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!

August 19, 2010

People are People

If you're like me, you've had about enough of the whole Dr. Laura debacle.  If you haven't heard about it by now, well - I'm surprised.  But just in case, here's the audio of what she actually said, in its entirety.  Was it stupid?  Oh lord, yes.  Was it racist?  Well, no, in a crazy way, it wasn't.  PLEASE read on to see what I mean!

You have to know, if you follow my blog, that I like pretty much everyone I've ever met.  And if I don't care for someone it's because they're cruel, insensitive, egotistical, or self-riteous (and guess what?  Dr. Laura is all these things).  I don't care what you look like, your race, your spiritual beliefs, your gender or who you love.  I just don't.  And I believe that a majority of people feel the same as me.  Is this naive of me?  Perhaps.  But I do think that we're inching ever closer to Dr. King's dream of people being judged not by their race but by the content of their character.  I do believe this.

I have friends that range in age from 12-75; disabled; straight; gay; lesbian; Asian (Korean, Hmong, Japanese, Chinese); Hispanic; Black; Indian; American Indian (or PC "Native American); Jewish; Born-Again Christian; Muslim; Hindi; Catholic; Protestant; Wiccan; Atheist -  and I'm not exaggerating.  All you'd have to do is check my Facebook friends list to see that it's true.   In fact, I'm a little surprised at the diversity of this list!  I hope this shows that I just don't care what or who you are, as long as you're a good person.  And everyone on my friends list is a good person!

That being said, I will also never be black.  Or Asian.  Or Wiccan.  So I will never understand what it means to be any of these things (before you give me slack about the Wiccan thing - I understand that this categorization is a "choice", but it's still a way that people are labeled).  So I will never go around saying the n-word, pretending to talk like an Asian person (stereotypically), or making witch jokes.  If I EVER offended any of my friends, I would be right there with an apology, and I hope we'd talk about why it was offensive to the you, and I would feel just awful.

Like it or not, Causasians will be the brunt of jokes for a long time to come, and we are the only "category" who really can't do anything about it.  I don't mind, either!  We do it to ourselves, too, guys.  One of my favorite books in the last couple years is a book called, "Stuff White People Like" by Christian Lander.  It's hysterical, and if you're a 25-40-something urban hipster liberal white person, you'll realize how spot-on it is.  And if a black/Asian/Hispanic person were to poke fun at this book there'd be no backlash.  Why?  Because it's all true! 

I've got only one last thing to say about this whole deal, and I hope I say it right so that you all know what I mean (but if you don't I'll personally message and try to clarify, because it's not my intention to offend):  let's all be a little more self-deprecating.  Seriously!  I think more self-deprecation would be a major hurdle-jumper in our attempt to build bridges and create unity.  When we can laugh at ourselves and at the same time educate others about our culture but NOT be offended when others imitate us in order to try and understand what it's like to be in our shoes, then we've made progress.  If we step back a little, we all know where the boundaries are and when they've been crossed.  And those people who do cross the line need a good dose of sensitivity training.  But hey, let's lighten up!   Because we all have one thing in common - we're HUMAN.   It's wonderful that we're all different - I don't want to be a Stepford Wife!  Vive les differences!

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to grab a cappuccino and put on my yoga pants before I take a walk with my dog to Whole Foods while I listen to NPR on my iPod.  (If you don't get this, read "Stuff White People Like" and you'll see what I mean).  :D

August 17, 2010

Dress for Success (or at least wear clean clothes!)

Brian and I were gone this weekend, so we watched this week's "Mad Men" last night.  We both love the show for a couple reasons, but the styling is just so spot-on beautiful it's hard not to stare, especially if you're a mid-century modern fan like I am.

And oh, those clothes.  Even when the characters' lives are falling apart, they look spectacular.  Yes, I know that we're talking about 1960s Manhattanites here, and I know it's a TV show, but my mom has also told me that there was actually a time when people dressed up to leave the house.

Oh, how far we've fallen.

For example, in yesterday's USA Today there was an article about how some states are presenting stricter dress codes for appearances in court.  I guess people were showing up in flip-flops, short-shorts, clown suits (?), micro-mini skirts, etc.  Really?  Seriously?  You're supposed to be defending yourself in a court of law and you show up looking like you just rolled out of bed?  This from Delaware Superior Court Judge William Witham, Jr.: "We're not out to treat people as school kids, but we do expect if you come to court, you need to treat it with the appropriate respect and dignity it should deserve due to the occasion."

So in one or two generations we've gone from ladies wearing white gloves to lunch to people wearing flip-flops in court.

But wait - there's a place where you can see how we have truly let ourselves go - I think you know where I'm going here - yes, I'm referring to "The People of Wal-Mart" (see photo above).  I'll admit - once I'm on the site, I get sucked in, sometimes for lengthy periods of time.  I can't help it.  I just can't believe that people would go outside in these clothes (or lack thereof).

I don't frequent Wal-Mart, so I just don't see this level of freakishness.  But I used to witness it in some of my co-workers at the newspaper where I worked.  There were some paper carriers who would show up to get their papers in dirty pajama bottoms - some would show up shirtless.  Now, it is a dirty job, but for God's sake, couldn't they have worn a clean t-shirt and jeans?  It's a dirty job, but it's not as bad as working on a farm!

Not to get all psychiatrist-y, but I do believe that in our society today, where anything goes, one's appearance is an indication of their mood.  When one is feeling good about him- or herself ususally that individual will make an effort to at least run a comb through their hair and perhaps wear undergarments when stepping outside.  Personally, I can't leave the house without my hair done and my eyeliner applied (the phrase "my hair done" makes me sound like I'm my grandmother, doesn't it?).  It would make total sense for me to take my walk in the morning, before I shower; but I can't do it.  I just can't have people see me with messy hair!  So the only time I walk before I shower is when I use my treadmill, which is deep in the recesses of my basement where no one can see how bad I look.  :)

I wonder if the pendulum will ever swing back.  It would be nice.  I think if people look decent, they act accordingly (I know, not always!).  There has to be a happy medium between individuality and decency.  I'm really not shocked by anyone's appearance anymore, and I'm not judging, either - there are plenty of people who are tatted from head to toe and look great.  But I also think there's a time and place for everything, and looking presentable is just a way of saying that you respect your fellow citizens and that you've stopped just thinking about yourself for once.  Here's a hint - if there is even one iota of your backside showing, either at the top or bottom of your apparel, it's time to buy some clothes that fit.  PLEASE.

August 11, 2010


A few incidents this week have brought rudeness back into the limelight - actually, in two of these cases the actions were downright hostile!

By now I'm sure you've all heard about the Jet Blue flight attendant that had had enough.  If you haven't heard about this or seen it on the news, here's the summary:  some jerk on this flight decided that he was going to retreive his luggage from the overheard bin before the plane landed.  When the flight attendant informed the passenger that he needed to return to his seat, the jerk ignored him and in the process of retreiving his luggage, hit the attendant in the head.  When the attendant demanded an apology, the jerk called him an M.F.
Well, the flight attendant had had it at this point.  So when the plane was firmly on the ground the attendant got on the PA, called out the extremely rude passenger, grabbed a beer from the beverage cart and pulled the string that activates the inflatable raft - and proceeded to exit the plane by slide, thereby ending his 20-year career.

Here's another one:  a woman who worked in a brokerage firm had also had enough of working as an assistant to a broker named Spencer.  The last straw came when she overheard him call her a HPOA to someone else (I didn't know what it stood for either - hot piece of a...).  So what did she do?  She quit via dry erase board, (see photo above, too) posted it through e-mail, and called out her boss for spending an exorbitant amount of time playing "Farmville" at work (something like 19.5 hours a week!).  BAZINGA!

Of course, this last story goes beyond rude to dangerous - have you seen the "McNugget Rage" video?  It's incredible.  Appparently last New Year's Eve some chick went bonkers because the McDonald's she frequented didn't have Chicken McNuggets available - at 6 in the morning.  I'm sure you've all guessed by now that she was completely wasted, but that's no excuse - and the tirade lasted a LONG time!  She actually got out of her car, punched the drive-thru worker repeatedly, and broke the window with her hand when they slammed her fingers in it (out of their own safety).  It's NASTY.

So what's going on here?  Are we so stressed out that we've forgotten how to behave?  I mean seriously - who reading this post would ever go so far as to call a flight attendant and "MF" just because he's doing his job?  Who IS this guy?  If I were that flight attendant I'd have quit too, although probably not as creatively as he did (unfortunately, the attendant DID break several federal laws, so he was arrested.  But Jet Blue, his employer, waited to call the authorities until he was home, so they obviously sided with the attendant!).

And can you imagine, in 2010, calling your assistant a "HPOA"?  What is this, Mad Men?  Is this how far the pendulum has swung back?  I knew feminism was dead, but wow.  This guy deserved to be called on that, and called out for his time-wasting (ironically, he was the guy who installed the "office snitch" software in the first place!).

The last incident needs no explanation.  It is indicative of a society that's out of control - of our emotions, our behavior, our decorum.

I have no idea how to fix it, but I think it's fascinating that we as a country apparently have no filter anymore.  Of course, these are isolated outrageous incidents (which is why they made the news), but I'll bet that every one of us can single out an incident of our own where someone was so rude, it left us speechless.  I'll give an example:

Back in November or December of 1998, I was working at Waldenbooks.  I had just started about three weeks' prior.  I was working with a customer to find the title of a book and I asked her if she knew the author.  (Side note:  I have total recall when it comes to song titles, book authors and the like.  I had never heard of this author before - it was an unusual title).  She proceeded to read me the riot act, asking me directly why they hired me because apparently I was too stupid to work there; that I was a product of our failed school system, etc.  Fortunately my boss overheard her, took over the transaction and told her we couldn't get the book (we probably could have).  Of course, I almost cried (I've developed a far thicker skin these days, by the way) but my boss Paul (one of my FAVORITE bosses EVER - thanks Paul Gieschen!) told me that if I ever need to, I could just go in the back and "silent scream" it out.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, have you ever noticed how a place brightens when a customer treats a worker with respect and a positive attitude?  Everyone feels better!  It may even make the other customers in line smile a little bit, and the worker certainly will pass on that goodwill to others in line.  It really works and honestly, how much more effort does it take to forget about our own lives for a second and just show some courtesy?  Forget that we're having a bad day, or we don't feel well, or we had a fight with our spouse.  The worker doesn't know that, so why should we pass on our bad karma to them?  And speaking of that, the "MF passenger", "Spencer" and the "McNuggets lady" all have some interesting surprises in their future - karma is a wonderful thing.  :D

I propose this - the next time you're having a bad day, be the cheeriest person EVER, even to the point of saccharin overload, but without sarcasm.  Take that saccarin-sweet attitude and pass it on to the gas station clerk or Walgreen's employee.  I'd be willing to put money on the fact that you'll feel better, and so will they. 

I think it is our duty as citizens of Earth to make the world a nicer place.  Forget the true meaning of life - I think this is it.  If every one of us tried to live by this code, imagine what a lovely place it would be!  I know I'm living in a fantasy world but I'm seriously going to try and do my part.  Who's with me?  :D

August 6, 2010

The Book that Started it all

Mid-2006.  Fond du Lac Public Library.  Lunch break.  Perusing.

I happen across this book that is VERY intriguing, and a little scary.  And fun.  A "Can you seriously do this?!" feeling washes over me; the kind of feeling where you don't realize it at the time, but there is a little kernel of fate/enlightenment that enters your brain, telling you that you'd better file this moment away because it's going to be a HUGE indicator of things to come.

I realize that the book that I thought was so intriguing four years prior has influenced my work so much that I should probably pay the author for the education.

I'm sure you realize by now that the book is "Realistic Collage: Step by Step" by Michael David Brown.  There have been a few books in my life that have been written, it seems, specifically for me (check my other blog, Ephemeraology, for info on one of the other books).  When I first saw this book, it infiltrated my thoughts throughout my day, so much so that it was hard to concentrate sometimes.  I was completely enchanted!

Mid-2010. My studio. 4 p.m. Relief.

I just finished my 10th collage for Pam Kueber's delightful Retro Renovation, a veritable encyclopedia of mid-century architecture, history, resources, ecology and fun.  Back in January, Pam had contacted me to do some collages for her blog; she had seen my work on Flickr and liked it, and knew that I was all about the "vintage" look.  It was a complete and utter shock to think that someone would like my work enough to actually PAY me to make collages!  I mean, seriously?  I'm going to get paid to do what I adore doing?

If you follow the blog you know that this exchange was the impetus for me leaving my steady 9-5 job and jumping head-first into the then-unknown world of being a collagist.  I don't regret a single moment of this decision, and Pam has certainly done her part to make the journey far easier.

Do you ever wonder sometimes if things would be different in your life if one tiny thing hadn't happened?  What if, on that fateful day in 2006, I hadn't taken a lunch?  What if the book had been checked out and I never saw it?  Was it fate that brought me to that book, or pure chance?  Would I be mining silver now if I had stumbled into the Precious Metals section of the library?  I guess I'll never know.  But I sure am happy with how things are working out!

Here are some of the collages that I've done for Retro Renovation (you can see the entire selection here) - I wonder if David Michael Brown would like them too?  :D

August 3, 2010


Last night one of my Facebook friends posted this video from a Canadian woman named Tanya Davis, called "How to be Alone".  It's one of the neatest narratives on the subject of being alone I have ever read (or seen).

A sample line from the video is "You'll find it's fine to be alone once you're embracing it."

Amen to that.

I love being alone - I always have.  As a kid I did play with the other kids, of course, and I always had my younger sister Jen to keep me company.  But I loved sneaking away and hiding in small places where I could read or collect stamps or just be by myself, which was hard in our little apartment.

For a few summers starting when I was ten, my family and I would go up to a place called Moon Beach (insert joke here).  It was a family camp, and I LOVED it.  There were plenty of opportunities to wander off by myself and catch frogs or walk in the woods.  After one of these solitary excursions, my dad took me aside and asked me if I was okay.  I said, "of course!".  He then told me that perhaps I should join the group of kids, rather than doing my own thing, because he didn't want me to be like him.  I still get choked up when I think of this, because I didn't see anything wrong with being like my dad; he seemed to do just fine in his own company.

As time progressed, I became quite the social butterfly, probably due to my sister Jen being so good at it herself.  We're only 13 months apart so many times, especially in college, we'd hang out together.  Her attitude is infectious and I grew more and more at ease with being around people.  In my junior year of college I moved out (or rather, my parents moved to Madison so I was forced to be on my own), and while I was very upset at first because my safety net was gone, after about three weeks I realized I could do whatever I wanted with virtually no supervision and I found myself surrounded by people constantly.  I had four roommates that first year and by the time we moved to a big house on the east side of Green Bay, I had six roommates.  It was all friends, all the time and I had lost my desire to be alone.

I went straight from roommates to living with my first husband, Dan.  We had a blast together and after a year of cohabitating we got hitched.  We also worked at the same TV station, so we had the same friends and went out EVERY night.  It was a wonderful, friend-filled time.

After twelve years together I found myself alone (it was my decision) for the first time in many, many years.  Dan and I separated in May of 2003 and I got an apartment.  It was the first time in my life that I'd ever lived by myself - and I LOVED it.  Oh sure, I'd miss Dan - you can't share your life with someone and not miss them unless they were cruel to you, which was certainly not my case.  But I finally mustered the courage to be alone.

That year I did things that I thought would be impossible just the year before - I went to the movies by myself.  I went to Toronto myself for a long weekend and did everything that I wanted to do, which also meant eating by myself.  It caused me some anxiety at first but just like the aformentioned video says, you get used to the joy of it.

Okay, I'm rereading this post and I realize that I told a lot of backstory to get to my original question - why is there such a stigma to being alone?  I'll admit it - I have a hard time seeing people by themselves too.  When I was a kid, I'd cry if I saw people eating by themselves in restaurants or sitting on a park bench alone.  It broke my heart to think that there were people out there who may be lonely.  To my mind, loneliness is one of the worst things someone can feel.

Ah, but there is SUCH a difference between being alone and being lonely!  There have been very few times in my life when I felt actual loneliness (which is probably why it made me so sad to see others possibly feeling this way).  But what if the difference between the two is just an attitude adjustment?  I know that's a pretty simple statement, and there are many, many factors to consider - but if you haven't yet, watch the video above - it's okay to be alone!  All of us are alone sometimes, but ALL of us have someone (or a lot of people) that care for us, too.  So take heart - being alone doesn't mean we're "all alone"!  It just means that we can like ourselves, and maybe even find that we're fun to be around, even when it's just me, myself and I.