Nature's Quiet Gifts

The Gift of Life

She found you hiding in a shriveled leaf
Tender fingers coaxed you to be brave.
Tenderly she placed you 
amongst the softest down.

The beginning of life
miracle incubating in a shell
dancing through the warmed soil.

Nature's seamstress wove
through the silent night,
stitch upon stitch
threading a brooch
of crystal pearls.

Where do you tread
 with your velvet padded feet?

Life in a Floating Village

I was born in  San Francisco, living my carefree babyhood on a gently rocking houseboat on the bay. A floating home in a village of floating homes. At that time it was not unusual. Today such a sight would be unheard of--impossible!

With that said,  I would not have imagined visiting Cambodia and experiencing first hand how thousands of Cambodians and Vietnamese gather in floating villages built above the water of the Tonle Sap River in their makeshift homes anchored on wooden stilts.   Water is the life blood of Cambodia and both the Tonle Sap River and Lake are at its center.  This great lake is central to the country's rivers, reservoirs, fishing and irrigated rice fields. What a gift to be able to visit these people.

Entire villages comprised of infants to wise elders live along the muddy, florid watery banks; they make their living from fishing, form deep communal ties,  enjoy markets and schools. Their thriving communities are built entirely on bits and pieces of wood planks, rubber tires and tree trunks, with walls and roofs made of anything available, corrugated cardboard to tin. Each home is distinct with its own personality.

Children have few places to play except in the brackish water or on the shallow banks. They learn at a very early age to swim, navigate boats on the river, and have fun with the simplest of items. I have tremendous respect for these wonderful, friendly, beautiful people and their culture.

Brown bare bottoms are the norm. It is HOT HOT HOT in Cambodia. Besides there is little money for clothing. I would think it possible to live one's life with out the 'purchase' of something new to wear.  Material goods have little impact, other than items needed to fish, maintain boats, cooking utensils....

Fishing is their main livelihood. This lake and river, like so many other places in the world, are threatened by over population, pollution, over fishing and lack of resources for restoration.

You will find a school, market, place of worship and stations to purchase petrol dotted along the riverbanks....all floating! One school was over flowing with children, a wonder it didn't tip!!!  You could hear their delightful laughter from far away. The Cambodia children are ALWAYS smiling.

I like to imagine that this home belongs to a very successful fisherman and family. The long boats to the right are typical modes of transportation.

Ya, mama, this is my type of home....wonder if it has a stunning sunset or sunrise view...looks like someone is enjoying a mid morning nap.

This is a typical boat that you would see on the river....yes, that is a snake the little boy is holding. The family are hoping that you will give them a dollar to take their picture. A dollar can put a dinner on the table.  I gave them two dollars to keep the snake AWAY!!!

Women and children quickly gather when "tourists" pass through. One should travel with many dollars, as there are so many eager hands. I realize the pros and cons to handing out money, but my heart can't turn someone away. 

A talented photographer, writer and friend, Cheryl Bikman who lives in Singapore has  wonderful  posts on Bali and Cambodia. Awaiting Winter

My Grandmother's Yellow Bowl

The farm was vast, beckoning, adventuresome and frightening. 

 Acres of land, dotted with sugar beet fields and shimmering golden hay to feed live stock; willow-banked creek with carp, slithering water snakes, and foamy white soap; punctuated like exclamation points, were long rows of weathered gray outbuildings, chicken coops and fences. Forbidden fences crisscrossed the farm....keeping the animals IN, keeping my younger sister and me OUT!

To a young child, the towering two story barn with its rough wood slats and precarious tilt was simultaneously intimidating and beckoning, likened to standing shivering above a deep dark pond, deciding whether to jump in. One had to be pretty sneaky, daring and slightly naughty to get inside undetected; climb the steep wooden ladder with loose steps; tumble into the hay strewn loft with its panoramic view; and crossing fingers to find new born kittens tucked somewhere in the straw. Yes, it was worth the chance of punishment...if discovered.  

Feeling empowered, I stood tall, invincible, in the hayloft. I flew with the birds. Beneath me, spread out like spokes on a wheel, were the chicken coops that housed hundreds of clacking chickens. White, black, brown chickens daily laying eggs, warm as sunshine, with bits of feather stuck to them. Special hatching cubicles with dozing heat lamps warmed dozens of fuzzy, wobbly legged chicks, their soft down the color of field dandelions.

Outside the barn's creaky double doors were two gigantic cottonwood trees. One tree was towering, its shade dabbling the ground below during the sweltering hot Utah summers. At some point the second tree had been cut down, leaving a smooth, flat, trunk that looked like picnic table ready for alfresco dining.   Then I discovered it was not a picnic table but rather where my mother or grandmother took a chicken or two...their demise imminent, to be prepared for dinner. I learned early that life on a farm was like a log split in half, the log of life and death. You couldn't have one piece without the other.

Feeding the pigs their meal of "slop" was always accompanied with squeamishness, but how wonderful was the sight of pink new born piglets come spring. The turkey pen I found rather disgusting and avoided. There were tightly fenced in areas of sheep and cattle.


There was a FORBIDDEN old farm house hemmed in by the chicken coops; complete with peeling, dingy yellow paint the color of generic vanilla ice cream; splitting window sills permanently stuck; glass panes dingy and laced with dancing cobwebs and spiders; and a stoop ready to cave in from so much living. This old square house was where my Grandmother and Grandfather lived while they developed the farm, raised their family and built their maroon brick home, with its faux Tudor features.

It was a GIVEN, someday a determined little girl would get inside that old farm house. And one afternoon it happened. Squeezing through the door trying to avoid splinters, heart racing I stepped into another world, until now, totally unexplored. On a crumbling wall hung an old porcelain sink, grime coated, filled with  hay and debris....was this where Grandmother plucked the feathers from lifeless chickens and prepared her larder full of wonderful bottled fruits and vegetables? How many hours of her life were spent in front of this sink, did she pump water by hand, did she ever weary of the endless hard work, what secrets did the old sink hold? Beyond the sink were boxes stacked every which way, broken chairs and a wooden table with peeling green paint. But it was the glass fronted, once white, cabinet that fascinated me. Why wasn't it inside Grandmother's new home? Why was it left in dusty seclusion. I coveted it. I coveted the old carved desk, that later I learned had crossed the prairies with the pioneers.

Tilting light zigzagged through the grimy windows across this landscape of life from another era. Then I was FOUND OUT....and was never to return.

In my Grandmother's "proper" faux Tudor home was a sunny breakfast nook, the hub of the house, practical, no nonsense, oil cloth covered the table. A table that was always laden with the fruits of their land and the labor of my Grandmother's hands. No Lean Cuisine, Weight Watcher frozen meals. This was the real deal, homemade mustard pickles with chunks of cauliflower, wine colored ketchup zesty from ripe garden tomatoes, translucent pear jam dotted with cherries and nuts, endless Kerr glass bottles crammed full with fruit, mincemeat and vegetables.  Fresh garden produce picked at perfect ripeness, to sink, to scalded bottles, to bubbling kettle, to cold basement storage shelves, to journey's end; to the breakfast nook table where we never left our Grandmother's home hungry.

At my Grandmother's kitchen table my sister and I ate clandestine  sugar, butter, bread sandwiches. Secret kept from our mother who would disapprove. 

On my Grandmother's table rested a bowl filled with garden fruit.

And so it was, as I painted My Grandmother's Yellow Bowl, I fondly recalled a childhood where life was beckoning, adventurous and sometimes frightening. 

My Grandmother's Yellow Bowl                                    available through artist

Yellow Socks for Vincent

Recently I walked into a woman's clothing store. Expecting to see a wall of dark brown, gray, black and maybe red clothing, I was astonished by  huge splashes of YELLOW... gorgeous, yellow in ever so many shades from citron to saffron to lemon. Yellow jackets, yellow pants, yellow scarves and yellow blouses. Right then I decided that my color for this year would be YELLOW

The last day that my husband was in the hospital, they put a pair of...not beige, not blue nor black, but brilliant YELLOW padded hospital stockings on his feet. Walking into his room,  sticking out of the rumpled sheets were two bright yellow  feet!  "Wow, I dub those when we get home."  I now pad around the house in yellow hospital stockings.

YELLOW makes my heart zing. Yellow makes me smile.  Vincent van Gogh  loved yellow. Remember his quaint and crooked yellow home in Arles, Provence; his sturdy yellow wooden bed; all those beautiful sunflower paintings hanging on the walls. In a letter to Theo, Vincent wrote, "You know....the sunflower is mine in a way."  I think that many of us have that same love and joy for the sunflower. They are so bold and beautifully riddled with a happy YELLOW personality.  Simply put: they sing to our hearts.

I don't consider myself a painter of flowers, but when I do, most often they are sunflowers. Driving to a farmer's market, scooping up an armful of fresh SUNFLOWERS  is pure happiness as good as a thin paper cone cocooned in PINK cotton candy. Sunflowers simply beckon one to paint!!!  Cotton Candy? well that is pure childish joy and stickiness.

Last fall I started a  sunflower composition primarily in red and yellow; gigantic, curling, scrolling, SUNFLOWERS in a blue and white vase. At the time of painting I took a few photos showing my painting steps. At one point I thought I was finished, but went back a month later and diddled around some more. The following photos show my progress from beginning to end...the final end. Well for now that is.

Lightly I sketch in a basic design, which gets changed several times. I use loose oil paint in a contrasting color with a filbert brush. 
The  background and foreground color are brushed in roughly with a wide stiff brush. Lots of canvas shows through.

I am not a patient, decisive, make the "correct choice first" type of painter. I sketch all over the place, scrape off and begin again. But the final lines will become important.
As my sketch becomes more certain, I get impatient to start laying in thick, brilliant paint. Easy does it, try not to get ahead of myself.
The design is getting closer to what I envision. But the sunflowers are not yet 
It took a number of more painting sessions to get it to the final stage.

A Long Journey to April

the journey has been oblique
feet sinking into sandy depths
our future a nebulous
vanishing point
drifting like sand dunes
into April

Shuffling our feet through March we have skipped into one of my favorite months...April. 
Speaking it out loud, APRIL, is like biting into a sweet crisp Fuji apple.

So why do I write today? I haven't been able to keep my little blog going, but for some reason I didn't want to share the "WHY" in the gaps of time. After all I was excited about exploring different forms of creativity, from tempera to journals to whatever seemed interesting and FUN! Tiny wisps of spring were approaching. Ideas for sharing our glorious Asian trip stewed in my mind ready for exploration and experimenting. Why spoil it with the nitty-gritty of life, the coarse threads of mortal vulnerability. 

Somewhere in March our lives did an abrupt, sudden, unexpected, overwhelming 180 degree change. We tipped upside down, side ways, upright and flat. We found ourselves in a gyroscope, dizzy with varying perspectives and possibilities. One seemingly innocuous medical test turned into full blown open heart surgery, literally over night. No not me, but my husband, Howard,  who had already had two major surgeries in the past year.  He has had more than his share of health challenges.

Early in the morning hours of a seemingly ordinary day, we left our home filled with the detritus of daily living; dishes in a sink, toaster and raspberry jam left on the counter, sorted piles of laundry on the washer, drooping plants in need of nourishment, bed tousled from a night's restless sleep, oil paints and brushes open ready for use, bills stacked on desk waiting payment....a seemingly ordinary day except that Howard needed to be at the hospital for an early morning test. A few days earlier a doctor had seen a little something on the echo cardiogram and thought it should be further observed.

We didn't return that once ordinary day, rather the "little spot" on the heart turned into bypass surgery, open heart, the splitting of the body, the heart held in the hands of competent surgeons, savers of lives. We couldn't go home to think about it. It had to be done. And it was. 
Are we ever prepared for these enormous, unexpected, smothering events in our lives? Maybe it is better to be innocent and taken by surprise. I don't know. But we were definitely taken by surprise. The surgery went perfectly. The recovery started out smoothly, but then mental and physical events happened, occurred, obstructed the journey back to recovery. Nevertheless we went home. Within a few difficult days we returned to the hospital. Five days later we are home once again.To STAY!

While we hibernated in the hospital vault, Spring arrived.  

This morning the bird feeder has been refilled our missed birds are returning. The American flag whips in the brisk breeze. Green shoots up everywhere.  The laundry is done, the jam tossed out, the plants grateful for a healthy dose of water, bedding freshly laundered....hmmm the bills not miraculously paid. Shiny silver linings drape us like a warm wool shawl.  Lazy, rolling beach waves wash over us with GIFTS OF THANKFULNESS, GRATITUDE.

we learn so many lessons
as we walk through
our allotted days.
healing can happen
appreciation for the calls and letters
profound gratitude for skilled doctors
caring nurses
blessed to not have a
heart attack
walking Cambodia and India
time to reflect
time to read
time to be grateful
zest for living
Silver Linings
blessing our days.

 My fourteen hour hospital days of worry, hovering, intervening, consulting and note taking stretched me until I was bone weary. Thankfully there were a few peaceful hours to read, learn, appreciate, observe others and wonder. There were even fewer moments to try to be open to creativity. Bless my i Pad. While sitting on the hard faux leather chair, the idea for i Padoodl's popped in my mind, as welcome as a bag of Peanut M & M's. A bit of experimenting and playing around to add COLOR to the GRAY day.

As we step into April, may my emerging lighter heart and inner peace that my husband will be strong and healthy in the near future, add a smile to your day as it does to mine.  

 Feel free to copy these funky little i Padoodl's. Send to someone you know is having challenges of their own. 

Remember to add Yellow to your day. Yellow plus Black makes for a luscious Green, the GIFT OF LIFE.