To My Mother on Her Birthday

Photo: Under the Willow Tree 1Under the Willow Tree

Under the willow tree, her shade my calm,

I see so bent by storms her trunk, how far

The winds have twisted every limb, each scar

Where lightning struck; yet there’s a quiet psalm

Of gratitude that whispers in her leaves

Each time another rainfall comes to spend

Its quenching kindness on her and to send

New hope down deep—for anyone who grieves

Or wonders how to pass through life’s travail

Finds shelter in her shadow—knows the limbs

That seem to weep are only singing hymns,

Embracing in their gentle sway the frail.

                    So one fine sapling, tended with such care,

                    Becomes the home for all who shelter there.

And now her roots are deep, her branches wide

Enough to draw more birds to them to nest,

Assured, secure and loved, and full at rest,

No matter what the world is like outside—

Just as I am, beneath the willow’s arm

Of graceful comfort, grateful for her wise,

Kind lesson to look upward to the skies

For blessed rain, and sun to keep us warm,

For sweet reminders of the Gardener

Who made the willow grow, and gave her strength

To nurture others in her shade, at length,

Upon the graces planted there in her:

                    So one fine sapling, tended with such care,

                    Becomes the home for all who shelter there.

Photo: Under the Willow Tree 2Thank you, Mom, for the nurturing, the love, and the will to live as an example of bending but not breaking in the storms. Happy 80th Birthday!

Foodie Tuesday: Birthday Dessert (and Boy, Wouldn’t This Taste Great with Some Chocolate Ice Cream!)

He’s a wacky fella, my dad. One of his finest features has always been his excellent and distinctive sense of humor, and there was never any question that having a father who’s delightfully silly is one of the finest advantages a kid could have in her upbringing. No surprise that, with Mom being the sort of hospitality genius that everyone loves and Dad providing much of the comic relief in that hospitable package, our household was always a popular place among the friends and classmates of all of their children. Both were also compassionate and reasonable and practical parents, and I don’t have to tell you what a rarity that is in general, so our home was a kind of hangout-central among the school-kid cognoscenti.

Since today is the anniversary of the birth of that Hardest Working Dad in Showbiz, I am drawn to reminisce on the many years of service that my father has given as the resident chief goofus in our family.photoThat in itself is gift enough, but his life of service has always been so much broader and deeper than mere lightheartedness. As a pastor, as Chairman of the Board of Regents for a university, as bishop, and as president of a hospital board, among many other roles he’s filled in his life’s work, Dad has never taken his labors lightly, even when the best tool he had for doing any or all of these jobs may have most often been the humor he brought to the table. He’s just never been one for sitting around and letting the world rush on around him.

photoI wish I could say that I inherited a tenth of his sense of humor, let alone a hundredth of his ambition and work ethic. Instead, I guess I should thank him once again on his birthday for not only being a dandy dad but also helping to fill the requirements of the universe in these services where I may have left some gaping gaps. So thanks, Dad, from the bottom of my full heart, and may you have not only a very happy birthday but all the warmth and laughter that can be wrung out of many more years. Oh, and cake. And, since you clearly are your father’s son when it comes to all of the characteristics noted above and we all know Grandpa would have felt the cake was best completed with some, have your cake with a couple of sizable scoops of chocolate ice cream.

photo

Okay, this one’s not ice cream, but it’s chocolate dessert and it’s homemade. And it tastes pretty great, if you ask me. (1 ripe avocado, 1 ripe banana, 1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and honey to taste, all blended together until the pudding is smooth.)

When a Boy Grows Up and Becomes a . . . a Much Older Boy

photoHappy Father’s Day, Dad! I know there was a time when you might’ve wished you’d had actual children and got us instead, but since you never left childhood entirely behind yourself, I think we can call it even. And just think, your offspring are following blithely in your footsteps to keep our own youthful high spirits intact via non-emergence into full adult behavior, so between us we’re all waving the old family flag pretty handily indeed. We’re only so good at it, of course, because we’ve had such an outstanding and irrepressible example in front of us all along.photoI’m grateful for the training in reckless enthusiasm, Teflon ego-building, rampant silliness, and all of the other life skills you have generously shared with us by guidance and example all along the way. I like to think I’m getting fairly good at all of that myself, but will never tire of knowing that it’s shared and that I perform my junior jollities in the shadow of a true master. A good father gives his offspring a happy childhood; a great father carries it on with his children so they never have to give up its joys completely. Thanks to your showing me the way, I can’t imagine ever losing my delight in the mystery and adventure and simple goofiness that life can bring, and that is a fantastic gift anyone less happy would have to envy. I hope you know how deeply–and yes, seriously–it’s appreciated, not just on Father’s Day but every day I can celebrate an untainted sense of the grandest laughing love of life. Thanks for that.

And as with mothers, I am doubly blessed, as I realized pretty much the instant I met the man who would become my other Dad, my husband’s father. It took no time to see that there was a kindheartedness and a very merry twinkle in the eye with which I felt utterly at home, familiar and safe, and these last sixteen-plus years have continued to prove my first assessment correct. To have two fathers who keep the days filled with generosity and warmth and love and my face always turned toward the smiling sun is truly a treasure that will never, ever grow old.photo

Daring to Live the Adventure of Life is Its Own Reward

The wonderful Eve Redwater (http://everedwater.wordpress.com/) gave me a generous gift on my birthday. I’m not sure it was intended specifically as a birthday present, but it was aptly timed so I’m certain there was at least some synchronicity at work in the event. See, I operate under a very contentedly delusional science system in which I, the sun, am always finding ways that the universe and all of the wild diversity in it revolve around me and conspire to do good to me and for my benefit. On the heels of Lady Eve’s kind gift, I was contemplating how to respond appropriately to receiving the Versatile Blogger Award from her and, virtually simultaneously, both got into a discussion via several posts and comments on my blog and those of several friends (thank you, CF, Smidge and Co.) about the roots and responsibilities of our creative lives and was reminded by my own birthday that my late godmother’s birthday was imminent. And yes, they are all interconnected–what a coincidence, eh?–in and through me.

It all meets at that point of origins + inspirations once again.

Getting involved in blogging was quite a milestone in my progress as an artist: the culmination of a large push I’ve been making toward steady, committed practice and broader sharing of my work, and also a starting point for working with a marvelous new community of inspiring and educated peers and mentors in the online community to expand my horizons to places I can’t yet imagine. No surprise, then, that it also begs the questions of where I started, where I am now, and where I might possibly be heading. That’s what’s on my mind a lot lately.

A significant part of the whole equation is that I have parents who raised all four of their kids to be unabashedly themselves and do their own thing. Of course, being semi-normal mortals, we all had our periods of self-doubt, frustration with finding out just what our own ‘thing’ might be, and any number of other growing-up issues. Having loved to draw and write and do any number of similar, incredibly unworldly things from very early, I was haunted fairly often–not least of all in my undergraduate days–by worry about how ridiculously impractical and selfish it seemed to study, then major in, and commit to a life’s work involved with the arts. I mean, really. Mom and Dad patiently assured me at all points that I should do what I felt called to do and be who I thought I was made to be, and I thwarted all of their efforts with equal stubborn force of hemming, hawing and hunkering fearfully behind innumerable university requirement courses before I would willingly and publicly admit to my addiction to art. [Ed: I like that when I typed ‘art’ just now, my computer offered to “correct” the word by writing “artichokes“, so it apparently recognized that I was in such denial it wanted to help me by disguising my intentions even from you, faithful readers!]photo

The upshot of all of this muddling around and foot-dragging is that I approached my junior year of college without having dared to declare a major, and I skulked around like a sneak-thief in the hallways of the art building and spent significant amounts of time maundering and mewling about the whole ordeal when I really ought to have been simply plunging in and getting soaked in all of the art I could lay my grubby little hands upon there and then.

Oh, woe is me! Boo Hoo, and all that. I thought I was supremely talented at evasion, but of course my parents had a secret weapon trained on me from the very beginning, and it was activated during these very tenuous years of my faltering development. It was a pair of super-agents they called my Godparents. My parents, it happens, besides being nifty talents in the parenting department, had the smarts and/or temerity to choose as godparents for their children some people that took the whole parental-surrogacy aspect of the job quite seriously. Mine were a couple of Mom and Dad’s closest friends from the quartet’s days together attending (you may be beginning to feel the frisson of familiarity, the sting of synchronicity, here already) the very same uni where I was now paddling around in a diminishing spiral of destiny-denial. Furthermore, my Godma, as I called her, and The Godfather, as he was known to me (for being, thankfully, the polar opposite of that fictional character), had long since taken up employment at said institution as a Business Office administrator and head of the department of Radio and Television, respectively. So I could go and see my Godma when I was paying my tuition or trying to find out where my last scholarship had wandered, or just when I needed some bucking up, because she was seriously skilled in dealing with all of those aspects of my college life. Her estimable spouse was housed in another building, across Red Square from her digs, and I had a little journey through the catacombs of the old dustbin to drop in on him, which trek I gladly undertook on certain occasions when I wanted a different flavor of encouragement from hers, or–gasp!–artistic advice.

See, with The Godfather, I could go all clandestine and it seemed right in character, so I didn’t try to pretend with him that I wasn’t heading in an art-ish direction, though which one of many directions was still quite cloudy in my crystal ball. After all, there was that James-Bondish crawl through dusty and dimly lit corridors in a faintly creaky building just to find him in his office. And of course there was the visiting, during which he would puff away on his pipe and I would pretend not to see or smell it, because Officially he had “quit smoking” and his wife “didn’t know” he still did it. Apparently he thought that her willingness to admit to relation of any sort with me proved she was non compos mentis, and I was certainly in no position to argue that, so he pretended not to smoke and I pretended not to be coming in every time to whine that I couldn’t sign up as an Art Major because that was just plain irresponsible and stupid. I would go ahead, maybe, with an English degree and get ready to teach, because at least that might lead to, oh, I don’t know, a paycheck or something like one. My godparents, bless their dear departed craziness, never once chastised me overtly for being, oh, I don’t know, irresponsible and stupid by not doing what I really felt called to do and exercising what little native wit or talent I might dig up in my education to do what I was perhaps meant to do. But somewhere along the line the gentleman with the invisible pipe neatly skirted the issue of what-to-do by saying, in effect, Never mind what you think you’re supposed to do, or even what you want, this is about who you ARE. He proceeded to clarify by telling me that it was perfectly obvious to him and to anyone else that might have spent thirty seconds or so in my company that there were certain compulsions and eccentricities that I couldn’t exactly gloss over that earmarked me plainly as an Artist.

I won’t say that I never questioned the whole thing again, but somehow Mr Wise Guy pressed the right button at the right moment so that what my parents and sisters and friends had all been eternally encouraging me to do and be suddenly was revealed as so much more dazzlingly clear and excellent than when I had been studiously ignoring them and covering my ears and singing LA-LA-LA-LA! at the top of my voice to drown them out the whole time.

This is all a mighty stretched-out way of telling you that I still believe life and all of the fine creatures surrounding me in it work pretty hard to steer me in happy directions and plunk dandy gifts in my path all the time. That many supportive people and useful events in confluence led me down the primrose path of Art; that a life lived in the midst of said art connected me to a whole lot of additional supportive folk and dropped me amid numerous other grand gifts; not least of all, that opening up the stubbornly barred gate to my own artistic playground was one of the really great gifts life has given me and I can’t imagine not living life surrounded by all sorts of ARTICHOKES! ARTICHOKES! ARTICHOKES!

Oh, you know what I mean: Art.photo + text