Wednesday, July 18, 2012

She's a Regular Balabusta

Summer in the mid-section has been hot, dry, and a little oppressive. Other than a few wild thunderstorms, there has not been much to distinguish one day from the next. The garden mostly languishes without my tender care. A squirt of water is all I can manage. I try to keep the back yard fountain full and flowing for the sake of the birds, but I've spent little time lately tending the beds, enjoying our gazebo, or even cutting bouquets for the house.  The basil plants are liking the weather (at least the ones whose pots are hooked to the automatic watering system), and I need to set aside an hour for turning them into my favorite condiment, pesto.

The last time I picked flowers for the gazebo was in late June. After the vase blew over in four storms in three days, i decided to give up. Maybe it's safe to try again.

One plant that thrives in the heat is this gorgeous portulaca. The "snowball" bush behind it got decimated in the storms. Happens every July, and yet we love it!
I've even given up a standing invitation for water aerobics and/or "noodle" floating in a friend's pool. The first time I did that I wrenched my back from walking backward in the water, and got a rash from the sun. The second time, I got a headache and nausea from too much bobbing. I figure I am not cut out for water action. Instead I have been spending hours curled up in quiet concentration on the couch stitching my reverse applique projects, or at my dining room table, craft knife in hand, carefully cutting stencil after stencil. For the first time in many a summer, I wouldn't dare question the absolute need for air conditioning to keep me sane and productive.

One of the finely detailed stencils I have been cutting. This one is a template for ribbon embroidery.
Beside my obsession with balancing input (food) and output (exercise) "points" and weighing in at my weekly Weight Watcher's meeting, I am lately taken with the back-to-basics desire to simplify my expectations of what life is all about. Maybe the dieting has focused me unnaturally on food and clothing, but there has been a sort of "aha!" return to what is (and has always really been) important to me. While my human relationships with family and friends seem to grow more complicated and distant with the passing years, my relationship with my own life seems to find clarity and ease itself into something I can understand and hold in my hand. There is definitely less regret and longing, and more "just living". I worry less about making my mark or fitting anyone else's expectations of me and surrender to the day. Every day seems to be a new adventure, full of promise, even when the list of activities involves the most mundane of "housewife" activities of cooking, laundry, personal care, or sewing alterations.

Every Saturday (and sometimes Fridays, too) is coffee date with Dave at Starbucks. Lately, less drawing and more doodle journaling is going on. One week the heat made me "prickly", the next we got to try some great new cooling beverages. Like the "Where's Waldo" puzzles, Dave is usually somewhere in the doodle.

The other day as I was pulling a beauteous but simple dessert pudding from the oven, admiring its pockets of bubbling red berry juice amidst the golden dome, a long forgotten word came to mind: balabusta! You, Cheryl, are a balabusta! In case you are sitting there with a perplexed look on your face, this is a Yiddish term often overheard in conversations of my youth, from my mother or grandmother, while commenting on some woman of their acquaintance. It hadn't been a part of my life for so many years that I felt the need to do a little Wiki research. The written definitions and oral explanations on this resource page confirmed my thoughts: this term, basically meaning the female head of house (and there is a male counterpart) is meant, then and now, with no facetiousness or irony, as genuine praise for homemaking well done.

Both clafouti are baked puddings with fruit, eggs, dairy and flour. The top one is made from milk with mostly cherries and some berries. The bottom one gets a slightly different texture from yogurt as the dairy, and mostly strawberries. They are low fat, not too sweet and taste great when reheated slightly. A dash of cream on top never hurts.

Since childhood, cooking, sewing decorating, and entertaining--these have always come easily and added pleasure to my life. But in the late sixties and beyond as I came through college, a first marriage, and the work world, we were fighting to be liberated from gender defined roles and given the choice to have careers outside this "limited" scope of expertise. I felted less inclined at that time to make this my calling, even though I loved those things so well. Now, twenty years after retiring early from a brief teaching career, I realize this was my best career choice after all.

Two views of my first Alabama Chanin garment that is made with a complex cloth. This is stencilled, then reverse appliqued. As a poncho with one point, it can be worn front, back, or side for a variety of looks.

Another stencil design currently being worked in reverse applique to make a tied wrap. The bottom layer that shows through the cuts will be black.

The progression from stenciled to finished took about two weeks.

So with a life partner who joined me at those crossroad years, who is both indulgent and appreciative of my "Martha (Stewart)" tendencies, I am finally settling into who I really enjoy being. This "love of my life" who has had to put up with a steel mill career for most of his life, comes home from a hot, dirty, chaotic day, and puts up with my current dual obsessions of Weight Watchers and Alabama Chanin, never says an unkind word, and actually encourages and helps me with my goals in both. He recently bought me an air brush and compressor to paint my stenciled designs on cloth, and even takes patterns to work to enlarge for tracing.

 Most days, even though he has been out in the oppressive heat all day, he still comes home looking forward to a walk after dinner. So we do, and this has kept me on my exercise track, when alone, I would have made excuses. And then we come back to our very pleasant front deck, have a beverage and cool down as the sun casts lengthening shadows, and sinks to a cooler place in the sky. And some nights, after we return to our air conditioned oasis, I proffer a slice of that golden fruit clafouti with a bit of cream on top.

So, am I still striving to become an "artist"? Yes, I am still studying and exploring and practicing in different media. I am letting my imagination wander, I am not taking any of it more seriously than it deserves. I have no real expectations of starting a new career or looking for glory. But "balabusta"--that role in life I joyfully hold in my heart.


  1. I love the word balabusta. It has caharacter. I love the alliteration and robustness. I will add it to my list of favourite words. Your clafouti looks delicious, as does your Alabama Chanin wardrobe. What a joy to have a supporting partner who buys you an airbrush when you need one! I enjoyed your musings and the peep into your daily life.

    1. Thanks, Annika. I love the sound of it too! So many Yiddish words come from that place of meaning and history that adds a whole other level of character to their use. Chutzpah is one those. It has to be pronounced like you are clearing your throat, and those who have it live on the border between having strength of character, and being over-the-top in-your-face nervy.

  2. Cheryl, my dear... it's time to own up to what you are... an artist! A real artist! Noone else could create the things you do! I wish you the best of luck as you continue to discover exactly what kind of artist you are... it's one of the greatest joys of being an artist and a journey we're all on! I hope his encourages you.. you are awesome! I also just started following you and would love it if you'd follow me too!

  3. Great post, something I needed to hear.
    Your clafouti looks wonderful, bet it tastes even better than it looks. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, photos of your gorgeous flowers and fabric, and those stencils are amazing.

  4. Love your Alabama Chanin... and your stencils... just fabulous, Cheryl!

  5. Hi, Cheryl. Your poncho is simply stunning--the cloth is so elegant and distinctive. My garden is suffering from the heat as well while I'm simply glued to the AC. OK, one can stitch without working up too much of a sweat, right?
    best, nadia

  6. I share your heat-centered days, worry about my garden, gratitude for AC (which, normally, I hate...)... You sound like a person who has landed somewhere... and continues to stay centered with her activities. Thanks for describing where you're at in such detail, and for giving me a window in.

  7. Oh wow Cheryl : a real Alabama Chanin ??? Yes you're a true balabusta to me when I see that (ánd the dessert ;-) !) In fact I thought "Alabama" when I saw that first picture of the stencil cutting .... ;-)