Sunday, May 4, 2014

Paris is Always a Good Idea


- Audrey Hepburn (happy birthday today) said, "Paris is always a good idea."

- For the day I was there, it was, but Naninne, Belgium? She stole my heart.

- How do I manage to move to Naninne?

- I've been traveling Europe and selling my house. At once.

- Life is chaotic. And wonderful.

- Making lists is the only way I can cope.

- Oh my god, then there was Bruges. I loved Bruges.

- Paris was just like in the movies, but being there was duller and it does smell like a toilet.

- The appraiser comes this week.

- I have to pack a house and transfer schools and doctors and everything…paperwork sucks.

- I've haven't felt this amount of possibility spread before me in years. A feast.  Moveable, even.

- I dream every night of painting large canvases of nude women.

- I dream of living in Nannine.

- I'll post in depth when I can. The photos I have to share!

- I am missing my house already; the baby rabbit living in my day lilies, the hummingbirds.

- We begin anew in Atlanta in a few weeks.

- I had sworn I would never return home.

- Never say never.

- Set aside your worn out fears.

- Go!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


One of my daily rituals (I like to call them rituals by the way, it elevates the sense of mystery and intrigue) is to raise the blinds and watch the birds visit the feeder at sunrise. See, how lovely the word ritual makes this (routine, habit, chore) sound? Shift the veil, and really, what I do each week day morning is routine because it is a dance, carefully choreographed, no room for improvisation, or the kids will miss the bus as the toddler tears the blinds to pieces trying to see the birds.

This week there have been slight changes and each has caused me to slow down a beat. The bird song, charms of pragmatic goldfinch, and delicate apricot blossoms; these little gifts give me such joy. February, despite being the shortest month, always seems never ending. Silly thought because we all know February is nothing compared to the interminable nature of March. Cabin fever mixes with one fleeting spring day like today and I start thinking about gardens, bare feet, and leisurely strolls. Yet, there awaits a gauntlet of cold wet muck peppered with tornado warnings to bear before spring shakes her skirts out and leaves her boots in the mudroom. Sigh.

Come with me into the woods where spring 
is advancing, as it does, no matter what,
 not being singular or particular, 
but one of the forever gifts, 
and certainly visible.

Mary Oliver, Dog Songs

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Portrait of A Young Girl

When I was in Catholic high school, I decided to take art classes. My comfort zone was writing, but my friend, a natural artist, insisted we should take at least one class together. I adored the class. I fidgeted through half my day, everyday, impatiently waiting for art class. Walking into the chaotic room was to come alive!

The mess, the speckled residue of paint on every surface, the long wall of windows, the energy, all were respite from the stuffy, dim, serious classrooms guarded by vulture-eyed teachers. While control vibrated like clenched fists through the rest of the school, the art room pulsed of those white knuckles split open. I found the assignments painfully boring or stifling, however. I wanted to jump in! I wanted to go straight to the doing! Who cared about theory or color wheels or (especially) rules! Just let me create and I'll figure out the how and why later. I didn't want to waste time on instruction, I wanted to be covered with paint to my elbows, cheeks smeared with charcoal dust, lips cracked from chewing on them, lost, blissfully lost, for those forty-five minutes in an atmosphere no heavier than paper, no more imposing than eraser grounds.

One assignment changed things. It was our final exam and it was a personal turning point because it unleashed in me a lifetime of understanding and completely misunderstanding.

The assignment was to paint a replica of a Master's work. No other direction, simply paint a copy of a work of our choice. I pulled a large book from the library shelf and let it fall open. I looked no further into the volume than those strange yellow green cat eyes of Joan Miró's Portrait of a Young Girl. She looked so happy and fresh, as if having just finished skipping and singing. Most important of all, he used dark lines to create the eyes, the nose, the lips on the verge of smiling. I could do this, I thought, with my rudimentary skills in painting. I checked the book out, spent a great deal of time painting my copy, and proudly displayed her on the easel for all to see and my teacher to grade.

My teacher, a woman who reminds me exactly of Professor Trelawney if she had a thick white streak in her black hair, was quiet, for what seemed a painfully long time. She had been praising the half dozen awkward Mona Lisa's I sat through waiting for my turn, but for me, complete silence and a squinty thing happening all around her face. I remember reaching out and placing my fingertip on the edge of the easel, hoping it would keep my entire body from crumpling into a heap of eraser grounds right there in front of the whole class. I was dying, I would be dead soon, there, my heart was stopping, I could feel it lurching and grinding to a halt.

But, I wasn't quite dead yet. That finally happened when she spoke, "Monet never painted this, Heather." I blinked. "And if he had, he would not have used black lines to paint features like a cartoon!" I added another fingertip to the easel. Then, somehow, without breath or blood, I managed to squeak out, "But, I didn't say it was Monet. I said Miró." To which she responded nothing and waved her hand for the next student to kick my seeping head off the stage and take my place on the gallows. By the next class, I had ransacked the library looking for the book to prove myself, to no avail, I could not find it again, as if I had dreamt the whole Miró thing into existence. I responded like any introverted fifteen year old would. I took to half hearted drawings and never touched paint to a canvas again for 25 years.

Why? Because I couldn't paint. At least that is what I told myself. After some time, I wholeheartedly believed myself. I remember a friend who insisted he was allergic to milk, except chocolate milk. No matter how absurd we told him this was, he absolutely believed and could not be reasoned with otherwise. When I was baby proofing the house again, earlier this year, I came across the Miró copy, facing the wall in a dark closet. Yes, I had kept her. I had kept her through six moves over two decades. I studied my copy, seeing how colorless she was compared to the original, partly because of the cheap grade paints and partly because I was so intimidated by color in the first place. But, I could see the resemblance still, faded and soft, as if mine was an under painting of the original, and I was pretty darn close in composition. I wondered why I kept her all those years, this utter failure of mine. And, here, friends, is where the understanding happens.

This failure was not mine. I picked up my teacher's lack of knowledge in Miró, fastening it around my fourth rib, until it became a part of me. I thought, like most children, my teacher knew everything. How could you even be an adult unless you knew everything? All of the adults around me knew everything and they told me often, repeatedly, ad nauseum, how they were right because, "I am your_____" father, mother, teacher, priest, coach, etc. When I argued otherwise, I was reminded I was just a child. When I stood up for myself, I was led to believe I was uppity or angry or making their life difficult. When I had hard evidence, I was ignored or patronized. When I had an emotion, it was quickly deemed insignificant compared to their emotions. I found myself playing out these scenarios through adulthood, with bosses and other relationships. What complete nonsense. It took me half my life, but I can now say with confidence, what utter foolish garbage. No wonder one of my favorite songs was always "My Life" by Billy Joel. I heard that song when I in first or second grade perched unsuspectingly on the cusp of ritualized conformity.

When I placed my copy back in the closet that day, I also bought some paints, and slowly over the course of the past several months, have been making time to paint. I always end up covered in paint and charcoal dust, and dream of a studio where I won't have to be careful not to drip on the floor or clean up immediately. I have found that lovely lost in my bliss feeling again, which now hangs in place of the failure.

As for the authority I had willingly handed my authentic self over to in order to keep the peace or placate their need for attention and control, well, it is an everyday process. One foot in front of the other, slipping back, catching myself, and climbing up again. I understand now, that my struggles, perceptions, beliefs, are the ones I live with, they make up my life, the only life I have. Everyone else can keep theirs, I do not have the time or space to internalize them anymore. This past year was a lesson in what matters most to me, my husband and children, including my own needs and self worth. I feel this upcoming year will continue to be about the tipping point into change for the better, one personal revolution at a time, no matter how small or large. I'm worth it. So are you.

"In a picture, it should be possible to discover new things every time you see it. But you can look at a picture for a week together and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life." Joan Miró

Monday, January 6, 2014

Today is my youngest child's first birthday. I can't wait to watch her dive into her first cupcake. My husband requested butter cream frosting and he topped the little cakes with one of his childhood favorites, De Ruitjter's Chocoladehagel Melk. They are very tasty despite looking like mouse poops which freak me out when I find them on the counter.

The older kids taste-tested the birthday cupcakes for breakfast, just in case I would need to make a new batch. Luckily for me, these passed muster. Given I used 2 lbs of butter, 1lb of confectioner sugar, and twice as much vanilla extract as called for, they should taste good. Or at least cause a sudden sugar coma so you'd never notice if they are bland.

Here I could write about how the year flew by, how time has changed so many things, how we forget she hasn't been here all along, but I know you understand these things. Any attempt to express how I feel about my children growing up wouldn't quite be right, or succinct, or even linear. How do I even begin to qualify the way my children make me feel so expansive yet so protective simultaneously? Big and small, give and take, in and out, filling up and letting go… like a heartbeat.

Happy birthday, little one.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


I have been very intrigued by the artists, designers, and bloggers who post everyday. Such dedication! I toyed with the idea of creating a series for the new year, maybe a painting a day, the popular portrait a week of your children, or even simply writing diary style posts each day. Then I woke up from la la land.

Even though I love the idea of painting or writing each day, I would quickly lose the joy those activities bring me if I felt obligated to do them. So, if I do happen to paint a bit or write a bit or snap some photos each day, I won't feel pressured to make more of them than they already are. There would be no need for perfection, or timeliness, or even a decent piece of work. I wouldn't care what people might think of them, because it doesn't matter what anyone thinks of my work. I create for myself and share it when I find time. The important practice is the practice. The doing, for those brief moments, restores me to myself. My authentic self; not the person others need or want or demand I be, but the person I truly am. This includes the self deprecating voice in my head I have housed far too long. One of the most important lessons 2013 offered me and will be the focus, the practice, for the coming year is Whitman's advice, "Re-examine all you have been told…Dismiss what insults your soul."

Thank you to a friend for sharing that quote with me and I'll return the gift to you, with a poem that suits this first day of a new year, by Mary Oliver (of course!).


Today I'm flying low and I'm
not saying a word.
I'm letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I'm taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though I'm really traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Manifesto

Even when you try to opt out of the crazy, it finds you.

See, I exempted myself this year from Christmas; the secular consumption fest, that is. We decided on one gift for the kids, one they will love and will use everyday. I diligently sent in my money for the school parties when asked a few months ago. Since we will be out of town, I decided not to decorate, not even a tree, which with a whirling dervish eleven month old would have been a nightmare, anyway. We've made candy, cookies, and tried to build a gingerbread house, which we gave up on and merrily ate the iced walls, instead. We've all been humming carols, some despite ourselves, and the kids have yet to even mention the lack of all things decorative. Except their gratitude for not being sent an elf on the shelf, which they declared creepy. On the contrary, they both sat down at the same time and wrote letters to the teachers to include with the peppermint bark we made. This seemingly small act is akin to a Christmas miracle. For both of my grade-schoolers to sit, willingly and with moderate grumping (the middle child cannot help himself - he is a champion complainer) write a letter?! Amazing. I admit, I was delighted in the smuggest way possible that they might have actually caught on to what I've been trying to get them to understand with my seemingly humbug ways. Ho, ho, ho, hubris...

Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Diwali, or Festivus, or Ramadan, or Solstice, or Kwanzaa, or Jul, or whatever you celebrate has nothing to do with spending money. Not one of these celebrations require anything more than what you are expected to do, as a human being, for one another. Feed each other, comfort each other, be with each other, appreciate the passage of time, remember the dead, celebrate the living, honor your faith, grow your spirit, let go of the darkness and welcome the light. Stress yourself, empty your wallet, and became a general jerk to everyone you encounter for a month, in my limited scholarship, is not decreed in any of the above rule books. Yet, we become disciples to the descent into the crazy every year.

So, friends, as I gather my skirts of idealism around me and try to teach my children to recognize and celebrate what really matters, I wish you a wonderful and safe holiday season. Thank you for taking the time to join me here and I look forward to sharing the joys, difficulties, ups, downs, in, outs, and beauty of another year with you. Cheers!

Friday, November 22, 2013

One Wolf
Ah, the beguiling pomegranate, beneath all of her allure and grandeur, she is but a tangled mass of hard won - and fleeting - delight. They were on sale and I couldn't resist.

We've been sick, one a week this whole month, another dropping as soon as one gets better. Ugh, the exhaustion! Thankfully, it has felled us all and hopefully the next virus won't be for many months. I did feel well enough to get out to see an old friend, well, that a might be an overly optimistic description of our relationship, but I have an inability to keep enemies. The whole process drains me so I just move on and never see them again or when we reconnect, and I act as if no bad happened, because I've learned it doesn't matter, if it ever did. I've made too many mistakes and unintentionally hurt people along the way to pretend I am better than anybody.

Anyway, this friend, she was a colleague and eventually my employee when I was promoted. We were both going through major stuff in our personal lives when we met, in fact, we do not know each other outside of the parameters of complete crisis and transformation. At the time, she was in the depths of her alcoholism and spiraling downwards quickly while I was emerging from a painful divorce and clawing my way back into the light. There was a middle ground between our paths, one where we recognized the broken bits in the other. There we formed an odd trust and source of comfort. Reminds of Rilke's epistolary advice, "Do not assume that he who seeks to comfort you now, lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life may also have much sadness and difficulty, that remains far beyond yours. Were it otherwise, he would never have been able to find these words."

She finally started AA, but I left the company shortly after, and lost touch with her until she invited me out. We shared a lovely breakfast, chatting and laughing as easily as ever. She was there to honor the program's step of amends. When she read her apology letter to me, recanting all of the instances where she let me down or took advantage of my kindness, all I could think of was, this is the hundredth time you've apologized to me. I accepted her apology, but more importantly, told her I had forgiven her long ago. I had forgiven her every time she screwed up, not because I am some incredibly good person, but because I knew I couldn't do anything to save her and to bear a grudge or ill will would have hurt me, not her.

I was glad to look her in the eye and say,"all that is past and gone, clean slate." I truly meant it, but later that evening in bed, all of the memories, the grievances, and terrible situations played out in my mind and kept me awake. I tossed for awhile, trying to re-compartmentalize those few years of the complete bs all of us at that job dealt with. When my mind wouldn't stop spinning, I opened my laptop to write and in my feed was a post that simply stated 'If you call one wolf, you invite the whole pack'. This proverb was well timed and as I pondered how meeting her again brought back to me the whole pack of characters and events we dealt with, good and bad, their emotional grip loosened. The fangs and fear faded back into darkness, again memories and nothing more. I slept soundly.

The next day, my son was freaked out by what he thought was a bowl of blood and guts in the fridge. I laughed and explained they were pomegranate seeds in their juice. He listened intently when I recanted the myth of Persephone, having being tricked into tasting a ruby pip in the underworld, which eternally bound her to Hades for half the year. When she walked the earth, life and light returned, but soon enough, she would have to retreat back into the depths; death and darkness blanketing everything. He found this most interesting but when I offered him a seed, he refused, exclaiming he preferred the light to the dark, thanks. Me, too, baby, me, too.