Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's the Chance of a Lifetime...And I'm Taking It!

When I was just a young girl, my dad brought home this book. Instantly, I was in awe of this amazing painter who could create such beautiful, lifelike portraits with what seemed like just an effortless flick of the brush. I pored over the pages and pages of portraits, speechless with admiration.

Then, more than a decade later, my sister-in-law asked me to do a painting of the romantic spot where they got engaged...a small villa outside Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. A little panicked and rusty, I called my dad to see if I could spend a day in his studio, and he pulled out this book. As I carefully watched the way the artist laid down clean washes of mingled color, organizing complex landscapes into patterns of shapes, I regained my confidence, and created this:

For the past ten years I've been painting seriously, sometimes full-time, and taking week-long (or extended) workshops from some of North America's finest watercolorists, including Ted Nuttall, Joseph Stoddard, Carl Purcell, Linda Kemp, Brenda Swenson, and Jean Grastorf. I've bought their books, and frequently demonstrate their techniques in my classes at UVU. Each of them has been amazingly influential, pulling me out of creative ruts, shaping my approach and leading me to exciting discoveries.

But ever since I opened that first book I mentioned (and deeply for the past ten years) I have held out this dream of studying with the master, Charles Reid. He lives on the east coast, and primarily teaches there—and in Europe. His workshops frequently sell out over a year in advance. But this year he's venturing farther west, and I found a workshop within driving distance. Of course, when I inquired, the workshop was full. But they offered to put me on a waiting list. Okay, whatever.

Then earlier this week, they called me to say they had one opening...and they were offering it to me. I was practically giddy. I immediately called my husband, hoping against all hope that he'd at least be willing to consider the idea. Knowing my lifelong dream, how rarely Charles ventures west and how much I idolize him, he didn't even hesitate. He just said, "I think you should do it." (Bless this man!) My amazing dad offered to teach my classes for me next week. (Thank you, Dad!) And so, I'm off!

I feel like a kid at Christmastime waiting for Santa Claus to come. I am DYING over this opportunity of a lifetime to watch him paint, work directly with him, learn from the master. So all next week I will be in a small resort town near Yellowstone, painting every day from 9:30 to 4:30 with the inimitable Charles Reid.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dream and Variation

Back when we were living in California and our kids were little, I had a recurring dream I called Driving Blind. Each time was slightly different, but the basic experience was the same: I’d be driving along, and then suddenly I couldn’t see where I was going. At all. Sometimes it would be from some obstruction, like a palm frond falling on my windshield; other times my vision would just suddenly go blurry, and then fade away altogether. More than once in these dreams I was able to make my way to my friend Barbara’s house, my safe place, for rest and healing and rescue.

Barbara is a decade or so older than I am, and has an empty nest (read: quiet house) which seemed impossibly peaceful and Edenic compared to our frantic pace. Even the children would remark on the feeling at Barbara’s house, recognizing the spirit there. Barbara listens so intently, loves so purposefully, and nurtures so eloquently. I learned so much from her as a young mother. She saw life through a lens that provided greater distance, precise focus, perfect clarity. It makes sense that Barbara represented a safe haven in my dreams about driving blind.

I recognized these dreams as a spiritual wake-up call, a sign from God that there was something important in my life that I wasn’t seeing. If life is a highway, then driving blind meant impending danger. I needed better perspective, clearer vision. I needed to be more alert to my surroundings. I needed to be less reckless in my approach.

Caution. Slow down. Look where you’re going. Stay the course.

Yesterday, during a much-needed Sunday afternoon nap, I had a variation on the “driving blind” dreams of my past. This time I dreamed that I was on a road trip with The Princess and one of her friends. We were cruising down the highway, and I was getting sleepy. Somewhere around Las Vegas I suddenly woke up (still dreaming) and realized I was in the passenger seat. The two fourteen-year-old girls had pushed me aside and were taking turns at the wheel. Her friend Jackie was driving, flying down the freeway at break-neck speeds, laughing: “Woohoo!” Terrified, I tried to get her to realize that this was dangerous and she had our very lives in her hands. She just kept laughing, and speeding...right through a crowded amusement park! (Thank heaven it was only a dream!)

This time I think it’s reminding me to be alert in a different way—reminding me who’s in charge here, who needs to be in the driver’s seat: Me. I know my daughter and her friends think they’re grown-up. (Frighteningly, they even look grown-up.) They’re good girls and they try hard to make good choices. But The Princess can be manipulative, try to reach over and take the wheel. I need to be here to set and enforce limits and boundaries. Hold onto the keys. Remind them what’s age-appropriate and what’s clearly not. Be alert. Watch for signs. Keep everybody moving forward, on the right track. Repeat endlessly:

Caution. Slow down. Look where you’re going. Stay the course.

Woohoo! Wish me luck!

So, what do you dream about...and what do you think it means?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing?

George Carlin once had a hilarious comedy routine preying on our paranoia. Somewhere he had read that only female mosquitoes bite. But the females don't buzz. Only the non-biting males buzz. So he talked about the ridiculousness of us, lying in bed, riddled with anxiety because we hear a mosquito buzzing around the room. "Relax", he said, "it won't bite!" And then the awesome kicker: "BUT—" he quipped,"If you hear NOTHING...."


Hold that thought.

Nearly 18 years ago my mother died of cancer. When she was just a year older than I am, she had found a lump and went in for a mammogram. The doctor told her it was nothing. She relaxed and went home. Two years later she went back, stating simply that the lump was getting bigger. This time? It was Stage 4 cancer — a malignant tumor, metastasized throughout the lymphatic system. She died four years later, after a very hard fight.

Hold that thought, too, if you can manage two at once....

So, a month or so ago I very vaguely referred to an abnormal mammogram in this post. They found, essentially, nothing. Mailed me a letter confirming there is no evidence of cancer. But because of my history, they sent me for a follow-up ultrasound. Again, nothing. They called and said I should come back in six months for a follow-up. But I think my mother's story scared them. Because the next day they called back and said they were scheduling me with a surgeon. (A WHAT?) "Just for a second opinion," they said. "It's probably nothing."

So today I spent nearly three hours in a surgeon's office (a whopping ninety minutes of those in the WAITING ROOM—which must be a metaphor because sometimes it seems like my whole LIFE is a waiting room!) only to be told that the reports and the exam conclude there is (you guessed it) nothing. But because my mother's nothing turned out to be a very big something, this time they're recommending an MRI. Oh my goodness, I wonder, Where will it stop? In my case, we have to panic when we hear nothing. Because when we're afraid of NOTHING, suddenly EVERYTHING is suspect.

Next week I go in for the MRI. Hopefully they will find whatever it is. Because there appears to be no end to the amount of nothing that can be found, and no end to the lengths they are willing to go in order to find it!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

She Loves You? Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. (And then some.)

My Dear Oldest Son,

I’m sure you didn’t think it was very significant when we picked you up on Friday and the first thing The Princess asked you was, “Have you seen your room?”

Let me tell you a story....

When I was nearly four years old, I tripped on the sidewalk in my shiny black shoes on the way to Sunday School. I landed on the right on the curb, earning myself this attractive black eye just in time for Christmas:

The first thing I said? “I want to be in Grandma’s bed.”
Grandma W was the most nurturing person in my world. She was practically the center of my universe. She seemed to have magical powers, turning black clouds up on end to display not just their silver linings, but bright rays of gold shining through. She was the very embodiment of unbridled joy, and her bed was the very essence of all that meant “comfort” to my four-year-old heart.

My wise parents acted on my wishes, and I soon found myself resting on mounds of down-feathered pillows under layers of hand-stitched quilts, in Grandma’s hand-carved oak bed. Right where I needed to be. Suddenly it didn’t matter if my head hurt. I was comfortable. I was safe. I was loved.

*Flash forward a few decades.*

The other night The Princess was feeling sick. She had a fever, a sore throat, a stomach ache...and woke up in the night with a fierce case of the flu. What she did completely surprised me. She crawled into YOUR bed! (even though this photo is of her on the couch)

My first impulse was to scold her. To lecture her about spreading germs, and unnecessary cleaning projects. And then I thought of my three-year-old self longing for a place that was comforting, that reminded me of the very essence of Home. And she chose the space that reminded her of YOU. That was her comfort place — the haven kept waiting for her big brother.

And so I let her. She camped out there for three or four days. And then made sure to tidy everything up and change the sheets before you came home.

So I’m pretty sure that when she asked you if you’d seen your room...she hoped you wouldn’t mind the flowered pillowcases and mismatched sheets (hey, at least they’re clean!) and I think she also kind of wanted you to know that your room had been her safe place last week. A place representing all the comfort and protection and love her big brother has to offer. Which of course means more than you’ll ever know.