Ashley & Her Dumplings

There are a few roads and chunks of land in Rockingham County, just west of Rt. 42 near Linville, that act as a time machine for me. Gravel turns, belly-flipping hills, broken fence posts, chicken houses, touched-by-time barns, cow-trampled dirt, a storm following the ridge-line in the distance…they serve as photographs to moments passed. To me, these moments are treasures. Little golden trinkets of knowledge practically useless to speak of, yet undoubtedly priceless in the making of me; parts to a whole. This chest of images was spread out before me last week as I drove passed these real-life photographs, on my way to photograph a new memory.

Apples are one of those things that remind me of my Nanny. She was a hard working woman that started picking in the Timberville orchards in her pre-teen years. She used to buy and peel apples for me when I visited her on the weekends as a child. I decided on National Apple Dumpling Day as my Celebrating Life shoot for September in honor of her. When Ashley Sauder Miller told me about her grandmother’s apple dumpling recipe, it took me about four seconds to reply to her…I was sold.

It has been five years since Ashley lost her father and only three years since she lost her grandmother but they are very much alive in her home. For Ashley, her rooted appreciation for cooking didn’t come solely from her grandmother. While Ashley wrangled three of her four children to the kitchen counter, kept multiple conversations going at once, measured ingredients and made me coffee, she reminisced about her dad’s presence in the kitchen when she was a child. She told me a story, one I’m personally familiar with, of the aromas that fill a home during a big cook…and the sounds. These things create connections to your younger self. Just as the salty air and sound of the sea; just as the smell of those ol’ jeans you wore to the last bon fire; just as your sweaty little puppy-dog-smellin’ son after playing outside in his fort all day. Her dad did this for her…he created memories and connections…and meals.

Her content children helped with both dumpling prep and dumpling devouring. They left and rejoined us and went to play again and then helped some more. Those kids don’t even know the information their noses and ears and tastebuds are recording with each moment like this. None of us do I guess. Her son, Sullivan, returned to the kitchen to tell me about their recent visit to get milk from Mt. Crawford Creamer and then he helped mix ingredients with his hands and spoon and then he zoomed his bike around the front porch. Her youngest daughter, Taitum, carried unrelated cabinet findings to a pile in the center of the kitchen floor as her way of helping…all while eating, what seemed to be, an everlasting apple. Her other daughter, Finnly, who was home from school sick, helped stir the sugary, cinnamon-y, glazey topping on the stove then retreated to the sofa for some r&r ‘toon time.  And poor Teagan, the oldest, was stuck at school all day. Wamp.

As Ashley chopped, boiled, mixed and baked, loved on her children, wiped noses and laughed and talked the echoes of her father and grandma filled her kitchen in the form of smells and sounds and love. John and Zona were surely smiling from above…with their mouths watering.

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John, Ashley’s dad, holding her as a baby.

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An old photo of Zona, Ashley's grandma, oversees the apple dumpling making.

An old photo of Zona, Ashley’s grandma, oversees the day’s dumpling making.

Happy Apple Dumpling Day!
Go enjoy the smells and creations of your loved ones!

And be sure to check out more from my Celebrating Life series!

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!