The View from My Kitchen Table

When you come to our house for dinner, depending on where you sit at the long farmhouse-style table, you’ll get a certain glimpse into our life and values. Perhaps you’ll sit facing the living room. You’ll see a large photograph taken at Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Our friend took the photo looking up at the sky. Not everyone sees the red rock canyon in the picture. Some see fabric fluttering in the breeze. Others see an abstract swirl of orange, yellow, and red. In front of the photo are black and white photos of our family.

Perhaps you’ll sit facing the library with a view of full and semi-organized bookshelves. You’ll see a collection of favorite cookbooks, a chess table made from reclaimed wine barrels and scattered with craft projects as well as chess pieces. You’ll see two paintings of elephants, bought on a safari in South Africa and a photograph of Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons.

Maybe you’ll sit facing the bank of windows that give you a view of our backyard. You’ll see two swings hanging from trees, places for our girls to play and connect with each other. You might have a view of our large pink poster with a Francis Bacon reproduction of a gorilla. I bought it at the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice, lugged it across France and Italy, and kept it for over a decade, waiting for the perfect spot to frame and hang it. Behind it hangs a wall of mugs from our favorite museums.

Our home is filled with treasures from our past adventures, our love of art and the stories it tells, and pieces from places we weave into our family story. Our girls know that the world is a small place; that Frank and I love learning from nature and from other cultures, and deep sense of curiosity is infused on our walls.

I just returned from my grandma’s memorial service in California. She was the last of my grandparents and close great-aunts and -uncles to pass away. For me, she closes out a generation that has shaped my values and worldview.

One of my fondest memories of my grandma comes from her own kitchen table. Set in the corner of her green and yellow kitchen, I would sit at a chair and see a knickknack cupboard filled with trinkets from around the world. Some were collected from my grandparent’s travels. Some were gifted from friends. I loved looking at those little objects, imagining the places they represented.

I never really thought about my grandma’s legacy in my own decorating style but I see it everywhere. Our home is a gateway into storytelling and a reminder that our world is smaller than we think. That other cultures shape all of us, both in big and small ways.

I just got home last night from a weekend of remembering an exceptional woman. But this weekend also rounded out an whole month of family––from a triennial reunion with cousins and second cousins and third cousins–– to a week in Philadelphia staying up too late making all the sweet memories with cousins to hosting various family throughout the month. I’ll be sitting with all I’ve learned in July for a while, I think. Mostly, I’m thankful for such a tangible opportunity to appreciate and honor all the ways my family has shaped the woman and mother I’m becoming.

In another week of shocking national news, I’m returning to my kitchen table. I’m remembering to start small, with my own daughters. We’ll look at pictures that represent different cultures; we’ll have conversations about our friends and neighbors who are immigrants and gun owners alike; we’ll bicker over whose turn it is to pray for the food and we’ll do all the small routines that make up our evenings.

Life can feel overwhelming and I’m remembering that, in the midst of it all, the view from our kitchen table will shape and define my girls’ worldview far more than I realize. If you’re feeling a bit lost these days––for whatever reason––take a look at what you see from where you eat. Use that space as a reminder of your values and hopes for this world.

Describe the view from your kitchen table. How does it define you?

Tracing My Own Story

Our speaker yesterday at MOPS led us through exercises in defining freedom in our stories. What are our yeses and nos? How do we achieve those? It was an incredible experience and made me reflect on my journey and what defines me.

vintage-2608934_960_720It also made me think of this journey in seeking justice. So many issues around the very word justice are polarizing. One person’s definition could be completely different from another’s. And it made me reflect that each of our stories have a defining moment of justice. No one responds to world events based solely on their news channel of choice. Though we may be influenced by those particular sources, our own stories and life experiences are really the lens that shades our response.

I grew up in a conservative military town. My family isn’t part of the military but I was surrounded by families and friends who were. I didn’t really think about gun ownership rights and privileges until I moved to France and was in discussion with those who had strong opposing opinions. When I trace my story, those experiences and conversations set me on a path to discovering my own opinions.

I’m thinking about looking at the issues that give me a strong reaction and mapping out my own journey with them. Why do I feel certain way about immigration rights and reform, about gun ownership rights and reform, about education rights and reform? Perhaps by really looking at my own story, I’ll better understand the stories of others.

My friend and fellow blogger, Andrew commented on my post about guns and I appreciate his point of view. (Check out his full, thoughtful comment here, but I wanted to leave you with this:

The problem facing our country is not gun control or an erosion of constitutional rights; it’s far deeper, and it’s called alienation.
We’ve become a country so fragmented by the ability to please ourselves, without having to plug into a physical community, that we consider ourselves virtual citizens of the world…but how many times have you heard the term ‘civic pride’ used recently, except in mocking scorn?
Just as alienation begets indifference, community begets responsibility and accountability. And that is what we need, now more than ever.
How do you step back to recognize your own story in your opinions? Have you ever taken time to map out your journey in relation to certain issues?

 

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “story.”

BackyardThis post is Day 6 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Art Creates Empathy

One of my favorite memories growing up is sitting in front of my dad’s reference books in his home studio, looking through his Jansen’s History of Art while he drew. It was from his college days and the photos reflected its publication date. I remember looking at an image of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and talking with him about the restoration process. I couldn’t wait to one day travel to Rome myself to see the newly refinished vivid colors of Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

Browsing those reference books changed my life. In a very obvious way, they sparked an interest in art history that took me to Paris for four years, which in turn fed my love for travel and exploring different cultures. This worldview spilled into my second grade classroom, provided opportunities to work at a museum here in Denver, and has guided how we parent Bea.

In a more subtle way, those books gave me deeper empathy for the world around me. By looking at images of history, I looked through new eyes at what I was learning in school and reading in the newspaper. From Greek Antiquity and the Renaissance to Monet’s early picnic scenes and Duchamp’s ready-mades, I saw my own world through a new lens.

Our house is filled with art and we’re hoping to add to our collection. Most of the pieces we own were bought on travels, created by artists we know personally, are prints of exhibitions I went to in college, or murals my dad painted. The art in our home tells our family’s story – one of relationships and exploration.

Instructing Grandpa on her bedroom mural.
Instructing Grandpa on her bedroom mural.

This art is not only a tangible way to tell our own story, but I hope it plants the seeds of curiosity and wonder as our girls learn to recognize the places and artists they represent. I keep my art history books on low shelves around the house and Bea has her own small collection of books for children. She recognizes some famous artists and the idea of creating a mural or project is part of her daily vocabulary. As she creates, she narrates the story of her day or recent events – on some level, she already understands the storytelling aspect of art.

One of the most important things I learned when studying art history was how to stop and look at a painting. I might not know all of the deep symbolism or exactly what was happening during that time, but I did learn to “read” a painting: To start in a corner and let my eye move across the canvas. I learned to research the questions I had and how to find the answers that helped make the art come alive.

I wonder if we looked at the world in the same way if we could avoid many conflicts. Perhaps we need to stop, take some time to really look at a person or a situation, go find the answers to our questions, and then come back again. If we slowed down and really took the time to know others, to know stories, would we be as quick to jump to our own conclusions?

Art builds bridges – between whole cultures as well as individual stories. One of my favorite moments when I’m talking with a group of kids about the art of Clyfford Still is when they suddenly make a link to their own lives. They are no longer seeing a large canvas filled with color, but an emotion in which they can relate. Part of the Abstract Expressionist movement is helping the viewer look inward – that art doesn’t have to be a specific moment in history but can be a specific moment in your own life. It’s not taking the art or artist out of context, but bringing your own life experience into a more global idea. What I love most about that movement is the ability to see our own story in the work of an artist.

I’m learning to translate those ideas to my relationships and the way in which I read the world around me: To stop and find my own story within a larger context.

How has art affected your worldview? What have you learned from someone else’s creation?

Linked with The High Calling’s community theme: Art Matters.