New Art!

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. -Thomas Merton

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I intended to share some new paintings from Uncle Steve this past Saturday, on his birthday. But, not unusually, things got away from me. I was telling Israel that my life this weekend reminded me too much of this immortal SNL skit and Chris Farley’s brilliant use of air quotes.

In my pregnant mom version: so maybe my house is not what you would call “clean.” I haven’t “taken a shower.” My family has no “fresh underwear.” And, sadly, as I just re-watched that video, two of Chris Farley’s also apply to me right now: I don’t “wear clothes that fit me.” I can’t “reach all the parts of my body.”

Too much information?

So . . . Uncle Steve, happy belated birthday! We love your art! Thank you!

If you know Uncle Steve, you know he’s a jack of all trades. Aside from his day job, he landscapes a “meadow-like back yard . . . full of simple pleasures” that gets featured in local magazines. Plus he’s funny and charming, friendly and approachable, making you so comfortable that you may just ask if you can use his back yard for your wedding. Or ask him to be your partner on The Amazing Race. He’s so thoughtful; he regularly calls me, or my husband, just to check in and say hello or that they’re thinking about us. Plus, he’s as handsome as Jamie Foxx.

If that weren’t enough, he’s a fantastic artist. After I saw two of his gorgeous tobacco leaf paintings last year, I had to ask him for something for our place!

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This one, called “Appalachian Memories,” I love. I don’t think his tobacco plants grew this year, so I’m not sure what type of leaves these are that create the rolling mountain landscape. Mary Tobin and I have been picking up leaves on our walks; they are just amazing to stare at. I love that in this painting, the part becomes the whole. I automatically relax when I look at it. I feel connected to the place my mom and uncle grew up, to my aunt and uncle’s house, to the land that produced these leaves, to my uncle who picked them up and created something with them, to my family.

Next, Mary Tobin received new art for her room walk-in closet nursery! I can tell you nothing about the technique used, but it adds the perfect touch of magic/fantasy/whimsy/delight to the space. Usually when hanging things in her room I offer two acceptable spots and let Mary Tobin choose where something will go. But for this one, forget about “good parenting.” (Chris Farley’s living in my mind.)

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It’s in a place of honor right above the Señorita Mexicana, whose colors complement the new painting beautifully.

 photo photo22_zps14e5bae7.jpgPlease excuse my poor photography, which does no justice to any of these!

The Mexican lady, by the way, is a Carlos Merida print that was tracked down on e-bay by Uncle Steve’s better half, Aunt Kace, after I had pinned the image on my Pinterest nursery inspiration board. I cried when they unveiled it at Mary Tobin’s baby shower. (To be fair I cry about a lot of things when pregnant; it’s official.)

Aunt Kace and Uncle Steve, what a pair you make! Thank you for decorating our house!


Fishmael Part II, or How To Choose Fantastic Souvenirs

Shopping in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico

The people spoke, so Fishmael will stay for autumn! Bostonians drink water all year, apparently, and “being awesome never goes out of season.”

Clearly, the gurgling cod was a good choice. I hope we’ll use it him during dinner parties for years and years; he’s fun yet fancy; he says glug glug; he will always remind us of the trip we took when I was pregnant with Mary Tobin. All in all, a fantastic souvenir.

I’m not necessarily qualified to give retail advice, except that I love stuff too much so I’ve had to become more selective to combat my hoarder tendencies. Since I was young, when I see a collection, I feel I need every piece. (Ahem, American Girl dolls.) No one could accuse me of being a minimalist.

I’ve gotten better at thinking through what I really need and/or want, and I try to choose carefully, with the goal of only surrounding myself with things I really do like. (Not just things that I got because they happened to be there.)

When it comes to souvenirs, what’s worth buying and why? Here’s the rubric I’ve come up with for choosing a little goody to commemorate your trip to a great place. (Similar but different from my brother’s old dating philosophy: Smart, pretty, sane. Pick two.) For souvenirs, try to find something that’s all three:

  • beautiful
  • useful
  • representative

Beautiful. Ask yourself, would I want this in my house if it wasn’t a souvenir? A gurgling cod? Of course! Timeless. And I love the blue and white pottery from our honeymoon to Mexico. I’d buy it in a store today. Please don’t get something just because you feel like you have to.

Useful. What’s something you’ll always need and use? Think housewares, clothes, etc.  My best example is our comfy blanket from Paraguay, in classic white. (I admire my own restraint! That’s another tip: don’t get carried away by your exotic locale and buy a multicolor tapestry that’s going to look crazy in your house.) I still wear the earrings I got in Rome and Chile. Be careful about clothes though. My epic fail in this area was the gladiator-style disc belt I bought in Cardiff, Wales. Useful in theory, but fails in the beautiful/representative categories. Ridiculous looking. Forced it. Never wore it.

Representative. Will your souvenir be a good reflection of the place? Are they known for that type of thing? Don’t buy a sweatshirt that says St. Thomas USVI; get a nice big beach towel instead. When I studied abroad one summer in Oxford, my splurge was a nice rugby shirt in the colors of University College where I stayed. Now I love to get cozy in that thing on cool days, and remember the big park behind Univ, eating brie and apples, the school boys walking by in their uniforms, the chapel bells tolling the hour. Had I purchased a bathing suit in Oxford, however, that would not be representative.

What do you think of my system? Can you add or comment? Please share your souvenir triumphs and failures!

Kathleen: It happened in Spain. People do really stupid things in foreign countries.

Frank: Absolutely! They buy leather jackets for much more than they’re worth, but they don’t fall in love with fascist dictators.

-Nora Ephron, You’ve Got Mail, 1998

Pete, or Thoughts on Home

photo by That’s So Michelle

One of my life’s ambitions is to be so rooted where I’m living that the waitress at the neighborhood joint knows I’ll take “the regular” on a given Tuesday at lunch time. In this vision I’m probably an old lady, since the norm these days is for young adults to be so mobile that one changes jobs or moves on a near annual basis.

So far, a few places and people have come close to this vision, foreshadowing that sense of truly being home, and encouraging me to believe it’s possible.

In high school in Memphis, it was the waitresses at West Street Diner in Germantown knowing to go ahead and bring my friend Jenny and me an extra order of their sweet bread (which is to die for), or our favorite barista at the Starbucks on Poplar and Ridgeway.

When I walked from my first row house in DC to my job in Congress, I often stopped in at Jacob’s Coffeehouse. One morning, I stuck my head in the door and quickly decided to go on to the office without my coffee after seeing a long line of kids clearly on their middle school trip to DC.  The owner’s wife (who to me is a Korean version of my friend’s mom, Cindy Morris) ran out after me calling my order, “Large hazelnut? Large hazelnut?”

She let me circumvent the line. Truly one of the highlights of my year. (And apparently my life!)

Here in our current spot, that sense of rooted-ness has come in the form of a man named Peter Bis.

Apparently homeless, though with internet access and a fascinating conspiracy theory blog, Pete always sat under the tree in front of the gas station on the corner of Massachusetts and 2nd NE. We learned that he passed away last night.

(Read more about Pete in this profile in The Hill, and unofficial news of his passing here.)

Though I didn’t usually stop to have extensive conversations, Pete always exchanged greetings with us as we walked by, or waved if we were in the car. Like a nice public service for commuters, Pete’s signature move was counting down the week for you.

“Three more days til the weekend!”

When Israel and I were dating—could he see the infatuation in our eyes?—he’d call out a warning: “No skinny dipping!”

And when we grew to a family of three and were out with the stroller, his go-to line became,”Triplets next time!”

“Yeah, right, Pete!” I’d usually reply.

Not to leave anyone out, he also had advice for our baby girl Mary Tobin: “You take care of your mommy!”

Just yesterday afternoon, Mary Tobin and I went on a coffee run to Ebenezer’s for some friends in the middle of packing up their apartment to move, so I grabbed a coffee for Pete, too. He liked his coffee with a knuckle’s depth of half and half, and six packets of white sugar.

Pete was as much a part of the landscape of our life here on the Hill as the Capitol dome in the distance.

Thank you, Pete, for helping us feel safer in our neighborhood, and more at home in our home. Thank you for teaching us to bloom where we’re planted. We’ll miss you.