Ode to Soapstone, Kate Lebo, and Beef Stock

Ferns at Soapstone

A month has passed since we left Soapstone, and I am finally ready to say goodbye. Please forgive the lapse in posts – breaking up is hard to do. I know that even escape grows old if it is your daily life, but I hadn’t quite hit the “I’m ready to miss this” moment at Soapstone before we left. What I am (mostly) over missing -  the uninterrupted span of time to write. The daily rituals Kate and I perfected – late mornings of waking to start a fire and stoke a small pot fat with oatmeal, raisins and coconut for our lazy breakfast, trips to Bread and Ocean in Manzanita for coffee and a few good  hours of writing, nighttime in some ocean-side pub for a beer or two and a basket of oysters, and of course, more writing.

I discovered a beautiful thing I’d like to call the One Beer Wonder – poems seemed to just tumble out on their own in the time it took me to polish off a pint of porter. This amounted to 23 new poems during our three week trip, a good number even if poems shouldn’t be quantified. I miss the river and the white noise it made all day and night. I miss spotting coyotes and eagles from the deck of the cabin. I miss the green, green, green of the forest we were blessed to live in.

I know now what a good residency feels like, and I also know that Kate is the best residency mate that any fool could dream up – we got along flawlessly, and helped work each other’s poems into pleasing shapes. The only real bummer of the trip? Kate got sick (from food poisoning, the Noro Virus, or some other evil malady) and the beef stock that she had made the night before illness bore her to the bathroom was promptly put in the freezer. I was pretty excited for Kate and I to make French Onion Soup – but the food you make the night before sickness often gets relegated to the no-eat zone, and this was the case for Kate and the stock.

On a day that I was especially sad over the loss of our magical writing residency, I decided to make some stock of my own to soothe my blues. This stock is an ode to Kate, Soapstone, the coyotes and all the poems we made. Food really is the best way out of sadness, sometimes.

Bones to roast

Beef Stock

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine and Memory

  • 4 pounds meaty organic grass fed beef bones (As Kate says, make sure the cow has been hugged to death)
  • 2 onions, quartered and left unpeeled
  • 2 medium or 1 and a half large carrots, quartered
  • 4 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
  • 1 fresh thyme bundle (4-5 sprigs)
  • 1  bay leaf
  • 15 1/2 cups cold water
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 1 cup dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F.

Spread beef bones, onions, and carrot in a large flameproof roasting pan and roast, turning occasionally, until well browned, about 1 hour.

While shanks roast, wrap parsley, thyme, and bay leaf in kitchen string and tie to make a bouquet garni.

Transfer meat and vegetables to a 6- to 8-quart stockpot. Straddle roasting pan across 2 burners, then add 1 cup sherry and 1 cup water, and deglaze pan by boiling over high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. Add deglazing liquid to stockpot along with 14 cups water, celery, salt, and bouquet garni. Bring to a boil and skim froth. Add remaining 1/2 cup water, then bring mixture to a simmer and skim froth. Simmer gently, uncovered, 5 hours.

Pour stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, and discard solids. Stock should measure about 8 cups – if you have more than 8 cups, boil until reduced to 8 cups; add water if stock measures less than 8 cups. If using stock right away, skim off and discard fat. If not, cool stock completely, uncovered, before skimming fat (it will be easier to remove when cool), then chill, covered.

Roasted bones

Tailfeathers! Or, I’m sorry to start with an apology

There’s a thing that happens at readings sometimes that can annoy me: the pre-reading apology. The writer assumes their position on stage, and facing their audience, they feel uncertain. So begins the “I just wrote this yesterday” or “haven’t really edited it” or “this might be better on the page…” pre-reading apologies, which often just amount to the reader saying “I have no idea whether or not you’ll like my work, so please be nice.”

Have I done it? Hell Yes. Luckily, the more readings I do, the more I’ve been able to transmute most of my pre-reading jitters into something called excitement, and my early days of apologizing seem to be over.

Welcome to today!  I really want to show you some photos of some of the visual things I’ve been working on here at the residency, but I just can’t figure out my camera. I’m sorry! I am showing you pictures anyway, and they are not that great. Please be nice.

We haven’t had anything that even resembles winter in the Northwest this year, and I think this first piece is my embroidery aubade to the snowy mornings we’ve missed. It is an abstract piece on natural colored linen with cut-work in steely light blue silk, embroidered with many tiny french knots:

Future Book Cover: Icy Abstract Embroidery

Side view, Icy Abstract Book Cover Embroidery

My process for taking pictures at home is a magical mix of:

  1. A very fancy camera
  2. A tutorial-giving husband that knows how to use said camera
  3. The ability to hand over said camera to said husband when I get frustrated

Here at the Res, I have a small, non-fancy camera that I am still trying to make sense of. I can’t get closeups, so all the details in the work will have to be imagined. I fantasize about having David and Heather Gilson show up, armed with their cheery dispositions, camera knowledge, and baked goods. Well, we will have to eat while they make me a good photographer, right?

I promise to post much better pictures of the finished products after I return home.

I also promise to clap extra loud for the pre-reading apologists, now that I’ve put you through this.

Here are the finished Tawny Frogmouths, also in icy colors:

Tawny Frogmouths

Before I left home, I started this Roseate Spoonbill. She’s lovely – a little shy, but willing to scratch your back her beak after a little sweet talk.

Roseate Spoonbill

Now, into more fiery climes. This abstract piece is on seafoam colored linen with cut-work in rusty orange-red silk, embroidered with many tiny french knots and circles. From some angles, it looks like a figure sprinting, which is a nice enough metaphor for fire:

Future Book Cover: Rust Abstract Embroidery

Months ago, I told Kate I’d make her a book for her birthday. When asked about the cover art, she responded that she loves cats, cherries, chickens, rosemary, and pine cones. We decided to go with a chicken – a rooster, actually. He’s a Rhode Island Red. I embroidered him on mustard-colored linen. I wish I could get a good detail photo of his tail feathers – they are shot through with blues, an homage to a rooster I once had. His name was Cornelius. Kate has named her Rooster Emmet.

Emmet Crows

Sing it, Emmet!

As good of a shot as I could manage with his tail:

Tailfeathers should be one word.

Happy New Year, Tiger

Sure, you could accuse me of being late in line on the New Year’s well wishing. All those lists of the top 100 albums, top 20 books, and top 5 E.E. Cummings impersonations of 2009 have long since passed into the gray age of disinterest, true. I don’t mind if you think the wagon rode right by me, because this is My Year, Baby – and it hasn’t even started yet.  You see, I am a  Tiger. And, as my husband says, I’m 90% heart. And, as miracles might have it, the Chinese New Year starts on February 14th, that fabled day of love.  My big Tiger heart is ready to charge.

Rowrrrrr!

According to many a website, these are the characteristics that I share with my Tiger brethren:

Courage, Vehemence, Self-Reliance, Friendliness, Hopefulness, Resilience, Vanity, Disregard

This could all be true, I suppose. I mean, I am always up for a new solo journey into the unknown. Unless you’d like to come – I love a good companion! We can change the world, you and I, no matter what comes our way – we’ll fight it out. I can contribute these talents to our world-saving journey: If I meet opposition, I’ll outsmart it (that’s never much of an issue) and if my enemy is too dense to notice how they are being outwitted, my rather obvious good looks should work as a distraction back-up plan. I mean, have you seen my hair?? On second thought, let’s not even bother fighting through the dullards. I can’t remember a single one of their names.

Teasing aside, I’d like to point out that the standard  Tiger vanity is sidestepped by virtue of the year of my birth. Really! I am a Wood Tiger – a mellow version of my feisty sign. (No infidelity jokes here, please.  Tiger Woods isn’t even a Tiger, he’s a Rabbit. A Rabbit! Irony, you are the muse that transcends all bad culture.)

THE WOOD TIGER 1914 AND 1974
The Wood Tiger is more adaptable to working with others and therefore does not always demonstrate the typical “take charge” attitude of other  Tigers. The Wood element adds stability, giving her warmth of character that draws people in and makes the Tiger a popular person. They are not selfish creatures and will give their time, attention or possessions to anyone in need. These Tigers bring a solid practicality to any problem. They can control their urges to completely take over, letting others do the work. They must be aware of their slightly volatile tempers and short attention spans, and not let those characteristics get the best of them or cause them or their loved ones undue pain.

See? I’m not vain, just popular. BUT WHAT IS THAT BULLSHIT ABOUT A BAD TEMPER? I NEVER EVER RAISE MY VOI….. hey, Kate left chocolate on the counter. I love chocolate, and Kate, too. She is good at sharing. What was I saying?
Oh yes! I would like to dedicate this post to my Grandmother Margret, the lovely lady on the left:

Grandmother Margaret, Elizabeth, Grandpa Foster, me, and my Mom, a stone cold fox.

She was my grandfather’s second wife, and the two of them traveled the world extensively in their funky patterned shirts and polyester pants. They lived in Kailua, Hawaii, just close enough to the beach that represents all beaches in my mind. Every day, they would bang a pockmarked old pot lid against the concrete on the back patio and birds would come from miles away for a morning meal. She never had any kids – she might have wanted them, but Grandpa was done by the time they met. They had a great time when his alcoholism wasn’t at its worst, and a bad time when it was.  She died when I was seven from a complication in a routine surgery. I remember  my parents taking me to the living room and sitting me down in the nubby green chair, explaining that she had died, and that I wouldn’t be going to her funeral.

My memories of her are mercurial – she was a love-by-disappointment kind of a woman, and was always worried that I was spending too much time in the ocean when we went to the beach. She would yell and yell from the shore, and I would duck under the waves, swimming under water for as long as possible before I had to come to the surface and pretend not to hear her once again. I’m sure I drove the poor woman crazy. And I am sure she understood, too, that I was a Tiger, and that all her yelling might never sink in.

I wrote a poem about her many, many years ago – I’m guessing it was written in 1998, the last year of the Tiger.  Actually, the poem is about both of us, and about all of us, and about all the unfulfilled parts of our lives that take form like grounded swallows.  Some swallows can’t take fly off from a flat surface, but need a boost or a branch to get skyward. Margret wasn’t the most demonstrative of women, but I do believe that she loved me. She told me once that I was good luck, and I like to think that, for those few years that we had together, we were both pretty lucky.  If my luck continues, I’ll get to see 4-6 more Tiger years before I die – and I know I’ll be thinking about her on each one.

Kam Hong Woon
(Margaret)
(1906-1981)

For you I was a swimming tiger,
a small pawed cub, ocean going -
webbed with luck to balance
an impossible nature, lashed with tongue
to balance your Chinese love song.

For you I was a bird to call,
your hand banging a pot lid
against the concrete,
seed seeping from your fingers.
I was the swallow, all hover and peck
while you waited to throw
my small body back into the sky.

You watched and tottered,
keeping my blood from
the rum in the cupboards,
from the rum in the flowerpot,
from the rum between the bed
and the baseboard.

Margaret, every song is a love song.
Every bird is beautiful.
Every child is the ghost
of someone you might have loved.

Margaret, I am a ghost of the child
you might of loved, a tiger
you pulled from the ocean, the swallow
that knew your hand to be a chariot.

I am the one who watched you
skim fat from the oxtail soup
as your husband reached for
the cupboard, for the flowerpot, for the bed
and the baseboard beneath it.

I am the ghost who remembers your name,
legs dangling over a green seat,
thinking every chair is a throne
for the ghost of a child.

Old Poem, New Life

It is almost 2 in the morning, and for some reason I am wide awake. In this questionable state, I posted an older poem that I’ve never tried to publish before on Ink Node. Go check it out!

The Deaf Leading The Unborn

I’ve always felt that poems need to be ferberized.

For me, writing is like traveling to multiple dimensions and accidentally coming back very pregnant. When the writing feeling happens, the interstellar me is whisked off to another universe. This wispy version of myself spends the rest of the poem tucking the geography (and iconography) of the place into her pockets so that I can transcribe them through my mostly inert real body. When these two parts of me are rejoined, I’m startled by the big pile of newness that we created. I’m almost always unable to keep writing, and whatever words were born when we got back together just need to take a nap, as far as I can tell.

Sometimes, these poems nap for years. More often, it takes 3-6 months. I check on them every once in awhile to see if they are still breathing, then silently close the nursery drawer.  They have to be able to soothe themselves. If I bring a poem out after 6 months of silence and it is just screaming for attention, I put it away again.

So when Kate misheard my suggestion that we read another person’s poem every night at Soapstone as something like “Let’s read our new poems every night” I was so mortified that I agreed and just ate another oyster. Kate and I are both hard of hearing, which means our time together in poetry group and at this residency is commonly punctuated with “What?” and “Can you say that again?” After years of smiling and nodding through unheard conversations or deftly changing the subject after the third time I’ve asked someone to speak up and I still have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, I’m prone to giving my hearing impaired friends license to re-interpret my words. Some of the best things I’ve ever heard were just the hallucinations of my damaged and dreamy ears. When considering my need to let poems rest for large amounts of time before they are allowed to see the light of day, I do get annoyed at my fussy self. What is all this nonsense about alternate universes and treating poems like breathing creatures that need to form their independence?

Not all of my talents are invested in being a total weirdo, however – I am also remarkably good at procrastinating, and inversely, at being rash. A few days ago, Kate asked if I wanted to email her a few poems so that she could print them out.  So that we could workshop them.  Days after they were written.  I made some sort of semi-plausible excuse about needing to look them over, because they really weren’t poems yet. A couple of days ago, when we were in the freezing cold café with the virgins and jazz music, I looked over one of her poems, but whoops! none of mine were printed. The night before last, I managed to get really involved in an abstract embroidery project I am working on, and we missed our window for the planned workshop. Then, yesterday morning, without having tried to make them into actual poems, I gave up. I woke a few of them up, and escorted them through the printing process.

They did look a little dazed, and one of them seemed to be fighting constipation.  I took them to the table, handed them over to Kate, and waited for the impending tantrums.

And nothing bad happened. In fact, only good things happened. The poems seemed remarkably soothed by the process. One of them came together and is finished.

I don’t know if this early showing of poems will be a practical practice when I get back to the city – perhaps it works better here in the woods. But I am pretty pleased.

And sometimes, I really love being wrong.

Moss and Frogmouths

Yesterday, Kate and I spent the afternoon in Cannon Beach, writing at a café that kept its doors and windows open. In January. The café owner was blaring popular jazz standards, and a pair of young girls were loudly discussing the complexities of their love lives and the virtues of virginity at the table next to us. I am a little afraid to look at what I wrote.

After a couple of hours, we went for a walk to the beach:

If you are planning on spending 3 weeks alone in the woods with someone, I suggest you follow my lead and choose a specimen as funny, kind, and good-looking as my friend Kate. If nothing else, go for someone hot so that you can capture photos in which seagulls are staring longingly at the person in question.

Later, on our walk,  I found a delightful mushroom bog:

I should probably be practicing by budding embroidery skills on a site specific project, like recreating the lovely colors in these mushrooms, or trying to emulate this moss found just steps from the residency:

Instead, I’ve been working on the re-imagined Tawny Frogmouths.

Kate encapsulated the residency with the  photo above. It has my laptop, a beer, crafting supplies, and two cookbooks. Are we lucky, or what? The Frogmouths  seem to think so. Here is a closer shot of them in an unfinished state:

Not tawny, you say? This is simply an exercise in artistic license. After the Frogmouths were finished, I found out that albino versions of them do exist, as seen at the bottom of this post. The bodies of my Frogmouths are sewn with a light blue linen thread, which might make them the arctic version. Real Tawny Frogmouths freeze when startled, and have the magnificent ability to transform themselves into branches. These guys are more about being seen – just look at the one on the right, he’s giving you the eye.

I’ll take pictures of the finished embroidery today in the morning light.

The next steps for this project are to back the linen with paper, assemble the cover, fold the signatures, and bind the book. I’m going with my favorite buttonhole binding, and haven’t yet decided what color thread to use for the binding. Any suggestions?

Whoa is me.

It should be noted (for this blog) that I am a horrible speller. Worse still? My grammar. I love language, but I abhor rules.

The 500 or so words that I do know how to spell can all be attributed to the scholarly skill of Mr. Gold at Woodinville Elementary School. Mr. Gold was consistently furious at my fifth grade class. It is probably accurate to say that Mr. Gold was furious at every fifth grade class he ever taught. In my memory, he appears as a gorgeous, malicious owl head teetering on a fit 80-year-old man’s body.

Owlman by James Todd

It is more likely that he was a normal looking 45-year-old guy with slightly bushy eyebrows (or owlbrows, as they are called in my house). I can’t imagine that Mr. Gold left twenty-eight 10-year olds alone in his classroom with any regularity, but I swear he was always exploding back into the room, screaming three words that would forever be seared into my tender brain: THE UNMITIGATED GALL.

Oh, Mr. Gold was a storm of a man. And as far as I knew, unmitigated gall was a term for the weather. In my imagination, he was basically screaming It’s raining cats and dogs! I was sure that a gall was a storm involving rain, and that unmitigated meant relentless. I knew that he was really telling us that we, as children, were pretty much unbearable and deserving of some deranged Roman form of punishment, but I couldn’t help it – I heard him yelling Unrelenting Tempest! each time he spat out that notable phrase. If I hadn’t been so helplessly impressed with him, I’m sure I would have burst out laughing. As an adult, I can’t find any dictionary mention of a gall being a term for a rainstorm, though I’m certain I’ve heard it used that way before. It only follows that if a windstorm is a gale, and rainstorm is a gall, right? I now understand that unmitigated means absolute, which isn’t so far from relentless if you really break it down.

For that one year of my life, I loved spelling. I can’t remember if I every achieved any fleeting success with it, but I do recall Mr. Gold’s unmitigated pleasure every time I stood up from my plastic chair and spelled something correctly. Though it was never directly communicated, I established that Mr. Gold’s love of language paralleled mine, with a larger desire for accuracy. Mr. Gold also taught me that, for the love of God, a zero is a ZERO, not an o. An o is a bloody letter, and you don’t find it anywhere in the numerical system unless you can only count to twenty and think that bellybutton lint is hi-larious. He might have also taught me that Velveeta is not actually cheese. At the end of the school year, I remember him placing his owl-hand on my shoulder and telling me that I was going to do just fine in Junior High School – after years of mooning away in a corner with the larger academic establishment fearfully assessing my dismal future, this was like winning the praise lottery. It turns out that Mr. Gold was more right about life than he was about my chances in Junior High School. And, as it turns out, I still can’t spell.

Luckily, I have a husband who doubles as an editor. He irons out all my ignorant decisions with his big brain and something called a Ph.D. – now if it were up to me, we’d pronounce that series of letters Phhhttd! simply to amplify the charm of their arrangement. My leanings in the arena of his fine education are not always admirable, though. When we were first dating, I accidentally told someone that he had a Ph.D. in psychology (it is really a Ph.D. in philosophy) and boy did he look peeved. After that, I would accidentally on purpose make the same mistake from time to time, always turning gleefully to see his scowl-y expression before he corrected my error. I should point out that David is not much of a scowler – when considering the variations in character among humans, David holds position firmly in the sweet, funny and smart categories. Can you really blame me for wanting to see this lighthearted chap occasionally screw his face up in contempt?

Did I also mention that he is very patient?

This is all to say that I beg your forgiveness for any and all errors that I make while I am here in the woods, away from my valiant and handsome editor. For your amusement, here is a video of David dancing.

Soapstone

Hello, Friends.

For the past five days, I’ve been here:

This charming cabin is the Soapstone Writer’s Residency, a little bit of heaven tucked into the forest on the Oregon Coast near Manzanita. Last sumer, my friend Kate Lebo suggested we apply for the residency together. I agreed that this was a fine idea,  then promptly forgot  about it. Forward to the due-date of the application and you’ll find me in Port Towsend visiting my brand-spanking-new Mother in Law and frantically scrapping together the application instead of sailing in a tiny, bright blue sailboat. Luckily, the sailing came later, after I rushed to the Port Townsend Post Office to find it closed (on a Saturday).  This sort of small town mischief must have blessed my near-tardy application, for here we are!

The cabin sits aside a Soapstone Creek, which looks more convincingly like a river this time of year.

The river is a substitute mother. This means that it is impossible to avoid writing about her, despite my best intentions. And that she sings me to sleep every night with a lovely lisp.  This morning a bald eagle flew right down the middle of the river, flaunting its majestic self while seeming completely unconcerned. I can only hope that I adopt a similar countenance after living with the river for 3 weeks, but after shouting “An Eagle! An EAGLE!!!” while pointing and hopping furiously up and down,  I realize more time might be necessary.

My studio and the main room/kitchen part of the cabin are heated solely by a wood stove named Queenie.

Contrary to her name, she is not standoffish, difficult, or demanding. In fact, she is perfectly accommodating, as far as wood stoves go.

In a past life, I lived in houses that were heated only by wood stoves, so being with Queenie makes me nostalgic for my 19 year old off-the-grid living self. Is there anything more satisfying than a good fire? Not many things, anyway. I adore waking up in the cold morning and stumbling down the stairs to feed Queenie. She’s a champ.

The only problem with this otherwise lovely place? The Ice Cube. No, I’m not referring to a rectangular object one breaks free from a tray in the freezer when making a smart cocktail for a deserving guest – rather, I’m talking about my writing studio, the tiny cube perched charmingly atop the cabin:

Here is where I admit to one of my many inconsistencies – I am terrified of heights. I’m the girl in junior high school who froze in place when attempting to make it to the top of the bleachers with my friends, causing the assembly to be delayed. Yet… I am fantastically obsessed with doing the things I love in high places. Sleeping? Give me a bed suspended by chains from a stories-high ceiling, please. Writing? A forest fire lookout cabin sounds perfect, thanks! So when Kate and I found out we had been accepted for a 3 week residency, I did not hesitate to claim the studio that must be accessed by three separate ladders.

The ladders? No problem. Facing one’s fears is a required part of making art, right? I faced, and climbed, and delighted at the beauty of my new cube studio.

It turns out heat does rise, but becomes stubborn when faced with small hatches that serve as an entryway to your fancy new writing studio.

Even Queenie can’t help heat the cube. There is a space heater, which is less efficient than it is loud. I’m still working out my issues with the cube, and am hoping we can come to some sort of agreeable arrangement. Until then, most of my writing is getting done with Queenie at my side. Fears are great to face as long as they don’t freeze your fingers in place.

With or without the cube, I’ve written four new poems, begun erasures for the winner of the Strangercrombie auction, and I’ve been working on the covers of new blank books for the shop. Here’s a hint for what I’ve created so far – just imagine handsome gray linen and these guys:

Oh, how I love Tawny Frogmouths!

I’ll update the blog with pictures of the new hand-embroidered Tawny Frogmouth cover soon – first I have to figure out how to take better pictures.

I’ll leave you with a couple of poems. Kate, always an encouraging friend, had just posted a poem at a cool new poetry site, and suggested I do the same.  I put up a part of my Seraph poem: here it is. Feel free to rate it generously so that I feel more popular!

Arrival

Hello, Blogreader! Soon enough, there will be pictures of books and links to poems on these pages. For now, I’m just proud to get started.

See you soon….