Saturday, December 21, 2019

Jen flying.

It was very sad news to hear. 

I learned a former coworker named Chris (who retired about two years ago) lost her daughter last month. 

Her daughter was a quadriplegic from a car accident many years ago and has had health issues ever since. We were told her daughter (Jen) had some recent complications and she passed away suddenly. She was only a year older than me. 

Chris would often tell me that Jen had a passion for art, showing me paintings her daughter created with the help of adaptive devices. 

My university coworkers and I gave Chris a condolence card as a group but it felt impersonal to me.

Sending something handmade seemed more fitting. In the weeks that followed, I created this card for her. 

 "Jen flying"
Watercolors, gouahce, and ink on watercolor paper
4" x 5 1/4" (NFS)

I wanted the butterfly to have a glowing effect. To give the impression of something deeper happening. Hopefully that came across in the finished piece. 

I wasn’t sure if seeing this would make Chris sad or make her smile or both. 

Losing someone around the holidays is never easy. Thanksgiving and Christmas just aren’t the same, no matter how many years may pass. 

Hopefully the card will bring some comfort to Chris during this time and be a reminder that now she has someone watching over her. 

Time to fly, Jen.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Returning the Crazy Stick.

It seemed harmless enough. On one of my weekly visits to the beach last month, I invited someone to join me. A guy I had been very casually messaging here and there online. 

He mentioned living right by that beach so it was convenient. 

When he arrived he didn't appear very interested and seemed a bit out of it, telling me he was “too high” from the day before. In between his mumbling, he kept commenting how cold it was (clearly not from Chicago). 

“Only someone crazy would be out on a day like this,” I joked, pointing out I preferred it this way because I had the whole beach to myself. 

As were talking near the water, he picked up a large stick, waist-high, and started writing out words in the sand. His name (Jonathan), the name of a country, and other miscellaneous things we were discussing. 

At one point he scrawled out the word “crazy” and drew an arrow pointing right at me. 

That was kind of rude, I thought. 

I stood there for a long moment and owned it. “Yep, that’s me,” I smiled. 

Once we parted ways, he handed me the stick to use as a walking stick on my trek back home.

Even though I never heard from him again, I kept the stick, dubbing it my “crazy stick”.

I liked the way it curved and arched and its notches gave it character. I thought maybe I could display it somewhere in my condo. 

As the weeks went on though, whenever I’d see the stick, it reminded me of Jonathan disrespecting me. I didn’t want a physical reminder of yet another man being a dick. 

So I decided to return the Crazy Stick to the beach.

The tumultuous lake leading up to the beach!

During this past weekend's trip to the beach, I brought the Crazy Stick with me. 

After some reflection while standing at the shore, I threw the stick into the lake, to be purified by its waters. 

When I turned around, the waves brought the stick right back at my feet. 

This time I left it there. Where it was first found. And it felt freeing. I felt lighter already! 

Goodbye to uninterested men and jerks!

Oh and it was in the mid 30’s, rainy, and quite windy this particular day. No one else was at the beach but me. 

Because you know, only someone crazy would be out on a day like this.   ;)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Drawing thanks.

It started off as a casual exchange of texts. 

I had asked a former coworker/friend from work for some advice about things and the discussion turned into me looking for job opportunities. Then I e-mailed her my resume for some feedback. She ended up completely redoing my resume--and a great one at that.

That was totally unexpected. I just wanted some pointers on how to make my resume better. She went above and beyond.

To show my appreciation, I gave her a couple slices of chocolate chip banana bread I had made with a thank you note attached. 

BUT a plain old note just wouldn’t do, so I drew a butterfly on the backside (brought to life with a highlighter) to make my thanks that much more known.

I thought this would be the perfect thing to share on this of all days. 

When someone goes above and beyond for you, you should try and go above and beyond for them.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

She endures.

"I feel like I'm getting weak," my aunt told me. 

"But you were able to do a lot of walking over these past few months," I replied. "I think you're doing better than you realize." 

"Not physically weak," she explained, "but weak in spirit." 

Next week will mark a full year from when my oldest aunt was admitted to the hospital. That was when a large tumor was discovered and later uterine cancer diagnosed

My aunt started receiving immunotherapy treatments back in February of this year up until now. Always in cycles of three with a week off, sometimes more of break when testing was being done. It sounded like it was working yet the treatments always kept coming. 

I have never heard my aunt complain about the process but I'm certain it's hard for her. Behind the positive demeanor she puts on, she must get discouraged and frustrated. 

Within the last month or so, her treatments increased in potency and her hair started thinning because of it. Now she has to wear a wig. How much more does she have to endure? 

Her very last treatment should be next week. Judging on the test results after that, the doctors will decide on how to proceed. 

Earlier in the month I created some more Mail Art to help keep my aunt going. A bit of encouragement in her mailbox. Something she can look upon as a reminder when needed. 

 Markers and ink on standard mailing envelope - 5" x 7"

The front side merges our addresses with the definition of the word endure. And as a blogger once told me in the past, I placed all she endures within the cross on the back of the envelope. 

 The backside splattered with gouache to create a glowing effect.

With the coming holidays being so close, I am hoping for really great news in the weeks ahead. 

You're almost there, Auntie! Don't give up!! Endure just a little longer.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Green ladybugs!

The air was cool and crisp, the skies were gray, and rain was in the forecast. A perfect Grey Day to go to the beach! 

On a recent excursion to the beach, I noticed green flecks along the shore. I assumed it was bird poop or algae mixed in with the sand and proceeded to wade in the water for a bit. 

That’s when I spotted a bug flailing on its back, inches from the waves hitting the shore. Little black legs grabbing onto nothingness. I turned it right side up, trying to get it to crawl on my finger but it refused. I ended up scooping the sand from underneath its body and moved the insect to nearby safety. 

It appeared to be a ladybug…a green ladybug! Yes, you read that right. Green! 

 A lovely shade of green!

And it wasn’t the only one either. Within my immediate area, those green flecks I noticed earlier were more of the same. Literally hundreds of green ladybugs, sluggish from the cold, inching their way onto whatever stray sticks or grass they could find. 

This scene stretched along the entire shore which meant there must’ve been thousands of them! 

 What the what???

Did I just discover a new type of species? Nope. I looked it up online and these “green ladybugs” are actually called cucumber beetles. Who knew! 

 Sand art I found while examining the beetles.

On such a cold day (it was in the upper 40’s with the wind), what were the cucumber beetles doing here of all places? Why the beach? They wouldn’t be laying eggs so close to the water. 

Perhaps this was a final, mass migration before the colder weather did them in. Maybe they all said, “Hey, if we’re gonna die, let’s live it up on the beach one last time!” 

Whatever the reason, it was an unexpected and welcome display of green. 

Rest in peace, “green ladybugs”. Until your return next spring!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Finding Jesus at the beach.

I haven't gone to church-church (aka mass) in about six months. Every Sunday that would roll around, I was either working my old retail job or visiting family or it just didn't seem right. 

My anxiety with large crowds is ever-present and even though mass itself is a welcoming, all-inclusive event, it can still be overwhelming to me. I feel worshiping God is a private, personal act. It can be hard focusing on Him when around so many others. 

I found the sermons to be lackluster and generic in their message. I'd be going through the motions of the mass but not connecting with what was being preached to me. And I got tired of going to church to pray for the same things. To finally meet someone, for something better in my life, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. Certainly God knows what's in my heart by now. 

So over the summer, when my anxiety would get the better of me, and church wasn't an option, I'd go for a walk. I would walk along the lakefront path near where I live to the beach two neighborhoods north of me. I went once or twice a week, every weekend, usually as the sun would begin to set. 

It's about a forty-five minute trek and during that time I'd smile at the trees and tell the wildflowers along the path that they were beautiful. Cloud formations evolved overhead and cool breezes kissed my skin and I admired families being together in the distance. 

The destination always ended with me at the beach. I'd take my shoes off when I reached the sand and be born again once my feet touched the water. Mmmmmmm. A religious experience all its own. In the grandness of the lake and sky, there was a sense of something much bigger and more important than myself. 

If God made all of this, wouldn't it be logical that He'd be there too? 

Is this how the world was first formed? Wild waters rushing onto the land, waiting for life to begin. And when the waves would be especially rough and the sadness was with me, I'd think about the water pulling me in like Virginia Woolf, taking the never-ending lonely days with it. 

It was knowing His presence was there that kept me going. The colors changing in the evening sky, how the seagulls would perch on just one foot, the way sand formed plumes in the water when the waves hit the shore. 

Sometimes it would be too much and others not enough. Can you see why I kept going back week after week? It was calling to me. Sometimes I'd feel it so deeply during my walks, I'd yelp like an animal to try and get it out. 

Nature became my makeshift church, the birds and the cicadas and the children playing were the sermon, and I'd baptize myself in the healing lake again and again and again. 

As the weather continues to get cooler each month, I wonder what I'll do during the wintertime, when it'll be impossible to wade in the waters. When the snow and ice obscure the trails I walk along. Perhaps that's when I'll go back to church. You

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Battle on, Auntie!!

Late last year our family found out my oldest aunt was diagnosed with uterine cancer. After having a hysterectomy to remove the tumor, my aunt started immunotherapy treatments in hopes of getting rid of the bit of cancer that remained. 

She started her treatments, in cycles, five months ago...and they've been working. 

Her doctor has been very pleased with the results and my aunt was even able to put some weight back on over time. 

"Those prayers are really working," my aunt said. 

My aunt's cancer markers (tests that show how much cancer remains) started out at 291, went down to 79 a couple months later, then dropped to 35. At the end of April (on my birthday), her marker levels were so low, the doctor said it's almost like being in remission. 

To celebrate these successes, I sent my aunt this Mail Art:

 Markers and ink on standard mailing envelope - 6 3/8" x 8 1/4"

The address side shows my aunt as Athena (the Greek goddess of warfare and wisdom) facing danger and heading off into battle. 

The back side of the envelope displays her Gorgon shield with her cancer markers ("battles") written in red. 

A tangible reminder of all that she's endured, survived, and overcome these past several months. 

When I saw her this past weekend, my aunt looked and acted like the clock had been set back five years, to her former self. 

My aunt starts her final immunotherapy cycle, three sessions each, this month. After that, the doctor will decide where to go from there (most likely a monthly maintenance treatment after that). 

I'm happy for her and proud of how far she's come. 

Victory is within reach.

Battle on, Auntie!!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

I hope you're happy.

When I arrived at the arts-and-crafts store late last month, the store manager unlocked the doors to let me in and said, "Today's my last day here." 

Turns out he was being transferred to another location that needed "fixing". He was told the news two days prior (naturally). 

Even though I gave a "soft" two-weeks notice before this and said I'd stay several weeks after that to help show him parts of my job, the store manager asked if I wanted to go ahead and make his last day my last too. I paused for a second and agreed. 

It wouldn't make sense for the new store manager to come on board only for me to introduce myself and tell her I'm leaving three weeks later. 

It was all a bit abrupt. I only got to say goodbye to those that were working that particular day but this way it's a clean break and there's no drawn-out goodbyes. 

I did tear up while gathering my things in my little office space. Nine years working in this place. It's the longest I've held a job and it'll be strange not being in that routine anymore. That's a long time to suddenly not be there, you know? 

It was a stressful, thankless job that I loathed (initially) but one I not only endured and survived but eventually mastered and excelled at. I saw old management who were nasty and downright mean to me, replaced with those that were much more appreciative and easier to work with. 

I outlasted three store managers, nine assistant store managers, and hundreds of staff that all came and went over the years. Only two coworkers remain that came before me. Everyone else started after me, eventually making me a senior member of the team. 

This song was recently playing on the overhead speakers. I felt it was the store singing goodbye to me but also me singing the song to myself:

Three part-time jobs becomes two once more and I now I have the weekends off. 

It took almost a decade, but I can finally say I'm free from retail!!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Fourth time's a charm.

It was at my usual Sunday shift at the crafts store this past weekend. 

So much to do, so little time. And glitter. Lots of glitter. 

I walked up to my store manager and handed him a letter. 

"I think it's time, Brian," I said. 

"Is it?" he asked. Seeming to know what the note said before reading it, he added, "Awww man." 

It was my two-weeks' notice...again. 

Mind you, I gave the arts-and-crafts store my two weeks' notice four year ago and then two times more three years ago (here and here) but something or other always kept me there. *sigh* 

Fourth time's a charm, right? 

I cited the ever-increasing workload (online orders have recently boomed) as one of the reasons to finally call it quits. I've been working three jobs for the past four years and it'd be nice to have the weekends free once and for all and just take it easy. 

I've also turned 40 at the end of last month and I made a commitment to myself to start creating art again. The extra free time will help with that goal. 

And my aunt comes over to my mom's for lunch Sunday afternoons. Now I'll get to see her much more often (instead of just during holidays). With my aunt's recent health issues, extra time spent with her is more important than any dead-end job. 

I told the crafts store I'd stay until the end of next month so they'll have seven more Sundays with me should I need to show them how to do certain things and/or help train someone else. 

I feel a sense of relief mixed with sadness but at least it's official now. 

It took a few tries but I consider it two-weeks' notice several years in the making!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

(When you) love someone.

This blogpost is dedicated to all those you love! 

If you have someone special you get to be with on this day you are truly blessed. 

Happy (St.) Valentine's Day, everyone!!

"There are days 
I wake up and I pinch myself 
You're with me, not someone else 
And I am scared, yeah, I'm still scared 
That it's all a dream 

'Cause you still look perfect as days go by 
Even the worst ones, you make me smile 
I'd stop the world if it gave us time 

'Cause when you love someone 
You open up your heart 
When you love someone 
You make room 
If you love someone 
And you're not afraid to lose 'em 
You probably never loved someone like I do 
You probably never loved someone like I do 

When you say 
You love the way I make you feel 
Everything becomes so real 
Don't be scared, no, don't be scared 
'Cause you're all I need 

And you still look perfect as days go by 
Even the worst ones, you make me smile 
I'd stop the world if it gave us time 

'Cause when you love someone 
You open up your heart 
When you love someone 
You make room 
If you love someone 
And you're not afraid to lose 'em 
You probably never loved someone like I do 
You probably never loved someone like I do 

All I my life, I thought it'd be hard to find the one 'til I found you 
And I find it bittersweet 
'Cause you gave me something to lose 

But when you love someone 
You open up your heart 
When you love someone 
You make room 
If you love someone 
And you're not afraid to lose 'em 
You probably never loved someone like I do 
You probably never loved someone like I do 
You probably never loved someone like I do."

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Blue. Socks. Bed.

My aunt was released from the hospital on Christmas Eve.

She completed her physical therapy and got the okay to spend the holidays with family.

When we got her home, however, she was still quite weak and her mobility limited. She had trouble walking up steps, standing up from a chair, and even getting off the couch.

The realization she'd need assistance with the simplest of things--her independence compromised--was too much. My aunt broke down and started crying. "I feel like such a failure," she said.

I stayed with her for the next several days in case she felt unsteady or needed help getting around the house.

I reminded her that she just had surgery (a hysterectomy) less than two weeks prior and it will take time to get back to the way she was.

"You're only a failure if you stop trying," I told her.

Each day she became a bit stronger and more mobile.

She stood from the kitchen chair, was able to get up from the couch, and I even had her walk outside to the backyard each day to practice going up and down the steps. Little victories that added up.

When she was first admitted into the Physical Therapy wing (before being sent home), the nurse asked my aunt what her goal was.

"To be able to do things on my own. To be be independent."

As a reminder of that goal and of how far my aunt has come since the operation, I made this mail art for her...

Markers and ink on standard mailing envelope - 5" x 7"

What better message to send than the word "independent".

The backside!

To test her cognitive skills, the nurse gave my aunt three words to remember and then was asked what they were several minutes later. "Blue. Socks. Bed." I snuck those in on the envelope as well.

When I last saw my aunt (a couple weeks ago), she seemed in better spirits, had her old personality back, and appeared much stronger. "You look like how you were before the surgery," I told her.

Recovering from the surgery is just the first step though. Next will come treatment in the weeks ahead for the remaining cancer but I know my aunt can handle it.

I'm rooting for you, Auntie!!