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.

Crisis

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“Crisis” is acute, rather than chronic. It demands swift action, and, though it’s extreme, it normally passes pretty quickly. I don’t know what to call it, when it goes on for a long time. Depression, maybe? That doesn’t sound drastic enough. I’m sure there are some people who live with constant crisis: those who are living in war zones; those who have serious disease in their family; the homeless; the desperate. It’s hard to think about.

In my life, crisis is a short-term thing. Life bumps along, with minor ups and downs, and a few unexpected curves. Then something happens, and suddenly I’m in crisis!

It happened to me recently. On the day after Thanksgiving. I was working at the hardware store. Freight had come early, because of the holiday, so most of it was already put away. Olya, the young woman I often work with, helped me to finish that job early. Then, we looked around for our next project.

We had already taken a few days in the previous week to unpack and set up all of the Christmas items, and decorate the store inside and out. We are working on an on-going basis at fixing locations, straightening shelves, and updating prices. Bringing over-stock up from the basement or down from the high shelves is also something that we work at daily. Along with customer service, these things aren’t a “project” so much as just a regular part of the job.

The nail section definitely needs attention. Because of current manufacturing issues, some regular inventory is unavailable, and we’ve had to substitute others. The fill-ins come in various-sized boxes that don’t fit into our display. In addition, a group of inexperienced summer help resulted in many things being put away in the wrong location. So, that section is a huge job that would involve moving shelves and rearranging thousands of boxes of nails and screws. Too big a job for the day after Thanksgiving.

In this way, we looked around, noted things that needed to be done, and assessed our time and ability. Winter hats, gloves and scarves had to be brought upstairs. The big order for the last ferry boat has to be considered. Ice melt has to be brought up from the basement. The chain saws have to be displayed.

We started with the chain saws. There was room on the high shelves over the paint-mixing area. They’d be visible from the entry door, and from the front of the store. A ladder would be needed to get them down, but that was okay. The slow selling items that were on display there would have to be moved up to the even higher shelves. All of the shelves would need to be cleaned; the merchandise would all have to be tagged.

I started on the eight-foot ladder, then quickly realized I’d need the bigger one. Olya carried the short ladder to the back; I carried the twelve-foot ladder to the front. It was then, or in the next few minutes when I was on the high reaches of the ladder, leaning out to rearrange the inventory and wipe down the shelves, and hefting heavy chain saws up and over to arrange them on shelves, that I noticed my back was going out.

I know the early signs, and have learned to pay attention to the warnings. Once, I was so crippled with a bad back that I had to spend an extra week downstate, unable to move without assistance, let alone drive! I was seeing a chiropractor several times a day, and laying around my sister’s house the rest of the time, leaning heavily on muscle relaxers and pain pills. I’m sure I was the poorest company she’d ever had!

So, when I feel that twinge, that tells me I have pushed too far, I know to listen. Ibuprofen immediately! That allowed me to finish my day at work. We finished the chain saw display. I brought up two side shelves, one spinning display, and three totes full of hats and scarves, and got most everything out and displayed.

At the end of my work day, I went home and started my regimen of heating pad, gentle exercise, ice packs and ibuprofen. I know what works, and I know it’s important. When my back goes out, it is always a crisis, but if I take care of it, it’s just a short term inconvenience.

Courage

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Where does courage come from? Is it real?

The few instances when I have acted with courage in my own life, there was no choice. A brave action was the only option available. And, I was quivering in fear. I am not a courageous person. That is absolutely true. And, yet, I have been brave.

There were times, not many, when I stood up to people who were bigger, stronger, more influential or more powerful than I. Sometimes to stick up for someone else. Now and again, to support a good or noble position. Sometimes just in defense of what I felt was a put-down. Mostly, these acts of bravery happen only after the fact, and only in my mind.

I have embarked on courageous challenges, sure. Often, foolishly naive, I didn’t realize what an act of bravery it was…to get married…to give birth…to become a parent. Almost everybody does it; their are no “badges of courage” offered to those who do, yet what a challenge to anyone who undertakes any of these things!

Is any marriage easy? It involves work, forbearance, and struggle, even when it’s going very smoothly. If we had any sense, when young and in love, we’d shake in fear at the prospect of the future we were walking so breezily toward. Even in the best marriages, it takes courage and commitment.

When I became pregnant, it was without a single thought to all the complications and difficulties that could arise. Every woman has their own unique stories of pregnancy, labor and delivery because, though pregnancy itself is something very common, it is also a very individual experience. No matter how many women have gone through it before, when it is happening to you, it takes courage!

Parenthood is something I walked eagerly toward. I had little brothers and sisters, after all. I’d been a babysitter. I’d had pets. I never imagined – maybe it’s impossible to imagine until the experience is there – how very enormous, would be the love I felt for my children. Attached to that big love is a huge sense of responsibility, and a heart-stopping fear of all the things that could happen. Though blessings and joys abound, being a parent takes courage.

There are other things that cause us to draw on our resources of courage. The more of a coward you are, the more even minor challenges take nerve. I have never been to war, but, by god, I’ve gone to the dentist! I’ve had surgery. I’ve gone through divorce. I went back to college in my thirties (which seemed so old, at the time, and so daring. Now I think, what was the big deal?). I have stood up to huge losses.

I am not a brave person. Life presents challenges; I keep going. Sometimes it’s easy; other times it’s really hard. I don’t feel courageous, but maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit. Courage might not be the same thing as heroism. Maybe, just to continue to stand up to the challenges that life presents is an act of courage. Maybe we all deserve a medal!

Cancer

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Cancer is not a part of my personal health history. Although I have, so far, been spared, cancer has touched my life more than once over the years. I’ve seen the pain it has caused, the struggle that has ensued, and the final results.

I’ve known those who have made it through to the other side of treatment, and who continue, blessedly, on with their lives. I’ve experienced the loss of dear friends and family members who have not survived it. Cancer is an awful word that comes loaded with fear, and knowledge of all the horrors it can produce. For as much that cancer takes, though, it also gives.

Cancer gives the sure knowledge that life is short, and unpredictable, and precious. These are lessons that we might come to on our own in other ways, but a cancer diagnosis is quick delivery.

A life span seems like a long, long time. I remember thinking that my Grandpa, then in his 50s, was a very old man. Anticipating the far-off turn of the century, I thought I’d certainly not be around for it. If I was, I’d be way too old (48!) to notice. The idea that people could live to seventy or more seemed like forever! A lifetime.

As we age, though, we push back that final door. At age sixteen, thirty seemed ancient, old age was unfathomable; we sang, “hope I die before I get old…” By age thirty, another whole outlook presented itself. Thirty was pretty darn young, while I was living it! That has continued to happen, through my life. Old-age is somewhere out there, vaguely in the distant future. Death is farther beyond that.

A diagnosis of cancer brings death’s door front and center. No matter what the prospect of survival, there it is, close and personal. And it’s always too soon. Facing death, we see the value of life. We realize what a transient gift it is, and how quickly it can disappear. This can happen whether the diagnosis is yours, or for someone you know.

Suddenly, the knowledge or insight a person has to offer becomes more important. When my mother knew she had three months to live, she regaled us with stories, most that we had never heard before. She told each one of her children how much we were loved. She reached out to old friends and distant family. She “held court” every day, in her pajamas, from her comfortable chair, as those that knew and loved her stopped in to let her know.

A person given a cancer diagnosis is recognized for the irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind, precious treasure that they are. The things they do are more greatly appreciated. Their contribution to the world we share is noted as both unique and priceless.

When cancer jostles our world, it opens our eyes. We see clearly, if we hadn’t before, the wonders that are here for us, for free, every day. Every morning a sunrise! The grass! That tree! The snow! It shows us the value of life.

Cancer helps to define quality of life. What’s the bottom line? What will we endure, to try to get rid of the disease? What is too much? What constitutes a good life? And what is a good death? These decisions have not touched my own life, but I’ve watched and listened as others that I love have weighed options, and made hard choices. Cancer gives clarity.

So, yes, in many ways, cancer gives.

Mostly, though, cancer takes away.

Timeout for Art: Papermaking II

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Happy New Year!

Last week, I talked a little about the history of papermaking. This week I’ll try to explain how you can prepare to try this at home. Materials are cheap, and the results can be stunning. Besides that, it can be a lot of fun. It does, however, have quite a few disparate steps and specific things to have on hand. It’s better to prepare in advance, so that you don’t have to go scrambling for just the right thing once the process is underway.

Equipment

Most of the equipment you’ll need can be found around the house. For processing the paper pulp, a big kettle, like ones used for canning, a large colander or sieve, and a good quality blender. Once I’ve used “kitchen” equipment for papermaking, I retire it from food-preparation duties, so I look at garage sales and re-sale shops for these items.

For forming the sheets of paper, You’ll need a mold and deckle. A mold is basically a frame, in whatever size you want your paper to be, with screen stretched over the top surface. A deckle is exactly the same, only without the screen. An embroidery hoop with screen rather than fabric fastened into it, makes a very simple mold that will produce round papers. Stretcher strips, designed for supporting canvas for paintings, can be purchased to size, with corners already mitered, and ready to snap together. With minimal woodworking skills, lengths of 1″ x 2″ lumber can be cut, glued and tacked together to form a rectangle. Whatever method and size you decide on, make two. One will be topped with screen to form the mold, the other will be left open, the deckle, and used to keep the paper pulp from running off the edges of the mold, when it’s lifted from the water bath. Honestly, this sounds more complicated than it is.

It’s possible to use your bathtub, a utility tub, or your kitchen sink for making paper. If you can find them in the right size, meaning a size that your mold and deckle will fit into while you’re holding on to it, and plastic wash tub will work. Over the years, I’ve invested in several bus tubs, purchased through a restaurant supply store, and find them very helpful.

For draining the formed sheets of paper, and removing them from the screen, you’ll need a good quantity of absorbent towels, couching cloths, and felts. I like towels in the bath towel size. I buy them used, at thrift stores, and run them through the laundry before I use them. Couching cloths are just squares of fabric. Cotton, or mostly cotton, works best. I make mine by cutting or tearing rectangles to size out of old sheets. Felt can be purchased by the yard, and cut to size, or purchased in ready-to-use rectangles at most craft or fabric stores. White is best.

Though not absolutely necessary, a couple patio blocks can be very handy for pushing the moisture out of your papers, and helping them to dry flat. A household iron is useful in drying the sheets of paper.

Enhancements and Additions

Any cellulose fiber, which is almost anything that grows, can be used to make paper, Though I’m describing a process that forms papers of mainly of recycled paper pulp, sheets can be beautified and enhanced with other materials. I save flower petals from my blossoms, autumn leaves, banana peels, grape skins, onion skins and many other odds and ends from the kitchen and garden. When I launder new clothes or linens, I save the dryer lint. I save bits of yarn, thread and embroidery floss. Paper confetti small amounts of glitter can add interest to paper sheets. I collect these items throughout the year, and store them separately in snack sized plastic bags. Any natural materials should be stored in the freezer.

Paper Pulp

This is the material that will form the basis of your sheets of paper. For good quality papers for note cards, stationery or collage, start saving junk mail. Eliminate any papers made of cardboard or newsprint. These are made of recycled trash, and will not form good, long-lasting sheets of paper. Most bills, form letters and bank statements are printed on quality paper that works well for this project. Envelopes are ideal, as they have little writing on them. Be sure to remove any stamps, stickers, and plastic or cellophane windows. Shiny pages with lots of printing, like magazines and catalogues, will produce fine-textured, soft, pale gray sheets of paper. Be sure to remove any staples, binding, or stickers.

I sort my junk mail into colors, especially at holiday time when I receive large quantities of brightly colored envelopes. Any colors will fade somewhat, in the preparation process, but it’s good to keep the red, yellow and oranges away from the bright blues and greens, or you will always end up with beige papers. I also keep a separate selection of papers that are white, with very little printing. Again, shiny catalogue or magazine pages will always produce a pale gray, no matter what colors are printed on them.

When you have a good mound of paper collected, tear it into pieces no larger than two inches in any direction. The smaller you shred your papers, the easier it will be to break down. It is okay to use a paper shredder for this process, but torn edges take less time to break down, and produce a finer end result. Place your shredded paper in the kettle, cover it with water, and put it on the stove. Add about a tablespoon of bleach. Bring the water to a boil, and let it simmer for about an hour. This process removes any sizing from the paper, and begins the process of breaking it down into pulp. Drain the mixture in a colander, and rinse the paper with cool water. Scoop the paper pulp up into your hands, squeeze out excess water, and shape it into balls, about the size of a baseball. These balls of pulp can be stored, in sealed bags in your freezer, until you’re ready to make paper. That’s what we’ll do next week.

Confession

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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:

“BLESS ME, FATHER, FOR I HAVE SINNED…”

“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…”

“Is…”

“My…”

“First…”

“Confession.”

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Besieged.

Buried.

Then…

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

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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!