Bigger on the Inside

While I have been diving into creative pursuits such as growing vegetables in the community garden, cooking with local sustainable food from the garden and farmer’s market and fermentation experiments in the kitchen, my artistic impulse has sat dormant in an untouched corner of my apartment. Literally. The last space in my apartment to be organized is my art space. There are still  boxes and plastic bins piled up in the corner behind the flat files that have not been moved or opened in the past seven months. I’m not sure what to call it. “Studio” seems a bit ostentatious for the corner of what is supposed to be my dining room that is now devoted not only to art, but also to paperwork and bills. I obviously intend to make art here as I have sacrificed any notion of a dining room table in preference for eating at folding tables in the sunroom or living room or frequently just standing up at the kitchen counter. For someone as devoted to cooking as I am, it seems odd not to have a dedicated space to eat. Alas, my dreams of a custom-made countertop and comfortable bar stools to turn the flat files into a part-time dining room table came to a grinding halt when I realized that the divorce and the fallout thereof was going to cost a lot more than I originally thought. I’ve tabled any type of decorating budget in favor of making do with what I’ve already got.  I’ll get there, eventually. But it is going to require a lot of ingenuity and next to no cash.
I have long since realized that in order for this to be a useful workspace, I am going to have to be realistic as to how many different projects I can fit. I’m working with less than a quarter of the raw square footage I had at the house. I’m also dealing with a lack of “messy” space. In the attic of my house, the floor was plywood in some parts and worn-out hardwood floor in others. I had access to a large utility sink and a basement for wet and/or messy projects. Paint, beeswax, honey, glue? NO problem. In the house, there was plenty of space to spread out the messy projects without the worry of ruining the nice parts of the house.
Here, not so much. I LOVE the herringbone wood floor throughout the apartment. I don’t want to be spilling encaustic paint or glue on it. Papermaking is wet and messy. Same with any kind of paints. Anything from the beehive, honey or wax, is messy. I am not one to keep such messes contained. I know there are artists who can do it…work with such materials and not spill…but I am not one of them. Most of the time it is painfully obvious what I am working with because I am wearing my materials under my fingernails, in my hair, on my clothes. The room I work in fares no better.
I’ve put off tackling this corner of my “dining room” because I must make difficult decisions about which of my “children” — I mean art tools– to keep and which to let go. Again. Because I already made a bunch of those hard decisions when I packed up and left the house seven months ago. But, it seems I didn’t cut deep enough and I still have way too much stuff. Which art supplies I keep and which I part with determines in no small part the direction of my art and what my next art show will look like (because I’ve decided to have faith that the next show IS happening in the not-too-distant future, and that I will figure out how to finance it). How often I get into a creative flow amid my busy and distracted life is largely determined by how efficient, organized and inviting my work space is. Of course I can pick up any and all art mediums again “someday” when I either have a larger home or can afford to rent a studio to work in, but realistically, given the financial constraints of going through a divorce, the next opportunity I have to do that will be at least a few years off (if I’m lucky and/or very smart).
So today, I am deciding what projects to take on for the next period of time until my life changes again. And then I am pitching everything that doesn’t support those projects.
I need to focus on smaller quantities of finished pieces and smaller project sizes, but more detail-oriented pieces. I want to go back and revisit the medical, scientific and botanical illustration styles I studied in college.  I want to go back and look at the children’s stories I started writing several years ago with the plan of creating small-scale pen-and-ink illustrations to go with them. I want to create small miniature pieces that contain volumes of detail and draw the eye in to discover what is going on in a tiny, evolving universe. I may display these pieces with a magnifying glass. For that matter, I may need one to make them considering my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. I want to show a secret world that is bigger on the inside. Aren’t we all bigger on the inside?

Universal language

2014-02-02 10.51.54What is the universal language? What is it that we all understand? What is that spark, like the flash between neurons, that ignites between all people regardless of color, creed, race, nationality, sexuality? Heck, even my dog (or perhaps especially my dog) understands it. But it is impossible to define with words alone. Love. Love that heals, love that feeds, love timg_4007hat transcends our surface differences. Love continues beyond reason, beyond practicality, beyond the future we can see with our own eyes or comprehend with our minds. Love exists in the present, past and future simultaneously. For love, there is no divide between past and future there is only one unbroken now. Love can be passed from one person to another from inches away, from miles away, from worlds away. Love is perhaps best experienced though from within another’s embrace. Love can move mountains and build bridges.

Love is, when all else is stripped away, the bare bone of everything.


So why, then, is it so hard to trust? Is it because there are so many things masquerading as love that sting like a viper and so we learn to distrust love, that is our very soul? Is it because there is in fact a great stinking evil in the world that works hard to convince us that love is weak and impractical, that money and influence and power the only real safety? Is it that we have all at some point loved unreservedly and had that love rejected, stolen, squashed?

Why is it that even so we keep pointing ourselves, like a compass to North, in the direction we think love is waiting for us?


I am more than me

Where does one living creature end, and another begin? Ponder this: depending on which scientist you are talking to, the non-human microbes living inside you either match, or outnumber, the amount of human cells you are made of. These microbes play an integral part in your overall health and maybe even your emotional well-being.

This leads me to wonder: am I my “human” genes alone, or some mix of human genes and the microbes I harbor within me? What does this mean for my sense of self? I imagine perhaps I am more of an ecosystem than an individual, isolated being.Then if I extend this thinking to the macrocosm, does that make me like a microbe living in the larger organism of the earth? Am I a beneficial probiotic or a disease-causing pathogen?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but this information is making me rethink what it means to be an individual, autonomous creature.


orchard mason bee?

Oak Park Farmer’s Market 2016


Today was the first day of the Oak Park Farmer’s Market. I have been eagerly anticipating this market all spring. For one, I love farmer’s markets. Secondly, this is a particularly good one. Thirdly, and most importantly, in my new home I can look out my window and watch the market unfold below me. I woke up before 6 am this morning and looked out my front window to see the farmers buzzing around below like so many busy bees setting up their tents. I took my dog out for his morning walk and, true to form, he wanted to bolt over to the middle of the action, but alas, dogs are not allowed in the market. After our walk I came up for a quick breakfast (so as to not shop hungry) and then I went down to the market as it was opening. I came back with hothouse tomatoes, a San Marzano tomato plant, lettuce, onions, rhubarb, green and purple asparagus, radishes, cucumbers, and this really tasty balsamic herbal vinegar (pictured on the left). My  grocery budget for this week didn’t allow for much more, but that’s enough to whet my appetite for the goodness to come this summer. I’ll be able to spend  more cash at the market next week and I’ve already noted several things I want to buy, like blueberry jam, hot sauce, granola and trail mix, and a plethora of spring veggies from every booth. I might also get some bread, homemade soap, and beeswax candles. Even though I have honey coming to me from my own hive in Michigan (alas, the bees didn’t make it through the winter but the bequeathed their honey to me in their will) I may break down and buy a small jar next week because who can resist those jars of local honey?

I’m looking forward to shopping the market all season and volunteering at the information booth about every other week. I’m hoping to get to know some of the farmers and try out all of the amazing local, organic and artisan foods for sale.

Sourdough pancakes with no dairy

So I recently started making sourdough again. Many of the bread recipes don’t call for dairy, but the sourdough pancake recipe I have does. Milk is easy, since I have discovered  the So Delicious brand. But egg substitutes are more intimidating to me. I went about finding some egg substitutes. What I used was 1 tbsp. of chia seeds soaked in water for 15 min. It worked just fine, although it did add a bit of texture to the pancakes. The recipe in the link above says to grind your chia seeds first, which would have most likely solved the texture issue. No, I did not take pictures of them. You’ll just have to take my word that they were good. I’ll take some pictures next time, I promise. I actually made them twice, and the second time I made blueberry-cranberry sourdough pancakes smothered in real maple syrup. I washed that all down with some fresh coffee made in a french press….heaven. I beginning, just a little, to stop pining for dairy products. If I could just find a satisfying cheese substitute, I’ll be set.



4:30 am birdsong

2014-02-02 10.51.54I woke up extra early today. My dog wanted to go out. Finally,  is not raining or snowing. As I stumbled out the door into the darkness of pre-dawn, I had to suppress the urge to curse my dog for needing to go out…especially since he seemed to be taking his sweet time finding the right spot. Four blocks later, it became clear his whining and insistent pawing at my knee was not simply about the call of nature. Or, rather, it was precisely about the call of nature and not just a bathroom break.

Four blocks into the walk I calmed my annoyance enough to realize I was surrounded by a chorus of robins. Every tree and every bush seemed to hold a bird serenading the promise of sunshine. It sounded through the neighborhood like an echo in a mountain valley. There was absolutely nothing else going on; there isn’t much traffic at this time of morning, and the birds had the full attention of nature’s ear.

Dante has a gift for picking these moments. One time we were walking by a church and he abruptly stopped and sat absolutely still, staring at a stained-glass window with half-closed eyes. I realized he was listening to a choir practicing. So I had to stop and listen with him. Of course his strongest sense is his nose, and as he was listening his twitching nose was pointed at the window as if he were trying to make olfactory sense of what his ears were telling him. While I cannot share in the symphony of smells he enjoys on his daily walks, when he noses around it reminds me to try and be aware of my sense of smell, too. Actually, to make full use of all senses at the same time.

If you have a dog and you approach walks the way your dog does, you will find yourself in a meditative state and a greater awareness of yourself and your surroundings.


Lost and Found

selfieIt has been almost a year since my last blog post in June. I hadn’t intended to abandon my blog for nearly a year and indeed there were many exciting things that happened in 2015 that  I wanted to share here. For example, I had a solo show at ARC Gallery with work spanning almost 20 years. It was the first time I’ve done a solo show on that scale and I was very proud of the way it turned out. I also had a great garden and beekeeping year for most of the season. In fact, in many ways it was one of the best gardening seasons ever.


But the reality is that 2015 was also the year the bottom dropped out of my life. I lost much that I had spent years earning and growing. Little did I know last April, as I planted my garden and set up my beehives, that it would be the garden’s last year.  In May I became ill, and, long story short, by the time I figured out what was going on I lost 50 lbs because I couldn’t digest anything properly.  I felt exhausted and unwell all the time, and it lasted for the rest of the year. During this time my marriage fell apart. How much of the illness was triggered by stress of a failing relationship I’ll never know, but it certainly played a role. Besides the emotional blow of an ending marriage, there’s the lifestyle change that goes along with breaking up a household and creating two single-parent households. I’ve lost many of the things about my life I’ve treasured the most; my house with the big office and attic art studio, my garden, my beehives. I’ve had to come to terms with having fewer resources, and this means that things like art shows and beehives are not in the budget right now.


new sunroom, happy plants

But the truth is, for everything I’ve lost in the last year and all of the challenges I will still face, I’m more optimistic than ever that good opportunities are waiting just around the corner. My new apartment is located in a vibrant community close to work, schools, park district amenities like pool and skating rink, gardens and a farmer’s market. I can’t afford a car, but my car-free lifestyle is more environmentally friendly and allows me to get plenty of exercise by walking and biking.  I will have two plots in a community garden at Third Unitarian Church.  I’ll still be maintaining my ties to the Galewood-Montclare Garden Club in my old neighborhood whenever I can. I haven’t found a good place for beekeeping in my new neighborhood yet, but my brother still has my one remaining hive at his blueberry farm. I’m not sure if the colony survived the winter but at least I have enough equipment to start up again should the opportunity arise.

I have learned many lessons in the past year that have ultimately made me a stronger person. Several people have told me that “everything happens for a reason”. That doesn’t ring true to me. I think things happen, and we give meaning to them. I could take the events of the past year and stay mired in regret and loss, or look forward to new opportunities and a new life. I choose the latter.  There are opportunities in my life now that would not be here if I had stayed married. Each day brings opportunities that yesterday’s actions led me to. I can’t change the past, but it is my responsibility to make the most of today’s situation. I’ve found that as the layers of my old life and my old self are stripped away, I’m finding out who I am now. In some ways I’m stumbling upon parts of myself that have always been there, long forgotten, and only now being rediscovered!