A New Head Space

 

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my best distraction…. Sadie La Pup

In my studio each day, I try to focus on my art. I set my intentions for the day. Some days this is harder than others because I can get distracted and have trouble getting started. The distractions are many times in my head. Where do I start? What are my emotions for the day? Where did I end off yesterday? What is on my to do list? When is the next show? And, how many mugs do I need? (Do we really need more mugs in the world?)

But, some days, I have to get out of the emotions and find something to help my brain have a place to land other than the days news, family problems or just planning for another event. So, I have found that I can get into a zone much quicker if I have someone to listen to that will evoke learning about a new topic or give me a different perspective of how the world works.

I have found Podcasts to be very good for doing all of this. And I thought I would share the few that I listen to and why, in case you also need to get into a new head space. Here are the five that I have found to be just the ticket to help me to get through when silence or Pandora is just not enough to soothe.

So, first, Waking Up with Sam Harris. I think that he is about to rename this podcast soon though, to become, Making Sense with Sam Harris. Sam is a neuroscientist, philosopher and best-selling author. He explores important and controversial questions about the human mind, society, and current events. Sam also meditates. I think this is what I most am attracted to this podcast for is because his best selling book Waking Up is about doing meditation without religion. Sam is an atheist but realizes that we can train our minds to have a spirituality that can help with our daily lives. I love that! His podcasts can be very lengthy and the guests have in depth conversations about lots of topics and the perspectives they give are very current and well thought out.

Hidden Brian is a podcast that is sometimes featured on NPR because it is produced by them. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain’s host Shankar Vedantam reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships. Shankar has covered topics from the opioid crises to becoming the change that you want to see in the world.

I just discovered Every Little Thing. This fun podcast is hosted by Flora Lichtman who used to be on Science Friday with Ira Flatow on NPR. She is just delightful to listen to and has a great sense of humor. I binged on this one several days ago and found myself laughing out loud at the history of pirates and the puns that were in the dialogue. Facts are used as the basis for the stories and experts are brought in to help talk about each topic. I highly recommend this one but, if you are sensitive to language or don’t want children exposed to that use caution, but I guarantee that you will really enjoy the format for this one and the topics are so fun.

TED Radio Hour. This show is a spin off of the TED talk series. This is an actual show that is featured on my NPR station each week but the podcast can be a good way to not have the breaks that the station may put in. If you are not familiar with TED talks, it is also a good learning tool and an effective way to gain insight about how others have solved problems. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, in case you were wondering. It isn’t from some guy named TED.

The One You Feed is the least favorite of the five suggestions but this one can sometimes be interesting as well.  This show bases it’s premise of meditation, primarily but, using the parable of the Good Wolf, Bad Wolf the show begins by the guest being asked how they use the Good Wolf, Bad Wolf concept in their lives. If you don’t know the parable, you can read it here. Topics on this podcast range from depression to procrastination and why we do it, to some pretty woo woo topics that tend to make me turn to something else but, I have heard some good authors here with some good information too so I haven’t completely given this one up just yet.

In addition to the five podcasts that are my base, I have listened to the lengthy podcast series S-Town and Serial. Both these are incredible and you really get drawn in as if you have someone in the house telling you a story that will capture your attention. And the  weekly NPR show This American Life has shows that run in three Acts, usually with a theme for the week.

So, if silence is too much, the news is worse, family problems can’t be fixed and you need an aversion, check out my options for a lighter mood to your day.

Because I am planting flowers

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I came across a comic recently that helped me to look ahead to 2019 with some hope and more joy. 2018 was an incredibly hard year for me personally—incredibly hard—- and finding joy is something I have struggled with since losing my son in 2014. The current state of the politics in our country and the lack of compassion from people can leave a person feeling very defeated. I am an empathic person anyway so I tend to feel more than most and then take on more suffering than I should. I have turned off much of the news. I have backed away a LOT from social media and am trying to focus on taking better care of myself and, while that feels selfish, I also feel that I can only give myself what I need, as those around me seem to be doing that for themselves. 

Meditation has been a large part of my life since losing my son. It has helped to wake me up in ways that I had no idea. I can now look at my emotions and watch them flow through my body. That isn’t to say that I can’t still feel them and experience extreme hurt. I do. But I am learning the importance of being alone. Of going inward. Of silence. Of looking at how the selfish behavior of those around me affects how I respond. The importance of taking care of myself. The importance of letting go of expectations from others, to understand my empathic nature, and to realize I need to give myself the love and care that I can’t get from others. The realization that I AM alone and that the things I thought I had, that were precious to me, were NOT really there at all. That it is all an illusion. That the definition of some words are different to me than they are to those closest to me. But the hardest part is that I can’t change the definitions that others have in their heads even when they don’t match my own definitions. And I have let go of ANY communication to this effect as I have learned that it doesn’t do any good. Sometimes it hurts worse to hold ON than it does to let go. 

Soooooooo, I am going to take care of my own garden and am going to plant flowers. It is that time of year you know, when the seed catalogs are coming in and you dream of growing more color in the yard. Of the changes of the season going into the cold part of the year as well as the anniversary of John’s stupid death and knowing that there will be warmer days ahead. 

I have always wanted a greenhouse so that I can start the flowers for my garden. I have had a makeshift greenhouse for many years. The years that my emotions were healthy I have made the effort and started flats of seeds in there and filled my yard with zinnias and marigolds and vegetables that have produced enough to share with friends and neighbors. So, this year, I found a cheap greenhouse from Harbor Freight for $299. With a coupon, I spent $250 on it. There are tons of YouTube videos about how to beef up this little guy so that it will withstand the elements better. I have been watching those and today will go out and start cutting the lumber for the foundation. 

I’ve already ordered some seeds. My usual greens and vegetables and adding some new strawberries, because the bed I have has not been producing much the past few years. And this morning I ordered flowers. Yay!

seeds

Here are a few photos and I’ll post more as it progresses.

I cleared the concrete slab area of all the junk we had on it and filled in the concrete gaps that were on the slab with some quickcrete. I then took an old tent side and drew the dimensions of the greenhouse on it so that I could lay it down and get an idea of the positioning of the house. 

Got my work shoes on and gloves and it is supposed to get to 60 degrees today and by the weekend snow….Let’s see how much I can build today!

Be the Change…

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As an artist, I make things. My boys made fun of me while they were growing up for using the phrase, “well, I can make that,” because, I usually could. It was usually because there was no money to buy the same item and after careful examination, I would make my own item. They made fun until, they too, became makers themselves. Frugal has its rewards sometimes. But, the things I made are just things. They really have no impact on the world, just things that have helped to add to our family budget in small ways or to give as a gift to someone I care deeply about. Artists make, I suppose, to someday be recognized but I gave up on that a long time ago and make things out of my own need and just the enjoyment of seeing others enjoy handmade things.

But to make something that will become a legacy is different. As a woman and mother, I gave birth to two fine men, who will, and have impacted the planet in however ways they decide is important but I can’t really claim them as a legacy or their legacies as my own. My son John died in 2014. He was 30. A forester and an environmentalist. He planted 70 acres of trees before he died in the 7 months that he lived in the state of Oregon. Those trees are his legacy. They will, hopefully, without threat of fires on the west coast, live for many many years to come and benefit the planet that this current administration is trying to destroy.  I will go see the trees my son planted next year before they are destroyed and before I, myself, leave planet earth. But, in the meantime, I can try to be the change that I want to see in the world. Real change of real significance. So, when my friend Jeff Carithers asked me to help with a project he was working on, I saw a way to use my artistic skills to help make big changes in the lives of people in a country that I may never get to see because of my lack of funds to travel the world. My drawings will travel for me, with Jeff’s work, in the form of technology that will make change on the other side of the world. That will be my legacy.

Dr. Jeff Carithers is part of the stateside team at Empower Tanzania and his title is Improving Women’s Health, Community Hospital Alliance, & Beyond Gender-Based Violence Program Manager. I know that in the past he has taken iPads to the village health care associates, to teach them, along with their villagers about taking vital signs to improve their health and well being. He also loaded these iPads with information to help educate them about water health and the importance of healthy clean water, something that we take for granted in this country.

Jeff contacted me back in September when he was looking for help with a program he was assembling on reproductive health. It is an educational program on reproduction and sexual health to be taught to the school students, which will include videos, class discussions, and other approaches. He told me that in Tanzania, there is a big problem with pregnancies in the primary and secondary schools and associated sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. In fact, 67 girls have become pregnant so far this year in a district with 25,000 students. You can read about this issue on their blog here.

So, in late February and all through March and April, Jeff and I have been emailing back and forth the drawings that he needed to illustrate the script he was putting together in an amazing training video to take to Tanzania to begin the process of demystifying the process of reproduction and to educate both children and adults what really happens when humans reproduce. We both feel that we have put together drawings that are clinical and yet simple enough that the process is understandable. Even though I have given birth twice I learned a lot in the process. Thank you Jeff!

March 9th is the anniversary of John’s death. I have had a harder time with my grief this year than in the previous three. Jeff knew this and shared several stories with me to  show me the impact my drawings could have. It gave me the strength to get through some rough days of my own grief.  One of the stories is below taken from Jeff’s email to me on March 2nd…

The Maasai told that if a baby has a lot of vernix on it (vernix is the cheesy covering on some newborns, but not all) that this means that the husband had sex with his wife during the last 6 months of the pregnancy, a time when sex is prohibited by them because of the risk. They think the vernix is the semen. The villagers beat the couple if their baby is born with visible vernix on it. They told me of a couple who had a stillborn child and it had vernix in the mouth and nose, again normal. They blamed the man or other men in the village for having sex with the wife and the semen prevented the baby from breathing. They severely beat the couple and every male of that age group in the village for 4 days, nearly killing some of them. 
I told the Maasai men that sex is safe until the last week or so of pregnancy if all is progressing well. I explained that the closed cervix seals the uterus from the vagina and semen cannot get into the uterus during pregnancy because of a plug in the cervix. I also explained the amniotic sac, which would prevent semen from reaching the baby. I reminded them about the water breaking just before birth and they knew about that. I said that if water cannot get out until the very end of pregnancy, how could semen get in? They were very attentive and said they would educate their fellow villagers on this subject. 
This is just an example of how these drawings will help people understand and change lives. It is one thing to explain something, but another to see it clearly in one of your beautiful drawings. 
Another story was of a woman who now helps with the program…
unnamed-3Hilpa, one of the community health educators who does the public health presentations to the community. Hilpa is about 50, has a warm smile and is very friendly. Here is her photo. She is also one of our most engaging presenters. I asked her one time why she was involved in the program. She told me that 25 years ago she gave birth to twin girls and she and her husband were very excited about them.  However, they both died from congenital malaria within two weeks of birth. She uses this tragedy as motivation for her involvement in the program so she can prevent the same thing from needlessly happening to other parents and children. 
This is only one example of the many stories of people who participate in the programs. The programs have huge impacts on the recipients, but those who contribute also gain incalculable benefit. Knowing that tens of thousands of people will see your videos each month, I hope you are one of those, Susie.
I feel very passionate about women’s health issues, women’s rights and the right to choose in this country. But, my impact in this country can be made by donating money to Planned Parenthood and supporting candidates that share my views. Sometimes I feel that we are going back in time in this country and not being critical thinkers about women’s health and reproductive rights. We seem to be pro birth and nothing else. But doing this project feels like we (I) will not just help empower women but also men and children, giving them the knowledge to learn about how their body works and how to be healthy and to empower their government to create positive results to save lives, avoid disease and to have healthy families. And not be ashamed or embarrassed about the topic but to approach it full on and with an open mind and heart.
Jeff had a team of about 40-50 people helping him to put the videos together and my part in the process was to do drawings of the body parts and the sequences of how the reproduction works. After 100s of emails back and forth we are both pleased with the results and hope that the videos can be used by as many people as needed to bring the change that we want to see in the world.
The videos are broken into three topics because there will be different age groups that will view them and depending on the maturity levels needed.
The first one is on Puberty and this one will be show to kids, starting around the age of 7. It is to help them understand how their bodies are changing as they grow and develop hormonal changes. Things like body hair, the need for deodorants and physical changes that are occurring and to help them understand why this happens.
The second is on Periods. This video will show young adults how a woman’s period/menstrual cycle works and why. It answers the many questions surrounding this natural part of life. Jeff said that many young women are never told about this and when it finally happens that it can be a scary thing for them. Hopefully, this video will take some of the fear out of a natural process that women deal with. It also shows them the processes of caring for their body during this time of the month.
And the last video is about Relationships .  This talk is about reproduction, what happens during sex and that it is important to know when is the appropriate time to have a sexual relationship. Important issues like contraception and STDs are discussed in this one and how making a decision to have sexual relations can have consequences for both participants but doesn’t have to if you are prepared with the appropriate contraception device. And how making a baby is a big commitment, as we all know.
So, I am sharing these videos as a way of documenting my legacy because I can’t travel there in person. But, Jeff will teach them what is in the videos and my legacy will be the illustrations that are embedded in the videos to help him do that. Thank you Jeff and Empower Tanzania for being the change and letting me be a small part of that.
So, if you want to read more about Empower Tanzania and see what they do check out this link. There are many programs that they are doing that are having large impacts on the villages and if you have extra income, perhaps you might feel moved to contribute to their programs and help out.

cold frame issuu

I happened to notice that this PDF was no longer on my blog. This was created several years ago when I first had read Eliot Coleman’s book and decided that if he could grow vegetables in Maine in the winter that I could do it here in VA. I think that WordPress has upgraded their ability to handle an ISSUU document so I am pleased that it is not just a link anymore. I know that several folks have asked for this document and now I can direct them here.

 

Polyface Farm, a quick tour

Claudia and myself at Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, VA

Claudia and myself at Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, VA

 

Claudia came to visit me this week from New Hampshire and recently, she had read a book by Joel Salatin called, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”. I remember reading about Polyface Farm in Michael Pollan’s book Omnivores Dilemma. So, when Claudia wanted to try and go and visit this farm, I was excited to take her there. We got up early and headed south on I 81 to Staunton and followed the directions that took us way out into beautiful valley farmland. It was incredibly picturesque and the farms were large and connected by beautiful fields of green, some of them dotted with hay rolls, some of them clearly growing corn, probably for Monsanto and some of them had housing that was probably full of hens and chickens that would be trucked to a processing plant nearby. When we arrived at Polyface, however, you quickly got a very different picture as to how farming is all about a balance of lots of processes and not just one specific crop.

On some days, Joel or his son are available to talk about how they run their farm and you can have some personal time with him to ask questions. But the farm is open every day and that if they aren’t available,  you are welcome to come and walk around the property and see everything they are doing on your own. When we drove up, as luck would have it, Joel was giving an interview on the picnic table with a film crew in the front of the house and he motioned us to come on around. We found a place to park and walked around the property and didn’t want to interrupt their interview.

As we traveled down I-81, I told Claudia that I hoped that we wouldn’t get there and it be the day that they are slaughtering the chickens because I wasn’t sure I could watch them do that. I truly believe that if more of us were to SEE how our food is processed, we would all change our minds about some of the items that we eat. Also, as luck would have it, they WERE slaughtering chickens and that is the first thing we saw and heard when we got out of the car. I did manage to get my nerve up and take some photos so beware when you look, you may want to skip over those in the photo album that I am attaching.

greenhouse with tomatoes

greenhouse with tomatoes

Beside the place we parked the car were some greenhouses full of lettuces and tomato plants. The first thing that struck me was the fact that there were rabbit hutches in the greenhouse lining one of the walls. Clearly, the rabbits were adding the fertilizer to the greenhouse floor and this could easily be racked from underneath over to the plants so they could benefit from this nutrient. The second thing that I noticed was the fact that they were heating this greenhouse with a wood heater. I’m not sure how this actually worked but it was situated in the corner and had a chimney coming out the front of the greenhouse. The tomatoes were tied to the ceiling of the greenhouse and were just beautiful!

wood heater in the greenhouse

wood heater in the greenhouse

The second greenhouse was full of lettuces and greens. Again, it had the empty rabbit hutches lining one of the walls for fertilizer. This one wasn’t heated and I’m sure that, just like my cold frames, these lettuces did fine for them in the cold. The lettuces were close to bolting but were still very much edible.

Next, we walked to a chicken house that had some baby chickens that were about 2-3 weeks old. The chickens on the farm are clearly at different stages of development and, if you have read Omnivores Delimma, then you are aware of Joel’s technique of moving the animals around on the farm so as to get the full use of the animal while it is in connection with the land. These chicks were big enough to be graduating to the next stage and we were able to see them load them up into crates so that they could be taken up onto another part of the farm where they would live for another phase of their lives, fertilizing the land underneath their feet and getting fattened up on the natural elements that are inside their cages.

2-3 week old chickens

2-3 week old chickens

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Claudia in front of the chicken coups

As we walked up the hill we encountered that next phase with larger chickens out in a field. The coups were scattered about on the hillside and as you walk you can see the squares where, clearly, the coups had been in the previous days. In addition to seeing the vegetation that had been fertilized with the chicken manure, you can see that recently there had been cattle in the same area because there was the occasional dried cow pattie that the chickens had been eating the grubs out of, essentially eating what, if left alone, would hatch out as large black flies that would be a serious nuisance. The chickens love the grubs and at the same time they are eliminating something that would make the cows very unhappy and possibly sick.

chickens in the coup on the hill

chickens in the coup on the hill

 

So, we continued our walk on up the hill and found the turkeys. They had their own pen and had a turkey tractor so they could also be moved after they had done their bit in making that section of the farm fertile. They also have a roosting shelter.  This pen also has an electric fence to protect them at night so that foxes or other predators don’t come in and get them.

turkeys

turkeys

 

Back down at the farm, we looked in the barn that the laying hens were in and that is where the rabbits are housed in the summer months. The hens were busy in the roosting boxes laying their eggs. The rabbits were in the hutches above the hens

rabbits and hens

rabbits and hens

and according to Claudia, in Joel’s new book, he says he hasn’t really figured out how to add the rabbits into the field scenario but they do have them for their meat.

So before we left, we went in to the shop that they have on the property, where you can purchase the meats that are grown on the farm and Claudia bought us one of the hens from the freezer case and some of the sausages. She bought a souvenir shirt for her hubby and while we were in the shop, Joel came in and she was able to meet him, ask him a few questions and tell him that she had read his latest book. While she was checking out, I managed to get my courage up and go around the side of the building where they were still slaughtering the hens and take a few photos.

I think we had a great day at the farm and got to see some of the techniques that I’m sure, as Joel leaves his farm and drives out to civilization, he wishes he could stop along the way and teach the farmers that he passes, how to better care for the land that they are tending and to better care for our planet as a whole.

 

 

This Small Space…

It has been a while since I have done a blog post and after time lapses, I start to panic a bit because I know that I need to find something to blog about. But a subject jumped out at me this morning.

Designing My New Small Space

Since I have started on my new endeavor of inventing my new life as a potter, I have been working in the basement of our 105 year old house. The ceiling down there is about 5’6″ where the beams hold the floor joists that hold up my first floor and about 6 feet in other areas. I am 5’4″ tall. Herb is 6’2″. I can work down there and not bump my head, but there is the feeling of that ceiling being very close to me so subconsciously, I am scrunching my shoulders and at the end of a long day, my neck and back ache horribly.

old building

old building

We have two outbuildings on our property and one of those buildings used to be a garage and we now use it as a workshop that houses things like saws, drills, hammers and the like while the other building is basically a storage shed. It is a story and a half with a saltbox sloped roof on it. It is in pretty rough shape and so I am in the midst of trying to get help to convert that building into a space that I will use and move out of the basement.

In the process of doing all of this planning, which I seem to be spending a lot of time on these days rather than working with my clay, I am seeing and finding a lot of great posts on smaller spaces and how to utilize them. Our country is finally realizing that more isn’t alway better and that small can be a good thing. I love the idea of built in furniture and multipurpose uses for storage or furniture. Here are some of the sites that I have come across lately that have helped me to get a vision on how to use the small amount of square footage that I have…

  • LifeEdited is a site that features scaling down and living with less.
  • The Minimalists I heard these guys interviewed on NPR about becoming  minimalists and letting go of a huge house, car and lifestyle so he could be happier with less to deal with. Their blog is full of great info about living with less. You can also listen to more from them here.
  • Shrink Your Super-Sized Life and Become a Better Neighbor  A challenge for all of us to live with less energy. When we think about it, it is really all about being a better  community rather than the race to see who can own the most. Right?
  • Felice Cohen goes from 90 sq ft to 500 sq feet This woman shows how she went from 90 sq ft – 500 sq ft. I think what strikes me most about this video is that  it is her mindset about how the space is used. Especially when she was in the 90 sq foot space
  • Apartment Therapy This article on Ten Tiny houses is one that shows some great use of space.
  • And of course, one of my favorite authors, Sarah Susanka’s the Not So Big House. Sarah is an architect that realized that bigger isn’t always better and has used that philosophy in her business and yet puts a large emphasis on quality rather than quantity.

The building I’m going to move into is only 580 square feet total. That is both stories combined. The upstairs has a sloped ceiling that is not going to be useful for much else but storage of shipping materials, an office space and possibly a sleeping space if my son brings a bunch of people for a visit and there isn’t a bed in the house for them. So my new work space will amount to about 240 square feet.  The good thing about this new space is that the ceiling will be a consistent height of 7 feet and I won’t have to deal with working around support poles. So I will have a large rectangular room and can move freely about.

And of course, there is the recycling that I want to do in order to keep the trash from the landfill or to reuse as much of the old parts of the building as possible. I have found a cabinet maker locally that is interested in the lumber that is going to come out of the building. I have been searching for used items to put back into the building and am trying to have the least impact possible on the natural resources. At first I was going to add plumbing because there isn’t any in the building now. Now I am challenging myself to use as little water as possible, even though I am a potter and need water to make my craft. I am looking at, in the future, if needed, adding a composting toilet in the upstairs, just so guests might not have to come into the main house in the middle of the night.

So, as I work through this process of converting a small work space and getting the dust out of the basement, hopefully, I will blog more about this process and keep you up to date as the building is transformed into a simple minimalistic space that I can spend time creating and enjoying the my new endeavor even more.