Friday, December 12, 2014


Christmas 1989. Yours truly, age 2.

This is a baking tradition in my family. Every year, my mom would make gingerbread men for Christmas. As a child, I didn't much like the cookie, but preferred the icing. I got older, and at 12 I started baking the gingerbread myself. I haven't missed a year since then. I've given them as gifts to classmates, teachers and professors, colleagues, and a future spouse. For the first Christmas in my home, my mom sent me a surprise package in the mail containing my own set of gingerbread people cookie cutters so I can continue the tradition. I'm still baking them, when a family Christmas was 3,000 miles away and when it's a little closer with the in-laws.

Gingerbread People
loosely adapted from the Revel Cookbook, 1980

2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons molasses
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and beat until light and fluffy. Add molasses; mix well. Combine dry ingredients and spices with creamed mixture. Mix well. Chill dough thoroughly. Remove small amount of dough at a time from refrigerator so it will stay cold during cutting.  Roll to 1/4" thickness on a lightly floured surface. (Pastry cloth facilitates lifting the arms and legs without stretching them.) Cut with appropriate cookie cutter. Place 1" apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes. (Watch closely because each oven heats differently.) Cool 1 minute; remove from pan and let cool completely before decorating. Yields 2 dozen.

Friday, June 20, 2014

a treatise on what is art and a makers fair, part I.

Upon re-reading The Moviegoer ,  I began to think of authenticity and meaning and how I ascribe meaning and value in my own life, mostly through symbolism and sentiment. Ever in character, I made a list.

1. Value from Age.
Philip K. Dick makes an excellent commentary (among others) on this in Man in the High Castle. Similar cases can be brought forth by looking at the vintage craze it seems everyone is participating in, myself included. There is a certain argument made that the reason vintage is so desirable is because the quality is better and the items are more accessible, monetarily, within my own demographic. (I have a vintage Vitamix, vintage stone wheat grinder (with nitro-packed wheat from the mid-70s!), vintage plaid picnic basket, and two matching vintage red Raleigh bikes thanks to my dad who purchased them new in the 70s and kept most of these things in pristine shape all this time because he never used them. I can use them because of his purchasing power in an earlier time and perhaps because the quality is such that it is still usable forty years later.) These are the items you can find in second-hand stores that still work.

Another connection I like to make with older things is their representation of history and another time. I feel this way about liturgy as well¹. In a liturgical service, I appreciate how many others who profess a similar faith as I do are saying the same words in a myriad other places, words that people have said with the same intention for hundreds of years. There is a sense of place in humanity in that, one among many, like among like. It's a good feeling, belonging. I like feeling the sense that I am another owner among a line of owners of a vintage piece, a piece whose form and function continue to please and serve a purpose in a life. And yet, the connection solely from ownership is tenuous.

2. Value from Beauty.
I am often guilty of choosing form over function. I have little to say about this, which is in itself telling. Beauty is a highly desirable quality, and often superficial. It may provide value, but little meaning past the initial shot of mutable pleasure.

3. Value from Sentiment.
The greatest value often derives from sentiment or relationships. I've related before James's opinion on this before-- that an object must act as a memento of some significant experience or someone.

For myself, I use the rolling pin my great-grandfather carved, my grandmother's pressed glass sugar bowl, hand-stitched quilts made from my mother's and aunt's childhood clothes, and I display the little clay box made by my nephew. These things remind me of my family and give me a touchstone in time so that I know where I stand in the line of my heritage. They help me tell my story.

It's something of a hat trick, then, if I can incorporate these different kinds of value into the things that I make. Most importantly, I endeavor to tell a story through my art, using mixed media imbued with meaning instead of the words you read here. And that's what I attempted when I participated in the Texas Ave. Makers Fair in April.

To be continued...

¹I've been going to Episcopal churches for the past three years. They follow some variation of the Holy Eucharist Rites found in the Book of Common Prayer.
*All photos taken around Texas Ave., Shreveport, LA

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

international day of the book and the moviegoer.

International Day of the Book was March 23rd, but the two of us at my house finished reading the books from then not too long ago. I've amalgamated the Catalonian customs from St. George's Day with Shakespeare's birthday and deathday and Cervantes's deathday (by different calendars, but whatever...), so that a gal will give the fellow she fancies a book, and the fellow will return the favor with a rose.

This year, James got upstaged by our nephew who gave me three roses, which I then strung into a petal garland after they started drooping. James picked me a lovely red rose with three buds that dried beautifully. And what did this gal give her fancied fellow? Not so much a book to keep on our shelf, but an experience. 

A wabi sabi arrangement featuring the dried roses from this year's Day of the Book.

I went to the library and checked out two books to present to James-- The Moviegoer by Walker Percy and Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown. I gave him one book to read and one to follow, because we had been talking about these incidental companion books from an Atlantic article and because James tells me that the way I read books-- that is, how I read books in a certain order to compliment each other-- is one of the things he loves about me. 

The other thing, is, though, that I also have a habit of reading other people's books, (I can't decide if it's endearing or irritating. There is something so enticing about someone else's book!) which means I re-read The Moviegoer again. Having moved to New Orleans in the time between the last few blog posts, the book seems especially appropriate. Walker Percy's geography and observations are spot on for the city and holds true even after 50 years. Locals still hang out on Frenchman St. and complain that the tourists are taking over. Men with beards and bicycles go to the French Quarter for booze and women. And if you're in Gentilly, you'd never know you were in New Orleans except for the palm trees next to the Walgreens (and the roads, which are just as terrible as any other part of the city).

I both empathize with Binx, the main character, and mistrust him. He's an obviously unreliable narrator suffering from PTSD, and I wonder that the author of the Atlantic article ended up revealing a little more about himself than he may have meant to by confessing his obsessive identification with the suffering Binx. And yet, I identify with Binx, too, and I wonder what that says about me.

The Binx in The Moviegoer is upon the week of his thirtieth birthday, which coincides that year with Mardi Gras. The book jacket tells me that he is searching for authenticity, and what 20-/30-something these days isn't looking for authenticity? Binx won't admit to what he's searching for. He uses euphemisms like a "searching ray" because he's incapable of calling it how it is through the fog of his trauma, or he makes excuses about not wanting to be mundane or a traitor to his family's communication style by saying outright what he's looking for when talking around it makes him feel much more comfortable. Authenticity and a connection with others could be mundane, because it so often comes about in those small, everyday experiences, but when those are the things that give a life meaning, how could the mundane be such a bad thing that Binx won't admit to it? Instead, he hides. He hides by living in Gentilly, away from his family and few friends, he hides by running through his secretaries, deceiving himself and the women that he loves them (he does not), and he hides by going to the movies.

Binx's obsession with the movies is one of the things I identify with most strongly, and perhaps ironically. Binx and his cousin, Kate, go to the movies, and Kate remarks that a certain neighborhood in New Orleans is now "certified" by the movie. Certification occurs when one sees a "movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere." (p. 63) On a meta level, The Moviegoer itself is a certification of New Orleans, especially for adrift 20-/30-somethings seeking meaning in their lives. It's a personal certification for me because it means that I am living Somewhere people want to be, instead of a place that people want to Get Out Of. (Now, this isn't to say that The Moviegoer is New Orleans's only certification; New Orleans has so many certifications I couldn't imagine counting them. For me, the more the better.)

And here I must leave you. I'll let you read these books for yourself, to judge the stories through the lens of your own critical experiences. Perhaps, like me, you might make connections to the book-- certifications-- and find meaning in the moment of your life as you read your books. 

Do let me know what you find. I'd be so interested to hear.

Monday, June 16, 2014

a picnic at Bayou Segnette

Has it really been so long since I went on a picnic that this was the first time this year that my grandmother's blue quilt and my dad's old picnic basket were only now pressed into service?

I had forgotten how much I like picnics, especially ones with James¹, picnics in which we stretch out on the quilt and look up at the sky to squint at bright clouds or at the wind rustling the leaves of a tree overhead. We let the heat soak into our skin, leaving a damp sweat from the humidity.

Do you smell that, James asks me. It smells like a swamp. It smells like home.

On the way back, we saw the final sign that summer truly has arrived-- one of those afternoon Gulf thunderstorms. A single cloud decided while over the Gulf of Mexico to be a sponge instead of a cloud and soak up as much water as it could to then wring itself out once over land. The rain was as thick as fog but falling in fat drops heavy enough to shake the car. The weather is mercurial, but in New Orleans, we know it will rain sometime between two and four in the afternoon and that it will last somewhere between ten and thirty minutes.

Hello, summer. I welcome you with BLTs and Early Girl tomato salads with basil confetti. Now to decide which Márquez book to read².

¹ Tag along on a previous picnic.
²  Reading books by Gabriel García Márquez is one of my favorite things to do when it gets hot. Highly recommended.