Lemons still on our tree
The best thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. The worst thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. Given time, a tiny cat’s claw vine will take over anything in it’s way. It will even invade an attic if there is a crack in a window. It will grow underneath siding and emerge through a hundred-year-old wooden shutter, clinging to rusty hinges and reaching towards the sunlight.
Every year Robert makes preserved (salted) lemons. He squeezes the lemons, cuts them up, adds Kosher salt and seals this up in jars. After about ten days or so, the lemon juice becomes syrupy and the lemons become soft enough to mash. The juice has a distinctive rich lemony taste that adds deep flavor to anything – guacamole, soup, salads. We have several citrus trees in our yard. Our semi-tropical climate is conducive to thousands of plant species. Many we don’t want. Many we do. Our grapefruit tree has its first 3 fruits that we are waiting to pick, as soon as the green disappears.
Grapefruit, almost ready
There is an old storage shed in our backyard made from the original slabs of bargeboard in the walls of our house. Beside the shed grow invasive elephant ears and Mexican petunias. We dig them up month after month and they keep coming back. On the walls of this shed, the cat’s claw vine creeps up. At one time it covered the roof but we hired someone to pull it all down and dispose of it. But it comes back. Always. In dry climates I hear that the plant is propagated because it is drought tolerant and has pretty yellow flowers. Well, yes, it does. But it grows maybe a half-foot per day here in NOLA.
So how do we co-exist with things that grow and are valued elsewhere, but are hated here in our own back yard? I think of the cat’s claw vine like I do my husband’s cancer cells.
Cat’s claw vine trying to take over our backyard shed
We tolerate them, but we try to live as if they are not there. We try to do what we can to eliminate them, and we hope what we do is good for us and for the “good” plants (and “good” cells). All we can do is try to keep these things under control so they do not smother out the good things in life.
We enjoy our fruits, and keep planting good things – like more orange trees, more herbs and veggies – the “good stuff”. Maybe the good stuff will outgrow the bad. We can only do what we can. We can only hope.
That’s what this Christmas season brings to me. Hope. Hope in the future. Hope in good health, good energy, good friends and
Cat’s claw vine growing through our neighbor’s historic shutters. There’s no apparent origin – unless the vine is growing under the siding.
Posted in New Orleans, Uncategorized
Tagged cancer, cat's claw vine, Christmas, gardening, gratitude, health, home, lemons, New Orleans, preserved lemons
Like many women of a certain age, I’ve had a few past lives. When we lived in Memphis I organized a non-profit literacy program focusing on creative writing. It was called WriteMemphis. We had 27 volunteers working with inner-city teen girls in several Memphis locations. These young writers created awesome poetry and prose about their lives in Memphis – from the strong women in their lives to gunshots through the front door to becoming teen mothers. When I left Memphis in 2014 I gave the program to Literacy Mid-South, which was a natural fit for the life-changing work they do.
Fast forward to where I am today. New Orleans. New business. New home. New life.
I miss writing. I really do. Even though I love the work I do every day in our shop I miss the creative energy of word to page. I have resolved to make more time for writing in 2017. And in celebration of that promise to myself, I want to share exciting news! One of my essays is included in a new anthology (slated for March publication) edited by my friend Susan Cushman, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We are Meant to Be.
A Second Blooming includes work by fabulous writers – Mary Karr, Anne Lamott, Beth Ann Fennelly, and my friends Ellen Prewitt, Susan Marquez and Nancy-Kay Wessman – twenty-one in all! I am in awe of these fabulous women and I am honored to be among them. Readings and signings are scheduled in Memphis TN, Jackson MS and soon in my home city of New Orleans. I’m so excited I’ll let the world know when that will be! Here’s the catalog page from Mercer Press:
TO LAUGH, LEARN, CONNECT, AND BE EMPOWERED
Over a 12-week period this fall a group of creatives met each Tuesday evening for a couple of hours at Uptown Needle & CraftWorks to discuss and act on Julia Cameron’s book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again. The volume follows the basic formula presented in Cameron’s ever-popular bestselling, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Through a set of exercises including morning pages, artist’s dates, memoir writing, and weekly readings the participants embarked on an exploration of their creative selves that in some cases had lain dormant for years.
At the end of the 12-week period in late November, those present wanted to continue the process and also invite others in New Orleans’ rich creative community to join. Here were some of the group takeaways from the fall experience:
- We liked the reflective practices such as morning pages, memoir writing, artist’s dates – and the opportunity and freedom to share (or not share) them in a group.
- We liked the camaraderie of spirit in going through the process, making friends with other creatives, finding common interests, and acting as an incubator for ideas often bubbling in our heads for a while.
- While we enjoyed following the pattern and content in Cameron’s book, we wanted a bit more flexibility in going forward and to place a greater emphasis on creative actions.
- We also envisioned a process where folks could pick and choose those sessions they wished to attend and not feel the need to commit for a 12-week, 12-month or any other set timeframe. Rather, we envisioned participation to be guided based on interest in a particular planned creative area.
- We wanted input from other creatives who might offer their insights, experience, and passions in the next phase.
- Some of the creative processes suggested for the spring include making and exploring masks, encaustics, fiber arts, sculpting, headdresses, or anything else in which a group might like to participate.
Mark Your Calendar – Tuesday December 27th, 5:30 – 8:30 pm
To launch our 2017 creative actions:
- On Tuesday December 27th we will meet at Uptown Needle & CraftWorks from 5:30 – 8:30 pm for a brainstorming session on our next phase. The get-together will be an opportunity to gather in an informal setting, visit, snack, drink, and most importantly consider the wants and needs for creatives that can be accommodated at the Uptown CraftWorks venue.
- On the 27th we will also explore and create bullet journals as our first session activity (7:00pm-8:30pm). This tracking/scheduling process is formally defined on the Bullet Journal website or more informally on Buzzfeed where we learn that Bullet Journals are good for:
- People who have a million little to-do lists floating around
- People who like pen and paper to-do lists
- People who are into goal-setting and habit tracking
- People who like stationery, journaling, scrapbooking, beautiful pens, etc.
- People who really love planners
- People who want to really love planners, or who want to be more organized
- People who would really like to keep a journal/diary but are having trouble sticking with the habit
We had a discussion of bullet journals in the fall and wanted a return opportunity when we kicked things off this spring. We invite you to join us on Dec. 27th to visit, drink a glass of wine, meet with other creatives, and share your ideas on where this collective experience might go. Though not required, consider joining us for the bullet journal exercise as well, or just come to visit and share your ideas.
We’ve created an Eventbrite private meetup for the gathering above. If you can’t make it to this event, please email us (info at uptowncraftworks.com) if you’d like to know about future meetups.
Makers that we dream, plan, and collaborate with are doing some amazing things in New Orleans. Others with latent creative genes are ready to dip their toes in gently swirling creative waters. It is by supporting each other that we unite the head, the heart, and the hands.
In the New Year, let’s be a force for good.
Please forward to your creative friends that you think may have an interest.
Merry Merry and Happy New Year!
Emma & Robert Connolly and the Team
What? Only March?
Those of us who are “makers” know that every day is craft day (or we wish it were so). A friend, Lisa Craig, re-introduced me to the fine art of hand embroidery. Long forgotten stitches reappeared across the screen of my brain: chain stitch, French knot, lazy daisy and even the fun feather stitch. Yes, I did have to google these to remember how to do them.
I’ve been wanting to make some pattern weights for a while now and I found a sweet pattern for tetrahedron weights made from cotton fabric and filled with rice at Sachiko Aldous’ blog, Tea Rose Home. I tried a few from her instructions; however, these were not weighty enough for me. So off to the Big Box I went to look for weights. First I looked at fishing weights, but those are made of lead and I felt they were unsafe. Also a little pricey. Especially compared to rice. Next I looked at old fashioned Daisy BBs. Brought back memories of my brothers shooting squirrels with these, but I digress. Also cost more than rice, but the best alternative for weight, I believe. I purchased two heavy packs of steel BBs, got some strange looks from folks in the checkout line. I imagine they were wondering what this mammau was going to do with 12,000 BBs. (Okay, so I’m a little compulsive.) I’m happy say it was not necessary to use the retorts that quickly came to mind – and believe me, I had several imaginary stories ready.
But back to the real story here. I cut my little triangles out of wool felt because I wanted to try my hand at simple embroidery on these. My French knots look decent, but my chain stitching needs practice, after all it has been over 40 years since I’ve embroidered. In celebration of National Craft Month I made the entire set of 6 with only hand sewing.
They are filled with steel BBs and are weighty enough that the pull of scissors cutting on fabric will not easily move them from placement on a pattern. And who will know they are filled with .177 caliber steel airgun pellets. I think they turned out beautifully, don’t you? No more pinning patterns for moi! And I have enough BBs to make more sets for my sewing friends! Wanna try your hand at a few? All begins with 3.5″ triangles, fold each end up to the center, press and stitch. And use 100% wool felt. There’s nothing better. So celebrate! Make something, and send me a pic!
Posted in creativity, embroidery, Hand sewing, New Orleans, patterns, sewing, textile art, Uncategorized
Tagged embroidery, hand sewing, pattern weights, sewing, Uptown Needle & Craftworks
Have you ever experienced someone crossing your path and you knew at once it was divine intervention? A few weeks ago, a woman was walking past our shop on Magazine Street and she made a sudden decision to go inside and look around. That woman was Claire Koch. She saw the beautiful fabrics, and she told me the touching story of her daughter’s experience with ‘heart pillows’. Within that conversation we developed an idea, and within minutes we had a plan. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, February 20-22, we will have a “Heart-a-Thon” and sew as many heart pillows as we can. More details below. But first, Claire’s story – so appropriate for this Valentine’s Day: “My daughter was born 6 weeks early during a hurricane evacuation. But that was not the shocking news for me. It came when the doctors told me something was very wrong with her heart and she would need surgery. My baby had her heart “fixed” at four months of age. It was not lost on me that I lived in a country where the best health care in the world was provided to my precious baby. I made a deal with my God: if he made sure my baby recovered I promised to one day help other children. That was the beginning of my 16-year journey to this point. Once my daughter began to grow up and become more independent, I started to look for organizations I could join to help other heart children. I had a difficult job finding the right organization that I felt used the funds completely for the kids, and one where I could be a volunteer for as well. Until I read about HeartGift in the newspaper. HeartGift in a non-profit organization dedicated to providing lifesaving heart surgery to children from developing countries where access to specialized medical care is either scarce or nonexistent. Participating pediatric physicians donate 100% of their time and talents and HeartGift assumes all other financial obligations for the child and mother. The only thing the families are responsible for is seeing their children grow and flourish. HeartGift has five chapters in Texas and one here. We could not achieve our success without our partnership with Children’s Hospital here in New Orleans. I have been with HeartGift since 2011 and have seen 20 children through the surgery and recovery process. I have been at the airport welcoming a weak and frail child, only to watch that same child return to the airport 5 weeks later to run past angered TSA agents. But it is the courage of the mothers that gets to me each and every time. These mothers leave their villages and countries for the first time and make long trips to New Orleans to seek help from complete strangers in a foreign land. They hand over their child to us. It is amazing to see the hope and trust in their eyes. While I have spent many hours in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) I have noticed every year we see a few heart shaped pillows arrive for the patients. In the past, a local Boy Scout troop made twenty or so pillows for the kids each year.These pillows do not just brighten up the room but proved to be more effective to use than a regular pillow to press against a child’s chest post-surgery when a child starts to cough. Coughing is normal post surgery, but can be extremely painful. The nurses use a pillow to press into the child’s rib cage to help cushion the child’s ribs as they cough. I happened to meet Emma when I was walking down Magazine Street. I am so excited she has offered to do a “Heart-a-Thon” to produce needed pillows for all the children in the Heart Center of Children’s Hospital. Currently, there are 22 beds in the ICU. Many of them are filled with little babies who do not need the pillows, but the kids who are two and up, as well as teens, could sure use some of your loving handiwork! The pillows will be a valued dearly by the children recovering from heart surgery, their families and the staff of the Heart Center at Children’s Hospital.” Come join our “Heart-a-Thon! Uptown Needle & CraftWorks will donate fabrics. Clair has already purchased fiberfil. Now we need you – to cut out hearts, sew, stuff, and hand stitch – for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour of your time on either of the days above. We will have sewing machines set up, fabrics and scissors at the ready. Experienced sewists needed to come and assist! You will be glad you did. February 20-22, Friday and Saturday 10-5pm, Sunday noon-5pm. Below are a few pictures of some of the kids HeartGift hosted last year. You may get in touch with Claire Koch at Claire@ClaireKoch.net. Learn more at HeartGift.org.
Posted in charity, childhood, creativity, Heart, New Orleans, sewing, volunteer
Tagged Children's Hospital, Claire Koch, heart, Heart Center, HeartGift, pillows, sewing, Uptown CraftWorks
My daughter Jennifer and her family have recently moved to New Orleans. When my daughters were small we traveled down to New Orleans from Jackson, MS, occasionally. We would stroll around Jackson Square and Jennifer always said she wanted to sell paintings like the other artists who hung their wares on the iron fence across from Cafe du Monde. Her entire life she’s wanted to be with the tarot card readers, the fortune tellers and the street musicians.
Jennifer and her husband have yearned for years to move to the Crescent City. Now they live in the inner-city in an old second-floor walkup with a claw-foot bathtub and window air conditioning units just a stone’s throw from the Maple Street Bookstore. He’s a chef. She’s always been an artist. But somehow since the move her work has gotten better, and she’s moved toward a more independent lifestyle. They have four children, so life has always been a little chaotic and I’ve wondered how she manages to find time to paint and write while caring for a pre-schooler and an infant. I know. You just do it. Now she’s part of a New Orleans Art Collective and is selling her artwork in the French Quarter. And working on illustrations for her first children’s book.
When my husband and I moved to Memphis four years ago (and yes, time has moved too fast), I took a self-imposed sabbatical of sorts to get to know my new hometown. I visited Elmwood, the Memphis Botanic Garden, The Brooks, Civil Rights Museum, Stax, Soulsville, and dozens of other sites, and of course the riverfront. I’ve watched many sunsets from Mud Island. And I cannot count our visits to Shelby Farms, probably dozens and dozens. Each one of these visits has inspired me in many ways. I began to paint for the first time in my life. I’ve written more, created more, in this new place.
What struck me most about Memphis is its diversity. I read letters to the editor in the newspaper from residents who complain about Memphis, then the next day there are letters of praise. It’s never consistent one way or the other, and there seems to be no consensus. The feeling residents have about their hometown of Memphis is a deeply personal thing.
What I’ve noticed about geographic moves is that generally, if a person is relatively content, then they are content everywhere. If they are unhappy, they’ll be unhappy where ever they go. If the person is hostile and lives in fear, then they will be hostile and fearful everywhere. We must have passion about what we do in life, and I believe it is within that that we find meaning. If we have no meaning in our lives we will not have much happiness and contentment. There is no person, place, job or thing that will give us permanent joy. Find meaning, and you’ll find your joy. Life is like that.
Jennifer’s book, Hot Moon, is now published, and available on Amazon.com.