Thursday, November 30, 2006

who's to blame?

Over the past few days there has been a story in the local news about a grade school student, a girl in the seventh grade I think, who was nearly choked by her teacher in response to the student's misbehavior. On the surface it is a reprehensible action by the teacher. There can really be no justification for his actions. But having said that, I can understand how he came to that point and why he nearly throttled that student.

I would be willing to bet that the girl in question is an habitual disruptive force in school. I would be willing to bet that she has been a continual source of rude, obnoxious, and loud behavior from day one. I would also be willing to bet that her parents, or most likely single parent, are uninvolved in her education. And I would be willing to bet that she is not the only one in her class to exhibit such behavior, but is probably the ringleader of a group of similar students.

In that kind of school environment, the teacher becomes less a teacher and more of a referee, more of a cop, more of a disciplinarian than a teacher. Very little learning can go on in that kind of classroom. The teacher, over time, becomes frustrated with his role and walks a thin line between a controlled environment and mayhem. And the more the students are allowed to get away with, the more they push the boundaries of behavior. Respect for others and self respect are nowhere to be found.

Confronted with that kind of scene day after day has to be exceptionally wearing on a teacher. That more of them don't snap as this teacher did, is miraculous. Yet in this story the girl is coming off as mildly naughty, not the brat she most likely really is. The teacher is the villain, the student just a poor miunderstood child. I want to know what her record of behavior is over the past months of the school year before I will be ready to condemn the teacher and feel sorry for the girl.

That students at all grade levels today are more disrespectful of each other and their teachers seems to be the accepted norm. The news is filled with scary stories of rampaging teenagers wielding firearms and other weapons, intent on causing harm to anyone who might have looked at them the wrong way. The escalating violence we see is a logical result of the uncontrolled behavior that starts in grade schools. That our children are bombarded with violent images on television and in video games has to have some influence on their actions. And the lack of parental control in many instances is a glaring red flag indicating the likelyhood of trouble down the road.

My wife has been a high school English teacher for more than thirty years, and I know she is having an increasingly diffucult time dealing with today's students. In the past she would never come home and complain about her students the way she does every day now. And she is not just complaining about disruptive behavior in class, but an overall rudeness and disrespect she feels is too common today. So many of her students feel they are entitled to better grades than they get for their work. They complain more and more that their teachers don't "give" them the grades they want without realiziing that teachers don't "give" grades, students must earn them. They seem more and more to react with a barely controlled fury underlying their complaints. It has been only recently that I worry about her going to school and being physically and violently confronted by some out of control idiot who wanted an A but only earned a C. Her retirement from teaching can't come soon enough.

What does this decline in civility and respect bode for our future society? I don't have that answer. There have been several stories just recently about teachers who have been physically attacked by students, so I will not be surprised when, on the news one day, we hear about a teacher who has successfully choked a student. I fear we are too close to that happening. And the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the students.

Monday, November 27, 2006

tis the season

I don't quite know what possessed me to do this, since in the past I have been a card carrying member of the Bah Humbug Club of holiday cheer, but I did it. The fact that last week the weather was unusually mild and inviting, and the fact that I had a few extra bucks in my pocket to pay for it, and wanting to do something to lighten and brighten Mary's mood must have all conspired to find in me a whole new Christmas spirit.

I spent two days last week on this without Mary knowing about it. I wanted to surprise her. So on Wednesday last week, I called her at school and told her she couldn't come home until 5:00 when it was dark. She blithered and blathered and tried to start a fight saying she was tired and ready for a vacation (it was the day before Thanksgiving) and didn't want to put up with any of my nonsense. But she finally agreed, allowing me my minor triumph. I'm sure she had an inkling of what I was up to, but certainly didn't guess the extent of my decorating zeal. She did, however, call both kids to tell them I was acting strangely, or at least more strangely than usual, and was thinking of having me committed. That prompted Jon to call me to make sure I hadn't gone off the deep end into the abyss and was really not being too weird. I reassured him that I was just planning a little surprise for his mother. I was sure to emphasize that it wa a good surprise and that he need not worry.

So when Mary arrived home (and as typical for her, she came home late, not at 5:00 as I told her, but closer to 6:00, so of course I was pacing nervously for that extra hour before my surprise for her was discovered) I expected an especially warm and fuzzy greeting. I was not disapointed. She was thrilled . I gained a whole wagon load of domestic points that day. I may even be close to breaking even now.

These pictures are of the old homestead lighted up for the holiday season. I may even get to liking this Christmas stuff.


(I wrote this on my laptop while at the cottage, but was unable to post it since we have no internet connectioin there. Better late than never.)

Here it us the day after Thanksgiving. This is the first time I have ever heard this day referred it as Black Friday. Is that something new? Why is it called that? What is the derivation of the term? Why haven’t I ever heard that before? Have I just not been paying attention? Am I that out of touch? This is really bothering me.

Thanksgiving day was the usual. I spent the afternoon cooking and watching football. I am the designated cook in the family. Mary has no interest in cooking anything and consequently has no talent for it. I, on the other hand, like to cook,, so it all works out. Jon and Katie arrived around five after spending the afternoon at her folks where they ate the usual turkey dinner at lunch time. I offered to cook something other than turkey for dinner, but Jonathan is a strict traditionalist and insisted that we have turkey or nothing. The guy loves his turkey. How he can eat that much—two turkey dinners separated by only about 4 hours—is a mystery to me. Of course, when he was growing up we had to feed him at least 6 times a day, plus the occasional snack, to keep him functional. I am not all that fond of turkey, so I was more than happy to send Jon home with all the leftovers.

Today Mary and I arrived here at the lake for a couple days of R&R, It was a beautiful day. The temperature was in the high 50’s with sunshine and no wind. The best Fall day of the year. We spent the afternoon outside raking and blowing the last of the leaves and just generally putzing around outside to enjoy the weather. Mary then started a bonfire and sat outside watching the sunset, while I took a much needed nap. I whipped up some dinner after my nap and now here I sit playing on my laptop. If all this sounds routine and hohum, that is exactly what it is. And I am perfectly content with that.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


the story continues from yesterday....

The year was 1988. It was Tuesday, November 29, five days after Thanksgiving, a gray but unseasonably warm day, when, early in the morning, I got the call from my sister.....

Mom had died only moments earlier. After her long difficult struggle with colon cancer, she was finally released from her suffering. I immediatley headed for my sister’s house, an hour away by speeding car, and arrived before the men from the funeral home got there to take Mom’s withered body away. Yes, there were tears. There was grief. But there was also the real relief that she would no longer be suffering the terrible ravages of that horrible disease. That her death was expected certainly mitigated the sense of loss and prepared us for that inevitable day.

Carol and I then set about making the final funeral arrangements, and started the difficult process of calling relatives and friends to tell them about Mom. We tried calling Uncle Eddie and Aunt Frannie during this process, but got no answer. That was not unusual. They could have been out working in the junkyard, off fishing or hunting somewhere. We gave it no second thought as we drove around town, stopping at the funeral home, going to the florist, closing bank accounts. The usual mundane tasks that accompany anyone’s death.

Mom’s funeral was set for Friday, December 2. Everyone we could think of had been notified by Tuesday evening, the day Mom died. Everyone except Uncle Eddie and Aunt Frannie. We tried to reach them by phone but got no answer. Wednesday morning we found out why.

Everything after that is speculation, supposition, and basic guesswork based on what the police could put together. For while Carol and I had been driving around town on Tuesday, while we had been going through the process of preparing for Mom’s funeral, some person, or persons, had been in the process of beating Uncle Eddie and Aunt Frannie to death. They were found by my brother-in-law bludgeoned, lying in pools of their own blood, next to each other in the barn that served as both office and storage place for the junkyard.

Robbery was the suspected motive, but there was no way to determine what, if anything, had been taken. No one suspicious was ever seen near the junkyard. No witness has ever come forward. No one has ever been accused of the crime. To this day the case has remained unsolved. Now 18 years later, it is a cold, cold case.

We had two funerals within days. Mom’s was on Friday, Uncle Eddie and Aunt Frannie were buried on Monday. Five days after Thanksgiving in 1988, five days after seeing three of our family members still alive, our family was visited by an expected, even hoped for death, and the unexpected violent deaths that continue to shock our memories of that awful time.

Somewhere in the world, a killer is still loose. Somewhere in the world, that killer might be celebrating Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgivings will always be haunted by the knowledge that our family was chosen to suffer a terrible loss at this time of year. But that only serves to remind us of how thankful we can be for the family we still have, while remembering Uncle Eddie’s fedora, still in place, tilted back on his head, Aunt Frannie sitting primly in the corner, tight curls neatly in place, and Mom in the kitchen supervising, organizing, and still getting everything in order the way it should be. As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving one more time, we will give thanks for having had them in our lives, while always wondering why they were taken away so cruelly.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I remember this time of year.....

The year was 1988. It was Tuesday, November 29, five days after Thanksgiving, a gray but unseasonably warm day, when, early in the morning, I got the call from my sister....

Mom was always a very active, energetic woman, who would rather take charge to get something done than wait for others to do it. Authoritative and demanding, she was also kind and generous and helpful.

When my father got sick, she took over the breadwinners role as well. She got a job and, in typical fashion for her, was in a management position within the year. When my father died too young at age 58, she didn’t collapse under an overload of grief, but took charge and moved on. Within a couple years she had found a new husband and had started on the next phase of her life.

Resourceful and creative, she could throw a meal together whenever any of us stopped by unexpectedly, and do so without fanfare or complaint. She loved having her kids, my two sisters and me, and grandkids around, and, I’m sure, wished we would be there more often. But, as kids tend to do, we took her for granted most of the time, assuming that she would always be there for us to take advantage of her.

When her second husband died, she found herself more and more involved with a group of friends, widows all, who shared her love of fun and adventure. She, and they, took advantage of their new freedom to travel and party as only a group of Golden Girls, as they liked to call themselves, could do. It was on a Golden Girls field trip to New England in the Fall to see the colors nature bestows on us each year, that she first complained of a persistent pain in her abdomen.

She was a consistently religious person throughout her life, spiritual in a practical way. Her Catholicism was a lifestyle that she lived without reservation. Throughout her life, whenever troubles invaded her and her family’s life, she would insist that God would not give her anything she couldn’t handle. And so she handled all the crises that came along, secure in the knowledge that, though she was being tested, she would eventually take care of the problem and move on. But colon cancer was the one crisis she was unable to overcome. Still, she handled it, convinced that it was just one more test she had to go through to prove to God that she was worthy of His attention.

Colon cancer is an insidious, virolent tyrant that shows no mercy to its victims. After two years of radiation and chemotherapy, the tyrant left my once robust, active mother a mere shell of the person she once was physically. Her spirit never diminished, though. She was right when she claimed that God knew she could handle it, because she did, uncomplaining throughout the whole ordeal.

Thanksgiving in 1988 was on November 24th. For every Thanksgiving I can remember, the whole family, including aunts and uncles, inlaws, and other extended family, would gather at Mom’s house for the usual celebration. But that year, the hostess duties were assumed by my sister, Carol. Mom was there, of course. but she was not at the table. She was bedridden, mostly comotose from morphine, in an upstairs bedroom at my sister’s house. Carol had insisted that Mom stay at her house under her care, rather than languishing alone in a hospital or hospice, for what we all knew would be the last few months of her life. Carol cared for her as only a daughter can.

That Thanksgiving Day we each took a turn sitting with Mom, talking to her, trying to keep her comfortable, and just letting her know we were there. Though Mom seemed unaware due to the morphine induced coma, we all knew she could hear us and would know she was still part of the holiday.

Included at that Thanksgiving dinner were Uncle Eddie and Aunt Franny, my father’s brother and his wife. Uncle Eddie was considered somthing of an eccentric and Aunt Frannie was close behind. Uncle Eddie’s given name was Edward. His brother, my father, was named Edmund. Their mother obviously liked the name Eddie. Maybe that’s where some of the eccentricity came from.

They had no children of their own, but doted on all their nieces and nephews. Always included in family gatherings, they would be there, except at those times when they were hunting or fishing, which was an almost constant activity for them. They were the owners and operators of a metal salvage company called Eddie’s Jalopy Jungle. They were junk dealers. And it made them rich. Not that you would ever know that by looking at them or talking to them.

Uncle Eddie was known throughout the area, being seen most often in his truck hauling a wrecked car to his junkyard, accompanied by at least one of his dogs. There were two things that Uncle Eddie was usually seen with: his dog and his fedora. I remember seeing him many times without his dog. After all, he usually wouldn’t bring Bowser (all his dogs through the years were named Bowser, sometimes two at a time) to all the family gatherings. But I never, ever, saw him without his hat on his head. To this day I don’t know if he had a full head of hair or was bald. The only concession he would make to good manners when inside with his hat on would be to push it back on his head, exposing more of his brow. That’s as close as he got to ever taking it off. There were family rumors that he even slept with it on, though that was never actually substantiated.

That fedora would change colors depending on what he was wearing below his head. At family get-togethers on the formal holidays of the year, he would always show up in a suit, either brown or gray, with a plaid flannel shirt buttoned at the neck. No tie. Buttoning his shirt at the neck was as dressy as he was capable of being. The hat would match the suit. The suit jacket was never buttoned, always open, to allow his substantial pot belly the freedom it needed.

Uncle Eddie’s fedora was as much a part of his personality as his twinkling eyes and ready laugh and raspy voice. When he was telling a story the hat would slide rakishly to one side, or tilt down over his eyes, or sit squarely on his head, all depending on the nature of his narrative or mood.

His dog or dogs (they came and went with regularity) were his constant companions as he wandered around his junk yard or drove around town in his truck. No one knows where his dogs came from. Whether he found them or they found him doesn’t really matter. The one constant among all his dogs was their mongrel ancestry. After all, what purebred dog would want to be a junkyard dog? He was known for stopping at the local diners for lunch, bringing Bowser into the diner with him, and ordering a steak sandwich for himself and one for the dog, who obediently would sit at his side while they both went about enjoying their lunch. That the operators of the diners would allow that was testimony to Uncle Eddie’s popularity in town and how people genuinely liked him.

Aunt Frannie (she preferred Frances) was a throwback to the forties and fifties. She never seemed quite comfortable with change, and so she wore the same tightly curled hairdo all her life, wore the same fashions she wore as a school girl, and always appeared with the tightly controlled, well-mannered demeanor of a proper lady. That ladylike appearance might be dfficult to see when you encountered her in the junkyard working alongside her husband. Then she would be dressed in heavy woolen pants, hightop work boots, and a ratty sweater or two under a coarse canvas man’s work jacket, and as often as not, a grease stained baseball cap of indeterminate origin hiding those tight curls. But even then, she was a lady underneath the disguise.

Uncle Eddie and Aunt Frannie were inseparable throughout theirs lives and it is nearly impossible to think of one without thinking of the other. Still now, 18 years after that Thanksgiving of 1988, for the most awful reason, we especially think of them together.

continued tomorrow...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

the latest

Here are several pictures of the latest wall sculpture to emerge from my workshop/studio. It is titled "Etosha Pan" and is a compilation of several photos taken in Africa by my daughter, Carrie, during one of her sojourns there last year. It is about 54" long and about 16" high and is made of a variety of woods and veneers. It took about six months of intermittent effort to complete, but the wait was worth it. I'm pleased with the way it turned out.

As I've mentioned before, if you would like to see more of my artwork, click on the my flickr link on the sidebar and choose the sculpture, artwork, and furniture sets. I'll have more to add to those sets soon. My workshop/studio is busy with several more projects in the works. Enjoy.

Friday, November 17, 2006

turkey hunt

I'm off to bag a turkey this morning. Literally. I'll go to the store and buy a turkey and put it in a bag an bring it home. Beats the hell out of tromping through the woods, cold and wet, looking for a wild turkey to shoot.

We've certainly come a long way from the hunter/gatherer stage of our evolution. If I had to go out today to actually hunt down a wild turkey, shoot it or trap it or hit over the head with a tree limb, however you actually go about getting one of them, bring it back home without getting my car all messy, pluck the feathers off the carcass, gouge the nasty stuff out of the insides, clean it up nice and pretty, stick it on a spit over the fire to cook, we would be eating spaghettios for Thanksgiving dinner. Thank goodness we've evolved to the point where someone else does all that for me.

Have you ever seen a turkey out in the real world? I've encountered them on the golf course many times. There is flock of them that inhabit the woods around the second hole of the golf course and they frequently stroll across the fairway, oblivious to the risk of getting conked by a mishit ball or run over by golf cart. That is, when hunting season is not in force. Then they blatantly flaunt their freedom from worry, figuratively thumbing their noses at the world. Once hunting season starts, though, the chhickenshit ugly little bustards hunker down in the scrub and refuse to show their sorry feathered asses. It amazes me how they can saunter across the fairways and then totally disappear the moment they enter the woods. You'd think they had some kind of camoflage or something.

Of course, if you consider how those neatly packed frozen turkeys got to the supermarket, you might reconsider the eating of one. Many times I've had to listen to daughter doctor Carrie's diatribe about the inhumane way that turkeys are bred and raised on the farm. Overfed and crowded, they are slaughtered after they have achieved the broad-breasted status so desired by the Thanksgiving diners. Makes you want to become a vegan.

Still, the pull of tradition is stronger than any dislike of turkey farming practices, so I will give in to it and prepare the bird for our Thanksgiving dinner. I'll just think about that wild turkey thumbing his nose at me last summer as he took his own sweet time getting out of the way on the second hole of the course. Who ended up with the birdie now, yoou ugly little fowl?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

caught by surprise

I had an unusual, even weird, experience the other day. I was on a mission to buy a new snowthrower for the coming winter season. Mary got it in her head that we needed a smaller, more easily handled machine so she could use it if necessary, the implication being that I might become too much more disabled to do the job myself as I always have done. That's not the weird part, though.

So I park my truck in the handicap space right at the front door of the dealer who sells the snowthrower I was looking for, grab my cane, and shuffle on into the store. I find the particualar machine I was looking for at the price I expected to pay (having done the necessary research online--am I a modern man or what?) and waited to get the attention of a salesman. There was one guy behind a counter tapping away at a computer. He paid me no mind. Another gray haired guy I suspected was the ranking salesman was jabbering on the phone and didn't acknowledge my presence. So I stood there looking bored and probably somewhat annoyed at the inattention I was getting.

Mr. Grayhaired Salesman finally hangs up the phone and looks in my direction. I point my cane at the snowthrower on display and say, "I'll take one of those." Instead of talking up the machine in question as he approached me, he said nothing, and when he got to me he proceeded to take the cane from my hand, turn it upside down and swing it like a golf club, making some inane comment about how I must get in a lot of practice with it and how it should have a hidden sword in the shaft or maybe be hollow so I could always have a ration of brandy on hand.

I was too startled at his audacity to make any kind of comment. He abruptly handed the cane/golfclub back to me and segued, apropo of nothing, into a rambling discourse on how he grew up at 17th and Lloyd Avenue and how his best boyhood friend, "who lived just a couple blocks away on 16th and Meinecke, ya know, came back for a visit last summer. He moved away a long time ago, his family went down south to Texas to get away from the cold, and he wanted to take a ride through the old neighborhood. I told him it probably wasn't a good idea the way the neighborhood changed and all that, ya know, but he wanted to do it anyway, so I went along. And ya know it was hot that day and we had the windows down and 'they' were all sitting on their porches hanging out on the corners, ya know, and musta been thinking what were we doin in their neighborhood. Gave me the creeps, ya know. They just watch you waiting for a chance to do somethin. We got outa there real quick, ya know."

A bit of explanation is in order here. We're talking about Milwaukee, which in recent studies has been shown to be the most segregated city of its size in the country. The area my new bigoted best friend was referring to is in the "inner city", the most densely African-American populated area. It is like any impoverished and forlorn area that you will find in any large city that has too much unemployment and the resultant too much crime. Destitution and despair replace the air that the rest of us breathe. It wasn't always that way, but it is now. A variety of social factors have conspired to make it so. That's not to offer an excuse for the condition of the city. It just is what it is.

I was dumbstruck. I was speechless. I was caught totally unaware by his discourse. Mind you, he wasn't ranting and raving. He was just making conversation the way a salesman will do. But his conversation was so inappropriate as to be shocking. I mumbled something about buying the snowthrower and he dismissed me to the guy behind the counter saying, "oh, Al will take care of you. Hey, Al, get one of these with the electric start ready for this guy." And he sauntered away oblivious to the shock he had imposed on me.

Had I been thinking quicker on my feet, I certainly should have, and would have, told him to take his prejudice and bigotry and shove them up his redneck ass, stomped out of the dealership and taken my business elsewhere. But, as I said, he caught me totally by surprise. My mind was on the shiney new machine I was looking for, not on some bigot's perception of the world. And I was still trying to understand how a person could walk up to me, snatch the cane from hand, and play with it without any apparent sense of the violation that was.

On the way home (with my new snowthrower in the truck) I tried to think of why that jerk felt it was ok to lay his assinine conversation on me. What made him feel it was alright to make such comments to me? Was it he way I was dressed? I was wearing my usual uniform of jeans, sweatshirt, jacket, and baseball cap. I know my cap didn't have KKK embroidered on it. My sweatshirt didn't say "property of Bigot U" decaled on the front. My jacket didn't have a redneck patch on it. Was it something in my demeanor that indicated to him that I would be receptive to his conversation? Was it that I was about his age that made him feel I would agree with him? Is my gray beard an indication that I harbor a secret bigotry. I'm at a loss here. And I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't react the way my heart and mind tell me I should have.

All I know is that everytime I use that new snowthrower I will think of that guy and his startling behaviour. And I will feel just as bad about it each time.

Monday, November 13, 2006

how it begins?

Sunday morning as Mary opened the blinds to get a sense of the day, she noticed a mess of orange on the driveway. Dismayed, she looked closer, and realized that the mess was the smashed remains of one of the pumpkins from the seasonal decoration of corn stalks, baskets and pumpkins she had placed on the front porch.

It seemed odd that the vandalism occurred now, since halloween is long past and the pumpkins had remained untouched then, when you would normally expect such a petty act of destruction to happen. There was no apparent reason or justification for the action. The randomness of it all made me wonder if that kind of impulsive act, most likely by a teenage punk and his buddies, is where a singleminded disregard for property and consequences begins.

The kid sees a target of opportunity--pumpkins unguarded on a front porch-- and without thinking it through, decides to grab one of them. Now he has it in his hands, but what does he do with it? He figures as long as I've got it, maybe I'll just destroy it to see what it feels like. So he smashes it on the driveway, unheedful of the mess he's made and disdainful of the cleanup chore that will result for the owner of the pumpkin, and unmindful of the anguish that such a violation of property and privacy his act has produced.

Forty years later he becomes President. I wonder how many pumpkins George Bush smashed as a punk teenager?

Friday, November 10, 2006

taken for granted

Tomorrow is officially Veterans Day, a day when we are supposed to reflect on the men and women who, throughout the years, and in various conflicts, have served our country in its armed forces. A wonderful idea in theory. In practice, however, I get the feeling that the day set aside for remembering and honoring those soldiers and sailors is just another day set aside by the government on which we get no mail delivery.

I wish it wasn't so. And yet I am as guilty as anyone else in mostly ignoring the day. I, like many other Americans, simply take for granted that we will always have citizens willing to bear arms in our defense. War is the most despicable, outrageous invention of man, yet for whatever reasons that motivate them, there will always be those who are willing to go to war, to risk their lives in our behalf. It has always been so throughout our history, and I suspect it will always be so.

Of course, having said that, I must reflect on the fact that without those willing to serve, without those who have given their lives in service to our country, I would not be sitting here with the freedom to write these words. Without those willing citizens, the elections this past Tuesday would not have occurred. Without those soldiers protecting our national interests, we would be a society most likely different from what we now are. Without those men and women who courageously served in the most trying , frightening, awful wartime circumstances, and who gave their lives in that service, we would be in a society in which the freedoms we enjoy would be only a dream.

And while in the past I have largely ignored the parades, the cemetary wreath placings, the 21 gun salutes as mere pageantry, I think tomorrow I will take a moment to appreciate the slow moving, limping ex-soldiers who proudly parade down Main Street in uniforms from earlier times; to appreciate those who struggle with a life with lost limbs; to appreciate the families who cope daily with the loss to war of a father, brother, sister, husband, wife, child.

Tomorrow, at some point during my routine day, I will take the time to remove my hat, place my hand over my heart, face the Stars and Stripes waving on the staff in my front yard, and observe a moment of reverent silence and thanks for those who made it possible for me to fly my country's flag in my front yard. They are no longer taken for granted.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


A couple weeks ago my daughter came home for a weekend visit, as I wrote about here several posts ago. She is an accomplished artist as well as a doctor (DVM) and scientist, a talented photographer and a natural teacher. She is also appparently a graffiti artist.

After her visit, I got an email from her in which she, somewhat sheepishly, suggested that I check the mirror on the back of her bedroom door. The email came to me only; she usually adresses her emails to both mom and dad, but since I am also an artist, I think she felt safer appealing to my sense of artistic license to soften her mother's reaction when mom got a chance to see what she left on the mirror.

From early childhood she has always been a doodler, a drawer, a sketcher of the world around her. She just always found a way to record her observasions, and often her feelings, with a variety of materials from pencils to crayons, charcoal to chalk, conte crayon to grease pencil, pastels to watercolor and anything that she could use to make a mark on any surface available. She is never without a sketchbook. She is compulsively creative.

As a child she would make her own greeting cards for those special family occasions, like birthdays and Mother's Day and Father's Day. Most often they were funny, clever, well thought out and well executed skewerings of the recipient. I still have a couple of them framed and on dislplay on a shelf in our bedroom. We have a painting of a carousel horse she did when she was four years old that is one of our most treasured artworks. Our home is filled with her artwork--drawings, paintings, and photgraphs that she has left with us over the years. We discovered a series of cartoon drawings she did with the help of her little brother (I'm sure she goaded him into being an accomplice) on the framework of the pool table, when we took the pool table apart to move it one day. There is no way I will ever let that pool table leave the family now that I know it has some of her artwork on it.

So I don't know why she thought we would have a negative reaction to any artwork she chose to leave for us. I guess she felt guilty for "ruining" a good mirror. Far from "ruining" it, she has made it into a treasure. And I know exactly when she did the drawing. It was late one evening when she was in her room talking on the phone with her boyfriend back in California. She can't just sit and talk, she has to be doing something else sat the same time. So she picked up a marker and started to draw on her mirror. At the time I could hear the squeek and screech of the marker on the glass and wondered just what the sound was. Now I know. I'd like to share her latest self-portrait with you. Would you have been upset to discover such a treasure?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I was busy blowing leaves again yesterday, for what I hope is the last time this season, when I was struck by the notion that the mighty wind of my leaf blower was analogous to the windy bluster of the political season.

At one point I had a big pile of leaves gathered near a bush, all seeming to huddle together for strength against the breeze trying to blow them apart. Sure, some of the leaves on the periphery were separated from the pile, blown over to the other mound of gathering leaves on the other side of the yard. But, for the most part, that group clung desparately to their bush in the lee of the prevailing wind.

Across the yard another pile was forming, not quite as cohesively as the bush clinging group, but gathering together more and more as the wind blew in their direction. That pile was more scattered and seemed to struggle a bit to come together, having a bunch of Oak leaves trying to mix with the prevailing Elm leaves, to create a consistent group that could hold its shape. It seemed to collect more strength as the bush pile gave in to the breeze and sent some of its members over to the newly formed pile. With the addition of those new members the pile on the other side of the yard became bigger and dominated the yard with its democratic acceptance of all new pile members. The bush-side pile was dwindling as its leaves scattered across the landscape.

Then my trusty leaf blower cast its vote for one big pile by commingling bush pile leaves with the newly formed democratic pile. Now all the leaves were in one big group, gathered together in one place, forming one huge cooperative mound of leaves. Once they were all together it was difficult to tell them apart. They looked pretty much the same. The new pile had a variety of colors and shapes. But when they all came together to form a cohesive whole, they just looked like a pile of leaves. As long as they stick together, clinging to each other for strength, no amount of wind can blow them apart.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

my weekend

I had lunch on Friday again with my friend, Rich, as we do on a nearly weekly basis. As usual the conversation ran from sports to politics to philosophy to family, with lots of laughter at both ourselves and the state of the world. It’s always a real pleasure to have such wide rangeing conversation. When our lunch together is over, I always feel satisfied both physically (my stomach is full), and intellectually (my brain is full). I always feel blessed to have such a good friend at times like that.

While driving home from our lunch, I had the good fortune to hear from another good friend, Pete. (Aren’t cell phones wonderful?) He was calling to ask if I would be interested in going to Saturday’s Wisconsin/Penn State football game. He had an acquaintance who had a couple tickets he wanted to get rid of and knowing what a college football fan, and especially a Badger fan, I am he thought of me. Pete is also a great fan so agreeing to grab those tickets was a no-brainer.

Pete and Judy, his wife, were planning on coming here to spend the day with Mary and me anyway, so we just changed the venue from here to Madison. While Pete and I went to the game, Mary and Judy did what it is that Mary and Judy do: shopping and talking, always at the same time, in equal measure. Nonstop. But I was at the football game so I didn’t care how much talking and shopping they did. Of course, the fact that it was a great game and my beloved Badgers won, meant that Mary could have bought anything and everything and I would just nod and say “that’s nice dear”.

Since we were going to be gone from home for at least 12 hours on Saturday, we asked our son, Jon, to stop by the house to let the dog out sometime during the day (when was the last time you went 12 hours without a nature call?) He agreed to do so. In fact he and his wife, Katie, not only stopped by, they stayed to watch the game on my TV, eat my pizza, drink my beer, and play my piano. Oh yeah, the dog got outside too. Aren’t families wonderful? I may have to consider a padlock for the refrigerator, though.

So here I sit on Sunday afternoon, watching the Packers play the Bills (I love pro football, too, especially the Packers), tapping away at the keyboard on the laptop my daughter gave me, talking on the phone with my son, eating the lunch my wife fixed for me, thinking about my good friends, seeing the sun shining brightly outside, and wondering what I did to deserve all this good fortune.

Now if the Packers can win this game, the weekend will be perfect.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Creativity is subjective, I suppose. There are some artistic souls who are recognised as being endlessly creative, constantly coming up with new images and ideas. There are those who claim to be creative, yet are often merely derivitive, copying what they see that others have already done. Art is, of course, in all its various iterations, the most widely recognised forum for creativity, but certainly not the only venue for creative people to excercise their ability.

Every now and then we are fortunate to discover a creative talent that shows real ability to uncover the hidden art in everything around us. Being able to take the mundane, routine, and commonplace images we encounter everyday and illuminate their deeper significance is the mark of a truly creative mind. Being able to look at oneself and reveal the innermost aspects of the residing soul is the artist's greatest achievement. Knowing that revelations of self are the most personal means to express an artistic motive, the self-portrait by the artist is the clearest indication that creativity is a residing presence, a constant companion, to the artist.

While the self-portrait might seem confining as an avenue for creative expression, when done well it makes those of us who view it more aware of our own self image. The deeply personal revelatory act of self-portraiture by the artist can cause us all to look deeper into ourselves to discover anew the aspects that make us unique, or to help reestablish the sense of self we already have. Art that makes us think and touches our soul is ithe best we, as human beings, can do.

And so I urge you to take some time to view the photographic self-portraits of artbandito. They will make you laugh, cry, smile, frown, yearn, seek, find, and understand. They will make you think about and appreciate the world that can give us such ceaseless creativity. The photos will inspire awe and leave you wanting more. That any artist could find more to reveal about herself and, by extension all who share the images with her, after some 500 self-portraits, says a lot about the complexity of our existence, and the need to keep on seeking understanding. I, for one, look forward to that pursuit, led by this incredible artist.