Saturday, July 9, 2011

Reflections on Art, Fun, and Friends

Around the beginning of fall last year, I was imagining what direction to try to go with my art. I wondered to myself if I had it in me to work hard enough on the technical aspect of artmaking to build a coherent body of work suitable for showing.

Some folks had seen my art developing over the years. Many whom I've only known for the past few years, however, had no idea that their youth minister/preacher/Christian educator had an artistic side. It was kind of a closet passion, only to be revealed to people I could absolutely trust.

The journey to revelation has been rather long but in the past couple of years has accelerated. By December 2010 I felt ready to enter the college student holiday sale. Happily, four pieces sold. Then I showed some paintings to my PEO sisters, a most trustworthy group. Soon I was able to articulate my desire to have a show, and a couple of friends suggested ways I could pursue transforming this wish into a goal. Early this year, I got some valuable advice and help from various friends, including a couple of accomplished working artists.

I set myself the goal of having a showing of my paintings this year, and put that goal out onto the universe as I set to work and study. In typical universal fashion, forces combined, stars aligned, and I was able to realize my goal of publicly showing my art.

Funny how seriously the universe takes it when we make that wide-open appeal! The great goodness of the Divine means that when we offer out our sincere prayers in consonance with God's calling on our lives, and we work to grow into the fulfillment of our dreams, we find openings everywhere around us...even some we don't expect or think we deserve. God, you see, is no skinflint.

So, for those who have asked about and couldn't attend the opening on Friday night, here's the Readers Digest version. We ended up with 22 individual paintings, some as small as 9"x12" and the two largest being full size sheets of 140 lb. cold-press Arches watercolor paper, which measure 22"x30". They're hard to work with, chiefly because rather than 108 square inches of picture plane to compose, they present 660 square inches to compose. The great surfaces of wash are tougher to manage, also. But the images came together well and we were able to cover all three walls at The French Cuff and maintain visual integrity.

People started arriving at 5:00 to be greeted by the store's staff along with me and Sean. It was great fun to share refreshments and have a little wine toast as people milled about, asked questions about the work, and signed my memory/guest book. Dan arrived after work and we both enjoyed greeting friends and strangers alike as the gallery stroll got well underway. Live music on the little plaza outside the shop drew even more Davisites out for a pleasant summer evening.

A highlight for me was when two of my art professors, Isabelle Shaskan and Chris Daubert, came to visit. Both of them are accomplished working artists and have shared practical wisdom about color, design, composition, and execution with me and countless other students. It was a real compliment to have them there.

Beyond that, I was extremely touched that so many friends took the time and trouble to come to the show's opening and offer encouragement and good advice. This year I have been so abundantly blessed!

The evening seemed to fly by and closing time of 9:00 caught me a bit by surprise. As Dan and I walked the several blocks to the car, the sidewalks and streets of Davis still teemed with people-mostly "townies" who tend to come out once the students have left for the summer.

I think I like being "out" as an artist!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

You Deserve a Break Today

Whenever someone asks how I am and the response, "Frantic!" comes out without thinking about it, it's a sure sign of trouble. Over the past several days it has become increasingly clear that my commitments have once again taken over the amount of actual time and energy available to give to them. Not quite to the red light stage of coming to a screeching stop, but to the amber light stage of warning and slowing down.

One thing I am grateful to learn right now is that the spring and summer are the busy seasons for artists. There are contests and fairs, workshops and festivals, gallery strolls and group shows. What riches! I have been very blessed this year as the work I am doing is affirmed by others and receiving a broader viewing. The amount of legwork and artistic work that accompany such acceptance is both exhausting and exciting.

As with all seasons of great busyness, it's tempting to say yes to each new challenging opportunity because I think I'd be missing out on a wonderful adventure if I were to say no to anything. If I said no to entering a piece in a particular show, would I get the opportunity to do it the next time? If I chose not to teach a workshop, would I ever be asked again? If I dropped my summer intensive design class to go on vacation with my husband, would I be able to reschedule it during the regular semester?

Well, I don't really know. But I do know that the things that are the most important to me are the ones which I want to invest with my most pure spiritual energy. Put another way, to focus sufficiently to generate the finest creative force possible, it means drawing back in those areas which don't really reflect my calling.

An older friend of mine let me know today that she won't be attending my gallery stroll opening this Friday due to her decision to put her energy this week into healing a low-grade infection while she rests and recovers. The wisdom of acting in her own best interests struck me as prudent counsel if one has ears to hear. Reflecting on our shared disappointment, I appreciated that she is being true to her calling to care well for herself and once again modeling good discernment for me. This is something she has often shared with me over lunches together.

In response and thankfulness for the reminder, when I took my break for lunch today I took a real break. I got out one of my grandmother's luncheon plates and made myself the fresh tomato, mozzarella, and basil salad you see above. As I was preparing the food, I thought over some of the things I had accomplished this morning and some of the things I still have to do this week. I was more peaceful than ever about saying no to a few things I truly do enjoy and would have enjoyed, with the promise to myself that if they are truly important, I will find other opportunities to engage in them.

As I sat and ate my lunch, I made an attempt to be really present to that moment, instead of juggling a forkful over the computer keys. What a refreshing thing to do!

You deserve a break today...we all do. What will you do for yours?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bites and Mouthfuls

"You want in on a martini?" asks Dan.
"Sure, I'll take a little bit." says I.
Half an hour later:
"Want a refill?" queries the man o' my dreams.
"Just a mouthful, thanks." I respond.

The same scenario plays out with different offerings and characters all over the place on any given day or evening.

"Have a piece of (birthday, wedding, baby shower, or former-pastor-farewell) cake." offers the hospitable server.
"Okay. But just a mouthful." says I.
Half an hour later, post sugar letdown sets in:
"Is there any of that cake left?" I query.
"Oh, yes. Let me get you some!" the server responds.
(Already feeling ashamed) "Hmm, yes. But only a bite." I murmur.

Just goes to show how hard-wired we humans are to doing anything and everything for our own comfort, pain avoidance, or whatever it's being called currently. It's a phenomenon also known as "I can rationalize anything if I want it badly enough." I recall being in a fast food eatery years ago with a friend while in the initial phase of the Atkins Diet. As I ate my salad sans dressing and my hamburger sans bun, my friend offered to share her French fries. I self-righteously declined. Moments later, she returned to the counter and then came back to our table munching a giant chocolate chip cookie.

"Here, you want to share?" It really was one damn big cookie.
"No, I guess I'd better not." was my half-hearted reply.
"Yeah. Well, it's not that good anyway. Not worth going off Atkins for, anyway."
And she proceeded to eat the whole damn big cookie, all by herself.
"You didn't want any of that cookie anyway." she concluded.

Which brings me to the point of bites and mouthfuls. I had to pull my driver's license out of my wallet the other day and happened to look at my height and weight. SHOCK. I read there on an official California state document how much more I weigh today than I did when I first got my license 6 years ago. LORD, HAVE MERCY.

The shock came after years of bites of this, mouthfuls of that, and finishing cookies that weren't worth the calories after the first taste or two. In her book, French Women Don't Get Fat, author Mireille Guiliano observes, "...the pleasure of most foods is in the first few bites..."so it is totally unnecessary and defeats the purpose of eating clean (which is to enjoy healthy eating)to eat past the point of enjoying the taste and texture.

An obvious strategy to combat the "calorie creep" that comes from extra bites and mouthfuls is to jot down a running list of things eaten over the course of the day to help notice everything that goes into our mouth. Even one almond. Another obvious one is to order dessert to share with your dinner partner. Still another, which I love, is more subtle and again comes from Guiliano: Go ahead and order your dessert while others order theirs. Then, "Take a few bites very slowly, until others are almost done. Then tell a story or talk to your neighbor. While you're talking, others keep eating; meanwhile, discreetly put your utensils in the five o'clock "done" position; when the server comes to collect your plate, everyone will still be listening to your story and won't notice your subtle moderation."

Of course, this last strategy depends on being in a restaurant with decent service. It wouldn't have succeeded at the fast food joint! We have tougher choices there! In the case of my friend in the fast food place, I can well imagine she may have eaten the whole cookie because she didn't want to be wasteful. But we can talk about the "clean plate club" another time.

For now, the next time I'm tempted I'll try to remember just how much it bites to live with the consequences of all my "just a mouthfuls".

Friday, July 1, 2011

Clean Food Reflections

As July begins and summer heats up, I want to take a moment to check in on Eating Clean.
We've been in this conversation for a month now, and I invite you to note for yourself what has changed, if anything, in your experience. For myself, I have made just a few changes but they've had good results. In the four weeks since I began attending to keeping a clean diet, I've lost a pound a week while increasing my energy and sleeping better. I'll take it!
I will admit, it hasn't been without its challenges. Living in a household with two men who eat potatoes, bread, and desserts has its pitfalls, like the time I stuck my head in the potato chip bag and ate right through to the other end! No, just kidding. (It just seemed like it.) Binges that sneak up on us can turn into serious damage-not just weight, but the food hangover and lack of energy we experience as a result. It's a good thing to be able to forgive and move on, getting right back on track. After all, a dish of ice cream once in a while does not mean we've completely blown it so we might as well have another!
I reflect with gratitude on the strategies shared by friends, as they've saved me from meltdown more than once. Here are some good ones from Gary, Lori, Shelly, and Julia:
1. At the end of a meal, drink half a glass of V8 juice. Chances are you will feel full longer.
2. Berries are nearly free food. Now that summer's here, they're plentiful! Keep 'em handy.
3. Eat a salad with every meal consistently, as if it were medicine you have to take.
4. Have a serving every day of yogurt.
5. Sneak extra veggies into food-like finely chopped kale into spaghetti sauce, for instance.
6. Eat whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice. Juice doesn't provide all the goodies.
7. Toast with almond butter and sliced apricots or plums on top is a powerful sweet/salty snack.
8. A handful of nuts a day.
I'm grateful also for my long-suffering husband, Dan, who loves his potatoes and fried foods and grains. Although he doesn't have the same dietary needs that I do, we're both learning how to navigate our way to a healthier way of cooking and eating.
So, as we start the high season of fresh fruits and vegetables, what do you look forward to the most? My friend Sue Martin mentioned sweet basil, mozzarella cheese, and juicy tomatoes for starters. Since she's an accomplished artist, I can just imagine all the juicy compositions coming out of her kitchen this season!
I'd love to hear all about yours.