The Garden Revisited

We've started work on our garden.  So far, we've had about two days of really good weather, and still, the weeds have gotten such a head start on us that it's hard to believe.   Michael turned a small plot of land to plant a kitchen garden of sorts - a few zucchini and cucumber plants, maybe a tomato plant or two.  Some parsley and other herbs.  Normally I wouldn't even attempt tomatoes here in Germany without a greenhouse.  But this corner is warm and right up against the house.  

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Having a garden is a luxury.  Working a garden is payment for that luxury.  Coaxing plants to come alive - and wishing others away.  I'm having my arguments right now with one of the most invasive weeds I know - stinging nettles.  This plant has taken over a large section of our property. This year my plan is to try and keep two areas clear of it - our new vegetable patch and and area of the yard that butts up to my pottery studio.  I've spent days digging up the root systems, knowing full well I can't get all of them.  But I will keep trying.  

We have a small hill which is covered with stinging nettles.  I'm leaving this hill for this year because we can't do everything.  I have a sort of love/hate relationship with stinging nettles.  Brennessel in German, and the romantic ortica in Italian.  In Italy, stinging nettles are widely used as an alternative to spinach.  They are wildly tasty when they are simply blanched and sauteed in a bit of garlic and olive oil.  The trick is to pick them, wearing gloves, when the leaves are young.  A quick blanching removes the stingers completely.  I'll be putting up a recipe soon, because in a few weeks the nettles on the hill will be mature enough to make ravioli d'ortica  - nettle ravioli.  One of my very favorite ravioli recipes.  

 The tiniest of tiny stinging nettles.  In a few weeks, maybe less,  they'll be big enough to harvest.  Tasty little bastards. 

The tiniest of tiny stinging nettles.  In a few weeks, maybe less,  they'll be big enough to harvest.  Tasty little bastards. 

But for now I'm getting rid of winter's wrath and trying to bring some semblance of order to the garden so that we can enjoy it.  We have old stone walls that are starting to tumble in places, but I push the stones back so that they stay another season.  Gardening is always trying to work with and fight nature at the same time.  

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More than the garden itself, I'm so taken in by the garden within the garden - the small things that are so precious and sweet in the spring as  plants stretch as far as they can to feel the sun's warming rays.  I dig, my hands raw, my cuticles already peeling from days and days of working with clay in the studio - but I try to untangle nettle roots from baby plants trying to survive and find the most beautiful things in the process. 

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I struggle a lot.  With creativity and moving forward and what the future will look like.  Gardening helps me stay focused on the present.  While sitting a good while in the dirt yesterday, I soaked in the warm sunshine and allowed my thoughts to wander.  I tried to save as much of the wild garlic as I could, but some tiny bulbs came out on their own, and I carefully put them aside for dinner. 

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Later on, I chopped up some tomatoes (still greenhouse Italian ones - can't wait for the real thing!) and mushrooms, and a bit of actual garlic, along with this wild garlic.  I made up a batch of fresh pasta and dinner was sorted. 

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I met a friend as I was gardening today.  She's a lovely woman with five children, and she's very ill.  I was happy to see her working in her garden, which is adjacent to mine.  We talked about how these old houses capture our imagination and we wrestle with making them work for us.  She told me how happy she was to have found her house and garden for whatever time she has to enjoy them. Those few moments were the most important to me of all.  Those soul moments - where it's truly human to human - are part of our garden.  Our internal garden, the one we must tend to as we care for our own humanity.  

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This outward spring and garden are a reflection of the inward garden. - Rumi

Soon it will be time to see what kind of chaos awaits us in our Italian garden!  Until then, I'll be frantically busy in my studio, making and glazing.  So more about that soon... and those nettle ravioli.

Happy Weekend, everyone!  

 

 

 

 

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Spring's Soft Insistence

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With very little co-operation, spring is forcing itself upon the hemisphere - and  winter is defending itself with a tenacity rarely seen at the beginning of April.  We've just come through the second snow shower of the day, this day of Easter celebrations, and I wonder when I will be able to get my gardening clogs on and really put a dent in the amount of work the garden desperately needs.  

There is no more gratifying work than the garden in the spring; one sits in the knowledge that every small hand motion in the soil will improve the picture of the garden for the whole season.  Seeds sowed carefully will yield herbs and edible flowers.Small plugs of plants for which you have waited for warmer soil to plant take almost immediately as the sun drenches them and water quenches their thirst.  

There are, of course, signs of spring's imminent arrival,  of nature's long-awaited unfurling in delicate hues and textures. 

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I'm biding my time waiting to garden by finishing off work in the pottery studio.  There's so much.  I committed myself to becoming a fully functioning pottery business by the middle of this year.  This means perfecting forms, limiting mistakes and selling.  I have pending orders - but am still working on a disciplined approach to the daily work of potting.  It requires ritual and focus.  

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Finding a rhythm of work and play that is satisfying and sustainable had been a real challenge.  I love the creative process, but i also find it frustrating and elusive. I keep chipping away, though, and every once in a while, the kiln produces pieces I love. 

On the side, my latest book, a good 40,000 words in, is coming along.  It's all about what it takes to move to another country.  I've been interviewing the most interesting people whose stories will be included in the book.  It's due to come out mid-summer, soon after my first pottery show here in Germany.  Busy days ahead.  

Are there any questions you would like to have answered about living abroad?  Leave a comment for me here and I'll be sure to get an answer into the book. 

I hope you enjoy the spring as it unfurls around you.  What do you love most about this time of year?  How is your creative energy?  What's moving you right now in your world?  I would love to hear.  

 

 

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Intentional Creativity

Yesterday, this article appeared in the New York Times  about why ceramics are white hot right now.  It gave me a moment to stop and think about my own creative journey with ceramics and what I want to do.  I have been, for the last ten weeks or so, deep in the planning stages of officially launching a ceramic art business.  I have made ceramics for over 20 years.  Many of my guests from our B&B days have pieces of mine in their homes, and this has always brought me a great deal of satisfaction.  But I have had so many fits and starts with ceramics, and have never really given it a fair chance as a business, where I launch my own creative ideas in a way that is clear, makes a design statement, and moves me forward as an artist.  

The reasons are many.  But the most significant is that ceramics is a profession of phases and rituals.  It requires a great deal of focus and repetive work.  Losses are huge - a piece can break in the kiln, effecting all the pieces around it, you can make a calculation mistake when mixing a glaze, and the smallest impurity can smudge an otherwise flawless piece.  Yet, I perservere, because I love it, and I have always wanted to make a go of it.  Since ceramics are white hot, there may not be a better chance  than today. 

So I am in the process of starting a few lines.  I've had two full kilns of tests over the last three weeks, and now can see which directions I can go. It's been a matter of which clay bodies, which forms and which glazes to use. It's really the first time since I have done ceramics that I've taken an organized approach to creating with intention.  I have learned so much from so many.  There are such excellent potters out there, and it's made me want to raise my game on every aspect of production. 

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Stoneware pasta bowls

I've committed to cleaning up and renovating a second work space in our barn, and am planning on starting to give pottery classes in the fall!  I have the space and I'm pretty sure with pottery's popularity right now, there will be sufficient demand.  I even have the idea in the back of my mind to do a pottery workshop - one where a couple of people can travel and visit me here in our village in the Black Forest for a pottery intensive with writing, hiking, food and wine thrown in...

 Tea cups and egg cups 

Tea cups and egg cups 

After I've finalized my design ideas into a clear vision, I will be attending a couple of local art fairs this summer and launching my online business - for the last time.  I've had too many stops and starts in the past, and only want to launch when my offering is where I want to be, but you can get some ideas from these photos of the direction I'm moving. 

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Stoneware bowl

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Ceramics are a creative journey.  The pieces here are functional tableware, which is where I focus almost all of my time.  However, I'm adding wall art to the mix as I have always been intrigued in the mixing of ceramics with painting.  I've got several designs worked out on paper and I only now have to dedicate some studio time to new prototypes to make this vision a reality. 

Oh, and I'm knee deep in writing a book... but more on that later.   

So as I settle down into all of this, I am getting very excited thinking of a spring full of gardening, ceramics and art.  

 

 

I'll try my best

I'll try my best not to worry today.  Not to worry about all the things that could happen that I can't change.  Not to succumb to a path of assuming the worst.   Because all that worry and a dime will still get you bubble gum, and not very much of it at that. And it doesn't help, it never has and never will.  All it does is detract from possibility, making every good thing seem impossible.  Today I'll take it a moment at a time, and treasure the beauty that is all around me, just waiting to be found. 

I'll try my best to center today.  Because centering is what brings me back to my core strengths, and reminds me of my purpose.  It's the tool I have at my disposal when life gets tough and complicated. Come back to center.  Come back to what I know to be true.  

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I'll try my best to create beauty today.  Because this world is going to be saved by artists and dreamers, gardeners and writers.  I want to be among those changing things for good.  It's up to us, and us alone, to manifest beauty and love.  

I'll try my best to be kind today.  Because in this byte-driven, distracted and hyper-stressed world, only kindness can break through and let us exhale. Just being nice is not complicated, and doesn't require anything from us other than to assume the best instead of the worst in each other.  

I'll try my best.  

 

 

 

 

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Slow Steps

 Porcelain platters in the greenware stage 

Porcelain platters in the greenware stage 

 

Well, I never intended for MONTHS to go by without posting, but here we are.  It's been a challenging time.  I seem to have misplaced my mojo and although I've searched for it high and low, it's still hiding.  But life is like that at times, and I am learning to accept things as they are far more than I ever have been able before.  Because if life's taught me one thing, the only way to it is through it.  

Our little house in Italy continues to be a project - we didn't manage to get it completed this summer.  There is still work to be done - punctuated by the fact that I had to leave the project with our belongings inside but with no door or windows and return to Germany.  We accepted the fact that there was no way to complete the project at this point and let the idea of a deadline in 2017 go.  We'll go down in spring together and knock off the remaining to-do list and get the place livable. 

This process has taught me something important.  I realize that I no longer have the desire or the intestinal fortitude - or the gumption - to do this type of thing anymore.  It's been a hard lesson to learn.  I believe that I had to take this one on to internalize how important it is that I don't push myself so hard anymore - and the difficulties we've encountered have been the milestones toward learning that lesson.  

It was a tough year for me, one where I was forced to listen to what was really going on inside of myself and how I want to carry on from here.   It's my 60th year, this one, and it's not lost on me that I am reckoning with many of the aftershocks of the changes we've gone through over the last two decades. The monstrous projects, the homesteading in foreign countries, the cultural shifts, the language learning, the getting older.  It all came to roost this year, breaking me into teeny pieces to once again look at and reassemble.  Taking on too much has been a theme in life for me, as it is for so many women.  But age and experience are slowing me down.  I want to make room in life for new possibilities that aren't mountains to scale, but rather soft hills and rivers to savor. 

I've taken stock of what I want and what we need.  I have returned to my studio and have rededicated myself to the art of making simple pots.  This spring, I will plant a garden.  I will write here. I will help my husband with his wine business.  Those are the things I know for sure.  I am trying - the best I can - to take it day by day.  Not to look too much into a future which feels so uncertain to me.  I know, intuitively, I need to ground myself in real things that heal me and heal the earth around me. More, right now, I cannot do.

 So I ask you to join me on this step by step, slow gentle journey, hands in the earth, face in the sun.  I have missed writing for you.  I hope you will still want to read my words as I very much want to feel and hear your response to it. 

There is only so much time.  And only so much energy.  Let's be gentle, continue forward, and take stock of all the good around us.