In-Between Time

I’m loving this sort-of suspended stage between winter holidays, though, as I’ve been learning, this will always also be my most intense time of missing the Bro, not painfully, but poignantly. I’m thinking of some new year-end celebrations to try on for size.


I had a great time installing at Prairie State (here is the guide for the show), and a wonderful warm time with the family the next day (where long-held traditions are now beginning to shift as lives evolve, as well.) Our December 24 and 25 were warm, quiet, nice and very, very well-fed: we shopped together and cooked up a storm.


Boxing Day was a welcome gift: a sunny, 48F day to spend in the gardens. I was able to do several things I thought I’d sacrificed by extending the Ragdale residency (not that there was any contest.) My little urban ecosystem is now ready for winter, and I’ve seeded milkweed, cleome, fennel, dill, nigella and lunaria (reserving some milkweed to start indoors too.) The 27th was drizzly and my first day to just totally relax; yesterday I again spent outdoors, though it was much colder, wrapping up the last bits of garden work.


I may have lost several plants during the reinstallation of a fence that blew down on Halloween. And, when I came home from Ragdale for Thanksgiving, I discovered a leak in the ceiling. After assessments and estimates and holidays, materials arrived today by a huge mobile crane; tomorrow and Wednesday, we’re getting a new main roof. My task will be to keep Chance calm while alien beings swarm over the heavens of his secure indoor world.  I plan to keep him with me while I work in the basement studio, unpacking from the residency and setting up for the winter.  He likes it there; so much to sniff. I’m not sure what (if anything) the roofing job will do to the house gardens (also just seeded) but we’ll be ready for spring revelations with a cozy roof to winter under first. I’m looking forward to that: a three-month span of projects planned, most at my own pace.


Today was the day of 1,000 cranes. OK, well, three; before this retrieval truck there were the big city tree-trimming crews with their own cranes and shredder for the big stuff. Chance is deathly afraid of large machines, but he did OK in my office while I wrote this blog about nothing, really.)

Watershed Week


Today’s photos are some of the ‘farm’ portions of my little Chicago yard gardens; here, tomatoes, hot little peppers, chives and marigolds to protect them all, and a primrose whose color echoes the (millions!) of little tomato blooms and makes me smile.

Finally, after two months of uncertainty, on Thursday we learned much more about what is in store for us regarding our home situation; we now have a solid plan A, B and C, all of which follow the same preliminary schedule.  One of the things we had been uncertain about was whether or not I’d be able to travel to teach the two summer classes. Fortunately, I can and will, and am really looking forward to that once again.


The back-porch, two-steps-outside-the-kitchen herbs: rosemary, stevia (which I didn’t like as a sweetener until Sandy Bernat gave me a fresh leaf to taste last year: delicious) with more basil just seeded after eating the spring rocket / aragula that grew in that pot, cilantro turning into coriander and some basil, and Greek oregano, tarragon and lemon thyme, with more basil, dill and summer savory seedlings just getting ready to be transferred).

So, now I’m out of limbo and facing a pretty packed schedule for the next three weeks, but: joy! Much of it involves the studio, after today’s (lengthy) other tasks (there will be more of those, but they’ll be interspersed with studio, accomplished during drying times).  I am off to make that happen.


Some herbs do better in the ground: smoky fennel, nigella (there’s tons more in several other locations), a new golden sage, and the lavender that was compromised by the polar vortex winter, but coming back, mixed with a few marigolds and cleome.

Out in the world: Mary Ellen Long has published a few photos from our show at Abecedarian Gallery: thanks!


The mint patch with a stray dill (and a kozo experi-mint, weathering). On the other side of this tree and in other locations, lots of lemon balm, aka Melissa.


It’s a watershed time for the gardens as well; except for a few transplants, the planting and seeding is done and it’s definitely time for the trimming back of the mulberry I’ll harvest and the dogwood in front; yesterday the City of Chicago beat me to it, chopping a big chunk of this maple away from the power lines.  (Look at that clematis-loaded trellis!)


There are other types of shedding going on: Lupe’s dropping her massive winter inner coat and Chance loves to chase the flying fur! The buckets in the background are full of soaking iris stems, harvested courtesy of my neighbors, ready for the cook…

February fervor


It’s been two days indoors; last night it was -6F, tonight 0, and tomorrow up into the 20s, with 32 degrees predicted in a week’s time.  I’m so hoping the deep freezes of 2014 are over after tonight. Unfortunately I have cold-weather activated asthma, so I don’t do pack walks or Lupe’s walks when it’s below about 15 degrees; that creates too much dependence on the inhaler. Chance is improving daily, and those pack walks really help, so we need some just plain old cold.  He and Lupe reached an impasse after she put the proper respect for Senior Dog into him one night, with so much intensity that Paul and I both called it off.  Chance hid under my chair when she came near for a couple of days, but now they are playing rowdily but respectfully, chasing each other around the house, burning off the cabin fever. Before the cold set in, I spent part of an afternoon shoveling connecting pathways into the backyard snow, which was too deep even for Lupe. Paul calls them my ‘crap circles’ for all-too-obvious reasons, but they also help with outdoor space to run in (and, in Lupe’s case, banks to jump over to land in a play bow in front of a startled Chance). It was fun, a bit like building childhood snow forts.


We’ve decided to do something I’ve never done before, and crate-train Chance, at least until he is old enough not to need confinement at night.  He is definitely exhibiting more Aussie than retriever traits, and one of those is seeing escape from his pen as an increasing nightly challenge, a fun problem to solve, which results in me reinforcing the pen every few nights, usually at about 3am, simultaneously making me laugh at his inventiveness and become really cranky. The crate arrived today, and we’re acclimating him to it downstairs before we move it up to the location of the pen. So far, so good: he was wary for awhile, barked at it initially, but has been in and out a several times with the door open. I crawled in, too, and he followed: look, it’s fun in here! (In fact, he is napping there now as I write: success!)


When not immersed in canine land, I’ve been firming up the year’s schedule; I had happily accepted six excellent exhibitions from February through September, but now that dates are fully set, they all overlap by a bit, so I’ve been distributing existing artwork between them and planning a flexible, pup-realistic studio schedule for adding new work. And, I’ve decided to teach a third, short, local class in early fall, and booked my sole residency dates for October / November: Chance will be a young adult by then.  Last but not at all least, I want to commend Anne Hughes at ZIA who has been doing some great work on my behalf, as she does for all the gallery’s artists. It’s so nice to be taken care of…


Though I am sluggish because it is not my favorite activity at all, I hope the web site additions will be ready for publishing in the next weeks, then at long last: warm-ish daily pack walks, outdoor runs, dog school…and studio. (Studio!)


After a pack walk.

Out in the world, tales like this (a link I’ve blatantly lifted from Aimee, who says her own apprenticeships made her feel the same way) give me great heart, and reinforce the way I’ve been thinking about the how, what and why of art making and education, with impeccable timing: this week, Chicago is overrun with activities like this. That lovely apprentice’s post also makes me truly wish I could figure out a way to accept the requests for internships I’ve received (though my interns would likely be as involved with puppyness as I am right now: it all fits and works together. If it doesn’t, in my view, something is just plain wrong).


Gravity and Expansion

I’m a bit disappointed in myself for losing the link, but I read a great piece recently about ‘creating gravity’ – how an artist can work long enough to achieve a time of having things gravitate towards her.  Lack of reference (and credit) notwithstanding, that has, wonderfully, been happening to me lately: stuff – very good stuff – has just been coming in, and I am loving it. I hope to share news of some of it soon (and throughout the year).


Which is good also because I am immersed in early puppyland, and loving it.  Chance is a smart little guy, already almost completely house-trained, and watching him learn is fascinating. Two cases in point: after the first two nights of howling, whining and barking in fear and rage over being penned in at night, he’s learned (after a nightly decreasing initial tantrum) not to ‘cry wolf’ – to only use his voice to wake us when he needs to go out. Sunday night was very cold. I took Chance out to relieve himself before bedtime, and he didn’t like that (neither did I, truthfully). So, he’d dodge me and run up the back porch stairs to the door, I’d pick him up and bring him back down and we repeated this multiple times, until he finally did his business.  When he woke me to take him out later that night, he relieved himself immediately, then ran to the porch, put one paw on the bottom stair, stopped and looked me in the eyes, essentially asking, “OK? Can I go up now?” Love! Then there is Lupe. Puppies need to chew, and to learn what to chew on, and redirecting Chance to appropriate chewy-things has been keeping us busy. At one point, he began to chomp on a throw rug Lupe likes to lay on. I said, “Chance! No!” but before I could get up, Lupe (with, I swear, a look of supreme disdain) went to the dog toy basket, pulled out a huge rope toy she used to love, dangled it in front of Chance until he grabbed it, then walked him away from the rug. All of this is admittedly mundane, yet at the same time hugely compelling to me.


And, as of yesterday, I am now even able to simultaneously get work done on those great things that are rolling in and still do the puppy-monitoring. 2014 life is good.

Here’s something I’m quite impressed with. I don’t share the enthusiasm over the original referenced book, which is always, tellingly, referred to as being ‘seminal’ to the field, but I love this take on it. Huge congrats to Susan Mills and Women’s Studio Workshop: a place so very much more – and so very much better – than seminal!


 When I get the most work done…after pulling out the camera.

Chance: for joy.

Meet Chance! He came home yesterday evening. He’s 13 weeks old, an Australian Shepherd / Retriever mix, adopted from a great local shelter that rescues animals, including litters of pups, from downstate kill facilities.


When I began to seriously look at what I wanted, irrespective of ‘career,’ at the very top of the list was to raise a wee pup one more time. That is a 12 -15 year commitment, so now’s the time. (If I’m around and still fit later, I’ll foster or adopt much older beasties who have a harder time finding homes.) I knew I’d need to stay put as much as possible for awhile, to establish the bond, to do the important early training, and that has a lot to do with why I’ve scaled the travel-related activities back.


Back in late 2007, I voluntarily did some extensive aptitude testing. Art, writing, music (ironically), and teaching were among the highest on my tally of natural abilities, but my very top recommendation was: animal trainer. Lupe will be a superb part of the teaching team.  She’s beautifully behaved, gentle, and just the right age to be a calm, confident influence; she’s already doing a good job.


This is the photo that sold me, taken when he was 8 weeks old, in late December. I immediately applied for him. He was first supposed to arrive three weeks ago, but was quarantined after a pup in the same building got sick.

To some folks, pets are just pets, negligible.  Me, I’m a life-long lover of animals, ever fascinated by inter-species bonding, the intense communication by eye contact, body language, touch. It is pure, compelling, and brings joy. It’s so grand to have another Chance to experience that fully.


(Even the part where we discover that the little sweetie can howl just like a full grown coyote at night, easily waking even a nearly-deaf person. That will stop when he truly knows he’s home, and he is).


small steps feel huge

My response to grief is to shut down. Then, when I can, to make my own private ritual. Though I did slowly begin to be able to get things done last week, it became apparent that I needed something more for Bro Frank; some sort of concrete line to be drawn in time.


So, after a flurry of e-mails, our neighbors kindly took Lupe for the night, and Paul and I drove all day Friday to a retreat center near Dayton, Ohio, which is run by Bro Frank’s order. There was a viewing, a small private service for family (including us), a funeral mass, final prayers at the cemetery, and a dinner that was carefully stretched from an estimated 40 people to feed 88.  Bro’s other long-time friend (also mine, also named Paul) and I had a small part in the mass. These were not my rituals, nor familiar ones, but they were extremely important to Bro. Seeing him off within the community that meant so much to him, who warmly welcomed those of us from all the odd corners of his expansive life, was nothing but good. It was rich, dignified with room for laughter, and loving.


The community put us up overnight, and we left before breakfast to try and outrun a snowstorm. It caught us just as we reached the last leg of the trip, and added a shaky hour to the drive, but we made it. I know that the rest of this process will be ongoing, and now I’m consciously trying first to make myself remain present, then to begin looking outward and forward again.



I’ll see you again…

Maintaining balance is not a question of achieving a static condition, but rather the ability to make constant adjustments whether you are negotiating small tremors or a huge tidal wave. Just now, I begin to learn to navigate without the person who was my rudder for over 36 years.

Bro - Version 2

The Bro left us the morning of January 8. He slipped away peacefully at the home of another old friend (in fact, the person I met him through). Bro was one of the most singular personalities – with the most contagious laugh –  ever to bless this planet.


‘Old friend / dear friend’ is what I’ve called him here, because there are no words in the conventional social lexicon to describe our relationship. We were not related by blood or DNA, but truly, he was my family: officially even my ‘next of kin’ and ‘contact in case of emergency’ person for many, many years, someone I could literally trust with my life. I could go on (and on ) but for now I’ll leave it at that.

Bro 5

Bro Frank is fine, at peace, I know, because that is how he lived. When we grieve, it’s for ourselves, we mourn all that we will miss. I’ll need to step away while I continue through the early stages.

BroMe - Version 2After my MFA graduation ceremony in 1990; Bro had my family ticket for both degrees. 

(In a totally unrelated turn of events, my ‘project’ that was to begin today has been delayed at best till after January 31; at worst, it will need to begun over. That’s probably just as well).

Pie, Productivity, Play

We’ve been having a lovely, relaxed and rather hilarious time here. That said, I’m still working: resolving curating issues, helping a few folks apply to grad schools (the only type of effective academic recommendations I can still do). I’m also applying for a few things soon, so, thanks to last summer’s hard drive crash, once again I must research myself from February 2010 till now, to update the various CVs and resumes. Blahg is invaluable for that! And I’m hammering out the schedules for the de-installation of Natural Cycles and the details of the next quickly upcoming 2012 shows…. so there is really little change, other than the Company of Good Friends and Too Much Good Food (if there is such a thing). I guess the biggest difference of having a holiday week on our own terms is my personal internal permission not to evaluate each day solely in terms of productivity, of What Got Done or more accurately: What Didn’t Get Done. There’s a lesson here about balance: perhaps I should declare 2012 a holiday year.

Paul ensured both productivity and great pleasure with his absolutely amazing gift. He took a look at the structure of a borrowed mould and deckle I’d admired and praised, snuck off to the wood shop, and made seven of them for me! They were all cut from a single clear slab of recycled old-growth lumber, once part of a massive convention center display. I’ll be able to increase my class sizes, and will have new sheet sizes for my own work as well. I am beyond pleased!  (And, he’s going to do all the waterproofing!) Beautiful, yes?

Really, I should blog…

The lower prairie looks like a margarine or laundry soap commercial. Some of these are 15 feet tall!

…but, since I am only having this single residency this year, mostly photos will need to suffice for the rest of my time here. The first group has gone home but one, a new group has arrived but for two, who are coming only for the second week, our last.  We had a fun night and afternoon of viewings and readings for the first group, but at that point I had nothing to show. I had a second week of struggle with leg-related and a few other issues. Though I did get work done in spite of it, it went much slower than I wanted to.  I did not go to a doctor. The ankle improved and I removed the brace, but two days later it annoyed me by starting to swell a bit again. So it’s still wrapped but it is healing.

Yesterday, I reached A Great Age. The Birthday was grand: it was heralded two days before by an absolutely marvelous package from Aimee, containing (among other great things) a lovely hanji scarf which surprised me with its warmth; I will be wearing it this fall (which is on its way).  On the 9th itself, I woke early and got the walk and PT out of the way in time for lunch with Paul, who magically dispelled some of the non-leg struggle by reminding me of a few essential facts (and he brought some good things from home as well). I took a totally delicious short afternoon nap, then finished the penultimate piece in the studio, where I was visited by a large class of architecture students and their professor, and later, by two curious deer.

I SO wish I’d had the presence of mind to photograph dinner!  The ever-fantastic Chef Linda made things I love: her famous mango salsa and savory grilled salmon. She had asked earlier if I wanted a cake, and I declined. So, instead she piled delicious crisp sweet black watermelon cubes into a cut-glass, stemmed serving dish, decorated it with flowering sprigs of mint, and topped it all with a pink sparkly star-topped candle on a skewer…just…perfect (and utterly delicious). Ahhh.

These are (finally) all done now.  So are the second shapes for the piece; tomorrow and Monday, while the last two finish drying, dye tests, experiments, fun…

The milkweed harvest will be huge!  This is only one patch: fat & healthy plants…plus I have a waiting bundle of imported-from-New-England milkweed (Thanks, S).

(Earlier) tonight; and now: goodnight.

(Yes,  I will remember, today, in the prairie teeming with life that existed before us and goes on without us, life that kills only to perpetuate life.)