Foraging for Love

I've just returned from foraging berries in the Black Forest. 

After spending the morning designing and creating dozens of dessert plates, some of which are a special order for a wedding present going to New York City,  I was ready to get into my place of worship - the woods.  I had checked out the ripeness of the wild blackberries yesterday while Rocky and I did our favorite route through the forest. I couldn't believe my eyes. This year's crop is one I've never seen the likes of - all of this extremely warm weather combined with a wet spring has created mountains of blackberry brambles that line every walking path.  It's such a joy to walk through the Black Forest with its velvet mossy ground and deep black green shade branches breaking up the late afternoon sun.  Today, I intentionally didn't bring my camera. I wanted to focus my attention on picking berries, luxuriating in having the whole forest just for myself. My hands took quite a scraping, but it was well worth it. 

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My thoughts harkened back to a special place in Pennsylvania, where my foraging skills were developed.  A few miles in the hills above the borough of Milford, Pennsylvania, there's a beautiful place called Twin Lakes. It's made up of two lakes that aren't exactly twins; one lake is larger than the other.  When I was a young girl, our father would take us in late summer to an open area in the woods just before the lakes.  It doesn't exist anymore; there's a school there now. But back then it was a wild blueberry field. Dad would cut milk containers, the plastic kind with handle, and cut out a large opening. He'd strap the carton to our waists with belts and we'd pick half-gallon after half-gallon of wild blueberries. The payoff for those blue fingertips and sore arms was that we'd enjoy Mom's blueberry pies all winter long.

I took a drive up to Twin Lakes on my recent trip to the states. It was a short excursion down memory lane, one I felt compelled to take. The beauty of the place hasn't diminished at all, but I do wish those blueberry bushes were still there. 

The time by myself in the forest today gave me pause to think about the plates I'm designing. In my mind's eye I imagined creating a plate upon which would be a piece of the lightest sponge cake soaked with wild blackberry syrup.  I could see how it should look, and how the bride would open her gift and find the recipe along with the plates. I could picture the entire thing as I collected blackberry after blackberry.   

My work as a potter and writer in intrinsically connected to nature. I gather my strength from the forest, from the river, from lakes and streams. Those places give me the creative energy I need to move forward and do my best work. 

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This is my favorite time of year for so many reasons. Nature is pumping out the best is has to offer, in abundance and in shades of color so beautiful and rich. I love cutting the late-blooming nasturtium blossoms and leaves and mixing them into our salads. 

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In Italy, gardens are pumping out the sweetest, juiciest tomatoes you can imagine.  Here in Germany, my garden is full of kale and fennel, and the plum trees are gracing the ground, with more fruit than we can possibly turn into jam. 

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In a few weeks, we'll be on our way to Italy to enjoy the last true days of summer in our tiny house there.

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My Wild Life

I've been away from home for a long time, five weeks to be exact.  It was the first time I actually spent summer in the states in twenty-four years.  Going there was for the most difficult reason of all - my mother's health.  It's the call every expat fears - the one that beckons you home because someone you love is ill.  The gamut of emotions I went through covered the spectrum. It was easy and joyful at times and deeply painful at others.  By the time I left, my sister and I had managed to clear out her very large house, prepare it for sale, review the options for mom's long term care and come to some sort of peace with the whole situation.  I celebrated my sixtieth birthday there, with family and friends. 

I missed my husband terribly, but coming home to him and my amazing dog was wonderful.  More wonderful than I can express. 

One thing that surprised me over there was how easy it is to live in a place where the language spoken is your first language.  I've beem out of that particular comfort zone for so long I actually forgot that living in a foreign country is infinitely more complicated both culturally and linguistically.

I saw old friends, some intentionally, some by chance, and some through tragedy.  It was good for my heart to retouch relationships that were so far in the past.  I made new friends, interesting people who live creative lives. It all  had the effect of reminding me of who I am at the root, and helped me to rekindle my own sense of myself - older now, on the other side of many of life's dramas and physical changes, but still, deep inside, a bit wild.  Because I was somewhat of a wild child. To put it mildly.

That wild child lives in me still. 

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Now the question becomes - how do I best communicate with her?  How do I allow her to inform me, teach me?  I suffer from anxiety and depression, but she's not depressed or scared. She invites life to present itself and walks through with a red dress and a magenta scarf and her hair in the wind. 

I found her, as I knew I would, on the bank of the river where she's been forever.  She knows the lesson of how the river is always the same but never the same.  It's as it is but it's constantly changing. Just like her. 

I love her. 

She gardens, she cooks with spices, she makes pots. She knocks down walls and makes linen curtains and furniture out of pieces of old wood.  She knows more than she ever lets on. She wears what she wants and some days her makeup is dramatic.  She tells people to fuck off when it's appropriate to do so.  She hugs with meaning.  She gives of herself freely.  She invites people in.  She loves thoroughly.  

She is me.  My work in life is to embrace her, because in embracing her, I am embracing my wild life, the one I am meant to live.  

If I ignore her - turn away from her - the result is fear and darkness.  Because I separate and isolate - from myself.  

So going there - and coming back - was a gift I needed to give not only to my mother and my family, but to myself.

To find her.  And to remember to live my wild life.  

 

 

 

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.