Birch & Pine » a travel journal

A few weeks ago, I met up with a fellow photographer and blogger, Tiffany Mitchell, of the blog Offbeat + Inspired . Tiffany is based out of Lexington, Kentucky, and inhabits a seriously beautiful third-floor walk-up downtown. The entire place is just drenched in light from the near floor-to-ceiling windows, the wood plank floors are painted in this pale, worn mint and the thick, layered plaster walls are the perfect backdrop for Tiffany’s always spot-on food and fashion stills. Tiffany’s easy way of decorating with large-scale, showstopper pieces (think oversized, cozy couches flanking one of the apartment’s three fireplaces and a custom designed desk) keeps the apartment feeling open, inviting, and fresh. You’d think I was doing a post on Tiffany’s apartment…which come to think of it, isn’t a bad idea…

Tiffany invited me over to her apartment on a chilly fall morning, and we chatted about creativity, blogging, and photography as she created a spiced quickbread and skillet brown butter cake from the same pancake batter. I jumped at the chance to photograph her, her cozy kitchen, and her baked goods.  Prior to the shoot, while discussing my vision for our time together, I spoke with Tiffany about wanting to show her in the place she finds rest, the place that fuels her passion and creativity, to capture her working with her hands and the movements of succession as she went from one task to the next. I wanted her to get lost in this place so I could meet her in this place of tranquility and paint her honestly.

I was thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with Tiffany. She understands the patience it takes to create something beautiful, and didn’t rush me through shooting. She let me get my hands in on the styling, and when I suggested we use some pretty greens, she was all for throwing on her Birkenstocks and running me across the street to a rooftop herb garden where we picked rosemary and lavender and something else I can’t remember, and I styled the final shots with her. It was a learning experience as well as a photo shoot, and I truly enjoyed hearing Tiffany’s story behind her blog, her wildly successful, gorgeous Instagram account, and her heart towards creating and sharing. Her hope is to inspire others to find, discover, use, and share their own passions.

I am thankful to not only have met Tiffany, but for what she reminded me, just through hearing her words on the reasons she creates and shares. Closing my photography business last winter was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made. It hurt, it was terrifying, and it left me feeling lost. But my love for photography never wavered, my desire to share real, raw stories, my own or others’, yet I barely touched my camera for eight long months after closing up shop. In many respects, right now, I am relearning so much, as I am out of practice. I find myself frustrated with my shots, angry when in Lightroom, and wanting to chuck my camera across the room because I let it all go, losing so much in the process, wasting time and skill because I was busy feeling sorry for myself. Like a fool for thinking I was any good. But I’m still shooting, even if my shots aren’t exactly right yet, and I’m putting myself out there, even if it’s painful and tough to do.

Being given the opportunity to work with two of my favorite subjects on this shoot (people and food) did a world of good for me, and for that, I am so grateful to Tiffany. Thank you, friend!

And if you’re wondering how these treats tasted…yes, they were just as amazing as they look! The girl can bake. We had our share with rich, strong coffee at the table, and I ate every last buttery bite.

During the seemingly endless days of long distance dating, Ellen and I both loved our respective cities so much that we spent weekends showing one another around, dropping in at our favorite haunts. We had so many places and things we wanted to share with one another that we created a list, one for Lexington and one for Indianapolis. Yet as time went on, we easily crossed the Indianapolis items off the list, as Ellen spent far more weekends driving to see me than I was able to drive down to see her. I was still a single parent then, taking fifteen credit hours at university, and working a part-time job as well as photographing weddings for my fledgling photography business. Ellen had the ease of hopping in her truck with her pup, and barely even packing a bag, she’d hit the road after work on Fridays, speeding towards me so we could hug one another so fiercely it hurt.

We’ve now lived together for two years, and while we don’t live in Lexington, we’re still in Kentucky – and many of the things Ellen had on her list were not just in the city, but outdoorsy, rural points of interest. We abandoned the list for awhile, just enjoying that we were together and exploring our new town. Yet once we decided to travel full-time, we realized we needed to finish the list before we left. There is still so much to see here, and within an hour or two, we can be in an entirely different place. So last week, we rose early and set out to spend the day at Shaker Village, an extinct yet preserved Shaker community near the Kentucky River. We bought coffee on the way and listened to The Stray Birds, which seemed rather appropriate, after all, we were driving down the back roads of the Bluegrass.

We spent the day at Shakertown, staying near to close, even as the crowds thinned and returned to their cars in the parking lot, which seemed foreign and strange after spending the day walking amongst horse-drawn carts and oxen. Our sweet girl led the way, grasping her site map so tightly against the strong winds that coursed through the village, that by the end of the morning it was crumpled and ripped. The early autumn breezes were pushing on us all day, ripping fragile and dying leaves from their branches and depositing them on the gravel paths, swirling them dramatically around our boots. A particularly strong wind caught the edge of her map and then it was up, and like the mother that I am, I ran after it, knowing the devastation that would ensue if the map was lost to the wind. I scrambled across a field, hoping no one was watching this bumbling spectacle as I raced after the tumbling map, only to catch it, holding it up victoriously so our tiny daughter could be relieved of that breath she was holding in her cheeks, and the wind caught it again. I was off, running after a colorful and replaceable piece of paper, like a damn fool, and so terribly out of breath that I muttered angrily to myself about needing to exercise and stop eating so much cheese.

I was, of course, enamored with the kitchens and drying rooms, the storage cellars, the medicinal spaces. I was reminded again and again how simple, intentional living isn’t easy. That the life we are carving out for ourselves in the Airstream and then one day, building a small farmhouse and being entirely self-sustaining, will take work. Hard work. We have to learn, read, study, and then put our hands to the test. In many ways, I am thankful that we have decided to travel first, to make the transition from our consuming, on-grid, Starbucks life a little less shocking.

I spent the most time in the kitchens here, which are comprised of several rooms specific to different tasks. There was a deep brick oven, as well as multiple broad fireplaces for cooking, deep sink basins and heavy work surfaces. The tools were varied and often unidentifiable until reading the descriptive placards posted nearby. The implements were over-sized, as they were not just feeding small nuclear families, but the entire village. Thick wooden and iron colanders the size of modern-day sheet pans, wooden bowls the size of tabletops, carved wooden scoops and spoons and paddles and cast-iron everything. Thick, hearty ceramic jugs and bowls were shelved and scattered, yet despite the lack of relation to any present-day kitchen, I could see myself cooking here, learning new-to-me methods and returning to a time where cooking wasn’t about the ease or convenience, but it was diligent, dedicated to the necessary nourishment of hard-working bodies, keeping them able and strong.

We admired the cycle of work that took place here, the symbiotic relationship between the land, the animals, the people. The gardens and livestock that were carried to the kitchens, after many other hands tilled and planted and cared for and harvested, foraged for mushrooms, wild berries, chestnuts, fattened the calf, snapped the chicken’s neck. Their mantra, hands to work, hearts to God. I touched things I wasn’t supposed to touch, craving to touch what others had and eventually abandoned, and I wondered where the children of these people are now. Do they visit here, connecting with their history, needing to touch the worn tables and heavy plastered walls?

There was so much to take in, so much to see, that we didn’t even get to the trails and waterfalls on the property. We did frolick in a field filled with spiders and what-have-you, I’d rather not think about it and instead be thankful I didn’t notice because I was so happy, breathing in the perfection of the autumn day, the wide and pushy wind that whipped at our hair, the warm sun, the two people I love most with me, happy too, and we drove home the long way, down to the river, along it, and away from it, sleepy but still exhilarated from what we had learned, what we will carry with us, feeling more certain and sure about the life we want and are working toward.


Hands to work, hearts to God.

Shaker links:

The Shakers / Ken Burns, PBS

Shaker Village / Kentucky

Sabbathday Lake / Maine, only remaining working Shaker community

I just poured myself a cup of leftover coffee, meaning I took what has been sitting out since my beautiful Ellen made some early this morning before work, along with a bit I’d shoved into the fridge yesterday, and combined it all in the teapot and reheated it. No wasting here, I buy the good coffee (read: expensive). I am forcing myself to sit down and write, which sometimes seems a little less intimidating if I ease into it in this way, sort of hashing out my current circumstances. I want to write here – post within this space – but I am struggling with it, which, if you’ve read anything I’ve ever written or heard me speak, you probably know that this is a normal thing for me. I am very aware of my size in the universe, amongst all of these other humans and the very grandness of life itself, and I’m in an understanding with my own mediocrity and insignificance. I’m going to take a sip of coffee now, before I continue, because otherwise I will forget and all of that effort to heat the leftover coffee will have been a waste. I’m forever wondering about how my coffee is always so cold so quickly – what am I doing that is more important than sitting down with it? Enjoying and savoring it in its warmth, it’s general character of a thick blanket wrapped around my tongue.

We are doing something here, even if often it doesn’t seem like it. Tonight, when Ellen gets home from work – hopefully with a six-pack of our favorite local wheat because we’re celebrating liberation – we’ll be back in the Airstream. With tin snips. Last night we faced the inevitable that we didn’t want to admit. We’d shoved that damn floorboard up in the front after measuring and remeasuring and drawing three different lines on the board from our template that was off and we were so fucking pissed off and then – it fit perfectly. We sat on a crossbeam, counting down…three two one…slamming our feet into the board with as much synchronicity as we could muster, with her long legs reaching the board faster than my own, and kicked and kicked until that board was in place, the rounded beauty of our Louise girl’s front end looking exactly as it should and I smiled and stood on it and thought about the living that was going to take place on that piece of floor, the place where we’ll come together as a family and share meals, where we will read and sketch and talk and play, and then at night it will be our bed where we whisper things and talk in the way that parents do while our daughter sleeps just past the kitchen, in view of us.

The necessity of the tin snips were realized last night, when we began hacking into Louise’s belly after dark, the light of the porch, our phones, and one work lamp aiding us. We can’t bolt in our new and slightly glorious floor until we can reach the frame from underneath. This realization was upsetting and a bit daunting. I woke up last night sometime, after we’d quit our work and gone in to bed, in a bit of a panic…I’d been dreaming we’d cut into Louise and then the honest realization that we had was altogether overwhelming. We’d planned to replace the belly pan eventually anyway…but it’s just another step, another difficult task, another issue to tackle before we can get to the build. More demolition, more hacking, more of Louise’s history gone. More time spent, to be spent, and another weekend where we felt we’d gotten nowhere.

I am bursting, bursting with words right now but my coffee is making me jittery and my belly is empty and it’s three-thirty-five and I’ve truly had a waste of a day. However, I’m afraid to break from my writing, afraid because I’ve actually sat down and put words to something and what if I don’t finish this and post it?

I’m so ready to go. Yet I wait, Ellen waits, we work, we fight, we make up and make love, we drink, we eat, we shower, we love on our daughter, we keep living, because that’s what you do. You’re supposed to enjoy every second and not only look to the future, but that’s so damn difficult. We’re renovating an Airstream from 1957 and our house is on the market and we’re purging our belongings like crazy and trying to pay down debt because we’re planning for this other life…the one that we want, the one that’s still up in the air, the one that could begin any moment or maybe it won’t for another year or two. It’s hard to figure out this transition, because sometimes I wonder if it’s really a transition at all, or if it’s just another dream that’s dead before it even got started.

I need to go nourish myself, so I am going to go attempt an almond butter/oat/cacao smoothie of sorts and find some socks and moccasins for my chilled toes. Ellen leaves work soon and I can’t wait to see her. I love her deeply and feel so at peace and at home when I wrap myself around her middle, feeling her ribs through her soft shirt.

This beautiful human is Sarah. I absolutely love to photograph her, she’s at ease in front of my camera and moves with such freedom. We met on a late summer evening, at the private farm of a family friend and caught this gorgeous golden light, frolicked with horses (those images to come!), and danced to First Aid Kit (playing from my phone). I wish I could photograph Sarah every single day, she makes me want to pull out my camera. Her impeccable, brazen style alone would be enough, but then she’s got that gorgeous head of hair and wide, brilliant smile. She’s moving to France at the end of October, and I’m going to miss her. I wish I’d gotten to spend more time with her and get to know her better while she was still around Lexington. Bon voyage, Sarah!

I’m not sure how to post within this space. I haven’t written in a month, yet there are multiple unfinished musings, sitting miserably in my drafts folder.  I’ll be tapping out my thoughts when this huge wave of uncertainty slaps against me – hard.

Last summer, I was frolicking in the surge of the Pacific, daring myself to push out further, deeper, where the waves strengthen and engulf. I was bobbing up over them, diving below them, and I came up after one to only be smacked by a wave. I couldn’t see. My eyes had been open. Water filled my nose and mouth. I sputtered and felt disoriented, unsure of how far from the beach I’d come. I lost my footing and my fear of the deep and unknown was exuding itself through my shaking limbs. And just as quickly as I felt all of these things, they vanished as my vision cleared and I tread water. I turned around to see the beach, where Ellen and Adelaide were playing in the sea foam, on the edge of the earth. I felt near and far from them all at once, recognizing the interconnectedness of the shore and sea, yet there I was in the water and there they were, on land, sure-footed. I’ve started a great many things in my life that I’ve never finished. I feel I’m often treading in dark water, confusion and worry filling my heart. I let this fear and resistance overtake me. My arms begin to tire and I float for a minute before slipping away and letting go. I am often accused of being negative when I write like this, but please bear with me as I share my heart. Finding my footing, my voice, developing a brand – these things are difficult for me. Separating myself from those in my life that hold me in a certain space and define me based on my past and their own judgments – someone incapable of change or growth that is true and not fickle – gives way to a feeling that I must be defined and rigid, not fluid. Immediately. There is no room or time for honest development or change, because that would mean that I’m messy. That my life is messy. That I am volatile and flighty. So I remain stuck. Afraid. Desperate to begin yet terrified to not be perfect from the get-go. However capricious others may think me, I have to remind myself that I know my heart. I am capable of growing and changing. My preference is to succumb to the ebb and flow,  allow myself to be strengthened and expand the depths of my person. I cannot let others, my past, my mistakes – decide or limit me. So I’ll be here, writing. Releasing my work and thoughts to an undefined and public space. Giving myself to it, an honest account. Pushing out into the deep.

  • Jessica

    So happy you’re blogging again, Kate. Your thoughts are insightful, and your writing beautiful.ReplyCancel

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