Photodiary — Hidden Places

This morning, I woke up early and saw myself reflected in the morning sunshine in the mirror across from my bed. After doing my morning routine of yoga/pilates/meditation, I pulled on a light jacket and a pair of shoes and walked down the street.

This is what I saw….

Hydrangeas Change Colour

This summer house is all closed up, so naturally, I snuck onto the property to sit by the sea.

Early morning sun streams through fall leaves

The colours of every plant still growing are just incredible….nothing is more beautiful than this motley!

I gazed off up Somes Sound at lobster boats scooting across the water

I skipped some rocks whilst looking around

And stared out at the rocks and grass and seaweed

I gazed down at all the summer cottages wrapped up for winter

Come Monday, all these leaves will be gone!

The other day, I went strolling to a park nearby. At sunset, this is what I saw…

Autumn is a rainbow here

The sun set behind mountains and cliffs

And the sun shone on the bark of birch trees, until it all but disappeared

Now That I Know…

{only the last photo in today’s post is one of mine….all others are Google Images found by searching “fog”}

What seems like many years ago, I taught in a school in East Austin in a room with one bright orange wall.

Orange was the color that designated 8th grade rooms, although I taught all three grades in that room. Typically, while I was a teacher, I was “split” or taught multiple grades in the same year. It was really challenging at first, but became much easier as time went by. In this room, my second room in that school, there were many windows along the back wall and it looked out over the rooftop of the first floor and beyond that, the neighborhood where all the kids who came to us lived. That neighborhood was one of the worst in Austin, poor, ugly, dirty…a typical neighborhood that poverty and city neglect has left to decay and never improve. In that neighborhood there were no grocery stores or doctors, no movie theatres or good parks. You had to cross the interstate that was about a mile away to get to that sort of thing. I always wondered why a city would build a neighborhood so isolated from the city itself.

The orange wall was in the front of the room and was covered with two white boards and a flat screen tv, if you believe it. I taught almost everything via PowerPoint on that flat screen tv. Large screens with bright colors are lifesavers when you are teaching kids with the attention span of a fruit fly. There were two doors: one we used, and one we didn’t. The one we didn’t was typically covered in a huge poster made of butcher paper that somehow related to what we were studying. At that school, I made many of these posters as I loved to have large, colorful representations of what we were doing. My favorite one that we made was entitled “Dragon City” and was a city made of multi-colored block buildings all made by students. Below the city were tectonic plates that, tragically, were always moving, causing earthquakes. To the side there was a large volcano that was always on the edge of eruption. There was also an ocean with a tsunami at all times, high winds that caused hurricanes and weather conditions that created tornadoes. Life was rough and tough in Dragon City, but all the people lived there, anyway. When the students and I first made it, I made them watch part of Werner Herzog’s short documentary La Soufriere, and talk about why they thought the people would stay when they knew they might be killed.

Daily life in that school was difficult and funny. There were many students who were extraordinarily challenging, but there were also many who were great and inspiring with their intelligences. I tried my best to work with them and challenge them but also help them along, holding their hands a little bit and showing them things they would never otherwise see.

Because of the location of the school, up on a hill in the middle of Austin’s second greenbelt (although this greenbelt was unused by hippies looking for swimming holes), we had different microclimates than the surrounding neighborhood. Because we were up and away, typically our mornings, especially in the transition times between summer and fall, fall and winter and winter and spring, were very foggy.

In the back of my room I had an altar and a coffee machine (what more do you really need?). Every morning I made coffee with maple syrup in it; maple syrup was my reward for surviving there and at home as this was the year I got divorced. On foggy mornings, I started a tradition of fog bathing.

When the kids came in, I would throw open all the windows and we would let the morning fog roll into the room, filling the classroom with clouds. The fog clouds were cool and damp and murky-feeling, as if you were in a forest, not a building. If you looked out of the windows, you could see the fog pouring in over the sills, into our low pressure, controlled climate atmosphere of our school. Sometimes, when the kids weren’t in the room, during an off period, for example, I would sit in the front of the room, doing work at the computer and look up to see banks of fog like water rolling in toward me.

That school, despite its many problems, was in a beautiful spot in east Austin: ringed with trees and fields it sat. It sat on top of a seam of calcite, metamorphic limestone, that had been blasted to build the school. Oftentimes I would take the students in my elective out for a constitutional and we would go and collect beautiful rocks to bring back to the classroom. We would crawl around the retaining walls that were built along the back of the school, hiding when principals or janitors came by (they didn’t understand the need for constitutionals or for beautiful rocks), putting rocks and dead bugs in pockets to cart them inside and place them, delicately, on shelves or windowsills. Nothing ever happened to these rocks despite the concerns of principals: none were ever thrown at each other or through glass.

Sometimes we would go exploring in the woods just to see what was out there, and I would try to get the kids to scream primal screams with me in the woods; they had no experience of the outdoors and were scared of it. One of them even told me, “Miss? Black people don’t go into the woods!”. But after a few journeys, they liked going out there and climbing over cedar trees and into spiders’ webs and finding evidence of people living in those woods. They climbed around over cliff’s edges and got dirt in their shoes and needles in their hair. They would always come back when called, and in we would go again, to reintegrate into the world that was our school.

At that school we had a school garden, and goats, and an after school program in which we wrote a literary magazine and made pinhole cameras. I sat in the hallways and talked to students during my time off, and went into other classrooms who were struggling when their teachers quit in the morning, or the middle of the day.

The best times, for me, in terms of reflecting on what I was doing, what the work actually was, came though, on those days when I could stand, drinking coffee with maple syrup, and stare out those back windows. If I could stand and stare awhile at the plants, at the rocks, at the books on the altar, at the posters on the walls and floor, at the mobiles hanging from the ceiling, I could wrap my head around what I was trying to do there. I later realized that, although I was great at crowd control and counseling, that I needed to learn how to teach, and so I left that school after two years. It is only now, four years later, that I can look back and see the forest for the trees. Now I can see the beauty even of that place: the waves of fog pouring into my classroom as students worked on building cricket homes or proving photosynthesis in test tubes or reading about light years.

Sunset at Suminsby Park, Northeast Harbor

Now the fog I see and experience rolls toward me from the harbor that is 4/10 of a mile away. It rolls up the streets from out in the ocean, traveling like someone floating up into town, drifting down the main street, up Summit Road and toward me. It flows and falls between houses and garages, and peeks between the branches of trees. Fog is so much a creature of its molecular structure: water pours even in its different phases. A few days ago, I woke up to a foggy day where everything was grey and green. I stood out on the porch awhile, watching the fog move down my street, through the tall juniper trees, over my neighbor’s cottage, along the driveway and out toward the street.

Cross My Heart and Kiss My Elbow

Knowing others is wisdom;

Knowing the self is enlightenment.

Mastering others requires force;

Mastering the self needs strength.

He who knows he has enough is rich.

Perseverance is a sign of will power.

He who stays where he is endures.

To die but not to perish is to be eternally present.

Thirty-Three – Tao Te Ching

I have three books on my coffee table: the Tao Te Ching, Art Forms in Nature, and The Meaning of Life. These three books inform more of my decisions and ideas and thought processes than probably all of my other books put together; I am almost constantly referring to this or that within their pages.

Yesterday I went driving with a friend out to Sullivan, a town about 45 minutes from here on the mainland.As we drove we saw open fields and barns, strange houses that are the pet projects of their owners, and Canadian geese lying in meadows. We drove past an overlook on Frenchman’s Bay and saw the mountains of our island off in the distance…bubbly like huge navy blue marshmallows on the horizon. We saw ancient houses of the rusticators and talked about living here two hundred years ago in those giant places….how cold they must have been all the time! We saw ponds and lakes and both had the still surfaces of autumn. The grasses at the side of the road are slowly dying, changing colors from the bright greens and pinks of summer to rusty browns, tan, gold, and white. Soon they will be darker brown, and then, covered with snow.

I love this part of Maine; I love its isolation, its uniqueness, and its refusal to join contemporary times.  It seems that you could turn back the clock here and drive along those same roads and only the cars would be different.


A Bottle of Milk


Last night I was making cornbread to go with some stew I had made a couple of days before, and I realized I was out of milk. It was 6:48pm, and I realized that there was nowhere in town to go and buy another bottle of milk, as the store closes at 6:00pm. I realized that even if I had a car, that it would take me 25 minutes to drive to the next town that had a store that was open after 6:48pm. I realized that I now live in the slow lane of life.


I used water instead (it was delicious cornbread) and all was well. I walked out, later in the evening, to take a turn around the town, as I am wont to do lately. It takes about thirty minutes, give or take, to walk around Northeast Harbor from end to end. As I walked, the police car drove past me. Then, he turned around and drove past me again. When he did it a third time, I realized that this was a pretty exciting evening for him…..32 year old woman, alone, walking down Maple Lane!



I was trying to sort out some tricky jewelry designs in my head: two commissions are presenting some design challenges and I find that walking, especially at night, really helps me get good ideas and inspirations. Mostly, I walk down streets where almost all of the houses are empty. A few windows glow, here and there, through the trees, but, for the most part, this town is asleep by dark. Right now sunset is at 5:30pm, and after daylight savings begins in a week or so, the days will begin to shorten down, down, down to darkness at 4:00. Luckily for me, December 21st is a mere two months away: the days will begin to lengthen as soon as my 32nd birthday passes.



Today I spent a couple of hours discussing life, the universe and everything with a friend while we drove around the park looking at the last of the fall leaves. Bursting yellow, ochre and brown, these lasting leaves seem to scream out against an increasingly naked landscape “we are here – Look at us!!!”. Up on the top of Cadillac Mountain we stared out at the islands that stripe the bay as it opens up into the Atlantic Ocean. The afternoon sun is so sharp, so angled at this time of year. It glances off flat salt water and shines with a bright gold that hurts the eyes. It slices through the needles of fir trees, and makes maple leaves glow orange-yellow-pink-brown-green. The wind is gentle and the surfaces of ponds are like glass. As you drive past them, you can see naked trees interspersed with bursts of red and yellow and orange that are reflected on the calm surface. The water is the color of mercury, or of burnished pewter. Everything in the late afternoon is still and shiny: metallic and glowing as the sunset pitches over the horizon.




Photodiary – New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

I mentioned this place a couple of times in earlier posts, but here are photos from the amazing New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, a place you should most definitely visit the next time you visit the city of New Orleans…at $5, admission is a bargain!


The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum is located at 514 Chartres Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.



Den Huset Som Flyter

Today I move into my winter house….on Lookout Way in Northeast Harbor. My little winter house is grey on the outside with a black door and I live upstairs, in a loft that floats above the street. There are lots of windows and a lovely porch for sitting and a big, open floorplan perfect for cooking and knitting and sewing or whatever catches my fancy.

When thinking about moving into my house, my first place of my own in five months (!), I am filled with happiness, excitement and a sense of relief. I am so grateful to the friends and family who have put me up since leaving the tall, skinny house in Philadelphia. After it was broken into, I was never able to sleep there and I think that is how I came down with shingles the last week I was in the city. I was proud of that house, despite its many flaws: its slanted floors, its leaky ceilings, its ill-fitting doors and hodge-podge kitchen. I am a born interior decorator; I think I wrote about this earlier, about how I feel like my home is a giant, ever-changing art project. People often tell me, when they come to my home, that it is beautiful and cozy. I take this as a huge complement because I spend most of my time at my house, being somewhat of a homebody or hermit.

Yesterday, as I was driven through the woods in a friend’s amazing old 1970’s Porsche and staring at the blazing colours in the leaves, all yellow, red, peach, and orange, I felt winter coming, creeping around the edges. We sat for a while at a camp house over by Long Pond, and I could see the yellow sunlight slanting so sharply through the trees, making the moss shine gold in the afternoon light. As we sat, we heard the strange calls of loons floating on the pond in the distance. Their call sounds like a strange ghost and ricochets across the water: it makes you shiver.

I am sitting here, drinking coffee and thinking about the winter house, and the winter season that is inevitably marching ever closer with each passing day; even now as I sit in my parent’s kitchen, the huge maple tree outside has hundreds of green leaves dotted with the rust spots of autumn. Rusting leaves that are turning yellow and brown and ever so slowly falling to the ground are the harbingers of the blue light of winter: the ice and the snow and the cold wind. Tomorrow it is supposed to rain all day and I hope to make it to the Asticou Gardens before all the leaves are pulled off the trees in the next few days’ storms.

I have been really inspired lately by an artist new to me, Carl Larsson. My family received a Christmas card of one of his paintings, and since seeing it, I have been spending lots of time looking at his interpretations of Swedish domestic life at the turn of the last century. I am not sure if it is because the climate of Sweden is so similar to our climate here, or if it’s all the red furniture and old stoves, but I truly love his paintings and have chosen to be inspired by his artwork, the Pharmacy Museum of New Orleans, the performance space of Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel, and the assemblage-collage-collection artwork of Joseph Cornell and Rosamund Purcell to decorate the new house. This house is only mine for about eight months and then becomes a summer weekly rental, so I cannot truly move into this place and take it over as I am wont to do…but it’s good practice for the more permanent place that I will find in the spring.

In the meantime, boxes are packed and stacked and ready to be loaded into the car my brother and I will be using to move me to my new house. This is only the second house that I have had that has been mine and mine only; I cannot truly express my absolute love and excitement at the opportunity to live by myself again. It is such a luxury, and such a beautiful one. When I packed everything up yesterday and got it ready to go, I was so happy to realize how little stuff I actually have. During the packing process, I got rid of even more stuff, making a large pile to donate to various organizations here. It feels great to feel like I am opening a door into a new life, one of my own making, one of my own choosing, solely because it is what I wish to be doing with my time and my life.

After moving, I will spend time unpacking and decorating my new little nest, and planning out my Halloween costume. There is a small community celebration here that I hope to add to by doing a storytelling hour at the library, in my character of Perchta, a sometimes benevolent spirit of spinning, yarn, and the hunt (appropriate, no?).

Life marches on…..and it’s another beautiful, cold day.

Winding Down…

All photos in this post were taken in Joshua Tree National Park, a place you should visit...

Keys View Overlook

For the past seven years, at this time of year, I have been busily teaching a unit on properties of matter: chemistry, for the most part. At this time of year, students are usually going a little bit crazy as the weather turns cooler, and are looking forward to Halloween, as am I. At this time of year, the temperatures fall and the light changes and the leaves begin to rustle on the branches as they turn from green to brown, drying out as the trees go into winter dormancy. The sunsets become beautiful and vibrant and come early. The nights are cool, and then cold, and long. For the past seven years, I have watched this process out of a classroom window, over the tops of houseplants and bunnies in cages, and boxes of student lab journals, and whatever else junks up the counter tops that were always mysteriously full of amazing objects in my classroom.

This year, I am not teaching, and while I miss aspects of being in the classroom, I am so happy that I made the choice to go out into the world on buses, trains and planes, to get to where I am two days before going home.

Jumping Cactus — watch out!

Teaching changed my life: took me places I would never have gone without it. Teaching kept me young and silly. Teaching kept me creative and it made me laugh all the time. Teaching kept me responsible for my life because I was responsible for my students’  school day lives. Teaching taught me that I work best without a direct supervisor, that I am quick on my feet, that I am adaptable, that I care about people, and that I really can do anything I set my mind to. Teaching has been, possibly, the greatest gift of my adult life. It is hard to say whether I would be where I am today without the nearly 1000 students that have been in my care.

My first group of students are now twenty years old, my youngest are mere 7th graders in inner-city Philadephia. Some have children of their own now, some are in college, some are at work, some I have no idea. When I think of all those gangly little kids that came walking, or sometimes flying, through my doors over the last seven years, most of them make me smile, even the ones that made me feel my head was going to explode.

One of the things that I have learned from teaching children is that we are all strange, we are all different, and that the differences are what make us stronger. If we can look at other people and say, “I’ll give you a chance”, then the battle of life is already won. You have already allowed yourself to be open to new experiences and new people, without the prejudice of fear of the unknown. I used to work with a school police officer who always said, “teachers are like babies…they just love everyone.” And in a lot of ways, that is true. Teaching taught me just to love everyone, to see the possibilities in all people and not say that there is a limit to what people can do. That belief is a fundamental part of my personality, even though some of my friends see it as that I see too much good in all people.

I am very lucky to have been a professional person for such a long time. Without the exact path that I have taken, I would not have the confidence or resources to do what I am doing now. I spent seven years career-hungry, dedicated to increasing academic achievement of under-served students, building upon a skill set that can be built upon for a lifetime. As I did that, I was lucky enough to stay in the same career for almost ten years. When I made the decision last year to take this year off and re-evaluate, I knew that if it didn’t work out for some reason, that I would be able to get another job. I know myself and my abilities: I trust myself, my ability to survive and do good work.

I have an old friend who gave me advice years ago, when I was a girl of eighteen who thought she knew, well, at least a little bit. He said to work really hard when you are in college and in your twenties, so that when you are in your thirties you can relax a little bit. Back then, thirty seemed so far away, but now I realize that he was right.

My cousin and I were talking a few weeks ago about life, and about how you spend years growing up and out, pushing the limits of life to try to see where it will take you, and how, at a certain point, there comes a time to set down roots. No place is perfect, no home is the ultimate one. Home is where the heart is, if you can say it simply. Home is within the body and soul, and the place can change over time.

At this moment, I have been spending the morning researching knitting patterns and sewing patterns, thinking about building terrariums and lighting my house with oil lamps, of taking photos of empty winter streets, and taking long walks in cold weather. I have another daydream lately of taking a thermos of coffee and walking onto Sargent Drive to watch the icicles grow as they creep down over the granite on their way back to the ocean.