Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Chasing Wildflowers: The Making of a Gentian

YOLO. You only live once.

What does that mean exactly?

My life has always been filled with quality. I've had the privilege of education placed within my reach, art, culture, international living, farm-fresh produce, exposure to metropolitan and mountain lifestyles, a close-knit family, supportive community, a beautiful home. For the most part, I haven't taken any of it for granted. At least, I thought I hadn't.

I was born with ten fingers, ten toes, into a highly educated second generation American family, our French, Yugoslav and Pennsylvania Dutch roots closely intact. My parents worked hard, my father a bilingual FBI agent and my mother a teacher who acquired 2 masters degrees and 2 foreign languages. We lived in Europe, and I attended schools that offered the International Baccalaureate. Indeed, I was lucky, and my life was full.

I constantly strive to maintain the fortunate life bestowed upon me by my parents. A few of my accomplishments include thirteen years overseas, college and masters degrees, a rat-race metropolitan career, over a decade tv-less, becoming a devoted (yet not helicopter) mother, a deliberate decision to move to the mountains, our home construction, and a year-long effort to consume everything from within 100 miles of our home.

At that time, my motto was: "My life is not busy. It's full."

It was only after we lost everything to a wildfire that I stared at my choices - my life - straight on.

"YOLO" became my new motto, and there was an urgency behind it. Was it possible for me to live more fully, take advantage of one more minute in my day? What did I need to omit? What could I do to live even more intentionally? How could I be a better mother, wife, friend? And...what did I want to do that I hadn't already done?

And then suddenly it dawned on me. While I was happy with my choices, I wasn't living in the moment. I was living a full, meaningful life yet constantly looking forward to the next thing.


Carpe diem.

Seize the day.

Chase wildflowers into the mountains.

Yet don't just chase the wildflowers. Take time to smell them. Absorb their color. If that's not enough, make time to do it again tomorrow.

Monday, August 31, 2015

I Found The Moon

As wild fires raged throughout Washington state last week, our family was evacuated from our home and we sought refuge on San Juan Island. For me, that meant water and rock therapy. We strolled along beaches, searched for rocks and hoped for an Orca siting. Several hours later, pockets filled with colorful beach stones, I found the moon.

I asked my daughter Cymone to write me a story about that perfect white circle. And so she did. In response to her story, I made a necklace with the moon (shown below).

I Found The Moon, by Cymone Van Marter (age 12)

White River woke in her bed. She stared at the ceiling for a while trying to decipher what made her rouse from her dream of lollipops and gingerbread men.

She thought it might be the excitement that, only tomorrow, she would be turning ten. As she contemplated this, she realized she could not see the moon. Her room was dark, and this made her uncomfortable.

White River pushed back her covers, padded to her closet and slipped into some warm clothes. She took a flashlight from the kitchen and tiptoed out the door in search of the moon.

She walked past a carnival, a sensory overload of happy voices and bright lights. Suddenly - there, she spotted a white ball in the sky.

"I found you," White River exclaimed. She reached up, only to find that it was too close to be the moon.

"You're not the moon," White River cried. "You're a balloon." She turned away, continuing her quest to find the moon.

As she walked, she came across another white ball, this time a circle floating beneath her. It was shiny, rippling, glittering in the darkness. White River reached down and stuck her fingers into a startling, chilly stream. The white ball seemed to shatter within her touch.

"No!" She cried. White River crouched down and set her chin in her hands. She heard leaves on trees fluttering overhead. Eyes closed, she lifted her face to feel the breeze on her cheeks. It was then that she realized the sky was no longer dark. The bright, glimmering circle was back in the stream, a dynamic, rippling ball.

She glanced up at the sky, and there it was - the moon - peeking out from behind a cloud.

"I found you, " she whispered.

The next morning, White River woke in her soft bed. She smiled as she remembered that today she would be ten.

She padded to the kitchen where she found her parents there, grinning.

"Did you sleep well?" White River's mother mom asked, hugging her.

"Yes," she replied. "And I found the moon."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August Round Up: A Port Folio of Jewelry

This week the skies have been hazy with smoke, our community exhausted and weary as we cope with a second year of wild fires and the death of three brave fire fighters to save our homes. Behind the thick blanket, the sun fluctuates from orange to red, salmon, peach, a sensational color pallet.

I am humbled.

I am humbled by what people will do for one another when faced with disaster. I am humbled by nature, how she swells despite humans' efforts to suppress her. I am humbled by our sunflowers cheerfully outstretching brilliant yellow petals.

And here, as I wonder about fate, prosperity, grief, consumption, love, family, community, spirituality, Mother are some of the pieces I've created.

With love.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Four Miles In

Four miles in.
Subalpine meadows, wildflowers, crisp-dry larches, an alpine lake.
Snapping shots, attempting to capture every ounce of love I held in my heart for the wild.
My heart felt so big it might explode.

Two miles out, toward the storm. We hunkered down beneath lightening strikes and thunderous skies.
Shit. Where's my phone?
"You were behind me - you didn't see it drop?" Pointlessly pointing fingers.
"You two go ahead. I'm going back. I'll run."

Two miles in.
Half-empty water bladder sloshing about on my back as
I ran, slowing to side-step jagged boulders.
Where had I stopped to pee? It must have dropped there.

Darkness loomed.
My time was thin.
Four miles out to the trailhead.
Frustration kicked in, failure, loss, self-pity.

Over a cell phone?
Or was it that I was menstrual? Dehydrated?
Sad about the loss of photographs. More history vanished.
Maybe, hesitantly admitting, I was afraid to be disconnected from my world wide social network?

Determination set in. I was going back.
Four miles in.
Sweat drenched, salty skin, energized by fresh zucchini bread.
Huckleberry breaks, handfuls of deep blue heaven.

Where the hell did I pee?
I had to find that one tree, that one amongst thousands,
bent sideways fighting the pressure of slides.
Two miles back.

One mile in and there. That one tree.
I scanned the area.
There. My phone. Battery still half-charged.
A loud cackle. A giddy chirp. I peered behind me. That was me?

Three miles out.
I took a series of pathetic selfies, smiling despite a stubborn, growing blister,
Low energy, smoky skies surround.
Over a cell phone.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

One Year Ago Today: We Have More Than Survived

One year ago today we lost everything. We lost everything except everything.

August 1, 2014: one year ago we lost our home, belongings, sense of permanence, my art studio, our daughter's writing. We lost things that were important that we may not remember until something stirs the memory. We were unexpectedly thrust into a void.

That day we began a new journey, one that involved pain, recovery, patience, resilience, grief...but ultimately resulted in our finding a stronger relationship, profound love. Not to sound trite. It seemed we were sent on a quest.

When we lost our home, we made the decision that, moving forward, we would live intentionally. Each step would be purposeful. Our purchases would be deliberate, and we would do everything we could to support our local economy. (Dear family and friends: thank you for supporting us in our efforts. You helped us immensely, and by helping us you helped our community.)

Until August 1, 2014, Derek and I thought we were on the same page. Everything we had was built on the 20 year foundation we created. Then, suddenly, we were faced with questions we assumed had already been answered. It was the first time we wondered if we were heading in the same direction. Together.

Looking for another permanent housing situation was painful. I felt as though I was cheating on the home we'd lost. We were moving on too soon. We were thinking forward too soon. Derek wanted something small, complete, easy, accessible, with irrigation where he could install a lawn. He wanted defensible space. I wanted to move further into the hills, live off the grid, sustainably, pulling ourselves away from any need to rely on human-made power. Looking at homes resulted in tears. We had to think of Cymone. What was in her best interest?

We went to therapy. For the first session we took Cymone. The therapist remarked that she was fine and encouraged us to return without her. We needed to sort ourselves out first which reminded me of the airplane analogy: place the oxygen mask over your mouth before attending to your child. Therapy evoked too much emotion too quickly. Grief, anger, dismay, fear, defeat, vulnerability, overwhelm poured out of us in incoherent shouting matches. Even more difficult were the periods of complete silence. If we spoke, we were afraid we'd find ourselves worlds away from one another. The idea of separation was too dark to contemplate.

Stop. Let's just stop, Derek pleaded. Let's just be for a while. With that, a weight lifted. Little by little, fog cleared and we were able to talk, hold hands, make love, be in love. We rediscovered funny quirks about ourselves, supported each other's achievements (at that time, just making the bed was a noted success), listened to Cymone's stories, took long walks. We had to ask ourselves what we were grieving for. Were we grieving for the loss of our stuff, for the loss of stability, permanence, or perhaps the loss of our recorded history - photo albums, artifacts, hiking books with notes written throughout the worn pages, university degrees, my grandmother's wedding ring, family heirlooms, my grandfather's American flag? We had to ask ourselves: what were we striving to hold onto as we planned our future?

We returned to this house four, maybe five times. We sat in the driveway trying to envision what it could be, how we might transform it over time to be something we both loved. During one of our conversations we both acknowledged that "home is where the heart is". That might sound flippant, but those six words are true. We were grieving, but we had not lost each other. Our little threesome family unit had survived, and our love for our community - the Methow Valley - was unwavering.

So, we bought this little house in this meadow with this view of the hills.

Our new, perhaps overused, motto is: YOLO. You only live once.

We have worked countless hours to transform this space - this house - into one that we can call "home", a place where our daughter creates fond memories and grows homesick for once she's left our nest. Within our budget, we have installed a wood stove, painted walls, reconfigured wasted spaces, and painted murals. To offer a sense of safety, we added irrigation, a lawn, raised rock flower beds and extensive vegetable gardens. Our daughter says it's home. The only thing she wants is a way to store her writing forever for fear that she could lose it again with one tiny spark.

We are frequently asked "Are you settled?" "Have you landed?" I understand the questions, but they always stump me. We have a house, yes, but do I feel settled? I feel settled when I'm hiking high in the mountains, when I'm inhaling fresh alpine air and chasing wild flowers higher and higher into the trails, diving into crisp lakes surrounded by jagged peaks. Here in our house I have felt restless.

But then something happened this week leading to our one year "anniversary". I finally do feel settled. I'm not sure where I encountered the switch. Right after Derek's family came for a visit. Right after I painted the door orange. Right after another stunning mother-daughter hike. Right after I created something in the studio that I was proud of. Right when I harvested our first summer squash (and ate it). Right after Derek and I took a walk together holding hands the whole way, talking. Suddenly, just like that, we both remarked that we are at home. This is our home, and we are happy.

Not only are we home, we are stronger than before. We have been very deliberate with our decisions, and our life is more in line with our values. We spend more quality time together. Our activities are intentional. Our home is small, efficient - it's truly quite sweet. That's not to say we don't still struggle, argue, think about our old home. However, there's less pain, and we can now focus on moving forward. Together.

One year ago today. We have more than survived.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

July Round Up: A Port Folio of Jewelry

I have really enjoyed the past couple of months in my studio, paired with ample time hiking the North Cascades. I've found inspiration in wild flowers, native plants, alpine lakes, birds, rambling creeks. I've found inspiration inside the Yard Food greenhouse (that's where my studio resides)...bugs, sprouts, COLOR, and the occasional frog. I've discovered a sense of piece between my art and mountain meanderings. This is a good place to call home.

So then, here's a round up of this month's work.

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