Saturday, May 17, 2014

I live a magical life.




A few years ago, while driving through the woodsy town south of our city, I often passed a ramshackle, brown cottage, perched crookedly on its messy property.  As I approached on the right, a road sign advertised the blind driveway.  The house jutted into the road at a curve, between endless forests of tall pines and streams, and drivers needed to slow as they passed, or risk plummeting into a shallow ravine.

Every time I passed that little cottage, I couldn’t take my eyes off it.  I felt magnetically allured, a bit in love.  The place was a disaster.  Shutters rotted, mold climbed the foundation, and weed tangles grew feral and huge, mixing with bursts of flowers.  Broken pottery shards littered the ground.  The roof lacked several shingles.  But there was simple beauty.  A dirty window’s cracked glass framed a sill line of colorful glass bottles.  Wiry nature weavings dangled from the door.  And somebody loved those tomato plants, dripping with fruit.  I slowed my car, every time, and gazed at that house.

I noticed that someone started placing objects at the roadside – a New Hampshire tradition – when you’re finished with something, just stick it by the street.  Within a few hours, a passerby will have popped it into their trunk or pickup to be salvaged, reused or revamped.  Each time I drove by, I observed an increased frequency of roadside stuff.  Someone was cleaning out the little cottage.  I had never seen a human there, but I felt strongly that the owner of the tiny home had died, and relatives wanted to rid the premises of the deceased’s junk.  Inexplicably, I thought this, I suppose.  Or maybe, the decline of the property, combined with the piles?  I’m not sure.  The roadside heaps grew bigger.  And still, my attraction to the home continued.  I had such a crush on it.  I know, so weird, to anticipate a happy, seven seconds long heart flutter over an object.

As I approached it on the road one day, I decided to pray about why I felt so attached to the house.  Interested in exploring the meaning behind my odd devotion, I asked God to reveal to me just why I adored it.  For much of my life, I’ve been propelled by the belief that God sometimes rouses in us our worldly purpose through desires or passions that just won’t die, and sometimes it’s through the love of specific, quirky things.  Did something about the house remind me of an important, forgotten memory?  Was there something I could learn from it?  Would it reveal an aspect of my identity that God wanted to highlight?  A change I needed to make?  An embrace?  A release?  I drove by, prayed, and kept on toward home.

A couple of days later, as I again neared it, I remembered my prayer and as usual, slowed as I turned the sharp corner.   In the bedraggled yard, a few feet from the road, a woman with short, brown, curly hair stood, feet planted, calm, arms at her side.  I have no other way to describe this other than to just say it:   I swear she met my eyes before I even knew she was there.  I have goose bumps now, thinking about it.  I came around the corner, and she was already looking at me, like she had been waiting.  She gently smiled and watched me intently as I drove past, just her head turning to follow me.  I got the urge to stop and say hello, to ask questions about the house, tell her, “Your home makes me happy,” now was my chance!  But I couldn’t – I was absolutely freaked out.  And if you know me, you already understand that I’m not shy.  I’ll easily talk to anyone, even attempting foreign languages to communicate.  But I couldn’t do it.

As I drove away, I berated myself for not stopping.  Honestly, here it is: the benevolence of the encounter overwhelmed me.  I felt in the presence of something I couldn’t understand.  I didn’t know what to do about it.

The next day, I found myself in the area again, and neared the little home.  A mile away, my thoughts were tumultuous – That was so bizarre, that woman, I wonder if she’ll be outside again.  Is she the owner of the home?  Is she the one cleaning it out?  A relative of the deceased?  And, most importantly, why was she looking at me like that?  Like she had all the time in the world.  I have friends who believe in ghosts, and while I don’t, I will admit to that thought also crossing my mind before I dismissed it.  The encounter had affected me so much, I was imagining the woman’s thoughts based on her strange and calm presence by the road, her looking straight into my eyes.   Ah, finally, here comes Hilaree.  I’ve been waiting for you.  You pass by all the time and I decided I needed to make it obvious.

This time, as I passed by, the woman was nowhere to be found, the yard empty.   All the roadside junk had been picked up, with the exception of one, startlingly specific to me item.   A light blue, well-loved, wooden easel stood in the weeds at the street, all by itself.  Squares of paint marked the outlines of previously painted canvasses.  Ghosts of artwork.  Someone’s hands were there, many times.  I stopped my van, pulled over and clicked on the hazards.  I squinted up at the house.  I looked around, like I was getting away with something.  With my heart an excited mess, I popped the rear door up and lifted the large easel into the back.  My three children hung out of their windows, hollering and cheering, thrilled for their mama.

See, it’s not that I didn’t already have an easel.  I had one, all right.  It was black, metal, foldable, and utilitarian.  Sometimes my children used it.  I seldom did.  I had just begun taking drawing classes, an activity that opened up my soul like that first, barefoot on grass, spring day after an endless, frigid winter.  Freedom.  This easel, this one, has presence.  This one is hefty, old, and easily three feet across.  The hinges are rusted open, weathered gorgeous, resistant to folding or propping in a corner, unused.

I received it as a gift.

Among other things, I have wanted to be an artist my entire life. And, I have always questioned if that desire was noble, a worthy enough pursuit.  After all, artists spend a lot of time in isolation, percolating their thoughts.  Our culture extols the extrovert.  I have always needed permission, especially for the quality and quantity of solitude artmaking requires.  From who, I never really knew.  Blessing others with permission to be artists – yes, I could do that.  But myself?  Is it good enough?  Creating fills my lungs with fresh oxygen.  I lose track of time.  I lose track of myself.  But shouldn’t my purpose be painful?


Within the next week, demolition on the little brown home began.  Very little else appeared at the roadside as the house quickly collapsed.  On one scorching hot day, June bugs buzzing, I stopped once more, and for the first time, walked right up the short dirt driveway onto the property.  I stood sweating on the remaining bricks of a crumbled fireplace, peered into the foundation, all the walls gone.  I said thank you, just a whisper, finally. 






Now the easel stands sentinel in the corner of my own tiny studio.  In total, there are six works in progress propped on the floor and leaning against it, sitting directly on its center surface, or balanced on top of it.  I have added my own paint outlines, and I no longer know hers from mine. Every time I use it, chips from her paint come off on my hands, a repeated baptism.







Friday, January 17, 2014

We Love a Gorgeous Gooey Mess


One of our favorite recipes/experiments/messes to create is from the fantastic book - The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions.  Gooey Gunk!  Littlest especially is into hands on, sensory play, and she allowed me to photograph her process.  We even extended the activity into two hours of creative play by adding some animal toys!  Enjoy!

                                   So here is the product, once the two solutions were combined...





                           I brought out the box of animal toys and Littlest decided to make lizard prints...


                                                       ...which would fade away slowly...


                                                                Zebra needed a turn!




Fashionable, no?




Lest anyone thinks life is easy around here...she also decided to put some in her hair.  Her reasons for doing this were not readily apparent.  At least she stayed in good spirits.  Have fun and let me know about creative ways you've combined toys with activities for your littles!




Monday, December 30, 2013

I can't believe it. I'm in love with a pop song.

I mean, if you know me, you'd be very surprised.  I'm not even a bit embarrassed, mostly because I want to sing this song to my children, the second they open their bleary eyes.  I want to whisper these lyrics into my child's ear, the one with severe sensory processing disorder, when a task or experience becomes just too much.  Right now, I say, "You're someone who has flown on airplanes.  You have started to try new foods. Remember when you had foot surgery?  Putting on your pants is going to be super easy!  You are God's child.  You accepted Jesus, remember?  So now you have all the power that created the ocean and Jupiter and redwoods living inside you."  I wanna see you be brave.   And, please put on your pants.

I want these lyrics for my friends, some in particular, who've been doing the Mama thing forever, who've forgotten who they are, otherwise.  Bravery dispels that history of silence created by exhaustion.

I want these lyrics for myself.  Is it immature to find solace in song lyrics?  I must be too old for this.  I want to be brave enough to let Jesus search me and know me, to see if there's any offensive dirt messing the place up, and I want to be brave enough to act on what's found, once He's lifted the carpet and shook it. Everybody's been stared down by the enemy, fallen for the fear and done some disappearing. I want to be brave enough to embrace friendships that are nurturing to me, that don't involve soul-censoring or explanation.  I want to be brave enough to participate in another art show, with big, boisterous paintings this time.  I want to be brave enough to write that novel with my author husband, and then brave enough to stand in the limelight, considerate and calm.

I don't do resolutions.  But I'll pick a focusing word for 2014.  Brave.

(Click on the link to hear the song and watch the adorable video!  I especially love the guy in the plaid shirt.  He reminds me of many of my sweet friends.)

Sara Bareilles - Brave

Sunday, October 13, 2013

more traveling!

I realize I take a lot of photos of us eating.  Believe me, I'm sparing you - these aren't the half of them.  Was that grammatically correct?  It felt like a colloquialism.  Like when we finally got to California, and my sister-in-law and HER sister-in-law were telling me that my brother and I say weird things like, "Are you done your breakfast?"  When apparently it should be worded, "Are you done WITH your breakfast?"  Is this a digression?  Yes.  And it was still about food.  I KNOW.  Here we are, still in wondrous Portland, with Lovely Friend.  Lovely Friend's husband also joined us, but he is unpictured here today.  Lorena's Mexican restaurant.  We walked to it, all localish.

Biggest and Lovely Friend, squishyfaces.


MOLE!!  Pronounced "Mo-lay", not like the rodent.  Could there be anything tastier?  No.


Middlest, totally blending in.  You didn't even recognize him, did you?  He's slick.


So, while we were in Portland, the city experienced record rainfall, the most September water accumulation since 1872.  Unhindered, and laden with our raincoats (and the kids even had matching rainpants, which made my mama heart feel all organized and glad), we ventured out to the Columbia River Gorge to see the waterfalls.  Literally, and there's no other, less cliche way to say this, Multnomah Falls took my breath away.  I walked around a corner, and there it was, all 620 feet of it.  I gasped like someone stabbed me.  I even clutched my heart.  I cried a little.  You've just got to go there and see it.  You'll gasp too.

And see that bridge spanning the middle of it?  We hiked up to that, and stood, deafened by the roar.  I was unable to take pictures because of the spray.  While we perched there, I explained tearfully to the children that the Bible describes God's voice as the sound that surrounded us. "His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory."  Ezekiel 43:2


 It's the second-highest waterfall in the United States.  Of course, our measly pictures do it no justice.  I don't know why I decided at that moment to clutch Littlest under the armpits.  She's a mere three inches off the ground.  I clearly wasn't helping anyone.



 Don't these look like Dr. Seuss trees?  Middlest and I loved them so much.  Rich, funky, lime-green moss coats everything in the area.  If I wasn't a tree hugger before, the Gorge made me into one.  Okay, so I was a tree hugger before, too.


After our first waterfall experience, we enjoyed the touristy but well-intentioned information center, where earnest forest rangers sat waiting to hear all about how far we'd come, and my children tried on variations of antlers.


We hiked around a little and braved the nine million tons of rock above us by traipsing through this tunnel.


 And then, right there, at roadside, is Horsetail Falls, just tumbling down like nobody's business.  If I lived in Oregon, I would just sit there all day long and contemplate deep, lovely things.  I wonder why no one else was just sitting there, all day long.  Maybe we get too used to stuff.  Maybe if an Oregonian came to New Hampshire, they'd sit next to a maple tree in October, contemplating lovely things, wondering how we ignorant locals could stand the beauty and just go on with our lives.


We, of course, could not help ourselves, and the shoes came off.  Middlest led the way, and we all succumbed to the peer pressure.  He's very persuasive.






There's tiny Biggest, a wee, unafraid, yellow person.  Lovely Friend had her eye on her, and saw her fall in. The water was amazingly only up to her chest, but freezing, and she was quite upset.  Mostly, she was upset that she only managed to get within a few feet of touching the falls.  "I wanted to touch the waterfall for Daddy."


A few days later, my children attended The Village Free School while I got to check off an item on Hilaree's Bucket List - a two-day workshop with one of my favorite artists, Jesse Reno!  Things got messy.  It was incredible.  He even invited us to his studio afterward!  I will be creating some art for an upcoming group show I'm in, and I'll be sharing the process here on my blog.  If I'm feeling brave!  You people are nice.  I'll be brave.



I love all forms of outdoor art - from simple street graffiti to professional murals, to political statements.  Whatever.  I love the boldness and the desire to express. This first one is a fantastic mural in Portland, commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr.  Bad photo, but you get the idea.



Did we return to Back to Eden Bakery on Alberta St.?  Of course we did! Dairy-free and gluten-free ice cream cones!  Littlest never gets to experience this!




Who can tell me what kind of tree this is?  I feel affectionate toward bark.


An interesting Portland sight - free clothing swap, on the sidewalk.


We found the most beautiful, quirky, independent bookstore, called Green Bean Books.  Here we see Middlest reaching inside a handmade, reclaimed box to see what's what.  The owner had several of these around the store.  So creative!  I love this idea!





The owner also refurbished five different vending machines, some antique, into new designs that dispensed funny products, some related to stories and some just to make us laugh, like this Facial Hair in a Flash Machine. She even had created sweet little tokens for customers to use.  Creative details like that inspire me. Goodness gracious.  Lovely Friend and I couldn't breathe, we were laughing so hard.  We made a spectacle of ourselves.





Now we all know that I could totally work Tufted Chest Hair.  Case closed, people.


Sigh.  Portland.  We loved you so, and wanted to squeeze you forever, but we had to say goodbye to embark on the next leg of our epic journey. Thank you, Lovely Friend, for everything, and for treating my children as though they were your own.  We will see you soon.  Up next, a seven hour drive (yes, you heard right) through the gorgeous Cascades and stunning Oregonian landscape, into Northern California, where we were embraced BY THIS.



And into the warm, welcoming home of my sister-in-law's sister-in law.  Did you get that?  There's me, in the middle, wearing my Jesse Reno t-shirt, wielding a knife.  Because that's how I felt after driving by myself with three children for seven hours.  Oh, come on, it wasn't that bad, you say.  No.  It was worse.  Oh, I kid.  My children and I had an amazing trip.  What can I say?  Driving through the Redwood Forest feels like Narnia, and as usual, I got teary with the beauty.  The rental van came equipped with a DVD player, which of course didn't hurt.  I will say this about the trip, and the van in general.  I hate GPS, so I did not use it.  I instead mobilized my big shiny brain and read road signs, and we did not get lost once.  Swear.  Pinkie swear, even.  The van featured automatic everything, which I hated, along with the ignoring of the GPS.  Dear small buttons who intend to rule my life, I prefer to open doors myself, thank you very much.  These people were BRAVE, as they had never met us before, and they welcomed us as family.  I will always be grateful to them.  I'll give you their address if you ever need to stay somewhere.  HAHAHHA


My brother, sister-in-law, their four year old son, two year old daughter, and new baby boy drove up to stay with us, which was not an easy feat for them.  I finally got to meet my new nephew, the chubba wubbiest baby on the planet.  I took several large bites out of him.  He smiles like this all the time.  I put him in my carry-on and took him home.  Don't tell my brother.


                                                                 Cousins jamming!


Middlest and Four-year-old Nephew spent many glorious hours working on their Pirate Ship, made out of enormous logs.  They will always remember this, I think.




                                                              Don't mess with pirates.






This needs a 'C' between the first 'E' and 'L'.  Because then you know it would be tucked into my carry-on along with Chubby Nephew.


Take a gander at my dashing younger brother.  Man enough to carry a gorgeous two-year old girl on his shoulders while wearing a delicious baby on his front.  That's right.  He's that awesome.


                                                 Ooooh.  I love this girl.  Feisty little woman.


And SHE loves her big cousin, my Middlest.  Here she is, embracing him. 


Middlest and Littlest.  It turned out okay.


                                           We hiked along this cool marsh.  So much green!


My stunning sis-in-law with Chubby Nephew.  Seriously.  Break my heart.


We also went to a Greek Orthodox church festival.  Here is Biggest, eating Greek pastries.  Yum.


                                              And onto the beach with everybody. Big, fun group!








The only thing that freaked me out, on a 3000 mile trip across the country that included driving eleven hours by myself with my children was this...signs on the road in Northern California that read "Tsunami Hazard Zone".  No, not the Chevron sign.  The little one to the left.  I was driving, don't hassle me about the poor photo.

So there you have it.  After that stay, we then drove another four hours south to spend a couple of days with my sweet family, and then had to fly out of San Francisco, home to Daddy and Kenobi.  Sis-in-law and Chubby Nephew graciously drove us to the airport.  Home now, I am having trouble processing everything we experienced, everything I considered, everything I felt.  This is usual for me - I need a long time to elaborate over my life, until sense is made.  I wish that Lovely Friend, Younger Brother, Sis-in-Law, Nephews and Niece lived closer.  I do, I do.  The photos I included in these last two blog posts only scratched the surface of what we did.  If you know me in person, corner me and ask me questions about the sociological observations I made about people in Oregon and California.  You know, if you're into that kind of thing.  The details of home feel confusing to me now - how is laundry done, again?  How to plan meals?  How to structure a household, a homeschool, an art career, a writing career?  I'll let you know how it all goes.