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Inhaling Ursula

Neon Shoes over Brooklyn by Suzi Banks Baum

When guests leave, I have a difficult time cleaning up after them. I like the presence of guests, at least most guests, to linger. My mother used to stop me from putting all the mess of toys in order before we would leave her house. She said the mess allowed her to see my kids playing on her floors, on the couches or in front of the fireplace long after we’d jetted off the Upper Peninsula towards the East Coast.

I know how she feels now.
Our beloved German family, a family we sprouted five years ago when the eldest son of this family of six children came to live with us, just spent a long set of sweet September days with us. They left the fourth child to live with us until December.

We spent warm days swimming at the river.
Cool days we toured MASS MoCA and Brooklyn.
We hiked and walked and strolled and went to yoga together.
We made many meals, much zucchini and melon employed.
And the mother, my dear Ursula, and I made art around the edges and for one and a half days, we worked plumb in the center of this swirl of teens and plums and a chard eating woodchuck.

This morning, I walked in to the room where she slept and without knowing what was happening, I was engulfed in the simple perfume of her presence. Like when you hug your partner’s neck after swimming and only the soft animal scent of skin fills your senses, an eager poetic soliloquy of scent surrounded me. The smell recalled her to me so fully I was sure she was near. But, only a pile of linens and the paper she’d wedged in to a rattling window frame on a windy Berkshire night were present.

We are both mothers. She has three times my children and just as much appetite to make things while in the midst of mothering. We first met in the airport in Florence, Italy near where her family vacationed in the summer. They’d invited us (inwhited, if you are a German speaking English, which is all I can hear in my head as I write. I recall her voice skipping over Vs when she was tired and letting them be Ws) to spend time with them there, before depositing our son with them for a semester at the Schaubing Waldorf High School.

We fell in step with each others mothering styles quickly. We found ease in each others presence through the affection our children spread and before long we were sketching together on a long table overlooking the valley towards Cortona. Ursula is a landscape architect with amazing drawing skills, so the vistas jump off the pages with just a few strokes of her pencil. That first summer of knowing one another had all the makings of a symphony with many parts yet to come, but each new phrase captivating.


Ursula's doodling
Ursula’s doodling

Since that first visit, we have traveled together, spent time in each others homes, sat talking for long evenings and early mornings, picked blueberries, celebrated Full Moons, eaten meals prepared with the other in mind, sent gifts and notes and letters and many many hand made mail art postcards. We have fallen completely in love with each others children and included their friends in the circle of our care. Our husbands are equally eager and engaged and this symphony feels like it will be playing for many years to come.

SBB to Ursula

So when I inhaled Ursula, the longing I felt for her real presence, her laughter, the way she orders a coffee, the endearments she uses for her children, the tone of her voice as she asks a question, her enthusiasm for leaping in to cold rivers or trying new art techniques mellowed from an ache to an exercised response. I have spent many hours with her painting and making books and drifting exotic neighborhoods, photographing laundry or hanging it, laughing over the singleton socks we each collect and seasonally seek to pair. Something about making art together has sewn our friendship, our sisterhood, our shared parenting in to a many-layered blanket that offers comfort beyond what I ever imagined. Now that I know that comfort, her scent, I require it.


Italian laundry by Ursula Kern
Italian laundry by Ursula Kern
Ursula sewing a book 2014
Sewing signatures


There are many tales to tell about Ursula. We have made art with our combined children now for five summers. As we travel, we create. We formed the Darling Hill International Artist’s Club four years ago and have had four art showings since then, in Vermont, on Cape Cod, here in the Berkshires and at a cafe in Monte San Savino, Italy. We have weathered a hurricane, an earthquake, a car accident, and foreign borne illnesses of our children. We have earned ribbons for our skillet tossing. Our dumpster dive at a bookbinders last year in Munich is an oft repeated tale these days. This past week, while waiting for her daughter at dance class, we sketched the skyline of Housatonic with the iconic water tower on to up-cycled file folders. We cut the drawings in to stencils, and then transferred the images on to vintage book covers given to us by the boyfriend of another of her daughters. We built Coptic Stitch book covers together, filled the signatures with found, painted and plain papers then sewed them up smartly on a sunny September morning. We make books in the same way we make everything we do, in the midst of making breakfast and lunch and planning dinner, picking figs or berries or apples, and delivering kids to and fro, brushing off all but the most urgent pleas for help so that we can focus together for a few hours.


Ursula's stencil 2014
Prints by Ursula of the Housatonic Water tower 2014



The porch art table by Ursula Kern
The porch art table by Ursula Kern


My new Coptic Stitch Journal visits Brooklyn By Ursula Kern
My new Coptic Stitch Journal visits Brooklyn By Ursula Kern


What we give each other is permission to want what we want.
What we give each other is permission to answer our soul’s calling in the midst of parenting.
What we give each other is the courage to stop waiting to do what calls us and to engage our families with our fullest selves, the selves that snort when laughing, that pick up random scraps of paper on the sidewalks and often bursts in to song.

What has happened is that our children, from 21 to 10, now, all know that this making art is what makes us happy and they too, in their own ways, have inhaled this brand of bravery in to their own lives, making choices that are much nearer to joy than to duty. They know that familial responsibility includes honoring what the other loves.

Processed with VSCOcam with s6 preset

Ursula left this stone circled heart filled with acorns and a marigold for us on Saturday. The squirrels thanked her for it and ate most of the acorns, so I refreshed her heart and filled it with a rose and nasturtiums and more marigolds. We pass our mothering back and forth like this, pass our time together and apart with these young people in our arms, needing rides, needing counsel, needing lunch and together, we make it happen with room to doodle, to discover and to know each other deeply.

So I see you Ursula, across the table from me, I see your hands chopping tomatoes or parsley, I see you holding the nearest child’s cheeks in your hands and loving with that big heart of yours. I am so happy to know there is a spot for me there.

Who knew our hearts could grow this big?

I am blessed beyond measure.
xo S

3 Favorite Frames of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.

Margaret, Amy and Gabrielle at Out of the Mouths of Babes March 1, 2013

Before April arrives in her muddy boots I must savor a few more moments of Out of the Mouths of Babes An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others on March 1. As I write, I am listening to a recording of the event and the sounds I love the most, above Michelle, Janet, Jenny, Nichole and Alana’s reading voices are the sounds of the audience- laughing, gasping, groaning in recognition of the truths revealed in the beautiful writing we heard that night. The audience warmly embraced all the readers, singer Stephanie Campbell and special guest Susan Engel.

I appreciate every single person who attended March 1. Thank you.

The Front Row listens
My dear Michealena and Cheri at Out of the Mouths of Babes
Audience at Out March 2013

I rented Dewey Historical Hall for our evening in the heart of Sheffield, MA. I love the feeling of a town meeting, all the wood and plaster walls. Like the church basement kitchens I grew up in, the coffee mugs were so clean and neatly organized on easy-to-slide-out-of-cupboards trays. It was a joy to produce this event at Dewey Hall and I felt the common ground of our missions. Dewey Hall ‘s mission is to “promote intelligence and cheerfulness for all” and mine is “to see and celebrate the sacred in daily living, to create venues for the stories of women to be heard and celebrated, particularly the stories of mothers”. We are a good match, Dewey Hall and Laundry Line Divine.

Thank you Dewey Historical Hall. What a lovely place.

Coffee mugs
Dewey Hall

Lastly, I loved how people bought copies of the anthology and read it right there in the hall. We sold the book at intermission and by the end of the evening two people won signed copies. Just like the satisfaction gained from grins of pleasure from the people who enjoy a meal I have made, watching readers dive in to the anthology held the same feeling for me. You get to dive in to the stories of a wide variety of women with different takes on a creative life. Tears and laughter abound. I have so enjoyed hearing responses from readers like Barbara Aycock of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina who said:

I love your book & would love to purchase 5 or more copies for women I know & love. There is a wonderful & powerful voice heard in each of the writings & I found myself underlining, writing notes in the margins, & turning back page corners as I read. It is a wonderful gift, & I am deeply grateful.

Gentle reader

Thank you readers and thank you Barbara!

As I leave you this evening, I must tell you a few things.

1. The Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series will continue with full and lusty posts from Anthology authors and new writers to LLD. Today we have a gorgeous post from Stacey Mattraw, of Portland, Oregon and Cortona, Italy. Stacey will be visiting me here in the Berkshires in early April and I cannot wait to make some art with her. Here is her post.

2. The Powder Keg Sessions writing workshops for mothers and others will continue on in April through June. If you aren’t in the Berkshires but would like to dip your quills and write, consider joining me at the International Women’s Writing Guild
Big Apple conference on April 13-14 in New York City. Here is where you can learn more about Powder Keg and see some of our doodles and writing.

I hope your holiday Holy Day weekend is filled with time to read, to cook, to walk, to look across the table at your life mates and offer a few moments of gratitude for their good company.

Here is joy from my heart to yours,


P.S. Several people have asked to read the piece I read on March 1 titled My Oshitashi Boy about life in the kitchen with my son…who is just now learning about which colleges he is being accepted in to. I will include it in the blog series next week. xo S

Mothers and Emerson

#wool #yarn from #Maine washed in the #ocean . NYS Sheep and Wool Fair. XoS

I am in an Emerson mood these days.

Then I read this quote of his in a 1904 book, Forty Thousand Quotations, gifted me by my pal Sarah:

Men are what their mothers made them.


No wonder we are so busy.
All these boys to tend.
All these girls to be role models for.

Then there is the laundry.

I am okay with that.
Truly, I’d love about 32 more hours in the day so I could have a long ramp up in to hours of studio time along with a few hours to knit, take a long honking walk and write a few letters.

But, this week, of the hurricane and helping my kids with their life projects- navigating rumors, an early decision college application, lunch bags left in the library for 5 days and that means my thermos is AWOL…these things take time and energy.

And, I know that the attention I pour in to my children, even now when they are teens and can go for hours with out my reminding them to drink water or pick up their socks, I know my attention adds value to their decision making. I know my attention guides them through rocky patches. I know my attention propels them forward, if away from me, it is only because they have come through me that they can grow on with such courage and strength.

Their integrity comes from their Dad. He is a gem of unblemished beauty. And he will be traveling to Ohio to be part of a team of lawyers tending the voting stations in a state that needs support from ‘mature lawyers’. Go team!

How about you?
Are you what your mother made you?
Man or woman, I believe we are composed of aspects of our parents, impressions made from years of hands held, cheeks pressed one to another, the scent of the others’ breath in our nostrils as we exit an embrace.

My mother poured her enthusiasm in to me, full volume.
My dad, hmmmm….he died when he is the age I just turned…and so, I have less of awareness of his impression, except curiosity perhaps. I long to know him as an adult, but that was not our story this time around. He was a dear heart.



Tell me something of the impressions your parents made upon you.
Not your whole life story, just one or two things.
Let us celebrate those gifts this weekend. Your comments are spots of sunshine in the dappled days of fall. Please shine on here!

Working on #plumjam and thinking of #press in #northadams. #gettingthereiseasy is a delicious  #artexhibit.

All my love,

Independence Approach #12 Mothers and Pittsfield Artswalk 2012

Riding the waves of a hot Friday.

I am paused between fertilizing the tomatoes, a basket of whites waiting to be hung up and thinking about what I will read tonight at the open mic Living Room session in Great Barrington.

My town is full of sweet things, fresh strawberries and game people up to experiment with taking our art to the streets.

Now it is fruit salad. 100% Berkshire & Columbia county produce. #berkshires #laundrylinedivine #lifeingbma

I woke up early and realized that my art is in four locations today.
If you are near any of them, please visit.
And, if you’d like to know what it all looks like, pop over to my Face book page where I will be posting photos of this evening’s activity.


Today in Lynn, MA, my ‘The Secret and How to Tell It” Sketchbook is in the ArtHouse Coop/ Brooklyn Art Library exhibit at the Lynn Arts Center. The show is up there for the weekend. Details here.



Miranda Hersey Helin’s e-book, “A Creative Mother’s Guide”  has  wonderful creative practice suggestions and a short interview piece about me and with 12 other artist moms. You can check that out here.

Tonight, I will be at the Alchemy Initiative’s Pop-Up Gallery exhibit of mobile shot- Instagram photographs on the theme of independence. Five of my photos are in the exhibit which is all part of Pittsfield’s ArtsWalk. Here is information.

And, then at 8, I will be part of a bunch of people reading in outdoors in Pooja Roo and Gabrielle Senza’s Living Room Theatre. Here is a map. Come if you can.

I am completely grateful for the opportunity to share my work in the world.
I leave you in the capable and graceful hands of Mary Oliver and her poem Messenger, published in the collection Thirst in 2006.


My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

~ Mary Oliver ~

(Thirst, 2006)



Have a fire fly night,

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