Saturday, November 28, 2009

More thoughts on meat...

While dismantling a chicking this morning, I was thinking about our transition to eating meat. Mike was a strict vegetarian until about 3 years ago. He was the kind of snobby vegetarian who would throw a fit in an Asian restaurant if he found out that the delicious soup he had just eaten was made with chicken broth, and who only ate gelatin-free yogurt and rennet-free cheese. I was a "flexitarian" who would occasionally eat meat in a situation where all other choices were unappetizing, especially in other cultural contexts. Our first trip to Europe was miserable for Mike. There was virtually nothing he could eat. To them, "vegetarian" meant that meat was not the main focus of the meal, or that it contained vegetables.

I began adding small amounts of meat to my diet more deliberately after finally seeing a naturopath about my tendency to black out on an almost daily basis. I had come to accept this condition as part of life, thinking it was probably a residual side-effect of semi-starving myself for 8 years as a young woman. My naturopath discovered that I was low on a kind of iron that we build in our childhood, and it comes only from meat (I hated meat as a kid). When I began to include trace amounts of meat into my diet (at first, I just drank a small cup of broth each day) the black-outs disappeared. I no longer experience the dips in my energy that I did before.

We had both chosen our levels of vegetarianism based on environmental, animal rights, and health issues. Raising our own livestock solved all of these questions, except when it comes to actually killing your meat. This part is still hard to accept, but it has become a very small part of our lives. When you raise animals at all, death becomes a part of your reality. We do our best to protect our chickens, ducks and turkeys from raccoons, but we lose quite a few each year to those ninjas. I find feathers everywhere, body parts strewn about, and I can't help but imagine the terrifying experience of that bird as it was chased and dragged to its death. We lose far more animals to this predatory demise than to our, relatively, more humane methods.

Last year, we lost over half of our chickens and a whole flock of runner ducks to predators. One of our goats became ill and died, another goat got his head stuck under the manger and broke his own neck, and our two longtime canine companions both died - one of old age and the other from the sudden development of Addison's Disease. Compared to the abundance of unexpected deaths we had to process on our farm over the last year, the one afternoon that we quickly dispatched 5 of our turkeys seemed, well, not quite so awful.

To some extent, it probably sounds like I'm trying to rationalize our meat consumption. This morning, I was doing one of my least favorite chores. After we roast a bird and eat most of the meat, I boil it to make broth and strip all of the rest of the meat from the bones. I find it really disgusting. But today, I realized that I was a bit less grossed out than in the past. I was aware of how the tendons connected, the structure of the bird, and less sensitive to the fact that I was handling the flesh of an animal. I guess I'm becoming desensitized.

The fact is, we still eat far less meat than most Americans, and I think it is plenty. We bought 10 organic, free-range chickens from Barnyard Gardens this fall and kept two of our butchered turkeys. These will last the year. Each time we pull one from the freezer, we have one special meal, some leftovers, and then broth for soup. Poultry raised on our small farms does not deplete resources the way factory farms do, they contribute organic matter for our gardens rather than adding devastating amounts of untreated sewage into the environment, they live happy and healthy lives, they are killed as humanely as possible, and we eat meat that we know is free of hormones and chemicals, and is actually far more nutritious than store-bought meat. (That's because our birds eat bugs and slugs and weeds and vegetable scraps.)

Vegetarianism is perfectly sustainable, as long as people are good at balancing meals, and making sure they choose organic, non-GMO sources. For those who choose to eat meat, I encourage everyone to avoid factory-farmed meats of any kind. The conditions are nightmarish, the environmental cost is not factored into the lower price (nor are the tax subsidies), and it is an inefficient way to grow food. With growing concern about food shortages throughout the world, we really need to eat sustainably. The population is growing, biodiversity is diminishing, and food scarcity is a reality in many places, and spreading.

Read Jane Goodall's "Harvest for Hope." The first chapter is pretty depressing, but she does offer success stories and ideas for action later in the book.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Creating Thanksgiving Tradition

I have fond memories of Thanksgivings from my childhood, piling into the car and driving to my Grandma's house, which would be filled with the same familiar smells each year. My Grandma was (still is) a simple woman who survived on potato chips and processed meats, but on Thanksgiving, she made a fantastic, home-cooked meal. My uncle, aunts and cousins would be there, the parade would be on T.V., the adults started imbibing early and were giddy all day. After dinner, they played poker while the kids swiped as much dessert as we could manage. My strongest impression from those Thanksgivings is a house filled with laughter.

Now, I live far from family, and they all live far from each other. My cousins are distributed as far as Japan, and my Grandma has descended into deep dementia. For many years, Thanksgiving was almost a non-holiday for me, just a day that the stores were closed. While in relationships, I joined with my boyfriends' family, which was always pleasant. When I was single, there were sometimes potlucks with friends. I tried to create a tradition of forcing people to watch "Trail of Tears" or other documentaries about the history of Native American subjugation. "Life-of-the-Party", I think they called me.

When Anouk was born, I felt more nostalgia for those childhood memories, and it has been important to me to create a tradition based on family and extended family, along with an emphasis on food (growing our own, understanding agricultural politics, appreciating how we are connected to the earth through our food.) Unfortunately, our friends usually have plans with their own extended families, so it is just us three, and my dad usually makes an appearance.

Added to the challenge is the fact that I have always been an abysmal cook. I don't enjoy cooking, and have resented the fact that this part of Thanksgiving was considered my responsibility. I served very mediocre vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners for many years, so my dad got in the habit of stopping by, making his appearance, then heading to join with friends eating more savory and meat-centered meals, probably with much more festivity. Then Mike, Anouk and I would head to the movies.

The past two years have improved. Our more successful efforts at growing our own food, along with raising our own turkeys, has helped to define our family's tradition. This meal involves food that we have been intensely involved with from cultivation through harvest and preservation. I believe our appreciation for the food is heightened by that relationship, especially when it comes to the turkey. When you nurture a living creature and kill it yourself, the weight of that life feels significant, maybe profound.

Mike cooked last year's meal, and he did a far better job of it than I ever have. So, he is doing it again today. He has brined the turkey overnight and is preparing it for the oven right now. I harvested some carrots, took string beans out of the freezer, and cooked a LOT of pumpkin this past week. He's mashing our own potatoes, but he also bought a bag of groceries to add to the meal; sweet potatoes, parsnips, celery, onions and some spices. This morning I got up and made desserts (all pumpkin) and now I'm off to work in the studio. I plan to make some time to play games with Anouk later.

I still feel like this is a dull holiday for Anouk. She is aware that we are having a special meal and honoring our food today, but she has to make her own fun. We pulled out the boxes of Christmas decorations, books and videos, and she has been watching Frosty the Snowman, coloring in her Xmas activity books, pulling out our stockings. Today marks the beginning of the Holidays, a month or more of decorating, buying gifts, vacation and celebration that helps us get through the dreary wintertime.

It would be great if we could join with another family to bring more festivity to our tradition, but this is where we are right now. Far from family, but happily enjoying each other, our land, and our harvest.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Artist Identity

A couple of weeks ago, I had an epiphany regarding my business. For years, I've been trying to market myself as an architectural mosaic artist, dropping off pamphlets and portfolios with designers and sending emails to architects. While having lunch with the the other two artists involved in the enhancement of this new pediatric office, the more experienced of the three of us mentioned that the name of your business is of utmost importance when addressing architects. Apparently, they can be incredibly picky on this point. She explained that she shifted from a more casual, fun name to her actual name in order to put give a stronger impression with architects.

Immediately after this lunch, I had a meeting with a business advisor who drove the point home. She said no architect would even consider hiring "Cosmic Blue Monkey" for a commission, despite the quality of my work. This was shocking news to me, so I set to work right away figuring out how to reinvent my business in order to get paid actual income for my hard labor. I finally came up with JK Architectural and Fine Art Mosaic, and I have created a temporary website to go with it.

It is suddenly very clear to me that this is an extremely important step for me as an artist, and the time is right. For many years, I have enjoyed making little, functional items for festivals and holiday bazaars, but the profit margin on these things is nonexistent. They are so very labor intensive that I spend hours working on things that I can only get $30 for in this tight market, and after overhead, that pretty much comes out negative. My focus on recycling may be noble, but it won't put food on our table, and I now have a studio chock full of trash that I hope to make into something of quality, someday. I need to narrow my focus. It is time to stop mosaicking every jelly and mayo jar we use, stop soaking labels off of beer bottles thinking I'll find a use for them, stop saving milk cartons and laundry soap jugs. Then I will have more room to store the cupboard doors that I use for mosaic panels, the many containers of glass scrap, and really useful pieces of cement board and wedi for good quality mosaic panels.

I feel like such a grown up!

While I can't stop making things, and will certainly continue to crochet, sew and print during my "relaxation time", it is time to let go of that as a potential income generator. If I had found THE product that everyone loves, and had felt inclined to make that thing over and over, it would have worked out great. But the thing I love to make, and the thing I'm best at, is mosaic art that enhances spaces in a way that is functional and also decorative. For me, nothing brings things to life like mosaic, and I see potential for it everywhere.

I'm not ready to let go of Cosmic Blue Monkey Designs. I spent half the summer mosaicing a big sign for my studio, which isn't going anywhere. But I hope JK Architectural and Fine Art Mosaic will come to be known as one of the best sources for creative home and business accents on the West Coast, that I will be sought out for restaurants and courtyards and entryways and window treatments and , and, and....


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Michael Specter - Denialistic?

I listen to NPR in my studio each day while I'm working. It keeps me informed, inspired, and incensed. Yesterday, I heard that author Michael Specter would be interviewed about his new book, "Denialism; How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives." This sounded very compelling, as I am so stymied by mainstream denial of things like climate change, poverty, injustice, health care issues, nutrition, and problems associated with our current agricultural methods. I expected Mr. Specter to give everyone a good lashing.

Instead, he denounced any relationship between immunizations and autism, made a stink about people who take vitamins, and stated that we might solve world hunger by embracing genetically modified foods and reducing emphasis on organic farming.

Now, it has been six years and I have gotten rid of all of my "Immunization Research" file, but when Anouk was born, I read extensively about vaccinations. It is a very emotional subject when you are trying to make the best decision for the health of your child. I recall that every study I read was funded all or in part by an Autism research organization or pharmaceutical companies or insurance companies. Depending on funding sources, conclusions varied dramatically, so it was important to read through it carefully. Most compelling to me were papers and articles explaining how immunizations work when they enter the body, and that there are inherent, measured neurological effects. I found an excellent pediatrician who is informed on both sides of the issue, who took time to help me with this huge decision, and we worked out a vaccination schedule that I feel good about. My daughter is immunized against the major diseases (not chicken pox) and will be protected when we travel to other countries, but she was never administered a "cocktail" where they give up to 5 shots at the same time. Her doctor's main argument is that he sees far more children getting diseases from lack of immunization than children who have been affected by Autism. So, it's a crap shoot, but parents are usually making this choice after serious research, not out of deliberate ignorance.

As for vitamins, who cares? Maybe they help, maybe they don't. I personally believe that we have far better results from eating a good diet, so I rarely take supplements. My husband takes a handful of vitamins every day, and has been seeing his cholesterol improve steadily with no other lifestyle change. If he thinks it helps, I support it.

Now, the organic food question is one that gets me all steamed up. I'm no expert, but from all that I've read and heard (on NPR, of course), our stupid agricultural methods are part of what has gotten us into this mess to begin with. More and more food is grown on high-production farms, using pesticides, sold for bottom dollar. Scientists believe it is a contributing factor to the loss of about 1/3 of our commercial bee population, which then results in lower crop yield, and we are anticipating future decreases in food supply from bee shortages alone. Pesticide run-off enters our water systems, causing environmental degradation and affecting the fish we have also relied on for food. Food can be grown locally, in people's yards, on rooftops, in raised beds - I even heard about a CSA in New York where the food is grown in a truck bed. Small, organic, community farms are being cultivated in some poverty stricken areas, providing good food for the local people. (I heard about it on NPR!) Michael Specter's suggestion that we create synthetic foods with little inherent nutritional value (I believe they add vitamins) to feed to poor people strikes me as very "Soilent Green."

When a caller questioned the author on this topic, he started talking again about genetically modified foods solving the hunger problem, rather than answering her question, which gave me the impression that he has not fully researched this topic. I think he has an opinion and he's sticking to it. That's denialism, buddy.

While genetically modified food is not necessarily the same as non-organic food, I recall reading an article that explained how one affects the other. An example described two adjacent farms, both growing corn, one genetically modified to resist a pesticide and the other organic. By creating a corn variety that is not killed by this pesticide, they can spray it liberally by plane, killing the weed or bug or whatever they are trying to eliminate, but not hurting the corn. But, the pesticide doesn't just go away. The nearby organic farm gets a good dose of the spray by proximity, which takes out a portion of their non-resistant crop. The pesticide also enters the water table, so everyone else in the neighborhood gets to drink it, water their crops with it, and wildlife get their share as well.

So, obviously, I am not a scientist or an expert of any kind, and I'm writing this from memory without siting sources. But, I swear, the original sources were reliable. For Michael Specter to claim that everyone who reads the same information, yet does not draw conclusions in agreement with his own, is in denial seems superbly arrogant.

Now, if he had just made statements that I agree with, I'd say he was right on the money!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Contemplations on turning 40

I started thinking about turning 30 when I was 27. Mainly, I thought about what I wanted my 30s to look like, and how to get there. I was alarmed by what I had not yet accomplished or experienced, so I set about achieving a few goals. I rented an art studio, started putting my work out into galleries and shops and doing informal shows. I traveled to Europe and Mexico. And I switched gears on my career, moved from Seattle back to Olympia, got involved with my good friend Mike, got married, bought this property, got pregnant and had a baby, all within three years. I started my business and have been working steadily at being an artist and living sustainably for the duration of my 30s.

This year, I had a similar experience, realizing I'm swiftly approaching a new decade and wondering "what now?" What do I want my 40s to look like? Forty is hard. The physical changes are more tangible: my weight had redistributed so my clothes don't fit right anymore, my eyes can't focus on anything within about 16" of my face, I've lost stamina and motivation to work out, my back is vulnerable, and I've experienced (too soon, too soon!) perimenopausal symptoms.

As a woman, I think 40 is a significant age. The bloom is officially off your rose. My mental image of a woman at age 40 is subdued. I put on my black leather, knee-high, lace-up Fleuvogs and wonder, "Am I too old to wear these?" I think I am supposed to stick to high-waisted jeans, plain knit tops and practical brown shoes. (Though jeans now cut into my thicker waist and squeeze my thighs like sausages.)

I think of all of the things I will no longer do. I don't think I'll ever go club dancing again. I can't stand being drunk nowadays, though I sometimes crave the silly abandon that comes with it. I'll never experience that exhilaration of falling in love, first kiss, the exploration of a new romantic partner. No more road trips where I get in my car with my dog and just go, camping spontaneously on logging roads or sleeping in parking lots. No more uncontrollable laughter late into the night with a good girl friend.

And there are the things I never did. Things I meant to do. I never went off traveling without a partner along. I was never in a Yaz cover band called "Strangler Fig." I never got a graduate degree or learn to play an instrument or ride my bike down the coast or learn aerial rope dancing.

But then, I never planned on having a child. And I never believed I could actually work as an artist. I have no regrets, not really.

Still, as I prepare to enter the next decade of my life ("Your last juicy decade" to quote a friend of mine) I feel like I'm doing some kind of housecleaning of my identity. I want to become more organized at home, more focused with my work, to earn a fair wage that actually contributes to our household income, to live more simply, to find time for fitness, to find time for self-care (baths, meditation, visiting friends, reading BOOKS, writing, playing), and to get back in touch with my humor and imagination. And Mike bought me an accordion for as an early birthday present, which I am determined to learn to play.

I've gone through a lot of processing during the past year, thinking about all of this. There has been a lot of letting go of old, worn out expectations. Now, I am feeling excited about the potential for growth and achievement. I'm ready to welcome 40 and to celebrate.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mid-November Update

Winter life here on our little homestead is so different from summer. As I type, the trees outside my window are swaying dramatically in the wind and rain is pelting down. The sky is deep grey, and I find myself feeling sluggish and unmotivated. The only heat sources in my studio are a plug-in radiator that has very little effect and a huge propane blower that is very loud and the propane fumes give me a headache. So, it is very easy for me to procrastinate going out there, choosing to write a blog enry instead. This is increasing my internet visibility after all, so it counts as "marketing."

That said, I have been very focused on my business in a variety of ways. Last week, I met with a woman from the Small Business Development Center, which offers FREE advice for people like me. I occasionally take business workshops or go to seminars, but having someone sit with me one-on-one and address my individual business needs was invaluable. She spent 2 hours with me, discussing my goals and making some financial calculations that resulted in a precise hourly amount that I need to charge my clients in order to be viable. It is several times my current fee, so we discussed how to promote myself differently in order to get into the appropriate market, which is high-end custom architectural mosaic.

We decided that I need a new business identity for this purpose, along with a separate website just for my fine art and architectural work. Since this meeting, I have been obsessed with defining this new identity and making this important transition. I feel ready to focus my energy on fantastic installation work, and to let go of many of the many little items that I make for recycled art festivals and holiday bazaars. I will continue to do these, for now, but with more mosaics and less minutae.

Still, I am constantly creating inventory for upcoming holiday sales. I have a new crocheted hat design that is very fun. I'm cutting and repurposing sweaters into stockings, hats, and mittens every night. Then I carry them around with me, embroidering the seams whenever I am sitting for any length of time. I pulled out my linocut supplies last night, so I'll be using old designs to print holiday cards. I have all of these materials on hand, so I want to use them up. This may be my last year selling sweater items and other random things.

The farm is quiet now. There are only 3 turkeys, and they have been going obediently into their coop when I coax them in, around 4pm each day. The chickens are barely laying, and I've been meaning to get a light that will operate on a timer. I do have to make sure they are locked up tight every evening before dark. One disappeared on a recent night that I came home late, and I find raccoon tracks in the mud of the chicken yard every morning. The goats have thickened up, and they like to stay indoors when it rains, so they are staying out of trouble. I just borrowed a truck and brought home a winter's supply of hay.

Using wood heat is probably the biggest effort for me during the winter. I move and stack wood onto the back porch a couple of times each week. Then, every night, I need to wake up every 2-3 hours to add wood to the fire or it will go out. Our newfangled woodstove burns too hot and cannot be turned down. This is the most difficult thing for me, as a person who relies on good sleep for sanity. To go to bed at 10pm, get up over and over, then wake up at 6am - I just feel zombie-like all day.

I'm still harvesting carrots and tomatoes now and then. Last week I cleaned the chicken coop and used the bedding to mulch the veggie beds. I noticed some chard re-growing. Mike has been mulching the perennial beds on the weekends, working all day in the cold and rain. I've been trying to cut up and freeze or cook the pumpkins. We don't have an appropriate place to store pumpkins; nothing cool and dry. They are on the covered porch, but still in the damp air, so they won't last all winter. We could put them in the cabin, but we would be likely to forget them down there. We have made pumpkin gnocchi, pumpkin soup (only I will eat it), pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, and of course, pumpkin pie. We have been straying from our only-homegrown diet, buying convenience foods more and more often. Anouk is the biggest challenge, since she will rarely eat what I make. I keep cans of green beans and pineapple on hand for her, and along with milk, that makes up the bulk of her subsistence.

In other news, I am turning 40 in a couple of weeks. But I think that deserves its own entry, if I decide to make my thoughts about it public. Forty. I just don't know if I'm ready yet.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Drastic Plastic

This past Monday, I taught a recycled art project to my daughter's Kindergarten/1st Grade class. After they were finished, I stood in front of the room and talked for a few minutes about recycling and resourcefulness (their word of the day).

The next morning, when I was dropping Anouk off for school, one of the Kindergarteners came up to me and said, in a very rehearsed way, "I am not going to recycle. I will just bring all of my garbage to you for your art projects." I had the distinct impression that a parent told her to say it, and it emphasized a defeated feeling that I carry with me most of the time.

Everywhere I go, I notice the plastic and other garbage. Some garbage uses precious resources, but will eventually biodegrade, or at least sit in a landfill for a thousand years without leaching toxins into the dirt (like glass.) However, plastic is created from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. And plastic does not biodegrade - it photodegrades, which means it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, releasing dioxins into the environment in the process. Dioxins are produced during the creation and destruction of plastic, especially with PVC, and are known carcinogens. Recent tests show that, in places where dioxin levels are highest, women in those populations have a corresponding high incidence of miscarriage. Who knows what other effects are currently taking place?

There is an area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch where currents flow together and bring floating plastics to one localized spot. It is roughly twice the size of Texas. An easy place to start learning more about this is by typing Great Pacific Garbage Patch into Wikipedia. There are also videos posted on Youtube where you can see what it is like.

It is easy for people to simply throw plastics away and imagine that the garbage is gone, or far far away. But, those dioxins are now found in most sea life, and it is getting into our bodies directly (by eating fish) and indirectly (by eating things that are part of the food chain.) While watching a presentation by Captain Charles Moore, I was really stunned by one particular sad story. Many sea-birds, like the Albatross, gather their food from the surface of the ocean, but cannot distinguish between live food and floating plastic. These birds are collecting plastics and feeding it to their young. The photo that I attached shows the remains of a baby Albatross that starved to death with a belly full of plastic garbage. This is becoming a serious problem, and it breaks my heart.

Here I am, doing my best to prevent any unnecessary plastic from coming into my house, finding ways to incorporate it into building projects when it does, and hoping to raise some level of awareness through my art. But, I am plagued by a feeling that I'm not doing enough. Some say that we can overcome these problems one person at a time, but I don't see how that is going to get us out of this. There needs to be more effort at the corporate level. We need to develop alternatives that can be used by the medical profession and in so many other places where plastic has become the only real product that will work for certain things. The fact that nurses, dentists, food prep workers, etc. all over the world are putting on and tossing out plastic gloves one after another all day long haunts me. The image fast food cups and lids generated every day lives in my head. As a society, we need to find ways to reuse containers, invent biodegradeable plastics, and stop wrapping every single product in layers of thick plastic.

One other source that I absolutely love is Story of Stuff. It is a 20 minute video you can find online that is very accessible for anyone, including older kids. It outlines the problem in a very concise way and offers ideas for a different way of life.

One more story that I heard during an interview with Anne Leonard really floored me. She visits garbage dumps all over the world, and she learned that a large number of children are killed in garbage landslides. She said she met one family that had lost 4 children to garbage. She said, "Children are dying of garbage." It is time to make a change, folks.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Seeds of Compassion

First, I feel compelled to admit that I am not a practicing Buddhist. I am not a practicing anything. Maybe I'm too undisciplined, but mostly I find that no one belief system fits for me, although many have something to offer, and there is nothing about Buddhism that I don't like. I love the focus on compassion above all.

Raising a young child compassionately is one thing. Teaching a child how to BE compassionate is another. Children can be so inherently self-centered and lacking in empathy. Sometimes I feel like I am droning on and on about how it is important to treat others as you would like to be treated, imagine how the other person feels, please be more gentle with the dog, remember how lucky we are when so many others are without homes or food, blah blah blah... Then she cuts in with some tangential comment that tells me that I sound to her like the adults on Charlie Brown cartoons.

But, this year (age 6), I am noticing some significant effects of all of that droning. The teachers have commented that my girl has been a role model, speaking up when kids are being mean to those with differences. She is learning about oppression, and it frustrates her that some of our friends are not allowed to be legally married and that many white people are afraid of people of color. She is noticing injustices around her, little by little, and asking hard questions.

I am thinking about this today especially because our car was stopped on a corner where a man stood holding a sign saying, "Anything Helps." Anouk said, "Mommy, give that man some money." We do sometimes give change, sometimes not. Just a few weeks ago, we bought a guy a meal. But, this time I chose not to. The guy looked younger than me, able bodied, and I suspected he might be an addict. Anouk pulled $2 of her allowance money out and said, "Please give this to him." And I did.

I was proud of her, but also wanted to explain why we don't give money to everyone asking for it. For one, we can't afford to. We live on a tight budget. But, I also explained that he might be using the money to buy something that is bad for him, like alcohol. She answered firmly that it didn't matter. She said that we don't know what he needed it for, and maybe her $2 would help him somehow to get a job. And she's right. It doesn't matter.

We read a great little book recently called, "The Crocodile and the Hen." In it, a crocodile keeps trying to eat a hen, but the hen calls him "brother" and this perplexes the crocodile. He can't understand how they could be related, since they are so different. Eventually, a lizard points out that they all lay eggs, so that makes them like family. From that day on, the crocodile and hen were great friends. When Anouk and I talked it over, we decided that, if everyone looked at what they have in common with each other, rather than what is different, we would all get along much better. Since then, she has been looking for examples of this lesson in real life, making some great observations.

I feel like I've been fumbling through parenting, trying to be honest, apologizing when I'm wrong, sometimes losing my patience, and often just negotiating my way through the day. And then there are moments like today, when she pulled out most of her precious cash-stash to give to a stranger, I figure I'm doing ok.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What is a Cosmic Blue Monkey?

People are often amused by my business name: Cosmic Blue Monkey Designs. The question is often asked, "Why?" So here it is in a nutshell...

Years ago, I had a close friend who loved to explore all things metaphysical. She was well versed in Numerology, could tell me what was going on in my life based on my muscle tension and facial blemishes, studied Aryuveda, and delved into Mayan Astrology. Apparently, the Mayans had their own complex system of astrology, each of us has a "signature" and this tells you something about your purpose in life. A signature is a combination of 3 elements, so each person is something like a "White Magnetic Dog" (that's my husband) or a "Yellow Spectral Warrior" (my daughter.) When my friend informed me that I am a Blue Cosmic Monkey, I was thrilled! How fun is that? And it felt just right.

Each part of the signature tells me something about my life's motivation. The color is my "source of power" and Blue means Transformation, intuition, energy, vision, magic, healing. The middle word is a "tone" which determines my function, and Cosmic is this: The patience of a tree. You are a great listener. Able to see above the fray of dramas, transcending argument & offering calm, objective advice. And the last word is your "tribe," which tells you your "archetypal essence." Monkey is Play, Illusion, Magic, Artistic Trickster. There's more to it, but that is the simple explanation.

However, I prefer the cadence of Cosmic Blue Monkey, so I use that for my business name. You can find your Mayan signature here: It is fun to play with.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It's November.

As I type, a pot of pumpkin is brewing on the stove. Usually, I pop them in the oven for an hour or so, then remove the guts and peel. I can then cut up the soft flesh and turn it into a puree with my Vitamix. Unfortunately, the consistency is way different from the canned pumpkin I buy at the store, so my pie takes longer to cook and is not very firm. I asked Mike to help me carve one up last night (it takes some strength!) and we cut it into pieces to get it ready to boil. I am hoping that I can puree the boiled flesh and get a thicker consistency that will work better with my recipes.

This weekend, friends will be coming over for a "Pumpkin Celebration" where we will all share pumpkin-oriented dishes and recipes. I'm hoping this will help stave off pumpkin overload, which is already setting in.

While we are having a remarkably mild Fall so far, it is always colder in my studio than it is outside, and I'm finding it more and more difficult to get an early start each day. My toes and fingers get chilled out there, and cold fingers are clumsy. My work suffers. I have a propane heater out there, but it smells awful and gives me a headache, so I try to work in the cold unless temps are really low.

I'm about halfway done with the project I'm working on for an Olympia Pediatric clinic. My friend Heather Taylor-Zimmerman is painting extensive, amazing murals on the ceilings and walls of the clinic, depicting jungles and oceans. Feltmaker Janice Arnold is making vines, animals and clouds that will be integrated into the space. I am creating glass-on-glass mosaic panes for the entryway and vines that will decorate pillars on the exterior. The idea is to make it a fun place for patients to go and to offset the anxiety kids feel when going to the doctor. It is going to be fantastic. One thing that amazes me is to visit the clinic and see how much Heather has accomplished with paint compared to my own progress in the studio. Mosaic is just incredibly painstaking.

In the meantime, I have holiday bazaars scheduled in Olympia in early December, so I'm working in the evenings to make inventory for those. Lately, it has been harder than ever to keep up my stamina. I've been exhausted, and all I want to do is relax and read or take a bath. But, I feel that I must keep making things every spare minute because we are counting on that income. Last night, I was cutting out stockings while making dinner, and we couldn't eat at the table because it is covered with fabric pieces.

Also, I am trying to get my books in order and apply for public art projects and keep marketing myself so that I have another commission after this one is finished. It usually takes most of a workday just to submit for a call for art, and I have only had success one time (in 2007 for a $600 stipend.) I know that I need to hire a photographer and spend a day going around to all of my former job sites to photograph the work in context and with that professional touch. When I finally do this, I might have a real shot at a modest public art project, but it is expensive.

I have found this to be the busiest time of year for me. I seem to get commissions in the Fall, at the same time that I need to build a stash of holiday stuff to sell. I should be posting items on Etsy, but that is yet more time photographing, formatting, and typing descriptions. I need an assistant!

I think my pumpkin is burning...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day of the Dead...Turkeys.

Yesterday was the day of reckoning for all but three of our turkeys. The previous day, I had to keep them cooped without access to food to prepare. This was the hardest part for me. It felt cruel, and I cringed whenever I walked outside to hear them gobbling for me to let them out. I woke up on Sunday morning with a queasiness in my gut, and hoped our friends would come over early to get it over with.

Our friends, Paul and Kirsten, own Barnyard Gardens in Shelton, a CSA farm and edible landscaping business. Paul grew up farming, and he was the horticulture teacher at Mike's school until he began his business. Kirsten is a farm extension agent, and she works with small farms and agricultural outreach programs through UW, in addition to working the farm and selling produce at their local farmer's market.

They brought over their truckload of equipment and set everything up in our driveway, adjacent to the coops. Mike filled huge buckets of hot water to pour into a large metal container with a propane heater to keep the water at 145 degrees. There was a problem with the heater, so Paul had to do some rewiring, creating a delay. I was worried that they wouldn't be able to carry out the process. I had an old friend driving from Portland (2 hour drive) for a turkey, and I really wanted to be able to send him home with one. Besides, I didn't want to drag it out another day.

Paul and Kirsten have a 1-year-old boy, so I gladly took on kid-duty. While I feel that we all need to be able to face the reality of our meat production, I am still not comfortable with it. But I have decided that, since I raise the turkeys with a lot of care, I should be allowed to duck inside when they are killed. Thankfully, my friends arrived right at the beginning, offering me a welcome distraction. During the time it took to show them around the property and introduce them to the goats, the turkeys were all beheaded, dunked in the hot water, de-feathered, and "dressed".

Paul and Kirsten have a contraption that looks like a big plastic barrel on legs, with rubber nubs all over the interior. They put the turkeys in this thing and it quickly pulls out the feathers as it spins. The whole operation is quick, clean and efficient.

We are left with one tom and two hens, and we will attempt to breed them this spring - something that is rarely done anymore. (Domestic turkeys are unable to breed on their own and can't live past a year anyway, and heirloom breeds like ours are rare.) I look forward to seeing them raise their own chicks. We will have to make some changes to protect our birds from predators, possibly installing electrical fencing. We lost half of our turkeys, which is a huge loss. In fact, we just lost two more chickens on Halloween because I was out late with Anouk, and Mike forgot to close the coop. But, if we can manage our flock well from now on, we might be able to sell great, free-range turkeys for a profit every year. While figuring our price per pound, I did online research and was shocked to learn that people pay $100-$200 for a free-range heritage turkey. This year, we are losing money for sure, but I think we can do better.

It is a relief to have only the 3 beautiful white turkeys to manage for the rest of winter. The coop was getting crowded and I was getting very tired of chasing them all around every night to collect them. They were ranging farther and farther, and I had to get them out of the neighbor's yard twice (and they are NOT friendly neighbors.) Clipping their right wings had little effect, except that they didn't roost on our rooftops anymore.

So, on this Day of the Dead, my thoughts are going most immediately to those silly turkeys that lost their lives yesterday to become nourishment for a few humans. It sure brings a new level of appreciation for our Thanksgiving dinner.