A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I didn’t know if I should tell this secret, since it wasn’t entirely mine to tell, but now that I see she posted about it too, I can brag that I will have a fabulous family of new neighbors in just a few months! This is the second time I’ve gotten to meet blogging friends in the real world, and the second time it’s happened because they moved to the same town where I live, a double bonus in my experience. First, it was the estimable man and marvelous photographer/artist Ted Griffith who arrived with his lovely wife and landed in this place that’s turning into a tiny hotbed of blogging, apparently. I got to tell you about that happy crossing of paths earlier.

Now I’ve also had a fantastic visit from the fabulous Marie and her charming and delightful husband and granddaughter, who will move into this same town, just down the pike from us, along with another two members of the family and brighten the north Texas landscape yet further. What a superb and unexpected benefit of blogging. Life is so full of happy surprises!

I suggest you have a nice visit to both of their blogs, tout de suite—Ted’s very inspiring photography and photo-based artworks can be found at Ted Griffith’s Blog and Marie’s world of wonders resides at (for now, anyway) her own little corner of Rhode Island. I’m just guessing there may be a quick little change of blog title somewhere in Miss Marie’s future, if you know what I mean.

The more important purpose of my post today, of course, is to celebrate that serendipitous joy of worlds colliding in the happiest of ways. I have been the blessed and blissful beneficiary of many of the marvels of this ever-smaller world’s confluences and connections. There’s such joy to be found in the miraculous meetings of the wildly interconnected world, and it’s amazing how often the seemingly unrelated threads and paths of our existence meet. What’s not to like about finding the commonalities and happy relationships between us by having our separate and distinct journeys intersect in unpredicted and wonderful ways!

Digital illustration: Confetti

Let’s throw a little confetti and a ticker tape parade in honor of serendipitous connections, my friends!

Ripple Effects

Community is a pool, a lake, an ocean. Having people around me means that every little atom of what I think, feel, say and do has the power to touch all of the lives peripheral to mine. That is immense responsibility. Unspeakable power. I may feel small and even rather insignificant in the scheme of the greater universe, but I know from the way that little things thought, felt, said and done by others move and shape me, regardless of whether their sources are famous or not, well-known to me or not.Digital illustration: Ripple Effects

Now that I’ve sensed the probability of my slipping toward a new round of depression and anxiety, I know full well that it’s important to me to arrest the slide and reverse my direction in order to sustain my own health and well-being. But I know, further, that it matters for the good of others whose lives intersect with mine, and that is a set of challenges and needs that should matter to me at least as deeply as my own. Yes, it matters to me if it matters to you. I’m nowhere near perfect or heroic, but I’d like to be as decent as I can manage. Even a small stone, skipped across the surface of the water, can create quite the motion in the stillest pond.

Don’t Blame Me, My Teacher Did It

photoThe drawing professor responsible for mentoring me in my undergraduate specialization in drawing and printmaking had no idea he was creating a monster. Safe to say there was nothing especially distinguished about either my skills or my scholarship in those days; he may be forgiven if he thought there was little hope of my passing his classes, let alone succeeding in being an actual artist at any point in the future. But for whatever reasons of commitment and kindness and selfless dedication to his pedagogical efforts, he took it upon himself to tutor and nurture me in my studies besides working wonderfully hard in the general studio sessions he taught.

Like any teacher, he had his characteristic methods and terminology, to the degree that any of us who took more than one semester of classes from him had our own favorite little catch-phrases and loving parodies of his work. One of the most frequent phrases (so we thought then, at least) to leave his lips was ‘texturally rich’—and you can bet your sweet pencil sharpener that any of us giving any imitation of him was bound to quote that one.photo

No surprise at all, then, that as soon as I started teaching, which thanks to his intervention and my subsequent hiring I did for the first time out of grad school in the very classroom where he’d taught me, it was as though I was instantly possessed by his spirit. I think I may have visibly started when I heard myself say that mystical phrase, standing there in the very spot where he’d once stood and repeated it to my classmates and me, never having remotely suspected that I would ever quite understand the term let alone use it so glibly and with such conviction a mere few years later. In my turn, I found it became a true favorite topic of study and tool for art-making and there were undoubtedly students of mine who thought it a funny catchphrase of mine and parodied my use of it.

That’s the way this stuff works, isn’t it. We become our teachers. First we find ourselves imitating our parents and siblings and playmates, learning from them both the persistent bad habits and, if we’re lucky and perhaps not too dumb, the worthy and useful skills and knowledge that will stay with us as we grow. Then we turn to teachers outside of the walls of home and neighborhood, as we get to school and move forward, and learn to imitate them too. This, not to put too fine a point upon it, is what helps us create for ourselves our texturally rich lives.photo

In art, it is the visual or tactile form of texture that I most often seek, finding in the wide variety of possible touchable or perceptible patterns and surfaces worlds of ways that I can shape and delineate and describe whatever subject I choose. As I work to make the art deeper and more complex, the textures I seek include less concrete, more metaphorical and philosophical ones that lend further meaning and impact to it. And that is where it begins to intersect with the learning and growing processes of life in general. A life well lived will be inherently texturally rich. I had no idea of the magnitude and import of this when my professor was saying that simple little phrase. But I’m very glad he said it often enough that I did internalize it, ponder it, carry it with me, and eventually, find a wonderful and purposeful truth in it.

Perhaps even fine teachers like him can’t make me into what I never was, a great teacher myself, but there was clearly a place in my heart and mind that resonated to the phrase ‘texturally rich’ happily and hungrily enough for it to take root and teach me good and useful things long after the echo in the classroom had faded away.photo

Love-Birds of a Feather

I’m as much a sucker for a good bird-brained, glutinous, weepy love story as the next guy. But I only like that stuff in fiction, and only in small doses. It’s not enough for me that a love story should have a meet-cute first act and an upbeat dénouement–it’s the stretch between that ought to be uplifting and exciting. Yes, it’s a rather charming sounding concept, at least on paper perhaps, that love would be perfectly lifelong (a lot riding on how long the lives happen to be) and all-encompassing. Yet aside from the exceedingly rare few seemingly flawless pairs for whom there is no apparent need for a world outside of them at all, most of the best relationships I’ve seen or known happen because they comprise two actual individuals, with all of their own unique characteristics, their daily existence intertwining intimately without losing the color and clarity of those individual souls shaped by their distinct thoughts, actions, experiences and inspirations. A true partnership, with all the challenges of give-and-take, beats cloning any day.

That popular book-and-movie of my younger days, Erich Segal‘s ‘Love Story‘, may by now be better remembered for its tagline ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry‘ than for its actual story of an opposites-attract kind of couple barging and charming their way through thick and thin, plucky and witty and utterly devoted to each other [because of course his haughty family has disowned him for linking up with One of Them, not of Us], until she dies–but very prettily, mind you–of leukemia and her grieving spouse is reunited with his estranged father. The whole story I could take reasonably well, but that one phrase really stuck in my craw, negating all of the negotiations it took to get the fictional couple from their meeting to the bittersweet end of their partnership at her death. Never mind that Segal himself seems to have had a great marriage that defied the glossy sentimentality of such a thing, it always struck me as cheapening the very joy of learning each other’s ways and enriching each other by simply being flawed and odd yet willing to figure out how to fit the two brands of strangeness together well. If I interpret the slogan as regarding regrets rather than apologies, it’s less distasteful to me, though I still think if there’s no risk of hurt, there’s little chance of reward either. The ultimate hurt, in this case, being not death (the old inevitable, despite the dramatic awfulness of its being untimely and painful in this heroine’s case) but the possibility of the relationship failing or being destroyed.

I guess it boils down to this: if a so-called love is so flimsy and flighty it can’t withstand mistakes and the necessary if clumsy duct tape and chewing gum sort of repairs we make on it, how can it be worthy of the name love at all? I much prefer the sort where feathers do get ruffled occasionally but the draw of true companionship and care and hilarity and comfort and adventure all together makes it well worth smoothing them back down.digital illustration from a photoMore than anybody else I know, I have been lucky in love.

I have never suffered through ill-treatment, being dumped or neglected or abused or any of that terrible stuff. I was raised by kind, loving, enjoyable parents–who still seem to think I’m worth keeping around–and have three wonderful sisters who have also kept my coffers filled with affection and excellent companionship. I’ve had a raft of kind friends who have been constant in their warm and encouraging presence throughout my days. Even the teachers, co-workers, postal carriers and shopkeepers peopling my life’s paths have generally been of a goodly sort. Best of all, I am lucky to know just how lucky I have been. And am.

No, that’s not exactly right: the true pinnacle of all this is that I found a best friend I could love, and be loved by, in the truest sense, for the rest of my life. It’s his birthday today, and I can’t help but be reminded how wildly blessed and fortunate I am in having him as my partner and daily companion as well as my great love. Being the best of friends makes all of the rest of it possible, the love and joy and kindness and life challenges faced together. We are birds of a feather, my love and I, and I wish him a long and marvelous series of birthdays yet to come. And a deeply happy one today, to get the rest of them started.

See you back at the ol’ nest by evening, my Sweet.photo montage

That which is Seen

graphite drawingThat which is seen by the untrained eye of the casual observer is an older man, an elderly man, perhaps a shell of his former self. Not someone with a lot of use and life adventure left in him. Handsome, perhaps, in his latter years, with this silver hair and these pale clear eyes, with his faintly stooping posture before a window where no single thing that’s new is seen; elegant in his quiet way, and maybe wise. But not more.

What cannot be seen is the forty-two years he spent working for the postal service, learning the business from the bottom up and eventually teaching not just the next generation that would follow him but the next after that as well. There is no way to know at merely a glance that he tended a beautiful garden on Sunday afternoons where he grew too many vegetables for his own table so he shared the rest around the neighborhood. Invisible, too, is the love he keeps alive for his long-dead wife of thirty years, except for the small bouquet of flowers he picks from that garden of his and gives to their son and his wife every Monday because they were her favorite blooms. Yes, the flowers and the kids.

In the plain little vase where those flowers live for the week, there is room for all that can’t be seen in one quick look at the profile of a man who sits and meditates beside a window. Only by taking the time to appreciate the fulness of that humble bunch of flowers and all that they have to tell can anyone really know what to see when looking toward that window’s light. It takes a certain clarity to see what’s right in front of you.graphite drawing

Love Enough for Everyone

Yes, it is Valentine’s Day. I can’t help–whether I buy into the modern version of the  commercially enhanced holiday or not–being reminded of my many loves. And, external motivations aside, I am glad and grateful and even gleeful when I think of how much love is in my life. I have wealth and happiness beyond what anyone might think to wish for, let alone deserve, and I revel in it on Valentine’s Day and every other moment when I stop to think about my many loves.digital collageI have you to thank for it, for my life in worlds of immense happiness! I am fortunate beyond reason in being surrounded by the love of so many, and in turn, to be able to love you all right back. So I send my profound thanks and my joyful love to all of you, especially on this day of all days. To my parents and my sisters! To my sisters’ spouses and offspring. To our grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. To in-laws and to those who have been adopted into our family as additional and also much-loved sisters and brothers and extended family.

I send thankful love, too, to the many friends who have populated my life with such warm affection and care and company from all the parts of my life outside of my parents’ home: my playmates and classmates, my neighbors and teachers and mentors, my roommates and housemates. To the colleagues and students who made my years of teaching so much better by your presence, and the years beyond it by your memory and continued vitality, I send love. To my gracious and hilarious and tender-hearted and wise readers and commenters here at the blog. To those far-flung friends all around the world whom I can visit only indirectly but can carry in my innermost heart easily all the time. Most of you who are among these many loves of mine may never know what an imprint you left and continue to make on my heart and mind, but you do; oh, how beautifully you do.

My good fortune in a much-loved life is crowned with spending my days and nights in the delightfully daffy and deeply caring companionship of the partner spouse who is as integral to this life of love as the air I breathe and the pulse that knocks my heart and mind into these momentary recognitions of such goodness. I love you, my sweetheart! digital collageAnd I send love to all of you others who have shared and continue to shine the sunlight of your kind and cheering ways on my happy life. Happy Valentine’s Day, every one, and may you be as loved as I am! The holiday ought not be the only time you say so, but it’s certainly an excellent excuse and reminder to tell the ones who love you and whom you love that they are dear to you, too. And yes, I might as well add my own thanks to yours, since those who warm us with their love teach us, and make us able in turn, to go out and love others. That is how love works best.

Foodie Tuesday: Sweets from the Sweet

photoI knew we’d hit the neighbor jackpot yet again. We have a history chock-full of fine neighbors between us, my husband and I, of that sort who are not only great to chat with at the mailbox but offer help and led tools when they see projects underway, share their mystical gardening secrets, and advise on who’s the best resource for automotive care, where there’s still an independent pharmacy in town, or what the local ordinances are on right-of-way maintenance.

But we all know that the best neighbors of all have not only generosity in their hearts but also food in their hands when they show up at the door. Rhonda was known to trade her fresh-picked raspberries for our over-abundant plums. David–actually the manager at our then apartments–went door to door delivering home-grown green beans, tomatoes and zucchini that he and his wife grew in the ‘bonus’ plot on the complex’s property. Peter rang the doorbell at our place in Tyee bearing bending boards of fantastic barbecued meats and salmon and vegetables.

Add to this that we had not only other great neighbors but also heroic postal carriers, pest treatment and HVAC specialists, and remodeling contractors who have become admired friends, and you know that our standard for being spoiled is very high.

So when we moved to our current home, perhaps it was only par for the course that our new next door neighbors would arrive with welcoming smiles–and food. But what food! We didn’t have to lift a finger for anything other than unpacking and furniture-dragging for at least three days after arriving in this house because we were handed an enormous platter laden with an assortment of deliciously varied homemade salads, another piled with home-baked breads and rolls and biscuits, a plate of tender, moist cream cake, and a gallon pitcher of sweet tea. If it hadn’t been love at first sight, it would surely have to have been at first bite.

photo

I'm a lucky chick, having such sweet neighbors!

The flow of gustatory glories has continued unabated (and ably washed down with Mr. Neighbor’s lovely wine-selecting and punch-making skills as well as his fine Scotch collection) from that day forward. You will have no trouble believing and understanding when I say that we are devastated that these neighbors have retired and have the temerity to plan to move back to home territory in another state. Who will phone us in Canada when our sprinkler system fails during a hot spell, to tell us that they’ve already hired the company that installed it to do repairs before we come home? Who will deliver our entire stash of newspapers they collected over our out-of-town trip, updating us on the rest of the neighborhood or sharing delightful stories of their own adventures? And who will show up at random, numerous and very welcome times bearing, say, cake or cookies or pie, or a handmade bread cornucopia with a massive vegetable-and-floral display in it at Thanksgiving, a gorgeously crafted Bûche de Noël at Christmas, a sprightly spring assortment of cookies and cupcakes and jellies at Eastertime?photo

The answer, as you well know, is that it is our turn to become those neighbors, to show up unannounced with that very special something-extra whenever we can, to lend tools and perhaps the hand to use them, and to spread the joy of hospitality whenever and wherever we can. The torch–or the torchon de cuisine–has been passed. I hope I’m up to the task!photoI’ll probably start with something supremely simple like the nut-and-seed crackers that have no real recipe and change every time I make them. They make a handy vehicle for dips, salsas and salads when I want a quick bite of lunch or a not too terribly naughty snack. This time they were thus:

Nut and Seed Crackers (and Tuna Salad)

8 cups of finely chopped mixed nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamias, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds) tossed together with about a cup of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese plus coarsely ground salt and black pepper and good chile powder to taste, all mixed with just enough water to clump together into ‘dough’ and rolled or patted onto a non-stick cookie sheet (I use a silicone lining sheet in the pan so I can be extra lazy on the cleanup), and then baked at 325-350 degrees F (depending on your oven) until golden brown. I let these ones cool in one big slab and then just broke them into uneven pieces about the size for carrying, say, some bacon and cheddar cheese dip or guacamole or seasoned labne or some tuna salad. Tuna Salad, around here, is nothing more than a good quality tinned tuna (one of the brands that cooks its filet directly in the can and adds nothing other than a little salt; I like High Seas and Tuna Guys and can order it online from both, but there are other excellent sustainable-fisheries purveyors as well) seasoned with ground pepper, dried or fresh dill, smoked paprika, yellow ‘ballpark’ style mustard and sometimes chopped capers, and bound with good mayonnaise until slightly creamier than just glued together (spreads better that way).

This combination may not exactly constitute sweets for neighborly delivery, but then we know that the sweetness derives just as much from not needing to fix any food oneself, if only for a brief moment. Or for days on end, if you happen to get one of our neighbor’s fabled deliveries!