Keep calm and use your ears.

Yesterday I watched a TED talk by a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church. The more I think on it, the more I realize that the only solution to rising hate is to meet it with compassion. This is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said “love thy enemy” and “turn the other cheek”. It doesn’t mean ignore it, condone it or not fight against it. It means we need to redfine what it means to “fight” against something, or even to “fight” for something.

Inspired by the talk I actually went to the Westboro Baptist Church website. I was appalled by how often it mentions the “God Hates….” I listened to some of their parody songs and it send shivers down my spine. I had to leave the site, it felt wrong even being there. I can’t imagine engaging someone in an actual conversation who really believes that way. But, I think that might be necessary to stop the spread of hate and violence sweeping the world.

I have long thought that learning to “speak out” is the greatest challenge in the fight against evil, in the struggle to bring peace to the world. I’m finding that while that is necessary, and difficult, it is equally, if not more important to listen to and engage the “enemy” in meaningful conversation about why they feel as they do. People are much more likely to listen and respect you if you have listened to and respected them. What the world needs now more than ever are really good listeners.

We all need to step outside of our comfort zones and have those tough conversations with someone who thinks radically differently than we do.




End of the World


“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
– John Lennon

If one knows that the end of the world is imminent, how does one find happiness? If you know that everything you’ve ever worked for will be swept away and there will be no descendants to benefit from your labors, no one to remember your kindness, your generosity, your courage, then what is the point of it all? Why create beauty if is merely a swan song?

Because, in spite of evidence to the contrary, life goes on. Because you can’t in fact predict that the end of the world is imminent. Even if the end of THIS world is imminent, it may be the beginning of a new world that receives your legacy. Because everything is connected. The life force that you throw to the void in this life may be the fair wind that brings someone’s boat home in another.


Rose in Winter


Walking to a meditation service today, I happened to look down at my feet to see that they were submerged in a sea of golden-yellow ginkgo biloba leaves. It finally got cold, you see, and to make up for lost time in an unusually warm fall, the leaves suddenly let loose all at once. I looked up and realized that leaves were falling all around me, yellow, brown, rust, brilliant scarlet and orange. I looked back down at the golden ginkgo leaves and a subtle leafy smell wafted up. I suddenly wanted to roll around in the leaves, sniff them, eat them like my dog would do. Being a fairly civilized human however, I did not do this. I thought instead about the memory-enhancing properties of ginkgo tea and how perhaps I should pick some up.

Turning my focus from the yellow leaves, I decided to pick myself a bouquet of fall leaves and put them in my pocket, perhaps to adorn my shelves with until they dry up and become a mess to clean. In the end, I made a wish on each leave in the bouquet and threw them to the wind. I figured this would work for making wishes come true if leaves are the eye lashes of trees. We shall see.

A block away from my destination, I realized I was freezing cold and knew in my bones that winter was starting. I stopped to admire a garden I like to see when I pass by that way. The garden was covered in a blanket of brilliant leaves. No flowers or vegetables were left, save for one perfect, blood-red rose on a dark green rosebush. As I looked more closely I realized there were one or two small blemishes on the rose foretelling that it would fade soon. This made it all the more perfect to me. I stood there looking for a metaphor for the rose…”that rose is as red as a… a….rose”, was the best I could come up with, because the rose was so perfectly rose like it defied comparison.

By the time I reached my destination I felt like I had already been meditating for an hour.

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?

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.