Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

After days of cold and damp, today is beautifully sunny and in the eighties with a breeze.  The pollen is so thick there's a haze on the air.  Last week, I planted over twenty packs of zinnias outside, and the basil and parsley seeds I planted in little pots on my windowsill have germinated and are looking stronger and taller every day. I'm leaving for France in exactly one week... and it's hard to believe that when I get home, the zinnias will be close to blooming, the basil and parsley will be ready to eat, and my little baby chicks will be looking just like grown-up chickens.

While all that growing is happening here at home, I'll get to see what Spring is like on the banks of the Rance River in Brittany, painting and exploring for the whole month of May!  By a big stroke of luck, I was picked to be an artist in residence in Dinan.  Yvonne Jean-Haffen was a French artist and supporter of the arts.  When she died, she willed her house in Brittany "La Maison de la Grande Vigne" to be a museum, and a tiny stone cottage below the big house "La Vignette" to be an artist residency.  Les Amis de la Grande Vigne is the group that manages the museum and carries out Yvonne's wishes.  Each year they review applications from artists all over the world, and chose 12 - one artist per month - to live and paint in the cottage.

I'm so excited, my mind is already halfway out the door.  I'm afraid the month will pass too quickly, but keep reminding myself that it has plenty of potential to be rich and full.  You never, ever know what could happen, even in a short span of time, in this life.  For example, just last night while I was waitressing, an elderly (in his eighties) diner waved me close down to where he sat at the table.  He said, just above a whisper, "I know why the food is so good."  "Why?" I asked him.  "Because all the girls in the kitchen are virgins; I can tell!"  I burst out laughing, because what else could I do?  Not really an appropriate thing for  him to say, and it does make you wonder about sinister or cultural undertones, but sometimes it's refreshing when people remind you of all the absurdities swirling around in the human imagination and how each moment is brimming with wide-open possibility.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Things to do in the Middle of the Night

The moon is high and just on the waning side of full in the black square of window in front of my desk.  I have a bad habit of wanting to do more in one day than is possible, so rather than give up, I decide to use half the night, which I should have learned by now inevitably cuts into the following morning, and that exhaustion eventually gets revenge no matter how much you accomplish while not sleeping.  But I can't help but love the quiet peaceful hours when everyone else is sleeping, and even if they're not, they assume you are, so you're left deliciously alone to concentrate uninterrupted.

A few months ago, my grandmother's sister gave me my great-great grandmother Emma's sewing machine.  It is a portable Singer 221-1 'Rotary Hook, For Family Use.'  Emma bought it at a shop at 6111 Georgia Avenue N.W. in Washington D.C. in December of 1939 for $142.25.  She traded in something for $7 and made a down payment of $13, and then paid installments of $3.50 on the 18th of each month.  It makes me so happy that I can still use this machine.  The great-aunt that gave it to me even used it to sew her own wedding dress.  Since I'm not very good at all with straight lines, I hope the spirit of Emma will guide me through the rhythms of the machine and help me have a steady hand...and maybe even someday become a good seamstress.  Tonight I completed the hem of a tea towel I'm making out of my fabric.

I quit the sewing machine around midnight to try to tackle the task my mom gave me of filling out the insert cards for my sister's graduation announcements.  This requires me to pen my sister's full name and her double degree on two shockingly short lines in some kind of fancy lettering.  Last summer I ordered an instruction manual for Spencerian Penmanship, which was developed by Platt Rogers Spencer in the 1800s and was the leading method of script instruction in schools for almost a hundred years.  The Theory and Practice book I ordered was originally copyrighted in 1874 by Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co. and has been reprinted by Mott Media with virtually no change from the original, save correction of the spelling of hight to height.  It's really fun to look through and attempt to practice, even though the instructions are rigid and precise, down to a specific position and posture the penman is supposed to assume at the desk while writing.  And the pen must be held a certain way, which feels completely restrictive and unnatural at first.  The instructions for a lowercase 'r' read as follows:

Begin on base line and ascend with a right curve on connective slant one and one-quarter spaces; make a light dot, and descend with a slight left curve nearly vertical (5 degrees to left of vertical), one-fourth of a space; turn short, and descend with a straight line on main slant to base; turn short again, and ascend with a right curve on connective slant, one space.

Despite the technicality, I like trying, especially on big lined paper. (Yes, you can get the same glorious paper you practiced cursive on in third grade at Family Dollar or Dollar General!  I recommend it... it's very satisfying to write on, even for grocery lists.)  It's too bad that people have mostly abandoned script writing for chicken-scratchy print, and letter writing for emails.  Imagine the simple pleasure that could be restored to life if we all sent and received a handwritten letter each week.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Table for Ten

There is something wonderful about a department store... at least the way they supposedly were in the olden days, in Nancy Drew mysteries and black and white movies where a lady would measure you for a silk slip and put your purchase in a thick box tied with ribbon, and you could linger to have tea and a sandwich with your great aunt.  And you went there to buy just a couple things, of high quality, that you would expect to use for a long time.  I guess a few modern upscale department stores try to sustain this with grand piano players and attentive employees.  But despite the facade, department stores are mostly cluttered with flashy, disposable clothes and handbags and shoes and home wares made by people paid unfair wages in factories in far away places, and if we thought about where the goods were coming from, or experienced the process of making them, we wouldn't be able to stomach buying them.  Not to mention the terrible flimsy plastic bags that do nothing to make you feel what you bought means something and should be taken care of and made to last a long time.

I remember being in the fine china section of a department store with my mom when I was in elementary school.  Because she hadn't registered for China when she got married, my mom had been slowly buying pieces of her chosen china pattern over the years.  In the section with us was a young woman customer, her mother, and a department store woman following them with a clipboard.  The young woman was working on her bridal registry, trying to choose a china pattern.  She seemed tentative and pensive, while her mother was loud and full of directives, and the department store lady tried to remain cheerfully neutral.  When we were out of earshot, my mom told me to make sure to register for nice china like that bride when my time came, because if not, I would regret it, and be like my poor mom, without much disposable income, trying to piece a set together over the years.  I'm not married yet, and I suppose I could change my mind, but for now I have so much fun collecting a variety of plates at the thrift store.  Most of the plates I've found are made in the USA and many have delicate 22 K gold on their rims.  All of them cost about a dollar each. Two of the plates pictured (the mushrooms and the butterflies &strawberries) were not thrifty at all.... they are Nathalie Lete plates I splurged on because I liked them so much!  They are made in China :(

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


A year and a half ago, I was in Italy, living on a little farm on the outskirts of a village called Orte.  While I was there, I took walks around the farm and down the dusty gravel road that passed by it, and collect fruits, flowers, ferns, nuts, leaves...  Then I would rush to paint the things I'd collected before sunset.  I continued that habit the following spring and summer at home in Unionville, all the while harboring the idea I would figure out how to convert the paintings into fabrics.  I've been a real worrywart and doubter in the meantime, but on April 4, I got the Fed-Ex package with my first collection of fabrics - ten designs I made from my paintings!

For the next while, I'll be anxiously figuring out the logistics of selling and marketing them.

Spring is beautiful on my parents' farm; galloping along toward summer faster than I would like, but I guess if it weren't so fleeting, it wouldn't be as beautiful.  Especially the delicate crab apple blossoms that fell down with the rain today.

Little Maran

Three weeks ago, my best friend Nora called me early in the morning.  She wanted me to go with her to meet a lady.  The lady was selling action figures that Nora wanted to get for one of her sons as a birthday present.  (It was a Craigslist transaction).  I threw off my covers and put on a dress and drove up to the general store where I left my car and hopped into Nora's.  After an hour and a half drive, we met the lady, who had farm tags on her little sedan, in a 7-11 parking lot.  She seemed really nice, called herself the the 'Farm Mama' and after Nora had paid for the figurines, she gave us her business card and said she had lots of baby chicks if we were interested.  After a bit of whispering and deliberating, Nora and I decided to follow the farm mama to her homestead to have a look at her chicks.  We were a little nervous when we pulled into her driveway.  There was a weedy, dilapidated look about the place... a faded sign dangling in the dusty picture window said 'BEWARE of DOG'.   We followed the farm mama over stepping stones into a kind of breezeway filled (save a narrow, jagged path) with cascading piles of countless feed bags (full and empty) to the back yard where she showed us several pairs of different breeds of chickens.  There were also calves munching on hay and a pot-belly pig rooting under a tree.  Those were the creatures of the small backyard and I privately wondered how much land and what other animals she and her husband might have.  We never did see a dog.  There was at least one cat.  After looking at the parent birds, we followed the farm mama into the house to see the hatchlings.  The air inside was thick with barnyard musk. The kitchen table was piled high with eggs and egg cartons.  There were roosters crowing in cages in the carpeted living room.  Despite these sorts of close quarters not being something I would like to live with, I thought the farm mama was very kind, and I got the impression she was truly knowledgeable and loved and cared for her animals well. She gently plucked  four Rhode Island Reds and two Marans from the bunch of peeping chicks in the living room and kissed them goodbye before placing them in a box for me to take home.  Nora got six chicks, too.

When I got home, I found all kinds of commentary on the internet about Marans.  I wish I could just ask an experienced old woman about them, because you never know what information is accurate on the internet, especially coming from people getting all wild and upset about the genetic purity of chickens.  Marans are a French breed, apparently not yet recognized by the American Poultry Association, and due to under-the-table, indiscriminate breeding, Maran genes have been corrupted here in the U.S.  A proper Maran has feathered legs.  A proper Maran eggshell is a beautiful deep-dark brown, and the yolk  is gourmet in richness and flavor.  Most likely, my Marans aren't up to pedigree.  But I don't care; I really like this little rooster (and his hen, which I don't have a photo of yet).