Saturday, February 28, 2015
Yes, one more discussion about "the dress." You probably know this photo blew up the internet over the last couple of days because people couldn't decide if it was white and gold or blue and black. I see white and gold but follow-up photos have said that it is blue and black. I was sure it was a white and gold dress because of what I learned once in a charcoal drawing class. Charcoal drawing is all about capturing the value of light and shadow. It is a fascinating class to take for the beginning drawer or painter because by removing the distraction color (in paint or pastels), you can focus on what you are truly seeing: light and its play on objects. I learned that in order to make something appear darker, you make the area around it or next to it brighter by removing charcoal. In other words, the exact same shadow will look darker or lighter depending on the value of light next to it.
Using this logic, I thought the brightly lit background behind the dress was making a white dress photographed in shadow simply look darker.
I found this whole thing fascinating - and a little unnerving - because I am an online seller using photos to depict my products and their colors. Between computer monitors and how people perceive color differently, not to mention the color of the light under which I photograph, my items can change how someone viewing my photos will see the color. The time of day, weather and time of year also affect the light and the color. I now wonder if I need to be more descriptive in my listings about the color that I am selling. I try to take photos of my products under the perfect conditions: when there is lots of ambient light but no direct sunlight and not too much shadow, which create blue hues. I took a photo of one of my products the other day just as the sun went behind a cloud and then another photo about a minute later when it was back. I was stunned at the difference between the photos and the color of my product. Fascinating.
But this discussion just begs the question: Do you prefer my plantable paper in white and gold, or blue and black?
Friday, February 27, 2015
If you are familiar with my products, you know that I include planting instructions with my orders, in the form of a poem. I had a groom contact me yesterday about personalizing my poem for his wedding to his Celtic bride, Kate. After the wedding, he is going to surprise her with the poem and a few dozen of my plantable paper clovers scattered around their hotel room. He wants his bride to take them back home and plant them in their garden to remember their wedding day. (Did I mention he has a culinary degree and proposed over a meal that he cooked for her, with perfectly matched wines to every dish? I'd say Jack is quite a catch!)
Here's what I came up with:
This is a story about Jack and Kate,
Who hit it off from their very first date.
It was a love story from the start
With food and wine and lots of heart.
Artemis and Apollo would certainly agree
That these two were always meant to be.
The wedding in Sonoma was very stylish,
With a heavy emphasis on all things Irish.
After the ceremony and all the goodbyes,
Jack thought it would be a nice surprise
For Kate to find these clovers in the room
When she returned there with her groom.
Take them back to Texas, to your home
And plant them where you will see them bloom.
In these shamrocks, little seeds lay asleep,
Waiting to be planted in soil 1/4 inch deep.
Water well then keep moist for 4 to 6 weeks.
Until little plants come out of the soil for a peek.
Many flowers will share their colors to the max.
Like purple cone flower, red poppy and blue flax.
And with the breeze, when the flowers sway,
May they always remind you of your wedding day.
Happy wedding, Jack and Kate!
Thursday, February 26, 2015
It's my Etsyversary today! I opened up my Etsy shop 7 years ago today. Wahooooo! It took me about three weeks to sell my first item and I made primarily greeting cards using handmade paper. My how times have changed!
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Any time a hostess uses the theme "Peas in a Pod" or ""Sweet Pea" as a baby shower theme, she can't wrong. It's cute, whimsical and has a great color scheme. And it's easy to incorporate a lot of fun ideas and games into the theme. My plantable paper seed bombs, tucked into green paper to make a pea pod (lower left photo) fit in perfectly with the theme of this baby shower, used as a thank-you take-away favor. But I think that cake — wow! — was the star of the show. I love the idea of the frozen peas in the vase with the flowers. Looks like a fun party!
Read more about the party here:
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
I never thought of my garden in this way, but when I read this quote, it made me smile. My garden truly is my autobiography. My fingerprints are in the soil, my design aesthetic is in the shape and color of the plants. But more than that, the origin of many of the plants are the main chapters of my autobiography.
When we first moved into our house many years ago, I knew the basics of gardening but I was intimidated by the scrubby little garden that I now owned. The front of the house, along a street, was lined with ugly, forgotten evergreen bushes that needed aggressive pruning at the very least. An unhappy Holly bush, brown and dull instead of glossy, slouched beneath a steady drip from the roof during every rainstorm. Some Lily of the Valley had taken over and choked out all other plants but still managed to look patchy and irritated. Behind the house lived two overgrown Privet, leggy and filled with suckers darting out in every direction. A weedy lawn had barely any grass because the firmly-packed clay soil wouldn't allow roots to breathe, and a run of chain link fence was supporting some kind of vine with huge, sharp thorns — no, thorns is too nice a word. Spikes of death.
I stared at this sad little garden and yard for a year or two before I got the courage to attack it. For some reason, I thought I had to re-plant the whole area into a beautiful, mature garden in one fell swoop, and this overwhelmed me into paralysis. (To be honest, I was also spending most of my energy and money on the inside of the house.)
Something drove me over the edge one spring. On a beautiful day that called to me to be digging, I tore out the Holly bush, transplanted an area of the Lily of the Valley, and visited my local nursery. By the end of the summer I had torn out all the other straggly evergreens and transplanted or given away the rest of the Lily of the Valley, and planted some lovely perennials. (I learned that the best way to transplant the Lily of the Valley is to pull it up, cluster three plants together, wrap the tap roots together and loosely tie them, then replant.)
At the same time, I was eyeing the extensive mature gardens that my parents had tended for several decades at my childhood home. Whenever they divided their Irises, which needed more space at least every other year, I took a basket full of bulbs and planted them along the base of my fence, changed out for a wooden one with pickets. When they bloomed, I expected a garden full of purple Irises and was surprised to see a yellow one here and there. My parents (who are only the fourth family to live in their 200+-year-old house) explained that those yellow flowers were planted by the last generation of the original family who built the house. I couldn't bear to pluck them out now that I knew their history, and that they not only came from my childhood home, but from the families who had come before my own.
Next came the bee balm, angrily pulled out by my parents when these red flowers became too aggressive and spread too quickly. I had the perfect place for such a greedy plant, in an area against a sidewalk where I wouldn't mind if they tried to take over. I surrounded a shallow-rooted maple tree with a ring of Vinca, copying how my mom had done so decades earlier to yield today's thick rings that have grown out and joined together with nearby rings, creating a beautiful carpet of shiny green leaves. A crabapple tree from a local nursery was purchased and wrangled into the ground to remind me of the one outside the kitchen window at my childhood home. Nothing makes me happier than to see it bursting in spring with deep burgundy blossoms. One of the loveliest smells of my youth was the fragrance from lilacs, wafting into my bedroom in the evening through my open window, commingled with the sound of whippoorwills. (The thought of this memory makes my shoulders relax even now.) A graft from that lilac bush easily took in my own yard and has already spread more than I wanted, perhaps thriving to know how much love I have for it.
I could tell you more: about the Hydrangea, about the Scilla - with the sweet cobalt blue flower - that come soon after the snow departs, and about the strange plant that my folks call "elephant ears" (because of their size and shape) that love shade and moisture and have happily stretched out all over the area where an unhappy Holly bush once hunched like a frown. But instead, I think you should buy the book!
Monday, February 23, 2015
I love New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz not only because of all the wonderful blog posts and books that he writes (mostly about dogs, even if I am more of a cat person) but also because he is a wonderful customer of mine, and has purchased many of my cards over the years for his lovely wife, Maria Wulf.
He posted the following, about my cards:
At Bedlam Farm, we celebrate Valentine's Week, as there are so many amazing women here to love. First off is my former girlfriend, of course, and I stopped at the Valley Artisan's Market in Cambridge, N.Y. to get cards for today, tomorrow, Monday and Tuesday. I especially loved Martha Starke's expressive papercards, made from flowers that she grows. (She can be e-mailed at email@example.com. Maria flipped over the first one.)
I love women, and I love all the women here – Lenore, Frieda, Lulu, Fanny, Mother, Minnie (and we have not forgotten Rose) and the chickens. I will celebrate their existence all week, but only Maria is getting these very stylish and evocative cards. I will be hiding the cards all over the farmhouse and the Studio Barn for Maria to find.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jon Katz/ http://www.bedlamfarm.com/?s=pulpart
And his wife included one of my other cards on her blog, also given to her by her doting and attentive husband at a different time! Thanks for the love, Maria and Jon!
PHOTO CREDIT: Maria Wulf/http://www.fullmoonfiberart.com/page/33/
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Love the name of this treasury from Etsy, featuring my plantable paper seed bombs. Seems like the thaw is all we can talk about in the northeast! It's 34 degrees and I actually went outside on a covered porch and talked to my neighbor for 10 minutes … with bare feet! Huzzah!
Saturday, February 21, 2015
Friday, February 20, 2015
Thursday, February 19, 2015
I have a bulletin board in my studio where I pin up thoughtful quotes, pictures that inspire me and ideas for future projects. When my Etsy business suddenly took off several years ago, I found myself pinning up quotes about providing the highest level of customer service that I could. These are my favorites:
"Make a customer, not a sale." ~ Katherine Barchetti
"Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care." ~ Damon Richards
"Loyal customers, they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you." ~ Chip Bell
"Always give people more than what they expect to get." ~ Nelson Boswell
Lately, I received several really nice feedback notes from recent customers. They touched me and got me thinking about customer service once again. The first one is feedback that a customer emailed me about paper that I make with Chinese Forget-Me-Not seeds for funerals and memorials. The idea is that you plant the paper in memory of a loved one:
"Thank you so very, very much for doing all of that ... I am so happy to have found such a lovely shop. I know my friends will really love the sentiment. What a wonderful idea you've come up with...a distraction, a way to give new life in a time of loss, and a pretty remembrance. All in such a thoughtful "package". Thank you again, I truly appreciate it."
I was so appreciative of the time my customer took to thank me. Then I got another message a few hours later, from a repeat customer who came back and purchased again, simple and straight-forward but so meaningful to me: "I love your work and I am back again... Thank You, S."
I am always tickled when I get a repeat customer. To me, a happy customer is not one who is happy after the first sale, but one who is happy enough to come back a second time.
I love the feedback I get about my handmade paper products, but equally important is the feedback I get that shows me my customer felt cared for with my customer service. Here are some recent ones:
*"Love this seller and will be a return customer."
*"Very responsive customer care."
*"Perfectly done. Excellent paper quality with just the right amount of seeds. I'm a returning customer."
*"The customer service was amazing. I let the seller know that I needed the item I purchased within days. She went above and beyond to get them to the post office within minutes of placing my order."
*"I needed these very quickly, and the seller helped make sure they got to me on time. I have used [PulpArt] before and never been disappointed in the beauty or quality."
*"Excellent customer care from the shop who went out of the way to accommodate my order."
*"The seller was amazing to work with and the item arrived in perfect condition in time for the services. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!"
*"This seller is completely awesome."
*"The seller was great in answering my questions... i loved the natural personalized look of the card. My friend loved it and cried at how sweet it was. Highly recommend."
If you have shopped with me and given me feedback, I want you to know that I have read what you said, I took it to heart and I appreciate your time for doing so. Even though I have never received poor feedback, I would feel the exact same way! If you are considering shopping with me, I hope you will trust me to take very good care of you.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
I designed this little insert for my seed papers, so I can tuck them into the package with an order, to take the place of my usual hand-stamped insert. My planting instructions, in the form of a poem, now come with photos of my paper and seed bombs sprouting. When former customers send me photos of my plantable paper at their events, I have noticed that many brides and baby shower hosts like to have a sign somewhere near their place cards or favor packets that describes that the paper is made from wildflower seeds and can be planted. I made this card so they can have a tidy, professional-looking display with photos of the paper starting to sprout. Easy peasy!
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Back in March of 2014, I wrote about how I look like a hot mess all of the time because I make paper for a living. I am always in sweat pants, sometimes I have paper pulp in my hair or on my shoes when I leave the house and my clothes are always stained. Last week, I received this message from one of my blog readers:
I read your thread some time ago about going out in public looking bad and thought you might get a kick out of something that happened to me over the holidays. We had a COLD snap here, and my daughter & I had been outside doing something when my son-in-law came through the kitchen and said, "You both look homeless." I guess he wasn't impressed with our avant-garde layered look. The sad part is that I look that way most of the time when I DO go out in public. You might just have a competitor for the grungiest person on the planet. :)
It cracked me up but also made me feel like I am not alone in the creative messy look! So just for you, Carole, I took this picture of a shirt that I wore making paper. I usually wear an apron but it was in the laundry so I just had to dig in with an old shirt that I didn't care about. Long live the mess!
Monday, February 16, 2015
In December of 2014, I wrote about how you can write on my plantable papers using many different kinds of ink, and even pencil. http://paperandpulp.blogspot.com/2014/12/i-can-write-right.html However, I failed to mention another kind of ink. You can also use a rubber stamp. One caveat: if there are any larger seeds in the paper, you have to work around them so you can get an even impression.
In these photos, I used hand-carved rubber stamps on my plantable paper bookmarks, as well as a stamp with my shop name at the bottom of the bookmark:
And in this photo, you can see how I used individual alphabet rubber stamps on the yellow piece of paper:
Good luck with handmade-paper-rubber-stamping projects!
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Just wanted to share this announcement that was posted on Etsy. Net neutrality is a really important topic and hopefully FCC Chairman Wheeler's proposal will maintain it. I will be sending one of my cards - hope you'll send one, too!
Posted by Althea Erickson from BrooklynAssembly in the Etsy.com forum:
Just wanted to share the exciting news that last week FCC Chairman Wheeler announced the details of his net neutrality proposal, and as far as we can tell, it's very close to what we've been pushing for, and what everyone said was impossible a year ago.
We can't declare victory yet. The FCC will vote on the rules in two weeks (on February 26th), and between now and then the cable lobbyists will do everything they can to put loopholes in the proposed rules. So we're doing a full court press between now and Feb 26th to encourage the FCC strengthen the rules and plug any weaknesses that might emerge.
BUT WE ARE CLOSE!
If the FCC actually pulls through and protects real net neutrality, we'd love to demonstrate the appreciation of the Etsy community to the FCC. Throughout the campaign, they have invoked Etsy sellers as the types of businesses they want to protect. If they actually follow through, we want to show them how thankful we are that they have our backs.
Will you create a personalized thank you card to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler telling him how much you appreciate him protecting the Internet, and what it means to your business?
If you can mail the cards to arrive before February 24th, I'll bring them all to the FCC to hand deliver them on the 26th (assuming the rules are as good as we hope they will be).
My address is:
Althea Erickson @ Etsy
55 Washington St, Suite 512
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Remember, the cards need to get to Brooklyn by Feb 24th. Can you help make this the biggest, most spectacular thank you ever? Let's bring tears to Chairman Wheeler's eyes. :)
p.s. For more on net neutrality and Etsy's position, check out this blog post from July: blog.etsy.com/news/2014/join-etsy-in-fighting-for-an-open-internet/
and this one from November: blog.etsy.com/news/2014/one-step-closer-to-an-open-internet/
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Was so excited to see that I hit 11,000 views on one of the tutorials listed in my shop and almost 14,000 on the other. Wow! Almost 25,000 pairs of eyes looking at items in my shop is a staggering number, and I am humbled by it. If you want to be part of the action, check them out here:
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
I have been thinking about a different kind of flower lately, rather than my usual plantable paper with flower seeds, or Petal People made with flower petals. This one is cauliflower. In the ongoing effort to eat well and incorporate vegetables into our diets during the winter, I have turned to this quiet cruciferous vegetable. I am not sure how most people usually eat cauliflower, but in my house it get casually tossed into a stir fry with other ingredients, like shrimp, as the star. But this week I have saluted cauliflower and made a couple killer things. I started my cauliflower adventures with a classic roasting, which, for some reason, I tend to forget to do even though I loved roasted veggies. I oiled the cauliflower and salted it (with Malden sea salt flakes) and then cooked at 400 degrees or so. Delish. Next I boiled it with Old Bay seasoning and served it with cocktail sauce for a faux shrimp cocktail. Yumminess. But last night's dinner was my favorite. I shredded it in my food processor so it was about the size of a grain of rice, and I made it into stir-fried "rice." Just some sesame oil, soy sauce, onion, frozen peas, scallions, an egg - everything that I already had in the house - and I had a really yummy meal that helped us to catch up on the daily servings of veggies quickly. Bon appetit!
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Monday, February 9, 2015
I love the color peach. It is one of my favorite colors to wear, and it goes with everything: it looks vibrant with turquoise, feminine with grey, vintage with brown, crisp with white, dynamic with red, girlie with pink … you get the idea. It is a very expressive color to me. Here are two treasuries on Etsy celebrating peach … and my plantable paper!
Sunday, February 8, 2015
A while back, I changed my avatar from one that showed glasses full of colored pulp (which was pretty but a bit confounding to people as to what they were looking at - see photo at the bottom of this post) to the sprouting seed bomb I now use.
The reason I chose this image is because Seed bombs are fascinating things to me. They originated from an ancient Japanese practice called Tsuchi Dango, meaning ‘Earth Dumpling’ (because the original seed bombs were made from earth, though I make mine with biodegradable paper). They were reintroduced in the 1930s when a man named Masanobu Fukuoka incorporated his ancestral gardening techniques into his own farming methods and started a farming revolution by making seed bombs - but with clay instead of earth - and vegetable seeds. Decades before it was a trend, Fukuoka practiced sustainable agriculture with seed bombing, believing that Mother Nature would take care of which crops would succeed with the process of natural selection. He didn't used chemicals or heavy machinery. He simply seed-bombed roadsides, river banks and wasted spaces with his vegetable seed-filled balls. (His seed bombs also contained clover seeds that would grow right along with the vegetables because clover acted as a living mulch and conditioned the soil.)
The background story about seed bombs is so fascinating I thought it was an injustice not to share it, and I like using an avatar that has a history to it. Ironically, the year that Fukuoka died was the same year I began my Etsy shop and started selling my plantable paper. I hope he approves.
Here's my old avatar:
Saturday, February 7, 2015
Here is a very funny website showcasing the worst craft projects that people have made. What makes it really funny are the side-by-side comparisons of how the craft is supposed to look and the actual end product. Very funny!
I wish I had taken photos of all the craft fails in my life. There sure have been a lot. And even though I have been making handmade paper for almost 25 years, I still have my bad days. These plantable paper earths curled while drying because I rushed the process and dried them too quickly. An example of my own craft fail!
Friday, February 6, 2015
Thursday, February 5, 2015
I am adding this clipart about photography to my blog not only because it is very helpful for all of you readers (and especially shop owners trying to take great photos) but also because I want to be able to find it again, and the best way to do that — without worrying about computer crashes or misplaced papers — is to put it here!
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
There was an interesting article published in the JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2015 edition of The Atlantic, titled, "The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur"
You can read the entire article here: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/01/the-death-of-the-artist-and-the-birth-of-the-creative-entrepreneur/383497
But I found this part of the article particularly interesting:
The Internet enables you to promote, sell, and deliver directly to the user, and to do so in ways that allow you to compete with corporations and institutions, which previously had a virtual monopoly on marketing and distribution. You can reach potential customers at a speed and on a scale that would have been unthinkable when pretty much the only means were word of mouth, the alternative press, and stapling handbills to telephone poles.
A Gen‑X graphic-artist friend has told me that the young designers she meets are no longer interested in putting in their 10,000 hours. One reason may be that they recognize that 10,000 hours is less important now than 10,000 contacts.
No longer interested in putting in their 10,000 hours: under all three of the old models, an artist was someone who did one thing—who trained intensively in one discipline, one tradition, one set of tools, and who worked to develop one artistic identity. You were a writer, or a painter, or a choreographer. It is hard to think of very many figures who achieved distinction in more than one genre—fiction and poetry, say—let alone in more than one art. Few even attempted the latter (Gertrude Stein admonished Picasso for trying to write poems), and almost never with any success.
But one of the most conspicuous things about today’s young creators is their tendency to construct a multiplicity of artistic identities. You’re a musician and a photographer and a poet; a storyteller and a dancer and a designer—a multiplatform artist, in the term one sometimes sees. Which means that you haven’t got time for your 10,000 hours in any of your chosen media. But technique or expertise is not the point. The point is versatility. Like any good business, you try to diversify.
Works of art, more centrally and nakedly than ever before, are becoming commodities, consumer goods. Jeff Bezos, as a patron, is a very different beast than James Laughlin. Now it’s every man for himself, every tub on its own bottom. Now it’s not an audience you think of addressing; it’s a customer base. Now you’re only as good as your last sales quarter.
It’s hard to believe that the new arrangement will not favor work that’s safer: more familiar, formulaic, user-friendly, eager to please—more like entertainment, less like art. Artists will inevitably spend a lot more time looking over their shoulder, trying to figure out what the customer wants rather than what they themselves are seeking to say. The nature of aesthetic judgment will itself be reconfigured. “No more gatekeepers,” goes the slogan of the Internet apostles. Everyone’s opinion, as expressed in Amazon reviews and suchlike, carries equal weight—the democratization of taste.
It is often said today that the most-successful businesses are those that create experiences rather than products, or create experiences (environments, relationships) around their products. So we might also say that under producerism, in the age of creative entrepreneurship, producing becomes an experience, even the experience. It becomes a lifestyle, something that is packaged as an experience—and an experience, what’s more, after the contemporary fashion: networked, curated, publicized, fetishized, tweeted, catered, and anything but solitary, anything but private.
Among the most notable things about those Web sites that creators now all feel compelled to have is that they tend to present not only the work, not only the creator (which is interesting enough as a cultural fact), but also the creator’s life or lifestyle or process. The customer is being sold, or at least sold on or sold through, a vicarious experience of production.
When works of art become commodities and nothing else, when every endeavor becomes “creative” and everybody “a creative,” then art sinks back to craft and artists back to artisans—a word that, in its adjectival form, at least, is newly popular again. Artisanal pickles, artisanal poems: what’s the difference, after all? So “art” itself may disappear: art as Art, that old high thing. Which—unless, like me, you think we need a vessel for our inner life—is nothing much to mourn.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Love the color combination of these seed bombs, being used for a spring wedding. I have always loved orange and pink together - so vibrant and energetic - but the bride decided to tone it down to peach and light pink, along with white and a dark salmon color. Pretty!
Monday, February 2, 2015
A customer recently asked me if I used no-GMO seeds. I realized that while I do say that I use only no-GMO seeds in all of my plantable papers in my Etsy shop, I don't give it more than a quick mention. And yet it is a fundamentally important part of my business and my mission statement.
So what does it mean when I say I never use GMO (genetically modified) seeds? It means a lot.
GMOs (or “genetically modified organisms”) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. This type of breeding allows the companies producing them to manipulate the seeds to help them financially and make the public dependent on buying more products from them. For instance, they create seeds that are terminal - they are sterile and do not reproduce new seeds so that consumers must continually buy new seeds from companies like Monsanto to continue having crops. Also, they can breed crops that are resistant to certain pesticides but will respond to - you guessed it - the pesticides that they produce, so they make even more money.
Now introduce pollination, which is so important to our foods. Bees populations are dying off because of the ingestion of GMO proteins. No bees, no food. The pollen from these flowers now blows onto other flowers and … cross-pollination. Frighteningly, this cross-pollination can never be reversed because it is now a part of the ecosystem. And don't even get me started on genetically modified foods. I make it a point to only buy heirloom tomatoes, for instance, from local farmers at the farmers market. The only way these breeds will stay alive is if consumers want them, buy them and ask for them.
WholeFoods had a really interesting campaign in one of their stores. They showed what their shelves would look like without bees pollinating food. Here's what the shelves looked like, before and after:
This photo, also courtesy of WholeFoods, shows what the dairy case in their market would look like without bees pollinating our foods.
“Sadly, we live in a world where if you do good things, there are no financial rewards. If you poison the earth, there is a fortune to be made.”
― June Stoyer
Sunday, February 1, 2015
It's Sunday and most of my friends are heading to some sort of church or Quaker meeting or have been to Temple this weekend. I am at home with my family, doing the usual weekend things and making a custom order of plantable paper seed bombs.
Sundays always bring up my ambiguity about religion. I want that unquestioning connection with God, that trust that there is something bigger watching over me. I have tried organized religion throughout my life. I was raised attending church and I have attended some as an adult. But I have never found what I was looking for in those places. I consider myself spiritual but I have found "God" in other places: in a hug, in a stranger's kindness, in whispers of love or in moments alone in the woods.
The most spiritual day I ever experienced was in South Africa in a place called Soweto (SoWeTo = South West Township). I had been to Africa a bunch of times but always in more of a touristy way - going to game parks in Tanzania, taking white water rafting trips in Zimbabwe, camping with a guide in Botswana. But this particular day, I was invited to go to Soweto, just outside of Johannesburg, a township created when white South Africans pushed black South Africans onto this dusty land, not suitable for very much. I was with three white Americans and one black South African, Joan, who lived there and had invited us back to her home for a meal. We never would have gone into Soweto without an escort at the time. As it was, on the way in we were almost tangled up with a group of Inkata freedom fighters, rifles out, looking for trouble. (A story for another day.)
We arrived in Soweto and walked the dirt streets to our host's house, passing houses made from bricks, rocks and, many times, whatever scraps of materials the occupants had found or scavenged. I have never seen old Coke cans used in such creative ways, mortared into walls. By the time we reached Joan's home, we had a group of kids around us, talking excitedly, asking questions about us, and wanting to show us their lives.
Joan's house was one of the nicer ones on her block. Since she commuted into Johannesburg and worked for a very generous white family, she could afford running water but still had an outhouse. When I walked in, there were several men sitting in her living room, drinking beer. I thought they were friends or family members but I learned later that she made extra money by running a "shebeen," which is an informal bar. There were all kinds of side businesses everywhere, anywhere somebody could help to enhance their meager wages earned through hard labor.
After lunch, we walked and visited some of her friends and family, then we continued to a field with a questionable structure in it, just some poles supporting a corrugated tin roof. This was her church. We sat down in the back on folding chairs, aware that we were four white faces among a see of black ones, on a dusty, barren hillside in a place that whites didn't come. We sat through a lovely service with raucous singing and prayers that were shouted, moaned and cried up to the Heavens. Towards the end, the preacher asked for any new people to stand and be recognized. A smattering of people stood throughout the congregation but I stayed seated, uncomfortable, feeling like I was an intruder. But Joan, with a joyful smile, poked at me and made me stand. I stood slowly, my eyes down, hoping that the four of us wouldn't be seen standing towards the back. I heard some clapping, and then more, until the sound of clapping and cheering made me raise my eyes in curiosity. I was met with the eyes of the entire congregation looking back at us, whooping, smiling and laughing at our presence there. I have never felt as welcomed anywhere else on earth as I was in that field, in that make-shift church, among strangers. It was a stunning moment and God was certainly present.
Anyway, that's what I have been daydreaming about as I roll hundreds of seed bombs for a custom order, and my mind wanders...