Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Books I Read on Sabbatical
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. Although I was an English major in college and read a good deal of modern American literature, I had never heard of Wallace Stegner, a legendary American short-story writer, historian, environmentalist, professor, and novelist. It's not a dramatic novel with lots of blood, sweat, sex, and tears, but a quiet novel about the subtelties in a lifelong friendship between two couples. One would think, with a topic like that, the book would have been a snoozer, but I couldn't put it down. Stegner writes descriptions as if you were in the novel yourself, witnessing the characters first-hand as they win their victories and make their mistakes, and living the story as it unfurls.
Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body's Natural Ability to Heal Itself by Dr. Alejandro Junger. Aside from my early education in the wisdom of the Bible, I've read a few books I can say have fundamentally changed my way of thinking about taking care of the everyday business of life, among them How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (don't knock it before you read it! Everyone should take a refresher on this book in the 21st century) and Die Broke by Stephan Pollan. Clean is another one of those books that reset my basic understanding of something we all typically do about three times a day (EAT!) and the effects of our modern lifestyles and environment on our bodies and overall well-being.
Clean prescribes a healthy three-week cleansing program to reset your body's rhythms while balancing physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional activities in a demanding lifestyle. And the best part about the cleanse: it's not just water and grapefruit--it involves real food everyday to uberboost your health. After the three-week program and continuing some of its principles in my everyday diet, I haven't felt or looked this healthy in years!
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. I remember when this novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2001, and I've been wanting to read it ever since. Eight years later, I finally picked it up and embarked on the amazing 656-page journey myself. I took two months to finish the novel, but it was worth every page. There were a couple of slow parts in the journey, but I savored every minute of this story about two young Jewish cousins--one American, the other Czech--during WWII in New York City, the rise and fall of the superhero comic book era, and the dawn of the nuclear age. In some places, the novel reads like a comic book itself, and takes you on a colorful, forbidden escape. Most of the novel, though, is a metaphor for life, love, art, sexuality, innocence, and childhood, peppered with the perils of war and the power of hate on the stage of world history. Most authors would be taking on too much to tackle all of these topics in one novel, but Michael Chabon nails it in a single bound.
Smile of the Buddha by Jacquelynn Baas. This was required reading for one of my art classes during sabbatical, and it was a pleasure for me to learn about artists such as abstract expressionists Agnes Martin and Ad Reinhardt, and Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. The book explores the influences of Asian thought (particularly Buddhism) on modern-era European and American artists, thus the title of the class I took, "Bridging the Gap". Each week, we read about one of these artists and how Eastern thought influenced their work. After discussing the chapter in class, we'd emulate the artist's work using their principles and techniques. Each week was a meditation and helped me slow down during the first few weeks of my sabbatical.
It's rare that I have the time to even read one book in a month so if nothing else, this sabbatical allowed me time to expand my library and stretch my thinking.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Deborah's class was about bridging the gap between Eastern and Western ideologies in art and thinking through using the five senses. For example, in one class, she had us work with encaustic (melted) beeswax to evoke our sense of smell. In another class we worked with precious metal clay to exercise our sense of touch. She had us work with subtle shifts in color to use our visual senses. Next week we'll be going to a video art installation in Santa Fe to engage our sense of hearing. We never figured out how to do taste, but we did talk about creating art with food. An intriguing idea....
We read the book Smile of the Buddha and talked about each chapter as a class once a week before getting into our work. Each class was a meditative exercise for me, and transported me to a calmer, more thoughtful place in my creativity than I had experienced before. I thank our friend Shelby for introducing me to the class and to Deborah, who was a fantastic guide through what I find to be complex terrain--the world of art.
The book introduced me to artists I may have heard of but knew nothing about: Jasper Johns, Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt, Constantin Brancusi, and others. While I didn't like all of their work on the printed page, I was particularly inspired by Agnes Martin. One evening, Deborah brought in a guest speaker to our class, Mary Lance, an award-winning film producer who had interviewed the elderly Agnes Martin in her Taos studio before she passed away a few years ago. Mary compiled the interviews into a movie called "With My Back to the World", which we had the unique pleasure of viewing in class that night. After watching Agnes paint and hearing her views on art and life ("I’m very careful not to have ideas, because they’re inaccurate" and "when we are born we are full of ambition and ego, but as we get older we begin to understand that we have to adjust"), something switched in me. The simplicity, honesty, and innocence of her work inspired me. This piece is my tribute to her gentle, thoughtful, lonesome soul:
My other piece from Bridging the Gap class may not show as meditative or calming, but the process of making it was. I'm calling this piece "Red Tornado" because it represents a recurring nighttime dream about tornadoes that I've had for decades, while also representing the turmoil of the daily struggle we all experience. This piece originally began as a grade-school collage project cut from old magazines and glued onto cardboard, but as we continued to work on the pieces, more and more layers of media, such as encaustic wax, string, fabric, and even precious metal clay pieces, fused into them. To me, it was the process that was the art, more than the finished piece itself, although I'm rather pleased with it and want to continue to work on it.
I also pulled out some old pieces to reminisce about classes I took in San Francisco, where I first learned to paint. Here's the first reductive charcoal piece I completed in Nina Wisniewski's "From Drawing to Painting" class, which started the evening after 9/11/2001. It was my very first painting class, and appropriately so, as I had been completely changed by the events of that dreadful day in human history. The class was an emotional haven for me during that time, and perhaps because of my heavy, contemplative heart, new channels of artistry opened up within me that I didn't even know I had. I'd like to do more of these reductive charcoals now that I'm looking at this really elementary piece again....
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Solvang lies among a trifecta of three famous California wine regions: Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, and Santa Barbara wine country. Because of its location among world-class vineyards, sprawling farmlands, and abundant orchards, it's downtown is replete with wine tasting rooms, a regular farmer's market, and incredibly delicious restaurants, delis, patisseries, and ice cream shops.
The town's heritage is Danish, and the architecture is an amusing dwarfish and European. When we arrived in Solvang, the weather was perfect: sunny and balmy, in the high 70s, and barely a breeze. Everyone walking on the streets was laughing or smiling. The lush, green trees and landscaping were perfectly manicured. For a minute, we thought we might have driven through a black hole into somewhere like Stepford, Connecticut.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
The first night of our stay, we slept with the windows wide open to get the full experience of sleeping near the ocean. Funny enough, as exhausted as we both were, neither of us could sleep because of the sheer ENERGY bursting through our windows from the ocean. It was the strangest sensation: a delightful insomnia. I've read that the ocean emits a ton of positive-ionic energy, particularly along beaches where the waves crash in. I don't know about all that, but I know what I experienced that night, and it was pure, blissful, positive ENERGY. I don't know how else to describe it. We didn't sleep much that night, but the second night we drew the curtains over partially-opened windows, and we slept through the night like content kittens to the sound of gently rolling waves.
Cambria is an immediate neighbor to the town of San Simeon, the home of Hearst Castle, the ridiculously sprawling estate of the late newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. We didn't stop by the Castle on this visit as we have toured it before, but if you're ever planning a trip to the area, it's definitely a don't-miss attraction.
Because it's much warmer than other California wine regions, the wines in Paso Robles are typically heavier, red Rhone-style wines (like Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah), but sophisticated winemakers in the region also turn out some great Bordeaux varietals and blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec). We took a day to visit several wineries and found that there are two halves to Paso Robles wine country: the west side and the east side. We found the wineries on the west side (closer to the ocean) to be more sophisticated and concerned with quality rather than just getting tasters drunk, as on the east side.
We visited Denner Vineyards, Tablas Creek, Justin Vineyards & Winery, and Tobin James, with a stop in San Luis Obispo for lunch and some olive oil tasting. Olives, artichokes, citrus fruit, and avocados grow rampant in the area, so farmers' markets and olive oil tasting are among the region's attractions. I've never tasted oils like wine (smelling aroma, tasting, and evaluating in a designated tasting room) and it was a pleasant surprise. My favorites were the high-quality extra virgin olive oils, and oils infused with local citrus oils, such as lemon and mandarin orange. Needless to say, we took home a bottle of local olive oil to enjoy on our salads and countless other dishes.
Cambria was among the most relaxing and enjoyable memories I'll entertain from this sabbatical. What a hidden gem!
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
On this blog, we write about our life here on a small New Mexico farm, our daily observations about moving from San Francisco two years ago to a tiny little rural town, Jon's farm projects and musings, Val's art projects and musings, trips we take, interesting (hopefully) or cool things we see or do, and much, much more!
You can see our little, but hopefully growing, Follower community in the newly added "Our Blog Followers" gadget to the right. Click the "Follow Blog" button at the very top of your browser page and become part of our posse. Happy trails!
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Afterward, driving into the mysterious, claw-like fogbank hanging over the hills approaching San Francisco, visiting the newly renovated California Academy of Sciences ($50 admission-ouch!) and marveling at the green rooftop, complete with grass, maritime skylights, weather detector...and plunging inside to float among luminous jellyfish, an albino alligator, and so many other undersea wonders. Felt a little guilty about eating sushi just afterward at Hotei on 9th Avenue, but also reveled in feelings of the past, when we shared dating bliss at many a sushi meal in that neighborhood just seven years ago....
Sunday, September 27, 2009
So now we're on Day 28, with three more weeks and some change to go. It's been a restful, relaxing, and reflective month off so far. Unlike some of my coworkers who understandably opt to travel to distant, exotic places, I've chosen the "stay-cation" variety of sabbatical, with the exception of an 8-day trip along the California coast that helped kick it off.
Jon has benefitted from my time off, too (when I'm not nagging him about house projects, working out, and eating right). We truly kicked off my sabbatical by harvesting and selling our produce at our local farmer's market, then enjoying the California trip, and most recently playing in a golf tournament for the Susan G. Komen Foundation to support breast cancer research.
On my own, I've taken two art classes (but haven't produced anything noteworthy...), completed some small home projects, and have had the distinct pleasure of reading a few books. One of those books is titled, Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body's Natural Ability to Heal Itself. Not that I'm sick or anything, but I've felt "off-kilter" for years, having serious trouble sleeping, often feeling fatigued during the day, and just not feeling at the top of my game. But WOW--this book and its program really helped infuse new energy into me after just 7 days of the 3-week program. While I'm now completing week two of the program and haven't lost any weight, I feel like a million bucks. I've tried to follow the program to the letter (with a few inevitable "mishaps" along the way), which meant that I also engaged in some new physical activities and other behavior shifts as well.
For example, I found a nice little yoga studio in Albuquerque near the airport (not too far of a drive, about 20 minutes), so I've taken up yoga a few times a week to help me with my breathing, posture, strength, and overall sense of well-being. And with my Massage Envy membership (thanks for introducing me, Linda!), I've managed to use my banked up time to get a massage nearly every week in September. Aaaaaahhhhhhhh.
I haven't been completely wrapped up in myself, however. We've spent some time with family and friends as well: celebrating my dad's 76th birthday, having neighbors over for an Oktoberfest celebration in our backyard, sharing cherished meals with friends Jerry and Karen, and sipping beer at our haunt Chama River Brewing Co. while listening to the delightful details of our friends' Shelby and Ethan's European cruise.
Jon and I haven't done as much hiking and camping as we had intended, but we plan to do a hike this week before the weather gets too cold. Next weekend, we may camp near White Sands National Monument, as the Trinity Site will be open to the public for only one day, as is customary only twice a year. The following week, Jon's family is coming to visit The Farm for the first time, so we have much work to do to prepare for their visit.
Perhaps because of all the time on my hands, I've become very introspective during this sabbatical, pondering where I am at this time in my life and where I might want to be headed--with family, career, and spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being. I've made some good progress with all this time to ponder and engage in new activities, new behaviors; now the challenge is maintaining momentum once it's time to go back to work.
More to come on my sabbatical musings in future posts....
Monday, August 31, 2009
After spending a few days in the Bay Area, we're driving down the California coast on our own to get away and reacquaint ourselves with one another, with a time we shared before work was so invasive and a mortgage introduced itself into our otherwise unburdened life. The time when we had adventures together--HOORAY! This will be our first unfettered trip together since we moved to "the farm". We're incredibly excited, but also eager to return home afterwards to wrap up harvest season, work on some long-overdue projects, and explore our own backyard--both literally (as in, the farm) and figuratively (e.g., the state of New Mexico).
There is at least one overnight camping trip in our near future, and one trip to Taos for a storytelling festival. Otherwise, I intend to regularly go to yoga and play golf, and I enrolled in art classes several months ago to keep me on track to completing some art projects I've been looking forward to for years. And I intend to catch up on sleep, eating healthier, and getting fit again. A tall order in seven weeks!
Now, the trick is continuing any new, healthy habits after returning to work in late October.... Any and all advice on how to do that is appreciated!
Monday, August 17, 2009
Here are pics of one day's harvest these days. August and September will be busy months!
In the photos: Japanese eggplant, yellow hot peppers, pickling cucumbers (which, by the way, make AWESOME half-ripe pickles, my favorite!), yellow sweet pear tomatoes, Chadwick cherry tomatoes, Lady Godiva squash, yellow bush zucchini, and monster radishes! You can also see the watermelon and honeydew melon patches ripening for market next week. We have about 40 melons on the vine so far, and we broke into one of the honeydews last night--a phenomenal experience, like nothing we've ever tasted from a store....
And the flowery, honey-like AROMA that emanated from that melon both before and after we cut into it--if we could bottle and sell that smell, we would be set for life!
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I had a few days off in June and decided to spend them visiting my good friend Karen and her husband Danny in Savannah, Georgia. They've lived there for nearly two years now, so it was great to finally see how they're doing, after their move from Colorado Springs.
I had never really known anything about Savannah except what I've seen in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (and Forrest Gump, also filmed in Savannah), and that I really, really love the name, "Savannah". But when I arrived, I learned that Savannah is truly a magical place.
Karen and Danny actually live in a suburb of Savannah called Pooler, but Karen has the unique opportunity to work in downtown Savannah at the Telfair Museum of Art. We spent a lot of time downtown, but before our first foray from Pooler to Savannah, Karen and Danny made sure to stop at a local nature preserve, home to hundreds of huge alligators. The alligators weren't shy and were free to roam on the roads and paths we took through the preserve. It was unnerving, to say the least, but it was amazing to watch the locals fearlessly plop right into the water to fish in the same waters the alligators wade.
We visited the Mercer-Williams mansion, owned by the actual Jim Williams from the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (shown below), which was one of Mr. Williams' wildly successful renovation projects. Williams contributed a good deal to Savannah's regentrification in the 1960s-80s as a celebrated art and antiques collector and dealer.
Savannah is a haunted city, if not with souls, then with stories. We took one of the many walking ghost tours one evening, and enjoyed elaborate stories of colonial and turn-of-the century betrayal, scandal, piracy, and human trade that all ended badly. Our guide was probably even more animated than most as it was a pub crawl tour with drinks served at each stop. He didn't refuse any drinks himself....
Karen graciously took me to nearby Tybee Island Sunday afternoon for a leisurely stroll along the beach and a dip in Atlantic waters. We planned to dodge crowds of paparazzi who should have been there to ogle the set and crew of Miley Cyrus' upcoming new movie, but delightfully, we didn't see many people at the beach that day. Only small families like this one, burying their children in the sand (see body-less head, below).
Karen and Danny were amazing hosts and tour guides. They took me to every possible nook and cranny they knew, from the historic Bonaventure cemetery (final resting place to many famous writers, notable Southern families, and civil war heroes) to a 300+ year-old oak tree that is still growing and thriving, to a quaint neighborhood oyster bar called Pearl's in the heart of Savannah's marshes.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Saturday, July 4, 2009
The sabbatical is six weeks, but due to the company closing the week of Labor Day weekend, we have an extra week off for a total of seven weeks! We'll be in the San Francisco Bay Area over Labor Day weekend for Jon's family reunion, and Jon's immediate family is coming to visit us on the farm during the final two weeks of the sabbatical, just in time for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October.
So, that leaves us with a few weeks off to play with. We do plan to be home a couple of those weeks to tend to the farm and take painting classes, but we've been saving up for whatever trip we decide to take, and these are the options we've narrowed down within our budget range. Take a vote and help us decide which trip you'd most like to read about on our blog!
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Jon left a patch of weeds in the far southeast corner of our melon patch (upper left in the photo below) to remind us what the area used to look like before all his hard work. What is now our vegetable planting area used to be covered in 4-foot weeds like these!
And the sunflowers are now blooming in our flower garden in the front. The hollyhocks are petering out, but Alma still enjoys sunning her paws beneath the leaves....
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
I went to the gate agent to find out why we were delayed: extreme thunderstorms in Texas that shut down the Dallas airport, where our plane needed to land before coming to Albuquerque to pick us up. I joked that we could get to Denver sooner if we drove, and the agent looked at me frankly and said, "yes, you probably could". So, we did.
And the trouble only started at the airport...
We went back to my folks' house to borrow my dad's car for the trip. After a quick stop at Hasting's Entertainment in Albuquerque to purchase some sale CDs for the long road trip ahead (e.g., the Jerry MacGuire soundtrack, Willie Nelson B-sides, Miles Davis in Paris, Ella/Lena/Sarah/Billie, and yes, Dolly Parton), we headed north for what would become a 10-hour trip (it should have only been seven).
After passing through Santa Fe and Raton to cross the Colorado border, we made our first stop: Rino's Italian Restaurant in Trinidad, CO. You may remember from a previous Denver roadtrip post that Trinidad was once regaled as the sex change capital of the world.... Well, apparently it's home to eccentric restaurant owners, too. Once we returned home and I looked up this quaint little joint on TripAdvisor, I found an anonymous review that summed this place up perfectly: "I know it sounds schmaltzy, but the combination of good food at a reasonable price and singing waiters, mostly in Italian, made for a very enjoyable dinner." Couldn't have said it better myself.
Then there were the storms, a huge deluge on our approach into Westminster, the Denver suburb where Jean and Linda live, and a string of violent ones all along the drive home. At some points, we literally couldn't see a foot in front of us, and other cars were drifting into our lane, nearly driving us into a ravine. But, somehow, we survived....
We had a great time in Denver, visiting Jean-Noel and Linda, and enjoying their home, their garden, and their terrifying yet adorable dog, Lily (don't let the photo fool you--she's a whole lotta whoop-ass!).
We toured around 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver that Saturday, strolling by the D & F tower, once the next tallest building in the U.S. next to the Empire State Building in New York, according to one report I saw online. Earlier that day, Linda took me to the gym where she teaches weight training and aerobics so we could do two--count TWO--workout classes on Saturday morning. Needless to say, I was pooped by Saturday evening.
In our downtime, we watched a couple movies on their incredible 50" HD TV: Doubt and The Dark Knight, both so apparently real on that high-def TV, my dreams were especially vivid that night.