Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Tis the Season

"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!" And what happened then...? Who-ville they say that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!
-Dr. Suess "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas"

Thanksgiving has come and gone. People sat around tables stuffing their faces with all kinds of epicurean delights, sharing stories, giving the occasional thanks for blessings in their lives. Eventually some members of the gathering made their way to the couch for a snooze or to watch a few plays of football. As soon as night passed, it was on to the next holiday and hordes of cell-phone-carrying crazed bargain hunters flooding the streets and stores to find the best deal on this year's hottest toys and gadgets.

Yes indeed, I was part of that mix. Not so much to find the latest deal, but living in a remote area I grab at the opportunity when in "the city" to seek what items we need "back at the ranch" that just aren't available locally. I had been dreading this day, knowing that I would have to skirt around crazily-driven cars at backed-up intersections only to find myself standing in line for what would seem an eternity for one or two items in my hand while others in front of me flaunt their overflowing carts while listening to "The Little Drummer Boy" play over the speaker system for a fourth time that morning.

Okay, maybe I am sounding a bit like the Grinch now.

But in reality, I am not Grinch-like. I love this season. I love (almost) everything about it. Christmas time conjures up all kinds of nostalgia for me. To this day, our family, friends, and neighbors still gather at Mom and Dad's for the Christmas Eve buffet: an enormous spread of food and cheer, gift-exchanging, music, and festive decorations. As a young child, my sister, brother, and I would perform little skits for everyone, or play music or sing. I can still recite the corresponding organ key numbers for "Dreaming of a White Christmas" and "Auld Lange Syne". We don't perform anymore, but the younger of the clan like to belt out a few holiday tunes on the paino or guitar, and the occasional AC/DC song.

In my youth, the butterflies would work overtime in my stomach on Christmas eve. I knew that the sooner I went to sleep the sooner I would wake to find all kinds of toys that Santa had tucked under the tree. There were plenty of chimneys for him to use, and my letters had been mailed to the North Pole ensuring that he would be well-prepared. I was certain I could hear the sleigh bells tinkling as he and his trusty crew of reindeer flew over, Rudolph at the helm of course.

Now that I am older, I still look forward to Christmas (and Solstice!) with great anticipation and excitement. As you age, you appreciate the holidays for different reasons than you did as a child. Now, I find more joy in giving and knowing that I will be spending time with those I love most dearly.

My mom wrote me an email yesterday reminiscing about Christmas past. Like many families, there were financial struggles, but, I never knew it as a kid. The Christmas tree was always overflowing and my sister, brother, and I didn't want for much. It always seemed we had everything we needed. Mom tells of the hours she spent making us handmade clothes and toys because times were so lean, and with tight budgeting she could supplement the handmade items with a couple of material-world toys that we had requested from Santa. I can think back and remember some of the gifts. There were certainly lots of dolls - one that peed and pooped when I fed her, one whose hair could "grow", the beauty-school head that I could I could glam-up, Little Red Riding Hood, and too many Barbies to count, all with high-end runway-type outfits. But what Mom would probably be amazed about is that the items I hold most dear from Christmas' past are the little beanie baby doll she made and the big stuffed pink turtle. I remember toting those two items to school a number of times.

I have lived a truly blessed life. I always had a roof over my head, warm clothes, food, family that loved me, beautiful holiday memories, and material items that I know many in this world don't or won't ever have an opportunity to experience.

I teach in a public school, in a remote, rural area where there are more of those who "need" than those who "have". I know my students, and I know which ones haven't been blessed as I was, or as I am. I know that children, regardless of income class, believe in Santa and expect that he will travel from the North Pole on Chritmas to deliver them their dreams. And I know that some students will be more silent than others as kids return from holiday break to show-off their new toys and talk about what goodies Santa delivered to them.

I imagine that most people who read my blog are kind, nurturing souls who are already helping-out others. Given the economy of late, I know it can be a lot to ask. Some folks may not be able to extend themselves financially, but are able to help out with time and volunteering. If you are able to help out, with a toy or in some other financial capacity, a great place to start is a school. Teachers know of lots of little boys and girls who could benefit from the generosity of another. Give your local school a call and ask if there is an item(s) that you can pick-up that will make a child's Christmas morning a little bit brighter. If not a school, there are plenty of children's homes/residential facilities that could use some goodwill as well.

It is a heart-opening experience to help another family who is less-fortunate then yourself. Even though the post-Thanksgiving crowd wanted to flare my Grinch side, my heart, like the Grinch's heart, grew and grew while I picked out toys and art supplies for the little boy who I know would have nothing under the tree (and probably not even a tree) except for what I will provide.

My parents are hosting the annual "cousins" Christmas party in a couple weeks. They usually have a "Yankee Swap" and we all know what kinds of gifts show up in those gift-giving games! This year, though, at my sister's suggestion, party-goers will be asked to draw names, then buy a toy that they feel represents that person. The toys will then be donated to a charity or school. Fabulous!

There are lots of ways to "give" this holiday season (and any season!). If you haven't already made your plan to help-out another, make it a goal to begin now. Whether it is a donation of time, money, or gifts, "tis the season". Perhaps you will help at a local shelter or food bank, be a secret-santa for a school-aged child, pay an out-0f-work neightbors electric bill, or volunteer at the local hospital's children's ward. It's all beautiful - and it feels great!

Start the giving now and feel your heart grow...and grow...and GROW.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Annual Holiday Open Studio Sale

The new studio space - still in progress

Displaying my sister Kristin's Jewelry: The Indigo Iris

A shelf with the Barley glaze: yunomi cups, rice bowls, and spiral bowls

Display with Earth and Sky glaze, sake set, and the new Mead mugs

Corner display with spiral bowls and some of the Machine series pieces

The upstairs relaxation space

I started blogging just about a year ago, and one of the initial entries was about my annual holiday open studio sale. It seems unreal that a year has passed already. This past weekend was the 2009 sale at our shop "Cobscook Pottery". It was certainly a success, on many levels, but most amazing was the realization of how much has happened in the past year since the 2008 open house. Between the shop space in the barn changing, the new studio addition on the house, new series of work, and my own personal physical transformation, it was as if the returning customers were visiting for the first time!

Days before the sale, Chris and I lugged equipment and furniture out of the space. Shelves were cleared of all production supplies and most of the clay and glaze messes were mopped-up. Pottery studios aren't by nature clean or neat. I do what I can, but when in the middle of a production frenzy, there just isn't extra time or energy to clean-up.

The glaze firing for the sale was a bit of a stress. An Err1 (undetermined error of some sort) switched the kiln off 42 degrees short of maturity. Given the schedule with the contractor and his energy-hog equipment/compressors etc., I knew that I wouldn't have a day to safely fire again before the sale, and in this kiln load was better than 60 hours of work. But by some miracle, when we checked the kiln load the next day, the glazes were spot-on.

As with all holiday sales, my sister Kristin and her partner Neal spent the weekend with us. Neal usually hikes and paints, Chris follows his regular writing routine, and Kristin and I stay pretty busy greeting folks, answering questions, and packaging gift items. This year we added on tours of the new studio space. We ended the day with a delicious home cooked meal and lively conversation.

The time leading up to the sale weekend is non-stop busy. Night before opening, I felt the most exhausted I think I have ever felt in my life. My mind and body were both shutting down, having pushed myself too hard the days before. We had Veteran's Day off from school, and I did a 16-hour marathon session of baking, weaving, cleaning, organizing, moving, soapmaking, and printing tags and cards.

Somehow it all pulled together as it usually does. It was the most heavily attended sale we have ever had here in Lubec, with lots of first-time folks stopping by. Sunday afternoon, which is usually quiet on sale weekend, kept me so busy that I didn't even get breakfast until 2:00 in the afternoon. The last customer left 45 minutes after closing time.

Monday, even though I was back at school teaching, felt like a break for me. I now feel a mental relief knowing that I have a small window to time to catch my breath, and enjoy the approaching holidays. It's cookie-making, gift-wrapping, tree-decorating, yankee-swap, cozy-winter-approaching time. The next month will be steeped in the usual traditions, as well as the excitment of moving fully into the new studio space.

January will be here before I know it, and that begins a whole new chapter in my life as I begin an MFA program. But until then, I will revel in the scents of christmas cookies and the joy of children who are excitedly awaiting the return of the red-suited jolly bearded-man and all his brightly wrapped presents.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Headline: Highly Contagious Flu impacts Billions

It seems fitting, now that I think of it, that the first artwork to grace the walls of my new studio space is a drawing of a skeleton.

Symbolically, it represents the basic structure. The foundation has been poured, the walls raised, the floor laid. And now, though it is sturdy, a hollow feeling remains, awaiting all the necessary components to make it a complete living organism: furniture (vital organs), window and floor trim (muscle), and a working artist (lifeblood).

The new addition is sort of like having a third arm added to my body. I have always made do with two but could certainly put a third to use. It feels a bit strange and I am not quite acclimated to it yet. Having our house nearly double over the course of the last few months has been overwhelming at times, but also exciting. The new studio will allow me to work with clay year-round, no more below-freezing barn temps to deal with, lugging buckets of water back and forth, and hungry nesting critters who find my fiber creations tempting and cozy.

Fifteen years ago I had a vision. No, it wasn't a mystical white light pouring over me with the voice of God speaking profoundly about my soul's purpose. It was more of an an epiphany. In one moment of clarity I felt I knew my life's purpose and could "see" the physical environment in which I would work and what I would be doing, and how I would be contributing to the healing of this Earth. I just didn't know how I would get there.

At the time, I was not a teacher, at least not in the public school classroom sense. My life was a blank slate and anything was possible. Back then, I wouldn't have understood how even the smallest change or experience would influence my journey and bring me to this moment, which is still not the end, but very much the beginning.

So, I had this vision: a space for people to create, and in the process, heal. Over the years, The "retreat" has morphed in the physical sense, being tweaked in my mind to what is adequate to meet my goals, but also manageable. Instead of a massive arts-compound with cabins and hordes of people shuffling through and the stress of running a major business, I decided to focus on a more intimate, personal approach: a healing space for my husband and me where we invite others, in a more laid back sort of way, to create and heal with us.

The Gahnadi Quote comes to mind "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

And certainly, much change is needed. My approach is to strive for a life of balance, creativity, empathy, knowledge, kindness, truth, love, and sharing. That's a tall order, but a satisfying one. Just imagine, what if that were to become the latest pandemic? The headlines would read.....

Harmony Flu Sweeps Across the Globe: CDC Warns World Peace Inevitable.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Low-Rez MFA Program at Heartwood College of Art

There is a new low residency MFA program starting January 2010. Heartwood College of Art is a non-profit private school in Kennebunk, Maine. The "Low-Rez MFA program runs on a slower track than most other MFA programs I have found. Two classes a semester allows a person the flexibility to keep their regular job while moving forward with their education. The slower pace also makes paying for the program more feasible. Like many other low rez MFA programs, students are grouped in "pods", work one-on-one with mentor artists and advisors, have a considerable amount of freedom with their curriculum, and spend the majority of their time working independently in their own studios. As far as being on campus, students spend one "weekend-intensive" on site each semester, and one or two other shorter visits for advisor meetings.

Check out their website. I believe that they are still accepting applications until the end of November for the "pioneer pod". I met with the dean and president last summer and was impressed with their progressive vision for this program.

If you live in the New England area, have a BFA and have been thinking about pursuing your MFA, and if you are self-motivated and thrive on small group instruction, check this program out.

Here is a link to info on the Heartwood MFA program:
Heartwood MFA program

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Marriage equality for All: No on 1

I am not usually political in my blog, but today I am stepping out a bit.

It's voting day in Maine. There are a few issues on the ballot that I feel passionate about, but none more this time around than the marriage equality vote. Last spring, Maine's chosen political representatives heard several hours of heartfelt testimony from Mainers about why it is time for Maine to do what is morally right: to extend equal civil marriage rights to gays and lesbians. Rightly, the initiative passed. Soon after, there was a petition to repeal the new law, and now the issue is facing the people's vote. I urge all who are voting today to do what is right: to open your heart and mind. Bias against another because of their sexual orientation is simply wrong, sends a negative message to our children, friends and relatives. I strive to live in a world that is tolerant, loving, healing. Let it begin today.

I will be voting this afternoon. No on 1 to support marriage equality.

Here is a copy of a Bangor Daily News op-ed that my husband wrote a few months ago.

The following editorial was originally published in the Bangor Daily News on May 15, 2009. You can also access it here:

Equality is Ageless
Chris Crittenden

IPods that store whole music collections. Hand size computers networked across the planet. Miraculous as these would seem to our ancestors, there is an ethical achievement even more stunning: the joyful spread of equality.

Equality is old news, you say? Not for women, not for blacks, not for Native Americans, and not for gays and lesbians. Even the first glimmer of equal treatment, which applied only to landed male gentry, emerged about a century before the Declaration of Independence and its famous self-evident truth: “All men are created equal.” Given that humanity has passed the ripe old age of a hundred thousand years, this proclamation is the clarion call of a brash young heretic.

We live in the era of a mind-blowing fact: Over generations, in halting increments, civilization can wind a path of reason, even if that means deviating from barnacled social norms. Old habits die hard, but they do indeed marry the dust, even those stubbornly justified by appeals to “human nature” or sacrosanct tradition. Whatever happens next on our shared cosmic journey, we have shown that standards of justice can rise above privilege, bureaucracy, and selfishness, evolving in wonderful ways as unknown to the past as antibiotics and heart transplants.

And this is a good thing. We need flexible thinkers to deal with the implications of a headlong lunge into a future as daunting as science fiction. We need to be open-minded to merge the wisdom of the past with the liberations of discovery. Backsliding is not an option. Neither is mediocre performance . If we are to survive this Buckaroo Banzai ride into the Space Age, a place fraught with speck-sized computers and genetic re-scripting, we need to live not in the past, the present, or the future, but rather in a clear-headed mentality joining all three.

Tradition is indeed essential and liberals often fail to realize this. It provides a brake on reckless change, galvanizing debate and impelling a cautious pace. The Bible will never be obsolete; and yet its omnium-gatherum of parables and strictures, as has been the case since inception, is amenable to new insights.

Consistent application of the principle of equality, not blind faith, should be our guide. It will not do to restrict gays based on Biblical passages while ignoring similar passages that curtail women, ethnics, and pagans. Before the Civil War, the Bible was used to justify slavery, but we moved beyond that. Reason took another step. A fairness-based interpretation of Scripture brought us to celebrate one of our greatest accomplishments: Emancipation.

The fight over gay marriage is just the latest in a series of bouts with prejudice. The basic weapons have been the same for centuries: fear, outrage, misery, and hope. Both sides lay claim to all these, and in the end we must turn not only to consistency and fairness, but also to the proven point that humanity can rise above fear using the ladder of reason. In this task, our surest rung is that self-evident concept which distinguishes enlightened progress from the medieval lethargy of hierarchs and despots: Equality.