N is for Newspaper

Last night, before I went to bed, I found myself looking through all my cards, considering ways to shuffle my A-to-Z plans in order to avoid using this one.

I’m really not happy with it.

This was an early card and has so many problems. Would you like me to point all the mistakes?

First, there’s no background. The characters are just kind of plopped into nothingness, a pale haze of watercolor that’s barely noticeable.

Then, the man reading the newspaper is holding a leash that leads nowhere. Where’s his dog? Why didn’t I include it?

Third, the old man’s right ear — I can’t believe that I never finished cutting around it.

When I’m aware of the mistakes, they become the only thing I see. It’s awful. I need to take a step back.

The story I had in mind for this was one of obliviousness — both the man reading the newspaper and the grumpy man clutching his newspaper are oblivious of the rabbit that’s right in front of them.

And, golly, isn’t that true?

I see the mistakes in the picture — but the “rabbit” that’s in front of me, the one I’m not seeing immediately, is that on this journey of collage, I’ve actually travelled quite a way. It was a bit of a jolt to realize that.

Compare “Newspaper” with this, the most recent collage I made —

The card is laid flat to show that I finally got smart enough to write the books I use right on the back of the card.

Interestingly, the story in this collage was also supposed to be about obliviousness. The boy is so taken with the tiny chicken perched on the piano that he doesn’t notice the baby polar bear sleeping beneath it.

The picture still has problems — but the problems are different. Overall, it seems more complete than “Newspaper.”

Sometimes it’s good to look back and see how far you’ve come.

It’s like a rabbit in the path. Good to notice.

Sort of.


Man reading the newspaper from Wheels on the Bus (a Raffi Song to Read book) illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz Wickstrom

Grumpy man from The Old Man and the Afternoon Cat by Michaela Muntean, illustrated by Bari Weissman

Rabbit from ??

M is for Moo

To laugh is human — but to moo bovine.

I had such big plans at Christmas. I was going to make teeny collages for all my friends.

Anna loves cows so I made her a cow collage (a cow-lage?). It ended up being one of only two that I mailed out.

She sent me a picture of it on her refrigerator.

I love that it’s right beneath the note telling her that she is an amazing student teacher. I bet she is.


A while ago, while trying to work on using metaphor, I wrote a poem about cows, using Billy Collins’ poem, Litany, as a model.

Bovine

You are the map and the Atlas,
the Big Mac and the shake.
You are a javelin held aloft by a strong arm,
and a smooth wet stone in the hand of a little boy.
You are the fresh-mown grass after summer rain,
and the thunder that preceded the shower.

However, you are not the purr of a kitten,
the wag of a dog’s tail,
or kraa-coo-coo-coo of a mourning dove.
And you are certainly not the whisper of butterfly wings.
There is just no way that you are butterfly wings.

It is possible that you are the flock of sheep,
maybe even the laying hen,
but you are not even close
to being the eagle hang-gliding overhead.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the towering pine
nor the creeping myrtle.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the garbled voice in the drive-through speaker.

I also happen to be the blistered toe in a new shoe,
the frayed pink leash on the dog,
and the unmailed letter waiting for a stamp.

I am also the fuzzy blanket tucked around a child
and the hand-thrown mug filled with coffee.
But don’t worry, I’m not the map and the Atlas.
You are still the map and the Atlas.
You will always be the map and the Atlas,
not to mention the Big Mac and–somehow–the shake.


I felt the need to apologize.


Dear Billy Collins,

I’m sorry that I ripped off your poem. It’s just that I don’t put enough metaphor into my poems and this little exercise is such good practice.

I was thinking about the cows down the road. Cows that aren’t cows because I know cows are female and I’m pretty sure these are male, although I haven’t ventured in to confirm my suspicions.

The chief “cow”, a cranky fellow, comes to the fence and shakes his horns at me when I pass. He wants me to know that he’s tough and armed and that I shouldn’t mess with him.

Years ago, when cows complete with udders grazed in that field, they would nibble grass out of my hand and I loved to feel their smooth wet noses.

So I was thinking about cows (that aren’t cows), and the things they are and aren’t, and wrote this.

I hope you don’t mind.

K is for Kindness

Part of my morning quiet time includes a creed — to remind myself of those things I believe to be true. It started with the basic Apostles’ Creed, but has grown. One part that I added is this:

I believe that the trials in my life are ultimately God’s good for me. They are like the grains of sand in an oyster that God uses to produce pearls.

The world is an unkind place. It’s full of people who thumb their noses and stick out their tongues.

Yesterday, in the checkout at the grocery store, the young woman behind me, obviously upset by something that had happened, said to her companion, “I just want to punch her in the face.”

With violent words, we betray the frustrations in our hearts.

This past Sunday, I was especially frustrated by a situation I knew that my father would encounter, where he would be excluded and pushed aside. The mama-bear in me raised her hackles and lashed out with words — words I didn’t entirely regret but wish I had said with a little more kindness.

When I put together this collage, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was saying, but when looking for a “K” collage, I paused on it. Yes, I think I know now. It’s about right responses. It’s about kindness. So timely for me today.

The one boy is obviously the bully. He’s not nice. He’s not being nice.

The man is ready to rush in and give him a good smack.

But the other boy, he’s still extending the ping-pong paddle.

In kindness.

“Come and play,” he seems to be saying.

It’s Jesus. He constantly says, “There, there. I see. I know. Come unto me, you weary, heavy-laden, frustrated, overwhelmed child. I still love you. I still want to play ping-pong with you.”

And as I yield to Him, He adds another layer to the grit in my life, working to create a pearl.


Background from The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, illustrated by Megan Lloyd

Man from My Dad’s Job by Peter Glassman, illustrated by Timothy Bush

Ping-pong paddle boy from My Fun With Words by James Ertel, illustrated by Geoffrey Brittingham, Seymour Fleishman, Vernon McKissack

Bully from Wheels on the Bus (a Raffi Song to Read book) illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz Wickstrom

J is for Journey

“I ran away once and you didn’t even notice,” one of my children told me accusingly.

It brought back a flood of memories.

I ran away once. Slighted once too often by my siblings, unappreciated by my parents — I knew it was the only thing I could do. So I put a loaf of bread in my backpack, along with a flashlight, a jacket, and a pack of matches, and headed up the hill behind our house.

The first bit was steep and prickly with wild raspberry bushes. I huffed with exertion and didn’t stop to enjoy a single berry.

I hiked past the little spring-house that had been the source of water for the house before my parents dug a well.

Finally I reached a grassy knoll and sat down to rest.

I waited for someone to come looking for me. Surely someone would notice I was gone.

I waited, imagining the shock and the worry. My mother would ask each sibling, “Have you seen Sally?” and the worry would grow.

They would look all around the house and the barns. She’d probably make Peter or Jimmy climb into the hayloft to see if I was there.

But they wouldn’t find me.

The tall grass on the hill was perfect for putting between my thumbs and whistling — but I stopped myself. Someone would hear it. Then they would know where I was.

The grassy knoll, it turned out, was also an ant hill so I moved to a little mossy spot near a tree.

I pulled out my loaf of bread and ate a slice — not because I was hungry, but because I was bored. Plain bread is also boring, I discovered. I wished I had brought a jar of peanut butter. I put the bread away because I knew it would have to last me at least a week.

As I started to stretch out in the moss for a little rest, I nearly placed my hand in a pile of animal droppings. Abruptly I sat up again. Hugging my knees, I started to cry. Surely I was the most unloved child ever.

House with the garden behind it

But down the hill was my house.

And my family.

And my dog.

And our passel of cats.

I climbed to my feet and headed back.

My mother was working in the garden, picking beans or peas.

“I ran away,” I announced to her as I got closer, “and you didn’t even notice.”

She straightened up and looked at me. “You need to be gone more than 20 minutes if you want me to notice,” she said.

And she went back to work.

All that passed through my mind when my own child told me about running away.

I bit my tongue so I wouldn’t repeat my mother’s words.

“I’m sorry,” I said.


Child with suitcase and backpack from Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! by Allan Sherman and Lou Busch, illustrated by Jack E. Davis

Plants from a broken pop-up book

I is for Insect

If you’re here for a post about insects, sorry. This is more about creating and failing.

And yes, I know that a spider is an arachnid, but the bee is an insect, so I used it.


Last fall I went to a collage art workshop in Nashville taught by Wayne Brezinka. His artwork is stunningly beautiful and thought-provoking. I had been dabbling in my little cards and thought it might be interesting to see how such an acclaimed artist tackled collage.

First, we all had to introduce ourselves, telling why we were there. Immediately I was intimidated. The others in the class were artists, museum curators, people who were somebody. Mary and I sat on the far side of the circle. When it was our turn, it was another instance of I’m-with-her, as we both slouched in our folding chairs wishing we could disappear.

 

Wayne had planned several projects. First everyone made a picture of either a coffee cup or an apple. Some turned out gorgeous. Mine turned out odd at best.

After lunch, we spent most of the afternoon working on our own project. With you-don’t-belong-here you-don’t-belong-here throbbing through my mind, I stared at my canvas and wished I could leave. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that Mary was there, I may have made some excuse and headed for the door.

But I didn’t.

I made this, a piece I still don’t really like. A house is adrift on stormy seas.  A man in a row-boat is about to be swallowed by a wave or a fish or a giant snake. The Mr. Peanut sun doesn’t shed much light.

It’s probably reflective of how I was feeling. Overwhelmed. Sinking.

When I got home from Nashville, I wasn’t invigorated to do collage. I felt so inadequate.

I really enjoy making collages though, so, good or not, I continued.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

’tis so true.

And Tim Gunn said, “Life is not a solo act. It’s a huge collaboration.”

My collages now bear a little influence from Wayne Brezinka. I had to realize that I will never make art like Wayne because I am not Wayne.

I’m just me, and what I do is mine.

This insect card bears his influence though.

Wayne uses a variety of materials in his collages — found items, sticks, rocks, as well as the obvious paper.  Our Christmas cyclamen was dropping its blossoms whole, so I pressed a few to see how they would dry. One appears on this card — a fragile white blossom for the spider to sit on.

Wayne adds physical depth to his work by layering and using cardboard to “pop” parts out. I popped the spider with a little cardboard behind.

I was frustrated that the child’s hand somehow got damaged, Mary said, “It’s okay. Nothing’s perfect.”

And she’s right. I kept the card because of Mary’s influence.

Now to unravel the rest of the (unwitting) collaborators — The background is from Ezra Jack Keats’ Over in the Meadow. The child is from The Silly Sheepdog by Heather Amery and Stephen Cartwright. The bee (and maybe the spider, but I’m not sure) is(are) from A Trip to the Yard, pictures by Marjorie Hartwell and Rachel Dixon.

 

H is for Helping

Laurel sat next to me on the couch last night when I started this post by writing the title and inserting the picture I planned to use.

“Are you going to write about me?” she asked. “I help.”

Indeed she does. Laurel is an outstanding sous chef. She is often with me in the kitchen at dinner time helping with meal prep. She scours the internet for healthy recipes and sometimes volunteers to make dinner, on which occasions I am her sous chef. I think that’s pretty remarkable for a 13-year-old.

Mary helps, too, in her own way. She empties the dishwasher, unasked and often unseen. She brings my father his nightly beer. She makes sure he has the baseball game or Wheel of Fortune on after dinner. She has fixed him lunch on days when I’m not available. My father will say, “Mary is solid,” which I think may be cringe-worthy words for a 17-year-old to hear, but by which he means that he can count on her, a high compliment.

And the truth is, all my kids are great helpers. They have acted as gardeners and landscapers around my parents’ property, mowing the lawn, weeding the myrtle, cleaning up sticks and debris. They have chauffeured, accompanied, and assisted, attending to their elderly grandparents in so many ways.

Lately, some of my adult children have been caregivers, staying with my father over weekends when I need to be away. It’s a huge help to me.

I’m quite sure they inherited the helping gene from their father. Bud is one of the hardest-working, most generous people I know.

So thank you to all my helpers. You know who you are. I see what you’re doing and I appreciate it.


This picture is very early in my whole cutting-up-books-to-make-cards adventure.

The tree is from Garth Williams’ beautiful book, The Rabbits’ Wedding, the book that started it all. I picked it up at a yard sale, a gorgeous oversized picture book that had sat in the rain. It was starting to mold and smell — but the illustrations were so beautiful that I couldn’t stand the thought of it going to the dump. So, blindly, I paid a ridiculous amount of money for a soggy moldy book — 50¢ — and brought it home not knowing what I would do with it.

The girl is from Sarah’s Unicorn by Bruce and Katherine Coville. The illustrations in the book were all black-and-white, so I watercolored her, as well as the background.

I don’t know where the bird and nest are from.