"I see things differently..."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Farewell to Stewart, our Beloved Collie

Yesterday we had to say our sad good-byes to our Stewart.  She was 12 years old and has brightened our lives with her loving spirit since the moment we adopted her just before her 1st birthday.  Here is a true story I wrote about her from a year ago---offered as a small tribute to her.


Stewart, our 11-year old female collie, has slowed down quite a bit in the past few months. So a week ago we started her on a daily regimen, including ascription, glucosamine/chondroitin and fish oil. She has perked up considerably since then and has taken to re-asserting herself over Tinker , our 1 ½ year old collie) as the “alpha dog”.

A few days ago Stewart and Tinker traveled with Rick and me to the lake cabin of good friends. They kindly lent us the use of their cabin while I was in Door County teaching a painting workshop. We put up flags in the yard to remind the dogs of their running space (as we have done with the “invisible fence” in our yard at home). Tinker surprised us by being very cautious and circumspect about not crossing the boundary. Stewart seemed somewhat oblivious to the border and wandered in and out, though never too far.

Yesterday morning as Rick was loading the car, and I was inside finishing the packing and tidying, Stewart took off through the woods. It was extremely windy, and the waves crashing on the shore drowned out all but the nearest sounds, and, from a dog’s perspective, also scattered all scents to the wind.

Rick and I began a 2 ½ hour search for Stewart through the deep woods and along the roadside. We became acquainted with neighbors all up and down the line. Lovely, generous people, who stopped to help us search. Sightings were reported, eventually from both sides of our cottage location. Stewart, though a very friendly dog by nature, was afraid to approach the strangers with their offerings of food. Rick and I called, we whistled, offered “car ride!” with excited voices, promised fabulous treats. These were to no avail, but eventually through helpful reports, we were able to find her. In the end, we figure that she covered over 3 miles---this from the dog who typically has preferred a prone position! It was undoubtedly the biggest adventure of her life!

All I know is that I’m going to start taking what Stewart is taking. Perhaps you’ll spot me, a woman with silvering hair, running through the woods. Alongside the road in a car drively slowly with windows rolled down, Rick will be calling, “Come home, Gail….Come home!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Morning Meditation A Prayer for the Coming Night

Morning Meditation

A Prayer for the Coming Night

The sunlight streams through my window;

The flame of my prayer candle reaches up in recognition to the sun.

The relationship is blest.

The great light from the sky...

My small light from the earth....

I am answering, yes, I am answering,

And I am saying YES!

There are windows everywhere;

There are candles lit in holy anticipation.

The great light generously pouring in through every open window....

The small, hopeful lights of the earth, rising in recognition...

We are answering, yes we are answering,

And we are saying YES!

O Great Light,

Illumine our paths to find each other.

Help us join our small earth candles

To create an amazing bonfire!

A bonfire to illumine dark earth through the long night

When the world has turned its face away

From your embracing light.

We are answering, yes, that we will be bearers of that fire,

And we are shouting, "YES"!

Gail Speckmann

May 18, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Ones that Show Up...

Each spring I have tulips that come up in my hosta hill on the side of the house.  These tulips are “volunteers”.  Nothing grows very readily in our wooded lot other than shade-loving plants.  Certainly, I have never had success with tulips, which are perhaps my favorite flower.  I am especially fond of the simple yellow tulips with black centers, and have painted them a number of times when I have purchased pots of them in early spring.  After they are done blooming, the contents are dropped onto my hosta hill, to enrich the soil.  (“Hot-house” or “forced” bulbs are not supposed to be able to re-bloom.  Too much energy is used to get them to bloom in an unnatural cycle.  So I make no effort to re-plant).

I was surprised a few years ago when a tulip plant showed up in my hosta hill and bloomed.  It was of my favorite yellow variety! Now this plant now comes up faithfully and blooms every spring.  This year, I was surprised to see the bulb had split into two plants, each bearing a bright yellow “cup”.  And several feet away, another tulip of the same variety also has shown up and is blooming!

Years ago, I decided on a gardening policy which has served me well each spring.  I welcome back and rejoice over the plants that made it through the winter.  I try not to dwell on which ones might not have come back.  That had tended to make me feel disappointed in my gardening skills (which are pretty laissez faire at best), or even a little bitter, as if I felt that plants had somehow let me down by not showing up for the "attendance count".

This weekend and last I held my annual art show in our home.  There is a tremendous amount of love and effort that go into the paintings created, but also into the preparation for the show.  My husband, Rick, is equally committed to the process.  Many, many invitations are sent out.  There is much anticipation on our part as to who will come.  We truly welcome anyone who is interested.  Though we obviously need to have some buyers, we do not want people to feel pressure in that regard.  It is a gift that we want to share with friends and family, and with new friends we may not yet know.

Last weekend, the weather could hardly have been any nicer.  After a long winter, of course, people are yearning to be outdoors.  People’s lives are very full, very busy, and many people are very concerned about not spending additional money right now.  Attendance for my art show throughout the weekend was fairly light, though it had a pleasant flow, with plenty of time to visit with people that wished to linger.  During this past week we also had groups in (great week for me to take my turn at hosting events---the house is clean; the paintings are hung…).  And we were among the most delighted when we heard that rain was forecast for this past Saturday, my last day of open house.  Once again... light attendance, but wonderful people and visits.  But, all told, the show itself was a fair enough financial success.

It is difficult not to think about who did not come, especially those on our invitation list who have not attended year after year.  My husband starts counting who has not come, but like the missing plants of my garden, I choose not to dwell on this.   

Of course, the light attendance and failure to respond also gives me cause to reflect on the various gracious invitations I have received during the year, to which I have not been less than responsive.  It provides a good opportunity for me to become more sensitive to what others have to offer.  I also see numerous friends putting together wonderful programs and becoming discouraged about how hard it is to find participants.  And my artist friends bemoan the fact that so little of their work sells.

My tendency becomes wanting to show up for everyone and everything, knowing how hard people work and their need to feel supported. I also recognize that there are often times when I miss appointments, run late, and let people down....  “over-extending” has its down side too. I have come, the hard way, to the realization that everything does not “fit” for everybody and that we need to be okay with that.  A good connection needs to be good for both parties; to pretend otherwise simply becomes a burden. 

Yet I have also concluded that it is still very important for us to really “see” and appreciate each other.  We need to recognize each others' gifts, but only tie in more closely with them when they are a good fit for us too.  But, we can all help those that we know by directing other people to them, those who might actually be a good or even great fit!  However, we will never know how to do this, if we do not first learn to appreciate each other.

So I choose to be thankful for the connections that were made this year during my art show.  The people that took the time and effort to come, the ones that ask how things went if they were not able to attend….all of this is noticed, and it helps inspire me to continue on my path.  Though I would love to have more of my friends come to see what I am doing, I bless them on their way, knowing that they have their own activities and needs…. that time pressures are real.  And the offer of whatever gift I may bring to them remains open, whenever they might like to receive it.

Love and gratitude….I can’t help but wonder if, at some mysterious level, those yellow tulips came to bloom in my garden because they know how much I appreciate them….

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lessons I have Learned from my Computer

Lessons I have Learned from my Computer

I have learned something from my computer. I should have----I have been spending enough time on it! I have been co-editing a book called Fearless Women, and it has been on a tight timetable. (The work has been considerable and intense, but I am very pleased with the results. The book will be released in July of this year).

At times, during the past few weeks, I could almost hear my overloaded computer saying to me,…”I’m sorry, Gail, but you have over-stuffed me, and I simply can’t digest anything new. You will have to remove things before I can take on more!”

When my computer decides that it has had too much, it goes into “safety” mode. The menu screen turns gray, and the computer operates only minimally. Those times in my life when I feel rather ashen gray myself, due to overload, I would do best to also keep things at my base line operating program.

Ah yes…. time to weed out what no longer matters, and perhaps never did! Oh, how ridiculously reluctant I can be to do this thinning out! So my first modest step is to rid myself of duplicates. It turns out that I have multiple copies of the same photos in various files on my computer. There!...that wasn’t too hard! Liikewise, I begin to look in my own life----what personal possessions and activities exhibit duplication?

Oh dear…further thinning is needed. It feels like having to let go of parts of my life (cling, cling….). I need to remember that my life is in the present, not in past history. So I would be wise to hold onto only what serves me well today and up ahead.

And if I fail to cut back on what I am storing, there is the daunting possibility of the computer “crashing”, a complete shutting down. Sadly, I have experienced that before also in my life and do not want to go there again.

Indeed, there were things that my computer would not longer perform. Also, there were days when I was away from home. Suddenly, I needed other people’s computers. I became dependent on their good will. Sharing time on a hotel computer; tying up time on computers belonging to friends! Being in the position of need was a good reminder to me to be courteous and responsible about my usage. It also reminded me that there will be times when I will be the one called upon to share and be gracious.

Yes, life lessons are everywhere, even at our fingertips!, If we are paying attention. Be awake and alert. The universe is speaking to you!

(A humorous and fitting postscript to this is that my computer would neither allow me to upload this printed word document or even “copy” to paste into my blog. I ended up having to take a photo of the screen and then re-type the entire piece again after my daughter helped de-frag and clear the computer. Is there a lesson in this somewhere---“where there’s a will, there’s a way”?, or is this some kind of cosmic humor being played out. Hmmmm…..)

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Healing Heart

Here is the story behind this heart painting of mine.  It goes out with my Valentines' greetings to whomever this story may touch.  It contains pain, love, and humor... a fitting nod to this holiday.

Several years ago, I had a painting in a juried show titled "Women Imaging Freedom and Peace".  Each artist wrote about their art in a notebook available for viewing during the show.  My painting "Poppies" (one of the prints on my website) was the piece I had in the show.  My husband, Rick was out of town, and friends were unable to come, so I went to the opening alone. I read through all the women's stories after viewing their art.  It was apparent that many of these women had been through some very difficult and painful experiences.  In the room next to the gallery, there was a demonstration gathering of "mothers of the disappeared".  The cumulative pain in these two rooms was palpable.

That night when I returned home, I painted for hours. It felt like I was doing healing work.  The heart that I was painting had a forward-pitched direction, moving from vibrational ripples of dark waters surrounding it towards an open, clear blue.  

Sometime well after midnight, my 17-year old son and a couple of friends who were staying the night came upstairs to see why I was still up.  The painting was on the kitchen floor and I was still working away on it.  In recent months I had noticed that the teenage boys seemed rather interested in the abstract paintings that I had been doing, so I thought they would be having a look.  Instead I realized that they were looking at me.  I could almost hear the voices in their heads saying, "Whoa, my Mom is not like this!..."  I slipped into the bathroom and took a look at myself.  My face was flushed, my eyes were blazing...I had to admit that I was quite a sight!  The painting complete, I headed to bed for a short night of sleep.

The next morning I was supposed to be painting in a garden setting for a local greenhouse.  Since I was very tired and more or less just part of the decor, I just stirred around doing minor things to another painting that had been well underway.  People would stop by and visit.  One of them was my friend, Melanie, who had her young daughter along with her.  While we were chatting,  Hannah looked down at my feet, and asked, "Mrs, Speckmann, why do you have on two different shoes"? (Now, in my defense the two black walking shoes looked very similar.  However, they were different enough that a 7 year old could discern the variation).

What can I say?  Healing is hard work!  But every time I look at this painting of mine, beyond the initial stab of pain, I always feel a smile coming on.  And that is part of the healing too.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Part II Eulogy for Aunt Jan: The Art of Connection

This is the follow-up to my story about my Aunt Jan in my previous blog. This does not negate what I wrote earlier; I still believe that she had artistically unfulfilled dreams. Of course, that is what I would pick out; as an artist myself, this is my focus, my chosen window.

My sisters, mother, and I spent a week out on Whidbey Island planning and attending my Aunt’s funeral and helping to close out the earthly details of her life. This included clearing her home of 91 years of the collection of things she loved. During my time out there, I was reminded and constantly reinforced about things that I already knew about my Aunt.

Yes, my Aunt did have a very special collection...people. For her entire life she was very interested in people, sharing in their sorrows and joys, and offering help selflessly. At the funeral and around town, before and afterward, people constantly told us about her open and cheerful presence. She was often the first to welcome a new person at church; she noticed when a public employee seemed down. Strangers would open up to her with their stories. She would plunge right in, with the innocence of one who assumes the world is loving. (One of the most treasured moments came when we found a photograph album of when she was very little---her parents surrounding her, absolutely adoring her....little wonder that this became her view of how things should be). This sometimes led to her feeling re-buffed. Most people aren’t used to having that kind of direct force field coming at them. And I do know from personal experience that her love could, indeed, be overwhelming. Her good intentions often left her blind to the wishes of others. And she wrote many a scathing letter if she felt she had been wronged, mostly to companies about disappointing products or services.

One of the main things that she saved were copies of endless correspondence that she had written and received from friends and family members over those 9 decades. And did she write! Everywhere her home was filled with copies of letters she had written---single-spaced, typed words which she extravagantly underlined, highlighted, and circled (usually in red). The letters were not written for posterity. (She specifically requested that they be destroyed upon her death). No, these letters were written for the immediate connection with another person or persons, much of it a documentation of life. And who is to say that this is not at least as important a reason to write?

My sisters and I were amused to find an old magazine clipping titled “How to be a Constructive Wife” with 14 points to the test. She wrote (to her husband, my uncle), “I pass all 14, I think you’d agree?” I, of course, wouldn’t even submit myself to the test....standards from a bygone era. And yet, I have to acknowledge her accomplishment of being that “Constructive Wife”, a once highly esteemed art form indeed!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Eulogy: Lessons from my 91-year old Aunt

My 91-year old aunt passed away this week. Aunt Jan was a fine and caring woman who did many good things for others. She had a strong faith and a loving marriage, but also had many sorrows and much loneliness in her life. While still single and in her late 20's, she suffered a terrible, injurious assault. Now, we understand that the severe back pain that suffered for the rest of her life was undoubtedly exacerbated by untreated post-traumatic syndrome. It became a dominating theme in her life.

My aunt and uncle moved often during their marriage, and he traveled a great deal with his work. Her only pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. She grieved her whole life over having no children. Widowed 8 years ago...my two sisters and I were her only next of kin. And we were 3000 miles away. We loved each other very much, yet the physical distance and our own busy lives did not allow for a very close relationship. Though I know she would have welcomed more attention, she was very respectful of our independent lives.

There is something that my Aunt Jan did not do that I think could have brought much joy and satisfaction in her life. A naturally sensitive woman, who loved beauty in all its forms, she never undertook pursuing her own creative interests. Throughout her life she wished she could paint, write poetry, play the violin or piano...yet she never took the steps to develop these interests. Yes, she was busy helping and caring for others. Yes, she was available to be supportive to her traveling husband. I believe, though, that there was something else that stood in her way. Her senses, already well refined, recoiled at having to go through the awkward stages of learning. At one time my mother encouraged her to take piano lessons. She demurred saying that she did not want my uncle to have to hear her struggle along. She always spoke longingly of taking up her artistic interests once she was in heaven, adding with a good-humored twinkle, “where she wouldn't have to practice to get good".

I visited Aunt Jan in the fall of 2008. She had just turned 90 years old. I was teaching painting classes in Seattle, so when I went to visit her on nearby Whidbey Island where she lived, I decided that she and I would paint together. She protested, saying she couldn't possibly do that, but being in the early stages of dementia, she was more amenable to guidance. I forged ahead setting out paints, water, brushes, and paper. I told her that she could paint in heaven, but I was here on earth. And if she wanted a head start, we were going to do it here! Even as she continued to deny her capability, she began stroking the vivid colors onto the paper. Swirls and flowers and hearts and stars...it all came out in a rush, and I could see the innocent delight and amusement on her face. The next day I took her to the local Senior Center and we visited a painting class. The teacher and the other students were warm and welcoming. I was hopeful that she might decide to come back, with their encouragement; a friend of mine would be available to bring her. But though she happily put up her "art lesson" in her home, she never went back or went any further on her own.

I cannot help but think that her life could have been much happier if she had, at an earlier age, chosen to pursue her passions. The creative urge is so universal. And there are so many varied avenues. It does not matter whether it comes in these forms for which she longed, or in the myriad other ways---cooking, crafts, gardening, restoring furniture or cars, forming collections---on and on endlessly.

Generous-hearted and loving woman that my Aunt Jan was, and I believe still is, I know that she would want me to share this message with others:

Pursue your creative life; do not fear failure or the clumsiness of learning. It is so very much worth the effort. The gift we give through creating, the shared interest with like-minded people, the joy found in times of solitude...

Aunt Jan, I hope that you are having a marvelous time in heaven! And even if you find that you still have to “practice to get good”, do enjoy the journey!