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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ultimately, Change

So four-year-old Sam and his parents are at the dinner table. Sam eats two bites of his meal and says, "I'm done!"


"Wait a minute," says his mother. "You need to eat more than that. Please eat four bites of this, and three bites of that, and then you can leave the table."


So Sam eats one bite of each food and says, "I'm done."


"No," says his mother, "not yet. I need for you to eat more dinner than that."


And Sam turns to her and says, "I recognize my own body, Mommy!"


Now there's a show-stopper! That's a pretty heavy thought for a four-year-old. I know some sixty-year-olds who still don't recognize their own bodies!


Of course, we don't know whether Sam actually does or whether he's parroting something he heard (and where on earth did he hear it?). Could his body actually be telling him that five bites of food will suffice to carry him through the night? Or is Sam just testing the waters again?


Olivia (Livvy) is now a very active eight-year-old with a beautiful smile. When Olivia is happy, she lights up the world. When she isn't, you know it. And the line between happy and unhappy is a very fine one.


Several months ago (Olivia was only seven at the time, if that makes any difference), Olivia's mother decided to rearrange the playroom. This is a large room at the side of the house that holds the computer, the television, a couch, and several containers of toys, including the dress-up box. Burton (11) uses the computer for his games (and he and Olivia have one of those Wii things as well). The computer is also used for all the restaurant accounts and to search the Internet for recipes, news, and ideas concerning the restaurant. You can see that the room is heavily used, and its furniture wasn't so much arranged as plunked in there on moving day. Olivia's mother wanted to create order out of chaos.


"No!" screams Livvy. "No! Don't change it! I hate it when you move things! Don't do it!"


She cried and screamed (big tears) for forty minutes, while her mother moved desks and couches and box after box of toys.


When the room was finished (and her mother doubly exhausted from having had to endure Livvy's protests at the same time), Olivia went into the newly arranged room and said, "This is really neat! I love it, Mommy!"


Rebuilding and redecorating after the fire at the restaurant (October 2006) took almost seven months. The children were busy with school and gymnastics and skating, so they didn't visit the restaurant very often as the renovation was happening.


Finally it was ready, and the family went downtown to see the new version of the family business: a moved entrance, new windows, a revised traffic flow, different placement of tables, and a whole new color scheme.


Livvy walked in, took one look, and began to cry. "I don't like it! I want our OLD restaurant! I don't want this one. I HATE it!" She cried for fifteen minutes, sobbing (big tears flowing from her lovely golden-hazel eyes). And then, as she and Burton explored the new terrain, she ran to her mother and said, "This is really nice! I love this restaurant!"


Very few people really like change, despite its inevitability. But children really don't like change. And Olivia really, really doesn't like change. But a few tears later, she adjusts to the New Reality and that becomes the solid ground on which she stands.


We adults don't have it so simple, since our ultimate learning is that the solid ground is only fleetingly solid. Even as we gratefully stamp our feet on it and say, "HERE's what I like," it is preparing its next shift. The earthquakes can be large or small, they come and go, and we eventually know that our "solid ground" is actually just another tectonic plate on the move.


Change: yet another person is gone, vanished. Get used to it. Last week I learned of the deaths of a friend's sister, a client's mother, and the husband of a dear friend. That's a lot for a single week. Here today, gone tomorrow.


Change, change. Lord give me the strength to deal with change, and the wisdom to accept that change is all I'm ever going to see.



Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 24, 2010

My New Toy

Hooray! Hooray! I have a new toy and it's making me happy.  Here's how it came to me. We make it a point to attend our local Junction Arts Fair every year, primarily so I can eat my fill of street food (especially the BBQ'd corn rubbed with lime and spices). This year I picked up a flyer for a "visual journaling" workshop offered by one of the exhibiting artists.


Now, I have to tell you that I hate journaling. Writers are supposed to keep a journal, but I don't. I did spend a year writing the dreaded "morning pages" recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way, but as soon as her prescribed time period was up, I stopped journaling. No more of that for me.


But, of course, I always think I should be journaling. Surely any fledgling writer needs to be keeping daily notes. Well, not me. But I was drawn to the flyer for "visual journaling" because I thought it might teach me to add drawings to a writing notebook, thus making the whole thing prettier and enticing enough to start a daily journal.


So I signed up. The workshop was small (only four of us plus the teacher). At each place setting was a complement of materials: a large sketchbook with 50 sheets of 11x14 paper. A tin of watercolors. A wide, natural-bristle brush and a small watercolor brush. Two charcoal pencils. A bottle of India ink and both a pen and a twig to dip into the ink. I hadn't expected such bounty: a starter-set of art supplies, to take home with me after the workshop!


The instructor gave us a few hints at the beginning: 1) She likes to start off with a watercolor wash, to eliminate the intimidating dead-whiteness of the page. 2) She likes to use matte medium to create a resist. And 3) she uses a hair dryer to speed the drying time between applications of paint or matte medium.


There were magazines to mine for images, if we needed a starting point. And then we were on our own, set free to play for the rest of the evening.


In our teacher's experience, doing this visual journal daily led her to great insights, to the solving of problems (both artistic and life), and to complete changes in the way she approaches her life. Obviously, the benefit comes from engaging, on a regular basis, the right side of the brain.


But for me the point of the exercise was this: I've never given myself permission to experiment in the field of the visual arts. When I was making things everyday, during my crafts period, it was all about product. I had no time to play around with process. Product was king.


So I've never had time to play with my art supplies. When I make things (cards, gifts), each one has to be a finished product. I don't allow myself the time to see what will happen if I start with an oil pastel and then watercolor over it. Or if I layer different colors, interspersed with the matte medium. No playing for me, please. I'm a serious person.


Part of the workshop was the suggestion that we commit to doing one page a day in our new sketchbook. Imagine that: a page every day. So here's what my day looks like now. Every morning, I work on a page for about half an hour, either before breakfast or just after. I sit at my table, turn on the good light, and begin playing. I date each page as I finish. I use every tool I've got: stamps, punches, fabric, colors of all kinds (acrylics, watercolours, stamp pads, gel pens, colored pencils), and the indispensable matte medium.


I have no illusions that this will change my life. Maybe it will, but that's not why I'm doing it. I'm doing it because it's a daily journal that is not painful. A written journal is an effort, something that I have to push myself to do (so I don't do it). But a visual journal is different. I start each day by engaging the right brain, and what could be more fun than that?


Every day I learn something new about how to move from a white sheet of paper to a beautiful (in the eye of this beholder) picture. It's like going to art school but without the angst. No pressure. No deadlines. Just play, play, play.


P.S. Anyone in the Toronto area who is interested in the workshop can reach the instructor at


Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Leaf by Leaf to Reach the Heart

Mothers like to boast when their children eat vegetables, especially vegetables that are a bit off the beaten garden path. So I was quick to report, those many years ago, that my children loved eating artichokes.


What's not to like about an artichoke? You get to pull those leaves off one at a time and scrape the pulp from the base of the leaf with your teeth. Nowadays I enjoy that pulp for its own sake. But when the children were young I served our artichokes with little dishes of melted butter, one dish per person, and we dipped the base of each leaf into melted butter before eating it, which probably went a long way toward explaining their love of artichokes.


Eating artichokes is a lengthy affair. One leaf at a time we whittled down the big thistles, piling the scraped leaves into a bowl. (Sidebar: do not ever put artichoke leaves into your garbage disposal. My sister Sari did that once. The repairman who came to fix the mess said, when she told him the problem, "Oh, NO, Mrs. A-dair. Don't ever put artichoke leaves in the disposal! Oh, NO!" It took him hours to fix her mistake.)


After much eating of leaves, we inevitably reached the heart of the artichoke, so carefully protected by the hairy, feathery, inedible choke. It was my job as mother to cut out the choke for each child, leaving the smooth inverted dome of the heart, ready for eating. My son, the youngest of the three, however, liked only the business of plucking and eating the leaves, butter-drenched as they were. He said he didn't like the heart!


Some families might have auctioned that extra artichoke heart off to the highest bidder—the one who promised the best behaviour, say. Or some families might have allotted the extra heart to the parent who had patiently cut out the chokes from all four artichokes. But in our family I carefully divided the unwanted heart into three equal pieces and let my daughters have the first two picks. This meant that, if I had not sectioned that heart carefully enough, I would end up with the smallest piece. I was not a self-sacrificing mother when it came to eating artichoke hearts, so those three pieces were absolutely equal in size. I made sure I got my full share.


And we thanked the baby of the family, the son and brother, exuberantly as each of us plunged our extra mouthful of artichoke heart into the dregs of our melted butter.


The next day at work I would annoy my co-workers by bragging that MY children were just crazy about artichokes. Ah, the petty triumphs of parenting . . .


Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Mind's Way

Peace of mind is mine for the taking—if I want it. But clarity of mind is something else. More and more I find that the words I used to count on are no longer at my beck and call. Wrong words appear instead. I recently told a friend that I love the fall of the year because you can scuff your feet through the sleeves. And then later I was looking for the word "faucet" but could only come up with "saucer." Close, but no cigar.


This is the Mice-in-the-Brain problem and, unlike some of the peculiarities of living in the Land of Old, there's nothing funny about it. What makes it upsetting, I think, is that it signals a lack of control. You spend some 70 years with a mind and you think you know it. But then you find that your mind has a mind of its own and is going off on a tangent without you. God help us all, there's not a thing you can do about it. Flax seed every day? Vitamin D up the ying-yang? Wishful thinking, my dears. The mice are here to stay. Oh, symbolism indeed! This fall we have been catching at least a mouse a week in our basement pantry. If I stop killing them, will their relatives stop eating my brain?


After all that kvetching, here's a more positive view of the topic. Ram Dass, while recovering from and adjusting to the effects of a stroke a few years ago, said in an interview: "It's amazing how little of the past you need for a present moment." And, as we know, the present moment is all that counts.

Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor