Thursday, December 31, 2009

Worth a Thousand Words

I have been working on preserving my family photos for years. My main effort lately has been to scan all the slides and old photos my mom has into a file and then make copies on discs for my siblings. I don't like the nightmare where Mom's house burns to the ground while she is visiting one of us and the only photo of us in front of our house in Boston with me gripping our cat in my fat toddler hands is gone forever.
So far, I have over 5000 images in the file, plenty more to go.
I made prints of some of the scanned slides and gave them to siblings and kids for Christmas. Most images have never been seen, so everyone was surprised.
It has been an interesting experience for me to relive the last 5 decades through these images. Some of my favorite are of me as a toddler being held by my dad while we are playing on the beach in Massachusetts. In one photo he is holding my hand to keep me from running out into the waves, both of us are laughing.
Then I think of the photos taken about 9 years ago, after his brain cancer was discovered, and the surgery, and the efforts to rebuild the connections to his arms and legs, but before the end. I was holding his hand while he concentrated on moving his legs for each step. Most images show both of us with determined looks on our faces, but in one we are both laughing. Then more images as he tried to continue his work, and we were there helping him. Then no more laughing images during the time when the cancer was everywhere, and we just wanted to be with him.
The photos remind me that my dad took care of me long before I took care of him.
Eventually, we all take care of each other.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Oh Come, Oh Come

I helped my mom clean her house today. There were over 20 family members and 5 dogs here for Christmas. During the last 24 hours there has been a mass exodus, and now it is just me and Mike here to help clear up. I love being here for Christmas. I don't think any of my family shops for anything in December except for food and art supplies. It is not a good idea to be at my mom's house and trying to lose weight, or wishing for a blender for Christmas. There is always plenty of home made, non-nonfat food available, and we are all busy right up to the last minute making gifts for each other. Now that many of the grandkids are in college, the activity throughout the house is multi-generational. My nieces learned how to cook the caramel fudge to the perfect soft ball stage, and how to know when to stop beating it so it was the right consistency. My sister and I were trying not to trip over each other in Mom's studio, each of us working with different mediums. I was framing pictures past midnight on Christmas Eve. My daughter gave up sleep to help Mom wrap everything.
Christmas morning, everyone is dressed and done with breakfast before lining up, youngest to oldest, to enter the living room and open stockings and presents. Years ago we started the tradition of opening each gift one at a time so everyone could see what had been created and given. I used to wonder if we were trying to outdo each other, but now I just realize that we love and trust each other enough to offer our precious creations as gifts and know they will be appreciated. This is where many of our experiments and explorations in creativity get first exposure and feed back. Over the years we have gasped, cheered, and celebrated handmade dolls, quilts, one-of-a kind books, fine lettering, metal work, paintings, drawings, original writing, sculpture, assemblages, and much more. This year there were paintings on glass, mixed media clocks, honey from my brothers own beehives, heritage photos, original poetry, and art photos. As the morning goes on, it almost becomes an emotional aerobic workout. The only competition seems to be for the one who is most excited about their gift.
It all culminates when the end of a red string appears on the floor, leading off through the rooms of the house. We follow the string up and down the stairs, out the back and in the front doors until it ends up back in the front room attached to the final and most wonderful gift. Dad was always the one to figure out something great for all of us to enjoy at the end of the string. After his death eight years ago, the siblings took over and we somehow come up with something amazing for Mom. This year, my niece had made a bronze sculpture of Mom and Dad dancing, with a music box in the base that played Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable". It was their song. She had designed the sculpture from a picture of them taken on their first date 57 years ago. Two of us had to hold Mom up when she saw it. Yeah, I think she liked it.
Okay, so the dogs didn't all get along all the time, and some of the grandkids were putting all their energy into being too cool to show excitement and no energy into saying thank you, and most of us were sleep deprived, and not everyone could be here, and we never get enough time together - it is still a wonderful way to spend Christmas. Family and creation and giving.
I think I'll come back next year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy Unbirthday

Happy Birthday to Charlotte. Happy Unbirthday to everyone else.
I had a birthday last week. I got what I wanted - time with Mike. He did the most romantic thing, he took a day off work so we could have the day together. My sister almost started crying when she heard, she thought it was so romantic. Decades ago, I would have pictured a romantic day as one that involved a flight to Paris, fancy restaurants, nice hotels, high fashion, being seen and envied. I still love to travel, and will live in very simple accommodations in order to visit far away countries. But with time, romance has become something that can happen right here and now. It has more to do with seeing than being seen.
With another birthday, here are a few more things I see:
I see that my parents really do and did love me, even when I was a young person yelling at them that they did not understand anything about me or life, and they should just get off my back, except when I needed their help of course. I see this because I really do love my kids, every moment, no matter what.
I see that the best friends are those who give and receive. Having fans seems to be a big deal these days. I don't want fans. I want friends who love me even when we don't agree, or if we have different tastes, or abilities. I want friends who share and teach and forgive. I see I have them.
I see there is nothing like family connections. I see how my family is always there for me, and loves me, no matter what.
I see that scars and wrinkles and signs of gravity on my body are signs of a life of abundance. Signs that I have been able to to bear children, create life, work hard, survive and learn from mistakes, serve often, pray fervently, endure illness and injury, love deeply enough to weep, worry, mourn, laugh and rejoice.
I see that Mike sees all of this, and loves me completely.
I see I don't need to wait for my birthday to celebrate all of that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is almost my favorite holiday. There are comforting traditions that involve food and loved ones. I get to gather with my family and friends for no other reason than to share traditions and give thanks. We always get to meet others who are far from home and come to share some of their life with us. I love having a reminder to think of all the things I am grateful for, and there is no need to sink into all kinds of commercial merchandising to make it through the holiday.
Favorite Thanksgiving traditions - gather at Mom's house with as many family members who can make it, help cook old family recipes, play touch football, have old movies playing in the background, listen to guests share their traditions, take turns saying what we are most grateful for this year, let everyone help clean up.
Favorite Thanksgiving menu - turkey, mashed yukon gold potatoes, candied yams, Mom's amazing stuffing and homemade cranberry sauce, wonderful salad, and Mom's homemade rolls, then pumpkin pie and Mike's pecan pie.
Favorite Thanksgiving leftovers - turkey cranberry sandwiches on homemade rolls.
What am I most grateful for this year - for miracles and that Mike will be sitting next to me, very much alive and gradually healing.
Have a safe and wonderful weekend.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ya Think?!

Mike is doing better. He was able to come home from the hospital after 2 days. He is not one who likes limiting his activity. He is one who is used to getting up by 5:30 in the morning so he can enjoy a beautiful sunrise before he charges into the day.
Only 2 months ago, he was very considerately helping me recover from surgery, reminding me to be patient and give myself time to heal. When I was discouraged, he was very kind and helpful. Now he is trying to let me encourage him to be patient.
Yeah, that's going well.
He has been deeply touched by all the kindnesses shown by so many people. And he is very anxious to return to all his work, service and recreational activities. He went on a hike a few days after the accident, he has been doing the home therapy exercises very consistently, he rode his bike on the indoor trainer within a week. We saw the osteopath last week. He said, with Mike being a non-smoker, non-drinker, no medical condition, good health and attitude, he could expect 98% recovery. When Mike glared at him, he quickly said, "Okay, you could probably get 100% recovery." Mike is going for 110%.
Unfortunately, he seems to think he should be at 110% by the end of the week.
As he so kindly reminded me last month, recovery is not always steady. It tends to go up and down like a roller coaster. One of the ways it does that is when one kind of pain seems to improve, another takes over and knocks you flat. Mike is finding out the many ways broken ribs and shoulder can hurt. He seems to be learning creative ways to find all the levels of the pain of healing, and get through them quickly.
Early Sunday morning, since he couldn't sleep, he got up very early, dressed in his suit, called for a ride, went to his early church leadership meetings, met me for choir practice before church, tried for three hours to find a comfortable way of sitting through church, went to a meeting after, and when he was finally home, let me put ice on his back and feed him painkillers. I had been trying for hours not to drag him back home and force him to rest. As he sat there, wincing in agony, he said, "I don't get it. I have this very sharp pain starting at my neck and shooting across my shoulder down my arm."
Any semblance of Florence Nightingale went out the window.
"Well, maybe, just maybe you have this pain because you broke your shoulder and ribs and just got out of the hospital!"
So anyway, Mike is progressing. Not sure I am.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Wall Came tumbling Down

20 years ago this week, November 9th to be exact, the Wall came down. It was an emotional time for me anyway. My daughters were 3 and 1, and I was emotional about anything that showed a better world for their future. Okay, so I am still and always have been emotional about anything that suggests a better world for anyone. I cry during Hallmark commercials (so do many of you so don't try to hide it).
But the fall of the Wall was especially important to me. I had grown up very aware of the iron curtain, the cold war, the arms race, participating in nuclear attack drills at school, seeing commercials and debates about how to deal with the evil menace, seeing many forms of pop culture that satirized life on both sides of the Wall.
I gained a whole new perspective in 1981 when I was able to visit the Soviet Union with a student group. I met students, professionals, soldiers, laborers, children, religious leaders, seniors, even members of the old guard. What I saw - they were all very much like people anywhere. They were doing the best with what they had, they loved their families, they cared about their children's future, they had individual strong opinions, they were willing to sacrifice in hope of a better tomorrow, they were very friendly and helpful, and they loved anything from the west. It was rare to see anyone behave harshly, or abusing their position of power.
One day we visited a school for advanced students from 3 to 16 years old. The teenagers were like any I had known growing up, and we had a great time visiting with them. When we were getting ready to leave, our group gathered in the foyer waiting for the bus. Some of the younger students were also getting ready to go home. It was cold outside, and I noticed a man in a soldier uniform helping his little boy bundle up in his sweater, coat and scarf. The man stuck the boy's small mittens on his own little finger while he was carefully buttoning up the coat, then he tenderly held the little boy next to him, out of the way of the crowd, talking softly to him until we had moved outside and they could leave without getting bumped around. The love and tenderness was so evident. I knew this man would do anything to protect his son.
No one can force anyone to change, even when the change seems to be better. But if any part of a forceful action seems to threaten children, people will die before giving in.
I realized the Wall could never successfully come down by force. Military force and intimidation has never successfully changed a civilization.
That same year - 1981 - my father started an organization called Food for Poland (That story is another blog). Its purpose was to send food to the striking workers' Solidarity union in Poland so they could resist the severe government control. It was one of many ways that people behind the Wall refused to continue without freedom. As they built civil resistance movements, and received help from many groups in the west, the old regime began to fail. For years we had spoken with Solidarity leaders, hearing of their hardships and loss, and determination to create a new government.
So on November 9th, while rocking my 1 year old to sleep, I wept as I watched the live news feed of people pouring through the gate, helping each other on both sides climb up and dance on top of the wall. Then, with their own hands and simple tools, they tore down the Wall. No guns, no tanks, no bombs. People on both sides had decided the wall was no longer needed, and no one could stop them.
One Wall down. How many more to go?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hawaii Can Wait

We got the tickets back in August, and Mike has been packing and planning for a week in Maui ever since. Every once in a while he would grin and do his "We're going to Maui" dance (No, I will not post a picture of that).
Wednesday morning he rode his bike to work. Less than a mile from his office he has to cross some old railroad tracks. He was going 25 miles an hour, and the last thing he remembers is swerving so he could cross the tracks at a 90 degree angle. After that, he has glimpses of someone standing over him as he lay on the ground, being in an ambulance in a neck brace strapped to a hard board, then in the ER, me next to the bed, then our bishop there giving him a blessing. After that, he became much more coherent, and all his circuits started firing. I had barely been holding my panic at bay until then. When his eyes started looking normal, and he started connecting the dots I let myself believe he would be okay. Shortly after that the doctor checked him, they removed the brace and board.
For a while it turned into a "Men Are From Mars" thing going on in the Emergency Room. One of his nurses was a big time biker as well, and he and Mike started exchanging road warrior stories. He looked at Mike's smashed and cracked helmet and said he had all of his totaled-by-an-accident helmets hanging in his garage like trophies. They were talking about the brand of bikes they rode, and comparing the size of their equipment, and I was fine with all that because it was distracting Mike from the trauma, and me from the drama. Then we were told he was being admitted to the hospital, and they brought a hospital gown for him. It was cold that morning, so Mike had several layers of biking shorts, jerseys and leggings. While I was concerned about the possible damage done to his brain and neck, he was worrying about damage to his favorite jersey and new bib shorts. His left shoulder was obviously damaged because he could not move or lift his arm, but he wanted me to try to lift his jerseys over his head. They had just given him some major pain killer, so he was willing to have me move his arm around for him. It was agony for him to get the first jersey off, and I said I would cut the second one off down the back so I could sew it back together. I went and asked the biker nurse for scissors to cut the jersey. He said, "Oh no, that would be tragic." He came in and worked with me to save the jersey. Mike was in pain but happy with the results. A non-biker would not have hesitated to sacrifice the shirt and save Mike from intense pain and an unintentional bone adjustment. I have not been able to penetrate the mysteries of the die-hard biker mind.
The most painful moment for Mike was when I said the words out loud, "We will not be going to Hawaii on Monday." He didn't seem to hear the next part - "It's all right, we will go another time. Hawaii will still be there. I am just glad you will be okay."
Actually, I am beyond glad. I was able to talk to the people who saw the accident and helped Mike. As soon as he got to the tracks, his bike tire caught on something, was yanked to the side and Mike went flying. He hit the ground with his head and left shoulder. There was no rolling or skidding. The initial impact was the full impact. One helper, whose friend will never be the same because of head trauma, thought Mike had the same kind of damage. When I talked to him Wednesday night he was amazed Mike's head and neck CT scans showed no injury. He was not surprised to hear about all the broken bones.
We can't always choose how miracles and healing come into our lives, but I know I will miss out if I am not willing to see it however it comes. So even though Mike has been in the hospital for 2 days, and he has 6 broken ribs, and 4 detached ribs, a 2 lung contusions, and a severely fractured scapula, and road rash on his head, shoulder, hip, knee, elbow and knuckles, and his pain is bad enough to cause his muscles to spasm, and he has to try to breathe deep and cough so he can expel the fluid from his bruised lungs... he also has a fully functioning brain, and is coherent, and more aware each moment of how fortunate he is to be alive.
So Hawaii can wait. We are busy enough creating healing and profound gratitude. So thank you for the people who stopped and helped, and the EMTs, and the great medical care, and great medicine, and the good insurance, and the blessings, the neighbors who walked Sam, the meals of comfort food from friends, the visits, the ice cream, the calls and messages, the thoughts and countless prayers, the love, and most of all, the miracles. Thank You for the miracles.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

It Senses Fear

Happy Halloween. Today we will be talking about one of the scariest things in the world - The Computer. Keep one thing in mind, it is not easy to scare me. I am the mother of teenagers, after all.
My kids have been able to make a computer obey their will since they were in pre-school. This is because they have never been afraid of them, or anything electronic, especially if it has buttons. Yes, I just said that my children are very good at pushing buttons. What child isn't, even when they become adults. Okay, especially when they become adults.
Back to computers. I have been very inconsistent when it comes to getting results from computers. I think it is because computers can sense fear. When I was growing up, the only time I saw computers was in movies where they were impersonal number crunching machines until they saw their opportunity to take over the world and end life as we know it. By the time personal computers began to breed and proliferate, I had decided I would never really need one and could avoid close contact. I didn't even use a calculator, just in case it could spread evil computer spores (I think those are called bytes). I got very good at figuring math problems in my head.
Then I met, fell in love with and married an electrical engineer who is also a self professed computer geek (the best looking one I've ever seen). He has never been afraid of computers. In fact, they tremble when he approaches them. He eats them for lunch. He says computers are stupid, they only do what people tell them to do. I want to believe him, but I would rather be afraid of computers than people. I am just sure that if I push the wrong button, everything will go poof and disappear. Uh, that has actually happened to me. The vanished items have not yet extended beyond my computer, but you never know.
Like I said, computers can sense fear. Mike can sit down in front of a computer, say "Let there be light", push a few buttons and the computer will obey. I can sit down, trying not to let it see me tremble, say "Please", push the same buttons, and it will not give me what I ask for. I swear there are times when I hear an evil little chuckle coming from the speakers.
So I have decided that each year I will declare another victory over my computer fear. I will learn how to do another task on the computer, and have it be second nature so it is the computer that is filled with fear and trembling. I am almost there with the blog. The text is not a problem, but I am not yet intuitive with adding photos and setting up the slide show on my art blog. I promise, by the time Christmas is here, I will be adding photos of my artwork with more than a "HO, HO, HO". I will be able to raise my arms, throw back my head and let out a triumphant and deep-throated "BWAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA".
Happy Halloween everyone.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Snow Day

It has been snowing for 2 days. The snow is 2 feet deep outside my back door, deeper where it has drifted. I have not had to drive anywhere for over 36 hours. I don't have any kids living at home, and Mike has been out of town. It has been fun listening to the kids in the neighborhood celebrating two snow days in a row, sliding, building snowmen, snow forts and snowball fights. I have been able to handle all my work and meetings with phone calls and emails. I didn't want to take the car out of the driveway for more reasons than the condition of the road.
When I drove Mike to the airport early yesterday morning, the snow had started accumulating on top of ice on the roads and driveway. I was relieved to make it home without being or hitting one of the cars that was sliding off the roads. I felt the car slide a little as I pulled into the driveway. A few hours later when I took Sam out for a walk, I couldn't help but notice that my car had slid out into the road.
Not good.
I wondered how many cars and snowplows had made their way around my car while sliding around in the ever deeper snow. I pulled the car back into the driveway which, by the way, has a bit of a slope. I took Sam on a walk, even though it was more like he was tunneling since the snow was deeper than he is tall. When I got back in about 30 minutes, the car had slid back out into the road. I have still not recovered enough strength to shovel deep snow off the entire driveway, so I cleared paths for the tires down to the pavement. I figured the car wouldn't slide if the tires were in direct contact with the concrete, instead of sitting on packed ice. As I pulled the car in again, the back tires hit ice and slid. The car is now sitting sideways in the driveway with its back end in the plant bed next to the drive. I turned the tires parallel to the street, so it can't slide out anymore. I decided I did not want to move that car until the after-storm melting was well under way. I don't remember this type of activity being a part of past snow days.
I have enjoyed these days. I have taken Sam out several times to search for cleared areas so he doesn't have to get buried alive in order to relieve himself. I took pictures of the snow. I took dinner to my neighbor. Best of all I spent most of my time next to a nice fire, with a cup of hot chocolate, working on paintings. I have been able to try some new techniques, and finish the paintings without feeling rushed. I have been planning and working on these for months, and trying to get the final work just right. But there is something about being surrounded by the calm stillness of new snow that helps me let go of trying so hard to get it all right. I have been able to sit back and look at my work with new eyes. Then see where to do more, and let the rest just be.
It helped me finish my paintings as well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Movie Moment Part 1

There are those moments, you know the ones. When you look back, even if it was only 5 minutes ago, it is as though it could not have been better even if there had been an award winning script writer, set designers, casting agents, photographers, producer and a director. I was just watching the dvd of the 1999 London stage production of "Oklahoma". Loved it. It not only brought back great memories of London (not hard to do, I have so many of them) but also one of my movie moments.
I was a senior at Davis High School, the only high school with a Dart for a mascot, but that's another story. I was a new student there, just moved to town, trying to find my place. I tried out for the school musical, and got the part of Aunt Eller in "Oklahoma". I had no idea how great the theater department was at Davis, but quickly became very impressed. Our director, Sjob had a way of knowing how to bring the best people in who could get the best out of the student cast. I soon decided I had the best part in the musical, and I loved every part of being in it. I got to know everyone in the cast and crew, had a great time at the rehearsals, loved becoming Aunt Eller. All the cowboys were guys on the football team who took dancing lessons because the coach knew it would improve their coordination. Dancing football cowboys, instant friends, a great character part. What's not to love?
The technical, costume run through was on my birthday. I didn't have plans for my 18th, thought no one I knew would want to do anything after school with such a long rehearsal to get through. There is a scene where Aunt Eller is encouraging the farmers and the cowmen to be friends, but they keep getting into fights. At one point, I pull out a gun and fire it into the air to stop a fight, then point it at one of the farmers and tell him to sing about getting along. The cue is "Dum-diddy-um-dum-dum", then everyone is supposed to sing,"oh, the farmer and the cowmen should be friends" with scared looks on their faces. But at this point in the run through, they didn't look scared, they looked excited. Then they all, all 40 cast and crew and all the orchestra started singing, "Happy Birthday to You". Curly and Laura brought in a table with a huge birthday cake on it. I was stunned. Sjob, everyone in the musical, my family had all arranged to use the run through to surprise me on my birthday.
For a geeky new girl turning 18, it doesn't get better than that.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Turn Around . . .

Anna has been drawing ever since she could grip a marker in her one year old hands. She would draw on anything, with anything. She was also good at multi-tasking. She could be drawing, and I would ask her something. She'd look up and talk to me while her hands continued to draw. Then she would look down as though nothing had interrupted. There were (and still are) many moments like this with each of my children when I wonder, "How did this strange and wonderful creature end up here, a part of my life?"
Now here she is, like the others, tall and gorgeous, and finding her way through the amazing, wonderful and frightening world. I prayed for strong willed children. I wanted children who would want to know and be willing to seek answers, to learn for themselves the miraculous life that is possible for them. Yes, at times I wonder what I was thinking, and wish that, for a time, they would just be blindly obedient. But most of the time, I am in awe. And I am grateful I get to be their mother.
I wonder if she still has that mystical awareness of the powerful creation that can flow from her hands. Has she become caught up in the physical act of seeing only with her eyes, or of seeing only what she thinks she already knows about herself? Can she still recall what it is like to just let wonder and beauty appear in the space around her, just because she picks up the tools and lets them move?
I might wonder about the things I would do differently, but I would not want to return to those early years. I want to relish today with her, even as she gets ready to take off again. Anna, just for a moment, do me a favor. Turn around.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Get a Day Job, and Marry Well

My daughter, Anna is visiting this week. She is a busy college student who is generously spending some of her fall break with her parents. In spite of my best efforts, she chose not to major in something that would lead to her finding a cure for cancer. She is majoring in art, which is what I got my degree in. My advice to her - "Get a day job, and marry well." She asked if that meant she had to marry someone rich. No, marry someone who will be patient, understanding and happily supportive of the visual creative process that takes so much energy, time, resources and covers every horizontal surface of your home. One advantage of this to the artist's spouse, the possibility of earning sainthood in this life. I asked her to really think about how much of the house has always been taken over because of my involvement in creating and teaching art, and how her dad has not only accepted it, but encouraged and enjoyed it (He really likes it when I use his power tools in my artwork). After a pause she said, "Wow, yeah."
As for the day job - It would be nice if every good artist could make a living creating their best, original art. Unfortunately, good artists rank even lower than good teachers as far as recognition and compensation. But good artists often (not always) make excellent teachers. The practice of visual creation helps in the practice of creation with space, time and people which is essential for effective teaching. I hope Anna will choose to be one. She would be great.
So this week, we are creating art together. She wants to pillage my studio, and I will let her since she is taking a bookbinding class, and since she is willing to let me teach her a few things. That is a rare gift to a parent from a college student. In between all this there is hiking, swimming and biking with her dad. I want her to see that I am not the only one of her parents who married well.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

That's Bookmaker, Not Bookie

I am a Book Artist, sometimes called a Bookmaker. Yes, I usually get a confused or even concerned look from people when they hear me say that. " write books?" Sometimes I write the words that I then letter in the books, but I am not an author. "Oh. illustrate books?" I paint and collage the pages of the books I make, but I am not an illustrator. I make books, and sometimes I design and make a book so that the book itself is a piece of art. Most of the classes I have taught during the last 10 years have to do with making books.
Here is the great thing about books - You can use all 5 of your senses when you look at a book. You see it (Not just to read it. Some books will sell solely on the power of the cover art, especially if that includes the words "Oprah's Book Club Choice".), touch it (Admit it, there is something comforting about holding a well bound book in your hand) , there is sound made when your hands move across the covers and turn the pages (anyone who has tried reading in bed when the person next to them is a light sleeper knows this), taste it (No, I am not suggesting a literal devouring of the pages. But think of how often the combination of other senses with descriptive words such as those in "My Life In France" will cause drooling, uh, I mean salivating.), and the scent of the book can be very subtle, or strong enough to take you back to when you were curled in your dad's lap, and he would read stories from a book full of pictures you could enjoy as you thought how brilliant he was to be able to decipher the words that were still a mystery to you.
I have loved books since I first got my grubby little hands on one. I have been a book artist for almost as long. Just ask my mom how often I drew in, painted, cut and tore pages in my favorite books. Now I make books where every surface, even the thin edge of the page is covered with my painting, lettering and collage.
Some say the printed book is dying, and the future is all electronic. I agree there is a place for this Kindle thing, and someday I might own one when I can no longer carry all the books I want with me on a trip (oh wait, I've never been able to do that). But the printed book is too much a part of human history (that story would fill a whole library), too much a part of our senses. I only hope that Mark Twain's quote - "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" will always apply to books. If nothing else, it gives children who are read to several wonderful years of believing they have brilliant, omniscient parents.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's a Dog's Life

His name is Sam. We rescued him from the shelter about 2 1/2 years ago. He is a scruffy little mutt, with wild uneven fur, kind of like my wild uneven hair. He was a skinny, sore-covered bag of bones when we got him. But he has always been so happy and grateful to see us, even from the first moment we looked at him through the cage door. The vet calls him a terriorist, and said we might never be able to train him to like other dogs. He is sure he is the biggest, toughest dog anywhere and he has tried to go after huge police dogs. But he loves people (except for this kid who was mean to my son and he also would not leave Sam alone and Sam bit him and I must admit I don't feel too terrible about that) and I can never quite get over how good it feels to see him so excited every single time I come in the door, even if I only left 5 minutes ago. He has fleshed out to 14 lbs. and his sores are gone. His back legs are like coiled springs and he can jump straight up to lick my nose. He has short hair except for a ridge of long course hair that runs from his forehead to his haunches, and he lets me spike it into a body length mohawk. His eyes are rimmed in black, like Captain Jack Sparrow, and the thought that anyone could hurt or neglect him is hard to imagine.
He has been my constant little guardian since I came home from the hospital. He has learned how to slide himself along my side and rest between me and the cushion whenever I lie down on the couch. He stretches his chin up and looks with concern when I dealing with pain. He leaps around like an acrobat to encourage me every time I get up. I have decided that he must be showing infinite patience, waiting until I am strong enough to again take him on our daily 3 mile walk, even though I don't think patience is his thing. Mike brought Sam in the car when he came to pick me up at an appointment, Sam was trying to paw his way through the window, he was so excited to see me. I have decided that there is some kind of magic healing power in having him around. Sam is a real artist at it.
No, it is not close to the same kind of love and connection I have for my children and human loved ones, but I do find myself wondering how we got along without him. I don't consider myself a "dog" person, but I have begun to think there must be a place in heaven for at least some of these mutts. Sam would be great as a greeter.

Monday, September 21, 2009

That's Karma with a capital K

I have been thinking about energy lately. Mostly because I don't have much. I don't know if all of my energy is concentrating on healing from a large incision and inner abdominal weed-wacking action, but I have not been able to do much more than walk very short distances, and concentrate on sitting still in the least painful position. This gives me opportunity to think about things such as how little patience I have with this, and about energy.
Even though I don't have much energy, I seem to be surrounded by it. Mike is there to help me walk, bring me caloric sustenance, drive me places. Friends have appeared almost like magic when I have needed help, company, food, prayers, or chocolate. My sisters, daughters, Mom and other loved ones have called or emailed just at the right time. What is the energy that reaches out and nudges us at times?
I am a child of the 60's, and I have heard about karma since I was a child. I liked the idea of there being a type of cosmic energy that flows everywhere, and I can pull more towards me by doing things that create life and love, or I will repel it when I am destructive. It went right along with my very early awareness of God, and the divine connection we all have. I used to think that connection was not physical, but an intangible spiritual one. I have come to see that everything spiritual is also very physical. Something physical happens when we reach out and help each other, when we suddenly think of someone and call them, when we pray or meditate or express thoughts of love and healing for someone, even if we don't know them. Molecules line up, energy flows, healing occurs. The strongest power on Earth. There is no way to explain it. Modern science has not found a way to explain what some people have known for thousands of years. But that is not what modern science is for.
I like the idea of unseen energy particles being influenced by our thoughts and actions. It would be nice to think that the influence can only flow in a positive direction, and I cringe to think of all the times I sent out toxic waste karma particles, creating superfund clean-up sites for myself and others. But I love the power of karma, positive vibes, forgiveness, atonement. When all of my body's energy seems to be needed for physical healing, I am so grateful for molecules that flow over and around me because of others. I promise to let it work magic so I can soon focus my energy outward.
So bring it on - Jennifer with the karma from India, Katherine with the fatted calf in California, Charlotte with the 1000 person service day, Mom with the happy life, spirit siblings with the prayers, books, flowers and yummy food, and most of all, Mike with the healing hands and kisses. Really, I can take it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In the Name of Who?

People have been doing and saying things in the name of God since the moment people had a name for God. The well known acts in the name of God tend to be destructive and violent - wars, genocide, abuse, etc. The lesser known but I believe more numerous are acts of love, service and mercy.
Today - 9/11 has become a day we remember one of the more public acts of our time. Even though it began with unthinkable violence, it ended with tremendous acts of sacrifice, courage and mercy. Which acts were really done in the name of God?
I know people who are Muslim, who are good and kind and follow the same kind of creed I try to follow as a Christian. I have heard them say that no true Muslim could have flown those planes into the buildings. I agree, just as I think no true Christian could have followed Hitler, or killed civil rights workers, or tortured prisoners. How many gods do we think will justify us?
There were so many who died on this day 8 years ago, most of them not knowing they would. I do believe they were all greeted by the same God. I believe that God loves all of them, and wept for those whose hatred motivated such violence. I can't imagine the mercy that was extended to all that day. I don't want to try, because that would set limits on it. I don't want there to be a limit on God's mercy, because I need it. How can I hope for it, yet think it should not extend to others?
It is a day of difficult thoughts and questions. I am glad it is now a national day of service. No matter what we claim to do in God's name, the only things that bring us closer to God are acts of love, service, atonement.
My friend had a baby today. Some might see this as a tough birthday to have. But more and more it is a day to remember the countless acts of love on that day. We might not always see it in the headlines, but this is a good world to bring new life into. So many opportunities to learn love, mercy, forgiveness. To learn to be like God. Happy Birthday Little One.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Really, I'm fine (F.reaked out, I.nsecure, N.eurotic, E.motional)

I had surgery 4 days ago. I am writing this under the influence of percocet, so please keep that in mind.
For the last 4 days the first thing most people ask me is "How are you?" At what point in my life did I develop the automatic response "I'm fine"? It is a good thing many nurses are trained to read body language . They usually asked, "On a scale of 1 to 10, what level is your pain right now?' That was a question that did not involve my past but let me communicate in the here and now. "10! Drugs! Now!"
While it was nice to have people constantly checking on my pain level and making sure my body was capable of returning to full functionality, a hospital is not a place for resting. Even if I hadn't been surrounded by strange sounds, or people constantly checking vital signs or vampires taking blood, hospital beds must be the most uncomfortable in the world. It was great motivation to get up and walk around as soon and as often as I possibly could. It was the most I could do to create healing - get up and get moving.
Now I am home, resting comfortably, sleeping a lot, eating wonderful food brought by wonderful people, being cared for by wonderful Mike. Sometimes I am fine - as in Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional. But more and more, I am fine, really. I think all of us are, especially when we remember we are never really on our own. There are those who are willing to share the pain, make sure we can function, feed us when we can't feed ourselves, and love us no matter how we look or feel.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Hearing is the 2nd thing to go, I can't remember the 1st.

When I got up this morning I got to work taking care of all the things I want to get done before my surgery on Wednesday. Paper work, cleaning, correspondence, church service, email, family calls, so many things came to mind. But I kept wondering what I was forgetting. I took my dog Sam on a walk later in the morning. As I was walking through the neighborhood a few blocks away, I noticed a lot of cars parked in one area that was near my friend Sarah's house. I thought, "There must be some party going on in one of these houses." Soon after I got home, I got a call from Sarah. "Jody, I feel bad giving you a reminder call, but I think you told me you were planning on coming to Kim's shower at my house this morning." I almost yelled a word I only use when I am talking to my sister's. It all came back to me. I grabbed the gift I had set out to wrap, but had not noticed this morning, and hurried back down to Sarah's house.
Here's the thing. I had received an invitation last week and said I would come. I had set the gift out so I would remember to wrap it. I saw Kim yesterday and told her I would see her at her shower. I had written myself a reminder on a post-it (I think post-its were invented for me) and stuck it where I would be sure to see it since I knew I would have lots on my mind and I would want this reminder. But I didn't notice the gift or the note this morning, I forgot the conversations with Sarah and Kim, and even when I was walking by Sarah's house and saw all the cars, the memory did not connect. I cannot begin to number the countless complex things I can remember, but the few things that I forget like I did today really bug me. Then I remember that we are not here alone, and we are surrounded by others who remind us.
So I am especially grateful for people who help me remember what life is about. Part of life today was about going to my favorite kind of baby shower. Go, eat, give and open gifts, chat with good friends about the meaning of life, and leave full of food and love. Thanks for the reminder.

It Needs a Skirt

I belong to a yahoo group of mixed media artists. One recently wrote about an extended family gathering for a funeral. This amazing woman creates and teaches wonderful art journals, and organizes several great artfests that inspire thousands every year. Some family members looked at her artwork for the first time at this gathering, said, "So you just cut and paste", then turned away without a second glance. This is not an unfamiliar experience for any visual artist.
I remember when I created an art doll for a juried exhibit that was going to tour nationally. I created a pattern for a figure of a woman. She was seated on a stack of antique books, holding an antique pen writing on a piece of handmade paper. Her hair is wild, like mine. Instead of clothing, I lettered the titles of many of the books I have read in different colors, styles and multiple layers. She is called "A Woman of Letters". I finally finished her the day submissions were due. A friend of mine who had been trying to get me to stop doing my own "stuff" and join her at the decorative painting classes where everyone makes the same thing, came to look at the doll. She said, "It needs a skirt" and then left. I was just beginning to learn to not mutter "Heathen" under my breath.
The doll was juried into the exhibit and travelled to places in the country I haven't been. I reworked her this year and submitted her for publication. She will be in the Art Doll Quarterly that comes out in November.
I learned long ago not to take comments about my artwork personally. I don't even like or dislike someone based on that. Visual art creates such an intensely personal experience. I don't expect others to like what I make or what I like just because I do. If I am too attached to something, I don't display it where others could put me in the painful position of being rejected. But I am rarely that attached to something. I love surrounding myself with creations, by myself and others. Others will like them or not. But they breathe life into me every time I see them. Mike long ago stopped worrying about nail holes in the walls. He helps me hang artwork up before we put furniture in a room.
So holes-in-walls be damned, heathens be pitied, surround yourself with art that breathes life into you.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What kind of health plan is this?

I am having surgery next week. A part of me that was once instrumental in a high level of creation is now causing some serious pain and complex health problems. So it is time for me to let it go, set it free, yank it, whatever - and then hope the problems go with it.
I went to the hospital for some pre-op lab work, and that included an hour long grilling session where I had to answer inquiries about every aspect of my physical, mental and emotional health, past, present and future. They didn't seem too concerned about my spiritual health.
Each time I go to the hospital, regardless of the "procedure" I am having, it seems that all modesty, propriety, and privacy is left at the door, just as surely as if there was a coat check room for it. The adventure comes in seeing how the lack of privacy manifests itself. This time I thought I might get by with minimal invasion, knowing that next weeks surgery would more than make up for it. But no, it was not to be. The medical history interview took place in a room with three desks, and one lounge chair where the patient sits while having the lab work done. I was the only patient for a while. I sat by one of the desks and answered questions being asked by a nice enough matronly office worker. The phlebotomist (needle lady, vampire) came and had me sit in the lounge chair while she took blood. She was good, and I barely felt a prick. But there was a tall guy leaning over her shoulder watching everything, including my reaction. I don't know what he thought it would be since the interrogator continued to question me and my responses didn't pause. They left and I returned to the desk side chair. The questions got more personal. When I shook my head "No" to the question "Are you using recreational drugs or addicted to prescription painkillers?" I wondered, what would they do if someone said yes. Does anyone ever say yes?
Then another patient and questioner came in and started the process at another desk. Another tech came to do the EKG on me and I was glad that this time she pulled the curtain around the lounge chair. But the questions continued to be called out to me through the curtain, and I answered intimate health details back while the other patient conversation continued on and I tried to ignore it. I asked myself, "How does all this contribute to the healing process?"
I guess I can't wait around while others figure out what it takes for us all to be healthy, or how to make sure the insurance companies and the lawyers and the voters all agree. I get the option of choosing to be healthy in whatever way I can, no matter how much is going on around me. Not always easy, but there it is. So right now, even as I create visual artwork, I create healing, I create healing, I create healing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Like Grandfather, Like Granddaughter

So my daughter Charlotte called with great news. She received a research grant for her senior thesis. She is preparing for her final year as an undergraduate at University of Utah. She is planning on doing graduate work in Mormon Studies, which is what my dad devoted so much effort to during his final years of teaching (This photo is of Dad (Eugene England) in his office in 1998). Charlotte wants to do her senior thesis on my dad and his writings about Mormon Culture, studies and literature. Several years ago she attended a banquet for the 40th anniversary of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Dad was one of the founding editors). She sat at a table with people who had known and worked with Dad, and they shared experiences with Charlotte about her grandpa who she had just begun to know when she was 15 when he died. She called me the day after the banquet telling me how excited she was about what she had heard and learned. "This is what I want to do, learn more about what Grandpa was doing, and continue on with it." It was a bittersweet moment for me. I love the passion Charlotte has to learn more about Dad, read his writings (I think she is currently the only grandchild who is) and carry on with what he was trying to do by helping establish Mormon studies programs in college and universities that should have had them long ago. And I wish Dad were here to be the one to mentor Charlotte through this time. It is one of the things that I miss most about Dad being gone, I really wanted my kids to be able to take classes from him, and have that classroom experience unlike any other. But this is one of the ways that creation of life continues on. Dad created language in his speaking and writing that breathes life into Charlotte years after he is gone. And hearts turn from children to fathers and mothers, from parents to sons and daughters, and the world is saved again.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gravity Works

Today is our 25th wedding anniversary. We have been having a great time relaxing and doing things at the spur of the moment. Our major celebration will be a trip to Maui in November, which Mike talks about everyday. He is part fish and cannot wait to swim with some of his cousins in the waters of Maui.

We celebrated today by going to the new Cirque du Soleil here in Denver called Kooza. My son calls it entertainment for old people, but I saw plenty of kids there. This show is heavy on the acrobatics, some traditional like tightrope, and juggling and balancing on a tower of chairs (all very impressive). Others were very innovative, and I couldn't help spontaneously gasping, oohing and crying out in amazement, then cheering wildly. My favorite was two guys flying around on a gigantic, vertically spinning double wheel (you have got to see it to have any idea what this is like). I was impressed with how different and creative their act was, and thought about what they and so many of the others were creating with. They are creating with gravity and physics. They have become intimately acquainted with how gravity and inertia and centrifugal - centripetal force works on them and their surroundings, and they create ways of working with it. They knew exactly when to grab onto their gigantic wheels, how to get them to spin incredibly fast, exactly when to let go so physical forces would allow them to fly, and exactly when and where to grab the wheel again.
I am learning how to do this myself. There are life forces all around me. When I don't want to acknowledge and respect them, when I resist what they are, I feel beaten and crushed. When I appreciate the power of life, of living, I find I can hang on to what gives me strength or what needs my strength, let go of people and things that no longer need to be held by me, and freedom to fly is there for us all.
Thank you, Michael, for choosing to create flight with me for 25 years. "To infinity . . . and beyond!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My big sister

I have 4 sisters. Katherine is my one and only sister who has lived longer than I have. Several decades ago I didn't have much appreciation for the teeny little bit of extra knowledge and experience that 21 months might give her. I was able to talk with her for a while the other day and I found myself appreciating the many ways she has been so generous and patient as a big sister this year. Even though we are different in many ways, I have loved enjoying and sharing the many ways we are one and the same. It helps me, as a mother, to know that I am not the only one who is simultaneously thrilled and in awe of my children, at the same time painfully worried about what they will deal with as they break away on their own. I am reminded of how lucky I am to have such a sister. What would we do without each other?
I have been scanning and organizing the thousands of slides my parents have, and some of my favorites are from when I was too young to remember. I might not be able to recall this moment with Katherine, but somewhere in my soul, I cherish it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stronger than death

Last night I heard that a friend of mine from my last neighborhood had died. She was my age, and she somehow got an infection. By the time they found it, it was too late and she couldn't be saved. This all happened in a coupe of days.
This was an amazing woman, involved in so much, helping many people. She and her husband had adopted 4 orphans from Europe, in addition to raising 5 of their own children. They were true partners, obviously united and in love. Reading her obituary, I can just feel her family's sorrow and loss. What is it that is stronger than death that gets us through something like this?
Almost 24 years ago, when my daughter was only a month old, I got a breast infection that exploded into toxic shock syndrome. The doctors told Mike and my parents I wouldn't make it. But I did. I could dwell on questioning why, but I don't.
How does the love we have for each other, the love we feel from each other, from God, help us get through the things that happen that seem worse than death. Only when love is stronger than death. That is an act of creation. I am grateful for the people I know, some no longer alive, who inspire the creation of love that strong.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If I am an empty-nester, why is my house so cluttered?

Mike and I live in a 5 bedroom home, and all three of our children live away at college. When we have visitors, all the bedrooms are used, but in between, it is the two of us. We are actually enjoying many aspects of this new life (I don't need to go into details). But it still amazes me how much of the house is full of stuff, stuff, stuff. Much of my art work involves collage and assemblage, so I don't consider all of the bins of vintage (old to the heathen) items (junk to the heathen) as anything that contributes to the clutter.
Since moving to Colorado 3 years ago, I have been going through every box that was not purged before the move. I thought I had really cleared out a lot, but I think I just created vacuums which pulled in more stuff when my back was turned. When I pull things out now, I ask "Does this do anything to help me have the kind of life I want?" The answer is what determines where it goes. There are people who are thrilled I am willing to sell or give away so much from my past life at such low cost to them. I like knowing there are people who are weaving, sewing, creating with their kids, wearing clothes and playing with toys that were once packed away in my closets. Today I will set more things free so they can, like my kids, go find their own way in the world. I wish I worried about my kids as little as I worry about the stuff.

Monday, August 17, 2009

8 years ago

My dad died 8 years ago today. I miss him everyday. In 2003 I asked people to be a part of a team for Race for the Cure. My sister Jennifer and I designed a shirt so we could all run or walk in memory of dad. The phrase we put under the great picture Jennifer made was "Dash for Life. In memory of Eugene England 1933-2001, What are you doing in the dash?"
One of Dad's favorite phrases was "Gotta dash!" And then he would. He seemed to be in constant motion, learning, sharing, speaking, gathering, making a difference, and always having a great time. I was in a class the year after he died and shared some of the amazing impact Dad had on so many lives. The teacher shared an observation from another teacher. On a headstone there is a birth date and a death date, with a dash in between. There are three things certain in this world - we are all born, we will all die, and we all have complete say in who we will be in the time in between.
I saw how much Dad chose to create with that little dash between 1933 and 2001, regardless of the circumstances or how people behaved around him.
Today I create some of Dad's favorite chocolate chip cookies, a drawing to begin my next painting, time for a bike ride then a drive through the mountains with Mike, a call to my kids and a call to Mom to wish her love.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

blog beginnings

This is a blog about creation, about creativity, about creating. I am a visual artist and an art teacher, but I see those pursuits as a means of teaching and practicing creativity in all areas of life. I think, as human beings, we are all creative, we are all artists. I think we each have the power and ability to create our own life, more powerfully and in the face of our circumstances. This blog is an opportunity to share and be in a dialogue about creating life.
I am hoping it will help me be more aware of the many ways I see creation in my life, and the impact it can have on me and others.

My youngest child just moved out and started college. A new type of life is beginning for me.

Today is August 15, 2009. Mike and I created an adventure together. We went on a tandem bike ride to Chatsfield reservoir. We were going to go up to Frisco and ride the bike up to Vail Pass, but the weather looked stormy. It is the first time I have ridden to Chatsfield, and it was gorgeous. It is over 16 miles each way. Less than 4 miles into the return trip the thunder and lightning started, followed by the stinging rain and hail. I was glad that Mike is such a great windshield for me when we are on the tandem. Halfway home, the rain let up and the tire blew out. It was interesting creating a ride home when everyone we knew was gone for the day. We are glad for friends with teenagers with driver's licenses who are generous enough to give a ride to stranded oldies on a Saturday afternoon.
Tonight we helped create a neighborhood memory. We joined with others who were shooting potatoes through an ingenious potato gun made by neighbor Grover. It is always a hoot seeing boys (of all ages) with their toys. The two potato guns were made out of pvc pipe. Grover had carefully researched which kind would hold up under 200 psi air pressure. He had bevelled the end of the pipe so the edges of the potato would cut away as it was rammed down into the gun. Talk about creativity! The potatoes shot several hundred yards over the houses at the end of the circle into the field behind.
Then I came home and created my first blog. Next step - learn how to attach photos and customize. What are you creating with materials, time, relationships, space, anything?