Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Heart behind the Art

The long-awaited Girls’ Weekend had arrived. 
Our alibi: scrapbooking. 
Our motivation: to get the photos of at least one more life event out of the shoe box into an album.
Our venue: a Cape Cod resort, off-season, on a marshy inlet
As we unloaded the cars, it became noteworthy that totes of scrapbooking supplies and grocery bags of snacks far outnumbered suitcases of clothes. 
Meal schedule: 
Breakfast: 7am to 10am
Dinner: check the crock pots
Coffee, tea, cocoa, snacks: 24/7
Dress code: 
Comfy Casual, so PJs  until one absolutely had to go out to Starbucks’. 
NONE, so some hardy souls stayed up until 1am. 
Household responsibilities: 
Distant, so some tired souls went to bed early to "rise and shine" just before the breakfast buffet closed. 
        (((AAAh, sleep, glorious sleep!)))
Serenaded by everyone from Neil Diamond to Rod Stewart to Country Western Christmas carolers, we each spread out on our assigned 8’ craft table and got to work. Besides the necessary cutting, taping, and journaling, there was the bonus  of remembering, recounting, and reliving the events preserved in the photos. More laughter than tears, but a nice balance. 

The weekend flew by and if awards were to be given, my roommate’s album of her daughter’s wedding would have gotten Prettiest Album for Color Palette and Page Lay-out. Mine would have gotten Album Most Likely to Resemble TVGuide.

From the scrapbooking venue, I drove up the coast to the oil painting venue. Mary and I were classmates in junior high and high school. She is now painting, teaching, and exhibiting in East Coast art galleries. Her plein air landscapes are in collections around the globe, and on display in such local establishments as the Maine Statehouse. She’s good at what she does, works hard to get better at it, and is excited to share her knowledge with students and audiences alike.

Yes, I had quite the artistic weekend, but here’s what moved me the most, both with my 35 fellow-scrapbookers, and with my friend of 50-some years: the generosity of the artists
Yes, I am clumping heritage-preserving scrapbookers together with a professional oil painter, because their common attribute has less to do with their finished products than with their hearts. Their common attribute of giving what they’ve learned or acquired over the years surpasses what they do, and last weekend, everyone had something unique to contribute. The scrappers, of course, shared stickers, cutting tools, and design ideas, but in the sharing of supplies, there was sharing of other gifts: compassion, joy, and nurture. One “grandma” made a pot of soup for our lunch. A “big sister” girlfriend brought clothes for a “little sister” girlfriend who was there, but the shoes weren’t her size so she gifted the hotel staffer who cleaned her room. Older moms counseled younger moms, and sometimes just listened and hugged. Our hostess asked me to bring one of my characters to the weekend, to recognize the ladies and salute all their contributions “that no one seems to notice”. Yes, there were tears, but unexpected sincere thanks and mutual encouragement can be emotionally disarming.

In Mary’s studio, I was surrounded by beautiful artwork, landscapes of the Maine coast where she paints almost daily. By “where she paints” I mean where she goes to paint... year-round... even in the winter... deliberately bundling up in wool sweaters, boots, fingerless gloves, and a wind-breaker, to set up her easel on the rocks across from Nubble Light or on the shore of a coastal marsh, to capture Nature at its wildest. As a plein air painter, she packs her supplies and her lunch to be able to endure all day until dark.

The walls of her studio are as inspiring as her discipline to hone her craft, but these were not Mary’s greatest gift to me. Her greatest gift was a lesson in art-marketing. Although it cannot be considered aesthetic, this complementary knowledge has allowed her to gracefully pass through the forbidden Neutral Zone of technology to the foreign territory of computers, social media, and the people who “speak them”, making them her friends. As she told the student at the easel next to hers on the beach, “There are no tricks, just techniques.” Mary keeps no secrets from her students, and she keeps no helpful hints from fellow-artists, no matter the medium. She encouraged me with her understanding of techniques to promote my art. 

What a weekend!

One of my favorite Bible personalities is Barnabbas. His name means “Son of Encouragement”. I wonder what his sister's name was, because I spent all of last weekend with a bevy of Daughters of Encouragement. I am thankful for their generous giving of knowledge and sharing of talent. My life is enriched by them and I am excited to receive from them. 

I can’t clearly figure how the adage “It’s better to give than to receive” fits in to all this, and I’m sure that makes me sound really selfish. Oh, well, Give, Receive, Bless, and Be Blessed! and be thankful! Life's easier that way!

Visit my scrapbooking consultant Nancy LaFlamme at
and Plein Air painter Mary Byrom at

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Happy November, Friends! 

So much has happened since we last chatted! 
  • the Red Sox won the World Series
  • Rachael had her baby
  • Veronique had her baby
  • Morgan had her baby
  • the Red Sox won the World Series!
  • Dan and Justine closed on their first house
  • oh, and the Red Sox won the World Series!
October was a good month for Bay Staters!

I recently had the honor to help at an event at The Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT. Honestly, I didn’t do much more than decorate, collect raffle tickets, and eat fudge, but the event itself was very exciting. 
WritePros and my friend Lauren Yarger hosted “A Conversation with Dan Lauria” to introduce his new children’s book and to announce the run of A Christmas Story, the Musical (Yes, the one with the Red Rider BBGun, the I-talian leg lamp, and "You'll shoot your eye out, Kid!") at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center in Hartford, CTwith which he is touring for two months. For those of you in my age group, you will remember Mr. Lauria as the father on The Wonder Years. For the cable TV crowd, he is Jack Sullivan on Sullivan & Son
Several of the younger cast members from the show were also in attendance, performing one of the musical numbers and doing a little tap-dancing for their adoring fans.

You can read the dry facts of Mr. Lauria’s theatre career on Wikipedia. But you had to be there to hear the backstage stories of his antics with such friends as Charles Durning, Jack Palance, Joe Montegna, and Jack Klugman. 

Neither does Wikipedia mention Mr. Lauria's  dedication and proactive advocacy for children and single moms. Dan Lauria is the consummate stage actor, but his heart is for encouraging the creativity of children, and here’s the point he made that really hit home with me: it’s at the after-school activities that kids get to be creative.  

During the normal school day, students are shushed and asked to regurgitate what they’ve been told, because Passing the Test, Meeting the Standards, and Making the Percentiles are now more important at the government level than Educating and Equipping for Life. Hence, MCAS, Common Core, and other government-imposed motivations for teachers to Teach to the Test. Education standards are further lowered when a student has only to push a few keys on his/her phone to find the instant answer to any question! 

Where is the funding for extra-curricular activities going? In some cases, just away, and in others, to such tragic priorities as metal-detectors and increased police presence. 

Mr. Lauria contends that it’s during the after-school activities that the kids learn to communicate and create. Teamwork is learned on the field, on the court, at choir practice, and at play rehearsal. Communication is learned when the team, the cast, or the choir works together for optimum results at their game, their concert, their play. Creativity blossoms when all those communicating components are freed up to encourage and support each other’s efforts, maybe dare to think outside the box and try things that aren’t even in the script, the score, or the playbook. 

So if the schools don't provide opportunities and outlets for creativity, who does? 
You equip your kids to think more than, better than, beyond, and above the school standards
What does Dan Lauria, star of stage and screen, do?
He tells stories, 
and has his godson tell him stories of his own. 

“OK, so when i see you later, I want you to tell me the story of the Boy Who Chased the Squirrel Up a Tree.”
“But I don’t know that story!”
“Well, if you haven’t figured it out by dinner, I’ll tell it to you.” 
And off to school his godson goes, thinking about how he ... might chase a squirrel ... up a tree... creating all the way. 

When I directed the drama team at the private school, we designed a dinner theatre program for a fund-raiser. Besides waiting on tables, the students MC'd the evening and shared their various talents. But they wanted to do more.  They decided to run ‘commercials’ between the acts. They “advertized” everything from Party Pants to Animal Belts to Smart Hats. 
At the next dinner theatre, they decided to clean the stage between acts. Out came Tim to sweep, vacuum, leaf-blow, and finally run a “Zamboni” (made out of a large appliance carton) across the stage. That was one hilariously clean stage! 

Kids can and will meet high expectations, because high expectations of the kids translate into high confidence in them, whether they are touring with a Broadway play, or singing in the chorus of the junior high play, whether they are running plays for the big game on Saturday, or running lines to under-study the lead in the school play tonight. They can do all that and more - if we just give them the opportunity, provide the safe venue, and support them with loving guidance.

At the end of the "Conversation", Mr. Lauria graciously autographed his books and posed for pictures with his decades of fans. The Blue Hair Club & Other Stories is Volume One of The Godfather Series... written by a godfather for his godson, with his godson and his godson’s mom. It’s a collection of short stories he and his godson told each other... after school. 

Yes, there will be many more where these came from... because the creativity is still flowing!