Shop Local! ...handmade arts, crafts and farm on Stage Road, Cummington, MA

I've been busy getting my things ready for this fun event that I am helping put on and organize with my neighbors. I feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful area with many talented artists and farmers. Our Walkabout has become a tradition I look forward to which encourages the support of local arts and farms and the local economy. I hope some of you can make it out here to take a stroll and visit our neighborhood. Mark your calendars!

Our press release and posters are making their way out into the world. Here they are...

"Shop local this holiday season, by taking a classic fall country stroll. Visit six open houses all within a half mile of each other on historic Stage Road in Cummington, MA. This event shows the unique concentration of artists, small businesses and idyllic farms that pepper our Hilltowns. Start at 494 Stage Rd. or 556 Stage Rd. to do the 1 mile round trip tour, on November 2nd and 3rd, 11 am to 5 pm.  (** Just 494 Stage Rd is open on the 3rd.)

Leni Fried Printmaking at 494 Stage Rd. (www.lenifriedprintmaking.com) and One-Off Handcycles (oneoffhandcycle.com) have a shop and studio in their 150 year old barn. Leni Fried, an artist of over 30 years debuts her latest tree monoprints, cards and affordable art inspired by our landscape. Mike Augspurger from One-Off handcycle builds and sells a three wheeled handcycle for off road use for people in wheelchairs.  Rosemary Wessel (www.rosemarywessel.com) will have cards and original oil paintings of trees and more other-worldly subjects. She will also be showing in their barn.

Next on the tour at 509 Stage Rd. is Kimberly Wachtel: Where Earth Meets Sky Designs. You can't miss Kim's brightly colored house which reminds one of her whimsical, original handmade designs inspired by traditional Polish, Hungarian and Eastern European art. paintings and cards. Her hand made paper cuts, paintings, prints, cards and embroidered items will be for sale.

At the top of the hill at 523 Stage Rd. is the old Colonial, site of the former Stage Road Tavern where one was served grog! You can ask for grog, but you may receive a pottery tour in its stead! Steven Jones, potter, will be showing his work in this classic colonial and barn.

The last stop for the Walkabout at 556 Stage Rd is Gordon's Fold Highland cattle. Look for their long horns and shaggy manes. Eric Driver  has continued his grandfather Gordon's tradition of grazing these animals on this land.

We encourage you to feel the crunch of fallen leaves, the brisk air and warm up with cider, art and refreshments at each location. Shop local, walk local this holiday season.

See you there,
Leni, Mike, Rose, Kim, Jim, Steven, Eric and Monica..."

Sister Sunflower


A sunflower grew to be twelve feet tall in my garden this year. She was a volunteer. I did not plant her. She is the daughter and granddaughter of the sunflowers that grew in the same spot over the past few years. I've come to think that her presence is the guardian of the house and the land. Everyone who comes to my house comments on her. I like her strong, quiet companionship. Sometimes I go out to the garden and just stand next to her. All alone. I look at her beauty and think about how she teaches me. In return I admire her and give her a little of my company. Her flower head is over a foot in diameter. The seeds are riping and later this fall they will feed the birds, squirrels and chipmunks who will come. Her head is heavy, bent down in a pose of humility and surrender. The dazzling yellow petals have whithered away. The nights have turned chilly. Her heart shaped leaves draw inward towards her strong and straight stalk holding her upright even in the rain and in the wind. She surrenders to the season. Fall is here and the trees, birds and flowers are letting us know. It has been a truly beautiful two weeks. I can't remember a more beautiful turning of the leaves to their golds, reds and coppers. Rain came today and everything is beautiful in a different kind of way.

In light of listening to a weekly poetry program on the radio, I feel like sharing another Mary Oliver poem. I just love her work. This excerpt from the following poem The Sunflowers resonates with me. Oliver just squeezes out the truth, the essence of a thing, the essence of spirit the truth about what it means to be alive.

Like these words from The Sunflower...

"...each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy..."

The Sunflowers: APoem by Mary Oliver

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines

creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky

sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy

but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young -
the important weather,

the wandering crows.
Don't be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,

which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds -
each one a new life!

hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come

and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.

Wholesome Transformations: A hand designed commission


My friend Bi-sek has been interested in homegrown, healthy food for longer than I've known her. She's a talented organic gardener, cook, community organizer, nutritionist, health enthusiast, environmentalist and mother. I admire her and her work as she pushes herself as a woman and a professional. She is also the founder of the community garden that I am involved with called Raspberry Hill Community Garden.

Last year she commissioned me to design the above logo for a business she is developing. She wanted something hand drawn and painted in my colorful folk style. Since her business is about transforming oneself through nutrition, my inspiration for the drawing started with a seed blooming into a vibrant flower.  I choose the sunflower because not only is the plant beautiful, the seeds are nourishing. We decided to put some images of healthy vegetables and fruit in the corners of the composition.

Bi-sek and her daughter shared a gift this past winter with me and Kaz. They would come over to my house to play with Kaz and give me a little break from taking care of the baby so I could head over to my studio for an hour, two or three to work on this project. At this time it was important for me to start reclaiming my artistic self. This project helped me do that. Thank you, Bi-sek!

You can find out more about Bi-sek's work with nutrition at Wholesome Transformations.

Summer Harvest Time Begins

It's that special time in late summer when the hard work in the spring begins to really pay off. The counters and the table in my kitchen begin to be cluttered with what was picked from the gardens in the last day or so.

We've been having fun making cordials and fermenting various items from the great outdoors. Last week we spent an hour picking the wild cherries which are abundant this year on Stage Road. The cherries are sitting in various combinations of vodka, gin and sugar to become cordials to be enjoyed this fall and winter. I have a rose cordial in the makes. Once the elderberries are ripe they will be used to make our special immunity boosting cordial. I have a batch of pickles fermenting in a crock. It's my first time trying to make this fresh fermented pickle. I got the recipe out of my new Polish cook book, "From A Polish Country House Kitchen". Josh and a friend made a big batch of dandelion wine which is aging in corked bottles in the closet. I've been wanting a chest freezer for a long, long time and just recently we purchased a used one to put in the garage. It's holding a nice amount of rhubarb, raspberries and blueberries so far. I like to look in it and dream about the good food we'll be eating this winter.

OK, lets leave the kitchen, go outside and take a look in the gardens! Right out the front door is a scramble of marigolds, geraniums, lantana, snapdragons, new guinea impatiens, canna lillies, mint, and salvia in colorful pots on the front porch.

The old claw foot bathtub is now a garden and full of canna lilies, calla lilies, dahlias, geraniums, gladiolas and morning glory.

Today I picked a whooping 13 peaches off the peach tree. My biggest harvest yet!

I created a hay bale, raised bed at the base of the terrace garden hill in which to grow squash.  The plants are quite happy as they grow and spill out over the edge of the haybales onto the meadow and hillside. It looks like we'll be eating a lot of spaghetti and butter cup squash.

The sunflower greeting the morning rays is a pretty sight. Under her grows some kale, peppers and a volunteer tomatillo.

The cherry tomatoes are just beginning to ripen.

After looking around my garden at home I headed around the block to my community garden plot at the Raspberry Hill Community Garden. The space is a very special place where the sounds and beauty of the country nourish my soul. The crickets are chirping, the swallows fly and swoop over the garden and big old maple trees line the lane. The land, also known as the Guyette Farm, was gifted to the Franklin Land Trust by Evelyn Guyette. The gardens are situated on a beautiful spot overlooking hills to the west. The sunsets are gorgeous and the cloud watching is excellent. I got a late start with my plot this year. It's my first year working the land here and a lot of sod needed to be lifted in order to create my garden beds. Finally they are all planted and beginning to really thrive. I'm growing carrots, beets, dill, cabbage, potatoes, kale, onion, leeks, green beans, cucumbers and a cherry tomato. I really love being a part of this group of talented and dedicated gardeners and look forward to spending more time here with the land and with others in the years to come.

Let's walk through the gate and take a peak at the gardens.

The blueberries are ripening in the sun and the old barn is in view over the raspberry brambles.

Cloud watching to the west.

My plot is pictured below in the foreground. All the plants are relatively young but they are coming along. I think they'll do really well growing big and strong during the warm month of August into September before the frosts come.

At home again, Kaz came out to the garden with me after his morning nap.  He enjoys throwing around the dirt and mulch as I prep a bed to plant more lettuces.

Happy August, early harvest time to you! I hope you are enjoying these golden days.

Feeling the Lovage: A traditional Romanian soup, Ciorba de perisoare


This week I spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking with some of the goodies found in the garden this time of year.  So far the two main ingredients from the garden have been Rhubarb and Lovage. How many of you know about the herb, Lovage? If you have never cooked with this herb, it's time to start feeling the Lovage! Lovage is an amazing plant with a beautiful, fragrant odor and tangy, complex, out of this world flavor.

My husband Josh spent two years living in Romania when he served in the Peace Corps. While there he ate many sour soups, called Ciorba, which uses this herb to add an unmistakable flavor:  tangy, a bit sour and very flavorful. Ciorba de perisoare (meatballs), Ciorba de burta (tripe), Ciorba de cartofi (potato).... the list goes on.

Josh and I went to Romania and Hungary 10 years ago for our honeymoon. We had a wonderful trip and experience visiting and staying with some of the friends Josh made while in the Peace Corps. True hospitality met us during every interaction and with all the friends with whom we spent time. We traveled all around the country: Bucharest, Pitesti, Sighisoara, the Danube delta, Constanta (on the Black Sea coast), the mountains... As you can guess, I was struck by the culture and folk arts while in Romania. I especially admired the ornamental wood carved gates found in a certain region of Romania and the woven wool rugs were particularly striking, I loved looking at the rural dwellings especially. My friend Razvan remembers me taking a special interest in the folk arts on that trip. Perhaps some seeds were sown and embers were left smoldering...a foreshadowing of my interest in Eastern European traditions. I took the following photos during our trip in 2003. After this little photo tour you'll find a tasty recipe for Ciorba de perisoare if you would like to try and make it in your kitchen.

Bucharest, Romania: View from our friend's flat
Rural Mountain scene in Romania
Sighisoara, Romania
Village house, Romania
Flowers blooming, Romania
Constanta, Romania

I made Ciorba de perisoare on Friday and brought a little bit of Romania into our home for an evening spent with some friends. Oh, the smell of that soup! My house was filled with it's fragrance. We played all our favorite Romanian music which was bought on our trip many years ago. Kids and some adults danced around the living room table, what fun! If you can't travel to the place, bring it to you!

If you have some Lovage growing in your garden, can find some in a friend's garden or at a Farmer's Market perhaps you'd like to try this recipe. The soup was delicious. Even Kazmir, my 11 month old, got excited about eating it! Here is the link where I found the recipe:
Romanian Sour Meatball Soup

Ciorba de perisoare
Sour Meatball Soup Recipe (ciorba de perisoare)
Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes (preparation: 50 minutes; cooking: 30-40 minutes)

Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound grounded meat (mixed beef and pork)
  • 1 pound beef (or veal) with bones
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 slices of bread
  • 2 tablespoons rice
  • salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 parsley root
  • 3-4 carrots
  • 1 parsnip root
  • 3-4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bunch of lovage leaves (or parsley leaves)
  • 2-3 tablespoons vinegar
Preparation: 
  1. Bring to boil  6 cups of water in a pot.
  2. Finely slice: 1 onion, the parsley, the parsnip and the carrots and put them in the water.  Add the beef (or veal) meat.
  3. In the mean time soak the bread in water then squeeze it. Mash the bread with a fork.
  4. Mix the ground meat with the other finely chopped onion, the mashed bread and the rice, and season with salt and ground black pepper. For a more tender meat composition add 2-3 tablespoons of water.
  5. Make small meat balls rolling them with wet hands.
  6. When the vegetables become tender put the meat balls in the boiling water. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
  7. When the soup is almost done the meatballs are coming to the surface as the soup simmers.
  8. Add the tomato paste and stir.
  9. Finely chop the lovage and add it to the soup, and then season with salt and vinegar. If you do not have lovage, you can use fresh parsley leaves instead.
  10. The soup is delicious served with a bit of sour cream, and a hot pepper on the side.

Spring: Breathing in New Life







This spring, as my gardens blossom and I plant seeds, I've been blessed with heartfelt reminders of the connections I have with meaningful people who touch my life. I am so held and for this I am thankful. A professor and friend from Poland answers questions I have about folk art traditions and culture in Poland and sends me beautiful Easter tokens from Krakow. A woman I look up to and befriended in Poland who is a professor and author surprises me with a gift of books on Polish topics of interest after I bought a book she wrote. My local town church sends a prayer shawl for Kaz and me, visitors, a home cooked meal and offers of child care after a car accident left me in pain and tired out emotionally and physically. My parents bring their love and some home cooked meals for our freezer when they come up for a visit. My mom buys me a beautiful book about Polish cooking, full of recipes I cannot wait to try. Family and friends call to check in and send their love. For all these things I am so thankful. Loving connections is what life is all about. Loving one another is what life is all about.

These generous connections have sustained me after a long winter, a time of huge personal transition into motherhood. I keep waiting to feel like I've caught up with myself. I keep waiting for my head to clear and breath free from under the waters of transition. As I wait for this moment I realize that things will never be the same again. Adding the role of mother to my identity has truly rocked my world.

At the same time I am hungry for inspiration, desiring a clear voice and purpose. I want to write about what inspires me, what fires up my creative soul, the work I do, the beauty that is out there in the world, what I am learning, the interests and quests that pull me like the moon pulls the tides.

I work with starts and stops. I've lost the ability to have open ended time and full days ahead to attend to my interests, goals, studies, art practice, music, blogging, gardening and other creative pursuits. In rare moments when I am alone with my thoughts I get hopeful and excited about the possibilities my dreams have to offer. I know they are there in background, following me around as I chase after a curious and crawling Kazmir. They whisper in my ear when I find myself with a quiet moment.

I go weeks listening to Polish language tapes most days and making progress. Then I go weeks without getting one lesson in. I'm reading books that deal with my interests. My local library finds me books I am anxious to read like Norman Davies, "Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland"and "Stone Upon Stone" by Mysliwski. Then when I open a book at the end of the day I find I am able to read a few pages with an alert mind before I want to drift off to sleep. Progress is very slow going! My books become overdue. I lose momentum and get frustrated.

My art making is on hold for the moment. Imagined images pass through my head like ghosts I can't grasp. I imagine the texture of a wet paint brush full of bright color and spreading it across paper like one might imagine the sensation of sinking into a warm bath or taking a bite of a fresh out of the oven, butter soaked, homemade, bread. I fantasize about color combinations, patterns, big canvases and art shows.

It's time to breathe new life into this blog. I worry, can I do it? Can I focus? Can I keep a thread going? Can I discipline myself and write interesting pieces from the heart? I think I can. What if I set a goal to post once a week? I think that is reasonable. As I pursue my interests and look to study Polish and Hungarian culture and arts further, my blog can become the place of accountability to myself and to others who may find these topics and/or my method of pursuing my passions of interest. Spring reminds me that there is always another chance to begin afresh.


When in Boston...

Last weekend I spent two and a half full and lovely days with my friend, Kate in Boston.  Although it was cold,  you couldn't have asked for a sunnier and more brilliant weekend. 

I was saying in a previous post that Kate is my dream museum companion.  Usually I prefer going to art museums on my own so I can take things in with out feeling any responsibility for the passage of time and other's interest or lack of.  After putting in a good half day at MASSMOCA last December with Kate,  I realized she is "the one" for me when it comes to museum companionship.  That said, I thought we'd spend some time in Boston's art museums.  We had every intention of doing so and going to the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston.  We even spent a half hour or so sitting and talking in the ICA building's outdoor amphitheater admiring this view.  


Something else was in the cards for us last weekend.  We ended up shopping, eating, talking, walking, drinking and being decadent girls together.  What fun!

Here's a view as we walked around the South End of Boston which is home to Kate's art studio.  One highlight of the weekend was treating ourselves to a late day cocktail at one of the best cocktail bars I have ever been to called DRINK in Fort Point.  I had a Cuban:  rum, mint, lime juice and champagne served in a champagne glass. 

 

Friday evening we met up with Kate's husband, Jeff and headed back to their sweet apartment in the South End.  Another guilty pleasure turned out to be listening to Pandora's "Sweet Freedom" radio station which played all the songs that got stuck in our heads back in the late 1980's...Micheal Mcdonald, Stevie Winwood, Tears for Fears...nice.  That night Indian food, good conversation and ice cream sundays were on the menu.


The next day we decided to walk off our food hangovers so we headed out and over to Boston Common where we made friends with this magnificent Redwood tree. 

After a bit of nature it was time for a bit of shopping.  These cuties waited patiently for their humans and drew a crowd of people "awwing" out on the sidewalk of Newbury Street. 


Here's a confession... Kate and I spent a considerable amount of time in Sephora at a mall (gasp) in town smelling and spritzing our selves with perfume.  I don't know what came over us...I don't even wear perfume!  It was a huge treat to bask in the possibilities that lie in something new...  a new scent, a new sparkly make-up color, a new way of being.  In a way,  I felt like I was at the movies but instead of sitting back in a dark room watching a life or story pass by on the screen I was living vicariously through the newness of all the items and objects we looked at, touched, tried on and smelled.  We walked and walked from one place to another looking, touching, smelling.

We never made it to the ICA that afternoon either...we were worn out from all the eye candy, new scents and walking.  Instead we had cups of Chai tea and rested our weary feet and heads in Jeff's office which he offered as a haven for us to collect ourselves and our senses after the day's escapades.

Saturday night I had a date to meet a friend and pianist, Andy Lantz, at The Club Cafe piano bar.  We arranged for me to sing a handful of songs with his accompaniment.  Kate, Jeff and I had cocktails and some food and soaked in the warm atmosphere and the great playing of songs from the American songbook.  I had such a nice time singing with Andy and found it a treat to sing some jazz material with just piano accompaniment and a wonderful pianist.

 zzzzzzzzzz

The sun rose to a new day and after oranges and coffee on Sunday morning we headed over here...


... to Kate's amazing art studio.  She shares a great space where she has room to spread out and work on her oil paintings and charcoal creations.  I LOVE her work and where it is going.  The lines, depth, values and colors create organic worlds which for me conjure up nervous system pathways, kelp sea forest, seed shapes, the circulatory system, feathers, hair...  they seem to be both micro and macro points of view and abstractions.  Here are a few more peeks of her space and her artwork.  Her website is being developed as I write this and will be up in a few weeks.  I will post a link to it in the future when it is up and running. She gave me a preview look at the website and it looks great.  I can't wait to share it with you so you can see her and her work in a more professional light. 


Thanks Kate, Jeff, Andy and Boston for a wonderful weekend!