Hands and Heart

Lately, I find myself drawing inward. Wondering. Hopeful. Creating. Sometimes, it’s a friend’s gift: stalks of rhubarb. Sugar and cinnamon moments. Other times, it’s following my curiosity to learn a new skill or craft.

So it is with soap. I prefer organic melt and pour process or “cosmetic” soap. There is less fuss. I avoid lye. Simply White. Drops of essential oil elevate the experience. Petals from the garden crown the artisan slabs. Parchment paper wrapping. Twine tied.

Watson Home

COVID19 Moment

When you are weak, stand with me. I’ll lend you strength.

I’ll hand you a crumpled paper bag.

You’ll open it to find a scrap of heart, still beating.

I’ll reveal the scars that criss cross a back.

They will not diminish us.

I’ll offer you a photograph.

Allow the images to speak.

You’ll sense a glance, familiar. A posture, strong. A smile so endearing, your heart cracks. Turn the photo. A penciled notation is fashioned in perfect script. Evidence of loss and struggle amidst beauty.

I’ll reach for your hand.

You’ll reach back.

It’s impossible to separate our souls, our stories.

Our ancestors do not leave us, rather, they gather to bear witness, to stand alongside.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

~Long ago I learned to make friends with silence.

” We must have pie. Stress can’t exist in the presence of pie.”

David Mamet, Boston Marriage

I close the book. Summer rain falls. A breeze slips through the screen on the open door. Autumn is a patient friend. One who waits for leaves to fly. A resident squirrel, cheeks full with acorns, scoots between the tall evergreen and fence. The world’s metronome taps a steady beat.

Some things remain uncertain, even in their certainty. I miss my mother. She waits for the seasons to turn and the pandemic to leave.

“It will leave.”

Her voice sounds less certain, more guarded.

“I don’t know. The world’s a mess,” she says.

These are not the words I wish to hear. I want her to rally, offer up sage advice, to have an answer.

“Hold to hope, Mom. The world is changing, perhaps, for the better.”

The world is slowing down.

Every sunrise, hope returns. Built to heal, I find comfort in words, friends, mornings and increasingly, time spent in the kitchen. There is something sacred about standing in silence, in front of a stove, while flipping through the pages of a cookbook. If I can’t help you, I can nourish you.

I will bake a pie. Pie is a reminder of a simpler, slower time. The act of baking something as lovely as pie, soothes.

Pie is a memory.

‘Julie London’ croons from the speaker. My mother hums ‘Black Coffee,’ off- key. She stands in the kitchen, notices the large mixing bowl, her rolling pin, the one I kept. Flour dusts the floor. Pie is messy. Fruit stains like a bruise. She adjusts her apron.

I watch her turn. She pours herself a cup of Joe from the espresso machine. Tucking a lock of hair behind one ear, she pivots and smiles. “A looker,” with her symmetrical features, fairy- tale widow’s peak, a grid mark leading to a crown of raven hair. Red lips. She favoured red lipstick.

I remember. Standing in the doorway of the tiny bathroom, I’d watch as she opened the tube and etched colour to her lips.

She had said, ” The trick is to blot with Kleenex.”

As children, we’d find ruby lip stained tissues carelessly left upon the bathroom counter, accidentally dropped onto the floor or peeking from her opened purse. Sometimes, I would scoop one up like a specimen, tuck it into a book, all to preserve a tangible piece of her.

Those days, I’d sit at the table and exchange knowing glances with my sister. Our mother’s style is now lost, other era, a nod to a fancier time where dresses ruled the kitchen and sling backs waited at the front door. Her ‘French look’ and clothing cut from Vogue, tailored by Singer, was soon to be another lost art. We thought her beautiful.

I watch as she lifts a teaspoon from the drawer and samples the filling. She closes her eyes, pleased.

Turning around, she has gone.

It’s certain. The world spins, seasons change, people come and go. What’s new is old. Some people enter our lives to teach us. Others, so precious we never forget their presence, and then there is pie.

Once considered old fashioned, pies are having a moment. Boutique bakeries offer pies “to go” because “made from scratch” pies are thieves of time. There are steps to follow: use cold butter, cut it into the flour (use two knives). Slightly beat the eggs. Add sugar by the teaspoon. Squeeze the lemon. There is timing in the mix. Chill the dough. There are tools to assemble. Find a four inch cutter. Shhh. I use a marimekko sugar bowl. Find a pastry brush (a small, clean paint brush does the trick). Prep the fruit.

As children, we picked our fruit from backyard trees. Sometimes apple, other times, pear or plum and once in awhile, at the end of a particularly long school day, we’d arrive home and spy a freshly baked pie on the counter. Cinnamon whispered stories of far away lands.

Our family rarely ate pie. When the spirit moved our mother to make a pie (and it was usually in autumn), she’d save the left over pastry bits, kneading and patting the dough to form a ball. If she was short of filling, she’d substitute jam.

I sense my mother’s return.

Gently, she rolls the dough out onto the counter. Dipping a spoon into the saucepan, she tops each round with filling. A brush stroke dips into a saucer of milk, coats the edges of pastry. Overlapping and pressing, she lifts a fork, touching the tines to the dough. With a sharp knife she fashions a top cut.

“Hand Pies.” The semilunar fit was perfect for our small hands. Silently, we’d nibble along the pressed edge, allowing crumbs to fall into a dish of vanilla ice cream, every bite of steamed fruit, richer, tastier. In this moment, we understood. Mom had loved us enough to create a magical delight at the sweet end of the scale.

I place three Hand Pies into a tin. For her.

A text appears.

You bake pies?

I smile. Say it like it’s a bad thing.

You can’t.

Quote: David Mamet: Boston Marriage

COVID19 Moment

she bakes pies

Be silenced by majesty. It is found seated on a wooden pew, in a tiny church, light fractured through glass. It floats as hope in disaster. It’s carried on the wings of a Mourning Dove, on a path bullet-straight.

Ground your feet on the shoreline, at the edge of water and sand. Feel the water’s pull against your toes. Let the wind rage as it pushes against your body. Hear the waves crash. Cry at the salt’s sting. Carry more questions than answers. Look up. Be willing to be small.

Pray. There was a time, I tried prayer, believing if God only listened, he would grant my one wish, which was to ease the weight they had placed upon my shoulders. Of course this isn’t how it works. In those moments, I would have traded my one gold watch and moonstone, for peace of mind.

Wonder. As a child, I found wonder tucked away, within the silence of a library. Beyond the heavy oak doors was a sense of order and a treasure trove of books. There was always a gate keeper- usually a prim lady, seated behind a wooden desk, its surface polished to high shine, her lipstick blotted.

Entering the room, she stares back. A fan blows. I look up. The air above her is misty. Shafts of light illuminate bits of dust. Each particle hovers and drifts, reminding me of dandelion moons on a springtime breeze. So beautiful if you take the time to pay attention.

Lemon- orange oil hangs like a veil. The lady waves a hand and nods, a sign of approval. She raises one finger to her lips. There are rules, Child.

I nod. Beyond her, is Utopia, a world of leather and paperback. Books of every genre, tales of fairies, mysterious events, and clues. Books, their jackets fresh, others worn, spines softened by fingers and time. Beneath the towering shelves, I look up.

She notices and appears at my side, fingertips sliding along the row, coming to rest at a dark covered spine. The letters are golden.

“Can you read?” Her voice is so soft and low I can barely hear her speak.

I nod.

She hands me Mark Twain’s, ‘Huckleberry Finn.’

“You look like a reader with those cat eye glasses on.” She reaches over and straightens the frame at my temple.

“Better,” she says. “Check out, when you’re ready, Hon.”

I watch as she walks back toward her desk, patent leather heels, clicking with each step taken.

***

It’s told, “artists possess beautiful secrets.” They do. Lifting a brush, I let it slip through paint. ‘Titanium White’ softens ‘Payne’s Grey.’ I show her my painting.

In silence, my mother tilts her head, studies the canvas. She asks, in a tone of doubt,

“You did this?”

I nod.

A secretive smile crosses her face. Words are unnecessary.

***

The Book Club recommends this month’s read. In darkness, I slip into the cushions of an over stuffed chair. Words drop me like stone onto the banks of southern swampland and into the heart of poverty. I lower my head. Silence is loud. Birdsong breaks dawn.

We’re a world that is slow to listen so I turn down the noise. Music floats through the Bose. A voice falls soft as summer rain, notes pitter- patter across my heart. Change is a motivator. Cupboards clear, creating space for only that deemed essential. Practical magic swirls in the kitchen. Heated shea butter mixes with vanilla. Lemon kisses heirloom rose. Cinnamon sprinkles oatmeal, an alchemy of scent. The refrigerator hums as I stir.

Everything stirs if you listen to whispers.

Photo by Nick Bondarev on Pexels.com

silence, wonder, humility, self-care, writing, draft

Lavender Oil Skin Serum

“There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.” 
― Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic

I planted roses and lavender. Over the years, the vines climbed higher, blooms evermore fragrant. I lined the beds with lavender. Drowsy bees slept, deep within the stalks. Sally’s wisdom: “always add pepper to your mashed potatoes,” is a ‘must.’ And Sally- harvest your lavender. Strip the flowers from the stalks. Create practical magic in the kitchen.

Lavender or Lavandula Angustifolia, is a species in the mint family, commonly used in aromatherapy. The fragrance is believed to promote calmness and wellness. Pure Lavender Oil contains certain antibacterial and anti fungal effects. When lavender is combined with a carrier- virgin olive oil, it is in ‘pure’ form- a serum to soften and soothe skin. Serums penetrate deeply into the skin, therefore, one need only apply one to two drops.

In many specialty markets, lavender is sold in bunches. It’s easy to grow. Over time, one small plant will yield plenty of flowers. Snip the stalks to encourage new growth.

Harvest your lavender. Cut it, dry. Separate the flower from the stalk. A Suggestion: Use your finger tips (pointer and thumb) to slide the flower down the stalk. Place the flowers in a bowl. Some people suggest leaving the bowl in the sun to further dry the flowers. I skipped this suggestion. A spell of sunny, hot weather has left the lavender in my garden beds, dry. Note the lavender is beginning to grey. It’s perfect!

To make Pure Lavender Oil Serum, follow a two part ratio: Two cups of Virgin Olive Oil to one part lavender flowers. You can reduce the receipe amount to one cup virgin olive oil to half a cup of lavender flowers. Following a two to one ratio, makes a gentle, lightly scented, topical skin serum. Olive oil is the carrier. It reduces the potency of the dried lavender flowers. It’s important to read up on the chemistry of plants and oils. The photo shows my lavender yield- more than enough dried flowers for two cups of serum. Make small batches. You only need apply a drop or two of serum to skin. Store dried flowers in a clean, glass jar.

Materials

One sterilized* glass jar with lid

*To Sterilize Glass and Lid: Place jar and lid in a pot of boiling water for 15 mins. Cool before removing from the water. Set jar aside.

A measuring cup

Virgin Olive Oil- two cups

Lavender Flowers- one cup

A suitable, safe stove top pot

A strainer or muslin cloth

Heat Method:

Following the two to one ratio: Measure one cup of the lavender flowers and pour into the pot. Measure two cups of Virgin Olive Oil. Pour the olive oil over the lavender flowers. Turn on the stove element to the lowest heat setting. Let the lavender and oil warm for two hours. The element should be warm, never hot.

Always supervise and remain in the kitchen area while the element is on.

Turn off the element. Allow the lavender and oil to cool.

Strain the cooled lavender and oil into the sterilized glass jar. Using a spoon, press the bits that remain in the strainer. This helps to squeeze out all of the lavender’s oil from the flowers. Strain twice for a ‘clear’ serum without bits. It helps to place a pump spout on your jar, allowing for easy distribution of serum to smaller amber glass containers. Less fuss. Store Pure Lavender Oil in a cool, dark place.

• Always pre test a small area of skin and check for any allergic reaction to the serum. If a reaction occurs- STOP.

Label serum. Date it. Keep serum out of reach from little hands.

Strained Lavender Oil Serum: You can see from this photo that the above recipe makes close to two cups of serum. You only apply a drop or two to skin. I’ll pump this batch into smaller, sterilized amber glass jars with droppers.

Pat a drop or two of serum onto skin.

• You Tube has many ‘DIY’ videos on the topic: ‘Lavender Oil Serum’ for skin. Sof McVeigh has created a fabulous site.

• WebMD- http://www.webmd.com has articles on the safe use of lavender and other natural remedies, salves

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/oils-vs-essential-oils-the-biggest-differences-the-most-popular-uses-more-19442788

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/oils-vs-essential-oils-the-biggest-differences-the-most-popular-uses-more-19442788

Beautiful Souls

‘Sara’

“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.” 
― Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was a woman of staggering beauty. Read her back story. You’ll find her even more so: Mexican Indigenous Woman, a life lived in La Casa Azul, as a child, touched by Polio, a promising medical student, disabled by a bus accident. A woman left holding a shattered dream of becoming a physician, a family facing financial ruin, a daughter whose parents referred to her as, “a dove.”

“I paint because I need to.” To escape her pain, Frida Kahlo returned to a childhood love of art. Critics suggest she was a “surrealist,” others, a “magical realist.” ‘The Frame,’ a 1938, self portrait, made her the first Mexican Indigenous artist to be featured in the Louvre. As a teacher, she directed her students to form art from the street. As a woman, she painted in order to escape residual pain and a diminished sense of self- worth. She needed to find beauty amidst tatter.

https://arthive.com/fridakahlo/works/202520~Self_Portrait_The_Frame

There is much written of the relationship between Frida and Diego Rivera, their marriage, sadly described by her parents, as “a union between an elephant and a dove.” It is told Diego was wealthy and could afford to pay her on- going medical expenses. It was certain, she could not. Viewed as a liability, Frida fought to assert her worth. Themes of pain and loss surface in her art. One is rarely born with such unique vision. It is often not a choice. It is a gift to find beauty in struggle.

Pictured above is my nod to fictitious ‘Sara’: gentle soul, brave woman. Her eyes. One look tells you enough. Eye wide open. Be cautious, Sara. The mind plays tricks. The world tempts dreamers into believing ideas are worthy, that we are all worthy, of more.

The other eye appears flat and holds a look of dark resignation. Who do you think you are, Sara?

I love ‘Sara’ for all that she is: loving mother, courageous woman, and gentle dove. I love that she dreams, quits, and restarts. I love that she doubts. You’re a bomb, Sarah. I whisper, Doves are beautiful. They make me cry. Stroking her feathers, I unlock her cage, allowing the breeze to kiss her. I tell her to fly.

My mother was a painter. She painted her stories to canvas. It was a way to bring beauty to her world. Art is made by ‘real’ artists and who can afford it, anyways? It’s a frivolous way to pass time. This was once the thought. Her wings were clipped.

I’m certainly not a painter. Should I write, aspiring painter ? This isn’t completely true. I’m not aspiring to be and I don’t like the term, ‘aspiring’ anything except a ‘better human’. It’s been years since I’ve considered painting beyond a classroom. I had told myself I could not paint, convincing myself to dismiss any thought of painting. Instead, I stood in the room and studied her. I forgot to dream. I forgot to play.

I do aspire to be a better writer. A writer who doesn’t waste a reader’s time, rather an author who gently gut punches for authenticity. This is why I acquiesce and use the term ‘aspiring’ on several spots. To remind myself to keep putting thoughts down, word by word, to improve my craft. To remain humble. To dream.

I am a teacher and a woman. Some days, I have no idea. Pandemic times have pushed me to evolve, reflect, to sit with stories in progress, to read the words of others. These times, touch me, too. I see images, feel pain, worry. I hold to hope. Should I dare to dream?

We should be a bit ‘Frida’. We should dream and do. Instead, we question worth. We judge the worth of others. We should stop. If you write, you’re a writer. If you paint, be a painter. If you can’t sing, hum. Do it because you need to.

The finest writers and artists, especially those who have suffered mountainous loss, have received a gift. They have an ability to touch us, to leave us speechless and frozen in our tracks. The great ones bring us to our knees. Art should elicit powerful emotion. We cry lyrics, bleed words, slip along the stroke of a brush on canvas. Later, we wonder. We relate. We atone. We are silenced by beauty in any form.

Frida Kahlo is a beautiful woman, not solely based upon her exotic looks. Rather, she was brave. A candle whose wick of pain lit up, producing epic art. A soul of self- forged steel. More than a dependant dove, she reflected back as a woman of worth, separate from cultural norms, soldiering pain. She dared to dream. A brave act during a time in history when a woman’s artistic passion was viewed as a, ‘hobby,’ supported mainly by men of financial worth. An era, whereby, a woman with physical disabilities was viewed as less attractive, even burdensome. Frida Kahlo dared to dream because life handed her a gift she didn’t ask for. She fought the establishment. This is a courageous stand to take at any time in history.

Art in any form, teaches us about the resiliency and beauty of the human spirit. It can sprout from pain with shoots of tender, fierce resolve.

She’s in us.

•https://www.fridakahlo.org

Pandemic Painting #7

folkart

‘Sara’

Be Kind

There is nothing as beautiful as kindness. Little actions, big shifts. A split second smile. An incidental text. A hand reaching out to take another. Sacrifice.

Kindness is treasure in ruin, found between layers of pause and possibility. Everyone carries one story. Be there. Listen. Let it bring you to your knees. Imagine a Dove, how its tiny heart pounds as wings take flight. Hope rises from ash.

Life is crazy and Butterflies emerge. There is mercy in mess. Mumbled prayers are answered. Whisper, “Hallelujah.”

Be the light home.

There is nothing as beautiful as kindness.

“Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe”

-Dr. Bonnie Henry

COVID19, Write, Kindness

French Butter Keeper

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”

– Julia Child

Julia used a butter keeper. What is a butter keeper? Something beautiful and useful for the kitchen. There are many styles on the market. A simple ‘French Butter Keeper,’ from the ‘Crate and Barrel’ Marble Collection is the one I chose.

Drop an ice cube or small amount of cold water into the large vessel. Cut a cube of butter. Press and pack the softened butter into the smaller vessel. Invert the butter vessel into the water. A seal is formed. Voila!

The butter stays chill on the counter and spreadable. Change the water after two-three days. Instructions and reviews are posted on the ‘Crate and Barrel’ Website.

https://www.crateandbarrel.ca/french-kitchen-marble-butter-keeper/s116933?localedetail=CA&a=1552&campaignid=6494776978&adgroupid=84773585424&targetid=pla-294971530742&pla_sku=116933&pcat=HSW&ag=adult&gclid=CjwKCAjwr7X4BRA4EiwAUXjbtyyoTUfRkfaJRfaOcwHCtOr0tMtNlXn4PvpqLqW-OQLI3Q9odbamxxoC72wQAvD_BwE

Perfect toast every time.