Valencia, Spain 2004

Tonight I am feeling so much better that I just have to take a moment to stop and send out a word of gratitude to my friends and family who have been calling me, praying for me, worrying about me, offering to take care of me, and encouraging me through these last two weeks.

This has literally been two of the worst weeks of my life. I cannot ever remember being this sick. Most won’t have any idea what I am talking about. I didn’t let people know how bad it was. But there were people who called at just the right time. Or had me come over for supper and company (which I desperately needed). So many people offered to make me soup or run to the store or do anything else. And I have been most touched by the people who have been praying for me. I am incredibly grateful and I just want to say thank you.

I haven’t touched my camera in two weeks. That is very odd for me. Because of this break I don’t have any new artsy photos to share. This is supposed to be a photo blog, so of course, I wanted to photograph something that speaks of being thankful, but my brain didn’t come up with anything brilliant so I am using a photo from long ago.

The photo I’ve chosen to go with this blog is from Spain. I was in Valencia, on the eastern coast, for a festival in 2004. Everyone was out in the most beautiful, ornate, intricate costumes imaginable. It was a parade, the likes of which I’ve never seen. A genuine feast for the eyes, especially for a photographer. As I watched the women and men process down the main street I was struck by the myriad of small details. The way the women demurely held their fans, or folded their hands just so. The way the men marched proudly, or the one who turned to offer his wife a salute as he made his way down the road.

Spain was a new experience for me. I ran into very few people who spoke English, and it was strange to be without a language. Isolating in a way, but not bad, just different. To be without language forces a person to study body language in the hopes of any sort of communication. That’s what I liked about this photo. I saw these two women strolling along in the parade. The way they put their heads together to share a laugh, the way they smiled, all of it spoke to me of long time friends. And as they passed I noticed the way they reached out to one another. Now, I don’t know, they could have been casual acquaintances. These musing are simply my assumptions. But this photo has always spoken to me about the nature of friendship.

Your friends are the one who reach out to you. They are the ones that you walk through life with. It’s the people who love you that keep you strong and keep you going. To all of you, thank you, you have my love and gratitude.

Comfort Food

Beans and Rice

Thank God it is Friday. I don’t know why but this has been an especially long week and I am soooooooooooo very much looking forward to my weekend. It’s snowing outside right now. Which I do not love. But I remain hopeful about my Monday morning plans for sunrise. This is my three day weekend and it is my time to rest and relax and catch up on my personal chores. I’ve got some spring cleaning I need to do. Last weekend my project was the kitchen cabinets. Now that they are cleaned up, organized and ready to raid, I really need to reorganize my room, especially my bookshelves.

Along with my plans for photography and personal re-ordering I have plans today for comfort food. This weekend I am going to be making some of my personal favs. Salmon and asparagus. Roasted root veggies with apple. And one of my easiest bits of comfort food, the eternal beans and rice. This is one of my favorite vegetarian meals. It’s warm, tasty, aesthetically pleasing. I also do a Moroccan pumpkin rice version of this, and I’ll share that recipe soon. But for today — Beans and Rice.

Green onions.

To make this you will need:
Extra virgin olive oil
2 bunches of green onions – chopped
1 yellow bell pepper – chopped
1 spoonful (to taste) of garlic
3 cups of cooked rice (I use brown)
1 can of black beans rinsed
half can of tomato paste
fire diced tomatoes to taste (I always have a can of these around so I like to just add a few at the end)
salt and red pepper and black pepper

Canned goods.

Start by adding olive oil to your skillet at start that warming up. Seed and chop your yellow bell pepper, I use yellow for this just for the color contrast. You are going to have a lot of red when this is finished. Saute the pepper.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Actually, step one I usually do a few hours in advance. Start with a cup and a half of uncooked brown rice. Rinse it. Put it in an automatic rice maker. Add three cups of water. Turn it on. And walk away. Whenever you’re ready for it you’ll have three cups of perfectly cooked rice ready and waiting for you.

While that is cooking chop your green onions. I love these. I don’t know where they have been all my life (I never used them before this year). They are so much fun and with a recipe like this they add a delightful splash of green.

Execution style.

I can’t help it. Any time I cook with these I think of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland shouting “Off with their heads!” It’s a little gruesome, but I line all the onions up and then chop of the tips of the bulbs. To my warped brain this looks like an execution, especially when I line up the little tops.

So here you have it: kind of like shrunken heads from Harry Potter meets the French Revolution.

"Off with their heads!"

Chop your onions and add to the peppers as they cook. Add garlic to taste. I like to add a large spoonful of pre-prepared garlic. That’s because fresh garlic is bothersome. At this point I add salt, black pepper, and a little red pepper for kick.

Garlic to taste.

Rinse your black beans (always rinse) and toss them in to what you’ve got cooking. The beans don’t need to be cooked but I usually stir this all over heat for a few minutes to makes sure everything is uniformly hot.

Remove the skillet from heat. Tomato paste, in my experience, likes to burn rapidly. One minute you are stirring away, the next you’ve got blackening goo permanently stuck to the bottom of your favorite pan. Add about half of the past to the beans and veggies and stir.

This is where the color of this starts to really stand out. Yellow, green, red, black. It looks and smells yummy.

Add the rice.

Add your three cups of cooked rice. Add some fire diced tomatoes if you like. Stir and serve. This is great hot off the oven and also it does quite well as leftovers (the paste keeps the rice moist in the fridge). I love this one. Hope you enjoy.


Final Photos of Jesus

Cleaning the bronze.

Last night I got to watch my friend Sunti do the last bit of work on one of his sculptures of Jesus. I posted some of these photos back in December . The plan was for me to get to do formal studio shots with these, but that plan has gone completely out the window as Sunti and his wife and daughter are all leaving for Thailand tomorrow.

I love the sculpture though and when I had the chance to do a few more photos of it, of course, I jumped at it.

Waxing. Buffing. Heating.

One of the things that has really fascinated me while working with Sunti is the process of how a sculpture is made. I think I’ve gotten a bit spoiled by working with Sunti. Sunti does most of the work on the sculpture himself. He starts with wax and carves every detail by hand. I would know. I’ve watched him do it. Technology exists for people to simply do laser sculpting where the computer does all the work. I’m sure some of what this produces is quite lovely, but that isn’t sculpting to my mind. Frankly that’s cheating. Beautiful. But cheating. Sunti’s artwork isn’t some computer generation. It is his artistic vision brought into three-dimensional reality by one of the most talented artists I have personally ever encountered.

I am awestruck by his work. I don’t expect that will ever change.

Here in Montana Sunti has his bronzes done by Kalispell Art Casting. That’s where we were last night. He has his own way of doing the patina and that’s what I came in to photograph. Well, I got to photograph the beginning and the end. I had an appointment in between. : )

What I call "raw" bronze.

Personally I like the look of the raw bronze, but as I understand it the sculptures really need to be protected. This is where the patina comes in. And it adds a whole other dimension to the art. It adds either the lightest touch of color or I’ve seen some artists turn sculptures into what remind me of porcelain-like painting.

These photos start with the cleaning process after all the metal work has been done. After the sculpture has been poured Sunti likes to come in and do a lot of fine detail work on the metal. He’s never satisfied. I once heard a poet say that they had to eventually publish their poems just so they would have to stop working on them. Sunti is like this. If he didn’t have a deadline, he might never stop working and re-working the details.

After the piece is clean the patina process begins. This is the section of photos I missed. So we’ll jump to the end.

Sunti working on the patina.

The color of the patina is determined by how many coats one applied. The patina is applied while the sculpture is not and the heating is done with a blow torch. This must be something Sunti has just learned through experience, because apparently you can burn the patina if it’s too hot. I personally am fascinated by the blue flames and the metal.

I love the steam as Sunti applies the wax, but I got really lucky when I spotted his reflection in the window behind the sculpture.

The last step in the process is to seal the patina while it is still warm. This i love because the steam generated by the wax on the metal creates some cool effects. When all this is done, one applies one last coat of wax and then buffs the entire piece.

I really wish I was going to get to do formal shots of this sculpture. Controlled lighting. A black velvet background. A couple of hours to spend looking and visually exploring the photographic possibilities, but that will have to wait. For now I’m glad to share the these photos. Erica and Sunti will be back. At very least they’ll be in the area for the Calgary Stampede and that’s close enough that I can drive north and see them there. I’ll be looking forward to that. Who knows, maybe by then Sunti will have created another version of Jesus for me to photograph.

The final piece.

On Jewelry and Memory

February is never an easy time of year for me. Both of my parents died in this month. They died two years apart, but as the years have passed their deaths have merged together into what feels like a single event and February is when I must face it.

Nine years ago today my mother died. Her name was Sylvia, a name which comes from the Latin for “of the forest.” With her soft brown eyes and brown hair, I always thought the name was well suited to her. It is name that has become synonymous with grace in my mind.

In three weeks on the 22nd it will have been 11 years since the death of my father. His name was Michael. A former United States Marine he is the epitome of courage and right and honor in my eyes.

I miss them so much.

After my father died my co-workers in Arizona gave me a beautiful wooden box. The top is designed to hold a photograph and of course, there is a photo of my parents there now. I call it my memory box. In it I keep my treasures, the tangibles of their lives that mean so much to me.

There is my father’s rosary, black beads and worn thin crucifix, in the small case he kept them in when he served in Vietnam. Three of his pocketknives, and a silver ink pen my mother gave him. Once he got that gift from her, he carried it always. I remember it distinctly peeking out of his shirt pocket. There is the face of a watch he gave me when I was girl, a silver dollar from one of my birthdays, and a small white stone I never learned the meaning of. But it was his, and so I hold on to it. There is a Petoskey stone from a family trip to Michigan. And a belt buckle with my father’s signature beautifully embossed, a gift from his coworkers when we left Saudi.

I keep my mother’s pearls in this box. They are far too formal for me, but I do wear them on occasion. Most often I wear them to weddings of people I love. I watch as the friends tie their lives together and I pray they will be blessed the way my mother and father were blessed. There is an engraved crystal kitten — given to me on Christmas in place of the real kitten I desperately wanted. Oh the things that rule our hearts when we are children. There is a small white ivory elephant intricately carved with two babies at her side. My mother collected elephants; this is the one I kept. And there is a small brass camel, from our days in Saudi Arabia. Once you love the desert it never lets go of your heart. Saudi was my whole childhood. It was magical, and we were all there together. It captivates me still, even though I know I am not likely to ever return. There is a small sliver of gold with a rose engraved on it. Yellow roses were my mother’s signature. To me they are always a visual reminder of the greatest love story I ever personally saw.

The last two items in this box are my most cherished — two rings — and all the memories that go with them.

The larger of the two is a silver Marine Corps ring. The original stone my father lost somewhere. He replaced it with a simple green jade. The silver and jade is striking. My favorite thing about this ring is the way it is so worn down. When my brother became a Marine he got one of these rings. It was incredible to me how deeply engraved the new ring was, especially in contrast to my father’s ring. But I soon realized this actually made perfect sense because after all, my father was a Marine every day of his life. He wore that ring every day. What makes it beautiful is the way it is worn to practically nothing.

After his death I put that ring on a dog-tag like chain and wore it as a necklace, but that lasted less than a year. It wasn’t mine, you see. It never did belong to me. I never became a Marine. That ring was his. And eventually it got to where the weight of it, worn so close to my heart, actually started to hurt. I still take the ring from the box from time to time. I love to look at. The jade always strikes me as calm, and the worn-thin silver speaks to my heart of a commitment to a higher ideal, which is a lifelong responsibility.

A year and a day after he died I suddenly wanted some physically present way to keep his memory with me. I went to a jewelry store in Flagstaff, Arizona a purchased a simple gold ring. That ring became my reminder of all that he taught me, and gave me. A reminder of who he raised me to be and who I wanted to be, the life I wanted to live and the standard I wanted to live up to. A memento of the person I loved and lost, and a keepsake reminding me of how much I had been loved. The ring was a comfort to me. It helped.

And then my mother died. Too soon. Too close. Too much the same. The same phone call. The same flight to Kentucky. The same funeral home. The same coffin. The same cemetery. Even the same grave. My father, as a Vietnam veteran is buried in Camp Nelson National Cemetery outside of Lexington, Kentucky. Spouses of veterans can be buried with their husbands or wives. But they are buried on top of one another, in the same plot. I never knew that before.

I didn’t want a new ring, and I didn’t want two of them. So the ring I already had became my “good intentions” ring. To remind me of both of them. Mother. Father. Lessons taught. Love given. And an example worth following. I wore that ring for nearly nine years.

Eventually, I had to let that ring go too. It is possible to hold on too tightly. It is possible to refuse to let go the extent that you can’t let go, and then you can’t move on, so you stop. I have forgotten who said, “If you aren’t growing, then you’re dying” but there is a lot of truth in that. I had stopped growing, stopped trying to get past their deaths, and in doing so I had retreated from life. Alive, but not really living. And once I knew that was true, once I knew with certainty that all of my attempts to hold on to them were now holding me back, I knew I had let go. It is a choice no one escapes. You either choose life. Choose to heal. Or choose death. This choice can play out as either by an act of suicide or the slow drawn out death by degrees that comes to those who have let their fire and their passion burn to nothing.

I haven’t done so well with jewelry and memories, but a few weeks ago I decided to give it one last try. I bought a copper bracelet that I’ve had engraved with one of my mother’s favorite Bible verses and their names. I’m trying to change my perceptions of this. Not a memento of what I’ve lost, but of the love that is still and always with me. I don’t know how long I’ll wear this, but at least for the next three weeks if you see me you’ll see a copper band around my left wrist.

The Bible verse is Genesis 31:49. Eric found this on a scrap of paper on which my mother had written out a list of Bible verses. I wonder if she knew this verse before Dad died, or if it became meaningful to her after. I’ll never know. But, it is powerful to me. It is my prayer. For Mom. For Dad. For my brother. For my family. For many friends scattered over too many miles. For all the ones I love… May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are absent one from another.