Simply Thankful.

We all have so much to be thankful for. I know that each one of us could list things that we are thankful for and find worthy of celebrating. For some it may include the people in our lives; for others it may be prized possessions, or food, or a home, or warmth, or employment, or health. All are worthy blessings, to be sure. Sometimes, however, we get lost in a process of ranking them in an order from what we consider the most splendid to the most mundane, using criteria rooted in guilt, or monetary value, or social status.

When we gather with others we may start recounting the recent vacations, or big work accomplishments, or valuable material items we acquired recently. We proudly add home and family to the list. Does our car measure up? Is this party impressive? Did we feel the need to one-up someone in conversation?

Did I lift up what I know are my real blessings when I was asked?

It is harder and yet so very important to look at something that doesn’t make the top 5 grandious cut and realize it is that small and subtle and seemingly insignificant thing that is the real object worthy of thanksgiving.

The things that are truly important are often the intangible and simple ones like love and peace and joy. Finding these things in our surroundings regardless of how humble, and in the people around us no matter how quiet, are the real blessings in our lives.

As we drove home on Thanksgiving Day after a truly wonderful meal with warm and loving family, I found myself looking over at my husband and the tranquil landscape through the window beside him. The sun was already below the horizon line and the light was peaceful and subtle. It was not a glamorous sunset. There were no fancy fields or lovely farmsteads right there. I saw no dramatic silhouetted trees against the fading light. What I saw was the simplicity of the day’s end and the whispered, peaceful prayer of Thanksgiving for the day. What I was seeing was overwhelmingly beautiful.

I’ve tried to capture that image for you on this 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas. I am not ashamed to say that I have fallen quite short of that goal but I feel better for having tried. I had planned to have fancy sales for black Friday or small business Saturday but for this moment I’m OK with my choice to sit at the easel for both days. I hope you did have some fun and added to your list of blessings through these holidays, and that maybe you even supported a small business.

I pray peace to you all and may your blessings be plentiful and ranked first by the joy they bring your heart.

Think deeply, consider carefully, and then act.

Thresholds come periodically in all of our lives and always prompt a blend of excited anticipation, subtle terror, and steeled resolve. The next threshold has been stepped over and it is time to act.

I must now reconsider and make adjustments to all of the things that impact my personal life directly or indirectly. It may be an action that impacts someone I care about deeply, or someone I may never know. It may involve my material wealth or my moral currency or my physical wellbeing. It will likely involve these, and more.

So knowing that time is upon me, I will sit quietly, and think deeply. I will consider carefully, and make my choices. Choices for myself. Choices for my family. Choices for my community. Choices for my country. I am ready. I am strong. It is time to be fearless.

Today’s painting is a 5″ x 7″ oil on canvas board entitled “Contemplation with a Cordial Sunset.”

Walking Serendipitously.

Retirement – what a wonderful new adventure. After years, or perhaps even decades of living a very prescribed life with all of its security and predictability, I have launched into a new adventure that feels more dependent on the fluidity of a moment. It sounds exciting, but I have decades of habits in place and it can be pretty unnerving to feel so little control over the path ahead when derailment can lurk at each turn.

I have always enjoyed the notion of the phrase, “all who wander are not lost” but maybe it was the militant declaration I actually loved. Suddenly, I find myself asking what that actually means? If I don’t have a map I feel lost. I plan and list and run scenarios and make contingency plans and habitually over-think. It is exhausting.

These last couple of months, however, I am also beginning to understand the benefit of letting go. I wasn’t always so plan heavy and can vaguely remember my early 20s when I was driven by discovery and celebrated the surprise benefits of living in the moment. I wasn’t afraid to turn on a dime and head a new direction knowing that all of the possibilities had the potential to be wonderful. It was exhilarating and imbued with hope. That is the wander!

I can feel change happening. I can feel it in my day to day structure as I determine when or IF a plan is needed and I can feel it in my work. It is true that planning is necessary for budgets, for meal planning, for scheduling social events, and more. On the other hand, planning for potential negative scenarios with their probability ranking too low to give any credibility to, is self sabotaging. It will take me a little time to break some seriously bad habits but thankfully the change is already happening.

I have been gifted the opportunity to wander several times these last two months and gratefully, have a husband who is helping me keep the planning more fluid. We are allowing ourselves the flexibility to talk about wants and needs and change our minds as much as we want. We didn’t build in excessive plans and commitments and we enjoyed the simplicity. We found ourselves remembering what we liked and didn’t like about historical reenactments and reaffirm why we continue to do them. It is a gift to be able to look at all kinds of behavior in my life and decide, like I would a poker hand, what should stay and go. Once a person allows themselves the grace to change after objective introspection it begins to pick up speed, and feeds peace.

Throughout this process I have no doubt that it will directly impact my work and I daresay it can only be positive. Last week I began a 16 x 20 oil on canvas of a photo taken of me several years ago. I started to feel uncomfortable with it and realized that I wasn’t fond of the size or layout. I found myself staring at a half done canvas and realized I couldn’t go on. That isn’t unique. What happened next was. I decided that I could choose to change it. Paintings, while in process, aren’t precious! They are merely insight of what is going on in me as I synthesize what I see and should not ever have the power to dictate my actions. This is a breakthrough for me. I decided to take it off the stretcher bars, find an oddball size frame in the basement (I have too many to admit to), and crop this silly thing to see if it’s redeemable. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t but I get to choose.

In the weeks and months ahead I will no doubt continue to evolve and grow and become. I like that idea. We have an art show in Freeport, Illinois next Sunday and several historical events coming later in September as well. It will be good to go into the fall with an open perspective, and even though I don’t know what the future holds for us I am celebrating the growing happiness I feel. I will pop back in here and show you how this painting turned out – actually, it is my intent to be more active here overall.

The accumulation of incremental moments.

Showing my artwork at the Kalamazoo Living History Show in March of 2022.

My parents always told me to strive to do my best, whatever the circumstance. Bosses told me to work equally hard at those things I didn’t like as those I did. Sunday school taught me to ‘do unto others as I would have them do unto me’. Experience taught me that retaliation is self injurious, and the high road leaves you with a much better, overall view of the landscape. These last several years solidified my resolve to seek truth over acceptance from others.

These building blocks of life-guidance, as well as the literally dozens of others that I have internalized over my lifetime so far, have slowly made me who I am today and will be years from now.

We all have aggregated mantras that build over a lifetime to help us create an admirable work ethic, a true moral compass, a living empathy for others, a tender and honest heart, solid objectivity in the evaluation of truth, and the ability to clearly view an environmental heatmap of human kind. The cumulative value is also instrumental in providing the skillset for discovering true peace, joy and wisdom in our daily life. I am truly thankful for my path so far and look forward to what lies ahead.

β€œIt is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” ― Vincent Van Gogh

Life is not still.

Remaining sufficiently disciplined to be consistently creative while being employed in a different field is a delicate balance that many of us understand. Owning and running a small fine arts business on the side is certainly challenging as well. Doing this while working full time in higher education as a faculty librarian and administrator (the library director) is even more challenging.

Today’s painting is an 11 x 14 oil on canvas called “Life Is Not Still”

I love both environments and professions very much and strongly believe that keeping a strict separation between these two simultaneous careers has been ethically imperative. I also believe that both passions need a full commitment of time, focus, and finance to do them well. Working – and I daresay living – this duality is surprisingly hard to sustain long term, and yet is what circumstances have determined necessary my entire adult life. Now, however, I realize that I am at a point of decision. I am at the diverging road of Robert Frost’s poem.

There are professional affiliations that I must engage with for both careers, and participation in each of them demands serious financial commitments, intense intellectual contributions, notable energy and an active presence. Judiciously choosing even a modest level of participation for each of them can still add up quickly and drain me. Perhaps I could get by with some bare minimum distributed across a broader scale but in good faith, I cannot. When I commit, it is fully.

As I have begun to grow my art business, I have become increasingly aware of the complexity of juggling an overwhelming number of balls in the air. With the art business this involves (aside from making the artwork itself) a demand for participation costs (shooting, jurying, booth, framing, travel and more), calendar deadlines (submit, ship, travel, and the detriment of scheduling errors), and even the aging of each piece to assure currency compliance requirements.

In the past year, I have had some modest success with the sale of several pieces of artwork and for this, I am enormously grateful. I have re-invested the proceeds in much needed technology for the business, in gichlee prints of select work to increase ready cash flow, in expanded affiliations, and now in underwriting entry fees to more competitions than ever before. All are tough decisions that need to be made thoughtfully and strategically and they burn through the profits quickly.

I can feel that tipping point in both the monetary support and the service juxtaposition of my two careers and am aware that a decision must be made to address this bittersweet imbalance of serving two passions effectively, let alone well. It is time for me to choose, and move from that place of transition; to step forward in faith.

After 25 years in my library, I will be retiring this summer from my position as University Library Director to focus on my art fulltime.

Choices and Perseverance – and listening for direction.

Every moment, every day, every month, we have thousands of choices that we must make. Some are small and seemingly inconsequential. Some are larger and can impact what tomorrow will bring. Still others can literally change the direction of our life.

Knowing that these choices can carry such radical weight, we can try using our experience to anticipate outcomes and therefore make preparations to increase the probability to make a good choice when the time comes. I know that we cannot guess right all the time, but we can often react to sudden decisions with greater calm and logic when we have spent time preparing in quiet contemplation. Part of that success comes from the balance of staying knowledgeable of ourselves and our circumstances. The other part comes from listening to guidance from the still, small voice… impossible to do if we are not open to the concept of a divine being, or greater forces than ourselves at the very least. This powerful combination of introspection and acknowledgement of an outside influence, helps us face choices with agility, grace, and wisdom.

These last 2 to 3 years have been especially challenging for everyone and I must admit it doesn’t look like it’s going to go back to the simplicity of the way it was any time soon – if ever. Years can appear to be a lifelong crescendo with each year providing its own level of challenge. I remember thinking that it was hard when I was a child. I couldn’t wait to have more control over my choices because I was sure that it would get easier. As I grew into adulthood I realized that each previous time in my life was, in fact, the simpler time and I have come to the realization that the general trajectory was indeed up. Now I look nostalgically at even 4 years ago . . . which felt much easier than today.

The most recent painting is a 20″ x 16″ oil on canvas entitled, “Chaga Harvest”

As I find myself looking forward to each next phase of my life I can find that I am calmer about the escalation than I could have anticipated. I have enjoyed several careers which I have loved very much and throughout them, I have remained a visual artist. I have traveled much of our country, seeing it from air, highway, backroad and wagon trail. I have experienced great joys and great sorrows, the latter brought to bear at the loss of dearest friends, dearest family members, and even dearest dreams. At the moment of impact from each of these milestone moments in our lives we are sorely aware that we could not have predicted appropriately, but we could demonstrate our awareness by walking in grace and faith.

Looking at the beginning of this new year I realize I am farther along in my amazing life path – I dare say closer to the end than the beginning – which puts me in a good position of hindsight to celebrate my life experiences, successes, and overall choices. Looking ahead I see I have no less dreams, passion, or intellect, although perhaps I move a little slower, and am a little more thoughtful. I never got to be a famous artist but consider myself wealthy beyond measure in the commerce that matters, and my art reflects my well traveled road. In the months ahead I will enjoy the now familiar and necessary shifts towards the next stretch in my road and review my travel kit, packed with life experiences, gleaned wisdom, necessary survival tools, and hope. I am excited at the next adventure and find myself listening carefully to the calm guidance of the still, small, voice.

Prioritizing time to relax.

Having time off work between Christmas and New Year is an incredible blessing to me. To be able to regain the natural response in my painting, I need to have several days to adjust and calm my inter vibrations. My academic work, although fulfilling, does not draw from the same source as my artwork does. As a result, I have to make a concerted effort to relax and paint.

I have been napping, cleaning, eating fun meals, watching TV programs, and enjoying time with my sweetheart. I have also been tinkering, dithering on older pieces, and painting new works.

If you saw the last post of the painting of trees you saw a lovely way to work through rustiness on a new canvas. Today, I have been thinking about friends and family and I tend to paint while I do that. Sometimes I paint from my head, and sometimes I look in a folder I keep on my phone of source images that I have either taken, or seen on friends’ social media sites. This is where the permissions that you, my friends, have given me become so vital to me. When I go to that folder and an image speaks to me, it allows me the freedom to run with it at that moment of inspiration.

Today I have been thinking about friendships and wanted to lift up one family in northern Wisconsin who have been gracious, accepting, and supportive of me and my work. Thank you for the permission to enjoy creating today’s painting, a 5″ x 7″ oil on canvas board – a playful study called “Maggie”.

Slow the rapid flight of time.

I am embarrased to realize how much time has passed since I last wrote here, and even more so to realize how little I have painted in the last 3 months. I get busy with the obligations of employment and time races on with a creschendoing inertia that takes intentional steps for intervention to slow it down.

True, I was here for announcements for the website and to mark calendar commitments through the fall but I didn’t work at nurturing my art’s very source. I forgot to nurture my spirit.

Now Christmas holidays are upon me and I’m amazed at how many days it has taken me to to slow the vibrations inside. Yesterday, I finally sat down in my studio, took a deep breath, and began to paint. I honestly don’t know how I allowed so much time to pass away from the easel. I know that when I don’t paint I become imbalanced. Then when I do sit down it takes discipline to force through those stiffened creative muscles just as someone who’s been away from the gym experiences. I had to tinker and to think creatively; I had to find that rhythm again; and I had to reimage a picture in my mind that needed painting.

This week will be about me reestablishing the correct flow, reestablishing the priorities that my soul needs, disallowing outside stress to drive my processes, and regaining my art disciplines that have been pushed into their shoeboxes and up on the shelf. I can run for a while without art being at the forefront, but inertia cannot sustain me and without my art all of the rest of it unravels.

So my New Year’s resolution will be to systematically reestablish my priorities for a happier and healthier physical, emotional, and mental well being.

As for today, the step that I must take to begin that process is to paint. I hope you enjoy this painting of a tree that I did yesterday. It is a tree like any tree in any forest, but it is the beginning of my reset.

I offer you this 11″ x 14″ oil on canvas board of ..trees.

Choosing your response to change.

Change is inevitable. Good or bad, it will occur. We rarely have the ability to deter the change but we may have the power to lessen the negative impact to some degree by our reaction to it. How it affects us longterm is most assuredly affected by choices we make.

We can either be agile enough to move with it like the colored leaf on the surface of a tumbling creek, or we can choose to be the rock and spend our energy holding fast against the water in a Scissorphean stance and let the water ravage us until we break or wear down. To stubbornly resist change is exhausting and relatively pointless.

I propose to you – decide which you will be before change is upon you. What if you choose to be the leaf? Choose to be agile and take the proactive, optimistic perspective before you land on the surface of the water? As that leaf, what if you choose instead to enjoy the breeze blowing you through the air? What if you choose to enjoy the perspective of the sun on your surroundings in an ever changing view as you fall? What if you enjoy the delightful change in temperature as you approach the water? What if you celebrate the fun and rapid movement once you’ve landed and you swirl away down the creek to new adventures and new beginnings?

The paintings that I’ve been doing lately have been reflections of my inner thought process – sitting and thinking about my next steps and my reactions to change. I have also been thinking of people that I know who live in a spirit of positive reaction. Living with an optimistic perspective has an absolutely evidentiary impact on our life; our reaction to change, our stress levels, our potential for happiness in the face of challenge, and our ability to spin our futures in a positive direction.

I am blessed to know many positive souls and am grateful for it.

The painting above is of a young woman that I admire. I have watched her grow into a most lovely woman, both inside and out, and her beauty comes from the joy that emanates from her face and is reflected in her smile. It is one of my strongest opinions that people are the most beautiful and/or handsome when they smile. That joy is a powerful force that affects both herself, and those around her. It can become a driving force that is cyclical and self escalating.

No, I don’t think she actually owns chickens but chickens somehow make me happy and make me feel a connection to simpler times. Thanks to my model, Hannah, for your infectious joy.

This painting is a 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas called, “Hannah’s Heart”.