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Section of my most recent painting.

I took one oil painting class in 2006. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking I would like to paint again. Finally I dug out my old paints, threw away the hardened tubes, made a new palette, fixed a shelf in the spare room to hold my canvas, and slowly tried to teach myself to use oils again.

I am so happy when I’m painting.

In 2005 I needed a job and it was convenient to find work on campus, where I was studying as a non-traditional undergrad. Yes, 35 years old and pursuing a Bachelors degree. I had modeled at a community college in California before I moved to Boston, so I inquired at the Art Department. Sure enough, they wanted another model. So I posed for figure painting classes for a couple of professors as needed, but most often for Professor Wardwell. After a year of modeling, I liked Joe Wardwell and I liked the way he taught. I liked the music he played during class time.

When a slot opened up in my schedule in 2006, I took Art 101, and was exposed – in a different way! – to oil painting.

Professor Wardwell started us off with black and white. So when I began painting last year, I started in black and white too. I wanted to remember what the paint felt like, how to capture light and shadows again. For my very first image, I chose a Japanese land mine that I pulled from a shelf. It’s a simple shape.

WWII Japanese ceramic land mine. It’s designed to be filled and thrown by hand.

Here’s my work space in the spare room.

And my first painting, nice and simple, 11 years after my only painting class in my life.

I am always drawn to nature. So when I was walking through my property and found a newly broken branch with leaves on it, I brought the branch to the house and began painting. It shriveled up in two days and I had to finish the shadowing with my imagination. It got a little frivolous, but I had fun.

Leaves partially realistic.

Stumped with what else to paint, I actually turned to my left and began painting the spare bed next to me. I had recently had a guest in the room, and the slightly rumpled pillows were interesting to me. The crazy 4-armed lamp arced over it and out of the image. The old cast-iron hospital bed frame (from my mother) showed through.

Spare bed, slept in and somewhat tidied.

At this point I felt like I could move to colour.

Every now and then I get to stay at my brother’s house in Washington. Ian and Karen live in an amazing spot in Seattle. The view from the spare bedroom at their house is a clear shot of the Space Needle. I took a photo and loved the way the colours worked. I decided long ago that one day I would paint that photo, and now was the time.

The photo I took from Ian and Karen’s spare bedroom.

I started out slowly, and took a very very long time to finish the painting.

Here’s my first day’s work

My workspace. I pulled the photo up on my iPad to reference while I painted.

I added some orange and yellow

More detail. I was excited to finish the Space Needle.

I had so much fun with the brick wall.

Ian and Karen told me they would be coming south to spend the weekend with me while Karen attended some training in Portland. I had to grab the painting and finish it up! I added my signature and a couple touch ups. My idea all along had been to give it as a gift to Ian, and now was the perfect time.

They showed up on Eid al-Fitr, so I did a quick Google search to see how people celebrate Eid. The first three steps were all about praying. Since I’m atheist I skipped those. But then there was gift-giving and food. I made a wonderful lamb stew and couscous, and honey-walnut cookies for dessert. I had the perfect gift to give.

Final version of the painting. It was sort of dry by the time Ian and Karen took it home with them.

This scene is familiar to many of you, I’m sure. An expert speaker, a slideshow, a conference room. But the topics… now that is what made this weekend exceptional. Here, Scott McLeroy talks about humility’s role in leadership.

I have spent entirely enough time in conference rooms lately. A Cherokee Leadership conference (CCO=Community & Cultural Outreach) is exciting, yes, but also such a change from my regular life. Those clucking hussies, the hummingbirds, and my evening deer and coyotes seem so far away from me right now. And what I wouldn’t give to have my kitty curl up on me at night in this hotel bed.

Janelle Adair’s storytelling had me in tears. This is an ancient form of leadership teaching, and the effect, perfected over thousands of years, has an undeniable impact on the audience. I think all corporations should bring in storytellers.

The exchange is worth it, however. I am learning as much in this weekend of workshops about my Cherokee people than in the years I’ve been attending Cherokee meetings.  I was hoping this would happen when I had some immersion. For example, I walk the hallways between breakout sessions, and overhear groups of people talking in Cherokee. An unhesitating give-and-take the way people really speak a language (not the way they demonstrate, or practice a language, if that makes sense), with building or falling intensities and spontaneous laughter from everyone listening. (We’re Cherokee, and that means there are jokes being told.) It’s precious, you know, being able to hear your language spoken. I only realized that truth once I spent time in other countries, and then felt the relief of hearing recognizable sounds again, once I came back. Just imagine being a people whose language was dying out. It’s a scary thought. Luckily, the Cherokees are aggressively working to keep the language viable.

It’s hard to summarize what I’ve learned in a single blog post, because I’ve attended so many sessions on so many topics. What I have noticed, however, is that there are common lessons that come through over and over. That’s how I’m learning this culture. (My degrees are in anthropology, so that’s how I frame things in my mind.)

Dr. Tiffanie Harbarger talks about Cherokee relationships to land and water.

Every speaker is a Cherokee and/or Cherokee expert, and they keep saying things to reinforce our culture. Like I said above, “We’re Cherokee, and that means there are jokes being told.” I learned this to be true by spending time with Cherokees, and seeing it demonstrated, but also hearing people tell me the lesson over and over: Cherokees are always kidding around.

Earnie Frost told us about his journey to self-awareness, and how he turned his lessons into ideas for how to revitalize the Cherokee community.

In this way, I’m also learning what a matriarchal society is. Of course, I studied it in my anthropology classes, so I know what it is. But book learning doesn’t lay out in real-world examples what it actually means to be a matriarchal culture. Traditionally Cherokee men moved in with their wives’ families, and the children and possessions and home belonged to  the wife. At any point, for any reason, the wife could divorce the man by placing his belongings outside the home. Women had a lot of power, but a lot of responsibility, and the weight of keeping the family together rested on the shoulders of the women. One man told a story about trying to build a re-integration program for Arizona Indians, and met with failure until his female secretary berated him for not involving the women, and following their direction. Several people talked about going to Standing Rock, and talked about how women were/are instrumental in that movement. I hadn’t even thought of it before, unconsciously mentally erasing women from power and action, when it turns out they were the source of power.

cultures confusing each other

One speaker explained that when treaties were being discussed, the Europeans didn’t trust the Cherokees who included women in their business talks, and the Cherokees didn’t trust the Europeans who never brought their women. They didn’t bring their women, they wondered, what are they trying to hide from us? I heard about the pensions offered to wounded Indians who fought in battles for the US Government, and how the Indians were confused about the idea of widows and orphans being offered pensions for men who died in battle. They did not grasp the concept of women being victims when a man died. They did not understand the concept of orphan, because the children belong to the mother’s clan. Even if both parents were not living, the child belonged to the clan, and was not an orphan. Thus, when the pensions were offered anyway, and women went to collect for themselves and the children of their clan, their petitions were often denied. US officials sometimes knew very well that the woman herself did not birth a particular child, so how could she be so audacious as to try and claim a pension for the child’s fallen father, a member of the clan? Likewise, a man would go to do his duty to his wife’s clan, and seek to collect a pension for a fallen brother, related by clan, not by blood, and the federal officials were again confused.

My favourite speaker of them all was Anita Finger-Smith, who talked in great detail about the circumstances that resulted in the Eastern Band Cherokees remaining in their homeland when so many others were removed to Oklahoma.

I am learning this culture through the repetition of so many speakers saying things like, “As Cherokees, we understand community ownership, not individual ownership. When my mother used to make dinner, she would cook enough for an army. I’d ask, ‘Why are you making so much food?’ and she would say, ‘Maybe someone will show up.’ And sure enough, by suppertime, the house would be full.”

Many speakers talk about water. “As Cherokees, we consider our water to be sacred. It’s not just what we use to clean ourselves, but we drink it, we grow crops with it, we cook with it. Water is in every part of our life and makes up who we are.” Now, these things are true for every human. But when it’s said to you like that: “As Cherokees, we value water…” then you can’t help but assign a greater significance to the things you’ve been doing with water since you were born.

Joseph Erb, my new favourite Indian artist.

Rob Daugherty introduces Chris Welch.

Our keynote presenter was Tracy Spears, author, co-founder of a leadership organization, and softball player.

I don’t think I’ve made my point as clearly as I wanted to, but I hope with these examples you get the idea. I am learning so much good stuff about this important part of who I am. I am sad that I wasn’t raised with this teaching, but I am so grateful to belong to a Nation that works so hard to provide me the opportunity to learn, now that I have decided to educate myself.

Today we are leaving Tulsa and heading off for some touring! We’ll visit museums, cultural centers, and points of significance for Cherokees. We’re finally heading to Tahlequah, and the center of Cherokee government. I finally get to see some of Oklahoma besides this city block in Tulsa. I promise to take photos and post when I can.

Mom and me dressed up

My mother’s health failed rapidly, once we finally heard the diagnosis of cancer. And I have had multiple stages of not dealing with any of it gracefully. This is probably because it has come on so fast. Just when I make peace with a stage, we move on to another shocking phase.

In a meeting with her doctor on Monday, he reminded me of the date we first suspected cancer. Not too long ago, Mom had abdominal pain and went for care. A subsequent x-ray included the bottom of one lung. Something abnormal appeared on the lung, so she returned for another x-ray, just of the lungs. This showed masses on both. It was October 19th, 2011.

My sister-in-law is a nurse for a skilled pulmonologist in Boise, so Mom went down there to get some first rate attention. They ran her through a battery of tests, and importantly, a high-contrast CT scan. This showed not only masses of concern in the lungs, but also in the liver. Mom told me that she knew it was cancer, and that it confirmed what she had suspected for years. (She has been having a complex combination of undiagnosed health problems for two years.) A biopsy of the liver confirmed cancer, additional results confirmed cancer of the lungs, and both kidneys. Compared to the x-ray from north Idaho, the lung masses had already doubled in size in about 10 days.

Before Mom had a chance to speak with an oncologist, she reached the limit of her tolerance for the city. She lives in a cabin on the top of a mountain in a very remote part of north Idaho. After two weeks in Boise she could no longer bear it, and begged for her husband to take her home. The day after they arrived home, Tara and I were able to visit for Veteran’s Day weekend. Mom seemed herself, she had decided to fight the disease, even though previously she told us she would refuse treatment. I really wasn’t too upset at that point, because I planned to be by her side till we kicked this thing.

November 14th (exactly one month ago), she talked with an oncologist (cancer specialist) for the first time. She said the doctor wheeled her chair right up so they were knee to knee, the doctor took Mom’s hands and said to her, “You have stage IV cancer. It is very advanced and very aggressive. We do not recommend treatment, but rather, to focus on maintaining a good quality of life for the time you have left.”

Mom called me at work, crying. But she was resolved again to accept her fate and refuse all treatment. And that’s when I became angry. My whole life I have been extremely adept at making things happen. I can fix stuff, I can take care of stuff, I can prevent stuff, and prepare for stuff. I help others, help myself, smooth the way, and tie up loose ends. And here was something I could not help. Not one damn thing I could do. I asked Mom, “Is this the point where I step in and give you a pep talk? Should we get a second opinion, or talk to your herbal health care advisor?” She told me, “No, Sis. I know I am going to die. I am ready to go. I have fought so hard just to live, and now I finally get to relax. This news is a relief to me.”

Angry at life, at disease, at the unfairness of it all. Mom is the healthiest person I know. Never smoked anything her entire life, would have been aghast to consider drug use, and in fact avoided all pills and doctors as much as possible. She grew her gardens, canned food and prepared all meals for all us kids growing up, and for her husbands and herself. She lives on a mountaintop with no smog, no noise or light pollution, breathing fresh air and working hard every day. Mom saved up her money last winter to buy a new chainsaw this summer, and was so thrilled to tell me how great it was to use. She did everything right. She got body slammed by fate anyway.

I am living with her and her husband now. Her husband has been traumatized and – a very traditional man – is learning how to do things for himself for the first time since he was in his twenties. He is not up to assisting with caregiving, but is proud about having learned to make coffee and wash the dishes. He can keep the fire going. I leave him to that, but I can’t help but get irritated that he requires as much time and attention from me as Mom does. He is completely out of his element, in pain, lost, and scared. His helplessness bothers me. It’s another example of my failure to do this gracefully.

My mother requires constant attention now, all night long. I am so tired. My back is killing me from all the lifting. And I’m still not dealing with it as I suppose I should. Mom’s twin brother is here to help, thank the gods. My cousin is coming to help. Another strong woman – hallelujah! Despite the offers of help, I hate having so many people around me. I am not a social person. I particularly despise having witnesses to my shortcomings. I am not a nurse, and it’s not even something I’m good at. It’s the one area of life I’ve always been quick to admit I am not cut out for. But, here I am: full time nurse. Feeding Mom water with an eye dropper, applying chapstick, wiping her mouth, changing her when she wets herself, listening to her gasping breaths and trying to guess what it means. Pain? Constricted windpipes? More awake than a little while ago? Need something? Hungry? Roll over? She can’t talk, so it’s all guessing. And again, I get frustrated and angry at my own incompetence. Me. The woman who can do anything. But I feel like I can’t do this.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You, and Hospice too, everyone says, “Oh, you can do this. You know her better than we do. You’ll do just fine. Everything you’re feeling is OK!” I just want to smack them. I know I have PERMISSION to be frustrated and angry. Well, DUH. My mom is dying. But I am not good at being incompetent. That’s what it is: a control freak who is in a non-controllable situation. I’ll get through it and soar again, even if the journey is not pretty. I always get through catastrophes. I am, after all, my mother’s daughter.

Mom and me

Ever since I decided to study mediation years ago, I have been on alert for signs of when people are in conflict because of misunderstandings. That’s my favourite part of conflict resolution: when people find out that some of their conflict is due to failure to understand what the other side is saying, and then working through that part once the parties realize they weren’t so divided as they thought they were.

As I mentioned in my last post, my mother is visiting for six days. This Spring Break visit went better than the last one we shared. Yesterday I lived through a perfect example of wanting the same outcome as the other party in a conflict, yet approaching it from such different perspectives that I began to suspect we were NOT aiming for the same goal.

Mom and I agreed quickly and easily to make tuna melt sandwiches on sourdough bread. We both went to the kitchen. She turned the stove on to heat the skillet, and I started on tuna. In the drawer where my black-handled can opener usually lives was a new one with red handles, thoughtfully matching the red kitchen appliances. Mom gleefully explained how the old can opener didn’t work right, so she bought a new one while I was at work the day before. “But I like the other can opener,” I said. “I’d like to use it.” Mom had thrown it in the trash.

I mixed up the tuna and moved on to the cheese. I had only begun slicing when Mom grabbed the bag of sourdough and began laying out bread slices right in my work space. I moved the block of cheese over a little so I could have some more room, and she gratefully slapped a couple more slices of bread down. So I picked up the cheese and moved to a different counter. “What are you doing?” She asked, dismayed. “The bread is here for you, to hold the cheese.”

I wasn’t ready for the bread, and she was stressing me out, so I sliced the cheese on the other counter. When I returned, she took the cheese slices from me and arranged them evenly across all the bread lying out. She looked up at me as though she was saying See how useful it is to have bread slices on the counter? She had also laid out home-canned jalapenos from my dad. Mmmmm. (Oooh, agreement! We both like the peppers.)

“Now you put the tuna over the cheese,” she explained in a ‘mom voice,’ teaching me how to do a simple task as though I was a kid again. I spread out the tuna on one slice, and then flipped the matching bread slice over the top.

“No!” she gasped. I had chosen the wrong slice. Sourdough loaves are unevenly shaped, so one needs to keep slices of the same size together. If I had placed them, my matching slices would have been side-by-side. Mom placed the matching slices above and below. Since there were four in a grid on the counter, I naturally assumed she had done it my way. She had not.

Not wanting to mess with her system, but clearly aware that I do it differently; I didn’t say anything to her. When I grill sandwiches on my own, I butter a slice, place in on the skillet, arrange all the stuff on it, butter the next slice and place it on top. Then I don’t get butter on my hands or butter on the counter, and all the guts don’t fall out while I transfer it from the counter to the pan.

She wanted me to do the cooking, because she isn’t used to my stove. But I was not sure how to progress. I stood, staring at the hot pan and the sandwiches on the counter, trying to think it through. Mom, equally irritated but equally kind, was not saying anything to me. We were stumped, each unable to move forward with our routine because we were at a place in grilling sandwiches we had never been at before. We had arrived by a new path, were at an unfamiliar stage, and the way forward was unclear.

“How do I butter the bread now that it’s already a sandwich?” I asked. “If I try it, all the stuff will spill out.” Turns out, I wasn’t supposed to put the top on the bread until I buttered it. She hadn’t stopped me because she assumed I was doing it my way and she didn’t want to interfere. Mom had no good suggestion for me, since I had already moved too far away from her system.

I don’t know how we got through the grilling. I literally do not recall what we did. By that time we were very confused and frustrated with each other. Writing this down and reading the description, it doesn’t seem like anything at all worth getting frustrated over. But we had such strong emotions, and molehills became mountains.

While we ate our sandwiches we laughed about it. “I could NOT figure out what you were doing!” she chuckled. “And I could not understand what you were doing!” I said. We raised glasses of wine and Mom chose the toast, “Celebrating our differences,” she said.


Yuck. What a hassle.

I like to think of myself as an intelligent woman, but blimey if it isn’t complicated to move a blog when you’re starting from zero knowledge and experience. Oh sure, a hundred places and even support says ‘No problemo. Just convert the old blog software into XML and you’re on your way.’

1) can’t for the life of me figure out what blog software my dying web host is using. One blogger says to get it from sourcecode. Sadly, I’ve been reading code for an hour and find nothing.

2) so far have no leads on how to convert whatever that format is into XML. I *have* learned what XML is, and that’s good general knowledge that I can use. It still doesn’t tell me how to take three years’ worth of old Internet jabber and put it into a pretty XML file.

Ok, well, that’s my bitch for the day. I’m working on it. I still have a week to work this out.

My growing girl in a cherry tree

It has been fun watching my daughter grow up. I’m not one of those moms who ever says, “Oh, I just want to keep her a baby as long as possible.”

I adore my kid. I think she’s so smart, and so funny, and so genuinely caring. I can’t help but be proud of her amazing life. I have already learned from her. What a gift she is to me.

We’ve been brushing up against the “growing up” topics for about a year now. We’ve had many many “period” talks, till her questions of the mystical nature of being a woman were somewhat satisfied. And then the more practical side came up. “Why do people use tampons? Doesn’t it hurt?”  I realized that we needed to address it for real. So I bought a box of pads and a box of tampons and we sat at the breakfast table and I had her open up whatever she wanted. She poked at them, and pulled and wadded and then tore one to bits. I got a glass of water for her and she poured water and dunked them and played with the adhesive parts and opened a couple more.

After awhile, I could tell she was completely satisfied. She looked up at me, and then started cleaning it all up. She asked if she could take some of it to Dad’s house and leave some at my house.

No more mystery. Not as scary. Now all the stories her 5th grader girlfriends tell her won’t freak her out so much anymore. Man, I wish someone had done that for me. I got all my education on the playground and by stealthily reading the backs of boxes in the feminine hygiene products aisle at Shaver’s grocery store.

Sunday it was stage two. She asked if I would speak with her in her bedroom. Alone. So we trotted up there and she explained that some girls had teased her about the hair in her armpits. She said, “I didn’t realize I was at the age where I was supposed to be shaving! I didn’t know it was time.”

So, I explained that there is no “time.” It doesn’t have anything to do with age. It is completely up to her when she shaves or even whether she ever shaves. I really tried to diffuse the peer pressure, but it was too late. She had made up her mind that it was time. Which, I guess, is the way to go about it – wait for it to be her decision.

I did try to beat her little friends to the next one though, and told her to wait on shaving her legs. “In fact,” I said, “If you never shave your legs, the hair will stay light and fine. Because as soon as you begin, it comes out like whiskers and then you have no choice.” To my pleasure, she had already heard this, and was glad to hear my reinforcement of what someone else’s mom had said.

She wanted me to recommend a brand of razor. And I told her what I use. And since I always have extras, I gave her one and popped her into the shower and gave her a 5-minute crash course. She was scared about how to do it, scared of cutting herself. I told her about how to move the razor, how not to ever share or  borrow, how some people’s skin needs to be wet or it breaks out in a rash.

This stuff is *so* exciting for me. It’s silly to be this excited maybe. And I’m not a girly girl by any means, so girl stuff in general usually causes me to roll my eyes. But I can’t help but feel a thrill that my little one is not so little anymore.

Good luck my love. Go out into that big world and be who you are!

One of my many guises

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