Gifts From the Sea


Tiny perfect things.

I’ve come to the beach for a few days.  I’m in the company of two dear friends, both of whom live far from me. Our times together are infrequent, yet the friendship runs deep and true and is instantly alive whenever we meet.

The trip to get here was grueling. Like passing through a portal that is far too small for comfort. Three plane rides, sitting in middle seats between people who were not my people. They were unobtrusive enough, although the weirdness seemed to intensify with each plane ride. On the longest one I sat between a young man who had a big lipful of chew, the spittle constantly being added to a water bottle that he kept in his seat pocket and a habitually vacationing margarita drinker from Coeur d’Alene Idaho who was just tryin’ to get through the winter. Between the smell of alcohol on her breath and the sight of his brown liquid…well, it was a long flight. Maybe I was just being a little precious about it all, but nevertheless I was grossed out.

Then there was my choice of traveling equipment. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to buy a new backpack, as I haven’t had one for years. I found one at TJ Maxx a couple of days before I left that just looked perfect. And it is pretty perfect, easy enough to carry and all, with a cunning little compartment for my laptop and lots of well placed pockets everywhere. I loaded it up with my computer and other special stuff and used it as my carryon. It fit alright under the seat and all, but it’s heavy, and it has no hidden wheels. So as I slogged through the airport weighted down with my perfect backpack, my knee beginning to ache, I kind of wished for some of those little wheels on the flashy new underseat bags I’ve been seeing hawked on Facebook so much lately. However, one of those wouldn’t have fit under Delta’s new supremely skinny seats. Why they fit three seats in such a small space I can’t imagine. They were definitely not considering the comfort of their guests. It’s clearly about dollars.

Anyway, after a long day of travel I arrived at this perfect beach house in Panama City Beach, Florida. It is right on the Gulf of Mexico. Dolphins cavort out in front of us as we sit in our Restoration Hardware living room or on our lovely white wooden balcony. The sand is white with trails of bird footsteps and the shells plentiful, small and perfect.

I walked on the beach today and it occurred to me that sometimes the best life experiences include an ordeal in order to arrive and be fully present.  As I walked along the water’s edge picking up tiny shells I kept thinking “Gifts from the Sea.” And then my mind went to Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book of nearly the same title. Was she talking about seashells or a different sort of gifts? I haven’t read it yet, but I will soon.

When the water lapped at my feet I thought of the gifts of peace and rhythm that the sea offers, the opportunity to think of nothing as I watch for the next wave to arrive, knowing without a doubt that it will.  It seems to loosen the knots within me without any effort on my part and there comes an understanding that all things soften with time. Will that knowledge lead to a nurturing of my patience? For a few days anyway? One can hope.

Writing and Painting: A Story Unearthed

Purple Mountain Majesty

Purple Mountain Majesty

For the past couple of years I’ve been writing a memoir. I have a story to tell and it’s kind of burning to get out. Okay, it’s a glowing ember, not exactly a flame, but I have kept at it, little by little for a while now. I started somewhere in the middle I think, and have been writing around that middle, adding a little here and there, always looking for the big idea of it all. This writing stuff isn’t for sissies, I definitely recognize that. How do you take a story from a mildly interesting chronological listing of events that happened,  to a story with a heart and a purpose? That has been my struggle.

At the end of my painting class we had to do a final exam painting. I started without an idea for that project. As I sat looking at my canvas, my friend said “Paint the story.” She was referring to a story I’d told her, one that is at the heart of the memoir. It is a story of the heartbreak and fortitude of a young woman who had no other choice but to be strong through such a difficult time.  I shook my head, my eyes tearing up, and said, “Why does everything have to hurt? I don’t want to paint that story.” The teacher walked up and overhearing me, asked me to tell her the story.  I did and she told me to paint it. “Begin with the wall. Paint the wall first.” I began by drawing a tipi and some parallel lines with charcoal and then smudging them up. I didn’t really want those images in the painting but I did want them in the memory of the painting, so once they were drawn I began to paint over them. I used titanium White, Unbleached Titanium White, Burnt Umber and Parchment. Both Titanium whites are completely opaque, but the others aren’t so at first the charcoal images kind of ghosted on the canvas.

As I continued to add layers of paint and new images, I felt the story unwinding within me. I suddenly realized that the story is about how we struggle through heartbreak without even realizing how badly we are hurt.  Sometimes life is too demanding to take time to stop and really feel it and thinking about it threatens to take us under.  In that moment we really don’t have the strength for it, so we just forge ahead, doing the daily tasks that must be done until the edges of the hurt have been blunted. That leaves it buried deeply, where it can quietly gnaw at us for the rest of our life. I have been surprised on several occasions to feel that old hurt rise up with all its rawness, triggered by something unexpectedly powerful like a movie or or a book, or even a conversation. The recognition of the continuing pulse of my story, even after so many years, enabled me to understand and finish the painting.  I think that maybe the realization of what was happening in my heart way back then has replaced some of the hurt with admiration for the young woman I was then.

I am finding such a compelling companionship between writing and painting. When the words are stuck, sometimes painting about it helps. As the words begin to flow, the important elements of the painting become more obvious. Translating these words into images is a challenge for me, and that’s okay.  This is new, and I’m still quite clunky as a painter.  But I have learned that if I stop and center myself for a few minutes and turn on some music before I begin, the ideas and images are easier to see in my mind and I am less judgmental about the work I produce. The heart of the story surfaces as the images become clear.  There comes a gentleness within me that I’m able to carry into my painting session. This feels like a breakthrough, actually, so I suppose the benefits are indeed reciprocal.

Continuing to foster the intertwining between my art and my writing seems to offer promise. Maybe I will actually figure out how to tell the story that wants so to be told.

Things I’m Learning About Retirement.

Here is a list of things I’m learning about being retired. They are creeping up on me as I become accustomed to not working. Some are surprising and some not so much. And some have more to do with aging than retiring. I’m sure this list will be a regularly occurring feature on this blog.

  1. You don’t have to do your errands and grocery shopping on the weekend. Yesterday I went out to Michael’s for one of their ubiquitous 70% off canvas sales. Michael’s is located across the street from Costco. For some reason the street leaving Costco is one lane, so turning out of the Michael’s parking lot is a chore on the weekends, even if you are only turning right, into the stream of traffic. Those Saturday errand warriors are not very generous in allowing extra traffic into the mix. After waiting for ten minutes for someone who needed to go left across that incessant stream of cars (Doesn’t anyone plan their shopping so they don’t have to cross traffic like that? There is a light one driveway down where she could’ve crossed easily!), I realized that I don’t have to do my errands on a Saturday any more. The canvasses were on sale on Friday too.  (Not that I even need more canvas. Michael’s puts them on 70% off about every other week. ) There is even a not very crowded Farmer’s Market on Wednesday morning so  that outing can be avoided on Saturday as well. I’m just a creature of habit, I guess. And that habit that will be changing now.
  2. Even though you don’t have to get up early to go to work (4:45 AM for 25 years is not as hard a habit to break as I expected), it’s good to maintain reasonable sleep and wakeup times. Your body wants that and doesn’t feel so great when you stay up until midnight to watch one more episode of Outlander. Or whatever one does until midnight. You feel kind of warmed over in the morning. The excuse that you can sleep in as late as you want to doesn’t really fly with me. I don’t feel good when I stay up too late, no matter how many hours I sleep.
  3. It seems to be a good idea to save one day a week in which you don’t schedule anything in particular, unless it’s maybe a lunch date. I am so busy now doing whatever I want to that I can’t imagine how I ever found time to work. That’s not really true. It’s just a thing people say. I have plenty of time, but I am quickly filling it up, so it is truer than you might think. So I’ve declared Fridays appointment free days. Unless someone wants to go out to lunch or to see a movie.
  4. There aren’t as many chances to earn a couple extra hundred dollars as there were when I was working, so even though I have enough to live on, doing extra things will require special budgeting and saving. I’m not very good at that, so that’ll be a new skill to master. Or I could get a part time job if I want to go someplace expensive.
  5. When you go to the Apple store (Or, presumably other places) you may be told to have your daughter set up something in your phone for you. Today I was buying new charging cables for my phone and iPad and when asked if I used Apple Pay, I said no. I’d set it up but had to change cards because mine got hacked and bla bla bla. I just hadn’t gotten around to setting it up again. I’ve lived without it all my life, so I don’t feel any urgency to begin, but at the same time, I’m game.  After trying to set it up for me, and discovering that I’d have to call my bank to finish setting it up, the teenaged clerk who was attending me told me to just have my daughter do it for me. This is the daughter who was at that moment buying her first computer ever. I have owned Mac products since this guy was in elementary school and I can certainly set up Apple Pay if I want to use it. And I said that. I wasn’t rude, mind you. I didn’t  say the elementary school thing. I just said “Yeah, I can do it.” But he again told me to just have my daughter do it for me, that she’d take care of me. The condescending pat on my shoulder hung in the air, unpatted, but present all the same.  I recognize that this was probably a function of my silver hair rather than my being retired, but it fits here any way. Really.  Just really. Ugh!!
  6. Here is an encouraging photo to end this post, Because no matter how cold and rainy, no matter how crowded things become, these birds always take to the air and soar, cackling and laughing all the way. Plus Sandhill Cranes are just so cool! 

Listening to My Own Voice

New Art Desk

How cool is this? It’s so big! So flexible it its uses…There’s only one picture. I took it off Facebook where there were several pictures of it.

Yesterday I bought a desk for my upcoming art garage. It’s really big, about seven feet by three feet.  It has a drafting table top that is hinged to the table, so you can elevate your work space a few inches. Or however much you want to, actually.  I found it on Facebook Marketplace, and I knew of its owner. He has been an architect in my town for many years. I thought it would be good juju to buy his desk because he’s so good at what he does.  He is also an artist who paints the most beautiful paintings.

I originally went to meet his daughter to buy a begonia in a yellow pot. Before I got there, I found that they were also selling some desks and cabinets. This one is so big, with all those cubbies on the sides and the drawers for tools and that hinged top that can open out to make a huge space to lay out a quilt or something. It’s so great! And the best part is it was only $50!

After I bought it (so no one else could) I had to figure out how to get it home. My son in law with the truck is the obvious answer. He’s always very nice to me, so I figured he’d help me out. He still doesn’t know about it. It’s really big. But so is his truck and so is he so I think we can make it work.

The biggest obstacle right now is that my garage is a hell-hole of a mess. All that stuff I brought home from school last June has multiplied, I swear. It was one little Prius-full, but now it seems like I’d need a U-Haul moving truck to get it all out of there. I keep going out to clean it up and I get immobilized by it all so I sit down and paint for a while, or do a load of wash and go inside where it’s clean and putter around. Or watch a little TV. Yep, in the daytime. (And I judge people who watch daytime TV. Retirement is destroying my previously firmly held beliefs about a lot of things.) But I digress.

Shortly after I bought it, my daughters invited me to join them for diner at a community food truck event at the Elk’s Club. I went straight there, parked about forever away, and walked to the event. When I finally found my girls, bought my food and we sat down to talk and eat, I told them about my great find. One of them, not the one with the husband with a truck whose help I’m looking forward to, looked at me with a skeptical look on her face and said, “Did you buy it on Facebook Marketplace?” As if that was the dumbest thing a person could do. As if I do that all the time and often buy dumb stuff.

That look crossed her face that people get when they think you are impossibly unrealistic, or maybe just kind of tiring. I’m still not sure why she felt that way. It’s not like I’m a inveterate Facebook Marketplace loser. I get good stuff there. And I really don’t even go there very much. I said, “Well, I need a worktable for the garage. I don’t think anyone is going to build me one, so this one looked good.” I think her objection was its size. She must think it’s unreasonably big. And she could be right. But she could also be wrong. I think it might just be the best thing ever.  The exact thing I need. I’m motivated to get out to the garage this morning to make some room for it. The possibly dumb thing I bought was the begonia. The yellow pot looked really big in the picture that drew me in, but it’s actually quite small. If she paid $30 for it she got taken. But, again I digress.

The reason I’m bothering to write about this is this: even though I like this item quite a lot, and think it will be a good thing for me, in fact exactly the thing I need, I let that voice of doubt slip right in. I lay awake for quite a while last night, berating myself for my dumb move, and now what will I do with it? It really is so big. What was I thinking? Should I forfeit my $50 and say never mind, I don’t want it? But I do want it. I do. But really? What will I put in the cubby holes? Where will I actually put it? What will i actually use it for? Can I paint on it? Do mosaics on it? I tossed and turned, arguing with myself.

This morning I have set aside all the uncertainty and indecision. I acted on my inner voice when I bought it. I felt that bolt of clear energy, pure excitement on finding it, and that is what is true. Not someone else’s doubt, no matter how much I love her and trust her judgement. I have to listen to my own clear voice. And that lesson, the remembering to trust my own vision, is worth the $50 I paid for the behemoth of a desk.  She may have to deal with getting rid of it someday, but between then and now, I will make some art on it and I’ll get my $50 dollars’ worth.  Actually the dumb thing I bought is the begonia. I paid $20 for that tiny little thing. Now to go make some room for the desk. It’ll have a begonia sitting on one corner, I’m pretty sure.

Painting Class: the Power of Showing Up

I have long harbored a desire to learn to paint. The handling and moving around of pure color has always fascinated me. It was so far from anything I knew about, yet I was really drawn to try it out. I had long been a quilter, a collager (is that a thing?), a photographer and a mosaic maker. I understand color pretty well and love playing with it. But painting, the conscious moving about of gooey, pure color, has always seemed like a delicious mystery to me.

Last summer I took an online class that helped me get my feet wet a little bit. I bought a bunch of student grade paints on sale and just started pushing color around, layering it, making marks with all kinds of items. I used sponge brushes, peeled corrugated paper, bottle caps, ferns and my fingers. And brushes. It was fun, but I wasn’t satisfied with anything I ever painted. It remained just that, moving around and mixing color, going from one canvas to the next, none of them anything I ever wanted to share. Nothing that was ever about anything, or even of anything. And that was okay with me, actually.

Long before this time, about five years ago, before I bought any paint or tried painting, I discovered some work that I loved that was done by a local artist. I loved the randomness of her work, the abstract purposefulness, the way she uses color so subtly and the recurring elements in her pieces. After a little investigation (hoping I’d find that she offered workshops once in a while), I learned that she teaches painting at the local community college. I promised myself that I would take her class when I retired if she was still teaching then.  As it turns out she is still teaching, I am retired and I am in her class. Lucky me! (P.S. Her name is Simone Senat. You can Google her work and see why I like it so much.)

The first thing I learned was that I’d need to buy some better quality paint.  I forged ahead, not looking at prices and bought a bunch of Golden, Liquitex and Graham acrylics.  I decided that for now I just want to paint with acrylic. I didn’t like the feeling of oils and their accompanying chemicals on my hands when we tried them out in class. I did like the creaminess of the colors, but I decided on acrylics anyway.

So, having bought paint and brushes and canvasses I was ready to paint. Listen to the names of these colors: Quinacridone Crimson,  Deep Magenta, Phthalo Blue, Azo Yellow, Bright Lime Green, Titanium White, Prism Violet, Cerulean Blue, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Mars Black…the list goes on and on. Truly, I just want to smear them around, all at once. And I have tried that. It gets a little over the top, though so I’m trying to pull back now, to limit my palette a little.

This week our assignment is to paint a still life. It is due on Thursday and is our first painting. We will be bringing food to class and looking at everyone’s paintings. I think we will talk about them. This isn’t as scary as it sounds, but it is a little daunting. There are all levels of skill in our class and I am in awe of some of these painters. The cool thing about painting this still life is that we are not required to try to duplicate it on a canvas. We can choose one element of it and place it out on a desert if we want to. Pretty much anything goes, which is freeing.  Here is how the still life is staged in the front of the classroom:


UGH. I didn’t want to paint any of that. No color except in the background, all those bones and pottery. I just didn’t know where to begin, so I worked on a sunsetty sky I’d photographed a while ago. It’s kind of cool, but the assignment was to paint the still life.  So yesterday I began to organize it. I drew what I wanted to paint on an old repurposed canvas and started filling things in. It was depressing. Such dull colors, and once I’d drawn it, where to put the background? Ugh. I’d have to paint over the stuff I’d drawn. I put that canvas down and decided I needed to just lay down some bright colors on another canvas, because that lifts my spirit. I’d deal with the still life later. Here’s what I came up with.

Still life in progress

September 2017

At first it made me really happy. So much true color all over the place, and I liked that. I decided that maybe this could be my still life if I used negative space to fill in a teapot, and maybe a horses’ skull. But having done that, I hated how it looked. It went from filling me with joy to depressing me. The pucey color around the horse’s skull, the stupid little mouth line. The teapot was barely recognizable. And all those angles kind of around the center made it look like a paint factory had exploded. It hurt me to even look at it. But I took it to school anyway.

As soon as I got there I painted over that horse skull. Then I started painting over a lot of it, trying to calm it down a little. I added some grey squares which were supposed to represent those little things hanging on the wall behind the still life but which actually looked like windows. Eventually Simone came around to look at everyone’s work and help us decide whether it was finished or not. Mine was definitely NOT.  She said, “Let me help you,” and she picked up a big wide brush, squeezed out some Titanium white and Hooker green paint and started covering things up. She suggested what I might do next and shortly was on her way to the next student. Suddenly I understood a little more about how negative space works, how a little can go a long ways and I’m on my way to liking my painting. Here’s how it looks now:

Kaleido Teapot

September 2017. First painting. Sometimes a piece of work is just due.

When I first decided it had to just be done, I felt a little sick inside. I really didn’t like it. At all. There was nothing else I could do with it that would improve it. My feeling of its awfulness were reinforced when I showed a photo of it to a friend and a family member. They were quick to point out all its obvious flaws. But, having no other alternative, I took it to school anyway. In preparation for Critique Day,  we lined all the paintings up on easels, went around and looked at them, and then discussed them one by one. And funnily enough, even though it was so hard to take it up there and introduce myself, admitting that I had painted that weird looking painting, once the talk began I felt better.  From a distance it looks better and it just is what it is. The teacher said my color sense is magical and that this looks like a Matisse, totally. While I think she was being kind, I’ll take it and I’ll paint again tomorrow. Because how else will I ever get better? Something had to be my first painting.

The thing that is so stimulating for me about this class is first, that it takes me out of my comfort zone. Way out. I am good at working with other mediums, but this is not my area of expertise at all. NOT ONE BIT. But I show up every day, and I squeeze out that color and smear it around, again and again. And little by little I am learning some things. Perhaps the biggest thing I’m learning is to show up with my work despite feeling embarrassed and frustrated by it. I show up and I don’t give up. I just keep squeezing out those colors and smearing them around. One day I may actually paint something I like. But whether I do or not, I will keep on showing up. I will face my own demons, those of not being good enough, not knowing as much as another person, not being able to face what I perceive as my own weaknesses.  I will rummage around inside those feelings and maybe over time, I will let go of my attachment to them and I will accept myself a little more, as I am.  I will discover, once again, the power of showing up and persevering, no matter what. Just that, at least. And that is enough.



Art in the Garden

“Hamsa Hand.” Mosaic, 2016.

Hello. I’m so glad you decided to stop by and check out my new blog. For the past nine years I’ve had two blogs, one about teaching and one about whatever else I wanted to talk about. When I first started the personal blog, it felt like such a huge step! I was going to be writing about what I was thinking for the whole world to read. It felt especially daring because the first post was about being plus-sized, and how hard it was to buy cute clothes. I felt like my secret was out. Now everyone would know that I needed to buy those sizes. The joke was on me though. First, anyone who had ever seen me already knew that and second, nobody ever read the post. for a while it was an online journal, super private despite it’s public availability. The irony of the fact that its2008. address was “casimira,” which means “almost seen” in Spanish completely evaded me.

I started the teaching blog to share lesson ideas and to share my impressions of a trip I made to a TESOL conference back in 2008. Eventually it became a reflective place where I could tell stories about my students and my classroom, and the joys and struggles I faced there.

So, here I am, starting something new. This past June I retired from 25 years of teaching middle and high school English learners. I have nothing more to add to that blog, because, well, everyone knows that the minute you step out of the classroom your credibility as a teacher begins to fade. Plus I no longer have students to write funny or touching or sad stories about. So I’ve written my swan song there.

The other blog, as much as I love it, I haven’t touched in a year. A year. Since I’m starting a whole new chapter of my life, I decided lit was time for a fresh new site. I decided on the title, “Awake and Aware” because that is what I am and plan to continue to be. So here I am. Here we are. I’m so glad you’re here. Let’s see where this goes.