Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Highgate Cemetery -  England

Then away out in the woods I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that's on its mind and can't make itself understood, and so can't rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving.

Mark Twain - "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Mrs. Biddlebox" - Coping With the Bad Days

I used to take my children to the library regularly, where they checked out an armload of picture books. We would read the books, return them, and take home a new load. One day my son said he wanted to get one of those books again. He called it simply "Bad Day Pie." After quizzing him further, I could vaguely remember the book, but had no idea what the title was. We even asked a very patient librarian in the children's section who tried to help us. It seemed rather hopeless, but eventually, my brain came up with the title, we checked out the book again, it still charmed my son, and eventually he became the owner of his own copy of "Mrs. Biddlebox," by Linda Smith.

Mrs. Biddlebox cover

On a knotty little hill,
In a dreary little funk,
Mrs. Biddlebox rolled over
On the wrong side of her bunk.

So begins the story of Mrs. Biddlebox. Everything in her day is going wrong. In frustration, she announces to her goose:
I will cook this rotten morning!
I will turn it into cake!
I will fire up my oven!
I will set the day to bake!

Mrs. Biddlebox collects the ingredients by rolling up the sky like carpet and yanking down the sun. She sweeps and collects every bit of her bad day and stomps it into cake.

Mrs. Biddlebox with ingredients assembled

Finally, she dances around her kitchen as that bad day cooks, and then settles down to eat her delicious slice of cake.
Mrs. Biddlebox is rewarded with a "merry slice of cake"

The illustrations in this book, by Marla Frazee, are charming and dynamic. It is no wonder my son loved this book with its swirling pictures, rhyming text, and uplifting message. 

I am writing about this book not just because I love it, but because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Author Linda Smith, the bio in the book says, "was Mrs. Biddlebox during her two year battle with breast cancer." Sadly, she passed away in June 2000. However, her positive attitude and creative approach to life live on in this wonderful children's book. Linda, thank you for the wonderful legacy you left behind.  

"Mrs. Biddlebox" is a treasure, and a worthy addition to any picture book collection.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Book Warp 2 - The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Zilpha Keatley Snyder has written over 40 books, three of which were Newbery Honor titles. Several of her books remain on my library shelves, and I felt like it was time to re-visit one of my favorites, The Changeling.

The Changeling is the story of Martha Abbott, who doesn't seem to fit in with her very accomplished, talented, and extremely busy family. She finds a friend in the exotic Ivy Carson, who informs Martha she isn't really one of the Carson clan, but a changeling (a child of magical creatures). The misfit girls become friends, and Ivy introduces Martha to an extraordinary world of make-believe. Martha begins to see she can be so much more than she thought.  Each time Ivy leaves with her family, Martha struggles to find her way on her own. Upon Ivy's return, the two girls easily resume their friendship, and their make-believe games. Ivy literally moves in and out of Martha's life over a period of several years. Ivy's vivid imagination is her escape from her own life...the Carsons are notorious for getting in trouble around town and with the law (hence the frequent moves). Through her friendship with Ivy, Martha begins to outgrow her crying "Marty Mouse" self, and emerges as a more-confident, capable teenager. Ivy continues to work to rise above her family reputation and dreams of being a dancer, but as she enters her teen years, the struggle begins to take its toll. When Martha and Ivy are accused of vandalism at the school, their friendship is tested. In the moment of crisis, would you stand up for your friend? And if the world turns on you again and again, would you be able to stay positive and keep believing in your dreams?

This is a wonderful book about growing up, trying to fit in, and working to figure out who you are. The themes of friendship, loyalty, family, and forgiveness still resonate in this classic novel.

I highly recommend this book. It was originally published in 1970, and it was re-issued a few years ago. Although it seems to be out of print again, you could probably find a used copy. If you are fortunate enough to have this book on your shelves, read it again! This one is still one of my favorites!

Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

Check out "Book Warp 1 - Reading Blue Willow" here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Breast Cancer Awareness Month - My Walk Through Breast Cancer

Artwife - September 2012

It is here again - October, the month where athletes add pink to their uniforms. I confess I have more awareness of breast cancer than I ever wanted. It dominated the past 16 months of my life! I am not comfortable with the roles of spokesperson, victim, or survivor, but thought in honor of the month, I would share a little of my experience. I have nothing brilliant to add to so many who have boldly shared their information in online chats, blogs and more. Many, many women have given me information, support and encouragement through sharing their experiences either in person or on the internet. Their positive attitudes and strength helped me on many a sleepless night!

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2012. I found a lump through a self-exam. My treatment regimen included surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and herceptin. I finished treatment in August 2013, and had my port removed in September. If you are facing treatment and wonder about getting a port, I loved having mine! With 17 treatments and only one arm available for IVs after lymph node removal, having a port was definitely a blessing.

I made the first cut!

My hair loss was predicted to be 100% based on the chemotherapy I was receiving. Sure enough, two weeks after the first treatment, my hair was coming out by the handful. Shaving my hair was not as bad as I feared. It was the one thing I could control. I decided when to shave it, how, who, etc. I made the first cut, and still have my little braid. My husband and son did the rest!

What teenager wouldn't want to cut off mom's hair?

I always wondered how I would look with a mohawk.

Back in the day, we called this "new wave."

It was a LOT of hair!

Me with my husband, and best friend extraordinaire!

I had surgery to remove the cancer at the end of July 2012. Then I started chemotherapy in September. I had 6 cycles of taxotere and carboplatin, and 17 cycles of herceptin.  Chemo is tough--it really is systemic. I had head to toe symptoms, but as a good friend reminded me, that means the drugs are working! Best advice I can give for chemotherapy?  Get through it any way you can! I had people help with cleaning and meals. I used the nausea meds for several days each cycle. I drank flavored water (thanks Mio!) and ate things like rice and Jell-o on the bad days. I slept a lot and tried to get out for a walk once in awhile. I could always taste tomato juice, so I drank that as well. I was happy to leave chemo in the rearview before New Year's.

Lunch at my first chemo, when I still had hair and tastebuds!

My chemo infusions took between four and five hours. I read, slept, watched DVDs, played cards, and ate lunch during my treatments. Getting chemo never particularly bothered me during the infusions, it was the week after that was tough! My treatment regimen was given every three weeks.

Getting my wig cut and styled.

Before I shaved off my hair, I went wig shopping. It was actually fun to try on so many styles! I haven't been to my own hairstylist in over a year, so I felt I could justify spending money on a good wig. Mine was synthetic, which meant it held its style, and I only had to wash it in a sink about once a month. That was a blessing, since I didn't feel very good during chemo. My hair began growing back in January 2013. By May, I was done with the wig...too hot and uncomfortable for summer. My hair is not as curly as everyone promised it would be, but at least it all came back!

Washing my hair in the sink!

I finished chemotherapy December 27, 2012, and started radiation in February 2013. The most difficult part about radiation is the fact that you have to go 5 days a week, so it feels like that is all you are doing. The treatments are short. I had a couple of preparatory appointments that involved getting my tattoos, and getting the machine alignment all set for my treatments. The actual time of receiving radiation is very short. I counted once during the radiation cycles, and the longest "zap" was about 25 seconds, with some lasting only about 10 seconds. I received radiation from a few different angles each treatment.  My radiation team was so much fun...they made it easier to be there. I finished in March after 25 cycles.

Me by the machine that gave me my radiation treatments.

Ringing the bell! It was great to be done with radiation!

I had some skin side effects from radiation including one really huge blister, redness, and some raw skin. A few weeks after treatment, I went through a lot of peeling. To help my skin, I used Aquaphor and Eucerin. I also used Mepilex at the end when my skin was pretty raw. Talk to your nursing team...they are a great resource for getting you through all of your treatments.

An autumn outing during chemotherapy.

Sun feels good on a bald head, and so does the hot water in the shower! No matter what I was going through during my cancer treatments, I could usually find some small thing that was positive!  And I was always grateful that there were treatments available for me.

My family, friends, and my faith were keys to my coping ability during my months of cancer treatments. I can never thank them, or God, enough for all they have done for me.  I believe in the power of prayer to strengthen both emotionally and physically. I have felt it.

For those of you facing cancer, I have this to offer you:  treatments end, hair grows back, bodies heal, and life goes on. Live every only get one shot at life!

For those of you who haven't had this lovely experience in your lives, get your cancer screenings! They may save your life!

My other writing related to my cancer:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What is Art?

The recent reports of Banksy art appearing in New York City, (and being "ragged," or defaced), reminded me of watching the film "Exit Through the Gift Shop."  This little project was directed by the famed street artist himself.  Although I was familiar with some of Banksy's work, I particularly enjoyed seeing shots of his projects on a wall by Gaza in Israel.  Many point out the whole documentary is in itself but a piece of Banksy art that the illusive artist is fooling us once again, I think there is more to this film than that.  It is a portrayal of  how street art is created, a glimpse into the humor of the artists involved, and it is an addition to the dialogue about what constitutes art.

Banksy art in Gaza

What is art?  Is it legitimate art if it is painted on a railroad car?  Does comic book art count as art?  Is a fine artist more worthy of acclaim than an illustrator?

As a disclaimer, most of my artist acquaintances fall in the category of illustrator, although several of them produce work successfully in both arenas.  What is the difference between fine art and illustration?  Depends on who you ask.  One definition I found says "fine art" is sold in a fine art gallery.  So if an illustration is sold in a fine art gallery, by that definition it becomes "fine art." Almost any kind of art has been sold in a fine art gallery, including street art by people like Banksy.  So does that then make a street artist into a fine artist?

Another argument commonly put forth is that illustration is contracted in advance, and fine art is sold after its creation.  Does this then make the Sistine chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo illustration?  It was definitely a commissioned art project.  It is also very narrative, another gripe the fine art community has with illustration.  Illustration, they say, is too tied to following a story line.  But following a story line is exactly what Michelangelo did in his masterpiece, as did many other artists of his era.  So, is he an illustrator?  By these definitions, he is perhaps the ultimate illustrator.  (And the illustrators themselves are happy to claim him).  Many artists accept commissions.  Most of them do wish to earn a living.  Does that then make the piece they produced NOT fine art?

Sistine Chapel Ceiling

As street art, comic book art, and various other forms of art find their way into galleries and museums, the line between illustration and fine art blurs.  Norman Rockwell, while lauded by many as an incredible draftsman, is often shunned by the fine art world.  Why?  Because his work was published so widely?  He wasn't a good enough "painter?"   If you ask the average person, they would be familiar with Rockwell's art, and would identify him as a legitimate artist.  Why then, do so many take issue with him and his legacy?  One criticism I read said his work was too sentimental, a sugar-coated view of life.  But isn't an artist's expression of his personal vision what makes his creation art to begin with?  Does a piece of art have to be edgy, tawdry, or controversial to be fine art?   When you look at the prices and acclaim a  Monet landscape can garner today, obviously not.

Norman Rockwell

Any genre of art receives a substantial amount of criticism when it begins.  The impressionists were panned.  In fact, the label, "impressionist" was not complimentary when given.  Picasso likewise was not at first embraced as he veered from the traditional school of art.  Van Gogh died in poverty without ever selling a painting.  Are these not artists?  Are they not considered "fine artists" today?  They were scorned by the experts at the time they began their unique artistic journeys.

 So, perhaps pop art, street art, and comic book art are the next versions of fine art.  After all, who decides?  If you are too successful, are you no longer an artist because "starving" can be removed from the front of your name?  Does being bankable make it not art?  Yet almost any artist, honestly, wants to have enough recognition and money to keep going.  And some of them want to make even more than that.  Yet artists themselves can quickly point fingers and label others as sell-outs.  A prime example of someone being the victim of his own success is Thomas Kinkade, who has been one of the more prolific and marketable artists of the last several years.  As his success increased, however, so did the criticism from his peers.  I have heard people question his legitimacy as an artist, and some are quick to say he "sold out."  When, in the art world, did Kinkade's work ceased to be "art"?

Perhaps the definition of art that is foisted on the public is just that...foisted on us, by art professors, and gallery owners, and those who think they know better.  If you think gallery owners are in it for "art" and not money, I think you are mistaken.  Clearly a gallery owner is in business and wants to turn a profit to keep his/her gallery open.  However, what does a gallery owner mean when they tell an artist their piece looks too much like illustration?  Every owner has the right to determine what they hang in their gallery, but are they the only ones qualified to determine what is art?  If those who sell and promote art get to define it, then perhaps the public is the loser for buying into the rhetoric that they sell.  Perhaps art is in the eye of the creator, and in the eye of the beholder.  Perhaps the Rembrandt print on your wall, or the Japanese manga in a kid's room, or the Banksy you walk by on the street, or even the wonderful creation your child brought home to showcase on your refrigerator is all really art. If you love it, maybe that is all that matters.

Banksy himself, in his film, says Mr. Brainwash did not follow the rules in achieving his level of success.  Then he says "But there aren't supposed to be any rules."  May I suggest that juxtaposition of ideas is a great summary of the whole discussion.  In art, creativity and innovation are both sought after and scorned.  Definitions change to fit the circumstances of the one doing the defining.  Your best bet may be to decide what YOU think is art, and stick to it...until the next big thing comes along. And if you happen to be in New York this month, keep your eyes open. You may just get to see some Banksy art along the way!

Note:  "Exit Through the Gift Shop" carries an R rating.  It does have a few uses of the "R-rated" expletive (about on the level of a few PG-13 movies today).  It also is cleverly crafted and often funny.  Is it the real deal or have we all been tricked by another Banksy project?  Were you brainwashed by Mr. Brainwash?  Are art collectors brainwashed into buying the next new thing?  As with any art, the interpretation of this film is entirely up to you.