Mighty deep milliliters to fill

Yesterday my pink Camelbak water bottle dropped onto a slab of concrete. It was as if it happened in slow motion; the water bottle was loosed from my hand, it plummeted full of water to the gray ground below. It hit with a dull thud and prompt explosion. Water gushed from the newly formed stress fracture, which had opened at the bottom edge of the container and snaked its way around the thin, pink belly. When I collected the injured vessel, the remaining water sloshed and oozed from the fissure. It was still dripping when my coworker opened the door and remarked, “What happened?” She was focused on the puddle of water spreading across the concrete. I told her simply, “I dropped my water container.” I held it up as as if it were an item for show and tell. Her response was simple, “That sucks.” Walking inside the door, dripping bottle in hand, I remarked with a plain voice, “It does.”

But my sympathetic coworker didn’t understand just how much this event ‘sucked.’ That water bottle was given to me by a coworker from a previous job. It was a bridal shower gift. Whenever I looked at the pink container I remembered the shower, I remembered times at my previous job spent with those friends. We’ve somewhat lost contact now, but I know how to get in touch, just as they know how to find me. We haven’t needed to be in contact, but it was convenient to know that we could; we’d probably pick up right where we left off. In other words, it was a place of limbo, not in the past anymore, but not maintaining a relationship in the present. In that moment, as the water gushed and spread in every direction, my mind knew what my heart had been telling me for too long: it’s time to let go.

There were cheerful memories from that previous job: impromptu antics of coworkers, time spent with exotic animals, days spent teaching inside while the weather broiled outside. There is nothing I regret about having that job for the years during high school, college then post college. But it is also my past. Years and years of growing up, all of those same people watching as I went from a high school student to a college intellectual to a graduate who realized I knew so much less than what I thought. It was a second home. Eventually I did leave due to my husband needing my help with his web design business. I left the nest, but I took mementos with me. The friendships, the pictures, the items such as my water bottle and I held on to them tightly. Every year since, the friendships have begun to change and spread apart. There are children in lives that previously were full of parties. The pictures have begun to fade or have been hidden under layers of folders on my external drives. The items have disappeared from being packed, unpacked, packed, unpacked. Most had lost their meaning except the water bottle. It was the lasting relic that was used daily both during my previous job and beyond it.

But it had been keeping me rooted in the past and I wonder if even relics know it is time to move on. My hand had a firm grip on the container, but it fell anyways, sacrificing itself and the water across the pavement. It knew it was time to stop peering over my shoulder looking at how it used to be and, instead, to look at what is to be.

I would be lying if I said that a piece of my heart didn’t ached all of yesterday as I spent the six hours at work without the bottle by my side. I could say I wanted water, which I did, but you and I both know it was about more. The water bottle was a token that could open my memories and for the first time in six years, it was no longer there. It has moved on like everything else into the past.

Now I need to find a new water bottle, preferably one that isn’t pink. It will hold with it all the potential for the next leg of the journey. What will it store? Memories of my husband traveling through medical school? Memories of times spent writing my next books? Memories of children entering our lives? The pink bottle was able to witness the start of our marriage, the start of a new career, the opening of businesses, but it also saw heartache. Many newlywed fights, unfortunate job loss when the market turned sour, lost friendships, struggles that accompany any life. Six years of life all in one bottle, but it is time for the new to enter and in so many areas, I am ready for the new to begin. But it is still painful to say goodbye to the past and begin again.

I will go tomorrow to pick out the new bottle. I truly hope I can find a turquoise one, that would be my favored color. Turquoise is the color of tropical waters, it is found most commonly in my art. I can make room for a new turquoise item in my life. It will be a fine new addition for the next six years. Let’s hope it is ready for what’s in store because it has some might deep milliliters to fill.
 

 
Camelbak Bottle

What a summer day in Ohio looks like to me

This past Sunday my father, my husband and I packed into a Jeep Wrangler and went to the Ohio State Fair. The evening prior we had decided we wanted to arrive at the fairgrounds early, as in 9 o’clock in the morning. This decision was made with the weather forecast in mind because storms, according to our meteorologists, threatened to invade central Ohio later Sunday afternoon. The morning held the greatest chance of avoiding soaking rain drops, which seemed all around ideal for visiting the fair.

As it turned out, there was one brief downpour that served to cool us down midway through our trip, so it was a welcomed visitor. Also welcomed visitors were the clouds and wind. Here’s a tip we learned from our time there. If you see that there will be windy conditions, cloudy skies and a chance for rain, this is what it means for your visit: a fresh, consistent breeze, no blaring sun and a mist to cool you off from your trek around the acres of asphalt. Who would have guessed it would turn out to be a major bonus?

The fair is always a ‘I can only go once every few years’ event, but when I go, I do enjoy it. For me the adventure is mainly about the animals. I love cattle, which admittedly is a genetic trait coming down from my mother’s lineage. I especially love Jersey cows; sadly our day at the fair produced no Jerseys but rather the closest breed to a Jersey, a Guernsey cow. I was able to pet her. They are cute, sweet and soft, but not the same.

During the one rain storm of our trip, we happened into the cow barn and watched the judging of Ohio Shorthorn cattle. They are quite an adorable breed with their stocky bodies, fluffy coats, large eyes and manageable nature. In other words, it would be difficult for me to not turn this breed of cattle into a pet. They are bred for their meat, but perhaps I could add a few to my future herd and tell everyone they are a new type of dairy cow.

We ventured around for what most people would say is the main staple of the fair: the food. I will hide nothing from you and admit this was my second motivation in visiting the fairgrounds after visiting the cattle. I wanted to get some delicious fried food. I will also hide nothing from you when I say that my ability to consume vast quantities of fried food does not exist, except in my imagination. This being the case, I knew I had to choose wisely. How could I resist deep fried mashed potatoes? They were delicious by the way. And deep fried red velvet coated Oreos? Ah, certainly worth trying because the cake-covered coating provided a pillowy exterior that was far superior to the ordinary fried Oreos. The final celebration of food was an elusive funnel cake with Bavarian cream topping. It used to be so popular, but the deep fried gummy bears must have pushed it out of the category. Side note: Deep fried gummy bear? Who considered this? They are giant gummy bears if you are wondering because I certainly did when I heard a DJ talking about them on the radio. The idea perplexed me far longer than it should have. Back to my point, the funnel cake was my final tasting adventure of the day and it was well worth seeking it out back behind the helicopter rides, haunted house and kiddy roller coasters.

To work off the fried goodness, we walked back to the dairy area to check out the butter sculptures, which were a fun assortment of Ohio animals such as a salamander, whitetail deer and cardinal as well as the ever-present, always popular butter cow. As a sculptor, I appreciate having to work in a medium that would be as challenging as butter. Plus, is that a good way to begin a diet? “So you’re commissioning me to make 5 sculptures out of how many pounds of butter?” I think I would need to cook with olive oil for the next year after that project. Either way, I’m so glad there are willing artists because the sculptures are fun to see.

Last on our agenda was the Agriculture building. My dad is growing pumpkins in his garden this year not because he planted them but because they sprouted themselves from the Halloween pumpkins of last year. That’s a testament to those seeds that they overwintered despite the ridiculous arctic temperatures. Because the gourds are growing at a rapid pace, I was curious if the fair would have a few on display. I was also curious if his pumpkins could rival the ones other people brought in. We went to the Ag building, but alas there were no pumpkins. They must be arriving this week for their competition. His potential in winning a gourd competition will have to go unanswered for 2014.

All in all, it was a fun time with my family, lovely animals, mild weather and good food. We came home and rested, I finished reading ‘Mrs. Poe’ just as the weather radio began chirping about a tornado watch in our area. The fair, summer reading and tornado sirens, is there any better way to mark summer in Ohio? I think not.

 

The interesting being that is creativity

It’s been an exciting time in my studio…for the dust bunnies. Truth be told, I haven’t been working on my art like I should be. And by ‘working on my art’ I exactly mean I haven’t been working on it at all. No paint brush has been utilized, no graphite pencil has been grasped. There are many excuses I could list to explain my distance. Here are a few: getting a part time job because it was too tempting of an opportunity, working on two novels, enjoying the outdoors to the point of thoroughly exhausting myself after a long hike. Those are all true and perhaps they are excuses or perhaps they are not. I’ll be in the camp of ‘yes, those are legitimate excuses!’ because I can be.

The funny thing about creativity is that it springs up on a person when one least expects it. I’ve been applying my creativity to my writing, but not to my visual art. Due to this decision, a battle has commenced in my mind; it’s become downright ferocious too. I suppose it’s my brain’s visual art side that is demanding attention in much the same way as a great sibling rivalry. I absolutely love my writing time, I cherish it beyond all other time I have. Leave me be in a quiet room with my pen and paper and I need nothing more for a few days. Maybe some water for survival and some bits of food; sustenance is required, or so I’m told. It’s bliss. But when I get into a painting mode, ah, the time slips away and the colors invigorate me. They tell me where they want to go on the canvas and it’s also a blissful, serene time. Of course I know colors don’t control me, but it’s nice to spend time letting my visual side take over.

But here’s where I find my biggest dilemma: I can paint for less time than I can write. It takes more out of me, which is to say when I am working with any of the visual arts, I feel physically drained as though I just ran a half marathon (I write this having no working knowledge of what one feels like after a half marathon, but I’m sure one feels a certain level of fatigue). I am not sure why but for some reason this exhaustion makes it more difficult to gear up for the journey of transporting colors from the palette to the canvas. Similarly, this also might be the reason I have never participated in a half marathon: the impending exhaustion negates the will to begin the process.

There does come a point, however, when my visual side doesn’t want to listen to my excuses and it grips me without letting go until I commit to it. That’s where I am right now. If I had my preference, at the current moment I would write. But I’ve known for some time that when the weather is in the H2 range – that is hot and humid – my creative ability to write fiction evaporates like morning dew on grass. It sizzles up before the day has begun. As if in response, my visual art creativity comes to life when the seasons are in the H2 range. It’s a perfect balance of sharing two loves in my life, or should be.

By writing this, hopefully what I am working towards is an explanation that you can expect to see some new art on my website. Through some self-analysis, I’ve realized that my visual art needs to be more sacred to me and needs to be more of an expression of my joy, life and creativity than what I’ve been allowing. If you are an artist, maybe you know what I mean by that. If you aren’t an artist and aren’t sure what I mean, well, neither do I so you’re in good company.

Creativity is not something that can be controlled. True creativity is a gift that comes to a person as if they are divinely inspired. Sure, I can prepare the conditions to help creativity find me, but to truly be inspired is something I can’t control. I was attempting to explain this to my mother who is a mathematically-inclined person. In other words, she is the exact opposite of myself. She operates on schedules, on bank schedules specifically, where there is a certain amount of predictability. I think that is often how our western world wants to work. We are trained in a classroom from an early age to be on a schedule. Even in college with my art classes, there were deadlines and rubrics, but I understand there had to be constraints. As a result, my creativity needed to be constrained and fit into a mold in order that grading art assignments would be quantifiable for the professors. Only during my independent study classes did I see my creativity begin to pop outside of that molded education box.

Related to this, I once heard an artist state that she needed to unlearn what had been taught to her in art school. At the time I assumed that her assertion was crazy. Just crazy! But now I’m beginning to understand the importance of this. It isn’t that she needs to unlearn her education because logic dictates that being impossible. Rather she was stating a need to peel back some layers of the box that is called education. Once you learn the foundation, learn the proper techniques, then you can start to see where your personal creativity wants to take you. The skills are there, the rules are very apparent, but it’s when you know the rules that you know when you can break them.

I think that is where I am with my art. I also believe this to be the root of my frustration and hesitation. My education has served me so well, but now I need to jump onto the path of ‘my own way.’ It’s scary and intimidating. How do I know what will be a mistake or a leap of inspiration? Education would have told me which was which without requiring my further analysis, but if they taught me well – which they did – then I should have the confidence to know I will eventually answer that question. I want to push my art and push myself, but I can only do that by deciding to explore my own path.

That’s been my ultimate excuse for letting those dust bunnies take over my studio. But no more! I choose to take up my brush and beat them away. Hopefully the flurry of inspired activity will encourage them to live somewhere else. Under my easel is officially reserved parking for my blobs of paint and shavings of pencils only.

Creativity OnDemand…If only!

It’s Thursday, which is my day to vacuum and do laundry. I was able to get both of these accomplished by 11am so I’m marking that as a win.

In other news, I’m not sure I have other news. There were some great stories I wanted to mention in other posts, but didn’t because the post would have become a book. And now I’ve completely forgotten all of those great stories. Every single one! My memory must have made an impromptu decision to place those stories in the shredder, which was probably run before 11am just like my vacuuming and laundry. This is not a win.

But I do have this to offer. There has been something on my mind that I wanted to share and – bonus! – I remember it vividly. This is probably because I have been mulling it over and over again.

It concerns this post from TheNester.com. I stumbled upon it on BooMama’s site and it addresses the quandaries creative people face with living in a world that is not in sync with the way our brain is structured. I’ll go ahead and say for the record that I struggle with this nearly every day. While in college, I had classes about how to fully engage the right brain, i.e., setting aside hours of non-distraction, minimizing noises that contain words or numbers, but every now and again I need to be reminded of its importance. It has been more evident recently as I find myself asking, Why is it so difficult to write, right now?

My schedule has been a bit erratic as of late and with the mid-day appointments, calls, meetings and other, it has been a feat to sit down and put the fingers to the keys. I may have an appointment at 11am, which means I can write in the evening, but with making dinner and not knowing what time my husband will be home, I find myself in limbo. Then there are the emails that ‘bloopety bloop’ and, because I treat them as though they are a Christmas present, my brain starts repeating ‘I must look!’ They are never a Christmas present in case you were wondering. They are sometimes spam, sometimes business-y stuff or most of the time informative updates. Nary a present to be found, so sad.

Taking this behavior into account after reading the creative people outcry (aka, the blog post), I wondered why I was letting so many behaviors alter my creativity. If I know better, why do I let it occur? Oh, a loaded question. At this point in time without having done much delving, I’ve come to this conclusion: Somehow in the midst of running this art business, writing and managing a life, I’ve found that I need to keep up on these ‘little’ things as they happen. Is this a theory I’ve read or a business tip I found on some billboard that I, for some reason, do not recollect? I do not know. I have no idea where this theory comes from. It does make a lot of sense to take care of issues as they come in – put out the fires while they are small, if you will. And combat those emails as they arrive so you don’t peek at the inbox at 5pm and see 100 new messages. That might equal an instant coronary. However, this is a schedule for a different person with a different work environment and brain than me.

But, as I think about it more, the time demands aren’t the only distractions for me. I find that when things are causing me grief in my personal life in one way or another, such as moving, money, marriage, and/or friends, my creative well dries up like a desert. There are tumbleweeds rolling and cacti establishing their roots in my right brain as I type. Not really, it’s not nearly that bad, but I might have seen some sand building. There might have been some burrowing owls flying around, scoping out a nice spot to set up shop.

The impact of emotional dilemmas on creativity is something they neglected to mention in art school – but perhaps my professors subscribed to the belief that frustration leads to better artwork? I doubt it because my professors knew what I know: That theory is a myth; rich artwork has been made by rich artists and poor artwork has been made by poor artists.

But I still find myself in a pickle about this topic on finding creativity amidst busy schedules and emotional glitches. Situations are going to arise. Marriage is a ‘learn as you go’ up and down journey. Money is both wonderful and the bane of my existence. Moving, ah, that’s just, ah – there are no words for that right now. But this is life and the roller coaster of life goes up and down, and if I wanted it to stop, well, I wouldn’t get much writing done under the ground. I need to find peace through the storm (remember how I said I prayed about this recently?), which is taking on a whole new meaning when it begins to reach into the area of my livelihood.

As with most things in life, I know it’s going to work itself out. I may be out of rhythm, but it will find me again. That problem won’t be solved instantly, but that’s okay because I finished vacuuming and laundry before 11am. Still a win.

 

Sometimes you encounter an invisible train

Yesterday a funny thing happened, which at the time was the opposite of funny. I’ll find the humor in it after a few weeks, which is per the usual with such circumstances.

Here’s the set up – I had an 11:15 am meeting scheduled. In order to reach this meeting’s location, I needed to cross a railroad track, which is rarely utilized. It is so scarcely utilized that throughout my time in high school, college, post-college, and current days’ activities, I’ve probably been stopped by a train at this set of tracks about 5 times – and that’s being generous. However, this past weekend, regardless of my 10 years worth of observation, I had a little inkling that informed me I should allow extra time for a train. So I did.

I got myself ready, checked myself in the mirror, gathered all of my plethora of items needed for the meeting, pre-meeting, post-meeting: items, they were gathered. Since I am a person who would opt for waiting an extra ten minutes rather than be a minute late, I decided to allot an extra five minutes before the time I had originally planned to leave, which already included a five minute window for a train. Five minutes would be plenty of time to wait even if it was a long train, slow train, fast train, blue train: Train, I was prepared.

Are you thinking I’m an overplanner? Well, it’s possible, but let’s get back on track. Ha.

I headed out on my journey: over the highway, around the bend, stop and go through a four-way stop and then I see it. The railroad crossing with red lights a-blinking. They had just turned on. There was no train yet, but the road protecting barriers were being lowered. I continued on my journey all the while reassuring myself, I have plenty of time. I allowed five minutes plus five minutes plus a few extra minutes I didn’t already tell you about because you might get concerned about my preparedness.

Being the second car in line, I waited dutifully for the train. I turned down my music to hear the train. There was not a sound except the sparrows chirping in a nearby bush. I tried to remain calm, but as the minutes passed, I still couldn’t hear the clickety clack of train wheels. I saw nothing but the annoyed red lights of the Infiniti in front of me.

More minutes passed and my minutes of allowance were nearing to a close. The train, as I was now convinced, must be invisible, which unfortunately gave no hint at its plans to free us, the trapped prisoners. My fingers and heart drummed on.

It is at this point in the story where I will provide this piece of information. I have been admiring people who are standing still despite a storm in their lives. So far in my life, my ability to remain calm during the storm would not be in the ‘positive attribute’ column. Let’s be honest, it was a huge negative. However, it was an attribute that I recently prayed would be worked on. I knew what this meant – that I would get lots of opportunities to learn through hands on knowledge. It’s the best way I learn after all. With that said, back to the story.

Somehow the minutes of the clock were speeding up. They were clearly not following the 60 second rule, but were advancing after only 30 seconds. Physics was being denied before my eyes – alert the presses. When the clock hit 10:57, I knew that I had to find another way around. There was a Route B in my head. It involved roughly 15 lights, heavy traffic and construction zones. It was the reason I chose Plan A in the first place, which had 2 lights, no heavy traffic, no construction zones, but apparently contained invisible trains. Who knew?

After waiting for a total of 10 minutes for that invisible train, I made the executive decision to try Route B. I whirled my car around and darted through the lights, through the traffic and, thankfully, through the vacant construction zones. I arrived with a ferociously beating heart and 3 minutes early to my meeting. With 15 lights to speak of, I’m considering this a miracle. Let’s just say I probably seemed a little extra peppy when I greeted the receptionist. “Hi,” breath, “I’m Cortney,” breath, “here for,” breath…”

Regardless of the exciting journey getting there, the two hour meeting was delightful and all was well at the end of the day. A win!

Some thoughts:
While I was on Route B, I was keeping myself calm. It was all kinds of difficult to do, but I did it. My adrenaline helped my brain to be fired up for the meeting, which was a bonus, but I didn’t plunge into panic. I stayed focused, asked God to ready the lights for me to drive through instead of wait. I had to wait on two, but two of fifteen isn’t bad. They weren’t long lights either. Just a 30 second pause (which was a full minute because of the new physic’s rule) until I was off again. I arrived early and I practiced what I had been wanting to learn: having calm in the storm.

There are truly so many lessons that could be taken from this story, so many that I was pondering while it was occurring: allowing plenty of time for unexpected events like invisible trains, trusting God to get you where he needs you to be despite your timetable, taking a route that you would have avoided only to find out ‘the easier path’ is the one with the bigger difficulties. But the takeaway I like the most is this:

Sometimes I plan everything out, gather my ‘stuff’, ensure my timing is correct, have all the correct information only to realize that when I set off down the path, something entirely unexpected and unpredictable gets in my way. I may panic, get frustrated, try to curse the unexpected thing, but all of that is wasting time that could be better spent going down God’s route. God will get me to the same place and will get me there early too. But it is by going the way he needs me to go that I will see his miracles, his grace and his opportunities that would have never crossed my path on the other route. Route A is my route. Route B is a combined route of him and me and made for a better adventure…pushing through the lights, narrowly escaping the construction delay, feeling the rush of adrenaline as I whipped into the parking space knowing that I made it! I did what I never believed possible: I went the twenty minute route, which somehow took me ten minutes, and still arrived three minutes early.” Amen to that.

 

How many ponderings can one weekend produce?

Answer: More than my word limit.

Whenever I get to Monday it seems as though any activities from the weekend are entirely forgotten as though a black hole just suddenly moved into my memory’s path. It’s very odd because I specifically remember multiple times during the weekend when I thought, This would be great to mention on my blog.

Well, apparently my memory’s jury decided that all the times I thought something was interesting was instead just a pile of untruths. So sad. I really need to start writing things down in a notebook. I’ll just tuck that away for the next time I’m at the store and thinking, I know there was something I wanted to pick up, what was it?

On further thinking, the truth is that most of the weekend I was reading. For a long while I’ve been in a reading rut – mainly due to suggestions that just didn’t fit my interests – but as of the past week, it has been cured. All of the books I’ve stumbled upon were winners. Two weeks ago and this past week I finished Richard Branson’s ‘Losing my Virginity’ and ‘Like a Virgin.’ The prior is a memoir from 1998 and earlier. The latter is a book concerning what they don’t teach you in business school. I thoroughly enjoyed both books and recommend them if you enjoy memoirs and real-life, real-world business/management advice.

As for this past weekend, I picked up Anna Quindlen’s ‘Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake’ along with Lysa TerKeurst’s ‘Unglued.’ These books hit me in remarkably different ways, but each way was powerful. Anna Quindlen’s book is a memoir; TerKeurst’s is a guide through ‘making wise choices in the midst of raw emotions.’ I would place it in the Christian self-help genre. I have a chapter to finish before I call it complete.

Let’s just say that both of these books acted like a Capstone on some ‘things’ I’ve been working through over the past few years. They worked together to reinforce the direction I’m moving in life, or probably more accurately stated, the way I’m being moved in life. Without meaning to, the weekend took on a ‘spiritual retreat’ vibe that results in the type of pondering that leaves your head spinning for weeks after. Good thing I enjoy being reflective or else I might have wondered who sabotaged my weekend!

Lately I’ve noticed that everything I read seems to build and relate to one another. I don’t think I’ve ever been more aware of this stair step learning than now. If it occurred in my past, it was unbeknownst to me and my conscious thought. Here’s what has been going on: each time I read a book, watch a tv program (which nowadays seem relatively rare unless I’m working out) or watching a movie, there seems to be a progression of some point that was learned or discovered in a past book/program/movie. It’s been rapid fire emotional growing and leaves me with a sense that all of these discoveries and new learning points are accumulating for a new experience/adventure I’m getting ready to take. It’s exciting and awe-inspiring to see how amazingly one thing builds on another, especially since the places I discover the books/movies are varied: a magazine at the dentist’s office, a blog post that was relayed by a blog I regularly read, a suggestion from a small bookstore’s website, a tv program because there’s nothing else on the other 300+ channels. The lessons and reinforcements from one subject to the next are uncanny and leave me in awe of how God can line up such seemingly insignificant things.

And, if you’re curious to know what some of these lessons have been about, here’s a glimpse of what has been on my mind over the past few months:

- The complexity and beauty of marriage. After six months of marriage, my husband and I faced the recession and the surprise it brought: my husband’s company performing a major layoff. He was one of the many employees who had to be let go. Let’s be honest, events like this fall into the category, ‘Things I never want to experience, never, ever.’ This came at a time when I was preparing to enter a graduate program and my enrollment was based on his steady salary. I didn’t go to grad school; he had to get resourceful with finding a new job. To say the least, this dramatically altered our world and marriage. (This period of our lives would require its own book; there was heartbreak, gnashing of teeth, forgiveness, spiteful words, more heartache, rejoicing, miracles, and more.)

- The importance of keeping up with everyone else. Well, the lack there of. Due to the above mentioned event, my husband’s layoff, we had to do an about-face with our life planning. Buying a house, getting pets, moving up the career ladder, and anything else that typically is marked on that American ‘have to have’ calendar suddenly was wiped off. No longer did we fit in the mold of what we were supposed to do by age 25, then age 30 and on and on. It has been a freeing ride, that’s for sure, though not an easy adjustment when we hear about others who are ticking off the ‘have to haves’ from their list. God took us from that path and we’ve been learning to be grateful ever since.

- God doesn’t forget about us. This has been the biggest lesson I’ve needed to get into my core: He never leaves us. There were times, oh trust me on this, there were times that I was just wanting any little hope that he was there. With my human eyes, I just couldn’t see how God was anywhere close to us; perhaps he was even running away? But not at all. He was there, but there were times when my heart needed to be shaped and molded. I needed to learn some important lessons. With my stubbornness, which was coupled with a hefty dose of willfulness, I needed some tough love enrobed in some silence. It’s only been recently, after a five year learning period, that I’m beginning to comprehend what those difficult years taught me. It will be many, many more years before I probably see just how vast and amazing the teaching was. For now, I’m moving into the ‘being grateful’ phase of the process and appreciating that we went through the difficult journey. That is a big step for me.

- Embracing who I am. This is such a deep topic for me and learning to celebrate my uniqueness, even when some of it involves what the world may see as a fault, is so important to life’s happiness. I stopped fighting and changing like a chameleon. I’ve stopped telling myself ‘one million and one’ things need to change. I’ve been made so specifically and I want to let all of those gifts shine. To be someone else is exhausting. It feels good to have gone through so much stripping away to uncover who I was made to be. It took five years, but I’m there; happy, joyful and at peace with this great person God crafted.

Like I said, it’s been a reflective weekend. If I thought a bit more, I would be able to think of many more items that have been revealed to me lately, but my word limit is up. I’m not certain how to end this post with any grace, but the following story seems appropriate. The other day, my husband mentioned that he has been feeling as though we’re heading for a big change. This was out of the blue, out of left field, especially considering I haven’t told him about my personal feelings on the matter; that I too have been feeling that a big change is in store. It serves to confirm for me that something is happening and might be happening soon. Exciting times are afoot! Perhaps I could say with a bit of confidence that the silence has been broken. Let’s hope so!

 

 

I’ll make my chocolate cake and eat it, too

Last night as my husband and I were heading home from the library, I declared that I wanted to make a chocolate cake before the sun set. Earlier in the day I had seen another person’s blog posting concerning not wasting any leftover buttermilk by way of making a chocolate cake. For some reason – of which I do not have a clear origin since I don’t ordinarily love chocolate anything – I became consumed by the idea of making a chocolate cake for the rest of the day.

I tried to push it out of my mind, but I was foiled. Even while at the dentist where I should have been thinking, let’s minimize sugar, I was thinking instead, chocolate cake, must make chocolate cake. Finally, at 7:40pm last night I searched for a recipe and found Beatty’s Chocolate Cake recipe by Ina Garten – it was highly rated – and it also included buttermilk, which is the only true reason I wanted to make a chocolate cake in the first place. I’m not a waster, you see.

Beatty's Chocolate Cake

From Food Network: Beatty’s Chocolate Cake

So I made it promptly thereafter. It came out of the oven smelling like pure gloriousness, which I’ve been told cakes are wont to do. Then we had to wait the obligatory 30 minutes for it to cool. I feel as though I need to state my opinion on this “wait until cool” rule: When it comes to this step, it seems rather optional in my mind. “But I don’t mind eating a very warm cake. How about make it a la mode? It’s how all the fancy restaurants serve desserts and they make it seem like a novelty – ‘it’s whipped up fresh just for you’.”

But my husband gave me a look when I asserted my wishes and walked away. He declared it needed to sit, so I let it sit. Then 25 minutes later, we ate the dessert that tasted just as glorious as it smelled. I whipped up the frosting while the cake was baking (breaking one of the rules in the recipe, but in light of all the others I broke last night, it seemed trivial) and let the frosting sit until the cake was cool enough to eat. Well, at least cool enough to eat without scalding our mouths. The cake was still much too hot to frost in its entirety, so I opted for a different approach: I put a dollop on top of my cake serving and called it a day. The frosting melted within a minute of being on the cake, but whatever, it became a chocolate butter sauce. Tasted great either way and no one else seemed to mind the frosting sauce.

Chocolate Cake

Exhibit A: After I frosted it this morning.

Verdict on the recipe: I’m no aficionado of chocolate cakes because of my aforementioned dislike of most chocolate items, however, this cake is outstanding. It’s incredibly moist because it doesn’t use butter (which also means it will stay moist many days after baking) and buttermilk is like a secret moist-inducing ninja. Also, frostings are a sensitive subject for me mainly because I’m in the camp of swiss buttercream, which is fluffy without being too sugary. The traditional buttercreams you find adorning your grocer’s cakes and cupcakes are like my kryptonite. Ick – gritty, sugary fluff. But my husband likes those gritty frostings. Much to my surprise, the frosting accompanying this recipe was one I preferred: not too sweet, very velvety and smooth. It spread like ‘buttah’ – because it was. Go figure.

Here are some of my notes on this recipe:

Disclaimer: I’m not a person who is known to follow rules with recipes. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve followed a recipe to the letter. This includes baking recipes in which everyone claims you can’t step out of line or the kitchen will melt. So, me being me, and mostly because I just can’t help it, I made a few alterations.

Changes to cake:

- I mixed this batter by hand with a handy, dandy whisk. Sometimes I like the old fashioned route, which also works my arm muscles. I might have also been avoiding grabbing the hand mixer from the cabinet. I’m pretty sure Julia Child probably used this excuse too. Ha. Using this approach meant the cocoa powder didn’t mix in completely once I added the wet ingredients. Once the batter was all together, I had little bubbles of cocoa powder speckling the top. ‘Eh,’ I said, ‘it will be covered up by the frosting and even if I do notice, it will be a little zingy bitter chocolate taste.’ Reason for change? I wanted to eat cake.

- I combined the coffee into my wet ingredients and then poured the ‘bowl of wet’ into the dry ingredients. I was supposed to mix the wet into the dry then add the coffee. Whoops. Reason for change? I didn’t read the recipe thoroughly because I wanted to eat cake.

- I used a 13×19 glass pan (gasp, not glass!), turned the temperature to 340 degrees and baked for about 42 minutes, which was when the toothpick came out clean. Reason? I wanted to eat cake and didn’t want to fool around with two cake pans. It was 8:15 at night after all.

Changes to frosting:

- I melted the chocolate into a bowl in the microwave instead of using a double boiler. Actually my husband did this step. I don’t know if I used 6 oz. of chocolate because I used up what remained of a semi-sweet chocolate chunk bag then added 4 blocks of Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Pound Plus chocolate bar. In the end, I might have put 12 oz of chocolate into the frosting. Whoops. Reason for changes: I didn’t think extra chocolate could mess up the frosting and I didn’t want to use the bittersweet chocolate I had in the cabinet. I also wanted to use up those extra chocolate chunks that had been sitting in the cabinet. To add to this, I also softened the butter in the microwave and accidentally melted some of it. This typically happens because I think ‘just a second more’ and then I see the yellow puddle forming. Darn it! Each and every time. Eh, in the end, it never matters. Unless I were to melt it all – that would matter.

- I didn’t gradually add in the confectioner’s sugar because I’ve found that even when I do this, I get a cloud of sugar dusting my kitchen. This is fine on my cake, not on my floors, counters, jars, stove, ceiling, everywhere. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of this approach so instead of leaving it to chance, I always mix the sugar in by hand until the cloud of sugar will no longer threaten my sanity.

- I didn’t add dissolved chocolate granules into the frosting but instead used chocolate flavoring and coconut extract. They worked well and though I didn’t measure them, I tried to get it around 2 teaspoons. Reason? I didn’t want the added caffeine of the coffee granules since chocolate has enough on its own. Reason for not measuring out the amounts even though I had a measuring spoon right next to me? I love to live on the edge.

- I made the frosting in advance. The recipe clearly states to immediately frost the cake once you’re done making the frosting. This would also mean waiting until the cake is entirely cool before making the frosting in the first place. I didn’t have that much time, so I accelerated the process. I ended up with chocolate butter sauce, but like I said earlier, it tasted great too. To compensate, I refrained from frosting the entire cake until the next morning. Reason for change: My impatience.

Another note:

- This cake has an extremely wet batter. It’s pretty much a sauce, which might alarm a person who is used to cake box mixes. As far as I was concerned, if I hadn’t read the comments alerting me to this in advance, I probably still wouldn’t have worried. I don’t fret when it comes to baking or cooking. I think that’s clearly demonstrated by my nonchalance and taking liberties in the above steps. If it comes out like a pan of chocolate goo, chances are it will be delicious chocolate goo not to mention I can term it a ‘new dessert.’ Win, win.

I believe those are all of the ‘changes’ I made along the way. As you can see, I should probably get a prize for my accuracy and chemistry-related details. Side note: I did get an A in Inorganic Chemistry in college so apparently when it’s needed, I can toe the line and follow directions. For cooking or baking, however, those are meant to be fun so I throw caution to the wind. I live very wildly as you can see.

Enjoy your weekend and if you need a chocolate cake, I would recommend this one. It was 1/4 gone after only 30 minutes out of the oven. You will have rave reviews and don’t forget, it’s a great way to use up that remaining 1 cup of buttermilk in the fridge! And some extra chocolate chunks.

Link to Chocolate Cake recipe on Food Network’s site: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/beattys-chocolate-cake-recipe.html

After Graduation: The journey of an artist after art school – Part II

This is Part II of my online story: After Graduation: The journey of an artist after art school. If you would like to start from the beginning, here is the link: Part I


 

The lake water glistened and gleamed like a blue diamond just as it always did in early June. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon; the sun had already rounded the top of the sky and was emitting sun rays with all its force. Mel had positioned herself under the shade of a large birch tree. Its bright green leaves were dense enough to provide a sheltering amount of shade yet open enough to allow the dappled twinkling light through. She was lying on her stomach amidst the cool grass, which was still soft and supple from the fresh spring rains. Her sketchpad was open in front of her with the pencil markings beginning to show the emerging green stalks of the wildflower garden positioned at the back of her parent’s yard. Come August, the patch of wildness would become the most beautiful spectacle in the yard – as it was each year – even above her mother’s prized roses and her father’s elaborate English gardens. Yet despite the flowers’ August beauty, Mel equally appreciated the young, current stage of the wildflower garden. The greens were at their most exuberant, not mature enough to wear the deep hunter green of the aged plants and having no want to either. The leaves were curled and tight, or in some cases, recently unfurled into a miniature version of what they would become. They still needed to learn how to hold on for dear life when the wind whipped during a storm. They still needed to experience the abuse from fauna that would nibble on their flesh. Then, in defensive necessity, they would be forced to discover their hidden arsenal of weapons allowing them to fight back. They would learn it all in time, but for now she appreciated their greenness, their vigor and innocence.

An hour later, the drawing marks on her sketchpad hadn’t progressed much beyond the same few strokes outlining the growing stems. She had promised herself that she would complete one drawing by the time she started working at the bookstore and the deadline was quickly nearing. This time tomorrow she would find herself either unpacking the latest shipment of novels or helping a customer find the best lakeside read.

It had been a week since she contacted Tilly, the bookstore’s owner and her thirty-five year old friend who pretended to be twenty, to tell her that she was returning to the bookstore for the summer. Much in Tilly’s fashion, she proceeded to inform Mel of the latest staffers, local drama and revolving boyfriends from the past months. It was Tilly’s way of saying, welcome back.

It had been two weeks since Mel had returned from Paris and sent the email to Henry. She was still awaiting his reply, but not so anxiously now. At first she had found her thoughts imagining a relationship with him: When she sat down to dinner with her parents each evening, she would wonder if Henry may someday occupy one of the three empty chairs; while swimming around the lake, she wondered if he would someday join her for a lap of swimming in the cool water. But much like time heals all wounds, it also caused her sudden attraction for Henry to quietly fade. She questioned why she had become so entranced by him after graduation. If she had truly been attracted to him, wouldn’t she have felt something stir inside during the meals eaten together in the college’s dining hall? Or, while waiting for class to begin, shouldn’t a fire have ignited when they shared a laugh as another student imitated their aloof photography professor? This sudden attraction, she decided, was not from recognizing an unknown love but rather her way of holding onto college for a few weeks longer. It was a disappointing revelation. When she had consulted Granny Ann over two cups of English Breakfast tea, Granny wisely offered that letting go was the signal to life that you were ready for grander adventures. And there was the truth. It was time to move forward and let the college experiences become cherished memories. This was why she put Henry’s graduation photos in a folder marked, ‘College stuff’ and hadn’t looked at them since.

Pushing out the sadness by refocusing on her more immediate task, finishing this drawing, she concentrated on the subtle lines of the wildflower cluster. Once her right brain took control, she was blissfully unaware of anything except the green lines in front of her. The creative fervor stayed until the blue evening light began to fade from the sky. With the last available light, she looked over the late springtime drawing and pronounced it complete.

 

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this, Tilly!” Mel was incredulous as she looked at Tilly’s bubbly face. “Actually, I’m more surprised you were able to keep it a secret for so long.”

Walking up to the blue and white clad boardwalk on her first day back, Mel was stunned to see the bookstore had undergone an expansion project over the winter. Attached to its side was an art gallery and next to that a coffee shop. The bookstore’s former neighbor, Trinkets and Things, closed back in October due to the owner moving to Florida after marrying a self-made multimillionaire. Trinkets and Things was the best quality souvenir shop along the boardwalk and its presence was surely going to be missed by many shoppers who had non-cheesy tastes. The cafe that resided next to Trinkets and Things had also closed, but Mia hadn’t been told the reason for its undoing. Regardless of marriages and classy shops, there were two vacant store fronts that provided an eyesore for the local tourism board; they wanted the gaps filled and profitable before the tourists arrived. Tilly had been the first person they approached. Not one to deliberate long on important matters, she was either all in or not and once the idea of having three shops developed in her imagination, it had been decided.

That was back in November and now the finishing touches were just wrapping up in the art gallery. Of course it still needed art, but the café, The Nested Crane’s Café, had been open for a week now with regular visitors.

Tilly was beaming at sharing the news in only the way she could; her wavy, honey-colored hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail and bouncing with glee. Her blue eyes, a jealousy-inducing color that resembled tropical waters, were alight with excitement. Her hands, bandaged in a few places from helping with the construction, were clapping together as her entire body bobbed up and down.

“I know! I paid Rachel and Claire to promise not to mention anything when they saw you.” Claire, currently rearranging the display in the front window, was nodding in agreement. Tilly continued her gleeful shouting. “Your reaction was completely worth the price. Look!” Tilly shoved her phone’s screen in Mel’s direction. The facial expression was not flattering.

Just then, a customer entered and Tilly quieted her emotions along with her voice. “It’s been a good wintertime project for me; that’s for sure.” Claire, who to Mel resembled a quiet mouse in all but species, informed the customer that they were running a sale on historical fiction and if she needed help to please let someone know. The customer thanked her politely then wandered through to the middle of the store. Tilly was motioning for Claire to come towards the register and Claire did with the grace of a ballet dancer. The cheerful jazz music provided the perfect accompaniment for her movements.

“I’m going to show Mel the new gallery space. Could you hold down the register?”

Claire claimed her new position in front of the simple counter. “Of course.”

Mel followed Tilly through the rows of paperbacks, admiring the store anew. The bookstore was a long, narrow space with tall ceilings and quiet nooks for reading. Since it was located at the beginning of the boardwalk, the store not only benefited from being the first stop for foot traffic, but also from having its long, exterior wall facing the southern exposure. To take advantage of the glorious light, a foot-tall clerestory of windows was added along the wall’s entire length. Somehow the sunshine never felt too warm when Mel basked in the chaise lounges for an hour or so of reading. Opposite this wall was the border between the bookstore and the new art gallery. A ten-foot wide archway, which was sealed by a draping plastic protective sheet, connected the two spaces. Tilly pulled back an edge of the plastic that was latched with painter’s tape and walked through. Mel followed.

The gallery was meant to look like an extension of the eclectic bookstore and in every way it did. The ceiling was the same shimmering metallic gray and the register’s island was adorned with the same Carrara marble. The lights shining down on the walls were left over from Trickets and Things and had an old world flare with their antiqued brass sheen. Near the back of the store, the walls weren’t left blank, but were adorned with cantilevered shelves that would most likely hold various artfully designed souvenirs. Bare display cases were sitting in the belly of the space like stepping stones leading you from the front door to the back.

Tilly propelled herself on top of the marble and crossed her legs. “I bought some of Sally’s inventory before she left. She sold it at an amazing price, which really was hard to refuse. She said it was a thank you for being a good neighbor, but let’s be honest, she agreed to the deal after two margaritas and what does she care about profits now?” Tilly rolled out a belly laugh then immediately jumped down, consumed with a new thought. “Here’s what’s lacking in this space; art!” They both laughed at the obvious statement. “I need a discerning eye to curate a collection. What do you say to being my artistic eyes?”

The offer was so sudden and Mel wasn’t expecting it. She had a moment’s pause before answering. “For the entire summer?

Tilly shrugged. “If you pick well then it might go a bit longer too. You know I’m good with picking books. When it comes to curating art, however, I think I’m aesthetically challenged.” Mel looked over with a sympathetic nod. It was the truth. Tilly walked towards the empty display cases and began wiping off the fine, white dust. “Here’s what I’ve been envisioning: I’ll manage the book shop, you manage the gallery?”

Tilly looked over with child-like eyes. It was immediately obvious to Mel that this was part of Tilly’s plan all along. It was an easy decision. “Sure. Why not?”

Tilly’s face fell and the smile transformed into a pout. “That’s not exactly the enthusiasm I was looking for.”

“You know I didn’t mean it like that, Tilly. This is a lot to find out on the first day back at work – that I’m a manager of an art gallery – an empty art gallery at that. I’m going to need to find artists and figure out how to get them here in our shop. Plus, I graduated with an education degree, not a business degree. Do you think I’m the best fit to run a store?”

Tilly waved off the last part as her expression cheered back up. “Look at me! I’m running a few businesses without a business degree. It’s fine; that should be the least of your concerns. Just focus on your love of art and we’ll be fine. But we do have to talk business eventually like going over the expected profits in order for this store to recoup its renovation costs. There’s also staffing, which can just consist of our current staff for now. I have a whole notebook of ideas for workshops featuring painters, illustrators, and possibly children’s books illustrators. I’ll get that to you. Remind me. You’ll be the one who does most of the scheduling and organizing, so I’ll let your mind wander with how you want to handle those.” Tilly paused. “I can see your eyes glazing over.”

Mel nodded as her train of thought was careening down the tracks. Yes, she probably was glazing over.

“Let’s have a working lunch and go over the details, like what you think is best for the theme of the space. Should we do contemporary, nautical, nautical contemporary, or rustic? Colorful? Design-y? I really don’t know all your art terms, but what I do know is that we need a clear artistic identity. There’s an artist coming in today to show his work. He’s a friend of my sister and graduated a few years ago. His work is pretty good; he might even convince me to buy a piece today…” Tilly continued on as Mel’s head reeled in awe of the opportunity in front of her. But she didn’t have much time to admire the new adventure. Tilly was spewing curious ideas from her head, some of which were quite good, which caused Mel to reach for a scrap of paper and scribble down what she could catch.

 

That night in bed as Mel listened to the frogs croaking a lullaby, she pondered what had transpired that day. It was the high-spirited nature of Tilly that made you jump into uncomfortable situations without much thought. Had Mel ever considered running a gallery? No, not once during her life, but now she was and as far as the first day was concerned, it had been enjoyable. But in the seasonal economy of Nested Lake, she would likely only have the art gallery job until October at the latest. There was a chance, if she could grow the store enough, that the extra money she earned from peak season could be saved and stretched through the winter, allowing her to spend the off-months doing her art. That option would mean staying here in Nested Lake. Was staying in the town where she grew up what she wanted for her future? She still didn’t have an answer and knew herself well enough to know she wouldn’t have one for another few months.

The frogs sang their chorus in asynchronous harmony for many more moments. Her thoughts moved on.

The clock was shining 9:30, but it felt more like midnight. The agenda for tomorrow was already full: Mel needed to research possible artists, but first there was the important task of deciding on the artistic style of the gallery. The artist they had interviewed today had been a perfect fit if she was going for nature-inspired contemporary theme, but she wanted to sleep on the decision. Tilly casually mentioned after the meeting that Christopher had been intently watching Mel’s movements, but Mel hadn’t seen any hint at a flirtation. However, even if he was expressing interest, it was the last thing on her mind and the last thing she needed at the moment. She had exactly two weeks to get the gallery presentable and impressive enough for people to be wooed into buying half the store. It seemed like an impossible deadline, but on her side were youth, vigor and innocence; she knew she could do it. After saying a few quick prayers, her eyes closed tightly shut and didn’t stir until the alarm buzzed at 5:45 the next morning.

© 2014 Cortney North. All Rights Reserved.

Warning: Allergy medicine plus a beautiful day can cause interesting writing

Whew! That is what I have to say for the past week and weekend plus the adventures from Memorial Day weekend.

Let’s start with Memorial weekend and see if my brain will be able to put the going-ons into an order. I’m deciding to be optimistic about it.

That weekend was a productive one. In fact, I don’t think my energy level has recovered after helping my parents tear up their yard, lugging around 70 50+ pound bags of sod to the yard waste dump, and shoveling in a few thousand pounds of limestone in the formation of a rather impressive patio space. My arms got the workout they desperately needed and let’s hope I keep that progress moving in a forward direction. I enjoy having toned arms. It makes me feel like my body is healthy even if I eat the occasional monster cookie or five. Whoops! But back to the patio. It’s finished! It looks very nice and though it was a lot of physical work, I think it was well worth it.

Zoom forward from that five day project and I worked out this past Saturday for two hours. There was a movie on, Ever After, and I got sucked in while stationed on the elliptical. Then I decided to do more arm workouts because, the simple truth, I hadn’t all week. I figured a few days, ahem, five days off, would be a much needed rest for them. Well, Saturday I put my arms and the rest of my body through boot camp while watching Drew Barrymore stand her ground against a vengeful stepmother and get her heart broken then subsequently (spoiler alert!) healed by a handsome prince. Side note: the last time I watched that movie I was in high school, which means the time was shortly after the new millennium dawned. I believe I felt the same way then as I do now – I love any movie that involves an ordinary, down on her luck girl who happens upon a prince in need of an attitude and major life change. I’m a sucker for the ol’ Cinderella story. Another side note: When I first typed boot camp, I accidentally typed book camp, which I would believe is the exact opposite of boot camp. That mistype brought me a laugh so I thought I’d share.

After that two hour workout and trip down memory lane, I sat outside and worked on the next part of my online book. Online book – This is what I’m calling the “After Graduation: The journey of an artist after art school” story because I’m at a loss of how else to define it. I’ve always been enamored by the way Charles Dickens put part of a story in a periodical then would write the next part for the upcoming edition. The readers would have to wait a month for the next chapter (or weeks, now I can’t remember because I learned about this right after the millennium dawned, which coincides with the time I watched Ever After for the first time…moving on) and with few forms of entertainment, readers would re-read and re-absorb every word he wrote, anxiously awaiting the next chapter. I love that system mainly because I ingest books, my husband’s words, and move on to the next with lightning speed. I’m currently disciplining myself to take the time to savor books, reading more carefully and enjoying the prose the author worked so hard to put down. It’s my new quest. Not unlike Danielle trying to enlighten the stubborn, selfish Prince Henry.

But back to my point which I know is drifting around in my brain somewhere. As I was outside writing my online book’s next chapter, the cottonwood trees all had a meeting and decided to release their fluffy seeds in order to make the scenery that of a summertime snow blanketing the earth. Thus, in retaliation, my seasonal allergies assembled for battle. They had been flaring up over Memorial Day weekend when I was assisting with the patio, but it was not this bad. You would have thought I was writing a terribly heartbreaking scene with the way my eyes were watering and my nose was sniffling. So I took a Zyrtec and with feeling exhausted from the workout and trying a new allergy medicine that ‘can cause drowsiness’, I was down for the count. Despite this, I powered through and the writing happened, but I’m scared to look at what I produced. It may read like a horror story of grammar and spelling. I’m not at all sure because my sensitivity to medicines that ‘can cause drowsiness’ is apparently becoming worse with every year I age. A new-found gift if I need help sleeping, which I’ve also heard comes to females as they age.

On Sunday, my husband, who had been working all of Saturday and wasn’t there to witness my body’s epic battle against the pollen, woke up with the will to workout. Meanwhile I, being half-dead to the world and half-asleep must have muttered such incoherence along the lines of: Let’s go to a local park and take a hike. Apparently my brain took a hike because there were known allergy-inducers outside, but alas, I got myself ready and we took a hike. It wasn’t all bad as long as we were in the forest with the mosquitoes as opposed to the prairie with the tall, pollen-filled grasses of death. We saw a beehive in a tree that sounded like a generator rumbling in the forest. It was incredible and slightly terrifying. It was a first for both of us – a beehive actually in a real, live, probably not so healthy, tree. I wish I would have taken a picture to show you, but if my suggesting going on a hike despite the allergy battle the day before was any indication, logical thought wasn’t one of my best traits on Sunday. Eh, what can you do? After the two hour hike, we relaxed and I passed out for about an hour. My muscles overrode my will to be awake and I napped. It was Sunday, the day of rest, so it seemed appropriate. We rounded out the day by reading, eating then watching ‘Delivery Man.’

Now it’s Monday and the blessed, pounding rain I prayed for came this morning. We needed some strong heavy rains to knock that pollen down. It did. My nose and entire body are thankful. I’ve had two cups of coffee this morning because I’m still nursing a ‘can cause drowsiness’ allergy medicine hangover. Two cups of coffee also means I’m getting ready to read Part II of my online book. I’m curious what I wrote in my Zyrtec-riddled state. Could I have written about snow in June? Or perhaps my main character, Mel, being charmed by a fifteenth century prince from France? I’d be interested to discover how I made that believable.

Regardless, I’ll have Part II posted once I’ve taken a fine-tooth comb to the story – or a butcher’s knife – whatever is needed. Then I will give it to my unsuspecting husband before it can go live on my website. Hopefully that will be tomorrow unless my husband isn’t wowed by Mel fighting off a prince in the middle of a snow storm with naught but an artist’s brush and a Zyrtec to defend herself. Or something like that. I wish you a Happy Monday!

After Graduation: The journey of an artist after art school – Part I

Carolina Lake by Cortney North

The graduation party was full of joy and celebration, family and friends. In all but timing the event was very similar to other graduation parties. But Mel’s party, which was hosted on the back porch of her parent’s Carolina lakefront home, was being enjoyed a full three weeks after her actual college graduation day. The delay was due to her grandmother, the bohemian Granny Ann, who had gifted Mel and herself with a two-week surprise trip to Paris. In Granny Ann’s impromptu fashion, the trip was announced hours after her ‘Bachelors of Arts in Art Education’ diploma was handed out. The plane tickets had been booked for two days after that. While others may have minded the sudden change of plans, Mel didn’t blink an eye because she and her grandmother were cut from the same spontaneous mold.

Parts of the overseas trip had been lovely and were being discussed over vanilla on vanilla graduation cake. After taking a bite of the plain cake, and wishing instead for the pastries she left behind in France, Mel looked around at the beaming faces. The only non-relatives in attendance were two friends from Mel’s summer job at a local bookstore, who were coincidentally leaving at that very moment. Waving their hands in the air, the two friends signaled their departure from the affair. She waved back, a gesture which was hidden behind the hill of her Great Aunt’s gray, frizzled hair. Mel mouthed ‘thank you’ just as their backs began to turn.

With each passing hour, the celebratory event felt less like a graduation party and more like a family reunion. Everyone had settled into the oversized deck chairs to watch the sunset over the lake. Wine glasses had appeared after the leftover burgers were retired to the refrigerator. A fire was burning in the chiminea. The school-colored balloons had had enough and were expressing their fatigue by hanging at three quarter-mast. Once the party had moved inside and was fully immersed in the narratives of second cousins reliving farmyard antics, Mel said goodnight and quietly retreated to her upstairs bedroom.

Her memories of the Parisian vacation – not the lovely ones she had shared for the past four hours – recounted themselves with each ascended stair step. Drake, who she had dated for three and a half years, took up all the negative memories. They should not have talked while she was over there. She should have taken her grandmother’s advice on this, but she didn’t. The number of times Drake asked about her adventures in Paris was zero. The number of hours he talked about his brokerage internship was too many, though she knew she lost patience with him at hour seven. Somewhere into hour eight of his thrilling job that involved nothing more than calling potential clients, she gulped a generous amount of Cabernet, found her confidence, and did the unthinkable: She blurted out that they were done. Through. Ended.

She wouldn’t recommend this particular approach to a friend, but in her situation the wine was needed to find words that had been lost for the past three years. After the stunned silence, insistent rebuttal, solemn goodbye, and many quiet, contemplative days, the pain of the breakup eased. It was only then that she realized the terrible deed she had committed. Not the breakup itself, but rather that she had broken up with someone in the city of love. What omen could that possibly speak over her love life? If the Trevi fountain in Rome could bring someone back, then could killing a relationship in Paris cause you to never love again?

This thought kept her up for two nights. Hopefully Paris was a forgiving soul. Granny Ann assured her it was.

Mel opened the freshly painted door to her room, kicked her shoes towards the half-ajar closet door and slumped on her bed. Her weight fell fully into its cushion. Her russet hair flew in all directions reflecting the loose freedom she now had. One simple two week trip and she was free in almost every way she could imagine.

It was a terrifying freedom. What was she going to do now with a world of possibilities available?

College was behind her, job searching was ahead and a life-shaping summer was lapping at her toes. A sigh emerged from her lips just as her relatives burst into laughter downstairs. Certainly others had survived such a transition before. There was a house full of stories being tossed around like lofted graduation caps: stories of triumph, hard work, failure then redemption. Someday her story would be added to the mix. For now, though, she was in the midst of the ‘I’m feeling lost’ stage due to her decision to not pursue art education as a career. It was a sound decision, and not one made hastily, but it was frustrating, discouraging, and left her scratching her head with the question, “What should I do?”

The more she lay in bed analyzing the shapes of the popcorn ceiling hoping and willing them to assemble themselves into the form of her future, her eyes expressed their fatigue. Somewhere in between considering selling chocolate-covered bananas on a street in Key West or, somewhat more logically, selling art on a street in Key West, her eyes fell. Before the last of her consciousness left her, she asked her dreams to reveal the correct path. That night, she dreamed of selling her art in a cornfield full of ravenous red-winged blackbirds. They were screeching for more seed even though it was easily picked from the cornstalks. “You’re going to have to do the work yourself; it’s right there,” her voice cried out above the shrieks. Then the dream ended.

 

The next morning, Mel awoke to a chime. Was it her phone? Groggily, she reached her hands up and let out a defiant yawn. She pulled herself to the side of the bed and rubbed her eyes. The chime voiced again. It was her phone, there was no doubt about that, but where had she placed it? It echoed once more across the room, giving no hint at its location. Sunshine poured through the open window. Birds called outside. The red-winged blackbirds trilled in delight of the new day.

The phone remained silent as she searched through the desk stacked with the lethargic attempts at senior year essay writing. Empty handed, she searched under her bed, which was exactly where it had fallen. It chimed again just as her fingers wrapped around the thin metallic sheath. The battery icon was blinking condescendingly. It needed to charge. Walking back to her desk and moving a stack of Educational Psychology notes to the floor, she situated her phone to absorb its power, watching as the angry red battery shifted to a less threatening yellow.

The computer that had been her personal assistant through college was now taking its own form of a vacation on her desk. That ended quickly. She had opted for having a minimal technology version of Paris, which meant, as she wiped her eyes for the second time that morning, she had nearly one hundred and fifty pieces of email to sort through. Most were easy – stores announcing now out-of-date sales – but there was one that pulled her eyes like a magnet.

A fellow classmate, Henry Garret, had sent her a message. The subject line read: Photos from graduation. She recalled the request, her request on the sunny graduation day, to have him send the photos over. They had been standing on the forty yard line talking about their futures when his parents walked up. Once his parent’s feet hit the thirty eight yard line, a camera had already been dispatched from his mother’s white and gray stylish purse. Another yard closer and a candid snapshot, as well as one reluctantly posed snapshot, was taken. She also remembered Henry’s cap pressing down the deep umber strands of his hair, the tanned skin of a person training for a sporting event that he was never to compete in again. They exchanged pleasantries, hugged a friend’s embrace, which she remembered more than she should have considering she had a very serious boyfriend at the time. After disengaging, she had made her request of the photographs and that was that. Drake had approached not long after; Henry left with his parents in a different direction. It occurred to her now how uncommonly handsome Henry was, albeit a nerdy, comic book-loving handsome, but handsome all the same. It begged the question, why over the past four years had she never noticed?

Hey Mel,

Hope you enjoyed your trip. Here are the photos you asked for. I was asked to fly out for a job interview next Tuesday in Colorado. It’s a little website start-up, but the owner graduated from Whiting and contacted Chris (their Art Department Chair) for people to hire. Hopefully it works out because, if not, I’m working a summer job at my dad’s landscaping company. Good luck with finding a teaching job.

Keep in touch,
Henry

The attachments were already loaded onto her computer. She opened the candid photograph. The moment looked even better through the lens. His eyes were glued to hers as her head craned back in to a hearty laugh; both were completely enraptured in the moment. Her hand was gently reached out towards his wrist; a flirtatious sign. His free hand was reaching towards her arm affectionately. They both were partaking in the moment. She wondered if his parents could see the chemistry. She stared at the photo a second longer, while considering her declaration to Granny Ann in Paris: “I’m done with men! I just want to be on my own.” It was a declaration made over a mostly empty bottle of wine.

She immediately clicked reply and decided to include a few photos of Paris: one of her standing in front of the Eiffel tower, another in front of the Louvre and the final one was a plate of something very delicious, very French and very unpronounceable to her.

Hi Henry!

Great to hear from you! Thank you for remembering the photos. They look great!

Paris was excellent! The museums are wonderful – shocking news, I know. I’ve included a few pictures from my trip. If you ever get the chance, you should go!

Not sure anyone knows yet, but Drake and I broke up while I was over there. So there’s that.

I hope the job interview went well. Let me know! As for me teaching, I’m thinking of going a different direction, though I’m not sure what. Does your dad need a landscape assistant? Just kidding! I think.

Take care,
Mel

Re-reading the message, she promptly deleted all but two of the exclamation points and clicked send. Perhaps Granny Ann was right, Paris had a forgiving soul.

© 2014 Cortney North. All Rights Reserved.


To read the next part of Mel’s story, here is the link: Part II