January 12, 2017

Stretch, In Practice

Having set stretch as my focus for the year, I've started to put it into practice. A few things I am super excited about:
  • A six-week yoga class for beginners.
    Yep. Beginners. Sure I started taking yoga classes about 20 years ago (woah, that number sneaked up on me!), and no I did not begin with a beginners class. But here's the thing. I haven't practiced yoga on a regular basis for years and years now. And my body has changed quite a bit in that time. I keep promising myself that I will take regular yoga classes again once I've a.) lost some weight, b.) regained some of my former strength, and c.) become more flexible. Excuses, people. All 3 of those goals can be reached simply by doing yoga, which is come as you are. I am definitely a yoga beginner with this current body of mine. So with a great big nudge from this Annapurna Living post about yoga teacher training at age 56 (an entertaining read if you have the time), I registered for classes that begin on January 22.
  • The Magic of Myth II: End of the Quest, an online course with Elizabeth Duvivier.
    Registration closes this Saturday for the year-long course that begins January 15. If you've spent any time in this space, you've heard me blather on about how I identify first and foremost as an artist, but for the past decade or so have struggled to make art, to practice art, and even to know what medium is mine. Enough is enough. I'm counting on the content and exercises in this class and the interactions with the others involved to kick my butt and hold me accountable to myself. As Elizabeth writes in the class description, "To effect genuine change, we need the space to practice, refine, try again until the changes we want to make in our life can truly surface. This is not a matter of talking our way into the next chapter of our story. This is the steady work of paring away habits and responses that hold us back; this is the hard work of carving a new path." The path I intend to carve is the path back to myself, a path that I know can be uncovered and navigated through making art.
  • Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, the next book on my "to read" pile.
    I learned about Brené's work on vulnerability on a Ted Radio Hour segment a few years ago (listen to it here). By the time I heard the same radio program repeated for the 3rd time, I was intrigued and excited to read her books. Then, as things do, it completely fell off my radar. Until this past Christmas when my niece and nephew's Mama gave me Daring Greatly. It was like a switch for a powerful light was turned on inside me. And I haven't even cracked the spine of the book yet! But, friends, I need this one. The book's subtitle says it all: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I simply don't do vulnerability. I might go out on a limb in this space and dip my little toe into it now and again, but that's safe. That's nothing. I'm not looking you in the eye. I'm not bearing my soul. I don't even bare my soul to myself. This should be an interesting (terrifying!) ride.

January 9, 2017

Stretch & Sketchbook

This first week of 2017 has felt like suspended animation. I've unintenionally insulated myself from feeling the pull of any responsibilities. I've been floating along, feeling much like my left ear that has been blocked up since the end of December. You know that feeling? Like there's a bubble inside your head/ear that dampens sound and makes you feel slightly off-kilter. Yeah, that feeling. Other than walking around the neighborhood and Wissahickon Valley Park with the Hubs, I've been reading non-stop. I've raced through 3 novels; utterly absorbed while reading, but mostly forgotten when finished. Comprehension, yes; retention, not so much.
As I was writing the other night, trying to verbalize personal blockages I would like to address, the desire to stretch myself spilled forth. To literally stretch my muscles and joints (the Hubs and I had just completed a 9-1/2 mile walk and I was tired and sore), to expand my mind, to challenge my intellect, to learn new skills, to reach just beyond what I find comfortable. I never set an intention for 2016, which felt right at the time, but now, I kinda miss having that self-imposed guiding force.
Stretch is similar enough to openness, my 2014 intention, that I considered trying to come up with a unique intention for 2017. But then I read my email for the first time in a week and stretch was cemented (hah! - ironically enough). In a message from Annapurna Living, Carrie-Anne, one of the women from last February's gathering in the woods, wrote about a recent visit with Amanda, one of the gathering's organizers. In this message, Carrie-Anne addressed the need to stretch:
I step into the deepest gratitude and I look to where I need to stretch and I do it. I STRETCH because I must. The warrior woman in me activates through my practice. My heart is nourished by my conversations with my friends and I keep on keeping up. I cry when I need to and feel no need to explain why. I look to humor as medicine and music as the backdrop to my everything.
Encouraged by this happy little synchronicity of thought, 2017 is the year to stretch myself in all ways. Do you set a yearly intention or theme? What is your focus for 2017?

December 31, 2016

52 Books

For an explanation of 52 Books (2012) click here. Click here for 2013 and here for 2014 and here for 2015.

Early in 2016 I half-jokingly pledged to read fewer books this year, with the intention to DO more without my nose buried in a book. This became a necessity as every free moment for much of the spring and summer was spent finishing our half-completed home renovations, selling our house, moving from SW Ohio to Philadelphia, and massive downsizing to fit comfortably in less than 600 square feet (from a previous 2,000 square feet plus a basement and a barn and a near hoard of reclaimed studio supplies diverted from the landfill). Minimalist I am not, but we continue to inch ever closer to the right amount of stuff for a small, cozy home. Fifty-two books downsized this year, too, but with multiple Philadelphia public libraries and several Little Free Libraries within walking distance, 2017 could easily top 52 without a single addition to our shelves.

Happy New Year, friends!
BOOKS 2016
The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Silander Novel • David Lagercrantz
The Bridges of Madison County • Robert James Waller
The Casual Vacancy • J K Rowling
Black and Blue • Ian Rankin
Dark of the Moon • John Sanford
Purity •Jonathan Franzen
The Valley of Fear • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A Game of Thrones • George R R Martin
The Bone Clocks • David Mitchell
A Clash of Kings • George R R Martin
The Name of the Wind • Patrick Rothfuss
Corduroy Mansion • Alexander McCall Smith
The Shipping News • E Annie Proulx
My Name is Lucy Barton • Elizabeth Strout
My Life on the Road • Gloria Steinem
True Evil • Greg Iles
Slammerkin • Emma Donoghue
Carrying Albert Home • Homer Hickam
Island of Lost Girls •  Jennifer McMahon
The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession • Mark Obmasick
Outlander • Diana Gabaldon
Dr Mütter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medecine • Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
A Storm of Swords • George R R Martin
Knots and Crosses • Ian Rankin
Dragonfly in Amber • Diana Gabaldon
The Gap of Time • Jeanette Winterson
The Blazing World • Siri Hustvedt
Eat, Pray, Love • Elizabeth Gilbert
The Long Walk • Stephen King
A Feast for Crows • George R R Martin
The Magician's Assistant • Ann Patchett
The Heart Goes Last • Margaret Atwood
My Year of Meats • Ruth L Ozeki
Freddy and Fredericka • Mark Helprin
A Gate at the Stairs • Lorrie Moore
Case Histories • Kate Atkinson
A Dance with Dragons • George R R Martin
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh • Michael Chabon
Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art • Claire Wellesley-Smith
The Surrogate Thief • Archer Mayor

December 21, 2016

Happy Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice, friends!

Philadelphia is decidedly non-wintry as of yet, especially in our overheated apartment. The windows are open and a fan is blowing despite outside temps below freezing. Rather than go on a rant about the wastefulness of this situation, I choose to be grateful that we have shelter and warmth. As one who tends towards pessimism, our challenging political climate has inspired me to focus on the positive. A lot of really great things occurred in 2016. Near the top of my list is the wonderful, nurturing long weekend - of crafting, eating well, and rejuvenating body and soul - I had the privilege to share with a welcoming bunch of women in the woods of New Hampshire in February (a description appears at the end of this post and a wrap-up is on SouleMama). The winter wonderland photos below are from that time.

As for marking the solstice, every candle holder is filled, dinner prep is underway for wintry rye pilaf stuffed acorn squash, and the wine is at the ready. And if we luck out, the clouds will clear for a moonlit walk. 
Wishing you peace, love, and happy holidays, 

December 12, 2016

Slow Sunday

A satisfying Sunday of slow stitching, slow soup making, and slow soaking. A square of running stitch with linen thread on reclaimed denim. About 1/3 through I found my rhythm. The only needle with a large enough eye for the thick tread had a blunt tip. The bluntness of the needle slowed an already slow process. It was lovely. The soup came together over several days and made a warm meal on a raw night. Despite the man at the cleaners telling me the only way to remove mildew from fabric is with chlorine bleach and the only fabric safe to bleach is cotton (and then saying it would be $20 to clean my coat but it wouldn't remove the mildew), the soaking rescued my wool coat, not needed for the past 9 years, from extensive mildew bloom. One hour soak in the tub with enough water to cover and 2 cups white vinegar followed by a gentle wash and additional one hour soak with a little detergent, 2 more cups vinegar, and about a dozen drops of tea tree oil for good measure. Then a clear water rinse, a second rinse/one hour soak with vinegar, and a third rinse with clear water. Perhaps a bit overkill, but I don't have somewhere to hang it in the sun to dry and naturally bleach. Drip dried inside and no longer any signs of mildew. Bring on the snow.

December 9, 2016

Process: Stitchery

Of late, stitchery has replaced photography in my daily creative practice. Specifically, reading about stitchery over coffee and breakfast every morning. The book is Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art by Claire Wellesley-Smith. I can't remember how or when I came across Claire's work, but it was love at first sight. The more I learn about her work and process, historical research and community engagement, connections to place and seasonal rhythms, the more deeply I appreciate her textile art. 

Focused on establishing a rhythm of studio practice as I am, it feels apt to be reading about and contemplating the rhythm of hand stitching. Practicing hand stitching will complete the circle. To that end, while being mindful of process over performance, practice over end results, I am excited to test a variety of embroidery flosses new to me: crewel wool, stranded silk, 50/50 silk/merino blend, Sashiko cotton, vintage Swedish linen floss, and 4 different weights of unwaxed linen thread. While I can imagine each type of floss serving a unique textural, structural, and visual function in a completed work, I am more interested in how each thread feels while stitching. Only one way to find out. With snow and rain forecast for Sunday, I plan to ensconced on the couch with needle and thread.