The Kitchen

The Kitchen by Carl Larsson, 1898

Here’s a bit of loveliness to cheer up a gray day.

I read an article about teachers who choose to practice self-care are then happier and better able to deal with the emotional-social drain of their teaching job. I imagine that applies to motherhood and homeschooling as well. In Charlotte Mason terms, it’s called “Mother Culture.” The crisp lines, bright spaces, and homey details in this painting are my self-care for the day. It doesn’t have to be complicated, right?

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The Cornfield

The Cornfield by Alfred Sisley, 1873

The cold weather has forced me indoors for so long that I am nostalgic for green growth, sunny warmth, spring breezes playing with my hair. There comes a point every winter when I wonder whether summer could even be true. Do we really step outside barefoot without putting on coats? Can it be possible that we took advantage of days that looked like this painting? I can almost hear the insects buzzing and see the zipping electric blue of a dragonfly.

I know the same disbelief of entire winter weeks that do not get above 10 degrees Fahrenheit occurs in the hot, steamy months of summer. And then I think longingly of the intricate bare branches of winter, the red cardinals who so wonderfully do not live above my windows, and the way a cup of hot tea feels appropriate.

It’s good to have something to look forward to, I guess, but I wish I was better at living in the moment.

Coffee (or Tea)

Coffee by Richard Diebenkorn, 1959

Today is a day for wearing blue, being off-centered, drinking a hot beverage using both hands, and sitting with your back to the window in an empty room.

Today is also the day I decided my kids do not need an advent calendar or advent tree or daily reminder of how many days till Christmas. There’s already enough Christmas anticipation in this house to carry us well into January.

Today is also a day for fishing garbage cans out of the ditch.

Today is a day for reading a book about a sad, damaged man traveling down a river in Ireland (Shannon by Frank Delaney–more to come, if I ever finish it).

Today is a day when all the cats want to come in the house, but I bury my face in their fur, dump them back outside, and then feel sorry for them.

Today was a day for reading out loud and listening to children read out loud.

And now, tonight is a night for wondering if my husband will not want supper because he’s cold and tired, or if he’ll need lots to eat because he’s cold and tired. It could go either way. I think I’ll get myself a cup of tea. This room is very cold.

Cezanne’s Studio

Still Life with Open Drawer by Paul Cezanne, 1879

I read an article that talked about the color of Cezanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence, France. It had gray walls, which lessened the 3-d effect of real objects. In other words, painting a bowl set against a gray wall has a flattening effect (which is apparent in Cezanne’s paintings). It is easier to jump from the color of the bowl to the color of the wall. The wall color is actually important. Very interesting! I’m easily fascinated by the importance of negative space. I could go beyond art with that topic. But I won’t, at least today.

Check out the article. It has pictures of the studio. When I walk into the room of someone dead and famous, I usually don’t think, “Whoa, this is a room of a famous person.” I tend to think, “Whoa, this room is pretty ordinary and real-looking,” which makes the famous person seem more ordinary and real. And I like that! I don’t know everything about Cezanne, but I do know he was a gruff, temperamental type of person. And he didn’t mind repetition. He spent much time painting the same mountain over and over. I think it wasn’t about the mountain. It was more about the colors.

On Montmartre

Terrace and Observation Deck at the Moulin de Blute-Fin, Montmartre, Vincent Van Gogh, 1886

I’ve posted about this van Gogh painting before. It’s hanging right above my computer screen, so it is probably the most-looked-at painting in my house. My copy is a little grayer and bluer than this image. Not only is the weather appropriate for today (windy, rainy, gray, cold), van Gogh himself is appropriate. Here’s a guy who had a severe mental illness. Yet he struggled through, battling against all the negativity around him. He didn’t win every battle (at least I assume cutting off your own ear consists of losing some sort of battle), but he kept doing what he knew was right: creating art. Where was the encouragement? Where was the motivation? It had to be spiritual because I can’t understand it any other way. Even when we’re backsliding into the same old patterns, God ensures His plan continues.

Beauty and inspiration come from weird places. But behind all the weird places is a Master Designer.

An Afternoon Nap

An Afternoon Nap by Harry Mitten Wilson (1877-1923)

Sleep is a weird thing for me. I’ve had insomnia. I’ve had sleep with consistent nightmares. And sometimes I sleep just fine. Sometimes I love it; other times I dread it. Lately, I’ve been wanting to sleep, which I know is a sign that I want to skip as much awake life as I can. I do force myself to not go to bed right away. But last night I didn’t. I went to bed early and allowed myself to stay resting (if not actually asleep) until my normal get-up time. So if I’m still easily tipped off-kilter, at least I’m also well-rested. That must count for something.

Actually, I learned today that my real need is dealing with sin, not dealing with relationships or feelings. I knew that already, but it’s good to learn again. And Jesus already dealt with the sin and took care of my real need. So I’m good to go. Did you hear that brain? You’re good to go.

I like this painting for its beauty. It’s like she’s dreaming this sweet-smelling summer world, and she’s in it, too. Best of both worlds. She’s good to go. It could be a really ugly painting with dead flowers and storm clouds and whatnot, and maybe you couldn’t even tell that the girl was sleeping peacefully. Maybe she was really ugly, too. She could still be good to go, on the spiritual side. You never know by looking. Or feeling. But sometimes art is symbolic of spiritual things. If this one is, then perhaps she’s resting in a beautiful psalm, like Psalm 23, which my daughter is memorizing. “He makes me lie down in green pastures… He restores my soul.”

Joseph Cornell

“Object (Soap Bubble Set)” by Joseph Cornell, 1941

Something about Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes makes me uncomfortable. It’s a little like looking at someone else’s dream. All artists have a vision, which they then transform into a work of art; Joseph Cornell has somehow skipped a step and put his vision in a box.

I still like it, in a fascinated sort of way. This one makes me think of pipes and the smell of tobacco (rather than sea shells and bubbles). Somewhere along the line I find myself thinking of my older sister, who is visiting right now from her European home of many years. We are alike in many genetic ways, but in her years apart she has become accustomed to things that I am not accustomed to. Things that make me uncomfortable and make her happy. It really has nothing to do with pipes and tobacco. But maybe it has something to do with the otherworldly sea objects. They are neither good nor bad in themselves, but these shells are so close to being dreams that they could easily transform into nightmares depending on the person who dreams them. Do you get that sense? That this artwork could make one person happy and another anxious? That’s what it’s like with my sister. I get anxious around her when she is saying or wearing or buying things that she can’t even comprehend as being nightmarish. It’s not fair to either person, and I suppose it will be what forms a barrier between us. These are things communication does not solve.