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It's November! The harvest is upon us!


To be fair, the harvest is always upon us in the lucrative Mediterranean climate of the central coast of California, but this time of year brings some extra special seasonal treats. Here in Santa Cruz, the persimmons have begun to glow orange from their treetops while pineapple guavas drop to the sidewalk in tropically-scented gusts of autumn air. Salads and roasts are decorated with crimson pops of pomegranate seeds, and the first mandarins of citrus season are making their way to the market.


A November bounty might look quite different depending on what part of the country you’re setting your table this year, but I reckon it’s a seasonally appropriate time anywhere in which to debut a story central to the idea of the almighty Kitchen Table—whatever yours may look like. I’m excited to take a moment to share a bit more about this project and what it means to me, as I prepare to release my children's story, “Nothing Really Happens at the Kitchen Table.”

It’s no secret to folks who hang around with me that this gal (me, Abbey) loves to set up a lovely-lookin’ table. It’s no secret that I spend an embarrassingly large portion of my free time out collecting, foraging, gleaning, gardening, marketeering, and finding other ways to “come into” various amounts of seasonal treasures growing nearby. And if you’ve ever shared or been near a kitchen with me, you know how much I delight in—perhaps somewhat to your irritation—the act of piling, stacking, jarring, and otherwise displaying such treasures for all to admire. Oh, the grand décor of that table!




“Nothing Really Happens at the Kitchen Table” is an illustrated book project that aims to take a closer look at an ordinary object most of us have somewhere in our life (whether or not you use it as an ingredient gallery the way I do!). And as much as I love the beautiful produce that I choose to adorn my home table with, the central idea around the kitchen table in this story is not so much what precisely we should have on that table—not even really about the food at all—but how to observe its extraordinary potential to bring the rest of our world’s qualities to light. To me, the table is just one example of a setting from which we might be reminded to notice the bounty we already have around us.



Although kitchen tables and al fresco dinners and special ingredients have all been important parts of my lifestyle for a goodly while, the motivation for this book struck me just a couple of years ago when I started to really evaluate the realm of new technologies and fast forward movement. Working as a caterer in Silicon Valley, I’d been exposed to the buzz around the latest innovations aiming to exponentially address our global challenges. I was (and am) particularly struck by the future food movement, which incorporates things like 3-D printed meals, lab-grown hamburgers, and eggs that aren’t made of eggs but rather processed mung bean protein (packaged neatly for transport in a plastic bottle!), in an attempt to mitigate the effects of all that has gone awry in our agricultural and meat industries.



It makes sense that folks are in a hurry to tactically fix our previous mistakes as the future creeps up on us quickly, and that we are looking to technological tools to expedite the solution. But are these tools really helping us return to happier, healthier selves/planets/ communities in the meanwhile? Do they give us an occasion to sit down, reflect, and celebrate over a table, around food we recognize with the passing of a season? I found myself observing, as a glorified lunch lady in Silicon Valley, how the fast-forward mindset seemed to create great distance from noticing and partaking in what we actually STILL have now, at this very moment, and our tactile taste bud connection with it.


Of course I recognize I’ve got my own biases just like the rest of us and I can’t assume that any attempt at fixing our future is inherently good or bad (practicing my “Yes, AND!” approach). Either way, the observations I made in this setting gave me the resolve to spend a portion of my creative energy promoting a different perspective—a connection to our surroundings in the present. A celebration!


And as for this book? It’s a much simpler story than this convoluted blog post might indicate! It has no political agenda, refrains from addressing my personal observations of technology solutions, and does not aim to solve any of our looming global problems. Its only mission, at a time when many of us are feeling the effects of a divided society, and feeling perhaps a bit glum about our future, is to encourage us also to take a closer look at

what’s STILL AWESOME! We’ve got some pretty good stuff out there, even within sight of that ever-present kitchen table. This book is a simple reminder to not only notice the loveliness around us, but to actively partake in it. The narrator points out that “nothing really happens,” but we can see as the reader that perhaps it’s all in the eye (and intentions!) of the beholder. We can take the initiative to make anything special.


***

In creating this story, I drew from (and literally drew!) the settings I’ve experienced in my somewhat unconventional life as a semi-nomadic character. I was excited for the chance to get to pay artistic homage to the many beautiful and remote pockets of the country I’ve been lucky to call home for a bit—long enough to sit down at a table or two! Almost all of the 38 pages of illustrations include flora, fauna, and foods I’ve admired in the varied places I’ve lived, symbols of things that have delighted me while noticing and partaking in my surrounds. I hope they delight you, too!





These illustrations represent a brand new style I’ve been tinkering with and really digging—a departure from colored pencil and a return to line drawings in pen. I’m beginning to employ color washes in my work, in part simply because my friend Shirley randomly handed me a tiny travel-sized watercolor set she discovered whilst doing some spring cleaning, around the same time I was starting this project. Thanks, Shirley! I love the happenstance of it all.

I finished the artwork during my residency at Elsewhere Studios (there’s a blog post for that…) this past summer, and have been spending the past couple of months in the thick of InDesign—formatting, arranging, resizing, and agonizing over the decision to let go of my favorite font, “Hobo,” in order to select something more properly readable (in case you’re wondering, I went with a font called “Pollen” for the interior text...but Hobo still proudly announces my cover and title page!). Now the book is finally ready for its first print. There’s more I’d like to do with it, but I’ve learned a lot, and am so excited to share this first edition with y’all.


***


Not everyone can relate to a particularly bucolic experience around a table in past or present. We’re a long way from that quintessential 1950s kitchen table set with a pot roast, a jell-o salad, and a polite family of four. And although my own pleasant childhood was not too far from this idyllic scene, my experience around a table these days, as a single gal renting a shared house, is a bit of a departure from the traditional. Sometimes I make a lovely feast with friends and housemates, diving into those picturesque piles of produce—and often, I dine alone. From time to time I eat leftovers out of a bag while standing in front of the open refrigerator. Reality check! For many, there simply is no time to do anything with that table other than stack the junk mail and occasionally brush off the rogue Cheerios from last week. I get it, life happens!



I like to think this book offers another approach to the many ways that a table can reach beyond some pictured tradition, and provide useful space for each of us to partake in our personal bounty. Let’s take our table into our own hands! Reclaim it, anew! There are endless ways to set a table (or the abstract idea of what a table could represent to YOU), so many ways to bring joy, community, appreciation and self-reflection to our setting, no matter where and how we live, what our table looks like, and who we have (or don’t have) in our life.


Ok, getting too preachy with the table gospel? One last thought…


A friend once asked me why I bothered to put things in bowls or tidy stacks on the table if I was just going to cut them up and cook them eventually, anyway. What does it matter? Yes, I know, it’s perhaps an unnecessary step. But the truth is, this “cornucopia effect,” as I like to call it (really, just strewing food in an organized fashion across the table) makes me feel downright RICH! It’s my way of collecting and accumulating “stuff” as we humans so enjoy, but without having to hoard it and hold onto it forever. Counting my shekels, with a shelf life. The opportunity to gaze upon my beautiful mounds of fresh foods gives me a sense of great wealth, and for a person who is constantly questioning her lack-of-so-called-career-path and tendency to follow-the-heart-and-not-the-benefits-package, not-that-I’d-know-how-to-turn-my-weird-skillset-into-a-fancy-job-anyway, I take great pride in moments where I feel like I’ve cheated the system and tapped straight into what REAL wealth feels like—moments when I can leave behind all that distracting, doubting brain chatter cluttering up the occasion.


At this moment, my real wealth feels like a pile of perfectly ripe persimmons that I scored from a neighbor’s free box. I don’t have a 401K and will probably never own a home, but a table stacked with rare, seasonal fruit glory proves to me that I’m not just merely scraping by—I’m actually living in the lap of luxury. I’m filthy, stinking RICH!



Maybe they’re just a handful of persimmons that came from a box under a tree. Maybe I'm just a gal sitting at a kitchen table. And maybe, as rumor has it, nothing really happens at the kitchen table.


On the other hand...


Maybe I’m a Persimmonillionaire!


(And you can be one, too.)







To order your copy of "Nothing Really Happens at the Kitchen Table", visit Ye Olde Shoppe

  • Abbey

Updated: Oct 20, 2019

A re-cap of my two months as an artist-in-residence at Elsewhere Studios

in the glorious town of Paonia, Colorado.


***


They say there is a place where the streets are paved in apricots.

And if you visit Paonia in August during a particularly fertile year when just the right set of circumstances have come into play, you’ll be stepping right into that place. And potentially stepping right into a lot of sidewalk apricot goop.


Having spent the past several years rolling in year-round citrus and avocados and every other imaginable kind of produce known to mankind in the ever-bountiful land of coastal California, I doubted I’d be impressed with any other land’s harvest. Then I arrived smack dab in the middle of summer in the North Fork Valley, where cherries rain down upon your face and apricots literally do line the streets.




Stone fruit! My experience at Elsewhere Studios, multi-faceted in practically every way possible, seems in memory to be mostly punctuated by the flow of various sweet-tart fleshy orbs coming into season—arriving in boxes and buckets and backpacks from the multitude of generous hands stopping by to look after this place and its revolving residents. My fellow artists and I turned these gifts into counter-top displays piled into the Elsewhere kitchen’s various chipped-and-cracked collection of handmade bowls, destined for endless possibilities.



And indeed, my two glorious months at Elsewhere carried this same feeling of daily abundance: a Gingerbread House all to myself, quiet mornings in the studio with my cup of coffee, dinners of elk and farm-fresh vegetables on the grill, afternoon tea with my fellow residents, long chats about the artist life. The many Bens of town: one Ben scooping me up for impromptu adventures to gorgeous viewpoints, another Ben spinning me across the dance floor at the Wednesday Backporch Blues Jam. Drying apricots in the sun and learning to forage wild mushrooms. Wildflower and aspen viewings over Kebler Pass. Outrageous hikes to blue lakes through rolling meadows. Paddling down the Gunnison River along peach-scented orchards. Jumping in the ditch on a hot afternoon; then, root beer floats. Breakfast pizza at Breadworks and nightcaps at Linda’s. Opening my studio window on Saturday evenings to let in the sultry sounds of Jazz Night from the restaurant next door—whilst sketching out ideas for new illustrations. Weeding the carrot patch and sorting garlic at Small Potatoes Farm, and being sent away with all the vegetables and all the flowers. Flowers! So many flowers. So many everythings.



Endlessness—that is the feeling I was fortunate enough to revel in during my experience at Elsewhere. Although I always felt I could be doing MORE of EVERYTHING—MORE ART, especially!—I also felt a great sense of accomplishment at the set of creative endeavors I was able to fit in between the nooks and crannies of these magnificent adventures. For example, it had taken me 2 years to complete half the drawings for a book project which was my main focus during this residency, and just a month to complete the other half at Elsewhere! I left with a printed first edition of my story, which was more than I had hoped for. I also came with the notion of doing a local/foraged food project and the hope to collaborate with another artist, and sure enough both of these wishes fell into my world—as well as the outrageously helpful folks at Clayworks who made it possible for me to build/fire/glaze a last-minute tea set in time for our event! The open-ended, freeing structure of the residency allowed me to make space for anything that felt important to me, and to invite what I wanted into my experience.




BUT.


They say all good things must come to an end. Even the Endlessness! Even the stone fruits. And so…


Many pies, galettes, syrups, shrubs, salsas, salads, cakes, teas, smoothies, cocktails, and juicy mouthfuls of fresh cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums later…tongue puckered, I loaded up my art supplies, my hiking gear, my new tea set, and my last two peaches—and left Paonia.


Some say they noticed a dribble of peach juice sliding down my left cheek as I headed through the orchards out of town. But I’m willing to admit the truth: I’m not NOT crying.



Hey y’all, it’s the Year of the Pig! AND, it’s nearly Groundhog Day—also known as Whistlepig Day. I know everyone is probably busy decorating, baking gingerbread marmots, stringing lights around the groundhog holes in the backyard, and counting down the shadow-viewing advent calendar. Such a festive time of year, celebrating all the groundhogs, whistlepig, marmot-like and pig-like creatures in our world.


But let’s not lose track of the REAL meaning behind all the hoopla, which is this: shadow or not, we each have the ability to decide whether we are ready to welcome the Spring, on our own terms!


I, myself, have been celebrating this year by rustling up some new creative ideas.

In the Year of the (Whistle)Pig, with the intention of keeping a fresh flow of ideas and being able to share my artistic process, I have decided to offer up something brand new: a garden art CSA! We’re talking picnics, produce, preserves, panoramic pictures, plant-and-animal puns. All the P’s. Are you interested in adding a bit of Pizzaz to your world this year? A subscription to Whistlepig Garden Art and Picnic Supply CSArt will include a shipment of fresh, seasonal, original artwork delivered to your doorstep with each solstice and equinox. See my shoppe for more information and all the specifics. I’ll be opening with a limited number of shares, with half-year and full-year subscriptions available.


Merry Whistlepigs!