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Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Mind"

Great grandpa said, "If you want to keep your mind, you have to use your mind."  He lived by that maxim too.  His mind was great in his late 90s because he read the dictionary.  He studied the Bible so he could discuss it with people who knocked on his door.  He liked talking with children who were learning everything for the first time.

This week I heard that 1 in 3 people will get Alzheimer's by the time they're in their 60s.  I was stunned, since I'm unaware if anyone I ever knew had it, and I've known a lot of old people.  (This can explain a lot about American elections though since most voters are 60+.)

Sometimes I think that people stagnate at about the mental age of 20.  That's about the age they've finished learning how to learn.  Everything they do after that age is a variation of a theme using the mental skills they've acquired by that time.  Even if they learn new things, they're just using the same synapses in their brains to add to their store of knowledge.

When I went to college, I was confronted with the need to actually study.  This was a very unpleasant awakening.  I had managed to skip through school up till that point with very little actual effort, and I liked it that way.  Watching my college classmates studying, I felt both reluctance and curiosity.  Most of them looked miserable, and who wants to join in misery?  At the same time, I wondered how they did it, and I asked them about their study techniques.

Most of them did some variation of endlessly repeating things and reading text books until the knowledge got wedged in their brains.  I'm too dyslexic, and honestly don't have the attention span to dedicate to rote learning.  One friend told me she made up little songs with the lyrics being test facts.  That worked much better for me.  Another told me to take really good notes.  I could do that while attentively listening in class.

Most of the things I studied after college were learned in the same ways, and I got to a different point of mental laziness again.  Again, I found myself liking it that way.  I think it's human nature to do the least amount of work necessary.  It's why we get fat.

At one of my jobs, I found my old methods didn't work as well as necessary for the tasks at hand.  I read and took copious notes.  I listened hard.  I experimented.  I tried to remember what I'd learned in 3rd grade math classes.  I could feel synapses painfully growing in my brain -- and I found that after the initial doubts and misery, I loved it.

The most important thing I learned is that I needed to keep learning.  It didn't really matter what I learned.  I just needed to keep stretching my brain muscles to keep them limber.  I'm not going to get Alzheimer's.  I hope you don't either.  Keep your brain and enjoy learning as a life-long process

Happy Memorial Day for those who live where it is celebrated.  Remember those who died for your freedom to enjoy picnics!

Friday, May 19, 2017

"Team"

Every time Bro4 comes over, he says, "You should get rid of the weeds in your driveway.  They'll crack the cement."  My typical response is some variation of "I'll get to it".  Lately, I've told him about my friend's eco-friendly method of killing weeds with bleach, which prompts Bro to say, "Just use Round Up".  This conversation is as predictable as the sun rising in the morning and setting every evening.  Even if he doesn't say it out loud, I know he's thinking about telling me to get rid of the weeds until I cave to the inevitable and get rid of them. 

If you're interested in the bleach method, saturate the leaves instead of the base of the plant.  Use a sprayer with only plastic parts (no metal).  Give it a day or two and the plants will die.  The bleach dissipates, so it's better for the environment, but it's better if you don't let your pets walk on it the first day.  I'd also recommend that you do it before the plants get too big because I still ended up scraping the dying plants with my dedicated driveway shovel, which is actually a coal shovel, but who has coal these days?  I even went the extra step and swept the drive (with the dedicated driveway broom) to get rid of the bzillions of maple helicopters.

My driveway looks lovely.  Well, it did look lovely before the winds and rain came and brought down several more bzillions of maple helicopters down.  But in that golden moment when my driveway looked suburban perfect, I noticed an ant colony swarming on my perfect cement.


Ants are pretty amazing.  They display excellent teamwork.  I resisted the urge to stomp on them and let them move house in peace.  I hope they remember my peaceful nature next time one of them wants to bite me when I'm weeding the garden.  Maybe they're trying to get back at me for burning their ancestors with a magnifying glass when I was a child?  Even then, I wasn't thrilled with murder for entertainment.  I took to burning paper and leaves instead.

I watched the swarming ants for a little bit because I found it interesting that they were passing up eggs and handing them off to each other.  The eggs (or larva?) were bigger than the ants carrying them.  Then one of the ants bit me, and I decided there were better things to do than watch ants.

I don't know if it's true though?  Perhaps watching ants is the absolute best use of my time?

Thoughts, creativity, inspiration, realizations happen in unexpected moments of quiet time, and we don't get those moments if we never slow down enough to witness our own lives because we're too busy watching tv, playing video games, or doing stuff we're "supposed to" do.  Should all of our discoveries be in childhood when we have endless time to watch ants?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"Mother"

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about taking hikes with my brother.  On one of those hikes, he spotted a mother owl with 2 of her babies.  I didn't understand what she was doing at first.  She caught a chipmunk, and then she let it go.  Why let it go when she had a family to feed?  The owlets perched on a downed tree and looked adorable.  The mother caught the chipmunk again and threw it near her babies.  They squawked off the tree trunk, one of them tumbling over backwards in a completely inelegant crash landing amongst the fallen leaves.

The chipmunk looked dazed and didn't know which direction to run.  The mother fluttered over and pinned it down with one foot while her babies scrambled back onto the downed tree.  When they were settled back into their spots, Mom let go of the chipmunk.  It ran for it's life, and Mom gave it about 30' of a head start before swooping down on the unfortunate animal.  She picked it up in her beak and showed her babies her prize before letting it go again, catching it again, release, capture, release, capture...

One of the babies eventually hopped off the tree and smelled the chipmunk in its mother's grasp.  When the chipmunk was released again, the owlet hopped after it for a few feet.  The other owlet hopped down to get a closer look too.  Mom continued to catch and release the miserable varmint until one of the babies actually got a foot on it.  Imagine the roar of the Coliseum going up at the victory.

After a while, both of the owlets could manage to pounce on the chipmunk, and the mama seemed proud enough to burst.  Bro and I were awed by being privileged enough to witness to the teaching moment.

The other night I watched a nature program that showed a mother dolphin teaching her baby how to be a dolphin.  Animals aren't "dumb" other than they don't speak our language, and people forget we're animals too.  I'm convinced the damned groundhog in my yard is smarter than I am, and the robin thinks I'm working for her when I shovel up worms in the yard.  She hops around at my side instead of bothering to poke around in the ground herself.  She's got babies to feed.

There are mothers all around us, and in both the animal and human world, sometimes the "mothers" aren't the ones who gave birth.  There are people in our lives who nurture and teach us throughout our lives.  So for all of the people who are mothers or who have mothered us, Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

"Resist"

"Toughen up, Buttercup!"
"Grow a heart, bitch!"

Oh, the fond memories of yesteryear when I was frequently labeled "too sensitive" and I wished that other people learned to have sympathy towards others.  Did I say "yesteryear"?  I mean now, since the US House of Representatives voted to punish poor people by taking away their health care while giving the largest tax break in history to the extremely wealthy in a bill most of the representatives didn't even read, under the guidance of the most pathologically disturbed and narcissistic president ever elected by a minority of the popular vote.

Keith Olbermann expresses my point of view on this (watch here), and as Keith says, "Resist!"

The bill passed by the House is unlikely to make it through the Senate, but I'm still upset by the evil in the people who voted for it so far and the people who support them.  These people don't care about the suffering of their neighbors.  Some of them actually want the poor people to die off so they'll quit straining the national budget through "entitlement programs".  Never mind that Social Security is one of those programs.  Don't confuse the reality with the my team won feel-good rallies.

At the heart of things, people are worshipping false idols.  Money and fame are mirages.  Do you ever contemplate what you'll be thinking about on your death bed?  What really matters to you?  What is your legacy?  Are you proud of your life?  What will people say about you once you're gone?

I once attended a funeral for a man whom I knew through work.  I was surprised that his daughters spoke at the funeral about how much he had put into his job.  That's it.  No funny stories about loving father/daughter moments.  Everything he did was in pursuit of money, yet the business he spent his life creating doesn't even exist anymore.  What was the point?  That he could buy really expensive suits or that he had a really nice house that he hardly spent time in?  I thought it was the saddest funeral I've ever attended.  His "success" is a parable I look at when I think about not wasting my life.

When I die, I want people to say something else about me.  I don't really know what I'd want them to say, but something besides "She worked until 11:30 p.m. every night and every weekend!"  "She had the best silverware and the nicest manicures!"  "She shared the cutest kitty pic on Facebook!"  There has to be something more to life than that.  Nothing against hard work or kitty pics, but there has to be more.

All of us play a part in creating the world we live in.  Everything we say, everything we create, everything we buy, every politician we support has an impact on the world.  Live your life like it matters, because it does.

Resist!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

"Shoe"

In nice weather, I often go hiking with my brother -- who inevitably complains that I wore the wrong shoes for hiking as he leads our double-time military marches up or down very steep hills.  It doesn't matter that all of our hikes tend to be spontaneous activities.  One of these days I'll remember to put a pair of hiking boots in my car?  Probably not.  I'll continue to complain about getting stones caught in my sandals while forcing a stop to catch my breath and slow my heart rate.

I never felt a need for hiking shoes in the first place, but I was participating with a deafening herd of buffalos hiking group, and the hikers thought hiking shoes were mandatory.  I dutifully, if reluctantly, parted with over $100.00 for a pair of very stiff shoes.  A few weeks later, I found a broken-in pair at the thrift shop for $5.00.  If I'm going to remember to wear hiking shoes, I'll wear the $5.00 pair.

Once I had the expensive shoes, I wondered aloud why people buy them.  A man told me it was because the shoes offered a better grip on the trail.  I pointed out that my tennis shoes had a good tread on the bottom, but the man just gave me a look that clearly expressed disdain for my ignorance.  I sighed, and marched in line with the noisy buffalos.

My brother is a better hiking companion.  He doesn't burden me with non-stop, persistent chatter, but he isn't a mute either.  We have pleasant conversation along the way, and listen to the birds sing.  We stop to eat blackberries and look at butterflies which isn't possible with the buffalos since wildlife flees from hiking groups.

Sometimes I think I should join another hiking group even though they tend to be relentlessly cheerful morning people who rhapsodize about dressing in layers.  These people make me crazy, but there's something to be said for weekly exercise.  Once I resigned myself to waking up early on Sunday mornings, I usually had a pretty good time with the hiking group.  Okay, to be perfectly honest, I disliked hiking with them.  I enjoyed the after-hike lunches at local restaurants where I gained back whatever calories I might have accidentally dropped along the trail.

I think I just need a different group.  The hiking group I used to play with was really a group of bicyclists who hiked together in winter.  I've always had a strong mistrust of men in colorful spandex tights, even if they don't wear them on winter hikes.  I know they own those things, and there's just something deeply wrong about that.

I'm not very attached to "shoe" as the word for the week.  I know there are a lot of people with shoe fetishes, but I'm not one of them.  For now, I'm just delaying the moment when I put on my lawn mowing shoes and attack the front yard.  I'd rather go hiking.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

"Delicious"

An Italian woman I know described a family gathering where her kids served fried chicken, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob... I can't remember the menu, but you know, food.  My friend was rather put out about it.  "Who wants to eat that kind of stuff?!"  I don't know, everybody?  She muttered to herself about how the guests ate it all.  There weren't even leftovers, which really ticked her off.  Damned kids and grandkids have no appreciation for her lifetime of cooking.

This woman made lasagna for my last birthday because she knows I like it.  It was the best lasagna I've ever had.  It brought a tear to my eye.  I was tempted to call her kids up and call them ungrateful too.  This is a woman that bakes bread every week, makes pasta from scratch, and cans gallons of tomato sauce every year.  She makes the most delicious rice balls, and the very idea of rice balls was perplexing to me before I had one of hers.  I also later found out that everybody else's rice ball are pale, globby imitations of spectacular.

I took a day drive out to Middlefield, Ohio with my brother this week.  I guess it's only about 25 miles away, but it feels far.  Bro wanted to go to an archery store, and I thought it was downright ridiculous to drive so far for a store, but it was a nice day for a drive down country roads.  You can go pretty fast down those roads too, except when you get stuck behind an Amish buggy.

I examined the taxidermied dead animals and the murderous looking crossbow points while the nice boy at the store fiddled something onto Bro's bow.  To be honest, I hadn't really thought about the archery business being about killing animals.  I thought it was target practice and a little exercise.  That's all I ever did when I was a kid, though some of the older boys would shoot dry reeds at me, and that kind of smarted when they got me.  Older boys are nasty you know -- but the boy at the store was really nice, and Bro and I agreed that everybody is nice in the country.

We stopped at the cheese factory and I got a lump of Swiss cheese and a loop of trail bologna.  Mmmm... I wanted to find a restaurant out there for dinner, but Amish people apparently go home at 5:00.  I like Amish food.  It's just regular stuff that my Italian friend doesn't consider fit for her offspring, but sometimes I really miss the days when all American restaurants had some variation of meat, potatoes and gravy, vegetables.  Not like an Applebee's variation of the theme that's too amplified, I just want a fat grandma's basic cooking.  With pie.

When I was little, my family used to travel down different country roads to visit my great grandpa.  We always went to an Amish restaurant on these trips, and I suppose Amish food has become enmeshed in my mind with warm, loving memories.  I've been on a life-long search to find apple dumplings the way they used to be, but you never know, maybe the memory is better than what's possible to create in reality?

Bro and I wandered our way back through all the country roads and ended up eating at Aladdin's, which is Lebanese, and totally delicious in its own way.  The blueberry "Concrete Mixer" was a delicious ice cream dessert from a different road trip.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

"Fable"

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) was clearly the greatest poet of the 20th century, and he shaped more minds than anyone else ever.  Don't argue.  It's true.  You know it.

I recently read a book about Eva Braun, Hitler's girlfriend which talked quite a bit about German fairy tales.  The author's idea was that the viciousness of German children's stories had a part in the attitudes of the German people during WWI and WWII.

I don't know about that.  I wasn't there, and I'm not German.  What I do know is that my father (who had some German ancestors, so I guess I'm sort of German?) was thrilled when he came into possession of an archival-quality copy of Grimm's fairy tales.  He settled us kids around and read us Cinderella.  Dad was a great story teller.  He pitched his voice for drama, used funny voices, and everything.

I went to bed that night and screamed every time I fell asleep.  I had visions of the evil step sisters bleeding and mutilated, because in the original story, one sister cut off her toes to get her foot into the glass slipper, and one cut off her heel.  Even though my young self had a problem imagining how to cut off a heel, I understood cut off toes easily enough.  Screams rang through the night.  Screams kept my family awake for two weeks.  Apparently, my German ancestry is too diluted for me to handle the brothers Grimm -- though sufficient for a book burning.  After two weeks of night terrors, Dad reluctantly built a fire in the back yard and let me toss the horrible book into the flames.  My nightmares stopped.

I was given a Dr. Seuss album, a record -- you know, that object with magically recorded sounds in the dark ages before CDs, DVDs, and youtube.  I sat on the floor, with my eyes wide open and cheeks pink with the thrill of story time.  I also owned a Yertle the Turtle book which I read in sync with the magical voice coming out of the spinning machine.  Clearly, Dr. Seuss understood how to talk to children better than the Grimms.

I've pondered the Eva Braun author's theory about German fairy tales stressing obedience at the threat of dire punishments.  She might be right that stories and attitudes made for a militant society, but I'm glad I grew up in a time of Dr. Seuss and Yertle the Turtle.

The story in brief, is that Yertle the Turtle was the king of all the turtles.  He wanted to see farther than his pond, so he made the other turtles stack themselves up and he climbed on top for a better view.  This was pretty punishing for Mack on the bottom of the pile, who politely complained.  Mack burped and the pile toppled...

"And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud.  That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course... all the turtles are free
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be."

Did you know Dr. Seuss wrote this about Hitler?  I didn't either.  Seems like he could've written for some of the people alive today.  Maybe we should do a fundraiser and send copies of the book to some of these people?

Oh, right.  We have youtube now.  Watch it here.