took a hike, took a camera: Humpback Rocks

When I pulled out of my driveway I could see my breath float and disappear as it hit the warmed air. School was cancelled for the day and a sky as stark as the broken white road lines watched over the Valley as I drove myself to the hospital. Prayers and worry filled my mind, jumping between the two just as quickly as the large flakes melted on my windshield. I gave myself pep talks. This is a routine procedure. Out loud. Worrying will lead to an increased heart rate. Alone. I’m gonna be fiiiine. As if I was talking to a friend. You’ve got this.  Attempts to calm my nerves. In four hours this will all be over. 

Naked, except for a one-size-fits-all gown, lying flat on my back I stared up at a device that resembled a gigantic headlight. Heads covered in pale blues and greens with only eyes exposed bobbed in and out of my sight. While squeezing a syringe of valium into my IV the nurse to my left asked, “What do you want to hear sweetie?” Somehow I knew she was referring to music. “You mean like anything?” I asked, curious if we’re talking Spotify here or like “the doctor is going to sing you a lullaby” kind of thing. “Yep. Anything at all.” The next 10 seconds in my brain looked something like this: I actively thought in that moment how if I had been asked that very question on any other day of my life in relation to being on my deathbed (I exaggerate), I would’ve replied without hesitation: Wilco. But I stopped myself when I realized the doctor would be going INTO MY BEATING HEART while listening to the music I choose. Wilco can get weird if you’re not prepared for it. I did not want that man distracted by what could sound like old tv white noise, tambourines and keyboards being thrown on the ground and journeys inside of journeys of utter instrumental chaos while feeding a tube through my arteries. My conflict surprised me but instinctively I answered: “The Head and the Heart.” When I heard myself speak, I realized the irony in my choice. I think the nurse thought I was making a statement about my physical state but by the time she understood a male nurse found the album and clicked play. The first song starts out with a tick tick tick tick tick tick. I turned my gaze towards the gigantic headlight, couldn’t help but smile (it was the drugs) and drifted off.

The next time I opened my eyes I was still on the OR table. I’m still alive. The large black monitor to my left displayed an image of my heart. My moving, beating, living heart. Oh mah God. That’s my heart. There were several tubes inside it. I started to get anxious and I could feel my throat pounding. I looked up at the nurse to let her know I was awake. She fixed that quickly.

Day five of recovery after the cardiac ablation left me feeling frustrated yet eager and thankful. Externally, aside from bruises the size of my head and the color of mixed berries on both legs, I was doing fine. But my energy level was crippling as so much effort was going into healing me internally. It was comforting to know that my body was doing exactly what is was designed to do and that this feeling wouldn’t last forever but being forced into slow-mo was humbling. It put the plight of others in perspective. I consider myself an active individual but I don’t ever want to take that for granted. These legs and arms and organs will not always do the things they can do today and I don’t want to waste away my ability or my health. So there I was, Day 5 of recovery and I set out on my first post-procedure hike. My swollen thighs carried me to the top of Humpback Rocks on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Through mud and ice a foot thick we, slowly, worked our way up to the gorgeous views. At the top we enjoyed leftover wings and treats that were sent to me from friends while I was stuck at home, couchbound. Being outside, breathing that mountain air, the feeling of being capable and strong and worthy of those feelings was healing that day. It heals me a little bit every day.

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Cell phone summary:Humpback Rocks Hike

took a hike, took a camera: Cranny Crow

Blake had a bummed bum so he stayed behind (heh!) and took a heavy dose of Netflix. He hated not going on our first hike of the year…but it was Super Bowl Sunday and I fully intended to eat my weight in wings so – movement of my body was a necessity. Since friends were coming over late afternoon and Blake was laid up at home, we wanted to stay close.  So we headed back 259W just passed Highland Retreat for Lost River State Park. Once in the area, we found the trailhead with ease, thanks to a park map loaned to me by a hike-loving coworker. On our trek up to the Cranny Crow overlook, we hiked on frozen mud and patches of snow. On our way back down, the frozen mud was nice and squelchy squirchy and the patches of snow had disappeared into the earth. It’s no secret that the West Virginia mountains are wonderful but it’s great to be reminded of it in person. Fresh crisp air, blue skies, layers of blue ridges fading out of sight, eerie howling animals in the distance – yep, West, by God. Before returning home, we stopped at Lost River Grill to enjoy a warm beverage to the sound of The Judd’s playing on the radio. Ella’s eyes lit up and we broke into a mother-daughter duet that even Naomi and Wynonna would envy. When the songs were over, our cups empty, our bodies warm and content we left to go welcome our Super Bowl guests and watch Queen Bey’s halftime show. Drooool.bsomeIMG_0686bsomeIMG_0692 bsomeIMG_0695 bsomeIMG_0691 bsomeIMG_0696 bsomeIMG_0703bsomeIMG_0730bsomeIMG_0707bsomeIMG_0712
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Cell phone summary:

Cranny Crow WV

(…some selfies, a crow pose at Cranny Crow, my new specs, Ella being Ella at Lost River Grill…)

took a hike, took a camera: Overall Run Falls

The park is burning and I have a horrible feeling inside me because of it. Beautiful, tragic photos of the glowing ridge line are spreading through my social media feeds like, well, like wildfire. And while I know the ashes will bring lush new growth and our mountains will survive, it breaks my heart to watch my favorite playground struggle like this. I’m sad for those old trees. I’m sad for the baby seedlings. I’m sad for the flowers that waited so long to burst open in the warm sun. I’m sad for the hungry, tired, fearful animals fleeing from the flames. I’m sad for the history that is being erased and made. I’m sad for the workers and volunteers who put countless hours of care into our trails. I’m sad for the work that is ahead.  And I’m sad to think this was caused by a careless, human mistake.

In December when it was warm enough to hike in light layers, we hit the trails on the north end of the Drive. This time to Overall Run Falls. It’s been a few months since this particular hike but a few key things stick out about that day: Ella slipped and fell on a rock (she’s ok) and thought it was the most hilarious thing in the entire world. We found a tree that looks like a hippo, I got to catchup on life and cackle with my sister, we saw a whole family of quiet, graceful whitetail deer, and my son gave sound social advice to my daughter as they talked about some struggles at school like ol’ friends.

As I sit to type this the view out my window is smokey and I can smell the tainted air. I hope you find time, real soon, to get out there and enjoy those simple pleasures like hiking, breathing with the trees, catching up with your family and watching your children bond. Let this haze be a reminder that nothing is permanent – go enjoy the things and beings that fill you up!

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took a hike, took a camera: Whiteoak Canyon

The kids helped me pack supplies for the day: water, gummies, pop tarts, a Harry Potter book, hand warmers, a loupe, bandaids.  My son threw in his fire-starter knife, you know, just incase. Not my standard backpack-o-survival but it would surely get us through the day. Our friend, Erin, met us in Broadway and we headed to Skyline Drive via 211/Luray. The Whiteoak trail was solid ice at first. My daughter hit the deck after three steps…but we laughed it off and kept moving, staying in the brush and stepping toward exposed earth. My son, on the other hand, charged forward. Slipping, sliding, hurdling, clanking sticks, climbing to the tallest points…my little goat…setting my stomach into fits of somersaults. Boys…middle school boys. Lord help ’em. We noticed some large tracks on the trail. And now that I review the photos, maybe they are a bit larger in my head than in real life. I tend to lean toward exaggeration…it’s more fun. That day though, I was thankful I didn’t have cell service. I would’ve googled the paw prints and convinced myself they were the print of a timber wolf…and that’s pretty unlikely. Right? …right?! Ella declared herself “Detective Cheetah” and inspected the prints with the loupe she brought along. Her prediction: a ghost cat. The paw prints led to some interesting conversations about ghost cats, ghost catnaps, animal use of man-made trails, animal communication and relationships compared to that of humans. The mountain is a great place to ask such questions and not expect answers. So we did a lot of that. Just as the kids started getting a little antsy…we could hear the roar of the falls. I’ll never forget my son’s face when he stood on the rock and looked out at Whiteoak Canyon. For a split second, he was all kid again. In awe of nature. Stoked. I can’t bottle that pure emotion but I aim to keep setting up moments like that for my children. We didn’t want to leave but the sun would be getting low soon. We finished our snacks and retraced our steps, content with new memories in our bank.
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These protein balls are the perfect hike snack. They’re super easy and delish. Here’s the recipe.
fclWhiteoak Canyon53fclWhiteoak Canyon54fclWhiteoak Canyon50And the tree was happy.

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cell phone summary:
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took a hike, took a camera: Rose River Falls

We didn’t set out to hike Rose River that day, but with wintery road conditions closing the south end of Skyline Drive, our plans quickly changed. “It’s the prettiest waterfall in the park,” said the man who greeted us at the gate. What was I supposed to say? Oh nah, I’m good. The directions were simple but after unknowingly missing the very first left turn, navigation got weird. Before we knew it a 2.6 mile hike turned into a four hour hike, I’m guessing around 8 miles. But it was worth it. Not necessarily because of the falls, which were quite pretty (even though fallen trees covered in drooping ice obstructed full view), but because I got to see Ben pretend the ice-covered trail was an adult slip-n-slide and earn a gnarly bruise on his butt. And also because the mountains are so beautiful in the winter: icicles hanging in curious little nooks, river water charging through openings in frozen layers, dainty animal tracks on untouched snow. The silence…broken by moving water and swaying tree tops. Plus, I probably burned like 74,019,457,361 calories that day. So, yeah.

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<–the end of Dark Hollow Falls | Rose River Falls + fallen tree + serious icicle—>
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cell phone summary:
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The Tweet Life

In the shower and in my car… two places where multitasking is not worth the risk.  It’s in these two spaces my brain begins to twitch and convulse as it’s forced to relax and be there, in the moment. Gripping my steering wheel, having a staring contest with the dotted line or soaked with soap and water, that’s when most of my ideas drop in and say “oh haaaay girl, you gotta minute?”

August.
So there I was, in the shower….probably singing like I’m Neko-frickin’-Case or something because dangit that woman’s voice sounds like an echoey shower goddess! Anyway, so, in the shower, two ideas came to me:  1) I will hostess a solo art show next year and 2) I will start a year-long, lifestyle photography series called Celebrating Life.  The latter is what you’re reading now. (check) For me it’s enjoyable, fulfilling, goal-oriented and reasonably paced with one shoot & post a month. (check plus)

December.
Ate a lot of food. Did a lot of nothin’.
Made an outline of the holidays I was interested in photographing for this series.

February.
I found myself completely consumed with my solo show. For this exhibit, I decided to do a photographic review of my timeline which gave me a solid list of over 80 faces to photograph. I darted all over the East Coast filling each precious moment with reconnection, familiar faces, new memories and checks on my to-do list. (ch-ch-check!) Armed with inspirational travel time, this instagrammin’ fool found herself passing through Richmond with an idea of a way to celebrate April’s holiday: Draw a Bird Day (it’s real).

Part I: RVA puts a bird on it.
An instagram post by Richmond based artist and friend, Tim Skirven, grabbed my attention. He posted a photo that his fiancé/fellow artist, Ali Croft, shot of him hanging his art show at 821 Cafe on Cary Street in Richmond. The show was a simple yet bold collection of black birds on white square panels. They stood out nicely against the exposed brick walls of the cozy cafe. I shot these two love birds (haaa) a message and within moments, I had a bird drawing session to photograph inked into my calendar.

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It was a quiet, peaceful Richmond morning and something about walking up Tim and Ali’s creaky wooden steps prompted my slow-mo. I love that sound. I could smell freshly brewed coffee and the cats greeted me with a quick scamper and sideways glare. Light poured into the living space and Tim had already set out his bird reference books. It was a casual Saturday morning shoot…we’re talkin’ pjs and bedhead. The perfect kind.

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They quickly fell into their zone…or maybe they were already there. The cats slinked around, #2 pencils and Prismacolor pens scratched over the surface of their paper and the Black Keys played softly in the background. #chillestshootever? <—likely.bsomeIMG_7424collage bsomeIMG_7422collagebsomeIMG_7492 bsomeIMG_7483 bsomeIMG_7454collagebsomeIMG_7519bsomeIMG_7543bsomeIMG_7546bsomeIMG_7521bsomeIMG_7515bsomeIMG_7504bsomeIMG_7537bsomeIMG_7532bsomeIMG_7562bsomeIMG_7553collagebsomeIMG_7560bsomeIMG_7523

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Part II: Harrisonbird….Yeah? 
Feeling recharged and functioning on a higher frequency of busy, I returned home to Harrisonburg, VA, ready for round two. It’s no secret in these parts that Lynda Bostrom is BOSS when it comes to doing her artistic thang. I have to admit though, I chose Lynda based on instagram also. I swear I have real life connections with people but being a strong visual learner, seeing something burns it into my memory. When I had the idea to do this post, I immediately remembered some photos Lynda posted over a year ago. She was working on a series of birds that fondly reminded me of Charley Harper’s work. Simplified animals with blocks of bold color and modest, deliberate lines. So beautiful. I dropped by her place one evening and was pretty pumped when I walked into her window-walled apartment to see the pieces for her upcoming show sprawled out on the floor.

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Lynda referenced Google for some chubby, jolly birds and started doodling with her fude pen. We chatted as she drew bird after bird and the yellow evening sun filled her space. In compiling this post I noticed a lot of similarities in the two different bird sessions. Tim and Ali also had great natural light. Both had creaky steps and floors. All three of them hid behind their drawings when I asked them to hold them up for a photo. (ha!) Both artists have current and/or upcoming shows; they’re active, working artists. And while that may be a fulfilling and good-for-the-soul gig, it ain’t always easy. They’re doing it though and making it work. It’s admirable and I’m happy to know them.

After my confessional-esque intro, I was curious to know where their source of creative energy comes from. And you know what, they both said the same thing…that conversations inspire them. Stories and interactions with people give them a bank of art arsenal to carry them through. Lynda said she hopes that seeing her work “feels like a good conversation.” …Now isn’t that just lovely?

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I also noticed some things about myself through these photos. I guess I like photographing shoes? And plants. And pets. And feet? I like learning these things about myself. I guess in a way, my interactions with Lynda, Tim and Ali taught me a few things that had nothing to do with birds at all. So, thanks guys.

If you’re in Richmond in August, you can check out Tim’s work in person at Quirk Gallery.

Lynda has two upcoming shows this year (2014): Art Lotto (a collaborative portrait show at Larkin Arts in Harrisonburg, Va) & Axcess Art in Brooklyn, NY late this summer.

And the solo show I mentioned, titled “Some of My Parts“, will be opening April 11th at the Blue Nile in Harrisonburg, Va.

Now git off this box and go draw some birds! Happy Draw a Bird Day!

You can follow Tim on instagram @timskirven, Ali @alicroft, their joint design gig @504andahalf, Lynda @lyndaboss. Woo!

 

 

Beau Knows…Ravioli

There I was, in a pickle. And when you’re in the kind of pickle I was in…the my-ravioli-makers-have-all-fallen-through-and-I-only-have-six-days-to-photograph-and-compile-a-National-Ravioli-Day-post kind of pickle, you call the most knowledgeable local food guru you know. In my case, this culinary angel was Amanda Cannon. In less than ten minutes, I had a “very handsome” ravioli maker to photograph. Boomtown! 

When I arrived at Amanda’s cozy cottage, I was greeted by a mischievous black cat, “Bad Kitty”, who led me to the door while offering intriguing conversation. Chatty cat-hy. Amanda prepared a cup of coffee for me, introduced me to her boyfriend, Beau, and left.
bsomecIMG_0267bwbsomecIMG_0265 bsomecIMG_0263bsomecIMG_0301What a great way to meet someone for the first time, in the comfort of a home, with warm coffee in one hand and my camera in the other PLUS the lingering thought of homemade ravioli filling my gut in the near future. Lay off me-I’m starving! Beau is the sous chef at Bella Luna Wood-fired Pizza which gives him instant credibility. Bella Luna came to town with great anticipation and did not disappoint. Probably because they hire kick-ass people for front and back of the house, like Beau. Starting the noodle dough from scratch, he got out the ingredients and kindly explained the whole process to me: a ravioli virgin.
bsomecIMG_0297bsomecIMG_0279 bsomecIMG_0313 bsomecIMG_0333bsomecIMG_0316bsomecIMG_0353 bsomecIMG_0364Once the milk was heated for the ricotta, Beau added apple cider vinegar to create the milky, curdy separation. <–Clearly I’m a pro now. After a few moments, however, Beau realized that he accidentally used light cream instead of milk. In his defense, the two cartons looked very similar. Waddayagonnado? He started the ricotta again from scratch. I’ve never tasted fresh, warm ricotta before but his was deeeelicious.bsomecIMG_0272bbsomecIMG_0340collagebsomecIMG_0306 bsomecIMG_0311 bsomecIMG_0322collagebsomecIMG_0357It’s awesome watching someone in their zone…doing something they love. There was joy on Beau’s face, there in the kitchen. In the chopping, the mixing, the cooking, the mishaps and even in the cleanup. A chat about this sort of thing was brought up when he noticed that I took a photo of the dirty wooden spoon in the sink. In my effort to explain why I saw this as photo-worthy, I recalled the book “The Sun My Heart” by Thich Nhat Hanh. There’s a section in the book that discusses dish washing. It’s quite transformative, but here’s the gist: “…the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them…. If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of drinking the tea joyfully.” Since reading this book I try to find those beauties in my daily life; in my job; in my chores. Folding warm clothes, shoveling the (constantly falling) snow, making my bed, hand dryers, rainy days, rush hour traffic jams…you get the point. I have countless photos of my sink. It’s not just a sink full of dirty dishes. It’s proof that I just made epic pumpkin pancakes for two happy kids that sit full-as-ticks on the sofa. It’s evidence of the existence of the last 2 hours of preparing a feast for my friends. It’s beautiful, really.

Beau’s history, naturally, is different from mine but his time in the Army offered circumstances that led him to a similar philosophy: “Embrace the Suck” as he put it. When he found himself in really awful places and less-than-desirable conditions, he would remind himself that even that would have a say in who he is and will become as a man. He is no doubt a stronger human for taking life, and all that it has thrown at him, in stride.
bsomecIMG_0319bsomecIMG_0330bsomecIMG_0281bsomecIMG_0284 bsomecIMG_0295 bsomecIMG_0372bsomecIMG_0376 bsomecIMG_0384 bsomecIMG_0386 bsomecIMG_0396bsomecIMG_0435c bsomecIMG_0421 bsomecIMG_0400collage bsomecIMG_0429bsomecIMG_0351Ravioli stuffing was ready. The dough was ‘resting’ (shhh!) in the fridge and the clouds parted to reveal the beautiful, blue, Saturday sky. The cats, Bad Kitty and Bijoux, were becoming increasingly vocal as aromas of sun dried-tomato white sauce poured out of the kitchen. It was time for the exciting part, noodle stretching! (That may or may not be what the process is actually called.) A familiar kitchen tool appeared (the bench scraper/knife) followed by a new one: the pastry cutter/crimper. All this newness was so.exciting. And I’m not exaggerating. Beau demonstrated the crimper but also explained how a drinking glass can easily be substituted. The sauce on the stove was turning into a mouthwatering, gravy-esque thickness. At this point, he was doing the traditional kitchen dance that occurs just as everything begins to come to the end of its cooking cycle, all at the exact same moment. So there’s Beau, with a strainer full of ravioli over a sink full of dishes with cats circling his feet like two inverted vultures waiting for a noodle to fall to it’s death. And there I was, standing there with my camera in hand. Laughing. Ha! Sorry, Beau.bsomecIMG_0409 bsomecIMG_0426bsomecIMG_0441 bsomecIMG_0447 bsomecIMG_0451 bsomecIMG_0452 bsomecIMG_0476 bsomecIMG_0485 bsomecIMG_0496collagebsomecIMG_0499 bsomecIMG_0506 bsomecIMG_0508 bsomecIMG_0510 bsomecIMG_0513 bsomecIMG_0515 bsomecIMG_0524 bsomecIMG_0530 bsomecIMG_0535bsomecIMG_0577 bsomecIMG_0575 bsomecIMG_0572 bsomecIMG_0566bsomecIMG_0567 bsomecIMG_0555 bsomecIMG_0570bsomecIMG_0610bsomecIMG_0584

Then…magic. All the chaos gets placed on a plate like the edible masterpiece it is. I even noticed a happy little basil-tomato face smiling up at me…then I ate it! Happy National Ravioli Day everyone! Go indulge yourself in some tasty carbs, wouldya?!bsomecIMG_0588 bsomecIMG_0608 bsomecIMG_0602

Read more about my Celebrating Life series here. And get caught up on the January & February posts!

Lucina’s Tortillas

With two shoots under my belt and flurries swirling towards my windshield, I darted up Rt. 11 on the brink of flight. Running late. As usual. A text came through: “Take your time. Latinos are an hour late for everything. No worries.” Well ok then. The text was from Anneke, my former teacher, current coworker, friend, professional spreader-of-joy…and, today, the interpreter. Anneke arranged this particular shoot after I did a call for tortilla chip makers on my photography page as part of my year-long Celebrating Life series. Being the connector that she is, she worked her magic and even agreed to come along. For this shoot, we were celebrating National Tortilla Chip Day by making homemade tortillas in the Cardoso household. Not chips…but hey, it’s my series so I can bend the rules, yeah?

When Lucina opened her kitchen door to greet us with a warm hug and a smile, a sense of comfort came over me. She was wearing a pink pearl-button apron that made her feel like family. My grandmother (Nanny) had variations of this apron for every day of the week. And just like Lucina, she wore it as a uniform of sorts for her day-to-day living.  As I stepped into the kitchen a wave of bakery-esque sweetness smacked me in the face: freshly made cinnamon biscuits. Aw lawdy. Just hangin’ out in that blue bowl on the table like it was their job. I was immediately drawn to this unintentional still-life basking in the natural light. I swear though, in the half a moment it took me to press my shutter button, Lucina was elbow deep in a bowl of Maseca, flour and water.

Habiendo completado ya dos sesiones fotográficas, que realmente es un día completo de trabajo en sí, iba volando por la ruta 11 con poquito de nieve cayendo en el parabrisas.  Iba a llegar tarde para la tercera cita a las 11:30.  Tarde.  Como siempre.  Entonces, recibí este mensaje de texto: “Toma tu tiempo.  Todo empieza una hora tarde para los latinos.  No te preocupes.”  Bueno, pues.  El mensaje era de Anneke, mi profesora de la prepa, actual compañera de trabajo, amiga, y profesional repartidora de alegría… y, hoy, intérprete.  Anneke coordinó esta sesión fotográfica después de que yo anuncié en mi sitio web de fotografía que buscaba a una persona que hiciera tostadas como parte de mi proyecto “Celebrando La Vida.”  Anneke arregló esta sesión fotográfica.  Siendo la que sabe contactar con todos, hizo su mágia y hasta aceptó acompañarme.  Para esta sesión fotográfica, celebramos “El Día Nacional de las Tostadas” haciendo tortillas de maíz en la casa de Los Cardoso.  No fueron tostadas, pero es mi proyecto y yo puedo manipular las reglas, ¿no?

Cuando Lucina abrió la puerta de la cocina para saludarnos con un abrazo cariñoso y una sonrisa, me sentí inmediatamente cómoda y a gusto.  Llevaba un mandíl rosado con botones brillosos que me hizo sentir como si fuéramos familiares.  Mi abuelita, (Nanny) llevaba mandiles semejantes a éste. Ella tenía un gran surtido y uno para cada día de la semana.  Y, así como Lucina, lo llevaba como algún tipo de uniforme para su rutina diaria.  Al entrar la cocina, me llegó a la nariz un aroma dulce de pan horneado: gorditas de trigo.  ¡Ay Dios!  Allí, no más estaban en el plato hondo azul, tapadas con una servilleta como si su único trabajo fuera existir. Inmediatamente me llamaron la atención en toda su belleza y bajo la luz natural.  Juro que en el segundito que me tomó sacar una foto de las gorditas, Doña Lucina estaba hasta los codos en la masa.
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brandy somers tortilla34 IMG_6681 IMG_6680 brandy somers tortilla05 brandy somers tortilla06 brandy somers tortilla03brandy somers tortilla08 brandy somers tortilla09Not a utensil in sight. Just Lucina’s experienced hands, a counter top and a green bowl. She poured water over the Maseca and flour until it just felt right and continued to knead the dough until it was a plump lump ready to have lots of little corn tortilla babies. Next she went through a prep ritual of laying a hand-crocheted cloth on the table (aka hot, airborne tortilla landing strip), pulling out the iron tortilla press, and lighting the gas range with a yellow Bic® (another thing my Nanny did). The woman knows her way around the kitchen, to say the least. Lucina has raised three children who have grown to love her cooking and they all come back home to Ma, eager to enjoy her made-with-love tortillas.

No había ningún utensilio a la vista.  Sólo las manos expertas de Lucina, un mostrador y un plato hondo verde.  Echó agua sobre la Maseca y un poco de harina hasta que la masa se sintió correcta y la siguió amasando la masa hasta que se transformó en una pequeña montaña perfecta de masa lista para hacerse tortillitas.  A esto le siguió un ritual de preparativos que incluyó poner una servilleta para recibir las tortillas recién hechas en la mesa (también conocida como una pista de aterrizaje para las tortillas calientes), sacar la prensa, y prender la estufa con un encendedor amarillo Bic® (igualito al de mi abuelita, Nanny).  Esta mujer sí conoce bien su cocina.  Lucina tiene tres hijos a quienes les encanta su cocina y vuelven a veces a la cocina de su Ma, para comer sus tortillas amorosas recién hechas.
brandy somers tortilla10 brandy somers tortilla13 brandy somers tortilla11 brandy somers tortilla12brandy somers tortilla17 brandy somers tortilla20 brandy somers tortilla21 brandy somers tortilla22 brandy somers tortilla23 brandy somers tortilla24 brandy somers tortilla25 brandy somers tortilla27 brandy somers tortilla18I observed Lucina’s painstaking repetitiveness: pull, pat, roll, place, press, removed, put on the griddle, wait…wait for it…turn it!, wait…watch it become a balloon, remove, frisbee throw that sucker onto the pretty little cloth. Sounds easy enough, right? She let me have a go at it and I had directions coming at me in English and Spanish and like a child, all I really wanted to do was toss tortillas around the room! The tortilla I made had a hole in it. Ah well. Here I am 32 years old, making hole-y tortillas when Lucina was hauling water from a nearby natural spring in El Dormido, Mexico to make tortillas with her nine siblings at the age of seven. 7! And on this particular day, I was just a fly on the wall for something she concocts 2-3 times each week. On top of working a full-time job and cooking other full blown meals for her family. Impressed.

Observé la repetición meticulosa de las acciones de Lucina:  agarrar, arrollar, colocar, aplastar, remover, poner en el comal, esperar…esperar un poquito más… ¡voltearla!, esperar…  esperar hasta que se haga una almohadita, removerla, y tirarla como un disco volador en la servilletita.  Parece fácil, ¿no?  Me invitó a tratar de hacer una, y las instrucciones me llegaban al oído a la vez en inglés y español, y como una niña, ¡lo único que quería hacer era echar las tortillas calientas por todas partes!  La tortilla que hice tenía un hueco.  Ah, pues.  Aquí estoy yo, con 32 años, haciendo tortillas con huecos, mientras Lucina, a la edad de siete años acarreaba agua de un manantial en El Dormido, Guanajuato, México para hacer tortillas para sus nueve hermanitos.  ¡A los 7 años!  Y en este día que la visité, yo no más era una mosca en la pared observando algo que ella hace dos o tres veces a la semana.  Además, trabaja a jornada completa y prepara comidas caseras para su familia.  Impresionante.
brandy somers tortilla16brandy somers tortilla26brandy somers tortilla28 brandy somers tortilla31brandy somers tortilla37When one tortilla was on the griddle, the next one was on deck. When one tortilla was complete, the next one was on the griddle. Over. And over. And over again. Until the plump lump was gone. There must be some peace in a routine like this. Some predictability and appreciation for something tried and true. A familiarity in the dough. The kind that connects you to your past through your hands that were once so young and inexperienced. A connection that carries over to the people you feed and love.

Mientras una tortilla se calentaba en el comal, la próxima estaba esperando su turno.  Cuando una estaba completa, la siguiente estaba en el comal.  Una y otra vez.  Y otra vez.  Hasta que la montaña de masa se hizo montañita y desapareció completamente.  Ha de haber un sentido paz en una rutina así.  Alguna previsibilidad y reconocimiento para algo comprobado. Una familiaridad con la masa.  Del tipo que te conecta con el pasado por las manos que antes eran jóvenes y carecían de experiencia.  Un vínculo que se comunica a los que alimentas y a quienes quieres.
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By the time Lucina finished her batch of homemade corn tortillas and wiped every last crumb off the counter (just like Nanny would have), I had surely worked off the cinnamon biscuit I devoured upon arrival. As quick as my stomach grumbled, the spices of warming mole drifted up my nostrils. I couldn’t list all the ingredients if I tried but there was mention of bananas and chocolate and cloves and …almonds(?) and pork. Anneke and I sat by the window and drooled over the bowl of mole and rice Lucina had prepared for us. We wasted no time picking up a tortilla shaped utensil and scooping that goodness into our mouths. What a lovely way to spend a cold February morning.

Para cuando Lucina había terminado de hacer sus tortillas de maíz y limpiado hasta la última miga del mostrador (exactamente igual a lo que hubiera hecho mi abuelita), seguramente yo había quemado las calorías de la gordita de trigo que me comí al llegar.  Cuando empezó a rugirme la panza, el aroma de un mole calentando llegó a mi nariz.  No podría hacer una lista de todos los ingredientes si intentara, pero oí mencionar una banana, chocolate, clavo, almendras, y cacahuete (?) y carne de cerdo. Anneke y yo nos sentamos junto a la ventana y anticipamos con gusto un plato de mole, carne de cerdo, y arroz que nos preparó Lucina.  No perdimos ni un momento antes de agarrar una tortilla y servirnos todo lo sabroso frente  a nosotras.  ¡Qué linda manera de pasar una mañana fría en febrero!
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It seems that when I follow my passion, my grandmother says hello. “Hey, Birrrdieee.” I can just hear her…plain as day. On this chilly morning, Nanny said hello to me through Lucina. Through her pink apron, her yellow Bic lighter, that lacy white table cloth, her joy in a clean home and her insistence on feeding me until I pop. To Lucina: muchas gracias por un día muy especial.

Me parece que cuando sigo mi pasión, mi abuelita me dice “hola.”  “Hola, Pajarrrrritaaa.”  Puedo oírla… en pleno día.  Esta mañana fría, mi abuelita, Nanny, me saludó por medio de Lucina.  A través de su mandíl rosado, su encendedor amarillo Bic, ese mantel blanco tejido, su placer en mantener un hogar limpio  y su forma de insistir que comiera hasta más no poder.  A Lucina:  “¡Muchas gracias por un día muy especial!”

Read more about my Celebrating Life Series here! and here (pg 7)! And check out January’s Celebrating Life post on National Pie Day here!

Herr Vanilla Pie

“Mimosa ingredients stocked, dead stink bugs swept up. See you tomorrow!” <–that might just be the most flattering text I’ve ever received from a woman. That’s what local pastry chef (and more importantly, my friend) Rachel Herr sent the night before our shoot.  At the beginning of January I did a call for pie makers, and lovers, on my photography page to kick off my year long series: Celebrating Life. Out of all the responses, Rachel’s story stood out to me because it involves memories and family and tradition…plus, her grandmother was mentioned and I was a goner. There’s a large chunk of my heart reserved for grandparents. A big, mushy, full-of-rummy-games-and-french-toast kind of chunk. Besides, Rachel is an amazing pastry chef (<–page 30!). I’ve been on the receiving end of her drool-worthy creations many times both in her home and at Local Chop and Grill House. I was thrilled for an opportunity to photograph her doing something she loves, and that also holds sentimental value. Rachel wrote: “…My dad makes one, and only one dessert…vanilla crumb pie with molasses.” Now, Rachel makes this pie for her family and enjoys a sweet bit of nostalgia with every oozing bite.

IMG_4932above: Rachel holds an old photo of her mom and dad…wadda bunch of cool kids.
IMG_4594 Rachel said that Vanilla Pie is a recipe from her “grandmothers old falling apart Mennonite cookbook.” Below: Grandma Kauffman’s tried and true Mennonite Community Cookbook, inscribed to Rachel ten years ago.
IMG_4603 IMG_4604 IMG_4609 IMG_4638 IMG_4626 IMG_4627IMG_4644 IMG_4650 IMG_4656 IMG_4666 IMG_4660IMG_4687 IMG_4694 IMG_4696 IMG_4675IMG_4739IMG_4830IMG_4705IMG_4706IMG_4708 IMG_4713 IMG_4724 IMG_4729 IMG_4758 IMG_4757IMG_4784 IMG_4774 IMG_4781IMG_4788 IMG_4795 IMG_4807 IMG_4810Here’s a little Rachel Herr trivia for ya: What is Rachel’s favorite kitchen tool? ….A bench scraper. You can cut, divide, clean up…and, well…. scrape. But those orange handled scissors came in handy too!
IMG_4828IMG_4840 IMG_4847IMG_4855 IMG_4853 IMG_4863 IMG_4864Once the pie was concocted and placed in the oven, Rachel whipped up mimosas and dishwater. Warmth and sunlight and molasses-y aromas filled the room.IMG_4875 IMG_4882 IMG_4887 IMG_4889 IMG_4893I have a thing for birds…and not in a Portlandia kind of way. Not really in a bird kind of way either…but that’s a-whole-nother post… Anyway. It wasn’t until seeing the following series of photos that I realized the bird watching I was doing in the Herr household.  1) A cute grandma-esque birdie tea towel. 2) An original bird print on the refrigerator. 3) A drawing by Rachel’s son, Cole, that has an avian feel, if you ask me. 4) Rachel’s husband Mike’s impressive list of birds seen from their kitchen window. By the way, if you’re reading this Mike, we totally saw a Great American Bustard. 5) A stuffed, and I quote, “Rock Dove, also known as a pigeon” on the office wall. Normal. 6) The yellow eagle on Rachel’s shirt. And Mike, just kidding. It was a Red-tailed Hawk. I think. IMG_4598IMG_4835collage IMG_4672IMG_4904IMG_4938 IMG_4916IMG_4905 IMG_4910When the pie was finished we did what any respectable pastry chef-photograper duo would do on a Sunday morning and we took the pie for a walk around the house for photos.
IMG_4959 IMG_4963IMG_4970 IMG_4998At long last the time came for tasting. Somehow in my snap-happy frenzy, I forgot this shoot would end in delicious satisfaction. Good gawd. I will spare you the visual documentation of our first taste. They’re pretty hilarious images but I don’t want those as part of my digital dossier from here to eternity. And I’m sure Rachel and Ella would concur. Just imagine a bunch of faces enjoying something really awesome. Yeah…IMG_5006 IMG_5015 IMG_5050Rachel, in her happy place. Go ‘head girl…dance.IMG_4950

Read more about my Celebrating Life series here.

Bye Bye Beautiful Winter

Everybody loves to hate on the weather. I mean, ok, I might’ve rolled my eyes at that last snow fall. C’mon April! You’re not even funny anymore. But really, when it comes down to it – I love every season. When my kids were toddlers I would hide bags full of their toys and after about a month or so, I’d swap them out and hide another couple bags. When they got their bag of old toys back they were so stoked to have new toys. Every. Single. Time. That’s what the seasons do for me. Like a big kid. It comes and goes away and comes back and I love it all over again! I love the smells and the new colors and getting out my new-again old clothes and layering and shedding and camping and wood chips and snowfall and the FOOD. Warm soups, crockpots, sweet potatoes, ice tea, sandwiches, burnt marshmallows, corn on the cob, Kline’s ice cream. *shew*  These pictures make me wish I owned a snuggie. I shot them with numbed-by-the-cold fingers in February and they are as quiet and cold as the day I took them. Oh, Harrisonburg.

Wilson Hall Harrisonburg

Bank of America Harrisonburg

George's Harrisonburg

George's Harrisonburg 2

Court Square Harrisonburg

Seed Building Chop House Harrisonburg