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Sunday
Dec042011

Make someone smile.

Make Someone Smile

 In years past, John and I invested heavily in our holiday celebrations and we thought it was worth the effort and expense. In spite of our more than full time jobs, we decorated the house inside and out, baked for weeks and hosted dinners and celebrations.  A continuous rotation of family, dear friends and good neighbors defined our holidays from Thanksgiving through Christmas.   We moved to Colorado a few years ago and everything changed. We found ourselves alone for the first time in our married lives and evaluating everything we normally did for our celebrations.  Did we carve a pumpkin for us, or our kids? Did we make the big Thanksgiving dinner for us, or guest? Why did we decorate everything at Christmas? Why did we put lights up when it’s such a struggle to take them down?  Who would be eating so many cookies?  We determined which traditions were important to us and discarded the excess. After the first year or two, we adjusted to these changes except for one really big item.

 Where’s our family and friends?  I really miss them. Even when I don’t hear from them all year long, and I have to remember that I’m the one that moved away – not them, I really look forward to holiday cards. And you know those Christmas letters we thought were slightly, if not completely unnecessary? I want them. I want to know your grandchild walked for the first time, sang in the school choir, and calls you by your first name. I want to know you dug up the old shrubs and planted roses; I want to know you finally settled on a paint color for your living room.  I love hearing from everyone, even if it is just once a year. The absolute joy we get from your letters and cards are life links for us and make us remember we are still rooted.

As you plan your holidays, don’t forget to pick up a box or two of greeting cards and send them. Better yet, add a note. Make someone smile. Me!

 How do you connect with your relatives and friends who no longer live near you?

Sunday
Nov062011

Where are the hollyhocks?

Among the Hollyhocks, 8 x 10 inches

 


  This is my great grandmother, Adeline. In the one photograph I have of her, she is standing between my grandfather and his sister. She looks into the camera with barely a hint of a smile, perhaps thinking the photographer is silly asking for this pose. I never met her, but from her appearance in the photo, and stories shared by my family, she was a very correct person. I have a vision of someone who stands straight, wears starched dresses and is ready to correct my own posture or attire. “Sit up straight, Susan.  Tuck your blouse in.” There doesn’t seem to be a lot of tolerance in old Adeline. But she lived in an era that provided women with very few resources to prosper. Great sacrifice and compromise was perpetually required out of women with children trying to survive. Making choices that were right or wrong probably seemed less relevant than does this feed us today, or do we have somewhere to sleep tonight? It is very easy to forget the details and less likely we will ever learn them.  We form our opinions from images – like this.

   my great grandmother, Adeline

When I made my painting inspired by Adeline, without even thinking, I filled the background with hollyhocks. Initially I only thought about hollyhocks as beautiful old time flowers that remind us of our Grandmothers and childhood. For centuries they have been grown to border outhouses, garages and barns providing a colorful pallet to an otherwise drab,  paint weathered surface. These heirloom flowers were the common backdrop of family photographs, creating a tall screen of foliage to stand in front of and squint into the sunlight smiling. I’ve spent many hours combing through older photographs of my relatives and the relatives of my friends, and in everyone’s picture album the same photo inevitably appears of family gathered together standing in front of hollyhocks.  I wanted to create that image.

  The hollyhocks I remember had giant saucer sized blooms in rich purples and pinks. Even though they give the appearance of a hardy stalk, they have very shallow roots for the type of plant they are. A thunderstorm or harsh wind can bring them down, so they require staking just in case. Hollyhocks attract Japanese beetles that eat big holes in the petals and they develop rust which can leave them with brown ugly leaves.  They take two years to establish before they will bloom. Considering all of that you might ask how did hollyhocks survive for centuries? Hollyhocks have an amazing ability to reseed the bed and germinate in very shallow, poor soil with only a small amount of water. They establish as seedlings in the fall, winter over and start new growth in the spring, eventually producing an abundance of beautiful saucer size flowers.  Even if you uproot them and stop tending the soil where they were planted, people find the plants emerging many years later after they were removed from the bed. These survival characteristics protect the hollyhock from total devastations like draught or gardeners like me.  Hollyhocks and women like Adeline have a great deal in common.

 When I consider Adeline, I cannot perceive how I might have managed my own crises that have popped up throughout my life without the resources I’ve been able to depend on. My collateral consists of many more advantages than she ever had. A car, safe highways to drive on, a home and family who supported me are some of the more relevant things that come to mind.  Compared to what my great grandmother had in her survival arsenal I was wealthy with many options.

 I am in awe of women like Adeline who have found a path to push us forward for centuries. Whether they were nurturers or not, here we are: the result of whatever they did and happy to have benefitted from those before us.

 In historical references on hollyhocks I’ve read that delicate women never asked, “Where is the privy?” They needed only to look for, or ask, “Where are the hollyhocks?"  As I studied this picture of Adeline I knew she had cultivated that image.  She intended we observe only the bloom. We were not supposed to consider the cycle of such a hardy plant’s life.   But I did consider it, and I’m pretty sure she would not have had any difficulty asking “Where is the outhouse?”

 

Sunday
Oct232011

I can give you every Tuesday morning except next week.

Garden Clu Volunteers, each painting 4 x 4 inches. To see see these paintings enlarged select my portfolio, and select the "Women I Might Have Known" series.

 What do hospitals, botanical gardens, art organizations, museums, hospitals, and the Junior League have in common? Volunteers – women (and although I’m not writing about them, men) who give generously of their time to help others. I think everything runs more efficiently thanks to volunteers. They rock babies in newborn nurseries. They pull weeds at the botanical gardens. They tour visitors through art museums, teach children after school, and host numerous luncheons, rummage sales and card parties to raise funds for a variety of needs.  Who has not benefitted from the generosity of a volunteer?

Throughout my life I have had much interaction with volunteers.  My aunt was a long time member of the Junior League. My mother sold pretzels at school to raise funds for my brother’s band.  My mother-in-law put together the church bulletin each week and was a board member of a church sodality. My sister-in-law created a foundation for dogs. This is not all these women did in service for others.  In fact, I could write a lengthy list of all my friends and family highlighting their generosity to various organizations and churches throughout their lives.  I have participated in many volunteer positions over the years. As a result, many of the women I have served with have become my dearest friends.

 So here’s the deal.  Not only do we save you money, but quite often, we raise additional funds for you to operate your organization.  We change our schedules and pass up opportunities to help you out. We bring a great deal of expertise and experience to our service work, sometimes teaching and training others. And we are very committed to helping you succeed, but we have children, grandchildren, maybe a job, and always busy households to manage. So when you write my schedule, or assign me a task before checking my availability, please do not get upset when I tell you I can give you every Tuesday morning except next week.  Cheers!

Monday
Oct032011

Cookie & Tomatoes

Cookie & Tomatoes, 10 x 10" acrylic framed

My husband John’s grandmother was named Cookie. Her real name was Margaret. Every old picture of her says Cookie on the back. He doesn’t know why it was her name and there is no one to ask.  John does not think it was because she baked or gave away cookies. In fact, he thinks his grandfather called her Cookie, as an endearment.  Hmmm… come to think of it, women have been called all sorts of confections.  

From cupcake to cream puff I have heard nearly every sugary food available applied to women in place of their real name. Affectionate endearments include honey, sugar, puddin, cutie pie and muffin.  Does she have pretty legs showing? How about cheesecake?  Maybe she’s the apple of your eye, or another fruit such as a cherry, a peach, or a pumpkin.  A woman who is particularly sexy might be a hot tamale, or a spicy tomato.

I looked at a few sources of girl’s names and found food entries of Olive, Clementine, Ginger, Sage, Rosemary, and Parsley. Really, parsley? Have you no ambition for your daughter?

Some of my favorite famous foodie characters are Ginger and Peppermint Patty.

In regard to John’s grandmother – would you rather be a cookie who grows fabulous tomatoes or a spicy tomato that bakes great cookies? It doesn’t seem to matter. By the time John came along she was already Cookie and that’s the name that stuck.  I know that it’s sexist, but John always thought Cookie was a pretty good name for a grandmother.

 What did you call your grandmother? Even better, what did your grandfather call your grandmother?

Tuesday
Sep202011

Tend to Your Garden

Glowing Like the Sun, 9 x 9" acrylic framed

Here is what I know. Most women are nurturers. Some are better than others, but I think it’s related to life experience. If you are young and nothing crisis like has ever happened to you, then you probably have a little more “pie in the sky” outlook on life than a seasoned veteran.  We all have made mistakes raising our kids, making smart decisions about our career, resolving relationship conflicts and maintaining our friendships. Frankly, it’s the errors that teach us. Who doesn’t have a story about something regretful?

 We plant seeds in the beginning and then we must help our seedlings grow.  Just as dry seasons need more water, and cold snaps require insulation, we constantly make adjustments to change our lives. Experience is discovery. Understanding who we are allows us to nurture our children and relationships in a healthy   way.  And still we make mistakes.  I’ve lost friends, had stupid arguments inside my family and quit jobs with regret. I can’t fix any of that. All I can ever do is learn the lesson and go forward, trying not to be so dense the next time an opportunity to error jumps in my path.

 Self help books, discussion groups, even therapy are probably all pretty good options to help improve your nurturing skills. We need encouragement to flourish. Personally, I have found support with fellow painters and knitters. Developing patience, consistent methods, and completing my projects doesn’t just bring me satisfaction. It teaches me the skills to function outside of my studio. Tolerance, fairness, acceptance, and resolve are skills I have added to my bounty over the years. I might have set out to grow roses, but the wildflowers I ended up with have enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined.   

 This is what we all know. As earth mothers we must all plant our garden and then tend to it. I’m confident we will all grow.