Category Archives: Art

Routines (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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I don’t have a lot of set routines in my house, and the ones I have are pretty easily set aside (see Exceptions), but I like a little structure. Some regular practices:

  • Yoga. I try to start every day with a little yoga practice. It seems to set a focus for my day, and helps to work out the kinks from my achy joints.
  • Pilates. Because I recently spent two hundred dollars on a Pilates chair, and feel I need to justify that indulgence, I’ve been trying to do some work on it every day. Often, it’s simply the up and down resistance leg exercises that I can do while writing Morning Pages.
  • Morning Pages. This is stream-of-consciousness writing, ideally three longhand pages, as outlined by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. I’ve been trying to maintain this practice for many years now, with wildly varying rates of success.
  • Walk. The new dog has been a blessing in many ways; one of them is that it has gotten me back into the routine of walking every day. In fact, we manage at least two walks a day, sometimes more. All of the dogs appreciate it, and so do I.
  • Dishes. One steadfast rule in my house is that dishes must be done every single day. Even if it’s just one coffee cup. Otherwise, my slobbish tendencies come out to play, and my house devolves into chaos.
  • Sing. It’s a silly thing, but whenever, for whatever reason, I cry out, “Oh, Lord,” I feel that I absolutely must sing out the entire song, in a bad approximation of Janis Joplin’s voice: “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all have Porsches, I must make amends. I worked hard all my life, Lord, no help from my friends…Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” I usually sing all three verses, requesting also a color TV and a night on the town.
  • Treat. Whenever a dog goes outside, and comes back in, the dog gets a treat. When one dog gets a treat, they all do. I’ve had to cut down the size of the treats over the years – they are now about the size of BBs – because they play this rule for all they can get out of it. I swear, Rosa Parks and Darla have perfected a tag team sequence of going out and coming in that ensures the maximum amount of treats in any given time period. So far, Blackie Chan has not gotten in on the action, and sometimes he looks confused – though pleasantly surprised – at yet another piece of kibble being offered.
  • Studio. I try to spend some time every single day in the studio. Even if I don’t make anything worthwhile. Even if I don’t make art at all. Even if I only tidy. Even if I don’t even tidy, but just sit in that space. Whatever. Just the act of going there, of being there, enforces the notion that I am an artist, and keeps the ideas coming.
  • Read. I’m sure I could not fall asleep if I didn’t read a little before bed. Sometimes, I can barely keep my eyes open. Sometimes I have to re-read the same material the next day, because so little of it registered. Still, this is a routine that I never miss.
  • Gratitude. My mother was big on counting blessings, and encouraged her children to do the same. I am currently reading The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan, and it has reminded me how important it is to look for the good in each day. So, I’ve revived the practice of writing down what I’m thankful for, each night before I go to bed.

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Non-Fiction (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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I read a lot of non-fiction. That’s partly because self-help books are included in this category (and I am the queen of self-help), and also because it encompasses so many sub-categories. Sometimes they overlap, but here are some distinctions:

  • Biography and autobiography. Some of the dullest books, the ones most difficult to get through, fall into this category. Also some of the liveliest, most exciting books. And it doesn’t simply mean that the subject matter made the difference. It means that good, engaging writing is important, no matter whose story is being told.
  • Instruction. Cookbooks usually fall into this category. Also books on writing, gardening, exercise, etc. Then there are the many art instruction books; whether for drawing, painting, paper-making, ceramics or printmaking, I have read plenty of them.
  • Self-help. “How to:” raise [polite/well-behaved/well-adjusted/healthy/successful/happy] children; de-clutter; stop procrastinating; be happier; become healthier; be a better employee; be a better friend; manage money; run a small business; be a better conversationalist; diffuse an argument; train a dog. Like I said, I’m the queen of self-help books!
  • Inspiration. This is one of those gray areas, but I’ve certainly picked up books that are inspirational first, and the instruction or self-help falls in behind.
  • Education. Again, this seems to overlap. Educational books could encompass any other category as well. My distinction is that these books do not even attempt to be entertaining. If you want to simply learn something, these books will tell you what you need to know. That’s it.
  • Memoir. The difference between autobiography and memoir is subtle. Mainly, it seems to me, it boils down to artistic license. An autobiography should have names and dates correct. A memoir, which by definition is reliant on memory, can play a little fast and loose with the facts, and the sequence of events. Some of my favorite books fall into this category: Growing Up, by Russell Baker; The Liar’s Club, by Mary Karr; The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls; Let’s Don’t Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller; Becoming, by Michelle Obama; What You Have Heard is True, by Carolyn Forsche; and many others.
  • Essays. Of course, essays are not always non-fiction, but the ones I enjoy most are. The Essays of E.B. White are some of the best. Essays by Jim Fitzgerald, compiled together in his book, If It Fitz, also have a special spot on the shelf. Essays by Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Evan S. Connell, Annie Dillard, Bill Bryson, and Anna Quindlan are as entertaining to me when read for the tenth time as they were when I first encountered them.
  • Reference. Some reference books do double duty as instruction, self-help, education or inspiration books. Depending, I guess, on how likely one is to refer back to it. I’m thinking, though, of reference books being dictionaries, and things like that. Sometimes, in a pinch or for a purpose, fun to read, but mostly just to find a specific bit of information.

Though I love a good mystery, and I relish quality fiction, I’m sure I read more non-fiction than anything else.

Magazines (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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I’ve always loved magazines. A nice, regularly received gift in the mailbox, with fresh ideas, new stories and colorful pictures. These are the ones I grew up with:

  • Ladies Home Journal. I liked reading “Can this Marriage be Saved?” I’d try to make a game of it with sisters or friends. We could each read the accounts by each spouse, and draw our conclusions. Only then would we turn to the opinion of the professional, to see how he weighed in.
  • McCall’s. As a child, I had a whole collection of Betsy McCall paper dolls, because there was a new one in each issue, along with a seasonal outfits and a short story.
  • Redbook. This magazine had more stories than the others. Being a reader, I appreciated that.
  • Reader’s Digest. I loved this compact magazine! I’d first turn to “Life in These United States,” then “Humor in Uniform.” I loved all of the anecdotes. Then I’d find the heart-wrenching human interest story, hidden somewhere in the center. Next, the condensed book featured in the last several pages of the magazine. After that, if I needed reading material, I’d pick it up again, for the stories and articles I’d missed first time around.
  • Life. Always topical, with famously beautiful photographs. I remember the discussion around the adult table (“no different than seeing a woman nurse a baby,” was my Dad’s opinion) when the cover photo featured a woman, arms folded chastely over her chest, in a topless bathing suit. I recall an issue from the sixties with a photo of a stunning black woman, in profile. The caption stated, “Black is Beautiful.” Growing up in a fairly isolated small town, Life Magazine made the world accessible, and it helped to broaden my mind. When my mother died eight years ago, the issue of Life Magazine that came out right after John F. Kennedy was assassinated was still among her belongings.

I still love magazines, though I don’t have as much time to read them. I’ll get a subscription, then let it lapse when I find I have unread issues piling up in the rack. Every now and then I’ll pick up a People magazine at the grocery store. Though I love all that gossipy news when I’m reading in a waiting room somewhere, it rarely seems worth the purchase price to me. When I’m on the mainland, and have access to a greater magazine selection, I’ll usually pick up American Craft or Ceramics Monthly. Sometimes ArtNews or ArtForum. I enjoy O magazine, and sometimes Martha Stewart Living. I love cooking magazines. I often pick up home magazines, gardening magazines and health and fitness magazines. The only magazine I subscribe to right now is RealSimple. And that’s enough.

Jobs I’ve Held (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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This is limited to jobs I have done with the expectation of getting paid or making a profit, so I won’t list “mother” or “home-maker” with all of the jobs those titles require. Still, it’s a long list, so I’ll get right to it:

  • Babysitter. I started babysitting outside of my own home when I was thirteen years old, and continued it through high school. I picked it up again when I was a young mother, as a way to earn a little money while caring for my own children.
  • Certified Nurse Aide. I took the training as a senior in high school, and went on to work briefly at both the local hospital and the convalescent home.
  • Die-Operator. I lasted less than one week at this factory job, and never regretted quitting.
  • Dime Store Clerk. This was another short-term job that seemed sensible when we were broke and the bill-collectors were calling, but less practical when the realities of paying for child care and spending long hours away from a new baby were factored in.
  • Tutor. I worked as a tutor in a few different capacities: for children in foster care, through the Department of Social Services, and as a student at Mott Community College, where any students could earn money by tutoring others in classes they had finished successfully.
  • Waitress. My first waitress job was at the Shamrock Bar and Restaurant on Beaver Island. I started working there when we first moved here, in 1978. Before I retired my apron, I worked 21 years for the Shamrock, mostly as their morning server. On the island, Ialso served at Stoney Acre Grill, the Old Rectory Restaurant, and the Beaver Island Lodge. In periods of time off-island, I served at two different Big Boy Restaurants, and at the upscale Pretzel Bell Restaurant in East Lansing.
  • Gallery Owner, Operator. For a couple years, I ran Lapeer Gallery and Frame, which involved a lot of work with slight reward. I did matting and framing, cleaning, customer service, artist reach-out, ordering, and advertising. I also changed the displays and hosted a wine and cheese artist’s opening each month.
  • Art Teacher. I have taught art to all grade levels, in many different capacities. Sometimes it’s a one-day workshop; other times it’s a weeks-long or year-long engagement. Teaching several classes each semester in Community Education helped to support me and my family while I was studying at Michigan State University.
  • Art Store Clerk. This was also during my time at MSU, and the store was conveniently located in the Art Center, where most of my classes were held.
  • Housekeeper/Launderer. I have had several short term or interim jobs in one or both of these fields. The longest was the four years I did laundry at the Beaver Island Lodge.
  • Specialty Shop Owner, Manager. In partnership with my sister, Sheila, I opened the Seven Sisters shop, which featured “earth-friendly products for kitchen, garden and bath.”
  • Phragmites Coordinator. In this position, I did fund-raising and awareness-raising. I shared information between the two townships on Beaver Island, as well as the residents and visitors, regarding treatment and control of invasive phragmites.
  • Owner, writer and editor for the Beaver Beacon. This was the third and most recent of my own failed businesses. It’s still painful to talk about: all the mistakes I made, all the money I lost…what seemed like a wonderful opportunity with a world of possibilities turned quickly into an impossible burden. I’m just glad it’s over.
  • Hardware Store Clerk. In October, I will have held this position for eighteen years. It was never my life’s dream, but it has been fulfilling, nonetheless. That’s a good thing because, unless that lottery win happens (must make a point to buy a ticket!), it looks like this will be my job for life!
  • Artist. Last, but not least. The job I do for love. And for my enrichment and my sanity. The job I would do even if I never made a dime. But, in fact, it does return a little money to me each year. Probably not more than what I spend in materials…but enough so that I can include it here.

This may not be a complete list…but at this time, it’s all that I can remember.

Ideas (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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I’m full of ideas, big and small, possible and impossible, trivial and important. You could say I’m an idea person. If I took action as readily as I came up with ideas, oh, my! Here are a few of them:

  • A carriage house. About the same size and shape as my own house, and sitting a little to the south and west of my house, on the other side of the driveway. Half of the ground floor would be a one-car garage (for my one car); the other half would be my artist’s studio. The second floor of this story-and-a-half structure would be a small apartment. I could live in the apartment while my house was being (finally, for once and for all!) finished. Then, I could decide to live in the house or stay in the apartment. I could rent out whichever one I wasn’t living in. This idea would involve more funds than I have now, or anticipate having, ever (unless I win the lottery, which, damn, I have to remember to buy an occasional ticket, to keep that dream alive!), but what a great idea!
  • A quilt, made solely of the little printed silk tags found in the back collar of clothing. I actually have a little collection of these, in preparation for this project. With what I have so far, the quilt would be less than 6 inches square!
  • I have the idea that I am going to have to change my way of speaking to the dogs. I’m used to saying “good girl” as I give Darla or Rosa Parks a rub behind the ears or a treat. It seems to me, then, that when I offer Blackie Chan the same attention, with a “good boy” for him, that his face reflects a little disappointment. “Am I not a good girl?” his expression seems to ask me, “have I done something wrong?” Now that we have this new little boy in the family, I should really come up with a sex-neutral compliment. I’m practicing with “good doggies,” but it’s hard to break a habit…
  • I’ve been working on an idea – in my mind, only – for several years now, that involves re-working mounds of old drawings and paintings on paper into large, rounded, closed basket-forms. I imagine them hanging from the ceiling, with bits of their history visible in the woven bands.
  • An exercise room. Where I could lay on the floor for yoga or pilates, sit -ups or weight-lifting without dogs, or the fur they leave behind. I love my dogs, but really. Darla thinks, whenever I drop to the floor, that I have done that simply to receive a hundred dog kisses to my face. Rosa thinks I have done it to give her another surface to climb on. Both of them shed their fur so readily, that I am assured of getting up with my clothes covered in it.
  • A neutral home, with changing displays to celebrate the seasons. Candles, pillows, artwork and other incidentals would brighten the space and acknowledge holidays and the passage of time.
  • A series of encaustic works that would encapsulate and display items found through the course of each day. From scraps of paper to dried leaves to butterfly wings, I’m sure something beautiful could come of whatever the day offers.
  • A bead board ceiling in my downstairs, and the same bead board lining the walls and ceiling of my little office cubby.

This is just a sampling, mind you, of the ideas that occupy my thoughts. I think my next idea should involve bringing other ideas to fruition!

Home (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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First, my title was “Homes,” and my intent was to list the many homes I have lived in. The first one, that I grew up in, was my home for eighteen years. Then, in the fourteen years of my marriage, we moved more than eighteen times. Sometimes just down the road, or from an upstairs apartment down to the ground level, but a move nonetheless. Since my divorce, I’ve been less in transit, but could still add a few locations to that long list.

Up before dawn the other day, I left the house earlier than usual for my morning walk. I left Rosa Parks home, sound asleep with her nose tucked under the covers. Usually, because Rosa Parks lags far behind, I turn back before the other dogs are ready. This would give them a chance to go as far as they’d like.

Darla starts out strong, usually with a soft toy in her mouth. Soon, she loses interest in the road, and starts exploring the sights and smells in the woods on either side. I try to watch for her toy when she drops it; we’ve lost several stuffed animals off the Fox Lake Road! She keeps an eye on me, and joins me off and on throughout the distance.

Blackie Chan walks like he’s on a mission. Though he’s a small dog, just 15 pounds, he’s fast. I have to practically run to keep up with him! Though he occasionally pauses to leave his mark on a snowbank or a pile of leaves, he is mostly undeterred. Eyes front, a steady pace and a posture of expectancy and determination. That day, we walked one mile, then two. Still, he didn’t want to turn when I wanted to turn. Where does he think he’s going? Home!

As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I knew it was true. Though he has found his place in my house, and usually seems quite happy, I bet he thinks it’s just temporary. Though he had a long car ride, a short airplane ride and then another ride in a car to get from my daughter’s house to mine, I bet he thinks his own warm house and his own family is right around the next bend.

Of course he misses Jeremy and Kate, who have taken care of him since he was born. Naturally he misses my grandchildren, who have given him so much love. My heart breaks for him. Still, I have to turn him around, to head back the way we came. If what he has in mind is some kind of “Incredible Journey” type trek, I’m just not up for it! All the way back down the road, I thought about what it is that makes a home.

For me, there are particular things that come with me when I travel, that are unpacked first when I move, and that I know will make a strange or new place feel familiar:

  • Composition book. It is where I write each morning, about whatever crosses my mind.
  • Bullet journal. This is where I keep track of my “day-to-day,” plus phone numbers, recipes, directions, bits of inspiration…I am never without it.
  • Sketch book. Just in case.
  • Books. I usually over-pack books, but get nervous at the idea of not having just the right reading material when I want it.
  • Art. Obviously not just for travel, but when my daughters and I were forced to move from our home into a motel room one winter, and we had only one day and one car to move everything we needed, we chose art over many other more practical options.
  • Houseplants. When moving into a new place, familiar houseplants help to make it seem more cozy.

That’s what it takes to make me feel at home. For Blackie Chan, he has his own crate with his special blanket inside. He has the pillow he’s chosen as his own, and he knows his own food dish. Beyond that, it’s just going to take time…and love.

Too Late?

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This morning, while walking the dogs, I thought about the “April A~Z challenge.” Last year, I participated, writing every day of the month, with posts guided by the coordinating letters of the alphabet. Should I do it again this year?

“I should do it again this year,” I said to myself. I could do posts about art, now that I’m getting some time in the studio. Art in general, Block-printing, Collage, Drawing, Encaustic…the topics ran through my head. Or, I could do a month of lists! I have missed making lists! Aspirations, Books, Complaints, Daily Duties…possibilities are there.

It was later, after I’d showered, dressed and was on my way to work, that I realized it is already, today, the last day of March. Maybe it’s too late to sign up. In any case, it might be too much for me to take on. This is spring.

Spring, already, with all that it brings. There are, of course, all the spring activities. When the snow melts away, there are flower beds to clear and garden beds to plant. There is raking to do, wind-fall to be picked up, grass to mow. There are also a dozen things that were supposed to be winter activities, that are not yet finished. If they are going to get done, now is the time, before the rush of summer. Plus, I have a new commitment to studio time. And a new exercise regimen. And a new dog.

Still, I like the idea of this new challenge. I’ve missed writing regularly; this would be a good way to get back in the habit. Even if it’s too late to sign up, I could do it on my own. And maybe I will. Only maybe.