|Ramon and Carolyn Lara have a lot to teach about the art of living.|
My mom, Carolyn, is an amazing chef who made a career of turning small town tavern food into something special, sneaking in a little more flavor, a little more nutrition, and a little less of the bad stuff, without anyone knowing what she was up to. She tested on us kids first, I suspect, so she knew just how much health food she could get away with, before some cowboy caught on. When she wasn't cooking at work, she taught us kids cooking from scratch, which began with digging up about 1/4 of a city block of crabgrass to plant a garden. We know where our food comes from, what it takes to get it to the table, and how to make it taste good enough to justify all the work, thanks to her.
|Hey, that's my Dad and Mom (Ramon and Carolyn Lara) on the cover! Photographer S. John Collins could not have captured them any more perfectly than this.|
My dad, Ramon, when not out working in the woods, was right there with her on this, presenting a united front in parental child labor enforcement, and torture by Brussels sprouts, but while Mom specializes in the fine art of food, dad is the d-i-y guy with a twist. My Dad taught me how to expertly wrap a present, tied with a perfect bow, when I was about ten, which was the same year he taught me how to roof the house with cedar shakes. He's all about integrity, inside and out, so whatever he builds, whatever he does, it's strong and well-planned, as well as beautiful.
My folks and I are very different in our aesthetics. Dad builds things with wood in a clean Danish Modern sort of a style that shows off the grain, while I (influenced by early exposure to thrift shops and antique stores by my mom...was my first word patina?), I build things from recycled furniture and paint and gild them to the max. While Mom likes a traditional American country sort of a look, though, I'm more likely to gravitate toward European influences. Thus, their influence on my artwork is more an ingrained way of living, doing, making, and being, than an aesthetic.
It's about knowing that the details, even the ones that don't show, do matter. The flavor of the soup Mom makes depends on how folks cared for the garden that produced the vegetables, how she seasoned the stock, and how much wine and conversation is flowing in the kitchen, while she's cooking. I stir up projects the same way Mama taught me to cook, with my senses wide open, testing possibilities, following whims, letting others add their bit of flavor, and never forgetting that love is the most important ingredient.
It's about having the patience and vision to follow an idea from "Well, how do I fix this crumbling corner of the foundation?" to "We built a new master suite on this side of the house, to suit our needs as we age." This project of Dad's explains where I get my tendency to "wander off through the brambles, when there were plenty of berries by the path". The foundation repair that became a wing on the house has vaulted ceilings, a mosaic stone tile floor, and a passive solar wall of beautiful stone. It also has a water feature aspect to the stone wall that didn't quite work, so it's under reconsideration, but that's inspiring, too.
Artists aren't afraid of trying what hasn't been done. It's not a question of if it will work, but how to get it to work, and that's just a matter of playing with it, working on it, studying about it, moodling and doodling through it, and if I got this part of the lesson right, the occasional artful application of the perfect blend of swear words, at just the right moment.
These days, they are enjoying their retirement, pretty much working full-time as volunteers on a number of committees and projects. Baker City, Oregon, surrounded by beautifully reforested mountainsides, has a beautifully preserved historic downtown, a community art center, a farmer's market, a food co-op, and countless other amenities that can trace their existence or continuance in some significant way to the work, vision, cooperation, participation or leadership of these two. So then, the most valuable inspiration I've gotten from them? I think that would have to be the fine art of citizenship.
Happy Birthday, Papa Bear! Thanks for showing me how it's done. Both of you are an inspiration to so many of us. Love you BIG.