Come see me on Sunday, December 4th, 9am-4pm at the Laurelhurst Winter Bazaar in Portland at NE 41st Avenue.
This is the only in-person event I’m doing this winter season, and I’m so excited to be a part of this particular bazaar. It’s always been my favorite one to shop. The cool old-school building is filled with creations by skilled craftspeople, and there’s usually a coffee cart outside. What more do we need?
If you Instagram, check @laurelhurst.school.bazaar to see some of the cool stuff. I’m particularly excited about @apceramicstudio who made my favorite mug that finally broke after daily use for a few years, and I’m eager to see @KateDopheide_Handweaver ‘s linens. Plus, there’s a lot of cool jewelry AND student vendors, and student art it always incredible.
I have so much more to share with you, but I’ve been doing a good job focusing on just one day, one step, at a time and avoiding “overwhelm.” So, that’s it for now. More news and stories after the December 4th bazaar.
Thank you, as always, for following along, and I hope to see some of you in a couple of weeks!
I bought this book for a new friend of mine. She’s turning one, so I suppose this is more for her parents. It’s not really about hunting bears at all. It’s about dealing with the hard stuff in life. And it’s kind of harsh.
On each page, the family faces an obstacle, and with each obstacle, they learn that they can’t avoid it. They can’t go around it or over it; they have to go through it.
Their obstacles are fun: mud, wind, forests. We nonfiction humans, however, face much worse obstacles: fear, anxiety, overwhelm, exhaustion, and so on.
And the thing is, we think something is going to be hard. We think it’s going to be a hassle. We assume we’re not up to the task. And, of course, all of these assumptions could be true…or NOT true…but thinking them definitely does not help.
And that brings me to my website. Depending on where you are reading this, most likely as a newsletter, you may not know: I HAVE A BRAND NEW WEBSITE!! –>carrotcondo.com<– However, it’s been months and months in the making, partly because I spent at least six weeks fretting about how much I did not know and how hard it was going to be to redesign.
I ran into a dozen dead ends because I was trying to go around the problem, under the problem, over the problem, any which way but through. In trying to avoid what I feared would be hard, discouraging, confusing, time-consuming, brain-taxing work, I stalled the whole project.
Tired of feeling so defeated and awful before even trying, I “played around” one day with the tiny bit of re-design functions I thought I knew and … *BOOM!* I totally messed up my entire website with absolutely no return.
My fear became irrelevant once I was thrown into the mess. Scared or not, I’m stuck in it now, so figure it out. And, I was right–it was hard, discouraging, confusing, time-consuming, and brain-taxing. However, it was also fun and interesting and deeply rewarding. When I finally figured out how to revive my blog, and it reappeared here on my homepage linked to the “news” button, I whooped for joy and skipped around the basement. That had been days of effort, and I did it!
What I had not thought to anticipate in all my dread is the feeling of achievement and pride I’d feel once I’d gone through one of the many obstacles. After I finished whooping and celebrating, I told myself to sit still for a few minutes and soak in that feeling of accomplishment for the next daunting task in life.
With each week of effort, I gained confidence in my ability to figure things out. This filtered into other parts of my creative work. While pondering a design idea, I felt myself shrug and then say aloud, “Meh, you’ll figure it out,” and then I started working on it.
I mean, it IS hard. And I was not up to the task–many people could have done this in a matter of hours. There’s a reason I was scared. And, failure is a real possibility. Remember my post a few months ago about fixing the washing machine? Well, I fixed it numerous more times, but by the fourth or fifth mini flood in our basement, I gave up and we bought a new one. Even researching the new one was hard–did you know new washing machines have WIFI?
Anyway, yes, failure is truly possible. It hurts. It sucks. I’m really scared of it. But the challenges only feel harder the more I try to avoid them. Plus, learning, growth, achievement, and accomplishment are all possibilities too.
There might also be nice surprises once you decide to go through your obstacle. My friend Mario, for example. He’s an artist and professional website designer. He heard about my challenge and offered to help me. Turns out, I messed things up so badly, I had to fix the website myself before he had time to work on it, but I’m absolutely sure that his generous offer of support bolstered my confidence.
So, you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, but you can go see it! Visit my new website at carrotcondo.com and tell me what you think! If it’s a criticism, break it to me gently. I’m still basking in contentment!
In June, I wrote about waking up early to ensure time for creative work, in addition to however many hours I could fit in during the day. I continued this pace until late July when I took two weeks off and very intentionally gave into summer–amusement parks, beaches, cold sweet treats, board games, movies, visits with friends, and snacks for dinner.
It was great! I did not, however, anticipate that it would take me more than two additional weeks to get back to creative work. I fit it in here and there, but not consistently until my third week back from vacation. I found this discouraging and was rather mad at myself, but I tried to be patient and keep wending my way back to early mornings and fitting my work into the weekly schedule.
I’m still not fully there, but two interesting things happened during this “off” time.
First, while at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, I had a moment with some sea stars. They held to their rocks in a small exhibit, but their colors–orange sherbet, lavender, and mint green–silenced everything around me for a few powerful seconds as I felt a deep, clear longing to draw. Even if I’d had a sketchbook with me, I’m not sure I would have used it. What I loved was the definite feeling of longing. I missed doing art. I missed my mornings with pens and paper. I couldn’t wait to get back, even as I happily engaged with one more week of vacation. It felt great to know I missed art.
The other interesting thing is that I had time to think and daydream but no time to act. So, I was forced to sit with some ideas. And in that sitting time, they had a chance to grow, uninhibited by my insecurity, or a discouraging first attempt, or getting shrunken to a bullet point on my to-do list. Most of these thoughts dissolved back into my brain’s ether. But one stayed. I found it fun to think about, surprised myself by talking to a few people about it, and then, in the last few weeks, taking baby steps toward its fruition, accepting its slow pace but excited about its arrival.
It’s still too unformed to share…in fact, I’m realizing as I type this that I’m in the gray, unformed space of a few things right now. I can’t yet explain my idea to you, I have a few projects not yet ready to show you, some writing accepted by magazines but not yet on the page or in pixels to share. Technically, I’m being productive, but because I have nothing to show you, I feel unproductive.
Even in other parts of my life I’m in this gray area…like with running, I’m slowly getting back to it after some injuries and physical therapy (Yay physical therapy! It hurts! It’s hard! It works!!) Just one gentle mile every other day or so. Baby steps.
But one day, on my walk home from a run, a tall woman with a thick, long ponytail jogged toward me wearing a t-shirt that said, “Oregon Dad.” I don’t know if she wore the t-shirt ironically–there’s no way she was old enough to be a parent of a college student, no matter how she might describe her gender–but I assumed she’d borrowed it to go for a jog.
It wasn’t branded or sweat-wicking or any other fancy thing we might think we need to run “right,” to look “good.” It was a blocky, bold-colored, cotton t-shirt that got her out the door to do her run. Her long, graceful stride and incongruous t-shirt sparked an epiphany in me: The beautiful path is one of acceptance. Acceptance of your home, your body, your situation, your current moment. And then, dressing that, attending that, as appreciatively as possible.
For the next few weeks, I’m going to hold onto this idea of accepting my life as it is, then attending to it as appreciatively as possible. The focus on appreciating transforms the simplest things–an old t-shirt, a haphazard stack of library books, a bowl of tomatoes from my neighbor–into beauty and gratitude and a reminder of well-being.
I’ve started waking up early each morning to do creative work for one hour before allowing the rest of the day to make its demands on me. It sounds simple enough, but it’s been a profound experience. No matter how the rest of the day goes, I’ve spent one hour drawing or writing, which builds a foundation of satisfaction, pride, and joy that the rest of the day balances upon.
For example, one Tuesday morning I drew a scene for a book. I smiled all alone here in the basement because it’s so satisfying, and often surprising, to see the images transform when I add color. After an hour, I climbed the steps up to the kitchen, opened the door, and faced the day.
By 5:15pm that evening, after a day of commuting, traffic, aggravating news, and sixteen different household tasks demanding my attention, I am making dinner. I have to leave at 5:40pm, and not only is dinner not ready, smoke starts to pour out of the oven just as a drawer sticks and refuses to close so I keep slamming my leg into it, and a pot of pasta boils over adding sticky steam to the oily smoke.
In the past, this would have me UNDONE! I’d be swearing, stomping my feet (truly), and feeling very sorry for myself. I don’t like admitting this, but it’s true. For a few years now, that’s been my initial reaction. To my over-tasked, tired, stressed out mind, this problematic moment meant the world conspired against me, kept me from doing my art, pulled me away from anything I wanted to do creatively because by the time the day, the tasks, the needs, the demands were all done (and they are never done), I was too exhausted to draw or write.
But now, not only did I handle the steam-smoke-drawer with a smile on my face and only one pg-rated cuss word, I did not feel defeated. Instead of The Big Problem in the Kitchen Keeping Trista Away from Art, it felt like one more thing to manage…like one block stacked among all the other blocks of the day that already included creative work.
Or, believe it or not, just two days later, instead of spending two hours in the afternoon on creative work as planned, I came down to the basement to find water from the washing machine rapidly spreading and pooling all over the floor.
Again, in the past, this would have me feeling sad, defeated, and overwhelmed. And yes, the problem ate up my two hours of creative time and more, and no I did not know how to fix it, but having that foundation of morning creative work helped me be calm and feel almost capable. What I don’t understand is why. Why did creative work help fix the washer?
Fixing the problem didn’t involve pens or paper or drafting an essay, in fact, it included some brainstorming and muscle from my spouse, advice and supplies at the local hardware store, and some serious stamina and stick-to-it-ness from me. But for reasons I guess I can’t quite spell out here, I was able to do this–fix the washing machine!!–because of that morning hour of creative work.
You could say writing and drawing are forms of problem solving. I mean…you figure out how to go from blank page to story, or blank page to recognizable and pleasing image. But I’ve been writing and drawing my entire life, and also for my entire life, I have NOT been much of a fix-it-yourself kind of person. I’m really good at fretting. At catastrophizing. At what-if-ing. Of looking around for some other capable person to solve it. I’m practical and often brave, too, so if no one else shows up to handle things, then I do it. But I don’t think problem solving is what my morning hour gives me.
I think it has to do with recognizing my hopes and dreams and giving them some attention, nurturing them with one quiet, uninterrupted hour each day. Putting them first. Which sounds selfish. Just writing that short sentence, “Putting them first” is difficult. And yet, I think it helps me be a better person.
Maybe our hopes and dreams are our foundation, like the roots of a plant. You notice it looking droopy, you water it, and awhile later, it’s glowing. Giving myself one hour is like nourishing the roots. Whatever comes next, the heart of me is somewhat armored from all the other stuff gnawing at my energy and chipping away at my efforts to have a positive attitude.
There are far worse things than broken appliances. Sometimes life is a full barrage of heart ache. And yet, that one hour of art pushes back the wreckage, opens up a little space of light, and buoys hope. It lays the groundwork for things to get better.
It’s spring, and I am supposed to be excited about this, but I am slow to accept the lengthening days. I’ve become much more of a winter person, happy to stay inside on dark afternoons. Maybe that’s why the month of March was rather hard for me. However, when I looked through my notes and photos for a blog-post idea, I discovered that despite my curmudgeonly tendency, I did some fun things in March.
I saw the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. Although there are about three-dozen other things I could share with you from that exhibit, I chose this:
It’s my favorite of the self-portraits on display. Kahlo is bold and fierce, so strong to endure so much physical pain, so brave to express political ideals. This delicate rendering of lace really touched me. A symbol of tenderness and careful observation. I felt sort invited in and accepted by Kahlo in this painting.
A week later, on a cold, rainy morning, I invited myself to my friend Amy’s back patio; she is the artist behind Vivid Element. I brought cookies, and she made me tea. We sat under blankets, talking over the hammering rain, catching up about art and family, reconnecting after nearly two years of solitary pandemic living. It felt great to “talk shop,” at one point getting a bit geeky about gold paint, which motivated me to get started on an idea I’ve pondered for months. I roughed out this sketch yesterday:
I want to draw ornate gold frames around my produce portraits. To me, this is both funny and reverential. An ode to the power of vegetables, but also funny because I plan to wrap broccoli and kale in gilded frames traditionally reserved for portraits of wealthy landowners, influential leaders, kings, and titans of industry. All Hail King Broccoli!
Another friend made me brunch and strong coffee. She’s a talented chef and generous host, and I used to feel shy about eating too much–as if being dainty meant being polite. Now, I show up hungry and devour everything she sets before me! It’s such a treat to have someone else cook for me, to see it all arranged on handmade plates and mugs, and I don’t know when I last ate split pea soup! Delicious!!
I also had a great time at the Share Fair in February, selling my produce-themed artwork and connecting with farmers, seed cultivators, mushroom growers, a family-run salmon company, bakers, and deli owners. The day flew by for me. I sold out of hand-printed towels and all but two produce portraits, and came home with a notebook of ideas and new friends.
March ended with a trip to the Oregon coast to see family friends. I’m still discovering sand stuck in my shoes and pockets, and I’m glad, because it reminds me of long, deep conversations, coming in from the cold to eat cinnamon rolls straight out of the oven, and a restorative get away.
So, I suppose this blog post has taught me that maybe March felt difficult because I left my house–I stepped out into the lengthening days and began exploring a slightly less pandemic-y world. I stretched myself in the gentlest of ways, yet I still felt the pull to stay in, stay safe, stay nestled underground for awhile longer.
I wonder if this is how plants feel, like the tulips that burst forth in our front yard seemingly overnight. I don’t even remember planting them, and yet there they are, stopping total strangers who linger and admire. Did they also stay hunkered down until some drive to grow finally pushed the first leaves up through the soil and into the light? I feel like I’ve got one leaf extended, and the rest of me is coiled and clinging to the stem, trying to fold myself back into the bulb.
Time to unfurl.
In case you’re feeling like me, wanting reasons to continue to stay inside and enjoy a quiet day, April is National Letter Writing Month. Consider writing a few letters to friends, family, or maybe even strangers. You can start your letter by describing the weather, or telling a joke, or listing what you’ve made for dinner the last few days. Writing, and receiving, letters is magical, and it’s a way to connect with others while staying cocooned inside.
I am going to be showing some of my Carrot Condo work at the CSA Share Fair on Sunday, February 27th from 10am-3pm in Portland.
Farmers from the PNW will show off produce, meat, dairy, eggs, and fruit they sell as part of their Community Supported Agriculture shares. You can shop around for the perfect CSA share for you, attend cooking demonstrations by chefs from Nostrana and Grand Central Bakery, win prizes, and come see me at my table.
I’ll have hand-printed kitchen towels for sale as well as hand-drawn produce portraits, and a few other things from my Carrot Condo shop.
The CSA Share Fair will be held at The Redd on 831 SE Salmon Street. It’s a big, open space, and the organizers are very mindful about all pandemic-related safety and precaution measures.
I grew an ugly squash—small, odd shaped, with rough warty-looking scabs.
I picked it anyway, a kabocha, a pumpkin-like squash that’s dark green on the outside and deep orange inside.
The skin was so tough I wondered if I’d need a hatchet to slice it in half. I managed to cleave it in two pieces, set it in a roasting pan with some water, and bake it. Without much expectation, I scraped out the cooked insides. It seemed dry.
A few days later, I used half of the scooped-out squash to make pumpkin pie.
Lesson learned: Things are not always as they appear.
My hardscrabble, underdeveloped squash made a stupendous pie. My family and I grunted appreciatively like contented piglets as we devoured giant slices.
Same old recipe. Same old simple crust. But our homegrown, scarred kabocha yielded rich, creamy, hearty pie filling. Each triangle slice held up tall and firm, even as forks sliced easily through the silky orange pudding.
Some things look awful on the outside but hold vibrant gems on the inside.
Actually, maybe I was wrong about the squash looking awful. Maybe that’s just the nature of home-grown squash. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected grocery-store perfection. Maybe I could have seen my squash as more interesting and approached it with curiosity, rather than seeing it—and my gardening efforts—as so flawed and inferior.
I guess that’s the lesson learned: change my expectations.
Anyway—this isn’t exactly the perfect pivot, but: I have gift packs for sale if you’re shopping for the winter holidays. (Though I’m so late posting this that Hanukkah is half-way through. There’s still host/hostess gifts, Christmas, New Year, winter solstice…)
The gift packs are wrapped in my “upcycled” style, not nearly as gnarly as my squash but unique for sure, and I ship them for you, gift note included if you’d like. You can find them all here in my Etsy shop, Carrot Condo.
Here’s to approaching squash, art, and people with curiosity and interest rather than staying stuck in our narrow expectations and judgement. Hm, I think this sparks a new year resolution … more on that later.
The kohlrabi is a weird vegetable. It looks weird, it grows in a weird way, and it’s a weird plant to cook.
Google “what is kohlrabi” and just about everyone describes it as “alien.” There it is, sticking up out of the ground, thrusting it’s long-stemmed leaves every which way, looking both disheveled and insistent, like, “I’m here! I’m here! I dunno why I’m here or what I’m supposed to do, but I’m here!”
The kohlrabi is not immediately lovable. It takes some muscle power to peel and chop, some taste-testing to decide if it can be raw, if it needs heat, if it should be roasted or shredded. You kind of have to wrangle your way through its leaves.
A carrot, on the other hand, is easy to love. It’s familiar and sweet. It has an adorable unruly bundle of greens on top, pretty orange, red, or yellow flesh beneath. It narrows into a little coil of root, adding flashes of vibrancy to whatever dish it’s in.
And yet, I’m drawn to the kohlrabi. It’s so fully itself even though it doesn’t fit in with any other vegetable. It’s a symbol of unconditional acceptance—of yourself, of others. Hopefully everyone has at least one friend like this—the friend who loves you exactly as you are, no matter how complex or contradictory.
Or, maybe the kohlrabi is telling us what kind of friend to be. To be the friend who shows up exactly as she is, no apologies for her wild hair or loud laugh. The friend that loves you even when she doesn’t understand you.
Maybe I put too much on the kohlrabi’s non-existent shoulders, but I don’t think so. It’s not just another vegetable. It’s the oddball who knows it’s odd and loves itself anyway.
After a few attempts at converting kohlrabi into a meal, I’ve found myself boasting about my recipes, feeling proud of my familiarity with this vegetable, like I’m an insider for once. But I’ve also found myself appreciating my oddball traits, accepting them rather than masking them.
Anyway, I guess my point is this: eat kohlrabi. It’s good for you. It’s fun and unusual. Be the kohlrabi: own your oddness, appreciate it in others. Stop trying so hard to be the carrot.
I mean the message on this sticker in the most earnest sort of way: eat well and be kind. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, just slow down and give yourself and everyone else a break. It’s a harsh world out there sometimes, you know?
And eat “well” does not mean the same thing to everyone, but you can’t really disagree that vegetables, generally speaking, are good for you. Especially beets–which I used to haaaaaate.
The smell alone made me gag. The dark, red color looked more sinister than nutritious. And the taste, when I could be coerced into eating a bite, mixed dirt-flavor with sweet. The defiant texture took all my willpower to swallow.
I worked hard to love beets. It took me about three years of trying. There’s a lesson here about humanity and learning how to get along. I’m just not sure how it translates.
With beets, it started with knowledge. I started studying food to create a Food Studies course at the college where I taught. In that process, I learned about beets and why some people referred to them as a “super food.” My research also sparked a belief in me that you are what you eat, that improving the way I ate could improve the quality of my life.
I still believe this, and my faith in the nutritional magic of beets motivated me to learn to like them.
Maybe our belief in each other as basically good human beings can motivate us to learn to like people different than us? Maybe it’s harder with people. With beets, it started with my mother-in-law’s recipe and then moved to horseradish.
My mother-in-law visited us when I was first learning about beets, and she simmered some with orange juice. I’m sure there was more to it. Maybe raisins? Whatever she did–the beets didn’t smell bad, their texture was soft and juicy, and I didn’t gag.
Next, a colleague told me to roast them and then drizzle them (or maybe dip them?) in horseradish. I loved this idea. But, inexplicably, while I love wasabi, I find ANY form of the white horseradish unbearably, painfully hot. But I didn’t mind the roasted beets. Again, I didn’t gag.
Lastly, at the farmer’s market, I bumped into the chioggia beet. It looks like a giant peppermint candy. The vendor gave me a slice … RAW…!! Beets raw? I loved it instantly. No smell. No bad texture. Sweet and crunchy like a carrot.
Now, I eat deep, red beets and their dark, green leaves at least a couple of times a month. I find myself craving them. Maybe it’s an infusion of iron. Maybe it’s all in my imagination. But the feeling of wellness and strength is real and it powers my efforts to be a good human, even as I figure out what that means day by day.
I’m not saying you have to like beets. But if you don’t like them, I think you need to try them again. Maybe once a year. A different recipe each time. Just to see. Just to check in. Just to stay open. Open to changing your mind or kindly accepting your tastes just as they are.
Let what you think you loathe have a chance to show you a different side, so while you might reject one part (the smell of the beet or your neighbor’s politics) you might embrace another part (the beet’s greens or your neighbor’s generosity).
It’s been more than a year of pandemic living, hunkered down here at home, and as the world starts to open up again, I find myself a tad hesitant to rejoin. I kind of figured out who I am during this smaller, quieter time. I wrote for Motherwell Magazine:
What if my goal, when I emerge from this cloistered time, is to stay exactly who I am? I hardly know what that means outside my little home, but I want to find out. I want to know how the world might respond to me, as me.
Post-Pandemic Life published at Motherwell Magazine
This bespectacled feline will guard your quiet time, by politely staring down would-be intruders from the back of your e-reader, laptop, or the side of your insulated coffee mug. Because even we introverts like to go out to the coffee shop to be among others, we just don’t want to interact!
However, for my more adventurous friends, as you boldly step out into the world, I made these stickers.
As you know from a previous post, I think rollerskating and skateboarding are super cool and way too risky for me! So, this winged roller skate sticker is for my adventurous friends, to recognize the way they handle any obstacle by keeping it steady and keeping it going. (And eventually dragging their reluctant homebody friends along!!)
Even though I am emerging slowly, I am hopeful that this tumultuous pandemic time has made us kinder, more accepting, more inclusive and generous people.
Speaking of kindness and acceptance, my friend Robin lives and breathes these qualities, and I am so happy to tell you that we will be teaching our “Opening the Creative Mind” workshop at the virtual Compose Creative Writing Conference on Saturday, May 15th. If you’d like to register, I think the whole conference is free. Here is our workshop description:
If you are feeling stuck in your creative work, if you wish you could finish (or revive) a creative project, or if your creative process feels scattered or overactive, this workshop is for you. Opening the Creative Mind combines simple meditation techniques with writing prompts that have proven effective for breaking through creative blocks and finding new perspective. We create a cheerful and supportive atmosphere for you to overcome blocks, clear mental clutter, and silence self-doubt.
Maybe we’ll see you on screen, and we can breathe-stretch-write our way into post-pandemic life. As always, thank you for your interest in my creative work and for following along!