When I Grow Up

When my son Brian was just short of his sixth birthday he came to me with a very earnest look on his face. “Mommy”, he said, “When I grow up should I be a taxi driver or a science test?” I told him that I wanted him to be a “science test”. He is now studying to be a sommelier. The memory of that conversation came to me in the middle of another sleepless night. I really believed for a very long time now that I never figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. There were of course flashes of interest, in the sixth grade it was archeology. I read everything I could get my hands on to do with ancient Rome and Greece. I knew Greek Mythology by heart. Then there was the realization that it might just involve science, somewhat doable, but in a round about way it might also involve (cue the dramatic music of dread)…math…Done! No math, no how! Then there was of course (as any good Catholic girl will tell you) the call to God. I thought for a very, very, very short time about becoming a nun. (Didn’t we all?) Trust me as a romanticizing, day dreaming, fourteen year old, the idea of becoming a “Bride of Christ” sounds wonderful and mysterious. You find yourself praying a lot and feeling very pious. I think a very short reflection on some of the bitter and angry nuns I had dealt with in my academic career brought that idea to a screeching halt. Don’t get me wrong. I have had the immense pleasure of being educated by some lovely human beings, who also happen to have been nuns, but in my young mind the bitter and angry ones far outweighed the nice ones. For a while I thought I might want to be a teacher. I think I would have been a good one, but in the summer that I was fifteen I taught art in a Chicago Park District program to children four through eight years old. I was bitten, kicked, and had my glasses broken by an obnoxious five-year old who thought that while flying high on the swing set it might be fun to hit my face with his feet. I was done yet again. The honest truth was I never really thought about an artistic career. Since I had no training I had no idea of the endless possibilities that were available to me. I did always have a flair for design. I think I may have mentioned here before that I didn’t like playing with Barbie dolls as much as I enjoyed decorating their house. In my sleeplessness last night I did a lot of thinking. I had a complete meltdown right before bed (which robbed my dear husband of some much-needed sleep, sorry Honey). I was bemoaning my fate as a lost human being wandering the earth with no focus, no plan, no home. (OK, so it wasn’t quite that dramatic) It’s just that I, like so many other women, are our families. We lost ourselves somewhere along the way of countless hours of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, laundry, homework, bedtime rituals, etc., we are made up of the pieces that address our family needs, and forget our own. I was feeling angry and frustrated last night. Last year when I started this blog and art project it was the first time in my adult life that I was solely focused on something for myself. Then fate stepped in, appearing in the form of unemployment, it laughed in my face, and it filled my mind with fear and worry and not so much with creativity. So many times over the course of the year I found myself pushing the project to the back burner because guilt wouldn’t allow me to put myself first. I wouldn’t let myself be first. Now Dan has a new job, Jessica has moved away, I am moving away from Brian, and I am also moving away from Gabby and Kingston, the motherless children I care for and have grown to love. The only thing I have been in thirty years is a wife and mother. I dabbled at my art, but I never fully committed myself to me. It all came to a head last night. As I sat here all night (quite frankly despicably full of self-pity) I remembered what Brian had said. In the last few weeks as I have been packing up our lives, I came across my diary. It’s the one I mentioned here before. Along with it were pages from other older, younger diaries. Amongst the writing on those pages were some dreams for the future. First and foremost was my goal of becoming Mrs. Robert Redford (Don’t worry. Dan is well aware of my love for “Bob”), but there was also an entry that while it has the day and month, it does not have the year. My Aunt Bernie had just given birth to my cousin Michael. In my little girl penmanship I wrote about what a beautiful baby he was, and that I wanted to be a mom when I grew up. So maybe I did know all along. I think I was pretty good at it. I’d like to think I’m still good at it, trying my best to not interfere, but to gently guide and suggest. I’m sure that many people would chalk this up to “empty nest syndrome”.  Sure, some of that might be true, but with me there has always been this feeling of unfulfilled promise. God-given talents that are sorely untapped. Dan got angry with me last night, and that isn’t something that happens often, but he was right. He said that I keep throwing up roadblocks for myself. He also said that I won’t let myself be first, and that he is my biggest supporter. All of that is true. It really is time to figure things out. I know I can’t blame anyone but myself, and I know only I can change me. Time to grow up, time for a new dream, and since Bob and I are both already married to other people, that ship has sailed. (Oh come on, Dan knows he is the love of my life.)

After my meltdown and sleepless night I sat on the couch this morning with my coffee and watched last night’s Project Runway. I love the show. I love to see the creativity and imagination at work. I also envy the amazing sewing talent. One of the lovelier nuns I have run across is Sr. Janelle. She was my sophomore year sewing teacher. Try as she might, as kind and patient as she was, I wasn’t very good. I have amazing talent in these hands as long as there isn’t an iota of math involved. Sewing can be very mathematical. On a commercial break in the show came an ad for AARP. (We are not members. It’s honestly a little upsetting when you get your first invite to join. You find yourself feeling angry and insulted that they would presume to think you are that “old”. I know there are many benefits, but my brain just doesn’t want to go there. I am after all, only 54!) The ad featured Tim Gunn, and it couldn’t have been more appropriate. He talks about reinventing yourself, rolling the dice and taking a chance. He was a teacher for twenty-nine years, and he was fifty when Project Runway came along. It was just what I needed to hear. Maybe my former fiancée (God) is trying to send me a message. Now if He could just send me some movers….

Overdue Apology?

Parents often speak of the joys of parenthood, and there are many, but there is one that most don’t speak of. That is the joy of annoying your teenager. Some may think me cruel, but despite the many people who see me as not having a sense of humor, I can actually be quite funny. My sister Marion once told me that for her I’m sort of a female Bob Newhart, dry wit that comes out of nowhere. I can be very quiet, and still at times painfully shy, but when I am comfortable with the people I’m with I open up a bit. I’ll never be the type who can dance on a table top, but who would want to see uncoordinated me do that anyway? (I’d compare myself to a blossoming flower, but at my age I think the only thing I could be compared to is something that blooms in the fall…like cabbage) I digress…My children are no longer teenagers, but full-fledged adults. It is very difficult to annoy Jessica. She is such a sunny pleasant person that it is hard to find an angle, and as a teenager she studied voluntarily. (Where did I go wrong?) I remember once finding her studying the Periodic Table of Elements. I asked if she was having a test. Her response? “No, I just thought I should know these.” Supportive and proud mother that I am, I called her a weirdo. (Just kidding Honey, love you!) Brian is now twenty-three. He is intelligent beyond words, which is really interesting since he hated, and I mean HATED school. It is my firm belief that he charmed his way through school. He is very charming. Well that and he once asked me to bake a cake for a teacher. He didn’t tell me his grade was bad and that he was buttering the man up, only that his teacher like strawberries. We fought about school from about the sixth grade when he announced that he would no longer do homework. Schoolwork was the teacher’s job, and if they couldn’t do the job in six hours it wasn’t his problem. I’m sure you know I had a lot to say about that. We butted heads through most of his teenage years, arguing about just about everything. He was so stubborn. (Gee, I wonder who he gets that from?) I fought back the only way I could, sarcasm and humor. I knew he didn’t think I was funny, but I thought I was funny, and better yet I knew it annoyed the crap out of him. (Forgive me Brian, but it was my best defense!) My favorite story, and I hope he thinks it’s funny now, is when he was into existentialism. What? I know, when he told me he was an existentialist I said, “I don’t even know what that is.” He explained that we might not really be here, that the bed we were sitting on might not really be here, that we had no way of knowing what was real. (This is where the fun starts.) “I know we are here. I know you are here. I know that because I gave birth to you and pushed out all eight pounds and nine ounces of you. Trust me I know you’re here.” He was very upset with me. “You have no respect for my feelings!” Conversation over. I thought I was hilarious. He of course did not. I knew he was searching for his identity, and maybe I could have been a little more understanding, but he wouldn’t do homework or clean his room. A mother has to have satisfaction somewhere, right? I really am sorry Brian for not taking it a little more seriously.

Today’s work is for my Brian. I love him dearly and am very proud of the kind and compassionate man he is. He recently moved out and I offered art for his new place. He is a different kind of guy, so I thought he needed a different kind of art. I knew from the onset that I was going abstract, a style which I am very new to. It pulls me way, way out of my comfort zone, because I reside in the land of “supposed to look like”, this isn’t in my territory. Abstract forces me to let go of control to a certain extent, and lack of control is a very scary place. I wasn’t exactly sure until today what existentialism was (I just looked it up), but I thought about the universe and nothingness, and what might be happening out there in the cosmos. In my vision it is darkness, bursts and flashes of light, and more stars than you can possibly imagine. This is my Universe.

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A Belated “Thank You”

I haven’t been doing my best work as of late. I’ve probably phoned it in more in the last month than in the eleven months prior. We’re still not out of the woods here at home, and the clock is ticking. Worry and stress do not make good creative partners. Tonight I tried to clear my mind and focus on some work. I chose my subject matter for a very particular reason tonight.

I still haven’t sent my mother in-law a thank you note for her gift. I had an idea for something to include in her thank you. Like me, she is a collector. I remember the first time Dan brought me home to his parents house. Two things struck me that night. First was his Mom’s incredible antiques, the second was his Dad’s cooking. Don passed away a few years ago. A hard lesson that so many people learn as they age is to not let things go unsaid. The old cliché about life being short is so true. I have more than one regret about things that should have been said, or done and the opportunity has passed. I am late on my “thank you” to Joyce, but better late than never. I have often mentioned here that I am a really good cook. My interest in cooking started at about age seventeen, but it really took off after I started eating at the Zuckerman house. Both of Dan’s parents were terrific cooks, and in later years it was almost always his Dad that made the meal (except for gravy, Joyce’s specialty). I never told Don what an inspiration he was to me. I eventually had the chance to cook for him, and when he praised the meal I was beyond thrilled. Amongst my mother in-laws collections are some vintage sugar jars with the label “Zucker”,  which is German for sugar. I love her jars, so I made it my mission to find some for myself. One of my other collections is a group of chefs. Joyce wanted to collect them but didn’t have the room, so she began to collect them for me. One in particular always reminded us of Don. I wanted to pay tribute to both of Dan’s parents tonight. One of my Zucker jars, and “Don”, one of my chefs in watercolor. Belated thanks for inspiring one of the great pleasures in my life, cooking. (Oh, and by the way, thanks for the really wonderful son I have for a husband.)

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“As The Brush Speaks”

I did it, well half-assed did it. I put two things up on my etsy site, neither of which was my “fine art”, by which I mean paintings, drawings, or prints of those. I do intend to follow-up on those, but am still in the “how do I do it?” phase. I need to find a print shop to get prints made, and I need to find an inexpensive place to order mats from. As for other work that I was going to put up, it’s the shipping that is delaying me. Just when I think I have it all figured out I go to the post office and find out I charged too much for shipping and need to issue a refund. It happened to me several times over Christmas. I don’t care if it’s a dollar less than I posted, I issue a refund. I have too much Catholic guilt to hang onto money that belongs to someone else. Flat rate shipping sounds fabulous in theory, but I found it was cheaper to send things first class. I also need to find boxes to fit things that I want to ship in. Basically my life is a postal nightmare. I wish everyone who liked my stuff lived down the street and I could just drop it off. Just one more problem to solve.

I feel like I had a decent artistic day. I started to work on one of the orphans from this project, feeling all guilty that this little painting was sitting upstairs half painted, like some half-clothed Dickensian character. I sat and began to finish the piece, hating every minute of it. Why? Because I never really liked it in the first place. So I changed my mind, painted over the whole damn thing, and I didn’t feel a bit guilty. (after all fully covered in paint is fully clothed right?) I prepped the canvas to do an entirely different project tomorrow. Meanwhile I grabbed a new canvas, and just painted. Another episode of “As The Brush Speaks”. I didn’t think about it, I just worked. Eventually something began to appear as though out of a dream. I am a great lover of fog. Yes, fog, always have been. I think it is because I always liked hiding. Hiding is good when you are shy. I read a book when I was a kid called, “Fog Magic”. It was about a little girl in New England who could step back in time through the fog to Colonial Days. There were times as a kid that I wanted to disappear. Fog envelops everything around it like a cloak of secrecy, it appeals to me. On the canvas a secret forest of fog and color began to appear, I began to think of fireflies, and bright spots through the haze. A place of peace and tranquility. Once it began to take shape I continued the path. I think I came up with a place I would like to be.1 27

A Long Overdue “Thank You”

Is there such a thing as a glitter exterminator? It’s as if the glitter is reproducing, is that possible? I invited a friend over for dinner with two warnings. 1. She (who lives alone) would have to sit through The Walking Dead. 2. Expect to be glittered upon leaving. It is only the beginning. I’m fifty-six ornaments in at this point, and I hope to have two hundred by the end of the Christmas season. Once again my formal and public apology to the men in my life for making them leave the house all sparkly.

Speaking of apologies I have a huge one to make. My lovely Aunt Rita sent me a birthday present. My birthday was October 26th. I have reminded myself, and have asked Dan to remind me several times to write a note of thanks. Did I mention that procrastination is as ingrained in me as my clumsiness? (That would be why I am making fairies like a mad woman at the last-minute. It’s not like I just found out that its going to be Christmas) That is why my project for this evening is a thank you card for my thoughtful Aunt. There will be groveling about my not so thoughtful procrastination.

I mentioned a few days ago that I was shamelessly asking people to look at my etsy shop. Never occurred to me to give a link. (You must forgive me. My computer knowledge only goes so far, remember I got an electric typewriter for my high school graduation…yes, I’m that old)

In the spirit of the season that isn’t quite here…an amaryllis in watercolor…for the card, that I will send…tomorrow, promise!11 17


It’s Just Overkill

There’s a song by the Australian band Men At Work named “Overkill”. There is also a really terrific acoustic version by Colin Hays the lead singer who wrote the song. Dan says that the song reminds him of me, particularly this stanza:

Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know will be alright
Perhaps it’s just imagination

It is true that I worry entirely too much. I think some of it is motherhood, but most of it comes naturally to me. I remember laying in bed at night as a kid and fretting over the next day. I was so shy, and also a very easy target for some nasty kids, so school was something I dreaded. It’s funny how music entwines itself into your psyche. Sunday nights CBS aired Mission Impossible (the television show not the Tom Cruise stuff), I hate the theme music. It was the last thing I heard before going to sleep to start another school week. I’ve had trouble sleeping my entire life. I will often toss and turn trying to sleep but my brain just wont shut off, or I wake in the middle of the night worried over something I forgot to do.  For years I kept a pad of paper and pen next to the bed so that when I thought of something I needed to remember I could write it down. I couldn’t turn the light on because I shared a room with my sister, so of course I spent ten minutes the following morning trying to decipher what I wrote in the dark. The upside is that I have an amazing memory, the down side for my family is that I NEVER forget anything. I worry over the big things and the very little details. My daughter is newly married and very happy so I shouldn’t worry right? She works late, drives home alone, and walks to her apartment, all of which equals…you guessed it…worry! My son is twenty-three and still figuring out his way in the world…big worry. He is an extremely intelligent young man, funny, personable, and I don’t mind saying quite handsome, but still I worry. I want him to be happy. When you are a mom you want to do so much for your kids, happy is the one thing they really have to do for themselves. So could someone please tell me how to close off the maternal part of my brain? That’s not all, of course not. I worry about my husband, my dad, my sisters and their families, my friends, my cats, my, my, my, everything! For myself? That is an easy one. My art. I worry that I won’t get it right. That the damned perspective is off once again. That the painting looks flat. That the portrait doesn’t look like the subject. I could continue but I’m sure you get the idea. Tonight I was worried about my son. That affected my painting. I couldn’t concentrate. Now I’m worried about the painting, the perspective, that the rose doesn’t look enough like a rose…blah, blah, blah. I really wish I had a way to tell my brain that Brian will be fine, that the painting isn’t that bad, that tomorrow is another day, but I don’t. So tonight,

“I can’t get to sleep
I think about the implications
Of diving in too deep
And possibly the complications

Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know will be alright
Perhaps it’s just imagination

You can look up the rest, or download the single. It’s a really great song, and its way better than the theme to Mission Impossible.

Tonight a watercolor. My amazing husband bought me flowers when we were in Paris. I even managed to sneak a few dried petals back with me, and of course the bag.

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One Foot After Another

The title of my blog tonight is reflective of both how I have been approaching this project, and also happens to be the title of tonight’s piece of art. In terms of the blog it has to do with the many days and nights when something gets in my way. Whether it is housework, illness, holidays, family commitments, or just me getting in my own way, I just keep plodding through. On days when I feel defeated because my work isn’t coming out as I want it to, or days when I feel just a little lazy, I put one foot in front of the other and work through it.  I realize that there are nights when someone might look at my work and think “Really?’ I know its true because there are times when that person is me. I know when I’m not at my best, and I know when I am producing just to produce. I made a promise to myself today to start earlier in the day. I know I’ve touched on my procrastination in the past, but I woke this morning feeling very out of sorts and in need of getting my act together. I’m getting tired of myself. Lots of ideas, not as much action. I think we have fallen into a funk around here. Time to take charge.

Although there are times when last-minute homework comes out really well. I started the piece for tonight at about five this evening, I stopped to make and to eat dinner, I think sometimes I work well under pressure…

One Foot After Another. We have a collection of vintage shoemaker forms (I think I read The Elves And The Shoemaker too many times), and some really cool iron pieces that I assume were used to hammer on the soles of the shoes. It’s a collection we never set out to have. I found it piece by piece. My favorite is the small shoe form. I walked past them today, as I do every day, but today I felt inspired by them. I actually have been looking for a project to do on a long narrow canvas I have. It is 8 x 24. I love odd sizes of canvas, of course framing is an issue. Thank God my husband loves me so much. Dan is always the one who ends up doing the framing. He is lovely and patient just like Jessica. Acrylic on canvas.10 24

Two Steps Backward

I have an unfinished project for tonight. I feel bad habits forming. A few months ago I declared freedom for orphaned art that was in my studio. I vowed to rescue them and bring them to completion. I have done that with a few, but as I near the middle of this year-long project, I realize that I now have more unfinished work than when I began. That is not good. I knew earlier today that I would have difficulty getting to a project because of other plans. We drove to our daughter’s apartment to spend some time with Jessica and her husband, and to enjoy a lovely dinner. (Thank you Jessica. It was delicious!) I set out for the day with my art box of pens, pencils and charcoal, but forgot to bring my sketchbook. Jessica was kind enough to give me some paper, and I decided to create another book-plate, but chose to do a very intricate design that I didn’t have the time to complete. In other words I have a perfectly legitimate excuse for not getting finished tonight. As for the other projects? I simply have fallen back into putting what is important to me at the end of the line.  Dan and I were discussing my project yesterday, and I pointed out that I didn’t give myself a day off at all for this project. With the exception of one of the several days that I had pneumonia, I have written and worked every single day since April 13th. My brother-in-law is an artist, I’m sure even he takes days off, and as Dan pointed out, it’s all his brother does, its his job. I on the other hand still cook two to three times a day, clean house, do laundry, garden, do the family grocery shopping, and numerous other projects around the house. There is also trying to reach out to my Dad several times a day by phone to help with his loneliness, to schedule help for him, and to let him know what is on television that might fill his time. There are so many projects that I have started at the last-minute, written about and posted half done, fully intending to finish them, but then they get pushed to the back of the line the next day. Tomorrow I will take stock of what is done, what is half done and prioritize my life. I also need to raise the white flag and ask for help. I try to do everything for everyone I love. I need to remember to love myself a little as well. Finally, I really need to ask myself if I haven’t fallen back to the worst habit of all, doubting myself and my abilities. I haven’t written too much about “not good enough” in a while, or about my fear of being judged, but I need to look at myself in the mirror and face the truth about what is really going on here. I hate to go back to the dieting metaphor, but much like when I am tired and give myself an excuse to eat too much, I am finding excuses to not finish the work. Why is it so easy for us to ignore our own needs? My halfway point arrives this weekend, time to take control once again and give myself permission to have the artistic life I deserve.  10 7

Answering The Call…Of My Couch

I hate to admit it, but today is one of those days when any project is an issue. Not enough sleep, feeling a little under the weather, I just can’t seem to find any inspiration. I looked through some old photographs in my computer and actually picked a few, but the truth is I’m just not up to it tonight. I promised art every day for a year, and as I have said in the past, there are days I just didn’t count on. Today is definitely one of them. I pushed through it last night when I wasn’t feeling well, but tonight I think I’ll be raising the white flag. The only thing that I’m finding inspirational at the moment is putting my head down. However, I have been raised on the ultimate force of power in the universe, otherwise known as Catholic guilt. When I make a promise, I keep it. I realize that there is no WordPress hotline to the Vatican that might report my missed deadline, but due to masterful parental manipulation, guilt rules my life. I wouldn’t dream of not following through when I say I’ll do something. I really was going to try, but in the not so far distance I hear my couch calling my name. Of course all of the above being said, I can’t answer the call of the couch until I post something. A simple watercolor. I hope to be back in fighting form tomorrow.Image

Out Of My Element

Ten years ago I left Chicago for Temecula. For the first year all I did was piss and moan about how my life was horrible, Temecula was so boring, I even wrote a four page love letter to Chicago, waxing poetically about the wonder that she is. On occasion I took it out on my poor husband, blaming Dan for moving me away from the city I love so much. That was ten years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Chicago. It is an amazing place, and if I had the kind of money that would afford me the life I dream of, there would be a downtown loft in my future. That being said, Temecula is my home now. Southern California is where my children are. It’s a beautiful area where I have a beautiful home. There are also all those wineries, the gorgeous weather (for the most part), and I have made some friends, the kind that you know will be your friends forever. Of course my family is still here, and I miss seeing them regularly, but I’ve made a life in California, and right now I’m missing home. I think some of that has to do with the fact that my son isn’t feeling well, my inner mother is really feeling guilty, I also think that whatever he has, I’m getting. I want to be in my own bed with the covers pulled over my head. I’m also a little discombobulated with my art. I never travel without supplies, and this trip is no different. I do have watercolors, markers and pens with me, but I think being away from home disagrees with me. I am definitely a homebody. I’ve told Dan on more than one occasion that I’d travel anywhere in the world as long as I can sleep in my own bed at night. We went for a walk in the incredibly beautiful McDonald Woods this morning, and normally I would feel inspired. Instead I am sitting here watching the clock, waiting anxiously to go to bed.

A while ago I mentioned that Dan and I have a little, actually not so little, project in the works. We are going into business together. We are beginning to put together the pieces. Tonight I was working on an idea for a sign that will be in our business. A little pen and ink on paper. I think I’m headed in the right direction, something that looks a little vintage…like me.image