June 28, 2010

Having Good Scents

They say that our olfactory sense, more than any other, triggers memories (and in this case, I read it somewhere.  "They" are the people who wrote the article.  Scientific, huh?).

This has got to be true.  One whiff of a particular scent and I'm right back in the moment that defines it for me.  As a matter of fact, this happened to me today.

Ladies, you'll probably relate to this far more than you guys out there, but I was using some rub-on transfers in my artwork today and the new Barbie-vinyl smell was overwhelming.  All of a sudden, it's 1972 or '73 and I'm in the parking lot with my family on an outing to buy our Barbie doll cases (yep, that's mine in the picture there).  To me, it's one of the finest scents of my world, second only to crayons (which, "They" say, is the most recognized scent in the U.S.).  I wish I could describe it well enough for you to be there too; it's definitely plasticky, with petroleum undertones.  It's a "new" smell; it doesn't last long, unless it's kept hermetically sealed.  I guess it just smells like childhood.  And Barbie accessories.

More of my favorite smells?  Lemon and wood smoke.  I love the former because of its sunshiney-clean goodness (and what it does for drinks!).  The lemon is such a versatile fruit - it's equally delish on fish or in pie.  I've never tasted anything with lemon that I didn't love. 
Woodsmoke is the opposite scent, but probably my favorite scent ever.  It smells like home to me.  It reminds me of campfires - and who doesn't love campfires?  That crackling fire sound, the camraderie (because rarely is one at a campfire by him- or herself), the laughter (or poignancy), the s'mores - there isn't anything about campfires I don't like.  It's also a fireplace-y smell, which for most of us conjures up visions of Christmas/Hanukkah, cozy winter nights, and contentment.

While we're talking about smells, there are some that people may not associate with "good" smells, but I love them just the same.  The first is the (old) smell of a bowling alley.

I was on a bowling league for the newspaper where I worked, The Reporter, for the 2006-07 season.  I was terrible - ask anyone.  One night my game score was 39.  No, that's not a typo.  But I still went, every week, and gave it my all.  Near the end of the season I began noticing the very distinct odor that our bowling alley had - a mixture of cigarette smoke, fried food, shoe spray, and the oil or grease that is used to lube up the ball returns.  It's a very nostalgic smell for me now, and one that I won't smell for much longer, now that Wisconsin will be completely smoke-free a week from today.  Time marches on.

Is it just me, or does anyone else love the smell of skunk?  Is this weird?  I don't know why, but there's something so comforting about that smell!!  Same with manure - I actually really enjoy it.  I guess the manure smell  reminds me of summer road trips and being out in the country, but I really honestly don't know why the skunk smell is so appealing; it may have something to do with Smelly Stickers, of which I had a plethora in 8th grade; the skunk one was my favorite.

And last but not least, that old basement smell.  Many folks simply cannot handle this smell - some are even allergic to the mold from which the smell originates.  To me, it's all about antiques, old books, history, and my great-grandpa's old house in Hoopeston, IL that we visited twice before he passed away in 1977.  It had a marvelous attic, filled with old games and toys (and I can't even think about all of the old ephemera that was probably tossed - *shudder*), letters, medals, records (warped, natch) and sundry items.  There was also a cellar, which was creepy beyond belief; it consisted mostly of old canning that my great-grandma had done before she died in 1967.  But the attic made up for it.  I got a TON of old books at our live trade on Saturday and like a time machine, that old book smell transported me back to Hoopeston, even though it's been 33 years.  If prompted I could still draw a floor plan of that house - THAT'S a powerful smell.

June 19, 2010


Tomorrow's Father's Day in the US, so of course I've been thinking a lot about my dad lately.  Actually, there's not a day that goes by where I'm not reminded of him somehow.

I can't believe it, but it's been 6 1/2 years already since my dad left us.  It was blustery and cold, that day in January of '04.  It was fitting weather for a funeral.

But enough about that!  I want to talk about the good things!

When I was born, my dad was a month shy of his 48th birthday.  I try to put that in my perspective, and I just can't fathom having a newborn around when I'm 48, which is, ironically, 6 1/2 years from now.  Egads!  Now to be fair, I was his 5th kid, but the first to be born to my wonderful mom Suzanne,  Dad's second wife.  So he had been through this a few times already.  Dad LOVED babies, so he was in his element.

Growing up, Dad was a great dad.  Unfortunately, when I was seven, he had a heart attack.  It was definitely a wake-up call, because he quit smoking cold turkey and even quit drinking his Hamm's after work (neither one of these "quittings" would stick, but I'll bet they added a good ten years to his life).  My mom and dad also became "born again".  I'm not religious AT ALL, but I believe the attitude change also helped prolong his life.

Of course, there are things I know now that I didn't know back then - like how, instead of taking vacation days every year, my dad would take the money instead so that we could have good Christmases (we didn't have a lot of money growing up).  He appreciated his job immensely, but didn't really like it; he stayed with it because he had to (my mom, like most back then, was a stay-at-home mom).  Dad did a lot of things that he didn't want to, but did anyway because he HAD to.  And it doesn't sound like much, but there are a lot of guys out there who aren't real great at being responsible.  I always admired that about my dad.

One of the habits that Dad changed after his heart attack was his physical activity; Dad walked miles every day.  Once, he actually walked to church, which was 10 miles away.  And Dad walked FAST.  I think he did it in under two hours.  One of his walking routes took him past a nursing home.  One day, Dad saw a gentleman sitting outside, so he went and struck up a conversation with him.  I'll never forget - his name was Al Letterer.  They became fast friends (and the weird part?  They were only nine years apart).  Dad even took us girls to visit him once or twice.  And when Al passed away, Dad was genuinely saddened. 

Oh, and Dad was SO sentimental, another of his traits that I just adored.  When we were opening Christmas gifts every year, he'd have to get out his hanky.  He didn't make a show of it - the man was a Marine in WWII, for Pete's sake - but he'd get farklempt.  Growing up, I thought he was sad. By the time I got to college, and he was STILL doing it, it made him vulnerable and even more human and wonderful.

Speaking of WWII - like many guys of his generation (he was born in 1920), Dad didn't even think about enlisting - he just did it.  He started his tour in August of '42, but enlisted on December 8, 1941 (with probably millions of others).  He never really talked about it, until my sister Jen flat-out just asked him what it was like.  I'm so happy she did that, because it turns out that it's not that Dad didn't want to talk about the war, he just thought we wouldn't be interested (!).  Au contraire!  I loved hearing the stories!   He was a gunner on an aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown II, in the South Pacific.  He saw his best friend die right in front of him.  He danced with Maureen O'Sullivan at a USO dance.  On one occasion, he was leaning against a bomber on deck, had lit a cigarette, and all of a sudden he heard his mother's voice screaming at him, "GET AWAY FROM THIS PLANE!!!!"  It startled him so profoundly, he ran like a bat out of hell.  About a minute later, it was destroyed by an attack from the Japanese.  He said they were the best, and the worst, years of his life.

Dad had a temper, and sometimes it got the best of him.  I was a little afraid of him as a kid - when my mom actually said "Wait 'til your father gets home!", I knew I was going to get it.  It was yelling more than anything; I only got spanked three times in my life, and once was because I decided to explore the deep woods behind our apartment with my friend Jodie.  My parents were FRANTIC.  And Jodie and I were hopelessly lost.  I'll bet they screamed for me for an hour - and when we were finally reunited, the first thing I asked, when running to their open arms was, "Are you gonna spank me?".  :D  They hugged me harder than they ever had; I also got spanked pretty bad, too.

For Christmas, my wonderful husband Brian made me DVDs of all our old Hi-8 movies that my ex took of my family (and that he very graciously returned to me upon our divorce).  I haven't been able to bring myself to watch them yet, because my dad is very prominently featured.  I know what kind of heartache it's going to bring to hear his voice again.  But I'm getting closer.  I think by the end of the year I'll just have to sit down and do it, and let the tears flow.  Who knows?  It might bring back even more wonderful memories, and that's worth everything.

Happy Father's Day, Dad, wherever you are.  If you can read this, I hope you're exploring the Universe.  I know that would bring you much happiness.  We miss you more than you'll ever know.

June 17, 2010

Creativity and Inspiration

Creativity is a cruel mistress.  You never know when she'll arrive and, even scarier, when she'll leave.  As I've learned over the last 5 months or so, it's not really something you can control.

Or can you?  Just like knowledge, the more images, thoughts and ideas you expose yourself to, the more you'll get out of life.  And for me, it's the same with creativity.

I look back on my previous work and I can recall what I was feeling on the day I made the piece.  Unlike some artists, I think my best work happens when I'm happy; I don't have a "suffering artist"-type attitude.  Thankfully, I'm happy about 98% of the time.  :D  The other 2% of the time, I have to force myself to create and then I'm happy again anyway.  :D

On those days where I feel like my creative meter is at zero, I peruse library books, Etsy, Flickr, my own stash of supplies - and really, inspiration is EVERYWHERE.  You just have to be open to the experience!  Another thing that helps me is stream-of-consciousness writing.  I used to think that this was something only crazy people did at all-night diners.  Au contraire!  It really helps!  I can go from Mason jar to Phish song just by thinking or writing it down.  It's weird - it's sort of like having a telepathic conversation with yourself. 

And speaking of Etsy - another, very addictive inspiration mechanism that I've discovered is the Treasury.  Now, it used to be that there were only certain spots that could be filled with Treasuries, and you'd have to wait until the wee small hours of the morning to even get a shot at it.  Now, any Etsy member can curate a gallery anytime they want!  I started making mine last night -  I've already made two, and I've got ideas for far more.  Treasuries are a win-win; one is able to cull from some amazing work for inspiration, and also help out your fellow sellers by posting their items that may not have been seen by other buyers (and I found some stuff that I wouldn't have, also).  If you're on Etsy, I highly recommend looking at and making Treasuries - it's really fun!  It worked the other way, too - I made it to the "Front Page" last night!  :D  (See photo at the top - mine is the Mountie pendant on the bottom)

Flickr also allows members to "curate" galleries.  I love this too!  I've made about 20 galleries, with topics that range from coupons to rainy days.  It's almost impossible to NOT get inspired by the millions of photos and ideas presented there.  Sometimes, it's overwhelming!

If you want to kick it "old school", the library is the best place to go.  I love hiding out in the stacks with oversized art books that are too expensive for my budget, but that are all there, waiting to be read.  I get all-out psyched with inspiration - there's something about the tactile nature of books that can't be replicated.  It's also easier to stare at a painting in a book as opposed to a computer screen, even if it is a no-glare iPad.

Well, it worked!  Just by writing this blog entry, I feel more inspired.  I can't wait to take that inspiration and (hopefully!) make something worth displaying!  :D

June 11, 2010

Work of Art

So, did anyone catch the new Bravo series, "Work of Art"?  If you didn't, think "Project Runway", only with artists instead of fashion designers.

And really, the show is set up almost exactly the same.  There's a host, China Chow, who's also a judge.  The panel of three judges consists of industry critics and gallery owners.  There's even a Tim Gunn-esque "mentor" for the artists, Simon du Pury, who's an art auctioneer.  The winner of the show gets a solo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and $100,000, furnished by Prismacolor.  (I WISH!).

I really loved the show, but I have to say I wasn't surprised by any of the artists.  By that I mean, they had all the swagger and pretention that I expected.  It's funny to me how many artists are very conformist in their non-conformity.  I think it takes more guts as an artist to dress like I do - in 10 year-old t-shirts from Target and jeans from Fleet Farm.  But I digress.

It always amazes me how fast some artists paint.  I suppose if you've been painting for 20 years, that paintbrush is just an extension of your arm (I'm a collage artist, so painting is very foreign to me).  Just like on "Project Runway" (hereafter abbreviated as "Proj Run"), the artists only had a day and a half to complete their project, which was a portrait of one of their fellow artists.  I was a little skeptical of this:  some of them were working in oils; don't they take forever to dry?  Would an oil painting really be ready to hang after 16 hours?!?  Hmm....

Of course, some artists' portraits were "shocking" for the sake of being shocking.  There was one artist, Judith, who painted an abstract of her subject and used the "p-word" liberally in the piece.  Really?  Is this really shocking anymore, or is it just kinda lame?  To me, if you have to resort to using supposedly "shocking" images or text in your work, you're covering.  Another drew her subject naked, even though the subject didn't pose that way for the painter.  That's sorta creepy.  That being said, the paintings were technically good.

Which brings me to my other point:  artists - let's support each other, not crap all over each other's work!  I know I just sort of ripped on Judith there, but other than that, don't be that person that everyone hates.  On this show, her name is Nao.  Went she first walked in the gallery where everyone's art was hanging, she actually went around the room and by each piece said stuff like, "Boring!", "No talent!", "Amateurish!", etc.  Okay, if you're going to do that to others' work, expect people to lash out at yours.  Unless you're the next Picasso, keep your mouth shut.  And even then, be careful.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the show pans out.  I have a feeling that the person who everyone least expects to win will go home a lot richer (his name is Erik - check back in about 2 1/2 months to see if I'm right!).  And I also have a feeling that if there's a Season 2, there are going to be a LOT more entries to be a contestant.   A hundred grand is a LOT of money!

June 7, 2010

Sex and the City and the "New Feminism"

Okay, so "Sex and the City 2" came out on Friday.  Guys, contrary to what you may have heard, not every woman is clamoring to see this film.  I'm one of them.

I'll admit it - I don't get the appeal of this franchise.  I really don't.  Everything about it is odd to me - going into debt for shoes, selling your soul for a buck, dating stupid men and wondering why you're still single....and that's another thing.  While it may look like this foursome are happy-go-lucky, cosmo-swilling girls-about-town, what it really came down to is all of them (except for Samantha) snagging husbands and then complaining about them!  Ugh.

Growing up, "finding a man" was not something that my mom hoped for me.  Now, obviously I'm not anti-marriage; I've done it twice and for the most part, I find it to be a wonderful institution.  But there's something about these movies and TV shows about single women that always comes down to finding a man! WHY?  They always seem to be miserable when they're in relationships, so why do they want to be married so badly?  So they can wear a pretty dress and a big-ass diamond?  I just don't get it.

I wonder sometimes about the mixed messages that my nieces are getting; on the one hand, they've got their mom (my sister) telling them that they can be whoever they want to be and do whatever they want to do if they just put their minds to it, but on the other hand, all they hear at school is boyfriend-girlfriend drama.  And they're 11 and 13!!!  I know, all girls seem to go through this phase, but what happens when some don't grow out of it?  Oh yeah - see above.  It just scares me to see young girls going through the same crap that we did, or our mothers did.  It's such a bizarre time we live in - we have women in the some of the highest offices in the land and thankfully, we can land any job a man can.  THAT is different than even in my childhood.  But on the other hand, you've got six year-olds dressed up like whores in beauty pageants!  And as long as that mentality exists, women will never truly be as equal as men.  Sadly, many young girls don't seem to care about this.  I mean, really?  It's 2010 and it's still portrayed on TV that girls and women want to look pretty so they can find husbands??  GAH!!!!

So ladies - if you're single and still intent on getting married then for god's sake, find one that will treat you the way you were meant to be treated - as a human being.  As an equal.  No game-playing, just two souls who've found each other and want to share their lives.  THIS I wish for everyone.  Find someone who treats you this way (i.e., through a friendship first) or get out of the relationship.  Be a WOMAN, not some guy's mother or plaything.  You're better than that, and you know it. 

June 4, 2010

On Learning Language

Over Memorial Day weekend, we visited our friends Jason and Amy in St. Paul, Minnesota.  They have two adorable little girls - Dina, who's almost five, and Mira, who'll be three in November.  They are absolute joys to be around.

One of the best parts of the weekend (for me, anyway) was trying to decipher what Mira was saying.  Since she's only two and a half she's at that wonderful age where language is coming much easier, but there are still some stumbling blocks.  When I'd say, "What, honey?" to her statement, she would very nicely repeat what she said, without a trace of frustration.  Even better, Dina would sometimes act as her translator, which was really sweet and cute.

It's been a while since I've had to decipher language!  I have a lot of friends with kids at the "deciphering" age, but I usually just see them for an hour or two at a time.  By the time we left St. Paul on Sunday, I was really starting to get the gist of Mira's speech patterns!

In my family, vocabulary and language were always talked about.  Growing up, my mom and dad would regale us with stories of cute slip-ups we'd have when learning to speak or read.  For example, my sister Jen had the hardest time with the word "yellow"; she would call it "lellow".  So my mom and dad would tell her, "Say 'yell'."  And Jen would say it (correctly).  Then they'd tell her, "Say, 'ow'." And she'd say it.  But when mom and dad would respond, "Okay, now say 'yellow'.", she would go right back to saying "lellow".  I love that story.  Jen would also call Campbell's Chunky Soup "sunky poops".  Of course, we STILL call it that - and I think everyone should.  :D

When my nieces (who are now 13 and almost 11!) were small, there were a plethora of cute things they said  that have survived to this day.  Indeed, my own Etsy shop, Snizzers & Gwoo, is based on the way the girls said "scissors and glue" when they were about three.  We in my family now say, "actchowee" instead of "actually" because of my oldest niece, Natalie.  Try using it to start a sentence sometime - it's great when you really want to get your point across ("Well, actchowee.....").

Maybe we should learn foreign languages this way, slip-ups and all!  I think learning from our mistakes is as much a part of the process as saying words the right way.  In fact, sometimes it can even help with spelling.  When I was about 9 or 10, we were at the grocery store and I asked my mom and dad if they preferred Russet potatoes over other varieties.  Except that I pronounced it "russay".  I don't know why my brain went all Frenchy, but I never forgot how to spell the word after that!  (Incidentally, I did go on to take six years of French in high school and college.  I have potatoes to thank for that).

The next time you're in the presence of a toddler, really pay attention to the way they form sentences and use tense.  It's not only adorable (and hysterical), you might just learn a new word that you'll be able to use the rest of your life.  Actchowee, you might learn a lot.  :D

June 2, 2010

The Joys of Gardening

I finally planted my garden yesterday, and I felt rather proud.  This year's garden is bigger than in the past - I didn't plant anything last year because we had new landscaping put in mid-June and I didn't know if they were going to leave a patch of earth.  But they did, so this year, instead of just tomatoes, I added green peppers, onions and cucumbers.  If all goes well, I'll have a tasty salsa - all for the price of some plants (about $10)!

I also designed a planter in our front yard (see above). We have deep plum shutters and much of our landscaping reflects that, so I wanted to continue the trend with the planter. My friend Jessie is an excellent flower gardener, so I looked to her for advice on what to do. I have to say, I'm happy with how it turned out!

This is probably a sentiment as old as time, but I think a garden is miraculous.  I mean, really - I bought some small plants that will grow larger and yield some stuff at the end that I can eat (it looks puny now, but I'll post another photo later in the growing season).  When you think about it, isn't that amazing?

I'm sure real farmers don't have time to look at their crops this way - or maybe they do.  I don't know.  I just think it's so cool that I have control over a small patch of land.  I can see why this gardening thing can become addictive - but I have to watch myself or I'll become overzealous and baby the plants.  Too much love is a bad thing when it comes to plants; I found that out a couple of years ago when I overwatered some tomatoes and they got all yellow and weird looking, and not very good to eat.

So tell me - is it just me, or do all you gardeners out there feel the same way when YOU plant?  I'd love to know.  Maybe I'm showing my garden newbie-ness, but....hooray for growing your own food!  :D