Hello from Santa Fe!

Santa FeFirst things first: thank you all so much for your sweet comments in these past few days! I especially loved getting to read about how you overcame fear and embraced something new, and about how you are making time to do the things that make you happy. You guys are a crazy inspiring bunch, and I’m so grateful for you.

I send my greetings from the gorgeous high desert (7,000 feet!). Eric and I have been looking forward to this trip to New Mexico for such a long time–we love it here, but it also holds a special place in our hearts and in our dating history (four years ago! That makes me feel like such a grown-up!). We spent most of the day traveling and getting settled in, but I can’t wait to get out and explore. On the docket: the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, strolling through the plaza, and the biggest bowl of posole I can find. Pictures should be coming soon, but for now, here’s a little moment from our evening. When we got back from dinner, we noticed that our hotel has a little apple cider stand, so we got a cup and sat by the fire. Such great happiness. And more to come.

Learning to See

DrawingI’ve been afraid of drawing for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall anyone telling me that I wasn’t good at it (though that may be buried under some dark ocean currents), but I always noticed how little my drawings resembled those done by my friends, for whom perfect likenesses of fruit bowls and tigers seemed as easy as breathing. This didn’t feel good. I honestly think I must have been overwhelmed by trying to take in all the lines and shades and proportions of an object all at the same time. It felt like a language I didn’t speak, something I couldn’t grasp with my hands (incidentally, I still feel the same way about music and math). So I took shortcuts, and I just didn’t draw, for years and years. I took a few classes here and there, but I think I was too intimidated by all the other students, who were very kind to me, but who seemed to produce beautiful drawings effortlessly, while even my most focused attempts resulted in something that did not look at all like I wanted it to. My fear of drawing kept me from painting for most of my life too–if you can’t draw something, how can you paint it? In the past five years or so, I have really embraced so many things that I didn’t think I could do, and it has made my life so much richer. But drawing was the last holdout.

In my painting class, we were asked to do a bit of freeform sketching to gather ideas for our paintings. When I heard this instruction, my heart sank. I put it off for days. And then I bought a sketchbook. I found my favorite pencils and erasers. And I started trying to see. I think my only real hindrance is impatience–it just takes time to see the lines and the shading and the size of what you are drawing relative to everything else in the field of view. I find that thought comforting. I am still just getting started, but I wanted to share this little sketch. I went to the zoo in Santa Barbara, which was really lovely, and I was so taken with the elephants. I sat down on a bench and got out my pencils and tried my hardest to see. I don’t by any means think this is a masterpiece, but it looks like an elephant, and that is a victory for me. I am especially happy with the eye and the fuzz on top of the head. And maybe those reverse kneecaps. I wonder if I would ever have noticed them otherwise. I am so happy that I somehow worked up the courage to try to record them.

Art From Scrap

Art from ScrapI am a thrifty girl. And I love making things. And that is why I love places like Art From Scrap! It has been around for over 20 years, taking donations of all kinds of art supplies from businesses and individuals and selling them at rock-bottom prices. I hadn’t even heard of Art From Scrap until a few weeks ago. When we were at the Depot in Oakland, I was telling one of the employees how much I wished we had one in LA. The employee looked surprised and said, “Oh, you don’t have one?” This little flicker of a raised eyebrow got me thinking…maybe there was something of the kind in LA. A little bit of googling led me to this comprehensive list of creative reuse centers not just in the US, but all over the world! (Click it, click it, and find one near you! They even have a guide for starting your own, if you are feeling adventurous.) You should have seen the happy dance I did! I learned that there are a few such places in LA, and then I started scanning for places I knew we’d be traveling soon. And now I will probably try to hit a Depot on every vacation: ha! Art From Scrap was definitely the first place I headed to once we were in Santa Barbara.

Art from ScrapIt’s a bit smaller than the Depot, but it did not disappoint in variety, and I am sure I spent a good hour in there browsing around and picking up a big bag full of treasures. I loved this literally recycled tree in the front yard. (If any of you have ever been to Urban Ore in Berkeley, there is a similar setup here: little stuff inside, big building materials outside).

Art from ScrapAlong with enough fabric and yarn to keep you busy for years!

IMG_4452Jewelry supplies!

Art from ScrapShells and stones!

Art from ScrapBeautiful bottle caps!

Art from ScrapThe science section!

Art from ScrapThey also have a big bulk section with raw materials for making all kinds of projects, and teachers get bulk items for free! I remember making candles out of lint and old egg cartons when I was little, and if I were a teacher, I’d so do that with my kids too. Obviously, I had a fantastic time, but I was also so impressed with the organization and with the employees’ clear dedication to the space and its mission. They were constantly straightening, reorganizing, fielding calls, and discussing strategies. This is all the more impressive when you consider that all of them were almost certainly volunteers. I am so happy that such places, and such people, exist in this world. They make it brighter for all of us.

Notes from the Road

SunsetFirst and foremost, thank you all so much for your sweet comments on yesterday’s post! I so appreciate every single one of them, and every single one of you. You are the very best readers (and writers and artists and teachers and all around wonderful people)!

Today we drove up to Santa Barbara, where Eric is meeting with some colleagues. I love the drive west toward Ventura and up along the coast. We always see something new along the way. I was working on my cross stitch, and eventually I just put it away: too much to look at. The sunset was absolutely stunning and slightly surreal. We watched the hills slowly pinken, and then the ocean turned the most improbable shade of purple under the richly hued clouds. WOW. Obviously, shots through the window of a moving car would never do it justice, but I want to remember it. It was over-the-top gorgeous.

Le DinnerEric had a dinner meeting tonight, so I walked over to a little place nearby for soup and a sandwich, toting my book with me. The food was nothing special, but it reminded me of other meals I happily shared with a book: hefting my improbably and impractically large volume of Proust (which I never finished!) to the Indian restaurant on the ground floor of my apartment building in Berlin, leaning over a crepe and a copy of Hemingway in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, sitting by the window on the second floor of a little cafe in Prague, totally riveted by Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I’m currently reading Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, and I love it. It was a little hard to get into, but the narrative structure and the questions it poses are so deeply interesting. I’m sure I’ll be reading it over tacos tomorrow and Saturday while Eric is in his meeting, and I hope I’ll always remember Santa Barbara as the terroir of this novel. I’d like to imagine that the trail I leave behind me is punctuated with the books that kept me company along the way.

Adventures in Map-Making: Inner Compass

Inner CompassI don’t talk about my faith very often here, although it’s very important to me. I am not opposed to talking about it, and I love reading what others write about their faith. It’s just that my faith is something that’s deep in my bones, something that doesn’t always lend itself to language. And I guess also I am just very cognizant that we’re all different, and we all have our own experience–it’s wonderful that my faith practice works for me, but I would never want anyone to think that I presume it would or should work in just the same way for them. It’s so important to me that everyone’s values be respected here, and my greatest hope is just that you come away from this space feeling love–that’s what it’s all about.

All that said, this is my faith in visual form. I have been participating in an Ignatian group at my church this year, and it’s been so amazing. I love the concrete practicality of this approach to faith, and the way it prizes the ordinary and the everyday. We’ve been working these past few months on our spiritual autobiographies. They can take any form at all (and it was incredible to share them–we all made such different and unique things!), but when someone mentioned a map, my ears perked up. I love maps so much, so I knew this was the way to go for me. I have been playing with watercolors and charcoal and colored pencils for weeks now, and today I finished my map. It’s a story of coming home. It’s a story of finding comfort and depth in unexpected places. It’s a story of being guided toward good things without even realizing it. It’s a story of an inner compass, one that’s always been with me, and one that always will.

Inner CompassThis story is about being raised in a place of love and comfort, a place fragrant with the faith of my parents, and their parents, and their parents before them.

Inner CompassIt’s about eventually feeling stifled by all that heavy air of mystery and tradition, and wondering if there might be something better across the sea. It’s about being welcomed into a place so completely different that it could not fail to thrill a wide-eyed girl.

Inner CompassIt’s about running wild with newness in those early years, getting very involved in all the goings-on and the running of things, scoffing at the tradition left behind as stiff and dry. It’s about finding something deeply personal and deeply meaningful. But it’s also about slowly reaching a state of disillusionment and frustration with language that does not seem to mean what it once did. It’s about feeling disconnected from something held dear for many years. It’s about being in a desert and being frightened by that.

Inner CompassIt’s about recognizing that maybe, just maybe, all that tradition and frippery left across the sea had a more profound meaning than I ever imagined. It’s about being homesick and being far, far from home. It’s about having a sense of “from” but not a sense of “to.” It’s about pushing a rickety boat with tattered sails into a stormy sea.

Inner CompassIt’s about close calls with rocks in the sea and dragons under the waves. It’s about not being able to see the shore. It’s about being deeply unsure of self, of future, of present, of past.

Inner CompassIt’s about unexpectedly landing in a place of peace and safety, and exhaling in tranquility for the first time in years. It’s about returning to a place I never knew I would, and finding that no one expected me to prove myself. It’s about discovering that the deeply personal and the deeply meaningful not only crossed the sea with me, but also grew here indigenously, with roots thick and strong, long before even my great-great-grandparents were a twinkle in anyone’s eye. It’s about equally unexpectedly, and totally improbably, meeting someone with his own story and his own faith to walk beside me. It’s about crossing over still waters and learning not to fear the journey anymore.

Inner CompassIt’s about coming home. It’s about realizing that home was in my heart all along. It’s about realizing that my inner compass never led me astray, and that I was, I am, I will be, exactly where I need to be.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip CookiesSo, a month or so ago, I was feeling the autumn tug. You know what that means. I bought four cans of pumpkin at the store. As one does. I had no idea what I was going to do with them, but that didn’t really matter. I knew I’d figure it out. I used two to make this pumpkin bundt cake, and two to make two batches of these insanely delicious cookies. The first batch was so addictive…that a second was necessary. I bit into one last night and told Eric that these are the best cookies I have ever baked. I stand by that. It’s been a cake show around here for a long time, but…I am starting to see the wisdom of the cookie contingency (ahem, Eric). These are just so good. They’re definitely the cousin of the pumpkin bundt cake, but if I could only make one…I’d make the cookies.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip CookiesI had first wanted to make some pumpkin snickerdoodles (which have been all over Ye Olde Pinterest), but when I read the reviews of the recipes, there seemed to be a lot of problems: either the cookies were overly dry or overly cakey. This makes sense, given that cookies have a delicate chemistry, and pumpkin adds a lot of moisture. That’s why I was so excited to find this recipe: oatmeal is the most ingenious addition because it soaks that extra moisture right up.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip CookiesI made a few changes (no cookies should have to endure life without nuts!), but I honestly think the star of these cookies is fresh grated nutmeg. Mmm, it doesn’t get much better than this. The flavor is so warm and strong in these cookies. I will never tell you how many of them I have eaten.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip CookiesBut thankfully there are a good handful left…and more cans of pumpkin at the store.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from The Baker Chick

Makes 3 dozen cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups old-fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¾ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

-Preheat oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a sil-pat and set aside.
-In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, oatmeal, baking soda, spices and salt.
-In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer,) cream the butter and sugars on medium-high until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until well-combined and smooth. Stir in the pumpkin puree.
-On low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.
-Use a small cookie scoop to dollop cookie dough onto your prepared sheets, 2-3 inches apart. Bake for 12-18 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown around the edges. (Some batches of mine took up to 18 minutes to get nice crispy edges.)
-Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Thoughts on Daily Routines

Daily RitualsIt’s a red letter day when I get a book from the library that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. This one proved more inspiring than I’d anticipated, and it was great fun besides. The book is a compilation of the creative and working habits of all kinds of creative people: writers, artists, architects, composers, musicians, and more. Each person gets a little vignette, and you walk away from the book feeling like you’ve had tea with the greatest minds of the last two centuries, and beyond. There are lots of little gems peppered throughout, like this one: Beethoven ground his own coffee every morning, and he counted out exactly 60 beans each time, having calculated it as a perfect dose of caffeine. No wonder he was so brilliant.

The general trends were perhaps not surprising: about 40% got up early and worked all morning and into the early afternoon. About 40% slept all day and worked all night. About 10% said they had to wait for inspiration (and, interestingly enough, others said it was imperative not to wait for inspiration). About 10% said that each major project had its own rhythm.

I had been thinking a lot about routine already; perhaps we crave routine most when our lives are in the greatest state of upheaval (thankfully, my life is not; my house, however, still is). Of the two main types, I am not yet either. I haven’t stayed up all night since my all-in-one-go reading of The Grapes of Wrath in high school (timing the ending of it with sunrise, however, was a really special experience). I aspire to be the first type, and I have been in that camp at various points in my life. I am my happiest when I’m in a solid work routine. Grad school is not great at giving you one–either your class and teaching schedule changes every semester, or you are out floating in the ether with your dissertation, your time a vast ocean pressing upon you as you try to separate individual waves and influence the tides. I actively aspire to get up earlier–I love those early morning hours. I love how magic it is to be stirring when no one else is, and I love looking up at the clock and realizing that I’ve still got a healthy chunk of morning left, even though I’ve been up for hours. I don’t aspire to get less sleep (that seems to do bad things to me), so I am on a great getting-to-bed-earlier mission (tonight is, uh, not a stellar beginning).

Why have a routine in the first place? Well, the over-arching sentiment shared by all of the people interviewed was this: creative work is just really hard, and it is agonizingly difficult to begin each day, even if you’ve been at it for decades. William James, who struggled with this all of his life, thought that by automating our daily actions, we could take some of the sting out of that blank canvas or blank page. Sitting down to write would become as innocuous as brushing our teeth–it would just be something we did, as opposed to something that was a choice, something that we’d have to talk ourselves into. I love the idea of that, since starting has always been the hardest part for me.

Rituals, I think, are another matter entirely, even though they do appear in the title of the book. I love every single one of mine and will write about them soon. For now, though, I want to ask you: how do you work? What’s your daily routine? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Or have you been one and then successfully transformed into the other? (If so, details please!!) I can use all the wisdom you can toss my way.

The Weekend

The WeekendHello, brave new world with one more hour of sleep in it! Sorry this post is a bit late (though I doubt any of you are crying into your coffee over that!)–the blog was down most of yesterday, but Eric heroically fixed it. So now, the weekend! It included the cleaning and errands and work on the house that have become part of our weekend routine, but it also included party time at Hillary’s! We went over on Saturday afternoon and made Dia de los Muertos masks with the girls. All of my pictures of this are very blurry, so you’ll just have to imagine it! Then we made pizza. And cookies. And pie. Hillary took this shot while Eric was getting the cookies ready for the oven, and the girls were helping me stir in some nutmeg. That’s Dora down at the bottom, hoping for some crumbs to fall her way. The cookies were delicious, as was the pie, before it went kerblap on the kitchen floor! At least we got to try it first! We watched a movie, and then I slept over with the girls. It was wonderful to wake up to cool breezes and hardwood floors, chickens in the backyard, a warm cup of coffee, two precious girls in wizard and princess costumes, and the most wonderful friend you could ever imagine. I spent most of Sunday basking in the afterglow and feeling so grateful: for friends, for fall, for pumpkin cookies, for laughter and joy. It was a great weekend indeed.

November 2013 Goals

November GoalsIt kind of looks like I’m making a lot of goals for this month. But most of them are super fun ones!

We have several trips planned this month, which I’m really excited about. We’ll have a few days in Santa Barbara next week, and I am really pumped to go to Art from Scrap. I think I might also go to the zoo? Because I am 12. And animal-obsessed. And I might do some sketching of rhinos and such.

We will be spending a bit more time in Santa Fe, which I am REALLY EXCITED about! We spent some time in Albuquerque when we were dating, and we absolutely loved it. I have never been to Santa Fe, so it will be a giant candy store for this kid. Also, we will have a bit of time in Albuquerque, and you better believe I am going to hit the Breaking Bad high points. Blue rock candy, anyone?

My Dad is also coming before Thanksgiving! Woot! He came last year too, so I hope this will become an annual tradition.

Our fall doesn’t really start until sometime in November, and I always look forward to that. We’ve been in such upheaval for the past few weeks that I’ve been totally out of the fall cooking and baking loop, and I want to rectify that situation. Give me your root vegetables, your sage and rosemary! Give me your maple and pumpkin and pecan! It’s gonna be pretty tasty around here.

I usually do at least a few crafty things for the holidays, and I don’t want this year to be the exception. There have been so few holiday seasons in my life that have not been mired in final exams and papers and dissertation deadlines. I feel like I’m making up for lost time, in the most fun way. Usually we buy a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, so I hope we will do that this year too. And I have some pretty wooden ornaments that I bought for ten cents in March that I’m excited to paint. I also want to make a little felt circle garland for our doorway. And maybe this year will be the year when I convince Eric to put a gigantic glittery red bow on our front door!

I also want to burn more candles, which seems kind of strange, since I have not traditionally been a big candle person. But there’s an Anthropologie around the corner from our house, and every time I go there I am so inspired by the idea that they’re not really selling clothes–they’re selling a life. And so as I was drifting through some Thursday afternoon or other, I started asking what I could do to make my life feel more like the one they’re selling (which is highly appealing, in case you’ve never been there). I can’t turn our carpet into hardwood floors or blast holes into the walls for bigger windows, but I can burn candles. It’s the cheapest way to make my life seem…expensive. Or at least thoughtfully curated. I have been burning a few this past week, and I really, really like it. I light one when I write in my journal or sit on the couch to read a book. Sometimes I light one for working. It’s just a tiny choice that adds a lot of extra light (and fragrance!) into my life. I’m a convert. Candles for the win!

I’ll be continuing my Bloom True painting e-course, which is, truly, one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. If you have always wanted to paint, or are already a painter, or just want to do something new and creative, I seriously cannot recommend it highly enough. A million thanks to Hillary for telling me about it and doing it with me!

Also, sigh, one of the side effects of these crazy past few weeks has been the destruction of any type of routine and good sleeping habits. I can’t change the circumstances, but I do so hope I can get to bed even just a little bit earlier and start creating the kind of rhythm that helps me thrive again. Oh, I’ve missed it.

And, of course, there will be lots of pictures! I will be back in December with an update (October is updated here). And, just for fun, here are my November goals from last year!

Update, December 2013: Candles were burned! The tree was put up and ornaments were made! We definitely had a blast in SB and in Santa Fe, and my dad’s visit was awesome. I did do a bit of holiday cooking and baking, but not a ton, since we were traveling a fair bit. And that travel sort of sent the whole routine thing out the window, but that’s okay. I did do some painting with Bloom True, but I have put it on hold the past few weeks due to travel and an illness here and there. We have six-month access to the course, so there is still plenty of time. And, of course, tons of pictures were taken. A pretty solid month!

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