Sunday, April 12, 2015

sunday grace: finding the things that save you


i'm constantly telling my students (who are front-line child abuse responders) that in order to survive in their careers and maintain integrity, compassion and energy for the work, they have to discover, mindfully practice and enjoy the things that save them in "real" life.  i practice what i preach.  for me, the short list includes art, yoga, flowers, cooking, dogs, the forest and learning something new.

i was lucky to combine three of these things...art, dogs and learning something new...on saturday at beautiful TOOLRY, a creative workspace downtown.  (see more TOOLRY here and here and here.)  i participated in a charcoal drawing class led by artist laura pharis.

the workshop was a bit outside my comfort zone.  i have not worked with charcoal before and my creative preferences lean toward using color in bold and abstract and messy ways.  drawing exact and realistic details in black is not something i would intuitively move toward.  but i know that learning new techniques is one of the ways to be a fuller artist.



(also saving me:  a box full of new art stuffs.)


we started with exploring the structure of the figure by drawing a skeleton and understanding the armature of the human shape.  i'm kind of loving the bones right now and can't wait to integrate them into my mixed media pieces.


puppy breaks are very helpful when you are learning something new.  this is emma.  she is the newest member of the TOOLRY family.


after a few hours of the foundations of using charcoal and drawing the human form, we were ready to move into gesture drawing and figure drawing with our model, the lovely sarah.


oh this empty white space.  i'll be honest, i was a bit tentative here.


starting with scribbling and practice and erasing always helps.  once the blank page is marked (with charcoal or paint or the first few words) it becomes much less intimidating.


after a series of two-minute gesture drawings, it was time for another puppy break.


in the first few stages of the live drawing, i fell in love with this abstract, picasso-esque sarah and the ghosts on the page.  i was tempted to stay here, but i came to learn and practice a specific skill, so i moved forward into a more realistic version.


i'm pretty happy with the final version.  but the experiences of the day were the real sources of happiness here: play, exploration, courage, kindness and creativity.  these are the things that saved me.

what is saving you this weekend?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

a week of color and making and goodness


oh loves, spring has finally arrived in all her glory in virginia.  this week has been full of so much beauty and color, i can barely stand it.  i hope you are seeing and living the same.

this week:

i rescued these fallen camillas on a walk in my neighborhood.


while the forest outside is still lingering in its winter bed (the big trees don't really explode with spring for another few weeks), the kitchen window is all about spring and sunshine.


the cherry blossoms.  they kill me.


ditto, the lilacs.


downtown loveburg is plastered with local art.


cyndi's studio is opening this week!  she is the calm in the midst of the storm pre-opening.  yoga goodness is such a beautiful space with amazing teachers.  i'm honored to have my photographs grace the website.  it was so inspirational to capture the beauty and grace and strength of some of cyndi's students.


more yoga goodness.  when we arrived in loveburg fourteen years ago, there was no yoga other than the kind you did by yourself at home.  today there are so many beautiful yoga studios and teachers to choose from.  such abundance!


i was feeling blue on saturday and ken said, "let's go to the art store."  i love him.


this paintbrush is like gold.  i was curious about its $405 price and tried to convince inez at the shop to break out some paints so we could see what it could do.


i had to be satisfied with my $10 brushes at home.


for easter brunch i made two dishes for the first time that were amazingly beautiful.  persian jeweled rice is saffron basmati rice with apricots, bayberries, pistachios, almonds, pomegranates and mint.


these easter egg radishes were roasted with brown butter and pink salt.  is there a more appropriate easter side-dish?  i don't think so.


like everyone else, i have spring cleaning and organization fever.  i gypsyhillified my ikea flat file chest for the art studio.  it will give all those thousands of bits of collected ephemera and papers a lovely home.  and the giant buddha head planter on top will hold rolled paper.

spring is off to a lush start on gypsy hill.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

journey of a resistant yogini {№1}



my friend and yoga teacher cyndi lee is collaborating with me on a series of posts about the ways we experience resistance to yoga and how to overcome them.  if you are human there is a good chance you know resistance pretty well. the conversations cyndi and i have about yoga and resistance and creativity have turned out to be pretty powerful.  we want to invite you along.  if you've ever felt the struggle to get to yoga class (or go for a walk, take an art workshop, sit down and write, start anything that is good for you, etc.) we hope our journey offers insight and real solutions.

first, introductions:

cyndi:  i am a yoga teacher.  for nearly four decades i have studied with great yoga teachers and buddhist masters but i often learn the most from my students.  you might think that i love to practice yoga all day long but according to my mother, i was born ornery.  this has manifested in resistance to doing pretty much anything other than lying on the couch with a good book, a cappuccino, and my poodle, leroy.  although i am familiar with the struggles of resistance, i am also bored with that old story so i want to thank lisa for inviting me to explore the what, where, when and mostly why of resistance.  resistance is fertile.

lisa:  i am a yoga student.  it's been thirty years since i took my first yoga class and i still consider myself a beginner. i turned fifty last year and spent some months leading up to that day pondering the yoga-related plans i made on my thirtieth and fortieth birthdays that have not manifested in the decades since i first dreamed them out loud.  i became fascinated with the frequency and intensity of my resistance to doing yoga.  like cyndi, i have a wee rebellious spark and find it impishly delightful when we get together and the combined power of our resistance is enough to move mountains.  except the mountains remain firmly in place, because resistance keeps anything from moving.  i am beyond grateful to have cyndi as a teacher.



lisa:  for me resistance feels like emotional interference to living.  more specifically, interference to do-ing. resistance to things like paying bills and housework makes total sense to me, but i am extra curious when i have resistance to things i love, like yoga.  and i'm gobsmacked by the ability of tricky resistance to be cunningly unconscious (resulting in saying to myself thirty years later, "hey, i totally didn't do that...hmmm.")  there is that little moment before class, that brief deflation of enthusiasm and good intention, wherein if i dare inhale, the sweet possibility of escape and postponement washes over me.

recently i started the practice of consciously noticing when i am experiencing resistance.  as an introverted-intuitive-creative human, i tend to start any venture in my head.  often that is where they set up camp and stay.  forever.  it's really really good in there.  while this new practice of noticing increases my self-awareness and understanding, it is a practice that happens in my head, not with my body.  my resistance has not dissolved.  i have not been rocketed to class with a smile on my face.  it's true, i want to be rocketed to class, propelled by the majestic force of centuries of the enlightened, with a blissful smile on my face and a head emptied of resistance.  high expectations anyone?  i know the first leg of my journey is moving out of my head and on to my mat.

cyndi:  everything is better in your head.  oh, my friend, there is so much here to talk about that we might have to sit down at cao, our favorite hang.  perhaps you will get a tiny sipping chocolate and i'll get a steeping leaf revelation green tea and my two favorite truffles, madagascar vanilla and toasted coconut.  sometimes you get tea and truffles too.  sometimes i get a cappucino...  oh, this fantasy is so good, but let's pull our minds back to the present for a moment.

you are such a profoundly creative being.  your mind and mind's eye is alive and rich with color and light and movement.  you see paintings and pretty rooms and inspiring images all the time.

in buddhism, we call this fruition.  it means having a vision of where you are headed.  this is not the same as a fixed goal, such as, "i will lose this much weight in this amount of time.  and then i will be done."

fruition is more like an aspiration or a direction.  such as:

"i will become loving and generous toward myself and others."

"i want to see everyone as a friend, including myself."

this is different from a set goal because implicit in this approach is the understanding that you will be entering an ongoing process; it is more like a sea change in how you live your life.  it is not task-oriented but more about expanding your capacity.  you might not know what that process is yet.  or you might know what it is but you have some resistance to entering that process.  because you know there will be challenges along the way, perhaps some setbacks too.

so the thing to do is rewind back to the beginning.  in buddhism, this is called three fold logic.
  1. start with your fruitional vision.
  2. take honest stock of where you are now in relationship to that fruitional vision.  if this expanded capacity feels a hundred miles away, this is actually no problem.  the only problem is if you are not honest about where you are starting.  whether you are honest or not, this is the still the place where you are starting.  current location, please.
  3. connect these two dots by figuring out the path.
let's go back to the part of you who sees light and color and beauty.  what i have learned about you is that you are almost constantly engaged in a process (a path!) of creating this in your world.

for example, you recently made beautiful easter eggs by dyeing them with natural materials.  you reported in this very blog that you had a lot of trail and error.  supposedly, vinegar holds the dye, but you aren't sure about that since your results were inconsistent.  you discovered that if you don't hold the eggs just right when removing them from the dye bath, the color will rub off.  

as far as having a picture in your head, you might have had a beautiful purple-y egg in mind when you used purple cabbage as a coloring agent, but (surprise!) the cabbage made brown eggs look green and white eggs look blue!

it was clear from your blog post that you went through a period of doubt about the project, but you kept at it and ended up with lots of lovely easter eggs that filled you and your friends with delight.  and along the way you stretched yourself by expanding your capacity for creativity and commitment.

practicing yoga is really just like this.  you might have an idea of how it should feel and what the whole experience will be like.  but you really can't know.  it might be more useful for you to relax your hold on that picture.  and think about the fruitional aspect.

fruition of practicing yoga:
  • you will feel good about yourself for doing something that you know you really do want to do.
  • your parasympathetic nervous system gets stimulated, this is good for creativity and health.
  • you get better at yoga - and that is fun and feels good in a way that continues off the mat.
  • you get physically stronger and your mental strength increases as well because you are practicing discipline (you might not resonate positively with the word "discipline", but i think that is what you did by sticking with your egg dyeing project for hours).
  • you get healthier (related to strength, but also about breathing and internal organs).
  • you _____________ (your assignment is to fill in the blank, i recommend something that itself is moving, active, alive; not a fixed thing like growing compassion or curiosity).
how do you want to grow?
where are you starting?
can you find a path that can have faith in?

we can talk more about this in our next conversation.

in the meantime, i'll see you at yoga goodness studio.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

natural dye easter eggs


i am intrigued by the process of dyeing things with the colors of nature.  i've wanted to try natural dyeing of fabric for a while and thought it would be a good idea to dip my toe in by coloring a few easter eggs with food and plant material.

full disclosure:  this project was messy and time-intensive and a day later my kitchen still smells of boiled cabbage. the eggs didn't turn out exactly as i had planned but once i let go of what i thought they should look like, their quirky beauty radiated.
 

more disclosure:  i became so impatient with the process and the mess that i failed to properly record the recipes for each color.  i followed recipes from here and here.  my eggs looked different.  so i'm not sure that it matters if you follow the recipes.

you will need a lot of glass containers.


and a variety of foods and spices.  i began with both brown and white eggs.  for the colors, i used what i had on hand:  blueberries (frozen), turmeric, matcha green tea, hibiscus flowers, grape juice, purple cabbage and beets for the colors. sometimes i added salt; sometimes vinegar (here is where i neglected to record).


i did two methods of cooking and dyeing.  first i hard-boiled the eggs with the coloring material.  to prevent the eggs from becoming rubbery, i simmered them for only 15 minutes at the same time the color was being extracted from the plant material.  in a second batch, i hard-boiled the eggs separately in my steamer, then put them in the color. either way, you have to hard-boil the eggs and you have to cook the color.  the second method produced a more saturated dye, as i was able to cook the color longer.

for the color, put your fruit/veg/spice material in a pan with water.  bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes.

for more intense colors, you must soak the eggs in the color overnight in the refrigerator.  apparently, the vinegar is what makes the color adhere (i write "apparently" because this result was not consistent in my experimentation).





when you pull your eggs from the color, be careful how you touch them.  the color rubs off pretty easily when they are wet.



the purply-black eggs are colored with hibiscus flowers.  they were my favorite until i pulled out the rose and sea green eggs.  the sea green is oddly produced with purple cabbage and salt on a brown egg.  the bright blue eggs are purple cabbage on white eggs.


a few hours into this project, i had my doubts.  but the results are quite lovely.

i am excited to try dyeing fabric though.  because i can just imagine an oversized cotton gauze scarf in this sublime color:


Thursday, March 19, 2015

around here


class cancellations due to snow left happy me with lots of time to create.  i am trying to avoid new art supply purchases until i use the things i have, like these caran d'ache colors.


something came over me and i painted with white, yellow and orange; rare choices for me.


is rumi like the sexiest 16th century man ever?


i'm optimistic about color and other things this spring.


i've wanted to cook with matcha for a long time, so i made some green tea and almond muffins.


the verdict:  they tasted yummy, but i wanted way more of that green matcha color for the (very high) price of the tea.  i'll try ice cream in a few weeks and use more than the recipe calls for to see if i can get that amazing spring green.


we started spring cleaning and organizing.  our local health food store has majorly upgraded their bulk spices, herbs and dry pantry staples.  i'm finally putting to good use all those jars i've hoarded away like a crazy grandma.  


i finished this piece last week and i am so in love with it.


i'm daydreaming of herbs and succulents on the sill and a meadow of wildflowers on that facing slope.  


another hoarding endeavor that is paying off:  mismatched carnival glass.  i'm thinking about a midsummer party...


these guys.


another thing i've wanted to cook:  lotus root.  i made this soup with lotus root, carrots, purple sweet potatoes, spring onions and asparagus.  the lotus roots are pretty and have an odd taste. the rest of the soup just tastes like spring.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

sunday grace


these last few weeks i'm feeling seriously out of my groove:  slow, annoyed, achy, reclusive, uncertain.  when i experience funks like this, i tend to (conveniently) blame karma.  i'm just paying a karmic debt and it will cycle through, back to normal, right?

pema chödrön urges us to look at karma differently, from a less passive position, one that requires us to pay attention, listen, learn, open and grow:

"the idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings you need to open your heart.  to the degree that you didn't understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you're given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to open further."

that damn soft spot.  it's going to be the death life of me.

Friday, February 20, 2015

saving me right now


greenhouse ranunculus.


rose tea.



hydrangeas and poetry.


easter egg radishes.


the wintry forest.


the romping simon.


the frolicking luca.


these jasmine and their promise of spring.


using all the colours.