Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays to Everyone

As everyone makes their final preparations for their holiday celebrations, I wish you the joy of stillness.  Take just 5 little minutes from your day and breathe.  Breathe in wonder.  Breathe in beauty.  Breathe in a moment of Grace.  It is in the silence and stillness that miracles occur.  Those moments when we connect with all there is.  Be grateful for all the abundance in your life, the kids bouncing off the walls in giddy excitement for the days to come - know in your heart, that all is as it should be.  Take those little minutes to remember, we are human beings - not human doings.  Have a wonderful holiday season.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Gift Of Being Present

Have you ever met someone in your life that left such an impression on you that you will never forget them?  I have met several in my life but the one that comes to mind this morning while watching everyone running around, stressing out, and worrying about one day - one holiday that is supposed to be about light, love and hope is a wonderful lady named Shirley Michaelson.  You see, she had a gift that few people I know have.  She had the gift of making you feel like you were the most important person in her life while she was with you.  What made it even more special, is that I met her when we did a bid on a kitchen remodel in her condo.  I can honestly say that she was the only customer that I ever had that treated me with such love, care and above all, respect.  She genuinely cared about people and gave them her undivided attention while they were in her presence no matter what else was going on in her life.  She had the gift of being Present.

Shirley was the embodiment of not just the word compassion but of being compassion.  I learned from her that to live in the present moment and to have compassion for another is a way of life, a way of being in the world that offers comfort to whom ever is in your presence.  How much of the time are we somewhere else?  We are thinking of something that happened yesterday or two hours ago or anticipating what we have to do next or the rest of the day, week, month.....but we are not there.

Shirley helped to start the adult education program at our community college, she also started the displaced homemakers program to help women get back into the work force.  She also had a serious battle of her own with extreme Diabetes.  She never complained.  Even after a fall that injured her shoulder that made it so she couldn't lift her arm above her waist.  She went to Seattle for corrective surgery after nearly 2 years.  She finally said that if they didn't finally get it fixed, she just might have to get angry.  The gift of patience and grace.

Shirley died a few years later but left such a lasting legacy to all who ever came into contact with her.  The legacy that we can all aspire to give to each other.

So my wish for everyone as we enter the notorious 2012 year is that we all have the gift of being fully present.  That we can actually BE with those we are with instead of running around to the buzz in our heads.  So we can honestly say, "Yes, I can hear you."  and those in our presence will know without a doubt that yes, "I can see you."  Let us become compassion and not just throw a quarter in a kettle (although that is important too) and consider our work finished.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy St.Lucia Day!

It's December 13th - Happy St. Lucia Day for all the Scandinavians out there.  One thing is certain, we do up the holidays in style beginning with St. Lucia.  Here is a picture of me at age 15 doing a Lucia program for my parents VASA group in Lake Tahoe where we lived.  So much joy and pageantry and practices to learn to sing in Swedish. Not just St. Lucia but a whole plethora of Swedish carols.  Fast forward about 10 years....

My daughters first grade teacher was really into the St. Lucia story and had been talking about it to the class.  My daughter piped up and told her teacher that I had a St. Lucia dress.  I get a call from the teacher - would I come and do St. Lucia as a surprise for her class.  I don't have a head piece I told her but I will let you know.  Enter my father to the rescue.  No way would this one go - nothing was too good for his grand daughter.  Out came the tin snips and he made me a crown.  Ok - now what if the dress doesn't fit....2 kids does stuff to ones figure you know....I pulled the dress out of the bottom drawer and slipped it on.  It fit.  Hmmm... no eloquent way out of this one.  Several phone calls later and it was all arranged.  The day before, I baked a huge batch of Lucia Buns to take to the class.  I get to the school and head into the restroom where I donned my gown, tied up my red sash, placed the wet handkerchief on my head to protect my hair from dripping wax, placed the crown on my head and matches in hand made my way to the main reception area of the office.  "Would you mind lighting my candles?"  I asked the secretary behind the desk.  She looked up startled and took the matches and lit my candles.  I slowly made my way down the hall and into the classroom with my tray of Lucia buns, singing the St. Lucia song - in Swedish.  My daughter had no idea this was going to happen.  The teacher was reading the story to the class and when she got to the appropriate page, I came through the door with all the proper pomp and circumstance.  Ah...the things we do for love.  Good times creating magic moments for small children.  Hard to believe that my youngest just turned 26.

  So Happy St. Lucia Day - the kick off of the holiday season.  I hope you make some magic for the young ones in your life.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Are You a Noun or a Verb?

I don't know if anyone else is having trouble capturing the Christmas/Holiday frame of mind this year but for some reason it seems to have escaped me this year.  It just doesn't feel like Christmas for some reason.

I have been making a few ornaments but other than that I have done nothing about the whole thing.  I still haven't put up my tree.  I haven't made a single gift.  I have been watching Christmas movies and doing all the usual things but it just escapes me for some reason.  The whole thing feels artificial, and forced. The more commercials I see that promote retail Nirvana as some kind of requirement to a happy holiday, the more I'd like to ignore the whole thing!  I wonder, does anyone else feel it too?

I used to jump into the whole holiday thing with both feet.  I am the person who started making my gifts in January every year. I baked tons of fancy goodies, made pounds of hand dipped chocolates, and mailed countless jars of jam and bars of homemade soap.  Yet this year, I have no desire to do any of it.  I know I will gear up and get some of it done and I will have gifts finished for the kids and be ready for Christmas dinner.  But it will all be about honoring our traditions.  I keep thinking - it shouldn't be about black Friday, or cyber Monday or acquiring more stuff.  Why do we give gifts to each other anyway?  Because we are supposed to?  The more I thought about this dilemma, the more I looked to spirit for the answers.  If we are giving a gift out of obligation, then it really isn't a gift.  What is a gift anyway?

Well that depends on if you define it as a verb or a noun.  If it is love in action, then you are giving an endowment.  A gift that honors the receiver not with just another object of desire but with a physical manifestation of being endowed with your loving energy.  If that is the case, the obligatory trinket from the big box super store just doesn't cut it, does it?  However, if you look at it as a noun, it's just something given freely without compensation.  Puts a different spin on it doesn't it?  So the question is, are you a noun or a verb?  Hmmmm.....  An endowment or given without compensation?

Now the children in my life, they don't know how to give without it being a verb.  What they give is honesty.  Simplicity. And if I am lucky, a whole heap of unmitigated joy!  Something most of us forget about the age of 13 or so when we begin to care more about what other people think of us than what we think of ourselves. 

So what do I want for Christmas this year?

I want some of that!!! 
Money can't buy it.
Only being a Verb will nurture it.  It's never out of style, it always fits and it grows....

Monday, December 5, 2011

Baking Raisin Bread

For those folks who just love that expensive Raisin Bread that is now nearing $4.00 for a tiny loaf, here is a homemade equivalent.  I came up with this recipe because my family loved the commercial variety and I think for what it is the price is ridiculous.  This bread is really good toasted in the morning or with a cup of tea, slathered with butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.  Yum!

         Raisin Bread                     makes 2 loaves

2 1/2 cups of raisins            1 cup water
1/3 cup butter                      1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp salt                           1 1/4 cups evaporated milk or 1/2 & 1/2
2 eggs                                   2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp yeast
6 - 6 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour

Step 1:  Place raisins in a medium saucepan, add the water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5min. Remove from heat, add the butter, sugar, and salt.  Stir until butter is melted and sugar dissolved. Let cool for 5 min.  Add the milk.  Mixture should be warm but not hot.

Step 2:  Proof your yeast.  Place your yeast in a 1 cup glass measuring cup.  Add 1/2 tsp sugar and 1/4 cup warm water.  Place measuring cup in a bowl of hot tap water.  Let stand until foamy and yeast is to the top.

Step 3: Pre-heat your oven to it's lowest setting.  Place warm raisin mixture in large mixing bowl, add slightly beaten eggs and cinnamon.  Add proofed yeast and stir to incorporate.  Add 5 cups of flour.  Mix well making sure there are no dry spots.  Add 1 cup flour and mix. (you may have to use your hands at this point)  Dough should be slightly sticky but not wet.  Spray work surface with non-stick spray.  Knead dough until smooth and all flour is incorporated and there are no dry spots.  If dough is too sticky, add small amounts of flour.  Form into a ball and place in a non-metal, greased, heatproof bowl.  Spray dough with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap.  Place dough in oven and turn oven off.

Step 4:  When dough is double (this will take 1 to 2 hrs. it is a heavier dough than basic white bread& raises slower)  remove from oven.  Spray your work surface with cooking spray and dump dough on to the oiled surface.  Divide dough in half.  Being careful to not deflate the dough, form a loaf by folding the ends in to make an even rectangle and then bringing the sides to the center and pinching the full length of the dough.  Place seam side down in a greased loaf pan.  Press dough in the pan if necessary to make sure it is even in the pan.  Pre-heat your oven to it's lowest setting while you form the second loaf.  turn the oven off and place the loaf pans in the oven.  Let rise until dough is almost but not quite double.  Brush the tops of the loaves with an egg wash if you want your loaves to be shiney.  Turn the oven to 375.  Set the timer for 25 min.  Reduce heat to 350 and bake an additional 15 - 20 min.  Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped.

 Cooling Raisin Bread
Cover bread with a tea towel while cooling.  Try to resist cutting for at least 20 min.  Hot bread doesn't cut very well and tends to have a slightly doughy texture.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's All About Perspective

Shadow tip toeing across the ice
Yesterday it was snowing to beat the band.  Round #3 and I was back to shoveling again.  But sometimes we get blessed and I am excited to report that by late yesterday afternoon we warmed up to almost 40 and it started pouring buckets of rain.  Now that has turned all of the plowed snow into ice with a layer of water on it which makes walking down the hill to do barn chores a bit of a challenge.  For this gal, well if I don't have to shovel it, I'll take it with much gratitude.

You see, it is all about perspective.  There are times that even sheep poop has value besides spreading it on the garden.  It makes great traction on the path going down the hill to the barn.  So I really have to add gratitude for that to my list of things I am grateful for.  Now if you can be grateful for the poop in your life as a bonus - I figure you have to be living a truly blessed life.

So today I am getting my house all spiffy and ready for National Tie One On Day (are your aprons ready girls and guys) and looking forward to my day of culinary dabbling tomorrow getting ready for our family feast.  I wish all of you a truly blessed life.  Don't forget to count all your blessings - even the ones that may not always seem like blessings.  After all, it's all about Perspective.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fourth La Ninia In Five Years - Here We Go...!

At not yet 3:30 in the afternoon, it is so dark that all the outside security lights have started to come on and the snow is coming down so hard it's difficult to see across the driveway.  We are in for another La Ninia winter, the fourth one in five years.  For those of you that don't know what a La Ninia is, it's when the pacific ocean currents off the coast of Washington & Oregon are colder than "normal" which creates a wetter and colder winter pattern for the Pacific Northwest.  It can cause drought in the south and mid-west.  It's a snow/cold machine for us.  The last one finally abated in the end of June which gave us a cooler and later summer than normal.  Five years ago I spent more than I should have on those pretty purple boots.  It was the best money I ever spent.  Thank you LL Bean.  I never could have made it to the barn or cleaned out all the gates without them.  Intuition listened to always pays off.

I have to admit, I am so tired of these hard winters.  Now I can truly sympathize with my Mother and how hard it was on her when we were kids and living at Fallen Leaf Lake.  Firing up the old Army Weasel to get in and out as our road wasn't plowed in the winter.  Dad kept it open as long as he could, then it was the weasel and if anything happened with it - snowshoes or just on foot.

1959 Dad, me and my brother
I shoveled off the cement driveway this morning after spending nearly two hours putting a new belt on my snowblower.  By the time I had the belt on, it had warmed up too much for the snowblower to move the snow.  Shoveling heavy wet stuff Day 2.  About 20 min. after I had finished, the skies got dark and the snow moved in - a blizzard like day.  In an hour and a half I had 5 inches of new snow.  Like an idiot, I decided I'd better drive out for the mail.....well, the snow had drifted up by the gate and I got my van stuck.  A half hour of digging and she is safely parked in front of the house again.

Look at all that beauty tumbling out of the sky....Funny how I enjoyed it so much more when I was a kid.  It was so exciting to see the first flakes falling.  Magic snow.  Snow forts and sliding down hillsides and of course that magic of all magic days - Christmas.  It's been a l-o-n-g day.  I sure could have used a dose of that magic.  Guess my magic wand needed to be re-charged today.  Bah Humbug!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The First Rule of Hole Digging

One of my favorite quotes is "The first rule of hole digging is knowing when to stop".  It applies to just about everything from politics to actual hole digging.  Well, yesterday was one of those days.  You know the ones - the tasks that have been put off for awhile but winter is coming and they can't be postponed any longer without dire consequences.  So....yesterday was the day for digging up the frost free water hydrant down at the barn before the ground freezes and it can't be repaired until spring.  Well another rule of life on this farmstead is that if one has to dig a hole in the fall - inevitably the ground will be at least partially frozen and it will snow.

So the day started off with me trying to corral my sheep so they wouldn't fall in the hole trying to figure out what is going on.  At the moment they were all in the pen except one, my neighbor from behind and her 4 yr. old came up to the fence with a hearty "Hi haven't seen much of you all summer - how ya been?"  and with a start and a quick thunder of little pointy hooves out they ran and that was then end of that.  Anyone with sheep knows you get one shot and after that - well let's just suffice it to say they know there is something up your sleeve besides goodies in a pail.  It continued on in like fashion with half frozen ground down all of the 4 feet, requiring the use of a heavy bar, post hole digger and lots of shoveling small amounts of clay/dirt mix in the wind and rain.  Then moved on to water starting to fill the get the picture.  By the time we got to actually putting in the new hydrant, the wind was howling and it was snowing like a blizzard.

Gluing the fitting in a snow storm

Adryon and Tim installing the hydrant

By the time it was glued, allowed to dry and then tested to make sure it worked and the hole filled back in, darkness had fallen.  There was a good 2 1/2 inches of snow on the ground.  We were muddy and frozen.  Of course today - It's sunny and 48.  I think we need a second rule of hole digging.  "The second rule of hole digging is knowing the weather guessers are gamblers - they spin the wheel, spit out a scenario & we believe them -don't."  Thanks guys for braving the elements.  My sheepies thank you too!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Nod To The Sargent Major

Yesterday was my friend Joe's birthday.  He went home about 10 years ago and I was glad for him as it was a long transition to get there.  He was a character.  He was a whole bunch of characters.  You see, Joe was a reinactor.  He liked to play Civil War on the weekends.  He liked to play mountain man all the time.  He liked to be the Sheriff in the Outlaw Guns Shows - a wild west show that did local fairs.  Joe liked to play.  One day he showed up at my house in overalls and proclaimed that he was wearing a new pair of "Farmer Olys".  He used to tease my then teenage daughter that he was going to show up at her slumber party in his red union suit with his ear trumpet and sleeping bag....  When ever I saw him - I was never sure exactly who was going to show up.

He was a kick in the ass.  He put up a scaffold with a hanged dummy in his yard during hunting season to keep the hunters off his place.  You see, he loved animals.  In fact he loved them way too much.  A billy goat in the living room to keep it warm - a horse that rang the doorbell and lots of other critters.  On the second time I ever met him at our local Elk Days fair - he took me aside by the dunk tank and asked me to be his wife's friend.  She had just opened a high end yarn shop down on the highway and was very discouraged.  I told him I would.  Kricket and I have been sisters ever since.

I wrote this piece for our local paper while he was making his way out the door and towards home.  I wanted to share it here to honor him.

Making Carrot Cake

                                                                                                            By Sheri Chin

            I am learning about life and death in a very graphic way.  So many people wander through their lives with a lot of questions and no real answers.  You see, we look for something hidden, some obscure event that will all of a sudden make everything clear.  But the answers are here, right in our faces, in the things we do everyday and take for granted.  They are no more hidden than the sun behind a cloud or a plant beneath the soil in early spring.  The answers to our fears about the big questions like “What is the meaning of life?” or “Why do people die?”  They are all there, but we are trying so hard to make sense out of what we believe has no logic, that we miss it’s simplicity.
            My friend, Joe is dying.  He is laying in an ICU room in a hospital.  His body is betraying him by not working anymore.  He is making the passage - partly here and partly on the path through the tunnel.  There is no real dignity in the process, but it has it’s significance just the same.  You see, we go out as we came in, helpless, unable to do for ourselves, unable to control our bodily functions.
            Those of us who are watching someone we care about going through the process are horrified at the indignity of it all.  We know that someday, at some time, (we don’t know when) we will be there too.  The idea of helplessness and lack of self control scares us.  Oh, no not me.  I will just have the big one and it will be over....perhaps.   I hope it will be that way for me or anyone else that I love.  But most of us go out the way we came in.  You see, you have to be as a child to get into the kingdom of heaven.  I have it on the best authority.
            I am baking Carrot Cake in honor of my friend, Joe.  It is one of his favorites.  He has diabetes and hasn’t been able to indulge himself with it for a long time.  Now, he can’t eat anything at all, not even Carrot Cake.  But I am making it anyway.  In honor of the compliment he paid me every time he ate Carrot Cake at a restaurant and told the waitress that it wasn’t Carrot Cake at all because it doesn’t taste anything like Sheri’s Carrot Cake, which he thought was the best he’d ever had.
            I dump the sugar in the bowl.  I look at the sugar, let it’s crystals filter through my fingers, and see the whiteness and sparkle.  Next, I add the corn oil.  The pale yellow, slightly thick, liquid covers the surface of the crystalline white making it look smokey.  I take up my wooden spoon.  I feel the surface of the spoon.  It is my bread dough spoon that one of my friends made for me.  The wood is slightly rough after being washed so many times and the handle is squared instead of round like commercially made wooden spoons.  I plunge the spoon into the oil and start to blend the sugar and oil.  It changes.  It becomes a pale yellow, thick, slightly clear mixture.  It reminds me of frozen lemonade when you dump it in a pitcher.
            I have had a busy day, so I have to wash the eggs before I can use them.  They are sitting in the chipped blue egg basket next to the sink.  The basket my father used to collect the eggs from their chickens.  The handle has long since broken off.  It still holds the eggs just fine.  No need for a new basket.  The eggs are real dirty.  The chickens are running loose now and you never know just where you will find the eggs when you look.  I take them up, one at a time and hold them under the slightly warm tap water and gently wash the muck off the shells.  Some are smooth.  Some are slightly rough, feeling like they have been sanded.  One is ruffled, like the chicken struggled to lay it.  Poor chicken, I think as I rub the shell.  Remembering the birthing process myself, I can sympathize with her struggle over that one.  One, two, three, four, I break the eggs into the lemonade colored mixture.  They sit on the surface like four suns, gleaming and shiny.
            I plunge my spoon into the mixture and beat it deftly into something new.  It now looks like the lemon curd that I used to make for the lemon meringue pies that were one of my dad’s favorites.  I haven’t made a lemon meringue pie for a long time.  It was just that color and that texture, I am certain.  I remember.
            Next I add the flour.  It’s not just any old grocery store flour.  It’s special unbleached bakers flour.  It’s the only flour that makes my bread taste right.  It’s not made from your run-of-the-mill soft wheat.  It’s made out of Montana hard red wheat.  When you buy that bag of flour, it has a lot of history.  Joe likes history.  He is a living history buff.  He is more at home in the Civil War or the Old West than he is in this place and time.  I measure the salt in the palm of my hand and fling it into the bowl.  Joe always got a kick out of watching me measure with my hand.  My father taught me to measure that way when I was a little girl.  I taught my daughter to measure that way too.  Continuity.  Less dishes to wash.
            Now I measure the cinnamon into the dry pile that is growing on the “lemon curd” mixture.  No spoons required.  I know how brown the mountain should become.  A little soda and the spoon does it’s work.  The lemon curd turns into a light brown speckled mix like thin mud.  I always liked to play in the mud.  Mud pies.  Mud cakes.  Mud in the flowerbeds or the vegetable rows.  Mud, mud glorious mud.  Joe likes to play even though he isn’t young.  I can see him sitting on the floor with my son building a Lincoln log town.  Not just any town.  A stockade.  A place to defend the women and children as a good Sargent-major should.
            Now comes the good part.  I add the grated carrots and the chopped nuts and the crushed pineapple.  As I stir, the mixture foams up and gets good and bubbly as the acid from the pineapple blends with the baking soda.  It smells sweet.  It smells like cinnamon.  It smells like home.  Joe is getting ready to go home.
            I pour the mess into the greased pan and put it in the oven.  I can smell it baking all over the house as it starts to cook.  This is the most fattening of American desserts.  I really don’t need the calories.  But I will eat it and enjoy every bite right down to the thick cream cheese frosting.  Here Joe.  When you get home you can eat all you want and won’t have to worry about those damn shots anymore.  No more strips and pokes.  No more pills.  Nothing but sweet carrot cake or cocoanut cream pie.
            I am sad tonight.  I am sad that he is still working on that struggle toward the door.  It brings back all the pain and horror I felt walking my own parents through that door.  But they are there now.  There is only peace.  It is just a shadow.  One I will face myself someday.  I am not afraid.  You see, there are so many waiting for me there.  When I get there the blue basket will have it’s handle.  The Sargent-major will be drunk on his ass , telling wild tales and I will laugh.  I will get to play in the mud.  You see, to get in you have to be as a child.  I have it on the best authority.

Joe's bear and wizard in my kitchen window

   Happy Birthday Joe - I miss you you old goat!        

Friday, November 11, 2011

Greetings From Uncle Sam - July 1941

My Dad in 1940
"Dear Folks,  I got a greeting from Uncle Sam today.  I will have to go into the Army.  I report for duty on July 11th in Sacramento.  I was wondering if you would mind keeping my dogs for me while I am gone.  I have the 10 dogs that I use to pull my sled in the winter.  They are good dogs.  I shouldn't be gone very long.  Please let me know.  "Adios" Vic."

On this Veterans Day - let us pause to remember all the young men past and present who have given up so much - the innocence of not knowing carnage, the nightmares they wished they could forget and for some, their lives.

   We were all born of moral men who never questioned the need to save their world.  Let us hope that we will someday learn that killing is never an answer to anything and will never be an avenue towards Peace.

By the way - his dogs chased and killed chickens so there was only one left when he got home.  Grandpa Leonard could only afford so many chickens....He was discharged in June 1945.  He was gone a little longer than he thought.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Either You've Got It Or You Don't

Lillian as a young woman
I've been cleaning house today.  I like it when things are neat and tidy but honestly, I think you are either born with the neat gene or not.  I think I missed the genetic boat on that one try as I might.  I can clean with the best of them (when I get around to it) after all, I had a grandmother who cleaned for sport.  Sport you might ask?  Yes she actually was one of those people who loved to clean.  So when my house gets (ahem) a wee bit out of control, I swear that she shows up, clucking her tongue and chastising me for being so slovenly.  This coming from a woman who actually turned the easy chairs upside down to scrub the springs under the seat and had (lovingly) scrubbed all the gold off of our prized set of World Book Encyclopedias.  I wish I actually cared that much but honestly I don't.  There are too many wonderful projects to work on and chores (besides cleaning) to be done so I clean when I really need to but I never was good at keeping on it all the time.
"Tiger Lill" - The Queen of Clean

Now, my mother couldn't do it either when we were kids although she talked about how clean her mother's house always was and how her job on Saturday mornings was to pull up miles of carpet tacks, take the rugs out, hang them on the line and beat the dust out of them.  I guess she thought that that should inspire me not to complain while dragging an upright vacuum around.  She finally got a handle on her own house after she retired, moved, and gave all of her stuff to MeI am still moving a lot of that stuff around because they are family heirlooms and I do cherish them but I'm beginning to think about sending some of it down the path to my kids....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Place Where Imagination and Spirit Met - part 2

Now, on to the details - or what I consider the "bling" part of the piece.  This picture shows the detail of the face rough-in and the gold leafing on her crown.

The next step is to start drawing in her features, her face, neck and the detailing on her hands.  I did this with special pigmented colored pencils made just for doing skin tones.

Next, I added the gemstones on her crown and necklace.  Her crown has an amethyst surrounded by Swarovski  crystals with another crystal on her forehead.  Her necklace is Malachite and mother of pearl.

In this picture you can see the detail of the lotus flower made of shell.  Her prayer beads are made of mustard seeds to give them added spiritual significance along with Mother of Pearl and another red crystal.  When all the details were added, I finished it off by adding several birds signifying one's request for peace flying off toward heaven.  The the whole piece was sprayed using several coats of lacquer.  My first foray into fine art pictures in veneer.

The Place where Imagination and Spirit Met - part 1

Kuan Yin
When I decided to do something with my Marquetry besides covering hat boxes, I was enamoured with the Goddess Kuan Yin and what she represented.  Kuan Yin is the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion and Mercy.  For many years I thought having compassion for someone meant taking on their problems as my own.  But I found that if I take on someone else's emotional trauma as if it is my own, then I become overwhelmed myself and can't offer up love and support.  I think it goes more like this:

                                                Never give up
                                                No matter what is going on
                                                Never give up
                                                Develop the heart
                                                Too much energy in your country is spent
                                                Developing the mind instead of the heart.

                                                Be compassionate not just to your friends but to everyone
                                                Be compassionate.
                                                Work for peace in your heart and in the world.
                                                Work for peace and I say again
                                                Never give up.
                                                No matter what is happening,
                                                No matter what is going on around you,
                                                Never give up.

                                                                    -His Holiness the Dalai Lama

So what does that have to do with Marquetry or artwork in general?  Sometimes when you begin a project, you have no real idea of how it will go, what the steps will be to get there but you have an idea born of inner sight (imagination) that I believe is my spirit wanting to make what it knows manifest into the physical.  So even if I have never tried to create in that medium, in that way, I know that the way will open to me if I just let it flow through me, never give up, and the answers to potential creative issues will just come when I need them.  Creativity on faith?  I have never doubted the solutions to dilemmas will come.  Art is a reflection of life.


 This is where I began this journey.  A simple line drawing.  Once I am happy with that, I transfer the design to a piece of quarter inch plywood using graphite paper.

Then I began by putting in the larger background pieces and blocking in the figure of the Goddess.  The background is done in Rainbow Poplar.  Her veil and kimono trim is purpleheart.  Her kimono is in bleached white Anagre.

Here you can see that I have started putting in the dragon.  The dragon's mane is pear wood.  The main body of the dragon is done in walnut.  Each scale of the dragon was hand cut and then layered on one at a time like making a shingle roof.  I then inlaid a thin band of shell veneer incorporating it into the base of the mane and tail.  I used a different shell veneer to make up the petals of the lotus flower in her hand.

At this point, I added the copper and 24K gold leafing to the sun behind her head and on her crown.

dragon head detail
dragon tail detail

I was having issues with the picture placement so I opted to continue this by dividing it into two parts.  I hope you will continue on by reading part 2.

Spinning My Wheels

Superwash Merino top in dye bath
   "I Plow and Sow (sew) and Reap and Mow and the Usual Sit and Spin..." 
                                                                                    - traditional Celtic folk song

Have you ever been listening to a song for years and then all of a sudden a line hits you right between the eyes? Well that's how I feel about the line from the song, "One Misty Moisty Morning" from the album "Parcel of Rogues" by the British Band, Steeleye Span.  If ever a line from a song described my life to a "T" - that one is it!

  If you live on a farmstead your life is governed by the seasons and how you spend your time is dictated by the weather.  Winter is coming - and the preparations involve a lot of cleaning up.  You know the drill, raking leaves, picking up pine cones, raking the loose gravel to get rid of any wayward loose rock that might become a weapon in the snow blower, sticks the dog drug in that might become a harpoon and general buckets of frozen plant material on to the compost pile.  By the end of the day your hands are bright red from the cold, your back isn't at all happy and guess what?  It's only 4:15 and it's dark already.  Welcome to Washington.  Every time you walk out the front door the sheep all yell at you from a distance "Hey - it's cold today, surely we deserve more hay even though it is too early, right??"  Yeah, right....

So, how does one find balance in all of this.  How do you make yourself put one foot in front of the other when your body says "Are you really sure you have to do this?"  I have to admit, I don't know how I make myself do it - you just do what needs to be done.  After all, there isn't really any other option.  I wouldn't trade the lessons I've learned about how strong I truly am in the face of a crisis.  I wouldn't trade the whole experience of living with the seasons and being in touch of my source of supply.  Sometimes when you are so exhausted that you think you can't take one more step forward, the Universe sends you a moment of grace that takes your breath away and you know without a doubt that no amount of city conveniences would be worth missing what ever gift it may be.

At the end of a long day when everything is finally done and (hopefully) there is no more demands on your tired body you get to balance your spirit again - you guessed it, I get to sit and Spin...

Spinning singles
Plied yarn
As the fiber flows through my fingers and my foot tap, tap, taps the foot pedal in time with the beating of my heart, the tiredness fades away and the energy flows through my being and the Universe begins to make sense again.  Like a piece of music, the rhythm sooths the kinks in my spirit away.  Another moment of grace.  Like the release of breath when one sighs with relief, the energy of all the women who came before me flows through my fingers connecting me with them.  That circle of women that made the yarn, wove or knitted it and sheltered their families in that caress of the soul.
finished yarn