Tuesday, July 30, 2013

the tiny territories we keep

(The following is part II in a series that Brian is writing about living in Salem for Artthrob Magazine ..this one sent chills up my spine.)

Which City: Limited Impressions in Salem.
Part 2: Interior Salem
By Brian James

A room across the street from our house is always dark, and the tv is almost always on. I notice the singular glow from my second-floor landing at night. I notice it in the morning when I'm walking to my car. The interior darkness abides no matter the  hour. I never see the viewer, only that manic movie-surge. When the screen doesn't feature mute soldiers or blonde bombshells, it assumes a continuous solid blue.

When we bought a two-century-old house in Salem, it came with a log of previous owners in plastic binding, recording even the earliest inhabitants in 1811. The log includes an account of the first owner's death which involved said owner taking in an "itinerant quack," hallucinating ("hearing sounds and seeing sights") along with this mysterious guest, the two of them going insane together, and dying together (at this point the author, Reverend William Bentley, stresses that after dying, they never saw or heard anything again). The log also mentions Civil War soldiers, World War soldiers, workers and mothers and transactions, and there's even a postcard tucked between the pages written to our house address from a boarding school or military base. This building housed centuries of American history. Thus, my sense of ownership is thin as a rug. The dead own it much more than the living. 

Every house on my street is filled with squatters, claiming proud old colonials by tossing down Ikea couches, touch lamps, dogs, and door mats on the ancient floors. The beams and rafters of the dead buckle under our upright pianos and coffee tables. We swarm and colonize in the emptied hives.

Too often writers and artists present the city as an external landscape, both public and natural. Salem becomes a contentious black-hatted meeting in the old town hall. It becomes ships and harbors and robust commerce. It becomes parades and concerts and art openings. Living in the city means sharing and gathering around large-scale common experiences.

But the city is equally, if not more so, the peculiar isolation of the private resident. It is the feverish prayers at the bedside after the oil lamp retires and the survey of the shadowed pantry shelves. It is the nightly purveyal of Netflix streaming and the nagging insistence of domestic tiffs. Centuries of history off the public record, whispered and scrubbed and chuckled beyond the reach of the public eye and ear. While cities can make us feel connected, united, they also accentuate our lone-wolfishness and the tiny territories we keep.

Monday, July 29, 2013

thy presence my light

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
-D. Forgail

Thankful this week, for..

- emails from old friends
- newly made breath prayer cards
- finally realizing that my students were right - consider me "spotified".
- a new round of Yemen girl letters, forever friends
- Levi "ready-set-go"ing all the way home
- getting dinner made by noon
- baths
- productive curriculum planning car rides
- finished projects
- being woken by a cute little toddler and his morning snuggles
- a new screen door and more outdoor living
- time to tidy the garden
- Levi's overflowing affection
- Songs for Nations
- nursery duty with good friends
- seeing so much Brian in Levi
- temperate weather
- morning coffee dates with the bff and our babies and Levi's pleas for "Patty A-on!" (Pastor Aaron)
- peaches, plums and pears
- summer organization and deep cleaning, continued
- a spontaneous trip to the zoo with Aunt Rachel and Uncle Kevin

Friday, July 26, 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

these days..

these days, I'm ...

- having long and lazy breakfasts and lunches on our porch (after almost five years, I finally thought to bring the patio table up to the porch..we use it so much more!)
- listening to "Through the Deep Dark Valley" over and over
- looking forward to Brian's summer job ending next week and enjoying what we are dubbing "August Fun Time with Papa". 
- getting ready to hunker down and finish up next year's curriculum and syllabi
- writing and sending more hand-written postcards and letters
- reorganizing and deep cleaning long forgotten nooks and corners of my house and watching old episodes of "Columbo" while doing so
- teaching Levi the important things like singing scales and who painted the Mona Lisa
- hanging out with many friends and going on many playdates
- celebrating the season of birthdays
- choosing yarns and starting a new round of cuddle sacks for a new crop of babies
- enjoying a sermon series on "Heroes and Heretics" 
- making the most of summer in Salem; free trolley rides, story/song/craft time at the Peabody Essex Museum, the Salem Water Taxi, weekend festivals galore, having picnics in the yards of historic houses that most people don't know are public
- soaking in our cute little side-kick

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

studio move and make-over

Old studio (also my kitchen):

New studio!

I've been painting in the corner of my kitchen for over a year now; it has worked out ok but it was never ideal. In a fit of organizational passion (haha) I decided to take everything out of my craft storage room and transform that small but usable space into a painting studio. Unfortunately, no matter how much I tried to clean and organize that room, it always ended up just being the dumping ground for stuff I didn't know what to do with. It got to the point where I could barely walk in there, so something drastic had to be done (I can't for the life of me find a picture of this room "before", but just imagine a big ugly pile of stuff.) 

It took about 3 days to fully clean, organize and find other places for all my craft, sewing and knitting materials, but it has been SO worth it to have a space to paint that isn't in my kitchen. I have a hard time really getting into the creative process when I see everything else around the house that I "should" be doing (dishes, laundry, you name it). This space gives me a way to hide away and focus for a few hours without distraction. There's even a nice pair of curtains that I can close in the doorway. :)

I pulled up the old red rug, gave it another coat of yellow paint (I eventually want to repaint it white), utilized the built-ins for my materials and moved in my easel, lights and painting cart. I wanted to keep things pretty clean and simple in there but I added a couple of hanging plants in the window and a plastic rug that Kimmie brought home from Rwanda. I found some wooden shutters and spice racks for display purposes at a local thrift shop for just a couple of dollars.

I'm in the process of finishing up a large commission I've been working on for the past few months and Brian graciously gave me the entire day on Saturday to work. The boys went out for most of the day, stopping in every once in a while for a hug and a kiss and some encouragement. I relished those 10+ hours, window open, warm breeze blowing in, music blasting, working through my painting. Pure happiness.

(details: spice racks (being used to hold canvases) and wooden shutters - thrifted; plastic woven rug - borrowed from sister, bought in Rwanda; hanging planters - I followed THIS tutorial (SO easy!); painting material cart - BYGEL utility cart from IKEA; radiator curtain - cut and sewn from a canvas drop cloth from Home Depot)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Dinnah Pahty in the Gahden..

My friend Jen (of the Cottage on the Coast) and I participated in a few festivals together this summer and one of these festivals also held a silent auction. One auction item was a full meal from the caterer who Jen used to work for and, ironically enough, the same woman who catered my wedding. We knew her food was good and the price was starting pretty low so we couldn't help but put the the first bid in. It turns out no one outbid us, so by the end of the day we had ourselves a catered party to plan for!

We decided on a garden dinner party theme and since Jen's hydrangea's would be in bloom, we went with white and "hydrangea blue" as our colors. Decor was eclectic, since we just gathered pretty things that we had or could borrow and all of our flowers were from the garden. Despite having to set everything up on the hottest day of the year(at least it felt like it!), I think it all came together beautifully.  

And really, there's nothing like enjoying an outdoor meal (that you didn't have to cook!!) on a warm summer's night, surrounded by lights, candles, flowers, good food and some of your dearest brother's and sisters in Christ. Twas lovely indeed

Friday, July 19, 2013

to remember: 22/23 months

(Levi, eating oatmeal with his great-great-grandmother's spoon, sitting in his great-great-great-grandmother's high-chair)

Dear Levi,

I know this letter is way overdue and you'll be 2 years old in only a few short weeks, but I wanted to make to record the things that I want to always remember about 22 and 23 month old you...because this version of you is pretty awesome.

One of the things I most want to remember about you is how affectionate and sympathetic you are as such a young boy.  You hug and kiss me (and many others) many times a day.  My favorite is when you have one arm around my neck and one arm around Papa's neck and bury your head into us and sigh. If someone around you is crying, you rub their back and ask them "Are you ok?".  When you wrong someone, you always say you're sorry and you seem to mean it. You share your toys and food. 

I remember writing early on in your life that I thought you were very curious.  Now that you are talking,  I'm finding out just how curious you really are.  All day, everyday you are constantly asking us "why?" and again, "but whhhyyy?".  I usually stop you after about 10 "whys", but Papa will keep answering those questions till all he can say is "to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." You always seem satisfied with that final answer. 

Your other favorite phrases are "I love you, bye!", "What haaaaappened?!",  "see you later!" "What's this?", "I'm glad to see you" and "Come on!". You getting better at reciting the alphabet and you know your numbers to 10 and almost 20 (but they get a little mixed up). You are getting very adept at communicating your needs and will always change to "use your words" if you start out whining.  You still always answer "red" if someone asks you what color something is. :)

You have a CRAZY sense of direction and you pay very close attention to the world around you.  I am not kidding when I say that you know when we are in the proximity of a fire station or a train station before I can even see it.  You know when we get close to the homes of people you love. You have very strong opinions about which way we walk and drive, and I think it's because you know which directions take us to which places. You get all of this from Papa.  Just ask Nana James.

Your favorite things?  "Builders" (construction vehicles), trains, cars, anything that goes;  you love your animal friends who sleep in bed with you (right now it's Wolfie, Caterpillar and Elephant), you love reading, especially with your Papa ("Snug House Bug House" is your favorite!); you love real animals, especially kitties, birds and squirrels; you love being with your family and talking walks around Salem. You love to sing, use instruments, fix things, draw and run, run, run.

You call us by many names. "Papa", "Paaapppyyy", "Pappido", "Bwian" and "Daddy"; "Mommy", "Mama", "Hunny".  Our favorite is when you run up to us and say "Hey buddies!". 

Your family and friends are very important to you and you talk and think about them constantly.  You ask for your grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends on a daily basis.  You guess where they are and why you can't see them.. "Matt on train?", "Papa at work?", "Kimmie in car?". 

This month you spent your first whole weekend away from us and even though I missed you like crazy, I knew you would do great. Of course you did (at least that's what Auntie Katie and Uncle Matt told me!) and I love that you are so low-key and enjoy spending time with other people.

You also love to work. If there is a vacuum, broom, rake around, you'll immediately throw yourself into cleaning or raking or sweeping. You often pick up after yourself, throw trash away and leave your shoes neatly at the doors of people's houses. 

The other day you said your first unprompted prayer.  You asked me if we could pray, then said "Dear Jesus, Thank you for food, thank you for Mommy, thank you for Pappy, thank you for the kitty comin', thank you for blankey. Amen" I love that you weren't just repeating words, but you totally got the point and made up your own prayer of thanks.  It was beautiful.

A few weeks ago I was getting ready for church and you stopped playing, looked up at me and said "Mommy, you're beauuutiful".  I wasn't prepared for that. Tears may or may not have been shed. I definitely want to remember that. :)

Oh, I could go on and on, but you gotta stop somewhere.

I love you sweet boy. 


Thursday, July 18, 2013

"these commandments.. are to be on your hearts"

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. 

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Brian and I have often talked about finding more ways of adding God's word visibly in our home and more readily "on our hearts". For his anniversary gift, I decided to brainstorm ways that I could bring the spirit of this passage into fruition for our family.

After browsing the wood section of the art store, I settled on a long wood plaque on which to paint the "greatest commandment". This would then be set on the doorway of our house. For this project, I stained the plaque, wrote out the words with a pencil, traced over them with a black paint pen and then sealed it with polyeurothane.  

In honor of our seven years of marriage, I chose 7 small clipboards to display other scriptures in various parts of our house. The wooden boards ended up costing only a dollar each and I used the same stain on them as I used on the plaque.  When they were dry, I wrote out a few verses on card stock and clipped one to each board. 

After he opened his gift, we decided together where the best places would be to hang our boards.  It felt right for them to be near the doorways of each room and they often landed next to the light switch. This was a natural place for us to look and read them as we travel to and fro between rooms.

I love that the clipboards allow for interchangeable verses and either Brian or I (and little Jameses, eventually!) can switch them up whenever we feel it's time. I've noticed that the amount of time you spend looking at the board depends on the place, so I put verses that I'd like to eventually memorize on the boards that I spend the most time looking at.

After having our clipboards up for almost a week, we both have already been greatly encouraged by these life-giving reminders throughout the day. Just yesterday, during a toddler tantrum, I looked up and read "Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love.". I felt on the verge of loosing my temper but when I read those words and let them sink in, my heart was changed. I'm looking forward to much more of that.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Anniversary Trip: Monhegan Island Edition

Pictures don't do this place justice. It's not just the look of the place that makes it so wonderful, it's also the feel and sound of it.  No cars (just a truck or two to help people transport stuff around the island), astounding silence, beautiful vistas, my kind of hiking trails (not terribly long and not terribly treacherous, ending in a beautiful place I can either photograph or paint), artists painting en plein aire all over the island, fairy houses filling the woods. If New England winters didn't exist, we'd probably be packing our bags to stay. :)

During this trip we picnicked, hiked, sketched and painted and just sat for hours enjoying the slow pace of the island and remembering the last 7 years and what we hope for the future. 

We try to treat our anniversary like the "New Year's Day" of our marriage. We talk about how things are going, what we love and appreciate about each other, our favorite memories and what we could do better for each other and our family for the coming year. This year we even read through a few months of our sometimes daily(!)letters to each other from the 4 years we dated. Although it's very weird to say, we were deeply encouraged by our former selves and rereading those letters were a sweet and timely reminder of where all of this began. 

(see photos from our last trip HERE. Eerily similar..we even sat in the exact same place on the boat. I guess the island and I never change!)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Anniversary Trip: Camden/Rockland Edition

Ahhhhh.....that pretty much sums it up.  Our anniversary trip was just what we needed and Maine was obviously just bragging with all of that perfectly-sunny-and-warm-with-a-gentle-sea-breeze weather we enjoyed. For real. 

Our first day consisted of an early drive up the coast of Maine, windows open, coffees and scones in hand.  We stopped for a while at a road side flea market and spent $4 for 3 ties and a copper tea pot. After dropping off our stuff at our way-cute bed and breakfast in Camden, we spent the rest of the afternoon picnicking by the harbor, walking around town, window shopping and eating ice cream.  That night we decided to go to nearby Rockland to watch the sunset by a long breakwater jetty (I think that's what you call it?) that leads to a lighthouse.   It was glorious and by the time we were sitting down to dinner in a fancy restaurant in Rockland it was probably 9:30 or 10:00.  When you get used to being in the house by 7 to put the baby to bed, it's especially nice to take advantage of sunsets over the Atlantic and super late European dinners. And of course we ended the night with the chocolate covered strawberries and wine my sister surprised us with. :)

Tomorrow, adventures on Monhegan Island!

Friday, July 12, 2013


My love and I are heading out this morning to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary. We're spending the day in Camden, Maine and tomorrow we'll be on the how-could-it-possibly-be-this-beautiful Monhegan Island. Needless to say, we are beyond excited. I'm sure I'll be back next week with pictures galore. :) 

Effusive thanks to my sister and brother-in-law, for the gift of a night away and babysitting to boot! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Swing Raisin' Party

A couple of weeks ago we gathered at my parents house for a late Father's Day celebration that quickly turned into a barn swingset raising party. A lucky little boy ran around giggling, climbing ladders, playing with power tools and "helping" while his Grampy, Papa and uncles spent a day putting it together. Now all we need are some cousins to play with! :) 

And in a little live video action...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sister Shirts for the Fourth

My sisters and I were looking around for some matching patriotic clothing to wear on the fourth of July (of course) and instead of paying an arm and a leg for something that we'd probably just wear once, we decided to make our own. A cheap white t-shirt and some spray paint is pretty much all you need to make these awesome patriotic shirts. They came out even better than we imagined...we may even wear them again. :)

(we used inspiration from this tutorial for the flag painting and this tutorial for the shirt re-vamp)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Monday thanks..

Thankful, this week...

- my country
- birthday BBQs for Brian
- long car rides, a sleeping baby, heart to hearts
- Levi's "whyyy?"'s
- celebrating my Grandpa's 80th birthday
- an afternoon birthday date with Brian; bowling and lunch at Kings and a bookstore hang-out
- new hanging plants
- respite from the heat
- a morning spent photographing a very dear family before deployment
- Levi in his sailor hat, pulling his wagon around Salem
- lunch with Ariel
- a very wise and truth-seeking husband
- Adeline's dedication
- my full and disorganized craft/storage room transformed into a clean and organized painting studio
- catching up with Grandma
- Wednesday mornings at the PEM with many friends
- free trolley rides
- a full and family-filled fourth of July!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

on living in Salem (and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BRIAN!)

..I bring my two-year-old son down to the edge of the water. The sand is sludge, and the weather’s warm enough to let him soak his shoes through. The low tide left a porous sponge of beach where our footprints don’t last a second, and clam-holes eject spurts and gurgles. Messy crabs, smaller than nickels, manage the motes around stones that are half-buried. I show one of these crabs to him, and as I point at it, it shimmies down under a thin layer of sand-grains...

(From the first article in a series that Brian is writing about living in Salem for Art Throb Magazine.  Read the rest of the piece HERE.)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Art Room Diaries: Master Artist Inspired Chairs

(L-R, T-B: Monet, Watts, Degas, Monet, Degas, Mondrian, Van Gogh, Homer, O'Keeffe, Mondrain)

These beautiful chairs were painted by my high school students for their final project of the year.  Each student researched a master artist, then designed and painted a used wooden chair in the style of their chosen artist.  They worked long and hard on these and many said that this was the best piece of art they had ever made. Great way to end the year with an awesome group of young artists!

(If you're into this sort of thing, many more student art projects were recently posted over HERE.)

Monday, July 1, 2013

the critical thing

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.

-G.K. Chesterton

Thankful, for -

- church softball games
- lunch with Grammy on the common, during a field trip with her students
- long naps
- birthday picnic with the BFF and our babies and celebratory small group at the GuluGulu
- coconut chais
- nursery duty with good friends and many cuddly babies
- wedding photos, lovely and finished
- my personal IT department (coughcoughrachelandkevincough)
- Shabbat dinner fellowship and Andrew's Indian food
- a craft morning with Kimmie and some very successful crafts
- birthday planning for Brian
- Grampy pushing Levi around in a wheelbarrow
- my husband's grace and forgiveness
- creative arts group and our summer art-making nights
- Levi's new and hilarious facial expressions
- an unexpected change of plans and a slow and foggy morning in Portsmouth

(Oh, and thankful for my new camera!...that takes video! Behold my first go at imovie. Please excuse the shakiness and unfocused parts. Still learning..)