Friday, September 21, 2018

DIGGING IN THE DIRT


Find a stone, note its color, look for that color every day of the week, and write down where the stone's color appears. Simple assignment. The next step, to paint the stone, is the hard part. Stones are difficult to paint. They often end up looking like potatoes.

When I looked for a stone in our yard, I discovered a dirty pot filled with mud and small stones. Instead of doing my assignment, I squatted down, hunched over the pot, my hands between my knees, and dug into the pot filled with dried mud and stones. I told myself that this chore meant the stone wouldn't be carelessly tossed out into the bushes. The stones in my pot were river washed, smooth and cool to the touch. They were not the craggy rocks that we find when we dig in the dirt in our backyard.

The smooth stones reminded me of the stone slabs that formed the stairs leading to the Inner Ise Shrine, part of Ise Jingu, a beautiful park and the spiritual home of the Japanese emperor, near Ise City in Japan. The stones leading to the torii gate of the main shrine are huge, but so carefully placed that the seams from one rock lined up with the seams of another. I found it hard to imagine such craftsmanship. The area is dedicated to the Japanese sun god, but it is also a premier example of the value the Japanese place on workmanship. The buildings on the site are not old, though the area dates back to 4 BCE. Every twenty years a new shrine is built near the current one, which is then disassembled. Everything in the shrine is also reconstructed including textiles. The workers maintain the building skills needed to construct these structures by their continuous renewal.




Digging through the mud in my pot recalled my collection of stones that I started after I took a geography class. I was fascinated by the earth stories that I could see in the stone. I remember the names, igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary, which describe how each rock is formed. Igneous rocks form from liquid, molten lava, for instance. Sedimentary rocks develop from particles of sand, shells, and other material while metamorphic rocks such as slate or marble are the result of existing rocks changing because of intense pressure and temperature. The different materials in the stones made the stones seem like pieces of art.




I don't remember why this pot I'm bent over got so muddy. I continued to squat over the clay pot. It was the middle of the afternoon and it was hot. It hadn't rained since spring. No reason for the pot to be mud-filled. No good reason for me to be hunched over the pot. I was in the shade, at least, and tiny insects floated in the air around me. I was determined to finish finding all of the stones even though I knew my muscles were getting frozen in place. I knew I would have a hard time getting up to stretch and unbend my knees.

Instead of getting up, I continued, hunched over, my hands in a clay pot filled with dried mud and stones. Why did I persist? Perhaps taking the stones out one at a time reminded me of my childhood love of collecting rocks. Perhaps separating them from the dirt and dunking them in water became meditative and I didn't want to stop until finished. Maybe once I had found all the stones, I could select just one stone, note its color, find samples of that color in other places, and try to paint that stone.


Read more about Ise Shrine here:
https://www.isejingu.or.jp/en/about/index.html

Friday, September 14, 2018

FULFILLING DREAMS

I fulfilled one of my old desires a couple of weekends ago without having to do the hard work to make that dream happen. 


by Bill Slavin


We stayed at the Napa Farmhouse Inn in St. Helena to attend a wedding nearby. The people who own the B & B ran a bakery (another dream of mine) in San Jose for many years, but eventually sold the business to start a small farm in Napa Valley where they grow produce and flowers for restaurants in the area. 

When I was in my thirties, I imagined myself running an inn and making breakfast for hungry guests. The owners of this inn created an answer to my dream by making a place both quiet and inviting, well-thought out and lovely. Plus, Mimi and Ed welcomed us with grace, good food and helpfulness.




When we walked through their garden plot, we could see the meticulous planning that lay beneath what has become a riotous, fecund plot. The straight rows now intermingled as zucchinis and other squash escaped their boundaries, mixed with nasturiums and marigolds and butted up against the columns of heirloom tomatoes.




 Red peppers hid under the leaves while red and green chard grew tall next to onions poking their way up through more nasturiums and strawberries. The strawberries sent tendrils out across the path as asters and dahlias grew immense in row after row next to hardy shrubs ready to be dug up to expose the Yukon potato spuds within the rich earth. Basil and other herbs clustered around apple and peach trees spread across the property and lemon trees lined the walkway leading to the house. 

by Bill Slavin

Chickens clucked and pecked at the greens left in their yard. Their fresh eggs each morning became the main ingredient of a frittata filled with vegetables and sliced potatoes along with homemade bread and apricot-rhubard jam.


by Bill Slavin

Inside the farmhouse, the rooms were painted in soft colors without the clutter of some B&Bs. Our bedroom looked out on the dry garden with paths wandering from one section to the next, reminiscent of Provence farmhouses. The open kitchen, filled with stacks of dishes, bowls of fresh fruit, eggs, and potatoes, separated the cozy breakfast room from the great room. The great room, with a larger table, soft couches, and several chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, led us through to an old screen door to the back porch. Bill sat outside in a comfortable chair and read while I set up my watercolors on a picnic table under a pergola. We were able to escape for a while all the chaos that swirls around us with each daily news cycle.



The weekend seemed dreamlike with a wedding under the stars, our strolls around small towns with independent shops, meals with local, fresh ingredients, and coffee and conversation at a neighborhood coffee house.

Sometimes it's okay not to do the hard work to make a dream possible. Sometime you can be just as satisfied by enjoying someone else's dream-come-true.

Good places to stop in St. Helena and Healdsburg:

in St. Helena
http://www.napafarmhouseinn.com
https://napavalleycoffee.com
market restaurant and bar st helena
https://pennyweightnapavalley.com
in Healdsburg
https://healdsburgshed.com
https://thumbprintcellars.com
http://www.mateoscocinalatina.com/home/

Friday, September 7, 2018

SKETCHING IN SEASON


Do you like hot summer weather or would you rather bundle up when there is a chill in the air? 
Nasturtium flowers and leaves ready to garnish a salad

I have friends who revel in the hot weather and all the outdoor adventures during summer while I spend a lot of time inside avoiding the heat. I look forward to the first changes in the weather in late summer.


Quick sketch in the garden of a succulent pear before it was eaten


I am always fooled by a week in August when I think we have reached Autumn at last. The mornings are overcast, schools are back in session, some leaves have fallen, and the air is chilly in the morning. Surely, Autumn is here. In Northern California, once Labor Day is past, summer returns and will most likely remain with us through October. At least for now the smoke from the forest fires has  blown away.



Add a little salt to radishes as the French do

We have two seasons in California. If we are lucky, we have rainy season, followed by dry season. For the last few years our dry seasons have lasted into drought years with subsequent fires scorching the forests and encroaching into suburban neighborhoods. The disasters are terrible to witness and too close to home not to worry.



A fragrant red onion


We live near the edge of Mt. Diablo State Park, so we keep our eyes and noses attuned for smoke. So far we have been lucky and we continue to enjoy the last flourish of summer flowers such as dahlias, daylilies and roses. We take walks around vegetable gardens with luscious, ready-to-pick produce. We stopped creating a vegetable garden when squirrels and deer found the offerings too easy to reach.  I appreciate when friends drop by with extra tomatoes, lemons, basil or zucchini, which gives me time to try new recipes. I found a good tomato soup recipe recently from Family Style Food, which I have copied here. Usually with a new recipe, I add something to the ingredients. For this one I just added a little wine and a small cube of cheddar.


Etagami of a Ripe red tomato 

Tuscan Tomato Soup
From Family Style Food

Start with 3 lbs. tomatoes, skinned and chopped
    To peel them easily, drop them in boiling water and let them cook for 3 or 4 minutes. When you remove them from the pot, the skins will slide right off. Save any juice from the tomatoes.

You will need 4 cups cubed crusty bread
    Put half of the bread cubes in a blender with 2/3 cup water, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with a knife, and salt. Blend to a smooth paste.
   
Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Add 1 small onion, finely chopped and a pinch of salt. Cook until tender. 
Add chopped tomatoes to the pan with 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt, and black pepper. Mash the tomatoes into a coarse puree. 
Add the bread mixture to the tomatoes and stir. Add wine, if soup is very thick. Add 1/2 inch cheese cube. Cook for a few more minutes.

Drizzle olive oil over remaining bread cubes and toast in another pan over medium high heat till golden.
Garnish soup with toast cubes and fresh chopped basil leaves.

This soup is a great way to start a meal especially when the evenings take the heat out of the air and the light is golden. Then I know that Autumn is just around the corner.

Check out the tomato soup and other recipes at
https://familystylefood.com

Friday, August 31, 2018

STARRY NIGHT

Photo by Bill Slavin


The Golden Hour, the hour treasured by photographers when the sun sets and leaves behind light that is filled with luminosity. That light also makes a wedding in the Napa Valley full of magic. Everything looks beautiful, everything seems to work perfectly, romance is in the air.

At S. Vittui winery in St. Helena last weekend the full moon had risen as we watched the wedding party walk down the steps to a courtyard where all the guests had assembled. The groom with his parents came first. The groom turned to his parents and kissed and hugged them. The bride's friends and their escorts followed. Then we all waited as the bride came down the stairs escorted by her parents. We looked on as they all greeted and hugged each other. Standing, we honored those small traditions that create a community and memories.


Photo from Shuttercock Images

Later in the evening when the sun had disappeared and the moon shone above us, Bill and I leaned on a tall table with another couple in the diffused light outside the reception hall. The other couple, old friends whose wedding we had attended, reminded us that the young 30-something couples standing nearby seemed just like us at that age. The women wore flowing evening dresses amd the men had suits with ties -- a change from the casual look of today's work place. One woman had a soft baby pouch wrapped around her while her baby sleep against her shoulder. One of the men held hands with a toddler who kept pulling him away to play, and another couple held each other's hands. For this evening they seemed to have the assurance of people who knew that the world was ready to be explored to its fullest.

We asked each other about memories from our 30s when Bill and the couple had worked together with the bride's dad. We thought of weddings we all had attended and how the small traditions, such as walking down the aisle, have changed to be more inclusive of both sets of parents and and more equal for the bride and groom.

We talked of team-building activities that had created a bond between the people who worked together that carried through to this day. We had all remained friends even though career paths had taken us in different directions. As we talked we tried to recapture specific moments and laughed at how fleeting memories can be.

The wedding, like other ceremonies, gave us a chance to bring back memories and to ask deep questions about our lives. We talked about how much the world had changed since our 30s, we regretted that we hadn't kept better records of the events that shared the same luminosity as this evening's wedding, and how fortunate we were to have had those experiences and to have retained friendships with people with whom we shared our lives. As we left the winery, we looked up at the stars shining above us and felt once again the magic which started with the golden hour.


Perseid meteor shower  in August by Bill Slavin

Check out the night sky on August 25, 2018:
https://in-the-sky.org/skymap2.php

Friday, August 24, 2018

PHOTOS FADE





I turned the pages of an old photo album that my mother had kept of our trip to England and France the summer after my dad died. The photos had faded so much that they almost looked like watercolor, which inspired me to want to paint them. On our trip my mother was still in grief, and I remember how the tour gave her a lift back into life after being closeted with the too-familiar objects that had filled the various homes that she and my dad had shared for a lifetime.

It has been 36 years since my dad died, and 14 since my mother passed away. I don't think about them every day, but when I looked at my mother's face in those old photos feelings of affection swept through me.



The photos had been kept in one of those awful albums with stripes of glue to hold the photos and plastic sheets to cover them. The worst combination for preservation. Thinking about painting some of them, I scanned the photos into the computer. As I worked with each one,  I remembered walking through the vast room that was the Alnwick Castle library, which was filled with comfortable chairs, thousands of books, its collection of Medieval manuscripts and a Shakespeare Folio. Alnwick (pronounced Ann-ick) is the seat of the Duke of Northumberland on the outskirts of the village Alnwick. The castle was recently used in all the Harry Potter movies and is now a big tourist attraction. Our tour group, organized by my dad's alma mater SCSU in Minnesota and long before Harry Potter, stayed in the castle keep with its dorm-like rooms suitable for college students. For several days we savored being part of the quiet life of a country village.


Old postcard of Alnwick Castle still stuck to the photo page

Our tours of castles and cathedrals scattered throughout England and Scotland gave substance to what I had learned in my college Humanities classes. I thought of Chaucer, the Magna Carte, the Bayeux Tapestry, Henry the VIII, the Bronte sisters, Wordsworth, and William Blake as we traveled the narrow roads from London to the north to Scotland and then back south through Stratford-on-Avon to Windsor Castle.

Edinburgh, Scotland

At Lindisfarne, we looked across the sea to Scandinavia, then we walked on a foggy day on the narrow cobblestone streets of Edinburgh leading us past iron gates and lions' heads on sturdy wooden doors to the Museum of Childhood, which was filled with dollhouses and other toys. As we came south, we drove through the Lake District, we stopped for lunch at a pub built of the honey-colored limestone of the Cotswolds, and stayed in a charming bed and breakfast near Windsor Castle.


Boaters on Oxford's Isis River

My mom was in her late sixties at the time, very active especially with her grandchildren. She continued to ice skate and act as an ice-skating judge well into her 80s. She is of French and English ancestry, and so this trip was special for her. In Coventry we found a grave marker with the name Hart, her mother's last name, and she wondered if they were related to us. In France, she compared my silhouette to a bust of Josephine Bonaparte and determined that we both had the same nose.

As we went from one day to the next with me shepherding her to keep up with the tour schedule, I began to feel the reversal of roles from mother to daughter, and now daughter mothering mother. The trip gave me an inkling of what was to come. It's wasn't till much later when she developed Alzheimer's that my sisters and I became the mothers that our mother needed in the last years of her life as she faded away from her memories and the people she knew.



one of many charming cottages in England

Check out these sites in Great Britain:

https://www.cotswolds.com

https://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/venue/museum-childhood

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/all-about/duke-of-northumberland

https://www.visitnorthumberland.com/holy-island

http://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk

Friday, August 17, 2018

LET'S GO TO THE MOVIES


photo by Elisa Rolle



I'm on a workshop adventure. Filling in for me this week is Rose Owens, who loves seeing movies. Here's her suggestions for films to view this summer.


 from Rose Owens:

One of my favorite things about living in San Francisco is the culture. We are so lucky to have a multitude of museums, musical venues, and a vibrant populace that encourages art. San Francisco's movie theaters hold a particularly special place in my heart, with the Castro Theater as a crown jewel. Here, you are treated to a live organ performance before almost every screening, classic 1920's movie palace architecture, and some of the most addictive popcorn I've come across in my time.

The Castro's monthly schedule is a treasure chest, frequently chock-a-block with classics of cinematic history, as well as cult hits and modern triumphs. It also plays host to many Bay Area film festivals, including the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which is the longest running Jewish film festival in the entire world! (It runs from mid July to the first week of August, so wait until next year to buy a pass.)


Inside the Orinda Theater, another film festival location. unknown photographer


Below is the list of films I was lucky enough to catch at this year's festival, with three highlights annotated accordingly...

To Dust
(Narrative Feature, directed by Shawn Snyder)

This beautiful and heartbreaking film centers around Shmuel, a Hasidic cantor, who has recently lost his wife to cancer. Shmuel is having nightmares of his wife's body as she moves into the next life, and finds himself grappling with questions and issues not easily discussed in an Orthodox community. He finds solace and friendship in the form of a local science teacher (played winningly by Matthew Broderick), as they embark on a journey to discover what happens after death. A black comedy to be sure, but one that really speaks to the pain and confusion when a loved one is lost, as well as the importance of reaching out when in need.

306 Hollywood
(Documentary, directed by Elan Bogarin & Jonathan Bogarin)

Having lost a grandmother who was a real character, full of stories, and with an inimitable sense of style, I was entranced by this documentary about siblings attempting to encapsulate who their grandmother was. 306 Hollywood is the New Jersey address where Annette Ontell (a fashion designer/dressmaker for Park Avenue women) lived for sixty-seven years, and the Bogarins have created a stunningly detailed and maddeningly creative film that breathes life into every corner. Utilizing found objects from within the home, including band-aid tins filled with loose change, upwards of four vacuums, and audio/visual recordings of Ontell and her family members, we are treated to a Wes Anderson-style dollhouse of a movie. It's certainly one not to be missed.

The Sentence
(Documentary, directed by Rudy Valdez)

Mandatory minimum prison laws are often overlooked component of our justice system, and one that I personally knew little about before watching this film. Cindy Shank, a mother of three young girls, was sentenced to fifteen years in a federal prison for drug conspiracy charges related to her ex-boyfriend's activities while they were dating. Valdez, Cindy's brother, filmed the family for ten years as they hoped for and worked towards her clemency. By shining a light on the family, we observe not only what they were experiencing during the decade of loss, but also how much Cindy missed as her three daughters grew up (the youngest was barely a year old when Cindy was sent to prison). Important viewing to educate ourselves, and to help make this country a better place.

The Prince and Dybbuk
(Documentary, directed by Elwira Niewiera & Piotr Rosolowski)

Shalom Bollywood:  The Untold History of Indian Cinema
(Documentary, directed by Danny Ben-Moshe)

Science Fair
(Documentary, directed by Cristina Costantini & Darren Foster)

Roll Red Roll
(Documentary, directed by Nancy Schwartzman)

Etgar Karet: Based on a True Story
(Documentary, directed by Stephane Kaas)

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes
(Documentary, directed by Sophie Huber)

Satan & Adam
(Documentary, directed by V. Scott Balcerek)

Love, Gilda
(Documentary, directed by Lisa D'Apolito)

Budapest Noir
(Narrative Feature, directed by Eva Gardos)

Hope you enjoyed this peak into the SFJFF, and see you at the movies! 
by Rose Owens

**************

For information about the San Francsisco Jewish Film Festival:  https://jfi.org/sfjff-2018

Check out what's playing at the Castro:  http://www.castrotheatre.com

For information about Bay Area Film Festivals:
http://www.sftravel.com/article/guide-film-festivals-san-francisco-month-month

For Film Festivals in your area:
https://www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/film-festivals/

If you are in the Castro for a movie, make a reservation at one of these restaurants for an after-movie treat:

Poesia Osteria Italiana
4017 18th St, San Francisco
http://poesiasf.com/?utm_source=tripadvisor&utm_medium=referral

Kitchen Story
3499 16th St., San Francisco
http://kitchenstorysf.com

Anchor Oyster Bar
579 Castro St., San Francisco
http://www.anchoroysterbar.com/?utm_source=tripadvisor&utm_medium=referral



Friday, August 10, 2018

RELATIVE CREATIVITY

Have you seen the documentary Three Identical Strangers yet? The film covers the lives of a set of triplets separated at birth. The scientists who observed them throughout their childhoods took notes to determine whether nature or nurture was responsible for their life paths. The film raises many questions, but it also reminded me of being part of an artistic family. My dad, his dad, my mom, her dad, and several cousins all have had creative lives. I've featured two of my cousins, Hugh Heimdahl and Todd Heimdahl in previous postings. (Faces, 6/3/2016 & Inkotber: Third Week of Drawing, 10/23/2015)

Look at the work of another cousin Lori Heimdahl Gibson and wonder again: nature or nurture?  (I think it is both.)

Luna by Lori Heimdahl Gibson (oil)

Lori's Artist Statement explains her pull towards art:

"For me art is about being more fully alive. It is about "waking up" to see the beauty around me, and allowing a greater force to work through me. Whether doing or looking, I am more mindful and focused when engaged in art. It helps me to look at the world with new eyes, appreciating the amazing creativity of others and myself. Art is an integral part of my spiritual practice.

"I took my first drawing class in Minnesota in 1996, and since then have studied multiple mediums at St. Cloud State University in MN, UNM-Los Alamos, and Northern New Mexico College in Espanola, including art history, collage, cartoons, watercolor, sculpture, stone carving, ceramics, and, most recently, oils. I now have a studio in my home and am retired, so have made art a greater priority in my full life. I am still, though, a binge artist; just bursts of activity.


Robert Gibson by Lori Heimdahl Gibson  (bronze)


"In December of 2015 I went to Esalen in Big Sur, CA, for a 5-Day Intuitive Painting workshop with Stewart Cubley, designed to tap into our innate creativity. This workshop has opened up a whole new way of painting for me that I find extremely joyful.


Intuitive Painting by Lori Heimdahl Gibson (oil)


Bison by Lori Heimdahl Gibson  (oil)



"Having been fortunate enough to travel around the world to see many great works of art in person, I have come to believe that art is a powerful means for human beings to develop their highest and best selves, making this world a better place. In 1983 I got my private pilot's license, and must say that art is like having wings and flying, seeing life from a loftier perspective!"


Thank you, Lori, for explaining and showing the importance of art to anyone. We all are born with creative abilities.