Creativity by the Lake


A few days ago, five women were lucky enough to spend 24 hours together at Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire at one of our group's family summer cottage right on the shore.  Lizi Boyd, our host, is an acclaimed illustrator and children's book author.  Her cottage is made up of two small buildings joined by a narrow outdoor porch. Lizi's studio is in one of the buildings with floor to ceiling windows facing the ferns and woods on one side and the lake and islands on the other.  Her organized, beautiful materials, her spacious tables and work in progress were an inspiration to all of us.  Each of the other four of us has a creative practice at the center of our of us is a gallery owner, one a home store owner, costume designer and quilter, one an early childhood educator, and one an educator/author.  

We met at the lake to revel in water, sun, leisure, good food, laughter and delight in one another's company, not necessarily to think about creativity.  But creative we were.  In this recent post, I ended by wishing us all a creative summer in whatever we engage in every day such as arranging flowers, creating occasions, cooking.  What I want to talk about now is making a salad...yes, a salad, at our Lake Sunapee gathering. 


I brought a cooler bag with fresh, local greens, small, plump, heirloom tomatoes in shades of deep red and purple, and small carrots from the Middlebury Farmer's Market.  Lizi had picked up a bunch of small red onions.  I washed and dried the lettuce and Anni began to put together a salad for lunch in a generous hand made wooden bowl.  First the lettuces, then the tomatoes cut in chunks, then the carrots julienned and placed on top.  And finally, the red onion scallions cut into skinny strips placed on a diagonal on top of the carrots.  

Lizi made the dressing. Olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, salt and pepper and a crushed garlic clove.  She asked Anni to taste it.  Dipping her little finger in the jar and tasting, Anni said, "Perfect, that is perfect."  

Anni swirled the dressing onto the beautiful composition of salad and I asked if I should toss it. Anni replied, "I have never been much of a tosser."  So, the salad remained in its original form for all of us to admire and also to taste as the dressing dripped itself around the different vegetables. 

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We enjoyed a simple lunch of this salad, good bread and cheese and, yes, juice glasses of rose' outside tucked between the studio and the lake, in the shade, wet and cool from a pre lunch swim in the absolutely clear lake waters.  

This simple salad making has stayed in my mind ever since...during our talks about sense of place and visual arts and community on our drive home in the rain...during my morning meditation, and while I put together a salad for last night's dinner at home in Middlebury.  Why? It made me think of the little book, Beautiful and Yummy, written, illustrated and edited by first and second grade students at the College School in St. Louis during my last year there ten years ago. The little book is all about basil planting and harvesting, cooking and learning.  I feel our salad sharing was all about beautiful and yummy too.  Beautiful ingredients, shared knowledge and ways of making things of value, pleasure in sharing delicious food and conversations that matter.  

I thought of the Italians I knew at Plum Village in France when we were there as a family with Thich Naht Hanh.  When Francesca, one of the cooks, was boiling pasta for the whole group of families there, the only people who she would trust to confirm that the pasta was done and al dente were Italians. Something about shared knowledge and experience to recognize and discern quality.  I saw this in Lizi asking Anni to taste the dressing.  Dressing! Simple ingredients paired in a casual way, to be just right.  Turns out, we need each other to learn, to help, to give feedback, to validate our work.

The experience reminded me of how  Ken Robinson describes creativity as making things of value.  We made a beautiful salad and we made a beautiful occasion and it was so simple.  Simplicity seemed to be at the center of it all.  

What did I learn? I will build salads now, rather than throw them together.  I will make dressing differently.  I will strive not to toss the salad, but offer it and enjoy it in a whole new way.  I learned again what I have known for a long time...good, fresh, local ingredients make nutritious, delicious, beautiful simple meals.  Likewise, good quality materials and beautiful ones, offered to children and adults with time and a measure of context and structure, yield wonderful results. 

On the walls of Lizi's studio are many fanciful creatures in wood, painted with acrylic paint.  She told me that her son, Tim, had made them when he was very young.  "He had an eye for how to work with wood and make very simple creatures.  I would just find the wood scrapes for him, good hard wood from a local business.  And then, he was off.  You have to give children good materials.  I go crazy when we keep giving children low grade colored pencils, for example." 


Now, I have a new idea for our two weeks with our grand children in August and early September. Good wood scrapes, wood glue, and paint.  Now Asher's dragon might become a sculpture in wood.  From a mother to a grandmother, from one medium to another.  Learning as we go, new ideas, new approaches, sparks, add on to our way of living and being in the world...bit by bit, piece by piece..making a new whole. 

As we left, I wanted to sing a song with these women that I learned in May.  Very simple, written by a teen girl who was having a challenging time of life.  I hesitated but I share it with you now.  It is for all of us, everywhere.  

Round and round we go, 

And hold each other's hands

And weave ourselves in a circle.

The day is done. 

The dance goes on.