Oranges and Oranges

Oranges and Oranges

Sixteen year old Thing1 got into fitness in a big way last summer. He started working out like crazy. He spent the summer cutting hay (with a scythe) at his girlfriend’s house and jumping in ponds and rivers.

Just about the same time, he began having digestive issues that caused him to lose over 20 pounds in a few weeks — no mean feat for a kid who can seriously endanger the profit margin of any restaurant daring enough to put out an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Thanks to my job, we have excellent insurance, but it still took multiple visits to the ER and the regular doctor, along with a healthy dose of nepotism to finally find us the right specialist to hand us a diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis.

At the time, all I could do was feel eternally grateful for our health plan and angry at a system that would have left Thing1 at sixteen without a colon if we hadn’t known somebody who knows somebody who could make something happen. I was angry for a while at the seeming apathy of the people in the system and not just on behalf of Thing1, but on behalf of the millions of Americans who have bad insurance or none at all. It left me wondering how many kids miss their potential because of lack of access to adequate care.

I still think about that every time we go for a checkup, wondering what we can do — aside from regularly calling our elected representatives — to change things.

Thing1 has clearly been thinking about it too, taking the ‘change the things I can’ approach to a life that now suddenly includes up to 12 pills a day.

At first when I saw his reaction, I thought I was worrying about oranges and he was thinking about apples. While I made my daily calls to my reps, he began researching his autoimmune disorder and adjusting his diet long with his workout. He googled and read. He experimented with different portions of protein and fiber, fruit and starches as he learned what his system would tolerate (incidentally coming up with a unified digestive theory that involves eating whole crates of clementines while simultaneously helping your parents run up a grocery bill to rival the national debt).

At the same time, we’ve started the time-honoured college search. T1 is a math fanatic, so we started looking at math/science schools, but he surprised us by announcing he wanted to study nutrition to help other kids who might be dealing with similar digestive issues. We’ve since signed him up for a course at the community college, and he’s even considering a blog with fitness and nutrition tips.

I finally realized T1 and I really were both thinking about oranges and oranges. We were just thinking up different ways to get to the good stuff under the skin.


Minions in the Morning

Minions in the Morning

The neon tetras are hilarious to watch sometimes.

I got a bonsai so Herman the Hermit could have a retreat for the more social fish, but the the tetras, a.k.a the Minions immediately claimed it for their daily 3PM game of tag.

Herman got sick of the ruckus and gave up the shady spot under the bonsai to spend more quality time with the thinker girl.

Make Me Smile

Make Me Smile

We decided to reconnect our granola, earth-sheltered house to the grid before the first snow fell last November, and, after years of watching every watt, we indulged. 

We used an electric dryer over the winter and  renewed a relationship with our crock pot. I even adopted a school of tetras and a guppy, setting them up  in style with a few plants and a little stone thinker girl.

I added a Plecostomus, also known as a Suckermouth Catfish — technically a bottom feeder — to control  algae.  He was a little shy at first, so I named him Herman the Hermit, resisting the urge to name him after some politician.

Soon, I caught him whispering in thinker girl’s ear, and her smile seemed to grow (he must have been telling her how well he’d clean the tank because he did). Her beaded hat gleams, which made me realize most politician are not bottom feeders.  Bottom feeders performs a useful service, after all.
And, anyway, how many politicians would think to make a woman smile by cleaning up without being asked?

Perfectly Still

Perfectly Still

A few months ago, wanting to improve my paintings and realize a dream I’d had since high school, I began looking for an affordable art school.  I wanted to improve my drawings, learn more about techniques and be in a community of other emerging artists. 

If you’ve ever looked for  art schools, however, you’ll know what I mean when I say that the word ‘affordable’ is REALLY subjective, and, realizing that getting a BFA or MFA would require mortgaging all my vital organs to pay for it, began designing my own MFA in illustration.  I looked at the curricula for a number of schools and set about finding inexpensive workshops that paralleled them as closely as possible, settling on an online classical drawing course.

The first part of the course focused on breaking bad habits — holding the pencil wrong, starting with the wrong subjects — and starting new, good habits. Ironically, the affordable drawing course had a fairly pricey equipment list. Wanting to follow it as closely as possible, however, I went online an ordered everything except the $250 easel. And then I waited.

And I waited.

I waited for the stuff to arrive. I waited for the next lessons on using it properly. 

And I didn’t draw a thing. 

Not a cartoon.

Not a single still life or even an recklessly abandoned landscape.  Even my book layout slowed to a crawl.

My art — and with it — my blog was perfectly still.

A friend pointed it out to me: “Your blog is static. You’re only posting every few weeks.”  And I wanted to add that the posts were uninspired because I was uninspired.  I began telling myself the posts were so infrequent because it took too long to illustrate them the way I wanted.

Then a friend invited me to test out a watercolor tutorial she had developed for an educational website.  The video turned out to be a fun review of basic skills, but what stuck with me was a phrase she kept repeating: “Be gentle with yourself.”

I  look at other tutorials on the site and noticed that, other tutors — most of them working illustrators that I want to be — all ambassadors of the “Be Gentle With Yourself” philosophy.  They were also doing was something I wasn’t anymore. 

They were drawing everyday.

My favorite video was a short segment called the “Three Minute Sketching Challenge.”  Inspired the Hundred Days of Sketching project, it advocated timed drawings that guaranteed an imperfect result.  It also guaranteed, however, that there would be a result.

I turned to my fish tank and set the timer. My guppy, Oscar seemed to know he was being drawn because he chose those exact three minutes to do his daily race around the fake bonzai plant, but three minutes later I had a fishy doodle.

Four minutes after that, it was colored in.

Five minutes later, I dropped the ‘serious’ drawing class and subscribed to the way cheaper site .

I did a few dozen timed doodles, cursing when the alarm clock announced it was time for my day job.

Nothing I’ve produced in the last few days is remotely serious. It’s miles away from perfect. I may chase perfect and sign up for a ‘serious’ art class again someday, but, for now, I’m too busy drawing.