Dear friends, a nonprofit that I follow closely was recently presented with a startling need: 1300 Syrian refugee families living in homes with no heat, no mattresses, no blankets.
A big part of my winter life in Vermont revolves around blankets. I spend every single evening tucking our two youngest girls under blankets–draping the blanket just over that invisible line across their shoulders, straightening the lines, running the tips of my fingers over the folds. We have plug-in heated blankets piled on couches, waiting for someone to snuggle under them. The girls have large bedspread blankets that they consider their favorites and often drag downstairs to setup the boundaries of a game, or their space for an afternoon. And then there is the three layer cake approach that I like to keep on our bed: a lightweight quilt, then a wool blanket layer, and then a fluffy down comforter layer on top.
This nonprofit, Partners Relief & Development, is one of those small-team, rapid-action, quick to the disaster operators. I always have the feeling that once my money is deposited with them it is immediately withdrawn to purchase a bag of food or give a reusable feminine hygiene kit to a woman anticipating her next period that very day.
By their estimate, $35 will buy enough blankets and mattresses for one family of five. And another $35 can buy a diesel heater to heat their space. The temperatures where these families are in Northern Syria is very similar to Vermont right now: 30s and 40s.
This photo was taken by my friend Ashleigh Coleman. I have an Advent meditation and series of photographs by her to share with you below. She and I want to direct energies toward getting these families supplies to keep them warm. The sooner, the warmer! To that end, Ashleigh will send a 5×5 print of this photograph^^ to anyone who donates to Partners Relief’s blankets campaign.
To receive a photograph in the mail, email a screenshot of your donation (you’ll receive an email receipt shortly after you donate) and include your mailing address to me at rachael.ringenberg(AT)gmail(DOT)com. Or, if you have a google account, upload a screenshot of your donation and share your mailing address with me right here. For the sake of matriarchal holiday sanity and to give the USPS any break we can, these prints will be mailed in January. If you don’t need a print, but would like to have your donation noted in our collective whole, you are still welcome to share your donation receipt with us.
And now, for Ashleigh’s mediation on Mississippi monarchs and Advent, accompanied by 17 images from her lockdown this spring:
This is not your typical advent reflection. This is not our typical year.
Anticipation and waiting mark this season. But every day since March has been a practice in waiting for answers, in anticipating life returning to normal. So maybe this is a traditional reflection, but instead of holly and lights, I’m meditating on raising Monarchs.
During March and lockdown, we began walking almost daily. It gave us a combination of burning off anxiety for me and freeing energy for the children. It also unexpectedly became a tether to hope. These encounters with the wonders of the natural world reminded me to holdfast to what I know is true and good.
One late afternoon, the sun low on the horizon, we saw a lone monarch lilting across the top of the meadow grasses. Having visited Rachael and Joe the previous summer and seeing their monarchs, I immediately looked more closely at what was growing.
Milkweed. And 100s of tiny monarch caterpillars munching, unaware of the global disruptions. Thus began seven weeks of raising monarchs from microscopic eggs to instars to velvety fat caterpillars to shockingly colored butterflies on their way north.
It had been years since I was so obsessed. Each morning brought a new note in my journal on the changes in these miraculous insects. I prowled the fields. I watched. I waited. I squealed with delight when a chrysalis would form and then again when a monarch would emerge fourteen days later.
Now I keep the chrysalis husks hanging in my dining room— an ebenezer of anticipation. Waiting. Wonder.
Ashleigh Coleman is a Mississippi based photographer, and mother of three. Most recently her work has been featured in A Yellow Rose Project (click that link, it’s an incredible project!) and she was recently named a 2020 Southern Arts Southern Prize & Fellowship recipient.
I asked Nikaela Peters and Ashleigh Coleman if they would share photos of Advent here in December. I meant it as a ropey, generous, large theme: photos that make you think of Advent. They graciously agreed, and today I have Nikaela’s to share with you. Quietly personal but effusively in-love is how I think of Nikaela’s photography. (There are a few by her husband Thom here too.) The photography she shares on her blog often feature great blessing shafts of light, but these Advent photos are different, basking instead in the darkness, semi-darkness, and glowing dim that this season is for most of us in the North.
She shared these photos and then I wrote some thoughts to go alongside them, below. Thank you Nikaela! and I hope you all enjoy.
I’m not sure what it is but lately, I find photography of childhood compulsive. There are several photographers and blogs that I follow only for their incredible ability to capture the exquisitely, painfully, fleeting moments of growing up. Most of them are women. Most of them are mothers. In the same way that a cup of coffee with a friend amid the chaos of your children running each other over with scooters around the kitchen table, these images seem to put their arms around me and say “me too. I see it too.”
One of these photographers is Ashleigh Coleman: three babies, two cats, and a husband in rural Mississippi. I feel lucky to share these photographs from Ashleigh as well as an insight into her feelings as a mother behind the lens. Her talent reminds me of the art-science demand of architecture: the skill to manage light and dynamic, the patience to let the story arrive, and the craft to invite grace into the moment.
I have many favorites among these images, captured on a medium format Hasselblad camera, I’m sure you’ll find yours as well.
From Ashleigh: For whatever reason, I internalized a model of ideal womanhood as one blissfully fulfilled by responsibilities as a mother. She bakes cookies. Decorates winsomely for all holidays. Plans elaborate homemade birthday parties. Spends hours playing games.
So what if I thought that was the type of woman I would be? Only to discover I am not.
The reality is that everyday mishaps feel shocking. Noise threatens to unglue. Baking rarely occurs. I am terrified of being used up, of losing myself, of not having coherent adult thoughts on world issues, whatever that even means.
Yet. Yet. These are my people. Here. In front of me. Now.
In this short—so older people tell me—intense season of life, one thing I ponder is how easy it is to view children as a herd—hooves always tromping, voices articulating, bodies gesticulating. Mercifully, meditatively, using medium format film gives me room to see the vistas, the light; maybe not in that exact second, but a month or two later, when I look at the scans. It allows me to see individuals with burgeoning strengths and foibles and independent thoughts.
My internal landscape also quiets when I am aware, simultaneously, of the chaos and the reality that this scene is fleeting. They are growing, daily; a fact that shuffles into the background during the monotony of redundant days. When I pause to compose a photograph, in that stillness, before the shutter is released, much need perspective charges into the horizon. Humor arrives.
1. Moon postcard from our hotel in Marfa, TX.
2. 1pm nap is still so important for this two year old.
3. My friend Johanna gave me some lovely washi tapes. It’s such a fun supply.
4. After I took this photo I noticed the clever thumbprint placement of FRANCE.
5. Portrait of a coldbrew popsicle at naptime.
6. Giant silver UX balloons brought home after a Wistia party, to the girls’ daylong delight.
7. Whole Foods dough with plenty of food-processor-shredded mozzarella.
8. Sorted supplies.
9. Dress-up bin, in a new spot, getting lots of attention.
10. Pastels are a special treat reserved for supervised time. Love their bright blending possibility.
I was so astounded by Sally Mann’s essay in the newspaper on Sunday. It seemed to touch on everything important–family, art, modernity, privacy. I loved that it arced back to when she published a book of family photographs in 1992, and then detailed forward to now, revealing so much about her experience. The act of publishing intimate details of one’s family life is dramatically more common now than it was then. But we’re all still wondering whether it’s a good idea, and if not, why?
Much of her experience circles around the simple fact of her children being naked and her photographing them that way. It beamed across the pages to me, as these days I am hard pressed to get the girls to put on more than underwear. I struggle to take photos of them that aren’t too revealing, and it feels over-censored to me, much of the time.
It was about presenting art and love to the world and getting a very mixed response.
And it was so beautifully written. I’m still thinking her writing about photographing her husband:
To be able to take my pictures, I have to look, all the time, at the people and places I care about. And I must do so with both ardor and cool appraisal, with the passions of the eye and the heart, but in that ardent heart there must also be a splinter of ice.
And so it was with fire and ice that Larry and I made these pictures: exploring what it means to grow older, to let sunshine fall voluptuously on a still-pleasing form, to spend quiet winter afternoons together. The studio’s wood stove was insufficient but he had two fingers of bourbon to warm him. No phone, no kids, NPR turned low, the smell of chemicals, the two of us still in love, still at the work of making pictures that we hope will matter.
Call me a scrapbooker but I want to post my Maid of Honor speech for my sister. It’s such a wild honor to get to speak at your sister’s wedding. Sort of bizarre, no? Why do we hear from a random person and not the bride? Why do the new in-laws have to hear from a wandering relative when they want to get to know the lady herself?
Well, because I know the lady herself better than she does. And it’s not a funeral is it? I’ll see her again. But really, it’s one of the few chances you get to publicly say how much you love someone. We don’t toast enough these days.
Of course I was all sorts of anxious before this. I love public speaking, not that I do it anymore (miss you, college!). But it’s a boat of a different sort when you’re totally adrift on a sea of confusing emotion–elated for love, sad for the past behind, proud of her, overwhelmed by the power of 100 humans you love being in one room. I was nervous and not eating my food, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my moment coming just after the second course, crying when it came anyway. I felt the weight of all my siblings when I wrote it. My brothers didn’t get a speech, after all.
anyway, here it is…..
For much of her life Joanie has been an outlier. And I mean that in the flattering, Malcolm Gladwell sense of the word. At the youngest age of anyone in my family, Joanie thanked my mom for her good work and bid adieu to homeschooling. Later, after trying out school for a bit, she realized our putzy Michigan high school wasn’t up to her standards she found a school in the Bahamas instead. She was the first one in my family to pick California for college and to declare she always wanted to live here. Now that I’ve brought my family our from boston and spent a week here, I think she might be the first one who has truly seen the light.
Although this isn’t an award my family actually gives out, she would win most frequent communicator. Despite the long distance, she is an outlier within my siblings for how often she calls and keeps up with my parents.
She has always been pretanaturally stylish. It feels like for years she and I were picking out clothes alongside each other. Then suddenly she began selecting the things that looked crazy in the store and one week later became elegant and cool. She is fearless in the face of understanding a new trend. In the old saying you are only as strong as your strongest member, for my brothers and I, in our younger years we have only ever been as stylish as Joanie deigned to guide us to be. And she has always deigned to guide, I’ve never seen her down turn down someone’s request for help and advice with what to wear.
This city of angels is actually a city full of artists. These artist may feel valued, or probably instead often do not feel valued, or not even noticed until they’ve worked for a very long time. Living as they do in this city, I so admire the way Joanie and Cale value each other’s art and the hard work behind the art. I love that Joanie tries to get to a movie at least once a week with Cale and keeps up with his conversation about his passion. I love that Cale admires Joanie’s taste and thoughtful presentation of herself. Although….I think some of that support might have turned to concern when as a kind of modern day hope chest, Cale realized all those clothes are coming to a closet near him.
They can both talk to you at length about their favorite restaurants in the city and why they love them, or the very best pour over coffee, the coziest breakfast, their favorite walks to take together, until you get the feeling that they’d better go ahead and write a Happy Couple’s Guide to Los Angeles. These are good things in life they can share. These things also ebb and flow, as they said in their vows, for richer for poorer.
And that is why it is truly wonderful to notice that the things they value most in each other are kindness and sensitivity of each other’s hearts. They are givers, of actual physical gifts, but also of words and thoughtful observations. As I stand before so many already married people here, I know we can all speak to how incredible valuably these abilities are.
I speak for all of my siblings when I say Joanie, beautiful, talented, gracious Joanie is an incredibly vital part in our family. We take our cues from her in so many ways. We are so excited for Joanie to have find this matching soul, and I am delighted today to cheers this Union. To Joanie and Cale.
“On a good working day, working from nine o’clock in the morning to two or three in the afternoon, the most I can write is a short paragraph of four or five lines, which I usually tear up the next day.”-Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in an interview
I think perhaps this should be my mantra for the next year while Joe and I try to start a savings account.
Dave Eggers designed the poster for this year’s Telluride Film Festival, inspired by washed out summer colors and old Parks posters. I did not know Dave was a graphic designer before he was famous for a million other things, but it does explain why McSweeney’s publishing is always meticulously beautiful.
We’re not going, but I wish we were. Passes are $780 each, but you’ll see every cool new movie in one gorgeous weekend. Plusm a spot to find a great rental, if you’re going: Rosie Cusack Telluride Rentals!
1. I had my first conversation with a wonderful potential doula. She was thoughtful and wise and asked me some questions I hadn’t really thought through yet. Before the overview-ultrasound yesterday (in which they check for such essentials as two sides of the brain and heart) part of me was postponing planning for this baby. It seemed a little far fetched—really, another baby? Prove it. Now I have 12 black and white photos to prove it and I feel ready to engage.
2. This spring-like splash page on studiodeseo.com
3. This poem by Richard Brautigan:
I want your long blonde beauty
to be taught in high school,
so kids will learn that God
lives like music in the skin
and sounds like a sunshine harpsichord.
I want high school report cards
to look like this:
Playing with Gentle Glass Things A
Computer Magic A
Writing Letters to Those You Love A
Finding out about Fish A
Marcia’s Long Blonde Beauty A+!