Monday, April 28, 2014


I feel empty and sad sometimes. Mostly at times when my "Mommy" life has taken over and my "Artist" life hasn't seen the light of day for far too long. While I appreciate the value of being a mom and raising well adjusted little people into big, well adjusted people, it isn't enough for my soul to just do that. Sometimes I wish it were, and I actually know quite a few people who gain a huge amount of fulfillment through caring for their kids and managing their homes well. And I am so happy for them. If you are like that, consider it a huge gift. I am not like that. While I love to see my kids flourish, doing the day to day management gives nothing back to me. I gain little joy from my house being cleaner, other than the satisfaction that I won't look like a total loser if someone comes over. But I think peer pressure and joy are just a teensy bit different.

So what is my point here? My point is that sometimes the crappy stuff takes over. And you just have to keep dealing with it. I had to postpone my workshop at the beginning of the month and then give up all creative pursuits for the entire month. It's just how the cards fell. So I have been reminding myself that life is not "being mean to me", it's just the way things are right now. I keep trying to remind myself to look and actually see at the beautiful weather (finally) and all the flowers. I have been trying to remember to find the nuggets of beauty tucked into each moment. 

All during spring break I watched my oldest daughter laugh freely and run in the sand with an unfettered joy I haven't seen for a year. I watched my eleven year old be the belle of the ball, surrounded by happy friends at her self planned and very successful birthday party. I have watched my youngest play dress up with her best friend and fall in love with her American Girl all over again. 

And we got a dog. She is a 4-5 year old beagle/hound mix from the pound. And she is a delight most of the time. I have been relearning why I liked animals so much when I was a kid. It has been 20 years since I lived with a dog, and I had forgotten how funny and sweet they can be.

But all this beauty still hasn't been enough.

I keep finding myself in tears in the corners of my house. My heart keeps returning to numbness. I don't want to write in my journal in the morning because there is nothing creative going on inside me, only enduring. And while I am all for enduring, I'd rather live my life than just grit it out.

So I started praying. And I felt better for a little while, but the sadness returned. So I worked some more and served some more and exercised some more. And they all worked until I stopped moving. Then I would just start crying again. And the doubts would hit that no one, not even God valued me being an artist or a blogger. That this period I have been going through for the last 3 years would never end. That something else would ALWAYS be more important than my dreams for myself and that all I would ever end up being would be an over weight mother with an eternally dirty house. 

I think this is the point when I threw myself on the floor and started crying hysterically. You're glad you weren't there. And so is DK. It wasn't pretty, and fairly reminiscent of a 4 year old's tantrum. At some point, I realized that this was not helping me and that the carpet needed to be shampooed sooner than later, so I got up and headed for the shower.

I don't know if I've ever told you guys this, but I have the Shower of Magical Knowledge. Seriously. It is the place where God talks the clearest to me. I know that sounds crazy, but you guys already know that about me, so I figure I might as well tell things as they are. 

So I get in the shower. And I start crying again, as I keep thinking how angry I am at God. Then I start screaming, I mean really screaming at the top of my lungs in my magical shower asking God why he made me creative, if I was never going to be able to use that gift? Why did He tell me to blog if I was never going to have time to post? Why did it feel so oppressive when I don't have any "real" problems? I screamed so loud, my throat started to hurt. And I have to be honest ladies, it actually made me feel better to scream at God, not because I wanted to accuse Him really, but mostly because it got all that pent up anger out. Once I had expressed all my venom, I apologized for my outburst and  finally got to asking the most important question, "Lord, what am I supposed to be learning from all this?" That, my dear friends, is when I got an answer that I could hear.

Sometimes the answer to our dilemma is to paste on a plastic smile, pray for the strength we need, and just wade through the challenge. Sometimes that doesn't work. And that's what happened here. I wish I could always remember the incredible kindness of God, but sometimes I can't and I get wrapped up in my fears and layer on my negative echoes of the past. I blame God for not "blessing" me even when I'm doing everything thing He asks. It is only AFTER I express all my pent up fear and misery and anger to Him that I can come back to my senses and feel the peace He gives. 

This, friends, is how you give your sorrows to the Lord. You talk to Him directly about them. Don't worry. He can take it. And then, if you need to, you apologize. He will take your fear and shame and anger and worry from you. And then, when you are ready, He will teach you what you need to continue on in joy...for a while. Keep in mind, this is a process.

My answer this time was that I am in a period of learning, rather than producing. I need to look at what others are doing. I need to think about art, I need to understand more about art. I was told this same thing several months ago, and I had been doing very well with it and was very happy, but then I forgot and got lost. With that simple reminder, things in my life lined up and fit into place again. I am ready to keep going forward with enthusiasm. As a special bonus, (maybe I really AM being as good as I told Him I was) He showed me what a profound impact the service I had been providing at the expense of my art time had made on my children and others I had given it to. Nothing quite like being shown just how "worth it" your sacrifice was. 

At the moment, my heart is full of gratitude,

  •  for a God that loves me enough to take a yelling at and still re-balance me because He knows it will help me become my best self, 
  • for the bounty I have of beloved people and lovely possessions, 
  • for the fact that even when I was suffering, I was smart enough to notice the joy and beauty around me. 
  • And for this blog, where hopefully you all will benefit somehow from my foolish ramblings and poor, (or sometimes good) choices.

You guys ever yell at God in the shower? I'd love to hear your experiences.

Talk to you soon,
CM Shaw

Monday, April 7, 2014

The 8th Grader Saves the Bay...In Luray?

I come from a long line of Conservationists. My grandfather was always trying to teach us the names of plants and trees around us and taught us how to work the land with respect. He was incredibly well versed in the Native American culture and taught us to be at one with our environment, to make decisions that would care for the world around us and preserve it's beauty for the people to come after us. My dad took pruning sheers to the Lake to trim the beach shrubbery and get it healthy again. He would have us pick up trash were ever we went and pounded the mantra of "leave no trace" into us with regard to any natural location. I am personally a big fan of public recycling and composting. I even recycle my computers and I am the reason there is never any space in the grocery store containers for your plastic bags. I am borderline fanatical about recycling plastic bags. 

But I had no idea just how much all of this had filtered down to my children. 

Last year, my then 7th grader took Environmental Science in school. They had several water quality experiments and a great field trip involving wearing hip waders to take water samples out of the middle of a stream. I highly recommend chaperoning a field trip where you get to watch a bunch of 7th graders flopping around in a river wearing hip waders. Very entertaining. My daughter was so captivated by this experience, that she chose to do her research project on water quality and tested the quality of the water in the stream behind our house and helped clean up a few other streams in our area. 

Fast forward a year. The same child gets assigned 5 hours of service to be performed for the cause of her choice. For some reason, I was surprised when she chose the Save the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Sometimes we moms can be a little thick headed.  I was thinking of feeding the homeless or something a little more people oriented. But she was underwhelmed by this. Water quality had become a bit of a personal mission for her. So I told her to go ahead and figure out how to Save the Bay.

About 2 days later she comes in "Mom! Mom! Can we go build a riparian border on the banks of a river this Saturday? It's almost the end of the semester and this is the only activity they have before the service hours are due!" Um...riparian boarder?...what? Because I didn't have anything else going on during soccer season the first weekend of April, right? (And yes, this little shenanigan was part of the reason I ended up postponing my workshop.)

But then I stopped for a second. And thought about all the times I had encouraged her to "find her bliss." Here was my 8th grade daughter doing all the work, sending out all the registration emails, finding an event that she was really interested in to help a cause that she was completely committed to... I figured I could at least look at the info on the promotional page. 

The event was a great time, not an easy date, but do-able if I made some arrangements, and then I looked at the location, Luray, VA. That's about a 1hr and 45 min drive. And the event started at 8:30am. So I would be leaving at 6:30 am on a Saturday morning to drive to a farm to plant trees and shrubs on a stream bed for 5 hours to then drive the almost 2 hours home. I looked up at her, her young eyes glowing and full of enthusiasm and hope. 

I almost said, "No", but then remembered a book I'd read about 5 years ago called Planting Noah's Garden. I had become completely enamored with the idea of making a naturalized garden, but had never had the opportunity to do it. Particularly the chapter on restoring a stream bank. And here was my big chance! 

So I told her to get us all registered. She squealed in the way only 8th grade girls can and ran off to the computer. And I found myself with a little ember of excitement in my own heart. 

Saturday proved to be a glorious day. The weather was clear and cool and we woke early and sped off towards our pending adventure with great anticipation. There is just something magical about going on a road trip. The novelty of it. The sense of adventure. The views as the world goes speeding by. It is just the best.

We made it there in good time. And we didn't even get lost due to good email directions by Robert Jennings, the director of this event and my daughter's newly acquired map reading skills. 

We turned at an event sign in the road, followed a gravel road between to berms 
and pulled up to see this:

Pretty bleak.

It was pretty much devoid of any kind of vegetation. The area around the stream had been used as a feed lot for 200 head of cattle for years and years. Anything green or alive had been eaten or trampled a long time ago. By the time we got there the only thing living on that ground were the starts of native grasses reintroduced by the White House Farm Foundation that had bought the farm in 2012 with the intention of restoring it and using it as a model of sustainable agriculture and ecological practices. 

Here it is in color. And I promise I didn't shoot it in B&W just for dramatic effect, although it is pretty dramatic. I actually couldn't see the photos on my screen because of the angle of the sun and didn't realize I was still in the "Copy" setting until after I took these. 

Here you go, in Technicolor.

You can totally see the potential of the place. The site is so nicely laid out with the berms and the curve of the stream. It could be rather picturesque. But you can also see how lacking it is in vegetation. When the WHFF people bought the property, there was nothing but dirt and exposed bedrock. Everything else had been stripped or eroded. My "before" pictures are after two years' worth of regrading the hills, adding back all the lost topsoil, reseeding the grasses and adding jute netting to prevent all that work from eroding in the rain, wind and snow, and then clearing back any weeds that had sprouted up along the stream banks. Whew! It makes me tired just thinking about it.

Fortunately, they saved all the quick fun, rewarding stuff for us volunteers. We got to plant trees. 

After telling us the nature of the agencies involved (Save the Bay, White House Farm Foundation, and a conservation oriented branch of the USDA) and how all the trees we were planting would effect the water quality and ecosystem of the 2 acre stretch of stream we were repairing, we learned the right way to plant a baby tree. (Robert, if you're reading this, please remind my what this long suffering man's name is and who he represents? I'd love to give everyone credit, but it was pretty early when you all were talking)

Step one: See how deep your hole needs to be. You figure this out by looking at the roots of the sapling. the place where the roots stop and the bark changes and flares a little is the perfect depth.

See that spot where the roots stop growing out and there's a bump and then the bark gets smoother? That's what you are looking for.

Step 2: Dig your hole. You want to go a bit wider than the tree so you can loosen the soil around the baby tree to make it a bit easier for it to spread out its roots. the organizers had made siting easy for us by previously spray painting orange dots on the ground to mark where the trees should go. 

Step 3: Remove competing vegetation, to give the tree it's best chance at getting water and nutrients. You undercut the grass about an inch and a half to get rid off the roots, then you remove some of the dirt and just flip over the grass chunks, grass side down to replace and keep the ground level around the tree.

Step 4: Place tree in the hole and cover with dirt. it works better if you break up the dirt clods with your hands and make sure that the dirt is packed, but not compacted when you are done. And be sure to keep your tree roots below the ground and the transition line of smoother bark right at the ground level, not too deep, not to shallow.

Step 5: Add protective tubing. This plastic-y tubing protects the tree from being eaten by animals like deer, and also acts as mini greenhouse. You just carefully slide it around the little tree and then push it into the ground. Be sure to put the flared side up and the stake ties facing down stream. If you twist and push about half way down the tube, it goes in the ground "like butta". Well at least it did for us, but it had been raining for a week before the project so the ground was nice and soft.

Step 6: Add a wooden stake to stabilize everything. This is where a sledge hammer or rubber mallet come in handy. You run the wooden stake through the open nylon ties and then hammer it into the ground until it's about 1-2 in higher than the top tie. It is sometimes helpful to hold the tubing away from the stake so you don't smash the tubing. It can take some pretty good whacks to get the stake down as far as you want it to go, even if the ground is soft.

Step 7: Cover the surrounding area with landscape fabric to help keep down the weeds. This ensures the fledgling tree the best shot at all the water and nutrients the ground has to offer. The black fabric shade the ground, helping to prevent weeds that might grow faster than the tree or take away water or minerals away from it. These guys think of everything!

The landscape fabric was cut into 3-4 ft squares with a slit right in the center. Making sure the fabric was shiny side up, you slid the slit over the tube and stake and then pinned the corners down. You rolled the fabric over 2 times to ensure that the staple wouldn't rip through and then pinned the corner with a u-shaped staple that was about 6-8 inches long. Most of the time you could just push them right through the fabric and into the ground, but if there were rocks or the ground was a bit harder, you could step on them or hammer them down.

Step 8:Stand back and admire your tree. If you finish all these steps, you should be pretty proud of yourself. You have just made a major investment in the future. Be ready to do some daily watering, if this is in your yard.

After our little demo, they put us in pairs, handed each team a shovel and a sledge hammer and put us to work. One person dug the hole while the other got the tree and the supplies. They varied the variety of tree you planted so the whole grove will grow up to be completely diversified. 

Shall we see how the 8th grader did planting some trees?

 Orange marks the spot. 
Nice hole depth. Pretty good technique with the grass removal. Not too shabby.
And here is the tree, all nice and tucked into its new little bed.
Action photo as the 8th grader starts laughing because she almost hits herself in the face with the sledge hammer. Easy girl.
 Ooo...Photo Op with Robert Jennings, the director of this project. That sure was a man who loved his job. Always a happy thing.
And now the rolling of the landscape fabric. Where did you put those staples, Mom?

Oh how I love Nancy the Northern Red Oak! Grow big and strong little tree!

The girl and I planted 14 trees and 25 shrubs in the 5 hours we worked. There were about 20 volunteers there, so do the math on that one. I was astonished at how much our little group got done.

Remember where we started? 

Crazy, right?

Here's a few more "afters":

These may not look like much to you, but I see a gorgeous grove of trees in 10 years, shading the water, cleaning the soil, and possibly making this a home for trout and other fish and wild life. I can smell the green when I look at these photos. It just feels like pure optimism to me.

In any case, it was one of my favorite days in a long time. Every so often we'd look at our watches and being amazed how much time had gone by without us knowing it. I just got lost in the work and ground and the air. I felt part of something bigger. And the 8th grader just grinned and grinned. If it makes my daughter happy all the way to her liver like that, I am all for Saving the Planet. One tree at a time.

I'd love to hear about your conservation or service adventures. Leave me a comment.

For more information about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, click here.
For a list of volunteering opportunities in VA/MD click here

To learn about the history of and mission of the White House Farm Foundation, click here.

Talk to you soon,
CM Shaw

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Let in the Light! I mean, White!

I am not the kind of person most people think of as living in a white space. I thrive on COLOR. In fact, I actually suffer from Seasonal Affectation Disorder during later February and March because it is so cold and dreary and grey. The grass is grey, the trees are grey, the sky is grey. It really does mess me up pretty good. In fact, I actually painted my kitchen ceiling sky blue a few years ago, and having that bright color around has actually helped with the depression. 


Most of my house is painted in some derivative of orange or aqua or yellow. The kid's rooms all have some combination of blue and green. And the play room is this really soft sherbet green, kinda like Daquery Ice ice cream from Baskin and Robins, with all these really bold colored paintings and pillows on the walls and couch.

So when I told my husband a few months go that I wanted to paint my family room white, or rather "Swiss Coffee" (a creamy white from Home Depot), he reached over and felt my head to see if I had a fever. 

The thing is, I really like white rooms. I have always really liked white rooms. I just didn't realize it until I started looking through all my torn out pictures of rooms. Every single one of them had soft white walls with these major hits of hot color in the art and accents. Like these and this. They all also had natural wood, black wrought iron, and some kind of stone. Boom! The recipe for my family room was born. 

It really isn't that different than what was here before. Let's turn back the clock to Christmas, shall we?

My major issue with this room was the wall color. It was a flat, tasteful taupe. Mots people would have loved it. It was innocuous enough that I lived with it for 8 years. But that room has always been a bit of a cave. Especially in the summer when the giant trees just behind our yard are all leafed out. And anytime it's rainy. We needed something that would bounce light around, but not fight with the other bright colors in the room. 

And I really wanted something that made me feel like I wasn't so far from home. We went to my parent's place in Phoenix where I grew up for Christmas break. It reminded me just how desperately I miss all the stucco and bougainvillea and terra cotta. That what says "home" to me.

Enter Swiss Coffee.

This is not an angle of the room I shoot very often. That may be because it so often looks like a pile of garbage. But here you can see how the white paint accentuates my art and accessories. And it makes my bookcase look so snappy. BTW that was one of my greatest finds ever last summer. It's vintage, solid wood with the original glass panels and push lock hardware. I got it at a church rummage sale for.....$40. I know, crazy, right? It makes me deliriously happy every time I walk in the garage door. Here take a peek.

Who wouldn't feel happy being greeted by this view every time you come in the door? OK, enough of the pretty bookcase. Let's move on.

Here's another seldom seen angle of my room. Mostly because it's hard to get a shot without hte couch being in the way. The trunk holds newspapers. It's my "out of sight, out of mind" trick to combat DK's newspaper piling habit. The print is "Jack Knife" by Ed Mell, one of my favorite painters of all time. Cubism and desert scenes are a match made in heaven! I'm trying to figure out a way to update the frame. Custom mats are pretty pricey, but wouldn't it look sweet with a crisp white mat covering all the surround and a freshly painted black frame? One of these days I'll get my nerve up...

Another fun thing about painting was the chance to move my art around. This gorgeous original, "Aspens," was the basis for my logo and brand. My dear friend Erica Christensen  is the most spectacular graphic artist and paper collagist. (Here is her great blog "The Shady Elm". Here is more of her art and our trip to Lucketts a few years ago) She cut the black portion out as the basis for my logo, and then finished the whole piece for me! 

 I love the way the gold leaf reflects the setting sun. It comes to life and just burns golden. Magic. 

Here's the view from the kitchen. So bright and happy. : ) 

Here's the view back into the kitchen. I love how all the white makes the two rooms flow so nicely. And yes. This is the most comfortable couch known to mankind. And yes it could use a good washing. Hmm... I'll have to get on that.

One of the other things I did while painting was to remove the trim around the paneling next to the fire place. See all that orange Venetian plaster? That's over the top of paneling. I filled in the grooves with spackle, primed it and plastered it the first year we lived here because I hated the paneling so much and didn't have the money or know how to remove it.

So the trim stayed there, simply because we didn't know how to deal with what we might find behind it. And it didn't bother me until last year. Then, suddenly, I hated it. DK wisely talked me into painting it to match the plaster, which I did. And then spent the next year figuring out how to get rid of it. 

So one day, when I was supposed to be home sick, I just tore it all off. And found this.

Yes folks. The genius who built my house decided it was OK to not have the wall and the brick line up. Who does that? Since I refuse to re-install the trim, I will be thinking of a less obvious solution using flat wood most likely, construction adhesive and some faux finishing to make it all disappear. it still looks just like this right now, but you can only tell from the side, so it doesn't bug me.

I fixed the gaps between the wall and paneling by filling the gaps with spackle.  See the picture below. Once the spackle was dry and thick enough to be even with the paneling, I sanded like crazy and primed the whole joint. Then I plastered over the whole concoction. I checked the old plaster last year to make sure the stuff on the wall hadn't faded. And it was still a perfect match.

Here's a few pics to show you how cool the plaster is. I love it. And I highly recommend the experience of plastering. It's kinda like being able to frost your whole wall. Super messy and fun.

Here's the texture up close. You just put it on with the edge of a trowel. 

Here's what it looks like a little farther back. And these are the adventure hats. DK and I would wear them when we went out in the Utah wilds when we were still poor and in college. The feather is from a snowy owl. They were my favorite bird as a kid. And while I never told DK that, he brought it all the way back From Alaska for me when he found it on the ground of a bird sanctuary. Total keeper, that man.

This is my spring mantle display. It's a little spartan this year, but that's kinda where I am right now. I do love the bougainvillea garland. I bought it from Pottery Barn on clearance a long time ago. I so wish I would have bought 2 more. Oh well. Something about the fuschia just takes me to my happy place.

I love my piggy bank. I totally have a thing for black and white, mostly in the form of cow print. The contrast just makes my eyes happy, I think. And the candles are chalk painted. I needed aqua candles and I couldn't find any. I remembered you could paint over wax with chalk paint, so I busted out the Provence and there you have it. I love how they look! But I've never been brave enough to light them. The lantern was $8 from Home Goods because the glass was broken. A vase from the dollar store fixed that.

I love this old Chinese rice bucket. My mom got it for me for Christmas this year. I am actually considering planting a real hydrangea in it. But I worry how a hydrangea would do indoors.

This is actually a really good picture of my cow skull. It just occurred to me that my children have never named it. How funny. The front door has a name. The car has a name. but the cow skull does not. Go figure. Anyone have any suggestions? My dad bought the cow skull for me at a swap meet in Phoenix from a lady who goes and finds them in the desert. It helps me create the illusion of not being clear across the whole country from my beloved desert. Plus I think it's kind of funny to have a cow skull as decor in Virginia. Most people don't see this one coming. 

Here's another ill-fated cow. My friend picked up this hide for me in Tijuana when we were seniors in high school. Yup. I still have it. It is a little worse for wear I must admit. But it makes a great table runner. And don't you love root baskets? Their so groovy and texturdy. Another Home Goods find.

So that's pretty much it for now. I have big plans of adding crown molding to the ceiling along the fireplace wall and painting a picture of a sunset for the space between the windows like this one by Lauren Knode. I am delighted though, at how much more at home I feel with each thing I have been doing. 

What have you guys been doing to your houses to make them feel more like home? 

Take to you soon,
CM Shaw