creativity, mother, special blessings

Mother’s Day Masterpiece

I’m speaking at a church this morning; about mothers, creativity, and faith, as I culminate months of writing about the same topics. The message I hope to convey is that God has given each of us gifts, and it is up to us to use them.

Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

My mother knew this. She lived it every day as she raised ten children, practiced her faith, and injected creativity into all aspects of her life.


While she produced many pieces of beautiful art, in the end, her life of faith had been her greatest masterpiece, the legacy she left behind for her children and grandchildren.

mom woodcarver

While I still have work to do to meet the end of May deadline, in honor of my mother on Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a small piece that comes at the end of my book, a brief, illustrative moment with my mother at the end of her life.


It was an unseasonably warm October day. Mom and I had conversed comfortably in the car on the way to and from her radiation appointment; about my recent blog posts that mentioned her, the LIVE sign I’d purchased, and her concern over her cat being attacked by some feral felines. I’d assumed if she’d wanted to discuss more serious topics, she’d have brought them up.

Back at her house, I helped her out of the car. She swayed a little as she stood, and I grabbed her arm to steady her. She clung to me as we made our way to her back door. Mom expressed the desire to stay outside, so I settled her in a chair before getting her coffee and cigarettes. Setting them on the small white table in front of her, I asked if she’d be alright if I headed home to make supper for David and the children. She assured me she would. I can remember leaning down to kiss her cheek, and while I’m certain I would have told her I loved her, I can’t recall actually saying the words.
Once inside the car, I started the engine before glancing back at Mom. She was looking straight at me, a smile on her face. She raised her hand slightly, giving a little wave. It was that one small gesture that undid me. My throat filled with tears and I could barely breathe. I looked away so she wouldn’t see me cry. My mother is dying, I thought as I headed down the driveway. My mother is dying. I sobbed all the way home.
There is so much we didn’t talk about that day. In fact, we hadn’t mentioned death or dying in any of our conversations since her diagnosis. I’d been with her when the doctor informed her she had lung cancer, had heard her whispered “I wondered what it would be.” We never talked about fear, or even faith, which surprised me, considering how important her religion was to her.
More than six years after her death, in early 2017, when I re-read letters Mom had written, her Memory Book, and the odd notebooks and partial journals I’d inherited, I realized she’d already said it all, had managed to impart her faith and knowledge in the life she’d lived. There was nothing more to say. Her last lesson was in facing death with dignity, grace, and the firm belief she would soon be joining both our father and Our Father.
She surprised me, this mother of mine, appearing in this manuscript in ways I had not imagined, her words neatly written in her perfect penmanship. It was a delight when my father unexpectedly made an appearance in the ninth chapter, and healing when a poem about my grandson erupted from the ashes of grief.
As I culminate months of writing, in my mind’s eye, I see my mother sitting outside at that little table, a cigarette in her hand, a cup of coffee in front of her. Her face is lit by a beatific smile, her eyes filled with love. She lifts her hand, giving a little wave.
“I love you, Mom,” I say this time, waving back.



Living A More Creative Life

In August I began a Lifelong Learner’s Creativity group at the library where I work. In November I signed a contract for a book on creativity. It has been an honor to watch the women in my group blossom and grow as we delve into each other’s interests and actively pursue a more creative life. 

My book includes optional *Ignite* activities at the end of each chapter, suggestions for exploring or jumpstarting your creative side. I’ve been testing out some of the activities on my group. Last night it was the Vision Board activity.

 “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” -Mary Oliver 

My mother left behind scrapbooks made from brown paper bag pages sewn together, with magazine pictures of things she’d like to make glued inside. A notebook labeled “Dream On” included ideas for home decorating. A collage of what I want to include in my life would have a blue butterfly smack dab in the middle, signifying the husband who encouraged me to fly. There would also be pictures of overflowing bookshelves, stacks of stationery. Beach scenes and mountains. What do you envision for your life or future? What do you want to surround yourself with? What are your hopes and dreams?
Make a vision board, alone, or with a group. Tear pictures out of magazines. Arrange them on poster board. Add inspirational quotes from our previous chapter, or words like “possibilities” or “fly” that are torn from magazines. What does your creative future look like?

vision board

Thanks to the brilliant idea from another member, I decided to utilize a black-framed bulletin board I picked up at Goodwill for mine. I’m thrilled with the results, though I know I will be adding to it. The Bible verse is one that is particularly meaningful to me since my husband’s death. Seeing a mountain is on my bucket list, and I want to add more nature into my life. The picture in the middle is one I’ve had in a file folder since shortly after my mother died, when I discovered her brown bag scrapbooks, and imagined doing something similar, collecting pictures of things that were pleasing to my eye. 

This book will be dedicated to my mother, one of the most creative women I’ve ever known.

mom woodcarver.jpg

The book will include profiles of some creative people between chapters. At least two of them are women in my Lifelong Learner’s group. From my work in progress:

The “Sparks” between each of this book’s chapters are short profile pieces of ordinary people like you and me, who have managed to practice creativity in their everyday life. It’s no coincidence that the first profile is the obituary of a woman my mother often spoke of in a reverential tone. My great-aunt Christine, or “Aunt Chrissie,” as my mother called her, is a perfect example of a life well-lived, steeped in creativity and faith.

We should all leave such a legacy, one that embodies what an Irma who wasn’t my mother said, the famous Erma Bombeck: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say ‘I used everything you gave me.’”



drawing, writing

Artistic Talent, Wherefore Art Thou?

“If you had the talent once, you still have it. You just have to keep practicing, or you lose it.” These wise words came from my artistic young nephew Ben yesterday as he and his equally gifted brother Garrett set up their projects for a homeschool art show being held today.

Viewing their intricate drawings, watercolor paintings and even handcrafted Samurai armor, I can only say I felt humbled to be in the presence of such talent.

I used to be able to draw. I drew all the time, even during class while the teacher talked at the front of the room. The sides of my papers were always full of my doodling.  In the summer I drew as much as I read, and that was a lot. As a young teen I took my sketch pad with me everywhere, especially when I was babysitting at my art teacher’s house, where delicious art books filled every shelf.  It was at his house in 1977 that I drew this picture;

This one is dated 1979, a self-portrait:

It was the 70’s and we were the “ME” generation.  Our teachers had us do a lot of self-portraits, in many mediums. This one from freshman year was done in pastels:

At the same time I was writing stories about old men who collected sandwiches and poems of unrequited teen love, I was doodling pictures that reflected my teenage angst:

I wrote a poem around this same age that reflected the fractured feelings I’d experienced after a break-up with a boyfriend, one who left me “in pieces” like the puzzle pieces of my face in the picture above:

You see, it was sometime during my teen years I began turning to writing more than drawing to express myself.  In college I didn’t take any art classes at all, but I did take several writing classes. After my son Daniel was born in 1980, I attempted capturing his image in drawings a couple of times, once while he was asleep, and another time from a photo of him, but the results were disappointing.

My children all learned to draw and paint without having a mother who did the same.  They have all seen me writing, however, and known the glazed look in my eyes when they interrupt one of my writing sessions. Oddly enough, in the speeches I give on writing I often say the exact same thing my nephew said, “Practice your craft. If you want to refine your craft, you must continually work at it.”  When I told my nephew I used to draw and wondered aloud if I could still do it, he gave me the same advice I always give to aspiring writers.

If you had it once, you still have it. You just have to practice.”

Did I still have  it?  I went home from setting up the art show, wondering that.

Then I remembered the pencil I’d found in my mother’s work room, set on the windowsill as if she’d just set it there while working on one of her own sketches.

It wasn’t even a drawing pencil, just a thin pencil advertising Stanley products “moving forward in 1950.”

But my mother was one of the most creative people I know, and she’d used this pencil. Artistic prowess had formed from this very pencil.

What if I tried using this “magic” pencil? Then could I still draw?  I sat down at the kitchen table with this pencil and a piece of my daughter Katie’s drawing paper and started sketching. When Katie walked in a few minutes later, she audibly gasped.

“You can draw?” she asked.

“I think it is Grandma’s magic pencil,” I replied, and her eyes narrowed while she scrutinized the simple writing instrument. She is 11 years old, that magical age between innocent childhood and the hardened skepticism of teenhood. Could a pencil really give her mother the ability to draw?  But she’d never seen me draw before, except for a few rudimentary dog and cat sketches I entertained her sister with during church services.  She snatched the pencil from my fingers.

“Can I try it?”  And within minutes she’d effortlessly drawn a picture of a bird, one of her better drawings.

“It really works.”

Now, I know the single picture I drew with my mother’s pencil is not that great. If it were a poem and I were an English teacher I’d probably scrawl in red pencil at the bottom of it, “Needs work.”

But for someone who hasn’t practiced the craft since 1982, it isn’t half bad. My nephew was right.  The art talent is still in there, latent.  If I ever decide I want to draw or paint, the raw talent is still there, a craft I could refine if I chose to do so.  The same advice I give to anyone interested in writing.

What are you waiting for?  If you want to write, start writing. And don’t stop. Keep writing and refining your craft of writing.

So it is with drawing or painting. If you want to be an artist, start drawing and keep drawing.

And you might want to search eBay for a case of Stanley product premium pencils from the 1950’s.