Sunday, November 30, 2014

Through her Eyes

Furniture shopping last summer.
I often wonder if I could smile with such sincerity if I were in constant pain from the shingles, but she does.  For over 91 years her smile has remained strong, much like her family of four sons and one daughter, all blessed with her love and patience.  Her joy for life, for everyday living, for being with family is slowly being drained from her body.  Age is the demon chasing her every night.

Now her legs have said, way too many times, "This pain is just too much.  Sit down and please don't move."  The walker is companion but not the companion who makes her feel needed.  It's only a metal frame that helps her to walk from her "perch" on the couch, to the kitchen, to her bedroom, and back.  Her companion for the last few years died in September.  He was younger than she and was suppose to outlive her.  She misses him everyday. I can't imagine her grief nor her pain. 

Alleen  loves to eat at Red Lobster
Those birthdays have taken their toll, and all we hurt as we watch her age. Her daily routine of coffee and donuts with friends at  Donut King and Braum's have come to an end.  She doesn't enjoy getting out and the cold hurts her bones.  She thrives on the breakfast platter now that Jack brings daily, and for an hour or two each morning she shares her life with Jack, her son, or any of us who are family.  She loves to talk and share her memories.  We are all happy that she does; then she chokes or her breathing becomes labored and she's frightened and our hearts race.  We have caretakers who help her daily with household chores and meals, but they have struggled with her independent nature.  We've spoiled her, rightfully so, and she most pleased with restaurant foods, not home cooked.  

Now other aliments follow her.  A woman who merely takes Anacin for relief and a pill for her racing heart, now suffers from dizzy spells, that scare her so much  that she doesn't like to walk.  And so she sits, her muscles atrophy more and more everyday, but fear of falling has taken hold of her thoughts.

Most of the time she's articulate, reads the newspaper word for word cover to cover, watches football, Lawrence Welk, Andy Griffith, Everybody Loves Raymond, the Golden Girls, and good old movies, but she's lonely.  Her fingers aren't strong enough to sew and make the quilts or doll clothes they once made.  Her guitar sits more now than ever before, with her fingers no longer callused and strong enough to press the chords.  Her will is stronger than
Alleen and great grandson, Isaac
muscles, and so she makes herself get up and sing for others.  It keeps her going and makes her happy.  But pain is now her constant companion.

How does a family make a decision for an aging parent?  We try to see through her eyes.  We try to do what's best for her, but her mind thinks she's young, strong, independent and can live alone. Her dream is to die at home in her bed.  Do we honor her dream?  We toss and turn and question what's best, what helps, where do we go from here? 

I listen as God guides me. I open my heart and pray, and so do we all.  We pray that her life stays "golden", but in the end we pray for "God's will be done."   

Monday, November 17, 2014

Herstory: Shirley Curiel

Shirley, now in her studio full-time.
Her eyes often sparkled like warm sunshine on a cold winter's day, as we stood in the hallway of Prairie Hills Middle School smiling, laughing at ourselves, at our experiences, at the things that middle kids say and do.  She was the "Art" teacher, and I was the "Reading and Writing" teacher. Our few minutes of hall duty became a life saver for each of us.  Her classroom had windows that highlighted the sunshine and seasons, the colors of fresh air, and imaginative pieces of artwork; my room had orange carpet, thin walls, but immediate access to the library and a wide world of surprises.  

Shirley helped me with ideas for expression of thought through art.  Words sometimes don't tell the whole picture, or perhaps we don't know how to share those feelings, but pictures and art free us to express a thought or feeling unseen in words.  When I needed a way for my students to express a book or a piece of writing Shirley had my answers.  I've been blessed with teacher friends over the years who were creative and able to coach me on how I could use art in all teaching endeavors. 

Shirley was first introduced to art when she attended private school at John Brown University.  She said, "This allowed me to hang-out around places where art was being created and exhibited on campus." Marriage brought her to Hutchinson, Ks where she and her husband raised their three children, and after the death of her sister-in-law they raised her two teenage daughters.  "With five kids, no washing machine or dryer, driving a car that I bought for $300 I enrolled in McPherson College and graduated with a degree in History, a teaching certificate and many hours of Art."  
Shirley's well lite studio where colors come to life.

Her first teaching job as an Art teacher landed her in the basement at Central Jr. High in Hutchinson where she a small classroom with pipes carrying heat for the entire four story building, regular student desks not tables, no sink, one bookcase and one old wooden chest of drawers for storage.  The kiln for firing the clay work was on the 4th floor, no elevator.  "I had to carry all the heavy clay projects up three flights of stairs and then run up to adjust the temperature from low to medium, from medium to high, and then the custodian would shout 'don't forget to turn it off after school.'  She laughed as she described the conditions in the basement,  "While the upper floors suffered from insufficient heat, we opened our windows to keep from stewing.  Because we were in the basement, the windows opened to concrete window wells about half the depth of the windows, and dirt from the ground blew in on the heads of the nearest students.  I was so happy to have a job that I felt none of this was an overwhelming problem.  I spent ten years in that room, before moving to Prairie Hills, where I enjoyed a room double the size, four sinks, a private glassed in office, large storage room, enclosed kiln, and individual storage for each student."  No wonder I eagerly looked forward to a few minutes with Shirley every day.   
One of her popular pillow paintings.

Buhler country road landscape
Even though she's painted all of her life, she did not start painting for herself until she retired in 2000.  As she told me, "I could not do two things at once.  It took all of my time and attention to do my teaching job." Before we moved away, I bought one of her Kansas landscapes. It hangs in my writing room to brighten the day, but it can also be seen from the hallway, so people's eyes are drawn toward her landscape where sunshine adds highlights to nature's colors. I'm most grateful to my friend, Shirley Curiel, for being a part of my life, and for still adding sunshine to it everyday through her paintings.   

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Outstanding in the Field

Sandy Springs Farms, location of OSIF
There we were, out standing in a field with vistas of red rocks, roaming buffalo, and the aroma of fresh foods being cooked.  How lucky is that?  I consider myself a survivalist cook--simple basics.    However, because Jack and I have been fortunate enough to travel from coast to coast and Japan to Switzerland, I have acquired a delightful pursuit for delicious meals and exotic flavors.  When Katy and Shaun discovered this special meal called "Outstanding in the Field" I couldn't resist the temptation to travel with them, and partake in an open-air feast with food fresh from the land  prepared by Russ Johnson & Jonathon Stranger, two chefs from Ludivine's in OKC.

Arriving early at Sandy Springs Farms
James riding his pet buffalo, Stormy
allowed us time to roam the red hills, see the buffalo, and tour the barn, which is set up with a large kitchen and meeting area.  Katy and I had visited there a few years ago for a basket weaving class, and thoroughly enjoyed our day learning to weave a
Katy and Letty completed their baskets.
basket one step at a time, and then enjoying the evening meal with the weavers and James and Sandy Stepp.

Once the guests had arrived James introduced us to their pet buffalo, Stormy.  They have raised him since birth when his mother abandoned him.  So at two years old his is quite used to James being near him and riding him.  As a group most of us watched Stormy from outside the fence, but a few of us eager souls walked inside his gate to touch him.  Perhaps because James has known me for nearly thirty years, he turned and asked if I would like to ride Stormy.  Without hesitation I said, "Yes."  (That was the younger Letty from thirty years ago who responded, not the sensible one who has a bad back!)  But I did reason with this logic, "I once passed up a chance to drive a combine, and I've never had that chance again.  This might be my only chance to sit on top of a buffalo."  That was all I did.  With James' leg to stand on I heaved my right leg over Stormy's back, and I was there on his back. Before I could breathe a sigh of relief Stormy, took a sudden move forward, and I took a sudden slide backwards.  James, to the rescue, threw his body on the ground behind Stormy and me.  Consequently, my bottom hit James' belly,  my feet hit the ground, and I was fine.  I'm sure James was more bruised than I, and Stormy was content!

Sheila & Joey Dills Tulsa

I digressed with stories, but then again meeting new friends from across the Midwest and seeing old friends is really why we come together, that and to eat deliciously prepared food.  The day started with hor dourves of reuben profiteroles, rabbit rillette dolmas, and eggplant rollatini.  The profiteroles were my favorite, and then I read the menu! No one complained, but rather we laughed at our taste buds, we liked the Wichita Buffalo Co. bison tongue reuben profiteroles.  I knew my taste buds and imagination were in for a thrilling day after enjoying the appetizers with  water and a glass of wine.

After several hours of roaming like the buffalo, getting acquainted with new people, discussing ways of preparing foods we meandered down to the grass covered lowlands where our tables were set.  We gathered with new people in tables set for eight.  With each table of eight having its own server.  There was no rush and we all took the time to chat and relax as we dined on succulent foods.  Reading the menu below, I hope, will convince you to go online and find this great event somewhere near your home or state.

OSIF   Wednesday, October 9, 2014
hosted by Wichita Buffalo Co. at Sandy Springs Farms, Hinton, Oklahoma

Wichita Buffalo Co. bison tongue reuben profiteroles
rabbit rillette dolmas
Leatherwood Farm eggplant rollatini
2013 Lady Hill Winery Pinot Gris,
Willamette Valley, Oregon,  Selection of COOP Ale Works Beer

salade de Ponderossa Farms gesiers confit de canard,
Scissortale Farm live baby red Russian kale,
grapefruit-sage-squash seed oil vinaigrette
2013 Lady Hill Wintery Radical Vine Sauvignon Blanc,
Columbia Valley, Washington

Wichita Buffalo Co bison cubanelle relleno,
purple hull-wagyu tallow refritos,
fresh Whitmore Farms corn grits, green pepita mole
2012 Lady Hill Winery Ad Lucem Daystar Red,
Columbia Valley, Washington

roasted suckling OSU Hog Farm & Walnut Creek Farm pig,
Crow Farm duck fat sweet potato mash, grilled onions, smoked elephant garlic-parsley sauce
2012 Lady Hill Winery Procedo Proprietary Red,
Columbia Valley, Washington

Jonathan's Livesay Orchards apple crisp with
buttermilk ice cream, smoked whiskey caramel.

Oh, my!  

Message from the Founder

In the summer of 1999, I came up with the idea of setting a long table on a farm and inviting the public to an open-air feast in celebration of the farmer and the gifts of the land. I decided to call this idea Outstanding in the Field. I thought a big table, carefully composed alongside the ingredients for the evening’s feast would inspire both a conversation at the table and a broader discussion about food, community and the meaning of place. A traveling feast with a central vision of farmers, chefs, cheese makers, ranchers, foragers and winemakers in delicious communion with the people they sustain. It would be a terrific challenge to bring this message to the field and to the world — it would also be a lot of fun and adventure.
It’s been 15 years since we set the first table near Santa Cruz, California at Andy Griffin’s Mariquita Farm. Since then, we’ve organized more than 600 Outstanding in the Field events, made ten coast-to-coast tours of North America, visited 45 of the United States and set our table in a total of nine countries. 60,000+ people have come out to the farm — or ranch, or sea cove, or vineyard, or rooftop, or sea cave — to understand, learn from and celebrate the farmer.
See you on the farm!
Jim Denevan