When daring gets me into trouble...

Today Ben and I went climbing in southern New Hampshire with a few of his friends. This is a normal thing. But today I got a bit more than I bargained for.

Much like our little dog, when I get bored, I wander.

After my first climb I started exploring the cliffs. I hadn’t intended to go far, so I was barefoot, which made almost stepping on a 4’ snake more terrifying.

First thought: “I’m not afraid of snakes.”

Second thought: “That is not a garter snake. That is not a garter snake. I have no idea what kind of snake that is. I am far away from everyone now and that is a huge snake that I almost stepped on.”

We watched each other for a while. The snake stayed coiled up, not moving. I assume it was cold.

After a while I went around it and back down. I later identified it as a milk snake. Harmless. Still not something I would have wanted to step on barefoot.

I was a little on edge after that. All the coils of rope kind of looked like snakes to me. So perhaps this encounter is partially responsible for what happened next, but I know better than to follow Eve’s example and blame the snake.

A route around the corner from where my husband was climbing with a friend looked easy enough. It had already been established that it might make a fun free solo climb. By our estimates it was only a 5.4 route. A sloped crack on a slab. No big deal.

I told the guys I was going to “run” up it. Solo climbing. No rope. Just me and the rock.

I started up. Not having done much free climbing before it was exhilarating. I felt brave. New horizons of challenge rose up before me. It was a good, easy climb. Just a little jaunt.

About half way up I started to realize that I was getting a bit high off the ground and the rock was a bit wetter than I had anticipated. I had a moment of chanting “Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck,” to myself. But then I reminded myself that climbing is a mental game. “Don’t think,” I told myself. “Just climb. You can do this.”

About three-quarters of the way up there was so much water in the “easy” crack that I had to abandon it and make a few moves on the face of the slab, which was steeper than I had thought from below.

I made three more moves during which the reality of my situation started to slowly seep in. Not as an irrational voice, but as a calm, calculated voice of reason.

The voice helped me see that I was very high at this point. Higher than I realized the climb was. High enough to kill me if I fell. And the rock was much wetter than I had thought. It was slippery and I was exposed. I envisioned my body splayed out on the boulders below and it was a wake up call.

I only had two moves to go to the top. Just two.

But the rock was wet and one slip would mean my death.

As soon as I realized this truth the fear instantly materialized. And then I had no choice. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was paralyzed.

So I called out to my husband. I took the route of humility and admitted that I was paralyzed and in a dangerous situation.

And as soon as I did the floodgates of irrational thoughts burst into my mind like disgruntled peasants breaking down the palace gates.

I am so stupid.

Why can’t I do this?

This was stupid.

This is insanely embarrassing.

No one here is ever going to want to climb with me again.

(note: this last statement now seems extremely bizarre to me, but there it is.)

And the tears came. A physical manifestation of the flowing thoughts and fears.

I heard the clinking of gear being exchanged. Ropes being pulled. Voices of Ben and his friends. He was coming to get me. All I had to do was hold on.

With my foot in a medium-sized hold and cramping up by the minute I held my position.

My fear ebbed and my shame increased.

“I should just keep climbing.” I yelled to Ben. “I’m two moves away. This is stupid. I can do this.”

I looked down and saw he was halfway to me.

“Don’t move.” He said.

He got to where I was. I could see the panic in his face when he realized how slippery the rock was next to me and I still wasn’t tied in.

I was still trying to save face and finish the climb, but he wouldn’t let me move until three anchors were tying me in. Then I was good. I made the move.

As soon as I was tied in and out of my cramped position my panic vanished. I turned a corner. “I actually planned this so Ben could practice his rescue skills,” I yelled down to Ben’s friends in an attempt to shine humor on my foolish choice to make the climb. They smiled. One of them acknowledged that it had seemed like an easy solo climb. This made me feel better.

Ben built more anchors. He climbed up and over. He built another anchor and belayed me up.

It was an easy finish. Totally within my comfort zone when on rope or bouldering. Totally not okay with wet rock 35’ off the ground.

In another scenario I could have finished the climb, then cried when I realized how dangerous it had been.

In another scenario I could have finished the climb confident, then brushed away compliments when others repeated the difficult route after me.

In another scenario I could be dead.

Crazy? Who me? (the route is behind me)

The curious thing about this story is that I’m not sure what to take away from it. (Besides the obvious: don’t climb high without a rope.)

To say “I almost died today” is an over exaggeration. I probably would have finished fine.

To say “I could have died today” isn’t specific. Everytime I get in my car I put myself in harm’s way. I love adventure. Risk is always a part of my life. It makes life worth living.

But one thing I realized is how legitimate a threat needs to be in order for me to fear it. I don’t normally feel a lot of fear. I have some general fears, but I tend to be fearless about a lot of things that the general public fears – like quitting my job, exposing myself to heights, teaching middle schoolers, and traveling alone. So when I feel fear with a physical sensation in my body and have the common sense to be vulnerable about my fear it is a pretty legitimate danger.

(Or there is a sea monster with tentacles and razor-sharp teeth, but that’s another story.)  

There is one thing this underscores in my mind:

I am an adventurer. I live for the possibility of reaching another horizon. This is who I am.

Today was just a bit more than I bargained for. A little higher and a little wetter than I thought.

But I’m here! I’m good! I live to see another adventure. And the next won’t be so life-threatening (at least I hope not).

P.S. Don’t give me any of your “Jeeesssssss!!! What were you thinking!??!” bullshit. If you know me at all you should have been expecting this post.

For another epic climbing post, 

read this one.

***

Epilogue:

***

Dear Nana-In-Heaven,

I know that my rock climbing always freaked you out and made you worry. And I know I always told you that I never climbed without a rope. And I know you worried anyway.

I’m sorry I climbed without a rope today. I won’t do it again.

Thanks for caring and for watching over me today. I know you were there.

xo Jess

***

Simple.

I am lying when I say that I need to be on Facebook all day in order to do my job. It's a distraction. There are only a few directed tasks I need it for. Beyond that I can minimize the chatter. This morning had been one of good food, a hot shower, no distractions, and fruitful work/ideas. Here's to less distractions!

Listening

Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes: and leap!

(from Defying Gravity)

To maintain sanity I am fliping back and forth between a high-energy Glee soundtrack and listening to the soundtrack of the natural environment. 

I leave tomorrow. I leap tomorrow. Or have I already leaped?

Last night about 20 of my family and friends gathered to help stuff 1400+ envelops to give away on the first leg of the tour. It was one of those moments that I felt connected and held...and also realized the enormity of what I am doing on this tour. Those moments have been sneaking up on me. They are thrilling...in a good and in a scary way. 

So here I go. 

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

 

Went Something Like This

I talk to myself. Today the conversation went something like this.

Me 1: Sometimes I just wonder whether that small voice inside that says that I will never accomplish this huge vision I have is right. What if that voice is not the inner critic? What if that voice is just reality and my vision is too big and I'm not special enough to bring together all these people and change lives? It is possible that I will fail. 

Me 2: Get a team. People keep saying you need a team. Envision a team of people sitting around and planning the next steps of this vision. Feel what is feels like to work with other people to step-by-step bring creative opportunities to the masses. It would work, right? Now go build that team. 

Me 1: Yeah. The task doesn't seem so crazy when I see a team helping me. Okay. I won't give up yet. I will build a team.

Want to join my team? We are going to change the world. 

About To Jump

I am standing on the edge of a cliff. I have made the decision to jump. I know I will miraculously grow wings and fly, or maybe land in that mysterious net that appears when we need it, or plunge deep into warm and soothing waters that will carry me, or something like that. But right now from here I can still see it all laid out before me - the plan and the unknowns.

I can see that I have started something. The next 5 months of my life will be about a road trip. A leap of faith. A giant journey recorded on the internet. A spinning of a web connecting thousands of people. A coming together. A world of unknowns that will become known. 

I am one of the ones who always has to jump. I never regret it. I only ever regret not jumping. 

I wonder sometimes if the urge to jump will leave me someday. But that seems like such a distant question for another time so I choose to ignore it. What happens will happen. 

Right now I am jumping. 

Smarter

Recently I have noticed that my words have dried up. I have less desire to describe my world and less ability to formulate anything I feel is worth reading. I like writing, but recently it had dried up. 

I have a hypothesis that stress has pushed it out because the desire to string words together has been replaced with panic regarding running two businesses and a general sense of not doing enough. 

Ah, there is that word again: enough. How appropriate that it should show itself again. My nemesis, I think.

And yet sometimes something is not enough to get you to where you want to go and you either need to fight your way upstream or surrender to failure. I tend to just keep fighting and get more and more tired. And that probably sums up where I have been lately. And when I state my situation like this I am reminded of that saying "fight smarter, not harder." So there I go. That is what I must do.

The Blur. The Rush.

Traveling always seems to allow time to play tricks on me. These last couple weeks here in the Northwest have really flown by. They kind of feel like a blur. We did a lot of relaxing and exploring, but also a lot of working. I am talking about Seek Your Course wherever I go because I believe in my company and in our mission. And so I work and that makes time speed by even faster. 

Now our trip has come to an end. We toured the NW and enjoyed it. Part of my grand plan to move out here and Ben is no longer so opposed. He has seen it and approves. There are a few places we would love to live and I hope we are lucky enough to do so. 

one of my aunt's many elephants

I am continuing to fight the feelings that I am alone in my work. I would love to find a team to build around me. Seek Your Course needs a team building it up. I tend to be inpatient so I am fighting this and trusting that the team will come. 

I was thinking last night about walking like an elephant...slowly, steadily, with intention and an internal compass. Then I remembered that Ganesha, an elephant, is the remover of obstacles. I've been dwelling on these thoughts to help me move forward. 

another remover of obstacles

I will post more about Artfest soon. Or at least link you to my SYC posts about it. 

Savor

I was inspired  to think again about the word savor by Andrea Scher's post about savoring life

Savor is a word I want to acknowledge more in my life. I've learned to eat fast, work constantly, and even my procrastination doesn't involve taking in beautiful things slowly. So instead of doing the same again I took my time with my lunch today. I sat in my favorite lunch/cafe spot, ate olives with my fingers, listened to my Glee pandora station, indulged in a savory grilled cheese and tried to slow down a little bit. It was delicious. 

Now I'm going back to work with a satisfied feeling in my stomach and in my mind. 

Pace

The pace of a public school is swift and so was my life last year. My classroom was my own, but the fact that I had a room full of young teens and a behemoth list of topics to cram in before the end of the year pushed me into hyperdrive whether I wanted to be or not. 

And then there is the time out of the classroom. My prep time was governed by a ticking clock. My lunch time was cut shorter and shorter as I tried to do it all. My various meetings were usually frustrating and generally thought of as a waste of time. My inbox was constantly refilling with complaints from life-sucking parents who needed to just parent. 

It was high-stress and high-maintenance. And in a way I loved it. Yes, I crashed all the time and was frustrated out of my mind, but I loved that pace of life. I loved managing chaos. I got such a rush from completing a hundred little tasks before the next big event. I felt great when a room full of people paid attention to me. It was affirming to know that I was invaluable. 

 

And now I have me. 


The dogs. 

 

The wood stove. 


Silence. 

 

Large spans of unmanaged time stretching blankly like snow covered fields. 


It’s like I moved my brain from the city to the butt-crack middle-of-nowhere. 



I tell people I am adjusting. This is not a lie. There are ups and downs, but it is getting better. 

I am connecting with others, having time for the things I like to do, and slowly shifting my brain to think like a smart business woman. I can feel myself settling into this new life.

I am finding a routine. I am going to be chronicling one day a month on Seek Your Course and wrote the first one this week. It was interesting to detail my every movement for a day. A good perspective to have, I think. 

But I do miss the pace of a job job. In some ways. I do not miss being so utterly exhausted all the time. Tradeoffs, I know. 



Cooking Cassoulet

For the past few years I really saw cooking daily meals as a barrier between myself and the things I wanted to do. With teaching all day long, coming home to cook for an hour or two before doing anything else just felt like torture. 

Now that I work from home and spend most of my time working on the project that were so marginalized in the past, I am finally starting to love cooking again. It feels good. I actually enjoy chopping the fresh vegetables, smelling the herbs and garlic, finding new recipes, and especialy loving all the praise from my husband. I am a good cook and he reminds me of it all the time now. 

Chicken and Butternut Squash Cassoulet (not the most attractive cassoulet, but so yummy)

My new love: cassoulet. According to Wikipedia, cassoulet is a "rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausagesporkgooseduck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans."

I first made Quick Cassoulet from Cooking Light. It was a huge hit when we had friends over, so I found another one, Chicken Cassoulet with Acorn Squash also from Cooking Light. Acorn Squash is a pain to peel and cut up, so I made it with butternut instead. It came out well, but we missed the bread crumbs which are traditional. Other than that, it was great. Although I do now know why the Quick Cassoulet was called Quick...the Chicken Cassoulet took almost 3 hours to make and cook! Yikes! 

I think I am now ready to experiment with my own cassoulet starting from these two recipes. Already inventing new combinations of ingredients in my head.

Night Driving

I worked in a coffee shop this afternoon getting some Seek Your Course blog posts written. But given that it is January in New England I drove home in the dark at around 6 pm. Call it cheesy, call it crazy but on the way home – driving in the dark – I was thinking about stars.

I first saw a single star – a tiny pinprick of light – in the dark sky. The little star had a halo. Hope was the word that came to mind. Something about that solitary star burning brightly in all that darkness made feel hope.

After turning onto a darker road I found that the sky was actually filled with stars. Orion was clearly visible above my head.

Not to be overly metaphorical or anything, but I often feel like the first star I saw. It feels like I am the only star in the sky. But really there are many, many stars. Sometimes they are just hard to see. I am definitely not alone, even if this new way of living and working is more solitary than I am used to. The stars are there, burning brightly, whether anyone sees them or not.

2011

last january

Last year I wrote a new year's post about everything I was looking forward to. There was so much hope for a good year and so many plans I couldn't even share yet. And it was an amazing year. 

the contrast of february: lots of snow and a trip to Ecuador

But the reality is that there were a lot of hard stretches. Personally, this was a hard year. From where I stand I can see the magnificent high points AND the very low points that no one else can see. I am glad to celebrate the high points but looking back I cannot ignore the hard stuff – the low points and all the work it took to get to the high points. The highs were amazing but I feel like the lows were pretty low.

Does it have to be that way, I wonder? If I want the peaks do I have to go so low in between? Maybe. I am looking forward starting Louise Gale's ecourse again next week and going through the exercises she has created to honor the past and look forward!

And where I am now feels hard. I am trying to be brave, but change is hard and stressful. I find solace in I knowing I am on the right path and I feel it promising a beautiful future. 

ice climbing in march

So on to the celebrating. Looking back these are the mountains I climbed:

- Seek Your Course: idea to launch in 6 months! What a ride that was! And it continues to grow and evolve. Lots of exciting developments on the way in 2012. 

- It was a beautiful winter full of snow and snow shoeing. Tried ice climbing and loved it. Planning on doing more this winter. 

cape cod in june for the encaustic conference

- Finished my 5th year of teaching. It was a hard year, especially once I started Seek Your Course and spent all my extra time in that, but good.

- Applied for artist residencies and got into two. Chose Spain. 

seek your course launch party in july

- Attended EncaustiCamp in Oregon in July. What an amazing group of people! So creative and uplifting. 

- Asked to teach at EncaustiCamp 2012. So excited to be offering a class I really love and that is so personally fulfilling for me. Want to join me?

falling in love with oregon in july

colorado on the way home from oregon was lovely too

- Quit my job teaching with mixed feelings. But certainly not looking back.

- Kickstarter success. Raised over $2,200 for my residency in Spain. Supported by 39 people. Still feel blessed.

then there was that flooding in augustcoastal trip in august (lauren with poppy on the beach)

- Lots of time spent with friends and family this year. As I looked through photos I realized just how awesome it has been.

- Finally climbed Mt. Washington and partially completed the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire. 

mt washington, nh in september

the summits of mt perdido and ben nevis

- Europe and my artist residency. Where to begin reccounting the exciting times and accomplishments? I guess climbing Ben Nevis in Scotland (highest peak in the UK) and the 11,000'+ Mt. Perdido in Spain tops the list. And my residency provided an infusion of time into my painting practice. An amazing experience. And I saw the Queen of England. Icing on the cake.

- UPDATE: How could I forget? My Shows! Seeing my art hanging in Spain, New York, Miami and here in my town.

spain in octoberthe queen in november

Looking ahead, this is what I am looking forward to in 2012: 

- Teaching Encaustics: in-studio classes here in Western Massachusetts, East Coast workshops in February, April, & May, EncaustiCamp in July, and ...

- Headed to Artfest in Seattle in March. Ben and I will explore the northwest together too. His first time.

- Really hoping to make it to Texas (for the first time) in September for the International Encaustic Artists conference there.

- Participating in a couple of artist groups – one local, one virtual – to build community and have some accountability in this self-employment thing.

- Working on the house. This has to be the year of finishing this place or I WILL go crazy.

- SYC developments. Connecting more creative people with the learning opportunities out there!

our neighbors here in december

The Workings Within






I keep coming back to this poem by my friend Maya Stein. Even thought the season outside is not one of bursting forth, the imagery in this poem resonates with where my life is right now. Change. That fulcrum. The thoughts within that cannot agree about the future...or even the present at times.



old and new

We have such awe for the caterpillar. Reverence, even,
for its slow molting, for the poetry of its transformation. We watch, transfixed,
as it wrestles out of what was – that permeable, earthbound skin –
and catches the first whiff of flight. It’s not that the metaphor is lost
on us. We recognize the magnificence and rigor of metamorphosis, the ache
and necessity of change. But the turn of our own body we thwart and battle.
Our hearts cleave from an outgrown home but we groove claw marks in our wake –
departure like a hostile beast. Perhaps it’s the fulcrum in the see-saw that alarms.
That pause between the past waving its farewell and the future opening its palms.

(you can get more of Maya's 10-line Tuesdays poems here)

The photos are from a walk around the neighborhood and marches where my brother and sister-in-law live on the North Shore of Boston. Subtle beauty.

Adrift (where the sea is taking me)

florist in London

Being in Europe was like being handed the keys to a speedboat. My life was suddenly filled with new sights and sounds and I was moving. Even when I settled into a routine in Spain life was still beautiful and rich with momentum. Everything was new. I had amazing food, language to absorb and attend to, new things to snap photos of everyday, and a constant bubbling of excitement.

At a Tea House in LondonA cloudy skyline, royal ironwork, individually wrapped sushi and Wicked!

Now I feel like I took the speed boat out onto the open seas and the motor stalled. Try as I might it just won't start. I'm back home and the momentum is gone. Somedays the speed I felt before seems like a distant memory that might have been a dream. My trip does kind of seem like a dream. I've been home less than a month but that time away feels so distant and the feeling of being back again seems to shadow all that happened.

The Pipilotti Rist exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in LondonAt the Southbank Centre...I would take this residency any day!

I even saw the Queen during my dreamy adventures!

I am back and the sea is calm but insistent and I wonder where it is taking me. Without a working motor taking me speeding ahead I am noticing the things that make me uncomfortable...feeling those feelings that I don't want to feel. The doubts about whether I am in the right place in my life. The fear of loneliness and rejection. Some days I feel like the sea is pulling me in various directions just to mess with me. 

But then again there is evidence that the sea knows better than I do. There is evidence that the sea is taking me places I could never have planned to go. I am learning to take advantage of this open schedule and self-employed lifestyle. I am scheduling time with friends, inspirational trips, and making exciting plans but not quite finding enough time to paint yet. It will come. I will insist.

Sarah Ahearn Bellemare's show in Northampton (and her daughter, Ada)

Some guerilla knitting found near my home.

A day at the new Wishstudio in Newburyport with Mindy Tsonas

So I am learning to be adrift. I usually have one mode: Go. (And then there is Crash but I try to pretend that doesn't happen.) This feels like neither. This feels like a mix of fate and adventure. This feels like real exploration...not the kind on a trail but the kind in the jungle with no map. The kind that comes with uncertainties, unknowns and fear. I shall be brave and find out where the sea is taking me.

 

 

A Thankful Post

turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet potato crisp, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green beans, carrots with basil, olives, asparagus, crescent roll, butternut squash and turnip...a little bit of everything

This Thanksgiving I am most thankful for everything I missed while I was in Europe:

  • Electric toothbrush
  • Clothes Dryer
  • Chai lattes
  • Cafes (none in the little pueblo!)
  • Pizza
  • Sushi
  • Antonio's, Bueno y Sano, Fresh Side, Sierra Grille...all my favorite places to eat here.
  • Hulu
  • Pandora
  • Woodstove
  • Dogs
  • Ben 

 

the oh-so-fast! Basil and me

I am also immensely thankful for the memories and experience that are tied to the list of things that I now miss about being in Europe:

  • The pueblo's castle
  • My bedroom's terrace and view
  • Rich architecture
  • Old stonework
  • Fresh sqeezed orange juice
  • Good chocolate
  • Cheap wine
  • Cheap local produce and meats
  • Tapas (free food in the bars! come on!)
  • The newness of everything
  • Green sprouts of wheat 
  • Getting around by bike

a tell-tale sign that I am no longer in Spain

 

La Fragua: Being Here

the castle reflected in el pilar (the washing pool)

I arrived here at La Fragua in Belalcázar a week ago. Life here is beautiful. There is so much to appreciate everyday. I have time and space to think and create. I have a beautiful place to work and a beautiful place to live. I have a bedroom with a terrace that overlooks a castle. I have internet so I can stay in touch with friends and family and blog. And I have amazing things to see and eat, which is what most of this post is about.

It took a while to get all my supplies together, but now I am mostly there and starting to paint. It also took a couple days to get acquainted with the pueblo, or village, and learn where to buy bread, meat, cheese, produce, and other groceries. I also took a trip to Córdoba on my birthday last Thursday. Javi and Rosana from here at the residency were going for an art opening and I used the opportunity to get a lot of my supplies and to see the famous architecture there. I will post about that trip soon.  

a view of the full moon rising – from my terrace

Being here is a full sensory experience. Right now I am writing from my desk in my room. The windows are open to my terrace and the castle on the hill right outside the pueblo.

the view I wake up to, work to, and love

I hear water running from the old stone pool (el pilar) – where women used to do their washing before the days of machines – flowing into the stream down below. I hear pigeons – always pigeons cooing – and when I am at the convent the sound of the pigeons reverberates against the stone and permeates everything else. I hear hundreds of other birds twittering and chirping (the castle is a favorite home for them). I hear the rooster. I hear the bell which tolls the hours. I often hear dogs barking, cats meowing, the workers building a house a couple doors down (which often is my morning wake-up call), children yelling, babies crying, greetings and instructions yelled in spanish, distant cars and 4-wheelers zipping around the hillsides. I hear how all sounds echo and travel here because we live in a world of tile and stone. I hear a chair scrape and the door shut on the other side of the house.

around the pilar

my house is the one with all the white arches on the terrace; my terrace is the top one

the whole view from my terrace

I see the hills closest to me covered in rows of olive trees. I see the farther hills covered in yellow grass because the rains have not come yet. I see flocks of birds flying from tree to castle to rooftop. I see white stucco houses with courtyards, archways and terra cotta tiled roofs. I see stone walls – old and new, maintained and crumbling. I see the plant I bought for my terrace’s table with its pink and orange blooms sitting in the bright orange pot I bought too. I see children on laptops using the free public wifi in the plaza surrounding the washing pool. I often see adults, children, dogs, cats, and an occasional horse. I see the house they are building and I watch the progression each day. I see the castle. I see the crumbling stonework, the grass growing on the top of the walls and towers, an old archway, the detailed pattern of the more elaborate stone decorations on the main tower, the graffiti sprayed onto the stones and on the little white house that sits in front of the castle, and the giant nests of storks (which have flown south to Africa for the winter; the nests sit on top of almost every tall building or tower in the pueblo). I see all of this framed in the two white arches that form the outer edge of my terrace. 

a walk around the castleproving my badass-ness and climbing an old arch (there was a path, but yes I was on top of that)

the ruined white house in front of the castle

I taste the many wonderful foods that are typical to eat here. I taste the almonds, eggplant, onions, tomatoes, basil, beans, peppers, and garlic that I gather from the garden at the convent and cook in various ways. I taste fresh oven-baked bread. I taste farm fresh eggs. I taste cured ham, which in the states we know as prosciutto (and evidently I have only had the poor quality packaged variety; going to get it fresh cut tomorrow). I taste olives – olives stuffed with garlic, olive oil, and whole olives. I taste cheese and there are only fresh and gourmet cheeses here that beg to be savored and paired with various other foods. I taste rich, local wine – mostly red (white wine here is strong and sweet but tastes almost like it is mixed with vodka; they call it fino). I taste Pablo’s homemade empanadas filled with meat, vegetables, olives and hardboiled egg. I taste tapas sandwiches made with different combinations of sardines, tuna, anchovies, meat and cheeses. I taste fried calamari, tiny eggplants in vinegar, fries covered in cheese and hot sauces, potato and egg torta, fried nuggets of tuna salad, smoked salmon and raw cod with tomato paste on bread (“spanish sushi”), potato and tuna salad, fried cod and so many other tapas (I will write a whole post on tapas, promise). I taste dulce de leche, coffee, and almond gelato. Most recently I tasted Fanta soda made with real lemon juice and real sugar. 

TAPAS! (clockwise from top right): patatas bravas and calamari, garlic stuffed olives, shrimp and vinegar marinated eggplant, olives and cheese, "spanish sushi" raw fish on bread, potato and tuna salad, tuna in sauce, manchego cheese and crackers. cooking

I smell tomato sauce that Rosana, my housemate, made from the tomatoes in the garden. I smell basil every time I come and go from the convent because it grows by the gate. I smell hot olive oil when I cook. I smell baking bread and cooking meats when I bike through the pueblo. I smell the frying dough of churros in the churreria. I smell all the amazing foods I have eaten, as smell is part of taste. I smell tobacco smoke because almost everyone here smokes. I smell the sunscreen I try to remember to put on my face everyday. I smell the stinging stench of manure when I bike past the farms. I smell hot beeswax when I paint and everyone comments on how nice it smells. I smell the scent of the soap Ben and I bought in Barcelona and the smell of the new soap I bought here – both different from the soap I use at home. I smell dust and exhaust. I smell earth and plants.

churros in hot chocolate

around el pueblo

snack time: almonds from the garden

I feel sun warming me all the way through – constant sun.  I feel the warm air blowing my hair back behind me when I ride my bike. I feel the wax and the textures I create with it. I feel the ripeness of fruits and vegetables. I feel the readiness of pasta. I feel the ancient stonework and wonder what stories it could tell. I feel the wind when it blows mightily through the convent. I feel the cool tile beneath my feet. I feel the coolness inside the stone buildings contrasting with the intense heat outside. I feel the heat of the day give way to the cool of the night, only to slowly come to hot again the next day. I feel the blister on my foot from walking all over Córdoba. I feel where I stubbed my toe yesterday. I feel where I scraped myself the day before. I feel sharp grasses scrape my ankles as I walk around the castle. I feel the peeling skin on my nose because it seems to always be a little burnt. I feel hot showers relaxing and refreshing me. I feel the new leather of the purse and the weight of the thick silver earrings I bought in Córdoba (the city is known for leather and silver). I feel the heavy bags I bike with as I bring supplies to the convent and vegetables home.  

a visitor at the convent today

the reason I am here; first paintings in Spain

Every morning I wake up and greet the castle outside my window. Every morning I feel eternally grateful to be here. 

Europe: Zaragoza and Madrid

This is the last of the posts about Ben and me traveling around Europe. I am enjoying the end of day 5 here at my residency. I am so in love with this place. Finally settled in. Really enjoying the atmosphere and finally got the materials I need to start painting. I did my first Spain painting today. Still no suitcase. We think it is in customs somewhere. But I have the basics and can start.

***

the view from our balcony in Zaragoza

Due to the schedule of busses we had to spend a night in Zaragoza on our way to Madrid from the Pyrenees. We spent a couple hours enjoying the architecture and found a tapas bar that was serving at the early hour of 8pm. Most places didn't open until 9pm. 

street art, a sculptural fountain, and very old architecture...i just love Spain!Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar (they were setting up for the big festival there) and TAPAS! I am just loving tapas. On the left is my favorite so far: bread with carmelized onions and a round slice of grilled goat cheese! Delish!Zaragoza at night. (upper right is the old roman theatre ruins)

The next day we got into Madrid. It was our last day together before Ben went home, so we didn't pack too much in. Walked about the famous plazas and enjoyed the vibe. We tried to solve the problem of my cell phone and get art supplies but mostly failed at both (all good now tho!). It was a good day, but kind of sad too.

Despite hard times and being sick, we were really reminded on this trip of how good we are for each other – despite our many differences. We relied on each other more, even when we might have been blaming the other for something. We had to. So we learned, or remembered, a lot about how good life is together and how to "pick your battles" better and let the other be themselves. We seem to have been reminded to support each other in the last few weeks. It feels good. 

We've been together for over 10 years now. Almost 11. I can't imagine life without him. He is enough. Enough to complete my life. I miss him. I wish he could have stayed, although I know he is happy snuggling with our dogs back in the States now. Life in Spain is just incredibly beautiful. Perfect, except for lacking him.

left photos: our boutique hotel we loved; right: various MadridMadrid (holy pig!)the view from the hotel's rooftop bar (which was empty because it was chilly out)I am looking forward to writing all about my residency. Hopefully I will start tomorrow. So much to write about and so many photos/videos. I spent yesterday in Córdoba too, and that deserves its own post!

Europe: Getting to Scotland (Impostor?)

the tiny regional plane we took from Dublin to Glasgow...with a propeller!

I’m experiencing a sort of low-point in the trip. Perhaps it is all the rain of Ireland and Scotland. Perhaps it is just the up and down cycle I always seem to be on. But I just kind of feel like an impostor. Who am I to think I can be one of those cool people who backpacks around Europe? Who am I to think I can quit my job and make a living in my own business? Who am I to think this blog is worth reading? 

Even as I write this I actually feel a little better. That tends to happen. The things I tell myself are usually such construed versions of the truth that they pale when voiced. But these feelings are always with me. The hard, rooted ugliness of my fears based in one of the most human desires: to be worth something. To be cool, to be loved, to be important and to have one’s dreams be worth dreaming about.

I am living one of my most important dreams right now: traveler. I have always wanted to be sitting in this lounge with coal burning in the fireplace and Ben Nevis up there somewhere in the clouds. I have always wanted to carry my groceries and a laptop bag up the hill and eat frozen pizza with dented-can hard cider. I have always wanted to sit right here with my precious laptop and husband as he reads terrifying stories of hiking gone wrong written by a mountain guide, listening to music that reminds me of days at the People’s Market at UMass. I have always wanted to sit in a pub chatting with new friends and listen to our three different English accents mix. And it is enough. And I guess I am cool enough to deserve this. 

Also the longer I am away from Seek Your Course, the more nervous I get that I am not doing enough. (Oh, the ever-present desire to be working!) Businesses are tricky and it feels like I have left my 6 month old baby with my mom a whole ocean away. (She is approving listings and doing the 5 In The Morning posts for these three weeks.) I worry and I fret, but I guess I just need to give myself this time to travel and I will work on all the fabulous plans and developments I have in store when I get to Spain. It will still be there and things are humming along just find without me steering for these few weeks. Trying to let go and trust that these paths were made available – both of them!

Last day in Donegal (Donegal Castle and town)

Some footage of driving on the left on the narrow country roads in Ireland:

Top row: Cow herding while driving back to Dublin; the rest: here in ScotlandOut at a pub in Fort William with hostel-matesMmmmmmm....pressed leather ceiling!

Late Summer

More recent work: Vulnerable (12"x12") and Torn (10"x10")

We leave in the morning. Yikes. Here are some late summer shots that were just too good to not post and some recent work. That's all I have time for right now!

Posts from Europe coming soon.

Our friend Elliot's birthday party. He and his wife live on a beautiful farm.

Our Little Bit of Flooding

Hurricane Irene (or rather the tropical storm that came after) has turned a lot of lives upside down. Our house is fine and we never lost power, but others nearby were not so lucky. My thoughts go out to those more inconvenienced and harmed than us.

My only major inconvenience is that the major road to the next town over is flooded. It makes getting around tedious, especially with everyone else trying to take that one road now. Yesterday I got out to see the flooding and took some pictures. Absolutely crazy to see such drastic river levels in my little corner of the world.  

 

All this extreme weather called for some sauteed vegetables. Naturally.