Category Archives: Martha Slavin

September 13 – Photos Fade

by Martha SlavinI turned the pages of an old photo album that my mother had kept of our trip to England and France the summer after my dad died. The photos had faded so much that they almost look like watercolors. I remembered how the tour gave my mother a lift back into life after nine months of being closeted in grief.

It has been 36 years since my dad died, and 14 since my mother passed away. I don’t think about them every day, but feelings of affection swept through me as I look at my mother’s face in those old photos.

The photos had been kept in one of those awful albums with stripes of glue to hold the photos and plastic sheets to cover them. Thinking about painting some of them, I scanned the photos into the computer. As I worked with each one, I remembered walking through the vast room of the Alnwick Castle library, filled with comfortable chairs, thousands of books and its collections of Medieval manuscripts and a Shakespeare Folio. Alnwick Castle belongs to the Duke of Northumberland and was recently used in all of the Harry Potter films. It is now a big tourist attraction. Our tour, organized by a group from my dad’s alma mater and long before Harry Potter, stayed in the castle keep with its dorm-like rooms. For several days we savored being part of the quiet life of a country village.Our tours of castles and cathedrals scattered throughout England gave life to my college Humanities classes. I thought of Chaucer, the Magna Carte, Henry VIII, the Bronte sisters, Wordsworth, and William Blake as we traveled the narrow roads from London to Scotland and back south through Stratford-on-Avon to Windsor Castle.

At Lindisfarne, we looked across the sea to Scandinavia. In Edinburgh, we walked on a foggy day on the narrow cobblestone streets leading us past iron gates to the Museum of Childhood. As we came south, we stopped at a pub built of the honey-colored limestone of the Cotswolds and stayed in a charming Bed and Breakfast near Windsor Castle.

My mom was in her late sixties on our trip. Very active, she continued to ice skate well into her 80s. I see myself in her face and her smile. She is of French and English ancestry, and so this trip was special for her. In Coventry, we found a grave with the name of Hart, her mother’s last name, and she wondered if they were related to us. In France, she compared my silhouette to a statue of Josephine Bonaparte and determined that we both had the same nose.

As I shepherded her throughout the tour, I began to feel the reversal of roles from mother to daughter, then to daughter mothering mother. It wasn’t ’till much later when she developed Alzheimer’s that my sisters and I became the mothers that our mother needed while she faded away from her memories and the people she knew.

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at www.marthaslavin.blogspot.com She also writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.

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November 13 – Forest Bathing

by Martha Slavin

Though I love trees, I was somewhat skeptical when at a writers’ retreat recently, we were invited to go forest bathing. I’d first heard of the expression from one of our nieces, who lives in a large city and wanted to go tree bathing to reconnect with the natural world. Forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku became a Japanese practice in the 1980s when Japan included the practice in a public health program. We all know how soothing being in nature can be, but somehow in our busy, concrete-laden world, we sometimes forget to walk on the grass and take a deep breath.

I’m intrigued by the idea that trees talk to each other. I am not someone who has sought mystical or spiritual relationship with trees, but I am thrilled by the science behind how trees communicate with each other. Research by Suzanne Simard at Yale shows that trees interact with fungi in the ground and network with other trees in the neighborhood by exchanging nutrients and information about the family of trees around them. There are even trees called Mother trees, the oldest tree of a species with the knowledge of the community of trees within its area.

I didn’t expect much as we group of writers stood together at the top of a hill ready to forest bathe and to write about it. We stepped on the well-worn path leading into a small wooded area. I find it hard to be mindful when I am not alone and conscious of others around me; but eventually I settled down and noticed the forest. I saw a tunnel formed by trees’ branches bent low over the path to create a shelter. My eyes caught minute strands of spider webs connecting one tree to another. I only saw them because a slight breeze brought them to my attention as they floated in the air. I followed the fine lines from one tree to the next. Tiny spiders scurried along the lines to wrap up even smaller insects trapped in the webs. Birds, disturbed by our presence, chirped and flew from one perch to another. They wrested pine nuts from the cones attached to the branches and trunks of Bishop pines along the path. Flies or native bees swirled around me as I walked near them. Agitated, they darted from one tree to the next, and buzzed around my head.

When I returned to the path’s beginning, the ground spongy beneath my shoes, I spotted a circle of young pines and sat inside the circle with my back against one pine. I pulled out my journal and wrote the word “Connections” while a breeze moved through the tops of the trees. I felt the tree shudder from the top all the way down to the roots of the tree, the vibrations thrumming through my back. I have never felt a tree move this way. I have never been so close to the heart of a tree.

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at www.marthaslavin.blogspot.com She also writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.

March 28 – Simplicity

by Martha Slavin

Simplicity. Just the word itself sends me on a mental quest. What a wonderful idea, something that most of us crave in our lives. Do you have a favorite way to make your life simpler?

I have a friend who is a wiz at decluttering her house. She has removed objects that no longer matter to her. Walking into her house feels like taking a breath of fresh air. Her art adorns the walls, and the furniture is arranged so that you want to sit, relax and have a long chat. The best part is opening the door to the back yard into a lovely garden with a 180-degree view of bay waters, hills, and Mt. Diablo in the distance.

I haven’t learned the art of decluttering. I tried the trendy method of holding an object to see if I have still had any connection to it. No luck for me. Not only do I have a response to almost everything, but the object becomes a new distraction as I sit down and look through its pages or rub the sides of the teapot to bring back fond memories or wander through the stacks of art materials in my workroom. I can always find something interesting that keeps me attached to that object.

I’ve realized that being organized matters to me. When everything gets stacked up and my space to work becomes too limited, I can’t produce as well as I can if the room is more open. I spend a day organizing, and I come away with a sense of accomplishment. I know I have more mental space to pursue my creative projects.

I spent a week one summer at Scripps Camp, a retreat for alumnae from Scripps College. We stayed in the simply furnished dorm rooms with just a bed, desk and chair. To my surprise, I accomplished a lot, even forfeiting opportunities to take workshops and to attend get togethers with other alums because the room opened my senses to the quietness and stillness of the world around me. I wasn’t thinking of a million different things like I do at home. I had time to listen to the silence.

I still struggle with how to carve out that kind of space in my daily life. Going to our local coffee-house, sitting outside at a table, and sketching the people at other tables gives me a little of that freedom. Walking on the Iron Horse Trail opens my eyes to the natural beauty around me. Occasionally working somewhere else in the house instead of my workroom offers me a new perspective.

What do you do to live a more simple, more fruitful life?

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at www.marthaslavin.blogspot.com She also writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.

August 10 – Painting, No Judgement

by Martha Slavin

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A good friend and I sit in the shade of her backyard, which blooms with flowers, fruit, and her mosaics on the fences. Color is everywhere: the clay fish in the simple bubbling fountain, the shards of glass pushed between the stepping-stones of the paths that wander through her yard, the bright red apples and deep purple plums hanging in the trees, and the ceramic frogs and lizards near her hammock. My friend, a painter, is most at home in Monet’s garden in Giverny in France, and she brought the flood of color of that garden to her backyard.

Her two dogs push toys at us, waiting for a foot to kick the toy far enough for them to scamper after. When we don’t respond, they explore the garden. Piper, a Jack Russell terrier, brings back a green apple with teeth marks on it. She hopes this offering will interest us.

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We set out watercolors and paper on the table and pursue “Painting, No Judgment,” as my friend calls it. We relax into our efforts. She quickly splashes reds and magentas on her page while I lightly wash my paper with the soft colors of succulents.

When we’ve had enough, we get up, stretch, and walk around the table. I say, “I started to put too much dark….”

She calls, “Shush, no judgment,” and whispers, “Oh” and “Ahh,” as she walks around the table (though that is a judgment too).

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“Shall we start writing now?” I ask, feeling free of any negative thoughts and open to what follows “Painting, No Judgment.”

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at www.marthaslavin.blogspot.com She also writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.

February 10 – Challenge: Capture Shades of Grey

by Martha Slavin

Slavin Grey

How many shades of grey can you find in this picture? Do you feel surrounded by grey in the winter?

We’ve had our share of grey days this month–lots of rain–but also fog and grey skies. Looking out at the dark grey clouds, grey landscape, grey roads, I began to feel greyness in my soul. It all seemed to be just one shade: fog.

My challenge to myself: paint the beauty in shades of grey. I started taking photos of every wintry shade of grey I could find. Back in my workroom, I painted a palette of greys using a foundation mix of an ultramarine blue, quinacridone red, and hansa yellow. I changed the ratio in each box and added other colors from the pencil list below. I also tried painting with black tourmaline, hematite, and neutral tint in the hope that I wouldn’t just have flat grey. The minerals in the watercolors separated as they dried so the colors became more appealing.

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I found multiple shades of grey. Maybe I could create a beautiful grey painting after all!

I was lucky that we visited Pt. Reyes over the weekend. I found grey everywhere I looked: boat docks, bridge girders, water.

I found blue greys in the bumper of a truck:

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I found yellow grey by a boat dock:

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and reddish grey in the morning clouds:

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and realized the depth in shades of grey. Now I’m on a grey painting binge. Here’s the first Grey Horizon:

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My challenge to you:

take photos of the grey skies around you right now. Send me your results. You can post them to my Google +Collections page at https://plus.google.com/collection/k9LjEB or Instagram at #postcardsintheair, or email them to me at marthaslavin@gmail.com.

I’d love to see what you find. And maybe by looking grey in the ‘eye’, you will find the beauty in grey days too.

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at www.marthaslavin.blogspot.com She also writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California. This post was originally published on Martha’s blog.

August 12 – Quiet in the Storm of Life

by Martha Slavin

park-1319135773TYsHave you had a chance to step outside today and take a deep breath of air? What about a walk in a park where you can be among the trees and grasses?

Today at Osage Park, I walk by a white-haired man reading to his son. His son is not young either, but he sits in a wheelchair with a baseball cap on, with his head slumped against his chest. I wonder about the man. How had he found the reserve in himself to sit quietly with his son and read to him long after his son’s childhood?

We expect our children to grow, leave our homes, and make their way in the world. As with a few of my friend’s children, sometimes that doesn’t happen. Instead, intense parenting, including bathing, dressing, and feeding, continues for a lifetime with help during the school years, but after that, little respite. I watch my friends as they struggle with daily life and find joy in small things. They find resources outside their homes to help their grown children and to give themselves the needed breathing room from the strains of daily parenting care.

A lifelong caregiver could easily be filled with resentment and discontent. Yet I have seen my friends open a space within themselves that gives them the chance to have an accepting and grateful life. Not that they don’t rail against the sky or ask themselves time and time again, “Why me?”

As I walk by the man and his son, I think that the quiet moments allow them to embrace the life they have in a way they never envisioned for themselves. Seeing them together I can see the beauty and grace in the life they have absorbed. Those quiet times carry with them a sense of peace that I was able to share for just a few seconds on my walk around the park.

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at www.marthaslavin.blogspot.com She also writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.

March 2 – Scarcity and Abundance

by Martha Slavin

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The citrusy smell of Meyer lemons fills the kitchen as I slice one after another of our crop of Meyer lemons. As with any fruit/citrus-bearing trees, our Meyer lemon trees produce all at once. How do I make use of such abundance?

I think once again about having a little of something and too much of something and how quickly I stop prizing an abundance. I savor a small quantity of something to make it last. Once I have a lot of something, it no longer seems precious enough to glean every last drop.

This is the week to do something with them before their skins start to go soft. I’ve already given two bags to our house cleaners. I’ve taken a couple of bags to the Urban Farmers (a local organization who will take excess produce), I’ve sliced them for water at Craft Day, squeezed them for a morning drink of water with lemon juice, and stuffed them into whole chickens. I used to make limoncello with the remainder.

We first tasted limoncello, a lemon-infused liqueur, while we were living in Tokyo and frequented an Italian restaurant around the corner from our apartment. As a parting gift at the end of our dinner, the staff would present us with a shot glass of this mellow liqueur.

Limoncello is easy to make, uses lots of lemons, and is good as a gift. I stopped making it though, after the year when I waited too long and the lemons grew soft and dried out sitting on the counter. The limoncello had no flavor. I knew that it was time to let go of making limoncello because what once had been fun had become a chore.

Here’s my recipe for limoncello. Just be sure to use fresh, juicy lemons:

Peel 20 fresh lemons with a vegetable peeler. Use the peeler or a sharp knife to remove the white pith on the inside. Soak peels in 100-proof vodka for about a week at room temperature. Test the peels. If they crack apart, the batch is ready. If they are still flexible, put them back for more soaking. When ready, add three cups of sugar and three cups of water. Heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Let cool. Have ready coffee filters and clean glass jars. Strain the mixture through the filters into the jars. Seal, and chill for about a month. Then sample!

I’ve looked for other recipes for lemons, but most of them require only a little juice or a little zest or they are desserts, not enough to support the bags of lemons I have left. Maybe this year I will try limoncello one more time.

Do you have good uses or good recipes for Meyer lemons?

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. She writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.