I love a good muddy snow pile. This one has been taking up an entire parking space for weeks and has finally shrunk a bit, after a few days with temperatures in the 40's and 50's. My daughter asked, "is it spring?" I told her that it's not quite spring yet, and that we will probably get more snow. She requested some clean snow.
I've been thinking about tiny marshmallows lately. My daughter has come to neeeed tiny marshmallows as part of her painting projects. She leaves them to soak in water overnight, then uses them to "erase" her marker drawings in the morning. She asks for fresh new marshmallows, which she carefully paints one by one. They are marking tools, erasers, sculptural objects, shriveling and melting into the surface of the paper. I've always enjoyed how closely tangled erasing and marking are. Removing pigment from paper leaves streaked paths, recording the gesture of elbow grease.
My daughter has a lot of questions and strong opinions about what qualifies as an eraser, vehemently challenging conventional understanding. "This is my eraser" she states, as she holds her wafer-like, melted-amalgam-of-a-crayon in her hand. In this instance, she's less concerned with the job of the object, and more concerned with the shape, color, and material. She's come to understand that small, somewhat flat, colorful shapes are often erasers. I had quite a collection of these myself when I was a kid. (I still may have a few. It's a significantly reduced collection since my friend Sarah's smelly-eraser intervention of '95)
All this thinking about tiny marshmallows and erasers started when I was working on a guest post for Mutha Magazine. Their magazine has been a place of respite, challenge, and inspiration for me and I'm excited to be able to connect with their readers.
After several snowy drives out to Thornton Co., I decided on a new sewing machine. The women who work there are amazing. They can identify each brand of sewing machine by sound from the back room.
I lugged my new Pfaff out of the store, and felt the moment required a portrait.
The salt stains on the asphalt were particularly graphic. I realized it had been quite awhile since I'd ventured out of the city and been in such a large empty parking lot.
Scraping and smearing, squishing and stirring. This is what we do when my 2 year old daughter and I make muffins.
We make infinite variations on muffins - raspberry, blueberry, all the berries, really. Rhubarb, banana, zucchini, pumpkin, beets (cooked), and then mix n match combinations based on what is around.
For my daughter, the boundary between cooking and drawing is fluid.
This is evident as she smears muffin batter all over our kitchen table.
Yes, I let her smear muffin batter on the table. She loves making drawings in her impulsive but carefully prepared canvases of thick, grainy muffin batter. She pushes it around with her fingers, scraping in with her nails, then "erases" it by smoothing it back into a thin opaque layer covering our wooden tabletop. And then the drawing begins again. She could do this for hours if she didn't periodically get bothered by the gummy build-up on her hands.
I think of all the time I've spent working with paint, adding thickeners, thinners, and experimenting with brushes, ends of brushes, and palette knives, and how after all of that, what I still find most satisfying is making drawings where removal is the mechanism for mark-making.
What binds our experiences together is the impulse to play, to experiment, and to be immersed in sensation, our minds both focused and unfocused, our breathing slowing down just a bit.
The hinge between all these activities is "play" it's the hinge and the beating heart.
Erased DeKooning Drawing
Rauchenberg discusses his work
Recipe for Improvisational Muffins
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)
preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
grease muffin pans
mix dry ingredients together:
3 cups of white flour
1 cup of wheat bran or whole wheat flour (we often vary the ratio of white to wheat flour)
4 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of baking soda
lots of shakes of cinnamon (1-2 tsp)
fewer shakes of nutmeg (1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp salt
(we often add a couple of handfuls of rolled oats as well)
mix wet ingredients together:
2 eggs (for vegan version, mix 2 tbsp flax meal in 1/3 c. water, let sit, and stir periodically until gummy, then add additional wet ingredients)
3 mashed bananas
1/3 c. oil
a splash of vanilla (1 tsp)
If you choose to add berries or another fruit instead of bananas, you may want to add some applesauce or even part of a banana to add natural sweetness and moisture. Yogurt, milk, or soymilk work as well. It's a great recipe with which to improvise.
Mix wet and dry together just until combined.
Fill mini muffin baking pans, bake at 375 degrees F. for approx 12-14 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. This will yield roughly 4 dozen mini muffins.
Frosty pink scaffolding. My daughter and my husband and I were caught off guard by this lovely sculpture while we walked through downtown Charleston, SC. These sidewalks and scaffolding are clearly well-cared-for. No drips on the pavement, as you can see from the small scraps of craft paper placed under each post. Oh, how I would love to have those scraps of paper. And the scaffolding for that matter. Though it isn't technically a repair, I enjoy that someone has tended this section of the sidewalk.
I've been thinking a lot about gray. 'Tis the season here in Pittsburgh for the gray skies to take over our lives for awhile. My 2 year old daughter commented on the gray skies this morning. Still, I adore the color gray. It has so much potential for warm and cool nuance. It's so susceptible to shifts in light. Yesterday I posted this photo of sanded gray concrete.
I've just started knitting a shawl with the most lovely gray wool yarn, hand-dyed by a friend who taught me to how improvise triangular shawls. (I am forever indebted.) I'm enjoying the slight sheen of the second gray wool.
I love my back porch. It's concrete, covered with a terrible fake grass outdoor carpeting that catches every single bit of leaf matter, fuzz, seed, etc. Even so, I love that we can step out of the kitchen and get a bit of fresh air, then end up watering the flowers, sweeping, digging, arranging toy animals, or making nests of books. My daughter has come to neeeed a big stack of books tucked around her in order to fully sink into the reading experience.
One afternoon while playing on the back porch, we discovered this cocoon-like structure on a plastic bison (above). Neglecting to clean up one's toys clearly has its sculptural advantages. That goes for me, too, since this dust-drawing/relief sculpture (lower left) is a result of leaving string beans out to dry, perhaps a little longer than necessary. Using up leftovers and working with what is in front of me, comes both out of necessity and genuine interest in the incidental find as a philosophical approach to living and making things. Toddlers are inspiring in this sense -- my daughter had left two small bits of sidewalk chalk on an old milk can (that we use as a footrest) on the back porch, and so one morning, decided to draw right on the milk can. She looked at me for a moment before starting to draw, stating with questioning inflection, "I can do this?"
I've been thinking a lot about gender lately, especially as I notice changes in my 2 year old daughter and my own experience as a parent. I haven't found a way to organize these thoughts other than in a list; maybe something more will emerge.
My daughter adamantly calls all creatures "she." When presented with a name she does not recognize, such as an author of a new library book, she states with questioning inflection, "It is girl?" Of course she's at the developmental stage where she is evaluating and refining categories, and is very curious about boys and girls, men and women.
Piglet is a girl.
The driver in the car across the street, whom we cannot see, is a girl.
The beetle we almost stepped on is a girl.
My friend's 3 year old son likes to wear skirts. While helping them pick out skirts at a yard sale, I was struck by how consumed I had become with my own girl-child-rearing thoughts.
My daughter just recently asked, for the first time ever, "Do I look good?" I wasn't ready for this. I thought we had more time.
I've been sitting here on a bench outside, knitting, while listening to this podcast, Gender Shift.
I want to share a few snippets:
A young boy who likes wearing feather boas and surrounding himself with "prettiful" things, whose parents, at first, hid his girly toys. They wanted to protect him from kids who would tease him. Later they realized that they were not protecting him at all, but had instead created an environment of shame in their home. In this interview, they say they realized they had "built his first closet"
Many cultures acknowledge a third gender category.
I also just finished reading this thoughtful and courageous article in The Atlantic by Matt Duron, My Son Wears Dresses; Get over it Duron writes, "I’m a stereotypical “guy’s guy” and hyper-masculine to a lot of people, I guess. Which may be why it surprises them when they find out that my son wears dresses. And heels, and makeup. It surprises them even more when they learn that I’m cool with it."
This is on my reading list:
Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-nonconforming Children
In the spirit of brevity and head-fogging fatigue, this will be short. I just want to share that after a major meltdown at Knit the Bridge, my 2 year old daughter spotted this maple seed helicopter on our street and exclaimed, "mariposa!" It reminded me of the wonderful associations her bursting little brain can make, even if she did want to rip "all the blankets off the bridge! off! off!"
My Dad and I spent a few hours attempting to tame the prairie grasses that have taken over my garden plot. We made a new friend, who made us a drawing with her slime.
Every weekend, my husband and I each get a day to sleep in, and this weekend, Steve took J to wander around a bit in downtown Pittsburgh. This is their special thing. There's bountiful free parking, relatively empty streets, a bagel shop, fountains, and best of all, our little 2 year old gets to see lots of buses, buildings and bridges, her view unobstructed by big adult legs.
So this Sunday morning, I woke up to the most wonderful, collaborative note slipped under our bedroom door. It contains evidence of so many things I love:
my husband's loose-brained approach to writing, drawing, & filling up a piece of paper
my daughter's concentration face and deliberate mark-making.
and, of course, evidence of their special outings and my catch-up sleep.
(Not pictured: the screaming and moaning that we listened to after we told her no, you can't unroll the entire roll of toilet paper.)
My daughter has been saying "I neeed something" lately, often when she isn't sure what she needs, when she's feeling a little under the weather, or restless. There's a yearning in her voice that is both authentic and also clearly cultivated to get attention. When stressing the "need" isn't satisfying anymore, she varies the emphasis: "I need something." She repeats it softly as she falls asleep, she announces it when she comes home from school, and yells it while stomping through the living room. It is absolutely heartbreaking, frustrating, and hilarious, all at once. She is somehow articulating something we all feel.
She's asking for our help in a way, but also seems aware that my husband and I can't necessarily fulfill her desire. This is evident by her frustration with us when we offer help. Sometimes a good snuggle takes the edge off.
My daughter, who was once completely physically and emotionally dependent on me, whose every need I could fulfill, is starting to need things that I can't necessarily provide. I experience this as both a loss and incredibly liberating. I now have small bits of time and brain space that I have not had in over 2 years. I'm also now more able to see her. In becoming more used to our separate-ness, we've each come to some blank space in our lives. It's in these gaps and spaces that she's learning to be her independent self, and I'm learning to be my evolving self. It's an uncomfortable and rewarding space that we share.
"I like this person. This mom person."
"Just one more caper. Will make me feel better, Mom."
My new rubber stamps arrived in the mail!
And now I can finally make a proper business card for Tree Line Studio, where I sell handmade garments that I make from recycled wool and cashmere.
Low-tech business cards are fun. I just stamped a nice fresh stack of them and can't wait to share them with you.
I ordered them from a local Pittsburgh company, Allegheny Marking.
I can't begin to tell you how much I love the name of this company.
Marking. Allegheny Marking.
It feels so homey to me. For years now, I've been collecting images of marks that happen around me. I took most of the photos here in Allegheny County, including Salt marks on the roads and more sculptural markings, repairs. The grammar geek in me loves that "mark" is both a transitive verb and an intransitive verb. You can assertively mark something, such as with a can of spray paint to the side of a building. You can also become marked, as in by an experience, or force.
The floor marks easily.
The chocolate melted.
The ink dried slowly.
My 2 year old daughter proudly said "this
is my circus" after carefully arranging each of these neon zip ties.
It's yet another toddler-brain association for a post I will write
(someday) that chronicles more of these moments. For now, I just
want to acknowledge how much energy this brings me. Such loose-brained
joy. It's contagious.
There are 2 author interviews I can't stop thinking about.
1) If a rat in SanFrancisco learns something new, rats around the world will learn that same thing more quickly. I heard this on a podcast I listened to recently, To The Best of Our Knowledge, one of my all time favorite radio show/podcasts. They interviewed Rupert Sheldrake, an extremely controversial, (some say heretical) scientist who thinks we are in need of a scientific revolution. He says that science is a consensus reality, and that scientists are social beings like anyone else, subject to social pressures that thwart free inquiry. There are lots of things science can't fully explain (such as the experience of color, homing pigeons, human consciousness.) Sheldrake insists these are open questions, and require new frameworks.
Back to the rats: He says that each species has a kind of collective memory, and that they are bound to one another with a sort of field. Now I am not actually that concerned as to whether this is true or not. I am definitely going to read a bit more about it, but I love what it does for my imagination. Speaking of imagination, here's the second thing I can't stop thinking about:
2) Imagine that your mother, on her deathbed, tells you that she has secretly kept journals and that she wants you to have them, but makes you promise not to read them until after she dies. A few weeks after her death, you go to her closet, and look at all the beautiful journals on the shelves. You open one, and it's blank. You open another, and it's blank. They are all blank. This is my paraphrased version of an author interview with Terry Tempest Williams, author and naturalist. She writes about her relationship with her mother in her book When Women Were Birds. I keep thinking about her description of this over and over. She describes it as surprising but not out of character for her mother, who was somewhat of a trickster figure in her life. My favorite writing about tricksters is Lewis Hyde's Trickster Makes This World, and I came to really value everyday tricksters after reading it. My husband and I refer to this book with affectionate regularity. Tricksters have become an anchor in our understanding of so many things, but to have a mother as a trickster figure, well, I am just not sure I could handle that. I'm taken with the a psychological weight of Williams' story, and the levity in each blank white page, after page.
As I work on this series of posts about cooking with toddlers, I've been thinking about cooking photography and the history of science and natural history. Do people select the most symmetric slice of cake to photograph? The most pleasantly irregular cobbler? What is most helpful - a field guide with a photo of a typical female cardinal sitting on a branch or meticulously painted images of that same female cardinal?
I've been reading Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison
and it's got me thinking about how we choose to represent an activity -
in this case - whether I choose to show the average toddler cooking
experience, the ideal, the exceptional, the outrageously messy, the