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Heard on the Path: Why did you decide to move to Nubi?

Mary

“For a long time I have recognized that I had a set of values, but not a day-to-day context in which to live those values. I wanted my actions and behaviors to flow from my values. I’ve accomplished that goal within my family and myself, but I was looking to extend it into my life within a community. In the past, I’ve been disappointed that the way I’ve “lived” my values in the communities I lived in was by arguing about them, or through conflict with others. I moved to Nubi to align my values with my actions and behavior, and it has been a happy choice for me.”

Noel

“No single thing stands out as the reason we moved to Nubi—it was a perfect storm! We wanted a place to raise our kids in a way we felt good about. Our daughter was about to start Kindergarten and we weren’t crazy about the bureaucracy in the school she would’ve attended where we were living. Peterborough Elementary, by contrast, was welcoming and had a good balance of valuing the arts and academics. The Monadnock region in general offers lots of arts and culture, great outdoors enjoyment, and small town living. We were interested in farming and knowing where our food comes from. At Nubi we benefit from a group of people who share that interest and have land dedicated to farming. We wanted to live closely with others, share things, have our kids know all our neighbors and be able to venture outdoors with lots of independence. All that—plus the green construction, the beauty of the site, the river—together these all drew us here.”

Carol K.

“I was ready for a change when I decided to move to Nubi. My son had recently left home in Boston, my ailing aunt had recently died and my work was winding down. I had always wanted to live in a cohousing community, but the right one had never presented itself to me. One that was just starting up like Nubi, gave me the opportunity to participate from the outset. In addition, conserving energy and trying out small town living motivated me. (I’d always lived in urban areas.) Peterborough is a great match because of its commitment to the arts. Living a more robust lifestyle next to a farm, while being less than 2 hours from Boston suits me perfectly, as I am half city and half country loving by nature.”

Jim

“I love the immediate access to nature. Without getting in a car, I can be in the woods within two minutes.”

Real Estate – Values

With National Public Radio reporting that real estate is heating up even in mid-winter, inquiries through our website growing, and other good economic news, we’ve been reflecting on lessons learned from the recession and our hopes for the future.

Nubi kids enjoy the snow

People often ask us—as developers and as residents at Nubi—what it’s been like to finish this project at the point when the financial markets crashed. The answer is nuanced. Our experience has been very challenging and frustrating in some ways, but also has provided a long lesson in connecting and reconnecting with our values—with the reasons why we decided to pursue this project in the first place: to build high-quality, beautiful, energy-efficient homes, oriented in such a way to foster community, and preserving land for recreation, agriculture, and beauty.

Nubi homes in snow

While it may seem incongruous to talk about our “values” when discussing real estate and land use, one of our hopes for the future is that these realms move toward greater integration. Our culture has institutionalized disparate spheres of operation for our decisions. In the world of business, the “bottom-line” of short-term profit drives choices that we live with over the long term. We are interested in moving toward a more integrated, long-term, sustainable economic model, where considerations about people, the planet, and profit are all part of the equation.

In upcoming blog posts (and newsletter) this week, one of our neighbors has interviewed us about our experience developing Nubi and how we try to integrate our values into financial decision-making. We’ve also gathered information about local real estate and land use in the region. And, in Heard on the Path, we’ve asked neighbors why they moved to Nubi. We also have great news: a group of neighbors have purchased a two-bedroom home to rent to Farmer Todd (leaving only one Quad left for sale)! Finally, check out our events listing for the area, including our upcoming Open House Feb 3.

Warm regards, Sage & Richard

Heard on the Path: What are your strategies for making the holiday season manageable and meaningful?

Carol H.

“We don’t have a lot of “have-tos” for our holiday season, which helps us to focus on spending time together as a family. As a musician, I’ve always been so busy during the holiday season, up through Christmas eve, that I often couldn’t focus on our celebrations until afterwards. So, if the 25th happens to be celebrated on the 28th, it works for us. We try not to get too focused on details. We keep our tree simple and organize potluck meals. Now that our kids are grown, we all made the decision that we don’t give gifts to the older generations, just to the kids. Instead, I ask them to send us photos. We also try to give support to other groups in need. This year we are making a donation to an organization called LIFT, Lowell Iraqi Families in Transition.”

Kim & Ted

“Because we come from different traditions and celebrate Hanukah and Christmas, our challenge is to keep our holidays from getting chaotic and indulgent. We focus on appreciating our time together and on meaningful experiences. For example, I really love making latkes with the kids. While we exchange gifts, we try to keep it reasonable and secondary to a focus on relationships. This year, I’m working with Carol K. to expand the Hanukah menorah lighting tradition with the Nubi kids.”

Bridges

“With our children we wanted to keep the focus of the season on giving, which is what we believe is the real meaning of the holidays. From an early age, we encouraged them to plan ahead thinking about what other people would like to receive. We also emphasized the appreciation of the time that goes into hand-crafted gifts. They get as excited about the reactions of their recipients as they do about getting gifts themselves. In this vein, we split their allowance into part for them and part for a charity. They then save up and decide which charity to support – last year Lee chose a fund that had matching gifts for preserving snow leopards and Clara donated to a charity for Siberian tigers. In our neighborhood, we’ve adopted a tradition of “secret gnomes”, when we pick other neighbors at random and then give them small gifts over the course of a week.”

Suzy

“One of the most helpful strategies we developed as a family is to celebrate our fancy, sit-down holiday dinner in the late afternoon on Christmas eve. We’d all arrive for dinner with gifts wrapped and ready to celebrate. Then, on Christmas day, after our traditional waffle breakfast, we would set out a cold buffet of our favorite foods, including everything from goldfish crackers to cocktail shrimp! We all managed our own meals, and no one had to cook and serve on Christmas day. We found that it simplified our celebration.”

Five things I’ve learned in co-housing that have enriched my holidays

One of the great things about co-housing for me is that neighbors often compensate or fill in for gaps in my own interests and abilities. Consider, for example, that my 9-year-old daughter lacked a costume with just a couple days to go before Halloween. She didn’t even have a concept yet, let alone a functioning costume, and this weighed on me. I have to confess that I’ve never been a big Halloween fan in the first place; I like the idea of creating fun costumes, but buying plastic costumes and knocking on other people’s doors to ask for candy just irks me. Do we really need any more plastic or sugar in our lives?

Well, thanks to close relationships with our co-housing neighbors, my daughter got an idea from a good friend a few houses away—her friend suggested they dress up as two bags of jelly beans, and my daughter was enthusiastic about working out this costume idea with a buddy. The girls did ask for some adult help here and there but mostly they pulled it off themselves and had a ball in the process. Candy and plastic aside, I’m happy—I’ve advanced two goals in my life: facilitating my daughter’s developing independence and finding opportunities for synergy with neighbors and friends.

Co-housing can make finding these opportunities for synergy so much easier. Trite as it sounds, life is easier and happier when you share both burdens and joys, provided that is what you are seeking. So, for the holidays, here are five things I’ve learned from my neighbors about making it more fun, more interesting, more connected, and more meaningful.

Nubi outing club on a local hike in late fall

Go outside, even when the days are short and the temperatures drop.
Nothing changes restless energy like cold, fresh air. There are lots of things to notice in a late autumn landscape. At Nubi, we are lucky to have a pond which typically freezes in December. Ideally, we can fit in a little ice-skating before significant snow arrives. We watch the water freeze, first in tractor tracks on the fields, later in the pond. We drill and measure the ice, listen for cracking, and get out our skates.

Neighbors of all ages discuss Farmer Boy

Connect celebrations with your own interests and goals.
I love reading and music, so my favorite holiday traditions at Nubi are a book discussion group, a contra-dancing party, and the New Year’s day neighborhood house concert. It turns out that many neighbors share my interests.

Decorating gingerbread lanterns

Build traditions on local talent.
Instead of looking far afield for inspiration, focus close to home. One of our neighbors, a music teacher and pianist, organizes and acts as master of ceremonies for the annual neighborhood concert, with grace and humor. Another neighbor, a terrific baker and organizer, leads the neighborhood in an annual gingerbread construction project.

Connect food with activities.
While I love to eat as much as the next person, something about the excessive focus on eating around the holidays is depressing. I’ve noticed that by sidelining holiday treats to fun activities, some of that focus on food shifts away. We exchange secret gnome gifts with a side of hot cocoa and cookies.

Learn from other people’s rituals, religious and otherwise.
Rather than watering down rituals to develop traditions that work for everyone, invite and celebrate diversity. One of our neighbors invites the neighborhood kids to light candles on the 8 evenings of Hanukkah. Another invites a Kirtan group to meet in our Common House regularly. Another helps to organize a meditation labyrinth on New Year’s Day. Vive la difference!

Nubi Pig Club News & Holiday Recipes

When Ruth was an academic star at Princeton, U Michigan and MIT racking up degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering, classmates might have voted her many things, but person most likely to lead her neighborhood pig group is not one of them. Sometimes, however, smarts and perseverance are needed in unexpected roles.

For Ruth, the big engineering question became how to keep the pigs warm in the field in early spring as she worked with others to create hay bale enclosures and then lay awake all night worrying about her charges. Not since E. B. White’s Charlotte, has anyone cared quite so much about a young pig.

With about 16 households helping out, the piglets prospered and grew to become….pork! Like most families, Ruth loved having the opportunity “to learn without having all the responsibility,” and to be able to get away on frequent summer lake excursions.

Ruth's brother is impossible to find a gift for. Last year they learned he does happily accept the gift of a prettily wrapped pound of bacon.

A largely unknown fact about Ruth is that besides academic degrees, she has a culinary degree. About ten years ago she received a Culinary Certificate from The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. So when she renders lard for pie crust and makes pumpkin pie from one of the ubiquitous Nubi pumpkins, Clara and Lee don’t waste sentiment on bygone piglets, they just say “yum!”

Farm Fresh Pumpkin Pie, with heavy credits to Cooks Illustrated . . .

One pie crust (use your favorite all-butter crust but substitute leaf
lard from a pig)

2 c. pureed fresh pumpkin
1 c. packed d. brown sugar
2 t. ground ginger
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. grated nutmeg
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. salt
2/3 c. fresh cream
2/3 c. fresh milk
4 fresh eggs

Preheat oven to 400. Prick crust all over with a fork. Press a piece
of aluminum foil inside the shell, against the sides and up over the
edge. Prick the bottom again with a fork in several places.
Refrigerate crust for 30 minutes.

While crust is refrigerating, process pumpkin, sugar, and spices in a
food processor. Transfer mixture to a pot on the stove and cook over
medium-high heat until it comes to a simmer. Cook for several minutes
until it’s thick and shiny, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.

Put crust in the oven and bake 15 minutes, pressing down with oven
mitts on any bubbles. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes or so
until it just begins to brown. When it comes out of the oven, whisk
cream and milk into pumpkin and bring to a simmer. Process eggs in
food processor until mixed, then add hot pumpkin mixture to the eggs.
Pour hot filling into the pie crust (if there is extra filling, you
can add it after about five minutes of baking). Bake until filling is
puffed, lightly cracked on the edges, and just jiggles in the center
when shaken, about 25 minutes. Cool on rack at least 1 hour.

Top with whipped cream.

Tom, another Nubi swineherd, rendering lard on the "Weber" grill

How to render lard;
Don’t do this inside! Tight houses are great for heat retention, but they’ll hold the porky smell a long, long time. Tom used a small pot on a charcoal grill and a fair amount of water to start his leaf lard melting. Ruth used an electric skillet, set it on low, and added no water.. Either way, chop the lard while semi frozen into 1”ish pieces. When the fat is fully rendered, strain through cheese cloth, use the delicious cracklings you have strained out as a snack or mixed with garlic for sumptuous garlic bread, and freeze the lard for up to a year.

Ever wonder why Stacey thinks it’s fun to run a 5K race over hilly terrain in her first trimester of pregnancy while pushing Cadel and Senja in the stroller. Stacey descends from sturdy Finnish stock. Her grandfather emigrated to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and worked as a coal miner.

While pasties (pronounced with a short a, not the same way as stripper gear) are Cornish in origin, they are part of her heritage because they became a common lunch pail dish for miners who heated them up over coal fires and ate them out of hand. The pork and vegetable filling goes in raw and the dough needs to be extra dry so it won’t get soggy during baking. One of the tests of the maker’s skill is how well the pasty holds together when you bite into it.

Cornish Pasties
Make a lard pie crust on the dry side. Divide it into 1 1/2 inch balls and refrigerate for an hour. Combine ground pork with finely chopped onion and rutabaga and potatoes. Season well with salt and pepper. Roll dough into thin rounds. Put a large scoop of meat mixture in center. Wet edges of dough and bring together to enclose meat. Crimp. Bake at 375 until dough is golden brown and filling has cooked through, about 45 minutes.

For New Years Day, Stacey adheres to her mother’s family’s German tradition of pork and sauerkraut. According to the extensive German community in Pennsylvania Dutch country, eating sauerkraut brings luck in the New Year.

Stacey organized all the field moves for pig club, as we tried to get the pigs on fresh ground at least weekly. This role devolved from super hands-on, to communications like “the pigs need to move Sunday, we’ll be away, have fun.” Stacey and Justin managed to be out of state for the last fateful pig move onto the live stock trailer, the one where Peter, Todd, Lono, Barbara and Jim spent two hours getting the last recalcitrant pig to join his brethern. Where was that stamina when we needed it most?

In South Carolina, the superstition about luck and particularly lucre clings to Hoppin’ John, a dish of black eyed peas, greens and bacon. Some traditionalists hide a large coin in the pot with extra luck for the one who gets served it.

Hoppin John
serves 10

1 lb. black eyed peas, soaked overnight
1 heaping c. bacon, small cubes or slices cut into 1/4″ rectangles
2 cup chopped onion
6 c. tender kale leaves
1 cup chopped cooked ham
salt to taste
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
6 cups cooked Carolina rice
a quarter coin, boiled to sanitize
1 c. chopped red onion
tabasco sauce

Drain black eyed peas and cook until tender over medium heat in water
to cover amply, about one hour. Drain reserving 1/2 c. liquid.
Cook bacon over medium heat in large saucepan until lightly browned.
Add onion and cook to soften.
Stir in black-eyed peas, kale, ham, reserved bean liquid, salt and
cayenne pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes; stir in rice and cook until
heated.
Serve Hoppin’ John hot with red onion and tabasco sauce on the side.

Piglets arrive at Nubi.

It has been Jim’s and my great luck to have Sarah, Craig and Callan (immediately joined by Fiona) move from SC to NH a year ago. They arrived with about two tons of hog breeding stock, and the pig club was lucky to get 5 Tamworth Chester White feeder pigs to start our enterprise.

At Nubi we are also super lucky that when our home grown resources dwindle, we can turn to their Mayfair Farm for sausage in about 13 varieties (so far) and more bacon. While a pig comes with plenty of chops, more bacon would be a great genetic improvement.

I will end this tribute to a great year of pig rearing with a salute to Peter. Peter rushes in to grill where angels fear to tread. With a few Caja de China videos under his belt, and armed with his usual array of kitchen gadgets, he surmounted the challenge of a pig too large to actually go in the box and pulled off 2012’s greatest feat of culinary wizardry. He nailed our roast pig, serving it fantastically crisp, done to the prefect degree and at the perfect moment to over 100 salivating guests. Watch our neighborhood video of the pig roast day.

Todd and Peter with roast pig.

Here’s what Peter will be making for family this holiday season, and we are soooo lucky he is going to test his recipe on us at a Sunday potluck.

Roast Boston Pork Butt aka Pulled Pork

Most recipes for brining pork use sugar; in a tip of the hat to Northern New England, replace the sugar with maple syrup. Another seasoning we reach for often, particularly in the fall, is cinnamon with apple, pumpkin, & squash. So, instead of garlic in the seasoning mix, use cinnamon instead. These ‘traditional’ fall recipes also often call for ginger. Instead, use black cardamon (a type of ginger) seeds, which impart a smokey flavor, and which is ideal for oven-roasted pulled pork.

Use 5 – 7 lb pork butt, trimmed to leave a fat layer one side – we’re calling this side the top. You’ll see why later.
Brine Pork

5-7 lbs pork butt
12-16 C water
1 1/3 C salt
½ C maple syrup

Combine 4C warm water, salt, and maple syrup in a container large enough for both the brine and pork butt. Mix well until salt is dissolved. Add additional cold water. Add pork butt ensuring pork is covered completely with water, and cover container. Refrigerate pork in water for a minimum of 8 hours. Remove pork from refrigerator, drain, and pat pork dry. Preheat oven to 225 degrees.

Seasonings
2 T cumin seed
1 T chili powder
1/2 tsp cardamon seeds (removed from pods)
1 2/3 T paprika
11/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp cinnamon

Combine ingredients in a spice grinder and pulse 10 times. Make seasoning just prior to roasting pork butt. Cover pat-dried pork butt with seasoning liberally, pressing seasoning on to pork. Place pork in aluminum roasting pan fat layer (the top) exposed. Insert thermometer probe and place in oven. Set probe to 200 degrees. Now go to bed, take a long hike, go for a day sail, hit the slopes, etc. Depending on the size of the roast, expect about 7 hrs for a 5 lb pork butt, or 10 1/2 hrs for a 7 lb butt, or usually about 90 minutes per pound depending on your oven. (Hint: To your roasting time, add 2 1/2 hrs before you and your guests will be able to dig in after the pork butt reaches the set temperature.) After the temperature probe reaches 200 degrees, turn the oven off, and peek at the roast. If the bottom of the pan is moist, shut the oven door and set a timer for 2 hrs. If the pan bottom is dry, tent the roast loosely with foil, close the oven door, and set a timer for 2 hrs. After 2 hours (temp of roast should be no greater than 170 degrees), remove the roast, place on a large cutting board, and shred the meat using your preferred technique – forks, fingers, or a combo of both.

Then serve with your favorite side dishes, rolls, and BBQ sauce, the latter used sparingly so as to not overwhelm the flavor of the pulled pork.

Music can make a community . . . but only if a community makes music!

Justin and Stacey on violin and accordion for New Year's concert

Music is not hard to hear at Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm (Nubi). Whether it be the sweet sound of a violin or flute in summer wafting from an open window, someone practicing on the Steinway in the Common House or jazz played on the Common during a CSA celebration, Nubi residents not only listen to music, but make it as well. Two of our favorite musical events are just around the corner: our annual Family Contra Dance and our New Years Day Musical Recital/Concert.

Nubi lies in the heart of the Monadnock region of New Hampshire. It is this region that preserved the historical form of country dancing known as Contra Dancing, which prior to the dawn of the radio and TV age was a major form of entertainment in America. Following a resurgence of contra dancing in the 1960s and 1970s in New England, a diaspora of dancers spread across the country starting up contra dances in all parts of the U.S. We first started contra dancing in Seattle in the early 1980s and it is no accident that Nubi stood out for us because of its location in the historical center of contra dancing.

Contra dancing can be such a great means of community building, so we were determined to start a tradition of dancing at Nubi. So with Bonnie calling the dances, and Molly and Carol H. on fiddle and piano, the sounds of traditional New England tunes and the stomping feet of dancers have filled the Common House each December.

Bonnie, Molly, and Carol at the annual Nubi contra dance

Then, on New Years day, every chair in the Common House is dragged up to the Activity Room so that the crowd of eager residents and visitors can find a place to sit while beautiful music is played for their enjoyment. In the past we have had performances on violin/fiddle, viola, cello, piano, oboe, accordion, electric guitar and voice. Each year it seems that more and more residents, children and adults alike, step forward to showcase their talent(s). Whether it be a Mozart Quartet or a fiddle tune, Chopsticks or Chopin, all are welcomed to share the joy making music with an appreciative and supportive audience.

Bruce, Bonnie & Molly

Holiday traditions in cohousing

Decorating gingerbread lanterns

How do we celebrate the holidays without succumbing to consumerism and making ourselves crazy? Holidays can be a major challenge for many reasons, chief among them for us has been the feeling that we’re going through the motions of celebration without engaging in the substance.

In founding and living in a cohousing community, we’ve made a conscious choice to live our lives more intentionally. For us, that has meant reflecting on how to honor traditions in ways that connect to the substance of celebration. Read our upcoming newsletter to learn about some of our ideas and experiences.

Living at Nubi makes it much easier to connect and celebrate in ways that feel authentic and home-grown. Drawing on different community members interests and talents, we’ve collectively evolved some Nubi traditions. While the holidays can still feel busy, these traditions have helped us pause and connect in the season.

So far Nubi traditions include:
• gingerbread house and lantern construction;
• a community-wide book discussion (last year we read and discussed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy];
• swag-building using our own forest greens, cones, and the lovely yet unfortunately invasive bittersweet;
• an annual New Year’s contra dance;
• a community concert;
• a secret gift exchange;
• And, of course, cooking and eating together.

Please read upcoming blogs including an description of music at Nubi by the Tucker family and a neighbor’s account of raising pigs and cooking pork with members of the neighborhood “pig group.” Another neighbor reflects on “Five things I’ve learned in cohousing that have enriched my holidays,” and our “Heard on the Path” column includes neighbors’ strategies for navigating the holidays.

May the holidays bring warmth and peace. Warm regards, Sage & Richard

Heard on the Path: Are you engaged in a visual art or craft at Nubi?

Dori demonstrates throwing a pot on a wheel

Dori
I’ve been throwing pottery on and off for 14 years. (For the uninitiated, ‘throwing pottery’ is making pottery on a wheel, not breaking it against a wall.) I began throwing in Asheville, North Carolina, and when I moved to the Monadnock region, I continued taking classes at the Sharon Arts Center. They have a couple of instructors who run studio classes for many levels of potters.

I’m currently developing a Nubi-based studio in the Governor’s House, and hope to have a kiln on site in the coming months. My plan is to commit to spending 2 days a week in the studio, working on my own pottery. And, I hope to offer classes to as many Nubi neighbors who have expressed interest. I will have 3 and possibly 4 wheels in my expanded studio. While classes will primarily be for neighbors who want to throw pottery, I also plan to have some kids’ hand-building classes as well. I’m hoping that the clay studio will become a community resource.

Lynne
I had never found a craft or art form that I enjoyed doing – until I came to Peterborough. Here, I discovered needle felting. Responding to an ad in the local paper, “Wanna make a bird?”, I spent a Saturday morning gathered with 5 others learning how to transform a piece of wool into a bird using a barbed needle. The simplicity of the craft and the limitless creative possibilities got me hooked.

Needle felting is a relatively new craft that started in the 1980’s and evolved from the ancient process of felt making. It uses wool roving, wool that has been washed, carded, and dyed. A barbed needle is used to grab wool fibers and bond them to adjoining fibers. By simply jabbing the needle into the wool, you can sculpt the wool into any form you want. So far, I have worked on making birds, flowers, and dolls. It is simple, fun, and satisfying. One warning – the needles are sharp and this craft is not about acupuncture.

Barbara and friends weave on her loom

Barbara
I’ve always wanted to weave, and the miraculous thing about landing at Nubi was the proximity of the Harrisville Design Studio, where I take classes and buy supplies. There are just so many connections in this area to all aspects of textiles, from people raising sheep and other wool-bearing animals, to spinning, dying, weaving, felting—you can really learn about any part of the process.

Johanna
I love to draw with watercolor pencils. I’m working on capturing the Nubi rooster at the moment, and I’ve also drawn botanicals around the farm. I’ve also taken a drawing course at the Sharon Arts Center. As a parent, Nubi and the region in general have been really supportive of developing an appreciation for various arts and crafts in my kids. At Nubi, they are surrounded by neighbors who engage in a variety of different arts and crafts, at all levels. We’ve even had a craft’s day here when we all had a chance to try out everything from weaving to cupcake decorating. And, in the schools, and through surrounding organizations and teachers, there are many opportunities to learn and nurture different interests.

A Painting Life, Interview with Nancy

Nancy moved into Nubi about four years ago, around the time my family moved here too. I’ve loved getting to know Nancy and learning about her remarkable life and art. Born and raised in Medina, Ohio, Nancy is a talented musician and was initially a music teacher by profession. She raised two children in Ohio, and when they reached independence, she and her husband bought a boat in England and traveled by canal and river to the Mediterranean. Then they sailed on the Ionian Sea for two years and the Aegean Sea for two years. Along the way, she discovered her love for painting landscape, which she actively pursued through her journeys. After their years living on a boat, she and her husband bought a home and settled in southwestern France, where Nancy remained for 20 years, as a widow for the last 15, until she relocated to Nubi. Her work has shown in galleries in the U.S. and Europe; prints and posters have been made of 35 of her paintings. What follows are notes from my recent conversation with her about painting. —Johanna

How did you get started as a watercolor painter?

After taking a couple of drawing courses and dabbling in oil paints, I took a workshop with a well-known watercolor instructor named Frederick Graff. Graff teaches many workshops including some in France. After the two-week workshop in Medina, Ohio, I was completely smitten with watercolor and never looked back. I’ve never wanted to work in any other medium.

From the horse pasture

Watercolor was wonderful to do while I was traveling in a boat because it didn’t take much room and it dried right away. Wherever we docked, I would take my paints and sketchbook and find something to paint. I think that it added a great deal to my appreciation of the places we visited. Now when I look at a painting that I’ve done, I can smell, and hear, and remember, “oh yes, when I was painting here a lady came out to peel an orange with a huge thick skin, which she ate.” I learned so much about the inner workings of the places we visited.

It really is the sense of place that I work on. I don’t have a manifesto that drives my work, except for trying to capture the things around me. Of course, I do have a lot of political and environmental issues that I think about, but I can’t express those visually. I’m motivated in my work to capture something that intrigues me, trying to reproduce a moment in time that has meaning for me.

Your work seems like it is about the process of slowing the senses, really seeing and appreciating what is in front of you.

The amazing thing is how much something will change over a couple of hours. I remember being in St. Emilion, France, where I was painting part of the church. I was painting along on a gray day when the sun burst out and a red vine on the church became brilliant. Before it was any old vine—the effect of the sun was miraculous. Most of my paintings are about sun and shadows. Indeed, the painting that I’ve sold the most copies of is called L’ombre, or “shadows” in French.

A l'ombre

Can you reflect on how your technique has evolved over time?

For several years after I began with watercolor, I did pen-and-ink drawings with watercolors added. I started and finished them in one sitting, which suited our lifestyle. They were easy and I sold a lot of them. And then in 1982, my husband and a friend took our boat from Greece to Italy for some papers, and wanted to bring back a kitchen sink along with other supplies. To allow for more space, I remained in a rooming house on Paxos, across from the campanile, or bell tower. One morning I began painting it, then got up to run errands as the light changed. I returned to it the next morning. And I realized that I could REALLY paint the campanile if I got up every morning and painted for an hour. ‘I don’t have to finish it all in one time.’ I don’t know why that hadn’t occurred to me before that. So that was a break through. And I really started to change.

Later, when we moved to France, my stepdaughter pointed out, “you know, now that you are settled, you should paint bigger and with better paints.” And I had to admit that I was still painting with children’s paint boxes, which fade in time. So I began exploring better paints—tube watercolors—and heavy paper. I now use a 360-pound paper, a very heavy paper for layering paint. The paint really soaks into it.

At this point, I have a couple of colors that I mix myself before I paint. One is a black, which is a combination of brown and blue. And when you change the proportion of brown and blue, you can make about 50 different shades of gray. I use these a lot for the undercoating for shadow and then I add the colors on top of it. And the other color I mix is a really dark green. I use a very bright shade of green that I’d never use on its own, but if I add enough red to it I can get a wonderful dark green.

Brantome

When you layer paint do you wait until it dries before you apply another layer?

Yes, I often apply a layer before I get up to take a break. I walk away have a cup of coffee and when I come back it is dry enough to layer on. Sometimes I will build up 20 layers of paint, which creates an almost three-dimensional effect. A lot of painters just paint purple shadows, but I can’t do that because I don’t see purple shadows. I see a shadow that is just a different shade of the same color—it doesn’t have a separate color. Painters paint what they see, and everyone sees differently.

When you changed techniques, how did you inform yourself? Did you have to experiment?

I experimented, but I also sat in on classes at an art school in France, directed by a good friend. She often brought in new teachers and I would sit in on the classes and take notes. I exchanged home-baked whole wheat bread for auditing classes. “Bring me two loaves of bread,” she would say. That school is where I learned about mixing colors, for example.

behind Bogdinatika

Can you talk about the different places that you’ve painted? Since place is such an important part of your work, how does it affect your painting?

Of course, the places that I’ve painted the most are Greece and France, where we lived for the longest periods. I’ve also painted in England and Holland. But mostly we were traveling, so we didn’t stay very long in any place along the way. Everyone talks about the “Greek light,” but I’ve never really been able to see a difference. The difference is that the palette is completely different. France is green and Greece isn’t, except at certain times of the year. Spring in Greece is very green, but summer is brown and rocky. And olive trees have a very different green from most of the trees around here or in France.

St-Emilion de la Tour du Roy

Doors, windows and archways always fascinate me. At a show in Switzerland, a woman said to me, “I love your painting because you give me just enough information to imagine what is on the other side. And see what it is.” I love walking along the streets in cities, particularly Paris, when occasionally you catch a glimpse of an interior courtyard from the street as someone passes through. You can hardly imagine the courtyard garden from the barren door facing the street. Some quality of a half-hidden scene fascinates me. In my paintings, I love to let people imagine what is beyond the immediate subject—through the door, or around the corner.

Are there places at Nubi that give you that sense?

I love the scenes along the river. I love going up in the horse pasture to look at the mountains. I’ve just finished a small painting of a vernal pool in the woods that I came upon exploring up by the big rock. It was definitely an “ahhhh” moment for me. Lately, I’ve been working on small paintings, vignettes really, or parts of an image.

Can you reflect on working and living in the Monadnock region?

There are so many artists around here and so many opportunities: Sharon Arts, artists with open studios, Jaffrey Civic Center, an incredible amount of stuff that is really well done. Peterborough is kind of a magnet, or place where people settle because it is a good place to paint, sculpt, and photograph. There is a wealth of material.

Light & Land: Photo essay by Clive

For most of my adult life, my photography work has been for hire: professional portraits, photographs of artwork and architectural work. It was fun, and it supported my family.

Three years ago I moved to Nubi where I’m now able to do more landscape photography. I have the equipment (the world’s finest BetterLight digital back used with a Deardorff view camera), the skills, and the time to pursue it.

My intention is to capture what exists at this moment in history, and to record it in a way that is interesting for present and future viewers. In a hundred years things will probably look very different. The Monadnock region offers the natural beauty for me to explore both great and intimate New England landscapes. I am grateful that many of the property owners in this area have given me access to their private views.

The following photos are part of a series of work called Light & Land. I am building this body of work to exhibit. Please visit cliveruss.com where there is a link to more photographs.

—Clive

Butterfly Leaves

Boulder and Brush

Mount Monadnock

Green Web Site

Road Less Traveled

White Dot Trail