no postcards…

this is a long one…grab a cup of coffee and settle in… ~ Pat

beherenowthere were only 8 of us gathered in the dining room. We all introduced themselves and it turned out that one of the eight was the yoga teacher, one was the clay teacher and one was the director of the clay center.

The clay center was a dream…a huge, like polebarn type structure, that housed 20 wheels of varying kinds, pugmill, slab roller, extruder, electric kilns, numerous worktables…and there was LIGHT! Enormous sliding doors on each side of the barn that they would slide open, so that the whole structure was open to the air and light of the outdoors. A deck the length of the building on one side with tables and awnings overlooked the next building- a shelter over top of a large 3 chamber wood kiln, with wood stacked to dry along the open sides. Further down the hill on the property was another building- this housed the artists-in-residence at the facility, as well as the director’s office and the center’s library. This was all surrounded by the wood of Wisconsin…a gorgeous setting!

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the clay studio at Adamah…a potter’s heaven…

We did clay and yoga thru the next few days, yoga 4 or 5 times a day- each time with a different emphasis. We worked in the clay center when weren’t eating or sleeping or doing yoga. I learned that the other participants had never potted before and that my teacher had apprenticed for a well known potter in North Carolina for 2 years- so a wide variance in skill levels. I learned some things, relaxed, walked, explored, but mostly just breathed and tried to be present in each moment.

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a wonderful bistro called The Cook’s Room in downtown Dodgeville that had the greatest coffee in Wisconsin!

I had left myself 2 days to ‘bum’ at the conclusion of the retreat before I left Wisconsin to spend the 4th with family. I was told by the other retreat participants that there was an art fair in a neighboring town that I might want to check out. So off I went. The town was a tiny town. I wasn’t expecting much. >OMG< It was amazing!! It was the whole length of main street both sides and the work was juried. There was glass, and paintings, and quilts, and drawings, and prints, and mixed media, and fiber, and leather…and yes, there was pottery.

Lots of pottery! Nice handthrown pottery. I was walking back towards my car when I spied what looked like pottery by my all time favorite potter- Tony Winchester. Certain that someone was copying his work, I went in for a closer look. Oh hell yes! It WAS his stuff…and it was breathtaking. I was in awe…when the man himself came over and said ‘hi’. I was going to be so cool- none of this hero-worship stuff…after all, I was a potter too! And he was just a guy…right? Puts his pants on just like me…so when he said, “how are you today?”… all that came out of my mouth, in this strange deep garbled voice, was “I make pots.” I tried to fix it by saying that I admired him, but it was coming out in rushes of words…in the mental health world, we call it “slurred rambling pressured speech”… I bought 2 beautiful cups, and left the booth reluctantly. I almost turned around and went back to try to remedy my earlier gaff, but sadly realized that would appear stalker-like. I thought of emailing, but …really, Pat? Soothing myself by repeating “let it go…just let it go…” over and over, I made my way back to my car, clutching my 2 mugs.

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Me and Michaela sharing a moment on the 4th…do we look alike?

The next day I went to another small neighboring town called Mineral Point. What a beautiful town! It is filled with old old stone and brick buildings that have all been made into various shops and galleries. I walked up a street called High St, stopping in each shop and perusing. Johnston Gallery was exquisite- filled to the brim with a multitude of work! There was another shop that had a french name, and had a painting of pears on the sign. It was a double building with a fiber store on one side and an architectural salvage place on the other, just enchanting…in fact it was here that I found a framed chalkboard, with the words “be here now”. I also visited a gallery for potter Helen Story and painter Kate Bausch. Kate was there that day and we spent some time talking – she was one of the special people I met on my journey. I drove out to an old brewery that was a pottery and gallery- connected to Johnston Gallery. Tom Johnston visited with me, showed me the kiln and we talked pots for a bit.

As the sun set on my last day of bumming, I felt refreshed, and inspired. I knew that what had been missing from my life this past year was clay. I had no idea how much time I had been spending thinking and dreaming about clay when I wasn’t actually elbow deep in clay. It came to me that if I wasn’t making pots, I was firing or glazing or trimming or handling…that the cleaning of the studio before beginning a new cycle of work was a meditative activity to me…and that when I wasn’t in the studio, my mind was occupied with how to alter a glaze recipe, a new kiln design, a teapot I wanted to try to make. Being without a studio for a year was not just being without clay, it was taking a huge part of what I do, with my hands and with my creative mind, out of my life. So that was realization #1.

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Journi and I taking a selfie 🙂

Realization # 2 was that I can’t live in town. I have been trying to live in town, because I love historic houses…and there are a lot of them here…in town. But I am a country girl…raised in the country, and have lived outside of town most of my life, in one place or another. Being in the woods of Wisconsin made it clear that I need space to spread out, to build a wood kiln, to dream… so a hunt for a place outside of town, with an older house and an acre or two has commenced.I think of all I learned about myself on this journey…the people I met, the work I saw, the freedom and joy of traveling alone…and i know that just like the ragtag collection of tools I took with me, I am bringing home scattered memories of a place, a flash of thought, or an idea I had…they aren’t the standard vacation souvenirs, but I am not your typical traveler…

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Brave enough now

Written June 28 @ 7:30 am, right before I headed out the door…

claytoolsI am on vacation! I signed up for a Yoga and Clay Centering Retreat in the woods of Wisconsin.  It combines two of my favorite things, and I have spoken and written on ‘centering’ so it should be right ‘up my alley’.  A bit nervous…not about anything huge, mostly that my ‘yoga clothes’ will be like the other kids’ 🙂  Do we ever get over that?

They say to bring your clay tools and I looked them over as I put them into a ziplock.  A piece of fishing line with a nail tied onto each end, a kitchen knife, a needle, a cast off sponge, a sea shell, a chop stick, and some stamps that I made… I will look like a clay hobo, I think, but I used to have the slick new tools, right out of the catalog…and they didn’t suit me. The things that I am bringing are the things that have purpose for me and fit my hands and my aesthetic.  They may not look like ‘clay tools’ to others, but they are mine, trial and error, collected over the past 25 years of potting.

I have only been to something like this once before.  Going on vacation by myself, with nowhere to be at any set time, no one to satisfy by myself- it seems selfish in some ways, lonely in others.  In some ways, I am looking forward to wandering thru towns, looking at art, shopping in out of the way places, and buying one special piece of art.  I don’t like touristy places, or the attractions on the main roads. In other ways, i expect it will feel somewhat empty at times, having no one with me.  That’s OK, I like the quiet.  I have been known to drive across South Dakota, 6 hours straight with no radio, no music…just quiet (drives the girls crazy!).

A bit worried about being away from Grisham that long, but he has a “sitter” and I think he will be fine.

A year ago, not sure I would have been game for this adventure…but I think I can handle it now.

Grow, grow, grow…

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According to Penn State University, the theory that plants can actually benefit from humans talking to them was first published in a book from 1848, written by a German professor named Gustav Fechner. Since those early days, many more books have been written about the idea of plants responding to sound stimuli.” –

I gave my tomato plants a pep talk before i left for work this morning.

“This is your first day outside on your own! Take care of yourselves, stay in the sunshine when you can, enjoy the rain-even if its cold, it’s good for you. Rest and let your roots get used to your new space, spread out when you are ready…mostly just enjoy the day and grow.”

I provided the introductory quote above, just to show that I am coming from a place of research and science, a place of proven experimentation and success…when I tell you about my garden.

When I was a child, we had a huge (read “football field size”) garden. Millions of tomato, potato and cucumber plants, peas, beans and green peppers. It was hot, never-ending and dirty. I don’t think I appreciated the fresh vegetables, being a kid and all. It just seemed like it was one more thing on my chore list before I could “go to town”. I don’t remember another garden until the Mound City farm. And Dean was a fastidious gardener, still is. If you didn’t do things his way, he would rather do it himself. That was fine with me. I had childhood garden issues.

So here I am now, with this backyard at my awesome little house…I’m a vegetarian, so a garden would be a good pastime, I reasoned. Off I went to Menards to buy seeds! As I wandered the towering aisles in the “garden center”, I was stunned at how serious this seemed to be, there were bags of fertilizer, peat moss, bone meal, sprays, special tools..I mean, really…you put some seeds in the dirt, you put some tomato plants in there and call it good, right? I have never gardened solo, but how hard can it be?

I got my seeds, and picked out a half dozen tomato plants. Then I realized I would need a shovel, since I seem to lack a rototiller. And some gardening gloves…pretty green ones. Maybe some of those solar lawn lights…oh, look at these pretty paving stones…getting out of the garden center was harder than getting in.

I dug up a small plot of lawn in my yard, let it sit for a week for the grassy clumps to die. In the meantime, I watered my 6 tomato plants and set them by the window in the kitchen.

Yesterday, during the short break from the rain, I took my plants outside. I then remembered a lady from my yoga class said that tomatoes grow better if there is a half an egg shell in the hole. So back into the house to break 3 eggs in a bowl and take the shells outside. I planted the plants, one at a time, digging a hole with my hands, dropping in the shell, and the pulling the plant out of the plastic container and setting it in the hole. I carefully piled the dirt in the hole, patting it gently around the base of the plant. I put a bottomless cardboard milk carton around each, for extra protection from wind and hopefully, rabbits. I have one in my yard. I planted a row of marigolds on either side of the tomato plants. I heard they are natural insect fighters for the garden…and they are pretty.

Long after they were safely in the dirt, I kept returning to the window, to look at my plants…just wondering how they were doing. I wondered if they were growing yet. Before bed, I checked to see what the temperature was supposed to be overnight. I worried about them freezing. Wondered if I should go put a plastic bag over each for nighttime… I wondered if when they were at the garden center at night, did they stay outside in their little container or did they bring them in. I mentioned this to them briefly when i checked them before bed. This morning, I checked the temperature again…all was well, only got down to 42 degrees.

As I got in my car to go to work, I was thinking gardening is a bit like being a parent…or a good friend…

“This is your first day outside on your own! Take care of yourselves, stay in the sunshine when you can, enjoy the rain-even if its cold, it’s good for you. Rest and let your roots get used to your new space, spread out when you are ready…mostly just enjoy the day and grow.”

not all who wander…

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one of those self portraits i see my girl doing, with the phone held out at a flattering angle…

HOLY SH*T! I don’t even know what to say… I saw the door open just a few inches, and without thinking, I followed her out.  I follow her everywhere.

And all the sudden, the door was shut… And she was inside…and I was alone, outside.  I haven’t been outside in years…

I was FREEZING…snow all over the porch, and dark…no good…just cuz I followed her out the open door.

…an open door.  She opens the door often.  When we lived in the apartment, it was muzzy out there…i didn’t need to go out, i could tell what and who was nearby when she opened the door, even from my safety of the bookshelf alcove.  There was that loud crying baby next door whose parents were often angry because they couldn’t understand him…we talked once. His mother left him in his seat, in the hallway while she carried in groceries, while I, of course, was safe, on the other side of the door.  And the old people who lived next to us…old smells.  Upstairs the alarm went off at 6:47 every morning, and she hit the snooze 3 times…every morning.  I could hear her going to the shower, her step sometimes stumbling as she went into the bathroom above ours.  The woman downstairs liked to do her laundry late at night, and I could hear the buttons of her clothing rattling in the dryer, long after my girl was asleep.

now we live in a house. i like the house.  it  has warm air coming out of the floor, and lots of photo(4)places to sleep. The sun comes thru the living room window in the afternoon and makes a fleeting zone of love on the ottoman.  The smells are different here, of course.  And the smells that come from that open door…some make me dizzy, some frighten me, and some want to pull me right out the door.

and so it was…i was trapped outside, and she locked the door- she always does.  So i yelled…and called… and made as much noise as I could.  Finally, after about 3 hours (note: in cat years- 3 hours equals 25 seconds), she opened the door again, and called for me- “Grisham…are you out here?!…Grisham!??” She went down off of the porch into the yard and driveway, calling into the night, her voice panicked. I rushed in the open door and as I sat looking out at her calling for me, washing, and wondering what all the fuss was, i thought i might close the door on her, but I can’t reach the doorknob.

Kitty remix

photo(2)When I moved, I brought a big collage I had done many years ago. It is of my kitty at the time, Catrick (I know, cute, huh? :)) sleeping in the sun in an old wicker rocker I have. It was a monster of a project- made the whole thing out of torn paper- the rocker was grocery sack paper that I fashioned into the intricacy of the rocker. I used kids’ construction paper to make the pillows, newspaper for the floor, and some watercolor paper for the spindles and background- very low budget project, but turned out pretty dang cool.

I have always liked it, maybe because it reminded me of simpler times, of the importance of sleeping in the sun sometimes, or maybe just because it was a big project with found materials and it turned out. Its been years since I made it, and the newspaper has yellowed, the construction paper pillows faded to dull ugly greys, and Catrick crossed the rainbow bridge some time ago. I got it out of the frame last year, took it apart and contemplated it for…oh…9 months or so…and couldn’t figure out how to change it, update it, make it different. I just looked at it over there in the corner, all torn apart- gutted, so to speak- and had no answers.

When I got to this new abode, the walls were turquoise and browns, with great light- and I knew it needed to be hung here. Last week, in a crazy surge of spring fever creativity, I redid it…with new pillows and with Grisham as the sleeper 🙂 and updated the floor as well.

Can I just take a moment to say that my gray tabby cat isn’t gray at all!? I bought every shade of gray paper that Hobby Lobby possessed, only to get them home and find that not one of them matched this cat! He isn’t gray…he is actually this buff sort of tan, with dark brown, black and gray hairs over the top, arranged in tiger stripes with white patches artfully placed hither and yon.

As I put the finishing touches on Grisham’s likeness and placed him on the pillow, I was stunned at how much my life has changed since the first time I put that piece together, how much I have learned, about myself and my path, and about the necessity of sleeping in the sunshine sometimes…

with all the bells and whistles…

photoTwenty years ago, we put new carpet in the house we were living in, on a horse ranch 23 miles from the nearest grocery store.  The occasion called for a vacuum, something I had never owned.  I picked a bright red Dirt Devil from the pawn shop- which was in a town 37 miles in the other direction.  It cost $39.  The Dirt Devil was fancy and felt new to me, even tho’ it was pre-owned.  I used it up until a few years ago, when Dean brought home a Kirby – turns out someone who he had done work for, owed him money.  And they didn’t have any- so they gave him their Kirby vacuum.  It came with a billion attachments- even one for spraying insects, I believe.  I never really learned to use any of them, but it did vacuum quite well.

The Dirt Devil moved on to the girls.  I know that Tasha had it for awhile, and then Michaela had it in her townhouse.  It has acquired a few bumps and bruises along the way, including places where its fabric bag have been burned thru when someone tried to vacuum up ashes with it.

When I moved last summer, I left the Kirby behind (do you have any idea how much one of those things weighs!!?), and found myself in need of a vacuum.  Lo and behold, the Dirt Devil returned to me.

Grisham hates the Dirt Devil.  He will run so fast when he sees me wheel it out, his back feet hit him in the face as he whirls for a safe place under the bed.  And 20 years later, the Dirt Devil still can vacuum- still makes noise, the bag still inflates, the turney-brush thing on the bottom still goes around.  But it doesn’t do cat hair…and Grisham, being a cat, has lots of cat hair.  He has favorite places where the cat hair collects, like on the cushion above my head when I sit in my chair.

So today I went shopping for a new vacuum.  I have never owned a new vacuum. Found a wonderful Hoover, with special attachments especially for pet hair.  I vacuumed the floors in my new house, and I was – still am- horrified at the amount of dirt it picked up…how could that be?  The Dirt Devil didn’t find that much dirt.  I am not really a clean freak, but it bothers me to think there was that much dirt on the floor.

As I tapped the Hoover’s magic lever for the automatic cord rewinder, I ventured a look over at the Dirt Devil, alone in the corner.  I rolled the Hoover to a spot in the extra bedroom, where it would live now.  And I felt a bit like I had brought Buzz Lightyear home, with his fancy buttons and lights, and his claim that he could fly.

It’s called being innovative

So just had to show you, now that I am here and have a moment. These are pictures before I got my stuff moved…so just imagine that there are about a hundred boxes and bags in each picture, stacked hither and yon and that’s where I am.

I have to thank Tasha, my amazing co-mover, my partner in crime 🙂 I found out on Friday that I could get movers for furniture on Saturday (yes, the next day!!), so Tasha and I were like squirrels getting ready for winter….packing boxes, moving all the furniture out into the dining room, taking things apart. I moved from a 2nd floor apt to a house and I elected to have the movers do just the furniture. So this meant there were all of these boxes that one had to carry out the door of the apartment, down a long hallway, to the elevator, out of the elevator, out 2 sets of doors, down a long sidewalk and pack into my car…or a crazy person might just think that you could park outside the apartment building, in front of your balcony and…well, drop, pitch or otherwise lower said items to the ground, avoiding much of the hauling and carrying of said items…and it worked quite well, I must say.

Off to clean the apartment, enjoy your day!

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letting loose of safety

A house.  I have a house.  The apartment thing was OK for the transition- sort of like a cocoon is OK…its a place to live, its safe, its uncomplicated, you just wait to grow enough to leave it behind.

I wish I could tell you the whole story of the house…but its long and complicated, and I am pretty sure I would loose you somewhere along the way…and I have tried to write it- several times, in fact, because its so serendipitous…and the timing still blows me away.

dreamhouseI am sure you will remember me saying that I have wanted a house.  Not just any house…I had a list – a dream house list…and it seemed to me that being in a house should be cheaper than an apartment, because you pay for your own utilities in a house.  Well, I was in for “a rude awakening”, as my father would say…it became clear that I couldn’t afford to rent the dream house, if it even existed.

I looked in the newspaper classifieds, on Craigslist, on local bulletin boards, on rental websites, on property management websites.  I posted a “house wanted” ad in a company classified section. I looked everywhere.  I looked at alot of houses.  They were too big, or too small, in a bad area of town, didn’t allow pets, not private, too expensive, too run down, too far out of town, too risky.

Just when I was reconsidering staying in my apartment, because I couldn’t find anywhere I wanted to live, two different houses appeared in my path.  The first one was good sized, bland, sensible, – it didn’t fit the dream house list, but it had a yard, and they allowed cats…it wasn’t going to get any better than that.  I filled out an application, paid the $25 fee, and began to mentally move in.  The other house looked pretty tiny from my drive-by, probably not even worth meeting the landlord for a tour, but the door was purple, there was a porch swing and I felt obligated.

I honestly wasn’t expecting much when I walked in…I had seen lots of houses.  I caught my breath as I stepped in the door…cathedral ceilings, a ladder drew my attention to the right, and i saw an open loft tucked up high in the ceiling corner.  The landlord was talking, but I really wasn’t listening…my mind was trying to reconcile the outside of this house with the inside that I was seeing…in short, it was amazing…fun blues and warm browns, woodwork, an open kitchen with updated appliances…speechless, that’s what I was.  I hesitantly mentioned that I had a cat after I had already fallen in love with the place.  The landlord waved my words away, like a fly, and said, “cats are fine.” ( are you looking back at my long forgotten wish list?)Did I mention it was on a street in a historic area with great big trees.

Because I am impulsive, and make snap decisions that I often regret, I asked if I could think it over. Now you are probably saying, “think it OVER? It has everything on your list…what is there to think over?” But here is the thing- it wasn’t the sensible house, the sensible house had more room, and while it didn’t have many of the “wants” on the list, it had the necessities. It was safe, and uncomplicated… like a cocoon. The dream house has color, and its a little wild and a little crazy…it is going to take some getting used to…

…breathe…

ImageOne of the things they will put on my gravestone (if I believed in them), would be “take a breath”.  No matter how urgent the situation, no matter how upset you are, you have a moment to pause and take a breath- and while you are at it, make it a good breath, from your belly, close your eyes, and pause for a moment…stretching out the word BREEEEEEEATHE in your mind, as breathe in, and breathe out. Be present – not in the situation, not in your emotion, but present in your body and breathe. 

Raising three girls, I handed these words out like chewing gum, as they were sorting amongst the debris of a challenging situation or a bad day…”take a breath…”.  They were good words and did seem to make them slow down a moment.  Being a counselor, and being one who taught others to problem solve, to understand their own behavior, to pause and to weigh the consequences of their anger, meant that I taught my own daughters this as well, from birth.  In the midst of their crisis, I was often reminded to ‘stop doing the counselor-thing’…but i did notice that they kept breathing, even if they said they weren’t listening.

This past year, I did a particularly difficult presentation for a harsh audience. I knew it was going to be hard, and in preparation- to remind myself not to talk too fast, to be mindful- I artfully wrote the word “breathe” on my wrist. I quite liked it…and it did the trick. The presentation was still labored, but I made my way through and felt accomplished at the conclusion.

There was something about having that reminder there, on my wrist…a few days later, I wrote it there again.  After the third time I wrote ‘breathe’ on my wrist, I made the surprising decision that I wanted it tattooed there…in Jane Austen handwriting font- because Jane Austen is my mother’s favorite author.

I am not really a “tattoo person”.  All my daughters have tattoos, Tasha has Beatles’ lyrics, Michaela has Journi’s footprint with “love you to the moon and back” and also a quote from a piece I wrote, Justina has too many to name, ladybugs, and dragonflies among them.  When I hesitantly told them that I was planning to do “breathe” on my wrist, they quickly adopted the idea of doing the same.

And so it is, all of us have the word “breathe” on our wrists…all in our own style, as it should be…because, as I have noticed…they are all still breathing, even if they said they weren’t listening.

afraid of heights…

Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.  ~ John Lennona97765_g269_10-canyon

the new year is here…and finally for me, i can feel it.

As I have alluded to, i changed my life last spring.  I wish I could have written aloud to others during this past 8 months journey, but it was simply too personal.

But today, on this morning, i feel like I have poked my head out of the dark…that I have crossed a huge chasm- HUGE…and I am looking back at it with astonishment.  And all of the fear and apprehension of seeing it looming ahead for so many months is gone…and I am lighter because of it.

I have learned some things about myself:

  • I am capable of doing what I set my mind to
  • Being separate from people is more about emotional distance than physical distance
  • I don’t control everything, nor is everything my fault or responsibility
  • Having time and permission to create is essential to my mental health
  • I need very few ‘things’ to be happy
  • I can spend an obscene amount of money on groceries, if I don’t keep track!
  • Its OK to ask for what I need and its OK to say ‘no’ to what i don’t want.

I have also learned that before one of these epiphanies, I tend to get really emotional- like crying-in-the-produce-section-of-HyVee emotional…embarrassing, as I am counting my items, thru tears, to see if I can use the ‘express lane’.  But that is another thing I have learned…feel your feelings…nothing wrong with that.

One of my daughters has the quote above tattooed on her feet, and she has repeated it to me on and off thru the past 8 months.  Until recently, I am not sure I really understood this part of my life correctly.  And who knows? I may not have it figured out now either…but the first major chasm is behind me

Aside

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