Category Archives: Domestic Arts

The End of an Era

Last year I posted about this trusty mug that I’ve had a little over 30 years. A bit over 30 years ago, I received this mug as a gratitude gift from my local PBS station, because I donated to them. I loved the color, its capacity, and how it kept my drink hot for a long time. It was part of my daily practice. It has survived dozens of moves, some across country. This morning I drank my coffee and noticed a dampness on the side table. I blotted it up. I thought I’d spilled a little. Later I noticed coffee stain on a couple of papers sitting nearby, and I thought, “Uh-oh.” And yes, alas, closer examination reveals several hairline cracks in the mug. Just enough to leak. My very favorite mug must be retired. I don’t feel sad, just quietly accepting. Things inevitably wear out. I’m glad I had it as long as I did. I will miss it, though. I’ve probably used it every day since I got it — 11,680 days of my life.

Practice

witches brew

I’ve had this mug over 30 years. I received it as a thank-you gift for supporting my local PBS station in Syracuse. It’s one of the best things I’ve owned, in that it is lovely to look at, comfortable to hold, a just-right size, and made of a clay that retains heat. To my amazement, it has survived 15 household moves, including two cross-country ones.

Every single morning, unless I’m ill in bed, I brew one pour-over mug of coffee. It’s a small ritual that anchors my day. As I looked at it this morning with steam wafting up, it reminded me of a witch’s brew in a cauldron. I’m entering my crone years, and I embrace the creativity and crazy wisdom that emerges in this age.

Last summer I realized there is another practice that I have inconsistently applied, one that opens me to appreciating and awakening to life. A practice that I need, because it really does help me be sane, and that can only help the world. I realized that if I can take time to make a single cup of coffee without fail every single day, surely I can do this other practice every single day. So, I committed. And 132 days later, it has become integral to my life.

Now I am looking at other practices that I know support my life and, indirectly, other people. I am setting an intention to do them, which means designating a time and place, and treating it as if I am meeting a loved one.

I would like to share this reflection on the power of small practices: Your Bed Is Your Head.

Aglow

A long time ago I stopped trick-or-treating. I remember taking my brother when I was about 16, but I stopped dressing up and getting treats at age 12. My daughter is 12 this year, and her desire to roam door to door hasn’t waned, in part because I’ve been an enthusiastic participant celebrating vicariously through her! And also because she has friends who want to go. However, this year I’ve been ambivalent toward Halloween. Didn’t really want to decorate; my daughter helped. Didn’t want to carve a pumpkin. However, Claire said she would be sad if there wasn’t a jack-o-lantern this year. She asked me to carve an Owo face. Being an uncool parent I had no idea what this meant, so she drew it for me. As it turned out, once I got started with the cutting and scooping, I felt calm enjoyment in the project. So here is the Owo pumpkin with its hat and without. Happy Halloween!

Owo pumpkin
Owo pumpkin aglow

Simply Pay Attention

Existence is hard; it is literal suffering. It has wonders and joys, amazements and fascinations, yes. And it has love. All of this along with suffering, which happens to us and which we inflict on others and our own selves. Claire once asked me, if life is suffering, what is the point of being alive? In the end it seems simple enough: we are Life experiencing itself. We are Consciousness holding everything. We are the Mystery. It doesn’t bear too much thinking about, because thinking is a distraction. Better to simply pay attention to what is happening right now, what is right in front of me, and to meet it as fully and with as much attention as I can.

Taking my own advice, I happened to notice the sunlight on freshly washed grapes when I made my lunch. After visually appreciating them for a time, before relishing them in my mouth, I snapped a photo to share.

grapessun

Make It Spookyer

My teacher, Maezen, wrote this piece about her daughter and herself in October 2007: Spooked. Claire was only five weeks old at the time. Maezen’s daughter was in second grade.

Ten years later, I could have written it. Tensions rise and our anxieties chafe like flint and stone, and seemingly out of nowhere we have a conflagration that resembles war. Parenting is hard and humbling. Thank goodness for apologies and forgiveness. Thank goodness for atonement, which is also at-one-ment.

Over the past weeks I keep hearing from Claire that we need to up our Halloween game, that our decorations are friendly and tame. She wants spooky decorations. She says she needs to face her fear.

Not having a lot of storage for decorations, I wanted to keep the additions on the small side. And didn’t want to spend the money. So we went to a thrift shop. We installed our pieces. We painted the ghost with red for blood. I think we’ve upped our game pretty well!

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Checking In

When I feel at loose ends, sometimes I pull this series of questions out and check in.

Outside my window the street sounds fade. Cool air settles on the grass and patio, bringing a gentleness with it. Distant yips and howls tell me the coyotes are roaming.

I am thinking about what I just heard on the news about the sardine population collapsing, which has prompted a halt on fishing season for them. Officials say over 90% of seal pups died this year because of starvation; they had no sardines to eat. I eat sardines often and feel both guilt and selfish concern about what this will do to price and availability. This news coincides with my having finished a book — captivating and dire — called The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert. Human activity has triggered enough environmental change that we may be moving into a new epoch, from Holocene to Anthropocene.

I am thankful for ordinary life. My neighborhood cat-who-is-not-quite-my-cat whom I feed and pet; Claire’s marvelous and spirited self; social media connections; quietude; coffee, and books.

I am wearing black jeans and a black shirt, which is unusual for me, and it feels like too much of one color.

I am creating new connections in my brain now that I’m playing more with numbers. I’m also writing poetry, and making a little art.

I am hearing the hum of silence; my laptop hard drive, the refrigerator, a distant car motor, the high pitch of plugged-in electronics. It has a walled-in aspect to it, and is vastly less restful than the silence of camping outdoors.

I am remembering twenty years ago. My father recently sent me letters I’d written to him in 1995, after I moved to Austin. In these letters I talked about the growth of the Internet, and how that would create major change in the world. I was on a search for a new career, and very torn about my varied interests.

I am going to feel some regret in the morning for staying up this late.

I am reading poetry by Lucille Clifton and Gwendolyn Brooks, and I’m about to dive into a novel, The Diamond Lane.

I am hoping to motivate myself to clear my workspace so I can make some more collages.

On my mind is the fact that I’ve committed to co-leading the Project Cornerstone program at school next year, and I have many ideas as to how to increase community awareness and involvement with it.

Noticing that I’ve been avoiding exercise again, and indulging in more food, and forgoing tracking this.

Pondering these words: growth mindset and fixed mindset, coined by Carol Dweck.

One of my favorite things is snuggling in bed with Claire at the end of the day, singing a lullaby to her.

From the kitchen I’ve been cooking a variety of crockpot meals: chicken tortilla soup, pork roast, red beans, pot roast.

Around the house I’ve been culling items that get little use and trying to stanch the flow of paper that floods us weekly. I’m also still unpacking and sorting from the camping trip.

A few plans for the rest of the week: Friday will be an errand day. Saturday I have a SoulCollage® session from 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., after which I will take the car to get a smog test. Sunday is church, and then the Mighty Daring Girls will meet to make masks. Then I’ll roll into the next week with training at Project Cornerstone, taking Claire to choir practice, and all the usual routines of the school week.

Here is picture I am sharing of an ATC I recently made.

ATC abstract

Be Mighty, Be Daring

I enjoy creating in so many ways. My friend L (mom of one of Claire’s friends) and I are developing an informal girl group. After spending many years driving to see friends (which we’ll continue doing) we want to create friendships and develop deeper connections in the neighborhood.

After careful consideration, we decided to forgo Girl Scouts for a number of reasons:

  • They require parents having contact with girls to take training (online and in-person) and get fingerprinted. Our intention is to create an informal group of people we know and trust and make it easier for mothers to be involved.
  • Secondly, GS is divided by age, and we believe there are benefits to girls interacting across multiple age and grade levels. We hope the girls will be involved as they grow up and develop good friendships.
  • Lastly, we want to avoid the pressure of selling things to raise funds. We prefer to focus on developing activities and sharing the cost rather than have our activities defined by how much money the girls earn.

We plan to meet monthly. We have ideas of home-based activities to do; we also want to incorporate outings. For outings, each parent pays for her children and herself (if there are fees). To cover supplies for at-home activities, we suggest a nominal annual amount per child. We are researching the supplies and calculating costs.

While we want to have fun, we’re reaching beyond play dates. Our goal is to help our daughters become vibrant, confident, and engaged with the world. We want to nurture the development of their minds, souls, and bodies (and mother earth), and foster qualities such as integrity, curiosity, resiliency, and creativity. We are using several resources for ideas (adjusting for age with some activities):

A Mighty Girl
The Daring Book for Girls & The Double-Daring Book for Girls
What Do You Stand For? A Kids Guide to Building Character

So the girls and moms have a unifying element and develop a sense of belonging, we’re looking for inexpensive yellow t-shirts (a color that is sunny and gender-neutral). The quote we’re using is from Shakespeare: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” That will be on the front, and on the back will be our group name: Mighty Daring Girls.

Our first meeting is March 2, and we have 8-9 girls interested!

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Exploring Outdoors – One of our Planned Activities

Red Beans and Rice

I think Popeye’s Red Beans and Rice dish is incredibly yummy. I’ve searched for their recipe without luck, and so I’ve been experimenting. I believe I have discovered the closest approximation to their dish. It came out so savory, with lots of umami.

Red Beans and Rice (Crockpot)

1 pound dried red beans
2 to 2.5 lb. smoked pork shank
3 bay leaves
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 bell pepper (any color), finely chopped
2 large onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp. bacon fat
1 tsp. thyme
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. salt
1.75 to 2 quarts water
3/4 cup instant mashed potatoes

This can be made in a pot on the stove as well but requires more attention.

Sort and rinse beans, then soak overnight. Drain and rinse beans. Put the ham shank into a 4 qt. crockpot and add the beans and bay leaves. Melt the bacon fat in a saucepan; add the finely chopped vegetables and sautee until onions are translucent and veggies are softening. Mix in the thyme, cayenne, black pepper, and salt with the vegetables and stir. Pour this over the beans and ham in the crockpot. Add the water. It’s okay if some ham is exposed; it will cook down. Cover and turn the crockpot onto high for about six hours. (If using stove top, bring the mixture to a boil, then turn it down to simmer.) The goal is for the veggies to melt away into the broth as much as possible.

Remove the ham shank (it will be very tender and fall apart). Let cool a bit and then chop into small pieces. Throw away the extra fat and bones. Use a masher and mash the red beans in the pot, then return the meat to the crockpot and stir. Turn heat down to low and add the instant mashed potatoes to thicken. It is ready to serve then, but it can cook on low or warm for another hour or so.

Cook white or brown rice of your choice according to the directions on the package. Spoon rice into a bowl and ladle beans on top. Enjoy!

Kwazii!

This year, Claire has discovered a show called Octonauts. She passionately loves this show, and most particularly enjoys pretending to be the intrepid pirate cat named Kwazii. The Octonauts are undersea explorers who help aquatic life in trouble and learn about the ocean. So when I asked if she wanted to be Kwazii for Halloween, she replied enthusiastically. And so here she is:

kwazii the pirate cat octonaut

The eye patch is supposed to be solid, but she felt unnerved with sight in only one eye, so I improvised! I think I had as much fun making and assembling the Kwazii costume as she will wearing it! I bought orange long underwear and the boots, but everything else is my creation. Happy Halloween!

Updated a bit later: And here I am, a gypsy queen!

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Of Fairies and Dinosaurs

On Saturday, Claire and I went to Lakeshore Learning to do a free craft. I’d forgotten they offer these every Saturday, which is okay, because every time I visit I am lured by all the tempting teacher goodies, craft supplies, and games. But we went, and Claire made herself a T. Rex, and after that she asked permission to make one for me. She chose a green one because it’s my favorite color.

dinosaur puppet

Then on Sunday, some new friends came over to visit and help Claire make a fairy house! We met at a special event they had on their block a month ago, and a friendship sprouted. Emily and Maddie and their mom came over with lots of supplies, which they combined with ours, to construct a special home.

Here Emily and Claire discuss what color glitter glue to use on the little chairs, while Maddie enjoys the hammock.

emily and claire deciding what to do

Then of course Claire had to take a break after all the decision-making and join Maddie.

maddie and claire

Now Maddie is digging a hole for the pool…

emily, maddie, and claire 2

Here’s the home (the shoebox) along with a sidewalk leading to a pool, fire pit, and fairy tent.

fairy camp 2

A close-up of the tent:

fairy tent

And Claire, deciding where to put a hibiscus bloom. The fairy garden/home is a work in progress. More will be added later, I’m sure!

at the fairy camp

Claire spent the entire day outside, in the wading pool, the sandbox, the fairy garden! We spent this morning making Christmas gifts for family — Claire has lots of aunts, uncles, and of course her grandparents. We typically get an early start so they are done when the crazy season begins. I’ve got a photo but will not reveal what they are until after the holiday. But to satisfy curiosity, below are the gifts she made for family when she was two (ornaments) and three (bookmarks):

claire's christmas gifts to family 2009

Last year we made streamers for our tree, and then got the idea to make another batch as bookmarks with pretty tassles. I forgot to take a photo of them!

streamers

What is so neat is watching how she works. This year she carefully chose the pieces to use and went with a theme and a pattern. And her attention span lasted long enough to do all 11 gifts!

Transformation

We’ve been busy lately. There have been little-girl sleepovers, outings to the park, and a field trip to pick strawberries. So, without further ado, let me show you the results of our latest outing. We start at this and this:

picking
tasting

We picked nine pounds of strawberries!

And proceed to this and this:

prepping
canning

A sticky, boiling mess!

Ending in this and this!

garnet red jam
11 pints

My first time canning, ever. I ended up with 11 pints of strawberry jam!