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stephanietberry

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Mandala Fun [Mar. 9th, 2011|10:06 am]
stephanietberry

Mandala Fun

I purchased some small landscape bound journals for McKinley, Renee, and myself, and we have really enjoyed making drawing a daily practice.  I've been fascinated with pinecones lately, and after I have a few more nice ones I'm going to make a small set of pineocne notecards for my Etsy shop.  But I've also been playing with the compass a lot, and last night I had a little mandala fun.  I really enjoyed the structure of the mandala form paired with the organic feel of watercolor.
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Bellwort, nearly done [Oct. 29th, 2010|06:37 pm]
stephanietberry
I've only time for a quick post, since it's past dinner-making time, and everyone is eager to eat some chicken pot pie from the rooster that was harvested today. Thankfully many hands can make quick work of dinner prep! But before dinner I wanted to quickly post a photo of a piece that's nearly done.
bellwort, nearly done

This lovely flower is a bellwort, a Spring ephemeral that blooms both in my garden and in the moist Appalachian woods around my home. I am particularly enamored with this demure flower with its lovely twisting petals. It should be finished in a few days, along with a commission I've been working on!
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Blaring Beethoven [Sep. 20th, 2010|02:45 pm]
stephanietberry
Though yesterday started downtrodden, it quickly became a fabulous day. I immersed myself in creativity--writing in the morning, working in the studio in the afternoon, and in the last hours of the day I drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is just some ten minutes from my home. I rolled down the windows, opened the sunroof, and blasted Beethoven's piano concerto no. 5, the second movement of which has always been pure magic to me.

I hiked a ways down Bald Knob Trail and sketched some tall Red Spruce trees, their tops ladled with the last golden light of the day. Then more driving, more Beethoven, more golden light. I drove to where I could watch the sun set--something which is impossible to see from my own home. Ah, the disadvantages of living at the foot of a mountain.

I sketched and then took some photos of a lovely grouping of hawthorn trees, some fruit still clinging to their thorny branches. Since I am no photographer I was not able to capture the golden quality of the scene. But I had fun messing around with one of the photos on my trusty computer, and rather like the result, though I won't be able to even glance at this modified photograph while I work on the painting, as it will influence my memory of the scene.
hawthron at sunset

This was a sorely needed artist's date! When the moon is nearing full, I'll take my kids on a late night drive on the Parkway. We can bring blankets and hot chocolate and listen to the Pastoral Symphony on the way up. Once outside, we will listen to the owls.
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Studio Gambling [Sep. 11th, 2010|09:24 pm]
stephanietberry
I've been journaling every morning this week. It's been a long time. Curiously, the thrill of technology is what has enticed me back into the practice---we got a Smart Pen for my husband on his fortieth birthday, and he has kindly given me one of the special notebooks and let me use his pen. It lets me save image files of whatever I write in this notebook onto my computer. I'm not sure why I am totally thrilled with that, but suffice it to say I love technology. And the process of journaling every morning has definitely kindled my creative fire.

But technology is like alcohol. Moderation is key. We've been having a little trouble with that lately. We've been getting a little drunk off Facebook, Netflix Instant Watching, XBox, and Wii. Yes. We partake of all these things. Should we be in a 12-step program? Can we moderate our relationship with technology? I've been wondering if we need to take a step back, give the Waldorf "no media" principle a try.

I'm not there yet. I'm a homeschooling mother, and an artist, and a writer. I also garden a lot. I have a little chart to keep track of how I spend my time, and I have charts for McKinley and Renee as well. Sometimes, however, I simply must spend a large block of time on something that requires my full attention. Which means shutting the door and telling my kids they can make do on their own. And, oooh baby, technology makes that easier.

The other night, though, I made an announcement: "No screens for a month! No laptops in the house!" Computers could be in the shop and the studio, but not the house. My laptop included. The Wii and the XBox were going to jail, since they're Evil.

But this is what happened: intense negotiation. McKinley had just purchased a used Spiderman XBox game. The thought of not being able to play his new game was driving him mad. Our compromise? The XBox and Wii could be kept up in my studio loft.

Oh boy. Have I lost my mind?

Maybe. This is my gamble. I don't get enough time in the studio. There's a certain gravitational force to my home, and usually I don't have the energy to get past it, to the outer atmosphere of my own creativity. I think mothers everywhere can relate to this. This morning, my kids were hounding me to get up to the studio, because they wanted to play their new games! Is this a good thing?

Like all gambles, I don't know how this one will play out. We've started this on a weekend, when I'm more lax about how they spend their time anyway. McKinley is away at a friend's and Renee is happily trading reading for Wii time. How will things pan out on Monday? Will we all climb the short, steep hill to my studio and delve into assorted projects? Or will it be a relentless battle to engage them in anything other than technology? Because what I want for my children is their full engagement with the world, the thrill of living an every day affair. It's the same thing I want for myself.
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Boneset Harvest [Sep. 1st, 2010|10:58 pm]
stephanietberry
Last night was cool enough to warrant two quilts, a delicious weight over my body in the morning. This afternoon was hot enough to warrant a dip in the river, though by the time we got there it was already late afternoon, and shadows stretched long over the bright water. The water was vigorously cold, but tolerable and delightful all the same. We swam for just a little while, then moved to the last spot of sunshine on the shore, soaking up the warmth.

We were surrounded by the herb boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) in full bloom, and so we gathered a full bouquet of the spreading clusters of creamy white flowers. I tinctured it this evening. It will be ready in time for whatever flu-like illnesses plague us this Winter--according to Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians it "stimulates immune response, helps reduce fevers and eliminates excess respiratory congestion." Author Patricia Kyritsi Howell writes that boneset was once perhaps the most commonly used herb in the eastern United States. I am particularly pleased to add this herb to my little apothecary.

I have yet to harvest elderberries, although it is definitely time. They droop dark and lush from the shrubs. When cooked with honey they will make a thick purple syrup that is wonderful for coughs in particular, and whatever ails you in general. Peaches are still coming in. And there's goldenrod and mint to dry for tea this Winter.

It can be overwhelming, all this harvesting work, but nothing gives me such joy as making medicines. Peach preserves are sublime, but a half-gallon jar of boneset tincture has a different kind of magic to it. One is sweet, and the other healing. I think I'm drawn to the healing, though let me assure you, I have my sweet tooth, too.
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How the Rain Fell Perfectly on my Skin [Aug. 19th, 2010|10:11 pm]
stephanietberry
It is evening. Dinner has been eaten, and the children are cleaning up, or so we hope, in the kitchen. The katydids fill the forest with their pulsing chatter. I'm listening to them, and to Eva Cassidy singing "Kathy's Song." I can't decide which is more beautiful. I'll take both.

bucket of peachesYesterday I picked peaches.  I missed a bunch, now rotting on the earth, making for some really happy ants, and thought of James and his giant peach. I realized I shouldn't really feel guilty about the lost peaches--I couldn't get to them for several days before hand. Then I reached into the branches and picked until my bucket was full. I knew it was the day to can some peaches. I ended up making peach preserves, keeping the skins on, which made the preserves a rosy golden color. Very pretty.

We opened a pint jar this morning and spread it over pancakes. I used yogurt instead of milk in the pancake mix, which makes for a nice tangy pancake, and the peach preserves complimented them perfectly.

peach preserves

 

Later in the afternoon I went to the garden with my box of seeds. The clouds were clotting, the breeze brushing tangles out of the air. Far off to the north I heard thunder like the drum of the storm, pounding the air over and over. Sky preparations were underway.

I cleared out a small space--half of a vegetable bed--and spread a mesclun seed mix over the soil, then sprinkled more soil over that. Then I cleared out two rows in the bed below that for beets, pushing the straw mulch up against the calendula plants that have sprawled out from the center of the bed, thrusting my hands deep into the soil, breaking it up, my hands appreciating its rich texture of life.

I gathered what I had weeded and walked over to the chicken coop to give it to the chickens. The rain began to fall, a steady, easy rain, the edge of a storm, patches of blue still in the sky. I stood under the big poplar in my bare feet thinking, "somewhere there's a rainbow" but I didn't bother to look. The rain was falling on my seeds, and falling on my arms, on my earth-covered hands, and on the clover at my feet, on the peaches weighing down their branches, and on the blue roof of my home.

There is something perfect about this very imperfect life, there is something about the rain, falling perfectly upon my skin, and upon the land that I love; there is something that opens up the sky and lets beauty fall where it will, which is everywhere, if you are paying attention.
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The Three Q's [Aug. 17th, 2010|11:29 am]
stephanietberry
There's a particular podcast I go back to repeatedly when I am frustrated as a homeschooling mother: Krista Tippet's interview with Adele Diamond, a developmental cognitive neuroscientist, on Speaking of Faith. This particular episode, titled "Learning, Being, Doing: a New Science of Education," explores how play, sports, music, reflection, and memorization nurture the brain.

Nurture the brain. I love that phrase. When I first listened to this podcast back in November of 2009, I knew nurturing the brain was my primary goal as a homeschooling mother. And I learned that the part of the brain that needs the most nourishment is the prefrontal cortex. Evolutionarily speaking, it's the newest part of the brain, and the most fragile, and it is responsible for our ability to "pay attention, problem solve, collaborate, and work creatively. Facility in these skills, research shows, is a stronger predictor of success, even academic success, than IQ."

And here's what jumped out at me and lingered in my thoughts for days after: Joy nurtures the prefrontal cortex, and stress, even mild stress, shuts it down.

So when I am fighting with McKinley to just finish his math worksheet, I am not nurturing the brain. But when we play a game of rummy, or use math by baking cookies, we are nurturing the brain. Honestly, though, we can't bake cookies every morning. And rummy will only go so far.

How does one incorporate joy into math practice, other than the obvious baking of cookies every morning? I'm more of an unschooler than not, but I do believe that self-discipline and daily practice are important.

Make it fun, keep it short, but do it every day. That's my goal. Especially for math.

To accomplish this I have an assortment of tools. I don't buy into any curriculum (although we will be doing Singapore Math this year). What I do buy are lots of logic puzzles, analogies, reading detectives, and math puzzles. It's clear that these engage the brain and promote high-level thinking skills. A lot of times we snuggle up together in my bed and do a few in the morning or evening. Mindware is a great resource for these types of workbooks.

Last year I designed a weekly chart to help me keep up with our daily tasks, and I will be using these again this year. I am not a super-organized person, so these charts really help me keep on top of things. I use them more as a guide than as a rigid structure. I also redesigned them so that I could include a more rounded account of all our activities---chores, movies, games, etc.

And we play games! I've discovered that my three favorite games of all time all begin with a Q. There's Qwirkle, which Renee will play with me if I take it easy on her, but nobody else will (because I won't take it easy on them?). I've introduced Qwirkle to a lot of friends and family, and they've all gone out and bought the game. It really is that fun! Then there's Quarto----a recent purchase that is quick-playing game, perfect for after dinner. It is billed as "the most awarded game of all time," and I'll believe that. It certainly teaches one to pay attention. And Quinto, an older game that I can't find anymore (there's a new game with the same name that otherwise bears no similarity). In Quinto there are number tiles, from 0 to 9, and each player draws five tiles from the pile. Each player must lay down up to 5 tiles on the board, in crossword fashion, and each row must add up to a multiple of 5. There's lots of math-thinking in this game!

I suppose we have officially begun our homeschooling year, because Renee has been carrying around the Perplexors workbook, doing logic puzzle after logic puzzle, and not only did McKinley break out the chess game after dinner last night, but he also asked for some math and cheerfully did some reading before indulging in his Star Wars video game.

Now I need to design a weekly chart for myself, so I can keep up with all the things I need to do!
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It was a Private Conversation [Aug. 15th, 2010|11:58 pm]
stephanietberry
I am having a conversation with my husband. Right now. I say to him, "You have too many projects going on and you are making me crazy."

"What are you talking about?" he spurts. "We've got plenty of time to get everything done!" He is near-preacher-like in his tone of confidence.

"You used to complain that you never got to lay in your hammock and do nothing. 'I just want to do nothing' you would say, over and over, 'And I never get to do nothing'...but look at what you do! Arghh! We've got the cob oven, the cement floor, and the wall replacement--and all need to be finished yesterday because of your birthday party! It makes me crazy!"

"I know, I know!" his voice rising with energy. "I want to get to the point where I can just lay in the hammock---but I've just got too much to do! I have to run around with my hair on fire! It's just the way I am!"

My husband is bald.

In eleven days, the esteemed Smoky Joe, handyman extraordinaire, will lumber up our driveway in his big two-tone truck. He will smoke a cigarette he rolled from Bugler tobacco, drink a stout cup of coffee, then begin tearing down the western wall of our house. There will be a huge mess in the house and yard.

In fifteen days, we will be throwing his fortieth birthday party. And before that, we need to finish the cob oven so that we can cook the pizzas for his party. Oh, and remember that whole demolition, tear-down, chaos everywhere, trash in the yard, wide open spaces in the wall part? Yeah, so that's all supposed to be done (and cleaned up?) before the party.

And never mind the whole cement floor thing. That's at a pausing point, as we can stain and seal it after all this other rigmarole, but there's still a layer of cement dust on everything and also on the nothing in between everything. I've cleaned up most of it at least once, but you have to clean it twice, maybe three times.

And apparently the date for the demolition could have been scheduled a bit differently. Apparently when Smokey Joe's right-hand, left-hand woman called to set the date, maybe we could have NOT picked the 23rd, but say, rather, the 30th.

Then he says to me,"All you need you to do is pick out the f*cking windows and the color of the floor. That's all I need you to do! It's not so tough!" He says this, not crudely, but joyfully, a ringing happiness as he realizes that this is all I need to do.

They say that the things you love about your partner are later the things that make you crazy. What they don't say is that the love and the crazy go together. It's not a linear thing. The longer you are with someone you love, the crazier you get, and the more in love. Yes, I want to strangle my husband. But, damn, I love him! I love the fact that he's got so much that he wants to accomplish. I love that he always has a new idea. I love that he knows how to solve a thousand problems, with ease, that would take me forever to figure out. I love that he brings me coffee, in bed, every morning. (Please note that I did not say that he never complains about it. But really, it's very rare.) I love that he is dedicated to changing things up, making things better, people freer, his home happier.

I love that he's bald.

Happy Birthday, my wonderful husband. I love you!
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Gearing up for Another Homeschool Year [Aug. 9th, 2010|09:40 pm]
stephanietberry
Well, it's that time of year again! The school buses are lumbering down the road, which is my signal to start making some definite lists and plans for a new homeschool year. Then we can ease into a full schedule in September.

I've been thinking about what it means to do something every single day. Our piano teacher encourages her students to practice every day. She told us how a famous pianist remarked that if he skipped a day, he could tell a difference in his piano playing. If he skipped two days, his family could tell a difference. And if he skipped three days, the whole world could tell. For awhile we practiced piano every single day, and the results were dramatic. I've seen for myself how much easier piano practice is when it's done every single day, and how difficult it can be when several days are skipped. I want to apply this to our home learning.

So I've been rummaging around for ideas of how to practice math, reading, and writing every single day. The math isn't all that difficult. We are moving to Singapore Math this year, and we can just work on it every day, with just a few problems on the weekends. The kids might balk at this at first, but curiously, the more they practice the less they balk. When we were practicing piano every day there were a few days I forgot until it was past bedtime, but we would sit down and pound away at it, and it wasn't nearly as difficult as I expect tonight's practice will be. (While I should be optimistic about this, my previous experience tells me a drink before piano today might not be such a bad idea!)

So math, check. Reading, that's not really difficult at all. But writing. Writing. Last year I had them write in their journals every day, just a little bit, determined by their skill level. This sounds good, but the reality was more of a rushed practice in simple sentences. I'd rather them engage in writing, find it fun and challenging at the same time. I'm thinking of having them keep a blog. We started this last year, but I opted instead for the handwritten journal. I think this year, since there will be enough laptops about, we might each do a blog entry every night, maybe post a photo and write about it, or just say "today I....". A sort of diary. Post links to Facebook. The cool thing about facebook and blogs is that they generate comments. Which leads to more writing....

We shall see if this works! There is a level of discipline which I was cultivating early this Summer but which disintegrated in the July heat. I can see it coming back, and I am hopeful! In the meantime, I still have to:
  • Administer the Singapore Math placement tests
  • Order the appropriate books
  • Sort out what "short classes" we might want to do (videography, pottery, garage band?)
  • Get set up with Rosetta Stone SPANISH
  • Redesign our Homeschool Calendar, which helps us keep track of what we are doing, and what we are not doing
  • Subscribe to Home Education
  • and plan a Homeschooling Meeting for my fellow homeschooling friends!
I'm already excited, and a little anxious! It's how every school year begins, no matter where you go!
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Studio Update: Trout Lily Brings Spring and Organization [Aug. 9th, 2010|02:18 pm]
stephanietberry
I finished another piece Friday night---this time it's of a trout lily. For your viewing pleasure:

Trout Lily Brings Spring
Trout Lily Brings Spring
5 x 7"
pastel on board

Now if you don't know trout lilies, let me introduce them to you. They are tiny little things, and they bloom very early---one of the earliest blooms I find down by the South Toe River. There I find hoards of their tiny slips of leaves, mottled and coated with a fine reflective sheen, but very few flowers. I'm not sure if these colonies of leaves sans flowers are just too young, or maybe they don't get enough light to bloom, but I know there are other places where I can find the yellow flowers, their petals peeled back in exuberance. I'm still hoping that one Spring I'll walk down and find those patches of dappled leaves hosting crowns of blooms.

I'm pleased with this painting, and wish I could capture the magic of pastels for you to see, for the original has far more luster than what you see here. Pastels are so divine, and I am really enjoying working with them on Ampersand's Pastelbord. This week I am doubling up--I have a commission I am starting on, and I also will be painting the lovely bellwort. Now there's a fine lady of a flower!

And how will I do this, and harvest potatoes, squash, can peaches and beans, and visit with my mother and sister, and go to a birthday party, and plant turnips and beets? Well, I'm not entirely sure, but I have been utilizing Google Calendar to keep track of all the assorted tasks and deadlines that I have, in the studio, the home, and the garden. It has really helped manage my time better. And this morning Jason and I had a great planning session, delegating tasks to our energetic intern and reluctant kids. Let's hope we can keep it up and make time management a joyful morning practice! Along with coffee, of course.

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Stalled Labor, Creatively Speaking [Aug. 4th, 2010|11:20 am]
stephanietberry
Last night I dreamed that I sent a story I wrote off to a contest, and while it didn't place in the contest, it did receive positive feedback from two of the judges. One was a handwritten note, signed in a precise and sophisticated hand, and the other was a small inspirational card that looked as if it had been pinned to a bulletin board for a long time, with several pinholes, the edges worn soft as velvet.

It's no surprise I dreamed about writing, since I went to sleep thinking about a story I have been stumbling over, trying to write. It's like a stalled labor. Someone is going to have to cut this thing out of me. It feels just like that, raw and messy and stuck so bad it just might kill me.

I have to drum up some energy to deliver this story! If nothing else, my dream compels me to do so. I don't have to win a prize, I don't have to write an earth-shattering story, I can just bring it forth and let it live its own mediocre little story-life. To not finish it would mean another small death, another blow to my creative confidence. That is something I know I can't afford.

So thank you, dream judges, for the votes of confidence when I had none. Perhaps now I will find a way to push through my own resistance. Isn't that something we all have to do?
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Studio Update: Summer's End [Jul. 31st, 2010|01:10 pm]
stephanietberry
I worked past midnight in the studio yesterday, and rose late this morning to calm clouds and breezes. This is a distinct change from the weather of late, and most welcome. A few days ago I noticed another distinct change: ironweed blooming, a high cluster of deep violet blooms, and I know that means Summer's end is upon us. The whirring of crickets reminds me of that too, and I embrace the shifting days. I am ready for cooler nights!

There's another shift in my life, one I can barely explain, except to attribute it to the workings of Mystery: I have been working regularly in my studio! For me this is a dramatic departure from my usual stance of "mother-and-frustrated-artist." Not only have I been working in the studio, I've also been lining up exhibitions, events, and workshops to which I will be applying. Really, this is an amazing development! Finally subscribing to The Pastel Journal no doubt has something to do with it, as it is a wonderful resource for the pastelist, but there's something else at work here.

Last Sunday we performed a despacho ceremony, which originates with the Andean people, and which we did under the direction of our passionate intern, Andy. I'd never heard of it before, but ever since he arrived in early July he'd been talking about doing a despacho. It was fulfilling and intimate and luminous. And it has everything, everything, everything to do with that dramatic shift.

What else can I say about that? I believe meaningful ceremony is the raison d'être for humanity's existence upon the Earth. Not the only reason for being, but high, high up there. So there will be more Ceremony in my life. More fulfillment. More intimacy. More luminosity.

Speaking of fulfillment, here's the piece I finished last night:

WWake Robin Rising from the Earth

Wake Robin Rising from the Earth
4.5" x 6.5"
pastel on Ampersand Pastelbord

More finished pieces coming soon! Yay!

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Prescription for Rising Heat [Jul. 22nd, 2010|09:22 am]
stephanietberry
Bert Leaps

July is a strange month. The heat rises quickly. Long, bright days filled with the whir of bugs bend time. The garden calls in the lush heat, and I answer, covered in soil and sweat in a matter of minutes. The laundry hung to dry gets washed again in a sudden rain. By late afternoon I am usually spent, and it is time for a swim. We walk across the road or ride down to the rope hole and fall into the dancing water. Its wild cool invigorates our bodies.

I have a litany of chores singing in my head: pick beans, weed, freeze beans, weed, plant the Fall Garden, harvest the bee balm flowers, the hyssop, the mint. I have plans for the land: more blueberries, more raspberries, a greenhouse, rabbits for meat. In the tangle of beans and heat and weeds it is pretty easy to lose sight of why I am doing this. It is easy to forget the joy of it all. But the River always reminds me. Unfailingly she wraps me in her liquid embrace and I am brought back to myself. Deep is the water, deep is my joy.
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Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery [Jul. 21st, 2010|11:30 am]
stephanietberry
4.5 out of 5 stars

The Elegance of the Hedgehog was a challenge to read, in the most delightful of ways. Discussions of Japanese cinema, Anna Karenina, and the meaning of life and Art bloom upon the pages, but never slow the book or its characters' developments, which gain a careful momentum, unfolding perfectly. Its resolution so beautifully makes use of the ideas and images that run through the book that I felt as if the author had performed a magic trick.

Perhaps my only criticisms of the book are first that the cast of characters--the tenants, and their concierge, of an upscale Paris apartment--is a bit unwieldy at first. But even this reader's minor frustration with names eased into satisfying revelations of character recognition.

My second criticism centers on the relationship of our two main characters with each other, which feels a little underdeveloped. When they meet rather late in the book, their congruence is immediately understood by the reader, who has come to know them intimately. It seems, though, that they should have had a little more time to spend together before the book resolves itself with each testifying to a unique love of the other. But this small mis-step is almost like the "jerky little steps" Japanese women take as they slide their feet from their shoes--"this affront to the sacred rhythm of life, this defiant movement of little feet, this excellence born of constraint, is a paradigm of Art."

Perhaps this is how we recognize Beauty--immediately, outside of time, open-hearted--and when we are struck in this way we are indeed forever changed. This lovely book is a testament to those moments of Beauty that give us meaning and joy, and indeed it becomes one such moment.

This is my favorite book I've read this year, and I hope to reread it again! Several times I came across lines I wanted to quote, but I was so engrossed with the book I couldn't put it down to make those notes. And later I couldn't find the lines! I'd also like to research some of the Art discussed my the Madame Michel--which would certainly only deepen my appreciation of this marvelous book, which is itself as elegant as the hedgehog.
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Book Review: Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay [Jul. 21st, 2010|11:25 am]
stephanietberry
3.5 out of 5 stars

Here is a book that tackles a difficult subject from history, the Vél' d'Hiv' roundups of French Jews during WWII, weaving together the story of one of the children of the Vél' d'Hiv' with the story of a middle-aged journalist. The shared ground of their lives is the apartment where both have lived, separated by sixty years. Technically the journalist does not ever live in the apartment, her mother-in-law does, but she has been moved to a nursing home, and the apartment is to be renovated by our journalist's architect husband. Like the author I have a love for old houses and the stories they can tell, and aspects of the plot are well-crafted, but ultimately the novel is flat-footed, and it's characters lacking spirit.

Spoilers Commence:
My first thought after finishing Sarah’s Key was that the ending dragged on far too long. Julia’s continuing obsession with Sarah and her son seemed unrealistic in light of the changes she had made in her life. She had a baby, and made a huge move across the ocean. These were delightful accomplishments, positive mid-life upheavals. So her whining and dark introspection don’t seem to fit.

In fact, Julia never seems to claim her power or sense of self throughout the whole book. First she gives it to her husband and when the marriage ends she seems to wallow in a mild depression. Mild depression may not be the best way to end the book, and the suggested romance between her and William seems a bit contrived to me. We want to see some sort of inner transformation in our characters, but it feels at the end that Julia’s transformations are mostly outer ones.

Of course, this is a book of two stories, and Sarah's is dark. I felt at times when reading her story that writing about such dark horror is a near-impossible task when you are seeing it through the eyes of a child. I felt great relief when her story shifted away from the camp, and I find it fitting that her narrative stops when she discovers the body of her brother--part of Sarah died at that moment, too, and her remaining story can only be told by those who knew her after that. The journal entry in French, decoded by Julia, was a well-executed plot device.

But Sarah's story is secondary to Julia's, and while it’s clear that Sarah’s story has an impact on Julia's life, it isn’t the pivot that propels her into her new life. The baby does that, and the author tries to connect the baby with Sarah via the date of the abortion, but this seemed contrived to me. It’s as if the plot grinds against itself here, and in its resolution—perhaps a little better writing could have helped these two sections of the book flow a little better.

I guess that would be my main criticism of the book—the writing lacked luster and power. The story has a lot of potential, and Sarah’s story, which seems more carefully wrought than Julia’s, is historically important. I would have liked to have seen more emphasis and imaginative writing about the apartment and the key—these are the two physical objects that connect the past to the present. One is the title of the book, but it’s appearance is very limited. It’s also such an archetypal image—a key—and the author could have worked with it a lot more, maybe bringing it into the ending somehow. It is, after all, in William’s possession.

In the end, Julia names her daughter Sarah: “An echo to the other one, to the other Sarah, to the little girl with the yellow star who had changed my life.” But it is exactly that change that I don’t feel. I felt the friction in her marriage, and I see that her life has changed, but how exactly did Sarah change her? I just don’t feel that transformation.

Up next: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
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The Fullness of Summer, the Welcome Bed [Jun. 29th, 2010|12:29 am]
stephanietberry
On Sunday I went to the Useful Plants Nursery Summer Plant Sale and bought a marvelous assortment of trees and shrubs. While I was gone, Jay pulled up the old floor downstairs, which was a hodge-podge of hardwood flooring, parquet, linoleum, and tile. Now it is down to a bare slab. Later in the day when the Sun’s heat began to fade I went into the garden and picked five quarts of blueberries. The bushes were falling over themselves with blueberries. I ate a bunch, froze a bunch, and there’s still a bounty of blueberries to harvest. So begins the last week before our annual beach vacation.

Construction Chaos



There is much to do. I can't think about the floor, and I won’t even try to put my new trees and shrubs in the ground until I get back, but I certainly can wax euphoric about my nursery purchases. I think I’m most excited about the Hybrid American Chestnut. The American Chestnut was the crown jewel of the Southern Appalachian forests, but a foreign blight wiped them out by the 1930’s. Well, not entirely. There are still chestnut stumps that produce shoots, but the shoots are killed off by the blight before they ever mature. The two chestnuts I purchased are American chestnuts crossed back with Japanese and Chinese Chestnuts to produce something close to the original tree.

I also purchased some American hazelnuts. If I had done more research before my purchase I might have bought the European hazelnut, which produces a larger nut more suitable for the home orchard, but now I’m excited that I will be able to produce nuts for our family, and for the wildlife. American hazelnuts are vigorous plants with a tendency to colonize an area, so I’ll have extra plants within a few years that I can plant back in the forest for the deer, bear, grouse, and squirrels on my mountain. By the way, it’s your mountain, too, as nearly all of it is National Forest Land.

There’s nine new blueberry bushes, which means I have now about twenty-five blueberry bushes, though not all are producing berries yet. To go along with the blueberries, I now have two Aronia bushes. These are a native berry extremely rich in athocyanins and antioxidants. Don’t even begin to think that’s enough berries for me! I purchased two female sea berry plants, which have slender silver leaves. When they are loaded down with their bright orange berries, they will be a marvelous sight.

And then there is my Vitex tree. I thought it was Vitex agnus-castus, of which I already have two small plants, but it’s actually something I’ve never heard of before: VItex negundo. Regardless, this small tree absolutely called to me. She has a supple, curvaceous trunk rising to nearly six feet with lacy leaves and delicate lavender flowers. She really does have a lovely shape. This is the information they had about her: A veritable medicine cabinet of a plant. The leaves are anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and analgesic and are applied externally for rheumatic conditions, bruises, injuries, sprains, sores, and skin infections. The seeds and leaves contain valuable medicinal compounds are used internally for chronic bronchitis, all emaciating conditions, to improve memory and eyesight, rejuvenate hair, alleviate loss of appetite, and to manage skin diseases and excessive bleeding during menstruation. The young stems are used for basketmaking. The leaves are insecticidal and used to repel insects in grain stores. The fresh leaves are burned with grass to repel mosquitoes.

While I dream about blueberry pie with a hazelnut crust , or chestnut stuffing for Thanksgiving in two or three years, right now I have Narrowleaf Echinacea, Golden Sage, Passionflower, Valerian, and Bloodflower that need to go in the garden, as in yesterday. Fortunately the hot and dry weather has broken with a thunderific rainstorm. I’ll pull my bolting lettuces and feed them to my rabbits tomorrow, making way for a bed of herbal delights. But for now, my soft bed of pillows calls, and I will answer, for I have much to do tomorrow—putting straw around the potatoes (and purchasing said straw), taking artwork to the frame shop, setting up a trellis for my poor beans, and some other things I’m quite certain I’ve forgotten about, but will remember at some juncture.
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Summer's Parade [Jun. 24th, 2010|12:35 pm]
stephanietberry
June has swept me up in her hot parade and I have so enjoyed the celebration I can hardly believe we are near its end. My second eldest has graduated from high school, and the party that goes with that has long since passed. The garden is marching along happily, though the week and a half I neglected it to prepare for the aforementioned graduation party has certainly left me with lots of work to do now. Solstice has pulled all the Summer flowers into blooming, and they are so different from the flowers of Spring. Bold, big, and warm-colored are the daylilies, the butterfly weed, the bee balm, and the elecampane. Forgive me for not having photographs. I've been too busy to take pictures.

Yesterday I worked in the hot Sun weeding my long row of onions. By the time I was moving along to mulching them a big cloud strode along and offered me some shade, for which I was most appreciative. Then I gave the onions a nice long drink. Last year's onions didn't really bulk up, so I need to stay on top of the watering this year. I am looking forward to thick, juicy onions to stash away in my pantry. I've also planted a row of green onions, which should overwinter nicely, unless we eat them all up this Autumn.

I'm still playing catch-up on my garden list. I need to fill in the trenches of my potatoes, and also giving them a good watering. I know July is just around the corner, but I'm going to put some zucchini seeds in the ground and have some by late Summer to devour and to freeze and to pickle. I'm also going to plant a whole row of basil to put pesto away for the Winter. There is simply nothing so uniquely delicious in all the world as basil (though I am also quite fond of cilantro), and I've got a good set of plants already. Just not enough to put a bunch away for the Winter.

And yes, that is what I'm thinking about. Putting lots of food up for the cold. If nothing else, the garden has taught me about two things: consistency and timing. For a garden to be successful, you must give it consistent attention. Daily attention. I have two gardens--a row garden and a garden of vegetable beds and perennial herbs and flowers. That's a lot of attention for one scatter-brained woman. It's exactly what I need to teach me how to be grounded and focused. As for the timing, well, you really do have to think ahead, plan, and basically be on top of things. I rather infamous for having none of those skills. So you see, the garden is just the teacher I need. Since I have two gardens, I guess I needed two teachers. Some of us need more help than others.

And of course, the garden has taught me so much more. This Spring I did not get any spinach in the garden, or other such greens, but The Lady of the Garden knew my need and filled the garden with lamb's quarters. Many a meal have we had of this wild and delicious green, and yesterday I harvested armloads. Tonight I will lightly sautee' them and then stash them away in little freezer bags. Come the cold I will be making stews of potatoes and lamb's quarters and sausage, and marveling again at the wild abundance of Nature, which is perhaps the greatest lesson of all.
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Of Poisons and Peaches [Jun. 5th, 2010|12:25 am]
stephanietberry
Currants
This Spring I made it a few times to our local Farmer's Market, which for me is a major accomplishment since I usually do a lot of nothing on Saturday mornings. But I'm so glad I made it, because I met Wilma, a fascinating mountain woman, and bought some currant bushes from her. Now the currants are starting to turn red. Renee checks on them daily, hunting the red jewels for her own pleasure. I'll be lucky to get any!

When we brought the currant bushes home, my husband told me they looked like the berry bushes that used to grow in his backyard when he was a kid. His mother caught him eating them one time and scolded him fiercely, telling him they were poison. Poison! Poison! Poison! The other day he plucked a crisp red berry from the bush and popped it into his mouth. "Yep, those were the ones that were in my backyard," he said. "I loved them. They were so tartly delicious. I'm so glad we have some now!"

It's easy to think that his mom was being a bit harsh, but the truth is, she just didn't know. Better safe than sorry is not a bad motto, though are there are better ones. Seek and find out, for one, though that's a little easier now than in the 70s, I'd say.

Consider if my husband, as a child, had been attracted to this plant instead of red berries:

Poison Hemlock
poison hemlock

He would not be with us. This plant is Poison Hemlock, and I found it last week growing by my chicken coop. Though it looks like many other innocuous plants--Queen Anne's Lace in particular--it is deadly poisonous. I read that it can kill you even if you are just handling the root, if you have a cut on your hands. I don't know if that's true, but I do know that it's poisonous enough that I washed my hands after breaking off a leaf to smell. I thought it might be dill, which is in the same family (Apiaceae) as hemlock, but I wasn't looking closely enough.


I've educated my kids about hemlock, starting with two years ago when I saw it flowering down the road by the creek. Last year it was blooming on our river land, right by the path, and every time I walked by it with them I'd say, "There it is, the poison hemlock! Be careful! That plant can kill you, quick!" Now they are afraid of yarrow, Queen Anne's Lace, and any other plant producing clusters of white flowers. I have pointed out hemlock's smooth stalk and compared it with the fuzzy stalk of Queen Anne's Lace, but I think for kids these things can get all mixed up in their heads. Learning the difference between what is poison, and what is not, is knowledge that develops over many, many seasons. Be respectful of each plant, I tell them. Some are so poisonous they can kill you, some are so rich in medicine they can heal you. No plant ever poisoned someone that was just looking at it, so learn to use your eyes. I'm still learning that. And trying to figure out how I want to destroy this plant before it goes to seed.


peony

Meanwhile, the peonies in my garden are tumbling over themselves like girls just become women, tossing their beauty about recklessly, littering the path with a carpet of pink petals. I feel like peonies are the ultimate flower, the way they burst open with frills and scent and color, and then just can't stop, falling over with the heavy delight of being a flower.


Valerian

The valerian is flowering, and one plant has a stalk over six feet tall! Looks kind of like hemlock, oddly enough. The root of valerian, where it's medicine dwells, has a powerful stink-foot smell, but the flowers are sweet and clear. I'll be gathering the seed this year, and planting more valerian this fall. Do you have any seeds from your garden you'd like to trade for some valerian seeds?


Columbine

Soon the flowers of May will be gone, and the lilies and bee balm and elecampane will begin flowering. I have really enjoyed my native columbine, which was a volunteer in the pot of another plant I purchased last year. It has bloomed profusely, and its blooms are smaller than the more domesticated columbine. I'll be passing some seeds from this plant along to a friend of mine, who gave me some of the volunteer columbine plants from her garden. They were so cute--little deep purple doubles! I'm wondering if the native will cross with these unusual samples from her garden to make even more interesting varieties of columbine.


peach tree

And last, but certainly not least, is a branch from one of my peach trees. It's going to be a peachy summer, I'd say!

 

 

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Wednesday Gift [Jun. 2nd, 2010|07:45 pm]
stephanietberry
Head over to my website for a chance to win a little giveaway from me:
http://woodbyrd.com/wordpress/blog/
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Pitch for a Shift [Jun. 2nd, 2010|07:39 pm]
stephanietberry
Yesterday afternoon Jay and I sat at the table stripping mint leaves from their stalks, arranging them in assorted patterns on the dehydrator trays. We were both a bit worn with the day, and so I had made some mate latte tea. I had mine with honey, and that, along with the crisp scent of mint, seemed to be lifting the tired fog that engulfed me.

We talked a bit about his work, and then I made my pitch.

"Let's try something new," I suggested. "Let's make our midday meal our main meal of the day. Before then, we can all work together, in the garden, on your carcycle, whatever. After the meal, you can go to your shop, I can go to my studio, and the kids can have free time."

I had this idea that morning, as my children fought downstairs with a vengeance. I was trying to get a small task done, and had left them to their own devices. Of course this was a recipe for disaster, but only a minor disaster, the type to which I am somewhat immune. I need some sort of shift, I thought, as Renee screamed at McKinley at the top of her lungs downstairs. There has to be a way for us to move more into the life we desire with less stress and more beauty. There just has to be a way!

As it has been, our life very loosely resembles a traditional set-up, whereby Jay goes to work in the morning, albeit just next door, and usually around 10 am, and I stay at home with the kids. That is about where the resemblance ends, since "staying home with the kids" might mean swimming in the river, or it might mean discussing the current crisis in Gaza, as we did yesterday. Still, being the only one with the kids for most of the day means that when I can break away to the studio, I usually don't have the energy. Making dinner at the end of the day usually takes what last bit of energy I might have had.

So in our constant quest--sometimes joyful, sometimes not--to do everything, we are attempting a shift change. We'll try it for a week and see how it works. Today was the first day, and oh, today!

We started the day with coffee, as usual, sitting at the table in our outdoor kitchen. I woke the children by reading some of "The Island of the Blue Dolphins" to them. Reading with them in the morning, rather than at night, has proven to be the trick to getting my children from sleep to wakefulness without yelling. Then we read together from "Opening Doors Within," which is a daily meditation book by Eileen Caddy, one of the co-founders of Findhorn. Breakfast was followed by jumping on the trampoline, and then into the garden we went, weeding and planting 8 butternut squash plants. The clouds came and cooled us from the hot Sun, and then the rain began to fall upon us, big thick drops, sporadic and delicious at first, and then a torrent. We rushed to the house, wet and laughing.

For our midday meal, Jay and Renee made a stack of handmade tortillas (thirty-two to be precise), while McKinley made hummus, and I made a frittata.

Renee & Tortillas


I sent McKinley to the garden to take pictures of the row of butternut squash and the limbs of our peach trees, which are laden with peaches. We have so many peaches that I'll be making peach preserves, peach chutney, and peach pie come August. Anyway, here's the pictures he took:

baby butternut
Baby Butternut


Rose

Rose


Baby Peach
Baby Peach

My Marvel of Venice beans are coming up strong, and the arugula I planted with the kids a few days ago has made a fine green appearance. We've been getting good rain this week, so the other beans I planted, and the sunflowers, should be showing pretty soon. The garden grows, the river warms, and summer really is upon us. With my husband joining me in the garden, I feel like anything is possible!

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Will Trade Virus for Stress [May. 27th, 2010|10:53 pm]
stephanietberry
The Strange Virus has left. I slept in a little this morning, figuring I deserved it, then shuffled the kids off to piano lessons. There was much moaning about this from McKinley, who is 9 going on 17, thanks to the influence of his older brother Bert. He wants to play guitar, and thinks his teacher is lame.

Rather, she is incredible. And McKinley isn't so bad at the piano game, either. When he sits at her piano, which admittedly sounds angelic compared to ours, his fingers begin playing all sorts of things he's picked up from the aforementioned brother. He does this in between actual pieces he's playing for his lesson, and he does this whenever his teacher has momentarily paused in giving him guidance. It's maddening for me! "Lesson manners!" I remind him, but she just smiles back at me. She understands, she tells me, she had one like this, so full of life and energy. And today she asked him the title of this one thing he's played over and over until my ears hurt.

"You won't like it," he tells her.

"That's okay, what matters is that you like it," she smiles, ever so generously.

"It's Death Clocks Thunderhorse," he rambles off, then makes some heavy metal air guitar motions. I roll my eyes.

"Okay, I'll see if I can find the music for it, so you can learn to play it CORRECTLY," she smiles again, this time her evil-piano-teacher intentions revealed to me by the glint in her eyes. McKinley is oblivious. She's very good.

Renee got back from her four-day trip to Washington D.C. with friends on Monday. The highlight of her trip was seeing baby ducks at the Botanical Gardens. No surprise there. She was also very impressed with the hotel, a Holiday Inn, because the kids ate free for breakfast AND dinner. There was also a pool, and she had packed three swimsuits in anticipation of this, only to be deeply disappointed that there turned out to be no time for swimming. Instead they walked all over the place looking at museums.

I had told her that when she got back I would take her to a pool so she could go pool-swimming. Poor thing, she's grown up swimming in a mountain river. Now all that she wants is to swim in a pool. Go figure. But I came down with the dreaded Strange Virus, and was out for two days, during which not only did she have to entertain herself, but she did NOT get taken to a real swimming pool. Now that I could walk up the stairs without my head swimming, it was time for me to take her to the pool down the road.

This I did not want to do. There was so much that needed to be done, I'd missed Monday going to Charlotte to pick her up, and Tuesday and Wednesday with the Strange Virus. My day had already been set back with the rescheduled piano lessons. Since she also wanted to make some chocolate chip cookies (this girl is always planning something) I thought maybe we could do the cookies today, swimming tomorrow. Much girl-grief ensued with this suggestion, which escalated to a small argument in which I got testy and she got upset, crying, "I'm sorry, Momma," which is really code for, "I'm sorry but will you please give me what I want anyway?" So I called the pool. They're not even open yet. And of course she doesn't want to go swimming in the river, which is right across the road and absolutely divine for swimming in.

So we made cookies instead. I had become stressed. I was thinking about my garden. How I'm always behind with planting. How the weeds are everywhere. She wanted to make the "Best Ever Chocolate Chip Dip Cookies" and I wasn't even sure what she meant by that. We got out some cookbooks, reading over different recipes. This one used three sticks of butter. No, thanks. This one used ricotta cheese. Whatever. Like I just happen to have ricotta cheese in my refrigerator because I might want to whip up some homemade ravioli or lasagne or chocolate chip cookies. OK. Next recipe. Double Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies. Score! Renee LOVES mint, and we have lots growing, well, everywhere.

Renee was really into making the cookies. She did a great job, and enjoyed herself thoroughly. I enjoyed helping her. When we spread the dough onto the cookie sheet, she revealed her secret plan for what a ""Chocolate Chip Dip" cookie would be--one that had a chunk of chocolate hidden in the middle! I was impressed with her innovation.

IMG_4258
After the cookies came out of the oven and had been appropriately devoured, she changed into a scarf wrapped about her and began singing about her cookies. They were magical cookies she had decided, and she talked with me at great length about this, peppering our conversation about belief and magic with outbursts of glorious song. "This is just the best day," she told me. I had reverted to weeding the front flower bed while she sang to me and was now covered in wretched grass pollen that made me feel as I was on fire. "Yes, it is a beautiful day," I told her, "and I'm going to go inside and relax for a minute or two."

I washed off and laid down for a little while. I was not in the best of moods, regardless of my delightful daughter, regardless of how the rain came up while we were cooking in our outdoor kitchen, a sudden breeze wafting over us, regardless of the peonies, geraniums, and borage I had picked from my garden and set on the table earlier. Sometimes we are just in a foul mood, no matter what beauty befalls us.

So I went to the garden, chiding myself as I transplanted collards and basil and rhubarb, the last of which I put at the back of the garden where it could grow big and unfettered and perhaps form a sort of border against the weeds that inevitably encroach upon my garden. I checked on my lettuces, which are doing swimmingly well, and my broccoli, which is looking good. My tomatoes were stunted by a late frost but are coming back. And I still have more tomatoes to put in the garden. Also in the ground are potatoes and onions. And the beans I planted a few days ago. So maybe things aren't so off in the garden department. And the peonies are blooming. What could be better than that for a May afternoon?

Flowers in the Outdoor Kitchen

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Studio Update [May. 26th, 2010|08:31 pm]
stephanietberry
I've been sick for two days! In May! This should not be allowed. There is simply too much to do and too much beauty in which to partake. Hopefully tomorrow I will be feeling better. Yesterday I did not really leave the bed, but today I did manage to trudge up to the studio for just a little bit.

Sunday night J and I hung out in the studio (my clubhouse, he called it) listening to Anoushka Shankar and doing freestyle yoga. It was a rather lovely way to celebrate that at least one part of my studio is completed enough to enjoy. The rug is laid out again, the wifi hooked back up, and new shelves are in the corner holding my assorted technological equipment. Here's a look at my technology corner:
Technology Corner

Next on my studio agenda is to finish a large piece that has been set aside for quite awhile. Here's a detail shot:

Detail, unfinished work

That's a pink ladyslipper, in case you're wondering. I'm inspired to finish this piece by my new goddess statue that I purchased off Etsy. I really love this woman's work, and hope to have more of her figures! Here's a shot of the White Crackle Raku Goddess in her temporary location in my studio:

White Crackle Raku Goddess by gislebertus

You'll see why she's inspiring me to finish the pink ladyslipper piece soon!


 

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Garden notes, without weedy pictures [May. 23rd, 2010|09:27 pm]
stephanietberry
Today the Moon was in Libra, after a stint through Leo & Virgo, which are barren signs. While it would be ideal to be weeding during such barren times, such has not been the case. So today I tried to make up for lost time, weeding (because there is SO much to be done) and also planting Marvel of Venice Pole Beans and some luscious Johnny Jump-Ups I purchased at one of my local greenhouses.

Libra is "a moist, fruitful airy sign. Good for grains & root crops. Especially good for flowers," according to The Almanack.com, whose monthly almanac I save to my desktop and check frequently. I intended to plant more potatoes today, since the Moon is in such a good sign for them, but alas, I spent a good portion of my day helping with the new floor in my outdoor kitchen. More on that tomorrow.

Even with all the weeds the garden is gorgeous. I'll get those potatoes in the ground. Plus lots of other stuff. My white peonies are blooming, and my pink peonies are about to. I really love my peonies!

This morning I got up at six--a very strange occurrence indeed--and picked this bouquet from my garden:
IMG_4247
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Studio Update--a finish! [May. 22nd, 2010|11:49 am]
stephanietberry

What Lives in the Crowns of Trees

"What Lives in the Crowns of Trees"

You know the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, right? In fifth grade I played the Tortoise in the school play, and either I was exceptionally well-cast or the role stuck. I work slowly and carefully. So finishing a piece has always been a bit of a big deal for me!

I will be posting the deluxe image of this piece soon, and plan to offer only five prints of it, so let me know if you are interested and I'll reserve one for you.

In other studio news, the remodel of my studio continues. I have a hand-crafted woodstove to install. She was made by the illustrious sculptor C. Andree Davidt, a good friend of mine, and you can see the love he put into her. She's called "Hot Mama" and I can't wait to put her in my studio! Here's a simple photo of her:

Hot Mama

"Hot Mama!"
The center of the apple is a solid sheet of Mica from our beloved mountains.
It will glow red when there's a fire.

I also have a brand new white floor in my studio, and built-in shelves! Look for photos soon, plus pics of the beginning of some new pieces of Appalachian Ephemerals.

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Wet Afternoon [May. 17th, 2010|08:40 pm]
stephanietberry
I have been planting all afternoon. Tomatoes, lettuces, parsley, rosemary. Weeding, too, because the garden is overrun. And all the while, the peonies are about to burst open, the lupines are a crescendo of color, the native columbine is a festival of salmon-red lanterns, and the blue comfrey is a cloud of buzz and blue. False indigo, sweet blue flag, and the outrageous perennial poppies are blooming, too.

While I plant I am planning. Squash in the back of the garden. Cucumbers by that fence. Narrowleaf echinacea under the currants. Then other things. Pavers for the outdoor kitchen. And screen, too. Construction trash carted away. Mulch for new garden beds along the driveway, which I will narrow to a path.

In the thick of it all, another burst of rain moves through. The goats, tethered to stakes in the blueberry field (yet out of reach of the blueberries), bleat wildly. The goats hate the rain, but I do not. I love the colors of Spring thickening into Summer, bodies of mist stretching up the mountainsides, the dark, wet shadows teeming with Life.

The Moon is in Cancer, so I keep planting, and then lay out seeds for tomorrow: bloodflower for the monarchs, collards, tat-soi. High over me, a kingfisher rattles and rattles, circling over the garden. I grow curious and watch her antics. Soon her partner joins her, and they chase off a pair of some other bird–starlings, I hope. The sky is tinged with pink. I say a prayer for my mother, then turn back to the work at hand.
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Flowers from my Tailpipe [May. 5th, 2010|11:29 pm]
stephanietberry
First, I am totally sickened by what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico right now. I can't even write about it. It is very, very, very bad.

But it has certainly spurred me to action, along with my super husband. You know, we drive. We all drive. We drive everywhere. I bring my own bags, I carry my own water, I buy local first. But I drive. All that other stuff is just a drop in the bucket, except maybe the buying local part, considering that otherwise food is driven across the country. I haven't done that math on that one, though I'm sure someone has. But I know what's going in my gas tank, and even though it is sometimes regionally produced biodiesel, 95% of the time it isn't. And even when it is, it's not like flowers are coming out of my tailpipe.

I see the connection between my driving and so much destruction--wars, climate change, environmental degradation, and now, full-blown catastrophe. And I am tired of living this way. My parents raised me to be honest, and this does not seem honest. That so much should be sacrificed so that I can go where I want to, exactly when I want to, at a high rate of speed & in supreme comfort just doesn't seem just.

So, with my husband's super powers, we are going to sacrifice the high rate of speed and supreme comfort for something else. And we are going to do it with this:

(photo from americanspeedster.com)

You can find out more about this carcycle from this website: americanspeedster.com This model is the Sidekick, and it should be noted that it can be retrofitted with an electric motor.

A friend once told me that for the cost of the bail-out every mid-sized city and up could have had high-speed rail. Imagine. And keep imaging! For months I've been driving and imaging how wonderful it will feel to be able to travel joyfully, with flowers coming out of my tailpipe, instead of thoughts of war and unjustified privilege. This carcycle is our first step into that dream. Only I think we'll put a bubble machine on the back of it, instead of flowers. Just for fun.

Obviously, there's more to come on this one!

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Spring Wildflowers by the River [Apr. 14th, 2010|11:04 am]
stephanietberry
Trout Lily
Renee found this trout lily for me, and surrounded it with sticks and precious rocks she found in the river so that I could take this picture.

Bluets
And finding the first Bluets of Spring always thrills me! Such small and delightful flowers, always blooming in happy bunches.
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Ramping up the Joy [Apr. 10th, 2010|10:04 am]
stephanietberry
When I started homeschooling McKinley and Renee, my idea was that we would spend a lot of time following our bliss. I also knew enough from my experience with homeschooling my three older kids that the vision and the reality would not often meet.

But that is changing. There are a lot of reasons for this, or maybe not. Jay and I are getting up every morning and listening to something inspirational, usually something to do with the law of attraction. We had a practice of this some years ago and the happiness we sowed was reaped almost daily. So there's that. Also I have been exercising on my mini-trampoline on a daily basis, which seems to have a very beneficial effect on my whole being. I'm calm, more organized, and have more get-up-and-go energy. And flaxseeds are awesome, I eat them everyday!

So there are all these little changes, simple, beautiful things, that have also brought about a richer life experience for all of us. Today would be the perfect example of this. We read together in the morning (The Invention of Hugo Cabret), had a great breakfast, and then played with our new compass set, making designs and coloring them in with the brilliant color of Berol Prismacolor pencils.

Daffodil Surprise

Later in the afternoon we went down to the river, where I found this serendipitous clump of daffodils blooming. They were happy to be photographed. Renee meandered about, chatting me up with her delightful observations.

Our Patch of Ramps

Then we rediscovered our patch of ramps, as we do every Spring. and dug some up for dinner! Ramps, or Allium tricoccum, are a wild member of the onion family, with a strong garlic onion flavor. They appear in early Spring and are an Appalachian favorite. We also discovered that the mint was sprouting and collected some tops of mint as well for our first cup of fresh mint tea this year.

Ramp it Up

McKinley had his own ramp to show off! I love the look of determined exhilaration of his face. He made sure I got this photo, arguing with me a bit about whether the flash should be on or off, and what settings I should have on the camera. Nine-year-old boys are something, I'll tell you that!

The Fruits of the Day

And here is our ramp-corn-cheddar quiche, along with some of our drawings from the morning, and a quart of delicious mint tea. The banana cookies are not shown, but I can assure you they were delicious. And my house is still clean.

 
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Domestic Wednesday [Apr. 7th, 2010|07:57 pm]
stephanietberry
We had a big spring-cleaning weekend, culminating in an Easter dinner with family and friends. I just love when my house is clean. Today there hasn't been a lot going on, and so I did a good bit of Etsy shopping and another good bit of house-tending and kitchen craft.

We've started eating smoothies every morning. I was wanting to find an easy way to eat flaxseeds, and after a little experimentation I found that just grinding them up in the trusty coffee grinder and throwing them in the blender with some yogurt, frozen raspberries, and agave syrup for sweetening was just about perfect. I might throw in a banana, or some blueberries, but that’s the gist of it. And it makes a great breakfast! The flaxseeds are just superb for your health, packed with Omega-3’s and lignans (lots and lots of lignans) that promote estrogen balance. That estrogen balance is what I was seeking, for uterine fibroids, and so far the effect has been marvelous, darling, just marvelous.

All that smoothie making makes for a lot of yogurt! So I started buying the milk at the store and making yogurt at home. It is so incredibly easy, and so much cheaper! And in the end you have these lovely jars of yogurt just waiting for you.

Jars of Yogurt and Flaxseed
Jars of Yogurt and Flaxseed


Here's the basic recipe for making yogurt:

  1. Fill a large pot with hot water and put in your jars, a big spoon, and a whisk. Bring that to a boil, so your yogurt jars and preparation utensils are nice and sanitary. You can use any jar for making the yogurt, but half-pint, pint and quart jars make it easy to know how much milk to use. The milk will convert tit for tat to yogurt--you won't have any by-product.

  2. Measure out your milk, and put it in a pot over a high setting. Stir it now and then. You're going to want to bring your milk just to a boil, when it starts to rise up and foam, and then take it off the heat straight away. This is the hardest part of making yogurt--waiting for your milk to boil. The purpose of boiling the milk, by the way, is to kill off any other bacteria so that only your friendly probiotic bacteria will grow.

  3. Let the milk cool in the pot until it's lukewarm, or about body temperature. If it feels hot to you, it's still too hot. When it's warm, take about two tablespoons of yogurt for every four cups of milk, and whisk this starter yogurt into the milk with your happy, sanitary whisk. I do not measure my starter yogurt--I just put in a dollop and stir--and I think the stirring may be more important than how much yogurt you actually use, because you want the bacteria to be well-spread throughout the milk.

  4. Pour the milk mixture into your sterilized jars, which should be warm enough to handle by now. If not, just set them out and let them cool until you can handle them easily. I used to ladle the milk into the jars, but now I just pour it straight from the pot into wide-mouth jars. Much easier. Put on the lids.

  5. Now you need to put your jars someplace warmish. In the winter I put them in the warming closet of my woodstove, and in the Summer I put them on top of my hot water tank, because in Summer the utility room gets really warm from our solar water heating system, which is housed there (and on our roof). If you can't think of a warm, cozy place for your yogurt, just fill up a hot water bottle with hot water and snuggle it up to them, then put them in a "cooler" or some other small, insulated spot. I always wrap mine up in a few layers of towels.

  6. Leave the jars for six to eight hours (though I've done less, and more), refreshing the hot water bottle a few times if you're using that method to keep them warm. Sample it at six hours, checking for firmness. It doesn't have to get firm, but the longer you leave it the firmer it will get.

  7. Admire you handiwork!


I've heard that this will work with any kind of milk: rice, almond, soy, and I think it would be a fun experiment to see how these would turn out. But for now, I need to get downstairs to my kitchen corner and make some pizza!

pizza dough on the rise
Pizza dough on the rise


Speaking of kitchen, here's the view of my domestic corner of creativity. I'm excited that we will soon be getting tile in the kitchen, and then new cabinets! But even now it's beautiful, thanks to all that spring-cleaning, and maybe, if I keep Wednesdays a day for domestic craft, just maybe it will stay that way.  It's a possibility!

Domestic Corner of Creativity

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The ADD Gardener [Apr. 3rd, 2010|09:47 am]
stephanietberry
Last week I made my first Spring foray into the garden. It was a bit intimidating. Spring weeds sprout quick, and grass is always my main adversary along the edges of my garden. Besides this, as usual I didn't do a thorough clean-up of the garden this past Autumn, so there was a lot of work in that department as well.

Garden in March
My Garden in March



But none of this deterred me. The air was warm, the Sun was shining, it was time! I grabbed my stirrup hoe and started clearing paths, since visitors to my garden in Spring are usually at a loss as to what is garden and what is not. I purposely have a lot of meandering, curvaceous paths.

After about ten minutes of that, I moved on to cutting out some briars that were growing at the far edge of my garden, crowding out some of my blueberry bushes. Then I weeded out along the edge of one of my herb gardens. It was at this juncture that I realized that I am an ADD gardener. I am all over the place!

To prove the point, Wikipedia defines ADD-predominately inattentive as "characterized by inattention, easy distractibility, disorganization, procrastination, forgetfulness, and lethargy." Now, the lethargy does not exactly apply (all the time), but everything else most certainly does. How many times have I been lost in garden work only to be called by my children to end an argument, for instance, leaving my tools (and even once, painfully, my seeds, which later got rained upon in their sweet paper packets)? How many times have I forgotten about that new plant I placed next to its planting spot, only to find it a few days later withered?

However, this realization has also helped me think of some tools to help me become an even better gardener. Because truth be told, even with my many failings, I really do have a beautiful garden, with a marvelous array of natives, herbs, flowers, and vegetables. Somehow I manage! And every year I plant more, and expand the garden just a little bit, too (that's where the grass likes to grow).

So, for all you ADD gardeners out there, and come one, there has to be at least a few of us, here are some totally untested, hypothetical tips to help you thrive as an ADD gardener.

1. Take a watch, work for a specific amount of time. OK, I hate watches, too. But I did this today, not to combat my ADD-ness, but because I was in a piss-poor mood and said I would just work in the garden for an hour. Curiously, though, instead of getting lost in the work only to be called (or wander) away, I had a set amount of time, and when it was over, it was over, and I knew to gather my tools and other accouterments and call it a day.

2. Consider your distractibility an asset. Yeah, I know there are folks out there that say, "Today I am going to plant three 100 foot rows of potatoes, and then I'm going to weed the kale, and then I'm going to mulch the spinach." And then they do it. They are magnificent gardeners, and I hate them (are you reading this, George?). But they are not us! We are not meant to have gardens like that. Our garden may be more akin to the chaos of Nature, and that is OK. In fact, in a lot of ways its better. Because Nature rocks and rows are kind of, well, boring. So when you walk through your garden gate (if you have one, it may be more like a bit of woven wire fencing that hooks, sometimes, to the corner stake like mine), and you see first that your ladies mantle is sprouting lovely pleated leaves, then by all means, go there and weed a little bit. After that you might want to go check out your greens, see if they are doing all right, and from there you might see that the garden bed next to the greens is overgrown with weeds. And you might do something about that, or you might not, because maybe you aren't exactly sure what to do, but it will come to you in the course of a few days. Don't worry, move along. And as you make your way through the garden, noticing this, weeding that, you are engaged with all of your garden. You know what needs attention, and what doesn't, and you can spread out your energy as you see fit.

Lady's Mantle Sprouting

My Lady's Mantle's Lovely Pleated Leaves



3. Making mistakes is not only OK, it's a good thing! Well, maybe not leaving your seed packets out in the rain. But we've already covered that with tip #1. So let's move onto why making mistakes is a good thing. Because you learn! You are brave enough to do it your own way, and maybe someday you'll invent something really spectacular like Lasagna Gardening and be able to write a book about it and become rich and famous. And maybe not. But still, being willing to make mistakes is part of every garden, and for every mistake there's a success. Maybe it's all the borage growing like mad in your garden by August and which you could possibly never use all of, but that borage is great for the bees AND it's really beautiful. Next year, don't look so kindly upon those borage volunteers. They get really, really big. Or maybe you have a place where the bigness of borage would be really perfect. You just never really know until you try.

4. Embrace chaos! Let's face it, Nature is wildly chaotic. And sometimes that can be a great advantage in the garden. Instead of rows I have six garden beds and a multitude of herbs and flowers growing alongside those aforementioned curvaceous garden paths. Everything is kind of thrown in together, and I've learned a lot about what thrives and where. Using that information, I might move the bee balm to another spot where it can really take over, or give the nettles free reign of a whole section. I wanted a garden like the ones in the magazines (who doesn't?) but what I've got is my own constant work in progress, that provides me with immense pleasure and challenge.

5. Make your own rules. I have an inner dictum which I follow. I'm not even sure why I do it. But I just don't have the heart to weed something that is flowering. Oh, that's it, you say, this woman is crazy! But wait! There's something to this. First off, for me it is a way to show respect for the Earth and her own way of doing things. And sometimes I just let things flower for a few days before covering them up with mulch or hoeing them away. Or I might just leave one plant of a whole mass of flowering weeds. But it's my of doing things, and it brings me joy. I've learned a good deal about the common weeds from this practice, and enjoyed the beauty of some, such as Ranunculus acris, a wild buttercup with brilliant yellow blooms on long, swaying stems.

Your garden is yours. Let it be an expression of your joyful relationship with Nature, however that unfolds. If the chickweed takes over, by god, then eat the chickweed! If your tomato plants are always stunted, grow squash! If it's too late for squash (though right now it's certainly too early for most of us) then grow lettuce! Whatever your garden is, appreciate the beauty that unfolds, whether it's a peony blossom or the rampant takeover of morning glories. A garden is NEVER done, and is always a blessing.
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Studio Update [Apr. 2nd, 2010|02:06 pm]
stephanietberry
I've been really busy, and in a good way! My studio has a new floor, new shelves, and is 75% painted. It's totally chaotic in there, but I've managed to get some work done anyway! Here's a short video collage of my current work in progress, "What Lives in the Crowns of Trees."


I also really need to post about trampolines and angora bunnies, home education and the glories of my garden, and how wonderful my husband is! Soon!
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Moments: the Hands of my Grandfather [Mar. 16th, 2010|10:40 am]
stephanietberry
His daughter smiled up at him weakly, her face pale and beaming. Her boyfriend handed the bundled sleeping creature to him, its face shut tight against the world. He saw with disappointment that the babe had inherited his nose.   The lights flickered a bit, and his hands spread with their own wisdom to cradle the child. (read more)
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Moments: The Singing [Feb. 25th, 2010|06:39 pm]
stephanietberry
The tent was set up, the sleeping bags rolled out. They had eaten macaroni and cheese and sausage. The other campers, of which there were only a few, had turned in, but they kept the fire fed, and they drank their wine as the complexity of a summer night in the Great Smokies wove around them.

Really, she was tired. She was making excuses for going to bed. They were sitting at the picnic table. Everything was damp, especially her eyelids.

At first it did not seem real. A thin high sound, far off. He held up his hand, and their eyes met in disbelief, in awe as the eerie howls of the wolves–red wolves–touched their ears, their ear drums beating to this wolfsong, carrying that wild message deep into their brains.

She looked away from him, into the darkness, the chorus of wailing unhinging her, knots and bindings slipping, her heart memorizing this thrill, this ache of a beauty so rare, this song born in the throat of a small wolf, then thrown into the air, this song that had driven men to gather their guns and their traps, there are no words for the beauty of it, so deep it touches you.

And as quickly as the song had begun, it ended. The night became a scattering of crickets. They looked at each other, but said nothing. The night was finished for her. She went to bed.

But she made a place in her body that held the memory of that sound. She could enter that place, if she walked carefully in her thoughts, as one might enter a temple. It was near the center of her chest, with tendrils spreading to her throat.

There are very small things that change you. There are things so–beyond–that when you experience them they pull you into a place you could have never imagined. What could make her body rejoice like that? What sound had ever made her feel so alive? It was as if the wolves had sang her into creation.
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Comic Disasters: our weekend away [Feb. 24th, 2010|07:10 pm]
stephanietberry

I was so excited at Christmas, because I had planned the perfect gift for my sweet husband: a weekend away in Hot Springs, NC. I made reservations at the Duckett House Inn and the Hot Springs Spa for the weekend after Christmas. And then the weather came.

The Duckett House Inn
The Duckett House Inn & Farm

So we rescheduled for Valentine's Day, reasoning that by then the weather would have settled down. This was, as we all know now, a foolish asessment, but we've also adapted to the weather, to a certain extent, and went anyway.

We were so lucky that the bed & breakfast had a cancellation, because apparently there had been a miscommunication between J and the innkeepers about the necessary procedure to procure a reservation, and thus we had none. This was our only luck of the evening.

 

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Moments: The Air [Feb. 20th, 2010|08:29 pm]
stephanietberry
She walked along the trail, her dog pulling so hard on his leash that her gait was a dance between pulling back and moving forward. Every so often she would tire of this game and jerk hard on the leash with a harsh demand to her dog. It changed nothing.

The air was cool, and the moisture from the rain was lifting, swept up from the dark firs. The low clouds were thinning enough in places to show the last blue of the day. She was glad for her sweater, and for the movement of her body. She pulled the mountain air into her lungs in long, slow breaths, relishing the scent of the firs mingled with rain-soaked earth. No wonder Boris pulls so hard on the leash, she thought, this forest is thick with new smells for his fine nose.

The trailhead sign said the hike to the overlook was 1.2 miles. She had grabbed a little flashlight, just in case. She had considered not stopping, continuing on to her aunt’s house some two more hours down the road, but it was so rare that she came this way, through these mountains, so rare that she visited her aunt anyway, that she couldn’t pass up the opportunity. The storm was clearing and the light was fading. She guessed she had forty-five minutes before dark.

The clouds continued to lift, the dog continued to pull. The trail went over ledges of rock that jutted out of the earth, and there were puddles everywhere, on the trail, even in the little dimples in the gray rocks. Some of these caught the turning light like jewels. Behind the clouds the sky was turning yellow, and everything that could hold light seemed to want a piece of this sunset.

She began to quicken her step. She thought it would be marvelous to reach the overlook in this light. Her shoes were wet, and her toes were catching the cold. Boris’ slick red coat quivered with excitement. They began to run together, two animals, their breathing quickened, their bodies alert to the changes in the terrain, the movement of air across their faces stimulating. They had found their music.

The trail steepened, their gate slowed. They began to climb up the rocks, the dog clambering up, his claws scraping at the rock, she searching for footholds. Their eagerness did not dissipate. The light had become golden, and a cathedral of clouds opened up above them. The air was imbued with reverence. She breathed deep and hard, pushing herself to reach the pinnacle of the trail.

And then she was there. The trees thinned, and the wild blueberry bushes that had lined the trail parted. She was standing at the edge of a cliff, looking out onto dark green slopes stretching out far beneath her, licked with remnants of clouds, that shifted over the trees, then rose before dissipating in the clearing breeze. The Blue Ridge mountains stood as giants on the horizon. And everywhere there was golden light and above clouds holding the gold and laced with pink. The last drops of rain, caught on pine needles and grasped by the points of blueberry leaves, hung like tiny orbs of sun. The air was alive with light. Its cool movement kissed her cheeks.

She would not think. She would not try and photograph it. She just stood there, breathing the beauty into her body.
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Moments: Lunch Hour [Feb. 19th, 2010|07:25 pm]
stephanietberry
Will was tired, his head was full, and it was only lunchtime. He decided to walk to get lunch. The Greek restaurant down the road was not really that great, but it was March, the Sun was brilliant, and the air was warm. All of this might help clear his head a little.

Work had become impossible. The new girl mangled every thing her hands touched, but Peter, his recently divorced supervisor, was absolutely smitten with her. When Will mentioned that perhaps the long list of blunders Amanda had committed might mean something, Peter had responded that it meant Will hadn’t trained her properly. Later Peter had taken Amanda out to lunch, and this made things achingly clear to Will.

Now one of his most important clients had lost money because of Amanda’s bungling of phone messages–the simplest of tasks! He would have to figure a way around it. He rubbed the back of his head, ruffling his hair and massaging his scalp with his long, nimble fingers, as if his hand could sort out the thoughts in his head. But lately nothing had this skill. Everything was a tangled heap of rubbish.

Things were even more complicated at home. His teenage son seemed to be getting into some kind of trouble. The boy had only just sprouted the first prickles of a beard when an unquenchable rage had stirred within him, boiling over at the slightest of disturbances. His wife seemed to only make matters worse, digging her heels in and engaging with this snarling animal their son had become. It seemed to Will that the best thing might be to give the boy some space. Let him turn his music up, let him slam the door, punch the wall even. But his mother kept harping on him, letting nothing slide, until the boy wouldn’t even look either of them in the eye.

Will just wanted some easy distraction from all the conflicts of his life. Yet even these minor storms kept his eye off something bigger, something deeper, that watched him from the shadows. He’d felt it in the center of his chest for a long time, this lurking presence, but couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Sometimes he thought a drastic change would fix things, something that would make him feel alive again. But then he realized he had no idea what might make him feel alive. This sent him into a despair that he’d rather pretend didn’t exist. His life had become a painful exercise in maintaining mediocrity.

He turned the corner, and walked along the edge of the park. There were a few walkers on the paved trail, and a mother with two small children in the swings. The air smelled slightly of daffodils and green. He remembered being sixteen, that wild and restless hunger for sex, food, and danger. The overwhelming pleasure of having a girl. He wished he could bring all that desire back into his body. He did not blame his son for hating him.

A fire truck wailed in the distance. He could see it storming down the long stretch of road. He stopped and watched it grow larger, until it was right there beside him, a massive rush of air, the sirens pressing against his heart, ringing in his ears, the thunder of the engine moving through the soles of his feet. He turned and watched it go past him, then disappear around the bend, a red and hungry monster seeking out the fire.
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Writing Project: Moments [Feb. 16th, 2010|06:37 pm]
stephanietberry
I have started a new writing project, since every time I start to write a blog entry, I bore myself!  So I'm trying something different.

I take pleasure in writing about those moments in our lives that are small and subtle, yet hold some kind of magic, as if a window has opened inside us, and thus expanded our awareness of our world. Even so, these are just moments, so delicate and fleeting that they live on the periphery of our memory.

My goal is to write an ongoing series of these moments, micro-fiction of 500 or more words. I'll put links here, and keep them posted at my web page.

Here's the first two:

"February Woman"
There were Lego pieces everywhere.  Tiny bits of plastic color spread across the carpet, on the bathroom counter, on the stairs.  It had become such a habit for her to gather these pieces and toss them in the bucket that she was mindless in the task...

"View from the Window"
The girl’s bedroom was pink.  She did not ask for it to be pink, nor did she like the color.  It was her room, though....

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(no subject) [Feb. 10th, 2010|10:43 am]
stephanietberry

On a morning like this--and there have been many this winter--I wonder exactly why I should get out of bed. I am fortunate that I can stay in bed! My appreciation goes out to all you folks that take care of things when the weather is obscene.

Despite all the snow and ice, this winter has not been particularly disturbing. This is because usually we have frequent, blisteringly fierce winds. Winds that run head-first into the north side of the house. I'll be barely asleep and hear them coming like lions. When they hit the house shudders. On nights like that, I don't sleep well. I worry about the winds ripping off the solar panels, or knocking down trees. I worry, and I worry well. So yes, the El Nino affect has been relentless, but the winds have not. I've slept, and I've slept well. Something for which to be thankful.

We heat with wood, and we ran out--it's just been so cold. Even our old-time neighbor wise in the ways of mountain living has run out of wood. So for the past few days J has been taking down, sawing up, and sledding to the house a few standing dead trees from the forest. We also have been experimenting with lower house temperatures at night. J is not fond of this experiment, but I read an interesting blog article about the Japanese method of keeping warm (basically they don't heat the whole house), and thought we could stretch ourselves a little bit more. Maybe this will help the wood last until May, which is usually when I light my last fire.
 

IMG_2811

Spring seems forever away, though the transition began at Imbolc, which according to this archeoastronomy site was February 3rd this year. The other day I got eggs from the hens for the first time in months. It was so nice to have pink, turquoise, and brown eggs again. Simple pleasures are the best. If the snow and ice will hold off a bit, then in two weeks or so I bet I can find the first signs of Spring--maybe a little chickweed in the garden, or crocus blades cutting through the dark earth. I always feel like once I get past Imbolc I can shrug off most of winter's despair and start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if I'm still dependent on my down blanket.
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a day of advancements [Jan. 21st, 2010|12:00 am]
stephanietberry

I've been trying to find ways to get my kids to write.

I remember as an elementary-aged girl, I would write and write and write. In second grade I got to write my first book report, in which I mostly rewrote the whole book. I remember this clearly. The book was, "A Pony for the Winter," and my teacher had to take a moment to explain to me that I needed to work a little more on summarizing. When I was in sixth grade I would take my weekly vocabulary list and instead of writing one sentence with each vocabulary word, I would write entire stories that used all the vocabulary words.

McKinley and Renee are not that thrilled about writing. I tried a few tricks and then just told them they needed to write a certain number of sentences per day. Getting them to do this was difficult. And really, anything that's difficult or stressful shuts down the prefrontal cortex, which is exactly the part of the brain we really want to nurture and enliven. So today I tried something new. I remembered this morning on my walk what my sister (who is an awesome teacher) told me some time ago about writing: sit down and write with the kids.

Our project this week was for them to pick their native bird and write a story about that bird, writing a little bit each day. Today is Wednesday, and things weren't looking so good. Renee had been writing these ridiculously short and simple sentences, and McKinley's story revolved around a bird-hunting incident that incorporated a lot of onomatopoeiae (I had to poke around a bit to get the plural of onomatopoeia).

But today! Oh, today! We sat down and I decided I would write a story about my native bird, which was the white-breasted nuthatch (since McKinley picked my real favorite--the pileated woodpecker--before I got a chance). I decided I would write three sentences each for Monday, Tuesday, and today. By the time I had finished writing, I had found a flock of white-breasted nuthatches (which, as far as I know, doesn't really happen) all under a crowned nuthatch perched in the crown of an oak. This definitely got their attention! And I kept it by having them tell me their story. I would write it down, and then they could copy it. (They really didn't like the copying idea, but I explained to them that doing things with our hands builds neural connections, and so they at least understood why they had to copy what I had written down).

Renee went next, gradually weaving together a story about a chipping sparrow, and by the time she had written three sentences for each day, she didn't want to stop! Then it was McKinley's turn, and he, too, didn't want to stop! And of course, their sentences were elegantly structured, not simple sentences or attempts at making "BOOM!" a sentence. Because we all know how to speak, and if we can just get our voice down on the paper, we are on our way into the world of writing.

At the end of it, McKinley said, "That was fun, Mom! Let's do it again tomorrow!"

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Kitchen chores have long been a source of bickering in our home.

Last week my friend Nicole began a series of cooking classes for a gang of homeschoolers at my house. At the end of the class, after we had all eaten a delicious bowl of handmade pasta and sauce, it was time for clean-up. On thin slips of paper she wrote out the assorted chores: washing dishes, washing pots, drying and putting away, sweeping, wiping down the table and counters. Then each kid drew a slip of paper. There was no bickering, and the kitchen was clean in a swirl of towels and eleven to seven-year-olds.

"This is marvelous," I thought, "because no one can get angry about the chore they drew. It's a matter of chance, and all the chores are pretty evenly divided!" I resolved to try it after dinner.

Well, that was nearly a week ago, but I finally got those slips of paper stashed in a hand-crafter McWhirter goblet, which I then placed in the center of the table. Tonight after dinner everyone except the cook (me) drew a chore. All the older kids (the workhorses) were delighted to have one simple chore to do, and the littles were eager to do their part. Renee's chore for tonight was "Clean the Bathroom You Use," and up the stairs she trotted to my bathroom, proceeding to put it in fine form.

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

And to top off the day of advancements is one that seems ridiculous! I love my goats, but I hate to trim their hooves. It is such a pain, and their hooves grow really fast. But I noticed when the snow on the ground got rather gravelly, it also perfectly wore down their hooves.

So I have decided to start taking my goats on my walks. One goat a day, in rotation. Today was my first trial of my theory that walking on the road would wear down their hooves, and I was pleased to see that my theory was correct. Now I just have to figure out the right amount of walks to trim foot growth.

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

We've had three or four really deliciously warm days in a row. Most of the snow is melted, and lots of rain has fallen, so the ground is really wet. In the morning and in the afternoon a skim of fog rests just above the ground. It is enchantingly beautiful.


Silly me, I had a camera on me and I didn't even take a picture of it!

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Joyful Announcement [Jan. 19th, 2010|11:06 am]
stephanietberry
I've been thinking about the people of Haiti with a heavy heart. Today I read about this Etsy shop, where craftspeople can donate their items, and all the profit from each sale is donated to Doctors Without Borders. Immediately I submitted one of my prints. It should be posted there within twenty-four hours.

But my thoughts didn't stop there. I have been struggling with my career as an artist. A lot of that struggle has to do with my finding time and energy to work, but there's also the struggle of getting into the marketplace. In truth, I am not so concerned about making money, as my husband's income is usually more than sufficient. I am more concerned with giving something to the world, and have been struggling with how that works in the marketplace. Truly my work is gifted to me, and it feels so incredibly right to turn around and gift it to someone else.

So. I've made a decision. Now I work, in my own small way, for the people of Haiti.

From henceforth, my website gift shop and my Etsy shop will now donate 100% of the list price to Doctors Without Borders. At some point I may redirect the funds to some other organization, but at this point it will all go to Doctors Without Borders. Shipping fees will cover my shipping costs, and since there's usually a little bit left over from that, I can probably cover my Etsy fees, too. All other costs I will absorb.

I want to thank my husband Jason for being such an excellent provider, leaving me free to give. In a sense this endeavor is his gift, too.

I hope that anyone who purchases one of my prints will display it joyfully on their wall, and that it will signify the love and connection of humanity, which is so much more powerful than despair and fear.
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the good life: cookies and a warm studio [Jan. 6th, 2010|10:42 pm]
stephanietberry
[Tags|, , ]

Dinner tonight was, well, hardly. We ate a lot of cookies first. Then Renee did do a bang up job on some devilled eggs (twenty-four to be precise). And we had all eaten some of Alex's cabbage potato stew earlier, for a perfect late-afternoon-early-dinner. So there was plenty to eat, but we didn't all sit down and eat together, which is our daily ritual. In fact, we usually sing the Johnny Appleseed song before eating. But it seems in the dark of winter these rituals can fall by the wayside. I've theorized that this is the entire reason for Christmas--rituals that hold us together in the dark time of the year, thus keeping us from sinking into depression. Regardless of ritual, we ate, and we are happy.

The chickens are also happy, and the goats are restless. I've been daydreaming about a real barn. One building for all my animals. Then I would get angora rabbits, and maybe even a miniature Jersey milk cow. I'd definitely prefer a cow over goats, certainly for the whole butter thing (goat butter is possible, but complicated I've read), but also because I am a Taurus, through and through.

I was thinking about my astrological nature today as I freed the wood pile from the ice and snow. It was a job that needed to be done--our woodshed is getting low, and this wood that was delivered a few days before the snowstorm needed to get stacked and in the dry. Not that the ice is going to melt anytime soon. Just that the wood needed to be in the dry and near the house. Normally I leave such tasks to my teenagers, but there seemed to be a sense of urgency to this task, and urgency gets my Taurus energy in gear. I grabbed a shovel and scraped off ice and snow and pried pieces of wood out of the ice. Then I threw them across the way for Bert to put them on a sled and pull them up to the house. It was satisfying work, and I'll be pleasantly sore in the morning.

I also managed to get up to the studio for an hour or so this afternoon. I was inspired to do so after reading about the artist Gabriel Shaffer, who has an opening at the Blue Spiral Gallery in downtown Asheville tomorrow (Hmmm, maybe I should go?). I particularly liked this from the bio on his webpage:
Gabriel Shaffer is that rare artist who fiercely explores his own vision and refuses any easier life as a compromise. Gabriel’s talents are born out of an endless reservoir of ideas and a necessity to share what he cannot control. He has no choice but to paint, and generously offers his viewers realms beyond immediate understanding.

By the way, check out his website, and this article about his work is also interesting.

As I walked the slightly treacherous path to my studio (the boys have been sledding down the hill, so getting up it requires paying close attention to each foothold), I thought about the phrase "he has no choice but to paint." I thought about my own creativity, and how I have often enough sabotaged myself. Opening the door to my studio, I decided that being a mother makes the pursuit of other things more difficult, which is alright, but no excuse.

The studio was delightfully warm, a surprise, since I'd turned the heat on, but only to fifty degrees. Fifty keeps things warm enough without sucking up fuel. The kerosene has to be hauled up the hill, which is a total pain, so conservation has many benefits. Everything is massively cluttered right now (I'd take a picture but it would be embarrassing). But I'm very close to having my shelves painted and ready for stuff, at which point we can lay down the flooring and really start to tie up the loose ends on the building.

I sat down, turned on my Radiolab podcast (which is, as usual, worthy of an entire post), and set to work. It was delightful. I think I'll do it again tomorrow.


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Screw the cold, I've got tincture [Jan. 5th, 2010|07:18 pm]
stephanietberry
The free-range chickens are no more. We lost three in as many days, and first blamed it on Alex’s new puppy, but since she muzzled him and the chickens were still showing up dead, their mortality is no doubt from the cold. So we rounded them up today and closed up the coop. They are caged chickens now, and better off for it, too.

I love taking care of my animals, though sometimes I forget this in the stress of the day, Today I prepared a special warm sugary drink for my nearly frozen feathered ones, and then hustled them all into the coop, with the help of Bert and J. It’s cold enough that they might still freeze—one hen in particular—and our extension chord is frozen under the ice, so we can’t put a heat lamp in the coop with them. But I think they’ll be alright. I’ll bring them more hot sugar water before dark, which will help a lot.

After the chickens were all snug, I went and checked on my goats. Their noses and ears were warm, so they were alright. I’ve kept them locked up since the snow hardened, which upsets them, but not as much as my coming in for a visit and not giving them more grain. Goats are absolute gluttons, no matter how adorable.

Even though the windchill was a bitter 2, and my feet were more frozen than not, I enjoyed the husbandry tasks of the day. This is usually the case. I like working outside, and even the more raunchy tasks like mucking out the goat barn give me satisfaction. I’ve just always wanted to have a little farm. But the truth is that nothing is fun, even things you absolutely love to do, when you are overwhelmed.

And yes, I have been overwhelmed. This is no big news. But I also think that being overwhelmed is more of a state of mind than a product of one’s outer life. Maybe? It might be the wrong time of year to seek a calmer inner state, but the holidays are over, and it’s a new year, so screw the ice and screw the snow. I’m going to follow my bliss, with a little help from my half gallon of St. John’s Wort tincture, which I crafted in the warm days of July. Here’s to happy flowers!
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Merry Christmas! [Dec. 26th, 2009|11:13 am]
stephanietberry

Our Christmas cheer was thwarted to some extent by a vicious stomach bug making the rounds through our family. But it seems to have run its course, thankfully, and so I now have a spare moment to post this year's Christmas card. I hope your Christmas was filled with joy!


chrismtas-card


It has been snowing all day, a thick and magical snow, and this morning, after a glorious snowball fight wherein everyone was appropriately pummelled, an idea came to me. I’d been fretting about what to send out for Christmas cards, since I’d not found anything inspiring in my shopping, and also since I was running out of time. Today had to be the day for Christmas cards! But the snow was falling and calling to us!


That’s when the idea came. We could build a snowman! I could photograph it and it would be our Christmas card. So build we did. Thanks to our good friend Lee we were able to roll huge snowballs to make up our snowman’s body. Lee also fashioned the pipe our fine snow fellow is sporting. It was tremendous fun, and everyone participated. Together we made the perfect creation to spread our joy for the holiday season.


We hope our Berrytown Snowman brings you joy, and that your holidays are blessed with love.

--the Berry’s

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work in progress, #2 [Dec. 8th, 2009|09:41 pm]
stephanietberry
1

work in progress 2


work in progresss 3

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work in progress, progress in work [Nov. 25th, 2009|11:54 am]
stephanietberry
Two weeks ago I was scheduled to attend an art market, but my plans were thwarted by a minor emergency. It's quite true that, emergency or not, my creative endeavors are often thwarted--by sick children or a busy husband or my own lack of energy--and that this has been a source of ongoing conflict in my relationship with my husband.

His contention has been that I am responsible for the true origin of these creative blocks, and I can acknowledge that there is truth to this. But I have held that he bears some responsibility for this as well, because he often makes himself unavailable to the family, and to me, because of his work load, much of which is truly unnecessary and unprofitable. He is a man of many endeavors, one of which pays the bills. And while I can get up to my studio while the kids play, there is also this strange magnetic quality to being a mother. They are drawn to me, they sense my absence and seek me out, with crises and questions, when I am in the studio. So his presence is very helpful. My husband and I have gone round and round about this, with my frustration and his defensive only growing.

The afternoon of the aforementioned failed art market attempt, I was outside catching Abby the leaping-over-the-fence goat in my nice jeans and heeled boots, stewing over the fact that once again my creative energies had been thwarted. Above me in the forest I could hear a murder of crows cawing madly.

They're after a hawk again, I thought. They are very close. I should go see.

They were directly above me, on the wooded slope where my studio sits. I walked up the path, and within minutes I could see them all, crows and hawk, perched in the tall oak by my studio door. The crows were aggravated and flapped their dark wings, as if they were generating a storm around the hawk. As I drew closer, the hawk alighted and flew out of the forest, crows pursuing. In its fierce claws dangled a snake.

This was all significant. Consider the Hawk, Lord of the Skies, fed by the Snake, Daughter of the Earth, and harassed by the Crows, mischief-makers and denizens of the Shadows. I gathered my supplies and sat down and sketched the scene I had just witnessed.

Since that event, my husband went on a five day vacation with our friend George. While he was gone, things shifted at home. I went for a not-so-annual physical and was prescribed thyroid medication. The result of taking said medicine has been that I now have the energy not only to get up to my studio in the afternoon, but also the energy in the evening to clean my house. It would be fair to say that this has transformed my daily life.

Also while he was gone our son Bert decided to homeschool. High School had become a daily adventure in failure, and when he was home in the afternoon all his stress came out--on us. Now he is his laughing self again, and we are working together to find the learning opportunities that best fit his bright and capable self.

Last but not least, little Renee dreamt on two consecutive nights that she was flying. After the first night I told her that if she realized she was dreaming, she could take control of the dream. So on the second night when she found herself flying right outside the bedroom windwon, she decided to go flying over the river. Yesterday evening, while in the studio, I realized that this was a scene I must paint for my daughter.

Before J left on his mini-adventure with Goerge, we revisited once again, and not pleasantly, the conflict surrounding my blocked creativity. I explained to him that it was like we were both juggling so many balls, and for me to be able to pick up my creative work, I needed for him to put down some of the things he was juggling. This analogy seemed to communicate my perspective to him in a way that heretofore I had been unable to accomplish. I think that this newfound understanding, coupled with his time away and my thyroid medication, has helped us get over this hurdle, and I have gotten BACK in the studio.

And so this week, I began to paint that scene, of the hawk and the crows:

work in progress

work in progress 2
Check back after Thanksgiving for more updates on this piece. And have a warm and heart-filled holiday.

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of sylphs and crescent moons [Nov. 22nd, 2009|03:02 pm]
stephanietberry
Yesterday was endowed with a profound yet subtle magic.

Badger came to visit, with his Dad. They stood in the doorway, tall as giants and as gentle, too, mirrors of each other in spirit, one in his youth, the other endowed with the silver crown of age. They were on their way to a family reunion in Chapel Hill and made it a point to come and visit Berrytown. Badger is a dear friend, the kind of friend whose presence enlivens your soul, and so it was a very good thing indeed that he and his Dad made their way to our door.

I had the house clean and lunch was in the oven: roasted vegetables and quinoa with corn. While the vegetables finished cooking we walked down to the river in the slanting gold of the Sun on a November afternoon. It was a little parade: my daughter Renee, Badger, his dad Mac, me & my canine shadow Oscar, and Frost, the magical white cat (the link takes you to the story of why he's a magical cat). As we walked I told Badger about my new year-long project of painting a biodynamic farm throughout the cycle of one year. About how Gerda the milk cow inspired me with her presence. About how in biodynamic farming a cow's horns are thought to receive cosmic energy. And how a cow is perhaps the keystone of agriculture, for not only does she pull in this cosmic energy with her horns, she also eats the grass of the Earth and then eats it again in a meditative way, digesting it in her four stomachs, and then revitalizing the Soil with her manure. Badger and I are both Tauruses. We talk about the crescent moon, and the horns of a cow, both being symbolic of receiving cosmic energy, a subject near and dear to our hearts. Here, for visual import, is Badger's Facebook profile picture:

badger



Renee and Mac hunted for golf balls in the river (there is a golf course upriver), Renee going so far as to step into the river, trying to fetch the gleaming white orbs from the golden brown river bottom. This proved somewhat difficult for her, as the water was no doubt bone-chilling and the balls were at a depth beyond her reach. Badger and I stood on the cluttered, dry stones at the river's shore and talked about Rudolf Steiner, who was the founder of biodynamic farming, as well as founding anthroposophy and Waldorf education.

"I've got his book How to Know Higher Worlds to read on my break," he told me in his deep baritone voice.

"Are you serious?" I laughed. "I'm reading it too! I just started it though, but isn't it true, what he says about devotion and reverence? How essential these qualities are to Life, and how absent they are from our culture!"

Suddenly I was bubbling with words. I had to tell Badger about the book The Kingdom of the Gods and about the string of events that let me to this book. How I picked The Findhorn Garden up off the shelf one night, for some easy bed-time reading, and found myself reading again the communications from the Nature Spirits. I was struck with the magic and importance of their existence. How had I forgotten this?

I told Badger about how the next day as I went about by work it occurred to me that I might ask the Nature Spirits to help me find my cat Mandolin, who had been missing for over a month. It was just a thought, like a breeze passing through, and I raised my flag in that breath of air and asked that favor. Twenty-four hours later I was walking down from my studio and McKinley runs up to me. "Johno found Mandolin! Johno found Mandolin and he brought her home!" Walking next door to thank him, a monarch flew in front of me. I asked the Nature Spirits for this I thought. And now a monarch dances on the path before me! It landed in the grass, and there was Johno. I gave him a great big hug.

"But wait, there's more!" I laughed. Because after this I asked the Nature Spirits to help me find a calligraphy pen that I'd lost back in early Summer, and twenty-four hours later, in the course of the day, there it is. And then, in the course of a conversation with my sister, about rats in her backyard no less, the subject turns to fairies. And she has a list of books someone gave to her on the subject, right there on her counter. Three books: The Secret Life of Plants, The Secret Teachings of Plants, and The Kingdom of the Gods.

The first two books I have. I've read most of both of them, though a thorough reading of both seems required at this point. The last book I've never heard of, and so I order it.

Now, standing by the river with Badger, the sycamores standing in the sky, the Black Mountains stretching behind us, I tell him about the watercolors in the book, watercolors of tree-spirits and mountain gods, of oceanic gods and healing angels. I can sense the spirits shimmering in the tops of sycamores, and the mighty goddesses chanting high above us at the mountain peaks. Everything seems infused with Life.

mountain_deva


an illustration from the book



"I think when you get that kind of cooperation like that, it's definitely a sign that the Nature Spirits want to work with you, " Badger says. "Human beings are meant to be a bridge between two planes."

I think about biodynamic farming, and humans creating something that otherwise wasn't possible by being truly present--to the meditative work of creating biodynamic preparations, for instance. In my mind an image appears of the human chakras that I saw just the day before, energy moving up from the Earth, through the rainbowed body, illuminating the star-like crown chakra. And of course, Cosmic life-force enters through the crown chakra, moving downward.

chakra

It's time to go back. Badger rolls up his jeans and steps into the river, retrieving three golf balls for Renee, who receives them as treasures. We walk back. By the time we are at the mailboxes I realize that Frost the magical kitty has not joined in the return parade, and so I set back to find him. The Sun is low in the sky, bathing a field with gold. I pause for a moment, in the solitude, searching the grasses for my cat. A thin-bodied breeze rattles a small patch of the goldenrod standing brown in the field before me, then moves through me, the body of a sylph caressing my skin, moving around me, and on through the sycamores to join the river, and I am present to the moment, to sentience of air and golden light and river, knowing I am blessed and guided in a world filled with more Beauty than I have yet imagined. The task before me, I know, is to imagine it, feel it in the depths of my bones, and then paint it.
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Job Description [Nov. 15th, 2009|10:29 am]
stephanietberry
[Tags|]

Summary
The artist is responsible for maintaining a healthy, receptive relationship with Nature and her Daemon, so that she might bring into being creative works that are both relevant to the evolution of humankind and healing to the relationship between humankind and nature. Though this is her larger goal, it must also be performed on the stage of her own life and is thus always in that context. The artist must make her work available for to an audience to complete the cycle of creation.

Core Practices
A relationship with Nature is best nurtured with significant amounts of time spent outside. The artist is expected to keep a garden and take daily walks. Night walks are especially beneficial to a receptive relationship with Nature. The artist must attune herself to the spiritual elements of Nature, and find ways to honor them.

The artist must also maintain her own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Walks in the woods, journal writing, and meditating are essential daily practices.

The artist must then transcribe her experiences, both inner and outer, onto a substrate. This act brings into form the energy of her relationship with Nature, exploring that mystery while never caging it. The process of creating the artwork also makes this experience available to others. She must spend significant time alone in the studio engaged in this process.

The artist should make her process open and available for others. She must keep adequate records of her creative process, both with photography and journaling, which should be posted on her website. Any stage of her process that she feels must be kept secret should later be discussed in depth once she feels the particular piece or project is complete.

Studio Practices
The artist must keep her studio clean and free of clutter to insure the flow of her work. She should not allow other personal work to infringe upon her time or space in the studio, though she may allow visitors as long as it is conducive to her work.

The artist must experiment with other media from time to time so that she may keep her work fresh and evolving on a physical level.

The artist should always keep fresh, inspiring music and podcasts available in the studio. This increases stamina and mental engagement in the work.

The artist should utilize the loft of the studio for dreaming, which often provides guidance and material for her work.
The artist should keep an altar in the studio dedicated to her Daemon, thus acknowledging that she is one figure in a collective creative process. The altar should be kept clean and replenished with found objects from Nature.

Office Practices
The artist’s office is where she produces prints and other material objects derived from her studio work. Because this space overlaps with other non-artist functions it is essential that it be kept clean and very well-organized.

In keeping with her commitment to the healing of the relationship between humankind and Nature, the artist seeks out and utilizes the most eco-friendly materials and equipment available to her.

The artist designs assorted materials that make her work available to a wide-range of people. Whenever possible she produces her materials by hand, holding the intention that the work blesses and inspires others. She markets these using internet technology, as well as other word-of-mouth methods. She keeps good business records and replies to customer’s communications quickly and thoughtfully. She maintains a practice of writing thank-you cards to customers.

Physical Requirements
The artist is engaged in work that is rooted in the second chakra. She must therefore remain attuned to the health of all her charkas, but most specifically the Sacral chakra. She must regularly partake of herbs that she feels will strengthen her body. She must remain active and strong.

Compensation

The artist must practice gratitude for any and all compensation received, as it is indicative of a creation cycle well-completed. She must not become focused on one aspect of the cycle, and must maintain adequate energy in each aspect. To that end, a growing level of energy in each aspect would naturally increase her compensation.
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Welcome, November [Nov. 4th, 2009|09:39 pm]
stephanietberry

sky above sheep



I began a year-long project yesterday, when I visited Green Toe Ground, the biodynamic farm of my friends Nicole & Gaelan. I didn't get to spend a lot of time there, but I got some nice photos Gerda, their cow, and more importantly, learned a little bit more from Nicole about biodynamic farming.

I got this wild idea to do a year-long project of paintings exploring biodynamic farming back in September, when I attended the annual farm dinner at Green Toe Ground. Now this farm dinner thing is absolutely magical, and not something I would ever want to miss. First off, Nicole and Gaelan can cook. And all the food is so impeccably fresh--you're eating right on the farm!--and more than fresh incredibly delicious. Definitely some of the best meals I've ever had have been at Green Toe Ground Farm. Plus, the South Toe River winds below you, the tents are set up, and the candles are lit. What better ambiance could you ask for?

But there's something else about their farm, more subtle, but growing, it seems, year by year. Something perceived in a different way, something I can't quite put my finger on, something alive and harmonious. This year that something kept pulling at me--I kept turning around in my chair, looking out over their fields, wondering.

I'd already fallen in love with Gerda, their cow, on the walk to the farm dinner. We were passing the barn when my friend Whitney suggested we say hello to Gerda, who had contributed so much to this meal. There she loomed in the dark of the barn, a massive figure, her presence filling the space. I was mesmerized. Standing next to her, I offered her my hand. Her thick, coarse tongue caressed my hand. When we left she bellowed--such a tremendous noise--and that was it. I was in love.

So over dinner I determined I would paint Gerda, and over the next few days my fascination with their farm sprouted into an idea. I could follow the farm for a year--beginning with Samhain, the traditional Celtic New Year--and paint the farm over the cycle of the year. I want to capture that aliveness and harmony that I felt so clearly the night of the farm dinner. I also wanted Nicole to be a part of this project, having read her accounts of farm life over the years, and asked her if she would contribute some of her writings to the project. She agreed. So at the end of the year we'll put together a small book of my paintings and her words. It's going to be a magical year.
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Witch Hazel blooming [Nov. 1st, 2009|08:54 pm]
stephanietberry
[Tags|, ]

witch hazel
witch hazel, blooming along my road

bloom close-up
bloom, close-up
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Home Education--a snippet [Oct. 20th, 2009|02:07 pm]
stephanietberry
[Tags|, , ]

We're in our third month of home education with Renee and McKinley. McKinley swears up and down that he never wants to return to school. Renee misses her friends sometimes, but LOVES being able to sleep late. We've also been able to make room for extra activities: piano, soccer, and a homeschool co-op in Asheville. After co-op on Mondays we buy discount groceries at Amazing Savings and then go visit my sister and her son, who is the same age as McKinley. I've really enjoyed visiting with her on a regular basis.

This morning, piano practice came before breakfast. McKinley went first. His initial resistance to piano is melting a little, and his fingers seem naturally adept. At times he will say he doesn't want to take piano, but he also pestered me to get lessons, so he's just going to have to deal. Besides, playing piano has always been such a blessing to me. It may be that they receive the same nourishment, if they just stick with it.

Renee followed McKinley. At first she was cheerful, but she despises my correcting her, collapses with frustration, and covers her ears when I try to sing a particular part of the piece she's learning. By the end of her practice she is alternating with whining and crying, and I'm having none of it.

We're learning piano by the Suzuki method, and at the bottom of each practice sheet is a little Suzuki quote: "When nurtured by love, much can be accomplished." I don't think this is what he had in mind--this battle of wills between Renee and I--but I'm not going to let up on her. I feel like she needs this sort of challenge. "Use your third finger," I say repeatedly. "No, it goes like this," I remind her again. "Tuck your thumb under there," I say as a demonstrate. I keep my cool, she doesn't. She's as stubborn as me, and doesn't want to be told how to do something. I don't want to break the stubborn-ness, but there are times when it really doesn't serve her. Or me.

After breakfast we studied a photograph from the book "Earth from Above." This is an all around great book. There's 365 photographs, with a paragraph or two to provide more information. We find the location of the photo on the globe, read the paragraph, and then study the picture for more details. Today's photo, for instance, was of a small village enclosure in Mali. McKinley found Mali rather easily, and then Naba, the city which was nearby. There were fix or six round adobe huts with thatched roofs and some other assorted buildings, all surrounded by a rustic fence comprised of scrap wood. Closer inspection revealed children playing in a tree, a donkey ("Look, Mom, it's an ass," grins McKinley), a cow, a woman carrying something on her head, and rows of grain on the outside of the enclosure.

Then a walk in blazing Autumn sunshine. We practiced our times tables as we walked. At one point they started getting their answers correct, and after that they wanted to quit. I pushed a little bit, and then had them ask eachother math questions. They did this for a little bit, asking harder questions than I had asked of them, and then became distracted with the creek, the changing leaves, the zippers on their coats.

At the creek they built dams with rocks and leaves. The sun was brilliant and it was very pleasant. I think tomorrow I will bring my journal and write while they play. It's such a lovely spot.

Back at home we did a few pages in our math workbooks while listening to Mozart. Then they read independently for thirty minutes while I made lunch. Now they are playing the wii, and in a few minutes we will depart for piano.

It's just a snippet of a day, and of a journey we are taking together. So far, so good.
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