Category Archives: Art

Trying to Teach

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Shortly after I started working at the Community Center, it was suggested that I’d be a good one, because of my art background, to spearhead some art offerings there. It’s true, I have a Master of Fine Arts degree, and have been working as an artist for most of my life. This is something I should have no trouble with. I agreed, and accepted the challenge.

I plotted out a few classes, and dove in. Some have been very successful. We had a good group for “Simple Prints and Card-Making.” Many enthusiastic participants of all ages showed up for “Rock Painting.” “Paper-Making” went over very well. The guest artists that I brought in were always welcome, and a breath of fresh air. It didn’t take long, however, for me to feel that I was in over my head. There is something about the teaching of art that stymies me.

I’ve always loved the idea of being an instructor. Good teachers have been wonderful life-changing influences in my life, all through my life. Sister Marietta was my fourth grade teacher at Bishop Kelley School; she influenced my whole life with her kindness and enthusiasm. I gave my oldest daughter the name Jennifer Marietta, in honor of this dear Sister. Miss Timponi taught 12th grade English; she encouraged my love of reading, and opened my eyes to a world of good books. I had several marvelous and memorable college professors, and I was fortunate enough, as an adult, to observe both Mr. and Mrs. Stambaugh excelling at their jobs in their respective classrooms here on Beaver Island. These are the types of inspiring teachers I aspire to be like.

I like to think I could become good at teaching. I did, after all, become an outstanding waitress, though everyone familiar with my clumsiness and timidity (including me!) would have never believed it was possible. I became an excellent and knowledgeable hardware store employee, though I knew little about tools and fasteners until I started working there. And, in both of these occupations, I’ve been in the position of training others various aspects of the job, so I know I’m capable of teaching. I know that I can eventually excel at anything I devote myself to.

There’s something different about the teaching of art, though, from giving lessons in how to take an order, or cut a piece of glass. I suppose the same issues come up when instructing in any creative pursuit. Each person has their own style. I don’t want to get in the way of individuality, while teaching skills. I struggle with breaking down the elements and conveying the means, without eliminating the fun. In fact, the joy of art-making is the most difficult thing to convey. My “teaching style” is a jumbled list of directions: do this…but don’t try to do it just like me; work at it…but don’t forget to enjoy yourself; try hard…but be spontaneous. I have never felt completely comfortable with this style of instruction, and don’t feel that I’m terribly successful at it…but it’s all I’ve got. Surprisingly, folks continue coming. So, I soldier on.

When I Can’t Sleep

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I have struggled with insomnia for most of my life. I didn’t always see it as a problem.

As a child, I didn’t worry about the consequences of not getting enough sleep. I would beg to be allowed to stay up later; I’d concoct all kinds of reasons for needing to get out of bed. My sister Brenda and I would secretly stay awake, playing games and whispering for hours past our bedtime. Whenever friends stayed overnight, our goal would always be to stay awake all night.

As an adult, some of my most productive times were the hours when everyone else in the household was asleep. Before we had children, my husband would often wake up in the morning to find that I hadn’t been to bed yet. I sometimes worked on a craft project; sometimes I cleaned house. After he left for work, I’d lay down on the couch for a long sleep.

Having small children gave me a good reason to attempt more regular hours, but I still struggled with being able to fall asleep. Back when television went off the air at around 2AM, I was almost always awake for it. Of course, my days no longer allowed time to make up for the sleep I’d missed. No matter how much discomfort it caused me, though, I was still wide awake through the night more often than not.

I’ve always been kind of a loner, and I used to think that was why I liked to be awake at night. When everyone else was asleep, I had time for just myself. But, through the years, I got divorced, and my daughters grew up and moved away. That theory doesn’t make sense anymore. And, with age, I’ve found that a good night’s sleep is much more necessary. I can’t function the way I used to, on little or no sleep.

I’ve worked hard to maintain a routine that makes it more likely that I’ll be able to sleep. I exercise and meditate. I limit caffeine and computer use. I stay away from scary movies, or news that will keep me awake. No matter. There are still a few nights each month when I just can’t fall asleep.

Last night was one of them. I’d had a quiet day and a relaxing evening. I felt tired when I climbed into bed at 10PM. I read for a few minutes; when I turned off the lamp I could barely keep my eyes open. But then, sleep didn’t come.

I changed position. I tried, variously, to quiet my mind, then to just run through thoughts and worries to get them out of my system. I reviewed ideas for art classes. I went over the news of the day. Was I too warm? Too cold? Hungry? Nothing seemed urgent enough to force me out of bed. I continued to toss and turn. Until I had to make a run to the bathroom. That was four o’clock in the morning. Enough! I put on the coffee. There’s no sense in fighting it any longer!

Two Good Weeks with Lois

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The Beaver Island Community Center was fortunate this January, to be able to offer painting classes taught by island artist, Lois Stipp. I was one of several enthusiastic participants, glad of the opportunity to learn something new, from an expert.

Lois has been a working artist for most of her adult life, and has been teaching for twenty years. She pulls from her vast knowledge of art principles, and from her personal experience with oil paint, in leading us through the process of completing an oil painting. Lois makes every student believe they can achieve success, then proves it by showing the way. She clearly articulates tricks and techniques, offers gentle guidance through hurdles, makes suggestions, prods and encourages until each student has a unique finished painting.

Lois is always generous with her time and abilities, to the point where she’s often “spread very thin.” We were very lucky that she was willing and able to share her expertise for two wonderful sessions at the Community Center, much appreciated by all who attended.

One Lazy Day

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I enjoyed a totally lazy day yesterday.

I started it off by sleeping in. The dogs went out at six-thirty. When they came back in, I went back to bed. They went out again at eight o’clock. At that time, I started the coffee pot. When the dogs were both back in the house, and with the coffee brewing, I thought I’d just close my eyes for a few minutes more. Well, that “few minutes” went long. I woke up with my big dog, Darla, standing beside the bed, looking into my face. “Raaooow,” she said. I think it was shorthand for “Rouse yourself!” And she was right…it was ten AM!

I moved from the bed to the dining room table, where I spent several hours writing, reading and drawing. Exercise was limited to getting up to let the dogs out and in, frequent walks to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup, and an occasional trip to the bathroom. I fried an egg and made toast about 1PM. After that, I turned on the computer. I checked my mail, looked at social media updates, and played a few games of online Scrabble.

At three in the afternoon, I showered and dressed, dried my hair, and took the dogs out for a walk. Home again, I picked up another book and, for a change of scene, sat down in the comfortable armchair to read some more. I fed the dogs around six, then made myself a grilled cheese sandwich, and warmed up the last of the vegetable soup. A good “lazy day” supper. For dessert, a bowl of yogurt with fruit and granola.

Back on the computer, I went through my news feed, then listened to a couple podcasts. My daughter Kate sent me an article that made me giggle. I watched a sitcom, using the commercial breaks to do up the dishes and tidy the kitchen. My friend Linda and I messaged back and forth, comparing notes on diet and fasting. I went to bed at a reasonable time.

After a day of little activity, it didn’t surprise me when I had trouble falling asleep! I finally cried “uncle” and gave up on trying to sleep. I got out of bed at two-thirty in the morning. I found a movie on Netflix. “Leap Year” is a cute romantic comedy with a backdrop of the Irish countryside, that didn’t require a bit of thought or concentration on my part. I made popcorn, with no regard to my renewed commitment to intermittent fasting. Finally, I went back to bed at four AM.

Today, I’m waking up slowly. I am determined, though, to get moving soon. There is plenty to do, to make up for my indulgent, lazy Sunday!

What Next?

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I spent four decadent, lazy days at home, getting used to winter, and adjusting to the holidays being over. Now that the new year has established itself in my mind, what’s next?

I’ve been working on setting up my bullet journal, and have made good progress. After several years of doing this, I’ve finally figured out what works for me. I ignore the elaborate examples that crowd the pages of Pinterest, and simply repeat my same old basic format. It’s a calendar, mostly, where I can keep track of birthdays and appointments, but also just my day-to-day stuff. I rarely write “to-do” lists on my daily pages, but I do find it very gratifying to write down tasks after they are completed. Last year, I wrote a short list of goals at the beginning of each month. Almost none of them were completed; they just followed me from one month to the next, like a nagging pest. I eliminated that feature this year.

Rather than start with a list of New Year’s resolutions – which are, I think, a set-up for disappointment – I devoted one page to “Aspirations and Goals.” It includes a few items like “set up the grape arbor” and “organize the studio,” and some habits I want to continue (though I’m trying to remember to avoid caveats like “every day”). It also contains reminders to “laugh,” “don’t gossip” and “be kind.”

I allowed several pages to record the books I read this year. My friend Candy loaned me The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I enjoy that author, and it came with a good recommendation from Candy, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m still working my way through The Joy Diet by Martha Beck, in my morning study time. And I’m continuing to listen to the Marcus Didius Falco series on Audible. It’s been going on so long, the dogs are beginning to think “walk” and “Falco” mean the same thing!

I have a nice little stack of new books from Christmas, that I’m excited about. My daughter Kate sent me Naked by David Sedaris. I love his comedic point of view! My daughters and I went to hear him speak in Lansing several years ago, so this book also brings back memories of that good time. She also gave me Four Girls from Berlin by Marianne Meyerhoff. It is described as “a true story of a friendship that defied the Holocaust.” I don’t like war stories per se, but ever since reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I’ve always been fascinated by the back stories of the second World War. From friends Kevin and Lois, I received The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli, a novel that uses art history to link the 15th century art world with the Resistance during World War II. I started it last night, and it grabbed my attention right away. My grandson Michael sent me a book, too. I haven’t actually seen it yet, as I haven’t been to town to get the mail, but he and I share many interests, and he chooses reading material well, so I know I’ll enjoy it.

I’ll continue to walk regularly, and keep track of my miles. With my fitbit, I’m noting my daily steps, too. I’ve been slacking off on other exercise over the holidays; it’s time to get back on track with that. After a short break, I’m also getting back to Intermittent Fasting. Along with limiting when I eat, I plan to give a little more consideration to what and how much I eat, to see if that makes a difference! That’s about all the future holds in the health category.

After my long weekend, today I’m going back to work. That means I’ve got to get my walk in early today; it will be dark by the time I get home. I have a few letters and one small package to send out. I should read my gas meter. I have to go over my notes for the drawing class I lead. So, I’d better get on with it!

Adjusting

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What, for heaven’s sake, do I have to adjust to? Plenty, I guess. Lately, “adjusting to change” feels like the theme that directs my days!

After nearly a year in my new job at the Beaver Island Community Center, I am still in the adjustment phase. I continue to grumble about the change in my schedule. At my last job, I worked from early morning to mid-afternoon (8AM to 4PM). Now, most days I start around noon, and work until 7PM. It’s not like I’ve been put on a night shift! Nevertheless, it’s a change that causes necessary alterations in my eating, dog-walking and sleeping schedule, and I’m still getting used to it. It’s also a continuing and joyful surprise to come in to such a pleasant workplace, with an always kind and supportive staff.

As I age, I continually have to adjust to changes in my abilities. I keep a magnifying glass always nearby these days, for when my bifocals are not enough. I depend heavily on my daily calendar and various other lists and notes, for lapses in my memory. I’ve learned to use walls, chairs and counters to assist with everyday activities, when my body fails to move or flex as I would like. Maybe my sense of smell is improving to make up for other losses, though. I got a bag of shredded soap “milk bath,” and put it on the stand in the bathroom, until I could get a decorative jar to put it in. Every time I walked into that room, I’d see that clear bag and think, “what is macaroni doing in the bathroom?” Then I’d catch a whiff of lavender-almond, and remember that it was shredded soap, not pasta.

After seventy years on this planet, it seems that I’d be used to the change of seasons. Not yet! This fall, I again walked in wonder through the beautiful colors, as if I’d never seen them before. I snapped hundreds of pictures, to add to the thousands I’ve taken in previous years, documenting every aspect of the metamorphosis of grasses and leaves. And, after more than seven decades in this climate, the first big snow always surprises me. As if, this once, winter weather would not come. It brings a sense of awe, at the stunning changed landscape. It brings memories of other winters, and it puts me right in the Christmas spirit. That is combined, always, with a feeling of dread, and a little fear.

Keeping the house warm is a big challenge in the winter, and includes the added expense of fuel to keep the heater going. The driveway needs to be plowed. Pathways have to be shoveled. Driving – and even walking – can be difficult when the road conditions include snow and ice. But, I adjust. I’ve brought my winter boots out of storage. I found the cleats that fit onto the soles, to make slipping less likely. I brought my warm parka and my knit cap with earmuffs out of the depths of the closet. And I think, how wonderful it is, that after all this time, there are still surprises in store for me, even if they force me to adjust!

Lazy Days of Fall

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I stay pretty busy all year ’round. Even now, at seventy years old and in semi-retirement, I have plenty to do. I work two part-time jobs in the summertime; when one of them comes, seasonally, to an end, I volunteer at a local non-profit. I am an artist, with several projects (along with a hundred more ideas waiting for when I have time to pursue them) going on at any given time.

I am solely in charge of the care of my house, yard and garden. That’s a simple sentence, and I didn’t realize the magnitude of it until I found myself on my own. When there is no one else to help make decisions, carry the workload, or accept part of the responsibility, it feels huge. Though I’ve been doing it now long enough to be used to it, sometimes it still seems like a lot.

I eat mostly alone, and at home. I prepare every single meal. And before that, there’s the growing, harvesting and preserving, the planning and shopping, and then the inevitable clean-up. This is just one small aspect of my life. I have two dogs, with all of the commitments that come with them. There are daily walks, medicine to dispense, and vet appointments to schedule, as well as all of the companionship that makes having pets so worthwhile.

I’ve never liked housework. I’d find it daunting if that were the extent of my home maintenance. In my house, though it was built more than thirty years ago, there are still things involving carpentry that have never been finished. Because of its age, there are other things that have deteriorated, and need to be fixed or replaced. Home repairs easily overwhelm me. Whether it’s hiring a contractor or tackling a project myself, this is not an area that I’m comfortable with.

I try to keep the grass mowed regularly in the summer. A mowed lawn gives the dogs a place to play, and is less attractive to ticks and mosquitos. Keeping the weeds out of the garden and flower beds could be a full-time job all by itself, if I had the stamina. I put in lots of rock borders around flower beds. When conditions are right, they look lovely. Too often, they signal the need for me crawling around on hands and knees to get rid of the vines and grasses that weave in around the stones.

Before long, snow and ice will determine my outdoor chores. I hire someone to plow the driveway, but I shovel paths through the snow from each of the doors. The amount of snowfall determines the size and frequency of that job. It’s out of my hands.

Right now, in these early days of fall, nothing seems very pressing. My little garden is finished for the year. The blackberry season is done; my grapevines did not produce fruit this year. I’ve decided to hold off on my last mowing until there are more leaves on the ground. I’m not yet ready to get busy in the studio. I have a few home projects pending, but am waiting for help to begin them.

Saturdays and Sundays, which were taken up by a summer job for the last four months, now seem like vacation days. Time has opened up, like a gift, and I’ve filled the time with only joyous things. I’ve been taking long walks, enjoying the fall colors, and taking lots of pictures. I’ve got a couple crochet projects underway. I’m reading. Making soup. Baking bread. I live a busy life; this lull won’t last forever. Right now, though, I am loving these lazy days of fall!

Summer, Still…

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Three weeks ago, near the first day of summer, I wrote about my childhood memories of this season. I could have chosen to write about summer days when my daughters were young: long walks to the park, outings to local swimming places, and long hours spent on the white, sandy beaches of Beaver Island. I could have written about summers when my grandchildren visited here: mornings at Iron Ore Bay, days full of adventure, and evening drives to see the deer. In my memory, this warm season meanders slowly along, allowing me to savor every sensory summer offering.

But, here I am, in real-life summer. The days speed by. How can we be halfway through July already?! And all I feel, most days, is exhaustion. It’s not only that it’s busy, though it is. There are hoards of people in the shops and on the streets. The harbor is filled with boats, and the beach downtown is full of people, every time I pass by. There is also the tiredness that comes from the long list of “to-do”s that are not getting done.

Always, there are things to do, and I’m behind in almost everything. My income taxes have still not been filed; there are galleries to contact regarding future shows; I have to follow up on some paperwork for the state. My flower beds are weedy, and the lawn is ready to be mowed.

I gave up on the garden when July got here. If I did manage to find the time to clear the weeds, turn the soil and plant, there would still not be time left in this short season to see results. So, my vegetable garden, this year, consists of three tomato plants, a few kohlrabi, four hills of summer squash, and one row of beans.

I’ve closed the door of my studio. Expecting company, and needing to clear space upstairs for them to sleep, I used the studio – which was already over-full – to store two totes, three big baskets and a large piece of exercise equipment. Those things can now be moved back out, but it doesn’t solve the problem: there is too much stuff in that small space, and I don’t have time to do anything about it. Even if I did, I don’t have time, this summer, to work in the studio.

Last week, My daughter Kate came for a visit. I expected her, plus her husband and two of her sons, but at the last minute, work conflicts got in the way of any of the men making the trip. What a treat! I love my son-in-law, and seeing my grandsons is always wonderful, too, but I almost never get to enjoy Kate’s company alone. I loved it! Having her here gave me a reason to stretch beyond my little world, as well as a perfect companion.

We visited all the gift shops. We walked the dogs together. We took a drive around the island, and I got my feet in the sand, at the beach at Iron Ore Bay, for the first time this year. We went out to lunch, two days in a row! We had simple suppers at home, and spent the evenings playing games. Having come from a big, competitive, game-playing family, that’s one of the things I miss most, living alone. Kate and I got in enough Boggle and cribbage to satisfy me for a while!

Kate’s visit was short, but enjoyable. It reminded me what summer can be, if I allow myself to relax and take part in it. I intend to do just that…before this summer, too, is just a memory.

Jumping In

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This summer, like any other, is a mash-up of good things and bad. Some stretch around the world; others at least nationally. Others are very close to home. Today, I’m jumping in to talk about some of them.

I am continually horrified by the war in Ukraine. I’m reading The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn, a well-researched historical novel set in the early years of the second world war. It is told from the perspective of a young Russian soldier, a female sharp-shooter, as the Nazis – violently, horrendously, and without provocation – push through their country. Now, in real time, the Russians are the invaders. Their actions are the ones that are unbelievably heartless, cruel, and that they have to lie to try to justify. How can we humans be so awful? How is it that we can’t seem to learn from our own suffering, that inflicting suffering on others is not the answer? This is only one conflict in a world that is full of them.

In this country, there is continuing gun violence. We have no time to recover from one devastating incident, before we are faced with another. The politicians rant on about the loss of our second amendment rights while the funerals are still going on. And our judicial system has just made it easier for folks to carry concealed weapons.

The dust from that news had not even settled before the Supreme Court went on to reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that ensured a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. That feels like a “punch to the gut” to all, including myself, who have worked hard in the fight for the women’s rights and equality. I know this is a highly controversial topic; conflict-avoider that I am, I hesitate to even bring it up. But I think the time for measured silence is long past.

I can’t speak as knowledgably as many. I don’t have a medical background. Psychological, medical, economic and ethical reasons for needing to terminate a pregnancy are wide-ranging. I can’t quote scripture, but I know that scripture can be, and has been, used to energize and support whichever point of view you want. I can’t even accurately talk about the historical precedents, when laws have been invented, passed, repealed and changed to suit the whims and needs of men, and to keep women “in their place.” But all of this information is out there. I am not pro-abortion; I don’t think anyone is. But I stand firmly with science, and a woman’s right to make that difficult choice.

My friend, Paul, has always read everything I write and has frequently offered me his opinion. Over the years, I’ve learned that we share a love of learning and quite a few political opinions. We have often commiserated over current events and the condition of the world. I know that he appreciates some abstract art – though not mine – and that his preference lies in realistic paintings of beautiful scenery.

Last week, I started my blog with a Mary Oliver poem. Paul stopped in at the Community Center to tell me that he was glad I had found time to write, and that he prefers poetry that rhymes. I didn’t argue. At more than 90 years old, I think Paul is welcome to his opinion, whatever it is. We spoke for a bit about the state of the nation, this busy season, and the wonderful cadence of E.B. White’s poetry. Unlike today, that was as controversial as I was willing to be. On Saturday, Paul suffered a massive heart attack and died. I’m glad for the time I spent listening. For Paul, a rhyming poem:

Village Revisited

(A cheerful lament in which truth, pain, and beauty are prominently mentioned, and in that order)

by E.B. White

In the days of my youth, in the days of my youth,
I lay in West Twelfth Street, writhing with Truth,
I died in Jones Street, dallying with pain,
And flashed up Sixth Avenue, risen again.

In the terrible, beautiful age of my prime,
I lacked for sweet linen, but never for time.
The tree in the alley was potted in gold,
The girls on the buses would never grow old.

Last night with my love I returned to these haunts
To visit Pain's diggings and try for Truth's glance;
I was eager and ardent and waited as always
The answering click to my ring in the hallways,
But Truth hardly knew me, and Pain wasn't in
(It scarcely seemed possible Pain wasn't in).

Beauty recalled me. We bowed in the Square,
In the wonderful westerly Waverly air.
She had a new do, I observed, to her hair.

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Thursday Thoughts

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This blog is going to be a bunch of jumbled thoughts. I don’t have time to be fussy about it. Usually, I jot down a few ideas, and put them in a kind of sensible order before I begin writing. Then I edit as I go. I check spelling if I have any doubt, though I am a good speller; I go to the Thesaurus if I have the urge to re-use a word too often; sometimes I rearrange sentences or even whole paragraphs. Not today.

It’s already late in the day. I stripped the bed this morning, washed the sheets and comforter, and have yet to remake the bed. My supper is in the oven. It has been a busy, stressful day, and I’m ready to be done. I’ve been feeling guilty, though, about neglecting this blog. There are few things in my life that I have stuck with for as long as this, and I don’t want to let it go. So, here I am, rushing to get something down, while my chicken finishes cooking.

This is my first day off in a week! I started my summer job at the golf course, which takes up my weekends, now, until the end of September. At the Community Center, a couple of my co-workers were out sick, so I filled in. Some of those were short shifts, and nothing was too difficult; still, a day when I have to go to work is a day when I don’t get much else done. It all piles up and waits for me.

Yesterday, after working a couple hours in the morning, I went to the bank, the post office and the grocery store. I took the dogs down to Fox Lake for a swim, which was a nice break for all of us. Then, I hunkered down to put together a packet for a gallery where I’d like to show my work.

I had a good start on it a month ago. Knowing the deadline was in June, and knowing my propensity for procrastination, I was determined to be ready. Then, my family was here for a visit. Then, my little dog got sick, and then died. And my job at the golf course started. And a couple co-workers got sick. And suddenly, the deadline – June 10th – was right on top of me.

So, yesterday I rewrote my Artist Statement and cover letter. I opened a Paypal account, necessary for the entry fee, and I started revising my resume. Because I tend to go right down a rabbit hole when confronted with things like that, I spent far too much time reading about and looking at samples of resumes and CVs and went to bed last night with the deadline still looming.

A couple recent rains have sent my lawn into a growing frenzy. It really needs to be mowed! I have to get the garden worked up and planted, if I’m going to get anything out of it. I bargained with myself: take today to finish everything that has to be done in order to submit the application to the gallery, then tomorrow, take the whole day outside.

It worked! I submitted the packet just before 4PM. I did a little victory dance, then took the dogs for a long walk. I made a big salad, and put a couple drumsticks in the oven to bake. It should be done any minute now. Tomorrow, I’ll be outside. Maybe, I’ll get to some semblance of “on top of things” by the weekend!