Slowing Down is Hard

 Above: Working as part of a planting team in my neighbor's help field. 

Above: Working as part of a planting team in my neighbor's help field. 

Slowing down is hard.

When I was young, I was taught that doing something fast meant that I was successful. The more I did and the faster I did it, the more I was praised. I learned quickly that overachieving on a deadline was GOOD. And I also learned that anything done slowly was BAD. That doing something slow was not worth doing. Slow meant "lazy and unfocused". 

I've been living in my new home for 6 months. December 13, 2017 marked my first full day in the new house. At that time, I thought I'd have my art studio up and running in a matter of weeks. I thought I'd have a final draft of my new play done by February. I thought I'd have a million and one things done by June. Things have gone differently than I had planned. 

I see now that my expectations were... in a word... silly. The purpose of this move was to slow down and to discover my real pace. I knew I needed to slow down, but I didn't know how to do it.

 

How do you interrupt a lifetime of FAST habit energy?

 

"Frenetic, yet productive" was my norm in the big city. And it was normal because everyone around me had embraced the same fast pace as "normal". Out here in rural Eastern Oregon, things move slowly. I moved my family here to partake of this slower pace and the peace I imagined it would bring.

The journey of the past six months can be encapsulated in one sentence: Allow the natural pace of your environment to inform your own pace. Eastern Oregon is working on me. I've resisted and allowed my inner editor to hurl accusations: "You lazy idiot. Why aren't you working? You're missing opportunities left and right! How will you stay afloat if you're not making money every moment?" But the natural pace of this serene place is stronger than my old habits. SLOW is chipping away at the walls. SLOW has opened the windows and invited a breeze. SLOW has turned on the taps and allowed cool water to flow. 

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I don't have a final draft of my new play. I don't have a completed art studio. Which means I don't have completed art pieces. I haven't met commission deadlines. I haven't delivered the goods. What I DO have is peace. Peace doesn't put food on the table or pay my electricity bill, but it does allow me to feel whole and to express gratitude.

SLOW is helping me to come home to myself in a way I never considered possible. SLOW is allowing me to say no to opportunities in exchange for time - that most precious commodity. SLOW is allowing me to help my neighbors. SLOW is allowing me to learn the patterns of local birds. SLOW is allowing me to notice my inner yearnings. And most important of all -  SLOW is allowing me to prime the pump of my own creativity. 

Even in the face of my own internal resistance, I can feel the shift. By embracing SLOW, I am investing not only in the quality of my day-to-day life, but also in the quality of my creative work. SLOW is ultimately allowing me to be more connected to the work I produce. The work is not yet ready for an audience, but I can already feel that the work is of higher quality than that which came before. 

Perhaps that is a the real lesson here. Embracing SLOW will actually help me to achieve MORE in the end. 

 Above: The Powder River near my home in Eastern Oregon. 

Above: The Powder River near my home in Eastern Oregon. 

June Already

It has been almost a month since I last posted. This is what happens when your husband returns home after almost four months away and then family wedding season begins! 

My partner, who has been away finishing a job in Dallas since mid-January, returned home to us on May 10th. It has been WONDERFUL to have him finally home. Since then, we've traveled to Ashland, OR to see my father in a play, worked a week thinning the apple trees at Eagle Creek Orchard, helped our kids finish the school year, and then off to Portland, OR for a week where I officiated a family wedding! 

We're home now, ready to truly settle in to a new rhythm. Its difficult when the family is not complete - when one or another of us are away making art and saving the world. The home always feels in limbo until the core family group is reconstituted. We're together again and the summer is looking up! 

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The photo above was taken at sun set from the Idaho side of the Snake River looking back at the Wallowa mountain range. What glory! What wonderment! Eastern Oregon is magic at this time of year. (Anytime of year, really.)

This will be our first summer in the new house. We're in the process of firming up our summer plans, but it mostly consists of family time on the front porch, exploring our beautiful surroundings, harvest work in the local orchard, and for me - finishing the final details of my new studio (like installing walls) and painting. Oh, so many paintings to complete!

What are your summer plans? 

Working at Eagle Creek Orchard

Eagle Creek Orchard is an organic orchard under the incredible stewardship of Linda and Rob Cordtz, two of the most gracious, curious, interesting people I've ever met. I first started visiting their orchard around 2011. Every year, I look forward to eating their beautiful peaches, cherries, apricots, apples, and pears.

The orchard specializes in tree-ripened and hand-picked fruit. The fruit trees are watered from Eagle Creek which flows clear and cold directly out of the Wallowa Mountains. 1200 fruit trees cover the five-acre orchard which has been Certified Organic by Oregon Tilth since 2008.

This year, since I've moved into the area, I offered to help with their orchard tasks. I told Rob, "I don't know what you need, but I'm a quick learner". So they brought me on board! Now, I'm part of a team that will thin and harvest pit fruit through the summer and maybe into fall. This morning, standing on my ladder, shears in hand, I felt really connected to my food source and so appreciative of the gorgeous fruit that Eagle Creek Orchard produces every year.

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There is a place en route to the orchard where you can see my Mama's farm from across Eagle Creek. I pulled over and snapped a few shots of her home and of the creek that irrigates this beautiful valley. 

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Transplants

This is my first spring in eastern Oregon. I've been coming to this valley for twelve years, but I've never been here at this particular time of year. Here in the foothills of the Wallowa Mountains, spring seems like an impossible magic trick. Four weeks ago there was ice on my walkway and snow on my eves. Now the days are growing long and the whole world smells like river water, warm pine needles, lilac, and cut grass. Daffodils and Tulips were an overnight fireworks show in flashy primary colors. And just this week, every tree limb has gone pink and white and purple with fruit blossoms. It's astonishing.

My own yard mostly consists of grass, dandelions, eight towering pine trees, and a few horrible rogue Elm trees. I've been strategizing about what, if anything, I might like to plant. The house, which is a traditional craftsman, screams "cottage garden", but with so much shade from the trees and the acidic soil from the pine needles, a cottage garden isn't really possible. So I've been researching forest bed foliage. I'd love to try a lush shade garden!

It turns out that hydrangea do pretty well in acidic soil and can tolerate low light situations. So I've decided to plant some in the front of the house. And this weekend a couple of neighbors gifted me some transplants: Fiddlehead Ferns, Lily of the Valley, Silver Dollar Plants and two Lilac saplings. I also got my hands on some Day Lilies for a sunny spot along the front fence. I'm so grateful for my generous neighbors and this new opportunity to start a garden on my own. Everything in this valley grows so beautifully, I think it will be much easier than my garden adventures in Texas. Wish me luck!

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Spring Kitchen

The weather has definitely turned here in the foothills of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Temps are in the 60s and I can swing my doors wide open in the afternoon. I've always loved spring cleaning. It feels so good to sweep off the grime of winter and recalibrate.

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This weekend I took an overnight trip with my Mama to Pickin' Boise, a vintage sale and fair, in search of a few key pieces for my home. One of them was an island for my kitchen. My home was built in 1925 and the kitchen cabinetry is original. I was thrilled to find a dark grey work table that matched the feel and age of my kitchen. It would be so weird to put a new table in the middle of this sweet old kitchen. This piece used to be a display table in the Ralph David menswear store on 8th Street in Boise, so it has a little local history.  So yesterday, I cleaned the kitchen and made a space for my new table! 

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This week, I'll be building a little raised bed in my back yard - just a sweet, small kitchen garden for my greens, herbs, and onions. Right now, these green babies are like ladies in waiting. They need to be transplanted soon. But until then, my light-filled mudroom is the perfect place for them to hang out!

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New Work: The High Road

Now that this commissioned piece has been delivered to my client, I can share it with you! Its entitled "The High Road" and was created for a family in Texas. For me, this piece was deeply connected to a feeling of lifted-ness, joy, and faith - that any impossible feat can be surmounted when its done together, with intention, and with fearless love. 

 "The High Road", 36 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas

"The High Road", 36 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas

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A New Era of Art Making

Today, the lovely people of Countryside Sheds in LaGrande, OR delivered my shed and soon-to-be studio. It was kind of amazing to watch it coming down the road. 

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This is a game changer for me, friends. My livelihood depends 100% on my art, writing, and organizational nonprofit work. To do all three of these things, I need a space. I was spoiled in Dallas with my rented studio at the Continental Gin Building. When I moved to rural Eastern Oregon, I quickly realized I still needed a separate space to work. And the basement just wasn't cutting it. The addition of this studio space is a stretch for me, but one that I know will pay off. 

The space is 12 x 16 feet. It has good light and two fabulous french doors facing the side yard. Over the next six to eight weeks, I'll be working to make it comfortable and functional. My mind reels at the possibilities. 

I have always dreamed of having this kind of a space - a studio right next to my home, but separate. There is no commute. I can work in the wee hours. I can roll out of bed in my PJs, grab a cup of coffee, and disappear into the studio. I can be called into the house if my family needs me. I can still pick up the WiFi signal when working online with my colleagues at Statera Foundation. And I can walk away from a project in mid-process and know that it will be right where I left it upon my return.

This is a dream fulfilled, friends. And I can't quite believe I was able to make it happen. Thank you to my clients, patrons, and supporters. You are intimately connected to this new phase of my art career. Some of you have purchased art from me. Some of you make a monthly pledge through Patreon. Some of you simply wish me well and share my work with your communities. You make it all happen! I am so deeply grateful. Thank you. 

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Indian Toran Door Hangings

I love the look of these Toran door hangings. They're a traditional Indian textile, patched together with embroidery, mirrors, and brightly colored fabric. They're hung above a doorway, window, or threshold - like a little blessing to all who enter and exit. I might need to grab one for my art studio!

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Olive Green in the Office at Pine Cottage

Yesterday, my indefatigable mother and I painted the wood paneling in our office den. This is going to be the place where my husband and I both work from home. My goals are to make it super inviting and cosy, but to also respect the fact that we live in a 1925 Craftsman cottage. I also wanted a masculine Rudyard Kipling kind of vibe. 

Here are my three inspiration photos:

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And here is a sneak peek at the new color on the walls - Moss Tone is the name. I just used the generic TruValue Hardware paint available at our local Seed & Feed store. The room is by no means done. We don't even have a desk or a desk chair yet. So I'm on the hunt for some great leathery looking furniture pieces. Slow and steady wins the race. 

Here's a before photo: 

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And here is the new color on the walls:

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Support Women Artists Now | SWAN Day

Today is SWAN Day! What is that, you ask? SWAN Day is an international holiday that celebrates the power and diversity of women's creativity. SWAN means Support Women Artists Now and it was founded by one of my favorite nonprofits, WomenArts. SWAN Day is in its 11th year and this year alone there are 183 women-led art events, exhibits, concerts, festivals, and theatre engagements happening all over the world in honor of SWAN Day. So today, reach out to your favorite woman artist and let her know that you see her, that you appreciate her work, and that you support the work of women artists! Happy SWAN Day!

Studio Shed Shell

You guys! I'm so excited I can hardly stand it. Countryside Sheds in La Grande, Oregon just finished building my studio shed! It's currently just a shell with doors and windows. Once it's delivered, I will start the process of painting, insulating, etc. Here are the preliminary photos! 

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Painted Studio Ceilings

Okay. Obviously my modest 12x16 foot shed does not require the kind of grandeur and religious detail as depicted in the photos below, but wouldn't it be absolutely magical to do something like this on the ceiling of my studio? 

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Botanical Illustrations and Inspirations

I am surrounded by nature in my new home. And one of my new favorite things is to sketch the botanical profiles that grow here at the base of the Wallowa Whitman Mountain Range. Seed pods, conifers, bare winter fruit trees, Catalpa, Oak, Elm, pine cones, wild grasses - there's a lot to choose from. And now that spring is imminent, I'll have even more to gaze upon and admire! These sweet inspirations are also starting to show up in my paintings. Can't wait to show you what I'm up to. Until then, here are some botanical illustrations and inspirations to delight your eye. 

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Women Who Draw

Women Who Draw is a fabulous directory of illustrators, cartoonists, and artists who identify as women. The site was created to increase the visibility of female artists with an emphasis on artists of color, LBGTQ+, and other minority groups. I have loved discovering new artists via Women Who Draw and I hope you will too. (P.S. You'll find me there as well!)

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Spring Wardrobe Dreams

Winter is still present here, but so is spring. Frozen ground is giving way to mud. And that means the shift is happening! So its time to dream about wearing something other than a parka. Here are my spring wardrobe dreams... 

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Innermost House - Built for Conversation

 

"To live content with small means. To seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion. To be worthy not respectable, and wealthy not rich. To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars, birds, babes, and sages with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony."

- William Henry Channing

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Innermost House is about twelve feet square and rests somewhere in the coastal mountains of Northern California. It faces directly south beneath an open porch that shelters the front door. A hill rises to the north and the forest lies all around. The house encloses five distinct rooms: kitchen, study, and bathroom, each approximately five feet wide by three feet deep, and a sleeping loft above the three of them.

The fifth space is the living room. On the east wall of the room is a small fireplace set a foot above the floor, with a hearth extension of bricks projecting a foot and a half into the room. On the west side is a wall of books four feet wide and seven feet tall. Between these walls of hearth and books, our two low chairs sit facing each other a couple of feet apart. Everything about the space is conceived to make a harmony of conversation possible.

"We live for a special intensity of domestic life that simply requires a concentration of space to achieve." -Diana Lorence, owner of Intermost House

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"I know that sounds strange in a world where conversation seems to go on all the time every day. But pause for a moment and try to remember the single most moving and meaningful conversation you ever had. Perhaps it was with your mother or father in days long past, or with your husband or wife when you were first in love. Perhaps it was when you said goodbye to someone for the very last time. Now, how would you design, build and furnish a place so that those conversations could happen every day? That is the question we asked of every detail of Innermost House, and we are still asking it."  - Diana Lorence

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"We do not have electricity or power of other kind, so we warm the cabin and cook our food and heat our water for bathing all over the fire. Our firewood comes of local orchard prunings that would otherwise be burned as waste in the field. In the summer we cook over coals and wash with cold water. We light our home with beeswax candles. After examining all the options, we installed a conventional septic system, though we use very little water." - Diana Lorence

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All the quotes above from Diana Lorence were found in THIS article at Tiny House Blog.

Weekend Cottage Vibes

Snow is still very much a present part of our lives. In fact, last week I slipped on the ice and sprained by left knee. That was Eastern Oregon's way of saying, "Hey, don't get too cocky, you don't really know me yet."

Point taken. 

This weekend, I'm laying low. I have a few writing deadlines and some house chores to attend to. But mostly, I'm taking time to rest my injury and hang with my kids. I'll be back on Monday, but until then, here are some eye candy photos to celebrate the weekend!

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Snow Shovels & Gratitude

I awoke this morning around 5:45 to the sound of a low sliding crunch. My bed is tucked right under the roof and when snow is sliding off the roof, over the eaves, and into the yard below, it makes quite a ruckus. A fresh layer of snow settled in the valley overnight. 

According to the trusty locals, we've had a very mild winter here in Halfway, OR. I know this to be true because there is evidence of last year's hard winter everywhere - barns down, damaged roof lines, and dented outbuildings, collapsed under the weight of heavy snow, yet to be repaired. I'm lucky. My initiation to winter in the Eagle Cap Wilderness has been merciful. 

Never-the-less, as soon as I realized that we have a snowy walk to school ahead of us, I popped out of bed, threw on my boots and headed down stairs to fetch the snow shovel. My son Charlie uses a wheel chair and he and I need a clean path from our front door to the street. Once we're in the street, we just pop-a-wheelie and push through. But the 7 steps to the sidewalk can be a doozy if its icy.

I don't mind these little inconveniences. Life here in my new home has been extraordinarily good. The people are welcoming. The views are spectacular. And our new house is everything we need it to be and more. This morning, I am grateful. 

And I'm also grateful for snow shovels. 

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Back Yard Studio in Black and White

I love the look of those fabulously isolated black Icelandic cottages with white trim. Why do they paint them black? I don't know why. All I know is that they are totally cute. You know what I'm talking about, right? Something like this...

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Or this... 

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Or this... 

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Anyway, the point is that I love them. And I'm thinking about them because I am eventually going to move my temporary art studio - currently in my basement - into some kind of backyard structure. This endeavor is many months off, but in my dreams, my backyard art studio looks something like this... 

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Prepping for a Cold Weekend

One thing I've learned here in the mountains of Eastern Oregon is the essential skill of splitting wood and kindling. I've also picked up nomenclature like 'fatwood', 'bolt', and 'billet' (see definitions below). Albert Einstein said, "People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results." And he's right. Its extremely gratifying. After a morning of chopping and splitting wood I'm ready to sit down with a cup of coffee and wait for the 5-10 degree temps bearing down on the valley this weekend. 

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  • Billet – 1. a short piece of log particularly used for fuel; 2. a split out piece of a bolt of wood.
  • Bolt – a piece of log cut to specific length, usually a short length from which products such as shingles are split or cut.
  • Crook – longitudinal bending to one side, caused by uneven seasoning or grain.
  • Crotch – the section of a tree where a branch divides from the trunk, or the trunk divides in two; typically an area of convoluted grain.
  • Fatwood – also known as "fat lighter," "lighter wood," "rich lighter," "pine knot," "lighter knot," "heart pine" or "lighter'd", is wood derived from the heartwood of pine trees. Its usually used as a fire-starter and is often stored in a "fatbox". 
  • Foxing – a yellow-brown discoloration of wood due to fungal infection.
  • Green wood – unseasoned wood; freshly harvested timber, usually with a high moisture content.
  • Rip – a cut made parallel to the grain.
  • Stickers – a small block of wood used to separate boards that are in the process of drying.
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