Monday, July 28, 2008

Ohio Field Trip

Back to My [Garlic] Roots

This summer I was fortunate enough to have some time to relax at my parents' house in the country outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Ohio is beautiful this time of year! It's so green and lush. Back in June, my 2-year-old niece from Colorado had gazed into the forest behind my parents' house and said, "Ooh, look at that jungle." That's how lush it is!

Being there, enjoying nature, made me want to capture some of the fresh, full feeling of summer. This blog entry is packed with photos of the beautiful summer plants I noticed there. What I was observing was that I like the stillness I sense in plants. I find that there's something magical about sensing their quiet aliveness, knowing that they're growing all the time, while seeming to remain so steady and still. There is a lot of peace in nature, and plants are stunning examples of that - little pieces of peace tucked into small packages that collectively make a plethora of peace.

My mom is a wonderful gardener - these photos were all taken in her gardens - and she gardens just like a mom! Nurturing, supplying sustenance, and then stepping back and just letting things run wild. For instance, her mint went crazy and took over 1/4 of her herb and vegetable garden. It's so beautiful and fragrant, I don't blame her for leaving it that way. When she talks about it, she makes it sound like it has a mind
of its own, "That mint just decided to take over this whole corner!"

And the way she says it is half aghast at its audacity, and half proud. Just the way
she parented me. (A loving joke, Mom.)

She also has a garlic patch that she started from the bulbs of my late paternal grandfather's garden. Grandpa Sloboda used to yank the garlic out of the ground, peel it, and eat it right there! He claimed it was why he never got a cold. My mom gave me some seeds from the top of one of the garlic plants so that I can have some of Grandpa's garlic for my own windowsill herb garden. The very same garlic that my Grandpa used to eat has now spread its seeds from his garden to my mom's and soon mine. I love the idea of this! I love that these plants passed on their own genes just like my ancestors did to me. We can observe the circle of life in a real, living - not to mention tasty - way. And hopefully now, I'll stop getting colds. (Grandpa's spirit is alive!)

My trip was a delight. I got to spend time with the richness of the lush plants in the country, with my parents, my hilarious brother, and with happy memories of the sunny Ohio summers amidst which I grew up. And my mom sent me back with garlic and fresh lettuce from her garden, so I've been enjoying the tastes all week back in the city!

Photos, Top to Bottom, Left to Right: Mint, Grapevine + Sky, Snapdragon, Misc. Flowers, Beetles Mating on Grape Leaf, Mint Forest, Grandpa's Garlic Seeds + Tiny Bee, Queen Anne's Lace Running Wild I + II.

More Ohio photos on my flickr site!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Farm-Fresh Wedding Planning

My upcoming-wedding clients, Christina and Andy, invited me to visit the grounds of the Blue Hill at Stone Barns with them in preparation for their wedding, which will take place there in September. I loved visiting this gorgeous little farm! Christina has her own blog about "planning a farm-chic affair," called A Farm Fresh Wedding, featuring all kinds of unique details, including the amazing letterpress invitations that she designed herself!

The Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant sits on grounds owned by the Rockefeller estate, not far from New York City, in Pocantico Hills. The surrounding farm produces all of the produce and food for the restaurant, and the restaurant's menu fluctuates, depending on what's available on the farm. They have a 22,000 square foot greenhouse where they grow all sorts of lettuce and other vegetables. It is the largest greenhouse that exists for the purpose of supplying organic produce for a restaurant in the entire country.

They let us wander around and explore the farm at our leisure, and we had a lot of fun doing that. Christina had wanted to show me their flock of sheep, but when they were off in a distant meadow, we decided to walk through the forest to where the piglets were nesting! The piglets were so funny, how they splashed and snorted in the mud. All along the path through the forest were vines of raspberries (of which we sneaked a few), and while we were walking, a deer scampered across in front of us, much to my delight.

I'm excited to shoot Christina & Andy's wedding, and get to create some cool portraits of them on the grounds. I had a chance to bond with them on our excursion, and I really feel appreciation for them as individuals. It
was great to have a chance to see the farm once, too, so now I am already having visions of the images I'll want to create. Thanks for an awesome day, Christina & Andy!

Pictured above are two muddy piglets!

To view more photos, follow this link to my flickr site.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Kripalu Field Trip

Over the weekend, I went on an excursion to Lenox, Massachusetts, and spent the day at the Kripalu yoga center for a day of "Retreat & Renewal." It is a gorgeous place, set in the hills of the Berkshires, with wooded grounds, great lawns, and a view of a huge lake. I had my camera locked in my locker for the duration of the day, and several times I thought about going to get it to make some art. But I thought again, and decided that it would be fun to try to record the essence of the experience in my head in another way - to remove myself from the ability to instantaneously record what I was seeing, in order to more fully immerse myself in the sounds, smells, and feeling of the place.

The feeling there was very loving and light-hearted. I could understand why many people from the city would want to take a retreat there, because it allowed time for relaxing in the hot tub and sauna, hearing lectures, going to yoga, taking walks on the grounds, and chatting with people over delicious vegetarian meals. At the same time, it wasn't too intensely driven towards having epiphanies - it was very accepting of people at whatever level they happened to be on. In that way, I understood why it would be a gateway for a lot of people new to a yoga practice, or even new to the idea of nurturing their true natures. Having had a lot of practice, at times I wondered if the place was too gentle for my taste. But then again, maybe the atmosphere could serve as a reminder to me that I could be more like that - accepting of people wherever they are.

When you walk out of the main building at Kripalu, you are greeting by an amazing view of tall, green mountain not too far in the distance. Overlooking the great lawn sloping steeply away from the building, you see first a forest, then a layer of water (the lake is nestled in there), and then the mountain stands serenely over the water. There are a couple of smaller mountain friends to the side and behind the big guy. And the sky above is fun to watch throughout the day as the weather changes and the sun moves across. A year and a half ago, I was there in the winter, and I took some photos of this view. It was beautiful in the summer as well! But I wondered at the idea of just relishing the view for myself in that moment - I wondered if I had gotten into the habit of letting experience slip away in just mechanically recording everything in the instant that I noticed it. With digital technology, I find that it's easy to snap away, and forget to relish the fleetingness of a moment.

Early in the day, I took a walk through the scene described above. I walked all the way down the huge driveway that curved around the great sloped lawn. I crossed the street into a small field, and followed the path deep into the forest. I could hear a creek running not too far from the trail, and lots and lots of birds. The forest was very lush and thick, and sunlight only twinkled through in tiny spots. As I walked and walked, I relaxed a great deal into the idea of feeling like I was part of nature. (We humans forget that we are sometimes, don't we?) Finally, I came to a clearing, and found myself on the banks of the huge lake I had seen from up above. I waded into the water, which was pretty warm, and totally soothing as it lapped against my skin.

As I type this, I am relaxing on the back porch of my parents' house near Greater Cleveland, Ohio, gazing out into the dense woods on a beautiful sunny summer day. The sun is brightening patches of the green forest floor, birds are singing, and the wind is dancing through the leaves. Just now, a fawn was grazing along the banks of the creek that runs through their woods. It was so beautiful, with its spotted sides and flicking tail! It walked a few steps along the creek and met up with its mother, and they disappeared into the the thick woods together. A bright red cardinal is now darting around from tree to tree. And, as I sit here, I find that trying to keep up with recording the beauty I find in nature is simultaneously impossible and effortless - impossible because there are infinite things of wonder to try to record, and effortless because to capture even the slightest essence of it is to succeed in having glimpsed the whole of it.

And that was what my day of getaway at Kripalu was all about. One of my favorite moments came late in the afternoon, when I was exploring a different part of their vast grounds. Suddenly, I thought to myself, "You are not going to cover all the grounds in one day. You're not meant to. That's why people stay here for weeks at a time." With that thought, my mind utterly relaxed. I walked into a small clearing surrounded by trees, and found a seat on a bench. There was a large birch tree directly in front of me, with it's leaves dangling around in the breeze. I sat there for several minutes, simply looking at the tree, and not thinking of much else.

I think there's something metaphoric about that thought that had come to me spontaneously: that we are not meant to cover all the grounds here in one day. Maybe we can slow down and just experience what's right in front of us.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Little Glass Objects

In exploring the Berkshires, a charming county in the Appalachian foothills of Western Massachusetts, I came upon this wonderful artist's shop called Cheshire Glassworks. Cheshire is the name of the town (although the crescent moon on the sign out front does lend itself to an Alice in Wonderland double-entendre), and the shop is situated on state route 7.

Jill Balawender, who is the youthful, energetic glass artist and owner of the shop, gave an awesome impromptu glass bead-making demonstration using a torch mounted at her in-shop work station. We had to wear special glasses that show only certain color temperatures of light in order to be able to see the bead working in the flame (otherwise it would have just appeared to be a fiery blob!). She also showed us a small kiln where recently fired glass objects were kept heated to a certain temperature in order to harden before cooling completely. She said this hardening process was what made it possible for you to drop one of her beads and not have it shatter on the floor.

I loved chatting with Jill. She is a true artist, and loves her craft. She spoke enthusiastically about the simple pleasures of her work, and the immense pleasure of the creative and flexible life her glass shop has enabled her to have. Even the gift bag she wrapped my purchase in was inspiring. It is stamped with a Picasso quote that reads

Art washes away
from the soul
the dust of

everyday life.

I loved hearing Jill's stories about vending necklaces along the beach before taking a glass workshop that formed her new vision and subsequent business. She seemed absolutely willing to give her heart and mind the space to hear where the wind was calling her to go. And when that call came, she followed it. It seems so simple a story! How many of us can say we embarked on our career paths in such an organic, effortless manner? Jill spoke with a calm trust about her creative urges, and the way that following them created exactly the flexible, fun lifestyle she wanted. And now she gets to play with colored glass for a living all day long!

Now that's one cool woman.

Pictured above are two small glass containers that I bought from Jill, sitting on my windowsill in Brooklyn. (In the background you can see the two purple flowery plants I picked up in the Berkshires, as well.)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Summer in the City

Just a few summer snaps from my meanderings about Brooklyn (no, the second one is NOT Miami!)...

and Manhattan...

and even returning to Manhattan from Chicago....

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I have decided to be happy.

Against all odds, I have decided to be happy. This goes against everything our parents and ancestors have taught us - that we are striving for something or fighting against something. But instead of occupying myself with things like that, I've decided to occupy myself in what I believe to be a more effective way - with being happy.

It's like they say, "You can't 'fight war.' You have to exude peace." Because fighting war is still fighting, DUH! And striving for happiness is really just "striving," it's not Happiness. Unless you can find happiness in the striving, find peace and enjoyment in the stress. I don't know a lot of people who are striving in that way, though. Most of us are just striving.

But I've been focused on the striving long enough (my whole life!), and now I am focusing on the happiness. Do you remember glee? Perhaps from your childhood? Do you ever let yourself feel that? It's still there. If all the other life lessons are still there, so is your ability to experience glee. But we haven't learned to value glee. We are have not been rewarded for it by our parents (at least not consistently) or by our society, so we hesitate to share it or even experience it. Does anyone else see that that's kind of stupid?

Science tells us we only use 10% of our brain power. What do you suppose that is all about?! Well, we learn, we are taught, to assimilate experiences in certain ways. As we get older and supposedly wiser, we STOP fully experiencing things in the moment. We say, "Oh, that in the sky is the Northern Lights." Factual, to the point, smart. And someone says, "Wow, you're Smart." But oh, imagine being a child and seeing the sky light up in sweeps of red and orange and white, giant lines forming and gradually shifting, immensely and completely covering the gigantic sky from horizon to horizon. That is to experience, "AWE." In awe, there is no conception of smart, of needing to know the name of something, or seek a reward from someone. There is no striving. There is only a glimpse of unlimitedness. How often do we let our brains contact a sense of unlimitedness? Perhaps that would take us up closer to 100% of our brain power.

And, dare I say, since we're only using part of our brain, we're not happy! We don't let ourselves experience the part of our brain that is happy. Part of our brain IS happy, I believe, but collectively we do not reward each other's happiness - and so we don't encourage it in one another. We're always told we need to have and do more to be happy. What if we told each other, "You're enough. Just as you are. You will always grow and change - it's inevitable. But right now, in this moment, you are perfect."

What if we were gleeful? What if when everyone looked at us, it was with the gleeful expression of a child? What would we have to fear? What would block us in our striving and keep us perpetually in a state of it? Then there would be no strife, there would just be gleeful forward motion!

So, I have chosen my crusade: I am happy. That is my crusade. It is very, very challenging to allow one's brain to access thoughts of happiness in this world today, when everyone and everything around you is full of stress, tension, dissatisfaction, and injustice. Maybe more challenging than any fight or attempt to correct any of those flaws. I know only a few inspiring people who literally want to put happiness ABOVE all their other goals. That's why most people have goals - to try to get to happiness! I have decided to forge myself a short-cut, and go directly to Happy. I'm just happy. Imagine that!