"Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted"

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Shirley Jackson

I'm mildly obsessed with artists, especially writers, who are also mothers (the Husband would probably say it's more than a mild obsession). I admire the fact that they're able to combine both roles in their lives. For example, as I write this, I'm aware that I should be going to the grocery store to pick up a couple of essential items, and that I should be putting the ingredients for dinner into the slow cooker so that when I get home tonight at 7:00 after taking Number 2 child and Number 3 child to gymnastics, there will be something ready to feed everyone with. I'm also aware that I need to plan and purchase the supplies needed for the art project I rashly agreed to organize for our Daisy Scout Troop to do at their meeting on Friday. The car needs a service and .........well..... I could go on and on and on because my to do list, like most peoples is endless. The point I'm trying to make, is that despite having grand dreams, I struggle to fit in a blog post here and there and yet a woman like Shirley Jackson managed to write lots of great books (about 9 before she died aged 48) and bring up a family. In fact, she had four children to my three.  

Shirley Jackson was an incredibly talented writer. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of the best books I've ever read. It's a creepy, macabre, claustrophobic tale that you just can't put down. The narrator is a preternatural young woman named Mary Catherine Blackwood, Merricat for short. The reader can tell there is something very wrong with her and yet, she is captivating. The book begins like this:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richared Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the deathcup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

Wow! Powerful stuff eh? The thing I find most fascinating, is that she appears to have been a pretty normal mother. Her two works of non-fiction, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, detail her home life with her family and they are quite hilarious. How did these two opposing sides, coexist in one woman? How did she find time to write so well? Her fictional worlds are so incredibly detailed, you feel as though you are in them. Surely to write like that, her own mind must have occupied these spaces for large portions of her day. How then did she switch off and become a mum again when her kids returned from school each day? 

As a mother, she of course had her own to do lists. This is a quote from Life Among the Savages:

I believe that all women, but especially housewives tend to think in lists; I have always believed, against all opposition, that women think in logical sequence, but it was not until I came to empty the pockets of my light summer coat that year that I realized how thoroughly the housekeeping mind falls into the list pattern, how basically the idea of a series of items, following one another docilely, forms the only reasonable approach to life if you have to live it with a home and a husband and children, none of whom would dream of following one another docilely. What started me thinking about it was the little slips of paper I found in the pockets of my light summer coat, one beginning "cereal, shoes to shop, bread, cheese, peanut butter, evening paper, doz doughnuts, CALL PICTURE."

While I was writing this earlier, I couldn't quite concentrate because I kept thinking about dinner tonight and how it wasn't in the slow cooker and therefore it wasn't cooking. After writing the first paragraph,  I got up, optimistically threw some leeks, potato and stock together and closed the lid of the crock pot, crossing my fingers that when I open it up in about six hours from now, it will have miraculously turned into leek and potato soup. When I finished doing that, I looked at the clock and realized that if I didn't get a move on, I wouldn't have time run to the grocery store to get the essential items before the kids get home from school. In other words, I barely managed to put together this blog post in between my to do list. How then, did a woman like Shirley Jackson manage to put together entire, mysterious and captivating worlds in her novels in between picking up cereal and the evening paper?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tree Figures

Last Friday I took the kiddos to a local art museum which is something I haven't done for ages. They are all at a good age for this now. My middle child recently decided that she wants to be an artist so I thought it would be particularly interesting for her. My eldest child claims to have no interest in art but then blows my mind with his observations when actually confronted with it. The youngest always seems happy to tag along with what everyone else is doing.

One of my favorite things in the world is talking with children about art. It's so refreshing to hear what they see in a piece. It's always unfiltered and without pretension - just an honest reaction to what they see. They also seem to learn so much from it.

There were some very nice pieces on display but we all really loved these tree figures by Joseph Wheelwright in the sculpture garden.

I am totally captivated right now by this amazing murmuration clip.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Poets' Cake

I've wanted to make this Tomato Soup Cake a la Sylvia Plath for some time now but avoided it because I had a feeling the kiddos and The Husband would turn their noses up at it leaving me with with an entire, cream cheese frosted cake to eat - which I could manage absolutely - it just wouldn't be a good thing to do to myself. As it was Easter this weekend, I felt this was the perfect occasion to break out the recipe.

One of the cake ingredients is a can of condensed tomato soup, hence the title, so I had to be very surreptitious in the kitchen so that no one spotted this going into the bowl. I didn't want a repeat of a similar episode where I made these wonderful black bean brownies but got caught mixing in the black beans. Despite the fact they were pretty delicious, the children and The Husband wouldn't go near them. This time I managed to mix the entire cake without anyone spotting the secret ingredient but when it came to eating it, I had to get creative with the name. Number 1 child can be very pushy when trying to find out what is in a dish and is often suspicious of my creations. I didn't break, I told him it was very similar to carrot cake which he loves and then renamed it Poet's Cake. When I told them it was Poet's Cake, each child decided to make up a rhyme. Number One child complained that Number 2 child was using made up words in her rhyme which gave me the perfect excuse to read Jabberwocky to them so all in all, a pretty successful cake. It makes me so happy when food and literature come together.

The picture of the magnolia bears no relevance to all of this I just felt it needed to make an appearance as it's so pretty.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Foraging for food

Years ago I read an article in the New York Times about foraging for food in the wild and I remember thinking, oh I love that idea, but in those days I was chained to a desk day in day out and living in the heart of the city so I filed the thought away. Recently, it occurred to me again that it would be both interesting and useful to know how to find food growing in the wild and as luck would have it, around about the same time that the thought occurred to me, I discovered that 'Wildman' Steve Brill an expert forager, would be holding a 'Wild Food and Ecology Tour' at Stone Barns Center which is quite near where I live. I signed up straight away.

This Sunday therefore found me meeting up with about thirty other like-minded souls all on a mission to learn about what you might find to eat amongst wild plants. It was enormously entertaining, Wildman Steve Brill is quite a character and has an encyclopedic knowledge of uncultivated plants. I went along thinking that we might be shown how to identify the odd mushroom or maybe even a ramp or fiddlehead fern and that would be about the sum of it but actually it seems there are lots of things growing in abundance everywhere that can either be eaten or used medicinally. We were barely out of the parking lot when our guide showed us the first clump of edible green leaves and thereafter we would only take about two paces before we were being shown the next tasty delight. At first we were all a bit timid and hung back whilst he encouraged us to sample our finds but by the end of it we were nibbling away at everything like rabbits. Now that I'm sitting here thinking about it, that seems quite a funny concept but at the time, it seemed perfectly natural for us to be munching away on every second patch of green leaves. Most of them were quite delicious.

As the tour took place on an 80 acre farm, I was skeptical that any of the plants we found during the workshop would be easy to find elsewhere but low and behold, without really trying I have already discovered at least three of the plants we learned to identify growing in my backyard and that was without much effort at all. I still need to work a bit on my natural fear of eating found things and will have to check, double check and triple check that I have identified them correctly before adding them to my cooking but I will definitely be including some of them on the menu before long.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Baking and Art

I'm using a black and white photo today to introduce my first topic which is the movie I went to see last night. 'The Woodmans' is a documentary about a family of artists. The daughter, Francesca Woodman, a photographer, tragically killed herself aged 22 leaving behind an extraordinary body of work. The movie is about art and family and it's fascinating. I highly recommend it if you should come across it.

The thing which struck me most about the film, is the parents commitment to their art. It is all encompassing. Even when they had two young children, art came first and foremost. I don't mean that the children were eclipsed by the art but that the whole family lived and breathed it. The children were brought up in a house filled with art, the day to day occupation of the whole family revolved around the making of art and when they weren't making it they were out in museums and galleries observing art together (actually the parents were together and the children were sent off with a notebook and pen to record their own observations while the parents appreciated the art uninterrupted). I think this is a very interesting family dynamic. As far as I can see, the lives of most families nowadays revolve around the children. Their activities and occupations take priority and dictate how the family spends its time and parents either give up their own interests or squeeze them in around the children. Does it need to be like this? Which is way is right?

I was also going to talk about baking and play dates (hence the photo) but I seem to have become massively sidetracked so I will save that for another day.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Turkish Delight and Two Year Olds

When I was a little girl, we always had Turkish Delight at Christmas and I loved it so this year I decided to make some. I of course had visions of snuggling up with the children, reading passages from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe whilst eating it but this never materialized, one reason being that the children were less than enamored with it. I used a recipe from this book which I borrowed from the library a while back. I actually had to wait months to get a copy because so many people had placed it on hold. I've made a few things from it now and none of them have turned out particularly well which could be down to me of course but I don't think so in this case. This is a note to myself for future reference - the idea of reading 'The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe' whilst eating Turkish Delight with the children is a good one but get a new recipe.

And now onto another subject. I'm probably not alone in saying that I really don't enjoy the getting everyone ready for school rush every morning. Number 1 child and Number 2 child go to two different schools at two different times. My husband takes number 1 child to the bus stop on his way to work leaving me to take Number 2 child about fifty minutes later. Those fifty minutes have just become borderline unbearable due to the two year old antics of Number 3 child.

She looks angelic but she is going through the worst case of the terrible twos that I have thus far experienced. Of course she wants to do everything by herself which means that really I should be adding another two hours getting ready time to the schedule but if I so much as touch the sleeve of the sweater she has put on her head upside down for the fifth time she flies into such a rage that it is all I can do to stop myself cowering . Although they had their moments, I don't recall the other two being nearly as difficult. Maybe the terrible twos is something you forget like the pain of childbirth so that you continue to procreate. This is a note to myself for future reference - the idea of having another baby is a good one, but consider the pain of childbirth, sleepless nights and the terrible twos before making any rash decisions.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Paper cutting revisited

A little while ago I came across this truly amazing paper cut in a magazine I was reading. It was made by a 17 year old girl called Anna Maria Garthwaite in the 1700s. She grew up to become a very successful and talented textile designer. This piece can now be found at the V&A museum in the UK. I can't take my eyes off it. It is so detailed and intricate and I love the scene it depicts of a country house complete with gardeners, huntsmen and village. I think it is just incredible. I can appreciate the work and skill that went into them because I sometimes make paper cuts myself.

Last winter when the trees were really bare, I felt really inspired by their silhouettes. Compared to Anna Maria's work, they look pretty clumsy (mind you my eyesight was way better and my hand way steadier when I was 17 too) . I really love to make these because the simple act of cutting paper with a knife, puts my head in 'that place'. You know that place where you are totally absorbed in a project and everything else melts into the background. I'm feeling really inspired to get my cutting board out again now that the temperatures are cooling and my head is turning to cosy indoor activities. What projects will you be working on this fall which put your head in 'that place'?