November 30, 2010

Adventures in Banana Bread

Umm...should banana bread 'glisten'?
Banana bread - it seems like everyone has made it at some point in their lives. Who hasn't had leftover bananas that are too ripe for eating (at least for me - I despise even one brown spot on my nanners.  EWWW)?

Well, I am that one person - until today.  So I can forgive myself for not knowing an 'iffy' recipe when I see it, right?

I really enjoy - it's incredibly easy to use and most recipes (the key word here being most) are really fantastic.  Unfortunately, I ran across one today that missed the boat completely, and I, being a banana bread neophyte, was too naive to catch the error.

As I was mixing the ingredients for the bread, everything SEEMED normal.  Okay, so two sticks of butter seemed like a lot but I knew the batter was for two loaves of bread, so no harm done.  And when the bread was baking I thought I'd died and gone to heaven; the smell was that wonderful.

It was only when I took the loaves out of the oven and had to drain the butter off  that I noticed something was, oh, I don't know, a bit odd.

After I returned from an errand, I figured I should probably try the bread.  At this point it had been cooling for about an hour and a half.  It was cooled, all right, but all of that butter made for some rather crispy edges.  So crispy, in fact, that they had the consistency of potato chips (but I think chips are less greasy).  The middle of the loaf looks normal, but it probably contains a week's worth of saturated fat.  You know that something is fattening when the chocolate chips are the healthiest thing about it.    As it is, I had a very thin slice and can feel the begining of a coronary. 

So, if you don't hear from me for a few days you'll know that the bread is to blame.  I can think of worse ways to go.  :D

November 23, 2010

A Weighty Issue

A lot has been said lately about the subject of the portrayal of plus-sized people in the media.  I'm sure by now you've all heard about the crapstorm caused by a writer from Marie Claire magazine when she ranted about the characters on the CBS sitcom "Mike and Molly" - if you hadn't heard, the gist of the article was that she was repulsed by watching two fat people make out.  I won't even get into that controversy.  What I would like to write about is purely my experience with being on both sides of the fence.

When I was a kid, I looked like one of the "Oliver" orphans.  Let me tell you, it wasn't for lack of trying. I've always loved to eat.  All through school, as a matter of fact, I was what you'd call "normal".  I never concerned myself with my weight.  I was blessed with the metabolism of a hummingbird.  By the time I got into high school, I wasn't playing outside anymore, but I was walking home from school, so I guess I did get some exercise.

In college, I actually LOST weight, probably because of stress and/or the fact that I lived on the UWGB campus (literally adjacent to a corn field!) and worked downtown, which was about 5 miles away.  I didn't drive, and I worked at a TV station late enough that the buses stopped running.  That meant that I'd either have to ride my bike to work or one of my very patient roommates would have to come get me.  I also finally became legal in college, which meant lots of dance clubs.

After college I immediately moved in with my first husby Dan.  We both loved to eat and we spent many a dinner at Perkins, which was pretty close to our apartment and you got a lot of food for cheap.  Dan was super skinny at the time and so was I.  At this point I was smoking nearly a pack a day, which unfortunately contributed to my skinniness.  Our lives continued this way for a couple years until...

Until I turned 25.  Overnight, it seemed, I had gone up a pants size - it happened so fast that I was convinced I was preggers (nope).  I had moved up to a size 9, which was the first time I'd been in that size since my senior year in high school.  I certainly wasn't concerned - I still only weighed about 130 lbs.

Looking back at photos, I was more or less the same weight up until about 1999.  At this point in my life I wasn't exercising a whole lot  - I wasn't doing much of anything, actually, just watching a LOT of TV.  One of my friends very casually said I should do Weight Watchers with her, and I did lose about 20 pounds.  The program works, but you do have to stay on it. 

I kept the weight off, and then some.  Around late 2001 and into 2002, I began walking a lot.  I was also singlehandedly stripping wallpaper and painting in our new house, which is hard work.  By the summer of '02 I had lost quite a bit of weight - looking back at photos, I probably hadn't been that thin in 8 years or so.  But it wasn't all good - by the next spring, Dan and I separated.  The weight stayed off, because I was still walking but had also taken smoking up again after a year and a half hiatus.

Here's where it gets bad.  On November 21, 2003, I quit smoking cold turkey.  That's not the bad part; aside from a couple of crazy nights, I'm still smoke-free and will never smoke again.  I'm glad about that.  But when you quit smoking, get divorced and your dad dies, all within a 7 week period, there's going to be some stress.  And when your metabolism goes bonkers because your heart isn't working overtime anymore, you're going to gain some weight.  By the time of my dad's funeral in January of 2004, I had packed on about 30 pounds in that 7 week span.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not using that period in my life as an excuse.  But it does explain a lot as to why it's been so hard to lose that stupid weight.

My future (now current) mom in-law invited me back to Weight Watchers in 2005.  I did pretty well - I managed to lose about 19 pounds.  Once again in 2008, I had a health scare and lost some more (but I had gained some back from the last time).  Currently?  Well, let's just say I could stand to lose some of those ell-bees.

I have found that people treat me the same regardless of how I look.  I've never had an issue with parental nagging (thanks Mom!) or friends saying stupid things (thanks guys!).  I can't control what's being said about me behind my back, but that's their problem, not mine.  In fact, I've always wondered about people who make others' weight their own issue.

Why does someone's size matter?  I could go on and on with our society's obsession with beauty, etc. but I won't.  I really don't care about that.  What I do care about is how rude people have become.  Sure, it's not as blatant as it used to be (there isn't a kids' clothing company called "Chubettes" anymore), but there's an underlying acceptance of ridicule for people of size.

I'd like to think that I'm the same person now as when I was thinner; in fact, I hope I'm nicer.   People are not their weight - whether they are over- or underweight, it's probably best to keep our thoughts to ourselves about their appearance.    There are so many more interesting aspects to people, anyway.  It's my hope that we can begin to see inside people and get to know them for who they truly are, regardless of whether they're 110 pounds or 310.

November 19, 2010


So, how do you feel about Monty Python?

Is this a divisive question?  I think maybe it is.  I've been on both sides of the fence when asked the same thing.

I've been married twice and both my husbies like Monty Python.  Okay, let me rephrase that - Dan, my first husband, likes Monty Python.  Brian, my second and last husband, loves Monty Python (which will, from here on out, be abbreviated MP).

Brian loves MP so much that he can quote almost verbatim from their first movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".  He also has the entire "Flying Circus" series on DVD and many t-shirts with MP quotes.  He even has a Black Knight doll with detachable limbs (if you've seen "Grail", you know what I'm talking about).  Have I mentioned that Brian is a geek?  :D

I've tried, since about 1990, to enjoy and understand this British phenomenon.  I do appreciate the silliness and the troupe is undoubtedly brilliant (anyone who has seen Terry Gilliam's movies or Michael Palin's travel series or Eric Idle's/John Cleese's acting parts knows this to be true).  But I'm also perplexed a lot of the time, because I'll be honest - I don't get a lot of it.

Because I like humor with some "history" to it (think of inside jokes or obscure pop culture references), I must admit that the "Knights who say 'ni'" bit from "Grail" is, well, odd to me.  To what are they referring?  Is there a back story here?  No?  Then what does it mean?  Nothing?  Hmm.  Interesting.  "Ha ha ha - yes, that's amusing.  No, I do like it!  It's funny!" (This has probably been said, by me, a thousand times while watching MP stuff).

But then, last Sunday, our friend Todd was able to procure some half-price tickets to see Spamalot, the musical "lovingly ripped off from" the aforementioned film, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".  Todd's wife Dawn and I were both a little concerned that we were going to be totally lost; I was in the fortunate position to at least understand the movie references, but Dawn had never seen it. 

Well, it turns out that this musical, aside from the usual schtick you'll see from the movie, was easy to "get" and very well done - and anyone could enjoy it.  Talk about silly - the musical is 100 times sillier than the movie, but with the added bonus of singin' and dancin'.  There were actual women in the musical, too (if you've seen any of  the MP movies and/or Flying Circus, you know that the guys play ALL the roles).  It was, as I like to say, a "hoot"!

On a scale of 1 to 10, I'll give it a solid 8.  Not bad for a musical I didn't even think I was going to comprehend.  I even bought a magnet!

November 13, 2010


Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
 Some words are just great by themselves, regardless of meaning.  This morning I was reminded of one of those words by reading my friend Kathy's status update:  enthusiasm. 

Just say the word yourself (or think it, if you're reading this at work or in the library) - EN-THOOOZY-AZUM.  Sounds as good drunk as it does sober.  Now say it over and over - it just sounds silly, doesn't it?

Actually, the whole status update was a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.”   Amen to that!  I mean, if you're going to do something, why not throw your whole being into it?

When you think about it, this idea can be applied to every aspect of your life - your job, your marriage or S.O. relationship (DEFINITELY!), your kids/extended family, your hobbies or passions - when you show excitement for anything, doesn't it make it more fun? 

I've realized in the past couple of years that I'm psyched about art.  I'd better be - it's my living!  But I've also realized that I love getting other people fired up about art and the creative process, especially those who wrongly think they're not creative.  BULL!  Every one of us is creative in some way, whether it be art, music, cooking, organization skills - if you have a skull with a working brain, you're creative.  When you pick out what color of clothes you're going to wear today, that's creative.  When you prefer one scent over another for your body wash or soap - that's creative.  Anything that gets you to think about the way you want to live - CREATIVE!

I can't tell you how many people I've run into at art exhibits that say they're not creative in the slightest - but they love art.  Okay, that's so wrong.  If you're an art appreciator, you can't NOT be creative.  Simple as that.  If you have ANY opinion whatsoever about why you like one artist over another, or one song over another, or what ingredient would taste better with another - YOU'RE CREATIVE!

Probably my favorite way to get people fired up is by having them make ATCs (artist trading cards) in my classes, or on Flickr, or wherever.  When faced with a blank card that's only 2.5" X 3.5", art seems a lot less daunting.  And when I tell them that there are no rules - that you can do whatever you want on your canvas, it seems to help loosen them up.  "Go ahead and pair that aquamarine with yellow!  Who cares??  It's your art, do what YOU want!" is my rallying cry.

Try going a whole day being excited about everything you do.  Seriously!  It may sound a bit Pollyanna, but I'll guarantee that even if it doesn't work, you'll at least get a laugh out of it, thinking to yourself, "Hooray!  I get to file these reports in alpha-numeric order!".  Hey, it might even get you thinking about how to file more creatively.  :D

November 7, 2010

Auntie Julia

My great aunt Julia, circa 1949
 My Auntie Julia died over the weekend.  She was 81.

I wish I could say I knew her better, but the last time I saw her, I believe, was 1994.  She was my Grammie's sister and lived in Florida.  She very rarely traveled up to Green Bay, where my Grammie lives, and we'd never go down to Florida.  She and my late Uncle Bob lived in Winter Park (and Guatemala) my whole life.

I'm sad about her passing in a more nostalgic way more than anything; I barely knew her, so my own feelings don't really count.  Who I am sad for is my mom and my Grammie, who has dementia and I doubt would understand that Julia is gone.  And of the three girls, my Grammie is the only one left (my Auntie Lou-Lou died in 1990, when she was only 62.  THAT was a sad story).

Julia was my mom's aunt, and a great one at that, at least when my mom was a little girl.  Julia was only 16 or 17 when my mom was born, so she and my Auntie Lou-Lou (who was only a year older than Julia) would fawn all over my mom.  They spoiled her rotten, too, as good aunties should do (I'm doing my best with my own nieces!).  :D

Julia, my Grammie (Mary), and Lou-Lou, probably about 1952 or so.
 Of the three girls, Julia was "the pretty one".  She was very tall and thin her whole life (far too thin the last 15 years or so) and the only blond in my whole family.  She looked like a perfect combination of my great-grandma and grandpa - she got the best features of both.  All three girls sang beautifully (you may remember me saying that my Grammie was my own music teacher growing up), so she was quite the package.

She was a co-ed at a time when it was quite the thing to be.  I may be getting mixed up here, but I'm about 90% sure she went to DePauw University in Indiana. I do know that she pledged a sorority (judging by the photos, is this any surprise?  I mean, doesnt she just LOOK like a sorority girl of the Forties?). 

I believe she married Bob Gibson in 1952  (I know my mom was the flower girl).  Bob was a hoot.  He was the jokester of the family.  He was an engineer when they got married but later on he became an Episcopal priest and they wound up living in Guatemala for a period of time in the 70s as missionaries.  I remember thinking how exotic that must've been.

She had three kids - Julie, Mary (called Mary T. so as not to be confused with my Grammie, whose name is also Mary) and George.  Sadly, Mary T. died in 2004, just a couple of months before Bob.  Both died of cancer, and from what we heard from letters and family members the grief never really left Julia.  Can you blame her?  No one should ever outlive their kids.

It's weird when family lives so far away, because you only really know them from stories and photos and the very occasional visit.  Thank goodness for vehicles like Facebook - it's been fantastic at breaking down familial barriers.  I know that I've learned more about some of my cousins through their status updates than I ever would've known otherwise, and I'm so grateful for that.  And I know that my nieces' kids, should they choose to have any, will definitely know their Great-Auntie Mel.  I'll make sure to spoil THEM rotten too!  :D

November 2, 2010

We made it!!!

I am beyond excited - yesterday I found out that our artists' collaborative, Fond du Lac Visual  Arts, is in the running for $25,000 thanks to the Pepsi "Refresh Everything" contest!  We've been trying to get in for six months now, and it finally happened!

For those of you who have never heard of this contest, Pepsi began giving away money to worthy charities and causes back in January.  Supposedly it's only for a year, so I'm very glad that we were given this chance!  And how would WE use the money?  There is a budgetary breakdown if you follow the link, but the gist of it is that we'd use the money to supplement arts education in our area, which is Fond du Lac, WI.

Fond du Lac, like everyone else, has had some budget cuts.  And of course, one of the first things cut is the arts.  With this money, we'd be able to have artists-in-residency programs through our schools.  We would also teach classes at the senior center.  We would teach art therapy classes in the hospitals.  We'd also serve as mentors for other artists trying to get their portfolio together.

But we can't do this unless everyone who sees this blog post votes for the idea, today and EVERY DAY until November 30!  That's right - you have 60 tries (30 for voting online, and 30 for texting 103549 to
Pepsi (73774) apiece to get us the funding we so desperately need.

If you regularly read this blog, you know that I'm not one to ask for things - but this is just so important to our group, and it would greatly benefit our area.  It sucks that everything costs money, and that the six of us in the group aren't independently wealthy.  That would be awesome, and I wouldn't have to ask for your help.  :D

If you're concerned that you're going to be spammed by Pepsi, NOT TO WORRY!  I'm involved in the project and even I haven't ever gottten and spammy e-mails!  They're really cool that way.

So, I BEG OF YOU - PLEASE vote for our cause.  It would mean so much to me and my group.  Thank you so much for reading this - I'll be back to my normal posts in the next couple of days!  :D

P.S.  See that widget to your left, right here on my blog, with the Pepsi logo?  You can cast your vote right from there!  :D  Maybe you could even keep this link up so you remember to vote EVERY DAY!  :D

October 25, 2010

Play Nice!

Are you like me?  Are you wishing that November 3 would just hurry up and get here already?

If you're in a state with contested congressional or gubernatorial seats (ie, nearly all of us living in the US), and unless you don't own a TV, you've been bombarded with political ads.  BOMBARDED.  I'm not exaggerating.

One of my facebook friends posted today that total spending on political campaigns by outside groups in midterm election in 2002 was $31,000,000; in 2010 - $385,000,000.  So no, it's not your imagination; you ARE seeing that many ads.

I understand that with all of the information (and DISinformation) out there the candidates feel the need to inform the public about their policies and ideology, and that the best way to do this still is televison.  What I don't understand is why every candidate has been reduced to muckraking. 

Seriously - WHO does this work for?  I have never spoken or met a person that loves these ads, or whose opinion was swayed by a negative campaign.  In fact, I'd be willing to bet that the negative campaigns actually work in the opposite way - that former supporters are so disgusted with the way their favored candidate is behaving that they either vote the other way or don't vote at all.  And we can't have that happen!

My husby Brian and I are so sick of these stupid ads that we've resorted to muting every single one of them, regardless of political party.  And it's pretty funny what these ads look like when it's just the images and no sound!  Most of them appear to be for the other candidate because they use their opponents' names so often in their ads!  I love how they find the most unflattering photos of their opponents, too.  Mouth agape, chimp-like stares, furrowed brows - it's almost theatrical.

I'm not going to get into who I personally am voting for - I kick it "old skool" and still believe that it's a personal issue and one that I won't discuss with others for fear of putting them on the defensive (if you know me well, then you know how I feel about most issues).  Alas, I think I'm one of the last holdouts of this philosophy.  I feel the same way about religion.

I wish I had some ideas about how to put this sort of campaigning to rest.  I haven't a clue how to fix it.  But maybe after this election is over (it's too late for this one), if we all rally and let our elected officials know how we feel about being subjected to these ads, the tide will turn.  We can only hope.

October 22, 2010

Don't let the Art Snobs intimidate you!

See?  Even my Publisher clip art has a bias!
If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you may remember me talking about our group exhibit that is currently running at the Windhover, our wonderful arts center here in Fond du Lac.  I'm enjoying being in an exhbit immensely - it's the first time EVER that more than two of my pieces have been in a show. 

But last night, I felt compelled to write a Facebook note about people's apprehension when it comes to visiting art galleries and exhibits.  It is my feeling that a lot of smart, educated people in the arts are still baffled when it comes to going to an exhbit, because of the "stigma" surrounding it.

The following is the note in its entirety.  I really hope that people take it to heart, because I sincerely mean every word!

Let's make art accessible and available to EVERYONE without fear!

"A funny thing has happened over the last 3 weeks or so -

I'm discovering that people have an innate fear of art galleries and exhibits.

In many different areas of my life, when I tell people that I'm in an exhibit at the Windhover Center, they look at me as though they've never met me before. And these are people that have known me for a long time! I thought maybe they just didn't care at first but I think there's more to it than that.

Brian and I were talking tonight about our first experiences at an art gallery and that feeling came flooding over me, a feeling that I had forgotten I had felt - that feeling of panic.

I think TV and the movies have done a great disservice to art galleries and their exhibits - they portray everyone involved as hoity-toity @#%% who want nothing to do with us "regular people". You know what I mean - people in angular glasses wearing Euro-trash clothes, either as gallery owers or patrons, discussing the works of art before them in hushed tones and uttering such bon mots as, "I feel his postmodernesque work completely overshadows his earlier, edgier pieces." Or something like that. Whatever!

Here's the truth - I am EXTREMELY lucky to be a part of the art scene in Fond du Lac. Here's something else you may not know: we artists in Fond du Lac are NOT "art snobs". Remember - this is Fond du Lac.

Okay, so you may find someone at an artists' reception who feels the need to alert the entire room that he or she knows more than anyone else about a particular artist, genre, style, etc. But those people are really few and far between. The majority of folks who attend these receptions are friends/family of the artist(s), regulars at the particular venue, or just nice people who like art.

I think a lot of people are overwhelmed or afraid of being called out for not knowing enough about art - and to that I say, fuhgettaboutit! NO ONE CARES whether or not you know your dada from your cubism, or even if you know what those words mean! Do you like pictures hung on a wall? Me too! Let's go to a gallery together! :D

And seriously, that's all there really is to it. Art is meant to be appreciated and enjoyed (or not, sometimes, but that's up to you. Don't let ANYONE tell you what you should or shouldn't like, even if it's mine. :D ). It is my hope that you let go of your worry that somehow you're not going to fit in. I am NOT an art critic, nor am I even an art expert! I just know what I like and don't like, and one of the ways you find that out is by - you guessed it - going to art galleries.

If you're still not convinced, remember this - it's just as scary being the artist and wondering if you like our work. But if we're not going to accost you and ask you point blank if you like it - that's bad form. So you don't need to worry about that, either!

So come on down to the Windhover on Saturday, November 6, anytime between 4 and 6 p.m. I promise we're not scary, and you'll have a good time! :D"

October 20, 2010


"There's no place like home."  "Home is where the heart is."  "Home Sweet Home". I've been thinking a lot lately about "home" - I always do around this time of year.  It seems like when the weather turns colder, it's the only place I want to be.

I'm sure the concept of home means something different to everyone - maybe you take off your shoes and put on slippers the minute you get home from work.  Maybe you flip on the TV.  Maybe you can't wait to sit down to dinner with your family.  Maybe you work third shift and the sun's just coming up when you get home, so you check Facebook to see what happened with all your friends that evening.

Whatever your routine, it's good to be home, isn't it?

I don't know about you, but I've gotten emotionally attached to nearly every house I've lived in - I can't help but think about everything that happened while I was there.  Good things, bad things, celebrations, funerals - it's all tied to where I lived at the time.

How many of you had only one childhood home?  And of you that did, how many still have parents living there?  I lived in the same apartment from nearly birth until I was nearly 20, when my parents moved to Madison so my mom could get her Ph.D.  And even though we had insane neighbors and the place had seen better days, it was heartbreaking to leave (I didn't know it at the time, but I would move seven times in the nine years after that).  It was the only place I had ever known, and the "unknown" was the scary part.

My current home is the fifth place I've lived since I've been in Fond du Lac.  I told Brian that if we never move again, it'll be too soon.  We'll never outgrow it; it's just the two of us and, barring some wacky life-altering event, it always will be just us.  I have my art studio in my house; Brian's got a nice photography set-up too.  We have a living room and a big family room, two bathrooms, two bedrooms and an office, and of course a nice-sized kitchen and dinette.  There is no need for anything more.  In my 42 years I've lived in 13 different places, and 10 of those have been in the last 22 years.  I'm done moving!  I love the security of staying put.

I recently made the collage (above) for the contest winner on Retro Renovation.  Every month one winner is picked from the entrants and the prize is a collage that I've rendered of their house.  I absolutely LOVE making these collages - one's house is such a personal thing and I love the challenge of creating something that will reflect how much these people really love where they are (the slogan of Retro Renovation is "Love the House You're In!").  This month's winner, however, really brought home to me how much we cherish our homes. 

Ann, the winner, lives in North Carolina.  They had just been through a tropical storm shortly before the contest was announced.  Many of Ann's neighbors suffered some pretty devastating damage; thankfully, the damage done to this house was minimal.  It was truly poignant to make this collage knowing it was such a close call!

So the next time the water heater goes out, or the roof shingles need replacing, or you just ran into the side of your garage (yep, that's me) - remember to take a moment and be thankful that you still have a home you can come home to.

October 14, 2010

I Heart the Post Office!

Close-up of "Save our Saturday Service" by me
 Recently my friend Beth sent me a very interesting e-mail forward, full of predicted soon-to-be obsolete items or places in our everyday lives.  One of those was the post office.

I've talked about how much I love the post office in my other blog, Ephemeraology, from a collecting and art point of view.  But I love it for other reasons too.

When it worked well, pre-Internet and other delivery services, the post office was one of the best examples of our government at work.  I mean, did you ever stop to think about how amazing it is?

I write a letter, send a gift, write a check, etc. and that item will reach its destination in a week or less.  And nearly the whole world's in on it!  Isn't that incredible?!  Truly stop to think about this.  And don't say, "Well, the Internet does the same thing, only faster."  Yes, the Interwebs is also amazing, but we are yet to teleport packages.  Until then, we will need a mail service.

You might say, "Why do we need a privatized mail service when we've got UPS and its ilk?"  Well, because they're publicly traded companies, they have to answer to shareholders.  They need to make a profit and the last time I checked, it was impossible to mail a letter via UPS for 44 cents.

And I've always marveled at how people would complain about the price of stamps going up.  Really?  What else can you do these days for 44 cents?!  You can't get coffee, a newspaper, bus fare, or any other cheap item for less than 50 cents anymore.  Most cost a buck, at least.  But we (for a little while longer, anyway) are still able to mail something under an ounce ANYWHERE IN OUR COUNTRY for such a little cost.  You say you don't write letters anymore?  Last time I checked we're still getting cards for our birthdays and the holidays.  And they're much nicer than a text.

Here in Fond du Lac they're discussing doing away with our Saturday service and/or consolidating our post office with the one in Oshkosh or Green Bay (both too far away to be convenient).  Besides all of the jobs lost, it would force people to use satellite post offices in businesses like grocery stores.  This doesn't sound bad in theory, but there will be service fees tacked onto your errands, mark my words.

If we do keep our post offices, and I sincerely hope we do, there will be price increases.  It's worth it to keep efficient, safe mail handling available for ALL.

October 12, 2010

Shame on you, Miley.

Like probably a zillion other bloggers today, I'm going to rant on the new Miley Cyrus video (no, I'm not going to link to it.  I don't want to give her any support).

I'm totally not surprised that Ms. Cyrus is taking this route to stardom, but I am disappointed that this trend continues.  Has her family not seen what has happened to other girls (yes, she's technically still a girl!) when they try this?  Britney, Lindsay, Paris....has she learned nothing?

What is the lesson here - that in order to make it with less-than-stellar talent, you have to resort to writhing around on a bed in your underwear?  Oh, and let's not forget - she's still SEVENTEEN!  Never mind the fact that her parents think it's okay that she's already living with her older boyfriend. 

I wonder sometimes what has happened to our "Free to Be You and Me" world.  When I was growing up in the Seventies, I heard all kinds of pro-women talk.  It was the era of the ERA, and women felt empowered.  They'd had enough of being thought of as just men's playthings (or their servants).  It was a time when Sesame Street encouraged learning for everyone equally - all races, abilities, genders and ages.  Thinking back to when I was a kid, this all seemed normal and, well, right.

So what happened?  Instead of "Maude" we've got "The Bachelor" and "Real Housewives" and "Rock of Love" (ad nauseum).  We still have Sesame Street but it's been dumbed down considerably and it plays along other pap like "The Wiggles" (seriously?).  Instead of "I am Woman" (which is a pretty terrible song, but at least it's got a halfway decent message), we've got "Break your Heart" by Tiao Cruz.  Instead of "The Stepford Wives" we've got "Bride Wars".

I have two teenage nieces and my sister and brother in-law, along with me and my ultra-feminist mother, are doing our best to instill "can-do" attitudes that they can carry with them.  I know family is the first line of defense in these situations, but I do worry that the positive messages they're hearing at home are being eroded by the crap they see all around them every single day. 

So what do we do about it?  Part of it is educating our BOYS as well.  If boys are taught that girls are just people, that's a start.  I'll even go so far as to say that an "I am Woman" mentality isn't that great; equality is far more important.  Yes, at some point, biology is going to take over boys' thoughts and they'll start to see girls differently.  But if "she's a cool girl" could replace "she's so hot" as far as how they think about girls, that would be fantastic.  And if we teach our girls that you don't have to get a boy's attention by flaunting what you have, and that they don't have to put up with any sort of behavior that is contradictory to this mindset, that would also be a tremendous help.

Do we want to turn the clock back to 1952?  Do you want your daughter to be a subservient wife instead of an equal partner in the relationship?  If this sounds good to you, then just keep teaching her that showing off her body is the way to snag a man.  Because we all know that the foundation to all wonderful relationships is how sexy you look, not your personality or thoughfulness or sharing.  I think we should all strive for a world where gender means nothing.  This probably won't happen in my lifetime, but maybe my nieces will have a better shot at it.

October 5, 2010

An Abomination

Oh, this is bad.  I'm not exaggerating - this is just really, really bad.

Take a look at this photo.  Yes, there are FIVE garbage bags there (one is kind of hiding).  They're full of clothes.

Oh, go ahead and yell at me - I deserve it.  How did it get this bad?!  I'm trying to think of the last time I made a Goodwill run with donated clothes - I can't remember the last time.

I was in one of those moods today where I just decided that I'd better clean out my closet and drawers, or it may wait another year.  It's a daunting task, but today I felt like being realistic.

"Were clothes REALLY made right here in the US, Mommy?"

What do I mean by that?  Well, as sad as it is, I'm pretty sure I'll never be a size 10 ever again, considering the last time I was that thin was back in '95, when I was 27 years old.  Time to throw out that plaid skirt from Express.  Oh, check out this tag:  it's from a sweater I bought at the County Seat (remember them?) back in - wait for it - 1985.  Yes, I said 19-EIGHTY-5.  It's 25 years old.  How can you tell?  Well, when's the last time you saw "Made in U.S.A." on a clothes tag? (I also have to laugh at the "virgin acrylic" material - must be from those petroleum-based sheep!)

Now, those of you that know me personally and have seen my taste in clothes know that I am, by NO stretch of the imagination, a clothes horse.  I will wear something until it wears out (I must've gotten this trait from my Depression-era dad - mustn't waste ANYTHING!), regardless of whether it's in style or not.  I haven't gone so far as to buy "separates" yet, but that's probably because I'm only 42 and I don't need elastic-waisted pants (yet).  So if I'm not a fashionista, how on earth did I get FIVE bags of unwanted clothes?  Well, if you count pants that I've grown out of (or bought thinking every 14 is the same and then was too lazy (or too optimistic!) to bring them back), there's a bag right there.  If you count clothes I hung onto for sentimental reasons, there's another bag and a half.  If you count gift sweaters, that's a half bag.  If you count Target t-shirts, for which I had one of every color, there's another half bag (but they're pretty poorly made, and those were on the verge of wearing out, yet too good to throw away).  If you count dresses and skirts that I wore once to some Christmas party or other, there's some more.  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Strata of clothes, ranging from 1985-2008.

I'm pretty sure that my generation (and possibly the Boomers) is the first generation to have this problem.  Seems to me that before all of our disposable income (and cheaply-made Chinese clothes) people bought a few well-made items and then mixed and matched them.  Something tells me that, save the richest folks, people didn't have a completely different outfit for every day of the week.  And did anyone really care if you wore a shirt twice in one week?  Would anyone really notice today?

I have bought very few clothes this year - firstly, because I really don't need any now that I'm home all the time; and secondly, for budgetary reasons.  I remember, in the past, going to Target and just throwing a pile of shirts in the basket because, hey, they're cheap, so why not?

What I'm going to try and do this year is: a) Buy American! and b) buy less.  If I can find a couple of classic pieces (like a good white shirt and some nice pants) and pair them with sweaters I already own, so much the better.  I don't ever want to have to clean like this again.  But there's always Brian's closet....

October 3, 2010

Happy October!

"Autumn Oak" ATC by me.
 It's hard to believe we've entered October already - is it just me, or did the summer just fly by?  (For my southern hemisphere friends - did the winter just fly by?)  :D

This time of year always feels like the new year to me.  No, I'm not Jewish but I think they're on to something!  Doesn't it totally make sense to begin the new year right after a harvest?  It is a process of starting over, after all!

I do have ulterior motives for why October is my favorite month - it's my birthday (or as my family likes to call it, my "birthday month".  We really like birthdays in my family.)!  I'm not shy to say that this year I turn 42.  What IS weird is when my mom was 42 I was a sophomore in college!  I absolutely remember her turning 42!  And in two years, I will be the same age as my Grammie was when I was born.  EEK!

But enough about that - I don't think I'm alone when I say that Autumn is a time of rebirth, even though in this hemisphere, everthing is coming to an end.  I for one am very happy about the chilly weather we get in these parts - in Wisconsin, the 50s are normal for this time of year but it can be as warm as the 80s and as cold as the 30s!  I've had every temperature fluctuation on my birthday - 3 years ago it was 85 degrees!

I tend to be happiest during this time.  I feel more creative, more social, and more willing to try new things.  I have more energy and ideas.  Plus, did you notice that some of the best movies and music come out in the fall?  And of course, the new seasons of network TV shows happen. 

But the best thing about fall is the spectacle that Mother Nature sends us!  I happen to live in a state that has all four seasons, so we get to witness the fall colors in all of their splendor.  I think the leaves turning is one of the most amazing wonders of our latitude!  Some day I'd love to take a trip to Nova Scotia in October and experience some of the best color around.  We also grow amazing apples here - the cold weather helps.  We have a great orchard/farm in our area called The Little Farmer, where there's apple picking, incredible baked goods (like pumpkin muffins that are to DIE for), hay rides and live music.  It's only open from September-November, which is why it's so special.  It's a must-see destination for many folks in our area - we're going this week!

However you celebrate this wonderful season, I hope you enjoy October and autumn as much as I.  If you don't, it's only six months 'til spring!

September 29, 2010

Up and Running!

"Tuesday Morning, 9:30 a.m." by Mel Kolstad (me!)
 I viewed my very own exhibit today - does that make me an exhibitionist?  :D

For those of you who hadn't heard via Facebook or Flickr or e-mail, the co-op group in Fond du Lac, of which I am a founding member (and so is Brian), opened our first exhibit today called "Exposure", at the Windhover Center for the Arts.  Our group is called Fond du Lac Visual Arts and we eventually will be taking members.  There are six of us in the group and we each are displaying about 6 or 7 pieces.

It's all sort of surreal.  Considering that I still have a hard time with the "artist" moniker, I'm flabbergasted that I get to have my own works in a show!  With the exception of one piece, I made all new works specifically for the exhibit.  I know me and I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator, so I purposely started on my pieces early, like back in June.  That way I'd have time to get them all framed, if needed be.  I'm happy to report that I had all of the pieces done and framed two weeks ahead of schedule.

The staff at the Windhover did an amazing job of hanging the show; we all placed our pieces how we wanted them on Monday, and the staff came in yesterday and did the rest.  It was so exciting to see MY name up on the wall along with all of my new art.  I'm a little anxious about it - of course, those little voices I hear have a tendency to place doubt.  What if nobody likes my work?  What if they call it "amateur"?  What if people balk at the prices I've set?  What if, after viewing my stuff, they're just not impressed?

I'm going to bet that there will be people who just don't care for my stuff.  What I have to keep telling myself is that it's okay if they don't like it!  They don't have to like it.  Only I have to like it, because I made it.  If they like my work, wonderful!  That would be fantastic!  But if they don't?  Oh well.  I just don't want to hear it said to my face.  :D

One last thing - I am so very excited that Brian is a part of this group as well!  All of his photographs turned out amazing.  The images he chose to be framed are spot-on fabulous.  It's a very professional grouping, and I hope he knows how talented he is.  I hope he knows what I mean when I say I am very proud of him and what he's accomplished this year as well.  It means more to me than anything that we get to do this together!

September 27, 2010

The Bane of my Existence

I just passed the 8-month mark with my new art career.  I absolutely love how this year has gone so far - all of the art opportunities, the flexible schedule, saving tons of money by staying at home - it's ALL great.  But there is one smallish problem that has plagued me since January.


I'm relatively new (again) to suburbia - I've only been back in it for the last five years.  Before that I always lived in houses right in the city (both in Green Bay and Fond du Lac).  I'm not saying that living in town is akin to the "concrete jungle", but where I am right now is total suburban land.

Don't get me wrong - I LOVE the house that Brian and I share and the thought of moving makes me sick to my stomach.  But sometimes, I'd like to wring my neighbors' necks.

Within the 5-house radius of my house, both in the front and back yards, it seems that everyone owns a leaf blower, riding lawn mower, weed whacker and other extremely noisy lawn implements.  I am constantly surrounded by that awful din of motorized equipment.  One of my neighbors stands out in her driveway with the leaf blower just waiting for leaves to fall - I witnessed this while on my walk today.

Let's break this down - first of all, do these people seriously have nothing better to do than to wait for leaves to fall so they can blow them out of their driveways?  I've got an idea - how about you just wait under the tree with your hands cupped - it's far quieter and more environmentally sound.

Secondly, how lazy do you have to be to use gas-powered equipment instead of a good old-fashioned rake?  I find it interesting that those folks who could stand to lose a couple of pounds are the ones who rely on leaf blowers and riding lawn mowers in the first place.

And really - for your suburban patch of grass you call a lawn, do you REALLY need a riding lawn mower?  REALLY?  Because there are patches of grass that your behemoth can't get to, so you have to dig out your electric, NOISY weed-whacker to clean up the job.  How much sense does this make?!?

Now, Brian mows the lawn with a regular gas-powered mower, so I can't claim we're Mr. & Mrs. Al Gore either.  But our lawn gets cut about once every 7-10 days, like normal people.  We both could find a hundred other things to do besides annoy our neighbors with our noise-polluting equipment.  And speaking of noise pollution - one of the offfending neighbors likes to blare the radio whilst he's out leaf blowing - it has to be loud so he can hear it above the roar of his mighty manhood extension, doesn't it?!

Oh, and do we really have to be out using our expensive toys at 7:30 in the morning on a SATURDAY?!?  Find a new hobby, people!!!

Well anyway, thank you for letting me vent.  I know that you out there would NEVER be so inconsiderate to your fellow neighbors, right?  I didn't think so. :D

September 24, 2010

The Nightfly

I had an unusual bout of insomnia last night - I haven't had one in a long time!  I used to go weeks without a good night's sleep, but it's been years since that's happened.

There were a couple factors:  our room was way too hot; the winds were wicked; I couldn't get comfortable; and I had a head full of thoughts.  Group these things together and I suppose it's inevitable that it's not going to be a good night.

When I worked in TV, I thrived at night!  Even though our production crew had crazy hours (sometimes beginning at 5:30 a.m and ending at 11:00 p.m. in split shifts), we'd go out after work every night.  There would be nights where I'd get two hours of sleep, work my first shift (5:30-8:00 a.m.), go home for a couple hours and sleep, come back at 11:30 and work my second shift, etc. etc. etc.  There's only one explanation for how I could do this - I was 24. 

Normally I get up at 6:30 and I'm more than fine all day, but I just can't handle three hours of sleep anymore!  And did you ever notice that when you're awake and thinking at 3 a.m., it's never about happy things?  Okay, maybe it is for some, but I'd be willing to be that 95% of us who are up at these ungodly hours are not thinking about the best days of their lives; it's more about what happened that day, or what's coming up that's going to be unpleasant or nerve-wracking.  I can see how people get hooked on Ambien!

One nice thing about the night - it doesn't last.  Morning comes, and everything looks a little better.  It's like our brains have a switch that turns gloomy thoughts into lighter ones when the sun comes up. 

I'm going to use that to my advantage and go back to sleep.  :D

September 23, 2010

The Joys of Gardening, Part 2

About 3 1/2 months ago (I believe it was June 3), I wrote about my garden.  I was very excited about it - I had just planted a tomato plant, a cucumber plant, two green pepper plants and four onion plants.  Here is that photo:

It's so fun to see this again, because the garden EXPLODED!  I remember thinking that I should've gotten more than one tomato plant, but am I ever glad I didn't!  One cuke plant was enough, too - it yielded about 15 cucumbers.  It's just Brian and me in the house so we really don't need more than that.  Now that I know how successful the garden can be, I may try my hand at canning next year, especially for the tomatoes - that one plant went insane and I'm still harvesting fruit!  All in all I'll be that we'll get 40 tomatoes, give or take a few, from that one tiny plant (which, as you'll see, is far from tiny now!). 

Our peppers, on the other hand, didn't fare well at all - so far there's been a ton of growth but every time a pepper got to be about halfway to maturity it would begin to rot from the inside!  It's pretty gross, actually.  I don't know what went wrong - Brian thinks that maybe it was just too hot of a location, being so close to the white siding.  The onions were the nicest surprise!  I yielded about 13 onions, which were small but VERY powerful! 
So, here's the garden the way it looks today, September 23: 
How about that tomato plant, huh (yes, that's just ONE plant!)?  It grew so big it actually bent the cages that were supposed to contain it.  You wouldn't be able to see them anyway but the onion plants are all gone, and so is the cucumber plant (that just withered up on its own).  Here's the bizarre thing - all of a sudden, I'm getting decent green peppers (and some that are red, too!)!  It would certainly prove Brian's theory right - it's been much cooler lately.  We'll see if any of the peppers mature, but it would be really odd to have new peppers in October, wouldn't it?
One thing I know for sure - I'm hooked.  I loved tending the garden this summer.  It's so fun to see the progress and to reap the rewards!  Everything about it was great - the actual husbandry, the flavorful veggies (not the crap you get at the grocery store in the middle of winter), the money I saved by growing my own produce, the satisfaction of knowing it was "organic", the new recipes I tried because I had an abundance - it just feels great.

The only problem is waiting another eight months to do it all again!  I look forward to it with relish.  :D

September 20, 2010

The (Difficult) Art of Relaxation

Brian and I went away this weekend - actually, the place where we went is only about 3 miles from our house, but whenever we're there it feels like we're in another state.

The place we stayed at is called Moondance B&B, and it's right in Fond du Lac.  Our friend Sue owns it - it's actually a one-bedroom house on her property.  What's great about Moondance (besides the gorgeous decor and the view!) is that guests are left to their own devices - there's a full kitchen and it's stocked with whatever is requested.  For us, that meant Thomas English muffins.  :D  Sue always leaves little treats, too - this time we were greeted by a plate of muffins and a mni pie from the Little Farmer, an orchard/farm that makes incredible pies, muffins and other fall treats.  This was our second time staying at Moondance - the first time was in January, for our 4th wedding anniversary.  It was wonderfully relaxing, when I was able to relax.

Which brings me to the actual post - why is it so hard to relax and do nothing?  Is this weird?  Do any of you reading this have a similar problem?

It always baffles me when people tell me that they went to some wonderful all-inclusive resort somewhere and did nothing but lay by the pool and drink margaritas - I'm a little envious, too.  I would have a hard time doing that.  I can handle the pool for about an hour and then I have to do something else.  If I have a book along I may be able to eek out another hour, but it would have to be an engaging book.  No, I would much rather be exploring what the city has to offer (museums, attractions, etc.) and learning something.

In my "normal" life, during the week, I'm always busy.  If I'm not writing in my blog or updating the many facebook pages I administer, I'm in the studio or visiting friends or attending meetings in between running errands and cooking dinner. But you'll never catch me just reading, and the TV is never on during the day.  To me, that would be "cheating".  I feel like I have to be productive all the time.

I wonder where this notion came from - kids certainly don't feel this way!  As an adult I've felt like this since I can remember, but I think it got worse when I quit my 9-5 job in January.  Now that my job consists of me being creative, I'll admit that I feel a little guilty about having so much fun and getting paid for it.  It still blows my mind that I get to do what I love for a living.  Maybe I'm worried that if I fully relax on the weekends, people will either think I'm a spoiled princess or a total slacker, either of which would be upsetting.

I was sick a couple of weeks ago and spent two days in bed.  I did nothing, and I was okay with it, but I didn't feel well.  Maybe that's why we get sick - it's our body's way of telling us that we can slow down and the universe won't stop spinning if we're not a part of it for a couple days.  Now if I could only do that when I'm feeling good, I'd be all set.  :D

September 13, 2010

The Woods

Yesterday was a picture-perfect day in most of Wisconsin - brilliant sunshine, not a cloud in the sky, low humidity, and 78 degrees.  It was one of those days where you feel guilty if you're not a part of it.  So before the Packer game started at 3 p.m. (I believe it's actually a sin to miss The Game in Wisconsin), Brian and I set out to walk one of the many wonderful trails in our area, and there are a lot. 

We first went to Hobbs Woods, a gorgeous parcel of land set aside by its original owner (well, not original, but you know what I mean) to be maintained as a place where people can go to hike, relax or picnic (it's also where Brian proposed to me).  It was really busy, of course, so we left and tried a trail in town instead. 

This trail starts out in town but eventually hits patches of wooded area with streams and neat little bridges.  We walked about three miles yesterday but when walking a trail like that, to me it never feels as strenuous as when I'm walking three miles around my house.  There's also so much more to take in.

My favorite of these trails is the Wild Goose Trail, a decommissioned railway that was turned into a walking/biking trail about 10 years ago or so.  It stretches from Fond du Lac all the way to Juneau, which is about 55 miles. I discovered it in 2001 and started out biking but soon switched to walking to take in more of the beauty of my surroundings.

I'm probably the billionth person to realize this, but for me, the experience of being in the woods is my church.  No where else do I feel serenity and peace more than when I can walk in the (relative) quiet of the trees.  One hour amongst the birds and "friends" (what I like to call the cute woodland creatures one sees in this setting, like squirrels and chipmunks and rabbits) and I always remember that life is great, and that everything is always going to be okay.

One of the coolest things I encountered during one of my trips on the Wild Goose trail happened when I was on my halfway break. I would walk about two miles and then stop below one of the big bridges and sit on the rocks by the rapidly-flowing stream before I headed back. The water was pretty loud but it served as white noise for my thoughts. I was just sitting there, pretty still, for I don't know how long - and an entire family of beavers walked right past me. It's like they didn't even see me, or care that I was there. I turned my head just enough so that I could get a better look but not enough to startle them. I suppose it wasn't surprising they were around, considering there was (and still is) a HUGE beaver dam very close by. But it was the only time that ever happened. I would go back and hope that I'd see them again but the closest I ever got was seeing a little head peeking out of the water every now and then.

There have been a couple of instances in my life where I needed to escape to the woods any chance I got.  It was the woods where I worked out my feelings about my dad's stroke and eventual death; it was where I pondered what the hell I was going to do when I was separated from my first husband.  The woods was my therapy during that time in my life - but it also made me sit quietly and remember that although my troubles seemed insurmountable there was something bigger going on around me and if I let go of myself for a while, It would let me be a part of it.  And if that's not the definition of "church", then I don't know what is.

(The photo above is the Wild Goose Trail, exactly at the spot where I would go under the bridge and sit.  Photo courtesy of Fond du Lac County.)

September 10, 2010

Word Play, or Am I Weird?

Yesterday I made a batch of brownies.  I've made more brownies this year than in my entire life combined hence.  As I was gathering the ingredients, I quickly realized that I was going to use up both the sugar and the cocoa, so I got out my running grocery list and added them so I wouldn't forget.

And as I wrote these items down on the "Sugar Daddy" paper (thank you, Target "Dollar Spot"!), I had a realization that perhaps I do things a little differently than others - but maybe not.  So I'm going to ask all of you reading this blog entry - when making out your grocery list, do you write things normally, or do you try to make yourself laugh?  Is this an odd question? 

I really never made grocery lists when I worked full-time; I just ran in, grabbed what I thought I needed and left.  When I began really taking inventory, clipping coupons and writing thorough lists, I just started writing things in a "Mel" way.  My first thought was that if I dropped my list or accidentally left it anywhere, maybe somehow it would make its way into the "Found" series of books or on the blog.  Or the person who discovered it would think me a total freak.  Either way, the idea was intriguing.  After a while, though, I just started writing the lists my way because I enjoy laughing.  Shocker.

Some of the "odd" things I write are on the lists in the pictures.  For example, "Team Coco" in this case reminds me I need to pick up cocoa; it's not a reference to my allegiance to Conan O'Brien.  When I see  "Anton Chigurh" (pronounced "shi-GUR"), I know that sugar is on my list and not that Javier Bardem was awesome in the aforementioned role in "No Country for Old Men" (if that's not your cup of tea, perhaps you'd like "Suge Knight" better).

As you can see, I also enjoy saying things twice, like "crabby-crab" and "sour creamy-cream" and "coffee-coff".  These things make me laugh.  Try it - isn't it totally fun saying "crabby-crab"?  And you can't just say it in your normal voice, either; shake it up a bit.  See?  Did you make yourself laugh?

I'm sure a lot of you have kids in your life.  My inspirations are my "smooshers" Nat and Mia (my sister Jen's kids) and Brian's niece and nephew Josh and Sydney.  Because of them, I will never say "chocolate" unless I'm out with people who don't know me very well - in my world, the word is actually chockit because that's what Nat called it.  "Noodles" is for suckers; the REAL word is noonles, which is what Josh called them and is infinitely more fun to say.

Also, foreign accents and pronounciations make their way into my list.  My friend Chad took Spanish for years in high school and college, and he used to crack me up by over-emphasizing the difficult "dth" sound which native Spanish-speakers can do with ease.  So, from now on, it's enchiladtha ingredients on my list, which of course I sort of whisper to myself when I'm writing because it's so fun to say.  Conversely, and this may be un-PC, my favorite breakfast staple will forever be known to me as Engrish muffins.  Sorry, but that makes me laugh.  A couple of times I almost got caught saying this in a restaurant as I was ordering breakfast, though.  Oopsy.

Of course, all of these things are said out loud as well - I'm not going to confine them to just my lists!  If someone were to ever bug our house, I wonder if Brian and I would be committed (those of you who know Brian may think he's not silly.  Au contraire!  You just don't have the great fortune of experiencing it like I do). 

I guess my point to this entry, besides exposing one of the odder parts of my psyche to you, is that there are ways of making your world a little more fun and interesting.  Don't enjoy a task?  Then put a spin on it!  If you hate mowing the lawn, try writing a song about how much you hate mowing the lawn, and then singing that song to yourself while you're doing it.  Come on, you know you'll chuckle a couple times - how can you not?  You wrote it!

Your assignment is to try and make yourself laugh today.  Try a new accent when answering the phone at work (if someone calls you on it, just say you have a cold).  Think of your favorite Seinfeld-ism when you're in the bathroom and then try not to laugh so people think you're insane.  Come on, there are a zillion things you can do.  But I guarantee it'll make your day a little more interesting.  :D

September 8, 2010

A "Vast Wasteland"

The past couple of days, I was sick with one of those colds that just likes to hang on long enough to be most annoying.  I'm very fortunate in the fact that I can climb into bed if I want and not have to worry about calling in sick to work, which is good because I know I wouldn't have called in and it would've made for very long days.  So instead, I hunkered down and rode it out.

We have a TV in our bedroom, but it hadn't been used since Conan's untimely and unfortunate departure last January. I finally gave in and turned it on Sunday afternoon.  I figured I'd catch old reruns and watch them until I passed out on cough medicine.  No such luck!  I caught one rerun of "Frasier" and then the station began running infomercials.  I finally just left the TV on the Science Channel and let it lull me to sleep by showing me how to make a snare drum.

Like almost everyone who has cable, we have approximately 200 channels on our set-up. Brian and I certainly have our favorite shows, like Mad Men, 30 Rock, Project Runway, The Office, and a few others; but otherwise we don't watch TV. And we record everything with our DVR so that we can watch when we want. About the only shows that we watch live are Jeopardy after dinner and "The Daily Buzz" in the morning before Brian leaves for work (which I promptly turn off when he leaves). So to try and find shows that were interesting in the middle of the day was pretty difficult.

I know people that can watch TV for 10 hours a day; in fact, I used to be one of those people.  I'm not passing judgment - I'm saying that for me, I just can't do that anymore.  That's not to say that I don't waste time surfing Facebook or any other Web-related distractions, but at least I can choose what to read when I'm on the Internet.   With TV, you're stuck with what they choose to show.

When I did watch TV, about 10 years ago, I'd turn it on in the morning and leave it on all day.  I know that I worried more when I watched a lot of news.  I couldn't watch "Cops" because it used to make me paranoid that someone was going to break into the house.  I started to identify with the characters on "Northern Exposure".  I would freak out if one of my favorite shows was pre-empted; it would throw a wrench in my day.  I used to schedule other plans around my TV viewing, and get nervous if the two coincided.

Sounds crazy, doesn't it?  Yet somehow, I don't think I'm alone.  I don't know if I was so "blah" because I watched too much TV, or I watched too much TV because I was "blah".  But TV definitely factored into that time in my life.

I wonder sometimes if all of the divisiveness in our country is TV's fault.  Let's think about this:  before 24-hour news, most people watched Walter Cronkite and read Time magazine and their local newspaper to get their news.  There were a couple of Sunday morning political shows, but they consisted of highbrow commentators politely stating their case and discussing the matter at hand.  Now what do we have?  Five very different news channels with very different viewpoints.  It's gotten to the point where people can judge you based solely on whether you watch MSNBC or Fox News.  How sad is this?  And the SHOUTING!  Since when did this become acceptable?  I wonder sometimes what would happen if everyone just stopped watching "their" news for a week (and turned off the TV altogether!).  I think we'd all be less stressed!

I certainly have guilty pleasures when it comes to my TV viewing - the most obvious is probably "Project Runway".  Throw 17 designers together and you're going to have some bitchiness.  And I love watching.  So again, I'm not passing judgment, but are we really spending our time at night watching stuff like "Rock of Love: Tour Bus" and "Keeping up with the Kardashians"?  What are we really getting out of this?  And what could we be doing instead that may be a tad more edifying?  Reading?  Playing board games (no, video games don't count)?  Working on a hobby?

I am easily distracted, so I know that if I chose to spend my time watching TV during the day, I never would've accomplished all of the art that I've done this year.  My mind would've been somewhere else, and eventually I would've succumbed to the siren song of TV Land.  I know this to be true.  And I think it would've made me "blah" all over again.

So here's to turning off the TV every now and then!  I think you'll find that the world is a better place, with friendly people and a nice community.  Try it!  You may even lose your "blahs"!  :D

August 31, 2010

Back to School

Can you believe it's back-to-school time already?!  I think I echo a million people when I ask, "Where the H did the summer go?!".

So, parents (or kids, depending on who's reading this) - are you excited for your kids to go back?  Or are you a little sad because you won't see them every day?  Or maybe a little of both?  :D

This fall marks 20 years since my last "first day of school".  It was my second senior year of college and I couldn't wait to get out.  I was burned out by then and I already had a job in my field (TV Production), so I sort of didn't see the point.  But I'm glad I saw it through, even though I wound up working for only four years in TV (talk about BURNOUT!).

I always looked forward to that first day of school and finding out who would be in my homeroom.  Back in the 70s and 80s, of course, we didn't have the Internet so we'd have to trek to school to see the posted homeroom assignments.  I always hoped that my neighborhood friends were in my classes but it never happened.  I never got the "cool" teachers, either (it was many years later that I learned my Grammie, who was a music teacher (Mrs. Seiler, for those of you who were taught by her) in the same district where we attended, pulled some strings to make sure I had the tough teachers and, because she knew firsthand my "issues" with paying attention, that my best friends would never share my homeroom.  Here's to relatives and parents looking out for kids!). 

And who didn't love new school supplies?!  I wasn't a big fan of school, per se, but man - did I ever love those new pink erasers!  I can almost smell that faint petroleum-based rubber smell now.  But the apex of my school supply lust came in the fall of '79 - the year I started sixth grade (and middle school, for all you non-US students out there.  You're 10 or 11 when you start sixth grade).  My mom and dad broke down and bought my sister Jen and me each a Trapper Keeper.  Perhaps I'm dating myself but if you're around 40 and went to school in the US or Canada you know EXACTLY the thrill whereof I speak.  And believe it or not, it did actually raise my street cred a notch (but when you're a huge geek like I was, it couldn't go any lower).  Oh, how I loved my Trapper Keeper!  That thing must've made Mead a zillion dollars that year.  I see that they're actually still available!  What a hoot!

That same year, in sixth grade, all of the grade schools in Ashwaubenon combine into one middle school - Parkview Middle School.  And because it was the late Seventies and education ideas were getting an overhaul, they tried something new - "pods" (Mine was 6A).  Each pod was one giant room divided with partitions so that you were almost always with the same 90 kids (three teachers to a pod) but you had different classes at different times.  It's actually kind of a neat idea.  On that first day of school 31 years ago, armed with the aforementioned Trapper Keeper and my new feathered haircut (yep, that's me in the photo in 6th grade), I was excited to meet the "other kids" from Pioneer and Cormier Elementary Schools (I went to Valley View).  For some reason we all met in non-pod classrooms first, and I was assigned to the Home Ec room (it's not called "Home Economics" anymore - it's something like "Family Prep" or something stupid).  As I was in the Home Ec room and staring into the sea of new kids, I saw a girl that looked friendly enough, so I thought maybe after class we could become "Besties", as only you can when you're a kid. 

Imagine my surprise when the girl I thought would become my "Bestie" turned out to be my own reflection in the mirror.  I have no idea how I didn't realize we were wearing the same shirt, or that this person looked exactly like me, but it must've been nerves.  Before you either pity me and/or call me a dumbass, revel in the knowledge that I did indeed find two Besties that day - Amy Wettengel and Beth Schoenebeck.  :D

So that's my favorite "first day of school" story.  For those of you who are either returning to school tomorrow (like my nieces and nephew!) or have kids that are, I wish you all smooth sailing.  Here's to a safe, happy, productive '10-'11 school year!

August 25, 2010

Serendipity or Happenstance - or Both?

When you think of good things that have happened in your life, do you think they occured because by chance or fate?  Do you think we make our own luck or do things happen at random?

There have been a few instances lately in my life that began as totally random events but that have turned into amazing opportunities!  So would that fall under the "both" category?

The first such incident happened on a trip to Duluth, MN that Brian and I took during the 4th of July weekend back in 2007.  I don't recall now why we chose Duluth; the only reasons I can think of are that I figured it would be cooler than it would be in Wisconsin and some friends of ours really love it there.  We actually stayed on the North Shore of Lake Superior, which is a 20 minute drive from Duluth.  It's so lovely and I know we'll vacation there again.

While in Duluth one evening we happened across this old warehouse-type building with a few shops in it.  One of the shops was a photography studio that Brian wanted to check out.  We both went in but when he started talking cameras with the owner I knew it would be a while.  So I wandered across the hall to a shop called Peasantworks.  What a neat store!  It was a great mix of art supplies, home decor and commissioned artworks.  It was really vibrant and colorful and there was something new to see in every nook and cranny.  And as happens so many times in non-chain shops, I struck up a conversation with the owner, Lori.  I think she and I talked for an hour and a half!  It was a lovely way to spend the evening (and I bought a gorgeous pillow and some AWESOME Jo Sonja acrylic paints that I still use to this day!).

Flash forward to late 2008 - a full year and a half since we'd been in Duluth.  I just joined Facebook and I got a friend request - from Lori!  The last name didn't register at first but when I saw her profile picture it all clicked.  So of course I friended her!  Flash forward ANOTHER year and a half, to earlier this year.  Lori was thinking about putting together an art retreat - and would I be interested in teaching a workshop?  Of COURSE I would!  So I am, along with Lori and Teresa Kolar, in Duluth in October.  I am terribly excited about this fun event and I can't wait!  It's also right around my birthday so Brian and I will be taking a couple extra days to explore the Northern Wisconsin area as well. 

All because I wandered into Lori's shop that one fateful July evening over three years ago.

The second surprise all started with my May/June issue of Cloth Paper Scissors.  In an article in this issue, artist Cathy Taylor demonstrated a new mixed media technique using a product called Citra Solv, which is actually a vegetable-based household cleaner (that smells deliciously like oranges or lavender!) that does amazing things when paired with National Geographic magazine pages (seriously!  Just brush the pages of a Nat Geo with Citra Solv and the inks mix, making these beautiful other-worldly art papers.).  I tried it and not only was it fun to do the project, the papers turned out wonderfully! 

I happened to mention that I tried the technique on my ATCs - Artist Trading Cards Facebook page.  Well, somehow the good folks at Citra Solv saw this and invited the group to enter their art contest!  I did, along with a few of my friends.  The entries were AMAZING, and the winner was an artist who had rendered Andy Warhol completely in Citra Solv pages.  Incredible.

So many of my live trading group friends were intrigued by this technique that I did a mini-tutorial at our May live ATC trade.  I made Artist & Display smell like an orange grove in the process!  :D

A couple of weeks ago, I heard from my Citra-Solv friends again, this time wondering if I'd be interested in running a giveaway on my ATC Facebook page.  Of COURSE I would!  I ran the contest and five lucky winners received a bottle of Citra Solv in the mail so they can make their own artworks (and clean their homes!).  At the same time I thought I would enter their latest art contest, "Freedom of Expression".  The gist of this contest was to create some Citra-Solv art that embodies the best of our country, at a time when we really need some optimism about this great land.  So I used a photo that Brian had shot while we were in Hawai'i at the USS Arizona Memorial and rendered it in Citra Solv pages.  I also wrote a little essay about the memorial and how it pertains to the best part of us.

Well, imagine my shock when I found out yesterday that I won the GRAND PRIZE.  I was flabbergasted!  And flattered, honored, moved - all those great things.  I am just thrilled (and I won a gift certificate! WOO HOO!).  :D

All of this because I happened to try a new mixed media project and product. 

Long stories long, I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is room for serendipity in every encounter!  And maybe we have the ability to steer the course of every chance meeting we have.  Sure, there are plenty of times that I've somewhere and nothing amazing has come of it - yet.  Who knows?  Maybe something that happens during the day today will affect the rest of my life positively (I try not to focus on the negative!).  Isn't that a fun prospect?  Maybe it'll happen to you!