Archive for August, 2012

photo to Collage, The Sparrow Story

August 13, 2012

it rode around in my Blackberry, then my laptop, and ultimately in my head for two years. I d seen the birds one February roosting on the cart handles as I drove into the parking lot. I thought what a great photo that would be. Then, of course, once I got out of the car, they lifted off. I forgot about them until we were checking out. I ran over to the window hoping against hope some would have landed again. They had. Just whipped the BB up and clicked it. Then for two years I pondered the composition. I did an acrylic abstract of them which has nothing to do with the photograph. Was disappointed… though everybody likes the abstract. Then I worked a stylized bird motif kind thing in my sketchbook, just filling the paper with the shapes of their bodies. I liked that but knew not what to do with it next. Maybe it should be a poem. No. Lots of time passed, many events, other artworks and writings left my fingers and every once in a great while, I’d pass the page in the old sketchbook with the stylized flock of birds drawn in flight. Sunday morning I got up at 9:30 like a normal weekendy person. Took the dog out, fed, dog, cat and fish while my coffee brewed. suspected nothing. Stirred in my creamer and sweetener. Was still back in my pjs feeling sort of uncomfortable. The next thing I know, in answer to Sallie Bailey’s inquiry as to how long did it stay neat, I was moving through the house like a dervish automaton. Dragging tissue paper out of a desk drawer, assembling ModPodge and rubber cement, a collection of scissors, leaving sagged open drawers & doors to root for the origami paper, a pencil without a broken lead and where was I going to set up the sketchbook to look at the drawing while I put this together? I guess it was 9:45 ish. I slathered and clipped, ripped, cut and tore. I also realized I had to draw on the back of the origami paper in mirror images. I forget why but I did not question it. By 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon, I sweated through my clothing. as I worked I could feel it roll down my spine. I listened to Adele’s 21, Ceelo Greene’s “Crazy”, Phil Phillips singing “Home”. Lady Gaga and the Bad Romance as the ModPodge coated my fingers. In a last ditch attempt at the carts, I grabbed tin foil from the drawer in the kitchen and cut a roundish fish shaped blob and glued it to the bottom of the collage. Instantly hated it. I was still uncomfortable thinking of failed love affairs, hurtful memories, and was I ridiculous to even bother with art.?I also felt like my 9 year old self at that storied art table of the pebbly surface pitted with old paint and glue. I was behaving just as that child had. Instead of wasting time on the self censor which I tried to over ride with the music and lyrics, I just stopped whatever else I’d been doing (eating breakfast) and let the moment of creative inspiration seize me. By 5 o’clock in the evening, I still hated the foil fish blob so I ripped some more paper and glued over it. during this whole process, the table disappeared under the load of tissue as did the couch, the easy chair nearby and half a dozen spaces in between. The dog and cat sensibly went under the bed. People find the composition “colorful.” I think I want to cut it up in portions because some of it I really like. As a whole, not so much. Was it worth the attempt? oh, yes. Nothing surprised me more than carrying a photo memory in my head for two years and then in a matter of hours, finishing an artistic rendering of it. If nothing else, I made room in my head by cleaning out that old image.

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How the Sparrows Flew that Day at Kmart

August 13, 2012

the collage completed yesterday

original phone photo snapped inside the store

August 13, 2012

chinese pork, peppers and cashews

August 13, 2012

Studio Chez Rachael

August 8, 2012

Studio Chez Rachael

studio chez Rachael: Ask the Girl Arts

August 8, 2012

Someone asked me recently, where did “ask the girl” come from.

The summer I was 17, before college, I was lucky enough to be hired by my godfather who was the local cherished small-town veterinarian. He knew everybody and everyone knew him. My dad used to say, “Bob could be walking across a desert in Saudi Arabia during a sandstorm, and the first person he’d come across would be someone he knew from somewhere else.”

He was my father’s first friend when my newly wed parents moved up from the New York city area to the Fingerlakes. Before I came into the picture, he often invited them for interesting barn calls such as a calf born with two heads, or to help during late night emergencies, my mom recalls them doing a C-section on a  chihuahua.

When I was born and taken into faith, my father asked Bob to stand up for me. He proceeded, for the rest of the time I knew him, to take that responsibility very seriously. At the tender age of 2, I began riding around the countryside with him to cow barns and horse pastures.

So it was only logical this particular summer,  when his entire office staff quit, that he show up at our house after dark, and around the kitchen table with a cup of cream laden coffee, definitely a sin in my mom’s eyes, the cream, he asked if I was available to work for him starting tomorrow at 8 a.m. Was I?!?! Oh, yeah!

I’m guessing my parents were in their late forties so he must ve been in his late fifties. As I said I was 17.

One of the first quirks I noticed, what with the women’s movement coming on the scene and my being of age to consider myself one, was that Uncle Bob always referred to me as “the girl.” He was very handsome, with a devilish sense of humor, a quick repartee, and an infectious smile. So, I’m sure my youthful outrage amused him no end. He continued to call me and any other female adult by that word. He was, after all, a man of his generation.

When I trained my replacement as autumn and college approached, she was older than I. She also loved him, as did I, and so one year, when I dropped in for a visit, I noted she’d had a name tag created for herself which she wore. It simply said “The Girl”. She also gave me credit, when she qualified years later for her practicum as a veterinary techincian with teaching her well enough that she was able to be licensed in this way.

I’m not sure, but let me tell you what The Girl did at that small animal hospital. For one thing we took in skunks (deskunked in the driveway operating theater), raccoons, cats, dogs, and all manner of small pets, in addition to being a large animal practice as well. I was the kennel person, feeding, cleaning, and exercising all the current boarders twice daily. I also answered the phone. Dealt with salesmen and farmers who’d show up inevitably when I was there alone on lunch. I ‘ll never forget this one short stocky older farmer who stumped in as I was eating my PBJ sandwich. “Want some bag bomb.” he said to me. “Excuse me,” I replied, “I didn t quite hear you.” One thing about the farmer clients, to a man, they found a young blonde female assistant holding a poopy cow’s tale out of Doc’s face, across the board, hilariously humorous. I took no offense. Farming connects a person to sex and the fruitfulness of the earth and all who grow there. So, I was unsure if this farmer this noon was having a joke at my expense.
“Bag Bomb!!”he insisted with a short temper! “Ya know, you rubs it on they tits when they crack and bleed!”

Okay, so now, between the words “bag” and “tits” my 17 year old self was mortified. I blushed scarlet. He grabbed his cap and sort of herded me toward the supply room. We looked at the heavily stocked shelves of ointments and medications. Then I saw it “Bag Balm” in the distinctive square green can. We made eye contact as I grabbed him one. He nodded at me “Bag bomb!” he said emphatically.

Yep, sure was. I own a tin of it, keep it under my kitchen sink. Works really well when a person’s hands get chapped from washing after  lots of painting or in the winter.

Anyway other things the girl did besides sell products and answer phones included developing and helping to take xrays. Shaving and clipping. Cleaning out the pigeon coop. Uncle Bob liked to eat roast squab. I learned how to run the centrifuge, read miscroscopic slides in diagnoses, and to insert an IV, a catheter, or to give an injection. I cooked the instruments in the autoclave. I mopped the hospital last thing before closing. I held mucky tails, horses’ upper lips in a twitch to still an animal who was being tubed for worm medication, I clipped nails, I held reluctant patients. I was scratched, clawed, bitten, andf stomped on. I even did some book keeping and made a few collection calls. In short, there was nothing the girl didn’t do. It never occured to her to say “No. I can’t.”

I loved that man as much as my own father. He ‘d turn up in the coolest places. One summer we were camping on Truro at the National Seashore on Cape Cod and I came to my path in front of my small pup tent to see the word “HELLO” spelled out in sticks. Uncle Bob was on the cape visiting friends, too.

Christmas Eve was always spent, in the German tradition, at my grandparents’ home. Back in that time, nobody locked their doors. So every Christmas Eve when we came home late at night, ready for bed, I’d spy a new present just for me, wrapped enticingly and left under the tree by Uncle Bob who knew to come while we were out.

Years later, when I had a nervous breakdown in college at age 19 and came home, immediately he asked me to come work with him. As we rode around to outlyng farms I noticed he kept a photo of me as a young child of three with my face sniffing a purple lilac clipped to the passenger seat’s visor. As we approached my house, he reached one hand and gently laid it on my knee. I looked over at him.

“There’s nothing wrong with you.” He declared. “You don’t need any psychiatrist, you just need some time to figure things out, where you want to go, what you want to do.”

As it turns out, he was right. Only I ended up needing about 30 years’ time to figure out the obvious, to be the artist and writer I have been since I could first wield a crayon. For a long time, my email handle was “just ask Rache” because that was a variation of  Uncle Bob telling a client, “Just ask the girl. She’ll know what to do.”

and then it evolved into “Ask the Girl Arts” because “girls can and will…do anything!

Included is a photograph sparked by a sister penwoman’s wonderful posting about the evolution of her studio space, a picture of mine. As a kid my folks always made sure I had a play room which was really an art room. My dad built me an easel and a sawbuck low legged table and so many art projects’ glue, paint and dried clay littered its surface, that when my brother came along, he resurfaced it. I was not serious about my arts, like I am today until a few years ago. I dabbled in photography for years, having forgotten the love of paint and brush and drawing. Sold greeting cards of my photos and went to shows, sold a few pieces here and there and then became interested in ACEO cards, pen & inks. I recalled my grandfather telling me to draw without apology so ink it was, to prevent tentativenss and erasing.

By now I work in all media and am in the process of establishing myself as an artist. With this posting is a photo of my studio space in my lovely apartment with balcony for plein air painting overlooking the pool where I swam one day.  In my late marriage, I had a basement studio which actually had decent light, but was always a source of argument because as any artist knows, you have to spread out. Inevitably I d come upstairs to the kitchen or the deck. I tried renting a studio for awhile but the building it was in was in horrible repair,filthy,  smelled of old cheese, and the price for the tiny room was exorbitant. Back to the basement I went. Now my studio is both my balcony and the central area of my apartment. The hub, where things happen. Ask the girl. Or just ask Rache. Girls can do anything. Just believe.

cooking that first omelette

August 8, 2012

When I was growing up, my mom was a decent but uninspired cook. We had certain meals on certain nights every week. Ie. Thursday was TV dinner night because Dad had Rotary club. Wednesdays, fried chicken, on the weekends, Sunday was always something like pot roast or leg of lamb.

My grandmother was of the Victorian era and was a much better cook than my mother. She retained all her German family recipes in her head. Every year at Christmas and Easter, she would bring out her enormous mixing bowl to create Knapfkuechen, a dry German breakfast cake topped with melted butter and granulated sugar. She, like many a grandma who came from another country, made enough of this delicacy for all the relatives.  One year as I grew out of childhood and into adolescence someone suggested I ask her to dictate the recipe to me. This proved to be fodder for many family jokes on through future years. There were many versions. Since she cooked from the gut, to speak, when I asked her for a measurement or measuring device, she’d vaguely gesture toward a coffee cup and mumble soemthing about a “few of those.” One recipe had 18 packages of yeast but only a pinch of sugar in it. Over time, I was able to figure out what was supposed to go into the ingredients. One of my favorite childhood memories, is of the cold outdoor kitchen at her house and the battered green table covered with cakes of all shapes and sizes, each draped with a damp towel as they awaited pick up and distribution.

Getting back to pot roast, my grandmother’s made-from-the-heart gravy over succulent roast crumbling in juice was, in my father’s opinion, as close to heaven as you could get.

Meanwhile, my mom cooked along, scared of trying new recipes, afraid of using recipes from the newspaper because what if they left out a crucial ingredient? After my father, and then her second husband died, my mother married for the third and final time.  Somewhere in years we were incommunicado, her new husband encouraged her to take courses in the evening offerings at a community college nearby. She chose cooking.  When we reconnected, the first few times I sat at her table, I was stunned at the variety, complexity, and savory tastes of the dishes being created by my mom. One of fthe first was a cold summer salad that had couscous and cucumber in it. Yesterday she made us delicious BLTs on thick whole grain bread for lunch, using her special microwave technique to do the bacon. A few years ago I had the opportunity to stay with her for 6 weeks. Inevitably I had to ask her how she learned to cook so well. Because when it came time to prep, she had four or five cookbooks comparing the same recipe in each, she’d have made her daily trip to the market for ingredients, and truly, watching her saute and bake was alot like watching a master artist create.

When I married in 1987, I was lucky enough to marry a man who loved to cook. Even more, he auctioned off 6 course French dinners on PBS’s local TelAucs back in the early days of what we called “channel 24”. So when our courtship began in earnest, his first visit to my apartment brought him with several eggs in one pocket, a container of cream in another, as he respected without comment the empty state of my student fridge. From these humble ingredients came the most spectacular suuculent omelette I ‘d ever eaten. So began our cooking adventures. He taught me everything from potatoes Dauphinois, to beef Wellington beginning with the scratch puff pastry with butter, flour and icecubes, to quiches of all sorts, sauce melba drizzled over ice cream, tournadoes Rossini, breads, soups and sauces. One particular winter we began a stock in a large basement fireplace and for 48 hours, kept the fire stoked until we ended up with tiny bags of what he called “brown gold” demiglace sauce to be parsed out as carefully as a miser would his pence. In future years, I began to explore Asian cuisines from all cultures, Hispanic as well and he always enthusaistically supported me.

In 2007, we went out separate ways.  Eventually I was in a  serious relationship with a woman from a nearby town. Since I worked from home, I  did most of our cooking. She was ever enthusiastic to arrive home to the savory fragrances and anticipation of whatever herbs had been combined to make that night’s supper.

Then we parted. For the subsequent four years I lived with someone who was a self-described “meat and potatoes” lover of bland food. One by one my favorite recipes whether salmon cooked in soy sauce, brown sugar, lemon and dill butter or home baked bread to home-made and home-grown spaghettis sauces with my own garden of herbs  fell by the wayside as the sight of someone fastidiously picking through a plate of food to remove anything unwelcome took away the heart and soul of my desire to express myself artisitically in the kitchen.

In truth across the board my life became so regimented and stifled that it is a wonderment to me that I was able to make any art at all during these years.

Now I live  happily by myself,  contentedly peaceful with myself, my dog and my cat. Doing my own grocery shopping the first time was a bit confusing as I had overlapping memories of a master list shopping with my husband mixed with memories of walking the aisles of a local chain grocery next to her cart as she disagreed with any ingredient I said I liked and I relinquished everything to do with food to her. I had no longer any realistic idea of what a food budget might entail nor what I might serve myself for dinner.

Among my first purchases were a carton of eggs, a bag of spinach, a bag of onions, and a block of Swiss cheese. Friends gave me a wonderful housewarming with a set of Oneida pots and pans and a tote full of herbs and spices along with olive oil and balsamic vinegar as gifts.

I came home from somewhere, art class probably one midday really hungry, and into my head popped the idea of making an omelette, that pivotal dish in my own cooking career. I did not use a recipe. I like to cook from the gut, too. I shredded Swiss cheese into the bubbly fluffy egg mixture seasoned already with sea salt and fresh ground pepper and onion. I wilted a handful of the superfood,spinach leaves onto the shiny surface, folded it over and let it heat through. Then I slid it out of the pan, onto a plate and a piece of whole grain bread. I was so stunned when I looked at the table, I grabbed my camera and snapped a shot of my first omelette in, oh, say, 20 years. I imagine Phillip was smiling in heaven, wherever that might be, as I ate the delicious art I had just created from the memory of cooking with love with a master chef who loved me.

rediscovering a lost art; cooking

August 8, 2012

rediscovering a lost art; cooking

Voila, your breakfast is served.