So Many Good Books!

 

SO MANY GOOD BOOKS!

With winter receding almost as quickly as the snowbanks, and with days still windy and cold I continue to be hard at work building my spring 2021 reading lists. Currently, I work in a large elementary school which means my vacation schedules circle around summer, the holidays, winter, and spring breaks. With this ebb and flow of days so do my book stacks ebb and flow.

Very often I find myself digging into indie presses’ upcoming releases, researching classics that I’ve never read, along with those I have read and never fully appreciated while in middle and high school, randomly googling things like “books about tea,” and asking friends and colleagues for recommendations. I’m always on the lookout for something unexpected that in turn bumps its way onto my reading list and then into the stacks I have created in various locations around my house. I once had a dear friend ask me, “What are you reading right now?” and my reply of 4 titles left her mouth open wide and wondering, “How can you read more than one book at a time?” This brought me to examining my reading habits and asking myself the following questions:

WHEN DO I READ?

Every day and all the time. Now that may sound a bit over the top, however, I am never without a book close by; in my handbag, in the car, and as I mentioned above my book stacks are scattered throughout the house. Also, I usually am the one who gets up early to make the coffee and set out breakfast, and while all that’s simmering, I’ll start reading. And, I always read before bed, no matter how late the hour is.

BOOKS: PRECIOUS OBJECTS?

I like to treat hardcover books very nicely. I always use bookmarks – sticky notes, postcards, scraps of paper torn from a magazine, or old business cards from previous acquaintances. Paperbacks take a wee bit more action in that I might turn down a page or slide a pencil or pen into the gutter – I always make notes in the paper books I’m reading.

PAPER BOOKS, E-READERS OR AUDIOBOOKS?

Paper books all the time! Years ago when tablets and Kindle readers first came out I was captivated by the backlit lighting, the ease at being able to order any book whenever I saw something appealing but then I realized how much I missed the weight of a good book. And, the smell of paper. Back to paper books I went. Several years ago I had a long commute to work so would listen to ‘books on tape’ in the car. That didn’t last long though as many of the narrator voices didn’t ‘speak’ to me. I preferred hearing my own voice, in my head with all of the inflections and imperfections.

MUSIC OR SILENCE WHILE READING?

It depends. When studying for school work I always have music playing; Tom Petty, Moody Blues, Chicago, Styx, the Beatles. However, when deeply entranced in a novel fiction/non-fiction it has to be quiet in order for me to lose myself amongst the words.

WHAT BOOKS AM I LOOKING FORWARD to READING IN SPRING 2021?

I’m really looking forward to reading Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore a ‘modern day’ fictional story that explores time leaps in and out of the years between 1982 up through 2015, How to Stop Time by Matt Haig, Normal People by Sally Rooney, Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb narrative indie nonfiction in Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl-1932, and a return to a classic, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Easy Does It

 

 

Easy Does It

As the year 2021 starts off snowy and cold and our greatest defenses are to put on a snuggly polar bear hooded snowsuit to dive deep into the stillness of the nearest snow pile, like my grandson, Nathan, I believe we continue to yearn for the silence and calm (Not Nathan!) that deep winter in the Northeast brings to us New Englanders. I often call it the ‘necessary’ calm or the calm ‘before the summer storm’ of visitors who arrive from away as early as April.

But, for now, while so much of life as we know it did in fact slow down and scale back for much of 2020 – out of necessity – emotionally, socially, and mentally it continues to be hard work, heavy, and pretty harried from day to day. Watching my grandson play joyfully in the snow crunchy mounds in his backyard, I notice each time that he plays hard, is emotionally exhausted after building a snowman or snow fort with his sister, but at the same time, he’s cultivating an inner sense of calm. He’s quieted any worries, instead taking on an inviting sense of ease and simplicity into his life as a 2 and a half-year-old. A most welcome and definitely timely respite from the day to day chatter in his external world.

Watching Nathan play I often think that maybe it’s a good time to adjust my expectations. A good time to give myself and others permission to lower the bar just a wee bit, to allow for more space for boredom, and ease, and quiet, and stillness. To practice becoming comfortable in that big open space we call our own backyard. 

To become confident in the knowledge that in order to make something cherished (a day, an event, reading a book) and memorable, we need not pack it full of endless lists of ‘to do’. Instead, to savor the sights, and sounds, and smells, and flavors of a moment lived and experienced well are most often our most cherished. 

I imagine that one day I will ask my grandson what he remembers most about his cherished moments playing in a snowy backyard as a toddler and I think I will hear, “Cocoa bombs, Mimi. Let’s make cocoa bombs!” 

Ahhh. My favorite winter beverage.

The BEST Hot Chocolate Bomb Recipe + Tutorial – Sugar Geek Show

 

Our Creativity Changes As We Do

 

The Various Paths We Take Can Lead Us Somewhere New

A creative life is not linear – it’s full of curves, swoops, dips, and sometimes confusion. 

For each step we take forward toward a chosen destination, there can often be many steps backward, providing perfect circumstances for discouragement to cultivate.

My grand-daughter is 5 ½ and living through a pandemic; hybrid schooling, no access to her grand-parents except through the virtual world, and yet she thrives. Telling me often that she loves school, wants to be an artist and a scientist when she grows up, and rejoices in sharing, via a ZOOM session, the loss of her very first tooth!

She’s resilient. Creative. Determined. Focused. And, loves learning new things. Her creative path has diverged many times during 2020, however, a good life doesn’t always move stoically forward in a single direction – rather, it’s full of slow and steady progress and tiny breakthroughs. 

For my grand-daughter, her tiny breakthrough came when her mother registered her for a ZOOM cooking class. She and several other friends her age connect each week to create, cook, and take the challenge of learning something new – slicing, dicing, spreading, mushing, stirring, pouring, and measuring – all while following the directions of a chef who assists on the screen.

For Natalie, her pathways in a good life have been interrupted and re-directed yet she continues to thrive and persevere to learn more, do more, and create her own map of crisscrossing paths and places that she might never have imagined.

I think my take-away from this divergence is believing the best thing a person can do is embrace the positives and possibilities from every situation that you are in or choose to be in. Every Thursday, Natalie connects virtually to prepare and cook a meal for her parents and younger brother which I’ve heard has become the highlight of everyone’s week. And, each week her mother, Kris, sends me photos that I, in turn, send off to family and friends who delight in seeing Natalie grow and embrace this new activity. At the same time, those photos bring more smiles and exclamations and comment that swirl inside of an email ‘reply – all’ button. Eventually, we all learn what works for us and what doesn’t and move forward with the lessons we’ve learned; our creativity changes just as we do.

The Art of Seeing Simplicity

Photo courtesy of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge 

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was a world-renowned marine biologist, author, and environmentalist who served as an aquatic biologist and editor-in-chief for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. She has been credited with launching the contemporary environmental movement and awakening the concern of Americans for the environment.

The Art of Seeing Simplicity

SIMPLICITY has many forms. What at first might appear simple, when observed more closely, reveals a complex world. What does simple mean to you? For me, simple is a clean minimal workspace in which to create and write, several uninterrupted quiet hours, a straightforward plan, sharpened pencils, a hot cup of tea, cloth napkins, a warm slice of peanut butter toast, and to invigorate my creative thinking a cold winter’s walk crunchy with frost underneath my boots. 

With the hustle and bustle of life, for me, there is a peace that comes with simplifying. Even my hobbies, where I often turn to for solace, can be overwhelming, especially when pressures to keep up with what others are doing. When that overflow begins to take shape there is often a call for me to simplify, in whichever way this word takes form, be it in my writing, the meals I prepare, the walks that I take each day. The respite comes for me when I take that deep breath, calm my buzzing thoughts, look around me, and know that I am at my best when I can celebrate basic forms, colors, textures, and silhouettes. This celebration arrives in many different ways, through my writing, knitting, sewing, drawing, or cooking. Some of my projects are simple in structure, while others are simple in style. Still, others are simple only in appearance and interestingly enough require more of my attention and skill to create. 

I am filled with immense gratitude each and every day; especially for places like the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge. http://fms.gov/rachel_carson

The soft sand where trails wind along the edge of the marsh, the spongy moss trails that guide my walks, and the coastal sky so blue that it often takes my breath away all combine to create a natural interlude that always allows me to breathe new life, perspective, and joy into my everyday creative world. 

 

 

We Are All Better When We Stand Together

WORDS & IMAGES

Writing as a Creative Tool

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE ARE ALL BETTER WHEN WE STAND TOGETHER & USE WRITING AS A CREATIVE TOOL, just as my son, Eric, used a creative tool to split wood. No splitting maul was available to him, so he checked out what he had in the shed and voila – a pickaxe.

As I grow as a writer, I understand more and more that it’s not about words. I am always chasing the magic of an image. Words for me are a translation of the source of the story – and for me, this exists in and through an image. Just like these photos; A woodpile. A pickaxe. A family. A father who’s a hero to his children. I try to embody my scenes, which means landing in the presence of a world in action, exploring it with my five senses, and trying to get those details down. When it works, language can be a conduit, so the experience of the scene moves through my body and into the body of you, the reader.

We are trained to write reports, fill in forms correctly, and communicate clearly in an email. We also think, because we’ve been doing this for so long, that this is what ‘writing’ feels like. If you are used to writing creatively you might believe that words are buckled into their fixed meanings. Anyone can learn a few creative writing skills, and learn how to unfasten that buckle. Then a delicious space opens between word and meaning. 

We all get to play with this because we all use language. Learning how to imbue a word with emotion can be incredibly liberating and healing. At the same time an empty canvas or a blank page, that oftentimes scary writing thing called white space can be down-right terrifying, and debilitating. But it can also be used to provide balance to a work of art or a page layout. A good amount of white space keeps things from feeling cluttered. And, many times, I’ve seen non-writers laugh with joy, their eyes lit up with surprise from something they discovered on their own writing journey, even while experiencing the dreaded white space that so many of us feel compelled to fill.

Along with this, I love the questions that come out when looking at images. I love the stories that emerge and sometimes they even surprise me. My words and images are company for each other. Sometimes they are thick and tight and sometimes they are sharing the same real estate. One way or another, they have decided they belong together, and very often I agree.

 

 

My Missy Cat

 

My Missy Cat

Earlier this summer I picked up a small relatively thin book titled, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Elliot. It originally caught my eye because of the word ‘possum’ and since publishing a book last year about an opossum I thought I’d like to add this to my collection. However, as most of you know, this is not a book about an opossum but a well-known collection of poems about cats which in turn became Cats a 2019 musical fantasy film based on the 1981 stage musical of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) by T. S. Eliot

Upon reading this charming collection of poems I was attracted to a short selection titled,

“The Naming of Cats”.

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter, it isn’t just one of your holiday games; you may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter when I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

And, yes, my Missy Cat has three different names. The first one is the one the family uses daily; Missy. A sensible every day often used cat name, according to our vet. Missy’s fancier name came 18 years ago when she was hand-delivered to us in a soft pink blanket. She was named Miss Clavell, after the teaching nun, in Ludwig Bemelmans; Madeline book series. And, very quickly, due to my 3-year-old son’s ease at making things quicker and easier to say, nicknamed her Miss. C. which quickly became Missy. The name the family uses almost as often as Missy Cat.

A recent photo of Missy was taken on a hot summer day in mid-July. The outside temperature was 96 degrees with no interior air conditioning. Missy cruised the house trying to find that perfect location in which to ‘chill’. I watched as she entered the bathroom, looked up, and then jumped into the bowl of the stone sink. Ahh. Cool at last! She turned twice, purring loudly and then promptly wrapped herself around the bowl to engage in what T.S. Elliot wrote as “profound meditation, her mind engaged in rapt contemplation of the thought, of the thought, of the thought, of her name.”

Day Lily Calm

DAY LILY CALM

A Poem 

by Ocean Rose

Nature awakens, stirs from the blanket of sleep, branches

stretch out, flower buds promise us of spring.

She asks of us to tread lighter than we have, take care, 

for she is one, our home.

Misty-eyed, dewdrops wrap around the delicate air.

The earth beneath us gently sighs, sprouts vibrate in unison.

Space for time to combine in these magical moments,

oh what courage.

To rise again when you’ve given your all.

The sun simply shines.

I have come to learn that simplicity has many forms. What at first might appear simple, when observed more closely, reveals complexity? For me, simple is a clean and minimal workplace, a quiet hour – or two! – a straightforward plan, a glass of ice tea, cloth napkins, and a pair of handknit socks. With the hustle and bustle of life, especially in this time of a virus run-a-muck, moments of peace and tranquility bring the act of simplifying. Even in my hobbies, where I often look for solace can be overwhelming when the burden of excess is in our way – too many projects and oftentimes the pressure to keep up with what others are doing. Lately, I have felt the call to simplify, in whichever way it takes shape – in my home, my writing, drawing, knitting, or in the meals I cook. I am celebrating the basics; colors, textures, and shapes. Some of my projects are simple in structure, while others are simple in style. And, still others, like my written stories for young children are simple only in appearance and require more attention and skill to create. I am filled with immense gratitude for every moment of blue sky, the vibrant sea breezes that blow through my living room windows, and the intense yellows, blues, and greens that are my gardens of daylilies and blueberry bushes. They are the beautiful backdrop for my moments of creative simplicity as I breathe fresh life, each day, into all of my new makings.

 

A Creative Path

 

A CREATIVE PATH

When I was very young, I was not aware of anyone who identified as an artist, except for my Aunt Sally, my mother’s younger sister. My life was filled with busy, beautiful parents and relatives all who worked at various jobs; teachers, corporate business executives, nurses, farmers, and a minister who all did not imagine that they had the luxury to be artists. As I think more about these people it was my mother who taught me many things; to sew, knit, and create colorful cubby tags from construction paper and glue for her kindergarten classrooms. My Aunt Sally who often showed me her paintings; most often done on repurposed furniture and my grandmother who showed me how to take teeny tiny quilting stitches and how to embroider with rainbow-colored wool yarn. My other grandmother taught me about gardening and how to grow certain plants in different locations in the yard in order to get the best sunlight at any particular time of day. She also showed me how to roll out a pie crust and have it taste like a buttery-flaky cloud of goodness. My dad was a busy father who worked long days in NYCity as an executive in the business world, but he taught me how to drive a car, and to believe that I could be anything I wanted to be. He wasn’t particularly creative in the sense of the art world but he always provided me with direct and informative feedback on anything I attempted to do or created.

My friendships while growing up always included those who loved to build things using blocks or natural materials while we constructed outdoor forts or houses from leaf piles. I also had friends who loved to draw and we would all create colorfully crafted stationery where we would then swap home-made notes to one another.

I did attend art school for three years; illustration and design but then veered right to explore the mysteries of historical textiles and eventually owning a sewing/knitting business to eventually furthering my education and graduating with additional degrees in education and literacy. It’s funny how the world works. I think throughout my life, I have always been artistic. 

My observational eye for detail was crafted at a very young age and only developed further as time went on. I have my family to thank for that training! Unfortunately, I never took myself as an artist seriously, instead wanting to veer right then left then right again to sample all of the creativity that my family offered to me while growing up. Learning from the many people in my life who took the time and had the patience to sit with me for a few hours at a time, over my lifetime, has shaped my entire creative life. And, for that, I am grateful.

Bits and Pieces

BITS & PIECES & Snippets & Slices

I am a big believer that creativity is a muscle – the more you use it, the better you get at it. Recently, my school year ended for the summer. A welcome respite from the many hours of remote learning and having what I thought as a result of the many teaching hours was an empty creative well. I truly had not been able to write, draw, or imagine during the three months of teaching from home. However, given only a few days following that shift of school to summer, it seemed all that I needed was an inspirational mindset, something that needed to be exercised again. 

So, I decided to stop worrying about whether I had an idea or was what I created going to be good enough. Instead, I picked up my colored & graphite pencils, and along with my Moleskine sketchbook found the more I draw, write, cut, glue, paint, and create, the more confidence I have in myself and the more willing I am to try absolutely anything. Sometimes, the hardest thing is stepping out of your comfort zone. 

So, with all of these thoughts, my memories took me back to a place two summers ago when I attended a bookmaking class with author Gregory Christie.

https://gas-art.com/about-r-gregory-christie

The workshop was sponsored by Illustration Institute and held out on Peaks Island. I knew only a handful of people there. Many of them very talented artists. I asked myself what I was doing there. Well, my answer didn’t come immediately however, now I can honestly say that I was exercising my creative muscle and reinforcing my belief that no piece of paper is too small to have an impact! 

The photograph above is of the two tiny books that I created on that hot breezy summer day; one measures 2×2” and the accordion book measures 3×4”. Creating something from tiny pieces of paper, glue, sticky tape, and a group conversation wasn’t fancy but it sure was humbling. Thinking back to that day on Peaks Island; looking at, and touching, the varieties of paper and supplies transported me. The focus, the joy, the colors, the decision making all filled me with experience and creative association of a moment in time amongst innovative and clever people.