Monthly Archives: December 2020



Odd how the word “confession” has changed in meaning over the course of my life.

Growing up in the Catholic religion, Confession was one of the seven holy sacraments. Like Matrimony and Extreme Unction, I didn’t understand its meaning much beyond that. In the second grade at Bishop Kelley School, we studied, practiced and prepared for our first Confession, which would be followed shortly after by our First Holy Communion. Two big events in the life of a small child!

I don’t know if the nuns neglected to tell me about tone of voice, or if I had simply failed to register that instruction in my effort to memorize the “script.” I was shy, and terrified of speaking in public to the point where I was often completely unable to form words. This was important! I didn’t want to mess it up. I practiced and practiced.

Finally, the day came when we all walked in a single file line from our classroom down the hall, out the front door, across the street, and into the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. We each genuflected toward the altar, then positioned ourselves in the pew adjacent to the confessional booth. When it came my turn, I crossed the aisle, pulled back the green velvet curtain, and knelt onto the padded brown leather kneeler.

I heard Father slide the screen open. Was it time? I waited. “Are you there?” he asked quietly. Yes, I was there. I was ready! Filled with excitement at this big event, my shyness disappeared, and I started talking, just as I’d practiced:


“Whoa…whoa…shhhh….SHHHHH…Hey! Quiet! Whisper!” came the voice of the priest from behind the screen. I didn’t know – or I’d forgotten, in my enthusiasm – that I was supposed to whisper. And, though I knew my lines perfectly when I arrived, that reprimand drove them right out of my mind. From that point on, he had to coax every word from me.

“This…” he said, and I whispered, “this…”





One word at a time, we got through the introduction. I’ll bet he hated to even broach the subject of sins, but somehow we got through it. We had talked about that in class already, with “disobeyed my parents” being the default sin for seven-year-olds. He assigned me my penance, gave me his blessing, and sent me on my way.

By the time I reached eighth grade, I’d learned how to play the system. No way was I going to tell the priest that I harbored lustful thoughts about Paul McCartney…or any of the Beatles. My relationship with the Beatles was not the priest’s business! I would not admit to disrespecting Sister Aloysius, either. Many of the conversations my friends and I were having were also not things I wanted to bring up in the confessional.

So, I’d start out with the usual, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession. I have no sins to confess.” Then, like an after-thought, I’d jump in there with, “Oh! Oh, yeah…I lied once.” The lie, of course, was the “I have no sins” line. At the age of thirteen, I thought, I guess, that I could cheat my way into heaven!

Timeout for Art: Papermaking


My methods for making paper are not the same as those who make fine art papers. Though I envy people who have the money and space for a Hollander beater, and who can then mash up organic cotton linters for fine sheets of artist quality paper, my methods and materials are much more basic. The up-side is that the way I make paper is open to anyone. Equipment is easy to come by; materials are free.

I taught myself the process that I use to make paper many years ago, from instructions in a small book I found on the sale table at Young & Welshan’s book store in Flint. I decided my blender, which I’d purchased to be able to impress my family with Brandy Alexanders during our Christmas holiday, was better suited for pulverizing paper pulp. I pulled embroidery hoops out of my craft basket to serve as papermaking molds. Always interested in turning scraps into something wonderful, I was enamored with the results.

As often happens in my world, I soon had a half-dozen books on papermaking. I learned various techniques for special effects. I studied the history of paper. My old friend, Bill, a fine craftsman and boat-builder, guided me through the cutting and joinery involved, and I made two dozen paper-making molds, and several deckles. Then, I started teaching the process.

I have taught papermaking to adults and children of all ages. The youngest was a group of 30 three-and-four-year-olds, my grandson’s “Head Start” class. My teaching methods vary only slightly based on the age and dexterity of the students.

I begin with a little history of the development of writing; I explain how there was a need for something like paper long before we had it. The main purpose of many ancient monuments was to act as a message board, telling of momentous victories or extolling great rulers. Roman soldiers going into battle often engraved their last will and testament onto the metal scabbards of their swords. Students wrote on clay tablets or slabs of slate.

Native Americans wrote on birch bark; silk scrolls were used in the Orient; and papyrus was developed in Egypt from a plant that grew along the Nile. Important documents were written on parchment, made of animal skin, or vellum, which was a finer product made of calf, goat or sheepskin. Though it was a lengthy process to prepare and cure the skin, it was in use through the Renaissance. One copy of the Gutenburg Bible required the skins of 300 sheep! To this day, we often refer to a diploma as a “sheepskin.”

Paper was invented in China, in 105 A.D., by Ts’ai Lun. He watched fishermen dragging their nets up from a river that had much debris floating in it from overhanging trees. As the nets dried out on the riverbank, the debris would come off in sheets. From this, Ts’ai Lun developed the process of papermaking. The first papers were made of old rags, tree bark, hemp, leaves and fish nets. The sheets were crude, but cheaper and easier to mass-produce than anything else to that point. For his efforts, Ts’ai Lun was awarded the title of “Master” by the emperor.

The process of papermaking is virtually unchanged in two thousand years: Fiber is macerated, mixed with water, and lifted from the water on a fine-mesh screen. The lifting motion draws the fibrous pulp onto the screen, forming a sheet of paper. It’s that process that differentiates sheets of paper from other things, like egg cartons, that are molded of pulp rather than drawn up onto a screen.

Papermaking companies have large machines that do the work of breaking down fibers into pulp, and equipment that will turn out a perfectly smooth, even sheet, but the process is still the same. Though commercial operations often use wood fiber to make pulp, any cellulose fiber will work to make paper.

In my classes, I show samples of papers I’ve made from banana peels, flower petals, grass, vegetable parings and grape skins. It becomes obvious that things with long, stringy fibers make the sturdiest sheets of paper. Though we use these items and many other things to add interest to our sheets of paper, for at-home or classroom papermaking, the basic pulp is made with recycled paper. Next week, I’ll go into the equipment and materials needed, and how to prepare for making your own papers at home.

Christmas Past


In my long life, there have been many good Christmases, and it has always been my favorite holiday. Too often, though, anticipation leads to disappointment, when the holiday falls short of my expectations. Or, there’s a big let-down when it’s over. One Christmas, though, lives in my memory as just about perfect.

That fall, my husband and I had sold our small, drafty, badly-in-need-of-repair house on Lake Pleasant, and moved in to a brand new townhouse just outside of the downtown area of Lapeer. We were in our early 20s, and had been married not quite four years. Our daughter, Jennifer, would turn three in January; our second child was due in December. Loving my beautiful new home, and experiencing the “nesting” instinct often associated with pregnancy, I embraced Christmas decorating.

Over the chair in the living room, I hung a bright green wreath my mother-in-law made for me, of painted and folded computer punch cards. Bells on ribbons were draped over every door knob. I had three ceramic angels, each dressed in gold and each holding a musical instrument, standing on the end of the counter that divided the kitchen from the dining room. On the wall above them, I hung a slab of old barn wood on which I’d fashioned a Christmas tree.

The tree was made of bits of green florist’s foam and scraps of torn tissue paper glued on to the surface. The “ornaments” were buttons, tiny beads, and earrings that had lost their mate. Chains from old jewelry formed the garland, and a folded tin foil star topped it off. I’d fastened everything in place, then given it several coats of shiny varnish.

Our Christmas stockings were hanging on the half wall that faced the entry door, including a small one for the baby, not yet arrived. Our Christmas tree waited outside on the patio, until the holiday got a little closer, but the music of the season played in my house all day long.

My daughter, Katherine, was born on the eleventh of December. She started off with a bit of jaundice, and had to stay longer in the hospital. When we brought her home, just a few days before Christmas, my heart was full, and the holiday spirit was strong.

My sister-in-law, Dena, came over with her new baby, and the two tiny infants napped on the sofa while Jennifer helped us bake cookies. That evening we brought in the tree, set it up and decorated it. The year before, Jennifer and I had made ornaments from baker’s clay: the characters from The Nutcracker, sweet angels, the three kings, and a few cute elves. Homemade Chicken and stars soup simmered on the stove; Christmas songs filled the air.

When my daughters were asleep, I got back to the on-going task of wrapping presents. That’s how the days went by: cooking, baking, making gifts, wrapping presents, and loving my little family.

Christmas Eve was when my husband’s parents celebrated the holiday, so we went to their house for dinner, and gift exchange. It was always a big feast, with lots of appetizers and lots of desserts. Because my in-laws both worked, they relished time off around the holidays. The family gathering was always fun. We then went home for our own preparations.

On Christmas Eve, Jennifer told us, “I know Santa Claus is getting me a train for Christmas! It’s what I want more than everything!” She had neglected to actually mention that train to anyone, even Santa Claus when she went to sit on his lap in the mall, or in the letter she dictated for him. So, her Dad set out late on Christmas Eve night, through a raging snowstorm, to find a train.

He found one, finally, at Perry Drug Store. It was smaller than we’d have liked, but the price was right. Mainly, it was available! Relieved, we set it up under the tree. Jennifer’s face reflected her joy when she saw it, “I knew he’d remember,” she announced happily. I don’t think she ever played with her train after Christmas morning!

On Christmas Eve, all the thoughtful gifts that had been purchased over the previous months were placed under the tree. The stockings were filled. The red-and-white striped “Santa’s wrapping paper” presents were added. The unwrapped balls, stuffed animals and the train were spread around. With a picture of the “ideal” Christmas tree embedded in my mind from my childhood, when gifts for nine children competed for space, I thought, “it’s not enough!”

So, with my baby sleeping in the bassinet beside me, and my little girl asleep in her cozy bed upstairs, with my husband dozing on the sofa while A Christmas Carol played on the TV, I crocheted through the night. A hat for Jennifer, dark blue, with double-thick earmuffs and a multi-color ruffled brim. A foot-long clown for baby Katey, and a bigger one for Jenny. Because I hadn’t planned for this, the only stuffing I had was old nylon stockings. Finally, long after midnight, I relented and got a few hours of sleep.

Christmas morning! I made coffee and baked sweet rolls first. With Katey in my arms, I watched as Jenny investigated the contents of her stocking. She found the unwrapped gifts and toys, and showed Katey the ones that were hers. When my in-laws stopped in, the rest of the presents. Then, there was time to relax for a bit.

Later, after baths and showers, dressed in our best Christmas finery we went to my parents house. There, I showed off my new baby, and helped finish the meal preparation, that my Mom had been working at for days. Dad grinned as he helped his guests to the bar, set up on the side table. We gathered around the long table, with another table in the back room for the overflow. We exchanged gifts, told stories, exchanged news and played games.

Maybe there was tension in the air, at my in-laws house, or at my family home. Sometimes that happened, over the holidays. Maybe my husband drank too much. It’s possible that the children – there were plenty of them – were grouchy or noisy. There could have been disappointments. If so, I don’t remember any of it. This Christmas lives in my memory as the perfect holiday, and that’s exactly how I want to remember it!

Timeout for Art: Old Work

Kate, 1988

Last week, late, I posted “New Work.” This week, the topic is “Old Work,” which should, in comparison, have been a piece of cake. Yet here I am, late again.

This morning, at last, I took time away from making new work, to dig out some older pieces. Then, I sorted through them to eliminate those that I had posted recently under topics like “Drawing” or “Line.” Next, I pulled out those that were poor images of myself or others. After all, just because a drawing is accurate does not ensure that it is flattering. Finally, I took photos.

Jen, 1988
Jerry, 1986
Jen, 1985
Self-portrait, 1992
Self-portrait, 1990

Besieged II


A week ago, I had to look up the word “besieged” to make sure I had the correct meaning for it in my mind. Now, I feel like so much of an expert on it, I’m giving it another entire post!

Sometimes, the entire universe seems to conspire to weigh a body down. It feels like an attack somehow, coming at me from all angles. I feel besieged.

In addition to normal bills that come due regularly, new things crop up. A medical procedure that should have been covered by my insurance turned from “screening” to “diagnostic.” Which makes it necessary to come up with the “deductible” that I have to pay before the insurance kicks in.

A simple call to have the pilot light on my propane furnace lit for the season turned into a major, unexpected problem. I needed at least one new, expensive part to get it going. Since my only other heat source is an electric space heater, and electrical outages can be common here on Beaver Island, it could not be put off.

At the hardware store, in addition to the regular weekly freight, that can be pretty overwhelming all on its own, we received a whole pallet of new Christmas stuff. That, in addition to the 12-foot, floor-to-ceiling section of Christmas stuff in the basement, stored from last year, waiting to be brought upstairs.

The process involved first moving displays of heaters and humidifiers from the front shelves, coolers from the side shelves, T-shirts and sweatshirts from the front shelves in Housewares, and the life-jackets from where they hang near the door to the Gift Shop. All of those items had to either be stored in the basement, or displayed elsewhere. It involved a lot of moving and rearranging.

Then, every Christmas box and tote, old and new, had to be opened, as we started to formulate a plan to make sense of it all. Some shelves are adjustable, some not, so the size of items often determines their location. Of course, we try to keep tree-trimming items together, yard decorations in a group, gift ideas and “stocking-stuffers” close by.

As soon as that job is done, it’s on to help finish up with getting the regular freight put away, so that the next order can be prepared. The last ferry boat of the year runs in December. After that, any shipments have to come over by airplane. It not only increases the cost of freight, but whole pallets cannot be loaded onto the small planes. There’s a lot more handling and moving of everything to get it from the warehouse truck, across Lake Michigan, to our store on the island. We try very hard to plan ahead, and order supplies to last us until the boat runs again in the spring. It’s a great deal of pressure.

At home, there are my three dogs, each nine-years-old, and each with their own health issues. Each morning, I grind up their medicines, mix the individual tonics in with a bit of soft food, and dispense them. Last month, Blackie Chan was lame; next, severe allergies kept Rosa Parks (and I!) from sleeping. Darla’s health is okay, but she’s been showing a predatory interest, lately, in my neighbor’s chickens. It’s always something.

I have an art show planned for next October, in my home town of Lapeer. It’s a long way off…but, for me, that’s a dangerous way of thinking. A lifetime procrastinator, I am well-acquainted with the hazards of putting things off! So, I’m trying to stay on top of it. I’m trying to limit the days I have to work outside of my house; I’m blogging just two days a week; and I’ve forced myself into a regular routine.

Then, someone has family visiting for the holiday, could I work? Someone else has a funeral to attend, could I fill in? Someone needs to go to the mainland…yes, I can work. Then Dennis, who is always so kind, and who, along with Kevin, helps to turn my simple blogs into an “Island Reflections” radio program, wrote to let me know that “we’ve been in re-runs for several weeks now.”

That does it! I spend a sleepless night worrying. I get a little snippy with the people at work. I shoot off a letter to Dennis. I feel overwhelmed.




I get a message from my friend, Audrey, offering the wonderful treat of a take-out meal from a Greek restaurant on the mainland, ordered, paid for, and socially-distanced delivered to my home!

I receive a check in the mail – larger than I expected – from my friend Lois, for the artwork I sold in her gallery this summer.

I get a letter from Dennis…and then one from Kevin…both assuring me that I have nothing to worry about; they have plenty of material for the radio.

Finally, my first Christmas card of the season, from my friend, Bob. As always, it’s the hand-drawn invitation to his annual Pine & Pasta Party. This year would be the 41st and, though it, too, has been cancelled due to the current pandemic, he still sent out the invitation.

And here I am…once again…besieged with the kindness and goodwill of others!

Timeout for Art: New Work


New work. That title created the problem. Working my way through the alphabet with my “Timeout for Art” blogs, I’ve had to struggle, sometimes, to find a subject to coordinate with the weekly letter. And, though I planned to mainly showcase my own work, there have been days where my work simply didn’t apply to the topic.

N was “new work,” though. That, I planned from the start. The title would serve as impetus to get me into the studio to create work to show. Except I didn’t. Summer turned to fall, and now it’s almost winter, and though I’ve had the very best intentions, I’ve spent little actual quality time in the studio.

Yet here it is, time for the letter N, to taunt me with my lack of new work. What to do? Change the title? Art topics by alphabetical designation was not the very best idea I’ve ever had to begin with. Even though I have found my once misplaced Dictionary of Art Terms, as well as the original list I drew up, it’s not that easy. N offers “naturalism’ and many “neo” options, from neo-classicism to neo-dada, but it would be a push to make any of them applicable to my own work.

I have pulled out old work and passed it off as new before, when under pressure. That seems to miss the point. Plus, dishonest. Last week, feeling a bit under the weather anyway, I just skipped over my “Timeout for Art” blog. One rule I try, try, try to enforce in my life, when it comes to commitments I’ve made to myself, is “don’t miss twice.”

So, yesterday, I opened the curtains at the foot of the stairs, so heat could get up to the studio. I dressed in my old, torn and paint-covered sweats. I poured coffee into the covered and insulated cup my sister gave me, that will keep it warm for hours. I headed up the stairs. If I could manage to actually get some work done, wonderful. If not, I would plan, organize, read and tidy, but I was determined to spend the day in the studio.

I started by pulling out a stack of papers that I’d cut to size and painted as bases for collages. Some were re-purposed old work, and the remnants of charcoal drawings under the paint added a layer of interest. Next, I pulled out a few trays of collage materials, and started sorting by color and shape. Finally, I scooped out some heavy gel polymer medium, and began placing elements on the surface.

I usually work on more than one piece at a time. Whether painting, printing or collage, if I can step away from one thing to focus on another, it’s easier to remain objective about what each piece needs. I had space for four collages on my drafting table at once, encircled by stacks and trays of scrap papers, so I worked on four at a time. Before the day was done, I had several good beginnings. Finally, new work!



Besieged. It sounds like a word I know, but I looked it up anyway. Yes, it was the word I thought it was, and I had the correct meaning in mind, too:

besiege v.t. lay siege to; crowd around; assail with requests

That’s exactly how I feel: besieged. Not always, but often.

The dogs want my attention. Constantly, it seems. I want to write, or draw, or even, for heaven’s sake, do the dishes. They want me on the floor with them, scratching ears and rubbing bellies. I have two hands; I have three dogs. A few minutes on the floor with them, and the discrepancy becomes evident. They scramble for the best spot. They push and nudge and slide in close. The big dog, Darla, will drop onto her back for a belly rubat any time, without a thought to the small chihuahuas that have to move quickly away to avoid being crushed!

When they can’t get attention that way, they want out. Then in. Then a treat, as reward for going out and coming back in. Over the years, due to extreme demand from my too-plump dogs, the size of their reward has shrunk. Currently, the treat they get is the same kibble they get for their dinner. Each piece is only slightly larger than a BB.

I dole the tiny pieces out one by one. First, one goes to the dog that actually made the trip (“Good girl, Rosa Parks, outside and in!”). Next, one each to her two companions (“Look, Darla, what Rosa Parks got for you! Here you go, Blackie Chan, Rosa Parks wanted you to have this. She loves you guys…just as I do.”). Finally, one last little bit of kibble for the dog that went out and in. We call that “the bonus.”

I barely get back to what I was doing, and another dog has decided to make the trek. They tag-team me that way, until we are all exhausted. I’ve tried saying, “Enough! No! You just came in! You don’t need to go out again!” To that, Blackie Chan will crumple pathetically against the door, as if it will magically open on its own. Darla will lay down in front of it where, even through a sound sleep, she will methodically scratch on the window until I relent. Rosa Parks, without hesitation, will march straight for the bathroom, to pee on the rug without an ounce of shame or regret. It’s not worth it! I continue to go along with their relentless game.

I come home from work after a long and trying day. I have a handful of bills from the post office, a bag of necessities from the grocery store, my lunch bag, purse, thermos and coffee cup to carry inside. I balance everything in my arms and hands and, bone tired and with aching feet, make my way from the car to the kitchen door.

Before I get even halfway up the walkway, I can hear Blackie Chan. He’s the big “talker” of my three dogs. “She’s here! She’s home,” he seems to be announcing. And when I open the door, there he is to greet me, with Darla right beside him. Seconds later, Rosa Parks, who is slower in noticing my arrival because she’s nearly deaf, rounds the corner with her own big grin. I put everything I’m holding down onto the counter, and drop to the floor. Darla wriggles from nose to wagging tail with enthusiasm as she gives me a big sloppy kiss on the cheek. The little dogs both clamber into my lap, thrilled to have me home.

Soon, I’ll get up. I’ll put away the groceries and move the mail to the table. I’ll grab my camera, fill a pocket with kibble, and set out for a walk with the dogs. For a few moments, though, I just enjoy the greeting. I wallow in the pleasure of being happily besieged!