Author Archives: cindyricksgers

About cindyricksgers

I am an artist. I live on an island in northern Lake Michigan, USA. I have two grown daughters, four strong, smart and handsome grandsons and one beautiful, intelligent and charming granddaughter. I live with two spoiled dogs. I love walking in the woods around my home, reading, writing and playing in my studio.

Off!

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Yesterday was a very bad day for Rosa Parks.

A trip to town to see the veterinarian is not a fun outing for any of my dogs, but I think it’s hardest on Rosa Parks. Though she’s a loving and loyal little dog, she is extremely selective about who she’ll make friends with. My daughters, my son-in-law, three of my grandchildren, and me. That’s it. The veterinarian is not on her list.

Another quirk my Chihuahua has is that she does not like to wear stuff. No cute hats or sweaters for Rosa Parks; she doesn’t even like a collar. Because her neck is larger than her head, she can’t be forced to wear one, either. “Off,” I imagine her thinking as she uses a paw to scrape it past her ears, over and over again.

I finally gave up on the collar, and got her a bright pink harness. It’s her favorite color (I think) and much better suited to her body-type. She will wear it when necessary, for trips when she needs to be on a leash. It doesn’t take long, though, for her to have shifted it so that she’d wearing it over only one shoulder, or around her waist, with loose ends dragging behind. Clearly, she wants it off.

My other dogs are similarly negative about any encumbrances. Blackie Chan can “Houdini” his way out of his harness in a matter of seconds, while sitting on my lap in the car! Even Darla, my most compliant dog, has managed, of late, to slide out of her collar. As they weasel their way out of any restraint, I picture Mel Gibson in Braveheart, and his battle cry, “Freedom!”

Rosa Parks is the worst, though. When the dogs go to the groomer, for bath, blow dry and a few other incidentals, they each get a seasonal, decorative bandana tied around their neck. Rosa Parks, who has to be muzzled for the treatment, wears a bitter scowl until the muzzle comes off. Then, she works that kerchief off her neck, and tramples on it. If she could spit, she’d spit on it!

A trip to the veterinarian is a nightmare on many levels. She has to be muzzled; she has bitten me twice. I know it was not intentional…she was aiming for the doctor…but it’s still unacceptable. Then, she will be poked and prodded by people she doesn’t like, and doesn’t trust. It’s always traumatic. I used to bring all three dogs in at the same time, but one dog’s terror affects all of the dog’s experience. Lately, I’ve been making them individual appointments.

Yesterday, it was Rosa Parks. She needed her annual heartworm check and heartworm preventative for the warm weather months. Since her brother, Blackie Chan, has recently been diagnosed with some pretty serious heart problems, we planned an X-ray to check on that. And, she desperately needed her nails clipped.

We started with the nails. No matter how many times I try to put a positive spin on it, Rosa Parks does not want the procedure, even when it’s called a “mani-pedi.” Regardless of how closely I hold her, assure her that it will be okay, and tell her that she’s a good girl, Rosa Parks is a maniac. She jerks and thrashes and fights. She tries every tactic she can manage to try to get away. I hold her tightly; the doctor has a steady hand. Still, we usually have at least one incident of a nail getting cut too close. Yesterday was no exception.

It was a stubborn injury, too, that refused to stop bleeding, even after several applications of the styptic powder. The doctor finally bandaged the paw with gauze, wrapped it in a bright blue ace bandage, and sealed that with a bit of adhesive tape. Next, the blood draw for the heartworm test. Then the X-ray, when she had to be handed over to the assistant, to hold her in place.

By that time, Rosa Parks had quit fighting. Her fierce glare above the muzzle assured me that she wasn’t collapsing from lack of oxygen, but had simply finally given in to her helpless position. Soon, she was back in my arms, and the muzzle was removed. A short consultation, a couple prescriptions, a bill printed out, and we were out the door.

Then, Rosa Parks started immediately working to get the bandage off. She’d loosened it by the time we got home, making it look like she had a big blue slipper on one foot. She limped melodramatically, and sat right down to continue chewing at the wrap. She kept right at it, through the day and on into the evening. I found the blue ace bandage on the laundry room floor. The gauze was not far away. Freedom!

The adhesive tape, however, has slid down to the wider part of Rosa’s foot, and is firmly stuck to the hair there. Having suffered enough indignity, she refuses to let me remove it. Having shed the bulk of it, I suppose she’s decided this much can stay on.

New

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Here is spring.

Winter started slowly this year, and was, all told, a pretty mediocre season, here on Beaver Island. Cold temperatures came late and only sporadically. Though we had a couple big snows and considerable ice, there were no records broken.

No matter. When the ground is finally clear, when the new green shoots poke out of the ground and the trees start to bud, I welcome spring. Though I’ve been present for the changing seasons for nearly seventy years now, spring comes as if it’s never happened before, and I greet it with surprise and wonder.

I’ve always lived in Michigan, and I enjoy the changing seasons. I don’t love everything about any of the seasons, but there are things to appreciate in each. I love summertime, and look forward to it. The ever lengthening and warming days make me happy. I enjoy summer’s energy. When the nights start to cool and the trees show their colors in the fall, I like the change. Simmering soups and long walks through the crackling leaves replace the busyness of summer. When the holidays get close, and first snow falls, I appreciate the beauty, and the quiet and introspection that the winter offers.

Just like all the other seasons, I know that spring is coming. Still, I am amazed. Did I doubt that winter would give way? Did I forget that spring arrives every single year? It seemed like a miracle. It opens up like a distant memory. This season always surprises me. In the spring, everything seems brand new.

Walking down the Fox Lake Road with my dogs, the smell of onions is suddenly present. Oh, the ramps! I’d forgotten! Looking down, speckled green leaves poke out of the dry ground cover. Trout lilies! Nearly obscured by the overgrown grapevines, my forsythia bursts into flower. Has it always been that bright? Have I seen that yellow before? The pale, bright green on the ends of the tree branches. Is that new? And the smell of lilac! That deeper, musty smell that reminds me about morel mushrooms. In the springtime, the regular seems extraordinary.

No matter how many times this pattern repeats, no matter how many times I’ve watched the seasons change, spring is always brand new!

Timeout for Art: Momentum

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Focus is necessary when starting a creative project. I’ve talked about narrowing my attention, putting away side projects, and clearing the space. The next major issue is momentum. Beginning is the hardest part.

Once again, just when I need it, the right advice comes to me, this time, in a newsletter that I subscribe to. Canadian artist, Ruth Maude regularly posts about her art process at http://www.allthingsencaustic.com. I’m trying to learn as much as possible about the encaustic process, and how it can be used in collage, painting and printmaking, and often gain helpful information and inspiration in her posts. In February, she wrote a piece titled “When it’s Hard to Make Art/Finding Momentum,” and it addressed the exact things I was dealing with.

For content, she referred to another artist who offers good instruction and advise. Nicholas Wilton is the founder of Art2Life Creativity workshops and classes. Maude draws from one of Wilton’s videos for his “Three Tips that Really Work to Get Your Momentum Back.”

  • The more you do, the more you do.
  • Little and often.
  • Don’t start. Play instead.

She expands on each of these pointers with quotes from Wilton, expounding on the importance of making time each day to show up, even if just for non-art-related activities like cleaning or planning, of giving it a few minutes each day, rather than waiting for a large block of time on the weekend, and – most crucial, in my mind – finding the fun in the project.

Maude also explains the importance of having an accountability partner, and making a plan for what you hope to accomplish in a given work session. All advise was very pertinent to my situation, and gave me a way to get started.

Listen!

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I always have plenty of complaints. It seems like I’m always playing “Devil’s Advocate” to whatever is going well in my life. No matter what wonderful things are going on, I can always name what’s wrong, too. I’ve learned to, mainly, keep it to myself. I know that when folks hand out a “how are you,” what they want, in return, is a “fine!” I’m happy to give it to them. It’s not hard. I usually am, in fact, fine, and happy with my life. Give me an opening, though, and I can also espouse on everything that is not going well.

My sister, Brenda, is a very good conversationalist. I’ve watched her, over the years, draw people out, encouraging them to talk. I fall into it every time. No matter how much good news I have to tell, a few minutes on the telephone with Brenda’s sympathetic encouragement, and I am reporting on everything that is frustrating me. Sometimes I hang up the phone, and wonder if I’ve even given her a chance to speak, for all the time I spent complaining!

Brenda is a good listener, too. Though she’s one of the most positive people I know, she is always willing to lend an ear to my problems. She hears, and sympathizes, but doesn’t try to “fix” me. There are those who, when they hear me complain, want to tell me how to solve the problem. Rarely am I looking for a solution.

I live alone, and often just internalize things. When I voice my feelings, it is simply to share. I’m not trying to show off, when things are going well – and, when I’m frustrated, upset or mad – I’m not looking for answers. I just want to commiserate.

Remember the feeling you get when, as a mother of a two year old, or of a teen-ager, you meet another mother with a child of the same age? Or when you’re buried in a remodeling project, overwhelmed with holiday preparation or underappreciated at work, and you run into a friend in the same situation? That feeling? It’s joyous relief. That’s what I’m looking for, when I share my complaints.

I’m hoping for assurance that I’m not alone in this world, in my situation. I want to know that there is no judgment, no feeling of superiority, no chastisement for the the problems I’ve amassed, or for my weakness for wanting to talk about them. Simple understanding. Empathy. A little righteous anger. That’s what makes a good listener.

Keeping it Fair

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Yesterday, I wrote about my oldest daughter, Jennifer, so I must, of course, today write about my second daughter, Katherine. This is not a stipulation they put upon me. They may not even notice. No, this is self-imposed craziness.

I have always been obsessed with fairness. As one small child in a very large family, I kept a close eye on the distribution of every single thing. I’d notice if someone got an extra dinner roll, or got to stay up beyond their bedtime. If one child managed to skip their turn at doing dishes, I knew it, and it rankled me. Life should be fair!

When I had children, I strove for equity in all things. Never mind that my daughters were three years apart, with decidedly different personalities, things had to be fair. If Jennifer had an eight o’clock bedtime until she was eight years old, then Kate should have to adhere to that rule, too. There was a time when I actually counted out green beans, to make sure they had equal portions! Christmas gifts were spread-sheeted and matched, taking into consideration their different ages and interests, as well as the size, cost and value of each gift. It all had to balance. It still does!

So, I worried. What if my memories of Kate’s birth are not as vivid? What if I have more to say about Kate, since she and I have, lately, had many more opportunities to chat? What if I am – accidentally – NOT FAIR?? I almost scrapped the entire idea, and went back to J being about the junk drawer! But, I love both of my daughters, and I’m so proud of each of them…and they happen to have names that begin with consecutive letters of the alphabet…so I have thrown caution to the wind.

Kate was born on a cold December night, surprising us by arriving almost two weeks early. She was the tiniest little girl, with a full head of wild, dark hair. If she had been a boy, we’d planned to use the Daniel Adrian boy’s name that we’d picked out before Jen was born. My sister-in-law had her first son one week before Kate was born. She liked the name Daniel, and asked if I was really attached to it. “Go ahead,” I told her, “I am sure this baby is going to be a girl.” I don’t know why I was so sure, but I was, and I was right.

For our second child, we needed a name that would, again, have a long, dignified version befitting a president or some other high official. It also needed to be one I could shorten. We came upon Katherine because of Katherine Hepburn, who I loved for her independent character. Katherine was also a name with some history in my family. Aunt Katie, my Dad’s sister, was very dear to me. She was named Katherine Elizabeth, after her two grandmothers. So, we went with Katherine Elizabeth, shortened to Katey.

It was important to me that there be lots of syllables in each of their names, helpful (like counting to ten) when I was angrily trying to get their attention. It was a lucky accident that both girls have the same number of syllables in their names. Also nice that the first letters of their names are side by side in the alphabet. Had I decided to have a large family, I could have continued that pattern right through to Xavier, Yolanda and Zeke! Like her older sister, Jen, my youngest daughter has reduced her name to just one syllable. Now, we call her Kate.

Kate has seemed to pick up characteristics from her namesakes, too. Though I never knew the grandmothers that Aunt Katie was named for, I have seen photographs…and I have seen that same angry glare on my daughter’s face! Aunt Katie was a lover of books, travel, kids and dogs; my Kate has similar interests. Like Katherine Hepburn, my daughter is strong-willed, feisty and determined, with a big heart and a wonderful sense of humor. She’s a blessing in my life!

Joy!

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Today, the letter is J, and I am going to write about Jennifer.

Actually, I had just about settled on “Junk Drawer” for a topic, until it dawned on me that my oldest daughter’s name begins with J. This would be a perfect opportunity to write about her!

First, our drive to the hospital the night Jennifer was born. Her father started out driving very fast, until I asked him not to speed. Without an argument, he slowed down to precisely the speed limit and, maintaining that pace, drove through every single red light along the way. Our first child was born in the wintertime, just after midnight, early on a Sunday morning,

If she had been a boy, the name we had selected was Daniel Adrian. For our daughter, Jennifer Marietta. My husband and I had seen a movie titled “Jenny,” starring Marlo Thomas and Alan Alda, about young lovers and the war in Vietnam. That influenced our name choice. Jennifer was not an unusual name, but not overly common, either. I only knew two other girls with that name. It could be shortened to Jenny when she was small, but if our daughter grew up to be a doctor or lawyer, or president, for heaven’s sake, Jennifer would be a dignified moniker. Marietta was for Sister Marietta, the beautiful and kind Dominican nun who taught me in the fourth grade.

I held her, first, in the middle of the night, introduced myself, and counted her fingers and toes. There were many days and nights after that, that I held her, and watched her, and thought how blessed I was to be her mother. Then, there were a million cute things she did as a child, and special moments we shared, and ways she made me laugh, or cry, or feel proud. There are stories – some of my best anecdotes, in fact – that I am forbidden to tell. There are others that are simply too precious to share.

I believe the name you give a child plays a part in the person they become. In Jennifer, I see both Marlo Thomas and Sister Marietta reflected in Jennifer’s beauty, wit, kindness, and sense of humor. Jennifer became a much more common name, though, than I had anticipated. Along with the marginally popular movie, “Jenny,” “Love Story” came out in the months before my first child was born. It was a wildly popular, Oscar-nominated film starring Ryan O’Neil and Ali McGraw. McGraw’s character was named Jenny, and that name quickly became the most girl’s name in America! When my second daughter was little, she could not pronounce the “J” sound, so her sister’s name came out, “Nenny,” or “Nen,” as by that time we had gone to often just calling her Jen. Jen is what she still goes by now.

As with all children, and children-grown-into-adults, Jen has been the cause of many worries and concerns, and we’ve had our differences over the years. Mostly, though, being her mother has been a pleasure. The telephone rang just as I was getting out of bed the other day. Jennifer’s voice, when I picked up, instantly put a good spin on my morning. For all of the mixed blessings of motherhood, Jennifer mostly brings me joy!

Ice Cream

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I never think about ice cream in the wintertime. In my drafty house, when it’s freezing outside, I rarely want something cold. Maybe, if I’m having chocolate cookies or gingersnaps, I’ll drink a glass of cold milk, but that’s it. Usually, after dinner, I’ll sip a cup of hot tea. Now and then, I have popcorn and cocoa. Occasionally, a glass of red wine. Not chilled.

When the weather gets warm, though, I think of ice cream. I picked up a half gallon of it about a month ago. Double-Chocolate Almond. That’s my very favorite. Unless the market has Raspberry Cheesecake Gelato, which is both addictive and expensive…and worth every penny! Plain old Strawberry is fine, if it’s one of the brands that has real bits of berry swirled through, and Butter Pecan is always a satisfactory choice. In the hot, hot days of summer, sometimes a sherbet is refreshing.

For my first ice cream of the season, though, I went for the chocolate. I had to rearrange the freezer to make room for it. I stacked a couple pint-sized freezer containers, pushed a bag of broccoli to the back, and moved a package of meat to the drawer in the refrigerator section. I removed three votive candle holders that were only in there so that I could snap the last of the wax out of them. Then, finally, if I stood it on its side, the ice cream fit just inside the door.

Then, I forgot about it. I didn’t have another reason to open the freezer door and, despite the deceptive sunshine, it wasn’t really all that warm. When I felt like a little dessert, as I often do after dinner, I’d have a dish of cottage cheese topped with a spoonful of crushed pineapple. Or, a bowl of cereal with fruit. Or, just fruit. If I happened to actually have a real dessert, cookies or cake or – for one fortunate week – an apple pie, of course, I’d have that.

The ice cream stood, forgotten, just inside the freezer door. Until last week, when I remembered it there. Eureka! I mixed two tablespoons of sugar, and one tablespoon each of cocoa powder, butter, and water all together in a saucepan; I warmed it over medium heat until it was bubbly. I sliced a whole banana into a bowl. Topped it with three small scoops of delicious Double Chocolate Almond ice cream. Poured the hot chocolate sauce over it. Added a dollop of whipped cream. That was my first ice cream of the season. And it was perfect!

Hope

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“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” – Barbara Kingsolver

I’ve always been a hope-er, a wisher, a dreamer, a pray-er. Which may, as I think about it, indicate that I have never been satisfied with my life “as it is.” Rather than simply being perfectly happy in the present moment, I’ve looked to the future, with a long list of hoped-for objects or occurrences that would make life better.

As a child, when prayer seemed to offer the most promise for achieving things that were otherwise out of my control, vanity dictated the direction of my appeals. “Please…” I would beg, and follow with a long list ranging from thicker lips, thinner eyebrows, lighter hair and more curves in my slight frame. Looking back, it is clear that I should have better appreciated the assets I was born with. In fact, if I were going to get deities involved in my appearance today, I’d be requesting that many of those dreaded characteristics be restored to me!

As a young mother, I became a little obsessive about my importance in the lives of my children. I wanted them to be confidant in themselves. I wanted them to be happy, and healthy, and to always feel loved. I wanted them to make friends easily. I wanted them to be polite, and to have good grammar. I felt my participation in their up-bringing was central to the success of these goals, so my biggest hope was that I was able to be there. It was for their sake that my biggest hope, beyond their health and safety, was my own safety and good health. I needed to be there, to see that they had the childhood that I wished for them.

I have a long, long list of things I have hoped for throughout my life. Many involve material things. I’ve hoped for more money, newer furniture, a bigger house, nicer clothes, a better haircut, and on and on. In hindsight, I can often feel relieved that I didn’t get some of the foolish things I wished for. And, I can see that some things, once achieved, were not as glorious or life-changing as I’d imagined they would be.

I have gotten much better, over the course of my life, of appreciating exactly what I have. Though I devote an entire page in my bullet journal to “Wishes,” it rarely has more than one or two items on it. At this time, new windows for my kitchen and dining room are the only things listed. They aren’t my only hopes, though.

I hope my children, and their children, are happy and healthy. I hope that they have goals that challenge them but that are not unreachable. I hope they manage stress and difficulty with good humor and determination. I hope they always know that they are loved and valuable. I hope they know joy.

Personally, I hope I am known, and remembered, as intelligent, kind, a good worker, and someone who always acts with good intentions. I hope to be always forgiven for the times I show temper, vindictiveness or meanness. I hope my dogs feel cherished. I hope all of the many important and influential people in my life have been aware of the difference they’ve made. I hope all the people I love know that they are loved. That the best I can hope for.

Gratitude

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After she retired, my mother regularly watched the Oprah show on television. Sometime in the 1990s, Sarah Ban Breathnach was a guest on the show. It was shortly after her book about gratitude, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, came out, and she was there to promote it. It made a huge impression on Mom.

That Christmas, Mom got every one of her daughters a copy of the book, and the accompanying journal. We each thanked her, and did the obligatory gushing over what a thoughtful gift it was. And maybe my sisters took it more seriously than I did, but I remember thinking, “yeah, I don’t have time for that!” Mom might have sensed my reluctance, because she took me aside and spoke to me directly.

“Just try it, Cindy, and see if it doesn’t help,” she said, “give it a chance!”

I don’t know where my hesitation was coming from, to begin with. I devour self-help books! I always think I need improvement, and that the help I need is right around the corner…or in the next book of instruction or advise. Anyway, I assured her that I’d read it and give it a try, and I did.

It certainly made sense, and my attitude surely could benefit from a little adjustment. So, I started a gratitude practice. Several times, actually. I’d begin, then forget about it, or let it fall into neglect. I’d pick up a journal to make an entry, only to find that several months had gone by since I’d last written anything.

Even when I was writing regularly about it, my idea of gratitude was pretty skewed. The “dark side” of gratitude. Entries included:

“I’m grateful that I wasn’t totally depressed today”

“I’m so glad the tire didn’t go completely flat”

“My hair looked okay for a change.”

“I did not sit home alone feeling sorry for myself tonight”

“I’m glad I left the party before I got even more depressed”

“I am grateful to have made it through the day”

“I’m grateful that I don’t feel totally miserable today”

“I’m glad the green paint doesn’t look so bad on the bed frame”

I was a pathetic excuse for a thankful person!

Then, some time last year, what had been a miserly, sporadic habit suddenly seemed important…and worthwhile! Now, I fill a whole page, every single morning, with things that I am grateful for. It has caused me to pay attention. I’ve learned to look at simple, ordinary things – a cup of coffee, a wag-tail dog, birds on the lawn, a good night’s sleep – as the blessings that they are. I’m sure I am more appreciative; I’m probably happier, too.

Last week, after a rough few days, I got out of the shower and put on my Mom’s old fishing shirt, to wear as a pajama top. The next morning, I pulled on the fleecy white robe she bought me, some other Christmas. And, when I sat down to write down what I was thankful for, I realized that, in a week when I needed a little comfort, there was my mother, her presence in the old fishing shirt, the warm bathrobe, and the gratitude practice that she’d encouraged.

“I’m so grateful for my Mom,” was my first entry that day.

Timeout for Art: Focus

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“Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.”
~John Carmack

I came upon this quote in the book that is currently taking my morning study time: The Power of Creativity by Bryan Collins. In a bit of synchronicity that happens so regularly, it rarely surprises me anymore, I found it just when I needed to hear it.

Focus has always been difficult for me. It’s more common to find me juggling twenty wide-ranging projects, than ever concentrating on just one. The time has come though, at least temporarily, to restrict my activities. I’m about to start printing.

I’ve delayed the process as long as possible. I finished a few new plates and carefully examined all of the others, making sure they are free of flaws, sealed, and ready to go. I tested my inks, to make sure they hadn’t hardened in their tins. I ordered new printing papers so that I’d have enough identical sheets for the entire series. I examined my blotters, brushes and felts to make sure they were all in good condition. I bought a new box of Sumi watercolors, so that my colors will be fresh. Now, it’s time.

So, I have to narrow my focus. I have a small studio. It’s always difficult to have multiple projects going at once. When I’m printing, it’s almost impossible. The printing press, which at other times, felts and blankets protected by a cover, becomes one more horizontal surface to hold other materials, has to remain clear and accessible. The same for the long, low table tucked under the eaves that I use for inking the plates.

The long shelf that runs under the eaves on the other side of the room will now be home to the papers at various stages of use. There will be one large stack of dampened papers, layered between blotter papers and encased in a big plastic bag. Next to that, a large newsprint tablet is ready to protect the fresh prints papers between the pages, while they wait to be painted or printed again.

The drafting table has to give up the clutter of collage materials, adhesives, pencils and papers that usually reside there. It’s designated purpose, for the next several weeks, will be for adding color to the collagraph prints. I’ve already arranged the shelves there, to bring my paints and brushes front and center. The very limited available floor space holds a wooden tote filled with hardboard plates waiting to be printed.

I enjoy the every aspect of the printmaking process; my delaying tactics are not to avoid making prints. What i find difficult is the focus!