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A new friend, after viewing some of my paintings, asked me about the stillness, or emptiness, he saw in some of my work. The question struck me as important – worthy of a detailed response. I could have answered him with language that I learned in graduate school. There could be an argument made for the eyes needing a resting space – not unlike placing an item in a room to ground it, or a space in a building design in which one could feel less overwhelmed by scale or detail. I could point out how overwhelming it is to the senses to have every space filled with something (horror vacui) – like viewing a Gaudí in Spain, or entering someone’s home that has an extensive collection of something, spread to every room, and available space, in the house. But no, that would be the easy answer.

I often say that my paintings are an expression of my emotion made visible. It would be more accurate to say that the emotion, visually expressed, is a result of honoring the stream of consciousness that a personal story or memory, present or past, entails. I meditate, and have learned to acknowledge the passing thought and return to my breath. My painting is a different sort of meditation – with the stream of consciousness, the breath. Occasionally, I title the paintings to reflect the emotion captured, and sometimes a single word, encourages the work to be viewed in the light of the word. The title may even deflect the curiosity of the viewer seeking to know what the painting means in terms of my personal story. Certainly, something in the painting is a reflection of my inner life, but I could not, would not care to, explain what background, what context, that emotion rose from.

I meet many people. I not only like people, but am curious about them. I want to hear their stories; I want to understand how other people perceive the world around them. I want to comprehend how viewpoints which are not my own, fit into my belief system. It is in meeting people, getting to know them, beginning to sense who they are, that relationships are built. I have come to love many people for their perceptions, energy, or quirks, and some of them have greatly influenced my life, and my art.

Like most people, I have experienced life in its full spectrum of emotion. I have had great joy, hardship, accomplishment, sadness, love, loneliness, and loss, to name but a few. Those emotions are the basis for my stories, they are, to paraphrase Joan Didion, stories I tell myself in order to live. I’m told that people sense my inner life in my outer presence. Some of those people are around me often, some occasionally, and some are gone, or moved on. Perhaps they look into my eyes and see my soul. Perhaps they want to stay there, the observer, wanting to gain whatever wisdom, silliness, laughter, or peace they find there. Perhaps they leave, because it is too painful to look into my eyes and see the sadness, the failures, the opportunities that went unfulfilled, or the soul mates lost. If they are perceptive, they realize what they are seeing is their own reflection.

So it is with my painting. I could create a story to explain the painting – some elaborate jargon written in art-speak. I could tell you what emotions were running wild in my imagination as I painted. I could tell you about the sensations – the taste, smell, touch – that I sensed as I painted. But it would still not reflect the entirety of the story, it would lack the nuance of the childhood scraped knee, the touch of a grandmother, the fear from an assault, the joy of the baby held close, the tenderness of an awaited kiss. How we view anything is determined by everything that went before. That experience is not replicated in another. We each are unique, and in some ways, alone, in all of our revelations.

So I would ask my friend, in looking at the paintings, did you see my emptiness, stillness, or did you feel empty or still?

The Zen of Dishwashing

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I grew up in a house that did not have a dishwasher. It was my chore to wash dishes after dinner. Sometimes I resented not being able to run from the table and start school work or watch TV, but mostly, I felt it was just part of daily existence. I had a portable record player and must have listened to Joni Mitchell’s Blue a thousand times as I washed and dried dishes.

I left that house at seventeen, went to college two thousand miles from home, had a family, and lived in a variety of residences throughout the United States- apartments, condo, townhouse, and houses – all with dishwashers. My children never had to wash dishes after any meal as the microwave, iPod, computers, and dishwasher were just part of their daily existence.

A few years ago, after decades of living with modern household electronics, I moved to an old house, without gadgets. My renovation started with the necessities – a new septic system and heat pump – but when it came time to redo the kitchen, I hesitated. I loved the mellow wood floors that I found beneath the linoleum flooring and the green glass knobs on the old floor to ceiling cabinets. I bought a new stove and refrigerator but when it came time to redo plumbing, I chose to forego a dishwasher. The dishwasher would have taken up valuable real estate in the old farm kitchen, my children were grown, and I figured it wasn’t a big deal to wash a few dishes.

Now, I wash dishes every day. The window above the sink faces west toward the river overseeing birdhouses that attract a variety of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and even deer. Washing the dishes provides an opportunity to watch the antics of aggressive blue jays, or the comical woodpecker hanging upside down. If it is late in the day, I watch the sunset over the river and hills, creating a backdrop of beautiful colors. I witness the changing of the seasons, the position of the sun as it sets each day. At this time of year, I feel the warm, sudsy water caress my cold hands, the dish cloth gliding over the smoothness of plates, the rough landscape of food stuck on dishes. It is a sensual experience to feel the soap, the water, the sleek glimmer of clean glass, smell of the soap, the sound of dishes clanging and the floor creaking as my body weight shifts on the old floors. It is a dance of the senses, of body and mind in togetherness.

Every so often, as I did last evening, when darkness came early, I pull out my old iPod, attach some speakers, and listen to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, as she sings River:
It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

It is indeed coming on Christmas – I have skates and a river that I could skate away on – but now I also have a sense of stillness, as a million stars illuminate the night sky, of calmness, peace. There is in this moment a connection with God, with the silence that allows us to touch souls, and an understanding that we can, in stillness and intention, find ourselves in very ordinary acts.