Monthly Archives: December 2016

Year’s End



It has been quite a year. Like every year, it was punctuated with beginnings and endings, breath-taking wonders, devastating losses, births and deaths, sunrises and sunsets.

We continue, on this journey, marking time. Another year behind us. We take roll call, assess our losses, and make note of the ones left behind. We join, in spirit, with others still here, for a moment of solidarity as we prepare to forge ahead into another new year.

Personally, I look back over the changes that happened in this past year, note successes and failures. I list the things I plan to work on in the weeks and months to come. I pay attention, because that’s the best I can do with this life, in this world.  And I give thanks for the opportunity.

Happy new Year!

Bullet Journal



I like a day-minder. I prefer the type that allows one full page for each day, but I’ve tried out others. Some fit seven days onto a two page spread. Many of them give Saturday and Sunday less space than the other days of the week. I can work with those formats, but they’re not my favorite. I like a full page for my to-do list,  my work schedule and other places I have to be, miles walked and other exercise done, and anything else I want to keep track of. Spare room on a page might be used for inspirational quotes, movies that sound interesting, books I want to read or anything else that catches my attention.

I also keep a journal. I have a book filled with nothing but possible titles for future works of art. I have another with Christmas gifts I have purchased and given – and to whom – over the course of the last forty years. My daughters were having a discussion a few years ago about how I had shorted one of them at holiday time. No way! I was able to pull out my little book, go all the way back to the year 1989, and show that I was absolutely fair. It just happened that Kate had insisted on a pair of very expensive designer jeans that year. Jen got three pair of [less expensive]slacks to Kate’s one, but the expenditure was the same.

I have my big red notebook, with quotes and notes, plans and aspirations. It also has a eulogy for my sister, Sheila, written on a tearful trip down-state, the particulars of two separate meals I shared with my sisters on two different vacations, and every book I read in 2013.

The bullet journal intrigued me as a way to possibly combine many of these various ledgers into one single book that I could carry with me. I watched the on-line  tutorial by the inventor, then did some exploring on my own before attempting to implement the idea. There is a lot of information out there. Quite a few people have blogs devoted to nothing but the ins and outs of bullet journaling. Pinterest has dozens of bullet journal categories, with thousands of ideas. Any search engine will produce several good examples.

Let me start by saying that none of these ideas are original, or my own. I started very simply, last August. It was more than a month before I was confident enough to give up my day-planner, and use the bullet journal exclusively. Many discussions talk about how this is superior to using a smart phone or computer to keep track of things. That means nothing to me, as I have always written things down. There are just a few – important – things that set the bullet journal apart from regular planners.

  • You set it up yourself. You decide if each day of the week gets a full page, or a fraction of a page. You decide what’s important, and what gets space. Nothing is off limits. I might have ten pages of simple day-planner stuff, than a page of quotes, or a list of books I want to read, a good recipe…whatever.
  • The index. This simple aspect is what makes the bullet journal workable – even borderline genius. It is simply a few pages at the front dedicated to what can be found where. So it can be found again. Unlike the information scattered throughout the pages of my day-planner!
  • Simplicity. You start with a blank book. What’s important – and what gets space – can change throughout the life of the bullet journal (which does not run from January to December, by the way, but from whenever you want to start, until you fill it up and begin another one).
  • Creativity. Honest to God, go to Pinterest, and check out the oh-so-cute and creative approaches. Many of the ideas put me – an artist – to shame. I adapted many ideas and formats I found there, to meet my needs and suit my aesthetic sensibility, but you could use it, easily, as a springboard for your own creativity.


That’s about all I can tell you about the bullet journal.

Timeout for Art: Future Art



Robert Genn was a prolific artist and mentor to thousands through his twice weekly “Painter’s Keys” newsletter. His daughter, Sara, a wonderful artist in her own right, has continued putting out the newsletter, since Robert’s death. She takes turns, offering her own insights and advice one day, publishing one of her father’s essays the next. Readers – artists working in locations all over the world and in all different media – discuss, in comments, the topic at hand. I value the connection. It has been a way for me, from this remote location, to get a sense of what is going on elsewhere, in the world of art.

Over the years, Genn gave advice on starting and finishing work, approaching galleries and pricing. One suggestion that has stayed with me is that one shouldn’t talk too long or too much about work that is still in the embryonic stages. Ideas need to be guarded and treated tenderly. A lack of enthusiasm in a response to sharing or – worse – a negative viewpoint can destroy a vision before it has a chance. Sometimes just the act of talking about an idea takes the energy away from it. With that in mind, I am cautious, usually, about talking about future work.

I have plans, though. In this last, dry year, with little time for making art, my mind has still been working. I have several large collage paintings in various stages of completion. The imagery still holds excitement and validity for me; I plan to finish them. Likewise, I have several collagraphs that have been waiting for final touches. I have a coupe large drawings to finish, and a few dozen clay bowls to fire. That would complete the work that is underway.

As for new work, I’ve been intrigued by encaustic painting since I studied the work of Jasper Johns. I have wanted to try it for years. It is a method that fits nicely with the collage/paint/aged surface way that I work. This year, I read three technical books on the encaustic process. I purchased multiple support boards in two sizes, tools, equipment and materials. In the next year, I will do some encaustic painting. In fact, with the idea that I have to leave room for learning, experimentation and mistakes, I plan to do a lot of work in encaustic next year.

There are more things that interest me, ideas I’d like to flesh out and materials I’d like to try…but that’s enough for now.

Thoughts on Studio Time



My studio has devolved into storage space. It started with art storage: unfinished works that were waiting for the inspiration or insight that would allow completion, works in progress and works that – in order to have a second look – I’ve taken out of the circuit. Then, when I cleaned out a downstairs closet, the studio seemed like the best place to store tools. It became, next, the repository for cans of leftover house paint, boxes of materials for teaching art to children, and things that are waiting for repair or donation to the Re-Sale shop. Housekeeping is not even an option there, until a major clearing-out takes place. Right now, I don’t have time for that.

As for the rest of the house, it gets barely what it needs, most of the time. I seem to be fighting a losing battle. I was doing pretty good with my current self-improvement scheme. I had a chart to add accountability, and was checking off items every day. I was scheduling – and fitting in – daily cleaning time, which kept the day-to-day jobs done (as apposed to having them all pile up waiting for a day off) and giving a bit more attention to the (usually neglected or ignored) weekly and monthly tasks. There was hope of getting – and staying – on top of things. I had hope that, soon, I would be able to take an entire day off and work on getting the studio cleaned out.

Then, I got sick. Immediately after coming home from a trip down-state. So, on top of just getting through the day, there was unpacking to do, and extra laundry to catch up on. There were many days when I barely struggled through the absolute necessities, and nothing extra got done. As my health improved, Christmas drew near, with all of the demands of the holiday season. Cookie-baking created more mess and took time away from other things: a double negative (the positive was the joy of offering sweet treats to friends and customers).

So, here I am, once again, at the end of the year, with a discouraging assessment of space-clearing and studio time. Fortunately, we are coming right up on a new year. I have always been a sucker for a fresh start. So, once again, I renew my commitment to get into the studio. First, to get it back to being a functioning work-space rather than a storage locker. Then, to get to work. 2016 was the year I devoted to writing. 2017, I commit to making art.

No Title, No Substance



Well, I knew it was going to happen eventually.

It seems I have nothing at all to say, today.

Notice, I did not say “nothing of substance.” That is often the case. I find I can go on for quite some time about a bit of trivial nonsense. Today, we’ll see how I do with absolutely nothing.

After a string of gray days, I do not have a good photo as accompaniment. Sometimes a good picture will inspire a bit of writing. Not today. This shadow self-portrait seems appropriate for this bit of empty rambling.

Likewise, a nice title can lead the way. I have a collection of titles, gleaned from poetry and other writings, for artwork that I have not created yet. On days when I’m fumbling in the studio for a place to start, or a direction to take with a work in progress, I go through my list of titles. Sometimes I find just exactly the stimulus or clarification I need. It works with writing, too. In November I made a quick list (Potatoes; Swim; Bicycle; Apples…) and chose from that list a title. Then – like an assignment –  I used it as the jumping-off point for my writing that day. I have one item left on the list: Ice Cream. It’s freezing outside; I am in no mood to write about ice cream today!

It’s the year’s end; that’s part of it, I’m sure. There’s a self-sabotage instinct that kicks in when success is near. I’m not sure if it’s a fear of completion or an aversion to success, but it has haunted me throughout my life. In view of the finish line, I tend to freeze. And that finish line is in sight. Five days until the end of this year; five more days until I can say I have successfully posted a blog every single day of the year. So, that’s where I run out of steam.

Fortunately, I’m also stubborn. I am not going to give up now. I will get something out each day, through December 31st. It may not be important, poignant, or even interesting, but I am too close, now, to give up.

The Day After Christmas Blues



“The Day After Christmas Blues.” That used to really be a thing in my life.

It was worst when I was a child. After all the days and weeks of giddy anticipation, preparation and decorating, magical evenings in the quiet and glow of Christmas tree lights, imagining the bounty that would be found on Christmas morning…suddenly it was over.

Sometimes it struck as early as Christmas afternoon. After the presents were all opened and gathered, after the best new dress was shown off at Mass, after breakfast that included the Christmas Eve ham, now with eggs and toast as accompaniment, things settled, sadly, down. Oh, there were the calls to friends, yet, to compare gifts. There were new dolls or toys to play with, and to find special places for. There were books to read and games to play. There was the long Christmas holiday away from school still to look forward to. Still, there was a hollow space, where Christmas used to be. The anticipation was over; the waiting was done. The reality was never quite what I had expected it to be.

As a young adult, the anticipation went hand in hand with preparation, and the promise, always, to make this one “the best Christmas ever.” The house would reflect the holidays in decorations, music and good cheer. The food, from cookies for Santa to Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, to casserole contributions to the meals that we attended, was plotted and planned far in advance. The gifts would be perfect, and received with gratitude and joy. I remember many frantic Christmas Eve nights, trying to finish just one more handmade gift, to make the under-tree bounty look just a little richer.

And then Christmas was over. Leaving warm memories, sure, and gifts to enjoy, but over nonetheless.  It never quite lived up to my expectations. Maybe gifts weren’t received quite as enthusiastically  as I’d anticipated, or my husband drank too much, or someone was cranky. It was always a letdown to some degree. Mostly, because it was over. It was time for the annual day after Christmas blues. Always with thoughts of how next year, it will be better.

Of course, now I know I should have savored every single moment of those Christmases spent among family and loved ones. Loud, boisterous, crazy, everyone-talking-at-once and “look how much those babies have grown” Christmases are the ones I miss now. I fight off tears for weeks before the holidays, with memories of Christmases past.

  • My mother, coming home with bags and boxes that would be hidden away in her bedroom. Later, after long wrapping sessions, she’d come out with more and more gifts for under the tree.
  • My Dad, recalling his own childhood memories and – like a kid himself – giddily relishing the anticipation and joy of his own children.
  • Christmas morning when the gifts were piled high under the tree, and all nine of us dove in to find the ones with our names on them.
  • Christmas afternoons with games and puzzles.
  • My little family decorating the tree with handmade ornaments, a pot of chicken and stars soup bubbling on the stove.
  • My tiny daughters coming down the stairs to be surprised by what Santa left under the tree.
  • My brother David, in a Santa hat, generous with hugs and always too loud.
  • Sheila putting together the fruit salad, with wide chunks of banana, apples and walnuts in whipped cream.
  • Nita, holding and remarking on every single beautiful baby.
  • Every one of my sisters and brothers present, with their families, chatting and laughing and helping in Mom’s big kitchen.

I should have appreciated every single person and moment more than I did.

Now, alone, with my children grown and most of my family far away, I approach the Christmas season with caution. I don’t want to fall into depression; I don’t want to be miserable. I try to drum up some Christmas spirit. Usually, that happens about 6PM on Christmas Eve. Then, I think, “Oh, I wish I had a tree up…I wish I’d decorated.” I promise myself that next year, I will, so that when I sit down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life on the night before Christmas, I will be able to sit in the glow of lights from the Christmas tree.

This year, I threw myself into a flurry of last minute baking on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. By the time I left for dinner at Aunt Katie’s, my kitchen was destroyed. My car was laden with two pies: lemon meringue and blackberry, a plate of jam tarts, a dish of butternut squash, a spinach souffle, twenty-four butter horn rolls.and a bowl of cinnamon-sugar stars.

I made phone calls on Christmas morning. First to my friend Linda who, in similar circumstances, I knew would not overwhelm me with Christmas cheer while I was still on my first cup of coffee. Then my daughters, each a joy to talk to, and a quick chat with my sister Brenda, who had a houseful of guests just arriving. I took the dogs for a long walk. I opened many thoughtful gifts. I continued putting things in and taking things out of the oven. I soaked in a hot bath. I went to dinner at Aunt Katie’s, where five of us shared good food and cheer.

And now it’s over! I have to say, these days it’s more of a relief. Having used all my milk and cream in baking, I started right off with a shot of Irish Cream in my coffee. I think I may have a piece of blackberry pie for breakfast. No day after Christmas blues for me! At least not until I decide to tackle the kitchen!


The 52 Lists Project #52


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(The last list of the year!)

List the most memorable moments of your year:

(This is not a list of “moments,” but of events that contributed many memorable moments.)

  • Well, there was this thing about committing to publishing a blog every single day, that kind of stands out as memorable. There were days, before I got into the swing of it, when I panicked near midnight, having not yet written anything to post. There were frustrating times when it seemed I had nothing worthwhile to say, or not enough time to do a subject justice. There were days when I – in trying to write ahead – accidentally published two blogs in one day. There were blessings. Like the suggestion that I just put artwork up on Thursdays, and not feel the need to write in depth about it. And finding this 52 Lists Project, which has been a joy to do, and a godsend in getting me through the week. And all of the loyal folks who have stuck with me, reading what I put out there, and sometimes offering comments and encouragement. It has definitely been memorable.
  • In February, there was a paint seminar in Clare that turned into a mini vacation. I added one day to my trip when my sister Brenda agreed to join me. We stayed in a wonderful old historic hotel, enjoyed time in the hot tub and pool, talked and shopped and explored. Brenda brought me numerous presents, including a new computer.
  • In March, I traveled with my daughter Kate, her husband Jeremy, and two of my grandchildren, Madeline and Tommy, to Connecticut to visit my grandson Mikey, his girlfriend, and their new baby, Lincoln. Kate makes all travel memorable, and this trip was no exception. We took little detours to see special sights both coming and going, and had an especially culture-rich experience while we were there.
  • In May, I went to Mikado to visit my friend Linda, who I hadn’t seen in too many years. We talked and laughed and caught up on things. We ate very well. We shopped very hard. We made several visits to a nearby animal shelter, and when I left to come home, I had a new dog – Darla – with me.
  • In June, my grandson, Tommy, came to the island for a long visit. My daughter, Kate, surprised us both by coming to the island for the Fourth of July.
  • In July, my friend Mary came for a visit. We did something special every day. We talked as if no time at all had passed since we’d had a good conversation. We laughed as if the last fifty years had fallen away!
  • In August there was the “Meet the Artists” Art Show at Livingstone Studio, where I had a good response to new work. It was a beautiful, sunny day with good food and wine, too!
  • My sisters came to the island in August, too, with significant others, children and grandchildren for a glorious week of reconnecting with family.
  • In August, I started a “bullet journal,” which has streamlined my life in many significant ways. It helped me to consolidate a dozen lists (titles and ideas for artwork; Christmas gifts purchased, gift ideas and Christmas card list; books I have read and books I want to read; quotes; daily activities; work calendar; self-improvement goals; you get the idea!) into one easy-to-keep-nearby journal. I am not good at using software to do this stuff. I’m better at writing it out. This – so far – seems like a good fit for me.
  • In September, I went across for a mammogram (good results).
  • At the end of November, I traveled downstate for good early December visits with my daughters, brother, sisters and others.
  • In December, I looked back at 2016, and started plotting ahead for an even richer, more productive year in 2017. The handy “task and activity tracker” that I created for my bullet journal makes it easy to see, for instance, that I did not allow myself a single bit of studio time for at least three months. That has to change! Photos taken with my sisters in December showed clearly that I need to lose some weight. I’m getting ready to start a new diet plan in January. Looking toward spring, I will either get my garden in hand, or I will give up on it and turn that area back into lawn. I won’t spend another summer looking at old overgrowth and weeds! So, good feelings about the past year, big plans for the next: that’s a good place to finish the 52 Lists Project!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Joyous Season to all!

“Merry Christmas, Mouse!”



I talk to animals. I don’t try to hide it.

I talk to the parakeet that lives alone in a cage in the hardware store. He doesn’t particularly like me, but he hops over to hear what I have to say whenever I’m near.

I talk to the dogs and cats that come through the hardware store on their way to visit the veterinarian.

When I stop to watch a deer who is standing alert at the side of the road, I whisper, “I will never hurt you…”

I talk to my own dogs steadily through the days and nights.

I don’t generally talk, though, to the animals that I kill.

I’m silent as I swat flies or slap mosquitoes. I have been known to murmur, “Sorry…sorry…sorry” as I vacuum Japanese beetles from my windowsills – by the thousands – as they continue their constant migration to the inside. I’m not talking to them, though, but to myself. Sorry for this murderous, cold-hearted streak that I’ve found within my heart, that I can snuff out so many little lives without a second thought.

I comfort myself with the idea that soldiers have to harden their hearts to be able to do their jobs in battle. I remind myself that this situation is like that. In this house, I am at war…with mosquitoes and flies in the summertime, those creeping and flying little beetles in the fall, and mice in the winter months.

So, I continue to swat and slap and vacuum up the insect pests. I set traps for the mice. Six spring-set plastic mouse traps, each baited with a dab of peanut butter, stand ready against walls and in corners of kitchen and laundry room. This has been a pretty mild year for rodents in my house. I’ve been getting one or two mice a week. In other years, that number has been four or five per day!

Almost always, the traps kill a mouse instantly. I pick up the trap by one corner (between thumb and pointer finger, with a grimace on my face) and take it outside. There, I pinch the back pieces together, which opens the front and the dead mouse drops into the field. Done.

Last night, an especially wily mouse reached out to steal the peanut butter, and ended up caught by one tiny arm in the trap. I noticed the sprung trap the first time I came downstairs to let the little dog out. Tired, I ignored it. The second time I came downstairs (Rosa Parks has a weak bladder), I decided to deal with the mousetrap.

I grabbed the trap at its back side, between thumb and pointer finger, as always, and pulled. Something pulled back. The mouse had dragged the trap to the crack in the woodwork that leads to a blind corner behind my kitchen cabinets, and managed to get his body – minus the trap and the one arm it held – behind the board, to safety. He was ready to do battle. I wasn’t up for it. If I were to give the trap a big yank, I can’t imagine the damage I would do in forcing that tiny body back out through the tiny crack. Or, to the appendage that was caught in the trap. I went back to bed.

When I came down in the morning, I surprised the mouse. He was back in the kitchen, and was surrounded by tiny curls of gray plastic. I’ve heard of rodents that will chew off an arm or a leg to free themselves from a trap. Happily, I’ve never seen it. This little guy was not going to fall into such desperate measures. This was not a steel trap that he was dealing with, but simply plastic. he was young, and strong, and in possession of a good set of teeth. He went to work.

I trust it was exhaustion, from his long night of trying to chew his way out of his confines, that made him lose his edge. When I came downstairs, he was exposed, vulnerable, and he knew it. I could almost read his mind (“Oh, goddamn!”) when he saw me. I could have hit him with a shoe then, or simply tossed him out into the cold, with the trap for baggage. He looked right at me.

With one toe, I pushed the back of the trap down to open it. He pulled out his arm, studying me. As he got his wits about him, and skittered back through the crack in the corner, I said, “Merry Christmas, Mouse!”

Merry Christmas, Everyone!


Good Evening



On the shortest day of the year, I drove home from work in a snowstorm, in the dark. I didn’t stay home long. I greeted the dogs and took them for a short wander around the yard. Then, we all got into the car to go visit a friend.

Darla rides shotgun, sitting tall in the passenger seat. Rosa Parks needs to be lifted up into the car; she settles on my lap. They don’t care for the radio, but they like it when I sing. I alter the words of old songs, so that their own names pop up occasionally. They always notice, responding with a raised ear, a quick blink or a wagging tail. They prefer bright headlights, so they can see the scene ahead. That night, with the snow whirling down, I used only the dims most of the way. I drove slowly, as the roads were getting slippery.

The Fox Lake Road north to Donnell Mor’s Lane, then around the curve onto Sloptown Road. Instead of taking Sloptown all the way to the King’s Highway,  I turned onto Barney’s Lake Road. When I first moved to the island, I always took that “scenic route” to town. The cedar trees hug the narrow, curving road before it opens up onto a view of one of the prettiest inland lakes on Beaver Island. Just past the lake, there’s a sharp rise before the road levels out again.

One winter day, while driving my daughters to school, my old truck stalled out going up that hill, and started rolling backward in the snow and ice. The brakes were not working. My Dad had always tormented his children, when coming from the other direction, by driving too fast down that hill, making us think we were going into the water. He loved to hear our screams and squeals. Of course, I continued the tradition with my own children. So, having teased for years about driving into Barney’s Lake, here I was, rolling backward down the hill, pumping brakes that wouldn’t catch, and picking up speed as I went.

“We’re going to go in the lake,” my girls yelled, terror in their little voices. I cranked the steering wheel strongly to the right, and flung one arm out to hold them in their seats  (I shudder, now, at the adventures we had without ever so much as a seat belt in place!). Instead of following the road to the bottom, the truck went off into the field, where the tall grasses helped me bring it to a stop. We gathered our wits about us, restarted the stalled vehicle, and continued on our way. Since then, I’ve been a little more cautious about that drive, when weather conditions aren’t ideal.

Two night’s ago, on a whim, I was once again on Barney’s Lake Road. In a snowstorm. The narrow road had not been plowed, and the deep snow scraped the undercarriage of my little car. It was slippery. There was no place to turn around. I thought about that hill.

“This might have been a big mistake,” I told the dogs who, confident in my abilities, seemed unconcerned. I just kept going…forward…slow and steady. I took the hill in second gear. The car struggled and slipped around a little bit, but got us to the top. Easy, from there. The road widens, and the curves are fewer. My friend’s house is near the end of that road. We made it without further incident.

The dogs love to visit, and always beat me to the house. Rosa Parks jumps against the door to be let in, as if it were her own home. Darla is familiar with it now, too. Treats are always provided, and that night was no exception. Some kind of cooked meat, cut from a frozen block, was happily accepted by both dogs. For me, one tall glass of eggnog laced with rum and sprinkled with nutmeg, and a beautiful sampling of dark chocolate candies.

We talked, across the kitchen table, about on-going projects, and books, and movies. Children and grandchildren entered into the conversation. Soon, it was time to say good-bye, and make our way back home (I took an easier route for the return trip!). It was a fine way to spend the evening, on the shortest day of the year.

Timeout for Art: Harvest Moon


Harvest Moon

Well, this image is upside-down, I’ll mention that right away. I don’t know how to fix it.  The moon shape is supposed to be at the top, not the bottom, of the page. I was working with the simple composition problem of a circle in a rectangle. I experimented with various ways of making it  work by adding  other elements, spots of color, and texture. I like this for its layers of organic, translucent color balanced by hard edges of geometric shapes and machine-cut inclusions. I like it best right side up, however!